Stickman's Weekly Column November 18th, 2007

The Lost Generation


"I don’t know what I would do." It’s the stock standard answer when asked what they would do if they were to return back home for those in Bangkok’s growing 30-something crowd who have spent more than a few years in-country

Something happens in your ‘30s. For me it happened when I hit 35. You start to evaluate your life that little bit more, you start to map things out more, and you start to formulate contingency plans. For someone who is something of a thinker, I probably spent more time contemplating all of this than most.

It doesn’t mean you don’t like Thailand and it doesn’t mean you want to go home, but it would be foolish to shirk contemplating not just what you want to do, but what you think you could do, if you were to return to the West.

When I first made the big move to Thailand the average age of Westerners resident in the land of smiles for more than a couple of years was probably north of 50. The typical Westerner moving to Thailand at that time was a male in his ‘40s. There were younger guys about but they were more the exception than the rule.

But look around Bangkok’s expat ranks today and it’s a different story. The average age of the typical foreign Western resident may not have changed much, but as the number swells there are more and more young guys making Thailand their home. It’s not unusual to meet a guy in his late ‘20s who has already lived in Thailand for 5 years or more. I recently heard of a 19 year old teacher who is into his second year here and I know of a guy a fair few years younger than me who has been resident in Thailand for 12 years. So someone in their ‘30s celebrating a decade’s survival in Thailand is hardly unusual.

As I say, the older we get, the more we grow concerned about the future and when we consider life's many options, our personal finances play a significant part in the picture. As you map out where you want to be, what you want to do and how you want to get there, there are few who can honestly say that money is not a major factor.

There’s unlimited opportunity to make money in Thailand, but that's not to say that making a lot of money is easy. There are laws in place that potentially mean that just about anyone could be found to be in breach of one law or another. We are all potentially vulnerable. And most people here make less than they would in the West, and I believe also save less than they would in the West. That doesn't help one's future plans.

Let’s say that for whatever reason you chose to leave Thailand. And let’s say that you are one of these 30-somethings who has spent a good amount of time in Thailand. Just how would you cope back home?

In my case I have spent more than half of my adult life in Thailand and the more time I spend here, the more Thai I become – and the more difficult I know it would be to fit into life in the West.

I often wonder if the skills I have developed in Thailand and the experiences I have had would bode well back in my homeland. I’m absolutely sure I would not want to do the same job I do here back home and I don’t think there is a great life to be had from blogging full-time, so I would have to change my occupation, which could very well mean an entire change of lifestyle. The older you get, the more difficult that becomes.

We like to think that working abroad is full of positives but the truth is that experience in Thailand may or mat not count for a lot back home. As I mentioned last week, saying you were an English teacher in Thailand for a long period of time might even be seen as a big black mark.

Thai language skills are hardly in demand and an extensive knowledge of and experience in Thailand may have little value, unless perhaps you come from one of the few countries that have signed a few trade agreement with Thailand (Australia and New Zealand come to mind) – where there may be a need for your Thailand specific knowledge.

But just what you would do is only the first thing to consider. Would you even like it back there? People change. Your homeland has changed. And as we change, so too do our likes, our dislikes, our wants and our needs.

I have a Swiss friend here in Bangers. We're not so close in that we don't go out so much, tending to communicate more by SMS and email, but when we do meet up we always enjoy each other's company. We're on the same page when it comes to life in Thailand and dealing with the Thais.

This Swiss friend had lived in Thailand for a few years, but he found it hard to accept many of the battles he faced on a daily basis. The double pricing, the rip-offs and some of the horrendously low standards were all too much for someone from a country known for its precision manufacturing and instruments amongst other things. He slowly got more and more discouraged and felt that a return to Europe would be for the better.

