Guess that Ladyboy

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s time for a game on Erin Flew the Coop! Many have heard about the illustrious ladyboys of Thailand and after a fellow Volunteer forwarded this as an email, I thought I would share to test your skills. Every year there is a beauty contest held in Bangkok between the guys and gals to see who is more beautiful. Take a look at each photo and try to figure out which of the pair is a guy and which is a girl. The answers are below, good luck!

 

 

 

 

 

All of them are really beautiful aren’t they? You can easily see how someone could think they were all born as females, but in fact all of these people were born as men. Ladyboys are generally accepted in Thai society, but as for any legal status or gay marriage rights, there are still steps forward needed to be taken.

The FSDs and their Ladyfriends

Thailand and most of South East Asia has a certain population of this fascinating specimen. It’s unavoidable to not meet them, especially now that I’m living in Isaan. I can’t say they’re the most attractive bunch, more along the lines of Weird Al’s song ‘White and Nerdy’ but add in an older set of gents that are a little on the beer belly side too. It might be the Florida-like weather that attracts them like ants to a picnic, but there are plenty spanning from nations all across the world that come for a little rest and relaxation, sometimes for the long-term.


(Give the video a second to load, it’ll give you good mental imagery for this post.)

During that rest and relaxation, many of our Fat Sugar Daddies (FSDs for short) are hoping to find someone to ‘take care’ of them. What better place than South East Asia where it’s so engrained in the culture that people feel distressed unless you let them fuss over you. Or you know, offer Volunteers/white men mistresses.

So our older gents make their way here, sometimes on business, sometimes just for travel/find a place to retire, but somewhere along the way, they find themselves a special lady friend. Especially if they go to Pattaya. Especially then.

I got this from another blogger's 'Top 5 places I refuse to visit,' can't say I blame her- http://www.adventurouskate.com/top-5-places-i-refuse-to-visit/

Pattaya, a beach location not far from Bangkok is a known hot spot, by Thais and farangs alike, for bar girls and their old white ‘friends.’ Many women from Isaan and other poor communities make their way to Pattaya and areas like it in search for better paying jobs (as a waitress, bartender, dancer, prostitute, or just plain ‘bar girl’) and sometimes for a nice ole FSD.

Let's count all the white guys we see Photo Credit: Let's Go Pattaya- http://www.letsgopattaya.com/walking-street-pattaya-photos.html

Would these girls entice you in for a drink? Photo Credit: Let's Go Pattaya- http://www.letsgopattaya.com/walking-street-pattaya-photos.html

It’s hard to accept this as a ‘norm’ of society in Thailand. The sexual exploitation of Thai women, the monetary exploitation of farang men, and the chunk sex tourism industry holds in the pie that is the Thai economy, one estimate published in 2003 placed the trade at US$ 4.3 billion per year or about three percent of the Thai economy. Buddha knows the Thais try their best to ignore/put on a good show about it, but I think they are uncomfortable with it being such a prominent identifier with Thailand. (One that I’ve actually grown relatively uncomfortable with as well. When I told people of the relatively conservative nature of Thai people before I arrived, they were surprised thinking of the bar ladies on the beach. Now that I’ve lived here for over a year and I know what constitutes as ‘sex-EE,’ the difference is magnified even more. Not that there aren’t scantily clad ladies here, but other Thais smile and laugh awkwardly at the time and then talk about them later like it’s the latest celebrity scandal.)

So, should we judge these FSDs (and their lady friends) by the cover? I mean, they can (sometimes… a lot of the time) barely communicate with their girlfriends and when they do, the gals are agreeing with all of their opinions and fulfilling their wishes. What else does a sixtyish year old white man and a twenty/thirty year old Thai girl have in common in a culture that segregates based on gender and age groups?

