For today’s interview on Thai women living abroad, I’d like to introduce you to my guest Khun Sittha. This is part one of a three part interview that starts in the northeast of Thailand, and arrives in Edinburgh, Scotland after stopping off in Bangkok and Malta. Nowadays and since 2003 my guests home has been in Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband. These are the views, insights and experiences of Khun Sittha.
Introducing Khun Sittha
Photographs of Edinburgh and courtesy of Khun Sittha
How did you come to live in Scotland? What first took you there? Where are you located in Scotland and how long have you lived there?
Now, I live in Scotland which is part of the United Kingdom, or for short ” The UK.” I have lived in the city of Edinburgh since February 2003. Before moving to Edinburgh, I used to work at a Thai restaurant in the country of Malta. In the month of July 2002, I found love with a man called Michael. He was a gentleman, the man of my dreams and the man that I’d searched long and hard for. Later, we got engaged and I moved to Edinburgh. I now live in Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, but prior to this, I used to live in the country of Malta.
Could you tell us about where you were born and raised in Thailand, and what life was like there as a child growing up?
I was born in the district of Nong Yat in the province of Nakhon Panom, in the northeast of Thailand. Before school age I enjoyed the freedom of playing mischievously like any normal child of that age, but when I entered my first year of primary school, my mother started to teach me responsibility and duty. She taught me how to prepare my bag and clothes for school by myself. As I progressed, my Mother gradually increased my duties and responsibilities to cooking the rice every morning. By the time I began studying at year 2 of elementary level, I’d started to wash my own school uniform as well.I continued washing my school uniform until I graduated from year 2 of elementary level. My parents then took me to stay in Ban Khor, in the district of Khamchai, in the province of Mukdahan. My duties and responsibilities increased further whilst studying in year 3 of elementary level, they now included ironing my own school uniform. Whilst studying at year 4 of elementary level, I started to practice cooking simple dishes like …. Omelette, fried egg, stir fried vegetables, clear soup, and making papaya salad.
The status at home financially was very poor. My father and mother had to work very hard, but they raised me without me ever suffering any hardship. I was never hungry, I always slept well, I never had to work hard, and I never had to go out in the mid-day sun to work. I had a duty to watch over the house whenever Dad and Mum worked outside. I studied, read books, boiled rice, washed and ironed clothes and cooked the food. The house work that I liked was cooking the food and ironing the clothes. I didn’t like cleaning, it wasn’t my responsibility. Incredibly, nowadays I still like making food and I still don’t like cleaning.
I spent the majority of the time at home alone. When Mother and Father worked outside the house, I had a lot of time and freedom for myself. I liked to study books when I was in school and I played with friends outside of school. I stayed with my Mother and Father until I graduated from grade 3 and then I moved to stay with my older brother and his family in Mukdahan. I continued my studies at the school in Mukdahan until graduation from secondary education grade 6.
What employment have you had since you since you finished your studies and what do you do now?
Regarding the subject of work, I feel it maybe somewhat long. Can I take you back to the year of 1993, which is the year that I graduated. At that time I,d started working in a small 3 star hotel restaurant / coffee shop in the area of Ramkhaenghang road in Bangkok. I lived in Bangkok for approximately 7 years whereby I continuously changed my work place. From a small hotel I then went to a Thai restaurant in a 4 star hotel. From that I went to a Chinese restaurant in a 5 star hotel in the area of Sukhumvit road. In the year of 1996, I went to work in another Thai restaurant called ” Salathip ” in the Shangri – La hotel, Bangkok. The hotel is located right next to the Chao Praya river and I worked here for 6 months. After that , I had an opportunity of promotion and moved to a Chinese restaurant called ” Shang Palace ” at the same hotel. My responsibilities were to book the dining tables, book small parties that didn’t exceed 40 people, smile attractively to welcome customers ( I enjoyed my responsibilities here), answer the telephone, telephone and contact customers, show customers to their tables, prepare various work, write the menu, and set the tables for customers. I learnt a lot from my work ….. I had the opportunity to taste delicious food and I got to meet leading business people from Thailand. During free time from work, I’d go and taste food in various other 5 star restaurants.
