Saturday, October 30, 2010

Simply The Best

One of the (many) strange things about English teaching is that pretty much all the teachers that I know thinks they're the best teacher they know.

It's not a job like baseball, or sales, where your "stats" are immediately visible. You could consider test scores to be some kind of indicator of quality, but in fact they're not, for numerous reasons -- tests rather more clearly indicate the level of students' motivation, the ability they already had, the length of the course, and (in many cases) whether or not the teacher directly gave them the answers.

The ONLY thing most administrations consider as a measure of teacher quality is whether or not the students complain, or sign up for new courses.

Sometimes students don't bother to complain, though, or are perfectly happy with some kind of shitty teaching as long as it doesn't require them to do anything. In the past, English students were mostly looking for some foreigner to stand there and talk about themselves for 45 minutes, and you still see that, especially at private schools and among teenagers who don't want to do any work.

Teachers, especially long-term teachers tend to be egotistical, self-centered people -- it's a lifestyle that suits those negative qualities, and in general you need a thick skin to survive life abroad.

Now, students will almost never complain to a teachers face -- in fact quite the opposite, they'll shower the teacher with completely false praise. And of course, student complaints are rather often irrational.

As a result, virtually any teacher you ask, no matter how under-trained or inexperienced, think they're better at the job then anybody else at their school, and in most cases anybody else in the city.

You can see the blogs. You know where they are.

And the justifications they come up with for their shittiness can be quite amazing.

"Of course I never do pair work or let my students speak in class! They'd just start chattering away in their native language."

"Of course I don't bother with grammar (or whatever) the students don't like it and don't need it, they'd rather practice real world English by hearing about my last trip to Bangkok."

"Of course I make my students write and do grammar exercises for the whole class, and then just write the answers on the board. How else are they going to learn? I never get any complaints, never!"

"Of course I come to class drunk, I'm more relaxed and the students enjoy it. I never come to class on time, because the students never do either."

Ah, but, as globalism continues to globalize, students are becoming more and more discriminating. Hell, even here in the Middle East at this college, students who would a few years ago never have questioned their teacher are doing so -- I had to take over somebody's grammar class because the students didn't like him. (He was offering the second excuse of the above group.)

So, I guess, the days of the fuck-up are passing; even this low-stress job is becoming more serious and competitive.

It's sad, really. . .

Monday, October 25, 2010

Water Water Everywhere

You'd think an excess of water would be the least of my problems around here, but that hasn't proven to be the case.

As I mentioned, while I was away on my summer holiday, a leak in the water heater caused my bathroom ceiling to collapse, and flooded the bathroom. Since the bathroom (and indeed the kitchen as well) has a drain on the floor, the flooding wasn't much of a problem -- but it caused the walls to mold up.

There's also a constant leak in the hallway outside my apartment -- I don't know if it's the air-conditioning system or the plumbing, or both that are leaking. They fix it, and another appears a few days later.

So then, a couple of weeks ago, I put my clothes in the washing machine -- there's a shared washing machine on the other side of the building -- and turned it on.

The intake hose promptly exploded, spraying hundreds of gallons of hot water into my face, and all the way across the room.

I tried vainly to stop it by shoving the hose back into the wall; then, completely drenched, I went and got help.

The security guard showed up, looked at it, and called another security guard.

Hundreds of gallons of water were now pouring into the hallway. Another teacher and I were haplessly trying to keep the water out of the nearby rooms with mops.

After a half hour or so, the Bangladeshi maintenance guy arrived.

He had not the slightest idea how to turn off the water or stop the leak.

By this time, a group of teachers was busy building a dam in the hallway out of bricks and plastic sheeting. In doing so we managed to channel most of it out the side door.

Eventually I put on a swim suit and cut up an old bicycle inner tube and braved the spray of hot water and forced the tube over the broken hose, trying to channel the flow of the water into some trash barrels. This was succesful, but the trash barrels were filling up completely within a minute, and when full, were basically too heavy to move.

The maintenance main suggested we use the inner tube to direct the water flow into the drainage pipe; we did that for a while and tried using various combinations of duct tape to get it to stay in place, without much luck.

Finally someone hammered a piece of wood into the hole in the wall, and we moved the washing machine in front of it to keep it in place.

Monday, October 18, 2010

About A Whore

All right -- the last story about Thailand. A bit more proselytizing than usual here, I know, but it's a charged topic.

Bangkok -- 1995 and 1999.

Prostitution is wrong.

So is murder. So is war. So is thievery, gluttony, and greed. So is torching the rainforest, fucking up the ozone layer, and using rude language.

Boycotting Thailand, or Thai products, because there are prostitutes there, however, is also wrong. And stupid. Prostitution is NOT legal in Thailand, and the age of consent is 18. Child prostitution is most assuredly not legal.

There are fewer prostitutes in Thailand than there are in Taiwan or Hong Kong, just to name two places, and Bangkok's red light districts are positively wholesome compared to those of Germany. There are underage prostitutes, undoubtedly, but it's probably no easier or more difficult to find them than in America and England.

