Reply To “Can A Thai Woman Be Really Happy In Farang World?”
I read Anonymous’s recent submission about whether Thai women are unhappy overseas. I don’t necessarily disagree with what Anonymous says, but I do have a different perspective on the matter and thought I would put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and jot these down. Hopefully this will assist anyone who is contemplating moving their Thai partner outside of Thailand.
I can actually share four different perspectives on Thai people living outside of Thailand. Those perspectives are my Thai stepmother, my Thai wife, my half Thai sister and myself.
My stepmother started looking after me when I was 9 years old, and for the first four years, she looked after me in Bangkok.
She then left Bangkok, very willingly, to live in both Australia and Europe. Initially, she did undergo some culture shock. Life in Australia in the 1980s was a bit different in any event, and particularly the Perth population was not that culturally diverse. However, she fairly quickly found other Thai friends in a similar position (it was a fairly small group back then). After the initial re-adjustment and a bit of homesickness, she has flourished in Farangland. Each time she returns to Thailand to visit family, she always complains about how dodgy everything is. Her only real complaint about Farangland is that the Thai food is usually not as good as in Thailand.
I met my wife while she was studying in Australia, so it wasn’t really a case of me dragging her out of Thailand. She had already made the decision to leave, albeit only for a few years. I first met her shortly after she had arrived in Australia and she was suffering a bit from homesickness, but not really from culture shock. Prior to her arrival, she already had a sizable number of Western friends in Bangkok, most of them being female (and a few male) English teachers. She also had the benefit of the experiences of her Aunt and her own parents, who had lived overseas. She therefore arrived in Australia having a pretty good idea of what to expect and a very positive mental attitude.
After a few years into our relationship, it was my wife that decided she preferred to stay in Australia rather than to move back to Thailand. At the time, it was actually my preference to move back to Thailand to live and work instead. I therefore tried to convince her, and she did her best to convince me that I was better off staying in Australia. We had some interesting discussions on the topic and raised a lot of the issues with living in each country. I have to admit, Perth kept winning no matter how we analysed the topic.
My wife holds a good job in the mining industry, makes way more money than she could ever dream of in Thailand, and she is totally satisfied with her lifestyle here. She eats Western food for most meals, but does need some Thai comfort food every now and then during the week. In terms of friends and hobbies, she mixes with both Westerners and has a few Thai friends. Interestingly (and unlike my stepmother) she only has a small handful of Thai friends that live in Australia. She actually does not like many of the Thais that live here. That is actually a topic in itself so I won’t say too much more on that point other than that I agree with her.
I occasionally talk to my wife about retiring in Thailand. I am sold on the idea, but she is not convinced, so even after the money has been made, we are financially secure and we are simply living off of our investments, she is still not entirely convinced that she wants to spend all her time in Thailand. She is open to living part of the year there, but not every year. Interestingly, my stepmother who is now retired, lives outside of Thailand and only visits every one or two years.
My half-sister was born in Thailand. Her mother is my stepmother. She is therefore half-Thai or luuk khrung. She left Thailand at an early age and other than through photographs, doesn’t have much memory of Thailand. Her mother has tried her best to reinforce Thai culture on her, but it didn’t work. Similarly, my sister’s best friend is coincidentally, also a luuk khrung living in Australia. The best friend also has refused to adopt Thai culture. My sister and her friend are totally Westernised. They don’t even speak much Thai and only see Thailand as a pleasant holiday destination.
The final perspective is my own. I am not Thai, but I spent four years of my childhood (9 to 13) growing up in Thailand. Before that, I also lived in other Asian countries, as well as in other Western countries. Even after leaving, I returned regularly for visits lasting up to several months at a time. Thailand was undoubtedly the most influential culture that I grew up with and as a result, I adopted a lot of the culture and even today consider Thailand my second home. In fact, I consider that I understand Thai culture a lot better than my wife does, and she spent her whole childhood there. The difference though is I had a Thai stepmother who wanted to make sure I understood Thai culture, while my wife grew up wanting to learn about Western culture.
Out of all of the above perspectives, I think I was the person that was least happy about leaving Thailand. In returning to the West, I didn’t really experience a culture shock, as I knew what to expect, but I did initially find it difficult being surrounded by so many Westerners again. I also found it difficult not being able to do things the Thai way. Actually it was probably more that I couldn’t get away with things like I could as a farang kid in Bangkok. However, notwithstanding that I missed Thailand and felt homesick for the place, I was definitely still happy in Farangland. I had friends, kept myself active, and pursued all the hobbies and sports that made me happy.
From the perspectives that I have summarized above, I therefore don’t think it is true to say any of those individuals were ever really “unhappy” about being away from Thailand, other than the odd moment of homesickness.
Reading through Anonymous’s article once more, I note that he makes the comment that when he sees Thais around his country, they look unhappy, for example, on the subway. What I have noticed is that if you take any Thai and put them in a public situation by themselves, they will look unhappy. However, if I see a couple or small group of Thais hanging together, they tend to be smiling, joking, gossiping etc. Thais simply feel more comfortable in a group and feel uncomfortable when they are by themselves (actually my wife is an exception here… she loves to travel and explore even if she is doing it alone). Interestingly, take a look at the Western faces on the subway and tell me how many of them are smiling. The only ones that will be will either be in a group or gossiping to a friend on the phone.
I actually think it is much easier for Thai people to be overseas now than ever before. I know that Anonymous highlights that there is nothing more fake than the on-line connection. This is particularly true for things like Facebook, which has become a new way for insecure people to show off what a great life they are (supposedly) having. It is actually Skype and facetime that are the real blessings with respect to the internet. My wife can easily catch up with her old Bangkok friends any time she wants. When she meets up with them back in Bangkok, it is as if she hadn’t even been overseas, given she already keeps in regular contact. This will greatly assist with any other Thais coming to the West that start to feel homesick and isolated. My stepmother must have felt more isolated, coming in the 1980s when there was no Skype, Facebook etc, and only a small overseas Thai community. Even I would have had an easier adjustment if I could have maintained contact with my friends in Bangkok after my move.
At the end of Anonymous’s submission, Stick poses the question of what commonalities exist between Thai women that are happy overseas. From the experiences I highlighted above, there are actually four different people all from different backgrounds. My stepmother was not born rich. My wife was born upper middle class. My sister was born well off, and I am the same. The commonality for all of them may be that each had been prepared in one form or another for the move overseas. Their expectations had already been managed, so that they knew what was coming (other than my sister, who was really too young for any of this to be an issue). Even more important, when in the West, they had a support network so that they did not feel isolated and alone. I suspect that for Thai women that are transplanted in Farangland and are truly unhappy, in many cases, it is because they truly felt isolated. I know of some instances where Thai wives are moved to the West and end up living with their mother in law, while their husband works overseas/interstate for extended period.
I hope the above perspectives have shed a bit of light on this interesting topic, and perhaps highlighted that a happy transition to Farangland is possible for Thai women.
I think there's a really pertinent point you make about the Thais' need to do things with others and in groups. Many Thais are gregarious (in their homeland) but many don't really have the confidence to get out there and make friends in a foreign land as they are so scared of making mistakes (be they language, cultural etc) and losing face. As such, they ten to stick with their own kind and I think this might be a big contributing factor as to why many Thais would prefer to live in Thailand. I also think an issue is that many Thais do not have a "curious mind". Travel / relocation is about discovery and learning new things yet I am not convinced this a biggy for the average Thai. Being stuck or largely confined to only having friends from a similar background while abroad would not be fun for anyone!