Fear, Loathing and Losing The Ashes in Bangkok

Twenty-two professional sportsmen battle it out for over a month hoping to win one of sport’s least impressive looking trophies. It’s the sort of competition that could have only been invented by an Englishman.

It was a Wednesday morning and I was enjoying my vacation. I was lounging around in my underpants, trying to read one of Poe’s onerous, preponderous and turgid short stories in they style that only Poe could write them,  thank god, because if all writing was like Poe’s then being illiterate wouldn’t be considered such a bad thing.

My phone rang, my ear was quickly bombarded by the staccato speech that produced words like a Gatling gun produces bullets. It was a call from my Filipino attorney, he had landed in Bangkok and he was urgently in need of a visa for Viet Nam, five kilos of northern Thai coffee, and a good place to watch cricket. He knew that all I was good for was only the coffee, although I was determined to offer my expertise on the visa front as well. The cricket match started tomorrow at five in the evening, we were to meet at a bar in downtown Bangkok where  we could watch men play an esoteric sport, and where we could formulate and discuss the sorts of ideas that flew in the face of convention and common decency.

It had all gotten too much for me, my attorney had reenacted scenes from a host of West End shows while the Ambassador appeared to be intensely negotiating the release of hostages that had been captured rebel Guatemalan communists. Reality had long ago been subsumed by a reckless acceptance of the twisted and the perverse. We had gone too far now, too much had been said to turn back, only one thing was certain, the evening could only get worse from here on in.

Although having lived in Thailand for over a decade I could never be described as one who appreciates the benefits of travel.  In this time I have been to Bangkok only a handful of times, and have only been to the beach twice. Instead I’m much more comfortable making cups of tea and reading books, but here I was, being presented with an opportunity for mindless, reckless and irresponsible behaviour in one of the most sin ridden cities in the world. I knew my attorney had lived quite a life for the ten years he had spent in Bangkok, and that he would have the geographical sagacity and social connections to facilitate a unique happening. I was also well aware that my attorney had never caught on to the notion espoused by some former drug users that you can get a lot higher without drugs than with them. And neither have I, for that matter.

Mitchell Johnson loping up to bowl, a head full of bad intentions, resembling something like Herman Munster the morning after a meth binge, snarling, hostile, a complete bastard if you happened to be standing at the other end of the wicket.

We arrived at a bar just off Sukhumvit Road, the attorney was immediately halloed enthusiastically by a number of weary, middle aged looking men sat around a table. Salutations, hugs, swearing, and insults  were suitably exchanged, followed by more swearing and insults. Once these formalities had been completed to everyone’s satisfaction, the Filipino introduced me to his associates which initiated another volley of insults and swearing.

It had always been our objective to watch the cricket, but from the moment we arrived people seemed seemed to be shuttling themselves with a nervy sense of alacrity back and forth to the toilet. Not that the cricket required much concentration, the Australian batsmen were disposing the English bowlers to the four corners of the ground (no mean task given that they play on an oval).

Over time an inverse relationship was developing between the number of runs being scored by the Australian batsmen and the number of people remaining round the table. With the Australian batsmen accumulating the sort of score that would cause a theoretical mathematician to have a wet dream, only three of us remained around the table. The Filipino myself and a Joe Pesci type of character who made frequent references to the activities and workings of the Australian Embassy. I had no idea of the role Mr. Pesci played for the embassy or if indeed he even worked there, but after a while my fascination with his employment status was replaced by the entertainment being afforded to me by my attorney and Mr. Pesci. They were involved in an intense discussion bout movies, and plays, going from one to another using a sequence of weak, sometimes spurious connections. Mr. Pesci would call out the the title of a play or a movie and this would inspire the Filipino to act out scenes from that said entertainment. In a twenty minute spell, I had been treated to the Filipino acting out a scene from some Australian play about an election, followed more ambitiously by playing the part of Brian Denehy playing the part of Willie Lomax in Death of a Salesman, but this was nothing as for his finale he finished with an inspiring scene from Gandhi. It was at this moment that I realized that those two were riding the crest of a wave I hadn’t quite caught, the wave quickly took them shorewards and I knew that I would have to go quickly looking for my surf board in the toilet if I was going to have any hope of staying in touch with them. There we sat for the rest of the night, staring out to sea, looking to catch our waves. Suddenly someone would catch a wave and begin to rant incoherently, with no reason or rationale, then fall off and sit back down on his surf board waiting for his next thought to sweep him along and hopefully wash him up upon the shores of sanity.

This was no state for a respectable man to find himself in, and what had exactly happened to us during the previous three hours is hard to say, I remember noticing that it was two in the morning and saying “I feel light headed, I could do with a walk.” After having probably settled the bills the Filipino and I walked off into the night, the lights of Bangkok reflected in or vapid, dilated eyes, and enhancing our distant, vacant grins.

By the time we had realigned our perspective of things  it was approaching three in the morning. I had to be at the airport for seven, and my expensive hotel room had become little more than a luxury locker within which my bag was stored. At some point during our bacchanalian rampage along the fetid and depraved streets of Bangkok ill luck and poor decision making led me to act on an ill advised impulse, I took the opportunity to go shopping for ladies underwear. It may have been as a result of us being constantly harassed by the gnarled, wizened harpies that were perched on bar stools, casting the dice of fate one last time for the night, hoping for one more customer that would help them to pay their electric bill, or their meth dealer. In an unspoken flash of benevolence I decided the only moral thing to do was to help these ladies. With both of us being married purchasing the professional services they were used to offering was clearly out of the question, and I couldn’t just give them cash that would be demeaning, these girls after all had their dignity.  So it was obvious that a fair and above board transaction needed to take place between us if I was to help these girls. It was then, in a moment of blinding inspiration that I declared my intent to buy the underpants of any girl willing to sell them. For a moment there was quiet, the bar girls clearly didn’t understand the terms of business I was trying to conduct, whilst my attorney struck dumb, was now struggling to understand anything. In my poorest drunken Thai I made myself understood to the harpies who quickly became excited and scuttled back into the dark recesses of the bars from which they had originally crawled out of. The Filipino was still very unsure as to what had just happened, whilst standing there dazed and slack jawed a barely dressed bar girl closely showed to him a pair of very cheap, trampy, string like underpants, and started shouting that she would take 500 baht for them. She was quickly joined by four, five, six other bar girls proudly brandishing underwear aloft in the air, as if it were their national flag. It quickly became apparent to me that due to the over supply of the desired product this had quickly become a buyers market. “So you’ll take 500” turning to another pant wielding freak “would you sell for 400?”, the girl nodded enthusiastically, ” so she’s selling for 400, put up your pants if you’ll sell for 300″. A sea of hands, arms and underpants crashed over us. In only a couple of minutes we’d purchased several pairs of underwear at an average cost per unit of around 100 baht, but more importantly we’d helped these people out and managed to retain our dignity.

Cartoon Character with Underwear on Head --- Image by © Sabet Brands/Corbis
Having purchased pieces of clothing the Filipino would be damned if he wasn’t going to wear them.

With our new found sense of self respect we decided that we were hungry and didn’t give a rat’s ass about what we should eat. This is a particularly cavalier   philosophy to adopt towards food at 3 a.m. in Bangkok, one that could well result in the aforementioned rat’s ass being the main ingredient in what we were about to consume. We found some street vendor that agreed to sell us something that might be protein on a layer of rice, covered in a shiny, gelatinous sauce.

By now the Filipino had decided that it was the right time and place to wear the procured g-string about his person, more precisely on his head. In the grand scheme of what else was going on about us this didn’t appear to me to be too ridiculous.  The Filipino and I sat ourselves down on plastic stools amidst an ocean of Johns and their hookers for the night. Indeed, it was at moments like this that it can be difficult to have faith in the essential decency of the white man’s culture. Obviously Bangkok isn’t the white man’s culture, but by the looks of it he was definitely acclimating himself successfully into this environment. If there was anywhere on Earth that I was expecting people to be liberal minded, it was here. This would surely be the last place for those with pious, conservative values to frequent. Why should any of these swine care about a man wearing panties on his head?