There are sex tourists in Thailand. A good deal of them. There are also sex tourists in Russia, Brazil, and Kenya, and practically every other nation of South-east Asia. And sex-tourism is not just a solely-male pasttime -- Female British tourists go to Jamaica to bang big Rasta dudes, apparently, and I know plenty of Russian girls who went to Turkey looking for lovers and husbands. Hell, there were even some expat chicks in Thailand who liked the adrogenous long-haired Thai boys.

In 1995, I went to the go-go bars around Nana Plaza with my colleagues about once every three weeks or so. It was always fun, and the girls in the bars never seemed particularly unhappy or exploited. No more so than strippers in any bar I'd ever been to in America, and considerably happier than most. We drank beer and joked around with the girls, danced with them, played Connect Four. It was a popular bar game, Connect Four. Man, some of those chicks were really good at it, too.

As far as I know, all the girls were over eighteen. They were supposed to be, anyway.

I don't know when the idea of actually paying for sex began to appeal to me, but it happened all at once, I know that. Before I had been positively adverse to it. But on my 26th birthday, I decided I wanted to go with a prostitute.

My favorite was a girl named Oh, who worked at the Club Hollywood in Nana Plaza. She danced with a wild exuberance and passion that stirred the soul. She was lovely, lithe and slim.

And she had two crooked front teeth. I mean, they pointed in two different directions.

I don't know why, but I found that incredibly endearing.

Oh spoke no English beyond a few words. "Pay bar fine?" and "You go me?" were two she did know. You had to pay the bar to take a girl out, and whatever price you paid her for sex was up to her. I think the bar fee was two hundred bhat, which at the time was about $8. I did so, and took her to the cheap hourly hotel down the street. I gave her 500 bhat, which at the time was $20. I think she usually charged 1000, though.

Fade out.

I don't know why I was expecting sex with a prostitute to be different than with anybody else, but it wasn't.

In fact it was pretty great.

I was a customer to Oh, of course, but for some reason there seemed to be real tenderness there. As much tenderness as money can buy, you may scoff, but it was real tenderness nonetheless.

As I said, she could speak no English, so it wasn't like I was going to get to know her too well, beyond the obvious Biblical sense. When she was there at the bar, she was always glad to see me. I often gave her money just for sitting and drinking with me. I had sex with her I think about four times in 1995. She was meticulous about hygiene and protection, but passionate and . . . well, the word tender pops up again. It was fun.

The months wore on, and she seemed to be around less and less. She reappeared after a lengthy absence with brand new braces on her teeth. As Christmas approached, she always seemed very unhappy when I saw her. My Thai never advanced well enough to find out exactly why.

I saw her the week before I left for Korea in 1996. She wanted me to pay her bar fine so she could go home. I asked her if she would go to the hotel with me. "Next time," she said.

"No next time," I said, and explained I was leaving. She hugged me sadly and said she had to go.

So that was that.

Or so I thought.

Cut to 1999. The boys didn't go to the go-go bars much anymore, but we made a trip down there for old times sake. I was warned to stay out of the Club Hollywood, though, which had become a bar full of transsexuals.

Nonetheless, I stuck my head in there and had a drink for old time's sake. It hadn't changed too much, but there were indeed quite a few transsexuals around.

I had one beer and was one my way out when a hand fell on my shoulder.

"Don't I know you?"

I turned around and saw a beautiful girl. He hair was dyed reddish purple now, and she had a tattoo of a flaming heart on the small of her back, and it took me a minute to register who it was.

Beautiful Oh. Teeth now straight and suddenly able to speak English.


We eagerly sat down and had a few beers (that was a new habit too -- she hadn't drunk before) and finally I was able to hear the story of who she was. We talked for about two hours.

Her story was sad, of course. Her mother was an alcoholic, divorced from her father, and the mother's boyfriend was always trying to have sex with her. Mother wouldn't stop him so she moved to Bangkok to live with a grandmother. She got a job as a waitress in a cafe near Nana Plaza.

A lot of the bar girls went to this cafe to eat before and after work, and Oh eventually became friends with one of them. The friend told her what good money she could make working at the Club Hollywood, and Oh eventually did it.

The money piled up. She said in an average month she made about $1000 -$1500. (My salary at the time was about $800 a month, and the average Thai waitress of cleaner made about $100 - $150) She had a lot of men who gave her money and gifts just for sleeping in the same bed and holding them. Quite a lot of men either didn't want sex or couldn't get hardons.

Around Christmas of 1995, Oh's friend had been critically injured in a motorbike taxi accident. Before she died, she asked Oh to promise that she'd finish high school and try to get a real job.

Oh had done so. (And obviously gone to a high school with a good English teacher.)

Alas, however, the economic bubble had burst in 1997 and Oh been able to find no job that offered her even half the money she could make having sex with four or five men a month at Nana Plaza.

(This is one reason it's absolutely retarded to boycott legitimate Thai industry.)

I asked her about her social life. She said she'd had a Thai boyfriend for a while, but he'd hit her once so she left him. "It was only once, but if a boy does it once he'll do it again," she said. She'd recently tried to make up with her mother and moved her down to Bangkok and rented a house for them, along with a younger cousin. She had a lot of expenses now.

