Hot Seat

Jackie Yearwood

Still very much a novice to Thailand, but already perhaps regretting the decision to come here in many ways. It's certainly been no bed of roses.

Q

Jackie, how long have you actually been living and working in Thailand, and what kind of teaching have you done?

A

I have been living and teaching in Thailand for two and a half months. I arrived in Thailand exactly one week before beginning my teaching experience; previous to this I had not traveled to or lived in Asia. This is however not my first time outside my "home" country.

I have been teaching first and third year university students, at an expensive private university in Bangkok.

Q

You've hated virtually every minute of life in Thailand. Hate is a pretty strong word, so in a nutshell, what's wrong with the place?

A

I have to agree that hate is a very exceptionally strong word, a word that I throw around quite loosely in my vocabulary. I hesitate to launch into a discussion on what is wrong with Thailand, obviously it has existed as a country and will continue to exist long after I leave. As I have thrown around the word hate, I have been forced to really evaluate what it is I hate, and contrary to popular belief (possibly given some of my postings on Ajarn.com) I do not hate Thailand for Thailand.

I have spent my life, running from the hate that I have toward myself, running from the fear of who I could be if I stopped hating, running from the fear that maybe all the horrible things I've ever told myself are true, and running from the fear of one day being forced to see the hurt and pain that I have brought into my life through hating my inner child.

Thailand has served as a catalyst for me, it has become a cage that is imprisoning me and forcing me to finally see everything that I hate, face myself, face my worst nightmares, face my real fears, and have to finally deal with everything that I've never wanted to confront. Its a scary, horrifying process, and when I am so wrapped up in dealing with the hurt and frustration, I need an outlet, and throwing the word hate and Thailand into the same sentence helps bring congruency to what I feel inside, with what I need to see on the outside.

Q

I've always maintained that Bangkok especially is a difficult place for female teachers to survive. As a young, single woman, what made you choose here in the first place?

A

I had honestly never really heard anything bad about Bangkok or Thailand before coming here. I did not exactly chose to come here. I had three options after graduation, and I didn't know where I wanted my life to go, and I gave my free will up in the face of choice, and hoped that the best option would be left standing alone. And when I closed my eyes, and opened them again, Thailand was there, alone, and I got on a plane and came.

I had reservations about coming here, all summer I kept thinking that this wasn't where I wanted to be, and from the beginning, I had SEVERE reservations about teaching. But all summer so many coincidental things happened to prove that this is where my life needed to take me, at age 22. I was also tired of running, but didn't have the space or time to deal with myself, and I knew regretfully that this is where I would finally have to face myself and come to terms with who I am.

Q

Have your experiences here put you off teaching in Asia for good? Don't you fancy a crack at say Korea or Japan?

A

My experiences here have of course not put me off teaching in other Asian countries. That would be as ignorant as someone meeting a European they did not like and assuming that all Europeans are the same, and refusing to ever take a chance on a European. My experiences would not dictate whether or not I would try teaching in a different Asian country, they would merely help me see the whole picture more clearly, help clarify questions that I didn't even know existed before arriving in Thailand.

Q

You're good looking with a great personality and yet by your own admittance, companionship has been difficult to find. Is there something you're not telling us - Tourette's Syndrome? devil worship?

A

Its funny you should mention Tourette's Syndrome; two guys I dated previously in the States were diagnosed as having Tourettes Syndrome. I don't believe it rubbed off on me though *smile*. There is nothing wrong with me, just the fact that I am Western, and I the greater majority of Western men that I have met here have come here because of the Thai women. The Thai women are much more passive and reserved, and do not demand equality in their relationships and are often content to just be the girlfriend or wife of some guy.

Western women on the other hand are a much different breed of women, with much different goals and aspirations, and different thresholds of limitations. As a Western male, going back to Eastern women is quite easy, and possibly Western men might even treat their women better than Thai men. However, Thai men have a difficult time going forward to the West and dating Western women with their different culture and demands.

I have of course had multiple opportunites to date street vendors, motor bike taxi drivers, regular taxi drivers, and the occasional 50 year-old Caucasian guy living in my building or walking down the street. I just have not had the same opportunities that life in the West would afford someone similar to myself...

Q

How much did your pre-departure internet reseach prepare you for life in Thailand? I presume that you did some?

A

I did not do any research before coming here. When I was faced with the three choices of my post-graduate life, I decided at that time that I would give my control up to a higher power, and that that higher power would chose my immediate direction in life. And Thailand was the choice made, and I believed so strongly that this is where I needed to be, that I did not want to do research to color my expectations of the country and my life here.

I had severe reservations about coming here, and as I mentioned earlier, coincidental things kept happening to push me here, and with my reservations I did not want to do research in the fear that I would learn negative things about Thailand, that would only reinforce my reservations. I believe that somethings in life are just meant to be, and sometimes the hardest choices leave the biggest mark on a person's life. My life I am sure will never be quite the same again...

Q

How would you sum up this strange breed of people that teach EFL in SE Asia?

A

Hmmm... Thoughtful question. I have met some really interesting people who are teachers here. And I think that to leaving your country, leaving your culture and your safety zone makes you a different person than the people you left behind. I also believe that the perhaps the people who teach English in SE Asia are composed of two groups of people: the people who are coming here to teach for a year or more just for the adventure, for the thrill, and the experience of it. Those people I have great respect for, mostly; they think outside the box and challenge themselves. And that takes great courage. I think the second type of people that teach here are those people who just wanted a change of pace, the people who have come here, liked it here, and have stayed long enough that they will never re-patriate.

