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Half-thai? thai growing up abroad?
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  1. #1
    nicodraxus Guest
    Hey all, I'm new here. I've been surfing through the posts for several hours now, and I'm ready to make a plea for help.

    My name is Owen Schaefer. I found your site while searching for Thai web references because I'm doing a little research. It may sound odd to some of you, but I am currently working on a web-comic to be put up on my site, and I if you don't mind I wanted to ask some questions to anyone who wants to answer.

    This goes out particularly to Vali (I like your attitude&#33, but because the main character in my story will be half-Thai, half-Canadian (or American - it's undecided so far) it would also be great if any half-Thai people that grew up in the States or Canada, or anywhere else for that matter, shared their experiences with me. I'm interested mainly in times that you went to Thailand to visit, so where you grew up is not so important.

    Myself, I'm pretty white. Irish-immigrants-to-Canada on my mother's side, and my father is German. But I can understand the strangeness of meeting people that you are related to and not being able to speak the language, or barely being able. My German is terrible to non-existent. But I have only met relatives who came to or live in Canada. I haven't yet visited Germany.

    You may well be asking, "Why is this guy writing a comic about a half-Thai girl?" Well, I've been living in Japan for four years now, and I've visited a lot of Asian countries. I've been to Thailand twice now, and spent almost two months there the last time I went. I still think it is one of the most wonderful places I have ever been. While I was visiting, I wrote a lot of short stories set in the countries that I'd travelled to. I often wondered what it would be like for a half-Thai person to visit Koh Pha-ngan - to be a tourist, but feel like you belong in some faint way. Or to perhaps feel more that you should belong, but you don't. The story may differ from your situation (after all, it's fiction) but anything you can tell me will be to its benefit. The best fiction is still believable.

    I don't intend racial issues to be strong in the story, so I'm not digging for dirt. Quite the opposite. I am hoping my character's experience will be a good one, and that her upbringing will also have been good. Just that she will be trying to reconcile the two halves of herself in, what is for her, foreign surroundings. She will most likely identify quite stongly with her home country, but she has a relative on the island, and so is discovering her roots. I have not yet decided a definite ending for the story, or even a solid story line, having changed it almost completely from the original story I wrote. It will be a kind of serial, working its own way out in the end.

    In a way, it's a kind of practice comic. My first attempt. (God, please don't think me one of those manga geeks that came to Japan to find a japanese girlfriend. I hate those guys. I don't draw Japanese style - I hope - nor am I a geek, and my girlfriend, oddly enough, is Taiwanese.)

    Anyway, that is a long post simply to ask anyone who would like to, to tell me a couple of stories about visiting your relatives in Thailand, and your background. Where were you from? Where have you visited? How much do you remember of your childhood in Thailand? Did your Thai relatives really feel like family at first? Later? Did you get treated very differently because you were half (if you are half)? Are you more comfortable in English or Thai, or equal in both? When you visit Thailand do strangers assume you are local or a tourist? Do you feel at home?

    If you feel like telling me a story or two I'd be deeply grateful. Feel free to e-mail me if you don't want to post something long and personal. I know that comics frequently have a reputation of being silly, or for children, or Japanese manga geeks, but they can also be quite serious things. Not everyone writes about super-heroes, and I'm dedicated to making this the best story that I can.

    Naturally I will let you all know when the site is up and running.

    Thanks!

  2. #2
    Vali Guest
    Haha, well I guess it's a good thing I opened and read this topic. I will probably just add little tid-bits here and there when I remember something of significance.

    But I'll start it off now... I was born in the US but I moved to Thailand when I was 2 years old, so my first memories are in Thailand. I lived in Pratu Nam part of Bangkok in a family compound. At that point in time, nearly the whole family (grandparents, 3 aunts/uncles, 8 cousins, plus my brother and mom) except my dad and one other set of aunt/uncle 2 (unborn?) cousins in California.

    So anyway, it was quite the family circus, with a huge family dinner everynight. I think I picked up Thai fairly easily and quickly since I was only a toddler. I know that by the time I was 4 I spoke about as well as my other cousins. I went to an international preschool, but it had the Western break from June to August, so during that time I went to a Thai anuban with my cousins. I'm told that I was quite the outgoing child (which makes sense, considering how I am now) and also very talkative (in Thai of course by that time).

    Basically, during those years, aside from the fact that I've always been white as a , I was almost a normal Thai kid in Pratu Nam. I'd go across the street to a little shop and buy candy or coke, etc...

    So then I left. At first when I returned to the States, I didn't want to be here. I started kindergarten but I refused to speak English. So usually I didn't speak at all, even though I had gone to an English-speaking school in Thailand. When I was asked a question I sometimes answered in Thai and all of this worried the teacher so there were some meetings my parents had to go to haha. Unfortunately, my mom, with whom I always talked in Thai, had to go to Chicago to get a job (and I stayed with my dad and brother in Minneapolis). So for the next year and a half or so, I didn't speak Thai at all. And I think that's when most of it disappeared. Of course the continuation of not speaking much Thai through the 8th grade certainly didn't help.

