How to be a good Thai Wife

Last week, I told you about the poem called “How to be a Thai Gentleman” written by Sunthorn Phu. He was born in the late 18th century and wrote poetry during the reigns of the first four kings of the present Chakri dynasty. He went in and out of favour a few times but these days he is regarded as one of the leading poets Thailand has ever produced. In fact, the country celebrates his birth every year on June 26th. My school organizes activities on that day for the students to take part in. This includes poetry writing competitions.

I took this picture of his statue on a beach near Phetchaburi, south of Bangkok. If you ever get a chance it is worth visiting because you can see some of the characters from his work dotted around the beachfront and in the sea! I will write more about this place soon.

Meanwhile, I want to share with you another of his poems. This one is called Supasit Sorn Ying or “How to be a Good Wife”. You might think that a lot of this is not relevant to a modern world, but it is important to read and understand this poem which helped shape Thai culture. This translation was written by Denis Segaller in his excellent “More Thai Ways” book. Unfortunately, the Bangkok Post has closed down its publishing section and this book is now out of print. Hopefully it will find a new publisher soon.

“If your husband loves you, don’t be stubborn; honour him every day; do not be wilful. When it gets dark, you should not stray away but light the lamp, go and see to the bedroom, make and clean the bed, sweep away dust. And every night when he retires to bed crouch at his feet and pay him homage. Never forget! If he is stiff with aches and cramps, ease them with soothing massage. When you go to sleep, be decorous; don’t let your hands and feet stray over him while you are asleep. If you sleep thus your goodness will shine forth.

“Don’t go on sleeping till sun is high; you should get up before your husband, and prepare water for him to wash his face. Then do the cooking and prepare the tray of dishes to give a beautiful effect, along with the spittoon, polished and shining. Make sure no dust is in the drinking water.

“And if you know he has to go somewhere but find that he has not yet woken up, then gently get him up without delay to eat his food. Sit near him while he eats, in case anything lacks; don’t give him cause to shout for it. Pay careful heed until he’s finished eating. Then you yourself may eat. Don’t eat before he does; it is not seemly, and he won’t like it.

“If your husband is in the Royal service and must go in and out the Royal Palace, then you must prepare his carrying-case with betel and tobacco. Always try to wait on him, serve him, as a friend would do. If you thus serve your husband without fail, then you will prosper and rise in others’ esteem. A true-born lady always shows her nature; don’t throw your good behaviour to the winds. It is not good to be half-man, half-woman, and no one will admire you for that.

“And if your husband should rise up in anger, you should abase yourself to quench his wrath. Do not allow yourself to raise your voice and answer back. If he is fire, you should be as water sprinkled on him. If both of you are aflame, the fire will spread – anger which then can never be suppressed. Your private conjugal feelings will escape, to become known to all the world outside. What neighbours didn’t know, thay now will know. So therefore, don’t indulge in your own wrath.

“Be pleasing to your husband; he will love you dearly. Never fail to do the household chores. And if he should fall ill, do not disturb him but smile, console, be pleasing as before; talk to him only when he’s well again; tend to his needs and pander to his mood. Whatever he doesn’t like, you shouldn’t do. Guard your own counsel, don’t show your feelings outside.

“All the bad things forbidden by your husband you should avoid; your manners should be thus. Do not be stubborn and neglectful; speak only with sweetness.

“But if you have a quarrel with your husband, don’t spread tales of the quarrel behind his back. Always suppress your own emotion and keep it to yourself; don’t let the quarrel linger on; banish its shadow. Then you will be called one who uses her brains and knows how to conceal all evil things.

“Do this, and those who know you will admire you and think you clever. And your husband will be pleased.”

If you are Thai, how much of that do you think is practised today? I think there are surely to be some things which are still believed today. However, the modern Thai woman might not agree.

You might also like to read some of the excellent Do’s and Don’ts written by Steve.

24 responses to “How to be a good Thai Wife

  1. Richard Smith

    Excellent. Thank you.

  2. excellent post – thanks

  3. As for me (I’m Indonesian but brought up with chinese and western culture), I agree definetely with “Supasit Sorn Ying”. I’m modern but I still believe that wives should take care their husband very well. Although emancipation has been possessed by women these days but as a wife, they should respect, serve, and take good care their husband. I don’t think that “Supasit Sorn Ying” is despising women’s dignity. If we – modern women could implemented even only half of the “Supasit Sorn Ying”, then I trust that the level of divorce might decrease.

  4. Great glog there, good stuff Richard.

    Look forward to quoting the great Sunthorn the next time im not too chuffed about me fiancee’s behaviour!

  5. 1) what makes a good wife?
    2) what makes a good husband?
    3) what makes a good thai wife?
    4) what makes a good thai husband?
    5) what makes a good non-thai wife?
    6) what makes a good non-thai husband?
    7) what makes a good thai woman?
    8) what makes a good thai man?
    9) what makes a good non-thai woman?
    10) what makes a good non-thai man?

    i see absolutely no reasons why the answers to all of the above questions should differ.

    that, my friends, is the basis of equality, be it gender, racial, class, wealth or anything else.

    i couldnt care less what men who had lived their lives in the 18th century had written about how a woman or a man should behave.

  6. To understand a culture of a country, you have to frst study its history. It is the history that shapes and influences how people act today. By reading what an influential person wrote 200 years ago helps us understand why things are done in a certain way today.

    Equality between men and women in Thailand is not as balanced as it is in most Western countries. This poem helps explain this. Now that we understand the source of the problem, then maybe we can help move things forward so that there can be equality between all people.

    Unless of course you would prefer to bury your head in the sand and ignore all lessons from the past.

  7. I’m from Scandinavia… and i agree with Selba that women should respect and take care of our husbands…. but serve… wow thats kinda demeaning if you ask me. Men should respect and take care of their wives just as well we will them. There really isn’t anything modern about serving your husband. and i’ve lived many years in scandinavia, the USA and for some time in thailand also. Lets learn from past ways and grow beyond that.

  8. I do not agree too much with ‘thank you’.

    Firstly we have to reflect on ‘conditioning’, we are all and have been subjectd to this conditioning since birth and we can not escape it but only realize its significance to how we comprehend and react to something.

    ‘Thank you’ means well but the reality of the matter is not as she states.

    We in the west will probably always prefer fried eggs and bacon for breakfast, neverminding weve stayed here in the east for half our lives just as a Thai will always prefer ‘Joke’ for their breakfast’.
    However much we try to escape our conditioning it still lingers. Us white people will still be more afraid of meeting a black guy on a dark street at night than a white guy. A muslim in a time of need will cause of her conditioning turn to another muslim instead of a Hindu.
    These are just basic exaples of our conditioning.

    Thus a good wife or a good husband in the eyes of the begotter are also different, we have to face those facts.

    Most Farang guys at the end of the day will still prefer a farang girl with blue eyes, a big chest and blonde hair who enjoys going out at night and doesn’t care too much for her family to a Thai girl.
    Most Thai guys at the end of the day to have a black headed slim girl who is subservient, quiet and puts up most dedication to her family than to a Farang girl.

    I agree totally with Richard.

    Poets have also been part of our conditioning. One excellent example of this is in one of my blogs ‘dos and donts/thai guys’ i mentioned that most thai guys see that a wife who gets up before him and cooks his breakfast is one essential quality a thai man sees in a prosctive wife. Sunthorn Phu wrote about this 200 years ago.
    Sunthorn Phu also taught thai girls not to show any unpleasant feelings, this is still an enormous cultural difference between Farang and Thai girls.

    For more info on this ‘conditioning’ etc.. i do advise you read the likes of ‘J Krishnamurti’

  9. Thank you for the words of Supasit Sorn Ying. I have a thai girlfriend for the last 1 year. She is 24 years old and looks after me almost like it reads in the “how to be a good thai wife”. For me, this is heaven. I do not think it is at all demeaning for a woman to do that as long as the man respects her for is, protects and provides for her and is totally faithful to her with his heart and body. if more westerners could respect each other like this, there would be fewer divorces i think.

  10. i dont see ‘conditioning’ as an excuse for things we do. what did i miss? so what you are implying is farang men are boob-obsessed and thai men are chauvanistic pigs? i certainly hope this does not sit well with most people.

    is it okay to judge a person by their skin colour because it’s ‘conditioning’? so basically, you have been ‘conditioned’ to be afraid of a person with dark skin, well, well done you for rising above common prejudice and stereotypes. it must go down really well when you meet a thai girl who wears a short skirt and heavy makeup and assume she is a prostitute. oh boy.

    stevesuphan, welcome to 2005. it might hurt a little bit, though.

  11. I sort of agree with ‘Supasit Sorn Ying’. Yes, I believe that a wife should take care of her husband. Except what I’ve been taught is more of, ‘defer in public, speak freely at home’ attitude. That husband and wife should have equal ground in the home. But that’s just the way I was taught. (My Dad’s Thai/quarter Scandinavian, My Mom’s Chinese/Filippino)

  12. Dear Mr Richard,

    Do you know where I can get a copy of Supasit Sorn Ying in Thai Text? as SteveSuphan says it will be good reading for the wife =)

  13. You can buy the collected works of Sunthorn Phu in most good book stores here in Thailand.

  14. thank you,

    I think you are missing the point. Richard posted this because he wanted to shed some light over “WHY”.

    Most Western (or from elsewhere) guys who have had girlfriends raised in Thailand will recognize that their behaviour is different from that of girls raised in western countries. They may be curious as to why, and this poem may explain a few things.

    While we should strive for equality, we should also strive to show respect for each other when we discuss something, and also try to read what people actually write, not put words and views into their mouths we induce ourselves. If you could get rid of that tired stereotype “evil western man tricks innocent exploited asian girl into marriage” for a second and see each poster as an individual, I think your results of convincing people you have something worthwhile to say might increase greatly.

