What's it like being single, female, and in Bangkok? Alice took the plunge and decided that teaching English in Thailand was what she really wanted to do.
Alice, you did quite a lot of research on the internet before you came. In general, have things pretty much lived up to your expectations?
Actually, surprisingly enough, most things have. The apartment I booked online is great, and most of the research I'd done was worth it's weight in gold. Not as many surprises as I expected. Also, getting to know people on Ajarn, before I got to Bangkok, was WELL worth it. I've met a few people since getting here, for dinner or drinks, and most of them have turned out to be pretty decent folks, and have been very helpful with suggestions about jobs, apartments, places to eat, getting around etc.
I think the only thing that surprised me was the incredible heat! I'm used to heat, having lived for quite a few years in very hot areas of the US, but the first few weeks in Bangkok were very difficult. Plus, I arrived at the tail end of the rainy season, so not only was I dealing with heat and intense humidity, but also paddling in 2 feet of water at least twice a day. There were a few days there where I couldn't wait to get back to the West and clean sidewalks, and airconditioning, but I've gotten over it pretty fast :)
What was the reaction of friends and family when you suddenly told them you were packing your bags and heading east.
Oh, they all think I'm crazy anyway! My parents were appalled to start with, but got used to the idea by the time I actually left. My mother made one comment, "You just don't seem to have any roots" (as I've always tended to move to another city every 3-5 years anyway), but she acted like this was a BAD thing!
No-one really understood it, because I left a high-paying job, and a VERY nice lifestyle to come here. But for me, I wanted something more than the live-to-work attitude of the US. Like the next woman, I like nice things, and nice places to stay - but I truly believe I can have both in Thailand, and still have more time to myself than I ever had in the West.
Now that you’ve experienced dirty polluted Bangkok first-hand, does the thought of teaching out in the rural areas appeal?
Er....NOPE!!! :) I love big cities, and as much as sometimes I absolutely bloody HATE Bangkok, there's more here I like than I don't. I could see moving down South to a nice beach town maybe in 5 years or so, but the money is in Bangkok, and there's so much to do here I don't think I could live anywhere smaller. I've just been down to Koh Samet for the weekend, and although the beaches were nice, there were a bit too many hippies for my liking and not enough to do. Three days of that was enough for me, thank you! Couldn't wait to get back to breath in that lovely Bangkok air.
You decided to take a TEFL course here in Bangkok before you started looking for work. Without mentioning the course itself, how did that turn out?
Excellent! Overall, I was very happy with it. I feel like I learnt a lot, had a great experience during my teaching practices, plus the teaching practices gave me a good idea about all the different types of teaching I could do here - corporate, little kids, teenagers, language schools etc. And the instructor we had was phenomenal.
I think the course could have been about 2 weeks shorter, as the last two weeks, other than the teaching practices, were a bit of a waste of time, but on the whole, it was fabulous. My class was a great group of people too - only one sexpat among them, which apparently is rarer than a virgin in a brothel! :)
And what of the job search itself? How are you doing after a couple of weeks pounding the pavements?
A bit frustrating. I think it's the time of the year, there's just not much out there to even apply for. I've had 3 job offers from the 3 jobs I've applied for, but either they haven't been enough money, or it was a Christian school and, nothing against Christians, but I didn't come to Thailand to teach in a Christian environment. I could do that in Texas!
But, I'm lucky in that I have enough money to take my time, so have no doubt that I'll probably be gainfully employed at a school I really like by January. And honestly, I wouldn't really call what I've been doing 'pounding the pavements', more like 'e-mailing a couple of resumes in between trips to the beach and lattes at Au Bon Pain.
What have been your biggest problems so far, and not necessarily because you’re female, but from the perspective of a newbie?
I haven't really had any problems so far. The buses were a bit intimidating to approach at first, but I have a wonderful Thai friend who, every time I'm stuck somewhere, I just call and she tells me which numbers of buses go where.
It's just the little things that made me want to scream for the first few weeks - for instance, why do Thais walk 3 abreast across the sidewalk at a snails pace when 797 people are behind them, trying to get by? Why do the police control the traffic lights? (It's no wonder the traffic is so bad here!) And why, when you order food, do the hors d'ouevres often arrive AFTER the main meal, and your main meal arrives 45 minutes after your friend gets hers?
Things here are a bit upside down, and a bit uncommonsensical, but once you get used to it, you know what to expect and you plan for it. I think my blood pressure is a lot lower now than it was 3 months ago :)
What kind of salary are you looking for, and do you agree that you can’t survive in Bangkok on less than 30,000 baht a month?
