More Than Just A Drinking Buddy
You couldn’t find a digital camera for under $1,000. France would soon be celebrating football glory and the skytrain was still 18 months away from completion. It was May 1998 and two young guys from opposite sides of the planet were sitting in
the lobby of Wendy House, a budget hotel in Siam Square’s Soi Kasemsan 1.
One hailed from North America and was travelling through the region on business.
The other, a young Kiwi, had just arrived in Bangkok, having realised he was more a big city boy than a beach bum, deciding his plan to spend a year in Phuket was not really what he wanted after all.
Of the same age and with similar interests, the two hit it off right away and over the following days they would meet in the lobby and head on out into the Bangkok night to grab a bite to eat and to do what young men do when they're away from home.
They strolled through night markets, ate at street vendors and of course they discovered the nightlife, namely the most infamous area of all, Patpong. New to these parts, everywhere they went they had eyes like saucers. Good times were had and a friendship
The North American returned home while his new Kiwi friend stayed on, Bangkok to be his new home.
They maintained contact by email and every month or so the Kiwi would send a bulletin of his adventures, his new lifestyle, his job, the places he’d been and of course the young ladies he’d met.
Long before the Stickman site was born I was regaling my North American with tales of my adventures. Despite having experienced the city for himself, he probably still thought I was prone to hyperbole. The stories were, well, just a little too amazing.
His emails from a world away would talk of the bitterly cold North American Winters, of his boring work life and if I remember right, precious little mention of any women. It wasn’t long before the Kiwi was singing the praises of Bangkok’s
lifestyle, sewing a seed in his friend’s mind that perhaps the tropics might offer not just escape from the bitter cold, but the adventure he craved.
The young Kiwi must have been convincing because a year later his North American pal returned to Bangkok with a plan to try his hand at teaching for a year.
I’ll never forget the day he arrived. Experiencing a 40 degree Celsius temperature difference after a flight of more than a day, I think it would be fair to say that he was completely messed up. We wandered down the soi to the main road and I reminded
him that in Bangkok you had to look both ways when crossing, even on a one way street. He nodded in agreement before immediately stepping out into the path of a screaming tuktuk which managed to swerve and avoid him. His Bangkok adventure almost
lasted little more than an hour.
I was to introduce him to a friend through whom he got his first teaching position. The promise of a good life in Bangkok followed and he quickly began to enjoy the lifestyle. Cheap eats in the soi, early evening drinks at Nana and our weekend wander
around Panthip all became part of a fun routine. Drinks on his balcony and long discussions into the night as we observed life on the soi below us bring back fond memories. We were two young guns coming to grips with and trying to understand life
in this Asian metropolis.
We’d do some crazy, but generally innocent stuff. I’ll never forget the day I had him in hysterics when I successfully managed to bargain down a price in a supermarket. He thought it was some sort of joke until I paid and got a receipt for
the discounted price. He would horrify me with his bravery eating insects and today he can explain the difference in taste and texture between the many varieties.
Of course some memories were set to the backdrop of neon lights and lithe bodies, but this was a friendship born outside the bar environment, something which really seems to be a rarity in Thailand.
A decade of memories run long, too many to list, some perhaps not fit for public knowledge. One of the more innocent nightlife memories was the spotting of the gorgeous receptionist from his condo building as we wandered into Nana. She was horrified when
we saw her moonlighting at Big Dogs.
We were ideal drinking buddies in many ways. Both being somewhat miserly, in the early days at least – when in all fairness neither of us was earning much at all – we would hit the happy hours and the budget friendly bars. But we didn’t need the
backdrop of scantly clad lovelies and neon to be happy. More fun was had sitting out on his balcony, watching the sun drop, observing the neighbourhood, overlooking the city. Two young guys from opposite sides of the planet finding their way in
this crazy city, both trying to retain some degree of sanity.
|From the balcony where many a fun night was spent.||The city's skyline sure changed in a decade.|
But to say we didn't make regular jaunts to the nightlife would be a lie. We had our favourites of course and Rainbow 1 was our regular spot for a long, long time. Both young and handsome, we’d often have the girls all over us, happy to chat
and never asking for drinks. Was that how it was back then or was it that neither of us had hit 30? Whatever the case, those days when the girls seemed to be genuinely happy sitting with young, handsome guys are, sadly, a distant memory.
