Thailand Is “The Game” And You’re Playing The Starring Role
In this submission I would like to talk about the 1997 movie “The Game” starring Michael Douglas and the 2012 documentary “My Thai Bride” starring Ted from Wales, discuss briefly a few classic scenes from the movies Oceans Eleven and Trading Places and argue that as westerners in Thailand, we are all participants playing a starring role in a high risk game that can cost us a great deal emotionally, psychologically and financially.
Let me begin by discussing the movie The Game. The Game is a 1997 American mystery thriller film directed by David Fincher. The trailer is available here.
The Game tells the story of a wealthy investment banker who is given a mysterious gift: participation in a game that integrates in strange ways with his everyday life. Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is a wealthy investment banker but his success has come at a cost. He is estranged from both his ex-wife and his younger brother, Conrad. He is haunted from having seen his father commit suicide on the latter's 48th birthday. For Nicholas' own 48th birthday, Conrad presents Nicholas with an unusual gift – a voucher for a "game" offered by a company called Consumer Recreation Services (CRS). Conrad promises Nicholas that it will change his life.
Nicholas has doubts about CRS, but he meets club members who enjoyed the game. He goes to CRS's offices to apply and is irritated by the lengthy and time-consuming series of psychological and physical examinations required. He is later informed that his application has been rejected. Nicholas begins to believe that his business, reputation, finances, and safety are at risk. He encounters a waitress, Christine, who appears to have been endangered by the game. Nicholas contacts the police to investigate CRS, but they find the offices abandoned.
Eventually, Conrad appears to Nicholas and apologizes, claiming that he, too, has come under attack by CRS. With no one else to turn to, Nicholas finds Christine's home. He soon discovers that she is a CRS employee and that her apartment was staged. Christine tells Nicholas that they are being watched. Nicholas attacks a camera, and armed CRS troops begin to swarm the house and fire upon them. Nicholas and Christine are forced to flee. Christine tells Nicholas that CRS has drained his financial accounts using the psychological tests to guess his passwords. In a panic, Nicholas calls his bank and gives a verification code to check his account balance—zero. Just as he begins to trust Christine, he realizes she has drugged him. As he loses consciousness, she admits that she is actually part of the scam and that he made a fatal mistake by giving up his verification code.
Nicholas wakes up to find himself entombed in a cemetery in Mexico. He sells his gold watch to escape. He returns to find his mansion has been foreclosed and most of his possessions have been removed. He retrieves a hidden gun and seeks the aid of his ex-wife. While talking with her and apologizing for his neglect and mistreatment, he discovers that Jim Feingold (James Rebhorn), the CRS employee who had conducted his psychological test, is an actor who works in television advertisements. Nicholas locates and forces Feingold to take him to CRS, whereupon he takes Christine hostage. He demands to be taken to the leader of CRS. Attacked by CRS troops, Nicholas takes Christine to the roof and bars the door behind them. The CRS troops begin cutting through the door. Christine realizes that Nicholas's gun is not a prop and is terrified. She frantically tells Nicholas that the conspiracy is a hoax, a fiction that is just part of the game, that his finances are intact, and that his family and friends are waiting on the other side of the door. He refuses to believe her. The door bursts open, and Nicholas shoots the first person to emerge: his brother Conrad, bearing an open bottle of champagne. Distraught, Nicholas leaps off the roof, just as his late father did.
Nicholas's life passes before his eyes as he falls. He smashes through a glass roof and lands on a giant air bag. Emergency medical technicians carefully remove him, and he finds himself in a ballroom full of his friends, family, and every figure involved in his Game; it had merely been a game all along. Conrad is alive and presents Nicholas with a T-shirt that reads: "I was drugged and left for dead in Mexico and all I got was this stupid shirt." He explains that he initiated the game to get his brother to embrace life and not end up like their father. Nicholas breaks into tears, relaxes, and begins to enjoy the party once his shock has dissipated. Later, Nicholas splits the bill for the game with Conrad (and is surprised to discover how expensive it all was). When he sees that Christine has left the party, he follows her outside to her cab. He asks her to dinner, and she offers to share a coffee with him before her flight takes her to her next game assignment in Australia.
I would like to strongly encourage all Stickman readers with an interest in Thailand to watch The Game because it’s almost a perfect analogy as to what is happening to us Westerners when we travel to Thailand. Just like Nicholas – each one of us has entered a game that has or soon will change our lives and just like it has for Nicholas the game we have entered has risks to our businesses, our reputations, our finances and our safety. I would also add additional risks – to our mental and emotional well-being. Nicholas’s character in the movie is on edge emotionally and psychologically due to his participation in the game. He is behaving erratically. He is in a fragile state and is dangerous to both himself and to those around him. His loved ones and his business associates think he is crazy as he tries desperately to figure out what is going on and to understand the purpose of the game.
