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Satun, the #1 Place We Want to Be

Listless. What a useless, boring state. Today's listlessness comes from a too-long nap in the afternoon and an innocuous email from my father that nonetheless left me feeling anxious. Just the word "plan" from him elicits this reaction, and suddenly all our thinking about Chris becoming a divemaster and us living abroad for a while seems like a silly daydream.

I like not knowing what my future holds. Is it comforting to map out your path to its furthest extremity, this your one and only life? There's such a wide gap between what I believe is best for myself and what "they" want. (They give so much, but their giving is like a trap.) Well, it is a useless refrain.

We're in Satun right now. Tomorrow we head to Malaysia. Onward. Is it more marching or drifting? We've eaten well here. More than made up for hungry nights in Ko Lipe when I was too lazy to venture out again in the wet and instead lay curled up in the mosquito net daydreaming about pizza. It was a beautiful daydream. Here we have difficulty conserving our stomachs so we have enough room for all we want to eat. It'll be sad to leave Thailand and its good food.

Posted by chschen 05:19 Archived in Thailand

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As far as I know, the market for foreign divemasters is terribly competitive just about everywhere, and most of one's success depends not on diving skills but on salesmanship; from what little I know of Chris, I don't think he's much of a salesman? The other thing is that being non-white is a huge minus for a foreigner job anywhere in Asia.

I recall that Chris was studying Mandarin. There is a huge demand just about everywhere now (including my stomping grounds) for Mandarin-speaking divemasters. Still, not being white is a big minus.

(Last week a family with which I'm acquainted here asked me if I have any friends who are English teachers. I said yes, actually I do have a good friend who's an English teacher. They were overjoyed -- until I told them my friend's name and they realized he's not white, and it was like the look on someone's face when you tell them that they just drank pee. Of course they'd assumed that being my friend and being an English teacher would both mean being white.)

by ducks

The name of the city reminds me of how Leng thought the word "satan" is pronounced.

by ducks

- Yup, it's competitive. Certainly you get paid next to nothing, but he wouldn't be doing it for the money.
- I don't think you need to be a good salesmen at all--you just have to be willing to talk to people, which Chris likes to do.
- I have met many, many non-white divemasters while diving, especially in the Philippines.

by chschen

Right. I guess what I meant is that to collect the "foreigner pay premium," I think one must be a WHITE foreigner. If pay isn't a concern, then of course there's no problem; you're just working for the brown/yellow wage instead of the white wage. (Good lord, I really had no idea this stuff exists completely openly almost worldwide in the 20th/21st century until I started traveling to the "developing world.")

by ducks

I'm not sure this pay premium is as obvious as you make it sound. I don't think two divemasters working for the same dive shop get two different rates depending on their skin color, ethnicity, or nationality. I've talked to many white divemasters who also make next to nothing. No one is in it for the money. If you want to make a living, you become an instructor. It may, however, be easier to get a job as a divemaster if you can speak the language of your clients, whoever they might be. Since most divers right now are Westerners, it's obviously easier to find a job, especially at the more expensive resorts, if you can speak English, French, German, etc. I think the reason we see so many local divemasters in the Philippines is because so many locals can speak English well.

by chschen

I guess I was acting out on a pet niggle, kind of having a spazz of my own, rather than directly addressing the question. I know nearly nothing, or maybe nothing, about divemasters. But I can tell you that anywhere I know of in Southeast Asia, in any job category, nonwhite people get paid significantly less than white people -- working side by side, in the same workplace, with the same qualifications (or even when nonwhite people are more qualified). This is absolutely true and I am absolutely certain of this, though I have no specific knowledge of divemasters.

Do you believe me on the above? If not, I can explain and argue. But I suspect that you either agree or don't have a strident opinion on the more general point above -- and you were just talking about divemasters!

As one data point of a million, the best hospital in Vietnam charges by skin color -- not the patient's, but the doctor's. My Vietnamese-American doctor, who is really top of his field, is much cheaper to see (and thus is paid less) than his colleague who is a flunky of a white French doctor. And so on. Repeated times not a million but a billion. But they're just responding to consumer demand, because most rich Vietnamese people I know prefer to see a white flunky doctor rather than a very good ethnically Asian doctor.

That said -- times are changing -- as the "developing" world "develops" (ah, scare quotes) this kind of stuff will not last forever.

by ducks

I believe you about other job categories, and I agree that it's driven by "what customers want." But, yes, these times they are a-changin'.

by chschen

I would be interested to have a fuller discussion with you sometime about your qualms with development economics, in light of what I allude to above: that economic development (no scare quotes) typically breaks people out of colonial mindsets and subjugation. Something Jeffrey Sachs wrote always sticks with me: "Once you start thinking about why some countries are rich and some countries poor, it's hard to think about anything else."

by ducks

I don't think I have any qualms about development economics. If you're referring to the previous comment I made in response to your comment about my entry on machines, it was more that I quibbled with the idea that technology (or, rather, machines) are an indisputable improvement for humanity (or the poorest humans). I think I am simplifying your argument. In my head I had a long answer for you, but then I didn't have internet, and so the response died in my head. I think it might be satisfying to continue the conversation in person, though.

by chschen

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