Stickman's Weekly Column February 16th, 2003

English Teachers Today



After ascending the five flights of stairs in the peak of the high season, I arrived in the main teacher's room covered in sweat and breathing more than a little heavily. I had arrived in the the main teachers room of the biggest language institute in Thailand, or so they claimed. Over in the corner was my destination, the big boss's desk.

Clean cut, well groomed, young and with an RSA in my hands, I was EXACTLY what this school was looking for. Needless to say I was offered a job just after the plonker had finished telling me how his school was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and before he had even had a chance to ask me a question. Yep, less than 5 minutes after I had arrived, and without even answering a question, I was offered a job. Warning bells should have been going off left, right and centre but being new to Bangkok, I was just happy to secure a job, and with it being so close to the apartment that I had just moved into, it seemed ideal. I was to start just a few days later.

My first day was one that I won't forget in a hurry. After introducing myself to several of the existing teachers, I found myself sitting next to Deano, a former taxi driver from Florida. The first thing Deano said to me after I had introduced myself was something to the effect of "hey boy, ain't you're English just dandy, sort of like the Queen of England". Before I even had a chance to respond, he was revelling in the chance to tell me about himself. "I had this bitch last night and she was so fine." And before I could interrupt him, he was telling me just what last night's piece from Nana Plaza did for the promise of 1,000 baht. Welcome to the teacher's room of a Bangkok private language school, the place where you'll find more sex tourists than just about anywhere else on the planet.

Next on the hit list was a fellow countryman of mine. He seemed like a nice guy and I guess he was. I asked him what he did back home and he said that he "had spent time inside and couldn't get a decent job back there". Someone had told him about Thailand and within a few days of arriving in the LOS (Land of Smiles), he had no intention of ever returning to the other LOS (Land of Sheep). I've got nothing against former jailbirds per se, but meeting this fellow did serve to reinforce the image of Bangkok's English teachers being a somewhat motley bunch.

The next guy I met was actually a very pleasant fellow. From the home of the world's former greatest football team, Liverpool, the guy was pleasant and friendly. He had a BA in English and had what I would consider an appropriate attitude to be a teacher. But he still managed to faze me.,, "Are you here for the girls or the boys", he asked within a few minutes? "I'm here for the boys" he said with a totally straight face. What the hell had I got myself into? It wasn't yet 9:00 AM on my first day at work and I'd already met more weirdoes in the last hour than I had in the previous 28 years.

But the Bangkok English teacher zoo visit had yet to end. There was yet another species to see before the day was through. At some point in the day after lunch time, me totally bored having read through the Bangkok Post Classified section for the umpteenth time, a hippy came through the teacher's room. He waltzed through the room and went straight across to the managers office. I sat incredulous, looking at the beast who had an audience with the big boss. I swear I could smell him from across the room. He was carrying his life on his back, and there was no sign of any decent threads. But the five minute man struck again and I was incredulous to see the contract come out and the hippy sign on the dotted line. Hmmm, I thought I had been hired so fast because I was well presented and had the credentials…but now this. Hmmm, does everyone get signed up this fast? (I was later to find out that yes, about 5 minutes was right.)

The rumours were true. White skin and a long nose were all that you needed to get a job as a teacher in Bangkok. While everyone told you that you should be well presented, have a degree and the relevant credentials, in reality most schools would hire you simply because you were white, and you could speak the language. German? No problems! French? Just say that he comes from the north of England where they have a funny accent. Russian? No problem!

This is exactly what the English teaching industry was like just five years ago. I have joked for so long about English teachers and the teaching standards in this city, much to the chagrin of many teachers here. Are the comments that I have made still relevant today?

Around this time last year, my place of work advertised for an English teacher. Just one teacher. The job advertised highlighted a remuneration package that was a little bit above average for Bangkok along with some really nice benefits. The work conditions and light workload with three months paid holiday per year could be described as as close to perfect as one can realistically expect. We were inundated with inquiries from about 60 people and the standard was generally very high. Only a handful of non native speakers applied and they were discounted immediately. Of the 55 odd others, at least half looked like ideal candidates on paper. Most had a solid tertiary education and more than a third had specific English teaching credentials. More than half had experience teaching too. Had such a position been advertised 5 years previous, we would have had applications from all manner of weirdoes and miscreants, just like my first place of work.

