When the time came to pull the curtain down on a twenty year career at two major international schools in Bangkok in 2013, Rooster received plenty of well-intentioned plaudits.
People made nice speeches about the positive effect I’d had on thousands of Thai and foreign children promoting Thailand and Thai culture. How I’d been successful in raising safety standards on school trips. An altogether good – if slightly unusual – egg.
I was clutching a Parker pen in gratitude from the headmaster for 15 years service when I walked out of the school gates for the last time.
I had a healthy bank balance and at 52 there was no need to ever work again. I had memories of parental consultations with movie heartthrobs who wai-ed ME. A former Miss Universe thanked me for re-introducing her errant teenager to his Thai heritage. A female prime minister had even given me an envelope with cash in and the honor of a selfie, now framed and kept next to where I have my daily dump.
There were letters from kids, honorable mentions everywhere as I crossed the road and came within inches of being run over ten seconds into retirement. It felt good to be alive if only just.
So why was it in the restaurant over the road that acted as the teachers’ Friday afternoon drinks venue, musing before my friends arrived for a final round, I felt that two decades of my life had been mostly wasted.
Why didn’t I speak up more when proselytizing headmasters spouted their nonsense about God and religion? Why didn’t I go out on a limb to promote the benefits of atheism and science? Why did I remain so silent about the nonsensical facts based approach to learning that even top dollar international schools get so wrong? Why didn’t I beg the school to look at Finland and stop claiming that the British know best and homework is more important than family time!?
Why did I feel that even in my specialist area I had perpetuated the idea of a Thai stereotype. In my heart I was critical but for the sake of my salary, for the good of the team, to avoid waves, I had toed the line.
Yes, just like in my own schoolboy school days I’d been a lackey. An anarchist at heart but a pathetic lackey all the same who made no difference to anything except my bank balance.
One of the pupils I really let down was a boy who, as you are about to discover very relevantly, was nicknamed Big.
Big seemed a friendly enough 12 year old who had just arrived from Thai school and was bewildered by English. The school needed his parents’ money.
Every day I would see him when I knocked off between 5 and 6 pm still sitting alone on some steps looking forlorn. Usually eating an ice-cream or yet another packet of snacks.
His folks wouldn’t be along till 6pm. Then the driver would load him into the back and take him off to the maid to supervise extra homework.
Big was huge. Already morbidly obese. Left to his own devices by parents who thought they were doing him a favor by spending a million baht a year on his education and hundreds of baht a day on his sugary snacks that were killing him as sure as if I went up to him and blew his brains out on the tuck-shop steps.
I often wonder if at 30 plus he is alive today.
I could speak to Big in words he could understand and following our conversations I took my concerns up with those in charge of his pastoral care.
I said that this was nothing short of child abuse. Being left till late in the day was one thing. But left to his own devices and even in the company of those who should have been looking after him, he was being fed poison by ignorant hi-so parents who thought they were doing the right thing.
That old fat=rich and spending money is doing good nonsense.
Not surprisingly my exaltations to bring the parents in and tell them this was child abuse fell on deaf ears. Money was the bottom line. Bums on seats and poor Big’s ample posterior was just another one that paid our wages.
It was not just Big I thought about when I retired. There was also the occasion when a very interesting policeman arrived from the UK on an “INSET” day – staff training.
He told the gathered Thai and British faculties that child abuse crossed cultures, crossed the divides of language and countries, was just as prevalent among the rich as the poor.
Just as likely to occur in Thailand as the UK.
You could see the eyes roll of Thai and expatriate alike – who was this copper coming to tell us how to do things when everyone knows that Thailand doesn’t have those problems.
Yeh, right. For me it was possibly the only INSET that ever engaged my attention. It made me think how the school and MYSELF were in utter denial.
Many people think that by shelling out the millions for international school education you get a paragon or educational virtue. Yes, the Astroturf pitches, beautiful auditoriums and science labs with every chemical under the sun look great. You get to hobnob with the stars, increase your child’s social spectrum etc etc….
The headmasters’ promises of children who will be the leaders of tomorrow sound wonderful. The roll calls of kids in mortar boards and gowns going to Yale and Oxford, MIT and Cambridge look great.
