A young Thai woman living in America calls New York the 'global city' but looks forward to raising a family somewhere in the sticks. She explains why the USA is still No. 1 and she still thinks of baht instead of dollars.
Natcha Jenson is from Lampang province in northern Thailand and is a new sort of New York City girl, being part of an explosion of Thai population
in New York over the last 15 years.
Thai women from Lampang loves the New York City 'vibe'
Natty also loves 1970's and 80's popular music. 'When I arrived here in 2011 I was so excited to be living in New York, I know many Thai's feel lonely
for home but this was not the same with me at all. I loved living in New York and I still love living here now,' she says.'One of the things I love about New
York is the fantastic radio stations, I love old 1970's pop music, it really makes me feel part of the vibe here,' she says.
New York Thai population growing rapidly
Although Los Angeles is the main centre of Thai people in the United States, the New York Thai community comes in at second place but it is
growing strongly. There are now over 10,000 Thai's living in New York although the official figures are from 2010 showing a figure of 7244 which
represents a 45% increase on the figures from 2000.
The Thai population in New York is concentrated on the Queens area, particularly Elmhurst which has a very busy Thai Buddhist Temple (Wat
Thai). 57% of the Thai population in New York live in Queens, with a further 23% in Manhattan, and 12% in Brooklyn. A large majority of the Thai's living
in New York were born in Thailand with many coming from Eastern Thailand or the North East region. Like Thai communities all over the world there are
a number of familiar characteristics:
- Thai restaurants: Many Thai's initially find employment in Thai restaurants which act as an informal Thai network in the city and are good
contact point for new arrivals from Thailand.
- Thai food and ingredients: The Thai people in New York are part of a larger Asian community and there are many shops in Queens and
particularly Elmhurst which sell Thai food and ingredients, this is particularly important to Thais living in New York as in other foreign countries. Thai
people remain attached to Thai food wherever in the world they settle in.
- Limited English: Unlike Natcha who is very fluent in English, figures for the Thai community in New York suggest that a large portion of Thais
arriving in America's bustling metropolis have a somewhat limited grasp or command of English. In the most recent survey, 46% of Thai's fall into this
category which is more than twice the average for New York as a whole.
- Working population: The Thai community in New York is a working community with large numbers arriving from Thailand to find a new life
and new prospects. The percentage of the Thai population under 18 years of age is only 30% which is significantly below the average figure for the city
as a whole. Similarly, older Thai residents in New York only make up 8% of Thai people living in the city.
- Thai people in New York are educated: Although there are no accurate figures, possibly due to political sensitivities, for the numbers of Thai
women that are Thai wives who make up a large number of the Thai population in New York, it is considered to be very significant. One key statistic
which may indicate the trend is the fact that a significant proportion of Thai people living in New York have a high level of education. The figure suggests
that 76% of Thai's living in the city received education after secondary school which is nearly 50% more than the average figure for the New York
population as a whole.
Thai people in New York live at two different levels
Figures suggest that 55% of Thai people in New York have a Bachelor Degree or higher compared to 33% for average population of New York as a
whole. Income figures for Thai people living in New York suggest that they are slightly higher than average but this does not explore 2 significant
divergences. The figures suggest that the income for Thai people in families was a whopping 50% higher than the average median family income in
New York. This would suggest that there is a significant proportion of Thai people in the city living on a much lower income, the figures suggest that
these people probably are Thai singles and with a limited command of English.
Thai singles without English in New York struggle
This suggestion is supported by figures that suggest that 20.4% of Thai people living in New York live below the poverty line compared to the average
of 19%. While the figures for Thai children living in poverty are more than 50% below the city as a whole. Carla Boonkong is an expert on the
phenomenon of Thai women marrying foreign partners and founding communities throughout the world. 'We have no in depth studies for Thai women in
New York or for Thai women in America as a whole. America is such a vast country, you know, there are so many individual communities but we are
working on this. I think New York would be a very good place to start, the figures do suggest that Thai women coming to New York to found families are
quite successful and what little research I have on this tends to support this view.'
Young Thai teacher heads for New York after run in with boss
Natcha whose nickname is Natty first entertained the idea of living in a foreign country over 10 years ago while working as a teacher in Lampang
province in Thailand. 'It was after a meeting in the school and I had a problem with my superior. I have always been interested in making money and
doing new things, but there were some people in the school where I worked did not think that this was appropriate for a Thai teacher. That day one of my
friends who was visiting from America and she was also my cousin. I was teaching her to speak Thai, she said to me that I could be very successful in
America and this is when the idea got into my head,' says Nat.
