A rare appearance by a teacher from 'down under'. He had a stressful job in Australia. Came to teach in Thailand for five years. Went back to the stressful job in Australia. Er......and now he's in China.
Lindsay, always nice to welcome an Aussie to the ajarn hot seat. You spent ten years holidaying in Thailand before settling here and teaching English. Do you think Thailand is much nicer viewed through the eyes of a tourist?
Most definitely, and for 2 reasons - annoyances & money.
As a tourist I was never particularly bothered by the Thais propensity for mistakes and tardiness. If I ordered a breakfast set based on fried eggs and was given scrambled eggs I wasn't bothered. If the tour guide or other Thai arranged to meet me at 9:00 am and arrived later at 10:00 am I wasn't bothered. However, the repetition of these minor annoyances on a day-to-day basis became a major annoyance for me.
As a tourist I had a very large spending budget - an average of 60,000 baht per two-week holiday, after airfare and hotel costs. In Thailand if you have ample funds you can buy almost anything, do almost anywhere and overcome almost any problem. Flash money around and Thais treat you as if you were royalty!
I presume in all that time spent lying on a Pattaya beach, your job in insurance was making you more money than you would make here as a teacher?
In Australia, I can earn AUD $50,000 per year (approx.120,000 baht per month) + expense account + superannuation + company car. However, Loss Adjusting is a very stressful job - dealing with people's problems such as house fires, burglaries, interior flooding caused by burst water pipes, etc and dealing with people's misunderstanding about the nature & extent of their insurance policy cover. Many claimants view me as the bad guy, the person responsible for not fulfilling their expectations.
By contrast, if one has the right attitude, teaching English to Thais (at least at a language school) can be fun & rewarding.
You worked for British American in Bangkok for one year. Did you make it to academic director?
No. The branch manager often spoke to me about the prospects and benefits of becoming a branch manager "one day". However, for me, 1 year with them was enough. Also, at that time, my salary was 21,000 baht per month for a 6 day week and the manager wasn't receiving a great deal more.
You worked in both Baeng Saen and Pattaya. I can see the advantages of working in Pattaya, but Baeng Saen...bloody hell!?
I lived in Pattaya when I worked in Bang Saen and commuted (45 minutes each way), initially on a motorcycle and later I bought a second-hand car. AUA Bang Saen is located within Burapha University and around 60% of the students were university students whom I considered to be "high quality". They were very motivated and not excessively shy. Also, I was able to
teach the full range of (AUA) levels - A through to 15.
In Pattaya a significant percentage of the students were Thai women residing with "farang" men who had been coerced into learning English. Their eagerness to learn wasn't always noticeable. Additionally, they're not as polite or reserved as, hmmm, Thais who are not living with "farang".
What's the cushiest teaching number you ever landed?
After I had been in Thailand for 2 years, and in Pattaya for 1 year, I advertised in the Pattaya Mail offering day-time private tuition and I landed a job with a German engineering company as their English Language Consultant, for a stated period of 3 months, which lasted 3 ? years. I conducted some formal English lessons for their sales staff (erratic times) and was otherwise just on hand to assist staff with e-mails, faxes and correspondence with European companies. I spent at least 30% of my time surfing the internet.
I worked from 8:00 am to 12:00 pm, Monday to Friday and received a salary of 40,000 baht per month plus the company paid an additional 2,000 baht (5%) per month income tax on my behalf. I was paid for all Thai public holidays and 10 days annual leave at Christmas / New Year.
At the same time, I was working at AUA from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm Monday to Thursday & 8:30 to 3:30 on Sundays for additional remuneration of 25,000 baht per month.
As an aside, AUA provided me with a work permit. I did not have a work permit for the engineering company. At one stage AUA gave the Soi 8 Immigration Office a number of "scholarships" and I had the good fortune of
teaching a Police Lieutenant Colonel, who was second-in-charge at Soi 8.
He told me that if immigration police ever officially became aware that I was working at a second job they would be duty-bound to investigate and if they caught me working at the engineering company, I would be arrested and charged with working without a work permit, regardless of my AUA work permit.
The Lieutenant Colonel told me that I could have my AUA work permit endorsed to cover my second job, providing AUA agreed, which they did. However, the engineering company already had their quota of farang employees and so the Chonburi work permit office would not endorse my work permit.
As a second aside, AUA were deducting 3% income tax from my salary and the engineering company were paying 5% on my behalf, but the combination wasn't enough. In the first year that I held both jobs, I calculated that I owed an additional 65,000 baht in tax. The manager of the engineering company told me I could use the company's (external) accountants to prepare my income tax declaration. The accountants told me that "consultants" in any field, are entitled to deduct 30% of their consultancy fees as general expenses. All I needed was a written consultancy agreement with the engineering company which referred to me as a consultant and specified that I was responsible for my own expenses (of which I had none).
The accountants gave me a copy of a page from a Thai tax law book, together with a covering letter. At the Chonburi tax office several staff had a lengthy discussion about the accountant's letter. One staff member went off and fetched some books and after further discussion they agreed that I could deduct 30% of my income from the engineering company. My additional tax bill was reduced from 65,000 baht to 25,000 baht. Each subsequent year they accepted my income tax assessment without question.
Incidentally, when I first applied for my tax card I had to show my work permit but not at the time of each tax assessment submission. The tax office were totallyunconcerned about me having a second job.
