A change is in the air in Bangkok. In fact since the middle of 2001 the strings have slowly been tightened as Thailand or perhaps more precisely Bangkok, has been developing at a rapid pace. Could it be that the country that hates being regarded as an international center for such things as document forgery, people smuggling and international sex tourism could be cleaning its act up?
In today's column, I look at how the Thai authorities are cracking down on 3 different
issues, all of which will have some effect on farang residents and farang tourists.
The naughty nightlife industry catering to farangs has changed markedly over the last two years. It is hard to believe that it is almost two years ago since the naughty nightlife crackdown essentially began and it has been almost 2 years since the 2:00 AM closing time has been strongly enforced. Yep, it was just two years ago tat you could party at some venues until 6:00 AM! I am not privy to the books of any bars but I believe that not that many businesses in the industry have grown during this period. There has been minor crackdown after minor crackdown and at the gogo bars at least, a correlation exists between the periods when girls dance nude and high profits. Some of them are really hurting.
Various policies have been put in place to make running a bar a little cleaner but really, no real measures have been made to close the industry down. My guess is that the industry is responsible for the employment of just too many Thais and closing it down would hurt too many people and if they ever tried to close it down completely, Pattaya would die overnight.
Until there are far better employment opportunities for people from the countryside, the naughty nightlife industry will continue to flourish. I do not believe that any real effort will be made to close the industry down, but I do believe that we will continue to see minor crackdown after minor crackdown, measures made to make it more difficult for business owners, and less attractive to customers. Closing down a whole industry overnight would have a dramatic effect on many, so the way the government seems to be handling it indicates to me that they really do not like it, but will tolerate it, for now at least. The only way that the industry would disappear would be if the economy turned around completely and the distribution of wealth became more even. We know that will not happen.
Let me preface this part by saying that I have never done any illegal drugs in my life. It is a personal choice, something which will likely never change. Other people are free to make their own choice, though if they were to use drugs in my presence in Thailand, I would be gone immediately.
Several months back there was a huge crackdown on drugs that was about as high profile and as controversial as you could get. We never know just quite what was going on but not only from newspaper reports but also first hand accounts from some farangs, there were death squads going around quite literally blowing away drug dealers, that is SUSPECTED drug dealers. The price of yaba which was previously around the 50 baht per tablet mark first went up to 100, and then briefly soared to 500 baht, before settling back down to, I believe, somewhere around 100 baht again. Marijuana became hard to come by and people who had regular suppliers found their suppliers weren't just avoiding phone calls, they had fled their place of residence too.
If what the press reports and what hearsay from other farangs indicate is true, the drug
problem in Thailand is huge and that something has got to be done about it. Truth be told,
I have somewhat of an aversion to illicit substances and know little about them. But having said this, the problem that I see is that it has taken many, many years to get to this point and summary killings will not provide the overnight fix that the government is attempting. You cannot solve long-term problems like this and the drug problem is merely a symptom of many other problems in Thai society that perhaps need more attention.
Immigration and Visas
Despite some people doing their best to imitate a buffalo and argue otherwise, almost everyone knows that visa agents sending your passport on holiday is something highly illegal. I cannot imagine what would happen if one tried to do this in the West. There has been a major crackdown on this practice and it anyone who has ever got away with it should count themselves lucky.
This week information was leaked online about further tightening of the immigration rules and regulations. Once again, Westerners active on net discussion forums are up in arms at the proposed changes which are mooted to be introduced in mid 2004. Full of ambiguities, and apparently not even official yet, it looks as though the regulations will be further tightened with the main changes appearing to be an increase in the financial requirements. Who can blame the Thai government? The current financial requirements are too low for people to exist unless you are leading a mediocre existence in the barn nok.
I personally believe that we have yet to see the back of the visa issue and that the Thai immigration will start cracking down even more. I truly believe that it is just a matter of time before Immigration finally introduces a definite policy regarding the long-termers who come and go on 30 day border stamps, an initiative that is in place for genuine tourists or short-stayers.
While on one hand the government is interested in attracting foreigners to retire here, on the other hand the introduction of regulations that make things more difficult seems to directly oppose their initiatives. The new changes totally discourage Westerners from either investing in Thailand or buying property here and more than ever, they strongly reiterate the point that your stay in Thailand may be very temporary indeed. Yep, you never know when that visa might not be extended. Has the time come when they are basically saying, "we are happy for you to come here or a holiday and spend your money, but really, we would prefer you didn't stay too long".
At this stage the new regulations have not been introduced and what is floating around is full of ambiguities which make it very difficult to analyse. But the writing is on the wall and the message is really clear.
Thailand is changing rapidly and at the same time is trying to clean up many of the social problems that have existed for a long time. Whether they will make a concerted effort to rid the country of these problems totally, or merely drive them underground remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, these changes will affect the average farang in one way or another.
Where is this pic?
