There is racism that is intended and there is the innocent racism that arises out of ignorance. Let me give you an example of the latter…
Hmm….scratch that first draft.
I’m conjuring numerous instances of racism I’ve faced in Thailand, most notably in Buriram, and with each instance that currently comes to mind, there is the ever pervasive thought….I don’t know if that’s innocent, but I do know it wasn’t intended to harm, at least not overtly (in the way many of us Westerners have come to expect of racist remarks and/or actions). Rather, the intent was to remind me of my place.
In the Thailand I know, someone in a position of esteem and/or power reminding someone lower on the social ladder of their place in society is not a vice. For many, it seems both a right and a pleasure. The rich can remind the poor, the old can remind the young, the white skinned can remind those darker, men can remind women, women can remind children, the thin can remind the plump, the beautiful can remind those that aren’t deemed beautiful, those born in Bangkok can remind everyone else in the country…the list continues. There is a very distinct social order here that is rarely questioned and one’s value is often placed on that which they cannot control.
Perhaps a better way to rephrase is, from what I’ve experienced in Thailand, there is the racism that is intended to harm and there is the racism that stems from the belief that anyone not Thai is of lesser intelligence, culture, ability and value than those who were born of The Kingdom. Should you be the recipient of the latter, it is because the person delivering was of high morality to be kind to a lesser being. Should you be the recipient of the former, it just means they hate you. However, although public display of contempt is frowned upon, they won’t be held accountable for their actions, they’re Thai.
As a good Foreigner who was allowed in The Kingdom, you are to save face, a.k.a. keep your mouth shut and take it. Should you not, you not only embarrass and lose face for yourself, you do so for all of your People. You also prove to the person administering the hate, those present and those later gossiped to, that indeed you deserved it. Should you protest physically, be it in any form of perceived violence and/or aggression acted upon a Thai national or anything belonging to one, you are responsible for placing your physical well-being in danger, a.k.a. expect a beatdown by any amount of Thais in the immediate area. You further feed the perception that your kind is of lower standing, hence not worthy of the same respect as one who was born Thai.
(Please note, I’m not implying all Thai nationals are racist, the above is more of an explanation from my experience, of the forms racism takes in Thailand.)
A very common and basic example of the latter form of racism I encounter here, of the racism that is meant to remind me of my place in Thai society, which is that of The Other, The Foreigner/The Farang, The Not Thai…
Often people ask me about my romantic situation. Strangers, friends, anyone. This is normal. Sometimes people simply ask if anyone likes me. Should I answer and speak of a Thai male who has expressed interest(i.e. stating yes, someone does like me), the person I’m speaking to, regardless of age, gender, place in society, anything other than the fact they are Thai will often respond with something to the effect of,
“They’re only interested in you because they think you’re rich. They want your money.”
Should I disagree with their conclusion, I’m apt to politely retort with examples of why this assumption may not be accurate. Sometimes I present argument (note, not an argument) simply for the fact that I’m becoming weary of this automatic marionette-like response. Typically this elicits a number of reactions, not limited to: a smarmy head nod, the question – If it were not for the money, why would a Thai man want a Farang?; the claim that no matter what will happen, they will always have a Thai girlfriend and she will be Number One, because, I’m Farang; laughing as though what I’ve said is preposterous…the list goes on.
Sometimes I’m not told that they want me for my money, I’m told they have expressed interest because white girls are easy.
No matter the circumstance, it usually degrades to someone reminding me that I’m not Thai, thus of lower value.
A perfect example was uttered by a once close friend,
“Why would they want you when they have so many Thai women around?”
Funny I choose this as the kinder form of racism I’m faced with in Thailand. And racism is something I’m faced with often. Often meaning, sometimes daily, sometimes multiple times daily. Sometimes not for days. Most of it occurring in Buriram. I’ll give you an example today:
I walk into a local restaurant. Two men are seated in the back and to my right, eating. A woman, is seated beside them at another table. Her back faces me.
One of the men, a motorcycle taxi smiles and says, “Hello…?”
I smile back.
The woman mumbles some racist nastiness. How do I know? Because Farang, the Thai word for Foreigner slides out of her mouth, the way it does when it’s used as a derogatory slur. She is also dismissive, and turns her back towards me after a contemptuous frown.
The man facing me, is shocked, then everyone laughs. The woman is wearing an apron. I wait for a few minutes. She neither looks in my direction, calls out to someone in the back room to help me, nor stands up. As I am trying to decipher what is happening and determine if she is the cook, a Thai man in his forties, enters the building.
The woman turns, smiles and walks towards him.
The man politely informs her that I was waiting first.
More angry mumbling and the word Farang being spit out like a bitter worm. The man is left shocked and uncomfortable. We look at one another. He realizes I understand the situation. I glance at the woman who refuses to meet my gaze. She asks the man what he would like to eat.
I leave the restaurant.
I turn back to see the man, the new customer, sitting and appearing ashamed as the woman cooks his meal. (Thank you for your kindness).
I’d love to be flippant about these circumstances, to be able to laugh off these situations, but the reality is, this racism, this constant abrasion is wearing me down. It doesn’t matter how resiliant I may think I am, this and many instances like this are lending to a hatred deep inside. One that surprises me. One that saddens me. A hatred that shames me.
I’ve learned a number of lessons here in Thailand, but one I wasn’t prepared to face was of how hate breeds hate. I’m not proud to write this. I try to acknowledge this burning passion inside me. I try to listen to it. I try reason with it. I try to quell it. But as of late, it has a mind of its own.
I’m thankful for my friend Alfred. He’s a sixty-two year old African American from Los Angeles. From first seeing Alfred, I knew he was a man that hasn’t had an easy life. Sometimes it’s just in the way someone moves, you see it. It’s in the way some people glide in the world. There’s a knowing in their movements. A heaviness that doesn’t erode with time, rather it becomes another appendage. It integrates with the body. Alfred has it and I know he was someone I could ask about facing racism. Growing up in pre-civil rights America couldn’t have been an easy start at life.
As much as I thought I had a grasp on racism, from the few times I dealt with it in North America and from witnessing it, I realize I was sorely mistaken and naive. My understanding was intellectual, not emotional. Nothing I ever experienced could have prepared me for the racism I face in Thailand. The sometimes soft, gentle picking away of your self esteem, your self love and your peace of mind. The first time, the tenth, the hundredth, the thousandth…with no recourse. No justice. No change.
I’ve realized over the past years living in Thailand, I’ve become hyper critical of my looks. At a North American size 5/6, I’m often called fat, sometimes in the way that Thais say it as a natural fact, sometimes not. I’ve been told I have the body Thai women do after they have children (not a compliment). People have laughed at my eating habits and pointed out how lithe and beautiful Thai women are. It has been commented that I must be so fat because of all of the pizza and hamburgers I must eat…The first time, the tenth, the hundredth, the thousandth. Different words, similar sentiment.
I go through moments, sometimes days, weeks, a blur of time when I try to disappear in the crowd. I shrink. I’m afraid to shine. I fear being beautiful as much as I criticize myself for not being beautiful enough. All on a deep, hidden level. On a level that should I not pay careful attention to it, the self criticism will hum away softly and erode my soul. Perhaps this is from where this hatred stems. It’s that fight inside. Out of control.
Thai friends have told me that the people who overtly send nastiness my way are simply jealous. Perhaps for some, as more often than not, it’s women who are showing me this hatred….but when will this end? Will it?
How does it feel to be a white woman in Thailand? If I were to be asked that question, I’d mirror what Alfred has said about being a black man in L.A,
“It’s like a pressure. Always on your back.”
I have some decisions to make.
I hope if you’re of the many who live in or visit Thailand, you have fared better than I. I’ve spoken to a number of men, including those in Buriram, those who have been here for years, even decades and they’re shocked by my stories. I suspect my experiences are heavily influenced by that fact that I’m female, that I can speak Thai to a fair degree (most instances are in Thai language and by people who can’t speak English) and that I’m not passing through. A couple other women I know share similar experiences in other cities.
If you have a story and/or thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Let’s keep the conversation free of bashing. I’m not trying to promote hate here. Positive experiences are welcome too! Thanks!
Saturday, October 22, 2011
Read my follow-up post, Racism in Thailand: The Lasting Effects
Read the next memoir, The Beauty Of Sickness, The Grandeur Of Silence.
Read the previous memoir, KO’d At Sitmonchai.
I’ve spent significantly less time in Thailand than you have and, indeed, in far more toured areas of Chaingmai and outside of Bangkok. I didn’t speak nearly any Thai when I was there – more than to say “thank you” or ask for a taxi to take me to the bus or train station, or order a few things in a restaurant. And perhaps the biggest difference is that I am married and my husband was almost always by my side – a difference which sets me apart as an entirely different “sort” of woman in Thailand, whether or not that’s fair.
For the most part I found that the Thais in the areas I stayed were accustomed to farang, the majority of whom are kind of terrible. So my inclination toward being polite was very well received and my attempts at speaking Thai were embraced and encouraged, if at times a point of entertainment. I tried to dress conservatively – even while training in the ungodly heat – and was quick to point to my husband if a trainer made any kind of sexual remark, gesture, or whatever. Again, being a married woman I think makes an incredible difference.
The few times when I did feel disrespected (never to the degree that you describe in your post), I had a really hard time with it. I wanted to be respectful not only TO the culture, but IN the culture. But, often, being respectful IN a culture means following the rules set forth by it and I’m not, as a liberated western woman, prepared to sit back and let a man talk to me or treat me in a disrespectful way. It would be like not putting your guard up and fighting back after being trained to do so. It’s easy in the west when we see cultural difference which is offensive to write off the offender by saying, “well, you’re in America,” (or Canada, or Europe or wherever), so it’s our rules. But when you’re the outsider, it’s not your rules. But it’s bullshit, so it’s hard to know where the line is between demanding respect as a modern, sentient human being no matter what the situation and being respectful to the fact that your understanding of respecting human dignity is not necessarily the same as those in power around you.
Martyn Hayes says
Great post. I lived in Buriram at the same time as you and experienced the same things. I did hope we’d meet as it was hard to meet decent westerners there (most are elderly been as you know). Would have been great to meet with other *young” people.
Hope all is well wherever you are.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hi Martyn – I’m sorry you experienced the same things in Buriram. It would have been great to have met you while there. Were you teaching English?
Martyn Hayes says
Hey. Yes I was teaching English.
There’s a Canadian and a British girl who have taken my place. I’m not sure if they’re experiencing the same thing.
hey everyone, i just want to point out – if it didn’t come clear in the piece, i do receive great treatment from a lot of people here in buriram. it’s not all one sided – aka bad. there are however a lot of things i haven’t included in the piece – some of it comes from understanding thai and people (for example a cashier at a store) not realizing i do.
this sort of thing rarely happens when i’m in a group or with another person.
not sure why people keep bringing up muay thai – the above has nothing to do with my life in the gym. or at fights.
df lum says
Typical white winning farongs in asia. Look at how minorities are treated in North America since the begining
of the white invasion. Hell your kind slaughter the indignious and put blacks in slavery. Over a dozen USA
presidents had slaves. Blacks fought numerous wars along with our native people, asians , mexicans to keep
you and your descendant safe and at the same time not allowed to vote. So if you and millions of your type
want justice start in your stolen streets of america.
Racism in whatever form, anywhere is fucked up.
That being said, no idea who you’re ranting at and if your comment is being directed at me, because of what you perceive me to be, including my genetic background and my worth due to it based on the colour of my skin. That’s fucked up. And racist.
Hope Arthur says
I don’t know if you are still receiving messages on here, but I lived in Thailand for one year as an exchange student. It was in Chumphae in Isaan. I learned how to read write and speak and I was able to understand when foreigners were being taken advantage of and lied to. I still actively speak the language. All of your experiences hit home for me. I also had a situation where I was sex trafficked – it totally happened because I was vulnerable and a woman, but my hunch is also that it happened because of my white skin. That whole experience was very eye opening because as a white American woman, I had never been through such discrimination. I’ve been back in the states for 10 years now. I’ve become a feminist and surround myself with like minded people. It’s interesting though when people in the United States start talking about how it’s impossible for white people to experience racism. I hearken back to my experience in Thailand and I think “what was that then??” I decided to search “racism in Thailand” and I found your blog. Just yesterday two white women who have never been to Southeast Asia told me that I’m privileged and that what I went through in Thailand wasn’t racism because that’s impossible. I’m really confused about it and I don’t think people who have only lived in the United States are going to actually hear me. So, even though it’s 7 years after the original post, I hope this message gets to you. I see you.
Laura Dal Farra says
Thank-you so much for reaching out Hope. I’m so sorry you’ve had the experiences you’ve had, abroad and at home alike. I think well meaning people often don’t fully understand how racism works, especially if they’ve never experienced it themselves. If I’m correct, I think the people who are discounting your experiences are over simplifying current academic definitions of racism. In Thailand, regardless of how much privilege you have back home, you, like I, were a minority, an Other; and like most places, those who are identified as such, often are subject to various forms of discrimination (including systemic) based on race. It’s multi-level and complicated, but that doesn’t discount its existence. I’m glad you’ve found the site and this piece has helped you, even if in a small way. All the best moving forward.
Hope Arthur says
Wow Laura! I never received an e-mail notification of your response to me. I revisited this page recently and saw you responded. I sunk into my couch for a few moments after reading your response because I get so exhausted from trying to defend my story to people who can’t wrap their head around it. Seeing what you wrote was a deep relief. Really, thank you so much for responding. If you’d be open, I would like to correspond more on this topic.
Hope Arthur says
Except I just spent some time reading through the comments and I think I could voice my thoughts in this thread too if you’d rather not do it via e-mail. Either way, I don’t have time right this instant but I need to keep talking about this. I think I’m going to spend some time digging through the comments too. That whole experience has lead to a deep confusion in me and I’ve never really sorted it out. But reading through all of this is like “oh my god so much yessssss!!!! I totally saw that!!!!”
So. Even if we correspond here, it would mean a lot to me to keep this conversation going.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hi again Hope. Glad my response helped! In response to both of your most recent comments, I think keeping the conversation here would be optimal as others could weigh in with their experiences and unique perspectives. Those who are uncomfortable with commenting about their own experiences can additionally reap the benefits of our collective discussion by having access to it. If you decide you’d like to keep it private, please feel free to email me via the contact page on the site. (I’ve deleted your email address on this thread in an effort to keep you from receiving any unwanted correspondence from others.)
Hope Arthur says
Somehow I’m not getting e-mail notifications when you respond, which is why I included my e-mail address. But thank you for deleting it. I haven’t received any unwanted correspondence, but I could see that being a problem.
I’m curious how you would describe any form of systemic discrimination in Thailand towards people who are considered The Other. What are you experiences with that?
I’ve been doing my own research and have found laws which prevent foreigners from getting certain types of jobs, buying homes, getting a work permit, getting a mortgage, getting a loan or buying land.
I’ve also learned about Thai Centrism being taught in schools. And I’ve most recently learned about the 12 cultural mandates that were issued by the government starting in 1939 when Siam became Thailand. Number 5 essentially says that “Thailand is for Thais” and according to a podcast by Northern Illinois University, many Thais used that as a justification for anti-malay, anti-chinese and anti-western sentiments.
I have many Thai friends and when I’ve brought up the 12 cultural mandates, most of them don’t know about them. I imagine it’s something similar to my ignorance of specific laws against people of color that were issued after slavery (I’m from the USA). I don’t hold it against my friends by any means. But the fact that these mandates existed must still play a role in the psyche of the people of today. I mean, one of the mandates stated that in the morning and night, everyone had to stop and sing the national anthem. That was happening up until the 1980’s!
My point is that these kinds of governmental actions linger in the minds of the people. Could this anti-foreigner sentiment be stemming from a place that originated in that 5th cultural mandate back in 1939? Is this a shade of systemic racism?
And does systemic racism have to look the same everywhere?
It’s an incredibly sensitive topic in the USA especially because of what has happened and what continues to happen to the indigenous people and people of color. There is not a place for me to talk about it with people from the USA unless I am among close friends because tensions are still so high. I completely understand and respect that. But a huge part of me needs to ask the question: Do these experiences in Thailand make it not racism because white people haven’t experienced hundreds of years of oppression the way people of color have?
I want to be clear that I know it’s not all Thai people. Some of the most beautiful people I’ve met on the planet are Thai. Yet, I have experienced some of the worst things in Thailand. So naturally I have complex feelings that I would like to figure out.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hi Hope. I can’t figure out why you’re not getting e-mail notifications as everything looks good on my end. Generally I try to respond to comments within a week, which I unfortunately didn’t do this time.
In terms of systemic discrimination and racism in Thailand, I know very little about it. (If anyone reading this does, please feel free to add to the discussion.) Thanks so much for letting us in on what you’ve found. I’ll do my best to answer the questions I can.
In regards to buying land, which I know a bit about, mostly through discussions with ex-pats married to Thai nationals, I can empathize with why laws forbidding foreign ownership exist: it’s a way to ensure Thai sovereignty. I wouldn’t personally classify
this aspect of the law as systemic racism. Do you have other thoughts on this?
It’s been a few years since I lived in Buriram, but if I remember correctly, the Thai national anthem was broadcasted over loudspeakers throughout the city daily, I believe in the mornings, but definitely in the evenings, and everyone had to stop what they were doing until it was over. Did that happen where you were in Issan?
In regards to what we faced in Thailand, it is indeed racism. The concept that only white people can be racist is, among a number of things, wildly absurd. (I’m directing that at the concept of your question in general, which is a sensitive topic here in Toronto as well, not towards you personally.) It doesn’t matter that whites weren’t systemically oppressed by people of colour en masse. Systemic racism isn’t the only form in which it takes, and it’s not racism’s only dangerous form. Racism, at it’s very core, is not specific to any race. We are all capable of it. We were also living in a culture where the power structure wasn’t non-Asian white, so to imply only white cultures, however defined, and the (white) people within them are the only people capable of this form of exploitation, is extremely limited, and quite frankly, weirdly western centric. There are plenty of places in the world, where plenty of inhabitants know little of and care less about western academic ideas of power and oppression. And they may exploit a member of another race based solely on their race. It’s sadly a common human trait: targeting the Other, however defined, and in the case of our discussion, Other as defined by race.
I’m pretty tired as I’m writing this all, but I hope this helps (and my responses came across as coherent.) My concern is that your experiences are being discounted and/or minimized and as a result, will remain as unhealed trauma within you, hence me being direct.
ah…and when i wrote sometimes this happens multiple times daily – i was mainly refering to screwfaces i get from strangers – i just realized, perhaps this wasn’t clear (it’s not as though people are refusing me food daily. that has only happened once). i could be wrong, but i suspect if i was thai, i wouldn’t be getting as many nasty once overs.
Wow, I don’t know what is going on with some of these comments. I’m not sure if people aren’t reading your post clearly, or at all.
I wanted to add something that I thought of while ruminating on your post throughout the day. As a conscientious person I try to be aware of the many privileges I have, as a westerner, an English-speaker and a white person. These three things are a kind of passport (unfair as that is) for the world – it’s much harder to travel the world freely and without complication if you are “other” than some of these things and, indeed, add to that being a man and you have even greater global privilege, a wider berth.
As an American, I’m very aware that we don’t treat all people the same and I’m certain that nearly any categorical tourist/immigrant could give stories like yours of things they experienced in the US. I don’t think it’s beyond anyone – any person, any culture, any country – to be offensive, disrespectful or downright oppressive at times. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be a Muslim woman in the US right now.
