Stickman's Weekly Column November 18th, 2001

Fitting In With The Thais




Every Bangkok local gives advice on how to get the most out of your Thai expat experience. So, if you are a soon-to-be-expat, here are my thoughts on what I think are the most important things to do to make sure you enjoy the experience as much as possible:

1. Fit in with the Thais. Many Thais truly believe in the philosophy that there is the Thai way and the wrong way, which often makes you feel as though you must accept the Thai way or hit the highway! No matter how much you try, you'll never be able to change the Thais minds on many, many issues. And if you do fight the system or try to change things, you'll only end up frustrating yourself and losing respect from the locals. You just have to accept that certain things in Thailand are not the same as they are in the West. Don't try and change them and don't rock the boat. Know when to talk, when to walk and when to shut up.

2. Keep busy. For some people it's work, for some people it's a hobby, for others it may be a few hours exercise a day, writing, photography, bird watching, whatever. You must keep busy! If you sit around all day doing nothing, wasting money and time, you'll grow restless and bored – and many people I know who have done this have later gone on to regret it. Even if you are retired, you need to do something. Hobbies and interests don't always grow overnight so think about the sorts of things you liked to do back in Farangland and try and do some of those things here.

3. Never let go of your convictions. We all have certain things that are important to us and these very things are very much part of who we are. Do not let go of these! Thailand has this incredible effect of being able to massage you and change your whole outlook. While you should retain an open mind, don't allow yourself to fall into the many traps that this country is known for.

4. Have definite goals BEFORE you arrive. If you come to Thailand just to drift, you're going to end up down in the bars, and may develop an alcohol or sex addiction before you know it. Have goals, continually review them, and if things start going off the rails, fix them! Never lose track of your goals – high costs, low income, one can try and justify one's errant changing lifestyle but sometimes you have to be honest with yourself – and in Thailand, that is more important than just about anywhere else. One of the great things about Bangkok is that if you want to, you can live on peanuts, or if you prefer life at the other end of the scale, you can find no shortages of things to spend megabucks on.

5. Learn Thai. Contrary to the advice that many others give, the idea to learn Thai is a good one, but far from the top of my list. Many people living here for many, many years have broken all sorts of records for the longest tour of duty without learning the language – proving that it is not vital. There's no doubt that the ability to speak Thai can help you to understand many aspects about life in Thailand, Thai culture and about the Thais themselves, but contrary to what anyone says, the ability to speak the local lingo is NOT mandatory. Witness some of the folks here who have been here for years, many in better jobs, and they may just have a smattering of Thai, if that! If you have money, and like to mix amongst the hi-so or frequent venues that attract farangs, odds are English will be enough. However, if you are someone in a low paying job, someone who wants to spend time in the poorer / rural areas, or someone who has retired with the minimum amount, then you will likely need to have reasonable Thai skills, as the places that you frequent will be those that may well be staffed by Thais without any English language proficiency. Speaking Thai allows you to save a lot of money too! Note: If you do not speak English to a fairly decent level, then the need to speak Thai obviously increases somewhat!

6. Think in Thai baht and not any other currency. Continually converting prices back to the currency from your homeland and making comparisons with prices back there will make virtually everything seem damned cheap. This can also contribute to you making purchases that you don't need and spending more than is necessary. Even the wealthiest have a finite amount of money and I doubt there are many people in Thailand who truly have more than they ever need.

7. Build up a network of friends with VARIED INTERESTS! While you may settle down with, indeed you very goal may be to find, a Thai girl, you really need to have a variety of friends who have a variety of different interests. One does not want to be in that oh so familiar situation where all of their friends are essentially little more than drinking buddies. Funnily enough in a country where we are perhaps less choosy about who are friends are – quite simply due to a lack of farangs compared to our homelands, not that many farangs make really deep friendships in Thailand.

8. Do your homework. Read as much as you can. There is a lot of really good material out there about Bangkok, both in print and on the internet. Read as much as you can, especially about issues that Thais are touchy about – taboo subjects, social customs and norms etc. However, it must be said that the other side of all of this is that it is nice to learn a lot of the tricks yourself. Don't worry, no matter how much yo read or how well prepared you think you are, you will still encounter 101 situations that you are not at all ready for. Never think that because you have read it all, you know it all.

9. Make some Thai friends. Thai friends help you to keep a perspective on things. At the end of the day, Thai friends can also help you if you get in any difficulty, be it something relatively small like a dispute over your apartment bill through to something somewhat more serious like you end up in trouble with the law. Good Thai friends will try and help you – and if they are people of influence or with some sort of power, then they may be able to solve it faster than you ever thought possible.

