Book Excerpt: Meet the Sister

To celebrate selling over 3,000 copies of my book Teaching English in a Foreign Land, I’ve decided to run a free kindle book promotion this weekend. I wrote this book to inspire people to travel the world and teach English, which is exactly what I did a few years back. To get an idea of the style of the book have a look at this excerpt from Chapter 15, when I met one of the most influential people on my adventure.

Teaching in Bangkok

Amazing place to live, Bangkok. Photo by Stuck in Customs

“Now you have interview with sister,” said Siriluck, the hamster faced Thai woman I’d been liaising with from Australia. Siriluck was an agent who found teachers for schools. I know, I thought she was a man, but that was just the first surprise when I arrived in Bangkok.

“What, your sister works in the school?” I asked. Siriluck giggled as she drove on. For 10am the traffic was horrendous. A gang of motorbikes whizzed past my open window and petrol fumes shot up my nose.

 “Not my sister, the Sister.” She cackled, put her foot down, and darted in the right-hand lane.

 “What do you mean the Sister?” I hoped she’d made a grammatical mistake. What if there was a Sister and I was working in a religious environment?

“Sister Leonora,” she said, as if everyone in Thailand knew Sister Leonora. “You may get a bit scared.”

“A bit scared?”

“Yes, I only want help you, this my job and I want you work for school, but prefer honest.” She smiled. What was the Sister going to do, force me to confess my sins? “Some teachers come out interview and shocked, but don’t worry, she no as bad as everyone say.”

“Great, thanks for the warning.” I wondered what I was letting myself in for. Would I be working in a monastery and need to pretend I was religious? Surely you had to be religious to work for a nun.

As we swerved in and out the cars, slim Thai women and skinny Thai men walking on the pavements glared at me. Siriluck steered left at a Seven Eleven on the corner and we cruised down a quieter road with detached houses protected by white walls. 

“Here we are,” Siriluck said as a security guard let us pull into a car park big enough to fit fifty cars.

“What this is the school?” I peered through the gaps in the trees at the three storey building. There must have been six or seven classes on each floor.

“Yes, pretty, you like?”

“It’s not bad,” I said in a sarcastic tone. As we strolled across the concrete playground, which had four basketball courts, I noticed the air smelt fresher. Perhaps the high trees kept out the pollution. I felt intimidated by the size; it was a real school, twenty times larger than the academy I’d started at in Quito.

We turned past the gigantic dining hall and stopped outside a bungalow surrounded by hanging trees and a flowery garden.

“Are you ready to meet the Sister?”

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Siriluck rang the bell on the gate and we waited. A door slammed shut. My stomach tensed. I didn’t know, but I was about to meet someone who would have a major impact on my life.

“You made it then?” a sharp voice called out. Siriluck replied in Thai. From a distance the Sister seemed tall but by the time she’d reached the gate, which came up to my chest, she could barely see over. She smiled as she swung it back. Her white habit was tight, hiding her ears and showing the lines on her patchy, wrinkled face. Her rectangular black framed glasses rested on her button nose.

“This is Sister Leonora,” Siriluck said, placing her hands flat together under her chin and bending forward. I tried to copy but felt silly attempting a wai.

“Oh, that isn’t necessary,” said the Sister, almost cross. Her accent sounded Spanish. “A simple handshake will do.” She clasped my hand and winked. “Well, you are a handsome man. Come now.” I relaxed slightly, but not for long.

We followed in silence as she clonked in her tiny black shoes along an echoed hall and up three flights of marbled stairs. I was sure I’d heard a quote about not trusting women with small feet, or those that hid their ears in a white habit. She slid open her tinted windowed door and propped herself on a swivelled chair behind her desk, which was covered with piles of papers and black folders. Several pictures of Jesus hung on the wall. Siriluck sat next to me. 

“So, you are ready to work for Our Lady of Perpetual Health School?” She smiled as she clasped her chubby fingers together.

“I’d like to; it’s a lovely school.”

“Lovely, yes, but work is to be done,” she snapped.

We chatted about my work experience and agreed that, if chosen, I could work on a six-month contract, even though she wanted me to stay longer.

“So, are you catholic?” 

“Of course,’ I said, hesitantly, eyeing a picture of Jesus. “My father is religious.”

“That is good, we like healthy minded teachers. Siriluck would have told you that we do things a little differently here.”

“Yes, she did,” I said, smiling at Siriluck, who smiled back. She hadn’t told me a thing.

“Here at Our lady of Perpetual Health we have an English program for children who are taught through English rather than English directly.”

“Sounds interesting, so I’d be teaching maths and science and things?”

“Yes, can you swim?”

“Swim?”

“I will put you down as the swim teacher too.” She scribbled in her pad. “Okay,” she said slowly, moving closer. Something serious was coming. “About living in Thailand; I can see you are a handsome man and well presented, but new teachers need to appreciate our culture. I am from the Philippines, so some things were new to me too.”

“Sure, that’s fine.”

“First we need to make you presentable.” She glanced at my, almost, shoulder length hair.

“You want me to cut my hair,” I said in a low tone.

“Certainly, all the children have short crew cuts and our teachers need to be respected.”

“Okay,” I said, reluctantly. After she’d told me about the free accommodation next to the school she put on her serious voice again.

“There are conditions.”

“You don’t say.” She pretended not to hear me.

“The female Thai teachers here will find you exotic. They may even speak to you.” That was a bonus, wasn’t it? “Some Thai women find that selling their bodies is a good way of making a living.” I nodded. “We had a problem with our last teacher, Mr Stuart, who was dismissed because of his uncontrollable sexual urges.” I tried not to laugh.

“Don’t worry, I can control mine.” She gazed to see if I was joking.

“Very well, do you drink or smoke?”

“It’s a bit early in the day for me.” She frowned. “Yeah, I like the occasional beer on a Saturday night with friends.”

“There will be no drinking on school premises, and no hangovers; we have had problems in the past. You must not leave during school hours either, you will be needed.”

This seemed a bit much, but the worst was next. I knew I had to leave Thailand to sort out a Non Immigrant B visa, but I’d hoped to see some of Thailand before term started.

“When you get your visa you must come back and do your lesson plans.”

“What lesson plans?”

“We must have lessons planned two months in advance.” Normally planning for a week was tricky enough. I hadn’t even met the students yet. I had to stand my ground.

“I see Sister, but I was planning a trip round Thailand after getting the visa.”

“Why do you people always want to travel, don’t you know it is dangerous? Are you here to work or play?” Her voice became sterner.

“A bit of both.” We sat in silence while she scanned her Jesus calendar.

“You can have a couple of days. Don’t forget you have Christmas and Easter to travel. You are needed here now.” She stubbed the table with her index finger, and then smiled.

I felt annoyed but I needed the job and without permission from a school I’d never get a long term visa. She gave me details on how to get to Penang in Malaysia and warned me of the problems between the Muslims and Buddhists in the south.

“Well, I’m neither so I should be okay.”

“This is not a laughing matter Mr Barry, you need to take care; this is a dangerous world.” She wagged her finger.

“Yes sister,” I said. “Why did you call me Mr Barry?”

“It’s a Thai custom. The students call teachers, Kun, by their first name, so you will be Mr Barry.” She stood up, which made her lower down, to put an end to the meeting.

“So I got the job?”

“Yes Mr Barry, now get to Malaysia, we must get prepared for the next term, it will be a tough one. God bless you.”

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