Book recommendations - Thailand

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Old 26th June 2009, 03:56 PM
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Default Book recommendations - Thailand

If you come across any books you find useful in understanding Thailand, its culture, and the ways of its people, please add them to this thread...

First of all, the obvious one for newbies. "Thailand Fever" should be at the top of the must-buy list for every guy (or gal come to that) intent on a relationship with a Thai. And while you're at it, give it to your girl to read - it will be an eye-opener to her too, as every other page is written in Thai, and will really help her to understand what makes Westerners tick.

Andrew Hicks is a guy I've corresponded with a fair bit, and he has written some great and witty stuff on his relationship with a Thai girl and Thailand in general. "Thai Girl" is a novel that tells the tale of a young British lad trying to fathom Thailand and the lovely girl he has fallen for. "My Thai Girl and I" is Andrew's personal story of six years in the Kingdom doing much the same thing.

"Very Thai, Everyday Popular Culture" by Philip Corawel-Smith is another great read, with some excellent insights.

A more cynical view about the bargirl scene is "Private Dancer" by Stephen Leather. The cult classic novel about an expat who loses the plot amongst the bars of the Big Mango. A definite must-read.

Jesse Gump's "Even Thai Girls Cry" I really liked. Picked up my copy in the local second-hand bookshop, couldn't find it new. Moving stuff, a supposedly fictional story, reads rather as if the author is recounting his own experiences...

A book I'll be getting soon, Sex Talk by Kaewmala. I've been told it's well worth a read, coming from the point of view of a Thai woman for a change, rather than a farang male author. As the blurb describes it, a “guidebook to Thai sexual culture.”

A good and fun read is 'In the bedroom, out of trouble' by Bud Knackstedt and Oiy Ford.

Another excellent read is 'Heart Talk' by Canadian Christopher G. Moore (non-fiction). I also recommend the Land of Smiles trilogy, which includes A Killing Smile, A Bewitching Smile and A Haunting Smile. On his website these are described as "his behind-the-smiles study of his adopted country, Thailand". His Calvino novels (Bangkok-based private detective) series are great too.

Robert Cooper's "Thailand, Beyond the Fringe", "Culture Shock! Thailand", and "Thais mean Business" are useful books for expats who are in LOS long-term.
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Old 11th July 2009, 09:54 PM
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Default "Thailand Fever" - A Critique

First off I want to thank frogblogger for his list of books regarding Thailand. It would be beneficial to anyone and everyone to know a lot more about Thailand if they're thinking of living there for any appreciable period of time and for those who entertain "Walter Mitty" thoughts about marrying a Thai I would say it's very important.

When I was about 1/2 way through the book I nearly chucked it. From my perspective it's very simplistic - as though the two sat down one afternoon and decided to crank out a book. I do not know Thai customs to any degree but I do know American customs and it is rare that a boy on prom night is going to take his date to meet his parents. He will, of course, meet hers and "mom and dad" are going to be very keen to meet him and make sure he takes good care of their daughter. But then dragging her to meet his parents. Unlikely unless they've been dating a long time. Even then most likely not unless mom or dad [or both] are his transportation but since this was the prom they were writing about he'll have either borrowed their car, own his or be on a double date. Aside from the prom American teenage boys do not bring girls flowers [unless head over heals for her] or have their picture taken together. This section was written by the Thai female author not the American. I wonder if he bothered to proof her writing? Or didn't want her to "lose face"?

That said, there are some very important concepts that I was only vaguely aware of and of great importance for you to know if you're going to date or marry a Thai. The one foremost in mind is na'am jai. Simply, you gain stature or "face" the more lavish the gifts you give your girl friend or her parents. You are also supposed to pay a dowry to the girl's parents. The author goes on to say you should also plan to support her parents when they get old and buy them a car etc. In other words, you become a revered member of the family as long as you're generous. Other adventures also await you. You may, for example, be invited out to dinner by her family and lots of friends - and they expect YOU to pay. And, the more prized the girl [presumably young, virgin, pretty, well educated] the higher the dowry.

