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How one man took the roundabout way to his Swedish career goal

For Thai painter and photographer Woo, the path to career success in Sweden has been anything but a walk in the park. Now planning his first exhibit, Woo tells The Local about humility, communication, and how to find your place in Sweden.

How one man took the roundabout way to his Swedish career goal

Sillapachai Khumyoo has a complicated name and a complicated history, but also an impervious sense of simplicity and optimism.

He calls himself Woo.

A painter, photographer, and employee at Courtyard Marriott Hotel in Stockholm, Woo has been juggling family, school, art and various jobs since his first visit to Sweden in 1996.

“The first six months I thought, ‘this is the wrong decision’,” Woo, who moved to Gothenburg in 1997 to be with his Swedish boyfriend, tells The Local. “I had a good, stable job in Thailand, but here it felt like they looked down on me. ”

The language was also a hurdle.

“I didn’t like Swedish at all,” Woo confesses. “I just couldn’t get the accent right, and I still can’t.”

But he viewed language as essential.

Woo threw himself into the language and culture, stubbornly refusing to speak English with his partner after just three months. The couple moved from Gothenburg to Eskilstuna, where Woo hopped between part-time jobs at tourist agencies. But he wanted more.

“I saw how hard it would be to get a better job in Sweden. I had been applying for jobs and not getting such positive responses,” Woo says. “So we moved to England. I studied hospitality at the University of Brighton for three years.”

SEE ALSO: Click here for the latest listings for jobs in Sweden

Woo continued to work alongside his studies, breaking slowly into the hotel business and taking whatever hours he could. It wasn’t for the money, he said, but for his future. Through his work he also picked up quite a bit of French and Spanish. Moving back to Sweden after graduation, he expected things to be better.

“I came back, I still didn’t get a job, and I was seriously depressed,” Woo recalls. “I cried all the time. I had a BA in hospitality and I spoke many languages, shouldn’t that be rated pretty high? I felt like a no one.”

Feeling the need for validation and a job where he could actually use his skills, Woo convinced his partner to try out Thailand for a while. Woo’s experience and linguistic abilities were useful there, and he was soon employed at the prestigious Sheraton Hotel. But after nine months, he was ready to move again.

“It came down to a question of where I actually wanted to live, where I wanted to have my family,” Woo explains. “Nowhere I’ve been can compare with the living standard of Sweden. Life is so fabulous.

“And the Swedish culture suits me. I’m inspired by Europe, and particularly Sweden – by the environment, by the seasons and the strong contrasts. People appreciate each brushstroke, and they can see you’re different from others.”

The couple returned and Woo took up the job search with new vigour – and a new strategy.

“I went to a very simple restaurant. I didn’t say anything about my qualifications. I just asked to do dishes. I thought, why not? I’ve got two hands,” he recalls.

So Woo washed and waited. He washed dishes while looking for openings at hotels, soon getting various positions as an extra at hotels like the Clarion. When the Marriott Hotel opened in Stockholm he leapt at the opportunity. He was offered a receptionist position but took the post of breakfast host instead.

IN PICTURES: The art of “Woo” Sillapachai Khumyoo

“I didn’t want to leave my art,” Woo tells The Local. “I was always very interested in art, but in Thailand my grandparents wouldn’t allow it. Europe inspired me and I started working on it again. So I worked breakfast at the hotel and then did photography in the afternoon.”

Soon enough the two combined. Woo, who now works evenings in the hotel restaurant, has photography on every floor of the hotel. He has also sold two paintings through the Royal Academy of Art in London, and the Marriott Hotel is currently planning to host his first exhibit, hopefully in November, with a bigger exhibit with other artists in the spring.

To those with dreams of a life and career in Sweden, Woo said the trick is to work hard and be patient.

“Don’t demand too much. You can’t have red carpet and red roses the whole time. If you can’t find a direct way to your goal, there’s a roundabout way. It happens to Swedish people as well, not just foreigners. Sometimes you have to come down to a very simple level.”

But for those who are willing to put in the effort, Woo said, no place is better.

“It’s hard to move here, and you have to really want it. But if you love art, there is a place for art. If you love business, there is a place for business,” he says.

“In Sweden there is always a place for everyone.”

DON’T MISS: A look at past My Swedish Career features

Solveig Rundquist

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Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE

Whether you're planning on setting them off yourself or leaving it to the professionals, here are the most important things to know about fireworks in Germany with New Year's Eve coming up.

Why many German cities become a fireworks hell on NYE
Ringing in 2017 in Ilmenau, Thuringa. Photo: DPA

Anyone who has spent 'Silvester' (New Year's Eve) in a German city will know that Germans love fireworks although recently, the issue of fireworks has been somewhat controversial, with some regions even considering a ban.

Germany is on the whole a pretty sensible country, but when the calendar rolls round to December 31st, something seems to change in the population and people go crazy for pyrotechnics.

This rings especially true in the capital, which many locals describe as a war zone come December 31st. Especially in the centre of the city, explosions ripple throughout the streets, which has led to several injuries in recent years and a ban on Böllern
(or firecrackers) in some zones.

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People staying at home or hosting house parties often go all out with their own private firework displays, and you are sure to be surrounded by bangs and flashes from sundown to the early hours.

What's more, wherever you walk on the 31st, people are setting off rockets from beer bottles, throwing firecrackers into the street and generally being every fireman's worst nightmare.

The cause of this may be because this is the one time of year people in Germany can actually get their hands on fireworks.

Whereas small fireworks can be sold to people in Germany all year round, stores are only allowed to sell larger fireworks – the kind you're likely to set off on Silvester – between December 28th and December 30th. The rest of the year you can only get them from certain licensed sellers.

What's more – you're only really allowed to set off fireworks yourself between the 31st of December and the morning of the 1st of January.

If you set them off any other time, you're likely to get in trouble with the police, or worse, your German neighbours. 

But do not fear, firework lovers – there are ways you can get your fix during the other 364 days of the year.

If you're organizing an event at another time – such as a wedding or 50th birthday party – that just wouldn't be complete without a few Catherine wheels, you can ring your local law and order department to request official approval for a private firework display.

READ ALSO: Hamburg to ban fireworks in city centre on New Year's Eve

There are also a huge number of spectacular professional firework displays and competitions you can attend every summer across Germany such as the Rhine in Flames, the international firework competition in Hanover, Neckar River and Heidelberg Castle illuminations and fireworks – to name but a few.

Heidelberg Castle Illuminations. Photo: DPA

Fireworks are divided into categories, or 'Klasse', depending on how much explosive they contain. This essentially means the bigger the bang, the harder they are to get a hold of.

Klasse 1 are the smallest and least explosive kinds of fireworks and can be bought by anyone over 12 years of age. These kinds of fireworks can also be bought and set off all year round. They are essentially pretty harmless, for example sparklers, table fireworks like small fountains for cakes, and bangers that just make a pop when thrown at the ground. 

Klasse 2 are the kind of fireworks you are likely to be setting off in your backyard this New Year's Eve and you must be an adult and show ID to buy them. According to German law, Klasse 2 fireworks should not be launched in the immediate vicinity of hospitals, churches or old people's homes. Apart from around these locations, you're free to set off as many Klasse 2 fireworks as you'd like on December 31st. The rest of the year you will need to get a permit first before staging your own pyrotechnic display.

Klasse 3 are display fireworks meaning they are a little bigger, brighter and louder than what you'll find on sale in the supermarket. While it would be fun to have these at your Silvester party, they can only be bought by people with an official § 7 or §27 SprengG license which you can apply for at your local occupational health and safety office.

Klasse 4 are professional grade fireworks and can contain an unlimited amount of explosives. Only professional pyro technicians can get their hands on these and for good reason, as they are definitely not something you want being set off on your patio. 

Photo: DPA

A huge number of department stores and supermarkets sell fireworks between the 29th and 31st of December each year.

This year, since the 29th falls on a Sunday, the sale of fireworks will begin on Saturday 28th December.

The Zoll, the German department for customs and imports, recommends that you buy your fireworks from a store rather than any kind of street vendor or the internet as store-bought fireworks are tested and must follow specific safety standards.

All fireworks sold in Germany should be in line with legal requirements but sometimes unofficial vendors manage to get their hands on illegally imported fireworks, which may not be up to standard. If you're unsure it's best to check that the box is labeled either Klasse 2 or Klasse 1 and has the word 'BAM' followed by a number.

Fireworks and New Year's Eve go hand in hand but unfortunately this tradition comes with some less positive consequences. As well as the huge number of burns which people incur every year, fireworks also release large amounts of pollutants into the air which are harmful to the environment and can cause respiratory and circulatory problems.

After Silvester celebrations end, there are reported spikes in pollution levels in Germany.

Photo: DPA

After celebrations in 2016, firework displays ejected 4,000 tonnes of particulates into the atmosphere which is equivalent to 15 percent of the yearly vehicle particulate emissions in the country.

Levels of pollution in the air around Germany were up to 26 times higher than the EU's recommended amount. The worst reading came from the centre of Munich where levels of particulates reached 1,346 micrograms per cubic metre of air, compared to the recommended 50 micrograms.

While it is undeniably a lot of fun to be the one launching the rockets, a more environmentally conscious alternative could be to head to a professional display instead.

Think of it as the firework equivalent to travelling by train instead of by car – it's comparatively better for the planet and you don't have to worry about causing an accident if you're not paying attention – so you can just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

A Silvester party at Brandenburg Gate. Photo: DPA

Berlin is the place to be on New Year's Eve if you're looking for a spectacle. The city is often featured on top 10 Silvester celebration lists and the Brandenburg Gate hosts the biggest street party in Europe on the 31st, complete with DJ's, food stalls, rides and of course an incredible firework display at midnight.

In Frankfurt, a great place to stand at midnight is on the banks of the river, where you can have a wonderful view of the fireworks being set off all over the city and reflecting in the water.

Wherever you are in Munich at midnight on the 31st, you are sure to see a lot of fireworks as the official displays in the city are accompanied by a lot of people setting off their own in the streets.

This article was updated in December 2019.