There are few better ways to get established in a neighborhood than to become a teacher. Every month I start new classes (and finish older ones) and get to spend a few months interacting with people on a friendly if not especially personal way. I have met literally hundreds of people since coming to Rayong. Do I remember all of them? Not by name, no. But I do recognize faces I see around town and can generally remember where they worked and/or which class they were in.
Yesterday I was hanging out at the mall when I bumped into a former student from one of my Elementary classes. Usually when I see a student outside of the school I try to at least greet them in Thai, but this time I was so surprised to see him that I just automatically said "Hi! How are you?" The poor guy snapped to attention and replied by rote "I'm fine thank you, and you?"* I smiled and said "I'm good, I'm good!" And then every bit of English he'd ever learned fell right out of his brain "You...where ... do.... wha..." I waited a couple seconds to see if he could get a sentence out, but it just wasn't gonna happen.
It was like I'd sprung a pop quiz on him right there in the middle of the mall. I mean, he looked like he might actually faint. "It's okay, it's okay." I reassured him, and we both just burst out laughing. While he wasn't the strongest student in that class, I knew he could do better than that.** And certainly he can understand more English than he could produce on the spot. So I told him I was going shopping then 'bai gin kow' (go eat rice) because at last some Thai popped into my brain, then said good bye and put him out of his misery.
It was just funny. I had no idea that my mere presence could be that intimidating.
TAG: Code Watermelon
* He did not learn this from me, but rather from the Thai teachers he would have had growing up in school. I make it a point to teach my students, during the first or second class how to answer the question using "I'm: good, ok, so-so, not so good, not good" and for more advanced students "bored, tired, busy, in a good mood/bad mood" and whenever necessary "I have a hangover."
** I promise, I do make them do role-plays in class, but most of the questions we cover at his his level are of the introductory variety "What's your name? What's your job? Where do you come from? Where do you live?" Perhaps I need to start doing role-plays for 'running into Teacher outside of Starbucks'. ;)