I think I have very nearly reached breaking point. One part of Thai culture I have adopted quite well is the healthy habit of letting things slide along with the not so healthy habit of bottling up the things that do bother me rather than dealing with them. As a result I am cool as the summer breeze until all of the sudden I’m….not.
The rope of sanity began to fray around finals week (first week of October). We have a program to input the grades on excel, but it is all in Thai language and while my reading skills have improved my comprehension is not at technical level so I have no idea what any of it means really. However, with the help of my co-worker Pang I had figured it out and, after multiple restarts due to computer crashes, I had finally nearly finished inputting attendance and grades for all my almost 1,000 students. “You can fail the students,” they told me all semester, “if the student does not come and does not do work you can fail them.” This is new. And exciting! I don’t want to say I am a teacher that enjoys failing my students, but…..sometimes it really is satisfying to see that zero. I probably wouldn’t have understood this until I became a teacher, particularly at a school where the students are boss and they pass no matter what, but it was wickedly delightful to be able to fail a student who put in no effort, never came to class, or disrupted class whenever they did show.
As I said, the fraying began finals week- when I was completing the grades and realizing that this stupid program would NOT in fact let me fail them. It wouldn’t compute.
I ranted. I raved. Pang told me to just jai yen yen (calm down) and I yelled, “No!! I will NOT jai yen yen Pang, this entire system is STUPID!” I don’t think she knew what to do with me.
A 50 is a pass, and after some experimenting I found that if you give students exactly a 49, it will register as a fail. So I went through each class and took great care to give each failing student a 49. These kids would not pass my class. The next day Pang came to me and, with some trepidation, informed that in a meeting that day they changed the way to input grades and we put the final grade in the wrong page. My sanity frayed a little more. She showed me, I glowered, I did it their way.
I had already booked a ticket back to Christchurch for a week and I was soooo ready to go. Every year, even every term, the grading system is different. In my two years here the way we do the grades has never once been the same. It is aggravating. On the last day of school, at 3pm, they called a meeting for all the teachers to talk about grades. A few more strands of my sanity snapped and frayed. We went to the meeting and they, on the last day in the last hour before school break, told us that instead of the program we have been using all term we needed to use an online program. Not only did this online program require you to do each grade individually, it was also entirely in Thai. And all the other schools in the area had used this program and finished with the grades already. And my school thought it would be fun to tell us that we needed to do this over break and submit it before school started up again. To top it all off, the vice director was up front explaining everything in Thai, and for some reason the username and password we foreigners were given was not correct so we couldn’t even log in. And nothing was being done about it. And I finally snapped. At this point there are zero f***s given.
In the middle of the meeting I closed my laptop, stood up, and walked out.
I printed the grades and put them on my supervisor’s desk. I left school, left town, left the country. Left the grades to be his problem.
Was this a good thing to do? No probably not. Did it feel good anyway? Oooooh yeah. (And I still have a job!) I have chided and tsk tsk-ed foreign teachers in the past for walking out without finishing their grades to school standard on their final term but God forgive me, I understand completely now. When you’re done you’re done.
Returning to Christchurch was both awesome and awful for me. I needed the break, but once leaving, my Thailand bubble was popped. I’m not content here anymore. I’m certainly happy, but not content. I remembered that there is a big world out there I need to see, there are so many things I need to do, and I can’t stay in little Buengkan forever; I won’t be satisfied with my life. I needed to be able to talk to friends on more than a basic level, who understand me on a deeper level than the one the language barrier prevents me from reaching with my Thai friends. I didn’t realize how much Christchurch and the people there felt like home to me.
I also didn’t realize how much of an impact Thai culture had on me when it came to body image. It would be reasonable for me to say that I get called fat here at least once a week. Maybe even more. If I lose a bit of weight some people will say I am thin but later that same day someone else will still call me fat. I thought I was doing a really good job of ignoring it, I think I am doing a really good job of ignoring it to be honest, but when I went back to New Zealand one of the first things my best friend there said to me was, “Holy shit you are thin!” That shocked me, because while I don’t think I am fat by any means I definitely wouldn’t classify myself as thin. I find myself fretting about my little belly bulge more than I used to, and maybe not eating so much in public because I honestly don’t want to deal with another “fat” comment. While I’m mentally strong enough to not let these comments spiral me into a bout of bulimia, it has impacted my confidence in my body more than I thought.
On the bright side, going did pull me out of the rabbit hole long enough to take a deep breath and clear my head. I have come back to Thailand feeling much less jaded and ready to make the most of my time here. Enjoy the love these lil kiddos shower me with and do my best to suffer through the administrative nightmare of my final term at Buengkan School. Soak it all in and love the heck out of everything I can about this beautiful place before it is time to venture off into the great big world again.