Richard Constable

A year in Ubon (part two)

The continuing story of a first year teacher in Thailand

Delighted to report that I'm settling in nicely at the school mainly due to my mate Pete. He's a real genuine bloke you don't get any bull from Pete, he thinks before he speaks and generally says what he thinks.

Read 'A Year in Ubon' (part one)

Nevertheless, he keeps his controversial thoughts for his mate Jockey - he doesn't like to rock the boat unless folks ask him. Also, as Pete's a fully certified PGCE teacher he's given me any number of pointers on everything from lesson plans to classroom management. 

We're not so keen on our other co-teachers, Bill goes through women like 'shit through a goose,' his expression, not mine. He's very good-looking, well educated, athletic young guy but he's rarely ever happy. I've got a theory about people like him, they've got too much going for them so they invent some problems for themselves. Taffy usually doesn't make it in on Mondays as he's hungover. Wherefore, his partner in crime Bill does a bit of counterfeiting and signs in for him, if the Thai teachers don't notice he isn't there or his students don't report him - he still gets paid. 

He claims to drink at least ten to twelve big bottles of beer a night over the weekend. That's beyond the pale out here because of the exceptionally high humidity - you get dehydrated enough without volumes of alcohol. Besides, he's made it clear he doesn't like English people so the less said about him the better. 

All the same, Ubon Ratchathani, what can I tell you? Have you ever wondered what a city would look like ten years after all the inhabitants living there had been wiped out by some sort of disaster? That's Obon, for the lack of a few coats of paint, a good many tons of building materials and an army of maintenance men. In contrast, they've got everything here, every modern convenience, a shopping mall, hypermarkets, a multiplex cinema, and those Thai things: Ubiquitous bars, open-air restaurants and more street market stalls than Stephen Hawking could've ever had estimated. 

Furthermore, those bars the ones with the pretty little lights outside, Pete and I've been into a good few of those along the way. The ones where the very friendly young ladies encourage you to drink up quickly and try to sell you their charms. These ladies often complimented Pete on his china-blue eyes and flaxen hair. We had some laughs in them before we started to feel guilty about not being potential customers - it seemed like we were winding them up. Now, if we have a couple of beers, we'll probably sit outside a mini-mart.

In addition, canon ball lightning is something to behold and it frightens the life out of me. The rain that literally does come down in buckets, though they've thoughtfully built most of the shop fronts like the old Tudor buildings in England with projecting second floors; oriels - so that you can amble under them and stay dry. Until you have to cross a road and then your time is up, then however fast you run to get across, you'll be completely drenched the very second you get out there!  

I am sorry to say, there are lots of people who are clearly poor here, yet it's an abstracted form of poverty at worst in this tropical climate. It is not like having a British Winter to contend with - while trying to make ends meet. The Issarn people aren't unduly materialistic, they value their free-time as they are highly sociable. They enjoy nothing more than just spending time with family and/or friends. Along with a tasty variety of food that is relatively cheap and plentiful, I'm not saying it's idyllic but it's not as hard as you might believe. 

Informatively, a recent national survey showed that families living in the Northeast are generally happier than those living in Bangkok, notwithstanding those families in Bangkok earn very nearly three times as much money. 

In complete contrast, there's the other end of the equation, more Mercs than you can shake a broomstick at and they have to cough up three times as much here as they do in Germany - the government load up the import tax but it doesn't deter them! 

Humorously, Thai people love playing games and I have some great ones I got from a teaching material book I bought here; ABC Quizzes by Mr.Richard. The students really love these, I call em 'fun and games', my agent calls them, 'Learning Orientated Activities.' I'm teaching the sixth form 17 to 18-year-old little women so I have to mind my P's and Q's. Tough, there are one or two saucy questions for instance; the teacher gives a verbal cryptic clue, "You do this in bed!" While looking at the students as if he knows all their secrets and making sure he's got a big letter 'D' already written on the board. 

You can see some of them beginning to look sheepish and getting a little uncomfortable and then one student will go and spoil it by giving the answer, "Dream!" Don't confuse the question order and ask this one when you've got a big letter 'F' written up there - it could lose you your job. Another one is; 'Cold cat opposite,' you'll have an 'H' on your board and the students will be saying, "Hot cat!" "Hot cat?" And you'll be saying, "No, opposite of cat!" Until finally a lateral thinker comes up with, "Hot dog!" The students then roll with laughter, it appeals to their puerile sense of humour and their love affair with cartoons! 

Now that I'm thinking about it, did you ever wonder if the megastar Michael Jackson, whitened his private parts? If you did you're a lateral thinker, don't worry if you didn't - you're with the rest of us. 

The whitening skin cream is a massive business here, as well as clinics that specialise in it. It is in the form of moisturisers for both face and body and even in UV sun protection creams and most comically of all, deodorants! Yes, there are a variety of both roll-on and aerosol spray deodorants that contain skin whitening, presumably so that you can lighten the skin under your arms. Perhaps, it's because I'm older but that's way too vain for me. 

