Phil Hall

The short, fat, bald new guy

The adventure starts at a school in Kalasin

As I rode down the main Kalasin Road, towards the school, I was aware of hundreds of school kids heading in the same direction, I wondered which ones I would be teaching?

As I parked up the bike, the school grounds were already teeming with student life it was as if the school had been transformed into a mini city.

With over 5,000 kids and 300 teachers, KPS was larger than some villages in the UK, and I started to think about the magnitude of my own role in this educational metropolis.

I made my way to the language department and as I tried the door, I was surprised to find it locked!

It was about ten to eight in the morning, and I supposed that whoever held the key was running a little late Just outside the room was a little bridge that connected this block to another, so I decided to walk across the structure to get a better view of the whole place. From this elevated position, the school was extremely impressive; each block had been painted in vivid colours, lending a real tropical feel to the establishment.

As I looked directly towards the school gates I could see teachers arriving by car, scooter, and even bicycle. The students were also pouring through the entrance. Some seemed to be carrying bags of fruit and what appeared to be a variety of street food in see-through packages.

There is no way that the UK school would allow their students to bring hot snacks into the school, but Thailand had a very relaxed attitude towards food. In fact, the whole country seemed to be obsessed with eating - if you became hungry, everything else came crashing to a halt.

My line of sight was interrupted by a large flying insect, and I realised that I was actually stood directly below a large hornets' nest. I moved away and almost tripped; the floor surface of the bridge was very uneven. A few students who were watching me chuckled, and I felt a little embarrassed as I moved back to the Language Building.

By now it was almost 8 am and the door was wide open. I was surprised to see at least six teachers already sat at their desks. I smiled and said good morning to them, and a few replied but most seemed less than impressed.

As I made my way to my seat, I heard a few Thai words being bandied about which I recognised immediately:

‘Hua Lan (bald).'
‘Uan (fat).'
‘Dtee-ah (short).'

I was waiting for the complete set but ‘Na-Kleet (ugly)' didn't make it into the top three! I felt a little annoyed, but also wasn't really surprised, and replied to nobody in particular in my best Thai: ‘Wow, I have never worked with such beautiful ladies, have I walked into a modelling building by mistake?' 

To say that the throng of female teachers were a little gobsmacked is an understatement.

They looked at each other, then at me, and the red cheeks told me all I needed to know I got back to unpacking my bag and started to take a closer look at my schedule for the day.

I had about three hours of free periods, and then a lesson before lunch The afternoon was also fairly free, just a lesson right at the end. Each lesson was 50 minutes long, and on other days I was teaching some classes back-to-back for over four hours I wondered about the heat and also whether my material would be up to scratch

I was given two books, one for M3 and one for M4. They were a full year of lessons, and I had been told to use this as a source for my own classroom teaching plans. I was a little surprised to learn that I'd be writing and setting the exams for half-term and the end of term. The most important thing to remember was that ‘No Student Can Fail!' I use capitals because it was the reason why I had this job.

My predecessor had other ideas, he had failed several students, seeming to think that an attendance record of 20% was enough reason for this. Of course, he was asked to rethink his final score for these miscreants and whilst he retained the moral high ground, the school simply asked him to find other employment arrangements.

He considerately did this, but only after he'd made the 2,000 mile round trip to extend his working visa, These visas are only good for one school, so the poor blighter would be making a repeat trip once he secured new employment.

This was the message that was hammered home from day one: ‘Foreign Teachers must do as they are told!'

Having spoken to other teachers over the last few months, mainly on the internet forums, I was under no illusion as to my new role: Less educator, more entertainer.  Thai students get bored easily and many of them will never even need to speak English once they leave the bosom of KPS - even those who major in English in university will seldom need to converse in the language.

However, I was soon to learn that most of the Thai English language teachers could hardly string a sentence together.

Phil Hall was lucky enough to teach at a government school in Isaan from 2012 to 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed this experience. He also has a book published called Bangkok to Ben Nevis Backwards.

It takes the reader on a journey from the UK to India and finally Thailand. Debts, Dementia, poorly planned emigration, self discovery, family bonding and attempted murder are all part of the highs and lows of this 18-month true tale. This is an excerpt from the same book with a few alterations.

Visit Phil's website / Visit Phil's Facebook page


I loved this article. I have similar challenges: fat, old, half-white. Headed to Thailand in March. If I find a job- GREAT! If not, I still have a decent life in the US. I'm hoping the adventure works out and appreciate Phil's attitude and perspective.

By Stan, USA (11th February 2018)

For Jack
The book isn't self-published :)
Sunpenny/Scriptcraft are the publishers - you can email me at for more details :)

By Phil, WALLINGFORD (26th January 2018)

We were colleagues as I was working in the exact same school, different program, but exact same time :D
Hopes the family is doing well Phil ;) ...

By Romain, Sahat Sakhan (23rd January 2018)

It might be interesting to know more about your decision to self-publish the book and the costs, processes and marketing which go into self-publishing.

By Jack, Around (22nd January 2018)

Awesome. Can relate to the macro and the nuance of the excerpt. Wish Mr. Nevis the best where/what ever his next gig happens to be. Well done!

By Brad Michaelis, Bangkok (17th January 2018)

Nicely written, looking forward to the next instalment :)

By Peter Davies, UK (16th January 2018)

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