Thailand has changed dramatically over the last 30 years. And it has changed a great deal over the last ten years. But Thailand's growth, its relative economic prosperity, the urban drift and the opening up of the country to foreign interests has resulted in not just growing pains, but repeated misunderstandings between Thais and foreigners.
Thailand is home to Thai culture, of course. Many of the Thai ways of doing things relate to aspects of the culture which may not be understood by the average Westerner. Thai culture, or more specifically the Thai way of doing things, has had little influence from the outside and many of the things that happen are based on principles from the past, some of which may not be entirely valid in 2007.
Western men spending any length of time in Thailand usually find themselves getting involved with a Thai woman and what follows can sometimes feel like a roller coaster ride. Things that would never happen in a relationship in the West occur, and you'll almost certainly scratch your head at some point wonder what the hell is going on!
Here are a few issues which farangs involved in a relationship with a Thai may face. I have tried to offer a modern, that is 2007, outlook on them. Thailand 2007 is not Thailand 1975 and just because the Thais do it one way does not necessarily make it the best way.
Husband Giving Salary To Wife
It's true that come pay day many Thai men give their entire salary to their wife who is then responsible for looking after the running of the household and all associated expenses. Each day she would give a small amount of money to her husband, sufficient to cover his expected expenses for that day while he was away from home.
The reason for this was simple. He had his job to worry about and it was her who had to look after the household so it was her who should have cash on hand to be able to buy food, pay for all household expenses and any other necessities. Of course, it also prevented the husband from wasting money on other women!
Things are quite different these days. Both husband and wife may work and even if he is the only breadwinner, it is not that common for younger Thai men today to hand over their entire salary to wifey. He may hand over a certain amount each month, but not the entire pay cheque. In Thai society the man still pays for most things, although the idea of each partner contributing to the finances of the family home is becoming more and more common in Thailand today than it was even 10 years ago.
There is also the issue of divorce. It was not that long ago that the divorce rate in Thailand was 10%. Nowadays it is 27%. Divorce carried a dreadful social stigma for the woman and a man could hand over his entire pay cheque safe in the knowledge that it was very unlikely that she would do a runner on him. Things have changed greatly and the while there still is some stigma for a divorced woman, it is nothing like it used to be. So Thai husbands are a little more careful with their money and perhaps a little less trusting.
So if your Thai wife says to you that it is Thai culture that you should hand over your entire pay packet to her at the end of the month, tell her she is living in the land of the dinosaurs. It is much, much less common today, although many older Thais do it – as they have done, since they first got married.
You hear many different reasons given for the payment of the sin sot – or the bride price, commonly referred to as the dowry.
In times gone by it was seen as compensation to the family of the woman for the cost of raising her, and the fact that the family would be losing a farm hand. While a very high percentage of Thais are still employed in agriculture, the percentage of the population working the fields today is much less than it used to be. One therefore has to wonder how relevant the sin sot is today, at least on the grounds of a lost worker?
These days the main concern with the sin sot seems to be the face gained from it. A large sin sot means that face is gained by the guy paying it, and face is also gained by his bride and her family. It is generally considered that the larger the sin sot, the better, although the amount paid should not put the groom into a difficult financial position.
If a Thai woman marries a Western guy, there will of course be an even greater expectation that the sin sot would be more than that paid by a Thai man because, after all, all foreigners are wealthy!
Plenty of Western men paying sin sot claim to do so happily. Good for them. But that does not mean that you have to pay. The loss of a farm hand may be relevant in some families, but not in others.
What happens more and more, in what I would term the better families, is that the money is returned in its entirety to the couple after the wedding.
Of course this is a complicated issue and a potential deal breaker when a Western man seeks to marry a Thai woman.
I question the relevance of the sin sot in modern Thailand. I do acknowledge the face issue and I therefore feel that the fairest way to handle the issue of sin sot is to pay a significant amount with the express agreement that it will be returned immediately after the ceremony. Face is gained all around. As I say, this is what happens in many of the better families anyway.
