C’mon inner peace! Coming from a western culture, I initially found “chilling out” in regional Thailand a challenge.
Whilst Thai’s are wonderful people with a forgiving and accepting attitude to our often bad mannered behaviour. However, their relaxed and sometimes “too laid back” attitude can be very exasperating.
Ok, I admit to being a relatively impatient person but some things used to really frustrate me until, over time, I learned to relax and “go with the flow”.
Country roads, take me home
Take my daily travel on the local bus for example. It’s about a 30-60 minute trip between my home and the school. This depends on the whim of the driver.
Two small ancient grey buses wheeze and rattle between Ayutthaya and Pang Pahan village. They operate to a haphazard timetable, stopping whenever someone shouts at the driver. There is a buzzer but it doesn’t buzz.
The top gear seems to be missing on both buses so the speed isn’t very high and they’re really noisy. Often there is blue smoke. They have no air conditioning but the lack of glass in the windows and non-existent doors ensure a cooling breeze when they’re moving.
The bus arrives to pick up passengers when it arrives. Even though I reach the bus stop at the same time each afternoon, the wait could be 5 minutes or 35 minutes. Or more. But the bus always arrives. Eventually.
The drivers are crucial to a successful trip home. Progress is only made when they are ready and it only happens at their pace.
It isn’t uncommon for the bus to stop after a few hundred metres for the driver (without speaking) to disappear into a restaurant for a bowl of noodles.
“The journey is the reward”. Actually this one isn’t.
The passengers never seem to be perturbed and it is a great exercise in patience even though at times I want to seriously hurry him along. He saunters back out when he is ready and we resume our leisurely trip .
One afternoon we pulled into a tiny country petrol station to get diesel. The fuel cap is inside the bus – under my seat actually. So, six of us have to move while some of the wooden floorboards are taken up to reveal the filling point and the fuel is pumped in.
It doesn’t take long. I check the pump reading and the driver has bought TWO litres of diesel, proceeded to pay and has come back to the bus with a receipt that he spends a few minutes carefully folding before continuing the trip. Grrrrrr.
Naturally there’s a ticket collector and in contrast to the driver, he’s the busiest man in Thailand.
The ticket collector isn’t with us when we get under way, but during the journey, the bus slows and he’s waiting on the side of the road. With a well timed leap while we’re still moving, he throws himself on board.
He strides down the aisle collecting the 7 baht fare off each passenger. Then he leaps out the rear exit to dash across the road and repeat the exercise on the bus travelling in the opposite direction.
Keeping your composure
As a new English teacher, controlling fifty five students aged between 12 and 18 each day is challenging. Each class last one hour and there are normally five classes.
In a school environment, the most important attributes an English teacher must display are to dress smartly and display calmness. Any outward sign of anger, irritation or impatience is seen as a weakness.
With only two school terms a year (of about 19 weeks and 16 weeks each), as the term nears the end, the teachers are sick of the students, the students sick of the teachers … you get the picture.
There are many times that the students can be frustrating and although your instinct is to express annoyance, an air of “I’m displaying inner peace” must be projected.
The students will try to test your patience and they’re watching your reaction. In my first week, one student loudly told me “Teacher – you have very long ears”. The class laughed.
So, I walked over to the open window, looked out the the huge statue of Buddha that overlooks the school and replied cheerfully “look out here – so has Lord Buddha. I’m happy about that”. It wasn’t mentioned again.
At times calmness is extremely difficult to maintain although some Thai teachers do have an advantage as they carry a stick (usually cane) and bring unruly students into line swiftly.
Peace can come from an unexpected source
One day is particularly challenging. With me in class I have a Thai Assistant teacher who is just out of university. This is her first teaching assignment.
She is really helpful in keeping the students quiet while I teach but one unpleasantly hot afternoon I’m being interrupted and distracted by a loud and disruptive boy who is really out to test my patience.
I turn to my assistant and said “Ajarn – the student over there is disrupting the lesson – are you able to fix it for me please?”
She replies that she can, picks up a long thick cane, marches purposefully down between the rows of desks and with a backhand Serena Williams would be proud of, whacks a student on the shoulder and neck.
He falls into the aisle and lies whimpering on the floor. She walks back up to the front of the class and with a small smile says “Problem solved teacher Ian”.
Unfortunately, she has hit the wrong student. She has struck the boy sitting in front of the agitator, a student who is sitting quietly. Perhaps thinking about how long until the end of class or what he is going to buy at the 7 eleven after school.
Never mind. It has had the desired effect. During the rest of the class, the students are really attentive and the troublemaker quietly counts his blessings. He’s keeping a wary eye on the Assistant Teacher. The unintended victim recovers quickly and is equally alert … just in case.
To tell her that she’d hit the wrong student will be a loss of face for her so I just thank her for her help and carry on.
I ride home on the bus late later in the afternoon with a sense of inner peace.