    Hmm... Visits...
    Let's see, I went in the summer after 2nd grade. I had become really shy with my relatives. Especially the adults. Since I was too afraid to try speaking Thai again I was afraid that they (particularly my grandparents) would hate me for not being able to speak Thai. The month there helped though, I watched a Thai soap opera called Dow Prasuk and I really loved it, so I learned to sing the theme song. And my cousins put me up to singing it in front of my aunts/uncles/grandparents, but I chickened out. I could sing it perfectly for my cousins, but not the adults. Shrug.

    Actually it's sort of family tradition to have us all go out to Ambassador Jom Tien for a weekend... which is always fun to roam the huge hotel with family and just relax. Oh yea and by this time one of the families had moved out of the family compound and to their own house. What happened was some people tried to build a hotel in the lot behind us and it shifted the ground too much and cracked part of the left house.

    So then the next time I went was actually 4 years later, I know... a LONG time. It was after 6th grade. Let's see, I was still pretty shy with speaking Thai to my elders. And even now with my cousins. My cousins would try to trick me into saying something dumb, but I was smart enough (had retained enough) to know the meanings of words, I just couldn't form them in my mouth.

    My cousins did however convince me to call another one of my cousins "eeheeya" (bad, curse word, meaning literally 'lizard' but it's culturally translated to a lot worse than that)... Boy did that get me in trouble. Everyone was crying. My mom and aunts/uncles were all furious with me and the cousin who told me to say it.

    So I think this was the year we went up to Chiang Rai... we hit up the reg tourist spots like the Golden Triangle... but we also stopped at a bunch of little villages with "factories" for making huge parasols ... I dunno I slept most of the time, I guess showing that as a 12 year old I didn't really care about the Thai culture. Then again, I've never really related to the Northern Thai people, or for that matter any "country" folk. I'm very much a Bangkok kid. Although I do have a larger interest in the other areas of Thailand now. Heh.

    Wow I sure did ramble a lot. It's probably too much for one setting as is, so I'll just add on about my later/other "adventures" later haha... what a bore!

  3. #3
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    Gor Gai

    No, Vali, it is quite interesting actually. Please continue next time; I'm all ears!

  4. #4
    delawang Guest
    Pratunam and Minneapolis- I can't think of two more different places!

  5. #5
    nicodraxus Guest
    I have to get going to work, so I just wanted to post a quick note of thanks. Vali, those stories are great! I can't wait to hear more. You're far from being a bore.

    After I posted, I was kind of sorry about the title I chose for the thread. It's kinda lame. Like the titles you get on junk-mail "In debt? Too many bills?" Yeesh. What was I thinking? I'm glad a couple of people gave it chance.

  6. #6
    Vali Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by [b
    Quote[/b] (delawang @ May 13 2003,08:40)]Pratunam and Minneapolis- I can't think of two more different places!
    I can! A completely white rich suburb of Minneapolis!

    But I'll try to continue a bit with my stories... Let's see, the next time I traveled to Thailand was after 8th grade. It was fun because I, for no real reason, got to leave school early to go to Thailand (although waiting a few days wouldn't have affected travel plans) haha. So I got out of a few Finals YAY. And I got to rub it into all of my friends. That time I had been having a MAJOR problem with this crush I had... so I wasn't the happiest camper. Heh. But we took a trip down to Phuket that year (where I've been numerous times). I got my hair all braided down there, which I left in for a month so that I could show a few friends and brag about how I payed 4 dollars and they pay 50 every time they go to Mexico.

    I really hated seafood... In fact, I just remembered, on the previous trip (6th grade) I had been a vegetarian, which caused some problems because my grandmother and others refused to accept this and tried to MAKE me eat fish and chicken. I spose their persuasion, although there was no immediate effect, ended up converting me back to an omnivore a few months later. Heh, there's a saying that my family always recites, that fish is brain food...

    Yea but an interesting thing was going on a boat tour (just a little skipper long-boat) to islands around Phuket. What particularly frightened me were the people who lived in the middle of the ocean (they're houses I guess had sticks coming down but were floating). Seeing as I can't swim it was pretty scary. I enjoyed going through the mangroves and under the beautiful caves, but I didn't like be in the middle of the ocean. So we stopped at the tourist-worn James Bond Island and took a classy (Charlie's Angels type) picture. And that was really the bulk of what happened on that trip. As far as communicating with family, it wasn't really much of an issue. My cousins had visited us in the US a year before and they sort of challenged me because they said my brother was better at Thai than I was... so on this trip I had to try to be better than my brother which means I had to try to talk. When I did I had quite a good accent, but my brother still spoke more. Grr.

