Stickman's Weekly Column June 3rd, 2001

Stickman Weekly 3/6/2001

As children we all have dreams, and our parents will usually encourage us to chase our dreams, even though deep down, they know that the chances of us achieving and fulfilling those dreams is difficult, often remote. As a youngster not much out of nappies, my initial dream was to be a fireman but that subsided and for many years, I dreamed of wearing the red Liverpool shirt and running out on to Anfield. Realisation set in that my soccer skills sucked and that was put aside too. Somehow (perhaps because I was very good at maths), my parents convinced me that I should be an accountant, and as sick as it sounds, young Stickman dreamt of being an accountant for a while! That went by the wayside too and eventually when I found myself in a career mixed up with computers. The dreams I had had as a toddler, then as a child and later as a youth had been missed. I was destined for a life in computers which while fun enough, was never really what I wanted. My life was destined to mediocrity, 2.4 kids, a mortgage and Rover the dog. While the opportunity to chase some of these dreams had been lost through a lack of ability or perhaps specific education, many had been lost due to the changing economic and political climate in the West.

This all changed when I discovered Thailand, quite by chance, when a friend and I decided to go somewhere a little different for a holiday. It only took a few days to realise that my existence back in Farangland was dull and boring and suddenly, Thailand offered me a chance to chase my dreams again, to do things that I never thought I would get the chance to do. Thailand has a lot going for it, but one of the big appeals is that it allows you to start afresh, and to chase the dreams that you still have but largely thought were unachievable. The Western stereotypes and absurdly politically correct policies that we suffer in the West do not yet exist in Thailand, giving us ample opportunity to fulfil our dreams without the constant hassle of feeling that perhaps we are doing something that we shouldn't be doing.

The weekend market at Chatuchak is fun for a look once, but I find it just a little too much of an assault on one's senses – especially on a Saturday or Sunday morning I'm not always in the best shape. If you find yourself near MBK, there's a good market right next door in the grounds of the National Stadium. While this market doesn't have anywhere near the range of goods that Chatuchak does, it still has a good collection of most household goods – and at virtually the same prices as Chatuchak. Yes, Chatuchak is cheap and the range is fantastic, but you can find the same goods at the same prices elsewhere in the city.

Venturing around the bars with my regular drinking partner, we get annoyed at the continual requests by girls to buy them a lady drink. More often than not, it just so happens that we choose to drink in a bar with a nice view, but are not at all interested in the girls working in there. We've always joked with the girls when they have asked for a lady drink that we would go to 7 Eleven and buy them a drink there, with our argument always being that drinks bought there are much cheaper than in the bar. After all, the girls usually say something like "I'm so thirsty" or "my throat is dry" but really, they want a drink because they get a commission for every drink bought for them. So, the other night, we actually went through with it and slipped away to 7 Eleven and returned with some cans of Coke and dished them out to those girls who has asked for a drink. The reaction was amazing and the girls were jumping up and down, highly amused that we went through with it. The upshot of it all was that about four of the six girls who received a can of Coke stayed sitting with us and DIDN'T ask for any more drinks! So, if you want to save money on your lady drinks, you've got a new strategy to try!

There's been a run on shares of 7 Eleven as barflies
rush there to buy cheap drinks for the bar girls!

I'm not sure what has caused the drop, but prices of both laptops and RAM have come rocketing down at Panthip Plaza and the prices here now compare with the very best 'net prices in the US. Also, if you are in the market for a CD writer, the Plex writers are arguably the way to go and prices for this brand dropped 35% this week.

Page 9 of the Work Permit Application Guidelines booklet that is issued by the Department of Labour states that a work permit will not be issued to any alien who suffers from alcoholism. Looking around at some of the folks working at my workplace and the workplaces of many of my expat friends, I see that the authorities are somewhat lax on this regulation.

From the "how many guys do they see a month" and "how much money do they make" file comes the following email from a Bangkok based American who ventures down to Pattaya on a regular basis. I hear a lot of rumours about numbers, but these figures surprised even me – and living in Thailand, one is seldom surprised. Many thanks to Ranger for allowing me to include this in the column.

