We were an unlikely pair. Me, a 51 year old Canadian English teacher who is jaded, cynical, and has had more negative experiences with Asian women than I care to admit; and her, a 31 year old Thai Science teacher who, in my opinion, is looking for a foreign status symbol. Admittedly, Ning is physically striking. With her trademark long black hair, oriental eyes, and a dazzling smile, she could easily pass for a model. Psychologically, however, she's a mess; like so many Southeast Asian women I've met. Then again, I'm also a mess.
We went to MK, a family style restaurant which caters to the new Thai middle-class. I was fine with that because it was only a five minute walk from my apartment. We dined on roasted duck, crispy pork, and mixed vegetables which we boiled at our table. It was our first date; or second if you count "pizza night" with two fellow teachers and the Director of Studies at my school. It would be our last date. I am not looking for a girlfriend or a wife. Not any more. I am looking for something much more than that. I am looking for a hero and a role-model. I got the feeling throughout our conversation that she is looking only for a foreign plaything to increase her status in the eyes of others. TIT! No not the female mammary gland. It's an acronym. It stands for "This is Thailand." It's a common refrain used by us "farangs" (foreigners) whenever we don't understand what's going on in Thailand, which is quite often.
Ning called me the night before almost in a panic. I was in my room. "I want be friends with you", she said in broken English. "Why you want know me? I want only be friends with you."
"Okay Ning, that's great. I want to be friends with you too. That's why I want to know you. That's why I want to talk with you. School is a good place to see each other, but we can't talk openly there. We'll talk more when we meet." She seemed relieved at that. We met for dinner the following night.
I came armed. Yes I pack heat; especially on a first date and especially with a Thai woman. I brought pictures of my late mother and I intended on showing them to her one by one. Those who read my last blog posted in May know that it was a tribute to my mother who passed away almost two years ago. I showed Ning the photos. I told her the story of how, while I was home two summers ago watching my mother die, my ex-girlfriend from the Philippines cheated on me with another foreigner. I told her about how another Filipina ex-girlfriend ignored my pain and sorrow for 10 months while I mourned my mother. I told her how these experiences have changed me in ways I have yet to fully realize. I told Ning that I am more cynical than she can imagine. And I told her something else. I told her that if she wanted to be friends with me, then she had to show me something. She had to show me how brilliant she was. She had to give me hope.
So show me how brilliant you are, Ning. Show me that you're different. Show me that you are not like so many of the other Thai women. That's why I came here tonight. I need hope; I need you to give me hope. I had to stop there because I thought I saw tears forming in her eyes. I was surprised that tears did not form in my eyes. They usually do when I speak of my mother.
"You really love your mother", she said to me between bites of crispy pork. "I can see by photos."
"Yes I do", was all I could say.
Then Ning told me something which made me realize that she wasn't different from the others. "I think I have boyfriend."
"You think you have boyfriend? You mean you don't know?"
"I chat with someone now. Here." She took out her cell phone and showed me a picture of a man.
"Very nice", I said giving her back the phone. "Congratulations. He doesn't look Thai."
"He's not. He's from Turkey."
"Turkey! Have you ever been there?"
"No. I chat with him now six months on Internet. He has two daughters. He says he is divorced, but I don't know."
Okay, stop! Please stop! I've been down this road before and I don't like it. So STOP!!! That's what I was thinking, but I never said it. She sensed my mood and asked, "Are you angry?"
What I said went something like this. "No I'm not angry. I'm disappointed. I was hoping that you were different from the other women, but I can see you're not. You're just as stupid. Part of showing me how brilliant you are would have been to love and marry a Thai man: to sacrifice, to share your love and traditions with a Thai man. That's showing me how different you are."
She shook her head almost violently. And then she said it; something I had been dreading. "No, no. I hate Thai man!"
I hate Thai man? I hate Thai man! Those four words did it for me. I heard those same words in from Filipinas, except that the word Thai is replaced with Filipino. Those four words mean more than anyone can ever realize. Those four words say so much about Thai women and it's not very good.
Don't get me wrong. I couldn't care less who Ning, or any other Thai woman, chooses to go out with or sleep with. But to me, Thai women or Filipinas who claim to hate their own are urinating on their own flag. Fine it's their flag, but don't tell me how much you love your country from one side of your mouth then say how much you hate your own men from the other side. Your fake love for foreigners shines through all that hypocrisy.
