“Teaching Abroad,” Chapter 9

Another Dickhead Expat

Author’s Note:  I wrestled with the idea of composing this chapter and mentioning this person at all.  However, I remembered that this guy actually told me that he would write about me one day, so that fact alone was the deciding vote in favor of this chapter.  It may be excluded one day.  Maybe the editors will say it is too much.  Maybe I will grow up a little more and finally drop it.  Either way, I will make this my first standalone chapter in order to ensure it can be cleanly omitted, and I will change the name as well just in case.  He seems like the kind of person who would sue me.

Regardless, let’s talk about Tommy, another dickhead expat.

*****

I met Tommy at the very beginning of my time at iStudy.  He was a guy that didn’t seem to socialize with anybody else.  However, he sent me an email once offering to help me get integrated, so I thought it was a good sign.  I asked him in person one day how to better help the kids because it seemed like these classes that were being offered were hardly classes at all.  Here was his response:

You don’t.  You can’t.  You want to make a difference?  Go outside and pick up trash.”  He then proceeded to tell me a story about a man who was almost stabbed by his girlfriend.  His insinuations throughout this entirely unrelated story were that I was a hapless person who wasn’t tough enough for Bangkok, and that my idealism was going to get me hurt.

And that’s when I knew all I needed to know about Tommy.

Except I didn’t.  At all.  Information began to be filtered to me a little at a time.  I was there to replace Tommy.  He was an asshole who had overstayed his welcome, and judging by how he stomped around the place it was clear he thought he was the Alpha dog and was going to try to intimidate me into leaving.  Twice before I had guys threaten to get physical with me on the interview runs, so it was something I was a little used to.  My attitude was this:  I work here, homeslice.  If you’re so broke that you’re having to get up at six in the morning, ride two or three different trains, and basically work for a buck-fifty an hour, I doubt you can afford the five thousand baht fine for public affray.  Just sayin’.

As it turned out, Tommy was at one time the golden child of iStudy.  He was the one at all the summer camps, he was the one at all the interviews, he was everywhere.  He was the go-to guy for new clients, he was the first pick for activities, and he was well-liked among the staff.  Li still thought he could do no wrong.  Nim told me she never liked the dude.  She said he was full of crap and acted like a child any time he didn’t get what he wanted.  Furthermore, she was happy I was there to replace him, and she was going to do everything in her power to bump him out and give me all of his clients.

*****

The story of Tommy’s downfall is as follows.

Somewhere along the way Tommy struck up a romantic relationship with a Japanese woman, and when he went to go meet her parents a lot of bad things went down.  First, the parents didn’t approve.  Second, he somehow lost his passport.  He frantically called iStudy asking for a very large sum of money, and the boss actually helped him.  After all, he was a trusted member of the school, and his sob story was moving enough for them to act quickly.

When he returned to work, however, a few people noticed a change in his behavior.  Maybe the rejection got to him or something, because he began to be short with everyone, including clients.  I was later told by one of his clients that he would simply throw a worksheet in front of her and never say a word for the duration of the session.  All of the staff with the exception of Li ended up wanting him gone, so they were looking for somebody to take over for him.

Then one day came the straw that broke the camel’s back.  A student spilled water on Tommy’s laptop, and he demanded that the laptop be replaced.  He still owed a thousand dollars or so for the bailout in Japan that he never bothered to explain (a hard sum of money to earn back with the exchange rate being what it was), so it was a pretty brash move.

And the boss replaced his laptop.  She actually did it.  She took pity on this guy even though he had become a capricious train wreck who barked at everyone and abused his clients.  But it wasn’t good enough for Tommy.  He wanted a MacBook.  He was insulted by the cheap laptop that was purchased from a pawn shop, and demanded the same model from the management.

But that was enough for the boss.

*****

Tommy would send me emails about how I was going to mess up the school.  An apology email would normally follow about a day or two later, but I actually never began to reply until much later.  I could tell this guy was spiralling; there was no need to kick a man when he was down.  I began to realize there was no way he was leaving without trying his very hardest to pull one last stunt with me.  I wasn’t sure what it would be, but I knew something was coming.

And it did.

