I’m new to this blog site so pardon me if someone else has already written something similar to this. I was born in London, West London actually and have been raised in New York my whole life. I always considered myself a New Yorker first and everything else second. Growing up in NY was special in that it was more multi-cultural than in some parts of the US. I had black, Spanish friends. I was always surrounded by other Asians, such as Koreans and Chinese and other Thai families in the Bronx. I first visted Thailand when I was 11, and at that age my experience there were at best, negligible. Negligible in that at sucha young age one doesn’t really experience life. I returned every once more when I was 15 and it was there I first experienced Bangkok, which included my older cousin taking me to clubs like the Catwalk. It would be 8 years till my next visit. At this point I was Americanized, I spoke little Thai but understood Thai and cringed whenever my mother spoke to me Thai or used my Thai nickname (Aun) in front of my friends. Thailand for the most part was not in anyone’s radar, unlike Korea and Japan and China, Thailand was a little known country. Whenever I told someone I was Thai they would mistakenly think I meant Taiwainese. Like other Asian-Americans kids I had no real connection with country of our parents. It was always easier to assimilate than stand out in a crowd. There were Thai kids who went to Thai school and temple, but in my 16 year old mind they were uncool whereas I was playing basketball or football with my friends. While they stand home with their families on the weekends or doing something at the temple I was out on dates and such. I was American. When I got to college, Thailand ceased to be this little country no one heard of, now Thailand had become this exotic locale. By 1999, with Alex Garland’s book “The Beach” was released and the subsequent movie, Thailand became this mythical land of utopia. Thailand’s reputation by now is one of being the sex capital of the world. It was in 2000 when I went to Thailand after quitting my job as a political/economic analyst and experienced Thailand. I landed a job as a reporter for a wire service by accident and that began my five year travels in Thailand and Asia. Now I’ve returned to NY to finish a book before going back perhaps.
So that’s the background, Thailand opened my eyes to many things. Going back as a 23 year old was different than as a 12 or 15 year old. I never felt I was out of place in NY, but when I got to Bangkok I realized I don’t stand out. I’m not the only Asian person in the store or at the cafe. I’m not as short as I am when I’m with my friends. I felt like I belonged. See, its odd, but growing up in NY every once in a while I got the occasional ethnic slur it wasn’t till I went to Thailand and came back to NY for a friend’s wedding did I start feeling like I didn’t belong here anymore. In Thailand, I was always that kid from abroad, so I was treated differently. I always got the same 20 questions from Thai people in stores, in cabs everywhere. What’s it like in NY? Is like in the movies? Where you born there? Do you have a white girlfriend? Where did youlearn to speak Thai? etc. etc, etc. It got to a point where Ijust kept my mouth shut. But my Thai did get better though, sometimes cabbies would think I’m Korean trying to speak Thai. which is funny but off point. As the months passed I grew into Thailand. I was finally able to navigate my way through Bangkok’s chaotic bus system. I walked the markets and found myself able to write in Bangkok, for once I was able to find peace.
I started thinking I was Thai first but then tragedy struck. 9-11-01
I was sitting in Don Muang airport that day or night I should say. I was on my home to NY for a friend’s wedding when I heard what happened. I remember not getting on the plane, sitting at the airport bar watching it unfold with other people. I had friends who died, I was also an Asian reporter from New York so I had no time to mourn, no time to go home. As I grew in Thailand, it was time to go back to NY. I willalways love NY, I’m still a New Yorker first, but there’s something my aunt told me before I left, she said, “You are Thai, the blood in you is Thai, the birthplace of your parents is here, Muang Thai will always be home, remember that Aun, tur phen khon Thai.” Even As I write this now from my apartment in Brooklyn Hts, I can still smell jasmine in the air.