As I’m sitting in a four-star hotel in Bangkok (thanks to the Babson connection Santi Srichawla for finding the enormous discount that made it possible) I’m still a little bit stunned by the sudden change of scenery. Just three days ago I was living in a triple and had to bike to work in a village where no building was over three floors. Now I’m in the center of Bangkok, surrounded by skyscrapers and am living in one of the most posh neighborhoods.
As I stare out of my 7th floor window I can’t help, but think about Ayutthaya. I just couldn’t believe what a life changer the English language can be for Ayutthaya’s citizen. To understand this one must know that tourism is a booming industry in Thailand. It accounts for almost 7% of the national GDP and brings in about $4.3 billion. Ayutthaya is a very big tourist destination because it is filled with temples that were built hundreds of years ago back when it was the capital of Siam (Thailand’s old name).
Interestingly enough few people take advantage of this comparatively wealthy target market. While exploring Ayutthaya I noticed very few English speakers. The few establishments that did have English speakers charged two to eight times more for their services. It seems like there’s a fairly strong correlation between the English language and the economic well being of Ayutthayans.
Let’s look at the examples of Imp, Poi and Aswin. Imp is a took-took driver that speaks almost no English. A took-took is a Thai taxi vehicle displayed below:
During the two month flood that covered Ayutthaya Imp had to spend all of his savings to survive with his family of five. His savings were 10,000 BHT (a little less than $300). At the same time Poi whose knowledge of English landed him the position of the Distribution Manager for Amway in Ayutthaya spent less than 20% of his savings to feed his family of five during the two month flood. Here’s a picture of Poi’s house in the first day of the flood when it was only 3-5 feet deep. In the next three days the waters covered 9-12 feet.
Finally there’s Aswin who is the host of the hostel for tourists and volunteers such as myself that come to Ayutthaya. His savings allowed him to just leave to Northern Thailand with his family of 4. He didn’t make any comments about the significance of lost finances. Of course there must have been other factors that contributed to the well being of these three gentlemen. Nevertheless it seems that whichever business sector you’re working in Ayutthaya, you are able to make more if you speak English because of the large tourist traffic in the area. Therefore it leads me to believe that English plays great significance in the standards of living of the people of Ayutthaya.
Unfortunately as amazingly nice and caring the English teacher of the Big Elephant Temple School was, it felt like the kids were not really learning how to speak English. Each class they were memorizing phrases that they didn’t know the meaning of and writing down things with letters they did not know. Hanna, Lainey, Dana and I did our best in the time that we had to teach them some meaningful vocabulary and grammar, but it was all so little compared to what we could have taught them if we had 3 months for example. International volunteers from other schools seemed to have similar problems. Hannah said she’ll continue with our efforts to give meaningful knowledge of English as she was to stay for another week. I promised myself to brainstorm and to consult with a few Babson Professors to see how the English teaching process can be improved.
On a different note, since I couldn’t get an Indonesia VISA on time I had four days to stop in Bangkok. During this time I got to see some amazing historical sites:
I left our mark at Wat Po which is one of the biggest temples by the Grand Palace. I bought a brick that will go on the temple roof that is currently under construction. The logic is that even though Jake Brady and So Yoon Jun couldn’t be here in person they will become a part of Thailand forever along with Mr. Weissman.
Thanks to my good friends and fellow Babsonians Dunk Visutthithada and Santi Srichwala I was able to see quite a bit of Bangkok. I even I had the honor of learning Muay Thai at the Brothers Sitsopeenong, one of the best Muay Thai gyms in Bangkok that created over 70 champions.
Dunk’s close friend, Matt, who happened to be a local celebrity and quite a character used his connections to get us seats at a local Muay Thai match. Our seats were so close to the ring that we were able to hear the thud from every hit landing on the bodies of the fighters.
My last night in Thailand was spent with a troop of Babsonians fighting AIDS over dinner at Cabbages & Condoms, a restaurant where all profits go to fund anti-AIDS campaigns. It’s mind-boggling that just over a month ago every one of us was sitting in class at Babson and now the Babsonians have united once more for a dinner on the other side of the planet. Thank you Babson for giving me the opportunity to connect with such incredible people: Pumi Sarasin, Rishabh Kothari, Santi Srichawla, Dunk Visutthithada and May Sresthaporn.
Thailand was absolutely amazing and I’m infinitely thankful for every moment that I got to spend there. I can’t believe ten days have passed so quickly. I’ll be back here one day. You wait for me Thailand!