From Buriram Thailand to Košice Slovakia
This time a very poignant story of Khun Kung Thanaphon and her move from Buriram Thailand to become a masseur in Kosice in Slovakia.
Some very tough times and a big culture shock lay in store for Kung but still she managed to return to Thailand with more positives than negatives.
Another brilliantly written story by Trevor Bide of Engaging Thailand. For those who are native Thais this blog is also available in Thai language via the blog site.
This post continues with the theme of Thai people who have made the move from Thailand to live in other countries around the world. Interview one came from Venice in Italy. Interview two came from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina , interview three from London, England, interview four from Toulouse, France, interview five from New York, USA and interview six from Baden, Switzerland.
Interview Seven comes from Košice in Slovakia.
My fascination with the interviews comes from a combination of three sources; culture, personality and experiences. My objective, with the help of my guests, is to gain insights into essentially some of the cultural differences and their stories.
After falling on times of disappointment, Kung decided to look for fresh challenges in both career and location. She managed to accomplish both and tells us all about her trials and tribulations in From Buriram, Thailand to Košice, Slovakia.
Introducing Khun Kung Thanaphon
ALL PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF KHUN KUNG
Could you tell us a bit about your upbringing in Thailand, where you lived in Slovakia and what took you there?
I am from Buriram in the north-east of Thailand and I was born in Buriram. As a family growing up we did okay. My parents are not rich, but they are not poor either. They worked in both the construction and the rice farming business.
I got the urge to go abroad, because I had a family problem that caused me great stress and unhappiness. My husband was seeing another woman and we parted. I spent a long time thinking about and reflecting on what had happened and needed a new challenge in my life so that I could move on. My friend then introduced me to the world of massage and I went to a school to study.
What do you do for a living in Slovakia?
I threw myself in to the studying of massage until I graduated. On completion of graduation the school then sent me to work at a posting in Slovakia,
To begin with I was situated in Košice, but after 3 months the boss transferred me to Poprad. I was transferred there because another employee’s contract had expired and I was sent there instead.
Did you enjoy your work? Were your customers all easy-going or were some fussy?
Some of the customers are really good and kind, but there are a minority who think they have the right to molest you. Fortunately, there are only a minority that are like this. It’s quite often that they have visited Thailand in the past. By that I mean that perhaps they met a masseuse that performed other activities outside of therapeutic massage. However, they have to know that certainly not all masseuse’s provide services like that. I certainly made sure they understood this even with a language barrier.
What are your passions, what do you love to do in your free time?
I love the snow. At the weekends and during other free time I enjoy going on walks and taking photographs. I particularly enjoy taking photographs when snow is all around. It makes everything so beautiful.
Do you speak Slovakian? Is the language and communication a problem?
The Slovakian language is lovely, but it’s really difficult to understand. On arrival I made a concerted effort to study the language. It’s really difficult and overwhelming to learn the language to any degree in such a short time. I decided to learn the necessary and specific words that are used frequently. I put together my vocabulary of frequently used words and learnt them as quickly as I could.
How difficult was it adjusting to Slovakian life and culture? What were the most difficult things to adjust to?
Certainly, language is a problem and the Slovakian people did not understand English either. I could get by in English, but unfortunately this was not really an avenue that was open to me. There are more ways to communicate than just by speaking. There was of course getting used to the Slovakian people and the cold. However, my initial culture shocks were mostly to do with using the bathroom.
I was shocked and horrified on my first visit to the bathroom on my first day in Slovakia. I couldn’t believe that there was no bidet in foreign lands to clean your private parts with. I was not sure what you were supposed to do. If it was to be the use of tissue then where is the trash bin to throw away the tissue? I was horrified. It was certainly different to Thailand and the first visit to the bathroom, did not feel me with confidence. I found out that you are able to throw the tissue paper straight down the toilet – I didn’t know……laughter. After this initial episode I didn’t have any problems with adjustment. Everybody was so kind and friendly, except for the boss.
Are there many other Thai nationals that you know living in your area and have they all settled in to Slovakian life?
