When The Past Is More Exciting Than The Future
This post is in response to Stickman’s article this week. First off, I thought it was a well thought out piece, but something not everyone can relate to. I’ll tell you why. In some ways, how we adapt to our environment has to do with our
personal makeup, I think. Some people are fine living in one place for an extended period of time, may even consider this place home, even if it happens to be a foreign country. Other people get bored of that very same place, and even if they
loved it at one point, they quickly learn to resent it.
I must say I am in the Stick’s boat when it comes to this, but probably even more so. For I, too, was a teacher in Thailand at one time not so long ago. I, too, fell in love with LOS. I lived and worked in LOS for three years, two in Surat Thani, and one in Bangkok, before calling it quits.
I’ll never forget that first month in Thailand. I arrived in September, and began studying with a group of forty mostly young, recent college graduates at the TEFL school in Ban Phe. Sure, there were a few oddballs in the group, including a kid from Iowa who dubbed himself Mafioso Joe. And there was a middle-aged gentleman from England who was of Sri Lankan descent who fancied bargirls so much so he repeatedly paid the bar for the GFE.
Overall, it was a solid group of people. We partied our asses off that first month. Weekends in Koh Samet. Weekends in Pattaya. Weekdays at the beach bars in Ban Phe. The only thing I can really compare it to are maybe the first few months of college,
you know, that first time away from home, in the dorms, everyone is new, everything is exciting. Guys and girls in the TEFL program were hooking up with each other left and right, with the exception of the few married couples, and of course Mafioso
Joe, who was hooking up with one-eyed hookers and ladyboys. (True story)
Sure, I came to Thailand pushing thirty without a penny to my name, but who cared. I was here for the bro down. Hell, there wasn’t a night where the TEFL teachers didn’t end up in the pool naked and drunk and high. Co-ed naked skinny dipping was a run-of-mill event in Ban Phe.
You better believe I remember my first encounter with a weekend in Pattaya. Of course, I had heard the stories from other people in LOS, but I had always traveled to Thailand with big groups of guys and girls, and never ventured far off the beaten backpacker path of Khao Sahn and the islands.
I convinced four other guys in the TEFL group to join me in a Pattaya weekender. We got a taxi from Ban Phe for six hundred baht and arrived at Charlie’s Place, Soi Diana, about an hour later. After we all got rooms, we asked around in some of
the bars where the place to be was. Everyone we talked to had the same answer. Walking Street was the place to be.
Later that evening, on Walking Street, me and the boys drank Chang beers from 7 Eleven and ogled at the plethora of hard bodies. It was an experience you can only have once, that first time on Walking Street. Needless to say, we all picked up that night, and in the morning, when we said good-bye to the girls, I wasn’t quite through with Pattaya. A buddy of mine had mentioned something about a place called soi 6.
Next thing I knew, we were walking past beer bars full of women, and being half-drunk from the night before, decided to have a drink in one of the bars before we returned to Ban Phe. Well, as it went, there were four of us and four women so we each chose
one and drank the day away. We took turns going upstairs. We sat and discussed how good it was to be in Thailand drinking with a couple of exotic hard bodies on a Sunday afternoon. We took photos. We stayed from noon to six, never changing bars,
never quitting on the drink, and next thing we knew it was sunset, and it was time to get back to Ban Phe. We bid the girls farewell, promising to return soon, and headed out trying to find a ride back to Ban Phe. I still remember stopping girls
on the street to ask for directions, and them trying to make out with me instead! You can only have one first time in Pattaya and this is certainly true.
There were many other weekends in Samet and days on the beaches of Ban Phe. Later, after we graduated from the TEFL school, the program took a large group of us to Laos to complete our visas, while the rest of the group went to Khao Sahn Road to party it up a little bit more before school started.
These were the days. Nothing compared to the excitement of those first couple months. Hell, it was a great first year. I started work in Bangkok but soon found a girl, and moved down to Surat Thani with her. We lived in her uncle’s townhouse for awhile, being unemployed and penniless (this was to be a theme of my time in Thailand), but soon I found a job at one of the language centers. We lived on a pittance for awhile, me and her. But it was an exciting time, in a new place, that was nothing like The Big Mango and that was a good thing, I think.
Her family gave me a motorbike and some furniture for the townhouse. I started work at the government school. I met the expat community in Surat Thani. There was a place called ‘soi farang’ where everyone seemed to live. There was always something going on there, a party, or a sports event (there were some guys training Muay Thai, and ended up having a fight night there every so often). There was a booze boat that you could rent to go upriver and every so often people pooled their money together and rented it for the evening.
There weren’t any beer bars or tourist attractions in Surat Thani proper. But there were great Thai restaurants and Thai clubs and plenty of parties. Again, it was a new place. It was an exciting time.
