Stickman's Weekly Column March 2nd, 2008

Lawrence Revisited


I had battled my way through the back sois, fighting my way past mosques, lines of motorcycle taxis and packs of soi dogs. As I pulled up to a rather non-descript shophouse, the man I had come to see leapt out, grabbed my hand, furiously pumped it and led me inside.

As I entered the shophouse, the laughter and squeaking of a bunch of Thai women I had heard from outside turned to quiet, almost as if a messiah had entered the room. Precisely 10 Thai women, all dollied up, went totally silent. Not a peep from any of them. I now had 10 sets of eyes squarely on me, weighing me up, one or two looking me up and down, the serious almost detached looks on their faces softening, and slowly turning into smiles. After a few seconds I had 10 smiles from 10 sets of girls, all with their eyes fixed on me. I guess they liked what they saw. I was getting sad, puppy dog eyes from at least half of them and felt like I was at the local SPCA choosing a puppy. The looks on their faces were just the same, as if to say, "Please choose me, please!"

The 10 or so women were in the offices of Thai Professional Introductions to meet a farang guy who had shown interest in them. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for them it wasn't me. A 60-something year old Brit was due in shortly and this was the group of 10 he had pre-selected. Did they think I was him. 60+ years old? Me? Please no!

Lawrence was previously interviewed a couple of years ago but I wanted a chance to find out how things had changed, hence we got together for a chat.

This place is nice. Tell me about it.

Ok, we used to have an office in Asoke and umm, it was a good, prime location but it was very expensive and it seemed to me we were just pouring water down the toilet in rent so we thought we'd buy a property and we did, this three story townhouse, which we completely renovated from the ground up.

That must have been fun!

It certainly appears to me that unlike the UK you don't bother with surveyor's reports, you just take your chances. We just bought it as we saw it on the understanding that we would gut it completely. Tappanee came out for 4 months to supervise the work. You have to be there to supervise the work all the time because you never know what they will do! What was happening on the ground floor was that we wanted to put the windows as far forward as we could to get more space. Tappanee went out one day and came back and they had built up the wall in the wrong place, 4 feet in from where it should have been!

If I was giving advice to anybody in contemplating purchasing or building in Thailand it would that you've got to be there in situ at all times. You can buy a house in one of these villages which superficially are very nice but the quality of materials used is often inferior. We got quality materials and did it the way we wanted to. You know, when the cat's away the mice will play!

Do you want to tell me about how it works as your office?

We have three floors. We have the main office area on the ground floor and then we have two interview rooms on the second floor, where we are now. And there's a video room on the third floor.

What's that?

That's where the girls shoot the films for the website. For the DVDs that we sent out to people. And of course we have our bedroom and bathroom upstairs as well. We sleep on top of the shop basically.

How has the industry changed since we last spoke?

Well certainly it is a lot easier for me to meet ladies from all over the world with the advent of MSN, chat lines etc.. However it hasn't made it any easier at all to meet the right kind of lady because you know how sweet-mouthed ladies can be in emails and letters and chat. I know from many, many years ago, this is before the internet of course. My wife joined a pen pal club about 15 years ago and there were these people from different countries sending letters back to her and it soon became quite clear that it was a game for them and my wife soon cottoned on to the situation that I believe that most guys who correspond or chat over the net are doing it for – cheap thrills. All of this hasn't done our business any harm what so ever.

We find ourselves doing more visas these days. I had a guy call me up and say he was going out to Thailand to marry a girl he had met on MSN but he had not even met her physically yet. He married her and I know he paid a gargantuan dowry. He wasn't short of a few bob. I think it was about a million baht or something ridiculous. We did the visa for him and he was happy.

A lot of clients have tried all these different things and have been pulling their hair out. They still end up with us. I have an American man who sent me an email this morning to say that he had been in Bangkok for one week looking for a wife and all I can meet are, whatever you want to call it, the wrong type of girls. He wants to come today and meet someone now. We don't usually work that way. I will go to him and have a short interview with him and if we are mutually content he will sign up. The way we normally work is that a gentleman finds us on the net and almost certainly plays the 93 minute film on the net.

93 minutes?!

Yes! It makes life easier all around for us. If they play that film they know that what you see is what you get with me and they will know if it is their cup of tea or not.

