Stickman's Weekly Column December 14th, 2003

How Many Of Us Are There?



I have often wondered just what the farang population of Thailand is, that is the population of Westerners who live and work here, on a permanent or at least semi-permanent basis.

I was having a conversation with an Indian friend recently, a fellow who has been in Thailand for around 15 years and he said to me that the Indian population of Thailand is around 200,000 and he expected that the total farang population would be about double that. 400,000 people? Really? Is that possible? My first thoughts were that I wouldn't believe that for a moment, but then I started to think about it and maybe he is right…

Word out of the US embassy is that they believe there are around 35,000 US passport holders resident in Thailand. The German embassy believes around 15,000 people. This is NOT the number of people registered, but their best guess of numbers here. Given that there seem to be at least two Brits for every American here, we might guess that there are around 70,000 Brits here. So, from just three farang countries alone, we already have a possible 120,000 farangs resident in Thailand! We would then need to add in the likes of New Zealand and Australia, Canada and the rest of Europe as well as farangs fro month countries such as South Africa. I imagine that many of the South American residents here would be considered farangs too.

Or, if we look at it another way and guestimate that there are say, 100,000 farangs in Bangkok and a significant number outside of Bangkok. The exact population of Bangkok isn't known but 10,000,000 would probably be a fair guess. 100,000 farangs would mean we make up around 1% of the big smoke’s population. If I think of any apartment building, housing area or residential area in Bangkok, the farang population would be well in excess of 1%. And no, this is not skewed by simply considering the buildings and areas where my farang friends live. Apart from the slum areas and the really low-income housing areas, you seem to find farangs everywhere. Talking to Thai people at work, some of whom live in modest apartment buildings, all state that farangs are resident in the building where they live. In the building where I live, and the buildings where most of my friends live, I would guestimate that around 25% of the residents would be farang. In even some of the poorest areas, the very cheapest buildings, you still, inevitably, find farangs. We are everywhere! So, based on this logic, which admittedly is horribly simplistic, the population of Bangkok may be a lot more than 1% farang, say 1.5%? And 1.5% immediately amounts to 150,000 farang residents in Bangkok alone.

What about outside of Bangkok? Well, half of the UK lives in Pattaya along with good chunks of Germany… Amazing there aren’t a few more fireworks down there considering… I've no idea, but I bet the permanent farang population of Pattaya is significant. Is 10,000 possible – or is that number perhaps even on the light side? On Phuket there must be a similar number. I still haven't made it to Chiang Mai but they tell me it is scrawling with farangs so I’ll have a stab and say that there are another 10,000 up there. 150,000 odd farangs in Bangkok and with Phuket, Pattaya and Chiang Mai added in, we could be up to 180,000 already… It was once said to me that the New Zealand embassy, which estimates less than 2,000 of its citizens resident in Thailand, has a citizen in every province, which would indicate that it is not just the major centres that have serious numbers of Westerners. I even heard, rightly or wrongly that Udon Thani, the city and surrounding area, has 2,000 resident farangs. True or not, I have no idea.

In the one major city other than Bangkok where I do spend a lot of time, and I do have a few clues about, Korat, there doesn’t seem to be a huge farang population, at least not in the main city area. I wouldn't like to guess the farang population at all, but it doesn’t seem that significant, less than 1,000 at a guess. But then Korat is, outside of Bangkok, the most populous province in Thailand, and I bet the farang population in the rural areas is not small at all, probably several hundred at least, though quite possibly a lot more.

My guess is that the 400,000 number mooted earlier is probably a little bit higher than the actual number, which I would guestimate at closer to 250,000. This is not a number to be sneezed at and despite all of the measures taken by the Thai government to make it more difficult for foreigners to stay here, the number of Westerners in Thailand is, I believe, increasing all the time.

Whatever the total number of farangs living and working in Thailand is, it is very significant. Our contributions to Thailand are great, and we are responsible for a huge amount of consumer spending and investment in the country. While we may well be less than one half of one percent of all living here, I would guess that our contributions as an homogenous group are perhaps higher than any other.

