2012 Fall Cambriae Bates External Programs Thailand

This is Bad…Just Smile…It’s the Thai Thing to Do

Time moves at a steady pace, yet if you close your eyes for a split second and open them again it can seem as if months have gone by and the world has changed. It is sometimes hard to believe that I have almost been in Thailand for three months. I can still vividly remember how it felt to board my long fifteen hour flight and try to find comfort in those stiff seats. I even remember the sound of the Chinese man sitting next to me coughing as if he had Tuberculosis while simultaneously hawking spit into his brown paper bag.  But those memories are not from yesterday. I have been in Thailand exploring for almost ninety days, and I have realized many things in this time. The first thing being that three months in Thailand hasn’t made me a proficient Thai speaker, and I still don’t understand tones. Two, I don’t think I want to leave. And three, it is hard to live with a person of a different culture.

I love my Thai roommate because she has a great personality and a kind heart. Just the other day I came back from dinner, and she pulled out a small heart necklace that she purchased for me at one of the night markets. My face lit up so quickly because it flattered me that she would think about me. There are also other times when she shows me generosity. Whenever she is eating a snack she offers me half and I take it, even if it is disgusting, because I want to be polite. One day she gave me seven oranges and another day she gave me a weird tasting “cupcake.” Sometimes she even tries to make conversation with me and ask about my day and how my classes went. She speaks English pretty well, but there are still barriers between us because we are still not sure what an acceptable way to act around each other is. For all of these reasons I think that she is a sweetheart, but her kindness doesn’t erase the fact that there are differences between us.

Roomates Space at It’s Best

I have been told several times here that the Thai students at Payap University are better off than most people in Thailand, and therefore a lot of them are not used to cleaning, but my roommate is on a different plain. When I first walked into my dorm I thought that my roommate had yet to unpack. Her entire side of the room was just full of junk, so much so that there was barely a pathway for me to walk to my side. She had a huge stuffed panda, multiple pocket books, baskets, books, crates, papers, and clothes all in the center of the floor. After looking around I quickly realized that she was unpacked because her desk and bookshelf looked the same as the floor.

The bathroom was worse. It looked as if she hadn’t ever decided to lift up the multitude of items that cluttered the sink and clean beneath them. This was bad because the bathroom sink was already infested with ants and her leaking bottle of soap and dirty dishes that she also kept in the bathroom were not helping the problem. I decided to clean when I first got here, but lifting up her fifty items, compared to my one toothbrush holder and soap, that could barely fit on the sink, isn’t something that I want to do all the time.

Despite what you may think, this was not the worst of the situation. The thing that really made me repulsed was the trash and wasabi balls pouring out from under her desk. My roommate eats the majority of her meals at her desk and she just throws the trash right down to the floor because her trashcan is often overflowing. At one point she threw away these dry wasabi balls that are considered a snack in Thailand and she missed the trashcan, but she did not sweep up the balls that were rolling around the floor. When I came into the room and saw the mess of trash mixed in with her pile of hair, I decided I had to sweep.

Sometimes I find myself getting angry at my roommate for her filthy habits, and I don’t want to talk to her when she asks “How are you?” But I try to calm down and just continue to be polite. What makes living with her the hardest is that if I were at home I would just confront my roommate and tell her to get it together, but Thais are passive people and their main goal is usually to avoid confrontation. If I did something that made my roommate uncomfortable or asked if I could do something that she was uncomfortable with she would just smile and let me do it anyway, but then tell other people later what I did wrong. Some would consider it talking behind someone else’s back but it is called Kreng Jai and it is a cultural thing. Kreng Jai is basically a Thai social idea that just means that Thais don’t wish to cause inconvenience or difficulty for someone else so they avoid directly dealing with problems because it is awkward and uncomfortable.  One goal when coming here was to just go with the flow and try my hardest to respect the culture, so because of this goal, I bite my tongue every time I have to  sweep up her mess, or every night I get up to go to the bathroom and trip over her junk in the floor. I’ve just learned to try to tidy her area as much as I can without getting into her things, and I’ve learned to just keep my space tidy. The one thing I make sure to always remind myself is that she isn’t dirty because she is Thai; she is dirty because that is just how she is. Even in America it is easy to get stuck with a crappy roommate, and it is the same in Thailand. Some people are just cleaner than others. But I try not to think about the negative aspects of her too much, so when I sweep up her mess or wipe the sink I try to remember the sweet things she does for me and say to myself, “at least she is thoughtful and she always wears a classic Thai smile.”


  1. I don’t know. You’re right though, it is most times challenging to come to terms with the culture and everyday living experience of someone from a different society. And I must also say that you have a wonderful and tremendous temperment about the whole unclean thing. In America we are taught that cleanliness is next to Godliness and that it is a good thing to be organized because it is a reflection of how your life is structured. Besides, filth breeds filth and creepy crawly things that might find refuge underneath your bedsheets as you sleep at night. I don’t know if I could be so polite as to grin and bear it when I know that respect is to value, regard, and appreciate. And with respect comes honesty and truthfulness. I would like to think that if your roommate held you in the same regard as you hold her, and that she would want to know your feelings because she cares. I think it not so admirable to begin the habit of suppressing such thoughts as the ones you have because all relationships should be based on truth….. and not all truth is confrontational or hurtful. There is always a soft way to do things.

  2. Greetings! I’ve been reading your web site for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Dallas Texas! Just wanted to say keep up the great work!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: