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The International Writers Magazine: Thailand

Furious and Freckled in Fi Kuk
Kate Leyshon in Thailand
It’s safe to say that I am a significantly freckled individual, in fact I’m pretty much covered in them, save for those areas of my anatomy that are rarely exposed to the sun. I have light ginger hair, blue eyes and pale skin, so it’s no surprise, but that doesn’t mean that I have to like them, and I don’t, really I don’t.


At school my fellow classmates mocked me from an early age, calling me things like ‘Spotty’, Super Teds sidekick in the popular childrens cartoon of the time, or ‘pancake hands’, as they drew comparisons between my skin and a breakfast batter treat containing raisins and /or sultanas. Some even found my wretched skin so repellant that they couldn’t bring themselves to so much as brush past me, let alone hold my hand for an innocent game of ring-a-roses.  

Naturally the torment took its toll and I can recall many bathtimes when I used to plead with mum to allow me to have skin grafts, or at least to have me home tutored so I wouldn’t have to endure the cruel taunts and jibes of the knavish tykes at school. Poor dear mother, I’m not sure if she genuinely believed that freckles were in fact cleverly disguised beauty spots, or whether she just said so for my sake, me being her only beautiful daughter and all, but she continued to try and make me embrace them and appreciate how much more attractive they made me. It wasn’t just her, elderly people seemed to find them especially charming too, and they also fed me the line about them being blemishes unsuccessfully masquerading as beauty spots , but try as they might, they could never convince me that they were anything other than an abhorrence.

As an adult, of course I have come to accept them because I have no choice, but believe it or not, living with them still provides its challenges, as I discovered when I spent a month backpacking in Thailand with my partner at the time.

I quickly discovered that it wasn’t only children who can be cruel, and it was clear from the minute that we landed in the country, that my freckles were going to become quite an issue for me. We had flown into Bangkok, the countries capital and hub for all travellers in South East Asia, and we were brimming with enthusiasm and excitement, especially after having heard some of the outrageous tales of adventure from fellow travellers that we’d met when in our previous destination of Australia.

We were especially looking forward to seeing some of the picture postcard islands and sampling the Thai hospitality at incredulously low prices, as after all, most backpackers were on strict budgets and the prospect of actually being able to sleep and eat like normal human beings was an alluring one for most of us.

Our first port of call was of course Khao San Road, meeting place for all backpackers and budget travellers in Bangkok alike. Initially I found the long and crowded street to be quite interesting and often entertaining, filled as it was with countless stalls selling all manner of things, but it quickly became one of the least favourite places that I had ever had the mispleasure of visiting. To be completely honest with you, my heart had never truly been in this whole backpacking malarkey as although I wanted to travel the world and experience all that it had to offer while sticking to a tight budget,  I didn’t want to do it in the company of a million other people doing exactly the same thing, following exactly the same trail and often wearing exactly the same clothes and carrying exactly the same battered copy of The Lonely Planet.

If the East coast of Australia hadn’t emphasised that enough, this place certainly did. One particular morning, after we’d been in Bangkok for several days, I began to take more notice of something that was beginning to occur with increasing frequency. Local Thai people were stopping in their tracks to stare at me, and after having experienced this for the past few days but not thinking too much of it, I suddenly realised that I wasn’t being paranoid and that I really was being singled out by their penetrating stares. The penny finally dropped when a small boy spotted me coming out of a shop and pulled on his mothers arm to draw her attention to me. He then proceeded to compare his own arm with mine and gave his mother several puzzled looks until she whispered something in his ear and they hurriedly walked away from me, both looking back over their shoulders  with fear and loathing evident in their eyes.

