A Thai nanny, village problems and getting ahead in life

Regular readers with a good memory will remember a young lady by the name of Joy being mentioned a lot when we were living in Ubon Ratchathani. She came from the village and we employed her as a nanny/house keeper when we were busy getting Peppers up and running.

She lived with us and became part of our family and the girls obviously loved her a lot.

Was she a good nanny? Not really.
Was she a good cook? No!
Could she clean the house to my darling wife’s satisfaction? No!

Despite all her short comings we kept her on because a) we needed her and b) she never did anything wrong – just never did anything really right!

Towards the end of her employment she starting playing up though. She discovered alcohol and started leaving the house whenever I was home to go drinking with friends and she had obviously become friendly with a boy back in the village so she was missing him and spent all her money on phone credit or booze. The drinking never affected her job so although I was disappointed it didn’t worry me too much but Seerung was furious. It came to a head one night and Joy decided she would go back to the village for a few days. She never returned and she was never asked too. This is a typical Thai way of leaving/being sacked without anyone losing too much face.

So why am I telling you all of this now? Well a few people have asked me what happened to her and just the other day I saw her again for the first time in 10 months. A lot had changed!

Not only had she married the young fella I just mentioned but she had also become pregnant and given birth to a boy about 6 weeks ago. Seerung is still pretty dark on her but the girls and I still got a little present together to give to her which I know was appreciated.

Here is a photo of baby Leo as well as one of my girls and ex Nanny Joy admiring the new baby in his hammock.

This little story is something that we see repeated over and over again in the village. People given a chance to earn some money, get together a few skills and what I guess would be considered ‘get ahead in life’ but blowing the opportunity.

Am I wrong in thinking this?

We have employed three young girls from the village during our time here and given them more then one chance when they have stuffed up. We have had them live in our house, paid them the going rate plus a little more and considered them part of our family. They were given jobs well within their capabilities and were also very aware that if they showed promise then management positions were not to far away. All three girls blew it because of laziness, alcohol, drugs, boys or a combination of some or all of them.

All three girls are now back in the village, avoid Seerung and are all unemployed.

You might say that ‘getting ahead in life’ is a western view on things and I would have to agree with you to some extent. The problem is however that the village cannot handle the extra pressure that these people bring. They are not making anymore land yet families continue to grow with each generation. Farms keep getting split and then split again to be handed down as the old people pass away. There is now not enough land to go around for people to grow enough food for their family.

There is an extremely high chance of Joy and her husband leaving their child to be raised by a grandmother who does not have enough money or control to raise the kid in the right way resulting in another generation of dysfunctional kids that society need to deal with. The parents will do this as they will have to go to Bangkok to work as almost slave labour on a building site or heaven forbid, a brothel just to survive. Others will go overseas for employment leaving families at home for years at a time. A lot of these people are ripped off and abused while overseas. Some never return and are never heard of again.

What is the answer to all this? Well one answer I guess is teaching kids that opportunities don’t always throw themselves your way. Grab them while you can. Three families could have been changed for ever and mostly for good if those three girls were able to think of the future instead of just whatever day they happened to be living in when they were working for us. What else can we do? Maybe I just worry to much and should become more Thai in my approach to life! Would love to read your thoughts anyway.

When I started this post I never intended to type all of the above – it was just going to be a post about what happened to Joy and her new baby but obviously it worries me enough that the fingers just kept on typing! Another subject that horrifies me currently is the death and AIDS rate in the village but I will blog separately about that once I have some more accurate figures.

12 responses to “A Thai nanny, village problems and getting ahead in life

  1. This is a big problem for Thais I think and one of the main causes of a lot of the country’s problems. i.e the inability to think more than 5 minutes in the future and a failure to grasp the concept of cause and effect.

    With 100 baht to their name, how many people would choose to put it aside for food the next day, as opposed to buying some phone credit?
    Seen it many many times.

    • What you say is very true Aaron and to our western minds we can find that very hard to understand. On the other hand it is this character trait that also makes this place and the people so unique, amazing and interesting! Guess we cannot have it both ways!

  2. This isn’t a just a Thai phenomenon, though the effect on agrarian life styles is more perhaps than urban. The dole here is full of people with the same mentality. My nephew (deceased- drink and drugs) and my niece, his sister are prime examples. I can’t tell you how many leg- ups the family have provided these two over the years.
    I haven’t seen my niece for at least 15 yrs since she abandoned her cancer stricken mother(my sister-since deceased) and I had to step up to manage the drs. visits etc. Bad business all ’round.
    At some point their fate is on their own head and we can’t assume responsibility, as cold as that may seem. You can’t force enlightenment on any one no matter your compassion for them.
    I pray for your peace.

    • Hi Rob,

      Boy that is a really sad story you wrote about. It brings another interesting point which I could talk around the camp fire all night about and that is the welfare system. It really does destroy families. While I whinge and complain on here about these lazy kids in the village eventually most of them I believe will snap out of it and grow up. One of the main reasons is because there is no government support here for people who do not help themselves and so they simply have to otherwise they will not survive.

