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.

The Poisoned Clementine – Journey to Laos

Last Sunday, I made pilgrimage to a supermarket carpark in Bangkok. My mission: to book myself onto a mini bus bound for Laos, so that I could re-enter Thailand on a new visa. We had been directed to meet under the big Tesco sign, just off the On Nut BTS station. There was a group of men sat around and several white vans parked up near by. I approached a fellow who looked friendly enough. Most people in Thailand, it must be said, look, and are, exceedingly friendly.

“Visa run to Laos?”

He took our passports and we dumped our bags on the back seats – once a back seat bad boy, always a back seat bad boy. It all seemed very casual, very non-official. Anyone with a van could park up there and collect passports and cash from foreigners and then drive off. That can be my backup career.

We handed over a little under six thousand baht. The bus started to fill up. A Russian woman took the seat between me and Chloe. Poor dear. In front, a bald-headed German man with no eyebrows, who had just finished a month-long stint as a monk. Then, a rather weasel-y looking, but ultimately friendly, British man, a student beside him, Middle Eastern, and then, right by the driver, two of the largest gentlemen I’ve ever seen in my life. They were also Russian, and wore tiny vests and shorts stretched tight over their ridiculously huge muscles.

We set off and I immediately downed a sleeping tablet that had been recommended to me by a more experienced runner. Soon enough, I was completely knocked out.

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If  he dies, he dies. But I must have my protein shake.

Around two hours later and the lights came on. We pulled into a service station and our friendly driver opened the door. “Twenty minutes”. I didn’t want to get off but he seemed quite insistent, and so I stood outside, feeling a little chilly for probably the first time ever in Thailand. The two Russian men popped open the back of the van and retrieved protein shakes, which they would proceed to knock back at every stop we made along the way. They also ate a prodigious number of bananas. It was a wonder they could hold them without smushing them to bits with their giant sausage fingers.

I didn’t really know anything about Laos before my trip. My main source of knowledge was King of the Hill and the Souphanousinphone family. I know next to nothing still, except that it’s Communist, the language is very similar to Thai, and they seemingly don’t have 7-Elevens there.

After the ten-hour journey, we arrived at the border to Vientiane. The crossing itself involved nothing more than remaining in a permanent state of semi-confusion, and being pushed around by bored and exasperated Thai people, who just wanted you to get your act together and sort yourself out. They did a great job I must say. Everything went smoothly, and I would recommend the service to anyone, because I can’t imagine where you’d even begin the process alone. There was a lot of waiting. A lot of boredom. Stamping of forms and general bureaucracy. In time, everything was done, and we were taken to a hotel.

(null).jpgI couldn’t tell you what it was called if I wanted to. I was so tired, confused, and done in. They featured this photo of Laotian Barry Chuckle a lot around the place. That could be a clue.

We had been promised a swimming pool, not that I’d brought my costume, but we found that to be empty. I was given a room key, 103, and I sloped off to go and collapse on my bed. I fell asleep and awoke an undetermined amount of time later.

“Great,” I thought, “It must be about five PM by now, I can go and have tea and then it’ll almost be bedtime.”

I checked my phone. It was 9 AM. I’ve never felt so lost in my life, time wise. Two days on an aeroplane didn’t do that to me.

The room itself was grim and smelled badly of damp. In the photo below, you can observe what I presume to be ancient Moorish architecture above the bathroom door. Surely not just some fancy cinder blocks. The TV played only loud Laotian static. A knock on the door. It was Chloe. The Wi-Fi didn’t reach her second story room. She took my spare bed.

I’m not sure what we did that day. I know how I looked though. It’s how I always look in such greasy, desperate situations. There is a requirement, not always enforced, to dress “respectfully” when dealing with border officers. I can appreciate the rule. I wouldn’t want to be dealing with Russian muscle men in tiny vests either. Personally, I wouldn’t have let them in. Anyway, knowing this, I tried to look a little smart on my trip. I wouldn’t want a stained T-shirt to stop me getting back to Chach. Knowing I was to travel, I had also worn my comfiest underwear. So the ingredients to the recipe – greasy hair, big underpants, failed attempt to look smart, happy, and incredibly compliant.

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Yeah.

I’d said to Chloe that I had no intentions of making any friends on this trip. I’ve been socialised out, and I have enough friends now (three, at least). I couldn’t be arsed with chitter-chatter. Unfortunately, it’s rife on these runs. Everybody is bored and alone and has nothing to do. Chloe said she felt the same, but she can’t help herself. She loves socialising. “Where are you from?” and all that. I disengaged. I could not be moithered. I am the unmoitherable man. Time progressed. Rice for tea. Rice for breakfast.

