Yep, I said it! I am officially now Thai. Wait a minute, what the heck you ask? Allow me to explain. For starters, I am not a FARANG to the natives here, well, not so much in words anyway. And if you are wondering what that word means…well, everyone seems to have their own ideas. I mean, Lonely Planet forums I have read have said it means Honoured Guest. Yeah, right. Honoured to the ladies of the night maybe…
And then, the highly-trustworthy Bangkok Post (insert LOL here) seems to have their own take on the word. I guess we are all transplanted here to be big ol’ guava fruits. In any case, if you do read what the Bangkok Post says, you will learn that us FARANGS are actually well-respected, highly civilized human beings in the LOS (Land of Smiles).
It doesn’t matter any of this anyway because yours truly is not a FARANG. Nope, I am 100% pure Thai. Um, yeah, I am. Why? The Thais tell me so! Yes, mother and father, they sure do! I guess I am Italian, as my husband says when honeymooning in Italy I was lost in the crowds, and while I am Italian and bear a striking resemblance to my father, I am a mutt at heart. But I am also Mexican! Yep, having taught Spanish for over 10 years, I seem to blend in well, and not just on Spring Break in Mexico either. I speak the language, eat their food and then run for the border as fast as I can before they suck me in and detain me. Josh, remember Los Cabos…yeah. All righty then….
Shall we move on? I think so. So I am in a taxi cab a couple weeks ago. I don’t make eye contact with the drivers because they often have a tendency to 1-wanna practice their English the whole 30 minutes we have moved 1 Kilometer down Sukhumvit and 2-refuse me when I tell them where I wish to be driven. Picky drivers, eh? Whoops, guess I am a Canuck, too! So, this particular Thai gentleman (I have yet to have a female cab driver…) says to me when I tell him to take me to Sukhumvit soi 30, “You Thai” Um, what? “No, I am not Thai.” Dai, dai…you Thai, Madame. Guess I am French, too, then, right? Well, I just responded back, no, Sukhumvit Sahm Sip (30). And then a simple thank you. He proceeds to practice his English more and say, “You look Thai.” No, I teach Thai students, though. No, he insists I am Thai. I say thank you in Thai, pay him the fare and exit. I cannot catch a break from being a mutt!
After the school day ended on Thursday this week, I ventured out to the main corridor where the parents and the students’ nannies and their drivers fetch the kids at 3:00. I was bumping in to some familiar faces and then one I had not eyed before. He points to my hair, and then I immediately stare down his mane. Long hair on a grown Thai I have not seen before, but I do have one Thai student (bright young fella, I might add…) with a rat tail the length of my arm and a half, maybe two arms’ length. Anyway, the guy says aside to the Italian parent I was talking with, Thai. And then points at me again. Still don’t understand why he was pointing at my hair. Then I got brave and curious and just said, “What did you say?” He introduced himself, but I didn’t quite get it all. He said, “You are Thai?!” No, I am not. I am a mutt, pure-bred 100% mutt. I didn’t digress further than to say I look like everything no matter where I am in the world. He complimented me on my Thai and said with the exception of my streaky highlights I could pass for a Thai woman.
Fast forward to today. Walking out of Gourmet Market, my favorite Western grocery store (but frustrating they don’t carry Arm & Hammer to rid the stench of our fridge in the apartment) this afternoon, I nabbed a cabbie who wanted again to practice his English. I was asked where I was going, and being the native Thai I am, no FARANG here!!! I proceeded to say where I lived and that he’d need to take the first U-Turn to get back on the other direction. Stupid boulevards cramping up the traffic here, I tell ya! And so he says, “You Thai” I took a breath and thought to myself, “Here we go again.” This 1 KM ride that will take 30 minutes is gonna be one of those trips…I said no, and he proceeded to ask where I am from, how old, what I am doing here with all those groceries and why I live here.
Case in point–get a pair of headphones to wear while in the droning cabs, so I can tune it out and second, just start investing in all that whitening crap the girls here buy to make themselves look like Geisha whities. I swear, if you don’t look carefully, there is whitening agent in your milk, in your bread, in your cheap Chang beer (read Wisco=Busch Light), probably even in the street food I get on the roadside stalls. I should start up a Whitening Solution company… The girls here spend more time trying to get white and hide their skin tone than we spend basking in the sun on Spring Break. They rely on their umbrellas more as parasols than to beat the rainy season.
So, another lesson…if I am going to perfect my native Thai-ness, I better start eating up all that whitening agent in the lotions and skin care products if I wanna really fit in. And I guess I better start speaking better, as Josh has me beat on that level.
If I am Thai, why am I getting grossed out all of a sudden by the street food? I know a couple of my girlfriends at work have gotten sick so it is a fair warning, but I guess I will have to put on my brave suit and dive in, and stop being a wuss and sweating when I suck up the Tom Yum soup at school lunches…
In any case, I will need to own up and just learn to say yes, I am Thai. No, not a mutt. I did have to explain to my students that mutts are just a healthy dose of this and that, like all us Americans. But I think I lost them at the word mutt…We’ll keep working at it to the point of them just realizing I am THAI.
Go to a wat, pay your respects and take in the wafts of incense!
And since I am Thai, I have declared that Thailand is NOT the Land of Smiles. Nope, it is decided that Thailand is the LOI. Um…Yeah, it is the Land of INCENSE. Any peeps from GB know that when we were growing up and we went downtown to Port Plaza, we had to go on that Pine Street sidewalk to the groovy hippie store and buy our Grateful Dead Tie-Dyed shirts…You know what store I am referring to if you were one of us. Anyway, I am running today (and every other day, as folks, I AM running the Bangkok Marathon in November at 3 a.m.!) in Benjakitti Park and I come around the bend of the lake to the bicycle rental area. I sniff a couple times and I felt like I was at a rave or something. I get back from my run to my apartment building, say my Thai hellos to the staff opening the gates and doors for me and smell it again. I am surprised we don’t all sit around the flag pole at school when the Thai flag is being raised by the students, while we sing the joyous (beautifully sounding!) Thai national anthem and a waft of air comes by with some incense.
So there you have it folks. Kuhn Sharin has declared Thailand the Land of Incense until further notice.