You can call me fat just don’t call me Chinese
We were talking to Eric, a flamboyant gay man in his late 50’s who had happened to be sitting across from us at the restaurant. Eric had his eye on a younger Thai man who would sometimes get up to have a smoke outside. “Sawadee krap”, or ‘hello” he would purr to the Thai man as he would pass. The man didn’t seem interested, his lover was sitting at a table further in the restaurant.
We were still talking to Eric an hour later when the lovers made to leave the restaurant.
Eric to the man (ignoring the other Thai man who had his arm around him): “Sawadee krap, you come often to the restaurant? I never see you here”.
The Thai man looked at him, no interest in his eyes. “We come here sometimes together”. They made as if to leave.
Eric: “Are you Chinese?”
Thai man: “No, I am Thai man.”
Eric: “You look with your features like you are Chinese. You have fat face.”
Thai man: “NO, I am THAI” getting upset…
Eric, provoking him: “ When you bow, do you bow like this (simulating deeply bended Thai bow) or like this (simulating Chinese bow, elbows out)”.
Thai man: “I’m Thai, why you say I’m Chinese!? I’m not Chinese!!”. He is clearly agitated and his partner is now holding him back.
We thought it was a good time to get up and leave: “Ok, time for us to go. Nice meeting you Eric”.
Eric got up and shook our hands, the two Thai men leaving while this is happening.
We are in the car with Mr. Chim, our favorite taxi driver. Mr. Chim had recommended that we eat in Bangkok’s Chinatown. “Chim” sounds Chinese to me so I put the two together and assume he is Chinese. I decide to ask him if there was a lot of Chinese influence in Bangkok. He misunderstands my question.
“Chinese are bosses, have money but no culture. Thais are tuk tuk drivers, have stalls, less money. Chinese loud and spit everywhere”.
This seems to be the prevalent opinion about the Chinese amongst Thais. I frequently get updates of the latest Chiang Mai news from my mom. Most have to do with the influx of Chinese tourists to the city which have made local Thais upset over the last few years. They jump queues, are loud and pushy, they can’t drive, they put 5 people to a hotel room, they litter, they let their kids defecate in public pools, they spit. These are all common complaints against the Chinese. This photo of a presumed Chinese tourist pooping in a Chiang Mai canal earlier this year especially inflamed anti-Chinese sentiment.
More here from a Chinese newspaper on Chinese behavior in Thailand. The article and comments are actually, for the most part, sympathetic to Thai complaints. The Chinese seem to be conscious of their faults and seem to be open to improvement (the Chinese government has even issued a ‘Guidebook for Civilized Tourism’ – quite the eye-opener if you have a chance to look at it).
Related: Tourism…and when the locals hate you
Other foreigners get criticized at times. Russians are not well regarded (the Russian mafia supposedly taking over Pattaya) and ‘farangs’ (Western travelers in general) are pointed out for their lewd behavior (whether it be drunk/stoned youths going to full moon parties or old ‘sex’ tourists). The Chinese however are the most heavily criticized – not a surprise though considering they make up the largest constituent of tourists entering Thailand.
The counter-argument to all this; Thailand is heavily dependent on tourism. Although even Thai officials have complained publicly about Chinese tourists they have changed their position in recent months due to a dip in Chinese tourists (caused by the recent military takeover). Since last month tourist visas for Chinese citizens are free. A necessary evil?
I find the love/hate relationship towards tourism in different places interesting. In Montreal locals complained about all the American tourists coming in the late 90’s because of the cheap Canadian dollar. Then they lamented the fact that we received less when the dollar rose to par. In Prague locals complain about British louts coming for cheap holidays.
My thoughts? Whether we like it or not it is the changing face of tourism that we are seeing as previously poor countries develop and its citizens get richer. We’ll only see more of it in the future. Hopefully a) we become more open and tolerant of them as visitors to our country and b) they get more sophisticated and educated as tourists as a whole.
Related: Are Eastern Europeans unfriendly?