Obviously, I haven't just taught them through games, my lessons are usually conventionally taught from textbooks studied in the classroom. Anyhow, just before Christmas while I was helping the students to prepare for their interviews for their university applications. I offered to prep groups of six students at a time outside of the school curricula for free! 

I was inundated, working to nine in the evenings from Monday to Friday and nine hours a day at weekends! It took me the whole month of January to recover. Pete says that if you have a soft heart, you had better have a hard arse. It's a Polish proverb that I like very much, I can relate to that and appreciate its sentiment. 

It's fair to say, I've always been friendly and outgoing, though I sometimes wish I'd a little more reserve. For instance, like after I've gotten talking to these expats who say, 'I hate Thailand and I hate Thai people,' they make me irate. First of all, wherever you go there are all always some bad eggs, 'racists', people who don't want you as they see it 'in their country.' Yes, I've met a few since I've been here, I've been given the odd dirty look and I've had the odd person standing beside me pinching their nose. On top of that, I've had the odd shop assistant that played the 'I'm not happy so I'm gonna make you unhappy, game.' These locals are usually sad and/or lonely, with virtually empty lives - their problems and not mine, only mine if I let them make them mine. 

From time to time, I've been known to take the bull by the horns and say to these moaning migrants. "You ought to give your backside a chance, it'd make more sense!" alongside "You know where the airport is, it's where you came in, they have out-going flights too!"  

Examples of Illogical behaviour, mmm, I've found the Thais to be - a people that often lose their bearings. For instance, you're walking along in a shopping mall whilst someone walking directly in front of you, at the same pace as you will suddenly stop without any warning - they just jam on their breaks! Somehow, you manage to stop without either colliding into them or falling over; that's my particular favourite. 

Then there's the one that I don't like where they usually want to go on the inside, let me try to explain. Imagine you're walking along with your right arm adjacent to a wall and there's somebody walking towards you in wide open space and they expect you to move out so that they can pass you on your outside right! What's this about I don't know, perhaps superstition I haven't been able to find out. 

The most Lady GaGa of all is when you are walking over a zebra crossing and someone is walking over it from the opposite side of the road. When a car being driven at speed comes from nowhere, so you and the other pedestrian both start to run. You keeping your line by going straight across, while they change course and run directly at you. Consequently, you're now blocking each others' path and the car is showing no signs of slowing down. The first and the last ever times this happened to me, I firmly pushed the other person to one side and continued to run in my chosen route with my heart in my mouth!

Finally, never ask a Thai for directions or you will end up getting more lost than you were before you asked. A Thai person would rather be subjected to the most severe known forms of human torture than simply say this sentence, 'I don't know where it is.'

As the school year is about to end, and my contract will finish tomorrow, I've already booked my connecting flight back to Bangkok for the day after that together with my flight back to London. My son and daughter God willing shall be waiting for me when I arrive.

I've absolutely no regrets, I've basically achieved everything I set out to do. With the exception of getting hitched up, to tell you the truth once I got out here and found that most of the expats were single - I no longer felt the need. Alongside the fact, that there are so many available women here; a choice is a wonderful thing and you should never wish to hard for what you want. Cause you might get it and then not know what to do with it.

I would never look down on the working girls but they're not what I was looking for when I came out here. There are a few old-uns; past their prime female Thai teachers in the school and I've had the odd bite but I haven't struck, I don't really know why. Some of them are lovely, Khun Oh, for instance, I've never seen her without a smile on her face, she always has time for everyone - she's a real tonic. More positively, overall many other Thai people have been welcoming, friendly as well as very helpful. 

On the last day of the school semester, I came back from a classroom to the teacher's office hot and flustered but on a high. I'd just said goodbye to my best class and told them among other things that I'd be looking forward to coming back to the school in the new semester. Equally, I hoped they'd come back to visit me at the school when they'd the time to let me know how they'd been getting along.

Suspiciously, Bill and Taffy were acting all shifty, something was going on. This was nothing new for these two, what with Bill with his womanising and Taffy with his boozing. Then I got the impression that this was more about keeping something from me than just keeping something to themselves, so I put my earplugs in and pretended to be listening to music. 

Not long later, I heard Bill say something that made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach. He said, how he'd tried to get this seventeen-year-old back to his apartment but she'd kept saying that she had a boyfriend and that he kept telling her that he didn't give a shit - though it wasn't cutting any ice. Then Taffy said something even more disturbing, "Keep working on her she'll open her legs for you cause she didn't say no she used her boyfriend as an excuse." He went on, "The young ones aren't always sure - but they want it!" Chillingly, "Buy her some Thai gold earrings you can get a pair for as little as a thousand baht she'll pay that back ten times in kind." To which Bill replied, "I only want her for one night, her boyfriend can have the spoils."


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