Monday, April 10, 2006

Dont Look Back In Anger Part 3

Like a lot of people who turn up on these shores each year green, na├»ve and lets face it, stupid, I had a few encounters before I got street wise – well ok, street wiser.

Among the jobs I went to interview for were jobs down on Sukhimwit 101. Which from where I was staying would men a minimum of 60 minutes travel – that was in ideal conditions – up to maybe 3 hours if it happened during a downpour. Part of the problem at that time was that I didn’t have a good idea geographically where everything was in Bangkok and around the country.

Another job I went to interview for was a Sarasas school up near the new airport. Basically turn left at Sukhimwit 71 and keep going for 15 miles. That was a day trip and a half to say the least. In the end it was about the fifth taxi I flagged down who took me as all the other drivers turned me down. The fare was just short of 200 baht, which takes some doing and that tells you just how far out of town it was. The guy who did the interview laughingly described it as 15 minutes from Bangkok on the phone and I believed him! I suppose that if you got the road empty and a fast car it would be 15 minutes, otherwise you could be looking at a minimum of 40 minutes up to maybe two hours. The area itself could either be described as quiet and local or boring and dull. Add into the mix that the accommodation that they were offering was a building that was owned by the school and that you were bussed to and from the school in a minibus each day with all the other teachers. So if you lost the job you lost the apartment, he reluctantly said they would give a housing allowance if I didn’t stay there but he said the staff building was great and really friendly etc etc. Even as a newbie, it was a situation that I didn’t really want to be in. Just as well I suppose they didn’t offer me the job.

On another interview - down towards hua Hin - I got on the train assuming the school name was the name of the town and station – they had said the school was 5 minutes walk from the towns station, but they would meet me there and pick me up. I arrived at the train station and waited and waited until one of the station staff said there was a phone call for me. Turns out I had gone one station too far and that I had overshot by 15 miles. Now back in the west that would not be too much of a problem, just get the next train back up the line, oops only three trains a day on this line so I had to be rescued by a teacher who was sent to get me. In the end I didn’t get the job, I don’t know why as it wasn’t a Geography teacher they wanted!

Those two instances did make me realise that to turn up relatively on time I had to start looking at maps to check where the school was when arranging the interview and if possible do a dry run and find out exactly how long it takes to get there.

During the first few weeks of interviews I was actually staying in a hotel as I didn’t want to commit myself to a flat in one area then find a job that took me two hours to get to and from every day, I had enough of that back home.

Other jobs within 2 minutes of the phone interview starting I got bad feelings about, no details being given, vague assurances and so on and so on, others it was a case of sitting through an interview thinking “What am I doing here? I don’t want to be here.” And yet at some point I had to commit, take the plunge and get a job as I was burning through my savings. Granted if I had wanted to, I could have taken three months to live off savings but that was something I didn’t want to do in case I had to buy something big or go into hospital, give up Thailand and move to Korea or…………….

In the end I got the job through someone who was completing the Diploma stage of the TESOL. One lesson each week for 45 minutes. The rate of pay was 400 Baht an hour which I thought was pretty good, teaching 16 hours a week and I didn’t have to be there unless I was teaching. Pretty good package overall I thought.

In the end it was not. As there were only two other farang teachers at the school and we had different timetables I rarely saw them. Between us we covered from Kindy up to Prathom 6. We saw the kids once a week for 1 lesson, which as I was soon to discover was basically a waste of time. We taught the entire Thai class which means I had between 38 and 52 kids in the class. In theory I also had a Thai assistant but if they were there all they did was sit at the back of the class and do their own work. In other words I was on my own.

I very quickly realised that what I was doing wasn’t teaching but crowd control – sometimes riot control. I had a zone of silence about 4 feet round me and outside of that it would be noise at best chaos at worst. One class in particular was just totally mental. I would throw a kid out of class and lock the door to keep him out, as soon as my back was turned one of his friends would sneak up and unlock the door and either let him in or go out himself. The girls weren’t that much better if they were naughty but generally they were nicer to teach as they did at least pretend to pay a bit more attention.

There were only a couple of Thai teachers there who could speak English and the head of the department could hardly speak it all which meant some interesting conversations – or not.

One Monday I walked in and she said today you teach lab. Lab, I thought, what is lab? She lead me up the stairs to a language lab and unlocked the doors and walked off. How the fuck do I use this? I didn’t even know the school had one never mind that I was going to use one. It was truly a case of the blind leading the blind as I didn’t know how to use one, the kids didn’t really know how to use one but we muddled along somehow. I have no idea how much money was spent getting this lab with all the desks, speakers, headsets etc etc kitted out, but it would have been better spent in reducing the class size and getting more native speakers in to teach.

Another problem I had was trying to get legal. I started on a 60 day tourist visa but I wanted to do things properly. However, it was virtually impossible to get straight answers from the school about whether they would pay for my visa and they would provide all the letters needed. In the end I took the plunge and virtually bullied them into giving me all the letters.

The other main problem was trying to persuade them to give me time off to get the visa. No way, so it was all at my own expense, sheesh. Like many others I made my way up to Vientienne in Laos to get my Non Imm B. In theory it’s a simple process, arrive, give the documents to the consulate in the morning and get the visa the next afternoon.

I arrived with few problems to find that my school wasn’t listed in the consulates folder. ??? If it wasn’t in the folder I needed to get more documents from the school. If I got more documents I would get the B, otherwise they would give me another tourist visa. At the time I hadn’t yet got a mobile phone which meant I had to use the ( comparatively ) expensive international phone services there. The only person who I knew the number of was the Greek girl who got me the job. I tried to phone her a couple of times and ask her to speak to the head of department and explain the situation. I figured that as it was difficult to speak to the head face to face and understand the replies it would be impossible to do it over the phone. Given that this was now Thursday afternoon I was getting more and more frantic, a few hours delay would mean I would have to either stay a whole weekend in Laos or return with just a tourist visa. She promised she would speak to the head and sort it out.

This was one of my first lessons in don’t rely on anyone but yourself. After a second phone call to my colleague she turned round and said she couldn’t speak to the head as she was too busy and didn’t want to be involved. Why the fuck didn’t she say that an hour ago when I explained the situation? Bitch. So I tried without success to phone the head myself and I spent the night worried and stressed out.

The next morning I was ready to throw myself on the mercy of the consulate to get my B visa only to discover they had given it to me anyway! After all the song and dance they gave yesterday about needing this and that they gave me the visa. Aw for fecks sake, knowing that would have saved me a lot of grief and worry.

So I duly got back to Bangkok an tried to get the work permit and teachers licence to discover….. the school wasn’t registered with the Ministry of Education so I wouldn’t be able to get either. How a school attached to a Wat could not be registered is one of these mysteries that only Thailand can generate. So basically I needed to do visa runs or move schools. In the end I did both.

A large problem I quickly discovered was that although the hourly rate was good, any holidays or activities meant my teaching hours were cut and of course my pay as well. The first month wasn’t bad but the 2nd month with the trip to Laos and holidays meant I got less than 20k for the month. Yikes. The consequence of that was that I started doing corporate work in the evenings and language school classes on Saturdays. I ended up working Mon - Fri evenings, Mon – Thursdays and Saturday morning to get enough money to have a basic lifestyle. Things had to change, so they did.

Onto the next job.