For us western men – Thailand is the game. The game is Thailand. We are participants in a game. Some of us understand perfectly what the purpose of the game is from the very beginning before we play it and before it costs us too much financially and emotionally but some of us are not that lucky (more on this later). Others determine the purpose of the game whilst they are busy playing it whilst others still discover the purpose after returning home and reflecting (perhaps in a moment of clarity) on the game from the solitude and isolation of the West. The purpose of the game of course is for the beautiful bargirls to extract as much money as possible from us – the hapless farang – the leading men of the game. The extraction might be short term or medium term (bar fines / direct payment for sex short / long time) or longer term (buying land in your teerak's name in Isaan, setting your teerak up in a business etc). The emotional rollercoaster ride we are on is caused by playing the game. We are the stars and the spotlight is very much on us. The cast is made up of a number of actors and actresses all playing central or supporting roles in the game and from the moment we leave home our game begins. The first actor we encounter is the taxi driver in Farangland who takes us from our home to the airport. Next we come into contact with various airport staff acting out their roles. We board a Thai Airways flight with smiling Thais who greet us with a wai and another on departing as we exit the plane and jump in a taxi to Bangkok or Pattaya City. We make our way to our hotels in a taxi driven by another actor and we arrive to be greeted by yet more actors. Our first night out and the action really hots up. We are entering a period of the game where very soon the beautiful people will start to play their main roles. More actors appear – from the motorcycle taxi riders to the bar owners and finally – to the beautiful women or ladyboys that we engage with that elicit such strong positive emotions in us. They are all actors and they are all playing parts – and just like in the movie The Game it’s our job to remember that we are participants in a game – the game is in operation and our goal is to figure out the purpose of the game and to get through the game and survive this emotional rollercoaster ride with it’s massive highs and terrible lows and hopefully to survive in such a way that we are not too broken financially or emotionally.
Observe: the game is not being played on a level playing field. In fact – just like at the casino – the odds are very much stacked against us. The house always wins. The house in our cases is Thailand and both the house and the houses hosts (the actors) have advantages that are heavily stacked in their favour. The probabilities are very much against us. We have everything to lose and the house has everything to gain. The Pretenders a cynical bloke who follows the maxim: Beware the man, the woman or the country with nothing to lose.
Let’s now talk about the 2012 film ‘My Thai Bride’ which stars Ted from the UK. I strongly encourage all Stickman readers with an interest in Thailand to watch this excellent award-winning film by David Tucker. You can watch the trailer here.
Ted is a 46 year-old salesman from Wales. He is divorced, feels marginalised by middle age and is tired of life in the ‘nanny state’. Ted is a frequent visitor to Thailand as a result of his job in an import business. He revels in the freedom he finds in a country where everything is for sale at the right price; including the beautiful young women who want to be with him. Ted meets Tip who is working in the Rooster Bar. She is in her mid thirties, from the north-eastern Isaan region, the poorest part of Thailand. Like many Isaan women, Tip is uneducated and could never earn enough to own her house or educate her child. She hates the thought of her daughter growing up to be involved in prostitution. When she meets Ted, she thinks she has finally found a foreigner who will take care of her and her daughter. Ted returns to the UK, but stays in contact with Tip by telephone. He sends her money so she can give up her bar job and return to her family’s farm in her village, Krasang. After a few months, at Tip’s request, Ted returns to Thailand and marries her. Ted liquidates his assets in Wales and sinks his money into building a house and piggery on Tip’s family farm. He soon discovers there are many other foreign men who have married and settled in northeast Thailand. For many Isaan women, marriage to a foreigner provides a way out of debt and a lifetime of difficult work. In northeast Thailand, marriage to a foreigner has become an industry. John, an Australian, says that there are about 90 foreigners living within a five-kilometre radius and that new foreigners arrive every week. Larry, an American, built his wife a large, luxurious house in Krasang. Larry believes she does love him, even though she tells him she doesn’t. Grant’s wife Pon says that when she took Grant home to Krasang, her friends and relatives all came over to her house to see the foreigner, because they couldn’t believe she got one. Within 12 months, Ted’s hopes for a better life have been dashed. His money has disappeared much faster than he expected. Tip and her family don’t seem to want him around the farm anymore. When Ted asks Tip if she loves him, she says: “I can’t eat or drink your love.” Ted leaves the farm destitute and wonders whether it had been a con all along. Ted rents a room in a nearby town. After surviving on credit for several months, Ted begs Tip to give him some of his money back. She is only willing to buy him a one-way ticket back to the UK.
Economically, Ted and Tip have traded places and Ted has learned what his Thai wife already knew: without money, you lose everything. My Thai Bride is about the power of money to save and destroy – and the harm that ensues when people are reduced to commodities. While there have been other films about prostitution in Thailand, My Thai Bride explores the lesser known story of the foreign marriage industry and the consequences for the men and women involved.
Ted figured out the purpose of the game he participated in (which was tailored specifically for him) too late – after he lost everything. He is poorer but now – much wiser to the game and his role in it.
