Stickman's Weekly Column June 18th, 2006

Non-Expat, Non-Teacher, Non-Investment Success Stories



For many, securing a well-paid job in Thailand with some degree of job security is akin to finding the holy grail. It could mean the fulfillment of a dream to move here or it may mean no longer having to survive on what feels like an increasingly meagre English teacher's salary.

But not everyone is fortunate enough to have what it takes to really make it in Thailand. Few work for a company that is going to send them to Thailand and pay them in a month, what an English teacher earns in a year, to say nothing of a housing allowance, car, driver and my favourite, a "hardship allowance"!

And not everyone has the money put away, or possibly not the get up and go, to start up their own business, or buy an existing one.

Without a certain amount of expertise or experience, or a lot of money in the bank, it can become a lot more difficult to make a go of it in the workplace Thailand.

So just how easy is it to succeed in Thailand if: A) You refuse to join the masses and become an English teacher and / or B) You are not in a position to get transferred out here on a full expat salary and package and / or C) You do not have the money to either buy or start up your own business?

Despite all of the horror stories we hear of guys being stuck in front of a blackboard for years, a good number, that is guys who didn't have any particular expertise or a lot of money to invest when they first came, do actually make it. What follows are a handful of short profiles of guys who have done the hard yards and managed to make the most of their opportunities in Thailand.

The Aussie Apartment Man

He's been living in Thailand for some 25 odd years. He grew up outside of his native Australia and had stints in a number of different countries including New Zealand, and various spots of Asia.

Like many of us, he started off as an English teacher and did this for a period of time, before doing some writing for a number of publications in Thailand.

He was asked to do some running around for a friend to find a property for them, and before he knew it, he realised that there was a market for someone with his local knowledge to provide full real estate services. He eventually found his feet and now runs one of the most popular online real estate agencies in Thailand. Unlike many others who have an online presence, his agency is truly online – he doesn't even have an office.

For him work is a lot of fun and he seldom experiences that most evil of feelings, the morning dread of facing the work day ahead. Much of his work seems to be liaison between Thai sellers and farang buyers. Unlike many of the local based Western real estate agents, many of whom could be grouped into opportunists, or real estate agents in the West, he is fluent in both English and Thai and uses this to his advantage.

Truth be told, I do not know just how successful he is, but money never seems to be a problem for him. He lists and sells some very pricey properties, and with his income made up of a percentage of the selling price, he must be doing ok. He changes vehicle every two or three years – and you never see him in anything small and cheap. Remember, vehicles aren't cheap here in Thailand. The business must be a financial success, but more than anything, he seems to really enjoy it.

Champion Teacher

Another long-termer, he moved to Thailand almost two decades ago back when he was still a spring chicken, with none of the grey hair that he has to dye away these days. A bit of a jack of all trades with entrepreneurial flair, he came to Thailand with some business experience and success in his native England. After a bit of this and that, he found himself in the precious stones industry in Bangkok. No, he wasn't peddling those stones, the ones that you could sell for 500 times the price back home, but genuine stones which are something of a commodity, and for which Thailand is one of the world centres of trade.

After a run in with Immigration which saw him sent packing and on his way out of the country, he returned and found himself back, this time in a shirt and tie, and with a piece of chalk in his hands. Something of a let down compared to the precious stones he had been handling on a daily basis.

He battled away as an English teacher, back in the days when it was much, much harder than it is these days, two hours in traffic to get to work, and just as long to get home – and that was when it didn't rain. Teaching in classrooms with no air-con at a time when white faces were more of a novelty than something to be taken seriously, he well and truly earned his stripes.

His lucky break was to come in the late '90s when he contacted the webmaster of a newly launched Thailand teaching website and started to write a few contributions. He launched his own very popular site but later went on to take over the teaching website. He took it from a jumbled, difficult to navigate site into one which has become a huge brand name, the centre for English teachers in Thailand, and was able to realise its potential.

His expertise running the site and transforming it from something of a laugh into a serious resource and a commercial success has reaped many benefits along the way. He no longer spends all of his time teaching undesirable contracts, but rather can choose where and when he wishes to teach.

The success of the site has produced profits which have allowed him to venture out into other, unrelated ventures where he has also tasted the sweet taste of success.

The Odd Couple

These two English guys moved to Thailand just a few years ago with the idea of enjoying the lifestyle while living off the fruits of their investments from back home. They enjoyed traveling a lot but nowhere was more fun and enjoyable for them than Phuket, so they decided to relocate to the tropical island.

Keen travellers, they would always seek out boutique style hotels, those which wouldn't break a tight budget. So it was no surprise that their initial plan was to start up a small website that provided an online reservations system for all of the budget boutique hotels on Phuket. An office was found, a person was hired, and they started it up.

Business took off and they had to seek out some technical specialists as things were growing so fast that they needed to get everything automated, and not do everything manually as they had in the beginning. They had a Thai friend in Bangkok who went down to Phuket to join them. Such was his technical knowledge and enthusiasm for the project that they took him on as a full partner.

The business just grew and grew and grew and what was supposed to be something of a sideline to keep them a little busy and provide a small amount of discretionary spending money has turned into one of the largest online reservations system companies in Thailand, and one which is now expanding with reservations possible all around the world.

I cannot imagine what sort of income they derive from the business, but the business itself, which has only needed a moderate amount of investment, must now be worth a significant amount. In just a few years they have developed into a company with more than 100 employees. Most of all, they really enjoy what they are doing.


Down Under Detective

A fellow countryman of mine, he lived a very colourful life in Thailand for many years. He did the hard yards so to speak, from working in the horse racing industry to hotel management in the Isaan area for the best part of a decade where he picked up not just the Isaan dialect but a good amount of Khmer too.

His travels in that part of the country included the odd venture over the border into Cambodia including one in which he crossed the border into Cambodia in a vehicle, and returned on foot, his vehicle being appropriated by men in red bandanas! These adventures in what was Thailand's wild west prepared him for his next venture.

Having lived in the Isaan region for a long time, he knew the women of Isaan perhaps better than most, and saw the difficulties that Western guys were having with them. With no small amount of charm and the aforementioned proficiency in the language (he'll also tell you that his ability to consume plenty of Jack and retain a smile at the same time were part of the mix), a certain Mr. Olson was able to build up an enviable reputation as a top notch investigator specialising in cases where Western men have "bargirl difficulties".

There were a few word of mouth cases before he erected a website a few years ago advertising his PI services online. As I can attest, a lot of people who use PI services once often come back again and again, sometimes to check up on Miss July, after Miss June – and you know Miss August or Miss September will not be too far away.

The business did well for a number of years before he decided that New Zealand was a better place to bring up his daughter, than the slums of Bangkok. But he didn't just walk away, but was able to offload the business for a pretty penny. And he will reap further financial benefits when a book about all of his adventures hits the shelves soon…

These four stories clearly show that you CAN succeed in Thailand, even if you arrive without a top notch CV or a lot of cash in your backpack. No, you do not have to be an English teacher for the next 30 years! And no, you do not need a lot of money to get everything going. Actually, in this respect, Thailand is something of a blessing. Not only are business start-up costs generally much less in Thailand than in the West, you don't have all of the major compliance issues that come with starting up a business in the west. Well, maybe you do, but seem to just ignore them, or the compliance officers are lax in their enforcement.

There are of course a number of issues to succeeding in Thailand, but the point is, that even without specific skills or a lot of capital, you can.

What I find interesting is that all of these success stories were related to businesses that were predominantly online and where the target market was farang. For an internet business the start up costs are as close to zero as you could ever realistically hope for. Of course the other big thing is that they were working with, or working for, Westerners. I think there is something in that.


Where WAS THIS PICTURE taken?

It was Karon Beach, Phuket.

Where is that?!

Last week's picture was taken at Karon Beach in Phuket. I would have thought someone would get it right but no, no-one did. HOPELESS! This week's pic is a little easier. We now have four prizes to give away every week, with a total combined value of 2,000 baht! The first person to tell me where the picture is wins a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. The second person to get the picture right gets a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Cafe in the Khao Sarn Road area. The third and forth prizes are a 500 baht credit at Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4. The prizes are only available to people in Thailand now – either residents or tourists, and must be redeemed within 2 weeks. You MUST say that you are in Bangkok and able to claim the prize or I will consider you ineligible. If you have a preference as to which prize you would prefer, do not be shy to let me know!

