Monday, September 17, 2007

Foreigners in Thailand : what both sides think.

I doubt anyone is unaware of the plane crash in Phuket. There isn't much more to say about this. It was tragic. My heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones. The Thailand blogging community has proved its worth again with good pieces here , here and here. I cannot do any better so I won't try.

"'Foreign passengers usually have their own life and accident insurance, but Thai passengers, who are now being treated at local hospitals, will be able to get compensation from OneTwoGo, which will have to pay hospital bills immediately'."

Those were the highly infelicitous comments by the Insurance Commission Office head after the Phuket plane crash.

At the same time, one of my favourite webboards has kicked off a real old chestnut argument between the ex-pat and Thai communities. The same old lines are showing up: "Why are foreign teachers so bad?" "Do we need them?" "Do foreigner teachers get paid too much / not enough?" (Delete according to your stance).

All these quotes don't sit easily with Thailand's "Welcome foreigner!" image do they?

So what do Thais think of us? Do they like us as much as those welcoming smiles they give the new tourists would suggest? Or are the cynical old ex-pats right when they say the Thai smile is a crocodile smile? Is Thailand a jingoistic country? Or is it an ex-pat paradise?

I sometimes think back to the day I first arrived in Thailand and the first time I received a real 'Thai smile' from the receptionist in my hotel. I had just spent three months in Hong Kong, and as much as I loved HK (and still do) I was relieved to get aware from people who gave me "dagger" looks as I smiled and held the door open for them.

In Thailand, there were friendly smiles everywhere. Everywhere I went, people seemed truly happy to see me, chat with me to practise their English and ask me about my country (and football, once they realised I was English). It seemed like the most 'foreigner friendly' place I had ever stayed.

Now let me fast forward four years. Things changed. I've gone through what I now call "The six month honeymoon period". This is the period when the typical farang first moves to Thailand and believes he (for the typical farang is surely a 'he') is in paradise. The girls are all friendly, the food is fantastic, the accommodation is good and cheap. Everything is just great.

But this illusion gets chipped away. One of the sharpest drops down to Earth can come with a visit to immigration. Anyone who believes all Thais are friendly has never had to deal with "immo". Immigration in Thailand is not only slow and inefficient, it is also populated by some of the rudest and most obnoxious people on earth. I could go into stories here but I won't. Suffice to say I was relieved this year when my visa renewal was handled by one of the more human Immigration staff.

But it's not just Immigration. There are con men amongst the builders, telephone companies, taxi drivers and so on. Thai politicians often blame foreigners and foreign influences for their own problems. And of course, there are simply good people who dislike farangs. If they dislike you they might call you "farang kii nok".

The first time I heard the term "farang kii nok" I didn't know what it meant. (If you don't know either, read my blog here, but know that with this knowledge you can never be 'just' a tourist in Thailand again!). The second time, it was shouted by an obnoxious eleven year old kid whom I had asked three times to stop throwing garbage in my garden. (I exchanged words with him and he thanked me by pouring chili sauce all over my car).

But without doubt, the biggest raise in 'anti farang' awareness can come from dealing with Thai government schools. As wonderful as the children in these places are, some staff can be very hard to deal with. In government schools, staff gain in rank, salary and influence simply by staying put and getting older. Many Thai English teachers cannot hold a conversation in English. They can become very hostile because they resent younger foreigners coming in and using a different style of teaching. Of course, there are friendly and welcoming teachers too.

So the verdict is Thailand is not a paradise that lays down the red carpet for foreigners (unless you are rich enough) but then, why should they? The reality is that some like us, some don't. In my experience there are more of the former. Just like in the west, a friendly attitude and a "hello" with smile in the morning will elicit a warm response in most people, if not all. There are plenty of locals who enjoy making friends with the foreigner, showing Thai hospitality and being your friend.

It's true that the Thai smile takes many forms (including the kii maa smile, you know about that right?) but a real "yim Thai" is never far away.


