A buoyant Thai Economy – but for how long?

 

Mobi- Babble

I’m pleased to report that it seems to be good news on the medical front – well if not good, then certainly a little better than I had feared.

I spent a very long, somewhat frustrating day at Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok, had my usual gamut of blood tests in the early morning and saw my diabetes and heart specialist later in the day. I then had a follow-up echo cardiogram on my heart to see if the condition of my faulty aortic valve had deteriorated during the past 3 months.

The answer to this question seems to be that my condition remains more or less the same as it was last December, which the doc thinks is mainly down to my efforts to do daily exercise with the consequent loss of weight. The ‘echo’ report states that my condition remains ‘moderate to severe’, so as long as my ‘physical’ symptoms don’t get any worse, (there are 3 ‘key’ symptoms – the details of which, I won’t bore you with, but if they manifest themselves sufficiently, immediately surgery is recommended if sudden death is to be prevented), then I am probably OK for at least another 6 months when I will have another ‘echo’ test.

 

This is a huge relief and I can now relax for a few months and enjoy the visit of my daughter and her husband without worrying too much about all my medical problems.

For those of you who have following Mobi’s medical adventures through the years , I am also going to Rajavithi Hospital tomorrow, where they too will do an ‘echo’ test. It will be interesting to compare results and the prognoses.

The news on my chest infection is also good, as I seem to be finally getting over the worst of it, although I still feel quite weak and my chest is still sore from so much coughing. My heart doc ordered a chest X-ray to make sure that the infection had not got into my lungs and she also was pleased to tell me that it had not infected my dodgy heart valve, which apparently is quite prone to infection in its current damaged condition. She warned me that any time I have an infection that I must be diligent in taking the full course of antibiotics to ensure that any infection doesn’t spread to my heart.

So it’s onwards and upwards, and as soon as I feel up to it, I will resume my daily exercise, which apparently is doing me a lot of good.

 

One of my faithful Twitter followers, a certain ‘Chrissylad’  has asked me why I don’t switch to BNH, rather than continue to attend  Bumrungrad, where I have been experiencing some problems with the overall service.  The answer is that through the years, I have tried all the major private hospitals in Bangkok, and elsewhere in Thailand, and frankly find them all ‘much of a muchness’. They all seem to have a similar ethos, which is pretty much money driven – some are more aggressive than others – but they are there, first and foremost to make money; making you better seems to be secondary.

I would guess that a vast majority of the non-Thai patients who are treated at the top Bangkok private hospitals treat are ‘transient’, i.e. they are here on holiday or on business in Thailand, or have even simply come to Thailand for a specific medical intervention. Thailand is not their home, and the chances are that they will see the doctor one or two times, have an operation if required, and then will never be seen again.

Most Thai doctors, who are hardly imbued with the philosophies of the Hippocratic oath to start with, tend to treat their farang patients as lucrative’ cash  ‘customers’, rather than sick human beings who may be worthy of their care and consideration. Don’t get me wrong – there are many very fine doctors in Thailand and some of them are very knowledgeable and skilled –and they always speak to you in a very polite manner, but through the years, I have felt that very few ever really care. I can detect it in their attitude.

 

In 2010, I had a very nasty fall and smashed all the small bones in my right wrist, which required major surgery and the insertion of a permanent T-shaped metal plate. The surgeon who performed this procedure at Bangkok Pattaya hospital (it was a 4 hour operation) was clearly very skilled and as far as I can tell, nearly 2 years after the event, he has done an excellent job.

But when I went to see him in follow up appointments, he couldn’t have been less interested. He gave me no information about carrying out daily wrist exercise, (which he should have done), and had no interest in answering my questions or in any way providing any proper follow up and after care. Why? Simple – because there was no money in it, and he assumed that sooner or later I would be gone for good. What did he care if I had problems down the line? – after all, you can’t sue a Thai doctor.

Most of these doctors are from rich middle class or ‘Hi-So’ families and to them it’s just a job – no different to being an engineer or an architect.

