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The Svelte Thai Women And The "Won Sigh" Foreigner

Dodie Cross
Dec 8, 2007
I came to realize early on in my stay in this beautiful country of Thailand, that Thai women were not only perfectly groomed and gracious, but they were absolutely "svelte." I mean, how many more attributes do they get? I felt like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians.

As a newly-arrived expat in Thailand, I looked forward to seeing everything; from the Reclining Buddha to the gold-encrusted temples. But first, I told myself, I had some serious shopping to do. With the temperature at 100 degrees and the humidity fighting for top billing, I thought the best place to kill two birds with one metaphorical stone would be at an air conditioned shopping mall. Shopping has always had a way of lifting my over-sized spirits. I'd hoped to find a cutesy little sundress that could transform my 38DD bust line and my 30 inch waist into something that looked "svelte."

But this wasn't just for me, this shopping business. No, no. I made it a prerequisite to always help the local economy. I was directed by our hotel's concierge to try Robinson's Department Store in downtown Bangkok. "Very nice clothes foh you, MaDam."

Wow, Robinsons? Right here in downtown Bangkok? It took me thirty minutes on a hot tuk-tuk ride in the piercing heat, but I made it, unscathed and ready to spend, spend, spend. As I sauntered into what I thought was the Women's Department, I stopped short. Oh, no, these must be the teen's clothes. They're much too small for an adult. I scanned the racks. Who wears a size 2? Where am I, in the Barbi and Ken Department? I couldn't get these styles around my thigh, much less my back-side.

I could see someone walking towards me, but she looked like a teenager. Surely she's not the salesgirl? She stopped in front of me. "Gootmoanin."

"Oh." I felt my face get hot. She looked like a sprite. She wasn't a little girl after all; she was at least in her 20s and obviously the salesgirl in this department. "Uh, I, ah, was... Is there a Woman's department in this store?"

"Yeth." She smiled and waited expectantly.

"Oh. Well, I, ah, could you point me to it?"

"Mai kow jai ka."

I yanked my Thai-to-English conversation book from my pocket and handed it to her. She pointed to a Thai phrase and handed the book back to me.

"Oh! You don't understand?"

She smiled.

"Okay. Sure. Sorry." I pointed to my well-fed body, while she watched expectantly. I then yanked on the waistline of my dress and said, "Clothes. For me."

"Yeth," she smiled demurely while looking at her feet, "preze foroow me."

She led me to a small alcove, where some well-fed tourists were grazing about. Sidling up to a rather rotund shopper, I asked if she knew why we were led to this separate area. "Is it because we're foreigners?"

She puckered up her mouth as if sucking on a sour gumball: "Yeah, honey, it's cuz we're foreigner's all right, larger-than-life foreigners!" She threw back her head and guffawed at her cleverness.


"The only sizes you'll find out there," she cocked her head towards the tiny clothes I'd just left, "are size twos to fours, and honey, that ain't us." She had herself another good laugh.

I snuck a peek around the room while she chortled, and realized that every body standing in this room was years past those proportions.

I knew I wasn't going to like these svelte, tidy little women. They must be bulimic -- that's it. Binge, purge, binge, purge - they're not fooling me. Dream on, lady.

As I toured and shopped the city in the following weeks, I came to realize that the Thais were also neat and tidy in other aspects of their lives. Every department store I visited in Bangkok was unbelievably pristine. Shirts and pants, towels, linens and sportswear were not only folded and stacked, but actually looked as though folded by automation. All the garments concealed cardboard inserts to give them shape. No pins showing, no uneven edges, just as if it were a picture on display. The dresses, blouses and shirts were neatly hung on hangers according to sizes and colors. Amazing, considering the litter I'd witnessed outside on the streets of Bangkok, where every little nook and crevice harbored some sort of debris.

For us, ahem, larger sizes, I found that anything imported was deplorably high. An imported name-brand in Thailand could be four times higher than one might pay in the States. Paradoxically, Thai clothes are very inexpensive and quite stylish -- if you're less than five feet tall and weigh between seventy and ninety pounds.

I made a decision then and there: Before I left this country I would diet, fast, quit eating, quit breathing; whatever it took to look as svelte as these Thai women.

Another eye-opener I found was that every place I shopped, there were at least three salespeople hovering over me, smiling, waiing -- a Thai greeting. So helpful! I'll be very cranky when I return to the States and don't get the same service.

But -- back to reality. After living in Thailand for a few months, I learned the secret of the segregated clothing. The salespeople have the perfect solution for us larger sizes. It's called "Won Sigh" -- meaning HUGE. You enter the clothing department, and unless you're built like Twiggy, the sweet, smiling, ever-helpful salesgirls -- who all look pre-pubescent --steer you toward the "Won Sigh" department. This is where you'll find all the loose-fitting, baggy, beachy, gauzy, hippie-looking outfits, and all claiming to fit ONE SIZE; from size 8 all the way up to Mama Cass. This is their way of saving face - yours. They would never dream to insinuate you were large, fat, obese, or chubby. You just happen to fall into the category of Won Sigh.

As I departed Robinsons in my new muumuu, nearly tripping over the hemline, I got a glimpse of my reflection in the display window. YIKES! Picture Hilo Hattie in strappy sandals.

(Excerpted from A Broad Abroad in Thailand by Dodie Cross, with permission).
About the Author
Dodie Cross is a freelance writer who has received numerous awards for her writing and poetry. Dodie has traveled the world, writing about her life in foreign countries. Learn more at: A Broad Abroad.
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