Stickman's Weekly Column March 23rd, 2003

Where’s Your Wallet, Stick?



The dreaded dowry. Is it a way for your future in-laws to get their hands into your pot of gold, or is it a legitimate part of Thai culture that should be respected in the same way as you respect the King, Buddhism and many aspects of life in the Kingdom? There are good arguments both for and against the dowry and I try to discuss them in this week's column.

It is the thing that gets Westerners pursuing relationships with Thai lades up in arms more than anything else. It is usually referred to as a dowry but technically, it is not a dowry at all. A dowry is money or goods given from the bride's family to the groom's family to take the daughter off theirs hands. In Thailand the groom or groom's family pays the bride's family money, goods or both so as to marry the daughter, so it is a bride's price. This is a common practice in many South East Asian countries, Moslem countries, pre-communist Russia, and with old testament Jews.

Generally, Westerners marrying Thai women are against the idea of paying a bride price. Many feel that it is unreasonably harsh to pay a bride price when they are also taking over the financial obligation of looking after not only their wife to be, but possibly the family too, and that could be quite a lot of family members in the cases of some families! Remember, very few Thai women have the earning potential of their Western husbands. Other Westerners feel that it places a major financial burden on the newly wed couple at a time when they are starting a new life – and at a time when the wedding ceremony and party may already be costing them a small fortune. Perhaps more than anything else, the Western notion, perhaps even the Western ideal, of love in it's purest form, views money as totally outside of the equation of love and marriage. In an ideal world, the average Westerner gets married for love, and thus money should not be a part of it.

From the Thai perspective, there are several common arguments as to why the bride price is a valid tradition and integral part of the marriage ceremony. The first is that the bride price is seen as compensation to the Thai family for the cost of raising their children. Next there is the idea of compensation to the parents for the loss of a worker i.e. the lady in question may help around the house, or may be a farm hand or labourer so now the family has lost a set of hands. Further, by paying the bride price, the groom proves that he has the money and means to support his wife to be. And should anything happen to the groom, the money paid could be used to look after her, almost like a sort of insurance policy. There is also the idea that a Thai woman who has been married but then goes on to divorce is considered "used property" by many Thai men, at least in terms of marriage prospects – and a Thai woman who has been previously married to a farang would be considered marred by the majority of Thai men. But perhaps the most significant issue for the family of the bride to be is that an enormous amount of face can be gained by the payment of a high bride price for their daughter – or lost by no bride price being received. People will applaud loudly when the bride price is read out at the wedding ceremony and you can bet your bottom dollar that that is the highlight for many of the nosy neighbours. They've been waiting to find out just how much?

Of course it is your right to refuse to pay the bride price and cite the perfectly acceptable reason (to us Westerners) that you are farang and it is absolutely not part of our culture, and in many ways is considered vulgar by Westerners that one should have to essentially pay for his wife. But, like it or not, many Thai families, especially the more traditional, will refuse to allow their daughter to marry if a bride price is not paid. And without the parent's blessing in a culture that is very much family centred, you will be right up against it from day one. You'll place the bride to be in an awful situation where she is virtually forced to choose between you and her family and make no bones about it, in most situations you will come second – which is last – and you are back to square one.

So, how is the bride price set? Generally speaking, you will sit down with the parents of the bride to be, with your bride to be present, next to the parents. You should have someone present to assist you, preferably someone close to you who is a respected or senior member of the community, someone who commands respect and who understands the bride price system. Friendly negotiation will take place and the bride price will be set in baht along with a certain amount of gold. There will also be the expectation that a diamond ring will be provided, although this is something that is usually worked out between the couple and the parents do not usually discuss this.

There is a very real possibility that a Westerner who flat out refuses to pay a bride price may miss out on the chance to marry the lady he loves, and even if he does go on to marry her, the damage done by such a flat out refusal may hamper relations between himself and his in-laws potentially which may result in serious problems down the line. Remember, if no bride price is received (irrespective of whether they keep it or give it back immediately after the ceremony), they will have lost serious face. But yeah, if you are totally against it, you have every right to refuse. Just try and take your time to understand it from the other side, even if you fundamentally disagree with it. If marrying a girl fro ma traditional family, I'd strongly recommend anyone who is against it relent and pay it on condition that it is returned in it's entirety immediately after the ceremony.

So what happens with the money? This is where things start to get confusing and where serious disagreement may occur. This is the time when your are essentially called on to trust your in-laws. In some cases, the family will keep the money themselves, and may in fact go and spend it within hours of the wedding ceremony being over. Untold stories circulate about poor rural families buying appliances, or if the bride price extends quite that far, a new pickup trick, with the money! It may be used to pay debts or it may be used to buy land. While it is somewhat of a generalisation, rural families from the Northeast seem to have a high propensity for keeping the money – and getting rid of it fast! This is one extreme.

