The Closing of a Chapter with the Opening of a Book

I’ve thought of all kinds of ways to get philosophical and theoretical about what I’m about to share. Instead, I’ll let the images below speak for themselves, and speak for how proud I am to be a teacher, how blessed I’ve been to have the students I’ve had so far, and how affirmed I feel in my methodology. Because honestly, this has more emotional meaning than anything else.

Let me briefly explain the context. I’ve recently concluded one chapter of my new teaching life abroad. I’m leaving Pattaya, the city of misfit sexpats, and moving to Chiang Mai, the Oakland of Thailand, at least in terms of creativity, individuality, and cultural pride. I’m also leaving a school which serves the primary purpose of being a tax shelter for an alcohol distributor who couldn’t care less about education, and going to a school that is so focused on education it’s constantly trying to implement the latest ideas, including project-based learning. However, I also regret that I must leave some wonderful students midway through their school year.

They’re sweet, warmhearted students, as their work below will testify to, and we had quite a year together with me as their homeroom teacher. I’ve learned that compassion and empathy are a teacher’s biggest assets. I’ve learned that most students are totally perceptive of the amount of passion and care you put into their education. I’ve learned that honesty, consistency, and fairness are essential. And I’ve learned that a partnership with my students was the key strategy to get the results I desired in them. What’s wonderful about these lessons is that I learned them not by failing, but by succeeding. Sometimes we do have to learn from our failures, but I’m glad I didn’t have too many in my first year as a teacher (though I certainly had my share).

I may get into more detail about my overall approach to teaching and some of the specifics behind what I think made me successful—as well as the lessons learned from a few trips and falls along the way—in a separate article. For now, I’ll let my students do the talking, through a handmade book they tearfully gave me  on my last day.

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Welcome to Pattaya

“Good boys go to Heaven; bad boys go to Pattaya.”

Pattaya-City1

Pattaya is in many ways the New Orleans of Thailand, and Walking Street is its Bourbon Street. If you love the magical concoction of electricity and sex humming to the steady thump of hip-hop and EDM; if you love being ambushed from every side by tattoo artists, strippers, restaurant workers, photographers, and florists; if you love the cacophony of every known language crackling in the air with excitement, awe, and inebriation; look no further than Walking Street.

But before we go there, let’s learn the geography of Thailand’s coastal party city. Technically, according to Thailand’s post office, there is no Pattaya. That’s because the postal system incorporates provinces, districts (or amphoe), subdistricts (or tambon), villages (or muban), plots, and houses, none of which are Pattaya. The city of Pattaya is a conglomerate, or more accurately a cluster, of subdistricts, such as Naklua and Nongprue. Yet Pattaya is a legitimate municipality—it has a mayor, city hall, hospital, schools, a sewage system and more. Understanding this odd form of existence lends Pattaya an eerie mystique. In the same way you can’t deliver a package to hell, you can’t deliver one to Pattaya. But you can still come here and party with the world’s demons.

Before we get to Walking Street, let’s take a walk down Beach Road. As we venture south, you’ll see some beautiful ocean views. And of course the beach—a little over 3 kilometres long. The beach is no ordinary beach, either. It has been completely worked over to maximize revenue from tourists, with thousands of beach chairs beneath large umbrellas. These umbrellas shade about three-quarters of the beach’s sands, and to relax beneath them we’ll have to pay around 30 baht. Traveling vendors walk up and down the beach plying their wares, which include things like lottery tickets, nuts, squid jerky, sunglasses, necklaces, and more. While reclining under these umbrellas and rebuffing traveling vendors, we’ll order food and beverages from nearby shops. Sip a coke, a beer, or a smoothie while chowing down on pad thai, som tam, or barbecue shrimp.

Between the beach and street is a large sidewalk. During the day, the sidewalk is cluttered with street vendors selling food, clothing, and trinkets. The sun sets as we walk south to Walking Street. One by one, the shops pack their wares, fold their canopies, and disappear on their motorbikes. Now the sidewalk features only palm trees protruding through the pavement, along with the smell of barbecue wafting from the few remaining food stalls. On the beach, workers are folding umbrellas and stacking chairs. The tide has receded and the beach is much larger now. Across the street, the steady pulse of rock and hip-hop music can be heard among the chatter of beer bar patrons. They’ve bought their bar girls their first drink of the evening. Later this evening, they’ll pay the bar a fee to allow the girls to leave with them and accompany them to their room.

Now the sun has set and the freelancers have started to populate the sidewalk. Beach Road starts to take on a suggestive glow as neon lights and LED streetlamps illuminate the strip. “Hello, sexy boy,” the freelancers say cheerfully. One or two of them grab our arms. And if you’re a woman accompanying me on this walk, it doesn’t matter. The freelancers see me as a potential customer and try anyway.