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Work too much make me sick!

I met Pat about 4 weeks ago. She's 27, attractive and has quite a good job. I've dated her a few times after agreeing to 'no sex for 6 months'. I've just received this message from her which basically says that if she has to work 'x' number of years to pay off her mortgage it'll make her ill – although in the west people seem to manage this and maintain perfect health. If I agree to pay it off then she'll marry me! Lucky me! 'My mother say, she want me to marry. Because I have home's list to bank around 600,000 baht. And she say: If I not marry with him, I will many work for money to pay bank. But, it for a long times to clean repayment. If I many work I will sick.

Predator mentality.

The media often portrays sex tourists as predatory males who travel to distant lands to have sex with naive women, these men are portrayed as wolves chasing naive sheep. Let me point out, that from my experience with Thai bargirls, they are every bit as predatory as the men chasing them, if not more, because judging from the end result of this predator vs. predator encounter, they usually emerge with the upper hand (and holding your wallet in that hand). These "sheep" are actually very cunning predators disguised in sheep-skin. If you travel to Thailand to have sex, keep in mind that this is all you are looking for and don't be tempted to fall in love with them. They are NOT the innocent cute sheepish creatures they pretend to be, they are predators and they WILL devour you if they smell blood (money) – yours. These women will manipulate your emotions very skillfully, in a subliminal way, they may be rural and uneducated, but they are extremely cunning. They know exactly which emotional buttons to push and when to push them to produce the best results. Never, never, never fall in love with a bargirl. It will most likely ruin you, or leave you crippled in one way or another – financial, emotional, maybe even physical!

A sooty black mark next to Korat's name.

Sorry kids, Nakhon Ratchasima is just a typical up-country Thai town. It's not a horrible place by any stretch of the imagination but in the time I've spent there, I couldn't see much about it that I would recommend to somebody. One true negative for me was the amount of heavy-vehicle traffic that passed through Korat. All of the truck / bus / rot I-tan traffic making its way from Bangkok to anywhere in the Isaan region pretty much has to pass thru Korat. Maybe the traffic has gotten better since the highway by-pass around town opened, but my memory is of the traffic being noticeably bad.

RIP Soi Zero.

I for one have fond (if vague) memories of the late Soi Zero bar area. The second bar on the right (forget the name) was a place I liked occasionally for a decent game of pool. They had a surprisingly complete collection of '80's new wave and rock. The beauties had faded, to be sure, but they were always friendly, low-pressure, and quick on the draw with a moist towel. I never missed the few bills a visit took out of my wallet, and it was a safe place to go if I was in a drunken blur and didn't want to be tempted to bring home a guest.

Customer service, Cowboy style.

Last night I wandered down to Soi Cowboy to watch some sports on the TV screens. Found a seat outside next to the Black and White and waited for someone to come and take my drinks order. And waited and waited and waited some more. All this time the bar staff sat at the next table eating their dinner completely ignoring their one and only customer. So I just sat watching the British Grand Prix on the TV and decided to see how long it would take to get a drink. After 15 minutes a Thai guy came out of the bar and seeing me sent one of the girls over. "You want drink?" "That's why I'm sitting here." She obviously couldn't understand and reported back to the Thai guy. So he comes over. "You want drink?" I replied in Thai, "I wanted one 15 minutes ago but your staff are more interested in their meal than taking my order." Then he started pushing me off the seat and out into the soi. It seems friendly customer relations are not a top priority in the Black and White.

Something trippy.

The Cranberries are long forgotten even in their native Ireland. Yet thanks to the whims of taste in Pattaya they have earned some sort of dubious immortality. For it is impossible to visit any bar without hearing some turgid band hacking out Zombies for the nth time. The tune is even more ubiquitous than Hotel California. And that is saying something. As an Irishman I simply could not believe that the Thai nation would take to a tune lambasting Irish paramilitaries. And what on earth could a reference to 1916 mean to them? A Thai waitress informed me that the song was discussed at school. Of all the many surprises contained in the Land Of Smiles, this has to be one of the trippiest!