English teachers used to be considered the bane of the population of Westerners resident in Bangkok, and many would say that they still have this dubious honour. But the average English teacher to Thailand these days is a different beast altogether. Of varying ages, males still outnumber females by around 4 to 1. But those looking for work these days are much more likely to be armed with a specific teaching qualification. Where there used to be just one quality English language teacher training school, there are now several – and the number of trainees coming out of these schools each month is high.

Sure, you still get the stereotypical sex tourists and backpacker hippy types searching for work, but they now struggle to get anything decent at all.

The average English teacher in Bangkok is much better qualified and has a far more professional attitude than just a few years ago. Sure, the average English teacher in Bangkok has no dress sense, but then that is a worldwide trend isn't it? And yes, I confess that that farang on the sky train with the creased white shirt, Mickey Mouse tie and tennis shoes is more likely to be an English teacher than anything else. BUT, at least he is probably qualified teacher, and good in the classroom. And that's what counts, isn't it?!

Where is this pic?

NOW WITH THREE DIFFERENT PRIZES EVERY WEEK!


Last week's pic

It was under the Ploenchit BTS station.

This week's pic

First to get last weeks pic right won $25 worth of goodies from the good guys at ClubHombre.com. The picture was obviously the underside of one of the BTS stations,. but which one… Surprisingly only a handful people got it right – it was under the Ploenchit BTS station. There are now THREE prizes offered for the where is this pic. One person, irrespective of location, wins the prize of $25 worth of goodies from ClubHombre. In addition to this, the first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a tube of MyCreme sexsational cream. The third prize comes from the good guys at Siam Translator who will provide you with a free translation, yep, have your love letter from teeruk translated! To win the MyCreme, you MUST be in Bangkok as the prize is delivered to you, but the other two prizes are open to anyone worldwide! So, to all Bangkok based folks, make it clear in your email that you are Bangkok based so that you qualify for the cream that will send your teeruk to heaven!

WISDOM OF THE WEEK FROM READERS :

How do you get off?

