Stickman's Weekly Column October 12th, 2008

An Amateur Armchair Economist’s Outlook


Job losses, reduced access to credit and the end of a period of absurd wealth creation are just a few of the side effects of the turmoil being felt in the world's economy.

Have Bangkok's Mercedes Benz dealerships taken their last order for the year? Will the buzz of scurrying waiters serving a full house at Le Normandie on a Saturday night be heard any time soon? Will empty seats be a common sight in Angelwitch after 10 PM? The Kingdom is about to be sucked into the biggest economic bust most of us will see in our lifetime.

Today I take a look at how the world economic meltdown will affect the lives of Westerners in Thailand and make a few predictions, listed in order of those I think will be most effected to those who will suffer the least.


RETIREES

No single group of Westerners in Thailand will be hit harder than retirees. To put it bluntly, the rest of us have working years ahead of us while these guys' toil is behind them. It is for specifically this reason that retirees are the most vulnerable. Many are ultra nervous at just how the world's economic troubles will play out, the effect it will have on their lifestyle in Thailand in a worst case scenario, even their ability to remain in Thailand.

Depending on how their money and investments are structured, there is a real possibility that some may have to consider returning to work. Those planning retirement in the not too distant future may have to delay it.

It's not just the problem of the world's stock markets crashing. Some nationalities also have currency fluctuations to deal with. Let's take the Australians for example. An Australian of retirement age with AUD 500,000 invested in the Australian share market would rightly have thought that that should be enough for him to retire and lead a pleasant lifestyle in Thailand. With the All Ordinaries index reaching record highs at over 7,000 and the Aussie dollar edging further and further towards parity with the USD, he was laughing. That was the situation just a few months ago…but not now! At 32+ baht to the AUD, his 500,000 Aussie dollars was equivalent to about 16 million baht and a moderate annual return of just 6% would have given him more than a million baht a year to play with, without touching a single baht of his capital. But this is now all a distant dream. The Australian share market has taken a hammering and is down more than 40% so this example retiree's 500,000 AUD is now 300,000 AUD. To make matters worse, the Aussie dollar was buying 32 baht in July but now it only gets 22 baht making his total finances in Thai baht now just 6.6 million! And this monumental change has taken place in just a few months! No doubt there are unfortunate fellows out there for whom this nightmare is a reality.

Anyone thinking of retiring in the short to medium term has to rethink their numbers completely – and who knows when the markets will hit the bottom…


BAR BOSSES

The next worst hit group after retirees will be bar owners and, I hate to say it, for many are friends, foreign bar managers.

The trend has been down, down, down for the naughty nightlife industry. While some bar owners have managed to buck the trend, few bars can honestly say that business this year will be anywhere near as good as last year, which in turn was down on the previous year. And next year and the next high season (will there even be a "high" season?) will almost certainly be a disaster. Hardcore Thailand fans will return, but what about everyone else? What is really scary is that this time next year we'll be talking of the halcyon days of the previous year…which are bad enough already! Bar receipts are down. Profits are down and frankly the industry is full of doom and gloom.

More and more bars are up for sale and many bar bosses are open to offers they would have laughed at 6 months ago. But no-one's making offers because everyone knows what's happening in the business.

Many of the bar bosses are not what you'd call sophisticated businessmen. Running a bar in Thailand has always been about making money today, not building a business and selling it for a large chunk of change in the future as is more common in other industries. But with that said, bar bosses have always considered their business an asset that could be sold for a decent return. With the industry as it currently is and the outlook even worse, that chunk of change is much smaller.

Many bar bosses are happy if their bar breaks even in the low season, remaining optimistic that the high season will come…

Foreign bar managers pull a decent salary – often the equivalent of a night or more's takings. If a bar manager is being paid 60,000 – 80,000+ baht a month (the range of salaries paid to the foreign bar managers I personally know), that's a hefty expense to justify. Far and away the highest paid member of staff, it's not hard to imagine foreign bar managers become something of a novelty if business continues to decline. Realistically, such salaries can only be justified by the biggest operators.

I can't help but think that bar owners may have to reinvent themselves to prove to the bar bosses that the business gets value having them on board. Imitating Larry of Secrets Bar in Pattaya would be one way to go. Larry's online presence and infectiously positive personality has many visiting Secrets specifically to meet him.


THE BARGIRLS

The massive drop off in trade in the industry is not just hurting the venues, but the girls too.

