MARRIAGE, LOVE AND WEDDINGS IN THAILAND: SINSOT, NINE MONKS, DATING AND DIVORCE

MARRIAGE IN THAILAND

Love marriages rather than arranged marriages and Western-style dating is the norm in urban Thailand. In rural areas the custom of arranged marriages persists but is not as strong as it is some other Asian countries. Arguable the young people most under pressure according to their parents wishes are members of rich and influential families.

A typical marriage is preceded by a courting period that can last from several weeks to several years. Couples often meet at school, work, festivals or family gatherings. Parents make an efforts to get to known their child’s boyfriends or girlfriends to judge their character. Parental consent and the payment of a brideprice are generally needed before a wedding can take place.

Marriages have traditionally been regarded as unions of families. In many cases, a senior relative from the groom’s family formally asks bride’s parents for her hand in marriage. If the bride’s family agrees, the brideprice and the wedding date are fixed. Sometimes, if the brideprice is too high, the couple secretly sleep together at the bride’s home and the parents are forced to approve the marriage to avoid losing face.

Choice of a marriage mate is usually based on the individual's preference. Thai women have greater power in their spouse selection than do Chinese-Thai women in Thailand. Elopements are also, however, well known, indicating the power of parental objection. A women changes her surname to her husband's upon marriage and her title changes from naangsao (“Miss”) to naang (“Missus”).

Some single rural men in Japan and South Korea are choosing wives based on pictures from catalogs of poor women in Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Cambodia and other places. The men usually travel to the home country of the women, who invariable can't speak Japanese.

Ideas About Love and Romance in Thai Culture

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand: “ Most cultures glorify and idolize romance between men and women, and Thai people are no exception. Themes of quests for eternal love and the consequences of passion - ecstasy, aspirations, heartbreaks, jealously, elopements, and deaths - abound in the Thai folklore, literature, and music. Borrowed from the karma concept, people explain an unexpected, overwhelming infatuation in metaphysical terms: They were meant for each other because of destiny (bu-phay vassana) or they had made merit together in previous lives. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“In the Thai vocabulary, there are specific words for “love,” “lust,” “infatuation,” “love at first sight,” “sexual desire,” and so on. In particular, the words khuaam ruk (love) and khuaam khrai (lust) are distinct, although they are sometimes used together as ruk-khrai to connote affectionate relationships. As will be evident later in the chapter, premarital sex outside the commercial-sex context is forbidden, and the distinction between love and lust are inculcated in young people to deter them from premarital sex within a romantic relationship. In such warnings, love is usually idealized as pure, noble, and epitomized by patience, responsibility, and maturity, whereas lust embodies the qualities opposite to these virtues. The Third Buddhist Precept - to refrain from sexual misconduct, mostly understood to refer to adultery, rape, sexual abuse of children, and careless sexual activities that result in the sorrow of others - is often used as a reference for the danger and demerit of lust. It is noteworthy that in the Buddhist philosophy, both love and lust are worldly attachments, leading to suffering. Lust, however, is deemed more harmful because it violates the Third Precept. In the Thai society, where people make distinctions between “ideal Buddhism” (i.e., as in the supreme Buddhist philosophy) and “practical Buddhism” (i.e., for the laity, guided by the Five Precepts), it is easy to see why love is socially accepted and lust is not. [Ibid]

“Because of the social acceptance of love, various expressions of romance are found in everyday life and art forms. The English-derived term “romantic” has been widely used in Thai to connote an intimate and private ambience for a couple, often without a sexual undertone, such as “romantic” restaurant, music, or sentiment. Women, prohibited from sexual expression unless married (see below), account for a majority of the consumers of popular literature and television drama in which young women's love lives are portrayed. These contemporary romantic tales are enormously popular as is evident in their multiple republications and repeated television and film adaptations. Embedded in these love tales are the cultural scripts on love, romance, and marriage; these scripts reflect the corresponding constructions in the Thai culture at large, as well as provide models for the newer generations of audiences. A certain Western ethos is abundant in these novels, many of which are adaptations from the classics by Jane Austen, and Charlotte and Emily Bronte, for example. However, the ethos, particularly the Victorian values for women and the chivalrous demeanor for men, seems congruent with the Thai conceptualizations of gender and heterosexual relationships, and therefore is not seen by contemporary Thais as foreign. Emphasis on women's virtues, such as the kulasatrii code, chastity, patience, and honesty, can be found across a variety of backgrounds and scenarios. The barriers the heroines face symbolize the obstructions Thai women encounter in fulfilling their love, for example, jealous and manipulative women in villain roles, parental objections, and men's exploitation and sexual discrimination. Cultural and class differences are also significant challenges, ranging from the relationship between a northern woman and a military officer from Bangkok in Sao Khruea Faa (which resembles M. Butterfly), to the interracial love between a Thai woman and a Japanese soldier during World War II in Khuu Kam, to the intergenerational love between a young woman and a rich and handsome “playboy” many years older in Salakjit.

