Stickman's Weekly Column April 15th, 2007

Thailand Farangland Same Same


All around me people are leaving Thailand. They're returning to the USA, Australia, continental Europe and even the UK. Fed up with recent changes in Thailand, feeling that the attitude towards farangs has worsened or perhaps finding themselves running out of visa options, there's a steady stream of long-term Western residents leaving the Kingdom.

I decided to get away the Kingdom for a few days this week. Not only did I want to escape the heat and water battles, I wanted to re-familiarise myself with Farangland. If I felt the need, could I move back?

Back in the so-called civilised world, the first thing you notice is the cold. The heat of Thailand can be a bit much but the cold, oh the cold that bites to the bone, I had forgotten just how uncomfortable it can be. It's not just the cold. Short days and consistently wet weather aren't just depressing, they can make you sick.

The next thing you notice are the prices. Were things always this expensive? It does seem that prices over the past few years have shot up and it doesn’t take long to do the sums – replicating the sort of lifestyle many enjoy in Thailand in the West wouldn’t be easy.

And the people! Why doesn’t anyone smile?! I have never seen so many grim people in all of my life. The Thai smile might not be as common as in the past, and it might not necessarily even have a positive meaning, but smiling creates a feeling of goodwill and harmony – and that's nice.

The level of service and the general competence of service workers in Thailand is a frequent cause for concern and consternation amongst long-term Westerners, but in Farangland things seem no better. In fact in terms of speed of service it is much, much worse. Imagine ordering three drinks in a restaurant, nothing fancy, in fact a very basic set of drinks – two glasses of water and a glass of orange juice. Why the water took 25 minuets to bring I'll never know. Imagine having to queue for more than 5 minutes just to pay for your petrol at a curiously named “service station!” In terms of speed of service, Thailand walks all over my corner of Farangland.

Wandering through various shops, it was clear from talking to the sales assistants that many did not have a clue about the goods they were selling. Just like in Thailand, you have to do your own homework. Relying on the in-store staff for information is throwing the dice.

The acronym LOS, Land of Smiles, is sometimes cruelly recited as Land Of Scams. But to say that scams don’t exist in the West would be rash. At the weekend in my corner of Farangland many eateries and cafes levy a 15% surcharge – and this isn't even mentioned on the menu! At least in Thailand they actually tell you about surcharges, very seldom are they hidden. You go to pay the bill and there is a small sign by the cash register announcing the 15% surcharge – and that is the only place in the establishment you see it. You don’t get that in Thailand!

The West is changing, and not necessarily for the better. Materialism, one of the primary issues many farangs have with Thais, is rapidly permeating Western society. In Thailand people wear gold and fashionable clothes whereas in my corner of Farangland it is about the car you drive and the house you own. No house and you are most definitely a have not. Not easy when house prices have gone mad over the last decade.

That aggressive, go get 'em attitude that is a prerequisite for success in the West was a little disconcerting. Some guys take it further and in even the more civilised ale houses there was no shortage of guys around just itching for a fight. You seldom get that in Thailand, at least from the Thais.

Parts of the Western world have gone to the pack over the last several years but that didn't stop me from being shocked at how political correctness is paralysing the country. As I sat quietly in the corner of a cafe, observing the comings and goings, I saw a security guard waddle after some cheeky youths, of what they were accused I have no idea. She – yes she – was powerless to do anything. Here we had an overweight woman in her 50s employed as a security guard. What could she do? I tell you, the world is going to hell when a firm employs a badly overweight woman in a position which should be filled by a young, fit, strong man. That's not to say that a woman couldn't do the job, but an older, heavily overweight woman is entirely unsuitable. That just wouldn't happen in the LOS.

We moan and groan about Thailand – and I am as guilty as anyone of this – but at the end of the day, the West has no shortage of its own problems and peculiarities. When I look at Thailand and Farangland, it is a case of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Each has its own nuances. The pros and cons of each really do cancel each other out.

So many of the problems we complain about in Thailand are inherent in the West. I cannot count the number of times people looked me in the eye, said one thing, and meant something quite different. The same could be said for people who said they would do something (for you), and then never did.

