This is page 4 of the story, “Living in Thailand” – the first page is HERE.
Thai people don’t really have an ego like the western ego. I’ve seen very little “machismo” here. I’ve encountered VERY few people that seemed too proud, too strong, too tough, too cool, too rich, too smart, too anything. People tend to be very down to earth and must try hard not to draw attention to themselves. I’m reminded of a boy in my math class. He’s fifteen and he plays football (soccer) incredibly well. He scores a goal about one in three times he gets the ball. I’ve seen him score five goals in one game. The kids are screaming around him when he scores – they’re going nuts like they would anywhere in a school game.
The boy barely smiles, he just walks back while everyone congratulates him and he goes about playing some more. He is exceptionally good looking – many girls want to be his girlfriend. His family is rich. He has the latest toys. He sings in a band for all the school functions, and plays guitar and is great at both. In America, he’d be a stuck up jackass of a boy because of our egos there. But here he is like anyone else. He really has no ego.
I’ve not seen many instances of anyone except police officers having ego here. Really, it boggles the mind that people can be so different here.
I came here to see a different culture and I’m definitely seeing that – daily. It’s great fun.
So, the concept of saving face, maintaining face is extremely important to Thais and it’s something that you don’t want to ever disturb. You too must play the game – they might have a little more tolerance for someone from another country that doesn’t understand the game, but really, you’re expected to understand the game.
Lek! (means small in Thai, and yes, she IS)
At the school I was leaving I met a wonderful girl that was an assistant teacher with me in the English program. She was twenty-three years old. She had just graduated from a major university in the Northeast – one of the most respected, where she was studying English and communications. She joked with me and had a sense of humor which I found astonishing. Every Thai girl I had gone out with hadn’t felt comfortable enough with English to be able to joke around much. This girl’s vocabulary was incredible and her pronunciation was quite good.
I began to date her – and yet also date others at the same time. In the Northeast, this is a problem. There is no real “dating” that goes on in public. If a man is seen with a girl together and without any chaperones – the two are together. Might as well be married. Friends don’t go out alone together unless the guy is obviously gay.
There is such a stigma attached to the whole thing that it’s shocking to find out later that the whole town is gossiping because I walked around the park with three different girls in the course of a week. The gossip was that I was a player and that I had “many, many girls”. Which was sort of true – but why did everyone have to talk about MY life? The farang in the northeast is the object of intense scrutinization. Thais’ LOVE to gossip about what the farang teachers are doing in their off-hours.
Thai Teachers Are a Weird Lot
I made the grave mistake of agreeing to rent a room in an apartment building that was owned by a teacher at the new school I was teaching at. Some fellow teachers told me about the place and it sounded great! Cheap, Air conditioning, hot water, good location, new furniture… etc. I took it and for over a month I was happy. That is until I found out that every time there was a teachers’ meeting at the school the owner of the apartments would fill everyone in on the girls I was bringing back to the room! She told them who, how many, for how long… it was outrageous!
I confronted her inside the small store that she ran adjacent to the apartments. Her family and she had just sat down to dinner and I came in and told her in English (LOUDLY) that I was extremely pissed off that she would tell others what I was doing and that it was none of her business and etc. etc. For five minutes I made it very clear. Her whole family was shocked. The funny thing is – I’m sure they all thought that I was the jackass since whoever loses their temper is the one at fault and looked down upon. It doesn’t matter WHAT someone does to cause you to lose your temper – if you lose it in a disagreement – you are the idiot.
So, word got around the school that I blew up at her, and as far as I know, she stopped detailing my bedroom activities.
Renting a House in Ubon Ratchathani
I found a house to rent for five-thousand baht per month. It was new and had new, modern furniture. The owner had built it for his wife and himself but they decided to move back into a one-room apartment they also owned just so they could make some money from me renting the house!
I had upstairs and downstairs, a huge living room, two bathrooms, four bedrooms, and the best part, was a really large kitchen! No, I don’t cook much – but my girlfriend loved it and cooked every chance she got.
While I was at this house in the Northeast I was holding some private English courses at home – most of the time just out on the porch, after working at the school. I could charge four thousand baht for one person for a twenty-hour course, six-thousand for two people, eight thousand for three people and ten thousand for four people.