If my mooted figure of 250,000 people is right, just how much money do we spend – a good chunk of which is brought in from abroad. My guess, and again, this is just a guess, is that the average farang spends around 60,000 – 65,000 baht a month in Thailand. Yes, these figures were not arrived at through any complicated scientific method, but again, a rough sample from my friends, some of whom told me how much they spend, and others whose spending I guessed. Being conservative, let's say the average is 60K baht a month, which would make 720,000 baht per year. 720,000 baht multiplied by 250,000 equals a number with quite frankly, a shitload of zeroes and a number that would get hit the orgasm button for a mathematician! Dividing it by 40 we get the figure in US dollars, 4,500,000,000. Four and a half BILLION US dollars a year. Whether this figure is right, wrong or a million miles from the truth, I don't know. But one thing is certain, even apart from the huge amount of money us farang residents spend, we make a huge contribution to Thailand.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

This week's pic

It was the top of the Dusit Thani hotel.
Lee-ow kwa la krap
Last week's picture was taken from Lumpini Park and featured the spire at the top of the Dusit Thani Hotel, not so long ago Bangkok's tallest building. I have been told that the pictures have been too easy recently so they'll be a bit tougher for the next few weeks. So, for this week's pic, whereabouts is the taxi? This week's prize is once again kindly offered by Jake Needham. Jake has donated a signed copy of the international edition of his outstanding first novel, The Big Mango, and he will send it anywhere in the world, so there is no restriction on where you enter from. Remember, just the FIRST person to correctly state where the picture was taken wins the prize! Please note that you do NOT need to send your address to me when you answer the pic. If you are first to get it right then I will notify that you have won and only then will an address be necessary. And please, those damned Australians have won the prize for the last two weeks so it would be nice to see someone from somewhere else.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Nicely handled!

