Warning: this post may come across as extremely sexist or rub people the wrong way, but this is my experience living in Bangkok :)
No, I'm not getting married, and no I'm not dating a local (my partner is from Finland), but if you are friends with me on Facebook and care enough to look at my pictures, I attend a lot of professional events:
British Chamber of Commerce in Thailand, Australian-Thai Chamber of Commerce,American Chamber of Commerce in Thailand , Franco-Thai Chamber of Commerce, German-Thai Chamber of Commerce, multi-chamber of commerce professional networking events (you get the idea!).
I go to these events because I’m looking for a business partner and to make business connections.
However, every time I meet a successful foreign male entrepreneur they are almost always (90%) dating, engaged, or married to a local. I guess I’ve been looking for a partner in all the wrong places!
Is this a bad thing, absolutely not, given the bureaucracy, lack of English language, connections needed, and “way things work” in Thailand, if you want to find a partner you can trust, the strategy most male entrepreneurs I’ve met just date or marry a business savvy Thai woman.
It’s a man’s world!
I’ll never forget when one friend passively told me that “It’s a man’s world, no offense!”
And, I wasn’t offended, men can travel anywhere in the world, find a wife or girlfriend (they don’t have to even speak the same language! Most likely the woman will learn the man’s language), and if he has business aspirations his wife/girlfriend will help him, navigate the bureaucracy of her country, help with translation, use her connections, and together they will build a business.
Both parties benefit from this partnership because the man has a local he can trust (obviously, not all marriages end up happy and faithful :), and the woman gains a husband (bonus if he’s a westerner that is relatively financially well-off), and helps her country create jobs for locals.
Now, before anyone jumps down my throat about how sexist and simplistic explanation, I am speaking of my experience in Thailand.
It's difficult and expensive to start a business as a foreigner, there are many laws that bar foreigners from certain professions, foreign businesses have to have a “ratio” of locals to foreign hires (unless you have a BOI), and the bureaucracy is quite difficult to navigate if you’re not familiar with Thai business customs and laws.
That’s the reality here, and I’m sure in many places that want to protect their economy (Thailand has a really low unemployment rate), and people’s attitude towards foreigners.
Do men have all the advantage?
Yes and no.
What to do if you’re a female entrepreneur in a foreign land?
Now for a female foreigner with ambitions to build a business she has to be smart and very clever.
Smart enough to make friends and connections with people that can help her, see Thai women as her allies and not her competitor (in dating or business), and clever enough to know when to turn on/off her feminist views.
Let me explain, first Thailand is one of the top countries in the world that has a lot of women in executive and senior management positions.
Next, Thai women are very beautiful, they invest in their beauty and very conscientious about their looks, not only because they are vain, but because beauty will lead to having good job opportunities, marrying into a good family.
Not everyone hold these views, but many Asian societies still hold traditional female roles and family values.
Feminism only works when it’s “beauty and brains” unlike the West where a woman can look any type of way (fat, unattractive, and single) and eventually gain respect for her work.
That shit won’t work here.
Women cannot compete like men (marrying a local Thai man or Asian man, is very difficult because of language and cultural barriers) but we are still women and there are advantages.
What I’ve observed from successful female Thai and foreign entrepreneurs are that women are the best allies, mentors and customers to have.
We all know the difficulties of building a business and not having our ideas taken seriously.
So, make as many friends and connections with other women in business.
Since I’ve started this entrepreneurial journey I’ve made it my mission to surround myself around women in business, politics, culture, as long as they were successful in what they did.
Next, these great women I surrounded myself with were in relationships, married or long-term, in which their partners were incredibly supportive of their ideas and business.
When I moved to Thailand, I made it my business to find a boyfriend (took me 6 months) because I knew I couldn’t do it all on my own.
We need to stop telling women they can can do it all by themselves and "have it all."
No one can have it all...not at least all at the same time.
In regards to dating in this competitive environment, I made sure I found someone smart and who worked in a lucrative career (my boyfriend is such a nerd, he's a Data Scientist), supportive, and would be faithful to me (let’s be real, Thailand is a paradise for men).
I’m going to say something very unpopular, people respect women more when they are in relationships (sexist I know!) and I’ve gotten a lot of “browny points” because my boyfriend is European, works in hi-tech, and quite good-looking (we live in a very shallow world). Last but not least, have male allies when building a business, unfortunately people are more confident in you and your ideas if men are on your side (so sad, but true).
My local partners: Thai business women
So, I may not be able to marry a local but I’ve managed to find a way to work with Thai women to help me build Healthy Hair Asia.
