THAIS STIGMATIZED AS GREEDY PEOPLE: IS THIS FACT OR FICTION? – I consider myself to be a very fortunate individual for having accumulated what most people would refer to as real wealth; of course I worked extremely hard for what I earned and at the ripe old age of 47 I decided to sell my business and retire.
I was certainly tired of the rat-race in the U.S and decided on a lifestyle that consisted of a much slower pace of life and one where I could indulge my passion for travel, golf and diving.
I chose Thailand for a number of reasons, but mainly because I had spent a fair amount of time in South East Asia and adored the weather and easy access to other destinations such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and so on.
I have now resided in Thailand for just over 15 years and during that time I certainly feel that I have learned an awful lot about South East Asia and indeed Thailand and the Thai people.
When I first arrived I decided to rent a home rather than to buy. The decision was mostly based on the Thai property laws which forbid foreigners to own land; the situation as I saw it was not conducive to my investment practices – that is I didn’t consider the idea of paying for something that I couldn’t legally own a wise investment.
I rented a wonderful Thai/Balinese villa, complete with a stunning swimming pool and four bedrooms that could accommodate visiting family and friends. The garden was lush and tropical and at 65,000 Baht a month I considered the rental to be more than adequate and cost-effective in terms of what I would have paid back home.
Yes, life was good and I, like many other expats congregated in circles of our own kind as making friends with Thais appeared difficult due mainly to the language divide.
As with most expats I sought the company of female companionship from time to time at the local bars and I quickly developed the sense that all Thai women simply wanted a foreigner who was financially well endowed so that he could accommodate her needs and the needs of her family.
Like most expats I took offense to what appeared to be their incessant greed; if it wasn’t a sick mother it was an ailing father or a child that needed feeding. On top of that there were always issues with the homestead and any relationship I attempted to forge with a Thai quickly evaporated due to what I perceived as nothing more than an attempt to relieve me of as much cash as possible.
I am a confirmed bachelor and I like it that way and therefore I was never going to consider marrying a Thai; however I quickly discovered that having a long-term relationship was also fought with monetary issues and so for the first three years I decided to keep any relationship with a Thai girl to a maximum of one month – this was regardless as to how the relationship was going; I would simply sever any ties.
During my third year I was even more pleased that I didn’t decide to buy the villa I was occupying for developers moved in at the bottom of my garden to which I discovered they were building a row of shop houses – a practice that now seems widespread and prevalent on any spare piece of land.
My landlord (a foreigner) assured me that all would be fine but again it became apparent that he was more interested in the rental income than he was regarding my peace and tranquility and therefore I went house hunting and found a home suitable for my needs.
Over the next couple of years I began to learn to speak Thai and in the process engaged in more conversations with Thais. I did in fact meet some very nice people but again after a few weeks I began to feel that my friendship was far less important than my money was and again I was subjected to all manner of requests for financial help.
Again I quickly severed all ties and moved on and after a period of 5 years I honestly began to think that the only thing a Thai wanted from a foreigner was money; I truly was becoming sick of the situation and considered moving.
One night I was sitting in a local bar when another gentleman sat next to me; we exchanged pleasantries and started chatting. The conversation quickly turned to the issues that expats have with Thais and how so many foreigners move to Thailand only to find themselves financially and morally compromised with a year or two.
It turned out that the fellow I was chatting with had also undergone all the ails that one could imagine; yes he’d married a Thai girl and yes, she fleeced him for everything but he wasn’t the usual bitter individual that you would normally expect to find.
He was in fact very pragmatic regarding his adventures of the ‘Thai Way’ and explained that he had fully recovered financially and was again dating a Thai girl that maybe he would marry in the future.
The answer, according to him, was that marriage was fine providing you didn’t put the car and house into the girl’s name – which he viewed as just asking for trouble.
As I later discovered, on his advice, the expat often has a very narrow view point of Thais and indeed Thai society and in order to fully appreciate the Thai way of life then you need to take time out to travel around the country and especially to the poorer rural communities.
During my sixth year I made a conscious effort to travel around Thailand and I had an awesome time; the people were warm, friendly, open and most dirt poor.
Yes I was faced with the same issues of money, but now I could appreciate more where many of the bar girls come from and the daily struggles they and their families face.
Money is important to us all for we all need to put a roof over our heads, food in our stomachs and a shirt on our backs; the quality divide between most foreign expats and Thais however is quite frankly shocking.
Whilst money is at the top of the agenda this is not always due to greed, as we expats often perceive. The Thai family unit has an extremely strong bond of care; something severely lacking in the western hemisphere.
For a Thai it is their duty to take care of their siblings, parents, grandparents and other family members and if this means selling your body to do so then so be it – that clearly defines the strength of the family bond and something few westerners would consider doing in order to support the family unit or even truly comprehend.
Thais place a very high value on giving in that they feel that doing so creates a stronger family bond and such a practice is not seen as fleecing another but merely sharing what you have; it would appear that the Thais have a far more wider perspective of ‘trickle down economics’ and ‘the spreading the wealth’ than most foreigners could or would ever comprehend.
There is no arguing that a darker side exists, we often hear of Thai mugging foreign tourists but it is not as widespread as the media often makes it out to be and those involved often engage in the practice for personal gain.
If you ask the average Thai what they think about other Thais who mug and rob foreigners, tourists or expats, they will tell you that such an act is below being a human and is nothing short of despicable.
After five years of living in Thailand I was ready to quit and look for pastures new but in my sixth year and with all my traveling I gained what I considered to be a far greater understanding of Thais and Thai culture and it is far removed from the regular perception most tourists and expats have.
I’m now in my fifteenth year and I’ve never really been happier; I speak Thai, I have more Thai friends and yes, I do help out where needed – to be honest I’ve never been adverse to helping others but in the earlier years I felt more like I was being taken; that is not the case today due to my greater understanding of Thai culture.
I remain single and happy in my bachelorhood for it allows me to simply pack a bag anytime I like and travel. I now spend approximately 4 to 5 months a year in Thailand and the remainder of my time simply traveling to wherever the mood takes me.
I still haven’t purchased a home in Thailand and until they change the property laws that will allow me to own what I buy, then I never will.
I honestly think that most expats have stereotyped Thais and their culture into what is little more than greed through their inability to earn their own money – this notion is perpetrated by the lack of education; unfortunately whilst this exists in some quarters it is frankly far from the truth in the mainstream.
For those who have lived in Thailand for any sustainable period of time without caring to explore Thailand then these views will remain stigmatized.
I’ve often discussed politics with Thais, both from middle-class and rural poor, and they do, contrary to wide suspicion, have a very good grasp on the situation; that is the elitists have a stranglehold on the flow of money and therefore power which continuously suppresses the rights and needs of the people.
When you examine how a poor Thai lives give some thought as to just how difficult life is. If I had any advice to give to any expat it would be to learn the Thai language and then take the time out to explore and learn how Thais live and above all, their culture of community and family – you’ll find that rarely does it involve any form of greed but rather the need to survive through the help of the family unit.