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Mia farang story grows more positive and more important for Thailand

 

Tuesday 7th July 2015 11:20pm

Mia farang holds hands with her German husband for the last time

In Thailand they are the Thai women that are married to foreigners. They are known as 'mia farang' and their story is becoming an increasingly important aspect of contemporary life in the country.

Beam (39) is a mia farang from Thailand's North east. The Thai woman has just arrived back at Suvarnabhumi airport from Reimscheim in Germany via Cologne. At the airport, Beam wears little makeup but she is attractively dressed and looks quite pretty for her 46 years. She is heading for Kalasin province where she owns a house. Here she lives with her mother and ailing father. Beam's mother is a Thai civil servant, her father was a teacher before his stroke in 2010 which has left him severely incapacitated. But what's really on her mind right now is the death of her German husband Chris late in 2014. 'I was making his lunch and he just called me and then he was still, it was so quick,' she tells our reporter. Her German husband was 74 years old when he died from a stroke at home in Kalasin. Some 10 years older than Beam's mother and seven years more than her khun pa, Beam was married to him for nineteen years.

Beam's mission to Germany was to check up on her foreign husbands state of affairs. Her journey was successful by her way of thinking. Her German husband's family from his first marriage were less than cooperative and her late husband's affairs were left in debt rather than a surplus. But Beam has been able to apply to receive his pension from the German government. In 2009 Chris, her German husband, finished a large four bedroomed husband on Beam's parents land in Kalasin which was transferred to her name and bought a new car. He left some money in his bank account but shortly after he died the accounts were closed. For Beam it is still a sad and challenging time.

Mia farang - no dream story but perhaps a good life

'I lived with my husband for over nineteen year,' she says. 'It was not so easy in this time but he was a good man and I miss him.' During nearly two decades of marriage, her husband Chris helped modestly with her family's affairs even though they were a Thai middle class family. But after her father's stroke in 2009, he was particular helpful. 'It was good that he was there to help,' Beam tells us that her parents, while having worked hard all their lives, had little savings and many debts. It is a common enough story in Thailand. 'Now we have my house and my husband was so strong that we cannot make a loan money against it.' But now Beam has a choice or in fact a challenge. Does she return to Germany to work? She has worked for many years in a Thai massage parlour doing traditional Thai massage. Beam doesn't have a university degree but she is not afraid of work. Or does she stay in Thailand and run the risk that her family will again become mired in debts? And she fears that this is likely to happen either way. Or does she go online and look to find another foreign husband? She is confused and disheartened. She tells us that she misses her German husband, not just the financial support but also the guidance he brought to her family. On the other hand, she feels she has lost out the years of her life when she should have had a family perhaps with a younger Thai man. Hers is the story of the mia farang, perhaps not a nightmare story, but no dream or fairy tale either.

Relationship between Thai woman and German husband

Beam talks about her relationship with Chris, whom she married in Kalasin in 1995, after Chris spent an extended holiday of eight weeks in Thailand. 'My husband was so much older than me and I am not so strong as the other Thai women when I decide to live in Germany,' she tells us. When Beam moved to Reimscheim in western Germany, she was at once thrilled to be living in a foreign country and intimidated by what appeared to her as the strict attitude of her husband. 'Yes, yes in Kalasin at home in Thailand, Chris, he was the German man who liked to drink beer and tell a funny joke story but in Germany when we start to live in that country, he was so so serious.' Beam explains that she adjusted to this quite well and respected the discipline that her husband showed about finances. But this also meant that Chris expected Beam to find work. 'After six months in Germany before I can find a job in this massage shop but I also took up the job as the office cleaner which was not so hard and I liked working it.'

German husband on money for Thai wife's family in Thailand

Beam tells us that Chris, her German husband, was sometimes irritable about her insistence that she send money to her parents and family in Thailand. 'My mother and father in Thailand are not so greedy like other people and did not ask but I wanted to send a little bit,' she says. Like most Thai families, Beam's mother took care of the family finances. Her family had debts but her mother and father had good jobs and both worked hard in Thailand. 'At first I send something like 100 euros per month or something like that in old German money but when I got the job at the massage shop I could send 200 euros, my family were very happy with this. Beam explains that her husband in Germany also had debts but was approaching his retirement. Her German husband worked in an engineering factory and had been in steady employment all his life. Beam says she enjoyed living with him and her life in Germany was happy even if she worked very hard. 'We were the good work team,' she says. Beam explains that her German husband's extended family and family from his previous relationship also placed financial demands on their resources. 'I live and work in Germany with my husband, he learn to trust me and I try to help him, this is when we made our plan to return to Thailand, to retire,' she explains.

