Thais Abroad: From Mahasarakham, Thailand to New York, USA

 

Introduction of Today’s Guest

Today’s guest was born in Kosumphisai, Mahasarakham province in the northeast of Thailand. Having grown up in Mahasarakham province she then set out to explore the world through travel, learning and plenty of life experiences. In this interview she gives us a run down on life in New York.

The lady is Khun Ooy, but she has asked to remain anonymous

What first took you to New York and could you tell me a bit about the area you stayed in?

I was a Thai language teacher in Thailand before I moved to New York. It was fun to meet with students from all different countries but my job sucked because of the philosophies of my boss. One day a Japanese teacher in my school talked about her friend who’s an Au Pair in America. She showed me photos of her friends on facebook and talked about being an Au Pair in America. I couldn’t get to sleep all that night from thinking about it. I started to take a serious look into the world of becoming an Au Pair and to find out everything about it. The more I studied about being an Au pair the more I wanted to quit my job as a Thai language teacher in Thailand.

I made the decision to become an Au Pair because I wanted  to experience new things. The benefits I received from this opportunity were massive. I helped my host family to take care of their children and exchange culture with them at the same time. I got paid every week and studied on weekends. I’m lucky to have stayed with the host family in Tribeca. It’s only approximately 10 minutes to Brooklyn bridge and the World Trade Center.

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When talking about New York, I’m pretty sure that most people will automatically think of the Statue of Liberty, Wall street, Times Square, Central Park, etc.  Everyday I hear the subway and see many tourists. New York is a unique place, but everyone’s in a rush walking quickly this way and that along the streets. Sometimes, people will ask me for directions and it makes me feel good when I can help them. I don’t feel weird living in Manhattan because there are many people from many different countries. You can also take your pick of restaurants as there are so many different types to choose from. People really do love walking here though. I really like Manhattan because it’s so convenient. I can take the subway 24 hours a day.

Are there many Thai people living in your area and do they settle in to life in New York / America well?

Many young people like me come to America just to experience snow!! (Ooy laughs.)

Many Thais come to America for working, studying,  and living with their own family. There are many Thai people and Thai restaurants in New York, but there are not many Thais that settle to life in Manhattan. The cost of living in Manhattan is extremely expensive.  Most of the Thai people live in Queens.  It’s about an hour from  Downtown Manhattan.

Elmhurst in Queens is known to us as the Thai town of New York. Elmhurst also caters to lots of other Southeast Asian businesses and shops and has a rapidly expanding Chinatown. There’s a big Asian Market in Elmhurst where I can buy a lot of ingredients for cooking Thai food. There’s also a Thai temple. As we know Thai temple’s are the centre to Thai people all over the world. This is also the case in Elmhurst, Queens as well.

The Thai Community in America is connected through Facebook. There are many groups of the Thai community such as Thais in California, Thais in Florida, Thais in Chicago, Thais in New York, etc. It’s useful to be a member on Facebook groups. We always update news, share problems and experiences of living abroad through social network.

In the place where I live, I find that ”people always come and go.”  It isn’t easy to settle in New York. I read many posts on the Facebook group about Thais problems. In my opinion, the biggest problem is about working in restaurants. Another big problem is about Thais and their American partner. Most Thais always miss Thailand and want to be back in Thailand because of Thai food and how easy the life style in Thailand is. On the other hand, some people don’t want to settle in Thailand anymore because the quality of life in America is better than Thailand.

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What do you do in your free time?

Now that’s a good question! To be honest, I spend a lot of time on my phone when I’m free. I don’t like playing any games at all but I like reading articles, books, news and listening to music on a  phone. All I need in my free time is just purely WiFi. (Ooy laughs.)

I also have an addiction to travelling and photography and preferably together. I just love it. When I hold camera I feel like I’m in my own world. I like to explore new places and build my own personal photo library of memories.

When I moved to New York I learned the American  way. I’m now more confident to travel alone and make new friends during my trips. Although I like to travel alone, I always keep in mind that I’m a lady. Safety always comes first.

What are your passions?

Travelling and teaching are my passions. It feels so good to wake up in different places and see new things. Whilst in New York, I still keep following my passions.

I ran a small Thai language group here in New York via Meet-up application on my phone. Every month, I organised free events for foreigners who want to learn Thai. We sometimes meet in a restaurant or a park. It depends on the weather. I  prepared the topic for each event and gave a friendly welcome to new members. Then, we discussed and shared experiences about the topic.

It’s a fun thing to do in my free time also. Meanwhile, I meet local people in New York. It’s easy to talk to people who have the same interests as you. Nowadays, the group is getting bigger and some body wants to take it over. I’m quite happy to begin something and pass it on to someone else.