He Always Pays
In Thailand it has traditionally been the man who works and brings home the bacon and in most relationships the man earns more than the woman. So it is expected that it is the man who pays. The money might be managed by the Mrs., but the man generally pays.
When we have the situation of a Western man dating a Thai woman, one would expect that the Western guy has a higher income than the Thai woman. In such a situation, of course it is expected that the Western guy would pick up the tab. The more chivalrous amongst us might be aghast at the mere thought of the woman having to reach into her purse during a date.
But Thailand is changing and Thai women are, as already explained, securing better jobs and earning more and more. In many relationships in Thailand these days, where the woman of the house is in full-time employment earning a similar amount to her husband, it may be expected that she contributes.
The mother in law used to say that this was a modern woman thing and she was not impressed by it – and neither are many older Thais. But when it comes to the younger generation, the simple fact of the matter is that if each earns a modest amount, there will be a need to pool their financial resources simply to make ends meet.
For Westerners earning a modest amount and dating a woman with a decent job, don't be shy to let her know that she may need to contribute. I don't want to pick on teachers here, but if you are earning 30,000 baht a month teaching and your girlfriend earns much the same, it would be nice if she chipped in from time to time.
Of course this is a tough one, for part of being the man in a relationship is the ability to look after your woman, no matter what, and that includes finances.
I know of one couple where each partner earns a little under 40,000 baht a month. He pays for everything, leaving him bahtless come the end of the month. She has built up a nice little nest egg and refuses to contribute. I don't give the relationship much longer.
Of course if he is earning many times what she does, it would be highly questionable to ask her to contribute.
While some Westerners speak of being unable to live on less than 200,000 baht a month in Thailand, such avariciousness needs to be balanced out by the fact that the vast majority of Thais consider a joint income of 100,000 baht a month an awful lot of money!
I know of a good number of Thai women aged 30 – 35 who earn comfortably more than 60,000 Thai baht a month. Admittedly none of them date teachers but if they did, they would in all likelihood be earning more than him! All of these women contribute in their relationships.
I guess the bottom line is that if she has a very good salary, she will make some sort of contributions financially.
Bringing A Friend
For a man dating a Thai woman in the past, he would have not just his date to entertain, but a friend she brought along. It would usually be a female friend but on occasion it may have been a male.
The friend was like a chaperone, there to keep an eye on the couple, to make sure that they behaved appropriately and to make sure she was not taken advantage of. A man and woman walking together in public was considered to be a couple, and if they were not married, well, that was downright wrong in the eyes of many!
A third party makes a date awkward. It's hard to enjoy those private moments with a third party present.
When inviting a Thai lady out you my find that she wishes to bring a friend. If she has little dating experience, or is perhaps saving herself for Mr. Right, one can understand it.
If she is a virtuous girl, I believe you have to defer to Thai culture and respect her wishes to have a friend tag along. If however the lady you are dating is something of a walking mattress, it may be that she has brought her friends along simply to party on your tab. In such a situation, if you are not entirely thrilled at the prospect of distractions from the group and a sizeable bill at the end of the night then don't be shy to quietly mention to her that a group date was not what you had planned.
I wonder if the reasons for a chaperone still exist today. Unless the couple is dating in a smaller, conservative town, I believe there is no real need, although some Thai women would like the idea of a friend tagging along, especially if the date is in the evening. Thai women just do not like being out at night alone or with someone they're not that familiar with.
If it is any consolation I can say that I have dated Thai women from all walks of life and not once has a lady insisted on bringing a chaperone along. Ah, I guess they must have considered me a gentleman! This does seem to be less and less common these days, especially amongst those Thai women we could call "farang hungry".
No Sex Before Marriage
The notion of the virtuous Thai woman retaining her virginity before marriage still exists in some circles. In times gone by, a woman who had experienced the pleasures of the bedroom with another gentleman was considered sullied, and most Thai men would not consider such a woman as suitable marriage material.
This meant that a woman would not have sex before marriage. If she did, she would be doing so because she truly believed that this was the man she was going to marry.
