An exasperating story giving an insigntful look into the ease, yet difficulty, of finding that first job in Bangkok.
This is a true story of my experiences in a large American multinational English and IT school in Bangkok, Thailand. I have chosen to refer to the people involved by their nationality or position, rather than making up a lot of false names in order to protect the identities of those involved.
The moral of the story, before I start, will be, "If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is!"
I was relatively new in Thailand. I had been in Bangkok for about two months. I was in the middle of taking a TEFL course and was looking for work. I didn't really want to teach English, and was doing the TEFL course as a backup. My background was in IT and I was hoping to find work in the IT field but this had started to become more and more unlikely. I had almost given up that idea and was beginning to look for English-teaching jobs.
One day, I was walking around downtown Bangkok when I noticed the sign of a company saying 'English and Computer' so I went inside to enquire as to whether or not they actually taught computers in English. This would be, I thought, a good alternative to teaching English for me; teaching computer classes in Thailand ? perfect!
The company, however, did not seem interested in hiring English-speaking computer teachers but gave me the address of one of their affiliate companies whom they said might be able to give me similar work. Without much hope, I went to the office of the second company.
The second company seemed to be very large indeed -- without a doubt, it was a multinational. I nervously approached the reception and repeated what I had said to the previous company. The receptionist asked me to take a seat and then went to get someone else to speak to me. This second person, a young 'coordinator' asked me if I had any experience with a wide range of highly technical computer systems, which I did not. I responded truthfully and she told me that the company only hired foreigners for such training in specialist systems. They took my phone number all the same.
The next day, I more-or-less secured a well-paid English-teaching job at a reputable Bangkok school and thought nothing more of the computer training company. However, just two days later, I got a call from the Operations Manager of the computer training company. She instantly started to ask me a barrage of questions about myself, my skills and my experience in the IT field. I answered all the questions truthfully as before, and was certain that she would say the same to me as the previous person had done. Instead, though, she invited me to go back to the office the next day for an interview, which I agreed to do.
When I arrived back at the office, the whole atmosphere seemed completely different. They were expecting me to arrive and this time, the receptionists were much more courteous; offering me coffee and biscuits. I started to get a very good feeling about what was going to happen next, which was reinforced when the OM started to interview me. She seemed more concerned with questions about my family and marital status than she was with my qualifications, but I later learned that Thai companies often ask such questions as a way of gauging the class of people. I doubt that they can really tell with foreigners though, but I didn?t really mind. Within the next half hour, after asking me a few brief questions about my technical background, she was offering me a job and bringing a contract for me to sign.
The whole thing seemed to be very rushed. When I mentioned that I only had a tourist visa, I was told that it didn?t matter, but to keep it 'confidential' (a word I was about to start hearing a lot more!). We negotiated the daily rate I would be paid for teaching computer classes (which was higher than I would have been able to get for teaching English) and then I signed the contract, which had been amended a ten times in pen, and looked like it had been photocopied about six or seven times too. I still wasn?t exactly clear about what they wanted me to do, but the contract was just part time and I would only be paid for the classes I accepted. When I enquired about when the classes would begin, and how many there were; I was told not to worry, as I would be consulted later. I was then asked to join in a meeting that had just started in one of the side-rooms.
The attendees of the meeting included the OM, another coordinator and a few foreign (three Asian and one European) IT teachers. It quickly became apparent to me that these other teachers had only been working for the company for a month or so. I was then told that the classes would not take place in the company's office, but in the client's offices on the other side of Bangkok. I also learnt that the company was in fact a large NGO with many foreign workers. At the end of the meeting, I was handed a schedule. "These are your classes," the coordinator told me, "Can you teach all of these programs?" I quickly scanned the schedule and, as there was nothing very difficult on there, I confirmed that I would be able to teach them. "Good," replied the coordinator, "Your first class will be on Monday. Do you need any manuals?" "Uh-huh," I replied, "I think that would be a good idea!" -- the manuals were brought to me. Being new in Thailand, and unsure about the way 'things' worked, I posed a question about tax. The response was, "You are responsible for your own tax. We will pay you in cash. Keep it confidential," which I wasn't really surprised to hear, as I'd heard similar stories from many people in the past.
That was it! I had my schedule, the manuals, some diskettes and the address of the complex of the NGO where I would deliver the training -- on Monday! It was all very exciting, especially as I had already calculated that the money I would make from the schedule during the first month was over 50,000 Baht, and I wasn't even working 5-day weeks!
My first class was extremely nerve-wracking, as I had never taught anything to anyone -- ever! I was in a room full of 14 computers and 14 middle-aged men and women from various countries including UK, France, USA, Japan and Thailand. Being in my early twenties, it was all quite daunting! However, I knew my subject and everything went according to plan. The feedback from the students was very positive in this, and subsequent classes.