But once back in old Europe all was not as he had hoped. To him it felt that everything was over-organised and while almost everything ran like clockwork, he found that he missed the lack of rigidity and the laid back attitudes so prevalent in Thailand. Despite his previous unwillingness to accept Thailand's warts, he missed the daily excitement and even the craziness. The sterile atmosphere of his home country was suddenly more frustrating than the madness of Thailand had been.

It wasn't anything specific about Thailand that he missed. He was not hunting out the local Isaan café in the search for the perfect som tum. He was not hunting the local brothels for a taste of Thai. He just missed the craziness of Thailand, the never-ending serendipity of not knowing just what is going to happen next.

For a young guy – he is roughly my age – he appears to have a few $$ in his pocket, so money was not an issue. But even with money in his pocket, Switzerland wasn't for him, and back he came to Thailand. Now he is scratching his head as to what his next step will be, although I am sure that whatever he does, he will be successful at.

Another friend was back in Farangland recently, but just for a holiday. He has a good job in Thailand. Not a great job, but a good job. He did a bit of job hunting back home and found that the jobs available to him and the wages that he could expect to earn in his corner of Farangland were no more than what he earns here. And given the much higher cost of living in his homeland, he realised that he is in fact much better off here! But you know what, he isn't sure he wants to be here. He wants to go home, but it is increasingly expensive there. He came here in his late '20s and is now in his late '30s. A move back home would see him climbing on to the corporate ladder right near the bottom. In your late '30s that's no-one's idea of fun.

Is it possible to return to the West after spending a length of time in Thailand early in your adult life? We tend to err on the negative side and always consider the bad points of living in Thailand, conveniently forgetting the positives. But when it is time to leave, do we suddenly realise just how good, perhaps more precisely, how easy we have it here?

Let's face it, Thailand is easy. If you ride your luck you can secure a cushy job on a good salary and not do a lot for years. Smile and be nice to the locals and they may not know that you really don't know what you're doing. An easy life for a few years is hard to turn your back on and more than a few farangs have found that, even if they won't admit it.

Is the ease of life and Thailand’s ridiculously low cost of living (if you choose to live like a local) as well as the opportunity to party every night of the year a giant trap? Is it possible to leave Thailand after first coming here as a relative youngster and spending a number of years in her clutches?

I can’t help but feel concern for anyone who moved to Thailand before their 30th birthday and worked a mediocre job (and we know exactly what that means!) eking out a living for years, perhaps shirking plans for the future.

For older guys or retirees, I think the situation is quite different. But younger guys have much to consider. The opportunity cost is, in fact, huge. Two older guys I respect very much, one of them the well-known local writer Marc Holt, have implored me to return to my homeland. In fact Khun Holt, whose opinion I value greatly, has been on my case to get back home "before it's too late!"

For us young guys we have to plan our future carefully and not lose sight of the fact that if we come to Thailand as a youngster, and don't hit the big time in employment, moving back home may not be quite as easy as we thought.

Are today's 30-somethings who have lived in Thailand working an average job for a decade or so going to become known as "the lost generation", the generation that can't go home?

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the Peninsula Hotel. Many people guessed one or other of the major hotels on the river with the Oriental being the most popular. Only a handful of people got the Peninsula. The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Fish And Chips restaurant and the second wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a well-established, popular restaurant, offering authentic Tex-Mex Cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11.

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – No friends at home, no friends in Thailand.

Re: the opening piece this week, I can totally relate, and it's actually even worse for me as I have no real friends in Thailand but have several quality friends in my home country. I think part of the reason is that it takes a certain kind of person to leave family and friends behind to move to a new country. The majority of expats I speak with have no close ties with friends and family back home, and after getting to know a few of them more closely I could see why. If it wasn't for my kids who I want to raise Thai, I might have already moved back.

The road to hell.

I really appreciated reading your latest weekly column. I have been living here for 6 years now and have been through some similar experiences with unsavoury farangs here. It's pretty easy for a farang to go down the road to hell in this country.

The chosen few.

