Steve Schertzer

The courage of Arpaporn

In defense of exclusion, discrimination, and xenophobia


I would like to say that my latest writing assignment given to my grade 10 and 11 classes has given me hope; but I can't. While some of the writing showed ‘glimmers of hope', at least in my eyes, many of the opinions my students shared unfortunately matched the biased, ignorant, and bigoted statements made incessantly by many Thai adults.

I love my students. And through my writing assignments I strive to ‘get into their heads'; ‘to probe the deep and dark recesses of their minds'; and yes, ‘to touch their hearts' along the way. No "What is your favorite color?" and "Do you like pizza?" in my classes. My reading and writing assignments are above the mundane and the obtuse.

I don't know whether I'm supposed to feel surprised, shocked, or appalled at any of the responses. However, I am pleased and honored. Pleased with my students and honored that they took the time and responded to this assignment with such boldness and brazen honesty.

I put the writing assignment on the whiteboard, and then explained it. It looked like this:

Foreign Men and Thai Girlfriends

1) Good / Bad / Good and bad
2) Why?
3) Problems.
4) Advice:

(a) Foreign men to Thai girlfriend.
(b) Thai women to foreign boyfriend.

I have one hundred and seventeen (117) students in total in five different classes, (a grade 11 reading class was added this semester.) They range from 15 to 17 years of age. One hundred and ten (110) students took part over two 50 minute class periods. Seven (7) students were absent. Sixty-eight (68) students (62 percent) thought that foreign men and their Thai girlfriends were a good idea; twenty-two (22) students (20 percent) believed it was bad; and twenty (20) students (18 percent) thought it was good and bad.

This is neither scientific nor is it a social survey Thai mores. It is simply my attempt at understanding my students and how they are the products of their society; a society that is constantly in flux. It is important to understand and acknowledge that while many of my students freely gave their opinion on this contentious topic, they are also members of a family, a community, a region, and a society that demands of them their time, their obedience, and in some extreme cases, their potential and their very essence. I am fully aware that my students, and the answers they gave in writing assignments, are influenced by temperament, the history of their country, and the prevailing social climate.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I also come at this with my own biases, opinions, and experience, both good and bad. I am not against Thai women running after foreign men nor am I against foreign men lusting after Thai women. Simply put, I am for what works and I'm against that which does not work.

Admittedly I was looking for the ‘golden nugget' in this writing assignment. By the golden nugget, I mean someone who has the courage to stand up and say,

"I don't like what's happening to my country. We are losing our history. We are losing our traditions. We are losing our pride, self-respect, and dignity as people and as a nation. We are selling our individual and collective soul to the devil. And it may be too late to get it all back."

I am looking for a hero and Thailand's future leader. He or she may not be in my class, but I'm hoping he or she is. I found that golden nugget. You can see her at the top of this blog holding her writing assignment. I will include her writing in full towards the end of this blog.

Most of the students, as lovely as they are, are also incapable of forming a coherent English sentence both in its spoken and written form. This is a product of bad teaching, lax parenting, and a loveless and compassionless educational system which uses the students for their own nefarious ends while squashing to death any creativity and potential many of the students once had. Because of this, I had to make some corrections in much of their writing in order for it to be understood. So a sentence such as this,

"I think so bad because Thai girl went have money foreign men only."

Was rewritten in this blog to look like this:

"I think foreign men and Thai girlfriends are bad because Thai girls only want money from foreign men." (A 16 year old grade 10 male)

It retains its original meaning and becomes grammatically correct. Spelling mistakes were also corrected.

By the way, that was a very common opinion regardless of whether the students thought that Thai women and their foreign boyfriends were a good idea, a bad idea, or both: Slightly more than half of the students (58 of them, or about 55 percent) mentioned money as an important or determining factor in why it is either a good idea or a bad idea for Thai women to date or marry foreigners. That should not come as a surprise to those who have lived in the "Land of Smiles" for any significant period of time. Personally, I would have thought that more students think this way given the current social and political climate in this country regarding money and the Thai people's innate propensity to turn just about every human interaction into a potential financial scheme.

I also asked the students to outline some of the problems these couples may have, and any advice they can give them: Advice to a Thai woman who wants a foreign boyfriend and advice to a foreign man who craves a Thai gal.

Here are some random responses from the students, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the humorous.

"It's good because it makes a new experience for life and we know about the foreign man." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think foreign man and Thai girlfriend is good because it changes languages between people. Foreign man teaches languages to Thai girlfriend and Thai girlfriend teach languages to foreign man too."
(A 16 year old grade 10 male)

"I think it's good because foreign men have money and foreign man handsome." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think foreign men and Thai girlfriend is good because a baby of foreign men and Thai girlfriend will talk English very well and learn Thai very good." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think it good because if Thai girl have a son or daughter they will be handsome and pretty and have a better life. The problem is that foreign men have many wife so Thai girlfriends will feel sad." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think it's a bad thing because many foreign men take love and Thai girl believe them, but it's not true." (A 17 year old grade 11 female)

"The first problem is that foreign men have many wives and Thai girlfriends will feel sad." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think it's good because foreign men and Thai girlfriends will change culture together and I think Thailand will have many languages." (A 16 year old grade 10 male)

"I think it's bad because I don't like foreign men, I like Thai men. I think Thai people get many problems from foreigners, like Thai teenagers use the wrong Thai language. It makes wrong culture and makes half-blood people. So now Thailand has more half-blood people than in the past." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"Foreign man must take care of Thai girl because Thai girl have small body." (A 17 year old grade 11 female)

"I think it's good because we can learn his or her language. He can know about her culture and she can know about his culture too. The first problem is time because Europe has different time than Thailand. Sometimes you can't sleep because in Europe it's morning but Thai is evening." (A 17 year old grade 11 female)

"I like foreign men more than Thai boyfriend because Thai boyfriend drinks alcohol and have many girlfriends. When Thai lady have problems, Thai men never stay with her. Most Thai lady wants to marry with a foreigner because they have happiness and don't cry. Sometime in the future I want to marry with a foreign man like my aunt. I see her always smile and the world has a pink color. Right now she has 4 babies. She don't work job because her husband don't want my aunt to work. When I do wrong to foreign man he forgive me, but when I do wrong to Thai man, he never forgive me. Foreign men good man. May God bless you." (A 17 year old grade 11 female)

I consider myself fortunate this year for a few reasons. I love the students I have and I'm enjoying a good quality of life here in Northeast Thailand. I look forward to getting up each morning and coming to school. I also enjoy my time off. I am also sharing space in the teacher's room of my school with several other foreign teachers as well as a few Thai teachers. A few of the Thai teachers can be infantile and noisy, but that's life in a teacher's room. Some of the foreign teachers are a pain in the ass, but that's also life in a teacher's room.

