Teaching in Thailand, Book Excerpts
This is an excerpt from an ebook published recently by George at Bangkok Book House.
The summer camp was held upcountry in the outskirts of a Thai town famous for soccer-playing elephants, silk-weaving, and get this; black magic. The town’s got, like, female practitioners in the ancient art. Women from Surin got this impressive trick whereby they remove a house, a pick-up truck, a couple of Honda waves, and several acres of land in the space of time it takes their husband to drink a warm beer Chang.
Okay, maybe a truck load of warm Chang beer, or several truck loads…
The populous of this town are mostly farmers who work for a handful of rich slave-drivers who run the whole god-darn backwater circus. It was for the offspring of these backwardly mobile country folk that us English teachers were sent out to entertain for the weekend.
I met up with the other nine teaching staff at a bar-come-restaurant in a Bangkok suburb. I’d spent the late afternoon drinking cheap Thai rum and was slightly worse for wear bordering on emotionally challenged. The other teachers kindly noted this and started ordering drinks left right and centre in order to make sure I didn’t stand out. Or maybe, more accurately, get pissed themselves.
Beer, food, and into the minivan.
Seven hours later we arrived and checked into a hotel frequented by travelling salesman, criminals, and the sexually omnivorous. By this time the booze was wearing off. The Thai co-ordinator reasoned to hit a local karaoke bar before the next day’s camp activities. There was no real disagreement with that apart from a few squawks of indifference from a straight-laced Indian educator the wrong side of fifty and known simply (whilst in earshot) as F. Nobody listened to F.
We arrived at the karaoke bar with all the grace and decorum of a herd of buffalos in a shop selling Ming dynasty china and set about ordering enough cheap Thai booze to kill a battalion Shanghai hookers. Twice.
Songs were sung and women drooled over.
The talk was mostly about the things that teachers usually talk about. Where to pick up women, the price of said women. The price of grass in Vietnam and the carefree availability of live firearms in Cambodia. The use of sleeping drugs for a hangover and the uselessness of worldwide education systems. Even in my drunken state I realized I was saying things that would at some point come back and bite me where the sun rarely shone.
Experience is a fickle master and after a heroic potion of booze we returned to the hotel to find we’d be doubling up on double beds with fellow educators. I was put up with a young male teacher who’d remained sober the entire evening and pretty much silent the rest of the camp. I crashed into a restless slumber and hope to the good lord my hands didn’t wander that night. I wasn’t used to sharing beds with men drunk nor sober. Anything in my bed is usually fair game and I couldn’t tell if any lines had been crossed, or if so, who had crossed them.
That’s why the good lord invented black-outs.
The next morning’s awakening was about as welcome as cheese squeezed in a NASA spacesuit. This was that time of day when birds hit the snooze button, if they had alarm clocks, which they don’t. But you get the point. It was early. The only thing up and about were a bunch of half-drunk English educators and a shop vendor foresighted enough to push coffee and shots of whiskey to stray camp-going lunatics.
We got on a coach decked out with shocking-orange upholstery and an onboard PA system. Us drinkers wearing shades over blinkers like urine erosions on virgin snow. The non-drinkers smiled continually, snatching the odd glance at our pitiful condition. Then they looked back out the window, their eyes lit up in their sobriety. They didn’t need drink. They were drunk on our shame and suffering. Intoxicated with their own calm abstinence and clear-headedness.
I hated them with a passion. Trees, mountains, lakes…
The coach stopped at the school.
As we pulled up the first image we all saw above the gates was a twenty foot crucifix with a life sized Jesus Christ, beautifully carved in marble. This Christ was nailed onto the cross. The sculptor had beautifully captured every nuance of suffering, each trace of pain, all measure of misery and sacrifice had been carefully carved into that life-size figurine towering in front of us.
Each one of us hung-over teachers looked up at that image of Christianity with absolute understanding. Some of us may have even taken some kind of faith from it. Switched religions. Thought about the past…
One thing was for certain.
It was a catholic school.
The co-ordinators herded us into a large gymnasium filled with several hundred excited children and not a drop of booze in sight. We took a look at the scene and then looked at each other in disbelief.
'I bet you guys wished you’d stayed off the drink last night eh?’ Said F in his obviously non-native tones.
'Look, buddy, it’s a teaching gig. Just like any other. We teach a few phonics, sing a little ba ba black sheep and then hi the hotel bar for round
two,’ so said Louie a Californian slacker in jeans, jet black ray bans and a five day stubble.
'Not quite,’ said Suzie an attractive half-Thai camp veteran in a pinstripe leotard. ‘We have to spend the day doing activities, horse riding, and paint balling. And then activities back at the hotel. We will have to choreograph and then perform dance routines in front of hundreds, write songs, organise activities. There will be no time for any drinking, nor indeed anything other than taking care of our groups, eating and sleeping.’ She grinned knowingly. Suzie had been tucked up in bed whilst we had been drinking like evil dictators the previous night. What did she know?
I made an excuse about needing a bottle of water and headed out of the gymnasium. Had a look around and then jogged under the life-size Jesus and onto the side-walk. I looked up and down the road. No taxis. No traffic of any kind. Not even one of those wooden carts with the motor attached to the front.
Then I saw it. A rusty prehistoric bicycle leaned up against the school gates.
I thought about it.
I walked up to the bicycle. The tyres were flat but it could probably take my weight. My headache suddenly lifted with the anticipation of liberation. Then, just as I was calculating how long would it take to peddle my ass out of Hicksville, a booming voice set my poor-suffering noodle back into the panicky stasis of flight or fight…
It was John, an Australian educator who had been matching me drink for drink the previous evening.
'Not thinking about making a run for it mate?’
I said nothing. To be honest I’d gone beyond the thinking stage and was at the point of action. I didn’t tell him that. I just murmured that I was looking for some source of nearby water.
'Over there mate,’ he pointed to the cafeteria I’d just walked straight past. ‘And hurry up, we’re meeting our teams.’
'Yeah, we each get assigned twenty students to look after over the weekend. We have to take care of them, real good. The best team wins.’
'Take care of them? Twenty? What happens if we lose one of them, they fall in the lake, or off a cliff?’
'Then there’s one less to look after,’ the Aussie smiles convincing me to roll with it for the time being.
Next thing I know is two hours of sitting on a coach with a pounding head and some Thai jokers playing with the onboard PA system. Renditions of the wheels on the bus go round and round did little to cure the jitters that were going round and round my warmed-up carcass. In fact I was so hungover my hangover had a hangover. I began feeling guilty about stuff that probably hadn’t happened the night before. Christ is omnipotent, but so is coca-cola.
We eventually arrived in the middle of a field with a few ponies, some cattle and a handful of stalls selling the usual tourist fare. The sun shone down on our sweating bodies heating us like insects under a magnifying lens. Tourists walked by smiling and enjoying the bright sunshine. I hated them for their happiness.
I stumbled up to a teacher who had also been drinking like it was the death of an Irishman the night before. His name was Brad. He was just out of college. Lived with his dad and his dad’s new wife who was only a couple of years Brad’s senior.
'Wanna see something cool?’ He pulled out his mobile phone.
'Sure,’ I told him.
'Look at these.’ He had one of those Iphones. I looked at the picture. It was Brad with some Thai chick.
'Cool. Is this your girl?’ I asked him.
'Yeah, kinda, but it gets better. Keep scrolling through.’
Each picture was a little different. There was a picture of them both holding hands, and then a picture of them both kissing. Then a picture of her with her top off. Brad was now out of the frame, operating the camera.
I keep flicking through.
'She loves this sort of stuff,’ he told me.
The pictures grew gradually better or worse depending on your faith and upbringing until Brad’s sexual partner was performing stuff I’d only read about. Online.
'Nice,’ I told him and handed back the phone. He said nothing. Just smiled. I walked over to see what was happening with the ponies.
It was whilst helping a nine year old pupil onto a pony saddle that the thought suddenly occurred to me.
It was Brad’s step mom in the pictures!
I’ll never know for sure but there was something in that smile.
I decided to sneak off and find something to keep the mind off Brads step mom. I needed something wholesome to focus on. I walked through the marketplace and past stalls selling cakes and bamboo picture-frames and wooden willies, and the frogs that make the croaking sound when you rub them with a stick.
Then I saw it.
A large blue ice box, the ice glimmering under the harsh sunlight. There were other things in that box. They were made of glass and aluminium and they were full of a beautiful golden liquid that went by brand names that translated as Tiger and Leopard and Elephant. The ice box was full of crisp clean golden lager. One glass of which would reduce my hangover to some dark distant memory. My general health and vigour would be restored to that of a pristine British educator with a never say never morale and a stiff upper lip.
I looked at that ice box full of beer for a full five minutes. People were born and people died whilst I looked at it. People got married and others divorced. Sex changes were being performed and paintings painted. There were suicides and scrabble contests. People changed faith and new species were both created and wiped out whilst I looked at that ice box.
But it didn’t matter.
I walked past the box, past the market stalls, and rejoined my team of twenty students in the queue for the pony rides.
I had a job to do.
My team were the red team.
And by Jesus on that cross I was gonna do it.
I was gonna win this thing.
The above is an excerpt of a novel published as an ebook by Bangkok book house – http://www.bangkokbooks.com/php/product/product.php?product_id=001062
Or a hard copy can be bought at Amazon.com in the near future.
Good luck with the book.