Forget about the cabinet re-shuffles, Emmies and Oscars. What everybody's got their minds on is the annual vetting of who's still on the Stickman's A list. Who's been culled and who's been purged, never one for suffering fools gladly, in the fast changing metropolis of downtown Sukhumvit nobody can rest on their laurels. Maturing years, change of tastes and fashion, and let's not forget the ever enduring influence of Mrs. Stick all come into play. They'll be a few still sweating it out around their gogo poles until the results are finally announced. Of course as they say, you can really count your true friends on one hand.

A hell of a lot better than many places!

Although I am working in Blighty at the moment, I have lived abroad and have travelled a lot in Thailand. It is surprising how many people you meet in foreign countries who have moved there thinking it is going to solve all the problems in their lives. As you note in your column, if something is wrong with your life at home, how likely is it that you will solve those problems abroad whilst having to deal with a foreign culture and a new way of doing things? I intend to move to Thailand myself in 2 – 3 years, but not I hope with the view that it is going to be paradise. The simple fact is that there are always problems in life and a move to a new country is more likely to mean a new agenda of problems rather than an end to all the difficulties associated with living. You have to look at things in terms of a profit and loss account. If the profits of the move outweigh the losses it is worth doing. I often think that some of the expats I have met could benefit from thinking in this way. The number of times I see expats moaning about their adopted country (I'm not just thinking of Thailand in this context) without seeming to think about the disadvantages of Farangland with all the stresses of increasingly 'dog eat dog', often divided and alienated societies. Some of these expats seem to fall into the inverse of the syndrome mentioned above, thinking that going home will be the big answer to their difficulties. But in many cases they would be a good deal worse off (both in terms of finances and lifestyle) if they moved home. Thailand may not be perfect, but it is a hell of a lot better than many places, which is not to deny that it does have real problems.

Keep 10 minutes free!

I just want to echo the reader who complains about the hotel checking the minibar upon check out. I always stay at the same hotel because it is near to our Thai subsidiary's offices, the room is booked by my Thai office and the bill is settled direct by the company, except for extras such as bar bills etc. They still have to check the damn minibar, even when I say if anything missing you can charge that to the company! It used to drive me really wild but now I just make sure I have 10 minutes to spare when I check out…

So when they do get a customer, they gouge him?

What I find interesting about these tailor shops whether they be in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, even Myanmar is that in my many years of walking by them, I have never seen one customer inside. Not O-N-E… So how do they stay open? I'm thinking they must be money laundering operations but what do I know?

Checking farangs not a recent thing.

Your recent stories about the cops stopping cars and giving farangs a hard time, it reminds me about 7 years ago. Our taxi must have been about 1 km away from the place when we were slowed by a type of roadblock. Most vehicles were made to slow while the constabulary flashed their torch to check the occupants. All of them were waved on, including the taxi in front of us. Ours on the other hand was made to stop and one of the rear doors was opened and they flashed their torch everywhere inside the cab. We had nothing to hide, so just gave them dirty looks. The cop thought about it for a while and told the driver to drive on. Needless to say the driver was very nervous. I had the impression he might have been an illegal. Poor guy was so shaken he didn't want say much after that. But the interesting thing about the cops was that they were all old chaps by Thai standards and ones that I don't normally see on road duties.

A claim that Nana's not dead yet.

I read your last few weeklies with some concern. However, upon arrival my concern quickly vanished as I found no shortage of beautiful ladies still willing to accept 1,000 baht for ST or 2,000 for LT. Perhaps a few of the people who know you are trying to get the farang to expect to pay more. After 10 years of spending 3 or 4 holidays each year in the Nana area I have become somewhat familiar. The big flashy bars have always pushed real hard to get farangs to buy drinks for ladies. There are still a lot of small bars (DC-10, Angelwitch, Mercury) to name a few, where the ladies appreciate a tip of 50 or 100 baht. The Nana Plaza bar owners are their own worst enemies though. Because they have few customers, they push the girls to ask for more thus discouraging the farang who takes his business elsewhere. The owner then tries to make up the difference by raising prices thereby driving more customers away. Contrast this with Soi Cowboy where many of the bars offer 70 baht draught beer or 95 baht bottle beer all night. They have a bar full of customers most of the night therefore, not so much pressure to buy lady drinks. I hope the Nana Plaza owners can wise up in time as I don't think the street scene is good for anyone for many reasons well known to most of us.

