Thailand… land of smiles. The culture here is very distinct from Western culture and is built around the notion of “sanuk” or enjoyment as well as conflict avoidance. As a result, many Westerners have come here, usually on a holiday, and totally fallen in love with the country, culture and its people. Unfortunately, the “sanuk” and face aspects of the culture can be very disarming for Westerners and the end result is that I see Westerners come to Thailand and start doing crazy things that they would never do back home. Hence, the title of today’s blog, the Land of “Crazy”.
An expression that the experienced Thailand expat hears a lot these days is that many tourists seem to leave their brains behind at the airport as they enter Thailand. There really is a lot of truth behind this expression, because some of the antics that I have witnessed could not have been carried out by someone who was operating on all cylinders at the time. I thought I would put together some of the more classic examples here:
Free house, anyone?
A friend fell in love with a girl that he met in a bar, in a notorious part of Thailand (Pattaya). He was already married at the time of his holiday. However, notwithstanding his marriage, he decided (to his detriment) that while in Pattaya, go with the flow. He therefore found himself a bar girl as a girlfriend, lapped up all the attention she was giving him, and declared his undying love for her. He returned to his home country (lets just say it was somewhere cold and miserable), and missed his new-found paramour so much that he proposed to her on skype and gave his wife notice that he wanted a divorce… and yes, he has kids with his now ex-wife.
He then decided he wanted to move to Thailand and live there, out in his fiancé’s village, running a small transport operation, delivering rice and vegetables from the fields into the local markets around the province. While still in his home country, his fiancé said she needed money to build their matrimonial home out in the village. The cost was only 2 million baht (about $67,000), and so he sent it to her.
Eventually, he had cleared up arrangements in his home country, obtained a visa and moved to Thailand. He arrived in the village and saw that construction was going well on the new house. In the meantime, he had to live at his fiancé’s parents’ house, together with his fiancé, her very close brother and other relatives. The house was soon completed and they moved in, including his fiancé‘s brother. My friend then had to return to his home country for a short period to deal with a divorce settlement with his ex-wife.
When he returned to the village in Thailand, he noticed no one came to the airport to pick him up. He chartered a taxi to take him to his fiancé‘s village and at the house, he noticed his key did not work in the lock. He knocked on the door and the brother answered, but refused to let him in. When he tried to force his way in, the brother said it was his house, jointly with his wife, and my friend had no right to it. It turned out the “brother” wasn’t a brother at all, but instead was the husband of my friend’s fiancé. He ended up retreating back to his home country, having spent all up, over $100,000, on the house, motorbike, furniture, air line tickets etc. He never sought to take any steps to secure his investment, and instead handed money over to a girl whose job was to fleece “customers” of money.
I guess the question here to any Western guy is, would you fall in love with a prostitute you find at a bar in the West, and before you even marry her, and barely even know or spent time with her, buy her a house (in her name), without any sort of legal protection, security or documentation, and without even verifying whether or not she is already married?
Everyone’s a prostitute? Really?
This one didn’t happen to a friend of mine, but was in the local news instead. A European tourist was at an internet café at a beachside resort. He quite liked the girl who was running the café, so he made up an excuse for her to come over and help him with his computer. While she was leaning over, he pinched her bum. She told him off and he promised not to do it again. She returned to trying to help him, and he did it again, this time the pinch was in a more intimate location.
The café proprietor felt embarrassed, aggrieved and sexually assaulted, so she called the police. The tourist thought the whole affair was quite comical and so he remained at his terminal, making suggestive remarks to the girl. The police arrived shortly and after she explained what had happened, they questioned the tourist. He denied the incident entirely. The police then reviewed the footage from the café’s security camera, which clearly showed the tourist’s hand in an inappropriate place.
When the police showed the footage to the tourist, he then laughed and admitted that he had pinched her, but he then said that because the girl was a prostitute, that sort of conduct was okay. The conversation he then had with police revealed that he effectively believed that all of the girls working in that town, whether in a bar, hotel, restaurant, travel agent, or otherwise, were all for sale. He continued to think the whole matter was a joke, until the police brought out the handcuffs and indicated that he was going to jail. Only at that point, did he start apologizing profusely.
How not to deal with police
A friend of mine (honest, it wasn’t me) used to get around Bangkok via motorcycle. I am not talking about one of the big motorbikes that people usually ride in the West, but instead, just a little 125cc Honda with automatic clutch. The stories about police corruption in Thailand are largely true and particularly towards the end of the month, the police could be a real nuisance as they stood along the road, pulling over motorists and finding excuses in order to extort a bribe from them. Note, there are also legitimate road blocks where motorists are pulled over for real offences and required to pay a proper fine (for which they receive a receipt).
For the bribe type stops, my friend used to just keep riding, pretending that he did not notice the police officer waving him over. He wore a helmet, and his registration and license were all up to date, and he knew that when seeking a bribe, the police often tried to extort more from foreigners. He ignored the police requests for him to stop because he knew that most of the time, they would just let him go and couldn’t be bothered trying to pursue him. I suspect he also did it because their conduct in extorting bribes was illegal in any event, so he could justify doing wrong himself given they were also in the wrong.
However, one time, he passed a police check-point and he didn’t realize it was legitimate, with a police lieutenant managing it. A police officer signaled for him to pull in, and he just ignored it. The policeman had illuminated wands, so there was no excuse for not seeing that he was being signaled. My friend didn’t slow down and tried to drive past the officer. When he did so, the officer stuck out his arm and knocked my friend off of his bike. He fell backwards and hit the back of his head against the road (fortunate that he had a helmet on). He was fined for failing to stop when requested by police (actually quite a small fine in Western terms) but his bike and helmet got scratched up and he got a few scratches and bruises on himself as well.
In the West, most people (other than desperate criminals) wouldn’t think twice about complying with a request from a police officer to pull over. My friend doesn’t realize just how lucky he is because in Thailand, the police often don’t think twice about shooting people who fail to stop or try to flee.
The above three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. I often entertain my friends in Thailand and particularly those who have never been before, it astonishes me at how they readily do things that are outside of their normal character and that they would never dream of doing back home. Riding motorbikes without a helmet, sitting in a car without a seatbelt, leaving drinks unattended while at a bar, being too trusting of strangers, carrying large sums of cash while wandering the streets intoxicated late at night… It really does boggle the mind.