Friday, September 18, 2009

Be Careful of Who You Teach...

I inherited Bee from another teacher and she was not a high spot in my day—a stolid, silent and stout eleven-year-old, she had none of the spark I longed for in a student and we played countless games of Scrabble while we tried to find some common ground to talk about.

It was her mother who provided this for us when she decided Bee should take her weekly lesson in the comfort of her own home after school rather than going to our site. It was a pleasant enough spot to sit and work in, surrounded by Bee’s dogs, which gave us a peg to base conversations upon and Bee slowly began to chat to me in English.

One day I arrived to find her fussing about with the microwave and she came to the table with a snack made of eggs and melted cheese. These are two things that I am less than enthusiastic about putting in my mouth and I tried not to cover my nose when the odor of hot dairy products wafted in my direction.

“Here, have some,” Bee invited, and I explained to her how much I didn’t like either of the culinary delights she was so eager to share with me. “Oh but you must like cheese and eggs—they are so good, “she assured me, a pucker of worry appearing on her plump little forehead. “I never have liked eggs and I don’t like cheese anymore,” I told her and the subject was dropped, although Bee still looked unconvinced.

The next time I arrived at her doorstep, she greeted me with great delight and said, “Look—a surprise for you!” And there on the table was a steaming plate of eggs and cheese. “I made it for you,” Bee announced proudly, “It is so good—you will love it.”

I had worked hard to get the child to this point of communication and her persuasive techniques definitely deserved to be encouraged. In the interests of fostering her linguistic competence in a language not her own, I sat down and managed to swallow every bite of the dish she had prepared, assuring her that it was very good indeed. “I knew you would like eggs and cheese,” she said, and there was a note of triumph in her voice that made me just a trifle uneasy.

Bee’s confidence soared from that moment and I occasionally wished for the shy and silent child I had met at the outset of our time together. Our chats moved from conversation to advice sessions; it became obvious that Bee knew what was best and that in her eyes my life needed her guidance.

“You like dogs, don’t you?” she asked one afternoon, “You should have one. Why don’t you go to Jatujak Market and buy one on your day off? I will go with you and help you pick one out. My father will drive us there.”

I had never met Bee’s father but felt quite sure that he would probably take his daughter wherever she liked and that any resistance to her plan would have to come from me.

“I can’t have a dog, Bee. I live in an apartment and they don’t allow pets there. I can’t even have a kitten.”

“Why don’t you live in a house so you can have a dog?” she asked, that little furrow of concern creasing her forehead in a way that was beginning to cause me a certain degree of healthy fear.

“I can’t afford a house,” I said firmly, “Houses cost too much money for me.”

“I think you should have a dog,” she repeated softly. I smiled and opened her textbook and we moved into her lesson. But I felt uneasy; Bee had given up too easily for me to believe that this discussion was over.

In the following weeks, enticing photographs of puppies greeted me each time I entered Bee’s home. “Look,” she would say excitedly, “Isn’t this cute? You would like this dog, I think.” “Very cute,” I would agree warmly, “but you know I can’t have a dog in an apartment.” “But you would like this dog. I think you should have it.” This became a familiar preface to our two-hour lesson period and I began to lose my feelings of apprehension—until the day came that Bee greeted me with the classified ad section of the Bangkok Post.

“Look at this house!” she said happily, “It is not very expensive and it is very close to my house. I think you would like this house.”

“Bee, I've already told you I don’t make enough money to rent a house,” I replied.

“It’s all right,” she told me, “I have talked to my father and told him you want to have a dog. He says he can lend you the money to rent a house and you can teach me for free to pay him back. It’s a good idea, isn’t it? I think you will be happy in this house.”

I looked at the beaming child standing before me and suddenly found it difficult to breathe. “Bee, I have a very bad headache and I need to go home now,” I said and made for the door as quickly as possible. Another teacher who owed me a favor took over the class the following week. He was a guy who already had a house and a dog so I figured he was safe—at least just so long as he liked to eat cheese.


Tokyo Ern said...

Oh my. Persistence can be annoying sometimes I suppose. But it makes it for great reading (which I haven't been doing lately).

Kim said...

And so the stories begin to flow ...

janet said...

No Ernie but you've been doing some great writing--I love your stateside stories! Did you see my guys at all?

Kim it's more like a very tiny trickle...

Tokyo Ern said...

Didn't get a chance to see your boys! (Most unfortunate). Matt was at Bumbershoot on Labor Day, and my other days schedule were already filled.

Chris said...

Reading this poignant vignette makes me think I should return your little Scottish family. They might have helped you escape eggs, puppies, and dads who could (natch) buy you a dog house!