Showing posts with label Cross Cultural Relationships. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cross Cultural Relationships. Show all posts

Sin Sot, To Pay or Not To Pay …

No, I have not lost my mind, or decided to take this blog down a different path.  This is not a history lesson on the origins of Sin Sot, or a laundry list of how much to pay for what.  That kind of thing has been done to death elsewhere.  VF doesn’t tell people what to do or how to do it.  I would much prefer being seen as motivational rather than instructional.  One additional disclaimer for those who don’t know me well, I did not pay any sin sot when my wife and I were married nearly fourteen years ago.  I guess you could say we eloped, as we got married first and told our families about it after the fact.

When it comes to things like Sin Sot, in my opinion it doesn’t matter what is written in some book or on some blog.  That won’t change how your partner feels about it or how their parents view the custom.  There can be vast differences based on region and class, with your arguments about the "true" meaning of Sin Sot, having no bearing on the beliefs and opinions of others.  I am not going to tell you how much you should pay or how to negotiate paying less.  I am not going to suggest you should be confrontational and refuse to pay.  I am not going to suggest that everyone, could or should, follow my example of no Sin Sot and no wedding party. 

Cross cultural issues like these are only complicated by language and ignorance on both sides.  It is so easy to project onto the other person what we want to see in them, with very little understanding of who they really are.  Just because a person can’t express their deepest hopes and fears in your language doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that you can disregard them.  Communication in relationships, is a two way affair and any time it seems to be too one-sided, one should be asking why and looking for remedies.

Perhaps surprisingly, I do come from a traditional family in some respects.  There is no history of divorce, with my parents and both sets of grandparents staying together throughout their lives.  The man always provided financial support and the woman took care of the family and the home, though my mother did work before marriage and actually met my father because of her job.  These days it seems more common to divide things into, yours and mine.  People have separate bank accounts and what often looks to me like separate lives, with more time spent apart than together, but that is a separate discussion.

I always expected that I would take care of my partner and if I were not able to do so, then I would simply have to wait until I could.  That was one of many reasons I waited until I was 45 before getting married.  Too often people just don’t seem to consider the consequences of their choices, like who they marry and when.  Finding a partner is often just the beginning of your problems, not the end of them as so many fantasize.  It may be fun and romantic, but hitting the accelerator, closing your eyes and hoping things will workout for the best, has never been my style.

I find it disturbing to hear talk in some expat circles, about how cheap their wives are, and how little they cost to maintain.  Wives end up sounding like commodities or livestock possessed by the husband.  Sure, sex and money have always been major choke points in relationships.  Too much or too little of something, combined with different wants and needs, can lead to conflict and even separation.  Still, I find the monetization and predatory search practices of relationships these days distasteful.

In the past people met their partners while pursuing a normal life, where it now seems common for people to shop for a partner online.  I have my suspicions, that it makes it somehow easier to objectify the opposite sex.  In Thailand, expats discuss endlessly how much women cost, in terms of gold and Sin Sot before marriage, and maintenance after marriage.  It is like they are checking on the Kelly Blue Book price for a car they are interested in buying.  This is perhaps more common in the older, divorced and retired crowd, due to the baggage they carry with them, but it is not entirely limited to them.

I am not bound by tradition or dogma, and it matters little to me what others do or have done before me.  What matters is what my wife and I want as a couple.  I was not about to force someone to do things my way, so I waited until I found someone who was on the same wavelength and wanted the same things.  If you want a partner who will be interested in your athletic pursuits, for example, why choose someone who doesn’t have an athletic bone in their body?  If you don’t smoke and find it distasteful, why choose a smoker?  I am not traditional in my views on most things, so I knew I didn’t want someone with ridged and traditional beliefs.  That is exactly what some people are looking for it seems, though for the life of me I don’t know why.

When I hear expats making declarations about Thai Women, it tells me more about the man and where he is looking, than it does about Thai women in general.  There is endless dialog on what the hunter wants.  The guy often wants cheap, young and hot, while the woman often wants kind, generous and wealthy.  Neither side asks the most important question, “Why would a person like that, be interested in me?”  The trick as I see it, is not to focus so much on your checklist but to have a look in the mirror and turn your attention to making yourself desirable to someone you might like, and to possess the attributes you look for and admire in others.

People seem to be looking for an instruction manual for life, and there seem to be an abundance of blogs out there claiming to fill that need, but I am afraid it isn’t that easy.  I for one, wouldn’t want it to be as simple as following some list.  It doesn’t mean that life is all that difficult or that you should be afraid to try things.  Just look at each thing you do as preparing you for what comes next, not as an end in itself.

Anyway, that is the Village Farang take on Sin Sot and relationships in Thailand.

May-December Pairings and Other Relationship Thoughts…

So not too long ago we were at Chiang Rai Central Plaza, or what I call the Mall for short.  I won’t bore you with what we were doing, as that is not relevant to the topic, but out of the corner of my eye I noticed a familiar face.  Ends up it had been two years so I had to run the face through my built-in facial recognition pathways.  Even with a few extra pounds I placed her before my wife did.

Big smiles and greetings all around and then I put my foot in it, by asking about her farang husband.  When we first moved to Chiang Rai, and before my wife learned how to bake bread, we had a favorite bakery where we bought bread and visited almost weekly.  The new couple were expecting when we met and soon had a little baby girl resting on the counter in their shop, when we would visit.

They had a hard time trying to make it here in Chiang Rai, and after moving a couple of times in the area, they eventually moved to Bangkok and later to Phuket, I believe.  Anyway they are no longer a couple and I felt bad as our friend held back tears and told us her sad story.

Through this encounter I found myself pondering the many relationships we have watched disintegrate over the years.  Sometimes people you know as a couple simply drift away from you, when they drift apart.  Other times the acrimony forces you to choose one side or the other.  Of course there are other relationships which manage to stay together but have you wondering how, or even why, they would want to.  Then there are those who put on a good front while hiding the disfunction that exists at home.  Understand that I am not talking about the bar scene or short time pay for play but couples, married or otherwise, who really try to make a go of it regardless of where they came from. 

Common knowledge says you need to be the same to make things work, same age, same race, same interests, same religion, same education and same socioeconomic background.  Yet some statistics seem to show that May-December relationships are no more likely to fail than your average pairing, despite having very little in common at first glance.  Of course there could be many explanations for this.

Thailand is an excellent place to view May-December couples, with most western men not finding Thailand until later in life.  My guess would be that a certain level of dependency may lead to greater longevity in some pairings.  The man may have invested too much and feel it is too late to move on.  The younger woman may feel gratitude and a sense of obligation toward her, White Knight, who may have rescued her from a less than glamorous life.  Then again it could be the devil you know is preferable to uncertainty and loneliness.  Perhaps I have just forgotten the desperate lengths some people will go to in order to fend off loneliness.

Sure there is a lot which can go wrong due to age, language, culture and the like.  For example, if the woman is very young and childless I guess I can understand there might be pressure on the older man to have children, and quickly.  You still hear women say they believe a baby is the best way to lock a man into a relationship, even though their own experience disproves this old belief. 

More often than not, the women who are looking outside their own culture for a husband already have children from past failed relationships.  It is often that desperation which leads then down that path of finding a foreign benefactor to begin with.  The thing I don’t get, is why would these couples, who already have multiple children between them, choose to produce yet another baby with little chance of the father being around until maturity? 

Regardless of what I might think, making babies seems to be a priority for some, even in old age. If I were an older guy coming to Thailand after divorce and redundancy, the last thing would be looking for is to repeat past mistakes and go down the exact same path as before.  Then again I am perhaps not the best judge, since I didn’t get married until I was 45 and already had an understanding of myself and women, sufficient to know what was necessary for a relationship of mine to work.  It also helps that I never bought into the norms of society to begin with.

On a more personal note, I have found our twenty year age gap an advantage in many ways.  To begin with we have more time to spend together since neither of us work, and we relish the time we spend together.  In this modern age, with two working parents and the over-scheduling of their children’s lives, is it any wonder people snap under the pressure or find they no longer have anything in common after the children grow up.

