Monthly Archives: September 2007

Visit to the Viharnra Sien

The Viharnra Sien, built by the Chinese-Thai community, is located 15km south of Pattaya. This three – storey Chinese style building, next to a lake, is a fascinating repository of arts, artifacts and statues. It is also a temple for worshipping Chinese Gods. It was opened in 1993 by H.M. the King, bestowing the name of Anek Kusala Sala (‘Multipurpose Pavilion’).

Originally I was not keen to visit the interior as the sunshine was too strong and I was tired. I was even reluctant to walk upstairs while inside as the ground floor was stuffy and I was really tired and thus lazy. My friends encouraged me to walk up and assured me that I would not regret it.

Once I reached the large open area on the 2nd floor, I thanked God that the sun was already hidden behind the clouds. The open air and assortment of statues made me feel lively again. There are statues of Chinese gods, well-known Chinese historical figures and shaolin monks in 18 different martial arts positions. According to the caretaker, each of the shaolin monk statues is sculptured according to a real person and some of the monks are still alive today. All of the statues are lifelike.

I was glad to see all these statues of great Chinese historical figures which I studied during high school, especially the great emperors of the Tang and Song dynasty because I am related to them. 🙂

Chinese surnames come from dynasty. My surname “Li” (transliteration)which is the most common surnams in the world, was the royal surname of the Tang Dynasty. About 15 different emperors had the Li surname. My middle name “song” (transliteration) is also a common surname (e.g. the Soong sister) derives from Song Dynasty. Under the reign of both the emperors, China enjoyed a period of economic growth coupled with great artistic, cultural and intellectual achievement.

I am glad that my ancestors are great emperors and that both of them are quite handsome and manly! : )

The temple grounds of the royal temple Wat Yanasangwararam covers a total area of 146 acres. It comprises a mondop (four gable pavilion), a large stupa, the Phra Yanaretwihan, international pavilion etc. Due to time constraint we could only drive one round after visiting Viharnra Sien and then had to say bye bye!

Statues of the great emperors of Tang & Song Dynasty

The royal temple ground

How Much Dowry Should I Pay?

One of the most frequently asked questions by some foreigner who wants to get married to a Thai women is this one “Excuse me, but how much dowry (sinsot) should I pay?” Almost as if there was a set price like you were gonna purchase some car. On the other hand though, I guess the answer is something along those lines in that you can pay from virtually zilch to tens of millions. And just like buying yerself a new automobile you can find a right bargain, a middle of the range type or if you are unlucky like… be completely ripped-off.

I don’t wanna get into too much history on the subject but it’s pretty important to have a look back at the origins of the matter…. even though they aren’t exactly too clear. What is clear however, is traditionally speaking, the dowry to get married to an ethnic Thai girl was to prove how much the geezer had to help start up the family. It was only a sign of cash-worthy evidence, which would be either handed straight back after the wedding or on the birth of the couple’s first child. Traditionally speaking therefore, paying a fancy free dowry to yer mum-in-law has no place in Thai history – only the modern one.

Paying an actual free dowry of some kind to yer bride’s parents for the privilege of getting married in Thailand is more-or-less a Chinese imported idea which has melted itself into the everyday psyche of the Thai-Thais.

Let us look at the Thai verb ‘to marry’ which is ‘taeng-ngarn’ which literally means to make a party between two sides. Historically speaking, when the couple tied the knot, it was also a binding between two families and it is that kind of Sakdhina era type thinking which is still very prevalent in Thailand today. Thais and the Thai-Chinese have traditionally only married into their own class of society, so there was no real need for the man to prove his financial clout to his future parents-in-law. Basically speaking, a man of money or class would historically never marry a woman of a lower-class than himself. In fact, it was often the man who would marry into a family with a load more cash than his. Foreign men started marrying Thai women donkey’s decades if not at least a century ago, but in those days they only married into hi-so, noble families – a much different saga to most of the inter-cultural marriages you see today.

That said, there is no historical tradition about a rich man (Thai or foreign) paying over a slapping freebie big dowry for a girl of a lower class (Contrary to myth, foreigners are held historically quite high in the class-listings). Paying a free dowry with nothing in return is a new tradition which affects a multitude of ‘foreigners’. So, if your darling turns around and claims to you that you have to pay a huge sum for the dowry (no fancy house, land, car etc… in return) as it is part of ‘Thai Culture’, then she may be taking you for one big ride.

Really, there is no such thing as a free dowry in Thailand, either Thai-Thai or Thai-Chinese as traditionally speaking (and until this day) ‘to make a party’ both sides share a lot of their assets out and the fellow sees a return on his investment (if any) one way or the other.

