Monday, March 28, 2011

A tale of 4 motorcycle taxi drivers and a Stranger in Bangkok

The Stranger in Bangkok is happy to announce that this blog has officially come back to life! After a couple of lethargic months, this is my 4th post this month, and my mind is still bursting with topics to share with everyone.

Anyway, I am quite sick today. Woke up with a sore throat and spent the entire afternoon in bed, not a very nice thing to do alone here, but oh well, looking back at last night, I guess it's all worth it.
I was the victim of this freshly-cut BBQ pork
Last night, my company organised a BBQ to celebrate 3 of my staff's birthdays together. It was, as expected, a very enjoyable evening. Watching them having fun brings so much joy and satisfaction to my heart. These past 18 months has been the ride of my life, and despite the many downs, I am still amazed when I look at the small team I have built. Aside of Nim, my accountant (who had been selling home-made doughnuts to coffeeshops for half a year before I offered her the job), ALL my 4 male employees are motorcycle taxi drivers!
Motorcycle taxi driver 1: Rit, who will soon evolve from warehouse supervisor to sales manager

Motorcycle taxi drivers 2 & 3, from left: Mit, my trustworthy delivery man and Keng, my warehouse manager
I don't have a special love for motorcycle taxi drivers, it just happened this way. Actually, Rit and Keng were full-time bellboys at a hotel when they were recruited by me, but till today, both of them are still moonlighting as motorcycle taxi drivers to earn some extra cash during their free time. I tried many ways to recruit employees, including the common tried-and-trusted way of using established recruitment websites, and in the end? Aside of the fact that I only managed to interview 5 of the 11 candidates who promised to come for interviews (welcome to Thailand), the two I eventually employed (1 with a track record of 3000SGD of sales commission per month in his previous job) failed miserably for various reasons. At the end of the day, I found out that what I needed was not credentials nor experience, but a humble learning attitude and excellent working integrity. As long as he/she is honest and willing to learn, even if he is a motorcycle taxi driver, I will use my heart and soul to train him till he realises his potential. Special mention now needs to go to my latest motorcycle-taxi-driver recruit..
Uncle 29, real name Somsuk, warehouse employee and back-up delivery man
He just turned 49 today (happy birthday!). Despite his age, he's a tireless workhorse who gives our company loads of energy whenever he's around. When we're drained at 10pm looking at the tonnes of goods still to be unloaded from the container, he will be the one still singing songs to boost everyone's morale.
Last night, he showed us that he can dance as well!
Uncle 29 really enjoyed himself tremendously at the BBQ and our pub-visit following it, even climbing onto the bench to dance at one point, only to receive a stern warning from pub management. But oh well, as he worked overtime in the afternoon to deliver goods with Mit, everything went downhill for them shortly after this picture was taken.
They were unconscious! And it wasn't even midnight.
What can a Stranger in Bangkok and a gang of 4 motorcycle taxi drivers achieve?
If you are talking about building nuclear reactors or constructing fighter jets, the answer will be: Close to nothing.

However, for a trading company like mine which does not involve rocket science, I am confident enough to say that, given time, we will be able to achieve much more than anyone can ever imagine. Our unique story will continue to unfold, watch this space!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A touch of tradition at Tha Prachan, Bangkok's Moon Pier

Thanks to Wendy and Nueng, I feel like a Stranger in Bangkok once again. Not knowing about Kway Chap at Yaowarat is one thing, but not understanding the wonders of the Chao Phraya River after nearly 1.5 years here is really unforgiveable. Last Sunday, for the first time, I managed to explore many areas of Bangkok using the ferry boat service, and at 14baht per trip, I finally realise that if we live and work at the right places, there is another way to avoid the hell-ish traffic, use the boat! Ahh..... the beauty of Thailand, this mode of transport wouldn't be remotely possible in Singapore or my native Kuching.

