Farang – Thai marriage
Plah Kapong Sam-Rot, Pak Popeye, naman hoi, mi makmay gatiam, Kao-suaï. Sounds like gibberish to you? Perhaps on second thoughts you would guess a fusion menu on a Thai restaurant’s offering. In reality it’s my dinner menu. As announced and expressed in her peculiar Thinglish by my long-time maid last Sunday morning. Farang residents, married to a Thai woman or often dining at your mia-noi’s place will have caught on more easily. For the non-initiated it translates: Snapper on a tasty (but not too spicy) sauce, spinach with oyster sauce and mild Thai garlic, plain white rice.
Allow me to add a few thoughts and comments to the Thai woman falling out of favor section in a recent introduction piece of Stick. And more precisely why do Farang – Thai marriages so often fail?
You may ask quite rightly based on what authority do I contribute my tittle-tattle. Well it so happens that I’ve lived here for just over 30 years, have two failed marriages behind me and am the father of a now 19-year-old child or rather young man, abandoned by his mother soon after birth and who I have taken care of from the age of 6 months.
So let’s get done with the food part first though it’s certainly not the most important. Wherever we come from on this planet, most of us are used to the three meals a day rule. For some the main meal is at lunchtime, for others in the evening. But almost invariably it is a family gathering around the table at usually well set hours and we like the dishes to be hot. Not consumed leftovers would go in the fridge and be heated up the next day and even improved often by adding spices, garlic or onion in the process. A fond memory of my childhood days as I always liked the leftover heat-ups best. I will not elaborate on the inevitable glass or bottle of wine present in most households in middle and southern European countries to accompany meals. Thais drink water with or after the meal.
Thais have no set time on the matter. They tend to eat whenever the fancy takes them. When they do sit together for meals it’s in a pretty unconventional way. Plates are presented at random when ready and rice is served out of a large bowl to the gathering people. Such a reunion enjoying good food can take an hour or hours and is analogous to a social family event. And may I add very enjoyable if you are able to participate in the often animated conversation. Perishable leftovers are often and sadly just put in the bin as Thais of older generations refuse to eat food out of a refrigerator. More durable leftovers are preserved under a food bell and consumed the day after. To me the throw-away method has always been a source of contention with most of my partners as I hate waste and not only in food matters.
Of course with the introduction of fast-food chains and convenience stores everywhere these days old habits are vastly disappearing and the “live today never mind about tomorrow” generation adapted by the under 30-year-olds have thoroughly upset the old ways.
But farang – Thai marriages do not usually break up over such trivial matters as food on the table. More often it’s the little things at the root of initial discord that lead up and create grounds for quarrels at first and lead later to serious contention. The social – cultural fossé often being too large to overcome.
Rather than analyze the cause of breakups in depth, here are a few examples of Farang – Thai reunions. Make your own judgments.
At this point I’d like to stress that the following stories are not of the often seen lying, cheating, stealing bargirl variety. Nevertheless they do not present Thai ladies in the most favorable light. Time to emphasize therefore again of the happily married Thai – Farang unions personally known to me. If not all that many to be honest.
As an epitome I would cite the retired Thai army officer with the successful Swiss business lady. I had known them in my early years in Thailand and mentioned in another submission. I can affirm they had the happiest time together. Having entertained or been entertained by them on more than one memorable occasion. They have now both disappeared and not surprisingly so within a few months of each other.
You supposedly met your Thai girlfriend to become your wife most likely because she was pretty, shapely, smiling, and easy to please and at the beginning no strings attached. So much is obvious. Her reasons to marry you were quite different. You were seen as a kind of launching pad into a better life for the often northeastern girl and her family you married along with her and especially her mother. The modest sum of money you transferred monthly to look after the poor Isan family including possibly a child she had with the former Thai boyfriend or husband did not bother you much at first.
The honeymoon period, whether there was an actual one or not, would last for months, sometimes years and in an ideal world, forever. It does happen. But not often and that is what this essay is about. Sometimes it’s the increased demands for money that creates the first discord. When they are reasonable you will consent. For a time. Like sickness or hospital expenses for a parent.
