Stickman's Weekly Column August 22nd, 2004

The Passport Fiasco


The reports about police fining more than 100 foreigners at Q Bar for the dastardly crime of failing to carry their passport on their person have got many Westerners resident in Bangkok talking. If there are two words that you hear frequently amongst those discussing the subject, they are police state. Is this an over reaction or is it fair comment?

Q Bar was raided last Saturday night by the police. All customers were drug tested. Once tested the customers were stamped on the hand so they could leave but upon exiting they were then asked for their passport. Copies were not accepted. No original passport and down to Immigration they went. Apparently a good number were hauled down there. If you were one of those people you had to arrange for someone to bring your passport and you stayed until they did. Those who did not have their passport on them were given a 1,000 baht fine. It all started around midnight and some people did not get out of the immigration department until after 5 AM. Great for business and great for tourism… One has to say that Q Bar is not the sort of place you expect people to get hassled. With a 600 baht cover charge, it just is not the sort of place that typically attracts the riff raff.

To understand the situation a little better, one needs to look at the law as it applies to Thai nationals. All Thai citizens are issued with an ID card from age 15 and are required to have it on their person at all times. If stopped by police they may be asked to produce it. If they fail to produce it, they may be fined. It all depends on the person in question and the copper.

When it comes to foreigners, the Thai police and authorities obviously need some way to A) identify who a foreigner is and B) establish if they are in the country legally or otherwise. Foreigners resident in Thailand are NOT issued with a Thai ID card and there is no standard ID card for us farangs. May of us have a local Thai drivers licence or workplace ID which is often accepted to identify who we are, but this does not help the police determine if we are in the country legally or otherwise.

Obviously, the only way they can verify the legality of a foreigner's presence in Thailand is by checking the foreigner’s passport. Allowing a foreigner to present the Thai police officer with a document ranging from a driver’s license to any other form of somewhat official looking ID would create a potential myriad of problems. The Thai police officer could not be expected to know whether the ID was genuine or not. It’s a difficult situation. A passport is a precious document that should obviously be safeguarded and having it on one’s person all the time likely increases the risk of loss. Further, in the heat of Thailand, carrying a passport on you every day will likely see it die within a year or so.

For women, this is not such a problem because they can keep their passport in their handbag but for guys who do not typically carry a bag, it can be a major nuisance. But even if one is traipsing around town with their passport in some sort of bag, there is the increased risk of losing it or having it stolen.

I seldom have my passport on me. If ever I go out of Bangkok I make a point of having it with me but in Bangkok, seldom is it on my person. It is quite simply too cumbersome and if lost it would be a major hassle (and expense) to get a new one. I truly believe that the chances of one getting asked to produce their passport on demand in Thailand are rare. And while the Thai police might not have the best reputation, at an individual level when there has been no crime committed, I have found them to generally be helpful. I am quite confident that I could talk my way out of a police officer trying to fine me for not having my passport on me. Showing them a current Thai drivers licence and a Thai workplace ID would definitely help. And even if one was to be fined, it would likely not exceed 1,000 baht.

What happened at Q Bar makes me wonder if the police were trying to make a point to the management of the bar, or if there was something else going on that perhaps we are not aware of? Police hassling Westerners and demanding to see their passports remain as isolated cases as opposed to the norm. I really doubt that it will change. If it does, oh my goodness, it might just be the clincher that really does make tourists choose to go elsewhere.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic.

This week's pic.

It was Rachadarmnoen Road.
Mmmm, hungry already!

Last week’s pic was taken

on Rachadarmnoen Road, out towards Khao Sarn Road and the Grand Palace. I thought it would be too easy but only about 10 people got it right… Each week the first reader to correctly state where the 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 EMAIL INBOX:

Fat, pushy women.

It's hardly surprising business is bad at Nana and other places. Having been living here for some time now I have never seen such a bunch of ugly, fat, pushy Thai women in my whole life. What ever happened to the feminine ideal I once knew? Why don’t the bars do something new or interesting? Half the bars you walk in are so lame and boring, staffed with mingers that it’s a wonder anyone goes in there at all. I barely go to the naughty bars at all now, preferring pool bars where the atmosphere and scenery is more palatable. In my opinion the police don’t need to bother cracking down on the gogo bars, the bars are doing more damage to themselves than the police have ever done.

From the author of "The Big Mango".

