Teacher Tim's TEFL International Blog April 30th, 2011

The Necktie Party

As I’ve mentioned before, the Thais have a vibrant fashion sense. This is never more apparent than in their hand-woven silk neckties. The colors manage to be bold without being loud.

I fell in love with Thai neckties when I first arrived in Thailand in the early 70’s. I always wore a white shirt, and so a perky floral or polka dot arrangement on a silk tie was just the ticket.

When I returned to Thailand several years ago to teach ESL I found that most schools had discontinued the practice of requiring their male teachers to wear a necktie. Which is understandable – during the hot season a necktie around your collar can feel like a very damp noose. Instead, a lot of schools now have uniform shirts they issue to their teachers – as if they were fast food workers. “Can I super-size that past tense for you?” I was sorry to see the tradition of the necktie go by the wayside. A necktie in class can come in quite handy. You can give it an Oliver Hardy twiddle when you make a faux pas in front of the class; it works well for cleaning fogged up glasses; wear it real long and you can playfully whip recalcitrant students with it.

Whenever I could, as a teacher, I still wore a necktie. I am a sucker for them. A steel blue number, with tiny white dots, or a blazing firebrick red with two-tone black and white stripes on the diagonal – it was totally copacetic!

One of my favorite Thai silk neckties was a robin’s egg blue number. Alas, it lasted barely one full day at school when I had massaman curry for lunch. In theory you can take a silk necktie to the dry cleaners, but they always come back as if they had been aged a hundred years; they’re puckered and the color is washed out and dull as dishwater.

I had ties for special school occasions as well, not always of Thai provenance. On test days I wore my cheap polyester Three Stooges tie. I told the kids that the three gaping gentlemen on my necktie were the Three Wise Men of Onomatopoeia. Rubbing their image would grant them good luck on their test scores; so they all came up to me prior to testing to give Larry, Moe, and Curly a pious rub. I think they would have put gold leaf on them if I had let them (and I could’ve retired much richer than I am at the moment!)

A real hand-made Thai silk necktie will set you back about 600 baht or more today, but as recently as 2005 I could stroll down Phaholyothin Road in Bangkok and find dozens of street peddlers offering silk neckties for around 200 baht. And these were real silk, not imitation. It’s pretty easy to tell the real deal from phony baloney. Just feel for those tiny knots in the material, make sure the printed pattern is one-sided, and hold it up to the light to see that oily sheen – then you know you’ve got yourself a real Thai silk necktie. There is nothing like Thai silk to hold a crisp half Windsor knot, even in a monsoon.

I eventually possessed several dozen silk neckties as an ESL teacher in Thailand. I cared for them tenderly, washing them in Woolite and keeping them out of direct sunlight. I had a teakwood wardrobe where I hung them and could gaze at my collection with pride – until that dark day when Tineola Bisselliella insinuated itself into my precious collection. Those webbing clothes moths wreaked havoc among my paisley prints and pastille shades while I was on holiday. I came back to nothing but tatters. I started to rebuild my collection immediately, but my heart really wasn’t in it.

Today I only wear a necktie for church, funerals, and my 90-day visa renewal in Mapthaput. I’m down to just one necktie, which, come to think of it, doesn’t even belong to me – I borrowed it from a friend last year and haven’t bothered to return it yet. I wish I knew where my Three Stooges tie went to – the moths didn’t touch it, but the last time I saw it was around Easter of 2009.

I’ve been feeling rather seedy lately and I wonder if I knotted a four-in-hand with my friend’s necktie I wouldn’t feel a bit more spruce, give the office a bit more class. Might be worth a try. Or maybe I should dig out that bolo tie I got from one of my kids from Utah last year – the one with a fake turquoise stone. No, I can’t wear that – I just remembered the silver tips on it rusted during the rainy season.

Oh heck, I think I’ll go for the Noel Coward effect and fluff up a cravat!