Stickman's Weekly Column June 19th, 2005

When The Unexpected Occurs


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Things break down. Promises are broken. The unexpected occurs. Shit happens.

When things go wrong, what sort of confidence do you have that they can be put right again? No, this is not an ad for insurance.

What level of confidence do you have in seeking redress, fair resolution or even compensation, when things go wrong in Thailand? If you're anything like me, you do not have the same level of confidence, or faith in the system, that you'd have back home.

I admit that I groan loudly when things go wrong in Thailand. A faulty appliance means a trip to the store where it was purchased, and where the assistants who were super helpful and friendly when making the sale inevitably become none too pleased to see you.

Troubles in the household mean calling a tradesman who will say he'll arrive at a specific time but will almost certainly be late. Of course, the one time you think he'll be late and shoot off for a quicky at the Star Of Light will be the one day he is actually on time. And when he does eventually arrive, the sight of a white guy will make him think he's won the lottery. It's time for the white guy to become scarce and for you to leave the Mrs. on patrol to deal with it.

It is hard to get things attended to promptly, and getting faulty goods fixed can be a pain, but these are issues you can live with. What about if you have a really big problem? If things go bang, what are the different types of recourse available?

Obviously it all depends on the situation and the way you'd approach returning a faulty appliance would be quite different to the way you'd approach a landlord who hadn't returned your hefty deposit or an employer who was trying to diddle you.

Talking things through with a Thai is never easy. In fact, in many cases, and as damning as it sounds, it just isn't possible. Thais simply do not like to be told that they, or someone connected to them, have done something wrong. If you are the aggrieved and you start accusing them of something or pointing the finger (even if it is totally justified), the odds are that you will get nowhere. Perhaps you want to get them to admit a wrong of sorts and negotiate some sort of resolution or settlement. Good luck! In the Land Of Face, this is a big ask.

What about a trip to the small claims court? The small claims what?!

So you decide that you want to take legal action. Your first visit will be to either the boys in brown or perhaps a lawyer. The boys in brown are inconsistent and their degree of efficiency ranges from fairly good to not too great at all. I, and I am talking personal experience here, have found that they cannot be relied upon all the time.

What about retaining a lawyer? Well, lawyers in Thailand are not the same beast that they are in Farangland. Many lawyers in Thailand deal with every aspect of the law. Yep, everything. Specialisation seems to be something that happens at the better law firms though if you hunt hard enough, you can find a good lawyer – just expect to pay A LOT!

So now, you've got yourself a lawyer. The whole way legal issues are dealt with in Thailand can be quite different from what we are used to in the West. Let's take the case of a friend who went through a nasty divorce in Thailand. The other party seemed to put more effort into producing and displaying her academic qualifications and credentials than actually directly defending her questionable actions – and the court seemed to take more interest in the said documents than what she had done! That he didn't have as high a level of education as she did counted against him.

Some of the decisions of the courts can be a little inconsistent and while judges generally have a reputation for fairness, some decisions do not always go as one may expect.

So, you've tried to do it right, but you failed. You're furious and you're thinking about retribution. You've heard that a hit costs 5,000 baht and you'll get the person who did you wrong sorted out once and for all.

Think again! First of all, a hit costs a whole lot more than 5,000 baht (add a zero on the end and you're in the ball park) and while life is cheap, anyone who goes down this path is opening themselves up to the sort of stuff that nightmares are made of, to say nothing of the bad karma! You just don't wanna go there, period. If you even think like this, you're playing a dangerous game.

Dealing with problems or seeking redress or compensation in Thailand can be very difficult indeed. It seems that sometimes it just isn't possible. I often feel that living in Thailand is very much like defensive driving – you have to try and avoid the problem before it happens, because if it does happen, good luck trying to fix it!

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the burger joint at ChokChai Farm.

Back in Bangkok…

Last week's pic was taken of the burger joint at the ChokChai Farm on the main road on the way up into Isaan. GREAT hamburgers there and well worth stopping at. There are three prizes available this week, one for each of the first three people to email with the correct location of the pic. The first is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. The second prize is a signed copy of Steve Leather's cult novel set in Bangkok's bars, "Private Dancer". The third prize is a beautiful hand-cast, crafted sandstone sculpture offered by BKIThailand – for this prize, you MUST be in Bangkok. Unfortunately, these prizes are only available to people in Thailand now – either resident or tourist. If you would prefer one particular prize over the others, please do not be shy to tell me! Next week we should have a new prize available, exclusively for the Pattaya readership. More next week!

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Unbranded beer.

Last week a reader made comment that his beer arrived without a label on it. It should be pointed out that restaurants and bars will do this on religious holidays, to create the image that they are not serving alcohol. I noticed the same thing during the Buddhist holiday at the end of May – beer bottle with no label, green bottle means Heineken, brown is Singha, etc.

Naughty Penny!

The story of the gentleman who received a beer bottle without the label on it reminded me of an incident at a bar in Khao San Road in 1997. The bar's name was the Penny Bar. It was directly across the road from the police station. Its proprietor was a middle aged Thai women who wore a bee hive hairstyle and copious amounts of make-up. Mutton made up to look like lamb, you might say. The beauty of the Penny Bar was that it was an outdoor bar with only 5 seats so you quickly became acquainted with every one drinking there at any particular time. There was no toilet there, so you had to use the toilet at the police station across the road to relieve yourself. I noticed, on my regular visits there, that Khun Penny rinsed out all the empty beer bottles before she placed them in the crates. I thought nothing of this at the time until one night I was drinking there and the Singha beer tasted a little odd (nothing unusual in that, I hear you say). Once again, I thought nothing of it. The next day I returned and the Singha still tasted odd, only this time there were bits of gold paper floating in it. Rather than complain, I decided to observe Khun Penny a little closer. It took no time to realise what was happening. She was washing out the empty Singha bottles and filling them with beer Chang (presumably to save money), and some of the gold paper from the Chang bottles had found its way into the Singha bottle. I protested loudly which only resulted in complete denial from Khun Penny. I couldn't go on drinking there. I would have been living a lie.

Why are teaching salaries so low?

I read with interest your comments about English teachers. One phrase springs to mind: "pay peanuts, get monkeys". I wonder why this concept is so poorly understood in Thailand. If the supply and demand situation is weighed in favour of teachers as much as you suggest, surely market forces should be driving up salaries. If salaries increased more people (and better qualified people) might choose to teach in Thailand rather than Taiwan, Japan, Korea or the Middle East where the salaries are more lucrative.

300K not enough?

I was very interested in this week's column and your difficulties in hiring good staff. I have the opposite problem (farang vacancies with no takers)! I find this particularly surprising as the salary is circa 300K baht / month, plus various other benefits! It looks like LOS doesn’t have the pull it once had (or maybe the pull of even bigger money in the west is too strong).

Don't blame the farangs!

I was very surprised by the Thai lady's tirade against farangs in general. While I agree that Thailand's image suffers from publicity surrounding prostitution, I disagree that it is the fault of the farang. There has been prostitution here long before the arrival of the farang. The problem for Thailand is the advance of mass communication means that ANYONE with internet access can see what is available in Thailand and much of it refers to the red light areas. However, I must also disagree with her assertion that Thai people don't approve of farang people; that simply isn't true. I don't know why…..if my country had an influx of foreigners who were taller and richer than most locals, we would hate them, but Thailand isn't like that.

Postcard from Vietnam.

In the last couple of years huge changes had been going on in Vietnam. The number of backpackers, tourists and even English teachers to Vietnam has increased dramatically. Of course, there is a reason for that. English teachers coming here because the wages are more than reasonable ($12 – 18) compared to the cost of living in Saigon or Hanoi. No hassles with work permits or visas and most of the schools don't ask for a degree or a TEFL – they even employ non-native speakers. Beer is cheap (1 litre= 1,500 Vietnamese Dong – $1= 15,800 Dong), the countryside is beautiful and the girls are as hot as hell. I'll bet that in the future a lot of tourists decide to go to Vietnam…

Don't give your passport to anyone!

Many people apparently don't look at their passport and the text printed on it. If they did, they'd realize that the passport is the property of the issuing government and not of the individual. That means it's illegal for anyone other than the issuing government to confiscate your passport, and the embassy officer is 100% within his rights to demand its return regardless of what the person named in the passport has done. Only a court of your home country or an embassy official can confiscate your passport legally, and a lot of travelers don't realize it when they stupidly hand over the passport.

Following on from the fire in Nana Plaza late on the night of Saturday 11th June, most bars in Nana Plaza were without electricity for the following two nights. The electric finally came back on, on Tuesday night. Bar owners were livid that the management of Nana Plaza tried to cut corners and use their own electrician initially to fix it. He failed and the Electric Co. had to be called. Bars that are on different electrical circuits were unaffected; namely Lucky Luke's, Big Dogs, Mandarin, Carnival and one or two other small bars near the entrance. After waiting hours for each of the two nights, staff from the majority of bars were sent home. A lot of bar owners were screaming at the amount of money they missed out on – and some girls weren't too happy either. There were a heap of girls milling around out the front of Nana, sort of looking like lost sheep, not knowing what to do. For guests of the Nana Hotel, it was a bonanza!

Rainbow 1, never known as a "show bar", is now doing shows on Friday and Saturday nights. The girls are wearing clothes, but it's good to see that Rainbow One are at least trying to provide varied entertainment. Truth be told, they don't need to – the bar is rocking! Mamasan Ann's girls are currently performing a couple of shows that are choreographed and directed by Ann, the new mamasan.

One of the things I really like about my corner of Farangland, New Zealand, is that most things that the authorities do are sensible, or understandable. You might not always agree with them, but you can see that there was some reasoning involved. Here in Thailand, sometimes it is a little more difficult to see just why certain decisions are made… In the latest assault on fun in Bangkok, the boys in brown told EVERY bar in Patpong with pool tables to not allow play without the "proper license". Even small bars with just one table have been forced to cover the tables and no pool is being played all at the Pong. No-one know what license they needed or how much they would have to pay! It's amazing that pool tables have sprung up all over the Pong and people have been playing pool for years and suddenly they come up with a need for licenses… It's hard to believe really, but then I should never say anything is hard to believe in Thailand. But then in another surprising turn of events Friday night pool was back on the menu at the same places that were forced to stop play on Thursday night. No one seems to know how they all got the new licenses required in one day. Only in Thailand!

And the madness isn't confined to Bangkok only. In their efforts to re-kindle tourism to this deserted island of Phuket, the police on Friday night raided Rio's on Soi Bangla. They stopped the music at 12:30 AM and made all the girls line up and take a piss test. At least they did not follow them into the bog. Each girl registered, was given her cup and dutifully went off, filled it and returned it, all under the scrutiny of a farang – a chemist, or what? Do the southern authorities think that this will reboot the ailing Phuket tourism market?

On Sukhumvit Soi 6, rumour has it that the farang who owns Alex bar enjoys fighting his customers! This is causing bad feelings in the neighbouring bars as it is hurting trade. Apparently one of his neighbours had to get the pepper spray out on him recently to stop his rage! Don’t mess with Alex!

Diamond A Gogo will run their next in house dance contest on Thursday 23rd June. They kindly invited me to venture along and judge but the absence of a work permit for said role meant I had to decline….so sad! Even when the management offered the winner to me for a few hours, I had to decline…. They drive a hard bargain down there….

To shed more light on the big story about Diamond A Gogo being raided a couple of weeks back… Rumour has it that Ricky, a part owner, was in the bar and a farang volunteer asked one of the staff to speak to the manager. The staff pointed out Ricky and the farang volunteer shook his hand, at which point the police immediately came in and took Ricky away! If this is true, and I have no reason to suspect that it isn't, the farang tourist police volunteers will not win themselves many friends doing this sort of thing. (I sent an email off to my contact in the farang volunteers asking about this and am awaiting his comment.)

Following on from the prediction that a heap of girls would follow mamasan Ann from her previous position at Hollywood 2 to Rainbow 1, an astounding 25 now girls have gone across. I wonder if Johnny still thinks it was a good idea to give Ann the chop?

Nightly rains, brief as they are, continue to clear the otherwise dense crowds along Pattaya’s Walking Street and Beach Road. But few tourists are ducking for cover or revelry in any of the hundreds of bars and clubs scattered around Fun City. Even the most popular bars, gogos and discos have seen business drop in recent weeks, and this weekend was even worse.

Numbers were down north to south, from the revamped Kittens Gogo bar in Naklua – long deprived of clientele and hoping to boost income with the addition of many new dancers some time soon – south to the heretofore overcrowded Peppermint A Gogo – where even skin and 45 baht draught attracted only enough customers to fill little more than half the room.

Highly rated gogo bars like Diamond and Carousel offered titillating shows and cheap draught, but nevertheless drew sparse audiences.

