• Bangkok Podcast: Kaewmala

    February 14th, 2011

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    Bangkok Podcast 40: Kaewmala

    On this episode – the second of four in our Valentine’s-themed month of February – we are joined by Kaewmala, author of the fun, sexy, and educational book ‘Thai Sex Talk’. She is also a noted commentator on social issues, prolific blogger, talented translator and all-around cool woman. She talks about the nuances of sexuality, flirting, dating and love in Thai culture, and helps us understand some of the more complex facets of the area, such as why so many beautiful, smart, funny, middle-class women in Thailand remain single, and some of the hangups and problems that foreign men find when they approach them.

    Show Links:

    Greg and Tony also announce the next Bangkok Podcast get-together – a guided bike ride to one of Bangkok’s hidden gems, the lush and peaceful semi-island of Prapradaeng. Check out all the details on our Bangkok Podcast Facebook Page.

    1. Feb 14th
      Reply

      Very interesting show guys. Lots of resonance with the experience of friends here, Thai and Farang alike. I like the discussion about how a man would meet and form a relationship with a nice middle class woman here in Thailand – and the oh so simple conclusion that you wouldn’t do much different to what you would do elsewhere, including the fairly obvious ‘don’t expect to meet one in Nana’. I have followed Kaewmala’s tweets for a while (particularly the back-and-forths she has with Rikker) and so it was nice to hear her speaking at length.

    2. Interesting the comments about some values being from this century and some from the 19th century. In Victorian culture there was very much the same kind of dichotomy. You had a very crusty reserved society, with a strong underbelly of lasciviousness that was an open secret.
      By the way, ex-monks are popular with Thai ladies – in the old days if a male had not been a monk before it meant he was uneducated (as most education was via the temples) – thus future husbands were all expected to have been a monk for some time. If one had been a monk for very long and had passed the exams, after disrobing would be called a ‘Tit’, which is short for Bandit or Pundit in English – which means something like ‘knowledgeable one’.
      Did I win the book?

      • Feb 14th
        Reply

        Wow very cool insight Pandit! If we give a book about sex to a monk will we go to hell? ;)

    3. Robyeg
      Feb 15th
      Reply

      Excellent show. Kaewmala lets your listeners excellent insight on thai women. Many Farang have the idea in there head of the wildness of Nana and Patpong. Then they expect that most ladies will carry that wildness into there personal life. How far from the truth that is. If any Farang truly want to meet a nice thai lady. They should start reading now on thai culture, before they land in thailand. As 1000′s of years of culture can not be wrapped up in a few sentences.

    4. Gary
      Feb 15th
      Reply

      I’ve been married to my Thai wife for about a year and a half, I’m fluent in Thai, and I’ve lived in Thailand, but to be honest this was very interesting and helped me understand a lot. I knew that it was not well thought of a woman to be assertive in social settings, but I had never associated it with why she always wanted me to choose what to eat. Makes a lot more sense now!

      • Bob
        Feb 26th
        Reply

        Met my Thai wife 7 years ago and been to Thailand 3 times since.
        Wondering how you became fluent in Thai language???
        Also your perspective to being best husband to Thai wife?
        My wife is a retired English teacher from Thailand
        but it has been somewhat difficult communicating at times because english is not spoken all that much in everyday speech among thais.
        Any advice and perspective will be greatly appreciated.
        We hope to retire to Thailand in about a year.

    5. Feb 15th
      Reply

      @AjarnPhasa Thank you. :)

      @PanditBhikku This is a surprise. Never expected to have a monk among my (potential) readers. And like Tony, I’m wondering also if Tony and Greg will go to hell if they give you the book. (And squirming a bit when considering my own fate.) :)

      It’s indeed true that ex-monks were (I emphasize *were*) popular among Thai ladies for the reason you said. To further elaborate your point, men who had at least one season of Buddhist education were thought to be more mature, having gained spiritual wisdom from their learning. Men who were once in the monkhood were considered สุก or ripe, while those who weren’t were said to be ดิบ or raw. (I actually wrote about this in the book–Thai men, monkhood, matrimony and the mothers’ expectations.)