Dating in Thailand

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand: “In urban areas, shopping malls, coffee shops, school activities, and, to a lesser extent, nightclubs and discotheques provide places for young people to meet. In rural Thailand, Buddhist temples (wat) are instrumental in bringing men and women together during the services, temple fairs, and fund-raising ceremonies, where the atmosphere of sanuk (fun and enjoyment) predominates.. Young women often appear at the wat in their best outfits and hairstyles, and the idiomatic expression that a young woman is attractive enough “to go to the wat” highlights the social function of temples in rural Thailand. Young women also take a keen interest in the young monks who, at the end of the Lenten retreat, will leave the monkhood to become “ripe” laymen, ready for marriage and settling down. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“Flirtation between men and women is allowed, and although women are somewhat restricted by the kulasatrii notion, in numerous age-old courting songs, women are quite bold in making allusions to sex or outright marriage propositions. However, women's candor about romance and sex is still minimal compared to that of men, and it is even more disapproved for middle- and upper-class women. Kirsch (1984) has speculated that young women in the villages may appear to be deeply concerned with love, marriage, and family because they are striving to fulfill the traditional images of women as “mother-nurturer” in rural environments in which alternative options are severely limited. [Ibid]

Given the Buddhist taboo about women touching monks “it should come as no surprise that open physical expression of affection between men and women is deemed socially inappropriate in the Thai society. Until very recently, a (presumably unmarried) young couple would be frowned upon if they walked hand-in-hand affectionately in public. Conservatives openly condemn the influence of Western culture and the media on younger Thais' public behavior toward the other gender. In contrast, public expressions of affection among members of the same gender are quite common. As pointed out by Jackson (1989), Westerners often misinterpret such displays of same-gender affection as an expression of homoeroticism, or misconstrue it as a lack of homophobia among the Thai people. In fact, this same-gender physical intimacy is not viewed in any sexual way by Thai men or women. It is something similar to the sports camaraderie among Western men or casual affection among Western women, and not associated with either homosexuality or an absence of homophobia. Contrary to the Westerners' misperceptions, anti-homosexual attitudes exist in Thai society as they do elsewhere in the world

Ideas About Marriage in Thailand

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand: ““In contrast with the passionate nature of courting, the ethos of marriage and parenting emphasizes more the practical and grounded values, such as mutual support, trust, and emotional commitment. In the contemporary Thai image of an ideal marriage, the husband and wife live together in a harmonious, mutually respectful relationship, with the expectation on provision and security weighed towards the man, and the domestic responsibilities towards the woman. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“A traditional Thai expression compares a married couple to an elephant, with the husband as the two front legs and the wife as the hind ones. In an ideal couple, decision making is the man's responsibility and the woman's role is to be supportive and cooperative. A traditional kulasatrii shows deference to her husband as he is the master of the household. In a hierarchical society such as Thailand, where people diligently make obeisance to persons of a higher status, this meant that some women in ancient times showed their husbands an extreme courtesy which today would be reserved for the elders, teachers, or monks. [Ibid]

“In the past few decades, lower- and middle-class women have increasingly worked outside of the homes while continuing to be in charge of the household chores and child care. Men, however, have not been expected much to adopt the household responsibilities; it is still quite uncommon to expect married men to take on the same extent of responsibilities as their wives in cooking, cleaning, and parenting. In middle-class families, the women's double responsibility is usually helped by live-in parent(s) or, if they can afford it, maids. In families with lesser means and no live-in parents, the burden on the women can be significant and often becomes a commonly cited cause of sexual disinterest and marital discord.” [Ibid]

Traditional Marriage Customs in Thailand

Buddhists have never been big on marriage and wedding ceremonies. In the past a young man who wanted to marry a young women moved in with her family and worked for her family for a period of around two years. If all went well he was given permission to marry the young woman. Even today, in many cases, only wealthy and middle class families have weddings. Other couples simply live together until they are considered married. Honeymoons habe traditionally not been a custom in Thailand.

During the two-year “bride service,” the young man usually lived in a separate dwelling and attended a local monastery and served there as a monk for at least a few months. When his monk service was finished the man was regarded as morally prepared for marriage. Often, after that the young man began building a house for himself and his bride that would be furnished by his father-in-law.

The time and date of a wedding has traditionally been set by an astrologer or fortuneteller. Auspicious months include the ninth month because it is associated with wealth and progress and even lunar months with the exception the 10th and 12th months. On the evening before the wedding the couple is purified by an even number of monks who sprinkle holy water on the couple while sutras are chanted.

After marriage, a couple usually lives with the bride’s family, or sometimes the groom’s family for a period of time before they can afford their own house. In recent years as housing has become more expensive the trend has been for couples to stay with their parents longer rather than shorter periods of time.

Polygamy used to be practiced in Thailand but it is not really any more. In a 2001 Time sex survey 78 percent of males and 82 percent of females said that monogamy was important to them and 32 percent of males and 25 percent of females said it was important to marry a virgin.

Weddings in Thailand

A traditional Thai marriage is symbolized by tying the bride and groom's wrists with holy string during a ceremony at which the family and community are present. There are two main kinds of weddings: The first kind is held in the morning and presided over by a monk. The couple receives a blessing from the monks and wear two circular crowns that are joined by a white yarn called a mongkol, symbolizing the union between the bride and groom. More white chords, called sai sin, are arranged in a circle, the holy area where the wedding is performed.

At a time that has been selected by an astrologer, the couple’s crowns are joined by the mongkol by a senior relative. The couple kneels inside the sacred area while a senior monk sprinkles holy water on the the couple’s forehead with a sprig of Chinese gooseberry. Later in the day, a monk pours purified water in the joined hands of the couple with the water dripping on to a bowl filled with flowers. Guests also pour holy water on the couple’s hands. There are no vows or promises. At a reception later on gifts are given from the groom’s family to the bride’s family.

The second of wedding is usually associated with urban areas and held in the afternoon at a wedding hall with the bride and groom dressed in Western-style dress made from Thai silk. The ceremony begins with guests entering the hall, with the eldest entering first, and each member being given a conch shell filled with holy water.

During the ceremony the bride and groom bow towards the floor with their hands folded and wear wreaths joined together by a thin thread. Each guest pours holy water from their conch shells on the couple’s hands, blesses them and offers their best wishes. In return, the bride and groom make a traditional Thai gesture of thanks. The couple parents are given a garland, bouquet or perfumed handkerchief. The guest sign a wedding book. Rich families sometimes splurge on fireworks shows for weddings.

Sinsot

Sinsot is the Thai marriage tradition of the man giving money and gold to his new wife's family. Displayed at the marriage ceremony, it is a way for the man to show he has the financial means to take care of his new wife and for the woman's family to gain face. It shows how highly the man values his new wife. The more money and gold that can be shown, the more face the family gains. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket, June 1, 2008 ]

Families of the bride and groom hold negotiations before the wedding to agree how much the man should pay. Usually the woman's family will make an opening request and the man’s will counter offer, and so on. The families do not just negotiate how much money and gold he will give, but also what will happen to the payment after the marriage ceremony. There are no definite rules on this. Sometimes the entire amount will go to the woman's family. However, often they will agree to return some or all of the payment after the ceremony. Sometimes, they will agree to give some or all of the money to the bride to help her set up her new home.

The amount that is put on show at the wedding ceremony is not always the amount that the man will actually pay. Although sometimes the wife's family just want to negotiate as much money as they can get, there are many other nuances to these negotiations. If the parties agree that some of the payment will be returned, then the man is showing trust in his wife's family that they will honour the agreement. They in turn can show they are trustworthy by repaying the agreed amount. A successful sinsot agreement and transaction shows the man values his new wife and the families can work together. It is a good start to the couple's married life and for the relationship between both families. An unsuccessful sinsot transaction can cause bitterness and have repercussions for years to come.

Sinsot is a tradition that is slowly fading in Thailand. There are many Thai marriages where no sinsot payment is given. However, the sinsot tradition is genuine and many Thai men still have to make this payment to get the wife they want. The amounts involved can be very high and often the Thai man will need to save for years or borrow the money to make the payment.

There are no definite rules about how much sinsot to pay. It is down to negotiation. It does depend a great deal on the circumstances of the woman. For a well educated young woman from a high-class family who is beautiful and has a good career, her family can demand a high sinsot. I have heard of Thai men paying two million baht for such women. Women from lower class backgrounds can still be worth high sums if they are beautiful and especially if they are still virgins. The Thais use the word 'fresh' to describe such women and there is still a lingering tradition that some women save themselves for their marriage partner. Such women may command sinsot payments up to 500,000 baht. However, such high payments are certainly not the norm. I would say a typical Thai sinsot would be under 100,000 baht and probably with half the payment returned to the man after the ceremony.

There are factors that reduce a woman's value. If a woman is divorced or has children then her value is greatly reduced. My wife is previously divorced and I certainly did not consider making a sinsot payment and the subject was never raised by her family. If a woman has worked in the sex industry then she is sullied goods and Thai men would not be willing to pay a large sinsot. Still I know one Thai man who found his wife in a girly bar and paid 200,000 baht sinsot to her family, none returned.

Before the Wedding

Describing events before his wedding to his fiancee Tai, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “It is 6:30am and I am standing outside my fiancée’s house waiting for the nine monks to arrive. I am really excited that this is really happening. All the hard work and sweat from the last seven days to get everything ready for today is now worth it. Yesterday was the busiest day. We both woke up very early to work on the last job, which was cleaning all three floors in the house. I really didn’t think it was necessary to clean the whole house, but we had no choice as Tai’s mum insisted. She said that there would be loads of her cousins coming and she didn’t want them to see any of the mess in the house. [Source:Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

It really would have taken us more than half a day to finish the work but luckily my grandmum came to help. Really she came to prepare things for the monks. On the morning of the wedding we would make merit by giving food to nine monks. So my grandmum had to set up mats and cushions, ceremonial bowls and the shrine. After we had finished cleaning, my grandmum walked around the house checking everything. She even went into my bedroom and tried to clean things there. I told her that it wasn’t really necessary because no one is going to come into my bedroom. But she told me that the bedroom is one of the most important locations for the ceremony!

I gave her a really seriously confused face before she explained to me why. She said in the past, at the end of the day, the groom and the bride will have to go to the bedroom and lie on the bed which is full of rose petals. She said there would be someone taking pictures of us together and after that all the family members would leave the room. After the last person goes out, one of us has to get up to lock the door! I laughed and asked her if that is really true. She said, “Yes, it is true”. She had a serious face so I stopped laughing.

After everything was finished, my grandmum sat down with Tai’s mum and talked about the things that she would have to buy and prepare for the following day. It sounded like Tai’s mum had forgotten to buy quite a few things including the phaa wai, the clothes that the groom and the bride will give to the elders of each side when we pay them respect. My grandmum said that Tai’s mum needed to buy silk pyjama trousers and old-style white shirts for men and sarongs for women. These would be used when we paid respect to the elders on my side of the family. Tai’s mum said she would go out to buy it later after my grandmum left. She asked us to go out with her.

In a telephone call to “my mum and told her I would go back home soon. She then asked me about where we had been. I told her about the things Tai’s mum had forgotten to buy. Before she hung up, she said don’t forget to wrap up the clothes. I went to tell Tai’s mum about wrapping the clothes. She said she didn’t know that. She then gave us some money to go out to buy some wrapping paper. It was 9 o’clock by then so most of the shops were closed. We had to ride around for quite a long time until we eventually found a shop. When we came back I was really tired. I gave a goodnight kiss to Tai and then caught a taxi to my parents’ house. As it was already late I thought everyone would be in bed. But, when I arrived, my parents were still up and working. My dad was cutting some foam into the shape of our names to stick on the wall tomorrow. My mum was wrapping the phaa wai clothes with red paper. They seemed to be very busy so I sat down and helped them.

The next morning, my mum woke me up at 5:30am. I quickly jumped up and went straight to take a shower without any complaint. I am not usually like this but today is my wedding day! I was really excited. I got dressed into my dad’s suit and helped my parents get everything ready. We left home at about 6:00am. We arrived at Tai’s house half an hour later. I was pretty scared to get out of the car as my legs were shaking hard. I didn’t know how I really felt then, as there were so many feelings racing through my body. I took a deep breath and then got out of the car. After only one step I felt that everyone was focused on me. I didn’t really know what to do. Then my mum came up to me and asked me to go to the hairdresser’s with her. I quickly nodded and ran after her.

In the hairdresser’s, I was shaking like a baby bird. I looked outside to Tai’s house and could see that lots of people were walking around doing this and that. I looked up higher to the third floor. I saw Tai there on the balcony! She smiled and waved at me. I did the same thing back to her. I don’t know why, but from that moment on I felt so much better.

Nine Monks and a Thai Wedding

At the beginning of his wedding day,Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “It’s now about half past seven in the morning, Tai and I are sitting on the floor facing the head monk. The biggest ceremony of my life is about to start. I am very nervous and excited about it. My heart is beating fast like a mad drum. Suddenly, a really weird feeling rushes through my body. I start to feel a bit uncomfortable. I am trying to calm down but it isn’t easy at all. I have never ever felt like this before. Everyone is taking their seats. I am still not better but when Tai gasps my hand damn tightly, I realise that it isn’t just me who has this really weird feeling. I turn my head slowly to her and we smile shyly at each other. I don’t know how but after I see the smile on Tai’s face, I suddenly feel so much better. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

The monks are now getting into the proper sitting formation and so we no longer have time to be nervous. The chant-leader is passing me a lighter; I take it from him and crawl on my knees to the shrine with Tai right behind me. I stop and put my hands together to pay respect to the Buddha image then start to light the candles and the joss sticks. Paying respect to the Lord Buddha is really the beginning of every Buddhist ceremony. We believe that the Buddha is very important so we always pay respect to him first before we start any important ceremony. My wedding is now finally rolling forward. I am so happy.