The Pattaya Angelwitch operation is just not attracting the numbers that they had hoped for, or frankly that it deserves. It really is a great bar. If you have yet to see it, put aside a couple of hours and check it out if you haven't already. But there is one thing perturbing about the bar, and that is all of the "hello boys". This lot will try and get you into the bar by yelling and screaming out all sorts of nonsense while they're perched on Walking Street. Agree to check out the bar and you will be led up the dimly lit alley with two or three of these Thai boys all around you, perhaps grabbing your arm. Do they not have any idea how disconcerting this can be?! Maybe this is something for the new manager to work on.

Players in Pattaya was supposedly closed due to licence problems. It should be interesting to see what happens if the problems do not get resolved.

Football fans are up in arms about the World Cup coverage in Thailand. The lack of match replays, the lack of English commentary – unless you go out to a bar or hotel which has an international feed and the fact that coverage for many games has started late i.e. well into the game, has upset many. While many in Thailand seem proud that the games are available on free to view TV, many foreigners have complained that they would prefer to have seen it on UBC (the main pay TV provider in Thailand), and seen all the matches in full with English commentary.

Windmillpattaya has scrubbed up its operation. The number of attractive dancers and service girls has gone up in the last month and it has been suggested that they are one of few Pattaya bars which are actually trading up on last month. New girls, new shows, music policy good publicity have all contributed. Music is funky party music and thank goodness, not too loud. This week they started a "Flashback" half hour. From 12 midnight for half an hour – pure 70's and 80's party sounds. They also have a very competitive happy hour until 10 PM with 35 baht draft and cheap spirits too. They also have 110 baht for two glasses of house spirits all night long.

Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4 has just finished getting two projection screens on their rooftop and have a satellite in place so one can now watch the World Cup matches there in English. They've also installed the old Movie Lounge screen in their disco for the 8 and 11 PM games. Finally, the installation of a retractable roof for the roof garden has begun, the same sort as what the American Rib Company has. Sin Disco located in Raja Hotel car park is now open again. If you are seeking a night cap this is the place to visit in Soi Nana.

Following the 60th anniversary of HM The King's coronation, Nana Plaza is back to 2 AM closing.

If any England football fans are looking for somewhere to watch Tuesday night (Wednesday morning's) match against Sweden, "M's Bar" at the Ruamchitt Hotel will be open late as usual. Having the game kick-off at the same time most bars close has made more than a few football fans a little nervous, but management confirmed last night that they'll be open and showing the full game on their projector screen. M's Bar is 2 floors above Thermae, 1 floor above Bush Gardens, at the Ruamchitt Hotel between Sukhumvit sois 13 & 15.

The Big Mango in Nana Plaza has got the World Cup games in English now – so that is yet another option of somewhere to watch the matches.

I am pleased to say that the amicable manager of Lucky Luke's, PJ, has made a remarkable recovery from a recent stroke. PJ has been seen out and about again, and even back in Lucky Luke's.

With rip-offs not uncommon in some Soi 33 bars, one has to consider strategies to overcome them. One idea is to pay the bill as you go – every time you order a round of drinks, you pay. Another strategy to use, especially if there is a bunch of you, is that everyone has their own tumbler with bills. Both of these strategies can be quite effective but are a real nuisance though.

The monsoon season appears to have started early this year, and its effects have hit a number of businesses. A recent report in The Bangkok Post stated that the number of Westerners visiting Thailand is down 30% on this time last year. Hotels and restaurants right across the Kingdom are struggling. The situation is so serious that some hotels in the South have slashed staff salaries by as much as 50% in some places. Let's hope things pick up.

That said, Nana Plaza had two decent nights on Friday and Saturday this weekend, with lots of customers around, and lots of money going through the till.

The is largely against the trend. The bar trade has been simply terrible for many despairing bar owners. A certain medium-sized gogo bar in Pattaya is reported to be taking less than 10,000 baht per night. My Lord, some people I know can run up a bar tab like that in one night. As a guideline, a medium-sized gogo bar's breakeven point may be as much as 750,000 baht a month, so they would need 25K baht a night, just to break even!

