Do Whatever Works!

I am a diehard educator. I love teaching and my first priority is ESL—English as a second language. Over the years, I have perfected my techniques and evolved in my ability to communicate with others. I am proud of my hands-on experience that goes way beyond the Skype chats that foreign students use nowadays to learn English. It is okay for an introduction to the experience, but really reaching a student takes more time and effort than a forty minute session once a week.

I strongly believe you have to get to know your student so you can focus on his or her special interests. New learners are often hesitant to speak another language at first due to the potential embarrassment of a poor accent and making mistakes. It takes time for some people to loosen up. If you can get the person to talk about what they know and love, you will go a long way toward faster absorption of the unfamiliar material. This works in a classroom as much as one-on-one tutoring. Remember, a loose attitude also loosens the tongue. They used to say alcohol, but in the educational setting, this will certainly not apply.

If you spend enough time, a student will soon reveal personal interests and issues so you have a good jumping off point for more advanced conversations. I had one student in particular that I struggled with for many weeks before finally discovering his “secret.” It wasn’t something shameful or illegal at all; he simply liked shredding paper. He might purloin a piece here and there from a fellow student or a family member. If he found a full trash can, he was would be in heaven.

I got the picture and brought in a cheap, compact shredder from to the classroom so my student could shred to his heart’s content while we talked. He would tell me what he thought was written or printed on the paper and often made up stories about the people who had thrown the used paper away. It got to be pretty funny at times. Sometimes animals got involved, like the old student excuse for tardiness, “my dog ate my homework.” No matter the truth or falsity of his talk, it is an ideal way to learn a language and he progressed very fast. He loved that I would save the students’ completed worksheets and exams just for him.

Other students had their own quirks. One student enjoyed having a snack to help him relax during our ESL conversations. Then there was this young girl who couldn’t sit still for more than ten minutes, so we conducted our sessions while walking in the nearby park. Another oddity was one student’s need to speak over his cell phone and to demand texts to define words he didn’t know. In the teaching profession, we say “do whatever works!” I sure would like to hear what other teachers have experienced when living in a foreign land.

Staying in Touch

Although I am more than a few jet hours away from family in the far east, I love to keep in touch and hear what is happening in my homeland. It helps ease the homesickness that creeps over me now and then. Although I love my teaching job and the students are wonderful, I consider my family to be close friends. I don’t miss birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and special events if I make and receive video calls. This is an ingenious invention that has helped me cope with hard times, bad weather, misbehaving students, or a loss of face if I do something strange. As a foreigner in Thailand, a glorious country with pristine beaches and crystal clear water, you never know how your words and deeds will impact others. You learn the customs over time, but in the beginning it is easy to make a big faux pas.

Recently, it was so much fun to see a pool party in my uncle’s backyard. I told the cousin who initiated the call to clue me in on the occasion. A cousin had received a wonderful job offer and everyone was celebrating to the max. I could see that it was a sunny cloudless day, much like that I was experiencing at the moment. It is more typical in Thailand than back home.  The party was in full swing and I almost felt as if I were there drinking a cold beer on the patio. People were splashing about in the pool and acting like kids—dunking each other under. Smoke was emanating from the big barbecue grill, implying that hot dogs and hamburgers were in the making. I felt I could taste the sauce. A few small tots were jumping up and down on the outdoor trampoline. It was not the standard recreational gym size, but a smaller one that accommodates one person at a time. They were ecstatic and their laughter rung in my ear as I watched. Obviously their parents had made a great Trampoline Choice.

I love to show off the beautiful region in which I work with people back home too. I have sent photos, picture articles, all kinds of historical information, and the like. I bring handicrafts and special foods of the region when I return home for a vacation. With a video call, you can take a movie of the scenery for all to see and enjoy. I can describe it all I want but there is nothing like a video if you can experience the real thing. A video chat is just what I need at the end of a long, tough week. Sometimes the kids ask frustrating questions or don‘t perform well on tests. Most of the time, however, I just miss my cousins and want to hear their voices. We grew up together in the bosom of our big family, and being miles apart is a cross to bear.

An Experiment

I like to encourage my students to be inquisitive and ask questions all the time. This is, in my opinion, one of the best ways to learn. I don’t believe in shoving knowledge down their throats. They remember things better if they are interested in the subject. I often ask them to write down twenty questions they would like answered. We share them with the class. I have done this a few times and on each occasion I am surprised by their odd queries.