      Good luck! :)

    6. khun plaa
      Feb 15th
      Reply

      i would suggest doing the bike ride without a guide and getting lost a little, if can speak some thai, i could not afford $30 for the outing myself

      on the book, and ‘getting to meet normal gals’ : i think if one thing one is serious, need to get competent as possible in thai and stay in thailand for 3-6 months and go out with normal friends to functions thai.

      trouble is: english for thais, can be very limited so getting to know, takes even longer …..

    7. khun plaa
      Feb 15th
      Reply

      btw, how does on spell the soulmate word she mentioned?

    8. This was very interesting. Kaewmala touched on the surface of the young being more knowledgable about sex and other issues than most elders, this is very plausible with curriculum changes, western teachers and of course the internet at every students’ fingertips it is becoming evidently clear this is the case. She also touched lightly on change really happening once a certain generation “was in the dirt” (or should it be class?). A view which my gf shares fervently.

      But dear Gregg, you cut her off just as she was going to start in on Thai guys and places like Ratchada Rd. There was a moment us farangs could have been vindicated for just a short moment. When you think how small Nana and cowboy are compared to these much larger areas that cater for Thai men which surprisingly to me most Thai women seem blissfully unaware of.
      Just because there are no neon lights and thunderous music does not mean these places don’t exist but more importantly nearly all visiting cliental are married Thai men. Should this be ignored by Thai society? Or is it purposely ignored to save face? It’s relevant because the largest ‘NEW’ group of growing HIV infections is in married Thai women unfortunately infected by their cheating Thai spouses. I would love to hear Kaewmala’s opinion to this particularly darker side to Thai ‘sexual’ society which in part is shielded by our very own smaller but much louder sexual activities as foreigners.

    9. Anthony MacGregor
      Feb 15th
      Reply

      Hi Greg and Tony. Well done. Great piece. It’s a fascinating subject, one that seems to have no real ending because there are no easy answers. Good comment from Kaewmala about Thai girls seeing themselves as part of their family or friends rather than as an individual. Also good line Greg about the front and back legs of the elephant and your g/f the mahoot. Funny. Take care.

    10. [...] relationship. Two signed copies of Sex Talk are to be given away to the winners in a contest here. The “contest” runs until February [...]

    11. Feb 15th
      Reply

      @Robyeg & @Gary Indeed, before one embarks on an unfamiliar territory – geographic, cultural as well as philosophical – it is important to be well prepared. So much “bad luck”, many mistakes and horror stories we’ve heard from many a farang man who jumped in head first often stem from not being well prepared, or underestimating the importance of cultural differences. It is strange why so many guys who are careful back home will leave themselves exposed in a foreign land. Surviving in an unfamiliar culture is always a learning process. To do it any other way is careless IMO.

      @khunplaa The Thai word for “predestined soul mate” is เนื้อคู่ /nuea khuu/.

      @Fullerphoto That’s a big topic. Let’s just say, Thais, women included, are not entirely ignorant of what’s going on. It’s more denial and hypocrisy. And the Thai style of sexuality is more indirect–not in your face like what you’ll find in Nana or Cowboy, which is rather “too much” or “crude” for the Thai taste. Yes, it’s also easier and more convenient to blame the foreigners for domestic problems. Self-criticism is not Thai society’s strong suit.

      • Feb 15th
        Reply

        Kaewmala is it true that many Thai men go to these “massage” places to have their ego stroked and not something else?

        For a farang it’s mostly about sex but for Thai (and other Asian) men it’s about the illusion of feeling important. That being surrounded and catered to by a bunch of good looking women makes him feel important even though it’s all fake.

        The extremes of this of course is the Japanese, who pay women just to sit and talk to them. I’ve talked to some of the girls who work in the Japanese karaoke clubs and can’t believe how much money they receive just to sit and talk to these guys. Is it the similar in the Thai clubs?

    12. Feb 15th
      Reply

      Tony, you asked an excellent question and gave yourself an excellent answer. Couldn’t have done it better. As far as the Ratchada establishments are concerned, I think you hit the nail on the head!

      • Feb 15th
        Reply

        So then my next question is where can I find an establishment where rich Thai women pay ME to talk to them. ;)

    13. Feb 15th
      Reply

      Too bad I’m not tuned in to the toy boy side of things. I believe such establishments exist and might actually offer a better pay to the “working boys” compared to the “working girls” in similar establishments (women can never win!). I read about it somewhere. But no real leads for you, sorry. ;)

    14. Jules
      Feb 15th
      Reply

      Bike ride sounds graet. Sorry I’ll miss it.

