Having Sat. morning coffee with Pat Morita and his crew. —
I have been retired in Bangkok, Thailand, on and off, for about ten years. I initially came to Thailand for a medical procedure. I was retired, and my medical insurance had run out. I needed knee surgery and was given a quote in L.A. for $14,000. Saw a story on 60 Minutes about medical care in Thailand. I decided that Thailand was an excellent choice to have the work done. I did some research on the web and called Bumrungrad Hospital and was given a quote over the phone for $3,000 for the same procedure. Initially, I was concerned about the care, no American Medical Association, (AMA). On second thought, I realized that the AMA was there for the doctors, not me. Told them to hold on I’ll be right there!
I arrived in BKK and received excellent treatment. After a successful procedure, I looked around town. I liked what I saw – The affordable cost of living, great food, amiable culture, (civilized), terrific health care, no snow, and safe surroundings. I could walk down the street day or night without having to check behind me every 30 seconds. The native population was also attractive Discrimination? It’s difficult to say. There is undoubtedly some discrimination like anywhere else in the world, but let’s address racial discrimination as experienced in Thailand as compared to the U.S.
Here, in Thailand, there is a veneer of politeness. They try not to offend anyone. My daughter and I went to an amusement park modeled on careers. We got to the medical venue. It divided into four sections – Doctors, Nurses, Technicians, EMS drivers. The tours started at four different times. We signed up for the Doctor tour. Repeatedly, they told us that there were not enough people for the Doctors tour. To their dismay, we responded with, “We’ll wait.” After about an hour, they just closed that part of the tour.
I studied China in college, so I realize there are tremendous cultural differences. And those differences don’t necessarily reflect on African Americans per se in Thailand. For example, if we see someone following us in a store, we get offended. However, here they follow everyone. In the States, Blacks are so accustomed to these slights that we immediately take offense. If stopped by the police, generally, it is not due to skin color. It’s more likely to stop a foreigner.
Generally speaking, much of Southeast Asia has only recently catapulted into the 21st century. Traditionally an agricultural society, as you walk down the street, you realize only 70% of the population has ever been on an elevator, 30% on an escalator. It is fascinating to witness the development of a society right in front of your face. Thailand is a dynamic and immensely robust society.
When I first arrived in 2010, I was called “Obama” in jest. But instead, I took it as a compliment. They stopped that particular practice. I am not bothered by the term “Farang” applied to foreigners. Traditionally Thais equate darker skin-colored countrymen to fieldwork or blue-collar occupations. Therefore, it isn’t easy to negotiate preconceived concepts of skin color and class. As I travel the city’s more affluent areas, I can see the mental wheels turning, trying to understand how I happened to be there. I think they chalk it up to being American. The sale of whitening creams and lotions in all of Asia is enormous; there is a feeling that Asians aspire to be white. I believe this is more an aspiration to escalate to the upper class. How do I feel about that? My stance is I am a guest in this country. I’m not involved in local politics. It is up to the Thais to determine their own future. Besides looking at the state of the States, American standards are not that inspirational.
Stereotypes! Yes, there are the stereotypes of West African pimps, peddlers, and nickel dime hustlers. ‘Don’t think I need to mention the country. These stereotypes exist in one or two tourist areas. (Side note, most have been put out of the country.) These brothers and sisters tend to follow opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, they have ushered out, and there is a separate gate at airport immigration for Africans and Brazilians. Justified, I doubt it; however, this is regulatory.
If something negative happens here, I have to ask myself, “Is this a Black thing or a Farang thing?” If I go to a restaurant and the maitre d’ heads for the table near the kitchen, I stop and sit down at the most attractive table. They don’t necessarily like it, but nothing is said. The Black Lives Matter movement is not relevant here. We don’t have police murdering people daily. The cops here police, and don’t act as a paramilitary occupation force. Thai on Thai skin discrimination comes under the heading of Thai Business. They already have a movement for class discrimination. With the U.S. election of “Comrade Grifter -in-Chief,” there has been a bit more intolerance but not as bad as I expected.
My feeling is that Thailand is not a place to go to make money. Getting wealthy in Thailand is not probable, but never say never. In conclusion, I am simply a guest in the Kingdom of Thailand and attempt to conduct myself accordingly.
Bernie loves to take pictures. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in TV Production from Columbia College Chicago but now lives in Bangkok, Thailand. Bernie has worked extensively in TV production including ABC Television Network where he served as the Associate Director and Stage Manager from 1979-2001. Prior to that, he served as the Assistant Director for WGN-TV from 1974-78. Bernie has owned an art gallery. He is married to Sarin; and has two children, Imanuel and Garnet.