Stickman's Weekly Column May 2nd, 2004

Friendly Advice Or An Elaborate Hoax?


Thailand message boards and discussion forums have been in a frenzy this week as panic has set in amongst a number of the farang population of Thailand. Attention was drawn to a relatively new website, Thaiimmigration.com, which appeared to be a new website set up by Thai Immigration for the purpose of providing information to foreigners to make their stay here easier.

There was a discussion forum on the site and people were invited to send in questions which would be answered by the Thai immigration authorities in the forum. One question in particular caught many people's attention. It was sent by a gentleman who said he'd been making visa runs for a long time and he asked about legality of all of this. He was given a lengthy reply which said that while visa runs per se are not illegal, living in Thailand on tourist visa after tourist visa was questionable. The response went on to say that anyone making continuous visa run after visa run would likely be questioned at the entry point in Thailand as to what they were doing in Thailand and how they were financing their stay. If they were able to prove that they were bringing in funds from abroad, 30 – 40K baht per month the mentioned figure, then they would be allowed to enter. However, if they could not prove that funds were being brought in from abroad, it would be assumed that they did not have the means to support themselves or that they were working locally without a work permit, therefore illegally, and would thus be given a non extendable 5 – 10 day visa which would allow them time to tidy up their affairs before exiting the country. Furthermore, they would have to wait 6 months before entering the Kingdom again.

The responses to various questions asked in the discussion forum were thorough. The person responding was polite, friendly and informative. It seemed that every effort was made to be helpful. But there were a few things that didn't quite add up, a few things that made me think that something wasn't quite right here. First of all there were the technical issues:

– It was a ".com" address. While such a web address is plausible, one would have expected a bona fide Thai government web address i.e. one that ended .go.th.

– The whole look and feel of the site was very much "farang style" and I couldn't help but feel the site was made by a farang, and not a Thai web designer. There is absolutely no reason to get a farang to design a website hosted in Thailand as there are many excellent Thai web designers.

– The site had a message board on it. What government department would put a message on their website? There was a Thai message board but that seemed to attract little traffic. While this is a useful mechanism to help anyone who has any questions to ask, it is quite unusual.

– The website was registered with what appears to be a German domain name provider. Now why would the Thai government register one of their websites with a German firm? And it would seem the site is hosted by a Danish company, whose website is all in Danish.

– Nongkhai Immigration, who this site appears to have some affiliation with, already have their own website at Nongkhaiimmigration.com.

And then there were the language factors:

– The English used on the website was just too colloquial to be that of a Thai. The person on the discussion forum had a chatty style that even a Thai national educated abroad with flawless English would not likely pick up. The writing smacked of being from a foreigner BUT his written English wasn't perfect which probably helped because…

– What I bet threw a lot of people was that the guy's English had the odd mistake and this may have been mis-interpreted as evidence that the writer was a well educated Thai – but whose English while excellent, was not quite perfect. However, any English teacher with experience in Thailand would know that the mistakes made by the writer were not mistakes typical of a Thai learner of English, or even a Thai national who had studied English to a high level.

– But perhaps the biggest issue of all was that the person was able to talk at length about the English teaching industry and certain factors within it. What's more, it seemed that they had a few issues with it. While I am sure that there are some officials within the Thai Immigration Department who have a good knowledge of the teaching industry, I doubt any of them have an axe to grind, as this person seemed to.

With all of these factors in mind, I reached the conclusion that all was not what it seemed, and that something funny was going on.

At times I get fed up with some of the nonsense that goes on in the online world. While the internet really has revolutionized our lives like they said it would (and will continue to do so), there is something about the non personal communication of it all that provides people with a perceived anonymity. This notion of anonymity and therefore impunity prompts some people to do some odd things online.

I maintain that the internet is horribly insecure and the anonymity that some people think they have when they do certain things online is non-existent. Unless you really know what you're doing, almost everything you do online leaves a trail. From internet service providers to system logs to the machine that you accessed the net from, a trail of evidence is left.

