How many people can put their hand up and say "I'm living my dream!"?
Many years ago I had the great fortune to have a holiday in Sri Lanka. I fell in love with the tropics and the Buddhist environment. I asked someone how I could possibly live in a place like that and he told me that I spoke English very clearly and it would be easy for me to find work as an English teacher. The seed was planted between my ears, but when I returned back to the shores of England and enquired about doing a TEFL course at a few different schools in London I was turned down from the opportunity on the simple basis that I didn't have a degree. My dream was shattered and I continued to slave away as an antique restorer for the next three years believing that I could never be a teacher and live in a foreign land with the sun blazing above me rather than having dark clouds hovering above my head and me waiting in dreaded anticipation for their contents to fall.
Life offers many twists and opportunities to those with an open mind; and after an amicable divorce from my wife, selling my house and possessions I hit the road with a small backpack for company. After three years on the road I stumbled into Thailand. In 2003 I fell in love with a girl I met on a train and now she is my wife and the mother of our son. Because of our fortunate meeting I enquired about how I could live here and was overjoyed to be told that I didn't need a degree in order to be an English teacher. And there lies the first and strongest reason for me loving my job. I do it because I want to, not just to obtain a visa or for money to spend on young girls who wouldn't look at me once let alone twice back home and to spend my evenings drowning myself with buckets of dodgy cheap Thai whiskey, as so many foreign teachers do.
I cannot express the deep internal happiness I feel when whizzing down the road checking out mango, banana and coconut trees, Asian minor birds bombarding my head, birds of prey soaring high in the blue skies, snakes blocking my way as they stretch across the road and the occasional working monkeys clinging to the rails of the coconut collector's cars. I do sometimes get the ex-pat blues, but they last for a few seconds until I've taken a look around me and remind myself that I am living my dream every day.
The second reason for enjoying my job is very simple. How many jobs can you do around the world; that are not dangerous, and get up to eight weeks of paid holiday? I love the time I spend in class, but also love my free time.
The third reason for loving my job is that I'm very close to being fifty years old, yet inside me I am still just a boy of sixteen. My job allows me to act a fool and clown around entertaining young Thais whilst teaching them my language. I know from the students' response that they enjoy learning with me as I play with Thai, English and Chinese languages. My mind is very creative and I have a wonderful imagination, something I think is very important for this job and to keep you from going insane.
Fourth reason; I'm quite strict in my class when it comes to being polite and learning self-responsibility. One great pleasure I have in my job is guiding young people going through their adolescent years, which I believe are the hardest due to the changes that take place to our bodies and minds. I get a lot of satisfaction watching my students come into school as children and leaving as young adults with a good code of conduct.
I guess I'm a bit old fashioned with my values, but I do believe we should pay respect to the people around us regardless of their position in society. I personally take time to 'wai' everyone around me, be they the school cleaners or the principle. And in doing this I find the Thai people around me show a lot of respect to myself. This doesn't happen to the people who choose to live here yet refuse to adjust to their surroundings and adopting the Thai way. Respect gains respect. I am more aware of this as when I was back in London working away and singing a song I had people threaten to kill me because I was so happy with life.
At this point let me point out that when I was 19 years old I had an accident which left me in hospital and unable to move. The doctor told me I was paralyzed and would never play football or run again. I got out of that in two weeks by pure determination. I don't tell you this to gain a tear, only to let you know that I am thankful for every day I have to walk upon this Earth.
That leads me onto the fifth reason for enjoying this job. I have so many laughs with my kids. I enjoy watching the funny things children do. They can just be small things that put a smile on my face. How they interact, how they respond, some of the things they come out with or the things they think are funny. I like to share a joke with them and so they share their jokes with me.
I speak Queen 's English and like to try to get people to speak clearly when they interact with me. During my TEFL training I was advised to never stop someone talking even if it wasn't clear English. I go against this and always stop my students from saying "no prompem" so that later in life they will be clearly understood.
