Expat Interview: Kirk and Gitane

AKA: International love at its finest

For my second interview, I once again approached teacher friends from our school. I promise to try to shake this feature up a little in the future (i.e.: interview some of the non-teaching expats in this fair city), but Kirk and Gi were just too cute and too international to pass up. Plus, they have a great love story that goes something like this:

The soulful artist from the hardscrabble streets of Detroit gets a teaching job in a sultry slice of Brazilian paradise. As he sits through yet another staff meeting, he is distracted by one of the Brazilian teachers, a feisty femme fatale named Gi. The next thing they know, sparks have flown; artistic soul connection has occurred; vows have been exchanged; and they’re moving to Thailand.

Artistic soul connection captured on camera.

I caught up with them a year and a half into their Thai journey. They took me and the mister to Rasayana, a raw food restaurant, where I peppered them with questions between bites of pure health.

Ruth: How on earth did you find yourselves in Bangkok? What was the moving process like?

Gi: It was a complete whirlwind. We got engaged in Brazil at Christmas time after 4 months of dating. Soon after, Kirk got a job in Thailand. We couldn’t bear the thought of being separated, so I managed to complete 38 course credits (to complete my international teaching license), plus 2 student teaching practicums and a thesis so that I could also teach at the school. Oh yes, and I planned the wedding by myself because my family lived in a different city.

Kirk: I helped!

Babe. I totally helped.

Ruth: Wow. After all the craziness of actually moving here, has anything about Bangkok surprised you?

Kirk: Oh yeah. The soi (street) dogs. The streets here are literally crawling with diseased animals.

Gi: I was shocked by the sheer amount of sugar that gets added to everything. Everything from pizza to cups of noodles is incredibly sweet. I mean, I’ve travelled to the US, and thought that the food there was sweet, but Thailand takes it to a whole new level.

Ruth: So strange that you don’t like going into catatonic shock when you eat dinner. What about the good parts of life in Bangkok?

Gi: The massages are great. In Brazil, massages are really expensive, so I didn’t often get one, but here, they are cheap and amazing. I’ve also really been touched by how kind people are here – they are always smiling, and hospitable, and ready to help. It helps me to feel at home, because Brazil is also a very warm culture.

Here is a story to illustrate how kind Thai people are: we once forgot our iPods on a park bench in Hua Hin (a town several hours from Bangkok). Someone found them, and managed to locate the hotel that we had stayed at. We had already returned to Bangkok, but the hotel manager contacted us, and found a way to courier the iPods to us. The courier refused any payment. And there are more stories like this.

Ruth: Other than soi dogs and sugar, what has been the hardest part of adjusting to life in Thailand?

Kirk: It took a while for us to adjust to life in Thailand, and in the beginning, there were some really dark days. At one point, Gi turned to me and said “I feel utterly misplaced.” We asked ourselves why we had moved in the first place. The cultural honeymoon was over. Later, we adjusted, but it was a difficult transition.

Gi: There are so many things that I miss about home. I miss my friends a lot, and I miss my cultural references. I love film, art, and live music – and it can be hard to find these things here. It has also been challenging for me to learn how Americans behave socially – they are very different from Brazilians. Because most of the people I work with are Americans, it is as if I am adjusting to two different cultures at once.

Learning how Americans behave socially.

Ruth: Do you have any advice to offer other expats, or people who are considering expat-ing to Bangkok?

Gi: Be patient. There’s no running away from culture shock. I thought that it wouldn’t be so difficult, because I was moving here from another developing country, but there are huge differences between Brazil and Thailand. Be patient, and come with an open mind. There is so much that you need to learn! At some point, you’ll find safe ground, and you’ll be able to acknowledge your culture shock, and learn to like life here. I don’t know of anyone who hates Thailand once they’ve given themselves time to adjust.

Kirk: Bring a hobby with you, something that you can do when no one is around. There are going to be times when you don’t want to leave your apartment. Even if you’re married, you’ll feel lonely at times, and you won’t know what to do – you need something to occupy yourself. For me, it’s been the guitar.

Gi: I would echo that. I’ve developed a passion for photography in Thailand. I really enjoy photographing anything unusual, especially people in candid situations. Anything random! (Ruth: you can check out her awesome/random photos on instagram at instagram.com/gitaneee)

Kirk: And one other thing: remember that the more a country is developing, the more you’ll see its inner workings. You’ll see things that you would never see in the developing world. Life is just out there – it’s exposed. This is definitely the case in Thailand.

Ruth: Anything else you’d like to add before I let you eat your incredibly wholesome lunch/debrief who did the most wedding planning?

Gi: Yes – if you like vintage clothing, check out Union Mall! I love to wander through it, and I never know when I’ll find that one (or ten!) perfect piece of clothing. It’s how I cultivate my colourful style.

