How is teaching in Saudi compared to Thailand?
Money, money, money
Well let's cut to the chase and get to the big issue; money. This month I will collect approximately 10,000 tax free United States dollars from my employer here in Saudi Arabia. It breaks down to rounded figures of 4,800 dollars monthly salary, 4,000 yearly bonus, and a 1,100 dollar reimbursement for my flight to Ghana, where I spent my 7 week paid summer vacation.
I have 11 weeks paid holiday as it stands now, and thanks to the way Ramadan falls in relationship to our academic calendar, it appears that we may have as much as a 3 and a half month break for summer this academic year.
I have excellent medical and dental insurance. I saved approximately 40,000 dollars my first year here in Saudi. It would have been a few thousand more, but I gave a few grand away to a family member to help him expand his export business. In fact next year I will probably save around 45k due to my annual raise which I just received. That is a hell of a lot of Tom Yam Goong. More than I ate in my 10 plus years teaching in Thailand for sure.
So what do I have to do for this money? Well, I teach 25 hours a week at a vocational college in Jeddah, on the Red Sea in the middle of the west coast between Mecca and Medina.
The teaching, for me at least, is fun. The students (all male classes) require a lot of classroom management. However, Power Teaching has turned a difficult situation into a rather easy, very rewarding one. (You can read some blogs I wrote for Phil on "Whole Brain" or "Power Teaching" here on Ajarn).
I will be quick to add that in spite of the students being somewhat unruly, immature and lazy, they are very respectful towards western teachers and appreciative of our presence. Basically they are good kids, but they have no work ethic thanks to being born into the ultimate nanny state.
The King just doles out the petro dollars to keep the peace. Even "poor" Saudis, like many of the students I teach at vocational college, don't really struggle to survive. Nevertheless, for them to get enough money to get a dowry for a wife, a new Audi, and to buy a decent home to start a family is difficult, if they aren't well connected. The idea that all Saudis are running around in Ferraris is a big misconception.
The college I work in is part of Saudi Arabia's "Colleges of Excellence" program. The main goal of the colleges, apart from English and technical education, is preparing young Saudis to enter the private sector, a process called Saudiazation.
Something like 40 per cent of the population of Saudi Arabia are foreigners. Currently the Saudi private sector is comprised of only 500,000 workers. Unemployment is high and the rest are government workers that make American bureaucrats look like real go getter workaholics.
Most of these foreign workers are from underdeveloped Asian countries like Bangladesh , India, Pakistan and the Philippines. The rest come from Western nations and surrounding Middle Eastern countries. If all the Egyptians left tomorrow there would be no doctors. If all the Philippine workers left there would be no nurses and all restaurants would close. If all the Indians left there would be no internet. If all the Lebanese left there would be a tremendous shortage of teachers. If all the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis left there would be no taxis or trash service.
When the day comes that something changes in the oil market, which it eventually will, all these people will leave, and Saudi Arabia will be in a deep pile of camel caca if the status quo doesn't change. Thus there is a real need for Saudi to diversify its economy and prepare Saudi youth to get a job and actually be productive.
Saudi Arabians, unlike Iran, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt jumped off the camel's back right into the 20th century. The King himself was born in a tent in the desert. They are only a couple of generations removed from being the roaming nomadic warring clansmen that inhabited the inhospitable Arabian peninsula that King Abdulaziz bin Saud untied into a country in the 1920's.
You want to come face to face with the Middle Ages? Come to Saudi. This is the context that education takes place in, in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Life here can be a bit boring. To compare Bangkok to Jeddah in terms of "fun things to do" is like comparing Hussein Bolt to your average bloke in line at an all you can eat breakfast buffet in Pattaya in terms of "fast runners."
Obviously there are no pubs, much less something as over the top as Nana Plaza. Live music is banned, everything is segregated by gender, there are no movie theaters, no golf courses in Jeddah (ouch), and beaches cost about 50 bucks to enter.
There are however options to break up the monotony. First and foremost are the vacations. As I said before, this past year I had 11 weeks paid holiday. This year I have plans to spend 10 days in the States, a week in Bangkok, a week in Paris and then the long summer break in Africa and Thailand.
In addition there is an underground music scene, compound parties, and an abundance of American theme restaurants, as well as authentic Italian, French, Chinese and Turkish places to eat.
Also people do become quite adept at making their grape and apple juice a bit more.... zesty... shall we say. Also Mamana, the capital Bahrain, is a only 2 hour plane ride away from Jeddah where you can take a weekend trip and brush up on your Thai with some nong sows that have relocated to a city which was ranked number 2 worldwide as a single man's best destination, behind...........you guessed it........Pattaya. (As a disclaimer I endorse neither zesty grape juice or flights to Bahrain to visit the "museums," the euphemism used here among Saudis for red light activities).
The weather in Jeddah is beautiful 9 months out of the year with highs around 25 and lows around 18. Riyadh on the other hand is an oven. The biggest downside is the crazy traffic, not traffic jam crazy like Bangkok, but crazy like life threatening crazy. Forget terrorism, your odds of dying an untimely death in a car accident are infinitely greater than being killed in a terrorist incident.
That is my biggest beef with Saudis. In general they are welcoming, friendly people but they are absolute suicidal/homicidal maniacs behind the wheel of a car. Most roads are designed to make head on collisions unlikely. In spite of that I have seen a good bit of gore on the streets. You even see children driving here occasionally. I once had a 13 year old taxi driver.
The trade off
So is it worth trading the "good life" in Thailand for the money to be earned in Saudi?
For me it is a no brainer. The cash here is just too good to pass up.
Thailand had run its course for me. I enjoyed it for years but the shine eventually wore off. I plan to return for a visit here and there. You just don't live in a place for 10 years and forget it.
As I said I am planning to visit for a week in December and, most likely spend a month or more visiting friends in Bangkok and playing golf around Pattaya next summer. I make 6000 baht a day, every day of the year, whether I am working or not. I spend a whopping 23,000 baht a month here in Saudi the months I am working, so 2000 baht hotel rooms and 1500 baht rounds of golf sound like a bargain vacation to me nowadays.
My next trip to Thailand will be a different kind of experience for sure. I made 30-60 thousand baht a month when I worked in Thailand, enough to enjoy my time, but money was always a consideration. It is much, much less of one now.
In addition, given my enhanced financial situation I have a very strong suspicion that on touching down at Suvaranabumi I will be magically transformed to even more of a handsome man at age 55 than when I first landed at Don Mueang at age 41.
Saudi has a lot of advantages, but not the magic of Thailand that is for sure. Every place has its own special pluses and minuses.