Now I do think one should be generous with one's mate - to a point. That point will be different for every one of us. I don't, for example, think it's my obligation to pay her cell phone bill. If she wants a cell phone she should be willing to pay for it. That said, it is [usually] the male's job to support his wife - and at a better standard than she had when living with her family. I understand that. Where I begin to fall short on na'am jai is my obligation to buy "mom and dad" a new home? What was wrong with their old home. Or a car for her brother? Perhaps in the next lifetime. I do think it our obligation to help her parents but only to the extent the other siblings also help. The Gringo is NOT an ATM nor should he be treated as one. Na'am jai seems a very clever way to transfer your wealth to her family. Do not forget as well, when you marry a Thai [at least if you're an American] that marriage is recognized in the USofA as well. [probably in most western countries as well] Why do I mention this? If you DO get a divorce, unless you have a prenuptial agreement, your other assets could be divided between you and her. I do not know Thai courts but can bet you a beer that you will lose in a Thai court. And you will pay your divorce attorney and you will pay her divorce attorney. So, get a prenuptial but also be generous to her. Depending upon how long you are married the amount she receives should increase - and hopefully will last forever.

Anyway, I could write a small book about just na'am jai but for those thinking about a Thai wife - you need to know what it is and what is expected of you and try to negotiate a happy medium. One thing is critical [and Thais hate this] talk it out so that each of you knows what he or she wants or is willing to do. If you don't, believe me, it WILL come back to haunt you. Rememeber, happy wife, happy life - but also remember the difference between herpes and true love. Herpes IS forever. [true love rarely is]

So, for those who have not read "Thailand Fever" - even though I thought it was simplistic and generalized way to much and talked way to much about the sex industry and how other nations look down on Thailand because of it - most of that is rubbish. The average American has heard of Thailand but knows almost nothing about it. I doubt they are aware of the sex industry and I would never make my girl friend /wife ever apologize for the sex industry as though, somehow, she was behind it. Anyway, thanks frogblogger for the heads up and while I disagree with much of it I did learn a lot. That alone is more than worth the cost of the book. I would like to hear other's comments IF you've read the book. [hard to comment on what you've not read though I guess you could comment on na'am jai!]

Serendipity2

Now on to the next read.. "My Thai Girl and I"
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Old 11th July 2009, 10:29 PM
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Thumbs up Culture Shock - Thailand

Culture Shock - Thailand - 'a survival guide to Customs and Etiquette' by Robert Cooper.
This is a series of books to many different countries. I bought my copy in Chapters in Canada, so I imagine it is available in good book stores everywhere.
Written mainly for business people and retirees in Thailand long term. 350 pages.
More than a 'survival guide' I think. Lots of good information on how Thai people think.
Chapter headings like - History and Religion, The People, Fitting in (includes body talk, the Wai, the Smile, Visiting homes), The Practicalities (includes Visas, Schools, Money etc etc), Having Fun (includes Fesitvals, birth, Puberty, marriage, death).
A great read. Being married to a Thai, I'm trying my best to understand all things Thai so our relationship will not be hurt by my lack of knowledge of Thai culture.
This book helps.

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Old 12th July 2009, 08:35 AM
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Hi S2,

some interesting points (and I agree with the term 'simplistic' - like any culture thats over a 1000 years old, you ain't going to fit it in a few hundred pages). There's more to it in Thailand too - as it was never under the rule of an imperial power (OK ignoring Japan in WWII as it was a bit late by then - and this was somewhat consentual - like France? - and perhaps the fact that Sukho-Thai invaded Lanna to become Siam in the first place) - it has never been completely nationalised. I mean by this that there are distinct sub cultures in Thailand that are really quite different. This is more than Texas and New York, or London and Norfolk (or Scotland/Wales/NI) - as these are the same people with diffeent views. In Thailand Isaan is very different in culture to, say the far south (Yala) as the people come from different cultures themselves (and even different religions in part). This makes it difficult to generalise what is "expected" on a national level.

As to being invited out and expected to pay, this is generally against Thai norms - it would normally be the inviter that pays, not the Farang. Of course, this doesn't mean we are not taken advantag of, or that many Farang want to 'show off' and pay anyway.

Sin Sot (dowry) has so many unwritten rules its a mine field. Farang are divided on the issue more perhaps than Thai sub cultures. The way it was explained to me by my Thai friends was this: (and I expect many disagreements - this is just how I was told) - Sin Sot is paid once to any woman of virtue (not necessarily a virgin) who is to marry for the first time. It is paid to the parents for two reasons - one to pay them back for the upbringing they have given the girl (education/teaching to cook and clean/feeding her/etc) and also for the fact that you would be taking her from the family 'farm' to your 'farm' and thus they would loose the 'trained' worker and you would gain the same. ('Farm' isn't meant to be directed at the North here, its meant as a generic term meaning family/hearth/business/household whatever). The second reason was to show your valuation as to her worth - this is why the money is usally displayed. Often th money would be given back to the couple to start their lives (it was with me for example) - though the costs may be deducted (party/gowns/donation to temple/etc).

We hear a lot of stories of huge sin sot's being paid to ladyboy, bar girls, divorcees etc - and often the marrying farang come to the defence of his woman's honour with ferosity if one was to say it should not be paid (as if that person is saying she is not worth it) - this is not the case (and again is a farang misunderstanding of the culture) - many Thais scoff and laugh at this. If she is a dicorcee her family should already have received their 'payment' for her worth - and in affect got her free in the inbetween years. A ladyboy is outside of the 'process' as it would be expect as a male (at lease when growing up) he contributed with work to his 'farm' - and like any male, does not get Sin Sot. The bar girl's arwe the most difficult to talk about without causing offense, but it is very unlikely any Thai man would pay Sin Sot in this regard.

Thai divorce courts are actually, in diametrically opposed to many people views, quite fair - which is why a lot of Thais do not ever get divorced, but simply separate and 'marry' again (village marriage - not official). Things are usually divided pretty much 50:50 as they would be in the west - Penuptials are taken into consideration (but can be overruled, like in the UK). Often assets owned before the marriage can be excluded - depending on whether the court see it as if te marriage contributed to the pkeep of thos assets etc - off shore assets are usually safe simply because of jurisdiction - though may cause an uneven balance in onshore divisions. Prenuptials are important if you are entering a marriage with a lot of assets - otherwise its a waste of money really (and possibly detremental if she has assets coming in!). It is even possible for the farang to inherit/be awarded the family land, but special rules apply and the land must be sold within a year (Farang can not own land in their own name).
Assets in children's names are protected by law (which is why many farang-Thai couples put their houses in their kid's names in trust as a protection).

I have read many book on Thai culture, understanding the Thai mind and doing business in Thailand, but they are all missing an awful lot - make sweeping generalisations and are often just completely wrong. It is good to do research before coming here - and such a Culture Shock is good from this stand point - but do not rely on this wisdom to build golden rules in your mind, keep it open and modify as you get to know them and their culture.

I have a list of books which I will post when they arrive - eta December (a friend has them stored and will ship them with her stuff then).

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Old 12th July 2009, 04:58 PM
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KhwaamLap,

I promise one and all that I'll not marry a Ladyboy! I most likely wouldn't marry a bar girl either - too much baggage to get past - starting with trust and respect.

After reading "Thailand Fever" I was a bit stunned as I thought many important issues/subjects were treated in a pretty blase manner and there was a huge preoccupation with the sex trade and how Thais need to apologize to the world which I found ridiculous. But I did learn some things about the way Thais think that probably were at least a starting point to learn more. For example the concept of na'am jai which most westerners don't understand the same way a Thai would. I am glad a read it but was disappointed how very important subjects were handled in an off-hand manner and not fully explained. Of course to do so would have made for a much longer book.

I got the impression [from the book] that the farang was treated as a prize stud, to be paraded around and shown off to all of the family, their friends, relatives and 'well wishers' and that the farang would be given ample opportunity to "prove" his worth by picking up the tab for dinners out and other festivities. It gave me the impression - with the mention of buying a home for the "new" mom and dad, or a car or other, that we were prized by how much we could spend to enrich the family. Even to the extent of borrowing money to pay Sin Sot, repaying the borrowed money over several months or years. That sounded like we were valued for our money and not ourselves. I'm now reading in "My Thai Girl and I" which is substantially different, much better and rational. It's also very well written with a LOT of humor. My answer to all of this - sin sot [the dowry] and na'am jai - is to sit down with your intended and, over time, lay out your financial abilities so that she is aware of what you can do and what you can't - then she becomes your friend and ally when it comes to sin sot and na'am jai and there are no secret agendas or hurt feelings or loss of face. If one is going to marry someone they should do that out of respect for that person and to avoid or minimize any misunderstandings regarding money. If the girl needs a man with a $5000 per month income [I exaggerate here] and I only have $2000 per month then she needs to either lower her expectations of what's acceptable or the two would need to part. Since many expats in Thailand are not working [well, officially at least] what he has is what he has and some have financial obligations back home - former wives and children. Again, he needs to be very open and honest about his financial abilities to his future bride and she needs to accept that or move on.