Ruth: Are you saying that I’ll actually get some style if I shop at Union Mall?

Gi: In Thailand, anything is possible.

Expat Interview: Kim J.

For quite some time, I’ve wanted to start a regular expat interview feature. If you’re already an expat, or you’re considering becoming one, this series will hopefully offer some helpful tips. If you’re not an expat or wannabe expat, you’ll simply get a glimpse of some of the other crazies who live in this steamy metropolis. I can’t lie, though: conducting interviews is not a purely altruistic endeavour – next to food and crocodiles,  I love nothing more than asking invasive questions and psychoanalyzing people. We all win!

Without further ado, I present Kim J., my first interviewee. Kim was a logical choice for my first interview – she’s the perfect alliterative combo of feisty freckled fabulousness, and she lives next door. One evening last week, T-bone and I invited her over for our favourite fish feast, and a few probing questions. As soon as I opened the door, I knew it would be a fun night, because she was dressed like this:

“Facetious? I thought you said your blog was Famous!”

I was flattered that she was taking the interview so seriously, but she finally admitted that it was a joke, and put on a t-shirt instead.

Here’s our interview:

Me: So, Kim, tell us a little bit about yourself:

Kim: I’m originally from Iowa, and I teach primary school and yearbook at Todd’s international school. In my spare time, I play Gaelic football (me: her team has dominated the sport in SE Asia).

Me: Originally from Iowa? Had you ever left the cornfields before you moved to Thailand?

Kim: Actually, yes. After I finished university in Iowa, I taught in Chicago for four years. After that, I spent two years in Greece teaching art at an international school.

Me: What made you choose to move to Thailand after Greece?

Kim: I’d always wanted to live in either South East Asia or South America, and while I was in Greece, I started looking at international schools in those two regions. When a job opportunity arose in Thailand, I decided to go for it.

Me: So it wasn’t the amazing dating opportunities for expat women that lured you over here?

Kim: Can’t say that it was.

Me: Well, then, what has been your highlight of life in Thailand thus far?

Kim: I have a couple of highlights. The first is the job. I feel like I get a lot of respect as an art teacher. In some of my previous jobs, art has been treated as an afterthought, or as being synonymous with craft time. At this school, though, I feel that my role as an art teacher receives respect both from my colleagues and the administration.

The second highlight has been the food and culture of Thailand. I love the food! Especially anything with red chillies. It’s also been really great to explore different cultural sites, and to just spend time hanging out with the Thai staff from the school.

Getting cultural with that old Thai favourite: the nose-stick.

Me: What has been the toughest part of life in Thailand?

Kim: The language barrier has been really tough. I’ve been shocked at how few people speak English. This made adjusting to local life tough – for example, not knowing if I could get home in a taxi. While I can speak a few phrases in Thai now, languages are not one of my strengths. Given the short duration of my contract, I’ve decided not to invest a lot of time learning Thai. I know that this means that I probably won’t build close relationships with Thais outside of work, which is disappointing.

Me: So, is there anything you’d do differently if you could start your Thailand expat adventure all over again?

Kim: There’s really not that much that I would change. If I could, I would spend longer at home between international placements – I had less than two weeks in the US between Greece and Thailand, which made the initial transition into Thailand life difficult. But I don’t regret the randomness of my international placements – it’s been an exciting ride, and Thailand is great.

If you could do it all over again, would you still let me interview you?

Me: What has been the most surprising part of life in Thailand?

Kim: Other than the language barrier, I’ve been blown away by the sheer number of Western man – Thai woman couples. I knew that this dynamic was common before I arrived, but I didn’t realize that it occurred on such a huge scale.

Me: I’ve also found it surprising. It’s definitely a cultural phenomenon. On that note, Kim, do you have any advice for people who are considering a move to Thailand?

Kim: Do it! I’m not sure what it would be like in a different occupation, but as a teacher, it has been a great experience. I would definitely recommend it. One word of caution, though – if you’re a Western woman looking for a romantic relationship, you probably won’t have much luck in Thailand. If you’re a Western man, you’ll probably never have better luck.

Me: One last question for you: Do you have any party tricks that you’d like to show us?

Kim: Why yes, I do. Funny that you should ask. I’d like to demonstrate how to turn yourself into a human paintbrush. This is useful for art teachers and Halloween. You’ll need a lot of hair, and an empty bottle. Here goes:

Make sure the bottle is totally empty.

Twist your locks around the bottle – it’s best if they are golden, but any old colour will do in a pinch.

Capture any stray locks…

And voilà! The human paintbrush!

Thanks so much for the interview and the handy party trick, Kim!

Are you an expat in Bangkok? Have some advice or stories that you’d like to share with the blog world? Drop me a line at facetiousfarang@gmail.com