Recently someone sent me an article titled Xenophobia in Thailand on the Rise. The article, dated March 26, 2007, discusses the strict foreign business law and the growing disdain of foreigners among Thais.
One Thai banking executive was quoted as saying: ''We are getting a lot of weird retirees here. They can't survive in your country so they come here.''
A Thai accountant said: ''I've seen so many old farangs with young Thai women. These old farangs damage the reputation of Thailand; they turn Thailand into a land of prostitutes.''
More than three years have passed since these people were quoted. It's worth asking: Do a lot of Thai people still think that way? Of course we do. Is there racism in Thailand? Absolutely. Just like anywhere else in the world. We're not any more or less special - we're just not.
Does racism go both ways? Just take a glance through the Bangkok Post website's forum and you'll find plenty of foreigners, who hold Thailand and Thais in absolute contempt but refuse to leave (or keep coming back for visits) because the costs of living is cheap and so are the prostitutes, which far outweighs their contempt. That's not to mention the fact that complaining about where you live (and other cultures) is everyone's favourite pastime. Then there are those who simply hate for the sake of hatred.
I won't get into land ownership or foreign business laws; they're boring. Rather, let's scrutinise social attitudes and human nature, focusing on Westerners (retirees or otherwise) and Thais. (Because, face it, we don't have the same problem with Japanese, retirees or otherwise.)
Do we get a lot of ''weird retirees'' in Thailand? Of course we do - both those who can and those who can't survive in their own countries. Firstly, foreign is different. Different is weird. It's the nature of human perception. Secondly, retirees are weird the world over. But they are only ''weird'' because younger people find older people weird. Likewise, younger people are weird to older people. It's the age gap that makes the difference.
The only thing that makes Western retirees weirder than their Thai counterparts is the term ''foreign''.
I work with Westerners who look so old they ought to be retired _ and they are weird. But so am I, and by gad I love them! Even if at times in their senility (or in their rush to get to the pub) they forget to correct grammatical errors or misspellings while subediting my articles.
Does anyone ever look at an old farang and a young Thai woman couple and go, ''Aww, isn't that sweet?'' with hand on heart, head tilted, endearing-like, smile forming at the corners of the lips, mushy-like, eyes beaming in dreamy appreciation? No, of course not _ everyone goes ''Oooooh''. But again, people would have the same nauseous reaction to seeing an old Thai man with a young Thai girl. The only difference is the ''foreign'' bit.
Have old farangs turned Thailand into a land of prostitutes? Absolutely. And so have young farangs. But they have done so to a far lesser degree than old and young Thai men. Or Thai women themselves, who (whether as a lifestyle choice or an economic necessity) prostitute themselves. Or Thai parents, who sell their daughters to pay debts. It is what it is.
On the flip side, as I've mentioned, take a look at the Bangkok Post website's forum and you'll see anti-Thai racism, whether subtle or blatant. It's only natural. ''Thai this and Thai that, blah, blah, blah''.
Foreign residents (legal or otherwise) will always complain about their host country. Any Thai who has lived in the West will tell you that we complained while living there too. Why? Because people complain, it's in our nature - and we complain best when the object of our bitterness is foreign.
Thais living in the West gripe about the decadence, the hedonism, the violent society, the lack of respect for family values, etc. Westerners living in Thailand gripe about the two-face greng jai attitude, the shakedowns and the dual pricing, the corruption and the inef ficiency, etc. That's what people do - we groan with delusions of our self-righteousness; we wail in our inability to embrace the fact that we simply cannot shape and mould the world and all its creations into our hopelessly personal, and grossly biased, ideal vision; we moan because we are self-centred.
But at the end of the day, Thais in the West must deal with the fact that, hey, they chose to live in the liberal West, and must carry all the baggage that comes with it. Likewise, Westerners in Thailand must deal with the fact that chose to live (temporarily or otherwise) in developing Thailand, and take all the baggage that comes with it.
Two-face greng jai? It's just good manners, and it can be positive when done as a social nicety, or negative when done to hide lies and deceit. Shakedowns and dual pricing? The day we get rid of these is the day we get rid of ''expat'' salaries. Fair enough? Corruption and inefficiency? We don't like it either, but you're the one who moved from the first world to third world, silly; so don't look down on us - help us improve the situation.
