Age Appropriate

The other day I read a post at ThaiVisa.com about the arrest of a Thai male accused of pimping underage boys to westerners. The discussion that followed was typical for this topic, with everyone unanimously condemning those western perverts that travel to economically depressed countries and take advantage of young boys and girls. Of course, you will find me right there waving the same banner, along with the majority of those outsiders that live in or visit Thailand.

The thing that annoys me about these discussions, and I’ve seen many over the years, is the focus is always on the westerners’ conduct. Truth be known, they are in the minority and are taking advantage of a culture that doesn’t hold to a high standard what is age appropriate. Thailand attempts to present an image that they are concerned about the problem and taking proactive steps to eliminate it. But the vast majority of their actions have been focused on the inappropriate conduct of outsiders.

While there’s clearly a double standard being imposed it is understandable the focus is being placed on those that are causing a spot light to be shown. Without the westerners’ involvement it’s unlikely much, if any, outcry would be heard from the global community. On top of that, the practice, particularly among the lower classes, is so commonplace it would be very difficult for authorities to put much of a dent in it, assuming they even wanted to.

I do understand the obvious monetary advantages in targeting outsiders, but I really doubt that is the driving force behind this dual standard. I’d say it’s more of a perk. This culture thrives on appearances and deniability, so if they can push back on those that are creating the embarrassment the rest can be ignored. After-all, trying to turn around a cultural attitude that’s been in place for hundreds of years isn’t likely to be at the top of anyone’s list of priorities.

For those who are in disbelief, I would suggest you only need to open your eyes and look around, because it’s not all that difficult to spot, provided you mix with the lower class Thais. That said, I missed it once, that I am aware of. It was going on right in front of me, but I wasn’t paying attention. A farang friend of mine pointed it out and before the evening was over got verbal confirmation from a Thai. The situation involved a 14 year old boy working in a restaurant next door to a host bar. My friend told me every boy working in the host bar had already played with him. Sure enough, it didn’t take long for me to observe the conduct between him and the older boys was clearly that of a sexual nature. When one of the older boys was asked he candidly confirmed that our observations were absolutely correct.

All the stories I’ve been told over the years aside, I’ve had plenty of experiences that confirm a very large percentage of the lower class population pay little or no attention to what is age appropriate behavior. One example that comes to mind is when a boy in his twenties candidly shared with me that his preference was to fuck 12 year old boys, because their asses are tighter. On another occasion I watched a couple of door men fondle a 3 year old right after his mother had finished bathing him on the street outside their go go bar. Right out in the open, with everyone watching, and nobody even blinked.

It is not for me to judge the conduct of another culture. My only interest in sharing this with you is to point out that things are not always as they appear, in the land of denials.

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Taking Kathoey Girlfriends

In an earlier post I talked about Thai sexuality and the fact that kathoeys are considered a third sex, or woman of another kind. Recently a friend explained that, in rural Thailand, it is quite common for a “straight” male to take a kathoey girlfriend until he meets and marries a girl that will be the mother of his children. I was told this is a completely acceptable practice. These relationships are openly visible to everyone in the village and no one gives it a second thought.

Shortly after learning about this I traveled to a remote farming village in northwest Thailand. During my stay I was invited on an afternoon outing to visit the nearby waterfalls. The group consisted of family and friends of all ages. In the mix was one young couple that at first glance looked like a typical boyfriend/girlfriend in their early twenties. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize the girl was actually kathoey.

It was refreshing to actually see this cute couple enjoying each other’s company, but a little sad at the same time. The kathoey knows her days are numbered with this young man, as he will eventually take a wife and raise a family. But Thais live in the moment and at this point in her life, all is good.

The practice of taking a kathoey girlfriend is most likely rooted in practicality. Young couples caught having sex, out of wedlock, are often forced by their families to marry. For many, marriage wasn’t part of the plan when they decided against taking a cold shower. Perhaps more accurate is the young and horny male ends up with more than he bargained for and wishes he’d kept his dick in his pants. Thus, having the option to work out one’s sexual energies without fear of any life-long penalties can be a very attractive alternative.