We crossed back to Thailand without a hitch, travelling across the beautifully named Friendship Bridge. I even managed to pick up a Mars Bar from the duty free at the border. It’s sat in my fridge now. I can’t bring myself to open it because once it’s gone, it’s gone. The Russian girl sitting next to me on the bus offered me a clementine. I don’t know for sure if it was a clementine, because I’m in the habit of calling all round orange fruits oranges, because I don’t know the fucking difference, but I’m going to say clementine, anyhow. I accepted the friendly gesture with smiles and gratitude, and I ate it. I then became incredibly paranoid that it had been drugged. I grew up watching Cold War media. In my adult life, I’ve met perfectly nice Russians, but for a large part of my existence, I’ve had the nagging feeling that all Russians are spies who are out to nuke me and will do anything to achieve that goal. I imagined that she’d injected it with something whilst hidden inside a squat toilet cubicle, and would wait for me to pass out back at the Tesco car park, before dragging me off to harvest my organs or sell me into slavery. Evidently, as you’re reading this, none of that happened. Yet more proof that the Russians might be OK.

I’d booked a hotel to stay in the night we returned in Thailand as I knew we’d arrive back at On Nut late. We tried to walk to this place, and were making a very good job of it, before we were chased away by wild dogs. I walked off, as steadily and calmly as possible, as they nipped and growled mere paces behind. Once we were back to the main road, I rang the hotel.

“Sa wat de ka. Do you speak English?”

“A little,”

“I have booked a room at your hotel but I cannot get to you because of the dogs,”

“… Is OK. Dogs OK,”

“No, they are barking, and they chase me. I cannot get to the hotel,”

“Dogs not scary,”

Now, at home, I would agree with him. I love dogs. I just don’t love the rabid kind that chase you up back alleys.

“Dogs are scary. Do you have a car you could send?”

“No. No scary,”

“Scary,”

“…OK… one moment,”

He put the phone down. He never called back. I tried to explain the predicament to a taxi driver, who only smiled and nodded, as they always do when they have no idea what you’re talking about. I could have been saying “I’m a big heroin monkey, take me to Narnia so I can cover Mr Tumnus in rich creamery butter,” and I’d have had the same response. To be fair, it’s what I do when I can’t tell what Thai people are saying to me.

We give up and get another taxi to take us to soi 11, because it’s a place we sort of know. Obviously, we don’t know it too well because we arrive to find it thick with prostitutes. You couldn’t move for them. We wandered between them, and their pimps, and the creepy men pushing them into cars. After failing to find a room, we returned to what we had previously dubbed Bates Motel, and passed out there.

I awake around three AM and jumped out of bed.

“CHLOE, WE NEED TO MOVE,”

Chloe bolted up and switched on the light.

“WHY?”

“WE NEED TO GET OUT OF THIS PUDDLE,”

I had awoken from a dream in which we two, and another teacher from our school, were sleeping rough in Bangkok. Chloe went along with the whole thing because she also does weird things in her sleep. Two people both fully believing the same delusion. I stopped and looked around.

“Wait. I think we’re OK. We’re in a hotel room.”

“Oh right,” said Chloe, “OK.”

“Sorry about that.”

“It’s OK.”

We both got back in bed and immediately fell back asleep. Perhaps there was something weird in that clementine.

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.

Professional Give-a-Shit-er: Bad Coverage of Two Months in Thailand

It has been far too long. Over a month. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t possibly imagine where to pick up the threads of this blog and start again. So I’m just going to have to suck it up and do it.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s happened since last I posted. Please listen to this whilst you go through the list. As you do, I want you to imagine, if you actually know what I look like, my slightly worn out and annoyed face. And I want you to read each point very quickly.