The partying continued with weekends to Khanom, Khao Sok, and Koh Samui. NYE in Haad Rin. Halloween at Naiplao Beach, Khanom. There was always something going on the weekends, usually with a lot of young people involved. One of my buddies had Muay Thai fights in Koh Samui from time to time.
During my time in Surat, I began to play basketball again. There were pick-up games every night at the Surat Stadium. Soon, the Thais invited me to play on their teams in tournaments in different provinces. This might be the highlight of my time in Surat, because these were not your average park league tournaments, where both teams showed up and maybe the families of the players. No, these were highly competitive events in which most of the community showed up to the games. (Think minor league baseball) The emotions ran high and the play was intense. Sometimes there were fights. I loved these moments, and hadn’t really competed in anything since college. It was a serious throwback, and I helped my team to the championship in several of the tournaments. I’ll never forget a tournament in Pun Phin, in which teams from all over the province competed in the ‘Phun Phin Cup’, one of the bigger tournaments that year. The gym was packed and with every shot knocked down the benches rattled. I’ve never seen such intensity for local sports events. Unfortunately, these events were so competitive, teams would pay players on the Thai national team in Bangkok to come down and play in the provincial tourneys (in some tournaments, the winners received 20k, quite a lot for Thais), which killed some locality of the tournaments. Fact was, they simply weren’t as fun with ‘Ringers’. (Of course, some might call me a ringer, too, me being a foreigner, but at least I lived in the communities I played for!)
During this time, I was never expected to pay the fee for the tournaments, and the team always took me out for dinner and drinks afterward. I always offered to pay but the Thais would have none of it. It was a thank you for playing on their team.
So a year passes. I re-up the contract with the government school. It’s much of the same. Parties after school let out. Basketball tournaments on Thai holidays. It was great, really great, for quite awhile there.
I was starting to get serious with my girlfriend. We had been living together for close to two years, after all. But I was still living paycheck to paycheck. Those weekends in Samui, they were cutting into 10 – 15% of my monthly income for just a weekend holiday. At the time I was making decent money for Surat, which were standard teachers wages, 30k with 4k allocated for housing. It was enough to live on, but I certainly wasn’t paying down any of my numerous debts.
The exciting part of Surat was starting to wear thin. People came and went but the partying never stopped, even if there were new people at the parties. There was pressure in my relationship to do something with my life. It made me wonder how I’d dig my way out of all the debt I’d accumulated while living in Thailand. Month to month was no way to live.
Eventually, I moved back to Bangkok for a job with higher wages. It was a financial move, plain and simple, but it didn’t get me out of debt, not by a long shot. In Bangkok you had every western luxury at your fingertips, if only you had the money. Well, I couldn’t stay away from doing things like going to the movies, eating at western restaurants, drinking on Khao San, which is not the bargain it promotes itself as.
I was back to square one. I was now 31 years old. How much longer would the scene play itself out?
However, let me digress for a moment, to talk of a time before LOS, when I was a teacher in Tokyo, Japan. I had a similar experience here. The money was better, but after about a year or so working in Tokyo, I burnt out on Japan. Everything I used to love about Japan – the culture, the food, the women – went sour after awhile. In addition, I worked for a corporation called Nova, which was about as corporate and bureaucratic as it gets. What once was loved, I began to loathe.
It was the same in LOS. Granted, I stayed there far longer than I had originally planned, but don’t we all? I think the biggest possible obstacle teachers face is a way out of the situation. What if you don’t have a place to stay back home? And even if you do have family somewhere, what marketable skills do you possess as an English teacher? From my experience of coming home from Japan, companies aren’t waiting with open arms, not in this job market.
Truth be told, I got lucky this time around. I had a job lined up elsewhere before I ever had to make that decision. But for most of my friends who stayed, the question wasn’t when would they leave, it was what would they do if they left. Some got married and had a kid, so their choice was pretty much made for them. Others just got caught in entropy, not knowing whether to stay or go, and partying till sunrise.
Some of my buddies have no intention of returning home. To them it is not a matter of money, and to be certain, a lot of them are living paycheck to paycheck. It is simply that they cannot go home, for whatever reason. I know many of them will never give up the life, and money does not concern them. Perhaps they don’t think that far into the future and are content with what they have.
For me, however, I had to keep moving. I couldn’t get dragged down in the quagmire. I have been back to LOS once for a two-weeker, and believe me, you really learn to appreciate it more once you’ve been gone for awhile. Of course, I plan to go back several times, and I still keep up with my girlfriend, but she is willing to follow me to other countries, so it is not certain that I’ll ever live in Thailand. After all, nothing compares to that first year in LOS.
Interesting story. It does rather sound like you got bored of the teaching industry and the low income rather than of Thailand per se.