Richard Constable

The gutties dinnae fit well

OK class. Get your English books out!


Recently while having a few wee drams in a well-known British pub on the Sukhumvit, a Scotsman by the name of Evan Elliot reflected on the events of his day to Richard Constable who was working there as a barman on this particular evening.

Mid-morning, the second class of the day in a relatively modern classroom; centralized air-conditioning, 50 grey plastic chairs, an desks, on the fifth floor of a known and recognized government school.

Ah'm waiting for my class tae arrive, as usual, they're abusing the time already they're 9 minutes late an Ah was here 5 minutes aforetime.

Here comes the first student now, who on seeing his mistake, straight away asks to go tae the lavy. I tell him, tae sit down, which he does at a desk. A few mair students have begun tae drift in, Ah ask them where they've bin? They answer computer! They mean the subject, the Thai computer teacher will have kept em in his classroom after the bell - just because he cun.

Aboot half the class are here noo, (50 in the class) they are seated at their desks. Ah,'ll make a start.

"Get yer English books' out!"

They just carry on blethering among themselves, so Ah raise ma voice a few decibels.

"GET YER ENGLISH BOOKS' OUT!"

They take notice, Ah write page 77, on the whiteboard with an environmentally Green marker, while telling em, page seventy-seven. We're gonna read together - READ! or - be QUIET!

Still the odd, even later than late student is drifting in, those already seated hav their student books open in front of them.

Ah teach reading and writing, Ah'm in ma fourth year at this school. From what Ah hear through the teaching fraternity, the standard of behavior an level of ability of the students is better than in most schools in Bangkok.

Ah lead the reading of the text, an we begin tae read chorally, except fir a few students. Ye cannae win em all - as we read - mair latecomers arrive - some even apologize.

We're goin tae the questions noo; I tell the students tae read together - "Who's Isa's auntie?" I asked the class. Nae abo'dy puts up their hand, "Abo'dy!" Then a girl at the front of the class answers, "Rosalind!" Ah show ma appreciation,"Very guid!" ye've gotta encourage the students tae speak.

The bonnie girls that are very well behaved that sit at the front o the classroom are much favored by the teachers - they always get guid marks.

There's another mair practical reason - the girls are usually comfortable wit the pronunciation o English an are able tae converse. Whereas boys struggle abysmally, less, of course, they're screaming queens in which case they dinnae hav any problems!

Ah have a daughter of ma ain, her name's Clarissa, she's only four yers. Unfortunately, her Maw and Ah split up last yer so Ah only get tae spend time wit her on Sundays. It's nae enough, it's heartbreaking but whit can ye dae. My estranged wife's Thai an Ah'm Scottish, we've had mair than ain fair share o problems. Cross-cultured relationships cun be difficult at the best of times but even mair so if one partner is Thai - they're a race unto themselves.

Ah still support them, my wife dinnae work she says people'd laugh at her if she gotta job as she's merrit to a falang (foreign husbands are sometimes seen as full-time careers in the land of the smiles.)

The other evening Ah was talking on the phone to ma daughter's maw, aboot our daughter. . .

(At the time I was at ma rented studio apartment in Shapan Kwai. Contemporary in style wit a cramped sitting room, comfortable dining area, small but functional fitted kitchen an separate wet room. For eleven thousand baht (£244) month wit a communal swimming pool an gym, it represents value fir my hard earned cash. Ma estranged wife an my wee gal live on the other side of the city in Bang Na, in a mair conventional basic Thai style 45 square meter unit room - which ah pay six thousand a month fir.)

. . .when she started saying, Daddy, Daddy, an pointing tae her maw's dressing table. Ma wife couldnae unnerstaun whit she meant, til finally she worked out our wee bairn's meaning. She'd bin pointing tae ma auld bottle of deodorant the last possession of ain in their home. Tae her the deodorant ad come to symbolize her Da! Shameful an so very, very pitiful.

Returning to this morn's lesson. Ah've bin eliciting the answers an writing them on the whiteboard. Ah'm noo taking a long guid look around the class an ery student is studying witin reason except that lad Boss, he's forgotten his book again. Ah widnae mind, but he'll noo try tae get outta writing my board work doon on paper.

Ah walk from the board at the center front part of the classroom directly doon the middle, in between the desks an chairs noo full of students tae the back of the room where Boss is sitting. Ah'm standing over him noo in front of his desk, looking doon on him - just sit there an do nothing - pretend you dinnae ken that ye've got tae write on paper as ye've forgotten yer book - once again.(Boss a plump boy wit a cheeky face, an a thick mop of hair on the top of his head that's nearly shaven at the sides. He's looking up wit his smug wee smile - the one he reserves fir his teachers.) Just like ye dae every week. Just keep pretending laddie, Ah dare ye.

"Okay, Boss! Where's yer paper?" Ah said.

"Me forget my book!" Boss.

"Ye dinnae say! sarcastically "Where's yer paper?"

"At home," he replied.