One of these foreign teachers is a 60 year old Australian man. I love his stories. In fact, I love all the stories from the foreign teachers: The good, the bad, and the ugly. This 60 year old Aussie first came to Thailand in 1975. Life here was very different back then, according to him. There was far less greed and materialism. The Thais were nicer back then with a sight touch of naivety and xenophobia: Both endearing traits as far as
I'm concerned. As for the women, well, according to this 60 year old Aussie, the only way a foreign man can "have" a Thai lady way back then, (at least in the Biblical way), was to parade around the ‘red-light' districts with a wad of cash. And from what I understand, it didn't take a lot of cash. Most Thai ladies in 1975 were far too respectable to be seen with a foreign man.

Anyway, this 60 year old Aussie, who is really no different than most foreign men in Thailand, has a 28 year old Thai girlfriend. This 28 year old Thai girlfriend works in a factory for 8,000 baht a month, about $270.00 U.S. based on the current exchange rate of 30 baht to the U.S. dollar. According to the Aussie, she enjoys the independence of having a job gives her as well as the camaraderie with her colleagues.

But wait! The 60 year old Aussie has an idea. "So last week I told her that you don't have to work for slave wages. Come and live with me, darling, and I'll give you 10,000 a month."

Ten thousand baht a month! What a guy. What a man. What a hero! Three hundred and thirty U.S. dollars a month to share a room and a bed with a 60 year old, 100 kilogram Aussie with a bad hip. Wow! That must be every Thai woman's dream.

But wait again! She said no. The 28 year old factory worker said no. Hallelujah, maybe there is some hope after all. "So she rejected my 10,000 baht a month offer", he tells the rest of us in the teacher's room. "She wants 20,000."

Holy crap! Twenty thousand baht a month to share a room and a bed with a 60 year old, 100 kilogram Aussie with a bad hip! What's this world coming to?

Yes I know that there are some beautiful and wonderful western men/Thai woman relationships and marriages. I have seen them and have heard from several men. But they are in the minority. They are the exceptions. Once again, I'm not against cross-cultural marriages or relationships. However, I am against exploitation from all sides and any angle. And I am horrified by the stories all over Southeast Asia of children born and abandoned by these pathological unions. It is always the children that are the ultimate victims. It's always the children that suffer most.

Thailand does indeed have a huge problem with dirt-poor and uneducated women and their old, fat western partners-in-crime. But it's not the only country in Southeast Asia where its young, poor, and disadvantaged female population has sold their individual and collective soul for a slice of the financial pie. The Philippines is another case in point. This from the Philippine Inquirer:

500,000 Filipino Mail-Order Brides Worry Villar

Websites promoting marital match to be probed too

By Veronica Uy
Inquirer.net First posted 16:18:00 08/31/2007.

Filed Under: Internet, crime, laws, relationships and dating

MANILA, Philippines --- Despite a law banning mail-order marriages about 300,000 to half a million Filipino mail-order brides continue to leave the country each year and Senate President Manny Villar wants this investigated.

Politicians in Southeast Asia may pay lip service every now and then to preserving and protecting the dignity of their women, but when push comes to shove, money wins every time. Politicians, law enforcement, bar owners, financial institutions, parents, drug dealers, pimps, dead-enders, and just about every good-for-nothing in between is involved one way or another in the sex industry, the mail-order bride industry, the ‘romance tour' industry, the internet cyber girl industry, and every other industry and "dating" websites that peddles human flesh to old, fat, bored, and lonely foreign men. And make no mistake. It is an industry. In the west we say "money talks", but in Thailand, "money screams." It screams loud and it screams proud. And sometimes it screams bloody murder; the murder of bodies and souls.

In their Faustian deal with the devil, it seems that the ultimate price paid for financial security and a better life by many of today's Thai women (and others in Southeast Asia) may be very high indeed. But don't take my word for it. Take the words of my 15, 16, and 17 year old students. Don't listen to me; listen to them.

"I think it's good because Thai girlfriends will be rich so Thailand has money from foreign so much. And Thai girl have a son so very handsome and speak English very well. It's making Thailand famous country. I love Thailand!" (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"My opinion is that foreign men and Thai girlfriends are good because foreign men are rich and Thai girl will have better life." (A 16 year old grade 10 male)

"I think it's good because foreign men have a lot of money and Thai women will have a comfortable life." (A 15 year old grade 10 female)

"I think it's good and bad. I would like a foreign man to take of me and my family. But some foreign men drink a lot of alcohol, not have a job and it's not good in my opinion." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think it's good and bad, but up to them personally. Some foreign men cheat Thai girl and some Thai girl cheat foreign men too. They just want only money but no true love. This is bad." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"I think it's good and bad, it is up to them. Most Thai girl who want foreign men, she want a better life and money." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"In my opinion it is both good and bad. An advantage is the exchange of culture, languages, and technologies. A disadvantage is that some people do not really love each other and deceive each other. Thai women sometimes behave badly; foreign sales of service to men, or struggling to find a foreign husband. And sometimes she makes herself look ugly and inappropriate. It's detrimental to society and nation." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"In my opinion I think foreign men and Thai girlfriends are good and bad because if Thai girl marries with good foreign men she is happy and her family is happy. She will have a lot of money, house, car, and everything she wants. But if many Thai girls marry with foreign men, Thailand won't have culture and everyone will speak English. A problem is that they can't understand each other. My advice is to understand each other's culture and find good people with heart and true love." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"My opinion is good and bad. Problem is most Thai girls choose foreign men become they are rich. Most Thai girls think they will be richer and happier because they believe money is everything." (A 16 year old grade 10 male)

