Hello Kitty, Meet the Playboy Bunny

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The other day while in a Bangkok department store, I noticed this odd pairing of shops: Playboy Intimates is located adjacent to the Hello Kitty boutique. In face, about half of this floor sells lingerie and a quarter of it is the children’s toy department. I’m certainly not a prude but at the same time I have to wonder what messages are received by young children, especially girls, about self-image.

 

Chulalongkorn University’s Virtual TV Studio

An American journalist friend of mine is teaching a television documentary production class at the Faculty of Communication Arts at Chulalongkorn University, Thailand’s premier secondary school. Since I graduated as a Communication major with a TV production emphasis, I tagged along on a visit to the university, curious to see how a modern production facility compares to what I learned in nearly twenty years ago.

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Other than the monitors being large flat-screens instead of smaller tube monitors, the control room looked familiar. I have fond memories of sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with my classmates as we would produce mock newscasts and other projects. “Cue camera one… standby to fade in…”

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One cool thing that didn’t exist back in my day is the virtual studio. Using the principle of the chroma key (often called the “green screen effect”), the background of the image is created digitally. There is nothing on the studio walls other than a grid that can be used to ensure the effects’ perspective is lined up correctly. 

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Within the control room, you can see how I’ve been placed “on set” for a Thai TV show. The most interesting thing is how there is ostensibly a raised platform behind me with a mirrored front surface. Of course, that platform doesn’t really exist. What happens if I walk back there and try to step onto it?

Of course, my own career hasn’t followed my TV emphasis that closely (except for my youtube channel!), but other aspects of my Communication degree have proved helpful. Still, it is hard not to visit Chula’s studio and not feel the desire to reengage with TV production, an art I really enjoyed.

 

Putting on my Recruiter Hat

Tawn’s first shop opened nearly a month ago. His first personal assistant quit two days after the opening, unable to cope with the job’s demands. After watching Tawn struggle with the volume of work for two weeks, I stepped in, appointed myself HR Director for Tawn C Designs, and started sourcing candidates for the PA role. What an experience!

helpwanted While I’m experienced in matters of recruiting, training, and Human Resources (that is my professional background), recruiting here in Thailand is different in several ways from what I’ve experienced in the US.

The first step was to locate applicants. Similar to in the US, online recruiting is that standard, so I turned to JobsDB.com. This required setting up a company account and paying several hundred dollars for a 30-day ad.

Next, I had to post the job description. This took more time than you might imagine, because if you are going to get qualified applicants you need to know what qualities you are seeking, right? I settled on the following:


Operations Assistant / Personal Assistant

Seeking a qualified person to assist at a fashion design company specializing in up-market women’s clothing. The role’s responsibilities, listed in the order of how you will spend your time, include:

    • Represent the designer to business partners and vendors. This includes visiting vendors, placing orders, sourcing materials, conducting deliveries and pick-ups, inspecting product quality, coordinating payment, and negotiating deadlines.
    • Establish and maintain operational procedures. This includes creating spreadsheets and forms, basic bookkeeping and reporting, and doing other administrative tasks.
    • Inspect retail locations to check inventory, liaise with employees, and ensure procedures are followed. Includes pre- and post-sales activities for custom-made outfits.
    • Assist the designer during daily business. This includes accompanying him to meetings, taking notes, and following up on action items. It may also include driving him to meetings or errands.
    • Manage tasks and projects in the designer’s personal and home life. This includes identifying, negotiating with, and supervising vendors for repairs and home-improvement projects.

Within minutes of posting the ad two Friday nights ago, resumes (or, “CVs” as they are often called here) started to arrive. In a week, we received more than three dozen applicants.

The first interesting thing is the amount of information a Thai CV contains that would be unacceptable in the US: age, height, weight, religion, and a picture, for starters. These are factors that, as US Human Resources training will tell you, are generally irrelevant to job performance and so cannot be requested or used in evaluating applicants. Here in Thailand, that information is usually included on the CV.

Being conscientious, I emailed all applicants to confirm we had received their CV. I invited qualified applicants to schedule a telephone interview. Interestingly, of a dozen qualified applicants to whom I offered telephone interviews, six never responded to the request. Not a “thanks for your interest, but I’ve decided to accept another offer,” or something like that. Nothing at all. Tawn told me that such a lack of response is common here, although it confuses me. Twenty-four hours ago, you were eager to work at my company. Now you won’t acknowledge my email?

