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

Introducing: Foodie Fridays!

I dig alliteration, and I dig food, so from now on, my Friday posts will focus on this marvellous marriage. It’s all about startin’ your weekend right.

Samut Prakan Night Market

Shopping in da ‘hood

It seems appropriate for this section’s first post to focus on something close to my home and dear to my heart: our neighbourhood night market.  A few stalls operate every day of the week, but on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, the market really heats up, with Friday night being the biggest and the best. The market sells a variety of household goods, meat sticks, “sea” food, and clothing. Case in point: Todd bought his entire wardrobe from one of the vendors.

Todd wearing his favourite 100% genuine polyester shirt

But let’s get on with the chow. Besides, that is where this market really shines. We buy most of our fruit and some of our vegetables here.

The fruit stand we frequent. We can never decide if the vendor is cheating us or not.

Veggie stand. My mother may have been negligent about teaching me Thai, but she sure taught me how to select a cucumber

There are also plenty of meat sticks to be had.

Todd was excited by these genuine-looking sausages. Until he bit into one, and discovered that it was 99% fat. This seems to be a trend with us…

There are also a variety of items that I really can’t categorize. These range from deep-friend gelatinous rice’n’seaweed blobs to random entrails. I would have no clue what these gems tasted like if it weren’t for my favourite gourmand, Tbone. His MO: see it, buy it, eat it, regret it.

Todd is drawn to gelatinous rice’n’seaweed blobs the same way that a vulture is drawn to carrion – he can’t help it.

Even Todd wasn’t tempted by the goose necks

As I alluded to earlier, the market also sells a variety of “sea” food. While we live fairly close to the sea, we live even closer to a canal, which is where I suspect the bulk of “the catch” is caught.

“Sea” food

There are a few stalls that don’t even pretend that their catch doesn’t come from the canal/bog/sludge.

Fresh-n-tasty frogs. You’re welcome.

Generally, by the time we get home for dinner, Todd is already full from all his impulse buys, and I’m trying to scrub the image of frog guts from my brain.

What should Todd sample next? Leave me a note!


Happy Mother’s Day!

It was The Queen’s Birthday this past weekend, which meant that Thailand had a stat holiday on Monday. In Thailand, not only is The Queen’s Birthday a holiday, it serves as Mother’s Day for the entire country. Now that is royalty with real power! In case anyone forgot that it was The Queen’s Birthday, there were displays along all the major roads, and, more importantly, in all the malls to remind them.

The birthday shrine outside Todd’s school’s gates

Most of the new teachers decided to celebrate the three-day weekend by travelling to Ayutthaya, the site of Thailand’s historic royal city. 16 of us crammed into a mini-van with seating that will forever after make economy class feel spacious to me. Every time we clambered out of the mini-van, I could hear most of the teachers counting us off – they just can’t help it. Herding adults is infinitely worse than herding students – you can at least threaten students with detention, and I’d bet money that they have better impulse control when confronted with food carts.

At our first stop in Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya was an intriguing place to visit. We learned about it in Thai Culture Class, and it was great to see it in the flesh. At our first stop, Wat Phra Mahathat, Todd and I decided to enhance our historical experience by renting an audio tour that came with two headsets. This lasted for about 5 minutes, after which I gave up on the history and meandered off by myself. I prefer to absorb information via osmosis. This tends to leave me with fewer facts but fonder memories.

I don’t care if I’m in the land of Siamese twins – I just can’t handle the conjoined thing.

We wandered around the first site for a while, and admired the ruins. If I remember correctly, the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya in the 1700s, and sacked the joint. Check Wikipedia if you want more facts.

Oops! Buddha is missing his head

Found it!

After lunch we visited Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit, a temple that houses a massive bronze Buddha.

Nearby were the partially restored ruins of another temple complex called Wat Phra Si Sanphet. In my wanderings, I somehow missed the ruins, and found myself in the opposite corner of the large complex. I was confused, as there didn’t seem to be anything of archaeological interest going on, although the bathrooms were extremely clean. While I was gone Todd found himself a much nicer friend than me, and spent the rest of the tour congenially conjoined.

David is a very friendly soul, and told me that I can include anything I want about him on my blog. This is naturally extremely exciting to me.

Our final stop of the day was the reclining Buddha. The government of Thailand allegedly draped him in a saffron robe to represent wisdom, thus creating a national mystery about what exactly is hidden under his robe. I tried to convince Todd to crawl under his robe and reveal said mystery, but he refused.

Aww. You look tired. Why don’t you just curl up in his robe, Todd?

After visiting three sites, the educators couldn’t handle any more education, and we crawled back into the bus. This time, my seat was without both legroom and headroom, so I pulled out my best not-so-secret talent, and scrunched myself into a pretzel in the back row. The Queen beamed benevolently at us from multiple highway shrines as the bus crawled back to the Big B.

Sawaddi-kaaaaaa! (English: Helloooooo!)

T-bone and I arrived one week ago in Thailand, and I figured it was time to get ye ol’ blog up and running. This will be a place for us (and by us, I mean me) to chronicle our adjustment to life in Thailand. I’ll be expounding on a wide array of important topics, including what kind of meat Thailand Ikea uses in its famous “Swedish” meatballs, and how it is that every toilet in our apartment block seems to drain into our bathroom’s bowl. Discussions of my efforts to “get a job’n’get a life” will also likely occur. I will do my utmost to include both frivolity and narcissism in each post.

I’ve been told that pictures are essential to a blog, so here’s a few (taken with our point’n’click – we clearly don’t know how to use the flash) to get us started: Continue reading