I do have to ponder what actually goes on behind closed doors, as a large percentage of kathoeys are tops. It’s a question that is sure to go unanswered, in the land of denials.

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Greased Palms

In Thailand, anytime a person has the upper hand in something that involves money chances are he/she will have it filled with money. This is by no means limited to acts of corruption. The practice permeates all levels of society and all aspects of day-to-day life. It is so commonplace I have to believe it’s taken for granted. The interesting thing is we outsiders do not encounter it nearly as much as the Thais, at least not directly.

You are sitting in a gogo bar and the helpful mamasan is pointing out all the “good” boys. What you may not realize is those boys are the ones that have agreed to give mamasan a kick back, if they get offed as a result of his promotional efforts. How good the boys are has absolutely nothing to do with it.

You want to have a 3-way, so after getting boy #1 to agree the two of you set out to locate boy #2. Both you and boy #1 must agree on the selection and you let him negotiate with prospect boy #2. Boy #2 will relinquish a portion of his tip, to boy #1, as part of the agreement, or boy #2 gets sent back to the stage and the two of you keep shopping.

A boy you know really well brings you a second hand phone or computer and tells you his friend is in desperate need of money. You are being offered the opportunity to take advantage of his friend’s misfortune by purchasing the item for a ridiculously low price. All of which might very well be true, or the item might be stolen. Most likely the boy will give you a price that is higher than what his friend hopes to get. He can then negotiate down to that price, if it becomes necessary. Should he get lucky and you pay the full asking price, his friend won’t have to give him a kick back out of what he was hoping to receive.

That nice gentleman that greets you on the street, and offers to assist in locating a good bar, is only going to recommend the venues that have agreed to give him a commission for bringing them customers. And make sure to check your bill, because some places try and recover that expense, of one or two hundred baht, by getting you to pay for it.

The street vendor didn’t get his prime spot on the sidewalk by arriving there first. He is paying off an official for the right to do business in that location. He, or she, may also be renting the portable stand from someone, because he can’t afford to buy one of his own.

The boy that gives you a massage on the beach in Pattaya also gives the owner of the chairs 40 baht for every customer he services.

At a sex massage place, the young man you select must pay the house a 40 baht room cleaning fee, even though the house collected a fee from you up front.

In Bangkok you can hire a long-tail boat and driver to take you on a tour of the canals. At some point along the way the driver will stop for 2 or 3 floating vendors who paddle over to sell you some food, drink or tourist trinkets. You can bet he doesn’t stop for these poor folks out of the kindness of his heart.

You are sitting at an outdoor beer bar where a steady flow of vendors approach and try to sell their junk. I can promise you someone is getting a cut of their profits for the right to walk into that soi.

I guess when an entire society functions like this it should be no surprise that corruption runs rampant, in the land of denials.

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Well done Dad!

Evil Man from Krabi…

KRABI: — Tourism in the seaside province of Krabi has been shaken by the viral video clip of a hit song produced by a Dutch father whose 19-year-old daughter was raped in the province earlier this year, Krabi Tourism Association president Ittirat Kinglek said yesterday.  MORE

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The Two Faces of Pattaya

An xpat I know, who started in Bangkok and then moved to Pattaya, told me that one of the reasons he prefers it hear is all the Thais are so much more friendly.  I mentioned this to my Thai friend of 6 years, who has also lived here for most of them.  He laughed and said, “People in Pattaya have two faces, because most make their money from the tourists.”  He went on to explain that when it comes to their true feelings about us outsiders, Thais are no different here than they are in Bangkok.  They just appear to be more friendly and welcoming, because it’s good for business.  While my friend only said “tourists”, it’s actually driven by the mix of tourists and a high concentration of xpats who have made their home in Pattaya.

The same two-faced behavior exists in Bangkok, but only in some of the more heavily concentrated tourist areas, which are in small pockets scattered around the inner city.  Even so, it’s not as noticeable, because those areas are mixed with people that have nothing to gain by our presence.  Obviously there are people in Pattaya that do not depend directly on us outsiders, but the ratios are clearly different between the two cities, and Pattaya exists for only one purpose.