Aside from Sin Sot it would be understandable that, as a member of the family, one should help the parents who raised her. So should her other siblings so that the farang isn't supporting both his bride and her parents - or even the entire family. If he can afford it that's great but to my sense of fairness the farang should have no greater burden placed on him than others - again unless he is willing and can afford it. If he can it should be his choice though and not forced upon him. What is the value or meaning of a 'gift' that's extorted? Sin Sot is so alien to western culture and I can see both sides of that coin but I do think a man should honor his intended by showing a willingness to help her parents. If one was very wealthy - even if she's poor - one should expect to pay more to the parents. Again, the amount of Sin Sot will depend on her age, her beauty, her education, whether she is a virgin, has been married and perhaps how many siblings she has. Add to that calculus the wealth of the groom, his age, his attractiveness and his status and I can see the need for a very good negotiator!

You're dead-on about keeping an open mind and be open to change - to which I would add, make up the 'rules' as you go. About the time you thinks something is a hard and fast rule you'll find out it really isn't. Welcome to Asia!

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Old 25th August 2009, 05:03 AM
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Two quickies, the first on the inter-cultural issue of money.

As suggested, do explain to your Thai lady the limits of your income and also your unavoidable committments such as tax and other dependents. It could be complex.

Also tell her if you dare that you have some savings... but it will hard to persuade her that these should not immediately be spent on rice land, a house for Mama etc.

I suspect that Thais do not generally leave money lying in bank accounts and would immediately spend a windfall.

A farang is a windfall, a lottery win even! What's the point of money of you don't spend it!

Secondly, to widen the original post's request for books which focuses primarily on inter-cultural areas, what other books can anyone recommend on Thai culture itself.

If I have a favourite, it's Silkworm Books', "Letters from Thailand" by Botan, a pseudonym for its female Thai author.

If Thailand is run by the Chinese/Thai elite, understanding this community explains many of the contradictions of 'Thai culture'. It is in fact not one but several cultures.

This novel tells the story of a poor Chinese immigrant through the letters he sends back to his mother in China and it taught me more about the role and integration of the Chinese than anything I've read. It's an engaging story and I'd recommend it highly.

So what other books are there?

Andrew Hicks

PS And thanks for some nice comments above about mine!

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Old 27th August 2009, 02:20 AM
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Not limited to Buddhism by any means, more of a personal journey, contrasting lifestyle differences between a Western nation and an essentially Buddhist one. Here's a review from Thailand Backpacking: Travel Happy - sums it up for me, I enjoyed the read very much.

Phra Farang: An English Monk in Thailand

Quote:
Given that Phra Peter is one of only a handful of Westerners who have become ordained monks within Thailand, Phra Farang would be an interesting document purely as a historical record - but Phra Peter's measured prose and lack of pomposity makes Phra Farang a fascinating read, not only for his own life's transformation but as an insight into Thai culture and Buddhist religion in general. Given that both are so traditionally alien to the West, Phra Peter makes them distinctly more comprehensible by charting his own path through his understanding of the teachings of the Buddha and coming to terms with living within the very different precepts of Thai monk life.

That said, Phra Farang is definitely a memoir rather than a primer about Buddhist teachings - and Phra Peter concentrates on anecdotes of contrasting memories of his previous lifestyle against his new Buddhist life. Beginning with a visit to the UK Thai monastery (situated somewhat surreally in the leafy groves of Wimbledon), Phra Peter describes how over the course of five years he decided to ordain as a monk. Originally he planned to do this in England but discovered he could only ordain in Bangkok - and so began his life in Thailand, despite being unable to speak a word of Thai and a fair amount of hostility from his fellow Thai monks who became jealous of the celebrity he was accorded as a farang monk.

Despite devoting a couple of chapters to his reasons for becoming a monk, Phra Peter remains quite vague about what specifically drove him to the change. He also gives little discussion of how he coped with the stringent demands of being ordained - celibacy being the most pressing one from this reviewer's perspective. That said, his descriptions of his spiritual progress are lucid and moving, and the general good humour that shines from the prose indicates the writings of a man who has achieved some of the peace of mind that he is looking for. There are also numerous amusing anecdotes about his various linguistic cockups and practical gaffes with religious protocol. These are perhaps inevitable but their inclusion indicates not only a lack of po-facedness on Phra Peter's part but also a desire to demonstrate that whilst monks are revered by Thai people, they do not consider themselves above or better than them.

