If you’ve read my previous blogs, you may remember references to my first years in Thailand working for a fake NGO in Krabi. Most of those callbacks paint a negative picture, because the people I worked for were hucksters. But it wasn’t all bad. Here’s a look back at what was a simple, if not fraudulent, hippie lifestyle in the jungles of southern Thailand…
The organization pretended to help the community. The program was ostensibly a TEFL certification program, where brainless Millennials looking to help the planet could come to Thailand, get a teaching qualification, help poor locals learn English, and go home feeling like they made a positive difference. They told anyone coming to take the course that the reason for the obscene price tag was so they could give a huge chunk to the native community. That was also why there was no air-con, no hot water, and no Western food in the compound. In reality, they were lining their pockets and buying extra homes in Costa Rica. But in spite of the sub-standard living conditions, life on the hippie commune was serene.
Our surroundings were picturesque. Mangos, bananas, papaya, and coconuts grew in our front garden. Every week we took the volunteers on excursions to temples, elephant sanctuaries, kayaking, or the Emerald Pool. Our days were simple. Some might even call it “the good life.” Some pinko commies, that is. But I digress. Here’s how a typical weekday went in the faux New Age Xanadu…
8.00 am: wake up, shower, brush teeth, get dressed.
8.30: stroll in to the common area for breakfast, premade by the TEFLers: eggs, toast, coffee.
9.00 to 12.00: teach TEFL methodology
12.00: eat lunch, premade by the TEFLers: chicken or pork with veg and rice.
13.00-15.00: prep lesson plans and materials for free evening English classes.
15.00: shower, change, gather teaching materials.
15.30: walk to the town’s community center
16.00-18.00: teach free English classes to teens and adults
18:30: arrive back at the compound, eat dinner premade by the TEFers: veg and rice (because the company could only afford to provide meat once per day, as the extra money was meant “to help the community”) and watch the sunset. There were lots and lots of beautiful sunsets.
20.00: walk to 7-11 for beer.
20.30-22.30: lounge on palapas in the front garden whilst drinking, listening to music, and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.
23.00: shower, go to bed
Everyone was given chores to do. Just like in a theoretical commune, we all had to contribute. And by that I mean, the volunteers who came to learn TEFL and teach kids had to contribute. My contribution was to be the instructor. So like a mini Kim Jong Un presiding over a tiny communist regime, I ate the food they made, slept rent free, and spent long hours pretending to work while really just surfing the internet. If Karl Marx—possibly the laziest human who ever walked the Earth—were alive today, he would’ve looked at my life of leisure with pride.
On weekends, we’d take the bus in to Ao Nang to party, play pool, eat in restaurants, and get massages on the beach in between swimming in the Andaman. Never in my life had existence been boiled down to such a simple routine. For two years, time seemed to stand still, and at no point was I bored or bothered. It was, at face value, pure bliss. I found a tanned, thin, tattooed Thai beauty to share my hotel bed every Friday and Saturday, and everyone in Ao Nang knew my name. And if not for a brief case of integrity, I might still be there today.
Things fell apart when one of the girls from the fake NGO’s main US office won a free holiday to the hippie commune of her choice. She picked Thailand, and after settling in with our group, began to spill the company secrets. The staff at our little utopian compound were shocked to learn that 1—No, the exorbitant fees volunteers pay to come learn TEFL doesn’t actually “go into the local community.” Rather, it lines the pockets of the company’s owners so their kids can attend elite schools and they can afford summer homes in Central America. 2—despite relying on a reputation of Earth conservation and green programs, the company takes no action to help the environment. For example, when we took the volunteers to the river to plant mangroves, which were meant to slow erosion and create ecosystems for aquatic life, the spot designated for planting already had mangroves. So, the company hired some workers to go in and dig them up in order to make space for the volunteers to plant mangroves and then pat each other on the back for helping the planet. A week later, they were dug up again so a new crop of well-meaning morons could do their part to help the planet. 3—although the website states that volunteers are heavily vetted before being approved for a program, in reality anyone who’s check clears gets admitted, which explained why so many of the Millennial hipsters who came to Thailand turned out to be lazy, useless, dim-witted losers who told their mom they were going to help poor kids in the Third World when in reality they came for a Thai drug odyssey.
When these truths were revealed to us, it permanently changed the dynamic of the commune. People felt far less communal. The quaint satisfaction we used to get from enduring the heat for the sake of the community instead just made us disgruntled. And the food—which had always been terrible but which we accepted for the sake of helping the community—suddenly became inedible. And our meager salary, which barely paid for one beer per night and the cheapest, sparsest hotel room on the weekend, became a point of resentment. In short, the hippies stopped feeling hip.
Soon after, I began to voice my opinion with other staff, and eventually complained aloud in the company of some volunteers. Once their illusion was shattered, the house of commie cards started to fall. Within a year, our location closed down. As far as I know, there’s still a functioning scam going in Chiang Mai.
So things ended badly, but for two blissfully ignorant years, I lived in a bubble. In a suspended animation world of sunny days, easy work, cheap beers, and wild weekends. Because I was paid so badly, I didn’t save any money, and my Bangkok job now pays 5 times more than those fake tree huggers, but there’s a lesson here. Being monetarily poor doesn’t necessarily translate to a low quality of life. Sure, I only got meat once a day, but the result was shedding 30 unneeded pounds. I could only afford two beers per day, but it turns out that was enough. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you can overlook your bosses/leaders hoarding all the money and resources, and if conditions aren’t too austere, and if you can still hit the beach and get laid by hot chicks weekly, then a hippie/commie life ain’t that bad.
Swing by on Friday for a frowback, and between now and then keep your balls bare, your beer bold, and cheers to another week above ground in the greatest place on Earth, aka Thailand.