By week’s end, I conducted six telephone interviews. The candidates were a mixed bunch, ranging from two to a dozen years of experience. Candidates included men and women, a Christian, a Muslim, and four Buddhists, and ranged in age from 24 to 36. During the interviews, I asked questions about their work experience, focusing on a technique called “behavioral interviewing”. Sample questions include:

  • Tell me about an important project you managed or were responsible for. What was the scope of the project? What did you have to do to manage it? What challenges did you encounter and how did you respond? How did the project turn out in the end?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to make an important decision because your manager (or the normal decision maker) was not there. What was the situation? What decision did you make and how did you make it? What were the results of the decision? What lessons did you learn?
  • Tell me about a time when your manager wanted to do things one way, but you thought there was a better approach. What was the situation? Why did you think your approach was better? How did you go about trying to convince your manager to try things your way? What were the results of that attempt?

The theory behind behavioral interviewing is that candidates will generally answer these types of questions honestly (it is difficult to concoct an elaborate answer that withstands follow-up questions on the fly) and the answers will give you more insight into how they respond to real-life situations.

The interviews went well and I felt that all six candidates were people who preferred a higher level of independence than the average office job provides. They seemed self-motivated and interested in taking on new tasks and challenges. I also learned that three of the six were very interested in fashion, including one person who already designs and makes her own clothes. (Red flag: this could mean she wants the job in order to obtain contacts and connections rather that for the job itself!)

Interestingly, of the six candidates, only two – the men – sent any sort of follow-up communication to thank me for my time. Another example of what seems to be basic courtesy being absent. Since Tawn mentioned that it isn’t unusual here in Thailand, I didn’t let the lack of thanks influence my evaluation of the candidates.

Reviewing the candidates with Tawn, we have selected four finalists for in-person interviews, which we will hold Monday and Tuesday evenings. With any luck, one of these four will be a clear-cut winner and we can offer her or him a job by week’s end.

Given the history of supposedly interested job applicants suddenly vanishing incommunicado, we will not send any rejections until we have a signed employment contract, though.

Hospital Snack Box

A few weeks ago I spent the first half of the day at Bangkok Hospital taking care of a few odds and ends. I had an eye appointment in the early part of the morning because my right eye was inflamed (thankfully, not infected – doctor said just too much time working on the computer). An hour later, I had an appointment with another doctor about my back, which had a bad muscle spasm that had lasted a week. He proscribed some physical therapy, which was available elsewhere in the hospital complex.

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When I arrived at the physical thearapy center, though, they were quite busy and the service manager told me I’d have to wait an hour. Since I had my iPod with me, I didn’t mind waiting. Nonetheless, she came over a few minutes later and apologized for the wait and gave me this snack box. I guess they prepare these for patients who have long waits.

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While I wasn’t hungry (I brought the box home to photograph!), the gesture was appreciated. Service in Thailand is generally very good, especially at the hospitals. What do you think of the contents of the snack box, though? Juice and cookies – seems more appropriate for someone who has just donated blood.

 

Cooking Mexican Food in Bangkok

A few months ago, a group of our friends gathered to cook dinner. Being mostly from the United States (or having lived there), we were missing Mexican food, something that is difficult to find in Bangkok – at least if you want decent quality Mexican food and not something akin to Taco Bell. Thought I would share some pictures with you.

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The final spread, a mishmash of sauces, condiments, and dishes, all of which were very tasty.

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Home made black beans and rice with a soffrito – onion and pepper mixture.

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Put them all together and we wind up with a wonderful soft taco and side of black beans and rice.

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I also served homemade horchata, the traditional Mexican rice milk beverage. I followed a recipe on the internet which is based on one from the book “Paletas” by Fany Gerson. Can’t say if it is the authentic process, but the end result tasted familiar.

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From left to right, blend the uncooked rice. The result is a rough, sandy powder. Put the powdered rice and cinnamon stick in a container and add warm water, letting it soak overnight. The next day you remove the cinnamon stick, puree the rice and water mixture, strain it to remove any solids, and then add sugar and rice milk (or cow milk) and mix until dissolved. Of course, adding rice milk at the end seems a bit redundant but as I said, the flavor turned out as I remembered from the taquerias of San Francisco.

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Candice shows us a baby lychee, the runt of a large batch of lychees we ate our way through.

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For dessert, I served mangoes on home made cornmeal pound cake. I brought my panini grill along and was going to grill the pieces. Unfortunately, I forgot that the waffle plates were in the grill instead of the panini plates. Undaunted, I used the waffle plates instead, which produced this interesting toasting pattern.

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End result of the dessert: curiously toasted cornmeal pound cake with mangoes and fresh whipped cream spiked with a touch of almond liqueur and a sprinkle of cinnamon.