Anyone think of moving from a western country to South East Asia should research the place where they intend to reside so that they can fit into the culture.
When we think about moving house in our own country, we check the neighbourhood, quality of house, location to schools and shops and a multitude of other things so that we will feel comfortable in our new home.
If you decide that you want to live in Asia, there are other topics that you will need to understand. Currency, Laws, Welfare Services, Taxation and Culture.
Culture is probably the greatest difference that you will face when moving from the west to set up home in Asia. Culture is probably the most misunderstood challenge faced by people that relocate. Each foreigner will have their own views about the native cultural differences and unless you take the time to learn about the people that you are going to live amongst, you will have some surprises.
Asian culture is different to western culture and there are also huge differences in culture among the Asian countries.
The following observations are my own and they are meant to be only a guide. I do not profess to be an expert on the subject and I have spoken to long term residents of Asia who say that they will never understand the culture. Instead they live in their own microcosm trying to keep their own culture intact. For most of us, we absorb the language, the diet, the way of life and the culture to a greater or lesser extent.
In Thailand for example, if you want to understand Thai culture you have to understand face. This is all important to all Thais. It is an end in itself, not a means to an end. Thai society is very hierarchical. When two Thais meet they will very quickly assess who is higher up the hierarchal ladder and the lower person will immediately adopt a more deferential attitude. Moving up the ladder and getting high status is a very strong motivator. Factors that influence your position in Thai society are family background, profession, friends and most importantly money. The quickest way up the ladder is to make heaps of money. It seems to me that the source of the money is irrelevant – if you have it, you are immediately moved up the ladder. This is why you will see so many Mercedes Benz and BMW’s here. Some Thai people will live in squalor and half starve themselves, to get the money to buy a Mercedes Benz. This gives them an instant upgrade in status and never mind the hardship endured to get there.
When a lower person meets a higher person, the lower person will wai to the higher person to show respect. (A wai consists of putting your hands together as if praying, raising them to a certain height and bowing your head). The height that the hands are raised signifies the level of respect. For example to a religious icon, a Thai might raise their hands above the top of the head, to a good customer, perhaps to nose level and to a casual acquaintance, chin level. Two equals may well wai each other. The point of this paragraph is to tell you, that as a foreigner, you should not wai to anyone and particularly not to a bar girl. I see guys wai-ing bar girls all the time – trust me, in the eyes of a Thai you look ridiculous doing it and are making a fool of yourself. Although there are occasions when it may be appropriate for you to wai someone, as a non Thai it is acceptable that you wai no one and that is your safest bet if you don’t want to appear a fool or cause offence.
When you argue with a Thai person, everyone starts losing face. Thai’s hate it and will do just about anything to avoid a confrontation, including lying their heads off. It is more morally correct in their minds to lie than to cause friction through confrontation. This leads many westerners to think they have stumbled into a race of people who cannot tell the truth. Not so, but a different moral principle is in operation here. Visitors beware! Most guidebooks say you should never raise your voice or directly confront a Thai with an unpleasant reality. I have found though that sometimes it is the only way to get things done. If applied selectively, shouting and table thumping can really get Thai’s jumping to make the source of your irritation go away and to return to the peaceful serenity they love so much. Just be a little careful when trying this approach and don’t expect to make any friends.
Westerners sit outside their hierarchy and many Thai’s get confused about how to deal with us. Generally, you will be treated as a higher class Thai in tourist areas but sometimes you will just be ignored as if you did not exist. You just don’t fit into the system, except that as a westerner it is assumed that you have endless money and are therefore worthy of some respect. Try not to break this illusion or you will be left without status and ignored.
Asian society is extremely sexist with the male appearing to be the dominant sex, yet underneath this veneer, women in fact wield most of the power. On the face of it, women are treated as second-class citizens and expected to do all the daily chores without complaint. Now this may not be politically correct, but as a guy it can certainly be pleasant. Many guys are surprised when the girl they just met, starts cleaning the bathroom, folding his clothes, worrying about when he last ate etc. My advice – enjoy the pampering.
