This is my second year teaching at Piboonsawasdee Municipal School in Phuket Town. We are nearing the end of Term One and I would say that I’m generally well-liked by the majority of the students (with the possible exception of some trouble-making boys in P6 and one or two individuals in P3).
Yes, all the students STILL want to shake my hand whenever they see me despite my valiant efforts to get them to wai me in the hallways. After all, they begin and end the lessons with this form of respect and would never think to wave and scream “Hello” to the Thai teachers. I don’t think I’m asking for much!
But one significant change I’ve noticed just in the past two months or so is that I’m almost always referred to as “Kru Mark” (kon kru is Thai for “teacher”). While the kids address me properly as “Kru” or “Kon Kru”, I do hear them saying “Kru Mark is here” when I walk by their classrooms or see them outside.
That’s an awesome change as last year, the students usually called me “farang” (Thai for “foreigner” – it’s never a term of endearment and is a sign of ignorance or outright animosity) or “Kru farang” which I actually disliked more. If a child called me farang directly, I would usually tell them – in Thai – “No, I’m not a farang, I’m an American.” They would usually get the hint about national identity.
However, I still hear parents call me farang but sometimes I also hear their children correct them: “No, that’s Kru Mark. He’s English.” Well, you can’t have everything. Invariably, the Thai teachers call me “farang” (rarely do they refer to me as a teacher which really stings). They often speak of me wehile I am there, not realizing that I can understand a considerable amount of what they are saying!
If I go up-country (which is anywhere in Thailand outside of Bangkok), particularly remote off-the-tourist trail locations, I do get pointed at and called “farang.” That never offended me as I knew they had probably seen few if any foreigners before. In Phuket, which is loaded with foreigners, you wouldn’t expect that to happen. But it does, albeit rarely. It happened to me just this week in the large Seng Ho Bookstore in Phuket Town. A parent pointed me out to her child: “Look, farang!” And the kid stared and asked what I was doing in a bookshop! I felt like telling both that I was “Kru Mark” and was buying gifts for my students.
I love my kids!