We have now been living in Thailand for nearly three years and for the first time we are beginning to feel like we belong here. Before there were many uncertainties, getting the business going for example in what is, to be frank, a fairly inhospitable environment. Realising what our business is really about, which might seem strange but diversions into the cable TV market, for example, which all seemed sound at the time, showed how difficult it is to sell in Thailand. We never saw Thailand as one of our markets, it was not our reason for moving here, but we somehow got diverted from our main product focus and wasted a lot of time and energy (and money) trying to get into the Thai businessman's psyche. I am none the wiser.
Things have been brought into focus by a tough few months when Ploy has had to pawn her gold for us to be able to complete products and pay the bills. This was a result of more bad decisions because we never took a step back to see what we were doing.
Of course there are more mistakes to come but I feel we have weathered the storm. And we have weathered the storm here in Thailand. I don't believe we could have done it anywhere else; anywhere else we would have had to close the company and I would have had to find some alternative employment which in the current economic chaos would not have been easy.
So we are still here. Today I send out an invoice for a product already delivered. That customer took the time to write to me and say how good he thought the user manual was which was satisfying. We are hoping for another, much larger, order from him. We have two other orders close to completion which will leave some money in the bank and leave enough for Ploy to get her gold back. We have another US customer saying he is raising an order and again, we expect another much larger order from him too. We have just had our first major press release after three years of trying. Well actually, not trying that hard to be honest, because advertising and promotion always took a back seat to 'real work'. We have corrected that. Of course we knew that we had to keep new orders coming in, but trying to find the not inconsiderable time to do that when we also had orders on the books which we had to complete to keep food on the table was not easy. Well it didn't happen. I have now spent quite some time on the website and sending out press releases and it has helped to make clear what we do best and make a clear strategy for the next year or so. An MBA cretin would call it a business plan but nothing is written down or guessed or fabricated or falsified.
We have a raft of new products to release over the coming months. We have started our own production instead of sub-contracting it and we will expand that as we get more money. We have a clear path for where we are going and where we want to be.
Most importantly of all I am planning my time better. Although the last few days have been fourteen hour slogs to get an order finished, once that is completed we going to take a break, probably back to that resort in Khao Yai for a few days. I have managed to spend a couple of days painting the house interior and I would like to complete that. I need to help Ploy get her tour business up and running.
The last three years here we have taken all that has been thrown at us and we have survived. Getting the company up and running, obtaining work permits and tabien baans, dealing with the visas and banks and suppliers and awkward customers - we are still here. Next month we will try and renew my visa here in Thailand which will mean no more visa runs to Singapore. Not that I minded them, but it is increasingly expensive to do and now I don't need to visit our sub-contractor it really isn't necessary. We have avoided this one remaining bureaucratic hoop jump but we feel strong enough to take it on now. The money saved can be used more fruitfully to attend some exhibitions, the first being in France in December.
It takes time to get accustomed to a new country. Even without the overhead of running our own business here it takes time to feel you belong, to find that routine. I think we are here now. I feel comfortable with my work, clear minded in what we should do and confident we will succeed. I know if things do get tough again we can survive here. We have been fortunate to have got rid of some annoying time waster customers and I think we can recognise them. A recent one who took time to visit us from Hong Kong was identified very quickly and we devoted little time to him before he sent us a curt e-mail saying he didn't want to go ahead with the project, something we had already surmised. In our early days we would have probably finished it at our own expense before receiving that e-mail. We are more savvy now.
The little health scare I had has also shown that we can not just survive here, but flourish here. There is a realism about our expectations of this country and we can live with those. I think Ploy has shed the baggage she still had with her from her previous time here: ex-husbands, so-called friends, her daughter - all have been put into perspective for her now. For me, I have come to terms with the negative aspects of living here. They mostly revolve around business practices and to a large degree I can avoid them now I know what they are.
The best aspect of the difficult times has been, for me, Ploy's reaction. No head in the sand, no tantrums, no weeping. Just a 'we can do it' attitude. Even though money was tight Ploy bought a case of Archa beer for me, even though she really wants me to cut down on the alcohol. We talked a lot. It was she that said we should pawn the gold so we can finish the orders intead of waiting to be paid for others first. More things out the door more quickly. 'It's only gold', she said, 'I can buy more when we are millionaires'. Tough times heighten relationships. With my first wife they highlighted our differences and were the beginning of the end for us. With Ploy they have brought us even closer together. 'Can I have 1000 baht to pay the water bill' she asked me. 'Of course, I said, 'it's your money anyway' (the proceeds of the gold sale). 'Don't say that', she replied, 'it is our money'. 'Until we have ten million baht in the bank, then it is my money'.
Three years is how long it took us to embrace Thailand and for it to get used to us. I feel we are now pals and can look forward to a long and happy friendship.
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