Took my favorite Pattaya girl out of her bar yesterday afternoon. Had to wait for her to arrive from home and off we went. She told me that the Mamasan didn't want her to go with me and to instead stay and do short times in the upstairs rooms. "Mamasan
want to make big money". Well, it couldn't be that much more, could it? Bar fine is 400B and the bar gets 200B each time she does a ST on premises (she gets 500B + a tip sometimes). Yes, I guess it is much, much more as she tells me
that she did 175 ST's the previous month! Do the math, assuming she took one or 2 days off, that's an average of 6 a day! Do some more math, assuming that some guys tip and adding in lady drinks and her small salary, she made well over
100,000B in that month. I asked what she was doing with the money and she has bought a plot of land in Udon Thani for 150,000B where she wants to build a house for her and her family to live. She needs 500,000B for the house and I told her that
she could save that in about a year. No, she says that she'll have it in 5 months! So, roughly 1000 St's and she'll build her dream house.

Finding myself down in Pattaya this weekend, I was unable to verify that drink prices had gone up, as had been indicated to me by email. A Heineken still only costs 85 baht in Baby A Gogo. The beer bars that I visited still seemed to charge around 60 – 70 baht for a beer. Having said all of this, there are so many bars down there that there quite likely are some bars that have put prices up.

Late evening in Pattaya, I noticed a solitary policeman standing outside the police station on the Beach Road at the bottom of soi 9. He was waving over those folks on motorbikes who were riding without a helmet. Maybe I am cynical, but why is it that he only pulled over farangs when 50% of all riders on motorbikes didn't have a helmet and farangs made up perhaps only 5% of all motorbike riders. Those folks pulled over were told why they had been pulled over, issued with an infringement notice and sent inside the police station, presumably to pay the fine right away. Upon returning outside, they gave what I guess was a receipt to the cop, jumped on their bike and rode off. I can't quite understand why only farangs were targeted. Maybe Thailand doesn't want any more tourists?

A little earlier the same evening, I was watching the sun set over Pattaya bay. Sitting around me were lots of young Thai couples, enjoying the same site. How romantic I thought for these young Thai couples to come for a holiday to the beach and sit, hand in hand, nibbling away on their som tum while watching a magnificent sunset. As the sun disappeared below the horizon and night fell, all of the young guys started to disappear and left their girlfriends sitting at the beach, alone in the dark. I was wondering what was going on until one girl, whose boyfriend must have left no more than 60 seconds earlier, comes over to me and says "I like you, I go with you"!

Thai couples enjoying the sunset over Pattaya Bay. After the sun had gone down,
the boys disappeared, leaving their "girlfriends" to freelance on the Beach Road.

There were a few US Navymen wandering around Pattaya, but not in significant numbers. They seemed to prefer the Walking street area – didn't see them anywhere else. Maybe they are confined to party in that area? Some girls said that there was just one ship in port, which one could see moored in the bay, with 600 crew on board.

Stick your head in any of the city's expat bars, especially one patronised by those who are not on an expat salary and you will hear constant moaning and groaning about how the costs of various things have been going up recently. Petrol has been increasing in price for quite some time and with that so did air-con bus fares and boat fares. Food at various restaurants that target Westerners has been going up as reported in this column and I note that two of my favourite sandwich bars, Snax in Sogo Tower and all Au Bon Pain branches put up their prices a few months ago. Talk of the town for the past few weeks, some Nana Plaza bars put up the prices of drinks and the price for a girl's company is forever creeping up. Many hotels have been increasing their rates by around 10% per year. Although official figures aren't available, it wouldn't surprise me to see that the number of people moving to Bangkok (both Thai and farang) is increasing BUT I notice that one particular cost that we all must bear, the cost of an apartment has largely stayed static. In fact in the last three years, I have never heard of an apartment building putting up the rates of rent. The affordability of decent apartments is an under-rated aspect of the Bangkok experience.

The prices for apartment rental is always negotiable in all but the cheapest
places. The more expensive the establishment, the more negotiable it is.