Young Thai woman finds husband from Connecticut, USA
Two years later Nat joined a Thai dating site and after 6 months she met her future husband, Steve, from Connecticut, who is 3 years older. 'It is only
8 years ago but it seems like another lifetime,' says Natty. She recalls organising her time so that she could be online to meet friends in America while
attending to her schoolwork and her other business activities.
'Yes, yes it was really hectic. Like everything it was a matter of balancing time and money. When I am living in Thailand, I did not have so much
money but to me, talking with men from America was also a great experience. I had it in my head that someday I would live in America and also live in
New York, this is the funny thing.'
Thai women: even if romance doesn't spark, 'I'd still make money'
Her husband Steve is now a PHD graduate with an international job working in an international institution which we cannot name. His photograph
behind the sofa in Natty's apartment in Queens shows a handsome young American man. So an awkward question: What brings a handsome, well-
educated American man with bright career prospects to look online to find a Thai partner? 'Yes. Some people say this and there was sometimes when I
thought this myself but, to be honest, I met many young men online, handsome men you know? From the United Kingdom and Germany. Yes, the truth is
that most are middle aged and older but what was I to be afraid of? At the time, I did not know about scammers or things like this. Really I was just
interested in making new friends in America and my dream would have been that one would come and visit me, and I could be his guide. So even if it
was not a success romantically, I'd still make some money,' she laughs. 'There are many in Thailand who do this.'
Natty is a beautiful Thai woman with a great sense of fashion
Of course we should mention that Natty is a very beautiful 35-year-old woman with a charming personality and a keen sense of fashion. Sitting in her
modest but comfortable apartment in Queens, we feel not only at ease but also her sense of excitement and optimism.
Today Nati runs her own online social network which has over 3,500 active users and many paying members. The network offers new arrivals to New
York coaching lessons and support. Nat's other activities include holding down two jobs, one at a European restaurant in Manhattan and the other at a
local Thai restaurant.
Thai educational qualifications not recognised in America
Like many Thai's who choose to move abroad she found that her educational qualifications, including a Master's degree in languages and
mathematics, were not recognised in America, but Natty tells us that this was a blessing in disguise. 'I have had a job before in Thailand but I earned little
money, when I moved to New York first with Steve, I felt ashamed that I would have to work in a restaurant, but even now when I have my own business I
still like working in the restaurant business also.' The reason why, with tips and working long shifts, Nat often earns up to $300 per night/per day in this
activity alone. Her fourth job is taking care of the family finances. Her husband Steve spends 10 out of 20 days away travelling in Europe as part of his job
and Natty takes care of the couple's finances and that includes filing their tax.
Thai woman with business, multiple jobs and high flying husband
A high flying husband puts a strain on the relationship. Natty moved to New York with Steve in 2009 when she received her fiancé visa from the
American government. She tells us that the first year living in the Big Apple was something quite different. 'It took a while to become adjusted but I was
always excited about living in New York. I had the great advantage of being able to speak English pretty well and I landed my first job within 2 weeks. The
biggest difficulty for me was working out my relationship with my new husband.'
Natty and Steve were married within 6 months of her arriving in New York. 'I was used to taking care of myself in Thailand and helping my family,
Steve is from an Irish family and they were great, but it is a different culture. One of the things I had to get straight with my new husband was the question
about money. When I came to New York first, I think I accepted that I was going to be a Thai wife, maybe a little bit more passive but this did not sit easy
with me at all. It was never a big problem and we did not have any big fight or something like that but it took some getting used to.'
American Thai wife to sees new York as 'the global city'
The next major challenge for the couple arrived in the second year of the relationship when Steve received a promotion. This meant regular field
trips to foreign offices in the United Kingdom and Denmark. At one stage her American husband wanted her to think about moving to London or
Copenhagen but this was not what she had in mind. 'I think there is something very special about America, and also New York. New York is great
because everyone here is a stranger, it is the global city. I did not want to move to another country before I had settled here, and I don't have so much time
to travel with my husband on these trips because I have to take care of my work here.
But she wants to settle in a more remote part of the USA
'I've been to the UK two or three times and Denmark; these are very nice for a holiday but I do not want to move again.' Nati tells us that her dream is to
save enough money so that someday her family can move to another part of the United States and settle down and have children. 'My husband's family
live in Connecticut and that is really nice and I have seen places like Colorado, Chicago, and Minnesota. I love living in New York and making money but
it sometimes feels like this would not be such a good place to have children. I see many people with children in parks. American families are great, that's
really wonderful but eventually it would make sense to move somewhere new and maybe buy a little business or something like that.' Nati tells us that her
goal is to move to Colorado and set up a small hotel or tourist resort with her husband. She is currently looking for more funding or even a purchaser for
her social network business but worries that time is running out to have children. This is becoming one of her greatest concerns. 'Yes, the time is now.