One also hears gossip about friend's partners which makes them sound more like enemies rather than soul-mates.  While I consider my wife my best friend and confidant, I seldom hear that view from others.  If we were both working and spending the majority of our waking hours apart, I wonder if our last 15 years would have been so wonderful.

I can find no rhyme or reason in observing all the failed or struggling relationships I observe around me.  Perhaps it is something external in the pressure exerted by modern society, or maybe it is something in our genetic makeup.  After all, we seldom lived past our forties in the past, and what worked on an evolutionary level for a relatively short-lived creature, maybe just doesn’t work for a species which has more than doubled the lifespan, for which it was designed.

With my parents reaching their 90s having been together for something around 64 years, perhaps my expectations are not in touch with this modern era where most relationship do not last.  I seem to come from a minority background and hold a minority view on relationships.  For me marriage is a onetime deal and there will be no repeat performances in my future. 

I see more young people, especially the better educated and more affluent, looking for alternatives but still the pressure exerted by family and society is substantial and cannot be overlooked.  I suppose couples like us with our 20 year age gap and our decision to live a life not burdened with children, will never be the norm.  Our biology is just too hard to resist for most.  Maybe these May-December relationships will in the end disappear if economic discrepancies are eliminated.  The way things are going with the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer, with the world shrinking yet becoming more polarized, I think it more likely May-December relationships are going to be around for some time to come.

New Year's Eve with 2012 hours away ...

For those of you who have been with me for a while, expectations might be for an agonizing post about where I have been, as I lament a lack of visibility into the coming year.  Where is the blog going, why do I blog and what path might I follow, no doubt would spring to mind.  I am surprised to find that I actually have a vision for 2012.

It is all falling into place and seems to make so much sense.  The first two years were about building the house and the long process of moving in and turning it into a home with a string of projects.  To some extent those projects continue today but at a much more relaxed pace.  Later attention was focused on our social life, primarily exploring the expat community that exists here in the Rai.  This last year has been one of consolidation as we sorted through what was important to us and allotted our time accordingly.

Admittedly I exerted more than my fair share of influence over the navigation process, as I was in the driver’s seat both literally and figuratively.  With my wife finally taking to driving on her own, the impetus coming from my trip to Hawaii, she has gained more independence and confidence to do her own thing.  Her iPhone has freed her from our computer, allowing her to interact in a way that is more natural for her.  Nearly constant interaction with friends on Facebook has expanded her circle of friends, reinforced her Thainess and tickled her creativity bone.

After being joined at the hip for so many years it is with mixed feelings that I watch my wife refine her own style and venture down her own path a little more.  I try to support her while keeping in check any impulses I might have to be excessively protective.  While age has never been an issue with us, it is nevertheless important for me to remember our age difference, when it has a bearing on our growth and development as individuals.  I do ask questions to help gauge my wife’s interest and commitment to projects she is considering but leave the final call to her.

If anything my wife has too many interests and finds it difficult to narrow things down enough to keep life manageable.  Fortunately the days and hours she volunteers at the local school are flexible.  Her expressed desire to further her education and get a teaching degree is admirable and potentially beneficial on many levels.

If it has not become clear yet, 2012 is shaping up to be “the year of my lovely wife” and the continued expansion of our Thai connections here in the Rai.  Having been through what one might call a Farang phase it is now time for a Thai phase.  I have had my turn, so now it is my wife’s turn.  As yet I am not certain how her being busier and away from home more often will affect my schedule.  Perhaps we will need a little more structure to make sure everything gets done.  Then again being spontaneous and going with the flow might continue to work best for us.

Not being burdened with my usual angst over the coming year has put me in a very mellow state of mind, perfect for ushering in the New Year.  Wanting to share some pictures today I finally settled on the Chiang Rai Flower Festival now in progress and a shot of a few of my wife’s students that I snapped during an impromptu visit to her class on the Ninja.

My Amazing Thai Wife ...

Fourteen years together and she can still amaze me.  After being reluctant to drive for years she recently stepped up, realizing she would need to drive while I was in Hawaii for a couple of weeks.  Before that there had never been a pressing reason for her to drive so it kind of sat on the back burner.  Now she chauffeurs me about more often than not.

She had never shown any interest in my Ninja 650 and then one day she suggested we ride it to Phu Sang Waterfall, a 142 km trip.  The day after we drove even further, most of the way to Mae Sai.  The plan had been to do the Doi Mae Salong route but we got a late start and had to change plans.
Taking pics

I had no experience riding 2-up but it didn’t take long to adjust.  It felt really good to have her along for the ride.  Then again everything is better when we do it together.  Worried about her reaction I took it easy on the outward leg only to have her ask why I hadn’t passed this one car we followed for a while heading toward Thoeng.  From then on I drove and passed as I usually do.  We didn’t go exceptionally fast, but except for the wind trying to take her helmet off, she said she didn’t mind the speed and really felt safe with me maneuvering the roads in my usual fashion.  That was a relief since I had been concerned about her reaction, sitting helpless on the back of a speeding Ninja.

Being Thai my wife has a few fear issues with things both real and imagined, but every once in a while she just says enough is enough and faces her fears head on.  That is more or less how we ended up going skydiving in Hawaii after her saying she would never do so.  She is still reluctant to do much hiking or any camping in Thailand as she doesn’t feel it is safe here.  It is her own country after all, so who am I to argue with the way she feels about her own countrymen.  Her rationale actually makes a lot of sense.

In the States, however, some of our longer and more difficult hikes were undertaken at her request.  She had seen young women on the trail and marveled at their self-confidence and athletic prowess.  They hiked alone or with a dog on the trails around Bolder Colorado in skimpy outfits that would be frowned upon in Thailand and seemed to have not a care in the world.  We also found people quite friendly and approachable on the trail, wherever we went in the National Parks.

San Francisco

Mount Rainier

Somewhere in California

Lake Tahoe

Grand Canyon

Crater Lake
Bryce Canyon

Fiery Furnace, Arches 
Multnomah Falls

Sadly my wife was born into an environment where children are controlled by fear, superstition and are held back, instead of being encouraged.  I guess it makes it easier for the parents but it does little to prepare a village child for the bigger world that lurks beyond the boundaries of their village.  Cultural changes do not come easily or quickly, however, no matter where you are from.  Oddly there is no shortage of visitors to this country who are eager to voice their quick fixes for all that they feel ails Thailand.

Most visitors tend to ignore the inherent dangers in attempting to tinker with another’s culture.  I constantly weigh the plusses and minuses of the tinkering I have done with my own wife’s world view.  She obviously pays a price in her own culture for having been modified by me to fit better into my own world.  On balance I think she has gained more than she has lost but I suppose only time will truly tell.  At least I am here everyday to provide support and encouragement when she struggles in her attempt to straddle the divide between her culture and the life we have carved out for ourselves.  In many ways she is probably better suited for life in my country than she is here, but here is where we live.

So life goes on, just as my love and admiration for my wife grows with the years.  From a child of 23 to a woman of 37 she has never ceased to amaze me.

Leaving Thailand and Going Home ...

Have you ever spared a thought for those individuals who try to make a go of it in Thailand and for whatever reason end up returning to whence they came?  We hear a lot from the dreamers and new arrivals but not much from those who gave up and surrendered the dream to go home or continued their search for the dream somewhere else.

I suppose enthusiasm and a desire to share are more forthcoming from the throws of first love and an infatuation with all things Thai.  Lose the rose colored glasses and the world turns bleak and grey, with less desire to share one supposes.  Besides who wants to publicize ones failures or moan about the injustice of it all.  Who would care and who would read about such things?

I for one believe there are many who would benefit from the stories of those who have gone before but then again would they listen or learn?  There is a stubbornness that seems to permeate the very core of the new Thai accolades.  They often think they know more and know better, when the opposite is so apparent.

Never having been able to extricate myself from the hold Thailand has had on me all these many years, I can’t say I have much insight into what it must be like to go home.  That is why I, and others, have been so enthralled by the resent events in the life of Mike over at Thailand Blogs.  A seemingly well adjusted retiree and award winning blogger but recently an ex-expat, a returnee to his homeland. 

He has begun writing an epilogue of his love affair with Thailand and though he has just scratched the surface with his first installment, there is great potential in such postmortems I feel.  If you are interested go to Thailand Blogs and read Mike’s most recent entries. 

