Readers' Submissions

At the Bottom of the Totem Pole



Today I will dispense with the usual long and sometimes convoluted introduction that I often write as a prelude to many of my submissions, and get right to the heart of the matter. I received a lot of feedback from my recent piece, And Don’t Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out. All of it, with one exception was positive. It is nice indeed to know that so many people out there were sympathetic to my situation. There was one negative response that immediately stuck hard in my craw, and that’s the one I would like to address today.

“I tried to just let this pass and not say anything, but as you can see I've failed.

You do realize you had options other than bending over? And that they do this to people like you, because people like you allow them to do it with impunity?

The reason the lady expected you to be unfamiliar with the laws is because few bother to learn them, including Thais. People in these minor positions of power abuse people precisely because no one bothers to learn the laws. And all you did was show her, even if they do, they probably won't bother to stand up for themselves and insist on fair treatment. Congratulations. You all but ensured the next poor sap working for peanuts will suffer the same fate.

You don't think they were counting that the type of person who would take such a position at such low pay, and then tolerate their abuse in other ways (as you've written about so often) for so long, would be the type of person to just roll over and take it?

And guess what? You showed your new employer that you're going to take it from them too once they're done using and abusing you. It's hard to believe you'd work for someone who would knowingly, in any way, be part of what they did to you.

I hate bullies, but their victims aren't without responsibility.”

Well, I too tried to pass and not say anything, but as you can be, I too have obviously failed. Personally I don’t care what this fellow thinks of me. I don’t know who he is, where he comes from, or what his particular “story” is here in Thailand. That being said I feel obligated to address his criticism of the way I handled myself, if for no other reason than explain to him the way things work in the real world.

Obviously I must be living in a Thailand that exists in a different universe from this fellow. In my Thailand, we foreigners…..and I mean every single one of us, dwells here entirely at the sufferance of a government which would just as soon send the whole lot of us packing. However much they may like the money we pump into the local economy, they don’t really care much for us living here permanently.

In this regard I am not referring to “the scum of the earth”, who are as unwelcome back in their native lands as they are here in The Land of Smiles. I’m talking about respectable individuals, many of whom have Thai wives, have built homes and have children who were born here. It doesn’t matter how much we contribute to the general welfare of our adopted homes, every year every one of us has to go through process of getting a visa extension. At best, we are allowed to remain here another year. We will never be allowed to become permanent residents. It is not inconceivable that any of us, for any reason whatsoever could be told one day to get the hell out. Am I being paranoid? Well I’m not tossing and turning at night worrying about being deported anytime soon, but I’m also not naively skipping through fields of daisies thinking that I am immune from being unceremoniously tossed out on my ear.

Okay, let me go through this guy’s response line by line.

You do realize you had options other than bending over? And that they do this to people like you, because people like you allow them to do it with impunity?

Please enlighten me, sir, as to what options you are referring to. We are not talking about what one might do back in Farangland. This is Thailand where one’s choice of actions is limited by both the Thai legal system, and the unwritten laws of Thai societal behavior.

In my submission I made it clear that the law of the land….at least as far as severance pay goes, was indeed on my side. I could have pursued my case and won, indeed I am confident that I would have prevailed. I could then have walked away with six months pay in my pocket.

I also made it clear that my old school would have proceeded to carry out their threat. Apparently Mr. I Never Would Bend Over for Anybody would have a secret plan to prevent this. If he was perhaps thinking of countering their dirty tricks by going after them for slander, he is laughably naïve. First of all, the people at my old school are not entirely stupid. They are capable of causing all sorts of mischief anonymously. Officially no one at the school could ever be accused of making any threats at all, let alone slandering me.

So, what else does Mr. INWOFA have inn his bag of tricks? How about getting angry and saying that you can’t push me around? Sir, I have some news for you. My old school (here I’m including all the campuses here in Thailand) is a big, powerful, well respected institution. In a war of words, do you really think your puny verbal arsenal would be any match for some Really Big Guns? Do you really think anyone is going to accept your meager Farang word against theirs? Not a chance buddy, so forget trying to out argue the Movers and Shakers.

When you talk about allowing “them to do it with impunity?” I presume you once again have a method of preventing “them” from action. Please show the way Obi Wan, ‘cause I am obviously clueless.

“The reason the lady expected you to be unfamiliar with the laws is because few bother to learn them, including Thais. People in these minor positions of power abuse people precisely because no one bothers to learn the laws. And all you did was show her, even if they do, they probably won't bother to stand up for themselves and insist on fair treatment. Congratulations. You all but ensured the next poor sap working for peanuts will suffer the same fate”.