Some people believe that hiding behind an anonymous website or email address preserves their anonymity. Don't ever make this mistake! Unless you are something of an internet genius, internet security is about as good as Maxwell Smart's cone of silence. In fact Maxwell Smart's device was probably more effective than the internet security that most of us have.

So, just who is behind the site? A farang masquerading as a Thai government official? Or is it a bona fide Thai government site? Or perhaps someone else?

When responding to various questions on the discussion forum, the person answering used the words "we" and "our" which would make one think that he (or she?) was either an official of the Thai Immigration Service or acting on their behalf. Could it be a ploy by Thai Immigration to infiltrate Farangdom, sort of like how the casinos went after card counters by hiring them to actually teach and inform them what was going on. Is this what the Thai Immigration is doing? As unlikely as it sounds, it is possible. Or perhaps it is something much more simple and innocent such as a farang who has friends or family within the Thai Immigration Department and has erected this website to help out.

In fairness to whoever made the site, they did a very good job with the immigration laws posted clearly in English. And in terms of answering questions, they did an excellent job, applying both the law and common sense to the questions asked and replying politely, courteously and indeed, thoroughly. He even informed of certain new procedures to be implemented, and gave people ample notice and warning to get their affairs in order.

What he wrote online was taken very seriously by many people and I received a number of emails from readers about this issue, particularly people who have been coming and going on tourist visas for a long time. These people were very upset at the idea that they might be asked to leave. Having said that, anyone living in Thailand perpetually on tourist visas has to be kidding themselves if they think that they can do that forever.

Is this website the work of a farang? If it is a farang, the big question for many is who is behind the it all? Clues point to it being someone currently teaching in Thailand, not a native speaker, and not based in the capital.

If it is Thai Immigration who have made this website themselves, then they have done an excellent job creating a user friendly website that offers excellent advice, unlike many government websites (from any country). Whatever the case, some of what was discussed on the message board serves as a timely reminder to foreigners employed in Thailand to make sure that they have a work permit and that their visa is in order.

Where is this pic?

It was Sukumvit Road, near Nana!
A popular spot.
Last week's pic proved to be very difficult and I was surprised that so few people got it right. While it was taken more than 7 years ago, it was of one of the most central areas, Sukumvit Road, taken from very close to the Landmark Hotel, looking east. Pre skytrain days, look how quiet the traffic was! This week's pic is a popular tourist spot. The first reader to correctly state where this week's pic is 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:

If you still dare do visa runs…

One place I would like to inform your readers about is the wonderful city of Kunming, China. I do a lot of my marathon training there since the altitude is 1900 meters. It's good for a Visa run since there is a Thai consulate in the city. If you need some cooler
weather, it's great and prices are very reasonable.
Porky Pig
Yeah my weight has increased too. What do I put it down to? Not sure but in England if somewhere was 1/2 an hour away a would walk it. Here unless you want to arrive somewhere dripping in sweat you don't walk. Economy of movement is the key I think, and the shed loads of beer I drink.
Cheapest of the cheap.
A Thai friend who is a travel guide related to me a good story about a cheap tourist. Last year he had a group of tourist from the states, many had never travelled internationally before. As he put it this was the cheapest group he had ever worked with. It was an inclusive tour: all lodging, airfare, ground transportation, land transport and most meals. Not covered where drinks including water. He asked the group not to bring water from the hotel (free) to the restaurants sense this was the only thing they had to pay for and the restaurant would make a little off this. Needless to say they brought the free water in to the restaurant. Ray being the nice guy he is gave the restaurant owner money to cover the lost sale of water. This happened several times. So one could point the blame at the inexperienced tourist, the tour company for reducing the price of the tour so low it attracted such cheapskates, the Thai companies who agreed to lower there prices to attract such cheapskates, or we could blame 9/11 or SARS for causing a drop off in tourism, that caused the Thai companies to lower there prices, so the tour company could offer such low prices to attract such cheapskates. In the end Ray survived the tour from hell, put all the cheap asses on the air plane back home and I am sure a few Thais where happy with the sales they had made.
Censorship or misprint?
The A section of every copy of the Bangkok Post was pulled from the stands today Friday the 30th. There was an advertising cover and then right to the motoring section. At my local news-stand the woman who sells papers said that someone came around and collected all of the A sections but she was not told the reason why. Anyone know the reason why? I assume it was either a huge misprint or some serious censorship (my guess). The website seems to have the stories from the A section as well.
Correlation between weight, and getting laid?
As everyone knows, we put on weight as we get older because our body becomes less efficient at burning up calories. Most of us can get away with abusing our body till our mid-20s after which time regular exercise and sensible eating / drinking patterns are necessary for weight control. When we get into our 40s the situation gets even worse and you have to work twice as hard as before for the same results. What follows may sound like a crackpot theory to some but in countries where it is easy for foreigners to get laid (e.g. Thailand, Cambodia, Jakarta) the expats there tend to dress badly and get hopelessly out of shape. However, in countries where you have to work harder at getting a shag (e.g. Korea, Japan) and where there is more competition from other foreigners,
expats tend to dress better and work out regularly, even if they never did before they arrived in the country. I think that anywhere in the world, it helps to keep in shape and dress well if you want to get the better (-looking) girls.
Skanky!
Ok, let me be honest…as an expat living in a richer Asian country I come to Thailand on holiday and occasionally partake in the flesh of a less than virtuous woman. Usually as I am relaxing and swimming, etc etc at some southern island or such. I never went to go-gos or those type of places like beer bars. I usually just meet people here and there. Yes, I am handsome (not to toot my own horn) and athletic and have been sort of a playboy all my life in the west. I thought that Bangkok may be a new frontier so to speak. In another country the women are more affluent and many pay my way. In Thailand of course every one is "handsome". That being said, I decided to stay around Bangkok for once and do the Nana thing. Boy was I in for a treat. It has to be one of the nastiest, skankiest places on earth and I can't see how anyone would want to spend much time there. Even if you are not a handsome man in this country you can easily meet others who will give you what you need. Why risk reputation and respect to publicly tool around with these women. I can see why Stick would not want to go down that road and easily smooth out his existence and be with a better calibre of woman. Some of you guys might want to look at your lives here and see if you have a life outside this environment. If not….it's a shame.
Sing is changing too.
It is my sad duty to inform you that your recent comment about the Singapore govt crackdown is indeed having a disastrous effect on certain establishments. When I mentioned your article to a long standing friend, who has been described on another website as a man who perambulates around the region and who describes himself as a major contributor to ASEAN wealth re-distribution, we decided to investigate – purely in the interests of research you understand. My friend, after having acquired a large personality injection courtesy of the nearby ATM, and I wandered in Orchard Towers where we made a beeline for the bar on the 2nd floor we call 'the mother load' due to it's unfailing ability to delivery a quality product. To say we were disappointed is an understatement. My friend who's motto is 'the ugly ones try harder' walked out in disgust leaving half a jug of beer and this from a man who drinks in 'industrial quantities'. Grab-a-Granny night would be my best description and I reckon that is being too kind. Orchard Towers is not the only place suffering. Tanjong Pagar, which can best be described as one of the more distant Philippine provinces on account of the large female Filipino population, is noticeably down on quality and quantity in the Karaoke bars. Talking to the locals it would seem that the govt is not only preventing them coming in to the country but actively raiding the bars and deporting them as well. I have a theory for the reason of the current situation; could it be that the recently publicised fact the Singaporean birth-rate is now well below the sustainable population birth-rate, that the govt is sending a signal to stop practising with the foreigners and get on with the real thing at home? It wont be the first time the govt has tried to boost the 'productivity' of
Singapore Girl.

Following on from the opening piece of today's column, it seems that even prior to the recent discussions about visas that more than a few folks are taking the work permit / visa thing seriously. Two friends have told me privately that they are packing in their part-time work because it doesn't come with a work permit. They feel that the price to pay for working illegally is just too high. And they do have every reason to be concerned because a workmate told me this week of how his apartment building, located in what can best be described as one of the city's outer suburbs, was visited by the local branch of the boys in brown. Do you have any Blacks, Arabs or Farangs living here, the security guard was asked? The police then went and asked to see the visas of the said folks. I wonder what ever happened to the Chinese and other foreign nationals in the building?

I was really surprised when I heard an ad on the radio from the Immigration service, in English, stating very clearly that it was illegal to lodge your passport with an agent for the purpose of getting them to update your visa. Yes, this was an ad on the radio! I don't know if anyone even offers such services these days but given the furore over this type of thing in the second half of last year, I'd be surprised if anyone is doing it any more.

And just to show that there really is a visa crackdown of sorts, rumours have come in that some of the travel agents et al who arrange runs to the border and back same day for the purpose of updating customers' visas are having their vehicles stopped by Immigration officers and everyone has to show their passport. Beware if your visa has expired!

Nana Plaza was positively pumping last night with many bars doing a great trade, none more so than Hollywood Strip on the top floor. There is a real buzz when a bar that size is packed. While I didn't stick my head in every bar, I'm sure nowhere had as many customers as Nana's biggest bar.

PlaySkool in Nana Plaza will be reopening in one week. The building team have been working long hours to get the job completed, perhaps other bars' construction groups could learn a thing or two from them.

Rumours abound that three Soi Cowboy bars will be closed for one or other infringement of the law but for the time being it would seem to be business as usual.

The US navy guys have started arriving in Pattaya in small numbers, but more and more are due as they prepare for their annual military exercises.

The restaurant on the ground floor of the Nana Hotel is a well kept secret. The Thai food is very good and reasonably priced – or at least it was. As is often the way in establishments that cater to tourists, when the menu gets updated, so do the prices. Price rises of around 10% are palatable but the Nana Hotel has been greedy and a lot of items on the menu have gone up by 30 – 40% yet the food, service and decor all remain the same. With most customers in the restaurant being hotel guests who have flown in with a stack of cash in their pocket, the price increases probably won't even be noticed.

The International Beer House on Sukhumvit Soi 23 has finally closed, making way for yet another condo building.

The girls in Joy Ngern bar in Cowboy are wearing some interesting outfits on certain days of the week. Standard bikini tops but the bottom half is a triangular apron. This bar has some attractive new girls whilst other similar bars seem to be relying on a more mature and rounded staff.

Rumours abound of how difficult it is for a Thai woman to get a visa to go abroad, with the American embassy supposedly the most difficult of all. An Aussie friend took his girlfriend along to his embassy recently where they applied for a tourist visa for her. He didn't think it would be granted because once upon a time she had worked at Soi Cowboy. He thought he'd give it a go nonetheless. When preparing his girlfriend for it all, he told her that he felt that it would be best just to be honest about her background, and if she was asked about her employment history, to mention that she had, for a very short time, worked in the industry. They had various documents to show that he was quite capable of looking after her financially and they also had a number of photo albums to show that they have been a couple for some time, and that they have toured all over the Kingdom together. To cut a long story short, she was totally honest in the interview about where they met and this notwithstanding, the tourist visa was granted. Thumbs up to the Aussie Embassy. Funnily enough, I heard of another couple who applied at the Aussie Embassy for the same type of visa and lied about where they met and guess what, the visa was declined!

The little shop house Thai restaurant opposite the Old Dutch on Soi Cowboy is rumoured to be changing in to a beer bar. If true, it is a pity as their food was excellent.

The offer of $5 free phone calls for every $20 purchase is still running.

A reader advises that there is an outdoor market between Lang Suan, sois 4 & 5 that has a large selection of ties at either 3 for 100 baht or 5 for 100 baht depending (on what I am not sure as they seem to be the same types of ties). The tie man is only there on Thursdays at lunch time however. Apparently the quality is good.

Some bar owners and managers get a real hard time, and often they are all unfairly tarred with the same brush. The bad reputation that some have may be warranted, but there are plenty of good guys out there too. In the early evening of New Year's Day the cashier from Big Dog's Bar was riding on the back of her boyfriend's bike when they were hit by a taxi. She was in a hospital on Rama 4 for 2 weeks and now has a vision problem with one eye and needs additional treatment. Her mother was the mamasan at Hollywood on the third floor for quite a while. The staff of Big Dog's put together 10,000 baht and Boss Hogg, the owner, matched it with another 10 for 20,000 total – and they made sure it went directly to her hand not the boyfriend or mother… The Boss saw her last month and assured her she always has a job as soon as the doctor says its ok…whether she is needed or not. Great stuff!

