Introduction of Today’s Guest
Today’s guest was born in Roi-Et, in the north-east of Thailand, but spent most of her time living with her older sister in Khon Kaen, also in the north-east of Thailand. She moved to London, England 30 years ago and tells us about life in England.
These days she describes herself as having a half English and half Thai mentality. She has never been shy of calling a spade a spade – to speak her mind, but having recently got engaged, I wondered if she’d mellowed. Time to find out.
Introducing Keown Wangwan
How long have you lived in the UK and where in the UK do you live now?
(Keown) I have lived in the United Kingdom for 30 years now and class myself as having a half English half Thai mentality. I appreciate the British way of life these days and like how people are treated here. I now live in Oxfordshire, England with my fiancé who I just recently got engaged to.
What first took you to England and where was the first place you lived?
(Keown) Goodness me, now you are going back a long way. I was 17 years of age at the time and had just began my work experience with a tour company in Bangkok. My boss was an English woman who had lived and worked in Bangkok for quite sometime. I loved the job and enjoyed to be in and around Europeans practising my English language.
The job also gave me a way to make my family proud, I wanted my mother to be proud of me. I adored my mother dearly, most of us do. Mother and father are number one in our lives and although my father’s behaviour was not always to my liking, I did not hold it against him.
My boss liked me and was always so kind and helpful to me. We talked a lot, but most of the girls in the office did not communicate with her much as they were too shy and scared to speak English. Not me though, I was close to my boss and we treated each other more like friends really. My boss had a son who visited from England on occasions and I could tell that he had taken a liking to me.
No question required Keown – please continue with the story.
(Keown) Anyway her son returned to Thailand for a three-week period he was only 22 years old, cute, sweet, very polite the perfect English gentleman. For three weeks we had so much fun together eating out, night clubs and the beaches, I really liked him a lot. He returned to England at the end of the three-week period, but promised to visit me again. Whilst in England he wrote to me every week and phoned every day, he was so romantic and impressed me greatly.
His mother told me that he had completely fallen for me and he made a further two visits in a short space of time. After this he asked me to visit England. I thought it was the chance for a perfect combination that of visiting him and enrolment on an English language course. With the help of my boss in a paper work sense and the help of my sister in a financial sense I went to England. I returned to Thailand and went back to England two times during the experimental process, before he declared his love for me and I moved to North London, England a place called Swiss Cottage.
That’s a great story Keown. Can I assume that as you are still in England today that the relationship was a happy ever after outcome?
(Keown) No, things changed very quickly and the romance of our relationship was never really re-discovered and I felt totally on my own in a strange land, but yes more than 30 years later – I am still in England.
Rewinding a bit, you were 17 years old when leaving the north-east of Thailand for the big metropolis of Bangkok. I have heard that a native north-east girl really has to fight to be accepted in the big city.
(Keown) Yes, it’s the poor farmers daughter scenario. If you are from the north-east, a poor farmers daughter and uneducated, you certainly won’t get any respect from those that live in the city. By the way that is not only just in Bangkok either. Thirty years ago darker skin and a strong north-east (isaan) accent would cause you to be the butt of jokes, but not so now.
I was picked on at school, because of my darker skin and to make it worse I had curly hair as well. Having curly hair is rather odd and I was unlike anybody else. It is very rare for girls to have curly hair unless her family is mixed race, but I was certainly not.
People actually respected my parents especially my father’s family as they are high in status regarding career and wealth. My father’s brother was an MP, so yes I did get some benefits from his position. I would visit my uncle in Bangkok during the school holidays and he would get me jobs I would never have been able to get myself.
When I was doing my work experience in Bangkok, just after finishing school, I did find that the Bangkok city girls looked down on me. However that was until they found out who I was and how I got the job, then their attitudes changed instantly and they treated me much better.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but on this subject I don’t think it will ever change. If you’re a farmer or your parents are doing manual labour jobs then discrimination can be terrible. My father’s side were higher up the status scale than my mum’s side. My mum comes from a normal family, but my grand father chose my mum for my father, because she was a nice girl and well-behaved.
What did you think of England when you first arrived and did it take you long to adapt to the life change?
(Keown) My first impressions of England were not great at all, it was winter, freezing every day and dark early. For the first 6 months I cried often, I missed my parents and my environment and just wanted to go home. However I had come this far, so I made myself mentally strong to try to adjust to my new life.
My husband took two weeks off work to try to help me settle in and did all he could to make me feel as comfortable as possible. I was introduced to one person after another who I did not know and did not understand as they spoke one hundred miles an hour at me. Mostly I noticed that everyone looked so serious it was hard to see a smile, I thought it must be to do with the weather.
Most of all though I missed my mother (who was the main person in my life) and the whole family connection of my brothers and sisters. I was very young when I got married and then had to adapt to a totally new culture and environment. I love and was used to the basic way of life, I enjoy planting, growing vegetables, looking at beautiful flowers, animals/nature, helping and being with the family. I had now arrived in the middle of an over crowded concrete jungle called London and I felt totally over whelmed and unhappy.
You found London to be an over crowded concrete jungle, but you spent a proportion of time in Bangkok working. Did you not see Bangkok in the same light?
