An April 2006 trip
to Bangkok by Kauai Boy
Quote: After teaching in the U.S. for 12 years, I thought I'd give Thailand a try.
"Have you ever wondered about living in a place that's always warm, where the living is cheap and the people friendly? Getting a well paid English teaching job in Bangkok is a lot easier than you might think and rare is the person who regrets his/her decision to spend a year or so in one of the friendliest countries in the world." -- from EscapeArtist.com.
And so the story goes. It has been one year to this very date that I arrived in Bangkok with the intention of securing a position as a science/math teacher. And that short blurb from some obscure article on the Internet still flashes clearly in my mind, bringing a somewhat wry smile to my face. Bangkok, Krung Thep, The City of Angels—with its overcrowded streets, sometimes choking pollution, and sweltering heat. Sure, it was a bit intimidating at first. However, it wasn’t too long that I had attuned myself to living in this city, and I found the benefits far outweigh the negatives. In fact, relatively low-cost, basic living expenses and the wonderful people have made this city quite a pleasure to live in. I had reasoned that the adjustment to my new life in Thailand would go smoothly as long as I had reasonable expectations, remained flexible and, most of all, didn’t try to impose western ideals where they were not invited (nor wanted). After all, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.
Make sure you have reasonable expectations! The majority of the teaching positions available pay a middle-class salary somewhere between 25,000 and 45,000 Baht for work in an English Program at a government school or private Thai school. Keep in mind that, despite what some people will try to tell you, you will NOT be living in hog heaven with that kind of pay. Yes, it’s much more than the average Thai makes. But, keep in mind, the average Thai lives in poverty. Too many westerners that are accustomed to living middle-class lifestyles back home arrive with the delusional expectation of being able to live an upper-class lifestyle here in Thailand.
Want more than that? First, are you a qualified teacher? If not, forget it — just settle for the basics. If yes, contact the numerous international schools in and around the city. The turnover rate, especially for the small ones, is quite high and they are frequently looking for certified teachers. Typical salaries range from 50,000-75,000 Baht/mo for the smaller, newer international schools, to 70,000-120,000 Baht/mo at the large, established institutions.
If your teaching qualifications give you the luxury to choose, one factor that should rank very highly in the selection process is the school’s proximity to one of Bangkok’s mass transit systems—the BTS Skytrain, or the MRT Underground. The school I work for is located just a 5 minute walk from the Thong Lor BTS Station and my apartment is just a 5 minute walk from the Saphan Taksin BTS Station. Another school, which offered substantially more money, was simply just too far away from everything.
One more thing: Learn to haggle, and learn to love it! If you do this, you’ll save yourself a lot of headaches and pondering in hindsight. If you don’t, you’ll be constantly complaining about how you got "ripped off" after hearing you paid twice as much for that taxi ride to MBK as your Thai friend did. How do I know this? Well, I haven’t quite learned the "art of haggling" and have had my fair share of transit misadventures.
Hotel | "Apartment Suites at State Tower - My Home in Bangkok"
At the very end of Silom Road, on the corner of Charoenkrung and just a block away from the Chao Phraya River, stands the majestic State Tower. At 65 floors high, it is Bangkok’s second-tallest building. With its ultra-conspicuous "golden dome", the State Tower dwarfs several high-end properties nearby, namely the world-famous Shangri-La Hotel, the Peninsula Hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, and the Centre Pointe Serviced Apartments.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on April 14, 2006
State Tower Apartment Suites
1055/111 Silom Road
There have been numerous discussions in some of the popular Thai teacher forums regarding so-called "fair" teacher wages. With hiring season upon us, it certainly is a topic that needs to be thoroughly researched, particularly for newbies, if one does not want to get stuck in a perceived "over-worked, under-paid" situation. I do agree with the argument that a teacher's salary (or anyone's salary for that matter) depends largely on the laws of supply and demand, but this really has little to do with what I define as "fairness". The question of fairness depends simply on whether two items being traded are perceived to have value of reasonable equivalence. In other words, are the salaries being currently offered (which are determined largely by supply and demand) a fair trade for the services expected to be provided by the teachers? The problem we face in answering this lies in the fact that the concept of fairness, with personal perception at its foundation, is innately subjective.
Scanning through the job postings, it is apparent that most non-international Thai schools believe they can fill positions by offering between 30,000 to 45,000 Baht/mo for native-English-speaking teachers. Would a teacher perceive this amount to be of reasonable equivalence to the services that he or she is expected to provide? Never mind if this amount is enough to live in Bangkok, that’s not the question. Never mind if these salary levels are determined by simple market forces, that’s irrelevant. Fairness boils down to two simple questions: 1) how much do you value your time and effort? And, 2) is this amount reasonably close to the how much the school values your time and effort?