Neither of us could have dreamed what would follow over the next decade, the highs and lows that are the norm for Westerners residing in Thailand.
Despite moving to Thailand a year later than me, he married a year earlier, marriage slowing down our nights out but still we managed to make it out from time to time. Late night sessions would be replaced by dinner and a few quiet drinks with our respective
More than a decade after we first met we found ourselves in Cowboy this week. It would be the final hurrah. As friends and colleagues slowly peeled away from the group, we were the last two. Tilac Bar in Cowboy, half an hour before closing.
We’d seen each other find our way and make a decent life for ourselves in this crazy city, a place famous for sucking so many in and spitting them out. His escape planned for months, now it was happening with a small piece of Thailand accompanying
him. He won't need to suffer those long, cold North American nights alone again.
It isn’t that easy to make friends – I mean real friends, good friends, lifetime friends – in Thailand.
I know a zillion people here, most of whom I like very much. But close friends? Genuinely close friends who are there through thick and thin? How many do I have? It's really not that many. And the funny thing is the people I feel closer to are often
in the provinces. Lampang, Pak Chong, Khon Kaen, Pattaya. A few in Bangkok, of course.
I think I'm no different to any other Westerner in Thailand when I say most people I know tend to be drinking buddies, guys you only ever see at night in an atmosphere of loud music and overly friendly women. Much of the expat social scene is built
around drinking. There’s nothing wrong with having a zillion drinking buddies, but it’s nice to have really good mates too, friends you can hang out with in any environment, friends you spend time with on special occasions, friends
you’re just as happy to have in your home and friends you can depend on when the chips are down. Friends with whom you'll have a good time whether or not alcohol is part of the equation.
As we all know it can be a roller coaster ride in Thailand. Having a few good mates, real mates, helps to even things out.
When I look back on my life in Thailand, the best times have been experiences with friends, and funnily enough they have been often outside the bar environment.
Like any true friendship ours will never end. It will simply go on hold. But this week we parted ways. It was a fitting way to pause the friendship. A handshake and back slaps as we symbolically headed in our chosen direction, him heading east on Cowboy
for soi 23, while I headed west to soi 21.
His final words, “It’s been a good 10 years.” There was a twinkle in his eye. Life had worked out just fine. Trusting his young Kiwi pal a decade earlier hadn’t been such a bad thing.
Where was this picture taken?
Last week's picture was taken of Panthip Plaza with a reflection of Baiyoke 2 Tower in the window. This week's picture is outside of Bangkok! 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 refer to the previous week's column.
EMAIL OF THE WEEK – An embarrassing blight on Thailand's tourism industry.
I went to the Grand Palace. I was curious to see how many scammers were working over there. Tourist mafia scammers were right at the front gate, blocking the way, telling everybody the palace was closed. They were standing right next to the security guards.
I have pictures. Six tourist police were standing 5 meters away watching this. I went and told the tourist police what was happening. I asked if the Palace was open. He said yes. Then I pointed to the scammers and asked the police, "Why
are those people telling tourists it is closed?" The other police then looked at each other…then chimed in, "IT IS CLOSED". Yes, the tourist police are in on the scams at the Grand Palace. I walked another 100 meters and came
across another group of tourist police. I asked, "Is the Grand Palace open, those men over there are telling everybody it is closed". The police looked at each other, muttering in Thai and all claimed it was closed! I walked the
perimeter and asked 25 different tuktuk drivers, "Where is the Grand Palace". Every one of them said it was closed. There were tourist mafia posted all over the place saying the same thing. They wear fake ID tags and carry clipboards.