We both sat there, wiped out from the excesses of the past ten hours, both of us questioning why we had ordered food, why we were here? A stocky, meat head of a man walked past my shoulder and stopped opposite the Filipino. All I could see was the back of what appeared to be an unusually muscled man. There was something in the tone of his voice and the fact that he’d walked with purpose up to the Filipino that alerted my  suspicions. I looked up and the man was speaking with an air of hostility, very closely to my attorneys face. He then pulled something out from behind his back and held it very close to the right eye of the bewildered Filipino. The man put what ever it was behind his back again, mumbled some more incomprehensible words and once again held something very closely to the Filipino’s right eye. The poor bastard didn’t have any idea what was happening, for starters the object was being held far to close for they eye of any man who had been drinking for the last ten hours to focus on, and secondly the gusset of the g string he wore on his head obstructed his view.  The implement was once again hidden behind his back. Hidden is not altogether an accurate word owing to the fact that the stranger had his back to me, I could therefore clearly see that he had been holding a fork to the Filipino’s face. Without thinking and with very undramatic ease I disarmed the stranger, who seemed equally astonished by my powers. The meat head now focused his attention on me, but strangely I appeared to have earned his respect when confiscating his fork. English appeared not to be his first language and he was even drunker than we were, but after listening to him for a couple of minutes it appeared that the Filipino wearing ladies underwear on his head was a cause of great moral discomfort to the man. Still holding onto the fork I tried to remonstrate that his sensitivities seemed a little out of place given his surroundings, and that inserting a fork into the eye of the Filipino was the wrong way to go about expressing his feelings. Now this man was huge, I could have been armed with all the forks in Bangkok, but it would have made no difference should this ape had decided to get nasty. Surprisingly since losing his fork he became relatively personable and entered into something of a debate about whether the wearing of a g-string on a persons head was acceptable behaviour. I pursued my angle that most of the behaviour of anyone after dark in this city was questionable, and conceded that in an ideal world my attorney wouldn’t be wearing a pair of lady’s underwear about his head . We chatted for perhaps quarter of an hour, in which time he told us he was a mixed martial artist from Brazil, why he lost all his aggression after being dispossessed of his spoon shall remain one of life’s great mysteries. One thing was clear to both the Filipino and I, and that us having procured so many pairs of lady’s underwear had somehow caused great cognitive and moral dissonance in the mind of the Brazilian. With us all still in possession of the desired number of eye balls, the Filipino agreed to be more discreet with the array of panties he had about his person, and took them from his head. The Brazilian now seemed happy that our behaviour was more respectful and he slunk his way back to the prostitute we was with for the night.

We had obviously sparked something off in the sensibilities of the Brazilian. Whether it had all started for him long ago as a boy in some ill advised rummaging through his grandmother’s underwear draw, we would never know.

We decided that we had done our best for the night, we were sure that we had touched the lives of those around us, and that those people would now be able to see the world a little differently.

My phone rang only a few hours later, it seemed like my attorney saw no sense in delaying the inevitable and that the common sense dictated that we were to pick up where we had barely left off a few hours ago. I had to admit that there was some form of logic to what he was proposing, perhaps more importantly I was in no state to argue reason with this man. He wasn’t waiting for me to reply to his suggestion, instead he’d seamlessly moved the conversation onto Imelda Marcos’s shoe collection. All I could do was agree to meet the fool in thirty minutes at the bar beside the hotel’s swimming pool.

We were refused alcohol on the basis that it was still only 9 in the morning. The set back was simply too much for the to endure, at first the Filipino didn’t take the news with good grace and as he stood on the bar stool he ranted incoherently about fascism, liberty and the licensing laws. With the nuances of his argument going largely unheeded, he climbed down asked where the nearest toilet was, then he went to straighten himself out. For the next ten minutes I lived in fear, I had no idea what would be coming back out to meet me. One thing was clear though, we were both nearing the frontier where reason and decency gave way to sustained periods of introspection and inevitable self loathing. This thing needed to be turned around quickly or it would end up as one of those stories you read about in the Bangkok Post, “Dead Expats Found in Bangkok Hotel Room – choked to death by under a mountain of cheap lingerie.”

I waited, and after half an hour I became worried, then paranoid, and then I felt the fear. What was that sick bastard doing in there? More Bangkok Post headlines ran through my paralyzed mind. I broke out in a conspicuous sweat, and without realizing it I was speaking out loud to myself. The next five minutes passed like hours, slowly I began to accept that I would have to go and investigate.

I let myself slip off the edge of the bar stool. The combination of toxins from last night, mixed with the heat, and now this situation, resulted in sweat cascading down my face. It was hard not to look suspicious under such circumstances, people looked at me in disgust and with contempt, this is how people normally look at me but I didn’t have the fortitude to deal with it this morning. I quickened my pace, almost running by the time I got to the toilet.

I pushed the door open and entered. It was quiet, I looked in all the stalls preparing myself to find him with his trousers round his ankles clutching his chest, but nothing. I was elated not to be dealing with a corpse right now, but then started to worry where he was, “he’s somebody else’s problem now” I thought. As I was about to leave the toilet I saw on a cubicle door, a sign that had been defaced. I will never know for sure if it was the Filipino (o.k that’s a little too dramatic I could just ask him), but it had the air of paranoia about it to suggest it was.toilet-writing-toilet-graffiti-people-following-paranoid


There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant that the Lord never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.