Evidence suggests that the industry in Pattaya is slowly changing and it is becoming a buyer's market. If the economic troubles continue, there's a very real chance that less customers will have the effect of improving the girls' attitudes as they fight for customers. For the naughty boys, this perfect storm might have a profoundly positive effect on the industry. Attitudes are improving. Prices are dropping. Something positive has come out of it.

In fact it's already happening. I heard a story this week of a punter who made a reasonable offer to a lady for just a little of her time. She looked at him like he had insulted her and didn't even bother to dignify it with a response. Her shit clearly doesn't stink and that was the end of that. A few hours later the bar had closed and he saw her walking along the road. He cheekily asked her what 500 baht would get him – much less than his original offer – to which she put her arm around him and said, "OK, let's go!"

The laws of economics don't always apply in Thailand but when extreme economic circumstances prevail, as they do now, things finally start to balance themselves out. Expect to see rates drop a little as the girls finally accept that they might have to settle for less.

But the biggest change of all, I predict, will be a reduction in support for the girls in the form of payments from abroad. The girls have been reaping the benefits of cash transfers from (and I hate this word) sponsors for quite some time. Guys may continue to earn the same, the lack of confidence that they will still have a job and 401Ks now looking more like 201Ks make people feel less wealthy. Quite simply, there will be less willingness to support Thai girls to the levels they had become accustomed to. Shares in Western Union are going to take a monstrous hit!

POORLY-PAID EXPATS

While I won't set a salary band for this group per se, I would classify them as non-professionals with regular jobs in Thailand, or professionals hired locally and on local packages. Many are doing a job that could be done by a local. Perhaps not as well, and perhaps not as efficiently, but when a local could do the job at a lower cost, there is something of an incentive to replace the expat with a local.

That they have not recruited from abroad and are not being paid "expat rates" shows that these businesses are somewhat more sensitive to costs – and may be more prone to lay off what are still relatively highly paid foreign staff.

WELL-PAID EXPATS

Logic dictates that when times are tough companies look to pare back the expenses – and the biggest expenses are looked at first. Well-paid expats can earn as much as ten times what a local doing the equivalent, or similar, job would earn. There will be more pressure on highly-paid expats to perform and to show their achievements and most importantly, their value to the company.

I can't see knee jerk reactions from Thai companies facing financial pressures letting their expats go right away. These are usually big name companies in the market for the long haul. There is always a concern that when contracts expire they may not be renewed, and when staff move on they may not be replaced. Thai companies are very non-confrontational when it comes to employment matters, especially the issue of letting staff go, and one of the most common ways to get rid of someone is simply to let their contract expire. Swinging the axe mid-contract is not the norm.

ENGLISH TEACHERS

The demand for places in Bangkok's top international schools is so great that the better education providers will not see any drop off in business at all, irrespective of what happens in the markets. International school teaching positions will remain totally secure. Even if the expat population dropped markedly, there is still huge demand for places at the top schools from hi-so Thais and wealthy Thai-Indian families, the net result of which would be a change in the face of the high-end schools – but no reduction in student numbers or foreign personnel.

Moving down the teaching ladder to the EP programs, again, I don't see any real great change. Teachers are very, very unlikely to lose their job mid year as the yearly tuition fees have already been paid so the school knows where it is at, financially. Some EP program teachers might have cause to sweat come end of year because it is not until March, or even April, that schools know how many new entrants and how many returning students they will have the following year. In many ways schools are like the bar industry. Those with a good name will continue to do well whereas newer ventures might find it tougher to ride out the financial storm. I wouldn't expect to see a lot of growth in this sector of the industry, but neither do I see jobs lost and teachers laid off.

But the teaching industry is not immune. Language institutes are the most likely sector of the industry to see a downturn in business. As the Thai economy starts to slow down, it is the middle class who I feel will suffer most – and they make up the bulk of learners in language institutes. If they have less money in their pocket, or perhaps go a period without any income at all, don't expect them to sign up for a language course. The nature of the industry means that full-time teachers with work permits should be fine, but there will probably be less part-time work on offer. Alternatively, it might mean language institutes become keener to take on part-timers who are flexible and don't represent a fixed cost.

Overall, foreign teachers in Thailand should largely be ok.

