Stickman Readers' Submissions May 31st, 2017

Broke Farangs


The recent commentary around broke farangs leaves out a couple of important points. I have lived in Thailand for 5 years and have known many farang “English Teachers“. They’re not living pay cheque to pay cheque. They are really struggling that last week and are begging for loans and can’t feed themselves remotely properly. I would hate to actually see where they lived as many have very few possessions. Making a cup of coffee in the morning is stretching it.

Teaching in Thailand may be exciting and fun for a couple of years when you finish uni, a break from a mid-life crisis, or before retirement but be warned of the long-term effects which are referred to as opportunity costs in financial circles. Some of these include:

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  • Prime earning years. Years when you start to build some sort of savings no matter how small. Time is your friend. Money / assets accumulate over time. Waste those early years and you never catch up.
  • Australia has compulsory superannuation whereby employers are required to pay 9% in to a fund, typically shares. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on minimum wage, or part-time working while at school / uni, it is wealth accumulating. Again, time is your friend and the longer you leave it the less you will have to retire on.
  • Australian government pension is available while living overseas however it is proportional on how many years you worked in Australia. Waste your working years mucking around teaching in Thailand and you’re mortally wounding your pension. I believe UK and US pensions are also based proportionally on what you have paid in to them while working to some extent.
  • On the retirement side of things, life expectancy is increasing through improved medicine, better healthcare, better diets and increased health awareness (okay skip those last points for farang expats). Babies born today are expected to reach 100 years old. In short, you can expect more years in retirement.
    The flow on effect of this was recently highlighted by a report published in major media outlets. It is estimated across 7 western countries (Australia, NZ, UK and US included) that by 2050 there will be a $400 trillion dollar shortfall in government pensions with the US already having trillion dollar shortfalls and some states pension funds already technically bankrupt.
  • Back to your prime earning years, while you’ve been bumming around you have not developed any transferable skills. “Teaching English” in Thailand is not a job. You turn up, talk s**t sitting on your arse then turn up late to class to assume the students. Hardly a skillset western employers are looking for. I would go as far as to say that farang teachers are unemployable in a western environment. Many simply can’t turn up to assemblies or meetings on time, forget gate duty, cannot dress remotely professionally, and every sentence in general conversation has to have a couple of swear words. F’ yeah!
    This is compounded by the fact Thailand is known to have one of the worst education systems in Asia. The Thai Education Minister has come out and said English skills and critical thinking are sorely lacking. It is the worst among ASEAN countries. The teaching material is utter rubbish. The best example I have come across is “such and such a river is important because it runs downhill”. WTF I didn’t know that! Ask the students why that is rubbish. Uhh! Too hard. That’s M6 or Year 12…..

In short, you now have the problem that you haven’t saved anything, or contributed to any pension scheme monetarily or timewise, and you haven’t developed any transferable skills. Instead it’s quite the opposite and all you have to show is bad habits. Pension schemes requirements are only going to get tougher and capped due to the $400 trillion shortfall. The older you get, your options become severely limited. Pattaya high flyers club? Isaan bumming off the in-laws and living on a cup of rice? Think this is harsh? A teacher I knew moved back to England and the last we heard from him he was cleaning sewers! He was one of the decent teachers, taking pride in his work. I have known teachers who don’t even own their own shoes!

It’s not harsh. If you return home you will be competing with an energetic, motivated, highly educated, younger workforce. It’s gross financial incompetence at best, lazy and selfish to the point of dodging any sort of responsibility, current or future, for oneself let alone partners and children and just plain utter stupidity. Failure to plan is planning to fail.

Too hard? Too broad a generalization?

On a visa run to Savannakhet early this year they added the requirement that you needed to be able to show 20K THB for a single-entry tourist visa (a lot of teachers don’t have work permits and instead rely on these 60-day tourist visas). There was the usual long queue at the consulate and well over half the applicants got turned away because of a lack of funds. There’s a shop across road where you can go print an online statement. No, no cannot do that! Excuse, excuse, excuse. BS….they don’t have the funds! If you’re bumming around in a strange country without 20K THB (you’re not living on that for 2 months!) then using ATMs and not tracking it regularly online, you’re just a plain idiot biding time for disaster to strike. And obviously haven’t heard of card skimming.

Worst of all these “tourists” are increasingly dangerous. It got to the point I could leave smokes on the table without attracting bums. One bloke interrupted me mid conversation and without saying hello or introducing himself wanted a smoke. When told, “No”, much to everyone’s amusement he went in to a complete rage. Bright red, spittle flying, swearing and calling me a Cheap Charlie. Not bad when there’s a local shop across the street where you can buy 2 – 3 smokes at a time. He was still fuming the next day.

I’ve seen people to who a 20 baht tuktuk fare difference is a big deal. One bloke walked from the Thai border in to Mukdahan because he didn’t have the 50 THB bus fare! I stay increasingly to myself on these trips as best case you’ll just be asked for money and told a hard luck story and it’s becoming increasing likely you could get in to some sort of altercation.

Many of these busted-arse farangs think on-line poker and banking on an inheritance are legitimate saving / retirement strategies. One bloke actually said, “If I had more money I could gamble more and win bigger”. Umm, yeah… and everybody seems to win at online poker, right?

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Do I come from a rich family, silver spoon in my mouth? No. Am I rich? No Poor? No. Comfortable? Yes. Worry and plan for the future? Yes. Actively manage my finances? Definitely! I have same money I came to Thailand five years ago and have only worked 6 months being paid for 4 months and partied a lot J

Seriously, if you want to teach and explore Asia for a few years know that work in other countries pays better. In a few years China will pay better and with bigger dividends through exposure to the second largest economy. If you just want to bum around Thailand, work your arse off in your home country, two jobs if need be, then just holiday a lot here. Most important of all, live within your means, spend less than you earn and plan / save for the future. You’ll be surprised at the opportunities it opens up and the stress it relieves. This is going to be especially critical as world economies come off the bottom of the economic cycle. You only get a few of these times in your life. Grab it!

Enough of finance 101…

The author cannot be contacted.

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