Being fat and brown-skinned in Thailand

Being fat and brown-skinned in Thailand

The truth about the ESL industry here for guys like me

Let me first start off by saying that this is my own personal experience. Some people will have far better experiences, and others, far worse. Considering the growing issues of the Western world and an increasing number of people wanting to escape to Asia in order to teach ESL,  I feel it is my duty as a person to warn anyone about coming to Asia to teach English.

Who am I writing for?

Firstly, let me say that I do not think all Asians (or in this case Thais) are racist or uneducated. When I was living in Thailand, I had a wonderful Thai girlfriend and her friends and family treated me well. I have met some Thais who I found to be accepting of me at some level, but that was the minority, not the norm. This article is for those who are African, African-American, Hispanic, or any non-white race. This is an article is for people who are on the fence about coming here and have read the horror stories of being colored in Asia. This is an article for anyone who is considered overweight in the Western World and his concerned about how that will affect their job chances in Asia.

My advice is to think long and hard before coming to Asia, especially Thailand, to work as an ESL teacher. Keep in mind that recruiters ask for your photo when you apply for the job. I know many will scoff at my warning, but first hear me out before you consider moving to the other side of the planet. 

I will begin with a little background info about me. I'm an American from the Midwest area of the country. I'm of Mexican descent and yes, I'm overweight. I point that out because I made the mistake of underestimating the vast cultural differences of the Asian world to the western world.

I first came to Thailand in 2014 on a holiday, and although I sensed the animosity of Thai people towards me, I, like so many others, were was taken in by the cheap cost of living and the women.

I decided in 2015, after 6 months of teaching ESL in Mexico, to try my luck in Thailand. When I first arrived, the problems began to set in. The most obvious problem was that my skin is brown or extremely toned. I could not believe how racist Thai culture was towards me and anyone else who was not white-skinned.

To the point

Every job that I applied for either did not reply or just said straight out that I was too dark-skinned to be a teacher here. Furthermore, my weight was another issue. I was told many times that I was too fat to be a teacher and that I should be a cook instead. However, me being the determined person I am, I decided not to give up so easily.

I remember sitting in the Subway restaurant on Silom road when I got the email from an agency that a school had accepted me to work at their kindergarten. However, all was not what it seemed. This school was in the Sa Kaeo Province. I remember getting to the school on a Sunday and I quickly made friends with other western teachers there. My first day seemed okay and everything was cool the first week or so. Quickly that changed and the problems began to start. The first being that my Thai co-teacher was a lazy so-and-so who only cared about being on her phone rather than taking care of the students.

Laughing stock

Secondly, the vice principal of the school made a mockery of me in front of some visitors. She grabbed my stomach and told me how fat I was and everyone had a good laugh at me. I quickly walked away, grabbed my stuff, and left the school immediately. My co-teacher got mad at me, and later I learned I made her lose face by doing reacting like that.

The school tried to apologize to me, but the damage had been done. In the following three weeks, I was accused of going into the boy's bathroom, ; my co-teacher made up a story that I was sleeping on the floor; and countless other issues, which later lead led me to be fired from the school. I learned before I left that my co-teacher had had seven other teachers fired as well!! In that time, I learned the harsh lesson of making a Thai lose face and that in Asia you must keep your mouth shut, even if you are right.

I came to Bangkok and tried to find work one last time. I found a different agency and I began teaching at a high school. The school was a little better and I learned a lot there. However, eventually, the Thai way got to me again. Whether it was the disrespect from the Thai students, who were allowed to say to the teacher "you're so fat," or the utter incompetence I witnessed. , I never saw such disorganization from a school before, and I'm from the inner-city mind you.

I never would have believed that students could be passed even if they got a 38/100 in the class. Adding to the misery was the fact that I got very little support from anyone in the school. I remember listening to teacher's room conversation and hearing the Thai teachers saying "farang" this and "farang" that. There was a constant 'me against you' attitude and you were always made to feel like an outcast. It was a losing battle all the way.

Stress and more stress

I will be the first to admit that I was quite naïve and had to learn some hard lessons about teaching. However, no one can be successful when your bosses are only concerned with saving face and making themselves look good. In the end, I was fired again.

Adding to the stress were things no tells you on your TEFL course. : The xenophobia and scams that Thailand has to offer. When you are a teacher in Thailand, not only will you have to deal with the problems at school, but you must also deal with shady landlords, shady teaching agencies (who by the way get a commission from your salary), and, of course, people making racist remarks about you as you walk down the street.

