First of all, know that as a foreigner in Thailand, you will be stared at, regardless of your color. Thai people have not, as a whole, embraced the North American cultural taboo of staring. So yes, you will have babies, toddlers, school age children, adults and senior citizens staring at you, the foreigner. It does not seem to matter how long you live in a village/city. There always seem to be someone who may not have seen you before. Or, quite possibly, no matter how many times you, the foreigner, have been seen, you still are a unusual and strange sight.
Secondly, understand that as a POC, you most likely will be perceived as being from Africa, regardless of your shade of color. Often when I am asked where I am from and I reply “America,” my reply is met with surprise or “Really?”
In my opinion, Thai people, as a whole, have a limited range of reference in many areas. Not just in the lack of awareness of the fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicity that comprise the United States. Most only know what they see and have been told. And what Thai people see as American foreigners are white people.
Personally, I find that as a POC, in Thailand, I am a rarity. But, it still comes down to the shade of skin tone. Even here in Thailand. The lighter your skin tone, the more “beautiful” your skin is said to be. I have had Thai women (usually older) place their arms against mine and let me know that my skin was beautiful and theirs was not (the perception being because their shade of skin shade was darker than mine-in my eyes, most of these women had skin tones lighter than mine…).
Part of the contributing factor is the darkening effect of living under the Thai sun. We, Americans (or foreigners, for that sense) walk around, ride our bikes and seek out the sun or are not afraid of “a little sun.” Whereas, Thai people shun the sun. The sun makes them darker and dark skin is not perceived, as a whole, as beautiful. It’s not something to desire.
Thai people live in a society where their outside influences revolve around the stereotypical white skinned, “round” blue eyed, blonde haired ideal. At very least, white skinned, “round” eyed. Similar to the United States, television/film and print media reinforce this stereotype. In Thailand, television broadcasters, actors and models tend to resemble the “ideal.” This stereotype is further revealed, across the country, in the typical Thai black/dark hair being dyed in ranges from red to blonde and Thai skin (male and female) becoming bleached a whiter shade of pale. This is the beauty standard. Skin lightener can be found in deodorant, lotion, shaving cream, and any product that is used on the skin.
Although I, as a POC, may be a foreigner in Thailand, I find that in a group of white people or even if I find myself in Thai society with just one white person, I am automatically invisible to a Thai person. The need or desire to associate, connect with or touch a white person’s skin, renders anyone else, including other Thai people, as well as POC’s invisible. I have seen some Thai people (usually older) reach out and touch the skin of a white person, as they walked by. Just touch and smile-no need for conversation.
On a positive note, know that regardless of color, we Volunteers, overall, are appreciated. As I was writing this essay, a student came up to me and handed me a bouquet of wild flowers. Sweet.