Greetings and salutations fellow Stickmanites! Elfugitivo is back with more madness. Before I get any further into this submission about my TEFL experiences in LOS, please allow me to correct and clarify two points from my previous submission.
1. HRH was indeed educated in Switzerland, not the US. However, the family resided in New Haven, CT (I forget if that is home to Harvard or Yale) while his father pursued studies at whatever Ivy League University that is located in New Haven, HRH did reside in the US. So I apologize for my error. Please also understand that I am writing these submissions to entertain, not to edify. While there is certainly some good information on Stick’s site, there is also some very amusing stuff on here too. As always due diligence is required. With that caveat out of the way, if you get a chuckle while reading this I have succeeded.
2. I stated that all English Teachers were mongers. When I was teaching (2004) I certainly found that to be the case, in that the only other farangs that I encountered in the industry were all mongers. Stick mentioned that this is no longer the case so I will take his word for it. Allow me to posit this however, “Not all English teachers are mongers, but all mongers are English teachers (or they have in some way been, or considered being, involved in the TEFL-industry even tangentially). What an exercise in logic! Damn I should write questions for the LSAT or the GMAT. Now on with the show…
It was early in 2004 when I bombed out of law school here in the US. The rule is that during your first year you can’t get any grade lower than a “B”. I got a “C” in Civil Procedure I and that sealed my fate. I was $25,000 in debt and unemployed. I wouldn’t call my brief stint in law school a total waste though; I did learn some interesting things. Torts was great, I can now spot a “cause for action” and exploit it. [I am currently involved in two legal claims – if they settle they will be nice scores. If they go to trial and I prevail then I may win enough to be able to move to LOS and “live the dream”]. Being unemployed and out of school I wasn’t sure what to do but a friend that I met in Pattaya suggested doing TEFL.
Now I am never one to turn down a chance to monger in LOS so I quickly took a bit of the “liquid” money from my student loan and booked my travel. The first order of business was getting into a TEFL training program that would result in a TEFL certificate. After looking around it seemed like the only qualification for an English teacher (in 2004) was to be a native-speaker from an English-speaking country. Being Caucasian also helped. I noticed that the higher-paying jobs seemed to require a BA/BS and/or a TEFL certificate. They didn’t seem to care whether or not your BA/BS was related to education; they would have accepted my BA in Parapsychology from Miskatonic University. That left me in need of a TEFL certificate.
I decided to do my TEFL training in Pattaya with Text and Talk. They also offered courses in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket. The course was four weeks long and it cost $1,000 USD; the schedule was great for mongers too. We’d start at 9am (don’t be too hung over) and finish at 2pm (plenty of “fxxk off” time), and we were off on the weekends. I concluded that this company was reputable since the training was good and I was able to land a decent job after I finished the course. My only complaint with the company was its logo. The logo was of a dude in a top hat and short jacket with a cravat (ascot?) wearing striped pants. WTF? Is this what an English teacher should look like? I am not sure if he is supposed to be a Victorian-era chimney sweeper or Her Majesty’s Ambassador to Siam Nigel Shaggington-Twatsworth III Esq. But enough poking fun at their logo, the training was actually decent. The instructor seemed like a genuinely nice guy (and qualified) – if you are reading this you owe me a beer. He was a British guy in his early 50s and had done TEFL in the Middle East before winding up in Thailand. He presented the material well and also got into some of the “ground truth” about teaching in Thailand. By no means did he seem like a hardcore monger, but he certainly wasn’t averse to hitting the bars now and then.