The security guards and police were all around watching this. There must be a couple hundred Thais scamming tourists around there.
The original farang bar area is well past its prime.
Myself and the Mrs. happened to be in Silom for dinner on Saturday night and decided to go to Patpong afterwards just out of interest. I haven't been to a gogo bar there for many years. We went to one of those Kings Castle places. Now I remember
the girls being quite hot in Patpong. However on Saturday night I saw the roughest bunch of hounds on stage, so bad I couldn't even look for fear of losing my dinner. The beer went down in less than five minutes and we were out. As if
I hadn't learned my lesson we proceeded to Safari. One girl 'dancing' on stage with two farangs watching who appeared to be in the last stages of a terminal disease. Not my idea of entertainment, in fact it was simply depressing.
The tanking economy and international travel.
My wife flew this past Friday on one of Thai Airways' remaining non-stop flights from Los Angeles to Bangkok. This service will cease at the end of October because it is a money loser due to high gas prices according to Thai. She reported that the
flight was about half full and that most passengers were able to lie down on three seats to sleep. I have flown this route a number of times, as it is the only non-stop from L.A., and the flight was nearly full each time. Looks like the economy
is really taking a bite out of the tourist industry when it comes to American visitors.
A fake monk update.
We saw fake 'monks' in Cowboy, outside Raw Hide bar. A tourist type was just about to hand over a 'donation', when I told him not to as the 'monk' was a fake. The 'monk' went away but I saw him groveling about outside
the Five Star place a second or two later. The 'monk' looked Japanese if anything, probably looking for some money to spend in Baccarra!
Blow the whistle….and pack your bags!
Don't you guys in Bangkok ever catch on? Can't you ever think in terms of corrective action? Experience that stuff or report that stuff, and…do nothing – the whole bunch of you it's obvious – do nothing to change your humiliating life
there. So police corruption continues and you don't have the personal respect of yourself to get away from such humility. You guys need to start complaining to your embassy! We don't have that stuff happening to us in Hanoi where
the cops actually protect us. Yes, I'm an early-retired auditor and audit director meaning a career whereby every condition written up. I'd also have a recommendation, corrective action; but still, the laymen like you should also
see corrective action is needed. Put it out – for such racism or whatever you want to call it, for such injustice, start, everyone, complaining to their embassy. You've been reporting for 10 years, and haven't yet a clue that there
is corrective action and you need to be a part of it.
Thailand's advantage – it ain't boring.
The EU, New Zealand and Australia all have a legal sex trade. The U.S. doesn’t but it abounds in most large cities. So the criticism is that people go to Thailand for what they could get at home. The critics should be enlightened that these men
go to Thailand to escape the attitude of women, paid or unpaid, in the West and the land of Oz. The price offsets the travel costs. As for Pattaya, they should be happy to be known as a destination for anything. Las Vegas isn’t popular
for its shopping. Aruba isn’t popular for its golf. Pattaya will make more money welcoming those farangs willing to spend the money to get there and the traveler needs a reason to book Pattaya other than golf and cheap T-shirts. There
is nothing wrong with regulating the sex industry, but making it more boring than it is in Pittsburgh is not the way to go.
The Big Mango Bar has resumed their Beer Lao Wednesdays with the golden brew offered at an economic doom and gloom friendly price of 65 baht all night long and 75 baht for Beer Lao Dark. And as a clincher, they've added FREE FOOD from 7 – 10 PM too!
Speaking of the Big Mango, their next party will be held on October 31 with a big Halloween bash. They are also moving away from the freelancer model because the mango girl model seems to be working better so expect to see more staff and more
Who meddled with the playlist at Tilac? That plonker really should be looking for a new job.
Not that I should have expected otherwise, but pointing out to staff at Apache Coyote that they had conflicting signs out front the bar with one sign saying happy hour drinks at 60 baht and another saying all happy hour drinks were 70 baht
got a mai pen rai reaction. Sigh.