10. Figure out the city, how it works and where everything is. Getting around can be a bit of a nightmare and you can waste a lot of time if you don't know the best way to get from point A to point B. Where are the best bookshops, best supermarkets? Where is the hospital that you would like to be taken when you inevitably get thrown of that motorbike taxi?

Note: These are the ten things that I think are the most important at this point in time. In time, my opinion my well change as I experience different things…

I thought last week's picture was a little tricky and was surprised by how many people emailed me with the right answer. It was of the temple complex at Wat Patumwanaram which is located directly opposite Police National Headquarters on Rama 1 Road. The photo itself was taken from the skytrain heading east from Siam station to Chidlom.

Where is this pic?

clue: S S

Where could this be? Hell, it might even help
if we could identify what it is!

From last week's piece about exporting goods from Thailand comes some advice.

They need to have someone selling for them overseas, first handed partner, not through the middlemen. The latter will never work, nor worth their investment. Many of them flew back follow the cargo to arrange own marketing distribution.

What they need to note are:
1. Fake goods will never make good money, or potentially expandable to big business. Stick to the postal service, they have the best chance to get through customs in a very small volume.
2. Fabric-related products, or garments, are subject to strict quota in America and E.U., cheap goods on the street stalls will no longer be attractive when add on the quota charge, plus it is very hard to get that license. Few are quota free, check before you buy, and do checking with an expert as the shopkeeper sure has no clue in this.
3. Wooden product, mainly timber, requires export license to get out of here, it is possible to obtain but be careful.
4. Forget animals or pets unless you are really good at it.

Another chilli story!
Years ago I was making some Jalapeno Cheese Bread (Cajun type food, ala Bourbon Street).

It calls for chopping up a cup of Jalapeno chillis. I did this without gloves and as I was finishing the chopping I needed to piss. I quickly rinsed my hands and went to the john.. I held my dick as I pissed and about 2-3 minutes later was in great pain which lasted for about an hour …

Anyone cooking with chillis, use lots of soap and water afterwards as the chillis have an oil in them. A good alternative is a food processor or to wear plastic gloves.. sure taught me a lesson .. my ex-wife thought it was funny.. to bad I didn't touch her instead 😉

No, it is a different bar… In all fairness, it must be said that Thai employers are a fairly ruthless bunch and many places are not at all shy in cutting their staff's wages for any sort of mistake, no matter how minor, this all notwithstanding that these very employees are paid a pittance as the next email demonstrates.
The poor girl who cooks farang food in Nana and then has her wages docked if there is any complaint. This kind of treatment strikes close to my heart because I am on very friendly terms with an Isaan girl who cooks the burgers in <editedStick> Bar. The stingy b******s at her bar pay her the princely sum of 15 baht per hour whilst she sweats over the stove for 13 hours every day. Needless to say I am appalled at this treatment and it wouldn't surprise me if it was this bar.
Further to the piece last week about Thai staff getting ripped off, it seems the practice is right across the board.
As a matter of fact this is fairly common practice. Cashiers in supermarkets that come short at the end of the day have to pay the difference, the pizza delivery guy that comes late and gets told to take the food back gets the full amount deducted from his salary. Even the mechanic that broke my wife's dashboard while fixing the air-con in the car, had to pay for that himself; ~4,000 Baht!
On the subject of guys sending money to girls.
To put aside the moral and emotive aspects for a moment, these guys are not only entering into a relationship with these girls, they are also entering into a contract. If a guy offers to pay a girl a monthly allowance to support her so she can leave the bar scene, and if she agrees that if he supports her she with stop working in the bar, then right there is a verbal contract. Whether or not the guy is a fool to do this if he has only known the girl a short time, is completely irrelevant. You do not need to spend months forming a relationship with your builder before entering into a contract to build your house!

If the girl breaks her side of the bargain, then the "boyfriend" has a right to be advised of this so he can cancel his side, i.e. the payments. Notification that she is breaking the contract, should come from the girl, but we both know that will never happen. So I feel that the guy should have a right to an independent or 3rd party assessment at any time during the "contract", to see how well his "girlfriend" is conforming to the deal. e.g. If you are having a house built, you have the right to a independent inspection at any time to assess work quality. In the "bargirl" / "boyfriend" scenario the independent assessor would take the form of an investigator. I would also not have a problem with the girl investigating the "boyfriend", to assess whether he is already married or making promises he cannot keep.