Living in Thailand with wife's Thai family

Beam, the mia farang and her German husband returned to Thailand at least once a year and for 4 weeks she would celebrate her life with her family. 'This is the good time. Chris, he hire a car and we would go to the beach and visit the Vientiane country (Laos).'

In 2009, Chris sold his home in Germany. Unfortunately, it was just after the economic slump but the money was enough to pay his debts and obligations. It allowed him to retire to Thailand with Beam. Her German husband built a beautiful four bedroom house on land that Beam's parents had given the couple and bought a new car. With some cash in the bank and a generous monthly pension from Germany, he looked forward to contented retirement.

German man's retirement in Thailand turns sour

'It was good for the first year or two but then my father, he got sick,' Beam explains. This meant that Beam's father's income from a sales business dried up and her family began to make demands on Beam and her husband. It is normal for Thai families to support each other but particularly in Thailand's Isaan region where daughters take care of parents. In fact, this tradition exists all over Thailand at all levels of society. 'This is the beginning of the problems,' she says. Part of the reason for Beam's father heart attack, she tells us, was financial pressure from mounting debts and he was later adjudged bankrupt by a Thai court. Her family lost their home and came to live in Beam's new house.

'My husband did not really like this but he had a kind heart,' she says. However the demands of caring for a sick husband and taking care of still remaining debts meant that there was soon conflict between Beam's mother and her husband. 'It was this and that and soon everybody not happy anymore,' she says. 'I did not know what to do, I must take care my sick father and my mother, she felt bad and worried but my husband, he can be angry,' she says. Beam's mother even demanded that she divorce her husband while her husband began planning to return to Germany. 'I tell the truth, I was sometimes angry with with my husband but also I think hard about going back to Germany with my husband when we were happy. But then I must look to help my khun pa and khun ma, it was too hard.'

No more strife as Thai love story with German man ends

The strife ended suddenly in September 2014. Beam's German husband died suddenly from a stroke as she was preparing him lunch. 'I did not even have time to say Goodbye, I just hold on to his hand before the ambulance come,' she says. Chris died on his way to the local hospital. His body was cremated and the ashes brought home to Germany.

Beam explains that her trip to Germany was a way to get away from her family in Thailand for a while. 'I wanted to go back to Germany, people said I must find about the pension and money, things like that, but I knew already that I could get only a little. This wasn't my reason. I was thinking to live in Germany but really I just want to take the flight the last time.' Staying with friends, Beam found out that Chris did not leave any further assets although she was able to receive her German husband's pension. 'I think I am lucky to find a good farang husband. I have learned many things and I am a stronger woman,' she says. However Beam is not sure if she will marry another foreigner. 'I think for me no, I will not go to Germany again so soon. I decide to wait and work in here in Thailand for now,' she says.

Mia farang for the future

Carla Boonkong feels that the story of the Thai mia farang is changing. She believes that technology including the internet is offering many younger Thai women new opportunities. 'We see that it is Thai women that are grasping the internet and they are using it not only to find men but also to explore educational and career opportunities,' she says. Carla is a feminist who is very supportive of the migration of Thai women to countries all over the world as mia farang because she sees it as a move which is empowering Thai women rather than being a story of exploitation.

Mia farang is a strong Thai woman

Feminists, academics and researchers from 1980 to 2008 tended to view the mia farang Thai woman as a victim of globalisation, a case of exploitation of vulnerable women. However what initially began with a sling of doctoral thesis projects investigating feminists claims of exploitation turned into a new realisation. The mia farang in Thailand is a product of a long matriarchal tradition in Thailand where Thai women take care of business. Instead of being victims, Thai women were using new opportunities, presented through globalisation and the internet, to open up new life and relationship possibilities. Not only that but these new relationships were beneficial to Thailand and particularly poorer Thai communities. Later, with more in depth research funded by universities as well as research by the Thai government, a new more contemporary consensus emerged on what the mia farang or Thai woman marrying a western man was all about. 'The facts speaks from themselves don't they,' says Carla Boonkong. 'Yes, there are reported cases of abuse and the victimisation on both sides of the mia farang relationship but what we can see is that, on the whole, these are very positive relationships and marriages for both parties, a lot more equal than anyone thought,' she says.

