Living In Thailand: The Mark Stephens Interview Part 2

Trevor:  Even since spending long periods of time in Thailand since 1984 the driving here just never ceases to amaze me. How do you cope with driving here in Thailand it’s a nightmare?

Mark:  Correct. Not for the faint-hearted. My driving is kept to a minimum and is mainly intercity – between Hua Hin and Bangkok, or a few trips to the south. I never drive in Bangkok – as the A-Z is impossible to understand and if you take a wrong turn then it can take you an hour to get back to where you started ! No kidding. Bangkok also lacks distinctive landmarks so I hardly ever know if I’m heading North, south, east or west. I’m not comfortable with that, so take taxis or sky train, or let my wife, Kwang do the driving. Outside of Bangkok the main concern is the motorbikes that cut you up as if you’re not even there. Another must for anyone driving here is to learn the unofficial signals on the road – if you don’t you may end up in hospital or the morgue. For example, if a car flashes you, then it means they’re coming and you better get out-of-the-way, NOT ”I’ve seen you and you can come through”.

It’s gridlock in Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok

Trevor:  As a man who has been in and around the business scene in Thailand before. How big would you say the differences in a cultural sense are when  doing business in Thailand compared to the west.

Mark:  Patience is definitely required here. You will not be trusted by Thais until you prove that you are trustworthy. Be careful with what you promise and always deliver, then you will build a reputation for honesty and will gain the trust and respect of Thais you are doing business with. This applies to some extent anywhere, but is more pronounced over here where Thais prefer to do business with other Thais, in the Thai way. Over here, it’s even more important who you know, so it takes time to build a network and gain your credibility. Most of the business systems here have been directly transposed onto Thai business from the west. They often do not fit well and it creates many problems between Thais and westerners in the same organisation. Many people come here expecting for business life to be just the same as back home, and are left disillusioned when it doesn’t work out. Thais will always meet you, because you are western, and are seen to be at the forefront of business know-how – after all, you are from the land of business success! But to get a firm commitment from them is another matter. Often we presented well, were well received, agreed on a follow-up plan with a view to looking at proposals and contracts and that was the last we heard from the potential client. It can get frustrating, but it is just the way. You need to take time to establish yourself, get people talking about you, then others will want a piece of you! After a while, we were securing contracts in Thailand, but at a fraction of our perceived worth. We took the same services to the Maldives and received triple what the Thais were prepared to pay. So there is this to contend with also.

Trevor:  So true about taking time to establish yourself first. I remember completely blowing a couple of interesting and potential business projects in the early days with my youthful eagerness and western approach of pushing at things and trying to keep things moving. I soon learned that things take time or at least longer to do here, and when I am in the North of Thailand it is even more laid back. I struggled with the passages of time where nothing was happening, and there were many of them. I now actually love the way that business, fun and making friends can all mix in together here. For example here on a first day meeting we could all be at a restaurant eating and starting the journey of getting to know each other and have not even mentioned the business in hand. In the west it is normally meet up, nice to meet you, how are things then straight down to it, having got the so-called small talk out-of-the-way. I can quite categorically say that I blew the first couple of working arrangements with Thais out of the water with this approach, but all part of the learning process. So allowing the time to establish yourself, focusing on building relationships with people and patience  is key.

It must be safe to cross now surely Sukhumvit Road In Bangkok

Yes, but hurry as that lot over there will soon be coming Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok

Trevor:  Would you say you have a better quality of life living inThailand with the slower pace than the rushing about type of lifestyle in the UK?

Mark: It’s a bit of a loaded question, the way you phrase it! Fortunately, even when I was in the UK, I was careful to keep myself out of situations where I was forced to rush around. I had two years in London between 1997 and 1999, working as a sales exec for a corporate hotel reservations company, which was the nearest I came to a hectic job, but if you’re asking if I miss that the answer’s a resounding ”no”!  I’ve always liked the bustle of the city lifestyle. I was born in Ipswich and spent 18 years there, but never really liked the small town mentality. Since I was 18, I have spent most of my time in Coventry (I sent myself there, for University, in case you’re wondering), London and Sydney. it wasn’t until I moved to Hua Hin that I ever thought I could live in a small town. I like the balance here and, yes the relaxed pace of life. Hua Hin is close enough to Bangkok to zip up there for a day or two, but far enough away to be removed from the pollution and the draining lifestyle there. Viewing the UK from the outside, it does seem to me that too many people work too long hours in pursuit of an impossible dream….. Financial happiness. To me they have to be separated – financial security and happiness. One does not lead to the other. If we only have goals that others have imposed upon us, such as the house, the car and the wide-screen TV, we are missing out on all other the other goals we should be looking to. Consumerisation breeds consumerisation so once we meet one consumer-based target we are still frustrated because there is always better things to buy. This mentality has also been transposed onto Thailand, from the west, and is now very evident. But there is still a natural lightness of being, sense of fun and happiness in the average Thai, which is very appealing to westerners because we see so little of it at home now. Culturally, with the family being so important to Thais, this is another noticeable difference to life in the west, where we often live very solitary existences, with the focus on the self rather than the family. There is still a palpable sense of community in Thailand, also , which I like. When my wife cooks dinner she will often pass a bowl to the next door neighbour and send one of us off to drop off a taster to various friends dotted around town. I remember this happening to an extent in the UK when I was a young lad, but how often does this really happen nowadays? I’m a person who likes his own space but can anyone really not be impressed by the way Thais love to share their eating (and other) experiences with their friends and even strangers? Wonderful.

Trevor: Kindness is truly a trait that can’t be bought and you will still see the older members of society in the UK upholding traditions, opening doors for people, checking up on neighbours to see if they are ok and generally caring, but with the rest you are more concerned that you will be told to mind your own business now or far worse  if you show a helpful side. It is true  that here in the UK you get bonus points for who has the biggest TV…. I mean there are all those soaps to watch (you have to keep up … don’t you?) and the never-ending mind numbing reality TV shows…. so meaningful. Give me books any day.  Whenever I am in my adopted home town in Thailand called Nakhon Sawan  , I am invariably invited out to dine with a group of Thai friends (again an example of Thais liking to eat and share  each other’s company together). On each occasion they remind me that years ago I told them I loved the dish… (yam mamuang gap pla duk fuu – Mixed Thai salad with peanuts and crispy cat-fish). Now every time  that we go out to eat and after all these years a big dish of this is still ordered for me. I plead with them to sample some of the dish with me, but they stick to the other dishes and go out of their way to make sure that everyone knows this is my dish and is to be left for me. They always say that we know you love that dish Khun Trevor. They never forget and just want me to enjoy everything. Goodness knows what will happen if I go off the taste of that dish, but they are all so very kind and considerate that I dare not disappoint and anyway fortunately enough and after all these years I still love it.  Hey Mark your spot on. Houses, cars and wide-screen TV’s two a penny, but acts of kindness given or received and cherished memories, they can’t take them away.


5 thoughts on “Living In Thailand: The Mark Stephens Interview Part 2

    1. Thank You Karen. There is a bit more of the inerview to go yet, so we will be hearing more from Mark.
      Mark only writes the occasional article when called upon these days, but still does some consultancy work on Living in Thailand and adjustment to Thai life. Anyway I will try and twist his arm to give us a bit more of his expertise about other Thai subjects further down the road. I will tell him you were impressed with his work.

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