And this fellow warns against marriage!
The problems start as you go from holiday spending mode with them, to living a "normal life" of watching your pennies. They think you have deceived them and you are now no longer "good Heart" but "mean" with your money.

In no time they have their antennae out searching for someone they think might part with their money easier. They also are used to constant nightlife and being with friends, and now you are asking them to go to bed at 10 PM as you must work in the morning.

Phone calls from their family asking for money, need for new clothes suitable for a colder climate etc, keep you under financial stress and so the downward spiral goes on. They say they must go home to Thailand to get "family papers " or see sick mother, which is a cover for meeting their boyfriend from France who visits Thailand same time each year.

Many just disappear into prostitution in their new found home, or run off with someone else. Advice is seldom headed I know but you may find your dream of a Thai wife is a nightmare.

The Clinton Plaza site overpriced?
I work in Real Estate here in Bangkok and was recently offered Clinton Plaza at Baht 330,000,000. The agent claimed to have a sole agency from Bank of Asia but I have to doubt that as the supporting information he gave me was a little thin. However, based on what he did give me I doubt it is worth much more than Baht 230,000,000 as an investment. If someone is talking about Baht 400,000,000 they may well have
completely other ideas as to what they will do with it or they are dreaming. I suspect that the price the Bank are looking for has more to do with their outstanding loan than its true value.
From a reader down south who emails me frequently. (The reader asked me not to print the bulk of the story, which truly is SHOCKING!)
I noticed in a recent Stickman Weekly that you said the south was ok right now. I was physically assaulted today by a group of Bin Laden supporters. I agree Bangkok is safe, but right now things have changed in Southern Thailand. Please don't advise people that the deep south is ok. It is not.
Bangkok's first full service 7 day a week Superbike shop opens today. Farang owned and run Siam Superbikes was formed to look after the needs of the Bangkok Superbike owner. The shop is located in a convenient position near the Ekamai Skytrain station in Sukumvit 63, right opposite the Bangkok Bank and about half a kilo in from Sukumvit Rd. phone 02-3900500. Services offered are bike maintenance and servicing, 24 hour break down and pickup service, biker accessories and second-hand bike sales and trades. For a Thailand first they offer free Internet service and the latest magazines to keep you occupied while your pride and joy is receiving TLC.

When renting an apartment in Bangkok, if at all possible, get a contract for the electricity direct with the electricity company themselves and that way you pay the true electricity rate of just 2.61 baht per minute. However, a lot of apartment buildings will have a contract with the electricity company themselves and will on-sell it to you at an inferior rate, perhaps 4 – 5 baht. Anyway, it goes without saying that you should pay your electricity bill on time because they are not shy at cutting the power off! A friend who has found himself in a bit of financial hot water failed to pay his electric on time and just 3 weeks after the due date, with no reminders nor nor warning notices, the power was cut… And Bangkok without power, ain't no fun at all – even if it is the cool season.

Hollywood IT Centre, a few hundred metres along from Panthip Plaza, seems to be dieing a slow death. It may have dodgy software at cheaper prices than the far more well known Panthip, but people seem to prefer the range at Panthip. I don't give Hollywood too much longer before they pull the plug, and it is all turned into something completely different.

There's a great little beer garden on level 6 of Mahboonkrong, just outside from the food hall. Unlike a lot of the beer gardens which are just plonked out in front of hotels or shopping malls, from this particular location you get a great view looking out over Siam Square and the major skytrain junction above the Patumwan intersection. The MBK beer garden is open from 2:00 PM – 9:00 PM each day and is a nice place to relax and enjoy a few cold ones.

The view from the small beer garden on level 6 of
Mahboonkrong, outside from the big food hall area.

There is a new word in Pattaya, "Frozen". Last Sunday night at the Dollhouse the previously unheard of Frozen a gogo sent 6 lovely girls who blew the packed house away with some great dirty dancing. Considering Dollhouse Pattaya and Bangkok were both represented, with TQ2 girls there too, the Frozen girls got 3 of their 6 girls into the final and walked off with the top 2 places, pushing the current Pattaya champion, Tuey, number 21, down into 3rd place. At half time the crowd was buzzing with the words "Where the hell is Frozen a gogo ???". Towards the end they were chanting football style. "Frozen, Frozen, Frozen !!" Ooy, the mamasan from Frozen, choreographed the whole act which had been practised in advance. What's more, the girls who did so well in the contest have been barfined every night since!

In Sukumvit Soi 26, Roots Reggae have been offering lots of specials, including Heineken at just 55 baht up until 11:00 PM. Truth be known, I've never been there for a drink, but the price is right.

