Hate is such a vicious vile word , with sheer wanton maliciousness behind every instance it is spoken. Thus, it must be used not liberally, but instead preciously saved for a deserved target of one’s venom. In my life, there has been no greater thing that commands me to use the word Hate as its descriptor than that of the word School and all the maladies that word encompasses.
I was recently asked in an email “how can your English be so good , you’re Thai.”
He took the philosophical pretense of “I speak, therefore I am” , flipped it on it’s head so it would become “I’m Thai, therefore I am not.”
I hate that.
Thing is , he’s right. In thinking of how to reply to him I wanted not to argue but instead to validate his point with reason, show proof of that reasoning, and show him what extraordinary measures it took to slip out of the societal mainstream and set myself up in an environment where I could succeed despite the moniker of being labelled “Thai.”
I, like all Thai’s, was set up to fail from my first day in school. And please, let’s not call it school but rather let’s call it what it really was , purgatory. Borrowing from the Christian definition then, it was a place of purification (brain washing), so as to achieve the holiness (lobotomy) necessary to enter the joy of heaven (factory work).
The rich are self-serving, and in countries such as mine where they are allowed to dictate policy, school is but a trap. I had a teacher one time, back when I studied abroad, who began his first lecture by putting a rope on the table before him. A big burly Russian man with a full grey beard – about to teach a semester of Creative Writing – said “Before you is a rope, a rope of opportunity. In my class you can either use it to climb to new heights , or you can use it to hang yourself, the choice is yours.
Typical me, I stood up (I purposely stopped raising my hand in grade 5) and said before the class “in my country the rope comes with the noose already prepared, it’s nice to have an option now.” Well actually, I had to use a lot of hand gestures and acting to get that point across because I had Seseme Street level English as a weapon though I had graduated with a major in English – but we’ll get to that in a moment.
I had wanted to reply to that person’s email with this video. For you, I don’t want you to watch the video, I want you to take it to heart.
The proof is in the pudding.
I was at Mistress Wael’s condo two days ago. She was trying to get 500 cupcakes baked as an order for her newly started bakery business , and she needed me to make a few trips to bring them over to the hospital that ordered them. Anyways, whilst I was there she got a call from her daughter on Skype and she picked up the call to find her ten year old daughter crying. Wael who sees her daughter but once a year , while working in Bangkok so she can provide a “better life” for her daughter by sending her to a school that’s just above gov’t level , assumed her daughter was crying because they missed each other.
What had happened though was that her daughter had been sent home from school with a disciplinary letter stating why her daughter had been spanked in front of the class that day.
Her child was caught listening to a YouTube song in English at lunch time. One that Wael had sent the link for so that her daughter could practice her English as the song – Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” comes with lyrics.
Let me translate for you one sentence in the note sent home with her daughter :
“Listening to English is strongly discouraged and we are dismayed that your daughter chooses not to focus instead upon her Northern Thai language skills.”
Harken back if you will to the point in the video I linked where he says children in school are discouraged from expressing their creativity, imagination, and critical thought. I too rest my case. The school system here should be on trial for the murder of imagination.
Had that been my daughter (yes i’d love to have a cute daughter one day) I’d have sent a reply suggesting each school put up a McDonald’s like sign that says “Over 99 Billion Robots Created”.
Sadly, the only available recourse of action that would save her daughter would be to enroll her in a foreign international school which comes with the lofty price tag of 250,000 for the privilege to think creatively in a society that forbids it.
So how did I exclude myself enough from being Thai that allowed me to get a fair grip on the English language?
I got the fuck out of here that’s what.
After all, I had a degree in English from a prominent Thai University , I surely was prepared to study abroad right? When Vladimir my Russian teacher of Creative Writing began his first lecture in that little foreign college , I remember looking to my left and then to my right before slumping in my chair and thinking “how is it possible I understand nothing of what this guy is saying?”
At the end of that first class as people were shuffling out of the smallish 100 seat lecture room I waited until the very last one had left before I stood up and saluted towards the ceiling. Vlad caught sight of me doing so and asked simply “why?”
“I was saying thank you … for nothing … to my country.”
Again he asked only “why?”
“I just realized my degree is useless. I understand nothing you say. I have no money. I have no friends to talk with. I have nothing.”
“Not true” he said, pushing the thing on his desk in my direction. “Now you have a rope” and he gave me a wink I’ll never forget before he sauntered out of the classroom with that to and fro wobble he walked with.
I may have understood but 1% of anything he said that day , but I’m thankful I understood that 1% with such vivid clarity. For it was that day that I began my climb, and now here I am today.
I pondered for a bit on how to answer that person’s email , he being so nonchalantly condescending didn’t really deserve such an elaborate response. So instead I simply replied :
“I was fortunate to have been given a very long rope.”