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Asian Impressions

Let’s rap a bit about looks and why they matter.

Because they don’t. 

Here in Thailand, it very much seems like you are judged largely by your appearances. Of course, this is coming from a foreigner who has lived in the country for a little over two months, but I have received more comments about my face, hair, clothes, skin color, and body than ever before. People I have hardly just met feel comfortable telling me their opinion about the way I look, squeezing my arms, and/or asking to take a picture with me … 

I am sure this is not a singular experience. 

But let me give you mine. 

What I’ve seen.

And heard.

As an Asian American coming to live in Asia, I had expected to fly under the radar. I’m not as “different” looking as many of my compadres, and to be honest, I was happy about that. I had lived as an “other” in the United States for quite some time as that one Asian guy living amidst largely White, Black, and Hispanic populations. In high school, I vividly remember being mistaken for an exchange student and would be regularly stopped in the hallway to be told how good my English was. During Math class, my teacher announced on the first day that I would be allowed to use an electronic translator if I felt like it would be helpful …

So going unnoticed actually sounded pretty nice.

Maybe I could just blend in.

Learn the language.

Become Thai.

Not that I wanted to actually be a Thai person. I have my own identity after all. Nevertheless, not attracting much attention was for me, a very good thing. And for awhile, I felt like it was working. In Singburi, I could bike through neighborhoods and city centers without turning heads. At 7/11 the reaction more often than not was anything but stolid surprise when I wasn’t able to respond in rapid sync and would say “Thank you” after “Kop khun krap” out of sheer mindless habit. When being introduced as an “American” the first question I ALWAYS get is “but you look Thai …”

My parents moved to the States from the Philippines.

But I was born in the U.S.

So I’m American.

Not Thai.

And here is where things get a little hairy. This is the part where the person I am meeting gasps in excitement, gives me the once over, tells me I’m very handsome, and asks to take a picture with me. Don’t get me wrong, it feels good. Like I’m a superstar or something. But, I know that something isn’t right here. Something is out of place. Something isn’t adding up the way I thought it would. Does being American matter? Probably yes. But the focus is always on looks. “You look like someone on TV … Here let me show you a picture of a Thai celebrity that reminds me of you … Narak mak!” Deep down I love it. But even deeper down, I am disturbed by it. 

Unsettled by the shallow bluntness of it all.

By the subtle shift in treatment.

Like I’m a someone.

Or a something.

The objectification of the person and what it means to be “good” looking. Here in Thailand, it is pretty easy to make out what they perceive to be ideal because they basically worship it. Thai “idols” are treated like they possess a talent that others simply do not. On television, it is somewhat mesmerizing in its pre-valency. And I know … In part because I usually cannot really understand what they are saying and so have to focus almost completely on the visuals. Also because I can identify with the images. The people on TV look like me. Which I think gives me more pause.

Are commercials in the U.S. also this vividly imaginative?

What “standard” do we compare ourselves to?

Why does that “standard” exist?

And what say do we have?

The notion of what it means to be “beautiful” or “handsome” has been filtered through a sieve of history that I can only imagine to be as fraught with racially charged bias as in the United States. My first hint at this was during a parade for which a group dressed up in loin-cloths and blackface as a way to visually represent the “native” population from their area. While applying the make up remarks were made about how “scary” the black paint looked. In contrast, white paint was used to represent the royally dressed leaders of the pack. To try and impress upon others that dark skin is damn near the same as light skin is to walk a path set with whitening lotion landmines.

Still, I know that I am far from being an innocent bystander.

I’ve spent my time in front of the mirror.

Looking for a something.

Maybe a someone.

Parading as something that you are not. Editing away the “flaws” and intricate yet “unwanted” details of who you are. Selectively capturing moments that somehow become your story. Creating a narrative in our heads that resembles romantic fiction. Missing the point of living and “doing it for the Vine” or next post. Believing that we are simply outward pointing beings that embless upon others the gift of our crazy, amazing lives that are perfectly wonderful and worthy of becoming #goals. This is the life that we would like to live right? If only there were a filter that could make me appear to myself to be better than I actually am. To make myself into a movie that I could watch over and over again in the hopes of eventually becoming.

It used to be that virtual reality sought to imitate real life.

Now we seek to imitate what we see online.

And what we see isn’t real.

It’s a reproduction.

Outward expectations are a duplication of arbitrarily selected norms created by people that do not care about us. They do not care about the diversity of human experiences. They do not care about the wide spectrum of hopes, dreams, and feeling. They do not care about varying colors, tones, shapes, and sizes. They do not understand the meaning of what it means to be a living, breathing, honest-to-God human. And so they expect us to be objects. Primarily, objects of desire to be compared side-by-side with other objects. And that makes me palpably angry …

So fuck looking like some cut and paste Asian pop celebrity.

It doesn’t do me justice.


  1. Carol

    Great observation!! Unfortunately, even in the Philippines it is that way…..

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