Before long, we stand in front of a large gateway with big white letters saying “Walking Street.” A reddish-orange glow radiates from the street, and the bustle of the nightlife sends its clatter to our ears. Our destination: iBar, an upscale-ish night club with an open-air deck on the water. There, we’ll order bottle service for around 1,600 baht, smoke shisha, and listen to a DJ’s blend of American hip-hop, world EDM, and Thai pop music.

But before we get there, we’ll have to pass twenty some-odd go-go bars (or strip clubs), 30 some-odd beer bars, a few massage parlors (happy ending optional), and a collection of restaurants. We’ll also have to dodge lady boys who’ve been barred from the bars, photographers who want to capture our expressions of wonder, florists who stuff roses in our faces, massage parlor and go-go bar workers who hold menus in our path, and more. We’ll have to weave through the most diverse group of people imaginable. Stalky middle-eastern men cackling in Arabic. Balding Russians shouting at each other. Fat, pasty old English men leading skinny, young, dark-skinned Thai girls in their near-naked clothing to God-knows-where. American backpackers high-fiving each other in their surf shorts and flip-flops. Korean entourages stumbling over each other to find the best go-go bar.

After a brief pat-down for weapons, we enter iBar. The place is packed to the brim. We walk up and down its length to find a table. The subwoofers might as well be in our chests. Everywhere, Thai girls thin as a rail in short skirts and tight, shoulderless tops shake their hips and smile. Their game is thus: find a rich farang to lure in, grind him, kiss him, laugh at his jokes, make him feel loved for 8 hours, then make him one of your many international “boyfriends” to supplement your income. Of course, this isn’t everyone’s game. But one must be cautious.

We pass the pool tables where bulky Westerners rack with tightly dressed Thai girls. We walk out on the deck, where the atmosphere changes, not only from the lack of air-con, but also the quiet Naklua Bay breeze and the lower, less intense lighting. All the tables are occupied, so we turn around and walk back past the pool tables, feeling the rush of cold air and green, orange, and blue lighting. We luck out and find the one table open in the place—a table next to padded bench seating on the wall. People stand on the bench nearby and dance, nearly elevated above the tabletops. We drink, smoke, and dance until the sun rises.

This is Pattaya, where foreign men abandon their despair and woman woes half a globe away to take part in the pay-to-play game that Thailand’s youngest, thinnest, tannest girls have to offer. Where fun is easy to find, sex is easy to have, but true love is so hard to come by.

Preface

Dear reader,

Before beginning the series chronicling my adventure in the Land of Smiles—a series that has been long overdue and which I’ve put off far too long—I must say a few words in preface, both to defend my delay and to set our minds on the same page (or shall I say screen):

First, it ought to go without saying that uprooting oneself and replanting in a foreign country is without a doubt endlessly exhausting. For the past six weeks, I have been nearly suffocated with learning, adaptation, and deliberation. If anyone should question the complexity and difficulty of such an upheaval of everything that is familiar and comfortable, read on and you shall see it painted in vivid colors.

Second, because my first vision of posting these entries in near-real time have for now been thwarted, I have been forced to consider whether a chronological account is really necessary or interesting. I have determined that since many of these entries will not only be reportings of the present, but also reflections of the past and contemplations of the future, such organization would be near impossible, and frankly not as much fun for me. So I’m afraid this adventure must begin en medias res.

But don’t be fooled: this is no epic. There is no dashing hero, nor secret relic, nor monstrous obstacles, nor grand battles. Only a self-involved protagonist, who had found his prize before his journey ever started, and had to overcome mundane encumbrances and face garden-variety bureaucracy.

(This is about the point where minds bludgeoned by BuzzFeed and Twitter start groaning, “Reading…ugh,” and proceed to hit themselves with blunt objects. So here are a few pictures.)

I was more interested in the shape and color of the sun
I was more interested in the shape and color of the sun than in the temple ruin
You could say my trip was "ruinous"
You could say my first trip was “ruinous”
No, you don't buy floats here...
The second time I came to Thailand, but the first time I came to visit someone special. We’re at the floating market.

Happy? Ok, continue reading…

Lastly, as regards the appearance of this website, I must admit it’s rather scant. My vision for its development is influenced both by my laziness and my passion for the HBO series Deadwood. In fact, let’s just go with the latter to salvage my artistic dignity. So if you haven’t seen Deadwood, please stop reading and do so immediately. If you have, then you know what I’m talking about—the gradual evolution of structure and aesthetic harmony. And if you’re still reading this and you still haven’t seen it, then do us both a favor and stab yourself in the eye for wasting another minute of its usage on this rubbish instead of David Milch’s masterpiece.

End preface.