Last Sunday while reading Stick's weekly "Once a Farang, Always a Farang" I was amused. Really, no insult intended to Stick or the people who've responded so far, but I regarded the piece more of a fun piece of humor than anything to take seriously. Come on, how can an adult from Country A move to County B, with the realistic expectation of assimilating into Country B to the point of becoming a local? Sure, people do it but it is called immigration and it takes those dedicated to change their entire lives to adjust. Even children carry large pieces of their native culture with them forever.
Maybe this is just my perspective as an American because America is a true melting pot of cultures from across all worlds. How sad it would be, and perhaps how weak we would be, if the citizens of America were all the same. How boring to drive through the city and no longer see the Irish neighborhood or the French Quarter or even China Town. Who would we laugh at if there were no New Yorkers or Bostonians with funny accents? Breakfast would never be the same without chorizo, eggs and salsa. And God forbid the bastion of liberalism we call New England strike the same conservative stance as El Paso Texas. What makes a country great is not the monotony of homogeneity, but rather the alacrity of heterogeneity.
I was barely out of high school when I began to travel the world. Now well into middle age and having either visited or lived in dozens of countries I can't remember once seriously considering becoming anyone or anything other than what was bestowed on me as a gift of birth. A native and citizen of The United States of America. This is not to say America is better or worse than any other country. But it is to say that America is the country imprinted upon me from my birth and subsequent childhood, and which still draws my allegiance and admiration today as a well seasoned expatriate. We should all be so lucky to feel this way about our native countries, even if a denizen of Thailand.
Become a Thai? Certainly not! Nor have I ever had the urge of becoming Nipponese during my five years in Japan, or Hangook during my same amount of time in Korea. Yet these three and other countries have influenced and shaped my life in ways not otherwise possible if I had not 'lived' in each.
Fiercely patriotic, yet cognizant no perfect country exists, I knew from the first step of my inveterate wanderings each destination would provide me with new and unique experiences and different refines of culture, some of which would transcend my own, gently tugging at my shirtsleeve as if to remind me I had changed. Each step of my journey incarnate.
I feel it is growth, a sort of self-improvement earned and not purchased. Each junction, every depot, and all annexes of foreign existence enriches me, makes me a better man, and a more 'savoir-faire' and itinerant interloper. I will continue to metamorphose and recalibrate my culture, fine tuning my existence and with it my individuality. It is a process I am powerless to interrupt or whose course I can alter. I am in a constant state of becoming me.
It is not the food we eat nor the type of bus we ride. Small house, big house. Cement house, wood house. Rice or potatoes. Tennis shoes or sandals. Thai, Thai Mai Dai. Bowling night or massage parlor afternoon. White woman, brown woman. Smooth, rough. French kiss, sniff kiss. Laws, corruption. Steak, fish. Humidity, dryness. Right, left. Girl, lady boy. Smile, frown. Sinsot, Dowry. Pounds, Baht. These things make small differences.
The real differences are in how we look at each other, how you look at yourself. How you see your neighbors, and how you think they see you. How to deal with stress, or how stress deals with you. Is a handshake good enough, or is the absence of contracts and enforcement something you take advantage of?
Are you on time, or are you in Thai time? Is your family central to your life, mothers, fathers, aunts and uncles? Do you save and plan for the future, or will the future take care of itself? Do you keep abreast of the King's health status and if so, is it because you fear the loss or do you fear the repercussions of the loss? I know where I fit in.
And yet I have no plans and no fear of becoming Thai. I could and would not, no circumstances could compel. I am always an American, but uniquely me. An aggregate of my own summation. How could I consider otherwise? How could you?
Until Next Time..
Many westerners say they love Thailand – and some even go as far to say that they hate their own country – yet these very people live pretty much as they would at home. Most foreigners – and for the sake of argument, let's make that the non "farang" types – who emigrate to my homeland for the most part adopt the local culture. But for Westerners moving to Thailand, it just does not seem to happen despite this supposed adoration of all things Thai…