"I think it's very good because we will change culture, language, and food. I think foreigners very good for economy." (A 16 year old grade 10 male)

"I think foreign men and Thai girlfriends are good. I like foreign men because they are rich and handsome. Thai girlfriends think foreign men love her forever, but problem is foreign men think Thai girls lie and don't love him. She loves money more than him. Most Thai girls are that, very bad." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"For me I think it's good because foreign men will support Thailand. Thailand will develop in everything, example: Sports, language. If Thailand doesn't have foreigners, Thai people won't develop." (A 16 year old grade 10 male)

"I think I like foreign men because foreign men are clever and rich. But I don't like foreign men who don't care for me. If I have a foreign man, I will travel and go shopping. Thai girlfriends are sexy girls and hot girls." (A 16 year old grade 10 female)

"Thai woman must learn languages and Thai woman must change ideas about money because Thai woman thinks foreign man is very rich and kill foreign man in the end." (A 17 year old grade 11 male)

"I think it's good because Thai woman have a new experience and foreign man give me money for Thai girlfriend." (A 17 year old grade 11 male)

Have you noticed that many of the students said that they would like a foreign man because "he could take care of my family?" I have. There's nothing in their writing about taking care of the foreign man's family. Nothing about taking care of a foreign man's ageing mother or a father with Alzheimer's disease. It's as if the foreign man's family doesn't exist. This lack of reciprocity should concern even the most ignorant of westerners.

These teenagers, as lovely as they are, are not the same teenagers that we find back home. They are far less idealistic and far more pragmatic. While some expressed a desire and a yearning to find true love, many more of them did not. Love has taken a back seat to opportunity. While many ignorant and gullible foreigners are walking around Southeast Asia thinking that these girls really love them, these girls and their families see nothing but an opportunity. True love be damned! Just give me the cash.

I subtitled this blog "In Defense of Exclusion, Discrimination, and Xenophobia." There's a reason for that. Recently we had two days of sports activities at my school. There were no classes and the students got to play games, run around, dress up in funny costumes, and cheerlead. Schools all across Thailand do this once a year, and, quite frankly, it was fun to watch.

One of the foreign teachers complained, "Why don't the Thais include us? I would be glad to referee or help out in any way. That's the problem here. They don't include foreigners."

My silent response to that was: Thank God they didn't include me. When I wanted to watch the mirth and merriment, I simply stepped outside and walked downstairs to the playground. When I was hungry, I simply walked across the street and ordered some of that crispy pork and rice that I love so much. And when it got too hot outside, I simply went back to the air-conditioned teacher's room and played around on my laptop. So please continue to exclude me. When it comes to extracurricular activities, (which the Thai administrators show almost no real planning, and keep changing schedules faster than I can change my socks), I much prefer to watch my lovely students from afar. My point here is this: Have you read the writings from my students? Playing referee in some little boy's football match is small potatoes for these people. Many of the Thais have much bigger plans for us.

As for discrimination, there was a time not so long ago when a man who practiced a certain type of discrimination was referred to as a ‘connoisseur', as in ‘this man has discriminating taste.' Those who don't discriminate in their personal life are in for a lot of trouble. Yes I discriminate and I'm damn proud of it. I will not marry or have a relationship with a dirt poor farmer's daughter from Southeast Asia, even though I have had such relationships in the past. I would like to think that I have learned something from those experiences. Again, have you read the writings from my students?

A wife, regardless of nationality, religion, or race, must be an asset to the marriage, not a liability; or God forbid, a financial parasite. She must continually add something to the union, not endlessly subtract from it. This is how I discriminate. If I were to look for a wife, again, regardless of nationality, she would have to have at least these:

*** A university degree
*** A steady and regular job that pays well.
*** A work ethic
*** Parents who are in a stable marriage
*** No criminal background (that includes ‘bargirl' or prostitution)
*** Morality, dignity, integrity, and self-respect
*** Money in the bank (at least $100,000 U.S. would be nice)
*** A proven track record that she can indeed save money and support her family.
How's that for discriminating taste, gentlemen?
As for my defense of a more xenophobic Thai society, one of the problems with Thai society vis-à-vis foreigners is not that the Thais are xenophobic; it's that most of them are no longer xenophobic. Once again, have you read the writings from my students?

Xenophobia literally means fear of strangers. Moreover, it is a deep and irrational fear of strangers. Thais, and other Southeast Asians, who take so much pride and exert such effort in ripping off foreigners don't seem xenophobic to me. Thai girls and Filipinas who chase after foreign men twice or thrice their age for financial security don't seem afraid of those foreign men to me. Those Southeast Asians who use foreign men and their money for their own nefarious ends don't seem irrational to me. Their overzealous chase of foreign men and their money is very well planned, very well executed, and rational to the extreme. My 60 year old Aussie colleague, whom I like (I say that because he may be reading this), likes to remind everyone how the Thais were much more fearful of foreigners when he first come to Thailand in 1975.

At the beginning of this blog I said that I would share what I referred to as the ‘golden nugget' that I was searching for. The 17 year old grade 11 student in the picture at the top of this blog is holding her writing. Her name is Arpaporn and I have been looking for a girl like her for years: A girl with courage; a girl with the convictions of her beliefs; a girl who sees what's here and what's coming, and doesn't like it. Here is her writing in its entirety errors and all. But it is clearly understandable.

"Foreign men and Thai girlfriend"

I think a most of Thai people would like to marry with foreigner because they prefer goods to real love. Thai woman have a big problem and most problem is a money. If a foreign man don't have a lot money, it's difficult to have a Thai girlfriend.

I don't like a foreign men because they look not polite and don't care Thai women. It make me don't like and never think to marry with a foreign. Love and family is important more than money. If we don't have happiness, money can't buy it. The most foreign men come to Thailand because they can't live in their country.

Thai women have a foreign husband because they love money and a happiness. It make a problem about culture and language. They look Thai women as poor and stupid. I want to love a Thai man and take care him. I don't want money for happiness."

That gets an ‘A' from me, mostly for content and the courage to speak out. Foreign men who think that Thai women are the greatest thing since sliced bread need not worry. That is a minority opinion. Only 20 percent of the 110 students who wrote thought that way. I wish it were higher; a lot higher. Arpaporn wants to take her country back and I love her for that. I admire and respect anyone who stands up for their nation this way.

Arpaporn is a lovely girl, and much too polite to tell foreign men what they can do with their money. But I'm not. What she is also saying is,

"Take all your money, your house with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms, your condo with a panoramic view of the sea, your car, your boat, your fancy clothes, your alligator shoes, your designer underpants; take all of your stuff that you think controls us Thai girls, and shove it up your fat, hairy, pizza-filled foreign ass! As a Thai girl, I cannot be bought. I have pride; I have dignity; I have self-respect. And my country has traditions; traditions that will not be changed by a bunch of low-life classless good-for-nothing foreigners who can't even find a girlfriend in their own country. Thank you for visiting my country. We hope you enjoy the sun, the sea, the temples, and the food. But keep your hands off our bodies. We are not for sale. Have a nice day!"

That is also what one in five of my students said in their writing; not exactly in those words, mind you. Unfortunately, many more of them didn't say that. Many more of them can be bought. Many more Thais are for sale.

What makes Arpaporn so special is the fact that she is not only battling the foreign influence in her society, she is also fighting the current and prevailing opinion of her fellow Thais. Those fellow Thais who think it's perfectly normal to take money from foreigners so that their family will be happy and Thailand will be strong. I get the feeling that fighting her fellow Thais will prove much harder for Arpapron than telling foreign men where they can stick their money.

I'm not sure how others out there will take the writing of my students here. But I take it as a warning; a stark and dire warning to beware of the
contemporary Thai woman; to be leery of the modern Filipina. They are not modern at all. They are opportunists. They may be packaged and marketed to the western man as conservatives and traditionalists, but they are not. They are progressives; extreme liberal progressives who deign to take from the rich and give to the poor. Income redistribution is their game, and I'm not playing. I have learned that the best winning strategy is not to play the game.

What frightens me in all this is the sense of entitlement that many young Thais have today. It's as if they honestly feel that they are entitled to the white man's money. It they can't get it the old fashioned way, through hard work, integrity, and honesty, then they will simply take it from others and feel not the slightest bit of guilt or remorse.

"Foreign man good for Thailand because he is rich and Thai family will have big house, new car, nice clothes..."

This is the leitmotif occurring over and over again in many of their writings. And from 15, 16, and 17 year olds! Where are these ideas coming from? Thai and Filipino parents who tell their children the new fairy tale of the old, fat, rich foreigner who will one day "come to our little village, sweep you off your feet, take you to his big castle in (Insert western country here) where you will live happily ever after?" I do admit that this may sound more pleasing than "Little Red Riding Hood" or "The Three Little Pigs" but it is squashing and annihilating any incentive and motivation young Thais and Filipinos may have once had to roll up their sleeves and make something of their own lives.

It's incredible to me that many of the foreign English teachers themselves don't even see this; or maybe they don't want to see this. I have sat in teacher's rooms, in restaurants, and in bars with foreign teachers who constantly complain about the lack of motivation in their students. But not once have any of these teachers looked inside themselves or at the ex-pat community to see how they may be contributing to this problem. Most of these teachers have not developed the introspection that is required to sufficiently and fully understand the problem such as the lack of motivation in today's Thai youth. And why should today's Thai youth become motivated and self-reliant when hundreds of thousands of people all across Thailand are now being supported by ignorant and gullible foreigners. It has become the new normal, the new gold standard.

One of the things I find fascinating with much of the ex-pat community here in Thailand is their almost blind insistence on changing Thai culture and society. In fact, many of them have been convinced, (or they have convinced themselves), that this task will not only be easy, but enjoyable. As my new hero Arpaporn said in her writing,

"They [foreign men] look [at] Thai women [as] poor and stupid."

Indeed, many of these cultural imperialists look at the Thai people themselves as poor, lazy, and stupid and their culture and traditions as backwards. (I hope I'm not revealing too many secrets here.) So it's natural for many of them to think that you can change poor, lazy, and stupid people quite easily, right? Ha!

For imperialism to succeed, you must control the population sufficiently enough to have them do your dirty work. Many of these foreign teachers, who themselves are barely above the $1,000.00 a month mark in relation to the baht, can't even get their wives or girlfriends to spend this 30,000 baht a month wisely. So much for control and having someone else do your dirty work.

In fact, in Thailand it is just the opposite. What is the opposite of imperialism? The world of politics has a term that best describes what has been happening to foreigners vis-à-vis their Thai wives and in-laws. This term is called "co-opt" and many of these foreigners, whether they realize it or not, have been co-opted. To be co-opted you must first have had at least a modicum of freedom and individual sovereignty prior to coming to Thailand. Once this freedom and individual sovereignty has been relinquished, through marriage and the redistribution of any money and assets he once had, congratulations! You have now been co-opted. You are now a full-fledged member of the Thai establishment. Now, if a foreign man doesn't mind being co-opted, fine. But if he was blindsided and never saw it coming, or didn't do his research, or listen to all of the horror stories out there and was still co-opted, then who's the dummy now, huh? Who is the poor and stupid one now?

Thais make a big deal of never having been conquered by a white western power. It's in their history books that are fed to children here day after day. They know how to co-opt people, and most foreigners never seem to learn that--- until it's too late.

