Teaching English (and Gossip!) in Thailand

One thing you learn fairly quickly as a teacher in Thailand is that your local counterparts love a good gossip. They aren’t particularly fussed about who showed up late for work two days in a row or who is a terrible teacher, but who is sleeping with whom? Now that is a beloved topic of choice.

On the gossip front, working in a Thai school is largely like being back in my small hometown of 700 people. There are about 1,000 students and teachers who inhabit this school, and it seems in small circles such as this, talking about each others’ business is a right of passage. It’s inevitable that some scandalous couple will emerge, blindsiding everyone with their sudden sly smirks and Sunday “work” dates in the library; their husbands, wives, and children all seemingly clueless.

teaching in thailand
Teaching my coworkers at Wang Nam Yen, Thailand. Photo by Rissa Sadey.

In Thailand, a country known for it’s open sexuality and third gender (lady-boys), with cities rampant with red light districts and ping pong shows, it’s also quite common for married men and women to take pleasure in what they call giks. When we (westerners) tell them our understanding for a gik is a “f*ck buddy,” they cringe and think it sounds terrible. And in truth, the translation isn’t really that simple.

A gik relationship isn’t always a sexual affair; It falls somewhere between “more than a friend” and the aforementioned “f*ck buddy.” In a country where men and women aren’t often friends with the opposite sex, and where the term friend is used quite loosely (more like an acquaintance), a gik might be someone whom you enjoy spending time with on an emotional level. It might also be someone you enjoy “fooling around with,” but not reaping all the benefits, if you will. However, more often than not, a gik relationship is comparable to our own version of the term, except one important detail: a gik is not a gik unless it’s also an act of infidelity.

The term only originated about 20-30 years ago (though it was probably happening before there was a word for it) and today gik relationships, though somewhat secretive, are the culprit of many rumors and jokes, despite their commonality.

Last week, I was teaching English to a class full of teachers, and the hour turned into a rather entertaining event. One of the two male teachers in attendance was unabashed in his flirtations with me. After asking if I like Thai men, and my dodging the question by saying I’m going back to America in May, he then told me it was no problem. “I go America with you,” he said.

“Oh I see,” I joked. “You just want American visa!”

“Wait, wait,” he said. “How many wives can you have in America?”

teaching in thailand
That’s him, on the right! Photo by Rissa Sadey.

I laughed, seeing where this conversation was going. “You get only one wife,” I said. “Only one.”

“Oh, okay…I stay in Thailand then!” The class erupted in laughter, but they didn’t think I understood.

“It’s same-same in Thailand, right?” (Thais don’t understand ‘same’ unless you duplicate it.) “Only one wife?”

“Yes, teacher.”

“Well then,” I said, catching them off-guard. “How many giks can you have?”

They all hooped and hollered at my knowledge of their well-used term, and everybody began shouting random numbers.

“Five!”

“Seven!”

“Ten!”

“Teacher, you can have many, many. As many you want,” was the final answer.

Even though it’s a very common thing, because of it’s stealthy nature, gik relationships give people in a small town something to talk about. Fortunately, the young, married, female teacher and mother of one who is the current gossip rage among the teacher crowd, was in the other classroom, sitting next to her coworker and gik.


Teaching English in Thailand: Gossip
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

I Miss My Ex, But Not All of It

After teaching in China, I’ve been forced to admit how much I didn’t enjoy teaching in Thailand. It’s like the opposite of the phrase, “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.”

I relate my experience more to a bad relationship – one where you don’t realize it’s bad until you’ve moved on to realize what a good relationship actually is. Now that Thailand and I broke up, I have not forgotten all the things I love about it – it will always be my first love, an affair that taught me a lot about myself and my partner – but I have since discovered one thing I didn’t like: Teaching.

My freshmen university students here, in China, are absolutely fabulous. They actually want to be in class, for starters, not just because their teacher is white, but because they want to learn. They understand what I’m saying (it’s a dream come true!) and actively participate when asked. Even the not-so-enthusiastic classes will come to the front of the room and speak, even if reluctantly.

In Thailand, if a student was adamant about not speaking (which is the reason they were in my class), they would simply run out of the room shed. I do understand there are some vast differences between my high-school-aged students (eighth graders and sophomores) and my college freshmen when it comes to maturity and taking control of their own education, as is true in any country (in fact, I spent a lot of time defending my Thai students for these very reasons), but there are some other huge factors that play into it too.

Chinese students are told on the day they are born how important it is to be educated, and they spend their entire childhood studying and stressing about their college entrance exams. It’s a part of the culture to be studious, and more than half of my students named reading and studying as hobbies (as well as sleeping and eating, but that’s another story).

In rural Thailand, the emphasis on education is much lower. A priority list with education at the top exists for few, and not one of my students was ever caught reading a book. Students will skip class for reasons such as helping with the family farm or being too tired from a field trip (like I was after this one), and it’s perfectly acceptable in a country that allows students to drop out after freshman year of high school.

Many of my Thai eighth grade students will choose that option, and the few who do finish twelfth grade won’t further their studies at university. They have other priorities, like caring for the family and helping mom with the family’s street-food stand.

I realize it’s completely unfair to compare China to Thailand – they are very different countries in almost every respect of the word. However, just like a girl can’t help comparing one boyfriend to the last, it’s hard not to make these kinds of connections.

Living in China could (and will) never take away the unbeatable adventure I had in Thailand and the rest of Southeast Asia, but I loved those countries for their people, their culture, their food, their sites, etc., not necessarily because I loved my job. I’m forced to see that now, as unfair to my ex (Thailand) as that is, but teaching is the only contrast I will allow myself to make.

I foresee my time in China being no less than wonderful, and though I know my job will be more fulfilling and beneficial to my future than any of my days in front of a white board in Thailand, I don’t believe the rest of my China experience will ever be able to top my village life in Thailand.