OK, GO:

I have

  • Left Samuii
  • Spent several hours in a house in a satellite neighbourhood of Bangkok, in which time, I closely studied the poster for Return of the Jedi and decided it definitely has something on it, hovering around Jabba the Hutt, that strongly resembles a penis
  • Got a temporary job at a school in Chachoengsao (a town 50km outside of Bangkok)
  • Been nipped at by potentially rabid dogs
  • Been driven at ninety miles an hour down the wrong side of the motorway in a rickety tuk tuk and paid for the privilege
  • Been taken on as a permenant English teacher at the same place in Chachoengsao
  • Sweated all over the ancient ruins of Ayutthaya like a big red and white hog
  • Gone back to Samuii
Capture.PNG
No wonder Bib Fortuna looks so startled there

Oh, so many rip-roaring adventures to be lost to the annals of time, because who could possibly give a shit. I mean, I could explain the Bangkok house story, but really, isn’t it better we all just use our imaginations? But, this is supposed to be a travel blog, isn’t it, so I suppose I should really make some comment on the things I’ve seen over the past few weeks. I’ll have to save speaking on the topic of my new job for another time, or I fear, much like a nineteenth century lady, I might collapse from sheer exertion and probably sprain my dainty ankle. I simply daren’t try.

The problem is, to take yet another unwanted detour before I get into the travel stuff, I’m feeling quite tired at the moment. It’s not so much from lack of sleep, as from the absolute exhaustion that comes from the, to me, mammoth amount of socialising I’ve done since being in Thailand. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve been sharing a room most nights. I’ve been speaking, a lot, every day. I’ve been listening, a lot, every day. And Jesus, I’m worn out. Don’t get me wrong, everyone has been nice, and to resort back to that well-worn phrase, it’s all my own madness. My ability to keep up the appearance of being fine to talk is slowly breaking down. By next week, I’ll probably be found naked in the bushes, having joined the feral dog pack of Chach, scavenging discarded chicken sticks and chasing down frightened pedestrians.

It all feels very self indulgent to talk about. I’m that stereotypical introvert who wants it both ways – I want people to be available when I need them and to piss off the moment I need to be alone. I want to hide in my room for three days without making a sound and then emerge to rapturous applause and instant social gratification. It’s never going to happen. I’m definitely too much of a moody shit, and you need to be broodier and more handsome than me to be able to carry that off. You need to look like a confident and mysterious “professional-doesn’t-give-a-shit-er”, not like a “mad recluse who’s sat in all weekend marathoning cartoons and ordering from Pizza Company”. I’m saddled with the paranoia that everyone sees me for the bastard I really am.

I’m currently on half term, but will be going back to work on Monday, which may go some way to relieving my current social issues. I suppose we’ll see. What I wouldn’t give to be naturally extroverted.

Well, enough with that, let’s get to the meat.

Ayutthaya. It’s old. There are temples. Recommend. We cycled about like healthy young dickheads, masquerading as though we had any health and/or vigour in our Chang-ed out husks of bodies. I think I might be slowly dying. I have weird scabby elbows and a cough I haven’t been able to shake in a month.

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Ayutthaya. Nothing witty to say about this. Old, innit.

Bangkok. It’s a city. The capital city. There is a cinema there that does delicious nachos. I like it. The taxi drivers I like less. 13 baht (about 30p) on the train from Chach, where I live, so no doubt I’ll be there a fair bit to get my fix of food that isn’t rice or noodles.

Chachoengsao. My new home town. Not many foreigners here. “FALANG” and “HAHA! WHITE PEOPLE!” in common parlance. Bit of a problem with stray dogs that get very ballsy indeed in the dark. There’s a KFC in one of the supermarkets.

That’s that covered then, and quite efficiently too, if I do say so myself. What more could you POSSIBLY need to know?

Four of us from the TEFL course decided to head back down to Koh Samuii for a little break over half term. It was like a completely different place to the first time around. Very quiet; quite overcast and grey. I mostly sat in the pool and listened to the soothing noise of both German and Thai being spoken at the same time. Yeah, think about that. We got overnight coaches both there and back. Twelve hours. Vaguely nightmarish.

No. Let’s not beat around the bush here. Quite harrowing.

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Lady Boy Excitement

But, here I am. I’m sat in my own little room in Chach. I have two soft Oreos and half a packet of crisps and an HDMI cable. I’ve been in Asia for over two months now and I’m OK. There’s no humour in writing “I love everything and everything has been fine”, but most things have, so far, been straight forward. It’s better than being at home. I’m looking to the future though, to the end of term in March, and thinking about where my next step will take me. Somewhere quiet. English Language School for Hermits?

The Dance

Goodbye to Koh Samuii

I don’t have nearly enough knickers. Let’s just start out with that. I have packed so, so badly. The only clothes available on this island are tiny shorts, made for women with the hips of malnourished seven-year-olds, and vests with beer logos on them. But that’s OK, because by this time tomorrow, I’ll be on a ferry to Surat Thani, and then catching the train back up to Bangkok. I should arrive at 6am in a second class sleeper berth. What could go wrong?