Times have changed, somewhat. Those Thai women that the average Westerner tends to date (bargirls, online girls, tourism industry girls (airport, hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions and touristy areas)) most likely have had a Thai boyfriend in the past and they have crossed over to Westerners because she was fed up with Thai guys, or perhaps simply prefers Westerners. The odds are that she is sexually experienced.
But this needs to be contrasted with the fact that many Thai women are still brought up the traditional way and it is drummed into them that they should not have sex before marriage. I could not talk percentages here, but I would suggest that there is a number of Thai women who still wish to preserve their virginity for their wedding night, or at the very least, for the man they are going to marry. And this is where things can get confusing.
Some guys – and I am talking Western guys here – think it is great to break in a virgin. Sad. Thai women are just like women from all over the world. They want love, and they may be prepared to give sex to get love in return.
My advice here is clear. Yes, the Thai women Western men tend to get involved with may be similarly promiscuous to Western women, perhaps even more so. But there is a subset of Thai women who are virtuous and wish to stay that way until the meet their Mr. Right. Please, respect this. If she is waiting for Mr. Right, please don't lead her on simply to get her knickers down. You won't just break her heart, you could damage her psychologically and she may never get married because of it. Of course, if you take a Thai woman's virginity her family may expect you to marry her – and failure to do so may result in nasty consequences!
Where was this picture taken?
Last week's picture was of the Rama 8 Bridge. It was taken from the park with the fort on Pra-Artit Road. The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Fish And Chips restaurant and the second wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a well-established, popular restaurant, offering authentic Tex-Mex Cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11.
FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – What's on display in Nana?!
Regarding the closing of the Big Mango bar, I guess it is a loss because diversity is usually good but when I go to the Nana Plaza the last thing on my mind is buying a hamburger. I want to see naked women. Period. I could never puzzle out how they could possibly make a living. For similar reasons, in my opinion, the Cathouse has never over the years taken off. I don't know how they pay their bills. When I am in Nana I want to see naked women (which I almost never see anymore) and happy smiles (which I almost never see anymore).
The death of Nana.
After holidaying in Thailand for the past 4 years, I finally made the move to Bangkok, on a longer term basis, last June. Last week my wife went up to Khon Kaen for the week, to see her mother. That gave me an opportunity to freely visit some places I am not normally to be found. I spent two evenings exploring Nana and Soi Cowboy. The contrasts I found were startling. Most of the bars at Nana seemed in a terrible state of repair and the general environment is dark and dirty. Cowboy seemed reasonably well looked after and the street was bright. The touts at Nana were unfriendly and aggressive, whilst those at Cowboy were friendly, some even made a handy check that I was paying attention to the dancers' performances and wasn't holding a 10 gallon hat. By comparison, the dancers at Nana were far too overdressed. Whilst nudity in Cowboy wasn't exactly everywhere, most dancers were tastefully showing off their essentials. In general, girls at Cowboy seemed a lot easier on the eye. I agree with what you wrote yesterday. Nana has become a rundown dump. For a variety of reasons, Nana's days seem to be numbered. Closure of the Mango is another nail in the coffin of another part of Bangkok life. I find that very sad.
Anyone know about the legality, or otherwise, of pepper spray?
I noticed you talking about stun guns. I have a friend who had a very bad experience in Chiang Mai with a tuktuk driver coming after him with a machete. I have had experience with stun guns and think they are for the most part worthless; think strong electric cow fence, it hurts but won't stop a person for very long. My question is whether pepper spray is legal in Thailand? Pepper spray will incapacitate an attacker for quite some time without injuring them. I have been to LOS many times and have never even seen a problem but it might happen eventually.
Welcome to Thailand, eventually!
