Surprises in Thailand I. Why do Chinese People Come to Thailand to Learn English?


This is the first in what might become a series. The series is called surprises in Thailand, and includes things that are just surprising. I don’t have any explanations, just musing.

One of the surprises though is the fact that Chiangmai in Thailand has over the last five or six years become a mecca for Chinese visitors. They seem to come for many reasons. The woman in the apartment across from us married a Thai, and moved here. The streets of Chiangmai are clogged with Chinese tourists, particularly during Chinese holidays. They are here to shop, take selfies, and go on tours. To help them along, the Thai vendors have conveniently erected many Chinese language advertisements to attract business, and you occasionally see blue and white license plates from cars which have taken the long drive from southern China down here.

You can of course here the complaints from locals about the differences of the tourists. They complain about their driving habits, walking habits, and loudness. (With respect to westerners, there are of course other complaints, but that is for another blog).

But one of the most interesting phenomenon I have been hearing about is the interest of Chinese to come to Thailand for longer periods to study. Thus the irony of English schools in Chiangmai filling with Chinese students. And Thai schools. Thailand as a place to study English is not intuitive—Thais themselves complain that the English-speaking capacity of Thai children does not match that of the other countries of the 11-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). How could Thai-speaking Thailand be a place to study English? Part of the answer seems to be that Thailand has cheap English lessons, many of which are taught by a small army of western teachers who accept a relatively low wage in low expense Thailand where they also get a long-term visa.

But isn’t this is like going to the United States to learn Japanese. Why not go to Japan instead? Well yes it is. But at the beginning, I warned you that this blog is about stuff that doesn’t yet make sense to me, so here we are. But there is no question, industrious middle class Chinese show up in Thailand in fairly large numbers, then sign up for Thai classes in order that they can study English.

One of the most interesting conversations I had with this was with a Christian pastor from Taiwan who had a PhD in Electrical Engineering degree from the University of Michigan.   After some years as a missionary in The Philippines, he came to Thailand to run a school where potential Chinese missionaries could go to learn Thai and English. Where would they be missionaries? Answer: Southeast Asia and back in China, perhaps. Back in China of course Christianity enjoys a peculiar place relative to the government—with some of it banned, and some of it not. As for Thailand, it is largely a Buddhist country, which has long hosted Christian missionaries (and also has a Buddhist-Muslim insurgency in the south, which is another story…). Anyway, so somewhere near Chiangmai, there is a school for potential Chinese missionaries where they learn speak Thai and English, and also spread the Gospel. Like I said, mysteries abound!

And for my next “Surprises in Thailand” blog, I think I will write about utility prices. They cheap, cheap, cheap. And good!