Stickman's Weekly Column April 24th, 2005

A Reality Check Part 2


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Reality Check – Part 2

There is something immensely satisfying in taking a large risk for a potentially high return, and succeeding. Moving to Thailand and making a decent go of it represents a significant return to many, a potentially better existence than the one they had been used to in their corner of Farangland.

I took this risk myself when I left a very comfortable position in New Zealand 7 years ago and looking back over this period, I have done ok.

But times change and people change. 7 years in Thailand represents about half of my adult life. When I moved to Thailand, that was what I wanted but 7 years on, do I still see Thailand as the best place to live?

The review of life in my homeland, New Zealand, in the previous column was somewhat positive. While back there I realised that living in Thailand represented a fairly significant opportunity cost and I wrote about that. But that column was written after just a few days in New Zealand. After a couple of weeks in country, how did I feel about the prospect of returning to Thailand?

While not really a valid comparison, because New Zealand is a fully developed country and Thailand is still developing, comparisons between the two countries are inevitable. But hey, if so many Westerners choose Bangkok over the West then perhaps it is fair to look at why? What follows are some thoughts and general comparisons of aspects of life between the two countries.

It's always nice to have a good meal after a long day. Bangkok is known the world over as a place where good food can be found just about anywhere but I believe that New Zealand offers far better food than Thailand! The quality of produce, be it fruit, vegetables, meat or even seafood, is unquestionably better than in Thailand. Wander through a supermarket and the range is far greater than anything available here in Bangkok, be it a supermarket, a fresh market, or even the two combined. Yeah, you might not find some of the more obscure Thai fruits and vegetables, but you'll find a whole lot else which cannot be found here in Bangkok. For variety and quality of produce, New Zealand is streets ahead. Remember, New Zealand, like Thailand, is an agricultural based economy so in many ways this should not come as a surprise.

Virtually every meal we had in New Zealand contained ingredients that were clearly fresher than what one gets in Thailand. My best guess is that what should be thrown away in Thailand, is not. In recent times I've been lucky enough to dine at some fairly decent places in Bangkok including many of the well known fine dining establishments and restaurants in the 5 star hotels. With a few exceptions, they just don't compare with restaurants in New Zealand.

And my pet peeve, coffee. We did not get one bad coffee in New Zealand. (And don't even get me started on the local definition of an iced coffee being an instant coffee with goodness only knows how much sugar thrown in.)

In terms of safety, my feeling is that New Zealand is a lot better than Thailand, although I will qualify that by saying that this one is something of a feeling and it's not an area where clear comparisons can be made. Many Westerners believe that Thailand is in fact much safer than the average Western city, but I for one am not so sure. Crime rates in Thailand are not at the super low levels you'd think they were. The number of homicides in Thailand is actually very high when compared with other countries. And let's not forget, Westerners are not infrequently the victims of murder or various other serious crimes! In terms of safety on the roads, New Zealand is unquestionably better. Yep, you're more likely to return to your parked car and find its window smashed and your stereo missing in New Zealand than you are in Thailand, but you're much less likely to be hit by a motorbike screaming at break neck speed down the wrong side of the road!

Order and justice is one area where you would expect New Zealand to shine and it does. You don't see the police out and about in you travels nearly as often as you do in Thailand, but there is very much an air of "fairness" in the air. You could forget ever slipping a police officer a bribe and the chances of being set up for a crime you didn't commit in NZ? Pretty close to zero I'd suggest. Admittedly, the New Zealand police force is coming under serious scrutiny at home and its popularity is far from being at an all time high, but in this area, New Zealand is significantly better and it shouldn't come as any surprise.

Most things are more expensive in New Zealand, at least when compared to Thailand. An average bus ride would cost 100 baht, and using taxis tends to be done in groups or by those who can get the company to pay for it. Food in restaurants is much more expensive and clothes are dearer too. Electronic goods and appliances are perhaps 30% more expensive. In terms of the general cost of living, Thailand is a clear winner, though there are some things which are cheaper, such as vehicles which are cheaper in NZ.

In terms of income levels, New Zealand is obviously higher, the average NZer making about ten times of what the average Thai makes. But this is not really relevant as the average farang in Thailand earns many times more than the national average. I read in one of the newspapers while I was there that 10% of New Zealanders make $NZ60,000 or more a year, twice the percentage of a decade ago. The problem is that $NZ60K is only around $US45K and that is before taxes. This is NOT a lot of money! New Zealand is not a high income country. More on this a little later.