"I think it's good because Thai woman have a new experience and foreign man give me money for Thai girlfriend." (A 17 year old grade 11 male)

You see, co-opted.

That's why girls like Arpaporn are so special. Thai girls like Arpaporn should be celebrated as the new and modern Southeast Asian woman of the 21st century: A leader who could take her country back and lead her into the future, with hard work, pride, dignity, and integrity; not with the fat white man's money. She ends her writing with these words:

"I want to love a Thai man and take care [of] him. I don't want money for happiness."

I would like to think that foreign men (and Thai men as well) would like this kind of courage and bravery. I would like to think that foreign men (and Thai men as well) would respect a strong and honorable woman such as Arpaporn; a woman who knows that a better life lies within her and within every Thai, and not in the pockets of a foreign man. But I'm not sure if that's true.

I'm willing to bet that the two groups of people who will criticize me the most for this blog are the men (both foreign and Thai) who are benefiting in one way or another, and Thai and Filipino women who are also financially benefiting from the generosity, naivety, gullibility, and stupidity of their western benefactors.

This kind of criticism to me does not matter. What matters much more is that we support young women like Arpaporn in their quest for independence and becoming their own person. After all, isn't that what we foreign teachers claim we want to our students? That they think for themselves, come to their own decisions, and make up their own minds?

I would love to see Arpaporn, and others like her all across Southeast Asia, stand up to the unsavory ex-pat population and take their dignity back. It takes some very special people to stand up to this; very special people to restore the honor, dignity, innocence, and self-respect that Thai women once had. I would be pleased and privileged to stand with such people. And I am pleased, privileged, and honored to have Arpaporn, and a few others like her, in my class. Sometimes the teacher becomes the student and I thank my students for this important lesson.




Comments

I am incredulous that such a bigoted, narrow minded individual is allowed to write on what is ostensibly an educational text. i am further stunned that this person is a teacher. The diatribe is full of personal judgments.

The economically driven relationships discussed as being prevalent in Thailand are no different to marriages in the West or does the writer imagine that western women want to marry a jobless loser who cannot provide for them and their future family. The writer should do same academic reading/research beginning with social exchange theory then it is possible that he/she may have something educated to say about these issues.

By David Tucker, Bangkok (2nd January 2011)

I guess this will not come as a surprise to those who read about a certain person's penchant for watching Fox News in his underwear as it says such people are the most misinformed...

"To perhaps nobody's surprise, a study released this week finds that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of any news consumers."

http://tpmlivewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/12/breaking-study-finds-fox-news-viewers-are-the-most-misinformed.php

Go figure as our American friends like to say!

By Tom Tuohy, Saudia Arabia (17th December 2010)

You seem to use many words to say very little of value.
I truly hope you keep your personal "issues" out of your classroom but my guess is that you do not.

By NaBua, NaBua ville (16th December 2010)

I do agree that the future of Thailand and these SE Asian countries, if things are to change for the better, will come from empowered women (look at Aung San Suu Kyi). I don't agree that it is solely the dirty Western ex-pat that is keeping these women down by tempting her away from "hard work, pride, and integrity" by his offer of easy money. Women (and men too) that don't want to work or want a free ride through life will figure out a way to do it - the Thai woman/Western man phenomenon is just one variation of this that goes on out here. Look at all the corruption in this country, perpetrated by men and women alike.

The article doesn't seem to lay any of the blame for the situation of women on the Thai men that treat their women like shit. I personally know two girls, under 25, who have been left with children from teenage pregnancies by Thai men addicted to YABA that married them both briefly before taking off for who knows where. No sign of them, no financial help, nothing.

There are plenty of scumbags in this country, both Thai and Farang, and plenty of good souls on both sides as well. I don't think it's fair to generalize one section of the male population out here as being the sole problem for the oppressive situation of women.

By Paul King, Trang (16th December 2010)

All cultures are changed irrevocably when they come into contact willingly or unwillingly with outsiders.For example, Native Americans were changed forever when they traded for metal pots and knives.
In our era, that contact has resulted in the increased homogenization of cultures which will continue unabated. As an outsider, our very presence in another culture will have an impact which we cannot mitigate. Once you become a consumer of a culture it is changed.

By Dan, Nevada (15th December 2010)

My tip 'stop generalising' I'm not an old fat man and I was quite succesfull at home. I dated more girls then I can remember.

The thing about money over here is this (like I told you before) it's rooted in the asian culture and starts at birth.This works both ways. Commonly the oldest has the burden to support their parents later in life so the parents want their children to be succesfull(who not?) so they can take good care of them later.I know thai people of 45 who stil send money to their parents. Seen any caretaker houses around? So stop putting things out of their context.

A couple more questions which I would like to have your opinion on:

1- how many 'farm girls' (seems that this sounds like a negative thing for you) you know with 100.000 U.S. dollars in the bank? just wondering but I think I have a bit more experience with the local people which I love.

2- So if you really think these people do anything for money then why are you still here? (think I can bribe you to for the right price)

3- Like woman(or man)back at home don't cheat?

Looking forward to you reply.

By Aristhoteles, Khon Kaen (15th December 2010)

A read okey.
We are living in a world of dynamism and culture is dynamic no matter what angle you want to look at it be it social,political economic or the likes.
Resistance to change and reverting to stoneage will not assist in solving and accepting todays pertinent issues surfacing here in Thailand and in the clasroom.
The Teacher should avoid generalising and making solid conclutions based on His beleives as to what should be or should happen here.Please reserve your judgements and opinions especially regarding the students.You can talk on teacher issues thank you.

By Richard Komu, bangpard (14th December 2010)

Good idea to remove the photo and also, the girl's real name should never have been used but rather a 'Arpaporn' (not her real name).

Steve watches FOX News. Wow. Now the cat is out of the bag. Fox is probably one of the most bigoted news channels in the world. I hope Steve doesn't actually like it, but just watches it only from a sociologist's point of view of trying to understand why there is so much narrow-mindedness on this channel, not to mention stereotypes and disrespect.

