Want to Stop Class Discussion? Ask “How” and “Why” while Teaching in Thailand

by Paul Hoffman, Greenheart Travel Teach Abroad Participant in Thailand

Do you remember the six important questions in journalism?  I think they are:  Who, What, Where, When, Why and How. For the last few days, I’ve been considering those six questions as they relate to teaching here in Thailand.  Moreover, I’ve been thinking about those six questions as they relate to the general way of thinking here in the country that used to be known as Siam.

The first question to be asked and answered here is “Where.” Where are you going?  Where have you been?  Where are you going this weekend? Where did you go last weekend?  Where seems to be used as a general greeting here!  For example, in the U.S. we normally greet a person with: How are you?  Here is Thailand the normal greeting is: Where are you going?  It took me a while to get used to it – at first I thought it was a bit funny, but now (as with most things) I’m used to it.  If I meet a student of mine or a Thai friend on the street after school, they always ask: Where are you going?  At first, my internal response was: “Why are you asking me that?” or: “It’s none of your business!”  But now I realize it’s just part of the culture here so I answer them just as I would in the U.S. if someone asked: How are you?

It seems in the U.S. we are interested in a persons’ health, but in Thailand they are interested in a persons’ past or present or future movement.

The second question to be asked here is “Who”.  Who are going to eat with?  Who are you going to the shopping mall with?  Who are going to travel with this weekend?  Who did you travel with last weekend?  (Of course, I do all my traveling alone and my Thai colleagues and friends CAN NOT believe that I travel alone!)

The next two questions asked here are “When and What”.  At some point in the conversation you might be asked when did you do this or when will you go, and then the question of what might come up.  Like, what did you do there?  What did you see?  What did you eat?  (Food is a big topic of discussion here, especially with foreigners; maybe I’ll have to cover that in a later Chalk Dust episode.)

That sums it up.  Those are the four questions.  We’ll see ya next week.  Have a good one… WAIT!  There are two more, right?!  “How and Why”.  Yes, there are two more, and this is what I find interesting here in Thailand – when I try to bring these two questions into a classroom discussion, the flow of class usually comes to a screeching halt.  I realize I’m teaching English and not Science or Biology or Physics, but when I ask the question “Why” I’m met with blank stares.

I can remember growing up asking my parents or teachers why this and why that – all the time!  Plus, I asked how all the time – how does this work, how does this move, how does this fit together with that, etc, etc…. Have you ever gotten into a discussion with a child where they just continue to ask ‘why’ over and over?  It’s sometimes very funny!  But, the why question over and over is usually valid – until some point the parent or teacher or adult will just say: Because I say so!  Ha!

A fellow Thai teacher and I were talking the other day and she said that Thai students are not normally asked the question of ‘why’ and when they are, most have trouble coming up with a response. I find this fascinating!  In a recent class I asked the students what their favorite animal is and then I asked why?  They knew their favorite animal, but they didn’t have an answer as to why.  After some coaching and helping, they came up with some simple reasons, but the why question was a foreign concept for them.

The nuts and bolts of school, any school, are important.  You know, the famous R’s: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic – they are important.  Thai schools do a fantastic job at the three R’s – they probably do better than most schools in the U.S.  But the idea of being taught to think about their personal explanations is not pushed here like it is in the U.S.  Maybe that’s a good thing or maybe it’s not.  A person could make valid points on both side of the discussion.  It’s certainly not for me to decide, but I marvel at the differences that I see….

photo courtesy of Dale Konstanz , author of the blog: Still Life in Moving Vehicles

Time for more “Pinch Me, I’m In Thailand” moments:

*What is the deal with the Michelin Man on all the trucks here??!!   It looks like the Stay Puff Marshmallow Man had a thousand small children and they all ended up tied to rear view mirrors on the trucks here.  These little one foot high plastic figures are sometimes dressed up or lit up (with a light bulb in their bum) or painted – they are kept clean and in good condition – better than the actual truck!  Maybe they are automatically tied to the truck mirrors when a set of tires are purchased – I don’t know….

*I’m in class, the windows are open, the ceiling fans are on, a wasp flies in, I see it, the students see it, I continue teaching, the students continue to do whatever they are doing, the wasp flies around, the wasp flies out the window.

*Don’t go to the Market when you’re hungry.  You’ll end up salivating at every food stand or food cart and you’ll end up buying more than you can carry home.  Plus, you may end up with things that looked appealing at the moment of purchase, but are appalling when you arrive back at your apartment.

*A steaming bowl of noodles…..  does it get any better?  Yum……..

4 thoughts on "Want to Stop Class Discussion? Ask “How” and “Why” while Teaching in Thailand"

  1. Hi Dale! Thank you so much for getting in touch. I apologize for leaving out the byline to your photo! I’ll add it right now. I had linked the photo directly to the blog, but now realize that not everyone would click on the picture. I will definitely know this for future posts to make sure I give credit to where it is deserved. Have a wonderful day and keep up the great work on your blog! I love the photo series, such a great idea.

    Jill Robinson
    Greenheart Travel

    1. Thanks, Jill! I’m glad you enjoy ‘Still Life in Moving Vehicles’ and I’m happy to have stumbled upon your blog, as well. By the way, my book, ‘Thai Taxi Talismans’ with photos and text inspired by the blog is now available in Thailand at Books Kinokuniya and Asia Books or you can order it online through Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Best wishes to you and Happy New Year!

  2. Great photo on your blog of the Michelin man inside a Bangkok taxi (I took it!). I don’t mind that you included it with your story, but I would appreciate it if you would mention the source and perhaps include a link to my blog, Still Life in Moving Vehicles (www.lifeinmovingvehicle.blogspot.com).


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