'Taking Care' of the newbies...
Late yesterday evening, Khun C, the manager of the building where I live said "hi" to me and asked whether I'd seen the new farangs yet. I said I'd seen two. A Finnish girl and an American. It would have been pretty hard to miss them both. They are both taller than most of the Thai girls in the building and they both had bleary eyes and the pale 'just stepped off a plane from Europe' white skin that Bangkokian Thai's aspire to. The American also had short, bright pink hair.
I'd seen them ealier in the day. They'd wanted to go to Central, the big shopping mall a couple of kilometers down the road. I'd walked to the bus stop with them and tried to put them on one heading in the right direction.
I asked the usual questions. What's your name? Where are you from? Are you studying at Thammarsaat ? The Finnish girl had been to Thailand one time before. For the American, it was her first time here.
Khun C said "only 2?" and told me that 20 new foreigners have arrived here. I saw a couple of new faces in the lobby, ealier this morning, talking between themselves with heavy American accents. I went to get some breakfast and came back to find that they'd multiplied like rabbits. There are now 10 or so of them here, all girls, talking about where they have travelled to, what they study back at home, and comparing their journeys over here. "You had to go via Japan - Poor you. It must have been awful. Such a long flight."
Last night Khun C asked me to ''ดูแลน้อง" a thai term that roughly means to care for, try and help out, look out for and look after those younger / less experienced than you. It's a nice idea, but one that doesn't translate into English very well.
There were lots of foreign students (around 15 or so, mainly from America) in my building last year too. I became good friends with 1 (Bene from France) and could happily make small talk with a few of others (Yoko from Japan, Erin and Carolina from the States.) But the rest ??? I've no idea who most of them were.
I think Khun C expects me to be nice and friendly, introduce myself to them, give them ideas for places to go, and help them work out how to get there. She came and said hello this morning, looked across at the table full of Americans and asked why I'd hadn't spoken to any of them yet. I told her I was (ขี้อาย) shy. It's true. No one who has known me for a long time ever believes this. They probably think I'm nosey and that I talk too much. But, I've never been very chatty when it comes to meeting or talking to new people, and can at times, be extremely shy.
Last year, the owner of the building (who speaks fluent English) held a welcoming party, to meet and say hi to all the new students. It was a nice do, held on the roof. The food was fantastic and there was a good atmosphere. Khun C was there too, helping serve drinks and chatting to the newbies.
She introduced me to some of them, 2 girls and an American guy on a 6 month exchange program. She told them that I'd lived here a long time, not entirely true as I'd only been here 2 years then, but I guess 2 years is long enough to count as - นาน - long, in Thai.) She mentioned that I would be a good person to ask for ideas about where to go as I liked to travel and had travelled around Thailand a lot. As soon as she finished her spiel, one of the Americans (I forget which one - it was a long, beer filled night, and by the end of it they had all merged into 1 big yankee blur ) said "I didn't come to Thailand to hang out with farangs." Another added "We're studying in a Thai University because we want to be with Thai people and make 'real' Thai friends." They ignored me. I ignored them. It became kind of mutual.
I can understand why the American students weren't interested in talking to me. I'm much older than them (I'm now 33, they're in their early 20's), I'm English, and have a cynical English outlook on life. They're young, gung-ho Americans, some of whom seriously believe that they are from one of the greatest countries on earth.
They're students at good American Universities. Their year abroad will be as much about social networking (with the other exchange students) as it will be about experiencing and learning about life in Thailand. They aim high, planning to do internships at places like the UN, or multinational companies in Bangkok.
In terms of networking, my current job 'English Teacher' doesn't sound that impressive. I teach at a well known school in BKK. I work hard and do my best to plan 'interesting' lessons, as do all the other foreign teachers in my department. Theres a great work ethic. Everyone is professional. No 5 o'clock shadows. No turning up to work drunk, or throwing your guts up on the quiet because you woke up feeling more hung over than you thought you would be. The guys rarely talk about nights out with bar-girls on Nana. However, it doesn't matter. English teachers have a bad reputation amongst other farangs here. Teaching English is often seen as a job for the dregs, and the lowlife. Clueless backpacking foreigners who arrive with little money, become addicted to the free and easy lifestyle and need some way of earning enough money to keep themselves here.
The Americans were talking about going to the 'Weekend Market.' I guess they meant J.J. Maybe Khun C expected me to talk to them and help them get there. But I couldn't. It wasn't just because I was feeling shy.
Imagine that you're sat talking with your friends, having a loud (but probably private) conversation. Someone suddenly appears, introduces themselves, joins in and starts making their own suggestions. What would you think ? You would probably think they were rude (for listening to your conversation in the first place) and arrogant and a bit crazy (for suddenly showing up and expecting to be able to join in.)
Besides, I don't think the Americans really want 'help' or at least not 'help' in the way Khun C envisaged.
For most young westerners, backpacking, working or studying abroad is one big adventure. It's about being independent, doing new things and learning and finding out things for yourself. People don't like to be spoon fed lists of destinations, and easy, safe things to do. Where's the adventure in that ???
OK, they don't really want to be ripped off, or have their money, passport or i-Pod stolen, get stranded in the middle of nowhere and have to deal with people who can't understand a single word they say, but if they do, it just becomes another experience, something new to talk about when they sit in backpacker bars, meeting and chatting to other people, all eager (or, in the case of the more hellish sounding journeys, no-so eager) to experience similar things.
Western travellers want to have their own unique, individual experience. They want to believe that they're doing something different, something new, something that few others have had the opportunity to see. That's why they like discovering places for themselves, and like to talk about travelling to places with few other foreigners. Being somewhere for a few days and not seeing another farang becomes almost an aim in itself. It gives them a chance to experience what they believe to be 'real Thailand.' Western travellers also like to learn by making their own mistakes (as every mistake becomes another talking point.) The last thing they want is someone giving them advice, or 'telling' them where to go and how to get there.
Last year, most of the American exchange students talked about wanting a 'real' thai experience. ('real Thai' and 'real Thailand' are odd concepts foreigners have - they're best left for another blog methinks...) The ones that talked to me liked to talk about their trips to places with no other farang tourists, in a way that made it sound like it was the lack of foreigners that made the place itself so great.
Its funny. There are a lot of new faces here. I'm trying hard not to jump to conclusions too quickly, but I already get the impression that the personalities attached to them are going to be pretty similar. From what I heard earlier this morning, I can see the new guys and girls staying here being just as precious about having their 'own' adventure as the old lot were.
The Finish and the American girl seem really nice and friendly. But the others ??? If they're friendly, want to talk to me and ask me for help, sure I'll help them. I'm interested in knowing where they're from, what they are studying. it will be fun to find out more about them. What made them want to come here ? what do they think about the country so far ? It will be nice to make some new foreign friends, and have a group of people that I can talk to in English at home as well as at school.
But as far as 'taking care' goes, they'll be none of that. Foreigners like to believe that they can take care of themselves.
|Create Date : 18 สิงหาคม 2550
|Last Update : 18 สิงหาคม 2550 20:50:12 น.
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