To really appreciate the story of how Rob and I met you should probably understand just how miserable those first two months had been before I crammed into that minivan bound for Phuket. And it’s going to take a couple of posts just to convey that misery.
I had arrived in Bangkok in late October, just days before the Giant’s won the World Series. I spent two nights in Bangkok, waking up early to watch the games on the hotel tv. And on the third day I was picked up and driven off to Simahaphot–a flat, empty town of rice patties, a hellish sun, and no shade.
I had an adventurous optimism to fuel me at first. That was what got me through the heat and the weird toilets, the food that I couldn’t eat and the feeling of being simultaneous hungry and nauseous all the time. When all my friends raved about what great food I must be eating, you have to know that rural central Thailand is nothing like the manufactured backpacker paradise of Southern Thailand, where you can eat beef curry and and drink a beer while watching the sun set over the ocean. For breakfast, there was soup—hot broth to start out a day where you’re already sweating at 7am, or sweet fried pork with rice that tasted like chewy meat candy. There was no curry anywhere to be had, except for a spicy green soup that was filled with cold noodles, balls of liver, big chunks of something that resembled eggplant.
And then there was the company. There were three other British boys there around my age that were starting out their first semester teaching. They had all been placed there by the same agency, whereas I had arrived through my connections with the school’s head monk. Of course, I assumed we were all going to be great friends. But that whole notion was smashed to pieces the first week into the semester.
At first they wanted to put me with the first graders. I assumed because I had taught pre-school before. What they didn’t tell me is that they had tried to put six other foreign teachers into their first grade English classes. Six in just the last semester alone.
Drawing on everything I knew I tried to make a lesson appropriate for a group of thirty six year olds. They all seemed well behaved enough, sitting at their desks, reading out loud as a group, practicing meditation for a few minutes after lunch. Then it was my turn.
The Thai teacher in charge asked if I would be okay on my own; she had an English lesson for the teachers to attend. I assured her that I would. She shut the door and all those eyes widened at me as I stepped up to the front of the class with my books and my papers. I don’t remember what I was trying to teach. I just remember one little doe-eyed girl with her hands clasped asking if she could go to the toilet. Then there were five of them surrounding me, tugging at my skirt. And then—chaos.
How to describe the chaos of thirty six year olds going crazy. Imagine that scene from South Park’s “Critter Christmas” when all the adorable woodland animals decide to celebrate the coming of the antichrist with a blood orgy. There were children at the window, children running out the door, children hitting each other, but the worst were the quiet kids with expectant eyes who were just waiting for me to teach them something.
They did nothing.
“I have a song!”
“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”
Slowly they turned to me, fixated on the dancing falang girl.
“Eyes and ears and mouth and nose. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.”
They were standing still now, looking at me. I motioned for them to do it with me. Half the class put their hands on their heads and they other half got it by the time we got to toes. I sang the song a dozen times—in a regular voice, in a loud voice, in a monster voice, then going faster and faster and faster until they were all shrieking with laughter and couldn’t keep up, then finally in a whisper voice until the whole room was silent.
“Okay, now we are going to—”
And the chaos resumed.
Remarkably, I made it through three days of this, teaching English, Math, and Health. Then on thursday I was supposed to teach English and Social Studies.
The English text book read like this: “Vase, Bowl, Spoon, Plate. What is that? This is a spoon.”
Then I opened the Social Studies book and saw this: “Democracy means the participation of every member of society in the governing of that society. Write a paragraph on what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. List examples from your own life.”
I closed the book, went into my room, laid down on my bed, and cried.
When the head monk came to me the next day and told me that I wouldn’t be teaching the first grade anymore, I did an internal victory dance and assumed that a Thai teacher would be taking over my old schedule. But instead what happened is that someone thought it would be a smart idea to just switch my schedule with one of the British boys who was teaching the eighth grade. Because if the curriculum didn’t make sense to me or the six people who came before me, it certainly was going to make sense to the eighth person that they threw at this class.
Of course, no one informed me of this plan until I had a seriously pissed off Brit confronting me in my office. I won’t go into details about the ensuing conversation, but let’s suffice to say that he was a huge fucking douchebag about the whole misunderstanding, and it was pretty clear that neither he, nor his two boyfriends, were ever going to be friends of mine.
After a lovely exchange of expletive filled accusations with the Brit, I found the head monk and begged him not to switch our classes and to put someone who could speak Thai to those adorable little demon monsters in charge of that class. Then I relayed this information to the slightly less douchey douchebags of the trio. But the damage was already done. The only English speaking people in the entire province all hated me.
Coming next: They stole my kitten.