Let me introduce you to some of my other classmates in the CELTA program. Even though the class itself will only last four weeks, a few of these people will make appearances in my story later.
After returning from our shopping experience on arrival day, I sat down at a communal table in the dining area, joining a few others who were involved in conversation. Here was where I met Tyson for the first time. He was animatedly pointing out the size difference between himself and the tall, gangly guy with nerdy glasses sitting opposite him.
I waited for a break in the dialog before interrupting to say hello and that I was Bob, from Chicago. I could already tell from their accents that they were also from the States. Or Canada. Tyson, shorter and stockier than his conversational counterpart, looked over at me and told me his name in an oddly high-pitched voice. Then he asked me, “Do you think this guy can wear my shirts?”
I had no answer for that. Maybe I looked a little dumbfounded at the question, so the tall guy stepped in and saved me.
“My luggage didn’t make it here, and the airline doesn’t know where it is,” he informed me. “We start classes tomorrow and I have nothing to wear except what I have on now.”
Ah. Now Tyson’s question made a little more sense.
“My name is Jacob, from Arizona,” the tall one said. His voice was quite deep and throaty. He extended his hand and gave mine a surprisingly firm shake, his lanky frame concealing his strength.
He had also flown to Thailand using China Eastern Airlines, but instead of the Shanghai to Bangkok route, he had entered the country at Chiang Mai, connecting from Kunming, China, which was ostensibly where his belongings were now languishing.
“They said it might be tomorrow, might be next week,” Jacob continued.
Without any type of collusion, Tyson and I both began to give Jacob unsolicited advice on how many times a single pair of underwear can be worn and the glory of hand washing clothing in a sink followed by dehumidifying using a hair dryer. Jacob good-naturedly took the gentle ribbing from these two strangers he had just met.
I offered to lend him a shirt or two of my own, but he declined my offer, pointing out as nicely as he could that wearing my shirts would be like donning a parachute. So, he had jokes too. And I decided that he and I would get along fine.
Paul and Dawn
I entered consciousness earlier than I desired on the first morning, awakened rather rudely, I thought, by the sounds of rhythmic splashing outside my patio door. One of my classmates thought he was Michael Phelps, obviously. Instead of trying to put a pillow over my head to drown out the noise, I decided to get into the shower and enjoy the hot water that was included in the handsome price I paid to stay at the resort-like campus.
The previous evening I discovered that not everyone had chosen to stay onsite. Out of a class of twenty-nine persons, seven had opted to rent apartments or single rooms in the area for the duration of the class. The costs were less than half of what I was paying for my deluxe accommodations, but didn’t include meals or maid services. Those seven also were responsible for their own transportation to and from the campus. A few stayed close enough to walk or use a bicycle, and a couple of the braver ones rented gas-powered scooters.
Those who did stay on campus either paid full price for a private room, or split the cost with another student. A couple of Bangladeshi teachers, Farah and Aisha, had traveled as a pair and were staying in a room together. There were two other guys splitting costs by sharing a room. Anthony, an American who was employed as a teacher in Hong Kong, and Taha, from India, were complete strangers before becoming roommates.
There was also one married couple in the group. When I joined the small group at the tables for my first breakfast, directly across from my chair sat a most intimidating figure. Paul was big. I mean huge. Like Chewbacca from Star Wars huge. In fact, his wife Dawn often referred to him as a Wookiee, as I found out later.
With long, mostly gray hair tumbling around his massive shoulders, dark brooding eyebrows and goatee on his face, and heavy tribal-style tattoos visible below his t-shirt sleeves, he was almost menacing. I wondered to myself how he was going to be able to teach students if he scared the hell out of them.
But he turned out to be one of the nicest people I have ever met. He greeted me warmly with his oversized smile and non-posh London accent. He also shared my wicked sense of humor (he’d spell it “humour”, and chide me for my “American” orthography), and we would enjoy many irreverent laughs together during our month-long class.
Dawn was a gem, too. Tall enough to not be dwarfed by her giant husband, and certainly not at all cowed by him or anyone else, this red-tressed lady was as sweet as can be. The care and compassion she had for people radiated out of her, though she also possessed a sharp wit.
Paul and Dawn were living in southern China, teaching English online while learning to live like locals. Paul was studying Mandarin, and had conversational ability. They loved cats, which endeared them to me, as I am a cat person too. It’s not that I don’t like dogs. I do. But cats are much less hassle.
Another thing we had in common was SCUBA diving. Of course they were much more qualified, having several years experience, and I had gotten my PADI open water certification only months before on my previous visit to Thailand. I enjoyed their encouragement and the photos they shared of dive sites like Cebu, Philippines and Bali, Indonesia.
