Living In Thailand Blog
Tuesday 31st March 2009
An English guy who is taking a break from teaching in Thailand (maybe a permanent break) told me what a thankless task teaching is. How right he is. Occasionally it feels rewarding and you get some job satisfaction, but for most of the time it's just like a treadmill.
As he told me, most teachers do care about their teaching and make an effort to teach in an interesting and effective way. This planning and preparation takes just as much effort - if not more effort - than time spent in the classroom.
After putting in so much effort it is therefore highly disappointing to come into contact with students who aren't the least bit interested, and who have no more on their minds than their next break.
One of the biggest problems I have found with teaching in Thailand is that I have rarely taught students who are motivated to learn. They study English at school because it is part of the curriculum, or they study at a tutor because it is their parents' idea.
I have also taught a number of working adults who were only attending classes because it was their boss's idea. You can't make people learn if they don't want to, and if they are there against their will it's an almost impossible task.
Thais offer very little help in the teaching process but expect the world. I've lost count of the number of times I have asked for guidance and been told, "Teach whatever you feel is best."
You then try your best but it isn't unusual to hear at the end of your assignment that, "It could have been better." Well, how could it have been better? And wouldn't it have been better to tell me at the start, when I could have made changes, rather than at the end?
Teaching in Thailand is like managing a Premiership football team. When the players don't perform on the pitch the manager gets sacked. When Thai students play or sleep in the classroom and don't learn, the teacher gets blamed.
One of my ex-students is now a university lecturer. I have known her a long time and I helped her with her Master's degree and PhD. She is one of the most conscientious and hard-working Thais I know.
Whenever I have taught her she studies diligently, and she has always corrected writing assignments immediately. She's a model student, in fact.
When she first started lecturing I didn't see her for months. Gate, being Gate, put all her energy and effort into her work to make sure she was doing the best she could do for her students. In her first year she was given some kind of award for her teaching.
I received a bit of a downbeat e-mail from her recently in which she told me her Dean had blamed her for the students' poor results this year. I was annoyed, to say the least. What a great way to demotivate someone, and why would anyone want to demotivate one of their best lecturers?
When I taught her and a friend a few years ago, another girl showed up at our conversation classes. She wasn't a great student and I think she was freeloading off the other two by letting them pay me for the lessons.
I didn't hear from her for ages but she contacted me when the time was coming to submit her Master's degree thesis because she wanted me to proofread it. She was studying in an international program and had written it in English ... or should I say Thaiglish.
The standard of English was horrendous. With proofreading, I should really only have to make some minor corrections but effectively I ended up rewriting her thesis, translating it from Thaiglish to English.
I was doing this on my own most of the time and there were many sentences that I just couldn't understand what she was trying to say. It was a very difficult task.
When I had finished, she got me to help her with her defence presentation, which was also in English. That too needed a lot of work.
Finally, we finished. After that I never heard from her again.
Her friends told me that she had graduated successfully but she never called me - or sent an SMS or e-mail - to say thank you.
When students ask me to help I never state a fee. If they ask how much I tell them it is up to them. I never expect any money or gifts, but I at least expect a thank you. If nothing else, it is simply common courtesy.
Teaching in Thailand is a strange profession. I had hoped to be able to give up completely at the end of next year but with the economy still completely in the toilet it now looks as if I will need to continue this particular brand of masochism for a few more years.
I met a Canadian guy a few years ago who had just got a job teaching locally. He had recently arrived from Korea and had lots of teaching experience. I met him again about a week later and he told me he was no longer working.
When he arrived at the school there was a female from New Zealand already working there and by the sound of it she was a complete control freak. She had colour-coded lesson plans, etc., and insisted that every minute detail needed to be followed to her exact instructions. She wouldn't leave him alone.
He was a middle-aged guy, similar in many respects to myself, and found it impossible to work under such a regime. So he walked out.
My first teaching experience ended in the same way, although the circumstances weren't quite the same. In my case, a drunken farang bum was already at the school and thought he would take advantage of my arrival to give himself an easy life. Things came to a head and I too walked out.
For most of my Thai teaching career I have worked completely by myself, working for a Thai boss who has kept out the way. I have had very few problems.
As a farang teacher in Thailand, your worst enemy is other farangs. Just the same as in my previous career, there are always people around who are far more interested in trying to control other people than working themselves.
They push to get themselves into some kind of supervisor role; the main reason being to try to get an easier life for themselves.
If you teach in Thailand you don't really need to worry too much about the locals but be very wary of your own kind.
Just after writing this I was speaking to a Filipino teacher who had heard that another Filipino teacher might be going to her school. She wasn't at all happy. She told me that among Filipino expats in Thailand there is lots of rivalry, and that they really don't get on together.