Be ready to lose your deposit over the smallest thing and be ready to get defrauded at every corner. Make sure your teaching agency doesn't pull the "we can't pay you until later" crap. Do not think for one minute that they care about you. Always remember you are just a number and nothing more.

There is a saying amongst the Thais - "Farang roo mark my dee" - The foreigner who knows too much is no good. Anyone who has experience doing business or living in Thailand for longer than three months knows this to be true. I could go even deeper but I think you get the pattern. There is no winning, and even after trying my best, it was just not good enough.

Some will say, you were just a terrible teacher!! To that I say, maybe you are right, but why was I never given support? Why was I always treated badly? Why was I looked down on for how I look? Why was it that I had lies spread about me? Why is it that I was already judged before even walking in the door? Why is that a white teacher from Russia gets the job before a Black American, Asian American, or Hispanic American?

Are Asian schools looking for teachers or models? If government schools in Thailand are so great, why are teachers coming and going like a revolving door? Having said all that, after the firings I was happy and ready to go home.

Life got better

At this present time, I work online and I'm very happy with my current job. I can come and go as I please and travel when I want. I know many will call me stupid or say I should have researched better and maybe they are right. However, I learned all these lessons the hard way and I have enough concern to advise you that unless you're white, I would think deeply think about whether you want to deal with the attitude here, the racist thinking, and the utter disdain for people of color. Also, sadly, the terrible conditions that Thailand schools are in are not going to change any time soon.

To be fair, it was a great lesson for me and I learned what I did not want to do in life. Also some things about Thailand are great - the food, the mai pen rai attitude, and many other things. Sure, it was not all bad and if it's your dream to do this, then go ahead. Just please be realistic in your thinking and understand what you are really walking into.

If you still decide to go, I sincerely hope and pray your experience is better than mine was. Everything I learned came at a great price, and after reading what I just wrote, ask yourself: Is this something I still really want to do? Ask anyone who has taught ESL here before and you will hear many of the same things I have written.

My final thought is this. Think of ESL teaching in Asia, for westerners, as being a bit like a casino. A casino is a place with a touch of excitement, the lure of an easy job (ESL) and a place for fun, even with a bit of a risk. Go to a casino every now and then for fun and that's OK. Go there every day, all day and you will ultimately lose because the house advantage will always get you. 

You might also be interested in....

Black teachers in Thailand - Does racism exist in The Land of Smiles?

It's not the 'Land of Smiles' for us - Facing challenges as a black teacher in Thailand


I read this and can see a lot of what happened while I taught English in Thailand. I was in the Peace Corps in 2014, so of course I didn't have to deal with shady employment agencies and I was also lucky to get two very lovely families to live with for the first 6 months of my stay. I did however notice the overt bias against darker volunteers, as well as the bias against anyone who was not a skinny rail. I myself was what in the US would be considered "chubby" or "plump" but in Thailand, I was told explicitly by salespeople that they didn't have clothes in MY size! I actually told the salesperson she was being rude, and wouldn't be getting many Western customers. Probably didn't even care. I did note that when I tried to find lotion, the only one without bleach was baby lotion! Surprise there. The village where I taught was in Isaan, and there everyone always called me "suai" which meant "beautiful" but unfortunately I found out that they applied that to me becuase of my white skin color, not actual beauty. Being in my 60s I could never figure out why they would consider me to be pretty, but after learning the language, I knew why. Other volunteers were told they were "fat" in front of other people; one volunteer had her principal of the school make a joke about how she shouldn't get on the elevator as she would overload it! I don't think this is insensitivity; from what I saw, Thai culture is all about women being skinny and there were a lot of women who were scared to death to gain any weight at all. Considering how delicious Thai food is, I felt so sorry for them. And it's mostly a "man's culture" there and women had to wear dresses or skirts; being stubborn I wore a lot of pants with shirts and got a lot of dirty looks from my principal. Lots of bias towards skin color as well as weight; the country is lovely, the people great as long as you yourself don't understand the language too well. Only then do you see how much different it is from the West where we stress inclusion and acceptance of everyone (even if we also don't practice it as we should).

By Nancy Randall, United States (19th July 2022)

I am also a Hispanic American, but I am fairly light-skinned. When I go to Mexico and they want to get my attention, they say "Guero", which refers to me being light-skinned. Discrimination by skin color is something that exists in Latin countries too, but even though they are also concerned about weight, they probably wouldn't call you "gordo", or fatso to your face. They might do it to friends and family, though.