Later that day, after refusing to let my seemingly repellant flesh prevent me from enjoying my stay in the country, my partner and I headed out for lunch to a local and very busy café. We had only been sat down for a few seconds and had just begun to peruse the menu, when a young waiter came over to our table, presumably to take our order. I say presumably, as he didn’t quite get that far. I watched as after glancing briefly at me and smiling, his expression quickly turned to horror as he looked me up and down and witnessed the full extent of my affliction. I continued to watch him, somewhat open-mouthed as I was struggling to accept that somebody who was paid to be polite to customers, was capable of being so downright rude to them. Then he managed to drag his eyes away from my body and focus them on my face long enough to ask me if I was ‘sick or something’. ‘I beg your pardon,’said I, eventually managing to coax the words out of my still wide open mouth, 'what did you just say? ’
‘Uh, I say, what matter, you sick, you got cancer, cancer of skin ?’

Good grief, had I heard him right ? I looked at my partner who was unsuccessfully trying to smother a smirk, and thought that at least somebody was finding it funny. So not only did this guy think that I was ill but he also thought that if I was, it was perfectly reasonable for him to question me about it, I couldn’t believe it. Then he had the audacity to lean across the table and rub at my outstretched arm, in much the same way that you might rub at a dirty mark on your skin, I was only grateful that he hadn’t moistened his fingers first. I recoiled in disgust and immediately got up from the table and walked out of the café, not even bothering to check whether my partner was following me or not ; I was what can only be described as ruddy livid.

That incident, amusing as it may seem in retrospect, really knocked my confidence and had I not been on holiday and wanting to explore the rest of Thailand, I would have been more than happy to have stayed holed up in the hotel room for the remainder of our trip, out of sight and undisturbed, rather like a holidaying hermit.  As it was, I somehow talked myself out of feeling that way, ditched my fury and convinced my sorry self that I should hold my head up high and be proud of my appearance, after all, mum said I was beautiful, and when she said things that pleased me or worked in my favour, I had a tendency to believe her.  So the next morning I decided to be very brave and venture into a district of the city less frequented by tourists, and have a wander around the markets that I had read were there. I went alone as my partner was otherwise engaged at a local tattoo parlour, and I hadn’t fancied spending the entire day watching him have some ridiculous totem pole scratched onto his undernourished and sunburnt flesh.

So I boarded the bus and although it was almost full, I managed to locate a pair of empty seats towards the back, and settled myself down for the half hour or so journey. The bus made countless stops and despite people getting off each time, the same number of people were getting on, making it a frenzied scramble for the few spare seats. I watched each person as they neared the rear of the bus, and saw with increasing horror and disbelief that not one of them could bring themselves to sit next to me, and the empty seat beside me remained that way for the entire duration of my journey. I pretended I hadn’t noticed but I could feel the eyes of other passengers boring into me and I found myself realising that they must think they could catch something from me. For a brief moment I wondered if this may have been how a leper might have felt, alone and ostracised by society ? But of course I wasn’t suffering from a debilitating and deadly disease, I was just freckly for goodness sake, did these people really not know the difference ?

Sadly this type of behaviour became somewhat common practice throughout the duration of my stay in Thailand, which quite frankly was a downright shame, as I suspect that had I not have felt so conspicuous I would have found great beauty in the country and would have remembered the people who had treated me with kindness and respect, rather than being left with a lasting memory of having been made to feel like an outcast.  When recounting this tale to friends and family I’m inclined to try and see the funny side of it, after all, it’s usually only a lack of education or awareness, that makes people have such misconceptions about other races, and as I was taking advantage of their cheap hospitality without making any effort to understand their language or their customs, perhaps the two balanced each other out ? I don’t really know, but what I do know is that I have yet to hear of anybody else having had such an experience in Thailand or indeed any other country, so if you are speckled and looking for a taste of South East Asia, pack up your person-sized rucksack, grab your second hand copy of The Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand, and hop on that plane.  Oh, and I’ve never actually been to Fi Kuk, I took advantage of the name for alliteration purposes, but it does exist and is, I’m sure, a perfectly nice place to visit.
© Kate Leyshon October 2011

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