I put some signs up around town that I was teaching English at the house and soon had individuals or small groups coming for classes after school and on the weekend. I taught mostly conversation courses. College kids wanted to practice their English before they graduated and moved to Bangkok for jobs because many times the interview was held in English.
If they could get through that interview they could be assured of a higher-paying job. At times I taught four beautiful college girls for two hours at a time… and I was paid for it! I usually charged ten-thousand baht for a twenty-hour course for four people. That’s $250 USD. And it’s decent money and quite fun. The Thais want the class to be fun above all else.
The course was usually a conversation course – the Thais are tired of schooling and learning grammar – they just want to learn to talk more. Many of my classes were beautiful girls that were going to work in Bangkok after graduation from the university and wanted to be able to get through the English interview.
I made some extra cash each month teaching English in my off-time. I taught a couple of hours after work and then a few hours on Saturday and Sunday. In the summer I held a Summer course for six to nine-year-olds and had fifteen kids coming daily during the week. Nice extra money and a lot of fun. Teaching English is not hard work. I’ll take it overworking in a corporation in America ANY DAY.
So – I was able to save some money and live comfortably while in Isaan.
Dating in Isaan
During the first year in Thailand, I dated many different Thai girls and I found them all to be lacking in personality, seriousness, hobbies, depth of character, interests, intelligence something substantial. Mostly it was the inability to speak English that made the situation unbearable. I was learning Thai, but not at any pace that would allow me to converse intelligently for years. I’m “language challenged.”
I know this about myself because I had over five years of classes in high school and college for Spanish and was surrounded by people in Florida that spoke Spanish, and yet I never could say more than a couple of sentences. The Thai language is WORSE for me. There are sounds that don’t even seem possible to make. At least Spanish was similar to English.
Learning Thai has been pretty rough on me, but I’ve learned about 1000 words and some simple sentences and phrases. It will take another couple of years to ‘get it’. I’m also learning to read the language – which is easier than speaking it because it’s more logical. I’ve learned the 46? consonants or so and am just trying to get all the vowels committed to memory. Thai writing is worse than Chinese – one must read left to right sometimes, right to left, bottom to top and top to bottom. It’s quite confusing at first.
Anyway, back to dating Thai girls. Most girls insisted on having their friends come with us on dates – that sucked because not only could I not say what I wanted to, but I also had to pay for everyone’s meals and movies!
I put an end to those kinds of dates quickly. It just wasn’t worth it. Although I missed out on going out with some incredibly beautiful girls that just refused to go out alone with me.
I began to really start liking this girl I was working with. I called her “Lek” a few paragraphs ago. She was small – a very petite girl. At times she looks so young. A definite plus. Here I am – just turned 40 years old and I was dating a 24-year-old. In America, it would never work. I’m not into the music a really young girl is into. I’m not into the same things to talk about. I’m not into the stares from onlookers. Now, don’t get me wrong – I pulled some 19-year-olds – when I was in my mid-thirties, but they were not long-term relationships. A couple of quickies after dinner or drinks and then we’d go our separate ways.
But this girl I was working with was looking like a long-termer.
Having had some experience with girls in Phuket – prostitutes all of them in one way or another, and hearing it constantly from my friends and acquaintances I met here in Thailand – I thought that ALL girls were completely untrustworthy here. They all lied… it was part of their culture. The bargirls lied because it meant money. Money that went to their family to support parents, husbands, Thai boyfriends, or children back in Isaan (the northeast of Thailand). I’d lie too.
I didn’t trust Lek at all. I wanted to – and yet I couldn’t possibly. I had read heaps of Thailand internet stories by farang men that had their hearts ripped out of their chest by falling for Thai girls. They can jerk a farang around like a played-out marionette and the guy wouldn’t have a clue. If he ever did get a clue it would be his fault for bringing it up! The Thai women that are working as prostitutes have years and years of experience in maximizing their income at the expense of the horny guys that come seeking short-times, long-times and long-term romance and marriages from them.
