Stickman Readers' Submissions August 23rd, 2014

Venture Sponsorship – 4

Last time I mentioned the private conversations I had with Thai ladies (not all of them bar-girls), the things I discovered about their lives, that are often dismissed as superficial fripperies, and the way some of their boyfriends failed to meet their expectations…

Frequently, as many of us have, I was also given SMS messages to decipher, and I don’t just mean, translate. Many of these notes needed Alan Turing to decrypt them. When I was first married, and waiting at home for my wife’s visa to be granted, I tried to write to her – in Thai. But I cannot write Thai. So I wrote to her in Romanised Thai – i.e. I wrote: ‘Pom kitten kun maak maak’ – and it took me a few weeks to realise my concern to be helpful, and not expect her to just accommodate me, was totally misguided – there was little likelihood she would ever be able to read this and, of course, looking up the words in a dictionary was a completely futile act.

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In the end I had to just write in simple, basic English so that she could at least use a dictionary if necessary.

Many years before coming to Thailand I had learned to speak and write Japanese – if I knew the word, I could write it. If I wasn’t sure, I could use ‘Romanji’ which was likely to be understood by Japanese people. This just didn’t work in Thailand…

But the bigger problem all these ladies have is trying to communicate with a farang when both parties are inexpertly using a third language – English. Many Thais seem to have no idea that farang have different languages and even those who have grasped this concept all seem to believe we nevertheless all speak English as well. Time after time I try to explain that the language spoken throughout the English-speaking world is not the same in every country and many Brits can have difficulty understanding Yanks, who can equally have problems with Aussies or South Africans. Even within a country there can be wide variations in accents and dialects, and of course words, as also exists in Thailand – even between Buriram and Surin, it seems…

I think the onus is on us farang to effect a solution, and the first thing, which I taught myself, many years ago, shortly after getting married, is to realise, and accept, without question, the fact that more often than not your Thai lady will not understand what you have said – even if they have understood the individual words, they might not have understood their combined meaning. And yet, at various times, we have all of us asked a question, received an answer, and believed we have ‘communicated’. Think for a moment how often you have said something to a friend, relative, colleague in your own country and not been understood… how often you have been called upon to clarify something previously said… and all that in ostensibly the same language and culture. And of course it works both ways.

How often have you heard (or even said – be honest now…): “Why don’t you understand what I’m saying…!?” usually in a high-pitched squeal of frustration. “We discussed this last week. I thought it was all decided…!

Is it not possible that we ‘discussed’ it, probably on our own…? If the lady has poor English skills (and let’s be blunt, most of them do, as most of us have poor Thai skills) do not be fooled into believing you have been understood simply because she has smiled, and nodded her head – not even if she has said, Yes… She probably understood your words as little as you understood the smile, and the nod of her head.

And, to get back to the main drive of this discourse… With this level of comprehension you are aiming to found a business empire…?

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Let me give a final example (from hundreds): I have a friend who I met here in a bar several years ago. She’s a nice, quiet, demure, sincere soul who never enjoyed her few weeks in the bars. She just hoped for a better life, for herself and her mother. She had virtually no education, no knowledge of farang, other than their affluence(!), and no particular domestic skills. One might say she is ‘bone idle’ – certainly indolent – with little real ambition… Just a desire to take care of her ailing mother. She had an older sister, already living in Europe, who allegedly sent money home… although she didn’t appear overly generous. She spent a lot of time living in a wat, on and off and, when she was in town, we helped each other out.

Eventually, as my failed marriage receded into the mists of time I even considered making her a better offer than she had at the time… but she suddenly disappeared. A couple of years later I came across her, in ‘The Street of a Thousand Bars’, where she gave me her coy smile… and told me all…

She had gone off with a ‘young’ (allegedly) European guy, who had taken care of her, and her mother, but got bored and eventually returned to his own home, quite literally leaving the lady holding the baby, who is now cared for by the increasingly frail mother, who simply cannot cope. One is entitled to ask why many Thai women in such a situation encourage the arrival of offspring in some forlorn expectation this will keep the man close to the hearth… Why do they believe this when so many of them have seen their own fathers disappear in much the same way…?

After a further three years of flitting in and out of the bar scene, this lady managed to latch onto another farang, in his 50’s, whose own health was failing, and who was seeking a comfortable early retirement.

He spent two winters in Thailand, and rented a house for the two of them. The second winter the young daughter joined them, and soon started school in Hua Hin. A private school. Later the mother arrived, for a visit… From what I heard, the daughter was no more enthusiastic to be educated than her mother had been. It would not be unfair to say the guy was wasting his money, but he was keen to help. He appears to be fundamentally an honorable guy. I wish her luck. She will need it.

The guy bought her a laptop so they could communicate in his absence during the summer months but there were many times when they were communicating by email even when in the house together – verbally they seemed to be lacking something.

When he was back home they each wrote about ten emails per week. Once a week she called me, often almost in tears, certainly in desperation, because she didn’t understand him. On the phone she would tell me words that he used. Even when she spelled them for me, I didn’t understand either – despite his naive belief, he just wasn’t writing any known kind of English… and yet he constantly berated her for not understanding him. It never occurred to him that maybe he might, even partially, be at fault as well.

He even paid for her to have English lessons… I have had a lot of experience of language schools in Hua Hin – ENG-101 For Bar-Girls – all those I’ve encountered are useless. [If anybody knows of a good school, please pass it on.]

An ultimate irony of this situation is that the lady and I speak in a form of ‘Thai/glish’ that shows her English is at least as good as my Thai – in some ways, better – but this guy constantly destroys (unintentionally) her confidence.

This lady took to visiting me weekly, with her laptop, and together we pored over his emails, like Long John Silver over a treasure map. Often I could eventually decipher part of his electronic scrawls which only caused the lady to be even more certain she was useless so, I took one of his longer screeds (about 200 words), removed all the grossly misspelled words that would never be found in any dictionary on this planet, and got Google to translate it into Thai… and gave it to her. She looked blankly at it and said it didn’t make sense – it wasn’t, ‘Thai’. I told her the original simply wasn’t, ‘English’… and that is why she couldn’t understand it – not because she didn’t understand English. In fact her English is much better than his.

Like the prison-camp commandant in Cool Hand Luke, what we have here is a failure to communicate… and he had no idea, constantly blaming his girlfriend’s lack of English skills – while she had no idea how to solve her problem – because she hadn’t realised it was his problem…

A little while back this persistent fellow paid for ‘salon’ lessons – a local con where farang give money for their somewhat dopey girlfriend to sit in a salon daily and watch what happens – and perhaps learn something. The only person to benefit is the lady running both the salon and the scam. The plan was for the guy to eventually finance his girlfriend’s own salon – in a town that already has about twice as many salons as it needs… and about three times as many massage parlours as are required… and maybe four times as many travel agents… and ten times as many motorbikes for rent, that are chained together, in long rows in Hua Hin’s streets, taking up parking space, and not being rented from one year to the next…

. . . but more of that next time…

's thoughts:

Any relationship where there is little or no communication is not one where you can be confident about its longevity.

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