Ian McNamara

Those were the days

Why I chose Thailand of all places


Before I began to write the LIBeL columns I was fortunate to receive several nuggets of advice from a 'real' journalist. This is what he told me:

1. The passive voice is to be avoided.
2. Its very important that you use apostrophe's correctly.
3. Avoid ampersands & abbreviations, etc.
4. Last but not least, avoid cliches like the plague. They're old hat.

He also passed on tips about how to come up with a column if it was a Sunday afternoon and I only had about half an hour in which to cobble something together for publication the following Wednesday. "Write something autobiographical, but embellish it a little."

Apparently this approach worked well for Churchill who managed to fill several weighty tomes about his lifetimes exploits and, if Frank Bruno (ex-Heavyweight whipping boy and logically (?) a British national treasure) can fill a book about his lifetime's exploits, then any fool can write 800 words. Resisting the urge to write a piece on Sex, Lies and Soapy Massages. I decided to reminisce about the good old days before I became a well-respected 'ajarn' and pillar of the English teaching community.

I never had any plan to teach in Thailand. It just happened. As the majority of farang 'teachers' know, there comes a time in every desperate travelers life when they have to toss the 'coin of destiny' and decide whether to head home or to start a new life in a distant land. Often the proverbial coin of destiny is firmly weighted in favour of hanging round a polluted third world city, or to be more politically correct ' developing metropolis', for longer than one would like. This is simply because procrastinating about whether to or not flip it has put off the inevitable decision day until no viable alternatives remain.

Had common sense come into play, no one in their right mind would wait until they were down to their last travellers cheque before they mentally press-ganged themselves into making a decision that would affect the rest of their lives.

Flashback to June '97, I'd just spent a couple of months riding my bicycle around Burma and had to pay quite a hefty overstay fee to the nice men in uniforms at the airport. I was back in Bangkok but my plans to meet up with a friend in Korea were scuppered by my lack of foreign exchange reserves. Indeed, my financial situation was a microcosm of Thailand's at that time. To be honest it still is now, my balance of payments is improving but not as fast as I'd like. Instead of the central bank blowing vast amounts of money propping up the baht, my reserves are spent propping up the bar.

And so the fickle finger of fate led me into the teaching profession. I should add that I'd dabbled a little prior to this, teaching in Egypt for a few months, a year or so earlier, and I'd also taken a generic TEFL certificate whilst I was in England. When I was younger myself and my two younger sisters both swore that absolutely, under no circumstances, would we ever, ever, become teachers like our parents. So guess what happened after our failed attempts at other careers? Helen teaches in Japan, Flo was off to South America to teach Amazon dwellers last I heard and I'm here. At least it gives my parents a chance to take a few holidays somewhere other than the Yorkshire Dales.

Other factors that helped tip the scales in favour of a life spent wearing crumpled white shirts and being sandwiched amongst the great unwashed on the daily commute to work were, if I didn't I might have to work for a living and also, it's rare that an 'average Joe' is given the opportunity to corrupt the young minds of the future leader's of a nation - especially when it's not your own, which makes it more fun.

My first class was an elementary business class for about 8 students at ECC, Anusawaree branch. In hindsight my students all probably felt a little short changed, with the exception of the gorgeous talkative girl who made getting up at 8 am on a Sunday morning for class worthwhile. Remember at this stage I was still new to BKK and the novelty of coming in contact with the most beautiful girl in the world (in my very classroom!!) had yet to wear off.

One thing all low and middle end language schools realize is that beggars can't be choosers. To be honest, most beggars aren't complaining though. Like myself, they are just thankful for the work and the opportunity to earn enough money to be able to treat themselves to a Big Mac every fortnight.

For the next three months I accepted every class I was offered and finally I had enough money to leave. Out came the coin of destiny again but no matter how many times I tossed it, it always came up 'tails'.

Must be karma, man.




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