The events proceeding my first intimate encounter with H, a Thai national left me in a state of complete mental blankness. As we lived in opposite ends of Bangkok and he wasn’t in a position to drive me home, he hailed me a taxi and opened the door for me to enter the vehicle alone.
“I’m sorry I can’t drive you to your room.”
A kiss goodnight. Directions to the driver. The snap of the door closing. I opened my purse. H had insisted on paying for my ride to Pomprab. After some debate I had accepted but H had placed the bills in my purse without unfolding them. Now resting between my fingers, I realized H had not only given me funds for my ride home, he had covered the majority of my rent for the month.
Had I just been paid?
Confused I called a well educated, never been in the sex trade female Thai friend and relayed what had happened.
“Awwww…”, she said in English (or something to the effect of). “That’s really nice. He’s a good guy.”
I was confused. She then explained a Thai custom I had previously heard about – the concept of a Thai man taking care.
As the months and years followed, I became further confused about my place in Thai society as a white, Foreign woman. Normally I neither define myself as white, nor a woman, nor anything I consider to be superficially categorical. However, I realized living in Thailand how I defined myself on any level had little social bearing. I seemed to always be defined by my sex and/or race and those definitions are ones I find to be limiting at times and overtly offensive at others.
Some of my confusion laid in the following:
My female friends and acquaintances (meaning just about anyone I had this conversation with, including random chats in salons, etc.) repeated the same social belief. A good Thai man will take care.
Alternatively, my male friends and acquaintances (again, just about anyone I had this conversation with) repeated the same social belief as a complaint. All Thai women care about is money.
Now insert the widespread generalization that Foreign, mainly white women have the propensity towards free sex. This belief in conjunction with its definition in Thai society seemed to be a source of contempt and attraction depending on who I spoke to. Sometimes a source of both in the same person. The following questions arose inside of me:
How can I determine if a Thai man/potential lover respects me?
If he doesn’t take care, is this an expression of disrespect or is it in response to the belief that a white woman won’t expect to be taken care of? Or does he simply not have the means and should this matter?
Spending my time in muay thai gyms amongst men of questionable character and notable charm gave me ample warning to not become, as a Thai man boasted of his Thai gik / casual lover on the side, “something to use”.
I again sought the council of a Thai woman I trusted. I sprung this question on an unsuspecting friend in Buriram who had some exposure to Western culture. She could speak and read English and was married to a Foreigner.
I asked, “If I’m dating a Thai man and we’re going to have sex and I want him to respect me, should I ask for money?”
The request for money was something a number of Foreign men I had spoken to experienced with Thai women outside of the sex trade. Sometimes they asked directly, sometimes they expressed extreme discontent if they didn’t receive it afterwards. Some men had expressed they weren’t asked for money their first few encounters with the same woman, but later, as an expression of needing help (i.e. with their rent, with a family member’s medical bills). Requests of this nature often aren’t an indication of true need but rather are representative of the avoidance of many Thais to ask for something directly. This avoidance of creating a scenario and not approaching things directly is a practice I’ve witnessed and experienced frequently in general Thai society, including Thai on Thai relations.
After a little clarification of my headspace, my friend offered the following advice:
If you’re dating a Thai man and he is jing-jai (aka sincere), there will be no need to ask for anything, he will provide what he can. As Thai men are raised this way, a good Thai man will practice this with a Foreign woman as well.
If you meet a Thai man and on the first date (or shortly thereafter) he expresses interest in having sex with you, you can state a price. Should you decide to, you’re establishing that you’re not interested in being in a relationship with him but will engage in casual sex.
I told my friend that I found the second option interesting. The world I know in the West considered that prostitution. She was shocked. Prostitution, she explained was a trade practiced by bar girls who worked specifically in establishments catering to the practice. I explained that the exchange of sex for money in any way is considered prostitution in my culture.
I find this to be an interesting example of cultural differences that can so easily go under the radar, for my friend and I alike. She had been married to her Foreign husband for years and I had lived in Thailand, at this point, for I believe, more than two. I’m glad I asked and am more thankful that she was sincere in her response (which was later confirmed by both Thai men and women I trusted as good practice).
I hope this has been beneficial for those of you who were remotely as confused as I was.
MBSB contributor Lindsey Newhall has written a series, The Perils of Dating Your Trainer, taking us deep into her experiences dating in Thailand.
Shama Kern has written a series on Thai relationships from the perspective of a Western man living in Thailand. I highly recommend it.
For Thailand solo travel and safety tips, in addition to Thailand information you won’t find in traditional tourist guides, please visit my post Tips For Women Traveling To Thailand.