These relationships though, cannot be observed through a Western woman’s lense. The case would be thrown out before its arraignment. Traditionally, Asian relationships are not the romantic, best friend rom-com partners in crime we see our betrothed to be. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s follow-up to Eat Pray Love, Committed, she explores the differences in the meaning of ‘marriage’ and is trying to come to terms with it. While waiting out the time in South East Asia before her Brazilian can come back into the U.S., she makes a trip to visit with a village tribe that holds on to many traditional beliefs and in the case of our subject holy bow-chicka wow wow. (Yes, I’m going to add that in whenever possible.) In these parts, your husband is for making babies and to support those bundles of joy as well as your extended family. Companionship, conversation, and a majority of a woman’s time is spent with her gal pals and female relatives.

I actually liked this more than 'Eat Pray Love' because I related to it a lot more (being a child of divorced parents) and found it to be telling to show the problems for couples that don't share the same nationality. I highly suggest this book. Photo Credit: Life as Human- http://lifeasahuman.com/2010/mind-spirit/inspirational/elizabeth-gilbert-on-nurturing-creativity-eat-pray-love-author-talks-to-ted/

So when these ladies can’t communicate with their FSDs more than a PCT can after their first month of training, it doesn’t stop them from ‘loving’ that person. I should know, my host mother showered me with affection within the first week I was there. But that’s a story for another post. What’s important to realize though is the vast differences in expectations of a romantic relationship in South East Asia. Are we right or are they? Does it matter?

And that age thing. Why would a youngerish Thai woman go for a white and nerdy geezer? Let’s take a small gander of her prospects. She could try to sort through her fellow country nationals and find a good, non-cheating, beating, STI-passing, alcoholic Thai man who is also able to provide financially for their family as well, but trust me, it’s pretty slim pickings (Which is hard to explain in it of itself. Thai men are often encouraged by each other to take part in this kind of behavior and there is no prevailing societal frown on them for it, so the cycle continues). Then there’s a farang guy. Usually better established in the wallet sense being typically a bit older, not going to have the mojo to run around, and is (at least in my opinion from the majority of what I’ve seen in my comparison of Thai men and their farang counterparts) more grateful to the work around the house and serving of things (food, drinks, and else wise) than the Thai guys (at least stereotypically, there are some really fantastic Thai men out there that I’ve been lucky enough to meet and make me question my presumptions about the male gender in this country, here’s looking at you Pek). It’s different interests and qualities in a guy than mine, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for picking a farang guy.

Another thing to note is the ‘divorce’ stigma. Thai marriages usually stick through the thick and thin no matter how many geeks the husband has. Breaking up for romantic reasons is not considered ‘normal’ yet and many Thais are confused as to why so many farangs are divorced (I get asked that all the time, I don’t know how to say in Thai ‘because Western women aren’t pressured by their society and culture to put up with shit like Thai women are’). So when a divorced or eternal bachelor comes along a previously engaged lady see her chance or a guy again. This is the same for widowed women or those that maybe had a child out-of-wedlock (gasp!).

One problem that I think is definitely arising from FSD population is the stigma that is starting to get attached to women that are with farangs and what type of woman who is (typically dark-skinned Isaan girls). Because some/many are meeting their white men in places like Pattaya, a blanket stereotype is starting to be applied that they must be fast and easy when that isn’t the case for them or most Thai women. I was reading on another website, stickmanbangkok, and a Thai-American wrote in and had this to say

Firstly, farang men do have a reputation in Thailand, some good, some not so good. I’ll narrow it down to the two that seems to matter most. (1) Thais think that all Farangs are wealthy. Can be good and bad…more on that later. (2) Thais believe that farang men are whore-chasers and connoisseurs of low-class women. Farangs need to understand Thai’s belief in class distinction to really appreciate the importance of number 2. And before you go about beating up Thais for falsely believing number 2, understand that Thais know what’s going on in Pattaya, Phuket, and the seedier areas of Bangkok. They see farang guys trying to pass their hookers off as girlfriends and they know. Heck, everyone knows. So if you want to blame anyone, blame these true whore-chasers who are still out there every single day. It never ceases to amaze me how farangs get upset when Thai folks mistakenly assume their wives/GFs are hookers, yet see for themselves other farangs with hookers and don’t even bat an eye. Thais only believe that Thai women with farangs are BGs/ex-BGs because it’s true the majority of the time.

