Big Top Bangkok: Stickman’s Circus of Teaching Clowns
Pausing from the arduous task of transcribing notes from my meetings with “Mike”, and the secret history of the red light districts of Southeast Asia, we turn this week to an obscure corner of the Stickman website, which is probably overlooked every Sunday in favour of the latest salacious news and pointers from the red light districts. The series of articles, introduced last summer, is called “Teacher Tim.”
It is important to remember (or at least easy to forget) that the Stickman site even has a secondary objective: to help foreign English teachers who have questions and concerns about teaching in the kingdom. After a closer inspection of the Teacher Tim column on the site, and thanks to the clown-like magic of Google, it becomes evident that the thinly veiled advertorials for TEFL International are written by a circus clown. Quite literally. Tim Torkildson, aka Dusty the Clown. See here for his blog.
One of the aspects of living in Thailand and being an integral part of the “naughty nightlife” is that one gets used to an odd assortment of characters who were simply never properly socialized in their own countries, or are addicted to whatever vices found most appealing and readily available in a developing world country. What is particularly unnerving about the selection of a former circus clown as a nominal ringleader of ESL teachers in Bangkok and who, in turn, contributes articles for Bangkok’s most popular red light and adult entertainment website, is that the whole project is simply too creepy to fathom. To enumerate here the variety of reasons why clowns are inherently creepy is to indulge in a psychological exercise largely based on the primal fears and appropriate repulsion of children, and the difficult to articulate anxieties of parents everywhere. But to use a circus clown as a shill for the ESL teaching profession is a bizarre stunt even for the sordid cast of characters who regularly inhabit the red light districts of Thailand, and the blogs and websites that feature them.
Posting as “Torkythai” on YouTube, here are the commercial pitches (unmitigated by a quirky little weekly column) for the TEFL International program. In this pitch, Tim promises to potential TEFL participants that all the “beautiful women will kiss all the handsome men”, and vice versa. And if that isn’t incentive enough to take a TEFL International course, Tim the Clown promises “candy and cake and cookies” and “lemonade” to potential teachers who select the Thai-based programs. Here, he also throws in a balloon animal. If that wasn’t enough to entice the prospective student, Tim the Clown takes a creampie in the face. Hard to resist. Unless, of course, you are an actual adult.
Although all of the Torkythai posts are painful to watch and are extremely cringe-worthy, they all tend to engender in the viewer a profound sympathy for unwitting Thai students who have to endure poorly paid ESL teachers recruited in this fashion. In this endorsement from the series of videos, Tim the Clown bizarrely simulates the drinking of “poison” if the viewer does not immediately fork over (in US dollars) from upwards of $1,390 for a TEFL International course in Thailand.
Further review of TEFL International on the Internet reveals that many of its former students actually consider it a kind of “scam“ and that its programs in China were, at one point, raided by the police. While Saphan Loy cannot support this claim with any evidence or testimony directly, and reviews on the Internet are notoriously suspect, the fact that the word “scam” appears in a Google pull-down menu to facilitate the search term is, in itself, a kind of supporting evidence by design of the search engine. Try the terms “TEFL International” and “Scam”, and more stories appear about the company.
TEFL International is a business predicated upon the assumption that anyone can obtain the qualifications necessary to teach English as a Second Language (ESL, or sometimes rendered English as a Foreign Language EFL) in a few weeks. That there are prestigious universities that dedicate the resources necessary to confer master’s and doctoral degrees in the subject (as applied linguistics, or as second language pedagogy) in the United States and Great Britain seems to Saphan Loy to suggest that receiving the equivalent expertise in a few week’s time is extraordinarily dubious. That said, what can be surmised from the TEFL clown’s tactics is that they are disturbed reminders that mixing teaching and frequenting red light districts (like the Stickman does, and like Big Baby Kenny, also a teacher, does too), can cause some interesting dilemmas for the teachers responsible for the content of the brothel websites. See TEFL Clown Tim choke his own chicken here.
Anyway, what’s an honest red light writer (and non-teacher) to do? Send in the Clowns. Naturally.
The View from Above