Stickman (Assimilation?) wrote in his newsletter on August 12 about a couple of westerners he knew who had assimilated into Thai society. He said that they seemed to be very happy and that he envied them. He also mentioned that even after living here many years he didn’t have any close Thai friends.
I’d like to tell you about my experiences with Thais and Thai society. After living here 26 years and now well into my second marriage to a Thai woman you would think that I would be assimilated. But the truth is I remain exactly what I was when I first arrived; a farung. I always will be.
I’ve known men who came here and assimilated, and they seemed to do it very well. But I always felt uncomfortable around them. One turned out to be a super con-man. He ended up going back to Australia after bilking a bunch of high-ranking and wealthy Thais out of more than 350 million Baht. He died soon after. His Thai wife is still in Australia, and she can never return to Thailand without risking almost instant death.
That’s not exactly the kind of incentive to push you to integrate and assimilate.
Of course, the con-man caused his own problems. But what used to nauseate me was the way he put on those very Thai airs that make any red-blooded man cringe. It’s difficult for a Westerner to accept the obsequious kow-towing to anyone of perceived ‘higher status’ than himself, i.e. someone with more money. The way his wife looked down her nose at my wife and I because we didn’t hob-nob with royalty was unacceptable to me. It didn’t matter that both of them were involved in criminal activities devoted to fleecing the very people they professed to ‘respect’ so much. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, when I did find out it didn’t surprise me. They both always seemed to be so insincere.
My first wife was a lovely lady. But she too had a blind side I found difficult to deal with. She would lie with a beautiful smile on her face to anyone she felt she could fleece out of their money. What really used to annoy me was the way she would sneer about them to me after they had left. Doing business with her as my partner become intolerable. In the end it was one of the many factors that decided me to divorce her.
She was a terrible snob, always asking me when we would make enough money so that she could become a khunying. Every time she did I thought to myself that we would never have enough, as I kept whatever I could out of her grasping hands. I was not going to start doing all the bowing and scraping the hi-so Thais are expected to go through so that they can gain their tin medals and honors. That’s just not my style. Yet, I know a few Westerners who have done that and done it very successfully. To each his own.
My ex-wife looked down on anyone she thought was not of equal or higher status than her. Which was funny, because she was the daughter of a very rich Chinese Bangkok businessman’s mia noi (minor wife). I never met her mother because her daughter was ashamed of her. Her half brothers and sisters tolerated her. Perhaps they even loved her in their own way; she was family after all. But they never gave her the same status they had, and by extension the same applied to me. The only reason she was able to marry me was because her father had died a couple of years before I met her. She didn’t have to answer to anyone.
Even after we were married and I sat down to dinner with her family, I always got the feeling that we were only tolerated, but never truly accepted. Perhaps that was just my perception colored by her attitude, but even if that was true I never really felt like I was a part of her family.
Contrast that to my current wife, an Esarn girl. Her family are very poor, but they have all taken me into their hearts and made me feel welcome. They drop by our house whenever they are passing through town. They are always welcome. I am not close to any of them, but our relationship is friendly and very easy going. There are no tensions, and no demands for money or for help to boost them up the social ladder. They are simple folk and I like that about them.
My first wife would still look down on this wife if they ever met. They never will, despite some big hints from the first one whenever we talk (very rarely) on the phone. They come from very different social strata, but even worse, this wife comes from a poor family with absolutely no status. But I know who I prefer to be with these days.
I met my first wife through a Chinese Thai friend I had met when I started dining at his small restaurant on Suriwong Road soon after I arrived in Thailand. He took a liking to me. I don’t really know why. We had nothing in common, but he took me under his wing and started taking me out to restaurants, and going to night clubs. One night he set up a blind date for me with my future wife, and that is how we met. However, after I married her and we moved out to Lard Prao I lost touch with my friend. He was busy building up his business, and I was too.
He was one of the few Thai men I ever made friends with. Even though his English was good, we never got past being just casual friends. We never confided in each other, and to us westerners that is the mark of a true friend, isn’t it?
Through the years I have befriended a few other Thai men. I could never call any of them close friends. They all befriended me because they thought they could gain something from the relationship; a business advantage, the opportunity to practice their English, or perhaps a boost up the social ladder. We would eat out at restaurants where they could see and be seen. Through me they would meet people that could be helpful to their careers or social lives. But not one of them ever made the effort to become a true friend.
Not all of them were like that of course. I did meet a couple of Thai businessmen who took a liking to me and helped me along in my business. But that was always where our relationship stayed. We were never close friends. Of course, they always gained something out of helping me as well. It seems there is always a quid pro quo in a friendship with a Thai man. Or am I just being cynical?
In the early years I led a very isolated and lonely existence here. I was just starting out and most of the western businessmen I knew were already well established and wealthy. I was a newcomer with very little money and a small business. Even so, I preferred their company whenever I could afford it to the Thai men I met. We shared the same culture, the same values, and the same tastes.
I never really knew what my so-called Thai friends were thinking. With my western acquaintances there was none of that worry. Provided we paid the bar tab and kept the conversation genial we all got along well. Some of those early acquaintances became friends over the years. These friendships took time to nurture and develop.
Whereas a Thai will meet you once and from then on claim to be your best friend. I always found this off-putting. I found their loud protestations of friendship difficult to accept. Friends don’t act that way. But Thai men seem to think that saying something will make it so. That doesn’t work for me, I’m afraid. I never let them get too close, because I could not see any way to be close to them. We had almost nothing in common. And this has always been one of the most difficult things to endure about living here.
However, even choosing western friends has always been fraught with difficulty in Thailand. Over the years I’ve met lots of men from different countries all over the world. Some of them I wouldn’t give the time of day to back home, so I certainly wouldn’t here. Others were con-men. Yet others were druggies and other undesirables. A few have become friends, and a very few have become very good friends. You have to choose your friends carefully in Thailand. It doesn’t matter whether they are Westerners or Asians.
Since getting married and having children with my current wife I find myself staying home most of the time and enjoying my family. But now and again I have to get out of the house and go for a drink with a few good friends. I am lucky that I have them. It’s been a long road finding them. But not one of them is a Thai.