Arrived back again at Bangkok's wonderful new airport and ran into the hardest part of my journey, as usual. The lines for Immigration were so long that they stretched right out of the arrival hall. Except at the five desks for Thai passports, which were empty most of the time. We had to queue for a good 30 minutes. One guy behind me went and spoke to an Immigration woman who was standing around doing nothing and asked why we had to wait so long when the Thai desks were empty. Apparently she told him, "This in Thailand, and Thais do not have to wait." He was furious. I asked him if it was his first time in the Land of Scowls, fully knowing the answer. Welcome to Thailand, folks.
Leave the bookings to the professionals.
I tried to book a hotel room in Pattaya for two weeks during the Christmas and New Years holiday. I contacted a hotel I usually stay at and their website now has an "instant confirmation" instead of the old email and fax method. The first "instant" response took 2 days. I emailed back with the requested credit card info and the second "instant" response took 2 more days. Then a few days later they asked for the credit card info once again. Over a period of 3 weeks and 8 emails on my part, the room reservation was still not secured. I contacted a popular internet room booking site and booked a room at the same hotel in less than 15 minutes. What a pain in the a$$!
Marrying Thai because they're intelligent and to produce darker offspring.
I think there are a myriad of reasons why people from both races are attracted to each other. We could generalize and say that the rich farang man wants a younger, slimmer woman. We could also argue that the farang desires the perception of control that he gets with an Oriental woman. My belief is that the origins of this latter "myth" are based on the Asian concept of not wanting to lose face in public. We can also generalise that the Thai woman wants money and therefore security. All these things are sometimes true. However, I believe at some level instinctually, we look at a potential mate as a father or mother of children. I married a Thai I met in America when I was young and I married her because I loved her, but I also was looking for someone to have children with. I am a person that is exceptionally white. This was never considered attractive when I was young. I married a woman who is dark. I was attracted to the Asian race because I believe they are an intelligent race. This is controversial but it has been proven that some races do better in IQ tests than others. <Sorry to interject but the average IQ in Thailand is 91. As comparison, Canada is 97, USA and Australia are 98, New Zealand and the UK are 100 – Stick> I also wanted my children to be darker than me to a certain degree. Everything has worked out just as I wanted. Our children are better looking than either of us and so far are excelling at school. As far as my wife is concerned, there is no better way to lighten up her family's skin, and therefore brighten their future, than by marrying the whitest guy she could find.
The last chance saloon.
It's 1:30 AM and my friend gives the last chance bar a go before calling it a night. Of course at this time of the night regardless of where you are you are usually scraping the bottom of the barrel, but here he described it more like scraping the bottom of the outside of the barrel. A new lady entered the bar and requested to go with him, to which he replied yes. Then in that immediate aggressive manner that we have grown so accustomed to, she demanded short time or long time. Without a moment's hesitation my friend goes to the hong nam. On re-appearing, in his hands he is carrying a large wall mirror. He goes up to the said lady in question, and sticks the mirror directly in her face in front of all of her colleagues and asks, "What do you see?" Well of course he then gets that Thai pregnant pause that you can write a book in, to which he follows up for the benefit of the remaining farang customers, "Mona Lisa or what, do you really think that you are in the position at 1:30 AM to ask for long or short time", to which the whole congregation burst out laughing including her friends.
The rumour mill has it that Sukhumvit Soi 1 Plaza is on its last legs and come a month from now will be closed. This bar area really never took off and proved the rule that pretty much every bar west of the Nana intersection on Sukhumvit doesn't succeed, although Bully's is clearly an exception.
Clearly the Russians don't read this column because if they did, they would know that they had already discovered the best bar area in Thailand – Pattaya. Very much away from their usual stomping grounds, significant numbers of Russians were spotted in and around Cowboy this past Friday night, both male and female.
There has been another of the clean ups on the Beach Road in Pattaya and there is less riff raff there than you would expect at this time of year, with the high season, supposedly, just around the corner.
Speaking of the high season, a few readers have emailed me talking of problems getting a room in their favourite hotel and others, mostly Americans it seems, have talked of the airfares being significantly higher than they have ever been before. Yep, with oil at $96 odd a barrel, air travel is going to increase in price.