Good Girls and Bad Girls
The brightest guys on the planet will still fall for a bargirl. It makes no logical sense really when they are fully informed. But, love appears to be illogical. Go figure. Guys will spend thousands of dollars on their Thai girlfriends with the thought in mind that – “If I was at home, I’d be spending much more than that.” So, they rationalize it. Never mind that they’d never date a whore at home. The girls here in Thailand don’t SEEM like whores. You start to think of them as normal girls. They are beautiful and sweet… they don’t care much about your age… they are not fat or into drugs (in the northeast). The girls in sex tourist areas are a different group.
The problem in finding good Thai girls in Pattaya or Bangkok or Phuket is that they might be normal girls for just a little while… when they first turn to prostitution… but you’ve got just days to find one in that situation before it’s too late. They like quick and easy money. Hell, pay me to have sex with women for money and I’d enjoy it a lot of times too. Even if they were ugly! After they learn the tricks to get paid even when they don’t deliver all they should be – they are really liking it. If they don’t have too many negative experiences like getting beat-up, raped, forced into doing things they don’t want to do… they might really be in it for the long-haul.
If they are in it for any length of time – they have met up with many other girls they are now calling ‘friends.’ Girls doing the same things. Girls that share tips. Girls that share food. Eventually, they become just like them. The girls are amazing at getting money from many guys at the same time. They are great at having many boyfriends overseas and getting monthly donations – support- until they return to Thailand when the guys really spend money on them.
Anyway… so I met this girl in Isaan. She had never been to a bar. She had visited Bangkok only with her aunt who was many years older. She didn’t have any friends that went to Bangkok or one of the sex-tourist areas to make a living. She didn’t drink. She didn’t smoke. No tattoos. She never swore. She never talked badly about anyone. She didn’t appear to have any enemies at all. She hated gossip. She didn’t own any revealing clothing. She was very conservative like most girls in the northeast were brought up. She is from Sisaket – a very small Thai town with only a handful of foreigners living there at any one time. There aren’t any tourists there.
She grew up with her aunt and uncle since her father drank so much that eventually, he wasn’t right in the head. Her mom too – was a victim of the father and wasn’t holding it together all that well. Her aunt took her in when she was ten. Her aunt was a schoolteacher and so was her uncle. Her aunt was strict with her. Lek couldn’t do much. Her aunt raised her very conservatively and with great values.
Lek has never been selfish with me in any form in the over 10 years I’ve known her. She is unselfish and giving beyond anything I’ve ever seen. I jokingly call her “Mother Teresa” behind her back. She seems perfect like that. But, I still didn’t trust her. I’d had many Thai girl ‘friends’ that insisted they had no boyfriend. They insisted they had no husband. I believed – why would a friend lie to me about it? But, they did. All of them – even those I wasn’t dating and that were just my friend.
If a girl is beautiful here in Thailand, Thai guys have already found her. If she is model-good looking she has MANY guys already. By the time you meet her, she will have had sex already – even in Isaan. It is highly likely a drop-dead beautiful girl will not be a virgin. She will have a few “gigs” that are boyfriends part-time. In America, we call them “fuck-friends”. In Thailand, they might be boyfriends from the past – or just special friends they have sex with sometimes.
I was sure that my cute little Lek had someone. I could never find any information that would prove it though. I tried. I tried hard. I checked the phone registry. I checked the messages sent. I put a key logger on my laptop so when she logged into her email account I could read everything. I checked with her friends. I checked with anyone I knew about her. All had only great things to say about her. There was nothing!
I still didn’t believe.
Occasionally Lek would tell me that she couldn’t come over to my place, or that we couldn’t go out because her “Aunt” came to visit – or a girl came to visit – one of her friends from school. I didn’t believe. I just knew it was a guy – a gig from before. I was sure it was some guy that she hadn’t told me about yet. So, I continued to go out with other girls. I wasn’t going to be played for a dummy.
I went out with a few gigs myself. Maybe four different girls over the months. I had tried in those months to find out what was really going on with Lek – but I was NEVER able to find something. I tried popping in to visit her when these “friends” and aunt were supposed to be there – and SHE wasn’t lying -there was ALWAYS someone there just like she said!
One time I was absolutely convinced that she was lying… and I was on the way out to go to her room. On the way down the alley from my house, I ran right into her aunt – who was STILL staying in Lek’s room after five days!
