Chris and I have been told once or twice that we make a fun and unique pair, but never before have we caused so much gleeful delight than here in Thailand.
Mixed race couples are not uncommon in Thailand, so – all negative stereotypes and stigmas aside – it’s typical to see a white guy with an Asian woman. At first glance, no one bats an eye at us. What has caused a stir – or even shock to some – is to encounter a white guy, a “farang” or foreigner, speaking fluent Thai and traveling with an Asian woman who can only manage (to butcher) a few Thai conversational phrases like “Hello” and “Thank you” and “Chicken, please.”
Every day, at least once a day, we cause some kind of surprise to someone we encounter. Said a woman the other day after Chris ordered smoothies at her fruit stand: “If your face didn’t look so ‘farang,’ I would have thought you were Thai!” complimenting Chris’ accent, (or insulting his face). At the car rental shop today, a worker who was lazily sprawled out on the couch woke up long enough to see us walk in. As soon as Chris inquired about car rental prices – in Thai, of course – the man sat upright, blinked a few times, smiled broadly and glanced toward his other coworkers as if to say, “Are you seeing this?”
Double takes, eyebrow raises, bewildered silence, giddy laughter, even the urge to take a photo – the two of us have caused a range of reactions. The farther away we go from major cities, the more astonishment we spur. I like to think of us as spreading joy in small doses. We have become the story people tell at the end of the day: “You’ll never guess what…a white “farang” spoke perfect Thai and the Asian girl he was with said ‘hello’ instead of ‘Thank you.’ Ahahahahaha!” These encounters thrill me: The look of confusion when people address me first and Chris responds in Thai, the pause, the redirect of the conversation back to me, my bewildered stare as Chris again answers with some magnificent Thai response, a shared joke ensuing as everyone looks sympathetically at me.
The only encounter which I fully understood was a woman in Bangkok who summed it up most simply. We had just sat down to dinner at her food stand. After greeting us, she looked at me, pen and paper in hand, awaiting our order. Chris spoke up and ordered. Still looking at me, she answered back – a response I imagine was something like “You want fries with that?” or whatever the Thai equivalent is (probably an egg instead of fries). Chris responded again in Thai, which finally caused her to look at him, her eyes ping-ponging between us as she pieced together the situation.
Finally, she said to Chris in English, “You Thai,” and then jabbing her finger at me, “You FARANG!” she exclaimed, laughing as if she made the ironic joke of the year. Yes, Auntie – yes, I am ‘farang,’ Farang Fong. But my husband is a phenomenon and anomaly – a Phenomaly(!) who learned Thai while studying here, who cares about speaking well, who is trying to teach me enough Thai to better fit in – and together we make a fantastic and fun pair, even if slightly circus-like.