The buffet at Molly Malone's is no longer and has been replaced by a roast set at a very reasonable 199 baht.
It is with sadness that I report the passing of the 38 kg former Soi Cowboy dancer, mentioned in this column a couple of weeks ago. May she rest in peace.
8 dancers bolted from Sisterz and into the recently reopened and remodeled Hooty's. Ricky seems to have picked up the slack already; there did not appear to be any holes in his lineup.
The new and improved Hooty's is an impressive step up from the dark and dingy club it once was. Good music, if a bit too loud. No draft and bottled beer goes for 115 baht. No beauties on stage but there are several attractive dancers and servers.
Blue Lagoon is worth mentioning. Owner Rohr has brought in convivial American Greg as manager. The nightspot changed locations – from Center Condo to the Friends Bar complex on Beach Road. Hidden behind the dozen or so beer bars, the new gogo bar features what seems to be the compulsory spa where dirty-minded bathing girls frolic with one another. Good number of dancers, some of whom are quite attractive; most are not. It's a fun place with good music and 40 baht draft.
But there was not nearly as much eye candy on display in Pattaya as you would expect on Saturday night. The Bangkok police were doing the rounds and the bars were on high alert, very scared of the prospect of a one month closure with high season about to kick in. In one particular bar, I found myself next to two guys who looked Thai, but claimed to be Indonesian. My internal radar started beeping loudly when the fellow introduced himself to me, said he was form Indonesia (without me asking) and then immediately asked me where the bars where they could find nudity were. Suspicious!
Who supplied the shepherd's pie and cottage pie for the 2 year anniversary party at Catz in Pattaya last night? Damn, that was the best steak pie I have had in ages!
The word in Pattaya is that Emma has had the big cut. Don't know who Emma is? Where have you been?! Emma is the awfully fetching ladyboy who is seen sitting outside Lucky star on Walking Street.
Further light may have been shed on the phenomenon of the police selectively stopping Westerners in vehicles, be they driving or passengers in the area around Asoke and particularly Sukhumvit Soi 22. One cop revealed they caught a farang "drug dealer" in that area and were stopping farangs on the off chance that they may also be drug dealers! Do cops associate white skin and long noses as being a pre-requisite for being a drug dealer? It has also been reported that a farang was caught on Soi 22 with an illicit substance in his wallet and was spot-fined 20,000 baht. This could make it quite a handsome earner for them…and it adds a bit more substance to previous reports.
Does smoke in the bars (and in those restaurants that allow smoking) bother you? I don't smoke but I guess I have just got used to being in smoky bars. I have noticed however that more and more foreign visitors are actually up and leaving bars or restaurants which are particularly smoky. I guess the whole anti-smoking movement has got a lot stronger in the West since I left. But for sure, I have been surprised at how vigilant some people are about avoiding smoke in bars. It's pretty difficult though in Bangkok, in all truth and honesty.
If you're a married Western woman in Bangkok, what I am about to say may very well upset you. It is no secret that Western guys married in Bangkok are more likely to play around than if they were back in Farangland. The percentage of married guys who fool around in Bangkok is, in my experience, high. I'm not making any judgments here, just an observation. I am talking Western guys here, be they married to a Western woman or a Thai woman. Cheating is one thing, but the way some do it is questionable. I would bet the farm that of all the married Western guys in Bangkok, a good number have cheated on their wife with a hooker and not used a condom – and then presumably later done the dirty with their wife without protection too. I heard a story of someone I know doing this recently and the guy is in turmoil. He has contracted an STD which he appears to have passed on to his Mrs. This particular STD is apparently asymptomatic in females so she does not know. I relayed to him the story of someone who contracted an STD in Bangkok a few years ago which was subsequently passed on to his partner. He had it diagnosed and was given the medicine which cured it. He then bought an extra set of pills, ground them up and put them in a drink for his Mrs. Presumably it cured her too. I don't want to sound like I'm standing at the pulpit, but cheating on your Mrs. with a tart and not using a condom is bad news.
