Stickman's Weekly Column April 18th, 2004

But You’re Only 40!


Bangkok, and indeed much of Thailand, can have a profound effect on first time visitors with many already planning their next trip before the plane has left Don Muang. Such a good time is had that many consider relocating to Thailand. For some this will mean the search for employment and for others retirement, often at an age that is somewhat younger than they would consider retirement in the West.

I was one of a bunch of guys who used to get together on a Friday night for a few drinks at Woodstock Bar before the group would break up and head in different directions, some doing a tour of Nana, some down to Warbler's, some to Cowboy, before we would all invariably end up at the Thermae. They were good times and I met a lot of good people and made some good friends.

There was one middle aged fellow who I distinctly remember at these get togethers. He was always one of the first there. Why? Because he had all the time in the world. He had retired in his early 40s, saying that he was sick of corporate America. He had flicked his property and most of his money had been invested in the share market, in the technology sector…including a huge chunk in Cisco. (You can see where this is going already, can't ya!)

Said fellow had a very easy, comfortable lifestyle in Thailand. Unlike many who fall into the go out late, wake up late routine, he used to get up relatively early and go and play sport in the morning before heading off for his daily traditional massage. I guess he spent the rest of his day online, reading and all the other stuff that one does to pass the time. In the evenings he would be out virtually every night, often but not always with friends, and invariably he would end up at the Thermae. After that it was back to what was apparently a fairly pleasant apartment, often with a paid companion.

He used to tell us that he spent 80,000 baht a month and he couldn't believe that I earned and lived on just a bit over 30K. He would erupt in laughter whenever I said that 30K was enough for me. His brazen criticism of the seemingly meagre income that myself and a few others managed to get by on back then became grating and eventually I started to avoid the guy, annoyed that someone of his age would enter into such juvenile one-upmanship.

As the NASDAQ soared, so did his investment and so did his spending and with more money available to him, on paper at least, he started living what can only be described as an extravagant lifestyle. He wasn't at all shy to let us know that with the increased value of his investment he had upped his monthly budget to 120,000 baht. And a couple of months later he proudly announced that he had a new, even higher monthly budget, 160K! Yep, he was going to spend $US 4,000 a month in Bangkok.

Sadly for him, 160K a month didn't last long because we all know what happened to the NASDAQ. It crashed and with it so did this fellow's lifestyle. As his investment dropped faster than a gogo girl's knickers, he was forced to move from apartment to apartment, each time moving into a cheaper place, until he finally ended up in the place I am told he lives now, a notorious ghetto full of street walkers.

At the time that the NASDAQ was plummeting, some time in 2001 at the back of the Thermae, myself and a pal spotted this fellow sitting there, watching the world go by, nursing a Coke. I couldn't resist telling this guy that we had been listening to the business news on the radio in the taxi and that Cisco had just dropped 12% in the opening hour's trade. Despite trying to keep a brave face, sweat started pouring off him and in seconds he was hyperventilating. Nervous that I had been the inadvertent perpetrator of a heart attack, I was relieved when he stood up, a little light on his legs, and made his way up the back steps out of the Thermae, probably to the nearest internet cafe to check the latest stock prices. Goodness only knows what had happened to Cisco that day. It might have increased in value for all we knew! This guy, in his early 40s, with an expected 30 odd years ahead of him, had foolishly invested all of his money in a risky sector of the stock market. Financially he was starting to fall apart.

For guys who retire early, money is not the only concern. There are 24 hours in a day, and funnily enough, there are 24 hours in EVERY day. One has to try and keep busy somehow and if one doesn't, Bangkok is the sort of place where you can very easily go off the rails. Guys with too much time on their hands often fall into the naiughty nightlife and from there it can be all downhill. While I haven't seen this fellow in a long time, I have heard that his desire for a more natural feeling has seen him unexpectedly become a father…with a Thermae girl.

Last I heard, he spends his days riding on various buses to the end of the line and back again. He was overheard boasting about how he knew many different bus routes, and how he could get from any point in the city to any other point for no more than 20 baht! His monthly budget is apparently down to 15,000 baht a month.

About 18 months ago he walked past me in the street and gave me a look of daggers. Oh how he has fallen.

David Young makes an excellent point in his most recent novel about the prime time in one's life being when they have that magic combination of time, health and money. I reckon he got it spot on.