Where I stayed there were no more than 20 Thai people living and most of them worked as a masseuse. There were only 3 ladies living here who were actually married to Slovakians. The one thing in common that we all had was the objective to work and look after our families. Each month we would all live very economically in order that we could send money back to our families in Thailand. We were very cautious and frugal in our day-to-day living.
What are the Slovakian people like?
The people here are of good disposition and friendly. Everybody’s nice here, both women and men, but a few of the customers that come into the shop have other intentions outside of a massage. Occasionally, you get the men customers who think they have the right to molest us. You have to make things very clear to them from the start. Fortunately, it’s only a minority that are like this.
You said earlier that everyone was kind and friendly, except your boss. What did you mean?
Okay, I will tell you my story from the beginning
With regards to my boss, well he’s very crafty. I probably should start at the beginning. My initial interviews for the position were carried out on the telephone by an agent. The agent was the person organising my arrival to Slovakia. However, my final telephone call was with both the agent and the boss.This was in order to conclude my working contract.
My boss proposed to pay me 750 U.S Dollars per month, approximately plus 5 % commission, accommodation and three meals per day inclusive. It worked out that I would then probably have a good amount per month to send home. The offer sounded good.
I needed to look after my family. I weighed up everything before making my final decision. I thought about my own relationship break up and how I was now alone. How would I support my two children here? I wanted to give them a life of suitable quality and I wanted to look after my parents. It was not much of a decision to make in the end and I accepted the position. My boss told me that he would be there to pick me up on arrival at the airport in Budapest.
When the day arrived to fly, the agent telephoned to tell me that I would be making connecting flights and not flying direct. At that stage I almost cried.
I thought, oh my God, how will I complete this successfully when I’ve never even flown before. Furthermore, where was I connecting to and from. Oh my God, I am travelling alone as well. I didn’t have a clue if I could get through this, but decided to continue. However though, all of a sudden, fortune smiled on me.
As I was walking off the plane at Cairo airport in Egypt, I happened to spot a lady that looked Thai. At first, I wasn’t sure if she was Thai or not, but then I asked her. When she replied that she was Thai I remember just feeling so happy. She asked me where I was going to and I said that I was going to Budapest. I added also that I didn’t have a clue as to what to do or where to go in order to get there. The lady said that she would look at my ticket. Her answer made me even more happy as she said, don’t worry as we are on the same flight to Budapest. Luck had touched me once again, I thought.
I asked her if I could use U.S dollars here at the airport in Cairo to get something to drink and she laughed. She said, is this your first time abroad or something. Yes, I said, it is. She then asked me as to how much money I had altogether. I told her that I had 50 U.S Dollars. You only have 50 U.S Dollars altogether. Why did you even dare travel overseas on your own and with just 50 U.S Dollars. I said that I was here to work and take care of my children.
The lady took me to the coffee shop at the airport in Cairo and bought me a cup of coffee. We waited 5 hours for our connecting flight to Budapest. I asked her if she had come to work as well. She said that she was meeting her boyfriend in Finland and that she often did this trip.
When it was time to board the flight to Budapest, the lady showed me to my seat on the flight and then went to her own seat. On arrival in Budapest the lady helped me out further. In my e-mail from my boss, it said I was to meet him at the front of the airport by a flagpole. He had included a photo of the precise meeting point. The lady helped me find the meeting point and we wished each other well and said our goodbye’s.
Now there was a new problem. The boss said in the e-mail that he would meet me at the meeting point at 16.30, but it was now 13.00. I had 3.5 hours to wait. Furthermore, it was absolutely bloody freezing. I really didn’t think that the weather would be this cold. I was wearing just a normal long sleeve shirt. In total I had only brought with me about five long sleeve shirts, two pairs of jeans and a couple of night shirts. I was so cold that in the end I emptied out my entire clothes in my bag and almost put the lot on.
Having put almost all the clothes on, I was still bloody freezing. It would be likely that by the time the boss gets here, I would have just turned into a huge block of ice. There was still no trace of my boss and I had no idea what he looked like either. I just continued to suffer in the cold. In my heart I just wanted to cry, but I didn’t dare. It would have been completely embarrassing with all the people passing to and fro in front of me. I had now waited for the boss for 4 hours.