I can imagine that Thailand will have left a mark on who we are and how we perceive the world but I would like to hear more of this phenomenon if you would care to share.  If you have personal experience or have witnessed others who have returned home after a stint in Thailand please feel free to share your observations about the ease or difficulty of such a move.  Mike has kindled in me an interest in this under reported life event, so I hope to hear from others as well as read what he has to say in his blog.

Got The Girl, Now What?...

As you know I have lived in Thailand most of my life and found my wife after living here for a very long time.  That is not in the cards for most people, however.  Most find love during a brief visit or perhaps online, these days.  So once you have found your true love, for many there is little option but to take her home where you can provide for her.  For that matter, at some point most of us want to at least travel with our partners so we end up jumping through the ubiquitous bureaucratic hoops our governments set up for our enjoyment or perhaps their entertainment.

A couple of my readers are getting close to bringing their partners to visit or live in their home country.  Having overcome the mountain of obstacles placed in their way so far, now they will be burdened with task of everyday living.  As far as I am concerned there are no hard and fast rules as each individual and each couple face different challenges and have different resources to call upon.  In general there are two main camps on the subject of immigration, whether Thai or farang.  You either stick to your own kind or mingle with the locals.  Somewhere in the middle is probably best but you get my point.

I am in favor of multiple visits before making any longterm moves but I understand that may not be an option for many.  Jumping off the cliff into unplumbed waters will work for the lucky ones but others will end up battered and bruised, if not worse.  As usual there is anecdotal evidence to support optimism or pessimism.  It is your choice.

If your language skills are not great or you don’t have much free time, it might be tempting to find a bunch of Thais for your wife to hang with and lighten your load a bit.  You could get lucky and fall in with a good group but there are some real horror stories about Thais preying on the naïve newcomers in their midst.  I am of the camp that believes in adjusting to the local life first and then when you are more settled, perhaps looking for friends from the old country.

If you don’t make the effort in the beginning, in my opinion, it is easy to get complacent and stick to what you know.  You see it with farangs in Thailand and with Thai overseas.  My wife met Thai women, who while living overseas, seemed more Thai than she.  They were up on all the latest celebrity gossip, soap-operas, singers, ate little but Thai food and had few if any friends outside of the Thai community.  In spite of living overseas many don’t put any effort into improving their language skills either, much like many of the farangs in Thailand.

While most people think of the big things like visas, food, weather, loneliness and homesickness, some little things are forgotten or overlooked.  While the cold is hard on most Thais it is often the dry air that causes more problems.  Starting on the airplane the air is very dry, then the cold air is dry and the heated interiors of buildings are dry.  Those with more delicate skin will find their skin flaking and itchy while their lips chap and noses might bleed as the sinuses crack and dry out.  My wife goes through copious amounts of skin lotion in the hot climate of Thailand but nearly baths in the stuff when we travel.  Various medications and things like birth control, which are bought over the counter in Thailand, may require prescriptions in another country so one needs to think ahead.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying that you shouldn’t go for it in life or in love.  I’m just saying, don’t expect it to be smooth sailing all the time.  No matter how much preparation time you have put in, things will come up that you didn’t consider or prepare for.  Cross-cultural relationships can be incredibly rich and full but they can also be very complex and difficult.  Patience and understanding are needed in abundance and while the payoff may not be immediate and things may fall apart eventually, don’t forget that life is always lived without guarantees.

For those of you anxiously awaiting the arrival of your true love, just sit back and let those emotions wash over you.  You may never have those feelings again so don’t let them pass unnoticed.  Don’t rush too quickly to make everything normal and common place.  Soon enough you will be wondering where all the excitement and anticipation disappeared to.  For now just enjoy the ride.

Buying Land ...

Through an email exchange I was asked about the purchase of our land and whether it was done in my wife’s name.  Subsequently, after starting to read this blog in its book form, the answer was found and I was asked to disregard the question.  Fortunately or unfortunately your choice, I had already penned the following and thought I would post it anyway.  Not everyone is so diligent about digging through the entirety of my work and an update on a topic from time to time is not unwarranted in my opinion.

My perfunctory answer to such questions of ownership is simply that my wife owns everything in Thailand.  It saves a lot of trouble if anything were to happen to me.  If I were a man of few words, that answer would no doubt suffice.  Since I have never been accused of being such a man, and since I have an opinion on such things, let me expand.

On a very general level, women’s rights and land ownership for Thai women married to foreigners has come a long way.  Not saying it is perfect but it has improved over the years.  For the specifics of Thai law I would suggest that Google is your friend.  In our case I simply had to accompany my wife to the land office and sign a form stating I had no claim to the land and we were good to go.  At a later date and at my wife’s urging, we went in to get a usufruct and have my name added to the Chanote or land title papers.  This was her idea to protect me from her family if anything were to happen to her.  Again looking up usufruct is probably more useful than my paraphrasing here.

I suppose these questions come up because we have all been exposed to the horror stories of the hapless farang male being liberated from his funds and then sent packing by an insatiable horde of in-laws.  I am in no way disputing the veracity of such stories.  I am simply suggesting there might be more to the story.

Some women succumb to social pressure and try to get as much as they can from their farang partner, to help combat the stigma of marrying outside of their own race.  Don’t forget that in a traditional rural environment, the gossip mill can be a powerful and destructive force.  If you marry a man who is no better off than some poor farmer from the village, then what is the point, in their view.  Foreigners are just too much trouble if there is no compensation for the sacrifice, such as substantial financial reward, real or wished for.  If you are already burdened by the stigma of failed relationships and perhaps fatherless children to raise, then it is not much of a leap to marry for money, the second or third time around.

There are indeed parents who will tell their daughters to get what they can from a man while the getting is good, and the man is still thinking with the wrong part of his anatomy.  Asking a man for land, a house or some other financial contribution could also be seen as a test of both his intentions and his solvency, even from a trustworthy partner who sees a man as something other than an ATM.  Unlike the West where divorce can be devastatingly expensive, in Asia the man can often simply walk away.  You can think of any contribution made to your partner as a no-fault or prepaid divorce where you know in advance exactly what your exposure is.

In the case of a land purchase there is often an undercurrent that a farang might not be aware of.  Most Thais where I live would almost immediately take the land title to the bank and use it as collateral for a loan.  That can make placing the land in the name of a family member problematic.  No telling how that money will be spent so in the end you might be asked to repurchase the same land from the bank or risk a complete write-off.  People have learned that getting oneself into debt, and then begging someone to save you, is much easier than asking for money outright and having to explain why you want it.

I love my wife and like other men of my ilk, would not like to think of her being left destitute upon my demise.  Some other men seem to have no greater ambition than to find the cheapest form of domestic care and carnal satisfaction they can.  Barefoot, wrapped in a sarong, pregnant and in the kitchen or garden, if you don’t mind.  Heaven forbid they wear any makeup or go to a beauty parlor.  They boast about how little money they spend on their wives or that they spend nothing at all and everything is in their name, not their wife’s name.  I find that sad.

My advice is always something along the lines of, if you don’t trust your partner and don’t feel they have your best interests at heart, then you are probably with the wrong person and should not throw good money after bad.  If a refusal or postponement of major cash contributions is considered grounds for ending a relationship then let it end and consider yourself lucky.  This is especially true if you are still in the first year of so of a relationship with someone you really don’t know that well.

Renting in Thailand is often a more rational and affordable route to take.  Unfortunately in the eyes of the locals it provides no future security.  Purchasing land as an investment sounds nice but often doesn’t work out.  I have friends who have done well with condos in big cities or large land tracts in rural or boarder areas but you need to know what you are doing and have some luck.  Remember you are up against speculators from all over Asia as well as Thais.  Some ten thousand rai of land on the East side of our village was swallowed up by a major beer company as an example.  How are you going to compete with that?

In summary, if you want to buy land, do your research and do it locally as the application of laws can vary by region.  Go to the land department and check with the banks to see what they have for sale and perhaps consult a good lawyer if you can find one and are the litigious sort.  Word of mouth and family connections are great but have to be viewed with a health dose of skepticism.

Next question please.

No Children Please, Pets Welcome ...