Equally interesting are those parts of Phra Farang that deal with Thai rural life - Phra Peter moved from Bangkok within a few months of arriving and spent the rest of his time in Thailand's more remote monasteries. Outside of the big tourist cities, Thailand is still an extremely poor country in many rural areas and almost wholly different to urban Thai life. Phra Peter's recounting of various countryside rituals, traditions and superstitions, usually wholly unseen by Western eyes, provides a fascinating glimpse of this other Thailand.

Since it was first published in 1998, Phra Farang has sold steadily - it is certainly a hugely accessible introduction both to Thai Buddhism and the Thai way of life. All royalties from the book go the Special Education Trust, set up by Phra Peter to give grants to bright Thai rural kids who otherwise would not be able to afford to go to school, let alone university.
I would just emphasise that I particularly liked the sense of humour, and his willingness to see through the faults in the way Buddhism is sometimes practiced in Thailand, layers of hypocrisy. Blessing motorbikes, banishing evil spirits, corruption, the wealth of certain temples, for example.

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Old 28th August 2009, 03:20 PM
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I had read Thai Fever because a friend had told me it was a good read.Well I woulnd not say it is a good read but an ok read.I found much of it did not pertain to my wife and I.It seemed that it is geared to the "bar girl"and the westerner that partakes of the same seen.On the other hand my wife liked it as a book to read not so much as a manual for Thai western relationships.Well enough said on that.
These are three books that I did enjoy reading and have actually read them more then once.I have found the information in them of use to me.The illustrations in them are entertaining as well.A bit on the expensive side but still a great read.700thb at Asia Books
"Thai Culture and Society" by Roger Welty
"Successful Living in Thailand" by Roger Welty
"Living in the Thai Countryside" by Hakan Kolmodin
They are published, distributed and available at Asia Books.

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Old 28th August 2009, 03:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blue eyes View Post
I had read Thai Fever because a friend had told me it was a good read.Well I woulnd not say it is a good read but an ok read.I found much of it did not pertain to my wife and I.It seemed that it is geared to the "bar girl"and the westerner that partakes of the same seen.On the other hand my wife liked it as a book to read not so much as a manual for Thai western relationships.Well enough said on that.
These are three books that I did enjoy reading and have actually read them more then once.I have found the information in them of use to me.The illustrations in them are entertaining as well.A bit on the expensive side but still a great read.700thb at Asia Books
"Thai Culture and Society" by Roger Welty
"Successful Living in Thailand" by Roger Welty
"Living in the Thai Countryside" by Hakan Kolmodin
They are published, distributed and available at Asia Books.

blue eyes,

I can't say I was as enthused as you regarding "Thai Fever" but I did learn from the book so it wasn't a complete bust. "In the Bedroom out of Trouble" might interest you - especially now that you're married [that pesky "survey"] and gives a lot of good anecdotal information. Now that you're married you are far more likely [both of you since the survey is for each to fill out and compare] to have meaning and relevance. I can't imagine asking a sweet young thing I'm just getting to know some of those questions or her being willing to respond as well. My favorite book about the nitty gritty of life as an expat in rural Thailand was "My Thai Girl and I" by Andrew Hicks. Andrew, do I get any kickbacks here?
Well written and humorous, it is his private story/thoughts on life in a rural town in Isaan, dealing with his new family with all the headaches and challenges that brings and the vast difference in values between our cultures. I really enjoyed the book and learned a lot about what life as the only farang within rifle shot. It can't be easy - much easier were he [or any of us] living in a city like Chaing Mai where there are other farangs to talk with and a semblance of normality for most of us. Anyway, that's my two cents. I'll give those other books a butcher's hook! Thanks for the recommendations!

Serendipity2

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Old 2nd February 2010, 12:21 PM
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Hi all. Hope this is OK to post here, but just thought I'd mention another book that may well be of some interest to visitors to this forum. This one is called Your Investment Guide to Thailand by Silkworm Books here in Chiang Mai. The Guide talks about all the various forms of investment potentially available to expats ... as well as how to keep your money safe. It also has various sections on more general topics such as culture, economic outlook, and social/political issues.

I can't post a link but you can obtain further information simply by googling on the book title and/or publisher's name

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