Seeing the state of hospitals in Farangland and reading about all of the industrial action taken in this socialist State, if I was to have medical issues I'd be straight on a plane back to Thailand. Such thoughts were confirmed when a pal told me of his recent experience in the local krankenhaus, something he vows never to repeat.

And what about 'net access. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. Just like Thailand, yet in Thailand we always talk as if we never have problems in the West. We do. Oh, and if you want an unlimited data broadband connection, in this corner of Farangland it doesn't exist. Fabulous. Not.

I could go on and one but you get the idea. I'll never complain about these things in Thailand again. More and more I believe that we are unduly hard on Thailand. While much of what we complain may represent valid criticism, we have to remember that our own countries have no shortage of their own problems. We very conveniently forget them and place too much emphasis on the negative aspects of life in Thailand.

More than ever I think we have to be aware of the type of lifestyle we want to lead – and then choose the place where such a lifestyle can be led. If the lifestyle that we want to lead cannot be led in one country, then simply move to another.

There do remain some downsides to life in Thailand though. I still have serious reservations about investing in Thailand at this particular point in time. Running a business in the current economic climate has to make one nervous. For sure, I would not want to be the owner of a business locally with significant investment tied up in plant and equipment.

Despite all of the odd things that go on, despite the fact that Westerners living in Thailand may feel like second class citizens (to say this we obviously overlook many of the advantages that we get on a daily basis that many Thais don't), at a personal level, I think Thailand remains a pleasant place to live. You simply have to be clear in your own mind of the sort of lifestyle you want to lead, and then evaluate whether Thailand allows that. If it doesn’t, try somewhere else. But for sure, Thailand offers a lot. That can’t be disputed.

There's so much to like about Thailand aside from the obvious. Such simple things as being able to go to the beach year round or pointing a camera at a stranger and getting a smile and not a scowl contribute to giving you a warm, fuzzy feeling. Thailand is not Farangland. Take it for what it is and there is an awful lot to like. Let's not forget that some of the good things about Thailand are actually remarkably good.

Life is about choices and compromises. Thailand 2007 might not be as much fun or as laid back as the Thailand of a decade or two ago was, but it still offers many things that the West cannot compete with. After venturing to Farangland for a very brief journey I'm in no hurry to go back.

FROM STICK II'S EMAIL INBOX

Farang men on Thai men.

I've met quite a few Thai men over the years and several have become friends. However, I too also have a low opinion of them in general, but not because of their infidelity (Thai women seem just as guilty of collecting gigs these days). I find the majority to be immature and ignorant. It seems that drinking to oblivion is their main hobby, and days off from work are for "sleeping all day." In almost any professional situation Thai males seem to be experts at goofing off, talking with friends, watching TV or even sleeping on the job. Do farang men cheat more in Thailand? I think they certainly do – because it's much easier to do than back home. However, they don't tend to lose their work ethic or professionalism – hence the higher salaries. I think they also take responsibility for children fathered, which must be a draw for any woman.

The Bangkok effect.

As for the Bangkok effect, I think the answer lies in the obvious: fellows are more likely to stray when there is something worth straying easily found! It's a simple answer, and doesn’t add much to debate, but it is the most likely cause.

Would Sir care for a side dish, something a little spicy, perhaps?!

I believe the reason many Westerners might cheat much more here than in their homeland is simply because of the superior quality of what is on offer. Far more temptation. The cheaper price and value for money and the girlfriend experience, might also have something to do with it. Many might also indulge in a side dish to get something they might not get at home or their partner might not be comfortable with. When the lady is accepting payment you are likely to be able to get away with a great deal more, as long as she is willing of course. If the wife doesn't find out then no harm is done, and perhaps considerable frustration is avoided with all the tensions that might induce.

It's about the availability.

During my 6 month stint in Bangkok back in 2004 and living at the JW Marriott on Sukhumvit Soi 2, I met many married farangs rolling through town for a few days or maybe a week. I can't recall one of them not partaking with the Nana ladies or area freelancers. Booze and the ease and availability of 'strange' make it all too easy. No doubt, such a level of indiscretion doesn't happen for these same men back in their Western home countries. Without a stitch of evidence to back me up, I would say the level of cheating going on by married farangs living in Thailand is far greater then the cheating going by their married counterparts in the West. By how much is anyone's guess. Goes back to the ease and availability willing girls in Thailand. Joe Farang is not going to be strolling down Main St. in Anytown, USA and pop in for a quick soapie.