Other families may handle it differently. The money may be returned very soon, or even immediately after the wedding ceremony has finished. In such cases, the money is simply there for show, to ensure that face is gained and that the reputation of the family remains very good. This is the other extreme.

What the more traditional families tend to do is hang on to the money for a period of time, and return some or all if it to the couple once they have proved that the marriage is going along well – although just how they judge that is anyone's guess. The money may well be handed back when the couple wishes to make a major purchase such as a car or a house.

It is imperative that you discuss up front with the family exactly what will happen with the money. As the amount being handed over may be significant, you have every right to know exactly what will happen to it. Even if it is a small amount, you have a right to know what will happen so do not be shy to discuss this explicitly. It is all negotiable too! Incidentally, one older Thai woman who I know, trust and respect said that any bride price should be seen as an investment in the relationship which should be returned to the bride to use as she sees fit, and should not be returned to the groom. One obviously also needs to have confidence in the person that the money is given to inasmuch that what is said is what will actually happen. If there are any trust issues, then perhaps it is not wise to proceed? All of this begs the question of what happens if the relationship goes rocky in the early stages? You may very well find yourself in a situation where the bride price is not returned – and there is little you can do about it! Given the level of trust that we are talking about here, it would seem prudent to spend as much time as possible with your future in-laws even before such discussions take place.

No-one likes the bride price, including the Thai men themselves. Various Thai men gave me advice about the bride price before I got married and their comments made it totally clear that they are not in favour if it either, but that they accept it and just get on with it. A lot of what was said to me suggested that they are very aware from an early age of the expense of getting married and the requirement to provide for their future family. I'm not so sure that us Westerners are so clear on this as the roles of the man and the woman in relationships and marriage in the West have become decidedly hazy recently. The roles and expectations of each person in relationships in this part of the world are a lot more clearly defined.

So, to the big question. Just how much should one pay? What follows here is an admittedly very loose guide based on a lot of questions to a lot of people, most of whom I trust. I'll say it again – this should be looked at as nothing but a VERY loose guide! Recent high profile weddings have shown that obscene amounts of money can change hands. The wedding between former Miss Thailand, Bui, and that filthy rich businessman saw a bride price of a cool $US 10 million paid, along with gold, a massive great diamond ring and who knows what else? Two other recent high profile marriages saw two members of parliament pay 4,444,444 baht and 999,999 baht respectively. In terms of farang marriages, I have heard sums in the range of 30,000 baht to 1,000,000 baht paid. I am told that anything less than 100,000 baht is strictly bargirl or lo-so territory and if it goes over 300,000 baht then she should either be very hi-so, awfully special or educated and from a respected family. So, it would seem that the reasonable range for Westerners marrying decent Thai women would be in the range of 100,000 – 300,000 baht. Yes, there are a million determinants and there are plenty of instances where figures outside of this range could be considered fair. This is strictly a basic guideline.

There are many determinants in the price including the standing of the family in the community, the girl's education, her relationship past, her job etc.

We're talking about marriage in Thailand here and in many ways, the bride price should be looked at as your first installment in what will be a lifetime of paying.

So, what about me? How did I handle it? Well, if you had asked me 4 or 5 years ago if I would willingly pay a bride price as part of a marital ceremony, I would have laughed at you and told you in in uncertain terms what I thought about that. But times have changed, Stickman has both mellowed and learnt a lot more about Thailand, and yes, Stickman most definitely did pay a bride price. However, it was all handled in such a way that it truly did not bother me in the least. Thinking about it before hand, I thought it would be hard to go through with that aspect of the marriage, but it wasn't – and I can truly say that I do not regret it for a moment.

There are many good reasons why the bride price is asked for, and just as valid reasons against it. You have to decide whether you are prepared to pay or not. However, bear in mind that many a farang has fallen at the final hurdle and later regretted it. Remember that ladies who come from a traditional or conservative background, the very women who I believe most Westerners are seeking, will likely have a family who expects to see a bride price paid, and failure to pay it may mean that you miss out on the lady of your dreams. You have to choose your battles. Will you battle over the bride price?


Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was the foyer of the cinema complex in MBK.