Part two - the farangs

As I said in my other blog, Thailand does not usually lay down the red carpet for farangs, but why should they? A few weeks ago I wrote an article about moaning foreigners who seem to believe that they should be treated like a heroes simply because they moved to Thailand.

A friend of mine (a Spurs fan) read the piece and debated with me about it.

"But look at all the red tape, look at all the things we have to do just to get a one year visa!" he said to me.

"So you don't have a visa? Of course you do! If they didn't want us, they wouldn't give us visas. And the slowness and complications are just pure inefficiency, the Thais have to deal with inefficient government staff just like we do" I replied.

"But what about our salaries? Why don't they pay us properly for what we do?" was his next line.

"Well first of all, what we do is not rocket science. Secondly we get paid a damn sight more than the Thais do for the same job. And thirdly, we actually do get paid very well" I said.

What my friend had said was simply a repeat of the gripes of many other farangs in Thailand. I know I am in the minority when I say we are well looked after but I now have one more point to make: many foreigners in Thailand should not be here.

The standard of English teachers in Thailand is very, very poor. The main reason for this is simply that demand for foreign teachers in Thailand exceeds supply. Many Thais believe that white skin = native speaker = best teacher of English. This is simply not true.

Such is the availability of English teaching jobs at the lower end of the pay scale that any Caucasian can walk into certain language schools and come out with a job. This person can (and sometimes is) a sex tourist, an alcoholic or a Nazi.

Furthermore, as I've said so many times, Thailand can encourage foreigners to become delusional. Many simply kid themselves that they've become a "Brad Pitt look alike super stud" by crossing time zones but others - older men especially - like to embellish about their past. They often do this so often they believe their own delusions. I've met hot shot lawyers, Black Panther activists, spies and UN activists all working in Thai schools. Strangely enough, three of the four people I've just referred to were so bad at teaching they got sacked by one of the lowest paying schools.

The problem with all this blase attitude and delusional thinking is that it isn't conducive to good work or good behaviour. Sex tourists and alcoholics turn up late and unprepared. They often convince themselves they are good teachers because they made kids laugh or got a smile from a female student. They fail to realise that these things are only good if some learning came with or after it. Over a period of time when the reality of their non sex god status kicks in, they often become resentful of Thailand and its people and become increasingly unreliable and derogatory to their chosen location.

Yet strangely enough, many teachers from this type of group also become professedly arrogant and resentful of their work. So many teachers are desperate to convince people "I'm not a teacher, I'm really a lawyer/Black Panther activist/ spy etc." as if they are too good for the job they are incapable of doing. Personally, I'm confident enough being what I really am.

Whilst many teachers fit the above descriptions, others are simply lazy, some lack pedagogical skills and others are just not very good at English.

So what's the solution? Well, for one thing Thai students and parents need to grow up and realise there is more to learning than throwing little Somchai in a room with a white man. Thai schools - both government and private - need to raise the stakes by being more diligent and considerate in their recruiting and interview process. Right now for the private schools it's simply a case of: "We need a teacher for this class, get in that room and we will pay you. You don't teach, the customer doesn't pay us".

I sense more parents are becoming aware of this. While some simply want to dump their precious offspring while they go shopping, others are becoming more curious about foreign teachers. I recall a particular grilling in a 'parents day' session that my school had given me all of five minutes notice for. I enjoyed the unexpectedly tough questions and I felt a genuine sense of approval and pleasant surprise from the large group of parents.

And finally, the "good" guys need to play their part by doing their best. There are plenty of good teachers in Thailand. Some have degrees in Education, some are simply effective communicators and others simply have warmth for young learners. I've recently become head teacher of an upmarket language centre (it has a black and white logo and has branches across Europe) , I'm lucky that my school actually give me some leeway in recruitment but even then, I have to employ at least two people I would rather not hire simply due to lack of good teachers.

