Following on from "Pooying Antarai", my mongering confession in early July last year, I'll attempt to continue on a less foolish note from here, but that maybe debatable.
I made it to my four hours of babysitting in Pak Kret office on Saturday, and tried to help the little darlings move beyond hangman games in pasa Angkrit (English). Two of two-hour classes made up 1000 baht for four hours work, but only on Saturday's, and they never paid me anyway, so it may as well have been $1000 per day. The second class that were little rascals the week before, were helped by an additional class member, previously absent. He was thirteen years old, and seemed to have the authority to control the group reasonably well. He was the biggest of them, and he wasn't farang. At the same time, the morning class who were angels the first week, either politely contributing or sleeping, were rather more lively, for whatever reason. I taught them some hangman.
Something had to improve. This wasn't the working life I'd imagined. After work, I went home, got changed, and headed up to the Internet cafe with one purpose in mind. I posted a new resume on ajarn.com to try and find a half-decent, Monday to Friday job.
By Monday afternoon, I got my first incoming job offer, and it sounded like fun, so I responded affirmatively. By Wednesday afternoon I'd been assigned to teach anuban to prathom six at a school on the border of Samut Prakan and Chachoengsao. A little place named Khlong Suan, which boasted a famous "floating market" that I'd never heard of before. The existing farang teacher was taking a five week holiday mid-semester to party with his brother from the US, after which I was to be transferred to Prachinburi. I was pleased that they let me know the duration of my tenure ahead of time. I liked that part.
Try as I might, I couldn't find Khlong Suan on my map of greater Bangkok nor the Michelin map book, and the manager finally invited me back to his office to show me how to get there. My map was around half an inch too short, but still, I finally worked it out and set off on the bike on Sunday morning. I think this would have been around July 16th from memory.
I don't know how I knew to make the turnoff from highway 314, but another seven kays down the road, I'd ridden through the little town without realising, and kept on riding until I started to see signs for the new airport, written in English. About face and back to Khlong Suan.
Pulling into the market, Honda had a flat tyre, and after meeting the other teacher, it was a walk to the local tyre and Pepsi-cola shop for a new Camel rear tyre on a Sunday, in a new town, miles from any other option. The lady at the tyre shop got her son to do the change for 500 baht. I remember the two tyres Dtey had got me fitted for 150 each the previous year. It was best just to put the 233% price increase down to inflation, being so far from home.
On Monday morning I got to watch the other guy teaching the kindy kids. Tuesday they explained that the classes were cancelled, and this was when the problems started. I'd been offered a free apartment with air-cond (good for asthma) and a TV as part of the package. This turned out to be a room in the place that Mr America shared with his girlfriend and the TV didn't work. Although we were in a really quiet little part of the village, across the khlong from the local police office, he insisted that the front door of the house be locked at all times, day and night. I was okay about that, except that nobody had thought to cut me a key to the door, or let me to borrow a key to cut myself one.
The house had a kitchen with a fridge and stove, but it was a pigsty with week-old dirty dishes in the sink, and plastic bags full of decomposing food filling the fridge. Eating in wasn't a healthy move. Once or twice I'd managed to get down for a slice of frozen pizza from the Esso station when I knew that someone would be home to let me back inside, but by Wednesday I was getting a little peckish. Still, no key for me on the horizon. Mr America was gone to Pattaya or somewhere with his bro', and his girlfriend was teaching all day.
I sat in the house with no classes scheduled until the following week. Nothing to eat, and nothing to do but listen to the final swan-song of Metropolis 107 FM radio. I couldn't leave if I wanted to get back into the house. Hmmm, what should I do?
I think I was packed and loaded by 11:00 and on the road to Rayong. I needed food. I found a KFC on Sukhumvit between BKK and Pattaya, and treated myself to a burger, chips and the coveted potato and gravy. Yum!
