Tell me the whole story
I don't want to fill in the blanks
A story from the Bangkok Post website caught my eye this morning. The headline was ‘attack on foreigners gives tourism operators jitters'.
Yes, it was another story of foreigners being assaulted and mugged in Thailand. Tales of this nature seem to be becoming more and more commonplace these days - or they are if you spend enough time on social media.
To summarize, an Italian and a Moroccan, both in the country to study kick-boxing, took a ride out to a local beach in Prachuap Province on their rented motorcycle and ran out of gas on the way back home. It was while they were pushing their motorbike along dark and deserted roads that they were set upon by three Thai guys. The bandits made off with cash, passports and credit cards - and the motorcycle. Judging by the photo that accompanied the article, the foreigners also sustained a few cuts and bruises.
Not for a moment am I condoning the assault because it's a terrible thing to happen but I read other accounts of this story from various news sources and not once in the Bangkok Post article does it mention that the attack actually took place at two ‘o' clock in the morning. I happen to think that's an important detail to miss out. And trust me, I'm a stickler for details. It's a crucial part of the story because anywhere in the world, not just Thailand, you are far more likely to be roughed up and parted from the cash in your pocket if you are wandering around in the dead of night.
Trouble in Pattaya
Here's another very recent story - this time from Pattaya. The headline screams ‘Beach Road tourist brutally beaten by Pattaya motorbike taxi drivers'. And the story is accompanied by a photo of the unlucky and heavily bandaged Monsieur Gabrielly as he crawls along the floor in a clear state of distress. Apparently, all the 63-year old Frenchman had been doing was returning a rented motorcycle.
Now, rather than cry out ‘the bastards! Hunt them down and give them twenty years hard labour!' (as many would) I tend to analyze the story, pick it apart and focus on what's NOT being said.
This is a sentence from paragraph four - "an argument developed after he [Mr Gabrielly] was refused the return of his 1000 baht deposit". And that's really it. A crucial part of the story just glossed over in what becomes an unsupported, almost ‘throw away' line.
So what happened?
Why was he refused the deposit on the motorcycle? Was the bike returned damaged and in poor condition? Exactly how ‘heated' was the argument that ensued? What provoked a group of motorcycle taxi drivers - presumably a group of guys who work from the same pitch every day - to set about the foreigner? For me there are too many questions that go unanswered. Readers are only getting ‘half of the story'. You kind of get used to that in Thailand.
As any expat who has lived here for a while will tell you, the Thais are generally a peaceful and non-confrontational people - but they have a tipping point. And oh boy, if you push a Thai over that line then just pray you don't get caught up in the eye of the storm. Things can get very nasty and very quickly indeed.
It's possible that Monsieur Gabrielly demanded his rental deposit be returned and a gang of Thais - upon seeing him arguing with their friend the motorcycle renter - ran over and beat him up for the sheer fun of it. That would be just terrible.
However, it's also possible that the foreigner started insulting all and sundry with some universally understood colorful language and perhaps even flipped the bird in the process. In other words, he pushed the locals over that tipping point. I don't know because the article doesn't tell me. I wasn't there to witness things either so I'm not going to take sides and jump to conclusions based on half a story. In addition, eye witness accounts can often be sketchy and unreliable at best. It's surprising how versions of the same story can differ from person to person.
I was talking about this story with one of my followers on Twitter - a gentleman who seemed to know a lot more than I was reading. According to him, the Frenchman in Pattaya not only returned the motorcycle to the hire shop two days earlier than anticipated (and possibly wanted a couple of days refunded) but also cancelled a taxi to the airport that he had booked in advance with the same business. I suspect neither change of plans went down well with the business owner.
But hopefully you can see what I'm getting at. The whole tale becomes even sketchier and the details more blurry.
The devil's in the details
I experience these same situations within the Thailand TEFL industry. Every so often, a disgruntled teacher will contact me and ask for space on the ajarn website to name and shame a previous employer and list all the horrible things that led up to that teacher's dismissal. Perhaps a bonus was not paid as promised or a salary was withheld for no good reason. Maybe a visa run was not subsidized. The list goes on and on - and it's all the employer's fault and never the teacher's.
I don't entertain the naming and shaming of schools on ajarn for purely legal reasons but just as importantly, I've learned over the years that there are nearly always two sides to every story. I may well have the teacher's version of events but it's crucial to hear the school's side as well. You can only make sound judgements based on having ALL of the information.
This is not me siding unfairly with teacher employers because I do appreciate that are some shocking employers out there - those who DO withhold salaries and bonuses etc, But there are also plenty of unreliable and unprofessional teachers.
Be it a drunken tourist getting duffed up on Pattaya beach Road at midnight or a teacher who's being let go simply because he refuses to grade exams in his own time, you want the whole story.
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Jack, you put a lot of time and effort into your excellent insights in these blog comments sections. I don't suppose I could talk you into writing a monthly blog could I?
By Phil (ajarn.com), Samut Prakarn (11th August 2016)
I think the disturbing thing is the double standards.
I was once in Chiang Mai and agreed to stay in a guest house for 5 or 7 days and paid a deposit for it and then tried to change it when they told me that they wanted for me to pay for 7 days at a different rate before I could leave even although I had only stayed for 4. Anyway after trying to negotiate with them a shouting match ensued, which did not get me anywhere. In the end they hid my bag which I found and then left. I cannot remember getting any money back.
I have now discovered when renting a bike or hotel it is better just to say “day by day” and pay that way and both parties are happier. Then if you decide not to stay or rent you just move out. I have also seen Thais getting into a fight which had nothing to do with them, and all stopped and 6 of them piled into a farang when he had an argument with anther Thai or taxi. Some friends of mine went to a bar around where I stay and after 2 or 3 beers were presented with a bill of 5000 baht for the company of the girls who were serving them. It was not a beer bar and they were told in no uncertain terms if they did not pay they were going to paste them against the wall. In the end one left his passport and returned the next day to settle the bill.
For 6 of them to pile into a 63 year old is just unacceptable. There are many rip off artists all over the place which refuse to give you any money back once the money has changed hands. Maybe it is cultural understanding but it is also that generally and legally we farangs do not have a leg to stand on in law. It almost always works against us. Speaking Thai does not help, and trying to learn what we learnt in the classroom to deal with conflict should become helpful. Thais also do not seem to understand the F word and take it as a deep insult and takes a long time to say well it is not always that bad, and depends how it was intended.
Maybe someone should write a cultural etiquette guide when in Thailand although I often Thais always think they are right because we are in their country and we have no opinion or right in the matter. IMHO.
Driving around Bangkok on my motorbike I sometimes have got into accidents often involving another motorbike and a car –when a motorbike turned in front of me – and I hit him and ***he hit*** the car. The driver got out and immediately turned to me, not a word to the other Thai person and demanded I pay him money. The other driver just drove off and that has happened twice now. In the end I did not but I was amazed the double standards.
Staying cool in these situations in of course crucial but there are double standards. How would it go down if a 63 year old Thai person was assaulted by 6 Americans in New York for whatever reason (not doubt a “misunderstanding”) they would be calling for blood.
By Jonny Jon, Bangkok (5th August 2016)
NES teachers come from individualistic, moderately egalitarian and risk taking cultures while Thailand has a more collectivist, hierarchal and risk adverse culture. Add to this the differences in languages, levels of economic development and political systems, it is not surprising most NES teachers, even those of us who have spent years here, never completely understand the underlying aspects of the environments we work and live in while in Thailand.
Thailand is an extremely different place than countries with Anglo-American cultures and traditions most NES teachers come from.
Any value judgment or value comparisons between cultures is purely subjective. Some people claim Thailand is a wonderful place to live and work and others claim it is a horrible place to live and work. Both are the “truth” for the individuals making the judgments but are not true in an objective sense.
Reading constant one-sided stories of the horrors of teaching in Thailand and about how Thais are bad and NES teachers are good is not helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of our surroundings.
Having been an expat for many years in many countries, and having done extrusive research on the topic, it appears the overwhelming results of studies show individuals who are less judgmental, open to new experience and eager to learn the language of the host country enjoy their overseas assignments more and are more professionally successful.
Most of the research in expat adjustment has been done with business people, but it is likely we would find similar results when looking at the experiences of teachers, NGO workers and even long-term tourists or retirees for that matter.
In my overseas work experience, I have run into office politics, incompetent co-workers, shady characters and other challenges. But I suspect I would have run across about the same amount if I had decided to have a domestic career and stayed at home.
Phil is making a good point, just because you hear a rant in the teachers lounge or read a rant on ajarn.com or face; it does not imply you automatically have enough unbiased information to make a value judgement on the situation.
Although there are exceptions, in general schools want to retain good teachers, but what the school considers a good teacher may not be aligned with the individual’s evaluation of his or her own performance.
If you are going to read any of the online discussion forums for teachers in Thailand or occasionally take a seat in the teachers' lounge between classes you will be exposed to Thai-bashing and rants, but one does not have to allow all the negativity that the ESL industry in Thailand is so well known for to pull you down.
By Jack, In front of my computer (5th August 2016)
Can you tell me in the blog where I mention or even infer that anyone 'deserved' what they got?
I am of course assuming you read it in the first place.
By Philip, Samut Prakarn (28th July 2016)
Pattaya is a tourist city. Tourism is the city's lifeblood. I don't think it's cool to blame a 63 year-old who is bloodied by a local, or to blame ANY victim of a crime because you have this amazing 20-20 hindsight that the victim deserved it, and that includes the notion that tourists who are out-and-about late at night also deserve to be set upon by thieves.
By Guy, Bkk (28th July 2016)