On less than 30,000 baht a month? Are you high? Not a chance. I won't take less than 38,000 to 40,000, (plus making extra money from privates) but so far all but one job offer has offered me that.
But no, I don't think it's possible to have anything more than a scrapeby lifestyle on 30,000 a month in Bangkok, and I'll go back to the West before I'll take that kind of money!
Have you managed to find the apartment of your dreams yet?
No, I'm still staying in a serviced apartment building, which has been great - good location, nice people, excellent security and not too expensive. I'll start looking for the REAL apartment once I know where I'm going to be working as, God Knows, I don't plan on spending 3 hours of my life every day sitting on a Bangkok bus in a pool of my own sweat!
And dare I say the Thai man of your dreams?
Aaaawww - they're all so cute, aren't they? :) I'm being pretty picky with what I'm looking for, as I don't want to end up one of those pathetic looking 40-odd year old women with cute 20 year old Thai boyfriends. I'm scouting the late 30s to early 40s range, and the pickings are a lot slimmer - but I'm sure I'll find someone. I did however just dump a Thai guy I'd been seeing on and off for quite a while when it became apparent he wasn't going to ditch the three other girlfriends he had.
Seriously though, what do you make of this strange group of people that teach English in Thailand?
All I can say, is most of the farangs I see about here scare me a lot more than any of the Thais do :) Most from Ajarn I've met have been great, but I was picky to start with about WHO I would actually go out for a drink with. But a lot of the others I see about town, or meet through farang friends, are people I wouldn't piss on if they were on fire!
I think there ARE some decent people here who teach English and do a great job at it. Unfortunately, from what I've seen and heard, they're probably less than 10% of the farang population. I mostly feel sorry for the Thais who, in many cases, are paying good money they can hardly afford, to be ripped off by alcoholic sexpat/backpacker types who couldn't string a sentence together in a grammatically correct fashion if their lives depended upon it.
I think it's sad that, what I expected from the farangs in Thailand before I got here, has pretty much been proven to be true. It's one of the things I'd love to have been wrong about. However, having said that, I've met a few wonderful farangs, who I know will end up being lifelong friends. I think you just have to be careful who you hook up with. Thailand's reputation for having more shady farangs than most other countries seems to be a perfectly valid one unfortunately.
Going back to your extensive internet research, what has been the biggest myth about Thailand or the Thais, or perhaps the biggest disappointment?
Really, nothing so far. Most of the Thais I've met have been helpful, pleasant, very happy, kind hearted people.
One minor thing - a lot of places I've been to definitely are a bit grubbier than I expected. A coat of paint on most of the buildings in Thailand wouldn't go amiss would it, and would do wonders to beautify the place a bit!
Anything you miss about home already?
I miss my car and being able to nip down the road to get groceries, rather than having to either get on a bus dragging mounds of food, or get a taxi and then have to sit in it for 2 hours because it suddenly became 'rush hour' at 11am!
And, of course, I miss my parents and my friends. And I miss American food. Even the American restaurants here like Pizza Hut, and KFC are awful - the food doesn't taste anything like it does in those same restaurants in the US. And don't get me started on Thais attempts to make Western food! If I hadn't discovered Au Bon Pain, I think I would have committed murder for a good sandwich. :)
How many job interviews have you actually attended and have they been unforgettable experiences?
Only one so far, and it was a good experience. Nice guy, fabulous school, everything on the up and up, offered work permit, health insurance, 9 weeks paid vacation a year etc. Looked like a wonderful place to work. Only downsides were the 25-plus contact hours a week, being stuck in school from 7am to 4:30pm every day, and the money. Not near enough for what they expected.
Other than that, the other two offers I've had have been over the phone, sight unseen. And both offered over 39,000 a month.
I have another interview tomorrow. Where the hell is Bang Kapi :)
What advice would you give to female teachers looking to follow in your footsteps?
Oh definitely come on down! I think it's harder for females, because they don't immediately have the Thai partner draped over their arm, and a lot of women are like me, not willing to put up with the lessened 'creature comforts' like the guys are. But....the pros FAR outweigh the cons. It's a great experience, even if you only last a year, and there are some fabulous farangs here - both men and women. Oh, and I've discovered a wonderful group of farang women at the Bangkok Women's Writing Group that meets every two weeks.
Take the plunge! And e-mail me if you have any questions. I'm more than happy to help. Alicepeel@yahoo.com
Fancy a drink later, what with you being a real woman and all?
Any time, Phil. Any time. And bring Marko. LOVE that boy!!