This week's pic

Last week's pic was of the foyer in the cinema complex on the seventh floor at Mahboonkrong. About ten or so people got it right, and about 50 or so got it wrong, many guessing Emporium. Nice try but not right! There are three prizes offered for the where is this pic. One person, irrespective of location, wins the prize of $25 worth of goodies from Club Hombre which will be shipped to you anywhere in the world. In addition to this, the first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a tube of MyCreme sexsational cream. To win the MyCreme, you MUST be in Bangkok as the prize is delivered to you, but the other two prizes are open to anyone worldwide! So, to all Bangkok based folks, make it clear in your email that you are Bangkok based so that you qualify for the cream that will send your teeruk to heaven! The third prize comes from the good guys at the Classics Movie Lounge who will provide you with a 500 baht credit to use at their fine establishment.

EMAILS FROM THE PAST WEEK :

Anyone like to eat snake? Can you help this reader?
On my recent and first trip to Thailand in late February, I could not locate a snake restaurant called Jarong. Do you know where it is or do you know of any other snake restaurant.
Looking for cow pat in London?
If anyone ever wants to know a brilliant Thai restaurant in London, tell them to go to: Charuwan, Junction Road, Archway, London (tel. 020 7263 1410) – I have tried near to 100 places in UK, forget Blue Elephant etc.
How long is your rental agreement for?
When you go on holiday, you usually rent a car/s to suit your needs. Likewise for 'visitors' to Thailand, you rent a lady/ies to suit your requirements. It would be expensive and impractical to buy a car and leave it in Thailand while you are back home, yet a lot of guys do just this with the 'lady of their dreams'. It's unrealistic for these ladies to sit at home for 6 months or more, waiting for their 'true love' to return – would these guys do the same in reverse? The guys do not have a clue as to the 'class' of their girl, nor do they care, so long as she has the qualities they require – whatever they may be!! TRUE LOVE etc? I always pretend to be a 'butterfly' even if I fancy one particular girl, because once one gets her hooks into you, they become too possessive – and I've been 'hooked' a few times! I keep a few bank accounts so that "'I don't have enough for that" can always be backed up by 'proof' – their game in reverse. (Keep 'em lean and keep 'em keen?)
Expect US visas to be a bit tougher to come by…
My fiancée recently went for her scheduled interview with a female American Vice Consul trained in the Thai language at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok. My fiancée did not get her visa issued, instead she was asked to return the following day to speak with a female Thai National employed by the U.S. Embassy that specializes in visa fraud and ineligibility. The Thai National embassy employee badgered and belittled my fiancée repeatedly because for some reason she suspected my fiancée to have worked at a bar based on a prior address. My fiancée is not a bar girl and has completely avoided employment in the naughty nightlife industry of Thailand. The Thai National embassy employee threatened my fiancée by repeatedly saying that she would never have her fiancée visa stamped unless she confessed to acts of prostitution. Furthermore, she then promised my fiancée that if she would just make a confession about things she had done in the past and sign it that her fiancée visa would be issued. My fiancée resisted for a long time, not wanting to make a false confession, but in the end caved to the severe pressure that was now being applied by not only the Thai National employee but a second Vice Consul. Of course my fiancée not having the benefit of higher education or even legal advice did not know the consequences of signing such a confession. She was confused and just wanted to give the embassy employees what they wanted so that she could finish the visa process as they had promised. She ended up confessing about two prior relationships, one with an Italian boyfriend, and another with an Austrian. Both relationships were not acts of prostitution, but of legitimate and lasting courtship. Because she admitted support had been given to her the embassy staff tried to make it into something sordid and called it prostitution. Of course once the Bangkok embassy staff had a signed confession statement her fiancée visa was denied because she had been found ineligible. Optional form 194 was given to her with Section 212(a) item (2)(D) checked. This form stated "you have engaged in prostitution or benefited from its proceeds". She was told that she could request a waiver, and after many days of returning to the embassy was finally given an I-601 and a G-325a to fill out to start a waiver process. I wrote the embassy several times about this. Pretty much like talking to a brick wall. They know darn well what they did, and they have no compassion what so ever. The reply was basically that I should start the waiver process or find another fiancée. Of course the embassy knows darn well the waiver will almost certainly be denied, and the blame then shifts from the embassy to the BCIS (formerly INS) for the denial and 2 months time is lost as well as the $195 waiver application fee. The USA is really looking for excuses to deny visas right now, and stooping to new lows to achieve this directive.
Get out during the day!
The BEST GIRLS in Thailand work in the day time! If you want a NICE Thai Girlfriend, NOT some dead end hooker with a maengdar Thai Boyfriend, "GO OUT IN THE DAYTIME! Try it and you will be AMAZED.
But is it better than the old long-haired sleeping dictionary?
You mentioned dictionaries. Believe me, I have bought at least a dozen. Now I have found one good enough to give all my other ones away, pocket sized or not. It is the Thai-English / English-Thai dictionary by Benjawan Poomsan Becker published by Paiboon
Publishing. I found mine at Bookazine in Bangkok, but Asia Books carries other books by the same author and may have it, too. It is small enough to carry around and has not only Thai and English sections, but a phonetic Thai section so you can look up a word by
sound. It also contains the Thai alphabet and writing system. It's English representations of Thai vowels are a lot simpler than any other book I have used I highly recommend it.
Where do the old bargirls go?
Readers may be interested to know that since the mid 90s, NZ became a destination for Thais – this has slowed considerably in the last couple of years with vetting and visa requirements. Anyway in any given week in the NZ Truth newspaper, you will find at least 100 ads for services from Thai women. At prices from $NZ 30 to $80, supply has exceeded demand. The majority of these women would not get a kick in a stampede in Bangers. They are 40+ year old Thai ex-bargirls supporting the local casino's bulging share price in fine style!