Mia farang returning to Thailand as business owners

This outcome can be seen in increasing numbers of anecdotal stories of Thai mia farang founding business concerns not only in the America and Australia but also in Europe. Carla Boonkong is particularly enthusiastic in pointing out why the mia farang has been so successful. She also recommends this to other Thai women contemplating following the mia farang path. 'I want to see younger Thai women start thinking about the bigger world out there. Yes, it is an economic advantage to marry a good foreigner but there are also other ways that Thai women can get these opportunities to embrace foreign culture and foreign opportunities,' she says. The reasons why Thai women are so notably successful as mia farang are:

  • Zero thinking - the mia farang works up: Carla points out that many Thai women find the challenge of dealing with a foreign country with language, weather and cultural issues not to mention engaging personally with a foreign husband or partner and his family is not so high a bar compared to striving to meet the demands of extended families in Thailand when the only recourse is debt and long hours working for very little money. 'To Thai women, the opportunity to live abroad and plug into the European, American or Australian dream is all the motivation they require and they do grasp it. Yes, the going gets tough but these women feel in their hearts that they must be doing the right thing. When I visited Thai women in 2014 in Belgium and Netherlands I was astonished to see how these European mia farang still feel so Thai, it was a very uplifting experience,' she says.
  • Heart to Heart - the mia farang works with her foreign partner or husband: Beam recalls that while living with her husband in Germany that they would discuss problems usually money problem together. 'Yes, this is not the same as I think when I live in Thailand. I am surprised that my older husband talks to me about his problems like this. In Thailand I learn to take care of the problem myself. In Thailand it is not so open with the Thai man. 'Chris (Beam's German husband), he was surprised and happy that I could take care about these things and for me it made my work good because I knew what we would do.' Studies, including in depth interviews in Britain and Sweden, of mia farang relationships in foreign countries all reveal a close relationship between the Thai mia farang and her foreign husband.

What is a mia farang exactly?

Since the term mia farang was coined as a derisive term for Thai women marrying foreigners nearly fifty years ago, it has evolved in today's Thailand to mean something quite a bit different. For some Thai women and among some Thais it has become a positive label.

The term 'mia farang' effectively began with the arrival of US forces during the Vietnam war when good time R and R for the American forces turned to something more romantic than paid for sex. Many US GIs developed personal relationships with Thai women. Some of these relationships were a halfway house between prostitution and genuine relationships. Others developed to the stage where American servicemen took their Thai wives home to the USA. The Thai wife was born in the minds of western men. This was followed by the arrival of more US men as well as Germans and Austrians seeking wives as the post war economies in Europe took off. Many western women opted out of agricultural work. On farms in Germany and Austria, many men could not find wives to help, so many German and Austrian women had opted out of marriage altogether. The biggest initial contingent of western men seeking Thai wives were Germans and their Austrian neighbours.

Married to a 'farang' or foreigners

The term 'mia farang' came into use to describe a Thai woman who had taken up a relationship with a foreign man. It had quite a bad connotation as Thais take pride in their culture and this trend was initially considered an affront and it is still seen so among certain sections of Thai society. For many conservative and even mainstream Thais, these Thai women had turned their back on Thai culture and tradition even bringing it into disrepute. There are some reports of some Thai children in the 1960s and 1970s being frowned upon because they were the result of a relationships between a mia farang and a foreigner or farang. In today's Thailand the opposite is the case with many of Thailand's superstars being children from relationships between Thai and western foreigners.

The mia farang as the Thai mail order bride

As the 70's, 80's and 90's progressed, the numbers of mia farang continued to grow steadily at a modest pace as western men visited Thailand to meet Thai wives. The Thai woman was second perhaps only to the Filipina woman as the most famous mail order bride although the reputation of Thai women centred around the Thai sex industry which featured regularly in western media particularly the tabloid press. Sex in Thailand utterly mesmerised the western world in the 70s and 80s. The Thai sex industry, although it had been in existence well before foreign invasion, exploded in parallel with this phenomenon and overshadowed the mia farang. The mia farang was seen as a mail order bride even though this was not an accurate portrayal. Most Thai western relationships during this period were as a result of personal contact or personal networking. However the mail order bride concept was a minor reality in Thailand marketed by agencies to western countries.

Why Thai women opted to become mia farang

Being a mia farang offered an escape for many young Thai women, particularly poor women from Isaan in Thailand. The alternative for many Thai women, committed to their familial obligations, was to work in Thailand's flourishing prostitution industry. Even factory work was limited and the pay wasn't sufficient. Thai women and girls migrated to the go go bars and massage shops of Bangkok and other tourist centres such as Pattaya, Phuket, Samui. The prostitution industry in Thailand is spread throughout Thailand's other in urban centres and provinces catering predominantly for a domestic market and Thai men.

It soon emerged that many of these woman found genuine love and developed relationships with many of the foreign men who visited Thailand as a destination famous for cheap sex, sunshine and the smiles of beautiful Thai women.

