Daily Archives: April 13, 2010

Making Merit for Songkran 2010

After all the bad news in Thailand over the past few weeks, it is finally good that we can relax and enjoy one of the Kingdom’s most popular festivals. Songkran is the traditional Thai new year which is held every year between 13-15 April. As it is in the middle of the week and that the government has added an extra holiday this Friday, we probably now have the longest Songkran for many years. The waterfights started yesterday and will go on until this coming Sunday.

Many people around Thailand got up early this morning to make merit for Songkran. In Samut Prakan, about 500 local people gathered in front of the City Pillar which was closed to traffic. Tables had been set up on both sides of a 150 meter stretch of road.

After some brief chanting, dozens of monks came out and the local people offered them alms. Flowers were a popular offering as well as food and other essentials.

Afterwards, people poured rose scented water on a Buddha image and also over the hands of senior citizens. In return they were wished a “Happy Songkran” and a long life. You can see more pictures of this event at www.paknamphotos.com.

There is a lot more going on this week in Samut Prakan. Full details can be found at www.paknam.com. I am off now to take pictures of the next event. Follow me live on Twitter @RichardBarrow and my moblog at www.MyThailandBlog.com.

Thai Brides

Thai women are naive, attentive and submissive to their husbands…………. Hang on a minute are we talking about the Thai Women we all know?

A few residents of Thailand may think I’ve finally lost the plot. But no this is the image being a portrayed of the female denizens of the Land of Smiles on a legion of websites trying to persuade men a Thai bride is for them. The gullible suckers.

This very stereotype is the subject of Louis Theroux’s documentary Thai Brides. While I normally enjoy Louis Theroux’s programs I have to say I found Thai Brides rather condescending to Thai women. He made the documentary very much from the uninformed point of view of the men and portrayed the women as victims being exploited by the agencies and men.

Residents of Thailand will realise just how false this premise is. In a country where the women not the men run the economy and are more often the main breadwinners for the family, it follows that women are not the sheep Louis portrays, who when coming to the agencies of their own volition are making conscious decisions as much as the men. But then that would not be good TV.

With the whole premise of the documentary not seeming to match reality I decided to conduct my own investigation into what’s happening on the Thai singles scene. After a couple of hours Googling I found there seemed to be two kinds of services out there. The Louis Theroux style introduction sites where punters pay around £1500 + airfares, come to Thailand and meet girls on the agencies books, who usually speak little English, and have interpreted conversations with them. The other kind of sites are the web based Dating sites which are free to join; people enter their profiles and pay to contact one another.

I started off by checking several of the agencies offering what they call Full Service, some noticeably had a large number of women on their books and many of these girls came from the North East, had only a secondary education to 15 years old and lived in Bangkok stating production as their field of employment. This suggests they are line factory workers who have come from rural Issan to work in a Bangkok factory to support their families. I went to one of these factories and interviewed a worker in my Lazy Thais piece for this blog. The factories will have hundreds of line workers in this thankless low paid job and obviously the agencies in question target industrial areas for their marketing and are attracting quite some response. The Google search I carried out revealed no shortage of rival sites. £1500 to introduce a punter to a non-English speaking factory girl from Issan must be a pretty lucrative business and not exactly a difficult or taxing thing to arrange.

The large number of women on some of these agencies books intrigued me considering others had so few. I investigated one, Thai Professional Introductions, which was featured in the Louis Theroux documentary. This boasts a truly enormous number of female members on the website. This particular agency is also illegally using a copyrighted blog of Stephen Cleary’s from this site for profit without permission and refusing to respond to emails from us. I quickly noticed looking at most of the women’s profiles the dates of births didn’t match the ages stated, a women’s age would state she was 28 but her date of birth would be 1976 showing she joined the agency six years ago and her profile hasn’t been taken down. There may be hundreds of members on the list but perhaps only a few are current, no-wonder he wants payment in advance.

The other kind of site out there are the dating sites where you correspond as equals from your computers back home. I checked several of the latter style of sites, it’s also a competitive business and there’s profits to be made for who is good at it. Several sites I checked didn’t give out when members were last online, seemed to have a shortage of members and were pulling out the stops to give the opposite impression. Others seemed to be full of fashion model types and I quickly worked out these were false profiles set up by the site owners to attract traffic. Several sites I joined I quickly got mailed by a stunningly beautiful 22 year old, who wanted to chat, most likely sent as standard by the site to encourage members to pay a month’s fee to read the mail. A few other sites I tried were advertised as Thai but seemed to have a large number of members from other countries especially the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Africa and South America.