“…….. bother to learn the laws” I freely admit that I knew nothing about Thai labor law before this incident. It’s not as though it is a common topic, even on a well read website like Stickman. The question is then how could I even have an inkling that these laws exist? Are you familiar with all the labor laws offhand back in Farangland? So it’s not as though I was “too lazy” to learn something that you obviously are an expert about. Even detailed knowledge of Thai law won’t do you or anyone any good if someone is bound and determined to do you harm. If I had decided to sacrifice myself on the Alter of Principle would that somehow instilled fear into hearts of the school’s administration? Yes…..on the very day that pigs fly! “Poor saps” were getting screwed in Thailand before I was, and will continue to be screwed. Why? Listen closely and I will enlighten you for a change. WE DON’T HAVE ANY POWER HERE WHATSOEVER!!! No one here gives a rat’s ass about treating you fairly, and all your indignant bluster will not suddenly empower you to do anything. Hell. You can’t even “take your ball and go home” ‘cause it’s their ball and their home! All you can do is take it…..or exit the country pronto!

You don't think they were counting that the type of person who would take such a position at such low pay, and then tolerate their abuse in other ways (as you've written about so often) for so long, would be the type of person to just roll over and take it?

Yes, all of us teaching English in Thailand are undoubtedly suckers. Why else would we work for such low pay? Well, I can hardly speak for every English teacher, but believe it or not, some of us actually enjoy what we do! Yes, my pay isn’t nearly as high as I would like, but it is none the less three times what my Thai counterparts are paid…..and I will never hesitate to admit that they work like dogs! Despite my low pay, I manage to earn enough for my modest lifestyle. Do I enjoy “tolerating abuse”? My friend, I am no masochist. I wish all my days were carefree and filled with sunshine and lollypops. Perhaps there are schools (somewhere) in Thailand where all the teachers, both Thai and Farang are treated with respect. Everywhere else I’m afraid teachers do have to “roll over and take it”. It’s is a bitter fact, but it is also a reality that can’t be wished away.

And guess what? You showed your new employer that you're going to take it from them too once they're done using and abusing you. It's hard to believe you'd work for someone who would knowingly, in any way, be part of what they did to you.

If you know of a single school….or any other institution in Thailand which is eager for bad publicity, please let me know. I’m not holding my breath. My new school is hardly heaven on earth. From a teaching stand point though, as long as they allow me to get on with my job without undue interference I’m happy to show up for work in the morning. Given my old school’s threat to start calling up parents and informing that the children were going to have a “bad foreign teacher”; I can understand my new school’s concern.

I can’t emphasize how important not losing face is here in Thailand. A sure way to lose face would be to hire a foreign teacher accused of anything unprofessional. If avoiding a potential problem meant not hiring that teacher, hey, so be it.

So, by giving into the inevitable, did I suddenly proclaim my willingness to be everyone’s “butt boy”? No it didn’t. It simply meant that I saw nothing positive in becoming unemployable. I suppose I could have packed a suitcase and run back to Farangland. Instead I chose to continue to do what I know best. I actually do believe that I make a difference to the children I teach.

I hate bullies, but their victims aren't without responsibility.

I am not happy with what happened to me. I certainly wouldn’t wish it on anyone else. I don’t sit around and bemoan being treated poorly. I prefer to get on with my life.

Thailand is not paradise. We foreigners…..and that includes you Mr. Know-it-All, will always be at the bottom of the totem pole. You can fantasize to your hearts content that nobody is ever going to push you around. Perhaps you will be fortunate enough never to find yourself in the kind of situation I was in……but if you believe that you have actually have the power to hold back the tide when it comes rolling in, please pass me a bowlful of whatever you’ve been smoking!


Stickman's thoughts:

I think the fellow who emailed you failed to realise how things are in small town Thailand, and he failed to understand your personal situation.

Had you pursued legal action, you would most likely have won – and the school ordered to pay you severance equivalent to 6 months pay. It is certainly possible that the school would then have embarked on a smear campaign making your name mud, the result of which would be that you would never be able to work in that town again. Of course you would never be able to pin that on them as they would be much too clever for that. There may even have been further fall out.

As a foreigner in Thailand, with a property there and a wife and kid to support, you'd be without a job, meaning no income = in trouble! Your correspondent had a point in principle, but he doesn't seem to grasp how the situation affects you.