I’m not sure that these thoughts have a conclusion. I just wanted to bring them up because I was thinking about them in response to your post.
i have the same thoughts.
i think a lot of it has to do with the concept of ‘other’ however it is defined – in the individual and / or the greater culture / subculture, etc. etc. and how it is either acted upon or reacted to. i think it happens everywhere, just the forms /defining factors differ. i suspect it has happened for thousands upon thousands of years. i also suspect a number of the people throwing the mentioned above my way, are displaying issues of power in other aspects of their lives, not only with me. it’s a pattern i see in the west as well.
for example, this past weekend, i was trying to lend support to a thai friend (female), who was emotional about a situation, different in form (ie. what was said, etc) but lending to what i see as a connecting root cause, that of power and sometimes entitlement. a teacher, who in this culture is of a profession that is considered very esteemed/given public respect (similar to what i consider the amount a judge may receive in the status quo in the west) reacted/acted out towards my friend in, borrowing from your post, what i’ll say, from my experience, is considered by many (including my thai friend), offensive, disrespectful and downright oppressive. the basis, she is a teacher and my friend, is considered a youth. this was not done in a school setting, rather at a wedding where my friend was invited to sing. there was recourse to this, not in favour of my friend (my friend politely asked over the miic that whoever was blocking her car to move it, so she could go on to her other job). this created the situation.
the issue of power and ‘other’ and how it relates to thais in their own culture is worthy of a post (i.e. you’ll hear people say to children born with darker skin, a flat nose, etc….with a face like that, you’ll never be a doctor…). from what i’ve seen, if you are born half white and of the upper class, you’re considered beautiful (a ton of actors, models etc are half white). if you’re born half white and poor, you’re looked down upon (your mother of course must have been a prostitute that hooked up with a foreigner, probably a sex tourist).
as i sat down to write this, on channel news asia (tv from singapore) a comic book illustrator in, i believe hong kong, who is i’ll assume either american born or american raised chinese (he was discussing his american accent) was commenting on how some hong kong chinese discriminate against him, because although he can speak cantonese and physically looks one hundred percent chinese, he has an accent. i’m not going to get this word for word, but he said something to the affect of they think ‘you’re chinese. why can’t you speak correctly.’
just a reminder here – check the intro (link at top of the page) regarding proper conduct on here.
deleted who knows how many comments……from three identities….
….COMING FROM THE SAME PERSON.
Robert B. says
Remember that racism, sexism, etc., are born of ignorance, and that ignorance breeds fear which in turn breeds hatred.
This is a great post on racism.
I think racism and discrimination, unfortunately, exists in all countries and cultures. May be it is in all of us innately, wired to stick together and defend our tribe back from our cave man ancestors. As an immigrant in the US, I have faced racism here but not in the constant and pervasive way like you have described in the article because I think there is awareness and nonacceptance of racism in the US. I think in Thailand and Asia in general there is lack of awareness of racism or discrimination and often it is considered completely acceptable to discriminate against someone openly. I could only imagine that this consistence discrimination you’re facing in Thailand must be really tough. I could understand how it is wearing you down. I think the fact that you’ve tolerated this kind of behaviors for so long in a foreign country is a testament to your inner strength. the awareness you have of your inner feeling or hatred as you have described in response to these discrimination is critical. you don’t have to accept the hatred feeling that is brewing inside you. As people always say Awareness is the first step.
Believe it or not I probably faced as much discrimination in my own birth country than I have faced in the US.
The most overt example racism I have direct knowledge in the US was my former department head admitting to me to he didn’t hire someone because the interviewee was not Asian. I have the feeling that he hired me because I am Asian. I obviously do not agree nor think the same way as him.
thanks for your perspective.
i’ll add, in regards to your comment about lack of awareness of racism or discrimination and it being socially acceptable to discriminate openly…..for some, here in thailand, there is the belief that if you were born low on the social scale of perceived value, for example, dark skinned and poor, then you had done something of low morality in a past life to deserve you being born so. that in turn separates and allows people of the higher classes and of more wealth to feel just in their judgement. i can recall a few times i’ve been somewhere, for example a store and a having a light skinned child watch me. their parent or guardian (whomever they were with) notice this and say to them, ‘don’t be afraid, she’s not black’. in regards to foreigners, i think it really disgusts some people to see white skinned men and women with black skinned thais, which in turn further lowers our standing. sort of, what’s wrong with these people? they want the thais the thais don’t even want. (not trying to incite anything here, but this is something i’ve heard expressed a number of times).
I have enjoyed this post so much. I was in Thailand the first time in 2006 for three months, and then again in 2008 for a month. The first time I went to lose weight training as a fighter, and the second, was to visit the friends that I made back in 2006.
As an overweight black woman, I had to deal with so much blatant disapproval of just me as a person, it was very overwhelming. As bad as this sounds, it makes me feel better to think that at least white women don’t have it perfect over there either. In my situation people would point, snicker, and come up to me asking how many kilos I weighed. Also, I had this man on the street just look at me laugh and make his hands big like a belly. Oh, it gets better…a little girl ran away screaming from me, and a lady refused to feed me any rice and told me I would eventually end up in the Guinness Book. My friend that went with me in 2008 said that he wouldn’t have believed that it was that bad had he not seen it himself.
Oh! not to mention that I went on a trip to the countryside with a Thai friend that I had made to visit her family, and her male in-law refused to sit next to me, and didn’t want me touching him.
All of that to the side, I still have fond memories of Thailand, and there are great people there. It is just a lonely place for a single black woman, and I couldn’t imagine myself living there for a length of time. I’m just not that strong to take all of that. This is the first time I have ever let it all out like this. It feels good. Thanks for your post.
Oh! I almost forgot to mention, that I would go to the beach a lot, and sit out in the sun. This drove them crazy, and confused the crap out of them. They wondered why anyone would ever want to be darker, or sit in the sun. Really pissed me off. I never experienced anything like it over here in the states. I grew up in Germany, and never had anything like that happen. I used to think that I wanted to live in Asia, just not sure where. After all of that, I know that Europe or Latin America would probably be my preference. I’ll most likely end up in Canada though.
thank you for adding this to the discussion…i have often wondered what it would be like to be a black woman out here.
i remember meeting one black girl from france. i met her while with a friend and our meeting was brief. i was speaking with someone else, so i didn’t hear it myself, but after we left the girl, my friend mentioned how this girl had just come back from the countryside and was complaining how she kept getting mistaken for a Filipina prostitute (this by no means is good). if i remember correctly, to say the least, she didn’t have a good time in the countryside.
and in regards to being white….my experiences here have been a real eye opener. i feel i have a better understanding of what the term white entitlement in the west means. i have often thought though, i’m still entitled and can leave and has really made me feel for people who deal with this sort of thing in the country where they were born.
i forgot to add….what you described regarding people messing with you about your weight and how it was done….the weight thing is so different than the west. don’t know if you know this, but i’ll throw it out there anyhow – it isn’t rude to tell someone if they’re overweight here, sort of like telling someone something they think is obvious (ie. you have a nose. you’re fat), sometimes it’s a greeting (ie. you look well fed, sort of like, you look well rested/good/times have been good), some people will say someone is fat and that makes them cute (there is a thai saying actually for this). HOWEVER, it’s how it is said. i can only imagine how what you described made you feel. none of that sounds like it was done with good intentions.
“i have often thought though, i’m still entitled and can leave and has really made me feel for people who deal with this sort of thing in the country where they were born.”
Way to put it into perspective. Instead of white entitlement for me, I suppose it would be American entitlement. I can leave. The darker Asians, are there under that mess without a true way out. At least over here, we all have a chance to succeed. Over there, most darker skinned people, especially women, are just not allowed to rise above their status. It’s a sad plight.
you just brought up a good point – which lends to why so many darker skinned women work in tourist areas and are on dating sites on the net – some hope to find a foreign man. that for most, is their only way out.
Just want to put in my two cents about this ridiculous obsession in Asia with being fair and light skin – I met up with my friend from Asia (from Singapore) not too long ago in Hawaii. We were surrounded by gorgeous beaches but she wouldn’t want to spend any time on the beach, at least not during the day time. She would rather go shopping. I was dumbfounded and felt like I was in a twilight zone. I know I am generalizing here but I have told by many people that this kind of behavior (afraid of the sun for fear getting a tan) is very common in Asia, especially among females. It is a common knowledge that fair or light skin is highly desirable for both males and females in Asia. Even in India, where majority of people are dark skin, light skin is considered very attractive. Hence most Bollywood actors/actresses have light skin. I guess beauty is really a cultural concept. Every cultures have different ideas of what features are considered beautiful. On the other hand, physical characteristics I consider beautiful in women are probably different than what most Asian men consider attractive.
In fairness to the Thais, I would say that you’re going to experience racism in any fairly homogenous culture and particularly among a social group of people who are not particularly wealthy or educated have had little experience of Western social mores and other cultures. But I think that would be the case in ANY country with that social group. Thailand has a culture that emphasises tolerance and kindness, but as with ANY culture its bound to be undermined by individual and social ignorance and hypocrisy. Thais at every level of society are incredibly judgemental in this hypocritical way and there remains a still, very poor understanding of what is considered racist and impolite from a Western perspective. It’s just not Thailand, I think this is something across Asia in general. I have black friends who have visited other parts of Asia and are astonished that the words “negro” and caricatures of black people are still used without a care in the world. Or a white friend entering a taxi in China and being greeted with a “Waah! Ni shi pangzi!” “Waah! You’re a fatty!”.
I’m surprised at the level of overt discrimination you received; but aside from those individuals, I think for the most part Thais and Asians are not aggressively racist; I just think it doesn’t occur to them that its offensive. Try googling “Darlie / Darkie” toothpaste for example, it was only very recently that this was considered to be racist in Asia. And the recent (and appalling) new story of kids in Chiang Mai school dressed up as a Nazi parade with a girl dressed as Hitler. Yes its’ cretinously stupid and ignorant and its not acceptable, but given that Thais dont have the same understanding of political correctness as there is in the West, you can kind of understand how this could occur. Of course as you’ve discussed, I think you’ve also had the misfortune to encounter issues of gender as well – which in THailand can be pretty nasty.
I think in some parts of the West this enlightened sense of political correctness and multi culturalism is taken for granted – but the sad fact is the zero tolerance towards racism in any form is still pretty recent and isn’t universal.
On the flip side of the coin to your story – I remember growing up as a Thai kid among affluent, well educated white people in the Netherlands and experiencing appalling racism. It’s only been in the past few years I’ve noticed that there’s been a vocal and strong lobby against people making jokes and caricatures about “chinky eyed funny speaking” yellow people, for example. And I’m talking less than 5 years; there was still a time when those jokes were on mainstream TV in the West and no-one batted an eyelid.
z, thanks for adding more elements to the discussion, further rounding it out.
the issues i’ve faced in thailand, buriram specifically, have brought up a number of interesting conversations from friends from all over the planet. this led me to a greater understanding of my own culture, being canadian, and how it influenced my subconscious expectations when i arrived here. i was surprised to learn that anyone else i spoke to, who grew up outside of canada (or perhaps, the two cities i lived in, both being fairly multicultural) didn’t grow up with the same ideas of nationality being taught in our schools. for as long as i can remember, meaning down to kindergarten i was taught that canada wasn’t a melting pot like the u.s., it was a country where people from all over the world came to live and could maintain their individual cultures, while still being a canadian. a number of kids in my grade/primary school classes for example were first generation, meaning their parents were immigrants, including my own, which further naturalized this ideal. racism, of course exists in canada, but i think this ideal, propagated the education system, really shaped my perception of other cultures and countries where there was democracy. it wasn’t until the past year or so that i realized a number (if not all, i don’t know) in europe don’t, or maybe didn’t teach this (based on conversations with people from various countries there, thus representative of their experiences). i haven’t had a conversation with an american that was taught this either. this definitely lends to your point regarding some parts in the west taking multi-culturalism /political correctness for granted.
i don’t have an answer for this, but i have wondered if the discrimination i’ve been dealt is a reflection of the area i live in thailand, not specifically thailand. i’ve been dealt things in other parts of the country, but this level of it, has mostly come from either this area or people from this area (lower isaan) in other cities (note due to boxing, a great number of the people i’ve been around in thailand are from this area – this includes people who have treated me incredibly well). i don’t know, this is still something i’m trying to understand. for example, i recently spent a few weeks in kanchanaburi, west of bangkok. i was staying at a gym. while there, an american showed up. he was definitely overweight by thai standards and he was black (mixed with SEA). it was, if i remember correctly, his 48 hours on his first trip to thailand. we went to a local market and in retrospect, i realize i was filled with anxiety, i felt almost protective of him. we were all hanging out and i prepared for what i thought would be people touching him, commenting on either his weight, colour of skin or both. i thought i would hear people commenting to one in another about this as well. NOTHING. i was shocked to come back to the gym and there wasn’t one thing said or done that i picked up in this regard. this was a bit of a wake up call. like any country, different cities and areas have their own cultures. we were in tha maka which is a small community….perhaps the level of discrimination i’ve faced here, would be lessened to moving to a new area. at this point, i don’t know, because in my case, gender definitely changes the rules/works against me.
i don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression – in a lot of ways, i really like living in buriram. however, i really am curious to know if the level of what i’ve experienced is particular to this area, meaning if life would be easier, in a small community somewhere else in the country.
Hey Laura!!! Great site, finally got around to reading some of the articles, deep and insightful. I’m now a fan.
haha, i’m glad you mentioned this….
Yeah! I was expecting people to give me weird looks at the market in tha maka too, especially considering the fact that you and the rest of the crew were the whitest people there and i was the only dark farang….I’m short(er), but i’m definitely not as small as a Thai, in both bone structure and bodyfat content, LOL, I thought to myself that it HAD to have been a weird sight for the Thais to behold this black guy with these white farang, but to my surprise people didn’t seem to care, maybe a passing glance, but mostly uninterested. Awww you were concerned for me??? Thanks :))
I’ve met some very nice, warm helpful people in my month-long stay in Thailand…… i’ve come across a little, perhaps unintentional racism, but nothing outright malicious from what i remember, Thailand comes off as a very class-conscious culture, a Thais “place” in his own culture is so clear cut from the day he/she’s born, so it seems like most times Thais just don’t know how to act around someone outside of their culture so they just get awkward, or even lash out….Though i’m darker than most in Thailand, my charm and understated-handsomeness usually breaks the ice 90% of the time…all the time…haha just kidding!….
No but seriously, there have been times where a few of the light skinned, or rather light-face-powdered younger girls that worked at the tesco would give me weird, curious, almost loathesome looks or avoid eye contact and/or communication, but seems like it was only the real snobby ones that did that because other people were so nice, at least outwardly, i’m sure if the snobby ones got to know me they’d think i’m at least pleasant to be around, haha. They got me figured out all wrong man! I need to learn some Thai language or something….
You’re definitely right about different cities reacting to farang in different ways, i got a different vibe when i was in bangkok compared to Kanchanaburi….if i get an Obama reference or asked if i’m Indonesian or Malaysian one more time i swear i’ll….
Also, I gotta come clean, i wanted to go to Buriram, but it was your stories that scared me away from tagging along with ya, i have this really bleak wild-west picture of Buriram in my mind after hearing your stories and reading your articles, it was just out of my comfort zone, i chickened out! but i think maybe on my next visit i’ll be braver and i’ll visit the gym you were talking about.
Anyway, Don’t let it get you down Laura! You’re good people, and there’s nothing a jealous person hates more than a good-spirited person. Cheer up mate! Best wishes.
thanks for all of that! it’s funny, after your post and some responses i’ve received regarding this piece privately, i thought, and this was this morning, was i harsh in this piece? was my cultural lense really blinding me to something? i was thinking this as i was bringing my laundry down to the laundry area which opens to the street. i saw a girl on a motorbike, smiled at her, and got hit with that loathsome look i suspect you were writing about. i’m not in that chick’s head, so i don’t know why exactly she didn’t respond back nicely…. but it made me think of you. hahaha. it was the same look i saw when i read what you wrote about tesco earlier. it’s the same look i get hit with often.
i think like anywhere else, it’s a mixed bag out here and thanks for adding to the discussion.
it if means anything…..and i could be wrong, but the obama, indonesian, malaysian questioning i believe isn’t derogatory.
in regards to buriram….there def. is a bleak wild-west element to it in my opinion- which, is part of the attraction for me, ironically. i think violence towards foreigners is extremely rare unless provoked.in that sense it’s pretty safe, although there are some weird things that do go on here. ie. a car bombing this morning. nonetheless, the gym is def. good people and you’ll be in good hands there should i be here or not. it’s one of the reasons i stay.
great hearing from you.
….update on the car bomb. language barrier. a car blew up like a bomb, it was not a car bombing.
Hello, I’m Thai and if i have a girl friend, i would like bronze hair western woman over Thai women. Neither all Asian women beautiful nor western women beautiful. In addition to that, based on your sentences, I believe you need more workout. Diet in Thailand, mostly are high carb and low protein while western diet are more high in protein. Lot of westerners while living in Thailand would losing muscle mass and gaining more fat.
However, I agree with you about Racist stuffs. Thai education system didn’t educate people about human right nor regime. Normally, Thai has mindset of Nazi or Japanese in WWII. The believe their race, king, country and religion are far superior than others. It’s militarism rule country disguises in Democracy. That’s why they’re preach their citizens like this.
About what they’re saying about westerner women are easy, It’s because Thai believe that male are superior than female. Having sex is not a mutual pleasure but it’s man taking advantage of woman. They wouldn’t believe that man could got raped by women. Only man can rape a woman, they believe. Plus, Thai law is very outdated, It didn’t acknowledge of the 3rd sex. Therefore, same sex rape, is somewhat not going well when story reach the court.
You answered some questions I had, particularly about same sex rape. I questioned if it was acknowledged/even spoken about.
Thank you immensely for adding to the discussion .
“Normally, Thai has mindset of Nazi or Japanese in WWII. The believe their race, king, country and religion are far superior than others. It’s militarism rule country disguises in Democracy. That’s why they’re preach their citizens like this.”
I’m not quite sure I would agree with this. A facist mindset based on racial superiority is not the same as a strong national and cultural identity based on principles that are widely considered to be beneficial and in some ways, unique.
Arvind G Balasubramaniam says
Ha, i once was stopped by a policeman for riding a motorcycle on the expressway. (well i was a noob at that point). After stopping me, he seemed impressed at my courage, took my passport, looked at it, stared back at my face, and said “you’re Aryan aren’t you”. I just nodded because I guess that’s what he wanted to hear. Also partly because where i’m from (south india) people from Brahmin descent are discriminated against as “Aryan oppressors” so i guess it’s part of my identity, although i never think about myself as part of some ethnicity. Still, it’s a very archaic way of looking at race – straight from the 40’s. I’ve had another girl who asked me if people in my country were caucasoid or mongoloid. Race is really quite high in their mind. I sometimes pretend that I’ve stepped into a time machine and entered into an older, less enlightened era. It makes all the BS i experience in Thailand take a cute character and i’m less incensed by it. Still, most thais are well meaning people. The scammers do make me annoyed. So much for their so-called morality.
I won’t argue with you, but consider that Americans are far more racists then Thais are.
Of course, I don’t try to find excuses for your un-friendly cook, however, consider also that there might have been something in your behavior or maybe you’re dressed inappropriate that made her ignore you.
And probably the most important is: you ASSUME she made a racist remark because she mumbled the word “farang”. If we are guessing, well, maybe she said “Another farang who will start smoking in my restaurant… better ignore her and probably she’ll leave” 🙂 … and that’s how it happened lol
Or, maybe she said (no offense) “I’m not going to serve this dirty disgusting farang. Anyone would like to do this for me?” … and nobody did (regarding your aspect, clothes, hygiene).
Or “Last time I served a farang he insulted me ’cause I’ve tried to poison him with to much chilli peppers… I’m afraid to give my food to another farang”
… anyway, you got my idea. You’re assuming to much. Enjoy your stay in Thailand, stay with those that don’t ignore you and don’t forget that nobody should like you or serve you… it is their choice.
thanks for proving my point alice.
