A conversation in my Thai language class.
Instructor: [giving me a very dramatic solemn look] I have to teach you a word.
Me: [grinning in anticipation] OK.
Instructor: Robin Hood.
Me: Huh? That’s English.
Instructor: It is slang.
Me: Even better. What does it mean?
Instructor: It is what we call Thai people who go overseas and disappear.
Me: What do you mean disappear? As in get killed?
Instructor: No. Disappear from police.
Me: As in fugitives? People who have done bad things in their home country?
Instructor: No, no. They get visa, they go to America, then they stay for a very long time.
Me: Oh! Illegal immigrants.
Instructor: [pleased that I understood] Chai!
Me: But just Thai people?
Instructor: Yes. Just Thai people go overseas. And only to countries like America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Me: [thoroughly amused by now] You know the story of Robin Hood, no?
Instructor: A little.
Me: Do Thai Robin Hoods send money back?
Me: Then Robin Hood’s name is being terribly maligned!
Instructor: It is Thai slang.
Me: But just Thai people? What about all the foreigners here in Thailand?
Instructor: Slang is just for Thai people. farangs don’t need to be Robin Hood.
Me: Oh, they do! So many people go to Cambodia or Laos and come back just to get new visas for Thailand. Also, a lot of people do overstay their visa and just stay put in Thailand.
Instructor: Why would farangs do that??? They have money.
I then had to break the news to him that Thailand, and now more of Southeast Asia, while a popular tourist destination, is also a popular haven for retirees because cost of living is relatively low compared to their home countries. Thailand offers a retiree visa good for a year if the applicant maintains at least US $25,000 in a Thai bank or prove $2200 monthly income. Not every retiree has that. While in relative scale, many retirees are very well off compared to Thais, many are not when compared to their fellow countrymen.
I also pointed out because of Thailand being the hub of a lot of illegal trade, the country also attracts another level of not so attractive expats. Only last year did Thailand and US sign a more robust extradition treaty, with more recognition of both countries’ criminal court.
My instructor’s biggest disappointment in all these revelations? That not all Western foreigners (farangs) living in Thailand are filthy rich.
But, boy, did I try to insert “Robin Hood” in my usage for a long time afterward. Not exactly a regular conversation topic.