Anyway, I am going to Thailand next week and I hope to find a good woman that I can start a relationship with that will lead to marriage. In a perverse way, I am happy that they dislike dark-skinned Thai women. I think they look sexy and would be thrilled to marry one. I don't care about skin color, but if you give me the choice between a pretty dark-skinned woman and a homely light-skinned woman, I'd pick the dark-skinned one every time. Just being honest.

I appreciate your honest account of your experience there. I am a seasoned traveller and I'm fairly thick-skinned, so if they insult me, I probably won't care. However, the reason I came here is to see how a Hispanic man would do over there. I am clearly not white, but not dark either. I don't look like what they think an American would look like, so I guess they might imagine that I am from a country nearby like India or Pakistan. Who knows what they'll think? My hope is that I am different enough that I stand out from the white guys and dark-skinned guys there and that will be enough to attract a pretty woman that is looking for something unusual. It worked in college, where the campus was 90% white with maybe a 2% Hispanic population, so I hope it works this time too.

Thanks again for your article. It gave me hope, but also prepared me for the mindset that I might face some discrimination and even things that might be insulting in our culture. I'm not fat, but I could stand to lose 10-15 lbs.

By Dustan, USA (22nd August 2018)

Very interesting article, read by a half-hispanic person, statistically obese and headed to Thailand to teach within 60 days. I am also married to a Thai national, have been to Thailand many times, spent time off the beaten tourist path and thus likely understand Thai culture more than the average person who went on vacation there, thought it was really cool and decided to get a teaching job.

I put on a lot of weight in the past 3 years. I have seen the difference in how people in the US look, or don't look at me. I'm the one who is overweight. It's my fault. I understand the article's intent is to educate and warn people. That said, I have had a co-worker repeatedly make fun of me being fat. We are actually good friends at work. He also happens to be Philippino. So I figure it's a cultural thing similar to Thailand, so don't make much of it.

Again, I appreciate the author's intent and information. But something in the article really struck me. The author complained that teaching agencies make a commission off the teachers they employ. I should hope so! I don't engage in any business venture I'm not going to make money on. To be frank, that makes me question the author's attitude just a bit.

I will tread lightly here. I understand the author's intent. I understand Thai culture. But maybe, just maybe, is part of the problem the author's attitude? And I do mean PART. Additional disclosure, for perspective. I have been self-employed for several years. What I do doesn't take much time. I've sat around the house and gained weight. Guess what? My fault. Part of why I plan on going to Thailand is that you can drop me anywhere in the country and I enjoy walking around and generally people-watching and culture-observing. I also eat healthier when I am in Thailand- much less ice cream, my biggest downfall.

Bottom line: I'm certainly glad I read the article. I am thankful for yet even more information. In fact, the reason I read this article is because I was led to it when I Googled "can a fat person get a job in Thailand?" I have been aware of the ingrained cultural biases in Thailand for nearly 20 years.

I still believe, even being fat half white, that l control my attitude and destiny- even in Thailand where bias against fat people is more prevalent. Also, I choose not to judge Thai people for their culture. I had a bit of a debate on another cultural issue in South Korea. They eat dog meat there. People were condemning the Koreans. One person even said a person who eats dog meat is subhuman. Huh.... ummmm... NO. It's a different culture. It's not better. It's not worse. It's different. I made a point of mentioning that Hindus in India think cows are sacred. Does that mean we're subhuman because we eat beef in the US? Of course not. And besides, who has been appointed to make such judgments?

But I digress. Good article. Good replies. I am wiser for having read all of it.

By Stan, USA (11th February 2018)

Interesting article Steven Valdez

It's not only Thailand, whole Asia is like that. Asians are traditional, conservative people. They admire westerners, their lifestyles and their looks. They wish they could live the same life as a westerner but they can't because the society in Asia won't accept them. If you wanna come to Asia, then be prepared to be treated differently. By the way, if you have chosen to get into a career where on of the eligibility criteria is to be white and you are not, then be ready for the adversities. I'm from New Delhi, India and I was lucky to get a job in a small city of China as an ESL teacher. And I knew I'd be treated differently from a white western teacher. But, luckily i wasn't treated badly, the only downside of my color and nationality was that I didn't get 'A' level students to teach and other non native WHITE ESL teachers from Russia and Romania got the 'A' level even thought they weren't fluent in English and not to forget their thick eastern European accent. I worked there for 5 years and left this career for good.

By D-raj, New Delhi (6th July 2017)

Loving the comments!

If there's one thing I miss about teaching in a school, it's the foreigners I worked with. Sometimes I'd question what I was doing working with some of these oddballs, but now when I look back on it, these guys really did brighten up my day and give us normal ones something to talk about.