After living here for one year it is easy to understand why some consider Pattaya xpats extremely jaded.  Trying to sort out who has genuine and honorable intentions in this town is an exercise in futility.  They do exist, but in very small numbers.  Not that it’s any better with the xpats.  This place is a magnet for the most screwed up, dishonest and conniving people our planet has to offer.  Bangkok is no different, but it’s just so much more concentrated here.  At least one has a cultural advantage in trying to sort out the misfits within the xpat community, an advantage we do not enjoy with the Thais.

That said, the reality is all Thais, to some degree, are two-faced, toward us and each other equally! It is an integral component of their social order.  Anyone who lives here must come to terms with it, or go mad.  But in places like Pattaya, it’s at an intensity that’s extremely difficult to live with, if you want to establish genuine relationships, of any sort.

Those who visit in sort stents probably won’t notice, or care.  They have come for the fantasy and don’t want to be reminded that’s all it is. However, imagine for a moment living full time in a place where everyone you come in contact with is telling you what they think you want to hear, and doing so with a smile on their face.  Factor in that a large percentage has a not so well disguised agenda of wanting to tap into as much of your net worth as is humanly possible.  How does one come to terms with that?

Call us jaded if you wish.   My only response is, “Welcome to the land of denials.”

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How many does it take?

Living in Thailand I’m reminded of an old ethnic joke, typically targeting Polish people.  It goes something like this, “How many [ethnic] people does it take to screw in a light bulb?”  The answer is, “One to hold the light bulb and five to spin the chair he’s standing on.”

In America I had a man come to my home and replace a broken window.  One person!  In Thailand I observed the same task being accomplished by five.

In America, a convenience store is typically manned by one or two staff.  In Thailand, the very least staffing a store is three and the norm is between five and seven.  I have no idea what all these people are doing all day, but you can bet when the line backs up at the checkout counter  the guy making sure all the product labels are facing forward on the shelves doesn’t drop that all important task to open another register.

I looked out over my balcony the other day and observed a city work crew had finally arrived to fix a broken water pipe that had been leaking for several months.  A Canadian friend was at ground level observing the work, which was being done by two out of the six man crew.  I yelled down the question, “How many people does it take to fix a broken water main?”  He laughed and said, “Six, of course.”  In all fairness, the crew had many different tasks to accomplish that day and perhaps some of those would require additional man power.  Even so, I can’t help but wonder how quickly that pipe would have been fixed had they been sending out crews of 2 or 3.  If a crew encounters a job that requires additional workers as second crew can be dispatched to assist.  OH…but then who would be the boss?  Two people in authority working on the same project is a disaster waiting to happen, in this culture.

Thais are extremely efficient, when working in groups, as a team effort, but totally fall apart when asked to function independently.  This, and the fact that labor is so cheap here, are at least two factors in why it takes six people to screw in a light bulb…in the land of denials.

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Making Merit

Buddhists believe that any good or bad they do will come back to them many times greater in this and their next life.  The act of doing good is referred to as “making merit” and there are many ways Thais accomplish this at their temples (wats) and shrines.  At locations where there is no river or canal, releasing birds is a popular practice.  When safe waters are near, the release of fish and other aquatic creatures is also common.

The releasing of animals originates from the tradition of rice farmers gathering up fish and other aquatic animals that have been trapped in the rice fields when the flood waters recede.  Some are taken for food and the rest are released into the safety of a nearby canal or river.  The rescuing of these animals is an act of kindness and thus the farmers are making merit.

Most Thais don’t have time to actually go out and hunt down animals in need of rescue, so some industrious people got the bright idea of doing it for them, for a fee, of course.  The best place to sell the rescued animals is outside temples and shrines where Budhists go to make merit. Even with a percentage of profits going to the temple, this well intended business proved quite lucrative.  It was so popular that demand quickly outgrew supply.  After all, how many animals are there in Thailand that need rescue? And flood waters only recede at the end of the rainy season.

