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The 'koey farang" of Isaan
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    The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    FARANG'S WIVES
    Khon Kaen caves in
    The Nation, 4th January 2007

    The West comes knocking on the Northeast's door, and somehow this little city remains gentle and quiet

    Visitors have long arrived in Khon Kaen keen to treat their tastebuds to somtam, kai yang and other Isaan classics. These days they're just as likely to be tempted by some German bratwurst or pizza in a growing city that's building its own share of chic cafes.

    Yes, the West has found the province and made it farang-friendly, right down to the latest trends.

    "There were very few foreigners," Gerry Kaye says of the day he arrived six years ago to teach at Khon Kaen Vithes Suksa Bilingual School.

    He, for one, yearned for a decent cup of coffee, so after four years of doing without, he and his Thai wife and a friend opened the Kiwi Cafe next to Kaennakorn Lake.

    A decade ago a tiny smattering of restaurants, hotels and nightclubs did their best to keep 10,000 tourists a year happy. The "tourists" were mostly salesmen, so they were easily amused. If they found any foreign food, it was Vietnamese or Chinese.

    But once the first Friendship Bridge opened in nearby Nong Khai in 1994 and several countries established consular offices, things started to change.

    Another factor was the boom in koey farang - the "Western sons-in-law" marrying local women and settling down here.

    The Tourism Authority of Thailand counted 10,513 foreign guests in town in 2002, but says there were 80,756 in the first three-quarters of this year alone, the koey farang being counted among them, even though they live here.

    The demographic shift means that central Muang district now has every conceivable convenience, much to the delight of foreigners and most Thais, but there is less to offer in terms of authenticity.

    It's the influx of koey farang that's caused the greatest changes. There were enough of them five years ago that Lexens (Thailand) Co Ltd was founded in Khon Kaen to help non-Thai residents and companies figure things out.

    Now, as well as dining at Western restaurants or at a sushi bar, the citizens of Khon Kaen can stock up on imported ingredients at Makro, Tesco Lotus, Tops and Big C.

    "When I was a young girl, meeting a farang was exciting," says 34-year-old Benjamaporn Chamkrom, a lifelong resident who runs a pet salon where many of her customers are foreigners.

    The koey farang are indeed good for business. Spurred on by the lower cost of living, they rent more cars, buy bigger houses and condos and, when out on the town, spend lavishly.

    "They live like rajas here because their money is worth so much more than ours," says one Thai resident, asking not to be named. A decent meal can be had for Bt100, and even the hotel restaurants don't charge much more.

    Khon Kaen Chamber of Commerce chairman Surapol Thaveesangsakulthai says it's been estimated that 15,000 Westerners live in the Northeast, though only 20 per cent of those in the city are permanent residents. The rest come to enjoy the warmer winters.

    Surapol reckons that every family that has a koey farang spends at least Bt100,000 a month during the holiday season on food, travel and personal items, with the largesse being shared among the extended clan.

    Sofitel Raja Orchid Khon Kaen general manager Marc Begassat is unimpressed. The Westerners have Thai wives, he points out with amusement. "Why would they stay in my hotel?"

    Despite urban growth, the provincial charms here continue to be a draw, and for the most part the foreigners are eager to keep things quiet and small.

    Johan Schumacher, a German retiree, lived in Chiang Mai, Phuket and Pattaya before retreating from their hectic pace and settling with a Thai wife in Khon Kaen five years ago. He prefers this "small town" with its warm-hearted people who maintain a more countrified lifestyle and attitude.

    "I can still keep in touch with my friends and family the other side of the world - the Internet is everywhere," he says.

    Tommi Lehtonen, a Finn, scouted Kanchanaburi and Bangkok last year before falling in love with Khon Kaen. Here he found his future wife and opened the modest Pizza Uno in a small soi.

    The relaxed quality of life is a sharp contrast to his homeland, Lehtonen says.

    "You have a lot more money in Finland, but a much lower quality of life," he explains, looking forward to another evening bowling and enjoying "nice food among nice people".

    "Khon Kaen is the real Thailand - nice people and nice food," agrees Kaye, whose only complaint is that there's no taxi service in town.

    "Chiang Mai is too touristy, while Bangkok is too westernised."