  3. Hi Andrew! I can commiserate with you in a big way really. Not knowing you a great deal, but I have lead a life where I have needed to make some very quick appraisals of ‘people’ for a variety of reasons and I’m usually not far off the mark. Why such a long winded, around the bush start to my reply? I think writing this article would have been quite a difficult thing for you to do.

    So allow me to say that you have stated the facts as you found them and where it is not ~ as I see it ~ derogatory in nature. In fact, you have reported what you have observed and experienced and felt resultant of your observations. Quite well in a sociological sense really.

    Well, even though I have not been here long, nor have I travelled all that extensively, it seems to be that there are a set of common links throughout the culture. It has taken me the best part of my 4 years (approximately) to start to ‘see’ the cultural differences that exist between our culture and theirs and ‘live between’ them [cultural differences].

    Without going into too much rhetoric – the culture here is ~ well, quite complex. Having said that, as with any of the world’s cultures ~ there is some good and some not so good aspects about all cultures.

    I have had my own, lets’s say [many] ‘rather testing challenges’ with little, poor or no positive results for my efforts. I read a book in relation to this recently, written by a New Zealander private eye and co-written by Ken Leather (I do enjoy his style) and it appears that I ‘fit into the “White Knight”‘ personality. Hahaha. It’s probably true! Due to discretion on my part [for my own reasons and otherwise] I cannot put details re my story[s] but will catch up with you sometime before we go to Oz shortly.

    Really refreshing to see someone speak thier heart. Let me add ‘… warrior, protect thy heart’.

    • Hi Terry,

      You said that you thought this blog would have been hard for me to do. I guess in a way you are right as I did not start out to write what I did but one thing led to another. I hate reading other foreigners online who continually moan and complain about living in Thailand and I never want to be like that. I doubt it will ever happen as I love this country and love living here, especially in the village. I continually try and blog about day to day happenings around me that I think people might find interesting and that in years to come I will read back and enjoy. Of course the more time you spend here the more you get to know the locals and start scratching the surface and see that not everything is all peaches and cream. That is why I want to blog about the death rate here in the village as I think it needs to be said.
      I look forward to catching up with you again sometime soon Terry.

  4. Nearly all foreign business owners have the same story, they try and help Thai workers by paying more than most natives would and also treating like a family member but they just walk out and disappear.

    Many times I have heard how staff just “haven’t shown up to work” and then never answer phone calls. And if they are seen they try and duck off or greet the person like nothing happened.

    • Finding staff in Australia was always a challenge but once you had them and looked after them usually the rewards starting coming back my way. Here it is very easy to find them but keeping them is another story!

  5. I have witnessed your story about the nanny Joy repeated multiple times during my 8 years here in Thailand, for guys as well as gals. Boys who show mechanical aptitude and prospects for a good lifestyle as auto mechanics or panel bangers consistently choose the easier path and drop out of technical college to become pickup drivers. They seem unable to defer gratification and occupy themselves with multiple girlfriends simultaneously, sometimes sending SMS messages to 5 girls at the same time! I believe part of the reason is the breakdown in traditional Thai-Isan culture. Young people used to be under much stricter parental and village control, or so I am told. Young women keep their virginity and were closely monitored by their kinfolk. That is now no longer the case. I have judged the Isan people to be hard workers when hard work is required. The problem is, life is too easy for most if subsistence living is your only concern.
    There is also the issue of how to best manage them as employees. An Italian restaurant owner here in Phutthamonthon had his entire Thai staff quit because he asked them to come to work on time. I am quite certain he was not belittling them or abusing them in any way. Perhaps he would have had more success if he had adopted a “Theory X” management style, like the Chinese-Thai bosses do. Bangkok bosses assume their employees are inherently lazy and will avoid work if they can, and that they inherently dislike work. As a result of this, management believes that workers need to be closely supervised and they develop comprehensive systems of control, like fingerprint check-in/check-out readers. They follow a very hierarchical, top-down management structure with a narrow span of control. These managers rely heavily on threat and coercion to gain their employee’s compliance, although oddly enough, firing people is uncommon. More often, as in your case, the worker finds some face-saving reason to quit. It usually involves having to go home to take care of a sick family member as an excuse.

  6. Seems you’ve struck a common cord, Andrew.
    My only experience with Thai workers were the barracks houseboys. I guess the pay was too good to take a walk on or goof up the work. Just don’t forget to say’ No’ to starch in the undies.

  7. Can’t say my experience with Englishmen in England was any different. A guy I was working with wanted to borrow five quid and I only had a twenty. As we were working together I didn’t see the problem but I never saw him again. Now, if I’d really disliked the guy it would have been a well spent twenty quid but for me it was nearly 50 bucks at the time! Perhaps the locals are lazy in many localities. I’m all for giving them a go though.

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