Introduction of Today’s Guest
Today’s guest on Thai women living abroad was born and raised in Samut Prakan, Thailand, but has now lived in the USA since 1987. Passionate about dance and a busy dance performer, KhunNai Pat gives us her insights and story about life in San Francisco, California.
Introducing KhunNai Pat
All Photographs – Photograph Credit KhunTipawan Janard (Sister of KhunNai Pat)
Could you tell us where you were born in Thailand and what life was like growing up there as a child?
I was born in Bangkok and raised in Samut Prakan. My father was morn (native people who lived there before Thai moved down from south of China. My mom is Chinese Thai. One of her grand fathers came from China and the other grandfather was a prince from Laos. Her mom was Thai.
I went to all girls school from the beginning through to college. I was a Thai dancer in a school since I was 6 years old. The family owned a farm full of fruits, fish, ducks and chickens. Life was wonderful until my dad had a mistress then we lost everything to the bank. My mom decided to go to the USA to work and sent money back home to her 6 children. She got help applying for green cards for us to go and live with her in the US.
What first took you to America? Which places have you lived in whilst in America and where do you live now?
I was a waitress in Thai restaurants at night and went to school during the day. I finished my bachelor degree in business management and master degree in computer information systems. I have been working at a local government in an IT unit since 2001. I’m looking forward to retiring in 6 years time and then I will travel the world with my husband. San Francisco is my home now. I have been living in this country since 1987.
This question is usually about your work, what you do and what work you previously did whilst in America. However, you’ve talked a bit about this already, but If there’s anything you want to add, then please do so.
During the first few years of living there and after ending my time of being a waitress, I worked at many temp agencies as a computer administrator. The restaurant owner said to me “you will never be one of them (white people) doing what they are doing. We (Thai) work in restaurants. If you leave, don’t come back and ask for the job back.” I said “I will show you that I can do whatever I want and follow my dreams.”
Did you speak English very well before going to America or did you have to learn when you got there? Was the language and communication a problem in the beginning? Did you find English difficult to learn? Do you speak any other languages besides Thai and English?
I learned English in school and college in Thailand but it was British style with different pronunciation and we didn’t have much practice there. I had to relearn it all in American style in the US. It took me years until I found a better way to learn and practice, by getting a white boyfriend and learning from many TV shows about social skills. I am still speaking with an accent but that is who I am. Not using Thai daily for the past 29 years has caused me to forget 50% of my Thai. I have a hard time thinking in Thai and finding the right words. My mom knows that if I speak in English to her it means I am upset. I can’t find Thai words fast enough to to express my feeling. Some Thai people don’t understand my situation and think I am a stuck up Thai for not speaking Thai.
I am a volunteer and a Thai interpreter at a domestic violence survivor shelter. My Thai is not good but enough to get by. The shelter calls me to help clients often. I am glad to be able to help other Thai women who get abused by husbands or lovers or their grown up children. Often I cry while I’m doing the interpretation for them. All the money I earn from doing this, I donate to many non-profit organisations and people. Along with my dance money, I give it away. I don’t take these two incomes home.
I did speak Japanese and a little Italian, but I haven’t used these languages for quite a long time.
What are your passions, what do you love to do in your free time, when you are not at work? What makes the heart sing as they say?
My fun time and passion is dance. I was in ballroom dancing for a short time and that was when I met my husband, in a dance class. I stopped that dance because I couldn’t stand a man leading me. In class, often the dance partner would ask me ‘are you leading?’ I’d say, if you don’t know what you are doing, follow me.’ They went to the teacher and reported my unacceptable activity and behaviour. So I quit.
I found Bhangra dance (Indian harvest dance) at a shelter evening during my interpretation to a client. The dance, the colour of the outfits and the drum sound awoke my dance soul. I’ve continued Indian dance since then. I am alive and happy when I dance. Hey, I am also a star and everyone is watching me. It’s still the same feeling as when I was young and dancing on stages. Light, camera and I am ready. I started belly dance almost 20 years ago. I was a full-time mom with a little baby 24 hours a day for 3 years while finishing my BS degree. I needed to get out and I found a belly dance class in the evenings. I handed the baby to my husband. Here you take the baby for a few hours, I am going belly dancing. Now I’ve found a dance teacher who has a similar interest and combines belly dance with Bollywood dance. My next dance style is flamenco. This class will start next week and I’m so excited. I started this dance years ago too but stopped due to long commute. Now I’ve found one close by my area.
By the way, during my first baby, I was working on my BS degree. With the 2nd baby, I finished my master degree in the hospital bed a few days before I gave birth. My husband brought the computer to me to finish the homework and a camera to tape me doing presentations to the teachers.
