My Life as a Thai Kindergarten Teacher

06.00: I wake up and stick on an episode of The Simpsons as I get ready. Wash. Put on school clothes. Try to make myself look vaguely presentable. All my efforts will melt into a puddle within thirty seconds of me leaving my room.

07.00: I go downstairs and stand outside my apartment building. Pee Wee Herman pulls up and I hop on the back of his motorbike. I call him Pee Wee Herman because that’s who he reminds me of and I’ll never find out his real name. Thank God, he knows where I’m going, the same place I always go in the morning, because otherwise I’d have to try and say the name of my school in Thai, and I can never make them understand me. We zip along to school and I ask him how much. He holds up two fingers. Twenty baht. I give him a twenty baht note. He holds up five fingers and I freak out. “Seventy baht?! I don’t have!” He looks at me and waves me away. I go through the school gate.

07.15: I am first into the staff room. I turn on the Wi-Fi, the air con, the photocopier. This all makes me feel quite accomplished – like someone who might actually sort of know what’s going on. This is merely an illusion of competency. I never know what’s going on. I get to printing off the day’s worksheets. It dawns on me that Pee Wee Herman was asking for twenty-five baht. Waves of embarrassment sweep up and down my body.

07.30: More teachers have arrived. I nip to the 7-Eleven for an ice cappuccino. I pass by one of my students and say good morning. She tells me something in Thai. The children refuse to believe I’m not playing a hilarious joke when I tell them I don’t speak their language. I have begun responding in Spanish when they don’t speak to me in English.

8.00: I go to my classroom and set up for the day. Outside, students gather in ordered rows on the courtyard. They raise the Thai flag, perform the school song, chant prayers. Lots of very pleasing pageantry.

08.30: The kids start coming in.

“TEEEACHAA! TEEEACHAA! I LIKE ZOMBIES… AND… I LIKE MINIONS!”

“Very good, can you sit down in your lines, please?”

“TEEACHA, I LIKE MINIONS!”

“Yes, I kn-”

“TEACHAAA, I AM SICK!”

The child sneezes in my face to prove his point.

We begin. We listen to semi-educational songs in English. We (by which I mean they) do some dancing. It occurs to me that my children can speak two language and yet cannot effectively form a circle.

09.00: Maths. The children split into teams and we play games. Whichever team has won the most games by the end of the week will get sweets. Whatever gets them to pay attention. After I’ve run out of games, we do a worksheet. If this were a Tuesday, this time would be spent in “the kiddy room”. Not as sinister as it sounds, this is a room in which the children play with blocks, and move bottle caps around with chopsticks for some reason. Last time we were in there, I was instructed to read a book to my students called The Hermit and the Prostitute. Things are different here.

09:45: English. I ask the children, out of curiosity, where they think teacher Jade is from. “AMERICA!” comes the resounding answer. Honestly. This week, we have the vague topic of “inside and outside”. It’s Wednesday so it’s stretching fairly thin at this point. I notice one of my children clearly has pink eye. I dream about Friday, movie day, when I also happen to finish at 11.00.

11.00: I escape back to the staff room. We walk to the market next door and I buy a piece of fried chicken and a Coke. Everyone eats as quickly as possible as it’s unbearably hot outside.  I return to school, try and do some planning, and generally sit around.

14.30: Science. We talk about insects and have a “draw an insect” competition. If this were Thursday, we’d be doing art now. I plan to make princess/pirate masks. Shoddy. If this were a Tuesday, the children would be playing outside. I would be sat on a bench fanning myself. A child pretends to take a drink from my water bottle, but, unbeknownst to them, the lid is not on. The water goes everywhere. Work continues. The children begin screaming. I walk over to find a cockroach. I valiantly crush it in a tissue and put it in the bin. I feel I may have won universal respect within the room.

15.30: The end of my teaching day. I go back to the staff room to wait. I tell people about my brave cockroach encounter. I am told that crushing a cockroach attracts other cockroaches. I am deflated but happy to have this knowledge.

16.00: Bike back home. A friend offers me a much-appreciated lift. I wonder when my own scooter will be ready. We stop off at the ten-baht store and I buy some hair bows and stickers. Only the essentials.

16.30 – onwards: I sit on my bed with the fan blasting in my face. I cancel my plans to go out and get tea and decide to settle for some crisps I have in my room. Tomorrow. Always tomorrow.