The right not to be photographed?

Most of the bars ban cameras. I once got really annoyed with some foreign bitch taking photographs, obviously in a professional way. People have a right to not have their photograph taken, and this right should be honoured.

Is marriage a real option?

I cannot understand why anybody living out here wants to marry a Thai girl. Absolutely off their rocker. There are so many opportunities that "rent a wife" is easily the best way. Having kids is also a totally overrated pastime. The estimate in the UK is that it costs some 180,000 quid to bring up a kid. I can think of a lot better ways of spending this sort of money than keeping your genes in the pool. I have had the following remark from my "rent a mother-in-law", amongst others, "it would be nice to see how the half-caste (sorry – my words) would turn out. They are so pretty".

Why bar takings are down.

I just wanted to comment on the reasons why I think bars have had a bad high season. Firstly, they seem to think that tourists have unlimited reserves of money to throw away. Even if this was true in the past, it is not anymore with the baht at under 35 to the dollar and beer prices still going up. Secondly, most tourists have got fed up with bad attitude and poor service from waitresses, mamasans and dancers in these overpriced bars. The beneficiaries have been the Nana Hotel parking lot and Phnom Penh.

Bernard Trink Syndrome?

Maybe we could call it the Bernard Trink syndrome – people who suddenly wake up one day and realise they spent their whole life in a place where they were not appreciated. I once sat next to a woman and her husband as we left the primordial island of Dominica in the Caribbean. They had been sent there for two years by some church in America to spread the word of Jesus to big strong black men and black women with ten times more sex hormones than them. At the airport departure gate after two years of good deeds and good intentions all of their luggage was stolen. They were the quietest bible thumpers I will ever meet. I know that it is easy to pick on the missionaries but this is not funny – it is terrifying. If you are not a member of the tribe you will never be a member of the tribe and worldwide ONLY western educated people think you can change this.

It might be the Thai new year but there is little in the way of celebration at Nana Plaza which has been ordered to close at 1:00 AM every night. Don't worry, it never lasts that long.

The newest bar in Nana, Spanky's, might well be known as Spooky's to the girls. There are so few girls in there that it is as if they are too scared to work there. Very few girls and even fewer customers, I guess this is not the best time of year to open a new bar. As is to be expected over Songkran, many staff have gone home to visit their families and it tends to be the hardcore who go to the bars at this time of year, running the gauntlet to enter any of the major bar areas where chaotic scenes with huge great water cannons greet guys who simply want to get a cold beer.

Across the way from Spooky's, Silver Dragon is closed for remodelling – they have chosen the perfect time to do that.

There is a rumour doing the rounds that all bars must or should have installed video camera equipment by the 31st March, and that this was decreed as law. This has not been confirmed by a number of gogo bar owners but then again, in Thailand, you would not even expect them to know about it until the day it is supposed to take place!

A reminder that Metro Bar in Sukhumvit Soi 4 has a Belgian beer promotion on Wednesday night. Stella, Leffe, Hoegaarden at low prices, sexy promotion girls and a free buffet. Just the thing to take your mind off the Songkran madness.

Oh My Cod would like to remind us that affordable breakfasts have been available in Bangkok for about a year… Ooops, how could I have forgotten them!

It is funny how things change. In the good old days Patpong was far and away the most expensive of the farang nightlife areas to get a drink. When a beer there cost 100 baht, you could get a drink in other areas for 90 baht, or less. Those days are long gone with 120 – 130 baht the norm for a bottle of beer these days. Surprisingly the cheapest place in town for a beer now is Patpong. Many venues advertise that a beer can be had for just 60 baht, cheap by any measure. I guess the bars down there are quieter than they used to be…

One of the problems in Nana, at least concerning the price of drinks, is that none of the chrome pole palaces have draft beer available. If they had draft available, they could offer a cheaper alternative to bottled beer. All it needs is for one bar to offer draft at a reasonable price and punters will flock there. This is in contrast with bars in Pattaya where many venues have draft on tap. Come on, who will be first?

