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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

She's a Thai

Asia, Thailand
Personal Essay

This week I received a very special compliment: "Sharon ben kone Thi laow." ("Sharon is a Thai person.") What satisfaction—I am considered one of the gang. Yahoo! Seven months in this country, with three months of intensive training, have granted me the auspicious title of "Thai person."

What is it, however, that makes me "Thai" rather than "American"? Perhaps this question will explain why I can no longer easily pinpoint my identity, and why I often feel like the person I was eight months ago has been lost somewhere along the way in my travels to this place high in the mountains of northern Thailand.

First, let's look at my physical appearance. Sure, my hair is dark for a farang (a westerner), but it is brown and curly, not straight and black. It definitely cannot be my body. Not only am I taller than most Thai men and women, but I probably weigh more as well. At least nobody calls me fat, which Thais have no qualms about saying. (My threats to cry nonstop may be the reason ooahp, or shapely, has been used to describe me instead.) Also, I have far more body hair than any of my Thai friends and co-workers. Thai women rarely have arm, leg, or armpit hair. My eyes are round, my skin is white, and I have body hair. There is no mistaking me for a Thai.

Maybe, then, it's my food consumption. My spicy food intake is definitely increasing. I can eat sticky rice with no problem and actually even prefer it to steamed rice. There is more to my "Thai-ness" than food, however. Possibly it's my conversational abilities. I can hold a simple conversation in Thai (and a tiny bit in the northern dialect, too). For example:

Sharon: Hello.
Thai: Hello.
Sharon: Have you eaten yet?
Thai: Yes. Have you eaten?
Sharon: No. What did you eat with rice today?
Thai: Spicy pepper dip. And what will you eat with rice today?
Sharon: I don't know yet. Probably stir-fried vegetables.
Thai (not knowing I don't eat meat): Will you eat beef or pork? Would you like some?
Sharon: No thanks, just vegetables.

Occasionally, conversations go further:

Thai: Do you have boyfriend? Are you married?
Sharon: Nope, not yet.
Thai: Do you want a Thai one? I know a nice guy.
Sharon: Sure, only if he'll do all my laundry and cooking. And could you find me a couple? One won't be enough.

Yes, I would definitely say I am very Thai in my conversational patterns. I raise my voice in conversation more than I ever have in my past 24 years of life. I ask Thai people personal questions with no qualms, like how old they are, how much money they make, where they are going, and what they are eating. People in America may think I am prying upon my return. 

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