Ever since starting this blog, I have had a lady comment on many of my posts and subsequently subscribe. She has commented on various subjects whether about Thai food, Thai travel, culture or cross cultural relationships and always with something of interest to say.
As a Thai national who grew up in Thailand, but has lived in the UK for the past 27 years I knew she was well equipped to talk about issues in both countries. I was delighted when she agreed to do this interview. Her name is Keown and I can tell you, she shoots from the hip as the Americans say, a very straight talking lady. For the next few posts Keown gives her thoughts on a number of issues. It is time to have a rest from me and let Keown take centre stage.
What was growing up in the north-east of Thailand like, what were your memories of life back then?
Life as a child was absolutely fantastic and as a family we moved about all over the north-east, because of my father’s job. My father was an environmental inspector and we spent time in Loei, Ubon, Kalisin, Mahasalakam, Roi-et and even outside the north-east in Kanchanaburi.
The job carried a lot of weight in terms of status and respect, which saw us in a very privileged position. His surname was already very well-known as he came from a very well off family. In fact the family were not only well off, but a very big family as well consisting of 13 children. My father actually came from Roi-et, where three of us were born including myself.
When I was 7-8 years old,the family moved again, but this time did not take me. They left me with my aunty in Kohn Kaen , I was really upset at first as I wanted to be with them. However it did not take me long to get used to my new environment, my aunty and to make new friends, it was a happy time.
My father used to take me hunting in the woods for wild animals and wild orchid. I loved that, it was full of adventure and activity. Sometimes he took me into the very dangerous areas,where’s Communists lay on the ground hiding. I’ve seen my father shoot at them before with his riffle.
Were you not scared going hunting in those conditions
Yes, it was kind of scary, especially the danger from the communists. We were taught from a very young age by our parents, to be fearless. However I was the only one that liked going hunting with my father even with all the dangers involved. My mother would have preferred that I didn’t go hunting I think, but I just loved it.
Do you think it’s possible for a foreigner to adapt to living in the north-east (Isaan) of Thailand and if so, should he choose town, city or village life?
There are quite a lot of foreigners especially Brits that are married and live with their wives in the north-east of Thailand. Some live in the City and some out in the provinces. I think it depends a lot on age and preferred lifestyle. If you are still fairly young and living with your girlfriend or wife in Isaan, then I guess you would want to live close to the town or city. That way you still have access to an active social life.
However if he is retired or simply a person that prefers the simple and basic life, he could think about living in the village. The problem might be that of making friends, because of the language barrier. If the wife or girlfriend comes from the village it is very likely that no one speaks English. If he can speak Thai or the local language, then people in the village would be so happy to have him there and help him no end. He would be able to pop around to anyone in the village for a chat. People would make such a fuss of him, because he would have proved that he can live just like the local villagers.
My father’s younger brother is a monk and next to his temple lives a westerner, the westerner has lived in the small village for years. He lives in the village with his Thai wife. My uncle, the monk has always been so impressed with the westerner and talks about him all the time in glowing terms. The westerner has built a lovely house and grows his own vegetables in the garden, he really adapted to Isaan lifestyle so quickly .
If you are happy to give up your life in the UK or the west and don’t need lots of material possessions to make you happy, then it’s a fantastic life of simplicity. You can tend to your vegetable garden with chickens running around the house and even buy anything on-line that you can’t access locally.
If you are happy to live in the home of your wife…. then why not. I would however strongly suggest you visit and try it out a few times first, before making the final switch. I would also strongly suggest that you don’t give up everything you have, don’t cut the cord on your home country completely. It all depends on how strong the relationship is, but make sure you have something to fall back on if things don’t work out.
What was it like leaving the north-east for thebig metropolis of Bangkok. I have heard that a native north-east person really has to fight to be accepted.
Yes, it’s the poor farmers daughter scenario. If you are from the north-east, a poor farmers daughter and uneducated, you certainly won’t get any respect from those that live in the city. By the way that is not only just in Bangkok either. Thirty years ago darker skin and a strong north-east (isaan) accent would cause you to be the butt of jokes, but not so now.
I was picked on at school, because of my darker skin and to make it worse I had curly hair as well. Having curly hair is rather odd and I was unlike anybody else. It is very rare for girls to have curly hair unless her family is mixed race, but I was certainly not.
People actually respected my parents especially my father’s family as they are high in status regarding career and wealth. My father’s brother was an MP, so yes I did get some benefits from his position. I would visit my uncle in Bangkok during the school holidays and he would get me jobs I would never have been able to get myself.
Bangkok City Girls
When I was doing my work experience in Bangkok, just after finishing school, I did find that the Bangkok city girls looked down on me. However that was until they found out who I was and how I got the job, then their attitudes changed instantly and they treated me much better.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but on this subject I don’t think it will ever change. If you’re a farmer or your parents are doing manual labour jobs then discrimination can be terrible. My father’s side were higher up the status scale than my mum’s side. My mum comes from a normal family, but my grand father chose my mum for my father, because she was a nice girl and well-behaved.
In part 2 to follow shortly Keown talks about cross cultural relationships.
For more information and articles about subjects related to Thailand, please visit http://www.engagingthailand.com/
Blundering Around Isaan – A Village In Northeast Thailand by Peter Jaggs
Travelers Tales Thailand: True Stories by James O’Reilly and Larry Habegger
Sex Talk: In search of love and romance by Kaewmala
Great Thailand Forum