The sick buffalo, leaking roof or brother’s motorcycle accident stories have now almost become an urban legend and even the most gullible farang have caught on to it. A friend of mine on his yearly visit up north was told the buffalo had died and there was no way to work the fields. He generously went out and purchased a small tractor for the family. A considerable expense. He explained them how to work it and all about maintenance. On his next visit 2 years later the tractor was rusting away at the far end of the field. Sorry, no money to buy petrol, he was told.
A frequent issue is the fact that many Thais are unable or at least very poor at handling money. Hans bought a house in a newly created and fairly large estate in Phuket in the late ’90s. His wife suggested adding a small extension to the house where she would operate a small convenience store intended to serve the large community. It was before the explosion of 7 Elevens all around. Hans went about planning and building. Finally stock up the place with everyday items for the large neighborhood.
Naturally he expected his wife to keep a book with takings and expenses. Never heard of such a thing, she replied. In her world takings equals proceeds or profit. Hans tried to explain. Products had to be purchased from wholesaler, then there were overheads and operating costs like the salary of the girl that replaced her when she was absent, electricity and other bills to pay. But I thought you’d take care of all that you said was her reply. Hans stopped paying supplier bills, the wife got tired working long hours what she called for nothing. The place fell in to ruin and Hans left for other shores.
Lawyers in LOS are not known for their infallible integrity. In fact to put it more bluntly some of them are plain corrupt. That is not the case in our western homelands where lawyers are honest and well-respected individuals. And not cheap I may add. Yves was one of them. Practicing his trade in his home country in central Europe until he turned 50. Following a contentious divorce with his wife of over 20 years, Yves decided to take a sabbatical year off to realize his lifelong dream to travel eastward overland on his state of the art BMW motorbike. Not an easy venture. A meticulous individual in all respects it took Yves months of organizing the journey and a lot of paperwork to obtain necessary documents, mostly visas. The first part of the travels went almost without a hitch, people admiring his machine everywhere. It would take a book (that I believe he’s writing now) to describe the innumerable adventures that followed including an unfortunate accident in Pakistan that left him 3 long weeks in a hospital bed.
But then followed by mostly positive things to tell, especially the helpfulness of people on the latter part of the journey and through the subcontinent. Eventually after almost a year he reached Thailand where he intended further exploring. For several months he travelled Thailand from north to south with many more stories to tell. I had originally met him shortly after his arrival in Bangkok. Sitting at a bar along Sukhumvit. We exchanged e-mails and kept in touch. Meeting again occasionally in Bangkok and once in Phuket.
But Thailand being Thailand it was inevitable for Yves to meet a young lady and fall in love. After several months of courting he proudly announced his upcoming nuptials. Elated and overjoyed to marry the daughter of a much respected family. Yves was not a poor man too and had transferred significant sums to Thailand. He built a house in Chonburi province where they lived for some time.
Unfortunately and partially due to the extremely expensive tastes of his wife for cars and other toys plus lavish parties given to her friends and family often in 5-star hotels with Yves footing the bills, the reunion soured after only a few years. A divorce action was initiated. As a man of the law in his home country he wanted to clearly follow proceedings so Yves hired an interpreter at his own cost. The wife’s family lawyer started to spin a tale of physical and emotional abuse. No proof was presented. Yves was shocked and disgusted.
It wasn’t true. In most western countries these accusations would have been dismissed as fabricated lies, worse perjury. Yves denials of tortious liability toward the family was dismissed. By that time however he had been long enough in Thailand to understand that he would more easily grow palm trees or sunflowers at the North Pole than win a court case opposing him to a so-called influential family. Reluctantly, Yves abandoned the fight.
Divorce was granted with all blame on his behalf. He lost not only his wife that he still cared for but along also his not unsubstantial local fortune most of it in form of a lavishly built house in compensation to the lady. Yves returned to Europe with little choice other than practicing again as a lawyer at now close to 60 years of age.
Paul was a tiler (carreleur). He reached retirement age but announced 65 was too early to retire. He wanted to remain active and loved his job. More so since his beloved wife of 40 years had died only months before. All he would allow himself was a prolonged holiday on that famous Island in southern Thailand some of his clients raved about.
