(American/Thai), (Canadian/Thai). My mother is Thai and my father is American, so I seem to fit the bill. I was born in the States and grew up in various countries around the world, and although we spent many holidays in Thailand, I never really lived here. I was brought up going to American schools and speaking English with everyone except my mother. After having lived in many countries, including the US, and nearing my 30th birthday, I decided to embrace my inner Thai-ness and move to Thailand for a while. I’ve been here a year now and it’s taken me that long to really feel at home, although I loved it here pretty much from the first day.
When I was a child, I actually hated Thailand, and for a short time as a teenager I even hated being half Thai. It probably began with not being allowed to go out with my young cousins to the market, since my mother was afraid of me getting kidnapped since I was so white. I wasn’t allowed to eat the same foods as the other kids either, since my Western stomach couldn’t handle it. The joy of being so pale though, was that I was my grandmother’s favourite grandchild. Of course, the downside to this was intense jealousy from my cousins, who liked to call me “farang kee-nok” (farang bird poop because of my skin colour).
Fortunately, some of the other kids living nearby didn’t seem to care, so I had playmates anyway. But, as we grew up, I was no longer allowed to play with them on my holidays because we were all settling into our class roles and they were not of my class. This was all back in the day when there were no bilingual schools and I felt like I was the only leuk krueng in the world.
On holidays to Thailand I spent a lot of time digging in the yard for chik-goong (crickets) to eat, picking the ticks off the six guard dogs, and tying strings to dead scorpions and throwing them at the maids. It was always fun to go out to eat and have my mother try to force me to suck the eyeballs out of the fish to improve my brain. My father was often mediator in these situations, and I think every mixed-heritage kid needs that kind of balance.
Growing up in an American society, although not always living in the US, it was at times strange having an Asian mother. Looking back though, I can see that I was incredibly fortunate. Thais are very concerned about their families and it’s a beautiful trait that you don’t find so much in America. My mother was at every single school event I ever had and baked treats for me to take to class often. I was the envy of my classmates for her dedication and my birthday parties were especially fun and clever events. Even though she wasn’t that great at English herself, she taught me to read in English before I even went to school.
It was really wonderful to grow up bilingual. My mother tells me that I kept speaking a mix of Thai and English in kindergarten and really frightened the teacher until she found out I was bilingual. Many Thais who marry foreigners stop speaking Thai and I think it really puts kids at a disadvantage. I am so happy I can speak Thai now that I live here, and only wish that I had learned to read and write as well.
Growing up, there were small arguments about how a nice Thai girl should act and how I acted too American. Since I’m very fair-skinned I fit into the Western world better. Even now, in Thailand, people speak English to me before they speak Thai. Sometimes I get the Thai price and sometimes I end up paying the farang price but that’s okay. It’s interesting how in Thailand I’ve had people ask to have their photo taken with me, while in America I’ve been called a “gook” more times than I can count.
I recently went to our family reunion and there were 300 people I had never seen in my life there. Everyone was really nice and the oldest members of the family sat in a line and sprinkled water on everyone else for blessings. You can see that Thai people really care about their families. Since I’ve been here, my family has taken care of every need I’ve had, from taking me to get my drivers license to sending bowls of food over to the house that they gave me to live in. I know people in America whose families won’t even let them stay over when they visit!
My father loves the Thai family structure. He comes from a typical American family where no one speaks to each other anymore except when they want to borrow money from him. Here my mother’s family treats him like one of their own, even though he still doesn’t speak Thai after 35 years. I think he’s happy to know that he doesn’t have a typical American kid that’s going to leave him in a nursing home when he gets old.
Being a leuk krueng is really great. I feel like I have the best of both worlds. Although I am still learning about Thailand, I grow to love it more each day and to feel genuinely patriotic about the country. I’m not ashamed to admit, Thailand makes a great national anthem, and at the movies it makes me cry with pride every time. I actually feel closer to Thailand after one year of living here than in the ten or so years combined that I lived in America. I am annoyed when America bullies my new home and sometimes I am even embarrassed to be half American – my how things change.
Thai people have a unique spirit that I am so proud to be a part of. I dont feel like I’m half of two things anymore, but instead, I am two wholes. It’s no wonder I ended up marrying another leuk krueng of sorts South African/British. We joke about how we unite four continents. It really would be great though, if the world kept on mixing.