Why do I love Thailand?

Hmmm. This is a question I have been asking myself lately. When I came here a year and a half ago, I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. One of my best friends in California is Thai-American and he always told me I would enjoy it here, but other than liking Thai food and having this admittedly “orientalist” idea that I liked “Asian cultures,” I didn’t really know what to expect. Sure, I had been to Japan, and there is something to be said of a pan-Asian approach to life that places high value on at least a surface level of showing respect and manners, and this was definitely something that was comfortable to me. And something I found lacking in the U.S. But really, Thailand is as far from being Japan as Spain is from being Germany.

But as much as I thought I was really enjoying my life here, after my recent breakup with my girlfriend I had to reevaluate. My girl was Thai, and we had been together most of my first year and a half here. She was my best friend, lover, translator, tour guide, and anchor in my transition to life here. So after we split, I had to ask myself “how much did you love Thailand with her vs. how much do you love Thailand.” Added to this was the fact that, because I don’t like 99% of the farang here, and it can be difficult, or at least slow, to make friendships with normal Thai folks that are not the farang-chasing sort, after the breakup I was really on my own. On top of this I had some of my dearest friends asking me to come back to San Francisco, a place which offered so much love, friendship, and comfort. What to do?

The question of why I love Thailand became even more difficult for me to answer because there are so many things here that I don’t like, and that I have struggled to live with since early on. Errr. Put your brakes on. This will not be another of the million sites by foreigners that bash dealing with Thai bureaucracy, educational system, perceived xenophobia or lack of critical thought. You can find that on any other expat site by the other farang that continually complain about this and that aspect of Thai culture while living in this country like the worst of any 20th century colonialist. No, my problems with Thailand aren’t about Thais, they’re about the garbage foreigners that infest this country.

After the early exuberance of being in a new and exciting place, some of the shit I saw on the day-to-day started to really get to me. It’s hard, at least for a person such as myself, to see the rudeness, disrespect, exploitation, and just sheer lameness of the foreigners here. But a move away from central Bangkok to a predominantly Thai neighborhood, a concentration on my relationship with my Thai students and coworkers, and learning Thai, (as well as praying to Buddha every morning!) helped ease my anger. Or at least try to channel it in constructive ways. Actually one thing that has really helped is starting to do volunteer work with an NGO here helping disadvantaged Thai women. This is a Thai run organization, led by some great socially conscious folks, and the farang that volunteer here are of a better and more interesting sort than you usually find here.

Ok, ok. So why do I love it here. Well, the first thing that comes to mind is just a feeling like it suits me. I also felt this way about Cuba and Japan, but not to the overall degree that I do in Thailand. Generally speaking, Thai folks are kind, respectful, jokey, slow to anger. All things that fit my own personality very well. Particularly since I have had my own struggles with stress and letting things that upset me get to me, being amidst Thai people has helped me to take the edge off of that. Since day one people have made me feel at home, or at least comfortable fitting into such an exciting, but also sometimes lonely and confusing, new life. Especially if you try to speak Thai, are a mannered person, and try to avoid the most obvious of cultural blunders, Thai people are quite quick to show you warmth and laughter.

Also, Thai culture is a very spiritual one. As hypocritical as any other society that claims religion is important, sure, but that being said, there is a pervading sense of the importance of spirituality and/or the connection with the present and past life of the people and nature around us. As someone who has never been a religious person, but always interested in spirituality, I have found a new calmness and positivity through my own developing practice of Buddhism. I think that it is the particulars of Thai culture that brought me to this, not just the fact that Thailand is a Buddhist country. There is a way that spirituality weaves itself through mundane everyday life here that I appreciate.

Also, I love the possibilities of Thailand. I definitely don’t mean monetary! No doubt there are some major problems with the educational system in Thailand and the level to which students are taught to think critically about Thai society and the world, but if you get to know some of the young people here, you will see that they have both a deep connection to Thai culture and the past, but also a keen interest in the future. As an educator that actually cares about the future of these students and the country, I look at helping them develop the tools to move this country/society in the right direction as part of my responsibility for being afforded, in comparison to the majority of Thai, a quite decent life.

I also love the richness of Thai culture. Thailand and its history are an amazing mix of ethnicities, languages, regions, Buddhism/Hinduism/Animism, cuisines, arts and landscapes. And you can find the right environment that suits you, whether you want the modern metropolis of Bangkok or prefer life in a secluded village somewhere. It’s so easy to live a life where you can enjoy all the different types of environments that Thailand has to offer.

And of course I love the food. But anyone in their right mind that has been here knows Thai food is the greatest cuisine in the world.

I think this is still a partial answer to why I love Thailand, but oh well, it’s a start . . .

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13 thoughts on “Why do I love Thailand?

  1. Gotta say that my anticipation is bubbling for my upcoming move! I’m hoping and praying for great experiences for my family and for myself as it is my first time living outside of the U.S. Please keep those insights coming 🙂

    • I’m sure you and the family will love it! For a foreigner, I think it is one of the easier countries to adjust to living in. Just because people tend to be nice and helpful when they can be. And if you are in Bangkok especially, there are enough comforts of home to ease into things here.

      BT

      • Sawadee, kah (don’t know how to spell it…yet)
        Starting to really dive into learning Thai. I hope to be much more proficient by the time I board that plane….but right now feeling a little lost in all of the tonal differences and the sanscrit scares me…..
        Taking a deep breath

  2. Sawatdee khrap Dana. Just knowing how to say hello (or goodbye) puts you ahead of most of the first time visitors here already! That’s great, and Thai folks will appreciate it. I have been taking Thai classes off and on for the last 6 months or so, and yes, the tonal differences are the hardest for me too. But lots of common words you will get used to the tones, and other times you might be tonally off but the context will make clear what word you mean. Like at a restuarant if you say “khao” they will probably know you mean rice, even if your tone sounds like one of khao’s many other meanings.

