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