William Putnam

The value of a bohemian life

Free time v the pursuit of extra income?

"Withdrawing in disgust isn't the same as apathy."

These words are spoken by a recently released convict in Richard Linklater's 1991 film Slacker. The line hints at the convict character's desire to avoid wage labor at all costs, but what's interesting about the line is that it showcases that the character speaking is not lazy. Instead, the convict, along with most of the film's other hundred or so characters, views his free time as more valuable than extra money.

As teachers in Thailand, we all try to maximize our earnings by taking on extra classes during our evenings and weekends. However, if we have no dependents or financial worries at home, is this really the best way to go about living in a laid-back place like Thailand?

Busy doing nothing

For the past month, I have been doing what many would view as "nothing." My school contract ended, and after finishing three weeks of traveling, I moved back to Trat and began my life as a slacker in Thailand. 

I have been living in Trat town while working the occasional English camp and going through the hiring processes for jobs starting next semester. Though I have had to prepare for many interviews and demo lessons, as well as travel around to several English camps, I have had quite a bit of time to myself. After realizing that ruminating gets boring pretty fast, I had to find other ways to occupy my time.

I began practicing guitar. Even though my rhythm and dexterity are still lacking, I am finding that I am making slight progress.

I also began learning Vipassana meditation. Though it is still difficult to practice for even 10 minutes, I am finding that the practice does affect my stress levels and lucidity throughout the day.

I have been studying Thai more intensively. It may be difficult to open a Thai language book at the end of a long teaching day, but I certainly have no excuse for not working hard at it now.

Finally, I have started writing for the first time. As you can see, I still need to work on it, but I am finding that writing helps me clarify my thoughts.


The term slacker comes from World War I, where it was used to refer to people who shunned their responsibilities (i.e. draft dodgers). Today, it has a slightly different meaning, but its implications are no less negative. When we imagine a slacker, we typically imagine a lazy bum who does not help with group work and shows up to the office late.

Often, we imagine someone without a job or any hobbies at all (besides sitting around and watching television). In the film Slacker, these stereotypes are challenged. The characters may live bohemian lives, but they are not necessarily lazy. They just don't spend their time working. Instead, the characters prefer to spend their time reading, writing, making music, making films, watching movies, and discussing abstract ideas. 

In some sense, these are noble pursuits since it is through daydreaming that many productive ideas are born. I have been finding the same things out these past few weeks. As valuable as it is to teach extra lessons, both in a monetary and personal sense, sometimes we need to focus on other things in life. We need to take the time to improve ourselves in other ways.

Using time wisely

So think about this: is it more worthwhile to teach that extra lesson and go shopping in Siam Paragon or to take the time to introspect and focus on your hobbies and personal growth? I think a balance is necessary; in fact, I have been quite bored at times this past month. That is actually why I have been working at the English camps. I needed something to occupy myself.

In order to find fulfillment in life, we need to apply ourselves to things and achieve goals, but it's important to remember that not all things worth applying ourselves to pay.

So take a day off, wander around and try anything that looks interesting. Maybe you'll find you want to spend more time practicing Muay Thai than doing corporate teaching gigs. Remember that the purpose of working is not to earn money to go to bars, go shopping, and be lazy, but to earn money to engage in pursuits that lead to authentic fulfillment, or perhaps find fulfillment in the act of working itself.


Hi Jeremy, what I meant was that for many if not most people learning Thai isn't really a good use of their time here. Imagine if you are only going to stay a year or two? Learning an entire language is a time consuming process and that time is better spent on enjoying yourself or earning coin. Thai isn't used in the rest of the world is it? I got by just fine without learning it, even without knowing what all that righting says or what those slack jawed yokels were yammering on about. Hope it's clearer now.

By BigbadB, Not Thailand ( thank the gods) (16th May 2017)

What does the above mean when he implies that learning Thai is a waste of time? Is it because the author says that he only sometimes does it, and not all the time? Learning Thai is the first thing I did here, long before I went looking for a teaching job. I still can't understand people who live here but make no effort to learn the language. Wouldn't you like to be able to communicate, and understand what all the writing that we see written everywhere means? Extraordinary.

By Jeremy, Udon Thani (15th May 2017)

I agree. This is all very depressing. Work and enjoy life based on what you like. Don't let other people tell you how to live.

That boss who tried to convince his staff to take unpaid leave for his own profit - wow! What a lowlife scumbag.

By James, Chiang Mai (15th May 2017)

What a depressing article and comments. I don't think the only two options are to work endlessly in a dead end and boring job to make slightly more than enough to get by on or to live in happy poverty as a slacker.

Why not find an occuption which one enjoys that pays "well."

Oh well, whatever............

By Jack, Not where I was (14th May 2017)

The fundamental reason we work is to make money. I'd like to think that the money we make isn't just for paying bills and buying useless crap. I use my disposable income to save and enjoy my life. I have a very nice apartment which I very much look forward to going home to. It has all the amenities and a second bedroom used as an office where I do online work. I work about 55 hours a week and very much love and appreciate my days off and holidays. If I have any more than 2 weeks off, I get bored.

The guy I work with loves to be at work. He comes in early and he leaves work late. He loves keeping busy and doesn't do much extra work as he thinks our full-time job should be the focus of our lives. He's consumed by his job and always tells me the boss will look more favorably on me if she sees me coming in early and leaving late. I explained that this is just a job for me. I signed a contract, I do what's asked of me, and I go home and live 'my' life. I explained to him that I won't judge his philosophy in life if he doesn't judge mine. If the boss wants me to work longer hours, she can compensate me sufficiently so I have no need to do extra work. It's not personal it's business.

My old farang boss once called all of us into a meeting. It was just before school term finished and we had two months of holidays and summer camp. He was basically trying to encourage us to not do summer camp and take unpaid leave. He did this by explaining that teaching is hard work. You need to turn your brain off and relax. Get out of Bangkok. Get out of Thailand. You need some perspective so get out of Asia for a month, etc. Come back stronger for the new term. It was all very motivating and solid advice, except for one thing; with what money? You want us to maybe go skiing in the Alpes whilst not getting paid? Everyone just looked at each like "This guy's a massive c***!".

If you want to live in Thailand long term, you're gonna have to work hard to make it work. In my old job there was no yearly pay rise. In my current job I had to fight tooth and nail to get an extra 3k a month. And of course, there always has to be caveats. If you're just a gap-year teacher then go nuts. Have fun, don't do any extra work and have nice long holidays. If you wanna live here, you have to work to make it happen. Can't just romanticize being this teacher who dedicates his career to 'the kids'. You need to find a balance and save for the future.

The old notion of "As I get older I want to be working less for more" doesn't apply to foreign teachers in Thailand. You want more money? You have to take on extra work. Simple as. You don't wanna do the extra work cos you love the kids? Enjoy trying to spend magic beans in Seven Eleven as you hit retirement age where you have little savings but great memories of how you dedicated your life to your full-time job and forgot to think about yourself.

Every school or agency I've worked for has absolutely treated education as a business. Why can't I? Why is teaching the only job where it's all on the teacher to dedicate their lives for low pay but no one else has to? Why can't teachers do their jobs, work hard, and also make money?

By Marcus, bangkok (14th May 2017)

Author makes some solid points but I noticed that he sometimes learns Thai. That is easily the biggest waste of time imaginable.

By Bigbadb, Not Thailand (thank God) (14th May 2017)

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