Q

Now come on -you must have made one good Thai friend during your time here?

A

I did get very close to a Thai guy, who fortunately is not typical Thai, and I have since ended our friendship because it was causing me way too much grief. I find it somewhat difficult to cross the cultural gap and be close to Thais, however I have had mostly positive experiences with them (with a few negative work experiences thrown in). But I do have Thai friends in my phonebook who are ALWAYS willing to help me out in any situation when I run into complications out and about in Thailand.

Q

What about the Thai students themselves? Have they been a joy to teach or helpless losers?

A

The Thai students have been extremely "interesting" to teach. Most of them lack passion for studying and working, but the five percent who do and sit in the front of my classroom with their eager expressions and wide smiles, those students are the ones that I came here to teach. The rest of them, at the very least, appreciate my sense of humor (when they understand my jokes), and I am never short of laughter and entertaining moments in the classroom.

Perhaps the one negative thing about all of this is that the students at the University I'm teaching at do not have much motivation to learn English. Their lives are pretty much patterned out for them already; their parents have lots of money, they have a job waiting for them once they get their diploma, they have a car, they have everything they need. And why should they learn English? Of course, this is just my university, the larger part of the students at least, and I have heard completely different stories from teachers teaching in less developed parts of the country.

Q

Learning a language can be the key to connecting with the locals. Did you manage to master your 'turn left, turn right and go straight on my good man'?

A

I am working on my Thai one word at a time, one day at a time, and I do have tentative plans for taking some Thai courses sometime early this spring. I have had mostly good experiences communicating with the Thais in Thai, particularly the people who don't speak very good English at all, and we somehow learn to communicate through few words and many smiles.

Q

Could trashing Thailand now become something of an obssession? I mean are we now going to see you pop up on many a discussion board telling all and sundry to avoid this hell-hole?

A

Absolutely not. I wouldn't want to be trashing Thailand on discussion boards, because it seems that everyone is very embittered about aspects of living here (just read the discussion boards and you'll see how a good point gets twisted into a brutal resemblance of its former goodness). I appreciate trashing things no matter where I am, its therapuetic and human nature I believe; purge the negative and replace it with the positive. After a good purging, its always so much easier to appreciate Thailand and the people (all of them) in it...

Q

Thai food's crap as well - let's be honest?

A

Thai food is definitely not crap, its just a little spicy for my liking. Even if its "toned" down for a foreigner, its still a little too spicy for me. I sincerely miss steak and beef, though, and as a person from the US (or any developed country with higher rates for proneness to obesity), it behooves me to eat lots of meat and less carbohydrates (keeping consistent with a healthy lifestyle)...

Q

Give us a ray of hope. There must be one happy memory you'll take away with you even if it's only sneaking into the Grand Palace for nothing.

A

I appreciate most of my foreign co-workers a great deal. They allow me to be myself, the person I was before coming here, the loud, crazy, funny person I was back home, and I have numerous happy memories of sitting in our computer room telling crazy story after crazy story, and leaving them with a smile.

And of course, there's always the moments here and there when something so incredibly crazy happens, something I've never seen before, and I just have to stop and laugh. I know that when I leave here, my stories will be many and great, and as I recount life in Bangkok I will appreciate the humor and the fun of living here.

Q

A lot of male readers are going to say "one less whinging, uptight female farang to worry about" so if you want to call them a bunch of whore-chasing alkies who wouldn't know an indirect pronoun if it bit 'em on the arse, don't let me stop you.

A

First off, I would like to defend my point by saying, the reason that I have disliked foreign males here is because they appear to be an incredible threat to my safety and well-being. I have had a few scary awful experiences here with foreign males, and I feel that my personal safety and well being is always a slight concern. And like the males have obviously formed stereotypes of the females living here, so have I formed stereotypes of them as well.

The majority of my male co-workers are some of the first straight males that I have ever respected, and ever been given any reason to respect. They are different from males back home, in the fact that they left their country, but plan to leave Thailand as well, and I have never been treated with as much respect by a straight male, as they have shown me. Work becomes one reality here, and play becomes a different reality. I leave my work reality on campus, and when I step off campus, I am submerged in a different reality, one that is filled with new stereotypes and different experiences (good and bad) that give me a different perspective on males in Thailand.

I think that everyone (not excluding myself) is a little bitter about everything, or a little edgy or defensive. As a species, we are split down the middle, and everyone's waiting to just jump all over the first sign off someone saying something negative about their half of the species. I think that the males and the females here are just struggling to get by that they often forget to relate to each other and see that each of us is coming at this from completely different places in our lives...

Q

People warned you about the savage tongues of the ajarn.com discussion board members, so let me just put my hard-hat on. OK, give it me with both barrels.

A

People did warn me about the ajarn.com members. They said, in a nut-shell, that everyone was just kind of rude and savage, and pretty much people were bitter and did not respect everyone else on the board. Not to mention the people were all just on their waiting to pick a fight. I regret ever posting on the site, and I am sure I will regret posting this also, just because everyone tears everyone else apart, with what appears to be a blatant disregard for individual differences.

It has frustrated me quite a bit, that every single post almost always has a bitter ending, and people are just tearing into everyone else's posts, and everyone is just fighting over posts. If everyone is so relaxed here, and no one has any beef with anyone else, why is their so much negativity generated on the disscussion board?

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