When he arrived we booked his room in the modest but homely Patong Lodge Hotel on the hill leading to Kamala. He intended to have a suit made to measure. The tailor shop assigned Nui to his request. A not so young lady that offered a smiling and competent service to him. Several try out and adjustment appointments had to be made and Paul ended up not with one but 3 made to measure outfits.
In truth Paul was now much more interested in Nui than the suits. On his last appointment he plucked up the courage and asked Nui out to dinner. To his surprise she accepted. It was to be a long evening as both possessed only unpolished English. But a spark ignited. In Paul’s 10 remaining days in Phuket they met several more times. Communication started to become easier each time they met. Nui told him she was single, had no local boyfriend and no children. That led him to invite Nui to visit his homeland.
But remained one nagging suspicion that he confided in me. 35 years of age, no marriage, no children? Can it be true, he asked me? We’ll try to find out. Several telephone calls later to the Ampoeur of her hometown Aom was able to confirm. Yes, she was single and had no children. So they left for Europe and after a decent period Paul owed to his deceased wife, long reflections and consultations with friends, Paul fell to his knees and asked her to marry him.
No, Paul admitted to me later, there had never been any love at first sight involved and no fairy tale wedding. Simply a small ceremony at the registrar’s office. The highlight being a friend of his turning up with a bottle of Champagne in an ice-bucket and glasses to celebrate. Nui found work in a watch factory and Paul continued his beloved tiling job. For many years they came to meet us on arrival at ZRH Airport at the outset of our yearly promotion tour.
The years passed and the government required year-long waiting period and several tests; language, political & civil structures, which Nui passed with flying colors she eventually received the much coveted red-colored passport. A wonderful achievement for her Paul pronounced when informing me. Sadly it turned out to be a poisoned gift. Now an established citizen the clandestine liaison Nui had entertained for some time with a younger co-worker now flourished. Sadly divorce became inevitable. For years to come Paul still visited us on arrival in ZRH Airport and never failed to take out the photo showing him and Nui together in happier times. Then the visits stopped, letters returned and telephone calls remained unanswered. Paul was only half the man he’d been before Nui left him. He too has now departed.
Then there’s the trusting-naive or gullible farang story. The following narration is a personal experience and happened only a few weeks ago. On my early morning cycling tour at the beginning of the year I made a short stop at the house of a vague acquaintances to wish him happy new-year. Inevitably we started to talk. He’s not a rich guy and the monthly social security checks are always anticipated impatiently. The subject of money transfers came up. Unintentionally and devoid of malice I slipped in the phrase “then you have these jokers who set up joint bank accounts with their Thai wife”. The wife seemingly busy in the nearby kitchen heard me. With fury she came running out to chastise me in the most severe terms. Turns out that the retired guy had his full pension paid monthly in to such an account. Prudently I kept quiet.
Later I remembered that he had told me some time ago “you know I’m not clever with handling money so I leave it up to her.” No wonder the poor guy spends his days within his 4 walls watching old or adult movies from morning to night while the lady of the house enjoys herself with friends in the car he provides plus the many other advantages his money pays for. Surprisingly these marriages sometimes survive for no other reason than the husband accepts his role as a wimp and a loser. In this particular case the couple still live together and when the husband is asked will give you the most curious sounding answer that he’s a happily married man!
In conclusion I would say (and I have no statistical proof to verify my assertion) that the most successful Thai – Farang unions are living in Farangland around the world where the wife accepts a somewhat submissive role with the sometimes elderly Farang husband in return for a financially comfortable situation including a yearly or twice yearly return ticket to the homeland to see family, children (if any) and friends for an agreed upon period of time.
As you may have deduced from my introductory segment I now share my house with my son and employ a maid which I believe saves me many marital headaches (though only to give me others with my son). As for the fun part I’ve learned the hard way that it’s best to get it outside. Culinary and carnal tastes or expectations do not always mix well together be it in Thailand or Farangland regardless.
I’d have to agree with you that a lot of these unions just don’t work. If I look at all the people I know, the happiest couples are where they are of the same ethnicity. When it comes to mixed race / raised in different nations couples, there are inevitably issues…
The author of this submission can be contacted at : [email protected]