They can also find out what a Buddhist wedding is like. We've got a very special wedding coming up in about three weeks with a gentleman. We're going to film the whole wedding and he has given us permission to put it up on the website. This is not a typical client. I would not want a reader of your column to think that this is a typical ceremony. He is a very wealthy man and is spending a small fortune on a reception at the Oriental Hotel and plans to have his good friend Garth Brooks, the country singer, come over and sing a song!

Have you noticed any changes in the type of guys using your service?

Well I have noticed that they are generally getting younger. I still get clients in their 60s, 70s and even their 80s. There are more men in their 30s and late 20s coming to us and genuinely seeking a partner.

We get a complete demographic. We had a guy last week of just 28 who married through us. He married a girl of 30. Not every guy of 28 is usually ready to do this. Most guys want to go and fly their kite and let off some steam and when they have done that they can settle down. This guy is a self-employed taxi driver and is mature for his age and it has gone very well. I get a lot of guys in their 20s who contact me and it is just a bit of a game for them. They want to meet girls and jump into bed with them but that is not what we are all about. If they want to do that they can come to Thailand and go to the bars. I get a lot of clients who have been to Thailand and done with the bar scene and now with a few miles on the clock they want to meet a genuine lady.

I had two American doctors this month, both successful, both about the same age, 37 and 38. At the moment I have got an Irish racehorse trainer and I have got a UK solicitor who got fixed up one day last week. He is coming in tomorrow to announce his engagement. Clients are often younger. My worst nightmare is the client who hasn't thought it through thoroughly enough considering the commitment and the expense of the whole operation.

I got an email from a Thai man in California who was married to an American lady. They had a 29 year old son who suffered from muscular dystrophy. He could still walk and get around but was not so mobile. They approached me and asked if I could help. We actually did a poll of ladies who would be happy and willing to meet a man with his disability. He made a selection from those ladies. They're happily married now in America. It's interesting because he was Thai! He was the only Thai man we have ever had.

Many guys come to Thailand because it is cheap and many guys think that marrying a Thai woman will not cost them much. But the truth is that if they take a girl back to their country, the entire expense is going to get a bit out of control. What do you say to that?

Umm, at the end of the day I would say that the Thai ladies they meet are generally pretty frugal. A lot of Thais think that in the West all Westerners are rich but once they get to the West, the UK or the US, they see it is difficult. The relationship has a good chance of working with a Thai lady as Thai ladies are naturally frugal, out of necessity from living in Thailand. They are very careful with money in Thailand because the average wage is not terribly high.

So does that mean that the typical lady who is on your books is someone of modest means?

Many are but not all.

Can you expand on that?

We have many ladies who are gainfully employed. They may be in factories or office or government workers. All of these jobs don't pay highly. However, we also have had ladies from some hi-so Thai families. We had one lady we fixed up recently with an accountant. She did not want to leave Thailand and they are shacked up here in Thailand. Her family are very well-heeled. I do suggest certain caution with ladies from these families because there is going to be the inevitable situation of a large sin sot and that might put the average guy off. When we have a meeting we ask four basic questions. We ask how much the sin sot will be, whether she has got any debts – she cannot leave Thailand if she has any debts. And also if she wants to have a family. Does she want to work or not when she relocates? If any of those questions and answers are not mutually acceptable to both parties, the interview will be terminated.

Most of the ladies are not on a high salary. Certainly by Western standards their salary would be considered very low.

Back to the guys, any other changes?

Just as long as the guy seems to be good-hearted, I am keen to take him on. I am finding a few very, very wealthy people. Some of my clients are extremely wealthy. They want a Rolls Royce service and they want everything done for them and that is what we do. They say they do not want to be messing around themselves. They want everything taken care of and that is what we do. Our service fee is not cheap, but you get what you pay for. I have clients who spend more on their business or first class air ticket than they do on our service.

I have had two guys in the last 12 months who have had to take out loans to finance their pursuit of a wife. One had to refinance his house. One of my clients who now lives in Thailand phoned me yesterday. He borrowed money to meet his Thai wife. He' about 50 she is about 27. He has relocated to Thailand and is now a pig farmer in the northeast of Thailand and he seems happy to lead a simple life.

Let's move on. Have you noticed any changes in the Thai ladies who enrol with you?

I think the Thai ladies, particularly with the growth of internet use and their ability to access it, have come to realise that their stock has gone up a little bit. That is not to say that still a good high percentage on our books are all like that. What I am saying is that the ladies can be picky and why shouldn't they be? I mean, we occasionally have clients who come out here who seem to be averse to having a bath. You know what I am saying, or maybe they are heavy smokers. We occasionally have a client who thinks that just because he is a farang that will be good enough and most of the ladies will be falling over themselves to meet him. The Thai ladies like to see a man who is well presented, smart and clean. I have had clients and not necessarily poor clients who have worn the same clothes every day for a week and have come into the office looking like a backpacker. They are not presenting themselves in the best way and are surprised that the ladies do not want to go out with them and are not attracted to them!

That is not to say that there still aren't a high number of ladies on the books who have very modest aspirations and they are basically just looking for a good, faithful "family man" but we always, as we said earlier, put the cards on the table at the start and find out the situation with the dowry. We had a lady who came in, she is now engaged, she came in to meet a guy who was a lorry driver and she was not a good looking lady whatsoever. We were flabbergasted that he thought she was good looking. To most people's eyes she was plain. She had the audacity to ask for a dowry of 300, 000 baht. One of my staff quietly took her aside out of ear shot of the man and explained that she was not a pretty girl and it is very unlikely that another man would want to marry her. She was told her prospects of marriage to a farang were extremely slim and she was shooting herself in the foot if she thinks 300, 000 baht is a fair dowry. We convinced her that 70, 000 baht was more realistic. This man could not afford that kind of money.

We have some women who come in who are rather plain and have 3 children and nevertheless they still expect a large dowry. In such a situation we will not call that lady and waste a man's time unless of course the man specifically selects that lady and says that he doesn't care about the dowry and he can afford it. In such a case that is fine.

One big question on my mind is why should someone pay your lofty fees when they could join one of the free sites and, assuming they are in Bangkok, get a date – and maybe more – tonight?! With your fees, the dowry, the visa costs, the relocation costs, buying her a new wardrobe, English lessons and so on, he could be in for a hell of a chunk of change. Are they really worth it?

Yes they are! People come to us who have been there, done that. They have tried to do it themselves. I have had customers who have come to me who have come out here to Thailand many times. In one case, a guy had been here 22 times. He was interviewed by Jonathan Head at the BBC and was asked why he had come here so many times. He said the money he had paid to me was the best money he had ever spent. When they meet ladies through us we can tell them things that they would never be able to find out by themselves. If they meet a lady socially, everything is going to be glossed over they will have this superficial impression. They're not going to know if she has a boyfriend at home, unknown children in the countryside who will be later revealed. They don't know if she is corresponding with other Western men at the same time.

Tell me more about how you filter out bargirls because I am really not convinced that any of the introductions services are able to filter them completely.

We are not private detectives and I am not ever going to say that every single lady that a man would meet through our service is perfect in every way or indeed vice versa, the man too.

Good point!

However we can take 98% of the risk out. You can never get into someone's head. We are not psychologists, mind readers or private detectives.

I can never put my head on the block and give a 100% guarantee that every single lady that a man meets will be perfect in every way. People are not machines and there is always the human factor. There is always a man or a woman who is being economical with the truth and no matter how much digging you do you are not going to find everything out. We have had men who have come out here, ostensibly to look for a wife, for whom the money has been no problem. The cost has been of no consequence at all. Once they started meeting ladies it soon became apparent that they were just playboys out to have a good time and play games with the ladies. Once in a while the reverse could be true, but it is the exception to the rule.

Without obviously divulging any clients' real names or identities, can you tell me about any unusual, eccentric or downright crazy clients who have used your service?

Crazies, right… We had the guy who came out here and who ran off with a ladyboy! He was dating ladies for a couple of days and then he disappeared. By sheer chance he was spotted at the airport by one of our other clients who was off on honeymoon to Phuket. The customer was actually going on the plane with a ladyboy. I don't know why he bothered wasting his time with us in the first place!

<Uncontrollable fit of laughter from me!>

You sometimes get clients who behave "inappropriately", shall we say. We find eventually that ladies don't want to meet them because of their behaviour. They will come back to me later and say that the service is no good and that they want their money back!

We had an interesting client, a very nice man, a Jew. He went against his faith effectively to use our service. He met and got engaged to a nice lady, came out again for an extra trip. All was going well. However when he finally broke the news to his father who is a very wealthy property developer it was made quite clear to him that if he pursued this relationship and married the Thai lady he would lose his inheritance. So that was game over. A real sad one. Really nice guy, what a shame.

I have got a client out here now. He is on a 12 month contract.

Contract with you, you mean?

Yes, it's a 12 month contract for our service. All are on that contact. He came out about 8 months ago. He is about 64 but he is very cautious with it. A lot of clients don't wish to reveal their true age so we have to try and see their passport. When he came out here he wanted to meet very young ladies. We suggested the youngest should be about 38 or 40. When he got here he said he wanted to meet ladies aged 20 – 25! So he couldn't understand it when we said that the younger ladies didn't want to see him because he was too old. He is back again and the younger ladies just aren't interested. He is too old. We have to see the contract out but we are just going through the motions. People have to have realistic aspirations! It certainly is realistic that a Western man can be successful finding a future wife that if he was 60 for example, he could find someone 20 years younger, what would be considered inappropriate in the West. But if you stretch it any more than that it becomes unrealistic, completely unrealistic.

I spend a lot of time putting people off using my service. If I feel that the guy has got totally unrealistic aspirations and he thinks because he has a lot of money he can get what he wants we'll just say that we're sorry and tell him that he needs to see someone else. Unfortunately he will soon find someone who will take his money.

Do you have many potential clients wishing to live in Thailand or do most plan to marry their Thai lady and take her back to the West?

We have at least 30 clients living in Thailand and many more in the pipeline because we find, not surprisingly, a lot of men like Thailand very much and if they make the suggestion to their Thai wife that they would like to relocate out here on a retirement visa the ladies will greet that with open arms. We have a very small percentage of ladies who are not prepared to leave Thailand. We're talking probably about 2%. That guy who worked for the big accounting firm got married to a lady from a very rich family. This was an interesting one actually. On the actual wedding day, just as the ceremony was about to begin, as we sat down with the bride and groom, the mother started asking me if I thought he was a good man for her daughter! What are you supposed to say? All I can say is that he had come over to us and we had met him in good faith and he had behaved in a gentlemanly manner. But we cannot give any guarantees. She asked my wife similar questions! She wanted to know as much about him as possible but she wanted guarantees, effectively, that she could come back and hold us responsible if it didn't work out!

We are the facilitators and we might express an opinion if it is a slightly inappropriate match.

I've got one client who has used my service twice, 6 years apart. It's the same old age differential story. He came out in '99 when he was in his late '50s and I stressed to him that he couldn't expect to meet someone really interested in him aged under 35. 35 and up we thought would be ok. It was the same old story. Once he got out here he wanted to meet ladies in their '20s, most of whom were disinterested. Anyway, one lady said yes to him and they did marry. We told him that we didn't think it was appropriate but it wasn't our business to interfere if they were in love. So be it. He contacted me 18 months ago and said that he had got divorced from his Thai wife. As he had signed papers in Thailand his divorce was very simple in the UK. He went down with one witness to the Thai embassy and they divorced on the spot. He gave her 1, 000 pounds and a fight home. Not a nice story but it is true. That is what he did. He has come out and used my service and done exactly the same thing again. History repeats itself. I won't be surprised if I see him a third time.

What are your future plans for Thai Professional?

I intend running the business for many years because I enjoy it. You never know who you're going to meet next. For example, this month alone I've had an Irish racehorse trainer, a retired solicitor from Manchester, two doctors from the States, a forklift truck driver and a lorry driver.

Our commitment to the business is that we have invested in this new building which we have purchased. Our business will not get any better. It is not something which can be franchised. We offer a personal introduction service. When people come here, they can relax. It is like coming into someone's home. We make clients welcome. Sometimes they stay all day, have a meal with us, maybe just hang out. We have met a lot of good friends through this. We have friends from all over the world now.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken on Khao San Road and plenty of people got it right. Please note that this week's picture was taken outside Bangkok, not that far from Bangkok mind you, but very definitely outside the city… 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 Bangkok is still the most livable city in the region.

Obviously if your dystopian nightmare Bangkok of the future does happen I'll be long gone, as I suspect would you, but it's certainly food for thought. If and when Vietnam's economy overtakes Thailand, will the Thais pull their collective finger out in order to save face? Or should I start learning to speak Vietnamese? Or Mandarin, Japanese, Korean… At the end of the day, for most people, it's surprisingly not actually all about the girls. If it was, we'd all be in Phnom Penh paying $10 for short-time. It's about the overall quality of life, and right now Thailand is just about clinging to its position as leader of the pack, locally at least. Hong Kong is certainly an easier place to live and do business, but you pay handsomely for the privilege. Likewise Singapore, and to a greater extent Japan. Korea or Taiwan might become more interesting over the next few years, but Vietnam's probably the one to watch. I don't think Cambodia will get there any time soon. At the end of the day, I comfort myself with the thought that Bangkok has to remain affordable to the average middle-class Thai. So as long as we can continue to command salaries well above that range, we'll be comfortable enough.

Drugging is nothing new.

Drugging farangs in Thailand is nothing new – probably a perennial part of the underworld culture. The danger to farangs of being drugged and robbed on the buses travelling out of Bangkok, especially to the south, was explicitly mentioned in the Lonely Planet guides in the 1980s. I remember meeting a New Zealander in the NZ embassy in Bangkok in 1989 who was there to get a new passport after being drugged on the bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani. Both he and his travelling companion (also farang) had been sitting at the back of the bus and had accepted food from a friendly Thai. When they were woken up – with difficulty – after arriving in Surat Thani, their money belts with money, passports and flight tickets were gone. The police in Surat Thani were apparently very helpful. They even lent the Kiwi and his companion a few hundred baht to get back to their embassies in Bangkok. I wonder whether the police would be so helpful now?

Drugged twice.

I've been going to Thailand for 8 years, 2 or 3 times a year, and have been drugged once and they tried to one other time also. The first time was 6 years ago when I was with my friend who lives in Jomtien. We were walking from a bar on Beach Road towards Walking Street. Some katoeys spoke to us and touched us and we told them to take a hike. Scared and confused by this we settled down in the bar complex just before Walking Street. After 20 minutes or so my mate noticed his gold necklace was gone. We were discussing what to do and I went to the toilet. I walked away from my drink towards the toilet but went back to my mate because I didn't want him to go out and look for the katoeys. When I walked back towards the bar, my friend was talking to the mamasan and I saw 1 of the girls putting something in my Black Coke. I went over and emptied the drink on the floor, told my mate, paid the bar and we left never to return. The second time was 3 years ago. I barfined a girl for 2 weeks from the bar. And 1 day later I felt I was being followed. I went completely paranoid for 4 days. Thought all Thais were looking at me and thought they followed me. I changed hotels, dumped the girl. But it would not help. Even after 4 days when I arrived in Singapore for my flight home, I still thought I was being followed by everybody. It was scary. I don't know who spiked me (probably the girl) but it changed my view of the people in Pattaya.


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

Drugged again.

I got drugged in a Soi 33 bar about 2 years ago. Situation was that I decided to barfine a girl, the mamasan positively forced me to take one more beer and this beer had a weird taste and a few sips made me very dizzy (it was 8 PM and it was my second beer of the day), so I saw the trap coming and left fast with my girl, but things did not go how she expected because I brought her to a restaurant and ate a large meal to dissipate the effect of the drug (with her watching me in amazement). I then took her back to my place before letting her go. I am pretty sure that "the plan" was at the very least to have me fall asleep as soon as I got home and have to pay the girl her fee for doing NOTHING AT ALL, with maybe the bonus to have been able to do a "treasure search party" of my room with or without the help of some friends. I won't ever be back in that bar and consider myself very lucky on this occasion.

Paranoid or not?

There is something I have noticed when talking to Westerners who have been in Thailand for a long time. There are small differences, a harder attitude, less trust, less helpful and more into doing stuff only for money. It's small things and a bit hard to explain, but I see definite differences. Back here people are generally helpful and trusting. We come from a basis of trust first, and suspect second, help first and charge second etc. The people up there (long-term expats) have learnt to be hard, they do stuff but expect payment, they don't trust anybody, will take advantage of anybody etc. It's generally not well defined, but the attitude does come across in most people that I have met there. So I suspect that over time the lack of decent income for many, the local influence, the being ripped off by the Thai systems / other expats etc. all takes its toll and one becomes somewhat hardened. Basically unless there is something in it for them then they don't want to know, and when somebody becomes no longer useful in some way they tend to move on and ignore old contacts. Maybe I'm paranoid, but that's my opinion.

Shocking.

On my last visit to Thailand, my 2 year old nephew needed a haircut so a lady hairstylist came to the condo. The child is a typical 2 year old and extremely active. In order to keep him occupied, his mother placed him into a wading pool full of water and toys. The stylist proceeded to cut his hair with electric shears. I was surprised that all of them weren't electrocuted but they laughed it off.

The Bigger, Better Mango has signed a new, long-term lease and will be open in 2 – 3 months once the renovation of the location is complete. The Big Mango quickly built up a cult following at its previous location in Nana Plaza and I for one could be found there at least once a week. Its return is long awaited and very welcome.

Tuesday night saw teams of Bangkok's finest descend on Patong, Phuket, and carry out SWAT style raids on the entertainment venues at around 2 AM. They made sure that any Thai or farang who was enabling tourists to enjoy themselves, immediately desist from such anti-Thai behaviour and throw out all of their happily partying customers! The result was a confusion on a choking Bangla Road with a mass of vested, tattooed bodies wondering where they were supposed to go next. This mass was further swelled by an inundation of Thai ladies, who would usually be dancing the night away after sleeping all day, milling around showing the frustration of premature ejection.

The now common debacle of issuing orders to close bars due to elections or public holidays is really upsetting both the bar moguls as well as punters. Bar closures on the scale we experience nowadays is actually something relatively new. When I first came to Thailand, the only night of the year when it was somewhat difficult to get a drink – note, only somewhat difficult – was King's Birthday. All the other days it was business as usual. In the last three months we have had more than 10 days of bar closures – invariably Fridays and Saturdays in the high season, making it hard for business owners to maximise a return from their businesses. The masses are arguing just why do bars serving foreigners in tourist areas need to be closed? Bar owners are willing to respect that alcohol cannot be sold, but is it really necessary to prohibit the bars from opening altogether? And it seems ever so silly to do it in Pattaya, one of the country's major tourism hot spots.

A 24 hour dob in a smoker hotline has been started. As much as I don't like smoky bars, even I think this is a bit extreme. I might be a non-smoker but the idea of dobbing people in sits badly with me, hence the number isn't included here.

Some call them "The Arab's bars" but I think that is a little tacky and prefer to refer to them as the "Deja Vu group". Whatever their name, the group's pursuit of total ownership of Cowboy continues with their latest acquisition this week, Black & White. The Deja Vu Group are famous for their quality fitting out of bars and extensive use of neon so expect Black And White to get an overhaul.

But this fit out needs to be financed….by you and me so the Deja Vu group's good deal of 70 baht draft beer in their Cowboy outlets all night long is now but a piece of Cowboy history. You'll get but 10 baht change from a red, 90 baht being the new price for draft beer.

It is hilarious comparing Cowboy and Nana these days. Nana won't allow nudity but will allow smoking. Cowboy's the opposite, nudity everywhere but not a butt, of the cigarette variety, to be seen!

The police visited Cowboy on Thursday night checking for smoking in bars. Ironically, Cactus has a sign for Cuban cigars outside. An oversight, I guess?

Whatever happened to Soi Cowboy being a walking street? It's a bit of a nightmare these days as the local motorcycle taxi boys zoom along the soi using it as a short cut. Woe be tied if you get in their way! They seem adept enough at avoiding drunk foreigners, but expect them to hiss and curse at you if you get in their way!

One of the choices in Suzie Wong bar's enticing 60 baht happy hour which runs until 9 PM is none other than Beer Lao. But the question needs to be asked. What happened to Suzy Wong's A team? This week they had a B team and a C team but there was no A team to be seen. Raw Hide and Shark for example, currently have great eye candy – in my eyes at least, but Suzy Wong's was not up to the usual standards.

Rumours coming out of Patong, Phuket's most popular party spot, suggest that a large complex housing as many as 30 bars, almost a mini version of Nana Plaza, will be built. Anton, a former Bangkok bar owner who has since made Phuket his home is mixed up in it. It does seem rather a large bar complex for a spot where the local authorities are paranoid about anything that could possibly damage Thailand's pure reputation.

The glass floor in Erotica Bar in Nana is going to be removed and replaced with a standard, non-glass floor. That's a first although I'm not sure if it is something to be celebrated.

Kronenbourg draft is the next big name beer about to become readily available in Bangers. A number of bars, predominantly those without pretty girls for sale, have signed up.

Catz a gogo (Soi 16, Walking Street) will be hosting a special party to celebrate the Thailand reunion of Roy, his Dad and Pete this coming Friday 7th March. Food for all tastes I'm told with a sacrificial porker, cottage and steak & pigmy pies from Bob Palmers' to go with tandoori chicken, home-made potato salad, coleslaw and garlic bread. There'll also be plenty of Thai food with some Isaan dishes specially prepared by Catz' "secret chef" so your better half will be happy too – if she gets invited of course! It's been rumoured that there'll be a special show (my lips are sealed) and, by all accounts, the Tequila will be flying too so it sounds like this could be as good as the last one – which was, from what I've heard, one helluva party.

I made it to the Down Under Bar in Sukhumvit Soi 23 this week for the first time and I was so impressed that I went back again two days later. There are a number of flat screen TVs playing all the latest sport from down under, the good stuff, rugby and cricket! But what makes the bar is the food which puts more expensive places to shame. It's great Aussie style tucker at very reasonable prices. The most popular meal is the chicken and parmesan which is excellent – and only 200 baht! I have yet to try the pie, chips and gravy which is priced at just 120 baht. My only complaint is that on the menu it says "chips" but what you actually get is the American style long, stringy variety, what do they call them, French fries?!

Another hilarious, only in Thailand story, involving the boys in brown. A Bangkok resident was riding his bike from the Khao San Road area towards Sukhumvit and took one of the flyovers as he often does on this journey he takes frequently. At the bottom of the flyover were the boys in brown and you guessed it, he was waved over. He was told that motorbikes could not use the flyover. He protested, saying that many motorbikes use it and that there are no signs prohibiting motorbikes from using it. The cop dismissed his protest and said that the fine was 400 baht. Our hero then protested that he rode his motorbike on this flyover all the time, as many bikes do, and had never had a problem before. "Oh, you use it all the time, fine now 500 baht!", was the cop's response! Eventually, our hero managed to get away with a 200 baht, a receipt-less fine, of course.

Anna has had a sex change and is now Charlie. Well, not quite, but you could be forgiven for thinking that. One of the most popular restaurants in the city with a real cross section of diners, from the famous and the hi-so to those of less modest means was the main branch of Anna's Cafe on Soi Sala Daeng. It closed down perhaps a year ago but has re-opened under a new name, Charlie's Restaurant. The new outlet is less conveniently located, on the corner of Narathiwat and Rachada Roads, not far from Central Rama 3 and the Tesco Lotus on Narathiwat Road. If you know where the Tawan Daeng branch near Rama 3 Road is, it's just a few hundred metres from there. The new outlet is spacious and airy and there is a large car park adjascent. The menu has barely changed and the quality of the food and service remains excellent. Do check it out.

I am often reluctant to talk about pirated movies and what not in this column, but what a friend who visited up north told me made me realise just how silly the prices paid for DVDs and what not in Bangkok are. He told me that up at Mae Sot, near the border, you can pick up 4 DVDs for 100 baht. Each DVD is properly packaged and each disc contains 6 – 8 movies! So, you are getting 30 odd moves for 100 baht whereas in Bangkok you get….one! And yes, the quality is supposed to be just fine.

Following on from the story in last week's column about the fellow who reported his ATM card as lost but then a year and a half later found the account accessed, it seems that there is only thing to do when this happens locally. CLOSE THE ACCOUNT! At the first sign of a missing ATM or credit card, close the account and open a new one! It would seem that what the Thai banks actually do is issue an *exact* replacement for the lost card… Hmm, this seems like a flawed system but what would I know?!

As well as the Charoen Pharmacy which was recommended in last week's column as being a good spot to pick up your prescription pharmaceuticals, another good spot is the double-fronted South East Asia Pharmacy on Sukhumvit between sois 13 and 17. Good prices and service and perhaps most importantly of all – this is Bangkok after all – they don't sell fakes.

I often hear people complaining about high speed internet in Thailand, particularly the service from the biggest provider, True. It has to be said that while some report dreadful performance and slow connections with True, others seem to have no problems. It really seems to be an area thing – speeds are fast in some areas, slow to the point of being almost unusable in others.

All foreigners residing in Thailand are supposed to report to Thailand every 90 days to confirm their current place of abode although there are many foreigners who never do it – and apparently nothing ever happens because of it. I don't know if it was because it was a Monday and thus the first day after the weekend or if it was because he went in during the lunch hour or what, but it took one guy a full hour and a half to get his 90-day reporting done at the main Immigration office in Bangkok this week. Last time he was in and out in less than 10 minutes. No wonder some people don't do it!

Have you ever invited a local woman out for dinner on a first date, only to be disappointed that the lovely, bubbly woman you had been so interested in suddenly went quiet at the dinner table and her conversational skills fell apart as she seemingly concentrated on eating her dinner, perhaps only smiling sweetly at your questions but saying little? You may have considered her boring – or even rude. This is one of those odd cultural differences between Thais and Westerners. Generally speaking (and there are exceptions to the rule, especially in the cases of groups of teenagers), Thais are taught that it is proper NOT to talk at the dining table until they have finished eating. You might see the head of the family conversing, but in traditional family life, it is considered polite to remain quiet. So when your bubbly date goes quiet at the table, that's a good sign – at least if a lady with traditional values is what you're looking for.