Another thing about that four word quip, "I hate Thai man." Ning, and so many others like her who share those sentiments, are certainly not role models. How can anyone, who claims to hate half the population of her own nation, be deemed fit to teach the children of her nation? She is not a role model.
The classrooms of this nation, and nations everywhere, need teachers who embrace their own people, culture, and traditions. They need teachers who roll up their sleeves and get to work for the future of their nation.
There is a not so subtle power play going on at my school at the moment. Apparently it has been going on for quite a while. In the MEFL program, (Mahathai English for Life), the foreign teachers write the exams which the students will take; both the mid-term and final exams. According to the Director of Studies of the MEFL program, a foreigner himself, the Thai English teachers must assist us by contributing the reading portion of the exams. But wouldn't you know it? The Thai English teachers have decided to write their own English exams which they had planned to give to the students. They claimed to have been given the order by a Thai woman who works "downstairs", and who thinks that it is SHE who runs the MEFL program.
I've seen these power plays between foreigners and Thais before, and I've been witness to them in others schools and in other countries as well. In each and every one of those power plays, it never ended well for the foreigner. Power plays are never pretty things. I may not know much about Thai culture, but human nature is my bailiwick. Every human organization, and this is especially true for schools, employs far too many chiefs and not enough Indians. There are never enough Indians for schools, especially in Thailand. This I know about Thais: Any foreign school supervisor or Director of Studies, who pushes a Thai too far in their own backyard and in front of other Thais, runs the risk of never being seen or heard from again. Just about every Thai I have ever met knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone, who can "take care" of an overbearing foreigner. And all it takes is one phone call. His meat will be fed to the rabid alley dogs and his bones will be thrown into the pigpen. No one will ever know what happened to him. That is why I teach my classes, then go directly home afterwards to eat and watch FOX news. At 51, I value my meat and bones.
I am willing to bet that the Thai English teachers have not given up on their goal of administering their own exams. Not because they actually care about the students, but because they love to play with foreigners, particularly with their hearts and heads. It's a sick and perverted dance that foreign teachers and supervisors here have no chance of perfecting.
It's not just a game for the Thais; it's a war. And you don't have to go to Pattaya or Patpong to see all the damage this war has caused and continues to cause. The Vietnam War was the best thing that has ever happened to Thailand; and the worst thing as well. While Ho Chi Min and Pol Pot were waging their wars, Thailand happily decided to join the human fray. She opened her arms and spread her legs for the American GI's. She became, in the words of Lawrence Osborne in his book "Bangkok Days", a country of "Slutty Cinderella's."
Lawrence Osborne puts the number of prostitutes in Thailand at around 200,000. Really? I must have misread that. I think he omitted a zero. I thought I saw 200,000 hookers one night just in Nana Plaza! NGO's put the number of prostitutes and bargirls in Thailand at around two million, and in a study from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok puts the number closer to 2.8 million. Who knows? Either way, there are a lot of hookers here in a country of 65 million. And a lot of bargirl sympathizers. Where are the good girls marching on the streets here with placards loudly screaming "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! WE ARE NOT ALL LIKE THAT! WE DON'T LIKE THE BAR GIRLS. WE ARE THE GOOD GIRLS. LOOK AT US!" Am I missing the parade? I don't see them anywhere.
It's not just Thailand. It's the Philippines too. This from the Philippine Inquirer:
500,000 Filipino Mail-Order Brides Worry Villar
Websites promoting marital match to be probed too
By Veronica Uy
Inquirer.net First posted 16:18:00 08/31/2007.
Filed Under: Internet, crime, laws, relationships and dating.
MANILA, Philippines --- Despite a law banning mail-order marriages about 300,000 to half a million Filipino mail-order brides continue to leave the country each year and Senate President Many Villar wants this investigated.
Three hundred thousand to half a million Internet cyber-brides leave the Philippines every year? Did I read that right? Many of these mail-order brides are professionals: Like nurses and teachers. Where are the role models? Where are the good women standing up and shouting, "ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! STOP SELLING OUT TO THE FOREIGNERS! WE ARE NOT REALLY LIKE THAT!"
We are not really like that? Okay, prove it. Show the world how brilliant you are. Stop cheering from the sidelines every time another stupid foreign man gets screwed. Show the world that you are able and willing to sacrifice for the country you claim to love, and stop using foreign men as little more than an insurance policy. No one is entitled to the white man's money. This feeling of entitlement to the money of foreigners is what is causing once proud Southeast Asian nations to turn into cultures of dependence.
A wise man once said that you can run towards something or you can run away from something. Beware of the man (and woman) who spends their time running away from something. They are also running away from the one thing that that will make them fully human: Responsibility; and within that responsibility lies the willingness to perpetuate and enjoy your traditions. Yes beware of the Thai and Filipino woman going after foreigners. It's not that they are running towards foreign men; rather, they are running AWAY from their own men. They are running away from their own history, their own traditions; their own way of life. They are running away from responsibility.
What in the world does a Buddhist woman from Isaan have in common with a Muslim man from Istanbul? And does anybody in their right mind really think that a Filipina from the Island of Samar will live happily-ever-after with Lars from Helsinki? It's insane. The Internet is full of horror stories, not to mention some really good murder mysteries, concerning desperate and self-centered Southeast Asian women and their sick, horny and equally self-centered foreign husbands. It makes for interesting reading. (Some of my favorites are of the poor Vietnamese farm girls who are bought by Korean men, then taken to Daegu or Seoul or Busan only to have the shit knocked out of them night after night by their new "Prince Charmings" drunk on soju.)
It's neither the women nor the men which concerns me here. (In the end, we deserve what we get and get what we deserve.) It's the children. It's always the children who suffer the most from these pathological unions. Since the Vietnam War, Southeast Asia has become a huge orphanage and a graveyard for hundreds of thousands of neglected and abandoned children. These fatherless or motherless half-breeds never asked to be born. Many of these children will be added to the 100 million others around the world who will never see the inside of a classroom. And others still will be forced to stop their schooling at 14 and led to the infamous red-light districts to contribute to the ‘family fortune.' As an educator, this is where my concern lies.
For the record, I'm not against so called "mixed marriages." But having changed into a stark realist and pragmatic in my thoughts of matters of the heart, it just doesn't seem to work most of the time. And when it ends, it ends ugly. Those exceptional few who have made it work have the added responsibility of letting others know how they did it.
Sitting opposite Ning that night, I wanted to scream. I wanted to yell out, "TAKE THE F***ING WAR PAINT OFF!!! STOP THIS F***ING WAR!!!" She didn't want to be friends with me. Ning has not a clue what true friendship is. She was trying to use me as her backup boy just in case it didn't work out with Mustafa from Istanbul, or Mike from Manchester, or Hans from Hamburg. And I wouldn't let her. I was on to her. I knew her game. "SHOW ME HOW BRILLIANT YOU ARE!!! SHOW ME THAT YOU ARE DIFFERENT!!!" But she never did. She doesn't have to. Not in a country where 15 million foreigners come here every year just to get laid. There's no incentive to show your brilliance, no impetus to prove your uniqueness when there are 15 million stupid foreigners here to choose from. And if none of those 15 million happens to turn your crank, then there are always the Internet chat rooms.
It's a war without end. But through all this anger, I do realize that the Thai and Filipino women have declared war not only on the poor foreign sap. The much larger war is against their men; their own kind; their own flesh and blood. Thai and Filipino women are using foreign men as a challenge to their own men. By having dinner with me, by taking my hand, by kissing me, and by having meaningless sex with me, they are telling their men,
"Hey you lazy good-for-nothings get off your motorbikes and get a job! Start making some real money because if you don't, I will give myself away to the foreigner." Let there be no doubt that once Southeast Asian men develop a genuine and long lasting work ethic with a bank account to match, their women will flock back to them as quickly as they left.
"My family always asks me when I marry", Ning told me that night. "I always say tomorrow, tomorrow. But I don't care. My family is most important to me."
Now she was talking. Now we were getting to the heart of the matter. I gently patted the envelope of family pictures I brought with me. "My family is also the most important thing to me too. They are all I have left." Memories and the past; they're all I have left. Then I realized it. This is the crux of the matter. It's not just your money that some of these women want to separate you from. It's your memories; your past; your history; your traditions.
I remember my last two girlfriends who, after I talked about my family and traditions and history kept telling me "Oh that's the past." This is another common four word refrain from those who see you as nothing more than their future meal ticket. Don't talk about your past, your history, and your traditions; just support my family and my village you fat foreign bastard!
What is tradition? What is a traditionalist, and what does he believe in? In his book "Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith", British philosopher Gilbert Keith Chesterton explains,
"Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth: Tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect, a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father." (Quoted from "The Digital Pandemic: Reestablishing Face-to-Face Contact in the Electronic age." Mack R. Hicks, Ph.D. New Horizon Press, 2010, page 66.)