What about common courtersy, Alice? Ever heard of that? Everybody decerves a little bit of courtesy and especially customers who come to your cafè to spend their money buying your food. You are simply making feeble excuses for being allowed to be rude. What if a thai was treated like that in a country he/she visited. would they not call it racism or would they really,honestly consider the many different thoughts that might go through that ignorant persons’ mind and then try to excuse them?? Very far fetched and very far from the thruth,I’d say.
If and when I encounter behaviour like that, I just turn my back and go somewhere else where people have learned basic proper behaviour. This is something thailand really need to understand. The next time I go on holiday,I will not choose thailand. There are plenty of other countries with similar scenery, the same climate, great food AND nicer people. Imagine that!
Wow your the perfect example of the simple minded, racist and ignorant populace she was talking about. What a shame people like you exist in this world.
It’s pretty funny how thais are always going on about people being fat etc etc…when other than the phillipines they are the fattest race of asians. Anyway…racisim only effects you if you let it. you’re white and you’re from a rich country. What can anyone from thailand ever say or do that actually means anything?
i guess i just see us all as equals.
That’s a nice thought for a perfect world. That’s not reality though.
First of all I wanted to say that I am loving this site and the honesty with which you approach your topics. I am really enjoying seeing many of the things I’ve considered or questioned or come up against in my 3 plus years here put up for discussion. I think it is a gift to have a dialogue and a forum for people to talk about this kind of stuff so they can be aware of the complex cultural undertow that often lies under any given situation here in Thailand. It’s especially invaluable I think in regard to the areas of Thai culture that remain obscured by the unspoken laws of what’s speakable!
I have largely been in and around the Thai boxing world since I came to Thailand in 2008 and in many ways have had a parallel path to Laura. I also grew up in Canada, which — the more I think about it — has a lot to do with the perspective both she and and I and others share. I also believe that we are all equalis. Perhaps that is a “nice thought for a perfect world” , as Jack says, but perhaps experience has showed us that it was possible, even in an imperfect world. I’ve lived in the UK and the US and the multicultural experience is very different than it is in the places I lived in Canada (Ontario and Quebec).
When I was growing up in grade school my class was full of all different nationalities — Croatian, Jamaican, Indian, Iranian, Vietnamese, Thai, Serbian, Dutch, Cambodian, etc., etc. I don’t want to idealize the situation, but I think I was lucky enough — as an immigrant myself — to see that we could all identify with eachother as being Canadian, without forgetting where we came from.
I have had quite a few experiences that are similar to Laura’s — and I have to say I agree with her on so many counts. Like her I know the language enough to know when someone is disrespecting me, even if it is a mutter under the breath. I could give countless examples, but this one pops to mind. I was going to my boyfriend’s sister’s wedding in Isaan earlier this year and, just as we were preparing to go home to BKK, I was hit up for money by some of the old men, who were by then on the second day of drinking. When I said, politely and amiably, that I couldn’t buy a case of beer, I was then dissed loudly and openly by both the women and the men there about what a cheap farang I was. This was my boyfriend’s family too!
I remember feeling really relieved that my boyfriend had heard everything from the next room so that he knew I didn’t just “misunderstand” what was being said (as often Thais will try to convince you if you call someone on it). He was so horrified by their behaviour that we ended up leaving right away. So this kind of thing is not unusual in my experience. It’s just not usual to hear about it.
Of course I am here in Thailand because I love it. I’ve met amazing people and more often than not I’ve been treated with respect and dignity. It’s why I choose to live here and why I have a family with a Thai man. But that doesn’t mean the “other” element doesn’t exist to me. There is a strong class system here with very little means for upward mobility, and from what I can see, hostility to farangs for whom these laws don’t apply.
Anyway great topic. Great post. And I am thoroughly enjoying keeping up with the dialogue on this one.
buasri, thanks so much for your imput!
you brought up an excellent point – a lot of what i am trying to discuss, and to borrow from what you’ve written, are areas of Thai culture that remain obscured by the unspoken laws of what’s speakable. i wish i could bold that. this alone makes the journey here open to a myriad of issues – from innocent cultural misunderstandings to overt exploitation (on both sides).
for those of you reading who haven’t spent an extended time, if any time in thailand, for many of us who are here long-term, we are lucky when we meet other people we can discuss these issues with. i’ve been lucky, via writing for another site and people contacting me, in addition to chance meetings to began to see specific patterns emerge with foreigners from all over the world. that’s when i knew that which occurs isn’t so much personal to me, but my experiences may be indicative of something larger going on – something rarely discussed and perhaps rarely thought about.
thanks again buasri and thanks to all for adding your perspective and wisdom!
Sorry for the negative expiriences. Never expierienced something as harsh, but I don’t know what people have talked behind my back… (and I dont want to know) and since living here I know that “minor” instances of discrimination already hurt a lot.
But here’s a little (in my opinion) funny story:
I used to get told a lot that I am fat. Now, although my weight is about the same, I get it occasionly, but not as often… or I just notice it less. In general, for one instance where I get told I’m fat, there’s at least another istance where I’m told that I’m pretty… so this equals it all out (must be similar for you?).
Now here goes my story: One time I sat with my boyfriend (Thai), his male friend and his wife who had recently had a child. As we were talking about birth his friend noted that “Oh, Mina must give birth easily, since she’s biiig”.
I LOVED that nobody nodded in agreement but just resolved into an awkward silence, even himself, realizing what he had just implied. I see this as my personal win.
Btw, later (or before that, I cant remember) I explained why in western context it is kind of rude to say that someone is fat only to get another comment how fat I am a few moments later. That, I call ignorance.
And there are heaps of Thai men interested in foreign women. It is just not true that they’re only interested in Thai women or the farang’s money or free sex. BS.
your general ‘fat’ experiences definitely mirror mine, including telling people that calling someone fat is kind of rude in our culture and to have it completely ignored.
i really enjoyed your story. lol!
one question mina…are you generally around thais who can speak english / have general knowledge of western culture?
Its been a while but i came across this site again since i have a discussion with my friend about it 🙂 to answer your question: the thais from my anectode were not westernized. That was in my bf’s hometown in Isaan and the conversation was in Thai. My own close thai friends (although i have few who i’d consider being close friends) wouldnt be rude or ignorant. If they were i would not consider them friends. I usually go out of my way to respect thai culture – from my friends i do expect the same. But they are more westernized i would say.
P.s.: i know it’s been ages but i hope you told that “friend” of yours what you thought about her statement (i.e. why should guys like you when they could have thai women – this statement really makes me want to punch her).
Oh, one thing we defiantly share is that some ppl percieve me/us as easy, just because we’re white girls. This can really offend me and living in thailand created this “loyalty towards my white sisters” lol. Like if i am asked why white girls are so “free sex” i am offended cause the statement is not only geared towards me but my sister, my friends etc.
Alan Reid says
im a 26 year old male and currently residing in Bangkok. I originally was travelling around Thailand. I have been living in Bangkok for 2 and half years now and have been mainly residing in cheap accomodation where a lot of low class Issan type of people are. I am tall and a good looking guy and can speak some Thai now. I think being good looking and young emphasises the racism even more due to jealousy. Ever since learning about the respect thing and the language from my thai girlfriend I have noticed blatant racism. Everything you say is true. I have went to get pad thai before and the women has said Mot Leaw (finished already) talking about the seafood. There was still seafood left and she wanted to keep the rest for her Thai customers.
Another time I went to a newly opened yoga studio on the outskirts of Bangkok. I had been going for a month. I had been going to a teachers class a couple times and felt something wasnt right. I then decided to go back again and I noticed blatant racism. During the class the yoga teacher kept making fun of .me and even had one student run up doing something behind my back. (yoga is meant to be a place of relaxation). I then questioned the teacher after class and she didnt know what to say and quickly got someone else to speak to me even though her english was fine. I then was told it is just normal to make fun of people from a different country.
i try to smile and be friendly to the thais everyday however I have this bitterness and hatred built up inside the same as you.
hey everyone. alan’s comment inspired some introspection on my end. i’ve written a post in response to it. thank-you alan.
4+ years now in Bangkok. I know where you are coming from. I think what bothers me the most is when people don’t even realize they are being racist or hurtful. When a friend asks if the job I am hiring him for will accept a black (American) man. And I realize I have to go back and find out and then tell my friend yes or no. Or walking around a mall with a female Thai friend. The looks people give her. And yes, I understand enough to know when they talk smack about me as well. It’s… You know.
Alan Reid says
In Thailand I feel the exact same way as you. When in a resteraunt I am not the confident person I used to be anymore. I am worrying about people staring at me and how they are treating me. While leaving the resteraunt I would say to my girlfriend ‘they were alrite in there weren’t they’. During my meal the only thing in my head is what is going on around me and if people are staring at me or not.
I feel when I do go back to the UK I will be left psychologically scarred from my bad experiences in Thailand.
The thing that bothers me most about living in Bangkok is that in the past few months I have realised that no Thai person wants to be friends with me. They either want my money or want to know what I am doing here.
I have noticed a discrimination on peoples age here also. In jobs in Thailand especially. Most jobs are hired solely on how you look as opposed to who is best at the job.
Thai people seem to want to hold the young back and really do not give them the confidence they should be giving them to succeed in life. I constantly feel I am treated like a child which I hate. What annoys me most is the fat old men here who look like alcoholics get more respect than me.
I used to be such a confident person. I never thought a place could change me although it has. I have tried speaking to Thai people about there behaviour but they really dont care. The intelligent person inside me wants to talk to them and make them see how there behaviour is wrong, rude and racist however I have come to learn that they are happy in their ignorance and really do not want to understand anything about Foreign culture.
Thank you for this insightful topic. I have been to thailand a number of times as I was married to a thai(now divorced)and I have to agree with you. There is a sentence I quickly learned that I think sums it all up: thai rak thai. This is very true. They really are not interested whatsoever in other cultures, think that thais are superior to the rest of the world and they don’t really bother with people from other countries. I saw it in my ex’s family and his friends and finally in my ex himself(which is partly why I divorced,of course) I am now in a situastion where I am glad I did not agree with him to move to thailand permanently, even if I do love being there on holiday for a few weeks. It’s a whole different thing to be living there. I still have this strange feeling of estrangement even after a shorter holiday. I am feeling out of place, sensitive to people looking at me, feeling unattractive and weird. After a while it goes away and I swear I will go somewhere else on my next vacation. I never thought thais are especially prettier or more attractive than any other ‘race’ . The fact that they think they are superior to the rest of the world, puzzles me and I would like to know why they think so. Where does this come from? Is it really a sign of massive insecurity on their behalf? I have noticed that they are somewhat obsessed by the way they look and women in thailand often wear very child-like Lolita-clothes and I have wondered how they can look down on people from other countries when it’s so obvious that they are insecure and need attention all the time.Or is it a reluctance to be an adult that makes them dress and behave like children? Either way, the money issue always spoils it for me. It seems that this is a society obsesses with money. It’s a shame that they have so many issues as thailand itself is a wonderful country.
sorry if my focus had been completely the negative ,but as a comment to the above topic, I’m afraid it had to be like that. I dont pretend to be an expert,It’s purely my impression from staying in thailand .
Alan Reid says
I think thais deep down know that foreigners are better than them (more attractive, more intelligent, have more money) however they do not want to egmit this to themselves. They want to protect their culture and the only way in which they can do this is by being rude to foreigners or as they call us farang. They want to show that it is their country and they have the power. If you ever try to have any form of intellectual conversation with a Thai you will soon see that they get very nervous and uncomfortable. As for the women wearing Lolita like clothing I assume you are talking about ones who work in the nightlife industry as in and around Bangkok the middle class young women do not do this and also the way someone dresses you can tell the class of a person in Thailand. yes this society is all about money. if your rich in Thailand you can do anything you want and I mean ANYTHING. it is a corrupt country and if your rich and want to kill someone this is okay in Thailand.
I do not think they think they are superior. They are just afraid of the unknown.
I think you are very right in your observations, Alan. I too have the exact same experience when it comes to the conversation part . I discovered it after a while with my ex and his thai friends. I discovered also that he had just been mirroring me the whole time. It just totally confused me. I asked a female thai friend once what they were talking about because she and her friends seemed to have long fascinating conversations on the phone that could go on for hours. She replied that they didn’t really talk about anything, it was all just nonsense(!)
The other thing that I did find really frustrating was whenever I tried to aks a direct question or say something that were not all wrapped up in cotton wool (but far from being impolite). They avoid the question alltogether and start talking about something else or just pretend that they do not hear what you are saying. The first few times this happened, I was just too taken aback to say anything.
Nowadays I just ask what I need to ask and if I want to find out if it is true or if I want to know if the person has anything to hide, I know for sure if I don’t get a reply. This is another thing that puzzles me about thai people. To me , a lie is a lie. But I found that what is a lie to me, is something that happens all the time in Thailand. I think that’s one of the things I struggle the most with: Trus and trusting people again after staying in Thailand. One could say that every person is equal and we should all love each others’ differences. etc etc. It all sounds great , but sadly the reality is a different case.Sorry if I come across as a massive cynic, but When it comes to thai culture , I have to admit that I am sceptical and after my close encounter with thais, I will (sadly)continue to be that way. I call it being careful and looking after my sanity.
hi victoria. i’ve discussed the subject of lying with a number of thais i know in thailand. the cultural differences in what constitutes a lie and the value associated with lying seems to be so incredibly different. to westerners, lying is very black and white compared to the definition by the people i’ve spoken to about it in thailand. lying to most westerners is also considered ‘bad’ whereas the people i spoke to didn’t seem to allot as much negative value to lying. there was more value associated to the damage done by finding out a lie, than in telling one. for example, if someone is being lied to about their partner having a mistress, that is not as bad as finding out they had been lied to – the lie in itself isn’t the negative if the lie itself isn’t exposed. that being said, it is possible that some of the conversations i had were also meant to save face and were viewed as confrontation. again, what to many westerners would be considered lying, but to many thais, isn’t really….
one of reasons people had often given me to illustrate why westerners are considered stupid by some thais is that we believe people’s lies so easily. one friend explained how, if someone lies and the other person believes it, it proves that the liar is intellectually superior. in my experience, living in a culture that operates like this was often defeating, because on a number of occasions, i was assumed to be either lying or completely mentally inferior/stupid (ie. trying to explain to people that peanut allergies are serious in canada). from conversations i’ve had throughout my time there, there is a great deal of what i would, in a western context, consider distrust among peers – people always questioning the honesty of others to an extent that ive never experienced here.
it has undoubtedly affected my transition back to north american culture as well. i realized for the first while i was always trying to read behind people’s words and that i didn’t trust people in so many ways and i wasn’t as open with people. it is getting better, but i definitely, at time of writing, am incapable of trusting people the same way as i did prior to my stay in thailand.
again, as stated in my pieces, i’m not trying to demonize people here.i believe the cultural differences in regards to definitions and notions of ‘truth’ as so culturally different, that it isn’t surprising that westerners have a hard time assimilating in thailand.
Just trying to the “where it comes from” question, since I had wondered about that too before …I read that it is given in education, in school, pupils are told Thai citizen are a superior race as fact. Mixed farang kids are discriminated against in Thai schools. In the army also my half thai friend was given a hard time just because of its race by his superiors.
This is SO not true it’s not even funny. I did ror dor from 2006 – 2009 and there were several luk kruengs in my intake. They were mostly given a much, MUCH easier time than the rest. In a year end exam we had to do, we just claimed that we couldn’t read the paper and a nice LT came in and read the answers for us. I don’t know what the heck you are talking about.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hi Thaiguy – Thanks for adding much to the discussion (I’ve read your other comments as well). In regards to luk kruengs having a hard time; from my understanding, it’s often a matter of where in the class structure you’re placed. From what I’ve witnessed, and in addition, from having conversations with foreigners in Thailand with luk kreung children – it can be complicated for those in more rural areas, particularly if the mother is lower on the economic scale and dark skinned (and the father is a much older foreigner). Often the children are considered beautiful (more so if they’re half white), but they can deal with quite a bit of teasing/bullying that can get ugly. This is in response to a previous comment of yours where you mentioned you spent most of your time in Bangkok, from a fairly privileged background. This isn’t to dispute your claim about luk kreungs given a much easier time; I’ve witnessed that as well, but with the more privileged. From those reading this who are unfamiliar with Thai television, there is plenty of representation of hi-so luk kruengs on TV. Much higher than I would assume is proportional to the actual population of luk kruengs in the country.
I’d love to hear from more people on this topic.
Carlos Fasteneda says
What has happened in the world is simply that we have lost our concept/awareness of SPIRIT, and fact most men these days deny that the spirit exists, so we are left with the body and the mind [which can be dubbed “ego.”] Now the ego wants to be right in everything it thinks, says or does and that same mind (ego) blows it-self (huffin’ and puffin!) up with pride, anger, resentment, greed, envy/jealousy, lust, gluttony, and laziness. When it comes to self-will and self-expression, there will always be differences between and among humans.
The only possible dimension that can protect us all under the same ‘bumbershoot’ is the SPIRIT. We are all animated by an inviisible ‘life force’ that keeps our heart(s) beating. When that life force leaves, the mind (ego) and the body are dubbed ‘dead as a doornail.’
The SPIRIT, however, goes on, since it is part of life itself. Which is to say: “No matter where you go, there you are”, in CHARACTER. We are all buiulding character whilst here on this planet. The only question is “what kind?” And that, as the Thais say, is “Up To You!”
Motivated from the heart by the common spirit of brotherly (human) love, we can learn to tolerate everyone, to exhibit compassion to those who are ‘below’ our strata (whatever that means), to be open-minded about everything that comes our way, always willing to discuss and compromise, speaking and acting honestly, we are then united in peace, under the tent of common sense, common courtesy and comon purpose.
In America, they (used to anyway) call it ~ “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
And don’t ask me because I don’t kinow where it’s gone.
Wow. I have to commend you for this article – you have captured everything I have been feeling and thinking and phrased it perfectly.
A difference though. I am a male, living in Thailand. I am 100 percent proud to say I am not thai.
I am constantly faced with this ‘thai are hallmark ethnicity of the world’ attitude. I see it in their actions, I hear it in their words. I am sub-par, according to them, as I am not thai. But the problem doesn’t start with their logic-less thinking; it starts with their education, and their pride is the icing on the cake. There is a reason why I brush off most of what I hear – because it doesn’t follow the conventions of common sense.
They are in denial about many things, and what they are not in denial about they are jealous about. It’s been less than 150 years that thailand has been trying to catch up with ‘developed’ countries. Build a few bridges here, make some companies there and that is it – they are the pinnacle of Asian society. But they aren’t. I think this ‘holier than thou’ attitude comes from an insecurity … they know that they are no where near developed as other ‘western’ countries, and as long as they keep trying to hold on to their ‘thainess’ they will continue to fall victim to their pride.
On numerous occasions I’ve been told how promiscuous behavior is overtaking thailand … how it is not thai culture. I question everytime, ‘if everything is changing all the time, why can’t thai culture change?’ the response is always ‘because thai culture doesn’t change.’ And this is the pride of which I speak. The pride that wants to save face amongst other countries in the world. The pride that paints thais to be little angels while its inhabitants are whoring it up in the bedroom with mia nois and sniffing drugs of all sorts. But you can’t tell a thai that. They know everything, and everyone else is second-best.
The thing that made me finally drop my frustration with them was this mantra: ‘I am not thai. I was born in —–. And for that, I am happy.’ I get confused for a half-breed quite a bit here … but now I proudly call myself falang – explaining nationality vs. ethnicity to a thai is a great feat, suitable only for those with extreme perseverance. Besides, would I rather call myself thai? No way.
My perception about this country has declined greatly since my coming here.
Don’t worry about it, man. Look at the comedy on the thai t.v. It’s all slapstick, and over here t.v. imitates life. In that respect, don’t be phased when someone mutters ‘falang’ out of the blue and they all start laughing horrendously. It’s just thailand.