This aunt would just show up completely unannounced and stay for days at a time. Lek had to pretend that she and I were just friends because otherwise, her family would insist we get married immediately. As I said, there really isn’t any ‘dating’ in Isaan. If her parents would have known we were virtually living together – they’d have brought the monks and family and we’d have been married. No doubt.
So, this went on for about a year. I was sure that I couldn’t trust her – and she was perfect. Never once did I catch her in the smallest thing that would have been considered a lie or even stretching the truth.
Teaching all Levels of Students
The next school I found to teach in Isaan had a couple of foreigners from England, two from Germany, one from Australia and another American like me. We were anything but a cohesive group and the time spent there was pretty much all business… There was little socializing in the office because we all were very different people.
The kids were great though. I taught mathyom 3, 4, Prathom 6, 5, 3, and 2. By far the most fun was teaching Prathom 2! The kids were six years old and so much fun. They were crazy and respectful all at once. They didn’t have inhibitions and would dance, sing, speak English as much as they could, and class was always just a really good time. The older classes – the eleven to fourteen-year-olds (Prathom 5 and 6) were quite nuts and not that fun to teach.
(Mathyom is like high school level. Mathyom 1 is like a seventh grade in the USA. Mathyom 4 is like tenth grade (sixteen-year-olds). Prathom is an elementary level. Prathom 1 is like kindergarten. Prathom 6 is like fifth grade – twelve-year-old students)
I had to be strict in the class to get some respect and at times it was like a military classroom. It had to be – otherwise, the kids would be doing in my class what they did in all the Thai teachers’ classes – jumping off chairs – kicking soccer balls, throwing things – hitting each other, wrestling each other. It can be quite nuts to just walk around the school during an off-hour and look into the classrooms to see what’s going on in classes with Thai teachers.
Here is a submission I wrote for a foreigner’s expat site here in Thailand explaining working in this school:
Kidstuff, Teaching Thailand’s Students
I’ve written here a little bit about teaching at the different grade levels. I’ve found some methods that seem to work well and allow me to keep my sanity. It’s quite a trick to remain calm sometimes when it’s last period and the kids are wound up from some event that occurred prior.
I’m guessing there is a fair share of teachers that read these submissions. I have read the article about teaching both on Stick’s site and the major online employment site for teachers here in Thailand.
I’ve taught for a year and a half here and I’m just starting work at my third school. First school – a government school, I taught Prathom 3. Second school was a private “Christian?” school where I taught Prathom 2, 3, 5, 6 and Mathyom 3 and 4. The third school was large and they say “well-respected” government school comprised of Mathyom levels 1-4.
I was never a teacher in the U.S., but I did coach soccer and I did work with kids that were quite a handful in the mental health system. Kids and teens with severe depression, manic-depression, borderline personality disorder, paranoia, delusions, and the whole realm. I have a good feel for what it will take to make a particular kid behave or do what I want. I think I also have a healthy “fuck – it” attitude when I’ve either exhausted my mental resources or I’ve decided that I can’t quite understand WHY it’s so important for the kids to learn during that one hour they seem to be freak alien spawn.
The “f – it” attitude is important. As an American, I think we have less of it than perhaps some other cultures. In school, we were made to be good. It was not a democracy in the classroom. We didn’t just get rowdy as an entire class if we all felt like it. And I find it hard to believe that we ever got as loud as a classroom of Thai kids when they get going. Picture 45 kids mainlining liquid crack via intravenous during the class right before yours.
Yes, it’s that bad at times. So, for us Americans, I think it’s hard to just give up some days and say F-it. All foreign teachers need to see the BIG picture. The big picture is that if the kids are fruit-loops that day and you’re at your wit’s end… just let it go. Well, either let it go or make them put their heads on the desk and not make a sound if you really can’t stand the noise at all anymore. If they stay like that the entire period – better for you and better for them. You just earned some respect for having made them all do something and for it being something stupid. While they are quiet tell them something like how disappointed you are and that their parents will be hurt when you start calling every one of them.
