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Richard Mehr

“What makes us who we are here in Phuket is the people we meet; this is the kind of environment where things don’t matter and there are no boundaries, only acceptance”, says Mr. Richard Mehr, General Manager of
U Zenmaya in Kalim

Where are you from and when did you move to Phuket?
I originally arrived on Phuket in 1994, and at that time we were a few thousand expats. Phuket was very different than it is today; we all knew one another, at least by face. Back then I was doing wine training at the Meridien and later Boathouse. I was born and raised in Switzerland so I used to introduce myself as Swiss, but at one point I became a citizen of the world

What made you decide to come and live here?
We’re all living a bit of a dream here and the environment demands that we accept one another. Everyone makes friends in Phuket, and those of us who moved here had the courage to step out of security. Exploring why we chose to leave the safety of our home countries makes for an interesting experience, and the environment is something one discovers along the way.

Tell us something about your work
I took over this position in October last year. In truth, I’m just a guy who manages a hotel and I’m as successful as my team is. I work for them by giving them support, fighting for their benefits, teaching them how to be better at what they do and to get better positions. We could say that I’m interchanging hospitality training for warm Thai ways.
I like to think that I am well integrated into the culture by now, and I believe it is possible to integrate. For instance, Thais love to laugh and I enjoy making them laugh, whether by making up Thai versions of the jokes I know or joking about both others’ mispronunciations as well as my own. If you keep it light and sweet, it’s always successful.

What do you like the most about living here?
I think all of us here prefer to live life with a sense of freedom. I don’t like to be told what to do or what not to do, and here I am not. Thais themselves are free people, they have never been colonised. There are many misconceptions about Thailand out there but I always invite people to come and experience the country for themselves. When I left Phuket in the beginning of 2004 to go back to Europe, it was the worst decision of my life so I happily returned to Thailand in 2006.

What do you dislike about living here?
In 20 years, Phuket has gone from being a very prestigious destination to a mass one. Currently it’s overpopulated and has lost its prestige, although it’s still sleeping on its laurels. There are too many hotels so we are witnessing a rates war that is only going to get worse as we get more price-sensitive tourists. I see Thailand as an amazing country that teaches us about self-sufficiency and I prefer to go to places with less tourists. Phuket has become too commercialised for my taste.

Do you have a family here and where do you live?
I’m divorced and my two daughters who are 12 and 8 years’ old were born in Phuket and Bangkok. My ex-wife and I met here. She is Danish and after the divorce she moved back to Denmark with our girls. I am dating a Thai lady now. My family lives here as well, my father, stepmom and uncles, for about eight months a year. My dad and I rent neighbouring houses in Rawai. I divide my time between living on the property and my house. I enjoy not being recognized there, just walking the dog in the morning or mowing the lawn like everyone else.

How do you spend your free time, if you have any?
In my free time I enjoy writing; I write poems and satires. Also, as I went through divorce I documented different stages of my experience and some of those journals were published in Bangkok Post. I think there is very little about men’s side of things out there – we’re typically seen as the bad guys and the reason why something goes wrong in a marriage. But in life we all have to go through the cycle of pain; the lessons we learn make us stronger, more sensitive and alert.

How do you evaluate success?
To me, success is about being happy with your achievements. Finding the right balance between life and work is also important;
I believe in enjoying a positive way of things. I don’t care for titles and find them pompous, I think of myself as a leader more than a boss.

What do you think the future holds for you?
I don’t really see my future in Phuket. Perhaps somewhere near like Vietnam or Burma, as those countries are developing too. However, I am not planning to leave Southeast Asia and I will always love and keep something in Thailand. It’s been my home for two decades.