by Meridith Mckinnon
When I first discovered Lek, this is how I think of her; a discovery, I knew she would be complex. No-one can leave what they know easily for another life in a completely different culture, and not have complexities.
Lek ‘s move into Australian life was extreme and although in the comfort of our white Anglo homes, we like to think we are embracing of different cultures when we are in fact often bad at it. Lek moved to Australia in the early 80’s. It was a time of complacency in Australian multiculturalism, especially in the deep western district of Victoria where affluence of industry set precedence for superiority of white Anglo’s.
I think when Lek married David to move to Australia ...
he genuinely had good intentions in the respect to thinking he could override conservatism and small town racism. To a degree he did by surrounding himself with friends who were culturally aware and enjoyed Lek’s company. But outside of this circle of friends it is obvious that there was racial prejudice within the town even in daily things that Lek would do, like walking down the street and talking to her boys in Thai. Maybe this is why she rode her bike so often so it didn’t give people a chance to taunt her.
Small town racism does not only take the form of audible or visual tacks. More subtle approaches are often used that Lek would have experienced and most likely is the reason why she never worked. Finding employment would have been extremely difficult for her and in a sense David always knew this but chose to support her at home, thinking this was what she wanted.
So why was Lek not happy? Why wasn’t it enough for her? And this is where Lek changes our perception of the Thai wife. It is not enough for Lek to spend her life in the comforts of Warrnambool and certainly not enough when she has begun to lead a double life apart from David and her boys. And although she fights this decision eventually she cannot resist and she makes the decision that changes everything.
Also when I wrote about Lek’s experiences with racism, I explored the kind of racism that David felt when living in Kamphaengphet. How could it be the same? I drew on my own experiences and believe the two are not the same. However, the experiences of David, I believe, could still be felt as racist. Although greatly more subtle, and nowhere as near as aggressive, David’s feelings of isolation, loneliness and of being on show, were his feelings of cultural difference and potential subtle racism. In today’s broad interpretation of racism I attempt to compare his incidents with Leks. Lek’s encounters appear more aggressive and unacceptable but both feel the isolation and loneliness of being the only foreigner in another place. Also the fact of David being male would have altered his experiences to Lek’s.
The story moves quickly on and yet I wanted this subject to be an important part of both the characters background. Both have experienced the down sides of living in another culture yet this is not a contributing factor to either thinking it is not possible. Cultural difference in embedded within cultures and the way David tries to intervene and by even talking to police shows that cultures within cultures differ in opinions of racial abuse and tolerance. The complexity of Lek’s character in relation to racism pales to insignificance as the story moves to the plight of stateless people who she exposes in her fight against human trafficking.