Chachoengsao Fried Phone: The Colonel’s Secret Blend of Moisture and Circuits

Week two at my new job is over. I’ve survived that big bad batch of six-year-olds once again. I have also, in chronological order –

  1. Narrowly avoided disgrace and death to rescue a water damaged iPhone 5
  2. Welcomed a visiting friend from England to Chach
  3. Been in a motorbike crash

I went with a couple of girls from school to an army base on Tuesday evening. I know that’s not a standard recreational activity at home, or not so far as I know anyway, but your options are quite limited here. We entered, saying hello to the soldiers at the gate as we went, and proceeded to walk around and around the base in a loop. It was great. It’s right on the banks of the Bang Pakong river and it’s all quite beautiful. You can hear the monks chanting from the big white temple next door. The scene was seemingly set for a lovely evening. Then, for the second time in two weeks, I slipped. The earlier time had been at the resort pool in town.

EXT. CHACHOENGSAO SUNTARA WELLNESS RESORT AND HOTEL – DAY

JADE emerges from the pool like an enormous, glistening slug. Hesitation and well lubricated floor tiles abound.

JADE

I think I’m going to slip

BANG.

JADE

I slipped.

My pride was hurt more than my body; I’m bruised but not broken.

Back to the army base. We were walking and I slipped in a mud puddle. We laughed, I pulled myself up, and we carried on.

248971.jpgThe girls and I decided we had done enough walking, it was growing dark, and so we decided to return home. We walked out of the gate, shit-flirting with the soldiers all the way. I do quite like soldiers. I mean, I probably wouldn’t get on very well with your typical soldier IRL, because they love discipline and I love waking up in the afternoon and being unemployed. Also, these ones didn’t speak English. I’d just watched Full Metal Jacket and was in a military frame of mind. They even had platoons (is that the right word?) at this base running around behind us chanting. Probably the Thai version of “I don’t know but I’ve been told/ Eskimo pussy is mighty cold”.

“Goodbye,” I said to them.

“You beautifur,” they replied, “[Something in Thai, probably filth]”

Lots of laughing, waving, I get on my friend’s bike. We drive home.

I get to my apartment lobby and reach into my bag for my purse, which contains my key card. I’m sure you can see where this is going. It’s not there. I rummage for my phone so I can ring my friend. Oh, no. I turn to the women sat in the apartment office.

“Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Excuse me, excuse me, sa wat de ka, hello, has anyone handed in a lost phone?”

Confused faces. Nodding. Me growing frantic yet trying to maintain a veneer of cool and calm collectiveness.

“Yes, erm, a phone,”

I perform the internationally recognised mime for a phone. “I have lost my phone.”

“Ahhhh”. The sound of Thai recognition. The woman behind the window reaches into her desk. My heart soars. Some good Samaritan has found my stuff, which I must have dropped on the car park, and has handed it in.

She pulls out a business card with the apartment’s phone number on it. She smiles as she underlines with her pen.

“You can call.”

“Thank you, thank you so much,” I say, as I mime for her to buzz me through. She does, and I barrel through to the lift, to get to my laptop to get on Facebook messenger.

This isn’t the first time, I’m sure you’ll have guessed, I’ve had such communication issues in Thailand. I know, I know, I should learn the language, but I feel I would only just have mastered the most basic stuff by the time I’m leaving to go somewhere else. And because it’s tonal, even if you know the words, they still won’t know what you’re on about. I have to ask motorbike/tuk tuk drivers every morning to take me to school, and I’ll say it ten times and they won’t understand, then the security guard will come out and say it once in the exact same way, and the driver will be like “OHHH!”. I suppose it’s like how my kids can’t hear the difference between R and L (“It’s a bunny labbit”).

Ordering food poses similar problems. I pretty much have the procedure down now though.

  1. Say the name of the food you want
  2. Point to a picture of the food
  3. Google Translate the food
  4. Make a detailed sketch of the food
  5. Perform an interpretive dance based on the food
  6. Write a postgraduate thesis on the food
  7. Go into the kitchen with your waiter and have him stand next to you as you prepare the food yourself
  8. Bring a sample of the food with you and shove it into the waiter’s open, screaming mouth
  9. Give birth to the food and raise it with your waiter
  10. Physically embody the food, become your food, exemplify everything about the food, become the precise essence of the food
  11. Receive wrong order, act delighted, “Thank you, thank you!”
  12. Eat

Anyway, I’m getting off track. I get one of the girls to come, pick me up on her bike, and she takes me back to the army base to find my purse and phone. She was so kind to do it. I am such a humongous idiot.

We get back to the front gate at the base and she tries to drive her bike in. The soldiers don’t like that. So, we park up around the side and walk in. We are only two minutes down the road, in complete darkness, might I add, when we hear a male voice shouting. We turn around and see an important looking older army man. I have no idea what he was. Let’s say a colonel because that sounds very dramatic. The colonel is shouting at us in Thai, obviously telling us to get out, which is fair enough, because we’re trespassing at night on a military base. I don’t want to go though. I want my shit back. I start bowing a lot and saying “please, please,” thinking he might know that word. Everything at this point seems fairly hopeless.