I admire the guys who have the balls to turn their back on what might be a lucrative career in the West and retire early in Thailand. In many ways I am envious. If you have enough money in your pocket, the low cost of living allows one a marvellous lifestyle. But if that money disappears faster than you expect, you could find yourself in all sorts of bother. Retiring early to Thailand is hugely tempting, but such a move must be planned very carefully indeed. I reckon the amount of money one needs to do it properly is a lot more than one may initially think.

Thailand has shattered many people's dreams, but if there is one group of people who seem to get stuffed more than anyone else, it is the guys who retire prematurely, or at least the guys who retire prematurely and who do not have sufficient funds to see themselves through the hard times.

Where is this pic?

No, it wasn't a country style bar…
What building is it?
Last week's picture was taken opposite the TQ1 Bar on Beach Road in Pattaya. A few readers complained that it was too easy so this week's pic which is back in the big city is a little different than usual… It was obviously taken from a tall building looking out over Bangkok. I'd like you to tell me the name of the large building in the centre right of the picture. The first reader to correctly state the name of that building wins a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks. So, to claim that prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Iraq is safe, comparatively.

There have been over 1.5 Million injuries [2.4 % of the population of Thailand] and 29,000 avoidable deaths in the past 12 months in Thailand, due to road, work and home accidents, murders and "accidents" during the war on drugs. On a statistical basis, within the age group of the Thai soldiers in Iraq; 2 would be likely to be killed and 34 injured, within the first 12 months of returning from Iraq. On this basis, it would be safer for the Thai troops to remain in Iraq where it is safer, especially over the Songkran holiday. Incidentally, nearly 50% of the deaths that have occurred in Iraq since the end of the official war, have been due to road accidents and other unrelated causes. Fortunately the Thai troops have been confined to their base, otherwise they may have added to these statistics through their normal display of the Songkran driving spirit, or should I say the normal display of spirits during Songkran driving. The Thai troops should remain in Iraq until it is safe for them to return. In fact perhaps the Government should consider evacuating more Thai troops from the South of Thailand to Iraq where they will be safer.
Getting our own back?
Every time I read about or experience the higher prices for foreigners I get a little ticked off. I am not an expat but I visit very often. Here is something I do to make me feel better about the double pricing. It does not get me lower prices but it makes ME feel a lot better. For instance when I arrive at Don Muang I ALWAYS go to the limo stand in arrivals and ask the price even though I have absolutely no intention of hiring a limo. When they quote me the standard 700 baht I walk away without saying anything. I can hear "600", "500" as I walk out of hearing and go outside to the taxi stand. Sometimes I ask the price of an item on Sukhumvit Road and walk off listening to the vendors lowering their prices. As I say it makes me feel better.
Do you eat off the street?
Sukhumvit after midnight is indeed the world's largest open air brothel. It is a sight to behold. What one has to ask though is why these girls are standing on the street and not working in bars. I may be completely wrong but I think there are a limited number of answers to this question : 1. They are underage 2. They are illegal immigrants without ID cards 3. They have some horrible disease 4. They are so obnoxious that nobody will employ them 5. They are part-time freelancers 6. They are waiting for a bus. At least in a bar you have time to strike up some kind of rapport before getting down to business. On the street, you are usually making alcohol-influenced on-the-spot decisions without knowing what you are letting yourself in for. The she might even turn out to be a he.
Cynicism or accurate?
There are teachers, and there are teachers. Many who teach in Bangkok are just spill overs from the sex industry in Thailand…hanging around for the lay, not the job. Teaching, to many expats in Thailand, is just a means to an end. The reason why they are there is for the cheap sex (and I mean 'cheap'), not because they want to teach or like other things Thailand has to offer.
Are farangs to blame for Songkran?
I'm an ex-American G.I. who was stationed in Thailand during the period of 1971-1974. I was at Udon Air Base, Korat Air Base, NKP Air Base. I think a lot of the craziness that you all encounter now was originally started when the American G.I.s first came to Thailand. We all were introduced to Songkran in the old traditional Thai way of sprinkling water on others during the season. Seeing how we Americans always like to take things to the extreme, what was supposed to be a small fun time event turned into gauntlets for water torture. It got so bad that throwing water on anyone in the confines of the Air Base was prohibited as people were soaking wet upon arriving for their work shifts. Outside the Bases it was anything goes. You would have truckloads of Americans riding around town literally soaking anything and everyone in throwing distance. The first day was fun but after that it got really ridiculous. The younger Thai men got a thrill out of it but most of the Thai females just didn't like the barrage of water attacks that were always aimed at them on the streets near the Air Bases, and in the G.I. entertainment areas around town. I personally experienced 3 years of the Songkran Festivals. I thought it was a really great tradition, but unfortunately when alcohol enters the mix then craziness enters in also.
Want the truth? Like most things, it can be bought.
Yet another posting from a guy who believes his own publicity…..the 40-year-old American who thinks he looks boyish and that everyone says he looks 30, at most. Sigh, if only that were true. Anyone sitting in a bar surrounded by Thai lovelies will be told that he looks good, looks young, handsome man etc etc etc. But guys, get a grip. It's part of the sales patter, nothing more. I'm 47 and am continually being told that I look not a day over 35. Bollocks. Want to find out what they really think? Then put money on the table. Here's what I do to get a realistic view. Tell the lovely lady that if she can guess your age to the year, you will give her 1000 baht. If she is a year over or under you will give her 500 baht. Two years either way and it's 100 baht. Suddenly the flattery goes out of the window and they will really size you up. Nine times out of ten I end up handing over money. It's similar to the Connect 4 game that they play in a lot of the bars. The girls are expert, because they play so often, but generally I find I win as many games as I lose. Does it mean I'm a good player. No, it just means they want to keep me happy so that I'll carry on spending money in their bar. Put money on the table and you'll soon found out how good they really are. 100 baht a game is enough. I lose every game. So, if you want the truth, if you really, really want the truth, put your money on the table. Like most things in Thailand, it's for sale!
Are farangs in Thailand under achievers?
Look at the Bangladeshis, the quiet but thriving Jewish community, the Indians and the Africans – they work so productively together and leave all us farangs at the bars complaining about how much we hate teaching but have no aspirations beyond it.
Songkran and technology aren't good friends.
I must have been feeling overconfident about Songkran. After traveling around the city with relatively little problems I ventured to Cowboy today definitely not prepared. One dead 2 day old phone and digital camera lately I have learned a lesson