Sheba's, the newest bar to hit Soi Cowboy is getting rave reviews from all who visit it. I have not had a chance to pop on down so cannot talk from first hand experience, but everyone else seems to think it is great. Soi Cowboy had a great 2001 but 2002 didn't seem to be quite as good, due to what I would call average girl syndrome. While many new bars opened up – and some of them like Suzy Wong and Dollhouse were pretty good too, the pretty girls seem to be in greater concentration in other areas, specifically Nana. Will Sheba's help to draw the crowds back to Cowboy?

Gulliver's is getting busier. Yep, the new place in Sukumvit Soi 5 that I maintain has the potential to do awfully well is picking up. However, I have mixed feelings about just how it may evolve. The place has started to become a bit of a magnet for working girls with more than a few freelancers starting to lay claim to it as their new home base. However, I notice that while the food in there is inexpensive, the portions are definitely Thai sized and the quality, well, perhaps it is not quite as good as I first thought. The food is ok, but could be better.

Sorn's, beautiful food in beautiful surroundings.

As I have said before, I am reluctant to recommend Thai restaurants in Bangkok because there are so many good places, so why should I recommend a place that might be on the other side of town, when there are like a zillion equally as good restaurants much closer to where you are? Well, recently I have been dining in an excellent little restaurant called Sorn's that I'm going to break my rule on, and duly recommend. Located in Soi Kasemsan 1, the lane that runs parallel to the lane with Jim Thompson's House, this charming little restaurant is what I imagined all Thai restaurants would be like before I came to Thailand. The proprietor is a Thai gentleman who never smiles and always seems to have a surly look on his face, but funnily enough, he runs a lovely little place. Surrounded by plants and decorated simply, but stylishly, this place is well worth visiting if you find yourself in the MBK / Siam Square area. Note, he isn't open for lunch. The breakfast menu is ok, but it is dinner that is really worthwhile and it is this that is served from around 5:30 PM onwards. The food is "real Thai food" and is not farangized at all even though the crowd is largely farang, predominately patrons from guesthouses in that soi.

Word coming out of Patong, the main beach in Phuket, is that business down there is really slow… Also from Patong, The Height Bar (formerly Pink Panther A Gogo) is on the market, for a reported 8 figure amount – rumoured to be a whopping 13,000,000 baht! It is hard to understand quite how they can justify that.

The Damage Done by Warren Fellows is one of he most widely read English language books published life in Bangkok, or perhaps more specifically, life in the Bangkok Hilton. The book is not particularly well written, but it is interesting nonetheless. I have just finished reading "Forget You Had A Daughter" which is the true story of Sandra Gregory, a British woman who spent years in Bangkok prison before being transferred back to the UK to serve out the remainder of her sentence. While this book is no masterpiece either, it is probably a little better written than Mr Fellow's effort. What happens in Bangkok prisons is morbidly fascinating, but if you have read one of these books, I wouldn't bother with the other.

In Pattaya, I notice construction is underway furiously and there are lots of new beer bars being built in Soi Bua Khao. This will make things easy for the bargirls, as many of them live in that neighbourhood. That short time room may in fact be her apartment!