Given that women make up the majority of my customers, I’ve been quietly securing partnerships with local hair salons and beauty brands operated by Thai women.
It’s too early to get into details, but professional partnerships are the best ways to go! Women helping women :)
Thanks for reading, check out my pictures below!
Stay tuned for next week, I’m a writer for the global Techsauce summit happening this weekend!
The greatest gifts my mother gave me: style and class
Growing up I used to joke around with my sister saying “How fortunate are we” in a fake English accent. We would say this to each other laughing as we acknowledge our poverty but recognised we had some class and style. I would say that my family was upper-class poor (yes, their are different tiers in classes), and despite our limited financial security, my parents made sure we dressed well, spoke well, and participated in activities that would make us well-rounded, like cheerleading, track, student council, and volunteering. My mom, was so determined to make sure our English was to the highest standard that she didn’t teach my sisters and I Haitian-Creole, furnished our home with a plethora of classic literature novels, French music, and classic American movies, took us to museums, and constantly corrected our speech. She wanted to make sure that we had a clear American accent and proper speech so our poverty would not be affect our chances of “moving up the social ladder.” So, yes friends and other family members in my community were bilingual and shopped at popular department stores like Macy’s, TJ Maxx, and Lords & Taylors, but instilling social and culture into our home was how we would be able to move of the social and professional ladder in America.
By the time I reached university I saw the benefits of my mother’s culture and social taste. I took advantage of the free networking events, banquets, dinners, and even discounts to attend the ballet and symphony so I could practice what I learned. I tried to share my knowledge with my friends to attend or invest in buying quality clothes for future internships and jobs, but for many of my peers they didn’t see the importance. And by the time I finished university and studied abroad, I really got a taste of the world outside I read from the novels and movies in my home.
Being an entrepreneur is a privilege: How do I do it?
When I read stories of successful entrepreneurs and how they started many fall into 3 categories: they funded their venture with family money and/or connections, they worked in very lucrative industries and used their savings to start their own venture, or were clever and worked smarter (not harder) to build a successful business. Guess which category I fall into? I’m in category 3.
See, I purposefully left the US because I couldn’t afford to build this business, while paying off my student loans, rent, and build a lucrative network. Moving to Israel was my first step, and next traveling in Asia and settling in Bangkok was the next step because of the cheap cost of living and building a business in SE Asia which is experiencing exponential growth. I chose to work in a flexible career, I stress flexible because teaching gives me enough time to invest in building Healthy Hair Asia, and while teaching doesn’t pay that much, it pays enough for me to live a middle class lifestyle. Next, friends, I believe who you surround yourself around is important, so most if not all my friends are successful entrepreneurs, small business owners, or high level professionals, who are all happy to give me (free) advice, constructive criticism, and support by buying my products.
Lastly, dating (I plan on writing a blog post about this!), it’s very important to date the right type of person who will deal with your crazy schedule, spontaneous lifestyle, and can support you while you build your business. Now, Thailand is not the easiest place for foreign women (or Farang women as they call us) to date, but a clever and smart women will find a good partner. Let’s just say I have a very supportive, stable, smart partner, without him I would not have made it this far.
My greatest assets: social fluidity, professional and personal network, and attitude
I still have a lot to learn when it comes to socialising, conversation, and networking, because I don’t know everything. But I believe my mother gave me a good start, and Bangkok is an international city that allows people across all classes to connect and socialise. About a month ago, I created The Women’s Afternoon Tea Network, for amazing entrepreneurial women who are too busy to genuinely get to know each other, so once a month we get together over tea at a beautiful Tea House in Bangkok to catch up. In addition, I share interesting events for members to attend since there are so many amazing professional, social, and cultural events in Bangkok. It’s not an easy job, but I thoroughly enjoy bringing like-minded and ambitious women together. Aside from this group (I have many other groups, I guess that’s what expats do lol) I organise brunches for my “Afro-French” group, all young professionals and entrepreneurs, and my Jewish group where I help with events, celebrate holidays with, and managing their website and Facebook page. It took about 1.5 year to make friendships, a professional network, and join a community, not easy!
Bangkok has enabled me to grow personally, socially, and professional, despite my low-income background and under-appreciated profession (well teachers are appreciated in Asia, but not in the US). But most of all, I’m happy my mother has given me the necessary tools to succeed. Thank you mommy!
Thanks for reading, stay tuned for next week as I discuss dating!