I had to smile when I read Trink’s comments about me in your column last week. With his smug disparagement in mind, I reread the review he had written for the Bangkok Post when THE BIG MANGO was first published a few years back. This was what he said then: “THE BIG MANGO is a full blown work. There’s no room for improvement. It’s as good as it gets.” But now he says that the book was “all right,” although he didn’t really like it because I don’t understand Bangkok. “It’s got this Buddhist thing, temples and monks,” he helpfully informs us. Jeez, and you know I never noticed that. Anyway, regardless of all that, why would the idol of sweaty, beer-soaked bar trash everywhere suddenly develop such a terrible memory? Let me tell you. It seems there was a character in THE BIG MANGO who had a job similar to Trink’s so, back when he wrote the review, the Mouth of Klong Toey naturally assumed that was intended as a personal tribute to him, human colossus bestriding Thailand that he is. In fact, the character was a pretty slimy fellow, and when in a later book it became clear what a bitter, angry old fool he actually was, our intrepid reporter suddenly got the joke and started frantically pissing all over me whenever he had a chance. Too late. Gotcha, Bernie.

From the "only in Thailand" file, the ladyboy who gave birth!

How about this for a nasty scam? Last night, while in a bar on Walking Street, a girl came around with a very young child asking for money. A couple of guys willingly gave. Not me. I looked at the child and the girl, noticed that the child's skin was considerably darker than the supposed mother. When they had gone, I mentioned this to one of the bargirls. She said that the supposed mother was a ladyboy and she borrows a different child every night to carry out this scam. My suspicions were proved correct and then some. If I knew the money was going to the child, I would willingly give. But Thailand is not exactly the best place in the world to give charity to children.

A Thai compromise.

Last Thursday evening, we went to Gulliver's on Sukhumvit Soi 5, which holds itself out to be a bar and restaurant. We were told that we couldn't go inside. The reason: I was with my 8 and 10 year old nephews. The doorman said that we couldn't go in because of the police. Just a minute? Wasn't Thursday Mother's Day? (surely a family day?) and wasn't alcohol banned on that day? And isn't Gulliver's supposed to be a restaurant as well as a bar? All we wanted was some decent food in the restaurant part, which does a great mix of Thai and foreign food at reasonable prices. I know it's hard for Thais to understand, but 8 and 10 year old European kids don't always think Thai is the best food in the world. Not allowing children into restaurants doesn't exactly fit with the idea of attracting more families to Thailand. Luckily the Gulliver's staff did a "Thai compromise" and told us we could sit outside!

Farang cop wannabes.

The Pattaya "volunteers" mentioned are the latest in user friendly law enforcement. They are basically members of a rather large group of expats here who have adopted a self-righteous "clean up our community" campaign…with the auspicious goal of turning Pattaya into a family oriented resort community. Of course every one of these folks first came to Pattaya with anything but family thoughts on their minds but now that they live here and have settled down with their favorite bargirl (who is now a respectable married woman) their Western morality has kicked back in and now they want to make Pattaya something it never was or will be. So basically these clowns help the Pattaya police bust fellow expats who step over that arbitrary line of "decency" and participate in sting operations to shake down katoeys on Beach Road. For those of us who accept, approve and love what Pattaya is really all about…sanuk maak maak…these clowns are a joke and a pain in the ass…just more self-important farangs who have moved to Thailand and taken it upon themselves to change it to be more to their liking!

Change the name to Joy Mai Mee Ngern Bar?!

Last Sunday evening I left Joy Ngern bar at midnight. There were two customers. I looked into Moonshine, Jungle Jim's and Fanny's each of which had zero customers. I was comparing notes with a guy who spends nearly every night out in a bar somewhere in town. We agreed that in the last ten years we have never seen the bars so quiet. Yet the hotels are apparently full. My guess is that the hotels are full of package tourists from Asia and the Middle East who spend very little money during their stay. (Certainly the number of Arabs around the Soi 3 area is incredible and they are certainly not bar animals).

I guess foreigners have funny shaped heads.

There was a hairdresser's inside the school I was working at, so I decided to visit between lessons. A very pretty girl started to crop my hair using the electric clippers (if you're balding I find it better not to try and hide it!). Shortly after starting, she buzzed a chunk out of my right ear, and blood began to flow down my neck. She was very embarrassed and called over another girl to hold a piece of tissue over the cut. Everything was fine until she started on the other side where she cut an identical piece from the other ear! So a third girl was called in to stem the flow on this side. There was now a strange dance while the three girls tried not to get in each others' ways while still holding the tissue, and cutting my hair. Finally she finished and I paid up (including a tip because I am such a sucker for a pretty girl who is nearly crying!)

The pub previously known as Blue Wave next to the Marriott will be named Bully's Pub and is expected to open before September 15. A darts room is being added in addition to the pool tables. Missing will be the blue and mirror interior. They have made a long bar and added booth seating areas. There will be a drink rail outside overlooking the walkway, so you can catch the girls walking by. A nice touch.

