Richard Constable

A grave situation

Financial struggles during this difficult period


Recently, to give myself a pastime I thought I would write a daily routine and events of my life during these days of Covid 19. 

Mildly ambitious, I was hoping to pen an amusing and satirical Bridget Jones's Diary style come adaptation, though as it was beginning to shape up more like that of a puerile version of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 3/4, so accordingly I decided to knock it on the head.

Just yesterday, there I was like a latter day male version of Emily Dickenson (recluse), although the poet was of course a prisoner of her own devices, unlike me, who has been confined to barracks so to speak, by a political precept. In addition without pay and allowances, although not through any crime that I committed or for that matter one that I was convicted of.

Therefore, what am I to do now? The options are limited; read something online, listen to Spotify, watch yet another so-so movie on Netflix. Controversially, I could go to the local supermarket and keep fit by practicing social distancing, a rigorous activity here in Thailand as most people walk directly towards you.

More to the point, as we are all expected to make personal sacrifices for the greater good of the country we live and ultimately for mankind, admirably most people have fallen into line. What's more, they are doing just as their relative government has elected.

Subsequently, a country like the UK is to pay people up to eighty percent of their lost earnings to a maximum of £2,500 (100,000 baht) per month which is apparently just above the median. Sounds generous, and brings to mind the words of another poet Robert Browning:

O, to be in England now that April is there

Then again, The USA government is sending each American everywhere who earns less than one hundred thousand dollars a year, 1,200 bucks (40,800 baht) a month. What it is, to be 'A real live nephew of my uncle Sam's', or in the words of Will Allen Dromgoole:

He, too, must cross in twilight dim;

Good friend, I am building this bridge for him.

Alternatively, I have heard that the Thai government are going to give each adult Thai citizen that it deems fit, a stimulus payment of 5,000 baht (120 pounds) a month for the next 3 months. Strangely, not a single line of poetic verse springs to mind, even though I can hear Chopin's Funeral March pulsating in my ears.

Nevertheless, I am sure this 'stimulus' would be more than welcome to thousands of EFL teachers who generally work either part-time or full-time in language centres, tutorial or cram schools. These teachers are normally paid at an hourly rate, and no hour means no pay. Not to mention, the private and government day school foreign teachers - the majority of whom are on short term contracts.

And it gets better, because the student numbers in the language centres were dropping in January and February due to the virus. As the learners were reluctant to come into close contact with others, especially Chinese registrants of which there were some.

The language schools having taken a month on month financial knock, had to close their doors by government request circa March 18th. Whereas, now some are unable to pay their teachers the money they earned last month. Without trying to complicate matters more, the language schools work on a pay system where they are always holding 2 - 3 weeks pay of teachers money - even after paying their salaries.

Furthermore, now that the Thai Prime Minister has decreed understandably so in the circumstances that schools will not open until July 1, not only but also, that the school year will run through October into April without breaks. Like the old saying goes 'The writing is on the wall'.

In as much to say after the 2011 Bangkok flood when the schools were finally opened for the second semester at the beginning of December. Although, many teachers were paid and therefore regarded it as a holiday or some kind of life experience. However, some were not paid and somber tales were related to me by gaunt and still shaken teachers who had been unable to pay their rents and had shed weight without a need to diet. Others were slightly more fortunate, whilst having spent all their savings.

Casting my mind back again, this time to the August 2019 sale of the historic British Embassy and its 49,000 square meter plot in Ploenchit Bangkok for almost 16 billion baht! This sale of public property was originally given the go ahead and later orchestrated by the then Foreign Secretary for State, Boris Johnson, who is now the UK Prime Minister. To throw a curve on the words of poet Rupert Brooke:

That there's some corner of a foreign field

That isn't for ever England

Momentarily, I wonder to myself how much of that Boris will be allocating to help British citizens who are in a fix in Thailand or who are going to be - due to Covid 19? I'd hazard a guess it'll be somewhere in the region of a big fat zero!

On to more recent times, I refer to the twenty-six-year-old British English teacher here in Bangkok who last month having found himself without a job or adequate means to support himself. And presumably seeing a dark and unwelcome future looming, tragically took it upon himself to end his life by jumping off his balcony. And yet his Thai girlfriend said that he hadn't spoken to her of any grievances about his recently incurred situation - whereas he clearly did have serious tribulations.

He will be no more than one of the innumerable deaths caused indirectly by Covid 19. As in one of those neither calculated nor considered in the final count which is going to go into  hundreds of thousands. That is to say, before hopefully at some stage a vaccine will be formulated and befittingly marketed.




Comments

Well, thanks Val, as three out four isn't bad.

And I can just about remember when my mother and I brought my new baby sister to your house, in 1969 - happy days!