Some say that business in Soi Cowboy is picking up but my eyes don't see it. In fact if anything, I would suggest things are getting worse!
Heavens Above will celebrate Halloween over a 3 day period 30 October – 1 November, that's this coming Thursday through to Saturday. It seems that a number of clubs will be celebrating Halloween this year so it should be a good time in fun city.
The bargirl punctuality machine located on the wall outside Sams 2000, next to Tilac, gets quite a work out in the early evening. Tilac bar's staff are supposed to commence work by 6:30 and must clock in by that time. Every minute late they are docked
2 baht until 7 PM from which time they are docked 5 baht a minute! While this might seem extreme, it does seem to be the only way management can get them to arrive at work on time.
Walk along Soi Cowboy early in the evening and almost every bar has customers sitting outside, enjoying a drink and a festive atmosphere not found in other Bangkok bar areas. There are two notable exceptions, bars which are dead in the early evening.
Baccarra and Kiss are devoid of customers early evening, with not a soul to be seen, not a single chair taken – at least that is how it was on Friday night. What do Baccarra and Kiss have in common? They are, I believe, the only two bars on Cowboy
without a happy hour. See, the happy hour DOES work!
If you make it into Cowboy's Shark bar, beer runs 125 baht. But if you order and pay for it outside it is only 95 baht! And yes, they will let you take it inside if you want. The same apparently goes for Rainbow 1. The little bar on the left as you
enter sells beer for 75 baht, and the bartender said that it is possible to take it inside too although one has to wonder if exploiting this would see someone say something. It's the sort of corner cutting I would have done once upon a time…
A good mate took a girl home from a bar in Soi Cowboy last night and she proudly drove him home in her brand new top of the range Toyota Camry. If I am not mistaken, that's a 1.5 million baht piece of machinery. She joked about how dumb the sponsor who brought her car was calling him a “kwai” (translated into English as buffalo, and an insult for someone who as dumb as they come)!
One Pattaya bar that has really been rocking recently is Misty's. It's not that they are doing a booming trade because like most bars, they're not, but the girls are lively and the venue has an atmosphere not indifferent to what you'd
find 5 or more years ago i.e. the girls actually dance and, believe it or not, most actually smile too. Misty's is heaps of fun and I think it fair to say that since it burst on to the scene it overtook Angelwitch as the best designed bar
in Pattaya. Oh, the new racy shows that start around 10:30 PM are worth checking out too!
A Western bar owner explained that the reduction in alcohol content of some local beers from 6 or 6.5% down to 5% is related to some international regulation regarding the export of beers with an alcoholic content greater than 5%. Some have suggested
that the alcohol reduction in Singha has cut the headache-per-bottle ratio of the said product! Regarding Chang beer, the standard Chang is still 6.5% alcohol which you can see if you examine the bottle closely but Chang Draught (bottles) are
now 5% – also visible on the bottle label. One would therefore presume that Chang Draught sold from the pump is also 5% although actually confirming such information in Thailand is about as easily obtained as the true age of the average bargirl.
Following up on the rip off pricing reported in previous weeks at the Lumpini Muay Thai stadium, it seems that the other major stadium at Ratchadamnoen has followed suit and ringside tickets, which farangs are often pushed towards, also go for the princely
sum of 2,000 baht. Other stadiums can be found at Rangsit and Samrong where it is believed tickets can be had at a reasonable price. Anyone interested in getting a taste of Muay Thai might just have to make do with the rings amongst the beer bars
on Walking Street in Pattaya. Just don't expect the quality of the fighters or the fights to inspire.
Late last night, or should I say early this morning for it was about 1:45 AM, I was approached by two uniformed cops on a motorbike. It's many an expat's nightmare to be approached at that time and I would be lying if I said I was sober but
that said, neither was I totally gone either. Drink and fatigue never help one's ability in the local language but after answering a few of their questions (Where are you going, where have you been and are you carrying any drugs amongst others)
they seemed satisfied and were on their way. Polite Thai always works well with the boys in brown, I have found.
I am hearing good things about The Crossbar near Sino Thai Towers on soi 23, about 8 minutes walk from Asoke BTS. Truth be told I have yet to check it out so I must make an effort to get there. It's a sports bar, with 5 draft beers on tap and a pool
table The farang owner is said to be there every day with his wife and has put a lot of work in to make the bar a success. The website is Thecrossbarbangkok.com with a location map.
As a bonus, they have FREE parking and wi-fi although I have always wondered about the wisdom of pubs having a car park.
Do banks actually make money from ATM machine transactions per se? If they do, I cannot help but wonder why you can't find one slap in the middle of Soi Cowboy. Surely there would be a queue to use it all night long as the girls check for payments
from sponsors and the naughty lane's customers make withdrawals all night long. In fact if there was such a thing as a Soi Cowboy bar owners association you would think that one of the first things they should do would be
to get an ATM machine installed on the soi. It could only be good for business.
Last week I wrote of a foreigner being hit up for carrying ED drugs on his person and suggested that doing so is illegal. It would seem that that was in fact incorrect and there is nothing illegal about possessing or buying Viagra or other ED drugs
for personal use. The crime is committed by the vendors selling, not those buying or using. If you were found with a quantity which suggested it was not for personal use then you could be charged
with possession for sale but possessing one tablet of Viagra is most certainly not illegal, whether you bought it with or without a prescription.
The 10th novel in the Vincent Calvino crime fiction series from Christopher Moore will be available soon. Chris has managed to weave the on going political situation in the story. Keep an eye out for it in local bookstores.
Why is it that Thais are really good at remembering names, and various miscellaneous and frankly, trivial information, but when it comes to remembering such things as where they left their belongings, or even taking belongings with them, they are dreadfully
forgetful? How many Thais do you know who have left their mobile phone in a taxi, a public place or other important or valuable items somewhere? Of course when they return the item is never there. The average Thai's memory seems to be very
selective. Certain things are burned in their mind but in other ways they can be dreadfully absent-minded.
Along with "Where did you meet her?", the other question you never ask a foreign guy in Thailand is, "Is this your wife?"
Why is it that in the countryside where very little English is spoken by the locals that the level of Thai spoken by Western expats generally ranges from pretty abysmal to non-existent? Compare that with the big smoke, Bangkok, where English is widely-spoken,
yet where the range of Thai spoken amongst the expat population ranges from non-existent to virtually fluent. It doesn't make sense to me!
The baht is gaining in value against most currencies, the notable exceptions being the Yen and the greenback. The pound took a hit this week and the Euro is down markedly. The Aussie and the Kiwi continue to plummet with no end in sight. I don't
really understand why the baht is weathering the storm so well but you can't help but think that the baht's strength is going to be a problem in terms of tourism with Thailand getting more expensive. I have received a number of emails
from Aussies, Kiwis and Brits, all of whom have cited the strong baht as the straw that broke the camel's back, forcing them to cancel or at least postpone their high season holiday.
Quote of the week comes from a reader. "Why is it that with all the check bin and money "errors" made in this country, none are ever in my favour?"
The Washington Post reports Thailand escapes the global financial meltdown.
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: My best friend who has been going to Bangers with we over the years has been going out with a Pattaya gogo dancer for over 1 year. He is back in Scotland with me as we are business partners. We have been out to see her twice, once for a month then for a further 2 weeks. We are hoping to go out in six weeks. He has been trying to get rid of her for about a week. She phones 10 times a day. Sends SMS 20 times every day. The problem is that she has our work number. We cannot change that as we have had it for 10 years. When I answer the call she hangs up. My friend has been sending money to help her with her shop in Pattaya. I don't think she is back in the bars. But is working the shop and my friend. When she found out we were coming out she said can you send me 30,000 baht so she can get her hair and make up done. She has answers for every angle he has put to her. He just cannot get rid. She is dangerous person. What can we do to get rid of this nightmare? We have read through all of your site for ideas, tried a few, but she will not go away. I also think she has connections with some bad boys. We will not be going back to Pattaya ever again but to Bangers. But she is up in BKK a lot buying stock for her shop. I know it's a big place but can't take the chance. We just need to know what would work to get rid of her. I was even going to tell her my friend had died but she is the type to get a visa and come to the funeral. Can you help us lads out? We are beat. Help Stick, please! She will not go away!