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I know you speak English. Did you speak English quite well before you moved to New York? Where did you study English and did it take you long to learn it?

It’s a bit awkward to give myself a complement. (Bee laughs.) I was able to communicate with foreigners in English without any problem before I moved to New York. My speaking was good but my writing skills were the opposite. I graduated from Mahasarakham university in North East Thailand. It took me 5 years to seriously study English. It’s a big difference using English in real life as opposed to studying in a class room. I was shy to open my mouth and actually speak English. I was afraid of making mistakes. I started listening to English songs, listening to English radio online,  watching English movies, and reading English children’s books. I began to pick up single words, then phases and finally sentences.

My biggest problem was that I couldn’t find any native speakers in my area to practice with. Therefore, I went to Phuket for the summer when my university closed. I looked for a job in a restaurant. The result was fantastic! I got salary, had the chance to practice real English and got to  travel at the same time. (I loved it!) It was a massive experience because it was the first step to becoming  who I am at this present time. It wasn’t just practicing English like I expected. It was exploring a whole new world.

What aspects of the English language are most difficult to learn from a Thai point of view? For me, whilst learning Thai, I found  Thai phonology  to be a whole new world.  

I am quite sure that most Thai people will give you the same answer! Writing and grammar are the most difficult. I can speak or pronounce  words but I sometimes don’t know how to spell them correctly. Since I became a Thai teacher I realized that English is super Easy compared to the Thai language. Studying English needs only keys and practicing but studying Thai needs a lot of time to understand and continue on to the next step. Thai learners will have many questions about phonology, rules, consonants, vowels, etc.

For example, there are 44 consonants but we use only 42 without ฃ and ฅ. Guess what? There are still  ฃ and  ฅ on Thai consonants chart. Tones or phonology are common problems for Thai learners. The best way to solve this problem is to open your mouth and speak it out loud with native speakers. That is why I began the group ” Thai Language NYC ” –  in New York.  It’s because I understand how hard learning a second language (without being able to practice with native speakers,) can be.

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Do you speak or have you tried learning any other languages besides English?

I do speak Lao. I took a class in Lao at the university.  I learned how to read and write the Lao language. It’s fairly similar with my mother language where I was born in the North East area – (Isan.) I also speak a little bit of German. I chose to learn German because one of my students is German.  We tried to exchange languages. I taught him Thai for an hour each day and he taught me German for a couple of hours each week. I finally gave up because I didn’t have any inspiration to learn German. They have particular words for male and female. It doesn’t like Thai at all. It’s more difficult in my opinion.

How difficult was it adjusting to New York life and American culture from a Thai national’s point of view? What were the most difficult things to adjust to.

It took me almost a month to adjust and find my space. From a Thai national’s point of view, it’s difficult only in the beginning. There is nothing right and there is nothing wrong but it’s just different. American culture is more direct and open. I learnt to say what was on my mind and to discuss the subject.  Thai culture is more respectful and considerate. When I worked in Thailand I had to keep my thoughts in my mind, but my heart was ready to explode. Many Thai people are considerate when speaking or asking for something.That’s true!

For example, Thais rarely call older people by just their names. We are more respect saying Uncle Trevor, Auntie Anna, Phee Bee, Nong Mark, etc.  If I only call my mother by her nickname, I am sure she will be mad at me. To be honest, living in New York I felt awkward to just call older people only by their first name. One of the most difficult things to adjust to, I think is the eating culture. I always want to be back in Thailand because of food! I rarely eat sandwiches in Thailand. I read many articles about the problems of being in a relationship between Thai woman and foreigners. Food is also on the list! Please keep in mind that we grew up in the land of rice. It does not mean we cannot adjust too, it’s just difficult!

Continuing along the lines of adjustment and change, I know you have spent time in London, England as well. Do you find many differences between British and American people? what are the main differences? How different from one another are New York and London?

In my opinion, there are many differences between British and American people. Especially in life style.

I find that British people are more grumpy than Americans. (Bee laughs.) Americans have more general sense of humor but British people have a lot of dark humor. If I talk to an American and a Brit at the same time, I might laugh at the American’s joke more than the Brits joke. This is because, the British always make  jokes that I don’t understand. I always seem to miss the funny part and end up asking them to explain it.

A couple of big  differences that I can not skip are to do with accent and vocabulary. When I’m in New York, I don’t feel like I a foreigner, I feel like I am a part of them. This is due to New York having so much variety of culture that my accent just blends in with them. When I am in London I do feel like I am a foreigner. I know that I have to change to the British vocabulary in England but my mouth automatically speaks English American. (Whisper it quietly,  I personally like New York more than London but I like the British accent!)

