Stickman's Weekly Column January 15th, 2006

If You Have To Teach



My first two years' employment in Thailand was in a language school. It was a great little institute, with a small, close knit team of teachers, all qualified and experienced and with a great deal of mutual respect.

The school was very well resourced and the whole operation was about as professional as you could hope for in the English teaching industry. The students too were very nice and while the maximum class size was set at 16, generally we didn't have any more than 12 students in a class. Small numbers of students is ideal for language learning.

We used to laugh at the thought of those foreign teachers who taught in Thai high schools, in non air-conditioned rooms, with 50 students in a class using dated textbooks from 30 years ago. What a nightmare!

I'm a qualified teacher. Let me qualify that. I'm a qualified language teacher. But really, that doesn't tell you much. I hold a CELTA from Cambridge University. CELTA stands for Certificate for Teaching English to Adults. What was that last word? Adults? But who are my students? They're teenagers! I no longer teach at a language institute which is exactly the sort of place I am qualified to teach at!

So why do I find myself working in a Thai high school now?

Truth be told, if I went and applied for a teaching position like I have here in Thailand back in my native New Zealand, I would in all likelihood be turned down, notwithstanding that I would have had a number of years teaching experience at a prestigious school in Thailand whose students consistently score right up there with the highest in the country. A NZ school would be baffled that someone with the credentials that I have even secured a job in such a school in the first place!

You see, to be a teacher at a high school in my native New Zealand, you either need to have successfully completed a full stint at teacher's college (3 – 4 years) or have a bachelor's degree, as well as have completed a one year course at teacher's college. Essentially at teacher's college you are trained to be a teacher. Now here in Thailand all you need is a bachelor's degree, and in some cases, you don't even need that.

OK, getting back to me, I have the credentials to teach at a language school and that is what I was trained to do, but I ended up in a high school. In fact I have been at this one particular high school for a number of years now.

What needs to be understood about teaching in Thailand is that no-one – I repeat that, NO-ONE – comes to teach in Thailand because they want to teach in Thailand, per se. I have yet to meet anyone who chose Thailand for the teaching environment. It is the lifestyle that appeals and English teaching is the vehicle that allows many to survive in-country and avail themselves of all that the lifestyle offers. And I am no exception.

While the language institute where I used to be employed was great, it was hardly what I would call typical. Language institutes invariably open 7 days a week, with Saturday and Sunday the two busiest days, so any hopes of having weekends off are unrealistic. That means that enjoying a Friday or Saturday night out with your mates is wishful thinking. The bottom line is that language school teachers seldom get Saturday or Sunday off.

Many language schools are open from early morning until well into the evening. It is not unusual for teachers to get split shifts, which would mean teaching a class in the morning from say 9:00 or 9:30 AM until midday, and then another in the evening which might run until as late as 9:00 PM! Essentially one's day can be ruined and any DOS (Director of Studies, essentially the teachers' manager for you non-TEFL types) who schedules split shifts should be shot. Unfortunately, it is often unavoidable.

Typical language school schedules see teachers doing around 25 hours teaching per week, but many do more, simply because their 30,000 – 35,000 baht monthly salary is really only enough to get by on, and not enjoy the Bangkok lifestyle, the very reason they came here in the first place. At least one language school's standard contract sees teachers doing 36 hours in the classroom every week!

And then there are holidays. In a language school teachers get a few days off at Songkran and another 6 – 15 days. That's it. Compare this to a high school where teachers typically get 8 – 9 weeks off fully paid over the summer break, and another 3 – 4 weeks in October. Of course there are also a few more weeks when high school teachers are at school but not in the classroom, instead doing administrative stuff or preparation.

Thai high schools run Monday to Friday and classes never usually run later than 4:00 PM, many schools actually finishing earlier. It would be unusual to get a schedule with more than 20 periods, and a typical period is usually less than an hour. The nightmare of using 30 year old textbooks seems to be a thing of the past and it is not so common for farangs to teach in rooms without air-con. There are other benefits of course with most schools offering all teachers a free lunch, and there is a good deal of respect automatically given to teachers at high schools, more so than those who work at a language institute.

