Interview With My Wife
My wife has seen the history of civilization. Raised in Isaan, she grew up in the iron age, working a farm with the help of a buffalo and an elephant. Her father lost the use of a hand one day and, at age 12, she left the village to seek work. She hauled cement up bamboo ladders and slept on temple floors. She managed staff on a factory floor. She worked at one of Asia's most expensive resorts. She met Warren Buffett and the Prince of Bhutan. Now, at age 30, she lives with me in the Northwestern corner of the US. We've been here for six months, so I thought it was a good time to find out what she thought of this new stage of her life. (Interview conducted in Thai and English.)
Who are you?
Who am I? What can I say? I come from Thailand, but I'm also Lao. How can I explain? I'm more Lao than Thai.
What do you mean?
I'm from Thailand but my ancestors are from Laos. So, I can speak Lao and Thai, and a little bit of English. Lao is my first language.
Why do you make the distinction?
Lao people are more peaceful. They don't fight each other as much as Thais do. Thai people, especially in Bangkok, only want to be rich. They never get enough.
How do you like the US so far?
I love the US. It's a new opportunity for work. I have to say thank you to my husband for bringing me here. [smarmy smile]
You worked in Thailand. What's the difference?
In Thailand I worked at a very exclusive five-star hotel. It was very expensive but not good quality. Like a bowl of bad soup. They make it look good with a nice garnish on top but under that there is no flavor.
It wasn't comfortable for me. I'm too straight and I don't like to play social games. Most jobs in Thailand are full of petty social games.
Now in the US, people are very straight. Every one is equal. No one looks down on me for who I am. In Thailand, because I'm from Isaan, they look down on me and I have to work harder than everyone else. Here I can be myself and do what I want to do.
I love both countries the same really. In a way, Thailand made me strong. I learned to be independent in Thailand. I had to fight for it. Now, here, it's easy to be independent, and my independent nature is an advantage instead of a problem.
Is the US different than you expected?
I thought it would be very difficult to stay here. To talk with people. To find a job.
Especially, my husband's family is opposite from what I thought. They are very sweet, very nice to me. When I was a little girl, I went to work at the farm and my parents had to bring food for me. Now, my father-in-law does the same. Once, when we were going to go see a mountain, he worried a lot about me and brought food for me. I was very impressed. They are very nice and show me a lot of love.
When I came here, I brought luck with me. It was very easy to find a job here. When I interviewed for it, I was honest and truthful and they were too.
Are American people different than expected?
Back in Thailand, I saw a lot of bad foreigners. Many of them had a lot of girlfriends, and spent every night going to bars. But here they're very straight. Only one wife. They love their family and they're honest. So I gained a lot of respect for them. In fact, I didn't respect them before. Tourists behave badly in Thailand. Some are good, but most are bad.
What is something you like better in the US than in Thailand?
I don't want to talk bad about my country, but Americans are more straightforward and honest. And they drive very nice. They follow the rules. And if you need help, people are always happy to help you without asking for payment or anything in return.
What is something that Thailand does better?
The most important things are cheap there and even free. It's easy to find food anytime, anywhere. It just grows on trees. Very great food and very cheap.
In my village I don't even need money. Or just a little bit for extra things like pork or beef, if we want. In addition to growing rice, my family keeps a small farm for growing our own food. We have chickens, ducks, eggs, vegetables. We only use money for luxuries like electronics. In the last five years, people have started wanting mobile phones and TVs, so we use money for that.
Another thing, and this was a big surprise for me: I work at a hospital now, but I don't like American hospitals. Because I see sick people, dying, and dead people passing me almost everyday and it makes me sad. I can't help them, even the doctor can't help them. The quality of care is much better in Thailand. In a Thai hospital the doctors are very friendly, care a lot about the patient, always come to check and ask how they feel.
When you're hurt, they come right away. Very important for a patient. If you go to the emergency ward in Thailand, fifteen minutes would be a long wait. Usually you get treatment right away.
Here, I went to the ER because cleaning chemicals splashed in my eye. I went to the ER at 7:30pm. Though I couldn't see, I had to fill in forms for 30 minutes. The nurse kept telling me the doctor was coming, but I had to wait two hours. No one even tried to wash my eye. The doctor finally came and looked at my eye. He talked a bit and was gone again. 40 minutes later he came back with a machine to check my eye. Then he gave me some eye-drops and that was it.
Thailand has much better hospitals.
Has it been difficult to get used to life in the US?
No. Because I'm really straight. I always say what I want to say, and that fits in well in the US. In Thailand, if you don't like somebody you cannot say it. You'd die right away! Here, you can say it very easily and they don't care.
What is the biggest change you have had to make?
I have to study English, but I didn't really have to change myself at all. I still love my religion. I always pray to Buddha and my Buddha is always inside my heart. So this makes me peaceful anytime, anywhere I go.
How is the weather?
OH! It's COLD! But that's a good thing. People can't drink outside and stay on the street. In Thailand they can sit on the street drinking. That's trouble for women walking alone.
Oh, man! Too much meat. Too much cheese. Too much frozen food. I don't like it.
Are you able to find the things you liked back in Thailand, here in the US?
Mostly. There is some good food here if you can cook. Fresh vegetables and meat are here if you look for them. So I can make Thai food for myself. It's not the same as Thailand, but close enough.
If you had a friend send something from Thailand, what would you want?
I want fermented fish sauce for making som tam (spicy green papaya salad), and a bag of sticky rice. Also I'd want some Thai magazines and books.
What is your favorite American food?
Only one I can love very much: barbecue pork ribs. That's it!
Is there any food you can get in America that you can't get in Thailand?
Oh! A new thing is I love eating artichokes with my husband.
What is your favorite American TV show?
Oh! (Laughs) I love judge shows. Especially Judge Judy. She's very great. I love to watch her. She's so strong, smart, and she says whatever she wants to say to deal with people. We don't have this kind of program in Thailand. I think the people in Thailand have no idea what judges do. They know when they go to the court, I guess, but regular people from Isaan never do.
What do you like to do on your days off?
Me and my husband always go to the park, to the lake, bicycling. Because I like to see wild animals, deer, rabbits, skunks, squirrels, ducks, birds, natural things. It's very nice. You can even drink the water from the rivers.
In my country, you can't see these things anymore. When you go to the mountains you can't hear anything, because people have killed most of the animals.
When I was a girl, we had to go to bed early – around 6:00pm – because if you walk around at night in the village, you'll run into tigers and elephants and dangerous animals. It was easy to find the food then. For example, we could walk to the farm and find fish jumping in the field, clams, crabs, frogs. Easy to find. Just reach out and grab it. Walk through the rice field and you can find anything you want.
But now they're gone. You cannot see any crabs or frogs in the fields. It's very difficult to find them. I think because they use a lot of chemicals.
And people cut a lot of trees to clear land for planting corn or other things. Without the trees, it doesn't rain. The hot season is very dry. The rainy season there's flooding.
Oh, and I forgot. I love to go digging clams and picking blueberries here! Poor clams!
Tell me about the driving. Which country is safer?
Here it's very safe. They follow the rules of the road. In Thailand we don't follow the rules, but we drive very well. There's a lot of accidents in Thailand, but we know better how to deal with them. Here, the drivers don't know how to react when there is an accident. If one car makes a mistake, everybody crashes. In Thailand we are always ready for accidents and react quickly. If Americans tried to drive in Thailand, they wouldn't live long.
What is something you miss about Thailand?
I miss my parents. I always think about when I was a little girl and it was easy to find food. Makes me sad that now they have to work hard and spend more money on everything, just to live.
It's because people have gotten lazy. They use machines for everything. Machines use oil and oil uses money. Before, we used only buffalo, and made enough for what we needed. Now people are lazy, buying machines with loans from the bank – you have to pay more money, buy gas, fix the broken machines, spend more money. Now Japan is rich because Thais are buying machines from them. Even my dad uses a small tractor from Japan.
What is something in Thailand that you're glad to get away from?
I won't miss going to government offices. They're very rude to me. Because they saw my family name changing to American, they think I'm a bad person. They don't like women marrying with foreigners.
What's next for your future? Will you ever go back to Thailand?
For now I don't think about going back. I'd like to visit sometime. Actually I'd really like to buy a house in Laos. Just a small place. It's not expensive there. I like the people. Very nice, helpful, friendly. They don't care about being rich. They are proud of what they have.
An excellent approach to a submission. A thoroughly enjoyable read.