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 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.