BG= Bar Girl. And then this:

There’s a well-kept secret in Thailand that every Thai person seems to know but no farang does (or maybe can’t grasp what it means). It boggles my mind actually because you can’t get three Thai people to agree on anything but nearly everyone agrees on this, both men and women. That farang men only date ugly Thai women. Now this is where there’s a huge perception difference between Thai and farang men. It’s the Isaan factor again, but let me try to explain it so that the average farang can relate. Thais look at dark-skinned women sort of the same way that Americans look at fat white women. Most American guys don’t dream of waking up every morning next to an obese woman, but admittedly, some guys are into that sort of thing. And if you are, you’ve got the pick of the litter. And that’s how it is with Isaan type women. Thai men of reasonable means are not going to be interested in these type of women and these women know it. Don’t believe me? Heck, just watch some Thai TV and see what they’re touting in the commercials. Constantly seeing products that are alleged to lighten women’s skin. Look at the Thai women soap stars. Certainly doesn’t fit the profile of a girl typically seen with a farang. Now I honestly don’t believe that farangs “prefer” these Isaan type of women, although most seem content with anyone who’s thin and young, regardless of what they look like. But that’s really all that’s available to most farangs.

I agree with stickmanbangkok when he responds to this reader’s submission with ‘Absolutely spot on, another submission that really is compulsory reading for farangs who spend time with Thai women.’ Seriously, you should read the entire thing. Granted, Peace Corps Volunteers aren’t the average farangs in Thailand, especially comparing the male Volunteers to the ‘whore-chasing’ fogies. It’s different for us is in living next to Thais every day in rural areas, we see women, their male counterparts, and their interactions for both better and worse (and the worse isn’t so great). We try to explain that being white isn’t the only way to be beautiful. Or American. We spend time with people, learn the language (albeit on varying levels), and try to figure out how to work in the culture to modest measures of success. And the Thais (usually) respond in kind.

Being a vast and varied topic that is so relevant to Thai-Farang relationships (and not just romantic ones), there is a lot written on this subject, here are some links that I’ve found interesting.
The Truth about Thai girls: 5 Things you’ve got all wrong– If you’re short on time, go here
The Shameful Truth about Sex Tourism– Take the time to read the comments, hilarious white male responses
‘Me love you long time’ (Thai women vs. white women)– Written by Lani Cox, a Thai-American woman, all I’m going to say is ‘White Diamonds’

Clearly this is not a black and white issue with most of it laying in the grey area. I try hard not to judge the older farang men (and their gal pals) I meet here without further investigation, but I find myself scoffing in my mind more often than not. I think the important thing to note is that there are farang douchebags, Thai Douchebags, male and female douchebags and they are just that, douchebags. All I try to do is encourage my students to learn English, not just to get a farang romantic partner (even if that is the best way for anyone’s language to improve), but for themselves and to broaden their worlds. Both inside Thailand and out.

Friday Five

2011’s Top Blog Posts- It’s that time of the (end of the) year! Expect five weeks of lists about this year.

Thai Perceptions of Beauty
A little post about what the heck the Thais like to see in a person.

‘The even more fascinating thing about Thais valuing the divergence in looks that a majority of people share is how much critical thought, the development of self, or encouraging individualism is not valued here. So you should try to not looklike a farmer, despite it being the occupation of over a third of the population, but you shouldn’t take part of a lifestyle that deviates from the norm. What a conundrum. I love how much Thais don’t make sense. Perhaps it’s this uniqueness that endears them so much to me.’

Get the rest here.