Oh suggested we go to the short-time hotel that night. I told her I only had about $8 left and I needed some money to get a taxi home.

She shook her head. "You Americans are always so worried about money."

She gave me a freebie.

I wish I could say we had beautiful earth shaking sessions of love-making, but frankly I was too drunk. Nonetheless we had a very pleasant hour on the sheets there, and then took a hot shower together.

I saw her a few more times before I left Bangkok for my next job, but that was the last time I had sex with her. The night before I left I gave her a gift of 1000 bhat. (About $35 at that time.)

I wish I could say we'd kept in touch, but it would have been nearly impossible -- this was before email and text messages were common.

I hope she's well. I hope she met a nice guy to marry who gave her a comfortable life. She was beautiful and charming and intelligent, and I don't think she was stuck in that world forever.

So yeah, having sex for money is wrong. But I think most people have done it for worse reasons. Boredom, drunkenness, desire to make someone jealous, etc.

And I think of, for example, the cleaning lady at the school. She made $150 a month, worked six days a week ten hours a day and her duties included taking coffee to the owner of the school, at which times she was expected to prostrate herself almost to the floor. She was married to a drunken tuk-tuk driver, who spent all his money on amphetimines and -- on hookers! And these hookers weren't the bar girls of Nana Plaza and Patpong -- these were the places where girls were chained to the bed and forced to service twenty men a day. Run by Thais FOR Thais. It's pretty doubtful he used condoms.

So which woman was getting the short end of the stick here, the gainfully employed married one or the whore?

Another name added to my list of long-lost friends who I wish well:

Beautiful Oh.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Conversation With A Thai Secretary

(These cartoons were originally posted on the website in 2003 and 2004)

Anybody who knows me will tell you that I have such little interest in languages, or polite communication in general, that it's in fact quite remarkable that I've made my living as an English teacher for pretty much all of my adult life.

One aspect of international communication that I do enjoy is learning enough to make stupid jokes, or saying surreal and bizarre things. One of the first questions that I mastered in Russian was "Which do you prefer, bears or wolves?"  Inevitably, girls though this was some kind of psychological test and actually thought hard about their answers.

Basically I need to find somebody goofy to practice the local language with. It's harder than it sounds -- you have to find somebody who doesn't mind whatever stupidass moronic thing you say, and is willing to reciprocate in same.

Good old Miss Ba, back in the 90's, was one of the many blue-coated women who were paid to sit around the front desk of the school in Thailand I worked at -- their ostensible job was to sign students up for classes and deal with various paperwork, but in reality they mostly fulfilled the function of having a certain number of Thais employed for every legally-employed teacher. (Not that there were too many of those.)

They mostly didn't do anything other than eat KFC and giggle; occasionally the owner would come by and make them do some sort of pointless busy-work -- for example, Miss Ba once had to write the word "disc" 500 times, after mis-spelling it on an inventory form.

They were all girls from villages, as I recall, and all lived way out of Bangkok -- they got bussed in enmasse in a mini-van. If I recall correctly Miss Ba said she spent more than 2 hours a day going to work, and more than 2 hours going home. They lived like 10 to an aparmtent, I think -- I imagine them piled up at night like kittens.

Sadly, Miss Ba got fired shortly after I finally left that place, in 1999 -- apaprently for getting a bit too familiar with the teachers, they transferred her to another branch. Just as well that I left -- it would have been like STAR WARS without R2D2.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Teacher Go Porice Station: My First Job

I know, I know -- I said it would only be a week of re-runs about Thailand. But the last entry was 70 percent new material, and in honor of the current visa mess in Russia and all the strict laws that now exist in Asia for working visas, here's a look at old-school visa problems.

Bangkok, Thailand : May, 1995

It was my day off, but I was going in at 6:00 in the evening to make up a class for another teacher who’d been delayed while going to Malaysia to get another tourist visa. This was about three weeks after I’d started.

Working had turned out to be not nearly as bad as I expected. The staff, about 6 guys from England, and a South African , were generally a nice enough bunch, united in their love of Thai woman (or Thai men, in one case) and in alcohol. I was the youngest at 25.

However, the manager was a bit of an asshole – he hated Thailand and he hated Thai people, but he’d married a Thai woman and had a daughter. He sat around playing “Minesweeper” all day while only doing a class himself if it was absolutely unavoidable. He dealt with the secretaries by screaming at them – he spoke no Thai -- and he constantly sent angry memos to the owner about their incompetence. His experience had been as an engineer; he was not blessed with people skills. He dealt with his students in a similar way – he refused to let anyone into the class after ten minutes. He was crabby and sarcastic with the teachers – I was the only one inexperienced enough to be intimidated by him though. A natural choice for manager. His days were numbered, of course.

My classes seemed harmless enough at the outset. I just went through the book with them, occasionally drawing some cartoons on the board to illustrate something or playing the only English game I knew in those days: hangman. They smiled a lot so I assumed everything was just fine. In fact I kind of liked it, despite the fact I had no idea what I was doing. The students certainly didn’t seem to care. They smiled no matter what you did. The only complaints that ever got back to us were that the students expected you to talk more and “be funny”.

