Sunday, June 7, 2009

My First Day of Work Or, The Start of Something Idiotic

I woke up and did what I've done every morning since I came to Thailand: stripped down to my underwear, chugged a fifth of whiskey, and shadow-danced to "The End" by The Doors.

This was 5:30 A.M. I caught a taxi to Chaing Mai University, where I will be teaching classes for the next ten months; it was a 30 minute, 80 cent ride in which I didn't die once. Can't complain.

My first class was at 8:00 A.M., and I was on the campus by 6:30. I had allotted myself that extra time because I had predicted that I would get lost trying to find the Humanities Building; and lo, I am a better prophet than I am a navigator, and I did get lost. After unsuccessfully meandering around in the rain for about 45 minutes, and having not seen any of the telling landmarks I had hoped to stumble upon, I flagged down a middle-aged man on a bicycle and asked him if he knew where the English Department was located. He looked at me strangely and replied:

"Not anywhere close to here. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA."

And then he rode away.

So I backtracked and eventually, at around 7:45 A.M., after crawling around aimlessly like a parched man in a desert, I asked a meek Thai girl where the Humanities Department building was.

"Right here," she said, confused.

I was standing right in front of it, all along. And all I had to do was click my heels together three times...

Drenched hair firm against my scalp, previously starched white shirt clinging to me like wet toilet paper, I entered the English Department teacher's lounge, where a short bespectacled middle-aged teacher, most likely a nerd in high school now empowered by the unearned gravitas of being a white man who has lived in Thailand for some years, offered to give me a tour of the campus, since he "likes to show the newbies around." You know, whatever. He was eager to show off his knowledge of every stone and leaf of the college grounds, and the whole scene reminded me a little of Charlotte Haze showing the unimpressed Humbert Humbert around her home.

(Side note: How stupid was it for me, a tall white male with a sketchy whisper of a moustache, to bring only the book "Lolita," a novel about a white man's obsession with young, newly pubescent girls, to Thailand, where they screen for potential pedophiles at Immigration? Needless to say, I packed that book tightly away in my carry-on and read "Bangkok FAH!" magazine for some time).

Then it was class time. Thirty or so university students, mostly girls, blushed their way into the classroom as I wrote my name on the board. We went around the room and said our names and one thing we liked to do. I started:

"My name is Jason Gilbert, and I like to curl into the fetal position and listen to Bright Eyes at night."

No one got the joke. This was going to be a long semester if they couldn't even get that reference to arcane American pop culture.

I couldn't comprehend any of their names. Most of them liked to play sports, or listen to music, or play online games. None of them said they liked to guide clueless, befuddled teachers through their first day, to my disappointment. But I soldiered on, and I got through the 75 minutes without a coup, so I'm going to call it a success. I checked for understanding; I encouraged broad student participation; I transitioned seamlessly between Barack Obama and Christopher Walken impressions. Overall, a good day.

So far.

It's only noon.

So what the crap (this is how you say goodbye in the Thai language),


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