It's the same with Thais. In any Thai work place there are lots of little rival factions, lots of gossip, and once you start to understand what is going on you realise that all is not quite as friendly as it seems on the surface.
This is exactly what I was saying about farangs and it is probably the reason why so many farangs in Thailand make such an effort to stay out of each other's way.
Sunday 29th March 2009
I haven't seen crowds of Thais like I saw this morning since the government handed out free chicken during the Bird Flu outbreak in 1994.
For quite a while now (since Thaksin went, actually) I haven't taken much interest in Thai politics. Abhisit seems like an excellent leader to me, and how refreshing it is to hear an intelligent, unselfish Thai politician who speaks so eloquently and so fluently in English.
As part of the government's stimulus package, they have handed out Bt2,000 cheques to Thais earning less than Bt15,000 a month. I'm surprised at this amount because very few Thais I know earn anything like Bt15,000 a month, so it includes a lot of people.
In Thailand nothing comes for free, which is why Thais have had to borrow the word 'free' from English. With borrowed words - such as 'free' and 'corruption' - it is a sign that the concept has never really existed in Thailand, hence there was no need for a word.
When something does come along for free - such as a free chicken dinner or a Bt2,000 cheque - there is great excitement and this results in huge crowds of people.
Saturday 28th March 2009
When I told them I felt tired and lacked energy they started telling me about the benefits of eating birds' nest soup to restore energy levels.
I had to explain to them that farangs don't believe in the invigorating powers of birds' nest soup, shark fin soup, and snake blood, etc., and further, that they think it is wrong to endanger animals this way.
The girls looked quite shocked. As far as the nests are concerned, they couldn't understand why taking nests would harm the birds.
The cultural gap and the difference in belief and value systems between the Western world and Asia is huge.
As a race, we have to be one of the most stupid life forms on the planet. The hypocrisy of human beings is unbelievable. Let's just take one example because today Earth Hour will take place. It's one of those stupid events where we all try to act grown-up and responsible for one hour of the year before going back to all our bad habits for the rest of the year.
When I went down to Singapore last year my brother got tickets for the Singapore Grand Prix. As you may know already, this was the first ever Formula 1 race staged in the dark. The whole track was therefore illuminated, and because of the speed at which Formula 1 cars travel it had to be as bright as day time. The electricity bill must have been phenomenal.
My brother told me that Singapore had made a big deal about 'Earth Hour' to prove to the world it was an environmentally friendly country, so everyone had to turn their lights out for an hour.
Yet, for the Singapore GP they illuminated the track in a way that a sporting event had never been illuminated before.
How can you reconcile these two events? You can't. It is pure stupidity and hypocrisy.
Bangkok also made a big point of joining in 'Earth Hour' this year but you can be assured that as soon as the lights went on again, the air-conditioning was also put on full to turn Bangkok's many edifices into large refrigerators again.
I consider my finances to be in a mess at the moment but my situation pales into significance when compared to that of most Thais.
I went for a massage today with the massage girl I have known for the longest time. She's a sweet thing from Sukothai; never any trouble, but poor as a church mouse. Her family do the most honest form of work there is in Thailand - they work in the rice fields; and that's what she did before she followed her aunt into the massage business.
There have been many days recently when she has had no customers. Yesterday was such a day. She sits around all day and goes home empty-handed. When she works, she earns very little. The customer pays Bt250, of which she gets about Bt80 for two hours work.
Most customers in this part of Thailand are Malaysian tourists and many don't tip. By that, I don't mean that they only give a small tip - I mean they give nothing.
Another massage girl was telling me that she and a friend went to a hotel to give two Malaysian guys a massage. Their tip was Bt10 between them. Yes, Bt5 each - which is as good as nothing.
Anyway, I have always looked after my regular massage girls (and even the ones I don't go to regularly) and they have looked after me. It has worked well.
The girl I saw today never says anything about what I give her and never complains that it isn't enough but she lives each day hand to mouth. Under normal circumstances she can manage but any additional expense above what is normal gives her a problem.
After she finished today I could tell that she wanted to say something, but that she felt reluctant. I pressed her and got the story.
Her rent is due tomorrow and she hasn't got any money. She shares a cheap place with her aunt and her share of the rent is less than Bt1,000 but she still didn't have it. I therefore gave her a bigger tip today to cover her rent.
Last year she had stomach problems, and before that she had problems with her teeth. She needed to see doctors and dentists but the additional expense was too much for her so I helped her out.
I can't imagine what it would be like not having enough money to cover things like this. I am completely the opposite and have always lived well below my means so that I can put money aside for unforeseen expenses.