Why is it that the souvenirs and general merchandise sold in the tourist areas in Bangkok are different to what is sold in Pattaya? If anything, a lot of what is available in Pattaya – and this includes many different items that I have never seen in Bangkok, are a lot nicer. Probably an issue if distribution…

With the mercury continuing to climb, one can seek a momentary escape with a nice bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice, available from street vendors all over the city. However, the quality varies markedly. Up near Chatuchak, one can find vendors selling the big bottles for 20 baht, and it is great, freshly squeezed 100% juice. In the area where I live, the same sized bottles go for 35 baht and to make matters worse, they are watered down. So, don't be shy to ask the vendors if the juice has been watered down – or perhaps better still, keep an eye out for the give away bottles of water that they mix with the juice.

A lot of the embassies get a lot of shit for their perceived lack of support and assistance with some of their nationals. I had reason to go to the NZ Embassy this week and had no problems whatsoever. Perhaps it helps coming from a country with an embassy that doesn't get the same sort of foot traffic as the likes of the British and the American embassies, because it must be said that the staff were very helpful and the whole place was very nice indeed, not cold and stiff like some of the other embassies around.

So, you enjoy the Grace Hotel as a late night venue? But with war in the gulf underway, dare you venture out to that part of town? Soi 3 is after all the playground to Bangkok's Arab / Muslim population. Americans and Brits especially had better be careful and you Canadians, well, most of us can't differentiate your accents from the Americans so you too could be in for a spot of bother. With the Aussies committing 2,000 troops to the cause, it seems that much of the English speaking world had better avoid that part of town… But what about the NZ'ers? Hmm, the Prime Minister of NZ has not been in support of the war at all so the folks down at Soi 3 might let the Kiwis off the hook… So, for the rest of you who would like to visit the Grace, I will be running classes in NewZealandish, our very own version of English. Yes, you too can speak this unique version of English and distinguish yourself from the rest. You'll learn how to correctly pronounce the number that falls between 5 and 7, you'll never have any problems ordering fish and chips and what the hell, I'll run a free lesson on kiwi culture so you too can learn about the joys of sheep. But seriously, anyone who finds themselves down in the Soi 3 area had better watch out. There will no doubt be a few folks down there with an axe to grind. I heard a rumour of an American fellow getting set upon by some Arabs a couple of days ago, but how true it was, I do not know.

Shark Bar in Sow Cowboy is closed again, the second time that this place has been ordered shut. Now this could become a problem because if a bar is ordered shut three times, then the bar's licences can all be suspended or worse still, revoked…and then they have major problems.

Photo taken on Khao Sarn Road last week.

While you are free to email me about anything you like Thai related, I am simply unable to predict what may come about because of the war in Iraq. My crystal ball isn't quite as clear as I'd like it to be.

A company called Media Kids contacted me wishing to place an ad for English teachers. What the are offering is a little bit different so I thought I'd help them out by letting you know what is on offer. They offer two months FREE teacher training followed by employment. I do not vouch for this company, though on the surface if it, what is on offer sounds all right. If you're interested, contact them at: [email protected]

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Mrs. Stick, contrary to what I have said in previous columns, is not your typical Thai girl. She is fascinated by farang culture and the behaviour of us foreign barbarians in her beloved Thailand. Each week, she will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Please forward questions to her, via me, at the usual email address. Two questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I do butcher her English, generally making it worse. I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Please note that she doesn't have the time to reply to your inquiries via email.

Question 1: Would a "good Thai girl" ever watch a pornographic movie with her boyfriend?

Mrs. Stick says:

I think it is hard to judge whether people who watch such movies are good or bad. This is a very personal thing and it is a decision made by each couple.

Question 2: What do Thais think of other richer Asians as Koreans and Japanese? Are they more acceptable to girls' parents and communities (than farang)?

Mrs. Stick says:

From where I sit, it seems that Thai people are more interested in matching up with farangs than they are with Japanese or Koreans. I'm not sure why this is. Really, this is tough and I'm not sure I'm the right person to answer to answer this question.

Question 3: I really hate it when your Thai lady turns up late for a date. Even when I have just arrived in BKK after 3 months away she sometimes gets to the hotel up to 30 minutes late. Is this an accepted part of Thai behaviour, or does it mean disrespect for you?

Mrs. Stick says:

Actually, there are two reasons here. The first one is the obvious. Traffic! Secondly, Thai people really do not take time that seriously. In fact it might surprise you to hear that many Thai people do not take much at all seriously. In Thai culture, if someone turns up late with an acceptable reason (such as traffic (though on certain occasions, specifically special occasions, this might not be deemed acceptable)) then this is not a problem. However, if it is happening all the time then you have a problem and you probably need to talk about it.

Another week has passed. I'm having a bit of trouble getting the column up on Sundays at the moment, and next week is likely to be the same. I'll do my best to get it up on time, but it is most likely to be published on Monday morning Bangkok time.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick