Stickman's Weekly Column January 27th, 2008

The Three That Got Away


It's the never ending question on the minds of Westerners eking out a living in Thailand. Should I stay or should I go?

The advantages and disadvantages of Thailand versus Farangland have been discussed to death and many of us find ourselves going around in circles, the same old arguments coming up over and over.

We all have a different set of personal circumstances and every single person's reasons for staying on in Thailand or deciding to relocate back to the west are different. It is so easy to speculate as to why people live where they do, but to do so is ignorant. It's difficult to understand the factors influencing each of us to stay or to go. It is so easy to look at someone's job, their financial situation or their prowess with women – or otherwise, and make sweeping judgments based on that.

But the truth is that seldom do we really know what is going on in another person's life. Illness or death in the family, health problems, investment opportunity, the inability of a spouse to adapt to their foreign partner's culture…these and a million other factors influence where we choose to live. Sometimes we didn't have a choice and circumstances force our hand.

But what of those who have actually returned to Farangland after having made Thailand home? What made them choose to leave? Was it the right move or did they later find themselves full of regrets?

This week I contacted three guys who chose to return to the West. An Aussie, a Brit and an American. The Aussie I knew while he was in Bangkok and we would meet up from time to time. The Brit I met with a couple of times. I never met the American. The Aussie and the Brit are about my age and I believe the American is somewhat older. Each was asked the same questions about how their life has been since returning to Farangland, and how they now feel about Thailand, with the benefit of retrospect.

The Aussie

What did you do in Thailand and how long did you stay?

I was doing IT / computer work for a friend in Thailand. He has a business selling second hand luxury watches (Rolex, Cartier, Patek Philippe etc.). I was involved in putting a website together for him. I also listed items on eBay for him.

I did everything to sell these items – photography of watches, writing descriptions, handling sales questions, ensuring payment had come in, dispatching via courier (FedEx / DHL) etc. On average I was selling about AUD$100,000 a month. He had excellent stock, probably AUD$500,000 – AUD$1,000,000 – serious money!

I lived in Thailand from August 2002 until June 2004. I stayed manly in Soi Nana. I then spent most of 2004 in Pattaya.

What drew you to Thailand originally?

In 2002 I was retrenched from an IT job in Australia. The IT market in Australia was very tight at the time (after the year 2000 peak). My friend offered me a job working for him. In my personal life my marriage to a European lady was not the greatest. So I suppose it was the desire to stay in work, see an exotic land and also at the back of my mind, I had heard about Asian ladies.

I remember flying to Thailand and dreaming / fantasising about meeting a nice Asian lady who would understand me, who would like / accept / be my friend. It was not just a sexual desire. I wanted to feel the tenderness of a lovely Asian lady. I dreamt of companionship.

How long ago did you leave and what was it that made you decide to leave Thailand? Was it a single factor or a combination of things?

I left Thailand in mid-2004. The immediate cause was that I realised I had been spending borrowed money far too fast. Although I was making good money, I was spending even more!

In early 2004 I parted ways with my friend who I originally worked for. We have since become friends again – albeit nowhere near as close.

I then started working for myself selling watches together with a new German partner in Pattaya. Although the German never ripped me off for huge money, he certainly tried. He also lied about the costings of some items we dealt in. I realised this is the type of foreigner who survives in Thailand.

My relationship with my Thai wife created many problems. I had been sucked into the bargirl scene and sought extra closeness outside than that offered by my Thai wife.

The market place was also getting harder and the currency situation made selling things more difficult. Then there were the Thai problems – Customs and shipping. Some of the items I shipped were stolen by the Thai post office. Other items were held up in FedEx / DHL or by Customs. I could ship out of Singapore but the costs of doing so ate any profit!

It all became a nightmare! I came to realise the following:-

1) There are some very dodgy foreigners in Thailand who prey on other foreigners and these are not honourable businesspeople.

2) TIT – This is Thailand, a developing country. NOT THE WESTERN WORLD! 3rd world shipping / 3rd world Customs. ALL A JOKE!

3) My Thai wife. Sometimes if too many bad things have occurred in a relationship it is better to exit and start a new relationship. I suppose it was my fault but too much bad stuff had occurred…

What do you miss most about Thailand?

I miss many things. There is not a day in Australia that I have not thought about Thailand! I miss the stink of Bangkok. I miss the "hansum man – where you go?"

I miss the feeling of being in a city of so many people. I miss going to the Nana for the lunch buffet. I miss Central Chidlom Food Loft. I miss Foodland – Burger Goy. I miss going to the movies twice a week with my cute Thai wife. I miss the noise of the city. I miss all my international sex monger friends who would stay at the Nana Hotel and then come and smoke Cuban cigars on top of the condo building whilst we talked about world politics and looked at the view of Bangkok from 10 floors up with huge cigars in our mouths.

I miss all the lovely Thai ladies. White woman are so ugly compared to Asians.

I remember coming back to Australia in mid 2004. My first thought was: WHERE ARE ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LADIES and who are all these pigs!

I miss seeing green tourists. I miss many things…

I miss having lunch with Stickman from time to time.

Would you return to Thailand?

ABSOLUTELY! I like to think that Thailand has taught me many valuable things. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!

1) I have since married a Japanese lady in Australia – this taste for Asian ladies came from Thailand.

2) I have sorted out my Australian problems – divorced European wife and married a lovely Japanese lady, found work in IT for a huge American company and the job is really quite good. Financially we are also doing well. Bought a lovely home in a nice middle-class area and just got a brand new (Thai Made) Honda Accord!

3) My Japanese wife and myself are looking forward to visiting Thailand in the coming years… I say years because we have 2 infant children who are not at the best age to travel.

ALSO – at the back of my mind. If my world collapsed in Australia I could always live in Thailand. Second time around is always easier as you have hopefully remembered all the lessons!

The American

What did you do in Thailand and how long did you stay?

I worked as a journalist for the travel industry. That is, I researched and wrote stories on Thailand, Laos and Cambodia for a newspaper, an online daily, and a couple magazines, aimed at Asia Pacific travel agents, airline operators and hoteliers.

What drew you to Thailand originally?

I was working in Japan and took a week's vacation to Bangkok. I chose Thailand because someone had told me it was the only South East Asian country that was never colonized. I wanted to see a "pure" Asian culture (though I later learned that purity is not one of Thailand's strong points). Wandering around, the city felt weirdly familiar and I became certain I'd someday live there. A couple years later, I did. Were the girls a factor? Duh. But mostly, it was the excitement of a city that seemed to hold surprises around every corner, and the challenge of setting up a life in an alien environment.

How long ago did you leave and what was it that made you decide to leave Thailand? Was it a single factor or a combination of things?

I left exactly a year ago, for several reasons. Illness in the family, a new career move, and the fact that foreigners can never be really secure in Thailand. Being married to a Thai, I could buy a house and even finesse a land deal, but any petty official could take it all away from me with a few well-placed bribes. Personally I don't mind the insecurity so much, but I have a wife to care for now. She was a big motivator in other ways, too. Though she is Thai, she was sick of all the hassles that come with being the wife of a farang in Thailand. She hated how we were often treated with disrespect by the locals. Meanwhile she loved how clean and organized everything is in the US, and how straightforward and generally honest Americans are.

What do you miss most about Thailand?

Though I moved to America for security for my family, the thing I miss most is the unexpected – the fact that I knew, everyday, that I would experience something that would put a new fold in my brain. Even after several years, Thailand always held surprises. My job helped with that. I was always traveling to odd places and trying new things. Once I spent a week learning to be a mahout at a five-star resort in the Golden Triangle. I would sit on the elephant's neck just laughing that this was my job. Of course I miss the eye candy too, but American girls aren't so bad. In the small university town I live in now, I see an attractive woman at least once a month…

Would you return to Thailand?

We will definitely return to Thailand (and Cambodia, and Laos). We plan to buy a house in the US, and then spend six months of every year based in Thailand. I wouldn't buy a house in Thailand, though, unless it was a very, very sweet deal, with chanote, in a safe, quiet area. And it would have to be nice enough that I would never want to sell it (I wave goodbye to any money I spend in Thailand – no such thing as an investment there). So, we will probably rent and enjoy the greater freedom of movement. Someplace where the locals don't hate farangs yet.

The Brit

What did you do in Thailand and how long did you stay?

I stayed in Thailand for 2.5 years. I originally arrived without a plan and was mulling over ideas to own a coffee shop or to live off my investments whilst researching and writing a book but quickly realised that owning anything in Thailand was always going to be on shaky ground and so quashed one of those ideas. After 4 months of living in Phuket however I found myself feeling bored with the same old same old and so ended up doing a TEFL course to teach English instead. I hadn't planned on becoming an English teacher but four weeks later I found myself in Bangkok working at a School near Soi Rangnam teaching English. I soon realised that although the kids themselves were great, the school establishment and Thailand's approach to teaching English was a joke and I soon quit after my first contract year. To be honest I was surprised I lasted that long. The other aspect to the decision was that my fellow English teachers were more often than not of questionable character and were the sort of people I would not even associate myself with back home, so I started to question myself as to why I would want to do so in Thailand. I somehow felt that I had lowered my standards to a level that I wasn't comfortable with and so decided to get out of there. Besides someone with three master level degrees shouldn't be teaching English and it didn't take me long to realise that being a competent professional and being an English teacher in Thailand were not necessarily values that Thailand was seeking.

Fortunately for me friends from the higher education university circuit back in the UK introduced me to a Dean at one of the faculties in Thailand and not before long I found myself with a cushy little number running a degree programme and being paid to surf the Internet all day. I even had two Thai secretaries to take care of me. I stayed in this job for a further 1.5 years and would still be there had I not decided to leave Thailand.

What drew you to Thailand originally?

This is a story in its own right so forgive me for the preamble…

In December 2004 I had completed a really long project back in the UK and needed a well deserved break. I decided to take a month off work to tour the whole of Asia having previously visited Malaysia and Japan a few years before on Internet dates and was just intrigued by the whole Asian culture thing. This time I managed to line up an Internet date in each of the main Asia countries I was going to visit and so the journey began. My first destination was Indonesia where I dated a lovely Muslim girl who I still keep in touch with today. After that I worked my way up to Borneo and ended up in Sarawak where I had a date with a girl from one of the Iban tribes which saw me take a long boat into the jungle where I lived in a long house with her family for 5 days. After that I went over to the Philippines and met a nice girl in Cebu and another in Manila, but as Manila was like being in the middle of a Mad Max movie I was happy to get out of there. I Internet dated up into Osaka (I met a rather rich stock exchange trader who spent a small fortune on me). From there, I then went across to Hong Kong where I met the nicest Chinese girl with the biggest pair of false knockers I have ever spring boarded off, then into Beijing and Shanghai were all the girls seem to have bad breath, down to lovely Vietnam were the traditional girls live, through to Thailand and then on to Singapore before returning back to Indonesia. The plan was I would meet a girl in each place, date her, take a test drive if the keys were available and the one that ultimately charmed her way into my life would be the one I would return for and end up marrying.

At that time, Thailand was just a country on my list and I had no idea or notions as to what it was like or what I was going to find there other than it had a reputation as being a bit of a sex tourist sleaze pit that attracted the likes of Gary Glitter, and I wasn't interested in any of that. To be honest I didn't care too much for Thailand at first and found Bangkok to be oppressive, dirty and noisy but it was something about the smiles and outwardly friendly nature that got my attention. The internet date I had with a girl called Fon didn't go too well and I blew her off the night after I took her for a test drive. She was lousy in bed and besides I had met many girls that were higher up the ranking than she was so that was the end of that. In fact I wasn't that impressed with Thai girls! Before I went onto Singapore, I decided to take a week in Phuket for a traditional beach holiday and ended up witnessing the Tsunami and its aftermath.

Having witnessed the Tsunami, it brought home a few things to me about getting the most out of life and one day whilst sitting on a rock at the far end of Patong Beach reflecting on my life up to that point, I decided on a whim to return home, to sell my house, my car, all my possessions and to quit my job. My mind was set on aiming for a more relaxed way of life in Asia but I had no idea what I was going to do when I returned except that I was going to enjoy it. Effectively I had decided to live my life for me rather than for my mortgage. At the time I hadn't decided on Thailand as my return destination although the friendliness of its people was certainly appealing. I continued the journey to Singapore where I met one of the nicest girls ever and who went straight to the top of my wish list tree. I then returned back to Indonesia to meet the Muslim girl again before returning home.

At the end of this trip whilst on the long flight home, I had managed to narrow down my selection of girls to three countries. These were Indonesia, Singapore and Japan. Thailand wasn't even on the hit list simply because there wasn't a girl there for me. It only took six weeks for my house sale to complete as I managed to sell it to the first person who walked through the door for the asking price and 7 weeks later I was back on the shores of Asia. I first returned to Indonesia to the Muslim girl but quickly realised that Indonesia was not the place for me, because it was too, well, religious for my liking. Furthermore the Muslim girl and the religious "rules" surrounding any relationship with her put me off and the last thing I wanted was to be circumcised or renamed to Mohammed just for a girl. So I departed. I ended up in Singapore back with the wonderful Chinese girl but that too went south after her Chinese parents found out she was intending to marry someone who was not of Chinese descent and for which the girl became very emotional about. I didn't need all that extra emotion in my life and as much as I sometimes looked back and regretted it, I walked away from her as well. This left Japan and the rich stock broker. Unfortunately I never got there because upon reflection it was just too expensive to live there and I had no idea how I was going to make it work. Besides my pride wouldn't let me sponge off a woman for the rest of my days and so I made the decision not to bother. This was another regret of mine because not only did she hold dear to traditional Japanese values, I later found out that I broke the poor lady's heart.