I read your article about the scrum getting on and off the skytrains, and it always gets on my nerves especially when you are trying to get off. I think most farangs are brought up to be polite, but when in Thailand I occasionally deliberately change my attitude. When coming in to a station I stand at the door, and just before the door opens, I position myself directly opposite a Thai guy standing outside, who has placed himself about 6 inches from the door. When the door opens I walk straight at him and do not deviate. It is funny to see the confusion on their faces as they scramble to get out of your way, but they do not look you in the eye. This is one time you don't see the Thai smile.
Can't buy love….but you can buy experience.
Despite reading all your columns religiously every week, I too fell into the 'money pit' of SE Asia. Thai girl #1 got a mobile phone off me, Thai girl #2 got a week in Pattaya, then I moved over to teach English in Phnom Penh where I met Vietgirl #1 who was 'unhappy in Cambodia' and needed money to go home – OK, but it was Vietgirl #2 who hit the jackpot, she needed an operation of some sort and provided photos of internal examinations which looked like an ulcer, so muggins here gives her the money for that. Anyway, when she returns to PP, we talk about various things including setting up a coffee shop/guest house etc. She says that her family owe money to somebody, and only when that's done will she be free to think about her own life. Yep, you guessed it, I paid off the 'loan' and gave her some on top to rent a coffee shop to provide for her family. Only when I said that I wanted to visit her family next week did the truth come out – 'money gone' was the best she could say. But what really did her head in was when I cracked up laughing, she couldn't understand what I found funny about the situation, but in reality I never thought there was an operation to begin with ( the only 'operation' was removing money from my bank!), the other money was a gamble that could just as easily have been lost on a horse race or written off in a car accident. I had 9 months pay for play, no messy wedding / divorce' situation, and I've come out of it a wiser and happier man. I'll now go back to my own country, where I'll have earned back my lost Euros in 4 months – she, on the other hand will be 'stuck' in the bar game for however long she has to. Both my friend's example and my own experience show that once you don't put all your cash in one basket, you CAN come out of it a better person. They say money can't buy you experience, but I've found the opposite when it comes to SE Asian women.
Thai or English?
Speaking Thai obviously has a big effect on the way Thais react to a Farang: sometimes well, sometimes not so well. Above all, I think it's important to speak politely. I hear all the time that many Farangs who speak very fluent Thai, speak crudely, even vulgarly, and Thais don't appreciate it. But even if you speak politely, Thais can be put off if they feel you are being a smarty pants, know it all, show off. Of course, Farangs don't generally like this kind of behaviour either, but Thai culture seems to value modesty much more than we do. Even when we don't feel we're showing off, Thais might perceive us that way. My impression, anyway. Therefore, whenever I speak Thai, I try my best to seem humble about it (I honestly don't think my Thai is very good, so I'm not being phoney)…
An informed bargirl!
I was recently laying in bed with this young 22 year old lovely from Nana and we began talking – go figure. Anyway she asked me coyly "do you know about Thai ladies" and I replied "I think I do". She then murmured just read stickman.com. Initially sounded like
si–w2isk.com or something and I said "what" – "arai"? She then again said "stickman" oh I said stickmanbangkok.com – I told her I read every week back home.
And a Westerner who missed out!
Talking to my mate today about your site. He is married to a good girl in NZ from Chiang Mai. He's thinking of moving to LOS so told him that your site is a good reference start etc. When I told him to go to www.stickmanbangk… (didn't get any further) he told me to not even think about because a site with the name Stickman can be up to no good. I assured him there was good expat info contained within but he said no way will he type the name Stickman because if his wife or wife's family found the name Stickman his balls would be chopped.
If they were daughters, what would he have done with them?
When I wander around "The Pong" in search of Golden ales I constantly run into two young Thai boys selling flowers and generally making a pest of themselves. They are normally dressed in old torn up dirty clothes and they look like they come from the streets or some local slum. I normally break down and give them some money, I tried to not give them money but offered to buy them some food but they turned that down and that should have been my first tip-off. Last night while I was driving into the parking lot at "The Pong" to my great surprise I saw them getting out of a car. Thinking "what the fu##$%" I decided to see what was going on. I parked and waited for the guy to get out of his car, as he did he talked to the boys and appeared to be giving them some kind of instructions. The boys wandered off to "work" on the Pong and the driver went across from Foodland and settled in for a nights drinking beer. I found the boys a little while later and using my adult skills I steered the conversation towards the car and they got around to talking about "Dads" car and then they admitted that "Dad" took the money they got "so he can drink beer". I was pissed, here I was thinking I was doing my "good deed" for the day and all I was doing was providing some asshole beer money. I should have known better but now I know how low some Thais will go, these kids work all the time and they are still there at closing. I guess they are not going to school or they would be doing very badly staying up to 0200 everyday just so "dad" can sit on his ass drinking beer. So next time some kid has you thinking of doing your "good deed" offer them food not money or you could end up supporting some asshole's beer habit.
The bars in Nana Plaza, and other entertainment areas, will be closed this Sunday because it is a Buddhist holiday…never mind, you can sit back and enjoy my nonsense weekly ramblings instead of wasting your money in the naughty bars.

A classic, verified tale has come out of Nana Plaza regarding the dope testing that has been taking place recently. The police check not only for traces of drugs in the girls' urine, but also the girl's age. Obviously this is determined from the girl's ID card which also serves as proof that the girl is actually a Thai national. Well, a certain medium sized Nana Plaza bar was visited last week. Management had wind that a visit was in order and many girls stayed away. In fact that night, just four girls showed up for work. Now this is NOT one of the small bars, but one of the medium sized bars! Word has it that the girls did not come to work because they have used drugs, were underage, or were Cambodian.

Hollywood 2 has installed a new carousel rotating dance floor at the back end of the bar. Already the bar has attracted the services of some very lovely lasses as gogo dancers and waitresses. Well worth checking out if you like visiting Carousel on Hollywood Strip, you will most probably like the improvements to Hollywood Two Bar. And I am very pleased to see that the kung fu showman and Hollywood Strip have finally gone their separate ways. After a management decision to axe the kung fu show, it would appear that the bosses have finally listened to their customers who would rather see dancing girls than a Thai man performing a few tricks. See, I was right about that kung fu Show being too same, same! Nice to see a gogo bar that takes the opinions of its customers seriously.

Quote of the week comes from an un-named Nana Plaza bar manager. "Business is getting tougher and much more difficult".

On Tuesday night there was more drug testing at Nana Disco. Some of the girls AND some of the punters were tested. While drug checking has got to be a good thing, I think the authorities could be playing with fire if they test too many punters. Folks work hard all year round and enjoy their few weeks of holiday a year in the East. Drug testing may be enough to scare them away and contribute towards them choosing Mexico or Spain instead of Thailand.

