Julia Knight

The Thailand coup - one year on

Things have definitely changed around here



It's nearly a year since the marching and parades on the streets of Bangkok which saw the subsequent military coup take power in May 2014.

At the time, I felt safe in my sleepy village but wondered what economic impact it would have on Thailand.

Expat exodus

Since then, a lot has come and gone but one thing that is evident is that many expats have left. That's evidenced, albeit anecdotally, by the number of houses up for rent and the way the prices have lowered in my mooban alone.

I predicted that international schools would be hardest hit and for some of my colleagues, their schools were forced to hire local teachers (by 'local' I mean those expats who were already here and were contemplating moving on to greener pastures).

Some of my teacher friends were the ones who gained as the overseas hire was often a no-show - or the school simply didn't bother looking abroad in the first instance.

The visa rules and tightening of existing laws has made everyone feel uneasy. There's nobody in my circle of friends and colleagues who hasn't got a tale to tell of the 'shakedown' - a euphemism for 'crackdown' Tales of being stopped by the authorities and searched in central Bangkok. Very often in broad daylight.

Anxiety

On various Facebook forums, there is a disturbing level of expat anxiety - whispered questions being asked constantly about visas, overstays, teaching licenses, etc - all with different opinions and answers because the truth is that there is no definitive answer.

Everyone has been treated differently; with the 'rules' being open to interpretation. Some might say this was always the case. Maybe that's true - but more often that not, it always felt like the rules fell in our favour.

The physical signs are still there; the military has been replaced by a heavier police presence on the streets. In the days after the coup, the military presence made me feel uneasy but as the days have passed, it is less and less evident that we are under martial law and a coup.

You see the occasional car-bumper sticker that says "I Love The Thai Army", as a reminder of who is in charge. The radio stations talk of 'bringing back happiness' and in a way it has - but not to all sectors.

What's changed?

There's still something missing from Bangkok. The vibrant heartbeat has dulled like an old man with angina. The Khao San Road bars pack up dead on midnight with people scurrying to bring down their shutters with a palpable fear that has left tourists bemused.

Soi 11 Sukhumwit is nowhere near as busy as it once was, with restaurants and pubs evidently suffering from the tourist downturn.

A friend, who visits once per year, commented on the changes. As an experienced lover of Thailand, she saw the above first-hand and said it was more than noticeable. She said you 'could feel it'.

Driving back from the city late at night, there are road-blocks set up, with police searching cars and passengers. The tensions are still here. Embassies worldwide still advise caution in their Thailand travel advice. The UK embassy in Bangkok has asked all Brits to email if they have been stopped by police.

But for me, juggling life as both a teacher and a working mom, life pootles on.

The day to day grind of the traffic jams, fumes and street food belie what really may be happening. There's been no significant change to our lives. It still feels uncertain.

I guess we are all waiting for the next installment. Those of us who are still here that is.

About me

 




Comments

These complaints about the Ministry of Education's changes to teacher requirements remind me of my early teaching years in Korea, when Korea started cleaning things in their ESL education environment, weeding out those who just didn't make the cut that Korea had established for itself. Lots of moaning and high horse I-know-betterism from the underqualified who Korea just didn't want teaching in their country any longer . Korea held firm and now they've reached the higher level they set for themselves.

I lived and taught in Korea when it was under military rule (Chun Doo Hwan, Noh Tae Woo {nominally "the first democratically elected president"}). Saw the nation develop to a regular, predictable democratically elected government. No matter who was in charge though, Korea just kept on rolling. And for sincere expat teachers, nothing but regulation here and a rule there changed. The sincere ones accepted that it was what Korea wanted and adapted accordingly. The losers got weeded out.

After three decades teaching at universities in Korea, I now teach in Thailand at elementary school level in a kind of retirement. I've been here four years and find the country a wonderful place to live and teach. Yes, there are a lot of paper work hoops to go through, but it is what Thailand wants and I adapt accordingly. The raising of standards don't impact me as I'm fully qualified. I support Thailand's goals to improve the quality of the foreign teacher pool. And I would even if I weren't "fully qualified" and had to get additional education to be so. There will be bumps in the road, but Thailand has set itself on that road and doesn't intend to stay put in the status quo. At each bump, it'll shake off those teachers whose tenuous qualifications didn't give them a firm grip on a career in teaching in Thailand anyway.

Thailand's effort in this regard did not start with the present government. It has been in the making for years, across three governments at least and it reflects an overall trend in ESL education in Asia.

As for life in general in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand since the latest of a long if intermittent series of military governments took office, . . I've noticed nothing like the author of this blog writes of. Thailand, like "Old Man River", just keeps rolling along.

By Ben McIntyre, Bangkok (22nd February 2015)

Thanks for the thoughtful article JK, hope you are ignoring the flack.

Good to stay away from politics but I wonder how much this has to do with the recent realignment with China. The elites of that country (and their cousins in Thailand) believe that they were humiliated by westerns over the past few centuries, and envision an Asia for Asians in the 21st century, very much like the Empire of Japan a century ago. They see westerns as "foreign devils" that need to be humiliated, and in fact see the Thai people as an inferior race, suitable only as slaves.

That might seem sensationalist but is an accurate description of the mindset of these elites/feudal lords who are spread throughout SE Asia, and is worth keeping in mind.

By Scott, Taiwan (9th February 2015)

In response to the fluff that Mark Newman spouts "and have minimal impact on anyone working here within the rules..." I say poppycock and balderdash sir. I was working as a teacher quite happily for 8 years on my TEFL and Higher Diploma. I cannot help it if the Thai MoE is so blind that it cannot see my qualification is as good as any UK 3 year "Bachelor's" degree. The University of Nottingham saw fit to allow me study on their PGCEi course, but the Thai MoE knows better. When I graduate soon I will be in the position of not being able to use my PGCEi because I am not "qualified" in their eyes. This military coup has place my livelihood and the welfare of my two children in serious jeopardy as I cannot change jobs now - having been told I can only perform admin tasks. Through no fault of my own I've been booted out of a career by this coup.

By Anonymous, Thailand (3rd February 2015)

It amazes me how cool and calm people are about thee fact that we are living under a military dictatorship that has made sweeping changes to the educational landscape that are simply not maintainable or realistic.

By Anonymous, Wherever (3rd February 2015)

A few people are accusing the blogger of this article of being melodramatic. I think that for the most part it isn't. A significant number of expats HAVE left, and the overall tourism climate here is definitely slumping. There aren't many hotels/restaurants in Bangkok who didn't take losses in revenue over the past year. You also need look no further than the number of expat-owned establishments in many of the tourist areas (Chonburi, Hua Hin, Phuket et al) that are either up for sale or have just shuttered completely. Yes there are other factors that are contributing to this: Japanese economy in a recession, a weak Russian ruble (sp?), and negative publicity about the murders on Koh Tao. What becomes difficult to ascertain is how much the coup or any of these other factors have contributed to the downslide. The truth is, we really have no way of knowing for certain.

By Matt, BKK (26th January 2015)

Adam, Yeah I agree that "exodus" isn't the right term and that the post is a little over the top. But the underlying current -- uncertainty -- is quite accurate in my opinion. Also I would agree that quite a few expats have left, though for most it was due to the new visa rules and not the coup. There have even been a few teachers who wrote here in the Ajarn "leaving Thailand" series (or whatever it's called) that they left b/c they couldn't get long-term visas from schools and couldn't do the visa run thing any more. Also a lot of commenters wrongly accused Julia of mistakenly saying that the coup happened a year ago. She wrote that the protesters first started occupying Bangkok a year ago; the "Bangkok Shutdown" started on Jan. 14 of last year, so she was dead on in that regard.

By David Luekens, Bangkok (26th January 2015)

In response to David Luekens, I think you need to re-read her post.

She talks about an expat exodus, it just isn't happening. If that's not melodramatic I don't know what is.

The way the whole piece is written is like something out of a British tabloid. Not only is it inaccurate but these kind of articles promote hysteria and are counter productive. She is not the only one to write in these terms of course but at least others aim to get their facts correct.

This woman sounds like she doesn't even live in the city and is basing things on what her friends say or things she has read in newspapers or other blogs.

Bangkok is not all rosy at the moment, the country still has a long way to go to reconcile its differences but there are certainly no expats running to the airport in panic.

Adam

By Adam, Bangkok (26th January 2015)

Some of these commenters are being too hard on Julia. Her post was not melodramatic or "scaremongering." It's just her own honest account on how the city feels to her and others, even if every last bit of it isn't completely accurate. The coup hasn't really affected my life here, but there's no doubt that a certain tension still runs beneath the surface of the whole country. The end of her post nails exactly how I feel:

"There's been no significant change to our lives. It still feels uncertain. I guess we are all waiting for the next installment."

I would love to sit back and pretend that everything is rosy in Thailand. But the fact is that it's more uncertain than ever. The economy is struggling, MARTIAL LAW has been in place for the better part of a year, and freedom of expression is being actively stifled by men with guns. Sure, none of that really affects me as an expat. But just knowing that it's the reality doesn't make me feel too good... I wouldn't even think about investing in a condo or even keeping my money in Thailand as it stands today. This whole Red/Yellow struggle is FAR from over. You can almost feel the society bending and cracking. One wonders when it will really snap.

By David Luekens, Bangkok (25th January 2015)

I have to agree with the comments on this piece, absolute hysteria and frankly complete rubbish. This writer obviously has no clue about the city at all, I wonder does she even set foot outside her "sleepy village"

Khao San road shutdown at midnight? what? Soi 11 less busy?? she obviously hasn't been there on a Friday and Saturday night, you can't move. As for the road blocks, well they are definitely nothing new.

Wasn't the coup May 22nd or something like that, so hardly 1 year on, more like 7 months. Is this writer trying to drum up hysteria in the name of the coup, I wonder what her real agenda is.

I am a friend with an international school recruiter and she tells me there are literally hundreds of applications from people trying to work in Thailand. Schools are turning people away all the time, flight prices are going up and hotel prices are going up, the only thing that isn't is petrol!

The city is buzzing, it could do with less pessimistic, ill informed and sensationalist writers like this, that's for sure. Stop trying to get publicity for yourself or whatever organisation you represent with this bile.

Love Bangkok, Love Thailand

Adam the Expat

By Adam Baker, Bangkok (24th January 2015)

I agree wholeheartedly with Mark Newman's comments and assessment.

This blog entry by Julia Knight not only is melodramatic, it's a full four months ahead of "a year on". The writer apparently had some things to say (make up), has an opinion she wants out there, and just couldn't wait for "a year on" to come. Reminds me of the big box stores and malls stateside that start decorating for Christmas well before Halloween.

Thailand is fine.

By Alan Jones, Bangkok (24th January 2015)

Thanks for your comments, was not meant to be a 'moaning' post! Just an observation that the city feels different and although nothing has changed for me much, there is an unexplained anxiety. Tourist numbers and early bar closures are real, the shakedowns are real. Schools were worried about the impact of the coup on recruitment. I doubt they are now because it is stable. I think we are naive to think that the happiness will continue- history says otherwise. There is press censorship and under reporting of issues etc;

I certainly didn't mean to discourage any one from coming here to work or to play. I love BKK and it is my home but like family, I can be critical and still find love for it.

By JK, BKK (23rd January 2015)

Moaning for the sake of it. Everything's great here! Petrol for my car has dropped in price by 25% in 9 months. Who cares about kao San? I went there to have a look on my first day here in April 2001 and never returned. If you don't like it here..

By Tony Bunker, Bangkok (22nd January 2015)

I agree with you Julia. I also think the city has lost a bit of its heart and soul.
I've lived here for almost 30 years Desmond. Does that qualify me to have an opinion?

By Brian, Bangkok (22nd January 2015)

Damn, Another hysterical ex- pat !

Yeah, we get it, you dont like the coup, but don't try to tranish this great city with your opinions formed after less than 2 years in the country.

Bangkok remains a glorious, vibrant city which a bunch of old men in uniforms can't change - futhermore, if you're judging the vibrance of Bangkok on Khao San and Sukhumwit Soi 11, then you are doing the city and its 9 million residents a great misservice and parading your naivety for all to see.

Lastly, the shortage of international school teachers is linked to the phonemal growth of international education in East Asia and SE Asia, there are teacher shortages all over the region - nothing to do with Prayuth and co.

If you're unhappy with the coup, just write about that - don't pull BKK down with you

By Desmond, BKK (22nd January 2015)

Well, after reading this dramatic piece, I'm wondering if I'm in the same country. The floods (4 years ago) had more impact on me than the coup. In fact, if I hadn't read about the coup in the similarly excitable foreign press I probably wouldn't even have known about it.

The vibrant heartbeat of Bangkok is still there, at least in the places I go to. Nothing has changed - the roadside bars are still open all night, the girls still squander their health for iPhones, the polluted food still smears the sidewalks.

The beaches are in fact safer than they ever have been in the past. The vendors and scammers are being reigned in... finally.

No-one who I have met and spoken to over the past year has had any reason to mention the coup, as absolutely nothing in their lives has been affected by it.

Without wishing to appear rude, I have to say that this contribution smacks of melodramatic scaremongering and comes across to me as almost pure fiction.

The road blocks are nothing new and haven't suddenly sprung up since the coup. Even the existing stops don't affect farangs - we are always ushered through any road stops with a cheery wave. Entertainment venues aimed at tourists have been impacted minimally as a consequence of the coup policy... except things like beach clean ups, etc, which have actually benefited tourists.

As for Thais... the only people affected by the coup were those interested in politics. Absolutely nothing has changed for anyone else. The floods have had a far longer lasting impact on Thais than anything that the coup did or didn't achieve.

Where are these anxiety ridden expats and their gloomy Facebook forums? I haven't seen them. Even the normally hysterical posters on ThaiVisa.com have been sedate this time around, regarding the impact of the latest 'troubles.'

The visa rules and tightening of existing laws as they apply to teachers aren't the result of the coup. They are administered by various branches of government who have already had these policies in place for years. As anyone who has been here a while will tell you, these 'showboating' rule changes /enforcements either quickly disappear or attract workarounds, and have minimal impact on anyone working here withing the rules.

If you are still deciding whether or not to move to Thailand then just ignore this article and get on a plane. Thailand is still one of the safest countries in the world to live in. If you are a tourist - well... you are always going to be a target regardless of who controls the seats of power... and that applies to any tourist resort in the world.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (22nd January 2015)

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