The Nana Hotel restaurant has done it again! Low season hits and they have printed up a new menu with yes, you guessed it, yet another price increase! Some dishes have increased significantly in price yet neither the food nor the service has improved, not that I really expected that either would.

Popular mamasan Ann, previously of Hollywood in Nana and more recently of Rainbow 1, has finally thrown in the towel. She is one of many Rainbow mamasans who have resigned within their first year of employment. Even though Ann brought Rainbow around 25 girls but she was never particularly well treated. Between the boss and the old boiler of a mama, they made Ann's life a misery at times. But there is light at the end of the tunnel for Ann. Louis from Paris A Gogo in Pattaya has known her for a number of years and offered her a good job. Very few readers realise how important it is for the bars to take care of their mamasans. When mamasans leave they often take a huge troop with them and in some cases this can be as many as 30 girls! Imagine that, a bar losing 30 girls? That could kill a business overnight. Popular bar manager Ricky has previously told of how he saw bargirls from Rainbow One in Pattaya previously. Could there, to some degree, be a migration to Pattaya by certain bargirls?

A few locally based readers have asked how they can contact the cable / satellite TV company which provides coverage out of South Africa, including the World Cup in English. How can they get themselves hooked up. Can anyone oblige with contact details for this company?

A reader asks if non-alcoholic beer can be bought in Thailand and if so, where. I have no idea about this – can anyone help?

This month Dasa Book Cafe celebrates its second anniversary in business. And to celebrate, from June 16 – 30, all second hand books in stock at Dasa will be discounted 20% off the regular price. Dasa currently has over 12,000 second hand books in stock. And if you are down on your luck, or a horribly under-paid English teacher, the shop will pay cash for used books – or give customers store credit for titles they wish to exchange. Dasa’s entire inventory is kept on a computer database that customers can access while in the store, or downloaded online via the Dasa website. I'll re-iterate what I have said many times, this is one second hand bookshop I like – and I can't usually stand second hand stores!

Further to the piece in last week's column about the change in venue, I can confirm that the Independence Day picnic and celebration will be held at the Bangkok Pattana School, which is located at Sukhumvit Soi 105. There will be a free shuttle running from near the On-nut BTS station. Admission is 100 baht for children while children under 12 get in free.

Now that you have found her, your lovely former local lass who used to work in a bar, how can you help her? Whether your plans are to take her back home or just to get out of the bar, a great way to help is to improve her English. But, let's face it, enrolling her into a Bangkok or Pattaya language school has several problems. First, it will take her a long time to make any real improvement in her English, but most of all, she still has a lot of free time to hang around with all of her old friends. An alternative solution is the TEFL International English Immersion program in Ban Phe. For a weekly fee ranging from 5,000 to 12,000 baht per week (depending upon food and living options) she will live in a fun and supportive English-speaking environment with classes and activities. For more information email [email protected] or visit Improvemyenglish. And she will be away from all of her old friends, and all of the temptations that you want her to stay away from. And once she is enrolled, if you want to know that she is still there and on the straight and narrow, just drop Bruce an email and he'll let you know!

I think I am going to award myself the cheap baxxxrd of the week award. Parking in the Sukhumvit area can be a nightmare, but there is a way to park for free… Drive into one of the 5 star hotels and park up – the car parks are good and you get a parking ticket which can be validated by any purchase in the hotel. Now I would like to support these hotels by buying something and getting the ticket validated, but things can be so expensive. For example, a single cup of coffee at the Grande Sheraton will set you back 190 baht! So, validating your ticket is not going to be cheap. What I do is go to one of the restaurants and make a reservation for the next day, and while I am at it, I ask them to validate my ticket, which they happily do. When I get home, I call up and cancel the reservation. Hmmm, I think I am getting a bit cheap…

From my weekend away to Korat last weekend, I can confirm that Thai food in Bangkok is, at restaurants about 3 times more expensive than in Korat. You get about 50% more food for about half the price in Bangkok, meaning that essentially it is a 3 times price difference. And I am comparing apples with apples here, venues of a similar quality. I never thought it would be quite this much, but really, it is. Of course you can go down-market and at the street level the prices aren't too much different, but it doesn't take much to get the prices different.