ESPECIALLY if he is our father! If there is a better definition and explanation of the concept and reality of tradition, I have yet to hear it or read it. So that is what tradition is to me: Giving your family members, dead and alive, a prominent seat at your table. The Thais do it; the Koreans do it; the Japanese do it; the Filipinos do it, as do so many others. And now, so do I. If there are people out there that have a problem with a 51 year old Canadian Jew giving the members of his family, dead and alive, a prominent seat at his table, then I will suggest a place for them to go; a place that is always cold and dark. My mother may no longer be a part of this world, but she still is a part of MY world. She always will be.
Traditionalists in the Thai classroom? You would have to go back 50 years for that. Most of traditional Thai culture is two generations dead. What message are Ning and so many others like her sending to her students? She has over 200 Mathayom 2 students (grade 8.) They are young and impressionistic.
"Hey girls, you don't have to work so hard. Forget your dreams of becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher. One day you'll meet a foreigner with money who will take care of you. He will take care of your whole family; your whole village! He will buy your family a house, a car. And the "sin sod" (Dowry). My God you're going to fetch a mighty high sin sod from the farang. So don't work so hard. Don't study. Relax and let the farang take care of you."
What the hell kind of message is that?!? This is a message conveyed not necessarily through words, but through action; and lack of action.
The students at my school, and schools everywhere, are looking for the same things from their teachers. More than subject knowledge, they are looking for a reason to be in school; a purpose to wake up each morning and make that walk to the school grounds. Students are looking for dedication from their teachers; commitment to their growth and future success. They are looking to their teachers to have a vision of how to achieve any future success their students will have. They are looking for teachers who step into the classroom each day with a clear mission in mind, and a burning desire to get the job done. But most of all, students, all students are looking for this: Direction. Students everywhere are lost and are looking to their teachers to put them on the right path; a path that will lead out of the darkness and into the light of truth and wisdom. Above all, students need a sense of direction; in fact, they yearn for it. I see it in their eyes everyday and it awakens my soul.
What I am seeing and experiencing at my school, and what I hear from other dedicated foreign teachers, many of the Thai teachers don't seem to be pulling their weight in regards to developing an effective and comprehensive strategy for the academic and social success of the students under their tutelage. (I use the word "many" because I'm trying to be nice.) A case in point: The homeroom Thai English teachers at my school are in charge of handing out the vocabulary and vocabulary worksheets from each textbook unit to the students. They take one period a week and go over the vocabulary with the students, so that when the native English teachers start the unit, the students will understand it and, as the saying goes, ‘hit the ground running.' That's the theory. The reality, however, has been quite different. Many a times I have heard the ‘right hand man' of the Director of Studies barking at the Thai teachers when he found out that these Cinderella's have not gone over the vocabulary. In fact, the worksheets, which they should have handed out to the students, remain safely tucked in the drawer of their desk. My students as well have rarely seen these phantom vocabulary worksheets, which the real English teachers, the foreigners, took the time to put together.
My solution: Fire the Cinderella's! Okay I know that won't happen. TIT. This is Thailand. My real solution: The foreign teachers should be given this seventh class of the day so that the students can benefit from one more real English class. In fact, we should become the homeroom teachers. That would give the Cinderella's more time for shopping or putting on makeup. I for one would be glad to take this class. I don't want any extra money; just the satisfaction that the students get an extra 35 minutes with me.
What angers me is that the Thai English teachers are coddled. If the MEFL program was serious about the English education of Thai students, if Mahathai or any school is serious about the life and education of the students in Thailand, these teachers would be dismissed henceforth, and replaced with monks;
And not just any monks like those who became monks to get out of military service or as redemption for a recent crime. The Thai princesses, who do not take their job seriously, should be replaced with real monks:
Older bald men in orange robes with big ears and stern faces; some dirt on their teeth from poor oral hygiene would also help. Eye candy be damned!
Not so long ago Thai children used to learn from monks; venerable monks, not the young monks of today who spend their days playing computer games and dreaming of their next heroin hit. No student will be rude to a monk like they are nowadays with their teachers. And the lessons venerable monks teach are not only academic, they are also life lessons. Mahathai English for Life! It's also about time we started teaching for life; every aspect of life.
I can hear it now from the Thais and some farangs. But, Steve, you are only a guest here. A guest! A guest doesn't spend his days in the classroom dedicating his time and effort to teaching students; a guest spends his nights in classroom-a-go-go dedicating his time and effort to getting drunk and laid. I'm a teacher and I'll worry about being a guest another time.