I also share odds and ends with them as I adapt as a foreigner to live in Thailand. It amuses them what I don’t know about their food and customs. Recently, I was recounting a simple chore I was performing in my small house. I was cleaning out the refrigerator, a very old model, and found a very old can of beer. It must have been there for ages hidden behind some long-lasting items like jars of pickles and olives. As I was telling the story, one student raised their hand and said he had a great new question for his next list. “I want to know does beer expire?” Ha! This made me laugh. I responded, “Do you want me to try an experiment and drink it to found out.” He groaned. We then had a nice science session on what happens in the body when you eat spoiled food. We zeroed in on stomach aches and their causes. They all wanted to know if you die. Morbid little souls. I said that you could eat a moldy piece of fruit and not die, but it would taste terrible. There is all kinds of bad bacteria in old food and drink. Thus, manufacturers list an expiration date on labels. How long food lasts is called shelf life. They found this fascinating and wanted to go home and check mom’s pantry right away.

As I was about to try the beer, one enterprising child blurted out, “no.” He had looked it up on Facebook and found that a can of beer only lasts six to nine months. It then goes flat and tastes awful. He wasn’t sure if it would kill me, but I still wanted to find out. I opened the can and took a tiny sip. Yikes, it was indeed absolutely flat. Apart from that, I didn’t choke, cough, or roll on the floor trying to breathe. I had concluded my experiment and lived to tell the tale. The kinds were aghast. I warned them not to try such things on their own and that I had done it to capture their attention. This I had done. I also mentioned that beer kept in a refrigerator can last up to two years and mine had been properly stored.

“You tricked us,” they cried in unison. “You wouldn’t have died in spite of the taste and you knew it.” I pleaded guilty and ended the lesson with a hearty laugh. Yes, it had only been about one year according to the date on the label.

A Thoughtful Gift

I often ask my students about their individual talents. So, they don’t run out of examples, I let them discuss hobbies or specialties of their parents or relatives. It turns up some interesting things. It certainly makes for a good classroom lesson. People are so varied in their skills and arts. You would be surprised at some of the responses. One student has a professional clown for a father and another a mother who races cars. Still another has an uncle who is a woodworker specializing in “Lanna.” Because I am in Thailand, I must explain here what this means. It is often discussed in the context of food as it is a type of Thai cuisine known for its light, fresh, and healthy qualities. I believe that it exists as homemade recipes passed down through many generations. It is a regional reference that denotes certain spices and ingredients.

When it is applied to Thai woodworking, it pertains to a certain approach to the art. I saw an example of this since my student brought in a small ornamental carving to show the class. He had been give this treasure as a gift and he relished the idea of sharing it with others. I could see that it was a very thoughtful present from uncle to nephew. When tourists come to Thailand, they search far and wide for this type of woodworking. There are shops in certain villages that offer Lanna wares. While some are listed on Google maps, many are hidden from western eyes. You have to explore to find them. It is well worth the effort when you see the handcrafted woodwork and the antique furniture on sale to lucky visitors. If only you could learn how to make Lanna style pieces on sites such as There may be an off season for some villages, so try to check this out in advance and ask those who have found year-round shops.

I personally adore handmade goods and woodworking is surely at the top of my wish list. While I am in Thailand, I am going to add to my collection of artisan-made crafts. Because of space constraints, I limit myself to small items for the most part as when I pack up and go, I don’t want to leave anything behind. Now my Lanna woodworking decorates my home and makes me feel that I am truly living the local lifestyle.

I am in heaven. One day my student with the woodworker uncle brought me a gift. His uncle know that I had praised his art in class and he wanted to thank me. I was nonplussed. These are the rewards of being a foreigner in a beautiful and gracious land. You can find truly authentic crafts villages here and there. Now I have something I wouldn’t find on my normal search journeys. It will be a standout in my collection, which is growing by the month. Whenever family and friends visit, they want to go and see Lanna woodworking. They also want to eat Lanna food as well!

A (Slightly) New Me

Everyday spent teaching in Thailand is a gift. The pleasures of this beautiful and exotic country are innumerable. I don’t have to convince anyone of that. You have all seen the scenic beaches and have heard about the exciting and dynamic big cities. Bangkok comes immediately to mind. It is the product of enormous Asian investment in the eighties and nineties that caused many international companies to move their headquarters. I can live in the city and travel to the countryside so I can take advantage of all aspects of the culture. My students have also taught me a great deal about daily life. A foreigner only has a limited view unless you make an effort to broaden it. Bangkok has so many individual neighborhoods that it is impossible to know them all. I try to wander about as much as I can. I depend on suggestions from my students of what “not to miss.”

There are tourists everywhere and you can’t avoid them unless you go far afield. I arrange for outings with the students now and then so I can get off the beaten track. We even go hiking and camping. On the last group trip, I took my briefcase along because I forget my casual backpack. It sat idle in the storage closet and missed out on the weekend. When I got back, I noticed that the trusty old briefcase had been damaged during travel, and I could see that it would be impossible to repair. It was stuck under the kids’ gear. I must get a new workbag I thought and immediately went online. I read this guide and selected a nice, upscale backpack instead of a new business-style briefcase because it seems to better suit my current lifestyle. I had brought it with me when I first came to begin my new teaching post and just kept on using it by default. Now I have the opportunity to make a change. We all need to do it now and then.

Scouting for a backpack was tough with only Facebook or Instagram, so I decided to go to a store I had noticed on one of my walking tours of the city. This would give me a purpose for another jaunt. I like to do things in person in Thailand for this reason. I don’t need the ease of the Internet. You can get whatever you want in this cosmopolitan city and a backpack is absolutely no problem. While foreign goods are available, I also look for local products whenever I can. They are cheaper than imports and of rather good quality for the most part. I don’t expect hand-made backpacks, but I do like the different stylistic twists I see in the store. There are certain materials and accessories unique to the country. It will be useful and a kind of souvenir.

I am now a changed man as I go about with my new backpack. The students were surprised at the change but I explained the choice.

Breaking Free from Jet Lag

Teaching students a foreign language in Thailand is the height of personal enjoyment for me. It is the culmination of my career goals. I much prefer working with them in person rather than over the Internet. The rewards are many. In fact, there are very few drawbacks. Most jobs entail either too much routine or not enough stimulation. I get the latter without the former. Every day is unique. The surroundings are so divine that I feel like I am in a paradisiacal heaven. I love nothing more than a quiet stroll after class before I undertake my grading and lesson planning.

It wasn’t always a breeze. When I first moved to the country, I suffered terrible jet lag. I had to go home a few times and the back and forth trips were exhausting, especially with the lack of sunlight I got back home. Some people say that getting a lack of sunlight can cause depression. I had to find a way to cope and it was tough until I discovered Be Right Light and sunrise alarms. In fact, I still use them now and then. I tell everyone I know. They give you complete control over your ability to sleep and rise at the appropriate hour. Those of you who have gotten up repeatedly in the middle of the night know of what I speak. I tried melatonin but don’t like the idea of even a non-prescription medication that might be addictive. The bottle label warns to stop usage after a few months. Products that treat jet lag are more advanced now and less harmful.

Wake up lights are meant to establish a routine and are great for children with insomnia. You can program them to be accompanied by music—all using an app on your mobile phone. A friend of mine has taught her two-year-old son to wait until the light turns green before he gets out of bed for breakfast. Adults also like waiting those extra minutes. There are many options on the Internet including lights by Phillips that come with colored sunrise simulation. It’s ingenious!

Sunrise alarms are a great alternative. It is true wakeup light therapy and I highly recommend it. It has saved me more than a few times. I can fight my jet lag with ease having this mechanical help. I have one with a dusk fading night light. If you want a combination alarm and radio, you can have it for a little more money. Most people enjoy waking up to music as long as it isn’t too raucous. I have a local station in Thailand that helps me greet the day. Others like to get natural sounds along with their alarm/light combination. You can choose what is likely to work best for your needs.

If you plan to travel and are worrying about jet lag, do not fear. There are ample remedies. You just prepare yourself in advance and stop fretting over one horrible sleepy day and alert night. You will soon get your normal rhythms back in no time. It gets easier the more you adhere to a specific routine.

Keeping Things Light

Basketball is popular everywhere, even Thailand. Maybe soccer reigns supreme, but people enjoy this US major sport as much as anyone. They aren’t as avid as American fans, but they are intrigued by the game. The hoop is an oddity to them as they don’t have them on school playgrounds or in parks. If you want to play a game or two, you must bring your own portable hoop. Not everyone owns one, but as a teacher looking for recess ideas for kids to blow off steam, I have sent away for two good ones that I can pull out whenever it is needed. I just set up a court outside with a hoop at either end. It is a mini version, of course, as we don’t have full-court space.