The image of the mia farang began to change as many of the Thai wives began to make comfortable lives in America and Europe. 'In the 1960s and 1970s many Thai women arriving in Germany took low paid cleaning jobs even working in the sex industry, in Germany, anything to send money home to families in Germany. It is still like this today in Germany but now there are more opportunities for Thai women and many Thai women have become successful,' says Carla Boonkong. In 2014 Carla visited Germany, Netherlands and Denmark to interview mia farang for her reports.

1997 Financial crisis in Thailand changed the mia farang

As the mia farang began to return to Isaan for holidays or retirement and continued to send remittances home to families, many other Thai women considered this as a life or marriage option. 'At the beginning it was something that appealed to Thai women who had met foreigners in Thailand and actually fallen in love or Thai women with debts. These were Thai women in hopeless situations. However I think one of the big things was the economic crisis that hit Thailand in 1997,' says Carla Boonkong.

The 1997 financial crisis resulted in a dramatic downgrade of the Thai baht and the sudden collapse of what had become one of the world's fastest growing economies. 'The story of the mia farang is one of personal needs, culture and of course economics,' says Carla Boonkong. 'After 1997, many Isaan families were more open to the idea of daughters opting to become a mia farang,' she says.

Internet dating - the big breakthrough for the mia farang

The arrival of the internet in Thailand after the financial crash and its development throughout the country at first with internet cafes and a new Thai government commitment to opening up Thailand created a change of climate which heralded in a new stage in the mia farang story.

The reasons for this were:

  • Boom times in Thailand: The financial boom in Thailand beginning in the 90's increased the numbers of foreign men visiting Thailand. The trend had begun in the 1970s. Between 1986 and 1997, the Thai economy experienced annual growth rates in excess of 10% and became a subject of international acclaim. The dramatic decline in air travel costs and world economic growth all contributed to more foreign men visiting Thailand from all western countries and across a wider spectrum of society. However with the arrival of the internet and globalisation, more foreign men could spend time or actually live in Thailand while keeping contact with the outside world. This resulted in an increase in the numbers of foreign men opting to retire in Thailand, many seeking a Thai wife of mia farang.The arrival of more foreign men retiring to Thailand coincided with a wave of US, German, Australian and other Europeans with Thai wives returning to live in Thailand. This resulted in increased visibility of the mia farang phenomenon throughout the Isaan region, in particular, and in other areas of Thailand.
  • The care deficit and foreigners living in Thailand: The retirement of western baby boomers and a swing in the demographics of western countries created a care deficit beginning in the early 1990s. 'There are many old men who do not want live in western nursing homes and who identify Thailand as a good location and yes, perhaps, they are right,' says Carla Boonkong. The Thai government has identified healthcare and retirement services as a key growth area for the Thai economy. 'Thai women are always in the vanguard of Thai economic development and opportunities,' says Carla Boonkong. 'Whether it is tourism, health care, Thai massage, restaurants or even factory workers, it is the Thai woman who is more motivated to make money, I believe this.' Carla says that the mia farang is an extension of this trend. There are growing numbers of older foreign men who opt to marry Thai women after retiring in Thailand. There are no official figures for the numbers of mia farang married to foreigners and living in Thailand but estimates vary from 70,000 to 200,000. 'Not all these mia farang are officially married although this is the ideal for Thai women as it allows them to buy land or property and attain legal rights. Many foreign men have long term Thai girlfriends. This would be truer for younger or middle aged foreigners living in Thailand,' says M/s Boonkong.
  • The internet offers the world to Thai women: The internet offers younger Thai women and also younger and middle aged western men the real option to consider or explore foreign love partners online through Thai dating sites. The breakdown of traditional familial structures in western society, the retirement of baby boomers and better education among Thai women living in Thailand meant that the prospect of Thai foreigner marriages became more attractive. This trend continues.
  • International Air travel: The expansion of air travel to Asia and cheaper prices accelerated in the 1990s together with increased tourism and economic development in this area of the Thai economy. It is a key factor in the growth of the mia farang relationships. The internet boom from 2000 played a major part also in the air travel revolution with foreign men able to book cheap flights and book low priced hotel rooms in Thailand online in minutes. 'It is no coincidence that the idea for researching the mia farang phenomenon among administrators in the Thai government circles began, in many instances, where officials and academics noticed the phenomenon visibly for themselves in airports and even on airplanes,' says Carla Boonkong. The ability of younger, middle aged and older foreign men to regular visit Thailand is boosted by cheap air tickets available online. This also feeds into the sex industry in Thailand and while both phenomena are different, there is an overlap.
  • Social revolution in western countries: In the last forty years, society in western countries has seen a social revolution with a marked increased in divorce rates, marriage breakdown and an increase in single adults households in particular socio economic groups such as skilled and unskilled working class. There is also an economic reason for these changes and indeed this is also being experienced in Asia where Asian and Thai women are opting to avoid marriage to local partners with less financial security. Other social influences are also being imported into Thailand as part of a globalised culture. The result of this has been a large number of single Thai women looking for economic opportunity and upward mobility while in western countries there is also a growing pool of western men challenged to find love relationships as western women seek men with higher levels of income or job stability. 'The mia farang is really a product of globalisation in the world,' says Carla Boonkong. 'But it is one of the effects of globalisation that it also brings positive changes into the lives of those involved. For many Thai women, globalisation is a dream come true, turning them from Cinderella into the mia farang and giving them the opportunity to live the western dream. I know it's far from the truth in many stories and there are the negative aspects but this is how many aspiring mia farang among the poorer young Thai women and girls see this playing out.'