    15. juan
      Feb 16th
      Reply

      tony, you can get a job at one of these places, but I think you would need to do more than just talking (interesting article here):
      http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/investigation/184843/bangkok-lady-toy-bars-revealed

      by the way, one thing i would like you and greg to explore more after listening to your past two guests (the couple from London and kaewmala) is the issue of class. i know in your past interviews with woody and voranai, this issue was brought up.

      i”d be interested to hear more about the intersection of class with other aspects of thai society, including romance (both among thais and between thais and non-thais), politics, work, education, etc. Thanks in advance, great shows, guys!

    16. juan
      Feb 16th
      Reply

      kaewmala, i really enjoyed your interview. in addition to your intelligent remarks, your audio presence had a very calming and relaxing effect.on this particular listener.

    17. Feb 16th
      Reply

      Very pleased that I found this website … I have only just got “into apple” and podcasts etc … still a lot to learn but this site seems awesome and has more than enough to me busy !!! THANKS guys ….

    18. Feb 16th
      Reply

      I wish Tony well on his new aspiration. ;)

      @Juan Thanks for your kind words. Re your interest in class and romance in Thai society, you might wanna check out this blog post of mine: http://thaiwomantalks.com/2010/05/10/thai-women-and-the-question-of%C2%A0money/

      Iin particular at the end of the post, check out the “Thai Women Matrix.”

      Cheers,

    19. John
      Feb 16th
      Reply

      I really enjoyed the program, too, and especially the discussion on the traditional aspects of Thai women’s lives. I’d like to get a bit of a ‘reality check’ here regarding that. So, are you saying that many of those professional, middle class women working in, say, the business district of Sathorn, are living at home with their parents? And, that their parents exert significant influence on the daughter’s love life and dating style, as in curfews, over-nighters (tsk, tsk), weekends, living together, etc.?

      The other is the sloooowness at which Thais form love relationships. Frankly, this okay with me because I need to know the woman’s heart and expectations, too. None of this falling “head over heels” (uncritically) for a Thai lady, thank you very much. It seems to me, though, that because of that slowness, it almost encourages a man to date more than one woman at a time, otherwise progress towards establishing a relationship proceeds in a very slow and linear fashion. I think the slowness cuts against westerner culture a little bit.

      And what about the idea that all foreign guys are in Thailand just for a quick good time with a young Thai lady? Is that stereotype out there?

      Finally, the language issue. My thoughts are like this: in plays, books, movies, etc., it is dialogue that reveals character. To me, it’s the same in life and relationships. If you can’t talk to or understand your potential partner, can you really know their character?

      Thanks so much for talking about this.

      • Feb 16th
        Reply

        With all due respect you sound angry or perhaps frustrated with your Thai relationships?

        It is very common in Asian cultures that the children live with their parents until well into their adulthood and yes the parents do exert a significant control over their lives. The family unit is far more important to Asian cultures than to Western cultures and I think even more so in Thai culture.

        Thai women aren’t as slow as you think. They can go from shy to wild pretty damn quickly. Consider the fact that they are stuck living at home and have very little sexual experiences, which makes them curious as hell. However the caution here is they also develop jealously much faster than Western women and they are quick with the scissors.

        Language is not as important in communication as you would think. It’s common knowledge that body language plays a far more important role in sexual communication than what you actually say. Read the article that Juan posted and how some of the guys don’t speak their customers language but still get them to buy drinks. What you say is not as important as how you say it.

        • Feb 16th
          Reply

          I dunno about this, I’m inclined to agree with John regarding language difficulties. One of my ex girlfriends many moons ago could speak about as much English as I did Thai (which is to say, not much). She was a lovely girl and while the, uh, body language was fine, after a while the only thing we talked about was small talk – the weather, our parents, the food we were eating. It eventually got very tiresome and we split.
          While I agree with what Tony said that language isn’t vital to communication, for me, it is vital for a relationship.
          Also, I will say that while the younger, more modern generation of middle-class women are less inclined to live with their parents, it’s far, far more common and accepted here than one might think. I would say about 50% of my female friends live with their parents, and they DO exert significant control over their social and love lives. I’ll never forget one time I was having dinner with a group of people, and one girl – who was about 28 – had to leave by 6.30. She wasn’t allowed out after the sun went down. None of the Thais were surprised, but the foreigners at the table couldn’t believe it.