    Personally, I dont think there is any “one way” of having a loving, successful long-term relationship. It depends on the two people involved.

  15. thank u marten i could not have said it better myself i think thank you is just a little bit sour lol!

  16. PETER AUSTINE

    thank you,

    that was a nice one , but really i will comment that regarding to other culture, and other countries, city and places may not fit wit the culture as expressed by you.

    however, we are living in a mothern world today, like me for example i am from Nigeria a
    , cross river state and our culture demands that wen you wake up from sleep first your wive cordinate prayers or you can also do after then u tink of the next step………

  17. I am also from Nigeria. I, as coincidence would have it, am authorized to send you one million US dollars due to you winning a special international lottery held to honour the contributions of Robert Mugabe to civil society.

    However, there is one catch: the money is in a holding fund and its release requires a monetary show of good faith, in this case 100,000 US. Please forward this sum to Nary c/o siam Commercial Bank at your earliest convenience, along with a 4/6 photo of yourself smiling the smile you’ll have on your face when collecting a million.

    Best,
    Nary

  18. And yes, I agree with the sexist attitudes of Sunthorn Phu. It is indeed better for the womenfolk to be seen and not heard.

  19. I have a Thai wife. We are very happy. She laughs when I remind her of her marriage vows. She struggles to be a traditional Thai wife but enjoys the freedoms of being a western wife.
    Personally, I’d like to see more of the traditional Thai wife in her, for if I had wanted a western wife, I would have married one.
    I don’t consider it wrong to expect my wife to serve me. Iv’e provided her with a very expensive home and raised her children as my own. I’m loving and faithful. The better she treats me, the better I treat her. Her life was very difficult before I came along. now she is exceedingly happy. I’m 63. She’s 32.

  20. I have Farang boyfriend. and i take care what i can doing because i love him, i do abf for him we go every where togetter and i belive him thay why we dont have problem

  21. I agree that if a woman is home and not working, her job would be to take care of the home and her husband when he comes home. However, not as a servant, but because of love. My relationship with my Thai wife is that we work equaly together to help each other. I was uncomfortable with the attention I got at first by her because in the Western cultures the traditional wife has died off along with raising your children because she either needs to work or wants to work. So, for you to like or expect this type of attention is frowned upon and you are considered chauvanistic. Because it is a competitive world and a cut throat society in the west, family values have evaporated for the most part. I love the Thai culture because of the importance of family and taking care of those you love. Western culture you just throw the old into a nursing homeuntil they pass. Respect is the one of the main ingredients in a marriage, and western culture has lost that too. Too many people like to take advantage of their partner. Hence, the number of divorces and broken families will continue to increase in the west. I know I respect my wife and will continue to until I pass and that is because she repects me equally through the good and the bad. The West could re-learn what a family is from Thailand.

  22. I’ve been married to a Thai woman for nearly four years, living first in Thailand for three years and now abroad. I’m fifty, she’s forty, so we’re not children. At least I’m not.

    I lived in Thailand for five years, two of those before I started seeing my wife, so I have some experience with Thai women and have observed many relationships between Thai women and foreigners.

    The very first thing one notices, and that everyone who has a relationship with a Thai woman notices, is that they have no relationship skills. This stems from their cultural inhibitions about sharing their true feelings about anything more personal than food. So the foreign male bears the entire burden of the normal give and take of a relationship (i.e., discussion and compromise – these concepts are alien to Thais, they would be too afraid of losing face).

    The second thing one notices is their incredible selfishness and self-centerdness. The hierarchy goes like this: self, immediate (Thai) family, extended Thai family, Thai friends, pets, other Thais, animals other than pets, foreign husband, foreign husband’s family.

    Yet despite their total disadain for all things foreign, including the husband, there is irrational, violent jealousy. This stems from the fear of losing the meal ticket.

    If you doubt their xenophobia, try getting a Thai to try any foreign food, especially non-Asian. Westerners of all ilks generally delight in a varied cuisine and are willing to try most any – not so our Thai “friends”. Just give it a try.

    Do they have any redeeming value as spouses? Appearance – I couldn’t imagine being seen on the street with most forty year old western women (I’m in shape and look 10 to 20 years younger than my age, as does my Thai wife), let alone making love to one. Are they good lovers? A few of them. I had to go through quite a lot of them to find the few gems. Most western women are far more talented and interesting in every way.

    Would I recommend a Thai wife? Only for the lazy, such as myself, who can’t be bothered with the incredible hassle of meeting and getting to know western women, which is something else that everyone notices. The beauty of Thai women is that THEY seek out YOU.

  23. I am not Thai (I am Australian) and my SECOND husband just walked out and left me last Sunday night. I wish I had read this article a long time ago.

  24. If man still go for hunting in a bush and maitain life as a slave in 1800s, this poem is a must of following