Last week's pic
It was the California Fitness Centre
This week's pic
FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:
Italian guys remind me of a certain high profile person. Ask Thai girls if he is handsome and they will give a resounding yes. Ask if they would like to marry him and you get a resounding no. Bargirls have complained about Italians stiffing them for a long time.
The accused behind the "Sukumvit Soi 4 scam" is now playing out the last part of his alleged lies and deceit and is now playing the poor bankrupt businessmen. Titty Twister and Warblers have both gone. It is alleged he planned this carefully as he was supposed to be in court on September 5th with the Scandinavian plaintiff pursuing the case against him. Even with all that has happened, and all that has been publicized, he still tried to sell the bars behind the investors' backs which looks like a blatant effort to steal even more money. It should come as no surprise that the defendants did not turn up for the court hearing and it is widely believed that they are hiding in Hunters. The rumour mill suggests that the Indian gentleman allegedly behind it all is now registered with Scotland Yard's wanted list for fraudulent and criminal activities, though this does strike me as a little surprising… Apparently Scotland Yard are interested because he defrauded some English folks. And rumour has it that even the Indian authorities are aware of things too.
Erotica above Mercury bar, the newest bar in Nana Plaza opened on Wednesday night this week.
On my one visit to Nana this week on Friday night I noticed that things were very quiet, at least for a Friday night. The manager of one of the bigger bars told me that since the police have started to enforce the registration of all girls working as gogo dancers, he has lost a staggering 40% of his staff! These girls have not gone to other bars but have left the industry altogether, too scared to register as they fear that their family will finally get confirmation of what they have suspected all along, that their darling daughter is selling her virtue.
Earlier this week on the way to work one morning I saw a quite amazing sight, even by Thai standards. I was sitting on the back of a motorbike at the lights along with what seemed like half of Bangkok, all on our way to work by motorbike taxi. A copper at the intersection traffic control box exited and slowly strolled over in our direction. Even though the lights were still red, one of the motorbikes edged out of the traffic and went to take off as the cop grabbed hold of the driver and somehow managed to halt the bike in its tracks. The rider tried to accelerate but the cop held him firmly, the strain showing on the cop's face. As the revs increased, the cop couldn't hold him and more and as the bike took off, the copper's arms inadvertently knocked the female passenger off and she landed on her ass, a fat ass that provided some much needed padding for her most ungracious fall. The motorcycle taxi took off into traffic and the cop turned around and strolled back to his post, disinterested in the lass on the ground. Chatting with my rider, he hypothesized that the rider of the other motorbike took off to avoid paying the 200 baht fine he would have landed for failing to provide the passenger with a helmet. Amazing Thailand!
For teachers there is a seemingly never ending stream of requests for passport sized photos for everything from work permits to visa extensions to health insurance policies to school notice boards, organization charts etc. It can end up costing a bit for all the photos, each if which just has to be a different size. But remember that if you have a digital camera, there is no need for you to go to the photo shop to get them done there. Most camera shops just use digital cameras themselves so just take a few shots of yourself in a shirt and tie – and try and look like a criminal as they really do not like you to smile in such shots. Either print them out on a decent photo printer or take the file into a photo shop where digital files cost abut 5 baht to print.
There was some talk about a move by one of Bangkok's leading bars down to Singapore at one point on account of the police harassment. While this might seem a bit extreme, the high profile raids on various establishments by police where people's mug shots are plastered all over the front page of the newspaper as urine tests take place does not do anyone any good at all. As I have said before, a headline that says "farang tests positive for drugs in bar raid" and your picture in the background would be enough for you to get your marching orders from a Thai employer, even if you were not the person who tested positive. Is it any wonder that so many venues are so quiet?
As a youth, I remember reading a book about setting up a small enterprise and some of the potential pitfalls to avoid. One such practice mentioned in the book was to make your business as accessible as possible to customers and the book gave the example of two similar businesses in the same street and suggested that one of the businesses failed because the entrance was much narrower than the other along with being dimly lit, all of which turned off a number of customers. This week I had reason to go into one business and because of the nice polished wooden floor in the shop, they asked customers entering their premises to take off their shoes. While I respect the Thai practice of taking one's shoes off when entering someone's place of abode, I am not entirely comfortable with doing it when I am a paying customer, in an industry where forcing customers to take their shoes off is absolutely not the norm. I might have just been in a foul mood that day but I decided at that point that no, I would not be taking my shoes off and off I trotted to the next vendor, a mere 50 metres away, where I made the identical purchase at the identical price. Having to take your shoes off is a pain in the ass and frankly, it cost this business a not insignificant sale.
From time to time I hear stories of Western women milling around the farang naughty nightlife areas. I have heard of one Australian woman who has been seen in both the Thermae and the Grace Hotel who tries to assist girls in leaving the industry. I have also heard of another woman who helps the down and out bargirls by trying to get them into programs such as Empower or other NGO operated programs. This week I heard a story of a young Farang woman standing together with a cop on Walking Street, Pattaya. She had short blonde hair, blue eyes and wore a shirt that said, "Tourist Police Volunteer" on the back. I wonder what that could be about? I remember reading an article recently in the Bangkok Post that said the Interior Minister was going to shut down all the "indecent" shows and nude dancing in Thailand and that Farangs were going to help them do it. Well, shit, have they imported a few farang women to bust us?
