Asian Lives Matter Too Part 1 Thailand’s Culture

Ladyboys on the infamous Bangla Street in Phuket Thailand
Ladyboys on the infamous Bangla Street in Phuket, Thailand

After spending fifteen years out of the country. I returned to America almost two years ago. I’m finally regaining my strength and plugging back into the American consciousness. I find myself completely appalled at what our country has become. When I arrived back in America, I had recently quit smoking and, as a result, put on over 60 pounds of weight. I felt horrible about myself and had obviously grown out of all of my clothes. Not to be deterred, however, I believed in my heart that the years spent out of the country would be a benefit to my career in the timeshare industry. Procuring the employment I so desperately needed was only an interview away.

I started sending out resumes for sales positions, management positions, or anything I could find in the hope I could get back into the industry that had been so good to me for so long.  Even with my experience, a long history of management, and the ability to turn around small to medium-sized companies in other parts of the world; When it comes to supporting my family, pride has never been an issue. If given a chance… any chance… I knew I could prove myself and become a valuable asset to any company in the industry.

After six months of sending out resume’s I finally had an opportunity to interview for a sales associate position in a major company.  By that time I had lost about 20 of the 60 pounds I gained. The clothes I now owned were either too big or too small and I had very little time to get new ones that fit.  I went to the store to find pants, a suit coat, and a shirt that would allow me to attend the interview.

I’m not sure if you’ve ever been, what I considered obesely overweight, but the feeling is one of self-hatred and self-loathing. A suit coat to fit around the belly is not hard to find, but when you’re 5’9” and weigh almost 260 pounds, the sleeves are too long. And, I didn’t have time to get them tailored.

On the morning of my interview, I dressed in my new ill-fitting clothes and began the almost 2-hour drive to what I hoped would be a new beginning.  I arrived at my destination. Got out of the car, and tied my tie.  I tried to adjust the new clothes I was wearing but couldn’t get them to fit or look to my satisfaction. I felt bad about my looks and appearance and still felt in a daze from the transformation of spending a large amount of my life in Asia and returning back, to what used to be my home, America.

When I arrived at the sales office, the reception informed me that the interviewer was in a meeting and I would have to wait. I fidgeted in the seat trying to get my head and clothes together for about 45 minutes until he showed up. I didn’t mind the 45-minute wait as I knew it was a tactic I myself have used to frustrate the interviewee and throw them off their game. The first translator I hired in China nailed me on making her wait like this and I have since rethought my actions. But that is another story.

So, I sat down on a chair and looked at a lady and the man that led me in, sitting in the room.  We talked for a few minutes and the conversation turned to the years I had spent living in Thailand.

“I visited one of our resorts in Thailand and felt dirty when I was there.” Said he.

“Im sorry to hear that,” said I, “were you in Bangkok where the pollution is really bad?”

“No, said he, I was in Phuket where one of our companies resorts are.”

Hmmm, thought I.  “So was it the culture you didn’t like?”

“I don’t know anything about the culture,” said he, “I just thought the people were dirty (and anyone who lived there for three years must be dirty too.)”

At that point, I knew the interview was over. I had no chance of obtaining this position. I wanted to scream out. Wanted to call him out on his ignorant views. But I kept my mouth shut. I had a five-year-old at home. Without me gaining employment quickly, I knew supporting her the way she deserved was escaping my grasp. I sat there stunned and saddened not wanting to ruin the slim chance I had at procuring the opportunity. All I needed was a chance to prove myself. Instead, I was being insulted. Not because of me, but because of a country I lived in and quite honestly loved. 

For the record. I’m a white male that was raised in a small town in America. I had never experienced racism until I was in China looking for a hospital to stitch up a nasty cut on my leg, but again, that is a story for another time. I have, since my time in Asia, become what I call trans-ethnic. Even though I’m white I Identify with being Asian.

I have stewed about this incident for well over a year now and have decided to finally say something about it and try to educate ignorant and racist people like this man was. This is why I would like to share with you my experiences in Thailand.

Before I start, I want to inform you that when I began working in Thailand, I attended a required class on the differences between Western and Eastern cultures. This class consisted of foreigners (Farangs) as well as Thais.  Also, I would like to make a few points very clear about this amazing culture.