As is to be expected over the Songkran period cops were out on patrol everywhere. Wherever we went in Bangkok, we couldn't escape packs of policemen stopping traffic, checking documentation and frankly, giving people a hard time. Obviously the recent history of the Songkran period with huge numbers of deaths on the roads at this time of year necessitates checks but I got the feeling that road safety was not the first thing on the cops' minds. Not once did I see coppers breathalysing drivers or checking speed, but rather checking that insurance and tax stickers were up to date. Hmmm.

Despite the fact that a huge banner had been erecting stating that Nana Plaza would be a water free zone after 6:00 PM (who the hell put this up?!), it was pretty crazy with water fighting inside Nana Plaza itself, which of course would be very difficult to stop. The bars I saw were dry inside but it is an optimist who thinks people can be stopped celebrating Songkran. Despite the huge police presence on the roads, there seemed to be zero police presence in and around the Nana area which I thought a little peculiar. Sitting in the restaurant on the ground floor of the Nana Hotel watching all of the water fighting going on outside, one observed that many of the water fights developed into full on fist fights. One I saw concerned an older, very well dressed farang gentleman who was drenched by a much younger farang from behind. After drenching the older guy, the younger farang turned around and started bothering others. He didn't notice the older farang had himself turned around, walked up to him and belted him from behind, sending him flat on the road. It may have been just one punch but it was a Mike Tyson special! Outstanding! And this from a guy of around 60 odd, belting a guy who looked to be in his early 20s. One couldn't help but chuckle.

The sight of really wasted young Thais dancing on the road in packs late afternoon and early evening on the last official day of the Songkran holiday made me a little nervous. Groups of 30 or 40 were dancing in the streets, wasted out of their minds. They seemed to be having a great time but one couldn't help but feel that it would take very little to set them off, and if you pissed one off, the whole group would get involved. A delicate situation.

Just because they purport to offer a slightly more upmarket experience (along with the expected higher prices), don't necessarily expect the level of service offered at the Soi 33 bars to greatly superior to the service in bars in other areas. And don't expect them to handle complaints any better than anywhere else either… A friend made it into Christies this week and after what ensued, he won't be going back. There with a couple of pals, the group had a couple of beers each and at checkbin time, a big argument broke out over the bill. Now one can never be sure of the rights and the wrongs when it comes to what the bill should have been but from what I am told by someone I have a great deal of respect for, the bill did seem excessive. Anyway, not before somebody had taken a few swings at one of the party who was aggressively debating the bill, they thought it had been sorted, though left none too pleased. When they got outside all three were jumped from behind by a number of Thai guys and were given a right seeing to. After a few swift kicks and breaking a bottle over one of the one guy's heads, the pack of Thai scoundrels disappeared into the night. A few soi 33 bars are known for dodgy checkbins although up until now, reports of distorted bills at Christies weren't common. But that this escalated into something much worse is a huge black mark beside this bar's name.