Gonzo symbol

All Aboard the Education Gravy Train – A Savage Journey to the Heart of Economic Servitude


Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge,

but he that hateth reproof is brutish

Proverbs 12:1

It was always going to be a strange day. Taking the high school students to the University expo, fair. Or would it turn out to be a circus, complete with clowns, unicycles, and bearded ladies, a macabre show masquerading under the pretense of education but whose aim was nothing more than to entertain the youth and convince them that paying tens of thousands of dollars to a university over the next four years would be in their best interest. There was plenty of room to doubt that the students were excited about this trip. In conversations prior to our departure, it seemed impossible, but they were more cynical than I was. Their lack of concern as to what they might be studying in two years time was no less than disturbing, reckless even.

To set the context, a couple of months back I asked my students “how do you learn something?” A student was quick to reply “pay a teacher.” A response I was far from expecting and when I asked the rest of the class what they thought, I soon appreciated that it was  universally accepted that the payment of money, to them constitutes the first stage of the learning process. Thus calling into question the academic theories of Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bruner, whilst laughing in the face of Socrates’ and his gallant refusal to accept payment for teaching. In fact according to these students every theory of learning had been blown apart by their collective cynicism and is in need of immediate revision. The fact that these students were able to surpass my own vast reserves of cynicism left me feeling unnerved, unsure as to who I was and the role that I was expected to play in this whole teacher, student dynamic. Their view of things was different from that of my generation. After all it had taken my generation years of disappointment to achieve our degree of cynicism, but here were these young upstarts showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty and morality, bitterly sneering, contemptuous.

What was happening? What was next? We were going to a university fair, of that much I was sure, but these cynical vibrations had set me on edge, taken me by surprise. Would I be able to endure the 3 hour van journey, confined in such an enclosed space, participating in conversations that were more akin to free association, or that would perhaps deteriorate completely and leave us at the level of dumb beasts? It was too late to worry about these questions, all of us were committed no matter how strange the vibrations got.

The Costs Versus the Value of a University Education

What are the costs of going to university and how well are they off set by the benefits? 30 years ago a university degree assured the graduate of employment and receiving a decent salary, as well as a prime position for professional development and promotion. A graduate could expect to earn the sort of salary that would finance a steady coke habit, develop a  gambling addiction, or any of the other good old fashioned American pastimes. Today the world of the graduate is less bountiful, offering far less opportunity to develop self destructive habits. With nearly every country in Europe and North America languishing in a time of austerity, and little to no economic growth, opportunities are few and far between. Therefore it requires serious thought, wealthy parents or a fearless student who is unafraid to yoke themselves with up to $100,000 worth of debt, for which there is no guarantee, that at the end of it they will secure a ways or means of paying it off. In some respects you might just be better off borrowing $100,000, and go to Vegas, it would after all be quicker than the 4 years of study and probably has a similar chance of seeing a beneficial financial return.

US student debt is scary. It’s an uncontrollable, rabid bull, intoxicated by the scent of youthful optimism, that has been set loose in an academic china shop. Student debt is in excess of $1.2 trillion, a debt greater than that owed by all student-e1393014217134Americans on their credit cards. Student debt is also greater than the total outstanding on mortgages.  In 2005 the average student debt was $17,233, by 2012 that amount had risen 58% to $27,253.


Student debt has a knock on effect as it delays a student from making financial commitments such as taking on a mortgage or a car loan, making regular payments to the local meth dealer, starting a new businesses or saving for the future. This immense financial strain on the educated sector of society has a potentially disastrous national economic effect.


Life for a new graduate can be extremely disappointing. The number of new graduates each year vastly out numbers graduate level jobs.

  • Forty one percent of workers who graduated from college in the past two years say they are underemployed and working in jobs that do not require their college degrees;
  • 41% 0f recent graduates are earning &25,000 or less;
  • 80% of college graduates expect their first employer to provide a training program;
  • 52% of graduates did not receive training through formal programs at their first job;
    USA face To pay off his student debt this young boy had the scar strangled banger tattooed onto his face and is paraded around during the interval of the seal show at Sea World.
  • 38% of new graduates have to live with mum or dad upon graduating.
  • Only 16 percent of students who will graduate in 2013 had already secured employment as of April 1, 2013.


Figures like this make you question the morality of taking a bus load of students to a University Fair without giving them a prior warning of the scope and magnitude of making this decision.