If Thai people and government want to see why countries like Korea and even Vietnam are improving their English skills a whole lot faster, they should look at the learning system. Teachers with genuine qualifications who pass an interview, a test and practical assessment are invited to teach there. They are given accommodation, benefits and a good salary. Everyone is happy.

That's what I'd like to see happen here. I don't have a degree in Education, so it might mean that I had to leave. If that happened, so be it, I'd be glad to see Thailand had taken such a step forward. Then again, I hope someone might look at my record or watch me in the classroom and think: "Hey he's one of the good guys. Keep him".


nataya said...

I am not sure if you are still living in Thailand or already left.
I wish that you already left ... if you have this negative attitude toward Thailand and Thai, so you must leave and we are not happy to have a foreigner who has this attitude toward us and our country. You should hadn't earn any Thai baht in your pocket.
Thai smile is for good and big hearted people only.

Red and White said...

Sorry you feel that way Nattaya. I do still live in Thailand with my family.

Alyosha said...

this is ridiculous, the author never had a bad opinion about thais and by saying some thais are good while some are bad, some like foreigners and some hate them, he is being very objective and he certainly said he met more good ones than bad ones so where's the negative attitude?

FalangLoMaak said...

Just found this great article... very well written.

I have not gone through your blog yet, but I think you should write about the losing face issue of Thais, I think it would explain perfectly why nataya got so offended.

In a nutshell: Thais cannot deal with any public offense or blame whatsoever, if you got a problem you solve it in private infront of noone else but the parties invloved in the dispute. Failing to do so, can go as far as getting shot.

I am not joking here, a friend of mine got in an open (public) arguement with a rich Thai guy who had tried to cheat my friend over quite a lot of money.

He was gunned down the next night as he was entering his house, they shot him 3 times but he luckely survived the incident.

Devance said...

Not all thai people are like what you have said! We are all human, and human can do things wrong. I'm feel sorry for you that met those bad thai people. however, believe me, there are nice and friendly people in Thailand for you. I agree with you, In a big city like Bangkok, people can be worse, but it just like New York and other big cities.

Miss Warisara said...

Hi ,

I like your truth stories of thailand so much. I agree with u. I am a thai chinese. i loves thailand but....... ( i think u know) I have farang husband and living here in thailand. but anyway thailand have good ppl(less) and bad ppl(more).hehe

Even that i am thai but when i walk with my husband thais will look at me so bad like "look at that bitch with farang"

My husband also like what u wrote here.

for nataya comment. i do not understand How can she think thailand still heaven or land of smile blah blah. For sure u worth to earn THB in your pocket. because most foreigner r hard working guys. i hope mis nataya know how thai ppl work!!!

anyway thank you

LawrenceDovin said...

Wow I've read about these Thailand stories for about 2 months currently. Because I was going to travel to Thailand this summer *I'm from the philippines and i'm half american* So these stories are very explicit and probably true. I am happy you are brave enough to say your story because people like you don't live in a fantasy world you guys know when to put your foot down and spread the word. I personally have no idea how thai's will treat me since I look half but as you said as a tourist they might greet me very friendly and then they might not mean it. I just hope the bad thais can grow up there are more problems in the world if they want to think that way there's not much you can do so just try to ignore it and smile :D

viggy_noi said...

I'm Thai, but just came back from studying in Australia. I like what you have said about my country because these are so true,, thank you for being honest.

I used to give my opinion to my english teacher that being a teacher is very easy, but he said "no". It took me for a while to realize his answer. To be a teacher might be easy if you have enough qualifications, but doesn't mean that you can be a good teacher. I really wish one day we would have a huge changing in our education system, apart from the extinction of the corruption.

PS. My english is not perfect, I still have to learn a lot. If there are some mistakes, please you understand..Thank you : )

Anonymous said...

Saving face is not something exclusive to asian countries, it's all over the world. Nobody likes to lose face. It's just EGO. Get over it.. . with such a nationalist attitude Thailand is a Buddhist country ??? seriously ?

