Generalizations Part-II, or ‘My Bar-girl is Different’
Just to recap, this article originated from the many, many submissions here (and everywhere else…) [and follows Part-I here:] that contain so many generalisations it can be difficult, if not impossible to reliably learn from them. There are many reasons for this but I surmise it is human nature to generalise, perhaps for convenience, perhaps effect, perhaps occasionally to confuse and/or misinform, deliberately or otherwise. It seems to be most common when a widespread dictum is offered, as a result of the minimum of example or experience – i.e. when a guy is severely hurt by his Thai girlfriend and then accuses all Thai women of being liars and cheats. It also pertains when another person reacts unfavourably to the first claim and accuses the writer of being the lowest of the low. Sometimes there might be some truth in the comments but, being generalisations, are usually useless as a starting point for a conversation because they invariably just generate polarized vindictive monologues.
I submit, nothing worthwhile can result from such narrow, but wide-reaching, generalisations – but we all do it.
Generalisation-4: Farang should never marry Thais… and vice versa.
There have been two posts here recently, both of them worth reading but both spoiled by generalisations… This time I can name names… No disrespect intended – no need to read between the lines.
‘Simon’ wrote a long article about why he would never marry a Thai woman. Being pedantic (especially in relation to this article of mine) I was immediately disappointed by, ‘never’… A more objective title might have been, ‘Why I don’t want to marry a Thai’… but, throughout his article ‘Simon’ does couch his comments in a less dogmatic manner. That apart, the primary part of his discourse was the subject of ‘intellectual curiosity’… which strikes me as an interesting subject…!
A week later ‘FarangDave’ submitted a rejoinder, slightly dishonestly (though I understand his motive), under the pen-name of ‘Nam-anator’, and only at the end admitting the story came from a Thai lady, via his wife, offering an opposite point of view. My question would be, can either of these fairly polarized opinions be regarded as suitable for debate when both exhibit either too much generalisation or too much specificity posing as general fact…?
I also wonder whether FarangDave’s wife was holding a gun to his head to make him write this…?
I don’t know either of these two chaps, and I have no personal axe to grind with either, and have no desire to be disrespectful to either but, as their two opinions were so at variance I thought I might try to find the essence of a logical middle path between them.
Never marry a Thai girl.
I would say up front I didn’t entirely agree with Simon’s opinions – only most of them – but I found his arguments comprehensive and erudite and worthy of debate. At no time did I detect any disrespect towards Thai people nor their country. He asserted he had had many ‘dates’ with several Thai women, over a six-year period, and had found the ladies ‘kind, considerate, caring, smart, wealthy, independent, well-travelled, loyal and honest’… but had failed to encounter, ‘intellectual curiosity in almost every single Thai girl [he had] met in the last 6 years.’
And that’s all he says against Thais… which hardly constitutes grounds for the attack he seemed to receive in the second post… but… as he was primarily commenting on the ladies he had met, his use of generalisation (‘never marry a Thai woman.’) left him open (perhaps intentionally) to have implied his opinion related to all Thai women.
Let’s look at a basic dictionary definition…
the faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively, esp. with regard to abstract or academic matters : he was a man of action rather than of intellect.
• the understanding or mental powers of a particular person : his keen intellect.
• an intelligent or intellectual person : sapping our country of some of its brightest intellects.
Important part: ‘The faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively’…
Simon provided well-reasoned and objective examples – the two conversations he had with Thai and with farang students I’m sure struck home with many of us and provide a neat and general argument.
a strong desire to know or learn something : filled with curiosity, she peered through the window.
Important part: ‘A strong desire to know’…
My own experiences of what Thai women have been keen to know relate to the common superficial queries of: ‘Come inside, please?’ – ‘Where you go?’ – ‘Kao arai?’ – ‘How long you stay Thailand?’ – ‘You have wife?’ – ‘Why you rent?’ – and so on. Whenever one quotes these one is invariably charged, by apparently narrow-minded people, as only having met bar-girls – and should go back to them… and note, these accusations are always potentially libellous in that they rarely just suggest: ‘I think you have spent too much time with bar-girls…’ Invariably the writer is just guilty as charged – as having an ignorant inability to possess any kind of worthwhile opinion – and not allowed a defence.
I don’t have much patience with such general, vindictive advice.