Bathing Beauties

The Thai people are very still very smiley and polite, when they aren’t trying to push in front of you in the 7-Eleven queue. You can’t walk down the street without saying “Sa wat dee ka!” (hello) ten times before you’ve hit the first Family Mart. I’ve been called “sir” more times in restaurants than I care to count, which I suppose is meant well. I think I was called “sir” when a bottle of Heinz ketchup unexpectedly exploded in my face as I unscrewed the lid, or maybe I’d gone deaf from the shock and was subconsciously filling in the blanks. I was told it was something to do with a build-up of gas within the bottle rather than a carefully premeditated, deliciously saucy, assassination attempt. I suppose I’ll choose to believe that, even if it does sound a bit vague and unscientific, it’s more comforting that way.

There have been a few other off-colour moments. Chloe and I were lying on the beach when one of the many salesmen approached us carrying a board full of bracelets on his shoulder. He looked us up and down and formulated his best sales pitch.

“YOU WHITE. WHITE LIKE MY BRACELETS! YOU BUY!”

He didn’t make a sale with us that day. Still, that offence somewhat paled (ha) in comparison to the salesman on Chaweng who approached me to say, “BEYONCE! YOU BIG BUM LIKE BEYONCE!”.

“Thank you,” I said, as I rolled over and slunk back into the sea to hide beneath the waves, my confidence and self-esteem as buoyant as ever… which is to say they were both lying somewhere at the bottom of the ocean covered in fish shit. It’s fine. If I maintain the same levels of rampant diarrhoea I’ve been experiencing thus far, I should weigh around seven stone in five weeks. And I’ve sort of learnt to curl my hair. If my legs didn’t currently look like they belonged to a bloated corpse that was just pulled out of a house fire, I think I’d definitely qualify as a strong 3.5/10.

I did some teaching. That was fine. I was dreading it, walking to school at 7 am, passing all the tourists in their swimming costumes, in my button-up shirt looking like the world’s most pissed off Mormon. The kids here are quite enthusiastic and really enjoy any activity where they get to touch or hit something. Give them some dice and they go absolutely mental. It was actually a lot of fun. It definitely came to my attention that I say “Ooo” a lot. I’d say it whenever someone dropped something. I’d say it if someone wrote something incorrect on the board. The kids would laugh every time and imitate me. Imagine Alan Partridge saying “Ooo mince!” without the “mince” part. It’s an incredibly camp reflex that I struggle to repress.

14225565_10154514980647238_8617030659960161487_n.jpgI asked later if anyone could help me with a new catchphrase. The only real suggestion was to add “get her!” to the end of my “ooo”. Doesn’t really help with the campness but it does have a certain je ne sais quoi. I think I should be able to adapt pretty quickly. I made my own Bose speakers here out of a toilet roll. I’m the Bear Grylls of the hotel world.
Moving to a new continent forces you to become crafty and all make-do-and-mendy. It’s all holey underwear, and scrubbing the sand out of your bikini-top in the sink, and acting as your fellow teacher’s retarded donkey slave in the lead up to your teacher practices, as you glue flags to a big piece of card to create a board game that will make a class of eight-year-olds lose their shit.

So, school’s out. I’ve graduated from Samui TEFL with distinction (“Ooo get her!”). Teacher practices, tests, dealing with other TEFLers who don’t really speak English and have a very loose grasp on social norms – it’s all done. This is pointless to say, but there is so much I’d love to share here, and I really can’t. It’s too soon. I need to get a few thousand miles between me and the subjects of my stories. The most exciting one involves a naked Filipino girl climbing into a gay man’s bed and refusing to leave – I know he won’t mind me sharing that. He looked haunted in the morning. I’m sure in some parallel universe, she chose another room, and something completely different happened. This is how I know I must be living in the most excellent universe that there is. Another favourite secret story involves a lesson delivered by someone who fundamentally failed to grasp the basic concept of what it means to teach the English language. Oh, if only I could say more… if only. (What a goddamn prick tease).

Graduation Buddy

For the first time in four weeks, I felt a bit down last night. It was the dance. All my classmates are leaving the island, either alone or in twos and threes, flying or ferrying off to their next destination. The dance always leaves me feeling depressed. I have no doubt it’s all down to me, and my own madness, and is no reflection on the integrity of anyone else. I’m difficult to get to know, and awkward, and very particular. Generally, I either click with someone straight away, or just end up as some weird Mark Corrigan type on the fringes of social circles, piping up to answer the odd trivia question and to make semi-witty, snarky comments. What I mean by, and let me break out the italics again, the dance, is the set of expected social interactions one is required to perform upon parting with people you’ve been spending any amount of time with. It makes me feel disingenuous. “We’ll see each other soon!” (we won’t); acting like you’ve gotten on much better with each other than you ever really have.

