Sunday, January 12, 2014

How Many 5-Year-Olds Could You Beat Up?

Living in Thailand has really cleared up some misconceptions I've had about the world. Since I spend so much time with children, most of these revelations relate to them. I taught 13 to 15-year-olds in Bangkok. Now I'm teaching 10 to 12-year-olds and 3 to 5-year-olds. Some of these students are so sweet and kind, even though they can't really communicate with me. Sure, each class has a kid who acts up for attention. But I have learned about myself and grown as a person because of the time I have spent with them. There is one key fact that I have learned about children during my adventures. 3 to 5-year-olds are, pound for pound, the most malevolent creatures on the planet. 

I'm a young, large male. I walk down dark alleys with impunity. I fend off ladyboys with one hand. I stub my toe and don't even cry that much. When I'm about to walk into a class full of thirteen 5-year-olds, I feel something that used to be totally foreign to me. A dark vacuum in the pit of my stomach. Fear. I know that the next 30 minutes are going to be filled with with screams, sneak attacks, and malice hidden behind toothless smiles.

It wasn't always this way. My first few days of teaching I was in charge. Back in those days, they were the ones who were afraid. I'd hand out worksheets and they'd come back complete. Now, they come back as paper airplanes. One girl would cry every time I walked in to the classroom. Now, she sees me as the greatest jungle gym ever. Her daily goal is to climb to the top of me.

Yes, the bad ones are bad. They scream. They don't do their work. They harass me with a sociopathic emptiness in their eyes. There is no pleasure or disgust in their actions, there is only a deep, animalistic urge to make me miserable. It is something that must be done.

But the good ones can be even worse. The ones that attack me with adoration cannot be screamed at or punished, because they hurt me with their love. Multiple examples come to mind. I'm sure you're aware of how children live their lives: in squalor. They smell weird, their noses are always running, and I swear, there's one kid who actually has flies around him all the time. I thought that only happened in cartoons. Plus some of them have bad breath. How can you have bad breath if you don't even have any teeth? Plus, students in Thailand are forced to bring toothbrushes to school, so they can clean up after lunch in addition to any extra-curricular brushing they may enjoy.

I'll walk in to the class room, sit down to set up the alphabet song for them, and the second I turn my back, they strike. I feel something clinging to my shoulder. This isn't out of the ordinary; if there's one thing every student has in common it's that they must constantly touch me. But then I feel a cool ooze on my cheek, accompanied by a sucking sound. I look over to see a cute grinning child. Under the child's nose are strands. Strands of infectious nose slime that are attached to the side of my face. What can I possibly do? Scream at the child? I don't know enough Thai to tell him that biological warfare is against the Geneva convention. Can I look him in the eyes and tell him that he better not show any affection to anyone else again? Nope. All I can do is turn, half-grimace half-smile, and stifle my gag reflex.

Did I mention that after the first few weeks of teaching I had to stay home because I had a crippling stomach flu? It's not a huge mystery where it came from.

Fortunately, after 2 months I've been able to convince them that they love me. We play games, we have fun, we share infectious diseases. It's actually pretty enjoyable.

But with this love has come a great blow to my ego. Three months ago, if you asked me how may 5-year-olds I could take, I would have scoffed at you and said "an infinite number". Now, you'll hear a sullen "I don't wanna talk about it". One day we were learning the English words "up" and "down". So I was squatting down, screaming "DOWN!", then standing up, and screaming "UP!". Suddenly, a child jumped on my back while we were in the "DOWN!" position, so I went "UP!" with him on me. He giggled, I giggled, it was all great fun. So I went back "DOWN!". Then the Thai 5-year-old hive mind made a collective decision, and the children swarmed me. Suddenly, there was 300 pounds worth of children keeping me glued to the ground. I literally could not stand up. To make matters worse, one was grabbing only onto the collar of my shirt. His entire weight was pushing on my jugular and crushing my windpipe. Could I reach back and tear him off? No. Each arm had two other children attached to it. I looked over to the Thai teacher with tears and desperation in my eyes. She returned the glance with a smile, thinking it was cute.

Somehow, miraculously, I escaped. The fear and lack of oxygen apparently made me black out, but I am still here today, so I must have wrenched myself free.

One amusing thing that the children do is ramble at me in Thai. I can't understand most of what they say, but that doesn't discourage them. When they decide they must tell me something really important, I remind them "put pasa Thai mai dai" (literally "to speak language Thai not can",  meaning "I can't speak Thai"). The amusing thing is that some of the kids will look at me after I say this with an expression that says "What did you JUST do, then? Didn't you JUST speak Thai, you big white liar?" So I just smile while peering out the corner of my eye on the lookout for another snotty kiss.

Behold, the little monsters.

1 comment:

  1. Dude so sick!! Welcome to the teacher life!! haha! We gotta swap teacher stories when you get back stateside!!