After a tough test, in particular, the students love to get out of class and breathe some fresh air. A game of basketball lifts their spirits after so much intense exam concentration. It keeps things light. I was never a top player in school, but I know the rules and can teach some strategy. Most of all the kids just like to practice making baskets. The short kids plug away at it never giving up and the tall ones show them how it is done. If you have the legs to jump, you can be any height. Over time, the students get better and feel a sense of fulfillment. I can’t wait until we can have a regular game with teams. I know I will be creating future fans of the sport overseas. This gives me a great feeling of patriotism.

I love that you can get anything on the Internet and have it sent to you—even as far away as Thailand. Purchasing some portable basketball hoops was a lot of fun. You can get them in kid’s or what is called youth size or regulation measurements. I elected to go full board and treat my students like adults. They will grow into the game as they mature. Meanwhile, the boards are adjustable. So, I bought standard height hoops mounted on sturdy, stable boards. We painted the backboard with our school colors. It was a fun way to get everyone involved. Each kid had a turn with the brush. Some messy areas had to be redone—a few times!

Storing my hoops is a chore as they are not that light weight. Otherwise, they would topple over, even in a gentle breeze. It is all about balance so there must be a weighted stand, filled with sand or water, to keep the hoop upright. As yet, we haven’t had any mishaps. I insist on three kids when carrying the portable system. No one bears the entire brunt of the weight. I am always there to spot them as they move it to its storage place. At first the kids thought basketball was odd as they didn’t have to use their feet. Soon they learned to enjoy it and asked for it on a regular basis.

Misconceptions About the Expat Life

People assume a lot of things when they hear that you are living and working abroad for a long time. They take it to mean that you don’t like your home country, that you were unemployable there, that every single day in your host country is sunshine and rainbows. Also, that we somehow didn’t appreciate the rights and advantages we had while we lived at home. We needed to be somewhere else for a while to truly understand what we gave up. While some things may apply to some expats some of the time, and it is true that being away can give us perspective we might not have had before, to assign these things to all of us and assume that we are all ungrateful or unappreciative of our homes does us all a huge disservice.

First of all, I love my home. I didn’t leave because I hate it there. I have not run into too many expats who hate their homeland. Sometimes being away can leave us baffled by things going on at home, sure, but it is still home and most of us plan on going back at some point. But I was given an opportunity to live and work somewhere else, to help students learn a language that can improve their lives here. I am young and I don’t have a family of my own yet. There was nothing keeping me tied to where I lived other than it was where I lived. I—and many of the friends I have made here—believe that as we move into a more global world, we need to understand and appreciate cultures other than our own. There is no better way to experience the world than by actually visiting other places.

Secondly, I did have a job at home. Many people who find themselves working on foreign shores did. But many companies have offices all over the globe. They will often transfer people to head up new offices, to receive or give training to different branches, or simply because they shift people from place to place. Sometimes we are offered incentives or promotions if we go abroad. There are also cases when the money or the cost of living is just better somewhere else. Other people do it for the experience of living somewhere else, or because it will give them an advantage or a better negotiating position when looking for a job upon their return home. There are all sorts of employment reasons why people might leave their home country.

Lastly, life isn’t necessarily perfect (or even better) in other places. Just because I choose to live here in Thailand doesn’t mean that I love everything about it. There are things that will take me ages to get used to, and other things that I don’t know if I will ever truly agree with. I am not saying that it is better or worse, just different than I am used to. Dealing with bureaucratic red tape is incredibly frustrating no matter where you live, but it can be especially difficult and confusing when you don’t speak the language or have an idea of how things work. There are days when I am incredibly homesick, days where I love being here, and just about everything in between.

My main reason for being here is that I love my job. I would teach people English just about anywhere. I happen to be working in Thailand right now, and I’ll stay as long as it makes sense for me to be here. Maybe after this job ends, I will go home. Or maybe I will head to another place entirely. Only time will tell!

Things to Consider as You Pack up Your Life

The first thing you need to decide is if you are coming back or not. If you know you are going to return to your home country at some point and then change your mind, it is a lot easier than if you decide you want to be a permanent resident of your host country, start the citizenship process and then change your mind. I would err on the side of assuming you are going home if you have any doubts. But if you have a decision in mind, the rest of the paperwork, packing up, and finances situation can be a lot more clear cut.

Be prepared for paperwork. Lots of paperwork. You’ll need a passport if you don’t have one already. You will likely need copies of your medical records and may need vaccinations depending on where you’re going. You will need a visa, a work permit, and possibly a new driver’s license. However, the rules and requirements for those are going to depend on where you are from and where you are going. If you plan on voting absentee, you’ll need to arrange that before you go as well. If you have already been hired by someone in your host country, ask to speak to human resources or see if they have a transition person. They will likely be able to walk you through the steps for everything you need. Do not assume they will do all the work for you to get all of your legal affairs in order!

You also have to make a big decision about most of your stuff. You have a few options: you can ship it all, which is expensive, probably unnecessary, and a giant pain; you can store whatever you don’t need somewhere—your parents’, a friend’s, or for a fee at a storage facility (enroll in automatic payments for it if that’s what you choose because your stuff will be out of sight out of mind, trust me); or you can sell what you don’t want to take with you—the most lucrative option of the bunch. You can throw out a lot, too, which will minimize the amount you need to take and/or store, and it takes less time than trying to sell it. What you do with your stuff depends on what you have and what you think you’re going to need wherever you’re going. When you’re in doubt about whether to take something or leave it, do some investigating and find out the cost to ship it—if it is more than the item(s) are worth, you have your answer! As for electronics, you may need a new sim card for your cellphone and/or outlet adapters for your plugs. If that sounds like a hassle, then don’t bother. Honestly, there are stores where you are going. They will have what you need.

As far as finances go, you will need to notify your creditors of your new address. It will also help to check with your bank. It may have affiliate branches where you are going, or it might be better–thanks to exchange rates and fees–to just open a bank account in your host country. You’re also going to want to find out if you are required to pay taxes on your income both at home as well as wherever you are living. It can get really complicated so talk to an accountant before you leave so that you aren’t accidentally breaking the law or saddled with fines.

Finding somewhere to live can also be a challenge. I came here with a job already in hand which made it easier for me to find a place to live. If you aren’t sure what you’ll be making and therefore don’t know what you can afford in rent, look around online to give you ideas of what the costs will be before you leave. Also get reference letters before you go so that you can give them to any potential landlords.

It may seem overwhelming at first but if you stay organized and create a to-do list, you will get through it all. It is definitely worth all the work!

Teaching: How Different is it Here?

Teaching here is actually quite similar to teaching at home. Back in the States, I taught literature to high school students. Here I am an English Language teacher. I still assign reading—although not the same books—and require my students to write reports.

Thai grammar is actually much easier than English grammar so students here struggle with it more in my opinion than back home. Learning the alphabet is easier, too. My students here are always surprised at the letters. There are 44 consonant letters in their alphabet and 15 vowels that form combinations. It is a whole other system of writing. Even their number system is different and basically looked like squiggles to me for a long time. The students here are always happy to know that the number system I teach them is the same for most Western countries.

If I am being honest, one of the major differences I have found is in attitude. The students here seem more respectful, at least within the classroom. Aftward it is anyone’s guess. I am sure that the students are probably talking to each other about me after class but I have no idea what they are saying. Not that my American students didn’t, but if they were in earshot at least I understood their comments!

Another difference I am certainly enjoying is on more of a personal level. Here my students will ask me questions about popular culture in the United States and be interested in my answers. That didn’t happen often at home, trust me! I was definitely not one of the “cool teachers” that the students liked talking with after class. I was not up on the lingo, or fashion, or celebrity romances. But I make more of an effort now that I am here to research that stuff so that I can connect with the interests of my class. I feel that if they are going to ask me a question in English, they certainly deserve an answer. It is the least I can do to make that answer be the actual truth!

For the most part, students are students. In the habits of my students here, I recognize many of those I had in my American classrooms. This is especially true when it comes to writing reports—the overachiever who writes exactly what he or she thinks I want to read; the underachiever who uses a big font or changes the margins to pad a report to make it look longer; the plagiarizers, whether it is because they simply didn’t know how to credit a source or because they were attempting to pass something off as their own. It is actually a little reassuring to see that kids are the same the world over.

