Filipino Thailand: My Pinoy life in Songkhla
Angel Jerlin Balais
Since when have you been staying there? Can you recount briefly why you moved there?
I came to Thailand in 2005 to join volunteers assisting programs for migrants and refugees at the Thai-Myanmar border. At that time, I was working as Educational Assistance Program Coordinator in Families and Children for Empowerment and Development (FCED) and a basic literacy educator in Tahanan Sta. Luisa, a drop-in center for young street girls below 18. I was also studying in U.P. Diliman, graduate program for a second degree in Social Work. The volunteer work opportunity was so difficult to ignore. So with support from my family who are also attached to community service, I flew to Thailand. In the first 3 months of my stay, I had been immersed in different settings, dealing with different issues in Southern and Northern Provinces of the Land of Smiles – as a replacement teacher in a school in Phattalung; to distribute relief goods for Burmese victims of Tsunami in Krabi, Phuket and Phang Nga; organize a learning center for the children of Burmese migrants in Mae Sot; visit refugee camps in Mae Ramat and also to reach-out to the stateless people, and Kareni tribes, in faraway, nameless mountains along the borders of Thailand. It was a life-changing experience indeed.
South of Thailand, Songkhla province’s main city Hat Yai, hosts the third largest reclining Buddha in the country. It is also known as the capital shopping area in the South where they have the Talat Paet Thai (Asian Trade Market) open every Thursday to Weekends. Songkhla city however is far from the busy life in Hatyai. My city is located beside two wonderful beaches- the Samila Beach where the famous Golden Mermaid is, and the Chalatat beach famous to locals for water sports and family picnics. Here you can have a clear view of the Cat and Mouse Islands or rent a boat to explore them. A kilometre walk from Samila Beach, you can go to the Tangkuan Hill where there is a temple and you can have the amazing 360 degrees view of Songkhla. This hill is also known as the ‘Monkey Hill’ because troops of monkeys roam around the area freely. Songkhla Aquarium was recently opened to educate the community and tourists about the marine habitats and resources of the province. Near Songkhla Aquarium is the ‘Great Nag’, somewhat like the Merlion of Singapore but this one has a head of a Dragon. The town is clean and green, people are friendly and this is where most tourists settle because it is where the embassies, oil companies, universities, government offices and naval base are.
Thailand is my second home, and it has a lot in common with the Philippines – the things, food, weather and places look similar, except that there are certain elements that make them distinctively Thai. I also like their many festivals which run throughout the year.
I am an educator and liaison officer at the Fairview International School. Like the five other Fairview International Schools in Malaysia which boast 30 years of experience in international education, our school here in Thailand has produced excellent results. I have a great team of super teachers and staff in which more than half of them, I am very proud to say, are Filipinos.
Is there a Filipino community there?
Filipinos are everywhere! In Thailand, the biggest percentage of OFs is in the field of education. Then there are those who are excelling in engineering, those who work for call centres in Bangkok, and managers in hotels and resorts in different parts of the country. We have the Organization of Filipino Educators/Expatriates in the South of Thailand (OFEST) which helps support and deal with Filipino community issues in this side of the country together with the Philippine Embassy in Bangkok.
Tell us about your life there?
More than five years away from the Philippines and travelling across borders, seeing the reality of other’s lives, living with the amazing locals-my life is an open journal of learning, celebration, adventures and misadventures.
In my busy schedule, I still get homesick once in a while. Good thing we’re just five minutes away from Chalatat beach. I’d often draw, paint, write poems, do my photo walk sessions, read books, meditate and on stressful times, I’d shout crazily at the strong waves with my friends while we’re having our own luau party in its vast sands. The quiet waters of the Thailand Gulf has become our safe place, our sanctuary.
When we want to get posh, half-an-hour ride from our place would bring you to the city of Hatyai where all the hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and bars are. Our favorite hang-out is a bar which is managed by a kabayan who also happens to be the lead vocalist of the live band there. Within the Filipino community, we celebrate birthdays, and other occasions. Filipinos also meet in Catholic and Christian churches in the city.
What cultural practices/behaviors have you acquired from your host country?
If there is one thing, that would be ‘jai yen yen’ (keep your heart cool). Thais are generally warm, gentle and slow to anger. I am a patient person but have become more patient as I understood Thai beliefs and culture more. There is a reason why they call this ‘The Land of Smiles’ – people are so friendly that ‘smiles’ would often be enough to connect to each other.
Your message to Filipino across the globe?
Kumusta na mga kababayan lalo na sa aking kapwa mga kababaihan? Salute to all of you! No matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, never let other people from another country or fellow Filipinos, nor yourself put YOU down—stand out and be proud. When doing something, let us consider the impact of that action not only on our personal lives but to all Filipinos around the globe because each of us bears each other’s name. We are one. Let us help end the stereotyping and discrimination by starting it within ourselves. We can do it. We are Filipinos, born to survive and to make a difference. Mabuhay tayong lahat!