Personal tip to Steve: forget about follow up tasks for your students. Write about anything you want, but try to focus on the positive and leave xenophobia, personal attacks on colleagues and innocent school kids out of your ramblings.

By Hippolyte, Bangkok (12th December 2010)

Steve says he obtained the permission of the student to include her picture. Did she know the context in which it would be included? Did she have an opportunity to review the piece? By law, she is a child and cannot give permission. That must come from her parent or legal guardian. Did his school give permission for him to include a picture of a child in their care in an article that directly and indirectly speaks of prostitution?

Regarding personal attacks, it seems to me that Steve has initiated a very subtle yet personal attack on this student in particular and Thai ladies in general. Is the owner/moderator of this site more concerned about readership that the well being of children in Thailand? This whole thing smells fishy to me. If I were her parent or guardian, I would be on the phone to my lawyer and get this self-admitted 'wackjob' who sits around blogging about children whilst in his 'underwear' off this blog and, perhaps, out of this country. If this is his idea of a 'sacred trust' it's neither 'sacred' nor worthy of 'trust'. I agree with the comment that this fellow is dangerous, and this also brings in questions the discrimination skills of the staff of ajarn.com. Please keep in mind, Steve made it personal first with the picture of that child and no, he hasn't put my 'mind at rest'.

By Jason Witman, Khon Kaen (12th December 2010)

I think probably better if the photo of the student is removed from the article.

By philip, (12th December 2010)

I think Steve has the idea that people are upset or don't like the content of his article because it reveals some kind of truth that those of us living in Thailand in relationships with Thais are trying to avoid.

He seems to think that his truth is the absolute truth and there is no other truth. Anyone who disagrees with him, including his students, is quoted as being uneducated, bigoted and/or ignorant.

Steve writes in his comment - "I know how important it is to maintain our illusions as foreigners that we are welcomed here and so well liked by the Thais. And if many foreigners choose to live in that dream world, then so be it." How many foreign teachers is he insulting the intelligence of with that comment?

How Steve manages to form this opinion when he spends his weekends "sitting in his underpants watching Fox news" escapes me. His obvious reluctance to engage and participate in the activities of the school he works at is also indicative of his actual knowledge of Thai culture and its interaction with foreigners.

He says he asked permission from the student before he printed her image on the blog. I ask the question: Did she fully understand the nature of the article he was writing? I would doubt it as he himself states the low level of English ability of his students. Either way, at 16, it is ethically and legally the right thing to do to seek permission from the parents before using her image.

He excuses his not debating with his students by saying "Thailand does not have a history or a tradition of public debate, so doing this is, in my opinion, a form of cultural imperialism. Thais pride themselves on being non-confrontational, so putting them in a situation where they are forced to be confrontational would be irresponsible as an educator." In my opinion as an educator, a well organised and well run debate does not have to be confrontational.

I will always be interested in a well informed and well educated article no matter how much it differs to my own opinion. Steve’s article is not well informed or well educated. I find the underlying misogynist, puritanical and racist tone to be disturbing. And yes this kind of article will put "bums on seats" but that doesn't necessarily mean it should be published.

I think Steve is dangerous, not because of what he blogs, but because of his behaviour and conduct in the classroom. His exploitation of these students and his disregard of teaching ethics are deplorable. His dismissal of the student’s work that did not agree with his opinion and the high grading of the ones that did, regardless of the use of English or the content is corrupt. At the very beginning of the article he sates “many of the opinions my students shared unfortunately matched the biased, ignorant, and bigoted statements made incessantly by many Thai adults.” Is this the proper reaction to work submitted by a student? Did the students that expressed this kind of opinion fail the assignment?

Yes, I am sure, as teachers we all like to stimulate our students and get them thinking but there are boundaries. Steve is an English teacher. Not a sociology teacher, a psychiatrist, a councillor or a social engineer trying to remake his students in his own inexperienced image. It is not his job or place to “delve into the deep dark recesses of their minds” it’s his job to teach them the English skills they need to move into the future.

My last comment is to the owners of this website. Perhaps you should be wary about publishing any more of this man’s writing. Having read over his previous material I see a disturbing trend in the direction he writes. Most of us that live in Thailand are aware of the negative and positive points of living in this country as, I am sure, we are aware of the negative and positive points of living in our own countries. As a site designed for helping and advising teachers you are as responsible as Steve is for the negative effects of what he writes. Is this the kind of negative, biased, tunnel vision and unhelpful material you wish to promote? Will you be ready if the parents of this student want to know why you are using their child’s image in an article so negative about a country we are guests in?

By John, Thailand (12th December 2010)

To put a few minds at rest, yes I did get Arpaporn's permission to post her writing and photo on the ajarn website. In fact, she was quite happy when I told her about it. I did neither met nor speak to her parents, or any other parents from the school. I would love to, however. But I'm not sure if any of the administrators at schools in Thailand would be happy with foreigners like myself sharing 'secrets' like those found in many of my blogs.

Which brings me to another point. Relax people! I know that Phil is uncomfortable with many of the responses to this blog, (and others), but it is just a blog. Making me out to be another Julien Assange is just dumb. This is ajarn.com not wikileaks.

I am a 51 year old EFL teacher in Thailand who spends most of his weekends reading, watching FOX News, and blogging in his underpants. Yes, I know that's way too much information, but do you feel better now? I fully realize that I am a gnat who manages to upset a lot of people, but that's life. Deal with it.

The way I see it is this: Many people are upset with this blog for a few reasons. I am revealing secrets, but they are secrets that just about everyone already knows; the foreigners, the Thais, the Koreans, and just about everyone else who has contact with EFL teachers in Asia. Many of us are wackjobs. Including me. So I let that cat out of the bag. So what? The Thais know this.

We don't like our secrets revealed. I get it. But that's a large part of what I do when I blog. I also allowed my students to speak uncensored. They found their voice, which is something I would think that educators everywhere would be celebrating.

