I first came to South-East Asia in 2011, seeking an escape from the trappings of western life. Finding myself preoccupied with television, junk food and long hours at my dead-end job, I needed a new lease on life. Backpacking South-East Asia was always a dream of mine, so it seemed like the best exit strategy from a life of dis-contentedness.
In my first month in Asia, I met my fiancée in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand. From what was a purely platonic friendship for 6 months, we eventually entered into a romantic relationship and have ended up in her hometown in Southern Thailand, on the Malay Peninsula.
We haven’t encountered too many hiccups in the first year of knowing each other, but there have been a few misunderstandings along the way.
I am a westerner. I enjoy my alone time, I appreciate my independence and my ability to choose things the way I want. This is not always compatible with Thai values, for instance, sometimes family members will drop by unexpectedly and it will turn into a whole day affair. Or I will go to visit my fiancé’s village for a ‘few hours’, which turns into all day, and then I feel cheated a bit, because I find my time precious and want control over how I spend it.
Communication too, can be a problem. My fiancée speaks English beautifully, but that doesn’t mean that she will always convey her thoughts to me clearly. Sometimes, if she wants to bring up a touchy subject, she will beat around the bush, by providing me with an example. Like, she will say “I wonder how much time couples should spend together, maybe you should read about what’s normal for couples in terms of time spent together’, when what she really means is “you are not spending enough time with me”. I think this is the conservative Thai values coming through, where she cannot always say something directly to my face, but it’s hard for me to understand what she wants me to do.
The dowry, or ‘sin sot’ as it is known in Thailand is also something foreign to me. Unlike in Nepal and the rest of South Asia, where the bride’s family gives money to the groom, in Thai culture it is the other way around. So, I have been feeling pressure to save money, in order to provide a dowry that is acceptable in the eyes of her family. Failure to present a large amount of money at the engagement party will bring shame upon the bride’s family. The concept is quite foreign to me, as there is usually no exchange of money between the bride and grooms families in your typical Australian marriage, but I do love Thai culture and I must respect its customs.
Things are not always easy for my fiancée either. Sometimes I crave western food, which does not taste great by her standards, but she does not complain about going to western restaurants when we have the opportunity.
I don’t have the capability to suppress my emotions the way the Thai’s do. When I am angry or upset, I tend to let it show, and this is something that Thai people really try to discourage, instead preferring to give off the image of a cool-mannered person. I think it makes her feel ashamed to see me carry on, but it is a part of the way we express our discontent in the west.
Even though we do have those negative aspects to our relationship, the majority of our time spent together is fun. We spend nearly 24 hours a day together, 7 days a week. We trade books with each other, we send cute photos to each other through Facebook and we make sure to spend time with each other to wind down at the end of a busy day.
At the end of the day, everyone is human and no matter what we are more alike than we are different, regardless of nationality. My dream is that our children will have the best of what both the East and West has to offer in terms of ideas, customs and culture.
This has been a guest post from Archie Ward, why not check out his blog dedicated to travelling Asia and digital marketing .