Another handling of sex tourism, this time from a travel-promotion site that celebrates ‘mixed marriages’ and multiculturalism in Phuket, Thailand. Most of what we get to read on the subject are condemnations of the men without any attempt to understand the different stories and social contexts involved, so this typology of western men who marry Thai women is interesting, if biased. This is a man’s account; I’ve highlighted some suggestive bits. Note how sex-industry and non-sex-industry interactions are treated with the same even tone.
Phuket News, 28 August 2009
Here on the beautiful island of Phuket in Thailand, there are a great number of mixed Thai-Western marriages. It is turning into quite a phenomenon. Around Phuket’s schools and playgrounds it is common to see mixed-race children happily playing with the 100% Thai kids. They are usually easy to spot with fairer skin, western features and non-black hair. A whole generation of culturally diverse, multi-lingual children is growing up and will soon be quite an asset to Phuket’s tourist industry.
This phenomenon of mixed marriages in Phuket has really 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 local people. Especially when the local people 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 a small area like there are in Phuket.
One thing stands out when you look at Phuket’s ex-pat population -the vast majority of us are men. Probably around 90% of the ex-pat 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 are marrying Thai women and settling here in great numbers. There is 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. Society has changed rapidly in the west over the last few decades. Women have become more confident and assertive. They can be intimidating to approach and fast with a withering put-down. They are much more demanding in their relationships and expect a lot of concessions from their partners. Many men do not like it. They still want the fifties ideal of a feminine, doting wife. So they come to Thailand in search of the answer to their problem. Here, they believe they can still find women who are 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 place a lot of these men into three broad 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. This happens all over the world. There is no doubt that Thai women are very charming so perhaps it is more common here than elsewhere.
Group 2. Then there are those who fall in love with their bargirl. The girls who work in the sex industry are good at selling themselves; it is their job. It is amazing how many men fall for a Thai girl who they only planned to take back to their hotel for the night. It is not usually the hardened sex-tourists who fall. They tend to pick up a new girl every night with no emotional attachment. It is the new guys. The men 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 – see Phuket Naughty Nightlife). 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.
Whatever the reasons, the mixed Thai-Western marriage is now an established part of Phuket’s scenery. Not all of these Western men find their dream wife. Many of these marriages run into problems but that is true of marriages the world over. There can be extra problems related to marriages between people from different cultures. Still a lot of western men are very happy with their choice.
– Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist