Coming back to Suwannaphum, the small town in northeast Thailand where I first taught English, always makes me feel like a celebrity. In much the same way loyal customers return to Starbucks, day after day, to enjoy their ready-made drink, I am surprised that after a year of absence my friend at the local coffee shop still remembers mine; the woman behind my favorite food stand at the market greets me with a smile of recognition, and the woman at the bus stop greets me by name.
When I return to school to see my old co-workers, welcome smiles and loads of flattery is fired my way. Even people I regrettably don’t recognize, including the school janitor, remember my name.
Pussadee, my old co-worker and the main person I came back to visit, exclaims, “You’re so popular, Jess!” each time I’m shocked at how well I’m remembered.
“I guess I just have to come to Suwannaphum to feel like royalty!” I say.
I’ve returned twice since my first departure, and I love that I never have to walk more than a few blocks before someone will undoubtedly give me a ride to wherever it is I’m headed. I never have to worry about getting enough to eat, as I am overfed multiple times a day, and I never have to stress about a place to stay, as offers extend from every friend I made in the short while I was here.
This place really can make a girl feel like a celebrity… until her friends bring on the real, brutal, honesty.
“Oh, Jess! You look so fat!”
“Jess, your face is so round.”
“Wow, Jess. You’re skin…it’s so pale!”
I guess fame always has its ups and downs. (Hey, Britney, I completely understand.)
That last, of course, is the ultimate compliment in most, if not all, Asian cultures. Collectively, they spend millions on skin whitening products and try their hardest to stay out of the sun, even using umbrellas to help with this often impossible task in tropical Thailand.
Nevertheless, this knowledge doesn’t prevent me from returning the stab.
“I’m going to the beach for the next three weeks,” I reply, “so I’m going to lay under the sun for hours each day to soak up the sun and get dark, like you!”
It is a compliment to my western counterparts, but I’m well aware that their reaction will be much like mine when they call me fat. It stings, if only a little, and then we laugh about our cultural differences.
My friends in Suwannaphum have a way of boosting a girls’ ego to the highest extreme, and then popping her bubble with just a few words. Oddly, I love them for both. And like a celebrity who can’t stay out of the media, I vow to return again and again, because their unwavering ability to make me feel at home, like family, far outweighs their unintentional negativity.
- 10 Things I’ll Miss About Living in Thailand (storiesfromtheast.blogspot.com)
- This is Why I’m Fat (klinesc.blogspot.com)
- Back to Thailand. (murvictravel.wordpress.com)
“You’re Fat!” And other compliments in Thailand
Written by:Jessica J. Hill