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.


Eve Lopez said...

i'm heartened by this story for purely selfish reasons - there are people out there even more fucked up than i am.

Magdalene said...

Agree with Eve :)
Hilarious... and that's meant in the kindest way possible, given the facts of the story.
Ain't it strange how the lines between bravery, sheer ignorance and desperation sometimes become really horribly blurred.
But in the end everything always works out fine, doesn't it just.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful. Nice to know there are a few charecters wondering around out there.

Let's hope something too serious hasn't happened to him, and he can still rock around like a libertine.

John from Daejeon said...

Damn, I feel cheated as I already read through all your old entries and now you are just repeating them instead of posting something new and messed up about today's crop of ESL teachers. You're bound to have seen something over there in that giant sand box worth spilling or are you afraid of losing your hands by those holding the mighty sword if you are found guilty of spreading the word?

English Teacher X said...

ah, well, I wanted to post the old stuff just to make sure it doesn't disappear into the lost servers of the Wayback Machine, and to make it more legible.

I'll post some new stuff, don't worry, just a little trip down memory lane.

Anonymous said...

Daddy? But Mommy tole me you wus dead, that you die in the Vietnam.

Anonymous said...

The old stuff is gold.

Id much rather have more frequent old stuff than only occasional new stuff.

Lets face it, most of us are too lazy to go digging in the archives ourselves.

Colin said...

Fun story.

If you like to party hard, check out Latin America. I'm in Bogota, Colombia, which has more than anyone can handle.

DSW said...

I thought as I began reading that I knew this English Teacher D, but then as I went on I realized it could've been any number of the maniacs I've met or worked with over the past four years. China and Korea are full of these psychos. The worst I knew was this dude who got kicked out of Korea for attacking people with a sock full of pool balls, then claiming to be the messiah.

Anonymous said...

@ DSW: I met my share of ex korea messed up teachers in China, sadly, all Americans. There are some psychos in China, but I would wager nowhere near as many as in Korea. For some reason that attracts the nutters there.

Jug Jugette said...

You're right, and it's because Korea is the end of the line, emotionally; there's nowhere to fall further after Korea.