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (29th April 2020)

Hi Richard,
Roz suggested I read your blog and I found it very interesting, amusing and informative.
Don’t agree with all your observations but you made some very valid points

By Val Boreham, UK (28th April 2020)

Nobody's in the classroom at the moment, Noel. Although, be my guest, if you've got something to share with the rest of us - that might be useful when we do get back. Fire away!

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (24th April 2020)

As, always, very insightful and practical information to apply to the classroom. Where would we be without the knowledge that's shared on this amazing teaching resource?

By AjarnNoel, Bangkok (24th April 2020)

Well written article. I have to disagree that it is the UK's responsibility to help their emigrating teachers in anyway, however. As expats abroad, we do not pay taxes or even spend money in our country of birth, so we shouldn't expect anything in return. Here in Japan, the government is giving each resident - including Gaijin residents - roughly 35,000 baht. Why? We all pay taxes here and what is fair is fair.

I think uncle Prayut and the Thai government should include farang teachers in these (although paltry - better than nothing) subsidy payments. While I worked in Thailand for many years, I always resented paying any kind of tax at all, because not only does the government give nothing back or provide any type of service, they increasingly make life difficult and make foreigners unwelcome with stupid nonsense and rude IOs. After paying a few million baht in taxes to the Thai government, I still have to pay 10 times the rate a Thai does to get into a park. Amazing (delusional and backwards) Thailand. I know Thai workers in the U.S. are receiving subsidies because of lost wages. Once again, Thais are getting and not giving back.

By Boris, Japan (23rd April 2020)

Richard

Governments schools are likely to have increased budget constraints (this crisis will most likely result in a shift in government spending and a sharp decease in government revenue) and government schools are likely to be forced to reduce expenditures by reducing the number of foreign teachers.

The loss of millions of jobs throughout the economy will likely result in fewer people being able to afford to send their children to private schools and the reduction in both the number of students and revenue will require a reduction in spending, most likely including on salaries.

What the impact of the crisis will be on university enrollment is not clear, but an economic dip of this severity will likely result in a reduction in enrollment as well and could even make the international programs less attractive. But the impact is likely to depend on the severity of the economic decline.

With so much of the Thai economy based on tourism and foreign trade, my guess is the economic impact is going to be worse and longer lasting than many people are considering. I hope I am wrong.

And without foreign visitors and a huge reduction in foreign trade the demand for English speaking staff will also decline cutting into the jobs available at language schools.

And I suspect every qualified and millions of unqualified English teachers around the world are applying for online positions, not all of them are going to find any work.

I am generally an optimist, but we can't shut the world's economies down without major impacts on people's lives and I don't think anyone has an answer on whether the world will soon get back to normal or we should prepare for a new normal.

Just my thoughts, I don't have a crystal ball but I do quite a bit of research on the impact of economic conditions on individual lives.

By Scott, Bangkok (18th April 2020)

Scott,

An intelligent and well thought out reponse with some far reaching and distant forecasts, most of which I am not qualified to comment on.

However, I cannot for the life of me imagine why Thai government and private schools would be employing fewer English teachers this coming semester.

By Richard Constable, Bang Na (18th April 2020)

Looking from a broader economic perspective with the shutdown of the world’s tourism industry and a major reduction in global trade it seems close to a certainty the global demand for English teachers, along with many other occupations, is not going back to normal anytime soon.
From a political perspective, with already over 7 million Thais out of work and unemployment reaching record proportions globally, those of us living in Thailand but coming from other countries might have trouble getting help from either our home or Thai government.

Even if it were possible to return home, the competition for the few open jobs would be expected to be intense, and it is likely the majority of language schools in Thailand will not return to normal, in 2020, anyway. I suspect when government and private schools do open back up it will be with far fewer English teachers.

I have no specific advice, each person is going to have to figure out a strategy to get through this crisis, much like the millions, maybe even billions, of other people around the world affected by this situation. The world’s economy is based on its productivity and a global shutdown ends nearly all production and this is going to have a lasting economic effect which is going to take a long time to recover from, even if the world comes back to normal in the coming months.

So far, the number of deaths in Thailand have been fewer than the number of fatalities from traffic accidents in a typical weekend, but it appears the economic impact is just starting to be felt.

I have always tried to have the strategy when living overseas of having multiple streams of income just in case of an emergency. I am still able to work from home from both my day job and my secondary jobs, so in the short term I am much better off than many people but there are no guarantees about the future. Although just about everyone else in my family, both here and back home, have lost their jobs.

Stay safe and sane. Easy to say, but I suspect hard to do when one is not sure where the next meal is coming from.

By Scott, Thailand (17th April 2020)

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