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.

Thai Language Newspapers

One aspect of living in Thailand that has caught my attention is comparing Thai language newspapers to the English language papers.  There are some interesting differences.

For starters, there are approximately ten daily Thai language newspapers and two English language papers here in Krungthep.  Bear in mind that the population of the greater metropolitan area is between six and ten million.  The lower number represents the officially registered population, but the higher number represents the many laborers who come in from the countryside but never re-register their address from their home province.

It amazes me that there are so many newspapers here.  Now, they aren’t all newspapers in the way you might define a newspaper if you are from the US or Canada.  Some are more political, some focus mostly on sports, others are mostly tabloids.  But they are all daily news publications.

The English language papers – the Bangkok Post and The Nation – looks and feel much more like a traditional Western paper: news section, sports section, business section, and lifestyle section.  One could argue about the quality of their reporting, but that’s for another entry.

The Thai language papers, even the ones that profess to be serious news outlets, are not shy about using shocking, barely redacted images on their front pages.

Almost every day there is a scene from an accident, a murder, a bomb attack in the South, etc.  The bodies are pixelated in an attempt to protect the sensitivities of the readers, but they don’t try very hard.

These two examples are pretty tame.  The worst image I’ve ever seen was in the case when a young man rather stupidly climbed a pole supporting high-tension power lines.  He was electrocuted and his charred body was caught up in the lines.  The image on the front page of one paper showed the unmistakable image of a charred body, twisted up in the power lines.  Gory.

I guess you could make the argument that showing more graphic images keeps people from living in the illusion of a sanitized world, free of death, violence, and ugliness.  However, I’m not sure I need to see such graphic sights over my breakfast to help me fully apprecaite the world.  Thoughts?


When the News is For Sale

I fired off a letter to the editor this morning when I discovered that The Nation had used a quarter of today’s front page to give free advertising for the opening of “Chicago: The Musical” in the Big Mango.

Tawn, as a PR professional, admired the success of whichever agency handles that account, but was shocked at how blatant the placement was.

Nation 2009 You will recall that a few weeks ago, I took to task one of the paper’s columns, “Ask the Pros”, for asking the owner of a beauty clinic that performs colon hydrotherapy (enemas by another. sexier name) to play the role of unbiased expert in responding to a reader’s questions about the safety and efficacy of colonics. 

But this seems to have reached new levels of journalistically unprofessional conduct.  A quarter of the front page with the following caption: “BEC-TERO Entertainment paid more than Bt100 million to bring Broadway’s ‘Chicago: the Musical’ to Bangkok.  The play took the stage last night at the Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre in The Esplanade shopping complex and runs until February 22.  The 50-strong cast is led by Michelle DeJean and Terra C. MacLeod.  Tickets cost Bt1,000 up to Bt4,000 each.”

Now, I want you to know, I am a fan of the musical Chicago.  In fact, Tawn and I are joining a group of friends to watch the show on Saturday.  So it isn’t that I dislike musicals or don’t believe that coverage of a new musical’s opening isn’t news.  I am pretty certain, though, that we have more pressing things to report on the front page.

You may not have heard, but there is actually quite a bit of real news going on here in Thailand: 

  • We have a police investigation into the New Year’s Day pub fire (resulting in 64 deaths) that is revealing some alarming things about public safety, tax evasion, and corruption of public officials.
  • We have a new Prime Minister (our fourth in a year) who is trying to steer the ship of state in rough political and economic waters. 
  • We have a nationalized airline that is bleeding money while giving its employees large bonuses and raises. 
  • We have an Agriculture Ministry that is requiring that tumeric, lemongrass, and ginger (among other things that farmers use as organic and safe pesticides) be listed as hazardous substances, a move that undermines organic farming and opens the doors for the large chemical companies.

Any one of these – plus a dozen more – could have provided some much-needed news reporting, investigation and analysis.  But the editors felt that the biggest news in the Kingdom was the opening of an expensive show from Broadway.  One of several shows that open here every year.

I’ll let you know if the editor deigns to respond to my letter.


Breaking the News of My Move

Sorry for the delay in posting – I spent most of the weekend at Jennifer and Kevin’s new house, painting shelves, lining other shelves with contact paper, and trying to make myself useful.


Last night I babysat Emily, my 2-1/2 month old niece, as Jenn and Kevin were off at a training class at church for people who work in the nursery.  Emily was quite well behaved (a change after the past few weeks of “terrible twos” behavior) and we watched the Kiki’s Delivery Service by noted animator Hayao Miyazaki.  She was very engaged with the movie, which may be just a year or two over her head.


Yesterday I conducted a conference call with my team of 10 employees and announced that I’ll be moving to Bangkok at the end of October and taking on new role with IKON.  I’m very fortunate that my manager has a lot of faith in me, and has found a position as a Program Manager that I can fulfill remotely.  It is quite similar to what I currently do, minus the management of trainers.  I’ll focus on designing, developing, and updating the various programs and training materials we use.


The reaction by my team of employees was largely stunned silence.


I guess this makes it real, doesn’t it?  The train has left the station and is chugging towards the future.