So, where does that leave us? Are the current salaries being offered "fair"? Personally, I don’t believe they are for me. Then again, I don’t work at any of these schools, so it’d be hard for me to truly assess the fairness of the situation. At the school I am currently working, I teach four different subjects (2 sciences and 2 maths) with 24 class periods per week. Combined with prep time, I estimate my actual work load to be about 35 hours per week, or about 140 hours per month. At 30,000 to 45,000 B/mo, that would be about 200 to 300 B/hr, or US$5 to US$8 per hour. I could back go home, work at McDonald’s and get paid more than that. Then again, if I were to go back home to work, I wouldn’t be in Bangkok, so what good would that do? Solution – I simply wouldn’t accept the "offer". I value my time a bit more than that. But, hey, that’s just me.
Now that I’ve aired my opinion on the concept of "fairness" in regards to teacher salaries, I suppose it would be appropriate to discuss what I feel is "reasonable". Once again, we are dealing with an inherently subjective concept and I can only offer you my take based on what my lifestyle is and how I expect my salary to support it.
Basically, to be "reasonable" in my book, a salary should be able to support a lifestyle appropriate for the profession in question. To simplify things, the "lifestyle" I am referring to is in regards to a person’s financial status and has nothing to do with moral or social issues. For example, the "lifestyle" of a brain surgeon is certainly expected to be upper-class, whereas that of a fast-food restaurant worker would fall in the working-class, lower end. And this holds true practically anywhere – in the U.S., Europe, and, yes, even here in Thailand.
This leads to the question, what kind of lifestyle do I believe is appropriate for teachers? Though some may not agree with this, I believe the stereotypical teacher-lifestyle lands right at the center of middle-class society, complete with a middle-class home, middle-class transportation, middle-class meals, middle-class activities, etc.
And here is where most problems lie, many western teachers (certified or not) seem to arrive here with the delusion that, just because they are "native English speakers", they deserve a lifestyle that defies this norm. You want the "pie-in-the-sky", choose another, more appropriate profession! If you want to teach, you just might have to "settle" for what the middle-class world has to offer.
So, what kind of salary can support this middle-class lifestyle here in Bangkok?
For starters, I feel middle-class rent should be about 10,000 – 15,000 Baht/mo. What that gets you obviously depends on where you choose to live (key word here is "choose").
Next, I would say middle-class modes of transportation include BTS, MRT, buses and the occasional taxi ride. Assuming you take a round-trip on the BTS daily, you would be paying 1,080 Baht/mo. Sorry everyone, but personal drivers or air-conditioned taxis to/from work everyday fall in the upper-middle to upper class category.
For food, a typical member of the middle-class dines in more than he/she dines out. Doing this, daily food expenses can be placed at 150 to 200 Baht per day, or 4,500 to 6,000 Baht/mo. And for entertainment, middle-class citizens simply don’t go out every night. A few drinks at a middle-class club shouldn’t hit you for more than 500 Baht. Romp around those high-end clubs and you could easily be dropping a few thousand in one night.
All these things considered, along with others that, for the sake of time, I won’t bother covering, add up to a "reasonable", middle-class monthly budget of about 30,000 Baht. Add 25% (okay, a bit arbitrary) for savings or emergency, and you get my opinion of a reasonable salary at somewhere between 35,000 and 40,000 Baht. And, guess what? That’s precisely what a lot of these schools are offering. Why? Because they can.
A school administrator once told me that a reasonable method to gage the kind of lifestyle you could support here in Thailand would be to convert your Thai monthly salary (example 35,000 Baht) directly into a pre-tax US$ yearly amount (example US$35,000). In other words, the lifestyle you could afford making US$35,000/year and living in middle-America, would be similar to the lifestyle you could afford making 35,000 Baht/month and living in Bangkok. For the short time I’ve been here, it seems to me that this is a pretty reasonable estimate.
If you’re looking for industrial-scale fitness, there are two major franchises operating in Bangkok that you can choose from: California Wow Experience (formerly California Fitness) and Fitness First. If you choose California (as I unwittingly did) be prepared to be subjected to a barrage of BS sales lines and, in some instances, outright lies, all to fill a monthly quota that these clubs seemed to have imposed upon themselves. Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh, as "this IS Thailand."
One good did come out of all of this. After working out one day, I managed to find a restaurant across the street, The Beirut Restaurant in the J-City Shopping Complex that serves Lebanese chicken shwarmas – possibly the world’s most perfect, healthy, fast-food meal!