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.

1 comment:

Derek said...

Fred, my friend, I would have expected better of you. How after all these years of experience in Thailand you can pull such a rookie move is beyond me. So the million dollar question is: Why did you tell them the TRUTH?! You should have told them you had to leave because of family issues, your cow died, or some other bullshit lie that Thai people use to save face. I know you developed close relationships with your Thai community, but come on man your a lawyer for heavens sake, you should know telling the truth isn't always a good thing, especially in Thailand. :)

I hope you are doing well and not feeling too guilty over the decision to take the new teaching job. I would have taken the job too, just as every Thai person would have. I wish you the best, friend. If I am back in Thailand again this summer we will have to get together with Russ and get a few beers!

- Derek 116