I wrote this piece about a year ago whilst I was living in Thailand with my ex boyfriend. It’s rough, opinionated, and far from perfect writing, but it’s perfect in the sense that it reflects exactly how I felt in that moment. My views and opinions are always developing and growing, but I love looking back and piecing together all of my experiences and ideas to build up a bigger picture. Check it out.
“I have encountered a relentless stream of strange travellers whilst in Thailand, perhaps I myself am unwittingly one of them. Due to being half Vietnamese, my deceptively Thai features have allowed me an insight into how foreign men treat both Thai and Western women, and let me just say, it is both laughable and appalling. I will present you with two examples.
On the first occasion, I had gone with my boyfriend to the chicken fights, more commonly known as cock fights. Cock fighting is a big part of Thai tradition, particularly in Isaan where my boyfriend is from. Chicken fights are a popular ‘to do’ on a lot of traveller’s checklists. Other activities that ‘you have to do in Thailand, because everyone does them’, include a ping pong show, sex show, Muay Thai fight, full moon party, and the list goes on in a predictable manner.
So, I was at the chicken fights with my boyfriend. The fights take place in stadiums built up in the mountains away from the public, and therefore it is usually only Thai people who attend. On this occasion, 5 Australian men had come. They arrived, bought too much beer, and then sat back to watch the fights. A few hours in, my boyfriend was taking care of a friend’s chicken in between rounds; stitching up wounds, warming its muscles, giving it water and rice to refuel. One of the Australian men came over and started speaking very loudly to my boyfriend “WHY-YOUUU-CA-LEAN CHICKEN?” He was, of course, making the age old mistake, which is, if they don’t understand, speak louder as that will help. My boyfriend mumbled a few words and looked to me to fill in the blanks. Despite their friendliness, I find Thai people to be quite private and a lot of the men at the chicken fights prefer not to mix with the tourists as they have come to be familiar with the type of men that like to visit. I began talking to the Australian man. Young, perhaps in his thirties, muscular with a bit of a beer belly. He explained to me that he was here with his uncles and dad. Their wives and children had gone home and they had stayed for a few days of ‘boy’s time’. He asked me what I did and I explained that I spent a lot of my days training Muay Thai as my boyfriend was a Muay Thai trainer. Up until this point, he had been standing a bit too close for comfort and was almost flirtatious, upon hearing the words Muay Thai trainer, he took a step back. “Is he good?”he asked, I replied that yes, he was. Regardless of whether or not my boyfriend did Muay Thai, this man should have respected that I was in a relationship, but as a Westerner, in Thailand, he felt entitled to me as in his eyes, I represented the ‘oriental woman’. Strike 1.
I then felt a large, chubby hand on the small of my back and felt a warm, stale breath, tainted with beer on my neck. Then, what I can only assume was meant to be seductive, but in fact sounded predatory, was the poorly pronounced, drunken slur: “sabai dee mai?”. He pulled my closer to him. I replied “yes, I am fine thank you”, and unleashed myself from his sweaty grip. Rather than realising I was English, the man replied “oh, well done, your English is so good.” Considering that I am from Surrey, the suburbs of London, and was schooled in a private school and London university, you have to be quite stupid, drunk or both to mistake my accent for Thai; yet this man still thought I was Thai, perhaps demonstrating how much of a lost cause he was. His nephew turned to him quickly and said “she’s not Thai!” At this point, the man quickly apologised, and summoned the energy to recline his slumped head away from my neck. So, had I been a Thai woman he would have treated me without respect and acted like a predator, but when he knew that I was English, gave me space. His nephew again interjected with “ye, and be careful because that’s her boyfriend and he does Muay Thai!” What would have happened if my boyfriend was a tailor or fixed cars? Should it matter?
The second example is a much shorter story, so don’t worry. I was in a Kodak store, getting some passport photos printed. My boyfriend had left the shop ahead of me and was waiting by our motorbike. As I walked toward the door to leave the shop, a middle aged western man (unsurprisingly overweight) approached the door from the other side. We were both an equal distance away from the door. I am a little bitter and carrying baggage from all of the inequality I have seen in Thailand, so thought, perhaps a bit unfairly, “I am going to go through this door first. Ladies first and all that.” However, it turns out he was thinking something similar, probably along the lines of “I am a man, and I am in Thailand, I will go first.” Rather stubbornly, I opened the door and walked through, as did he. We had a rather big shoulder clash, after which he turned and said “how rude.” I didn’t have time to reply, but what do you think? Yes, I was not being that polite, but I feel that with some western men, the longer they live in Thailand, the more that they forget that women do not come second. They begin to expect all women to lick their shoes and then lovingly trail in their shadows.
In all honesty, there should not even be a question of who comes first and who comes second. Equality does not mean women coming first, but both genders arriving together, at the same time. However, I was in Thailand, there was a small door, only room for one person, and that person was going to be me!
Despite my judgemental tone, my mother is from Vietnam, and had her cards been played differently, I fully understand that perhaps she too could have ended up in a similar situation where she depended on lonely foreign men for economic opportunity. The wonderful woman that she is, my mother always reminds me that in this rather twisted relationship of old foreign man and young asian girl, both are fulfilling a role. The former is looking for companionship and the latter is looking for income and who am I to judge?
However, what does not sit well with me is that these men do not know these girls’ stories. Was she kidnapped and trafficked at 3 because she had big, beautiful eyes and then raped at 4, sold for a great price? If I were a man, that would not turn me on. And even if she says she is happy and tells you an edited version of the truth, how do you proceed to ‘make love’ to a child, or a woman who is living a half life? When making love is out of the question, do you can fuck her, both physically and metaphorically?
I feel very similarly about ping pong shows. Living in Phuket, I have met countless people, men and women, who tell me that seeing a ping pong show is on their “to do list”. When I ask why, they reply “because that’s what everyone does when they come to Thailand!”
My question is: why be everyone?
Yes, as a repercussion of the Vietnam War, Thailand found itself flooded with women and shady activities, but why fuel the trade and ensure that it not only continues, but thrives? When I tell people about the state of human trafficking, human rights, AIDs and rape in Thailand, especially in places such as Patpong, Pattaya and Patong, I am met with the response “but I really want to go and I’m just one person.” If everyone took that approach then the world would be in a very sorry state. Yes, for some people it is mildly interesting to see someone pull razor blades out of an orifice meant for creating life and childbirth, but wouldn’t it be even more amazing to play a part in stopping the sex trade, or at the very least not supporting it?
The majority of people I have spoken to insist on going to these shows. After going, they tell me how awful it was, how much they regret going. I am told about their witnessing girls who are too young, or women who are too old with empty, soulless eyes. Really though, what did you expect? Something biblical and joyous?”