    Oh yea, we also went to China on this trip, on a Thai tour. A little problematic because my brother, dad, and I would go off exploring on our own (since we couldn't follow the tour guide's ramblings very well) but my dad goes at an immensely slow pace so the group was always waiting for us. I felt bad. All the younger girls on the trip (23 and under) had the biggest thing for my 17 year old brother. They kept saying how he looked like Willy McIntire (some half Thai actor). That along with the history of my mom always saying that my brother looks more Thai than I do upset me.

    I really want(ed) to look more Thai than I do. When I was 4 I wanted to dye my hair black. I think it's because I am VERY proud that my mom is Thai and all of that Thai heritage stuff, but if you saw me on the street, MOST people wouldn't think right away that I had any Asian in me at all. And I dunno, I'm a very outgoing person, as I said before, and I just kinda wished that I could show more Thai-ness on the outside you know. I dunno, it's a dumb image thing, but it's how I've felt since I was super young.

    Going to Beijing and Italy a few months prior made me realise something; I felt MUCH safer on the streets of Bangkok than the streets of Rome or Beijing. Maybe it was the familiarity I had with Pratu Nam, but even other areas of Bangkok... I still felt safer. Maybe it IS safer for EVERYBODY, I don't know. But I do know that it feels safer for me. I'm not always on guard for a pick pocket and I've never been pick-pocketed in Thailand. I stroll down city streets at midnight with a few girl friends and I don't feel the slightest bit scared. Kinda odd.

    Then there was something big. In March of 2000, my uncle died of cancer. I was told that he had cancer on the 1998 visit. After he died, my mom told me that he had actually had cancer way back when I was living in Bangkok in the late 80s. The problem was, I was the first person in the US to find out. The house had been empty in the morning, when he died (evening in Thailand), so the family's telephone calls were not received. It was in my email. I checked it after school and it just said that he had passed away. I went to get my mom and told her to get her glasses, I think I was kinda in shock. She was laughing cuz she didn't know what was going on. When she checked the computer she burst out weeping. Then so did I. I think mostly because my mom was going through so much pain. But I also cried for my cousins, his sons and daughter.

    The next day my mom was buying tickets to go to the funeral. I wanted to go. I said, "he was MY UNCLE" but my mom told me I never really knew him. That kinda hurt, but it also made me think. I had never been REALLY close to any of my aunts/uncles, I mean, how close can you get when you're a little kid? but of all of them I was most distant from him. It made me wish that I could take back years and re-do them. Re-live them.

    It was the same year that he died that I was in a frenzy to study abroad. And, after his death, my mom decided to go back to Thailand for at least a year to help out with the family business. So it was natural for me to go with. And that's when I enrolled at International School Bangkok and moved to my mom's semi-new previously vacant house in Nonthaburi.

    As a 16 year old in Bangkok, I have endless amounts of stories. But I'll try to just touch on some and highlight the experiences I had with the Thai community and my personal feelings about my Thai background. Actually, I have a slight headache and computers tend to make em worse, so I shall talk bout those later.

  7. #7
    nicodraxus Guest
    Ouch. Cliffhanger!

  8. #8
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    Great story! How fascinating...

  9. #9
    sarsha65 Guest

    thumbs up

    Hi there this is my first time here,i have just read about you Vali and find your life very interesting you go girl...I live in Australia and am single mum my daughter is 3 she is part thai i wonder what she will grown up thinking i have not taken her to thailand yet but hope to soon.I have just started to take Thai language lessons and am enjoying it very much.I am Australian and her father lives in thailand...Anyway just wanted to say enjoyed reading your post and look forward to hear more...thanks.....

  10. #10
    Vali Guest
    Alright, so as a 16 year-old foreigner kid in Bangkok last year, it was super rockin!

    I became SO much more comfortable with my Thai, as I was taking a class at school and a bunch of my close friends were Thai/Indian-Thai and were fluent. So basically I could go anywhere around Bangkok and speak to anyone with no problem. Even with my grandparents, it became so much easier. One day at Siam Square a shop-keeper said I looked like Louis (from Joni and Louis) and I was like "uhhh, Louis is a guy, I'm a girl..." Haha, I ended up getting that quite a few times throughout the year.

    After the 9/11 thing, our school/embassy advised us Americans to play down our Americaness. So we did. In cabs and what not, if I was asked my nationality I'd say Canadian or Dutch or SOMETHING. It was kinda fun actually.

    Of course, just like I yearn for Manao Soda (among other things) now, when I was in Bangkok I NEEDED Subway sandwiches. So when I went on a soccer trip to Singapore my buds and I were in HEAVEN we had Subway like every meal.

    I dunno, I'm having a hard time thinking of interesting things right now. I guess there's just so many experiences that one has over the course of a year, looking back, it's hard to highlight the important parts.

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