End of January Updates

Time to take a break from the trio of dessert entries and provide a few updates on life here in Bangkok. Lots of odds and ends going on that are worth mentioning.

The sun sets on Bangkok and on my job at Ricoh.

As I shared in early December, I was provided with notice that my job of 13 years is coming to an end. My last day is February 15 and there have been many late night conference calls (my employer is in the US) as I try to train my colleagues and, starting next Wednesday, my replacement. They always knew there was a lot of work I did that they were unaware of. Now they are coming to see just how big a load they will have to carry. Still, I have no illusions that they will find a way to make it work.

The job hunt has been a slow process. I wasn’t able to start until after the new year, thanks to so many people being out of the office over the holidays and businesses not making hiring decisions at that time. Thankfully, I have a severance package that will cover me through May, so there isn’t a lot of pressure to rush into anything.

I have been working my network, following up on a half-dozen job prospects. Networks are important anywhere in the world, but especially here in Thailand. All my life, I’ve worked at places where I knew someone already. I’m convinced that you have a better understanding of a workplace if you already have a connection there. These job prospects have not yet blossomed into offers, and some of them look unlikely. Soon, I will broaden the search to include companies where I have no direct connections.

Left, the TAWN C. advertisement in the first issue of Vogue Thailand, released a few days ago. Right, an outfit from the Holiday 2012 collection.

After a modest December (for the entire department store, not just us), Tawn’s business picked up dramatically in January. He continues to design beautiful clothing and build his customer base. Last week another journalist visited our home to interview him and there have been murmurs of interest from stores in Singapore and Malaysia about possible overseas expansion. Of course, all of that is potential for the future. The focus right now is on developing the existing business and, of course, producing brilliant designs.

This week, our personal assistant of six months quit. He had let us know that he wanted to move back to the countryside but had agreed to work through the end of February. On Tuesday, the day after his monthly salary was paid, we discovered a bag left with the guards downstairs containing his laptop, keys, etc. No note, no explanation, and he has not responded to any phone calls or emails since. The fact that he was didn’t work the final four days of the month for which he had already been paid doesn’t much bother me. Instead, I am disappointed that he didn’t have the professionalism or courtesy to talk to us in person. Of course, he has lost us as a reference despite having been a good employee.

Doris and I flash the initials of a Xangan friend we have in common. A Xanga gang sign, if you will.

Ever since the middle of November, we have had a nearly nonstop stream of visitors from around the globe. While this results in us eating out quite a bit more than we usually do (making my weight loss goals harder to attain), it is a pleasure to see old friends and meet new ones. Most recently, Doris (aka snowjunky8) and her partner visited us from Amsterdam by way of Beijing. We’ve known each other for several years, connected through many mutual Xangans and friends in the independent film and film festival industries. We had never met in person, though, so that was a treat. 

One of the funny things about knowing people through Xanga is that they feel like they know Tawn, at least in a general way. Of course, since Tawn isn’t on Xanga (well, he started blogging several years ago and that lasted about two weeks), he doesn’t know anything about the Xangans with whom I interact. This produces interesting situations where we meet someone from Xanga and they feel like they know Tawn, but he has a bit of a “who are you?” sensation. Of course, he’s always nice to strangers and is every bit as pleasant in real life as I make him seem on this blog, but I have to laugh when these situations arise.

There is plenty else going on – a friend’s father passed away, another friend’s new restaurant project is about to open, and a third friend raised funds to send an underprivileged youth to university – but that’s enough updating now. I hope you and yours are in good health and doing well.

These are Amazing Times

For the past several weeks I have been following the news from Africa and the Middle East with great interest.  First Tunisia, then Egypt.  Now protests against dictatorships and in favor of democracy have emerged in Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Iran.  Other governments in the region have tried preemptive measures to appease potential protesters, although who can say how long they will be placated, if at all.  These are amazing times.

Egypt 2
Photo courtesy New York Times

As I sit down to write my nieces letters about these events for them to open when they become adults, I find myself stopping mid-letter, waiting for the latest development, waiting to see how it all turns out.  Because of course by the time they open these letters in more than a decade, the outcome will be much clearer.

There are those who are fearful that majority Muslim countries are not fit for democracy, fearful that “Islamists” (the latest bogeymen of the media) will take hold and turn the countries into America-hating and terrorist-generating nations.  Maybe so, although that seems unlikely. 

In the grand arc of history, people seem more concerned with jobs, food, education, housing, and healthcare.  If they have those things – which, generally speaking, they have more opportunity to secure in a functioning democracy – they have less reason to turn to terrorism and violence.  Most terrorists have come from countries with repressive governments and Al Qaeda’s initial grievances against the US were about American support for the Saudi monarchy and the presence of the US military in Saudi Arabia.

Sure, it is a gamble.  We won’t know until many years how it all turns out.  But it seems particularly undemocratic to tell people that they aren’t fit to have a democracy.  Shouldn’t it be up to them to decide?  And in the long run, which side of history do the Americans want to be on?  The side that props up strongmen dictators whose regimes repress their population, or the side that supports the flourishing of democracy (albeit without invading countries to turn them into democracies)?

I’ll place my bet on supporting democracy.  Twenty, thirty, forty years from now, we’ll look back at these times and realize not only were they amazing, but they were the start of the renaissance of the Arab world and an era that saw increasing stability throughout the region.