(Keown) Yes I did, I actually hate Bangkok. Too many people, too many cars and full of concrete and pollution. London was the same, but the difference being it was cleaner and had better quality housing, however that still did not impress me. No, give me the simple life in a natural environment with cleaner and fresher air any day.
Have you learned to adapt to England and English life over the years?
(Keown) Yes, I have learned to adapt to life in England and I do like quite a lot of things here. I like the fact that I am free to work where ever I choose and that the people in the work place are really great. I think being treated with fairness and equality is high on my list of values and in Britain I have found a place where that certainly happens.
Here I can train to do any number of jobs, but in Thailand it’s all about the qualifications. I find people easier to work with here than the Thais, I know that does not sound very good, but I am happier to work with British people.
I spent 14 years living in London and found people were not so friendly, in fact I went to a wedding in London very recently. My friends and I were placed at a table with people we didn’t know and the people at the table treated us as if we didn’t exist. I found that very rude. However, travel out a bit and I feel people are much friendlier, especially up north.
I love the British summer time, even if it does still rain. I still find it better than the sapping heat of Thailand. I love summer and Autumn in England and I am totally addicted to English Tea. I always take lots of Tea back with me when I visit Thailand, but I am not so impressed with the western food though as it’s too fattening.
What do you do now for a living in England?
(Keown) For the last 10 years I have worked for a Social Care Agency, but before that I did all sorts of different work. I trained and worked as a Thai chef whilst living in London and also ran my own Thai Restaurant up north in Lincoln. I packed in being a chef and then trained to be a florist. I ran a florist shop for a friend, but left as it was too bloody cold. I actually loved this work, but you couldn’t have any heat in the working environment or you’d kill the flowers. I also tried doing Office work – Software testing but lasted bout 2 months. It’s not really my thing, it did my bloody head in just sitting in one place all the time.
What is the cost of living like in England?
(Keown) I find it expensive. What kills me is renting a place to live and the bills that come with that. Things like council tax, gas, electric etc., so expensive. The other big expense is having a car. I need the car for my job, but of course it’s not just having the car it’s the fuel, road tax, insurance and maintenance as well. It’s a continual cycle as all of my earnings go on rent and car. I have to work 7 days a week just to keep up with the basic cost of living.
Could you give me three things that in your opinion are great about living in England? Could you then give me three things that are not so good about living in England?
(Keown) Three good things
1) Equal Opportunities – regardless of race.
2) Fairness and respect among people.
3) The law protecting your rights – regardless of race.
Three Not so good Things
1) The darn weather – I hate cold …. (laughter)
2) Cost of living – too bloody expensive
3) Stress on people’s faces, no one smiling much. I sometimes wish people were a bit more friendlier and less stressed.
What have you found have been the main problems that you have experienced regarding relationships with Western men, especially in this case – British men.
(Keown) One of the first problems was that of who controls the family finances. When I was growing up, my mother was always in charge of the family finances, she would go to my Dad’s place of employment at the end of the month to collect my father’s salary. Dad would ask for a bit of money back for cigarettes and other expenses, but he was fine as he always got his occupational perks from clients.
I was mostly familiar with the woman controlling the finances in Thailand, but my husband said it does not work like that here and after heavy debate he ran the finances. He thought I was trying to control him by me running the finances and giving him a bit of money here and there.
It did not work either way actually as he would give me enough money to buy food and would take me to the shops if there were other things I needed. I was not at all comfortable with this and decided I wanted to go to work and earn my own money.
Secondly for me it was the lack of understanding of my strong family bond. I loved him, but my love for the family comes above any man. I wanted him to love and care for my family the same as I do , but he could not understand that concept and it caused no end of rows.
Thirdly, but probably the biggest factor is misunderstandings in communication. Understanding of each others culture, habits, personality combined with of course language…. basically grabbing hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Relationships are hard enough with two people from the same culture let alone different cultures. Thai and British relationships usually equal culture crash and not many of the relationships are lucky enough to survive. Both sides expecting the other side to understand how he or she is feeling on a daily basis. I’ve been in and out of relationships over the years, but that’s my own choosing as I have never wanted commitment until recently. I’ve now just got engaged. It took me years to understand or even want a relationship, but I am now happy in a relationship and ready to settle down .
Are there many other Thai nationals that you know living in or around your area and do they all settle in to British life well? Do you find that most of the cross-cultural relationships / marriages last between Thais and Brits or is that not the case? If they don’t last – what seems to be the main problems from what you’ve seen or heard?
(Keown) Ah, now this is an interesting part. Yes, there are a lot of Thai communities in and around where I live in Oxfordshire and I know a lot of the women. Most of the Thai women have young children and are married to old guys. This is where the social life aspect of the equation is totally all wrong. The women go night clubbing and attend parties without their husbands because these guys are just too old to be out clubbing. Furthermore and in my opinion, I don’t know how you’d actually fancy any of them as they are mostly just old and totally out of shape. They are certainly not to my liking.
We’d hit the town every weekend, but I’m the only single woman. Most of them wished that they could be free and independent like me, but financially they can’t afford to. They struggle to cope with the children. I mean the helps not here like back in Thailand. You can’t just drop the children at mum’s or the relatives and go about your business.