Yet, during my first seven years in Thailand I never went inside a Thai bar, nor met a bar-girl – at least, as far as one can ever tell…
I met and married my ‘nice’ Thai wife in a ‘decent’ Bangkok suburb and for a few years lived in a house owned by her and a sister, along with four other family members, and surrounded by five other houses occupied by other family members, none of whom (I am quite sure, though I had no reason to consider it at the time) had ever had any contact with the Thai bar scene… and yet all these people spoke to me in the same way I have just illustrated. They all asked the same simplistic questions, in the same seemingly disinterested way (i.e. with no follow-up), and often repeated the same questions several times during those seven years… as if they hadn’t previously heard, understood, or remembered my reply.
There appeared to be no real curiosity about me which, at the time, I put down to a parochial, insular attitude, and nothing personal. Conversely, whenever I tried to learn about my new in-laws I was invariably fobbed off with terse half-answers that suggested either my wife wasn’t interested in the discussion, or perhaps was being secretive. She had so many relatives (i.e. those people referred to as: ‘my family’) I once tried to draw up a family tree, to get all these people into some sort of orderly state that I could easily learn and politely remember, and my wife was horrified, and very nastily snapped it was none of my business what their names were and when they were born…!
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While considering the often parochial attitude of many people around the world one might make allowances and say that, if you’ve never been outside your village, how could you even conceive what questions to ask about the world…? Despite the advent of television, where everybody has the opportunity to ‘see’ outside their own lives, this will only work if the viewer possesses curiosity, and a desire to learn.
In that little back-water of the Chao Phrya, at the end of 1999, when the world was about to end, due to the inept attitude of programmers at Microsoft (for which the world was also forced to pay for the ‘fix’…!), the slogan ‘Y2K’ was on everybody’s lips. On the 31st December, as I sat on our little jetty (watching oil barges drifting past in the moonlight) without a care in the world for the hypocrisy of New Year celebrations, many of the children came running out to get me, to come and watch because, they believed, it was all for my benefit. When I enquired what they meant I was informed: “Come quick…! It’s for you…! Quick, quick…! It’s for you… It’s YUK…! For farang…!”
This had come from my adult in-laws who wanted me to share in the farang New Year – hence. ‘Y-U-K’… The relevance of ‘Y2K’ seemed to mean nothing to them. I was the only one laughing at the clearly unintended joke…
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Meanwhile the same basic questions were continually asked, without ever forming any part of a conversation, let alone a discussion.
Part of this was caused by my wife telling everybody I didn’t speak Thai, which resulted in them asking her their questions and, as I waited for confirmation (because I did understand part of what was being asked), my wife answered in my stead – even when she had no reason to know what I might have felt about something – she just made it up… When I started to interject, with simple phrases like: ‘That’s not quite right…’ she would bring the chat to an immediate end, and either our guests quickly departed, or we went home.
After we had separated, and she finally agreed to a divorce (having ‘found herself a fourth sucker’ – according to my Thai lawyer – his words…), I ventured to Hua Hin for a quick break, and to consider future options and, after seven years in Thailand, I first encountered the Thai bar scene.
[NB: Nobody ever seems to believe this – mai phen rai…]
Now, the next comment is without doubt a generalisation: During the first three or four years of meeting Thai bar-girls in Hua Hin (and I cannot compare them to bar-girls in other parts of Thailand, though I do believe there were differences) I quickly discovered that the majority seemed far more honest and honorable than my wife ever was. And yet my wife would constantly disparage bar-girls (even though I knew nothing about them…) and claim to be far superior to all of them – and to all their progeny – and all their families… for the next forty generations…!
Please note, I am not generalizing and trying to suggest that bar-girls are therefore superior to other Thai women. I am just saying most of those I met in Hua Hin were superior to my wife. Perhaps my wife wasn’t typical of other Thai women…
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I apologise for straying from the topic but I wanted to provide background to my experiences of ‘intellectual curiosity’… Along with the simplistic questions above, I received: ‘Do you like shopping…?’ (as if it was a pastime in its own right – a new concept to me…) – ‘How much do you earn…’ – ‘Do you like waterfalls…?’ – ‘Can you eat spicy…?’ – ‘Do you want to buy a house in Thailand…?’ – and none of these topics developed into any sort of conversation and, eventually, for my own sanity, I was reduced to plain, ‘yes’ / ‘no’, answers.
Forget about intellectually satisfying… this so-called communication was deemed, by me, a total waste of time… and I have no idea what, if anything, my wife’s family gained from it. We certainly didn’t learn much about each other.
