Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Thai Women, Part II

Part two in a series of eight posts written back in April of 2012 during and after a trip to Thailand to teach advanced first aid. Part one is here.

There is a conflict of interests which is all but inevitable when you have a group of mid-to-late-twenties men teaching a class of pretty women, mostly in the same age category as their instructors. This is especially true if the men are all athletic, outgoing, stuffed to the gills with confidence bordering on arrogance (and usually ending up on the wrong side of the border) and very used to getting their own way. The Thai women, for their part, made no secret of the fact that they thought we were all handsome (there is a lot to be said for being a foreigner, in that regard. The man who would be just a face in a crowd in Tacoma is something exotic and mysterious in Thailand.) We are all larger and stronger than most Thai men, and our skin is white (for the Caucasians, at any rate). White skin is culturally prized in Thailand (and in a lot of other Asian cultures) in the same way that a smooth, perfect beach tan is prized in American culture.

The interactions between instructors and students were nearly always colored by this tension, even in my group to some extent. There was much veiled, and some not so veiled, flirting going on. The younger girls were the worst about it. They didn’t even bother to hide the fact that they were taking pictures of use, and trying to finagle pictures of themselves with us. Who knows how many Facebook albums we are stuck in now? (True story, one of my students posted a picture of herself moulaged up as the patient on Facebook, and that night one of her friends commented on it to ask if she was going to be alright. I guess I did a good job with the moulage.)

I wonder, though, whether these women knew how much and in what way their American instructors would speak about them behind their backs. Every detail of their persons was up for discussion, from relationship status, to personal hygiene, to what they would be like in bed. The girl who didn’t shave her legs was an especially frequent topic. None of this discussion was serious, it was all in a casual, flippant tone. Did anyone plan on sleeping with their students? No. Definitely not. But then again, you never know. Why would a team composed entirely of married men, or men in committed relationships (except for me, the only single man in the group) make such a point of bringing a tray of over 300 condoms to Thailand with us? Do we expect to cheat on our wives or girlfriends? No, certainly not, and that tray of condoms came back unopened. But just in case…

For their part, I know the women talked about us pretty freely. Taking refuge in the fact that none of us speak Thai they would discuss us to their hearts content right in front of us. (I may not speak Thai, but I read people pretty well and I got a pretty good idea of what they thought of us.) Sometimes the Americans would return the favor by speaking about them in English in front of them, forgetting that 1) most of the Thais speak at least a little broken English and 2) it only takes one word to clue listeners in. The word “Titties” for instance, even if it is the only word you understand in the sentence, can really color your impression of the persons speaking.


  1. It used to be that society expected men to speak respectfully of women, or at least to put on a show of it. That wasn't even that long ago. Less than a hundred, probably. Now conventions like that are long, long gone, and women are left vulnerable in a million different ways.

    1. True. In my experience, if men are speaking respectfully about women it is for one of two reasons:
      1) He really does respect women
      2) The society he is in forces him to act as if he did.

      In the society I live in #2 simply does not exist. At least it shows you who really has respect and who does not.