Living In Thailand As A Black Male
4 years ago I became fascinated with the idea of living in Thailand. Before traveling to Asia I really didn’t know much about Thai people or Thai culture. If you’ve read my post ‘Racism in Thailand‘, then you have a better idea of the whole experience in general. What I try to do in my writing is share my personal experiences, first-hand of what it was like for me starting out to give you better idea of what it could be like. Don’t let my experiences be the standard, instead use my experiences to help you better navigate this country.
Real quick about Farangdam if you’re new:
“Farang” means foreigner, often associated with white skin. “dam” or “dum” is the Thai word for the color black. I put the two together and here we are a full year of Farangdam. Some people hate it, some love it and most just want content,Thanks everyone!
What you’ll get from this article
- Personal Insight into why some Thai’s judge you by your skin.
- Personal experiences of my own living in Thailand
- Short little tid bit of the pros and cons of living in Thailand
- how you can best prepare yourself if you ever want to live and work in Thailand.
- Most importantly! Why racism doesn’t have to matter!
Is There Racism In Thailand?
No doubts here, much respect to all the welcoming, kind loving and extremely warm Thai people I’ve met in Thailand, but a majority of Thai’s have pro-white associations. Meaning that they automatically associate positive things with seeing someone whose skin is ‘white’. Some Thais hold white skin in such high regard that they consider themselves “less” than those whose skin is white. Job title, income, experience, honesty, trust, intelligence and most importantly beauty are just a small list of the assumptions that having a light complexion will entitle you to.
Nothing trumps the half-white Thai
There are a lot of half Thais living in Thailand and most of the half Thais I met have half-white fathers. These Thais are a prize possession for Thai society. The half white Thai is really in essence what Thai society strives to look like. Almost all TV commercials and billboards that glorify appearance, success or beauty feature half-white Thais.
What about the half black Thai?
As Thailand is hot everyday and that sun can be quite brutal. It is widely assumed that if you have dark skin you come from a poorer background. For the less fortunate living in Thailand who have to work in this heat daily for low wages are ‘the undesirables’ in popular opinion. Dark skin means you work hard in the sun and you probably make little money to take care of yourself, let alone a family.
Coming from a western society where tan skin defines your beauty. I personally think the half black Thai is rare and beautiful. I only met about 5 or 6 in 4 years in Asia. Most of the the people I met have Thai mothers and African-English or African-American fathers. I also met some half Nigerian Thais as well. The American Thai’s I’ve met really embody the black American stereotypes as well (crisp NY baseball hat, shoes that looked like they’re worn once a year, basketball jerseys and all that other stuff). Made it easier for me I guess to know they’re American.
So if you’re white are you right?
For the most part you’re what Thai people expect to see in a foreigner. Some Thai women are very passionate about showing their adoration for handsome (or not so much handsome) white men as well. The scale is really broad too. I’d go as far to say that the ever so shy Thai girl will approach you, given you’re in an approachable situation…
Thais will assume you have a decent command of English and assume that the prices are peanuts to you. I’ve seen it first hand with my friends going out to clubs. It really seems like your facial features, height, age, profession and all that other stuff that western society uses to measure you up doesn’t really matter in Thailand.
There’s this widely assumed idea that all the white foreigners living in Thailand have money too. Matter a fact, all the white foreigners should have money and always be willing to pay any price thrown at them. Not the worst thing in the world but I could see how people always likening up to you in the hope to get you to spend your money can get a bit annoying.
I worked with a guy who was about 59 years old and sometimes he would come out with us. He was making the same amount of money we were and he was spending it all pretty fast to keep up with his hot young girlfriend. Long story short, he’d lose almost all of his money in the 1st to mid-2nd week of the month and we had to chip in to help him out. It got old fast and he eventually had to go back to the USA for other financial reasons. It wouldn’t be fair to tell this story either without including that he was a great guy and did always pay us back, just a sucker for the helpless Thai girl.
The expectation to always be expected to spend more and sort of fulfill this role of the “This is nothing for me financially” guy can get a bit burdensome. Let alone if you have a girlfriend who has a low to otherwise non-existent income and a whole family with a quite similar situation, good luck!
So What’s wrong with a little bit of complexion?
Absolutely nothing, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise either. Trust me, the type of Thais that are racist are the equivalent to what we call hicks , ratchet, ghetto and white trash in the USA. They’re not really the type of people you want to associate with in the first place.
I grew up with the stigma that most Asian people have negative associations with black people. The portrayal in media really being the main culprit.
You may also notice that sharing that you’re from a western country could cause a 180 in the way you’re treated. I had a taxi driver apologize to me when I told him I was from the USA. The whole time, he thought I was from Nigeria and told me he didn’t like Nigeria. He also went on to tell me my skin color doesn’t matter and it’s how good my heart is that’s most important. Whatever, this guy who almost kicked me out thinking I was Nigerian. Maybe it’s a status thing? I think it’s logical to assume that people will adore people they meet from countries they want to visit.
Most of the time when black people are in the news it’s for the wrong reasons. Never mind making news of the young black girl who graduated university 2 years ahead of schedule. Gatekeepers are very real and they shape and reinforce our perceptions through media.
There are plenty of Thais, whom I met and had the pleasure of getting to know from my time here, that not only prefer black people, they prefer darker skin as well. The Hip-hop scene in Thailand is alive but not as popular as per say rock n’ roll. Bonding with people is all about having similar interests and hobbies.
Can’t you tell I’m a westerner??
I can probably count on one-hand(or two) the amount of Thai people that knew I was American at first glance. What gave me away? I have no clue, besides the fact that I’m actually American. Some Thais speak and understand good enough English to decipher where your accent is from. Usually these are the people who’ve gone to international schools, were educated in a foreign country or had a foreign parent. In other words they use English outside of school.
A lot of Thais, in my opinion, go by what they’ve seen or heard. Many of them have never even had interactions with a black westerner and if they did it was probably brief.
Some Of My Thai Experiences
Personally I love living in Thailand. A lot more than living in USA. The life that I can comfortably live in Thailand is miles ahead of what America offers me in terms of overall happiness( I know things will get better in the USA racially soon but it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better). Financially, in Thailand it’s a lot more difficult to find a salary over $1400 per month, but with that being said that’s more than enough if you’re single. Trying to raise a family? Maybe not so much. I’ll touch on money later in the supplement your income section.
I have been fortunate enough to have a Thai friend prior to coming to Thailand. Not the case for many, but such is for me. I was able to meet my Thai friend’s family, friends and everything else in between(Thai lessons, hacks, tips, dos and donts). I can’t tell you how awesome it is to make friends with people on the other side of the earth. Not only that, they reminded me exactly of the type of people I would chill with back in the states. There’s a similar version of you everywhere on this planet.
My Thai has gotten to the point where everyday discussion isn’t an issue. It almost seems like yesterday when I had no idea what the juicer lady was saying to me when I tried to order my drinks(beets, carrots and apples).
For myself, since living in Bangkok, I personally feel like another ordinary person. When I lived in Rangsit I always felt like I was always being stared at. I got use to it eventually (after a few months) but it was still pretty weird. With that being said if you’re a foreigner in a region like Asia then you should expect to be stared at if you’re not Asian.
Every once in a while someone will smile at me and ask me if I play football (soccer) and further inquire if I’m in Thailand to play professionally.
Don’t even get me started…Bangkok, Thailand has to rank as one of the worst cities in the world to get a taxi. They either want double/triple the fair or it’s simply not in a direction they want to go. One time the city of Bangkok did try to crack down on taxi’s who refused or charged inflated prices by fining them 1,000 baht($29usd). The taxis response was followed up by a clear “fuck you” to the government by turning off their “free” signals, even when there was no passengers. This allows them to just pull up when they feel and in a way solicit you for taxi services at will. In all fairness some Thai taxis drivers are amazing people but far too often taxi drivers have been summed up to one word in my opinion and that’s “divas”.