When I got married to my wife a few weeks back, the my wife wanted a sin sot to "show off" back in her own village. We had originally planned a few hundred thousand baht, but her parents didn't think carrying so much many around was a good idea, so I asked if I could write a cheque instead. Everyone though that was a good idea, and the money was supposed to be returned to me immediately anyway. Just to play safe, I used a cheque from a UK bank account, and wrote the amount in Thai baht, which basically invalidates the cheque anyway. I asked my wife how much I should write, and she said "Up to you" – she is Thai, after all! I wrote 5 million baht in capital letters and everyone was very pleased / impressed. As soon as the ceremony was over, the cheque was returned to me, and my wife (and her family) had gained a lot of face (her father is a local district head), and my only expenses was the food and drinks for the guests, as well as some gifts for the monks.
Food for thought.
I noticed that things are changing in Thailand, or at least so they seem to me. I observed a more mercenary approach to farangs both in and outside the bars. Of course, ripping off the farang has long been a Thai sport, but in the past, even that was done very often with a smile on the Thai face. These days it seems to me that more and more, I am seeing less and less of that once famous Thai smile. Now it may just be me and sure it is not as though the kingdom is completely devoid of smiles or happiness, but I am sure that happy and generally friendly predisposition is on the wane. If this is indeed correct, why? Is it the result of the economic down turn in the late 90s, or more to do with increased expectation within the middle class, not met by the government? I am not sure. Just my own observations and it would be interesting to hear from others on the subject.
Extreme cynicism.
In Asia, nobody trusts anybody. That's why cronyism is rampant. You only do business with those you can trust, because contract law is so weak that a contract with a stranger is unenforceable. Therefore, you trust family and a few friends who have shown you can trust them. The whole society is like that. I studied medieval history. I walk outside my apartment door in Bangkok and every day I can see what medieval Europe was like. Society is organised along feudal lines, and the aim of every Thai is to find a patron (a "Big Man") under whose protection they can shelter. I read the outbursts from your readers about "lying, thieving Thais", and if you're going to judge everybody by modern standards (i.e. what's known as a civil society where the rule of law prevails) then you will end up with that bitter attitude. Much better to get some perspective, shrug your shoulders, say "This is Thailand", and move on.
No-one likes shag inflation!
Prostitution is legal in Australia and Holland. They are both developed countries with a relatively small population and a very small percentage of sex workers, which makes it an easy industry to control. Besides, no geezer in their right mind would want to shag an Aussie or a Dutch woman. What makes Thailand a basket case is that it is a poor country with thousands of prostitutes, who are hard to control at the best of times. Legalising prostitution is a fucking brilliant idea in theory. The government rakes in loads of dosh from licensing fees and tax revenues. Valuable police time is diverted from busting Nana Plaza to preventing real crime. Corruption is curtailed. It might even provide some protection for abused bargirls and go-go aficionados. In practice, every belching' fartin' incontinent son of a bitch knows it is not going to work. Girls working in bars will have money deducted from their wages, leading to shag inflation. Freelancers will have a fiesta and undercut bar prices. As in other countries, the scene will shift from naughty bars to regular bars, hotel coffee shops and street corners. The winners will be Pnom Pen, Shanghai and Istanbul.
Looking for a gym? (Just don't say gym with a rising tone!)
For those expats or visitors who want to visit a gym somewhere in the general vicinity of Nana, Pacific Place building offers an gym of sorts, but only for females. The Landmark Hotel has a gym, but the fee is an outrageous 803 baht for 1 day's use if you are not staying there. The California Fitness Center, which can be reached by using the Skytrain (exit Sala Daeng, go about 100 meters west), is an excellent place to work out. Unfortunately, it costs 1000 baht for a 1-day workout….unless you are a member of 24-Hour Fitness, which is headquartered in the US. Bring your ID card with you and you should be able to work out for free. This gym, which is modelled exactly like the 24-Hour Fitness gyms in the US, is broken up into 2 sections, the main one being on the 19th floor of the building. It gives absolutely magnificent views of the city as you work out and is a fantastic experience for fitness buffs, or if you just want to sweat out some of the toxins that you may have poured into your system the prior evening.
It's all about the money.
I read a letter someone sent to me that dealt with you and your response to a man's letter about Thai women and marriage and especially Thai bar girls. I hate to tell you that the same things happens when trying to be with a "good girl". It seems that it is all about the money. I have dealt with many Thai good girls and bar girls and they are no different from each other. Now some are cool and don't want to have money but a real relationship and love. So before you limit that the only girls in Thailand that aren't bar girls are the way to go just consider that it is what they consider as payment for raising the girl for you. But in actuallity you are buying a wife, not love, when you do that. Most Thai marriages fail because it isn't for love but that the man wants a maid and the family wants to get rid of their financial burden. That's why most girls in Thailand become bar girls. They have to earn their living and women aren't actually considered much in that country as anything but a maid or sex slave for the men there. But they keep following the old ways of their "culture". Not only that, many Thai girls will throw into your face that they have to follow Thai tradition bu't wont follow your country's traditions at all. So just like finding a woman anywhere to marry and love, it is all luck. There is no set way to achieve the one that is good. Just be smart and don't screw things up for other men trying to find a good wife by just accepting the BS that is fed about their traditions. It isn't true it is just a way to milk money from you for the family.

There is a huge great hole in Nana Plaza in the spot which once housed Rock Hard and Vixens. Progress developing a new bar in this spot is very slow indeed. The Crown Group have erected a nice set of Christmas trees up on the top of Pharaoh's Bar towards the front of Nana which looks nice, but I doubt it will do anything for business. And speaking o the Crown Group, they organised a dance contest for this past Friday, but when I dropped by to one of their bars to ask a few questions about it, no one knew what was going on! Hmmm, maybe someone should also tell the organisers that dance contests don't go well at a time when bikinis must be worn. Nana remains quieter than you would expect at this time of year although some bars such as Rainbow 1, Playskool and Hollywood upstairs are doing ok. I also saw at least one bar doing a show, but it was awfully tame, all girls in full bikini and nothing suggestive at all, all well within the law. And I finally made it into Spanky's, Nana's newest bar, after hearing from a number of close, trusted friends, that this is the place to go. I was disappointed to find little more than a small pokey bar which has been dressed up with a nice mirror and drink bottles on display, as per some of the flasher bars around town. To my taste, it doesn't work. Gogo bars should be sleazy with dark corners, not modern and bright! So, fo me, Spanky's is over rated.

You won't see a lot of flesh in Bangkok at the moment, but down in Pattaya, more than a few gogo bars have girls dancing topless, with security guards keeping a close watch for anyone who looks remotely like the fuzz, a warning system in place fo the girls to top up before the boys in brown arrive.

Someone had better have a whisper in the manager of bars on Nana's top floor about those BLOODY TOUTS outside the bar on the stairs between the second and third floor bars on the left hand side. These are, without a doubt, the most offensive touts in all of Thailand, a claim I don't make lightly at all. The cynic in me says they have to be on a roaring commission to manhandle customers the way they are. You cannot get past without being groped and grabbed by these disgusting devils and there can be little doubt that they are scaring customers away from the upper level bars. They are even more offensive than the touts in Patpong, and that is saying something.

No word has come out of Soi Cowboy yet about any bar closures but the bar owners down there remain very nervous. 2003 has been the toughest year in recent memory for bar owners and the thought that their establishments could be closed for an entire month right slap in the middle of the high season would be a heartbreaker. Nails are being gnawed down to the quik in Cowboy, as Nana Plaza bar owners are rubbing their hands together knowing that it only takes two or three of the bigger Cowboy bars to be closed down which would result in a huge swing of customers to Nana. A lot of money rides on the decision, or otherwise, to close any Cowboy bars down.

These new ATM machines are nice looking, and have beautiful menus, buttons and even the English seems perfect, but they don't spit out 100 baht notes! And that is a problem in a country where breaking 1000s is a nuisance and a half! my old trick of withdrawing 9,900 baht doesn't work any more, damn it!

Typical bloody Thailand… All around the Central World Plaza, Ratchadamri Road and other roads in the centre of the city you'll see all sorts of beautiful lights decorating the area. Tourists are walking around trying to snap off some holiday shots of it all. I say trying because some of the security guards are doing all that they can to prevent tourists from capturing these memories. Walking from Central Chidlom to the Central World Plaza on Sunday night of last week, I was stopped SIX times by security guards saying that I could not take shots. A couple of them were rude and one was downright aggressive. Easy to deal with if you speak Thai, but I saw a couple of tourists visibly upset at being threatened.

I can confirm that the rumour mentioned in last week's column was not just a rumour, but fact. Bangkok's leading English language novel writer, Jake Needham, author of the excellent "Big Mango" amongst others, will be at Bookazine stores next week signing copies of his books and will be available to meet with fans of his books, discuss them and answer any general questions you might have. And in what seems like an early Xmas present, the first 50 people to arrive will get a FREE copy of his first book, "The Big Mango"! But we are not finished yet. As Bookazine is right next to Starbucks, there will be free coffee too! Wow, if you miss this, you must have the busiest social life in the Kingdom! So, on Saturday the 20th, you can catch Jake at the Bookazine on Sukumvit Road, Bangkok, very close to Sukumvit Soi 5 from 3:00 PM. And if Bangkok doesn't suit, you can catch him next Sunday in Pattaya at Bookazine on the first floor of Royal Garden Plaza, from 4:00 PM.