"Try tae unnerstuan! Where's - the - paper?" A'm becoming bored.

"At home!" Boss again.

Ah pick up his pal's notebook, open it an tear out the center pages - slap them doon on Boss's desk. Every student in the class becomes silent at this moment, some are craning their necks tae witness the spectacle, others are doing their best tae pretend they haven't noticed.

"If naw bringing yer book equated tae nae havin tae work, then Ah widnae bring - my - book!"

"Yes, laddie. If it were like that, Ah widnae bring my book so Ah could have a guid auld doss, an be a nae guid lazy goon - just like Boss!" Ah dinnae that care that he cannae unnerstaun,

"If there was un olympic event for being a nae guid lazy goon, ye'd getta gold - at least!"

Take the pee, ye like tae take the pee, don't ye boy? Not much, ye dinnae.

Boss is pointing at me noo, with a pouting disapproving expression.

"No, Boss, it's nae me. Ye're the loafer here, aren't you Boss? "

"Say, it. Speak English!" impatiently "My name is... loafer."

Boss responds by once again pointing at me but this time saying, "You loa - fer!"

"Boss, Ah didn't wanna have tae dae this, it's nae what ah'm here fir but ye've givin me naw choice!"

Ah put his lug between my finger an thumb, squeezing slowly, but surely. . .Boss is squirming noo, he's trying tae push my hand away - that'll teach him a lesson and he ought tae be thankful Ah'm naw one of his Thai teachers - they'd've battered him. Take the pish outta that, why dinnae ye?

Ah was a physical training instructor in the British army, the Royal Scottish Fusiliers fir 18 years. One day Ah decided Ah'd had enough, just had tae get out. I dinnae ken - why noo, accept that when ye've had enough, ye've had enough.

The next period is free, Ah'll sup some tea, get a piece, an read the news on the net.

Buur...burr...Buur....buur. My phones ringing, it's ma daughter's maw, she'll want something - odds on its money!

"Aye!" me abruptly.

"What you doin now?" her inquisitively.

"Taking a break," me genuinely.

"You busy?" her inquiringly.

"Nye, nae really," me honestly.

"The insurance ready," er diving in!

"Whaddaya mean?" me disbelieving.

"They want money," er explaining.

"Look, we agreed ye'd pay the car insurance, outta the thirty thousand baht a month I give ye!" reminding her of the logic.

"Just help this month," her manipulatively "This the big month!"

"I cannae afford this, I need tae getta new pair o gutties!" me despairingly.

"I sory, just help this month," her sympathetically not letting up.

"How - much?" me submitting!

"Eight thousand," her full blooded.

"How much?" me disbelievingly "Eight thousand!" "Dae ye think Ah came ere on the banana boat?"

"Please, Honey," her emoting "the little girl don't wanna go to nursery school on the motorcye."

"Damn ye!" cursing "Ah'll give ye five! hoping "I cannae afford anymair! me feeling used.

"Eight!" sure of herself "Please, Honey," digging in.

"I only have six!" me foolishly.

"When you put in bank?" her triumphantly.

"This evening, after ma corporate class, aboot half seven," me reclined.

"Thank, you. Luv yoo!" her heartlessly.

Ah feel like bawling but Ah cannae greet. Ah wanna just give up it's always the same as soon as Ah getta tad bit ahead. That wench! Seems tae sense it and makes a play fir it. 

Back at the English teachers' office five minutes after the lesson has finished. A large poorly equipped room without even a computer - is entered and exited through the double doors at the front center of the wall backing out into the main hall. 

Of the thirteen desks spread around the room, the six on the immediate right of the door are Thai student teachers, the two behind those along the back wall are the Chinese teachers. To the right of these like a six pattern on a domino piece are the desks for - the six foreign (English) teachers.

Ain office is directly opposite an across the hall from the fully equipped Thai teachers' office; six online computers, four-color printers - one o those wit a scanner.

Sitting at the first desk on the rite, nearest the Chinese teachers, a large barrel-chested man wit thick dyed dark hair an a craggy face. Nae mair than forty-five but looking at least a decade older. Laughing like a hyena, he says, "I can't teach the teachers, I have got a lesson on the eighth period, ah, ah, ah, ah."

(Every Friday afternoon at 15:20, there's an English lesson fir the Thai teachers. The foreign teachers alternate this lesson, each takes a turn every sixth week.

The new teacher Connor a South African - trying tae get outta daeing a duty. That'd mean one of us other five wid've tae dae it.

I walk directly taewards him maintaining eye contact - stopping tae stand but a couple of meters from his desk.

"When ye teach the Thai teachers, ye getta Thai teacher tae substitute yer class." I say commandingly.

"Wait a minute, that'll be up to me." Connor nae laughing noo.

"Nae. It willnae be up tae ye, it'll be up tae us," assertively.

"What!" he says bluntly, "Who's us?" disgruntled now, "Nobody's speaking except you."

"Ah mean we, we'll make sure that ye'll dae yer job," calmly.

"What!" sharp again "You keep saying we, but these three aren't saying anything," confident and cunningly.

"Ye'll teach the teachers on Friday, or ye'll get out," pished off noo.

"Who - do - you - think you are? insulted "Just stop now." and taken aback "Just stop."

"Ah'm tellin ye, that ye'll teach the teachers on Friday," cocksure noo.

"Wohh!" he roared "Just stop," disbelievingly "Just stop."

Holding up his hand tae close tae ma face.

"Oh, please!" being juvenile "Mon then!"

"What are you talking about man?" in disbelief.

"Please. Try tae batter me noo, Ah'd love ye tae try tae batter me noo," theatrically.

"What are you talking about? This. ..is. . .a school,' uncomfortably.

"Ah'd so . . . love ye tae batter me noo," victoriously.

"This. . .is. . .a schoool, man."

Displeased, trying tae save some face, at that moment Bill came back in - Connor's smoking partner. Conor sees him, jumps up.

"Are you gonna go for one?"

Recused - they chum out shoulder tae shoulder - solidarity.

Ma other co-teachers agreed wit ma stand, though all three thought Ah'd gone tae far. . .Ah was inclined tae disagree. Ah unnerstaun the Conors of this world, they've tae be put back disproportionately in their place. Conor was just sniffin out his ground deciphering where he cun take a pish, an where he cannae. He noo kens his territory, we have attained a mutual respect, Ah dinnae see him - causing waves in the future.

At ma evening corporate classes Ah've to tread mair carefully wit the natives, if ye dinnae let them take the pish at least tae some extent they'll have ye replaced with another teacher who will. Being belittled, or patronised is a part of the everyday work concept in Thailand. If you dinnae accept it early on, there's nae danger ye gonna make it - just rollover and think of scran on the table.

The aulds have the positions of authority, they're the one's tae watch when yer back is turned, while ye're bending over tae bung in the CD. They're the one's who like tae grass that they already ken everythin aboot English. They'll be explaining the grammar tae the rest o the class before ye've finished pre-teaching it. They'll be the one's who try tae answer every single question ye ask; they've tae be the number one biggest roaster.

This evening Ah'm teaching a government body, so the director general will be the most competitively active fir this title. Alongside the aforementioned forms of stupidity, this evening the general also decides tae be a chauvinistic pig. Tonight, having given his job description and various duties, having made his job sound slightly less prestigious than the Sultan of Bruni's. When his female staff begins their descriptions of their jobs. The general starts out with, "Making myself pretty," noo looking very pleased wit himself he continues "doing my hair," while smiling all over his face "putting on my make." If that dinnae offend yer rectum - the female government employees only start giggling girly fashion at his condescending remarks - ye widnae believe it, they're flattered!

Another important aspect is the sanook factor, sanook is the Thai word fir 'fun'. When British people play a game, or watch one, we dinnae generally get excited until the end, an only then if it's neck an neck. In total constant, Thais get straight on the ceiling an generally stay there til the game has finished, cheering, applauding, laughing joyfully. Less, of course, you lose em; ye have tae maintain their natural high by awarding points keeping the teams level - feed the fire so tae speak.

My pal Stephen says Thai people are like lights, easy tae switch on in the first place, but ye have tae be careful they dinnae go out - once their subdued their nae so easy tae switch back on. Anyway, any shite game'll dae, hangman is a favourite, let em come up an write on the board, interactive learning - the student becomes the teacher. Though, dinnae trust em tae spell the word or ye're be there all nite. Ah once had a student who manage tae spell apple, 'a p e a r n'.

Corporate English is a complete waste an intrusion of everybody's time, the students never so much as improve their pronunciation. It's already bin concreted incorrectly intae the deep subconscious of their minds.

Early on Saturday morns Ah run from my apartment near Saphan Kwai BTS tae Siam BTS, an back a round trip of 9 kilometers. In the efternuins, Ah'm teaching private students at ma home. Sunday morns Ah swim 122 lengths of the apartment pool, if ma calculations are correct, that's 2 kilometers. Ah could dae ma auld job in the morn's morn, an Ah widnae miss a beat, yet Ah widnae wannit. Ah'm a teacher noo, though tae be honest the gutties dinnae fit well. Sunday efternuins our the heart an sole property of ma darlin wee lassie.

Ah'd tear the stars from the sky fir her if Ah could. Although all she really needs is lots o love an stability, but that's a tough one for me. Ah only get her 3 hours a week! And especially, when her maw makes comments like, 'Daddy dinnae love ye anymair.' That comment made Clarissa greet her eyes out. Cun ye believe the heartless wench? Her ain maw!

I sumtimes ask myself the question. Cun I stick this until my wee bairn is all grown?

Cun I - stand - this - shite - fir - a-no-ther fif-teen yers?

My answer naw changes; Men - o - iron - dinnae - bend, we - break!

An - Ah'm - nae - feck - in - break - in!




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