But the devil is often in the details. I felt we had merely perpetuated the idea of pounding facts into the children. It was where to look and how to interpret information they needed in the IT world of the last two decades. Lip service was paid to this because the bottom line was money and results – feeling wealthy and looking good rather than having true substance.
I’m not saying that Thai schools – even good ones – get it right. Most of them are worse. But just because an international school talks a good game and charges a lot doesn’t make it good. The best may be reasonable, but the second division are often rubbish.
Shop around and be skeptical of the hype – and never forget that you as a parent are the key to your own child’s upbringing. Not some school with a fancy name and Latin on the blazer’s crest.
So it was that I was thinking about Big this week when a story about the Thais’ appalling and excessive consumption of sugar was featured by the Thai press.
In their noodles and curries they are dumping totally unnecessary sugar. Children who deserve protection not abuse are being treated to sugary snacks and soda. On average Thais are consuming five times the WHO recommended daily dose.
And I say “dose” advisedly. Sugar is a dangerous drug in my view that needs to be regulated far more than at present.
Go to any Thai hospital, as I often do, and you’ll see the diabetes patients lined up. It’s an epidemic that makes Covid look like a walk in the park.
Much of it is brought on by sugar. In addition Thais are getting fatter and fatter from poor diets especially in the more affluent cities. Fast food temptation and pressure is everywhere. Obesity is rampant and hard won lessons from the West are falling on deaf ears in Asia.
Yes, one of my schools had a display about the number of spoonfuls of sugar in a bottle of Coke. Then they let the kids sell it on “Fun Days” to raise money for charity (yet more lip service).
I tried to be more pro-active as a parent. Once on finding that my first wife had stocked the fridge full of Sprite and chocolate I banned those items forever.
There was a massive row in which she accused me of heartlessness towards the children. My will prevailed – and a decade later my son thanked me for what I did.
He said it was the only good thing I did……
Another story that caught Rooster’s beady eye this week was the fact that 10 million Thais are suffering (mostly in silence) from mental health conditions and one million of these have Bipolar Disorder.
DPM and Health Minister Anutin was togged up in yellow silk giving it the big one on World Bipolar Day. Lots of those empty epithets I’d experienced in my school days were trotted out.
Mental health has been a big issue in my family. My own behaviour as someone with a highly addictive personality and well on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ladder was a fair starting point for trouble.
In addition I married a Thai woman who I later discovered was an untreated schizophrenic. No wonder the sparks flew and the children fled for cover.
My son, a brilliant guy with an amazingly broad knowledge, was also diagnosed in his teenage years.
This meant coming out of denial and facing facts. I’d begun my years in Thailand making jokes telling people flippantly that they should “Nang taxi pai Sri Thanya” – take a cab to Thailand’s most well known mental hospital – if they suggested something daft.
Just over a decade ago I found myself with my son listening to home truths with a true professional at that very hospital as they tried to help me and my offspring. (My wife had fled in terror on a previous occasion when the doctor said she needed medication. She waited in the car brooding about “them” trying to get their claws in!).
But just like I had failed Big, it was time not to fail my own son. Time to face up to mental health and do something positive. The help was there in Thailand, you just needed to ask.
Fortunately my son, through medication and counselling continued in the UK, is managing to make the best of his life.
And you’ll never find his dad making a joke of mental health again.
A joke is what April Fool’s day was in Thailand this year. Thaivisa got the ball rolling on March 31st with a genuine story (I think!) about the Crime Suppression Division banning news organizations from ribaldry under the threat of five years in jail for spreading fake news.
It was a pity because both my editor and I had some great wind-up ideas as good as those in the past about visa extensions at 7-Eleven and jail terms for playing Connect Four on Pattaya bar tops.
I guess my story about Thailand being the hub of hubcap production – yes, a Liverpool firm wanted to move their entire production facility to a Samut Prakan Industrial estate – will have to wait for another year.
The ban did not stop us from having some jibes against the authorities , however, though we valued our personal liberty. Amusingly a Thai got in on the act by claiming that police engineers would repair your broken down car for free nationwide – just call such-and-such a number.
Plod predictable, and following their warning, took a dim view especially as they had said that April Fool’s was not Thai culture.
Damn those Western influences!
In international news the trial of the policeman accused of causing the death of George Floyd continued in America with hourly updates in news media around the world.