What is the only thing worse than venues which do NOT have free wireless internet access? Answer: Venues which have free wireless internet access but where it never works! I will refrain from embarrassing a couple of popular farang hang-outs in the capital which advertise free wi-fi access but where it seems to be permanently out of order.

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 simply offers the perspective of one 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. Please do try and limit the length of questions to Mrs. Stick to about 100 words. We get many questions that are entire stories of several hundred words which I'm afraid are just too long to run here.


Question 1: I've been married to a Korat girl now for a couple of years plus. We have a cute little child, reside in Perth and hopefully my wife will get her permanent resident status soon. I have a great relationship with her family. Her mother has purchased a block of land for us near their home for 360,000 baht. When I refund her the money she will transfer the title into my wife's name. I have two questions. Will ownership of this block allow us easy finance from a local bank to build a house i.e. security of tenure?

Mrs. Stick says: As far as I know, this should help in you being able to secure a loan, but you're asking the wrong person on this. I really am just assuming and have no specific knowledge of this at all.

Question 2: After vacationing in Thailand for seven years and living here for two, having my fair share of fun with the ladies of questionable virtue as well as dating a few non-bar girls, I think I can lay claim to knowing a bit about the Thai culture and attitude to farangs. After reading Stick's column about countless tragedies of farangs dating and marrying bargirls and seeing for my own eyes the contempt and disrespect they seem to have for farang behind our backs, I tend to think they think we are low-lifes because we are dating low-lifes. Would you agree that if we stayed away from bargirls and dated women of higher standing they wouldn't have such an opinion? It's rather ironic that they should think like this, considering that they themselves are the bargirls.

Mrs. Stick says: From what I have seen of the bargirls they don't seem to have respect for anyone or anything. There are very few institutions that they seem to respect. My impression on this question is that these girls know that most of their farang customers don't really understand Thai language or Thai culture and they can therefore treat them anyway they like. I have seen the way bargirls behave. I used to work in a busy part of Sukhumvit and these girls don't just disrespect guys, they behave in a way that people really should not. To avoid being treated not just unkindly, but badly, socialize with nice people from a similar level of society as yourself. You do not know how badly some of these girls behave. They don't even seem to respect themselves. No matter how nice or hard you are to them, you cannot change them. Sorry, maybe I have said too much.

Question 3: I fell in love with a beautiful girl working in MBK on the cosmetics and fashion accessories counters selling perfume. I have been dating her for some 5 months now. We have not made love yet, her telling me she is not easy. I spend every night with her sleeping together all night in each others' arms. I have advanced on her several times and she pushes me away. I investigate! She is 5 foot 8 inches with size 41 shoes. There's no Adam's apple visible, but to my surprise she went to the toilet one night and it sounded loud, like a bloke taking a pee. One day the door was not shut properly to the bathroom and I was curious so I looked through the gap. I saw her standing up over the toilet just like a man would to take a pee. It's hard to judge in words as you have not seen her picture but because I love being with her so much I have mentally blocked myself from thinking she is katoey and that Thai ladies don't sit on toilets like Western girls to take a pee! How can I be sure of my theory. I love her and spend all my free time with her. I don't want to discover she is the perfect woman for me and want marriage to find she has a man's genitals. I will be mortified, disturbed and if the word gets around the office I will lose face too.

Mrs. Stick says: Women never pee standing up. You have fallen in love with a man. I once before heard someone say that you can fall in love with anyone, whatever sex they are. But this should happen from the outset and should not be discovered later. So now it really depends on you. If you were to confront him / her the truth and give it a try and see if things work between the two of you, it won't be easy. You'll have friends, family and colleagues to deal with. But if you can work it out together as a couple then everything and everyone else will be less difficult. The other option is to run!

Just as was predicted, the World Cup has contributed to a decline in business in many of the places where farangs go, as well as a decrease in general spending, with most people staying home to watch the matches. In fact Thailand seems to have gone positively football mad, with both farangs and Thais eagerly looking forward to each day's matches. Some enjoy the football itself but the for the locals, I have been amazed at the HUGE amount of money being put on matches. Some are throwing away silly money. I bet there are going to be more than a few families hungry towards the end of this month.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Thanks go out to Bangkok Grasshopper and Dave The Rave.