Abandoning the comfort and confines of modern living, Singaporean Pan Jingyang ventured out alone to the less developed regions of Southeast Asia. For nine-months, he became the first Singaporean to be employed in the quaint provincial capital Tak, in north-western Thailand.
Through his story in this special feature contribution, Jingyang hopes to share his experiences and say something about making a difference and living life to the fullest.
Dreams know no boundaries. They are subjectively-personalised but objectively-perceived. Are dreams only meant to give people hope that something better awaits them, yet more often than not, unattainable due to a whole host of factors, the most common being financial sacrifice, relationship commitments and plain inertia?
Pan Jingyang ventures into unknown territories in his life, looking to make a difference
Well, I had a dream, one that was unfathomable to many, and even considered immature and irrational to the older generation because it seemed to signal a step backwards in this age of rapid societal progress and development. However, I was determined to carve out a path that veered greatly off the route of conformity on which the last 26 years of my life have built upon. My dream was to discover a lifestyle set in a rural region of Thailand, where I could sustain my livelihood as a full-time and paid (not volunteer) teacher.
Stumbling Blocks at the Onset
Months of diligence were spent on learning the Thai language at community centres in Singapore, and understanding Thailand's education system and employment rules before I began my journey on 5 March 2011. Moreover, the preparatory phase was fraught with the toughest obstacles that almost derailed my plans. It did not help that my request was so specific in the sense that I only wanted to teach in rural or village schools situated away from big cities and urban centres.
I learnt that no school was willing to hire a foreigner unless he or she had obtained a teaching qualification of some sort, so I latched onto an American-based programme which offered a Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). I had to go through two weeks of training in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and two weeks of hands-on teaching experience in Pattaya, Thailand.
On the final day of my TESOL course, I received an email invitation to be interviewed by a school located in Thailand's north-western provincial capital named Tak City (pronounced as 'Meuang Tak' in Thai language), some 870km away from Pattaya. This would prove to be the first time that I would have to travel so far for an interview for a job I might not even secure, but I also knew that this was a worthy shot at discovering what laid ahead for me. With much fervour and hope, I took up the invitation to make the long trip.
Jingyang, (in yellow T-shirt) was the only Asian amongst his TESOL course mates
Travelling over 850km for a job interview
The bus ride proved to be a 9-hour journey during which I hardly slept and arrived in Tak City at an unearthly time of 3.30am. The name of the school was 'Anubantak School' (meaning Tak's Kindergarten and Primary School).
Ten interviewees fought for five job vacancies and we had to perform teaching demonstrations in the morning followed by interviews in the afternoon. Though I was extremely fatigued due to lack of rest, I believed that I did well in the tests because I was confident of my knowledge and ability, thanks to the world-class Singapore education system which I had been nurtured in. It was certainly a long, nervous wait for the selection results as my dream of teaching in a rural region like Tak Province hinged on this moment of truth! When my name was announced in the successful list of five, I was elated because I had finally taken the first successful step in realising my dream!
Anubantak School, where Jingyang taught at
While waiting for the new school semester to begin, I spent two weeks at an unexpected location in Thailand celebrating the country's New Year (named 'Songkran Festival' or commonly known as the 'Water-splashing Festival').
My Thai friend offered to host me during this period. I only knew that he was residing somewhere near the Golden Triangle, Chiang Saen District of ChiangRai Province. To my surprise, I discovered he wasn’t living in a town, but in a village! I did not expect a village stay but was extremely happy to be given such an opportunity. This was precisely the kind of environment that I sought to teach in! The village was set in a quiet and beautiful environment, occasionally covered by mist and surrounded by mountains bordering Thailand and Myanmar. Despite the breath-taking landscape, my friend informed me that it was impossible for me to teach in his village due to safety and culturally-sensitive reasons.
First Singaporean Employee in the Provincial Capital
There were numerous immigration and employment procedures that had to be sorted out along the way and it involved making long trips across the country in order to do so. In the midst of this procedure, I was informed by a Labour Employment Officer that I was the first Singaporean employee to be working in this provincial capital! Having created a mini-history for myself, I promised myself that I would carry the Singapore flag high by working hard and leaving a good impression for others to see!
The process of finding accommodation in Tak City was a challenge and settling down in my temporary home could not have been more interesting. I chose a very affordable room on the fourth level of an apartment building situated less than 100 metres away from my school. However, the room was practically empty - no mattress (let alone a bed frame), no cabinet, no refrigerator, no television, no chairs, no table and no fan! It was also evident that the room had not been used for some time because of the filth accumulated within (moths, bird droppings, cockroaches, etc.). I had to do a thorough clean-up of my room and make multiple short trips to the riverside market to scout, choose and bargain for basic household essentials and simple furniture. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the process so much as it gave me a chance to set up my home from scratch
By Pan Jingyang
Jingyang's adventures continues in Living a Difference in Tak City - Part Two