          • Feb 16th
            Reply

            Yeah I should have clarified that I was talking about dating and flirting. Certainly in a relationship having a common language is important but for me when it comes to flirting and dating, what I say isn’t as important as how I say it.

    20. Feb 16th
      Reply

      If I win and you don’t give me the book – that’s be bad karma for sure!
      “Thai men, monkhood, matrimony and the mothers’ expectations” – but can I win this one instead?

    21. Barry BBQ
      Feb 16th
      Reply

      Looks like an interesting read, especially when you realize that sex is an activity that takes place between your ears!

    22. Feb 16th
      Reply

      @John Agree with Tony and Greg. It is very common, in fact it is the norm, for single Thai women to still live with the parents, even well into their 30′s–(after 40′s it’s likely going to be forever as old maids). Some will live on their own or with girlfriends, often because their family is far from work or school. This group will have more freedom than the ones living at home. True, the family still exerts influence over the single daughters. In fact, over married daughters too. Thai families can be meddling.

      As for attitudes towards dating and courtship, I think you’ll find a range. You’ll find many very shy (esp. those still living at home) who probably have little idea about dating Western style or how to deal with men or romantic relationship because they have always lived in a protected environment. But you will also find Thai women who are outgoing (likely those not living with parents), who will date, but their idea of dating may not be the same as yours. (If you’ve slept with me, you are mine, for instance.)

      There is generational difference. I think Thai women over the age of 30 or 35 are probably more conservative than those in their 20′s or in their teens. It’s not uncommon nowadays for young Thai couples to have premarital sex and cohabit. But it’s still a different deal for a middle-class Thai woman to cohabit with a farang boyfriend, as you can imagine why. The prostitute stigma is still a burden, although not so strong as before.

      How conservative or open a Thai woman might be towards dating and having a relationship with a farang depends a lot on her family background and her own worldview. How fast or how slow you have to take in the courtship will depend on her personal and family circumstances. Is her family open to the idea of a farang son in law? (As the idea of a daughter casually dating a farang will horrify most Thai parents, well, at least parents who are not out to make a profit from the daughter anyway). Is she a rebel or is she a conformist? You’re unlikely to get the latter to do things against her family wishes and her upbringing.

      Interestingly enough, I think the group of Thai women who will be easier to deal with in terms of dating, courtship and possible long term relationship for educated, professional farang guys are the highly educated professional women, including overseas educated ones. It’s a select group but there are enough of them around who are still single, and they’re not all living a hi-so lifestyle. I’ll let you in on a secret ;), it’s hard for this group of Thai women to find partners too, often because they’re too educated, too smart, too successful or too independent, hence intimidating for many Thai men.

      On the language issue, I think it depends on what you looking for: sex, casual relationship, committed relationship, life partnership, soul mate? If you’re looking for one of the first two, body language and a few words may just be enough. But if you’re looking for one of the latter three, you’re going to need a lot more vocabulary than what gets you by in small talk.

      What I’ve learned personally is that in a happy and fulfilling relationship, it is very, *very* important to have a partner whom you can communicate with and who shares your values. While you can use a body language to get someone in bed, it won’t articulate your thoughts or help you develop a deeper understanding between each other.

      I’ve seen many farang men, educated professional, and intelligent, who are living with a girlfriend or spouse who can’t be their full partner or intellectual equal. I’ve always wondered why. Some seem to be dealing OK. Again, we’re back to what you want from the relationship. If sex is all you truly want, then a young, beautiful body who can’t talk philosophy will probably keep you happy. Or if you don’t need the woman to do the thinking or talking too much because you enjoy doing it all by yourself, you probably aren’t looking for a full partnership (don’t snicker, I’ve seen such men!).

      Trouble is, some men may think all they wanted was sex at first. Then they wake up a year or two later and wonder what the hell they’ve got themselves into. They wish that the beautiful young thing next to them had a bigger vocabulary than her cup size.

      @Pandit How many precepts have you violated today? ;) That “Thai men, monkhood…” part is just a small section in my book. But if you’d like write a book on that topic you’d be better qualified by far.