EDU USAWhen I had been at the fair for about a couple of hours, I decided it was time to start antagonizing the miserable souls who had been wedged into their booths like irritable, obese battery hens, forced to sell their university. I had come all this way and it seemed like the least I could do was try and learn something while harassing some poor sod who was just trying to make their way peacefully through the day. Unaware as I am to the intricacies and workings of the U.S education system, I decided to meet with a representative of ACE, a service funded through the U.S State Dept. They provide advice and support to overseas students wishing to go to university in the U.S. A pleasant man brandished his business card at me, sporting the rather comedic name Mike Hock. I could tell by the look in his eye that he believed he was doing the right thing, he believed in his position in life. Usually I find such optimism to be nauseous and repulsive. Instantly I could tell that Mike was probably the type of guy that was into extreme sports, doing press ups before taking a shower each morning, and on a gluten free diet. But, I knew I had to grit my teeth and establish communications with Mike to allow my curiosity to be satisfied. In what developed to become an eminently forgettable conversation I was left puzzled by one thing he said. U.S students sit the S.A.T, on which the average student gets a score of  about 1,500 out of a possible 2,400. Mike told me students with an S.A.T score of 1,000 could find a place at a university in America. This set off the cymbals of cognitive dissonance in my head. Surely university is a place for those who have shown competency in academics. Why would someone so far below average want to even pursue getting a university degree? I wonder what would happen to professional sports teams if they adopted a similar selection criteria. If I had the cash could I be playing short stop for the Yankees? But it’s not just American universities that have turned their back on education in the interest of corporate greed. The U.K also seems to think that education must equal debt.

So it appears that American and U.K  universities are not so much academic institutions focused on developing the knowledge of their students, but more of a proxy for financial institutions that ensnare graduates into financial servitude.


It’s ironic, a saying intended to inspire original thought has now become an oxymoron and parodies itself due to its unoriginal and over usage. Surely it’s time for someone to think outside the cone, maybe someone could think outside the context, think outside the book or the page if this metaphor is to retain its purpose of conveying the need for originality. As it is, it has become nothing more than a tired, sad, old, overworked metaphor carelessly bandied around in staff rooms by teachers who have all but given up the will to think and perhaps even the will to live.

Thinking outside the box is what teachers endlessly encourage their students to do. To think critically about what they are told and what they read, and yet at the university fair every student unquestioningly accepted that university has to be their next step. They unquestioningly accept that amassing enormous debt is nothing more than a rite of passage. These students weren’t even thinking of going to university as a decision for it had already been decided on a subconscious level, with no thought, understanding, or questioning of whether it will benefit them. There was more chance of me finding a missing Malaysian airliner than of finding a critical thought in this venue.

Are life’s most valuable skills learned inside a classroom?

As the sun set behind the hilly landscape and the bus darkened, so did my mood. Here I was shepherding this young flock of unsuspecting lambs into the jaws of  financial servitude, this was weighing heavily on my conscience, adding to my self loathing. I was keenly aware of the need to finish this account positively, after all these are my students and this is their future I’m talking about. So before my mood toppled over the edge and into the abyss of despair, I removed my head from out of my ass and took a look around the bus. Despite the fact that the students were hungry and tired they sat quietly talking to one another, laughing,smiling. You could tell these students lived in a dormitory together, their interactions were more akin to that of family members than just school friends. The few students that didn’t board at the school were included into this dynamic without hesitation or a second thought. Despite their tiredness the students maintained the highest respect for both their friends and their teachers. I started to realize the value of these students and what they can potentially offer to society in ten years time. I can honestly say that these grade ten and eleven students were exhibiting social skills that were far more developed than the majority of adults I come into contact with. These characteristics were not learned inside a classroom, nor have they ever been assessed and given a score out of 10. They have been  honing these skills almost from birth, practicing and refining them with the zeal and discipline of the most dedicated student.

educationrevolution_2185_25096810The purpose and values of schools have long been questioned (see JT Gato Weapons of Mass Instruction). What are the skills that students need to learn today for tomorrow’s society? The mass production, industrial assembly line, that teachers like to think doesn’t exist today does, only on an even grander more complex scale than ever before. I cannot believe that it is in the best interest of a student to commence their professions under the burden of such debt.

As is often the case, my students teach me the most profound lessons. They have shown me what a people can do for one another. That kindness and consideration when shown equally throughout a group is enormously powerful. If someone had the money to invest in these students they would work so well and so hard together they would be able to rival any organization. And none of these skills were taught by me, not in a classroom.

I only hope the students remain patient and will be good enough to continue to teach me, although what they’re going to get out of it god only knows.