I was once in the staff room for a Monday morning meeting. The new young guy came to work on crutches with a broken ankle. He hobbles into the staff room and our boss asked what happened. He told everyone that he'd been drinking the night before with his friends, and he broke his ankle when running away from paying the bill. I just burst out laughing thinking that my school have actually employed this person as a teacher.

The second guy was 'the functioning alcoholic'. He admitted he was an alcoholic but he said he was 'functioning'. He was teaching some four year old kids who informed him in class that there was a snake in the shoe cubby. He took a look and told the students it what just a toy. 20 mins later the kids told him again. He told them not to worry, walked over to the snake and actually touched it. The snake moved and then he realized the snake was indeed real.

I've always imagined being in that class, watching him stumble around half-cut teaching terrified kids with a snake casually observing from the cubby. Like something from a Salvador Dali painting.

You can choose to take these kind of people seriously or just be entertained by them. They have certainly given me plenty of stories to share over a beer. Cheers, to all those nutters.

By Henry, Bangkok (27th June 2017)

I read your article with interest and was disgusted with peoples attitute to you because of your colour and weight. Grrr. There is no need for that. They should be punished. I have a gross attitude to them. I make them lose face all the time. Sorry you had to suffer. I'll make more people aware of this. You're a good man. You deserve better.

By Steven Goodall, Ayutthaya, Thailand (16th June 2017)

I found this article interesting but then I made the mistake of scrolling down to read the comments.....

Reading all of the replays below was such a waste of time. Some people really need to find better things to do instead of being internet trolls....pathetic

By April , Calgary (12th June 2017)

@ Jack at his computer, referring to how less attractive (dark-skinned for Thailand) people find it harder to come by success.

'there are plenty of academic studies showing these are world-wide phenomena'

I'm not sure if this will be allowed to be posted but I will endeavour anyway. Jack, you are a hypocritical, reprehensible and loathsome apologist.

Now, I agree with the academic studies 100%. But where do we draw the line in as much as where they apply geographically? Jack has referenced more than one academic study that we are supposed to take as gospel as it was written by....academics. They were written by academics, therefore, they are truer than any opinion. Only one small problem, Jack has made his arguments culturally unique.

There are no rights and wrongs. There are cultural rights and wrongs. So how does academic research apply to this idea for 'unique' cultures? Looking down your nose at somebody because they're a darker tone of skin is WRONG. Being born of a country with a unique culture and being told from a young age that you're better because you're fairer skinned is CULTURE. What a load of backwards nonsense.

'Culture' is a card usually played to defend the immoral. I can't think of anytime I've had to play the "it's my culture' card to defend my actions. Let's all be a society of laws and common sense.

By William, Texas (10th June 2017)

Jack change the record.

We get it. You hate people who complain. Follow your own advice. Go and find a 'safe-space'. Stop complaining about the same thing over and over again.


By Noel, Leeds (19th May 2017)

Wow, some teachers are really wound up and are insistent on ranting and raving about every perceived wrong found in the ESL industry in Thailand.

I have been listening to and reading these rants for over 20 years.

I have never once seen any rants about how unfair Thailand is to foreigner result in a pay increase or promotion for the ranter. Also, I have never seen any of these rants have an impact on changing Thai culture or the nature of the ESL industry.
Although I have seen hundreds of people move up in their professions (teaching and other) through their own efforts.

Your choice, rant and rave and blame the world for your failures, or improve your skill set and qualifications to find more interesting and better paying work.

Which of these two options is more likely to lead to a happy and successful life?

Hate Thai culture and stay here and be miserable or go someplace better suited to your personality and ambitions.

Up to you.

I made my choices, things aren’t perfect but I can’t really complain. How about the ranters? It does not appear their choices have worked out so well, otherwise they won’t be so insistent on spreading their misery to the rest of us.

By Jack, Not in a miserable hell hole (14th May 2017)

Just quickly read the post. I am white so cant imagine how it feels to be singled out for your colour. I am 59 and seen all sorts of things in Thailand. I am now feeling it because of my age i am discriminated against. But as you will hear This is Thailand.
I am also overweight and at first when the Thai students said teacher your fat, i was taken aback by this. I think the poster overacted to this. Things are different here. When the students called me fat i don't think they meant this as an insult. Im not sure why they told me but you have to accept this is a different culture and what is not accepted in your own country is here. We must adapt to many things here. The racism. ageism. lol the driving etc we are not going to change it anytime soon.
You will also hear if you don't like it go home. I thought to myself i'm and work by this rule. If i'm truly unhappy. Move on do not stay in a school where you are unhappy i know this is easy for me i am single . My advice to anyone. Before they go to another country research it there a thousands of articles about teaching in Thailand. Forearmed is forewarned

By Derek, Bangkok (14th May 2017)


"Steven didn’t seem to resent the fact that he was able to move to a foreign country and gain a professional teaching job with no qualifications except being a native speaker of English, something people from other countries no doubt see as unfair"

This comment is so misleading it's infuriating.