In Myanmar the situation has become increasingly dire. A reported 500 people – many of them young children – have been shot and bombed to death by the junta. Meanwhile the Thai military scandalously sent reps to an armed forces party while Prayut showed his true colors – khaki. Under the guise of keeping a diplomatic watch out on the neighbors he defended the attendance at the junket. Utterly shameless.
Now Thailand is facing the consequences with incursions of thousands fleeing bombardments in Karen state areas. Prayut spoke of humanitarianism but Sky and others (including my own sources on the ground) said the refugees were being forced back.
With Covid throwing a further spanner into the works, this “international” story is going to have major implications for Thailand.
In New York the authorities reached the final steps in the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Some changes will take the best part of two years to implement but it is a major step in emptying the jails of (usually black) people who like herbs.
Thailand please take notice, as your “legalization” promises are looking like hollow ones that will continue to necessitate the absurd and wasteful “War On Drugs” that is an almighty waste of money, resources and lives.
In Egypt the 200,000 ton tanker Ever Given (four times bigger than the Titanic) was released from the sands meaning that much needed deliveries of sex toys could now take place.
In Japan the sakura (cherry blossoms) – a major cultural event – bloomed in Kyoto the earliest since records began in 812 sparking further debate about climate change.
In sports the Germans lost at home in a World Cup football qualifier to a country I’d never heard of – North Macedonia – and it wasn’t an April Fool!
In entertainment news Paul Simon sold his entire song list to Sony for an undisclosed sum. The eighty something is unlikely to be crossing any financially troubled waters.
Back in Thailand the approved Covid jabs tourists will need to avoid 10 day quarantine (and ONLY do 7) were announced. Interestingly Sinovac was there of course but nothing from Russia, a country the Thai tourism minister has been bigging up for the much hyped April 1st, July 1st, October 1st and January 1st staged return to mass tourism.
Staged being the operative word as their pronouncements should be taken as much with a pinch of salt as a whole pack of Saxa.
Transport minister Saksayam Chidchob appeared at an event in Bang Pa-In celebrating his dream – the 120 kmph speed limit on certain roads. Lord knows what the safety activists thought of that as the appalling carnage continued on the roads ahead of the lip-service-fest that is the Songkran crackdown.
Apropos, Plod is now able to implement RTP chief Gen Suwat “Big Pat” Chaengyodsuk’s much heralded “transparent” alcohol and speeding checkpoints. Mobile CCTV was promised to keep an eye on plod as well as the motorists.
Suwat was also in the news as underling (though much more charismatic and handsome) Lt-Gen Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn took up his advisory role at RTP HQ.
The Thai media said it was all smiles but their picture showed what looked like trepidation on the face of BJ; no wonder when police reform is his bag and those around him will be hoping that he falls flat on his face.
The Thai tourism minister Pipat indicated that his policies included land based safety and ensuring that tourists would no longer be ripped off. All previous tourism ministers tried that and all failed. Pipat will too but such is the dearth of political talent available to his boss that he’ll probably keep his job longer than them. It was also reported that 1.45 million jobs in tourism had been lost due to the pandemic.
In crime news in the north east of Thailand a tanker driver stabbed his wife at a gas station then led plod and 50 rescue foundation vehicles on a chase encompassing Khon Kaen and Udon Thani before his tires were shot out.
In Chiang Mai a man and his wife were found in a car after he apparently stabbed her to death then committed suicide by lighting a fire in the sealed up vehicle.
In eastern Bangkok the netizens were enraged when a flimsy paper sign advised pedestrians they would be electrocuted if they touched the handrail on a roadbridge. “Use the other rail” seemed to be the advice before the local authority “swooped” into action.
In Pattaya the irate ones came out after a post about red worms coming out of the taps. The authorities declared the water supply safe.
Finally, tragedy struck in Surat Thani after a 12 year old boy was killed and five friends injured when lightning struck during heavy rain while they were having a happy game of after school football.
At my school they brought in lightning meters for all outdoor activities both on and off campus.
What should have been a positive step turned into a farce as activities and sports were ruined by teachers telling kids to stop then start again according to the meter’s readings.
Like in Surat Thani it would have been better just to show some common sense during storms and when lightning is in the area.
At my school we made a rod for our own backs under the guise of improvement.
Yet another failure to look back on.