Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Running a business in Thailand Part 1: The Pain of Hiring

Three and a half years after first stepping permanently into Thailand, I feel I am finally ready to start a new 'advisory' series. If my previous Survival tips in a Foreign Land series was created because of the experience built up from my ceaseless business-related travelling, this new column is definitely inspired by the unique challenges I have faced running a company specifically in Thailand.

Unlike the previous series, which was promptly concluded in 4 separate posts, this will be a topic that will become a permanent feature in my blog, and I will give some thoughts and sharing on the topic as I when I deem appropriate. It is not possible for me to teach you how to open a company and run one successfully here, as I am no guru and am still committing mistakes everyday, but I will definitely give you some insight on what obstacles you will need to overcome in order to run a decent business in Thailand.

I am currently in the process of hiring more staff in a bid to grow the company, and hiring has been a pain in my arse right from the beginning. Just in the last couple of weeks, I have suffered enough frustration from POTENTIAL interviewees for me to set my district on fire. Why POTENTIAL interviewees? Because I have really only seen 2 of them so far!

I placed my job advertisement on 2 popular job websites recommended by a couple of Thai friends, looking for a Sales Executive to assist us in dealing with customers. And here goes:

The job specifications, plain and simple

From my previous hiring experience, I understood that Thais have the bad habit of finding jobs during office hours. Resumes usually don't stop popping into my mailbox during office hours, while the mailbox goes absolutely quiet during weekends. This is pretty scary isn't it, as the candidate will probably do the same to my company if I hire them. Hence, although I have to give up on many candidates, I give special priority to those who take the effort to work when they are supposed to, and look for new opportunities after hours/during weekends.

Though the clear message that I am only interested in English resumes, 90% of the resumes I received were still completely in Thai. Luckily, I read enough Thai to identify the part where the candidates state their English proficiency and subsequently requested for their English CV. With this exercise, I successfully invited a few interesting candidates here for an interview.

Candidate 1:

She came with her MUM (who does that?), and could not speak a word of English.

Candidate 2:

She attempted to conduct a phone interview with me, asking me lots of questions before agreeing to come, only to send me an email a few hours before the actual interview saying her mother would not allow her to come because our office is too far from her home.

Candidate 3:

She came and absolutely lost all the fire in her eyes when she learnt that we work on Saturday mornings. She obviously did NOT read the job specifications.

Candidate 4:

She said that she was busy this month, and asked whether she could come for interview after 15th February (this was asked mid-Jan). Incredible!

Candidate 5:

I pushed away a couple of meetings to wait for her in the office. But I simply sat like an idiot in my room waiting. Half an hour after her scheduled interview time, I called her, only to find that she completely forgot about the interview and went back to her hometown Sukhothai during the weekend.

So you see, it has been disappointment after disappointment so far. In Singapore, at least during my time as a fresh graduate, everyone treated their interview opportunities with utmost respect. We read the job specs carefully, did extensive research on the company, dressed our best and made sure we arrived at the location as early as possible. I am not expecting the same in Thailand, but to have gotten such a slip-shod attitude from almost everyone (many who came from the better local Universities and spoke English like Americans) is nothing short of shocking.

Three years ago, my company was newly set up. We faced similar problems looking for people. However, I could accept the difficulties we faced, as we were looking for experienced staff (possibly older than me) to come in and help us immediately, and it would never be easy as I could not expect established professionals to quit their jobs to join an unknown start-up.

Times have changed. We are now a relatively well-known establishment in our field turning over nearly 3 million USD a year and rapidly growing. We should be more than a good fit for the young English-speaking graduates looking for a fresh challenge, but sigh, my hiring process hasn't gotten any easier.

Despite all the pain, this is not an aspect to deter you from doing business in Thailand. Perseverance is key. Though every step of hiring was frustrating, my company head-count has still managed to grow annually, standing now at 8. I have absolute faith that we will eventually find the right people to take us to another level.

On the other hand, I worry for the future of Thailand, if this is the kind of attitude the current education system has managed to nurture. Whoever's in charge better immediately start whipping basic respect and professionalism into the brains of their younger generation, otherwise, they will have no one to blame if the progress of the country is stifled by the lack of basic competence from their local workforce


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Whimsical Wonderland at Mr Jones' Orphanage

Update October 2015: Mr Jones' Orphanage Seenspace has now ceased operations and it now has 6 branches in major malls across Bangkok. If you want to feel the most vibe, Stranger in Bangkok recommends the branch in Siam Centre.

Mr Jones' Orphanage

The bustling food scene in Bangkok has just gotten quirkier with the appearance of this certain Mr Jones' Orphanage. Nestled at the corner lot of Seenspace, Thong Lor Soi 13, its appearance together with Fat Gutz and Belon Oyster and Raw Bar has given the no-longer-bustling community mall for hippies and expats a fresh lease of life.

However, unlike its neighbours on the ground floor focusing on pairing alcoholic drinks with gourmet finger food, Mr Jones' Orphanage decided to go head-to-head with After You right across the street, with desserts and flavoured milk as its main offerings.

The actual orphans in the orphanage
The first thing that drew me to it was, of course, its name. I had been keeping it in mind ever since I saw its name when it was undergoing massive renovation a few months ago. Without asking the staff with my less-than-perfect Thai, I figured that the orphans referred to these little bears that were doing various things comfortably in their little cubicles near the ceiling throughout the entire eatery.