I know how important it is to maintain our illusions as foreigners that we are welcomed here and so well liked by the Thais. And if many foreigners choose to live in that dream world, then so be it. God bless you for it. I simply choose not to live in the world of illusion. I have become a stark realist, and the realism was clearly revealed in the writing of my students.

Yes I know that there are some wonderful western men/Thai woman relationships. I have said that in this blog. Obviously many people chose to ignore that. As far as debating the issue with the students, Thailand does not have a history or a tradition of public debate, so doing this is, in my opinion, a form of cultural imperialism. Thais pride themselves on being non-confrontational, so putting them in a situation where they are forced to be confrontational would be irresponsible as an educator.

I do like John Penney's suggestion of a follow-up to this assignment. I would like to hear more about this from John. And if any other blogger out there would like to try this as a follow-up assignment, then please feel free.

In closing, to call me dangerous because of my blogs is, to me, hilarious. And if anyone has ever seen me, then you might agree. I know it's not easy to listen to a 16 or 17 year old say that "foreign men think that Thai girls are poor and stupid", but if we choose not to listen to the students, in my opinion, we don't deserve to be here.

Thanks again everyone for your opinions.

By Steve Schertzer, Khon Kaen (11th December 2010)

Like a lot of Steve's writing I found this a mixed bag.

The positives: unlike many commentators I don't agree that teaching English should be devoid of any real social substance - and if you bother to read the Thai national curriculum (a document much more disturbing than Steve's blogs) you will see that ethics is intended to be part of the content. Good on you Steve for encouraging thought and discussion on a subject highly relevant to those very students' imminent futures.

The negatives: I was disturbed to see Arpaporn's name and photo in print without any indication of her or parental permission. If you got it Steve (I hope you did!) indicate that. if you haven't you are in very dangerous territory ethically and legally.

Secondly, while unlike many commentators I see the relevance of English students to discuss matters that are real and important rather than trivial, I agree with them that you seem to have hijacked their opinions for your own ends. Where is the development of their social reasoning? Where is the encouragement of debate among the students themselves? Some of the teachers in that same staffroom - and some who have left it like myself have longstanding stable and happy relationships with Thai women: did you consider what they are about? Or ask the students to consider the nature of these relationships?

Here's a challenge for you Steve: why not expand on their thinking and your own, rather than simply project from your own apparently negative experience. Followup assignment: interview three Thai women who have farang husbands about why they married them and why they are still with them. I volunteer my wife to be part of this exploration.

By John Penney, Bangkok (11th December 2010)

While I thank all those who have commented thus far, Phil is right in requesting that personal attacks be left off the comment section of this blog. Instead, please feel free to send any personal attacks to me.

By Steve Schertzer, Khon Kaen (11th December 2010)

We're getting a number of comments that are purely a personal, often nasty attack on the writer of this blog. I don't mind negative or constructive comments about the actual class assignment itself, but please keep the personal attacks out of it. They will NOT be posted.

By philip, (11th December 2010)

If Steve "puts bums on seats" he should stay seated and teach English. What he is paid to do. Instead, he chooses to explore a childs point of view about relationships. It's amazing to me that he "often has achieved readership into the thousands" spouting this kind of garbage.

By Ralph, nong khai (10th December 2010)

One might say if you don’t like what Steve writes then don’t read it, but from a webmaster’s point of view, Steve ‘puts bums on seats’. His blog frequently achieves a readership well into the thousands.

From a webmasters point of view I question the wisdom of allowing a blog which is a very biased article, mostly concerned with prostitution and a jaundiced view of Thai culture and it's interaction with foreigners, to be posted that contains the name and picture of an actual student. Do her parents know that her picture has been posted? Do you have parental permission for the use of this image in such a negative article?

On the subject of exploitation. Steve seems to think it is ok to use the classroom and his young inexperienced students to promote and ratify his very negative and underlying racist opinion of a culture that he obviously knows very little about.

Is the subject of the essay given to the student’s part of the curriculum? What does the school think of his attempt to "probe the deep and dark recesses of their minds" when he is supposed to be teaching English. These are young inexperienced students waiting to be taught not some kind of sociological experiment.

Many of the schools I have worked in contain children from mixed marriages. How do you think they will feel when they are told by a trusted teacher that they are the product of dishonest, loveless, co-opted scheme to make money?

Steve does not mention what a husband should bring to a relationship. Doesn’t the exhaustive and hypocritical checklist of demands for his future partner make him as bad as the things he criticises? I notice “have a loving relationship” isn’t on the list.

The assumption that poor farm girls won’t bring anything positive to a relationship or are not worthy of his attention because they don’t have $100,000 in the bank or that they should be denied the opportunity to marry above their inherited position of poverty is elitist at best.

As a teacher of 20 years I find the whole concept of this article deplorable and Steve to be a very dangerous man to be put in charge of moulding young minds. Students should not be used in this way and teachers should not use the classroom to promote their own biased agendas.

By John, Thailand (10th December 2010)

The essay you are having your students write about is totally inappropriate subject matter for a classroom. Teach English, not intercultural husbandry. You want to play amateur sociologist, then do it in a university setting and do it with adults. These are kids, not guinea pigs to help script your social commentary. Your blog is highly cynical, both of Thai people and of other foreigners living in Thailand. It's based on 100 kids' responses which you then extrapolate to draw highly misanthropic conclusions about anyone and everyone. Perhaps your aussie co-worker isn't a shining example of what expats should be doing in Thailand; but does he know you're throwing him under the proverbial bus? That's rather cowardly.

By M, (10th December 2010)

"An real English teacher should be grading their students on the quality of writing not the content"

Personally I can't seperate the content and the quality. In an academic essay, the organisation and structuring of the paragraphs, introduction, conclusion, etc are all just as important as the words and sentences.

By philip, (9th December 2010)

An real English teacher should be grading their students on the quality of writing not the content.

