Bangkok, March, 2025
For his second, and last job interview this month, Larry had forked out for new shoes. Real ones, from the Emporium, at a cost that would leave him short for the due rent. And he took a taxi, not to arrive soaked in sweat at his destination deep in a sub-soi off ThongLor. It had taken him a while to flag down one of the "tourist-approved" green-on-black taxis, the drivers would easily spot him for a not-tourist farang of lesser means – not the most popular fare.
Larry was a English teacher, and a good one, with solid credentials. One of a small and shrinking group in a city increasingly adorned with Chinese characters on shop fronts, billboards and menus. For the outrageous fee of 50 US dollars the driver had agreed to take him to his destination. A taxi for the locals, which the Chinese and Japanese also used with impunity, would have cost a fraction of that. But one did not mess about with the rules these days, with Tourist Police everywhere on the take.
Larry's place of work, a small private English language school in the Don Muang area, had finally had to close. And there were not many others left. Chinese was in vogue, big time. After the big crack in 2014, the US and Europe suffered badly and a hard recession had set in. But China blossomed, as did India and Japan. The vast majority of tourists these days where Chinese, followed by Japanese and then people from other countries in the region. And the Chinese had moved in on an epic scale in the business world, as if they had not owned or controlled most of the banks and financial institutions in Thailand since time began. So there were plenty of Chinese language schools, which did nothing to improve Larry's employment prospects.
He was thinking back, as he increasingly did these days, to the year 2008 when he was last back in the US. He had been offered, through a friend who had worked at the US embassy in Bangkok, a good job. There was a school in Washington D.C. that tutored a lot of children from Asian families, mostly embassy staff and big time business people. The school was a plush job, salaries were high and there where many benefits. And that school was still going strong, he knew. After all, its clients came mostly from those countries that had not only weathered the financial storm, but had also flourished in the aftermath.
He could have been safe financially, in a prestigious teaching job, enjoying the long school vacations travelling to Thailand and other exotic destinations. But Larry had turned that job down. He had been teaching in Bangkok since the mid 1980's, and had felt safe there, confident that he would always have work. Even with the increasing difficulties for farang English teachers – as well as for other expats from the west – back then in '08 he did not worry too much. Something he had learned not to do by the Thais, he reflected.
And now it was all too late, far too late. The US economy was in such a shambles he would have few if any chances landing a job back home. In his mid-50's and with a CV with only Bangkok based teaching jobs he would probably not get any work at all, not even as a garbage collector. The unemployment rates were catastrophic, and the welfare system had broken down. There was simply no funds to run it. Of family back in the old country he had few, and fewer he could tolerate, and none he could get help from.
Larry was on his way to one of the few remaining private English schools, a place for children of affluent families from the west. A few remained, together with embassy staff that could still afford good schools for their kids. He could not help himself sweating, even in the freezing cold blast from the taxi's air-con. If he did not land this job he would be in real trouble. His new shoes squeezed his feet, the collar of his last good shirt was choking his breathing. For the 100th time he went through his papers in his worn attaché case. Had he forgotten something? Temporary Local Travel Permit – ok. Did not really need that one inside the city of residence, but you never knew what the Tourist Police would try to make a few baht.
Letter of Residence with 30-day stamp from both Immigration and the landlord. All the letters of introduction from former schools. Passport, off course, duly stamped for this month – 5 sweltering hours at Immigration for that.
The Holy Blue Book – the work permit, a sacred document no longer in the hands of many westerners. They had started replacing it with a green one back in 2016. And anyone with a green work permit had to pay no less than 28,000 baht per month in taxes, out of a minimum salary of 85,000 baht – of which 51% had to originate from abroad, in foreign currency. A big hassle all that, and not too many jobs to be had for a westerner with such a salary. With the blue work permit, there was still no such regulation. They had wanted to take it from him several times, and he had paid a small fortune in bribes to be able to hang on to it.
His copy of Police Records was clean, updated every 90 days. About a year back, a friend of Larry's had been caught stomping out a cigarette on Sukhumvit, and the boys in brown had charged him according to some Polluting the Kingdom law. It came on his record, he had no means to bribe his way out. For that, he no longer got any kind of visa, not even a 15 day tourist stamp. The poor guy had spent 4 months in the immigration lockup before he was able to arrange a ticket to get back to the UK.
Cultural Participant Programme book, with stamps documenting attendance to Thai Culture Awareness classes, Thai Traditional Morale seminars, and of course mandatory visits to Approved Temples (where they charged heavily for entrance). All ok with that one, Larry was very careful about his paperwork.
Traffic was one thing that had not changed in Bangkok, at least not where cars were concerned. Down Sukhumvit the speed was pedestrian, as it had been as long he could remember. There were a lot more helicopters though. Those new mini-choppers from China did not cost much more than a high-end Benz, resulting in flocks of them buzzing about at all times. As with road traffic, accidents were frequent and often spectacular. Rich kids used them for crazy stunts, racing around the high rises downtown at night, and endlessly going back and forth to nightclubs and hotspots all over the metropolitan area. Good thing Bangkok was already so loud, Larry had long since learned to block out notice to be able to sleep. Supposedly you had to have some kind of license to operate them, and the city administration claimed to have limited such licenses to 1,000. No way, thought Larry, as a mini-chopper landed on the pavement at the corner of Asoke, scattering pedestrians into the heavy, but luckily slow-moving traffic.
