Thai Life

 2003

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27th September

CD Universe

  Age Related

From postings on Usenet

A Thai girl can have sex from the age of 15. She needs consent from her parents to marry until she is 20.

If a girl under 18 engages in prostitution, her customers face higher penalties than with a girl older than 18. It is nigh on impossible for any older farang to persuade the authorities that a relationship with a 15/16/17 year old is not based on prostitution. It is almost impossible to have a relationship without some money exchanging hands between the farang and the girl for food, taxi fare, sending home etc and this money can be used to demonstrate prostitution.

If a girl is under 15 the penalties are higher still and, contrary to some media images, the Thais treat this crime very seriously indeed. Sec. 277 of the Criminal Code prescribes a penalty of between 5 and 20 years jail plus a fine of between 8,000 and 40,000 baht for anyone having intercourse with a female not yet over 15 years age. The penalties are higher still if the girl is less than 13.

A girl (or boy) can't legally go into a bar as a customer until she/he is 20. People can work in a bar though from the age of 18.


4th September

 Foreigner Prices

One cannot visit Thailand for long before becoming aware of the Thai attitude towards their visitors. All foreigners are tagged with the label farang (sometimes pronounced falang). It translates to 'foreigner' except that it does not carry the implied 'unwelcome' that our use of the word entails.

There is no further interest in trying to further classify foreigners. American war mongers are indistinguishable from civilised Europeans and neither can be told apart from Iraqis or Afghans.  We may consider that there are sufficient differences to go to war over but the Thais couldn't give a toss. The Thai people seem to only consider two sets of people, Thai or non-Thai.

Even in a relationship, you cannot shake off the farang tag. My girl will always refer to me in conversation to other Thais as the 'farang'. I have known her for two years and have never yet once heard her use my name when speaking in Thai.

This simple world of Thai and non-Thai is extended to pricing, particularly for state sanctioned prices. The majority of tourist attractions will be dual priced with typically the farang price being more than double the Thai price. Sometimes there is a level of subtlety in that the price list for Thais will be in Thai script and may even use rarely used Thai script numerics. So perhaps some customers will remain unaware of the dual pricing.

Of course in the simple world of Thai and non-Thai it is easy to realise the mapping onto the equally simplistic rich and non-rich model. Thais consider farangs to be rich and easily able to pay the inflated prices. Perhaps what they never understand is the visitor's perception that they are being treated with disrespect, being made to feel unwelcome or simply being ripped off. I think analysis would show that the net gain from the higher prices more than compensates for the loss of visitors resulting from the inflated prices. Hence the system will be maintained for quite a while yet.

Sometimes the complaints of the visitor may be heard but it rarely makes a difference. Pattaya shared taxis have charged Thais 5 Baht and farangs 10 Baht for quite a while. When the system was challenged. A legal maximum fare of 10 Baht resulted which was chargeable to both Thais and farangs. Of course it is the taxi drivers prerogative to offer discounts, and they all offer a permanent discount of 5 Bahts to all Thai passengers. Perhaps all dual pricing is rationalised in the same way. Farangs pay the full price and Thais get a discount. Perhaps the UK is similar, a while back I visited Brighton Pavilion. I got a 50% discount because I was a local.

The strangest discrimination I have found to date is on a visit to the Imperial Palace in Bangkok. The dress code has been specified so that farangs have to be more respectful than Thais. A Thai aversion to feet results in a requirement to wear shows with backs. However this prohibition only applies to farangs, Thais are welcome to wear flip-flop style backless shoes. All due respect to the Thais for this prohibition shown as I fart in their general direction.


30th March

 The Ultimate Mother In-Law Joke

sin sodFrom Stickman (A must read) 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 inlaws 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?


26th January

 Why Wai?

From Stickman

thai waiThe wai is a minefield. It ain't a handshake, it ain't a high five, it ain't a way of saying hello.