Just as I was losing the will to live a man came up to me and asked me if I was the lady in this photo. He was holding a photocopy of my passport photo. I smiled and told him that I was. The man said, he had been sent to collect me as the boss is not free and sends his apologies. The man picked up my bag and put it into the car. He said, is that all the luggage you have? Yes, I said. He then set off on the drive to Košice which took a further 3 hours.
On arrival in Košice, I was dropped off at the front of a department store and told that the boss would be here in 15 minutes to collect me. The man gave me my bag from the car and here I was again, back out in the cold. This is the point where I knew that this situation was not good. I was tired, I was freezing cold, I was really hungry and I was afraid. I was once again waiting for the boss to arrive. I thought to myself ” is there really a boss.”
The whole affair was turning into a nightmare. Deep in my heart I yearned to go home, I wanted to return to Thailand. That was a joke though. How the hell could I get back to Thailand. My tired mind was in full negative operation and in overdrive. Here I am alone, outside a department store, in the freezing cold and in a foreign country. I wondered what I would do if the boss did not turn up, I know nothing here and nobody. I wanted to go home. I miss my Dad, I miss my mum and I miss my children. However, I cannot go home, oh what can I do. I stood and just waited, but inside my heart, I am crying.
Shortly after, the boss arrived to collect me. All he said was sorry and welcome to Slovakia… that was it. All I replied with was thank you. I don’t think I have ever suffered so much as I did on that first day overseas. However though, I knew I had to put my experience behind me. I had to try to forget everything. When I arrived at my accommodation the boss just showed me to my room and left without saying anything. In the room I met fellow Thai people who worked there, I began to feel much better. My fellow Thais welcomed me with a smile and friendship. They gave me medicine, food and a hot drink. They were worried that come the next day I would surely have a fever. I was grateful for this kindness and now in need of rest. It had been a long journey in more ways than one.
The next day, the boss came to the shop and told me not to be so hasty to start as I needed to have a test a trial period first. He said, I would need the initial period to massage 30 customers that come into the shop to test out my massage skill. He told me that the money per month would be the same, but I would not receive payment for the trial period of the 30 customers. I didn’t think too much about this, just that I wouldn’t be getting the 5% commission on the trial period customers. However, it didn’t end up like that.
At the end of the month, I didn’t actually get paid at all. The boss said that the first month was only a trial period. When I heard this, I was dumbfounded, raging inside with anger, but I calmed myself before responding. What happened to the agreement that we had in place before I travelled here….. Remember, I said. You told me that I would be paid 750 U.S Dollars per month, plus 5% commission and 3 meals per day inclusive. Yes, he replied, but this is for the trial period only. So not only am I not to get commission on the 30 customers involved in my skill test, I am not to be paid at all. Yes, he said. This is the testing period. So why did you not inform me that I wouldn’t be paid for the first month that I worked? Then he went quiet.
I was still very angry, but I had control of my anger and went at him again. How do you think I can live if you don’t pay me? How do you think that my children can eat and survive, if I don’t send money to them. Then my boss stretched out his arm and handed me 70 U.S Dollars. I felt very disappointed and very sad. I stood there motionless, quiet and just snatched it from his hand and replying only thank you. On that note I then walked straight out of his office.
As I walked out of his office I thought to myself, is that my reward for one months hard work? This is treacherous. What will my family do? At the end of my first month working abroad, I don’t have any money to send to my children and my parents at all.
On returning to my room I asked my Thai colleagues and now friends if they had encountered a similar situation. They told me that they all encountered the same problem, but not to the extent that I had. They said that they arrived together, but that I had arrived alone. They said that the boss didn’t dare to try to deceive all three of them at the same time. The boss had informed them that during the first month, they would receive only 250 U.S Dollars and would have a skill test on 8 or 9 customers. They said, at the point of their arrival it was not as busy as it was nowadays. I said and what about the three free meals that were to be included? They said, no chance – certainly not, we buy all the food entirely ourselves. At this point I became totally disheartened. I wanted to go home, but I couldn’t until the contract ended.