Why Outsiders have no place to judge the Peace Corps
I don’t think it says a lot about my writing if one of my top posts is an excerpt from someone else’s article. Here’s a piece.

‘Peace Corps volunteers are too old for Kristof, too young for Brown; they’re “parachuted” in but they stay too long. What is it about the organization that makes outsiders respond in totally different ways, and why, after nearly fifty years, does it remain so poorly understood?’

Get the rest here.

How I Teach My Students to Read
This is a little how-to, including pictures!

‘The methods that Thai teachers currently use in their classrooms to teach English are a bit, to put it kindly, dreadful. While Thai kids are better at memorizing things than American students (mostly because that’s how they learn EVERYTHING), this is no way to teach reading. Literacy, in any language, is something that I think is extremely fundamental to a person’s growth. As a child, books opened my mind to worlds I never heard of before. While reading is not something widely treasured in the rural areas of Thailand, I want my students to have a general understanding of Roman alphabet in hopes of them one day expanding their own world outside of our village.’

You know the drill, get the rest here.

Questions Facing a PCV
This was my first week at school and a WTF am I doing here moment? Tons of things were around in my head, including a list of these things I was asking myself.

‘The answer to all of those questions at the top? Smile. Smile awkwardly until it’s not quite so awkward.’

The questions are way better than the answer, see them here.

Drumroll please…

As a Female Farang in Thailand
I’ll say, this is one of my favorite posts that I’ve written.  Why? It talks about the backbone of Thai society, Thai women.

‘But I’m not. At all. I may have to surrender my ‘go where the wind blows me’ spirit, but in return I’m treated like the daughter, sister, or precious breakable porcelain doll of the people in my community. And I truly feel that way, for better and worse. I’ve never felt this deep level of connection with so many people caring about my well-being and happiness. I work side by side with my Thai ladies and get to be a part of a kinship that male Volunteers never see or will ever be able to fully understand.’

See what all the fuss is about here.

Thai Sexuality

I’ll be honest, this is a topic that still holds a lot of mystery for me. None of my immediate Thai family members are ladyboys (fantastically dressed men striving to be feminine) or ‘tom’ (for lesbians) as they say in Thai, but these are a few of my observations about the ‘other’ types in Thailand.

Ladyboys
My first experience with Thai ladyboys was watching TV with my host mother in Ayutthaya. The news was on and they had a red carpet set up, taking photos of beautiful girls. Then they started interviewing them. My host mother could tell by the look on my face I was confused. I asked her if they were men or women. She giggled. That answered that question for me.

Ladyboys are some of the most beautiful and aesthetically pleasing women in Thailand. Their hair is done (not only done, but did), their outfits are girly to the point of looking like western clothes (ie skin baring), and makeup is done up perfectly. All to go to the weekly market. Or 7-11. They are usually far more feminine looking then most Thai women. It’s easy to do the double-take here for that reason.

Since that night of the ladyboy beauty show on TV, I’ve seen and met my fair share of ga-teuys (the word has a vowel that we don’t have in English, stick out your jaw and say uh, ish). They are an accepted part of society and work in all different occupations, but mostly in the more creative fields. There are some restrictions in these areas, remaining riap roy and all that jazz. Teachers for example, as well as students, have to keep their hair short and dress in pants. (I’ll sidebar a bit here though and say they find ways around that rule. At Reconnect, another Volunteer’s coteacher showed up with a bedazzled hot pink suit coat with a low-cut shirt, in full make-up. Everyone loved him.)

Do they make that coat in my size?

By the time they reach their mid-twenties, ladyboys are pretty well-practiced at what they do (in the girl perspective I mean). That’s because at very young ages, Thai kids know and declare their sexual proclivities. There’s a boy, not even sixteen, that regularly wears make-up and girls clothing outside of school and hangs out with the other girls of his school year. I went on a community field trip that he attended and I couldn’t believe how well-adjusted and accepted he was with the other teenagers.