I have the same thing happen to me, however in a different manner. They want to know how big I am. I just brush it off and go about my business.
steven stewart says
why my comment get deleted?
alan reid says
Hey Grant. Just to clarify on the Thai people asking how big you are. They are very rude thai people. Most respectful thai people would not do this. I assume your talking about ladies in the nightlife industry?
Interesting read indeed, I cannot believe how most of the experiences here relate nearly identically to several experiences I have had, I have lived in Thailand on and off for over 6 years and during this time I have endured countless hundreds of experiences of inconsiderate Thai people being rude, impolite, showing no manners, lack of respect, name calling, cold staring, constantly watching, ignorant, cheating, lying, etc the list goes on. Kiss goodbye to any respect or human rights you may have thought you had, as soon as you pass through immigration welcome to the land of the corrupt.
I learnt basic Thai language to in order to communicate more effectively and found that they were not interested in speaking with me lol! My wife is Thai and her family have even called me several names in the past. I fell in love with Thailand as a country years ago whilst traveling, I moved here years later and quickly realised that the Thai people are indeed very jealous, bitter, resentful and dislike foreigners immensely. The children are taught that they are the best and that foreigners are evil lol! The Thai are the evil ones. It can be a very negative place to live, I even hear children swearing and saying ‘Farang Get Out’ in Thai!
You would think that being married to a Thai lady life would be easier? Think again, the Banks here wouldnt even open me a bank account! When dealing with Immigration officials on occasion they were unhelpful and rude. Thailand is the most corrupt place on earth, someone could kill me and nothing would be done the police are very corrupt. Living here sometimes indeed I wish I was dead. Fortunately I plan to leave the country soon and vow never to return, if you are thinking about coming here to live think again, behind their smiles are a corrupt rotten people.
Thailand is not what it seems, they love the farang money but hate the farang as they call us. But forgive the Thai people for their sins, as they are not the most intelligent people, in fact most seem pretty stupid, they cannot compete with the rest of the world, thats why they cheat, lie and are corrupt as hell. I am generalising a little of course but you get the idea, come to Thailand to experience it for yourself you will soon see what I mean. I am counting the days until I leave and that keeps me positive! As soon as I leave I will smile and tell myself it is all over…
Rudey: what can I say? Other than: Dead right you are and good for you that you will get out soon. Not a healthy country to be living in at all.
alan reid says
Spot on with what you say Rudey. Brilliant post and I wish you well in your new country of choice.
Johann Morton says
It’s my last few days here, of my 6th of 7th (can’t remember) trip to Bangkok. I have to say, of the level of the two kinds of racism you speak of I’ve experienced the former for more and more increasingly in recent years. My first two journeys here I met a lot of friendly people. If I was stood somewhere looking confused, someone would come to ask me if I was ok or lost, or just strike up a genuine friendly conversation. On one occasion, when I was here in the rainy season, I got caught in a thunderstorm, taking shelter under a tree with a bunch of stray dogs. A woman came up and placed her umbrella over my head and asked me where I was going and offered to walk me there. That was seven years ago. Since then it seems people have become less friendly.
I read a post on another site by someone saying that for foreigners to assume Thais were racist is ignorance on our part, but that’s just not the case. I spend a lot of time walking around and the social divide is clear for all to see; the more wealthy you are, the more you are respected, the more pale your skin the higher your chances of being successful- Thai nationals that I have met here have said as much. I get the screwfaces every single day, I don’t care about that- I get screwfaces at home in London. The snide remarks piss me off (just because you don’t speak the language doesn’t mean you don’t understand what’s going on), but what annoys me the most is being in a queue and being ignored because of the colour of my skin.
The other night I was in a bar that I always go to when I’m here, because I was friendly with the owners. The bar has changed hands since my last visit a year ago. The reception was frosty, putting it mildly, but I ignored it, ate dinner, had a few drinks. Going back a few days later, the staff were downright rude, but undeterred I ordered a drink and sat down. The staff and friends were making their comments and people moved away from where I was sitting. A white man from the north of England came in and he was treated as an honoured guest. When I spoke to him, he told me that he’d never been to this bar before, which told me all I need to know. I know that the staff understood English, from the conversation they had with the guy so I invited him to sit down and have a chat. When the conversation turned to the treatment of foreigners, I made it clear that I understood why I was being made to feel unwelcome and that it was a much cooler bar the year before. I’m staying on the same street; the bar is never busy, you’d think they’d be happy for any business, but whatever- screw them.
Mostly, my experience this trip has been negative, but Thais I know from London are vastly different in their attitude towards me so I know that it’s mainly ignorance I’m up against. Mostly it comes from the affluent people or the people that work immediately under them in the restaurants, shopping centres, etc. I kind of feel sorry for them they’ve obviously never travelled and don’t know any better. Case in point: at another bar the other day, someone I was talking to refused to believe I was English because I don’t have white skin. Chelsea were playing on the huge screen behind me and I pointed to Ashley Cole and said ‘er, hello?’.
In any case, I love Thailand. I can understand why they are xenophobic to an extent with the LARGE amount of visitors you see in the… less reputable venues, but that I am treated with more contempt than a sex tourist because my skin is dark is farcical to me. Still and all, I’ve never been a victim of violence here, or any crime for that matter. Some police tried to shake me down at the airport once, but my Thai friend put them in their place. The only other time anyone was aggressive towards me all I had to do was stand up show them I wasn’t in the least bit intimidated and turn my back on them.
Some things that I keep in mind when I’m here:
Regardless of the derogatory looks and remarks I receive, there are many, genuinely friendly people here- this is still the Land of Smile and not the Land of Sneer.
I keep my headphone on and listen to tunes. Partly because the Western imported and inspired music here is TERRIBLE and partly as with any kind of arsehole, if they see they can’t affect you with their bullshit, it loses it’s appeal and they’ll just fuck off.
Nothing makes them feel more uncomfortable that you making them aware that you know they’re being arseholes and waving and smiling your friendliest smile- they just don’t know what to do with that.
Most importantly, my very first time here, I arrived the day or the earthquake and tsunami. The sheer ignorance of some of the people here in Bangkok, making jokes and selling t-shirts to the effect of “I went to Phuket and all I have left is this t-shirt”, that lets you know exactly how fucked-up the social ladder is here and it brings shame on them all. The first thing I did was go to the red cross and donate as much blood as I was allowed to. So who’s the arsehole?
Johann Morton says
I should add that I grew up in the 70s/80s in London and while things have changed for the better, when I was a kid racial discrimination was a way of life. On television, in the press, on the street the, the social structure was inherently racist. This was borne out of Colonialism and a belief of white superiority over all other races, from the top of society, to the bottom.
This has changed, because in a multicultural society, children grow up, play and learn together (in my classes at school and college there were children with parents from all over the world), even if the parents were racially predujiced, the children were not and this attitude has become more diluted over time. It’s still not perfect, not even close (you get a lot of people wanting to appear politically correct, rather than actually being genuine), but that’s what’s so surprising/upsetting about coming across such a high level of abuse here.
Johann, I have to agree with Z, your comment was one of the most insightful in this thread. Beautiful really. Thank you for taking the time to write it. Wishing you save travels home.
John I think you’ve contributed some of the most insightful comments on this thread so far. I’ve also shared your experience of multiculturalism in the West – something that we take for granted now but it’s only been recently that zero-tolerance of racism in any form is commonplace. Views that much of the rest of the world – including Thailand, probably has to catch up with.
I was just wondering though – since when did this forum become a Thai-bashing forum? What started as a interesting discussion on some of the real flaws in Thai thinking seems to have attracted a lot of really negative comments that I find frankly, really offensive and racist. It’s worse than ThaiVisa in some ways, with its awful condescension of the “Thai natives” as being a race and culture that is universally deceitful, racist and greedy.
I’m proud to say that I’m Thai. While there are many idiots in Thailand with these cretinous views that the author of the article has suffered from – there are also some really wonderful aspects of Thailand and some wonderful Thai people. It’s a mix – as it is with ANY country. I’m lucky to have lived in many different countries and cultures – including in the West where I believe most of the posters here are from and I’ve suffered some appalling racism but never once did I think that this applied universally to the people of the place where I lived in.
Racism and deceit are not uniquelly Thai traits nor are they universal aspects of Thai culture. There are many countries that treat outsiders far worse.
Z, Thank-you for adding balance to the discussion.
Johann Morton says
Z, you SHOULD be proud to be Thai. As I write this I am in my friends house, as I am every time I visit Thailand. She her family and her friends go out of their way to look after me whenever I’m here.
I’ve met many cool and extremely friendly people over the 8 years I’ve been coming to Thailand, and despite the negative experiences I’ve had on this trip would happily visit again. As you say, there is a mix of many people with differing attitudes here, as there are everywhere. This trip as with last time, the ratio has been a bad one for me. That has not been the case in the past and may not be in the future.
I love this place and the vast majority of the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve had have been awesome (why I keep coming back), this time however, I’m kind of glad to be heading home today. As to your point about Thai-bashing, I apologise if you feel that’s what I’ve done, but I assure you I didin’t post on this forum with that intent; I’ve simply detailed my experience this trip without pulling any punches- something I’ve not done while putting up with the way SOME people here have treated me.
Bangkok is still a great city.
Thailand is stil a wonderful country.
My dream of the last 10 years has been go to Thailand to train and enjoy the beautiful things I have heard about the Thai people and the beauty of the country. Finally the next week Im going there for almost 1 month and to be honest all my excitement was reduced enormously after read everyone of these posts.
Hopefully I will experience better things as one of the main reasons Im going there is for what I have heard about the Thai people (respect, politeness, calm, friendliness etc.)
Johann Morton says
Omar, going for a month, I guarantee you a great holiday filled with many great experiences and good memories to come away with. Despite the experience I’ve had this trip, I’ll probably go back there again.
You may well come across some people that have their heads shoved up their own backsides, giving you some dirty looks and making some insulting comments. If you feel that this is happening, bear in mind that these people are behaving like spoilt children- do your best to ignore them, or, rather than get upset by it, turn it around by pointing, smiling and waving- it makes them REALLY uncomfortable. 😀
You will hear the word ‘farang’ a LOT, but it’s worth remembering that it won’t always be meant as an insult; as with everything else, the WAY you say something is just as important as WHAT you say. For example, Thais don’t waste time on details like what country you came from- we’re all farang.
I encourage you to walk around a lot (always carry a bottle of water with you), find places that aren’t just there for the sake of tourists, buy strange fruits and meals in the local markets, bars and restaurants and not just the big shopping malls and fancy restaurants (although you should definitely use those too)- this is how you will meet the open, kind and friendly people you’ve heard so much about.
Two very important things to remember:
RESPECT THE KING.
7-11 is your friend. 😉
Have a fantastic time out there!
Well after five years living in Thailand of which three of them in Bangkok I recently left the country disgusted by all the form of racism, lies, Mysoginy and other sort of problems I experienced.
I am originally from Italy and I lived in New York for seven years before moving to Thailand.
I have to say that my encounters have been mainly related to the world of Muay thai being a nak muay or professional fighter.
But I had somehow to experience a double form of racism/misogyny, the one from society and the one from the Boxing world. Life as a white woman and a boxer in Thailand is not easy at all.
Having said that I have to admit that I still love Thailand and Muay thai and that I am going back there soon.
I must be a masochist really.
But what really shocked me was talking to a friend of mine in Bangkok that is half Thai a few days before I left and what he told me .
He said that first of all when Thais refer to Farangs the use the pronoun ‘it’ versus ‘he or she’ , in other words they refer to us as an object lower than an animal, not a human person.
I didn’t know that. My Half Thai friend also told me that Thais are racist towards Half Thais even Half Thais born and raised in Bangkok or Thailand…So could you imagine he said ‘if they are racist to us and consider us on a lower level, can you imagine he said ‘What do they think of farangs, that don’t even have any drop of Thai blood in their veins…?’
Pretty illuminating I think.
The forms of racism towards women or farangs in general that I experienced are many, they even include all my camera and video equipment being stolen by my ex Thai boyfriend or by his brother like he would like me to believe. But this is just a ‘Don’t lose face’ sort of lie of course.
But despite it all I still met some great people and had lots of great experiences in Thailand. That is why I am going back for more.
Frances Watthanaya says
I lived in Thailand for two years, and was a professional fighter too.
I moved to a village in Isarn (fell in love with a fighter, we are now happily married 5 years with a halfer child currently living in Canada while I go to university), where I farmed rice with the family. Doing what they told me to do whether it be helping, fightings, cooking, I became part of the family. I also speak Thai, Isarn, and Loas fluent- I learned on my own 🙂
I think you all are missing the point of Thai culture…hard to explain on a computer, but Thais are not racist. I think being white we have never experienced being different, we are the majority, over there, we are not. Thailand, especially Isarn experienced rapid and unnatural urbanization. My husband is 27, there was no electricity in his village until he was 7 and then all of the sudden people had TVs….
As for being referred to as ‘it’…that has never happened, and many people I meet speak their mind freely not knowing I speak Thai…maybe it is just a confusion with the many classifiers in the Thai language. There really isn’t the work ‘it’ in Thai…just the would kao เขา and then more polite forms.
As for fighting, it is like being a slave…my husband is still ‘owned’ by his gym. My family in Thailand wanted me to go to school, for them they don’t understand why we love it so much, it isn’t a bad thing, they care. Now that my husband is fighting in North America they are happy for him, but in Thailand he was made to fight many times (6 times in 5 days was his record!) I love Muay Thai…but in Isarn, it can be rough 🙂
If you have questions, I would love to answer…again, hard to explain on a computer 🙂
To defend Thailand I do have to add that unfortunately racism is human nature. It grows stronger in less cultural environments though and it is mainly based on ignorance. Traveling and fighting in different countries I had experience racism in such countries as Australia, France, England, Holland, China, of course all related to the low cultural boxing world and sports.
In this regard I had experience less racism in Thailand i have to say. But is more racist the Isaan rice field worker or the Bangkok University student?
I didn’t experience any racism when living in the USA though, although I have to say that maybe if ‘d go and live in a small town in the deep South I would? We cannot generalize I think.
I was in Manhattan the other day looking for a cab on a big avenue.. It was NYC off duty cab time that means that most of the cabs for a half hour are going back to their garage so they have their cab lights off and they wouldn’t take any passenger. Ten metres away from me, on the same side of the street two big corporate guys are also looking for a cab. They are weaving and screaming desperately trying to get a cab’s attention. Fr ten minutes we are not able to stop any cabs. The two guys become more and more frustrated. From my position I finally spot a cab, I waive and from across the street the cab process toward me and stops. Suddenly one of the two guys start running from across the street, open my cab door and jumps in without even looking at me. I still have my hand on the door handle… My friend intervene, opens the door and tell the guy it is my cab, not his, the guy starts screaming, my friend tells him he is a faggot and so on. The guy screams more and more, they almost get into a fight. Finally he agrees to leave the cab and he tells my friend ‘I am doing it for her not for you… Well this is one of there reasons I want to go back to Thailand.
At Frances I didn’t understand, are you from Canada?
I know the life of a Thai fighter and being owned by ‘the gym boss’ as my ex boyfriend is also a fighter and still owned by his gym.
But very interesting. I am glad you are happily married with a Thai. That means they are not all evil, but there are some good ones. I too fell in love with a fighter, was in Isarn and met his family, but unfortunately didn’t work out as well. I don’t think they are racist, but they just think they are superior to us.
alan reid says
I have also spoken to thai people about the use of the word ‘it’ while talking about farangs. It is used a lot. They do it as a way of degrading the foreigner and is in sense part of the culture again to show superiority.
in regards to being called an it – thought i’d list the personal pronouns.
the standard personal pronouns are:
I / me (only used by men)
I / me (mainly used by women)
He / him / she / her
We / us
(พวก ) เขา (พวก) kăo
They / them
-he ; she ; him ; her (using มัน to mean he/she is regarded as being insulting, unless used by close friends)
Frances Watthanaya says
Wow, great discussion!
Born and raised in Canada 🙂
I also am studying South East Asia culture, politics, religion, economics and literature at UBC. It has definitely opened my mind to everything I experienced while in Thailand. Thank you for letting me be part of the discussion!
Buriram is a weird place, it is the Farang capital of Thailand, so the people there may have become harden having seen a lot of troubles arising. One thing to remember is you guys are obviously great people but a lot farang go to Thailand and disrespect the people, their culture, their religion, everything!
Chantal- I would say it is the opposite, I often felt uncomfortable in the villages because they would treat me as superior which I am not. But I have seen a lot of farang act too cool, and disrespect Thai people…so I guess I always look at it differently, from the other side. And you are right, rascism is everywhere, but in my personal experience the only time I saw it in Thailand was farang or BKK people looking down on the people of Isar (which is a focus in my studies). However, there was an American guy from the Peace Corp brought to my husband’s village (it is very underdeveloped, even for Isarn standards), and this guys just had a bad attitude, he wouldn’t try Thai food, didn’t want to learn Thai, and the villagers where always making fun of him (but they make fun of everyone equally) and he didn’t like it. He ended up not being able to ‘hack’ it and had to leave…but I wouldn’t call that racist. The villagers never asked him to come, he just showed up with a bad attitude. I think about that sometimes, no one invited me to Thailand, and although I am extremely close with my family there, I love my husband, I feel a lot guilt brining him to Canada, and taking him away from his family, because now, he can never ‘go home’. He hasn’t been home in two years, and on his way to the village he stopped in Khorat city, and the people at the markets remember him…first thing they ask is where am I! There is also a lot of pressure for him to support his family, but I am a student, we have a 2.5 year old and life in Vancouver, we struggle to make ends meet but still send money home. Because of the large number of pua faring there is this false identity of what farang is, these guys are retired with extra money, it puts a lot of pressure on my husband. Because of all of this, I think I am more sensitive to these issues.
Idf- มัน is perfectly polite in Isarn when referring to younger people, or close friends. Living in the village, I have never heard it being used in a derogatory way (unless as a joke between teenagers, or them being mean to each other). Also, if you hear it in BKK it is probably Isarn people talking…they are everywhere!
Also, a young girl in Buriram, walking around alone…not married? 555! They don’t understand independence, because they are a community based culture.
Again, thanks, this is awesome!
Going to Isarn tomorrow, fights 16th, 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd 24th in Khorat and Buriam provinces!
Also, I have been gone for two years trying to finish my degree so being removed from things may also alter my opinion. Plus, Boom and I got married 5 or 6 months after we met in BKK, so being a married women in the community really changes things, even more so now that I am a mom. (I am only 25 years old…so I think we are all around the same age)
hi frances, thanks for adding to the discussion.
just wanted to address something that was perhaps a typo. buriram is by no means the farang capital of thailand – the expat community who live there is fairly small, even in comparison to other farang populations in isaan and there were few farang tourists passing through. was it a typo and perhaps you meant phuket?
being single in a place like buriram provoked a lot of curiosity and sometimes suspicion. i think had i been in a relationship, thus been seen publicly with the same man consistently (ie. farang or thai), my time would have been easier. that too would be dependent on the man, (ie. if he was thai) and the status/respect he would illicit in the community.
great to hear that you have a very positive experience when in thailand.
just to remind you all, particularly those whose comments have just been deleted:
In regards to comments, please feel free to express yourself. I believe we can all benefit from healthy discourse; this includes opposing opinions and at times, conflict. However, should you feel the need to satiate your ego at the cost of someone’s humanity; your comment will be deleted. We’re all equals here.
the above is listed in the start here tab.
