by Thiphawan Gault-Williams
My first job was hemming jeans. I was thirteen years old at that time and I worked in Bangkok, Thailand. I had to be careful hemming the jeans because the machine had a knife to cut the fabric. If I was not careful it would cut my finger more than the fabric. I could make $10 a day if I could hem around 1,000 jeans. Hemming the jeans was not too difficult and not too easy either. The hard thing was carrying one hundred pieces each time from downstairs to upstairs. It was too heavy for a little girl like me. I worked six days a week, but sometimes I didn't have any day off or sleep because I had to finish my work before they could pack the jeans and send them to the boat. All the jeans that we made were sold outside the country to Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
Now when I think back to that time I am very proud of myself hemming the jeans no matter what. It was not too safe because there was so much dust and the way a knife cut the fabric. I am still proud of myself because some of the money I made was sent back to support my family.
My second job was working at a restaurant at a hotel. It was a Chinese restaurant and I was a waitress. I had to serve food and take care of customers and I had to encourage the customers to order the food we had to sell out on that day before the food would go bad. For example, if that day the restaurant had too much pork barbecue we told the customers, "The pork barbecue is so good, tasty, and fresh," no matter that it was not that way. We served pork barbecue with sweet chili sauce, cucumber, and onions.
I tried to do the best I could to take care of the customers because the better service I did, the more tip I could get. It wasn't just how much of a tip I could get from the customers, I still wanted to take care of the customers by giving them good service and being happy. We wanted them to come back again soon.
My work at the hotel was challenging for me every day. For example, I'm the kind of person who always wakes up late. For the hotel job my morning started at 7 a.m. and went until 10 or 11 p.m. In the morning after I woke up I took a shower to prepare myself for work. I ran to the bus stop and then kept waiting and waiting. I had no idea when the bus would come. Sometimes it took me an hour waiting for the bus. I sometimes had to take a cab, not matter cab or bus I still had to get out and run or walk to work because the traffic in Bangkok was so bad. Running and walking was faster for me in the morning before work. Another challenge for me was when a customer complained about the food. They might say the food tastes too salt or too sweet and was not good. I had to take the food back to the chef and deal with him in the kitchen. Sometimes the chef did not do anything to the food. He would just say, "I tested it already. It still tastes good. The customer is just wrong." I had no idea what to do. I waited a while and then brought the food back to the customer, smiling. I said, "We are so sorry. The food is OK now." They smiled and ate it. The chef didn't change anything in the food but the customer still smiled and said, "The food was good." I sometimes wondered what happened in their minds.
[When I moved to the United States] My third, fourth, and fifth job was working at the supermarket, doing Thai massage, and being a runner at Your Place restaurant. I worked at Scolari's supermarket [in Santa Barbara]. I started work at 6 a.m. and went to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. My job was to stand next to the cashier and bag the groceries. I bagged groceries for six months and then I got promoted to the non-food department. The job I worked was staking. For example, I stocked medicine, decorations, and shampoo. I got paid $6.35 per hour.
After I got off from the supermarket I went back home, had a rest, and then did another job. I did Thai traditional massage and Thai foot massage. In this job I was the boss of myself. Many of my clients who came to me always complained about their bodies. They were tired, sore, and achy. I was so happy that I knew how to do massage because I like to help people and see them happy after my massage. For example, one of my clients was 65 years old. I did foot massage on her. I usually used oil and wood to do massage. I would rub and put pressure on the skin. After I finished my work, my client always said, "I feel like I have new feet." Not just my client said that to me, but my husband said the same, "I feel like I have new feet." I made more money doing massage than working at the supermarket. I charged the customers $60 an hour for massage. I didn't just help people with their bodies, but I made money too!
Around 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. my other job started. After my dinner I started working at the Thai restaurant at 6 p.m. My job was to be a runner. For example, I bought food to the customers, refilled water glasses, and cleaned the tables. This job paid $14 an hour. This job was easy for me because I was not a waitress and I didn't have to deal with the customers. When the customers complained about something I always sent a waitress over to the table to deal with them. After I finished my job I rode my bike back home and that was the end of my day of work. I would start my jobs again the next day.
I like every job I have had, no matter that sometimes I had to deal with difficult people. I like to do different things to learn more about something and to have more experience. I was so happy to be working, no matter that sometimes the job was hard for me. I am proud of myself for every job I have done. I sent some of the money I made back to support my family in my hometown in northeast Thailand.