Driving to town on a dark rainy day with misty clouds clinging to even the lowest hills, it was enough just to enjoy the company of my wife, who was driving for the first time in the rain, the lovely passing landscape and the relaxing ambience that seemed to envelop the world around us.  Someone had proposed a question just before leaving the house, through the comment page, so instead of enjoying the quiet I thought I would run the query by my wife to get her most recent take on the subject.

Our dialogue on having children has changed over the last fourteen years as one might expect.  After listening, she paused ever so briefly and then began a thoughtful discussion with the acknowledgement that when we first met, if she had met a man who wanted children, she probably would not have even thought about it.  After all that is what couples do, right?  Now at thirty-seven years old, and years of living with me, she has a clearer understanding of the question and her feelings on the subject.  Then again how clear can something be that is mired in biological imperatives, tradition and cultural beliefs?

Over the years she has been witness to the births of many of her friend’s children and continues to follow their progress.  They have pretty much covered the spectrum from easy to difficult and given her a good idea of the sacrifices involved in being a responsible parent, as apposed to just giving birth and passing it on to someone else to take care of.  She seems to like infants in small doses these days and understands that given the choice she would prefer not to surrender her own existence to the sole task of taking care of someone who is totally dependent upon her.  Besides, between Cookie and me, isn’t she already doing that?  Reading this part aloud to her as she worked around us, she moaned audibly, venting that she indeed had enough children to take care of already.

Clearly we have evolved strong biological and hormonal urges, that have served us perhaps too well, in our rush to dominate and over populate this world.  To counteract our more primitive urges, evolution gave us the prefrontal cortex with its executive functions capable of overriding some of our more destructive tendencies.  A quick look around and one would be excused for thinking that most people have never opened that box or read the instructions contained there in.

It took a while but I think my wife now understands, that yes she gets a warm fuzzy feeling around infants, not unlike what she feels when she sees a golden retriever puppy and holds it in her arms.  One can choose, however, to enjoy and embrace that feeling for a moment or two with other people’s children, without surrendering ones entire life to it.  To this end I am more than happy to let her get a regular dose of nurturing by visiting friends with babies.

Culturally things can be made more difficult by the pressure put upon us by friends and relatives to produce cute little clones of ourselves.  I tend to view the sometimes incessant prodding as no more mindful than remarks about the weather or your health, a simple reflex with little or no thought behind the words.  Some people give in way too easily to their urges and the prodding of others, in my opinion.  Just because someone can give birth doesn’t mean they should do so, or that they would be competent parents.

With many foreign men finding Thailand late in life and choosing much younger wives, simply because they can, there is a disproportionate number of very old fathers with very young children, at least in rural areas such as mine.  Spending ones twilight years changing diapers and playing reruns of a life you have already lived is beyond my comprehension.  Playing grandparent from time to time seems more suited to old age.  I do my best to keep those thoughts to myself around others but I’m sure they must sense my misgivings about such things.

In Thailand one hears repeatedly the question, “Who is going to take care of you when you are old?”  Even worse I used to hear, “You need to have children in time to use them.”  As I have gotten older, thankfully I don’t have to listen to that one anymore.  Those questions and comments will in time be relegated to the past where they belong but for now many still cling to them.  Taken to the extreme some seem to ignore the present and the lovely memories they could be creating together, regardless of age, and greedily prepare for their future by producing offspring and milking the ATM.

In contrast to the belief that children will care for you in your old age, these days one sees more and more old people in villages with no one to care for them.  Their children are off working in the cities trying desperately to sink no further into debt and often failing.  There are those who champion the idea of families taking care of aging parents but I have witnessed on too many occasions, families who are simply not equipped to provide the care their aging parents need.  Sometimes we do more harm than good by giving in to emotional and cultural pressure, instead of acting on a clear and rational plan.  Old age and dying are never easy subject to discuss, however.

My wife and some of her single friends half seriously joke about building houses next to each other when they get older.  Who knows, that may turn out to be doable with so many single female friends and with people staying active much later in life.  Alternatively by the time I am gone my wife’s niece and nephew will be parents a few times over and may need help raising their kids.  As the world and our circumstances in it change, we may need to evolve new models of how to deal with those changes.  We desperately seek certainty in an uncertain world but in the end the most we can hope for is that we will have acquired the needed experience and resilience to deal with whatever comes up.

At this point I probably have more confidence in my wife than she has in herself.  She has been taught to worry about things she has no control over but I do what I can to help her, if not embrace change and uncertainty, to at least not fear it quite so much.  No one knows what tomorrow will bring and one day I will not be here to love, protect and care for my wife.  All we can do realistically is make the most of the time we have together and hopefully that will provide a strong foundation upon which to continue her life after I am gone.

No doubt I have readers who would have preferred something more authoritative or instructional on this topic but those who know me better will have expected this style of rambling dissertation.  It is to be hoped, this will lend itself to stimulating ones own thought process on a subject many of us have to deal with.

Why I Married a Thai Village Girl ...

To begin with, I am sure there are those who would dispute my wife being a “village girl” and they would not be wrong on many levels.  She speaks and writes English well, has a modern sense of fashion and design, with a fondness for western food.  Into fitness, self-improvement, travel, hiking in places as diverse as Mt. Rainer, Arches and the Grand Canyon, and even tried skydiving in Hawaii.  The truth is, however, she was born in the village we presently live in making her at least technically a village girl.

She was never a farmer like her parents and was primarily responsible for taking care of her younger brother and sister.  To this day she speaks fondly of other children, now grown, who were under her care at some time in their infancy.  Having that kind of responsibility at such a young age may go some way to explaining how I was not pressed or badgered on the issue of having offspring, something I have never been in favor of.  Though I did change my mind about getting married, I have never wavered on the issue of children and was clear from the beginning.

I can’t see that she learned much from her family with their lives being as different as night and day.  That said perhaps she did learn what she did not want.  Her goal had always been to escape the village, yet here we are, after both of us having lived most of our lives in Bangkok.  I may come back to this later but I have yet to touch on the topic of why I married my wife instead of someone else and should perhaps move in that direction.

With my years in Thailand and experience across social lines, one might ask why I did not marry into an upper crust Chinese-Thai family or one of the old Thai family names.  It is not like I didn’t know people like that or spend time in their homes when I was in my twenties.  I suppose it might have been possible when I was young and full of potential.  Though I did meet a couple of girls who were heartbroken and their dreams shattered by their unrelenting parents who threatened to disown them if they did not break off relations with their farang boyfriends from university in Europe.  Such a threat from powerful and socially influential parents was too much for them to resist.  I doubt I would have faired much better.

There were a few other stumbling blocks that were quite obvious to me, from the very beginning.  First, being from an academic family, I presented well but really had no money and little prospect of making any in Thailand.  That is of course unless I was willing to work for someone’s daddy.  I have known a few guys who integrated fairly well into that kind of situation but it was definitely not an option for me.  Being under the thumb of some Thai man who controlled both my income and my wife was unthinkable.

Secondly I was not really attracted to the girls I met in those families and getting them away from parental supervision to spend time with them was all but impossible, especially in the evenings or on weekends.  Most importantly I was having too much fun as a single guy and had no intention of ever getting married or having children.  With no interest in ruining mine or anyone else's life, it seemed more prudent to play elsewhere, with other less demanding females and those less fraught with the danger of altering my lifestyle.

Among those who knew me well, I was voted most likely to remain a lifelong bachelor.  We all know how that played out.  My youthful appearance played a major part in the early years but that was later supplemented by various jobs and time spent on Thai TV programs.  As I moved into my forties, with my taste in women not having change much in the last twenty years, it became clear that at some point I would become that desperate dirty old man who surrenders his dignity in pursuit of young Thai girls.  Though on some level I may have resigned myself to that inevitability, it was not something I was looking forward to.

This is roughly where my wife entered the picture.  I was forty-three and she was twenty-three.  A bit older than I was accustomed to but within my age tolerance.  Nothing should have ever come of our meeting because we lived in the same apartment complex and that was high on my list of survival rules, or what I sometimes called my rules of engagement, as something one never does.  I had to make a rather quick and life changing decision as to whether I should pursue a relationship with her or not.

