Teaching english in thailand

Teaching English (and Gossip!) in Thailand

Teaching English to our coworkers in Thailand...and learning a thing or two.

One thing you learn fairly quickly as a teacher in Thailand is that your local counterparts love a good gossip. They aren’t particularly fussed about who showed up late for work two days in a row or who is a terrible teacher, but who is sleeping with whom? Now that is a beloved topic of choice.

On the gossip front, working in a Thai school is largely like being back in my small hometown of 700 people. There are about 1,000 students and teachers who inhabit this school, and it seems in small circles such as this, talking about each others’ business is a right of passage. It’s inevitable that some scandalous couple will emerge, blindsiding everyone with their sudden sly smirks and Sunday “work” dates in the library; their husbands, wives, and children all seemingly clueless.

In Thailand, a country known for it’s open sexuality and third gender (lady-boys), with cities rampant with red light districts and ping pong shows, it’s also quite common for married men and women to take pleasure in what they call giks. When we (westerners) tell them our understanding for a gik is a “f*ck buddy,” they cringe and think it sounds terrible. And in truth, the translation isn’t really that simple.

A gik relationship isn’t always a sexual affair; It falls somewhere between “more than a friend” and the aforementioned “f*ck buddy.” In a country where men and women aren’t often friends with the opposite sex, and where the term friend is used quite loosely (more like an acquaintance), a gik might be someone whom you enjoy spending time with on an emotional level. It might also be someone you enjoy “fooling around with,” but not reaping all the benefits, if you will. However, more often than not, a gik relationship is comparable to our own version of the term, except one important detail: a gik is not a gik unless it’s also an act of infidelity.

The term only originated about 20-30 years ago (though it was probably happening before there was a word for it) and today gik relationships, though somewhat secretive, are the culprit of many rumors and jokes, despite their commonality.

Last week, I was teaching English to a class full of teachers, and the hour turned into a rather entertaining event. One of the two male teachers in attendance was unabashed in his flirtations with me. After asking if I like Thai men, and my dodging the question by saying I’m going back to America in May, he then told me it was no problem. “I go America with you,” he said.

“Oh I see,” I joked. “You just want American visa!”

“Wait, wait,” he said. “How many wives can you have in America?”

Teach English in Thailand ESL

That’s him on the right! Photos by Rissa Sadey.

I laughed, seeing where this conversation was going. “You get only one wife,” I said. “Only one.”

“Oh, okay…I stay in Thailand then!” The class erupted in laughter, but they didn’t think I understood.

“It’s same-same in Thailand, right?” (Thais don’t seem to understand ‘same’ unless you duplicate it.) “Only one wife?”

“Yes, teacher.”

“Well then,” I said, catching them off-guard. “How many giks can you have?”

They all hooped and hollered at my knowledge of their well-used term, and everybody began shouting random numbers.

“Five!”

“Seven!”

“Ten!”

“Teacher, you can have many, many. As many you want,” was the final answer.

Even though it’s a very common thing, because of it’s stealthy nature, gik relationships give people in a small town something to talk about. Fortunately, the young, married, female teacher and mother of one who is the current gossip rage among the teacher crowd, was in the other classroom, sitting next to her coworker and gik.


Teaching English in Thailand: Gossip
Written by:Jessica J. Hill

17 Comments

  1. Richard J. Wilder says:

    As usual, great stuff. I feel like I was in the back of the classroom when this was going on. Signs of great writer.

    • jessicajhill says:

      Wow! Thanks for the huge compliment, Richard.

      • Richard J. Wilder says:

        I hope I can picture quickly in my brain future articles from places like Brazil or Columbia which will come over time. Beware of burnout after 2 years of travel. Many people seem to quit at this point.

        • jessicajhill says:

          Unfortunately I’m already burnt out…for now. I’m headed back to the U.S. in one month, and so excited! But I know I’ll be eager to go again not long after.

          I also hope Brazil or Columbia are in the future for me!

  2. Edna says:

    This was a great story, I loved it! I agree with Richard, felt like I was there. Also, what an interesting cultural/linguistic insight…

  3. goanflavour says:

    Interesting article. Never knew about the concept of gik. It is fascinating how certain things exist within a cultural context. In trying to understand that, you cannot always explain it. It has to be understood as is!

    Nice job explaining though.

  4. Autumn Curtis says:

    This is great!

  5. not every man who dates an american woman wants a visa. it bites me hard when i read or hear this shit !!

    • jessicajhill says:

      I think you misunderstood the point of this essay. That was a joking comment with teachers I knew well, and this is a commentary on the Thai term “gik,” not on interracial relationships.

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