How Optimism Got Fired

The center cannot hold. Things have fallen apart. –Kenny

Movie time, Mr. Over Acting! -Baiyok

The story of Optimistic Kenny [last name not included] begins a while before I came to Thailand. Kenny is a 33 year old Nigerian man who has lived in Thailand for 3 years. Sometime during the summer break Kenny came to Bunditnoi 2 and begged Miss Baiyok (the school director) and Kru Kai (the manager) to give him a job. Later, Baiyok would tell us that Kenny had a record of poor behavior at Thai schools. Though his record was against him, Baiyok took pity and gave him the job.

Baiyok, by the way, speaks excellent English. She spent 20 years working at Disneyland in California.

Anyways, things didn’t start well for Kenny at Bunditnoi 2. He spent his first two days complaining about the schedule (a rather petty complaint about having to be at school before 7:15am instead of 7:30 as he’d assumed) as well as the management. On Tuesday he told management he would be absent the following day to take care of some visa arrangements in Bangkok. He was gone the rest of the week.

I arrived in Thailand that Friday. All weekend, Ben and Hannah tried to prepare me for Kenny’s negativity. When I met him on Monday, I was blow away—he was happy, funny, and polite. There wasn’t a hint of what I’d come to expect. In fact, my strongest memory of my first week at Bunditnoi 2 is the day we played a friendly game of keep-away with him after school.

The real Kenny revealed himself slowly over the next two months.

Kenny didn’t like to participate much. Every morning he would duck out of the assembly just before exercises began. Every time we went on trips with other teachers—whether it be to the temples in Buriram or the reservoir in Khon Buri—or even out to dinner, he would decline invitations.

Early on, Kenny invited Ben, Hannah and I to eat Nigerian food at his house. We were busy that night, and declined. He invited us again, and although we were available, he cancelled on us…a few times. Eventually we gave up on the idea of homemade Nigerian food.

Eventually, during our discussions before school, it came out that Kenny smokes marijuana. Now, I’ve had my fair share of pot-smoking roommates, so recreational pot no longer bothers me nearly as much as it used to. However. Kenny does not simply smoke it for fun. He smokes before he drives, which rubbed me the wrong way because of my family history of pot-related car accidents. But what bothered me even more was that Kenny smoke pot before work.

Hannah, Ben and I have had many discussions about this. Although our personal feelings about marijuana do not always agree, we are all of one opinion on this: you do not smoke before work. Especially if your work involves teaching children.

The “problem,” and the reason why we didn’t tell our managers about Kenny’s pot, was that Kenny was an excellent teacher. I mean, really good.

At Bunditnoi, we have an English class, where the students learn vocabulary and some basic phrases, but there is also a Conversation class (usually just called Conver). This class requires a teacher fluent in both Thai and English because this class is where they learn to apply their vocabulary and such in, well, conversation. Kenny was a great candidate. English was his first language, and after 3 years here in Thailand, he spoke more-than-decent Thai (although he did not read or write).

More importantly than his qualifications, however: the students loved Kenny. He was very good with the children and it showed in how enthusiastically they responded to him.

So when the things got worse with Kenny (Facebook name: Optimistic Kenny [last name not included], a source of much ironic laughter for us all), I had a very bad feeling. If anything bad happened, the students of Bunditnoi would be the victims.

My opinion of Kenny soured again on Saturday, June 13th. That evening we were visited by Sanjoy, an ex-monk who studied at IBC with Ben last year and now teaches English in Khon Buri, a town about 30 minutes from Pak Thong Chai. Sanjoy is, at his core, an altruistic, well-meaning person. He had come to Bunditnoi for a day early in the semester and met Kenny there. That was, to our knowledge, the only time that they met.

Not so. That night, Sanjoy told us that Kenny had approached him on Facebook the night before and asked if he could borrow 500 baht. This came as a surprise to us for a few reasons. Number one: Kenny had never approached us, the people he worked with every day, for money nor had he given any indication that he was tight on cash. But we were really surprised because Kenny made 2,000 baht more than we make each month and at least 3,000 baht more than the Thai teachers make. On top of that, he had a side job tutoring on the weekends! He was financially better off than any other teachers we knew. He shouldn’t be in need. Moreover, he shouldn’t be asking Sanjoy for money.

But Sanjoy agreed to lend him 500 baht. Forty-five minutes later Kenny was in Khon Buri, impatiently awaiting his loan.

