Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Consumer Experience

So I've talked much about buying food, but there are other neat things here as well. We live within a 10 minute walk from 3 major malls, MBK, Siam Discovery, and Siam Paragon. MBK contains a bunch of stalls selling t-shirts, many little restaurants and snack shops, half a floor full of cell phones, and a great food court. Paragon has Jimmy Choo, Prada, Lamborghini, and an expensive food court where you can buy any food from around the world. As college students, we've probably bought more stuff from MBK...

The most interesting place we've been to, shopping-wise, is the Chatuchak Weekend Market - 35 acres of small stalls crammed into the side of a corner of a huge park, where you can buy anything from shoes to pets to tropical fruit. Haggling is definately the norm here, and negotiations class definately helped out with that. The street food here is amazing (see the coconut taco video!) and you can spend hours here, getting lost and buying souvenirs.

One of the issues we have encountered is the language problem - we know basic Thai and shopkeepers know basic English but beyond the numbers its hard to communicate. Sometimes, we're lucky enough to have Thai students accompany us. Sometimes, we gesture and use sign language to signal what we want. Sometimes, it doesn't work out and you just move on.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Business Culture and Customs

As promised...

So today in CSR class I learned a few new things about Business Culture and Customs. We talked about two of the more sustainable Thai companies, Siam Cement Group and CP Foods. The companies are very different in some ways - one is supported by the Thai monarchy, and the other was started by Chinese entrepreneurs. But some of the similarities reflect a darker side of how business is done - rumors of bribery, corruption, payoffs to government officials, and no financial trail of fines paid and political donations. In fact, speaking with some Thai students, they admit that sometimes corruption is the way business gets done in Southeast Asia - though acknowledging that doesn't make it right. Keep in mind Thailand is surrounded on all sides by Communist and dictatorial governments...

Thailand is clearly the business center of Southeast Asia, and Bangkok is the heart of that. There are numerous banks in Thailand, and multi-national companies headquartered here. Business culture is influenced by the type of company - many are private owned companies, usually by either Thai or Chinese people (there are many people in Thailand of Chinese descent, and most of the larger companies are owned and run by Chinese Thai) - some are government or monarchy owned. One of the traditional Thai customs is the "wai" - a greeting that is a slight bow with hands together. However, much of Thai business has adapted to Western standards.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Laos!

So this weekend I decided to take a trip to Luang Prabang, Laos! Its pretty awesome here! Saw the Pak Ou caves and Vat Xiang Thong today. Pak Ou is a set of caves north of the village with tens of thousands of Buddha statues, where the King of Luang Prabang used to visit. Vat Xiang Thong is one of the major monestaries in Luang Prabang. Tomorrow is the Royal Museum and Phang Si waterfalls. Pics to come.

Laos is very laid back, people take their time and few things run on schedule. It still follows alot of old traditions, being landlocked, minimally populated, and slow to modernize. No traffic lights, sewers, or trains in Luang Prabang. It looks like a small village, yet its the most visited place in Laos.

By the way, class seems to be less strict here - students roam in and out of class, show up late pretty often, and its accepted. Most likely a cultural thing. Classes are also 3 1/2 hours with a 1/2 hour break. thats quite long. I left Thursday morning and coming back Sunday night.

Will update on culture and business customs when I get back to Thailand!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Video of Thai Street Food

video

First Impressions

So I've been in Bangkok for almost a week now, had a chance to try the food, meet some students, and wander the streets on my own. First impressions? Its pretty nice here, especially after reading the weather reports from back home.

On Sunday, I went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market with Jeremy Jones. 35 acres of outdoor stalls, selling everything under the sun, from clothes to food to pets to shoes to massages to CDs. We must've tried at least 7 or 8 different food vendors. You can get tropical fruit in a bag, cut up, server with a stick, for 15 baht. Chicken on a stick was 10 baht. A steamed shrimp and pork dumpling was 5 baht. This amazing Thai crepe, filled with a thin layer of cream and shredded coconut, was on 7 baht! (I'll post the video of it being made once I figure out how).

Tuesday was my first day of class. The concept of time in Thailand is less strict than in Western society, so students walk in 5 minute, 10 minutes late. Classes also tend to run past their break and over time, and its considered common. Classes here are 3 1/2 hours, with one half hour break. My first class was Corporate Social Responsibility, co-taught by a Thai professor and a Harvard Law Professor. In our first class, we learned everyone except CSR, from the history of China to cause of the current financial crisis to why certain words only exist in certain languages. I got into my first Sasin group, 3 "farangs" (foreigners) and 5 Thai students doing a report on the sustainability of Siam Cement.

Wednesday I was able to wander about on my own. Went to the local mall, the MBK, to get some lunch at the food court. There, you have to buy coupons, and pay for your meal with coupons instead of cash. A lot of variety, though, from different curries, rice dishes, noodle soups, to Chinese and Indian foods as well. I took the Skytrain (similar to the L in Chicago) to the Immigration Bureau to extend my visa, and then walked over to another mall to hit the Fedex. Also managed to do my laundry as well. Its important to know some basic Thai, even though most people know some English - I'm working on remembering the numbers, 1-10: neung, song, sam, see, hah, hok, jed, bad, gao, sip.

Looking forward to my first weekend in Bangkok! Will hit some touristy sites tomorrow and then Sunday is Sports day at the university. Planning a couple excursions as well, Koh Panang and Koh Pi pi? Siam Riep and Luang Prabang?

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last Day in the US

So today, I'm packing and thinking about what I need to bring to Thailand. I'm heading to Shanghai, China before my term abroad and Sydney, Australia afterwards, so it'll be a long packing list. I'm about to head to the drugstore to pick up all kinds of stomach medicine. Watching as much football as I can before I leave, not sure how much I will be able to catch overseas.

Overall, I looking forward to this trip - from a personal standpoint, it comes at a crossroads in my life, and I can probably reflect on things better from the beaches of Koh Samui instead of Team Room 47. Education-wise, I think I'll learn from a different perspective, but the load won't be too much.

Excited about: food! xiao long bao in China, pad gra pow in Thailand, street food. Different experiences, walking about big cities. $5 foot massages.

Worried about: stomach problems. how to stay in touch with people. missing the super bowl and Duke games.

Happy new year!