    If you guys are going to drive there is a lot of English on the road signs, and as far as daily life I wouldn’t worry about the writing yet. There is a book called “Thai for Beginners” by Benjawan Poomsan Becker that some friends have found useful as a combination writing/reading/speaking guide. I have it and did find it helpful, but decided to concentrate on the speaking for now. If you can’t find it in the States, it is readily available at bookstores when you get here. 🙂

    BT

  3. Thank you, BT. I believe that my husband has that book ,as he is required to be at least semi-fluent by the time we move. I will definately look at that book once I wrap things up at work. For right now, I am just listening to an audiobook that I got online. I drive quite a bit for my job, so I’ll have lots of opportunities to “study” in the meantime.

    Dana

  4. Hello again BT,
    My family and I will be on our way to Bangkok in 10 days! I’m so excited to begin this newest chapter in our lives. Once again, I am so glad to have found your blog.
    Khob kun kha!
    Dana

    • Hi Dana,
      Awesome! Good luck on your final days in the States and your move. Stay in touch and let me know if I can offer any help to you and the family when you arrive.
      BT

  5. Hello again,

    I guess I can refer to myself as BT now !
    We’ve been here about 3 weeks now and are starting to settle in quite well. My daughter has started school in Nonthanburi and is finally getting used to the God awful traffic and commute time it takes her to get to and from. I am pretty comfortable with the SkyTrain and little less comfortable with the taxis 🙂 I have to say that I really like it here.
    The only thing that is a little harder to get used to is the stares. My daughter and I get some serious stares. They are head turning, look us up and down stares from the local folks. I get asked on a daily basis in my apartment building (by expats usually) where exactly I’m from. My husband, not as much, I suspect because he is German/English/Native-American. The stares and questions don’t really bother me, I ususally just smile back and answer the various questions. Besides, I’m a little vain 🙂 But it really bothers my kid. Did you encounter this when you first moved here?

  6. Welcome to Thailand! Glad you and the family are getting used to things here.

    Sorry your daughter is getting bothered by the stares, but in my experience it is generally just interest. It’s considered very impolite to stare in Thai culture . . . except when it comes to staring at farang. Many times I can’t blame them, as there are many bad-off looking foreigners that appear in Bangkok, but that being said, it does get to me every once in awhile. But at this point I don’t really trip about it. Maybe when I’m having a bad day. We sometimes have to remember that there are many Thais that think American means white, so when they see all the mixes and shades we actually come in it can be like, “damn, where are they from?” I’m a black/white mix myself, and I’ve gotten everything from Chinese, Arab, Indian, French, and Thai. On a side note, a lot of Thais look more African than me, but that’s another story. Also a lot to do with how you present yourself, as appearance means a lot here. But I wouldn’t assume it is anything negative. Yes, there is racism directed at Africans, Indians, and dark skinned Thais here, but I think what is more common to get on a daily basis is just people wondering where you’re from and how you (or your daughter) look the way you do.

    BT

  7. Got it! Sent you an email. I’ve tried to alleviate my daughter’s worries by telling her that it is just curiosity. Unfortunately during our first week here, two Thai young women pointed, whispered and laughed at us which drove my babygirl to tears. Instead of ending up in a Thai prison, I tried to reinforce the lesson that there are jerks everywhere. But there are also really nice, sweet, good people everywhere, too. I reminded her of all of the very gracious and helpful Thais that have helped us through our language screw-ups and deer-in-the-headlights looks as we have gotten lost. I really do like it here so far. I think my little girl is warming up to her new country as well.
    On a funny sidenote, a European gentleman got into the elevator with me on Tuesday. I simply smiled and said “Good morning.”, he immediately asked me where I was from. I told him, I was American. He asked, “Ethiopian?”. “No, American, from the U.S.” He replied, “Not Ethiopian?”. “No, AMERICAN, from the United States of America.” He said, “Oh, not Ethiopian.” I said, “Nope.” Now I don’t think I look Ethiopian, maybe Carribean. But more importantly, he never said “Good Morning” back. SMH

  8. Yes, I understand situations like that can be difficult. But even if those Thai girls were being mean, and not just interested, I would take that as out of the ordinary. Plus, Thai people do like to joke around and poke fun, more often than not without evil intent. I’m sure as a foreign student your daughter will have ups and downs getting to know Thai students and fitting in, but I would guess that would be much the same in any new country.

    I’ve had some strange interactions with other foreigners here myself. There is a neo-colonialist expat element here that has a “white man’s playground” view of Thailand. I try my best to avoid the areas where they congregate. But Bangkok really is a place where you can pick your spots, and after a time and some experience it is easier to find the places and people with which you feel comfortable. For myself, I found that limiting my time around the Sukhumvit area did my stress level wonders. Give it some time I would say . . .

  9. Amazing, simply amazing how things here seem to resonate similarly among the newly initiated. I have felt anger, fear, joy, happiness and everything in between over the stares I’ve received from Thai people (well, from just about everybody here for that matter.) I agree though that mostly, people are either trying to figure out who you are, or they’ve already made up their mind—that is until I speak to them…in Thai. I am by no means fluent, but being around the culture for awhile, I can express myself pretty good. The reaction from the receivers of your message is heartfelt, and in most cases, greatly appreciated as people are as curious about you as you are about them. Get into the language without further adieu, and you life here will smooth out tremendously!

    • Yes, language helps for sure. Still learning myself. To be honest, my biggest frustration right now is not so much the language, but knowing who is safe to talk to under the current state of zombification and witch hunting. Hence my lack of traceable comment on the current situation . . .

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