When you look at what is offered in a language school compared to what is offered in a high school, how can anyone realistically choose to work at a language school? There are seemingly unlimited choices for people who want to teach English in Thailand and you can virtually take your pick of the type of position you would like. But let me say that anyone who chooses a language institute over a high school, well you would have to have some pretty good reasons! Professional development and foreign management is probably the number one reason, but what would you prefer, to develop professionally, or have three months off paid per year?!

High school teachers usually have both the time and the energy to take on other work, be it other teaching work, or possibly something quite different. As has been acknowledged many times, one does not want to have only one income stream here in Thailand. Westerners employed in less prestigious jobs by less prestigious companies and organisations are somewhat vulnerable, and if that income stream happens to be from teaching work, then be careful!

In many ways, language schools present a better option for the professional EFL teacher. Students are generally placed in classes with other students of the same ability, there is a natural progression through different courses and the class numbers are much more conducive to language learning than the 50 odd students in a class nightmare that many high school teachers face. But if you are going to work for crap money in Thailand – which is, make no bones about it, what most English teachers do – you may as well at least enjoy your time here. Working long hours, 6 days a week, with split shift possibilities and limited holidays is no-one's idea of fun. I believe that farangs teaching English in Thailand are most likely better off in a high school than a language institute.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the skytrain on Silom Road.

Where the hell is that?!

Last week's pic was taken from the roof of the Tower Hotel on Silom Road, looking down on the part of the skytrain track where it curves from Silom Road on to Narathiwat Road. This week's first prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Prizes number 2 and 3 are a 600 baht dinner voucher for 2 to be used at Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4. The prizes are only available to people in Thailand now – either residents or tourists, and must be redeemed within 2 weeks. You MUST say that you are in Bangkok and able to claim the prize or I will consider you ineligible.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Thumbs up for the Majestic Grande.

Stayed at the Majestic Grande in Soi 2 in October last year, our last trip. Agree with your comments. In addition rooms are large, clean and have a big screen TV. Bathrooms with power showers, room service ok, I was with my Thai wife but it was obvious that it was guest friendly. Booked via the agent on Soi 5 (2,000 baht a night). Cafe and pool are small but service makes up for that. All in all a good hotel, with a great location.

Racism in Bangkok, are farangs seldom the victim?

Sometimes when I enter one of these small bars in Soi Cowboy I am immediately surrounded by five or more girls. At the same time, some Arabs or Chinese sitting around and not one girl is interested to join them. And when I ask: "Why these man are alone?" I always hear: "No good man! No money! No good to girls!" Racism may be sometimes an uncomfortable thing, but most times, it is not so that farangs are the ones which have to suffer under it. And if some few bars show their greedy of money by hanging "Japanese only" boards next their entrance, so we should see this as a nice and helpful advice not to enter this bar.

Dangerous Manchester!

Very interested in you're article "drug the farang" this week…because I was recently drugged by a Thai woman in exactly the way you suggest with something slipped in to my drink. But this did not happen in Thailand, rather in Manchester, England!

A "trend"?

I would not be surprised if "drugging the farang" has become a "trend". As you mentioned, stories of nipples with sleeping "something" on them has been around for years. There has also, as I am sure you are aware, been other variances reported. Thing is, sometimes in Thailand trends take off. And when they do, they do it for real. Remember the "all should exercise more" campaign from a couple of years back? Suddenly, there where people jumping up and down in front of every Big C, Carrefour and Tesco in the country – and other places – organised somehow. As one example. The introduction of sin sot to farangs could well be another. "You all! listen to this! Guess what I got away with! "Maybe. So, as I see it, this country's good people have a tendency to go for "it" in flock, en masse. If someone among the more uncertain ladies in waiting finds a "good" method for revenue, the idea could very well spread quickly. And if so, according to my little social theory anyway, if it does then it could go right fast onwards.

