The Eternal Farang
Dovan Daniel (Daniel to friends), like so many of us, is used to being referred to as ‘farang’ in his daily life here in Chiang Mai. And, also like many here in Chiang Mai, he has been called foreigner in many languages, having lived most of his life outside his country of birth. Since he is very experienced when it comes to expat life, and since his life story is quite interesting, I sat down with him and we had a chat about the many issues concerning immigrant life, cultural barriers, prejudices and the joy of getting a fresh start in life.
Daniel was born in the city of Mersin on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. His grandfather’s family was originally nomadic from the Tibetan plains: being on the move is in his blood. In Turkey his family was fairly well off, but unfortunately his father lost his business, his wealth and suddenly felt like a stranger in his own community. Because of this, when Daniel was a young child, the family decided to move to the Island of Cypress. Here Daniel spent his early teens. They lived on the Turkish side, so the culture was not much different from what they were used to. But still the Turkish Cypriots had their own culture, being a mix of Greek, Turkish and European. Daniel liked the challenge of fitting into a new environment. He quite quickly adapted, found many good friends and spent hours exploring the island.
“I loved living there. I found the freedom of starting a new life … I had a clean sheet. When you get a taste of life on the move early on, it stays with you forever. It is addictive,” he says, with a glimmer in his eyes.
When Daniel was a teenager, he decided to follow his older brother who immigrated to Scandinavia, where he lived several years in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. On his arrival he focused on learning the language. Being able to speak both French and English he quickly picked up the rather similar Scandinavian languages, which he credits to his fairly easy integration.
“Learning the language is central to adapting into a new country and getting an understanding of it. Only through a nation’s language can you enter into its culture,” he says with a serious gaze.
In Denmark Daniel decided to capitalise on his passion for cooking and opened a restaurant with Mediterranean fusion cuisine, which was a massive success. He realised how much he loved living in a new place and started to feel that he only really appreciated life and lived it with passion, when he was in new surroundings. Slowly the cold, northern climate and its affect on people’s behavior began to bother the nomadic traveller. He felt that the Scandinavian people had colder and less passionate relationships than his Mediterranean friends and family. He also felt that he did not quite fit in to a degree that satisfied him. He believes his somewhat different appearance caused this.
“I never truly felt like a Dane, because I never really looked like a Dane. To fit into a culture and a country you have to look like the people. The first impression affects all new relationships,” he states.
One night whilst on a date with his girlfriend he was attacked by a racist Dane. He was stabbed in the neck with a piece of glass, but was able to defend himself having studied martial arts most of his life. Despite witnesses supporting his case, he ended up being fined – the perpetrator not even charged.
“I realised it was time to move on and I set off to the Gold Coast of Queensland. When I came out from the airport, I stopped, felt the warm breeze on my face, smiled and instantly felt at home.”
Life was good Down Under. He spoke the language and fitted in as regards to appearances, since he was living in an ethnic melting pot. The multicultural/racial environment, the lush nature and lack of racism appealed to him and for the first time he felt like he had found his country of permanent residence. But faith had other plans for him. On a business trip to Thailand, he travelled through Chiang Mai and instantly fell in love with the city. It supplied some of the aspects he missed in Australia;
“I am a Buddhist and it was nice to be surrounded with people of similar faith. I love the spicy food, the positive mindset and the solidarity,” he says smilingly.
So once again Daniel found himself living in a new country. He has lived here for about two years now and regularly travels to Australia, where he still runs businesses. He speaks the language, has mainly Thai friends and has opened a factory which produces, among other products, coffee for the Thai market. When asked about the downside of life here, he talks about the word ‘farang’.
“Thai people, well the majority at least, are extremely openhearted and hospitable. But this is the first country I have lived in where it is actually accepted to call your new residents ‘foreigner’ to their face. In some situations, it can be a bit hurtful,” he explains.
When asked if Thailand is the final destination on his long life’s journey, he shrugs his shoulders and smiles.
“Mai rue,” he declares.