When you plan on getting married in Thailand (to make a party) you have to be very honest with your darling about both pre and post-marriage financial matters and responsibilities etc…. Or sadly, you may turn into one of those millions of foreigners who after a year or so, can be witnessed writing blogs and on forums pleading along the likes of “I was ripped-off, she and her family suckered all my money out of me!” Probably, the suckers weren’t ripped-off at all – they just hadn’t been bothered to agree on matters beforehand.

So after all that, you may be wondering when I am finally gonna answer the question to this blog. Well, more than likely, even though it’s quite culturally incorrect, your are probably gonna have to cough up something. But firstly, if your fiancée has ever been married before and so not a virgin, then there is theoretically no reason to pay any kind of dowry whatsoever and especially if she has kids from a previous relationship as well. Anything which you do give would be called more like ‘Katanya’ (gratefulness) to her parents than a dowry.

So, if your darling has never been married before but she is poor, say from the countryside, then you can expect to pay something but not a lot (as her side of the family isn’t bringing anything into the relationship). Foreigners often fork over hundreds of thousands of baht, you can call it a scam or part of the two-teiring price system as a local Thai guy may only pay the likes of 20-50,000. Unfortunate but true, some girls and their parents are cunning and one of the most implemented strategies to sucker as bigga dowry possible out of their so-called loved-ones is by informing him that her sister’s husband paid a dowry of say 300,000. If your darling really loves you for what you are, then she can talk to her parents explaining that you are not just a sucker money-tree.

Contrary to myth, marrying into a family with a bit of social status is very often cheaper that marrying a rural girl because much of the dowry is simply given back. In this regard the dowry is known as ‘show money’, adhering to tradition it is just evidence that the guy has enough money to start the family. So, if you hear Thai guys saying that their dowry was for example 200,000 baht then you can presume that he may have got half or most of that back after the ceremony. If Thais do kindly hand over hundred of thousands or even millions for the privilege of marrying into a wealthy family then you can be rest assured that he got in return a fancy house, loadsa land or plenty of shares etc…

I’m not kidding but I have read complaints from foreigners that they paid a free dowry of some kind before the marriage as part of a so-called deposit – only for their little darling to do a runner with some Thai lover shortly after. What complete baloney honestly, there is no need to fork over any kind of money prior to the marriage – if your darling tells you it’s part of her family tradition or something then she is one mean scammer. And I hate to say it, but being brutally honest, a lot of foreigners do fall for this type.

So, that’s the cash dowry thing out of the way, so let’s next go into the ‘gold’. Well, I wouldn’t worry too much about that as your future wife gets to keep that. Again, it’s just part of future investment as after marriage what’s hers is yours and what yours is hers. Some folk, when they get married, just borrow gold from family members as a symbol of ‘show’ which is hastily returned after. Again, if your loved-one expects you too buy her a stackful of gold which she is gonna give her mum, then perhaps it is wise to pack your bags and flee the scene.

As for the marriage ceremony and party then you may have the choice to who pays, you, both of you or her parents. If you are the one that forks out for the events then you are more than entitled to receive all the gifts in the form of cash from all the guests. It is known that some guys (or the couple) actually make a profit on the wedding day especially if most of the guests are pretty well-off. Most foreigners marry into poorer rural families, so they can’t expect to get much in return from the cash-receipts. But anyway, most poorer families are usually more than willing to pay for the events if the guy is paying a handsome free dowry, but in vice-versa to the above they will collect all the donations.

Whatever you do, don’t get scammed like a lotta foreigners into believing that unless you pay a big free dowry her family will dislike you as you made them lose face. This is more often than not just another sucker ploy tried out to squeeze as much cash out of you as heavenly possible. If her parents love you for what you are, then they will accept what you can/can’t or wish to give. Don’t forget if they can hawk plenty of money out of you on the wedding day then you can be assured that they will be wanting plenty more thereafter.

Finally, marriage in Thailand need not be a financial headache at all if you sit down with your loved-one, explain that you know the score and work out a plausible fair agreement beforehand. I hope this blog didn’t sound hard!

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Thailand’s Funky New Political Parties!

The following blog/article was published in The Nation newspaper last Saturday. Here below, however, is the originally un-edited submission)

(Members of the Thug Party out to clean the streets of scumbags)

To truly promote their notion of democracy, the government has been confidentially encouraging the establishment of 8 brand-new political parties which will appeal to every sector of society. I am able to leak to you today a copy of this top-secret report which was handed to me by an extremely unreliable high-ranking source I met just last week in a karaoke bar.