I found her interest in me, despite having been witness to my comings and goings over the previous year, to be quite intriguing.  Not like she was stalking me, but she noticed when I was out of the country and wondered where I went.  She claims that if she had known I spoke Thai she may have summoned the courage to introduce herself instead of leaving that up to fate, which took more than a year.  Where most girls would have been turned off by what they saw during that time she spent watching me, she seemed attracted by my bad-boy persona, the parade of women and maybe even welcomed the challenge.  So from the very beginning I was accepted for who I was.

The proximity provided by our living in the same building paired with her family being far away, ended up playing a big part in our relationship progressing soothly and effortlessly from one stage to the next.  So my rule about not getting involved with someone where I lived was broken and I started down the path of breaking many more of my bachelor rules.  I considered for a moment listing some of those rules but thought better of it.  I don’t want to be responsible for tempting anyone down that potentially hazardous moral path.

Others looked at us and saw little potential for a lasting relationship and we were not disinclined to agree with them in the beginning.  Over time we discovered that from past relationships, we both had developed a list of deal breakers in members of the opposite sex.  Our lists were long and it took some time for us to discover how well we fit each other's lists.  With others that list had always been an easy way to avoid commitment with no one ever coming even close to passing the test.  It didn’t quite turnout that way with her.

Whether a list is scribbled on a piece of paper or indelibly etched into your soul from a lifetime of experience, it should be your list and not someone else’s.  You need to know what you can tolerate and what you can’t.  Obviously that can only come from experience and self-knowledge, something sorely lacking in many individuals I fear.  A list won’t necessarily change who you are attracted to but it should have some bearing on who you choose as a lifelong mate.  Love or lust will not overcome all things.

Smoking, drinking, gambling, verbal or physical abuse, dishonesty, disloyalty, lack of compatibility in areas of finance, fitness and entertainment, lack of free time to spend together and putting others before your partner were examples of things neither one of us were willing to deal with.  Since I spoke Thai, English was not high on the list for me but it was great that she had the interest and potential to sail through all fifteen books at AUA and later go on to take their intensive class, just as a refresher course.

We don’t agree on all things family, social, philosophical or religious but it never becomes an issue.  I very much enjoy and benefit from our differences as much as our similarities.  We are both granted a broad freedom of action and we are only constrained by our mutual respect and desire to please and not disappoint each other.

As much as we love our home and our life here in the village, I sometimes think we have been too successful at filling our time.  After fourteen years together she is still my best friend and confidante.  If anything, I wish we had more free time to spend together with no outside distractions.  Our house is perhaps a bit too big and our pet menagerie far too spoiled but both are problems of our own making.  Our communication is good and our love continues undiminished by the years, so we deal with whatever comes along, as a united team.

I’m not sure I have answered the original question as to why I married a village girl.  I’m not sure that term had or has much meaning for me, though I acknowledge it may be more descriptive and important to others.  Even the term married may mean something different to others than it has meant to us.  Was it luck?  Was it fate?  Was it planned?  I like to think we are committed, communicate well, and perhaps my age and experience have helped to smooth over the rough spots.  Thankfully my wife found me, chose me, forgave me and continues to put up with me after all these years.

Unsolicited Advice, Classic VF ...

Lets face it, if your company or religion didn’t send you here or it wasn’t part of a much longer trip of self-discovery, you probably came here for the girls.  Okay, maybe you were dragged here reluctantly by a friend who was tired of you being lonely and crying in your beer.  Face it, the girls were the hook that landed you.

The thing that always gets me though, is how many nesters there are, ready to make the same mistakes and fall back into the same hole they escaped from.  While disparaging the divorcées and blue-hairs back home, they continue to scrape the bottom of the barrel here in Thailand, looking for love in all the wrong places.  Don’t know if it is low testosterone or elevated estrogen levels due to the chemicals we use to raise our food.  Perhaps the guys were more severely emasculated by their previous encounters than they want to admit.  Whatever it is, guys who should know better, jump back on the marriage merry-go-round with the first Thai girl who tells him he is a “handsome man” and lifts her skirt.

If you are getting married for sex, then don’t.  I assure you that per-unit cost, it is much cheaper to rent and the variety will keep your interest up, so to speak.  The whole idea that you need a big house, a truck and a baby before anything else, is a crock.  Do you really want to spend the rest of you days prefacing the introduction of your wife or girlfriend by including some variation of the phrase, “and she was not a hooker.”  A waisted effort by the way, as foreigners will assume you are lying and Thais will know before she opens her mouth.

Do you really want to spend your retirement nest-egg on the establishment of a freedom-sucking, financial sinkhole?  Move around, explore the country, learn the language and learn to read and understand the women and customs.  I assure you there are options to the over-the-hill, tattooed girl, with a couple of kids from deepest darkest Isaan.

As with anything, learn the ropes before taking the plunge.  Stay single and create your own life here in Thailand.  If you are successful, then and only then, invite someone to share your life with you.  Don’t let someone you are unable to communicate with, dictate the path of your life.  Talk about the blind leading the blind.

So you are not ready for retirement and still need to work.  Chances are you won’t be able to find work in Thailand if you aren’t already employed there.  That means moving her to your country and all the hurdles that implies or starting up a long-distance relationship.  The odds of a long-distance relationship working are well documented.

Oddly enough in Thailand, that kind of relationship can be beneficial to both parties over the short term.  The Thai woman is able to remain with family and friends in a familiar environment with financial security and no expectation of catering to the inexplicable demands of the foreigner.  Of course they do end up spending some time together when he is on leave, but for a short time one can put up with almost anything.

The man on the other hand, has someone to write to and dream about while he is stuck making money in some godforsaken hole in Africa, the Middle East or perhaps even back home in is own country of birth.  Often it is that fantasy which allows the man to bear the isolation of his work environment and forgo immediate gratification for some imagined light at the end of the tunnel.  What happens when he retires and goes to live with this woman he has spent so little time with over the years and the children who don’t really know him or listen to him, is anyone’s guess.

Strange rantings coming from someone like me who is so obviously domesticated, you think?  Not really, I assure you.  After all I spent twenty plus years as a single guy in Thailand before settling down in my mid-forties and know of what I speak.  I knew my wife for two years before we got married.  I do mean knew her, as we lived together that whole time with hardly a day apart.  The first eight years of marriage we spent living in a small condo and traveling half the year.  Only after ten years together did we start contemplating our move up here to the Rai.

Though my experience is from a distant era, things between men and women really haven’t changed all that much.  As far back as thirty years ago this game of cat and mouse existed between Thai women and farang men.  I was known to write a letter or two (no email back then) for women who sounded so loving on the page, yet would make a sailor blush with their off color remarks and references to their loved ones.  I often wondered what their men would do if they could eavesdrop on their partner’s conversations and understand how truly crude and calculating they were, under their sweet and ever so thin veneer.  It is that very inability to communicate that lends to the objectification of the other sex, I feel.  If all you know about someone is what you can see or feel in the bedroom, then they are no more than a sexual object.  If a man cannot make himself understood, then can a woman be faulted for seeing him primarily as the preverbal ATM?

Remember what people back home think and say about the foreigners who move there and never learn the language or assimilate.  Then ask yourself if you are any better.  There is a certain kind of expat who complains of the treatment he receives from Thais, when it is merely human nature to objectify and dehumanize those we do not understand.  If you move to Thailand, does the burden not fall upon you to do the adjusting and not the other way around?

I suppose if you really want to make things difficult you could fall for a stateless or illegal alien from the mountains of a neighboring country.  That has always made even less sense to me than a woman with kids who as a last resort decides she has no more shame and is ready to start looking for a farang.  Of course there are plenty of guys out there ready to be a savior of the needy, as long as they find them attractive enough.  It satisfies their needs on multiple levels, I suppose.

So how was that for a taste of classic VF?  Is there anyone I have neglected or failed to include in my little rant?  Don’t you sometimes want to ask, “What in the world were you thinking?” even though you know it will make no difference?  Well I do, so here I have unburdened myself of that need fully aware that no one who needs to listen, will.  Perhaps my next post will return to the lush mountains and valleys of the Rai.

Thailand, Forever New ...

