Richard Constable

Captain Thailand inspired myths

Are certain Thai characteristics often inaccurate and overpraised?


All at once, I'll go straight for the jugular with no messing around (this isn't going to be a blog for the spineless) and state my interpretations of Thai tolerance. 

That's when I hear a fellow ex-pat pontificating about how he or she appreciates the tolerance of the natives to the Land of the Emerald Buddha, as in how Thais accept those who basically aren't the average Joe on the Clapham omnibus.

Thereafter, I'm thinking while I do agree with that to some extent, I also feel it's often inaccurate and for sure overpraised.

'Straightfaced tolerance'

Take the case of transvestites, 'Ladyboys', or their counterparts for want of a better expression, 'Toms' still not their pampered ultimately feminine girlfriends. What I mean is, crossgender, possibly post transgender; people who have been traditionally seen in some countries as unwelcome genders by some, have as a matter of course been accepted together with more consistent gender types in Thailand.

Unfortunately, I feel it isn't a dignified mature tolerance, but a well kept straightfaced tolerance alongside a few smirks behind the unknowing nonbirany person's back.

While this is comparatively commendable to outright mocking, tormenting, victimising; attempting to alienate - it's far from the idealised notion of Thai tolerance.

What's more, it will only become true tolerance, for example, when Thai parents of an off-spring of a minority gender are no longer disappointed by the fact that their child will probably never produce a grandchild. Whereas, children of a more standard gender are not met with the same form of disappointment, although in these days of population decline most surely won't bestow a member of a new generation.

Or for another, when a mother (my wife's friend) of a five year old boy doesn't try to dissuade him from saying the feminine 'Sawadee ka' instead of the masculine 'Sawadee karp,' since, his chosen greeting clearly makes her feel uncomfortable.

In addition, when a group of local motorcycle taxi riders manage to refrain from jeering and howling at a passing reassignment gender person, who may or might not be acting provocatively, gender dysphoria is a natural state at best, or a recognised medical condition at worse -  not an excuse for a hoot.

Just for laughs

Back when an 'old school' Western corporate teacher (yours truly), liked to prank his new classes of business English Thai students about having a 'katoey' (transgender woman or effeminate gay man) partner. Which was always taken as an invitation for some humour by my groups of young professionals, until I confessed that I was actually married to a Thai woman. That again, was invariably met with a similar response by my many sets of learners - with one of despondency, as presumably standard gender couples are not comical.

Last example, when one of my female students has a short back and sides, and none of her Thai teachers make it an issue.

How about racism here?

Without a doubt, another myth being put about, is that racism here in Thailand (Yes, you knew I was coming to this) is in fact not racism, still a form of protectionism.

Again, at a stretch it may be seen that way from certain aspects of policies and angles of laws such as the lengths and hoops you have to jump through (which are almost endless for most of us), and boxes you have to tick to gain Thai citizenship. That's even if we've had a Thai spouse and children such as myself for the past 19 odd years.

And the mild and minor adjustments in order to own land here (ownership only for Thais), as it is not straight forward and never 100% for foreigners as it is in more laissez-faire countries like the UK.

Whilst I accept these might well be ways to deter and limit an influx of foreigners from falling over each other to come to live here, (in the promised land). There is a great big bag full of reasons why the Thai population in general cannot merely be seen as protecting their country's ethnicity and culture.

The dual pricing conundrum

Notably, dual pricing for national parks, monuments, theme parks; specific example Siam Paragon's Aquarium, where the difference in price between a Thai and a foreigner is a couple of limbs which tend to take the edge of a family outing. But, you don't have to go there, I hear you cry. Well actually, last time I took my household there, I did sit and wait outside after they'd ventured in and I felt better for it.

Undeniably, the general mentally towards expats, that's we're usually seen at best in an unfavorable light. In this case, I was recently told by a Bangkokian stranger on a train 'You come to fornicate with Thai women' (well, fornicate wasn't actually the word he used still his language was more colorful), while that probably was part of my original game plan, there were of course other more rational reasons why I relocated to Bangkok from my home country. Truly, the stranger on the train was no more of an exception than many, just more forthright.

More to the point, a Thai teacher whom I'd befriended told me how she'd do anything to help her adult son; how she'd given him thousands of baht (possibly as much as 100's of dollars). Though, her mood changed and she looked very serious, when she said "But you, you are alone." (the old TV theme tune to Robinson Crusoe began to play in my head), with a heavy inference that foreigners don't have caring families, still I wasn't so surprised that I nearly fell off my raft. 

Classroom culture clashes

For another reason, the way that Thai teachers are held in esteem by schools and rarely if ever get fired, contrary to foreign teachers who infrequently get booted out of their teaching positions (many being fine teachers) at no more than a moment's notice. That is to say, while teaching a summer course the other year to a group of Thai teachers, I found in their number a guy that could hardly understand a word of English. "Teacher!" said another educator in the class whilst addressing me, "He cannot speak English" short pause "He used teach PE, but then him hurt his leg, badly!" I replied "So, you're telling me . . . he's an English teacher . . . who can't speak English." Then everyone laughed except for the guy and myself, as he was none the wiser. 

Furthermore, my friend Andre's girlfriend, Apple. A middle-aged, jovial, and affable woman, remarked a few weeks back "Andre, farang (foreigners) come from ape," a short giggle with her hand over her mouth "Thai come from people!" Okay, so Charles Darwin beat Apple by a good 153 years but give her some credit - she's half way there now. 

In brief, I'll leave it there though I could carry on as I have more instances of Thai racism than I could shake a rubber stick at, but I was beginning to bore even myself. However, I did state in the introduction that this wasn't for those lacking a vertebrate, that's you can't say that you weren't warned.

Let's end things positively

On a more joyous note, these South-East Asians do have their fair share of good characteristics and enduring personality facets - as otherwise I wouldn't have chosen to live here, would I!

Foremostly, of course they don't all convey anxiety towards migrants, not by any means and true to Buddhism (by far their most popular religion) though they can be passive aggressive, they are in the main non-confrontational.

When all is said and done, my school students are among the most engaging, fun-loving characters you could ever wish to meet, whilst they are predominantly pragmatic in their attitudes towards diversity, they are generally genuine in their beliefs about equality. Consequently, although the astrological jury is still out - the not too distant horizon looks at least a few shades brighter than today's.

Like gallant and gracious Gina, a grade 11 homeroom student of mine who recently presented an impassioned speech that she'd written, which throughout its duration she felt the need to define the words diversity and equality because she believes the true meanings have always been misunderstood.

It was Gina's allocution that prompted me to write this blog, though that's not as the pernicious and tenacious will take it - as they only ever perceive a mere fraction of the panorama.




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