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Could you give me three things that in your opinion are great about living in New York / America in general. Could you then give me three things that are not so good about living in New York / America in general.

Three great things about living in New York / America in general. The three that come to mind at this moment are ”difference, opportunity and convenience.”

Difference – You can meet so many different people from all around the world and eat in so many different restaurants in the big city.

Opportunity –  America is also known as the land of opportunity. if you are good at something and find the right place and right group, you will be lucky and enjoy.

Convenience –  I would like to say that  New York is the most convenient city in the world. It’s a weird City sometimes, but you can find everything you want here.

Three things that are not so good about living in New York / America in general are ”moving, expense and turbulence.”

Moving –  Do you believe me? New York is the most convenient city in the world but  most people do not want to live in the city for their entire lives.

Expense –  People are always moving in and out every year because it is expensive. People work like machines so they can afford to eat and pay rent. A lot of people have more than one job and work so hard to support their families.

Turbulence –  One last thing that is not so good about New York is turbulence. It’s a busy city and difficult to find peace. I think it’s part of the reason why people always move to another city.

What are New Yorkers particularly fond of doing in their spare time? What’s the character of New York people like and could you give me an idea on family life?

From what I see, people like to take a walk or jog everyday. New York is a walking city. It is very common to see people walk with their children, family, friends and dogs. They like to sit and relax in a park. In the Summer, people like to have a picnic and sunbathe in a park.

Taking about  the character of New Yorkers, it’s difficult to be totally specific because New York is a place with a mix of many nationalities. You might see Caucasian and Asian people in the same coffee shop. I personally think real American men and women or New Yorkers are big and tall. Everything has to be big, food, clothes, shoes including big pumpkins on Halloween Day!

One of my favourite things though, is I do like American family life. ”Children always come first.” Every weekend, I see many parents spend time with their kids in a park, field, cinema, etc. I can imagine how tired people are from working during weekdays, but they still find time for their children. I like to see a man walk with a stroller or hold their little kids hand on a weekend. It is a lovely thing to see in New York city.

Being American parents and Thai parents are totally different but I like the way American people teach their children. American children are more confident and independent. Children brave to explain reason to their parents. American children brave to question. If you become a teacher in Thailand and ask students in a class room, you might not get any questions from them. Because most of Thai students are shy to ask.

What is the cost of living like in America? Having also spent time in the U.K, is there much difference in the cost of living between the two? What in your view is expensive in the States and what is of good value?

I would say that the cost living in both the U.S.A and the U.K is expensive for Thais. New York and London are the same for me. I always feel dizzy and fear to spend money every time I convert currency to Thai Bath. (Ooy laughs.) For example, if I eat outside I HAVE TO pay tax and tip. Tip costs at least 15% of total bill but I never pay in Thailand and it’s still okay to pay bill without tax and tip.

Aside from that though, value  and quality in America and England are much better than Thailand. Customers can complain and report if the food or a restaurant is not clean, but it’s the opposite in Thailand. There’s so much cheap street food or local restaurants that you cannot complain that much. I hear that if food is not clean in the U.S.A., costumers can report it,  go to court and the restaurant ends up closing. The law is stronger.

wisconsin

Could you give us 3 other places besides New York  that you’ve enjoyed visiting in the United States? Briefly, what you liked about each place or didn’t like. Which place was your very favourite.

I have been to Connecticut, Illinois and Wisconsin. I took a trip to  Illinois and Wisconsin last February which was freezing cold. I made this choice because I was born in a hot country. I  just wanted to experience how cold it was! (Bee laughs.) I will never forget that day. I walked on the street but screamed inside. It was minus 18 in Chicago, Illinois and it was minus 23 in Madison, Wisconsin but it was worth the experience. There is noting better than having a beer during a crazy trip.

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Anyways, I highly recommend Chicago during the Summer. It’s a windy city and pretty good for a holiday.  When I visited Wisconsin, I felt backward, I saw house farms, sheep farms and groups of people who do not use electricity in their house and they use carriages for transportation. They are called the Amish community. I think they are very interesting! Besides New York, I visit Connecticut the most. I like sitting on a train and seeing suburban. I sometimes just get tired with living in a concrete city but somehow New York is still my favorite city.

Do you have any family still living in Thailand? Where were you born in Thailand and where in Thailand did you spend the majority of your life?
Which are your 3 favourite places to visit in Thailand?