I am weak. I decided I had to join in. I danced and I shall, no doubt, dance again. I approached a leaver and said, with my most convincing smile, “Goodbye! Be safe. I’m sure we’ll see each other again.”

I received a rather flat reply. “We’ll all be very busy. People say that, but we probably won’t”.

I shook my head as the person sashayed away. Well I never, I thought, the bloody cheek of it, if you won’t do the dance, then neither shall I.

Update – 18.49: A melancholy feeling has settled over our hotel. It’s all quiet and empty. Some new people, starting the course on Monday, have shown up to take the rooms which were formerly occupied by friends. Strange feeling. Weirdly spooky. I know I must have had a truly fantastic time, because now the end is here, I don’t want to face it.

Koh Samuii: The First Ten Days

TEFLing and Touristing

Chloe and I woke up in our Bangkok hotel, grabbed our stuff, and off we traipsed to our next destination – Koh Samuii. Our airport driver, Moo, graciously allowed us to experience the oldest tourist con in the book, forcing bracelets onto our wrists as we looked on bewildered and too tired to protest. We dutifully handed over a “tip” and left him waiing and smiling. That seems like a million years ago now.

An incredibly short flight later and we were on the island of Koh Samuii. We quietly hummed the Jurassic Park theme as we descended into the tiki hut that comprises the airport. A man named Jack picked us up and drove us to T-Phak Phink, our hotel. We were dripping in sweat and bright red. I was overly excited to see a Charlie Chaplin restaurant/massage parlour on our way down the winding road; nothing here makes much sense.14068193_10154475790217238_6522383116008226739_n.jpg

I could go into detail about all the things I did on the first few nights here, about how I met people on the same TEFL course as me, how I drank a lot of 89baht (£1.96) cocktails, but I’m sure you can imagine how it went, and it wouldn’t make for particularly interesting reading.

I should probably speak about the TEFL school I’m attending – Samui TEFL. I prefer “Samuii” with two Is but I suppose we’re all allowed to make our own stylistic choices. The class is tough. Turns out I know next to nothing about my native language. Did you know that the word “him” can be an adjective? I mean, I always knew my education was pretty shit, but Jesus, I don’t know what on earth they were teaching me at home for twelve years. As I write this, it is the Wednesday of week two of the course, with two weeks to go until it’s over, in which time I’ll deliver lessons to primary, secondary, and adult classes. God help them. God help us all. I’d definitely recommend Samui TEFL if you’re considering training as an English as a Foreign Language teacher as its incredibly thorough, but I won’t lie, it’s difficult and I’m absolutely knackered.

There are five other British people on the course, and we are naturally drawn to each other like incredibly pale moths to a flame. It is inescapable. I find myself making eyes at them in the classroom. There have been discussions as to how we might access The Great British Bake Off while we are here. You should have seen the reaction when it was revealed that Thailand has its own version of Tesco. Pandemonium. Joy. A physical need to return to some semblance of the mother-supermarket.

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The class has around twenty people in it. Majority American, then us, then some South Africans, one Australian, and two people are half Thai. We are at that point where we’ve sort of figured out basically what we’re all like, as much as you can figure people out in ten days. Originally, I was putting on a bit of a posher accent when I spoke to the Americans because I kept getting blank stares back when I would say things. I’m losing it though; it’s too hard to keep up. The Boltonian in me will always win out.

How’s the social aspect of TEFLing, I hear you cry. I’m naturally introverted. I wouldn’t say I’m shy, I like pretty much everyone on the course, and I think I’m lucky to have found myself with such a good group, but I still need a few hours a day to withdraw and to sit with Netflix on my own. I think the key to not going completely insane when spending so much time with the same people every day is to try and maintain a strong sense of your deeply sacred personal space. Swing your arms around at all times so that nobody can ever get too close. That’s my best advice.