    Will Khon Kaen hang on to its charm when there are more tourists and koey farang arriving all the time?

    "It'll change a lot again in the next few years," Kaye says.

    **Long way from home

    Sirinya Wattanasukchai

    The Nation

    Khon Kaen

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    Long way from home
    The Nation

    It's okay if the 'koey farang' of Isaan have to tell their wives where the Christmas bunting goes

    No, no, no, don't hang it there!" Howard Roscoe shouted to his wife and her helpers as they put up decorations at the Castle Howchow Beach Resort a week before Christmas.

    It was a bit awkward for the women. They grew up with Loy Krathong, not Christmas. Knowing where the tinsel goes isn't in their repertoire.

    "I don't usually celebrate Christmas," admitted Roscoe, who's lived in Khon Kaen with his Thai wife for 18 years.

    Commemorating the birth of Jesus does seem a little odd in tiny Kranuan district, 70 kilometres down a secondary highway from Khon Kaen town.

    But Kranuan is home to more than 100 koey farang - "Western sons-in-law".

    It's been estimated that 15,000 Westerners live in the Northeast, and half of Kranuan's koey farang are permanent residents.

    To Roscoe, the celebration is nothing more than just a dinner among friends.

    "Christmas is for children, basically, or it enables adults to be children for a few days once a year."

    He started hosting Christmas parties three years ago after repeated requests from the guests at his resort, which is something of a local koey farang gathering place. They come for breakfast or, later in the day, for a few drinks. At Christmas time they're hoping for a festive meal and seasonal fun.

    It can be a tricky time for the foreigners' Thai wives, especially if they're expected to cook the traditional Yule foods.

    Their gradual Westernisation was famously noted by Assoc Prof Supawatanakorn Wongthanavasu in a study published as "The Impact of Cross-Cultural Marriage on the Institution of the Family in Northeastern Thailand".

    But at the resort a week before Christmas - long after the tinsel and bunting usually goes up in the West - there wasn't even a Christmas tree in sight.

    There was talk about getting a tree up and trimmed, though, and chef Suwit Jekthaw was once again preparing four turkeys for the feast.

    "I felt really bad being on my own last year," said one of the guests, South African Samuel Bassay, who was in Bangkok at the time. He was grateful to be among friends.

    Whether it's as a Christian observance or just for fun, Bassay said, "there's always a good reason to have fun on the day".

    Nudaeng Eaktasaeng, who lives with a farang and has visited Britain, believes Westerners are obliged to celebrate the festival.

    "It has to be a fun time for them," she says, adding that her family planned to buy costumes and a Christmas tree.

    There would be a "compromise" barbecue banquet too, she said, in place of the usual dining arrangement, which is a steak for the farang and local dishes for the Thais.

    Paul and Amnuay Prachumchai Wilson just got back from England in time for Christmas but didn't plan any special celebration. A tree and traditional dishes might be symbolic of the season, Paul said, but the true spirit of the occasion is in the family gatherings.

    How far does the Westernisation go? Australian Ken Gordon, who teaches English at Srikranuan School, says no one is curtailed by the Christian traditions or obliged to join in, just as in his country Thais are welcome to celebrate Songkran.

    While Gordon wants to learn more about local traditions, like the early-summer Boon Bang Fai festival, when rockets are launched to bring the rains, local people and his students are keen to learn more about his culture.

    He, for one, appreciates that no one overdoes the Christmas celebrations in Kranuan.

    "I can show you how it's being overdone in the West, in a very commercial way. Santa is being created by Coca Cola. People spend a fortune on presents!"

    The Yule observations here are indeed modest, a nostalgic indulgence for the koey farang who miss this slice of life back home. In England, Amnuay said, she and other Thai wives dressed up for Songkran.

    The festive mingling of cultures isn't worrying anyone in Kranuan, although one elderly resident who asked not to be named cautioned that "we don't know what will happen if the number of koey farang keeps increasing".

    Nuan Sarnsorn, director of the Tourism Authority of Thailand's regional office, says there's nothing to worry about if Santa shows up in Isaan, or even a nativity scene in someone's front yard for that matter.

    The agency neither promotes nor discourages foreign festivities, he says, adding that the resident foreigners are always invited to join in local traditions.