Who was first to coin the phrase "no-go bars"? This name came about because the girls do not go anywhere. Barfine? Nah, they can't be bothered because many are already earning close to 100K baht a month with cash coming in from a bunch of sponsors!

Why is it that most scams in Thailand, that is when Westerners are told sob stories by seemingly innocent, downtrodden Thais, that they always concern the lady in question's mother. You seldom hear stories about Dad, the grandparents, brothers, sisters or even kids. It is always surrounding mother. Do sob stories about mother pull that little bit harder on one's heart strings?

Malaysia Airlines is starting a budget carrier with a hub at Penang. The new carrier will start with domestic flights as well as a direct daily round trip to Phuket and Samui with rates said to start from as low as 400 baht and up (although you can multiply that by a few times once the taxes, surcharges, insurance and George Bush fund are added in).

There is no shortage of teaching work and teaching employment opportunities in Thailand now but not all of it is being advertised. It has been mooted that some schools have got a bit nervous to advertise as they are scared of coming under the microscope – and their foreign teachers' paperwork scrutinised. Whether this is a valid concern or not, I have no idea. Given that many Thai schools really do need foreign teachers, it is a great shame that the authorities crack down seemingly needlessly. Surely there are more important issues to be looked at?


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

A friend raised an interesting point the other day, and one on which he has had a legal opinion on. Many employment contracts for foreigners living and working in Thailand are for a limited period of time, and once the contract expires, that is it, you're down the road so to speak. But apparently it is not actually that easy for an employer to get rid of you. If the role for which you were hired was a temporary role, one that would not continue once the task had been completed (such as a consultant contracted to make a report or someone implementing a new computer system) then yes, the expiry date of the contract is valid and you're done. But if for example you work in a position which would continue then the end date of the contract is not valid at all. According to the law, the company would have to pay you a severance package calculated on the length of time you had been employed by them, obviously the longer you'd been with them, the more you'd get. Rulings in the labour court in Thailand are much the same as those in the West and more often than not are in the favour of employees – some have received a handsome pay out. Obviously in Thailand where not everything is above board other things could become an issue. It is worth considering that if you employ anyone in Thailand, it might well cost you a bit if you want to get rid of them!

If you have visited Thailand as a tourist, you are invited to take an anonymous survey conducted by the University of New South Wales in Australia. The study looks at tourist experiences in Thailand (positive and negative), images of Thailand before and after visiting, tourist impacts, and a few other issues. The survey takes about 10 minutes to fill out. A summary and analysis of responses will be posted when it is complete. If you would like to participate, please go to this link.

Regarding comments about Thai International offering 3 trips for $169, Bangkok Airways has had a long running promotion at about the same price. You could buy three Thai segments for $50 or international segments for $70. This may have changed with the new and old airports both running and it may be available only from the US. Worth checking out if you are going to be doing some air travel in the region.

Coffee World and Starbucks battle it out as the best place to get a coffee in the busiest part of Sukhumvit as far as farangs are concerned, Nana. You've got Starbucks on the corner of Soi 5, and Coffee World not far from the Nana intersection, on the even numbered side. Coffee World has free wi-fi, a bonus because getting a free signal at Starbucks is a bit up and down. Starbucks is so much better kept. You've got nice music playing and no shortage of reading material on hand. Compare that with Coffee World where you have a less interesting view and where the environment is at times quite dirty. Coffee World might have the better coffee, but I find myself at Starbucks in that neighbourhood more and more. Of course, if you want a spicy affair, the Coffee World branch on the corner of Soi 7/1 has no shortage of characters hanging around, especially late at night.

Clarifying the situation about retirement visas. A reader reports that he has a one year retirement visa, the kind where you must show 800,000 baht in the bank. Naturally he uses a chunk of this throughout the year deposits more funds into the account to top it back up to 800K before his visa is due for renewal. Word coming out of the Immigration Department in Phuket is that the money must be in the bank three months before the visa is due for renewal. Exactly why this has to be the case, I don't know. Surely the fact that money has to be spent for such a person to survive is enough? Or maybe a check that it isn't all transferred out of the account as soon as the visa has been approved would be a more suitable rule. I don’t know if this law has always been on the books, or whether it has or is being enforced elsewhere, but for now it’s being enforced in Phuket.