One day as a joke, I labeled the top shelf of the storage closet with my name.  The joke was that everyone in the office was too short to reach it anyways.  About a week later, I noticed my name was crossed out.  I thought Li had done it as a playful jab.  We joked with each other a lot, so it seemed like something she would do.  As such, I changed the label.  The next day my name was crossed out again, and on the shelf was a scrap of paper with the words “How old are you?” written on it.

Yep.  Here we go, I thought.

So I confronted the dickhead.  I was worried that he was unstable, but I honestly wanted to know why the hell I rubbed him the wrong way.  Americans should not be treating each other this way in another country, first of all, but I also wanted to hear the words come out of his mouth:  you took my spot.

When I asked him what the problem was, he simply replied that I was new and that I don’t “get a shelf.”  I calmly informed him that the labels were a joke and that they had nothing to do with him.  He replied that he didn’t care and repeated his earlier argument.  I informed him that I am having a hard enough time right now and that the last thing I need is a problem with another American, so can we just agree to disagree?

Sure, but you don’t get a shelf.  Look, I don’t have time for this.  I have to go.”  And then, he rushed out of the school.  I didn’t realize at the time that this would be the last time I ever saw him.  I think if I knew this, the ensuing events might have been taken with a grain of salt.

Because that unstable dickhead proceeded to write me a HUGE letter that evening.  He complained about coffee mug rings in one of the classrooms.  He called me an overweight racist.  He promised me that I would ruin the school.  He told me I didn’t belong in Thailand.  He bitched about me throwing stuff away.  At the heart of it all, I knew what he was saying.  He was just another broken soul with nowhere to go (because why didn’t he contact friends or family when he got into trouble in Japan?).  It was looking like this happened to a lot of people out here.

But then he closed the letter with something rather absurd:  “I’m far more diabolical than you think.”

What was that thing Tywin Lannister said about a king who has to say he is the king?  

Anyways…

This time I wrote something back.  I asked him what happened in Japan.  I asked him why he needed to leave so quickly.  I asked him what his problem was.  He responded minutes later, literally (Gmail shows the times of delivery), with another load of gibberish.  Honestly, I think homeboy might have had a drinking problem in addition to a rage / people / life in general problem.  He mostly repeated himself, but the first line once again was so absurd.  He basically said he was about to apologize, but now I deserved another tirade.  I actually didn’t read it all, and I didn’t read any of his emails from that day forward (sorry to disappoint you, mate).  I could see the previews and part of the opening line, but that was it.  The guy had jumped the rails, and I had better things to do.

I hated that a person made me feel this way.  I hated that a stranger hated me.  I hated that a fellow American was screwing up the image of my country for everyone.  It explained so much about how I was treated in certain places, including Frowny Pants Lo at the front desk.  Why were there so many miserable expats here?

Oh, and he proceeded to write emails to me for the next six months.  They would always be followed by an apology a day or two later.  Like I said, I got the gist of the emails in the previews, but I finally figured out to just have Gmail automatically delete them.

He even tried to contact me on Facebook.  I got a lengthy apology letter from him one day when I got on my Facebook page, and I just had to marvel at his persistence.  By that point I had almost gotten to where I had forgotten the whole thing, so it made me a extremely angry.  I blocked him, of course, and a few days later I was contacted under a fake name with another apology.  DUDE.  COME ON.

*****

There was one important question that I had throughout all of this:  if this guy was such a pain, why keep him?  Why starve him out?  Why not just fire him?  I showed the boss some of the emails he sent me.  I told Nim about the closet issue.  I asked again and again why they wouldn’t just fire the dude.  I never got an answer.  They never had anything to say.  Was it because of his good track record, or was everybody just that opposed to confrontation in this country?

Honestly, I was sure I didn’t want to know the answer to that question.

But the emails and the messages eventually stopped, and that chapter finally ended.  Nim told me he actually buzzed through iStudy some time later and acted like it was a cheerful reunion.  He told the girls he was part of a theater group and tried to sell everyone tickets.  Li bought a ticket, and as it turned out there was no show.  It was either canceled or didn’t exist… who knows, who cares.  What a complicated little man.  I sure hope he’s alright.  Maybe he died.

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