Short Story 1: Living in Phuket

Sh*t Hits the Fan While Living in Phuket: The Short-Lived Thailand Experience

Introduction (2022)

It’s the summer of 2022; travel restrictions have been lifting for many countries allowing you to explore uncharted territory. You’re eager to try something new after spending lots of time at home thinking, bored, and irritated the past two years due to a deadly pandemic (COVID-19) that shocked the world. Now, picture yourself on an island in a country you hear about on travel shows and documentaries showcasing stunning beaches. It looks like paradise. There is something about beaches, oceans, tropical climate that resonates with people from all walks of life. Those island getaways are a way to escape the pain inside, and to help decompress from the day-to-day grind back home. You’re ecstatic, knowing that you’ve got the best of both worlds: (1) a job offer in your career field; (2) the opportunity to live in Phuket, Thailand, and travel to surrounding Asian countries. You know it would be foolish to turn down this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity out of fear. Your managerial role is well-deserved after years of hard work, sacrifices, and growing pains. Navigating through the complicated and even cut-throat workforce is harder than you had imagined before walking down the podium to get your diploma or degree(s). Maybe you’ve many doors slammed in your face by recruiters and managers. Perhaps you were stuck at a company or position longer than expected and are tired of the mundane, causing you to crave something out-of-the-ordinary, personally and professionally. With your new and intriguing opportunity in Phuket, not only is it hybrid (three days remote, two days on-site), one of the best beaches is nearby the office and your apartment/condo. This makes it convenient to go Nai Harn beach (twenty minutes on foot and five minutes by vehicle). As travelers and wanderlust influencers would say, “living the dream!” You arrive in Phuket in the morning, soaking in the hot weather as everyone outside is in shorts and flip-flops. This beach life is a transition from city or country life back home. There’s plenty of delicious Thai and international food and a handful of relaxing beaches throughout the island. If getting a sun tan is your thing, no problem. It comes with the territory in a country like Thailand that’s tropical weather year-round. You don’t need to worry about renting or owning a car and the expenses. It’s convenient to get around your new surroundings by renting a motorbike, similar to riding a bicycle (it won’t hurt your wallet). If you prefer walking, regardless of the scouring heat and unexpected heavy rain, that’s doable. You can get to work, Nai Harn beach, restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and marijuana coffee lounges without a problem. If you’re a guy, there are massage shops on every road, along with bars containing lots of Thai girls dressed exotic, ready to fulfill any lonely man’s fantasies if the price is right. It’s been about a week in Thailand, but you’re doing what you can to adapt to the Phuket way of living. The sadness of saying goodbye to your family, friends, and partner and leaving your comfortable life back home has evaporated since you’re in settle-in-quick mode. You still can’t believe you’re now working and residing on a beautiful Island. Maybe your personal and professional heartaches from the past happened so you can experience a nomad lifestyle in what’s considered paradise. You’re in the land of the smiles, living an unconventional beach life while building your career, on a tourist island (Phuket). What could go wrong? This is where Murphy’s Law can kick you in the butt: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Complacency, wishful thinking, or being naïve can take you into deep waters. You’re up before the crack of dawn for your first day of work, eager to step foot in a multi-national tech startup. The eagerness to learn and grow, with visions of moving up to Director or Chief level in a few years, doesn’t sound far-fetched with this company. Besides, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Founder is a bubbly Caucasian man from San Diego, California, who doesn’t appear to have an ounce of hate or malicious intentions. After a few days on the job, you can’t believe what has unfolded. Feeling jet-lagged, sleep deprived, somewhat homesick, and on sensory overload from new stimuli and figuring out how things operate in Phuket. Rather than you trying to connect the dots, I’ll do it for you in my short-lived experience in Phuket, Thailand. Put on your sunscreen and have your water bottle handy!

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Chapter 1: Putting the Pieces Together