Sanjoy came to our house to ask us if this was usual behavior, and whether he should expect to be repaid. At that point in time, we weren’t sure what to expect. The following Monday we all watched him closely, but he gave no sign of being in need, in debt, or what have you. A couple of weeks later we went on a trip to Pak Chong for an international congregation of Taoist-Buddhists (Kenny, of course, did not come). When Ben mentioned we would see Sanjoy there, Kenny gave him 500 baht to give to Sanjoy.

So as you might expect, my opinion of Kenny was really in a constant state of fluctuation.

The tension continued to rise between Kenny and the administration. He was late to school two days out of every three. He was often out of school altogether, although usually for legitimate reasons, such as taking care of more visa-related business or his work permit. Still, the school management didn’t appreciate his absences. They could deal with it in the cases I just mentioned…but he was absent a couple of times for no good reason. When he got back, we would have to listen to his complaints about how management treated him worse than other teachers by docking his pay each time he was absent no good reason. The truth is, the other teachers are only ever absent for maternity leave or teaching conferences. So his complaints were not justified.

Kenny’s side job was to tutor children in Nakorn Nayork, a town very close to Bangkok. As such it was very far from Pak Thong Chai. He’d drive out there every Friday night and drive back late on Sunday, usually after midnight. This undoubtedly contributed to his lateness on Mondays.

Tuesday, July 7th, was the beginning of the end. Kenny’s motorcycle got stolen from the Bunditnoi 2 parking. Or, at least, that’s what we heard when he came charging into the office, screaming at the top of his lungs that his bike was gone and it was Bunditnoi’s fault it got stolen. He was furious that there wasn’t better (read: any) security in the parking. He demanded to see the CC TV footage from that morning. He threatened to call the police. Then he actually called them.

Through all the fury, Miss Baiyok tried did her best to defend the school and make Kenny see reason that it couldn’t possibly be Bunditnoi’s fault. When she got angry at Kenny, which happened often, she always ended sentences with “my dear.” This illustrated a fundamental difference between the two. Kenny was trying to get the authorities on his side. Baiyok was trying to be nice.

There were a few interesting points about the theft of Kenny’s bike.

  1. Kenny was so upset because there were valuable documents hidden in his motorcycle, including but not limited to his passport.
  2. If Kenny had locked his bike, it would have been very difficult to steal. He said he locked the bike, so…
  3. If it was locked, only one person could have taken it: the bike’s owner.

Later that day, Baiyok was contacted by the owner of Kenny’s bike. The owner said Kenny had failed to pay rent on the bike for the past three months. Therefore, it got repossessed.

Despite this, Kenny was still furious at the school and did his best to get Bunditnoi blamed (and fiscally responsible) for his loss of property. He spent the remained of the day on the phone with the police, his embassy, and I believe his mother. Nothing came of it.

For my part, I offered to drive Kenny home that day. Though he had managed to get his documents from the bike, he hadn’t been able to get the bike itself back. So I drove him home. On the way I stopped for gas and he showed me, among his many documents, receipts for four months’ worth of car payments. He was still fuming about the ‘theft,’ and told me in no uncertain terms that he would only stay at Bunditnoi through the end of the month. He did not offer to pay for gas.

He was not in school the next day.

On Thursday, everything was normal. He showed up late on a motorcycle taxi, complained, and reiterated that he was looking for work elsewhere. But other than that, it was business as usual. I drove him home again, he thanked me, and that was that.

That Friday, though we didn’t know it at the time, was the last day Kenny worked at Bunditnoi.

On Monday he didn’t show up. After the school assembly we learned, over Line (a popular chat application that the Thai teachers use to communicate when not at school) that Kenny had gone to a conference at the Ministry of Education in Bangkok, ostensibly on the permission of Verut, another member of Bunditnoi management. Whether Verut knew about this or not I never found out, but nobody else knew about it.

For Baiyok and Kru Kai, it was, at last, the final straw.

Kenny got fired. Not the next morning at school, not in private. He got fired over Line, where all the teachers could see it (if they could speak English). Below I’ve taken a transcript of some highlights from that conversation. I’ve edited some of Baiyok’s sections for grammar.

BAIYOK: Kenny, I would like to let you know. We don’t care who you go to see. The best thing is to come to teach your kids and take care of your work. You the MAN who broke the rules, my dear. See your boss and take your money tomorrow. Bye.

KENNY [Gives a long message in Thai. Based on sentiments he had shared with us not long before, I guessed he was claiming to have been treated like a slave during his time at Bunditnoi].

BAIYOK: The Kingdom of Thailand is a country without slavery for a long time. You misunderstand, Kenny.