An example of the “F-it” attitude. One time last year during the second term I walked into the Prathom 6 math classroom and they were all watching the video playback of their parent’s night performance. I was already feeling like we hadn’t done squat that entire semester and yet the kids probably wouldn’t see it any other place so I let them watch it. It lasted all period of course, but the kids were so wound up after watching the first few minutes of it that I wouldn’t have been able to get anything through their skulls. I think the class that day was to have been finding the area of circles, triangles and other stuff. It would have been a wasted effort so I said “F-it” and I watched the TV too.
We’d regularly have teachers come into the staffroom just blowing up and incredulous that they hadn’t taught even a quarter of what they were scheduled for that second term. The amount of extra-curricular stuff that goes on is bewildering to foreigners. The second term is a complete blow-off term.
In America, we have one show a year. There were three shows in the second term alone at our private school. I wouldn’t be lying if I told you that overall among all my classes I got about a third done of what I thought I was going to do. Some of the classes I had only on Mondays and Fridays. Those classes got less than one-sixth of what they were scheduled for!
F-it. It’s the Thai system. Thai teachers understand what happens during this term. It happens every second semester. As foreign teachers, we need to understand it too. We won’t change the Thai education system as much as we think we can or should. I think personally that we shouldn’t. Who are we to put our beliefs about the education process before theirs? We’re in THEIR country. We need to assimilate into their culture… they don’t need to change to ours.
Thai teachers can command a level of respect that most of us foreign teachers will never get from the kids. Something about being able to remind them of their upbringing and respecting teachers and being “polite” (soo-pahp). Many Thai “co-teachers” can be of immeasurable help in the classroom. They may not always be able to follow your lesson about factoring polynomials but they can get the kids to shut up pretty quickly. Don’t turn down the offer if you have the chance to get their assistance for some or all of your classes!
I realized after teaching Pratham 3 at the first government school and watching some of the older kids in the Pratham 5 and p6 classes that I needed to have a plan. The kids are quite different from American kids at a young age. No, American kids are not angels. In fact, I would say that after sixth grade, everything goes to hell. I’d never in my life teach seventh grade or older kids in the states.
I learned that the most important tool we have for keeping control of the classroom is the Thai “co-teacher” as mentioned before. As far as I can figure out the second most important tool we have is us. We need to present as a consistent person that has clear rules that don’t change. A personality that doesn’t change. The third most important tool is using this thing that Thai people cherish…the concept of “face”. I’ve said it before, the worst thing to a Thai person is “losing face”. It’s a complicated idea at times, but Thai people kill for it, kill themselves over it, and hire people to kill others over it.
Kids are well aware of the importance of preserving face for themselves and their families. You can see it in the classroom when classmates will cover for their friends no matter WHAT the issue. They will ALL blatantly lie to cover for someone. Often too they will say, “I don’t know.” When they do know, they are just preserving face by saying that they don’t.
Foreign teachers need to learn to understand the concept of face and apply disciplinary measures designed to directly affect “face.” Now, young Thai kids won’t kill you over it. I would NOT recommend doing anything too harsh if the kids are over the m3 level. After this level, the kids are pretty much adults and can make decisions to exact revenge. It’s a very serious issue as the kids reach adulthood and anything can happen at this stage of the game. There are horrible fights. There are bottles to the back of heads (never to the front it seems), knives in the back, clubs to the back or machetes to the back of motorbike riders.
There are levels of hierarchy in the classroom. Especially in the higher grades (Mathyom 1+). These are social levels or levels of respect. It’s most easily seen among the boys. There will be boys that are at the TOP of the totem pole. They are usually supported by other boys at the top. They are cockier. They may have (usually have) families that are more important in the Thai social strata than other Thai families. More money, more prestige, more power… The parents or parent may have a high government position… military position… political position. The kids have grown up feeling like a big dog. They say more things when the teacher’s back is turned. They outright lie about whether it was them that said it. They are very interested in keeping the status quo. The status quo that leaves them at the top.
However, when I come into the classroom I am now the big dog. There is no other big dog. I don’t allow it. There are just little dogs and no little dog is any more special than any other little dog. I won’t have it. Most of the little dogs understand and get in line. However, there will be a brief power struggle with members of the previous big-dog crew.
Here are some things I believe about the different grade levels. My experiences may not be the ‘norm’, but I’m guessing that they’re close. You may find some things you can relate to or you might use them as a starting point if you are a new teacher and have no idea what to expect.
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