In the month of July 2000, I travelled to the country of Malta which is a very beautiful small island. The climate varies from warm to very hot and the people are friendly. I travelled with 6 new colleagues. The Blue Elephant in Malta is located inside the Hilton hotel. At that point, the hotel was open but the Thai restaurant wasn’t, it was still being refurbished. We had to attend everyday though, in order to train in how to uphold the standards of the Blue Elephant. We trained for about one month, until it was time to open. I had various duties to carry out, which included; flower arranging, selling souvenirs, taking care of customers, taking bookings, escorting customers to their tables, dealing with money and a lot more besides.The restaurant was very big. If all tables were full there would be approximately 300 covers. I was so tired and besides that, I started getting back pain. I worked at the Blue Elephant for about one year and then went to work in the kitchen of a friends smaller restaurant called ” Thai Siam.” This restaurant had 40 covers and opened from 6 pm – 11 pm. I worked here until I met my future husband. We associated together for 6 months until I moved to Edinburgh, Scotland and that’s where I am to this present day.
Can you speak English? Is the language and communication a problem? Do you find English difficult to learn? Do you speak any other languages?
When I first came to Edinburgh in 2003, I started learning English on a consistent basis. I started learning basic level English and then moved on to advanced English. In 2007 I got to follow my dream of further learning and took a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. I was very stressed whilst studying but it was challenging and fun. I slept no more than 4 hours a day because I had test books to read, a seminar to prepare and write and research a variety of reports. It was good though as I received a great deal of support and encouragement from my husband. When I was busy, my husband cooked my food, ironed my clothes and took me out to eat. Where there is patience and endeavour, then success consequently follows. I graduated and earned a degree in 2011. It was a very proud and happy day for me.
After completing my studies, I rested up for a while but worked as a volunteer taking care of the elderly at a nursing home. At the same time, I had an opportunity to work as a translator. This was to translate from Thai to English and from English to Thai. Sometimes, when I had free time I would take on translation jobs. Not long after that I started to take care of the elderly that live alone. I did this for one year and then had the opportunity to work with an agency that provide care to older people living in nursing homes. I worked with this agency just over two years and my diary was booked up for two weeks to a month in advance. I worked no more than 3 days per week. This gave me time to exercise and I took holidays every 2 months. I still accept translation work if the opportunity arises and I think I will work like this continuously. I long for a further project. I’d like to study further again but at the moment I still don’t know what that will be.
Personally, when I was a student, I enjoyed learning English a lot and didn’t really feel that English was a difficult language. I started learning English at the age of 10 years old and I continued to learn and practice. I was very lucky at age 12 years old in that we had an American come to the school to teach English. His name was Liesl Leach and he taught at our school for two years. I was determined to learn English. I practised speaking English every day with the professor and I was never shy, never afraid to make mistakes. After the professor returned home to America we still kept in contact for several years.
I thought that when I was in Thailand and Malta that my level of English was good enough, but at work my level of English was not as good as I’d have liked it to have been. I didn’t really speak naturally and still didn’t understand jokes in English. When I had time, I looked for different ways to practice. I listened to radio shows in English to enhance my listening skills.
When I came to Edinburgh, I started studying English seriously. I spent time studying on my own from 2003 – 2011, I believe life is for learning and traveling. I practiced my English skills, read the research articles that I was interested in, read my favorite novels, read The Sunday Times, listened to the radio, and went out chatting to friends. I think now my English skills are better than before and I understand English in a funny way. I have confidence in listening, speaking and reading, but I don’t have much confidence in writing. Due to continually learning English language, I don’t speak other languages outside of English and Thai.
Did you find it difficult adapting to life in Scotland? What did you find were the most difficult things to adapt to?
When we talk about adjustment, it’s a subject that we can talk in depth about. When anyone migrates from a country of familiarity to a new country, then some adjustment cannot be avoided. Adjustment to be in harmony with well being, culture, society, environment, food, new family and much more. I am a person who lives to be in the present, I like new things, new challenges, optimism, and I look to turn things into opportunities when in times of a crisis. I felt that adapting to and living in Scotland was not too difficult overall, but it does take a long time to adjust. The thing that I learnt to do is either accept or ignore what I do not like or can not control. I just live here happily. Let me give you an example of how to live in Scotland from my own experience.
Daily life and relationships between family members or friends are different between Thailand and Scotland. For instance, in Thailand generally, the family is a close unit and they like to help each other. Sometimes perhaps they will even ask over excessively personal questions of each other. When you think of someone or have not seen them for a while, you can travel instantly to see them. You can travel without the need of an advanced appointment with that person.