Being a native English speaker of English isn't a qualification to teach English as a second language in Thailand. Thailand actually requires by law people to have a university degree (preferably in education or English language) and will look much more favorably on people with TEFL certificates. I've heard of some people getting teaching gigs legally in government schools without a degree, but this is the exception and most certainly not the norm.

Now, this isn't what happens in many instances. You 'can' get a job by simply being a native speaker here, but again, this 'ISN'T LEGAL'. Schools and agents employ teachers. The buck always stops with the employers to check their teachers' qualifications and criminal history. Foreign teachers are no more obliged to work here than schools are obliged to employ them. Native speakers don't just rock up to schools with their birth certificates and say:

"Look! Here's my birth cert. It clearly says you must employ me as I'm a native speaker of English".

"But we don't want to employ you. You're not in anyway, shape or form qualified to teach!"

"I'M A NATIVE SPEAKER OF ENGLISH! Now where's my classroom!?!"

Thailand doesn't have a problem with bad foreign teachers, it has a problem with people who are horribly unqualified to be anywhere near a classroom. These people are being enabled to teach by schools and agents. There's not enough money to get more qualified teachers? Well, 'Life's unfair' seems to be the quote de jour on this thread. See! Other people can be just as obtuse. I'm not arguing who's culturally right, wrong or superior. I don't have a complex and I'm not a raving narcissist. I don't care. I'm simply stating facts. Thailand can do whatever it wants. It's none of my business.

Thailand is a sovereign nation. It's a big boy and it can take care of itself. Thailand governs itself and makes its own decisions. Foreigners have zero input and I'm blissfully happy with that. There's no reason why Thailand can't be like Hong Kong or Singapore if it wants to. Up to Thailand. Poor and unfortunate people in Thailand are poor and unfortunate for one simple reason - and it has zero to do with foreigners. The poor and unfortunate are the way they are because the powers in charge are not qualified to be in their positions or they simply make bad decision after bad decision (intentionally or unintentionally) Exactly the same reason why there's so much poverty in the world's only superpower, the USA. Again, this isn't me being racist or supremacist, this is me stating facts. This logic applies to every country. Thailand has the resources and people to be anything it wants to be. I love it just how it is.

Now, you can come back with your pettifogging and your race-baiting, I don't care. I just hate seeing disinformation. Happiness is measured by our own expectations in life. My mother taught me that I'm not special and the world owes me nothing. This knowledge will keep me happy until I'm worm food.

By Craig, The big smoke. (29th April 2017)

My agency has high turnaround of teachers. I work in a very big school with many teachers. An African teacher said he was let go because he's black but agency said he's no good. He seemed like a nice guy. My agency told us we can not sit to many together at lunch time and times when we are not teaching because the school don't like it. They told us not to complain and be negative. Many teachers now just hide away from other teachers.

I got invited to a Line group for teachers. There were over 100 teachers and all they did was complain about their schools and agents. Missing money from salary, boss is a dictator, never work for this school agency etc. Most teachers were from other schools. I left group as I was getting too many alerts. I like my job but atmosphere at my school is cold with other teachers. Everyone seems on edge and worry they might be let go for saying anything school don't like. I want to go traveling in October and need to save money so will stay with this job. Im to lazy to find a new job.

By Blair, Bangkok (29th April 2017)

@ Jack

Took them wrong? As I was reading your reply, I was thinking "WTF! Ha ha. What is this guy banging on about?" Even if I were trying to garner sympathy for the writer of this blog, I wouldn't understand why someone would have so much vitriol towards one complete stranger offering support for another complete stranger. It would be a person showing support for their fellow human being, not advocating slavery.

Although I don't agree with most of what you've said, that's your opinion and no one can take that away from you. I respect everyone's right to have an opinion. But maybe be more 'Jack who goes for nice long walks' and less 'Jack at his computer'. Might help with any displaced anger.