We hear some really crazy stories in Thailand and the latest comes from the Thai Hotel Association which is encouraging hotels in Pattaya to raise their room rates! It has been said that they feel the rates charged should reflect the higher rates charged in other Asian holiday destinations! Someone with a fancy job title probably believes this will lure a higher class of tourist while eliminating the riff raff. Pattaya is a lot of fun and I very much enjoy my weekends away there. It is however NOT what most people would consider a world class vacation spot, unless of course cheap drinking and other night time activities are your idea of a world class vacation spot.

You have to laugh at the on-stage wardrobe chosen by the performers at Suzie Wong's in Cowboy. For some shows at least the girls dance with stickers covering their nipples, yet they are completely uncovered downstairs. Is there some law which states that nipples are not to be seen, while everything else is just fine and dandy?

Just as Cowboy had clearly moved ahead of Nana in the popularity stakes, at least one chain of Cowboy bars is doing its best to make punters reconsider their drinking area. One Cowboy bar owner with a bunch of bars (yes, you can guess who!) has increased the prices of lady drinks to 150 baht for lolly water and 200 baht for the increasingly popular Tequila lady drinks. Imagine if you had been away for a while and stepped into one of these bars. A standard drink and a lady Tequila drink and you'd get little change from 400 baht! Is there something in the bar owner's manual that says you've got to make customers feel like they've been ripped off?

And the girls are aware that guys most definitely are not impressed by the increased prices. Many girls are starting to feel it as more than a few guys are snubbing requests for lady drinks and moving on to bars with lower prices. If this continues, the girls will leave for other bars too.

Beer Lao Dark is now available at the Bangkok branch of Angelwitch. If you're on a budget, it may pay to ask the price first.

What's up at What's Up in Pattaya? The locale known for its in the spa antics appears to have been told to cool it down and for the time being the girls are bikini-clad rather than au naturale.

The Sisterz party was great last night. Ricky had several contests that involved punters teaming up with girls on stage. Everyone had a great time, including the girls watching the antics on stage with punters in various stages of intoxication and arousal.

There was a crew laying coax at the Queen Victoria in Pattaya's Soi 6 this weekend. Apparently some bars have been told they need CCTV to get a liquor license renewal. At least one of the bars on soi 6 has a camera in place already. This could be a little perturbing for some whose ventures to that lane they would rather were under the radar.

The Burger King and now McDonalds near Soi Post Office have been subdivided to make room for new stores.

I don't know if trade has picked up on Walking Street or not, but there is no shortage of revellers strolling up and down. Last night Walking Street, in terms of foot traffic, was very busy.

It's been a while since shit music has driven me out of a bar but the DJ in Mandarin was successful in his mission to scare punters away this week. When we got to the 4th Country and Western song in a row I could take it no longer and called for the bill. Country and Western has its place, but it doesn't make for good gogo bar music – for either the customers or the girls.

Further to comment in this column regarding background checks for those wishing to apply for a retirement visa, word coming out of the UK is that the embassy in London and the consulate in Hull require that all applicants can provide proof of no serious convictions. There's a special form you have to fill in which can be downloaded from the websites of these two missions.

Everyone’s favourite Cajun restaurant, Bourbon Street, has expanded. Owner Doug has added on three more shophouses and made another bar with 2 pool tables downstairs as well as added four more hotel rooms upstairs to add to the existing 20 rooms. Room rates run 1,200 – 1,500 baht a night which includes a decent breakfast – and one for your friend too.

And Bourbon Street has a big Thanksgiving do planned with this year's to be held over TWO days. You can celebrate at Bourbon Street on both Thursday 22nd November starting 12:00 noon through until 10:30 PM as well as on Friday 23rd November from 6:00 PM – 10.30 PM. This is always a popular spot at Thanksgiving so reservations are recommended and they can be made at 02-2590328/9 or by emailing [email protected] . If you have had their buffet in the past you know you'll know it is not to be missed. They have added some special red Zinfandel wine at special prices to go with the turkey. More details of the buffet can be found here.

And Thanksgiving at The Londoner will set you back 550 baht for a similarly well stacked buffet.

I heard a freaky story about a girl who is doing the internet rounds, sleeping with all and sundry, with or without protection, all with the knowledge that she tested HIV+. All I will say is this, if you are one of the guys playing the internet game and you meet a lady who claims to be too lazy to work, yet has the sort of credentials that should secure a good job, be very, very careful. And if you are the Australian guy who is about to take her back to your country next month, well, it's time to start praying. I might write more about this in next week's column…

A new Bangkok magazine is being launched this week with the mission of taking an irreverent look at expat life. Sukhumvit Eye, a 24-page black and white A4 monthly magazine, is being published by Upright Media, which already produces Bangkok guides and websites. The first edition contains features on nightlife, music, films, dining, travel, politics, humour, old Bangkok and local sport. It also has an interview with one of the freelance working girls who have become such a feature of Sukhumvit Road. It sounds like a version of this site being published the old-fashioned way – and unlike this site they charge 100 baht for it! I hear rumours that if you look hard you should spot a few free copies lying around the traps.

What I am about to tell you is fundamentally questionable, and something which I just know will raise the ire of a few readers. So let me explain my reason for telling you. The phenomenon of women, in this case Thai, taking guys to the cleaners in a calculating manner, in this case farang, is widespread. In some cases it verges on criminal. To me, that makes it wrong. The easiest way to establish whether the woman you’re dating has got a few guys on the go is to get into her mobile phone. But that's not always easy because these girls guard their mobile with their life! The next best way to find out what is really going on is to get into her email account. There are many ways to do that, but this is, perhaps, the easiest. You need a computer with Mozilla Firefox installed. If you're not in the know, Firefox is the preferred web browser of geeks – and is faster than Internet Explorer. Firefox has this feature whereby if it crashes, on reloading it gives you the option of restoring the last session which does exactly that – it takes you right back to *exactly* the page(s) you were at in your last browsing session. So if for example, someone was in the middle of reading an email from a web-based email account like Hotmail or Yahoo, the restore session feature will take you right back there – right into their account. So here is what you do. You allow your teeruk to use your computer and you surreptitiously keep an eye on her. When she is in her email account, you flick the power switch (preferably you have a long power cord running to a power point out of sight or at the very least, a few metres away). That will crash the system. When the computer restarts, you have the option of restoring Mozilla to the previous point it was at. Select this option and it will open all web browser windows the user was previously at, including her email account. Voila, you're in. I actually found this out quite by mistake. I have an old crappy laptop, my backup machine, which is prone to crashing, and I stumbled on this quite by mistake. For sure, this is a bug which they will iron out soon (although continuing to use an older version, in this case 2.0.0.9, should suffice). Yes, I do admit this is wrong, and it is illegal. So do so at your own risk!

Further to the reports that tazer guns can be purchased easily on the street in Thailand, the price can be 1500 baht or less if your bargaining skills are find-tuned. They actually are rather nice as they double as a flashlight and have a belt harness that comes with them. They're available in front of Pizza Company on the Beach Road.