How did you learn how to make friends? How did you learn how to express your emotions? How did you learn to be polite and problem solve? I can’t speak for everyone but I definitely learn these through play. I learned how to play and use my imagination with my sisters, friends, and at school during recess time. As a 90s baby I guess my generation was the last one to play games without a screen, like double dutch, numbers hand game, tire swing, barbies (I had a nice doll collection and would forbid people from touching my dolls lol), Pokemon cards, and of course riding my bicycle. The only digital game I played was Nintendo 64 and solitaire from the PC in my home. As a young adult and teacher I’m glad to be back in an environment where playing is a central role of learning.
My new job :)
My school follows a creative curriculum that emphasises play and creativity for students to learn. Through these methods students learn how to count, identify colours, encourage curiosity, speaking English, writing, and manners. It’s a big change from teaching high school students, which I enjoyed (it’s not for everyone) and being a person of fascination given my “unique look” to my students, who are mostly Japanese, Thai, or mixed. One student pointed to my smile and asked why I have chocolate on my gums! Very cute, I guess he never seen brown gums before. Or all my students staring at me and my hair with wide eyes nearly not recognising me because I decided to put it up in a big bun. I really cherish moments like these.
I started working at the end of the semester so my first week I shadowed a teacher whose class I will take over while she’s on holiday. Many students have developed emotionally and socially over the year as they began school shy and awkward and now are full of energy, talkative, and confident. The structure of the school is centred around playing, as classes and lessons are organised into 15-30 minutes with many play activities such as swimming, P.E. bicycling, cooking, free play, and language learning. The biggest differences between this school (or schools in Thailand) and traditional American schools are that lunches and snacks are healthier, as kids eat a lot of vegetable, rice, and little processed foods, and children are treated equally regardless of their culture, faith, ethnicity, or class. I won’t get too political but as a “minority” (I really hate that word) from the US, and educated in Massachusetts, “the brain state,” there is a lot of bias and implicit racism in the education system. I won’t digress any further, but it’s just nice to be seen as an American first and teach in a positive and tolerant environment and society. Anyways, I really like my colleagues who are all from around the world, US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, the Philippines, and Canada. All who are around my age and at the beginning or middle of their teaching careers.
I love this job, my colleagues, and my students so I definitely will be here for the long term as I build Healthy Hair Asia.
Thank you for reading!
Growing up I wanted have hair like my mother. Her hair was long, golden brown, shiny, and beautiful. She had a few black and white pictures of herself from Haiti and while she studied at university, and as a child I looked in awe how beautiful she was, not only her hair, but she had clear skin, slim figure and narrow waist, full bosom (yes my mom had big boobs, not weird to acknowledge it!) and the cherry on top, her beautiful long hair. At a young age I didn’t look to magazines of photoshopped models, or TV dramas and movies to have learn what was beautiful because I had examples of women in my family. My mother, maternal and paternal grandmother all were beautiful and had long hair. Yet, the only traits I seemed to inherit were their clear complexion, slim figure, height, and voluminous hair that didn’t retain length past my shoulders. Maybe it was because I received my first chemical relaxer at a young age, but when it was natural it did show potential of length, and I was so happy to receive compliments when people said I had hair like my mother, because that meant I was beautiful.
What is beautiful hair?
Is a woman’s hair her crown and glory? Or one of her most feminine characteristics? It depends on the type of society a woman is living in. In the US, if you look at magazines and models it’s clear long, shiny, straight, and voluminous hair is the most beautiful hair that exemplifies a woman’s femininity. A woman can have a simple face, but if she has full long hair, it can definitely transform how beautiful she is to society. Example, Sarah Jessica Parker from Sex and the City, or the Jonas Brothers (quite basic looking, but all have really cool hair), Beyonce (sorry Beyonce fans), all are quite simple looking, but their best physical trait is their hair. For religious societies, married women cover their hair to preserve their most visibly beauty trait for their husbands, i.e. married orthodox Jewish women wear wigs or scarves to cover their hair. And Muslim women at all ages (depending on the location, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Nigeria, etc.) wear headscarves or the hijab, single or married, for modesty, privacy, and not to be seen for their beauty but for their personality to be their focus (really debatable if it’s a choice, but I won’t get into that). In Asia, skin: complexion and youth, are the primary markers of beauty, but for hair, long, shiny, and voluminous hair is also the standard of beauty.