Many Nana Plaza bars have received their new licenses, actually two of them, one for dancing and one for the girls to be able to sit with customers. 50,000 each for a total of 100,000 but the costs don't stop there. There is another 10,000 baht for each licence to be renewed each year. Official receipts come with the licenses, if that means anything. They also require photos, bios and fingerprints of all staff.

A couple of bars in Nana recently decided to update all of their records. They requested all staff provide a passport size photo, a copy of their ID card and fill out various details of personal information. This was for their office records only. Guess what? About 25% of the girls refused and quit the job! Their response was that they didn't want the bar keeping records. Some girls were scared that at some time in the future they might want to apply a visa to go overseas to accompany a new benefactor and obviously thought that disclosing such information would affect their visa application. No assurance that the records would not go anywhere else would convince them otherwise. Bye bye!

After a comparison between the Londoner and The Dubliner from a reader in last week's column, more than a few readers were prompted to write in about the way that staff at The Londoner handle people wishing to dine on quiz night, but not actually take part in the quiz. Regular customers felt put out by the way they were treated on quiz night in so much that they could not get a table and were seated at the bar, even though all of the tables never filled up. I was surprised that so many people would complain about the same thing but the numbers suggest it is a real issue. Quiz night at The Londoner is the second and last Tuesday of each month.

The owner of Bus Stop assures us that the rumour that the property was sold is not true. It seems Bus Stop is here to stay. Good food and a nice place to hang out. When asked why there is no music, she responded that the customers could hear music everywhere and that she didn’t want to be the same.

Next weekend the election for the new governor in Bangkok will be held and bar owners are still not sure if Nana Plaza will be ordered to close over the election days, or just not permitted to sell alcohol. As seems to be the case these days, I dare say they will not know until the last minute but my feeling is that the bars will be open, and cola will be the order of the day…

Friday night started out with all the bar owners down at the Pong expecting to be open until 2:00 AM, but come 1:00 AM the word was passed down from the cops to close at 1:00 sharp! Does anyone know what is going on? In addition to all of the usual anxiety, it must be a real headache being a bar owner or manager at the moment.

With all of the confusion over closing times, I note that that the gay guys don't get bothered but us straight guys do. Silom Soi 4 bars have been told to close at 1:00 AM just twice, but have been assured that this will not happen again and that 2:00 AM is the norm. Silom Soi 2 bars and clubs have not been told to close before 2:00! What is most interesting about this is that there have been nights when the bars in the main Patpong sois have been closed, but the bars in soi 4 remain open until late! Surely they are all in the same district, watched over by the same bunch of boys in brown? When we see this sort of thing happening, one has to wonder if it is a crackdown on bars in general or perhaps it is really a crackdown on prostitution?

Angels Disco aka Nana Disco is packed to the rafters as they have a one hour advantage over the bars who must close at 1 AM. They are making the most of it.

In Pattaya, the 2:00 AM closing time has been the norm for ages, EXCEPT for Pattaya sois 7 and 8 where all night drinking – and I mean to 8 or 9 AM – is a daily occurrence, with police often firing up their livers in the bars too.

And down in Pattaya, one really has to wonder about the new farang manned department of Thai Immigration! Yes, you read that right! While they had been operating in the past as Tourist Police Volunteers (stenciled on their T-Shirts), the farangs whose role it seems to be to assist the Thai police are now designated Immigration Police Volunteers. Maybe all and sundry in Pattaya will be asked to produce their passports on demand?

The SuperStar bar in Patpong has had an infusion of very good looking dancers and some of them dance with abandon so if you haven't been there in a while it might be a good idea to drop in before all the new ones are gone again. Genuinely pretty girls don't last long in the bars these days.

Electric Blue was jumping Friday night. It was the birthday of one of the mamasans and things were going at a hectic pace. It was standing room only and one could hear the music from down the street.

I have always avoided introducing a discussion forum to this website, knowing that it would require just too much time to keep it going, and also knowing that there is a real risk of all sorts of nonsense appearing on it. One has to feel sorry for Phil over at Ajarn who had made a sterling effort with the Ajarn discussion forum. Unfortunately, it was hacked last weekend and after resurrecting it, it was hacked again. Phil has finally had enough and after much deliberation has decided to allow someone else to run it.

A friend went to Angel Witch this week and saw the Spiderman show and said it was very good. You have to see it to fully understand it apparently, whatever that might mean. The mind boggles.

A reader asks: What is the best compliment you can say to a Thai girl who has heard "I love you" a thousand sorry times? I have absolutely no idea….anyone got any pearls of wisdom to offer?