If you hadn't worked it out, I'm a keen observer of the foreign exchange markets and as much as I would like to say I am amazed at the dollar's continued slide, if anything, it now seems to be sliding faster! When will it end? On one forum this week I posted that I believed, not based on any economic data at all, that Americans would get LESS than 30 baht to the dollar come the middle of the year. At the current rate of decline, we can pull that timeframe forward a month or two, given that that the US dollar plummeted against the baht 2.5% this week! Yes, in just one week!

Quote of the week comes from a long-time reader and made me laugh out loud. "Free sex just isn't worth it!"

This article from the BBC about outlawing the world's oldest profession is something which won't happen here in a hurry!

The reputation of Thailand's English teachers takes another beating as this American wanted Stateside on pornography charges of the worst kind is picked up in Thailand.

From the UK's Daily Mail is this fascinating article about a Brit who is facing prison over adultery with his Filipino partner! Yikes, Catholics obviously don't care for that sort of carry on!

Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is here 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 been with a Thai girl for over a year, and we have been living together in Bangkok for 6 months. We hope to eventually get her a visa to come and live with me in Farangland. The problem is, she doesn't have a passport, and from what I understand, can't get one without first getting a government ID. So she's in the process of applying for a government ID, but it's taking ages. My understanding is that the application requires 4 levels of checking, the final stage in Bangkok, before she will get it. At the moment we're between stages 2 – 3, and I guess I'm wondering how it all works, and how long I can expect it to take? Whenever we discuss it, she gets quite defensive. I've probably asked too many questions in an effort to understand the process, and made it a sensitive subject. Can you explain anything?

Mrs. Stick says: For my last ID card I just went to the district office here in Bangkok where it was processed and I did not have to go to my home province, like we used to in the past. I don't know about this 4 stages in getting the card. Usually it is very quick, you take a photo and then the card is issued. It's a long time since I got my passport but all your girlfriend needs is her ID card and her family's home registration papers. You can go to the passport office (There used to be one at Central Bangna) and apply and it only takes a few days. I am sorry but I don't know why it is taking her so long. Is there a problem with her but-brachahon (ID card) or her tabian-baan (family's home registration papers). That is all she needs! Check with her that she has those documents.

Question 2: On my last trip to Thailand after some initial chat on Thailandfriends I met up with a great girl. She's at university, 21, very well off money-wise and she "rescued" my 3 month vacation from my previous Pattaya-like patterns of drinking & bargirls etc. I saw a lot more of Thailand with her and really appreciated what a beautiful country most of it is. Unfortunately her mother died whilst I was there so I flew to Bangkok from Samui to attend to funeral, not a great way to meet her family but nevertheless I went. Her father knows she has farang friends and that she has traveled with me to Samui, Ko Phangnan, Pai and Chiang Mai however she gave the pretence it was not only the two of us. When I return in July I will go to her home and meet her father again as her friend although I'm sure he suspects more as I've sent Valentine's gifts etc. So what do I do when I go back? I know not to treat her as a girlfriend in front of him. Do I try to look like a great friend? Is it ok for me to take her out and him and pay for a meal as he has me already etc. I know not to act a cheeky English chap which is hard but should I bring gifts when I return for him or her or her sister. How do I look like a great safe option for his daughter but not look like I'm trying to date her.

Mrs. Stick says: For her family it will be important that she gets through university and completes her degree. That will be their first priority. University is an important time in our life and I think different to your country. We put our studies first and her family will encourage her to put her studies first. Also, she's only 21. That's still really young. Maybe you should give her some space to decide what she wants? She has just lost her mother and I think she needs the support of those close to her and to spend time with them. Actually I think maybe now is not a good time for you to meet her family. Give her some time and some space and respect her family. I think if they see her with a farang boyfriend at this stressful time it might not be easy for them.

Of course the big news in Thailand this week was the return to the country of former Prime Minister, Taksin Shinawatra, who had been living in self-imposed exile abroad. Rumours that he came back to check the installation of the additional toilets at the airport are of course false, but that which said that an extra long red carpet was ordered, solely due to fact that there is so much to sweep underneath it that a normal one was considered insufficient may well be true. Are we in for interesting times again? Mr. Taksin does seem to have a rather unsettling effect on Thailand.



Yours,

Stick Mark II