Weekly Local Biography

  David Blair Brown

One of the senior staff members at the Lanna International School of Thailand (LIST) is David Blair Brown, a quietly spoken Scotsman who says with great candour, “I’ve had a better life than I ever expected to have.” He puts much of that down to the good relationships he has had with his friends both in Scotland and in Thailand, and a similarly good relationship built up over the years with his wife. David comes across as a man now very much at ease with himself.

He was born in Glasgow, on the west coast of Scotland. His father was a marine engineer, whilst his mother was a teacher and keen pianist. Unfortunately both his parents had died by the time he was 12 years old and he was raised by his grandparents.

“I was lucky,” said David, as his grandparents were involved in the theatre, and he was introduced to the thespian side of life, as well as straight academia. By the time he finished his secondary schooling at one of Glasgow’s best grammar schools, it was obvious that many career paths were within his capabilities, but grandfather suggested that he should become a lawyer.

Towards this end, he went to Glasgow University, and qualified, starting work in a legal office. “After two years I finished … it wasn’t for me.” So he returned to university to study English, History and Education, emerging with his Master’s degree. “It was well worth it,” said David, who returned to his old grammar school, but this time on the other side of the desks.

It was there that he was also told that the secret of advancement within the profession was to be ready to move, jumping up the academic ladder each time. Within ten years David had moved quickly through the system and was a rector. “It’s a hierarchical system,” explained David.

He also found that the additional responsibilities could produce some traumatic experiences. “When you have to control a staff of more than 100 teachers you develop a skin like a rhinoceros,” said David with a laugh.

He also mentioned that in his years in the teaching profession, he has seen many changes. “I’ve seen the whole gamut of education change. Take corporal punishment. They brought in (the rule) that only the headmaster could do it. Can you imagine the queue outside my door every day?” He did go on to say that, “Now we have to think of deterrents. I don’t agree with hitting children.” However, as David and I are of similar ages, we were able to exchange our experiences at having been on the receiving end of the teacher’s tawse more than once in our school lives. And it did us no harm. And we deserved the punishment!

Having reached the top of his teaching tree, and wishing to stay in active service, he then stayed on at one of the largest schools in Scotland. “I started as the youngest staff member and ended up as the oldest staff member,” said David; however, the Scottish Education Department dangled the carrot of early retirement and he took it. Perhaps the queue outside the headmaster’s door was just getting too long, David did not say.

After many years of active teaching service, what does a retired headmaster do? In David’s case, it was to become involved in social work, interspersed with playing golf, a game that originated in Scotland. However, that could not fully hold his interest. “I got tired of playing golf in the rain,” said David, so when a church group approached him and asked if he would like to go to China to teach English, he said yes.

The initial contract was for 12 months, and it was his first experience of Asia. It was also his first experience of quaint oriental customs such as spitting on the floor between mouthfuls during meals. It was also his first experience of being driven in a limousine to the city in which he would teach. It was so far away, the trip took three days!

His function was to teach English to medical students, and to impart some English language skills to some of the party cadres as well. He enjoyed it, and the initial contract was extended to two years, though David felt by the end that he was perhaps becoming a little too outspoken in his views. During this time he also furnished a young American teacher with a reference, who was looking for a job in Thailand. A normal practice, but one that was to have far-reaching ramifications.

At the end of David’s China contract, the young American rang him to say there was a position available in Chiang Mai at the Lanna International School of Thailand. “So I came and I stayed,” said David simply.

I asked him whether there were great differences between practising his profession in Scotland and in Asia. “After you have been teaching for a long, long time, you begin to understand young people. Their interests are just the same as those in Scotland. To me there is very little difference, but teachers can forget that these children (in Asia) have to be bilingual or even trilingual.” There speaks the voice of experience!

However, the same voice of experience admits that he is still learning! “I’ve learned more than I learned in Scotland. I’m growing old and still learning. Will I ever be wise? There’s a rhetorical question,” said David, laughing to himself.

While waiting to see if he does indeed become wise, David enjoys working at LIST, and in fact says, “I am here for as long as LIST wants me. I like the people, and my Thai friends have taught me how Thais think, and taught me how to be happy.” He also enjoys the arts and theatre here in Chiang Mai, catering to that love of the theatre instilled by his grandparents.

David Blair Brown will be a Chiang Mai fixture for many years yet!