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The white saviour complex and Asia

It is very common in Thailand to see elderly men have very young wives, and yet more Thai women have careers and own businesses than in many other Asian cultures. Renuka Narayanan writes.

india Updated: Jul 21, 2013 04:01 IST
Renuka Narayanan
Renuka Narayanan
Hindustan Times

I felt the shame of Asia keenly in Thailand to see elderly firangs with Thai girls young enough to be their grand-daughters.

However, I’m told that 6% of the country’s GDP comes from CSWs and they themselves take a wholly practical view, coming from a long pan-Asian tradition of offering daughters to higher-ups, while a man may have several ‘mia noi’ or ‘junior wives’. At the same time, more Thai women have careers and own businesses than in many Asian cultures and are upfront in national life.

Overall, the tone of Thai public behaviour is so high that it is hard to tell what’s really going on behind the smiles. The best smiles on the street are saved for white men. The young ladies seem to hear “Big Spender!” when they see a gora and middle-aged white women have had husbands of 25 years ditch them to marry the Thai maid.

I have met such ladies and know of more. Besides goras, the most favoured nation status on the street goes to Japanese and Korean men, who like it if the young ladies are dressed up as schoolgirls. You can often tell which massage parlour in your vicinity has which clientele by the costumes of the young ladies outside who call out to passers-by.

My point is that it is very hard to tell ‘right’ from ‘wrong’ when we South Asians know perfectly well how our own marriages are possibly the most callously transactional in the whole world. You can be cast out if you don’t produce a healthy son or killed if you love someone unsuitable.

We also know that even the most careful Indian woman gets scant respect in our society, which is a century behind our law. South Asians are therefore not in a position to object to ‘white saviours’ of Thai CSWs or of Malala Yousufzai (what an extraordinary letter she got from that jail-escapee) and other Asian girl victims supported by the West or any Asian cause that tugs at the West’s heartstrings and thereby purse-strings - if you’ll permit the quaint expression in our e-world, since we began by discussing a very old profession.

Indeed, priests and prostitutes must decide whose profession is older and causes more harm to society. With apologies to the responsible, the restrained and the fastidious amongst us, a stroll down Soi Cowboy is recommended to observe the truth of so-called ‘Asian morality’, which is basically the male diktat: “Do as I say, not as I do”.

First Published: Jul 20, 2013 23:44 IST