A whiff of nostalgia along Chao Phraya River

The river aside, something else left an impression that day--a few small pieces of crispy toasted bread. Friends from Singapore, it's not Ya Kun Kaya Toast ok? As much as I admire the owners of Ya Kun for fusing their tradition with flashes of modern brilliance and in turn transforming their business into the current mini-empire, I can't help but take my hat off to those who do everything to hold on tight to their original craft.

Tha Prachan's famous sugar butter cracker, with a garlicky variant as well
Back to the story, Wendy, Nueng and I were strolling through the streets near Tha Prachan (I personally was a little surprised at Thai people's love for Buddhist amulets) when we spotted an old corner shoplot with a long queue. True to the Singapore spirit, Wendy jumped into the queue before Neung started telling us about this old stall, which has been making butter sugar crackers the same way for goodness-knows how many years, selling it at the same price as well-20baht per pack (the same pack as the picture above) amidst the many recessions and of course, the unceasing annual inflation.

The 2 lovely ladies, but one should look at the lady in the background to know how hot it is

Slicing the home-made bread and applying butter like a machine

Before baking till crisp in this furnace, which the poor customers need queue in front of

This is where everything bottlenecks, the packers were extremely slow in comparison to their counterparts
To ensure the queue moves, every customer can only buy a maximum of 20 packs!

On a side note, I feel inspired to teach all my readers to read some Thai, especially when this word is so close to my heart. So here goes....

Ah.... Roy (low tone)....... this word means delicious
After this trip, I no longer wonder why business owners don't necessarily want to embrace new techniques to make things easier for everyone. At the end of the day, product quality must be the focus and they are doing whatever they can to preserve the priceless originality of their creations. Consequently, they might not have achieved their potential in terms of wealth, but I am sure they are satisfied enough with what they have and who are we to knock them? Those who just can't stand queueing in front of a giant oven, you are more than welcome to munch some Kaya Toast over a cup of black coffee under the comfort of air-conditioning at Ya Kun. I, for one, prefer to stand and watch the masters at work here in Tha Prachan before this art disappears.

Thank you Nueng, for showing me again what Thai hospitality really means. I am delighted that you got your dream job and will be staying in Bangkok!

Where are we going next?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Stranger in Bangkok finds 1 reason to go to Yaowarat -- Kway Chap

Yaowarat is the name of Bangkok's Chinatown. It's a place known for amazing chinese restaurants, goods of all sorts, goldsmiths, money changers, hardware houses, but above all else, traffic jams. The scene depicted on the picture above is a common daily scene at Yaowarat. Countless motionless cars struggling in the heat, pedestrians meandering through the crevices among stagnant vehicles..... it's just a horrible place to go to.

I still remember the only time I went to meet a customer, we couldn't find a place to park, and when we finally did, we had to walk around 1.5km to my customer's shop through many small streets, and back again after the meeting, only to be stuck in the traffic forever..... it's just so inefficient.

However, thanks to my Uni-mate Wendy (another fellow Stranger-in-Bangkok) and her Thai friend Neung, I begin to understand the beauty of Yaowarat, starting with the dish -- Kway Chap. For all my foreign readers, maybe you might not understand what I am talking about, but my Singaporean and Malaysian friends would identify this dish with deliciously-braised pork bits accompanied by a bowl of piping hot, curled-up flat rice noodle.

Kway Chap - Singapore style
It's always been one of my favourite coffeeshop foods in Singapore. The Kuching version is slightly different, with the pork bits added on top of the flat rice noodle in 1 single bowl, but equally salty, soya saucy and yummy.

However, when this bowl of Kway Chap at Yaowarat (at the junction of Thanon Yaowaphanit) was served in front of me, it looked very suspicious. It wasn't brown at all, in fact, almost clear, looking like Singapore's 猪杂汤(mixed pork innards soup). The first taste of the broth surprised me yet again, as it's spicy, exceedingly spicy, the peppery way, reminding me of Bak Kut Teh instead.

