When I first moved to Thailand, I experienced a bit of an identity crisis. Thais expected me to speak Thai. Thais were surprised when I didn’t. Thais tried to guess my ethnicity. It opened a different conversational door than from the typically perceived Caucasian expat.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but there were times I tried blending in. Speaking minimally or not at all, making my purchases or transactions with an attempt to be passed off as a local. But my Thai is so bad or my accent is too thick for this to work in most situations. Other times, folks speak back believing my Thai to be amazing, and I must be one of those Japanese expats that has lived here forever.
Of course, there are plenty of times Thais think I’m one of them. When this happens they almost always start laughing and telling their friend, “OMG, I thought she was Thai. She looks Thai! etc. etc.” I smile, and pretend I don’t know what they are saying.
I have good and bad Thai language days. At this point, I’ve learned to accept this and keep plugging away at Thai in my own up and down depending on my mood kind of sway. I have a passion for reading, writing and teaching, so Thai often gets pushed aside like celery or morning glory vegetables. But my friend Eric told me he studies Thai first thing in the morning, so I’m trying to do that. The problem is I also want to exercise, meditate and do other things, first thing in the morning too.
Sometimes I wonder if my family and even friends are disappointed in me. I wonder if I’m failing some sort of Asian code of conduct. Other times I wonder if all this language learning will one day come together in some sort of holiday lottery miracle.
But overall I am enjoying and am comfortable with my language learning process. It’s like exercise. I don’t really need to do it because I’ve been blessed with a good body but I enjoy moving and being healthy so I do it. Sometimes I’m a workout queen, other times I’m a workout sloth.
So now I don’t have an identity crisis anymore. I am truly whatever folks think I am: Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Hawaiian or American. In fact, the first question I ask every new class is “Where do you think I am from?” I’ve made it a game and now I am flattered or amused by every guess.
This is an important lesson for me, accepting misunderstandings or different perceptions of who people think I am. Living abroad is so good in helping me be flexible in my thinking. I like the challenge. I want to be more comfortable in my sexy skin. I can’t change the past and I certainly don’t want to be more Thai, like I thought I wanted to be, instead I want to be more me.
It’s quite dissimilar for Caucasians or White Westerners. Thais don’t expect you to speak Thai or know the culture. You are automatic rock stars and celebrities. You are the skin color they covet. And the financial status they want achieve.
This is where I feel I can shine. I sit back and watch. I’m used to and at ease playing the wallpaper. My father’s death when I was 6 years old forced me out of childhood. Suddenly becoming a minority at a new school at 12 was another jolt, moving away from home to go to college in a small town – another journey that elevated my wallflower status.
This surprises my friends because I can be very social and funny and lively but whenever the world prefers white people, I sit back and watch. This is not a put down or anything negative, simply an observation I have noticed since leaving Hawaii, where I blend in, at 19. And if I am the novelty, it’s been my past experience that it isn’t in a good way. Yes, people can be ignorant and insensitive to Asians as well.
At the lovely language school, I get mostly sweet attention which is so much fun because it is unusual for me. It’s interesting because if you look back at your timeline, everyone you meet gets a taste of a difference slice of you depending on your circumstances. I love it, really, it’s like different playlists for different chapters in your big book of Life.
But I say all this because wallpapers make good anthropologists, writers and comedians. All of these I greatly aspire to be the best of, in my own humble way. xxoo,