Readers' Submissions

The Graduate

  • Written by Akulka
  • August 13th, 2007
  • 14 min read



It’s shortly after midnight in this urban European corner of Farangland. A spruce tall guy in his mid-twenties and a fashionable lady in her mid-thirties are among the very few people who populate the subway station platform at this late weekday hour. The LCD screens on the walls announce it will be another four minutes until the next train arrives at the station.

“You know, I have really gotten fond of you!” she speaks out before getting closer and embracing him tenderly. It wasn’t the first hug of the evening.

As the train slowly grinds to a halt in the station she walks away from him and steps into the carriage, not without tenderly running her hand over his face for goodbye. As the doors close behind her and the train slowly sets into motion again she smiles at him affectionately and blows him a kiss. Then she is gone.

Witnessing this scene as a bystander nothing much would have aroused my curiosity, except that perhaps I would have wondered about the obvious age difference between them two.

But I was no bystander. The guy was me, and the lady was my 37 year old married Thai language teacher.

How the hell did things develop this way?

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I started taking private lessons from Koi around ten months ago. I had learned about her offering one-on-one tuition through the website she maintained. I had also learned that Koi taught several classes at different open universities around town. I actually considered attending one of those, but didn’t manage to squeeze the weekly lessons into my busy schedule. I thought a flexible solution would certainly fit the bill much better, and after later hearing from Koi about the very slow progress she makes with her students in those classes, I was confirmed in my decision.

I was interested in learning at least the basics of the Thai language to facilitate my travels through Thailand and hopefully add to my experiences while doing so. Even though to this day my knowledge of spoken Thai is basic at best, it has already served me very well on both counts.

Koi and I hit it off well right from the start. Our relationship to each other was friendly and polite, but also pretty much strictly business most of the time. The first time we met for lesson at a café downtown, but decided to relocate to my apartment for the second meeting already. Koi visiting her private students in their own homes gave her a considerable competitive advantage over the other few qualified Thai language teachers around town. Needless to say, for me this solution was the most convenient.

I tried to prepare well for the lessons and felt like getting most out of the time I paid her teaching me. At the same time I didn’t feel like holding her up after the time had run out as she often emphasized how she must hurry to make it to her next appointment, even though I often wished she would stay for a short chat so I could learn a bit more about her.

For quite a long time I only knew very little. That she used to teach Thai to Farangs in Bangkok, which is also where she had grown up. That she held a BA and an MA from reputable Bangkok universities. That she lived in my corner of Farangland for about seven years already. That she was married to a fellow countryman I assumed she must have met in Thailand and then followed him to live here. And finally, that she owed her proficiency in my country’s tediously difficult language to her ambitious studies at one of the local universities, and of course her husband ceaselessly practicing conversation with her. No doubt, this lady was ambitious, and obviously a pretty sharp cookie to boot.

She didn’t ask many questions about me either. Later she explained that was because she didn’t want to intrude on my privacy. However, I did notice her marveling about my interest in Thailand and Asia in general, and particularly about the frequency of my trips to the region.

We got along fine. She proved to be a competent teacher and repeatedly complemented me on being motivated and actually interested in furthering my Thai language capabilities way past the “Chue arai khrap” dialogues she supposedly always seemed to get stuck with in her Open University classes.

After about seven months of things going all these lines, eventually the day came our almost exclusively business-like relationship to each other changed. We met for yet another lesson after I had just returned from a three week stint to the Philippines. She was curious how my experiences of travelling on the PI compared to my experiences in Thailand, so we talked.

After she left I ended up emailing her a travelogue about the PI I had written for this website (Filipino Bliss). To this email she replied, and from there on our relationship totally turned around.

It started as a friendly discussion on various general topics, but within days she opened up to me to an extent I would not have thought possible, and certainly didn’t expect. Funnily so, she expressed disappointment at me supposedly having always almost literally pushed her out of my apartment after lessons. That had led her to believe that I was neither interested in her as a person, nor actually liked her, so she never felt like bothering me with starting a chat, even though she would have liked that.

