Monday, January 05, 2015

A Whiter Shade of Thai

January 5, 2015
   I am always looking for anything Western wherever I am and Thailand is no exception. Didn't have to look far. Here is a restaurant not far from where Tommy and Pattarapan live:

Western House in Chiang Mai, Thailand

   The Thais seem to absorb anything Western they like. Pattarapan tells me there were no coffee shops in Thailand when she was growing up (mid-eighties) but today there are coffee cafes all over the place. Here is Tommy and Pattarapan's favorite joint for great coffee:

Mingmitr (a phonetic rendering of "lots of friends" in Thai) Coffee Bar in Chiang Mia

    They have latte, espresso, cappucino and all of the Starbucks entries. The only problem for me is the Thais really love their coffees sweet (actually ALL drinks) and so you have to ask them specifically to not make it sweet. And then, often as not, the attendant will turn and say, in Thai, "He wants it just a little sweet." And then Pattarapan—A UN diplomat par excellance—will reiterate, "No sweetener, please." And the Thais behind the counter invariably look at me like I'm one crazy farang ("farang"—pronounced farung— is Thia for white foreigner), which, of course, I am.

Farangs On Parade
   The Thais are very polite and I have never encountered any condescending or derogatory slights, but they do have their little terms, like their term for backpacking hippies: "Farang Ki-Nok" which means "foreign birdshit." The irony of all this is that the Thais are more than a little obsessed with being white, and in a nation of brown skin people this can get a little weird. Check out this food court in a huge mall outside Bangkok:

Two Thais and a table full of farangs, not to mention the leering farang on the back wall.

   Virtually all products that deal with sunscreen or face cream have "whitening" promises, like "complete white" or "whitens skin" on the label. All of the TV anchors I have seen are light skinned as are most of the TV show stars. But none of this is as creepy as your typical farong going after a Thai woman:

A Typical Farang Chases A Thai Babe

   In a land full of beautiful women—and Thailand has more beautiful women than any other country I have ever been in—it's not hard to see the attraction to living here. Add to that the cheap prices on everything and you can begin to understand why there are an estimated 30,000 farangs living in Chiang Mai alone.

   Last night we participated in a New Year Thai tradition and wrote new year wishes on a paper lantern. You use a candle, light the center ring of wood and then turn it over, letting the heat fill the balloon space and then the lantern floats up into the sky (it's really a miniature hot air balloon). It goes straight up for about a thousand feet and then floats off into the cosmos. A very touching and beautiful experience.

A Komloy lantern being lit by Thomas Charles and Pattarapan

   By the way, Pattarapan means "Golden skin" a name her father gave her to encourage her to be proud of her dark skin.

Grandma Ya Pothong and Pattarapan: Two beautiful Thai women standing out in a land of beautiful women

"Beauty is only skin deep."
—Old Vaquero Saying