We then shuffle backwards about one metre on our knees and pay proper respect by bowing down to the floor three times. After that we crawl back to where we were before. When we are both sitting properly, the head monk moves his fan from the wall and holds it in front of his face. He begins to chant alone for a few sentences, and after that the rest of the monks join him. They are really good; none of them get lost or forget the words!!! The chanting goes on for half an hour and we have to sit there with our hands together for the whole time. It isn’t fun for us at all; especially for me as I am wearing a long sleeved shirt and a pretty thick blue suit jacket. It is really hot and I am sweating. After a short time, the sweat starts running down my face like a broken dam. Even my handkerchief is full of sweat and it’s now nothing more than a useless wet cloth.

I turn my head to the right and I can see some people putting some plates of food onto the floor near the monks. A big smile fills my face, as I know that the chanting is going to be over soon. You know, if I didn’t see this sign, I wouldn’t have known a thing about when this chanting is going to finish. It’s all because they are chanting in Pali, so I don’t really understand any of it. But at least I know that the monks are kind of wishing us luck and telling us not to break the five precepts. Five minutes later, the first period of chanting has finally finished. I couldn’t really get up by myself because of the pain so Tai has to help me up! I have to say that I am so happy that the first part is finally finished; I don’t know what I would do if it went on longer!

Offering Food to the Nine Monks at a Thai Wedding

Describing wrote in the central event of a Thai wedding, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “The short break is now over. Tai and I are about to offer food to the monks. I pick up one of the plates and put it on the yellow cloth in front of the head monk. After that I have to walk on my knees to the next monk and do the same thing for him. Tai is touching my back with her two hands. Women aren’t allowed to touch or give anything straight to monks. She shares the merit I am making by touching me. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

After we have finished offering food to the ninth monk, we get up and walk outside to let the monks eat their meal. We come out to the front of the house where all of our guests have been sitting during the chanting. I definitely don’t know all the people here because some of them are Tai’s guests. We walk around and introduce each other to our relatives as we are going to be in the same family in a very short time. You might think that what I am doing is fun, but really it is not. I really wanted to sit down and chat with some of my old school friends while the monks are having their meal. But I can’t. As a groom I have to walk around with the bride and greet everyone who has come to our wedding. I am really tired even though the ceremony is still near the beginning!

The monks are now finished and all of the plates have been cleared away. Tai and I walk back into the house. The chant-leader prepares the offerings (three lotus flowers, a candle, three joss sticks and some money in an envelope) and puts them in front of each of the nine monks. We then kneel in front of the head monk and put the offering on his cloth. We pay him respect and then move onto the next monk. Once we have finished, we crawl back to sit in front of the head monk who is about to start the next period of chanting. The chant-leader passes me a bowl and a glass full of water. I know straight away that it is gruat nam time. Gruat nam is a Buddhist thing we always do after making merit. We believe it is a way to share the merit we just made with our dead ancestors. Also, at the same time, we ask them to protect us and give us good heath.

The monks are now beginning to chant and so I start to slowly pour the water from the glass into a bowl. Tai is sitting right next to me and touching my right arm. After all of the water has gone, I put the glass down and we both put our hands together, at chest level, and continue listening to the monks. While the monks are chanting, the head monk is making some sacred water. After they have finished, he dips a bunch of sticks into the sacred water and then blesses us by shaking the sticks over our heads. The bowl is now being passed onto the next monk. We walk on our knees until we reach the next monk. We bend our bodies down a little while the monk is blessing us. We have to do this until we reach the last monk in the line!

I carry the bowl back from the last monk and put it next to the Buddha shrine. All of the monks are getting their stuff ready to leave. The head monk leads all of the monks out to the pick-up truck. We are standing by the door and waiting to pay respect as they walk pass us. After they have gone, I quickly run upstairs and get changed from my dad’s suit into the Thai style silk suit. Tai is in her mum’s bedroom changing her clothes as well. Tai stays there while I run down and go to meet my grandparents outside for the wedding parade. I am really excited because this is the fun bit!

Thai Wedding Procession and Offering of Sinsot Money and Gold

On the wedding procession that followed the ceremony with the monks, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “I am standing at the front of the wedding parade with my grandfather. We are about a hundred meters away from Tai’s house. (Really we should start from my house but it is too far!) All of my relatives are carrying things such as a banana tree, sugarcane tree, various kinds of food and the money for the sin sod (dowry). All of this will be offered to Tai’s parents. We start to walk slowly to the house making a very loud noise. Some people are beating drums and others are dancing and singing something like “I am coming, I am here!” About half way to the bride’s house, we meet a married couple (Tai’s uncle and aunt). They are there to welcome the parade and lead us to the house.[Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

My grandfather and I are now standing in front of the house. We can’t go in because there are two people holding a silver belt between them. There is only one way to get them to open the “gate” and that is to pay them some money. We give them an envelope of money each and then they let us pass through. However, after only a few steps there is another gate! The people on this gate are asking for two envelopes each! After paying them we then reach the final gate. This is the most expensive and my grandfather has to give them quite a few envelopes!