Even if something big happened and I didn't have enough, I still have my family to help me out. She doesn't because her family are poorer than she is. You'd never know this if you met her because she seems quite happy and content, as most Thais are. It's probably because they have never known anything different.
It's easy to take our lives for grant but living in a country with so many poor people makes you count your blessings.
Earlier in the day I had been browsing around an electronics store again. I have started to buy DVDs but watching them on my computer isn't ideal so I am contemplating buying a small flat screen TV for this purpose.
I had problems finding the prices because the labels on the TV sets just showed the monthly instalment payments. This is indicative that many Thais only buy their luxury items using credit.
Apart from houses, I have never borrowed money to buy things. I've always taken the view that if I don't have enough money then I can't afford whatever it is. For many Thais though, something costing upwards of Bt10,000 is a lot of money and only attainable with credit.
Another massage girl was telling me that everyone she knows buys everything on credit. She feels the same way as I do and pays cash - but only because she has a Danish boyfriend who gives her the money.
This is another reason why I don't understand why the Baht is so strong against other currencies. It was a credit bubble that started the 1997 Asian financial crisis, and a credit bubble that caused the current economic woes around the globe.
I can't help but think that sooner or later the Thai economy will have another big problem.
Thursday 26th March 2009
Another advantage of being in tourist-infested areas of Thailand is that there is a better selection of English language books. While in Phuket's Central Festival department store last week, I took the opportunity to browse around one of the large book shops.
I only bought one book this time - the 4th in Benjawan Poomsan Becker's 'Speak Like a Thai' series. I already have the previous three, and I'm not interested in the 5th which covers the Isaan dialect. Isaan is not an area of Thailand I'm particular interested in, and Thais from Isaan that I meet elsewhere can speak the central dialect.
As I've said many times before, Thai language books written by David Smyth or Benjawan Poomsan Becker are worth buying but beware of anything else.
The fourth book in the series covers jai words. This word is often translated to 'heart' but is more along the lines of 'mind'. Even in English, these two things can be used interchangeably to express emotion. We can change our mind, or we can have a change of heart about something. The Thai phrase is bplee-un jai.
Anyone learning Thai will automatically pick up many phrases that use jai because there are hundreds of them. This book covers 300 and even that isn't an exhaustive list.
One word that Benjawan uses in her translations surprised me a little.
Being unfaithful in relationships is not unique to farangs; Thais are also very good at it. The Thai language therefore has a number of phrases to describe infidelity or unfaithfulness.
There were a lot of bargirls in Phuket, and when bargirls speak English they do so with an English vocabulary all their own. Benjawan, in her book, uses a classic example of bargirl language: butterfly.
When I came to Thailand as a tourist I used to hear this term all the time but since I've been living in southern Thailand I have never heard this term being use by a Thai from around where I live.
If I hear this word being used by a Thai girl it gives me a clue about what she does for a living, and if I hear it being used by a farang man it gives me an idea of the type of Thai girls he associates with.
The phrases normally used by southern Thais are:
- seua-pooying (for an unfaithful man) - girl tiger
- laay jai - many hearts
- jao-choo - jao (owner); choo (adulterer, adulteress, lover)
Benjawan's Thai material has an Isaan bias and perhaps more bargirl English is used in Isaan because of the bargirl connection with that region?
Thailand is an incredibly photogenic country, both for its landscapes and its people. Regardless of whether you enjoy large Asian cities, beaches and islands, or rice fields and mountains, Thailand has something for you and it is a dream destination for photographers.
One of the great things about visiting Thailand is that hotels are plentiful and a lot cheaper than in most other countries. I always use Agoda to book hotels in Thailand. The company was established in Thailand and has great local knowledge, as well as a huge inventory of hotels.
If you click on one of the destinations opposite you will get a list of hotel deals from Agoda. It's generally a good idea to book on-line because you will get a good room rate and you won't suffer the disappointment of arriving at a hotel to find that it is full.
I book hotels regularly in Thailand and I have always found Agoda to be the best on-line travel agent. At times I have spent a lot of time researching hotel prices and although other deals sometimes look better at first I always end up returning to Agoda.
If you don't wish to pay for your hotel at the time of booking, Booking.com normally allows you to pay when you check in at the hotel. Some people prefer this method, but I have always found Booking.com to be more expensive than Agoda.
If you want to compare prices between different on-line travel agents (OTAs) for a specific hotel, you can use a company such as HotelsCombined. However, you will normally find that Agoda is the cheapest and therefore you can save yourself time and money by just booking through Agoda in the first place.
Images of Thailand