The idea of a cross-dressing fifteen year old boy not being harassed for who he is seems kind of shocking itself. I can’t imagine that in America. With kids being bullied to a point that suicide seems like a better option than going to school one more day, it’s no wonder it does. That bullying seems more commonplace than acceptance for an individual is just plain wrong. Get out your notepads America, it may not all be sunshine and roses, but we need to take after Thailand in this arena.

Gay
There’s ga-teuys and then there’s gay, which they use the same word in Thai. I don’t want to sound stereotypical, but damn, these guys dress well. I know a little crowd from the community college (I was told by one guy I know the best, Pi-El, that gay men like to be teachers because they talk a lot, straight men don’t like to talk a lot… this was one of those ‘he’s just not that into you’ moments for me) and they are awesome. Unlike most Thai men, they have patience to talk to me and understand the whole not speaking at the speed of light and in a garbled mess thing. They compliment me regularly now that I’m dressing like a girl again, but also aren’t afraid to be critical when I try to extend the life of my flip-flops with my dresses. I think I’m in the minority knowing more gay men, that still dress like men, because ladyboys seem to be more in abundance in other places in Thailand.

Like I said before, Thai kids know and are usually ‘out’ before they actually become sexually active. I do feel for a particularly tall and chubbier boy who is known by the entire school as gay, playing and hanging out almost exclusively with the gals of his grade. Not that the boys outlaw him or anything, it’s more of a gender issue of women hanging with women and men with men. Gay men tend to straddle that line, but definitely hang well with the gals very well. I like that about them and that they have the strong women’s work ethic. I’m just so glad to be assigned to a host country that are open-minded enough to accept people as they are (for the most part), even six-foot white girls.

Tom
I remember in training another Volunteer was asked by her host family if another Volunteer in our village was ‘tom’  because she had a short, pixie haircut. Thinking they meant tomboy, this Volunteer said yes, I think so. Throughout training, we find out that tom actually means lesbian and our Volunteer friend set out to fix her boo-boo with her family.

Toms set themselves apart with short haircuts (most Thai women keep their hair long, at least chin length) and dress like most men would. Like their gay counterparts, toms take on some male attributes that most ‘riap roy’ women would never take part in- smoking, drinking openly with men at any time of the day, spitting, wearing sunglasses (I was told that I shouldn’t wear them/hide my eyes because it’s not ladylike, I told them my eyes are blue and the sunlight hurts them, I was pardoned), and other assorted male bits. A lot of this is up to the individual as I realized when two friends of Pi-Chaai’s came to stay with us while Bangkok was flooded.

Not to say all toms are the same, but in the village individuality isn’t exactly celebrated here and there are more similarities than differences. With the two city peeps coming in to the moo-bahn, it was a new perspective for me. One gal used the male forms of words (pom (exclusively male unlike other forms like chan)=I , krap (whereas girls say ka)=polite ending) and when we went to a carnival, dressed in the male traditional clothing of a sort of baggy pants and a towel-like thing wrapped around her waist. With the typical Thai male haircut (it’s awful, I hate it), most of the time she dressed very mannish in polos and cargo pants. The other gal still used the female words and though she had short hair, it was much more stylish. She also dressed much better, though still boyish. This might have also been an age issue as the more manlier gal was much older than the other.

I’m not sure why, but toms seem to be a little less accepted than gay men. I think it might be another gender issue in which men are free to live their lives however they might choose, drunkenly stumbling through life or can-canning on a Bangkok stage. Women are still expected to get married early and have some babies, then care for them until their kids repeat the cycle. Often, the higher a position a woman reaches, the more likely they are to be single and whispers about them being tom or not. Sometimes I wish double-standards were only an American plague. This brings me to the next part about Thai sexuality that I think is important to putting the pieces together in how they live so harmoniously with each other.