The sad thing is, a lot ended up cheating on their husbands. Some have been caught out and some …. not yet. It’s not surprising really as to why they hook up with younger guys from the nightclubs etc. Mostly it’s that the guys are fit, give them compliments and attention plus the husband is glued at home. A touch of ” well the cat’s away ” – you might say.
In my opinion their marriages are just a convenience for both sides. The Thai woman wants to come to Britain for a better life and the British men need someone to look after them. Two people needing each other and it doesn’t matter what he looks like. There’s no real love from passion, it’s more of a love from sympathy – That’s what I see anyway.
A lot of the women end up working very hard physically to actually support their husbands and this is totally unacceptable to Thais. The trouble for them though is they’ve come this far and it would be a shame to go back now. The shame is not only in that it would be a pity, but that they would lose face terribly back home. Doing cleaning jobs is hard going for them, but their English language is not good enough to get other jobs. I wouldn’t call myself lucky though as I’ve never really relied on anybody. I’ve done my schooling in London, I’ve done my training in other jobs and I’ve worked hard to be where I am now.
Talking with Panada in the Thais abroad interview from Venice , Italy; she spoke of Italian men being the worlds great romantics and the majority having sweet mouths – ปากหวาน – paak waan . Before your recent engagement did you find you had to bat way a few British Romeo’s and is there a major difference between British men and Thai men in their approach to wooing a lady?
(Keown) From traveling in Europe I came across different men in various countries. Maybe it’s just that I got used to English men, but I couldn’t connect with these guys. I found when talking to them, they spoke mostly about themselves – so boring. I won’t mention which countries they came from.
I guess I’m too picky in general. I’ve met some great English guys in the past, but I never wanted to give up my freedom for any of them. I find English guys have great charm and are very respectful towards women. I find they are also polite, attentive and make a woman feel special and that’s what I love about them.
When comparing English men to Thai men then English men win hands down. I’m sure there are good Thai men, but it’s very hard to meet one. Thai men have a bad reputation for both wife-beating and womanizing. In my family alone both of these traits were evident…. my Dad, Brother, Brother In Law, cousins, the list is endless.
The big difference is that In Britain the law protects women, but in Thailand this is not the case. in Thailand protection for women is not there and this gives Thai men the freedom to have more wives and mistresses. This has occurred generation after generation and it will never change.
I just got engaged recently, I’ve finally found my match. My fiancé is quite a bit younger than me , but what the hell. I don’t do normal and life’s too darn short to give a toss about what people think of me. I don’t go in for the old man – young Thai woman thing and never have done. I had my chance if I wanted it. This older guy wanted to give me the world, but I said no thanks. Security and the comfort zone are not my cup of tea. I prefer being a free-spirit, having fun and doing what I want. Life’s a discovery, an exploration and freedom is far too precious to exchange for settling down, cosy nights by the fire and having lots of kids….. No bloody thanks.
Do you have family still living in Thailand? If so do you miss family a lot and do you miss Thailand? How often do you manage to get back to Thailand for a visit.
(Keown) Yes, I still have family in Thailand, both in Khon Kaen and Roi-et. On my last visit this year I visited my brother and his family in Roi-et. I saw all my nieces and his first wife…. yep, he’s got two wives, but I never saw the second wife. No matter how long I’ve been in the UK, I still get terribly homesick sometimes. My family are my priority and I make sure I get home for a visit every year. It’s an amazing feeling when I get home and see everybody.
What are your passions Keown? What do you love to do?
(Keown) My passions these days are very simple pleasures. I have two kittens that I adore, they are now 4 months old and live with me and my fiancé. I still love growing my vegetables and flowers every year and still love the self-sufficient lifestyle, that’s not changed. A few years ago I added exercise to my life and that is a big passion. I walk 8 – 10 hours every week which makes me feel terrific. It makes me feel good and valuable that I contribute towards my health.
I’d still eventually like to spend summers in England and the winter months in Thailand, but I’m seeing Thailand in a different light these days. I get frustrated and annoyed with how the system works in Thailand and this causes me to miss and appreciate England more. Don’t get me wrong, I still love Thailand as it’s my home, but England’s my home as well. I still have so much to do and achieve yet before I retire and time to design new plans and dreams.
The Final Word
(Keown) Moving away from home at an early age has changed my outlook on life completely. I no longer agree with my family’s philosophy back home about money and possessions and unfortunately even fell out with my sister about this. My values now are based on fairness and honesty. I get so angry when any of my sisters lie to me because they want something from me. I’m really glad that I’ve lost the mind-set of greed and desire for possessions. I still love Thailand of course, but I hate how the system works. I’m in a good place though mentality wise – half English and half Thai. That suits me fine.
I’d like to thank Keown for spending the time to give me her forthright views about life in England and on cross culture. She has always been a lady that pulls no punches and say’s exactly what she feels and that’s very refreshing. Keown has a terrific determination and a will to succeed and she’s certainly done that. So, this free-spirited, independent lady is finally settling down, so it would appear. I’d like to wish Keown and her fiancé all the best.