Running reds is so common in Thailand that it is a wonder that there aren't more accidents at intersections (as if there weren't enough already). Stuck at the lights and bored one day, I counted the number of seconds between one direction getting a red light and the other direction getting a green and was surprised that it was a lengthy 7 seconds! I guess they have to make it this long as some people are running the red 2 or even 3 seconds after it has changed.

Where do you find the most expensive beer bars in the Kingdom? I would have thought somewhere on Phuket, most likely on Bangla Road, but it would seem that I am wrong, if the report from a friend who ventured to Krabi is anything to go by. Standard drinks in many of the beer bars there are 120 to 170 baht! Actually, I have had a few dud reports about Krabi recently and while I have never been myself, what people tell me abut the place and the attitudes of many of the people in the tourism industry hardly inspires me to go and check it out myself.

Last Friday, just after noon, a reader was climbing the steps at the entrance of Sukhumvit Plaza when he was tapped on the shoulder. He turned around to find a policeman standing there with his hand out, saying “cigarette” in English, and motioning to indicate that one had been dropped and therefore he would be subject to a fine. The policeman was told in Thai that he didn’t smoke, which made the copper realise two things: 1. That, since he spoke Thai, he was not a tourist and might therefore be a bit more difficult to extract a fine from and 2. that he doesn’t smoke, which might make it difficult for him to make a case that a cigarette butt has been dropped. To his surprise, the policeman then simply smiled and walked away. Several readers have mentioned a similar experience in the same place so I think we can conclude by now that this is a well developed scam. As such, all farangs in the area of Ploenchit Center on Sukhumvit should beware. I often see Westerners or Asian tourists stuck with the police in that area, frantically trying to negotiate down the fine!

A bit of sad news. Ken, the gentleman who was in urgent need of the O-negative blood, passed away Monday last week. I know he would have liked to express his thanks to all the people who both gave blood and who where willing to do so. The cancer finally got him but he did get the chance to bare the sickness a little longer and have some of his family from America visit him. The other fellow who started a list of O-negative donors gathered 28 names. Anyone who wants to have their name placed on the list can email: [email protected] or [email protected]

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: Why is it that EVERY time I compliment a beautiful girl on her looks, she responds, "Mai soo-way"? Never an exception. Are they trained to respond that way? Do they really feel they are not pretty-even when they obviously are? Is it modesty? In the West a lady simply would say, "Thank you"; here they call us "Bak wan".

Mrs. Stick says: Thai women compete fiercely against each other and looks are very important to Thai women. There are many beautiful women and we may not feel we have all of the features that we consider beautiful such as white skin, a nose that isn't flat and that we have taken good care of ourselves such as our skin, hair etc. Also in Thailand it is not considered polite to say lots of good things about yourself.

Question 2: I'll be heading into Korat province and would like a little info as to what things there are to do. I have heard of Khao Yai national park and the Khmer ruins in Phimai. What other attractions are there (such as dinosaur fossils)? What is local nightlife like? Strictly karaoke bars? I'd probably stay 1 or 1.5 weeks before heading off to Nongkhai and into Laos.

Mrs. Stick says: There is much to see in Korat. There are many temples and in the middle of the city is the Ya Mo statue which many people come to visit. You can see the old temples at Phimai and also closer to Korat City you can visit Phanom Wan. If you like these types of temples, you could do a day trip to Phanom Rung even though it is in Buriram province. There are many nightspots but most are smaller than what you might expect in Bangkok. A lot of venues have live Thai music. There is a quieter place where some farangs go with a German name but I can't remember what it is called. 1 – 1.5 weeks is a long time to stay in Korat.

So, what is the status of your visa? Are you legal? It isn't that hard to get a one year visa in Thailand (work permit, investment, retirement and marriage all help you to qualify) so do yourself a favour and get legal.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick



Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Basil Brush