Frances Watthanaya says
Sorry, it was a typo. Buriram is the Farang capital of Isarn. Or so I have been told 🙂 I have a lot of friends that work at the Am Phur (District Offices) where they deal with these things and also marriage registration. One thing about this then, is there is a large presence of Pua Farang (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and very few regular ex-pats. For many Thais in Isarn this can be their only interaction with Farang, and often just perpetuates the stereo types. (Which I am sure you know all about,) Again, this is a great discussion 🙂
Thai racism’s got to me also. It’s got to the point of dark glasses and rarely taking off my inear headphones. It’s almost everyday when I go out. I’ve been sitting bothering no one in a park and someone stands there calling me names and laughing and all the Thais around turn and look and laugh; it’s almost always non English speakers, and I don’t speak Thai.
I’m male, only wear long trousers, smart causal look, clean and I don’t drink/smoke. In Bkk, when I sit on the skytrain, about one in ten times, if I happen to place myself next to a female, she’ll get up and reseat herself next to Thai males rather than by me. This is all without eye-contact but I notice it.
About an hour ago, I bought some crackers in the supermarket and the woman whispered to her collegue, pointing clandestinely to my arms (as of South Asian origin they’re more hairy than a locals), and then there’s much Thai talking and all the staff and customers looking at my arms and talking and laughing but no one catching my eye or inviting me to join in.
The constant pointing and whispering, disdainful laughter. Yes, I just keep my glasses on, but I’m also worried about things sometimes. If a friendly Thai talks to me now I just say nothing. They’re sending me mad.
The thing I wanted to say was that, as a Eurasian, I travelled through the Baltics and experiences racism there. No where near as ubiquitous as Thailand, but when it did happen it was aggressive, i.e. hotel refusing to check me in (when I’ve booked), and obviously different treatment to the white people around me. Being searched each time I leave a supermarket (because my skin colour makes me look like a gypsy). Also, in London, each time I go through, I’ll get body searched at least once if I’m luck, by armed policemen, whites I know never get this.
The thing is, it doesn’t get to me the way it does in Thailand as obvious incidents are maybe once a week. In Thailand, it’s everyone. It’s also a group thing, a local will never stand up for you.
I’m ashamed to say it, but I hate these people. They’re bad. I just pass through now, for the sun and shopping, and am more based in Incochina.
Frances Watthanaya says
Thais laugh at everyone. Don’t take it personally. I lived there for 2 years and spent a lot of time living with my husband’s family in their farming village. They always made fun of me, but then I realized they made fun of everyone else too 🙂
I do agree however that it can often go overboard. I remember a school bus going by me and the teacher yelling Farang, Farang! I asked my husband if they saw a Chinese guy, or a Burmese guy walking down the street, would they do that? Of course not. But a lot of it is ignorance…when I told my family (I am married to a young Thai boxer from Isarn) about it they completely understood and said they had never, ever thought of it that way because no one ever told them different. At least in the villages I can say that some people have never even seen a white person (especially a young female like me) so it is an exciting surprise.
Enjoy your trip.
It’s the dark side of Thai culture. I feel bad for you, Jaydin – just know it’s their dysfunction, and it will hamper their progress and overall happiness as a country in the long run. Superficiality combined with very low levels of intellectual discussion/debate, results in this sort of thing.
Every culture has it’s dark side. That is part of Thailand’s.
I feel for you, it gets too.
Just this afternoon I was told by a landlord, I could not rent a house because I was not Thai.
I feel helpless as it was THE house I was looking for, for months …so I did a search on Racism in Thailand and found your post …
Like you it is everyday, I too now wear glasses and headphone and yes I too now ignore everyone, even the nice ones.
I was refused care in emergency public hospital (just went to the first one near me) when bitten by a stray dog, and told to go to a private clinic.
I was told not come in a soi “because of my dog” and it was a soi where lots of Muslims lived, but minute later I saw a Thai woman making her dog pooh right there and no one told her to “go home”.
When asked about my private life I lie, I say I am single and happy, some have asked me 20 times … I think Thai people are very noisy and have very little understanding about privacy.
It seems that we are only tolerated here as long as we spend money, overcharging us is merely seen as national duty. If any incident or crime involving a foreigner happens, as we have made the initial wrong by coming to the Kingdom, it’s our fault. Foreigners victims of crimes or incidents are made guilty by the police or anyone in charge and are asked brides, It encourages Thai nationals to abuse us as they know they can get away with it.
alan reid says
To add some more to the discussion what do people think of the word ‘farang’? racist or not?
For me, whether the word farang is racist or not is dependent on what resides in someone’s heart when they use it (which becomes apparent in its context, etc.). For example, when the word is spat out in disgust, contempt, etc. and equally when someone refers to you as farang rather than your name, despite explaining how it is considered impolite your culture.
Using farang to refer to ‘other’ ie. of non South East Asian descent to me isn’t the problem, the problem arises when the user views ‘other’ as less. It is then that the word farang is used to objectify and denigrate.
I came across this article after googling “racism in Thailand”. Your original post and most replies are more informed and intelligent than anything I could have read on Ajarn or ThaiVisa etc. Ok, enough Thai style flattery 😉
I just returned to my home country after living for Thailand for 7 months, with most of that time being in Bangkok. My experience is significantly different to yours, and I have left Thailand very confused about whether to return or not.
I started a relationship with a very loving, generous Thai man, and was accepted into my boyfriends friendship circle almost immediately. I had already learned how to show Thai people respect. The wai is extrememly important, as is showing elders respect by adding “Pee” to the start of their name. I’m sure you all know this. His friends would invite me to sit with them even when he was not around, they constantly buy me drinks and food, take interest in my day, give me small gifts and the women would tell me they love me and call me beautiful all the time. Perhaps I am lucky..
On the other hand, there were two close friends we saw daily who I always had a “bad gut feeling” about (ie even though they showed me respect, they rarely spoke with me and I felt like they didn’t like me).
I found out they had been referring to my best Foreign friend in a really deroggatory way because she sleeps around a little bit. This coming from a Thai man I know who is married and has at least 2 mia noi’s that I know about…
With regards to a Thai mans interest in a Foreign (non Asian) woman, I would be surprised if the number 1 reason was money. My suspicions:
1. Social status of being with an attractive white woman (which kind of contradicts the racism addressed, but I can guarantee my boyfriend paraded me around sometimes when I was dressed up.. like I was some kind of trophy girlfriend. Not cool.)
2. They are from poor socio economic backgrounds, or have dark skin, or are from Isaan or the South. Most Thai women are not interested in them unless they stay in their original community.
Anyway, like I mentioned.. I returned to my homeland. A big part of this was the fact that, regardless of my feelings towards my partner and his kind (and reassuring) nature, knowing that Thai culture openly accepts male infidelity is something any women in a relationship with a Thai man should consider.
What can I say? Like other posters my confidence has gone down a couple of notches after living in Thailand.
Feel free to flatter the MBSB community and myself anytime you’d like……it’s much appreciated! I’m thankful for the quality of discussion that often occurs on MBSB, including your contribution (see I know how to do it too…:))
I definitely had experiences that sound similar to yours. Here’s a question – is the social status of being with an attractive white woman an extension of some of the racism we face (when it occurs) – ie. a specific type of objectification (again, not by all – it can definitely be an appreciation of Other) ? My thought has been that as white women, we face a different type of discrimination than others – I’m not implying worse – but different and fairly specific. For example, our status in society as women, which is a reflection of the status of Thai women in addition to various preconceived beliefs about white Westerners.
I was discussing some of the issues I was facing with someone who offered that sometimes the act of exalting, particularly to the point of fetishism due to one’s race is just another face of racism. I hadn’t thought of that before. I’ve tried to do some online research in regards to this – I haven’t been able to find anything that is remotely academic. ***If anyone out there has a link, please feel free to share it.***
I’m not implying that this applies to your situation. Rather your writing really provoked some more questions on my end about racism in general. (Thank-you).
alan reid says
In Thailand i’ve also noticed whenever you complain about something be it in a resteraunt, hotel or any form of business Thai people will never take any responsibility for being wrong even if it is blatantly obvious. Instead, they will just become rude. I have found thais to be very clever at being rude to foreigners. Sometimes pretending not to speak english or ignoring me completely. It can become very frustrating trying to talk any sense to thais and i have come to realise if there is a problem best just to accept it and leave because as a foreigner in Thailand we literally have no rights and Thais seem to take on the view that we should accept any treatment that we are given because it is there kingdom.
Don’t worry about it. It’s rooted in deep insecurity.
Thai women have very little power in Thai society, they’re also deeply, deeply insecure (as a white man having spent some time there, I’ve experienced this first hand). They have shaky relationships with their fathers and are extremely repressed, but in a subtle way. Anger and raw female sensuality are repressed, and as you say, no one is allowed to rise above their station.
Thailand for me was an exercise in understanding human behaviour in a society where no one is really free.
To her, as a travelling, relatively affluent white woman who’s culturally allowed to express yourself, and try your hand at anything you want, career-wise – you represent freedom, wealth and choice.
Something alot of thai women don’t have. Couple that with the fact that alot of Thai men are attracted to western sexuality and fiestiness ( something that is entirely beaten out of thai girls through years of “nice girl” conditioning), and you get a very deeply insecure Thai woman who feels like you’re stealing her only sources of attention.
You don’t need to forgive her – I wouldn’t, and I left Thailand because the behaviour really is just too dysfunctional – but it can be illuminating to see the driving factors.
I’d add that I think Thais have a very polarized, dual perception of Westerners, and it probably really messes with their heads.
On the one hand, to Thais, white women are:
-raucus and vulgar
(i.e. very low-status by Thai values)
OTOH, they are also:
sassy, sexy, empowered and free
educated and jetsetting
connected to everything thais value – fashion, western brands, modernity, technology
(i.e. ultra-high status. The highest status non-royal Thai girl from BKK can only hope to be in the same ballpark, by those standards )
So as a white woman you trigger these very polarized reactions in Thai people. They don’t know whether to look down on you or worship you. And when you start getting male attention around the jealous-by-nature Thai women… emotions are bound to run high.
As a white woman you also straddle the class barriers, and it must be a complete mind-f**k for Thais. You could just as easily hang out with Thai children-of-Politicians in Thong Lor as you could have a laugh and a joke with a taxi driver, and treat them like a real person. A high-status BKK girl couldn’t do that. You’re the wildcard and it’s too much for their brains to cope with, I think.
I found this as a white guy there too. One thing I did not get was NO reaction. It was either subtle racism/attempts to “pull me down”, or worship. Sometimes a mix, within the same interaction.
Thank-you for taking the time to share your insight. It’s greatly appreciated.
In regards to this statement:
Thailand for me was an exercise in understanding human behaviour in a society where no one is really free.
I feel the same way. I didn’t realize the extent to which this statement was true until returning to North American life. My time in Thailand was also an interesting exercise in understanding the process of naturalization – how one adapts to their surroundings to ensure survival on various levels (social, psychological, etc) – many of the adaptations being completely unknown until being in an environment where they’re no longer necessary.
I find it interesting as the initial draw to Thailand for many, including myself, is the perceived freedom within the culture. The reality is so far from my definition of freedom.
alan reid says
Having a discussion with a thai women tonight she mentioned to me that foreigners generally are never going to be respected the same as a thai. They can’t really just jump about the class system because they are always considered ‘farang’. They will never be equal to thai even if they can speak the language 100 percent and are rich. The fact is you are still not born in Thailand. I have also noticed how other asian races in thailand get treated much better than ‘farang’. The past couple months I have been curious about this and have noticed around Siam area and Patunam where a lot of asian tourists are. I have watched how street vendors talk to them in English and it is much less abrupt and more calm than the way they speak to ‘Farang. I have also noticed while going somewhere alone and going somewhere with a foreigner friend I get completely different treatment. Much more bullying nature while alone however while with a friend a much more fake kindness behaviour which in part I think is due to fear.
i noticed much of the same things regarding asian foreigners (ie. of japanese, chinese and korean descent), mainly in muay thai gyms. in addition, there was a definite difference in my treatment when i ventured out alone than with anyone else (regardless of gender, ethnicity, etc.). the power of two over the vulnerability of one. sometimes the difference was remarkable. i had many moments where i thought, am i crazy? it can’t be this cut and dry, but it was. if i had to generalize, it was generally groups of people, or people surrounded by others that were nasty to me – ie. someone wouldn’t say something terrible to me if the two of us passed one another alone on a quiet street. other than the guy who kept masturbating as i passed, but that’s another story…
all of this is difficult to live with, particularly as you begin to see it in your everyday life – when you pick up the patterns that others, including yourself fail(ed) to see. sometimes it was literally like being immersed in a fantasy as it dissolves. i questioned my perspective until there was no room left for questioning.
i’ve also had similar discussions with thais about how foreigners will never be respected the same as thais, for the exact same reason you mentioned.
i feel for you alan. how long have you been there / how long do you plan to stay if you don’t mind me asking?
alan reid says
Send me an email and ill email you back regarding your questions.
khun paen says
During the past 30 years women in the west have tried to become like men. In Thailand women still act like women. Whether right or wrong this is still the case.
As an American male in Thailand, I pretty much can have almost any woman that I want to get in bed. It doesn’t matter whether they are married, single, dwarfs, rich, poor, ugly, smart, pretty, fat, or skinny.
I am treated like a farang rock star anywhere in Thailand contrary to the way most farang women are treated.
In the west the woman controls the situation in regards sex and dating. In Thailand even an ugly, fat, bald, and overweight (350 pound) smelly farang man is more important than a gorgeous, blond, blue eyed, model looking farang woman. Right or wrong this is the case.
I cannot walk down the soi where my hotel was located on Sukhumvit road without having at least 5 or 6 women with normal jobs trying to move into my hotel for the 4 months I was in Thailand. One was a waitress with a fiance from Britain. I did not take her up on the deal because she was going to get married. This is the morality of the Thai women but who am I to complain. I am a farang rock star male in their country. So why not enjoy it. This is contrary to the way these so called gorgeous farang women are treated. They could go to a bar or disco dressed up and look gorgeous and I wouldn’t even sleep with them if they paid me 20,000 or 30,000 baht for short time. I did not say this is right or wrong. It is just what it is. I even had a woman from Australia that got angry when I told her I was not interested in her and to stop harrassing me. She threw a temper tantrum in the hotel lobby and said “who do you think you are to decline my offer to sleep with you” ?
I have had the local woman at the bank come on to me, the local woman at the dry cleaner, and numerous
sales ladies at Paragon, Central World, Au Bon Pain , and even the token booth lady. Some were married. Some had Thai boyfriends, and some worked at German Beer Bars as freelancers to make extra money. Remember, I am a rich farang rock star so I am a commodity here in Thailand. Who am I to complain.
I am just writing this comment to show that in life we are just actors that are different things in different
places. In the west, I am an average guy. Some would call me ugly, fat, and disgustingly overweight (tipping the scales at 350 pounds). But in Thailand, I am the most handsome guy on the planet. Better looking than
the local Thai rock star, or the local Thai male actor. I am the go to guy for these women in Thailand that
want to be treated well and taken care of.
In regards to the pathetic pretty farang ladies on this web site, if you can’t get laid in Thailand, I would just go to back to your country and stop whining and complaining about why Thai men or farang men won’t sleep with you. Nobody made you travel to Thailand. Nobody is forcing you to stay here. Just get on the next plane and leave. I am so tired of farang women coming to Thailand and try to strike up a conversation with me and try
to persuade me to sleep with them. I am not interested in farang women in Thailand. They are just a sad
bunch of complainers.
Hope you farang women just try to be more comfortable in your own skin and stop trying to get the farang men in Thailand to sleep with you. It is almost embarrassing to the farang men who love Thai women.
This is all very well and nice, although I’m not certain who you’re speaking to. Or rather, at.
For everyone else, this is a pretty good example of commentary one may expect from a certain strata of Western ex-pats in Thailand.
I’m a Thai person and I’m not an English native English speaker so I hope you understand what I’m going to write.
Sorry for my English.
I’d like to make a comment on here from my point of view maybe a little harsh but I hope my post would be visible and not deleted since most of the posts here are the Thai-bashing from foreigners.
I agree with you that Thailand is a racist country. Not only the Caucasian people but also with the other Asian.
For example, Thais don’t like Myanmar. I should say hate mainly from the wound of wars.
Thais belittle Laos and even produced an insulting word for other Thai people. When you want to insult other Thai. You say ” you’re Laos”
(Issan) even people from Issan ( north eastern Thailand is sometimes considered to be Laotian with the appearance) It’s like you are slow. Because some Thai people think we are superior. I don’t like this much. For me I think, Thailand and Laos are friends and share many things in common.
Why some Thai people see foreigner like an outsider apart from the differences in the look. You’re the minority in the society like Asians are the minority in your country.
Also, Thailand is very new to multi-cultural things. Thais are Thai. If you don’t look like Thai you are not Thai that is what I’ve heard often in the past decade.
Even when you look like a mixed or different from the majority. You can feel the discrimination a little. I myself look a little bit like mixed of something. I’m 173 cm and quite tall for a Thai girl.
My skin look like an Asian skin. Not dark and not white like a snow white but it quite light if I don’t go in the sun. But since I go out and play sports a lot. My skin gets slightly tanned. It happens when I make myself very active and play sports outdoor.
My body is thin and considered quite tall like a western girl. All my cousins are quite tall. 170 something cm at least.
I don’t have a flat nose and my eyelids have layer not like Chinese from china eyelid.
They don’t think I’m a Thai-Chinese and they don’t think I’m a Thai-Issan. So I’m Thai but just sometimes I don’t feel like I’m fit in.
Even being a Thai myself and born here I can feel discrimination. I think, discrimination happens everywhere.
We just don’t want to see too many differences and feel uncertain about it because we have fear. Everyone have fear and insecurity. We want to live happily easily life and we don’t want to lose control and all the privileges that society provide for each group and gender in that society.
I think, Thailand is not a product of multi-cultural brainwashing. We also don’t see many mixed-cultural relationship bombarded by the mainstream media.
So don’t expect we will understand and accept it much, especially at the beginning.
So when we talk about skin color here it’s not so rude like when people in western country talk about it.
Sometimes we will call other Thai friends with the tanner skin ( dum, I dum) you’re dark… It’s also playful and a joke. It’s also a little racism but it’s quite acceptable here because since we were young we are not taught much about differences because we don’t have live with them much. Maybe only slightly differences.
In Thailand it’s also playful to call someone chubby or fat. If someone called me chubby I get alittle offended as well but I won’t take it too personally.
I don’t know all of this but If your friends call you this. It’s not an insult. Thai people like to make a joke but sometimes it’s hurt when you are sensitive about it and raised in a different culture that think these things are very rude and unacceptable for anyone to say.
The upper class and the ruler are Thai-Chinese and the lower class are the Thai-Issan they are poorer people and consider less attractive for Thai.
And people from this region( north-eastern) I won’t say the majority of them but so many of them want to mix with foreign partner. You will see a lot of mixed kid with a mother from north eastern Thailand. No offend. I think Issan ( people from north-eastern Thailand) is also Thai. A different Thai.
I think many of them want to get rid of the poverty and unattractive feature of their own belief.
You think that your life would be easier and the baby born will not be an issan (north-eastern) and look like an issan and you will
get more acceptance from the society that ruled by the Thai-Chinese.
The Thai Chinese is powerful and rich you won’t see many them want to make baby with foreigners that much unless they are the product of the white-wash from the media or fall in love with the the foreigners.
You will see the Thai-Chinese men mostly married to and have kids with Thai-Chinese women. And maybe they only want fun with women of other races.
To fit in the society fully you have to be Thai, act like a Thai, talk like a Thai people and be more nationalist.
I think, killing the Asian.
I’d say Asian genocide by mixing with the local people happened once. When many of the local Thai mixed with the Chinese who arrived centuries ago. I even learned in textbook at school when I was young.
The Thai-Chinese men have to have many wives with the local Thai women. The more you mix with the local the more you create the new race and blend in that society and your baby with fit in and be part of it more. You and your baby will of course get more benefit from the society.
Most of the Thai-Chinese (lighter-skin people) are the trader, entrepreneur and the big businessmen. They are the employer while the other Thai are the worker for the Thai-Chinese.