Megabreak Pool Lounge on Sukumvit Soi 4 is staging their biannual 8 ball tournament from the 23 – 25 April. The tournament itself is staged under the direction of, and sanctioned by, The Billiard Sports Association of Thailand. First prize is a cool 100,000 baht and the entry fee is 995 baht. Tickets are available at Megabreak itself or through Thai Ticket Master. The tournament is open for both men and women at any level, so grab the cue and head down to the Megabreak Pool Lounge!

A former owner of the TQII bar in Pattaya is working on a new bar off Walking Street called Shooters. It will be a hostess bar that serves food and the soft opening will be next week with the grand opening on May 8. They have taken the music from TQ2 – classic rock, the good looking girls from Kittens plus added the food concept of Hooters in America and a large screen projection system to show music videos, all in what promises to be quite a place. The location is on Soi 15, Walking Street, about 20 metres up the soi, the same soi that is home to What's Up and Nui Club.

For the original Bangkokchat, or at least the popular one, note the address is .org and not .com – where another chat forum has been erected.

Chicken and duck are still off the menu at The Londoner. Actually, they are still off the menu in some of the big name hotels and restaurants too. While it is nice that such establishments are erring on the side of caution and putting their customers first (as well as eliminating potential law suits), I wonder just when they will put game back on the menu?

"Losing The Plot" is the latest in a long line of novels set in Thailand written by a fellow writing under the curious pen name of Chuckwow. Those of you comfortable in the vernacular will know what this means… I'm still working my way through it but must say I am enjoying what is a somewhat esoteric mix of various tales of life in Thailand. The book can only be purchased online and you can find it here dcothai where it is available for $9.95 = 395 baht. The author says that the first edition is something of a pilot project which has gone well but for the next printing he plans to make some changes. So go out and buy this edition because it might be worth something one day! Redesigning the cover is one consideration and he has even thought of calling himself something different, a wise move methinks. He tells me that he doesn't really see himself as a writer…just somebody who's spent a lot of time in Thailand trying to put my thoughts in order. He's being unnecessarily harsh on himself.

And I must mention Christopher Moore's Tokyo Joe. While not set in Bangkok or even Thailand for that matter, I will get around to reviewing it soon too. Yep, while I know it is not set here, Chris has a huge fan club in this part of the world and they are eager to read whatever he writes.

Thanks go out to UWT4me.com, the newest sponsor of this website, who seem to be offering the best quality cheap international phone calls. In fact they have gone so far as to offer everybody something for free this week. Amazingly (and I can’t see this lasting so be quick) UWT4me.com is offering every Stickman reader $5 of free international phone calls. This is a crystal clear connection with no hidden charges nor obligations. What's more you can use it from landlines, cellphones, apartments and hotels in Thailand or in any other country. Just click on the banner above for more information.

I received an email this week from The Pattaya Expats Club, which was the first of its kind in Thailand, founded three years ago by an expat named Pete Mills who is the current President. The club has grown rapidly both locally through their regular weekly meetings and Newsletter, and internationally through their website at pattayaexpatsclub.com. With the motto ‘Expats helping expats – to live safely, legally & happily in Thailand’, this sounds like a decent club to get involved with. They meet each Saturday at The Green Tree Restaurant which is located on the corner of Pattaya Beach Road and Soi 1 at 11.30 AM. All nationalities are welcome.

A long time American reader believes that he may have found a way for Americans resident in Thailand to reduce their payable tax / increase their refund which has to be potentially good news for American citizens who have Thai "significant others". A search on the IRS website under alien spouses reveals that USA tax payers can use their Thai "wives" as a deduction! The good news is the tax people recognize "common law marriages" i.e. living together so if you are living with a Thai lady and contribute over 50% of her "income" you qualify to use her as a spouse EVEN IF SHE DOESN'T HAVE A SS NUMBER and even if you haven't "registered" your marriage with the Thai authorities. The only catch is in the jurisdiction from where you are filing your tax return. As long as "common law marriages" are not illegal, it would seem that you are allowed to use live in girlfriend as a spouse and common law marriages are not illegal in Thailand. If your girlfriend doesn't have a SS number you must go to the embassy and get an IRS form W-7 and get her an ITN (individual taxpayer number). You will be required to send the form with some identification to the IRS and the best form of identification is her Thai passport. On the website http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw7.pdf it gives a list of identification you can chose to use but you will have to go to the embassy to get it certified or notarized. Applying for the number is apparently really simple, you do your taxes using her as a spouse so you can file as married, fill out the W-7 form and send the form, certified identification, and the tax return to the IRS address listed on the form and you are done. Within a couple weeks you will get a letter from the IRS giving her new ITN and you use that same number in the future and don't have to apply every year. It paid off for this particular reader whose refund was double what it was being single, and no doubt he wished he had looked this up 2 years ago when they started living together! I'm not American myself so not sure about it all – so if any American readers want to let us know how it goes, feel free to do so.

