When I first came to Phuket eight years ago, I heard the word farang all of the time. (I still do.)
It took me a while to realize that the Thais that were talking were referring to me. And they would talk about me right in front of myself, safe in the knowledge that I was stupid and could not understand a word they said.
I just shrugged my shoulders. I didn’t care. It only meant white person and that I was.
Politically incorrect? Yes, to be sure but things were different here.
Ever read the help wanted section of the Bangkok Post? They ask for a specific sex, age, weight, and height. Any one of these and your advertisement would not make it into the papers in the U.S. The standards are different here I reasoned.
And back in good old America, my twin brother was dating a Jewish woman. He had heard her speak of goy or goyim (plural of goy) referring to people.
‘What does it mean?’ he asked one night when they were out.’
Anyone that’s a non-Jew is a goyim.’ She replied.
‘So- that black guy over there- he’s a goy?’
‘And that Indian, the Rastafarian smoking dope, the Mexican midget, the Nigerian, Haitian and that Arab-they’re all goyim?’
‘Me too? I’m goyim too- in the same boat- all together with those guys?’
I don’t think she truly mean to be racist except for the fact that she was certain the Jews were the superior race and every other human ran a not so close second place.
Possibly nationalistic would be a less offensive term.
You know – like they say Koreans, Chinese and Japanese are all nationalistic. Would close knit be better- naw- too wimpy, let’s say what we mean. Hell, while we’re at it –let’s include the Germans and the French and for sure don’t forget the Israelis- superior races all.
So it’s not only here in Thailand we have this kind of thing.
I took over the management of a restaurant in New York City years back. The kitchen was mostly Chinese.
That’s how it was in those days- after the Greeks left and before the Mexican invasion. (damn good workers)
But I had to let most of the kitchen help go because there was no doubt in any of their minds that taking into consideration their long heritage and history, even the lowest of dishwashers was much better than a mere manager or owner and they should have a voice in the operation of the business.
Back in Phuket, my eyes or rather my ears started to open a bit the day I was walking past the hotel next door to my house and the cleaning lady, with whom I was on friendly terms with, nudged her partner and said, ‘farang pom pui’ or something to that effect.
Now I can’t speak Thai but even I knew she was calling me fat. I suppose that I felt betrayed-that’s why I went ballistic, screaming ‘you- moo yai’ -you are a big fat pig, over and over again. (she was no light weight either)
Then I began to notice that when I spoke to a bar girl after she said the holy trinity, you come from where, stay where, you stay here how long. The next question is -can you speak Thai?
You know what? They hate it when you say yes.
Now I wonder, is this so they can’t practice their English or is it more likely that now they will have to be careful talking about you right in front of your face.
Then after a while I wondered if it was the way that they said farang – as in a restaurant-‘the farang gets the noodles.’
They could just as easily have said- the guy in the red shirt’.
But no -farang it was- reminding me that I would always, always be an outsider. And that’s alright with me as they are not part of my little group either and hardly likely to be.
Possibly it’s what context they say it in.
I was sitting at a bar on Soi Sea Dragon. There were a whole bunch of girls there and I was the lone customer.
Six or seven guys walked by and all of the girls jumped up, screamed and hollered welcome and the guys stopped and sat down. Just as the shouting died down, one of the girls screamed ‘kee nok’. The girls laughed so hard they fell on the floor.
Now some times ‘kee nok’ refers to a surprise – as in something that dropped from the sky and sometimes it simple means just what it says-bird shit.
I wondered for a long time how they meant that.
Lately I have been listening to how the Thais say farang-their tone, the inflection, how they say it and the nuisances of it.
It didn’t take me long to realize they were saying it a dismissive, distaining, sneering, negative and disparaging way no matter what the context was.
And that’s how I feel when I hear the word farang.
We will always be to them- someone of lesser value.
Even the clerk who waits on me in the local supermarket- the one making a buck-fifty a day, going home to sleep in a one room shack- she can always look down on me and think-‘farang, not one of us.’
I just ignore it as best I can.
Yep, you have to ignore it, because if you dwell on it too much, it just gets you down…