The idea of mixing with the local make you fit in the society more and it wipe out the other Asian.
If all the Thai where men are the superior in this society desire to marry white women they will be no Asian faces left in this society.
The media have tried hard for a decade to represent the mixed beauty on the TV. And represent the beauty of Thai women and men only have light skin. And white like a Thai-Chinese you must have light skin like a Thai-Chinese.
You won’t see the protagonist on TV have a darker skin( even tanned skin in Thailand is considered quite dark and less attractive) the darker skin( tanned skin) get the role of maid,
driver, security guard, boxer, construction worker etc any labor works. And that why the skin-lightening product sell very well here. To fit in the society that require us to be perfect and ideal is not easy.
if you come to open the skin- tanning shop in Thailand you will never make any money from the Thai people.
And when I talk about Thai people want to have lighter skin please don’t misunderstand that all the Thais want to be white. Most Thai people(Thai-Chinese) don’t have dark skin from the beginning just crave to be lighter. Some people born with light skin and some with very light skin. Some people born with darker skin.
And I think the race mixing between Asian woman and Western man go very far and is quite acceptable in the society in some level.
You will see sometimes they say just have sex with them but don’t make a baby with them. If everyone in Thailand think that we have to mix with every Caucasian people that enter this country. It sounds harsh but It’s like you the Thai accept the Asian genocide by slowly terminate your own radical background, value, root and appearance.
It’s self- loathing. You don’t want to see your baby born as an Asian and especially with a harder life.
You don’t like yourself much and maybe no one like you when you were younger and you were brainwashed by a media.
Is it wrong that some Thai people want to preserve theirs culture and their gene? I think there’s nothing wrong about it. I support some race mixing but I don’t support that everyone should mix the race.
Like white people want to preserve their gene to be white like white( blond hair and blue eyes things)
Thailand never been occupied by any other countries before and when you interfere and want to breed with Thai by slowly mixing the blood for decades.
it’s like you are going to take over and control Thailand slowly. I think, it’s not what everyone like when they lose control, identity and there’s uncertainty. Sound insecure but it’s natural.
We just tasted that when Thailand lost the lands to the neighboring countries to the colonialism by the western countries. I’ve read that people in that time cried and they didn’t like it but couldn’t do much but still smile to them because our country is smaller than western countries.A
From my experience in Thailand, your views are similar to a lot of people I’ve spoken with (friends included). Thank-you for taking the time to write a very detailed comment to add to the discussion.
Thanks for this very honest, insightful and well-written piece on an insufficiently discussed topic here in Thailand. It’s not every day that I go to sleep thinking about an article someone has written and wake up still considering it. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and thought I would throw in my own thoughts on the matter in hopes of continuing the productive discussion of this issue that you have started.
To introduce myself and reveal my own racial, gender and national identity, I’m a male Caucasian American who has lived in various parts of Thailand (including Isaan) for a little over 4 years. For most of that time, I’ve worked on research and humanitarian projects for the United Nations, international NGOs and Thai research institutions related to migration to Thailand, so I think I have had the opportunity to see the problem of racism here from both a professional and personal perspective.
While I really enjoyed reading about your experiences and analysis, I would have to say that from my perspective you may need some additional clarity on what you are defining as racism in this context. That is to say that Thai culture is so fabulously interesting to discuss and deliberate on largely because it is quite enigmatic and distinct from Western culture. We Westerners do bring our own biases with us to Thailand though and often tend to want to fit social behavior into the conceptual frameworks that we are most comfortable with using to understand the world. Unfortunately for us, Asian cultures often do not translate neatly into these concepts; a fact that has led to centuries of misunderstandings between the occidental and the oriental and which continues to the present day. As a result, I frequently find that I have to challenge my own assumptions about why people behave the way they do here in Thailand, including behavior which I superficially perceive as discriminatory, bigoted or chauvinist.
That is not to say that what you have experienced should not be termed “racist” behavior. I would just suggest that it might be advisable to further problematize how you apply the Western version of the concept in Thailand. You’d have to start that process with the understanding that the current idea of the “Thai people” itself is almost entirely a social construct based on nation building efforts that were undertaken during decades of military rule following the end of absolute monarchy in the 1930’s. A major channel for instilling the idea of “Thainess” during that period has been through the Thai educational system. Largely a relic of cold war era nationalism, it is designed to create loyal and proud citizens through rote memorization of a curriculum heavy with national chauvinism. Young people are taught a version of Thai history that stresses and reinforces the exceptionalism, uniformity, and it must be said, xenophobia of Thais and Thailand that does not match the present reality. As anyone who has spent much time traveling around the country quickly learns, Thais are in fact extremely mixed ethnically, including decent from Chinese, Khmer, Lao, Karen, Shan, Malay, and others.
As there is no distinct race of Thais, their discriminatory and xenophobic behavior can be viewed as closer to nationalism than racism in many cases. Moreover, the practical issue of skin color as a motivation for racism is so deeply entwined with issues of social status that it’s hard to completely extricate the two or determine causality. It is frequently used as yet another way for Thais to assess the social status of others and determine how they should be treated (i.e. you have black skin so you are a farmer and should be interacted with in a manner appropriate for your social standing). Whether organizing society with such a strictly hierarchical model and denigrating the working class is socially just is the obvious question and one that has increasingly been the cause of political conflict here. However, I would tend to be skeptical of any discussion of racism in Thailand that tried to simplify the issue to the level of skin color. From my experience, it is actually other Asians rather than Africans who seem to catch the most active dislike from Thais, and this goes well beyond skin pigmentation to perceived differences in culture, behavior and hygiene as well as historical conflicts.
It should also be kept in mind that one of the unfortunate lingering residues of colonialism in Asia is an irrational fear of outsiders; and this has heavily influenced the mindset of many Thais (in spite of their pride at never having been directly under colonial rule). For Thais who have lived their entire lives within the insular and parochial setting of rural Thailand (such as Buriram), it is very likely that there remains substantial fear of the unknown that you represent as a white foreigner. This is changing with the massive influx of foreign husbands into Isaan in recent decades but it is also true that many rural Thais remain unsure how to interact with foreigners due to language and cultural barriers. From my own experiences, I know that this reticence to engage with foreigners can come across as dislike when it is actually closer to shyness.
Another consideration in interpreting your experiences in Buriram is that social interactions in Thailand are structured on a rigid collectivist model. Particularly for women, there is only a very narrow range of behavior that is deemed socially appropriate. Those who stray from such behaviors are encouraged to return to the fold via what I would describe as “social policing.” This can take the form of gentle reminders, criticisms, or shows of contempt but are generally designed not to insult so much as to correct what Thais view as errant or anti-social behavior. I get this endlessly from my Thai friends who generally seem oblivious to the fact that there could be other ways to think, dress, or act which are not in fact “wrong” but simply divergent from Thai ideals. In fact, it can generally be seen as a sign of genuine intimacy with your Thai friends if they do feel comfortable exercising this kind of social control over you as it means you have been accepted enough to at least be considered worth fixing. It could very well be the case that some of what you have experienced in Buriram is the result of Thais trying to train you to be “a nice Thai lady,” an extremely restrictive model of feminity that is nonetheless idealized by both sexes in Thailand.
Finally, I would suggest that it’s probably best to keep some perspective on the scale of racism that you feel you have experienced in Thailand. That is not to minimize the emotional hurt that such actions can have but to point out that as a white Western woman, you are still very much considered a part of a privileged class within Thai society. Having worked extensively with victims of human trafficking, forced labor, and sexual exploitation in Thailand from Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, I can tell you that an unfriendly restaurant owner would not even register as a problem for many migrants here. Stories of migrant fisherman being shot and thrown overboard when they are too tired to work, migrant children taken from their families to work as slaves selling flowers on the streets of Bangkok, and migrant women being deceived into working in brothels and karaoke bars when they only wanted a decent job in a factory are extremely commonplace in my field of work. While you may feel bad for a few hours after receiving poor service in a restaurant, it is very unlikely that you are going to face severe racism in the form of exploitation or abuse because of being a white woman in Thailand. This doesn’t negate the importance of discussing the problems you have experienced but I do think it’s healthy to step outside of our own subjectivity at times so that we can see our lives in the broader scheme of things. I know from experience that this is not always easy to do while living as a foreigner in Thailand however.
Thanks again for sharing your reflections on this subject. I hope the discussion can be maintained at the high-level of maturity and analysis that you began it with.
Thanks for increasing the range of this discussion and adding much context.
I considered much of what you have mentioned in your comment while I was in Thailand, less the historical (thank-you). For example, the prospect that I was being socially conditioned to conform by friends (and it was well intended grooming). I experienced it. I’m realizing now that this piece doesn’t fully exemplify what I was trying to convey as I was using examples that could be perceived as the above. For example, groups of girls walking by me and making fun of me saying I smelled bad or being called whore on the street (over and over), these examples play on the stereotypes white Western women have to face in Thailand. Note, this sort of thing rarely ever happened when I was with other people. Most of the discriminatory behaviour to degrade in this regard happened while I was alone and usually by strangers. After time, I began to understand much of the non-verbal, based on what I became to understand as Thai social norms (and by discussing what would happen to me in general with Thai friends). There was a lot of mean spirited mockery during my time in Thailand, particularly Buriram. This isn’t meant as a rebuttal to what you’ve written. It’s meant to add more clarity to what I realize now wasn’t fully illustrated.
In regards to your statement:
While you may feel bad for a few hours after receiving poor service in a restaurant, it is very unlikely that you are going to face severe racism in the form of exploitation or abuse because of being a white woman in Thailand.
Although I agree with your view that a lot of the discrimination in Thailand can be viewed as closer to nationalism than racism, I feel your statement overlooks the threat of sexual violence many white Western women face in Thailand, particularly expats, simply for being white Western women. Dually noted should be the corruption of many of Thailand’s police forces, the often lack of accountability, even interest in pursuing sexual assault cases (in general), the definition of what is considered ‘rape’ by some of those who enforce the law and how enforcement often favours those who are wealthy, have connections, and are local. Let me explain…
White Western women deal with this specifically. I’m not implying that white Western tourists and/or expats face issues of trafficking as do migrant women from other Asian countries in Thailand (although, this negates the experience of white women in the sex industry in Thailand – I’m not remotely qualified to discuss their experiences). Rather, from my varied experiences and the experiences of other women who I’ve either met in Thailand or who have contacted me via the site, our safety from extreme sexually predatory behaviour (including rape) is compromised for being white. Note, this isn’t aimed specifically at you Ben, but I should point out, that I’m not implying all white Western women deal with extreme sexual predatory behaviour in Thailand. However, enough women do, for the reason of being white, that it is an issue. Stereotypes of Western women being promiscuous contribute to the problem. I suspect the issue itself is an extension of challenges Thai women face themselves although I’ve found it difficult to find Thai women to openly discuss the issue of sexual violence in general (other than to teach you how to avoid it). From my own experiences and from discussing the experiences of other white Western women, public and sexually disrespectful and/or aggressive behaviour sometimes arises that we have never witnessed or heard of happening to Thai women (in public). For example, a friend had a stranger jump off of a motorbike and grab her breasts while she was on a bicycle waiting for a light and another friend had a stranger stick their hand up her skirt while she was walking home. Note, these are the milder examples I feel comfortable discussing in a comment on my site. I, as well as these expats, couldn’t imagine this happening to Thai women. Note, it isn’t the occurrences in themselves, it’s how this is woven into the fabric of the experience of what living in Thailand as a white woman can be, which is an extension of what it means to be a woman in Thailand in general. I’ve written about some of the complications I’ve dealt with in Thailand in this regard (by no means even 50%) and generally when I’ve told Thai friends about the situations, the reasoning generally comes back to, it happens because I’m Farang. Sometimes the issue of ‘free sex’ is discussed to help shed light. Sometimes it’s just mentioned that I don’t have family in Thailand to protect me. Nonetheless, the reasoning generally is that this sort of predatory behaviour happens because I’m white and Western. This topic is complex and not meant for a comment, perhaps a lengthy post, (or six. ha!) but it’s grossly overlooked and under discussed in the public domain. I’m not remotely doing it justice here, but I wanted to bring up the point that a white Western woman’s safety from sexual violence in Thailand can be compromised solely on the basis for being a white Western woman.
I have an interview that I’m currently working on with a Fulbright Fellowship recipient that touches on some of this within the context of muay thai gyms.
*I haven’t discussed issues women of colour may face above, as I know little on this topic.
I also wanted to add that your comment has been on my mind since I read it days ago. Thank-you.
Great post Ben. Thanks for adding your thoughts here. Wonderful to hear such well-considered viewpoints.
I’m a just turned 21 college student here in Thailand. I live in Isaan and have for awhile. I speak Thai along with read and write it fairly well. I’m white. I’m female. I studied at a high school in Isaan hen I was younger, and always dealt with people saying i was skinny if i didn’t eat, then fat if I did. I’m a very petite person, only 4’9 and 95 pounds. I had never been called fat before, because in the US having a chest isn’t a bad thing and isn’t considered fat; it’s the waist that matters (sadly.) Being 16 and shy and already self conscious, this really took a hit on me hard. Why was I being called fat when 90% of the girls around me were the same size if not bigger? Then I realized it was because I’m white. But I still loved this country to pieces. I went home when my junior year was up, and vowed I’d someday come back.
Fast forward to now. I’m in a different city, I have different friends. It’s the same with me, do you have a boyfriend? Do you want one? Do you want a gik? Constantly getting stared down by men passing by, the “Oh! Hello!” of people s you walk by. You get ripped off by taxis constantly. The thing they don’t know most of the time is: I understand every nasty degrading thing they say about me. But I know Thai culture. So I don’t say anything.
Here’s an example: I was at the mall one day shopping for a pair of jeans, and when I was done I went to the vans that take people back to our campus. I get on the bus and take an empty seat in the back, which was the only area with free seats. A “lady boy” and her friends get on the bus and sit next to me, and I get a nasty look from the lady boy. I thought maybe they were just making a face without realizing it.. Until she starts complaining about me to her friends. “Why do the farang have to take this bus? Why can’t they just take a taxi or tuk tuk like the rest of them?” and so on and so forth, complaining how we’re such a waste of space and how I’m fat and blah blah blah. I listen, take it all in, and breathe it out. As the bus returns to our campus and we’re about to reach my destination, one of my Thai friends calls me, one who can’t speak English. The look on their faces when I start speaking Thai was priceless. As I was getting off the bus, I heard them say “Why does she speak Thai?” Like we can’t learn. My Thai friend,understanding the confrontational-ness of Americans asked why I didn’t say anything. I replied because I didn’t want them to lose face. They must have hatred for a reason, it’s just sad it has to be directed at people who have done nothing wrong.
Another thing (sorry this is so long!) just happened this morning. I’m friends with guys here, some of which have girlfriends and some of which don’t. Most don’t care because they know I’m not after their men. Except for one. This morning I got a very angry phone call from one of my friend’s girlfriends, convinced he was cheating on her with me (she even posted stuff on his facebook about it.. childish) When I tried calming her down to ask what was the cause of this, she called me a “fermented foreigner.” I’m glad this country has taught me patience. But this has stuck with me all day. She threatened to hurt me if she ever saw me, just because her boyfriend had called me to ask for help. The sad part is, if she ever does attack me, I won’t be able to do anything about it. Because I’m white. In the end I told her I was a lesbian and that I had a girlfriend, I didn’t want her boyfriend. She never answered.
I love this country. But I don’t think I could live here forever like I had wanted before.
On another note, just in case: I also understand the fat thing is just play, I got used to it after awhile and my friends and I joke back and forth about it. I am friends with the guys and their girlfriends (if they have them). We almost never hang out alone unless they’re gay or a lady boy. I don’t hold grudges against the people who act like this to me, even though it’s sometimes hard. It’s not worth it and it dims your heart. Stay strong through the racism, don’t be too hard on yourself. Try to ignore as much as possible. 🙂
I wanted to respond to your comments much earlier than I have. I’m glad I’m able to do so today.
Thank-you for sharing what you have. Your experiences resonate as I’ve had situations which were very close in nature that I believe I haven’t shared on the site. One aspect that I struggled with in Thailand was not being able to say anything in response to, by Thai cultural standards, incredibly disrespectful statements made in my presence or towards me. I tried following the same suit as you illustrated by remaining silent. That being said, this was eventually became very challenging for me, I thought, if I could only say something to make it stop (i.e. for example, if it was the same person I’d see at the market regularly). I literally didn’t have the words. It wasn’t that I couldn’t literally create a sentence, it was that I was looking for something colloquial, something that worked within the culture rather than a Western sentiment translated into Thai language. I don’t believe I was in the presence of a Thai person when they were told the same things I was, so I didn’t have anyone to model/the right words to say. It took years of asking different Thai friends how to verbally self defend until someone shared, Rujack chan mak por rue yang.. I found even that hard to work with. A Farang male also taught me Arai wa (I know how rude that is). Generally people told me to ignore it, but again, at times, I found this incredibly difficult, because I felt that by not standing up for myself, I gave certain people the green light to treat me as they please. I felt helpless, which if I remember correctly influenced the headspace I was in when I wrote this piece. I absolutely respect your patience. Thank you for sharing this as well.
One of the most difficult things for me to live with was that, as a Westerner, should anything violent happen to me, I personally didn’t feel anything would be done about it. Without getting into it all (the why’s, etc.) as it would take incredibly long to go into in a comment for general readers although from what you’ve written, I suspect, I don’t have to. In addition, I called my Embassy regarding a stalking of sorts and violent threats and they were of little to no help. Physically moving locations and changing telephone numbers was the answer. I hope your situation resolves itself and never goes as far as mine did.
Lastly, to respond to your comment below…I agree, holding grudges does dim your heart…it was a hard battle for me, that’s for sure. I’m currently writing you from Canada and have had much time to reflect on my experiences in Thailand. <3 There is much that I love about Thailand as well but for me and what is required for me to live happily, Thailand isn’t a country that I could live in forever either, as I once thought.
Once again, thank-you.
*And please never feel the need to apologize for writing a lengthy comment on the site. I feel honoured that you and others feel comfortable enough to share your experiences and perspectives on this forum.
Once Again Everyone,
I want to thank you all for contributing to the discussion on the site and particularly on this piece. I’m learning much from all of you! It pleases me to no end that we can all have the discussion we are in such a manner.
Thanks for your very thoughtful reply to my post. I wanted to just make a few small points in response and also to compliment you on your gallery of hardcore photographs which are quite good and bring me back to the days of my own misbegotten youth as a hardcore kid. In fact, I’m sure it’s not by accident that your whole blog really kind of looks like an old-fashioned paper zine from back in the day. DIY or die!
I have to admit that much of what you have said about your own experience of racism in Thailand is fairly outside the norm from what I have heard from other white female friends and so I find it very interesting. For the most part, while many of them seem to be aware of the stereotypes held by Thai men that white women are “easy”, they generally treat Thai romantic overtures with sort of a casual disregard rather than taking them as a significant threat to their personal safety. I have certainly never heard of any of them experiencing the outright physical assaults or verbal confrontations that you describe. That is not to say that I find them difficult to believe as I know that many Thais simply do go a bit crazy during their interactions with foreigners. I always think this is partly because social interactions between Thais are so strictly codified that they either have no idea about how to interact appropriately with people from other countries or otherwise view it as an opportunity to cut loose so to speak.
Then of course, there is the reality that many Thais have a penchant for abuse of power—in both practical and symbolic forms–when the opportunity arises. Coupled with the need to bolster and defend what is often a very large and fragile ego, this can take the unfortunate form of trying to diminish others that are seen as challenging their ego in some way. Undoubtedly, a young, attractive and independent white woman is something that some Thais would react to as a threat to their self-esteem and I suspect that this may underpin some of the behavior you encountered. In addition, there is an assumption that foreigners don’t speak Thai when met as a stranger in the street and this is seen by some as an opportunity to slip in some pejoratives that they would not otherwise say to a Thai stranger. As a man, I too get these from Thais that I pass by in my daily routine, although some are actually flattering as well as insulting. I generally just try to ignore them although I admit that it does grate on me over time to have people constantly making comments about my appearance or character. Is this racism? I would tend to view it as closer to immaturity/childishness, something that can be both endearing and incredibly annoying about the Thai persona.