A while back Khon Kaen police were visiting Westerners (Japanese included) living in the Khon Kaen area to check if they work or not. I wonder just what prompted them to do this? My guess is that there was some sort of incident or some sort of crackdown. One apartment building that has quite a few foreigners resident has seen a number of people leaving because of the visa changes – again, that is both Japanese and Westerners.

If you enjoy fine dining and wish to take advantage of the facilities at some of the restaurants in the flasher hotels around the city it is almost certainly worth investing in their discount card, something which many of the 5 star hotels offer. The Sheraton Grande, the Plaza Athenee, the Conrad and the JW Marriott are amongst those which offer a card which gives genuine discounts for diners. The cards which run around 7,000 – 8,000 baht may offer as much as 50% off which can almost pay for itself in one evening if you are dining somewhere like the New York Steakhouse at the Marriott. Now most people are happy to fork out their hard earned for such a card, but there seems to be a scam doing the rounds to get one cheap. You see, when you buy a card you have the option to get a spouse's card, at 1,000 baht. If not taken advantage of, these spouse's cards are being sold off by at least one unscrupulous person for 1,500 baht. The purchaser gets a card in the name of a spouse of an existing member. What is then humorous is that the person who has the primary card then gets all of the points benefit accrued by use of the spousal card.

If you're using an ATM card for your find while travelling, you might want to note that it might not work at some of the ATMs of the smaller Thai banks, despite the fact that machine displays a Visa Electron, Cirrus or other relevant logo. Bangkok Bank and the Siam Commercial Bank tend to be the best in my experience for using ATM cards.

I am always amazed at the way Thai people in shops will often give change to customers out of their own pocket, not the shop owner or manager mind you, just the hired help. Pay for something with a 500 or 1,000 baht note and if there isn't enough change in the till (which really is a dreadful management issue) then the staff seem to be happy enough to provide change out of their own pocket. Thai people do get a lot of grief about their willingness to part with money so it is worth mentioning this in their favour.

We all know that traffic is bad in Bangkok, and that the locals are often late for appointments. But is that acceptable? To me, a stickler for punctuality, it is not. I have what I call "the 15 minute rule". If I am supposed to meet someone and they are 15 minutes late, unless they are someone close to me, I leave. OK, I will try and call them first, but if it is someone who doesn't have a mobile, or I do not know their mobile number, or they are not close to me, I am outta there. 15 minutes in my life is enough time for them to have stolen already, without gambling that they are going to steal more!

I can't help but laugh at the sight of young Thai couples lounging at Lumpini Place or other public parks or beaches. As he lies back, she works on either digging gunk out of his ears or nose, or picking away at his toenails or worst of all, squeezing and then popping his pimples! Not a pleasant sight – nor can it be a pleasant life being a Thai girl! No wonder so many of them are turning to Western guys. I bet you don't ask your teeruk to do such unmentionable things now, do you?!

I always laugh when I see farangs, usually those new to the Kingdom or temporary visitors, spooning all sorts of sauces and condiments over their already tasty dish. Take a tip from someone who enjoys his food – most Thai food doesn't actually need anything added to it and is in all likelihood quite flavoursome already. Unless you know how the sauce or condiments will enhance (or otherwise?!) the taste, or you're in the company of Thais to guide you, don't go using the condiments. Perhaps the funniest one I saw was a Brit who went and spooned nam bla (fish sauce) all over his burger one night at The Londoner. That will take some beating!

Anyone settled in Thailand for a while and in a good or comfortable position of employment will almost certainly get a stream of emails from friends or friends of friends asking them how they can get a position here themselves. I get many such emails and no shortage of CVs too. If you want to get a job in Thailand, my advice is to shirk using email and instead hunt for the phone number of the person you wish to speak to. You have a much, much better chance of getting a job or at least getting some advice, by calling people. We are inundated with such emails that they really are not that effective.

Link of the week. "Bangkok Vice: Buddhas, Boxers, and Bar Girls" from Slate magazine.

The British diplomat writing a blog found out how small Bangkok really is.