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not speaking for myself but for the multitudes who “discover” Thailand each year.  The evangelical converts who wax lyrical about all things Thai, be they cultural, culinary, carnal, curious, creepy, climatic, or conversational as in learning to speak Thai, which I highly recommend.

Some of these new explorers, upon discovering the wonders of Thailand, are eager to convert or instruct others on the ins and outs of every imaginable aspect of all things Thai.  Blogs are one way of getting the message out.  There are some 250 Thai related blogs to be found on but one list, inaccurately named Top 100 Thailand Blogs.

Here you will discover a wide variety of styles and subject matter.  I fall into the category of narcissistic personal bloggers who write only of their own experiences and stick to original material and opinion.  Some focus on politics, travel, food, religion or nightlife.  Others repackage the news they scavenge from more legitimate news sources while adding their own editorial twist.  Some of my favorites are the professed puritans who write pages of prose boasting of their lack of interest in all things carnal while using every imaginable and lurid keyword, catch phrase and search word in their somewhat hollow denial.  Whether this duplicitous approach is intentional to attract page views or simply a sign of naiveté and inexperience is anyones guess.

For those in need of guidance, there are guide books telling you where to go, when to go, how to go and even why and how much.  There are instruction manuals on how to do almost anything from finding food, accommodation, transportation and companionship to things like driver’s licenses, visas, marriage and anything else you can think of.  Everyone seems to think they have something new or better to offer from the hoards of others doing the same thing.

Whether in their twenties or seventies it is fun to watch the new arrivals reinventing the wheel and announcing their new discoveries.  Even with all the new sources of information that were not available back when I first reached these shores, people continue to make many of the same mistakes and if anything seem to be even more naive than the intrepid unprepared explorers of the past.  Sadly those who need advice the most are often the least likely to take it I have found.

Clearly there are those who are suited to life as an expat or involvement in a cross-cultural relationship but it is equally apparent many are not adapted to such a life.  If you are a screwup at home, chances are you will be an even bigger one over here.  If you don’t know much about Thailand and can’t speak the language then it is all down to luck of the draw in your search for a partner.  A quick look around will confirm the world is not full of lucky people.  Luck would seem to be the exception, not the norm.

For those of you who have only recently discovered Thailand may I wish you good luck and enjoy the ride.  My only word of advice would be to learn the language if you plan to do more than holiday here from time to time.

Boredom and Living in a Thai Village...

I’m always a little suspicious of statistics but generally one can say that Thailand’s population is still primarily rural with something like two-thirds being classified that way.  It was more like three-quarters when I first arrived, if I remember correctly.  Many rural people spend a fair amount of time living and working in Bangkok but with one interesting caveat.  Most live in slums near the factories where they work, with others from the same region of the country.  Essentially they never leave the village.  They take it with them.  That no doubt, goes some way to explaining why they never really develop any big city sophistication or broadened world perspective.

Given the percentages, it is no wonder that the majority of farangs end up with village girls, but that is not the topic today, nor are the economic and cultural aspects that factor into that equation.  The topic is the boredom experienced by many a foreign male, upon the obligatory visits to their girlfriend’s home village.  I dare say very few men venture off into the sticks on their own and are usually dragged there, out of obligation.  Even after marriage, this obligation continues and must be dealt with in one way or another.

I believe there is a big difference between visiting a village and living in one, but more about that later.  Even after living in Bangkok for more than twenty years, I was still quite bored when I started visiting my wife’s village for more than a couple of days at a time.  No friends, no squash, no TV, no newspaper, no telephone, no internet, no toys and nothing I could call my own.  Eventually I started taking a Playstation with me and got quite good with Grand Turisimo.  Even though I spoke good Thai, the villagers did not.  They spoke their own dialect and communication was, and still is, difficult.  My wife was great but she was spread pretty thin with all of her family obligations, so I had to fend for myself much of the time.

Boredom as we all know is just one item on that classic list of symptoms of culture shock.  You remember, anxiety, boredom, homesickness, fatigue, depression, illness, impatience, disgust, and excessive eating, drinking and sleeping.  On your first visit, or in very brief doses, these symptoms may not present but many will experience some or all of these, given time.

As an interesting aside, we were doing our Songkran rounds of village elders and relatives the other day, a process that is still ongoing, with our village headman having his party only today.  At one house we spotted a young farang guy, sitting on those steep wooden stairs one must traverse to reach the second floor of a Thai village house.  In my normal, direct fashion, and looking for material for this post, I asked if he was bored being in the village. 

No, he said, refusing to stick to the script, but he had only been there three days and would be leaving the next day for Bangkok where he makes his living as a combatant and proponent of Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing.  He was probably enjoying a much needed break from training and had accompanied a couple of local boys he works, trains and lives with, as well as the young pregnant farang wife of one of these Thai boxers.  With it being all new, and with the goings on of Songkran, they seemed to have had a good time and were anything but bored.  Not sure I would have gotten the same answer from the heavily pregnant wife but I didn’t have the opportunity to ask.

My wife had been baking bread that day and thought they might appreciate a taste of the familiar, being so far from what they know.  So we made an extra trip home to collect the bread and some condiments.  Returning, this time we met the pregnant wife, who expressed her disappointment at having missed us earlier.  Unfortunately we were short on time, as we were late getting to another house where my wife had plans for dinner with her extended family. 

Delving deeper into the lives of these young people, would have been my preference, but my duty and obligation lay elsewhere.  My appearance not withstanding, I was not a pugilist in my early years, but still I could identify with the adventure of being so young and living in Thailand.  Living, training and working out of a boxing school, stable, camp, or whatever the nomenclature might be, really deserved more time to discuss than we had.  Would have been nice to stay around and see if they liked the bread, too, but there wasn’t sufficient time.

Back on topic, given my admission of boredom, one might ask why I chose to move to the village.  There were many factors in our decision, including age, length of our relationship, shared travel experiences overseas, desire for a different lifestyle and a change from city life, my parents moving into a retirement home, and a feeling that I needed to establish a homestead of my own, after a life of living in apartments and condos.  Since we already lived in Thailand there was not the overwhelming financial imperative of retiring to a cheaper local, where a limited pension would stretch that much further.

While everyone’s needs are different, they must nonetheless be addressed before making a move such a we did.  To some extent you are guessing at what you will need, because over time those needs may change.  It is important to get the basics sorted and have a good solid foundation upon which to build this new life.  Surely some can get by with less but let me give you an idea of what I needed, to help fend off boredom.

To start with I already had a strong and well establish relationship, honed by years of living and traveling together.  We both spoke each other’s language and had many shared interests as well as independent interests.  Accommodation, transportation, and communication, for us meant a purpose designed house, phone line and internet, western television and movies, a truck, a mountain bike and a couple of motorcycles.

We both developed or continued hobbies.  In my case there were outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, my motor bike, photography, our dogs and this blog.  Even with help, my wife is kept quite busy with village responsibilities, the house, the garden, baking, and cooking for me, four dogs and a cat.  She still finds time for exercise, reading, and keeping up with her friends around the world, through email and Facebook.

Personally I do not like having a schedule.  I may have a vague idea what I might like to do tomorrow, but I much prefer to see how I feel when I get up, and see what the weather looks like.  Having fixed times and places where I must be, feels too much like work to me.  That is exactly the point for others I suppose, who feel lost without the regimented structure of the work place and the tight time constraints dictated by artificial deadlines.  I suspect life in the village is easier for me, with my temperament.  Those who try to replicate the frenetic pace of city life or a high pressure work environment would surely find boredom harder to avoid.

Life in a village for some, is a nightmare of boredom and isolation, while for others it is an idyllic fantasy.  The truth is no doubt to be found somewhere in the middle range of these two extremes.  My belief is that being bored has more to do with the individual than it does the village.  It is often easier to blame the things around us than it is to make the effort to adjust.  I suppose this has been a longwinded VF way of saying, if you are bored it is probably your own doing and you should stop blaming those around you.  Then again what do I know?

Of course if you are not bored, then congratulations are in order, I applaud your accomplishment, and wish you continued happiness in life.

200 Posts ...

The other day found me busily penning a post, on a topic that came up while my wife and I were driving to town.  Something about why Thai women often wait until they have children and a few failed relationships under their belt, before being willing to consider a foreign partner, and an often heard excuse, at that point they have nothing else to lose.  Of course that is not a very flattering proposition to consider and I was having difficulty finding ways to sugar coat it, for readers who may have taken that route.

