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The ‘T’ Factor.


Why didn’t I try harder in German class in high school? Oh yeah, that’s right…


It’s Friday tomorrow, which means that our stay in India is three-quarters complete and this time next week we’ll be packing our bags in preparation for an extremely busy day and a half in Singapore before we jet off again for a three-month stay in Bonn, Germany.

Which brings me to the ”T’ Factor’. The ‘T’ Factor, named after me, Tim, is a phrase that Anna and myself coined, and is one you will definitely read here again in the future, I’m certain of it. We use it to describe the small, but seemingly incessant, unfortunate ironies, inconveniences and missed oppourtunities that affect my everyday life. It’s essentially the opposite of the ‘Midas Touch’, kind of like a ‘Faecal Touch’ if you will, where, instead of turning to gold, a lot of what I touch turns to shit. My life is just like the song ‘Ironic’.

For those of you who might not know it, or have just plain forgotten, here it is. Incredibly, it has been 19 years since Alanis Morissette released this song: 
Now, let’s just stray from the point for a second and analyse this song for my amusement as an English teacher. This has been brought up endlessly by scholars and comedians, alike: There is no irony in the song at all. Maybe that’s what made it ‘ironic’. When the song came out I found it amusing, but later in life I started using it as a tool in the classroom to teach the meaning of ‘irony‘: Using words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. Thus, the only irony in the song ‘Ironic’ is that it is in no way ironic, most of the situations are just coincidences. For example, “Rain on your wedding day” isn’t ironic, unless you are marrying a meteorologist and they chose the date. Some people went to the effort of modifying most of the song, here.

End of rant and let’s get back to the ‘T’ Factor. Whenever I discussed the next exciting instalment in my ever-changing life with my good friend and colleague at Geos Language Centre, Daniel Cox, his reply was always the same; “It’s good being Tim…”. And he is right, it is good being me, I am lucky to be in the position I’m in and my life has worked out to be nothing like I expected; I am from a small, country town in Australia and a lot of people just tend to finish school, find a job there, settle down and that’s it. I’m not criticising anyone who enjoys that way of life, however, it isn’t for me, but it’s what I always expected for myself. Instead, I have a job where it’s relatively easy to find work almost anywhere, I’m married to a doctor, our base is a tropical island and we constantly travel the world. It IS good being Tim. But, let’s not forget the ‘T’ Factor, which has plagued me my entire life.

To give you an idea, here are a couple of examples of the ‘T’ Factor off the top of my head:

  • I’ve mentioned before that I have, and have had, quite a few medical problems; epilepsy, possible stroke, VSD, hernia, burst appendix, grommets, plus assorted sporting injuries. I married a doctor, she became an ophthalmologist, but I have perfect vision.
  • I wear a size 12 shoe, but generally the largest you can buy in Singapore is an 11. It just doesn’t fit.
  • My favourite band, Ween, hadn’t toured Australia in about 10 years. After I had moved overseas, not only did they come to Australia, my friend’s band played the same bill and had an all-access pass for me. However, they didn’t come anywhere near where I lived. Ween have since broken up.
  • I went to Horiyoshi’s tattoo museum in Yokohama, Japan early last year. I bought a book and wanted to meet the man and get it signed, but he was in hospital that day.
  • My size adds plenty to this list, for example, I have trouble using the toilets on aeroplanes; I can’t stand up because I am too tall, but if I sit down the door won’t shut because my legs are so long.

“We’re never going to Germania!”
(Circa Feb, 1993)

I guess I’m a “glass is half empty” kind of guy, but why am I bitching and moaning now, I hear you ask? Because, at my High School, there was only one option for studying a foreign language: German. I’m not sure if it was because the only bilingual people in the entire town with teaching qualifications spoke German, or if it was for some other reason. Either way, studying German was compulsory until completion of year nine. If you chose to continue studying German through 12th grade you received a 10% higher overall T.E.R.. This is exactly what I did, but this is also where the ‘T’ Factor kicks in, yet again.

I don’t think of myself as ‘unintelligent’. Sure, I do some really stupid stuff and say some really stupid things, but I don’t think that necessarily makes me stupid, I just have a very warped and inappropriate sense of humour that I need to try harder to harness. But, I just wasn’t interested in school. I didn’t really have any particular ambition, I just wanted to leave and either find work or get an apprenticeship. Part of me wanted to be an architect because I love drawing, but we knew that wasn’t happening. My parents insisted I finish school, so I just made the token effort. In fact, when I graduated, my results were that bad they were just written as “<30” (turns out my T.E.R. was 27). I was accepted into one university, four hours away in Ballarat, but my parents wouldn’t send me, because they thought I wouldn’t do anything and it would just be a waste of money. They were probably right.

Students in my high school German class could be put into three groups:

  1. The one or two that excelled, mainly because they excelled at everything, except P.E.
  2. The majority, the students who just made the token effort, and
  3. The type of students that cracked up laughing whenever they heard the word ‘kunst’.

I fit into the second category. I made a token effort, but I didn’t really try all that hard. My reason? “I’m never going to Germany!”, I thought. In fact, until an exchange student called Neela, who spoke perfect English by the way, came to our school in year 12, I’d never even met a German!

Fast forward 17½ years and I am a week away from making my second trip to Germany, this time to live for three months. After six years of German classes in high school, I come armed with a beginner level of grammar and vocabulary, plus two questions that, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, are firmly etched in my memory:

  • Wo ist das Krankenhaus? – “Where is the hospital?” (admittedly, this will be helpful for the reasons we’re going)
  • Ist sie tante achtzehn, bitte? – “Is your daughter eighteen?”

So, when it comes to the ‘T’ Factor, this one can be filed under “Missed Oppourtunities”, but there is one type of training I received from a very young age that will definitely come in helpful while we’re in Bonn: German Fashion:

At least my 'Socks with Sandals' look is appropriate for Germany. (Circa 1985)

At least my ‘Socks with Sandals’ look is appropriate for Germany. (Circa Christmas, 1984)

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About Dr. Tan's Travels (96 Articles)
My name's Tim. I'm a freelance writer and former ESL teacher from Melbourne, Australia, who taught in Daejeon, Korea for six months in 2007 and, until February 2015, had taught in Singapore for seven years. My wife, Anna, is an ophthalmologist. Between March 2015 and July 2016 we spent a month in Pondicherry, India, three months in Bonn, Germany, and 12 months in New York before returning to Singapore, all for training and work placements for her. The reason I wanted to keep this blog is because I suffer from epilepsy and have a terrible memory, therefore this would be a great way to help me remember our travels. I will do my best to keep it updated and even continue writing now that we're back in Singapore, but there is one problem; I have a pretty severe phobia of anything medical.

8 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Tim and Anna go to Bonn. | Dr. Tan's Travels
  2. Monday, 13th: The ‘T’ Factor, pt. 2. | Dr. Tan's Travels
  3. Tim Gets Burnt by a Scalper: The ‘T’ Factor, pt. 3. | Dr. Tan's Travels
  4. Watching the AFL Grand Final in New York | Dr. Tan's Travels
  5. A morning spent in a New York City temp agency and more! | Dr. Tan's Travels
  6. The blizzard: The ‘T’ Factor, pt. 4 | Dr. Tan's Travels
  7. South America, Pt. 2: Human Skulls and Machu Picchu | Dr. Tan's Travels
  8. A Week with the Freaks, Pt. 1: Seattle | Dr. Tan's Travels

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