Monday, August 08, 2005

Land of Smiles

I once remarked on the grace and charm of the Thai women, a remark that got me in a bit of trouble.

After three months in country, my opinion of the local women hasn’t changed, and I find that my opinion has long been shared by the local men as well.

I had dinner once with one of my more senior colleagues, and a couple of his Thai female friends. Both ladies were in their fifties, divorced, working, with children in school or already in workforce.

One of my other friends described one of his co-workers, a lady our own age, from a well-off family, well-educated, and quite well-built, who just filed for divorce from her husband.

The common thread among those three women was a husband who just couldn’t seem to be one, who had one or more current relationships with other women, or who just simply packed up and ran off with someone else.

It’s a story you can hear just about everywhere, from the girl who clerks the convenience store nearby, to the waitress in my favorite bar. I heard it often enough that I thought to find a couple of interesting facts:
  • The national divorce rate hovers around 50%, and, as earlier implied, either spouse can file for divorce.
  • Only in 1937 was it declared illegal for a man to have more than one wife on record. I phrased that statement in that particular manner because the Thai are said to never really have had native words, and hence concepts, that distinguish polygamous and monogamous relationships.
There is a local, if archaic, tradition that a man who maintains multiple relationships is said to be successful and prosperous. That concept is certainly not unheard of in the Philippines.

I can only imagine what relationships in Thailand can be like prior to marriage.

While I admit these things don’t paint the most complimentary picture of Thai males, or of men everywhere, I have been told that Thai females may have their own colors to show.

For having an affair, the more contemporary term is gig. People in a relationship may opt on occasion to step out of the normal bounds and have a gig with another party. It may be one time, or a ten year, multiple-entry arrangement. And women may be just as likely to have one as the men.

While these may be more attributed to the present Thai youth, I imagine that the former husbands of those older ladies had to run away with someone, all those years ago.

Before one gets the mistaken impression that all Thai relationships are one national merry-go-round, I would like to point out that I have met Thais who do have faithful and meaningful relationships with their partners.

But all of the things above did surprise me at first. My initial impression of Thailand was of religious devotion and adherence to tradition, as indicated by all the intricate temples and the pervasive and deep respect for the Royal Family.

This just shows all that can be hidden behind a smile.


Rhochie said...

Well, judging by the pictures you posted in the entry below, I think Ryan would have a grand time in Thailand. ;)

50% divorce rate... that's pretty high. Well I guess it's better than staying in an unhappy marriage.

Hobbes said...

Oh yeah, there are places just for that too, where the locals go to hook up with foreigners. One, Khao San, was used as one of the settings in the movie The Beach.

And yes, the thought of a lifetime of an unhappy marriage isn't pleasant at all.

Ryan said...

skinny chicks! yeah baby, gumiling ka.

i always thought the thai were of malay stock but they're, like, guangdong chinese. why does thailand have so many white people and the RP doesn't attract any? (don't say prostitution is legal and they've got great golf resorts)

Ryan said...

hey bob, watch "beauty and the geek." mindy reminds me of kong-chu. i don't know why.
Also, since you're a foreigner, is Khao San all it cracked up to be? :D

Hobbes said...

Well, Filipinos in Thailand don't have quite the same effect as the ever-present Germans.

Peace is a big thing why there are a lot of Europeans. Plus it's on the Asian mainland. And since they were never a colony, they're really quite unique. And they really went out of their way to promote tourism.