I realize what I'm writing may rub some people the wrong way. For any school supervisor out there, for any Director of Studies, here is some advice. If you are truly a compassionate supervisor or director and want to know your teachers more deeply, here is the one question you should ask them: "What keeps you awake at night?" That's it. That's the secret to knowing your teachers.
"What keeps you up at night?"
You will find out so much about them by their answer. Not only what they say, but how they say it. Here is what keeps me up at night. What keeps me up at night is that I live in a world which does not give a rat's ass about its children. We claim to care, we claim to love them, but when it comes to educating them, we fail; and we fail the students miserably. What keeps me up at night is the look in their eyes. Students look to us for guidance and direction, yet many of their teachers have no idea where they themselves are in life or where they are going. What keeps me awake at night is the reality that no matter how hard I try, no matter what I do in the classroom it will never be enough. I can come up with effective strategies for my students to read and write, but there will always be students who will not get it; there will always be students I feel I have failed. I can try to save a million students, but it's the million and first that will break my heart.
What keeps me up at night is the reality that many of my students will not realize their dreams of being a doctor, a lawyer, a dentist, an engineer, a businessman, or a teacher. Not reaching their full potential is every individual's personal tragedy. It's something we take to our grave. But most of all, what keeps me up at night is the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that some of my female students, my children, my daughters, will be forced to leave school at far too young an age to work in the bars of Pattaya and Patpong.
During the first week of classes I had all my Mathayom 4 (grade 10) students write me a letter telling me their future goals and dreams. On the back of that paper I then had them draw a picture of their dream. "Draw a picture of your future", I told them. "Show me your future and together we will work towards it."
So they did. They drew beautiful pictures of themselves wearing doctor's uniforms, nurse's uniforms, businessmen carrying a briefcase, and of teachers standing in front of the classroom complete with a whiteboard and a wooden pointer. I look at those pictures every now and then throughout the year as a reminder of why I am here and why my students are in my class. Periodically I remind the students of that as well. What keeps me awake at night is the reality that some of these young ladies, the daughters of my heart, the beautiful daughters of Thailand will not see their dream realized. TIT. This is Thailand. Many times here I get the feeling that I'm simply pissing into the wind.
Here's one thing I don't lose sleep over: An uncooperative Thai staff that wants nothing to do with farangs. This is fine with me. This I consider a gift, a perk of the job. You cannot force people to work with you. You cannot force people to be cooperative with others. The Thai staff at my school and at schools throughout Thailand is generations behind the West when it comes to developing a work ethic. The Thais themselves will tell you, in a rare moment of honesty that they do not work well with others, especially other Thais. I've seen this in the Korean public schools and there is nothing a foreign teacher can do about this except ignore them as well. "If you want something done correctly, do it yourself." This old adage has never been truer. Don't ever force an adult Thai to work with you; you may end up floating facedown in a river.
Most of my students are 14-15 years old. A few are 16 and one beautiful young lady named Nootsabra is 17. She wants to be a lawyer. They are at the edge of an abyss; the cusp of major life choices. They are teetering in the middle and can go either way. That's why I feel such a huge responsibility to teach them well and teach them properly. I am tough on them. I do not coddle them like their Thai teachers. I want them to succeed and have their dreams come true. Part of being tough on them is having them see the deep, profound, and historical connection between working hard and future success.
It has been said by certain journalists and columnists in the newspapers here that Thailand needs a revolution. Granted this was said immediately following the "Red Shirt" riots which left many people dead and several businesses torched. In my opinion the last thing Thailand needs is a revolution. She needs EVOLUTION. And, at the same time, she needs to preserve her traditions. Contrary to strong beliefs by many foreigners living and working here, to evolve financially while maintaining certain cultural traditions are not mutually exclusive.
She needs to get back to a time when Buddhist tradition and family values made them a great society. She needs to stop acting Westernized; she needs to quit trying to be Americans or Australians or English. You can learn English without being English. Thailand needs to start loving and valuing her children again. She needs to start taking responsibility for her own actions, lack of action, and for the social mess she has created and helps to perpetuate. She needs to take her history, her traditions, her past, her true values and culture and hold them up as examples of how children should be loved and cared for. Thailand needs to evolve on her own terms so that teachers like me can love his students and teach them in the way they have always been loved, taught, and cared for. They need to show the world how brilliant they are; not by killing their traditions, not by running away from their traditions, but by keeping them.