Finding Needles in Haystacks - Ox, Banana Ketchup

Published by:
A. Sjöholm
June 23, 2023
min read

In our much loved interview series Finding Needles in Haystacks, we had a chat with Harauld “Ox” Sextus, the owner of the Caribbean restaurant Banana Ketchup in Hua Hin, Thailand. His story is a fascinating one, and while he’s not currently in tech he has been there, done that. Other than a restaurateur, he is a photographer, artist, videographer, baker but perhaps most notably, an adaptable perfectionist who doesn’t let anything stop him from pursuing his goals.

You’re from Guadeloupe. How did you end up in Hua Hin?

When I was 17 I went to Aix-en-Provence in France to study new technology art. It was the first school in France with this kind of curriculum. Basically, we learned computers, 3D, how to do video editing but very old-school, robotics [building robots], and everything about the internet. Paris would have been fun but the south of France was better for me. My parents are well known in Guadeloupe because of their bakeries, and the Caribbean is like a village where everybody knows everybody. People gossip, which gets on my nerves. So I stayed in southern France for five years, graduated, and started working making video art for contemporary dance, street theatre and theatre companies. Gradually, I started doing more personal work and exhibitions–that was what I really wanted to do, to stay in the art field and be an artist. 

“How do you learn new things? How do you get better? How do you know what other people want? It’s ridiculous to just stay in your own place

Then my girlfriend at the time–she’s Chinese– went back home for holiday and found a job. While I was drinking beer with friends she called me and said “Shanghai is awesome, do you want to come here, yes or no?”, insisting on an answer straight away. I said “yeah ok, let’s do it.” I was supposed to stay a year but ended up being there 20 years. 

My life changed when I came to Shanghai. Everyone, absolutely everyone was in the city to do one thing and one thing only: make money. I’ve always been fascinated by adverts I saw on the TV, the crafting that had gone into it, especially if the ads were funny, so I started working in advertising. It’s a common career path–to go to art school and then sell out by going into advertising, but it’s good money. After a while I started to feel burned out because I wasn’t doing any personal stuff and I felt bad about it. To find a balance and keep sane I started taking photos again since it’s faster than making videos. 

For a while I had a company doing motion design and art direction. Then I had a bakery / café in Shanghai. After 20 years in China I came over to Bangkok to do my thing with some Thai friends but then Covid happened. Eventually I found a good place to open a restaurant here in Hua Hin. 

Can you comment on recruitment in the different places you’ve worked?

When working with motion design and art direction in Shanghai, we were successful because we were very niche and very good at what we did. Ideally, we’d employ people who were already trained on the software we were using, and who had a good sense of art direction. It didn’t take us long to figure out that with that skill wishlist we’d get nowhere. So we employed people from all walks of life from  many different countries. The first thing we looked for was motivation–we didn’t care if they couldn’t open a computer. Secondly, they needed to be team players. And then they needed to be smart, as in, being able to figure things out.

“I’m a bit picky with food. I hate bad food, I just don’t see the point

I’m still young here in Thailand in the sense that I don’t know everything, but in my experience and what I hear from locals is that it’s difficult to retain staff here. Partly it’s got to do with the cost of living–you can get by on very little. So when your staff don’t like something, they just quit. For me as the employer, it means that when I find the right people I need to do everything I can to make sure they’re happy because I cherish them so much. So far I’ve found them by word of mouth.

Out of curiosity, how many languages do you speak?

Seven: French, creole, English, Spanish, Mandarin, a little bit of Cantonese and Thai. For me, it’s one of the most important things to be able to communicate with people. I didn’t know any Thai when I came here, so it was a big contrast for me since I’d been speaking the local language fluently for the past 12 years. And I know how you get in trouble, how your brain plays tricks on you when you’re in a place and you don’t understand what’s being said. You tend to believe that people don’t understand, that they’re not smart enough. The worst is when you know four words and you believe you say those four words perfectly but nobody understands you and you can’t figure out why. It’s because you suck, simple as that! And I learned that the hard way, or maybe the good way, who knows?

You have an amazing life story. What are you most proud of? 

That I’ve always done what I’ve wanted to do. There are still things I want to achieve. But I’m always grateful I didn’t have to do crazy jobs just to make ends meet. 

“People and cockroaches are very alike. We’re extremely adaptable

If someone wanted a similarly exciting life as you’ve had, what advice would you give them?

It’s not about money. It’s not necessarily about pushing your way into this or that. I never did, I just try to be who I am. I strongly believe that like-minded people attract. So just be who you are and put yourself out there, expose yourself to different situations. Make sure not to let shit people drag you down and know what you want.

Two weeks before my dad died he told me about his life, about all the things he did. He finished school when he was eight. Back in those days it was tough, he had to work. 

For a couple of years he worked in a convenience store to make some money. He had a petrol station. The craziest job he had was washing airplane wings. Then he sold hifi [equipment] and after that, appliances. He bought a bakery, then he went to learn how to bake. He was really into music and used to organize concerts and gigs for bands–he became known for that. He did every single job in the book, so for me it’s normal to have done different jobs. And if someone who quits school at the age of eight and manages to do so many things, there’s no excuse for anyone not to do what they want to do. Especially not when you can find everything on the internet.

Some of Ox’s work is available on Instagram.

Image - Betty Richardson: IG @bettyshanghai