 

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that I have seen far more caring doctors in the government hospital sector than I ever have in the private sector, and I know of a few who have also been very good to farangs as well as to Thais. I suppose this is because the public sector doctors are, by the very nature of their employment, more likely to be dedicated than the ones at the likes of Bumrungrad and BNH.

All this is a very roundabout way of explaining to ChrissyLad why I don’t go somewhere else. The answer is that I have been seeing my two specialists in Bumrungrad for almost 10 years, and they know me and are very familiar with my condition. They may not even be the best doctors, but at least they are familiar with me, Mobi – and know that I am not about to disappear. I have come to feel though the years that they do really care and I have a high degree of trust in their assessment of my condition and treatment.

The hospitals where they work are quite another matter, but as a very experienced medical expert has told me on several occasions – it is not down to the hospitals, it is down to the doctors you choose to treat you.

 

 

A buoyant Thai Economy – but for how long?

In many ways, Thailand is a ‘blessed’ country and I have observed its development from a poor ‘third world’ nation back in the early 70’s, to what is now one of the main power houses of South East Asia. In spite of all the setbacks through the years, many of which have been self-inflicted, such as their precipitation of the Asian financial crisis and the political and sometimes violent unrest in the country, its economy has gone from strength to strength, even during this current and prolonged period of global recession.

It is no accident that Thailand has succeeded where many other countries – such as the Philippines have failed. There is a dynamism and drive amongst its people that can be seen in every strata of business, from the humble noodle seller on the street corner, to the mega bankers and corporate tycoons that keep driving the economy forward.  It seems to me that every Thai is a budding entrepreneur.

Sure, they are blessed with an abundance of natural resources and a beautiful country which lends itself to tourism and so on and so forth, but I would maintain that the Thais have seized upon what they have been naturally blessed with, and put it all to the best possible use. By comparison, to use my above example of the failed Philippines economy, that country is also blessed with some wonderfully magical islands and beaches and a great climate, yet its tourist industry is not even a fraction as successful as Thailand’s. (And don’t use terrorism as an excuse for Philippines, as Thailand too suffers from that particular problem, but it doesn’t seem to deter many tourists).

 

Yet, important though the tourist industry may be to Thailand, it is in their manufacturing and export industry where they continue to score so highly, despite the riots, political upheavals and  devastating floods. It is not for nothing that they are the world’s largest manufacturer of pick-up trucks, or as we learned during the recent floods, the world’s second largest manufacturer of computer hard disks, after China. There are many more examples, but I think I have made my point.

Yet in even a vibrant country such as Thailand cannot afford to rest on its laurels in a fast moving, ever more globalised world economy. In fact, they could do a great deal better – if only they could get the educational standards of their schools and universities to be raised to the levels of surrounding countries.

I read the other day that seven professions in the labour market will be freed up in 2015 by Asean nations under mutual recognition agreements (MRAs). But it will not be easy for Thai workers in these professions to gain accreditation. Apparently, accreditation by foreign countries requires top qualifications, and most Thais would find it really hard to reach the criteria in order to be recognised in Asean.

 

Thais’ lack of foreign-language skills is an obvious major obstacle, compared to people from Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. Without accreditation by foreign countries, Thai engineers lag behind rivals in Singapore and Malaysia in foreign recognition. Singapore has been accredited by many engineering technology leaders, including the US, UK, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia. Malaysia is trying hard for similar recognition.

But in Thailand, less than 100 engineers across the region have been recognised as Asean chartered professional engineers and only 3,700 engineers – just 2 per cent of the total 170,000 engineers in Thailand – have the necessary certificates, portfolios and eight years of continuous work experience. Because of this, a great many newly graduated engineers are likely to walk away from their chosen profession and change to work in other fields.

 

Engineers who want to register as Asean chartered professionals have to apply to the Asean Chartered Professional Engineer Coordinating Committee and important criteria include a bachelor’s degree in engineering accredited by a professional agency in their own country or in countries that would hire them; have at least seven years’ working experience; and have been in charge of important engineering projects for at least two years.