Time went by and the classes were going very well for me. The same was true for the other teachers whom I'd met in the meeting at the office. We were all working at the client's offices at the same time, in different rooms teaching different programs. Every month I would go to the head office and pick the next month's schedule, and my salary (which was a large wad of 1000-Baht notes awkwardly stuffed into an envelope).
It was a cool, crisp late-November morning (well, cool and crisp by Bangkok standards, anyway!) and I was making my way to the head office to pick up my salary and December schedule. I arrived at the office and was, as always, taken into a side-room where I could count my 1000-Baht notes. I received the money and waited for the schedule?. There was no schedule! Needless to say, my first question to the Operations Manager was, "Where is my December schedule?" to which I received the simple reply of, "Oh, the contract with the client has finished for this year!"
That was it. No warning. Nothing at all! And this was only November! "But don't worry," she then went on to say, "There will be a new contract next year" -- I asked when this would be. I was then told that they expected the new contract to be negotiated with the client in the first or second week of February and that classes would start again shortly after. This was not very good news as it was impossible for me to survive that long without getting another job. Either that, or I would have to borrow some money from my credit card to see me through the beginning of the year. It was the end of November, though, and I didn't particularly want to be unemployed for so long. I asked the Operations Manager if there was a chance of any other work during this time, and explained my situation. I told her that, if there was not going to be any work for me until February, that I would have to look for another job and that I could not guarantee that I would return to the company in February (the contract I had signed with the company finished at the end of the year).
Upon hearing this, the Operations Manager quickly changed her tune and started to tell me that the company was very pleased with my performance over the last few months and that there were going to be some changes during the next year. These changes, she told me, would mean an end to part-time contracts for foreign teachers and would involve two new full-time positions with a real contract, fixed salary and a work permit. She then went on to tell me that I was, without a doubt, going to be chosen as "one of the two" but that they hadn't decided who "the other one" would be just yet and so, for that reason, I had to keep it "confidential" and not discuss it with any of the other staff. I echoed my previous reservations about being unemployed for two, possibly three, months but she reassured me, saying that a decision would be made during the first week of January, keeping my interest by hinting that the salary would be well over the 50,000 Baht mark.
January came, and a New Year party was organized at a four-star hotel in central Bangkok for all the employees of the company, including the foreign part-time workers such as myself. I still hadn't heard anything about the full-time contract but I thought that this would be the perfect place to ask about it. When I had a moment, I approached the operations manager and asked the question. She took me to one side and informed me that there had been a 'change' and that there would, in fact, not be any full time jobs available. "But don't worry," she said, "the part time classes will be starting again in a few weeks -- so it's not much longer to go now!"
At that moment, I realized what the Operations Manager had been doing. She didn't want me to seek alternative employment at the end of November, but at the same time she didn't have any part time work for me. She didn't want to have the headache of finding new part-time employees when the new contract with the NGO kicked off in February, so she use a 'carrot & stick' technique to keep me loyal to the company, without having to pay me. English speaking people with a sharp knowledge of a wide array of computer programs are hard to find in Bangkok. I wondered if it were only me who had been given this treatment because I had told her I would look for another job. I wondered why the other foreigners, the other European and the three Asians, had stuck around too, though. I decided to find out.
My first port of call was with the European. I figured it would be easier to get information from him, as he wouldn't be as secretive about his communication with the boss as the Asians might possibly have been. After a short conversation with him, it seemed as though he was the 'other one' who was in line for the full time position. He seemed certain of it, until I told him that there wasn't actually a position available anymore -- and then he was rather pissed off!
At this point, I was very suspicious. I knew there was a chance that the 'two people' were the other European and myself and that the foreign Asian workers had not been considered, but I had a feeling that the whole thing had been a lie. I decided to talk to one of the Asians to see what else I could find out. This time it was more difficult, and I could feel a barrier of secrecy around her. I couldn't really blame her since her work was very important to her, and she was sending money to her home country to feed her family. Still, though, I persisted but was getting nowhere until I mentioned the 'two full time positions' when she opened-up and stated, "Ah, so you are the other one!!!?"
"No," I replied, with a sullen look, "I'm not the 'other one'. You're not the 'other one' either -- and there is no job."
I went back to the head office a few weeks later when they called me about some part time work that was available for a private customer. I attempted to vent a little bit of my frustration about the way I, and the other part-time staff, had been treated, but the boss seemed quite amused that the job was actually important to me. I think she'd been assuming that were all doing it for fun. She then went on to try and sell me a work permit!
Needless to say, I distanced myself from this company and sought employment elsewhere.
And that was the end of the biggest waste of time in my life! I later discovered that the Operations Manager had sat each of us in the very same room and given each of us the very same story about the full time job, the high salary, the work permit and the fact that it had to be kept 'confidential' just to keep us all within range of the company during the 2-3 months when there was no work. Ah, well, live and learn!