I wondered how the hell I was going to survive for the month on 70 U.S dollars – very difficult. All the time my mind was trying to figure out ways to send money back home. I was lucky though as my Thai colleagues were so kind-hearted. They shared everything with me like clothes, food and medicine. They had been through it all before and understood hard times.
At the end of the second month I hurried hastily to collect my wages, only to be disheartened once again. This time I received 300 U.S Dollars. I then asked the boss, why when I had worked the complete month did I only receive just 300 U.S Dollars. He said there were various employment based deductions that I hadn’t taken into account. I got totally fed up speaking to him and refused to continue with the pointless conversation. He always found an excuse. By the end of the third month I received 500 U.S Dollars for the month and was told I would be transferring to a shop in another city. I was to replace a lady who was finishing her contract and heading back to Thailand. From then on, I received 500 U.S Dollars every month until my contract ended and I returned to Thailand.
I ask the question though, what sort of person was my boss? However, the experience taught me a few lessons. There’s absolutely no doubt about that.
What is the cost of living like in Slovakia? What are the expensive things and what are the things of value?
I think the expensive things are…..
Clothes, perfume plus shoes and bags
The things of value are….
Food such as vegetables, fruit and fresh products like pork & chicken.
Drink – Spirits, beer, soft drinks and fresh milk.
Could you give me 3 things that were great about living in Slovakia and 3 things that were not so great?
The things that were great…
1) Weather: The weather is great in Slovakia, the surrounding views and scenery is astoundingly beautiful. This is especially true in the period of snow fall. It’s stunning.
2) People: The people are mostly of good character, nice and friendly.
3) Thai Friends: The Thai people who I worked with that became my friends, they were so good. They helped me, they shared with me and we took care of each other. Although we never knew each other before, we all helped take care of each other. Most importantly, if I hadn’t got to meet them here, I would not know what I’d have done. It would have been a far harder time without their advice and help. I think this was the best of all….. companionship.
The worst problem is probably language and communication with the customers and the people of Slovakia. It’s even more of a problem with older people as they neither understood English or hand language. I got by though with the language thing, but I can’t say it wasn’t difficult as it was.
What do you feel were the benefits of your time spent in Slovakia and do you have any regrets?
The benefits far outweighed the regrets. I got to have new experiences. I got to learn new things. I got the opportunity to touch snow and view the beautiful scenery from overseas. I got to meet lots of new people and I got to make some really good friends that I wouldn’t have otherwise known. I found genuine kindness and friendliness in these people. Most importantly though, I got to experience genuine travel overseas.
I made the mistake of not really doing my homework in advance. I didn’t really prepare enough. I thought only about getting as far away from my problems as possible and to earn money to support my children. It never really dawned on me that problems could occur there as well.
Can you offer any advice to other Thai women hoping to live or spend time abroad?
There will certainly be several different reasons for other Thai women that want to spend life overseas or move abroad for a period of time. The majority move abroad to be with their foreign husbands etc. However, if they take the route that I did then it’s probably a smaller window of opportunity. The dream can certainly still be achieved though.
Regarding giving advice, I feel I’m probably not the best person to give it. I probably don’t have enough experience in order to give advice to other Thai women.
Trevor: You have already given a book’s worth of advice Kung, absolutely brilliant. Kung completed her contract and said goodbye to Slovakia and some dear friends. The friends of course are friends forever though.
It started as an interview, but Kung said, hey, let me tell you my story and took centre stage. I can’t add a lot to this. I was totally engrossed in the story from start to finish. Kung took us through her emotional roller coaster ride from beginning to end. She fronted up to all the challenges and met them head on. By christ did she have enough challenges to deal with as well. The cold, the language, money disputes, survival with the value of looking after the family in Thailand never far below the surface. She had times of fear and times of disappointment, but still she met it all head on. Mostly though she found friendliness, human kindness and adventure in a foreign land. These experiences certainly make you a stronger person. An enthralling account.