I mime jogging, a phone, a phone falling on the ground. I show him my empty bag. He brings me his phone, confused. This goes on and on. He calls for back up – “These manic white girls won’t piss off”. My face is red and I’m sweating. I feel so close to potentially locating my precious objects and yet so far. I try to show him I need to carry on walking a bit further, but he doesn’t like that at all. Two other army men arrive. We stand around some more. They clearly want us gone.

I think to myself, if I find my purse and phone tonight, there is a God. There is a God.

And I just start running. Down the road in the dark. This is it, I think. I mean, really, what am I doing? I’m a strange, erratic foreigner and I could be up to absolutely any number of nefarious activities. They could shoot me in the back right now. I keep going.

I run down the path. I keep running and running. It seems to take forever. It’s dark and I am not athletic. Huffing and puffing.

It just goes on and on. I start to give up hope. I am just about to turn around and admit defeat when I see a couple of objects sat in a large mud puddle.

JESUS IS REAL. FATHER JONES WAS RIGHT. MY WEIRD REMNANTS OF CATHOLIC GUILT ARE VALID. PRAISE HIM.

My stuff is right there – my purse and phone! I pick them up and turn back towards where I came in. I can see someone waving a torch in the air at me. I pick up my phone and light up the screen and begin waving it.

“I’ve found it! I’ve found it!”

I start to run back and SLIP AGAIN. I keep going. Two soldiers on motorbikes drive up. Lots of deep waiing and ecstatic “kap khun kaaaaas”. My very patient friend and I both hop on the back and we are driven out of the base. I leave for the second time that night, much more bedraggled this time around.

 “Goodbye! Goodbye! Thank you!”

Strangely, nobody thought to call me beautifur on my second exit. I think I’ll leave it a few weeks before I go back there. About twenty minutes after I got home, a torrential downpour started.

Still, phone is fucked, I think. Water damaged. It’s sat in a bag of rice at home now so we’ll see, but I’m not too hopeful. So much for Jesus.

Point number two. My friend is here. Yay, etc. I’ll barely get to see him as I have to do a visa run to Laos on Sunday, and I have to be at work, but it’s still nice, and surreal, for him to be here. I think this is probably the only visitor I’ll ever get in Asia, so I must make the most of it.

Number three. I was in a motorbike crash this morning. And just when my confidence was building and I was getting blasé about the whole thing. We were pulling to the end of my street and just about to get onto the main road when we slammed into the back of a Land Rover. I was in shock and I’m not sure what happened exactly, but the bike started teetering whilst the driver and I both struggled to stay upright and not let it fall on top of us. I managed to get both feet on the ground and stabilise myself. His leg was trapped under something on the bike, and he was wobbling about. He put his hand on the side of the car, which drove away without so much as a second glance, or an “are you alright there?”. He began to pull out onto the main road, the bike still going everywhere.

“No, no!” I said, still in shock, “Are you OK? It’s OK. Stop. Wait.”

He was speaking in Thai and wobbling all over the road. He didn’t give himself even a second to recover. I should probably learn the Thai for “pull over”.

We continued down the road, or should I say, we continued all over the road. The guy kept beeping, as though that would help him to steady himself. Every few seconds, he would sound the horn. This is probably a good time to mention that I drove with him yesterday, and we were literally an inch away from mowing down a young female student. He had slammed on after zooming up behind her on a little alley, and they had both giggled together about her near-death experience, whilst I was sat behind wide-eyed and shaking, repeating “Oh, oh my God, Jesus, oh dear”.

Because he was completely shaken and all over the road, we went on to almost hit another man, who, in all fairness, was just stood like a demented person in the middle of the street, but still. I can’t even imagine what face I was pulling. Thankfully, we managed to pull into school without dying. I gave him 30 baht and staggered off in a daze to the staff room.

Update (18/11/2016): The phone is restored. All praise the mighty rice. All hail the iPhone 5.

I’m Going to Thailand

downloadI’m going to Thailand.

I know it’s not the most original plan. It’s probably on the top ten millennial to-do tick list, but I’m thinking maybe that’s because it’s a good plan, and if I were the originator of such a good plan, I’d be a much more clever and original person than I actually am. Make sense?

In May of 2015, my ex and I decided to part ways. I left the house we had been renting together. I had to leave my [almost brand new] refrigerator, washing machine, and various other pieces of furniture as part of my exodus. I might never get over losing them.

Continue reading “I’m Going to Thailand”