Country Folk Party (Phak Rak Khon Bannork)

Dedicated to the land’s destitute rural folk, this party aims to be the first in history to truly listen and respect the voices of the poor. Instead of kitting themselves out in groovy imported Armani suits, the party’s members will instead dress in traditional farming gear, hat and flip-flops. Unlike countless government promises of the past which have failed to materialize, this party will really make sure that idle local authorities get off their chairs and improve the standard of basic utilities such as water and electric. A free education will be a free education indeed and any dodgy school principals looking for back-handling fees will soon be shown the backdoor before he can count to ten. Also shown the red card, will be the likes of any clean-shaven Brother Smoochy from the local temple hoping to get financially involved with the party’s publicity activities. Unfortunately however, since none of the party’s members have a degree it is assumed that they will not be allowed to run for parliament.

Same Old Faces Party (Phak Na Kao Kao)

Unlike the Country Folk Party, this party member’s will be a really educated bunch in possession of lots of educational certificates – or at least pieces of paper which look like ones. Adhering to the party’s name-sake, all the members will be the same old geezers and their slick hair-dos who have been plastering our TV sets with promises for donkey’s decades. As for policies and philosophy, well that is the tricky part, for as usual they just won’t have any. But what is promised however, is that within the spate of just 90 days they will be able to complete eradicate major problems such as corruption, mass flooding and the capital’s traffic congestion. As always, the public will be able to enjoy extensive news coverage of the party’s members congregating at some fabulous birthday party.

Thug Party (Phak Nak Raeng)

Fitted out in groovy Ray Ban dark sunglasses worthy of a part in a Thai B-movie, this no nonsense party promises to clean our streets of delinquent scumbags and clampdown on any wayward members of the public and especially policemen who show lack of discipline. Acting like the secret police, sons of the party’s members will be attending nightclubs, pubs and karaoke lounges making sure no ho-bo is out to pick a fight. Another menacing force within the party not to be messed with, will be the members’ fearless wives and minor wives. To prop up the national budget too, the party will relieve even more extra cash, in a form of a special tax, from bar-owners, passenger van drivers and motorbike-taxi drivers even if they do have a perfectly plausible license.

(Members of the Superstar Party out to promote the showing of even more soap operas and game shows)

The Crackdown Party (Phak Kot Dan Jing Jing)

Now, just when you thought that past governments had already thought up every possible crackdown under the sun, then you will be in for one major surprise! This party’s members with the word ‘crackdown’ tattooed across their foreheads, will be hoping to go ahead with implanting a whole load of new ones. Potential crackdowns already written-up include ones on; half-blind traffic policemen, cowboy municipality electricians, cheating hotel tax-drivers, scheming property sales folk, cigarette chugging petrol station attendants, gory Thai language newspaper photographs and sweaty bare-chested farangs.

Great Soldier Party (Phak Maha Tahan)

To really prove their love for the country and promote even more nationalism, this party hopes to, by plastering portraits everywhere, be reminding the masses of all the highly popular lovable military leaders cum prime ministers of the past. It is intended that TV stations be required to show even more army parades, army festivities and also play sing-along karaoke-style army songs. Taking to the streets, the public will again be able to take swazzy photos with the handsome soldiers of their choice. As for the land’s school children, they will no longer have to take a bus to school but instead hop upon the latest army tanks which will be whizzing back and forth. To finance such a policy though, yet more military budget will be needed.

Superstar Party (Phak Dara Dang)

Instead of the country being bored to death with crinkly-old faces, the superstar party members will be full of popular young fresh faces out to prove that they are not as daft as they look. To really liven up the lives of the people this party has promised to increase the coverage of meaningful soap operas and intellectual game shows from just 5 hours a day to 10. As for uninteresting real-life documentaries they will get the boot as no-one can be bothered watching them anyway. More superstars on the TV will be promoted, so that the viewers won’t have to see the same mug-shots every time they turn from one channel to the next. To boost the party’s expenditure budget the superstar members will be acting it out on even more corny TV commercials and attending dozens of holy amulet blessing ceremonies.

Thai Culture Party (Phak Wattanatham)

Absolutely no formation of dazzlingly new parties would be correct if the one and only cultural golden-oldies didn’t get share fair share of the action. Putting into practice their breath-taking new idea of the promotion of Thai nick-names, new parents will receive cash incentives to call their kids culturally correct names such as (translated roughly into English) Chicken, Pig, Crab, Fatso, Shorty and not forgetting Blacky. Corrupt imported words from the English language will be banned in all schools and the likes of a ‘dictionary’ popularly called a ‘dic’, well that will once and for all be known as a ‘Potjananugrom’. Ridiculous comic books too will be gladly banned and the kids will be encouraged to read instead 200 year-old classical Thai poetry. Attending fancy private schools will get a serious thumbs down and parents will be asked to send their loved-ones to local temple schools even though there are already 70 kids in one class.