Legal Status Confirmation Form – the Thai authorities frowned upon a married westerner who was in the country without their spouses. That had come about after a scandal involving a young prince from Lichtenstein who had been caught by paparazzi in Pattaya a few years before. His prices had apparently not approved, and the whole mess had become a major story in gossip magazines and TV shows all over Europe. Embarrassed, the then government had declared another War on Bad Morale and instituted that married westerners living in Thailand should have their spouses with them, unless some Very Good Reason could be established for said spouses not to be present. Solo male tourists, as in the one who set the spectacle off, were not affected. No problem there for Larry, he had never married.
Which was another thing he regretted. He had been living with a Thai woman for almost 6 years, and she wanted to marry. Larry did not, and finally she took off with a colleague from Australia who worked at a international school in Phuket. They married, and took off for Australia soon after that school was closed, around 2022. He'd gotten a letter from his friend about a year after that, with apologies and regrets and a picture of the happy couple with their new-born son.
That marriage certificate would have been something to have these days. Another more recent War on Bad Morale had instituted that foreigners marrying a Thai national would get only a temporary certificate for the first 3 years of marriage. To get the real paper documentation, tons of it was needed. Pictures of the couple together, statements from local police, temple and Thai family members, income documentation, police records for both parts. And so on. Larry knew that the temporary marriage certificate was worth shit. People with money and connections could get the real deal from day one, and so having a temporary one served only to stamp people as Not Someone of Substance with Immigration and other authorities. Some leniency was still afforded westerners with a proper marriage certificate, especially if they had children.
Near Ekamai, Larry started to sweat for real. The police had set up a road block, checking cars, and it was Friday. Nearing the end of the month, bills to be paid, and it was party time – but first the collection of the necessary funds. A cop taking, say, 1,000 baht would have to kick about 800 of those up to higher ranks these days. So a constable needing, say, 15,000 baht to cover rent, school fees at that Chinese place for his oldest son, goodies for his mia noy and Black label for the evening would have to rake in 75K every month. Not impossible. Larry knew they would stop the "farang-approved" taxi. They always did.
About half an hour later, after a search for drugs and a minute examination of Larry's paperwork, they took off again towards TongLor. Short of funds, Larry had wisely donated his Swiss wristwatch, not a copy. Without that he would never have been able to make it to his interview on time. He counted himself lucky that the police had not "found" any drugs in the search. He really had no reserves to pay himself out of that sort of hassle. Larry knew an American who was doing 12 years over a "search for drugs" shakedown. The poor fellow had had no means to pay anyone off, so off to the slammer he went.
Having arrived early, even with the delay at Ekamai, Larry went in to a small but fancy coffee shop next to the school to wait. The other customers were Thai of the more affluent kind, and he could feel their resentment at his presence. Upcountry farangs were still not universally loathed, but Bangkokians had long since ceased smiling much to any white-skin, at least outside the more plush hotels and restaurants downtown. From the turn of the century, expats outside the high management and diplomatic circuits had increasingly been labeled as whoremongering no-gooders.
Back in 2010, Channel 3 had ventured out with the latest in Nipponese miniature video cameras, hiring some all white male bible pushers to act as customers in Soi Cowboy. The Channel 3 people had done some groundwork, checking out several foreign English teachers, and hit the jackpot with 3 of them. The subsequent TV show was a major hit. Turned out most Thais did not really know about places like Soi Cowboy, and they did not like what they saw. Channel 3 was heavily fined for airing "improper" material, but they made so much money out of the exposé they did not much care. Foreign male English teachers had a rock bottom year, with several newspapers and magazines following up by catching English teachers in gogo bars and massage parlors. Pictures where published, names where named, a fresh load of "persona non grata" stamps ordered by Immigration.
The foreign English teachers' reputation never recovered. Many schools would not allow male foreigners to have female students, and others opted to stop using foreigners all together. English was not to become a second language in Thailand.
It was time. Larry walked slowly the few steps over to the school, not to build up a sweat in the heat. He would meet a certain Martin Bernstein, to whom he had been introduced by friends. Bernstein was quitting his job. Larry was not sure why. He just knew he had to have this job. He was directed to an office on the second floor where a petite secretary unsmilingly bade him sit and wait. Larry could remember a time when a glass of water was served to people waiting almost everywhere. A cooler in the corner held bottles of Nestle water, but the secretary made no move to offer any refreshments.
Time passed by. After about half an hour Larry felt increasingly uncomfortable. Not that he was unfamiliar with the way Thai people related to time, but he was after all meeting another westerner. Together with the Thai manager.
After a full hour's wait the door to the inner office opened, and a small round Thai man in an expensive suit appeared. 'Ahh! Mr. Larry!' said he. 'You can go home now. We have new teacher yesterday'. 'You too late'. And then he turned and went back in, closing the door behind him. The secretary did not even look up as Larry went on shaky legs for the exit.
To be continued, maybe.
I love it! A great read!