I signed up for an Intensive Thai language class last week. Then yesterday I was told that there has been a mistake in processing my paperwork. Somewhere between the Foreign Language Center and the Office of the President someone read my application and glanced at my photo and decided I didn’t want to sign up for Intensive Thai, I wanted to sign up Intensive English.
When you’re genetically half Thai and half Chinese everyone assumes you’re ethnically Thai-Chinese. And I can’t blame them. Everyone tells me, upon learning I’m American, “Oh sorry. Sorry. Thought you were Thai. You look Thai.”
My boyfriend Brad tells me that I need to stop them from speaking to me in Thai immediately, as in as soon as possible, since I stand there foolishly hoping by looks alone I’ll understand what they’re saying. But I’ve been trained not to interrupt people when they’re talking. . .
I’ve come to realize that when I’m walking down the streets of Bangkok or Chiang Mai with Brad that everyone believes that I am a local Thai woman with her new style American boyfriend. Farangs or Europeans give us the same knowing look. At first this bothered me and I started to dress less American and more modestly. But then I got used to it. And then I realized I assume the same thing when I see an Asian woman with a Caucasian man.
When Brad is not around, tuk tuk and taxi drivers and hawkers leave me alone. Sometimes I take great comfort in blending in because I know what it is like to be a minority. It may seem nice to stand out in a crowd and you might get used to the stares but its exhausting fighting off the stereotypes and constant attention.
I read an article on ajarn.com about what it’s like to live and teach in Chiang Mai and I laughed when I read: Will I get stared at? The person who replied (an expert of sorts having lived here for 6+ years) said no, there are so many farangs visiting and living here that the Thais are used to it. But I disagree. Thais stare at me and I look like them. Sure there are times when I blend in but people look. In many situations people are going to look at you because they are curious.
I’m a curiosity because I’m with a white guy. And I am certainly a curiosity because I don’t speak Thai. (Yet.) But I have a shifty suspicion that once I start dolling out my newly acquired language skills that I will be forgiven for many faulty pronunciations because of the way I look. Not unlike a beautiful girl trying to pass an examination or a farang trying to speak Thai, I think the Thais will hear what they want to hear and make assumptions that I know what I am talking about. I could be wrong but it should be an interesting experiment.