The schedule was somewhat unpleasant. I worked weekends – a solid block from 9:00am to 4:00pm, with a one-hour lunch break. I had one day off – Thursday. During the week, I worked from 10:30am to 12:30pm, and then again from 6:00 pm to 8:00pm. This left five hours to kill – fortunately the school was located in a large shopping mall, which meant your shopping never need suffer.

The teachers filled those five hours in many ways. First they tried playing cards, but the owner came down on that hard on one of his infrequent visits. It didn’t look professional. Then we tried playing on the computers (the school also had computer classes.) That was nixed too. Not professional. We then tried going into an empty classroom and watching videos on the school’s one TV/VCR. It worked well enough until the owner found out about it and took the TV away, some months later.

He didn’t mind if we slept somewhere though. That was normal in Thailand. Any Thai office around noon would see half the staff asleep. I took wonderful afternoon naps in the well-insulated sound lab – I’ve never slept so well before or since.

Things were different back in 1995 in many ways. Despite having decent classrooms with whiteboards, there was only one cassette player on the premises. It was jealously fought over. We were expected to purchase our own white-board markers. Almost no one had a work permit – everyone just went to Malaysia every three months for a new tourist visa. Still the salary – 20,000 bhat, which at that time was $800—though we complained about it a lot then, seems incredibly generous by today’s standards.

One guy had taken an EFL course, and another was a former school teacher, but the rest had no training and no university degrees. I never saw anyone preparing for a lesson, and I certainly never did. There was no photocopier and nothing in the way of “resources.” We didn’t miss them because we never knew they were an option. We were even expected to buy our own copies of the books we used. There were some teachers’ books, but not enough to go around. Remember, this was the largest chain language school in Bangkok, at that time.

Of course we had to wear a shirt and tie every day. No one minded much except one former paratrooper from Liverpool. “I ain’t wearin no rag around my neck!” They needed teachers desperately though. We couldn’t fill all the clasess. Any white person that could stand upright could get a job there. And many did that couldn’t stand upright for very long.

So I remember it was raining really hard – like always during the end of April in Thailand -- and I walked into the chilled consumer comforts of the mall, my tattered umbrella poking out of the filthy old army surplus bag I carried my odds and ends in.

I went upstairs to the school and found it completely deserted.

Strange. The Flying Dutchman English School.

I went down to the office on a lower floor of the mall where the school had a desk full of secretaries to sign up new students. None of the secretaries spoke much English, and I certainly spoke no Thai, but I inquired about what had happened.

“Teacher go porice station.”

Ah. The police station. I asked for more details – no one could express them.

I thought about it. There had been an incident with the paratrooper a few days before – we’d all been forced to go to some gala benefit that the school was sponsoring, at a huge glitzy disco. Loads of Thai pop singers, and we’d swiped a bottle of Johnny Walker from the V.I.P area. It hadn’t turned out so badly – we’d gone to some go-go bars afterwards. Good innocent debauchery.

The paratrooper hadn’t been invited because he refused to dress up. Yet his wife had gone. He arrived at school the next day in a jealous rage that another teacher might have fucked his wife. He threatened another teacher. I’d been in class when I heard the screaming start. I walked outside as the manger proved to be effective in at least that situation, escorting the paratrooper out of the building and demanding that he not return.

In the staffroom, the threatened teacher was smoking a cigarette and nursing his hangover. “Cheers. Why would he think anyone would want to fuck that ugly cow? She looks like a kratoey.” A transvestite. In truth she wasn’t nearly as pretty as most transvestites.

Now of course my first thought was that the paratrooper had come back and started a fight. He was well known for dipping into unbelievably powerful “diet pills” that were available at any pharmacy without a prescription. Maybe he’d killed somebody. He was also know to frequent the little stands outside the mall that sold fried rice, chicken, fruit, brass knuckles, butterfly knives and air pistols.

Worriedly I returned to my guest house.

The next day I got the full story. Everyone was laughing about it.

The entire school had been arrested for not having work permits. Even the two who did have work permits.

“I was doing my class and I saw this bloke outside with a video camera. Of course I waved to him. I thought he was from the news,” one teacher told me. But alas the man was from immigration, and he had some friends with him. The teachers had spent about six or seven hours detained at the immigration office.

Later in the day two sleazy bastards from the head office came over and explained what had happened. They were both English guys with educated accents that made me think of bad guys from American action films.

They told us that though the school paid off immigration regularly, the commander had gone on holiday. One of his lieutenants had decided to make some extra money by shaking down the school. It had all been sorted out, of course. According to them.

I drew on the board a cartoon of a guy with a tie in a jail cell and the caption “WANTED: TEACHERS OF ENGLISH”. Another teacher offered a list of the conjugation of the passive form of “arrest”: I was arrested, we were arrested. . .

The big fat sleazy guy assured us that it was no problem. “Corruption and connections are so commonplace in Thailand that they are a perfectly normal, expected part of doing business.” Having no work permits should not be considered a problem, they explained, but it might be best if we tried to get some.

