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Book review

Bangkok Exit

Ajarn.com Book Review
Bangkok Exit by Ryan Humphreys
281 pages

The rather crude and forgettable 'Experience Preferred but not Essential' (also from the Bangkok Books publishing stable) had put me off reading ex-pat teacher 'my first year in Thailand' accounts for life, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that Bangkok Exit by Ryan Humphreys is nothing else if a thoroughly good read.

Nowhere near as raunchy as the front cover might suggest (I still can't make out if it's a nude nun still wearing her wimple) Ryan has decided to tell it like it was and leave out the naughty bits. Whether that was a mistake I don't know but perhaps in some airless office at the bottom of a dark corridor, there are one or two female administrative assistants breathing a huge sigh of relief. Only Ryan really knows.

Ryan came to Bangkok on a whim. He was a qualified teacher struggling to find a full-time position in his native Canada and decided to risk everything and give Bangkok a whirl. As you do.

He's picked up at the airport by the giggly Joop (the school secretary) and taken to his dank dusty teacher digs in the middle of nowhere. Going on Ryan's description of his first Thailand home, I would have been back at the airport within the hour. But these Canadians are obviously not quitters. Even before the second or third chapter, those of you have been through something similar will already be feeling for the guy. He certainly makes a massive case for never arranging a job before you actually set foot on Thai soil.

The 'accommodation included' qualifies on account of its four walls and a roof, but this is just the beginning. Before long, he's got well-meaning Thai neighbors fussing over him after getting bitten by a scorpion. He shares a teacher's room with some of the strangest characters to ever wield a board marker. And of course there are the countless invitations to karoake evenings and stuffy restaurant dinners (all arranged with no advance warning) from the school owner and various head honchos.

Things do eventually start to go smoothly but it's not long before administrative cock-ups and pointless teacher meetings start to rear their ugly heads. We've all been there but it's always reassuring to know that some other teacher has been asked to present himself in the meeting room at 5pm sharp without the foggiest idea why.

I won't spoil the ending but it's certainly a messy one. There's an alleged broken contract, an angry school dictator, and a confused teacher caught in the middle. This is life as a chalkie in Thailand. I can't say any more than that.

My criticisms are minor. I felt a tad cheated by the front cover graphic depicting a nude girl sitting on the end of the bed, gazing out wistfully at the moon and stars, and waiting for her English teacher to arrive. The mind boggles at exactly what the lesson content was on that particular evening but sadly our voyeuristic expectations go unmet. And secondly the final chapter comes to something of an abrupt halt. One moment we're digesting the school owner's e-mail reprimand on the topic of Ryan's broken contract - and then without warning the reader is taken to a couple of pages of teacher regulations that look as if they've been lifted from the Ministry of Education rule-book. You'll definitely enjoy reading about Ryan's first year in Thailand but let's hope the sequel gets a little more steamy.

Hopefully we'll have an interview with Ryan in the very near future.


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