The "Thai" in Thailand means free, as in personal freedoms. In New Zealand you would seldom get asked to show ID – in fact there is no law that states you must carry any ID. So long as you are of legal age, 18, the same as Thailand, you can buy alcohol whenever you want and in a city with merely a tenth of the population of Bangkok, there are a heap of bars open 24 hours a day. There's also a large, vibrant casino that runs 24, 7. You can walk around in whatever attire you wish and no-one will blink. In addition to the full on nudist beaches, you can even swim topless in a fountain in a major park without attracting attention. Imagine trying that one in Bangkok! Personal expression is not just admired, it is encouraged. Should I go on? Thailand is known as a country where one can largely do as they please yet New Zealand is clearly superior to Thailand in this respect.

From customs officials at the airport who welcome you with a smile, to vendors who greet you but apply no pressure to part you from your money to people who smile at you when you walk down the main road of the biggest city, I had truly forgotten how friendly and downright decent New Zealanders are as a people. For the vast majority of readers who have never been to New Zealand, you might find it hard to believe, but New Zealanders as a bunch are much friendlier than the average Thai, and it should be added, much more sincere. There really is no comparison.

New Zealand's geographic isolation means that the environment is clean, green and second to none. It was a joy to climb hills, get to the top and have a clear view all the way to the horizon without a trace of smog or pollution. With the pollution levels in Bangkok and even other parts of Thailand, there have got to be major health issues here. While I do not want to err on the negative, my one and only true Thai friend said to me "it is only when you go to the West and return that you truly realise what a sewer Bangkok is." These are the words of a Thai!

To be fair, Thailand wins in the areas where we would expect it to win. The weather is warmer (although in my opinion it is too hot, in Bangkok at least), the cost of living is lower, and the big one for many people, in terms of the availability of attractive women and sexual partners, Thailand wins by a country mile.

But in almost every other respect that I could think of, and believe me, there are many I haven't mentioned, New Zealand is a clear winner. There are obviously other areas where Thailand may be preferable to New Zealand and it is very much down to what is important to each individual. For someone retired but with only a modest pension, Thailand would likely be preferable. For anyone who suffers in a colder climate, Thailand would be best. If Thai food all day every day is your preference, again, Thailand is for you.

Despite my glowing comments, New Zealand is not perfect. For one, it's expensive. The cooler weather may be less kind on one's body. Service in restaurants and from various service providers, including restaurants and hotels, was slow. The present government appear to be a bunch of socialists in disguise and my pet hate – there is a horrible air of political correctness (read hypocrisy) in the air.

The economy is booming in New Zealand and there is plenty of work available for anyone who wants it – but there is a very big problem. As mentioned earlier, good old Kiwiland is not a "high income country". Salaries in New Zealand are a fair bit lower than most Western countries, something like 25% lower than those in Australia. And as New Zealand is a relatively small economy with just 4 million people and is geographically remote, prices for many goods are higher than they would be elsewhere, partly due to transportation costs. High costs, low salary. A double whammy. Even with a good job, it seems that many do not really get that far ahead. I reckon to have a merely "decent lifestyle" in Auckland, you'd need at least $NZ 70,000 per annum salary, yet only a small number of New Zealanders earn that.

A lot of readers have given me very strong advice about the idea of choosing to live in Thailand over my native New Zealand. There are those in favour and those against. Each group makes valid points. It all comes down to the individual.

As a guy in his mid 30s who wants to have not just a happy life, but a secure future, New Zealand most definitely offers me that. It's a fine country with so much going for it that I'd have to be blind to consider staying on in Thailand forever. But the money issue is a big one, it really is. Hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders have done the same as me, moved away in pursuit of a better lifestyle, the number one complaint being the low salary / high cost of living. This complaint remains valid and because of this, I see my future, for the time being at least, in Thailand. There's plenty I don't like about things here, and I clearly see New Zealand as a better option long term, but for now, Thailand it is.

I can't help feeling that foreigners living in Thailand should look at their time here more as an adventure than anything serious. The huge restrictions placed on us in terms of rights, residency, employment and property purchase mean that one is a fool to look too far in the future here. Think of your time in Thailand as nothing more than an adventure and you won't be disappointed. I believe that many of us, perhaps subconsciously, are already doing that.

But it is nice to know that whatever happens in Thailand, whatever policies the government introduces, or whatever my personal circumstances may result in, a return to New Zealand would be far from a terrible thing.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Soi Pattayaland 2.

I'm sure you know it…

Last week's pic was taken on Soi Pattayaland 2. While the picture focused in on some non-descript sign at the Second Road end of the soi, I thought the out of focus neon from Classroom Gogo would have given it away. But I was wrong and just a handful of people got the pic right. Each week the first reader to correctly state where the pic is by email to me wins a 500 baht credit from Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks and you MUST state in the email that you are Bangkok based. So, to claim that prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks. Top British thriller author Steve Leather has very kindly provided some copies of his just published novel, "Private Dancer" to give away. So, for the second person to correctly state where the pic is, a copy of the book will be sent to you. You MUST state that you are in Thailand and be able to provide a postal address somewhere in the Kingdom.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Liveable Australia.

Like you I am out of Thailand at present. I'm in Australia at Albury near the NSW Victorian border. Noi and I and our two boys, 11 and 7, have been here for a month now and (worryingly) I also don't miss Thailand a bit. We have been to Sydney Canberra and Melbourne. Australia works beautifully, green clean cities, genuinely friendly people, no traffic jams, no maniacs on the road no raakhaa farang we sleep without air-conditioning, no motorbikes roaring down the soi at 2 AM, no sois littered with junk and dog shit and the air is clean and easy to breathe. My boys spent ages the first couple of evenings staring at the stars, even up in Buriram they are not nearly so bright. Noi and the boys love the wide open spaces and the sporting facilities are great for kids. My boys, who have Aussie citizenship, would have a maximum of 10 minutes to travel to school instead of getting out of bed in time to get the school bus at 6 AM in Bangkok, and their education would be of a better standard and almost free.

Addicted to the job.

Lots of the Thai girls married in New Zealand are still working as prostitutes. Their husbands won't admit it to you but careful questioning will reveal comments like "They work out of town during the week", or "They have a cleaning job at night". All of these guys would have planned to get their girlfriends / wives out of the business by living in NZ. They go back to prostitution in NZ for the money and the excitement. What do they do with the money? Well they don't share it with the husband. They get breast enlargements, new clothes, buy drugs, and send money home to bring out their sister or Thai husband. After sleeping with 4-10 guys a night their isn't much energy left for their husband.

Thais in New Zealand.

The majority of the Thai population in Auckland work in restaurants or menial manual labour (plasterers, chippies, cleaners etc…). And of course there are the whores (and in this bracket I include girls who prey on unsuspecting blokes and have a hidden agenda). Lots of overstayers…relics of the visa free days. There are lots of Thai students, both high school age and university. Hope that helps to validate your observations.

Happy back in NZ.

I call it the boy in a lolly shop syndrome – since I've been back in NZ, the majority of my associates, keep asking how much I'm missing LOS, when am I returning, etc. The truth is, I was Thai-ed out, and this is something most people find hard to believe, as for sure, when you first discover Thailand, along with Nana, Patpong etc etc, you are indeed like a boy in a lolly shop, it is in effect a chance to relive ones youth, – if you want, and most guys going to Bangkok do – regardless of your age, shape, looks – provided you have the $, some sweet young TG will have the time. Perhaps the ideal scenario, would probably be to have a month in Thailand, and then two months back in the real world! At this rate, your interest in bars, girls, etc would probably never wane, and you would still retain your sanity. Unfortunately this type of programme is unavailable to most of us, either we hang out for 11 months of the year, longing / dreaming of our holiday to be spent in LOS, or we take the plunge, and become an expat.

Choose carefully.

So you find a bar with a good ambiance, and a lady who seems to take an interest in you. You buy her a drink or two and you seem to be really hitting it off. Then 'crunch time' arrives. If you are the one who proposes leaving together, you are, most probably, already on a loser. If you pose the question, "You can go with me?" and the answer is anything other than an unqualified YES, you are most certainly on a loser. You will never hear 'No'. This is Thailand, remember, but any other utterance out of those sweet lips means exactly that, NO. (Unless you want to pay 5000 baht of course, which changes everything). You may hear, "tomorrow" – they are Buddhists, tomorrow does not exist, or "I have men" meaning period or, "I have key for room, have to open for my friend". That is another favourite. So save your soul, time and money, move to another bar, and another girl, who needs what you have to offer and never look back.

The secret signal?

As mentioned in your last column, there are plenty of beautiful girls at Siam Square. But contrary to what you wrote, a fair percentage of those girls are ready for "action". My best record is 30 minutes from first sighting to having her back at the hotel room (which includes 15 minutes on the skytrain). I have never implied, promised nor paid them anything. They have never asked nor hinted for anything in return. The only reason I can figure is that they do it for the pure thrill of it. My American friend told me that there is a "secret signal" for college girls looking to earn some extra cash at MBK. As you might have noticed there are many girls (alone) in school uniforms that stand idly around clutching a bright RED PURSE. I have politely talked to a few of these girls but never received much of a response. I am not rude enough to directly ask them. I've talked to my Thai friends about this "secret signal" and they have never heard of it. Is this just a myth?