In today's Thailand it is true to say that the term mia farang is a more positive expression and has come to mean a Thai woman with access to perhaps more financial resources. At least this is the perception as foreigners in Thailand are considered wealthier. However we should remember that there is still a stigma.

Provincial Governors in Thailand celebrate the mia farang

2004 was the year the mia farang seemed to make a breakthrough in Thailand. That year two of the provincial governors in Thailand mooted or supported schemes to celebrate the mia farang with the intention of using the world wide network of mia farang to promote Thai industry. In particular they wanted to use the mia farang connection to help promote the Thai government's initiative to create craft industries in Thai villages in more remote parts of the country. The Governor of Roi Et province in Thailand, Napporn Jantarathong, that year made mia farang and their foreign husbands the centre of an annual Buddhist celebration. The Governor also set up a mia farang club known as the 'International Housewives Club' to bring mia farang together to promote the province of Roiet and Thailand. One of the aims of the initiative was to promote Thai tourism and local products under the Thai government's OTOP (One Tambon One Product) programme. This initiative was designed to create industry within poor villages in remote parts of Thailand. At the time, Governor Jantarathong described the mia farang phenomenon as a 'historical and drastic change' for the province of Roiet and Thailand. However he acknowledged the stigma that was attached to the concept of Thai women marrying foreigners when he said: 'these women have been looked at in negative light for too long.' The governor acknowledged that the mia farang phenomenon had been going on for decades and brought hard currency into the Thailand's regional economy. At the time of this report in 2004, the National Economic and Social Development Board for the region estimated that revenue generated by mia farang accounted for 6% of GDP for the area. At the same time, the governor of Khon Kaen province Jade Thanawat said he was also considering setting up a mia farang club but that because of opposition from conservative elements in society, the proposal would have to be studied carefully.

Still a slight reticence about mia farang

Carla Boonkong suggests that there is still a stigma attached to the mia farang among conservative sections of Thai society. 'Yes even today, in 2015, there is a stigma, I have spoken to teachers, doctors and academics and while they have all praised the mia farang and this is surely the right thing to do, they will still smile and would not like their own daughter to marry a German, Dutch or Belgian man. Yes, this is true but also it is true that there are many people in the villages of Thailand who want their Thai girls to become mia farang and there are also many Thai women from advantaged backgrounds who would like to be seen in Bangkok with a foreigner or farang in their arms and so become a mia farang, how do you explain his?' she asks.

Status of mia farang in Thailand

The truth about the status is like many other questions about Thai society, it is complicated or almost an enigma. But Carla has an explanation. 'Many people talk about Thailand as the patriarchal society and this is why some researchers from the western countries try to do the story about the unfortunate mia farang but then they discover that the mia farang, she is not so unfortunate and not a victim. But Thailand is a patriarchal society for sure and the conservative Thais do not approve of the mia farang, this is my view. And also there is some challenge building among some parts of Thai society to the mia farang because there are now so many and there is bound to be an effect on Thai society,' she says. She also points out that in ancient Thailand and under laws up to the last century a Thai woman could have been beheaded or suffered severe sanction for interloping with a foreigner. 'However the other side of this story, as it often is seen in Thailand, is that in Isaan where many mia farang come from, it is a matriarchal society and all over Thailand, the Thai women have always taken care of money. I think in the new global society, we see the mia farang as a new project in Thailand, these are Thai women leading the way, going out and meeting with other countries all over the world and women not only taking care of their families, but also living the dream even though it is hard work, it is really great story. Now we see many rich mia farang themselves without the foreign husband's money and we will see more, that is what is swinging the pendulum in favour of the mia farang. The status is becoming one of success,' she explains.

