Who Goes There?
By Tim Torkildson
Thais, in some respects, are very security-conscious; in other ways, they remain as casual as sweat pants.
Two back stories, please, to set up my thesis.
A few years ago I took a hiatus from Thailand to work as the publicity director of a small, one-ring, tented circus back in the States. One of my responsibilities was to visit public schools where the circus would be playing, to hand out free tickets to students for the matinee performance.
Getting into a public school, as a stranger, in the United States, is now tantamount to getting past a sphinx in a Greek fable.
I entered one school in northern California, with a fistful of free tickets for the students, and was immediately stopped by a stern-visaged harridan who demanded some credentials. I handed over my driver's license while explaining I had already called the principal for permission to hand out circus tickets in several classes. With a grunt, she turned and gestured for me to follow. I was taken into a sterile cement block room, painted pukey green, and handed a form to fill out, after which I was escorted to another room, where they took my photograph, and then I was escorted back to the pukey green room and told to wait. I thought maybe they were going to send in a blacksmith to fit me for shackles.
I was then presented with my photo, now embossed on an ID tag, and taken to the principal's office, where I was informed the principal was out and would not be back in until 2pm, so I would have to wait until this worthy returned to verify my story before I was allowed anywhere near the students. Two hefty-looking cops glowered at me from a corner, fingering their holsters as if hoping I would make a suspicious move so they could plug me.
I finally managed to give away the tickets, but it took several days before I lost the urge to check my arm for a tattooed ID number.
I think you'll agree that was overkill. From all I hear from friends back home, it's getting worse.
Back here in Thailand my Thai fiancé Joom became concerned some months ago after hearing constant news stories about car thefts in Pattaya, which is a 2 hour drive from us. She consulted the ghosts that inhabit our house (former residents who committed suicide and have a friendly relationship with her) about security measures. The ghosts (who I would think could scare off robbers pretty easily – but apparently the ghosts have a pretty strong union and don't go in for that kind of overtime) advised Joom to have anti-theft devices installed in her truck.
Which she did.
Trouble is, she keeps accidentally triggering the piercing horn blasts and whistles and can't remember how to turn them off. Trying to take a nap around our place now is like trying to sneak a siesta at Super Bowl halftime.
We have a dog, of course, that barks in the middle of the night at every toad and Tokay gecko that dares to intrude on our gravel drive. I can only hope she will be equally zealous if human toads show up to despoil us.
All this leads up to the subject of security at Thai schools.
Would you be surprised to know that there isn't any?
The only guards, and I use the term extremely loosely, at a Thai public school, are the crossing guards. Usually one of them will stay behind after herding all the children across busy thoroughfares, to doze under the shade of a pink cassia tree. They are usually superannuated and would not rouse themselves if Godzilla came rampaging down the nearest soi.
The only exception to this are the very elite international schools, many of which reside inside an exclusive muu baan where a guard zealously mans a pillbox and you are required to leave some form of identification behind when you enter. The last time I was up in Thonburi I went to the Rongrian Nana Chad and left the guard my expired library card from Minnesota. He seemed quite satisfied with it.
Of course, I can't remember anything dangerous or disruptive, outside of stray dogs fighting over a piece of offal, ever disturbing the somnolent droning of students during school hours.
Now I'm not saying that the Thai public school officials are negligent about the welfare of their charges. On the contrary, if you are a farang and want to teach English in a Thai school you are going to have to produce a criminal background check, otherwise it's no go. In today's depraved world, sadly, that is to expected.
The fact of the matter is I am amazed, and tremendously grateful, that here in Thailand there have been no Columbines or madmen attacking little children with hammers. I hope the Thais appreciate this wonderful blessing their schools still enjoy – something that has passed out of existence in much of the Western world, much to the sorrow and disgust of all thinking people.