Is Eastern Europe really an option?

Comments about certain countries in the more eastern parts of Europe becoming alternatives to Thailand, or other countries "hereabouts" speaks of truth. Prices are low, all manners of services are widely available, and cheap air tickets can fairly easily be found. Travel time is an issue. A good bottle of red wine (as in acceptable but far from great) can be found in BKK for about 1,000 baht. In some of these European spots, that could get you two bottles of champagne – in a bar. Then the girls…

Customers don't always come first.

I don't know why it is that some serving staff seem to go out of their way to piss off customers. I sometimes go into Dollhouse to watch Premiership football, early kick-off matches. Recently I was watching my favourite team, Arsenal, playing. 30 minutes into the game someone switches over to Chelsea's match. When I protested I was told somebody else wanted to watch the Chelsea game. However, when I looked round the bar NOT ONE other customer was watching a TV monitor. OK, if, say, four other blokes wanted to watch Chelsea, never mind – but, the person wanting to watch Chelsea was one of those horrible little serving girls – and I'm a paying customer! I was NOT amused!

No women to blame this time!

I just got back from catching up with two old buddies who took early retirement and moved to the Kingdom a couple of years ago. I hadn't heard from them for a while so was a little worried. One had opened a bar in Koh Samui and was so drunk the whole week I was with him that I moved out of his house into a hotel. The other buddy in Bangkok was not a drinker but had managed to lose most of his life savings by gambling online stocks. I worked in mental health in Vancouver for a number of years and know one or two things about alcoholism and obsessive-compulsive disorder, but of course they refused to listen and the gambler had convinced himself he could still recuperate all his losses. The sad thing about these two guys is that neither had any Thai woman they could blame for their problems which seems to be the case usually. I'm not saying these two guys are typical, but I'd be willing to bet my bottom dollar that there are many farangs like them scattered the length and breadth of Thailand.

Word has reached me about a few girls in a certain gogo bar in Pattaya doing so well from tips and table top dancing that they not only do not need to be barfined, they are actually choosing to go home alone (or back to their Thai boyfriend). Figures are coming in of 1,500 baht or even 2,000 baht being earned in one night without the need to go with a customer. Good on them – but I bet a fair few customers will be disappointed that these girls don't go.

News in from Hollywood Rock in Nana Plaza and it seems that they managed to stay open after the latest bust but a good number of the girls have gone. The farang lady who was hired as manager has also gone.

A problem is rising between the various owners and management of Erotica, which has something of an unusual management / ownership structure. The manager for both floors also happens to be the owner of the upper floor. There have been differences in opinion of how each floor should be run and "the iceman", so called because he delivers the ice in the plaza, does not want to run downstairs in the same way as upstairs is run. So what can be seen downstairs is 7 dancers, 2 mamasans, one of whom is often drunk and a state of general chaos! This bar has long needed someone to overlook what was going on as the girls did whatever they wanted to do, worked when it pleased them etc… Now the place is being run with an iron fist, but one of the owners chooses side with the staff and not with the management so that it is impossible at this moment to guarantee the same level of girls, service and entertainment between upstairs and downstairs. It all sounds like something of a soap opera!

In more bad news down at the Pong, after a bit of leeway had been given with respect to the bar closing times over the holiday period, the authorities have reverted to form and gogos have been forced to close at 1 AM this week. The only good news is that the corner live music venues would appear to have been allowed to stay open late and are packed with customers flowing out of the closed gogos.

The record high for a gogo bar barfine was NOT in Carousel in Pattaya as mentioned in last week's column. On New Year's Eve SuperGirls A Gogo in Pattaya had the barfine set at 2,000 baht until midnight, and 1,000 baht after that. A lot of girls were still there, complaining that they were only getting tips, not barfines.

Electric Blue Pattaya is the new home for Luam, the former DJ from Lucifer's and the Blues Factory. Management tell me he's keeping the girls moving to a great selection of music, from funky house and techno, to all the classics from the 70's, 80's and 90's. Many girls from this bar went home at the beginning of the week, but the good news is that they have returned with some new girls fresh from the rice field. A great opportunity for customers to try out their Thai language skills.