And just to prove that he really is flavour of the month, have you seen ‘Time Out’ this month? There's Jake smoking a cigar right on the cover and a really nice feature inside about his books. He must be flattered all to hell. There's now been yet another Needham book event scheduled for Saturday the 20th as well. Kinokuniya in the Emporium brought in several hundred copies of all the English language editions of his books directly from Singapore last week at long last and now has huge displays all over their stores. So suddenly, after a year and a half of being totally unavailable in Thailand, the two Jack Shepherd novels, "Laundry Man" and "Killing Plato" are being offered side-by-side in Bangkok like they have been around the rest of Asia and as they were always meant to be. In addition to his Bookazine book signing, Jake will be in the Kinokuniya branch in the Emporium on Saturday the 20th, from 12 noon until 2 PM. The good people at Kinokuniya are also throwing in a 10% discount on all of his books during the holiday season. So, it’s either a free copy of the definitive Bangkok novel, The Big Mango, for the first fifty Starbucks guests at the Nai Lert Building, or a 10% discount on the Jack Shepherd novels at Kinokuniya in the Emporium, or if you are greedy, BOTH! I would suggest that Mr. Needham pay his publicist a little more, for every other Bangkok author is going to want this guy (or gal?) to do their publicity too!

Be careful with these copied DVDs. The vendors may well tell you that they are roy per cent krap, meaning that the visuals and sound are indeed as clear as they should be, but what they often fail to mention is that the subtitles are seriously screwed up. With a number of the copies, particularly the newer movies, some plonker has obviously listened to the soundtrack and made up the subtitles in English, but not being a native speaker, he or she has cocked it up on a major scale. And it is these cocked up English subtitles that then get translated into the various languages, including Thai, and hence the translations are a right mess. For us native English speakers it is no big deal as we don't need the subtitles but if your other half wants Thai subtitles, it pretty much renders it useless.

What is up with a lot of the hotels in Thailand, particular in Pattaya? If you call up or email, they will tell you that they are full, but if you walk in 5 minutes later, yes, they have rooms available. I can't quite work this out – there seems to be no reason for it.

It would seem that contrary to what was mooted in last week's column, there are no charges for incoming SMSs to Thai mobile phones from from internet free SMS providers.

Quote of the week comes from Gordon Sharpless, editor and writer of my favourite Cambodian based site, talesofasia.com. "Thais' intolerance for bad smells is rivalled only by our intolerance for loud noises."

The opening piece of last week's column about how a farang guy had paid a dowry and believed he would get it back should his wife stuff up in the marriage received a huge response. My inbox was full of suggestions on just what he should do. Some were amusing, some crass, and some downright nasty but more than anything, it showed an outrage by farangs that a deal was made fair and square that was then not honoured. More than a few people said that he should go and see the family and clearly explain the situation, but do it behind her back so that she doesn't have a chance to slit her wrists until he has the money back. Others suggested going to the influential people in her area, explaining it to them and then seeing the family. A couple suggested really nasty shit like photographing her in the shower and posting these photos either online or printing them and spreading them in the village. Some of you have got vivid imaginations! But to me, the best one was to hire one of those pickup trucks with the loudspeaker system that are so popular in Thailand and to drive it outside the family home at 5 AM and announce what the daughter had done and how the dowry was demanded back. Talk about huge loss of face! More than anything, these responses that more and more, farangs are not prepared to be lied to and are not prepared to be ripped off.

TEFL International, the leading English teacher training school in Thailand is offering a new training course with a difference. If you don’t have a job yet then TEFL International will set you up with a two month paid internship where you can practice and get paid. The pay isn't very high at 15,000 baht per month but the many hours of teaching practice will prepare you for your first real job. In the end you will need to prove you have learned something by taking a couple of exams and completing eight hours of demo lessons but it will all be worth it when you get that TEFL International certificate signed by David Nunan, one of the many famous creators / collaborators of this course. The best thing about the PELT is the price. They plan to charge $580 around the world – already a huge savings over regular courses – but here in Bangkok they are offering a special discount of only $400. So, if you are already teaching and earning 40,000 baht per month you save 40,000 in potential lost income + the difference in course fees. If you are not teaching then you will actually earn 30,000 and pay about 16,000. You actually make more than the course costs! A word of warning: I do not recommend this course for auto mechanics or computer geeks (like I was) with no previous experience teaching. If you need the extra help I would still recommend the TEFL International full course. But if you have some classroom experience behind you, in any subject, or are already teaching, this course may be perfect.