The issue of the Immigration department in Pattaya requiring those on certain visas to provide front and rear photocopies of their ATM or credit card has picked up steam. Many Pattaya based retirees are up in arms and understandably hugely reluctant to provide such details to Immigration. After all, anyone with access to these details could use that credit card. A number of guys have contacted their banks abroad as well as offices of their government, all of whom give the clear advice that the details asked for should not be provided under any circumstances. What's the bet Immigration back down on this one.

When I was young the annual family holiday in Australia was always fun. One of my memories of Sydney in the '80s was all of the graffiti and signs at the time that read "Stop the Asian invasion". I wonder if we'll soon see some "Stop the Aussie invasion" signs in Phuket ?

That little hotty Tatayoung's sin sot is said to be a cool 100 million baht, almost 3 million dollars in real money!

And here's a dating site that has a blacklist of Thai girls. Kind of surprised they have such a page, to be honest, given the local laws pertaining to libel and slander.


Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick returns after a lengthy sojourn to help you with you relationship and culture questions and the things that baffle you about life in Thailand. She accepts questions on matters of the heart or cultural misunderstandings. Her answers are entirely her own without any influence or editing by me. She looks forward to reading and answering your questions, so please give her a big welcome by sending in some thought-provoking things.

Question 1: One of the many things I like about Thailand is the people's tolerance. Thai people accept things that people in other countries would get all upset about. This brings me to my question. I met my girlfriend in a Soi Cowboy bar and, I will admit, she espouses the characteristics of a lady who spent time in the bars. What I would like to know is this: Will Thais be tolerant of the fact that I am going to marry a woman with a vastly inferior education to mine and will the fact that she was a bargirl affect my work life (I am a manager of a team of all Thais, almost 70 staff)?

Mrs. Stick says: It will, it will definitely and unless you plan to hide it really well, I mean this is nothing to do with being tolerant, it is more like respect and expectations. You are the manager and you are the leader of the team so they will expect more from you. 100% it is your own business but then again, it is definitely going to affect their feelings about your choice. And that will affect things at work, 100% for sure!

Question 2: How can I explain to my girlfriend that her family's requests for money are just too much? My girlfriend earns a good salary by Thai standards but now that they know about me they expect her to increase the amount she sends them per month, from 5,000 to 10,000 baht. I am an English teacher and my salary is not exactly high. How can I convince her to convince them that I just do not have the extra 5,000 to spend. After I have paid for our apartment, my insurance and all of the bills, I have just a bit over 20,000 baht left each month. Giving 25% of my salary away to people I have not met seems a bit rich. What do you suggest?

Mrs. Stick says: First of all, is it the family's expectations or hers? Is the family putting pressure on her and she is then asking for money from you. Whose expectations they are you need to find out. Let's get to the point. You and your girlfriend need to understand your situation. She needs to be reasonable and sensible because while Thai people take care of their family, it has to be within a reasonable level. You need to work on the understanding of your relationship. If she still wants the money then you have a problem…with her! I can understand her wanting you to help, but this is perhaps a little bit too much given your situation. If she earns a good salary like you say she shouldn't need to ask for more from you.

Some people get on my case when I write something about a bar that is less than favourable, although that is something I am less inclined to do these days. What many don't seem to get is that this column can really help specific bars, but not do a great deal to hurt them. Any mention of a bar heightens its profile – and that is always good for publicity. But that aside, let me explain what I mean. This column has XX thousand readers. Let's say I talk up a bar to be something truly special and give it such a rave review that convinces 10% of all column readers go there (and that would be way on the high side), then that bar is now going to do extremely well, from Stickman readers alone. Let's say that I do the opposite and give a bar a bad review. Well, there are a few hundred thousand farangs resident in Thailand and a few million who come each year, all of whom are possible customers. Given that only a small percentage of them, that is all of a bar's potential customers, are Stickman readers, then the potential damage to a bar is minimal. Add to that that many readers aren't interested in the nightlife stuff and hopefully you'll see that even mention in a negative light has little difference.



Yours,

Stick Mark II