Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Ugly

I've never thought of myself as terribly naive. I don't believe I am. But I see of late that I have a lot to learn about the world. I've been reading a discussion on Facebook - a post put up by an acquaintance about discrimination based on the color of her skin (she is an African American). It has evolved into a long thread with a great many insights and ordinarily, I would have simply read through it as a third person unaffected by such things, only half-believing that they exist. But now, I pause and I read it all, my brows furrowed and my heart saddened, because it has become personal to me.

I am no stranger to discrimination. No free thinking woman in India can blind herself to the constraints she must sometimes fight and sometimes, sadly, give in to. It shapes our lives. But racism is new to me, and as I sit here, alone in a way that I cannot describe, there is a part of me suspended in disbelief.

A common sight I have seen here in Bangkok is that of the older white man and the much younger Thai woman. Being cynical, I have asked many people about it, but the answers have never been the conclusion I jumped to- that it has an ulterior purpose, that it is advantageous to the couple in some financial or political way.

But is it all down to love? I somehow can't believe that. Like I said, I'm cynical. But then maybe I do have a point too. There is a preference in this country for foreigners from certain countries. And the other, uglier side of the coin does exist.

When I was growing up in Kuwait, I hated the way Filipinos were treated. The Kuwaitis were super arrogant and regarded them as animals to be used. Low wages, bad working conditions, sexually assaulted,.. you name it. And after all this time, I come to this country and I see that there are Filipino teachers here, who get paid a fraction of what 'native speakers' are paid. The ads specifically ask for 'Filipino teachers'. To be read as 'people we can screw over,' I guess.

I've been searching for a job as an English teacher for a while now. I cannot tell you how many closed doors I have seen on account of racial discrimination. Agents and schools who aren't even willing to consider the possibility, in spite of my experience and qualifications. The ads say 'native speakers' and they're crystal clear on it! I am frankly amazed that they hire so many. The thing is - Thailand is a place that many foreigners come to gather teaching experience, which they mostly do for periods as short as 4 to 6 months. It's like a working holiday, which is great for them. But what about the children?

It took me weeks to remember the names of all my kids, to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, how to handle each one and motivate them, how to make sure that I was getting through... I'm no stranger to the fact that education has become a business, but it really has started to hurt me now. It's like a meat factory where they've started selecting on the basis of where the meat is from and how much butchering it will stand, and to hell with the kids at the receiving end.

I remember the teachers I had growing up, their names, the way they looked and behaved in class, the way they made me feel. I want kids to have those kind of memories, and I want to be one of those memories here. I'm still searching for a door that will open. Life will go on either way, I have my plan B and all that, but I guess I had to say all this anyway because it showed me that maybe I am a bit naive- I really thought the world was a much much better place.


  1. Very true. You feel worse when you do get a job and are paid less than others because of your nationality - especially when you realise you are far better at your work than the others. Yet it is disturbing how many are willing to swap their dignity for an occupation/income probably because they are helpless. Then such unfair treatment continues.
    It is difficult to live life on your own terms - but keep your chin up, the world isn't ideal, but there's good in it.

    1. :) I agree. I can afford to keep my chin up. My lips, however, bend the other way when I think of all those who don't have a job waiting or a family to fall back on... Like you said, helplessness- it's a sad, sad state.