Working and living in Thailand for me has been an extremely positive experience. I worked as a teacher for 4 years and had two different positions at the same school. Our office had +20 foreigners and from what other people have told me we had an unusually large and diverse office. This past year we had 1 Iraqi Canadian, 2 black Americans, 1 Hispanic American and 1 Asian English. I always felt like the older Thai teachers didn’t really like foreign teachers. We didn’t do nearly as much stuff as they did nor were we as involved in the students life either. It’s also fair to say that the school didn’t do much to promote that either. We were often left out of student teacher bonding events being told, “Foreign teachers don’t need to come”. I worked with a guy at my school who was by far the longest serving foreign teacher that I knew of. He was loved and adored by all students. Still you kind of get the feeling his position is as secured as the new first year teacher. Your future ultimately lies in the hands of your Thai employers. They pay the agencies.
Sometimes the office felt like a zoo. Especially when we had visitors from other schools come in and take photos of us while we were working. Yes this really does happen and it still happens.
The norm was going to class and founding out class was cancelled for some type of rehearsal, training, ceremony or assembly. The students were more informed than we were. Still we managed to have a lot of good times. Share a lot of good moments and had a wonderful work relationship with 90% of the teachers I worked with. Some students truly respect you and some wish they could flip the kill switch on you.
Every class, the students greet you with a ‘Wai’. As the year goes on those numbers will drop. It’s obvious the kids hate it, but no one ever said you have to enjoy respect.
Some of the students will like you more than their Thai teachers for various reasons but make no mistake if any of them will ever respect you the way they respect a Thai. Even the front-gate security guard has more clout then you.
I won’t go too deeply into this, I wasn’t much of a nightclub person until I came to Thailand. Partying too much and chasing women is the #1 reason many travelers go broke in Asia. The party only ends when you say it does. Partying too much has led many people to the horrors of being broke in a 3rd world country. I just hope you got good ties back home if you’re one of these people.
If you drink domestic beer it’s pretty damn cheap. I think Leo big bottles for for 48 baht( $1.38) and at bars it goes for about 80 baht ($2.30).
Most clubs have cover charges of about 300 baht($8.63) and that fee comes with a drink. Depending on what kind of club you go to there will be a dance floor with tables(for your drinks) scattered in between them. Sometimes the layout of most clubs really doesn’t promote interaction with strangers. Nevertheless still makes for a good night of fun and music.
When I first got to Thailand and had no clue where to go on weekends and the teachers I worked with always brought me to red light districts and nightclubs where the women in the club are actually working girls(prostitutes). I hated it to be honest, just wasn’t for me. I actually remember planning to just pull a no show and fly back home. Glad I didn’t!
Now a days in 2016, I occasionally have a few drinks on soi 11, listen to some good tunes, bop my head a bit to the tunes and head back home.
Pros and Cons of living in Thailand
- Cost of living in Thailand is just unbeatable,food is affordable and deliciously healthy. I’ve never seen anything quite like it really. For the quality you get at the price you get it, it’s just awesome.
- Huge foreign community, more then likely you’ll find people from your country and from there your network will grow.
- Transportation is everywhere! There comes certain perks if you have your own car, but it’s not necessary. Some could argue the BTS sky train can be expensive but other than that you can’t really argue.
- You never will have as the type of preference that Thais will(understandable) but, even if they’re blatantly wrong! Scammed or not, be careful and just count your losses. If you plan on building a life here it’s very difficult to find jobs that are otherwise deemed unfit for a Thai.
- Expect to pay more, expect to be discriminated against because you’re not Thai. Also you can bet you’ll be taken advantage of if you can’t speak any Thai(tourist destinations).