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. What do you mean by "non-sex god status" in describing teacher wannabes? Made me laugh. I will be going to Thailand for the CELTA.


Anonymous said...

them thai people are fundamentaly lazy and refuse to learn how to pronounce english words .

Philippines said...

You're such a brave man to write this real story. All things that you wrote here are very true, i'm from Philippines and currently working in an International School. When i was new they were good but then after 2 to 3 months working with Thai staffs and teacher they treat didn't treat me as special like before. I can say that not all Thai but Most of Thai are really good at first only. If your are enough rich and use to give some gifts for them they will absolutely good to you but how about if you don't have any money on your pocket?so be ready for the new treatment from them >_<
About the teachers and education, well i agree. I am from Philippines and it's really offended that sometimes i am being corrected by them by those Thais with just a small knowledge in English. I'm trying to understand that Learning English are really hard for them because they are not colonized country, but the thing i get mad at them is..I'm an English Teacher but when i teach them the right English and right pronunciation they won't believe me because they are thinking that i'm just an asian like them. Now, i'm not being an arrogant or even lifting up my self but i want to say to all of those Arrogant and pretender Thais with small knowledge that you can never compare your brain and English Skills to all Philippine People, all of them are stupid and moron. They want me to teach them but they are correcting me on my English...???Sometimes i want to ask them.. "Why did you hired me as a Teacher? and why you are asking me to teach you? if you know how to correct me and say that i'm teaching wrong???" Those Thais with lack of knowledge about us.
I'll give you the example.. One day i sent a written report and it is being corrected. I just used the Simple present tense and it is corrected in Present Perfect tense because they thought that my sentence (SImple present) were wrong...and she argue with me and didn't accept my explaination because she's the boss. Now, no wonder if they are not improving because their brain is just focusing on one thing only.
My Ego now is in down and now i'm just encouraging my self to continue teaching. I wanna slap those thai with the basic knowledge in english which is arrogant and to tell that..... Hey! Try to master and EXPLOre your self in English!!!

Explorer said...

there will be no more improvement will happen to this country. Thai people don't know how to listen. If they study this they will just focus on that thing..

Story Teller said...

A short real Story :
" An educated Philippine teacher and an ALcoholic Native English Speaker with no Educational Background."

SCHOOL: We are looking for an English Teacher that can be able to teach English.
NATIVE ALCOHOLIC SPEAKER: I'm interested and want to apply as an English Teacher in your School.
PHILIPPINE : Good Afternoon Madame/Sir, I read your Job vacancy from the News paper that you are looking for an English teacher and i'm willing to apply for the position.
SCHOOL: I'm sorry ms.Philippine we preferred the native speaker.
SCHOOL: Mr.Native can you stat to wok wit Us?? (That's how they really pronounce it all, Hahaha)

They will rather choose to hire an ALcoholic Native ENglish Speaker than the Asian teacher who are very dedicated to teach with knowledge in English.

These people how stupid and moron to choose an English Teacher. They are thinking that the Native one is the best teacher for their stupid brain.!

Anonymous said...

Well no wonder, just read and analyze "Nataya's comment" and you will see the attitude of Thai. Really bad , can't understand.

blogger said...

Well no wonder, just read and analyze "Nataya's comment" and you will see the attitude of Thai. Really bad , can't understand.

foreigner observer said...

these people who don't know how to listen nor understand the importance of english. There's a lot of Foreigner in their country but i believe NOT because their country is a beautiful but it's because they have an arrogant bird brain that is needed to be taught by other nations... haha ridiculous but it's true, isn't?? lol!

Anonymous said...

I am Thai and I am a very bad in English . But I would like to say something about alls commented. I want to say thanks for the article that came out from your heart and I am very sorry for you that something bad was happening to you. I want to say sorry for what happen. But however this is my country and I love to be here till die. And how about you?(sorry again for my bad English.)