America is such a great country so we will have to get away very soon.'
Speaking English is key to success for Thai women in America
Natty's key advice to Thai women thinking of coming to live in America is actually confirmed by the statistics for Thai people living in New York. 'The
first thing is to learn English, I know many people in Thailand learn French and German but I think English is more important and it is the language of the
world and in America. Being able to talk and communicate is the secret of success. I think many Thai people are not afraid of work in my country,
everyone is willing to work because there is no other option. America is also like this, so being able to speak, and sometimes it's not just about the
language, it is also about the culture.'
Direct culture of people in New York shocks Thai woman
Natty explains that when she first came to New York she was very intimidated by the direct and almost confrontational nature of interaction with New
York people. She recalls her first job working in a New York bistro: 'On my first day the owner, he shouted at me and I was shocked at this behaviour.
When it happened the first time I was stunned but then this man talked to me again in the same way, I did not know what to say. I felt like an idiot and my
first reaction was simply to walk off, but I kept it in my heart which is the Thai way you know. When I went home, luckily my husband was there and I told
him what this man had said to me. He listened but he did not get angry and explained to me that maybe this was the New York way. He was not quite so
sure, that it was not just banter but I decided it was so. So the next day I took a chance again and went back to work, I figured I could not have been so
bad, they did not fire me. On the second day, after 40 or 50 minutes this man, he shouted at me again and this time I looked at him to see if it was real,
and when I did feel that the man was maybe a bullyboy, I got angry and I talked back to him, not so hard but confident and then something amazing
happened, my boss, he laughed at me and made a joke. In the evening when I got home, I told my story again to my husband and this time he laughed
and explained to me that this was the New York way. Now it is my way too, I have learned to make a joke and be direct but maybe not so hard. This is, I
think, the big difference between people in New York and Thai people and perhaps people all over America.'
Thai and New York cultures are quite apart
While Nati believes the Thai culture and American culture, particularly that of New Yorkers, is quite apart and different when it comes to
communication, she believes that there is something very positive about Thai culture which works to the benefit of Thai people in New York.
'I am from Chiang Rai and I'm not so sure if this is an Chiang Rai trait or is true for Thai people in general, but I think there is a culture in Thailand of
being in service to other people, meaning to be helpful. Perhaps it is part of the Buddhist tradition but for me it makes me a pretty good listener, I have
learned that American people like you to look at them square in the face or in the eye and smile, but I also listen. I have to say that the Americans I have
met have all been warm people and by and large good, even when I meet people who become irritable and noisy. It is very rare to find a person where
the situation cannot be overcome by a smile and patient listening.'
Tips for Thai women going to New York or America
Natty revealed that although she taught English in Thai schools and has a degree from Chiang Mai University in English she had to spend some time
practicing being able to speak English confidently with people when she first arrived in New York, as well as being able to type, write, and read in English.
She believes that mastering these disciplines is critical for Thai women living in America, or specifically New York. Her advice is:
- Learn to look at people in the face and smile, and read facial expressions: 'Even if a Thai woman says the wrong thing, if she is smiling and
looking at the American man or woman then they will respond, even if they only laugh and tell you what you said is wrong. This in fact did not happen to
me often but this was how I had the courage to interact with the people in the restaurants.'
She advises Thai women to get a job interacting with the public in a restaurant, bar, or café. 'In New York businesses are always looking for people who
work hard and I think there is a warm welcome for Thai people, particularly Thai women in New York.'
- Listen to the radio and online TV programmes: Natty explains that one of her first loves when she arrived in New York was radio, which she
listened to both on AM, FM, and online. She also watched TV shows, particularly late night talk shows and comedies to get a feel for the character of the
city, as well as how English was spoken. 'Because I can speak 3 languages already before I came to America, I have a good ear for language, and in my
heart I always wanted to be a New York woman or American woman. This was not only useful but I also really enjoyed even to mimic what the people on
the TV shows and even on the radio said,' She laughs.
Wise words for Thai Women Thinking of Moving to New York
Natty's key advice seemed to be contradictory, on one hand she advises any Thai woman considering a new life in a foreign country, particularly in
New York, that they should be prepared to work outside the home and not expect that because they have married an American they have suddenly
become a princess. 'In Thailand and where I live which is North Eastern, and provinces there, many Thai girls dream of marrying a foreigner and
becoming rich, this was never my idea. Before I thought of living in New York I did not like the idea very much of foreigners marrying Thai women. Now
since I have lived in New York I can see that being able to take care of myself and also being a good wife like only a Thai woman can do, have been two
great things in my relationship with Steve.