My father still lives in Thailand. I was born in a land of monkeys, Kosumphisai, Mahasarakham province. It was the place where I spent the majority of my life. My three favorite places in Thailand are Chiang Mai, Krabi and Khon Kaen.

Chiang Mai –  I like Chiang Mai the most. It’s a nice quiet city. I can feel the culture and I feel natural here.

Krabi – Is well worth a visit. I like going to the beaches and Islands there.

Khon Kaen –  Is very close to my hometown. It’s a bigger city than Mahasarakham. I like to drive to Khon Kaen with my younger sister when I have  free time. There are more options for shopping and entertainment.

Did you ever feel unsafe when in New York at any time or were you able to roam around safely night or day? Does London or New York feel safer or are they about the same? You can include Bangkok into the equation as well if you want.

I sometimes feel unsafe in some areas. New York has a safe zone and dangerous zone also. Before I travel I always check about the safely zone in each place. I always feel comfortable in Downtown New York – the place where I live. Some areas in uptown of the city I’m  sometimes  scared of walking in and that’s just during the day. I think New York, London and Bangkok are similar with regards to the tourist spots. These places are always busy. I am always careful about  my wallet, phone and any other important possessions in these areas though.

What have you found have been the main problems that you have experienced or noticed Thais having regarding relationships with western men. These can be Cultural differences, family differences any type of problems really that are perhaps not common in a Thai / Thai relationship.

On Food

One of the main problems I hear westerners complain about is cooking. This point can often bring trouble to the relationship. Some couples even separate food. I am pretty sure that Thais who live abroad always miss Thai food. We can go out and eat in a restaurants in Thailand everyday because it’s cheap, but Thais cannot often eat outside abroad because it’s so expensive.

No doubt they’ll take an hour or more cooking the food they like because they miss it so much. Let’s put your feet in to the shoes of a Thai person! If you have to live without steak, pizza or pasta would you not find a way to tase them? Raise your hands if it wouldn’t bother you – Oops…. I don’t see any.

On Abuse

Another main problem that I really want to share is regarding after married life. I see a lot of posts in facebook groups for Thais living abroad. These posts are where the Thai spouse has been hurt both physically and mentally. These women post for help and advice. It’s very sad. They are living thousands of miles away from their own families, but the one who took them out of thier country treats them badly. It might be the opposite in some case that western men were treated badly by Thais. There are both good and bad people everywhere but I wish for good to match with good always.

Chicago
Chicago

Some Thai women think that moving to Europe / America or wherever means a better life instantly. Some think that the streets are paved with gold. What advice would you give Thai women that were thinking of living in America / Europe? What would you advise them to beware of? Maybe if you could me 3 things for them to consider before moving overseas?

Nothing is perfect. The first thing I would like to advise about is to prepare to miss home, Thailand. Open your mind to receive new things overseas. Do not compare and complain too much. Once you can adjust you will enjoy. Make your place feel like home and you will never feel lonely.

Your couple is a second home. Whenever you bring troubles in to your second home or your husband does – hurry to fix them. Make your second home liveable and then You will never feel like you want to run  back to your old home.

On Communication

The second piece of advice would be, never stop learning. Language is really important for communication. It would be awful if you lived somewhere where nobody understands what you want. Please learn the language of the country you move to. Don’t be shy or embarrassed to start from kingdergaden level. Learning language will help you so much in the future.

On Being Prepared

The final piece of advice would be to Prepare for all outcomes. I would like to say that everything is possible. For instance, you never know, but the one you left everything behind in Thailand for – could kick you out the house. If not, it’s possible that he might wave good bye to the world before you do.

Be prepared for the future. Do not think that getting married with a foreigner, (farang) means your life will now be as good as a princess. You need to stand on your own two feet, and not his. Nobody wants to see you break up but it happens. If it does, then you will still be able to walk by yourself.

I highly recommend that you find a job. Even if it’s not as good of a job as you had in Thailand. It will make you strong and independent. For western men that are reading this, will you please think about the future of the one you love? Will you be able to support her and her family forever?  I am not saying that you have to support her, but I mean helping and teaching her how to survive in reality.

Give me an idea of your Ideal day. Time and money are no problem, you can do exactly what you want. Where would you be and what would you do with those 24 hours. The time is all yours?

This is a very hard question. I wish I could go back in time and change it abit. I would like to be with my old family like I was when I was a child.I’m not sure if I mentioned that my parents are divorced. I would like to go home and have dinner with everyone in a place where I feel warm love. And then I woke up… (Ooy laughs.) I know I can’t do that, but I can make my own family in the future. My children in the future will feel loads of love in their home.

 

 

 

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