To that end, they told us, we should start working on making fake university diplomas. They offered some suggestions as to how to do so. I was the only one who actually had one in a related field, so it saw a lot of action in photocopy machines that month.

I heard later the big fat guy from head office liked to have muscular young men crap on him. Or so one of his friends told me.

The other one was well known to like pre-teen boys.

Let’s hope he’s died horribly, hmm?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vomit (Ode to My Mentor)

(You can click on that to englarge it and make it a little easier to read.)

If I had a mentor in the English teaching biz, it would have to have been English Teacher T. That's him there, wearing the blue shirt and tie. (I drew that cartoon back in 2003; an early experiment with the Paintbrush program. The event, which happened back in 1995, was, if anything, even more disgusting than it looks there, because he'd just eaten a big meal of pork and sticky rice when he puked, and the dogs were those typical homeless Bangkok soi-dogs of the time, who were covered with sores and mange.)

It wasn't like he taught me anything about how to teach -- I'm sure he could have, probably, be he never really tried, beyond a few offhand conversations about teaching over drinks.

He was my role model in the world of degeneracy, however.

He was the embodiment of what I loved about English teaching -- the combination of intelligence, experience, complete alienation and borderline depravity that typified a lot of English teachers back then. (And occasionally you still meet them, but not so much as 10 years ago.)

He was an interesting bundle of contradictions -- from London, he was a former skinhead and biker as well as a former chemist for a major petroleum company. He was 32 when I started in Bangkok in 1995, at age 25. He was mostly a pleasant looking fellow when he had his shirt and tie on, a bit plump with a big friendly smile -- however, his teeth were black with nicotine and when he wore a t-shirt his arms were slathered with tattoos.

(He had "NO FUTURE" on his bicep -- I asked him if that was from his punk days but he said, "No, I got that the day I decided to become an English teacher." I assumed he was joking at the time.)

He'd gotten into English teaching the usual way -- he's started backpacking, I think after a divorce, and rolled into Thailand and didn't feel like going home. I forget how long he'd been in Thailand -- seems like it had been 6 or 7 years, at that time.

He held court every evening in the cheap garage bars outside the mall we worked at -- he partied fearlessly with the tough Isaan taxi drivers. When we went to Nana Plaza, his exploits were legendary. He once performed oral sex on one of the strippers onstage -- and not just any stripper, it was one of the chicks that shot bananas out of their vagina. He was known for trying to screw the hugely overweight Mama-Sans that ran the bars there.

I have a very clear memory of him draped leeringly around a Mama-San so fat that he could barely get his arms around her, the rest of us trying to laugh at him with our little brown honeydripped girls in our lap -- and him looking at us with complete placidity and satisfaction, and saying with the utmost assurance -- "You boys have no idea what you're missing."

But, and here's the thing -- he wasn't just some degenerate. He was smart as hell and could converse knowledgeably on a wide variety of topics, and I learned a lot about the verbal Kung-Fu of English teacher bar-table conversations from him.

He occasionally got drunk and descended into lunacy after several day drinking binges -- when he put on his Indonesian sarong and parrot earrings, you knew he had a load on and needed to be avoided.

And he was in his way, an honorable guy. He was as good as his word.

I offer this sterling example: one of the teachers met a girl in the garage bar near the school, and he wanted to take her home. He'd just been paid, however -- 20,000 Thai bhat, equal to about $800 -- so he decided to leave the money with English Teacher T for safekeeping, so the girl wouldn't steal it. (This was admittedly perhaps not the best plan in the world.)

English Teacher T ended up drunkenly losing the money somehow. Like all English teachers in Bangkok, he lived pretty much month to month and had no savings.

BUT: he lived on Ramen noodles and rice for two months, and paid the teacher back within 60 days.

How many of you could do THAT?

I've lost touch with him -- he's not the kind of guy who's going to turn up on facebook -- but he'd become DOS of that branch when I went back in 1999, and I heard he'd gotten married to one of the secretaries from the school in 2000. He might be having a Singha or a Chang beer at a cheap garage bar at this moment, wearing his Indonesian sarong and his parrot earrings.

They truly don't make 'em like that anymore.

(You can click on this -- one of the first cartoons I ever drew for this website back in 2002 -- to make it bigger and easy to read. This conversation actually happened when I returned to Thailand in 1999, as I recall.)

Monday, October 11, 2010


This happened when I was working in Phuket, Thailand in 1999, mostly teaching children. Getting up every day to teach little kids, some as young as two or three -- well, that will take the sheen off of life in the tropics, let me tell you.

In fact though I mostly don't mind teaching little kids, though of course I think it is borderline inappropriate to have scraggly smelly middle-aged guys doing it. Once you've mastered a class of 20 12-year-olds, however, teaching adults is a piece of fucking cake.

And actually it was a a little girl, of about 10 or 11, who asked me the question about excrement -- a word she found in her electronic talking dictionary.

