will never forget the first time I heard Andrew McRady play the
bagpipes. A newcomer to Thailand and indeed to Asia, I sat in
the garden of a housing compound on Nimmanahae-
minda Road and pondered the meaning of cultural dissonance. The
hauntingly beautiful bag piped strains of “Amazing Grace”
floated through the cool night air along with the enchanting
smells of tom yom goong from the little restaurant on the street
- Scottish bagpipes played by an American in a garden in
Andrew McRady grew up in states in the
southern part of the United States. His father was in computers
at a time when computers were as big as a room. His mother was a
nursing instructor. There was no lack of job opportunities, and
the family lived in several prime locations before settling in
tiny, historic Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Bell Buckle is considered
a Mecca for artisans, craftsmen and musicians. With a population
463, it is home to the Webb School, a prestigious college
preparatory school and Andrew’s alma mater. Surrounded by such
creativity, is it any wonder that he took up playing the
bagpipes rather than the piano when he was a teenager? Inspired
by a bagpipe band at the Scottish Games nearby, Andrew was
delighted when a member of that band moved to Bell Buckle and
both taught and organized a bagpipe band.
Andrew graduated and made an amazing move for
a young man from a small town, but it foreshadowed his sense of
adventure. He went to Scotland for a year of study. He had never
traveled internationally, and certainly had never traveled
alone. Nobody took him in tow at Heathrow International Airport
and showed him how to catch the train to Aberdeen, Scotland. It
was a year of tremendous maturing as he negotiated everything
alone. Then he came home and worked in construction jobs,
learning skills that would serve him well in his future life in
a developing country.
He enrolled in Berea College in Kentucky
where he met Julie, who would become his wife. Berea was the
first interracial and intergender college in the south of the
USA. Called the “poor student’s Harvard”, students pay no
tuition but literally work to pay for their educations. Andrew
says that the college represents both an excellent education and
a successful social experiment.
Julie graduated from Berea with a degree in
education; Andrew followed with a degree in political science.
Julie came to Thailand to teach. She had grown up here, and her
family was here. Andrew pondered life and unemployment. Then he
got on a plane and followed Julie, got off of the plane and got
married. He was thrilled to find a job teaching English at
Prince Royal’s College, but acknowledges that there was no
preparation for teaching in Thailand at that time. He loved it.
The people at PRC were supportive, and helped him through the
rough parts of culture shock. It wasn’t the traffic or even
the language that was problematic. He says he made mistakes that
offended people, and didn’t know what he had done wrong or how
to make it right. That was where Julie and his new colleagues
helped out. He spent a bit of time learning and putting things
right. And still he played the bagpipes.
Like many people, he had only intended to be
here a year or so. But he quickly found that he loved Chiang
Mai. He loved the challenges. He and Julie thrived. He moved to
Payap University and taught there for four years. He had a great
experience, found supportive colleagues again and enjoyed the
students. Then he and Julie decided they wanted a family, and he
changed jobs again so that he could support his young family
while Julie took care of their new baby girl. Nakorn Payap
International School needed a social science teacher and he
found a use for that degree in political science. He soon became
Assistant Principal as well, and enjoys that position today. The
student body is varied – multicultu-ral, international
students study and play together. Andrew still teaches, and he
is careful to include information about ethnocentricity in his
classes. He hopes to help his students avoid that pitfall.
Chiang Mai has become a multicultural city since he moved here
twelve years ago, and he encourages his students to learn from
At NIS Andrew was working hard but gaining a
little weight. Jogging bored him, and he wanted to do something
that included his family. A baby boy was now part of it. One day
he saw a saamlor (a rickshaw for readers who don’t live here),
and casually said, “I need one of those”. The idea took hold
and soon he was taking the family for rides in his saamlor and
taking children for rides at parties. He got great reactions
from his neighbors, and the kids loved it. Saamlors are heavy
vehicles; the seats are made of teak. They don’t start easily,
and they don’t stop quickly. It’s a lot of work to ride one
so the weight did indeed come off.
Andrew and I sipped coffee and I thought
about all of his accomplishments – family man, educator,
school administrator, saamlor driver, bag piper. How does he
describe himself? “Busy” was his laughing response, with no
hesitation in his voice at all. “The kids are a handful, fun
and busy themselves.” But what a wonderful kind of life the
children are having. Their daughter is in kindergarten. Grandma
is her teacher, and she has learned to call her “Mrs.
Dobson” in the classroom and “Grandma” outside. But this
is the best part. Grandma wrote the books they use in her
kindergarten, and Grandpa illustrated them.
Andrew McRady’s life is full, an open book
with ever-developing chapters. I wonder if he remembers the
motto at the Webb School, and its focus on personal integrity.
It obviously influenced him. Noli Res Subdole Facere, “do
nothing on the sly”.