Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Emergency Rule & Fish Tanks

Emergency rule has been extended in Bangkok as a result of a bomb (home made) blast that went off at a bus station killing 1 and injuring 10 over the weekend. There is certainly a simmering uncertaincy going on here. Life goes on so fast and before you realise it, you haven’t thought about the demonstrations that ruled our lives for three months, and then a bomb going off like this is a reminder that issues run deep.

I just spotted a mini fish tank on someone’s desk at the end of our open plan room!!!! hahaha little black and gold fish scootering around in circles. I don’t know how their water doesn’t freeze over with this blasted aircon….

Just had a ‘skinny banana muffin’ from Starbucks but don’t feel skinny yet 😦

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Size Counts

Another fabulous thing about Thailand is the fashion. At first glance I was rather worried about finding anything in my size i.e. a tall person with hips, simply because Thai women are so tiny and their body shape could not be more different to mine. For starters most shoe shops don’t stock sizes bigger than 4. I take a 6. This makes me a freak of nature. (except in Nine West, Jimmy Choo & Aldo heh heh) Many times I have entered little boutiques (where you get the best stuff) and have been welcomed by awkward giggles and shy shaking of heads from the sales staff as they look me up and down and explain……”no BIG size madam’ Picture me with head slung low, shoulders rounded, rejected and exciting establishment feeling monstrous. Alas, I have no discovered where to shop to get things in my size. Granted a few dresses are tops for me, but who cares? I will just wear jeans or a skirt underneath. It’s all about adaptation. The best discovery of this weekend? SALES. Now, let me tell you, in the past sales might as well read “hellish experience ahead” because a sale in South Africa or England is just another word for ‘Nothing left I your size’ because all the mediums are gone. I have given up on rummaging through XS and XL items years ago. HOWEVER….because I am the anomaly in Thailand, sales mean everything in MEDIUM is left because S, XS and XXS are the sizes that sell out the fastest here. So there I was, in my natural habitat: Zara, Mango. Armani Exchange, Gap……..taking my time trying on all the gorgeous, untouched size medium or large items (yes, I am considered large by many establishments) the store has to offer while all these gorgeous tiny Thai women groan and moan over the fact there are no XS items for them.

Farewell Party & Blue Wigs

I was invited (via my work email) for a farewell party after work for two women who were leaving the company. As I stood up to leave work and head to the venue I asked my colleagues what time they were going to join. I noticed some awkward looks and people shaking their heads and avoiding eye contact. Me being me said ‘Commmmeee OOONNNN it will be fun!’ and yet still, no response.  I thought how rubbish to work with someone for years and not bother to turn up for one eeny weeny drinkie…..

Turns out, the rest of the office wasn’t invited….just me and the MD of our department. Talk about putting my massive (well-heeled) foot in it! I felt SO bad. Farewell was great fun in the end. Turns out only managment was invited so I was rather intimidated. I ended up drinking too much wine – what are you supposed to do if someone keeps filling it up after every sip? – and bonding with the girls whose last day it was. Kind of sad as they were both really classic and gave me some great advice on how to win over clients.

I ended up wearing a blue wig and chatting to one Thai lady about her recent trip to Paris were she drank champagne in the Louis Vuittone store because she bought so much……..HiSo (high society) is what they call it here.

It seems most of the Thai women that work at my agency don’t have to work but rather choose to. This explains why they are always in the latest high fashion outfits with fabulous hair, nails and pedicures. Don’t think I have ever worked with someone who doesn’t have to work before.

Had a great public holiday today (Buddhist day) just chilling out with Fin and Robbie. Ended up finding a New York-style spot which does poached eggs and smoked salmon (my fave) so that was rather delish. Although there is more atmosphere in my left toe than that restaurant. Click here for link to my review Minibar Restaurant

Animal organs and mini pancakes

I was invited by a different group of colleagues to lunch today. They simply said ‘wanna come for beef noodles?’ and I said ‘ok ka’ (ok thank you)

So off we went:  five girls and one boy, in two taxis. Arrived at one of those local Thai restaurants that I have always wanted to eat at but have been too scared based on the fact that:

1)      There are no menus

2)      No one speaks English

3)      There is an ordering system that takes place but I am never sure what is going on i.e. people randomly shout at a waitress

4)      The stools are tiny, plastic and low to the ground and I am convinced I will break them

5)      Everybody stares if you are a foreigner

We grabbed a big table and all scooted around on little plastic stools (I didn’t break mine thank God) One girl took a little notepad and pen out her handbag and started writing down everyone’s orders. They asked me if I wanted beef or pork, thin or thick noodles (or rice). I said just give me something nice without too much chilli. They then said something in Thai and all laughed nervously and eventually one girl said ‘would you eat animal organs?’ and, before I could answer, they all decided that this was perhaps not the time for me to attempt that and requested only ‘normal’ meat. Phew. Not sure how I would have dealt with a floating esophagus in my soup.