None of this is meant as an excuse for anything. Racism is wrong, no matter how you look at it. But racism is also human nature and will be with us as long as there are such concepts as ''foreign'' and ''diversity''. So I would urge that it be viewed not through bitter self-righteousness, but rather using the understanding eye of humanity, with a bit of comedy thrown in for good measure.
Thailand is changing rapidly, and it can be overwhelming, especially to the everyday people walking the streets. Twenty years ago, the only Western faces we saw in Thailand were old and wrinkly, generally speaking. Today, Bangkok is a melting pot filled with people from all corners of the world, young and old.
If I went to a club 15 years ago, there were only dark-haired Thais. The only pale faces were those of the Thai-Chinese and those who used very good skin-whitening creams. Now if I go to a club - well, as I did just last night - it's like the United Nations. Whites, blacks, browns, yellows, we have got it all.
When I was a kid, there were four channels on TV and that was it. Now my TV has a French channel. Oui.
Thailand, well, let's say Bangkok (and to a much lesser extent Chiang Mai, Korat, etc) has become a melting pot, and it has come to a boil very fast, in just about 20 years. The Thai culture and psyche colliding with multiculturalism _ it can be daunting, overwhelming _ will take time to adjust too. Below the-high rises, behind the screenings at state-of-the-art movie theatres and in the basements of fancy shopping malls, this is still a very conservative and traditional society that has just met all the rapid changes head on. It can cause seizures at times.
I have witnessed bitter racism from both Thais and Westerners. All I have to say is: chill, calm down, it's not all bad; we are adjusting to each other. Don't be so self-righteous, don't be so negative and don't be so sensitive.
If an old Western man and a young Thai girl are together, it's nobody else's business. Just appreciate that they are happy together.
If a Westerner chooses to live here, there's something I always like to say: ''Dorothy, you're not in Kansas any more.'' Adapt a little. It's a developing world, understand a little.
For the overly sensitive, if someone calls you ''farang'', it's just the term that we use, our language. Don't get offended. There's no negative connotation to it, unless an expletive precedes it - so chill. There may be racism in Thailand, as there is anywhere else, but two things I will say. First, no matter how much we complain (Thais or foreigners), we love it here, otherwise we wouldn't be here - and out of love, we should want to change things for the better, together.
Second, criminals may rob you of your money here, as will happen anywhere else in the world. But unlike in the West, there is no skinhead racist gang stomping you into the ground simply because of the colour of your skin. Appreciate that. - Voranai Vanijaka, Bangkok Post
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Mai bien sûr, Thais are just like everyone else on this planet. If you understand a target language well enough and detect that cultural nuance, you know certain derogatory terms referencing other ethnic groups, or anyone who's different from the speaker in terms of gender, age, religion, educational level, family background, social status, make and model of personal automobile, skin colors and shades, etc.
Thais appear (and are) modest AND proud; self-deprecating jokes are not common in the Thai culture though.
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History shows that like a number of problems Thais complain about, prostitution was brought here by the Chinese, long before the arrival of westerners, likewise drugs and gambling. Go to any "chinatown" on earth and it's the same.
I, for one smile when I see an old guy with a young girl. I am an old guy myself and it sure feels nice! What is good or bad about any relationship is about EACH person getting what they want out of it. The rest isn't anyone else's business.
As to the Farung in a Thai/Farung relationship being an atm..ok fair enough, but the role of the man in most conservative cultures is to be a provider and the woman a care giver. Non support is still grounds for divorce even in the USA.
If the relationship is deceitful and coercive on either side, that is the problem.
I'm willing to bet that pontificating middle and upper class Thai men are giving money to their mia noi. If they don't, they don't get any, right? So what's the difference?
Something I find humorous is that many self righteous individuals will rave on about the free market, but preach against prostitution. If it isn't forced, then there is no victim.
BTW I'm happily married and don't go outside the marriage, ever. I stayed single when I wanted more than one.
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