The old scam of the taxi driver taking you on a bit of a detour before reaching your destination is well known the world over. But in LOS, as Thailand is sometimes referred to – the Land of Scams – this is one that is not so common. Traffic is so bad here that it is usually in the taxi driver's bests interests to get you to your destination as quickly as possible and find a new fare. So, don’t worry too much about the direction that the driver is taking you. If it is not the fastest way, it is more likely that he doesn’t know, rather than a scam.
One of my colleagues at work who misbehaves a little more often than I would have thought his salary allows has informed me that there is an abundance of bare-beavered girls out there. Yep, for you guys who do not like a hairy girl, it would seem that there are more than a few girls out there who have shaved downstairs. Shaved completely, that is.
Thais really are stuck in their ways. Earlier in this week I was about to make a couple of Paracetamol tablets to ease a headache. As I was drinking a coffee at the time, I thought I would use that to wash the tablets down. Mai dai I am told! So, I go and get some orange juice to wash them down. Mai dai! Shit, they really believe that the only thing you can wash pills down with is good old Adam's ale. A friend had a similar experience when he told his Thai tutor that he liked to order a green curry and fried rice. Mai dai! Green curry should only be eaten with plain rice he was told! They just cannot see that there is no problem if you do something a little bit differently.
It seems that Thai banks are making it more and more difficult to send money out of the country. Regulations introduced a couple of years ago by the Bank of Thailand made it difficult and it seems that most banks are following the letter of the law. If you have money in a Thai bank that you would like to repatriate back to the West, you do have a few options. If it is not a particularly large amount, you could get an ATM card that can be used outside of the country and simply make daily withdrawals outside of Thailand at the maximum allowed amount and clean the account out that way. Then there is Western Union who you can make a transfer with, but you need an invoice of some sort, nothing that couldn't be knocked up in Microsoft Word in a few minutes.
Some of the Western embassies in Bangkok have the reputation of being very tough when it comes to the issuing of visas for Thai nationals. There is no shortage of stories flying around about how hard it is to get a visa. But at least one Western country has a very high percentage of visas granted. The Canadian Embassy in Bangkok declines a mere 3% of applications for visas to visit Canada meaning that 97% of candidates' visas are granted.
As the APEC meeting gets closer, more and more locals are once again getting nervous of a potential terrorist attack in the big city and it is probably the most common subject in expat circles at the moment. The number of people who have said that they will be avoiding Nana Plaza and Khao Sarn Road, generally regarded by locals as the two most likely targets, is increasing at quite a rate. While biased by the fact that I am a teacher and most Thai schools are closed over October (when the APEC meeting takes place), I know a number of people who have said that they will be leaving Bangkok over this period, quite concerned at what may happen.
Mrs. Stick's Corner
Each week, Mrs. Stick will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick is an open-minded Thai lady who is happy to answer your questions. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two or three questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I may attempt to correct her English from time to time. Note 1: I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Note 2: Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email.
Question 1: Once in a while I'll joke around with my (Isaan) girlfriend in regard to flirting with other Thai women. Interestingly enough, she usually says the same thing which is: "chop chop! Throw to the ducks!", while motioning with karate hand toward the naughty bits. The question is, is she serious? I usually laugh it off, but still wonder if she means business.
Mrs. Stick says: In general, if you read Thai newspapers or magazines you will read about this sort of thing happening every month so it is real. Sometimes they even put it in a blender! If it was me and Stickman and he fed his sausage to someone else then I would cut off things with him permanently with no chance of return. I woudl just finish with him, not cut it off.
Question 2: How do Thai girls, either the 'good' girls or the 'not so good' girls, feel about us farangs wearing cologne? It's customary for me to put on a splash before I go out on the town here in Farangland, but do Thais feel the scent is overwhelming? I know that personal hygiene is critical in putting on a good first impression. I for one work up a sweat just walking a block in Bangkok in the ordinarily hot and humid weather.
Mrs. Stick says: Personally, I think it is a good thing because it shows that the guy looks after himself and makes an effort to impress women. It needs to be the right amount and a nice scent, not overdone. Most Thai women like a man who smells good, not just the natural scent, but the smell of a nice cologne.
Writing this column is fun, a lot of fun. However, when I look back on columns written in the past I sometimes cringe, wondering how I came up with some of the dumb things said. Remember back in your days as a student when you had an important paper to write and you wrote a draft, then re-read and made numerous change before tidying ot up on the third draft and submitting that infinitely superior version. This column should be written like that but unfortunately I just do not have the time to go over it a couple of times. With this in mind, forgive some of the errors that will inevitably appear. I do my best given the time constraints that I have.
Your Bangkok commentator,