thailand, i’m not smiling anymore

I’ve been so sick for the past week I can barely leave the house to buy food, stand up, eat anything, or do anything. Of course, when I managed to wander outside on my unsteady legs in the 3 minutes radius of my place that I can manage to get to and back, I have to deal with this bullshit:

I pause to look at some fruit some old lady is selling. A few days ago, on the same kind of outing I had paused to squeeze a mangosteen (if they’re yielding, they are good, if they are hard, don’t buy), finding them to be crap, I moved on. I’ve bought tons of stuff from her before. But somehow this time, she felt the need to talk some trash to me: “If you’re going to touch my fruit, I don’t want you” “Why are you talking such trash?”, I said, and walked away.

I deal with this kind of shit every day, and most of the time, I ignore it. But when I’m already feeling crappy, and sick, and alone, it’s kind of too much to bear. Jesus Christ, what the fuck have I ever done to you, except excite your jealousy for what you perceive to be my wealth? And if you love money so much that you just hate random people on the street for having it, people that look like they’re going to pass out because they’re so ill, maybe you’d have a better chance of making some if you didn’t INSULT YOUR CUSTOMERS?

(if you think she hated me because she didn’t want a sick person to touch her fruit, there’s like no way, in a country where people pick their nose in public and never wash their hands after using the toilet, that this would be the case)

Can you dump a country like you dump a person? Coz that’s how I’m feeling right now.

19 Responses to “thailand, i’m not smiling anymore”

  1. 1 Jody July 27, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    You totally can.

    I’ve been happy every time I’ve left a country on this trip. “OK, $country: I’ve had fun but damn it’s going to be nice not to have to deal with $issue.”


  2. 4 May July 27, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    Well, when I’m in a foul mood, I don’t want my fruits touched either 😉

    But seriously… Julie I totally get where you’re coming from: getting undue shit from Thai women: it happens!! More than the Tourism Authority of Thailand likes to advertise. There’s such an overload of brochures with smiling Thai women that look like they’re just waiting for you, and catalogues that assert “Thai people are so kind and nice”, that when you get undue shit, you’re in disbelief for a few seconds. And then, you ask yourself: “WTF was THAT for” and yeah, sometimes I’d think it was jealousy, but usually I reckon it’s out of a generalized irritation with Westerners (which, in many ways, I do understand).

    One lesson for the TAT: write normal brochures that don’t pretend to some kind of moral superiority of your people, by -say- being honest, Example: “Some Thais are bastards and bitches, and some are lovely people… just like in every other country”.

    • 5 julielavoie July 29, 2010 at 7:03 pm

      I think in the brochures, they are smiling at men. ;-P

      This whole thing kind of hits on an issue that has taken a long time to dawn on me, which also accounts for a lot of Westerners perceptions in living here that differ from mine, namely that people react really differently to you as a Western woman than as a Western man.

      Even Thai women themselves seem to buy into the sexist Thai system that men are worth more than women, and give way more respect to men. Pleasing men seems pretty central to their existence, in a way that I don’t find it to be for Western women. I think there’s an expectation as a woman , that you will fall in line, especially with certain low status Thai women who want to feel like they’re higher in the pecking order than someone, anyone, and decide that as a foreigner, that person should be you. Then they are mad when you don’t comply.

      This is just a theory, but it seems to account for certain undercurrents I’ve perceived in my relationships with Thai women that I’ve never been able to understand before. Also, I’m not suggesting applies to every Thai woman on earth, just a tendency within Thai society that I perceive.

      Ask a Korean has an interesting article that touches upon a similar jealousy situation between American Korean women and native Korean women:

      • 6 May August 2, 2010 at 11:35 am

        Interesting link, thanks Julie!! Yeah, as women, we experience Thailand very differently from men.

        I totally agree with the sentence “For Korean women, their entire person is judged on how much they like bending over backwards and paddled in the bare ass by The Man”. In Thai society too, the rewards for acting in a way that pleases men are -still- HUGE. There are big incentives for dressing, speaking, playing with your hair etc,etc, in a way that men like. (This also reminds me of Lady Gaga-impulsed reflection on: “The extent to which being a woman is a matter of artifice, of artful self-presentation” – worth a read at NYT )

        The “competitive” relationship this ingrains between Thai/Thai/Western/Any other females is screwy, particularly because it’s based on men’s views. In Western countries, I see and feel a lot more solidarity between women and I think that’s one major reason why those countries are overcoming sexism, misogyny and the patriarchy.

  3. 7 Matt August 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm

    Whatever you do, Julie, don’t go to Bangladesh. You would probably end up killing someone.

    • 8 julielavoie August 5, 2010 at 11:48 pm

      You seem to be really threatened by me. Why do you keep reading my blog, my tweets, and trying to meet me in real life when we obviously don’t agree on much?

      (For those of you just reading this comment, I’ve had to block the person commenting on twitter, and I’ve deleted all of his previous comments to this blog, including asking me to come discuss things on my blog with him in real life)

      Years ago, I stumbled onto your blog, read stuff like “I’ve never met a white woman who had the sexual authority of a Thai woman” and decided not to waste one more second reading such crap. I have no respect for this kind of sexist and racist drivel straight out of the 17th century, especially from someone from a Western country who has no reason not to know any better.

      But once I had determined that we have nothing in common and that I had no respect for your opinion, I stopped reading your blog. Why do you seem so intent on reading mine?

    • 9 julielavoie August 6, 2010 at 12:02 am


      I’m sorry to seem harsh in what I’m saying, but I just want to be clear than I’m not interested in discussing relationships in Thailand with Western expat men, particularly not those with self professed yellow fever. I don’t really see why you seem intent on discussing such topics with me, on my own blog, where obviously there’s a million Thailand expat forums where you can high-five other guys just like yourself and everyone will agree with you.

      I think it’s disrespectful that you seem completely unaware of the fact that a Western woman’s experience of Thailand would be different than a Western man, and given that, I don’t really see what you have to contribute to the kinds of discussion I am interested in.

      (Again, sorry to those readers who will think this is completely random of me to say after what seems like just one random if condescending comment on my blog — I’ve had to block this person on twitter for his comments to me, and delete all of his previous comments on this blog, now I’m just sick of seeing these comments in my queue and decided to respond instead of just ignoring and deleting).

  4. 10 julielavoie August 6, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Hi May,

    yeah, I completely agree with you. I think Thai women are in a pretty similar situation to Korean women in the article, where pretty much their entire worth as a person is determined by how good they are at pleasing men. That’s why I find it hard to relate to them and be friends with them; they’re the opposite of everything I’ve strived all my life to be. Of course, not everyone is the same, but I think the trend is quite strong.

    I guess the major reason I don’t respect guys with yellow fever is that they seem to not realize or not care about the social inequalities that are behind the traits they find so pleasing in Thai women.

    Once I vacationed on Ko Tao, and all the Thai service people had somehow been replaced by Burmese people. Whereas the Thais had always been kind of surly and lazy, the Burmese were really polite, hard-working, subservient. From a selfish point of view, the quality of the service went WAY UP. But why? The Burmese there are mostly illegal immigrants with no rights, the police do regular raids and send them to immigration jail or back to Burma where many of them are killed, the Thais pay them way less than Thais, and sometimes not at all. *Of course* such a precarious and desperate workforce will be more compliant. What kind of person sits there thinking “YEAH, THIS IS HOW THINGS SHOULD BE?” Their comfort is bought at the price of the exploitation and inequality of someone else.

    Of course, Thai women have more status than illegal Burmese, but they are still not equal. Some Western men seem to love being catered to by Thai women, and don’t care about what is behind it. I don’t respect men who idealize this situation of inequality, saying that this is how relationships between men and women should be.

  5. 11 julielavoie August 6, 2010 at 12:21 am

    Hi May, I forgot to say, thanks for that interesting Lady Gaga article!

  6. 12 Matt August 6, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Umm, just to defend myself here, you blocked me after I disagreed with something you said on Twitter. The first comment I wrote on your blog was straightforward enough. I followed it up with one asking why you hadn’t published it. And then there was this one. So that would make three, no?

    The article you refer to on my blog was written three years ago and, shock horror, I’m open to people criticizing it because it was a silly thing to write and it was part of a column I wrote pretty much with the intention of provoking people. After I wrote that article, I held my hands up and said it was a mistake and I listened to what people said and their reactions.

    After you called me a “douche bag” on Twitter and threw a “fuck you” my way, I could sense I’d obviously angered you, and this made me feel slightly uneasy. A lot of people talk about you, in real life and on the Internet. You’re friends with, or acquainted with, a few people I know.

    With that in mind, I offered to meet just because your writing is making you a lot of enemies and the things you write are so provocative and offensive that I wanted to put across to you why I disagree. It was really just a common courtesy, rather than getting into a war of words on the Internet. And you remember, what I actually said was that it would be good to have a chat about this if you went to the Soma party. I wasn’t asking you out socially.

    I don’t really understand what you are talking about when you say I have yellow fever. I don’t live in Thailand and haven’t for about two years. I visited your blog a number of times hoping that you would publish my initial comment, which took issue with you saying Thai people never wash their hands after going to the toilet and also implying that they are jealous of your perceived wealth. Perhaps the old lady simply didn’t want a sick person touching her fruits?

    I am well aware that a Western woman’s experience is different than that of a man’s, but I disagree with the way you make it into a crusade. Things like calling Andrew Spooner a sexpat because he has a Thai wife also don’t do you any favours.

    I’m not at all threatened by you. I don’t know where this idea comes from. I just don’t agree with a lot of the things you write on the Internet. Your comments to me also aren’t harsh — I’m a grown-up, after all.

    And did I actually say, “I’ve never met a white woman who had the sexual authority of a Thai woman”? No, I didn’t. But that’s by the by.

    If you’re going to publish your thoughts on the Internet, you have to be prepared to accept criticism and to deal with it, rather than simply ignoring it.

    As for “sexist and racist drivel”, I could very well fire that back at you. You seem be intent on making enemies. Again, I’ve written more here than this warrants. It would be good if you could publish this so I can defend myself here, but I understand if you don’t. I can simply post this on my own blog. No worries.

    That’s all I have to say really. I’m only 27 years old and I don’t know what I would “high-five” anyone on an expat forum about. This whole encounter has left me really confused.

  7. 13 May August 9, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    Julie, I hope we can meet in real life soon (send me an email!!). You have articulated really well what took me years to understand.

    Anyway, I hope you’re not paying attention to Matt’s threats (You are making a lot of FRIENDS) and advice (DO go to Bangladesh). It’s just like your average yellow fever boy to think that readers of JULIE’s blog actually want to read Matt’s opinions- hum.. NO, THANK YOU!! Keep it for your own blog Lost Boy, there’s enough websites polluted with the ‘observations’ of you and your fellow boys, so please respect that all spaces are NOT made to accommodate your opinions!

    However, Julie, I guess that we could be a little understanding – after years of paying people to sit at dinner with you and listen to your opinions, you would get delusional about the validity of what you have to say.

  8. 14 julielavoie August 10, 2010 at 12:42 am

    Hi Matt,

    The reasons I write a blog are:

    1) to call ’em how it see ’em
    2) to connect with people I have something in common with

    I care about sharing my observations and experiences of my life in Thailand. If that offends some people, so be it. You can’t please everyone. Even if I wrote the blandest, most non-controversial posts ever, I would alienate some people for being boring. As they say, there is no quicker way to be mediocre than to try to please everyone.

    What gets me the most hate mail is that I give my opinion about relationships between Western men and Thai women, many of which I find lame and distasteful. On most Thailand-related expat sites, a Western woman can barely post about something as innocuous as where to get waxed or buy clothes in Western sizes without attracting torrents of abusive comments by male expats who have some serious issues about relating to women. In this kind of climate, most women steer away from expressing their opinion of Thai/farang relationships on the Internet. Despite this, I’ve decided to give my opinion about it because I think it’s bullshit that a bunch of random losers should be able to silence such a major topic in Thailand.

    You can claim all day that it’s some kind of clever intellectual exercise to generate discussion and blog hits by writing articles like the “sexual authority” one I mention, but why would someone in their right mind, someone with any kind of respect for women at all, decide to add to this toxic climate of hatred against Western women in Thailand? You know what they call people that write things, whether or not they believe them, just to stir shit up and make people angry? TROLLS.

    (And one thing I’d like to add and ask of all white women haters in Thailand: did you just happen to forget YO OWN MAMA IS WHITE????)

    When my friends and family criticize me, or people I work with and or/respect, I listen. I try to see if there’s truth to what they say, and if it’s the right thing to do, I change and try to improve. But why I should sit around fretting about what random people on the internet think about me, people who hate what I say but are too ridiculous to just stop following me, people that from their words and opinions inspire no respect in me?

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how dumb it might be. What they are not entitled to is my time, and my ear.

    I’m way more interested in discovering people I have common values and interests with through this blog, than I am in being upset that I’ve alienated a group of people I don’t like anyways.

    That’s all I’m going to say about this. I’m not interested in discussing this anymore.

  9. 15 julielavoie August 10, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Hi May,

    ps. i’d love to meet for coffee sometime. Either write your email in a comment or if you want more privacy, send me an anon comment. It will go into moderation queue and I will see it and no one else.

  10. 16 julielavoie August 10, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Hi May,

    thanks for your support!

    Yeah, thanks for calling it out, I’m also not a fan of what sounds like a lot of thinly-veiled threats.

    I agree with you that a lot of men in Thailand, especially the younger men that are moderately attractive compared to your average old geezer sexpat, get really puffed up and self-important on the attention of Thai women with zero concept of where this guy stands in the status of his own culture, amongst people who actually know what the dude is about.

    Thailand really seems to be full of dudes who don’t know how to relate to women as people, it’s sad. I would like to see that change.

  11. 17 Catherine August 12, 2010 at 10:24 am

    Just a personal observation…

    “If you’re going to touch my fruit, I don’t want you”

    I’ve had this request before from a fruit seller in Thailand but not with those exact same words. The meaning was the same though – don’t damage the fruit.

    And if you think about it, it makes sense.

    If everyone walking by squeezed fruit, then the fruit would eventually bruise and be unsaleable.

    At the end of the day fruit sellers in Thailand make little money, so they simply cannot afford to throw away much of their produce.

    Instead, what I do is ask them to pick for me. Most come back with a basic ‘yesterday, today, or tomorrow’ because they know when the fruit will be ripe enough to eat (or close enough).

    I’ve never had it fail and I’ve requested the same all over SE Asia (going on 16 years now).

  12. 18 julielavoie August 12, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Hi Catherine,

    fair enough.

    I mean, in this case it was mangosteen, so unless you’re really going crazy with the squeezing, I don’t think you’d really damage the fruit much. I can see how you wouldn’t want everyone squeezing yellow mangoes, let’s say.

    It was more the really rude way that she said it, with a sour, mean look on her face. When I’ve always been perfectly polite to her, and a past customer.

    I mean, I guess what really bugs me, is not any one particular incident like this one, but the fact that they happen so often. In particular, when I was younger I worked in a few customer service jobs. It was often difficult to deal with the customers, some of which were rude or demanding or just plain nuts, but never in my life was I ever as rude to any of them as some vendors are in Thailand to me almost every day.

    Of course many vendors are really nice, too.

    I guess the logical, rational person in me just finds it really frustrating to deal with vendors who seem to be upset to be poor, but don’t seem to connect their rude and shitty attitude to not being successful in business — because we both lose. You know how people say a successful saleswoman can sell a fridge to an eskimo? Well, I live the opposite in Thailand — so often I don’t buy stuff I really want and need because the seller has just pissed me off so much, I’d rather go without than give them money. Who wins in that? Obviously they want money by the fact that they have a business, and I want the stuff they are selling. It annoys me that they cause us both to lose with their shitty attitude.

    Maybe coz I’m a foodie but I really prefer to choose fruit myself. Some vendors I would trust to pick decent fruit for me, and I ask them when I don’t know the fruit well to do it, but some vendors I’ve had just give me all the bad ones, so I’m not such a huge fan of doing this. Still, thanks for the idea!

  13. 19 julielavoie August 12, 2010 at 12:22 pm

    I just want to explain too for people who are wondering “why don’t you just buy stuff from someone else instead?”

    which is what I’d love to do, really. The problem is there’s kind of a big “neighborhoodness” in Bangkok that hard to avoid that it’s annoying go to outside your own hood to buy everyday foods like fruit and soup, let’s say. So for many items there’s usually just one person who sells it in your hood.

    I srsly bought a blender to make fruit shakes at home because the one person who makes fruit shakes (a regular thing to drink around here, especially in hot season) in my hood, one the first time i tried to buy from her, started serving all her Thais customers first even thought I ordered before them. Can you imagine that shit happening in Canada? There’s like no way I was going to buy stuff from her.

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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