Then it was back to highway 331 to make the rest of the trip. Onboard the Honda were three rucksacks and a small satchel like briefcase. Most of everything I owned. Then I did the wrong thing. A truck was parked on the side of the highway across the motorbike lane, leaving me the option of heading left and getting airborne over a rice field, or veering right and passing the truck in what remained of the left lane. No traffic behind me, I thought the latter option wisest.
When the police pulled me up under an overpass, I was informed by the senior officer who's English was reasonable, that I was wrong. Some new law for motorcycles meant that I should have taken off left and submarined through the rice field. With so much stuff strapped to the bike, I didn't fancy it's chances of being there when I got back from the cop shop. I gave him 500, and he returned a soggy looking 100 baht note as change. Chook Dee. Tea money is such a smooth operation. As with Sunday's flat tyre, I wasn't in a good position to bargain.
Finally I made Rayong again and booked back into the Natnum Apartments in good old room 419. It always smelt like rat droppings in that room, even after I'd moved the bed, wardrobe and everything, and scrubbed all the evaporated urine and crap off the tiled floor back in 2005. It still stunk in there. After a while away though, I'd come to miss it.
Now I wouldn't have it any other way. The smell of ratshit gets into your system after a while. It was the only room in the building that smelled that way, by the way. The whole place is rather luxurious for the provinces. Somehow, whenever I close the door of that room, say hello to the barking geckos on the ceiling, lay down on the bed, switch on the HBO movie, sniff the wonderful aromas, and wait for the occasional stray fruit bat or two to come flapping over the balcony to collide with the fridge, it feels like I'm home at last.
On the way into Amphur Rayong on Thursday, the police pulled me up twice on Sukhumvit. Once in either direction at the same intersection. After yesterday's blackmail, it was good to get friendly responses again. Explaining that I was on my way to Maptaphut, not Pattaya, these guys were more helpful, offering directions and having a laugh with me. I was glad that the earlier bribe wasn't the start of some new trend. I couldn't have afforded to part with an extra 400 every day.
After two hours of much-needed Thai massage courtesy of my friend Dr Kom, it was back to Mabkha for the night, before Friday saw the need to head off down to Chanthaburi. The River View Guest House is right on the river by the bridge, and the manageress, the top floor air-conditioned rooms, and the river views are worth twice the 350 baht for the night. I think her name is Miss Nong but I can't remember, and although there aren't fridges in the rooms, she always keeps me a little "Picnic Box" esky that someone had left behind, and lets me grab a little ice from the bar, free of charge, to keep my beers, teas and coffees cool until the morning.
Saturday morning was visa day, same old ride up to the border. Some of the border police on both sides still remembered to comment on how Mr "Sheen's" face had healed from the lacerations back in May. It's nice to be remembered. Back at the guest house that afternoon, I received a phone call from the manager of the agency who'd sent me to Khlong Suan, and agreed to meet him in Pak Kret the following afternoon. So much for a relaxing few days in the fresh Chanthaburi breeze.
Just pulling into Chachoengsao at noon on Sunday, I copped another flat but this time, front tyre. Luckily it was in town, and not out in the middle of nowhere. Limping to a Suzuki shop in town, the new tyre and a set of front brake pads set me back 500 baht in total. That was a bonus, I thought. I called the boss to explain that I'd be a little late, and made it home for a shower, and back to the office in Pak Kret by 14:00. Apparently they had found a key to the house for me, and wanted me to get back to work on the Monday. Okay. Back home to pack the rucksacks again, and get back to Samut Prakan.
As instructed, I made it to the classes I was originally allocated and was able to get the anuban kindy kids onto colours and days of the week fairly easily. In Thailand, Sunday through to Saturday each have an associated colour. Red, yellow, pink, green, orange, blue, and purple. The kindy classrooms had charts on the walls, so the fact that I'd not had time to construct lesson plans was no problem. For the first time that year, a Thai teacher was always there at the back of the class to answer my questions in Thai, helping the 3-4 year olds come up with the English words. "Wan put" she'd say, and there was always a bright spark in the class who could work out that Wednesday is green.
