Sawasdee Kahp… greetings from Thailand.
For those of you who don’t know me or my family, I am a former resident of Charlestown who has just moved to the other side of the world.
Back in 2000, at the age of 23, having just finished college and working as a substitute teacher at teacher at Charlestown High, I saved up a couple thousand dollars which enabled me to backpack through Southeast Asia for a few months.
I travelled through Thailand and Laos before settling in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I took a job as an English teacher. I wanted to earn some money and hang out in this cool city. But it was here that I met my future wife, who was a college student at the time. Our relationship was developing when I got scared about the commitment and having to choose between home (Charlestown) and a life here.
I left, but we kept in touch and after a year back in Boston, while teaching at the Edwards Middle School, I had to -- as my friend Brendan put it -- “go see about a girl.” We made the commitment and lived in Chiang Mai together until 2004 because those student loan things kept getting in my way and we both needed to further our education and expand our career opportunities. I got a master’s degree in Linguistics from UMass Boston, and Nat got hers from Simmons. Meanwhile, we were both working our asses off in whatever jobs we could get. We also raised our two boys who became deeply connected to Charlestown. And it was during this time that we met most of you.
But the itch of Thailand never went away. We wanted to give our children the opportunity to experience their Mom’s culture. And I must admit, I enjoy the lifestyle in Thailand. It isn’t something I can explain in one or two paragraphs, so I hope this article will go a long way towards giving some understanding.
I want to use this forum to stay connected with Charlestown. I would be upset if I lost touch with the many good people we have gotten to know. Facebook is a great tool, but cannot provide the kind of depth of a column. Also, the writing process helps me to get some insight in the present and the past, so I will scratch that egotistical urge and, if you find it interesting, read along!
My intention is to be truthful – brutally honest about all things here... the adjustment, our children’s well-being (Aaron is 9 and Ethan 4), my teaching career, and you’ll probably hear a few things about my beloved mother-in-law.
First Question: Where to live? Bangkok or Chiang Mai
I consider myself a relatively intelligent guy, but I failed to have thought through some of the minor details about the big move here. Chief among those decisions is… where to live! Bangkok the capital of 7 million has more job opportunities, the most prestigious universities in Thailand, and is near the beach. However, it is overwhelmed with traffic and pollution, is a good 10 degrees hotter and has a movie named after it called Bangkok Dangerous! Definitely a challenge for raising children.
Chiang Mai is a pastoral alternative. Built at the base of a mountain, the city is relatively modern (fast internet access, two movie theatres, a Dunkin Donuts!) It has seen a ton of development in recent years, and is where Nat and I met. It's also where her family lives. Let’s put that as a pro for now…
I figured we needed to get our boots on the ground before we could make a more permanent decision and I guess that logic holds true, but our inability to decide on a city has hampered much of our productivity. For the first few days here we were looking for houses to rent or buy. Starting price for a house is $40,000. But without jobs, making any long-term housing commitment (most rentals want six months minimum) seems useless.
We will live with Nat’s mom for the time being, until we get our job situations figured out. Next week I have two interviews lined up in Bangkok and yesterday I went on a preliminary interview at Chiang Mai University. My goal is to teach at a university or international school. There are plenty of elementary and secondary school opportunities here, but I’ve never taught at a university and it would be good for long-term career prospects. An international school pays American wages, but is very difficult to get into.
Nat has been busy getting the kids' documents in order. Every day requires a trip to City Hall to get them residential status or some other important piece of paper. The boys won’t have to choose their citizenship until they are 18.
While not looking for jobs, I have been searching for schools for the boys. Some of them, I found over the internet but they didn't live up to our expectations upon arrival. Most schools don’t have the support system necessary to accommodate their inability to read and write in Thai (not to mention speaking).
Raising your children to be bilingual is a fantastic goal, but the reality is that they won’t have any interest in the second language unless they see a practical use to learning it. That has left us in a bind, and although we want our kids to get a traditional Thai education, we are probably going to have to splurge on a bilingual or international school.
Stay tuned for more. Hope you are all enjoying your summer vacation. I'm wondering if they ever completed that road work on Main St?