From Italy to Thailand: a fascinating and mysterious country

– Interview to Lorenzo De Cicco

By Maddalena Zocca

Lorenzo De Cicco is a middle-aged italian entrepreneur: he has travelled much during his life because his work allows him to do so. During the winter of 2002 his travels brought him to Thailand, who’s fascinating features stuck him right away: the climate, the people’s sociality and availability and most of all the easiness with which one could open a business.

Lorenzo De Cicco

Eventually, in 2007 he managed to managed to start his own small business in Chonburi, about 160 km from Bangkok: he opened a karaoke, a sort of disco-bar really popular there, which he called Karaoke 101.

The peculiarity of this karaoke is that its costumers are strictly thai, no strangers, nor tourists. Only locals.

This surprised me, seen the aforementioned description of Thai citizens like open, friendly and available. When I asked Lorenzo about it, he explained to me that bars and pubs, or anything related to night life and free time, are like that. There is no “mixing” up between locals and tourist, it is simply unthinkable. The only exceptions might be cinemas.

“It is not a question of race” he says, “it is a question of culture”: first of all, the average thai person does not speak fluent english, and tends to mix his own language with english. Likewise, the average tourist does not speak thai, not does e tend to stay in a specific location for more than a couple of days, so locals do not even make the effort to build up a dialogue with them, knowing that they will move on soon to go visit monuments and temples around the country. Not to mention the fact that tourists tend to travel in groups, with friends or family, forming an intimate circle that acts as a deterrent in front of the locals.

On the other hand, if they notice one person that comes back more often, then yes they will do the effort and start involving the newcomer, especially if its a small businessman or a club manager like himself.

Since he opened his karaoke, Lorenzo has been spending 5 or 6 months there every year, and the business is working well. He hasn’t managed to learn the language, tough. To my question as why he doesn’t speak thai yet, he replied: “learning thai is impossible: in over 10 years spent there I have witnessed only one european that managed to learn it.. and he was already speaking other asiatic languages”. Thai counts more or less 25 dialects, one very different from the other, so even among themselves they struggle to understand each other.

As far as the opening of the karaoke itself is concerned, seen from an european point of view, and especially an italian one where bureaucracy is a tough affair, Thailand could be considered as the paradise of private business.

Obtaining the allowance to open the club was quick and easy: Lorenzo employed a thai manager that made everything go smooth, facilitating the communication. He was responsible for the paper work during the opening process and administration, and now he is also responsible for recruiting the personnel. Unlike in Italy, he said, government and local authorities were never even been seen, and the paper work and bureaucracy were quick and efficient: it took only one week to get a work permit, and one additional week to get the paperwork for the karaoke itself.

He got the manager to do a regular rent contract and business management, trough a lawyer: it was laid dawn both in english and thai, like law requires when the signer is a foreigner.

On more thing one has to do when opening a business, Lorenzo says, is to make it known to the local police, that is responsible for controlling and supervising all the local economic activities.

Unlike Italy, and contrary to what one might think of such countries, local police forces have a particularly important role and power. While in Italy there are many such bodies, like the Polizia, Carabinieri, Guardia di Finanza, La Ronda, la Guardia Civile, and many others, in Thailand there is only one police body.

Karaoke 101.
n.102 MOO 10
Nongprue Banglamung / Chonburi

One can avoid paying taxes if he provides the right documentation stating that his income is minimal. But if one does not pay taxes without the right “excuse”, the municipal administrators send a chart with the right import due to pay, and in that case there is no appeal, unless of course the taxation was unrealistic: in that circumstance, since the administrators side the workers, it is not in their interest to tax them excessively and the amount would be revised and corrected.

In case of contentious, one can address the police and with a “tip”, everything can be easily fixed: the documentation is casually set aside for an indeterminate time.

It is not a good system seen from our western point of view, concludes Lorenzo, but it works there, because there, it has a reason to be.

“All of Asia is for us western civilization really mysterious: there are great differences in habits and customs, even within the country itself”, says Lorenzo, and I admire him for his ability to undertake something like this in Thailand.



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