There is an old adage in the writing game that runs: Crisis + Time = Humor.
Meaning, of course, that given the perspective of a month or a year, or longer, almost any disconcerting personal problem becomes a story that can be shared with others for a laugh.
Now that the flooding has receded in most of Thailand, the news media has pretty much dropped reporting about Thailand. That’s too bad, because teaching English in Thailand, in my humble opinion, is still one of the most wonderful experiences of my life, and in the lives of many others that I know. More people should know about the tangible and intangible benefits of living and working among the Thai people.
In the past I’ve pretty much emphasized the disasters and follies I’ve encountered teaching English in Thailand, as humor, but today I thought I’d offer up, instead, just a few brief snapshots of what it’s like living and working among the Thai people.
· I have a tradition of spending New Year’s Day watching the sun come up on the beach in Ban Phe, Thailand. The water is warm, the beach is deserted, and tropical birds glide by with their peculiar, liquid cries. Forget about New Year’s resolutions – it’s more like being reborn, or being there for the very first sunrise on earth! You’ve probably heard that municipal beaches can be filthy in Thailand, and Ban Phe is no exception – but the city runs a bulldozer down the beach prior to New Year, scrapping off the top layer of sand & trash, leaving behind a pristine shore (with just a few stray beer bottles.)
· Songram. This is the traditional Thai New Year, celebrated in April. It’s a combination Mardi Gras and Esther Williams aqua-spectacle. You get to throw water on everyone; your friends, neighbors, teachers, students, and complete strangers. Wrap your wallet in a plastic bag and put away your good clothes and shoes – you’ll inevitably get caught up in the fun and be flinging bowls of water about with the abandon of a corybant.
· The mangosteen. You will never taste a sweeter, more heavenly fruit. And they cannot be shipped, so you have the ineffable pleasure of eating something fresh that your friends back in the West will never, ever taste. Eat your heart out, Escoffier!
· The Thais love for their King. In a world of shifting loyalties and shifty leaders, it’s good to know there is at least one person who can inspire such pure and disinterested devotion. There are no leaders in the West to match the old King’s spiritual aura and authority.
· The beautiful Thai women. Okay, so call me a sexist – Thai women carry themselves with grace and modesty, and even the more mature women have faces with an inner beauty that is pleasing to the eye of the most jaded roué.
· A classroom of well-behaved Thai children. It doesn’t happen often, even with the best of teachers, but when the conjunction is right – when the stars align and the kids are not hyper or lethargic – they are a delight to teach and be with. They can be bright, respectful, and eager to learn. Those rare moments are what an ESL teacher lives for; it revives my belief in the benefits of education.
· Orchids. My god, do you realize you can buy a dozen potted orchids in Thailand for twelve American dollars? The Thais have them hanging on every porch and tree available.
· Thai music videos. I was very late coming to this liking. I used to associate Thai music videos with rancid karaoke bars and hookers. But of late I’ve been able to view them on my own dvd player at home, and am surprised, and pleased, with how child-like, vigorous, and slyly humorous they often are. They’re a good way to learn the Thai language, too.
· Thai massage. It’s been overrated, sure, but it’s still cheap and soooooo relaxing. A quiet hour under the hands of an assured Thai masseuse is worth a bottle of Valium anytime.
· The gorgeous Buddhist temples. Some are tourist traps, but it isn’t hard to find one off the beaten path where the monks are truly humble and the architecture is of a line and form that dazzles the mind.
There is much, much more, of course, that goes into the enduring appeal of this country and people. I hope I’ve given you at least a soupcon of an idea of why I first fell in love with Thailand, and have never really considered living any place else.