Call me farang. Since returning to Kuraburi, that has become my new name. Farang is a Thai word for any foreigner of western descent. Sometimes it is an insult for idiot tourists. Other times it is a simple statement of fact. Despite living in Thailand for three years before returning to grad school, I only speak ‘survival Thai’. Partly this is a result of living in farang-heavy tourist locations, partly I’m just incompetent with tones. Like most Asian languages, Thai is tonal. There are five tones, so khaw could mean five different things (including nine, white, or rice), depending on pronunciation.
Although I don’t understand a lot of Thai, I recognize that every person in Kuraburi calls me farang. In restaurants people will direct food toward me by saying “it’s for the farang,” and others get my attention by shouting “farang.” It might as well be my new name.
Kuraburi is forcing more complete Thai culture immersion than I have experienced before. My breakfast today was a Thai favorite: gai toht khaw niaw, or fried chicken and sticky rice. This breakfast isn’t widely available in tourist areas, as fried chicken isn’t really a western breakfast standard. I can say it’s aroi, delicious, and works oddly well as a breakfast food.
Many Thai cultural idiosyncrasies are obvious: removing shoes before entering houses or wai-ing. Other quirks are more subtle, and take time to notice. Today is Tuesday, so many Thai people will be wearing pink. There are different colors for each day of the week. Not all Thais wear the specific color for every day, but Monday and Tuesday are special. King Bhumibol was born on a Monday, so his color is yellow. Thais love the king, and wearing yellow on Monday is seen as a sign of support.
Pink is also a special color for the king. Royal astrologers decided it was a healthful color for him, so for his 80th birthday a pink crest was designed for the king. 85-year-old Bhumibol (currently the longest reigning monarch in the world) is not in great health, and Thais wear pink to bring the king good luck.
Astrology is taken very seriously here. When a dive school I worked for on Koh Phi Phi opened a new location, the Thai owners had to consult a seer in Krabi. The seer determined a specific date and time that would make the shop most profitable. Although the shop wasn’t complete, we had to have the official opening at the time the seer dictated. We then closed the shop five minutes later to continue construction.