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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," she added.

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






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