The Freedom Party (Phak Itsaraphap)

A brilliant new party which promises to adhere to its philosophy of freedom, will allow the nation and especially the youth to learn, watch and read whatever they wish. Out with forcing the land’s state school kids to study only Buddhism, they will be allowed to read up on any religion at all. Decades old regulated noodle soup-bowl shaped haircuts for the girls and virtual skinheads for the boys will be eradicated. Not forgetting the older generation, they will be free to surf the net and download any naughty movie they wish without the fear of a 5 year prison sentence. To top it all off they won’t have to secretly go about buying a bottle of plonk during the day and wait until the ridiculous time of 1 o’clock in the morning just to watch their favourite beer commercial.

Body of Evidence

On the Kevin & Bean Show on KROQ, the local rock radio station, here in Southern California, they interviewed a band called Paramore. As it turns out, the powerhouse lead singer Hayley is 5′ 1″ (154.5 cm), just an inch taller than me (152 cm). Although she didn’t reveal her weight, from the look of it, she is probably around 100 lbs. (45.36 kg.) like me too.

And to American standard, anything under 5′ 5″ is just itty bitty. Of course, some teasing ensued.

“You guys are on tour a lot. When you fly, Hayley, do your band mates check you in as a carry-on?”

“Hayley, we have heard a report about this so we’d like to confirm with you. Is it true that once you were almost drowned in the 7-11 Big Gulp cup?”

Now, jet yourself back to Bangkok for a second.

I came back home a few months ago and found myself feeling like a giant beast, perhaps not much in height but definitely in weight and built.

Mind you, I’m not built according to the typical blue print of the Thai perception of beauty, a curveless skinny form with a pair of toothpicks for legs. I have a butt and muscular calves. My mom used to comment on my choices of shorts or knee-length skirt, “Why are you wearing that? People can see your fat calves.”

A fellow Thai expat blogger Pondering would echo my sentiment as we both have long since given up finding pants that fit in Bangkok. I have 26-inch waist. Not a big waist by any means. But I found myself buying pants many sizes larger just to have enough room in the seat, then I would have to tailor the waist to fit.

See a little bit of a self image issue here for this expat?

America thinks you are tiny little thing at 5 ft. 100 lbs. Your American friends think you are built quite right, may be even on the skinny side. You’re starting to feel okay about your weight and your built.

While in Thailand, everyone seems to be just about as tall as you are at 5 ft. or at least you find more people who are shorter than you. Everyone else seems to be as skinny as the chopsticks you’re using to shovel Bahmee Moo Daeng into your mouth. And being 100 lbs. was borderline heavy. Oh and with that butt of yours, you’re J-Lo of Southeast Asia.

In one country, you’re a smidgen over being an anoroxic dwarf. In another, you’re a fat cow.

And you wonder how I get this deranged.

Visit To Sriracha Tiger Zoo

On the way to Pattaya for a meeting, I visited Sriracha Tiger Zoo in Chonburi. In Chinese it is called “Long Hu Yuan”, literally means ” Dragon and Tiger Zoo”. Why is crocodile classified as dragon? Well, dinosaurs belong to the “dragon” species and crocodile belongs to dinosaur family, that’s how the Chinese name of the zoo originated. The zoo is located on a 100-acre piece of land, consisting of more than 200 Bengal tigers, 100,000 crocodiles and various kinds of animals.

As my friend knows the owner of the zoo, once we arrived, we were welcomed and escorted by the manager to the restaurant for lunch. It was raining and we were led to a room with a glass window wall, so that we could see the tigers down below. We were served with crocodile delicacies including crocodile reproductive organ’s soup, dragon (crocodile) palm stick, fried crocodile meat with bun, fried crocodile tongue etc. I am not that adventurous with non-traditional livestock meat, so I was a little uneasy to try…though I did finally. Crocodile meat is a white meat, akin to fish in both appearance and texture. It has a delicate flavor, tastes more like chicken.

Dragon palm stick/Fried coconut meat with bun

Fried crocodile tongue, one whole crocodile for one small plate/Exciting crocodile show

According to the manager, the whole crocodile has value, from head to tail and from the outer skin to the internal organs. The crocodile meat is low in fat and high in protein. It is also a traditional remedy for asthma and can increase kidney and liver efficiency. During the bird flu tragedy a few years ago, 147 tigers were killed as they were fed with chickens. However, not a single crocodile was affected, meaning it has a very very strong immune system. Believe it or not, the manager looked at least 15 years younger than his real age and he attributed his youth looking to the eating of crocodile meat.

We had a quick tour of the zoo after lunch. It was a fruitful learning experience for me. During the visit, I didn’t notice a zoo worker standing besides me holding a baby crocodile in his arms. While I turned back and saw him, I was scared and screamed loud. I am very scared of crocodiles and feel disgusted if I watch them for too long…however, I did enjoy the crocodile show!

Sow feeding tiger cubs/Beautiful big cats