The distinctive entranceway to Timbevati Lodge.

A most impressive venue has been under construction down in Sukhumvit Soi 33 for a while now. The strangely named Timbevati Lodge encompasses an African themed restaurant, a sports bar a la Sukumvit Soi 33 style, a swimming pool and soon also a boutique hotel! The entrance to the whole complex is a couple of hundred metres into Soi 33 on the left where you will see these gigantic replica ivory tasks forming an entranceway. This venue has huge promise and I really hope that they do well. It has the potential to bring a lot of business to soi 33. The restaurant has been open for a short while and an announcement regarding the opening date for the bar should appear in the column next week. The hotel is still being worked on and should be open before the end of the year.

It is the never ending debate – how do the naughty bars compare nowadays with the past. A lot of us think they have taken a big slide and are nothing compared to the past but there are just as many guys who say that there has been little or no change. This week I saw a video taken in some Patpong gogo bars from the mid '90s. The quality of the tape was rough and one could not really see clearly if the girls were more attractive back then or not. But what was clear was that the girls actually danced, with vigour and enthusiasm that is. Few bars can lay claim to that these days. Show me a bar where you can find girls dancing who do not seem to be bored out of their minds.

There are many stories on this site about Western guys getting ripped off by Thai women, and the worst surely are those where the guy buys a huge great big house in the girl's name and gets booted out. Of course in land purchases (not condos, they're different) it has to be in her name. But a lot of guys also tell stories of losing the car too, because it was also put in her name. There are NO restrictions on vehicle registration so you can out it in your own name. Now how many wished they had known that…?!

Did you see that ad in the personals of the July issue of Baht & Sold? It started off as "Millionaire seeks long-term relationship. I am a mature man." He then went on to say that he was looking for a woman much younger than he was, from 18 upwards. You have got to wonder…

True, the pioneers of cheap broadband internet connections locally, are now offering wi-fi connections in a number of popular locations including shopping malls. 500 baht gets you unlimited wi-fi connection for a month, a good price I reckon. If you pay by the hour however, you'll part with a cool 180 baht an hour. 500 baht an hour unlimited is great, but why is the hourly rate so steep?!

Way back in the column of 19 May, 2002, a story was run about a German fellow who was in a Thai limousine that rolled on the motorway. He was having problems seeking redress from the insurance company and his email was listed in the column, asking for assistance. Well, after two long years, good news has finally come.

My friend and me did not give up and took this company with the help of a lawyer to the court. It took more than 2 years altogether but at the end we won today and got justice, what means a nice compensation money for both of us.

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: About 2 years ago I met my girlfriend in Thailand. She is living and has a good job in Bangkok. I work there about 5 months every year and plan to find a job and live there permanently. But currently I still live in Europe for the remaining 7 months of the year, so I suggested that she'd come over and visit me some time. She would really like to, but her mother says we have to get engaged first, otherwise she will not allow it. My girlfriend is 35, it seems a bit old-fashioned to me, but there you go. My question is which legal and social implications come with an engagement in Thailand? In my home country (Germany) engagements have gone out of fashion since about 40 years. It used to be a party for friends and relatives, the engagement rings were presented and that was about it. The wedding would usually follow months or sometimes years later. What does an engagement mean in Thailand? How does it actually work, would a dinner party with family + friends be OK? Does her or my legal status change in any way? What's the story with the dowry, I suppose that only comes into effect with a wedding not with an engagement?

Mrs. Stick says: The engagement ceremony is usually held at the home of your girlfriend's parents. It can vary from but there will usually be the presentation of an engagement ring and some gold. The engagement ceremony clearly signals to the family your intention to marry their daughter. You could look at the presentation of ring and gold at this stage it as a down payment and the wedding as the completion of the contract. It is usually a small, private ceremony with only members of the family and perhaps some very close friends present. Often it is held in the morning and there may not necessarily be any party at that time, though you could organise something and I'm sure there wouldn't be anyone who would complain. I don't know about the legal status of partners after an engagement ceremony but think there is no change. Every engagement ceremony is different but they are usually very brief. With some couples the engagement ceremony is held the same day as the wedding.

Mr. Stick adds: Some Thai families want a dowry paid in advance of the wedding so that they have some sort of "security" in the case that you do not get married. You should note that Thai law is very clear that in the event that the marriage does not place then dowry paid "in advance" must be returned. Of course, in some circumstances it may be hard to seek the return of money that has long since been spent…

Another week, another column. As always, your feedback is welcome.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Claymore, Basil Brush and Dave The Rave.