I recently re-read “Lord Jim,” Joseph Conrad’s great novel about a young English merchant marine officer who hides himself in Asia to escape an embarrassing incident in his past. He finds love eventually, and it got me thinking about these things, the escaping, the re-inventing, the falling in love. There’s a lot of it all going on to this day.
For me, the re-invention part is the most apt comparison. My reasons for coming to Asia were more about jobs and the low cost of living, so I was not consciously attempting to re-invent myself. The new surroundings did provide me with a new self-image, however, somewhat more positive, based on my status as a university professor and the profound distance from my past “achievements.” Whereas Americans may judge me harshly, Thais are in no position to judge me at all.
The “love” part is always interesting to me. I’ve seen so much of it by now, American or European men with Thai women. There are some happy stories, to be sure, of age-appropriate couples who can communicate well and obviously love each other. It is, however, not always thus.
Conrad’s character Marlowe writes of having seen a lot of it too, and says, “. . . the majority of us don’t believe them to be stories of love at all. For the most part we look upon them as stories of opportunities: episodes of passion at best, or perhaps only of youth and temptation, doomed to forgetfulness in the end, even if they pass through the reality of tenderness and regret.”
Doomed, indeed, many of the love stories that I have seen. I think of all men as being part dog, and I sometimes warn young women of this fact. Some men are only a little bit puppy; others more like a decent, mature dog; some are mostly wolf. There are many of these wolves in Thailand, come for the lavish availability of attractive women that are ripe for exploitation.
Thais in general, and Thai women in particular, are in no position to evaluate the character of a Western man who appears in their midst. Barriers of language and culture prevent understanding. If the Westerner seems prosperous, as most of us do, and if he is polite and cheerful, many Thai women, especially poor women, feel like they have made a great catch. They want what all women want, a little security, somebody to be nice to them, and maybe even some prosperity for their children.
Conrad, and Marlowe, again: “What notions she may have formed of the outside world is to me inconceivable . . . her lover came to her from there, gifted with irresistible seductions; but what would become of her if he should return to these inconceivable regions that always seem to claim back their own?”
It happens a lot, the reclaiming. On many occasions I have been introduced to very attractive young women with one or two half-Western children in tow, a woman that was presented to me by family or friends as needing a husband. The father of the children had gone back to Britain or Germany, or America, and if he had sent any money at all it had stopped almost immediately.
Oh, there are the happy stories, and a lot of them. If one goes to any village in the countryside one can find Westerners who love their Thai wives and children, and who are good to their neighbors, and to the monks, men who have learned to speak Thai and have made themselves quite popular.
Overall, though, it is no surprise to me that many Thais don’t care much for Farang.