The training center was located in a shop house on a side street just off of South Pattaya Road, really close to where Tuk Com is now (it was still being built by illegal Cambodian immigrants when I did the course). I rented a room in the haunted Burda Apartments for like 4 or 5,000 Baht per month. So it was only a 5 minute walk to get to class. The side streets off of South Pattaya Road don’t exactly attract high-so farangs, or Thais for that matter. On the first day of training we were all waiting outside of the building smoking and joking before class when we heard shrieking. This Thai guy was wailing on his woman right there in the middle of the street. Both of them looked like they were under the influence – probably yaa baa’ed out of their minds. Dude was whooping his bitch right there in the street-most of us neophytes were stunned, the local Thais just sat and watched. One of the guys in my class was a long-term expat and advised us not to get involved. The fight eventually ended and we went in to start training. The building was air-conditioned and well-maintained; we were issued with a bag and several texts. The classroom was clean, comfortable, and well-lit. Most of the writing was done on whiteboard and the breaks were adequate.
The curriculum was pretty straightforward, it covered: culture and learning styles, lesson plans, addressing grammar issues, pronunciation exercises, etc. Towards the end you did a few real world practice lessons in a local government school. Some of the “ground truth” that our instructor shared was that unfortunately in many schools Ajarn Farang is there for show and he is expected to be an entertainer. The point that really stuck with me (from class and from my own experience) is that when teaching Thais, you have to make it fun (even for adults). If you can incorporate games and activities into your lesson they may actually retain something. Obviously we all want learning to be fun, but some topics just aren’t fun and you simply have to hunker down to get through them…try telling that to Thais. Mercifully most of the grammar stuff (in the school that I wound up at) was taught by Thai teachers. Grammar, for the most part, sucks – in any language. In the service I completed the Arabic Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. This, along with my TEFL experience, made me a firm believer that another language’s grammar points need to be taught to you in your language by someone who has already mastered the target language. My instructors at DLI were native Arabic speakers and in spite of all the technology that DLI invests in, they could not teach grammar worth a damn. Only our Military Language Instructor, an NCO that already spoke Arabic at a very high-level, could clarify grammar points. My wife, who you met in an earlier submission (Never Trust a Big Butt and a Smile) is back in the US and studying English. Sometimes she asks me to clarify a grammar point, for the life of me I can’t. I can’t remember the rules because I have been out of school for ages; the best that I can come up with is “it just sounds right”.
The students in my TEFL training class were a motley crew to say the least. The class size was fairly small so it maximized learning, but some of the students in my class certainly were not conducive to learning! Here is a brief synopsis.
A: Was from Ireland and in his 40s. He was interested TEFL because he wanted to do some charity work; he seemed like a decent guy too good for Pattaya. He wasn’t a hardcore monger, but he did like a “wee nip” of rented Thai va-jay-jay now and then. Eventually he wanted to find a nice Thai woman and settle down. He lived a better-than-average lifestyle. I don’t know how he got his money, because he did not come across as being a professional but rather a normal guy.
B: Was from Scotland and was a young monger like me (at the time). He said “fxxk it I’m moving to LOS so that I can shag 24/7”. Now I’m not gay, I’m not headed that way, but he was a fit young guy – no problem pulling ass in the West…but a monger nevertheless. The go-go girl he was shacked-up with was stunning, seriously she was porn star material. So when she would come to meet him over the lunch break everyone would crane their necks to check her out. He was serious about her; I hope it turned out OK for them.
C: Was an Australian in his early 50s, he was also a raging alcoholic. He was definitely one of the “bottom dwellers” of Soi Buakhao. The class was casual, you could wear shorts, but you at least had to be clean and reasonably sober. This guy would show up in flip-flops, dirty shorts, and the requisite tank top. His head was shaved; he reeked of booze and cigarettes, and always seemed sunburned. To top it off he had lots of shitty tattoos, bad teeth, and the standard-issue gaudy golden Buddha amulet around his neck. Right off the bat he would challenge the instructor and cite his “Old Asia Hand” bullshit. But our instructor was also an Old Asia Hand so he checked that shit right quick. Maybe some of you long-term expats can enlighten me. How does one get to be an “Old Asia Hand”? I want to be an Old Asia Hand; do I have to be old? Do I need to be Asian? I have hands so I’m half-way there. If I put “Old Asia Hand” as a career objective on my resume do you think that I can get a non-TEFL job in LOS?
