Friday, October 21, 2011

Drastic measures for desperate times

The government has announced the sacrifice of Eastern Bangkok to drain flood waters. Though our district has not been singled out as a disaster zone, we know we are vulnerable. Imagine PAP announcing Pasir Ris as a warzone and you're living in Bedok, you should really prepare for war too.

For the first time in my life, I have to make difficult decisions. I have to save the company, save the goods, save the office and keep my pregnant wife and mom (yes she's here) safe all at the same time. This stress is tremendous, especially when the threat is a possible onslaught of natural disaster.

It did not make things easier when my staff failed to find any bricks yesterday when I finally decided to build a solid wall on my warehouse doors (effectively building a 'permanent' structure to block up the office I worked so very hard over the last 2 years to open, compromising  our business activities at the same time) to prevent possible floodwaters from engulfing everything.

Finally, they were found, but with huge holes on them! My staff told me that we had no choice and people are fighting for them, so there's more work, because we had to fill the holes up with cement ourselves.
They are really a bunch of good lads, we are lucky to have such a team fighting for the company
Never in a hundred years would I have envisioned myself having to order the erection a brick wall to block up the entrances of my company, it's an excruciating feeling

At the end of the ordeal, whether or not the brickwall would be put into actual use, I can at least tell people I was fighting in Thailand during its worst flood for 50 years. Whatever doesn't break you makes you stronger, doesn't it. Any form of hardship in Singapore would not have strengthened me against the threat of nature.

In the face of disaster, human beings are all thrown back to square one.

Whatever, popularity, wealth, power and reputation does not matter anymore. The richest and the poorest, while facing disaster, become equal all over again.

So what if you have 10 houses if you have to stay on top of the roof?

So what if you have 100 cars when they have become submarines?

So what if you have millions in the banks, when all the banks and atm machines are closed?

So what if you managed to withdraw cash just in time before the banks got engulfed by the floodwaters? When all the shops are closed, the millions in your pocket become useless pieces of paper.

When the aids arrive in helicopters, even if you have millions in your wallet, you too, will chase after the choppers scrambling for every piece of bread and bottle of drinking water like everyone else.

Everyone is the same.

With money, you might be able to make a quicker comeback than the rest after the disaster, but can you survive it in the first place?

United we stand, cooperating and helping each other through the toughest of times.
Love needs to prevail, everyone needs to stand up, be counted and help each other. This is the only way we can emerge stronger after the waters subside.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tribute to Khaaw: How Bangkok has changed my life


By writing this blogpost, I want to tell everyone that myself, Li Li and Baby in Bangkok are all ok. Thank you for your concern. If anyone wants further proof of our resilience, you will soon see more information of us travelling down to Hua Hin over the weekend for some great relaxing time-off with a couple of friends. The flood situation in Bangkok is currently under control, with concerns in some areas till the end of the month. The worst flood in Thailand in 50 years has spared us for the time-being, and I am grateful everyday for it.

Enough of floods, the focus of this piece is really about the cute street dog pictured above. His actual name is Nom-Sod, which means Fresh Milk, but he himself doesn't know his real name, so let's just call him by his nickname Khaaw, which he identifies himself by.

More than a year ago, I wrote about how living in a local suburb in Bangkok has helped me overcome my 20-yr-old fear of dogs, but now (2 of the dogs mentioned in my post have sadly passed away), 2 months after moving out of the local suburb, Khaaw has absolutely deepened my love for them.

He has long fluffy hair, different from usual Thai street dogs
I have fond memories of playing with Khaaw and stroking him to sleep during the two years at my old office, especially during the many months when I was staying all alone, fighting a lone battle to establish my company in Thailand. He felt like my only companion when everything seemed stacked against me, and would always jump on me in enthusiasm to give me a reason to smile.

Since moving away 2 months ago, I had been back to visit him 4 times, and on every occasion he would be sprinting towards me from far far away before pouncing on me again and again, as if to give me all the affection he accumulated over the weeks of my absence.

