What's love got to do with it?

Lonely Thai girls are being charged 14,000 baht for advice on how to snare a foreigner by a woman who needed 5,000 dates

Guys, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is this: Never before have Thai women been so keen as to want to hitch up with you. We foreign guys are red hot in Thailand. And the bad news? That's coming a little further down.

The phenomenon of Thai women taking foreign husbands recently led to an internet bushfire that remains raging to this day.

It comes in the form of Madame Praiya's Institute for Lonely Thai Girls.

Madame Praiya and I have something in common. We are both owners of academic establishments. Mine is certified by the Education Ministry and has enjoyed a spotless reputation for 13 years, thanks to an excellent curriculum and friends in high places in the media. As for Madame, her academy has been running for just one month, but if the media reports are true, she is doing a roaring business without any friends in high places.

She claims to have had 10,000 enquiries in the month of June alone. I don't mean to sound sceptical but do those enquiries translate into sales? Apparently so … her course costs 14,000 baht, and she claims to be full up.

You can find details of Madame Praiya's school on Facebook. The main picture is a set of slender female legs covered in fishnet stockings ending in a pair of high heels. "Sharing 100 tricks of the trade on how to snare a foreign man!" screams the headline. "How to spot a rich foreigner. How to go out on a date with a foreigner. How to ask a foreigner for money. Free consultation!"

She has attracted hordes of would-be students in the same numbers as critics slamming her school, saying it denigrates Thai women and Thai culture. This column does not intend to denigrate, though it may reek of envy. As a foreign male, I am also curious as to what Thai women need to know about us that requires an initial outlay of 14,000 baht.

But first, Madame Praiya herself.

I understand "Lady" or "Khunying", but "Madame"? I don't mean to be impolite but the only women I have ever needed to address as "madame" were not ensconced in educational establishments. On the contrary. The average foreign male does not associate the word "madame" with academia. There are far stronger associations such as "Are there any others to choose from?" or "Can I get two at the same time?"

Madame is certainly attractive in her photographs, though of an indeterminate age; I admit I was reminded of Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire when I saw her. In a recent interview on Channel 3, she said she was an Isan country girl who once won a government scholarship to study overseas.

"What are your qualifications?" the reporter asked.

"Well, I've been on more than 5,000 dates with foreign men," she replied. "Arabs, Westerners, Indians … I know them all."

This is a fact well publicised on Facebook: "With experience of more than 5,000 dates, Madame Praiya knows the tricks of the trade about snaring a foreign boyfriend!" I would beg to differ. How would she know -- she's been through 5,000 of them! If she went on a single date every day, with a day off on Sunday to recharge the batteries, that comes to a total of 16 years of dating. Sixteen years! She's making Blanche look like a debutante!

And what is this knowledge Madame Praiya has gained after 5,000 dates? In her TV interview the first piece of advice is this: Arabs like fat girls.

"I've had plump girls come to me really depressed," she explained. "I told them that if they are plump or fat, Arab men will like them. It's all about matching girls up with the right men. I know how these girls feel. They lack confidence or have suffered great hardship and poverty in their lives. They are lonely. Having a foreign boyfriend can solve those problems."

She's right. Foreign boyfriends are great for all those niggardly problems such as your family mortgage and those three slovenly "brothers" who sit around on bamboo mats all day watching TV, one of whom is secretly your first husband.

Thai culture is embracing the phenomenon of pua farang, Thai slang for a foreign husband. Throughout the Northeast, women have swapped som tam for schnitzel, sticky rice for sauerkraut and plau tu for burgers.

Mahasarakham University, right in the middle of the Northeast, undertook an extensive study of why Isan women were attracted to foreign husbands. The research, titled "Foreigners' Wives: Cross-Cultural Marriage of Rural Women", took two years to finish and was spread out over the popular foreign-husband provinces of Khon Kaen, Nong Khai and Udorn Thani.

The number one reason for a foreign husband -- and prepare yourself guys, here comes the bad news -- was an escape from poverty, so Madame isn't just whistling Dixie. They married in order to "to raise the family income and to reciprocate their parents for raising them". Nowhere in the survey was there talk of marrying for love, hence the surge in popularity of Madame Praiya's School For Lonely Thai Girls.

I spent a good couple of hours scrolling through Madame Praiya's course details. She has some interesting subtopics, such as "Ways To Spot a Rich Man" and "The Correct Way to Act in the Bedroom". Lie back and think of debt alleviation?

The one that got everybody debating was "How to Ask a Foreign Man for Money".

I wondered what the key phrases and sentences would be in this module. Perhaps she covers popular phrases like "My buffalo died", "My mother is in hospital" or even "The hoe on the farm broke in two", though a foreign man, upon hearing that last one, may misconstrue the sentence in the worst possible way and think she was referring to herself.

I was wrong. Madame Praiya explains that it's important for a Thai woman to be able to ask for money, otherwise it may lead to some terrible consequences.

"I've had girls write to me in a very distressed state. They went on dates with foreign men, and in the end they had to pay for their own dinner! That's something a Thai man would never do!" exclaims Madame Praiya, inadvertently placing her high-heeled foot in her mouth. What's she doing sticking up for Thai men when she's making a living steering Thai girls clear of them?

Her advice on this topic is this: "When going on a date with a foreigner, make sure he understands that you have expenses that he needs to cover."

Is this something that we need to be told right away? Does the foreigner, upon asking the Thai girl out, need to immediately hear: "OK, I go with you OK, but you pay me money, OK?" Any girl who tried that would surely end up loveless, or at least on the interminable Tinder roundabout, having to go on 5,000 dates.

But Madame Praiya stands by her instruction.

"You know, sometimes foreign men invite Thai girls to go with them on a holiday for a week," she said on national TV. "That means the girl may have to miss work for a week. And when they come back, they have nothing to show for it!

"I teach them that when they go on a date, they have to speak frankly to the foreign man and explain that they expect something in return. She has her expenses, you know."

And with that advice, the good Madame very much earns her moniker. She may call her establishment an "institute" but the rest of the world has a very different word for it. n

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