Office Girls And Attitudes
Natter, natter, natter. It’s coming from the little pantry we’ve got in the office. I’m a bit late today, so it looks like some of the girls are already in. Aey from accounts is there, so is Thippawan from admin. ‘What’s for breakfast, girls?’ I smile. ‘Good morning,’ they chirp back. I still can’t get over the accented English; around me they normally speak Thai anyway, they say I know too much.
Ahh, Aey has a plate of rice with pork and shredded omelette, while Thip has a bowl of rice gruel, ‘Jok’ as the Thais call it. ‘Gosh, girls, how can you eat that stuff so early in the morning? I’ll fall asleep in my chair twenty minutes after eating that’, while pulling out the ham-and-egg sandwich I picked up at Foodland on my way to work. My wife forgot the bread yesterday, so I had to find my own this morning. Her colleagues at work say she has it easy, just some hot water and instant coffee in the morning for me, while they have to wake up and prepare a full meal for their husbands.
Somchai, the workshop supervisor, is in early, so he brings his packet of Khao Mu Dang (Rice with barbecued pork) and joins us. If he gets in any later, he’ll have his breakfast in the workshop. I have my sandwich, then make a cup of coffee and bring it over to my table so I can check my emails. I’ll probably have another cup around ten if I’m still in the office.
Aey in accounts has been with the company for years. A very nice lady, she has a seven-year old daughter she’s always telling stories about. Her Thai husband was educated overseas, and she’s griping just now because he’s left his old job but isn’t looking too hard for a new one. I joke that maybe he wants one back overseas, and she gives me a bit of a glare. Then she smiles, no harm meant there. She drives a small Toyota and lives a bit out of town. She’s not a bad driver either, I feel comfortable in her car when our group sometimes goes out for lunch and take whichever car is the easiest to get out of the carpark. Hers is a fairly regulated existence, alternating between home and work, some shopping in between and over the weekend. If she does go for aerobics after work, she’ll change at the office, and when she passes my door, I’ll just stick my head out and go,’Ooooo!’ She smiles.
Pim, her assistant, is a very quiet sort. She got married a couple of years ago, and there’s a picture of her and her husband with their young daughter as a permanent fixture on her screensaver background. She still takes the bus to work, though she does get a lift back partway from one of the other girls. She tends to favour short skirts, and she’s got quite nice legs, so no complaints there. Needs a better set of lungs, though. I guess hers must be a pretty mundane existence, given that she and her husband don’t earn too much between them, and she talks about her daughter almost all the time.
Thip in admin leads a very different life. She and her husband come from well-off families, so they tend to lead a pretty social life. Golfing weekends, resort trips, weekday hotel functions, she’s busy. She’ll drive the car she fancies for the day to work; they have three. With the Thais, one of the cars will inevitably be a BMW or a Mercedes. Their children are in university, and seem to be doing well.
Which brings us to Orm.
My boss felt that I needed someone to assist me at work. At the time, things looked like work was really going to pile up, and I couldn’t be in three places at the same time. Now, with engineering work, three things are important. Familiarity with specifications, your suppliers, and on-site installation. A practical, hands-on approach to work is also necessary. I told the boss I would prefer a technical school graduate, not a degree holder, as I wanted someone who was willing to get his/her hands a little dirty. Degree holders prefer an airconditioned environment, are permanently behind a computer screen, and don’t want to be out in the sun for more than ten minutes. He agreed.
We interviewed a few people, and finally decided on Orm. The sad thing here, thinking back to those interviews, is, many of the university graduates speak no English at all, and they don’t make much of an effort to improve. Yet they expect good positions in multinational companies, and gripe when not given the job. Familiarity with basic word processing, spreadsheets and databases is also expected.
On her first day at work, she showed up in a smart office suit, all nicely made-up and perfumed, with a unique scent where you could actually follow the trail through the workshop. It took a week before she toned down; most of the other girls used minimal make-up, and most don’t use perfume.
She was a petite young lady, with a ready smile and a sunny disposition, and got along well with the rest of the girls. A quick learner, too. After a week, the boss and I both agreed that she’d be put to better use (and at less risk) if she concentrated more on the work with the specifications and our suppliers. It would not have been appropriate to give her a set of car keys and let her drive alone to any site. I would, however, bring her to some sites that were a day trip for her to understand the nature of our work.
We’d chat on those drives up; I was interested in her attitudes and work ethics, as she would eventually be dealing with our suppliers in an official capacity. She was quite surprised with my grasp of the language, and that I could discern between the words nisai (habit, disposition) and sandarn (an inborn trait, usually bad). She was quick to grasp office politics.
One time, we did a small project that involved red LEDs (light-emitting diodes) that looked like the third brake light on cars that are mandatory in some countries. We got her involved, to the point where she was proud of her achievements. One day, when I was in the workshop with the boss, she asked if she could keep an example of one of the rejects that worked, but wasn’t quite up to specs. When I asked her what she intended doing with it, she replied, ‘I’m going to hang it up in my rented room’. My boss and I almost fell over each other laughing.
The one thing I never allowed her to do (after just one experience) was to let her drive any company vehicle. We were going to a supplier with another engineer, and she said, ‘I know the way, let me drive’. Okay. One white-knuckle experience later, I suggested that traffic would be bad on the Rama 9 bridge, we’d better let the engineer drive back to the office.
It’s the small things that sometimes make you sit up and take notice. It was all well and good that she could do the work. But…. She was rather too good at some CAD programs, and started spending too much time with that. I don’t mind, as long as you don’t lose touch with what you’re supposed to do.
The reports started coming in with flowery balloons and highlights. (I don’t have a problem if you change your mouse highlight every week, but reports are reports). And the sheer volume! She could generate a novel when only two pages were required.
She loved ICQ.
Then she started dealing direct with the suppliers without my knowledge. I know the Thais prefer to deal with each other, and in some cases it is preferable. But when a supplier calls up the Purchasing department to say they would rather not deal with us, and I find out that certain things were mishandled, I had to sit her down for a long talk before smoothing things out with that supplier.
Orm didn’t stay too long after that, we accepted her resignation. In some ways it was sad, as she was a capable person. But given a certain amount of authority, it went to her head and turned things around completely. And the unfortunate thing is, it will probably happen again in the next company she joins.
She was ambitious as well, and I think on the lookout for a prospective husband. No doubt as to who will be wearing the pants in that household.
Back in the office, Somchai has just finished painting a new signboard for the office and is about to erect it at the entrance to the compound. The accountant, Aey sees it and rushes out. ‘Stop! Stop! Don’t put it up yet!’ Now I’m really curious. ‘What’s the problem, Aey?’ I ask. ‘The sign is in English. I have to pay double the signboard tax if you put that up.’ Now this is news to me. I am told that if it is in Thai, you pay half the amount. ‘Yes, and even if it is only a logo, you still pay double the Thai rate. But there is a way around it’, she says.
Simple. You just print the company name in Thai, as small as possible, in the top corner of the offending signboard.
Now I know why there are so many signboards around. They generate income, based on the area of the signboard. The bigger it is, the more the tax department earns. So if you notice any signboard that does not have that little Thai squiggle in the top corner, the company that put it up either has a big ego problem, or they employ Thai accountants who have been educated overseas.