However the was a good number of ubshady sites out there and I settled upon one European based site I shall call Siam Smile to bullet proof myself against legal reprisals. Siam Smile seemed a genuine site, had thousands of members, often hundreds logged in each day. None of the photos were fashion models and the few who were obviously fake had their profiles eliminated pretty quickly by the quite diligent site owners.

The Siam Smile site had a useful feature it showed the join date and the last time members signed in. I carried out an extra check on it. I joined the site as Thai woman seeing if the Thai language procedure was any different. The forms I had to fill in were exact translations of the forms I had to fill in as a western man, there was no difference whatsoever in the enrolment procedure and questions asked for a Thai women to that of a western man.

Taking on the persona of ‘Malcolm’ a childless, divorced, 40 year old, averagely paid financial advisor from Welling Garden City I forked out a month’s membership and joined the site, B1600. I set myself the rule, I would not contact any women, I would let them contact me so to see what happened. Here’s my report……………

In my month long membership 162 women visited my profile. I was actually surprised by how young some of these were, often early twenties. On the other hand I had many in their forties and even a few in their fifties. However most of my visitors were late twenties to early forties. I received contacts from 52 different women showing an interest in me and inviting me to reply, 15 of these were in Thai writing. From these I replied to 20 women I found intriguing of which 11 responded. 10 of these I hooked up with on either Windows Live or Yahoo Messenger and we managed to chat. Two of them it quickly transpired we were unable to chat in English and instead we chatted in Thai, eight however we had varied level of English chat ranging from basic to advanced.

I set myself rules for the chat. That in no way would I lead the women on or show any romantic interest in them, I simply subtly interviewed them about their lives and motives for being there. Only four of the 10 came back for a second chat, perhaps my pumping them for information was responsible and one Noy has became a good friend whom I chat with 1-2 times a week but not romantically.

The girls……

Mam, was the very first contact I made, was rather a failure as an interview as she turned the tables on me and interrogated me thoroughly. Mam spoke excellent English and worked as a science teacher at secondary school. She was 32, had never been married and lived in the city of Khon Kaen. The first question she asked me was when I was next coming to Thailand; she also wanted to know my job, living arrangements, and plans for the future, details of my previous relationships, all in meticulous detail. All good stuff to ask if looking for a serious partner, she was definitely trying to weed out timewasters. She had obviously thought about her membership very rationally and gone into the whole business pretty well organised. She had a good knowledge of what was happening in the news in UK so we actually had something to discuss and wasn’t exactly shy to give her opinion. Ironically I had set out to prove Louis Theroux stereotype of Thai women wrong, for journalistic suspense it would have been great if it was the very last person I spoke to on the last day of my membership and I could write this at the end of the article, but the very first person I spoke to within 2 days of joining pretty much zapped his myth.

Another early contact I had was from Nan a 29 year old single parent from Issan who lived in Bangkok with her family. She was divorced, her husband she said was no-good, gambling and having many girlfriends, so she got rid of him. She contacted me on the bounce from a relationship with another Englishman she met on Siam Smile. Apparently he promised her the world, to come to Thailand and marry her, however he never lived up to this promise and broke up with her, them never meeting. She was very bitter and kept on insisting “farang lie” not the best chat up line to a new guy I thought. We chatted a few times and I gathered by examining her Windows Live profile she had contacted a lot of men on Siam Smile. She told me her aunt had suggested she join and she had done so because she was unlikely to find a new Thai man having a child. She had a rather possessive personality and I quickly gathered from what she told me, wore her heart upon her sleeve, so I was very careful not to be remotely intimate with her. Despite the fact I was not only not showing interest in her but showing positive disinterest, one word responses to her lengthy messages, for around two weeks I every time I opened up messenger she was there and contacted me to complain I hadn’t contacted her, I began to feel like I was being stalked.

Noy is also from Issan and a pretty 26 year old accountancy student. I wondered why she would contact me, she said I was the first person she contacted and I looked kind in my photo. She had only joined the site a few days before. I made an educated guess that she was a student looking to practice her English but I was wrong, there was something deeper, though I was never able to quite place it. She seemed to have a good life, small middle class city family, only one older brother, father a government officer, her mother had recently died but also I noticed on her Windows Live profile was chatting to a couple of other guys in their 40’s. After a while she told me these contacts didn’t work out and she had developed a stalker problem similar to mine with one of these men. I chatted to her several times and the only hint she gave me to why she was there was that Thai guys didn’t find her attractive and she wanted to experience the world. I came to the unsure conclusion that she was just looking for adventure and a way out of her small corner of Issan to experience the wider world. She saw a foreign relationship if not the solution at least some interesting to explore temporarily. On the other hand she wasn’t the biggest fan of Thailand and its class structure and graft and kept on saying she wanted out.

