I posted a job ad today for a ‘native English teacher and a ‘non-smoker'. You rarely see a job description that insists on a new hire being a non-smoker - at least as far as teaching jobs in Thailand are concerned - but could we be witnessing the start of a new trend? Has there ever been a better time to kick one's addiction to the foul weed?
I'll put my hand up. I'm a smoker. The truth is I damn well enjoy a cigarette. Looking back, I've always worked in schools where the majority of male teachers were smokers and I've spent many a happy work-break in a huddle of nicotine addicts congregated near the fire escape or outside in the street. And there we'd puff on our ciggies, share a joke and a laugh, and chat about work-related issues. The regular smoke break became a not-to-be-missed social occasion whether you fancied a cigarette or not. In many ways, the smoke break became just as addictive and routine as lighting up a cigarette. In the 90's, there was no shame attached to being a male teacher who happened to enjoy a smoke. You were part of the fashionable majority. Sometimes, if you were in a class with a bunch of particularly uncooperative students, it was only the thought of the next smoke break that kept you going.
Then one afternoon I walked into a writing class of about a dozen adult students. It was the first lesson after lunch if I recall and of course, the teachers' room smoking club had been in full swing. There was one student in the group who wasn't shy when it came to expressing his opinions. He'd already told one of my colleagues he was overweight and another teacher that his clothes looked ‘poor'. Now it was my turn for a dressing down. The student put a finger up to his nose and after searching for the right vocabulary, looked at me and said "teacher - you stink"
I felt myself blush. His comment was hurtful but I can't deny he was probably right. I looked around the room and gambled for support from the other students. Everyone nodded in the affirmative. Sorry teacher - you really do stink.
I excused myself from the class for a few moments and dived into the nearest bathroom. One of the smoker's biggest problems is that they never realize just how badly they smell and how offensive it is to those around them.
From then on I adopted what I call my ‘smokers' ritual'. Every time I put out a cigarette, I would go straight to the restroom, suck on something strong and minty, wash my hands with soap and water, splash on a bit of cheap eau de cologne and finish off with some intensive body lotion. I even bought a dainty toilet bag to keep all my stuff in. The toilet bag essentially became my secret smoker's kit. New teachers couldn't believe that I was a nicotine junkie because I always smelled so good. "You're a ‘stealth smoker" commented one colleague. And I've been that way ever since.
Many teacher smokers sometimes wonder if it's worth all the effort. If you work in a school with easy access to a smoking area and a group of colleagues all willing to join you for a ‘quick drag' - then it's no problem. But find yourself teaching a corporate group on the 40th floor of a ‘smoker-unfriendly' office building, and that ten-minute break becomes an operation of military precision. You rush to the elevator hoping that you won't have to wait long for a lift to the ground floor. Then it's a mad dash to the smoking area - a quick cigarette with barely a pause between puffs and then hopefully a fast elevator back up to the 40th floor. And don't forget you still need to leave a couple of minutes for your smokers' ritual with the soap, mints and perfume. No time for a coffee even. The cigarette becomes priority number one. It's ludicrous. Surely a few puffs on a cigarette can't be worth putting yourself through such an ordeal but smokers do it all the time.
Like most major cities around the world, Bangkok has become extremely ‘smoker unfriendly'. Smoking areas in office buildings can be small and hard to locate - that's if the building even has one. And those who smoke all know what it's like to enjoy a cigarette on that ‘five minute walk to a new corporate class' only to find when they arrive at the entrance doors, that there isn't a single public garbage bin or ashtray in sight. You then have to go through the harrowing process of cigarette butt disposal. What are your options? You could put your nub end down that drain but how many security staff or litter police are going to jump on you? You could extinguish your cigarette on the side of that plastic litter bin but what if the lighted end falls onto all that paper? What if one of your students looks out of the window mid-way through the lesson and amid a cacophony of wailing sirens, wonders why half of Bangkok's fire service has turned up? It's all part of the joys of being a teacher and smoker.
I went to lunch with an old friend a few days ago. He hasn't smoked a cigarette for years but was once a self-confessed forty-a-day man. At one stage, he even received a written warning from one employer stating that his constant coughing was irritating and distracting his co-workers. That said Bryan is a rare breed. He's an ex-smoker who still sympathizes with how difficult it must be for a modern day smoker
As we walked to a local restaurant, we passed an apartment building and spied a gentleman enjoying a cigarette up on his fourth floor balcony. I say enjoy because the midday sun was blazing hot and he was in direct sunlight. He was probably yet another smoker who had decided to banish himself to the relative peace of the balcony rather than endure protests from those irritating non-smokers inside. Bryan suggested that the best course of action would be for the authorities to completely ban cigarettes. Period. "Make the bloody things illegal" he said, rather than treat smokers as social outcasts.
If you're a teacher who has managed to kick the habit, you have my respect. If you haven't got the will-power, you still get my respect. Just don't forget the mints when you go for a job interview. To end on a positive note for the smokers out there, at a recent medical check up, the doctor bemoaned my lack of exercise. He said "you need to do something that regularly leaves you short of breath" Hang on. Isn't that exactly what smoking does for you?