"Where are you from?" the woman asked.
She was calling from an agency after she had found out that an allegedly grumpy British teacher had walked out from the school. Now they were in dire need of a potential and displayable person who could step into the shoes left by the allegedly grumpy man.
The first thing she asked me after she supposedly screened my forwarded resume was " I know that you are from India but what colour is your hair? How tall are you? And do you have farang look? I know some Indians have a farang look."
I was already repulsed by the torrent of queries but at the same time I pitied her ignorance, so I politely explained " I'm afraid I don't possess the look you have in mind madam.
On the contrary, I could be mistaken for a Thai man as I am from the North eastern part of India. If you are looking for an ESL teacher then I would not mind admitting the fact that I am a qualified person. I have a master's degree with a TEFL certificate and I have been teaching for more than three years. Would that do?"
She said I could give a demo lesson at the school then it would be up to the school to decide my fate. Beggars can't be choosers.
Behind the main gate was a huge statue of Lord Buddha, the man who disagreed with caste system in traditional Hindu society and a man who saw beauty and value in everything and every creature.
It was a hot morning and I was exhausted after spending two hours travelling by the sky train then a bus ride and another shuttle bus ride to get to the place not to mention the hassle of asking people at every stop in my limited Thai.
The friendly security guard escorted me to the office building where I was to meet the lady from the agency and the director of the school. She was standing there in her black attire next to the obese lady director who was enveloped in shiny Thai silk suit. She also asked me " where you come from?" I didn't have to give a second thought to the answer She looked at me once then turned towards the lady from the agency and their discussion in Thai volleyed over my ears.
(In Thai) " Ohh! his speaking is very fluent and clear, but we are afraid whether parents will be able to accept him. OK, we could see how he teaches just to make him feel good."
I was trapped in a hopeless situation. I could have bolted out of that creepy place but I was the person in need and I wanted to grasp the moment and demonstrate my skills.
When their discussion in Thai was finally over, I was taken into a classroom where the polite Thai homeroom teacher smiled at me graciously and disappeared leaving the director and the agent outside the classroom observing me teach through the ajar door. Their animated discussion and constant nose-picking session continually distracted my demo lesson.
I underestimated their obvious indifference. When I came out from the classroom I saw the answer on their indifferent faces. One had already come to a conclusion before I had even started the demo lesson. Without further questions and discussion the director pressed her palms against my arms with a Thai "Thank you."
The agent met me at the school gate where the Buddha was planted to rationalise the obese lady director's" Thank you" to me. There was no way they could have an Asian teacher with oriental look as the consequences would be a direct threat to the school committee from the parents' association.
I wanted to scream at the lady from the agency for wasting my time and money when I could have been at home reading a book and blogging, but I was a committed person and the fuel that kept me running was the romance - otherwise why I would be knocking on people's doors for a job only to be subjected to discrimination, when I could be working in a university anywhere in the sub-continent or as a writer.
I was the architect of my fate.
Seeing that I was deeply disappointed, the lady took off without even bidding me adieu and left me in the middle of a remote place 50 kms from Bangkok.
Chafing would not help me. Instead I phoned up some leads to inquire if they would be in a position to employ me at their schools. The sympathetic English man, who from my understanding was in charge of a language centre, boasted how he hired people on the basis of their talents and experience rather than ones' skin colour and nationality.
The man was kind enough to forward an SMS to me mentioning the exact location of his office and how I could get there. On Sunday afternoon dressed in formal attire I rode the sky-train and sat in a taxi for one hour to see the person who sounded so just and sympathetic. Smiling. he ventured out from his shop-house to welcome me.
There was no signboard whatsoever to identify the place and the office space was meticulously carved out in between the recklessly piled up thick folders on the desks and the empty floor ceiling book shelf, and leading me through mounds of more files, he offered me a place to sit in front of the Tesco Lotus desk over which his AVIO laptop compute sat, perhaps displaying his familiarity of modern conventional know-how.
To quench his disbelief that I was from India, I explained I really was from the sub-continent but still he relentlessly maintained his " but your English is not Indian, and also your look. I thought you were an American when I heard your voice. It's just intriguing."
After he listened intelligently to me, he unintelligently presented the true nature of his business and what erratic things he could offer in return for the professionalism he was expecting.
