Monday, 31 December 2012

Teaching English is Bad for the Health -- Part Two

Teaching English is bad for the health, Part II
(or how I was nearly shot, roasted alive, and killed, all in the course of the job)

If you read Part One of my Bad for the Health blog, you’ll know that I mentioned the perils of overloaded schedules, bad sleeping habits, and air-borne diseases that the EFL teacher is faced with daily. Now I’ll expand on that theme a little, and write about some other unexpected health hazards you may encounter. All of these anecdotes actually happened to me.
First, the tale of the student who brought Dad’s pistol to class. He was aged 18 or 19, a stroppy little sod, and the son of an army officer. “Mr Don,” he asked me mid-class, “what do you think this is?” He pressed his t-shirt against his stomach, and I could see the outline of a pistol stuck under his belt. Later the other students explained to me that he’d borrowed his father’s pistol just to show off. Oh, well that’s alright, then. But I made a mental note to award him high marks in all his future tests. No point in tempting fate.
Next, how I was almost burnt alive. On the way back from an out-of-town private class I was stalled in an almighty traffic jam, so I got out of the mini-bus and started to walk. After fifteen or so minutes I came to the cause of the traffic snarl-up. Four paint factories and houses were blazing fiercely adjacent to the entry ramp of a bridge across Jakarta’s Ciliwung River. Emergency vehicles and fire engines were on the bridge, ineffectually trying to contain the blaze. I asked a harried policeman if I could walk across the bridge, and he impatiently beckoned me ahead. Halfway across, I realized there was no way I could go much further. At the far end of the bridge was a solid throng of humanity, all eager to gawk at the fire. A row of policemen was keeping the crowd at bay. I turned around to make my retreat, and found a sea of turmoil. The wind had changed direction, and flames were now licking hungrily across the entrance to the bridge. Emergency vehicles were retreating in panic. Soon I was the sole occupant of the bridge, trapped in no-man’s-land between an impenetrable crowd of onlookers, and the all-consuming flames. Oh shit, what a way to die, I thought. But, I didn’t die, of course. I made my escape standing on the back bumper of the last police car to leave, and lived to tell the tale. Just another day in the life of an EFL teacher.
What else? Oh yes; how I was pretty near murdered. How silly of me to forget that. It happened in Nakhon Pathom, Thailand. On a country road between villages. A white-shirted youth approached me, stuck out his hand, and demanded money. I hesitated for a second, then his other hand shot out and punched me in the stomach. At least I thought it was a punch, but it was accompanied by an odd plopping sound. The youth then took off, not waiting to collect my money, and with a sense of foreboding I looked down at my stomach. There was an angry red hole just above my belly button. No pain at this stage, not much blood to speak of, but a little loop of my innards protruding from the hole.
No doubt you’ve read descriptions of near-death encounters where the narrator describes himself as leaving the body and becoming an observer from somewhere above. That’s what happened to me at that stage. I even found myself thinking of myself in the third person. “Oh, hell, he’s been stabbed! What on earth is he going to do now?” What he did do was limp down the road, each step becoming evermore slow and painful. A pick-up truck stopped, I gasped “Doctor, Hospital” to the driver, and two passengers lifted me onto the back of the truck, where they sat either side of me supporting me as the truck made its way to a small country hospital. At this juncture I was drifting in and out of consciousness, and feeling most sorry for myself. The moment the truck passengers had delivered me into the hands of a nurse they hastily left.
The hospital boasted three nurses, but no doctor. They stuffed the errant piece of my guts back in with what felt like a toothbrush, (“Sorry, we’ve run out of anesthetics”) and sewed up the hole with four stitches. Two rather unsympathetic policemen arrived fifteen minutes later.

“Have you got any money?”
“Yes, half a million baht, four hundred American dollars, travellers’ cheques…”
“Let’s have a look.”
My wallet, of course, was empty. Oh yes, those good Samaritans on the truck!

To make a long story short, I was admitted to a Bangkok hospital where they informed me I had a perforated colon and needed to be operated on immediately. But first, could you please fill out this form granting the hospital indemnity should the operation go wrong, and an address of where to send your remains. I spent two weeks in the hospital, not permitted to eat, enduring deep intra-muscular injections every four hours, and with a long plastic tube running up from my stomach and out my mouth. Not the most pleasant two weeks I’ve ever spent. On my release from hospital I limped onto a train bound for Jakarta, and after a recuperation period, restarted work, wondering what lay in store for me next.

So there you have it. My tale of woe. Hopefully nothing like that will ever happen to you in the course of your work, but you never know….
Happy teaching.


In my new book, EFL minus the B.S. (soon to be available on Amazon), I have related some other anecdotes from my roller-coaster life in EFL, along with teaching tips, and a description of the plusses and minuses of a career in EFL.


  1. Good entertaining stuff - looking forward to the book. I'm just trying to work out if you're recommending efl as a career, or warning us all off it. Please post when the book is available.

    1. Yeah, me too. Just wondered if you have photos to go with some of the places you write about? But bring on the book either way . . .

    2. I wouldn't want to discourage anyone from a doing a stint in EFL. Sure, some unpleasant stuff happened to me, but even a pizza deliveryman in Massachusets runs similar risks.

      Don Wills

  2. Just wondered if these places are still as ... erm ... lively ... pistols, stabbings, robbery, fire... Have things changed, Don, or do I need a bodyguard to teach English?