Even a handshake is complex. You wouldn't shake hands with the CEO of your company. Or the waitress who serves you. Would you shake hands with your dentist? Your plumber? Trying to explain to a Thai when and when not to shake hands is a struggle. Well, the wai is a hundred times more complex. So in an attempt to stop more newbies embarrassing themselves, here are the rules about the wai:

Rules:

  1. Never wai anyone. The wai is a method of two Thais establishing where they stand in relation to each other. Who wais who and how serious the wai is depends on their relative ages, status, wealth, and family relationship. As a Westerner, you don't slot into the Thai hierarchy, so the wai doesn't apply. There are two views as to why this is so. The Western view would be that we are so far above them in terms of status, that there is no need to wai anyone. The Thai view would be that we are so inferior that a wai is unnecessary. Either way, Rule Number 1 applies. Any attempt at using a wai will result in you showing your ignorance.

    The Thai who is lower in status initiates the wai. And the wai of the lower status Thai is more formal than the Thai of higher status. This is why it is so ridiculous when a farang (foreigner) wais a serving girl. You are effectively saying that you are inferior to them.

    A very serious, heavy duty, wai would mean the fingertips coming up to eyebrow level. A farang would only ever use such a wai if he met a very heavy duty Thai, and frankly very few farangs are ever going to get within a hundred yards of someone like that.

    A serious wai would be the fingertips at mouth and nose level. It's the wai that a child would give a parent, or a pupil to a teacher. That's what you will tend to get from waitresses, but they don't mean that they are according you higher status, any more than a air hostess means it when she tells you to 'have a nice day'.

    A regular wai would be the fingertips at chin level. That's the wai a higher ranking Thai would give to a subordinate in reply to a serious wai.

    A perfunctory wai would be with the fingertips at chest level. It's not a wai to be initiated, it's a half-hearted reply to someone who is giving you a wai.

    The regular wai and the half-hearted wai are the only two wais that should ever be attempted by a farang, and only as a response, never as an initiation. But remember, Rule Number 1 always applies.
     
  2. Sometimes it's okay to wai a monk. All Thais wai monks, no matter what their status. The average tourist is not going to come into contact with a monk, but some might go up country with their temporary girlfriend and be taken along to the local wat. If you are introduced to one of the local monks, then it is okay to wai. But the monk won't expect you to. He knows the score. You won't be the first tourist to be taken to his wat, and you won't be the last. Follow your girlfriend's lead. If she wais, then you can. Tips of the fingers no higher than your chin. To be honest though, the monk is going to be more interested in how much money you give to the wat than whether or not you wai him. Rule Number 1 still applies.
     
  3. It is sometimes okay to wai old people. Not just any old people, though. Just because someone is older than you doesn't mean that they are automatically accorded more status. But if your temporary girlfriend introduces you to her father and mother, then it is okay to wai them. Fingertips no higher than the chin. They should return the wai. If they don't then you should be in no doubt as to what they think about you. You can wai them when you first meet them, and when you say goodbye. You have to know that you are in fact older than your girlfriend's parents, of course. In the case of most tourists, they are usually the same age or even older than the girl's parents. If they are in fact younger than you, then they should be initiating the wai. They won't, of course, because they will think themselves superior to you, because they are Thai and you are farang. Rule Number 1 still applies.

    It is sometimes okay to return a wai. As a Westerner, Thais will occasionally wai you. Sometimes as a greeting. Sometimes as a 'thank you'. Do not give them a wai in return. Simply smile and nod. Maybe say 'sawasdee krap' or 'chok dee.' (Be lucky). Remember, Rule Number 1 always applies.
     
  4. You will often be given a wai by waitresses and bargirls. Just smile back. Hotel staff will wai you. Just smile. So who would you return a wai to? Remember, Rule Number 1 applies. But there are a few occasions when maybe, just maybe, it's okay to return a wai.

    If your temporary girlfriend introduces you to younger members of her family and they seem sincere when they wai you, then it's a nice gesture to wai them back. Fingertips at chest level is okay. If your girlfriend has kids and if she introduces them to you and if they wai you, then it's okay to wai them back, for no other reason than the fact that you are teaching them good manners. Other than that, Rule Number 1 applies.
     
  5. It is sometimes okay to wai in return for a service rendered. This is far less complex than a greeting wai. Thais will wai you when you do something for them, and this usually involves giving them money. Just smile in return. You never return a wai given for a service rendered. And Rule Number 1 applies.