There I was, contemplating offending those guys who think all Thai women are gaga for western men, as well as those selfless and noble gentlemen who have taken on the burden of other men’s offspring, while never considering themselves the last port of refuge.  Perhaps the ideal of two people with options, actually choosing each other over others, because of some primal attraction, is something reserved for the young, or Hollywood scriptwriters.  Maybe partner selection becomes more pragmatic, later in life.

Anyway, my progress down that slippery slop was halted, thankfully, by a surge of activity on my blog.  I found myself dealing with comments and further tinkering with the appearance of my blog.  While on the dashboard page of Blogger, I happened to notice a post counter which read, 199 posts.  That meant this would be my 200th post.  True, some bloggers do that in less than one year, but for me it seemed a monumental accomplishment, even four years down the road.

Being predisposed to introspection, as I am, this otherwise insignificant number triggered a wave questions about the past, present and future of this blog.  Even though I am writing more than I did last year, there is a distinct lack of direction, even four months into the year.

My most popular post has been the one on my motorcycle birthday present, last June.  It would appear that the Ninja 650r attracts a lot of eyes, even if only to view the pictures.  Clearly I am not inclined to turn this into a biker’s blog, though I do enjoy riding.  Mountain biking and road trips seem to rate rather highly as do posts on social networking and blogging questions.  Chiang Rai specific posts, like the shopping mall and flower festival attract viewers but I’m not interested in developing this space into a social calendar.  That leaves my photos, my map and my sometimes questionable social commentary.

When I run out of something to say, I tinker with the aesthetics and functionality of the blog or try to make reading from the beginning, through to the end, a little easier or more tempting.  I don’t get a lot of comments but that is probably my own fault.  To maintain balance, what comments I do get are weighted much the way some Olympic events are judged, where the anomalies at either end of the scale are disregarded, when taking into account how others view me.

I thought there was a question in there, somewhere, but I seem to have misplaced it.  Maybe it is enough to say thank you to my readers for being here on this auspicious day, just as the Thai New Year festivities of Songkran, begin their pre-event escalation toward the official holiday.  Stay safe out there during this, the killing season on Thai roads, while otherwise enjoying the company of family and friends.

The "farang-local" Difference in Perspective ...

Yesterday I took a break from the computer and opted instead to get out and about in the real world.  Refreshed from my day out on the bike, I began penning this piece, per BP’s request.  Half way through, I received a comment from another reader, dBD, a new convert to this space.  Those of you who know me better, will know that I do not use names or post things of an unnecessarily personal nature.  Hopefully, dBD will not be offended that I withheld his very personal comment and plea for help, and will consider this post as a reply.

I try my best not to tinker with whatever shade of glasses one might be wearing at the moment, be they rose colored or otherwise.  Some phases of cultural adjustment are best lingered over and indulged in, just as others are best moved through more quickly.  So without addressing the specifics of anyones personal situations, I will attempt to give you the Village Farang take on this whole farang-local perspective thing.

While it is our humanity that unites us, it is often our culture that divides us.  Some cling more steadfastly than others, to what they have been told is self evident, and may respond indignantly when confronted by those who do not share their belief system.  Some are burdened with a life focused on the material and their attempt to keep their heads above water from day to day.  Some have moved higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and are focused on things as yet irrelevant to others.  Whether living in Thailand or just visiting, one is sure to encounter situations where you will be asking yourself, why they don’t get it.  Your interests and theirs may be miles apart no matter how hard you try to enlighten or impress upon them the superiority of your beliefs and intellect.  Be warned, this applies to both sides of the equation and they may be thinking the very same things about you.

Of course there are Thais who are well educated, well traveled, eat western food and are interested in many of the same things you are.  I dare say that the majority of farangs don’t run in these circles and find themselves mired in a different strata of Thai society.  As western as some Thais may appear, what lingers beneath the surface may not be what you expect.  With other Thais, the difference in perspective is more simply a difference in education, experience, money and a fear of venturing beyond ones station in life and the world in which one feels comfortable.

It is not that they have no interest in all things farang, rather they have no interest in anything, beyond their very small world and immediate needs.  For example our local villagers who have lived or worked in Bangkok or even overseas, typically have not ventured beyond their worker’s enclave and place of employment.  They feel uncomfortable with those who do not eat, speak and live the way they do, be they farangs or other Thais.  They do not strive to be more than they are, just to possess more than they do.  Does that really sound so unfamiliar?

Perhaps the question is not why they don’t get it or why their perceptions are so different but why one would expect or want things not to be so.  Is it perhaps that it makes us feel uncomfortable or question our own closely held beliefs?  The trick is to learn to live with the differences.  Allow others to be different without making judgement.  Allow them to live their own lives and make their own mistakes.  As you look around the world at the myriad of languages, cultures, beliefs, religions, values and interests, one flaw stands out as a part of our human nature.  In our steadfast belief that we are on the true path, we imply that all the other paths are lesser and somehow false or misguided.  Ask yourself how we can all be so right and so wrong all at the same time, at least in the eyes of others.

I understand there are those who feel it is their mission in life to take possession of and responsibility for the lives of others.  I suppose they serve a purpose but one suspects that they sometimes do more harm than good.  Sure if you feel compelled to intervene in the lives of others, do or say what you will, but understand you are doing it because of your own needs, not necessarily theirs.  No one likes to be told that their beliefs or values are wrong and that goes for countries as well as individuals.  Don’t be surprised if your well meaning gestures go unappreciated or are misunderstood.

As you can see, mine is a hands off approach.  At best I may stimulate some, to ask questions they might not otherwise have asked, or give them the courage to do something of their own choosing, which they were previously afraid to do.  Live life by example and don’t preach.  Help others to follow their own path, not yours.  Embrace difference and change even when it challenges what you have always believed to be self evident and true.  Find humor where you can, in the foibles of humanity.  Most importantly laugh at yourself from time to time, especially when you are taking yourself a bit too seriously.  Life is like the weather, not always sunny and clear, and those dark and rainy days, in the end, bring forth new growth.

Thus ends another of VF’s pontifications.

Has the Novelty Worn Off ?...

I read about a longterm resident of Thailand the other day, who finally gave it up and moved home.  Among other things, he said the novelty had worn off.  Sadly, he wasn’t clear whether he took his Thai wife with him or not, as that would alter ones view of what he said.

Anyway, it got me thinking about why people come here, why some stay and why some leave. Putting aside the obvious response, from many a midlife-crisis-male, there must be something other than girls.  Perhaps it is nothing more than a manifestation of the grass being greener. Maybe some are escaping or moving away from something, while others are seekers of something new. Of course each individual will claim that his circumstances are unique, and no doubt there is some justification for such beliefs, but surely there are some lessons to be learned by asking the question.

I have heard many elderly new arrivals to Thailand explain, how much better their new lives are compared to their old ones, back home.  They were ravaged both emotionally and financially by past relationships.  Their dating prospects were limited at best and their finances stretched.  Here they were spoiled for choice, with twenty-something year old girls expressing keen interest and stroking their egos.  In these cases the lack of communication and understanding is almost seductive.  Ones imagination can run rampant, projecting whatever motivation one wishes onto this exotic young creature draping herself over your revitalized body and spirit.

This could be no more than a novelty, and the comparisons being made are often to a perfect storm or a worst case scenario, in which any comparison is going to be favorable.  Grasping at anything better than the past, can lead to well documented problems in the future as that novelty wears off. True I have seen many of these desperate relationships last for a very long time, perhaps due to having children to support or an inability to imagine anything better.  Yes, I know that when it comes to affairs of the heart, all advice falls on deaf ears.  So even when we say nothing, it doesn’t mean there is no desire to say something.  We just think better of it.

Still, that word ‘novelty’ struck a cord with me.  It has been a long time since anything in Thailand struck me as particularly ‘novel.’  But, what must it be like for the newcomer?  Surely there must be some attraction to the novel, the new, the different, the fresh, the unusual and not just an economic fixation on the Baht exchange rate and how much further your pension will go.