Many Pattaya based working girls are escaping the local seasonal doldrums, seeking greener pastures in Samui, Phuket and – when they can gain entry – even Singapore, where they can earn two months income during a one week stay. The exodus is reflected along Beach Road and in a number of clubs and beer bars throughout town. Of course, they'll tell you that they have gone home to visit family, or that it is time to harvest the rice fields…

Many Westerners living and working in Bangkok rightfully moan about the low rate of interest their money earns while deposited into a local bank account. Many also don't like the idea of having their cash denominated in baht as they plan to return to their corner of Farangland one day – and it would be preferable to have it in their home currency or perhaps another major Western currency. Well the interesting thing is that while you may only get 1% or so on Thai baht accounts, you can get much higher rates of interest in accounts denominated in a foreign currency, but held at a Thai bank. Check out this link which shows that accounts held in most major currencies will earn much more than the 1% Thai baht accounts earn. You can easily earn 4% or more on accounts denominated in Kangaroo dollars or pounds sterling.

Down at Big Johns in Soi Thonglor, they're preparing themselves for a busy July. On July 4th they'll be helping their American friends celebrate with BBQ'd, Hickory smoked, ribs & chicken, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, apple pie and ice cream – all for just 200 baht. Yikes, that seems cheap. On July 1st (the little known Canada Day) they'll be serving FREE Poutine to all Canadian drinkers and their friends. Poutine, a heart attack in a bowl…

Down in Hua Hin, I asked myself the same question I ask myself every year, "Just why don't I spend more time down there?" It really is a great little town for relaxing. I note that it is fairly quiet down there and anyone who was thinking of venturing there for the bars would be best advised to go elsewhere. There were few customers in the bars – and very few staff too. In fact, a fair few bars had closed, whether that was for good or just for part of the low season, I don't know.

A new firm is offering a mail collection / mailbox type service in Pattaya. They have an agreement with the post office who have issued them with a license to operate a post box service. The post office normally would not allow this as it is competing against them, but all their post boxes are full. The customer buys a post box from the company which then issues them with a key, number and address. When their post arrives it is stored in their own secure personal box (there in the office). But what is great is that they are sent an SMS text message letting them know that they have mail. For more details, click below.

Some weeks back, I mentioned and recommended a new website called ThaiSchoolWatch. It had been set up as an alternative to Ajarn, a place where teachers could actually come out and say what it was really like to work at certain schools. And people did. They come out and gave a few employers a right roasting (and a few schools were given the thumbs up too). Some questionable establishments didn't like appreciate he negative feedback and threatened to take legal action against the owners of ThaiSchoolWatch. I was surprised to see that the owner of ThaiSchoolWatch relented and has effectively closed the site. The Watchman, as the webmaster called himself, had done a great job to conceal his / her identity so any legal action would have been somewhat difficult – just who would they have served papers on?! Anyway, it is a shame to see the site go. One of the oddities of Thailand is that it is seriously unwise call a spade a spade.

Included in the emails from readers in last week's column were comments from the husband of a Thai women living in London who said that his wife would not buy shrimps from any of the tsunami effected countries for fear that they may have been feasting on human remains. To allay your fears, I am reliably informed that shrimp from Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia is all farm raised. The small amount that is caught in the ocean, is all domestically consumed. This means that there is no possibility that even one shrimp that ends up in a supermarket abroad has eaten even one dead body. Unless of course, the dead body is floating in the farmer's pond. I'm sure old Somchai would notice that…..wouldn't he?!

A new restaurant in Chiang Mai, called Rock'n Pizza opens tomorrow. They claim to have delicious pizza, spaghetti, lasagna, pasta and appetizers and will play DVDs of rock music groups – 60's to now, as well as any UBC sporting events. If you mention that you read this column – just say you're a Stickman reader, you'll get 20% off the bill (excluding premium and select bottle whisky). The offer is valid until 4 July 2005. To get there, travel down Kotchasarn Rd., take a left onto Loi Kroh. The restaurant is about 100 meters on the left, right next to Raming Lodge. Rock'n Pizza, 15/7 Loi Kroh Rd, Chiang Mai. Oh, and tell me what it's like.