A 10% tax on entertainment venues has been mooted in the press recently, although details have been sketchy and a commencement date, if it ever happens, has yet to be set. On Wednesday night, various stooges from the Thai government were in Nana Plaza gogo bars observing the goings on, and apparently there to make notes of how many drinks were being sold, for tax purposes. A solemn bunch could be seen, sitting against the back wall in a couple of bars, It has to be said that the group of both males and females looked thoroughly bored. Interestingly, they did not seem to be taking exact notes of how many drinks were being sold – and the bars were showing too.

Gulliver's, "the traveller's tavern", and one of the landmarks of Khao Sarn Road, has opened a new outlet in Sukumvit Soi 5. Due to open on Valentine's Day, it sure looks impressive from outside. When I wandered past earlier in the week it was not quite finished but it looked somewhat Hard Rockish with a car erected in what appeared to be the main bar area. One wonders what niche of the market they are aiming at, because the Sukumvit crowd can't be compared with those travellers who stay at Banglamphu. This new venue could very well become the new Sukumvit freelancer hangout. Let's face it, the likes of the Thermae and the Beergarden while being as familiar as an old friend, are both shitholes. A flash new venue frequented by freelancers could do very well indeed. If the girls start going there, this could be THE new place for whoremongers to hang out in Sukumvit. Will this be the venue that finally pushes Thermae and Beergarden off the map?

The new Gulliver's Traveller's Tavern in Sukumvit.

The latest rage (read scam) in Phuket for lady drinks is the Tequila slammer. The girl sidles up to you in the gogo bar, flutters her eyelashes and says "You buy Tequila for me?" If you agree, she departs for the bar, so far 10 seconds, 20 seconds or so later she re-appears with a little tray, which contains a shot glass of Tequila (or what looks like), a slice of lemon and a salt pot. She then rubs the lemon on the back of her hand, sprinkles some salt on it, licks the salt and downs the Tequila in one. The next words are of course "I go dance"! If you are doing well you have taken a whole minute of her time for somewhere between 120 and 150 baht!

I heard a novel story which I have no reason to disbelieve. It seems that some folks in Hong Kong prefer Thai pay per view TV, read UBC, over what is available locally in Hong Kong. More than a few folks in Hong Kong subscribe to UBC. It is all quite easy really. They simply sign up in Bangkok using any old address and have the bill debited to their credit card. They do not need the decoder itself as the card is enough. Using a decoder that they procured in Hong Kong, it is simply a case of having a local Hong Kong technician move the dish so that it is pointing in the right direction and voila, you have Thai satellite TV in Hong Kong. Word is that UBC has more sport coverage than the Hong Kong channels provide – which surprises me a little.

A rumour is doing the rounds that bars may be required to get a new licence, in addition to all of the existing licences. Rumour has it that the new licence will cost a steep 30,000 baht per annum. How much truth there is in this I do not know, but with this and the mooted entertainment tax, it will not be too long before bars (are forced to) put their prices up…

If you were in Bangkok last week, went away for a few days and then returned, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had come back to a different city. The temperature has shot up over the last few days and those wonderfully cool, crisp mornings that made the stroll to work such a pleasure have quickly become a thing of the past. It is a lot warmer than it was, even at the ungodly hour of 7:00 AM, and the awfully pleasant overnight lows of less than 20 degrees have shot up to around 25. The guide books may say that the cool season lasts until the end of February, but don't count on it!

Fir a few days earlier this in Soi 3/1 off Sukhumvit Road, there was what appeared to be an adult goat – at least it looks like a goat – chained to a fence near a shop. (Remember,. I'm a Kiwi and these things most definitely DO interest me….do you know how long it is since I saw a sheep – too long, I'll tell you!) The shop itself, which seems to be Muslim-owned, appears to be mostly closed. Somebody is feeding the goat, but the goat doesn't look like a happy camper although it has been generally well-behaved. Perhaps the sorry animal is destined to end up being somebody's halal meat? It might have something to do with the Eid Festival marking the end of the Hajj. There are also some Muslim beggars that I have never noticed before in Bangkok's Afro-Arab quarter. Any experts on Islam out there?

After you have had your visa extended, you can….

