- Capital: Krung Thep (a.k.a. Bangkok)
- Population: 54,190,000
- Area: 198,115 Square Miles
- Imports: Germans, Film Crews and Archaeologists
- Exports: Heroin, Kick boxers and Cute Orientals.
Regular readers of this ‘zine will be aware of my predilection for one of the above exports and so will not be surprised to learn that the latest piece of investigative journalism for TC is on the topic of ‘mail-order brides’, a subject which has the added attraction that it can be investigated quite adequately from the comfort of your own home.
Of course, the term ‘mail-order bride’ isn’t entirely accurate. While an interesting concept, it’s not technically feasible, if for no other reason than your average letterbox is not big enough to accommodate even a small Thai without some chainsaw modification to either the letter-box or the girl. And imagine the unpleasantness if you went away on holiday for a couple of weeks just before the latest package from your Bride of the Month club arrived. You’d return to find a very hungry, highly irate, brown-paper parcel – not exactly the best way to start a relationship.
Sorry, I’m fantasizing again (not unusual when the subject of cute Orientals arises). The business in exporting women from S.E. Asia to Europe originally started in West Germany, when male tourists started to discover the fleshpots of places like Bangkok and decided they’d appreciate a home delivery service. At one point, it was estimated that over 2% of all W. German marriages were arranged by such marriage brokers, though the recent opening up of Eastern Europe has probably led to a decrease, due to the ready availability of impecunious women closer to home.
Similar bureaux have sprung up in Britain, of varying reliability and responsibility. The opportunities for con-merchants are obvious and don’t need to be spelled out – no regulatory body exists for these companies, many of which inhabit a twilight world, advertising in the back of the Sunday Sport. I went slightly up-market, to “Loot”, London’s leading small-ads paper, got distracted by the adverts for pinball machines, detoured into the car section (“That’s cheap for a Pontiac Firebird…”) and finally reached the appropriate section, selected a company and sent off for details.
To give Siam Introductions their credit, they replied in swift order and seemed to be totally above-board. A dozen A4 pages of newspaper articles (giving both praise and criticism), unsolicited testimonials and a piece by director Charles Black. Operating on the principle that the best way to find out about the problems involved was to go through it himself, he was his own first customer, and went over to Thailand to find himself a bride. This he did – he and Deer have now been happily married for six years and have a four year old son.
The crucial question is, to quote a certain film, “How much for your daughter?”. Well, Siam Introductions do a package deal:
- Your return flight to Bangkok : 450
- Airport tax : 25
- Your wife’s ticket (one-way!) : 250
- Her medical : 20
- Your hotel: 14 days at 13.50 per day : 189
- The marriage (inc.visas, passport, etc) : 250
- TOTAL : 1184
Not bad (and slightly less than the Pontiac Firebird!). However, there is the trifling matter of Siam Introductions’ fee. What would seem reasonable to you? £200? £500? £1,000? Nope. Try eighteen hundred pounds, although you do get your money back if no marriage results. Even if the fee on the other side is significantly lower, you don’t have to arrange many matches in a year to take in a tidy sum.
Examining the piggy-bank, I found it to be just a little short of the three grand required to pursue this investigation to it’s full extent (but as of next issue, TC will cost ninety-five pounds a copy!). Still, there was the slightly cheaper alternative of a video – 250 girls and a travelogue for a tenner – which I could just about afford, so I sent off my money. I must say I did consider the possibility of a rip-off, but such things do not scare a brave investigative journalist (though they do make a more cowardly one think about the benefits of operating from a PO Box) and in any case, the tape soon arrived…
t’s definitely an uncomfortable experience, seeing what really amounts to adverts for human beings. Most of the girls unsurprisingly seem nervous, which is ok – who wouldn’t be? – but occasionally there’s one frozen with fear like a rabbit caught in headlights, and THAT makes the flesh crawl. You feel sure there’s a story there, and it’s not pleasant, whatever it is. With a compere who sounds like Joel Gray from ‘Cabaret’, and some of the worst music heard outside an elevator, it was simultaneously utterly cringe-making and horribly, unstoppably addictive. The tape might well be the ultimate in short attention-span TV. Don’t like this girl? Hang on, there’ll be another one along in fifteen seconds. Nice travelogue though.
The women were a fairly broad cross-section. Most seemed to be in their middle 20’s, with the minimum and maximum 18 and 47 and education ranging from elementary to university graduate. Despite this, it was possible to come up with three blatant generalisations:
- Most Thai women are employed as ‘company workers’ (whatever that means), ‘traders’ (ditto), seamstresses or hairdressers.
- They age quite well, it was hard to predict how old they were from their looks. The harsh lighting didn’t help, but most were acceptably cute and some would definitely have merited a second look (as well as some form of prolonged examination, preferably from close range). Certainly, they were no worse than the people you see in adverts for Dateline…
- Thai girls have no feet. Each segment followed a similar pattern -close up of face, pan up and down body – but you rarely got to see below the shins. I’m no foot fetishist, but by the end of the tape even the sight of an ankle was almost sufficient to send me into uncontrollable paroxysms of excitement and start me salivating like Pavlov’s dog. This totally destroys the myth that “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over”. Perhaps the feet are imbued with erotic significance in Thailand (which kinda fits in with some of the tales I’ve heard about Bangkok!), much as in China, a lady’s neck used to have to be kept covered.
Morally, I have definite qualms about it, although the basic idea seems reasonable, with both parties getting what they want. A survey of Filipino women who’d signed up with marriage agencies showed that their main reason was to send money back to their families and there can be little doubt that the standard of living here is higher. In return, the man gets… well, to quote Charles Black: “She is happy to attend to my every need, she cooks, cleans and washes for me and does everything with such obvious care and attention and really does please me”. It would appear that the notion of sex equality still hasn’t reached the distant corners of the world, like Chislehurst, Kent.
On the other hand, it’s perhaps a little like commercial surrogacy – my distaste may have less to do with the theory than the practice of someone making money out of it. It seems exploitative of both sides, and the way that many of the women put down ‘housework’ as one of their hobbies suggests a certain element of desperation. Do they go into it with their eyes open? According to a caseworker in London who’s worked with them, “I think many of the men want a Filipino or Thai wife because of the stereotype of what these women are supposed to be like – gentle, sweet, loving and submissive and full of traditional values. And so they’re expected to serve the man in every way – domestically, emotionally and sexually”.
Yet, apparently, most of the marriages do succeed, with a divorce rate that’s much lower than our national average of 1 in 4. Charles and his wife provide an “after-care” service to help couples through any rocky patches, which obviously must be of some help, but cynics may suggest the prospect of having to return to Thailand (where divorce is still a stigma) and admit failure is sufficient incentive to make the wife put up with almost anything. The brief courtship (if there’s one at all – at some agencies, the first time the husband sees his wife is when she gets off the plane) certainly can’t provide much idea about lifelong compatibility.
It’s not for me, but then I’m not in my mid-40’s, as the average customer apparently is. Maybe in another twenty years I’d consider it! The evidence suggests that, just like most relationships, whether it works or not depends almost entirely on the people involved. I have to confess approaching the subject with a ghoulish sense of fascination – mondo marriage? – which probably meant I wasn’t going about things in the right spirit. But, hell, if all I wanted was slavish devotion, undying obedience and a limited grasp of English, I’d buy a cocker spaniel.