I am now sitting on the floor with my grandparents and parents. Our relations are bringing in the trays of food and sin sod and placing them on the floor. My grandfather asks Tai’s parents to check the food. There are two trays of everything in two rows on the floor. At the end of one row there is only one tray. It is traditional for the bride’s side to fill the space with a tray of food to make it equal.

It’s now time for the bride to come out but she doesn’t! Someone comes and tells me that Tai can’t come out because I haven’t unlocked the last gate. I quickly go to the door at the foot of the stairs with my grandfather. This “door” is really difficult to open and we have to use many envelopes to get it open! It finally opens and I run up the stairs to fetch Tai. The two families are now sitting on the floor facing each other. My grandfather asks how much we have to pay for the dowry. Tai’s mum replies “40 thousand baht and four baht gold”. My grandfather then puts a large bundle on a tray and starts to unwrap it. Inside there are four piles of hundred baht banknotes, a gold bracelet and a necklace. He spreads the money out and invites Tai’s parents to take a look.

After they are happy that there are no fake banknotes, my grandfather passes them a small bowl of dried flowers. They grab a handful and sprinkle some on top of the money in a clockwise direction wishing us good luck for our marriage. Then, when they have both finished doing that, all of our married relations also take turns. Finally they are finished and I pick up the cloth with all of the money in it and hand it to Tai’s mum. She takes it from me and then runs upstairs to put it away in a safe place. She makes it look like she is running away with the money and so everyone laughs! A few minutes later she comes back and sits down on the floor next to Tai’s dad. I now offer them some gold, a bracelet and a necklace. Tai is sitting in front of me and waiting for me to put the gold around her neck and on her wrist. After I have done that, I take the ring out of my suit pocket and put it on the ring finger on her left hand.

Afternoon Wedding Ceremony and Party in Thailand

On the afternoon wedding ceremony at the bride’s house, Nattawud Daoruang wrote in his blog Thailand Life: “Tai and I are now sitting together and her parents are facing us. We bend down to the floor and pay respect to them before we give them the phaa wai clothes. Then we bend down to them one more time. After that, we put our right hands on a pillow in front of us and let them tie a piece of string around our wrists. This is a sign of being accepted into their family. This is then repeated with all of our relations until both of our wrists are full with white string! It’s kind of boring doing the same thing really but at least we get something out of it. Before each relation can tie the string around our wrists they have to first put some money into a bowl! They do this to help us get started in our married life. [Source: Nattawud Daoruang Thailand Life ]

We are now outside the house. There are many more people now compared to earlier and we are again walking around and greeting the guests. Most of them are now sitting down eating. Really, most of them don’t take part in the first part of the ceremony. They are only here for the blessing ceremony, which is next, and of course the food! My brother is coming up to me and tells us to go into the house. We excuse ourselves and follow him inside to settle ourselves down for the final part of the ceremony. We are now sitting next to each other with a special set of tables in front of us. There is a pillow on each table and also a smaller table with a bowl of roses. They were preparing this while we were outside!

My grandfather is standing in front of us and puts a garland around our necks. He then reaches inside his shirt pocket and takes out some white string (sai sin). Each end of the string has been tied into a big loop. He now puts the loops on our heads. Thai people believe that it is a symbol of being together. It’s like we are now tied to each other. After that he then uses some white powder to mark three spots on our forehead. He is now holding a small conch full of water. We stretch our hands out. Our elbows are resting on a pillow and our hands are above a small bowl. He pours some water from the conch onto my hands. At the same time he wishes me good luck and gives me some tips about married life! Then he steps aside and does the same thing to Tai. After he has finished, he picks up a small souvenir and everyone else queues up to take their turn to bless us with water. We smile and listen to all of the advice that is given to us! The only people that don’t come in are my old school friends. They are outside eating and chatting. I didn’t know before but teenagers are not allowed to join this part of the ceremony.

The final guest has finished at last. Now it’s time for us to go outside and join the party! My stomach is rumbling, as I haven’t eaten anything since early this morning. But I can’t sit down to eat and chat with my friends, as we have to go around and meet all the guests at each table. My face muscles are starting to hurt as I have been smiling at people for so long now! Four hours later the party is over and all of the guests have gone back home. Tai and I go up to the bedroom to lie down. We are talking about today. Even though we are exhausted we still feel really happy about everything. I am glad that everything was done in the traditional way. I then suddenly remember about the last part of the ceremony in the bedroom! Didn’t my grandmother say they would come up here? I quickly glance around but don’t see anyone hiding. To be safe I get up to lock the door!