By ATeacher, Bangkok, Thailand (9th December 2010)

This is a tricky subject and I offer praise for writing an interesting piece (if slightly patronizing and hypercritical at times.
In response I would simply like to recommend some viewing - "Her Name is Boonrawd" (ผู้หญิงคนนั้นชื่อบุญรอด) - it dates back 25 years but provides insight into the issues, prejudices, and prevailing views that you talk about. Unfortunately I've yet to find it with English subtitles but the Thai is relatively straight forward and the story easy to follow.

By David S, Stirling (9th December 2010)

One might say if you don't like what Steve writes then don't read it, but from a webmaster's point of view, Steve 'puts bums on seats'. His blog frequently achieves a readership well into the thousands.

If you think you could do better - become an ajarn.com blogger - simple as.

By philip, (9th December 2010)

I didnt finish reading the blog, it was too painful and I felt it making me stupid... but 95% the comments about it are highly entertaining and down to earth.

By J, bkk (9th December 2010)

I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Mark from Korat. This blog was poorly written and doesn't seem like a lot of thought went into it.
You're critizing just about any and every expat and you're one yourself. Isn't that calling the kettle black?
Obviously, your guts have never growled from hunger, so I don't think you actually know what you might do in a similar situation as so many Thais are in.
You might get off your high horse and face reality. Then try to find the woman with the degree.

By Ralph, Nong Khai (9th December 2010)

You got to love Steve. He is a guilty pleasure. You just knew before reading his latest it was going to be emotionally driven, illogical, poorly written and culturally imperialistic. But I couldn’t help myself, I was compelled to read and comment.

Judging from his writings, Steve might not be the best example of an enotionaly stable and mature Western teacher in Thailand, but for entertainment value, he is the tops.

By A Fan, SEA (9th December 2010)

I agreed with the writer until the "Xenophobia is positive" thing. In my opinion, both attitudes (the "farang are rich and handsome" and the "farang are liars and I want a Thai man") are just as wrong.

Would you give an A to a British student who said "I don't want to marry an Indian guy because Indians are (insert negative comment here)"? IMHO, the best answer to your weird question would have been: "I don't care if the guy is Thai or not, as long as he's a good man/woman".

By Nicolas, Bangkok (8th December 2010)

"Maybe actually debate the topic first? Read articles from multiple perspectives. Explain terms lke ignorance and bias. Give them the tools to actually form opinions…"
By Johnny on 2010-12-08

In a perfect world, but this is Thailand. It just wouldn't work. But by all means, try. This is raw feedback from unenlightened teenagers. Take it for what it is. I did like the bit about 'mix blood' children. If I had written that at school I would have been suspended. But I'm not in England now. I can't complain about racist remarks.

By Liam Gallagher, The Republic of Mancunia (8th December 2010)

In the Western world, single older men who are affluent, often sport much younger women. The reality that most Western countries have a much higher per capita income than Thailand means that older Western men are affluent in Thailand...by Thai standards.

Wherever they live, women want security and comfort. Lonely older guys want companionship. If a service industry Thai lady marries an older, less than Tom Cruise looking, foreign guy...they have simply both engaged in a game of trade-offs. It happens all around the world all the time.

By Steele Wellington, Bangkok (8th December 2010)

Full of contradictions...

Obviously it is stupid to complain about foreigners living in Thailand when you are infact doing that.

You clearly dont like poor girls wanting to go with foreigners then you state that you have been in a few relationships with "farm girls"

You also state that you only want a rich girlfriend with a good job...... WHAT?!? You are no different from these "farm girls". You complain in this article of these girls looking for a rich partner when you are doing the EXACT same thing!

By MC, Bangkok (8th December 2010)

Well, I wonder if I will ever get my minutes back for reading this.

You are promoting xenophobia, you are an oxymoron for stating that in your current situation, you are a farang in SEA saying that farangs in SEA is a bad thing, do you realize this ?

Your student Arpaporn lives in another reality, when you don't have rice, when you see your parents ride the water buffalo, who gives a **** about pride, dignity, whether you are in Thailand, Philippines, Mexico, when you are hungry, you are hungry, and this is a primitive instinct, unlike pride and dignity, nice words to make us civilized people think that we have a good reason for dying of hunger

I doubt that 65 million thais will ever be in a farang relationship, so cultural mix occur all the time, it is part of life since much more than 1975 why are you not in your own country promoting native's relationship then ?

And lastly, throughout the reading, you kept changing subtopics by putting small statistics, quotes, personal experiences, other people's stories. That was just too much mix of factual and personal, this was badly written as well, which made you lose a lot of credibility to me in the end, and I do not value your article at all for that reason, among others.

By Mark, Korat (8th December 2010)

I think it's a little bit ridiculous to ask kids to write an essay on a topic like that without having first extensively studied the area / debated it / read widely.

You've basically said to them "write me an essay showing me your teenage ignorance"...and then you seem surprised that kids in a closed culture aren't open minded.

Maybe actually debate the topic first? Read articles from multiple perspectives. Explain terms lke ignorance and bias. Give them the tools to actually form opinions...

By Johnny, (7th December 2010)

Probably the most interesting read I have seen on the internet about Thailand and its uniqueness in a very long time.

Great Job, and good luck to all the students, what ever their views.

By Paul Carnell, Bangkok (7th December 2010)

What a rant!!! This was too long! I think your self-rightious and trying to prove yourself too hard. Your point about tradition might be acceptable if Thai tradition had any relationship with the ideas your talking about...

Prositution, slavery.... Are these not dark aspects of the tradition here? Are you promoting xenophobia? Okay the girl's essay was pretty good. However, I think you are promoting predjudices.

By J, Bangkok (7th December 2010)

Let me see it I get this right, 15 and 16 year Thais have different world views than does Steve, a middle-aged Canadian. How awful!

By A Fan, SEA (7th December 2010)

One thing is clear: good old Steve will never get married if he sticks to his 'requirements list for potential brides'. Delusional indeed.

By James Green, Bangkok (7th December 2010)

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