Farang teachers new to Thailand wonder why veteran educators often give involuntary twitches, hitch their trousers up constantly, and look vaguely troubled while they tentatively scratch their heads, their necks, their stomachs, and their bums. Little do these newbies know, teaching blithely away in their air-conditioned classrooms, what it was like in the Good Old Days here in Thailand, when the classrooms were completely lacking in air con – and you were lucky to have a sclerotic fan listlessly blowing hot air on you!
Back in the Day, kiddies, an ESL teacher could expect to be sentenced to a breathlessly hot and humid classroom several times a day. The Thais still have a thing about air conditioning. They either hate it passionately, refusing to turn it on while you sit in melting agony mutely appealing to the sealed windows to burst open, or crank it up so high that a polar bear would catch its death of cold sitting in your shivering chair. To a Thai, air conditioning is still a rather sinister mystery imported from the West for reasons that demand the closest scrutiny. Air conditioning is not considered healthy for Thai children. The fact of the matter is, if you find yourself teaching English out in the Boonies of Thailand you are still likely to find yourself in a classroom that not only lacks air con but also heats up to a furnace-like temperature every day from noon onwards.
There are some immediate problems for a farang teacher in a sizzling Thai classroom. Sweat trickles down your face like a tropic waterfall – the kind that Dorothy Lamour might be found bathing naked in for a 1940’s movie. You mop your brow with a bandanna the size of a bed sheet, but eventually that piece of cloth becomes wringing wet and of no further use to you. As you continue to teach, the perspiration drips over your upper lip and you start spraying your students with a fine mist. Not only that, but soon the salty sweat gets in your eyes and you have to blink and gasp and for all the world look like you are undergoing a mustard gas attack in the trenches during World War One.
Your shirt, or blouse, of course, becomes soaked and clings tenaciously to your body – outlining every ludicrous curve and bulge you have. You can attempt to quell this inundation by drinking quarts of water in between classes, or even during classes, but all that accomplishes is that you have to go running to the w.c. every twenty minutes.
And don’t tell me that farangs don’t stink after they’ve been sweating for a while. They do. I do, and every other farang I have ever known does. Doesn’t matter how well you shower or roll on the perfumed goop prior to coming to class; by lunch time you’re a wilting, smelly mess!
And lunch time is absolutely not a respite, not if you’re eating the same lunch as your students. That’s because you’ll be getting a bit of rice topped with a volcanic curry that blows the top of your head off, causing you to sweat even more!
Somehow you get through the afternoon, and then drag yourself back to your apartment – looking and feeling like the last survivor of an expedition bushwhacked by Bedouins in the middle of the Sahara.
After a few weeks of this kind of torture you naturally break out into all sorts of nasty rashes, no matter how much Snake Brand Prickly Heat Powder you apply.
For men the worst part comes when the rash develops in the nether regions between the legs. Once settled in, the tingling is as insistent as a bill collector and as hard to ignore as Lady Gaga. You develop a bow-legged walk like John Wayne after riding 400 miles on a horse, and when you visit the doctor in desperation all he can tell you is to “keep the area dry”. Well, duh . . .
Eventually, with the help of enough ointments, creams and powders to make Cleopatra jealous, you can tame the beast – but it never completely goes away, especially if you made the mistake of bringing your heavy dress pants with you from home and that is what you are teaching in.
All this leaves the miserable, sweaty teacher prone to either sit completely still in the classroom, hoping that inanition will keep the perspiration to a minimum – or else you bounce around the room like a maniac, to keep from scratching yourself to death in places that it would be imprudent to display to your students.
Do you see now why veteran farang teachers in Thailand tend to be a bit, shall we say, “tetched”? They’re still scratching and groping at long-gone rashes, and hitching their trousers to air out the family jewels.
So please, all you newbies, show a little compassion to these old soldiers who have sweated blood (in a manner of speaking) paving the way for you to come into a comfortable teaching berth in an air-conditioned classroom.