I ended up losing that job in Phuket, at the end of 1999, when I accidentally sprained a kid's arm when I was teaching a class of 20 3-year-olds at a kindergarten. That, as they say, will have to be another story.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Most Fucked Up Teacher I've Ever Met

. . . and perhaps the funniest story from the old website? You be the judge. Certainly it's one of my favorites, and is an excellent thumbnail sketch of ESL in the mid-90's in Thailand. (Albeit perhaps a bit long to be a thumbnail.)

This premiered on the old Angelfire website in July 2003, and there's a thread on ESLcafe inspired by it.

Bangkok, Thailand – 1995

I suppose being fucked-up is a pretty hard thing to quantify, really. Which qualities should be foremost in our scale? Alcoholism, sexual deviancy and anti-social behavior? Or the more subtle qualities like poor motivation and rationality, abysmal social skills, and bad hygiene?

In any event I can safely say I’ve met some really fucked-up people teaching English over the last fifteen years. From the colorfully eccentric to the pathologically deranged to the heart-rendingly pathetic, I’ve seen plenty of ‘em.

If you were to ask me who the most fucked-up person I’ve ever met was, I would probably tell you about English Teacher D.

I didn’t know him too well, I should say. He arrived in Bangkok a few months after I did, in the summer of 1995. He was ugly. Short, middle-aged, with a bad mustache and a stupid little sprig of a ponytail. He had a pock-marked complexion and I seem to recall he showed up for the job interview wearing a plaid sportscoat.

He knew how to bullshit though – he had an impressive resume. I glanced at it in the staff room. His experience was in car and insurance sales and a few other such endeavors. I don’t really know how he ended up in Bangkok, I never asked him. Nobody usually had a clear reason for being there anyway, beyond the obvious ones.

Like any other white person that could walk in and demonstrate the ability to produce sounds through their mouth (no matter how incomprehensibly) he was hired.

I can’t say as I thought he was any worse than anybody else around, at first. Another middle-aged, heavy-drinking whore-monger. He was amiable enough, had a reasonable sense of humor. He was not unkind. I can’t say that I ever disliked him at any point.

But boy was he fucked up.

I didn’t see his first overt demonstration of fucked-upness. I was elsewhere, but some teachers who had been drinking with him in the tiny cafe under their apartment block said after a few drinks he began raving about his Vietnam experiences. He apparently became quite excited about it and showed the scars on his forearm he claimed were shrapnel scars, which had come through the window of his fighter plane. One teacher pooh-poohed it and said they looked more like cigarette burns of the self-inflicted variety.

I make no judgement either way. As I said, I wasn’t there, and it didn’t occur to me at the time to pry deeply into his business. I had my own worries.

Drunken ranting was pretty much par for the course, however, and nobody thought too much about it. We all had our own various emotional drunken outbursts of one variety or the other.

Then, some weeks later, English Teacher D got a toothache. He went to the pharmacy to get some painkillers and discovered it was quite cheap and legal to buy codeine.

He did so, and reactivated a longstanding drug addiction.

English Teacher D began draining the nearby pharmacies of codeine. It was not always easy to find pure codeine capsules, however – usually they were CoTylenol type capsules, that were 3/4 aspirin and 1/4 codeine.

English Teacher D began taking up to 50 of these a day. He was alledgedly up to 70 or 80 a day at one point.

In addition to the mental impairment, this of course caused a considerable amount of gastric distress. English Teacher D would often step into the toilet between classes to vomit up blood.

Again, this was only considered mildly abnormal at our particular branch. It raised a few eyebrows, that’s all. The strict American manager had been replaced by a useless flunky from the head office, a Swedish-Egyptian whose third language was English. His main activity was trying to borrow as much money as possible from both students and teachers. He claimed to have been hospitalized with kidney stones and whined and begged until you slipped him something. He then disappeared suddenly one day, leaving hundreds of dollars of debts behind him. No one ever quite knew what his particular vice was.

With this as a backdrop, a little blood-vomiting and slurred speech by English Teacher D didn’t impress anybody.

English Teacher D somehow got involved with a tall and rather beautiful transvestite. She was apparently a good-hearted and mothering person, and she seemed to try to take care of him, but he became progressively more incoherent. One teacher told me that English Teacher D said that he liked the transvestite because she reminded him of his gay brother who had died of AIDS.

I can’t remember how he stopped working – I think there was a conflict regarding late pay and he walked out. I don’t think he was fired. He continued living in his flat near the other teachers, however, and was a regular fixture at the shabby little garage bars we frequented, albeit an totally incoherent one. He apparently came from a rather well-off family, and he began asking his mother to send him money.

He caused some kind of scene at the flat he lived in one night that aroused the other teachers’ dislike. They lived in not-entirely-easy relations with the Thais in that building, and English Teacher D was causing a lot of trouble. He shit the bed, I believe it was, causing the transvestite to go into hysterics. And believe me, transvestite hysterics are not to be taken lightly.

One teacher said English Teacher D had come to the door one night staggering and slurring and said, “Have you got a knife? The thinner and sharper the better.” Figuring D intended to kill himself or someone else, the teacher declined, but found out later D had just locked himself out and wanted to jimmy the lock. He woke up most of his neighbors asking for a knife.

