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When we do different things or interact with different people, it usually impacts our perceptions. The majority of the time this is a good thing (i.e. our perceptions become more accurate), but it may also create mis-perceptions. I have a specific example of this that I’ve been wanting to write about: Thailand. It might seem an odd example of perceptions from Afghanistan, or perhaps you think that I’m planning a trip to Thailand. Quite the contrary.

Before coming to Afghanistan, I thought Thailand was a beautiful country with friendly people, nice beaches, and interesting culture. While I fully acknowledge it’s simply a perception and may be accurate (or completely inaccurate), what is important is that my perception of Thailand has changed entirely. Through travel stories, I had read about the 20-year old guy who went to Thailand for the beautiful women and the story about the middle-aged guy who married married a Thai woman a year after his divorce. I assumed these stories could be from any country.

But like I said, my perception of Thailand has changed dramatically since I have been here. This change has nothing specific to do with Afghanistan. I’d say that it probably would have happened in any post-conflict country or maybe any country with a large US military presence. The men who do these kinds of assignments (speaking entirely in general terms) need the money, have unstable relationships back home, and/or are here to be part of something bigger than themselves (military, religion, etc.). There are a few guys I know who don’t fit these criteria, but they are very few.

What does all of this have to do with Thailand?

Well, while working in Afghanistan among expats, I have come to know at least 5 men (aged 45 – 63 and divorced) who go to Thailand, on average, 1 week 3 times a year to visit their Thai girlfriends. They’ve known each other for 6 – 18 months. They all fully intend to marry their girlfriend (often fiancée) and either bring her back to the US or settle down with a small business in Thailand.

I can clearly see why these men, who I’d rate as fairly average Americans, are so happy and get so much satisfaction from these women. The men, by spending relatively little money in the US, appear to spend lavishly on their Thai girlfriends. These women provide relationships, which are completely string-free, baggage-free (something quite difficult to find in the US at that age). And I can completely understand why young Thai women would be very interested in having an American boyfriend. The women, in turn, fawn over and become devoted to these potential suitors. (Some might say win-win.)

I think this type of relationship could come about in many different countries, but the strange thing is that I only have examples of this from Thailand, not from a single other non-Western country. (While I “know” it happens in post-soviet countries and other island nations, I don’t know anyone in those relationships.)

My new perceptions of Thailand are around massage parlors, too-friendly people, parties, drinking, hotel suites, and of course, beaches.

I don’t know if this new perception is actually more accurate. It feels quite skewed. What are your perceptions and/or stories of Thailand?

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