So it was that I decided instead (if only because it was not far away) to venture back into Thailand and I ended up in Phuket picking up were the Tsunami left me and relaxing…but not for long. This is how I ended up in Thailand. Pretty much by default really!

How long ago did you leave and what was it that made you decide to leave Thailand? Was it a single factor or a combination of things?

I left Thailand in May 2007 and the decision to leave was a combination of many things really. The main ones for me were the frustrations of the ever changing regulations pertaining to foreigners in the country. It was bad enough having to go and report like a little boy every 90 days at Immigration but each annual visa renewal meant that I felt like I was planning my life on an annual basis only and it was always at the back of my mind that one day the little buggers would just give me the run around and force me to do a visa run or not let me back into the country. Maybe I was worrying too much but I personally needed more stability in my life especially as I had by now acquired a Thai wife along the way. Since I first arrived in Thailand I had always had the right immigration visa in my passport and not once did I ever have to go and do a visa run (small mercy) but the annual lottery associated with extending the visa and staying in Thailand was something I couldn't live with any longer. I knew all the rules regarding visa regulations and also knew that in addition to my work permit I was able if required to stay in Thailand on a spousal visa, yet even this brought changes that I didn't feel comfortable with. For example, new regulations in late 2006 meant that as the foreign spouse of a Thai we had to collectively show an income of 40k each month. This in itself was not a problem but being asked to pay tax on it regardless of where that income came from was enough to cheese me right off. Then when you add into this the continued and often changing requirements to show photos of where you are living with pictures of you both in your house / apartment along with each small mountain of paperwork for each application, well I started to question what on earth I was doing. Then came the military coup and the changes in the Foreign Business Act which didn't help things either and the uncertainty of not being able to own a house and living in apartment blocks were Thais owned the majority share just didn't appeal to my sense of belonging. The thing that finally made me decide to leave was my wife becoming pregnant. I sat down one day and took a long hard look at the situation and thought about what kind of future the baby was going to have should we continue to stay in Thailand. The future didn't look too rosy. Lousy schools and poor education standards, a father subject to the annual visa lottery, where to live, Bangkok or elsewhere, the lack of ownership of land or a house all wrapped up in a continued existence where I would always be the visitor and where opportunities for a career was always placed second to someone Thai. It didn't look good. So I left and went back to what I know. Also the additional incentive of being offered a relocation package and a nice big salary also had it's part to play…but only a minor one. Cough, Cough!

What do you miss most about Thailand?

The wife and I have this conversation regularly. She misses her parents, the warm weather, the food and her friends. She also misses the opportunity to buy cheap clothes.

I myself don't actually miss anything about Thailand and the reason for this is because it was not a place I originally chose to go to and I most certainly did not go there for the sex or bar scene. In fact upon reflection, I think if you are in Thailand and the sex or bar scene isn't for you, then the question is, what is there in Thailand for the guy not interested in what the seedier part of Thai life has to offer? Not much is the answer and unless you settle down into a normal relationship with a normal Thai girl outside of the bar scene, then I really do struggle to see what it is that keeps people living in Thailand. OK, sometimes the cheap food and the cheap clothes and the cheap cost of living are appealing but it also gets very tiresome. Thailand doesn't have the theatres of the west end, nor does it have the culture and history that classical music captures or the opera or museums of interest to visit either. Sure it has its temples but once you have seen one, well you have pretty much seen them all. Life in Thailand can be pretty boring most of the time.

The only thing hand on heart that I personally miss about Thailand is the freedom of riding a motorbike and the pretty lax laws concerning road usage. I have to say I don't miss the danger of driving in Thailand however here in England we are constantly on the look out for the mobile tax machines that are run by the police and not having to keep looking over your shoulder for one is a part of the freedom that Thailand brings which I will miss.

I guess I miss the ease by which you can go out and buy yourself a tasty meal on any part of the street and I guess I also miss the eye candy that one sees on an average day whilst walking through Thailand, I guess I also miss the opportunity for a cheap haircut, a head massage and a shaving of my ears all rolled into one wonderful experience.

Will I miss the majority of the foreigners who reside in Thailand? Will I miss the false smiles and superficiality of the Thais? Will I miss the loud music and lack of special awareness of the Thais? Will I miss the breath of someone having eaten Tom Yam two minutes earlier whilst sitting on the skytrain? Or will I miss the hot stifling weather and tropical down pours and the dirty roads and smog-filled atmosphere and the rats running around all day long? Hmmm I don't think so!

In fact I missed more about England whilst living in Thailand than I do about not living in Thailand and that speaks volumes! But I guess having my Thai wife with me here along with my beautiful olive skinned daughter lets me experience a form of paradise where ever I am in the world. At the end of the day, say what you like about life in the West, but back here life is all what you make of it, whereas Thailand is more about what Thailand allows you to make of it.

Would you return to Thailand?

Never say never, right? The original plan was to return to England in say 10 to 15 years time when I was 50 to 55. That way I would satisfy retirement visa regulations and have even more money so that I could return to Thailand and live the happy life for the remainder of our days together as a family. Now that I have a daughter I guess she will dictate that future because her education is far more important. Who knows now if that plan will ever happen? However when one considers the Italian Riviera and the French vineyards as a sensible viable alternative to a middle class Farang, well it doesn't take much to be swayed otherwise.

I asked the wife the other day if she would swap what we now have here in England with what we could have back in Thailand. After a few stuttering responses that involved family and food, the comfort of having her own home surrounded by beautiful things and a fridge full of food was enough to tempt her otherwise. Of course we could have these things in Thailand but she would only have these things if I had a frontal lobotomy and gave her a blank cheque to spend all my money at her leisure for which she would have full ownership. But as she knows this is never likely to happen as long as I still have breath in my lungs, well she recognises that life in England is far better in that she is allowed to have all the things she needs without compromising my position. So for her life couldn't be better and it's a fair compromise. She just needs to get it into her head that she may never live in Thailand again.

One thing is for sure though. Unless Thailand starts to become friendlier with its policies regarding foreigners and at least mirrors the same opportunities that my country gives to them in terms of opportunity, land ownership and long term visa opportunities (once they have stayed two years and pass the English test), then I for one will be treating Thailand as it does me. As a mere convenience that will satisfy my needs today but for which I will have no care for when tomorrow comes. In the meantime I will remain an interested visitor for many years to come (I have to if only for the wife) but from now on my money will be spent at other worldly pastures instead. For me, arriving in Thailand was one of my better decisions because despite meeting all those girls across Asia via the Internet, it took a chance meeting whilst arranging some life insurance in Bangkok to meet my lovely wife. The second best decision was when I decided to leave Thailand because life couldn't be any better.

Summary

I was expecting to see patterns to the responses, but really, many were rather different. One guy would quite like to return given the chance, one would like to split his year between Thailand and the States and the other has absolutely no wishes to return to Thailand whatsoever!

But there was one pattern, that of security for one's family. While we're only talking three people here, the consensus is that the West is a far, far better place to raise kids than Thailand.

I also find it interesting that both the guys who worked in Thailand had workplace troubles of one sort or another, which verifies what I have often felt; Thailand is a great place to live but not always a wonderful place to work.

It is also interesting that with the benefits of hindsight and retrospect, the respondents seem to believe that the positives about Thailand do seem to revolve around the local women and the opportunity to meet a wife.

For sure, each of these guys realises that the West does have many positives and that while Thailand has a lot going for it, don't discount the West too quickly. It has many, many advantages, especially for those with a family.

As Boss Hogg once said to me, "Thailand is a single guy's paradise, but it is totally different when you have a family."

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of Sathorn Road, from the pedestrian overbridge at the intersection with Narathiwat Road, next to Empire Tower. 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 – Avoiding confrontation.

Perhaps one of the reasons Thais lie so much is that no-one confronts them. Unlike your response in the phone store, I think most Thais will just allow the lie. Even my Thai wife frequently comments that one must be careful due to the amount of lies that Thai people tell. I think if there were more people, such as yourself in the phone store, that confront the lie, and cause loss of face, the person giving the lie may think twice.

Mulder in disguise!

Reading your opening piece titled "Lies" you remind me of Mulder on the X Files desperately seeking the illusive truth. Thai communication and interaction can be easily summed up in one word: warmth. Thais do not tell the truth and they do not seek the truth for it is not relevant to the speaker or the listener. Communication and interaction between Thai people is not about advancing knowledge and understanding…it is about sharing that fuzzy feeling called warmth. Thai people couldn't care less if they are listening to a lie so long as they are feeling warm. In fact they laugh at farangs' constant quest to find the truth. In Thailand seeking the truth is a futile pursuit.

Not unique to Thailand.

Lying is part of the culture in any third world country. I've been to them all (most anyway) on all the continents and it's the same everywhere. First and foremost, it's all about 'face' and saving it for both the liar and the recipient. Locals accept this as part of everyday life. A local will lie to another local for example about why they cannot attend a party. Even if the local has a legitimate excuse, they'll still lie about why they cannot attend. Local to farang lying is all about the local angling for some potential payoff from the farang. Of course there's the "face factor" but with local to farang lying, money comes into play as well.

"Has sir considered this model?"

I buy a lot of laptops, and I use the same store in Fortune Town all the time. One time I go in to get a model, lets call it #92. The store then tries to sell me another model, #91 for a bit more than the #92. The (obvious) truth eventually came out – they were out of the new model and were trying to sell me the old model AT THE HIGHER PRICE. If they had just said they were sold out, but I could give me last month's model at a discount – I might have bought it. The sad thing is I still shop there, because every other shop is just as bad and at least here I know the people and can spot a problem easier. You have to do your research in everything, store staff will say anything to make a sale, anything – and they don't give a damn about being found out or repeat business.

The "no hab" problem.

Although I haven't been lied to in order to sell me something else, I have wondered why they display items they don't have in stock. I recently looked at digital movie cameras on display in Power Buy, and at least three quarters of them were not available. So why are they on display, I asked? Thai smile. Same with trying to buy a cheap mobile phone to have as a backup. On display, not in stock. Same with a kettle I wanted. Same with a water heater I wanted – he even spent time telling us all about it, 'sold' it well and was knowledgeable about it which was a bit of a shock, and then couldn't sell it as they didn't have it! On another occasion I was interested in buying a digital camera, but no-one in the store could tell me how much it was! I will buy a digital movie camera, but I'll get it when I'm in Dubai next month. They actually sell things there, instead of just displaying them.

The Perth option.

In Perth I visited the Thai consulate to check my visa options based on my new married to a Thai status. They advised that I could be issued with an 'O' multi entry visa with a validity of 1 year. The consulate in Perth is only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which coupled with the holidays gave me only the day of ringing to apply and receive my visa. I rushed over to the consulate arriving at 10:30 AM. I gave a copy of the new marriage certificate, my wife's passport and quickly filled out the required forms. I returned at 1:30 PM with the fee of AU$320 and received a nice new 'O' stamp in my passport. All very painless except for the price. The two Australian ladies running the consulate also advised me that if I timed my departure and re-entry correctly i.e. returning just prior to the anniversary date of the visa then that last 90 day stamp would effectively give 15 months service from a 12 month visa.

Retirement in Phuket.

Phuket is not the place that I chose to retire to 9 years ago. The place that I saw and chose was full of fun. It had gogo bars with beautiful, sometimes naked ladies, only a couple of freelance discos, and ladyboys confined to a small area for those who were that way inclined. I met many people like myself, self-made men who could afford to stay here as long as they wanted and cared less about the price of suds. Now the town is swamped with ladyboys. There's a huge clampdown on showing breasts, unless of course the aforementioned. The only expats I meet here now (with a few exceptions) are hanging on by their fingertips, trying to extract a living from totally unprofitable bars and any other activity that will delay their return to Farangland. I am avidly reading the world retirement guides. I do like a beer or two of an evening and I do not appreciate being told I cannot have it, for any reason the locals dream up, not that it stops them, of course.

Westerners falling foul of ladyboys on Sukhumvit Road is a common problem and while I don't like to keep going over the same old material, I think it is worthwhile updating the situation. Pretty much every day Westerners can be found at the Lumpini police station filling out victim reports with "ladyboy" the only words given when describing their assailant. Muggings by ladyboys, a regular occurrence and, more worryingly, druggings and the subsequent theft of goods and cash are reported to the police station which looks after the Nana area everyday. It's widespread. You need to be wary of these cretins.

Cowboy's happy hour is working very well and as early as 7:30 there is no shortage of punters in the merry lane happy to soak up the early evening atmosphere, sitting outside the bars and watching the world go by. Enjoy it now because the switch will be flicked in the next few weeks and we'll go from the pleasant weather we're currently experiencing to the awful hot season.

The assault on an Eastern European tourist near Pattaya's soi 15 has got us all scratching our heads. What happened was nasty but thankfully the initial reports that the victim perished proved to be wrong. An Eastern European tourist belted one of the employees of Angelwitch in the face resulting in all hell breaking loose. Despite the fact that they work for competing bars, many of the security staff from other bars in the adjascent soi joined in the fracas, seizing the chance to give a tourist a pounding who must have felt like he was being set upon by a bunch of soi dogs. One on one fights don't happen here. If a farang takes on a Thai, other Thais in the area will do one of two things, either join in and bash the farang, or leg it! Whatever way you look at it, they're cowards, but perhaps that is irrelevant when you consider that it was the European who threw the first punch, a seriously dumb move.

Still in Pattaya, a handful of bars in various sois have been issued with closure orders by the boys in brown. No really big name bars amongst them. It's always a surprise to hear of smaller bars in less popular sois closed like this.

Marine Disco has always been a happy hunting ground and it sounds ever wilder than ever with estimates putting the number of ladies in the disco at many times higher than the number of guys. That sounds exciting, but you have to feel sorry for the girls who may not be making much money.

This January has been the worst January in at least a decade for many bars and restaurants. Hotels may be full, but there has been a major shift in the type of holidaymakers choosing Pattaya at this time of year.

Spanky's staff were doing the pee in the cup thing with the boys in brown this past Friday. Never a bad thing to test the girls for drugs, in my opinion. I truly believe that drugs, particularly methamphetamines, are the bane of the 21st century, the root of so many crimes.

And with that in mind, we should be aware that with the election behind us, the police will be looking in new directions. Expect more drug testing and a crackdown on smoking in bars (from February 11).

A sign posted out in front of the Farang Connection in Nana, which has been closed for some time now, states that it is up for sale.

I went for a stroll through the bars in Soi 22 this week, the area sometimes referred to as Queen's Park Plaza. This beer bar area never seems to be that busy although I have not checked it out on a Friday night. There may be some friendly girls in the bars but with it all being so quiet it will appeal to anyone looking for a more laid-back area. Sadly, some of the girls seemed rather desperate to get customers into their empty bars – and desperation is not an appealing quality

One thing I like about Bangkok, compared with Pattaya, is the lack of tattoos on the birds in the bars. In Raw Hide this week, during one of the shows, I counted 13 girls on stage at one point and not one of them had a tattoo.

Lady drinks in Joy Nguen Bar are up to 150 baht, that is they're getting pricey. But it has to be said that the bar does seem to be repositioning itself as a stress management bar. Buy enough drinks and the entertainment possibilities become mind boggling. Think After School, Lolita's and Moonshine!

O'Reilly's in Silom has a new manager – Danny from Ball in Hand, Nana moved over there last month. It's a great step for him and thoroughly deserved. He put in a LOT of hard work for the guys at Ball in Hand and was quite often unappreciated. Right now they have three venues and only one manager! Since Danny left there has been something of an exodus of pool players to The Sports Academy.

Following on from last week's stories of Westerners being searched by police on Sukhumvit Soi 22, I received more email from people whose wallet was lighter after the search than before, notwithstanding that no fine or infringement notice has been given. Hmmm…

Glow, the flash bar in the Sukhumvit Soi 23 area, will be closed from 27 – 29 January. The good news is that this closure is for renovations on the exterior terrace. A completely new terrace will be constructed with a new entrance to the club with double doors as well as other improvements.

Shadow Sports Bar on Soi Cowboy will be having a SuperBowl XLII party on Monday, February 4 while broadcasting the SuperBowl between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants American football teams live on 7 screens. There will be a 150 baht buffet breakfast available as well as lots of Bloody Marys, etc. The bar will open at 7 AM and the game starts at 8 AM.

The Old Dutch's outside seating provides a very nice vantage point to watch the comings and goings in Cowboy. Remember, the Old Dutch serves food so it would be a fun place to start the night. Also, with the weather getting warmer, now would be the time to take advantage of the outdoor seating while it is still comfortable.

The Immigration department will launch a new website with services which will make the visa process a little easier. We'll know more details in March.

I notice that Singha Light has been advertising heavily recently. I wonder if this is Singha Gold, their low alcohol beer, repackaged and remarketed? I dare not try it as I am not a fan of Singha products – nor do I usually go for light beers. But if anyone has any words of wisdom, do let me know so we can pass it on to the readership.

Following on from last week's piece about mobile phone spam, the word on spam is the same as with your email address – don't give it to companies unless you absolutely must. That said, telephone numbers are all within certain range so I would have thought that would be much easier to spam than email addresses.

The movie rights to Bangkok novels get sold from time to time, but the rights holders and the Hollywood studios seem to sit on them and sadly, they never make it to the big screen. That looks like it might be about to change. A true A-list actor, a certain Mr. Reeves, may well be recruited to play the role of a Bangkok based private detective with a distinctly Italian surname. Let's wait and see what happens, but I sure hope it actually happens. If it does, this particular author will be thrust into the stratosphere.

Personally I think they are much too big and bulky, but of course that is personal opinion, but yes, Apple's IPhone has been available in Bangkok for a while now. Unofficially, however. They started at 25,000 baht but you can now get them for 18,000 baht in Mahboonkrong. Beware however that some sort of "fix" is done to them so that they can be used on the local network – and this seems to make them less stable. The couple of people I know who use one on the local network admit frustration at the way their modified toy crashes fairly often. As far as I know, the IPhone is not yet officially available in Bangkok.

Father Joe Maier's 13th annual charity golf classic will be held on Friday March 14 at the Vintage Gold Club at Bangna km 27. You can register at Bourbon Street in Washington Square by contacting either Doug or the cashier. The format is two man scramble – and I have no idea what that means!