Black American, Caribbean, Afro-Latino, African, Afro-European, and curly hair women hair
I received a chemical relaxer because I wanted my hair to look like my mother’s hair (plus being the youngest of 4 girls it would be easier to manage and save my mother time). I liked braids, twists, and wearing my barrettes, but I felt left out when my mom took my sisters to the hair salons to get their done while I was stuck with childish hairstyles. Finally it was my turn to get my hair chemically straighten, and I imagined myself swinging my hair from side to side, and running my fingers easily through my hair like my friends at school, except all my hair fell out. My mom took my 3rd oldest sister and I to some “hole in the wall” salon where the hairdresser was overwhelmed with clients and left the perm in our hair too long. Before I knew it, my full shoulder length hair was washing down the sink when the hairdresser stupidly ignored my cries that my head was burning and itching. A traumatising experience at a young age, but not unique, for many Black girls who too want beautiful hair. That night I vowed to myself that I will not get a chemical relaxer again and will stick to my childish hairstyles of braids and barrettes.
Of course I did attempt to get a relaxer again, but by a hairstylist that was respect and knew what she was doing, and for a few years I embraced my straight hair look. My hair looked like my moms hair, but it never reached passed my shoulders. Now, for many Black women: American, Caribbean, European, and Latino, length retention is the biggest challenge to achieving long hair. Our hair grows, just like all other women’s, but afro-textured hair is more fragile, so hair manipulation (braids, hair extensions, etc.), chemicals relaxers and harmful ingredients, and excessive heat damages our hair to the point it breaks and sheds faster than it grows. Thus, many women with afro-textured hair (and even curly hair) have short, thin, and lifeless hair. Of course there are exceptions, and times where chemically treated hair is healthy, but not for the majority who continue harmful practices that will cause permanent hair damage.
Before I go any further, it’s important to note there are historical and political reasons why American Black women continue to use chemical relaxers (many have stopped!) and if your interested to learn more please read HERE, HERE, and HERE. Also, Black women around the world are not the only ones to wear hair extensions, many women do, the primary difference is because the hair extensions don’t look like our natural hair texture and we spend a lot of money buying hair and maintaining our own hair, please read more HERE, HERE and HERE.
Ok, the hard part is out of the way, over the years, the beauty and length of my mother’s hair slowly deteriorated because of these harmful hair practices, and so did my grandmother’s hair. Yet, both are still held at a higher beauty standard because of their once upon a time long beautiful hair. Now fully natural and loving it, what I didn’t realise was that my mother and grandmother didn’t start using chemical relaxers until their twenties and if I truly was going to attain long hair, I would have to go au natural.
My natural hair journey: 8 years later
For those that are not familiar with the story of my natural hair journey I’ll tell you that it began out of frustration of not knowing how to do my natural hair and I wanted hair like my mother. Once I got to university I had the opportunity to learn how to do my hair, look like a mess as I was trying to figure it out, and from this journey was inspired to help other women achieve healthy and beautiful hair. However, what many people don’t know is that it was a long and emotional journey.
“Why would you do that to your hair?,” “Your hair looks like a mess, fix it!,” “Good luck finding a man with that type of hair!” “I love my relaxers, I’ll never go natural!” These are some of the remarks that I got from family and friends when I returned back to my natural hair. You’d think people who are close to you would be happy and excited for you when you try something new! Despite the animosity and little support, I found a community of women online who were also embracing their natural hair, no judgements, no negativity, rather they offered great advice, stories, and their experience to embrace their natural hair. This community I discovered back in 2009, and has changed into a global movement of YouTubers, bloggers, writers, hair guru’s, and entrepreneurs thanks to technology and social media, who have turned their hobbies into a profitable business. From this community I learned that hair length is not the marker of a women’s beauty and femininity, hence why I had enough confidence to shaved my hair, “big chopped” my hair twice, and learned how to make homemade hair products.
What’s the most interesting part of this 8-year long journey is my biggest critics are now my supporters and people who turn to me for advice to have healthy hair. Now, when family members see my hair, its praise, admiration, and envy because I’m the one with long, full, shiny hair. I’m now the one who has hair like my mother and grandmother’s, and a slim figure (I was mercilessly teased for being skinny growing up). My sense for adventure and curiosity to see the world is “bragged about” by my mother to her friends and church community. I would have never guess simply embracing my natural hair would transform my life in such a positive way.
Healthy Hair is Beautiful Hair
I find it ridiculous how beauty and femininity are so narrowly defined and published throughout the media for young impressionable girls to achieve. Short hair, curly hair, kinky hair, fine hair, and straight hair are all beautiful! What’s important that your hair is healthy, and once you have healthy hair, you have beautiful hair!
Thank you all for reading, stay tuned for next week! As I’ll write about returning back to work!
Check out a few pictures of my hair journey below :) Many of these pictures are from my scrapbook which was one of my favourite hobbies before smart phones and digital era lol!