Anchali and I teach English for free for a variety of reasons. Probably the biggest one is many children and teenagers here have an incredible desire to learn and really try. The ones still in school (under 16) come to our house when school is finished, and study with Anchali. I teach the older ones (ages 16 to 20). The parents of our students and the people that know what we do are always extra nice to us…sometimes to the point of inconvenience!
One of Anchali’s students, named Ankana, is one daughter from a Mon family that owns a noodle shop/restaurant at the end of the “famous” wooden bridge here in Sangkhlaburi. The restaurant is one woman (mom) cooking and serving, with daughters and husband (a motorcycle taxi driver) helping if they are around. In the west, a restaurant in a perfect, incredibly scenic location such as this one would be a goldmine. Here, they make enough to live, but that is about it.
Ankana’s mother, who we address as “Ankana’s mother”, has always appreciated our free teaching efforts more than others. She would discount any food, lowering the price from ridiculously cheap to outrageously cheap. A can of Heineken should be 35 baht, and a can of Singha should be 30 baht. Whenever we get beer, all brands are 25 baht. Food gets knocked down 40 % to 50 %. We try (really hard!) to give her more money but she will not accept. Then we made the mistake of offering to make an English menu for her!
As the restaurant is literally on the wooden bridge, every tourist who comes here (5 a year) has the opportunity to dine, or at least get a coke or a beer. Ankana’s mother speaks exactly 0 words of English, and gets very flustered when white people show up. She is happy for the business, but worries about communication more than her customers. Anchali had the brilliant idea of making English/Thai menus for her. A few days later we delivered three laminated copies, and Ankana’s mother was delighted.
However, after this favor, our discount deepened, and free food started to make it’s way to our house. On the weekends, Ankana would sometimes bring us two boxes of Burmese noodles with vegetables, or some other delicious snack. Sometimes friends or students would deliver boxes of food, sent from Ankana’s mother. Whenever we go to the bridge (almost every day after teaching), we sometimes have to insist she not give us something. We appreciate the fact she appreciates us, but are happy to pay for our food when it is so cheap to begin with.
Today we were planning on going to the “House of Water & Sky” restaurant (one of our favorites here) with two older students but walked to the bridge first after teaching. While we enjoyed a beer and the view, Ankana’s mother proceeded to cook us dinner without our knowledge. When we got up to go, she said we must wait for food. We said we had plans for dinner, thank you, but…we had plans! She said sorry but you MUST take this (free) food. So we took the food home. Luckily, right after we walked in the door (after I pulled a muscle and cut my hand climbing the wall because I forgot the key), it started to pour. Going out on the motorbike in a downpour was less appealing, so we ate at home.
The hazards of free teaching are not that bad, but I guess we really don’t expect or want free things in return. So maybe we are lucky not everyone is like Ankana’s mother. But it is certainly wonderful to have someone appreciate your efforts and reward you with food. And discounted beer….!