Someone grabbed an elderly unmarked (as in, how do you know she works here?) waitress and gave her out food list. Someone ordered me a lemon ice tea on crushed ice which was super sweet and delicious.

Food arrived, chopsticks and Chinese soup spoon. I watched as everyone heaped their noodles onto the spoon with the chopsticks and copied them. I did have a few moments of splashing soup onto my chin/hair/neck/front but all in all I didn’t totally embarrass myself.

We then walked back through a food market and stopped to buy 6 tiny little pancakes from a man in a huge straw hat. He dished the pancake mix onto the smooth grill in neat little ovals, cracked a tiny (quail?) speckled egg onto it, spread the yolk with the back of a spoon, added a tea spoon of minced pork, a squidsh of syrup, a slice of sausage and rolled it up like a mini schwarma. The bill? 30 Baht for 6. (R6.60) We ate most of those in the taxi on the way back to the office.

I have just been passed two little packets of wasabi crackers by the guy who sits opposite me. He said simply ‘snack’ grinning and raising one eyebrow.  I told him he would have to pay for diet pills later in the year if he kept doing this.

Monday is a public holiday. I have just received my first pay check in 15 months. This means I have three days to blow the lot.

Left Standing with a Tooth Pick

This mornings social faux pas:

Was offered some food by the dude sitting behind me.

Food was in a little plastic platter and consisted of round orange, yellow and green coloured blobs all lined up together

He said they were sweet (I was relieved to hear this because if they were savory we would have a visual melt down) and held them out to me

One tooth pick had been jabbed into a yellow blob so I used that one

Shoved entire thing in my mouth in one bite because everyone was looking at me waiting for my reaction…and who can take two ladylike bites from a tooth-pick-jabbed blob?

It was an odd taste, sweet, squishy, fresh….like a jelly pudding but with lavender after-taste

I said I liked it, which I did, everyone smiled

I turned back to my desk only to realise I was still cluthing the toothpick and had no idea what I was supposed to do. Instinct tells me I should have returned it as it was the only device to get the food out the tray without your fingers touching all the other ones. There had only been ONE on the tray.

Now its too late to return the toothpick as it has touched my desk  (and when I think back there was a hesitation from the guy after I popped it in my mouth where his eyes darted to the toothpick)

AwKwArD

Monks & Morning Song

I often compare consumer habits in South Africa to those in Asia, simply because there are so many similarities and so many differences. In advertising we often look at the average day in our consumers lives in order to see where the potential ‘touch points’ would be to communicate with them. For example what time they wake up, what TV station they watch, how they get to work, where they eat lunch, what websites they surf, what time they get home etc

I was reading one the other day and it is so cool to see that nearly all income levels of Thai people give alms to monks every single morning between 5am and 6:30am. This is basically an ‘offering’ to Buddha in an attempt to get closer to a better after life and end the cycle of rebirth. Rice is generally the most common offering I have witnessed. You see the monks with little wooden bowls and baskets with handles receiving white rice and other food from people in their doorways or next to the road. Often people will kneel down on the ground, their hands pressed together on their foreheads, deep in prayer at the feet of the monk. Others stand with burning incense between their hands, eyes closed and whispering to Buddha while the monk, draped in Orange, gives them his blessing.

When I was at Unilever head office on Monday morning I was startled to see that the entire lobby of this 27 story building covered in people kneeling and praying while a group of about twelve monks sang and walked between them flicking blessed water as they went. The monks were chanting as they went. What felt odd was that other people who needed to get to the elevator (like me) would just walk straight through the middle of this gathering with no real consideration. Not in a rude way, just in a practical way. So in the middle of this beautiful singing you would hear the clip clop of high heels, the ringing of Blackberry phones and the chatter of business people sipping Starbucks and lugging laptops. (I did lurk around the corner for a while before crossing through to ensure I wasn’t insulting anyone)

Then a little bell rang and everyone suddenly stood up, started chatting and putting their shoes back on and off to work they went!

Brainstorms & Relaxed Fingers

I held a brainstorm yesterday to generate a campaign idea and after 10 minutes everyone switched to Thai.

Eventually, after a page of doodles and lots of useless nodding, smiling and intelligent-chewing-of-the-top-of-my-pen, I excused myself. I have realized that because there are such different levels of English amongst the local staff, certain meetings will simply never get off the ground if the majority of participants cannot speak their own language and communicate effectively. I can’t even imagine trying to be creative in a second language (I struggle in English! haha). I have realized that in order to get the best out of people they need to be comfortable and this sometimes means speaking in a language I don’t understand.

My planner then told me afterwards she would put the entire session into a presentation format for me to go over and eventually present to client. I bumped into one of the girls from the meeting in the elevator (not the service elevator hehe) and she launched into the ideas and how they would work between the 24th and Ground floor with heaps of people standing squashed between us. All rather amusing and charming at the same time. There is certainly no lack of creativity going around (other than my own) and I guess I have to let go and trust that people will deliver.

On another note, I had an altercation with the printer yesterday. I simply had to print something off and with the office full I was petrified but decided to feel the fear. So over I went, shoved my finger in the scanner and waited. BEEEEP Red light flashing ‘place finger on scanner please’ message pops up. I try again, and again, and again BEEP BEEP BEEP red lights burning into my eye balls. I then realized two other people were standing behind me with great concern. We all did a nervous laugh and watched me get rejected again so the one lady says ‘just relax and THEN place your finger on the pad’ Great, I have never  been so tense and now I am doing deep breathing exercises and shaking my hands to ‘loosen’ them up. And it worked! We all packed out laughing at my ‘relaxed finger’ approach, which is clearly the secret to using this blasted machine. Never mind the sight of it from my desk in my peripheral vision fills me with rage and dread.

It just goes to show, taking a deep breath and de-stressing will get you further in life. But only in black and white copy.

Office Admin

Met with the office admin to talk about travel expenses and she said she has put on 11kgs since working here due to the food obesession with particular focus on my group of work mates. As she said this three bags of hot juicy pork kebabs arrived and were passed around. My VPL is beginning to show and I am favouring baggy tops, this has to stop!

Check this out…….

Click below to see how Garnier in India has created a facebook application where users can upload it to ‘lighten’ the skin tone of their profile pic

Facebook Skin Lightening

Why White is Right in Asia

Since moving to Thailand I have become obsessed with the reason behind the demand and supply for skin whitening products across Asia. It is so intense that I find it largely impossible to buy a day or night cream (or deodorant for the matter) that doesn’t contain whitening agents.

The answer is neither simple nor singular.

Most foreigners assume Thai women want to be more ‘western’ because Caucasian skin represents success, power and money. After much conversation, observation and reading of Asian and international blogs, this view point only skims the surface as to why white is right.

Colonisation: People with lighter skin are considered elite as a result of hundreds of years of colonization by the Europeans. North Atlantic powers are considered ‘winners’ and therefore emulated.

Rural vs. Urban – Dark skin in Thailand is attributed to manual labour, essentially defining those who work outdoors in the direct sun (i.e. farming on a rice paddy) as lower caste in comparison to city dwellers who ‘can afford’ to stay indoors and therefore are paler in complexion. So the colour of your skin is the easiest way to judge a person’s social standing.

Japanese Woman are admired for their pale complexions in Asia. This may come from the secretive and respected Geisha class of women whose white faces and necks are viewed as highly attractive, innocent, pure and virginal.

Two thirds of men in Hong Kong said they preferred women with whiter skin while half the women wanted the same for men. The male whitening beauty sector is on the rise across Asia.

Ancient China & Japan: The saying ‘one white covers up three ugliness’ has been passed on through generations. White skin symbolizes aristocratic heritage and class allegiance and said to have spanned as far back as the Han Dynasty in China where nobility were whiter than most.

Genetics: Our concepts of beauty are rooted in good breeding genes. For example, flawless skin and symmetrical features are health indicators. Skin colour is seen as a social status indicator. Whether on a conscious level or not we are all looking for the perfect, healthy mate, and skin colour plays a role.

An American Born Chinese (self titled as an ‘ABC’) says he went through years of ‘self racism’ about his skin tone living in America. It’s strange to think of racism as an inward mental state isn’t it?

A women’s rights group in Taipei named ‘Chao-van Tsen’ talks candidly about how the pressure to be white is damaging to the self confidence and empowerment of women and are openly against the unrealistic pressures driven by the media.

Stacy Malcolm, is the author of ‘Not just a pretty face: The ugly side of the beauty industry’