Last week, I made one of those visits again, but this time I went to have coffee at a stall 50metres away, which is strictly out of Khaaw's designated zone (btw, street dogs work like professional mafia gangs, they have designated regions of influence, and trespassers would not be treated lightly). He took the risk and just sat peacefully beside me as I reminisced with the stall-owner. As expected, the dog controlling the area soon arrived and Khaaw did something to really touch my heart.

Mafia King finally arrived to chase Khaaw out of his area, they circled around, flashing canines at each other, while I was trying to coax Khaaw back to his neighbourhood

To my shock, he did the unexpected! Instead of returning to the comforts of his own village, he came up the platform where I was sitting and continued to accompany me, all the way till I left, despite the angry growlings of the Mafia King

In case any of you are rolling your eyes at this very unspectacular story of mine, take note that we are talking about a street dog here, who never had an owner nor proper training whatsoever, showing such love and loyalty to a friend who doesn't feed him (yes, aside of the odd bone, I NEVER feed him).

Khaaw stole a kiss on my cheek while we were posing for this picture. Our first kiss!

This is not the most flattering picture of me, and in normal circumstances I would never let this appear anywhere in public, but seeing the smile on Khaaw's face and the coincidental fact that I was wearing a bright white shirt as well, I think this is the best picture to show our deep friendship.

Thank you to Khaaw, and to all the dogs who are giving your hearts to the people around you. Your sweet actions prove to us that in the present society full of ignorance and hate, love always prevails.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Venice of the East Part 3: The calm before the storm

As much as I am reluctant to write this, it feels appropriate to write the 3rd instalment of my series of flood-related posts. As we speak, 3/4 of Thailand is affected by its worst flood in 50 years, with the ancient city of Ayuthaya just been rendered completely handicapped (flood waters up to 5m high in some parts). The stories we see on the news are devastating and interesting at the same time.

"... the government is are our wits' end...." not very convincing from the Chiobu PM. I am happy that you are going to decrease the corporate tax in the next 2 years (if you really do it), but come on, can you say something more inspiring? You don't have to lie, but could u just say some things to inject more hope into your people who voted for you?

In Uthai Thani, 100 crocodiles escaped from a crocodile farm, and the owners dubbed them "not fierce" as they had been raised in captivity. Now that sounds more inspiring than what you have to offer, Chiobu PM.

Commodities such as rice, instant noodles and canned food are running dry on the racks of major supermarkets, but these sales are closely followed by pet food! Kudos Thai people, you love your pets. They can always eat our food, but we can't eat theirs, so that's really thoughtful!

Flood preparation begins

Back in my company, flood preparation has officially begun. I grew up in Singapore, a country in which one single flash flood can cause the government to withstand major bombardment by the masses, so I am really not experienced in this kind of crisis management. But having visited my customer in Hat-Yai last month and witnessed remnant water marks (from last year's flood) at eye level (I am a good 6ft tall), I figure it's better to be safe than sorry, especially when our warehouse is in Bangkok's purple zone (medium danger level).

There are always opportunities in the face of disaster. This could be the first time in 50 years where sandbag-sellers could increase their prices by 20% every few hours. The price of every sandbag has increased from 30baht to 45 baht in the space of 24 hours. We were lucky we got ours at 35. We should really have purchased more, if we did, we would be rich by now selling them to our neighbours.

Little wall of sandbags

We have abandoned all business activities to work OT stacking goods as high as we can
We try to keep the lower levels as clear as possible, but there's only so much we can do, you can't fight nature, you always lose.

We can only pray and hope that when the flood waters finally wash through Bangkok, it will pass by our warehouse, bringing only the millions of rats hiding in the dungeons underground along, and cause minimal damage to what we have worked so hard to create in the last 2 years.

The tangible and intangible losses incurred by the floods are already too great to even think of, and it will leave possibly millions in this country needing to build their homes and livelihoods from scratch again. But hopefully, like we have seen again and again in other countries, disaster will bring along a newfound spirit of unity and togetherness amongst the Thai people, and the country will emerge stronger than before.

As we are doing our best to counter the forces of nature, it did not rain last night. It was the first time for as long as I can remember that there was no hint of rain for the entire evening. It is also scorchingly sunny today so far, my laundry is finally going to dry.

The calm before the storm perhaps? I certainly hope not.

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