So on this quiet and serene Saturday night where I can finally take a much-needed short break from lesson preparation, I’m left with some quality time to reflect upon my journey thus far.
From quitting my job as a lecturer in Malaysia with the initial plan to travel Asia, to coming to Thailand and getting a teaching job at a government school barely three months into my otherwise long travel, so many things have happened in the blink of an eye.
Everything is like a dream.
I’ve evolved from being a solo backpacker (wannabe) to everything in between and now to a community member in a small, laid-back district in Southern Thailand, where I have made some new friends and teach over 180 children weekly. Surreal is the only word I can think of.
Living in the Asian community, there’s got to be a few curious friends who, after finding out what I’m up to, would unreservedly throw the question, “So how much salary are you getting being a teacher in Thailand?”
And if they want to sound anything but nosy, rephrasing the question proves useful: “Well if one is working outside of Malaysia, one should be looking at XXX per month. Are you getting anything like that?”
I know when to and when not to reveal personal information, so I’m not all that disturbed by those questions.
Let me just say that I’m getting less than what I used to get in Malaysia.
Does that bother me?
Honestly, it did initially.
Who isn’t bothered when we live in the kind of society that often prioritises making money over everything else? Who isn’t bothered when there is some sort of “rule of thumb” out there that tells us to negotiate at least 20% more salary than our previous job?
But then I realised something.
I realised that reality doesn’t always go in consistency with that rule of thumb. We just don’t live in a world of idealism.
I also realised that I would have been travelling away anyway had I not been given this teaching opportunity. So this definitely is a bonus for me as a traveler who wants to learn more about people and cultures.
I told myself to be grateful. If I had to worry about money, maybe I shouldn’t have quit my previous job in the first place.
It is indeed true when people say there are many things that money cannot buy. Since taking up this job, I have become spiritually and mentally happier.
After giving it much thought, the ultimate reason why I’m comparatively happier here and now, is that I have chosen to let go of a number of things.
Among them, I have chosen to give up the perceived “glamour” of being both a lecturer and a head of department to pursue an unusual journey living on the backpack. That also means losing a shield that would protect me from being asked 1,001 questions by the rather judgmental lot in my community.
I have, of course, also given up a stable source of income where only as little as 12% of my monthly remuneration went to the repayment of my housing loan and the remaining could easily fund a comfortable life(style).
Now that I’ve lost that kind of privilege, so it teaches me how not to spend money on things I don’t need and how to keep my things at a minimal.
During a meditation retreat in Koh Phangan, my teacher Anthony Markwell used to say this, “When we start travelling, our backpack probably weighs only 10kg. But months later it goes from 10kg to 20kg.
We keep wanting to buy new stuff. If we think about it, just how many things do we want to be responsible for?”
In Malaysia, I had a beautiful and comfortable home to stay in. And the best part is that my former workplace is just a stone’s throw away.
Too, I have chosen to give those up.
I’m now renting a house in the outskirt of the Chumphon province, where in it I have nothing more than my 65-liter backpack and the simplest of bedding – I don’t even have a proper mattress or any blanket.
Still, my life couldn’t have been more blessed.
I may have fewer material possessions now, but I’m certainly enjoying a greater degree of spiritual happiness. I also have fewer worries.
If I were to compare my life at this point to a song, it’s got to be a stripped-down, acoustic version of a rock song.
At my current school, I’m sharing an office room with four wonderful teachers who always make me feel like I’m part of them and not just a foreigner. While the office room is very different from those of my previous workplaces, I find great joy working in it.
It is very old-school and comes without an air conditioner, but the chilly winds coming from the surrounding mountains and woods are enough to make up for the absence of an air conditioner.
It has a small fridge and a little coffee section at one corner, so it’s a great help for most of the teachers, including myself, who love coffee. The room is so comfortable, I couldn’t ask for more.
In the morning before classes start, some students would appear at the doorway and cheekily throw me a “Hello!” or “Good Morning!” before running off because they’re quite apprehensive of me engaging them in further conversation that requires them to speak more English.
As the school is situated on a hill, the office corridor overlooks the greens of the surrounding mountains and valleys, as well as the blues of the sky.
Teaching in Thailand, I’m no longer dealing with young adults like I used to; I’m now teaching kids who are half the age of those I used to teach – something I never thought I would or could do.
As I’m teaching these kids, I’m also learning.
I’m learning to speak a language they can understand and relate to. At the same time, I’m also learning to speak their native language.
While there is bound to be a few mischievous students who would give me a headache sometimes, trust me, there are a lot more others who would make sure they put the smile back on my face.
Just a few days ago, upon seeing me for the first time since my week-long absence due to me having gone back to Malaysia for a visa run, a cohort of students came running towards me and gave me a big, tight hug on the legs, not giving me a chance to move at all.
One of them said, “Kit thung Teacher Ken mak loey! (‘Missing Teacher Ken so much!‘)” At that very moment, my heart just melted. Those were the sweetest words I’d heard.
Teaching young cohorts of students who speak a language I understand little of is certainly no easy task, but I’m happy it makes me learn and improve as a teacher. The whole process just makes me feel wonderfully occupied.
Do I have any regret taking up this job?
I may be earning less money than in Malaysia, but I’m not kidding when I say I have the best job in the world.