Self-sufficiency.

I think this will help the farangs to understand about the Thai. I was recently in Thailand and having a discussion with a very pretty and young Thai girl. She was 22. I was trying to teach her about being self-dependent and how she needs to work on her life and learning. She watched me intently to make sure she understood every word I said. I told her the old fish adage. "I can give you a fish today and you will be hungry tomorrow. If I teach you how to fish, you will never have to ask me for another fish again." Her response was: I do not like fish.

This month's Diamond A Gogo dance contest will be held tonight, Sunday 24 April. They are going to follow the same format as last month with the inclusion of the 2 girl tag team section which was so popular last time.

Dave the Rave's birthday bash will be held at Hollywood Strip bar on the top floor of Nana Plaza next weekend. Dave The Rave hosts his "21 Again Birthday Bash" on Saturday, April 30th. Dave is celebrating being 21 again, namely 42 years old. The party kicks off with an extended happy hour where all regular beers and spirits are only 95 baht from 7:30 – 10:30 PM. There is FREE FOOD too with a buffet between 8 and 9 PM. Swing by and enjoy the party!

The grand opening of Rainbow 4 will be on May 6th according to a large banner which has been erected in Nana Plaza. Rainbow Group boss Khun Ming is offering a free buffet and a guarantee of lots of lovely girls. This bar will be massive and it could well be the biggest gogo bar in Nana Plaza, both in size and perhaps in time, in popularity too.

If you find yourself around the Central World Plaza, that's the World Trade Centre for those of you still calling it by its old name, you'll be pleased to know that they are keeping up with Siam Discovery Centre and that free wi-fi access is available, courtesy of TK Park on the 6th floor. You can sometimes get it on the ground floor but it is better if you go up a few floors close to where it is being broadcast from.

It looked like there was going to be a big bust at Panthip Plaza this afternoon. Just as I was leaving, there were about 30 odd cops, most of them not in uniform (but you can spot them a mile away), ready to siege the plaza.

I am reliably informed that it was a wet week at Patpong over Songkran but that things went well. The authorities were good enough to have a water truck driving up and down the main Patpong soi filling large containers with water so the bars could keep their taps off and not lower the water pressure for fighting fires. Tons of water were thrown with no injuries reported. Most of the water throwing stopped at dark but as always there were several jerks that didn't get the message and a couple of farang almost came to blows with some clueless Thai teenagers.

The only bad note for the week at Patpong was that with many police on duty to prevent problems the bars were all forced to closed right at 1 AM, which has not been the norm down at Patpong as it has been in other Bangkok bar areas.

The former McDonald's on Silom is now open as a Watson's store so now your teeruk has two venues to buy her "essential supplies" of cosmetics as the new Watson's is just down the block from the Boots cosmetic store.

Could it finally be the end for Bernard Trink? A notice on his site stated that they are looking for someone to convert his scrawl into ASCII i.e. someone to type up his column to put online. Surely one of his legion of fans could volunteer for the task?

If your Thai gal in lands afar is missing her beloved homeland, get her a broadband internet connection and point her to this link where you can find all of the Thai TV channels broadcast live online. Just don't expect to be able to use your computer ever again…. Click here

The exclusive Stickman news report of a few weeks ago has come to pass and the market on the Pong has been changed and now has three lanes of stalls. If you stood on the Suriwong end of Patpong 1 and had the strength you could send a bowling ball right down the middle of the night market area and on to Silom Road. From the start at the Suriwong end vendors are still allowed on the sidewalks but once you get to the Kiss Bar area there are no vendors on the sidewalks until you get to the area of Thigh Bar. The absence of vendors on the sidewalks make it much easier to get somewhere if you're not interested in the merchandise on sale in the market area and the spaces separating the lanes of vendors are wider than before making it a much more pleasant walk through the market area. The dirty old clear plastic "roofing" material has been replaced with a nice new clean yellow plastic "roofing" and more lights have been added making the area much brighter. The new yellow plastic combined with more open space makes it much harder for malicious vendors to push up and dump dirty rainwater on unsuspecting farang. The only ones not happy are the original vendors who now have less storage space as the open area between rows of vendors has been eliminated and they now only have the space under their tables to store their goodies. This being Thailand they have no recourse and the changes were done without their input.

The work continues on the building across from the Crown Royal bar and it is looking good with the installation of couch type seating and large windows looking out on Patpong 2. Looks like it may end up being a lounge type bar area.

