Langkawi seemed like a beautiful island, although we didn’t see much of it. It rained most of the time we were there, even though it wasn’t the rainy season. Once there we suddenly realized that we were coming short of money (of Malaysian currency that is). We knew then that if we stayed on the island we wouldn’t have anything left when we reached the mainland and banks would be closed because of the weekend. And Langkawi was such a peaceful little island that there were no banks. We spent most of a morning trying to find someone who could/would convert a $10 U.S. Traveler’s Cheque to Malaysian dollars. We finally succeeded about 11:00 a.m., after which we could finally relax.
We were still coming across very hospitable people … although our last two stays before Langkawi weren’t with Malaysians. By the time we got into Alor Star, the last big town in northern Malaysia, it was late and we were quite tired! We located the Methodist minister we’d been given the name of (an Irishman), who gave us cold drinks, invited us to supper, and later invited us to spend the night with him and his family. They had two small boys; both adopted. The 4-year old apparently had cerebral palsy, making his speech almost impossible to understand and making him very clumsy. The worst part, however, was that he was hyperactive and couldn’t sleep through the night. So he woke up screaming, and it took his mother hours to get him back to sleep.
We really enjoyed visiting with this couple. The women talked about the children, and the minister and I talked about political and racial problems in Malaysia. We were invited to spend an extra day or two with them, and we would’ve enjoyed staying. We felt, however, that they had enough problems without us, so we moved on.
The next day we headed for the town where we were to take a boat to the island of Lankawi. About 5:00 p.m. we were passing through this town when an Anglo and two Malay children passed us on a motor scooter. We commented then that he looked like a Peace Corps volunteer. A few minutes later he came up behind us again and asked where we were going. When we explained, he said his house was about as far from the port as the town was, and he invited us to spend the night with him. He lived by himself, but his best friend’s wife was preparing a feast for him. So we got a very good Malay supper. (Their meals usually seemed very hot to us … they love curries … but they left the hot spices out because they knew we probably couldn’t eat the curry with the spices) The volunteer (he turned out to be a Peace Corps volunteer) had only one room, with just a mattress for his bed, but he gave us the mattress and slept on the floor. Before we met the volunteer, we hoped that we would get to spend one more night in a Malay home; still his invitation was most welcomed.
Now we had a border to look forward to and were hoping the change wouldn’t be too sudden … that maybe enough Thais crossed into Malaysia and enough Malaysians into Thailand to keep the change from been too drastic. We were sure, however, that less English would be spoken in Thailand so that we’d have to get to work right away and learn Thai expressions. We had no idea then that we’d be dealing with a tonal language once we crossed the border.
1. Ray Hubener. Before we left Manila, we received two letters from Ray Hubener urging us to join him in Bangkok. Ray was a friend of mine from Baylor University. He was the friend who appeared at our door in Manila and lived with us there for a while.
Ray wrote that he wished that we were in Bangkok and that he had met all of the people in theater there. According to him they were “all so traditional-minded or unimaginative” or only wanted to do “pleasant little commercial crap,” yet he felt that, though there were many limitations, as far as thinking and conditions, the sky was still the limit. He wrote that theater there “needed” directors: there were two amateur western theatre groups and one amateur Thai theater group, all needing directors, but did not pay. Ray was also offered a drama teaching job at in an American High school and had heard that another university was starting a drama department. But while he thought opportunities in Bangkok were very good, he also offered a cautionary note. He didn’t want me to think that it was a heaven for dramatist there, it was not, but it had opportunities that he was excited about.
Of course one difficulty was language: very little English was spoken; and Ray said any plays he directed at a school would be done in Thai, and that it was going to be quite an experience. Ray also heard about the experiences of a guy we both knew at Baylor. This person and his wife both taught drama at Chulalongkorn University and one of his courses was like a course taught at Baylor (I also taught the same course at the University of the Philippines), but this person didn’t fit into Asian life at all and finally quit and returned to the US. He was very disliked by the Thais, and from what Ray heard Thais would be more difficult to work with than Filipinos.
Ray didn’t give details about some bad things that happened to him before (after the Philippines he toured Indonesia) or when he first arrived in Bangkok because he was still very emotional about it. He was broke then … had absolutely no money … waiting for money to come from the states. He was finally able to land two part times jobs, which paid a little. One was an English-teaching job; the other was a two-week job helping light and design an IBM extravaganza. His prospects however were looking up.
When he wrote us the first time. Ray was negotiating for a professor of drama position at Chulalongkorn University and seemed excited about it. Two other drama teachers at the university told him that they thought that he’d definitely get the job. Here was the situation, which sounded good to me because of my own background in drama.
Ray got the lead for the job through a young American “missionary” who was one of the two drama professors at Chulalongkorn. He (the missionary) and his family were leaving Thailand for a year so that he could go back to school in the states. Ray walked in at the right time and said he was a drama major from Baylor, and Ray was accepted immediately. They knew quite a bit about our Professor Paul Baker … Baylor University … Trinity University … the Dallas Theater Center … etc. (I studied with Paul Baker at Baylor University, Trinity University and the Dallas Theater Center.) The professors at Chulalongkorn even sent a student to get her MA at the Dallas Theater Center and she was still in Dallas when Ray wrote to us. Ray also wrote that the American professor was also designing his own theater for a new university in northern Thailand and was using the theater at Trinity as his model. And finally, according to Ray, he was doing such experimental things in drama that Mr. Baker would’ve flipped if he saw some of it. Anyway, with my experience at Baylor, Trinity, the Dallas Theater Center, and theater in the Philippines, the situation that Ray described in Bangkok seemed tailor-made me.
Ray’s proposed job offered a fantastic salary including a housing allowance (and apartments in Bangkok were very expensive), but the salary was high enough that Ray felt that he would be able to save and buy a car. He was looking to rent a two-bedroom apartment, maybe air-conditioned, maybe not. He meanwhile was staying at the Vieng Thai Hotel, but he thought he would have to move soon, to a Buddhist monastery or some other hotel.
All of this meant that Ray thought he would be in Bangkok for two years because Chulalongkorn University wanted contract teachers to commit to two years. As it turned out, Ray turned down the teaching job at the university since it had to be for two years, and instead stuck to part-time work teaching English by the hour. But he also worked in theater in a variety of ways.
Peggy and Randy Ford