The atmosphere was a win for me

After being pleasantly welcomed by mist-spewing gargoyles outside the door, the fairy-tale-like interior decoration captured me. From bears sitting on swings that were literally swinging vigorously 24/7,  to the massive fruit-filled carousel as the centerpiece, toy soldiers on every table and a ceiling hung full of paper aeroplanes, it was like entering Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium. The world outside meant nothing anymore. It was an invitation to go back to my childhood to re-live the childish fantasy I had, even if it was for half an hour over some flavoured milk and cake.

The display of cakes

Custard Cow's Poo, now that's interesting

Though colourful, the huge array of cakes on display did not impress either my wife or myself. They all looked roughly-presented (this might have been on purpose) and a little dry. When I asked the waitress for recommendations, to my surprise, she did not point out the Custard Cow's Poo, which, due to its deliberately-eye-catching name, was what I assumed to be the star of the show. We did not try it in the end.

Strawberry Waffle
Our first dish was the strawberry waffle, which was served to us at a jaw-dropping-less-than-one-minute speed after our order. This was, even for Ronald McDonald's standard, lightning quick. A small touch on the waffle explained why -- it was stone cold. Determined to get a freshly-made piping-hot waffle, I requested for a change, which was equally-swiftly rebuffed with an explanation that it was meant to be served cold because the cream and ice-cream should not melt too fast.

Oh well, since we were in an orphanage anyway, how could we expect to get what we want? That said, the waffle itself was delicious, buttery and soft, with a generous topping of strawberries. Why can't they just serve it hot? I would rather eat it quickly while it's hot (before the ice-cream melts), than be given the liberty to take hours finishing a cold one (with the ice-cream melting anyway).

Chocky Mud Pie

Our next choice was the Chocky Mud Pie, recommended by the waitress. It was served with the same vanilla ice-cream as the waffle (it was served in a ramikin so it doesn't melt too fast beside the hot pie??!). It looked pretty attractive, like a volcano of molten chocolate boiling over. However, if I am very honest, it tasted more like an undercooked cupcake than anything else. It was doughy, heavy, stuck-to-your-teeth mushy without being richly chocolate-y. It was really not that bad, but extremely forgettable.

As I have said before many times over the course of my restaurant reviews on this blog, an eatery is judged on many levels. Ultimately, the most important should be its food and service, but for Mr Jones' Orphanage's case, both aspects did not leave an impression lasting enough to make me want to go back.

Why then, did I decide to write this review? Because it has been a long time since a food establishment wow-ed me simply through the atmosphere it managed to successfully create. So, even though the waffle needs to be hotter and the mud-pie more muddy, on a boring weekend afternoon, if Noah tugs my sleeve and asks to go out, I might just put him on my shoulder, say hi to the spitting gargoyles before entering this whimsical wonderland all over again.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The "Better Fathering Index"- what's the point?

Happy New Year! I have been delaying my first post of 2013 due to my extremely heavy workload (think working and attending Thai language lessons and webpage design lessons concurrently) recently, but a new development in Singapore has activated my blogging instincts sufficiently for me to wake up especially early today to write this piece.

Singapore has done it again, it has achieved another FIRST, this time, in becoming the FIRST country in the world to come up with a performance-measuring-scale for fathers in Singapore, called the "Better Fathering Index" (referred to as the BFI for the rest of the post). Having an airport ranking NUMBER 1 in the world, or having the largest ferris wheel in the world might offer some form of pride for some Singaporeans, but I believe this new number 1 will not be welcome by many any parent.

Firstly, why the BFI? Why not formulate the "Better Mothering Index" or "Best Grandparenting Index"? Because it is downright insulting to the mother since everyone knows the mother is the one who will naturally be most involved in taking care of the child? Because our old and retired grandparents do not deserve anymore stress having a number put on their heads when they should be deservedly enjoying the final phase of their lives? Then, why target the father instead?

Secondly, what is the point of parenting? Aren't all parents trying their very best so that their children will hopefully be brought up the right way and become good people who contribute to the society? If that is the case, shouldn't 'measuring' the 'quality' of the kids we bring up be a more accurate measure of how good a job we have done? No, of course not, the government might argue. Rightly so, because over the last few decades, children in Singapore have been under so much unnecessary stress over grades and rankings in school that MOE has removed (*round of applause) the ranking system in school as well as the announcement of most outstanding grades in PSLE. Then, why now start to put a number on Daddies' heads?

Thirdly, how are we to judge how good a father is? According to the Centre for Fathering, it might involve aspects like how much time the father spends with the child and the kinds of activities they do together. 

Take my father and myself for example, we are absolutely contrasting Daddies. My dad, being the traditional guy as he is, spends most of his time working, expanding his company (shedding blood and sweat outside to provide for the family) and therefore is not very involved in the nitty gritty details at home like cooking, doing chores, playing with us or changing our diapers etc., while I, being the only help for my wife in Bangkok, try to be home as much as possible to be involved in every single aspect of Noah's well-being. That said, who do you think is the better Father? Is it possible to even judge or put a number to it?

Because of our absolute contrast in styles, if he scores well in the BFI, I would probably appear to be an absolute failure of a Daddy and vice versa. Is that even fair then? I turned out ok from his style of fathering, and who knows how Noah will turn out in the future? Ultimately, there is no right or wrong to parenting, as long as we do our best and love our wives and children with all our hearts, no number can ever be fairly tagged to our efforts.

Sorry for ranting so early in the morning, but I think the fathers' collective voice needs to be heard. This BFI really is an indication of how misunderstood Daddies are these days. We are stressed enough having to provide for the family and help out at home, among many other roles we play!

I am not the first father to give his strong views on this issue (see here, here and here), and will most definitely not be the last.
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