D: Was an American from Texas, he was in his early-50s. People like D give Texas a bad reputation. He claimed to be an “Old Asia Hand” and dressed the part; it is always 1975 in his closet. Even his car was old; it rolled off of the assembly line when Jimmy Carter was in office. D resided in Ban Mayberry up yonder in Isaan with his ex-BG wife who was short, dark, and wiry. He was just in Pattaya to pick up the certification, and maybe a little Soi 6 action. Scratch that, Beach Road action on his budget. He had a goofy mustache and his front teeth were stained from tobacco. D loved to argue with the instructor too, mostly about British vs. American English. I guess back in Bumfuck, Texas they don’t talk fancy like them John Bull Englishmen. By now you may have guessed that D was also a “Barstool Ranger”, he hinted at lots of daring-do but couldn’t elaborate-all very high-level stuff. D should pull that shit at one of the VFW Chapters and see how that works out. If you also guessed that C and D were buddies then you were right.
E: Was from England, he was in his mid-40s. He was a Registered Nurse that specialized in Psychiatric care; so he was just going from one nuthouse to the other (Pattaya). He seemed like a good guy, one of those “farang woman screwed me over in the divorce” situations. He had a bit of a monger phase but was slowing down and wanted to find a “normal” Thai woman.
F: Was also from England, he had to have been in his 70s – talk about an Old Asia Hand. He did the TEFL course just because he wanted a hobby. If Hollywood ever needed to cast a distinguished English gentleman, G would have won hands down. I don’t know if he was loaded, but he carried himself as if he were. He had a steady Thai woman, not too young; but I did see him once arm in arm with a very nice 20-something BG! He was also “living the dream”.
So that was our little TEFL class. After graduation we all went out for a big “piss up” on Walking Street and then we went our separate ways.
I relocated to Bangkok and since I had a BA and a TEFL certificate I could try for reasonably paid jobs. I rented a studio in a place called “Grand Hi-Tech Tower”, despite the grandiose name it was not hi tech. Still it was clean and reasonably secure; I think rent was like 7,000 per month. The place is located on Soi Wat Pa Se, which is a side street off of Sukhumvit 63 (Ekamai). It had a rooftop pool and a crappy little gym, but there were some good places to eat and internet shops nearby. Down 63 there was a Big C, some OK restaurants, and Thong Lo was only a quick hop on the sky train if you wanted to see a movie. And across the canal there was a major street (several Thai soapies), I forget the name but there was more shopping and a McDonalds. So this place was home for the next year. My bargirl at the time (now my wife) came along with me and was actually very useful in helping me get to get set up in my new environment. Now I needed to find a decent job.
The company that I trained with provided job placement assistance and after I called up their Bangkok office, they sent a Thai lady out to me the next day. Get your minds out of the gutter; this lady was a fixer who would take you around to different schools. The first school we went to paid a nice salary for a TEFL newbie like myself, the only problem was that it was far from my place. No big deal, I was happy to be working and making an OK wage. I had to use public transport to get to work, and that is why the public buses are near and dear to me (sarcasm). I would be working at a government school along with several other farangs. I’ll get to them later. The school was in decent condition, but unfortunately only a few rooms were air conditioned. I would be sweating a lot so it was off to an Indian tailor to get some work clothes made. Now I have noticed that the Thais are fond of pastels, at least in office-type environments. Now embracing the effeminate and flamboyant aspects of their culture I had several shirts made in pink, purple, teal, etc. I also bought matching ties of slightly darker shades. I would thoroughly gel and spike my black hair before going to work in order to complete the effect. So here I was this tall, long-nosed farang in a fruity colored shirt and tie trying to impersonate a Thai!
Now I didn’t have a work permit, and I wasn’t on an educational visa when I did my TEFL course (I should have got the Educational visa in retrospect). The fixer lady that they sent to help me get a job was able to convince the nice folks at Krung Thai Bank to open an account for me anyways. Pay was done via direct deposit so it wasn’t too bad of deal. The Thai teachers were friendly enough and didn’t engage in the usual nonsense you hear about-except for Piggy. Piggy was short and fat, she wore her hair in a “bob” as if she was still a school girl and her nose resembled a snout so the name was appropriate. Piggy wanted everyone to know that one of her kids was a pilot for Thai, as if that made her a pilot too. She was very two-faced and was really the only one that you had to be on guard around. Everyone was terrified of the principal/headmaster Ajarn S. AKA Somchai Whacksittolotsofporn-he was a sight to behold. On this site I often read submissions from Continentals about “Thai mafia” and such-usually they are referring to a few delinquent gel-heads on motosais packing rusty .38s. Gangbanger would be a better term for those douche bags, but Ajarn S was the Thai Godfather! He was in his late 40s and wore his hair slicked back like Marlon Brando did. This guy rocked “Blue Blocker” type tinted eyewear and had all kinds of bling on his fingers-and a pinky ring to boot! When they introduced me to him I wasn’t sure if I should wai or kiss the ring. Whenever the kids were bad the ultimate threat was to send them to Ajarn S.
Like all real gangsters Ajarn S had several rackets going. Aside from his cushy (by Thai standards) government job, he ran the “Advanced English” program. He didn’t speak a word of English but why should that stop him? Thai parents would pay extra for their kids to attend his Advanced English program. The only real benefit they got from this was more time with a native-speaker and a smaller class size. At the school it was all about showing off the farangs to the parents – letting them know that they were getting their money’s worth. In the morning we had to be there before the flag/pledge of allegiance when the parents were dropping off their kids; and when school let out we were expected to be milling around so the parents could see us when they picked their kids up. The Advanced English program also did occasional shows for the parents-total dog and pony stuff. My coworkers were all mongers of varying degrees, but they were all decent enough guys.
G: Was from Wales, he was in his late-50s and was a hardcore monger, I guess sexpat would be a better term. During breaks he would regale us with tales of the UK during the swinging 60s, or he’d tell us all about the latest tart he pulled from Nana or Cowboy. Between checks he would scout talent in the local karaoke joints – a budget savvy guy.
T: Was from Norway, he was my age and was in monger denial. He spoke English really well and his accent wasn’t too bad. I say that he was in monger denial because despite having the vaunted Thai-Chinese (Thainese?) girlfriend, he’d be in lower Sukhumvit from time to time. The vaunted Thainese are not superior to any other caste of Thais despite the mutterings of Old Asia Hands (is it getting old yet?). People are people – the good, the bad, and the ugly. As the old schoolyard rhyme went “Thainese, Japanese they all have dirty knees”.
D: Was from England, he was a young guy around my age. They didn’t like to show him off because he was of Indian origin. He was a really good teacher and the kids loved him. He was too good of a guy for Thailand; he wasn’t a hardcore monger he just dabbled.
Once in a while (usually on payday) we’d make the long commute to Nana Plaza after work. We would be there drinking still in our dress shirts and ties. I wonder what the parents that paid for the Advanced English Program would say if they saw us? We were conducting research on cross-cultural communication styles and nonverbal communication techniques peculiar to females from the Isaan region.
Overall it was an OK gig and I imagine that if I’d stuck around longer but things escalated with me and the old lady and we wound up getting married and planning a future – a future that included a kid. There was no way that I’d be able to provide a better life for a kid on a teacher’s salary so I got her visa application rolling and got back to the US. A few weeks later I was back in the Army, there was no problem getting back in. Iraq had spiraled out of control and they would take anyone with a pulse, two months later and I was in Iraq. The rest is history.
While admittedly I am well out of the loop on the teaching industry these days, it is my belief that in the mid-range schools and the top schools that things have very much improved. The issue of foreign teachers being hardcore users of working girls was almost the norm when I first arrived here but from what I gather these days it is largely a thing of the past.