The Farang Show are looking for you to help them out. They are searching for farangs, male or female, who are currently living in Thailand and who have interesting nonfiction stories about their life in Thailand. The topics they are looking for include first impressions, love, marriage, overcoming obstacles, attitudes, living the dream, in the workplace, misunderstandings, the language gap, acceptance and inspirations. You can submit more than one non-fiction story if you wish, and all correspondence should be sent to [email protected]. Successful stories will be made into a 5-minute short film to be broadcast on Thai TV in which you will have to appear on camera. Somehow I think compelling the sweet, pure, innocent Stickman readers to appear on camera might drastically reduce the number of people willing to help out….

Remember the interview I ran with the tourist police farang volunteer in the column a few weeks back? It would appear that a few mistakes were made and that they requested a few bits and pieces amended. Hence, what follows is an addendum to that piece and corrects a few errors it contained. All of this is from the same fellow I interviewed.

We can't arrest anyone, NOT can. Also I would like to point out that under Thai law, even regular police can NOT arrest anyone with out a warrant, aside from when a serious crime has been committed and the suspect tries to flee. In most situations when a Farang or Thai citizen is involved in an incident that could be considered serious enough for possible charges, the police will ask you to go back to the police station. It's also advisable on less serious charges to go with them but legally you don't have to go. But this being Thailand, I advise your readers in trouble to stay calm, stay respectful to Thai police especially and don't make them lose face. You will, most likely being farang, get better treatment than most Thais. Make sure you get an interpreter so as to minimise misunderstandings and if despite all this you feel unfairly treated, insist on contacting your embassy or a lawyer.

Whenever possible, ask for a tourist police officer as they are trained to deal with farangs and more likely to help you get the outside contacts you may need. As far as kill joy operations are concerned i.e. enforcing the moral and closing times, firstly it's not the tourist police's concern. This is a matter for the regular police, who by the way know what's going on everywhere, or can easily find out. And they have their own policy of if and when they do a raid. I'm sure you have opinions on why some are raided and some not. We farang volunteers are told to keep away from these places while on duty. We are not involved ever on undercover operations to see who is doing what, as that's already known. We are involved in undercover however on drugs and child abuse offences stings, and we don't apologise for that. We are here to help our fellow farangs enjoy Thailand in safety. That doesn't extend to criminals or criminal behaviour. Remember, they are a danger to you as well.

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!

Question 1: I'd tried, in my last round of Thai lessons, to get the Thai translation for deja vu. My teacher and I were going somewhat astray, as she was trying to explain the essence of past lives coming through in remnant memories, going into the issue of the transmigration of souls. Try as I might, I couldn't get her to quite follow the issue of precognition at the visceral level. So, my question to you and the Mrs. would be, how do the Thai, with their culture, consider deja vu? Is there such a term? And, if there is, what is the history of the word? Is it something from Pali, or is it a borrowed term from elsewhere? Or native to the Tai Lao?

Mrs. Stick says: I believe that there are some high level language words that mean this, but I'm a bit embarrassed to say I can't remember them! I don't know that I have ever heard Thai people use the words before and so I think this concept or idea is not really a big thing in Thai culture. From my personal experience, I have had the feeling of deja vu before. Sorry, this is a really hard question to answer!

Question 2: I have been happily married to a Thai girl these past five years and live upcountry. My wife has an older brother whom she calls 'phi', of course. But I am older than her brother and call him 'Nong'. My wife said this is wrong, and as I am married to her and he is older than her I should call him 'Phi'. Is this right, do I take my wife's age as the reference point or my own, older age? I might add that the whole family still call me 'Khun Fred' despite my protests. My wife says this is to show respect so the other villagers will show respect. I wouldn't mind 'Lung Fred' if they feel I am too old to be 'Phi Fred'. I call her parents Mae and Paw.

Mrs. Stick says: It depends. Some people "calculate" whether they are pee or Nong strictly from themselves so in a case like this, you would be right to call him Nong, as your wife says. Nut others might not feel right about that. Your wife is right in that yes, it would be showing him respect. I guess you have to do what you are comfortable doing as in this situation, either could be considered appropriate.

Once the column goes up online, that is usually it. I don't usually make any changes or any additions, except for correcting typos. Last week was a little difficult. A few hours after the column had gone live a regular reader kindly sent some pics of the fire in Nana Plaza. As this was the leading news item in last week's column, they were added. This was a little unusual as normally I will leave the column as is and not change it once it is up.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper, Mr. Write, Gapton and Claymore.