A number of girls, including some of the most popular gogo girls in Patpong, are doing the "Singapore working on the street with a tourist visa trip". One girl did this a couple times and has now hooked up with some local people here in Bangkok servicing Asian tourists here in Bangkok for, get this, for 10,000 baht a night. Yep, you read that right – 10,000 a night! And she can work every night if she wants to. To make the figure seem even larger, this 10,000 baht is the girl's cut so goodness knows how much the gentlemen are actually paying as the agent is no doubt taking a hefty cut! More and more of the girls at the Pong are making the "Singapore trips". Some have reported no problems and big money but more than a few report the old scam of their agents holding their passports and money for safety and just before the visa expires reporting the girls to the local cops, getting them deported then keeping the money! I guess it all depends on the agent they hook up with.

I heard a cracker of a story this week about the Thai boyfriend of a *very* popular gogo girl. He was well aware that she was working in a gogo bar and indeed he encouraged it for he was enjoying helping her spend the riches she made, with the obligatory motorbike bought for him along with a heap of whiskey et al. Now what is funny is that he thought that in the bar she danced, that is she only danced – and didn't do anything else! We often hear about how Thai guys allow their girlfriends who work in such bars, but this story simply verifies something I have thought for a long time – the Thai guys do not know quite what is going on, and a good number would appear to remain ignorant about just what employment in such a bar entails. It would seem that this story verifies that a number of the Thai guys are in the dark about just what goes on, and what their girlfriend is up to.

The question of sending money to help out with a Thai woman's family is one that pops up often on this site. I know that there are a good number of people who send money to the family or relatives of their Thai girlfriend / wife. If the recipients are rural folks, only a small amount of money need be sent to cover their lifestyle, although generous people might send much more. EVERY week I receive emails from guys sending what I personally think are ridiculous amounts of money and this week, like most, was no exception. One gentleman from the UK advised that he is sending his lass £1,000 a month, approximately twice what the average farang English teacher in Bangkok makes per month! In another email, an American gentleman recently admitted that he is sending even more, north of $US2,000 per month! OK, it is their money and they have every right to do whatever they like with it, but man, it is no wonder these girls try and get as many guys sending money to them as they can. They can REALLY hit the jackpot! On my rounds some of the girls I have chatted to recently have had the cheek to sneer at the idea of receiving "only" 20,000 baht a month! If you really want to help these girls and their family, throwing money at them is not really the best solution. They need real help, and not just money. One English gentleman I have come to know well through this site has set up his Thai Mrs. and her family with a pig farm. The cost of setting it all up was very reasonable, and now they not only have an asset in the land that he bought, as well as the basic equipment needed, they also have an income – and one which is growing. This is EXACTLY the sort of thing one should do because it provides a long term solution. Throwing money willy nilly at a poor girl, or her poor family, will quite possible cause more problems. Long term solutions need to be looked at.

Have you ever wondered whether all of the shoes left outside temples, and other places where you need to remove your shoes before entering, are safe from thieves? It is considered very bad form to steal people's belongings in such situations, but it DOES happen, sometimes. This week came the story of an English friend of a friend who had just arrived in Thailand and was the proud owner of a pair of £90 sports shoes. Out on Khao Sarn Road a Thai guy saw him wearing the shoes and asked him if he could buy them from the English guy, who explained that they weren't for sale. A little later, the English guy went into a temple in the area and noticed that the guy who had asked him if he could buy the shoes happened to be there too. Of course he had to remove his shoes to enter the inner sanctum of the temple. He was only in there for a couple of minutes and you guessed it, when he came out his shoes were gone! No prizes for guessing who the chief suspect is!