Another movie will be filmed in Bangkok, this one some time early in the new year. HIGHBINDER, directed by John Woo and featuring Jackie Chan and Lee Evans (Something About Mary) will be a shoot'em up, Hong Kong style. Other than Bangkok, parts of the flick will also be filmed in Ireland and Hong Kong.

Heard a funny story this week of a certain girl in a Pattaya bar who is married to the doorman! Yep, a lot of this goes on, but you've really got to wonder how the hell can the guy allow it to happen!

Lotus have just opened a new store on North Road in Pattaya, saving not so much the pennies but that death defying drive along Sukhumvit highway that many expats dread!

The old mustard coloured vinyl seats in the Scala cinema at Siam Square have been taken away and replaced with much more comfortable and attractive red cloth seats. Far more comfortable, suay duay!

Not sure what is happening down Clinton Plaza as I have been knocked out by a nasty cold this week and never managed to make it down there to see whether they have been closed or not. But as I have heard nothing to the contrary, I guess it is business as usual, the power and water still on for now…

The Dollhouse's new gogo bar in Soi Cowboy is on target to open around mid December. Walking past the site, it is still a bit of a mess, but the Thais do manage to put these places together damned fast. Enticing opening specials have been mooted.

Thai propaganda reported that the tourist numbers for October were down 9% year on year for the same month last year. This is actually about what I thought it would be, not a huge difference. They failed to give a better breakdown of the figures, but I bet that in terms of the farang component, the reduction is less than 9%…

Does the word background exist in the Thai language? I think not! I mean, how many times have you been into a bar that truly plays background music. More often than not, it seems that they are trying to break the world record for making the most people deaf at one time.

The romance of samlors. You can still find the pedal
powered contraptions in some of Bangkok's outlying areas.

Within half an hour of last week's column going online, I had Nanapong on the phone, responding to my comments about their dance contests. They have big plans for the dance contests next year including some completely new tricks….but just what that will be is not for me to say….unless of course you buy me copious amounts of Jack Coke…

Now it really does seem that every man and his bar are jumping on to the dance contest bandwagon. In Playskool bar I see signs up advertising a dance contest tonight at 8:30 PM although it is not a Nanapong event, as the contest held there last week was. There is a private contest which Nanapong are organised mid-week and the next official Nanapong contest is next Sunday in Hollywood Rock in Nana. Now, there is also a dance contest in Pattaya tonight at TQ2 bar. I guess the demand exists for them as most of the dance shows are packed, and the promise of a bit of extra money sure gets the girls into party mode. I wonder if this has all proved that there could be money in it for someone to open up some sort of special gogo bar where you had girls dancing like this every night. The girls would have to be paid handsomely and therefore drink prices would go through the roof – or there would have to be a significant entrance price. But it does get the mind wandering. To me, these dance shows prove that people are prepared to pay more for a significantly better product. I'll never forget when at Nanapong dance contest #4, Thailand nightlife internet legend Flashermac said to me "this is what it all used to be like." And people tell me that my comments about the industry being in deterioration are nonsense? Ba!

I hear rumours that Paradise Disco, the old Rainbow 2000 disco, it lobbying to hold the final of the Nanapong dance contests. And then, what exactly is meant by the final? The 2000 final? Anyway, I personally believe it would make an excellent venue, much better than a conventional gogo bar as it is big and spacious.

The Nanapong calendar has been delayed…printing problems I gather, something to do with sticky pages or something like that… Anyway, they hope to have some of these available in Bangkok bars soon.

Down Pattaya way, the big opening this week was the Hard Rock Hotel which opened to the public on the 15th, a few weeks after the opening of the Hard Rock Cafe. Both are located on Beach Road between Soi 7 and Central Road with another entrance to the hotel from 2nd Road. The cafe is similar to the one in Bangkok, both in style and prices i.e. this venue is a little out of place in budget conscious Pattaya. The food and service are very good, as is the band. However the place has not yet really taken off and does not have the atmosphere of the one in Bangkok. Not many freelancers on offer but it might be due to the relatively high drinks prices (100+ baht for local beer, plus service and tax means you won't get much change from 300 baht for a couple of Singhas) and the location being away from Walking Street. Go into the hotel and you can get a tour from one of the smiling receptionist girls. The rooms are very good and well appointed, either blue or orange as the primary colour with huge portraits behind the wall of rock n roll greats. Each floor has a different artist e.g. The Beetles on 6th, Elvis on another, Michael Jackson etc. The rooms have cable TV hanging from the ceiling, decent mini bar and CD players. The bathrooms are spotless in white with Japanese style showers (no baths) that have a large flat tub to stand in. The smiling tour guide assures that they were designed for 2 people to shower together! This hotel has a unique hip / cool feel about it and is not for your older or retired tourist who wants a quiet holiday, given the rock'n'roll music at reception (all chrome and white) with memorabilia hanging all around. Instead of the usual lobby bar, the Hard Rock has an internet cafe with state of the art facilities.

The center piece is the massive free form pool, the largest in Pattaya. Surrounded by a wooden deck with bars, deck chairs, hot tubs etc this is very well planned out. Again, music plays in the pool and every day there are different activities to join in…anyone for water sports?! Overall, the place is impressive. Folks not staying at the hotel can use the pool for 500 baht per day – hell that's what I pay for my entire hotel room down in Pattaya! At a rack rate of $US 95++ its not cheap but they are offering discounts for 2500 baht currently. Unlikely to be a stop for your average sex tourist but could appeal to tourists from other Asian countries and Bangkok expats looking for a weekend away with their mia noi.

Still in Pattaya, many other bars, especially bar beers are opening now, in time for the high season. If Thai owned they tend to just open without much fanfare, but foreigners like to throw a party. The offer of free food generally brings people out of the woodwork. I just wonder that with so many bar beers already in Pattaya, how can one more expect to make much money?

Talking of free food, so many bars are now offering it that residents who know which bars are offering which specials can virtually eat for free every day! Sad looking pigs seem to always be spinning on the roast outside a bar. It could be argued that the best however is the free BBQ ribs offered by Terry from Shamrock bar on Pattayaland 2 every Friday. The meat is soaked in ginger beforehand and cooked in a special sauce. Great way to start the weekend and watch as the gogos around you come to life.

Bangkok has got downright cool, so cool in fact that I have even turned my fan off at night… But with this comes the down side, the change in temperatures has got many people, both locals and tourists, coming down with coughs and colds. You can't have it both ways! Note: This column deals mainly with Bangkok and to a lesser extent, Pattaya. In other parts of the country the weather will be different; still fairly warm in the south, and likely getting really cool in the north and northeast.

The Singha sign from the WTC beer garden… With
all of the major breweries represented, what will you drink?

The huge beer garden outside the World Trade Centre is up and rolling with all of the respective breweries – Mittweida, Carlsberg, Singha, and most importantly Heineken – being allocated a space to sell their respective poison. Now usually I am worried about sitting outside on a Bangkok night sweating away, downing as much beer as I can to offset the perspiration. But that is no longer the worry and if this cold snap continues much longer, I'll be joining the ranks of the Thais who are sitting down there, enjoying the convivial atmosphere while shivering away in a jacket!

An expat with a few goodies for sale: Canon MV20i mini-DV video camera – unused, best offer. Ericsson T10 with T18 features mobile phone 4,000 baht. Contact Blackie on 01-7412211 or 02-2585256.

I have received email from four separate guys this week, all of who asked for advice about a girl in Thailand who claims to be pregnant with their baby. Hmmm, now can you see why I urge you to use a condom… Anyway, the "I'm pregnant, please send me money and oh yeah, I love you too" scam is one of the oldest in the book. Odds are that she isn't pregnant and even if she is, how does she know the unborn child is yours? Not a nice situation if you get such an email, but bear in mind that most of these are a scam for money…but if you did spend time with her and partied without a party hat, then you just never know. But the problem arises that some of these guys did have unprotected sex several times and some of them did, how shall we say, fire a shot at the target. Now one of these cases is very interesting because the guy has received an email from the "Thai Police Foreign Operations Department", telling him that he is the father of a recently born child and is liable for child support. Hmmm, can't say I have ever heard of this lot before but I am very interested to find out more. My initial hunch is that this is a scam – and a potentially very elaborate scam at that too – but it may be real. With a bit of luck, I'll have more on this one in next week's column.

For some time now behind the scenes, this site has been getting major overhaul. Without giving much away, it will be relaunched in the not too distant future with a completely new look. Let's face it, I'm not the best at putting a flashy looking site together so with a bit of help from lands afar, we have come up with something that looks more modern and a bit cleaner – without looking gimmicky, yet retains the definite flavour that has made this site what it is. All I can say is watch this space…

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Special thanks go out to the Mad Stockbroker. In a week where
I have been knocked out by a nasty case of the flu, without
his help, this week's column would have bee n really short!