I should think it was a bit unnerving, indeed, having this strange wasted little troll of a man show up at your door asking for a sharp knife.

I don’t remember if he got kicked out of the flat, or if he just left it, but he went to live with his transvestite girlfriend somewhere. Apparently he’d started screaming obscenities at his mother over the telephone and gotten his money cut off. We didn’t see much of him after that. His drug problems got worse and worse, and the transvestite kicked him out, too.

He managed to get hired at another branch of the large chain we worked for, on the other side of the city, but apparently was reduced to living under a bridge at one point. There were plenty of homeless villages under bridges in Bangkok then – I suppose there still are. They often looked kind of festive, with music, cooking and even TV, but apparently white men were only marginally welcomed there.

Now here's the really fucked up part.

I can’t make any claims for the truth of this story, myself.

I didn’t see it. I was told by a person who spoke to the manager of the branch English Teacher D worked at that it was true, however. So it may well be. When I asked English Teacher D himself about it, he merely said he had been robbed, without adding any details.

English Teacher D apparently got a hold of a good amount of codeine and settled down to sleep in whatever miserable nest he’d built for himself under the bridge. After he fell into a stupor, he was robbed or each and every possession that he’d managed to retain, including his clothing. When he came to, naked, still incoherent but knowing he needed help, he wrapped a cardboard box around himself and staggered up to the school, during working hours, to get help.

A few emergency calls home got some money wired to English Teacher D to get a plane ticket home – fortunately his passport had been at the school.

He apparently blew most of the money on codeine, and managed to convince the transvestite to let him stay with her.

The last time I saw him, he was staggering up to our branch of the school. He was clothed in new cheap street market clothes -- polyester trousers and a fake Polo shirt -- but slurring his words like a stroke victim. English Teacher D confirmed that he had been robbed and that he was going back to America for a while. He needed to borrow about a hundred bucks more for the plane ticket, though.

It was quickly agreed among the teachers that we could chip in and get the ticket, as long as English Teacher D agreed never to return.

Former Teacher Q had just arrived a few days previously. He was aghast. “Oh spirit of Christmas Future! Is this what must be, or only what may be?”

We’d even agreed to meet English Teacher D for a farewell drink, but while we were working until eight, he’d managed to go and get into a fight with some Thai guys or something. A Thai told us he was chased away by an angry mob. We never saw him again.

But hey, it’s a small world, huh? Maybe English Teacher D is staggering towards my school as I speak, clutching his freshly printed CELTA certificate, ready to go into the toilet and puke up blood during the communicative pairwork activities.

If you’re out there reading this, English Teacher D, godspeed, brother. I really do wish you luck.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Origin of English Teacher X

This is the first story I ever wrote about English teaching, for the Angelfire website I started in 2003:

Bangkok, Thailand, April 12, 1995.

My first job interview had been going pretty well. The manager had offered me a full time contract, 28 hours a week, 20,000 Thai bhat a month. About $800. Not bad. I agreed I’d start the next Monday.

He spoke up as I was leaving.

“And one more thing.”


“Are you a fag?”

I blinked. “Uh. . . no. You uh. . have a problem with that?”

“Yeah, cause they don’t wanna work.”

“Well. . . don’t worry.” I tried to smile heartily.

The manager was a 40-ish American former military man with a walrus mustache stained with nicotine. He’d come to English teaching like many other men in Thailand – he’d married a Thai woman and been unable to find any other job.

He laughed out loud and turned to another teacher blearily smoking a cigarette nearby. “Heh, you should have seen the look on his face.” He lit another smoke for himself and turned back to the computer where he was busily playing “minesweeper.” “Heh heh. All right then. You can start next Monday, after the holiday. See you then.”

I nodded. I shifted uncomfortably on my new cheap buffalo leather shoes. “Big Buffalo” was the brand name. I was also wearing a new blue rayon tie that I’d spilled yogurt on while waiting for the bus to the school. It was located in a huge shopping mall on the outskirts of Bangkok that had a food court with animatronic birds and hippos and a waterfall. Somehow I’d envisioned working in a wooden shack.

“So uh, anyway. My experience has mostly been in, uh, private settings. So, as far as the classroom, uh, what should I . . . uh. . .” In fact I had no experience whatsoever. I’d spent the last three months living in a $2 a day beach hut on the island of Ko Samui, and the year before backpacking around Asia. I had contracted giardia in India and was 30 pounds underweight. And also something of a nervous wreck.

They’d seemed impressed by my BA in English Literature though. That was more than any of them had. The manager, I would later learn, had less than two years experience and no kind of teaching certificate to compliment his degree in engineering. He had become manager of this branch of one of Bangkok’s largest language schools because nobody else wanted to move to this remote area, on the opposite side of the city from the go-go bars on Sukhumvit and Patpong roads.

“Ah,” he waved his hand dismissively. “Just follow the book. Do stuff like your English teacher used to do in high school.”

I suppose I didn’t technically become English Teacher X until the next Monday, and it was several years before I really earned the title. But on that day I ceased to be a backpacker, anyway.