THOUGHTS IN GENERAL

Have you started stocking up on essential items? Could there be a run on foodstuffs at the supermarket and in the markets? Tinned tuna, fruits, bottled water and other items that won't perish quickly? You could say that HM The King's prophetic "self-sufficiency economy" was a vision ahead of its time…

Have you got enough cash in your condo to see you through a few months without access to cash from the ATM machines? Don't think that this is scaremongering. One of Bangkok's most well-known, most respected AND most successful foreigners is stocking up on cash, as are a number of others I know. I've always had a small safe with some cash in three different currencies on the premises and I think it may be time to raise the amount kept.

I have yet to meet anyone who is confident that the upcoming tourism high season will warrant that name but we are getting mixed messages. Getting a seat on a flight to Thailand in the high season can prove difficult although I think we can put that down to reduced capacity. Getting a hotel room may also be a challenge although I think that can be easily explained by wholesalers buying large blocks of rooms which in all likelihood have not been booked and will become available in the next month or so. I also wonder whether hotels and other tourist related services will implement "high season pricing", you know, when rates go up 20 – 50% for the high season. With tourist numbers down, you'd think they would simply be happy to get customers in the door…

Many a farang resident in Thailand thinks that if tourism collapsed then so would the Thai economy. Actually tourism only makes up about 7% of GDP while domestic consumption is around 25% and exports account for a whopping 68%. So even if tourism numbers slump by 20% – and that is quite possible – that represents but a 1.4% drop in overall GDP. Imagine a 10% slump in export receipts. Disaster!

With all of this said, I cannot help but think that Thailand may well be a good place for foreigners to see this out. If you have a bit of cash laying around and are happy to live frugally, Thailand allows a pleasant lifestyle for not a lot of cash.

And the one thing I don't think will happen is a mass exodus of Westerners leaving Thailand. If anything, the opposite is more likely. No matter how much you live on, you can always reduce your costs in Thailand. That's the great thing about living here. If you are truly prepared to tighten the belt, you can get by on very little.

The economic tsunami has not hit Thailand yet but the waves are getting heavier. We know it's coming. How prepared are you? For that matter, how prepared can one be?!

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken right outside the Central World Plaza. What I thought would be an easy picture to get was too difficult for most. 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. The second person to get it right wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant, offering authentic cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11. The third prize is offered by ThailandFriends.com, an online dating community that boasts over 50,000 members, hosts live events in and around Thailand and allows basic members to send 5 messages a day for free. The prize offered is one month premium membership which adds more to the ThailandFriends' experience with unlimited messaging, detailed member searches, 24 profile pictures, and a whole lot more.

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Charley Brown's prize MUST be claimed within 7 days. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per month. The ThailandFriends prize must be claimed within one week.

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

EMAIL OF THE WEEK French charm!

A few years ago I went to Vientiane to renew my visa. I went to see or try to see the Mekong River late at night, about eleven. It was pitch dark and after a couple of minutes, I heard a voice which said something like go away. So being an obnoxious French man, I responded with a polite fuck off, and then, noticed (remember it was dark) that the voice was in uniform and carrying a machine gun. So my next words were, well, yes sir, I am on my way right now, in fact, I am already gone!

The farang is not always in the wrong.

Being in an accident in Thailand as a farang generally means that you are at fault no matter what the circumstances and end up paying. Here on Koh Samui one would expect exactly the same. Not so to my surprise. A few weeks ago I was crossing the road and was hit by a young motorcyclist speeding down a line of stationery cars. To cut a long story short, I ended up in Bandon Hospital (which does not have the best reputation on the island) with over 70 stitches in my head and leg and multiple abrasions to my face and limbs plus a minor fracture of the C3 vertebrae. I was very lucky as it could have been a lot worse. Lying on the treatment table I was told the police were outside. Knowing that any involvement of the police would cost money and that the motorcyclist would not have any money and that my insurance would pay the medical bills, I said I did not want to see them. Despite its reputation, the treatment I received was excellent including an immediate neck scan and multiple X-rays. Not only that, but the family of the motorcyclist visited me everyday, not to claim damages but to check that I was OK. Shortly after release the police called. I had to go to the police station and file a report. This is where I thought it would all start. I could not have been more wrong. Again to cut this short, they asked if I wanted to file charges and claim damages against the young man and when I declined I had to sign a report stating this and the matter was closed and they fined the rider 500 baht. At no point did anyone suggest the accident was my fault or make any capital out of it. There are decent Thai people around and not every policeman is out to make a buck.

Thai retirement on hold.