Obviously, more animals needed to be “rescued” if they were to keep up with demand, so these industrious entrepreneurs decided to start capturing animals from the wild that were not in need of assistance.  There are reports that poachers are even capturing animals on the endangered species list.  Still not able to keep up with the demand, suppliers have resorted to raising animals in captivity for those wishing to do their good deed.

No doubt, the general public was initially unaware of how this well intended industry had evolved to the point of hypocrisy, but it is now well publicized, so there’s no excuse for anyone to plead ignorant.  A small number of abbots (head monks at temples) have banned the selling of animals, but for the most part this practice continues to thrive.  I can only imagine how merit makers rationalize their participation and perpetuation of this scheme.  Based on responses I’ve heard over the years, concerning other topics, I suspect they would say that if the animal is captive it needs help and so they are doing good, or something along those lines.

I am certain that anyone participating in this will be quick to refute any wrong doing.  Why?  Because appearances are all that count and this is the land of denials.

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Straight or Gay

There is a lot of confusion among westerners about Thai sexuality, mostly because we like to put labels on everything.  Thais don’t think about sex in terms of sexuality, or labels.  In fact, there is no word in the Thai vocabulary for gay or bisexual.

The closest thing to a Thai word for gay is kathoey, which is often referred to as ladyboy in English.   Traditionally, kathoey means a third gender (woman of another kind) rather than a category of sexuality. Today, a large percentage of the population still views kathoey as a third sex, including many kathoeys themselves. Others see them as either a kind of man or a kind of woman.  Even when kathoey is used to describe sexuality it only refers to effeminate [gay] males, who may be considered a transgender in the making.  More about that later.

In the larger cities, where western gay influence is prominent, most English speaking boys know what gay means, but they may not understand straight or bisexual.  More likely, even with males that poses minimal English skills, the term “man” or “man man” will be used to claim they are straight.  I said claim they are straight, because in Thailand if you can pass for straight you are straight. Of the three, bisexual is least understood, because most bisexual males poses straight mannerisms and therefore are straight (man).

Like so many things in “The Land of Denials” it’s all about appearances rather than reality.  Males in Thailand that appear to be straight are straight, regardless of what goes on behind closed doors.  Most parents, particularly mothers, tend to be understanding and supportive of their gay son, but only to a point.  Typically the boy is still expected to maintain appearances so the family won’t be shamed.  This often results in the boy being pressured to marry and have children.  In addition there is the concern over maintaining the family unit where children take care of their parents and parents take care of the grandparents, so skipping a generation could be devastating.  On the other hand, many parents conclude that if their son does not have the burden of raising a family he will have much more financial freedom to take care of them in their twilight years.  Regardless of how accepting a gay boy’s parents are, and how straight acting their son is, he will most likely relocate so he doesn’t have to maintain appearances on a daily basis, or risk bringing shame to his family because he can’t hide that he’s gay.

An option, for those that cannot pass for straight, is to become kathoey.  While there is a prejudice toward kathoeys, society isn’t nearly as harsh toward them as they are with openly feminine [gay] males.  Consequently, a very large percentage of effeminate boys, begin taking female hormones in their early teens.  By the time they discover that openly gay males can live a reasonably normal life, in places like Bangkok and Pattaya, the physical damage has already been done.

In larger cities, the word gay has made its way into the Thai vocabulary, but it is still unlikely to be recognized in rural areas of the country.  A couple of other labels we westerners have introduced are “gay king” and “gay queen”. I doubt many Thais would recognize them outside the sex tourism areas of Thailand. For those who do, they are interpreted as being either top and bottom or masculine and feminine.  The more common of the two is top and bottom, because bottoms are not always fem and tops can be. What I find interesting is many boys will interpret gay to mean versatile (can do anything) when used in context with king (top) and queen (bottom).  Of course, it depends on the individual, but from my observations a large percentage of the Thai [gay] population make use of these labels only when conversing with westerners.  The more rural thinking a boy is the less likely he will have any use for these terms that are completely outside his mind set.

The thing to understand about males in Thailand, particularly with those that are younger and from the lower classes, is to them sex is sex.  They may have a preference for women and they may only top, but under the right circumstances a horny Thai boy will fuck another horny Thai boy and think nothing of it.  Their only concern will be about discretion, which all Thais understand and accommodate.

When they are done working and just hanging out for the evening, bring a bottle of cheap whisky to a construction site and share it with the guys.  Before the night is over at least one of the boys will be willing to follow you home.  For one or two hundred baht he’ll be more than happy to drop his pants and let you suck his dick.  The boy lives in a communal environment where he probably can’t even jack off in private, so it could be the first time he’s gotten his rocks off in month, plus he gets a little cash.  As long as the boys back at the construction site don’t know, it’s all good!  Truth is the other guys probably do have their suspensions about what happened, but nothing will be said.  He’s still a man, because he acts like a man, and that’s the only thing that matters.

I have a farang friend that’s been banging a Thai boy for many years.  Now the guy is in his early thirties and has a wife and two kids.  He’s still fucking the boy two or three times a month and occasionally gives him five hundred or a thousand baht.  The guy has a wife and kids, so he’s straight, but it doesn’t stop him from throwing his legs in the air for a little drinking money.

I have been seeing a boy most of the 6 years I’ve lived in Thailand.  He doesn’t try and hide from me that he’s as comfortable having sex with a girl as he is with a boy.  He claims to prefer boys, only because it’s easier to fuck them and leave them.  Most farang and Thai that know him have no idea he regularly bangs other boys and he goes out of his way to maintain that straight image. It would not surprise me to learn that the only reason he sees girls occasionally is to reaffirm, with his buddies, that he’s “man man”.

One night we were drinking at a bar where a kathoey friend of his worked.  The two had grown up together, but until that night the kathoey friend had no idea he was gay/bi.  Later he explained to me that back home the kathoey had only ever seen him with girlfriends and his activities with other boys was done discreetly. Because his mannerisms are that of a straight boy there would be no reason for even a kathoey to suspect he walks both sides of the fence.

One night we were drinking in the room and one of his [straight] friends was there.  Once everyone was drunk, the two decided it would be great fun to strip naked and jack off.  They would not touch each other, because in Thailand friends do not have sex. But they had no problem standing face-to-face while beating off.  On another evening the two boys, a young farang friend of mine and I were socializing in the room, with a bottle of whisky.  Before the evening was over my farang friend and the [straight] boy had slipped into the shower for some fun.

For many years I’ve known a very straight acting boy that works at one of the bars in Soi Twilight (BKK).  He has a girlfriend but is known to go home with farangs on occasion, if paid. One night I was at his bar drinking with a very cute Thai friend of mine. The [straight] boy took an immediate shine to him and made no effort to hide it.  Before the night was over they had sex and my friend topped him.

Farang come here thinking they are offing a straight boy that’s gay 4 pay.  In reality it’s not about being gay 4 pay.  It’s about having sex for money.  Most farang are too old and fat to qualify for anything more than a paying customer, but it doesn’t mean the boy only has sex with guys if he’s getting cash in return.  If asked, he will tell you he’s straight, because he believes he is.  He may even have a girlfriend, but that won’t stop him from hopping in the sack with another male, because sex is sex.

Thais recognize that westerners need to look at sex in terms of sexuality and label everything. So they do their best to accommodate us in conversation about it.  This leads us to believe their thinking is in line with ours, but it’s really more about them telling us what we want to hear.

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Maturity

What I’m about to say will certainly raise some eyebrows, but those who have spent a lot of time here know exactly what I’m talking about.  It reminds me of an episode of Star Trek where the crew of the Enterprise visit a planet inhabited solely by children.  Imagine traveling to a land where most of the adult population has a maturity level that ranges between the ages of 8 and 12.  Welcome to Thailand!

There are exceptions, most of which consist of those who make up the one percent, and it certainly does not include elected officials.  It does, however, comprise a growing segment of today’s English speaking youth, and with each new generation that percentage is sure to increase.  If for no other reason, the youth of today have unprecedented access to the Internet, and with the introduction of smart phones they now carry that access around in their pockets.  No longer are they limited to an education system tailored to maintain a social structure that has been in place for hundreds of years.