Fluidity
As Americans, we tend to put people in two and a half categories. Straight, gay, or bisexual (which for many is just a hop skip and a jump to homosexuality), very cut and dry. That’s not really the case here. I’ve heard plenty of stories about husbands leaving wives and babies around to become their ladyboy selves or leaving tights and skirts behind to get married and have a family. Many of tale about girls marrying bad men and never being with one again because of it. The younger gal I mentioned in the tom section was previously married and Pi-Chaai’s explanation for their break-up was he wasn’t a nice person and she got tired of men. And it’s perfectly acceptable.

There’s no debate whether they’re different because they choose to be gay and/or transgendered or if they were born that way or if they’re even different to begin with. It just doesn’t matter. Thai people would rather welcome a person into a group of friends or their community than make them an outcast. People have the freedom to love whomever they choose whenever they choose. Not to say there wouldn’t be a minor scandal about it. A man becoming a ladyboy leaving his wife behind would be major news in the village. Then again, when I painted my nails hot pink it was pretty news breaking stuff too.

In this way, I think Thai people are less repressed than Americans. One of my Thai friends told me that she didn’t want to date a man because of the expectations he would have (getting married and having kids) when she didn’t want that for herself. So she’s been dating girls since she was a teenager. She mentioned though, if a nice farang guy came along that understood her desires (having a career, traveling, and shopping), then she’d be perfectly fine switching teams if you could even call it that here.

The U.S. is changing though. With New York legalizing gay marriage, I’m sure there will be more states reshaping the requirements of legally bound togetherness. Not that things are perfect here, I once heard a Thai person say Thais are fine with ladyboys as long as it’s not their son, but overall, Thailand seems to have found a better solution and attitude towards sexuality. I think though, once we stop seeing people as the label we’ve affixed upon them, but rather parts of the social fabric of society, it’ll make life a little better for everyone.

And yes, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s Born This Way for the entirety of this entry. You should too.

Days Like This…

…make it all worthwhile. A short little ditty about what makes a PCV’s heart go a fluttering. Sorry about the photo quality, I only had my Itouch, but I had to capture this moment.

Today, I stepped out of the normal lesson plan and showed a youtube video (there are six parts, watch the first part here) about the flooding in Thailand that another Volunteer sent around. The audio is in Thai and has English subtitles. Since we are in one of the affected provinces, I thought this would be worthwhile for my students to watch as a bit of environmental awareness and some critical thinking. I had watched the youtube videos previously, written down some notes, and hoped my coteacher would lead a discussion. She took it up a notch and we had an idea for a project in five minutes.

Splitting our students up into three groups each handling one part of the videos we showed, we gave them questions in English that they had to translate, then answer in Thai, and then try to make up some English sentences. (Honestly, when they get a subject, a verb, or a place thrown together, I’m a happy camper.) Then they were going to do a ‘mapping’ project using large poster sheet paper (which totally brought me back to the constant ‘debriefs’ we had in PST). Next class, they’re presenting their work.

I almost scrapped the whole idea when my coteacher told me fifteen minutes before class that all but two of the girls (and my best students) would be going to the temple to serve food. (This isn’t new and it infuriates me that they take them out of class to essentially waitress for random ‘important’ people in the community, deep breath Erin.) There are some good male specimens in my sixth grade class, but if I’m realistic, most of them are gangsters as my grandmother would say. They, however, blew me away. And I got photographic evidence.

Bringing technology in the classroom, we huddled around my macbook, but they were on their knees craning over each other to watch the clip, this alone was pretty jaw-dropping to me

Getting this group of boys to hit the books was something I never thought I would witness

Working together instead of beating each other up or giving me grief... is this an alternate universe?

The boy looking at the camera is particularly prickily when it comes to English, but he was at least quiet and feigned interest (that's a win)

Finished project and a big smile

They told me they were the most handsome looking group so they were going to have the prettiest poster, do you agree?

I had to hide my face more than once from them so they didn’t see the tears of happiness in my eyes. I have to be the tough guy with them to keep their respect. Instead I made them run laps when they were sloppy and scolded them when they spoke impolitely. But with a smirk on my face.

