Weekly Local Biography

  Chris Smith

By: Elle Faraday

The popular saying “Education leads to success” is especially true of Chris Smith. Chris began a career in education over four decades ago and is still as passionate about it today as he was when he began.
Chris was born in Derby in the UK and moved to a small town in Norfolk when he was 12. He graduated from Hull University with a degree in Physics, Maths and Psychology and decided he wanted to teach. He completed his PCGE (Post Graduate Certificate in Education) at Leeds University and was lucky enough to land his first job very soon after he graduated. This job was not, however, in any old school in England. He was to become the new science teacher at Munro College in Jamaica. Before he knew what was happening, he was signing on the dotted line and preparing for a three year stint in Jamaica. This was in 1970, before most of the backpackers of today were even born. Nobody really travelled then and the world seemed a much bigger place than it does today.
He was not flown to Jamaica as you would expect, but sent on an empty banana boat with some other teachers. “I left England with five pounds in my pocket and a cabin trunk that was mainly air ... I still remember leaving Tilbury Docks and sailing down the Thames thinking what have I got myself into.”
He spent three years in Jamaica and says, “I learnt more about life in these three years than I had throughout my entire schooling.” He returned to the UK in 1973 and was met at the airport by his brand new purple TR6 open top sports car, on which he had spent all of his hard earned cash. Shortly after arriving back home he found a job at a boarding school. He spent five enjoyable years there but in 1978, a chance came up for Chris to work in Hong Kong. As much as he enjoyed his life at the boarding school, he jumped at the chance. He told me, “Coming to Asia was magical, the people, the food, the weather, all fantastic … I shall never leave Asia.”

Chris was employed initially as a Science and Photography teacher at Island School. He had never officially studied photography but it was a keen interest of his. He taught over 1000 students aged between 11 and 18 as well as helping out with numerous extra-curricular activities. His skills as a teacher were soon recognised and he was asked to head a new campaign in the training and development of teachers. He found himself running the English School’s Foundation professional development centre. This centre looked after 16 international schools, offered training support and advice for 800 teachers and managed 12,000 children. It was while he was here that he found a new interest in IT. This was way before the big “IT Boom” of the ‘90s but he realised the importance of the internet long before most of us even had a computer.
Hong Kong is, and always will be, very special to Chris as it’s where he proposed to his wife Nong and where they made a life together for 20 years. It was, however, time to leave and in 2002, they left the thriving metropolis of Hong Kong for the charming and laid back haven of Chiang Mai. Chris loves Thailand. He and Nong have been living here since 2002. Nong is originally from Chiang Mai so for her, they have returned home.
Chris runs a very successful consultancy business known as the Education Project Asia. This was initially designed to offer support across the curriculum to international schools in South East Asia. It has, however, developed in unforeseen ways and now has a world-wide audience and is also being used by many public schools throughout the region. His website, www. shambles.net is a free teaching aid and offers free information for everyone about virtually everything. He set it up with a lot of hard work and sheer determination and now sees thousands of hits a day.
He is really pleased with the way the business has progressed, especially with so many public schools coming on board. Many Asian countries are at the level of technological development that Hong Kong and Singapore were at 10 years ago. Many schools are desperate to develop but don’t have the necessary skills and funds. He can help these schools when they need it most.
Despite his success, Chris admits that he was very worried about his move to Thailand. “It was quite unnerving giving up a monthly salary to make it on my own as a freelancer. I wasn’t sure whether or not it would work out, but it seems to have done and it’s the best decision I could have made.” He not only gave up his job to move to Thailand but also all of his friends, and his beloved cockatoo. “We made a lot of friends in Hong Kong; after 24 years I think anyone would, but as we were mostly all expats, many of us have moved on and Nong and I now have friends located all over the world.”
He spoke in great length about his wife, Nong, who he says he would not be where he is today without. She was the one who led him to Chiang Mai and she is the one who has supported him throughout his career.
When asked about his future plans, Chris confided his life-long dream to me. “I’ve always wanted to play in a steel band. Unfortunately, living in Chiang Mai now, I probably never will.” Despite maybe not fulfilling this ambition, he has certainly got an impressive profile and work history. He’s going to keep on improving Shambles and speaking at more conferences in Asia. “I’m not ready to retire yet, I need to keep occupied. Shambles is really growing at a rapid rate so hopefully more and more people will take advantage of it. After all, everything on the site is free.”
Shambles truly is an informative website and has proven to be invaluable to many people. The internet has made the world so much smaller than it was when Chris first embarked on a career in 1970. Who knows where we’ll all be 35 years from now?