As Thailand’s economy transitions from agriculture to manufacturing the social order must evolve with it.  An educated workforce that can think on its feet, make suggestions and show incentive are a must if Thailand hopes to compete with its neighbors that are already on a fast track toward achieving an industrial and information based economy.  As it stands now, a cheap workforce is an acceptable trade off when trying to attract the manufacturing operations of foreign companies, but that has to be a short-term strategy if Thailand hopes to avoid being passed up by the emerging economies just outside its borders.

Those who visit Thailand for short periods of time find the child like Thai people charming.  But when you live here full time it can be very frustrating.  The only way I can keep my sanity is to remind myself that it isn’t their fault.  They are the product of an antiquated social structure that worked just fine, until Thailand decided to become a serious player in the ever shrinking world we live in.

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Krengjai

The most important thing to be aware of in Thai culture is a thing called Krengjai. In a forum discussion about Krengjai, one individual said, “It is the thing we love the most and hate the most about Thailand.” And that pretty much sums it up.

To begin trying to explain it, I’ll offer this quote I found on the Inside Thailand web site.

“Kreng-jai usually translated as “consideration,” is truly a Thai word with no precise English equivalent. Much more than a polite attitude of deference and concern for others, kreng-jai defines the essence of the Thai character. Courtesy and consideration merged with reserve and respect are its essential qualities. This gracious cultural ethic underlies all Thai relationships, no matter how casual, and regardless of relative social status. The concept reflects Buddhist philosophy that one should not be preoccupied with one’s self but should instead make sacrifices for the happiness of others. Kreng-jai infuses every aspect of etiquette in a society where it is a disgrace to be seen as thoughtless, selfish, or unkind. It is the single most important lesson every Thai mother strives to impart to her children.”

Before moving on I’d like to point out these carefully chosen words from the above quote, “it is a disgrace to be seen as.” To be more specific, if you remove the words “seen as” it completely changes what is being said. In Thai culture it is all about how things seem or appear rather than what they really are, even if everyone knows what the real truth is, which is not all that uncommon.

Many Westerners think Krengjai is nothing more than the practice of being polite or courteous, but that is an over simplification. They call it the land of smiles and we learn very early that Thai society is non confrontational. Both statements are true, but they too are over simplified ways of trying to explain the very complex practice of Krengjai.

By western standards, Krengjai is actually the appearance of consideration for others taken to the point of absurdity, which is why the forum poster said it is the thing we love and hate the most about Thailand. How many times have you been frustrated with a Thai person lying to you? The Lie is often so blatant you can’t believe he can actually keep a straight face while telling it. That’s Krengjai.

Krengjai is so ingrained in Thai people they do it without thinking. To discontinue would be comparable to not blinking or breathing. The intensity in how much is applied varies based on how well one knows the other, but it never goes away completely. More important, most Thais have no idea Krengjai is unique to theirs and a few other Asian cultures, so they are completely baffled by our reaction to what they believe is totally appropriate and required. On top of that, a large percentage of Westerners have no idea Krengjai exists. I’ve met Westerners that have lived in Thailand for 10 years and never heard of it. Even if one knows about it, trying to gain a general understand of Krengjai is extremely difficult. You can ask a Thai that speaks perfect English to explain Krengjai and he or she won’t be able to articulate its complexities. In fact, they very well may say it is extremely complicated to try and explain.

In my opinion it is the number one reason why personal and professional relationships, between Thai and Westerners, struggle to survive. Any successful Western owned business relies on a Thai manager to interact with the staff. To get directly involved would almost certainly spell disaster. Unfortunately, with personal relationships, this isn’t possible and that is one big reason why so many fail.

It amazes me how anything can get done in this country. Nobody wants to speak the truth about everything or even speak directly and to the point about things. Communication between Thais is all about reading between the lines, which is the driver behind so much miscommunication. But who am I to judge a society that has survived much longer than mine?

The best we outsiders can expect is to understand Krengjai exists and try to recognize when it is in play. It is the first step toward tolerating what can be enormously frustrating.

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