Polish-born Marek Lenarcik first put himself in the ajarn hot seat in February 2010. Marek hadn't been in Thailand very long at that stage but he had landed a decent teaching gig in Bangkok and all seemed well with the world. We featured Marek because we wanted to know if there were any 'difficulties' finding a teaching job for someone classified as a non-native English speaking European. Let's catch up with the man himself - and hang on to your hats because it's been an eventful last three years to say the least.
Marek, welcome back to the ajarn hot seat. Let's go back to the first hot seat interview that you very graciously did for us back in early 2010. You had only been in Thailand for about a month but just remind us where you were actually working and what subjects you were teaching?
I was working for Dusit Thani College teaching Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate English, different levels of business English, Intensive English (for students who will be studying only in English), Advanced Composition and Communication (writing class). There was even an odd specialized course – English for Hotels.
So how long did the gig last?
You decided not to renew the contract. What were your reasons for that?
The job was alright, but I've never considered teaching English to be a career. I came to Asia with a vision of becoming a world-famous freelance journalist and writer, but it didn't quite work out that way. Teaching was my emergency plan, which I had to implement sooner than expected. I got out as soon as I could.
Fair enough. You had a Polish friend around this time who wanted to start a tourism business in SE Asia. What kind of services did he want to offer?
The idea was to work with small groups of filthy rich people and offer them adventurous, but safe and luxury holidays based on our own itineraries. Every hotel was personally inspected by us prior to using. We traveled on every route prior to selling it. The packages were supposed to be expensive, but the best available.
It sounded like a very ambitious plan. You had travelled extensively in the region so I guess you didn't need much persuasion to join him?
Correct. The job at Dusit Thani College had me stuck in Bangkok from Monday to Friday for 45 hours (even though there was no more than 20 hours of teaching). I quickly realized that I had dropped one corporation in Ireland for a similar kind of arrangement in Thailand. I wanted something better. Starting a new line of work, traveling around Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam was too tempting to resist.
What were some of the mistakes you made during the early days of the tour company - or did it all go wonderfully well?
We had a good start with many clients wanting to travel all around Southeast Asia and beyond. We traveled like crazy with the clients and before them for inspections of hotels and routes. Pretty much all the money we earned, we immediately spent.
Many of our decisions were risky, illogical, and potentially dangerous. Somehow we were fine with that knowing that the worst case scenario is just get back to teaching.
When it comes to mistakes we were very naive. We had no money and no business plan. Both of us loved to travel, but none of us actually wanted to stay in the office and sell what we saw.
It sounds as though you got to see almost every country in SE Asia. Which one is your personal fave and why?
All of them are special in their own way. I still love Thailand mostly because of the women, food, and infrastructure. I liked East Timor for its remoteness and off the beaten track feeling, and I am absolutely in love with Myanmar mostly because of its people, diversity, and opportunities. On top of that there is not a single country in the region which I dislike
Fast forward to May 2011 and you and your business partner upped sticks and left for South America. That was a big decision?
It was a fast decision. My Thai girlfriend at that time slowly started to show off her real self. I experienced all the bad things you hear about in Thai-farang relations including demolition of apartment, money extortion, and suicide threats.
For some time I felt that my time in Thailand was running out. I planned to leave in June/July 2011, but used the opportunity of not being watched by the girlfriend for a few hours, packed up, and flew to Brazil.
How did the tour business go in that part of the world?
It was supposed to be easier mostly due to the cultural similarities and a possibility of learning local languages faster than Asian ones. Traveling and living in South America, however, is much more expensive than in South East Asia.
The number of clients declined for that reason. Suddenly we faced a number of cancellations and found ourselves on the verge of bankruptcy
And then you found yourself back in SE Asia and Malaysia to be exact. What were you doing there?
During one of my hotel inspection trips in Malaysia I had visited the camp of an outdoor adventure company organizing white water rafting, rock climbing, zip-lining (recent addition) among other fascinating activities. When I came back to Asia I dropped them a line and asked about job opportunities. A few days later I was their Business Development Manager
Amazingly Marek, you've still found the time to write a book. Tell us all about that
“This is Thailand: A story of love, sex, and betrayal in the tropics” is my riveting real-life account of a blind leap from the safe, comfortable and utterly bullshit, corporate world of Dublin to the charming, exotic beaches of Thailand.
With rose-tinted glasses firmly in place, I fully expected to find a land of exotic fruits, beautiful women and an easy-going tropical lifestyle. Which I did. At first.
Traveling from Phuket to Bangkok and throughout Thailand’s exotic locales, my desire to experience all the forbidden fruits Thailand has to offer leads me to Piam, a gorgeous, kind, independent Thai girl who, I am convinced, might well be the one.
But as I immerse myself deeper into this strange country, replete with often inexplicable thought-patterns, worldviews and customs, I begin to discover a much darker, more complex side to the Land of Smiles and its inhabitants.
Soon, Piam begins to reveal her true colours. It soon dawns on me that, despite my best intentions (most of the time), I have been ensnared – as have many men before me – by the dreaded honey trap. The stormy relationship that ensues provides a fascinating backdrop to the insights into Thailand’s unique culture that stem from my efforts to come to terms with the reality of the country and the people who call it home.
I'll provide some links at the end of the interview. Was the book originally intended for just the Polish market?
From the beginning I knew that I wanted it to be published in English at some stage. This is why I negotiated with my publisher in Poland to give them copyrights only to the Polish version of the book. I translated the book myself and teamed up with Oliver Slow – a professional editor who gave a native-English polishing to my translation.
Where are you living now and what are you up to?
It's been a year since I moved to Myanmar. I have been working as a Product Manager for the biggest, local, and private tour operator in the country. I've traveled to almost all parts of the country including some restricted areas, which of course gave me a few ideas for a new book.
The idea is to show how the country looked in 2011 when I first visited, how it looked like when I moved there (beginning of 2012 and a lot has changed already) and how it's transforming now. The working title is “In Burma” and the draft version of the first chapter is featured in “This is Thailand: A story of love, sex, and betrayal in the tropics”.
Are you enjoying life in Myanmar?
Myanmar has been the most difficult, challenging, and fascinating country I have ever lived in. The number of pros, however, is much greater than the number of cons. So, yes, I really enjoy myself here. I am intending to stay for a considerable while. On the other hand I was saying the same about Thailand after about a year there...
And no more relationships with Thai women I guess?
I am practically married to a gorgeous Colombian girl who lives with me in Yangon. Thai women are the best in the world... until you go to Latin America.
Thanks Marek. Here are the links for those who fancy taking a look at your book.
The book is available for Kindle at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BFXEP8E/.
You can also visit its Facebook Fan Page at http://www.facebook.com/thisisthailandbook
A few free fragments are available on my blog: http://www.lifeinthetropics.org.