Thursday, March 31, 2011

Making (And Keeping) Friends

Friends can be found where you'd least expect it to happen

If you read many of the other forums, sites and blogs you'll hear story after story from farang who feel they've been taken advantage of when "all they wanted" was friendship or a longer-term relationship, both straight and gay varieties. I've met people who have been able to make these mixed cultural international things work, and many more who had their relationships crash and burn. Today I offer a bit of advice, based on what I've learned from others and through personal experiences.

Before my first trip to Thailand I was a little hesitant to go wandering around alone in a completely strange country where I couldn't speak more than a few words of the language. I also wanted to avoid organized tours and see more of "real" life there, and therein lay the problem.

I knew where I was going months in advance of my trip so I'd gone online and made introductions and offers of friendship to a couple dozen people through a part of Yahoo. Actually, back then there were only a few places I could find to make friends of the "pen pal" variety, as we'd called them back in school; most I could find at the time were more of the hooking-up variety and not of interest to me.

Naturally, some of the people who began with what sounded like a sincere interest in a friendship soon slid into routines familiar to some readers here, and the emails began to roll in: their brother was in an accident, their mother needed an operation, the crop had failed, the family water buffalo had died, they were short on rent for their room, their motorcycle had been stolen - I could go on for another paragraph, but I won't. For the true newbies out there let's just say they wanted money.

I weeded them out as quickly as possible, and almost all of them were never to be heard from again - at least not by me - after I declined to fund their requests. I'm told one of them, now nearly a decade older, posts regularly on a variety of sites, still in search of multiple sources of income from guys who all believe they're "the only one".

However, as the original 15 dwindled down to four it was evident that friendships were growing, so by the time my flight touched down at Don Muang International I had folks I was looking forward to meeting: an IT professional, an office worker, a doctor and a man from a rice farming family who really wanted to get away from farming. Out of respect for these people you won't read recognizable versions of their stories here, but I'll share what I can here over time. Two of the four have remained good friends, and I'm in contact with a host of others there that I've met since.

Now my biggest problem when I'm there is trying to schedule time to see the people I want to see, but that's a happy dilemma, really.

My suggestions for tourists, especially newbies on their first visit to Thailand:

(1) Just make friends, and let it go at that. If more is to come, let it develop slowly over time - meaning a few return visits. As a rule, I've always read and been told that shipboard romances and other whirlwind relationships (or liaison) are better left to drift away on a sea of memories.

(2) If you're truly looking to start an actual relationship, look where people you'd want to be partners with would tend to be. As an oversimplified example, if you don't ever drink alcohol you'd be better off not hanging around some raucous bar looking for a life partner.

More on this topic another time.


krobbie said...

Sage advice indeed Bao-Bao, alas too late for this mug.

Happily what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, wiser etc etc.

I think I help finish the building of a home in Isaan and surely its furnishing. I even have photos of same. Gotta laugh.


khunbaobao said...

Yes, sometimes it's best we just learn from the lessons and don't obsess about how we learned them!. Look at it this way - you may have helped house a family. :-)

John F. said...

I get a lot of flak from my farang friends in Thailand when I voice my opinion that virtually all Thai-farang relationships are financial relationships, even if the farang is not supporting the boy, per se. If a farang is okay with that, then there's no problem. But if a farang is looking for a modern, post-industrial romance, they are on a fool's errand, in my opinion. Given that these relationships are typically characterized by significant language barriers, big age differences, and massive income inequality, I do not really see any framework for a relationship to exist outside the financial realm. Now, if a farang finds a Thai close to their own age, with a decent command of English (or they of Thai), and a career that provides an independent means of support, there is a fighting chance. I have actually seen those relationships, and I remain skeptical.


khunbaobao said...

John, I agree that it's an uphill battle for most of them, and for a variety of reasons. Not to go into all of it here, but there are cultural, age, financial, educational and language differences , just to name a few. I know of some couples who have held a relationship together, but it's been those who were willing to communicate and compromise and, as you said, start out of on a somewhat balanced footing. It's not something one ought to set up without a working knowledge of the country and culture (at the very least). Thanks for joining in here.

Was Once said...

If all you have to offer is money, then it will be a hard journey. My partner of 10 years, taught me much about life and what is important. Think of the five precepts, that is his life and how that inspired me to be better for him and my family and got me started on the path.

khunbaobao said...

Agreed. Giving money is not giving of yourself, and that's an essential part of a relationship. It goes without saying, but there's a great deal of wisdom to the five precepts.