I do have to say that I admire how substantively you tried to integrate with Thais socially while you were here. I myself have made a lot of efforts to not be one of the foreigners who comes to Thailand and then spends 99% of their time with other Westerners doing things that they just as well could be doing in their home country. As a result, most of my close friends in Thailand are Thais. However, I do also recognize that there will always be some limitations on my ability to fully integrate here which I generally feel fine to leave well-enough alone. For example, with a few exceptions, Thai men are overwhelmingly uninterested in being close friends; something that I again chalk up to the ego-driven side of Thais. I have even had the experience of thinking that a Thai man I was friends with for months was just being a nice guy to me until it finally came out that actually he was gay and had designs on me (despite the fact that I was always clearly interested in women when we went out to pubs). While it is an oversimplification, many Thais seem to think of friendships/relationships in terms of what benefits they have to offer. If it is clear that you don’t really have anything that they want, they may prefer not to have anything to do with you or even see you as a competitor in some way. Is this racism? To me I would more define it as a kind of pragmatism winning over ethical principles. It was notable to me that while working in the border town of Mae Sot in Thailand, there were far more of my white female friends who were willing to consider becoming romantically involved with Burmese men than with Thais, a phenomenon that I generally attributed to their being viewed as significantly more sincere in their romantic interest.
I do agree with you that there has been an increase in high profile cases of sexual violence against white women being reported in Thailand in recent years. However, I’m always somewhat unsure if this is because the stories make for juicy sensationalism for the Western media or because it actually is representative of a growing trend. I read an interesting interview with an Australian diplomatic staff member at the Australian consulate in Phuket who more or less suggested that he thought most of the physical confrontations between Thais and Australians were the result of binge drinking and poor decision-making on the part of Australians. I do think there is some truth in saying that many foreign tourists put themselves foolishly in harms way in Thailand in a manner that they would not consider doing in their home countries. Despite the friendliness of Thais and the impressive infrastructure for tourism, Thailand remains a developing country with all of the commensurate social problems that implies and is not a good place to completely let your guard down. That said, there is absolutely no excuse or justification for sexual violence against women that would hold weight with me and the law enforcement response by Thai authorities to such cases continues to be incredibly incompetent and wrong-headed.
One final note is about the issue of sexual exploitation of white women in Thailand that you raised. Not to be too pedantic here but I would somewhat take issue with your use of the term trafficking to refer to white sex workers in Thailand. Human trafficking has a very specific definition under international law which defines it as “Act”, “Means”, and “Purpose”. All three criteria need to be met for such crimes to be considered to be “human trafficking”. Generally speaking, while there are thought to be a small number of cases of Russian women who are trafficked to Thailand for purposes of sexual exploitation against their will, most white prostitutes in Thailand are voluntary sex workers. Moreover, the proportion of trafficking cases of white women when compared to the number of women and children from Asian countries who are trafficked to Thailand for sexual exploitation is extremely miniscule. Overall, Thailand is not currently in compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and may soon face economic sanctions from the United States as a result; however, this much more relates to its hugely ineffectual law enforcement efforts against both labor and sex trafficking of Asians (including Thais themselves) rather than the situation of white prostitutes in places like Pattaya.
I do really appreciate the chance to hear your perspective on this issue as I think it is unique and important. Thanks for providing a forum to discuss it openly.
Thanks again for another thought provoking comment.
You brought up an interesting point – re: my experiences lie fairly outside the norm of what you’ve heard from your white female friends. Do you think this could be a reflection of the spaces your friends have occupied in comparison to me (and other muay ying)? If your white female friends are researchers, teachers, etc. they would hold a higher social status, thus more respect in the immediate community than a boxer. Perhaps the experiences also reflective of one’s assumed class.
You may want to check out the following post:
Gender And Power In Thailand’s Muay Thai Gyms
I find the comments to be a good read and they shed some light on the experiences of other white females in muay thai, which includes the hesitation some feel about sharing their experiences publicly.
Thank-you for shedding light on the current state of white foreign sex workers in Thailand. If you can recommend any online literature regarding labour and sex trafficking in Thailand, I’d greatly appreciate it. There were instances and conversations had in Thailand with local friends that continue to haunt me.
And regarding the zine look of the site….You’re not the only one who has mentioned it and it was completely unintentional! ….DIY or die indeed. Ha!
Out of interest, I wonder how the “ruling class” Thai-Chinese handle confrontation and racism?
They must experience some jealousy, racism etc to an extent.
I’ve heard from a couple of people that they’re not so “smiley” or passive – they’re more likely to be a little aggro, not smile so much where other Thais might, etc. A little Chinese Dragon still in their blood perhaps.
Then again, if they’re higher status, they likely get more deferential behaviour from “lower classes”, who’d be innately afraid of things like repercussions from powerful families and whatnot.
Thinking about it, as you mention it, being a white woman taking up boxing ( a traditionally working-class thing there) would seem to definitely make you an easy target – the western woman that triggers some resentment/fear anyway, putting herself in a traditionally low-status position, so they feel entitled to vent and demean you.
Another thought on boxing actually: I think it’s probably pretty ‘triggering’ for Thai guys to experience a woman doing any kind of activity that’s an assertion of power/strength. I get the sense Thai guys are terrified of that, since the culture is so cut off from it’s own assertiveness in general. So perhaps that all ties in to the reactions you got.
Aside from all this, I hope it wasn’t too unpleasant for you. Did you check out any other SE Asian countries? I got the sense that the people of Cambodia and Vietnam were just more “secure” in some respects and things might have been different there.
Thanks for commenting.
This definitely crossed my mind often while I was in Thailand:
“being a white woman taking up boxing ( a traditionally working-class thing there) would seem to definitely make you an easy target – the western woman that triggers some resentment/fear anyway, putting herself in a traditionally low-status position, so they feel entitled to vent and demean you.”
In regards to how I may have triggered Thai men…..it had been brought up to me by Foreign men within a gym. When I would be centered out and attempted to be humiliated, they often brought this up (in more than one gym).
I’d be curious to know about the experience of Chinese Thais as well. To note, as I was socialized in Thailand predominately by the lower classes, your following statement absolutely resonates :
“Then again, if they’re higher status, they likely get more deferential behaviour from “lower classes”, who’d be innately afraid of things like repercussions from powerful families and whatnot.”
Frankly, living this way for years was one of the reasons I left Thailand. I did check out other SE Asian countries – Indonesia and The Philippines but didn’t stay long enough to get a sense of what life would be like for me if I stayed long-term. There are certain questions I often ask expats to try to determine how many, if any rights we have in a country (rights that are actualized, not written in law and ignored). Being female traveling solo, it can be difficult as the experience of expat men can be so different, particularly in highly patriarchal cultures as those found in South East Asia. I was considering The Philippines as a place to live – to move from boxing to surfing fulltime. Then I was drugged. Here’s the link:
After that, I was ready to move back to the West. Realizing drugging and any sort of exploitation could happen anywhere, I also realized my chances of being centered out / exploited in Canada and the U.S. were much lower. It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t go back to South East Asia, including Thailand, but I would choose to do things differently.
Hey, I dont know how I ended up in your site, but I´m foreigner myself in other country and let me tell you something, keep it strong, I also pratica martial arts like you, follow your own path, your own DO and empty your mind everytime you are facing an awkard situation like that, at least that is what I do and it works.
Take care and kick some ass,
From Brazil, Sao Paulo.
Much love Guillermo. Thank-you.
I live in sathuk near Buriram city. I know the little place where you took that picture. It is what it is. you wither have to ignore it and deal with it or leave. sure it sucks. but hey, if it was that bad i would not be here. nice bit of writing though. what i left behind in the US is much worse than an old Thai lady grumbling phalang under her breath, lol. she must not have wanted your 20 baht. 🙂
Lol. Hey jammin (and thanks). Good to hear you found somewhere better than the U.S. for you. I’ve been back in Canada for awhile now….I’m happy with the current change of scenery. 🙂
Well done on your site, great job. now what u mean, have been here for 4 years and am still dealing with it. weight off my back each time i get back to Australia. take care.
Excellent article, and some of the negative comments are flat out predictable. Racism is accepted as long as it’s not whites’ who are being racist. This is a world-wide phenomenon. With the way people are quick to defend the Thai’s and slam us “white complainers,” I doubt there will be any progression on this issue anytime soon.
Thanks Mike. Agreed. I think the larger issue is discrimination of “Other”, however “Other” is defined.
louise thompson says
yes, i taught kindergarden in bangkok for 3 years. I know what your saying. Thais making fun of my nose or turning their back on me. Their bullies and when your alone they’ll do it even more. Bunch of racist cowards. From what ive seen 99 percent of thais are racist and have a xenephobic attitude and now Thailand gets better every year with tourism prices rise and the more arrogant and racist these people get.
Mary Bartnikowski says
Amazing experience yesterday – saying goodbye to a Thai woman friend, she said, “when you were younger you must have been really hot.” I told her “I”m still hot.” I’m in shape and take care of myself. Was mildly surprised by this as she is Westernized having lived in USA but I guess she doesn’t know that you don’t say back-handed things like that to a woman who may be 20 years older than her. I just gotta shake my head in bewilderment.
Pat Dennis says
WARNING; Since April 2013, a huge tsunami wave of thai religious bigotry”
has spread all around Thailand. Millions of thais are using the internet and
cell phones to spread hatred against the white tourists. Everyday”
in the streets you can hear them chanting:
“BORING WHITES GET OUT OF THAILAND”
“WHITE TRASH LEAVE THAILAND NOW”
iTS like a facebook flashmob. Theyre simmering with anger
against the White people. Every comment they make is an expression
of hatred, ridicule and mockery of foriengers. Im a retired American
living in Thailand and its never been worse.
There has been a volcanic eruption of hatred against foreigners here
in Thailand. Im transferring all my money out and leaving March 2014.
Thais are trying to drive out all the Whites and tourists not with
violence, but with constant hate speech.
Don’t even bother coming here. Avoid all travel to Thailand.
the xenophobic hatred of foreigners has become unbearable.
The thais and the Chinese in Malaysia are joining in a cultural revolution
to Drive all the White foreigners out of the region. Be Forewarned.
Thank you for the warning Pat. As a foreigner living in Thailand for the last 8 years I can second that! It is my understanding that the current wave of political protests is being orchestrated by the Thai elites associated with the the monarchy, the so called “yellow people”. They must be afraid of loosing their influence as the current government associated with ex-prime minister Taksin represents a creeping “red revolution” that is anti-monarchy, pro-newly rich and gets its support from buying votes of working class especially in the North of the country. The revered monarch of the country doesn’t have long to live and the position of the elites and the monarchy itself is threatened. So, they resort to stirring nationalism and anti-foreigner feelings to fuel their support base. There is a lot of anti-American propaganda available on the web-sites associated with the yellow movement. For instance, the Thais are made to believe that greedy American corporations are guilty of drilling for oil in the Gull of Thailand threatening ecological ruin and livelihood of the country. America is telling Thailand what to do and what no to do. America’s bad policies are fueling Islamic insurgency in the South of Thailand and even the conflict between Thailand and neighboring Cambodia is due to manipulation by the West. This country has a deeply rooted hatred of Westerners and strong nationalistic and xenophobic feelings. Stories like above are meant to mobilize the population for good course of protecting Thai culture and Thailand and uniting behind the yellow movement that promises re-newel and fight with corruption blamed on the red movement. The spill over from this propaganda is strong rise in racism and negative feelings towards the foreigners. From my own experience I really do not understand the love affair with Thailand that the West has had for many years. This love is one way only! I own income generating property here that I would like to sell to get out of the country. It is not in my personal interest to be warning against visiting or investing in Thailand. But if the West implemented the policies better reflecting the situation and its interests maybe the interests of foreigners living or operating in this country like myself would be protected. As it is, I feel sometimes like a a Jewish person could have felt living in the Nazi Germany of the 30’s. I only hope somebody will take notice of what is happening.
Timmy from Canada says
Hi there, I stumbled upon your posting when I was looking up if Issan people of Thailand are faced with discrimination from the central Thais. I completely understand what you described in your posting.
A little bit about myself. I am a Canadian born of mixed descent. My mother is from Thailand, more specifically, Issan Thai. On my father’s side, my Opa’s family is Ukrainian in descent, and my Omi, was Germany/Polish descent. If I talk in skin colour, my father was blue eyed, pale white skin, and my mother was a typical darker Thai lady.
Discrimination and racism is a weird and ironic thing, yet when we experience it first hand, I like to think we become a better person overall; like you wrote, intellectual understanding versus the more intimate emotional understanding.
My Opa brought Omi to Canada after the second World War, and even though she was pale white skin and blue eyed, the local Canadian discriminated against her because of her accent; an outsider is an outsider. When my father brought my mom to Canada, my Omi and my mother had more in common than my Omi and my aunt. My Omi intimately understood the trials that my mom would and has faced in Canadian society, at the time.
Being of mixed descent, in Canadian society, I face discrimination on a multitude of levels. 75% of the time I am perceived as an Asian, and oddly enough, 25% of the time I am perceived as a Native American. I am very sympathetic towards the Native Americans in my region because the little things people do and are not even aware of the discrimination they demonstrate. I know plenty of highly educated Native Americans here who get passed over for a job simply because of the colour of their skin; this happened to me on numerous times in Canada.
My apologies for diverging off topic. When I was growing up, my father always made a point of bringing my mother and myself to Thailand each year; 4 to 8 weeks each year. My time there was almost as you described from the local kids. Granted, I can write that off as kids are kids.
Only recently having spent the last 7 weeks in Thailand, did I notice more subtle things among the Thais. My seven weeks there was unplanned and I had to fly my mother out to Thailand when my cousin passed away. Of course, when we arrived, my extended family expected me to pay for everything; being viewed as farang and all. Eventually, I ended up cutting them off, especially my aunt, who didn’t help out with anything but spent my money like it was her’s to control. Note, I am big on respect and fairness so this does not include all Thais as the majority of people in the village were trying to be fair and respectful. To my surprise, she ended up calling everyone in the family and telling everyone that I was being stingy; apparently trying to make me lose face and to keep the money rolling into her pocket. Lucky for me, everyone knew exactly who paid for everything and understood what was truly going on.
In regards to your posting and the experience that you described, I truly believe that you are a better person today because of the experience. A lot of my Canadian friends do not understand the difference between intellectual understanding versus the intimate emotional understanding. I noticed in your posting that you have a deeper understanding of how human nature works and how society truly is. I’ve come to the conclusion that every society has discrimination at one level or another, and people will always talk behind our backs because of some petty personal reason or out of pure ignorance.
Your restaurant experience you described in Thailand, describes what I face when I visit some restaurants in Canada today.
As your posting is a couple years old and I haven’t read any of your other postings, I hope things are going better for you.
Laura Dal Farra says
Thank-you for participating in the discussion. I don’t believe you veered off topic at all – we can all benefit from learning about that which links the discussed experiences, regardless of where they may occur.
I may be repeating something I’ve written in another comment on this post, but I will risk it as I really don’t want to read through them all at this point.. 🙂 . I’ve found that those in my personal life who have been the least understanding and the most judgmental of this post have been my white acquaintances – I suspect it has much to do with the lack of understanding you’ve expressed as well. It is but an extension of it. There is the thought that I have nothing to complain about – it couldn’t have been that bad as I’m white or I should just accept it because I am. On the other hand, friends and acquaintances who aren’t white (or perceived as white or self identify as white) who have similar experiences here in Canada – are empathetic. I’ve learned a lot by the discussions that have ensued because we can delve deeper into the forms and effects of discrimination.
Things are going better now, thank-you.
If you’re still in Thailand, I hope the remainder of your trip fares better.
So well written, I sometimes have the opposite experience as a Farong with my Thai girlfriend. “Oh, she mus be with him for the money” However, she has more money then me:)
Laura Dal Farra says
Thanks Steven! From my experience, you’re not alone in that. I’ve heard a lot of Farang men say the same thing (less that their girlfriend has more money than them perhaps. ha!).
Tin Saw says
Hatred almost everywhere …
Gossips and judges … Spreading bad things …
Look down on people and neighboring countries and outsiders…
Thais men hate Farang men because Their woman are attracted to them … Their inside Dirty little Hatred .
Hey , Laura I haved lived in pattaya and Issan I am married to a Thai national and we have two small girls 4 and 6 , now living back in Australia , I have to say I experienced at least half of the racism that you yourself experienced also a little extra being on the chubby side , and then having two half white little girls dubbed (farang nois) not accepted as Thais , after all my years in Thailand I have to say I have found 80% of the country racist !
That’s not to say people won’t kiss your butt or lye to your face if you have a fat wallet, I found when I was paying , myself and my children were graciously welcomed and accepted , however to those who had nothing to gain from us , only pure racism , bitterness , jealousy and hatred ! Why? Because my kids were two half white kids with a white daddy !
Uri Tarru says
Hi Laura, I just found your blog, quite interesting what you say.
I am currently living in Buriram, and i can understand your feeling.
I wouldnt say its the kind of racism we do know in western countries, but its the kind of racism they will always make you feel you dont belong to that place, that you are “farang”
I am woking in a school and most of the thai teachers dont talk to me, and some of them look weird at me (nice way to say it), just from the first day.
My collegue from the USA always tells me they are jealous because we can speak good english, and of course we get more paid than them. I dont know if this is the point, anyway, I found it funny what you said about they told you that you are fat, because they tell me many times i look fat, even i am pretty fit.
They try any chance they have to make you lose face, this is sad but is the way it is..
And being a woman in Thailand.., i am pretty sure it may be worse.
What i try to do is just go with the flow.., I try to be very flexible and dont take things personally, I know its not my fault at all, its actually their lack of culture and education.
The sad thing its the people who control this country want to keep it that way, to ensure they dont lose their power.
I’m an American woman of Indian (South Asian) descent. I have been traveling Southeast Asia for 7 months now and made northern Thailand my last stop. After a verbally abusive encounter in a restaurant in Pai, I was physically attacked by the owner, a Thai woman. I’ve been sick and was finally eating a big meal and every dish I ordered had problems in it. When I sent something back to have it fixed she erupted and hurled all kinds of insults at me. I responded by pouring my tea on the table. Not the best move on my part but she pushed every button in my body with the insults and making me pay for terribly prepared and served food. I had experienced similar humiliation, although no physical altercation at a restaurant in Laos also owned by a Thai woman. With reapect to your concerns about racism, I agree with you. The Thai people are very conscious of skin color as the Vietnamese. People of both countries have been difficult for me to socialize with in contrast to the other countries I visited (Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and Malaysia.) I also am incredibly irritated by the artificially sweet tone the women speak in here in Thailand. It’s fake and seems like a facade to endear men towards them. I think there is also some jealousy against Western women especially if they are attractive. Ironically, is the more attractive Thai women that treat me well or express an interest in conversation possibly because they are secure; these women tend to acknowledge my physical differences with admiration: big eyes, height, strength, etc rather than criticism. Also, beware of your youth as well. Asian society is very ageist. Women are considered to be on the decline in their 30 ‘ s and will make every attempt possible to comment on your appearance. I do not experience this from younger girls. Overall, I’d say my experience with Thai women is that they are under significant economic pressure to capitalize on their looks especially if they are uneducated. You pose a threat to them. Try not to take it personally.
