my new favorite blog

When I first discovered Green-Eyed Geisha, I spent hours reading every single post in the archives, and now I check every day to see if a new post is out. It’s great blog from a Canadian woman working in a Japanese company in Tokyo, and all the weirdness involved.

In particular there’s lots of descriptions of little daily interactions that would seem petty and paranoid to someone who’s never lived in a foreign country, and particularly Asia, but rings so true if you have. Like “do people close the elevator door fast on purpose so that I don’t get on with them, or is it just coincidence?” and “why are people always staring at me?”

Here’s the shit I am constantly dealing with in Thailand:

– Sometimes when I go to pickup food in a restaurant, some vendors decide to serve all the Thai customers first, even the ones that arrived after me, then me last. When I figure out this is happening, I will say something rude, not buy the food, and then leave

– Many people refer to me in conversation as “the foreigner”, instead of just “her”.

– Many people talk about me in Thai, when I’m standing right there, thinking I don’t understand.

– Once I asked a question in Thai to a food stall owner where I bought food every week. Gesturing and talking loud so everyone around would hear, she said “What is this foreigner saying? Does anyone understand her. I don’t speak FOREIGNER LANGUAGE” — even though, the dumbest, most uneducated Thai person at least assumes that all foreigners speak English. Can you imagine the reaction in Canada if someone said “what is this foreigner saying? Hey you, I don’t speak ASIAN” There would like riots.

– Once I was entering my building, one of the guards said “where did you go?”, and the doorwoman said in Thai with a sneer “she’s a “business” woman”, which is the same euphemism as in English, meaning “she’s a prostitute” — I don’t see that doorwoman anymore, I hope she got fired, b*.

– People ask me for money all the time, with this sneering attitude that I’m a rich foreigner and I owe it to them, but it’s clear that if the situation was reversed, and I needed help from them, they wouldn’t lift a finger to help me.

– When I rented my last apartment, the estate agent was a Thai woman. While butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth if there was a Western man around, every time I ran into her in the neighborhood, she would make comments like “it must be nice to afford a nice apartment like that all by yourself”, “wow, it must be nice to have all that money”, in this mean, jealous tone. So now it’s not enough to deal with mean, vicious comments from Western men here about Western women, now Thai women have to hate me too. Great.

– Sometimes when I speak Thai to an Issan person, they will switch to Issan dialect, and speak really fast, just so…I have no idea what, except that they’re trying to show me up or make people laugh at me, coz they always do this in front of a crowd. This is like a Japanese person showing up in Canada, making an effort to speak English, and then I’ll switch to French, just to be a bitch.

This makes me sad. I really loved Thailand when I first came here, but when I look at this list, I am pretty close to hating it.

7 Responses to “my new favorite blog”

  1. 1 Gen Kanai April 7, 2010 at 9:28 am

    Hey Julie, tough blog post to read, but certainly understandable. That being said, unfortunately this is not uncommon across a lot of SE Asia, and E. Asia as well. People are ignorant, and there’s not too much you can do other than to let it slide off your back (if you can.)

    It sounds like you need a vacation from SE Asia?

  2. 2 julielavoie April 10, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Hi Gen,

    thanks a lot for your kind words. Yeah, it’s pretty tough — many days I can just let it slide, but if I’m struggling with other life things — like we all do — then all this foreigner bull* just gets to be a bit too much.

    It’s hard I guess because, so little of it is about me, anything I do or anything I am is completely obliterated by my foreigness in people’s eyes.

    You live in Japan, right? Your blog says you are from NY. Do you encounter any of these kinds of attitudes there?

  3. 3 Jody April 11, 2010 at 11:56 am

    I haven’t yet read enough of her blog to get to the elevator entry, but it sounds like paranoia to me. Japanese people are obsessive about elevator controls. There’s always someone (usually a man) who takes charge of the controls… when the elevator stops, he holds “door open” until everyone is on or off, then punches “door close” (which is actually responsive in Japan) and holds it down until the elevator starts moving.

    Depending on the person (and I suppose how much of a hurry they’re in) they’ll either hold “door open” for someone running, or hit “door close” quickly… I’ve seen them do it to Japanese people lots of times (especially in office towers.)

    I know what you mean about Thai people though… I don’t speak the language but I’ve seen enough to know 99% of them don’t care about us beyond getting our money. Plus a sexpat we met at the border was complaining about Thai people talking trash in front of him. I’d have dismissed _that_ as his paranoia (he was a strange guy) if I hadn’t heard the same thing from you.

    FWIW I’m finding many people in Vietnam to be genuinely friendly. But I think you need to get out of the 3rd world and onto somewhere more civilised… whether Japan is that place remains to be seen. Good luck 🙂

  4. 4 gen April 13, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I hope you’re staying safe- the news as we see it from outside Thailand does not look good.

    I think there may be some of those kinds of attitudes in Japan, but most likely not in Tokyo or Osaka (i.e. the big metropolitan cities.) You may get that kind of parochialism in the countryside but I think it would be less common in Japan than say Thailand.

  5. 5 julielavoie April 18, 2010 at 1:24 pm

    Hi Gen,

    yeah, Thailand right now is pretty screwed up. Did you see the latest about cops trying to catch protest leaders and being captured instead? It’s like a bad episode of gilligan’s island, or something!

    Thanks for the tip on Japan, yeah, sometimes I think of moving to Japan instead of here. I think I might be a bit more compatible with Japanese culture than Thai culture, interesting though it is.

    I heard from the barcamp list many people don’t want to attend in May because of the current unrest?

  6. 6 GEG June 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm

    Guess I’m a little late to this party, but thank you! I’m flattered. It was so interesting to read some of your experiences above as I don’t get a lot of perspectives from expat women in other Asian countries. Everyone says Japan is such a closed society but it sounds like a somewhat similar situation elsewhere too! You seem to take it in stride, and I like to think this is what makes us stronger. I’m definitely not paranoid though, I think I’ve been here long enough to detect the BS. 🙂

  7. 7 julielavoie June 20, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Hi GEG,

    wow, so happy to have your comment as I’m a super big fan of your blog! I guess I really love your woman’s perspective in living in Japan, and your attention to all the details of everyday life in a foreign country (I love postcards from the Kaisha!).

    Yeah, I’m beginning to think there’s a lot of similarities with respect to being an expat in any Asian country. I think Asian cultures are all very inside group/outside group — where you’re tight with people inside your “group” and everyone outside can pretty much die in a ditch for all your care. And even when we’re part of a group, say at work, we still don’t really “look” the same, and even if we were to “look Asian”, we’ve still grown up with a million daily experiences that went into making us a different person that someone born and raised in Japan or Thailand.

    I know what you mean about the paranoia, I’m right with you in thinking you’re spot on. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t live in Asia, but I think once you have, you know what’s up. 🙂

    Anyways, thanks a lot for all your great posts and comments! 🙂

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A blog about culture and technology in South-East Asia.

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