My final thought for everyone else. Empathy and compassion are what separate us from the animals. Just because one person doesn't mind being called fat doesn't mean that's true about other overweight people. No one has the right to not be offended, but that doesn't mean you have to celebrate this point by offending. Empathy is one of man's best survival tools. Altruism over egotism every time. We are all animals after all. Judge people not by their nationality, culture, religion or race, but by their merit.

By Simon, Bangkok (28th April 2017)

I know quite a few friends who are very overweight and have managed to get good jobs (that said), they were also fired from quite a few. The Filipinos have to suck it up not being "native speakers" which many are not, but some have 10 years experience. Being from South Africa also seems to exclude you sometimes from some jobs, but then there are so many knobheads out there who think think teaching in Thailand involves playing on your phone all day long and then their good looks will carry them the rest of the way. In truth teaching in Thailand is a bit of a joke, truth be told. They fake the marks, you cannot fail, in fact 60% - 80% seems to be the minimum now. But if I look at Ajarn Adam on TV well it can't be that "Farang loo Mark, Mai Dee" Simon because he cracked it. In a conflictual situation it is better to step back and come back when you are in a better mood. Thais do not like conflict and better just to suck it up, That said, something I am not very good at. But better to move on and just leave it be. Also most people who have been in Thailand know jack. They may know a few Thai words and how to get a taxi but do they understand this place. A know many good African teachers who have been fired because they were too dark, or too black and the students wanted young good looking teachers, which is why education rarely improves here. Of course agencies take a commission (a big commission) - 50% and more which is how they make their money. I am not sure if many of them add any value but the schools like them because they can fire you one day and hopefully get some good looking pleasant white skinned farang to fill your place. Sickening I know. In most cases it is all they need. Welcome to Thailand. or move on to Cambodia or Vietnam and try your luck there. Also Issarn would be better to deal with these issues and they seem to be more tolerant because of the lack of teachers up there. Good luck.

By Jonny Jon, Bangkok (28th April 2017)


Maybe I took your comments wrong, I thought you wanted us to feel sorry for poor Steven because “Thailand’ treated him so badly by giving him the special privilege of giving him a job based on the fact he has a passport indicating he is a native English speaker but he was not given all the special privileges a select few others from his country are given.

If he had done any preparation at all he would have known about the Thai obsession with skin color, it is mentioned in almost every serious or superficial examination of the country and a quick check of Thai TV shows a series of pale white TV personalities gabbing away only to be interrupted by commercials for skin lightening lotions, oils, soaps and pills.

As my family is made up of people with both light and darker skin, I hate this aspect of Thai society but ranting and raving about it is unlikely to do much good.

As far as being overweight, well I also carry a few more pounds than I should, and I have no doubt it would help me professionally and personally to lose a bit, but it is what it is and I live with it and I am not asking you or anyone else to feel sorry for me.

You might want us to feel sorry for Steven, but I do not, he had some natural advantages (being a native English speaker) and some disadvantages (being overweight and darker). Few people are born into royalty or extreme wealth and almost no one from an advanced economy grew in in destitute, therefore most of us have some advantages and some disadvantages in making our way in the world. Steven chose to portray himself as a victim of an evil society and blamed others instead of looking at his own performance on the job, I ain’t buying into it.

By Jack, Not where I was (28th April 2017)

Hey, Jack.

Sorry, you've completely lost me. I quite literally don't understand what to make of that reply to me.

My post was supposed to convey one simple message. Be nice to other people and try to help them. I really don't know where you got me coming across as being 'culturally superior'. Your whole reply was quite frankly bizarre and disturbing. Was it really aimed at me?

If you have opposing opinions, please do share. But please don't misrepresent my thoughts and intentions. Be kind and supportive to everyone. That's a universal value I hope we can all share. If you think it's not or that's cultural arrogance, so be it.

I believe we are all equal and won't apologize for that. I've said more than I should have already. Sorry, fellow readers.

By Simon, Bangkok (27th April 2017)


If you want to join with Steven in ranting about how “bad” Thailand and Thai culture are, go ahead, although I don’t see how these rants are helpful, except to boost up one’s ego about being part of a “superior” culture.

I agree with Steven, as anyone who has been around the country for years knows it is much harder for dark skinned and less attractive people to find professional success, although there are plenty of academic studies showing these are world-wide phenomena although the extent that they apply might be greater in Thailand than in most Western countries.

But as anyone who has spent time here also knows there are many professionally and personally successful darker skinned or less attractive and overweight foreigners living and working in the country. These are obstacles but obviously not insurmountable obstacles. Life ain’t fair. Some of us are born with the right looks, or were born in countries where our native language is the world’s lingua franca so we can easily get an English teaching job in many countries without bothering to learn a foreign language while people who were born in other countries are not so lucky. Steven didn’t seem to resent the fact that he was able to move to a foreign country and gain a professional teaching job with no qualifications except being a native speaker of English, something people from other countries no doubt see as unfair.

