Ariszara Yuenyao, Assistant Managing Director (Food & Beverages), The Soul Resort
There is an old saying that life takes you to unexpected places, and love brings you home. This statement cannot be any more accurate to describe Alizara Yuenyao who spent more than ten years in London to fulfill her childhood dreams, only to discover that the place she had dreamed of all her life was the least unexpected place.
Born to a farmer’s family from Ubon Rachathai province, 605 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, she grew up in a big, loving family with eight siblings. But unlike them, she had a dream that one day she would leave and travel the world.
“When I was a child, I always wanted to travel abroad every time I saw a plane flying overhead while I was lying in the rice field, or when I saw famous Big Ben on the cover of an English language book,” said the 49-year-old entrepreneur.
After graduating from university in accounting, she worked at Kasikorn Bank for a few years but became increasingly restless. “To be honest, I wasn’t really interested in accounting, but wanted to do a master’s degree in marketing and improve my English.” Two days before her 27th birthday, she flew to England to become a student once again.
In order to support herself financially, Ms. Alisara worked part-time at a Thai restaurant and realized she had organizational and management skills when she had the opportunity to help the kitchen staff keep track of food and beverage stocks to ensure adequate supplies each day. More importantly, the pay was much higher than in Thailand.
She was addicted by the hectic schedule and lively atmosphere of the restaurant, so decided to discontinue her studies at the University of Westminster and work full-time instead. Her fun, outgoing, kind, and hardworking personality made her a favorite employee at every restaurant where she worked, and a beloved boss by her team members, and her career progressed quickly. Before she returned to Thailand nine years ago, she worked as a sous chef at Pepper Tree, a popular canteen-style restaurant in London. Earlier, Ms. Alisara worked as a waiter at a local burger restaurant before moving to Thai Square, a famous Thai eatery voted Best Thai Restaurant annually since 2006.
She described her life there as great. “I liked everything and felt I belonged there. Everything was systematic and consistent. You could easily make plans, such as how much you spent on food, accommodation, and social obligations, how long it took to wait for the tube to arrive, and how far to get to work…things like that.”
Asked why she moved back, Ms. Alisara said it was because of her chronic illness. Having suffered from SLE (Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) since her second year in London, and with no signs of much recovery due to the overwhelming workload, she began wondering what life was all about.
SLE is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks its own tissues causing inflammation and tissue damage to the organs it affects. In Ms. Alisara’s case, the effect was on her legs which seriously affected her mobility, and she was on medication every day to manage the inflammation and constant pain. It was also around the time she witnessed a close friend collapse from a stroke and had to drop everything to undergo physical rehabilitation.
“Then I looked at myself. I had lived with SLE for almost 13 years, so I started asking myself why I was here and what was the purpose of life,” she recalled. Together with the fact that her mother was already eighty, Ms. Alisara thought it was time to return to Thailand and take care of her. Back home and away from everyday stress, Ms. Alisara began to think about fulfilling this hidden wish: studying Dhamma and practicing meditation.
As her duties and responsibilities had increased over the years, Ms. Alisara came to appreciate quiet time increasingly more. “When I was young, I remember thinking, ‘I want to be like that’ every time I saw a monk. I think it was because he looked so calm and peaceful,” she said, adding that her work involved a lot of unexpected problems almost daily which added to her extreme stress.
Within a month after returning home, she went to a 15-day meditation retreat, followed by a 7-day Vipassana course. For the first time, she felt immense peace. “After the 7-day course, I returned to my hometown and became a full-time farmer as our family owned a rubber plantation and rice fields. That was the time I began to realize that the place I had left behind was actually the very place I had been searching for. I was looking for peace – that carefree feeling of running and playing in the vast rice fields.”
That realization came after she had practiced Vipassana meditation regularly for some time. Buddha’s Dhamma also led her to a shocking truth about herself. In the past, she always considered herself a kind, merciful person, but Ms. Alisara finally knew she was wrong.
“I enjoy giving and making merit, helping animals, and saving fish sold in the market, but that was mercy at a superficial level. The best kindness is being considerate of others, particularly those close to you because they are often taken for granted. I have also learned not to be too hard on myself; it’s okay to make a mistake. This in turn makes me more willing to listen and understand others.”
Vipassana helped her see how her determination over the years to deliver the best performance at work could hurt people around her. As a perfectionist, she used to get annoyed easily and was quick to point out mistakes without mincing her words. “Although my intention was good as the whole team benefited, I could have achieved the same results without hurting their feelings.”
Now a senior executive at the luxury The Soul resort, Ms. Alisara takes all her Dhamma lessons of compassion there. Now, when there is a mistake or a quarrel between staff, she waits until the time is right to solve them.
“My life is back to a lot of stress, but the way I manage it is entirely different. Buddha’s Dhamma is true in every sense. When you understand yourself, you understand the world.”