Working in Thailand

Most of the foreigners here from English speaking countries are here as teachers. The majority of those jobs are to teach students how to speak English. You need, at minimum, a Bachelor’s Degree in English or Linguistics. If you have a degree in something else, you will need ESL credentials as well as being a native English speaker in order to be hired. Keep in mind that the pay is probably a lot less. If you don’t have luck getting hired by a school, you might be able to teach lessons or be a tutor to gain some experience to make it easier to get a job down the line.

If teaching English isn’t your thing, there are other opportunities. If you have a degree or experience in the IT or computer science field, you will find there are jobs here for you as well. Your education and experience will definitely set you apart here and can help you find a job that you might not have been able to get back home.

If you have been to culinary school or are a good chef and want to learn authentic Thai cuisine while also earning a paycheck, you can work in some of the larger hotel kitchens and do fairly well for yourself. When you head back home, the time you spent here will be a valuable bullet on your resume.

Believe it or not, another good job here is for call centers. Many companies outsource their call center needs and there are a couple here in Thailand. Your native language skills will be a real advantage in that regard—especially if you can speak English and another language like Spanish or French.

There are a few other things that you will need to know in order to work here. Bear in mind that thanks to the Foreign Business Act here there are many things that you will not be able to do. For example, you cannot profit off of the land—you cannot be involved in farming or animal husbandry, nor can you work in Forestry. You can’t make sugar from cane, farm salt, or mine. many aspects of the media/journalism field, fisheries—especially fishing in Thai territorial waters, extracting Thai herbs, Thai antique dealing, and the making or casting of Buddha and alms bowls. In other words, if it is something that is culturally significant to Thailand, you probably can’t do it. For this reason, among others, I do not recommend you try to work here illegally. You should have the proper visa and work permits in order to do your job and be paid legally.

Make sure you do everything according to their rules and you should be able to support yourself just fine!

Successfully Living in Thailand

I think Thailand is beautiful. I come from a small landlocked town in the Midwest. There isn’t a whole lot of scenery. Thailand is kind of the opposite. I’ve traveled more since moving here than I ever did at home but it has been so worth it. I can go from rural areas to important ancient sites to beaches and cities. There is so much to see here that I do like to be a tourist of sorts on weekends and ask my students where fun places to go are. The language is not as hard as you would think to learn, and I’m getting the hang of it more and more. It helps when I am out and about. Here are some quick tips I have learned about living here successfully:

Be prepared to find that most things that go wrong—like a car accident—are going to be your fault. It is hard to argue with their logic: if you, the foreigner, had not been in their country, this bad thing would not have happened. That is true, regardless of whether the incident was your fault. Farang (foreigner) will basically be both your name and an insult. How you look and present yourself is exactly how you will be treated, so if you are a mess they are going to treat you accordingly.

If you like the more unsavory things in life, Thailand can be a dangerous playground. Best to just avoid that stuff altogether. It is much easier than you think to get into a lot of trouble here and not so easy to get out of it. Their judicial system is pretty different than at home and saying you didn’t know you were in the wrong will never earn you any points. You should definitely ask and educate yourself about cultural things here before you do something accidentally terrible. You may have a few days to be an idiot here if you’re on vacation but if you plan on staying, you should be smart about it. If you’re going to go to the red-light districts, do not overdo it. In general, it is best to have a budget and stick with it. Make sure you have income coming in you are staying. You can have fun just like anywhere else but you still need money to do things like eat and pay rent. There are a lot of Western people who end up homeless here because they fell into the gutter and couldn’t—or didn’t want to—get back out. It’s too expensive to go back so they are just stuck here.

Another tip about their culture is the huge amount of respect they pay to their leaders. Back home, I can basically say what I want about the President and it’s fine. People make whole careers out of being critical of politicians in the U.S. Here, however, you best not say anything negative about the monarchy. Even portraits or pictures need to be treated with the utmost respect. They take this very seriously and you do not want to be on the wrong side of that.

It’s kind of difficult to own anything here as a foreigner so I rent a place to live and many of my fellow expats do the same. If you do want to own something make sure you do it through legal channels and not through some friendly Thai person who wants to help you out. Many of the stories I have heard about situations like that do not end well.

I guess what I am trying to say is not to be an idiot. Be respectful of the people and culture here and you will be fine whether you are visiting or staying put for a while. Thailand is not a place that will conform to your beliefs, so the sooner you start conforming to theirs, the easier your stay will be.