|The ferry boat to and from the hotel.|
I didn't think too much of this whole thing again until after we made our decision to return home this summer. Then I began hearing that other teachers in our cohort who are also leaving this year had begun to contact this man to get their taxes refunded. Because it's not a small amount of money (some people will probably get refunds of between $20,000 to $30,000; for us, it's a bit less because I officially worked for only one year), my curiosity was piqued and I decided to look a little more into it. I spoke to people who had begun the process and to people who left last year about their experiences with this mysterious tax man so far. My husband contacted yet other teachers for contact information because simply looking him up on social media seemed so strange and unofficial. The teachers we contacted actually had his contact information and company website address, miracles of miracles!
It takes a lot of trust, or stupidity, however you want to look at it. If this were in America, we would've researched this from every angle, called everyone we know under the sun, and then probably not go through with it because it just seems too weird and underhanded. But this is Thailand, and this is how things are done here. Also, it was comforting to know that this guy has a history of working with teachers at our school, and has a history of successfully getting the Thai government to refund tax money to international teachers throughout Thailand. It also helped that other teachers in our cohort had already met with him, and could tell us their impressions and experiences. Meanwhile, the teachers who left last year with whom I was in touch were keeping me updated on their situations, and they were already beginning to receive portions of their refunds, which was a good sign.
|The hotel all lit up.|
We felt completely under-dressed and out of place at the hotel. Everyone there was dressed to the nines -- it's a place where the rich and famous stay and hang out. Rooms there range from $500 to $5000 a night.
At the appointed time, he came through the doors, looking around. I recognized him from a picture online, so I approached him and introduced myself. I wondered for a moment whether I should give him a fake name. But in contrast with all the furtiveness, the first thing he did was give us two cute, green, stuffed bears -- they're from an organization that plants a tree in Thailand for every bear purchased, and he buys them for his clients every year. It was adorable.
He's a British man in his late 50s, an international tax consultant who has been living in Bangkok for 12 years, and has been working with teachers here for eight years. He's quite an interesting man with an interesting story -- he's never been married, but told us of a near-marriage to a Finnish woman when he was in his 20s. He even learned Finnish to move to Finland to be with her, but when he returned a year later, she had moved on and married someone else. She recently contacted him again on social media -- she's been divorced for many years and has a grown son -- and he's thinking about going to visit her again. He quite regretted having lost her the first time, and advised us that, in life, one just needs to choose a direction and move forward with that decision, which was how it was when he decided to move to Bangkok. He was scared and uncertain, but nevertheless sold everything he owned and left his life behind, resolving to make it work in Bangkok, no matter what happened. And here he was, 12 years later, with a thriving tax consulting business, and being sought out by international teachers to help them. I found him to be quite charming and endearing, and straightforward in his interactions with us.
|The beautiful lobby.|
None of this was surprising, though it was extremely disappointing. We had known that there was a lot of corruption in Thailand, but had no idea that it was so pervasive (a few of my students had warned me in the past that Thailand is "very, very corrupt."). To hear that we can't even trust those we interact with on a daily basis was jarring and saddening. To hear that people who are supposed to be helping us would steer us in the wrong direction for personal gain was very disheartening. Since starting my job, I had begun to suspect that anyone with remotely any money or connection in Thailand was corrupt, and this experience only confirmed my suspicions. Even for a cynic like me, this is all a little too much to handle and too depressing to contemplate.
The atmosphere at the hotel was actually quite pleasant. The lobby was beautiful with lots of light. Tax Man ordered drinks and snacks for all of us. And when dusk descended upon us, a string quartet set up in the lobby to play beautiful classical music. It was actually all pretty magical, were it not for the nature of our business there. As usual, never a dull moment, always an adventure.