I wonder if they will review, and possibly lower, the age at which one can apply for a retirement visa in Thailand? The required age used to be 55 but it was lowered to 50 several years back. I would have thought that as long as one meets the other criteria (financial, health, never incarcerated), then more Westerners moving to Thailand along with their $$ would be a good thing for the country. It seems to be me that encouraging more retirees to move to Thailand would be a good thing…but when has that ever been a reason for policy changes locally?
The phenomenon of bars offering happy hours is more prevalent in Pattaya than Bangkok. Much more prevalent. And to make maters worse, there is a growing number of venues in Bangkok which use REALLY small glasses for happy hour drinks. I can't help wondering if this is happy hour for the bar, not the customers!Oh My Cod have added some new items to their menu. It's quite possibly the best deal in a steak dinner in town – sirloin steak, chips, peas and gravy for a mere 190 baht. Cottage pie, carrots, peas & gravy is only 165 baht and for the fans of offal, they offer a traditional steak and kidney pudding and the works for just 170 baht. They have also added roast chicken, gammon steak, blue cheeseburgers and more. The full menu can be seen here.
Over in Japan, the language institute NOVA, known by many as "NO VAcations", has folded and there have been major repercussions for many of the foreign teachers contracted to Nova. Will this result in an influx of teachers from Japan into Thailand? It wouldn't be a bad thing for schools in Thailand across the board are crying out for qualified, experienced teachers. Of course the low wages paid are the main reason for the shortage.
From a UK tabloid comes this story of a Coronation Street star caught with a lady of the night.
Want to know the going rate for a Thai hitman? – This is a truly eye-opening article.
Quote of the week comes from a good friend. We were in a bar and after a while he turned and said to me, "Some of these girls have such bad teeth that you would swear they were Brits!"
Ask Mrs. Stick
Mrs. Stick returns after a lengthy sojourn to help you with you relationship and culture questions and the things that baffle you about life in Thailand. She accepts questions on matters of the heart or cultural misunderstandings. Her answers are entirely her own without any influence or editing by me. She looks forward to reading and answering your questions, so please give her a big welcome by sending in some thought-provoking things.
Question 1: Is there a class system in Thailand and if so how is it structured? Is class dictated by birth, social standing / profession, wealth or a combination of these three factors? Is there social mobility within the class system? If wealth plays a role, then does it matter how this wealth is acquired? Do you see a "class system" as being a good or bad thing for Thai society? What do you perceive to be the advantages and disadvantages? I have heard the expression "hi-so" used to describe well-to-do, and, or wealthy individuals. Would this description be recognised by Thai people, and if so what would they understand it to mean?
Mrs. Stick says: I think you already have the answers to your questions. Actually we do not have a class system in Thailand. But I can’t deny it that in a way people are classified by those factors you mentioned; birth, social standing, profession and wealth. If you have a well recognized surname, you are hi-so. If you have a lot of money you are hi-so. If you have a good professional job or a successful business man you are hi-so. If you own expensive bags and shoes and you try to socialize with famous people, you are hi-so. I think that’s how Thai people understand its meaning. Wealth does play an important role in Thai society (I believe it’s pretty much the same everywhere else). But sorry, we don’t have a place for bad guys to stand in society.
Question 2: It's been written and said that Thais don't really marry for love, but more for partnerships. Is that true? Or just an overused generalisation?
Mrs. Stick says: You could say that for people upcountry. But I’d say it’s much different in the central areas when people tend to be more complicated about their lives and they tend to make their own choices based on their own decisions, not after the social norms.
I could have filled up pages of space with all of the emails sent in response to my piece about Nana Plaza last week. A small number of people sent abusive emails, including two bar owners. I guess the article hit a nerve! A number of people disagreed with what was written, but the vast majority agreed entirely with what I wrote. And you know what, you won't be calling the Stickmeister a hypocrite this week for I did not step foot in Nana. Not once all week. True to my word that Pattaya is where it's at, the Stickmobile guided me down to Fun City where a great night was had.
Stick Mark II