Yeah, life is unfair, but what is expected to be accomplished by constantly complaining about it?

I am not going to get into a debate over evaluating Thai culture and values, as these evaluations are obviously subjective in nature. But having spent over 20 years hearing foreigners ranting and raving about how Thai culture and values are inferior to the cultures and values where the ranters come from, I have seen no impact on making changes to the local culture or values due to these incessant rants.

So what is the purpose of these rants? Are they intended to accomplish something or are they just a way to express your cultural superiority over the backward locals?

Ranting and raving about the culture and values of a country will do nothing to improve your professional or person level of success while working in Thailand, but it will earn you a right to join the huge club of grumpy whiners and complainers found in every ESL teachers’ room.

Accept the culture and values of the society you are working at or don’t. Your choice.

By Jack, At my computer (27th April 2017)

What still amazes me is how little experience counts for here. being blond haired and blue eyed inexperienced teacher still gets that "Oh he is so handsome". Worked with a couple last year who I wanted to kick up the ass, because they thought their looks carried them through the lesson. Five minutes before the next lesson they would be scratching around to see what they could teach. Is there any wonder Thai education still continues to fail. No wants an old grumpy teacher, but really one wonders if that is all it takes.

By Jonny Jon, Bangkok (26th April 2017)

"Yeah, life ain't fair and the people of Thailand has some different values and ways of doing things than people in the USA have"

Maturity epitomized there, ladies and gentleman.

I've been fortunate as far as my looks go in Thailand. I'm tall and fair-skinned. This is who I am. Back home people might say that I'm too fair- skinned. This bothered me when living back home sometimes. I wasn't doing anything wrong, but was made to feel like I was. Now I'm in Thailand it's the opposite. I'm complimented on looking fair. Now when I go home I simply don't care what people say about me being pasty.

I worked with an overweight guy before. The kids would often mention his weight. It was like they had turrets with words associated with overweight. It got him down and I felt bad for him. He wasn't the most confident or assertive fellow in the world, so I told him that he ever needs to chat, come and chat. Talking about problems really helps. I told him that it wasn't personal and it was just kids being kids. If he wanted me to, I'd have a word with his class when they came to my class (I am a science teacher). I told the kids not to mention about his weight. It hurts his feelings and it's not nice nor polite. I told them that we're not to look down on anyone because of how they look. This is also my job as a teacher to have a safe and pleasant learning environment. This isn't an elitist farang idea, it's also a value shared by Thais. To think it wasn't would be to look down on the locals like "they don't know any better".

The kids were good. They respected me and understood my point. They liked the other teacher but simply didn't realize they were hurting his feelings. After all, they're kids and are still learning about life. He ended up leaving Thailand anyway, but I'd like to think he left Thailand a wiser and happier person from his experiences. I'd like to think more people offered him a kind or supportive word over simply telling him he's not cut out for Thailand.

When we have problems, it's always good to talk about them. Share experiences and know it's not only us. The wrong thing to do is to tell someone "shut up or go home". Adults talk and rationalize. We might not always agree, but we should always talk and share ideas, opinions and thoughts.

Good job with the website, Phil. I enjoy reading comments and seeing what other teachers in Thailand are up to. Their experiences (good or bad) all add to make it a great place to live and work.

By Simon, Bangkok (26th April 2017)

Having taught in ten Asian countries including Thailand, I can say that you would have been better treated elsewhere, though by the same token there are places where you'd never have been hired at all. Non-Caucasian teachers do indeed have a hard time of it in Asia, especially if they're of non-Asian descent. The lies your coworkers made up about you, on the other hand, and the nasty comments about your weight, are more uniquely Thai in nature. The Thais' reputation for friendliness and modesty is largely undeserved, as quickly becomes apparent when one spends any length of time in the country as anything but a tourist. Back-stabbing and gossip are very much the rule in the workplace, and the national obsession with physical appearance has reached a point where even the Thais themselves must pretend to be "white" in order to succeed. Competence, experience and other matters of substance are ignored; the culture is shockingly superficial on many levels, and is becoming more so with the passage of time. I've long since given up on the Land of Smiles as a work site, myself, though I'm a Caucasian and speak fluent Thai. I'd advise anyone reading this to do likewise and experience the Kingdom the way it's meant to be experienced - as a tourist trap.

