May You Live in Interesting Times (in Thailand)

So things have a way of working out – for ill or naught – and often in ways we don’t anticipate. And I suppose life would be rather dull and boring if it were otherwise. With that in mind, I’m headed to Thailand to work – a country I’ve never been to, but always wanted to see. Now I’m going to get a good seven months or so of it, perhaps longer – if things work out that way.

So what happened to remaining in Viet Nam for a time? Well, long story short: when I started applying for jobs, I noticed that there were a lot more jobs listed in Thailand – this has to do with the time of year, more than anything else — so I dashed off a few resumes to places that had decent reputations. An agency that places native English speakers in Thai public schools was the first to get back to me; it is with this agency that I eventually accepted a position (and no, I don’t know where yet; the school year doesn’t start until mid May, and the agency is still parsing its schools and available teachers and whatnot).

Of course, after I accepted the position I got a couple of offers for part-time work in Viet Nam, including an opportunity that almost caused me to recant my acceptance of the Thai job. But I figured a) I have always wanted to go to Thailand; b) I had given them my word and vice versa (and knowing that I would want to go there someday anyway, if I stayed in Viet Nam, it might not be good to leave a flaky impression with this agency); c) I had already arranged to do some volunteer teaching at a non-profit in northeast Thailand; and finally, d) breaking my word twice just seems like bad ju-ju, or karma as it were, these being primarily Buddhist lands.

So it’s off to Thailand I go. Yes, I know I’m heading there at an interesting time. But, as a Thai person recently said to me, “Thais are a passionate people. That’s why it seems to outsiders that our politics are constantly in upheaval. But it rarely gets violent.” I would hasten to add that there was one notable exception in 1992, in which several hundred protesters were killed — but that does seem to be the exception rather than the rule. So there you go. And coming from a country that is supposedly the guiding light for democracy and freedom on earth, and having watched conservative elements literally steal the 2000 election out from under the rest of that country while it sat and watched and DID NOTHING — and we all know how that turned out for us — well, good on the Thais for taking their government seriously. But don’t get me wrong; I’m not taking sides here. While I’ve followed the story since Thaksin’s ouster in 2006, I don’t feel qualified to offer an opinion on who is right and who is wrong, not being Thai and not having ever lived there.

I do want to come back here to Viet Nam and live and work someday, and the contract is only for six months, or one school semester, with an option for a second if I’m so inclined at the end of six months (and a tidy little signing bonus if I do). So I figure if I don’t like where I end up – and never having been to Thailand, I really have no preference – it will only last six months. And I’m not too worried about it; everyone I’ve talked to who has actually spent a significant amount of time there tells me I will love it. The only placement request I made of the agency was that I didn’t want to be placed in an extremely small, rural village, as I’m a new teacher and I don’t speak a word of Thai yet (Rosetta Stone, here I come).

For a beginning teacher in Thailand, the contract is pretty reasonable. The biggest plus in my eyes is a regular schedule with weekends and evenings off, as well as all public holidays and the weeks between semesters (which comes to two-months a year – of course one isn’t paid when school isn’t in session). Considering most new teachers in Asia end up at private schools, which means working evenings, weekends and holidays, public school becomes attractive. Plus, the agency offers a housing stipend. I’ll still be making very modest money by western standards, and would be able to make a little more, relatively speaking, here in Viet Nam, most likely – but I think I’ll be able to live reasonably well in Thailand on what they are paying me, particularly if I’m outside of Bangkok (which I hope to be). This is provided all my research and what people who have taught there tell me proves accurate, but I have no reason to believe it isn’t.

I’m going to miss Vietnamese coffee and food, but then I’ll have the solace of Thai food, and I hear the Thai’s have their own coffee that’s pretty good. I’m sure I can find someone to put sweetened condensed milk in it for me – that is, If I can’t find Vietnamese coffee there; there are a lot of Vietnamese immigrants in Thailand, particularly in the eastern portion of the country, according to ye olde Lonely Planet.

But all this goes to show, one should always keep one’s plans malleable. One could argue this was fate or predestination (or karma); others could argue that I made my own future by applying for a job in Thailand in the first place, and accepting it in turn (or even getting on the plane from America with a one-way ticket in the first place). I’m enough of a pragmatist that I’m inclined to believe in the latter, but enough of a romantic to ponder the former. For one such as I, a stranger wondering at will in strange lands where kingdoms were rising and falling and empires waxing and waning while my my European ancestors were wallowing in the Dark Ages, where the predominant religion was already ancient when Christianity was born, I suppose it is easy to believe that is indeed a bit of both.

In any event, in a few days time I will be eating Thai food … in Thailand. And regardless of how or why I got there, this momentous occasion has been a long time coming, as far as my palate is concerned. After all, the palate and the stomach do not concern themselves with matters of the spirit, philosophy and the existential, but rather the immediate appetites and their fulfillment.

Which reminds me … ye gods, I still would kill for a burrito.

2 thoughts on “May You Live in Interesting Times (in Thailand)”

    1. I actually found a tolerably good burrito here in Hua Hin, where I am at the moment. Wasn’t quite what you’d get in Mexico, or even a taqueria in Santa Rosa, but it was in the ballpark.

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