The death of Leicestershire English teacher Gareth Davies is one of the most needless deaths to have occurred in Thailand in several years and in the final analysis amounts to nothing more than a betrayal in the land of smiles, as Thailand so often likes to refer to itself.
With the 2015 Asean Community rapidly approaching, Thailand is in desperate need to ramp up it’s English language skills if it is not going be part of the flotsam, left in the wake of countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, India and even Indonesia and Vietnam.
The current Thailand Government recognises the urgency needed to improve the English language skills of the Thai people and the county’s Ministry of Education, the Office of Higher Education and Office of Private Education (Opec) are all forging ahead with various programs to achieve this goal.
Private Bangkok English language schools such as English Click in Yanawa, one of Bangkok’s oldest English language schools, say there is an increasing number of inquiries from people wanting to improve their English language skills ahead of 2015.
Abandoned and betrayed in Bangkok
With this rush to catch up, good, dedicated, native-English language teachers are in demand, with various countries trade missions actively promoting vacancies. However, rather than value those who answer the call, qualified teachers (and others) can find themselves abandoned and betrayed.
Mr Davies was one such man. A man who his students describe as being “very caring”, “very patient”, and so committed that “he spent money buying a laptop computer to help him with his classes instead of looking after his health” and seeking treatment for the Crest Syndrome he was afflicted with.
It wasn’t just his students who thought highly of him and in the days following his death various bulletin boards and forums saw numerous tributes being posted, particularly from those he worked with in Hua Hin prior to joining Kasem Bundit University, that paid tribute to his ability with a pool stick, describing him as “very intelligent and perceptive, with a fine, dry sense of humor”, and committed to his students.
While Mr Davies salary of Bt30,000 a month is high by working-class Thai standards, it could at best be described as “sufficient” for a single person with a fairly quiet social life and living in very modest accommodation.
In Bangkok Bt5,000 (¬£102 / $US169) a month doesn’t buy much of an apartment, and is typical of what two, three or four Thai people share, comprising little more than a four meter x four meter (13′ x 13′) unfurnished room with a private bathroom.
By the time utilities, transport and meal costs are taken into account there would be little to allow for a lavish life partying in the flesh-spots of Bangkok throwing back over-priced drinks while watching naked teenage girls attempt to feign enthusiasm for their second or third stimulated sex show of the evening.
For Thai teachers the salary is even less and a large portion of Bangkok’s nine million people earn well below Bt20,000 (¬£408 / $648) a month, making the range of safety nets that are theoretically in place to supplement for low wages and the lower cost of living increases the country has enjoyed in the past a vital necessity.
In many instances these same safety nets are also available to legally employed foreigners, with some, access to the public hospital system being one, available to tourists or anyone else who can produce an identity document.
Dual pricing is rampant in Thailand
Sadly many Thai goods and service providers subscribe to the old Zairian belief, that foreigners go to sleep at night and each morning wake up to a bag of money (gold) under the bed and as such dual pricing is rampant.
From the country’s national parks to tourist attractions (hint: the local Thai price is generally only displayed in Thai language so if you see a sign near the cashiers window such as in the photo on the right, you’ll be able to work out how much a surcharge being foreign costs you) under the false presumption that foreigners can afford it.
While Thailand watchers or expatriates on even modest expatriate or foreign posting allowances might find rants about dual pricing amusing, for thousands of foreigners living and working legally for Thai employers and earning little more than mid-level Thai office staff salaries in baht, dual pricing can become a huge burden, making access to social safety nets provided for low to mid income (primarily Thai) earners a necessity.
Like many good foreign teachers in Thailand, Mr Davies built up a close (non-romantic) relationship with some of his students and it were these people who provided him with comfort and support in what turned out to be his dying days, when even his own government ignored his desperate pleas for help.
The Betrayal of Gareth Paul Davies
In a series of emails provided to photo-journ’s newsblog from one of these students, it’s easy to see that Gareth Paul Davies was let down and betrayed by many people, including:
- His employer, Kasem Bundit University, who deducted social fund payments from his salary but never enrolled him in the country’s Social Welfare Fund
- The medical professionals he sought treatment from and who charged him “farang” prices forcing him to postpone or cancel appointments
- The Thailand public health system
- and finally, and perhaps the most insulting of all, by representatives of Her Majesty’s Government in the guise of the British Embassy Bangkok.
Because they provide a unique insight into the life, trials and tribulations of Mr Davies and are not uncommon for English teachers in Bangkok, photo-journ’s newsblog has reproduced some of the emails exchanged between Mr Davies and one of his former students (name redacted), as well as between the student and others in attempts to help Mr Davies with his Crest Syndrome.
The Gareth Davies eMails provide an interesting insight into the the life of an English teacher in Bangkok, Mr Davies commitment to his students, and also go part of the way in answering the question of why he didn’t fly home before getting so seriously ill.
It’s clear to see from the tone and tenor of these emails that low salaries, unclear terms of employment, and financial constraints plagued heavily on the mind of the Leicestershire English teacher for some time.
In a mass email to friends and former students titled “What is wrong with me?”, Mr Davies went into great detail to explain his condition, his intentions and his reasons for staying. It’s pretty sobering reading and provides adequate explanation why he was so well regarded by his colleges, former employers and students.
There has already been two stinging Letters to the Editor of The Nation newspaper by Burin Kantabutra, president of the Securities Analysts Associations at The Stock Exchange of Thailand and MBA alumnus of the University of Chicago, Illinois, wherein he has held back little in criticizing Kasem Bundit University (Kasem Bundhit Uni needs to be reined in) and calling for them to be prosecuted for fraud, and an equally stinging one following Mr Davies’ death lambasting the university, the British Embassy Bangkok and the HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Medical Centre in Nakhon Nayok, (Appalling treatment by hospital).
That various Thai government departments need to urgently investigate the employment and medical treatment provided to Mr Davies goes without saying. What is equally so is that the British public should seize upon the unnecessary death of Mr Davies and demand its Foreign Office and diplomatic corps do more to protect its citizens abroad when they are in need, than simply pick up a telephone.
Other nations with significant numbers of citizens employed in Thailand should also demand the Thai authorities take the firmest possible action against those who betrayed the trust Mr Davies placed in them and failing any guarantees that it will not happen again, immediately cease recruiting English teachers for the country’s schools and universities or any other industry.
¬© 2012 John Le Fevre
Download: Thailand Social Security Act
British Embassy Bangkok, British Government, Worker rights, Gareth Davies, Human rights, Brtish Foreign Office, British diplomatic corps, Kasem Bundit University, Leicestershire english teacher, Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn Medical Centre, Nakhon Nayok, Thailand Ministry of Education, Office of Higher Education, Office of Private Education, Thailand Social Welfare Fund
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