Contemporary development of the mia farang

Since 2004, the mia farang story has grown but it has also come under closer scrutiny. There are now more mia farang than ever before and the numbers continue to grow. It would be true to say that the scale of the mia farang community has reached a level where it is now becoming a powerful asset for Thailand abroad. However there are also concerns as Thai media have begun to highlight abuses suffered by some mia farang in foreign countries. It is also true to say that the growing number of foreigners living in Thailand, while being a very positive thing for the Thai economy and still viewed positively by most Thais, have come under closer scrutiny. Thailand has found itself a magnet for migrants from all over the world but western immigrants have always been considered a financial benefit to Thai society. This view has been somewhat disturbed in recent years. There have been a growing number of reports in of western foreigners facing financial hardship in Thailand, a thing which is anathema to most Thais. This in turn colours the view of the mia farang in mainstream Thai society.

Mia farang promoting Thailand worldwide

However what is becoming clear is that increasing numbers of mia farang are becoming more successful. Many mia farang are now managing to rise above the financial challenges they face living in western countries. There is increasingly anecdotal evidence of mia farang in Europe and other western countries founding business concerns and creating networks for other Thai women following in their foot steps. Carla Boonkong doesn't wish to dwell on figures suggested that the mia farang could account for 6-10% of Thailand's GDP. 'I have not seen real figures for this and it is easy to exaggerate such things, it may be like this in poorer regions. Thailand is a growing economy anyhow with a lot of investment even though these years are a bit slow. The mia farang community is certainly a large one and there is a lot of money flowing home to Thailand from all sorts of projects involving mia farang who are even setting up businesses in Thailand with second homes. Yes, this is all true but the mia Farang is also promoting Thailand around the world. They are involved with Thai restaurants, Thai massage centres and I have even heard of Thai mia farang owning hotels, dry cleaning chains and coffee shop chains on my travels. The mia farang all over the world are creating a new voice to promote Thailand in the valuable foreign markets,' she says. Her enthusiasm for the mia farang phenomenon is evident when she speaks about the Thai communities that have taken root in major cities across the western world while still retaining strong links with Thailand. 'These are not just sentimental links as with other international migrants, they are real and living as Thailand's culture is,' she says.

The scale of the mia farang community both in Thailand and in foreign countries such as America, Australia and Europe has now reached impressive levels. Again there are no figures but Carla estimates that there are 250,000 mia farang living outside Thailand and up 200,000 within Thailand. However some estimates put the numbers both far higher or lower.

Different kinds of mia farang in Thailand

It should also be borne in mind that not all mia farang fit the poor Isaan Thai woman reaching for a better life stereotype. The strength of this phenomenon can be seen in the ways that the mia farang phenomenon now extends to all levels of Thai society and economic groups. This has caught a lot of people off guard. 'I think there are 5 different types of Thai women who marry foreigners and become mia farang,' says Carla Boonkong. 'This ranges from the poor village Thai girl from Issan to Hi So socialite Thai women with trophy foreign marriage partners. In here also, you have middle class Thai women who are professionals and business women who have become very interested during the last ten years in marrying a foreigner.' Again studies in the UK and Sweden, among others, have shown that not only is it just about economics but there are many Thai women interested in pursuing a more western style relationship. Many of the research studies report Thai women expressing a view that foreign men are more sensitive, caring and there is also an attraction to lighter skin cited among the reasons given by Thai wives living in foreign countries.

The mia farang phenomenon continues to grow

Carla Boonkong predicts that the mia farang story will continue to grow. The same conditions that have contributed to the explosion of Thai women marrying and seeking relationships with foreigners continue to exist in Thailand:

  • Society and culture: Ironically what seems to be a factor in the growth is a strong interest among Thai women in exploring foreign countries and experiencing life outside Thai society and culture. 'Even though the Thai woman is so attached to the life and family, there is the exhilaration of foreign travel and the life outside Thailand. I think that this will stop only when Thailand becomes a globalised country and I do not think this will happen so soon. The Thai culture and society is very strong and I think that this is a good thing.'
  • Economics: The Thai economy is a developing one which is gradually reducing the level of poverty in Thailand. However, there is still widespread poverty in some regions and key urban centres. The disparity between incomes in Thailand and western countries is quite acute. 'I think this is one of the biggest reasons for this movement from the economic perspective, Thai women are migrants and yes, so are also the western men seeking retirement in Thailand so to preserve their income and spending power. So this is economic migration but in mia farang relationships, it also about love, I am sure of this too.'
  • Attraction to western men: Many sceptical commentators dismiss this outright but they are mistaken. It is easy to dismiss the caricature of the beautiful Thai mia farang or Thai woman and the overweight middle aged western foreign or farang as a testament to a world driven by economics or as some feminists would claim, exploitation. However, in depth studies in European countries including Sweden, Switzerland and in particular detailed interviews with mia farang in the United Kingdom have revealed a genuine attraction among the Thai women towards western men.