I know it doesn’t seem like much, but to me, it’s motivation to keep going, to keep trying, to not give up on the boys that have already given up on themselves or the sometimes crazy Thai education system. I only have about another sixteen months here. Better make it count.

As a Female Farang in Thailand

Forewarning: I’m feeling a bit girl power (Spice Girls peace sign and everything) lately, so I’m pre-apologizing if this comes out a little man-hating. I quite dearly love the male form and gender. The men of Peace Corps Thailand are all caring, sensitive, amazing individuals, but this one is for all the (single) ladies (put your hands up!).

Another thing I’ve realized is that there is going to need to be more than one entry about this topic. This particular one deals more with female Volunteers more than Thai women, another complex and fascinating issue.

Every Peace Corps Volunteer has their own experience with their service. It’s hard to explain the particulars of our lives to others because this is a whole new world, seen through only one lens. The focus of that lens depends on the characteristics of each volunteer: their background, their race, their age, and the issue I want to cover today, their gender.

At this point in American history, women are on the badass rise. There’s more of us earning higher education, entering the workforce in jobs that were once considered only suitable for men, and most importantly we have more choices than our foremothers ever did. In my Sophomore year at Pitt, I took an American women’s history class from 1865-Present. At first, I was disappointed (I had to pick from women’s history and a random Native American class that was extremely specific to the concentration), but it ended up being one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken. Learning about the struggle of the gals from the past made me appreciate the time and generation of which I was born. In America, I don’t feel confined by my gender and can choose: to marry my high school or college sweetheart, have babies, and live my days out chasing kids around and doting on my husband OR maybe just pick up and travel to the other side of the world to work in development (and I don’t just mean the country here, personal development is a huge part of this too).

Depending on the host country’s culture, gender roles are usually quite different from those we’re used to in the United States. Reading about some of the countries Volunteers are sent to and the gender issues they face, most of the time I’m happy that I ended up in Thailand. In a Buddhist and non-confrontational society, I often don’t have to worry about many safety issues that women in other PC countries face. However, Thailand does have an extremely hierarchical culture and subscribes to patriarchy, giving us a lot to get used to.

Fact: Men and Women in Peace Corps Thailand have a VERY different experience. Let’s dig into some details. During PST we were told to be considered ‘appropriate and complete’ or riap roy in Thai, most ‘good’ young Thai women don’t: drink, smoke, have male friends (that aren’t gay at least), show their shoulders, cleavage/below the collarbone, or leg above the knee.

Other things about women in Thai culture: young women usually don’t live alone (living with their family until they get married, my Meh in Ayutthaya was freaking out at the mere mention that I might live alone once I got to site), women are expected (by both men and women) to do the majority of the work within the home, at the job, in the community, or raising the kids (male teachers at my schools probably do ¼ of the work that the female teachers do and that’s a generous estimate), and are some of the most generous, giving, amazing, nam-jai people I’ve ever met in my life.

It was suggested, for our own safety, that to become respected members in our community, we too should abide by these cultural norms. (Can I side bar here and mention that the majority of the time in the entry, when I say ‘we’ I mean other female Volunteers.) Most of the time, I don’t have too much issue with it (except for the heat, in the comfort of my room I totally break the shoulder rule and wear tank tops, badass, I know).

What does this mean for female Volunteers in Thailand?
Especially in training when we first arrived in country, being a female in Thailand means having almost no independence at all. I’m often told what to wear or eat, where to sit, and who to talk to. This also has to do with hierarchy, but as a female, I’m automatically on the lower step of the chain than a male my same age. The process restarted all over again when I first got to site and was the only farang in sight.

During Song Kran (Thai New Year, also known as the drunkest time of the year), I was approached by scores of drunk men wanting to put powder on my face and dump water on me, totally normal activity for the holiday. My little sister and gang would literally create a wall around me and water rape these guys. Picture the scene: a group of 10-12 year olds about two kids deep forming a moving semi-circle around someone almost twice their height shouting in rapid Thai for the drunk offenders to go away. Looking back it makes me chuckle, but at the time I was getting a little annoyed being told at least fifteen times (translated) ‘That’s a bad person. Don’t talk to them. They are drunk.’ Thanks kids, I think I got it.

Anytime I make some sort of inclination of independence (exercise, buying my own groceries, traveling somewhere out of site), there is much cause for discussion and debate about it.

Exchange A: “Why are you biking 8 km each way to school? Let me pick you up.” “Thanks, but really, I want to bike.” “Hm, but what if it rains.” “Not a big deal.” “But you’re too pretty.” Well I knew that one already, but “I still want to bike, thank you though.” I think I’ve finally hammered this one home that I want to exercise. They won’t accept the reason that I like it, it makes me feel good, or it’s healthier for both me and the planet. Nay, the excuse that worked? “I don’t want to get fat” “Oh, ok then!”

Exchange B: “I’m going to go to Krabi.” “Wait, WHAT?” “I’m going to go to Krabi. There’s a van that will drop me off at the bus station in Bangkok and then I can get a coach bus.” “No, no, it’s too far. You should fly instead.” “It’s too expensive, don’t worry, I can talk to them in Thai if I get lost.” “No, no, person X will go to Bangkok with you and help you buy your ticket. Their friend lives in Krabi, call them when you arrive and they’ll help you.” At this point, I want to say, really guys, you think I’m this incompetent? But I don’t. I smile, let them worry because I’m a female oddity to them, and answer their questions and reassure them I’ll be fine, sometimes four or five times.

This is how these exchanges would go if I were a man: “I think I’m going to go bike around the community.” “Ok, do you want a beer first or when you get back?” “I think I’m going to go out and do some work today.” “Stop overexerting yourself! Sit down and have some whiskey. Don’t bother pouring it yourself, we have a female that serves us.” I’m sitting at my desk diligently and “Hey, let’s go to the brothel to pick out a mistress for you.”

Alright, a bit of an exaggeration…actually wait, I’m pretty sure this has all really happened to various male Volunteers here. Not that they ask for it or think it’s right at all, but it’s a very different world for them. They can smoke, drink, and chat for the majority of the work day (or in front of kids at school) and they’d be patted on the back for fitting in so well with the Thai men.

The differences are the sharpest for the married couples in the same site, when the female Volunteer in the couple is sometimes completely overlooked as a person because her identity is attached to that of her husband. How is she able to represent herself? Easy, how well she takes care of her husband’s responsibilities so that he can continue to drink with the Thai men instead of working. I’d like to point out that this is also something that male Volunteers struggle with as well.

Here’s the thing, if I’m not already enough of an oddity in this country as a farang, I’m also a girl and not even married! Well and there’s that whole six-foot thing too. Female farangs are already on the minority side due to the vast numbers of FSDs (fat sugar daddies, the old balding types with the way-too-hot-and-young Thai women). Thai people tell me how brave I am, as a female, to live in Thailand alone.

But I’m not. At all. I may have to surrender my ‘go where the wind blows me’ spirit, but in return I’m treated like the daughter, sister, or precious breakable porcelain doll of the people in my community. And I truly feel that way, for better and worse. I’ve never felt this deep level of connection with so many people caring about my well-being and happiness. I work side by side with my Thai ladies and get to be a part of a kinship that male Volunteers never see or will ever be able to fully understand.

It’s definitely a rough trade-off and one that I struggle with every day because of the responsibilities that go along with it. It means watching my every move and thinking of all the other women in my circles before making a decision that would normally be just my own. This is one of those things I mentioned in an older post that you don’t expect you have to give up or change about yourself. If you do though, you’ll find your world expanding in ways you’ve never even imagined.