    Nuan says a couple of Europeans even took part in the recent puk sieo ceremony, in which pairs of best friends receive blessings.

    "We aren't going to stop them - we invite them to be one of us."

    Sirinya Wattanasukchai

    The Nation

    Kranuan, Khon Kaen

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    I wonder if the guy in the article knew that the modern Santa was indeed created by Coca-Cola -prior to a 1930's Christmas ad campaign by Coca-Cola Santa always wore green clothes.
    Also I am a bit surprised on the insistence on turkey. I had a set Christmas dinner in Thailand in 2004 along with 30 or so other people, most of us opted for the alternative pepper-steak rather than bland turkey -I note what the Thai wives thought of the Christmas meal is not recorded

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    I find the excessive decoration and the Christmas music in banks, shopping centres, restaurants etc nauseating, and the piles of small presents going around absolutely ridiculous (I have 25 students at the moment and about 50 colleagues... you can imagine). I received so many boxes of inedible butter and almond cookies that I can hardly find more people to pass them on to (maybe I should get up early for alms-giving? ) for a change, I bought potted bamboo for my colleagues - a Chinese custom. in general, it seems to me that Santa, the Christmas trees, lights etc have become the props for "farang new year", not Christmas, but it is still disturbing. I know, I shouldn't live in Chiang Mai then. anyway, I mean I don't mind what people do individually, but the general city atmosphere resembled a bit too much the overshot back home, and it WASN'T the farangs in the first place who did it but the Thais, who knows for whatever reason. I don't think the sizeable expat population forced anyone to adopt jingle bells as the national anthem of the month, and decorate every single shop with a tree. I know, Thais take every excuse for fun, party, and colourful, Chinese-style tasteless decoration.... but....
    sorry, I know the thread starter was about Isaan villages and small towns, but....

    turkey is bland? geez. still looking for a restaurant in CM (not some posh hotel restaurant) that serves turkey outside of the thanksgiving & Christmas season. it's the best meat if the right spices are added.
    btw, in Hungary we have fish for Christmas. definitely no poultry in the holiday season!

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    Quote Originally Posted by Khun Don
    I wonder if the guy in the article knew that the modern Santa was indeed created by Coca-Cola -prior to a 1930's Christmas ad campaign by Coca-Cola Santa always wore green clothes.
    Also I am a bit surprised on the insistence on turkey. I had a set Christmas dinner in Thailand in 2004 along with 30 or so other people, most of us opted for the alternative pepper-steak rather than bland turkey -I note what the Thai wives thought of the Christmas meal is not recorded
    I hate to say this given the discussion going on in another thread but a turkey that has lived in a none industrial way is anything but bland. You should try one of their wild brethren that roams around our local area. The difference between the two is that of chalk and cheese. "Gamey" I think is the word that describes the wild bird!

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    We always had a turkey on the plank for Thanksgiving and Ham for Xmas and always along with the ham was Lutefisk and Lefthsa [sp][norskie flat bread].

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    Sadly, I have never tasted wild turkey, Pheasant and Partridge, yes-I went for grilled gammon with pineapple with baked potatoes this Christmas-which was tasty.

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    ahh, what a disappointment. I thought this thread was titled "Katoey farang" !!!!
    My eyes are getting bad,

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerome View Post
    ahh, what a disappointment. I thought this thread was titled "Katoey farang" !!!!
    My eyes are getting bad,

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    Re: The 'koey farang" of Isaan

    Quote Originally Posted by Peterg View Post
    You should try one of their wild brethren that roams around our local area. The difference between the two is that of chalk and cheese. "Gamey" I think is the word that describes the wild bird!
    The wild turkeys around here are completely inedible. We shot four of them last year because a friend insisted they would taste good. They were slow-cooked and casseroled and looked great on the table but the only problem was that the meat was unbelievably tough and completely inedible. You know that old story about cooking a boot with your turkey.

    Oh, you don't know the story? Well you cook the turkey and the old boot together in a pot for six hours. Then throw the turkey away and eat the boot.

    I remember reading somewhere that turkeys are good to eat in the months without an "r" (May to August) but that would apply only to the southern hemisphere. And if Thai wild turkeys have access to rice (which they surely would) they would probably be much fatter and more tender than ours.
    Ӽ

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