There was a government school which was in desperate need of a teacher so what he wanted me to do to get his supposed 3-month full-time job without any guarantee for visa and work permit was to display my skill for a week at the school.
If the school liked me then I would get his 3-month full time job.
Thanks but no thanks
Sometimes when you are repeatedly humiliated, the degree of humiliation you feel is lessened
In my politest manner, I explained how odd it was to me to see professionalism and impermanence at one place, expecting consistency from a persistent vagabond.
I was too exhausted to display my contempt, so we shook hands like old friends and I left the godown-like office smiling at the Filipino teachers who had travelled from another province for the same job.
Wishing them the best of Indian luck I hurried home to ponder over what I should do.
I stuck to an evening part-time job and reading and writing in the daytime for a few weeks. However, I sensed that my helpless girlfriend wanted me to go out to find a full-time position which could help prolong my stay in Bangkok.
What could I expect from those job advertisements which were only for Caucasians? It would be naive on my part to spend time writing formal e-mails and calling the schools which specifically mentioned " no Asians please! Europeans or NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS only!" - but I was a person waiting for an unexpected fat chance relying on my incorrigible side and fed by the optimistic side of human life.
Yes! The colour of my blood is red like that of my friends. I get drunk when I gulp down a pint. I also know what's just and unjust as emotions and understandings are not the patented properties of one group of classed people.
A prominent school from Bangkok which had just opened one of its branches notified me that my name was on a list of potential mathematic teachers and I should be at the school the following day to meet the supervisor who would observe me teach. I was not a brilliant economics student but I had no doubt that I could teach math to primary students given my year and a half year experience in a bilingual school.
Although I got home late at night from my evening part-time job I managed to wake up before 5 o'clock to press my clothes and prepare everything.
As I had planned, I got to the school 40 kms from downtown Bangkok and the flamboyant supervisor welcomed me and instructed the Filipino teacher to help me by explaining where I should go to observe other teachers teach and at what time I should give a demo lesson.
During the lunch break, I ran into an Eastern European teacher who insisted that he was from the States - a crow strutting in another bird's feathers? What I didn't know was his insistence was quite worthy - worthier than ordinary Europeans, not to mention the Indians and Filipinos.
The school admitted that the observers were satisfied with my methodology and the pseudo-American led me to a meeting room where a larger and a more observant bunch were waiting to grill me.
I faced the music and waited for what they had in store for me. Certainly they had something, but it was not the flamboyant supervisor who could decide how much he could offer except for sticking to the categorised scales, 15,000 Baht for Filipinos, 20,000 Baht for Indians, 30,000 Baht for Europeans and 35,000 Baht for the so-called native speakers of English.
I made it a point to put it before them that I had been in this field for more than three years and it wouldn't be impossible for me to accept the Indian pay scale as my last remuneration was 60% more than what they could offer.
The pseudo-American cast his perplexed eyes at the flamboyant supervisor upon hearing that, throwing his left leg over the another and throwing his hands wide in the air and addressed me in his rounded vowels " all I can do is to speak to the school director and call you"
Sitting on a few rumbling buses, somehow I got home in the evening feeling slightly hopeful.
I did hear from the flamboyant man in time, but this time his voice was the voice of a defeated man who would just sit and listen if one cracked on him. The school director made it quite clear that it would be against the school's policy to offer an Asian teacher with three years teaching experience anything beyond 20K a month.
Anger is what renders a man to an irrational and pitiable creature, gripped by abundant anger and more humiliation I barked on the phone " if you hired an inexperienced American mathematics teacher how much would you offer him?" , the defeated frail voice answered " it'd be between 35,000 and 40,000 Baht",
I yelled at that caught up man "so your bloody school thinks that Indian mathematics is cheaper than American mathematics, do you? It's appalling!"
There's no denying the fact that there are abundant Asian teachers with incoherent English. This however does not justify the absurd attempt to invalidate the capabilities of individuals from a few parts of the world. We should also admit the fact that professional teaching is not the patented skill of Caucasian people. If so then the world is going to the dogs and we know the produce of the doggy world.
To me, this is nothing more than undermining the potential of various intellectualisms, which appear so crude through the prism of people like historian John Mill. It seems like those successful Indian born writers and professors teaching crème de le crème students in various parts of the world would have a hard time finding a place in this land of smiles.