Once an easy touch, it would seem that the New Zealand Immigration service is getting tougher on visas for Thai nationals intent on heading to Aotearoa. I managed to get my hands on a copy of a letter, my guess is that it is a form letter, advising an applicant of a Kiwi visa that the application had been declined. I'm sure bona fide visas will be granted but it looks as though Kiwis with a bargirl in tow might find it tougher than they used to.

One of the curious laws locally is that which relates to adultery on the part of the wife. A man who is in a lawful marriage may initiate legal action to sue and seek compensation from another man who sleeps with his wife, in addition to filing for divorce. However, if a husband gets up to no good with another woman, his wife would not ordinarily be able to seek compensation from the woman he did the dirty with. It looks as though this is all about to change and the government looks set to redress the balance somewhat by allowing wives to seek compensation from women a married man may sleep with, including any mia noi(s) of her husband. However, just to complicate things further, the wife would NOT be able to seek compensation from a prostitute whom her husband slept with and neither would she be able to use this as a means to file for divorce, at least in principle. In the situation where a husband was with a prostitute and paraded her in public causing his wife to lose serious face then the wife would be able to seek compensation and file for divorce, at least in my understanding of Thai divorce law. It's all very complicated but one thing's for sure – Thai divorce law will remain weighted in the man's favour, irrespective of whether the law changes go through or not.

There was a good article in my absolute favourite newspaper about the deaths of tourists in Thailand. Here is the link.

Listening to talkback radio from New Zealand this week, I happened to tune in when they were talking about the bird flu. But they didn't just call it the bird flu, but the "Asian bird flu". Must have said it about 50 times – ASIA bird flu. It made me chuckle.

A long term reader mentioned that he was recently buying perfume in Central department store. There was an assistant helping him select his cat nip and she was wearing a black T-shirt and black trousers and was looking rather pleasant. In fact by the sounds of it, the dirty devil was even contemplating presenting the perfume to her instead of the lass he had initially intended to give it to. But this reader was shocked when she turned around and in big, bold, vivid white writing were the words "FxxK, SxxT, CxxT, SATAN'S WxxxE". I should imagine that if a farang wore such a shirt in Thai then he may well be thrown out of the country. I'm amazed that in such a large department store she was able to get away with this. Pure ignorance.

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Please note that for general bargirl related questions, Mr. Stick might answer them. It has to be said that Mrs. Stick is not your stereotypical Thai woman. She is not Buddhist and she is not shy to criticise things about her own country and culture, although having said that, she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about. Please do try and limit the length of questions to Mrs. Stick to about 100 words. We get many questions that are entire stories of several hundred words which I'm afraid are just too long to run here.

Question 1: My question is extremely sensitive and I decided to send it after reading the article about the sin sot. I paid a very large amount of sin sot to my wife, and without wanting to sound crass, it was more than she was "worth". The money was promised back to me and I only paid it on the basis that it would be given back to me. We never set an exact time for when it would be returned. It is still being held, a few years after the marriage. I touched on the subject of the remainder of the money with my wife and she said that her mother had changed her mind and that she would keep it for my wife! Worse still, my wife thinks this is a good idea! This issue is threatening to break up our marriage. I do not need the money and could survive without it, but if I do not get it back, the trust will have been totally broken, and I will not be able to remain married to this person. I already support my wife well, but if it is going to be like this, it would seem that she is more interested in money than in me and it is pointless to remain hitched. What advice can you offer to save my marriage?

Mrs. Stick says: I don't have an answer for this and agree that it is a very difficult situation. Making threats almost certainly wouldn't work and saying that you will leave if the money is not returned will likely cause damage that could not be easily fixed. I would try and explain things to your wife as opposed to her mother and perhaps she can influence your mother in law somehow. You might want to suggest that the money is returned to your wife and used for the purchase of something that you would both benefit from, such as a car, a house or an overseas holiday. This is actually the intended use of the dowry money, to benefit the new couple with a major purchase, often a home.