My net worth is down by greater than a third. I have lost the equivalent of a house which I could have easily paid cash for. Oh well – easy come, easy go. I have spoken to many who were planning to retire in Bangkok only a few months ago, but no longer. Some say they will be working until they die. Oh well. Thanks George W Bush, you incompetent moron!

It's not just a vegetarian festival.

My girlfriend announced to me that during the vegetarian festival that lasts for fifteen days, all Buddhist Thais are not allowed to eat meat, have sex or lie. I am a nice easy going 'go with the flow' kind of guy, but when I replied that I could understand Thais not eating meat for fifteen days and not having sex for fifteen days; going even one day without lying was beyond my comprehension; well she just came unglued! Temper, temper…

Who wants our kid?

I am always amazed at how few Thai families, who are supposed to be so close, actually raise their own kids. In the West, for kids to be farmed out to whoever might be available or who puts up the least resistance would be an extreme rarity. In Thailand it appears to be the norm. And it's not always about money. A sister in law has had two kids but refused to look after either of them. Both were sent back to her village from Bangkok. Now one is back being raised in Bangkok by her ex-husband and his new wife (a reverse of the norm where the man denies all responsibility).

A charming family.

My mother-in-law's house / shack was falling apart and was one of the worst homes in the village. I stayed there 3 times and it was torture for me. I was told by my wife that the house would be demolished, and rebuilt. I would pay 1/3, and older brother and sister 1/3 each. Younger brother would provide labour as he has no money. The house was demolished last month and now construction is supposed to start. Unfortunately older brother and sister have purchased cars and have no money to spend on Mom's house. I will not be paying more than 1/3. Could this be the nail in the coffin for my marriage? Possibly. If it is, this will be my last Thai marriage.

Why Thailand's tourist trade thrives.

I can fully relate to your frustration about Thailand. It is becoming more mercenary and more shallow, undoubtedly. And it is extraordinarily frustrating going into a bar or a restaurant or hotel and having to put with the endemic incompetence and laziness. But I raise two dissensions from your view: 1. If the mercenary and shallow attitudes are increasing, why? Surely it is just an accumulation of knowledge that a country like Laos has not had. We are well into a second and possibly third generation of bargirls, touts, fake goods salesman and all the other leeches that live off the tourist dollar. The rip-offs, the scams, the contempt with which they treat tourists has been passed down the generations. If Laos or Vietnam or Cambodia gets an established tourist industry, they will go the same way. The only reason those places retain something of a charming naïveté is that they are not accustomed / hardened to the tourist experience. That will change rapidly if the hordes descend. 2. Aside from the mercenary attitude toward tourists, the other problems that afflict Thailand are inherent: corruption, elitism, isolation via language and the associated lack of initiative and creativity, the mai pen rai attitude and refusal to truly challenge society's problems. These have not arisen in the tourist era. Indeed, the tourist era began because of the relative poverty and backwardness of the country that these shortcomings created. That made it cheap and therefore an attractive place to visit. If it was as well organised and administered as Singapore, it'd probably have prices to match and the sex-tourist / hippy trail avant garde never would have come. So from that point of view, perhaps we should be happy with how poorly run government and businesses are here, because that is what causes the inequality upon which low prices thrive – cheap labour. Every time you see a giant rat on a busy street, the poor bastards wriggling on their tummy begging for change, a footpath with giant craters in it, and then a fleet of Mercs whizzing by through stopped traffic because some Khun Ying is going to get her nails done, think to yourself that you'll always be a rich man in a country so screwed up.

A major change is underway in Pattaya as bars in sois 6, 7 and 8 will only be allowed to open between the hours of 6 PM and 1 AM. Soi 6, or Soi Yodsak as it is otherwise known, is home to a number of bars best known for afternoon delight and it is perhaps the most thriving strip of entertainment spots in all of Pattaya during daylight hours. The rumour mill has it that this knee jerk reaction by the authorities is a direct result of a report in the Belgian media about Sin City being a, shock!, horror!, thriving sex tourist destination! Who would have thought it?! Venues operating outside the hours of their licence, said to be 6 PM – 1 AM, potentially face a 3 month closure order, a 30,000 baht fine and in the instance of the bar being foreign owned, expulsion from Thailand with prohibition from re-entering for a minimum of two months. To make matters even worse, the female employees of the lane of love have been told to dress "properly" – whatever that is supposed to mean. It all sounds rather draconian. This photo taken on Pattaya's soi 6 shows the lovelies are indeed dressed appropriately for what is a hot weather country!