Why Bangkok? Why English teaching?

I was running out of money and I didn’t want to go home. Many people had told me that Taiwan was a gold mine for English teaching, and that I could save thousands of dollars. I had tried to get a visa at the Taiwanese consulate in Bangkok and been refused one. “You intend to work illegally, it is obvious,” said the fat angry Chinese man behind the counter in the busy office. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn a t-shirt and shorts to the interview.

Down to my last $800, I'd given a quick scan to the Bangkok Post. It had revealed a lot of ads for English teaching positions. I chose one at random and they told me to come by for an interview.

Did I ever imagine I’d do it for more than a few years?

No fucking way.

But here I am.

It was very hot, even for Bangkok, that day – over 100 degrees. The Thai holiday of Songkran, the Thai new year, was starting – every area with pedestrian traffic was full of people with water guns and buckets of water, splashing everyone in sight. It had something to do, originally, with washing away the sins, but has turned in recent years into a three-day water fight. (Complete with a lot of car accidents and eye infections from the filthy water.)

I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got back to the tiny room I was renting in a guest house near Khao-San Road. Kind of a christening, a baptism. I was born again, but I had only the faintest idea what I’d been reborn as. I felt good. I had a job. I grabbed my super-soaker, bought a Singha beer at the nearby 7-11 and headed out to the street to do battle.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Pig Incident: A Bad Moment In The Classroom

Recent followers probably don't know that not only did I rock Russia during the Party Years, I was in Thailand for that exquisite phase in 1994 - 1995 before THE BEACH was written. This week I will be re-presenting some tales of Thailand, circa mid-to-late 90's.

* * *

This kind of graphic storytelling is visually very well suited to blogging. I first made this cartoon in September, 2004, and it is based on something that happened I believe the second time I was in Thailand, in 1999, working for, of course, the biggest and worst chain school in Bangkok.

It's a damn shame I've lost my fire for self-expression and rarely want to devote too much time to making cartoons. . .

Friday, October 01, 2010

My Gay Stalker

"I have no problem with two men having sex, as long as one of those two men isn't me." -- Charles Bukowski

I didn't write about my Gay Stalker, back in April or May, before I left for the summer.

Where I live, a college campus, is located on a stretch of highway between two developments -- I'll refer to them as Al Filthy, where all the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis live, and Al Swanky, which is an upscale development of malls, big houses and fast food places arranged around a very pleasant beach and embankment. Al Filthy is always crowded; Al Swanky always seems deserted.

I started going on my days off to the beach at Al Swanky; there are thatched umbrellas there to protect one from the sun and even wireless internet so I can listen to Podcasts on my Ipod Touch. Arabic families usually go to the beach in the evening; during the day the beach is all but deserted.

Then came my Gay Stalker.

He was a Saudi guy in his early 20's, a bit pudgy but all in all unremarkable looking.

First he came up and sat down next to me and I thought he just wanted to practice his English; it turned out the phrase he wanted to practice was, "You have a beautiful body." I stood up and walked away, and rode my bike to the Subway to have a sandwich.

He was gone when I came back.

The next week, he appeared again, and apologized for his comment, and then put his hand on my arm. I told him not to touch me, and got up and rode away on my bike.

The next day I was riding my bicycle in a different area of the beach and he drove by in his car and said hello. I nodded grimly and turned onto an area of sand road which would have been difficult for him to follow. He parked his car and got out, and started walking to the waterfront area where I wanted to sit.

I got on my bike and drove off again; I decided to go home and eat something and wait for him to leave.

Then there was a knock on my door.

He'd managed to follow me home. The college is only a few minutes from the beach and I guess he'd seen where I went.

I told him that he was not allowed in the faculty dormitory, and if he didn't leave immediately I'd call security. I was braced against the door, in case he tried to push his way in. He was not any larger than I was and I thought I could take him in a fight, if it came to it.

"Okay, I'll go." he said.

A couple weeks went by; then, once more, he appeared on the beach. He came over to apologize for knocking on my door. I told him to remember it is not allowed for him to be there, and then got on my bike and rode further down the beach.

When I got out of the water after swimming for a while with my mask and snorkel, he was there.

"LOOK!" I yelled. "If you don't stop following me, I'm going to tell the police that you approached me. You know homosexuality is illegal here."

"I am just talk with you. This beach is for everybody," he said.

"If you follow me again, I'm going to tell the police, understand?"

"I think you are alone man," he said.

I blustered a bit more, then I got on my bike again and rode back to the first place on the beach I usually sit.

I considered my options. The police probably wouldn't speak enough English to understand what I was saying. But if I punched him out, I'd probably find out even more quickly how much English the police could speak.

A few hours later a shadow fell over me. There he was.

"ALL RIGHT, THAT'S IT." I lept up. "I warned you. I'm telling the police."

He said, "Okay, I go."

I walked up to the embankment and started looking for a police car to flag down. My Gay Stalker yelled, "Goodbye, teacher, no problem" and started scurrying away.

No police cars came by anyway, and he disappeared.

And then, the next week, I left for America.

More on this, as it develops.