Singaporean man Goh Thye Hock is Telefonica’s butler in Sanya
His name is Goh Thye Hock, he’s 41 years old and he is the voice and saviour of Team Telefónica in China. He’s the local contact for the Spanish team in China and there’s no doubt whatsoever that he is one of the most key and crucial team players at this curious stopover destination.
Here in Sanya, Thye is also a foreigner among foreigners to a certain extent. He’s a Singaporean among Spaniards in China. Although Thye’s ancestors were Chinese, he is from Singapore and he’s been living in China for a couple of years now. His family live back home in his native Singapore. “I try to get home at least once a month. It’s not that far away, just a three-hour plane ride away”, but as Thye points out, "China is a big market and Singapore is small…”
So, in order to do his current job, first he had to learn about Chinese culture: “People here are polite but they can be very shy and if they don’t understand you, they might just walk away. The language itself is so complex… and you really can’t properly understand their behaviour or what they are like until you understand their language”, says the Singaporean. After some time here “I’ve begun to understand how they work and to comprehend how big the country is and how it is governed”.
China is a complex place when it comes to purchasing and logistics, especially if you take things from a western point of view. Culturally we are opposite extremes and English speakers in Sanya can be counted on one hand, whilst the language is simply too complex to be mastered by ourselves and most other westerners and is based on a series of written symbols and characters. Not only that, but the non-verbal means of communication are completely different and concepts such as speed and quality are different to those upheld in the western world. It’s not that these are better or worse, they are simply different.
Team Telefónica therefore rely heavily on Thye. He helps to hunt out any products that need to be bought, he translates and drives (visitors are not allowed to drive and nor is it advisable from a safety perspective), he speaks to suppliers and other locals working for the boat and he helps out our head of logistics when it comes to communicating with the hotel or the laundry services… He’s a star member of the team.
"Singaporeans are Asian on the outside, but inside we are also very western”, says Thye. “I’ve worked with English people, Italians… and my wife has travelled a lot to Spain and you are very friendly and polite people”.
He outlines his role within the Spanish team: “I help the team when it comes to locating things and materials they are looking for and I put them in contact with the right people in order to get those things brought here, if necessary. For example, a friend of mine is bringing some things we couldn’t get here from Hong Kong who was coming to Sanya anyway”.
He is the link between the team and the locals and there is no doubt that he is making a big contribution towards both cultures – the Spanish and the Chinese understanding each other. "I also explain how things are done here and why they are done one way or another… and I avoid them wasting time looking for things that you can’t get hold of here…”.
Thye has management experience at the Marina ONE leisure port in Singapore, where he first made contact with the Volvo Ocean Race in 2008-2009, and in recent years Thye has worked managing yachts and superyachts in Sanya.
"Having lived here now for two years I know most of the local places. I am also in contact with quite a few local owners and boat captains who I can call on for help if needed”, he says. “Problems can come about when the team are looking for things that can’t be found here in China or that are really, really difficult to get here, such as the huge rolls of paper used by the shore crew. They are really hard to get hold of here and they cost a lot of money. Anything that isn’t produced here costs a lot because of the added tax and sometimes bringing things in to China can be a tricky process”.
What do the team say?
Jorge Blanco from Galicia works for the Team Telefónica purchasing department. He recognises the important role of Thye within the team: “He’s a very valuable asset to me and without him there would be a lot of things we wouldn’t be able to get hold of. As well as speaking Chinese and English, which he uses as our translator, he also has in-depth knowledge of the nautical sector, he sails and understands boats and the world that moves around them. If we need anything we ask him if we can get it in Sanya or on the island of Hainan and if he can’t get it, he has a long list of local contacts who can help as well as contacts in Hong Kong”.
It would have been almost impossible for Jorge to carry out his job as normal without the help of Thye on this stopover: “We would have taken much longer to make any purchase and some of them would have been impossible, simply because you can’t get hold of the things here or we wouldn’t know if things were even available or not here in Sanya. The first few days I was here it was just me and a driver and it was really difficult. There were many things I couldn’t find until Thye came along”.
There’s no better proof than this to show that Team Telefónica’s stopover in Sanya just wouldn’t have been the same without Thye.
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