Unique perspective: Being an Asian American female around foreigners in Thailand

Unique Perspective: asian american female around foreigners in thailand

After being in Thailand for a month, there have been some things I’ve experienced as a female and more specifically, an Asian American female.

I love Thailand – the country, the people. They are kind, warm, and generous. It’s no wonder they’re always at the top of the list for hospitality when it comes to visitors. It’s some of (not all) male foreigners that I have a slight problem with.

I suppose because Chiang Mai is the capital of expats and digital nomads, there’s a surplus of American or European males that have probably been here too long. It seems they’ve forgotten their manners and because it’s a third world country, they’ve forgotten how to be well…gentlemen.

As my friend likes to say, “The scum of the earth goes to live in Chiang Mai.”

There are many people, who upon meeting me, assume that because I’m Asian that I must be Thai. Which is FINE. Back home or during my travels, it’s common for people to not easily determine my ethnic background and they will ask out of curiosity and that’s not a problem. It’s when white people/visitors here assume I’m Thai and I don’t speak English and thus a lowly passive non-English speaking, non-worldly Asian girl who is generally agreeable and makes a great housewife. 

And that upsets me. A lot.

Before people get all confused: I don’t care if people think I’m Thai or Chinese or Korean or whatever (I’m Asian after all and most westerners can’t tell the difference but there IS a difference but we won’t get into all that).

They will flat out ignore me or speak to me in a manner that clearly indicates, I’m not on “their” level. Until I open my mouth and out comes English in an American accent. They get taken aback with a clear look of surprise on their face and magically, they seem to “straighten up” and begin to treat me better.

I even had one guy come back and pull me aside to apologize. Apology accepted (begrudgingly) but still. So NOW you find out that I’m an American, you realize you must act like a proper person? But if I was a local Asian girl, you can be rude?

So wrong on so many levels.

I understand there’s not as many solo female travelers but that does not matter. It’s disconcerting to think this may be a man’s true colors at times. Or that because he’s in South East Asia, that this kind of behavior is somehow acceptable when it’s just really inexcusable.

I understand when we’re in another country, we must adapt to the local customs and culture. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – I condone that. Except this isn’t the locals that are pushing this behavior. It’s these visitors (you’re a visitor even if you live here long-term) themselves that suddenly think they’re in the 1900s. Why? Now I guess it’s hard to make assumptions but probably because of the stereotype that Asian women are meek and submissive, especially so if they’re living in a third world country like Thailand or Vietnam.

Another example of ignorance:
My friend Youjin and I are in the middle of a nice dinner before she has to leave for Bangkok. Suddenly, a guy appears at our table who seems to be in his late 20s or early 30s and probably from somewhere in Europe due to his accent. He actually BOWS and says, “Ni Hao.” What…the heck? Why didn’t he just say hello in Thai? We were in Thailand after all. Why say, Ni Hao?
First off, even if we WERE Chinese – why in the world would you do that? I’m guessing he thought we’d be impressed by his “worldly” antics. Nonplussed, we tried to answer him and judging from the looks on our faces, he continued to interrupt and ask if we were Japanese instead. Youjin promptly lost it and demanded that he leave us alone and to quit interrupting our dinner. Now, I completely understand his intentions were to be nice and impress or please us but it really was the opposite. What would have been the right thing for this guy to do if he was interested in speaking to us?

Just approach the table with a smile and say something along the lines of, “You ladies caught my eye and I was just curious – where are you from?” How about that? A nice & simple but direct question with genuine sincerity works wonders!

What he did to us is the equivalent of when my African American friend goes into a clothing store and the sales person starts speaking to him in “black” using slang and ebonics when he should just speak to him like…anybody else?

Who’s to blame? Are these men solely to blame for their own behavior? Or is the widely-accepted sex tourism in Thailand partly the problem? As most would say, it’s both. The sex tourism industry in Thailand gives a reason for these men to act accordingly so and nobody is showing disapproval unless of course, there happens to be some regular tourists there gawking and gaping at you in shock. These creepy sexpats who live here or sexist jerks who come to visit for a few weeks or months really should NOT exist…but they do and if not Thailand, where else? Another country more poverty-stricken?

If you’re lucky enough to be from a first world country, you should be setting the EXAMPLE with forward and positive progressive thinking.

“Call a jack a jack. Call a spade a spade. But always call a whore a lady. Their lives are hard enough, and it never hurts to be polite.”

(Don’t even get me started on the past two recent incidents of tourists taking nude photos in a temple at Cambodia – that’s another post).

When there’s blog posts on why Asian women are better than “western” women and the reasons are: she’s “knows her place”, agreeable, and a better housewife is really just freaking sad.

I love Thailand, the land of smiles….but I really don’t want it to become the land of (perverted) smiles. Or I guess it’s BEEN that for awhile now. Is there hope for some change?