Even if we all go through the ‘novelty’ phase, how long can one stay in a foreign land without moving on to something else?  I have been asked before, what it is about Thai culture that keeps me here.  That question struck me as odd and irrelevant at the time.  Now I can see how that might have been one of the novelty factors for that individual, going through the process of trying be more Thai or understand Thai ways.  Come to think of it I believe it was a woman asking that question.  Not exactly a question one would expect from a male reader, enveloped in a hormonal fog.

I liken this process of discovering Thailand, to entering a large cave where one sees a kaleidoscope of unique forms and textures that beckons one to venture further in.  Like a child looking up at the shapes in the clouds, individuals imagine different things in what they see.  As one ventures deeper into the cave, the light begins to fade, things can get very dark and it is easy to lose your way.  Some turn around and go back to whence they came.  Others venture on and perhaps find that the cave is not as dark and unknowable as they once thought, or it turns into a tunnel and one can venture out the other side.  On the other hand, we have all seen those poor souls who lost their way in the darkness, falling victim to the frailties and vulnerabilities of human nature, or those who gave up and went home completely defeated.

One novelty that I could see wearing off quickly would be the somewhat emasculating act of being securely tethered to the wife or girlfriend’s apron strings.  Being unable to navigate life here on your own must be stressful.  I used to wonder why foreign males would open themselves to scorn and ridicule on expat forums, by asking questions that showed how little they knew.  Of course it would be better to go to the source for information and not to depend on a forum, but what if you can’t speak the language or don’t know where to go?  What if your partner doesn’t have the skills or social graces to go get you the answer?  What if she gets the answer but doesn’t have the language skills to explain it to you?  What if, what if, what if...?

Okay, perhaps I am just rehashing an old topic here and should let it go.  It just struck me as odd that someone would use the novelty wearing off as an excuse to leave rather than as a reason to stay.  It doesn’t bode well for relationships or life in general, if we are stuck in the infatuation and novelty phase our whole lives.  It just seems to me, there is something more substantial on the other side of that first blush of newness and novelty.  Then again, maybe people really are that simple and that shallow.

Farang/Thai Couples...

Recently I have begun to feel constrained by the fact that I know too many people in the Rai.  This is my third attempt, in so many days, to pen this piece.  The first two attempts fell foul of the delete key.  Though pithy and topical, I felt that individuals we know might see themselves or others in my commentary and perhaps take offense.  Almost makes one long for the anonymity of the early days of this blog.  Let’s try again.

The other day we attended yet another gathering of Farang/Thai couples, in the guise of a friend’s birthday.  There have been an abundance of such gatherings over the last few months.  These events often end up being segregated affairs, with the men and women gathering in separate clusters, eating their separate foods and speaking their separate languages.

When things are going well, the men engage in witty banter, while on occasion pairing up to discuss topics of interest in a more serious and dedicated manner, all the while oblivious to what the women are getting up to.  The women, by contrast, often end up talking about us, as well as food and family.  I often join the women to say hello or introduce myself, lightheartedly stir the pot and perhaps catch a little juicy gossip.  What I am unable to ascertain for myself, will often be elaborated on by my wife, on the way home.  Sometimes, I think I should be spending my time with the women, as their conversations are often more entertaining than the testosterone laden banter of their menfolk.

The average farang male’s mythology is filled with tales of devious young wenches who scheme and pillage men’s hearts, souls and finances.  Of course many of those stories originate in the infamous nightlife of Thailand, and have some validity, but that is not the subject of this post.  It just strikes me that the casual observer will look at a western man with a bit of money, and surmise that the Thai wife or girlfriend has won the lottery and her only concern or need has been satisfied.

Often there is much more going on than what one sees at a glance.  Cross-cultural relationships take work.  They can be wonderfully complex and rewarding but they are not a walk in the park, for either party.  They are not for the naive or lazy.  Both parties are often fearful and suspicious of each other, and for good reason.  That reason being, their inability to read cross-culturally, their own shortcomings and the abundance of baggage they bring with them from their past lives and failures.  I am still an advocate of cross-cultural relationships but wish people would take more time to figure out what they are getting themselves into.

I know I have stated my belief in the past, that more often than not we get what we deserve in our relationships and that it is no one else's business.  Still, when people interact as couples in a relatively small community, one bad apple can upset the balance and harmony of the group.  Then is seems to become everyones business and conversation gets diverted in that direction more often than it should.  Understanding what they have to put up with, I find myself siding with the Thai women, more often than not.

I guess I’m suggesting that it is the woman who often puts much more into these cross-cultural relationships that the man does.  At least those living here in Thailand.  The woman is pressed between two conflicting cultural biases.  It is more prevalent that the man can’t eat the food, can’t speak the language, can’t understand what is going on around them and can’t help but make disparaging comments.  This is Thailand, after all.  Some even appear abusive in one form or another as they are demanding, impatient, intolerant, controlling, jealous and insecure, regardless of how much money they have.  No need to mention old, stubborn and unattractive.  What passes as communication in some of these relationships is absolutely frightening.  They would do better to hire a full time translator to arbitrate their feeble attempts at communication.

There are times when I am tempted to interject some insight or wisdom but then come to my senses, realizing that it would more likely make things worse for the party I would be attempting to help.  So we end up talking behind peoples backs, as we place bets on when and how their relationships will implode.  Besides there are very few couples who seem well matched, yet many of them survive the years despite the odds.  From the outside it can be hard to see what draws people together and even harder to see what sustains them over time.

And, my point is?  Don’t know that I have one, really.  I’m just a little frustrated with some recent goings-on and I’m using this space to vent those frustrations without hurting the innocent.  I feel better now, so time to spend some time with Cookie and my wife.  Thank you for your time and attention.

Welcoming 2011 ...

After a brief flourish of posts to finish off last year, I find myself making another slow start to 2011.  Life has been more wonderful than usual and I as lazy with my writing as has come to be expected.  A bit of unseasonal rain has interrupted my recently rediscovered joy of mountain biking but only briefly as the trails are quickly drying out.  Since getting the Ninja in June, the Trek has been sorely neglected.  With over 9700 km on the Ninja and nearly zero on the Trek over the same time period, I found myself compelled to hit the trail again under my own power, for a change.

I have been sticking a little closer to home, looking for and finding new but difficult trails in areas one would not wish to visit in the rain.  Compared to the speed and distances one covers on the Ninja, at first glance a ride on the Trek might seem too tame and limited.  However, I soon rediscovered the joys of slowing down and watching the world expand around me, in direct correlation to my pace of movement.  Rice paddies, hillside orchards, rubber plantations, forest trails overgrown and neglected, expansive views of the distant mountains, rivers and nearly perfect trail conditions (before the rain hit).  An occasional stop for a cool drink, and to drink in the silence and solitude of the moment, leaves me refreshed and eager to move at a brisker pace once again.

Cookie and the other dogs have also benefitted from our walks, now including going off trail and meandering through the fields on the way back from the dam.  Though things are not as green as before the increased traversable terrain more than compensates for the seasonal change in the way things look.  After a warm spell, the weather has gotten chilly once again and one awakens each morning, not knowing if there will be a clear view of the fields and mountains that surround us or if we will be shrouded in a thick soupy fog.

On a different subject the heady rush of an engaging social life this winter season, has got my wife wondering what it would be like to reside closer to town and thus closer to friends.  Last evening as we sat surrounded by our dogs, watching the sunset and seeking warmth from each other to fend off the evening chill, I pointed out that my choice would be to make the drive into town rather than give up any part of this pastoral setting.  She gave me one of those cute little annoyed looks and agreed that what we have is too good to give up, despite a few drawbacks.

I suppose it is, at least in part, due to a difference in age and experience as well as a difference in personality but I look for ways to adapt and perfect what we already have while she plays the ‘what if’ game with completely different scenarios.  Though I wish she could focus a little more on what she has over what else might be out there, I understand that much of what I love about her would not have developed without a bit of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a need to grow and experience new things.  So I continue my role of the ‘rock’ that forms the foundation of our relationship, while she is the ‘rock 'n' roll’ who stirs things up and keeps things interesting.

This year seems to hold even more promise than the last but only time will reveal whether any of us are able to make good on that promise and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way.