    23. juan
      Feb 16th
      Reply

      if you don’t mind my curiosity, kaewmala. how has been the reception of your book in terms of both feedback and sales? i remember seeing your book in a few bookstores when i was in thailand.

      as anyone can see by reading your blog, you are not doing this simply for the money. but i imagine a few cynical people can lump you with all those other writers in the farang section of any thai bookstore that are writing books with provocative titles to make a quick buck.

    24. Gary
      Feb 17th
      Reply

      I can not believe how good your English is Kaewmala. What did you study here? Several of my thai university friends can speak great English, but this is truly impressive. This is the most correct statement ever, “What I’ve learned personally is that in a happy and fulfilling relationship, it is very, *very* important to have a partner whom you can communicate with and who shares your values.” Just follow this advice in dating!

    25. Jack
      Feb 17th
      Reply

      Great podcast as always..I think if Thai men would watch Two and a Half men..they would relate to it instantly….

      I think cultural and national boundaries have minimal effect on who we truly are as Individuals…If one respects a women for who she is..he too will be respected…and both would have a healthy relationship irrespective of their backgrounds.

    26. John
      Feb 17th
      Reply

      Thanks for the additional info and the secret tip! With regard to language, I’ve been ‘half seeing’ a Thai woman but her English is not good at all. I’ve been through this before (with other non-Thai women) and it’s the same conversation, repeating questions and answers and stripping sentences down to subject-verb…and still not sure if I’m being understood. It’s no one’s fault but I’ve got huge reservations about inviting that into my life.

      Regarding the ‘secret tip’, I’ve already been able to get a feel for that. Just today I was at a large function with lots of professional Thai women. I remembered your tip about them having match-up issues, too, so I made sure to find a why to introduce myself. I met several and it was great!

      I’m okay with things going slow and I feel the same way regarding, “if you sleep with me, you are mine.” That’s why I want to know more about where/when/how regarding the educated, middle class in Thailand – that’s where I’m from in the US.

      Thanks again, Kaewmala.

    27. John
      Feb 17th
      Reply

      One more point on the slowness thing. In that Thai women go slow in their romantic relationships, coupled with what you said that they typically aren’t the decision makers, could be misinterpreted, big time, by a western guy.

      If a woman is taking a long time to show interest, insists on bringing friends along on dates, and doesn’t want to make suggestions for what to do or where to eat, there could be a tendency for some men to conclude that she isn’t interested, and move on.

      Some men want/need/like to see expressions of interest and want the woman to participate in the decision-making for the couple. There are points or ‘signals’ a man looks from a woman regarding whether she is interested. Because of the Thai cultural factors, however, a western guy might interpret it all as signaling a lack of interest from the woman.

    28. Munadel
      Feb 17th
      Reply

      Great show Tony and Greg, one of the coolest podcast so far. Kaewmala you are an amazing, sophisticated and eloquent lady. Thanks for sharing the insights of relationships with a Thai women. This will clear up a lot of the misconception associated with dating Thai women. I’d say that cultural norms of dating and relationship in Thailand are very similar and relatable to other Asian countries as well. All foreigners can actually learn from this show, comments, blogpost and your book even if they are not dating Thai but any women from any Asian cultures. It’s practically the same in my country too although I’d say the parents are a bit more conservative when it comes to girls marrying foreigners. Is this the case in Thailand do parents influence girls only to marry Thais?

      I’d also be interested to know what the trend is there regarding foreign women especially western women dating and marrying Thai men. Do you see this type of relationship on the increase and successful?

      Cheers

    29. Feb 20th
      Reply

      @Juan If I had quit my real job in hope to make a living of this book, I would have starved and looking for a new reincarnation by now. Fortunately I had no illusion to get rich from the book or my blog as you’ve gathered. :) Seriously, it has sold steady but slow. I hope it would be better for the sake of the publisher. It’s not clear if the subject or the title has deterred potential readers, but I know of at least one university bookstore (Chula) declined to carry the book, presumably because of the title. I doubt they had opened the book, for if they had they’d have seen that I am not trying to seduce the young to have sex (they can very well do that on their own – ha). It seems those who have read them, foreigners and Thais, seem to like the book, judging from many fan emails I have received.

