Friday, November 23, 2007


Khun Krissana sounded like she was ready to kill me. What about the students! We were good to you! We have a contract! I’m feeling very negative! Then she hung up on me. I have to e-mail her instructions in how to really be angry in English.

Than Pitak: I was anguished, not an act really, I like the guy, I love the school, now a burnt bridge, I do, did, hate to tell them so suddenly, I’m not comfortable with naked self-interest. I knelt at his desk like a student and prayed to him with my eyes closed. “I’m sorry! I could not say no! Faculty of Law! Money! Travel! I apologize! It’s so impolite! What could I do! I couldn’t say no!” He’d do the same, he knows it. The money alone would do it for a Thai man.

He too acted like I was asking: “we’ll have a meeting on Monday,” like to decide if they’ll let me go, like a summons. I’ll go on Monday, but only out of a misplaced, guilt-driven good-heartedness. He should only know what a contract with a lawyer is worth . . . we study hard about breaking those things . . . a California lawyer no less! Contracts in California aren’t worth the cost of the copies.

Anyway, try to enforce a service contract, I thought, no remaining court on earth would or could force me to work out the contract. I remember Contracts One, from law school, I remember the example case: forcing the work would be akin to slavery. The remedies are enjoining the work of the former employee for a competitor, and maybe, maybe damages. I’m going to a new world, get over it. Fight it out in court for what? With no chance of success against the biggest law faculty in Thailand. And where’s the down side for me? The worst that could happen is I lose my work permit and visa and I have to go home. Like Thailand was the only show in town. I could return immediately to Lao, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, shit, I could return immediately to Thailand . . . I have options. Besides, people don’t go to court when they know it can’t possibly give them what they want, like a teacher to come back. Yesterday’s gone.

I’m not comfortable with it, I signed the contract, but it was really just a formality to: 1) get me a work permit and visa; and 2) guarantee me a job for one year. What a laugh, like if they ran out of budget it wouldn’t be, sorry Charlie, goodbye. So, sorry Charlie, goodbye, but I do feel bad about my students, the fifteen or so who really profited from my teaching, out of like seven hundred and fifty.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


One of the less attractive aspects of human existence is that we are sometimes faced with difficult choices. Difficult, mutually exclusive, sometimes impossible choices, and yet between the several paths we must choose only one. This is man’s fate.

Last week I got a phone call, a bolt from the blue really. “Something has happened; someone has died suddenly; someone may need someone with just your qualities and experience.” It’s nice to have friends who remember you when luck is in the air. “You should call this man.”

Well I did call the man, on Friday, a professor at one of the big state universities of Thailand, Ramkhamhaeng University, famous as a training ground for Thai lawyers, a professor of the Faculty of Law at the main campus in Bangkok. We spoke for a time and got on very well; a mutual friend or two had spoken of me highly and he was positively disposed even before we had spoken. “We need a professor for our English classes immediately.” He was shy to mention money, but he felt it was a threshold issue that needed to be addressed early in the conversation. “The salary is low,” he said. I am familiar with salaries in Thailand and could ball-park the pay even before he explained it to me. It was as I expected, and it came to more than twice the amount of my current very good salary. I could feel his relief on the phone when I said that it was a generous salary. He sighed and said, “thank you for your understanding. Most American lawyers feel that they cannot work for so little pay.” That I could also understand. The salary came to about 25% of what even a mediocre lawyer could expect in California, where I am admitted to the bar. In Thailand, however, the salary was a prince’s ransom. “Can you be in Bangkok on Monday?”

I could, and I was, and we had a nice meeting after which I was introduced to the Dean of the Faculty of Law. So within seventy-two hours I was faced with this choice between two things, each of which I found abhorrent. I could either: 1) suddenly quit my job and leave in the lurch my high school, my 750 students, and my principal who had been kind enough to hire me only seven months ago; or 2) turn down what for me amounted to the best job in Thailand, with money, respect, paid travel and great adventure. I fell back on my legal training and made a ruthless cost-benefit analysis. It took about one minute.

On Monday I accepted the position. On Tuesday I located a suitable apartment, and on Wednesday I returned to my northern city faced with a most disagreeable task: telling my current employer that I must leave suddenly. Now Friday has come around again and it’s crunch time. I’ll tell them today and smile through their shock and anger at my good fortune. Before long they will realize that I could not possibly have turned down such a great opportunity, but that will do little to assuage their misery. The misery that I will cause them.
They’ll get over it, and perhaps the other three Farang English teachers can take up the slack and maybe enjoy the extra money. I’ll get over it too. Life goes on. In my case, a life of rapid success in my chosen career, a meteoric rise from volunteer grade school English teacher to Professor of the Faculty of Law at a big, high quality university.
So I’ll tell them with a smile and a little expression of genuine appreciation for their hiring me in the first place and now understanding my position. It could not be otherwise, really. When life deals you a full house, kings over tens, you cannot lose your nerve and fold, frown, place your cards face down on the table and say, “I’m out,” no, it’s impossible really, all you can do, what you must do, is try to hide your enthusiasm and figure out how to boost the pot, which is now, after all, your money.