Elder prathom classes were okay too, and again a Thai teacher was always in the room, and things were disciplined. I got them naming the planets, including Pluto back then. The continents, the oceans, the poles, the geography of the Earth. I thought things were getting off to a good start, and the teachers, the kids, the rural atmosphere of the school, and the little bus shelter hidden away down by the road was a good place for a quick smoke and a breather between classes.
Tuesday's classes weren't cancelled that day, and I taught the same timetable again. Things got better. More friendly conversations with the kids and the teachers. I was farang teacher number one, for everyone else in Khlong Suan was Thai. I felt welcomed.
By 16:00 on Tuesday afternoon, I made it home, dropped the work clothes into the laundry lady 'round the corner, bought six Beer Chang cans from the market, and went home again. Pair of shorts, no shirt, sitting on the veranda of the house, cooling off all alone. Listening to my little transistor radio, sipping a beer, having a ciggie, watching the shed snakeskins drift along down the khlong, and I'd finished teaching for the day.
Then across the bridge came three of my prathom six students. "Hello Mr Sheen. How are you today?" Ciggie in the ashtray, beer down on the bench, and no solution for the lack of shirt problem. "Good afternoon Somchai. Good thank you, and you?" "Good afternoon Gaan…" This was not what I'd expected.
The absent farang teacher was into short sleeved shirts, jeans, no tie. I'd tried to keep up appearances with the proper attire for a teacher, but school was finished for the day. I was home, and there was nothing much to do in Khlong Suan after work apart from relax, listen to the radio and watch the snakes swim by. The shop up the road with "Internet" across the window was not online, and the floating market that had a restaurant open for dinner at 20:00 when the other teacher had taken me there, suddenly started closing at 17:00 as soon as he took off with his brother.
The Thai teacher who lived in the house, a young girl, was apparently tutoring kids after school in English, although I wasn't informed until, the three young lads turned up. Rather embarrassing for a teacher's reputation, I thought, but luckily my Wednesday classes were cancelled. Phew. 16:00 on Wednesday afternoon, I was almost exploding with boredom, and picked up another six cans of Chang, repeating the same thing, expecting a different result, like back on Monday.
This time, they were all girls coming to learn English at my place, but luckily I'd thought to wear a polo shirt. Coming back from the fridge, I smiled and nodded and went my way to the veranda, but not before I heard the young teacher girl say to them "Fulung mai dee." (The Frenchman is no good.) Right, okay. Half an hour later on my way back to my perch on the veranda, I got in first. I stopped in the living room, pointed at myself, smiled and corrected her pronunciation, "faRUNG mai dee", which I don't think the tutor appreciated, but the girls thought I was funny.
Still no classes on Thursday, I waited and waited all day and almost drank the local market stall out of green tea by 16:00, when I repeated the same thing, expecting a different result. Crazy, I know but that afternoon, there weren't any kids dropping in. I sort of wondered what the reaction may be if I ever WAS asked to teach another class. Luckily that night the Ventolin ran out and the asthma was fairly intense. Not knowing where the local drug store was, I was packed by 5:00 am and on the road to civilisation, just for the chance to buy Ventolin and breathe again. So long Khlong Suan. Thanks for the memories.
Looking back I can see now how important it would have been for the girl teacher to get rid of me for fear that I might have showed up her boyfriend. I appreciate her loyalty, but would have liked to have been informed of their relationship beforehand. Other people's girlfriends can be dangerous if they think it might help their fella, I guess. Maybe I'm jumping to conclusions, but Hell hath no fury like …
Back in Pak Kret that Friday, my boss at the original agency called me with an offer to teach prathom one down by the Nonthaburi Pier. No rest for the wicked is there? I started there on the last day of July.
So much for summarising all three months into one. I shall explain the outcomes at the fifth school next week. Sorry I couldn't get onto the southern Thailand part yet. I just like to ramble on too much, I guess.
Anyhow, thank you for reading. See you next week.
Get yourself off Ventolin….it is not good to be on it long term!