In Thailand, it is illegal to speak poorly of your government so it is a foreign idea that the farang (the foreigners) are not just unhappy, but also vocal about our feelings. Rewind to the moment Trump was voted as our president elect, the six other foreign teachers and I found ourselves in the middle of 10 other Thai teachers and about 80 Thai students. All who did not understand our “bad mood”. Here, it is the Thai culture to always appear happy. They consider it saving face to hide any emotion besides happiness and to deal with it on your own time.
Most people here were rooting for Hillary and know Trump isn’t good, but don’t know much more beyond that. When we heard of the vote outcome, many Thai people were laughing and giggling saying “Trump! Trump!”, while one teacher even asked if we wanted to put off fireworks in celebration. I’m sure they could tell by our looks of annoyance and sadness that we were not all about their cheering for Trump, but on a real level, you could tell that our unhappiness made them uncomfortable. Back home, I challenge myself to have those uncomfortable conversations and to not be afraid to speak my own truth. But being in another country, I also am trying to do my best to be conscious of the culture I am stepping in to and to not assert myself like so many Westerners do when they travel abroad. Every day I tell myself to be aware of where I am and how I am carrying myself, and I try my hardest to do what is right for where I am. That means bowing and saying the respectful greeting, that means wearing only black and white because the country is in mourning for the passing of their King, that means taking my shoes off before I go into certain spaces, and in this case, that also means not being confrontational or aggressive when defending my own political beliefs.
The other night, I was talking to two students who want with all their heart to move to the United States and work once they graduate college this year. Despite their friends giving them a hard time for working so hard on their English, the fact that their university is beyond intense, plus their jobs and everything else they do, they are working hard to be able to move to the U.S.. So, after hearing all about this, they revealed their fear of not being able to go anymore because of our new president elect. They asked us why he was bad, and we tried to explain topics like race, religion, homosexuality, bigotry and just overall hate. The first thing they said asked: are we white?
About whiteness: Thailand is like many many other countries in this world that value whiteness and associate white skin with purity and beauty. It is apparent due to the shelves and shelves of “White Magic Cream” and “White Angel Lotion”, which basically means everything from their lotion to deodorant has whitening chemicals in them. You can also see it in the baby powder women wear on their faces to appear whiter.
While at a temple yesterday, I met my first English speaking monk. After hearing that I am from America, his next question was: how do you feel about your new president? As I looked around the room at five Thai faces all smiling and laughing back at me as they waited for my response, I felt overwhelmed at the conflicting cultures. One foot back home and one here, I felt off balanced. I managed to say something along the lines of I’m sad and afraid, but trying to be hopeful that everyone back home will be okay.