Just how “farang” shouldn’t I be?

P1060702 When I write these entries, I also post a link to them on my Facebook account because I have many friends who don’t regularly read my blog.  (As opposed to the many regular readers of this blog who have become friends.)  On Saturday I wrote an entry about this little boy, pictured right, playing on a sidewalk while his father operated very loud construction equipment nearby. 

I wrote that two of the questions crossing my mind were why the boy was sitting there and why nobody had any hearing protection on.  I didn’t rail against the injustices of the situation, demand that Thailand change, or harumph about how superior things are in the west.  I simply wrote that those were questions that crossed my mind.

You can perhaps imagine my surprise when I received the following comment on Facebook from a former Thai language classmate of mine, a European man with whom I studied around December 2005:

“How long have you been living in Thailand?  I am amazed that you are still thinking like a novice farang.  Let Thailand be Thai.”

I’m not sure what qualifies my thinking as that of “a novice farang” nor what I did to suggest that Thailand shouldn’t be Thai.  Was I being culturally insensitive to suggest that the loud noise could cause hearing damage to the young child and his father?  Was I being too “western” to wonder why they didn’t have any hearing protection on?

It seems to me that concern over the wellbeing of people, especially children, is a pretty universal value and not one that I should grow out of the longer I live here.  Maybe there is another stage of thinking after novice farang: “jaded expat”.  The jaded expat sees the lives and wellbeing of the locals as disposable commodities since he won’t be living here in five, ten, twenty years to deal with the long-term effects.

What are your thoughts?


12 thoughts on “Just how “farang” shouldn’t I be?

  1. As someone who studies the interaction between cultural differences, I am starting to feel like there is no clear boundary between right and wrong, ethnocentric or what not.All I can say is that you do your best to help, and try not to judge. Reason with what you think may be helpful, and don’t become callous.Also, things are never going to be changed if no one ever raised these issues and let others be aware of them. As long as you are not casting stones or shaming people.

  2. I’m not sure what he intended with that comment. Did he mean you shouldn’t be questioning things anymore and comparing what you see in Thailand to what you were used to? Or did he mean – this happens all the time and you should be used to it by now. Hopefully he doesn’t view the locals as “disposable commodities”. I don’t think you were being culturally insensitive.

  3. Perhaps the dad is more worried about the food on the table – if they have a babysitter, the kid won’t be there. I try to imagine what I would do if I were you:1) Keep walking2) Ask the dad if this might be too loud for the kid3) Go to the corner to buy a pair of ear plug and give to the kid, he might play as a toy and enjoy it besides being protectedI might have done 3) because I always have a pair of ear plugs with me on each of my bags.

  4. I think that you were being sensitive to the situation, but not judgemental, merely observant. Anyone might have similar questions arise when viewing this picture. One I thought of was how interesting that a child this age was just sitting on the sidewalk, patiently waiting for his father to finish his work. I know of no western children, American specifically, who could be counted on to do that. A judgemental thought would be: How could a father be working with heavy equipment and leave his small child sitting on a nearby sidewalk? Knowing you, I’m aware of your concern for others, but also the capacity you have to make observations without judging. Observations are important as they can lead to awareness which, in turn, can benefit individuals or groups of people. Carry on.

  5. As a civil engineer, I concern more about the flying debris of broken concrete/asphalt pavement. If I was there I would walk straight to the operator and tell him that he should not let a child or anyone staying that close to the machine. Nicky

  6. It is curious that someone would call you culturally insensitive for saying what you said. I think sometimes we all say things that we don’t mean any offense by, and some will always be offended by what we think is very normal. I don’t know what the best answer is. I thank you for putting up the comment by the other person, though. It really makes you wonder about our cultural differences.

  7. One drop at a time fills the bucket eventually. Get two pairs of ear plugs to muffle the noise; one for the child and one for the father.  Other workers will see, and they would like to get some for themselves. You would have done your share, with grace and dignity, in trying to help an uneducated child or father.
    Sometimes education dulls people into thinking that they are the superior, and that the rest of the people will just survive. Your ”friend” perhaps is under that delusion.  What a shame.

  8. @christao408 – hahahha… you see, that’s the thinking of a “novice farang” – a Thai person won’t think that way. In some area in rural China, you will see kids riding on the back of truck, and you probably say “where is the damn seat belt?” well, they don’t have a seat! Yet, they grow up just fine… 🙂

  9. I wonder how farang this would make me? If I am unconcerned with either the boy or his father’s hearing, would that make me more Thai? Conversely, if I were just as mindful of the potential for hearing loss as you, would it make me more Thai to not care? To be unconcerned for anothers well being makes one neither farang nor Thai… just heartless.

  10. What a strange comment… I liked the response “I think that you were being sensitive to the situation, but not judgemental, merely observant.” This is more fitting to not only you but the forum. It seems the “Let Thailand be Thai” reader is a novice blog reader himself. Many fine blogs, such as yours, are attempting to share an experience through reflection – rather than saving the world. Here in Mexico I see many things that alarm me and sometimes I comment on them. I see mothers holding a baby in the front seat of a small car while two other toddlers are freely crawling around the back seat and I feel a sense of concern. Do I stop the car and chastise them for not upholding safety standards that I’m accustom to in the US– no, but it is my right to have my own experience in these situations – It doesn’t make me a novice gringo.

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