Mixed Thai-Western Marriages in Phuket

The blog Know Phuket reports: “ Here in Phuket, there are now a great number of mixed Thai-Western marriages. It really is turning into quite a phenomenon. Around Phuket's schools and playgrounds it is common to see mixed-race children happily mingling with the 100 percent Thai kids. They are often easy to spot with fairer skin, western features and non-black hair. [Source: Know Phuket website Know Phuket, May 7, 2007]

Why has the number of mixed marriages in Phuket exploded over the last decade? Of course, the major reason is the expansion of Phuket's tourist trade. When you have more than a million western visitors a year it is natural that some of them will meet and fall in love with locals. Especially when the locals are so appealing. But there must be more to it than that. The tourist resorts around the Mediterranean, Caribbean and US also receive millions of foreign visitors a year. There are mixed-nationality marriages at these resorts but not thousands in the way there are in Phuket.

One thing stands out when you look at Phuket's expat population - the vast majority of us are men. Probably around 90 percent of the local expat population is male. That is not the case when you look at the breakdown of tourist visitors where the split is only 60-40 in favour of males. So while there are many women visiting Thailand, only a small percentage of them decide to settle here. It is probably a similar percentage to those that settle at other holiday resorts. But the men - they are marrying Thai women and settling down here in great numbers. A much higher percentage than would be typical elsewhere. There seems to be an obvious conclusion to draw. There are a lot of men coming to Phuket to actively seek wives. They are not just falling in love while on holiday - they are coming with the pre-planned intent of finding a doe-eyed Thai beauty to be their spouse.

Many men seem to be dissatisfied with their experiences of women in their home country...So they come to Thailand in search of the answer to their problem. Here, they believe they can still find women who will be beautiful, feminine and attentive to their husband's needs. It is dangerous to generalise too much about the men who marry Thai girls and settle in Phuket. They all have their own story. Just the same, there are common patterns. You can broadly group these men into three groups:

Group 1. There are those that come to Phuket for 'normal' reasons such as work or a break from work. It is natural that some of these people will meet and fall in love with locals. It happens all over the world. There is no doubt that Thai women are very charming so perhaps it will be more common here than elsewhere.

Group 2. Then there are those who fall in love with their bargirl. These girls are good at selling themselves, it is their job. It is not usually the hardened sex-tourists that fall. They tend to pick up a new girl every night with no emotional attachment. It is the new guys. The ones who come to Phuket for the first time, not quite knowing what to expect. They probably have an idea that they are going to pick up a prostitute but they don't know how it works. They end up doing the GFE (girl friend experience). That is picking up a bar girl and then keeping her for the entire length of the holiday. They act as if they are boyfriend-girlfriend. The girl gets plenty of time to weave her magic. She tugs the guy's heartstrings with her life story until he is brimming with sympathy. She gives him lots of affection and by the end of his holiday, he is in love.

Group 3. Then there are those who come with the pre-planned intent of finding a wife. They have thought about it and come to the reasoned conclusion that a Thai wife would make their life better. Some of these guys will look for their new wife around the sex venues of Patong. Others want to stay away from the sex industry girls. They may try dating agencies or internet matching services. Some of them will try to meet 'good' Thai women away from the tourist resorts. Their approaches may vary but the conclusion is the same - they think a life in Phuket with a Thai wife would be better than their current life back home.

Thailand’s Double Standard on Sexuality and Gender Stereotypes

There is a tradition of powerful men having many mistresses in Thailand. In a 2001 Time sex survey 58 percent of males and 26 percent of females answered yes when asked if they had every been unfaithful. For a long time women’s groups have campaigned for a criminal law that explicitly condemns polygamy.

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand: “ One of the most consistent findings from sex research in Thailand is that minor wives and commercial sex are common sexual outlets for men of all ages, social standings, and marital statuses. This tolerance of married men's extramarital sex is merely a part of the larger double standard regarding sexual practices, which mandates different rules for men and for women. As confirmed by studies on child-rearing practices, Thai parents train girls more strictly than boys in the behaviors that are part of the gender roles. Girls are taught that a good woman remains a virgin until marriage and continues to be emotionally and sexually faithful to her husband afterwards. As adolescents, Thai fathers are known for being particularly protective and possessive of their daughters, exercising great control over their friendships with other teenage boys. For boys, however, sexual abandon is accepted or even encouraged. As Sukanya Hantrakul notes: “Culturally, Thai society flatters men for their promiscuity.... Women's magazines always advise women to tolerate the situation and accommodate themselves to it.” [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality: Thailand (Muang Thai) by Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D., M.A., Eli Coleman, Ph.D. and Pacharin Dumronggittigule, M.Sc., late 1990s; www2.hu-berlin.de/sexology/IES/thailand