KENNY: I came to your school with a clean heart. I never came to make trouble. I never cared about the salary even though it was lower than my previous salary. You all know I always travel to Nakorn Nayork every weekend. What I make from my private classes can take good care of my needs. I came in peace and I will leave peacefully. I don’t hate anyone, all I wanted was a peaceful n honest working environment. Today I had to attend this meeting. Thailand’s Minister of Education was there to see us all. I told them I teach at Bunditnoi School. I came because the school encourages the students and teachers to practice what his MAJESTY taught Thais. They took the school’s address because they were pleased with the information I gave. Is this a bad idea or bad motive? I wish everyone peace. I came peacefully and I will honorably leave peacefully. May you all be blessed. I will miss my students greatly, this is a fact but I am sorry, the center cannot hold. Things have fallen apart.

BAIYOK: Movie time, Mr. Over-Acting! Hopefully, you understand. Good job Kenny. No more time in Bunditnoi 2. Thanks again. Good job.

KENNY: Lol…With all due respect, we are all entitled to our individual opinion. Go through my comments, there is no place I ever stated I am not working for my embassy. Over acting? No way!!!!! All I asked was for fairness, respect the terms n conditions clearly agreed when I signed a contract. Am I asking for too much?

BAIYOK: To the teacher team at Bunditnoi 2 school: from today we don’t have a teacher from Nigeria. We will hire a replacement as soon as possible. Thanks.

On Wednesday morning we saw Kenny again. He came in to sign an agreement of termination. Hannah and Ben were taking care of some visa issues of their own, so I was the only farang teacher present when he came in. Miss Baiyok and Kru Kai asked me to hang around, watch the proceedings, and sign the termination as a witness. I agreed.

What followed was an hour of denials and insistences that Kenny was essentially an angel who had done nothing wrong. He understood he was being fired, but wanted full payment before he went. Of course, Bunditnoi had his time cards as proof against him. They gave him pay for the number of days he had worked, and no more. Personally, I thought that was fair.

When we left the meeting hours later (if you’ll recall from my previous post, he showed up to it late), Kenny went into the classrooms. This was not a decent move. He had been fired and should have simply left, and not let sore wounds fester. But he went into his old classes and spent a few minutes with the students, saying goodbye and (believe it or not) giving them his contact information, including Facebook. In other words, he was making sure the students would never have a bad word to say about him.

I think I was right that the students ended up the victims. Although they have good memories of Kenny, the memories do not include the many negative aspects of Kenny. Furthermore, they were left without a Conversation teacher. Hannah and I covered his classes for one day, and then Yo-yo filled in for a couple weeks until Chan, a kind Cambodian man and an excellent teacher, was hired. However, because he is still in school, Chan can only be at Bunditnoi 2-3 days a week. It’s not a good situation for the students.

Very shortly after the firing occurred I saw on Facebook that Kenny had found a new job. Good for him, I thought. And then I unfriended him on Facebook.

Unfriending is not a particularly big deal to Americans. Usually, you don’t even notice if it’s happened, and if it did, you recognized it’s for a good reason. I unfriended Kenny because he had injected so much stress into my first two months in Thailand that I wanted nothing more to do with him.

He, apparently, thinks unfriending is a big deal. Here is what he had to say on the topic, word-for-word:

Just found out you got me deleted as a friend. Well that’s cool, friendship is a 2 sided stuff. You guys may have been brainwashed about me just to save face but to the best of my knowledge, I did nothing wrong to any of you. I was basically fighting for my right in contractual agreement. Thanks for the short period and I will always appreciate the times you gave me a ride home. One day the truth will be known, as long as my conscience is clear, I don’t get worried about what anyone thinks of me. I’m happy and satisfied at my new place of work.

Well. Say what you will about any of the events above, but I don’t think any of it was done by someone who didn’t care what people thought of him.

More on everything to come!

Be dareful.


2 thoughts on “How Optimism Got Fired

  1. More of life’s lessons…this time not cultural ones. We all will encounter those at work (and through other connections) who let us down, who don’t live up to our standards or expectations. These disappointments and frustrations do not have international boundaries. Keep up your own high standards. Sending love and hugs.

  2. Paul, The best lesson in life is that life is a mystery. It is important that you encounter and deal with people like Kenny. It’s important that you know people well before judging them. You are in Thailand but clearly, this is a universal dilemma and you are benefiting from the experience. We love that you are sharing so much with us – almost feel like we are there with you —- we wish! Thank you, Paul. You gladden our hearts. Grammy & Pops xxooxx

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