Americans, on the whole, are very earnest and genuine. They make trivial things seem like serious business and are, and please remember I’m speaking in gross generalities here, very eager and sweet. I hope if any of them ever read this, which seems a bit unlikely, they won’t mind me having said that. We Brits seem both reserved and constantly bemused by comparison. We like to discuss the weather and other such nonsense whilst the Americans get into the minutiae of what it means to be and to live. Not all of them, of course, and it’s not like it’s a bad thing at any rate – it’s just different to what I’m used to. The Brits are all seemingly well-versed in our national, unspoken, enshrined code of conduct – keep things light and don’t talk bollocks.

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Aside from a bit of drunken night-swimming (probably not advisable), we hadn’t really been able to spend much time at the beach because we’d been so busy with school, and so come the first Saturday, we were all up early to lay out on towels and catch some rays. Chloe and I had a lot of catching up to do. We were [are] incredibly white. Glowing. That’s actually a rather coveted thing in Thailand, as it turns out. All the beauty products, deodorants, lotions, all have whitening agent in them. It seems everyone wants what they can’t have.

We are no different. We want to be brown. Eager to get my transformation into bronzed goddess underway, I dove in at the deep end. I lay flat out under the sun like a fool. Don’t get me wrong, I was covered in my factor fifty, but I was fully aware that I was basically cooking myself. After a few hours of sitting like a lizard on a hot rock, I went along with some of my fellow TEFLers to a shady beachfront restaurant for some food and a drink. When I stepped back out, a couple of people began to look me up and down and I watched as their expressions slowly changed.

“Fuck!”

“Shit!”

“Oh fuck!”

“Stop shouting fuck and shit at me,” I said, quite confused about what was going on.

What was, in fact, going on, was that I’d turned bright pink and was radiating heat like the elephant’s foot at Chernobyl. I was promptly sent home to sit indoors and to apply aloe vera. I literally took a step back when I caught sight of myself in a mirror. I looked like a wet, burnt witch. I would’ve sent tiny Thai children running from me in terror. I left the hotel again only under the cover of darkness. The burn has now settled into a faint, dull red. My shins are still shockingly white. I don’t want to sound entitled, but when do I get my colour? I feel I’ve really put the effort in and I’m not seeing results. 

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I should talk about some of the stuff I’ve done. I feel like I’m going down a checklist right now. My brain is mush. Temples. Markets. Bars. Riding in the backs of trucks. Apparently, it’s absolutely essential on any whistle stop tour of the island to visit the Grandmother and Grandfather rocks. These are big rocks that look like a penis and a vagina. Yeah.

The food has been mostly fine, although I can’t convey how much I’m missing stodge. I want something to bite in to. You can’t bite rice. I want a big fuck off burger. I woke up last night with a churning stomach, feeling freezing cold, and sweating like some kind of demented bear. I’m fine now but I think my body is in total Asia-shock. I suppose it’s the new food and a form of “freshers’ flu”.

img_0084.jpgFinally, I feel something would be terribly amiss if I didn’t talk about the turlet hose. The Americans are all calling it “the bum gun”, but I don’t like that. It seems wrong for an American to use the word “bum” for arse. I nominate “turrrrlet hose” (toilet hose) as the official nomenclature and that’s what I shall use. The turlet hose is a hose attached to Thai toilets that you use to clean yourself after you’ve been to the loo. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but I’ve got to say, I’m a full convert to the church of the holy hose. Let’s put it this way, if you had shit on your arm, would you want to dry-wipe it off with a bit of tissue, or would you want to give it a good old wash? I don’t know if I can ever go back to my old self. I haven’t had to use a squat toilet yet, thank God, I think I’d rather just hold it in until I quietly died in a corner. I asked around if other people were using the hose and the group seemed quite divided. A memorable response was “I don’t want shit-water on my balls”. Fair enough, I thought. You can’t convert them all.

Prep for the Hep: Getting Ready to Travel

I have sixteen days until I leave for Thailand so I’m doing all the last minute jobs I need to do. The prep. I’ve consulted the “what to pack” websites. I’ve bought DEET. I’m thoroughly aware that I own only one bikini, which I don’t fit in, and that my sole alternative is a fairly ratty Speedo costume I used to swim lengths in last summer. I’m thoroughly dependant on getting fairly severe intestinal problems to squeeze into half the shorts I’ve bought. Shit is starting to get really real. Despite this need to shed about three-quarters of my body weight, I’m going to have to be very careful not to become terribly ill while I’m abroad, just a little ill, because it turns out jabs are really, really expensive. I went to the nurse the other day to get all the free travel injections I could get my hands on. I was practically running through their supplies, arms flailing, letting needles prick me from all angles.

Continue reading “Prep for the Hep: Getting Ready to Travel”