“This double standard in sexual practices may have culminated into an undercurrent of tension between the genders which, although not readily observable, has been felt and noted by many. Some mistrust and suspicion between the genders can be seen in the negative stereotypes men hold for women, and vice versa. For example, women are stereotyped as emotionally volatile and needy, and they are often manipulative; a Thai proverb notes that the typical Thai woman, while maintaining the kulasatrii appearance, possesses “one hundred wagons full of stratagems.” Conversely, many women believe that men are often unreliable, unable to have an emotional commitment, inefficient in household management and parenting, and constantly driven by their sexual urges. Many women believe that while men get emotional support and recreation from their male peers, relationships with women exist mostly to fulfill the men's sexual desires, as well as the societal expectations on the men to have a family. However, the men's sexual desires are often perceived as insatiable, with an immature, uncontrollable character like a child's craving - yet “naturally” and “instinctually” driven in a way that can hardly be limited to their spouses. As men continue to search for sexual gratification from commercial sex and minor wives, women unwillingly come to terms with the men's extramarital escapades. [Ibid]

“The myth that men's sexual desires are boundless and immutable is quite pervasive (see more discussion in Section 8A). It is common to hear Thai women voice their concern about being raped. When activists demanded that commercial sex be eradicated, respectable men and women have publicly expressed the concern that “good women” would be endangered. Similarly, before HIV became a widespread concern in the Thai society, married women sometimes encouraged their husbands to visit sex workers, in part so they could be relieved of the obligation to serve their husband's sexual demands, and possibly to prevent the husband's worse crime of having a stable, emotionally committed relationship with a minor wife. These examples may reflect Thai women's helplessness regarding the men's presumably uncontrollable sexual drive, and consequently, their strategies to protect themselves and preserve their marriages. More recent surveys have found that married women in the HIV epidemic face an even more difficult dilemma as they realize that they are at risk for HIV infection from their husbands' use of commercial sex. Encouraging the husband to have a minor wife as an alternative is still a painful decision for a woman to make. [Ibid]

Divorce in Thailand

Divorce is relatively common in Thailand. The divorce rate has been rising steadily, paralleling an increase in economic autonomy for women. According to Kittiwut Jod Taywaditep, M.D.: “Divorce and remarrying are not uncommon, although there is a small but palpable degree of stigma, especially among the urban middle-class Thais.”

Divorce is usually initiated by common agreement with common property being equally divided. In Thailand 12 grounds for divorce as listed in Section 1516 of the Civil and Commercial Code or by the Amphur (local municipality office). Divorces of mutial consent are initiated upon a joint request and mutual consent by husband and wife to the Amphur or Amphoe (district government administrative office). . The district offices are responsible for marriage registrations and have the authority to dissolve a marriage in case of a divorce on mutual consent.

Grounds for divorce in Thailand: 1) adultery by the husband or wife; 2) criminals act by a spouse or serious acts of misconduct such or seriously insulting or embarrassing a spouse or her family; 3) serious harm or torture to the body or mind by one spouse to the other; 4) desertion by one spouse for more than one year; 5) disappearance of one spouse from his or her domicile or residence for more than three years and being uncertain whether he or she is living or dead; 6) failure to give proper maintenance and support to the other; 7) breaking a “bond of good behavior”.

Also, according to Section 1516 of the Civil and Commercial Code a spouse can seek divorce if: 1) one spouse is suffering from a communicable and dangerous disease which is incurable and may cause injury to the other; 2) one spouse has a physical disadvantage so as to be permanently unable to cohabit as husband and wife; 3) one spouse has been an insane person for more than three years continuously and such insanity is hardly curable so that the continuance of marriage cannot be expected.

The above grounds for divorce do not have to be proven in a divorce on mutual consent by the Amphur District Office. A divorce before the Amphur in Thailand requires agreement to divorce between both spouses and agreement on the division of marital or jointly owned assets, custody of children and, if any, how much alimony will be paid. If no agreeable solution can be found on these matter between the parties each party can file a petition (only on the grounds given in the Civil and Commercial Code) for the dissolution of the marriage by the court and the court will decide for them on these matters according to Thai law and individual circumstances.

If both parties agree on the terms of the divorce (mutual consent) the procedure at the local Amphur will be shorter, less expensive and less time consuming. No direct Thai lawyer representation is required. A contested divorce, i.e. dissolution of the marriage by the judgment of the court in Thailand, will take considerably more time, money and requires several court appearances and representation of a Thai lawyer. Keep in mind also that the alimony law remains toothless.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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