You decided to return home to Oz in 2003, after 8 years or so here. What made you do that? You couldn't have been missing the food?
Australian food isn't so bad!
For quite some time I held the idea that I should return to Australia and resume my insurance career before I reached the age of 45. In Australia it is
illegal to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of age however the reality is that finding a job after you have turned 45 is very difficult. I was 43 in September last year when I returned.
Complete the sentence. I'd rather die than teach........?
Maybe I was lucky during my time in Thailand because I never had any teaching encounter that would make me say "I'd rather die than teach …..".
You said that you're now teaching in China. How does that compare to Thailand?
Firstly the positive aspects:- My salary is equal to 31,000 baht after tax. I am provided, free-of-charge, with a very nice, very large, 150 square metre fully furnished apartment complete with computer, printer, scanner & 24/7 internet access. I am entitled to 3 free meals per day in the teacher's cafeteria (Asian food for breakfast - yuk!). I am provided with medical
/ accident insurance. The school is responsible for my work permit and all associated costs. I have twenty-two 40 minute classes per week (Monday to
Friday). I have Wednesday afternoons & Friday mornings off. I do not have to remain at the school in between my class times.
On the negative side:- there are 80, yes eighty, students in each class. The students are crammed into the classroom like a can of sardines.
My usual modus operandi is to introduce the subject matter outlined in the study book, explain the vocabulary, role-model the conversation / questions & answers with one student and then get the students up out of their chairs to walk around and practice the conversation with each other.
With 80 students in the class there is simply no room to move. The students have permanent seating positions (students remain in one room all day, the teachers go from room-to-room) so practicing the conversation whilst seated means they talk with the same person each time. Also, there is no room for me to walk around and monitor every student.
Nearly all of games and supplementary activities I have collected over the years require the ability for students to be able to freely move around the classroom. I need to come up with some new ideas.
You're still a regular on the ajarn discussion board. Do you still feel that Thailand's your spiritual home?
Well, I returned to Thailand for a 1 month holiday in January and will do so again in August. As to whether I will ever return to live & teach in Thailand, I'm really not sure at this stage. A lot will depend on whether & how the "climate" for farangs changes. Personally, I think that experienced, qualified, professional TEFL teachers will be able to get work permits in Thailand for a long time into the future.
How difficult was it to adjust to life back in Australia after 5 years away?
The biggest issue for me was "price shock". TVs, DVD players, nearly all appliances and household items were as cheap as Thailand. However, day-to-day purchases, food, bottled water, cigarettes, newspapers, petrol, etc are very expensive. Two sandwiches for lunch cost 200 baht +. A can of
coke cost 60 baht. A "counter-meal" dinner at a suburban hotel cost 330 baht. A vodka and orange or gin & tonic cost 240 baht. The Sunday newspaper cost 60 baht. Cigarettes were costing me 240 baht for a
pack of 20.
The main reason I did leave Australia again, after only 3 months, is that life there was so familiar, so unremarkable, so boring. I missed the liveliness, the spirit, of Asia.
You worked for AUA for many years. Do you still see pages of Interchange during particularly bad nightmares?
The monotony was in teaching only the yellow and red books of the Interchange series. At Pattaya, each term we had high numbers of levels A & B (the yellow book) and the majority of students dropped out by level 4
(the red book).
I haven't taught Interchange for more than a year but I still remember, from the red book, "Hey Paolo, who's that over there? That's my dad and that's my mom with him." and "Whitney Houston? You've got to be kiddin'".
Why did you choose to do a TESOL certificate in Australia rather than in Thailand?
It's in my nature to prepare myself for any event or occasion. Doing a TESOL course in Thailand never entered my thoughts. I wanted to be fully prepared before I arrived.
Where do you stand on the degree vs no degree debate?
knew a 68 y.o. gentleman in Bangkok who was working part-time as a TEFL teacher just for fun, he didn't need the income. He was on a "retirement" visa and did not have a work permit, nor did he have any qualifications. He had been a factory worker all of his life. He was always cheerful and I never heard him say a bad word about anyone or anything. His students loved him. They would be laughing and chatting away on exiting the classroom after each lesson. I saw for myself that, after one term studying with this man, their confidence when speaking English with myself and other teachers had greatly increased.
I knew a man in Bang Saen who was a career educator. He had a Master's Degree in Education and had been teaching for many years in his home country. He usually referred to his students as morons & idiots. He was apparently a strict disciplinarian inside the classroom. Many students told me they were scared of him and they were scared of making mistakes when
talking with him. I think that the attitude, demeanor and ability of a TEFL teacher are far more important than formal qualifications.
Do many students ask you to teach them Australian English? Personally I think it'd be cool to have Thais walking around saying "no worries mate - chuck me a tinny"
I have developed a very neutral accent and I do not use Australian vernacular in the classroom:- "She'll be right mate!" Ava go yer mug!" G'dai mate, owsit goin?" I reckon…", etc. However, 2 students, a tour guide and a receptionist at a hotel favoured by Australians, asked to explain these, and other, Australian sayings.
Australians aren't that well catered for in Bangkok. Apart from Big John's in Soi Thonglor, which does a fine pie floater' I can't think of one Australian restaurant.
I spent only 1 year in Bangkok and I mostly cooked for myself in my apartment. However, in Pattaya there is an abundance of restaurants serving inexpensively-priced, English-style food which is akin to Australian food.