“Thailand Gal” is a relatively new member of the ever expanding Thai-focussed blog scene. These days, keeping up with relevant new sites and online enterprises could almost be a full-time job. On her site, Thailand Gal invites us to “read about my adventures as I go along about daily life, one Caucasian woman who has chosen to adopt Thai culture in a Western setting”.
She is remarkably open about her personal, cultural project – the site makes for a fascinating read. Some of the posts back in September that helpfully focus on co-opting culture, ego and kreng jai are particularly useful for putting recent posts in context. In her most recent post, titled “Coming home…going home”, Thailand Gal writes, in part:
There are aspects of Thai culture that to a born westerner are obnoxious. The lack of specifics, the disregard of time, the clearing of nostrils in public, squat toilets, trash cans filled with used toilet tissue, the lack of follow-through, (A Thai person will say anything, as long as it works in the moment), elements of kreng jai that feel dishonest and an assortment of other behaviors that really grated on my nerves. And that’s not to mention the heat and the bugs.
Still, there was a visceral connection letting me know that somehow, for some reason, I *belonged*. It felt familiar. There is something inherent to the culture that acknowledges and recognizes our humanity. There are rituals and customs that honor the emotional and spiritual dimensions of us that are not present (in my perception) here.
I’ve never belonged here. Honestly, there is a not a single day when I felt at home, comfortable, accepted or included. I always felt alienated, separate and not embraced. Western culture feels sterile to me, one-dimensional and market-centric…
…In Thailand, I felt almost instantly “at home”. The habits and customs took root rapidly. They just seemed so natural that it was seamless. I was smiling and wai-ing like I’d been at it all my life within a few weeks. My smiles were quite authentic, too, because everything was comfortable. It was like being included for the first time in the cycle and rhythm of life. Even the begging taxi drivers didn’t bother me much. It all seemed to be part of the deep, rich tapestry that is Thailand.
When I came back, it felt like being thrown into a pool of freezing water. Being away from Thailand hurt so much that it caused me physical pain. That is when I came up with the rather radical idea of bringing Thailand to me here until I can get there. Some of us are so open, so vulnerable, that we need these rituals and customs to maintain a feeling of connection. I’m probably on the far end of that continuum. While Thailand is in my heart daily ~ all the time ~ I also want the outer manifestations. I want to touch it, smell it, see it, and hear it. That is why I am surrounded by Morlam music. That is why I carry a small amount of Thai soil in a locket necklace which never comes off except when showering. That is why I cook Thai food. That is why I bought all the clothes (which I can ill-afford). Do I miss my jeans and t-shirts? Hell, yes! But my connection to *it* is so important that I willingly give up old ways that didn’t serve me or anyone who surrounds me. The name of the country is tattooed on my wrist. You know, I am saying this rather obviously. I’m fully committed.
And, yes, there are probably some people who think I am a flaming nut. I made a radical decision and radical decisions sometimes have radical consequences. That needs to be okay because if those perceptions limit my ability to be the best person I can be, we all lose.
While in some eyes, Thailand Gal may be pursuing an unconventional lifestyle, there is no shortage of people in all-corners of the West who are, in their own ways, living this kind of cross-cultural existence. While I have nothing but anecdote to rely on, I think this is increasingly common. Helpfully, Thailand Gal spells out some of the many reasons that people make this lifestyle choice.
It is for questions at the more general level of culture, alienation and identity that Thailand Gal’s diary provides the most food for thought. Perhaps New Mandala readers will have comments on the general social processes that are leading people towards acquiring the trappings of “Thai culture” or “Southeast Asian culture” in this way.
It would be great to get a productive conversation going on this issue. It is a topic that academics studying mainland Southeast Asia have usually ignored as they go about their own personal projects of cultural and social exploration. I, for one, will be checking back on Thailand Gal’s site as she continues her journey of self-discovery living Thai in Sacramento, California.