It always seemed to me that Thai conversation, as I had experienced it (None of my wife’s family had ever been to university… Is that a presumptuous generalisation…?) consisted of one person asking a question or making a statement and, while the other person replied, the first person was already working out their next comment – thus nobody seemed to be really listening to anybody else… and Simon’s comments about: ‘I’m working on the moon right now.’ appear to be very typical of my experiences… and he was talking to university students, I believe…
Many times I deliberately gave false answers (though not quite as outrageous), in Thai, usually with a (Thai-style) smile, and would almost laugh at the quite unconnected, reply, causing many people to ask why I was laughing… I tried to say I liked to be san-nook, but maybe some of them thought me to be a gibbering idiot.
During my first few years in Hua Hin (until the noise levels completely drowned out all conversation) I had longer, and more meaningful conversations with over two hundred bar-girls (I kept notes of ‘who, when & where’ to help me remember to whom I’d spoken and what each had said, to prevent future confusion in my aging mind…) than I ever did with my wife’s family. I’m not really making any conclusions about this, just noting what I experienced.
I mentioned that I didn’t entirely agree with Simon’s theories. For example he says he, ‘can’t really think of one memorable story or anecdote told to me by a Thai date which was based on her own experiences or a friend's’. But, in my long, fully documented series of tete-a-tete’s perhaps the major delight for me was the numerous anecdotes, usually funny, from their pasts – in a few hours spent chatting with each bar-girl, over a period of several days or weeks (slowly gaining their confidence), I learned more about their hopes & aspirations, trials & tribulations, than I did about my own wife, and her family, in seven years… I am not claiming it was all ‘true’, just that there was much more of it. And, the more information you have, the more ‘truth’ can remain when you’ve weeded out the obvious fictions… This applies equally to the bull-shit declaimed by many farang.
I have spent the past few years trying to develop a format to publish these colloquies, in order to show how many of my (girl)friends have behaved ‘differently’ to the commonly perceived norm of bar-girl attitudes…
Let me recap:
‘The faculty of reasoning and understanding objectively’ – ‘A strong desire to know’...
I suggest that, scientifically, it is probably impossible to compare these concepts with any individual or group of people. After all, if the guy sitting next to you in a bar replies: ‘Oh, really…?’ to your suggestion that the current Thai government is superior to the senators in Washington, it doesn’t automatically follow that the guy has no ability to debate your point – there could be a dozen reasons why you don’t get the response you might prefer… So, if a Thai person replies: ‘Can you eat spicy…?’ to your statement that you like to paraglide, it doesn’t automatically prove the person has ‘intellectual limitations’… Thus, all we can do is generalise…
However, statistically (another dangerous, and often subjective, topic) I can state that most of the Thai people I have met and discoursed with, in nearly twenty years, appeared to lack ‘intellectual curiosity’… (as, indeed, have many farang) and yet… After my first couple of trips to Thailand I stayed a weekend with some old friends back home who wanted to know all about ‘it’. I was asked simplistic question after superficial query about my experiences. Throughout meals, sitting in the garden, strolling through the village and relaxing in front of the fire in the evening, the questions kept coming, from them and visiting friends…
But… I grew increasingly astonished that I was rarely allowed time to answer… Where the questions took 5-10 seconds to ask, I was allowed 30-40 seconds to reply, before someone else threw another question at me, usually unconnected to the previous one. I might add all these people were graduates and had very responsible careers.
I became so bored with this I tried completely ignoring subsequent questions and just battling on, but there were too many of them and, in the end, I reduced myself to just ‘yes’ and ‘no’ replies – if I was boring them why didn’t they just talk about the rhododendrons…? I never understood why it happened… but now, thanks to Simon, I wonder whether those nice kind, educated, smart, charming and delightful people also just lacked intellectual curiosity.
I have friends in Singapore with a teenage daughter of 13-14 with whom I receive more intellectual stimulation (because she is incredibly intellectually curious) in a one-week/biennial visit than I usually get in the subsequent twenty-five weeks back in Hua Hin.
While writing this article I had occasion to phone Singapore and was, quite by chance, informed that a young friend was suffering from, ‘Intellectual Disability’… and discovered this is now a medically accepted term introduced in response to the ‘euphemism treadmill’ which has expunged previously used terms – cretin, idiot, imbecile, moron, feeble-minded, (the dreadful) ‘Mongoloid’, ineducable, educationally subnormal, and retarded – all once accepted medical terms which became insulting and derogatory.
Before anyone starts jumping up and down may I say that the term used here, of ‘intellectual curiosity’, is not the same subject, and I’m quite sure Simon’s article also intended no disrespect to the ‘intellectually disabled’.
And then there is the common term: ‘pseudo-intellectual’, with which I will deal next time… along with FarangDave’s response to Simon’s article.
To be continued..
To be continued…