I also had another experience on a yoga retreat where everyone was Caucasian except for a Thai native with a lithe body and myself, the Indian American. Over the course of the 3 weeks, I noticed how she argued against everything I said. She would engage in conversation with everyone at the table except me. She also loved to brag to others how she was from an aristocratic family who owned a local candy brand. All the other Westerners Ooh – ed and aah – edat her exoticness all the time. I didn’t respond with the same amazement because I found the behavior to reek of third – world classicism which exists in Indian natives as well. Having a hybrid identity, I see some of these nuances as a consequence of economic insecurity. I don’t need to subscribe to it and don’t.
Ajarn Farang says
Came across your article today. I will have to go back and read the comments later, but I wanted to share with you a bit about my experiences with racism here. I’m an American male. Tomorrow, I’ve been married to a Thai girl eight years. We have a 7-yr-old daughter. Somehow, every couple of weeks, I get the feeling that the farang and/or the male should not be listened to, thanked, or even acknowledged. The Thai style of fighting is silence and acting like you’re not even in the room (most of the time). I am on the verge of packing and leaving for good after 11 1/2 yrs.
I said most of the time the style of fighting is not with words or fists but with silence and turned heads. In 2012, I was attacked by the English program coordinator at a university I was working at (I am a career educator for 27 years). I wound up with three stitches in the back of my head and a blood-soaked shirt collar and back. For the full story (and pics) see http://www.stickmanbangkok.com/ReadersSubmissions2012/reader7778.htm or search Good Social Stickmanbangkok. DEFINITELY some racism in my story. There’s also an email link at the bottom if anyone wants to contact me.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hi Ajarn Farang-
One of the most difficult things I found living in Thailand socially was that, from my experience, it was not unusual for someone, if they were angered by you, if they didn’t like you, anything of the sort, to hold it in and slowly try to sabotage aspects of your life (ie. reputation, safety, etc.) or ignore you without ever discussing what was going on. Personally, I’m not cut out to live in any environment where this is accepted as within the range of normal conflict resolution (be it cultural, work culture, wherever). That’s just me (some people are cut out for it), and I empathize with your frustration of, as you mentioned, “The Thai style of fighting is silence and acting like you’re not even in the room (most of the time)”. I prefer direct, open communication and from the looks of it (I read your post on Stickman’s site) to repressed hostility that overflows into blind (I’m assuming here) rage.
Thanks for sharing your article on this piece. It adds to the fabric of all that is being discussed.
Ajarn Farang says
The grudges and assumptions you mention are right on target. I had a colleague at a university years ago who graciously volunteered to substitute for another farang whose parent had passed away and had to return for the funeral. During his two weeks away, my friend taught the class, but when the original instructor returned and resumed his own classes, the ‘local lady prof’ who had class next door started the rumor that “D isn’t teaching his classes anymore.’ Didn’t ask him, didn’t check her facts; it got around the whole, large department. Finally D went to the dept chair and got a letter of apology. Wonder if this mess would not have happened if D had not been a pasty white farang.
Laura Dal Farra says
*******This is long overdue but I want to take the time to thank everyone who has posted comments.******
Wow great article..I am a Caucasian American female teaching English in Chaiyaphum, which is also in Isan. I’m going through the same thing. I do believe that SE and E Asia tend to be excused for their racism, where it’s inexcusable in other places..which is why is accepted, because it’s excused. And yes, being a farang female is just harder in Thailand. One thing that’s helped me deal with the moronic racism here in Chaiyaphum is to remember that they are living in the least desireable part of Thailand. Most of the smaller cities in Is an are full of inbreeding and it’s just that small minded small town mentality. I say this in no way to be offensive, but it’s because it’s the truth. Lao-Thais are just that, and known throughout thailand for being not much else. This awareness helps me let the racism go as much as I can an not get into defensive angry mode. Although I’d have to say, on an emotional level, that’s been quite a struggle for me.
This makes me very sad to hear. I too live in Thailand and things that I used to brush off are starting to really bother me. It is my last month teaching here and am choosing not to renew my contract. Although there are many things I will miss, blatant racism is something I will not.
Laura Dal Farra says
Thank you everyone for continuing the discussing and adding your voice!
Before I arrived in Thailand in 2014, I was told about racism by few westerner and asian friends as well. As i had not faced this in my life having travelled in west and east, i thought of these as some kind of off handed experiences. Post arrival, settling into my new home and going to work, I was noticing a marked difference in acceptance of thais with fair skinned and others. Gradually I noticed that thai staff in my office openly discriminate asians esp. easterners, Indians and other asians. I didn’t care as I still had not personally faced any situation by then. Now, as I was alone and needed to spend weekends and spare time by moving into society, I noticed this remarkably in hotels, pubs and especially women.
Surprisingly, I faced a time in immigration office, where the thai officer made me revisit them 3 times saying some document or the other was missing. Initially, I thought of it as a genuine requirement, but then it was not to be as she was intentionally doing so as I understood later on when she openly said it to me that if I wanted the extension I had to follow her or else me being an asian could as well f*** off to where I belong.
It hurt me to unsaid level, yet I had no option as I had a contract with my employer. I was so hurt that I was not in a mood for almost a week.
Subsequently, I came across a number of incidents in my stay and still do.
After much intro-retrospection, I understand that as the society here is mostly illiterate and women being dominant, there is much to be learnt of the world than white man’s money. Money is the player here and as Bangkok is the only place in Thailand where people from all parts of Thailand come to earn, mostly they would be from upcountry and are women, who are not educated and have little knowledge of english other than making themselves look trendy and smart following western lifestyle and not social behaviour.
Women here prefer westerner/white as husbands and do not want to marry their thai men. This being told to me by many thai girls and men.
This is a kind of environment where something has to be done by government.
Yes there is a bias, for white skin. Undoubtedly. Not only that, they openly insult others as well.
Ignorance? arrogance? But it hurts!
Laura Dal Farra says
Thank you so much Montagne for sharing your voice and I’m really sorry you’ve had to experience what you have. I agree, discrimination certainly does hurt. I hope you’re better wherever you currently are and if it’s still in Bangkok, I hope you’ve been able to find some comfort there.
Hi Laura. On a positive note I’ve enjoyed your blog. I’ve shared it with a Thai friend of mine who is doing his thesis on this very subject. I’m sure he will embrace the different viewpoints and the look from a totally different angle.
If you need anything from our Canada I’m visiting Buriram in September. Let me know and I’d be glad to pick it up for you.
Laura Dal Farra says
Thank you so much for the kind words and the beautiful offer! I’m no longer in Buriram, but again, thank you so much!
I hope that the discussion here will add to your friend’s studies on the subject. If he decides to publish his thesis online, please feel free to have either of you link to it here in the comments. I’d be interested in reading it, as I suspect others who visit this page may be as well.
Enjoy your time in Buriram!
Aaron laird says
What a pitty I was hoping that the racism in Isaan was on a par better then central Thailand (Bangkok). It amuses me when minorities complain of racism in Australia, it makes me wonder either they don’t know what racism is or they just make it up to feel like a victim, I really don’t know…either way I’ve never seen it like the way I was treated there.
I read your blog after googling racism in Thailand. I completely agree with what you say and have similar experiences. I have lived in Thailand for the best part of 3 years (besides a short stint in Spain). During that time (in Rayong) I felt like I was being stared at everywhere I went, talked about. I had preteen kids yell “hello!” then run away laughing to themselves. I’ve been refused service by restaurants telling me they were closed while they still had lots of customers. People asking me the stupidest questions (why do all farang men like dark women, why do farang come to our country? They should go home). People tell me how much I must love McDonalds and KFC because I’m farang (I hate fast food). I am young and reasonably handsome but became so withdrawn during my time in Rayong Id wear a facemask and sunglasses everywhere to hide my “farang face” (Im just lucky Im black haired). Id deliberately go out of my way to avoid areas with large congregations of Thais (certain restaurants, markets, bars) because Id feel like a circus freak. Even my girlfriend gets similar treatment (shes Thai but looks and dresses a bit like a farang). I briefly moved to Spain for 2 months but came back due to problems with her paperwork. Since I came back I’ve been based in Pattaya (which at least has more farangs but just as much racism). I miss the anonymity I had in Spain, being able to walk down a street and not be stared at, harassed or asked stupid questions. I dream of the day my girlfriend’s paperwork is ready and we can go back there.
Wow! I feel like we are kindred spirits!
I found this site totally by accident but connected to it right away. I am a Caucasian male, but lived in Hong Kong for many years and speak and read Cantonese. There are many similarities and also many differences in the way we have been treated in our respective adopted countries.
Firstly, it irks me the way my fellow whites can be so dismissive of claims of racism in Asia. They’ll say “Oh I went to Thailand/Burma (insert destination) for 2 weeks and didnt experience a thing!” That’s lovely, but as a tourist, you aren’t integrating in the local culture and are not in contact with the same people or situations that we who live there are. You arent trying to get a job, sort out legal issues, ect. Or the “Im a fat/old white male and ladies are always throwing themselves at me; Thais can’t be racist!”. What they are throwing themselves at is your wallet, not you.
There is a lot of anti-white racism in Asia. In Hong Kong, we are called “Gwai Los” (Ghost/Evil Demons). Even if they knew your name, you’d be referred in your workplace or school by this name. However, this greatly diminishes once people know you speak Cantonese and they are generally far more respectful. I put this down the level of education of the HK people compared to that (lacking) in Thailand. Still, it is common to refer to whites as ‘it’ rather than people.
I’ve been laughed at (for speaking Cantonese – not incorrectly, just speaking it) by both whites and Chinese; I’ve had Chinese kids throw stuff at me in restaurants (but people here a little more confrontational so I just told their parents); I’ve been told that there were no jobs available in a supermarket even though a sign asking for staff had just been put in the window. The worst is if I get a tan..Im of Greek background; If I get a tan I look dark and they assume Im part Indian or something – then they treat me very poorly.
Stereotypes are common. “Why do all whites eat potatoes? Why do they all get so fat? Why do they sleep around so much?” is something you’ll deal with a lot.
Because many cannot here cannot ever believe that a non- Asian would speak Cantonese fluently, they often think I am mixed race – even though I dont at all look Asian. They don’t look down on mixed races here, but just seem them as foreigners. So after years of being treated ‘mixed’ (being the go-between between whites/Chinese at work, social situations ect) I have actually so much in common with people who really are ‘mixed race’ both here and in Australia. It’s funny – being treated as somehting I am not has made me actually become a part of that very community that I am not really a part of..
In the west, we are conditioned to accept multi-culturalism and people of all different colours and creeds as individuals. Unfortunately it is all a one-way street; once you go to Asia or Africa you can throw that out the window and see it for the naive and idealistic garbage it is.
I don’t know about hate, but being treated as a stereotype and the ‘other’ and constantly being made to prove myself and dealing with people’s reactions as a local, Chinese-speaking White guy has actually given me a heightened racial pride and consciousness. I am proud of my ethnicity (even though it is currently in vogue for whites to not be).
I agree with you totally about racism in Thailand. The reasons the Thais smile all the time is not because they like you but to cover them being nasty to you. I have been in Thailand since 2002 and have lived all over the North and North East. One of the things I notice a lot is when shopping and you are obviously the next customer, they look away and start chatting and serving a Thai customer. I just walk out. When any Thai says the word falang or the Isaan equivalent I immediately look around and say in Thai, “where is the falang”. They feel quite sheepish when you use their language and let them know you understand. Thats why one of their first questions to you in Thai is “can you speak Thai?” If you can’t they have free reign over what they say about you.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hey Everyone – I want to express gratitude to all of you who are keeping the conversation going. Thanks for adding your voice!
I’m very confused of your experience. Throughout my life, I have only been exposed to the proven fact that Thai people bow their heads to the White race. No offense..Thai people in every way possible, make society think that every person with Thai heritage is light-skinned and good looking. You will never see a dark skinned or unattractive person in a movie, commercial, music video, etc. As a matter of fact, in most movies, only white-skinned European look- a -likes take on the main roles. The primary goal for all of Thai skin improving products is to bleach or whiten skin. It’s funny they don’t teach their children that Thai people all came from Cambodia. Just some time ago, a group of Cambodians broke away from the communist nation of Cambodia to start their own republic. Over the years, with Western influence, Thailand became a better country. Many of these Cambodians that ran away from home, try very hard to claim that they are “better” than Cambodians still living in their country (This idea is popular among the Thai people in United States—to Cambodians in the U.S as well)…Many of whom look just as dark or uglier than the typical Cambodians. How pathetic…Just so readers know, I am not Cambodian. I am a Vietnamese woman who spent her life in Stockton, California. I have many Cambodian friends and very knowledgeable about the little racial and cultural difference between the two nations. Thai people are so ashamed of their race that they even try to claim that well-known Vietnamese foods (such as banh bo—steamed rice cake—-which originally came from China. However, decades ago, Vietnamese folks altered it to their own taste. Thai people imitates exactly how Vietnamese folks make these steamed cake and call it their own). There’s many more dishes that Thai people copy from Vietnamese people and claim it as “Thai food”. Pathetic?
My name is Steven and I’m American. Currently living in Thailand for the second time Laura. I plan to start writing about my experiences too and frankly your blog has changed my life. It’s so great too know I’m not the only one who has had too deal with the non stop BS here. I’m Mexican American and overweight. The amount of abuse I have endured is truly horrific. I will save it for my writing, but I can say for sure that I have had a least a 400-700 racist moments in the time I have I lived in Thailand. Looks of utter disgust and times the people have me feel a little unsafe. For these reasons I plan too leave next month. I have had it with their racist small minds. I only came back too prove too myself that I could face it again. However no more and I finally realize there are other places too go in this world. With much much better treatment too.
Laura Dal Farra says
Hey Steven – Thanks for the comment. I truly appreciate knowing that my writing has helped, although I’m sorry that you face similar discrimination and contempt. Have a safe trip out of the country.
Thank you Laura I just saw your reply back right now. I cannot believe I miss this. Thank you Laura and best wishes too you!
I am a Thai man living in the west, but I grew up in Bangkok for the first 18 years of my life. I am rather confused by your and it seems, many of your compatriot’s experiences.
See, I believe Asian people are the most racist people on earth, and Thais are one of the worst offenders. We hate our neighbours the most – Burmese (for 300+ year old ‘crimes’…), Cambodians, Laotians (‘Lao’ is actually synonymous with ‘lame’). Next comes darker skinned people – blacks and Indians. Debatable who we hate more but people of Indian descent are referred to as ‘kag’ and there are many racist and highly offensive idioms surrounding them. If I bring any of these people back home, my lived-in-the-USA-for-5-years liberal neurosurgeon dad would probably judge me, and my grandmother would most certainly have a heart attack.
Lastly are Chinese. But most upper class people in Thailand are descended from Chinese migrants, so that has largely dissolved.
Point being, I always thought the racism against white people in Thailand, or anywhere in East Asia to be honest, is the ‘good’ kind. You’re in a back water town where the majority of people have never been to Bangkok, let alone meet anyone from another continent. Of course they will stare at you and make comments. But I always thought this was the flattering kind – they admire your skin, your larger yet just as slender size and your hair ( Thai women go crazy for european hair…I know I do!). I always thought the looks they give western people were full of curiousity and admiration, not hatred. Is this not the case?
To give you an example, I once dated a Bulgarian girl and went to meet her grandparents in a small town in Bulgaria. I was also looked at like an alien, but I felt that the looks were more of malice than curiousity – almost like they’re asking, “why is this chink holding hands with one of our women?”.
Is this the experience you’ve been getting from Thailand? I do admit that my upbringing was more privileged than most, and I grew up 99% in Bangkok, which really nowadays has more White Brits than some parts of London.
P.s. I also read your post on dating in Buriram. Just wanted to say – Thais are seriously shy when around white women, because we see you as the ‘ideal’ beauty. But I can’t imagine any of them would treat you badly – the opportunity of bragging to your friends that your ‘fan’ is a white girl is way too rare and too impressive to just throw away. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you see someone you like, just go chat with them and chances are you’ll make it their happiest day of their life 🙂
Also just to add – I’ve never heard of this notion that white women are easy in Thailand. Thais talk and banter as if western women are easy, but in my experience everyone has a silent acknowledgement that they will never be able to land one. When Paradorn Srichapan married the Canadian Miss Universe, a common saying was “an angel with a temple dog” (nang fa gub ma wat). The reasoning being how can this dark skinned Thai land such a beautiful lady?
When I was in uni and started going out with a British girl, I was suddenly the talk of the town in the Thai Society even though I never told anyone I was going out with her. But one girl saw me holding hands with a white girl, and she herself told me, “that doesn’t usually happen”.
Laura Dal Farra says
I wish I had known about the silent acknowledgement!
Laura Dal Farra says
Thank-you Thaiguy. You are correct, I often was met with glances and comments that relayed curiosity and admiration, absolutely. I also met people who very much made an effort to make me feel welcome in Thailand.
I’m sorry you faced similar discrimination in Bulgaria. Your comment about receiving looks that expressed malice rather than curiosity resonated with me.
Hi Laura, sorry did my post come across as a bit stand-offish? If it did, I did not intend it!
Did the situation change at all since you wrote this 6 years ago? Or was this the reason you eventually left?
Laura Dal Farra says
Hi Thaiguy – Your post didn’t come off as stand-offish in the least. Thanks for checking in regardless!
The situation didn’t change at all for me and was a major factor in my decision to leave.
As someone who’s half Thai and half English, I found your blog really interesting. In Thailand, I’ve experienced many things like this and I think it’s unfortunately quite a common thing to expect. On the other side of the coin, the British side that I experienced was also difficult and fetishized Asian women in its own way and that made me very uncomfortable as you can imagine. As women in many cultures, we will always suffer in the hands of the uneducated and fearful. In our current climate of global terrorism, the xenophobia has probably gotten worse.
I personally think that this xenophobia comes from envy, jealousy and a lack of understanding but the real problem is the fact that nothing has really changed or progressed. There isn’t a desire to understand each other’s differences so just be the best you can be because at the end of the day- it’s their lost. Also, I think it’s great that you do kickboxing and tried to fully immerse yourself into the Thai culture. Hope all is well.
I totally understand where your coming from my experience as a white man mirrored yours except for the stereotype that white women are easy I was branded with all white men are sexual predators which is funny when in my hometown Hobart, Australia there aren’t prostitute venues around every corner and cheating on your wife is a rareity unlike it is in Thailand. I came out kinda despising Thais but when I see the odd few in my country I’m still nice to them “out of habit maybe” . It was also a big eye opener in that in western countries wer’re always indoctrinated that only whites can and only whites have ever been racist only to quickly find out the opposite is true!
Joseph Yunker says
A little late contributing to this conversation, sadly I’ve just discovered this site, which is pretty awesome. I experienced quite a bit of racism in Thailand as well. I lived in the South in Phuket for two years. I definitely experienced a mild racism there. I say mild as they weren’t violently assaulting me or refusing to serve me, for the most part it wasn’t terribly overt. But when your’e there long term, you start to feel it in the looks and the attitudes. I met my wife there, and when we would make trips to the US embassy in Bangkok, it was really bad. Seeing me with my wife, groups of Thai men would talk shit and stare us down as we left our apartment daily. It was the worst there. I saw some of it in Isaan, but it seemed much less so. Probably because I was with my wife’s family and friends. It’s kind of sad and it wears you down, but then you have such beautiful interactions with people that accept you and welcome you. I didn’t speak the language nearly as well then either. I’m still fighting my way back there as I love the country and the culture and people. There’s such a duality to the country, it can be so sweet and friendly and lighthearted on one side, and so dark and unfriendly on the other.
They WILL call you fat in a heart beat, if you’re anything but lean lol. The Thais are ruthlessly honest, or at least say what they think. There are some aspects of the culture that would be considered rude and out right cruel. Bullying and treating people as less than depending on socio economic status, education, where you’re from. All things that I dislike about the culture, Somehow they always balance it out and I still love the place and the people/culture.
Love the site too! Very cool