      @Gary, Munadel Thanks.

      @Jack If only more would aspire to your ideal. However, there are still many practical concerns in cross-cultural relationship. Basic things, like opening one’s mind and making efforts to learn and understand another. Different cultures have different quirks and these can be real stumbling blocks.

      @John It’ll be wise not to expect that Thai women, even of a certain class, would be a certain way, because within each class/group you will always find variations.Class is an important factor in Thai society but it doesn’t mean women of one class are made from the same mould. You will find Thai women of all classes hesitant to be very forward in making decisions for you or for the both of you, but this doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t make decisions at all. If there is one thing Thai women are not, it’s not being pushovers. Don’t confuse polite and obliging with submissive or doormats. Many husbands of Thai women will tell you that “submissive” isn’t really an adjective they’d use with Thai women. Like in other types of relationship, there’s always an issue of power. If a man and a woman are more or less on equal footing, each will likely exert more in the relationship. For instance, you’ll find that an educated, professional and cosmopolitan Thai woman is going to be more confident and will have the least trouble in telling you what she wants to have for dinner and where. The chance would be she’ll offer you many options and ask you to choose. While a less confident or less cosmopolitan woman (who may have not had experience going out to nice restaurants) will say “up to you” because 1) she’s afraid to make embarrassing choices or 2) you may not like her choice. Try to disabuse the notion that Thai women are like this or like that. Don’t anticipate too much. Just go with the flow and discover as you go along. Be nice and respectful and be yourself. Making her laugh will go a long way.

      Good luck to all you guys. It’s been fun. And thanks for your interest and questions.

      Ciao

    30. John
      Oct 31st
      Reply

      I’m revisiting this post so late because I’m experiencing the EXACT scenario I mentioned: the seeming “slowness” of Thai women to express themselves and the possibility of the man interpreting it as disinterest.

      I’ve been seeing a professional, educated, English-speaking Thai women for about 6 weeks. Even now, though, I have no idea whether she is interested in me or a relationship. We haven’t seen each other for two weeks but she still communicates with me by email, Facebook, and phone.

      And, even though she initiates the contacts sometimes, she hasn’t been available for getting together during that time.

      The message I am getting from all of this is that she is feeling ambiguous at best. Or, that she’s just not interested in a relationship but can’t get herself to express it. If this is the case, why does she initiate contacts?

      I’ve mentioned a couple of times that I think we are having communication problems. But, I haven’t made it a big deal, hoping she will get the hint and begin to open up, or move on. It hasn’t worked. At this point, I not feeling inclined to bring it up more openly because my previous mentions have done nothing to change her communications with me.

      To me, raising the issue again with her feels like “pushing a rope” and I also feel that communication is the responsibility of both parties. So, if it is Thai slowness in action here, it’s ruining a perfectly good opportunity for a relationship.

    31. Mo
      Feb 27th
      Reply

      John: You’ve just known a professional, educated Thai woman for 6 weeks then you wanted her to say ” I love you” ??
      That means you never understand Thai culture + conservative women at all.
      As I’m the one who used to be an old-fasion &
      sticked to our culture when I was teenager. When a man came up to me & tried to be close as a boyfriend & kept telling me ‘I love you” You know ..I’d never said “I love you too”
      No touching, hugging , kissing or even to hold my hands. We’ve to take longggggg time to get to know each other if we could get along well , don’t want to be regret later
      “Conservative” Do you understand what this word means ???…Take a deep breath. Don’t blame the others if they don’t behave like your women from the US. or all westerners.
      Because we don’t want to be blamed as ” an easy women” Oh..the MOST importanly ..in the past MOST Thai men always looking for virgin women & look at single mom or divorced women like a trash. Don’t like westerners ..who never care how many guys this woman had in the past, how many kids she has . That’s really nice of you guys.
      Take your time to find the true soul mate who loves who you are not your $$$$$
      “SLOW BUT SURE + Steady”
      PS. For Thai professional & educated women…I’m glad that you’re still being conservative one while living in Thailand.

    32. […] (Bangkok Podcast had a wonderful discussion with Kaewmala, a Thai woman and writer, about the contradictions and attitudes of sex, prostitution, and romance in Thailand. It’s an hour long and a must listen if you want to understand this complex attitude more.) […]

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