When Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was advised by a group of his colleagues to stand down they apparently used the phrase, “Pull out digger, the dingoes are pissing on your swag.” I won’t go into a detailed translation of that sentence here (Australian readers will know exactly what it means) but I will say that it precisely sums up how I feel about living in Thailand right now and that I have reached the decision to finally leave this country once-and-for-all.
To ‘pull up stumps’ is an expression used in the sport of cricket and signals the end of a match, meaning that the game is over and everything gets packed up and taken away. That’s what I have decided to do and so I will be returning to my homeland, Australia, for the first time since 2006. The reason is because the dingoes are pissing on my swag. In other words, I’ve been trying hard to simply go about my life here but the outside forces (and in this case, the authorities) have been making things very difficult and unpleasant for me, forcing me to question why I have bothered to stay here for the past three years and wondering why I didn’t return home sooner.
In order to live in Thailand I needed to work and in order to work I should have acquired a work permit. I had one for one of my teaching jobs (I won’t explain the process of acquiring a work permit but it is a ridiculously long-winded, convoluted and antiquated procedure) and when I changed jobs my employer did not ‘provide’ me with one because my contract was only for six months and would have expired long before the work permit was ready – that’s how long the process takes. Therefore I was working illegally and I had to leave the country every three months to renew my tourist visa (at my own expense) so that I could remain in Thailand and continue working. I didn’t like doing it but I understood my employer’s reluctance at not processing a work permit for me. Also, thousands of other foreign teachers were in the same boat as me and were completing ‘visa runs’ every three months or so and the authorities seemed to turn a blind eye to it. I was still not enjoying my work but at least I was living in Thailand and enjoying the weather, the freedom, the friendly people, the food, etc.
The political turmoil that resulted in yet another military coup a few months ago did not really upset me, even when martial law was announced. Life went on as usual except occasionally there were soldiers standing around idly with large, automatic weapons at strategic locations (I assume). At almost the same time I found new work as a corporate trainer teaching adults about English, how to write e-mails and how to give presentations. I felt that my life had changed for the better and that I now had a wonderful opportunity to remain in Thailand and perform a job that I really enjoyed doing. Training staff at companies takes place after hours and so it is a part-time, contract position and work permit is not part of the deal. In Thailand there appears to be no provision for contact foreign workers to obtain any form of permit that allows them to remain in the country and work for an hourly rate. Full-time salaried workers can obtain a work permit and those who work contract usually do so on top of their normal teaching job, using their full-time work permit to stay in the country. I had decided to never again set foot inside a Thai government school, so all my corporate training was done using my tourist visa, which is against the law.
Then, just after I obtained my wonderful, new job, the new military junta changed the visa rules and made repeated visa runs to renew tourist visas illegal. If I wanted to continue living and working in Thailand I needed to find a full-time job at a Thai government school (forget it!) or, as some other people have done, sign up for Thai language lessons at a language school and obtain an Education Visa, which allows the holder to remain in the country for twelve months (as long as they attend a couple of classes). I didn’t like the sound of that at all and I expect the junta (eventually) to put a stop to this practise as well. So where did that leave me?
I now knew that it was not practical for me to remain in Thailand. I was not prepared to put myself through the demoralising ordeal of working in a Thai government school ever again and there was no way my current employer was going to go through the expensive and time-consuming process of providing a work permit for me. My tourist visa was about to expire and I needed to make a decision. I briefly entertained the thought of teaching in another country again, perhaps Russia or Vietnam, but I felt jaded, frustrated and fed up with the thought of going through the whole process again once I set foot in another land. Returning to Australia would involve none of that.
During the brief time I spent looking for available work in other countries it also became obvious to me that teaching English is now thought of as a young person’s job. A quick look at the websites of any large language school in any country will show you pictures of young, good-looking, happy teachers standing in front of young, good-looking, happy students. While I am not in the pensioner category just yet, I do feel that I am now too old to employ and that has also featured very heavily in my decision to return home. In fact, I was told by one employer recently that the government school I was teaching at had decided not to renew their contract because they were looking for younger teachers. This seems to be a trend in Thailand and just highlights the fact that foreign language teaching here is not taken seriously at all.
So that’s the way it is. I plan to return to Australia this week. I have no idea what I will do but I feel relieved and I do know that I will never need to worry about visas, work permits, visa runs, leaving the country, documents, photographs, signatures, stamps, fees or anything like that again. I will certainly miss Thailand but my swag is now saturated with dingo piss, the players are in the pavilion and the heavy roller is being applied to the pitch.