Healer, Small Business Owner, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Ms. Audorn is one of a kind. In a country where women’s family and personal obligations are sometimes a big barrier for succeeding in a business career, where women aren't always treated equally to men (come to think of it, it can be any society these days) things seem to be looking up and changing in Thailand! A small business owner and an amazing talent/success story, Orn is featured because she self-motivated to move from a small village in the south east of Thailand, applied to college in Bangkok (beat out hundreds of applicants to get a coveted spot), and opened her own business, working in rehabilitation therapy field. She went from spending her first night in Bangkok in the main bus station to opening a business, employing staff, creating her own hours and having freedom to dream further about next steps in her life and career. If you ever travel to Chiang Mai, have aches and pains, visit Orn Healing Hands and you will thank me later.
The following answers are written by Orn (with very minor spelling/grammar tweaks from me). Please keep in mind that English is a second (or third/fourth..) language and is not 100% perfect . Perfect is boring anyway! Enjoy.
2. Where is your hometown?
Si Sa Ket, Thailand.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Massage/rehabilitation therapist, business owner. I am proud of making my customers healthy.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of?
It was a long journey to owning my own business. I left my village in the south east of Thailand at 17 and travelled to Bangkok by bus. I didn’t know anything except that I didn’t want to work the fields and be a farmer like my parents.
The news about possibilities and opportunities in Bangkok have travelled to our small village and I just got on the bus one day to try my luck. I was a kid. I didn’t have any contacts in the city, and ended up sleeping in the bus station the first night. Luckily there were other women from the same province as me, spoke the same language, and we stuck together after that first night. I think my experiences in Bangkok would amount to one thing: figuring out what I don’t like doing. I worked in a factory (examining spare parts for fans), I worked in a restaurant (I was hoping to help with cooking, but they put me in the waitressing job, where I broke too many dishes. I guess I’m not that coordinated), I then received training and gained experience caring for elderly (this paid very well, but after several of my patients died of old age it was too difficult to continue emotionally), I also learned how to cut hair and do make up in a beauty school (this was great for a while, but after working with so many chemicals I decided to move on from that experience). I tried to find out what I would love to do, but ended up just discovering things I didn’t enjoy. Of course this is so important, because that led me down the path I’m on now. The path to independence.
After discussing with a friend, I decided to apply to the Prada Bos School – professional school for massage therapists. Out of 300 applicants, 30 of us were accepted. They test your skills and really make sure you graduate with great understanding of the body and all the ailments. So many people ask me how I could open my own business after I graduated. I saved and saved! I was so young, I didn’t know how to spend money, even when I had some money (problem I currently don’t seem to have 😊) I didn’t go shopping nor did I seem to eat much.
I came to Chiang Mai (a town in the north of Thailand) after I had several years of gaining experience working in Western Spas and legitimate massage parlors. Then one day a woman told me about Chiang Mai, and all the possibilities to make a living there. I finally saw an opportunity to be independent and have ability to send money to my parents, to help them.
Someone mentioned to me that a store front in the tourist part of Chiang Mai was emptying out and I decided to go for it. I wanted to heal with my hands and worked hard to secure a loan, and worked even harder to save up for the first air conditioner to be installed in my studio. It was all from the ground up experience. I learned a lot. I have customers who still once in a while come in and ask if “my massage is the real deal”. I hold my head high and as a result I have a following of regulars and new customers. I’ve been lucky to use my instincts to detract those who have ulterior motives. I also charge higher than other places, and as a result can claim more quality service and have fewer clients. This gives me freedom to save money during higher seasons, then fly home to see my parents and be able to really travel during low seasons, to explore.
5. What did you study in school?
I stopped studying at 14. Most kids did. Later on, when I worked in Bangkok on weekends, I took the courses part time and received a certificate that allowed me to get higher salary in future jobs. In reality though, years of life experience was equally important for me to succeed.
Owning your own business is very good for constantly learning new things. You learn so much - how to save, where to splurge.
At the beginning it is very hard, because you don’t have money to spend outside the business, no pocket money. Now the business is going well and I finally have money to spend in low tourist season. I can fly to places, instead of taking a bus. I've been very lucky and enjoy my independence very much.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
I knew that I would find something that I’m good at, and I was very much determined to keep looking for it. To not give up. So it’s not that different from what I pictured, because at 20 I was still looking.
7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
I wish I could go to high school and university, to "normal" school. But I don't regret anything, and in any case, I'm not done figuring out what to learn next.