Speaking of Belgium, one of that country's favourite sons, actor Jean Claude Van Damme, is currently in the Pattaya area filming his latest flick. The "Kickboxing" star has been sighted in some of the more salubrious venues around town enjoying himself. Good on him!

Refusing to let Pattaya outdo it in the news stakes, it was all happening in Bangkok too this week as Soi Cowboy witnessed a massive scrap outside Baccarra bar. A mountain of a man, believed to be a New Zealander, was set upon by 4 bouncers from Baccarra, thought to either be off duty soldiers – or have some sort of military affiliation. But 4 Thai guys could not overcome this Kiwi who held his own despite the dogs hitting him with bar stools, metal chairs and bottles – which they smashed across his face in an effort to blind him. The Kiwi colossus went down at what point but got right back up ready to fight on at which point the cowardly dogs withdrew to the bar. Furious at the manner in which he'd been set upon, the Kiwi was out for blood but commonsense prevailed as a couple of foreigners talked him out of it. Those who witnessed events said there was no doubt he would have won if it had continued. The Thais were all kicks and weapons but this guy was full on New Zealand power! That said, reinforcements would have joined the pack and as heroic as the Kiwi's efforts were, the Thais play a game that a foreigner just can't win. He left just as the police arrived, minus his flip flops and with a few cuts and bruises. One witness who has been in Thailand for 10 years said it was the worst violence he's ever seen in this country. All who saw it were sickened by the scene. When asked, the bouncers said that he had disputed his bill. They wouldn't give him his change and he refused to leave. Very, very nasty business.

A reminder that tonight is popular bar manager Ricky's 60th birthday. There promises to be all sorts of fun and games in Baby Dolls tonight as many join Ricky and help him celebrate. Anyone who knows Ricky knows that he is going to have the mother of all hangovers tomorrow. It's just as well he doesn't work Monday nights!

Suzy Wong's in Soi Cowboy will soon be getting a refurbishment.

Confusion reigned last Sunday night on Soi Nana with alcohol sales still prohibited because of that day's elections for the Bangkok governor. Some bars were selling alcohol, whilst others remained cautious and closed. The police told several bars on Soi Nana that they could sell beer – but it must be served in a glass! WTF difference does that make?

The new Hollywood Hotel within Nana Plaza will have a bar on the ground floor, a VIP room on the next floor as well as a bunch of very small rooms with a bed and….well, little else.

But what is very interesting is that both the Hollywood bars upstairs in Nana along with the as yet uncompleted short-time hotel are up for sale through a local business brokerage – with a fairly hefty asking price.

If you scour ads in the local press you'll see that more and more bars are up for sale as bar owners realise that if they don't sell now, they might not be able to offload for some time. The question that must be asked is how long the "for sale" sign as been up in the toilets in Angelwitch in Nana. Two years? Longer?

Out and about earlier this week, I can say with a measure of confidence that Soi Cowboy was – and it must be noted that this was a night when it didn't rain – quieter than I have EVER seen it. Even the rainy season of 1998 wasn't this quiet. Only the stars of Cowboy – Tilac and Baccarra – were doing a reasonable trade with everywhere else desperately quiet, fighting for the scraps. Two Bangkok bar bosses revealed to me that they had their quietest night EVER this past week. When I say ever, I mean since their very first day of operation – and we're talking big name bars here! Another bar, admittedly a small venue, sold one bottle of beer one night this week. Yes, one bottle for the entire night.

The elusive Anton, that bar industry entrepreneur who will happily accept a deposit or down payment on, well, just about anything, can be found doing business at Patpong. His stint on soi 33 didn't last long. I have heard that one or two investors from Phuket are looking for him…

If you thought the issue of bar closures and alcohol sale free days couldn't get worse, think again. The Interior Ministry has announced that it is discussing the possibility of banning alcohol sales on New Year's Day, ALL religious holidays and possibly even Songkran. Can you imagine that? New Year's Day without alcohol?

Can you remember the days when your safest option taking money abroad was travellers cheques, before ATM cards could be used to access your funds on the other side of the world? More and more visitors to Thailand rely on their ATM cards. *Rely*. That's a big word. With the world economy on the brink and with confidence in banks at a record low, perhaps it is time to consider bringing some travellers cheques as well as your ATM cards? You just never know ….and Thailand is not a country you want to be without money.

