Readers' Submissions

The Farang Button

  • Written by Eddie
  • March 31st, 2006
  • 6 min read

Having lived in Asia, full time, for the last fourteen years I've had to come to terms with the fact that I am definitely, and by choice of location, an outsider. In short, I am the exotic or the devil and I have to accept it whether I like it or not!

When I first joined my brother teaching in Japan I was liberated. I had abandoned my own culture as it was sinking in a mire of rising interest rates and crashing businesses as, ironically, Margaret Thatcher refused to accept the limitations of the British economy and steadfastly insisted that despite the collateral damage of broken homes, forced repossessions and bankruptcy, Britain couldn't lose face and drop out of the EMS!

I was, in actual fact, an economic asylum seeker forced out by the effects of reverse racism and shot in the foot by my own country! Consequently, to receive a massive pay packet and eat and drink and party my life away with no limitations on open hours and have a boatload of cash at the end of the month was a fairy-tale come true! I was blinded to any negatives (well most of them) of living in Tokyo with all its culture and architecture creating its own slant on Disneyland! Some of my colleagues who may have been more grounded and less enamored with the 'land of the rising sun' complained about how they didn't like being stared at to which I replied that I hadn't noticed as I was too busy staring at them!! Man, to come out of an economically depressed England full of the Anglo-Saxon fuller figured female with their liberated / antagonistic approach to relationships to an extremely affluent country with the girls dressed to nines and made up like super models (though they may want to work on their 'bite') put me way beyond noticing any slights or digs from Suzuki San!

Naturally, through the course of time I occasionally noticed the odd slight such as having to wait a couple of hours in a restaurant with friends waiting for our orders to be served (determined to stick it out) and trying to rent an apartment from right wing real estate agents who refused to rent to "Gaijun" to the big black mesh-covered windowed buses adorned with the rising sun flag and loud speakers demanding the return of all foreigners who are the source of all crime in Japan! However, on the whole, it made sense to me and I didn't see it in a vindictive light. Firstly, they really do live their culture in a fusion of Bushido and that whole Samurai thing with a veneer of western 'enlightenment' on fashion. Something I don't see in Thailand. You would often see families dressed in their traditional costumes going about their business or in the parks and zoos celebrating designated days of culture. They had a genuine or grudging respect for Westerners as we were the first army to ever beat them in war so we must have something more to us than the eye can see! Furthermore, they literally have two minds 'tatimi and hon", one for putting the sugary slant on everything and the other their real thoughts which are kept very close to their chests! As a consequence, they always made sure that the face they presented to the world in any situation was one of politeness and harmony.

As we all know, this is not the case in Thailand where the Farang word is thrown around as a grouping of all non-Thais but white westerners! Those that employ the term don't even notice their own arrogance when they refer to Khun Thai giving themselves an honorific and Farang in the same sentence! I have had conversations with supposedly educated Thais who use this word to describe me and my friends who reply that it is a compliment and that as we have more money than they it is a respectful term to show the distinction! Yet, the context of the use of the term in the conversation is definitely negative!

The debate on this word is well stocked with examples of both sides of the view point. However, what we really need to focus on is how those of us who feel the negative connotations deal with the build up of stress and frustration before we go postal and take out a load of our less 'worldly' locals! Clearly, we will never be able to put across the point that the use of this term is not the best way to communicate positively with us and we should rightly feel the disrespect that comes with it as we are all people of the world and our travels can all be traced back to our roots in Africa – we have just evolved in different ways!

So what's to be done? At this point and by way of conclusion I would like to offer a practical and cleansing solution I came across in Tokyo. I was travelling on a packed commuter train in the heart of the city, sandwiched between sweaty salary men (off jackets day would be next week – the date set by the government, regardless of the weather, when men can go around in shirt sleeves!) and, frustratingly, just one body away from visions of loveliness known as office ladies. Now, no eye contact or communication is taking place as everyone resides in their own little world.

Suddenly, I heard an English accent which took me back. "You know you – you're a right wa@#*ker and you – what a pillock you are!!" The next stop turned out to be a hub and most of the commuters decanted from the train at which point I spotted a western guy sitting across from me. As there was an empty seat I sat down and broached the subject matter of the English I had heard.

He replied that, indeed, it was him and how liberating he felt after sharing his thoughts. He had come to the conclusion that the racism he encounters on a daily basis builds up in him and rather than end up with colon cancer from the stress he should release a little. He regularly gets on a train and turns to the passengers around him with a huge smile on his face and unloads. They have no idea what he is saying but they see the big smile and reciprocate feeling touched by his attempt to communicate! He said he felt great afterwards and would often shake their hands when they got up to go! You see where all this is going! Maybe we should do as the locals do in Thailand – huge smiles on their faces as they diss us in groups and turn it back on them with huge smiles and the use of code-words if you like or regional slang and therapeutically return their blessings! What a culturally sensitive solution to the whole issue! Nobody gets up set – the smiles are beaming and everyone is satisfied – closure (at least for a week or two)!

Stickman's thoughts:

Riding the skytrain could become hilarious if farangs across the city adopted this idea…but then you wouldn't get away with it here – the Thais have a much better command and understanding of English than the Japanese.