In Scotland though, people stay within little families. They keep themselves to themselves, they like to be self dependent. They like to mind their own business and not ask or be asked personal questions. They will meet up together at times, but it must be arranged in advance and in keeping to a rigid time schedule. Everything is on time and according to schedule and this includes work where you must always be on time.
If in Thailand, you will stay with a large and very close knit family. When Thais come to live abroad, they can sometimes feel very lonely. However, I like to live in a very simple way in Scotland, so I didn’t need to adjust that much. This was maybe due to me staying alone mostly when I was in Thailand. I had freedom by not needing to wait or gain the approval of anyone. For example, when my husband goes to work and I remain at home alone, if I want to go shopping or go and watch a movie…. I just go. I didn’t have any problems with anything though as when I was in Thailand I was independent and took care of myself.
Regarding adaption, the story that comes to mind initially is the time that it takes to see the Doctor. When I was in Thailand I was able to visit the Doctor without the need of an appointment. In Scotland when I am sick, I must telephone the local clinic I am registered with to make an appointment during normal business hours. Upon getting an appointment I must then follow a rigid time schedule and will get to speak with the Doctor for approximately 15 minutes only. After consulting the Doctor, he or she will make a diagnosis and prescribe me some medicine. I will then take my prescription to the pharmacy and collect my medicine.
If I am diagnosed with something more severe, then I will need to be referred to a specialist. If this is the case, then the Doctor at the surgery will write to the hospital and the hospital will then write to me with an appointment date and time. Afterwards, I will need to confirm the appointment with the hospital. If I get sick out of normal business hours like weekends, then I will need to call 111 to speak to a nurse. She doesn’t provide counselling but will inform me that she will get a Doctor to telephone me. I then have to wait for a call from the Doctor for hours, but if I’m seriously ill, I can’t wait. For instance, one Saturday during the year 2008, I had asthma and great difficulty in breathing. The nurse who answered the phone, told me to go to the hospital immediately. She gave me the number of the building that accept sick patients outside of normal business hours. I met the Doctor who treated me that evening and the symptoms improved. I will tell you that to find a Doctor there are many rules and procedures, but when you know the steps to take it then becomes not so difficult.
The next thing I want to talk about is food. When I was in Thailand, I liked only Thai food. I enjoyed Thai vegetables and fruit very much. When I first moved abroad,I ate mostly Thai food I did not like foreign food at all. I enjoy cooking at home and I like to cook for my friends and my husband’s friends. I’d like to stress that Thai food in Scotland is expensive. For example, a small vegetable sold at a market in Thailand would be about 10 baht, but in Scotland it would be anything from 100 to 200 baht each. Another example I would like to mention is the coconut. The coconut has been my favourite fruit since childhood. The market in Thailand will probably sell for 20 baht each or 3 for 50 baht. When I’m in Scotland I have to pay 150 baht per coconut. I have to unfortunately accept that they are expensive because I love them, they are delicious. It’s the same with Thai food and vegetables here as well.
Now I like to eat local Scottish and European dishes and cook European dishes for my husband. At home in Scotland I still like to cook Thai food for my friends when I get the opportunity. For dishes that I am interested to make I will search the internet or refer to cook books for the method. My husband and I go out to eat European food at a restaurant about 2 times per week.
For me, the hardest part of the adapting process is the difference in the weather between Thailand and Scotland. The weather in Thailand is inclined to be warm to very hot, but in Scotland it’s very cold in the winter. Furthermore, there is barely any sunshine between the months of December through to February. It was times like that which made me feel continuously sleepy and made me feel too lazy to get up in the mornings. When I went to work of a morning at around 8 – 9 am it was dark, and when I returned home from work between 3 – 4 pm, it was dark. Some days there is absolutely no sun at all and all you have is very cold winds and persistent rain. When I first moved here, I made a habit of getting up early each day and going outside. I did this in the early stages to get my body to adjust to the cold weather. To keep my body warm in the winter I wear a beautifully designed coat, multiple layers of clothing, hat, gloves, socks and boots. My husband and I will go on vacation for two weeks to somewhere warmer, it helps to make the winter period that we face slightly shorter.
Part Two Coming Soon
We will be looking at………..
The Thai Community in Edinburgh,
What are the Scottish people like in general,
The cost of living in Scotland
The good and bad of living in Scotland
Cross cultural relationships.