I think many American women would find it difficult for a young husband to be away so much. Surely it is difficult for me, but many of the things that I
learned as a young Thai girl, a Thai woman, have helped me to understand my husband and be supportive. I have also been able to fix problems and a
lot of this has to do with money. That's the first bit of advice, and the second and third bit of advice is that a Thai woman should choose her foreign
husband or boyfriend very carefully. In order to be a good wife, I think any woman needs to be working with a good man, and you see this is also about
money and other things such as character.'
Learning English was Natty's key to success in New York
While working as a teacher and even before this Natty learned to work with foreigners and to speak English while she was a student and worked on
holidays in Pattaya where she worked at the famous Hard Rock Café. 'If I come to New York and could not communicate and be confident it would be a
very different story.'
Insights into being a Thai woman in New York
One of the things Natty says quite often is that she still enjoys living in New York and relishes the cultural difference between the big city and her
hometown in Lampang, Thailand. 'Of course, everyone is different and I have a lot of energy, I think this is another thing to remember if you are a Thai
woman or girl thinking of making it in New York or America. You must have good health and energy, this is a place where you must work, it is a busy
place. I awake every morning to the sound of the traffic and the noise, the song says the city never sleeps and surely this is what New York is like, except I
love it. I have my smartphone and turn on the radio, I have my headset and I go to work or go to a meeting, or I will work on my laptop on my website, I am
always busy and I am always very well organised.'
The money is good in New York for a woman who works
One of the things that Natty finds particularly exhilarating is the level of income a Thai woman can make and she has deliberately maintained this
viewpoint. 'They say you cannot think in baht but in dollars, New York is a very expensive city. I know, I work in some very expensive restaurants but I do
not go out to eat very often. When I am working and earning money personally I think in terms of baht and this seems so much. If I work in my restaurant
jobs I can make $300, this is sometimes well over 10,000 baht in one day and from one source of income, this makes me feel excited. But when I am
spending money I will also think of terms of baht, I maybe once a week go to Asian food stores and shops that sell Thai food and I will buy things so I can
eat at home when my husband is away. As I view my life in New York as temporary, I spend as much time as possible working and learning, and keep my
expenses to the minimum. My husband is also good with money and I take care of all his receipts and expenditure since I do our tax returns. We go out
and socialise maybe once or twice a month and it is very nice but we economical.'
Thai women & American men regarding money
Natty points out that her husband Steve paid Sin Sot (a token of gratitude and honour to a Thai bride's family) when they were married in a Buddhist
ceremony before she came to live in New York. Like other Thai women she has responsibilities to her family in Thailand, her father died 10 years ago but
her mother still lives at home and she has three brothers and two sisters, all of whom are now grown up.
Americans misunderstand Thai culture and Thai women
Natty likes to send some money to her mother but she stresses that this is not significant expenditure, as part of her work in her social network
business, she meets many other Thai women who have married Americans and live in New York. She feels that there is some misunderstanding among
some American men when it comes to Thai culture and the relationship between a Thai woman and her family.
'Most Thai women will find the money to take care or to send home themselves, they will also do everything possible to support their husband or even
his family. I hear many negative stories about Thai women and money but I think people do not really understand. There was an occasion in my own
relationship where I felt my husband and his family were also wary of this. It is like this: If my husband and his family have a problem I will listen with my
heart and I will see if I can help. Most, I think nearly all Thai women, do not expect their husbands to lose or be badly affected if there is a problem at
home in Thailand. It is often just the process of two hearts coming together to share a problem or a burden, and sometimes if we can help then this is so
good. This is what is good about Thai culture and it can bring joy into the relationship if the man finds the right woman and the woman finds the right
Background to Thai Community In New York
The increasing numbers of Americans and New Yorkers who are marry Thai women has introduced a broad mix into the growing Thai community
in New York. Natty's husband is, for instance, Roman Catholic while Natty is still a practicing Buddhist. Buddhist community leaders within the Thai
community in New York celebrate its diversity. Many Thai-American families celebrate a range of religious festivals, including of course Christmas and
Easter. The bedrock of the Thai community in New York is similar to other communities throughout America and based on the involvement of the
American Army in Vietnam during the 60's. This resulted in many American servicemen developing relationships with Thai women.
New waves of Thai men and women arriving in America
Since that initial wave there followed immigration by Thai people in search of improved economic prospects and education. Many Thai women and
men have come to New York as students while a significant number of Thai women have also come to work as au pairs. Even since the initial wave in
the 1960's, the numbers of Thai women coming to live in New York are significantly greater than men, representing over 75% of the incoming population.
In the last 20 years there has been an explosion in the number of Thai restaurants in the city, as Thai cuisine has become increasingly popular in
Western countries. As well as New York City there is a significant number of Thai's who live outside the city in New York State and New Jersey. In fact,
38% of Thai's living in New York now live outside the New York City metropolis.