As a continuation of crisis management, here’s the second unforgettable experience living and working as an expat in a foreign land.
The aim of sharing the stories below is to portray the importance of crisis management and is not insinuating racial and country discrimination. Thank you.
From the country where I am from, politics and revolutions are nothing new. We’re famous for People Power, a revolution to outcast and revamp the government leaders. We had few of coup d’etat, some successful and some failed. If you’re a citizen of the country undergoing political chaos, life moves on the usual phase. However, if you’re a foreigner, political unrest will trigger your fear.
Thailand was already in political chaos since early 2008.
However, it is still business as usual. Product and technology updates to partners are critical in order to ensure proper positioning and sell.
It was the last week of August 2008, few weeks prior my relocation to Singapore when I was sent to conduct a technology workshop to our business partner in Bangkok Thailand.
When I reached Bangkok, everything appears normal. Reaching the Plaza Athenee Bangkok, the hotel was calm and serene. It’s loaded with business travelers, so I thought there’s nothing to be worry about. Business continues and I prepared for the workshop, hopefully there will be opportunities that will come along.
While conducting the workshop, the partner’s office is equipped with television which telecast the news updates about Bangkok and the political challenges it is facing due to the conflicts of People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) and People’s Power Party (PPP). The said political chaos started since 2005-2006 and continued again on 2008.
I was occupied with the workshop topics and preparations that I missed out watching the evening news. I missed out the news that Thailand is already foreseen to undergo the state of emergency.
In the middle of my workshop, I received a call from my colleague:
Colleague: Where are you?
Me: I’m still in Bangkok, middle of the workshop. Why? Do we need to discuss opportunities?
Colleague: No. Haven’t you watched the news this morning? Thailand government has already issued that Bangkok is going to be under the state of emergency. Get out of the Thailand. NOW. BE SAFE.
Me: What am I gonna do?
Colleague: Get a flight and leave now. You don’t want to get stuck in Bangkok. Protesters will disrupt the air travels and the international airport.
After receiving the news, I immediately requested for a break session from the workshop that I’m conducting and immediately watched the news telecast. After confirming my colleague’s news, I immediately sent a message to my bosses that I will need to fly back to Kuala Lumpur. I seek the assistance of the business partner for me to go back to the hotel immediately. The workshop was discontinued immediately.
Me to the receptionist: I need you to book me a flight this afternoon or evening for Kuala Lumpur.
I gave her the details of my flight for rebooking.
Receptionist: Malaysia Airlines has already cancelled its flight to Bangkok and vice versa. I will need to liaised with Thai Airways for your flight rebooking.
Me: Thank you very much. Here’s the address of Plaza Athenee, can you write the address in Thai? (On my mind: This is for me not to say anything to taxi driver and just hand over the address. I’m avoiding to be noticed as foreigner.)
I received a call from my managing director while in the middle of explanation to my workshop attendees that I need to leave immediately.
Managing Director: Get a flight immediately and leave the country. Get a hotel limo and be safe.
After reaching the hotel, it was very ironic that the hotel is like a cemetery. It was very quiet and all hotel guests have left the vicinity. The area of Plaza Athenee is known to be the place of residences for most of the expats living and working in Bangkok. During that time, as I alighted from the taxi on my way inside the hotel, Thai military men have surrounded the area and protecting it against potential danger.
The hotel immediately prepared a hotel limo that will take me privately and safely to the airport.
After few minutes of packing and checking out, I was on my way to the international airport. The hotel limo took the side streets to avoid the protesters until we reached the highway. Still I can see the people in the street gathering their packs. My mind was empty and all I can think of is to get my flight and leave.
The last thing that I can think of is the fear that I will get stranded in the country if international flights are discontinued due to protesters.
Bangkok International airport was packed with travelers hoping to get a flight and leave. Most of the international flights were already cancelled. Thai Airways accommodated the passengers. I managed to get a flight that night thru Thai Airways.
Thankfully, I reached Kuala Lumpur safe and sound.
The following morning, I was watching the news from Kuala Lumpur. The news announced that Thailand international airport has to disrupt services due to political unstability. Few days later, Bangkok was announced to be under the state of emergency.
Working life continues and my travels were redirected to Indonesia for few opportunities.
While talking to my colleague,
Colleague: Well, if you get stranded in Thailand, you can always seek help from Malaysia embassy.
Me: (Laugh). You must have forgotten that I should be seeking help from Philippine embassy.
All of us were laughing.
After the incident, I learned that life can’t be controlled and crisis can appear out of nowhere without warning though signs are present and it’s up to us to acknowledge it. It is then I developed the habit that every time I travel whether it is business or holidays, I always remind the people that I love, cared, and treasured how much I love them. With constant flying, you will never know what can happen and when you will see them again.
Til next time. Au revoir.