By Rich, Taiwan (26th April 2017)

Yeah, life ain't fair and the people of Thailand has some different values and ways of doing things than people in the USA have.

By Jack, In front of my computer (26th April 2017)

Thais have a very different sense of what is appropriate humor. Coming from Canada, making a joke about someone's weight or skin color is strictly taboo. In Thailand, its the opposite!! When a Thai girl goes to the beach, all her friends will laugh about how dark and ugly her skin is. Gain 5 pounds and everyone will call you "fatty" to your face. Its all meant to be taken rather lightly and affectionately. Dark-skinned and overweight foreigners will not be exempt, so its important to be aware of this and not to get insulted. At the end of the day, if you are a good teacher and the children like you, teachers of any skin color and body shape can be accepted.

By Danny, Bangkok (24th April 2017)

The over weight thing really need to be talked about in the TEFL courses as it is normal.
I am slightly over weight and would often be called fat by the kids. After many years here I realized it was just a bit of fun.
The dark skinned problem is what it is. I tell the Thais now that if they go to my country to live they will probably be the ones cleaning the Toilets as Asians buy there education and can only copy.
I do not do this as I hate the Thais. As a panthiest ( I am not smart enough to be an Aethiest) I still follow a rule that is in just about all religions but i have changed it slightly. Do unto others as been done unto me.
Enjoy the online teaching as i have now left the Thai education system after 13 years and am teaching online now myself. Having been to Kompet in Cambodia and seen the Internet available, the lifestyle available and the food I can see this place becoming a hub for online teaching. See you there.

By T Mark, Chantaburi (24th April 2017)

I don't blame the author -- nor do I explicitly blame the Thais (understanding that this is an impossible overreach sweeping statement), the teachers or school.

How can this be? For me, I think this is a painful part of the process of what I call system maturity.

I was born in Honolulu and went to a fairly prestigious private school from K to 12. When I was in school there was no such thing as a male nurse (medical career) and any talk of such would be met immediately by your teachers with "you can't, that's for women".... I don't think my teachers were being racist/sexist per se.. here's the kicker... I don't think they were being racist **for the time and social setting** in which it occurred..

Today -- yup, that would be racist/sexist, but times, social standards, acceptance have all changed .. and with that comes what is ok and what's not.

I think for the OP - and others - who've experienced this, I think it's more a matter of "in the wrong place and at the wrong time".... I do think this issue will change here in Thailand... I'm serious when I say this... I really do... but it will be slow, uncomfortable socially and will met with resistance from the established status quo.

I teach but at the university level.. and we have a wide range of foreign instructional staff -- men and women, white, black, brown and everything between.. the key is how well you do the job.. not the visual... but I do cede that this is not the norm and will not be for some time..

But I've met many parents of my students and had some rather candid conversations .. what I hear more and more is that the number one concern from these parents is not the visual, citizenship or body appearance of their instructors, rather it is the quality of the instruction given, and by extension, the success of their children.

True, this is in the minority, but I argue, it won't be so forever... I hear and see movement in this issue as more and more Thais go and study, live as work overseas.. and comeback to Thailand with a different, more globalized view.. and with that the notion that a person who may be Hispanic or of mixed Hispanic American ethnicity and may have a larger body frame can still be excellent in the classroom - it will be determined in the classroom.

I don't for a minute pretend that all is well and will always be.. but I think that times change and whether or not we, the Thais or otherwise like it, what is "right" and the norm will change too... today the OP may not be viewed biographically as desirable as a teacher, but I do fully believe that in time he, and others like him, will be given equal chance to demonstrate the skills and do so with no weight (no pun intended) given to the biographical.

Do I think he made a mistake? No. He learned.. and as such, I think he's better off for it... now, I can't comment on his actual teaching skills and abilities - that's a different and important discussion.. but just from the biographical side, I think he learned what works for him right now and how to navigate today's reality in Thailand.

By Michael, Bangkok (23rd April 2017)

Got to say as a UK citizen of Indian heritage, lucky for me I never had much problems with colour. There was casual racism like using the white teachers for events to show off to the parents, but I never minded all that much. I put on some weight and some kids were saying "teacher fat" to me, but I was warned before hand Thais can be quite blunt, and I have heard many stories like this. I worked in two schools and I think there was some resentment from some teachers, but sort of understandable as to entice foreign workers we get higher wages and most the time have less teaching hours than the Thai staff. I had a great time but I could see how it could be a sour experience. Getting charged a foreigner price was annoying though

By Azzy, England (23rd April 2017)

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