April 22nd she wrote to me:

I am quite positively surprised that you start writing (talking) with me quite all of a sudden. I always thought that you couldn’t wait to get me out of your apartment. Of course I am pleased with this positive change.

After explaining my view on things and getting that misunderstanding out of the way, communication started flowing. At that time I didn’t think much of it. I was curious about how she liked life in my corner of Farangland, and wanted to learn about what experiences she had made, how she had managed to adapt, and generally how she fared living here. Little did I know at that time that I was actually ripping open a can of worms!

Unsuspectingly I wrote to her, gave her attention, something she was obviously not much used to anymore.

April 24th Koi wrote:

“Your email brought a smile on my face and god knows I don’t have so many reasons to smile at the moment. You got me so curious that I have to write back. Just to see where it may lead…”

It goes on. April 25th:

“I think our correspondence really progressed far more than our interaction in the real world. I am kind of curious how you will react when you open the door to let me in on Friday. I think it would also be wonderful if we could be friends. It is indeed a pleasure to have such a cute friend. I hope you don’t mind me saying that. And no, I don’t have any hidden agenda here. You are young enough to be my younger brother, do you know that?”

April 26th:

“Are you curious about me and my motives as well? Don’t you ask yourself "I wonder why she keeps writing to me, all of a sudden?” On my part, I think until now I have given you enough opportunities to presume otherwise or at least steer this email correspondence back on the right track. But it didn’t really happen as I thought it would. It makes me even more curious. Do you know what I mean?”

Particularly this last email of hers did catch me a bit by surprise. Did anything I wrote in my emails to her really imply anything that could have taken us “off track”, as she obviously suggested? Actually I didn’t think so! I tried to clarify, and consequently received this as an answer:

April 27th:

“Pardon me if I say, for the whole week I thought you were flirting with me, and I guess I was a bit flirtatious with you too. Sorry for that. I just couldn’t help it :-)“

“Seriously, I think I was just teasing you (harmlessly). The film "The Graduate" did cross my mind a bit here…. oh well, please pardon this poor old lady for some slip of tongue. Not intentional of course…“

Again I found myself a bit taken aback by how she delivered this confession. I wondered if Koi was always this forthcoming. If anything, she seemed a little lonely, and all too ready to open her heart up to the slightest sign of interest.

Two days later our next lesson was scheduled. Just as she had predicted it felt quite different, almost a bit awkward, when I welcomed her into my apartment this time. I had already begun to fear how our newly developed level of familiarity might negatively affect the flow of the lessons, and unfortunately this fear was confirmed.

“I don’t feel much like teaching today”, Koi informed me. “Let’s just sit and talk! Do you have any red wine? It helps loosening my tongue!”

As I didn’t have much time that day and needed to be somewhere short after our scheduled lesson, I told her I’d prefer if we’d just go over my questions and exercises first and maybe postpone the chat to another day. She reluctantly agreed, but insisted on me taking her out for a drink some other evening that week.

And so it happened. What I learned about her during the course of that evening proved to be ambiguous and saddening all the same. She had come to my hometown eight years ago, basically running away from her old life, and ever since populated the place with the remnants of her former self. As I had already known before, she used to teach Thai to foreigners and English to Thais at a language school she co-founded with a friend in Bangkok. One of her private students used to be a Swedish expat. She fell in love with him, and they had an affair. Everything would have been good if he hadn’t been engaged to a tall blonde Swedish girl already. Koi hoped until the day the Swede and his girl tied the knot that he would leave his fiancée for her. He didn’t. Heartbroken she decided to leave Bangkok and her lost love behind, and traveled to Farangland to study my mother tongue. Coming from a rather well-off family, visa and finances were not an insurmountable stumbling block.

She had had in mind to stay for not longer than a year, but then met her husband, got married, and decided to continue doing here what she used to enjoy doing in Thailand before…teaching. Little did she know that her prospective students would almost exclusively be of a different breed than the corporate clients she had mostly been used to.