How difficult was it adjusting to life and the culture of America after growing up and living in Thailand? What were the most difficult things to adjust to? What were the main differences coming from Thailand and how long before you really became adjusted to life in California?
What culture in America? They are all mix (multi racial with multi culture). I do the way I do and I live the way I want. I m not trying to be one of any of them (white, black, etc). I feel more comfortable with multi culture groups, but do not like to be called out as Asian or Thai.
People here look at you and make a judgement on how you look. If you are white, you have more privileges. For example, when I am at US customs coming back from Thailand, they always search me and give me a hard time even though I have a US passport. However, when I say I am with that white guy and he is my husband, they let me go easily. At work White (skin) floats to the top (managers). Brown and yellow skin can’t go that far. But I am happy with where I am at work with good bosses (white guys) and very high salary.
I can’t fit in with Indian events. I can dance better than them because I am not one of them. I always get rejected at Indian events to perform but white and other cultures welcome me to perform and pay much better. In Thai groups here, I always have issues with Thai guys because I stand up to them and don’t obey Thai culture which values men more than woman.
As in the Thai saying about a bat trying to blend in a rat’s group and a bird’s group. When it goes to a rat, it closes the wings to look like a rat. When it goes to a bird, it opens the wings to look like a bird. I am in between both worlds and can’t completely fit in.
Is there a big Thai community in San Francisco? Are you in contact with many Thai women as friends and do they tend to stick together? Do they all seem to adapt well to life in San Francisco / American life. What in your view are the main problems that they encounter?
There are small groups of Thai community based on the temple area. As far as I know, there are four groups in my area. I have a few Thai friends (female) mostly married to white guys and we work in many professions. For example, nurses, doctors, social workers, IT, business managers, teachers and full-time moms. We all adapt to the way of life here.
One out of four children in California is a mix race. They get along well with others but get irritated when people ask they what they are instead of who they are. What I see is that these kids hang out with friends that look similar to them and have less friends. I pick friends who have similar interests and the way they treat me with respect.
This is a massive generalisation and it’s a multi cultural society, but what are San Francisco people like? What do they enjoy doing and what’s the personality of San Francisco people.
People here or I can say everywhere in the US, first they look at your skin, making a judgement and then decide on how they want to react with you. Colour people (black, brown, yellow) are more mellow and treat others nicer. I have a few white friends, a few Thai friends but lots of other cultures (ethnicities) friends. What I can say about San Francisco is that each ethnic people stick together and help each other and also help others in different groups.
Have you ever felt unsafe in San Francisco / America at all or do you have to just be careful about where you go?
Most of the time I feel safe here. I Just pay attention to where I’m going, when I’m going and to what is going on around me.
Could you give me three things that in your opinion are great about living in America? Could you then give me three things that are not so good about living in America?
I like the weather, the freedom and people (mix cultures) here.
I don’t like the judgemental attitude that some people have towards others, the government spending money in other countries to kill other people and racism in this country.
Which are your favourite places to visit in America?
The whole state of California and Las Vegas.
What is the cost of living like in America? Which in your opinion are the expensive things and which are the things of good value?
The Cost of living is good based on the income (for me). Good value is food, groceries,clothing, transportation and education. Expensive is health care, some other education, traffic tickets, things I don’t need.
Do you still have family living in Thailand and do you miss them? Do you manage to get back to Thailand for a visit now and again?
Most of my family lives in Thailand only me, my two sisters and one brother live in the US. My family goes to Thailand every two years for vacations and my mom comes to the US on the year we don’t go there. She’s lived in the US over 30 years. She married a guy in the US to become legal and got green cards for us to go to the US. When I retire in 6 years, I will travel the world but will spend most of my time in Thailand. I miss my home country. There is no place like home.
What would you say were the main problems in a Thai woman / foreign man romantic relationship? Are there any similar problems or misunderstandings that relationships have? I’m talking more to do with cultural differences really.
Regarding problems in relationship and cultural differences I’d suggest; – teach your husband how to treat you. This needs to be done as soon as you start a new life together. Adapt to each other’s way of living and attitude. It doesn’t mean your way can’t be met. You don’t have to be right every time and you don’t need to win every argument. Sometimes you don’t need to say a word to prove that you are right.
Some Thai women think that moving to America or Europe means a better life instantly. What advice would you give Thai women that were thinking of living in America? What would you advise them to beware of? Could you give me 3 things for them to think about before moving overseas?
Be yourself but look around at what others are doing and try to adapt (not changing), but adapting to the way you can accept. Find friends close to your ethnicity and culture, they don’t all have to be Thai. You learn more and get more support from friends. Be nice to others, but don’t be a doormat. Know that you are right and stick with it.