I could’ve sworn I was a Texan in my past life. I love chicken fried steak. I dig country music. I’m quick to adopt a drawl once surrounded by folks who talk that way. I look good in cowboy hat, and feel right at home in cowboy boots.
What all of that has to do with Thailand? I’m getting to that in a moment.
So, today, casual Friday, the one day in this longest work week of the summer (does it feel long to the rest of y’all?) we can wear our jeans, I decided to go a little country. I have on my jeans, cowboy boots, plait shirt—from Thailand, ironically—and put my hair in 2 braids.
Here I am, sitting in my spacious cubicle on 34th floor building in Downtown Los Angeles, possibly the most diverse city in America, working away at my computer, looking like a cute little country bumpkin. An All-American Asian country bumpkin.
What a sight, indeed.
It kind of goes with my name being Oakley Boren thing. When I’m introduced as Oakley Boren, people just kind of have this expression on their faces like, “I didn’t expect to see an Asian chick named Oakley Boren”. Today it’s “I didn’t expect to see an Asian cowgirl named Oakley Boren.” Anyway. Pardon my digression.
I was still looking at the monitor when I saw Random Coworker (RC) stopped by my cubicle. I spotted her on my “rearview mirror” on my computer monitor. Before I could turn around and properly engaged in a chit chat, RC stepped up behind me and got a hold of my braids as if they were a reign on a horse.
She didn’t quite say, “Giddy up, Oaks!” but with the motion she was making with my braids, she might as well just do that. And I didn’t even get a carrot.
True. Not all Westerners know about how Thai people regard our heads as the most respectable part of the body. Many theories and explanations on why we come to value our heads: from the fact that it’s the place where you store your knowledge, and more importantly, that’s where our “Kwan” is.
There is not really one word to describe what Kwan is. It’s like a part of our soul, our spirituality. For example, when someone is frightened, it is said that the kwan has left the body. You can still hear mothers console the toddlers who have been spooked say, Kwan Oey Kwan Ma – Oh, Kwan. Come back, Kwan.
Young people don’t go anywhere near the older people’s heads. You can see in the way people bow low as they pass someone who are sitting, or crawl past them if they’re seated on the floor. Same way with service folks or people of lower social statures. It is disrespectful—and rude—to be taller than older/more respectable people’s head.
I’m usually very forgiving about people who did things not knowingly about my culture. Usually very forgiving about the touching of my head, being the smaller one in the group. But once in a while, I have to explain myself and people would apologize and acknowledge the cultural difference.
But RC here has been to Thailand and known the culture thoroughly. Her husband lived in Bangkok for almost a year, and I believe she was over there for at least a month. She actually touched my head once before and recoiled in horror that she forgot about the head thing. Yet, she still took me by my hair.
I guess today she just forgets that I’m Thai. It happens to the best of us sometimes.
Toto. We’re not in Bangkok any more.