Marriage Part II


Marriage PART II
So what about “Romance”? How do Thai people feel about “Affection”? Most people have heard of the ever popular sex industry in Thailand; prostitution, G0-GO bars, transvestites, H.I.V , and on. Pattaya is famous for it, and cities like Bangkok are not far behind. Are the Thai people really this promiscuous? Does “sex” have any value in their culture? I will approach this topic carefully as I have many Thai readers and understand it can be a sensitive subject. Remember that my only intention is to give you some insight as to how Thai people really view this sort of stuff, in hopes that when I finally do get around to the topic of marriage, it will all come together nicely; if I happen to dispel some common misconceptions about Thai women in the process, well so be it.Now if all that you ever saw or heard of Thailand was this place called Pattaya City then I could more than understand why you would feel that Thai people are pretty lax when it comes to morals or sexual values. It’s like a huge playground where people can do just about anything they like and no one seems to care too much. Behind all of the facade, and perhaps a few kilos outside of town, there is a completely different world; a world much larger than Pattaya will ever become. A world much like America of old, 50-100 years in the past. I often feel that I have been given a chance to look back upon a time in American History that I missed due to being born a few years too late. Some of you, I’m sure, can remember a time when it was tabboo for men and women to hold hands in public, much more so, to kiss. A time when it was expected that women cover up their shoulders, and wear long dresses in order to hide their legs. The less skin the better. To do otherwise would brand you a “hussy” or a “flussy”(whatever they mean). That was another time. Believe it or not, the average Thai would never have thought that people from the west had ever held such high standards. Nowadays in the West it is completely acceptable to hold hands in public; snuggle with your friend or spouse, even kiss if you want to. Some people take their liberty further than others, but you can generally do as you please and nobody seems to notice otherwise. I grew up never having to think much about what my girlfriend and I were doing in public, and to be honest I never did give it much of my time. Despite common thought around these parts, the Thai woman is held to those very same standards of old. I’ll go as far as to say they are held to thos standards to an even greater degree. Public displays of affection are frowned upon and above all, highly disrepectful to those around you. Did I say “HIGHLY” disrepectful? You might get away with it in the larger cities like Bangkok and Pattaya, but it’s a no-no in the more rural areas, and especially in the smaller villages. In traditional Thai culture you don’t hold hands, you don’t kiss, and you never act un-becomingly out in the world. The closer proximity that you are to family and friends(anybody who might know you) the less you would want to show your affection towards your boyfriend or girlfriend. Like in most cultures, these standards seem to be applied more so to the women than to the men. For a man to have had many girlfriends throughout his life is hardly as serious an offense as for a woman to have had many boyfriends. Infact, if a Thai woman does appear to have had many boyfriends she will be labeled as “soiled” or “spoiled”. This will most likely cause damage ,not only to her, but to her families name. A very serious matter. Not only this, but it could cause her difficulty in ever having a respectable family of her own. While I say this with some anxiety, it appears that men are given freedom to roam. Behind the huge sex industry for the tourists is an even larger sex industry for Thai men. I have been told by Thai men and women alike, that it is rare for a man to have turned 20 and not been with a prostitute. It also seems to be common knowledge that a large majority of married Thai men frequent these “Thai Brothels” aswell as having regular mistresses. They have a word for this ,”Mia Noi” or “small wife”, in the Thai Dictionary.
Despite all this, most Thai women will remain virgins until late in their lives; sometimes until their late 30’s, but most certainly until they are married.
Put all of these things aside, and there is still the fact that in Thailand, people just don’t display affection in the same ways that we might in the west. Simple touching is not a very common practice here. We westerners like to touch; grab hands, give hugs, pushing, nudging, a pat on the back here and there, etc. All of these can be quite uncomfortable for the Thais, and in some cases even cause some aggression. Younger Thais may play around a bit, but the older folks seem to keep there distance. A few months back I asked Saam if she could ever remember hugging her father or mother, she could not. While we are sure she had, it’s just not as common as it is in other parts of the world.
Just last week I walking down the street and happen to see an interesting exchange between a typical drunk westerner and a motorcycle taxi driver. For whatever reason, the western man appeared to be overly eager to express his thanks. He was grabbing the poor taxi man’s arms, pulling and tugging as if to reel him in for a hug. The Thai man was very patient and donned the typical Thai smile( a smile that has many different underlying meanings) The drunk man continued to pat him on the cheeks and speak rather loudly into the mans face. First of all, in Thai culture the head is the highest and most sacred part of the body; you should really avoid touching someones head. Secondly, the left hand is usually considered unclean by Thai standards, and is used for more… “dirty work”. Toilet paper has indeed made it’s way to Thailand, but the stigma still stands. You don’t do anything too special with this hand, and you certainly don’t stick it on someone’s face. Thirdly, speaking loudly in any context is rude and bordering on threatening to Thais. Thankfully some other Taxi drivers came by and “smilingly” brought this little conversation to a end. I could see that while the Thai man was trying to be patient with the otherwise ignorant and drunk westerner, he was about to snap. Heck, I was close myself, close to laughing anyway. More than one Thai woman has told me how difficult it is to deal with the western man’s constant desire to touch, grab, and hold.
So how can a country with such traditional values be so well known for it’s sex industry? If you drove through Pattaya you would be surprised that what seems like a million prostitutes only make up about 3-5% of the women in Thailand. Nonetheless, they are here, and they seem to be tolerated just the same. I believe that it all goes back to the idea of generosity. Most of these girls come from the poorer side of the Thai population and have come to Pattaya with one goal– to support their families; to send money back home to their mom and dad, to put their siblings through school, and to pay off family debt. While they are still considered soiled, and what they do is completely unacceptable, it is accepted in silence as being the ultimate act of sacrifice, of generosity. These girls are giving up there lives, and bodies for the wellbeing of their families. Despite what many people think, many of the girls are not even Thai. It is well known that women come into Thailand illegally from Laos, Burma, and Cambodia to work in Thailands sex industry.
The bottom line is that there is another 95+ percent of Thai women that hold to old fashion values and morals. They desire to remain pure and are certainly due the respect we would give any human being. It’s sad to say that most Thai women are labeled as prostitutes. On a daily basis I hear stories about how these women are treated. Doctors, Architects, Singers, and students are reduced to nothing more than “whores” in the eyes of the “farang”(westerner/White man). Just this past Friday one of my students, a real estate agent, told me that a long time client of hers had sent her an email offering 1000 baht for a night of “SEX”. That’s 25 USD for those who don’t know. This guy wouldn’t take no, and sent repeated emails for about week. I could see the tears in her eyes as she told me. Another of my students, who happens to be a General in the Thai Army, was shopping with her 2 yr old son, when a western man casually patted her on her butt and flashed 3 thousand baht. I highly doubt these guys act this way in their own countries. I can’t blame these guys for thinking the way they do. How could you, with all they see and hear? Believe it or not, most Thai women don’t blame them either. The slack they cut them however, is far out weighed by the fact that nobody, even a prostitute herself, wants to be treated like a dog. My advice for the “sex tourists” in Thailand? Read a book, learn something about the country your visiting. At the least, keep it in the bars and Go-Go’s, where the girls are prepared and even expect to be treated in this way. When your out and about, treat the women you meet like you would want some one to treat your daughter. Most of you guys are old enough to be their fathers and some of you their grandfathers.
Next stop on the tour is “Dating”; pretty important topic, as dating in Thailand(outside the bars) is more likened to “courting” than dating by western standards. See you then.

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~ by Scott on Sunday, July 10, 2005.

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