Monday, March 17, 2008

To Kavi Chongkittavorn

Dear Khun Kavi,

Thank you for your article in today's Nation entitled "Curry nations of the world must unite to save the spice!". Whilst I enjoy your pieces on a regular basis, I felt that today's piece was not only short of your usual high standard, but actually very assumptive and unfair.

To try and be as concise as possible, I'd like to quote a few extracts from your article and explain why I disagree. I hope this isn't too ill mannered.

The UK without curry is the UK without food. The possibility of this happening is high if the UK Home Office does not ease its immigration rules.

This simply isn't true. There is already a very large Asian community in the UK and many of them already have well established curry houses. A tweak in immigration rules is not going to send them all packing.

Some observers say the restriction is specifically aimed at Bangladeshi chefs who began entering the country in large numbers a decade ago.

Which observers are these? What possible grounds can they have for such a claim?

Now, with more unskilled workers from Eastern European countries, the UK is limiting its intake from other parts of the world, and adding the requirement that applicants speak English. It is as if they need to speak English to prepare a curry. Cooking is not about diplomacy.

New questions are also being raised as to whether chefs from other countries, such as China, Thailand, Japan or others have to speak English too. The language requirement can easily be construed as a discriminatory immigration measure aimed at curbing the influx of unskilled foreign workers.

This is the part I find most outrageous. Cooking may not be about diplomacy but immigration certainly is. I feel that much of your article is examining English immigration and its laws from a Thai perspective. The problem with this is that the UK is in a very different social situation to Thailand.

You imply that a request for immigrants to speak English is in someway discriminatory. Actually, it is also important to protect immigrants. Unlike Thailand where Immigration supplies English speaking staff and documentation (albeit imperfect) , the UK, for obvious reasons, uses its native language. Immigrants must sign contracts in English, they must declare taxes on English documents and they must be protected by laws which are specified in English. If immigrants cannot understand any of the documents they sign, the "unskilled" immigrants you speak of are at huge risk of being cheated and exploited.

I also think that perhaps you are unaware of the concern over immigration and population control in England. For the purposes of this letter I just want to inform you that the UK is about half the land size of Thailand with a very similar sized population. There are also concerns about cultural tensions due to the very high level of immigration (far higher than Thailand). In this context, I hardly think it's unfair to request that immigrants speak a little English.

It took decades for the Thai government to work out details with the UK government to ensure that Thai chefs can work in the UK without harassment.

Thai immigrants in the UK can receive far greater government benefits and rights than immigrants moving in the opposite direction.

Only Thai tourists would opt for cherry roast duck in Soho or Chinatown........

Still, Thai chefs are in big demand in the UK. In the past few years, Thai cuisine has made its mark on the UK food scene..................

There are nearly 1500 Thai restaurants, including nearly 400 pubs, mainly in London and Edinburgh, which serve Thai finger-foods such as chicken satays, fried spring rolls, shrimp cakes, etc. In this case, it is not the usual dull oil-soaked fish and chips that draw in clients but exotic Thai appetisers

Doesn't the first statement contradict the other two? I'm confused.

Therefore, curry nations must unite and fight for their right to have their chefs cross borders to serve clients and tourists their delicious spicy dishes. It is quite ironic that the authorities in the UK are keen to kill this golden goose.

Catering may be a big business but it is not a 'golden goose'. Financial services and trading are core to our economy. Tourism is also a key factor but catering is only one fraction of that industry. I would also point out that Chinese food accounts for a big portion of our culinary trade.

In summary I feel you may have misunderstood the context of the situation concerning chefs in the UK. Thailand has far lower levels of immigration, and the foreign communities here are subject to greater restrictions than those in the UK. Requesting that foreigners learn a bit of the local lingo in either country but especially the UK is completely fair in my opinion. Indeed, a "language and culture" test is being introduced byImmigration in Thailand for foreign teachers.

Thank you again for your articles, I look forward to reading more of them.


1 comment:

Fonzi said...

I thought Kavi's column was rubbish.

I was going to blog about it, but you beat me to it.

Here are some things I would have added:

If Kavi is so worried about Thai curry abroad, why not start a Thai culinary academy in Thailand to train foreign chefs?

There is no need to have Thai cooks go abroad. If Thais can cook farang food, why can't farang cook Thai food?

While Kavi thinks every Thai and his brother has a right to live and work in Britain and milk its society for all its worth, the Thai government makes it a living hell for any foreigner to work in Thailand. Maybe he should examine his own hypocrisy before passing judgment on Britain, especially when it is going through an immigration crisis and Thailand is not.