Now, where were we? The first week with the startup in Phuket? That’s right! Three days before commencement at the office, I discover that my reporting manager, Sandy, no longer works for the company. This is a shock! She began the company roughly a year ago as a Marketing Director and got promoted to Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) before completing her first ninety days. Talk about a fast track at a startup! Sandy offered me the Content Marketing Manager role a year ago (summer 2021), but I didn’t accept. Another company in California offered me a marketing opportunity that I couldn’t refuse. Anyhow, HR didn’t bother to notify me before I departed from the US that Sandy doesn’t work for the startup company anymore. I find out about Sandy by sending her an email on Friday afternoon, before my first day of work. Instead, I receive an automated reply stating that her email is invalid. I immediately knew she either quit or got fired. Anna, the CEO’s Administrative Assistant, spilled the beans to me on WhatsApp because I asked about Saistorn’s work email. Anna was my point of contact, wearing two hats (Admin and HR) but getting paid for one (Administrative Assistant). I’m thrown off by the news. All I could do now is to try to remain level-headed and not let the news derail my purpose of accepting the job. It's 5:00 pm, the end of the workweek is approaching, and I still haven’t heard from HR. I’ve been in Phuket for a week and had no check-in from HR to see how I was doing or if I got a condo (Thai’s refer to a condo as an apartment). Around 4:30 pm, an HR representative sends me a long email. The key takeaway is to bring my laptop on Monday, install certain apps the company uses, and set up my company email for desktop and mobile. I was aware that staff brought laptops from home to work. During the interview process, Sam, the HR manager, ensured me that the company would have a ready-to-go laptop for me on my first day. Well, I was wrong. I arrive at the office seated in the lobby area. Sam doesn’t give me a warm welcome, just a fake smile from a distance. After a hard-to-understand orientation by another HR representative, I got upstairs to introduce myself and shake the hand of my reporting manager, Dylan. This is our first encounter. He wasn’t aware it was my first day and me being a Marketing Manager under his wing until after checking his work email Monday morning. After I introduce myself, he doesn’t bother to check in with me. Instead of sitting at the same working table as he in a confined open-floor workspace, he places me at a different table with another team consisting of four Thai nationals. Rin, the female manager is laidback, helpful, and knows English fluently. The collective vibe between me and the four Thai co-workers reminds me of middle school and high school. I’m an outsider who doesn’t belong to their tribe because of my citizenship status and appearance. They choose to speak Thai rather than English, regardless that English is the primary spoken work language. Though, I’m not letting the feeling of not belonging get to me. Before end-of-day (4:30 pm), a different HR representative sends me an email attachment. The attachment indicates that I’ll be an independent contractor for the first ninety days. I’m confused since I received and signed my job offer letter to be an employee about two months ago. Rather than trying to connect the dots or justify myself to the HR manager, I had no choice but to sign. If I refuse, the company wouldn’t convert and process my business (three-month visa) to a legal working (one-year) visa. I leave work feeling distraught, pondering if I made the right move. I’ve never had a manager who completely ignored me and didn’t take the initiative to at least introduce himself/herself to me on my first day. Still, I’m somewhat hopeful that things will pan out. I’ve heard a saying, “trust the process.” I hope so. I’m not the type of individual who quickly throws in the towel when the going gets tough too. The following day, I reach out to Dylan on Slack to determine my job responsibilities. He doesn’t know. Dylan mentions to sit tight and help the department and the one behind me. On Wednesday, I met the American CEO, Mo. His upbeat San Diego/California personality makes me feel as if everything’s going to be alright. What throws me off is he was under the impression that I was hired as a Content Writer, not a Marketing Manager. He should’ve done his homework. Keep in mind that before I arrived in Phuket, I had three scheduled final-round interviews with him. He canceled each one and never apologized. I didn’t hold him from flaking on me against him because my counteroffer bumped up my salary by ten percent. However, the next day, I knew in my heart that relocating to Phuket to work at this wacky and toxic startup wasn’t the right decision. The nail in the coffin was during lunch with Kyle, a senior co-worker. Apparently, staff who has made it to their second-year anniversary is a senior even though it might not say on their job title. What I learn from Kyle and from looking at dozens of LinkedIn profiles from previous employees is that the turnover rate has been excessive since the company's inception (2019) to its present (2022). Kyle explained why the company has been in the negative, financially, and revenue-wise. He tried resigning a few times, but the CEO wheeled him back in with persuasion. Plus, it’s harder for a foreigner to leave a job abroad since non-teaching career opportunities, especially in Thailand for English speakers, are like finding a needle in a haystack. Kyle goes on about the year-end bonus, the quarterly bonus for sales, and the semiannual 2-4% increases that haven’t happened in two years. My heart sinks, realizing the compensation package listed on my job offer is an illusion. Consider that Kyle wasn’t trying to persuade me to get out while I can. He was stating the facts calmly and elegantly and I was probing him to unravel more. It's Friday morning; I’ve been on less than five hours of sleep the entire workweek. It’s like my subconscious and gut are trying to paint a picture. My mind has been distracted by the new surroundings and stimuli from the external (Nai Harn district) and internal (company) environments. Toxic thoughts are plaguing me. Although it’s only been five days at the company, I’m submitting my resignation notice after lunch. I must listen to my intuition, regardless of starting from scratch with my job search and having to return to California. Dylan’s reply to my resignation letter is: “Send it to HR.” Sam, the HR manager, quickly replies saying apologizing about my upcoming departure from the company and to meet with her and Dylan before the end-of-day. At 3:30 pm, I met in a conference room with Dylan and Sam. My manager says there’s no work for me and today (roughly ninety minutes) is my last day. Perhaps that’s