The spicy peppery Singapore Bak Kut Teh
Seriously, it's really a bowl full of pleasant surprises, it looks like pork innards soup, tastes like Bak Kut Teh and is really Thailand's version of Kway Chap (which is a reasonable name because it has the curled up flat rice noodles at the bottom, which is what the name means). Even the usually bubbly and cheerful Wendy fell into a dead silence after taking her first sip, it was too good for us to even think of splitting our concentration for one moment.
Presenting Thailand's Kway Chap, complete with fresh odourless innards and crispy pork belly!
I realised why I couldn't feel the true allure of Yaowarat the last time, because stalls like these could only open after 630pm, which is the time when I am already battling with the ferocious jams trying to manoeuvre my way back to the office. That's when the REAL food shows up, and the fiery afternoon sun takes a rest to be replaced by a bearable evening breeze.
Wendy (left) and Neung (right)
Thank you ladies, for giving me the opportunity to change my view of Chinatown.

It's clear that the durian season is drawing near
With such exotic sights and exciting tastes, I have no doubt that I will be back in Yaowarat again, not for work, but for a leisurely stroll down the delectable street food stalls on a lazy Sunday evening.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An afternoon out of Bangkok to Sam Chuk's Hundred Year Old Market

This post is long overdue. Work's still overwhelming, and I just got back from a fulfilling trip to Singapore, meeting with some great old friends, attending my sister-in-law's wedding and even playing basketball after more than 10 years with the exact people who made me love the game. Among the countless things to blog about, I realised my visit to Samchuk Market (around 2 hours drive away from Bangkok) is something I just can't deprive you of.

Firstly, I would like to thank Xinyi, Par and May for inviting Li Li and myself to this place which I have not heard of. I like to visit authentic spots where Thai people set up to service fellow Thais, and by seeing just 1 caucasian during the entire trip, what better place could there be?

Actually, the most impressive part is the entire ambience of the place. It still has the rustic old street market feel, but yet well-paved walkways and cleanliness makes it a breeze for anyone to spend an entire day there without finding any excuse to head home early. However, we do recommend you to either visit in the morning or after 3pm to avoid the scorching mid-day sun.

These charcoal irons were the first things which caught my eyes at the market.
There were many stalls selling old-fashioned kitchenware like these

To be really honest, the whole Samchuk experience would not be complete without the food. The colour and the vibrance of the traditional delicacies would brighten anyone's day, especially if you couple it with the energy of the vendors too.

I do hope my collage does the food justice.

Amongst the limitless choices of food on display, I would point you to 2 must-try specialties:

What are those monsters? Coconuts?
No! They are gigantic meatballs!

These meatballs are REALLY HUGE. They are reputed to weigh around 1 kg each (the normal steak we eat at a steakhouse weighs around 350g). They really do taste like normal meatballs, just enormous.

The next one everyone should try is the Kao Ho Baay Bua, which translates to Rice Wrapped in Lotus Leaf. Though it doesn't taste spectacular enough to make you go 'wow', a picture of this pretty little thing plus a firm handshake with the friendly middle-aged cowboy who owns the stall will make your foray worthwhile.

My favourite of the day has to go to this coffeeshop, who uses charcoal to brew the most fragrant and buttery cup of coffee you can ever find.

Aside of wandering aimlessly round the market looking for our next bite, we also took a short boat ride along the tranquil Tha Ching River, still relatively undisturbed by the rapid global urbanisation.

It's where villagers still do their laundry by the river
 As the ferry moved along, I can't help playing a fool again. Looking around for inspiration, I spotted a nice green curtain for me to pose for beautiful picture.

Like a professional, I tidied my hair, pushing any loose strands behind my ears.
Oh my goodness, what has a year and a half in Thailand done to me!??!! Luckily I now have a wife to constantly remind me that I am actually a man, haha!

I would like to end off by saying that I really did not expect much from Sam Chuk Market initially, and had my doubts to whether it was worth it to spend 4 hours travelling to and from Bangkok to experience it. However, after the visit, I love it so much that I am sure I will be back soon, before another fake Floating Market and international visitors take over, though I really hope it does not happen.

The weekend getaway gang, so where next?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...