She shared tales of woe with me of her student body mostly comprising of middle-aged punters longing for a bit of Thai flavor in their bland lives during the time they were away from the shores of Pattaya. According to her, most of them were not only unmotivated to actually learn the language, but were also inclined to share tales of their bar conquests with her. Supposedly more than just a few had tried groping her over the years. I felt her frustration literally seeping out of her.

Her husband she talked of as a “good and nice” man, who took care of the bills and generally treated her well. I never really asked any questions, but I doubt there was much love for him left in her.

She confessed to me that she had been thinking about moving back to Bangkok for years, as living in the West has made her not only lose her zest for life and her smile, as she explained, but also her hope in the future and her belief in the good in people. After this summer, she said, she was fiercely determined not to return from her yearly 3-month vacation in the LOS anymore. This confession came as a surprise to me, as she had never mentioned such plans before.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this earlier?” I asked her incredulously.

“Because I’m only telling people I care about!” she answered. “And because I cannot return after saying I won’t! It would be too much of a loss of face!”

The day after our dinner Koi wrote to me:

“Thanks again for a wonderful evening last night. I guess it is one of the best I have had in the last 7 years in this city! Sometimes I wish you were a bit older. I would know better how to cope with you.”

“I had a dream of a man last night. I think he had a very sweet / nice face had he not been way too overweight. His face kinds of reminded me of yours, so I couldn’t help imagining you being a bit chubby. And I thought it was cute.”

“I am a good girl with bad intentions personified indeed. Every time I plan on being a bit naughty, it never goes as planned!!! Next time maybe we should keep it spontaneous. Can you do that? The next lesson is on 15th, so I will keep myself available after that.”

I never really found out what she exactly meant by writing that, and I can’t say I wasn’t relieved in a way. Even though nothing much had happened between us, I was not entirely feeling comfortable with the situation anymore. Despite her being quite a bit older than me, I found Koi attractive, and no doubt she was quite easy on the eye. Yet there was something about her demeanor I found very disturbing. And honestly, I was certainly in no hurry to begin an affair with another man’s wife either.

We didn’t meet on the 15th, as I spontaneously decided to hop over to Bangkok for a long weekend. Travelling to Chicago already the week after, we agreed to have our last lesson at the beginning of June, some days after my return from the States and shortly before her departure to Thailand.

While abroad I received this message from her:

“Do you know what? Sometimes I really do admire your willingness to talk with people, even with someone you are not interested in in particular. I don’t think that you are really keen on me, but still you are willing to write.”

I found myself gripped by an unexpected pang of sadness. I wondered if it was those years of living in my hometown that had made this girl so disoriented and unassertive, or if she had been like that all along?

Arriving back home I called and asked her to have coffee with me instead of having one final lesson, as it would probably be the last time we would see each other, if we didn’t decide to catch up with each other in Bangkok some time in the future. She refused to see me. First she mentioned she didn’t have time, but soon started arguing again how she thought I didn’t really like her and should not feel any obligation to spend time with her. I did eventually manage to convince her that was not the case, and I’d indeed like a chance to at least say goodbye to her before she left. She said she would think about it and get in touch. She didn’t. On the day of her departure to Thailand I sent her an email, wishing her good luck. I told her she couldn’t change the past, but the future could be a different story, and it had to start somewhere. To this day she hasn’t replied.

As for me, I am sad to have lost a good teacher, even though I believe we would have not been able to go back to having productive teaching units again. I guess too much personal stuff, even sexual tension, had already gotten into the way.

I have found myself someone new to teach me now, a quite sophisticated lady, the daughter of a diplomat who grew up in half a dozen countries on four continents before she eventually settled down in my hometown and started a family. I haven’t taken my first lesson with her yet, but will do so soon. She asks for more money and doesn’t come to my home, but at least she appears to be a lot less incomprehensible and fickle than Koi. Either way, I’ll be careful not to open another can of worms. That’s for sure.

Stickman's thoughts:

Wow, you had me on the edge of my seat in that story, wondering where it was going to go, and what was going to happen next. Excellent stuff!