Jeab I chatted to only once. She had almost perfect English and had lived in the USA with a friend before marriage. She had a 5 year old son and had just divorced her husband who was from Hong Kong. Her parents were from China and she spoke perfect Chinese too. She had worked as a middle manager in a large Thai corporation before getting married 5 years ago but now after a long working hiatus was a checkout girl in a supermarket struggling to support her child. In her mid thirties she was in a rut, no longer a yuppie, no longer a jet setter, and going to be stuck in an ends meet existence after having experienced the hi life. I got the impression there was a duality in her motives, she realised a western marriage was perhaps her only way of restoring her past existence and that she had a disillusionment with Asian men having had a bad experience so saw western men in an overly idealised way. She seemed to be quite single mindedly seeking a quick relationship, knew what she wanted in the man and little was going to get in the way. Despite having the deepest conversation of anyone I contacted on Siam Smile discussing such things as philosophy to alcoholic ingredients I obviously didn’t meet her expectations and was quickly deleted from her contact list.

Wan was also from Issan but lives in Bangkok running her noodle stall with her sister. She is 27 years old and quite freakily lives and works on the same (rather lengthy) main road as me, though I’ve never seen her. She only has a secondary education but speaks excellent English, learning it at school. I spoke to her three or four times but she seemed to have joined the site out of curiosity more than any real desire to find someone and perhaps just to practice her English. One time she told me she couldn’t leave Thailand as she had to help her sister run the business, which made me ask her why she joined in the first place, to which she didn’t have an answer. She took a keen interest in me telling her of my life and wasn’t very forth coming with hers. She had parents and another eight brothers and sisters on her family farm back in Issan was quite glad she had left and was enjoying Bangkok nightlife such as Major Cineplex and Central Shopping Malls.

Panya was a 29 year old from a Bangkok suburb and worked for a travel agency. We got only a few sentences into our conversation when we had to swap to Thai. Apparently she’s a Level 1 AUA student, I guess this piece of writing if it achieves one thing, it proves the accuracy of the AUA Placement Test. Panya was attending English classes specifically so she could chat to western men on dating sites. This is a suspicion I have always held but it’s taken me a long time to come up with some solid evidence. Panya had apparently shot the gun and needed a little more practice before endeavouring on her romantic mission. I asked her why not find a nice Thai boy instead of going to all this trouble? She replied she didn’t want a Thai man because she would worry about him getting girlfriends. This seems to be a typical response from middle class Bangkok girls who have the financial independence these days to not want this traditional aspect of Thai culture.

One thing I didn’t do was talk to any of the men on the site, however this didn’t stop me asking the women what was going on. It seems that some of the men were quite aggressively pursuing the women, making romantic overtones very quickly and a lot of promises of undying love and them being the one. The women were all bar one very cynical about this and didn’t believe them, western men being mere amateurs at this compared to Thai men it was well within their powers to spot. I also came away with the overall impression that most of the women on the site were not finding their soul mates, but instead were coming to the site with idealised views of western men and coming away as disillusioned with western men as they were with Thai. I did get the impression while the Louis Theroux documentary is terribly misplaced about the women it is more accurate about the men.

Thai women will join the agency for a number of reasons. For some it will be economic, after all she is the main breadwinner who has to support her parents in their old age as well as her family and possibly younger brothers and sisters too. A man who will support her and her kids while she supports her family is desirable. Thailand also suffers from antiquated cultural values, a women over 30, with children or even just divorced can be pretty much on the shelf to Thai men, so a husband from a culture that doesn’t hold these prejudices can perhaps be their only prospect of not living a single life. Thai women are also very romantic as anyone who has had a Thai girlfriend will testify and do tend to wear their hearts upon their sleeves and perish the thought of the cynics they may actually be marrying out of love. Many educated and wealthy Thai women in recent years haven’t married because they are quite attracted to the idea of having and equal western style relationship not a traditional Thai one. This article explains.

A quick survey of the people who contacted me shows the diversity of Thai women on the site. A large number of single women in their thirties and professionals backs up the idea the larger part of those applying are pretty in control of their lives. There are remarkably few in low end jobs unlike the women on the Full Service sites. One other figure that stands out is the predominance of Bangkok and Issan members. The scarcity of southern and northern women could be put down to local culture but this doesn’t explain the lack of women from other parts of Thailand. One could cynically put down the high Issan membership partly to poverty but as many of the women from Issan have good jobs, a cultural tradition of marrying foreigners which has built up there recently may also be part responsible.

So far from the shrinking violets some websites claim most Thai women on the market for a partner are quite liberated women, in control of what they are doing and have much to contribute.