Drink driving is a major problem in Thailand, amongst Thais AND disappointingly, the expat population. It is so prevalent unlike Western countries where there are major anti-drink driving campaigns not checkpoints. Moreover, it is not considered anti-social behaviour. I think it is fair to say that many Thais who own a vehicle, and who drink, have little compunction about drink driving. An expat friend got the fright of his life this week driving along Petchaburi Road after 7 or 8 drinks when he was pulled over by a cop who had something he had never seen in Thailand before, a breathalyzer. He knew that he smelled like a brewery so the cop must have known that he had been drinking. The local limit is .50 mg and he knew the amount of alcohol in his system would put him way over the limit. He made a point of opening his wallet and slowly taking out his driver's licence, allowing the cop to see that yes, he did have a chunk of cash on him. This was going to cost and he knew it! The cop took some time to affix the mouthpiece to the apparatus, clearly less than familiar with the device. The expat took a deep breath and blew into the machine until the man in brown told him to stop. The cop looked at the digital read out which read "0" and despite Mr. Expat breathing alcohol fumes, the cop waved him on. The best explanation Mr. Expat could come up with was that the device didn't work! As Trink would have said, TIT – This is Thailand!

A charity auction for Baan Khruu Noi, an orphanage taking care of hundreds of under-privileged children held this past weekend turned out to be a great success. Members of ThailandFriends.com raised over 50,000 baht plus toys, clothes and books in an auction. Both male and female members of the site put themselves up for bid, and the winning bidders won a dinner with their date. David, the popular manager of Charlie Brown's, ended up stripping off his shirt which was auctioned off for 4,000 baht. The rumour mill has it that he is considering changing profession! A great time was had by all.

Would anyone with connections to the Thai police please have a quiet word with them about the deployment of gas when they are attempting to regain control of tense situations or civil disturbance. Someone really ought to let them know that when deploying gas, it is best advised to wear a gas mask! As could be seen on Thai TV this week, a number of the Thai police were in quite some distress, having fired off gas and then suddenly realizing, duh, that they too would suffer because they were not wearing gas masks!

This week a friend wanted to check out Thai boxing so I took him along to Lumpini Stadium. I haven't been for 10 years and was keen to drag a camera along and capture the action. I knew we were in for trouble when we were intercepted out front of the stadium by two "welcome girls", resplendent in slutty dresses, showing off plenty of leg and speaking passable English. As I waved them aside and said in Thai that I was not a tourist, they refused to listen and made every effort to usher us towards the ticket window on the left where the prices for foreigners were listed in English from 1,000 – 2,000 baht. Having seen that the price for Thais was only 230 baht – displayed in Thai numerals only – at the ticket window on the right, that was the window I headed for. Seeing that I would not listen to the hello girls, a manager approached me and said that as I was not a Thai, I would have to pay the tourist price. I pulled out a form of local ID plus my Thai driver's licence and explained that I had lived and worked in Bangkok for 10 years and most certainly was not a tourist. "You're a foreigner and you must pay the same price as other foreigners", I was told by the expressionless moron. Looking at the crowd buying tickets, perhaps 2% were foreigners, the overwhelming majority Thai. I don't know how long rip off pricing has been in place at the Lumpini Thai Boxing stadium but it is now – and it's a rort. Foreign nationals being asked to pay between 4.5 and 8.5 times the price that Thai nationals are charged is outrageous. Of course we refused to be victims of such a blatant rip off scheme and my mate was yet another foreigner pissed off at Thai price gouging and feeling that the whole Thai experience is simply about being separated from one's money. Instead we went and spent our money at Soi Cowboy where there's no dual pricing.

Earlier this year it was the Americans crying in their beer at what had been a gradual, but sustained drop in the value of their currency against the Thai baht. The USD has clawed back some of its lost ground against the baht although most Americans feel the USD is still weak against the baht. Spare a thought for the Kiwis and Aussies, those who use what can only be described as the Pacific Peso currencies. As investors around the world pull their money out of Godzone and the Land Of Convicts, the currencies of those two countries have taken a hammering, each dropping by more than 20% against the baht in less than two weeks!

In many ways Thailand has been lucky that the world economic crisis dominated headlines around the world this past week. Had it not been for Iceland's imminent disappearance off the economic map relegating Obama and co. to second, perhaps Thailand would have been the big news again, and again, for all the wrong reasons. Protestors were killed by police on Bangkok's streets and many awful injuries sustained. Images of protestors with legs and arms blown off would surely scare foreigners off visiting. But luckily for Thailand, the world was much more concerned about their savings, investments and retirement schemes to pay any notice of the horrendous violence on Bangkok's streets.