The reality is that most working class Asian men cannot be bothered with these womanly things, and women run the household. Women will also control the money, with most men giving their whole pay packet to the wife, who will then pay a small daily allowance back to the guy. It really is a matriarchal society and the men have a pretty good lifestyle, but in return the women control the money and therefore really hold the power. An Asian man would be horrified by the above statement, but I believe it to be true.
Falling in Love
Sorry to bring up the terrible “L” word but believe me it happens very frequently and is probably the largest cause of misunderstanding between an Asian girl and a foreigner. What I have to tell you is that love as you understand it is a Western cultural thing. Yes the west does have a culture, you were born into it, and some things you take to be universal truths are in fact cultural conditionings. In Asia, the culture is very different and so is the meaning of love. That does not make it any less fun; it just means you will be approaching the relationship from a very different point of view. The chance that your girl fully understands the western concept of love is virtually nil, so you had better make an effort to understand the Asian concept.
Asian love is inextricably linked to money and family. If you love an Asian girl, you will want to help her take care of her family. If you do not want to help out, then you are not in love. Simple! When an Asian man marries an Asian woman, the man’s family will make a financial contribution to the woman’s family. The amount paid signifies the depth of love and desire. If the mans family are too poor to make a big enough contribution the marriage will more than likely be stopped by the girls family. There may actually be a bidding match between two suitors, with the spoils (the girl) going to the highest bidder. Girl children are highly valued by Asian parents as the major responsibility for caring for elderly people falls on the female children. It is only right and proper that if you want to marry their highly valued daughter in whom they have made considerable financial investments, that they should be compensated. Face also plays a part here. It is not unknown for a poor family to make an arrangement with the girls family to pay perhaps double what they can afford and then later for the girls family to secretly return half the money. This way both families gain face and no-one goes broke.
I know of one Foriegner who was all set to marry a Thai girl and went to meet the family. When the family began inquiring how much he was prepared to pay for their daughter, he laughed it off as a joke. On returning to the city, he was shocked and surprised when his true love called the whole thing off.
Many foreigners find the connection between love and money to be distasteful and yet to an Asian, the connection is obvious. If you are not in a position to raise the living standard of your girl and her family, it is most unlikely that your love match will work out. Remember, money first then friendship and lust. If you can cross the financial hurdle though, being in love and being loved by an Asian is hard to beat. Excuse my sexism, but having a woman who respects you, considers it her role to ensure your happiness and comfort and who loves to do whatever you want, is quite pleasant.
Taking Her Home
I took my Asian girlfriend home to the UK for a holiday. During that time, I watched her change from a bright, social fun girl into a withdrawn, anti-social stay at home type of girl. Although she professed her happiness and willingness to stay, I could tell that she was very unhappy. When we returned to Asia, her bright happy nature also returned.
This was my experience with one Asian girl. Your experience may be different but I am convinced that it is extremely difficult for a Thai or a Filipina to be truly happy away from Asia. If you are thinking of moving an Asian permanently to the west, I believe it to be extremely important that you make contact with their country’s community in your area so your girl will have some Asian friends.. If there isn’t a Thai or Filipino community, she will be very lonely indeed.
Asian people in general have no great desire to travel. I have asked hundreds of girls if they would like to see America – Europe, etc. Although bar girls will generally lie, thinking there may be a dollar or two in it, if you get to the truth, the simple fact is that most Asians have no great interest in travelling outside of Asia and the thought of leaving permanently is abhorrent. While financial considerations can outweigh this abhorrence, the money will not make them happy; they just endure the change in lifestyle for it. I don’t know about you, but for me having a partner enduring life for the money is not my idea of fun!
Westerners have a more global understanding of the world and can adjust more easily to different cultures in my opinion. If you really do love her and want her to be happy – move yourself to her country. If you cannot afford or handle life in Asia, think very long and very carefully before asking her to do what you cannot.
Long Time Resident