Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Stranger in Bangkok finally gives a hint of what he is actually doing

What a month. After an extended lull season, the sudden upturn in business hit us so so hard. Time and again I find myself toiling away in the office until goodness-knows what time to finish the bare essentials to ensure everything runs smoothly and customers are kept satisfied. Anyway, this is a good thing and I really should not be complaining, it's just draining.... and I'm tired.

Still, it's not a good reason to neglect this blog which I had spent so much effort to maintain over the last year. On the eve of returning to Kuching for a week to celebrate a very special Chinese New Year with my family (my wife's coming along and there's a new baby in the house called Rene), I shall finally blog in length for the first time about my company.

Ok, basically, I have been given the task of helping my company open a branch here in Bangkok, selling small equipment and their corresponding spare parts, covering the entire Thailand market. My instruction was simple: build a team, get customers and at the end of the day, earn money.

To cut the story short, I just have to say that to carry out that simple instruction is easier said than done, especially in a foreign country, grappling with a foreign language and for the first time, realising the how small Singapore is and how merciless large geographical areas and extreme weather conditions can be. I came in August 2009, and this being January 2011, I have been here across 3 calendar years now, quite incredible when it wasn't so long ago that I was still sleeping in a room with nothing but a bed and a closet with the sun shining right at my face every morning because my curtains took months before they were delivered. That was the time when I woke up everyday, running a new company all alone, not knowing what's gonna happen on the next minute.

A team was gradually built and business picked up. However, being in a small townhouse, moving our goods is always going to be our sticking point. Every month, up to 2 containers reach our office, each carrying nearly 800 cartons weighing 10tonnes on the average, and my staff and I would painstakingly carry every box manually into the building, of course, out again when each box was sold.

The recurring theme at the company, carry goods, carry goods, carry goods.
There were times when the goods arrived in the night, and everyone would flex their muscles till as late as 2am. I also remember goods arriving on exceptionally rainy days/nights, and everyone just moved around drenched. It sucked, and as a manager, I really did not want my staff to work like that, but the more we sold, the more we had to carry, seemed like a never-ending vicious cycle.

Thankfully, within a year, we did enough to convince the management to rent a bigger place, and found a 806m2 warehouse (more than 12 times bigger than our space now!). It all finally started to sink in when I saw this picture.

Life will never be the same again
A truck of goods unloaded with a forklift might not be an impressive sight for many of you, but to me, it is well and truly, a milestone accomplished. Not only has the company grown to a good degree in a short space of time, but our capacity, efficiency and staff welfare has now gone up a few notches. I can finally feel the satisfaction of one who has built up something from scratch with his bare hands.

With this post, I would like to thank everyone who has given me tremendous support, including my lovely wife Li Li, my parents, my brother, my management, my staff, my friends and of course my God watching over me from above. Also, to everyone reading this, I would also like you to know how beautiful a country Thailand is. Despite all the political unrest and bad press it has gotten in the past year, a complete Stranger in Bangkok like me has survived unscathed, and even in the toughest of times, I have pulled through, because never for one second has Thailand made me feel unwelcome. Instead, the people around me always greet me with a smile on their faces, offering kind words of encouragement from the depths of their hearts, and I really, really appreciate it.

Our entire team as of now
I finally understand the meaning of the word "company". A company comprises of a group of people with a common goal, who work hard together to achieve it as a team, lending support to each other in the process. Once the goal is achieved, the team will be collectively rewarded, and everyone can gradually upgrade themselves from their current standard of living because of the good work they have done.

This is just my definition, but I hope all of you can take something away from it. I will not stop working hard, because it is my responsibility to push the company forward to achieve its potential, so that I can make my staff's lives (and my own of course) better.

The Stranger in Bangkok would hereby like to wish everyone a very heart-warming Chinese New Year spent with your closest family and friends. May the Year of the Rabbit bring you truckloads of joy and laughter, see you after my one-week break.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Stranger in Bangkok leaves his footprints on Coral Island (Koh Larn)

Happy New Year everyone! The Stranger in Bangkok has finally summoned sufficient energy to revive this hibernating blog. Since my last post, I have left my footprints in the freezing cold Hong Kong, stuttered through a work-filled Christmas (it really ain't a great feeling to slog in the office on 25 December) battling an inflamed throat and embraced 2011 in a resort island with a group of great people.

Thailand, being a predominantly Buddhist country, does not celebrate Christmas or Chinese New Year. Instead, the biggest celebrations fall on Songkran and the New Year, when Thais flock back to their hometowns to countdown with their loved ones over varying doses of booze. This was the very first time I was here for the party, so I really could not miss out on the fun. Therefore, I called a few new friends and left for Koh Larn (aka Coral Island), 45minutes by ferry off Pattaya on the 1st of January to experience how to party the Thai way.

Why Koh Larn and not Pattaya? I did not know at first, but after a short drive through Pattaya, I realised the answer:

Signs in Pattaya have words in English and Russian (??!!!!) but not Thai. This was really too ridiculous for me to accept, so Koh Larn here I come!
The colourful view that welcomed us on our arrival
Of course, hearing the name Coral Island, I was expecting sun, sand and sea in abundance, and it did not disappoint. The great thing was, though the Russians flocked to Koh Larn in the day to enjoy the turquoise blue waters and fine white sand, they were running to catch the last ferry back to Pattaya by 430pm, giving the island a nice local bustle towards nightfall.

The only people you will see in bikini are the Caucasians, in all ages, shapes and sizes.
Lots of water activities to do under the glaring sun, or you can rent a deckchair under an umbrella for 50THB/day

We don't swim, so we climbed to the top of a hill to enjoy the view.

And made sure we chose the right beach to be mesmerised by the sunset.
Enough of the beach then. It wasn't the beach that inspired me to spend my whole night on this post, but the kind hospitality we got from our hosts, Suntree Home Koh Larn! Just one night at this wonderful homestay made me realise that dreams do come true, as long as you work hard enough for them.

Welcome to Suntree Home Koh Larn

We stay in one of the 2 penthouses on the rooftop

Our rustic but cheerful room for 6

We're forced to bathe in the open, a vulnerable feeling indeed.
This chic homestay situated 10 minutes' walk from the jetty is run by 2 young men, Amp and Oui. Aside of being the only 2 contacts for reservations and customer service, they have to:

Drive the pick-up, (hereby introducing the gang of Nong, May, Par, Xinyi and Li Li)!

While we were waiting to go crazy on snacks and booze

The 2 owners had to prepare all the seafood we bought
Before quickly transforming into acoustic band Bakerou to entertain us on the rooftop

Then waking up early next morning to make sure we had tasty pork porridge for breakfast
Amidst all this busy-ness, they had to endure with me breaking a chair and our constant requests for the 3rd mattress to be quickly placed in the room though we weren't planning to sleep yet. They even took the trouble to make us dipping sauces for the seafood, advising us not to use the sauces we bought as they contained too much MSG.

Anyway, I just want to say a big thank you to Amp and Oui for the great New Year weekend at Coral Island. Seeing them do everything from head to toe at a beach resort on a remote island, drawing pleasure from keeping guests happy, it feels like a scene from Beach Boys, just that this is all real, and they are living proof that anything is possible if you follow your passion!

For all who are thinking of somewhere to go when you have too many days in Bangkok, Russia Pattaya is a no-no but Koh Larn is a go-go because it is really a great place to chill and relax. I believe this will not be the last time the Stranger in Bangkok leaves his footprints there... meanwhile, Sawadee Pii Mai everyone, have a smashing 2011.
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