Eating a good plate of inexpensive Thai food on the street and watching the world go by is one of the pleasures of life in Bangkok. More often than not, the food is cheap, yet still tastes good and is no doubt nutritious too. But have you ever taken a look at the hygiene, or rather lack of it, at some of the vendors stalls? It really makes you wonder why we don't get sick more often. Just look at the following list of dangers, any one of which would have a Western Health Department close you down in a matter of moments:

– Meat is often left out in the hot Thai sun for hours an hours each day.
– You regularly see flies walking all over the food.
– Watch the chefs carefully and you will notice some really bad habits – handling money and then handling food immediately without washing their hands, using the same cloth to dry plates as they use to wipe the sweat off their head and every Thai male's favourite habit, frequently picking their nose – and then touching the food!
– Customers often jumping into the food vendors cart and helping to prepare food – where have their hands been?
– Dust and exhaust fumes from passing vehicles.

Yet, notwithstanding all of these dangers, we seldom get sick. Why is it?

Three articles with potential ramifications for foreigners living in the Kingdom appeared in the Bangkok Post this week. The first article at the start of the week was about this nonsense re-zoning of areas within Bangkok that could theoretically see Silom Road and Sukumvit below Soi Asoke to be classed as residential areas where entertainment venues cannot be located. The article went on to ask the question as to whether Cowboy or Patpong might close – or even be moved! This won't happen! Quite simply, there is too much money invested in those areas, a lot of it by Thais who are no doubt well connected. Any talk of these locations re-locating is nonsense and I really cannot see it happening. So don't fret, Cowboy and Patpong will still be there when you return to Thailand for your annual holiday.

The second article which appeared on page two of Thursday's edition was perhaps more interesting. The Government looks like it will pass the long mooted act that will increase the cost of work permits and other associated fees for foreigners working here tenfold. Yep, where a work permit used to cost 1,000 baht, it may soon cost 10,000. For the folks on the big expat salary packages, they will be largely insulated from this and their companies will barely notice it. But for English teachers and other lowly paid Westerners, this could be significant. There is no doubt that language schools will refuse to wear the cost of this themselves. So what will they do? Put up the cost of student fees? Most unlikely as business is fairly cut throat and some language schools have even reduced their fees to attract more students. No, what may very likely happen is that the teacher will find that they earn a little less than before as the schools build this cost into the foreign teacher's salary. And there is little doubt that the introduction of the new "work permit transfer fee" of 5000 baht will be worked into contracts so that anyone leaving a language school before their contract has expired, will no doubt face a 5000 baht penalty clause. Some language schools even expect teachers to pay the work permit fee themselves, before they start the contract. Yep, you come to Thailand as a trained teaching professional to help Thais with a skill that is essential in the world today, but you have to pay 10,000 baht for the privilege to work legally. This is a disgrace and can only contribute towards further reducing the already low number of quality English teachers in Thailand. Folks who had been contemplating Thailand as an exotic place to teach English will find Japan and Korea far more attractive destinations. While I think this 10,000 baht fee is outrageous, if it must be introduced, there should be an exemption for certain positions, English teachers being one.

The third article of interest was about immigration policy and appeared on page 2 of Saturday's paper. The crux of that article was that if a Thai citizen wants to travel overseas, they usually have to apply for a visa in advance and there is no guarantee that the visa will be granted. In addition, they have to pay a fee and the example of New Zealand was given with that country charging a Thai citizen an 1800 baht application fee, yet a Kiwi can arrive at the Thai border and receive a visa on arrival at no charge. The Government feels it isn't fair that foreigners can gain a visa easily on arrival at no cost, while Thai citizens do not have the same such access to other countries. The article mooted that the Government would like to see reciprocal agreements established. I can't ever see this happening as the Thais know that the introduction of such rules would contribute to a slowdown in tourism growth and perhaps even a decline in numbers. The article did mention that the Thai government would rather see quality tourists coming than high quantity, but somehow, I just can't see this policy eventuating.

A nice sunset in Bangkok this week. The tall building
towards the left is the Prince Palace Hotel near Bobay market.

There have been some nice sunsets in Bangkok this week but the weather still can't make up its mind what it's doing. A couple of days we've had a mild morning followed by an afternoon downpour, followed by searing mid 30s heat. It sure makes planning a day out fairly difficult.

Your Bangkok commentator,