Kindergarten Cop

One of my pleasures in life while living in South East Asia is meeting some of the unusual characters who visit or live here themselves. Not only the locals, but also the foreign tourists and the ex-pats. I must admit that I often don’t have much love for the ex-pats in Saigon as many of them are full of hate for the locals and the country itself, constantly whinging and talking down about the country, the law and the lifestyle. More than once I have listened to someone’s tirade about how stupid the people are and how backward government policy is and had to grit my teeth to prevent myself screaming “Well what are you doing here then if you hate it so much ?”

But then there are the real characters who you meet that put a smile on your face and restore your faith in humanity. I know one such person that I see regularly. We call him “Tom the Pom” and he’s a kindergarten teacher.

Possibly the most unlikely looking kindergarten teacher you could meet, Tom is in his 40’s and he towers over even me at over 2 meters tall and must weigh in at close to 120kg. Tom’s first job when he left school was in the British army, but Tom is no kindergarten cop. After finishing his stint in the armed forces he went to university to become a journalist and he worked as a radio announcer for the BBC.

Later in his life, having already seen a bit of the world, Tom decided he wanted a different life, so he packed up to move to Asia. He still spends the milder months back in Mother England, but for the rest of the year, he enjoys the warm weather and vibrant street life of Saigon.

Teaching mostly kindergarten students who would be lucky to come up to his knee, Tom goes to work for a couple of hours in the early evening to sing “Old McDonald’s Farm” and other children’s songs and nursery rhymes to youngsters to encourage them to practice English which is an important life skill for the new generation of Vietnamese.

A man of routine, Tom can be found at a nearby cafe every lunch time with his Vietnamese girlfriend who is a dentist. In the early afternoon he wanders along to my own favourite drinking hole for bia hoi, or as he calls it “afternoonsies”. Between about 4 and 6pm every day, you can find Tom sitting in shorts and a singlet on Bui Vien street with a frosty glass of the local daily-brewed draft beer. Many a time have I heard him exclaim in his very upper-class, well-bred English accent “Oh I do love my afternoonsies here, just watching the world go by”.

I often wondered what sort of people became kindergarten teachers. You tend to imagine these modest, caring young women with soft voices and a passion for children. What you don’t imagine is a towering hulk of an ex-army BBC journalist, but it takes all types and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own experience of teaching kindergarteners, it’s that they love a big strong man. When a big man walks into the class the kids squeal with excitement. They know there’s going to be lots of action and physical games and that he’s likely to make hilarious animal noises and roar with laughter. It’s actually a character that fits the style of teaching very well.

Personally I find kindergarteners a little too boisterous and clingy, but I can’t help but smile as Tom tells me how sometimes he has to struggle out the door, peeling three children off each leg who are clinging desperately to him like limpets to a rock. Foreign English teachers are a great novelty for children here. It’s their one hour a week when they get to interact with a real white person, something they might not ever do in their daily life. With a massive difference in the size of white men compared to Vietnamese men, their mannerisms, their blonde hair and blue eyes, the children find it an experience they look forward to, especially when our primary job is to “make learning fun”.

So my salute for today is to Tom the Pom, for totally smashing that stereotype that kindergarten teachers have to mild-mannered young women.

This entry was posted in Life in Asia, People, Teaching. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *