BANGKOK — Kae shyly sits across from Kjels at his house in rural Denmark, communicating only via an Thai-Danish dictionary. Saeng, with a twinkle in her eye, sets her sights on the Finnish men at her Pattaya bar.
Watching over them all is matchmaker Sommai, bickering with her husband of thirty years, Niels.
Sommai Molbaek, 65, is the protagonist of the Danish documentary “Heartbound,” (2018), which will screen at three indie cinemas across the country in December. Filmed over a decade by a group of anthropologists, the 90-minute film follows Korat native Sommai, the first Thai wife in the Danish district of Thy, and the Isaan women she matches up with the local men.
On Wednesday night, Sommai stood in front of a Bangkokian audience who had just watched a press screening of “Heartbound” at the House Samyan theater, at Samyan Mitrtown mall, fielding curious questions about mixed marriages and her journey from being a Pattaya sex worker to a matchmaker in rural Denmark.
“I want to say that calling us mia farang, rental wives, or looking down on us for having worked as prostitutes in the past, these words really cut into our hearts,” Sommai said. “I want Thai people to know that when we go there, it’s not all sabai sabai. We work hard and struggle with unfamiliar things, like the language, culture, weather, and food.”
Sommai was the first Thai wife in Thy, a rural district in Denmark when she moved there three decades ago. Through matchmaking her extended family and neighbors from Yok Kham village in rural Khon Kaen by placing newspaper ads, Sommai brought over and matchmade for more than 40 Thai women, who in turn brought in 200 more.
As the film states, there are currently more than 900 Thai wives in Denmark.
“About 20 to 30 Danish men write in response to an ad. Sometimes they return a woman after a couple weeks, and then we have to go through the letters again, picking the okay-seeming ones,” she said.
She’s also claimed a 100 percent success rate for the women she personally matchmade: “All we brought over got husbands.”
Sommai had a policy of having the women promise her that they would be able to endure living in a foreign land, and tell their Danish partners whether they had been married before, and how many children they already had.
‘No one goes for love’
The documentary was directed by Janus Metz Pedersen and by anthropologist Sine Plambech. Recently, anthropologists have turned their focus to Isaan inter-racial marriages with farangs. Patcharin Lapanun postulated that these marriages changed how Isaan men viewed their own masculinity as well as the women’s motivations for seeking a more comfortable life.
However, Sommai pulled no punches when asked why the women went.
“To be honest, no one goes for love, no matter if they met online or in real life, or at Pattaya like I did. We go to help ourselves and our family, but as time goes on, some people love each other,” she said. “We don’t go because of love, or endure because of love.”
Romantic love wasn’t the most important factor in these marriages, Sommai said.
“Although love is needed in a marriage, it’s not needed for us and the women who go,” she said. “We don’t need them to love us as a person, but to love our family as well.”
When asked how Danish men are better than Thai counterparts during a Q&A session, Sommai said they are pretty much the same, except there is tougher law enforcement in Denmark which prevent husbands from beating their wives.
“Men are the same everywhere, Thailand or Denmark,” Sommai said. “It’s just that in Denmark, they have laws against beating women, and he could end up in jail.”
The film had been serialized as a TV series and screened as a film in Denmark. Sommai said it has helped Danish people understand mia farang more, “definitely at least 100 percent.”
“This film helps farangs to know that we aren’t going there to trick them, but to have better lives. We just ask for somewhere to stay,” Sommai said.
She said that the film explains these Thai women’s financial and social situations better, and to more people, then she ever could by herself.
“At first, Danes, especially older people, didn’t understand that in Thailand we basically have zero social security, bad education, and no healthcare,” she said.
On the other hand, she hopes its Thai screening will help Thais see things from mia farangs’ perspective as well – and show potential mia farang what going there is really like.
“If you, or your kid is planning to go, then watch the film so you can prepare yourself,” she said.
“Heartbound” will screen at House Samyan starting Dec. 5, Bangkok Screening Room starting Dec. 10, and Lido Connect starting Dec. 12. The film will also screen at Don I Lum Village in Prathai, Nakhon Ratchasima on Nov. 30.
Additional reporting Tappanai Boonbandit