A while back a number of small sized billboards were erected in Pattaya with a strong and somewhat questionable message about paedophilia and what not. Known locally as the "World Vision deterrent billboards", they had many people up in arms with their message, and their placement, which was well away from the main naughty areas of Sin City which thus seemed somewhat inappropriate. They are now being spray painted and torn down by fed up locals. Like so many detractors of Thailand's naughty nightlife industry, factual inaccuracies were included and thus seeing them being pulled down and defaced is good riddance.

Why oh why does the new immigration arrival form ask you to specify how much your salary is?! I really cannot see any reason to tick anything other than the lowest figure. Ticking a higher one almost certainly marks you as someone with money in your pocket, someone who could be exploited more than the common man. Or am I being too cynical?

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Please note that for general bargirl related questions, Mr. Stick might answer them. It has to be said that Mrs. Stick is not your stereotypical Thai woman. She is not Buddhist and she is not shy to criticise things about her own country and culture, although having said that, she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about. Just one thing to consider. Mrs. Stick is a middle class woman from a middle class background and with all due respect to her, Thai people in one class do not always know what is going on in another class. She'll do her best to answer all questions but remember, she'll be looking at it from a middle class point of view! With this week's questions both concerning girls from Korat, Mrs. Stick's own province, she is delighted to answer them.

Question 1: I supported my “girlfriend” while I still used to live in the US with 20,000 baht per month for approx. 2-3 years. She was conveniently able to access this cash by having one of my ATM cards. There were no “substantial abuses” of this privilege of “trust” – just some minor ‘EMERGENCIES’ like “lost my cellphone”. I typically came to BKK 4-6 times per year. Now I have lived in BKK for 1 year and therefore I have reduced her “cash entitlement” to ONLY 15,000 baht per month. This reduction was countered by what appeared to be a “major revolution”. She lives with me 90% of the time – but supports her mother and her 6 year old son in Korat. Meanwhile, I have become more familiar with her “disastrous” spending habits. She owns something like 20+ per of jeans, 30+ pair of shoes – not including those I am unaware of because they have been thrown away, etc etc. She has gone through 6-8 mobile phones over those years. My own spending habits are not exactly “frugal” – my taste for shoes tend be Ferregamo or Bally etc. – but what I buy last for years without replacement. Because of her spending habits, the thought occurred, to further reduce her spending capacity to ONLY 10k per month – or even less. My questions: What is a reasonable “entitlement”? Am I just another farang “sucker” who started a fiasco which now seems impossible to eradicate? I also plan to build “my” retirement home near Korat (on land she owns) – under these circumstances is it “reasonable” to give her only 5k or so – since I pay for everything else anyhow?

Mrs. Stick says: If she was not happy when you reduced her monthly allowance the first time, imagine what she is going to be like if you reduce it even more! This girl really is lucky, and I think there is an air of stupidity about you for giving her so much. Sorry to say that. You need to talk with her frankly and explain that you are not happy that she spends like this. Before you make the reduction, you need to explain things to her very clearly. You also need to ask yourself why you give her the money that you do. If she promises to change, then perhaps you can have a probation period to see what happens but if not, I do not see an easy solution. You have spoiled her and whatever happens, she is not going to be happy. If you and her are quite settled, then things should be ok, but if you are not, I'm sorry to say it, but she might go and look for someone else. Make sure that the money you give to her is to make her life better, but not to be wasted. Giving too much money can be a bad thing and can be counter-productive. You need to educate her on how to use it properly, such as saving and supporting her family. And on the subject of her spending, even me as a professional, I do not have nearly that many clothes or pairs of shoes! She needs to understand that!

Question 2: I want to send some flowers to a lady friend in Korat. She is the accountant for a big company and is not in any way a 'bargirl'. I will be sending the flowers via Interflora or some such other organisation. The question is how much should I expect to pay for the flowers, not the whole delivery charge? If I send too small a bunch I will be considered a cheapskate and if I send too big a bunch I risk embarrassing her.

Mrs. Stick says: A big bunch is good, but obviously you have to consider what is most suitable. A bunch of nice flowers is better than a big bunch. I answered a question recently about the suitability of certain types of flowers for different occasions and you should go back and read that answer. If you were to buy the flowers in Korat, they would be cheap, really cheap, but if you organise it online, I imagine the price will be many times more expensive. As a basic guideline, white or yellow roses show friendship and red shows something stronger.

I'm sorry for the missed column last week. After trekking all around the New Zealand countryside chasing sheep, I just did not have the energy to write up a column, and I was also horribly short on news. Hopefully that will be the last missed column for another two years.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Claymore, Dave The Rave and Bkk Grasshopper.