8. Advice for other women?
The best thing to do in life is to try, many times. No one can win from the very first step, from initial attempt. People have to realize that starting again is not a bad thing. So many women are stuck in their situations because they are afraid to start again - a new job, drop a skill and start learning a new one, find new relationship and drop the bad one. I found something I'm really good at, but I'm still going to start again, I want to teach massage now, new road and new challenges.
9. Do you think it is difficult for women in Thailand to start business? How did you do it?
I don’t think it’s difficult once you have enough money to do it. Once I saved up, there was no problem. I think it’s difficult to get to a point where there are women in business, because women are expected to have a role in the home, only in supporting a family.
I really do think that if you’re lucky in work you’re unlucky in love (at least this is what I think for business women in Thailand). I’m 37 and I’m not married nor do I have children – which is not very common here. However, this year I’m going to focus on meeting a good man, a partner. I want to know how it feels to really have a partner, a supportive “other half”. I think that if I have a supportive partner, I may be able to find that balance in my life. Middle is very good.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I go to a garden, Kard Kam Teing. They sell flowers, and have incredible displays there. It makes me feel at peace to walk around it.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I continue to write in a journal, about daily things I encounter, what’s positive about people I meet. It helps me. I’m interested to learn more about writing as many people suggest I write a book. Some day I'll sit and write about what I've been through, about Bangkok and Thailand.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I want to keep learning new things. I have ambitions to save enough money to buy my own house in Chiang Mai, my own piece of land.
Also, I want to keep traveling. One day I hope to visit Bhutan. I imagine it to be green and beautiful. Their king is a good man, and takes care of his people. I also want to one day travel to California.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
i don't have any fears in myself.
14. Anything you'd do differently if you had another go at life?
Even hard and scary experiences in my life have been worth it. When I was working in Bangkok, an acquaintance of mine was dating someone from Oman. He made a presentation about the job opportunities there. I asked if this was a legitimate business and was assured that it was. So i travelled to Oman. I was in my early 20s. When I arrived, it became very clear that the services others performed included doing all the things I vowed not to do. I've had angry customers who yelled at me for refusing, but some were really kind and offered to help me in my quest to get a return flight back to Thailand. I was also working on a lot of women, and one woman felt my despair and kept returning and paying me more, to help. That was one of the hardest times in my life. I cried at night. I got so desperate that one day I asked a client (who happened to be a taxi driver) how much the ride to the airport was, just so I could plan and save up for an exit. Luckily we weren't trapped there, and could leave and quit at any time. I can't imagine what would have happened if they took my passport away. Today, I still value that experience because it helped me lean who to trust in life. I never saw my "friend" after that, but I also am thankful to her, for teaching me how to look at someone and follow my instincts about a person.
I would do it all again.
15. What inspires you?
Possibility that I can achieve my dream.
16. What are you hopeful about?
I want to buy land in Chiang Mai. I like this place a lot, it's beautiful and peaceful here. My aspiration is to own a house and a vegetable garden. I want to grow everything without chemicals, in organic manner. I want to learn about Thai herbal compress (mixture of over 15 Thai herbs and ingredients) and hot steam treatments, more for me to read about and research. I always tell my customers "you are what you eat", and I believe it to be true.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Practice positive thinking, enjoy what you’re doing, focus on what makes you feel good. A challenge or a problem is good sometimes, a challenge is your friend. You learn how to figure it out, and as a result become stronger. I believe that in business, if you don’ know how to solve a problem (or if you fight a problem too hard without surrendering to it) you will not be winning at your business.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
Learn English earlier. In Bangkok, I met a friend who was Thai but lived in California. She told me to buy some English books, to write ABCs, thank god I did that. When she had time, she taught me how to say simple things like “Good morning, Good afternoon”. But since I moved to Chiang Mai, I learned from my customers; I listen and I am not shy to talk to them.
Here in Thailand we believe in reincarnation. I think in my past life I was an English speaker. I prefer English songs over Thai songs (which are too sad). I can now listen to songs and actually understand the lyrics. For a person who never took any formal classes, I think it's pretty good, no?
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I don’t have time to read books. I do enjoy listening to videos and lecture about positive thinking and psychology. I also listen to these in English to kill two birds with one stone :)
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your life who inspires you, and why?
I don’t have a WOW woman who has been a present force in my life. I just have OK women. They are good women, but to me noone has been a WOW woman. I do admire women who have made big careers for themselves.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?