Thailand has a positive GDP; essentially this means it sells more than it buys, a simple equation essential to running any mildly successful business yet one that most countries seem unable to apply.
However after three years of living here I am perplexed how that is possible.
Yesterday I needed to book some flights to the US for a business trip. After my last epic journey to the US on Singapore air via Frankfurt I had already decided to try and book EVA air which flies off to the east rather than west and offers premium economy seating for a little surcharge which from experience on Thai airways is well worth the extra.
Finding a flight was not easy, there is only one flight per day and the connection flight between Bangkok and Taipei is restricted to one flight per day else you have a 22 hour stop over in Taipei for the next day US flight. Anyway I found the flight and tried to book it. As expected my debit card was rejected when I tried to pay; (as seems to be happening increasingly lately - I won't go into my attempts to get a credit card here for now). Never mind, I called the reservation office in Bangkok to see if they would hold my booking whilst I either transferred the money or came to pay in person. 'We don't accept reservations in person' they said. I decided not to go into the issue of what exactly they did as a reservation office and asked how I might pay. I was told I needed to go through a travel agent. Initially they did not give me any number to call but I called again and the second lady gave me two numbers who accept EVA air reservations.
I asked Ploy to call them as it is not unusual only one person speaks English well and my Thai is not able to cope with a reasonably complex booking, (including the US flights). Ploy called me back, (she was out seeing customers). The first number did not accept EVA air bookings and the second just did not answer the phone. Never mind, I said, I will book the Singapore air flight.
Actually first I checked Thai airways. Thai used to fly non-stop to Los Angeles and have premium economy seating. I had flown it and it was quite decent with good service although it left me still having to fly across America as my customer is on the east coast. Anyway the LA flight was 70,000 baht in economy as they have stopped the direct flight and the stop over now required in Seoul was 9 hours! Forget that I thought, so onto Singapore air. Now Singapore air only fly economy the wrong way round the world via Frankfurt as I flew before and it was 68,000 baht with very limited seat availability. This was because they seem to have changed from the A380 as I flew before to a much smaller Boeing 777 airplane, (for the winter Google explained). The only seats I could find are the dregs left in the middle of centre aisle, a nightmare for a 22 hour flight.
Before I just gave up I got a call from a travel agent, the first number Ploy called as it turned out. Ploy has now told me that she called them back and this time was told by a different person that they did accept EVA bookings but didn't want to deal with us as we were in Saraburi, 'a long way away'. Ploy asked, forcefully with several expletives apparently, to talk to the manager. A brief conversation later and I got the call, in decent English, asking what flights I wanted to book. It took all day to get the US flights sorted too but I have essentially got what I wanted (although for some reason the first leg of the flight out shows as economy on the EVA air website) and all-in it cost 65,000 baht including the US flights, less than the Singapore air/Thai airways flights in economy just to the US. The additional to-ing and fro-ing was over definitions of late morning (3p.m. is still late morning apparently), what a window seat is (nearest the aisle apparently), repeated spellings of my e-mail address etc. etc. etc. But it is done. Without Ploy's forceful intervention I would be looking at being a passenger on some cargo boat via Hong Kong. (And before you ask there are some airlines I avoid if at all possible based on experiences that required therapy in some instances: they include all American airlines and British Airways.)
Not long after we moved here a friend in the UK asked if we could get some custom tool boxes made for him. No problem I thought, there are shops here full of custom wooden furniture. Ploy soon found a couple of people interested but after a month or so which showed absolutely no progress even though we had paid for materials already we found another person who seemed keener. Six weeks later and Ploy took some photos of the 'tool box'. The materials were not what we specified, the finish was appalling and it was clear he didn't seem interested. The idea of him supplying us with five a month or maybe more was clearly cloud cuckoo land. If he didn't want the work why accept it. It appeared to be within his abilities judging by other things he had around but Ploy said whenever she went there he was either missing or just sat drinking.
Brochures and posters for our company, business cards for the same, the list goes on.
We tried four places for business cards, each of which accepted our order and printed 1000 cards for us. Each time we rejected them. Wrong colour (we don't have that colour they said - after printing and agreeing to print in our chosen colour); no rounded corners (no one does rounded corners, they are very old style they told us after accepted the order for rounded corners); business cards, I said, the clue is in the name, not business paper as I held a bunch of them in my hand and they bent in the breeze of the fan, printed on tissue grade paper I could see through; we can't print English they told me as I looked at my Thai only card, blank the other side, even though we supplied the artwork and they just have to copy and paste the text, (we rejected them rather than ask all my customers to learn to read Thai). Each time they had printed them knowing they couldn't do what we required. Each time Ploy got our money back. We got them printed in Singapore, the right colour, rounded corners on a nice quality card. They even printed one side English, one in Thai without any issue.
We did get cardboard boxes made here, to our specification, colour and logo, exactly as we asked. It was the fifth company we approached, each one before saying they could do what we needed but each patently unable to do it, (luckily they all visited us beforehand with samples). Each one tried to get us to change our requirements to suit what they could offer; (e.g. egg box style cardboard or flimsy decorated boxes for confectionary). If you tried to explain that the box needs to protect some expensive equipment from the misuse of FedEx couriers they would swear blind it could even though their sample was wilting from the weight of the air conditioning breeze. When we asked for white cardboard they would quite forcefully tell us why we shouldn't have white cardboard, (they didn't offer it of course, just the recycled style brown stuff that looks like it has been puked up by a cat).
Should I go on about the electronic distributors here, a black hole into which e-mails, requests for quotations, even orders, just disappear. I complain to one company who's Asia head office was in Singapore. Yes we know, they said. But you force me to deal with the Thai office who appear to be dead as far as I can ascertain. I wanted to buy a test product from a company, not expensive, about $160. Again I was talking with their Singapore office, (most electronics companies have their head office in Singapore), but when it came to purchasing I had to go through their Thai office. It took three e-mails to them, copied to Singapore before they acknowledged me. I just want to buy this item I said, tell me how much and the delivery time I will transfer the money to your bank. Two e-mails later they ask me to fill in company details. OK, I do that. Days go by. Can you send a copy of your company registration they ask. I do but ask why they need it, I don't want to open an account, just buy this one item (although in the future we may have a reasonable bit of business for you). And then dead. That was two weeks before Christmas, (which is not a holiday here anyway). Nothing. Nada. I can just buy it on-line from the US, (assuming they accept my debit card). It can be here in two days.
So how is that GDP positive. How are companies abroad managing to buy from any Thai company. Maybe you have to leave the country to purchase from Thailand and the problem is only internal sales, much like Thais are treated badly on Thai airways compared to non-Thais.
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