From Mrs Stick comes another interesting quote. "nee sai kong kon Thai did sabai yar leum!" which basically translates as "Thai people, by character, like things to be easy / trouble free. Don't forget it!"

I am often asked why there is no message board on this site and the answer is fairly easy. Message boards take a huge amount of time to maintain, and perhaps more importantly, to moderate. And all it takes is for one person to post something silly and then all hell can break loose. This site will not be getting a message board – and it doesn't need to for there are plenty of decent boards out there already.

What is it about Thailand that makes people seemingly check their brains in at Don Muang Airport before they enter the country proper? I never cease to be amazed at some of the stupid things that people get involved in locally – and it is not always guys losing the plot with the local ladies. Some guys get involved in things that in no way can be blamed on Thailand itself. I recently heard about a guy who invested $100,000 into a scheme where he would apparently earn 15% returns. It seemed profitable and productive for the first year and then suddenly all returns stopped and the investment broker disappeared. To cut a long story short the "investment broker" is now in prison. He had been working in Bangkok for a number of years but this was all an investment con. For whatever reason, a lot of these guys hang around the Sukhumvit Soi 4 area. People are given sales speak of how the investment broker can get the customer anything from 10% upwards on money invested, which captures the potential customer's attention. Because it sounds so good, many trusting people want to believe it. But they foolishly believe their money is safe which of course it is not. No financial institution is offering those rates and in fact in the West you will be lucky to get 4-5 % from the banks. Local banks in Thailand offer less than 2%! Anyone offering more than this is putting your hard earned at serious risk. Most of these so called investment guys are working illegally and that very fact should send a warning to anyone who is thinking of investing. One would expect any professional investment broker to be registered, have a work permit and be associated with a respected financial organisation. If they're not, be very careful…

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Each week, Mrs. Stick answers 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. Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email. Questions for her should be limited to 100 words. Mr. Stick may answer the odd question in place of Mrs. Stick of he thinks he can do a better job.

Question 1: Last night my girlfriend of 6 months and I split up. I am 35, she is 28 – middle class with a strict Thai-Chinese family. It all ended amicably, due to the fact that she wants a husband and I can't offer that to her. The problem is we live in the same apartment building – different rooms, same floor. All the staff know we are a couple, and everyone treats her very respectfully. My questions are a) How long must I wait before dating someone else? b) If I date someone less respectable – will it reflect badly on my ex? Are there any tips you can offer to protect her reputation, but enable me to get on with my life?

Mrs. Stick says: As you have split up with her, you are now free to do what you wish. But it sounds as though you still care. I think that is is nearly impossible for you to avoid making her feel bad, be it dating someone else or seeing someone less respectable. I think it will reflect on you much more than her if you start bringing back women of questionable virtue. The staff in the building will probably even think that she is lucky to no longer be with you! If you want to maintain some semblance of good feeling, or keep some sort of friendship, it would be best if one of you moved out of the building.

Question 2: I have just finished reading a book set in Thailand where one of the main characters describes how she was first raped by her father when she was in her early teens and then by her brother and by her brother's friends for a small charge (already a prostitute?). Does this really happen? Is incest that much of an ongoing aspect in rural Thailand? Later on, the main character gets to enjoy her party with her Dad when they get to cuddle each other! Am I missing something? Is there a particular aspect of relationships between parents and their offspring or between siblings which us ignorant westerners should be informed about?

Mrs. Stick says: What you are talking about is a social problem that happens everywhere. America, England, everywhere. As far as I am aware, this sort of thing may happen, but from what very limited knowledge I have, it only happens in slum areas or very poor areas. I have never heard of this sort of thing happening in a "good family". I guess it is more common in developing countries than developed countries but the truth is, I simply do not know.

So another Songkran is behind us and we can sit back and relax…thank God!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Claymore