The Swiss fool who went on a drunken rampage and foolishly defaced images of His Majesty The King has been given a royal pardon.

Here's a link to a site with a map of Pattaya bars – PattayaBarGuide.

Quote of the week. "Thailand is a poor man's paradise". I like that one.

Ask Miss Udon

Miss Udon is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Feel free to send questions in for her to answer and get the perspective of a Thai female.

Question 1: I often see photos of young boys in monk robes, and I sometimes see them when I pass wats. Can you tell me why such young boys are monks or novices or whatever their status? Are they generally from poor families who can’t afford to feed or educate them? How long do they usually remain at the wats? Do they go on to become full-fledged monks? However much information can you provide would be appreciated.

Miss Udon says: A young boy in monk's robes is called "nean" – a novice in the Buddhist religion, usually below the age of 20. There are two main reasons why they become a monk. 1. Thai families like to send young boys to a temple when they have a school break even if it is just for a few days to learn how to be a good person and come out with a sense of humanity. 2. Some Thai families are poor. They are unable to pay school fees or to pay for the education of their kids. Boys can go to a temple and become 'nean" and then they can study for free. The second reason is the most common nowadays. In temples they have different levels of education if compared with the education you get outside. But a novice can continue studying at any Thai school if they no longer wish to be a "nean". So don't be surprised if you boys wearing monk's robes applying to enter University, or sitting a test in the same room.

Question 2: We have known each other two years been engaged for over a year I send her 4,000 baht a week plus more for other things we would be married by now if it was not for the British embassy tried two times for visa used lawyer of sticks site with no luck. Just lately she has been asking for more, I know what your mum says run from the poor of Isaan, that is hard when you care for someone. I paid for her brother's university fees, now she wants me pay for the car insurance, the car was bought for them by an aunt in America. She says that is normal for Thais who are engaged to pay there fiancée money each week and look after her family?

Miss Udon says: Well, well, well. She says that it is normal for Thais who are engaged to pay there fiancée money each week and look after her family? Even I as a Thai didn't know that. I mean it is good that you support the girl's family but I never heard about supporting the family as a normal thing to do. For me I would not ask for help or support from my guy. But if my guy offered to help I would be happy to accept. But I would not tell him this is what he has to do. I don't know what to say as it is complicated to understand Thai girls. I know, I am Thai! Some Thai girls won't ask for help even they know it would be small money from the guy and the guy would say YES! And some Thai girls are happy to ask and happy to say that it's normal. I can give you just my ideas. I do not say that I am right and she is wrong or anything like that. Just do what you want to do and what you are comfortable doing. Good luck.

Question 3: After a reader wrote to the column last week about staying away from Isaan girls, how do you feel knowing that some people have such condescending views about people from Isaan? Do you find it easiest ignore his bigotry. Do you and Mr. Stick Mark II argue about things like this? Do you feel your people may be embarrassed by you? How do you cope with this?

Miss Udon says: I read that column, and yes me and Mr. Stick Mark II talked about this column but we did not have any argument. I told him about how I feel and that's it. I accepted that I felt a little bit upset because I am an Isaan girl. But I could not do anything, I could not say hey, you are wrong!…because some girls from Isaan behave just as he mentioned. But I would like to say that many girls from Isaan are nice and not every girl is bad. If you have a look at last week's column and the video link from Reuters just above the "ask Miss Udon" section, you will see how many guys are happy with an Isaan wife. So to the guy who wrote that, please open your mind.

After steadily increasing against the US dollar the Thai baht seems to have settled around the 35 mark for the time being. While it may not have caused any real grief yet, more than a few Westerners based in Thailand are getting concerned about where it will go next. It's not just Americans working here, or Americans living here who are drawing on US based funds, but a number of other nationals whose salary is denominated in $US. Here's hoping for these guys that the dollar doesn't weaken much more. And let's face the facts. Bangkok has become much more expensive over the last few years, particularly in the places where Westerners like to hang out. Shopping and the cost of general goods has gone up. Cinema prices have soared. Eating out is MUCH more expensive than it used to be. Thailand might still be cheap compared to the West, but Bangkok is a lot more expensive than it used to be.



Yours,

Stick Mark II



Stick Mark II can be contacted via Stick at: [email protected]