Lee Lepper

Life itself is irony

A teacher's journey - different countries, different jobs.

Life itself is irony. 

Being a teacher in Thailand this Songran holiday is a reminder of that for me. I am working today because I am a teacher in Thailand but really I am not teaching in Thailand. All of my classes are taught online at my University in Zhengzhou, China. I came here on vacation in January of 2020 and have been unable to return for obvious reasons.

My Christmas tree from 2019 is still up and waiting for my return. I can only imagine the science experiment taking place with anything left in the fridge.

Leaving Thailand for a land of riches

In 2014 after a decade of teaching in Thailand (save for one year in Korea) I left the “good ESL jobs” I had in Thailand for the pot of gold to be found in the desert sands of Saudi Arabia. I say good jobs because I think I was on the higher end of ESL jobs here, having been a veteran of Wall Street corporate and Bangkok Christian College. Except for international schools or programs at Chula or Thammasat, that is about as high on the pay scale as you go in the land of smiles I believe.

“Getting rich”, and I say that in jest, more like getting solvent in Saudi worked. My financial situation was improved by almost 6 figures in US dollars after 3 years there. I didn’t quite make the six-figure goal because I had to jump start my dismal financial situation, but I got damn close. 

They say everyone that goes to Saudi has two buckets. One filling full of money and the other with shit. When one is full you leave. In a photo finish, my shit bucket won. Really for me it wasn’t that bad. Life is boring but counting your duckets and weighing investments takes the edge off it. The finish in the “bucket race” was  like a horse race where the horse from way behind suddenly charges, passes the pack and wins. But that is a story for another day.

Time to give China a try

After leaving Saudi in 2017 (I basically went back to my apartment one day and took a taxi to Bahrain and hopped a flight to Bangkok) I did teach a couple corporate courses for my old buddy Nopadorn at Edufirst. However, that was only for beer money while I looked for something that would pay more than Thailand, but was not in the Middle East or Korea

Enter China. In 2018 after a lengthy job search I got a job with Miami College at Henan University. The following year due to my expertise in working with low level students (no doubt developed from years of teaching in Thailand and Saudi) I was transferred by our company to Webber College at Henan Finance University, a far less competitive program for the students to enter. I am “still there” today and happy as a lark about it.

I can’t save the amount of cash living here that I could in China but I do manage to put 7 or 8 grand US a year away. I really enjoyed China but being back in Thailand has its advantages.

1) I can play golf in Thailand.  Golf doesn’t exist except for the very very  rich in China. In fact there is only one course in Zhengzhou, a small town of 10 million souls. (For a laugh google  the Woods- Mcillory match in the smog at Zhengzhou. Talk about unruly golf galleries).

2) Thailand is Thailand, there is always something to do it seems, no matter where you are. Zhengzhou, although nothing like Jeddah or Damman in terms of boredom is not exactly what you call an exciting place. Beautiful parks abound to take a walk but that is about it. Again, good for saving money but it is nice to meet your friends for a pint or two like you can in Thailand.

3) The world of online teaching has opened up for me, something I thought I would never do. I was a “low tech” teacher. I always did well at my job thanks to being a “Whole Brain” teacher but I did not see the value of using technology in the classroom. Now my whole class, obviously, is done through technology. I really think, at least for the kind of classes I teach, it has become better than when I was doing it face to face. In addition, along with my star student in Zhenghou, I have started online classes for young learners using the Whole Brain techniques online.  This is starting to work really well and I can see this being as lucrative as Saudi if Yilin and I are persistent. 


So bottom lines…I just signed a new contract today with my university. Averaged over the year for this job I will make 70,000 baht a month over each of the 12 months on the calendar. (86,000 a month for my 10-month contract which includes a 2-month paid vacation). Out of that I do have to pay my visa, insurance and housing - expenses I would not have if I were in China. However I do have four and a half months of vacation, and the way my classes are structured  I only work a total of about 15 hours a week.  I teach “oral” English and there is almost no paperwork to be done. Nobody works hard in Chinese universities that I have seen. 

A far cry from my “good job “ at a large Thai school, which now pays right at 70,000 a month I believe. But you are there from 7 am to 4 pm five days a week 10 and a half months a year,  teaching 25 hours or so (If memory serves). Hardly anytime to pursue private students unless you want to slave away on the weekends.  

Also there are no back-biting colleagues of every creed and color to deal with nor thousands of kids running around screaming. There are many things I love about Thailand and the culture here. And albeit I have met some of my best friends in life teaching in Thailand, but the workplace culture and its inherent pettiness is something I don’t miss. I would take teaching in China over Thailand for that reason alone. 

Oh well April 13th in Thailand and I am doing something I am not used to doing at Songran - working. Time to get to class. Believe me I am thankful to be a teacher in Thailand today. Ironically I had to leave Thailand to get the best job I have ever had here. 


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