You see – the game in Thailand is a high stakes one and each of its participants have spent a lifetime back home in the West being prepared to enter the game but without any knowledge of the fact that they are being prepared nor how to play the game when they arrive. The preparation back home is also a game and it begins in earnest when a man comes of age and enters the world of dating, relationships and marriage. He entered a world where women controlled all the outcomes and for him to get what he really wanted (sex) he had to play by the rules and if he was just one of the hoards of beta men that meant working very hard and being a good little utility and a puppet for women who didn’t really need men like him anymore as they were now empowered, strong and independent women (they were of course still looking up to higher status, higher earning and more powerful men and bypassing him). Everywhere he turned society put him down, told him he was not good enough and made him work harder for the love and approval of women. So he played the game, got into a relationship or married a woman well below his station (as we all know – women marry up so this was his only choice) and this was OK for a number of years but then the divorce hit. Divorce is the end of the preparation for the western man – all that hard work, all that striving, all that trying and he has ended up on his own. Lonely. He is now ready to enter the game in Thailand – his lifetime of preparation has made him the perfect game participant – he is emotionally downtrodden and vulnerable, easy to deceive and easy to extract money from as he is starved of affection and has internalized the fact that he was never considered good enough back home in the West by western women with their insatiable, hypergamous lust for high status men. At least – not good enough for the beautiful western women he always wanted. He then travels to Thailand on that fateful first trip and he is stunned by what he finds – all the attention, affection and sex he has ever wanted – and from women much more beautiful than he could ever hope to get back home – at a price. But the price he can afford (or so he thinks).
You are Nicholas Van Orton – the wealthy investment banker. You are also Ted the 46-year-old salesman from Wales. You’re the participant in the Thailand game and if you’re smart and self-aware you will realise that your reputation, your finances, your safety and your emotional and psychological well-being are all very much at risk.
The western man who travels to Thailand has entered a high-risk game. He is engaging in intimate cross-cultural liaisons with actors of the game in Thailand that he both stars in and is financing. We must never forget these important facts. The gutter or the poorhouse awaits those who forget.
When we enter into an intimate liaison with another person we enter into an altered chemical state. The beautiful feeling of falling in love and having great sexual experiences are chemical highs which wear off. This is why it gets harder maintaining a relationship with the same person over time. It's nature’s way of ensuring we perpetuate the species – and with new and different women. Now – what about the law? In Thailand a foreigner cannot own land in his own name and can only own 49% of a business – the other 51% has to be owned by a Thai. The law has the foreigner stitched up from the beginning. To use an old phrase – the Thais “saw him coming”. Or as Saul Bloom in the movie Oceans Eleven says to Brad Pitt's character Rusty Ryan at the racetrack "I saw you at the paddock……before the second race, outside the men's room when I placed my bet. I saw you before you even got up this morning."
As I have said – love and sex chemical highs wear off over time – and this occurs with 100% certainty. The farang in Thailand is not on an even playing field. His Thai beauty has the upper hand. She is in a position where she has nothing to lose and everything to gain whilst he is in a position – and think about this carefully – where he has everything to lose (most or all of his assets) and what he will gain – the reason he is there in the first place – will slowly but surely disappear over time as the chemical high wears off and he recovers from his altered chemical state. The relationship is almost certainly temporary – the Thai business laws and the advantages for his teerak however are very permanent.
You would almost certainly have seen the classic 1983 moving ‘Trading Places’ starring Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd and if so you know very well how it ends. The participants trade places – Valentine, Winthorpe, Ophelia (the prostitute), and Coleman (the butler) get rich and bankrupt the Duke brothers.
Valentine: “Oh, see I made Louis a bet here. Louis bet me that we couldn't get rich and put you in the poorhouse. He didn't think we could do it. I won.”
Winthorpe: “I lost. One dollar.”
Valentine: “Thank you, Louis.”
Be very careful in Thailand, gentlemen. As participants in the game you are the leading men – the stars and you are quite literally the business. You are financing the game as well as starring in it and your game is unique and tailored specifically to you. That’s quite a role you have forged for yourself, farang! Your sex drive and the baron and desolate dating landscape back home in the West for mature men over age 35 conspired to bring you here to the land of smiles. Your altered chemical state made you ripe for the plucking. The odds were always against you and the probability was always that you would end up losing financially. Some of you will lose big and some will lose small. You may very well (as I have) gained something special emotionally by playing this high-risk game but you have certainly paid money to experience this emotional gain and the Thais – your fellow actors in the game – have won economically. This is a fair deal. Maybe it beats the deal back home. Of course it does – or else why would we ever play such a high-risk emotional and financial game with odds that are so heavily stacked in the houses favour against us?
My advice to you is this gentleman, – a banker always asks for collateral from a borrower when he makes a loan. He will never enter a lending situation and risk significant capital where he is not protected on the downside. This is how you need to think as a westerner in Thailand. This thinking will save you economically and you won't ever lose your shirt. You are entering a game where you might very well gain emotionally but without your teerak bringing collateral to the table you are at very high risk financially. Cross-cultural relationships are very hard and the probability is your relationship will fail despite your best efforts to make it succeed and perhaps through no fault of your own.
If your relationship fails tomorrow are you protected?
If not, think very carefully about your situation and think very carefully about the Thais who are drawn to you. The Thais that are drawn to you may have little to no collateral. They have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You must be very wary of such people for the good of your economic and emotional well-being. Nobody has your back in Thailand except you. Only you have your best interests at heart.
Be careful out there, gentlemen, and all the best!