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  • Elizabeth Cochran

Asian American and living in Thailand

Now that a whole year has passed since me living Thailand I wanted to share my unique experience as being an expat and what Thailand has been like for me. I want to explain that my experience as a Western foreigner has been different compared to the majority of Americans or those from the UK, due to my complexity of being an Asian American, and speaking a little bit of Thai.

Koh Phangan Island in Thailand

I remember when I arrived a year ago when I would go to the local markets or go to eat around people would assume I spoke Thai. I know you are thinking, this is Thailand so they speak Thai right. However, in Bangkok a lot of people can speak English and especially in tourists spots. I would visit different places around Bangkok just by myself and people would speak Thai to me. In the beginning my level was practically nothing, but people kept on speaking to me in Thai and I just kept on practicing it when I was out and about. Lets skip to a month later where I took a proper TEFL course. I was spending time with other foreigners again and we would go to markets, parties, what have you, and I realized then that I have a totally different experience than them. People at restaurants would talk to them in English, when in a group the Thai workers would look to me to take the order and experiences like this kept happening time and time again. After my TEFL course, I moved to a more rural area a couple hours from Bangkok for my employment. When I arrived here, I realized immediately that the level of English is pretty minimum. If I would venture out on my own to a market or go eat by myself Thai people would sometimes talk to me conversationally or ask for directions. When I would be with the other Western teachers people would stare some and say "falang" which means foreigner in Thai. When I would walk a lone, no one would say "falang" also no one would stare at me either. When they stare, it is uncomfortable, but really they're just looking out of curiosity and in tourist spots they don't do this because they are used to seeing travelers more.

I have many stories where I met someone and we were greeting each other and I wanted to practice my Thai right, but Thai people would always ask me are you Thai or are you half Thai "luk khrueng". I many times have been asked this "khun luk khrueng mai ka?", which means are you half Thai. I take this as a compliment right, because we made it this far in the conversation and they think okay she can speak a bit of Thai, but also she doesn't look full Thai "oh she must have a Thai parent and a foreign parent from the UK, USA, or she has an accent. Often I would get confusing looks when I would say I am not Thai and I am not "luk khrueng" either.

They had this image in their head of what an American should look like and I didn't fit that mold. Because I have a father who is Vietnamese and a mother who is a white American, I don't fit their mold of what an "American" looks like. What they expect is what they see in the films usually a blonde tall white girl, but I am short, petite, and don't have the dominant Western genetics of tallness, blondness, or extremely fair skin. The positive thing about this is Thai people practice their Thai with me much much more. They just approach me more and chat. Thai people are really shy to practice. I have had many conversations with people and fun times because of this from drinking with Thai people, discounted food, made new friends, got to know them more personally, and opportunities to practice my Thai. Learning Thai is very challenging and Thai people are shy generally therefore learning Thai can be difficult to practice. That's why a lot of expats can sometimes struggle to adapt more into the culture due to Thai speakers being shy talking with them. But, because I appear as a "luk khrueng" half Thai, Thai people don't feel as intimidated to talk to me. Sometimes when I go to tourist spots I pay the Thai price, other times the foreigner price. When I go to markets in touristy areas I will likely get more of a discount, compared to other fairer skinned foreigners. This has been my experience and it just because I am part Asian. Another part is at the markets I can bargain and speak in Thai too so this is a big factor. Just because I look like this people are more likely to talk to me or approach me. My experience here has shown Thai people how diverse Americans can look and we have had many conversations due to them just feeling more comfortable chatting with me. It has been quite an experience navigating and finding my place as an Asian American living in Thailand.

Peace, love and light to you all.

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