Changes and sophistication of mia farang relationships

Although the mia farang trend continues to grow upwards, there have been changes over the last ten years since the phenomenon was first publicised. These changes reflect the progress and growing strength and empowerment of Thai women. The following are key observations:

  • Affluent Thai women: More affluent Thai women from well to do or professional backgrounds are becoming mia farang. This trend has picked up with the introduction of the internet and mobile internet devices. 'Many of these Thai women have decided to explore the option even though they are a bit nervous. These Thai women are looking simply for a man, husband or partner who is more western. This is the mia farang story that has a challenged the conservatives in Thai society who see it as a rejection of Thai culture since the motive is not economic. But this is not true, I think most western men with such mia farang are very respectful of Thai culture even though they really cannot ever be Thai.'
  • Less economic motivation: It would be true to say that in 2015 Thai women have more economic opportunities even though the Thai economy has been somewhat stagnant. Many of the Thai women seeking to become mia farang today are small business owners seeking a western partner in every sense of the world. There is more information available to Thai women on the challenges to be faced as a mia farang in perhaps in cold countries but many still can't wait to sign up. 'Thai women are exploiting the internet, they now know more about what life is like in America, Australia, England or countries in Europe. This is wonderful and they are weighing up their options,' says Carla Boonkong. 'But there are still many who will take up invitations through family networks in order to escape debt or even Thai girls who are encouraged by parents in poorer families, this would concern me.'
  • Support groups and abuse: Both in Thailand, in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and most European countries, there are now support groups for Thai mia farang who experience difficulties or have been suffered abuse as the result of a foreign relationship. Stories where mia farang suffer abuse are extensively covered in Thailand with the result that Thai women have become more critical of Thai foreigner relationships. 'It is no longer the case that the Thai woman thinks that when she becomes a mia farang that she has achieved her goal. And this is so true. These mia farang relationships take a lot of work for the Thai women concerned,' says Carla Boonkong. 'But I must say that where the Thai woman or mia farang has a good heart and once she has found a found a genuine western man, these relationships do work out.' Carla also points out that in Isaan, in northern Thailand there has been an increase in the divorce rate among mia farang but points out that the divorce rate for relationships involving a foreigner is the same as the rate for normal marriages in Thailand, it is far lower than the international divorce rates around the world.

Concerns about Mia farang relationships

Carla is concerned about a reports that among poorer families in Isaan, some parents encourage daughters to find a foreign husband or become a mia farang. 'I have seen two cases in Denmark and Australia of young Thai women whose relationships with an older foreigner had broken down. Both were arranged through family contacts and in both instances, the young Thai women simply wanted to return back home to Thailand. In one case, the Thai girl and she was really only a girl even though she was twenty two, just wanted to get home to her village in Thailand,' she says. She feels that a certain strength of character and determination is required from Thai women seeking to find marriage partners among foreign men and to live abroad. 'I think this is a personal choice and it must come from within the Thai woman who thinks that by becoming a mia farang that it would be the best thing for her life and yes, perhaps her family also,' she says. This is why Carla advocates using Thai internet dating sites and having a family member or friend as a guide in the process. She also thinks that a large age discrepancy is something that the Thai woman should think about carefully although she thinks the most important aspect is the absolute age of the Thai women involved. 'I think it is better for a Thai girl or woman to explore life in Thailand first for a job and career, yes of course. With income, the Thai women can travel herself. I think the mia farang is a wonderful Thai woman but to be wonderful she must want to do it for herself and know herself a little.'

Today's Thai mia farang is Thailand's super heroine

The mia farang may eventually turn into Thailand's secret agent at the centre of creating a new image for Thailand in foreign countries while fostering trade, inward investment and providing support to poorer families and communities. Carla Boonkong believes that what the two Thai Governors were indicating in 2004 is today becoming an even greater reality. Pond is a mia farang who demonstrates why the mia farang is often a heroine in a story that often goes untold.

Thai women rescues her life by becoming a mia farang

Pond was forty years of age when he life was left in ruins. Her husband of 20 years ran off with a new wife leaving behind a mountain of debts and three young children to take care of. Today she is an international businesswoman with twenty three loyal staff including westerners in Germany. Her children have all being through university in Thailand and in Germany. The answer to Pond's problem was clear: she became a mia farang.