what I get for being cognizant by giving a notice period (it’s thirty days in Thailand) to give the hiring team wiggle room to find a replacement. To top it off, Dylan says, “You will not be getting your relocation allowance.” This strikes a nerve. On my offer letter and orientation day, HR mentioned that I would get reimbursed at the end of the pay period in two weeks. Sam’s response: “That is after 90 days.” “Why didn’t anyone tell me before? I reply. I was mad and biting my tongue. My it-is-what-it-is remark was me finishing the meeting before I open up a can of worms. Sam and Dan conclude with a fake invitation to a company outing (food and drinks at a restaurant) since it’s the CEO’s Administrative Admin’s last day. I couldn’t believe what was coming out of their mouths followed by their relaxed demeanor even though they were shallow about not providing my relocation allowance. For me, it’s like getting blind-sided with a kick to the face while being on the ground. I exit the conference room, grab my stuff upstairs, walk out of the building, and I don’t look back. Back at the hotel/hut where I’m staying near Nai Harn beach, I’m sweating and my heart is racing. For the first time in my adult life, I’m so mad, sad, and disappointed that I want to cry, but I can’t. The reason tears aren’t running down my face or drowning in self-pity is that I refuse to give away my power to the inconsiderate CEO and management. Instead, I book a Phuket beach/day tour for the next day (Saturday). Four days later, I email Mo, the CEO. The purpose of the email wasn’t to point the finger or throw anyone under the bus. I was stating the facts nonaggressive of what occurred last Friday. My plan wasn’t to leave the startup after a week. I envisioned a long-term opportunity, eventually becoming a Director of Content or even Chief Content Officer (CCO) before my first day. A week goes by and it’s been difficult letting go of what transpired. I have to see the office every day before and after working out at the gym, which is across the street from the office. The colorful and fruity building was a reminder that certain individuals in companies can chew us up and spit us out. I don’t feel vindictive, but seeing that building every day is like an ingrown hair stuck inside a zit-size ball that can’t come out with tweezers. My thirty-ninth birthday is in a few days too and not excited. By the way Mo, didn’t reply to my email, and he probably won’t. All that talk during our first meeting at the office about a great leader being someone with kindness and discipline was bull shit. He looks and acts the part of a good person too. As the saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. A few days after my birthday, I cross paths with Anna outside of a market. Her last day was the same day I resigned. I acknowledge her and end communication rapidly. As I’m walking away some guilt surfaces. She was the most helpful and nicest person before my onboarding. I message her immediately on WhatsApp apologizing for being aloof and for cutting the conversation short. Anna replies to meet her at a coffee shop down the road after she mentions being laid off from the company. The CEO’s former admin and I dive in. The hiring manager/CMO, who I was supposed to report to on my first day of work, was laid off a few weeks ago in June 2022. The company did a round of layoffs a few weeks before I started and a week after my resignation. Alma explains that the company gave her the boot and it’s the second time she’s been laid off in two years. Anna apologizes to me. She wanted to email me to not accept the job in Phuket but didn’t want to be the grim reaper. She knew it was a shit show, and a toxic environment with high employee turnover. I reassure her that it wasn’t her responsibility to fill me in. She felt bad that I relocated to Thailand alone, hoping to embark on a managerial opportunity, and boost my career trajectory. Never did I think a company would give me a fake job offer letter and change it to an independent contractor and act as if they did nothing wrong. How can people be so shallow and careless? Maybe common sense isn’t so common after all. I bump into another colleague from the startup by the beach one night. Mary, a Thai national, also knows some of the nitty-gritty of the company. Mary shares why many foreigners were getting the boat recently. COVID-19 caused a seventy-five percent increase in foreign work permits. The reduction in staff enables the company to minimize costs by hiring Thai locals since they don’t require a work permit. Also, hiring locals who can speak some English means the CEO can pay them much less to do the same job as overseas employees. From a business standpoint, I see the logic behind the layoffs and why quality employees are treated as easily disposable numbers. When an organization is in the red on its balance sheets for months to years, eliminating positions is a strategy to help stay afloat for a while or hope to break even in revenues. Rather than packing my bags to head home after the ordeal with that shady company, I decide to turn poison into medicine by extending my stay for approximately six weeks since I have a temporary business visa for visitors. This gives me time to plot my next moves and explore the beauty and tranquility of Phuket before returning home. I’ve been living in a guest house. Imagine having a hotel room in a small two-story building but sharing a kitchen, lounge/living room area, and laundry room with eight other people, mainly foreigners. The owners, a Thai woman and foreigner husband, reside downstairs too. Some travelers or nomads stay in a guest house for a few days to months, and it cost less in comparison to a hotel.I’ve been living in a guest house. Imagine having a hotel room in a small two-story building but sharing a kitchen, lounge/living room area, and laundry room with eight other people, mainly foreigners. The owners, a Thai woman and foreigner husband, reside downstairs too. Some travelers or nomads stay in a guest house for a few days to months, and it cost less in comparison to a hotel. My stay at the guest house as chill and with no problems. I’m eager to start a new chapter in my life

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Final Thoughts

It’s December 2022 now. In retrospect, the worst experience in my professional career happens for a reason. Even though I don’t practice a specific religion because I think all have something unique about them that I support and even practice, to some extent, in my everyday life, I do believe in God and how He works in mysterious ways. Overall, don’t be afraid to take risks even when others are insisting you shouldn’t. It’s better to hit the ground running and fall on your face to something that’s out of your comfort zone and considered crazy, instead of wondering what if. If you’re scared, do it anyway. You’ll thank yourself later.