Sometimes I feel like an anomaly. I’m a 45 year old American Thai-Chinese woman who was born in Hawaii, who has lived on three continents, and who was raised by a Thai immigrant mother and a working class white male. I can’t squeeze into an “ism”. My dress size is small in America, but extra-large in Asia. I’m too American in Asia and not Asian enough in America.
It’s weird, you know, being back in Thailand. There are enough White men with Asian women around for you to you raise your chopsticks and your eyebrows. Sometimes it’s the age difference that’s startling. Sometimes though you can’t really tell, as some men look older than their age, and the women look (and dress) younger than they really are. Often foreigners are trying to guess if the woman is a ‘lady of the night’ or a proper girlfriend.
Thais couldn’t care less. They are so over it.
“Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” – as attributed to Mike Tyson
OK. Here’s what I’ve told you. I had to come back to the US of A. We were not sure for how long, but we thought we’d give it a go, you know, return to America for good, regardless of Trump-apocalypse, blah, blah, blah, and see what we could make stick.
Staying with my mom in Hawaii was part of the short-term plan, but when our long-term plans fell spectacularly through the roof, we were tail-spinning, reaching for whatever vines or debris was there to grab on to.
You think I’m exaggerating.
On a regular basis, I’m mistaken for being Chinese – as in from the Motherland, China, Chinese. Now, to be fair, I look pretty damn Chinese, but these days it’s getting ridiculous.
When I was a freshman in high school, about 14 or 15 years old, my younger brother and I wandered into a comic book store. It was located between Mililani, our home town, and Waihawa, the dead-beat-town-that-we-briefly-lived-in. We stopped there because my mom would visit her friend’s Thai grocery store. And like every other time, we kids tagged along because she had errands. We usually had to wait a very long time for her to talk and do her business.
As an expat, one of the things I experience is how different governments treat their people, and how my passport country measures up. Until I had moved overseas, I had taken for granted American infrastructure, rules and regulations and our homegrown love for criticizing politicians and government. I lived in a democracy where political cartoons are the norm and SNL skits are revered and expected.
It was Facebook that reminded me that the milestone had passed. Otherwise, I’m sure I would have continued to scroll past this moment, drinking my coffee and eating my banana.
I posted, “I signed up for Intensive Thai, but based on my photo (with my application) I was enrolled in Intensive English instead.”
Now, normally, I’d write a long post about what these 7 years overseas has meant to me, what I’ve learned, etc., but after deciding that I hated half of what I wrote, I’ve settled on writing a list post, in an effort to stir up the punch, so to speak, and force me to distill my years abroad into one tasty beverage.
- Being asked, upon hearing that I’m from Hawaii, “Are you from Hawaii China?”
- Always being asked, “Where are you from?” And almost always being started at, despite looking Asian living + traveling in Asian countries.
- Quickly learning how to say in Thai, “My mother is Thai and my father is Chinese, but I was born in Hawaii and I’m American”.
- Watching locals light up upon hearing I’m part Thai and Chinese.
- Having a Chinese Bible thrust under my nose in a park in Cuenca, Ecuador followed by my British friend’s laughter as she looked on.
- Being taunted on the streets of Cuenca by teenage boys yelling, “Konichiwa,” as I walk briskly home in the dark.
- Overhearing Thais say, “She speaks really good English,” after leaving a red taxi truck in Chiang Mai.
- Realizing that America has its own set of rules, constructs and artificial realities, and recognizing that culture is invisible.
- Attempting to see what is assumed.
- Seeing my mom on her home turf, connecting with her through her native language, and (hopefully) understanding her a little more.
- Getting out of comfort zone, regularly.
- Making friends from all over the world, living and working in an International environment, and being that Annoying American trying on her British accent.
- Having successful (and unsuccessful) interactions with locals using their language. Really having to rely on what I’ve retained and my creativity to navigate my way around (e.g. avoiding meltdowns).
- Learning to be more patient because that’s the way things are on this side of the world…
Growth + goals garnishes
- Living a life that is much closer to how I want to live, through part time work, play and pursuing my passions.
- Finishing that damn memoir, my first book, after years of carrying it around the United States.
- Working on my second book with all its ups and downs of self-doubt peppered with excitement.
- Blogging consistently, writing every day for me, not losing sight of the dream.
- Successfully conquering my fear of driving a motorbike, but definitely not how traffic moves in SE Asia.
- Eating food that I once thought was gross, terrifying, weird and too different.
- Kicking my fears and failures in the gut by getting back into teaching. Namaste. Amen. Big hug for me.