- It’s hard to hold your Thai employer accountable(teachers). I personally never experienced it but I’ve heard of teachers being let go for no reason, having salary withheld and other essentials abruptly taken from them with no foreseen signs or reasons. This is why I stress to get a TEFL and get entered into the funnel of legit teaching jobs.
- Don’t expect to be taken seriously if you can’t speak any Thai. English is broadly spoken and poorly spoken most of the time.
How can you best prepare yourself?
All the research in the world won’t prepare you for the real life experiences but it helps. My best advice is be patient. The transition from home to a new country with a new language can be intensely awesome at first, then depressingly hopeless next. Over time you’ll find your place and I’m confident you’ll put yourself in a good place.
Please read the book Blink by Malcom Gladwell. I found this book 4 years after living in Thailand and wish I had read it before coming. Reading this book provides much detailed explanation to why things are the way they are in terms of first impression and perception.
Supplement your income
It’s not easy to advance from a regular teaching position to a more higher up position within a company. The workload increases but the payment doesn’t so much. You get more power but you also become a shit shield for the company as well. I’ve lived here for a while and teaching is fun but it won’t allow you true freedom. All the stuff you’re about to read below is no overnight process but over time can blossom into a nice passive income.
Stick to teaching?
What will most likely happen is after a year or two of teaching you’ll either climb the farang latter to higher paying positions(still cover teaching if it’s an academic position) or you’ll find a side hustle to supplement your income as you stay in the same position . As a teacher you can live humbly but you’ll soon find out that as a teacher you are basically the McDonalds employees of foreigners here… teaching jobs in government schools are probably the lowest paying jobs for westerners in the kingdom(that are employed in Thailand). Don’t measure your happiness by money though. The experience is a rich one that no amount of money could buy. Also you can do a heck of a lot of traveling with a little bit of budgeting and research! Still there are simple ways to earn extra cash before you come or while you’re here.
- Make eCommerce websites with shopify – I’ve written about this in a couple blog post and I still stand by it. If you can create a website that can average 5-10 sales a month of high-ticket items then you can truly become location independent. I once made $1,337 in one day with my website!
- Sell on Ebay or Amazon. It’s sort of a lost art but I’m more than happy to help anyone who is interested.
- Learn and master a useful trade before coming.(web-design, programming, ppc management). People pay big money for anyone who is proven quality in these fields.
- Get a TEFL Certificate, online or in-house and find a English teaching job. It could be a bit rough at first but the longer your school keeps you around the more freedom you’ll have as a teacher. It’s nice when the eyes aren’t on you anymore and you’re just seen as a regular. Run your class how you want and teach the way you know will work best!
- Make a blog like mine(buy a domain name) and write about stuff that interest you! It may take a lot of time to see results but never mind the money, it’s relaxing and you get to help people looking for information. I personally use WA to help myself and other people achieve passive incomes, wealthy affiliate.
- Buy your tickets ahead of time. You can save hundreds of dollars by buying your ticket a month to a two months in advance. That money will go very far in the long run.
There are also lots of facebook groups like Bangkok expats and Desperately Seeking Bangkok where there is thousands of foreigners helping each other navigate and explore Thailand through guidance, advice and opinions. Although I would post with discretion. If you have information that could be found with a simply google search then don’t ask it in the forum. Some of the people in there are true trolls and can be ruthless.
Why none of this has to matter?
If you come here with an open mind and know this is just an experience then you’ll treat everyday with more importance. Don’t look at it as a race thing ever. Political correctness isn’t nearly as defined or upheld by everyday people. Whether it’s because you’re black, white or not or maybe shouldn’t affect you so much to ruin your vacation or experience or perception of Asia. If you’re a westerner and you’ve never been here, don’t try to assume what it will be like. Worrying about Things you can’t change will seriously drive you crazy and that’s not why we travel. We travel to expand our horizons and experience the world for what it is. Peace.