Chatting with an embassy worker this week, I was told that around 30% of all farang arrests in Thailand are related to visa overstays. As I have always said, and as this embassy worker confirmed, this is one of the dumbest things that you can ever do in Thailand. And another not particularly good thing to do is use one of these Arthur Daley types who send your passport on holiday for you… He confirmed for me that while most of them appear to procure a legal visa through illegal means, there are some which use bogus stamps which go into your passport, but do not correlate to anything in the Thai immigration computer, meaning that when you exit the country, what is in your passport and what is in the computer do not match – and you are in deep shit!

It is one of my pet peeves, a problem that presents itself at so many of Bangkok's restaurants, and one that haunts me all the time. In a farang restaurant (this is an important detail) you order your food, which consists of possibly an appetizer followed by a main course. But it drives me up the bloody wall when the main course comes BEFORE the appetizer. It doesn't matter what you say or do, there are armies of restaurant employees who don't have the faintest concept about Western style food. The buffalo is dressed up in a flash uniform and made to look awfully reab roy, but underneath the fancy threads lies a clueless beast who really doesn't know if the chocolate mousse comes before or after the pate, so he or she brings it all at the same time. Bangkok may be cheap, but sometimes you realise that things are not quite as they should be…and the prices suddenly seem more appropriate than you originally thought.

Who says Bar Girls don't have initiative? In Rainbow this week there was an internal power failure which affected the lighting and music area, leaving punters in the dark. After 15 minutes, punters started to leave in droves as the management all looked and pointed torches at various fuse boxes, but were unable to find and fix the problem. So as the punters were leaving, the girls were seeing their loved ones leaving with their $$. Two of the girls climbed into the DJ box, took the MP3 player, walked over the bar area and plugged it in, connected the speakers and then there was music again, all be it with no dancing. And that stopped the exodus. Well done ladies!

Stickgirl's Corner

Stickgirl is a your typical Thai girl, drop dead gorgeous and always with a smile in reserve. She enjoys jazz music in the morning, likes British movies and when she is not burning a hole in my wallet with her appetite for good wine, she'd rather down a Pepsi over a Coke (see, she isn't perfect). Perhaps most interesting of all, she is fascinated by farang culture and the behaviour of us foreign barbarians in her beloved Thailand. Each week, Stickgirl will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Please forward questions to her, via me, at the usual email address. Two questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I do butcher her English, generally making it worse. I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Please note that she doesn't have the time to reply to your inquiries via email.

Question 1: If one is thinking of marrying their Thai girlfriend how is one to proceed as far as a dowry payment is concerned? Also, if her parents do not speak English very well, what then? What if the price is far too high and cannot be paid? My girlfriend is from Bangkok, university educated (going on to get her Master's degree soon), and an all-round "nice girl." For this Westerner, the idea of "paying" for a wife is difficult to accept, however I can.

Stickgirl says: It depends. First of all, the dowry is not just money. It comprises money, gold, jewellery / diamond ring. The best thing to do is to communicate with your girlfriend first because if English is a problem, the parents are going to talk with her. Your girlfriend will know what is best, even if she does not want to talk about it straight away. If you consider the price to high, you need to talk to the parents. Remember, contrary to what many say, the dowry is for face and thus reflects status. Most parents will NOT keep the dowry and will give it back to the capital so don't panic. It can be worked through. Remember, you are wealthier than most Thai guys and as Thai guys can afford to pay, then surely you can to!

Question 2: Does it help to speak Thai in a Thai / Farang relationship? Or would the woman rather not have you know what they are saying about you?

Stickgirl says: Yes, I think is helps to be able to speak (some) Thai. If you can speak some Thai, the Thai lady will feel that it is easier to communicate with you, irrespective of how good your Thai is. Even though your Thai may not be good enough to explain precisely how you feel, it will make her feel more comfortable. Obviously it shows a greater willingness to understand Thai people too. And the first time you meet a Thai lady, if you are able to speak Thai, it is a huge boost to her confidence in a potential relationship, especially if her command of English is not that good. Imagine if there are two girls in front of you and one can speak English and the other cannot – and doesn't want to learn, who would impress you more? In response to your second question about what people are saying about you, if they say something negative or nasty, you could send them a signal that that is unacceptable.

OK, that is all for this week. I'm working in a slightly controversial opening piece fo next week…something to look forward to.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick