Mr Coffee turns into Mr Bean
May 5, 2001
There was enormous psychological relief in the captive world of married
Thai men after the bold confession of "Mr Coffee" Prayuth Mahakitsiri
last week. It was a confession of galactic proportions that unexpectedly
broke the dam.
On Wednesday Prayuth, an MP from the Thai Rak Thai Party, told the Constitutional
Court that he had failed to adequately report his assets because he was
klua mia - "too afraid of his wife" - to ask her about the details
of her financial assets.
Prayuth could be barred from politics if he is found to have hidden his
assets. His family controls Coffee Thai, which supplies and distributes
Nescafe coffee. His personal income is Bt400 million a year.
However, the literal translation of klua mia, a state of fear of one's
wife, is misleading. For there is no accurate English equivalent. Saying
you are afraid or scared of your wife carries the connotation of a physical
threat. However, in the phrase klua mia, there is an inherent cultural
context that transcends the physical domain. It is a kind of family subjugation.
As a result, most married men prefer to use the word krengjai mia as
a milder reference to the delicate relationship with their wives. Again,
there is difficulty in translating the phrase krengjai mia, or to be considerate
toward one's wife, into English. Ultimately, krengjai mia and klua mia
are almost synonymous. In short, Thai married men can be divided into
two categories: those who are klua mia and those who are krengjai mia.
Bolder men elect to be in the krengjai mia category, rather than being
outright klua mia. By adopting the krengjai mia stance, they avoid being
ridiculed by their friends for not being macho enough.
Therefore, most Thai males will feel relieved that they now have Prayuth
as their gender spokesman. It is no longer shameful to be klua mia. For
if a man of Prayuth's status and wealth happens is klua mia, there is
no reason why an average Thai men should not be the same.
"Most Thai men don't want to face up to family problems. If they
maintain their posture by keeping quiet in front of their wives, things
will come under control," said Associate Professor Saijai Khumkhanan
of Thammasat University's Department of Sociology.
"By maintaining this balance, he can still guard his leadership,"
Penpilai Rithathananont, a psychology lecturer from Chulalongkorn University,
said Thai men in general were klua mia because their wives had the authority
to manage the family's affairs.
"This division of labour dates back to the old days," she said.
"Both husbands and wives worked in the fields, but when they got
home, the wives called the shots."
So when Prayuth told the Constitution Court that he was afraid of his
wife, he made a cultural declaration - not a legal statement. The judges
found his cultural defence plausible for they, too, are klua mia from
head to toe.
Orawan Raweekoon, Thanong Khanthong