Quote of the week comes from a friend who was lamenting the lack of beauties in Bangkok's freelancer joints this low season. "The girls didn't come this year. They sent their mothers instead!"

That Canadian paedophile is back in a Thai court, facing more charges.

Here's CNN's take on Thailand's political troubles.

Here's a PAD rally to avoid on Monday in the downtown area.

Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1: I'm an Aussie and have read your site for a while now and have a question for you. I have been living with a Thai woman for 6 months now (and dated her for 6 months before we moved in together) and I have just found out that my girlfriend is pregnant. My girlfriend had told me that she took the pill and when I asked her how she could be pregnant while taking the pill she told me she wanted a baby and now she was going to have one. I told her I wasn't ready to be a dad at 25 and she told me that if I left her now I would have to pay for child support as I had been with her for more than 6 months. I feel like I've been had and wondered if she is telling me the truth. I had wanted to marry her but had been told by her family that I had to pay 150,000 baht for sin sot. I told them I didn't have that kind of money and now just 2 months after this she is pregnant. I know she is as we went to the hospital for a test. I feel like she got pregnant just so that I would have to marry her and this scares the crap out of me.

Mrs. Stick says: When you live with a Thai woman it means to her that the relationship is so serious that you are going to get married. A Thai woman from a good family will only live with a man she is going to marry. I think if you are going to get married then you will probably have children. So she thinks you want children with her. Your girlfriend wants kids now and there is a reason for this. Is she over 30? Does she think that you are going to leave her? There is a reason but I cannot tell you what it is. But I do think what she did was not right and she should have talked with you openly about her feelings. I don't know what to say but I am surprised she did this. I think you know that she will want to get married very fast before friends, family and colleagues can see that she is pregnant because if you get married after the baby is born or when people can see that she is already pregnant then that is not good for her reputation or her family's or yours!

Mr. Stick says: This is a timely reminder to all readers that this sort of thing can and does happen in Thailand. The pill is not that widely used here and frankly any family planning precautions or contraceptives where the responsibility falls entirely on the woman are prone to great risk!

Question 2: Recently I sent you an email about the unpredictable manner in which the missus arranges to meet up with her friends, usually out of the blue which I found extremely annoying. Whilst her English was ok, Mrs. Stick suggested (quite rightly) that there was a communication problem and so I pushed her to go to English classes. After looking at a few places we chose AUA, mainly my decision, because it would give her the chance to meet 'everyday' people and make a few friends as she has only recently moved to Bangkok to live with me. Things were going really well. She was really into it and looking forward to going to her classes three times a week, until yesterday. She had noticed that some of the students were either a bit shy or just didn't want to talk to each other, something which I found quite odd for Thai people. Anyway, two student girls from Bangkok became chums and then had the courage to start talking to others in the class. In a break period they approached the missus and asked where she was from. She answered where she was from in Isaan and they started to laugh and joke about Isaan people, what food they eat and how their facial features are different. She obviously found this very upsetting. Being quite sensitive I am expecting that she will quit the remaining classes although I will encourage her to continue. I spoke to a friend's wife about this and she said quite often Bangkok girls consider themselves superior to their up country sisters and that they can be very bitchy. I am quite amazed. In my own experience, it was only at primary school in the UK that children would behave in such a manner towards someone from a different part of the country, i.e. the new kid in class. But how can adults behave in such a childish and rude way?

Mrs. Stick says: I'm sorry to say that this is normal in our country. You know that reputation and status is important to us and some people try to make themselves look good by making other people feel bad. Unfortunately there are a lot of stupid people and your wife has met some of them.

Mr. Stick says: I have to add something here. AUA is one of the least expensive language institutes in the city so these little wenches giving your Mrs. a hard time are almost certainly not the hi-so types they aspire to be.



I have been glued to the TV and the Internet all week watching the economic meltdown. The world economy has always interested me and I find it fascinating watching events unfold. That said, it rather does feel like watching a train crash in slow motion. Has it had any effect on you yet? Has it influenced your decision to visit Thailand, to retire, to open a business in Thailand? Or has there perhaps been a positive for you in it, somehow? I'll run the most interesting emails about the economic meltdown and its effects on readers in next week's column.



Your Bangkok commentator,
8.5/10 – I enjoyed writing and putting this week's together
Stick