    Should you wai someone if they do something for you? The simple answer is no. Rule 1 applies. Generally, a Thai is only going to be doing something for you if you are paying them. The money is your way of saying thank you, the wai is superfluous. If a Thai does do you a great favour and isn't being recompensed financially, then you might consider a wai.
     
  6. don't bother giving a wai to a policeman. He will either take a bribe from you, or take you to jail. A wai will make no difference to the outcome. Rule Number 1 applies.
     

Okay, them's the rules. But you don't need them all. Just remember Rule 1. Never wai anyone. That way you won't look like a Newbie.


16th January

 Saving Face

From Stickman's Weekly

For all of the wonderful things about Thailand, there are also many things that leave us somewhat baffled and confused. Thailand is a wonderful country, but when we try to apply our Western way of thinking to certain situations, we can end up horribly confused. Something happened to me recently that gave me reason to consider one of the many differences between the average Westerner and the average Thai.

I was told a terrible lie by a Thai who I trusted. The lie was one of those really poorly told lies that you just knew, the moment it rolled off their lips, that it was a lie. I questioned it immediately to which the response given was equally weak and at which point I decided not to push the issue and to just let it rest. After all, I didn't know for sure that it was a lie, at least at this stage.

When words spoken concern something important, something significant, and yet they the speaker still insists it is true despite protests that it cannot be, the person telling the lie leaves themselves open to looking like a real fool. Some people really shouldn't lie because they are just so incredibly bad at it that they do little more than demean themselves and end up looking like an idiot. And in the case of Thais, looking like an idiot causes extreme loss of face, something that the average Thai is simply unable to deal with.

Well, later that day I confirmed that I had been told a porky and that really pissed me off. Somewhat bitter, I decided that it had to be brought up. I can live with being lied to in certain situations, but in this situation it was totally unacceptable and created a huge trust issue. Worst of all, it needn't have happened and could have been killed quickly, but the person in question decided not to deal with it like that.

So, I spoke with the person in question who eventually admitted that what they had said was a lie. It was at this point that everything turned. The situation changed and suddenly the other person found themselves in a situation where they had been caught lying. They had just been presented with the knowledge that someone was fully aware that they had been told a white lie - and that they weren't happy about it. Loss of face hits the Thai...and the fun and games begin.

Making a Thai lose face - even when they were so badly at fault and such focus to their errors is warranted - will result in an unpredictable, and seldom positive, response. Even if they had done something as profound as drive while totally drunk, crash and write off your car, bringing this issue up with them will bring resentment. They are often unable to admit that yes, they were at fault.

But what is perhaps interesting here is that the person in question totally overlooked the fact that they had lied - and remember, it was not something innocuous here. That they had told a substantial lie no longer mattered. But that the issue had been brought up with them did. In the Thai person's view, it was the person who had raised the issue, namely me, who was in the wrong! Notwithstanding that it had been raised in a friendly way, the Thai person clearly saw me as the culprit, the wrong-doer, in this instance. How could I have the audacity to accuse them of doing something wrong?

So many Thai people are unable to deal with being told that they are wrong, that they did something wrong, or that something that they did was not up to scratch, or perhaps did not meet expectations. Their way of dealing with this is to turn the whole situation around, and point the finger at the person doing the accusing. It is this person who is at fault, not the initial "wrong-doer".

In this particular instance, what they failed to understand was that I would have forgotten about it with a quick "sorry, I shouldn't have done / said that" or "I regret what happened". Enough for me. Case closed. But what happened almost ruined a friendship and created a very awkward situation.

So, what do you do? When you have reason to raise an issue with a local, do you just let these issues go without raising them or do you bring them up with all guns blazing? When your Thai friend or teeruk does something to annoy you, piss you off or when they do something that may be considered incredibly stupid or downright wrong, one has to be careful how they raise the issue. So many Thais are simply unable to deal with the confrontation that such a discussion may involve, notwithstanding that it was they who initially fucked up! Talking with Thais about such things, it often feels as though they take any comments of a negative nature against them as an extreme threat. I'm still not quite sure how to deal with such situations...but one thing is for sure, you just can't let it go, can you?

So, when in Thailand, be careful on how you raise the issue when someone screws up. The reaction from the local may be that it is YOU who is in the wrong!


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