For those of you who are expecting to hear about wild sex stories or amazing trip reports, you might want to skip this story. On the other hand if you want to hear about Thai banks' perceptions of us farangs this one might be worth a read. I have been visiting Thailand for better than four years now (for periods averaging up to 3-6 weeks each year) and on the whole have had nothing but good experiences. In late May I returned from a trip rather sobered at what I experienced. So here it goes.
I first came to LOS in late 1999, I was recently divorced after a long childless marriage. At the time, I had been working in a rather strict Moslem country for about a year with only about 6 other western co-workers. Being rather pent up, I did the bar scene having heard about it from a co-worker. Several months later I followed it up with another 8 day trip trip with much the same experiences. Thailand was reasonably close to travel to, compared to returning to Europe or the US so I didn't burn up all my holiday time traveling on some plane.
Although I enjoyed the two trips, I did find myself wanting to do something other than drink and rent girlfriends. I managed to squeeze in many day trips to the sights and was quiet impressed with Thailand. Yes, I did note the special entry prices for farangs to certain sights, but overall took it in stride (my job at the time was extremely well compensated).
Low and behold on a visit in early 2001 I managed to meet a special woman (I'll call her Nok) and a romance blossomed. I'll spare you all most of the details, but we are both happy and sure of our relationship. So much were we ready to take the plunge, about six months after we met she told me she was ready to have my child if I wanted one. After coming off a very long childless marriage where I thought I was shooting blanks I told her that I didn't think I had it in me. She thought otherwise and low and behold in early 2002 we had a wonderful daughter, the spitting image of me. Nok totally believes that Lord Buddha had answered her prayers, as far as I am concerned he did.
Due to my previous work conditions, working most of the last 15 years in strictly third world countries, I only have a few years until I could retire early if I chose. The down side of it is is that other than short visits to see me in these countries each six months or so, Nok has to remain in Thailand and wait for me. Trust me, she is far off better staying where she is. When I retire we can get married. We both have enough faith and trust in each other to know it will happen. Trust me guys, the bar scene leaves you empty and there is no long term up-side to it.
Last year I told Nok that I wanted to have a house built for us 'up-country' in her village, near Buriram. She asked me if I was sure I wanted to do so, as we could easily rent a condo in Bangkok. I told her we could probably afford that too, but I would rather get the house out of the way first. I stated that due to my recent divorce, my ex-wife had rather cleaned me out (true), that we would have to be careful with money for a while.
We carefully saved for the better part of the last year. Nok already owned three land plots near her village, which she showed me on previous visits there. One of them, about 22 x 65 meters in size was a perfect home plot with a nice view of one of the local mountains, hill really. I have seen her family and village many times in the last two years and would be comfortable living there as long as we keep an apartment in Bangkok too.
We had the title of the land put into our daughter's name and registered it in the local amphur. I also had a lawyer drew up lease of the property for me for 30 years. Late in 2002 we felt confident enough to contact an architect to design a traditional Thai home, albeit not grandiose in size, but something that would be very attractive.
Several months later, the architect gave us a great set of building plans. We showed the plans to several of the home builders in the province and got several bids early this year. The bids all came in between 3 and 4 million baht for everything. Several other farangs in the area have similar homes, but most only live in the province part-time and I wasn't able to connect with any to talk more details. We settled on one builder who has built several similarly designed homes in the area for about 3.5 million baht. A side note: For those of you who can't read house plans and bids, get everything translated to English and seek impartial opinions. I had everything evaluated and knew much about light construction from previous construction work while I attended college. Thais seem to want to do everything with cheap materials. The house could have been less than half the above price, but would have looked it.
Okay we are finally getting to my point here. We are tentatively planning to start. I realized that although I make decent money I will be about 1.5-2 million baht short when construction starts / finishes. I mentioned to Nok about the need for bank financing. Although Nok is as sweet as the day is long, finances, other than small village type loans 4-5,000 baht are way beyond her comprehension. I have spent many letters and her visit to me before we returned to Thailand prepping her on our need to talk to the local banks to get a loan for about 50% of the costs.
When we got back to Thailand in mid-May, off to Buriram we went. After a couple of days re-acquainting ourselves with the local family, we chose a day to visit the local lending institutions. I had prepped before by getting a Farangland credit report on myself, my Farangland banking statements, previous tax returns, employment verification information, house plans and bids. Plus we had our Siam Commercial Bank joint account records, showing we had an account together for over two years and holding a hefty balance. We dressed neatly and set off for the 20 minute ride into the Amphur center. Little did I realize that I was invisible.