'I remember the day it all came to my door,' recalls Pond. 'I received the letter from the bank looking to bring my husband to bankruptcy court and this same day, would you believe it, my old friend called to me to tell me my husband already had a new wife, I did not know what was happening. Pond confronted her husband who told her not to worry but also that she could never find a new husband. 'He was wrong and I am happy that I did the right thing for my children.'

Mia farang in the news worldwide

Being a mia farang in Thailand has become a favorite soft news piece from international media including the New York Post, CNN and TV documentary makers. The stories feature Thai brides in Thailand's North east who strike it rich marrying rich foreigners. In 2010, even the New York Post featured a spread on one such mia farang living the dream near Udon Thani in of Thailand's northeast provinces in an area known as Isaan. There are glaring discrepancies in the numbers quoted for mia farang relationships. 'In one article it talked about 15,000 relationships in the Isaan region but I would not be surprised if it it is this alone in Udon Thani,' says Carla Boonkong. Estimates for the numbers of mia farang living in Thailand alone vary enormously from 50,000 up to as many as 350,000. 'There are figures for marriages but there are many informal relationships,' says Carla Boonkong. 'It is the same story for foreigners living in Thailand and also for mia farang living in foreign countries, often government figures tend to be a bit conservative. Personally I think there are at least 200,000 mia farang living in Thailand with 250,000 plus in foreign countries.

Unease in Thailand about the growth mia farang numbers

Since the famous acclamation of Thailand's mia farang and their foreign husbands in 2004 when the Thai government agency suggested that up to 6% of the GDP of Thailand's north eastern provinces were attributed to the influx of foreign husbands, there has been a dramatic increase in the phenomenon and in the level of foreigners coming to live and invest in Thailand. The phenomenon has grown in all directions with even greater respect or mia Farang and a more widespread custom of foreigners marrying Thai women. Carla Boonkong believes that there is a danger that this rapid expansion could cause some adverse reaction but believes that most foreigners coming to live in Thailand do so with great respect for Thai culture and Thai society. 'I see the most negative comments about mia farang and also foreigners coming to stay with Thai women come from some western men who have lived in Thailand for a long time and who are mostly interested in the sexy women, these foreigners who marry the Thai woman are a different sort of man. Many are gentlemen and but there are bound to be problems with some. carla believes that foreigners living in Thailand or married to Thai mia farang have a duty to respect Thailand and its culture in order to alleviate unease with the sudden growth of mia farang among the Thai general population. 'In this way it can be such a good thing for Thailand and the world,' she says.

Problems can develop in mia farang relationships

Beam's story of how an idyllic retirement turned sour for the Thai woman and her German husband illustrates how such tensions can develop over property or money. 'Yes the Thai people see the foreigner or farang as an answer to the money problems and when there is no money it can be a problem but this is the same story with all relationships even in western countries,' she says. Isaan has recently reported divorce rates among Thai farang couples as high as 50%.

Mia farang not a universally complementary term

It would be wrong to say that the term mia farang in Thailand today is a complementary term in in spite of the growth and progress of the mia farang story. To many it is a positive term and many Thai wives are proud. For others it is not. 'No, it is still can be a put down, it is of a kind similar to the European expression about the new rich,' says Carla Boonkong. 'We must remember that Isaan in itself is not Thailand. In fact, many of the upper class and elite in Thailand see Isaan in a less positive light but also there is the growing number of Thai women from Isaan marrying farang. In this way, it is like an escape route for socio economic pressures in Thailand's northeast just like the sex industry but i have seen these relationships and I think there are very much a positive force,' she says.

Thai wives from all over Thailand

Of course not all Thai women marrying foreigners or farang are from Isaan. In the last ten years, with the growth of the internet, this has extended into central and southern provinces in Thailand as well as Bangkok. The trend has also found its way into more middle class echelons of Thai society even some parts of the elite. However, it is still true that many conservative Thai people from all backgrounds privately frown upon the growth of the mia farang. 'You can see the truth from this story. I asked a government official at an event celebrating the marriage of mia farang in a hotel in Khon Kaen and she told me that it was wonderful to see the Thai woman find her dream. She seemed very enthusiastic. As the numbers of mis farang were so large, I enquired if anyone in her family or her friends had become mia farang, she smiled politely and told me no, not in her family, and she seemed offended by my question. You see to her it is still something controversial, I think.' Carla Boonkong says it is this attitude that makes her admire the Thai women who marry foreigners all the same and brave the challenges to help families in Thailand and to bring love to many western men.

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The story of the mia frang in Thailand gains more significance
Numbers of Thai mia farang continue to grow in Thailand as a broader spectrum opt for marriage with foreigners. Many relationships are formed online.
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