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Each week, Mrs. Stick is pleased to answer your questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick likes to think of herself as an open-minded Thai lady so go ahead, ask anything because you won't shock her. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two 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. Please note that I may not necessarily agree with what she says and unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email. Questions to her have been a bit thin recently so don't be shy to send in your queries.

Central World Plaza and the Amari Watergate

Question 1: Last week you mentioned the will and problem to find a man of similar status. What is the problem with a man of different status, assuming love is the major motivation? What is the problem to attract a man of upper status? What had been your alternatives at best, assuming you search for a husband was restricted to Thai men?

Mrs Stick says: When you fall in love with someone, it comes from the qualities that you see in them and those qualities are more commonly found in a man who has a better status. When you love someone you love them with your brain and not just your heart. Both Stickman and I come from a similar background, both middle class, people who have faced similar issues in the past. It helps us to understand each other and to get along well. If the difference in status is too great, then problems will come, sooner or later. A close friend of mine, a male with very good status, recently tried to build a relationship with a woman of lower status and it just wouldn't work. He was lucky to realise this sooner, rather than later.

Question 2: I'm trying to find out where in BKK I can get a good quality / low price full face + neck lift done! All that great cosmetic surgery for guys who want to look like women, what about women who want to erase a bit of the wear and tear (and feel confident that what they pay for is what they'll get).

Mrs Stick says: Just buy a couple of Thai magazines and you'll see lots of advertisements for those kind of places and then you can research them, check the websites, visit the premises and decide from there. I myself have never been into this sort of thing so do not have first hand knowledge of it. I have heard of Bangmod Hospital which seems to be famous amongst Thai movie stars for this sort of thing.

Question 3: I am continuously mystified by men who move in with their Thai girlfriends in as little as two weeks. I am in my early thirties and I have lived with ONE woman in my entire life (and that occurred after we were together for over a year)! I guess my question is: Why is moving in together an apparent necessity (it can't just be for monetary reasons, can it?)? Is there a similar rush into cohabitation with Thai men? Also, is this something Thai ladies require as a part of a relationship; or is it the foreign men who wish to commit to their newly discovered sweethearts prior to really getting to know them?

Mrs Stick says: Regular Thai women moving in with a guy this fast is not normal at all although it can happen in any society I guess. I guess the new relationship is exciting and they want to spend a much time together as possible. But really, this sort of thing would happen with a very small minority of people and is not the norm at all. I have only heard of this happening with Stickman's friends and readers, but aside from that, I have never seen nor heard of this sort of thing happening. With some Thai couples it can take years before they become intimate – and even then it often happens in secrecy. Really, this sort of thing is generally not accepted until marriage.

When putting this site together, the bottom line rests with me. I am the writer, editor and the one who has the final say of what goes in – and what doesn't. I feel that I have got the tone reasonable and that I manage to keep it all on the right side of the line of what would be considered "decent". After all, this site now has a large Thai audience, including people who are within various Thai law enforcement agencies. Yes, really! I believe that if put to the test, this site would pass scrutiny. I am not so confident about other Thai websites, particularly one site that requires subscriptions. While it may not be my place to criticise other sites, I feel that their errant ways could be trouble for all Thai sites. I notice that a certain gentleman is up to his old tricks, banging all and sundry in Bangkok without protection, photographing it, videoing it, packaging it all up and selling it online. You've got to give it to him, he has got balls, but also a bigger quotient of stupidity than most. I truly believe that before too long, Thailand websites will come under scrutiny and it will be one errant site that brings attention to us all. It believe it will be this fellow's new site that brings that attention. I'm not particularly bothered, but I believe that more than a few sites will be looked by the Thai authorities and some will be forced to close. Have no fear. This site will not be one of them.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick




All feedback is welcome – please forward email [email protected].