They were also the only two people in the class who were (slightly) older than I was, and it was nice for me to not feel like I was coming to this party too late in life.
Later on that opening day of classes, I found out who the noisy swimmer was. Matthew, who I had first met during our shopping trip the prior evening, was determined to stay in shape. Tall and muscular, he exuded his own brand of confidence, mainly by talking about his regimen of eating well and exercising and how others were welcome to join.
People like that generally don’t stay in my orbit too long, as I prefer to keep my diet and lack of exercise program to myself. There was no way I was going to get up before seven and participate in performing the breaststroke.
As he wasn’t part of my assigned teaching group, I didn’t really interact too much with Matthew. We would see each other mainly at the daily input sessions with the rest of the class, and a few times at dinner when we shared a table with others. The only other time I remember doing any activity with him was in our third week of classes when he brought out a small bean-filled footbag and invited others to a round of hacky sack in the grassy courtyard between the residence building and the classrooms.
I was inclined to decline, as I had never played and found the game rather silly. But my lifelong desire for inclusion got the better of me and I joined the circle of younger men and women, hoping I wouldn’t fuck it up and humiliate myself.
I didn’t. Or rather, I did, but I wasn’t made to feel embarrassed. Instead, I had a good time doing something that I had previously denigrated as something kids do when they can’t find an open basketball court. However, I have never had the opportunity to play since that day.
We all have met people that we just dislike from the get-go. For whatever reason, they rub us the wrong way, and we prefer to not be near them.
I mentioned earlier that I had developed quite an arrogant spirit when I was growing up in the Jehovah’s Witness faith. Being told that I was an “exemplary young man” (they didn’t use the term ‘rockstar’) over and over by those senior to me went to my head. I often judged my peers in the church against my religious achievements and abilities. Sometimes I look back in discomfort at how insufferable I must have been at times.
Maybe Anthony had been told he was a rockstar all his life. And perhaps I let my feelings about his deportment show more than I intended. Whatever the case, we didn’t really get along. Again, he was not part of my six-person teaching group, and he rarely joined us for dinner after the teaching practices because he had discovered the bars in Chiang Mai, where he often dragged poor Taha to be his wingman or whatever. So my interactions with him were limited to the input sessions. But even there, opportunities for us to clash came up.
(More on Anthony here: https://unknowncynic.com/anthony/ )
One of the brighter spots in my connections with my classmates was a bubbly 20-something British woman. Jenny just seemed to emanate positivity wherever she went. Her laugh was infectious, and I could just imagine how she was with her students during teaching practices. She also endeared herself to me later on during the course when she leapt to my defense.
Jenny and I had volunteered to go purchase some beers for a study group after classes one night. I had just received a good review of my teaching performance, and when I heard some type of pop music emanating from the dining room, I chose to express my happiness by doing a little dance to it.
From the parking lot I heard Andrew make a homophobic comment about my dancing. Before I could think of how to reply to that, Jenny loudly scolded Andrew for not only his choice of words, but his entire attitude about other people. It was a delightful moment to watch his embarrassment at being called out for being an asshole.
Five of my classmates had traveled to Chiang Mai from their Chinese homeland to attend the CELTA program. These included Danna and Catherine, who were both in my teaching group. The others, with whom I had less interaction, were Stella, Lavin, and Jasmine.
Jasmine, while the most diminutive of the group, rather contrarily possessed the most energy. This short, bespectacled spark plug was quickly a favorite in the class, not only for her enthusiasm, but she was a great study partner, often helping me and others with some points that we struggled with.
All of our classmates from China were already experienced teachers, planning to use their CELTA certifications to open greater job opportunities for themselves. While I never had the pleasure of watching Jasmine in front of a class, I did hear the stories from those within her teaching group.
In any group of more than a dozen, there’s bound to be one who is just a little off-kilter from the rest. This spot in our class was reserved for a Frenchman whose real name may or may not have been Job. This well-traveled man spoke several languages fluently as I recall. And he often dressed in styles incongruous to what you would expect from a teacher.
Job didn’t stay on campus, so I was only able to observe him during our input classes or study breaks in the daytime. He would often show up wearing a Vietnamese-style conical straw hat and harem pants, carrying his lunch in a three-tiered stainless steel tiffin box. His sense of humor didn’t quite hit with the rest of us. We weren’t sure if he was just acting oddly for attention or he was really just odd.
There obviously were many others in the class whom I have not yet described, but will make brief appearances as the story unfolds.