Farang Me (or how this blog got its name)

I can’t really say being a travel journalist is a dream I’ve had for as long as I’ve remembered. My childhood fantasies of adulthood were just as filled with firemen and superheroes as the next kid in kindergarten class. No, my goal to be a ramblin’ roamin’ writer is a more collegiate one, to be sure. It’s one I picked up while reading some of my favorite books and novels, still my favorite escape from reality (though Netflix and it’s devious convenience is quickly becoming a close second).

I always envisioned myself there, while hungrily flipping through my favorite American authors’ accounts of their travels. Burly Hemingway in Paris and Africa, posh and opinionated Eliot in London, and, of course, cool Anthony Bourdain wherever it is he would be writing from in the world that week. I saw myself, sun-glass bespectacled, a traveler’s stubbly beard poking through as I sat at some far away cafe or bodega sipping espresso (or maybe sake), and penning my latest novel or journal. I always considered it to be the height of the human experience, to travel, to see the world.

The fact that in my life I’ve had the opportunity to see such faraway lands, this year more than ever, is something that I think (and hope) will always both delight and bewilder me.

That, in my travels this year, I’ve had the chance to experience other cultures at such turbulent and definitive times in their illustrious histories is more incredible to me still. To be in Brazil, the nation many would consider soccer’s “mecca”, during its hosting of a World Cup was nothing less than a pipe-dream realized for me. Anyone who’s known me for more than a few hours will quickly realize I am just about as soccer-crazy as they come, and June/July of 2014 is a time in my life I will always hold  incredibly dear because of that experience. It was possibly the greatest experience of my life thus far.

I’d like to take a moment and thank the U.S Soccer Federation, who took me along under their capable wings as a journalism intern and gave me the chance to work alongside personal heroes and amazing professional journalists alike during that time, for that opportunity. That crazy (but amazing) trip would also never have been available to me without the Ohio University E.W. Scripps School of Journalism‘s staffs’ incredible efforts. I thank both of them with all my heart.

It’s also journalism that brings me to this new faraway land: Bangkok, Thailand. And again, at what a time to come! A military coup d’etat just a couple months before my arrival makes this intercontinental another eventful and exciting one. Though these momentous changes I’ve bared witness to brought some peril, I must admit my fascination at being present for them. Maybe it’s because I feel closer to those writers I once idolized from the comfort of my bedroom back home.

I’ve never understood Joseph Heller (fantastic satirical novelist, and writer of the famed “Catch-22”) more than standing in a Thammasat University (the school I am studying at) faculty of Journalism office, trying to explain to the mostly Thai-speaking office worker who is asking me for a COLOR photo of me for my ID card, NOT black and white, that I need said ID to have access to a color printer in the first place.

During this all-too-familiar miscommunication, I notice another office worker conversing in Thai next to us on her office phone, and my ears pick up on the word “farang” amidst the incomprehensible Thai. “Farang” is a Thai word to describe white people, mostly foreigners of European descent.

“Farang?” I say inquisitively, smiling, and pointing to myself. The office erupts in laughter and exclamations of amazement that I can even pick up on that one word. The worker shields her face under her desk, her face red from embarrassment and laughing.

Still, I understand the dismissal of my plight. Here, they call it “Thai time”, a marked understanding that no one’s in a hurry to do, well, anything. Under the rules of “Thai time”, it is perfectly understandable (and even expected) for a person to be fifteen to twenty minutes later than the arranged meeting time. My very western, actually make that very American view of time and getting things done, getting to the next place on time, is foreign and strange to them. Frustrating, even, I’m sure (as the difference has brought me considerable frustration as well, at first at least).

Yet, in my experiences with the Thai people thus far, I have to say 99% of them have been almost inhumanly kind and friendly, and out-of-their-way helpful. Sure, there’s the occasional cab driver or market vendor who sees my painfully western appearance and realize they can squeeze some extra baht out of me. This inconvenience is to be expected though, and can be tolerated in one of the cheapest cities in the world. Besides, when I can get a good meal for just about (or even under) one USD, what is there to complain about? Beautiful scenery (though hot!), delicious food (a different kind of hot, but hot all the same), and wonderful people are to be found in abundance here. Ain’t nothing to complain about from this farang.

And here I sit, 21 years old, sunglasses, stubble and all, beside a lovely pond on TU’s sprawling campus, ready to meet up with my amazing girlfriend and start yet another adventure. I can’t help but be so very thankful for what I have, and hopeful for the future. I’m here, traveling, doing it all, and I’m so damn ready for all that’s to come. I may not be the professional travel journalist I dreamed to be yet, but that’s okay for now. Never in my life have I felt less sure and in my comfort zone, and never have I felt so fulfilled and so hungry at the same time. So here’s to the start of it. Sawadee Krub, and until next time, thanks for reading.

 

-D. Ellis

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