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Crossing the cultural divide

PHUKET: Claire Connell speaks to well known Phuket singer and writer Karen Beresford about her new book project, which tackles the thorny subject of Thai man-Western woman relationships.

By Claire Connell

Saturday 15 September 2012, 02:18PM

Long term Phuket resident Karen Beresford is writing a book about Western women and their relationships with Thai men, in the hope of dispelling some of the many myths and stereotypes.

In the course of her research, Karen has already interviewed six Western women for the book, with each interview taking around five hours, as the women discuss 150 or so different questions relating to all aspects of their past or present relationships with Thai men – everything from financial issues, culture, stereotypes, advice, social aspects, family, and even their sex life.

Karen, originally from England, has been living in Phuket for more than a decade. Formerly a social science lecturer in England, she has worked in the education sector for 25 years, including 12 years teaching in Thailand. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Applied Social Science and Drama, and also a PGCE teaching qualification, which means she’s a licensed UK teacher.

Not just a matter of scholarly interest, Karen has firsthand experience herself in relationships with Thai men, having previously been married to a local Muslim man (the couple have since separated but remain good friends), and she’s currently in a relationship with a Thai man.

“There is so much literature out there written by guys, mainly about being shafted by Thai women, but there really is nothing written about, or by, Western women in relationships with Thai men.

“I thought of the idea of writing a book about the subject a couple of years ago, but I didn’t really know how to start it.”

Of the women she’s interviewed so far, three are happily married, and three are divorced or separated. All come from Western countries, are in their mid 40s to 50s, are educated, have lived in Phuket for at least 15 years, and some have children with their Thai partner.

Based on case studies of each of the 15 women Karen plans to interview, the book will first take the form of an e-book, before hopefully being published at a later date. She stresses that there won’t be any analysis or conclusions drawn from the women’s accounts; instead each chapter will simply allow them to tell their own stories, and readers can take whatever they want from them.

According to Karen, all the women interviewed so far revealed their Thai partners knew English, to varying degrees, and all held down jobs and made a financial contribution to the household.

Unlike common assumptions, “There was no ya ba or weed or drug dealing or otherwise. This may surprise some people. The guys seem to be regular Thai guys, and have no connections to the underground in anyway. It’s a stereotype that they’re all drug dealers and in and out of prison.”


And as for between the sheets action, Karen says that most of the women were incredibly forthcoming about what went on in the bedroom.

“Some have had very good sex lives, and it was a very strong part of their relationship. All said their husbands were good lovers, but then again they might not say otherwise.”
There were many cultural differences in cross cultural relationships, such as the issue of Thais “saving face” says Karen. “A high proportion of the guys who lied about things, they don’t believe it’s a nasty thing. They do it to avoid conflict, and save face.”

The Western women also seemed to have a stronger sense of family, and usually took a leading role in their child’s education and upbringing. Interestingly, the women told Karen it was usually them who initiated regular contact with the Thai side of the family, rather than their husband.

With the three relationships that did break down, money seemed to be a major issue, with many of the men, despite having permanent jobs, seeming to have no concept of saving money. Many did not have bank accounts either.

One woman said trust was lost when her partner started taking money from her, while the other two seemed to drift apart from their partners once they had children.

So for the three women who remain in successful relationships, what are their secrets?
Karen says all had a strong sense of who they were, and were strong in their views of what they wanted out of the relationship. They didn’t let issues fester, and if they had something to say they would say it. All women also reported that strong female friendships were vital.

“There is the perception that Phuket is very much a man’s island,” says Karen. “But these are regular women with Thai men, working, raising children, and living their lives here. They go through the same relationship issues that everyone else does.

“This book will hopefully provide an insight into Thai men, and shed some light on cross culture relationships. Being forewarned is forearmed, as they say.”

And as for the day the book will be on the shelves? “I’m turning 50 next year and I want this book in print,” Karen says with a laugh.

Karen is eager to talk to more Western women about their relationships with Thai men, so if you are interested please contact her at thegroovygoddess@hotmail.com. All interviews are confidential and names can be replaced/left out if the person wishes. Follow her blog at mygroovyphuket.com

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