The criteria for Asean professional architects is also difficult to achieve – people must have worked in architecture for at least 10 years, half of which they must have held a professional licence; and have been in charge of important architectural projects for at least two years.

The demands mean that architects have to plan, design and coordinate with agencies in a public building construction project. However, Thai architects’ training is usually limited to design, so individuals need to understand and be responsible for a complete project, or one that is made up of various fields.

Most Thai engineers and architects cannot compete with leading skilled workers in the region and a survey found that many Thai workers lacked most in English, IT and numerical skills. It also found that Thai professionals had more weak points than strong ones.

 

Most workers in Thailand are low-skilled, although Thais were easy to train and can learn their jobs quickly and they are generally polite and not aggressive. However, Thailand has fewer individuals at medium and high skilled and professional levels. Many workers lack training, preparation, ethics, discipline and punctuality.

In 2015, the number of workers in the Asean region is expected to increase from 250 million to 300 million. Higher quality Chinese and Indian workers are likely to come to the Asean region as well, and it is matter of urgency that Thailand should prepare its workforce with different levels of ability to gain higher quality so that they can compete in the Asean labour market.

The education system in Thailand must start to produce workers for the 21st century with discipline, synthesising, creative, and respectful and ethical minds, aside from knowledge in their fields and professional skills.

It has long been an open secret that, with the exception of the elite few, a vast majority of Thailand’s primary and secondary schools are of extremely low educational standards. The students are still taught by rote, are discouraged from questioning or challenging perceived wisdom and a vast majority of the English language teachers cannot speak a word of English.

 

Entrance to university is often obtained through nepotism, crony-ism or just plain bribery and colleges are often unwilling to give students bad grades for fear of repercussions from angry, influential parents. 

The woefully poor Thai public education system simply perpetuates the entrenched power of the Thai elite and their offspring. Only the privileged rich can gain access to the few good schools in Thailand, and can afford to send their children overseas to obtain a decent, western style education.

But before we all start to pour opprobrium and scorn onto a flawed and unjust system, let us be mindful of the fact that it wasn’t that long ago that similar injustices were the accepted norm in most western countries. Indeed, it was only in the late 1940’s that a  universal, free education system was introduced in the UK, and it was many years before the poor and underprivileged ‘classes’ started to gain the university places that used to be the exclusive preserve of the rich and powerful.

 

But one thing that the western educational system has always given its budding, students is the freedom and encouragement to analyse, question, and challenge accepted wisdom on just about any subject.  We can go back literally hundreds of years and find examples and landmark discoveries and progress in the sciences, technology and engineering. Sadly, this has never been the case in Thailand, where  the powers that be have long since been doing the younger generation a grave disservice by stifling innovative thought, and insisting that ‘your betters know best’.

I truly believe that if Thailand is to continue to maintain its strong position in the Asian and world economies, then it must urgently take a long hard look at its educational institutions; greatly improve its teaching standards, make them more accessible to the masses and above all, to encourage a new generation of kids to start to think for themselves.

Given the continued vibrancy of the Thai economy, there should be no problems in bank-rolling such far reaching changes to its educational institutions – but is there the will to do it?

I suspect that our beloved government is more interested in getting their grubby hands on the freebie iPads and iPhones, and getting their ‘Dear Leader’ back on Thai soil, where they will all be better placed to partake of his munificence.

 

BUTT…BUTT…BUTT… I don’t give a hoot!

 

 

One thought on “A buoyant Thai Economy – but for how long?”

  1. Mobi,
    Glad to know your heart condition hasn’t progressed. Battle that chest infection and get well soon Sir. Look forward to more Mobi-babble, my favorite part of your blog. I appreciate your commentary and views of farang Thailand life, since it won’t be long before I give the expat life a try myself and your blog is quite an education on the subject.

    Best and Blessings,

    ~PholoenMobi

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