Our first stop was Thai Farmers Bank, the largest institution in town. The bank lending officer saw us in a few minutes and sat us down. He introduced himself to me in English as Mr. "V….", and those were his last words to me. The remainder of the conversation was in Thai with Nok. Nok at least had the sense to stop him several times to translate for me. In essence what he said was that Nok needed to qualify for the loan on her own merit and she needed a job, since the property title was in her/our daughter's name. I told her to tell him of our joint accounts and my steady income, which flowed into our account. I asked him what could I do. He didn't even give me the courtesy of looking at me and gave his answer to Nok in Thai. Talk continued for a few more minutes before I told Nok to thank him and let's leave. The face issue was the reason I didn't make a scene, as Nok's family used the bank and were known.
Next stop, Krung Thai Bank. It was deja vu all over again. This time we met Mr. "T…." He went through almost the same script and we ended up with the same results. He added one interesting item which was that all banks in the province sent all their home loan applications to their parent bank offices in Bangkok for approval. We left there and proceeded to the last bank in town, Thai Government Savings Bank. I suspect one of the other banks called ahead to warn them a falang was coming over. We were told the main person was out. "When was he coming back?" "We don't know, he not say where he go." "Could we wait?" "No where to sit…, lease talk to our Bangkok bank officer…" Taking the hint we left.
Taking the earlier queue, I told Nok we should go to the source of the money and go the the Bangkok banks. I suggested we go to Siam Commercial Bank since we had our account with them. Nok said that the banks would only loan money if they had a branch office in the amphur. Two days later we went to the main offices in Bangkok for the Thai Government Savings Bank. What a pinnacle of efficiency that was, it was scattered over a compound of 6-7 buildings. We had to go into three different building before we found the right place, if you could call it that.
We went into a rather large office with about 20 security guards loitering at the door and 40-50 disheveled employees sitting at their desks ignoring ringing phones. About 20-30 customers were loitering in the central area attempting to make eye contact with any of the employees. I asked Nok what the signs (100% in Thai) directed us to do. She could only say they were announcing the bank had money to lend and the rates were good 6 or 7%, but none said who or where did we go to talk to someone about the loans.
After the better part of 30 minutes we finally got to sit down opposite of one loan officer (a sweaty guy for a Thai, who hadn't shaved for a day or two and was wearing an old shirt that needed laundering as well as the ubiquitous flip flops. Nok explained our plight. I have to give it to the guy, he actually appeared to be sympathetic to Nok. Me, he kept the record going and he ignored me for the entire session. He told Nok, who dutifully translated, what she should do was get an employer to give her a false wage statement saying she earned about 50K Baht a month so she could qualify for the 36K a month house payment. It mattered not that she didn't have a job and I was supporting her. He then said she could have her relatives co-sign the loan if they could afford the payment. Of course if they co-signed they would also have to have their names on the title of the house (fat chance).
When he was done Nok said I should try to explain to him, as he was sympathetic and spoke English, what I wanted. I explained to the guy our situation and that I was not destitute and had all sorts of access to US banks. Further I stated that I used to own two houses each with over $200K US dollar mortgages which I obtained approvals for in only 2 working days and had great credit. He politely listened, nodded to me, and then turned to Nok and said in Thai for her to get a Thai employer to say she had a good job.
I know certain loyal readers of Stick's column at this point would have reached over the table and bitch slapped the guy and say, 'talk to me fool, I am the one with the money…' Alas, I didn't. I told the guy I could understand how Thailand got into the mess it did several years ago and what I really felt was pity. We left.
Okay all that is done. Both Nok and I do feel sad for what happened. I am applying for a signature loan against my retirement for $US 25K. The rate is several points higher, but it is a sure thing. After four years of nothing but good experiences in Thailand, this was really the first time I experienced major communications problems. I asked Nok about not speaking Thai (I do plan to do so when I move there, but for now English, Farsi, Lithuanian and fractured German are enough for me) and if that was the problem. She was in tears and said she honestly thought it was because I was a falang and we weren't married on paper. She said we should just wait and she doesn't want the house. I on the other hand told her I do, as I want a nice place for my family to come to when we get married in 2005.
I know Nok understands why we aren't married, but it really hurt to hear that from her. I do honestly enjoy Thailand and genuinely love my family. No matter what, this little experience was a reality check and will further round out my understanding of the people I will eventually live with. Nok, who is generally a happy go lucky sort, came away from the experience deeply embarrassed for her own country and felt that I was humiliated by the bank people. She did say that she was so happy that I did not raise my voice to any of the bank people and they were the ones who lost face, and they knew exactly what they did.
Will it stop me from moving there and having our home built? No, but it does give me an appreciation for what I am getting into. I really couldn't believe the bank person sitting there telling Nok to outright lie on a loan application to get the money, when she had a perfectly legit source of income sitting next to her.
At times, certain things in Thailand are quite simply an embarrassment. But when you find institutions such as banks to be a major embarrassment, then you have to wonder if you are in a country, or in Disneyland. We have to realise that things don't work quite as well here as they do in the past, but this is a sad indictment against Thailand.
Yeah, the old ignore the foreigner and talk to the Thai infuriates me and it still happens all the time despite the fact that I speak decent Thai.