  1. Thailand is a kingdom and the class system is a triangle. The king and his family are at the top. Next are government officials, Thailand elites, etc. The average Thai citizen is at the bottom of the triangle. There is no real opportunity for advancement and most Thais accept this fact.  A commonly spoken term is “Sabai Sabai”. It loosely translates to relax, if we don’t get it in this life we might get it in the next.
  2. The nickname for Thailand is “The land of smiles” and it is a well-deserved name.
  3. The feet are considered the lowest part of the human body. Showing the soles of your feet to a Thai is an insult. So much of an insult that when the king comes to a city, the overhead bridges are closed, ensuring no one’s feet are higher than his head. Please don’t prop your feet up on a desk to relax!
  4. Thailand recognizes three genders.  The genders include men, women, and what foreigners commonly refer to as ladyboys. The Thais know them as Katoey. Thailand has accepted transgender men for thousands of years. Ancient paintings and writings depict them in a very favorable light. Today, they live and work in all aspects of Thai culture. This includes Burger King, coffee shops, bars, etc. If the idea of transgender men being accepted like this offends you, the solution is easy. Don’t go to Thailand. And please, don’t be the ugly American that goes and makes a big deal about it.
  5. The main religion in Thailand is Buddhism, although there are many Muslims there as well.  My landlord was a Muslim man and was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.
  6. Thai is one of the only languages in the world where there is not a word for “No. Chai translates to yes and Mai Chai directly translates to not yes.
  7. I was told that on any given night, over 5,000 women work on Bangla Street. Bangla Street is in the city of Patong on the island of Phuket. These “ladies of the night” work to support their families in cities around Thailand. 
  8. A frequently used term in Thailand is Nam Jai. A literal translation of this would be “water from the heart.” It is an extraordinary act of kindness while expecting nothing in return. Nam Jai is a main motivator for the Thai people. A criminal’s sentence may be reduced if he Wai’s deeply and shows Nam Jai to the police officers that apprehend them. The women that work the streets are showing Nam Jai to their families. What they do brings honor to their parents. They are literally selling themselves for the good of their family. Again, it is their culture and their country.  If you don’t agree with this you don’t have to go.

During the cultural difference class, they told a story I would like to share with you.

In the story, a man and woman were engaged to be married.  Unfortunately, the man had a job many hours away from their home and they soon found themselves separated. One day the woman had a wonderful idea. She decided she would take the long trip to where her fiancé was and make sure they were together. During her trip she had many unfortunate things happen to delay her. The biggest one being that her car broke down on an isolated road. It seemed there would be no cars and she would have to sit until someone drove by.

A short while later, a man drove by her car and saw her distress. He looked at the car and said “Sure I can fix it. But first, you have to spend the night with me”. The woman, determined to fulfill her quest, agreed to the arrangement. And the next morning, as promised, the man fixed her car. She was once again on her way.

When she finally arrived at her destination her fiancé was angry.  She was late and he had worried about her all night.  She explained to him what happened and told him about the man that had helped her fix her car. At this he became enraged. He told her he never wanted to see her again and that the wedding was off. As he was walking away, he remembered why he had fallen in love with her. His emotions got the best of him. He ran back to her. Forgave her, and they had one of the most beautiful weddings their small town had ever seen.

So…… Who’s the hero of the story?  Who’s the villain?

Seriously, think about this and answer the questions before reading any further.

The western way of thinking is that the man who forgave the lady for her perceived indiscretions is the hero. There would be a division on the villain. Most western men would say the woman, because of her perceived indiscretion, was the villain. Most western women would say that the man who told her she must spend the night before he could fix her car was the villain.

Is that the way you answered?

Now let’s take a look at the Thai way of thinking.  The woman, in Thai culture, is the hero.  You see, nowhere did it say that she had sex with the man to have her car fixed. That’s the way a westerner’s mind works, not the way a Thai’s mind works. To be with the man she loves, she does everything she has to. By doing this she demonstrated Nam Jai.

The villain, in Thai culture, is the woman’s fiance. He is untrusting of his wife to be and becomes enraged at her show of Nam Jai. 

The man that said she would have to spend the night?  Well, there was nothing stated that he suggested or forced her to have sex with him. Because of this, he’s viewed as just another character of the story.

Interesting don’t you think? It’s all about perception, isn’t it? The man who interviewed me was hung up on western views of sex and love. The people of Thailand don’t share those views. He was simply ignorant of the wonderful culture of Thailand.

If only we could solve America’s Racism so easily. The timeshare industry seems to have a dichotomy. This dichotomy says; “We should sell people on the idea of vacationing. However, if someone lives and works out of America for more than a week, they should be blackballed from working in our industry.” The cure for this is education. Instead, They instill the prejudice of our country.

I remember when I first starting selling timeshare in 1980. I thought if only I could travel I could sell this so much better. Now that I’ve traveled, I don’t have a chance to prove this theory.

If I had the chance to do it over would I choose the high salary timeshare management receives or would I choose the experience and education I received during my 15 years of living out of the country?

This one is easy. I would rather be poor and have traveled than be rich and imprisoned in a world where I teach people to vacation while I stare at the same walls every day of my life.

An Introduction

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