Quote of the week comes from a well-known author in a popular show bar this week. "This is brilliant, it's erotic ballet!"

Musicians are required to form a new band, initially based in Thailand, but not intended for the Thailand music scene. This is a new band to be formed with the intention of making it in the worldwide music scene. This is not an advertisement for bar players, but people who are really serious about forming a successful music band. They have the songs and the ideas and the way to market the band, but require musicians as follows: a drummer, a bassist, possibly another guitarist and importantly a singer / frontman. This is a serious post, wanting people in the Bangkok / Pattaya area. Music influences include Stone Roses, Paul Weller, The Verve, Oasis etc. [email protected].

Here's a video from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about the investigation into the slaying of their national in Pai earlier this month.

Not Thailand related, but this article about sex and marriage not going together from the Daily Mail in the UK is worth a squiz. All I can say is "Hal, you married a dragon!"

Revenge of the Brit! This fellow refused to be a victim in Pattaya but what's the bet he's sent to the monkey house?

This story from the BBC with a Thai connection is amusing.


Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick returns after a lengthy sojourn to help you with your 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: I have noticed that so many Thai gals wear open shoes or sandals that are several sizes too small, and often their toes dangle a couple of inches over the front of the shoe. Is there a reason for this?

Mrs. Stick says: I'm not sure what part of Thailand you are in. But you must be obsessed with ladies' toes. Maybe you should ask the first next lady who wear those kind of shoes or sandals and perhaps share with us what you find out.

Question 2: I used to go to one of the well-established 'not so tacky' bars on Sukhumvit Soi 4 most evenings for several years on my way home from work. Now that I have grown out of the beer bar routine and cleaned up my act, I only visit there once every two or three months. I have a very good relationship with the management who are senior in their years and very pleasant but obviously live with a troubled past from when they were 'in the industry'. My problem is that they sometimes wai me but other times they just wave and say hello. Should I wai them when they wai me? The obvious answer is yes, but as they only do this periodically surely this is false?

Mrs. Stick says: In this case, you should not be too concerned as you are close to him or her already. Just react in the way that you think is proper. Sure, the wai is part of our beautiful culture but for farangs it's important to learn to so that you can live in Thai society comfortably. Since you already knew that, maybe it's time to adjust or apply it in different situations.

Question 3: During my last visit to my wife's home a younger male was hanging at the parents' village home. He was the driver who picked us up from the hotel many days. I thought at first my wife told me he was her brother in law. At breakfast he would drink two large bottles of beer (I do not drink) and when driving around he would roll down the window and cat call to young girls on motorbikes. I asked my wife about why she allowed her sister's husband to act this way. She then told me he was her sister's friend. Later at a meal with the sister she mentioned he was her friend and she looked puzzled. At the hotel I asked about this and she became upset. She curled up and did not wish to talk about it. All she said was that she was sorry. At first I did not know if she was mad at me or she had done something wrong and fearing the worst I was upset. I have read about Thai husbands being around and farang not even knowing. To make matters worse she went to a restroom and when she came to bed, I checked to see if she was wearing her wedding ring. I think she thought I was trying to take the ring off and she clinched hand tight and held next to her. When I realized what she thought I was doing, I began saying sorry and to date I still feel bad about this. In the morning she initiated physical affection (unusual for her) and somehow all was better and she was happy. So I was smart and did not ask any questions. Later a Thai friend told me they thought the person was a brother. I have never met any brothers and no-one seems to talk about them. My questions are: Is it normal to lie about a person being a brother as she was embarrassed by his actions? Is the initiating of affection something that Thai wives do to see if you are still upset with her? Is it normal to marry a lady and not meet any brothers. If brothers are not good people do they just never mention any of them?

Mrs. Stick says: I would assume that you did not know her and / or her family well enough before you married her. It is suspicious that she keeps telling you different stories about one person and you have every right to doubt it. It is not nice to live with your spouse with this cloud over your heads. If it's true, then you get hurt, if it's not, then it is damaging your relationship more or less. Now it is your choice to put this behind you or to keep pursuing the truth. I cannot answer for all Thai wives about what they do to make up with their husbands, but in this case, she tends to use her woman power to solve the problem.

Yes, I have been known for being a little on the cheap side and this week one of my friends made the comment that I am a tight ass. What a charmer, he is. Anyway, with the silly prices charged for drinks in many of Bangkok's night venues, I have found myself doing what we used to do in the good old days, when we genuinely didn't have much cash in our pockets. We would go around to a mate's place, have a few drinks there and then head out to town, already well on our way, so to speak. With silly money charged in many Bangkok bars and a bad attitude in many, I much prefer having a few drinks with mates before heading out.



Yours,

Stick Mark II