Question 2: Re: Sin Sot. Can I make what seems to me a simple observation. In all relationships it is essential to be able to compromise – essential! So, it is Thai custom for the groom to make ‘payments’ to the bride and her family. OK, but it is equally traditional Western custom for the bride’s family to ‘give’ to the groom. Brides arrive with dowries, her parents pay for the wedding, and even provide deposits for a home. In both cultures the actual amounts vary according to circumstances. Why therefore, in most Thai / farang relationships are farangs expected to follow Thai customs and Thai people are rarely even interested in Western customs – what happened to that all-important compromise? My attitude would be very simple: I will forego my customs if my wife will forego hers and this would have to be accepted by both our families as well. I would also suggest that, if this principle cannot be understood before the wedding, there is little likelihood of it becoming part of the marriage – hence the number of failed Thai / farang marriages – we just do not think in the same way about such matters. Is it that the concept of ‘compromise’ just isn’t a part of the Thai psyche?

Mrs. Stick says: I guess the hard part here might be that you are getting married in Thailand and so the family feels that everything should be done the Thai way. If things were done differently then they may feel that things weren't done properly, especially if they are very traditional or conservative. You might have to explain things to them very carefully and politely and hopefully they will understand where you're coming from, but as it is presumably a wedding to be held, in Thailand, I wouldn't be too hopeful of them changing it a lot. Yes, compromise is a concept understood and practiced in Thailand, but you must understand that for many Thai people, especially older people, there are very specific procedures that happen in certain situations, and these might be things that they have never seen compromise on. Compromise might happen on daily issues like where to eat or where to go, but when certain ceremonial acts take place, the traditional ways may be followed.

Mr. Stick says: The word "bra-nee-bra-non" is the Thai word for compromise so assuming there is a word for compromise, I would assume that the concept is understood too, although whether it is practiced often is of course something else altogether!

Question 3: I am an Asian guy from London. I met this Thai girl from a website that's very popular amongst students here in the UK. We met, went out on a couple of dates and liked each other and she says that she loves me. This girl is in London to study English. She can speak a fair amount of English. She never tells me about her educational qualifications and stuff, and she always laughs and says "M 6" and then diverts the topic. I feel that she is a good girl. She is 25 and says she is a virgin; in fact she doesn't want sex until marriage. I respect her but at the same time I am in a confused state of mind. Can a 25 year old be still a virgin? I don't think so. Her sister is sponsoring her, and she is a geologist in Indonesia, married to a Thai guy. She sends her money every time she needs it. I feel that everything is normal and she is a nice and good girl, but if you would comment upon this it would make me feel better as I've read and seen lots of stuff happening out there in Thailand, though I am not a Farang by looks but was born in Farangland…so may be I might also fall in a trap of some kind. Please advise!

Mrs. Stick says: You should not be surprised that this girl is preserving her virginity until marriage. Thailand is changing and many women are not virgins on their wedding night, but there still are quite a number who are. I have friends, both in Bangkok and in Korat, who are waiting until their wedding night. Let me tell you that there are many women aged much more than 25 who remain a virgin. You do have to be careful with this woman because she might give herself to you before marriage, but if she does then she absolutely expects you to marry her and if you don't, his would become a very major issue for her.

Mr. Stick says: I don't want to take over the Mrs.' part of the column but to me this smells. Her sister is a geologist in Indonesia and is sponsoring her? Hmmm…. Now forgive me for saying this, but London is damned expensive. I imagine that with her accommodation, her costs, food and other expenses that she would not be able to get by on less than £1,000 per month and frankly, I just cannot see her supporting her sister to that level. OK, I am ever the cynic, but one has to be practical. We're talking A LOT of money here!

You might have noticed that I do no allow profanity on this site, notwithstanding that a lot of the material on here deals with what might be more interesting to adults, than kids. There are a number of reasons for this. First of all, a talented writer can make their point easily without the use of profanity. Secondly, the advertisers do not like to see overly and unnecessarily coarse language and thirdly, search engines do not favour websites that carry excessive amounts of profanity. I do not wish to be a prude, but there are reasons why you will see the "f word" spelt "fxxx"!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Mr. Write, Claymore and Bkk Grasshopper.