Generalizations Part-III-B, or ‘My Bar-girl is Different’
This section of my possibly obsessive/compulsive reaction to FarangDave’s/Nam-anator’s article is intended to be read right after part III-A and has only been split in two for convenience…
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I would like to take another break, to illustrate Thai ‘quirks’ that I encountered many years ago. Living with my wife, and her siblings (the parents were deceased), one of the odd questions I received one day was: ‘Do you like the beach’… After a childhood of trying to paddle in icy Northern waters and keeping the wind-swept sand out of my sandwiches, my memories of beaches bore no resemblance to the film of that name. However, not wanting to be impolite I mumbled something to the effect I could take it or leave it and, having never managed to work out how to make ‘or’ statements/questions in Thai, the first part of my response was accepted and a minibus was duly summoned (for 1,100 ฿, plus fuel) and, two days later, we off set for Cha Am.
Nothing had been said by my wife, or anybody else, and I expected the six of us from the house to be going. At six-thirty I was led outside to the bus which was packed to the gunwhales with my in-laws… I was directed to the seat of honour, especially saved for me, in the front row of seats… where there was no legroom and, as I was right behind the engine, no foot-room either. As everybody was so happy I chose to sit in increasing agony for the four-hour journey (the roads were a lot worse then) and we eventually tipped up on the beach road at Cha Am where I managed to hobble down to the sea’s edge to discover the Pacific was indeed something else… and the winds were non-existent – as, indeed, were the sandwiches.
I turned to discover my ‘family’ was happily ensconced under half a dozen umbrellors, four more were coming, everyone was trying to work out how to adjust a deckchair (a bit like Laurel & Hardy) and three waitresses were taking orders.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Cha Am. It’s a bit basic, compared to Hua Hin, and thus quieter, less brash and with fewer farang… though this is rapidly changing… but the purpose of this story is to relate how, at the end of the day, when everybody seemed to have been ordering food all day long, my wife checked the bill (as if she had a clue what had been ordered throughout the day…!), and then asked me for money…! I was so amazed, I have forgotten how many thousand it came to but… and it’s quite a big but… I also had not previously encountered this delightful Thai custom and was quite unprepared. That is to say, I had enough to pay for the bus, the gas, and for food for up to, but not necessarly all, six people… so I just smiled at my darling wife and told her: “Phen pai mai dai…!” (‘Impossible’) and, when she looked at me as if I was one of those decomposing crabs sometimes encountered in rock pools, and asked why… I quietly informed her that I had not been forewarned to be feeding the five-thousand, and had not brought any extra loaves and fishes… and, to her continuing horror, neither had she… and certainly neither had anybody else… Although this was quite early in the marriage (about a year) I couldn’t help smiling as I watched her wonder how to extricate herself from her miserly husband’s predicament. In the end she estimated how much I needed to keep back for petrol, and accepted the rest of my ‘roll’ to pay for the food, plus a little something that shyly crept out of her purse… while nobody else attempted to put their hand in their pocket – they had all just expected, or maybe been told, The farang will pay…!
My wife said we could pay for the bus when we reached home… and I had to whisper that the following day was our monthly ‘bank-day’, and there was little at home as well. She suggested we call at an ATM on the way back. I asked her if she had ever seen me use an ATM… I don’t like them and have never used one in a foreign country. Go figure…
Back home my wife was obliged to reveal the existence of her ‘cache’, and paid the driver – a very nice man, I recall. I made no subsequent offer to reimburse my wife for her unexpected expenses, and she never mentioned it. We made the trip again, in later years – just the six of us…
I expect my wife’s attitude to all this was much the same as FarangDave’s wife’s friend – it couldn’t possibly have been any of her fault, and I was automatically the ogre… but, let me add another quick little tale…
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Several years later, divorced and ensconced in Hua Hin, I befriended a bar-girl from Issan who, once she accepted that I wasn’t going to marry her, stormed out of town, broken-hearted. I had only known her a few short months and had announced right up front I was not going to remarry. Nevertheless we somehow remained good friends, spoke on the phone regularly, and occasionally met up when she visited friends (or whoever…) in Petchaburi…
A few years later (and a year or so since I’d seen her…), I was visiting friends in Korat and offered to come to her town to meet her. She didn’t seem to believe I would actually arrive so I phoned her every 20-30km. to update my position. Despite this, when I reached the town she of course was nowhere to be seen – she lived about an hour’s drive outside the town, and took over two hours to put in an appearance… along with the owner of the pickup that brought her, and her brother-in-law, who came for the ride, her brother-in-law’s best friend, her brother-in-law’s best friend’s daughter, and her brother-in-law’s best friend’s daughter’s best friend – and, with nothing said, I was expected to take them out for dinner… After they had all scoffed as if not having eaten for a week (and these were not poor people – I later saw their homes…!), I was presented with the bill. I put some money on the table, which covered maybe half of the bill, and smiled at the others, for contributions… and they all smiled at me as if I had incongruously suggested Mrs Worthington should put her dauhter on the stage… My friend put her hand in her pocket and added a little more… and they all departed for home. Not one of them offered any thanks, nor even said goodnight. Outside, there was a veiled request for ‘petrol-money’ but I just smiled, and ‘invoked the 5th Amendment’.
So, somewhat bemused, I wrote to Miss Udon (on this site, and sadly missed)… asking if this was really normal behaviour amongst strangers… While awaiting her reply Mr Stickman wrote: “Situations like that are situations I simply do not accept. On the very few occasions when uninvited people have come to the table and I get even the faintest inclination that I might be expected to pay, I say straight out that I will pay for myself (and my consort) and that is it. It doesn't win any friends, but I am not here to win friends….”
[Forgive me, Stick, for using this old quote but please add a rider if your views have changed.]
A week later the Mrs said: “. . . what I feel from this story is that this girl . . . thinks that you are just a guy who she knows offering her a free dinner so why should she say no. Instead of refusing the offer she then brought her cousins to eat as much good quality food as they could. She might think that she won’t have any future contact with you unless you contact her and it seems doesn’t care much about you. The politeness of Thai culture is still here and I hope you don’t judge all of us as not being polite because of the way your friend and her friends acted.
At no time have I ever judged the majority from the actions of a minority. Maybe the important difference here was that this lady was just a ‘friend’, with a small ‘f’, and not a lady with whom I might marry – but I rather doubt it, because much the same had already happened, in Cha Am, with my wife. As a postscript, this lady subsequently married an American and has been living and working in the States for several years. Every year she phones me at Song Khran and on my birthday, to wish me well, to say she’s very happy, and hopes to see me before she dies. Is this your normal bar-girl…?
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A final experience… Life, one might say, is a process of learning so, a few years later, I met a lady from the internet, at MBK, in Bangkok. She arrives with her ‘sister’ (which had been agreed) and I quickly bustled them into the ‘Coupon Cafe’ upstairs. While eating, three other ladies arrived: a middle-aged teacher and two of her ‘students’ – young ka-toey (and very beautiful…) who greeted me with no surprise at my presence… Get the picture. However, the ‘sister’ had already impressed my by the show-off manner she had announced her ex-German-husband, her two half-German sons, her 4-bed house, and Honda Accord… and wanted to know if the same could/would (I wasn’t sure which, but it’s irrelevant…) be received by my new young consort. She also declared her ex. to be “a shit-man…!” which really endeared me to her, and made me wonder what chance I might have with her ‘sister’… who didn’t speak a word of English, couldn’t decipher any of my words of Thai, and I didn’t understand her dialect either… It happens, although I’ve never had such a total “failure to communicate…!” (© Cool Hand Luke).
By this time the three newcomers were looking around, and crying, ‘Where’s the coupon kiosk…?’ which, as it was nothing to do with me, I ignored… as I gleefully realised the beauty of meeting strangers in ‘coupon cafes’ – you have to pay up front and, if cash-money isn’t immediately forthcoming, they have to pay for themselves, or starve…
It is only fair to add that, on another similar occasion, no sooner had our coffee arrived, my new aquaintance’s friend also appeared, out of the blue… who apparently just happened to be passing by… But both of them lived in different suburbs… It was too big a coincidence. However, when ‘my’ lady offered to get some food, I gave her enough for the two of us, but she declined, and she paid for all three.
Moral: Do not generalise…!
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So… back to FarangDave’s ‘princess’… who, still in Bangkok, now takes her beau to Patpong, because she has heard farang like it… Say what…!? – and then objected, after leaving him alone (where did she go…?), to find him outside a bar chatting to a half-dressed girl, and wanting to know what kind of place it was. What on earth sort of place did he think it was…!? This lass, who likes to believe she knows everything, naively took her beau to Patpong without knowing anything about the place herself, allegedly… but suddenly became an expert, saying: ‘it was a brothel to pick up poor girls from the northeast, and that respectable men should never go in there’… Someone is telling porkies here…
The article now says they are staying in a hotel. Did her parents throw them out because he didn’t pay for dinner, or were those two nights in ‘the spare room’ something of a porky as well…?
[NB: for non native-English speakers, ‘porky’ is rhyming slang: ‘porky’ – ‘pork pie’ = ‘lie’…]
Finally, as she is spending an evening with girlfriends, he goes out alone and… the poor boy returns to the hotel at three a.m., with his shirt inside out… Does anybody believe any of this nonsense by now…?
With this guy now instantly and irrevocably out of her life our little princess became weary (or maybe, ‘wary’…?) of other guys and, to show us she’s really a nice person, she pretends to acknowledge that these other guys must have considered her a bitch… Good try, my dear but… sorry, not convinced. You don’t cease being a bitch just because you glibly acknowledge maybe some guys might have found you so.
With the holiday, and the relationship, over, back in America a new (Asian) guy enters her life, and takes her to an expensive restaurant in Hollywood… which seems to be all it takes for our heroine to consider him the nicest man alive… and afterwards they stroll arm in arm in the moonlight in… wait for it… in Hollywood…! Most people would be afraid to even cross the sidewalk from the restaurant to their car in Hollywood late at night. I still don’t buy it.
On their 5th date this little flower of gentility, ‘had to drag the guy into my bed . . . he was so polite… and I was not sorry I did.’ Did she ever stop to consider maybe he didn’t want to bed her…? Did he subsequently say he was happy about it as well…? Did she even concern herself with what he felt… or wanted…?
Eventually this lady, or FarangDave, seems to calm down, and asserts that maybe, just maybe, some Western men would make decent husbands for Thai women, but goes on to explain that the majority will not… because they refuse to kowtow to Thai customs, despite that, equally, Thai women are often unable to follow farang customs… or even acknowledge that the two sets of customs are different. This is perhaps typified by the Thai custom of a man ‘buying’ his bride compared with the Western custom of a man being ‘paid’ to take his bride. Invariably the Thai woman expects her farang to simply follow her custom. If farang were equally adamant there might be far fewer mariages between Thais and farang.
It often seems to me, as a generalisation, that ‘we’ realise Thai people have different customs, and try to live with, and learn from, them… whereas Thais seem to insist the world is full of their customs only, and the rest of us don’t have any, and so might as well adopt theirs…
It is interesting that Nam-anator maintains that her devotion to her family is equalled by her Japanese/American boyfriend’s loyalty to his, and therefore all will be well… I hope so, for both their sakes, but there is still one big difference, which could become a major issue here. In Thailand the man usually (in my experience) moves into his wife’s parent’s home, meaning that, for both of them (to some extent), the loyalties will be towards her family. In Japan the opposite prevails and (at least traditionally) the woman moves into her husband’s home, and has to be totally loyal to her new in-laws, even to the point of losing her own family… Whoops…
Obviously these days more and more young Asians marry and live in their own home… but… the Thai wives still remain devoted to their own families above all others, and Japanese husbands (I believe) still put their parents above all others… Rocks and hard places.
To end her article this poor deluded lady sums up her understanding of ‘intellectual curiosity’, as defined by Simon (allegedly), as being: ‘issues affecting work life, family life and general life’… and presumptuously suggests he needs to learn to speak Thai… Always the same offence/defence – don’t bother to explain yourself, just criticise the other for not undertsanding you… But, did I read that correctly…? That it all comes down to just: ‘work, family and general life’… Is that it…? Did I misunderstand what she wrote…? I don’t think so… but it would appear that, if this is all she has gleaned from Simon’s interesting article, she clearly fails to possess any intellectual curiosity, has simply over-reacted to the title, and has foist her blinkered opinions on the world as The Gospel According to Thai People, unaware, and not caring, whether all Thai people will agree with her…
And this nice lady is unable to resist, despite what Simon wrote, to accuse him of spending too much time in bars/brothels – the ultimate insult, as she sees it, from which there can be no defence – as she sees it. When in disagreement, don’t defend your stance but simply attack the other person’s integrity, with impunity. And, after ten years in LA, and having apparently learned very little, she advises Simon to spend more time outside Bangkok, to see the real Thailand (Does she include Issan in this… LOL)(Did she see anything outside LA…?), without of course having any idea where else he has visited… and finally suggests that, as there are also bad things in his country, he should deal with those first and leave her country to her and her countrymen… What arrant nonsense. And this is supposed to be ‘intellectual’ debate…?
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At the end FarangDave confesses his role in this silly article – silly because it does nothing to further East/West, male/female relationships. It attacks Simon’s article without any counter-argument (which also suggests a limited intellectual curiosity), and I expect my article will receive the same judgement – and be equally without merit.
I find it impossible to be convinced by anything in this article. If it was just written by FarangDave as a simple hoax then it lacks the intellectual wit required by such an undertaking. [See Stick’s April Fool’s editorial a few years back for a real ‘intellectual’ hoax.] If it did indeed originate from a highly educated Thai lady living in the States why was she unable to write it herself – she seems to have little else occupying her life…? Or was it just written at the behest of Mrs FD, who has her own axe to grind…? Who knows… but, if someone else would like to take up Simon’s original point, I would be very pleased to discuss that...!
In case it seems I have been too hard on Mr FD let me finish by saying I do agree wholeheartedly with his statement, ‘that judging Thai women on the lower class, working girls of Bangkok, is like Thai people judging western men on the beer-bellied, alcoholic men who live on soi 4’… BUT… Simon was not guilty of this and so his actual argument remains unanswered… and FarangDave’s assertion that this, therefore, is, ‘the point of his story’ is also a misunderstanding. On the face of it his story just shows how easy it is to misunderstand/mis-read/mis-quote and be generally derogatory about what someone has written, as if one’s own point of view is the only one on this earth.
That’s my point anyway… 🙂
PS: I equally do not judge all Thai women on the impression given here by Nam-anator…