One thing that every foreigner has to brace themselves for when travelling to a new country is being cheated. It will happen everywhere, every time, no matter what. Particularly in less developed countries. Most of the time it’s a miniscule amount, like 2 cents, but in that countries’ currency it can be 100% of the original price. Sure, not a big deal. But then there are times when it is 200%, then 500%. In some case, you end up paying 1000% of the local price and then you feel like a total schmuck. Let’s face it, it’s not about the money, although at the time it feels like you were cheated out of your life savings. At most it’s a difference of $5. But it’s the feeling that we are unfairly being targeted. I brace myself for it every time I go to a new country, and about every 10th time it happens, I start getting upset. Really upset.
Having been a tourist in about 5 or 6 times, I feel like I know enough to know when I am being cheated and avoid it. I can bargain in Thai, I’ve done a lot of shopping around, I’ve heard the horror stories. Moreover, I’m a resident of this country of a thousand smiles, and it’s unexpected when it happens now. Actually, I feel more like an idiot, because I feel like I should know better. Or to be honest, I feel I deserve SOME credit for being able to hold a conversation, albeit short, in Thai, being able to use public transportation, and generally having spent the last 10 months here. It’s almost humiliating when it happens now, like I thought I had fooled some people and suddenly I realize that I’m the one being a fool.
So this time I was cheated by my apartment. I had been paying what seemed like an unusually large amount for my electricity (especially considering I’m never home), and after numerous arguments and runaround, I finally saw my electricity meter (it was behind a locked door that the management continuously refused to open). After these arguments, my electricity bill dropped a shocking 60%. Even if I account for being gone more than the usual days this month for business and pleasure trips, I figured I have been overcharged regularly by about 100%. Scandalous. I feel like I have the words CHEAT ME written across my forehead. And after all of this, the management accused me of not understanding the “Thai” way of doing things, that I just won’t listen to reason when I insist on seeing my electricity readings for the last few months. Damn. Cheated AND accused of being a dirty American. No worries, I’m moving next week.
Is this the lowest point of being in ? Absolutely not – work is shit, pollution is horrible, I miss friends and Korean food and singing rooms and hwato - but it is one of those points in which all the frustration I’ve been feeling have been converged into one, single, completely justified enemy that I NEED TO KILL. And then it will ALL BE BETTER.
Don’t worry, I’ve changed my assassination fantasy into a revenge scenario - I’m going to slip a letter under the doors of my numerous neighbors instead. Let the management deal with a few more irate foreigners, that will teach them. J
However, I have to say that I am learning a lot from being in . I’m not only learning to be patient in the face of gross inefficiency, I’m learning how to smile to cover up my frustration. A good habit these Thais have. I’m also learning to be less direct when expressing my anger, frustration, or disagreement. There are a million ways to use silence, and I have yet to learn more than one of them. It takes time.
But to be totally honest, I am learning a lot from work. Having been thrown into a situation where the entire organization was a mess, I have learned that I can write a 3-year report(writing about activities that I didn’t organize nor participate in), I can strategize for funding, and organize programs in a fairly new issue area for me – women workers. I found I could even work a lot of overtime – weekends and holidays and late nights – without going completely mad. Of course I didn’t do it alone – I got a lot of support from my co-worker and friend Jini – but for a while I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make it.
I have also met some incredible workers who shared with me their stories of struggle, hardship, and growth; their sense of humor and ability to cut through the , their new pride as women and workers, and thrill at being recognized by what they see as a big international organization has been an inspiring and humbling experience. If only for the opportunity to meet these women and hear their stories, I think this time at Committee for Asian Women has been entirely worth it.
Now, after some wonderful visits from friends and family, I’m in the middle of organizing an exchange program for domestic workers (house cleaners and babysitters and such) from 6 countries. Afterwards, I will be wrapping up and handing over to a new staff person, and move on. In the interim, I’m not sure where, but within the next year or so, I think I’m finally ready to head back to the US. So, hopefully in the not-too-far-distant future, we can have a nice long chat over good coffee and cheesecake (can you tell I miss good cheesecake??).
With love from ,
Sarah / Eunkyung