To give an example of how this can have a good effect: I was standing in my school which was full of students from other schools coming to do their university entrance exams. I got talking to a bunch of young M6 girls to see what they were doing in my school. Conversation developed and one girl was outstandingly well spoken. When I asked her how she had become so good at speaking she explained that she had had one teacher who made her and her friends understand the difference between well-spoken and not well-spoken English. I said that she should go to thank her teacher as he or she had done a very good job. Imagine my surprise when she waied me and said "thank you" to me; I had been that teacher in another school but I couldn't remember her. So there lies the sixth reason for loving this job.
Seventh reason is an easy one. As I explained before I used to be an antique restorer. Some people may think it is a very good job, but in truth it is a very dirty job with lots of dust and some dangerous chemicals floating around. When I was going through what I now recognise as a midlife crisis I wanted to change my lifestyle. Doing this job now I am always clean and well dressed. Apart from the occasional blue splash from a marker pen this job is nice and clean; gone are the days of being known as chalky due to the white dust that filled the rooms every time I cleaned the board.
In eighth place as a reason for loving and enjoying my nine to five, or should I say eight to four, is something my mum told me. She said that sometimes I might be teaching something to my students and they won't understand it at that time. It can take between five to twenty years before they understand what I was on about. Then it goes ‘click' and they get it.
I have become well known for opening students minds. I don't just teach about my language, I also teach about life. I share my experiences and tell my stories to classes that sit there glued to every word and taking it all in. The best thing is when some of my first students have now become teachers themselves and share my stories with their students. As I said before I'm an old fashioned guy who's in touch with the modern world, but do believe in the old ways. These ways are nearly all gone from my part of the world and a lot of people think I'm a nutter because I believe in the spirit of mother Earth.
That leads me to the ninth reason for loving what I do. I abhor capitalism and the consumer society. Greed, hate, anger and jealousy are very negative emotions which are fed by the ‘keeping up with the Jonses' syndrome. I believe in ‘the middle way' as by the teachings of Lord Buddha. "Desire causes suffering" and our world is suffering for the corporate's desire for more money. It makes me sad to know I live in a world where people on one side of the world burn food to keep a stable price in their neck of the woods while people on the other side of the world are dying from starvation.
When that happens we have to ask ourselves what kind of society do we live in? Yet most people are so busy looking out for themselves that they forgot to lend a hand to their brothers and sisters, they forgot about social living and social giving. I am so happy when my neighbours come to eat with me or share a drink, it is a lovely feeling when I stop at my coffee shop in the morning and someone has already paid for my beverage. When was the last time someone in London knocked on your door and offered a plate of food to you simply because they thought about you? Thai people are the most beautiful when they accept you because you chose to adopt their ways and are the most generous people I have met in this world.
And that leads me to the tenth reason while I love my job and my life in Thailand. Compassion. You can see from my writing that I follow the Buddha's teachings, but I don't follow any strain of Buddhism. I'm not Theravada, or Mahayana, nor Zen. I'm just me. I'm not a religious person although I have read a lot about different religions out of personal interest. I believe that we are given this life for one simple reason; to help others.
By being a teacher I have the opportunity to extend my hand and pull people through their problems; be it with language or with life and people listen to my advice. This is unconditional compassion because I expect nothing in return, but on the other hand it is conditional because I expect my money at the end of the month which, unfortunately, I need to survive.
One problem I have with Christianity is the fear of dying that they instill into your conscience. It is a fact that one day we must all leave this mortal coil. For me I'd prefer to do it in old age with my son holding my hand rather than being squashed by some idiot driving a truck while high on methamphetamines, but I don't really have a say in how I'll go. My point is that at the end of the day when I do die, can I do so with a peace of mind?
Can I say to myself that I led a good life or will I be in fear of the great judgment? The way things are going for me and seeing the love that I receive from my students and fellow Thai teachers I think I can close my eyes for the big sleep and smile to myself that I had a good life, was thankful for every day I had and tried to show people that the most important thing in life is to carry love in your hearts to share it with all people.