Mr. Stick says: This is what can happen when a "bargirl relationship" goes wrong although in fairness it could just as easily happen with a girl who never worked in a bar. Calling off a relationship with a Thai woman is never easy. I always tell guys to turn it on to themselves, for the girl's sake. Explain that the guy has money problems, or that he cannot come to Thailand any more, or whatever. Usually they get the idea. Never say it is her fault (even though it could well be). That way no face is lost. I would get your friend to simply tell her that he will not be out for a few years as with the economic downturn times are tough and he doesn't have the money to fly out OR to send to her. She might be disappointed but she clearly is not stupid and hopefully this scenario will fly. As for getting her stopping calling, well, that might be a little bit harder!
Question 2: What is the ceremony known as taeng-ngan? Is it like an engagement? Or a commitment to each other? Do the man and woman buy rings? What is expected of each both during the ceremony and more importantly, after? Is it expected
that there will later be an engagement or marriage? What is the legal, if any, impact?
Mr. Stick says: I hate to steal the Mrs.' thunder but I can answer this better than she can. A formal engagement ceremony is held at the bride's house. It is generally attended by a small number of family members and close friends and the groom formally requests the bride's hand in marriage followed by the presentation of a ring. There may also be presentation of gold, or possibly even a bride payment. Generally the engagement ceremony is short but there is no fixed format. The wedding ceremony is a much larger affair with all family members, friends and neighbours invited. There can be all sorts of "sub ceremonies" and with the ceremony followed by some sort of party, it can be a whole day affair. Again, there is no fixed format. The wedding ceremony has NO LEGAL significance and even after the ceremony you are not married in the eyes of the law. You are legally married when you register the marriage at any district office. In terms of what is expected after the ceremony, I would suggest you talk openly with your wife to be about that!
Question 3: Myself and my girlfriend have been together for almost 7 years. We view ourselves as husband and wife as do our respective families. Problems started after a friend of mine and his wife moved near us. We cooked for each other,
met up and had drinks at each other's homes. Life was good but all that changed. It started with little complaints about sharing taxis with my friend and his wife to get to work and moved on to randomly bizarre topics of conversation ranging
from selling items such as our motorcycles to questions about if I had an attraction to my friend's wife. I have never been unfaithful nor would I be. This then turned into a full blown argument when we were due to go to another friend’s
birthday. We made things up she apologized and we agreed we needed to talk more so these problems don’t arise again yet no explanation was given to why she blew up. With this I happily went back to work thinking all was good once again
‘oh, how wrong I was’. The following night she exploded into a rant that I didn’t want my family to see her and that I wanted to spend time with my new friends and not her and that I should not trust the wife of my new friend
etc. I was trying to talk her down and find out what was wrong and why she would say such things but could not get her to calm down. She then moved on to personal matters between us, saying really hurtful things. This continued until she was in
such a frenzy she attacked me throwing a bottle at me and hitting me. I was shocked and horrified. I have never seen such behaviour before. This whole incident has had a deep effect on me and we are at an uneasy peace right now. I am now afraid
to talk to her out of fear such a thing will happen again. What I would like is for you to give some advice on how to approach her to resolve what issues she has and if the issues are with a third party what am I to do? I love my wife (girlfriend)
very much and don’t want to end what has been a great relationship thus far. Should I accept the violence that was directed at me? Should I ask someone else to talk to her? Should I just leave?
Mrs. Stick says: Have you ever talked about marriage with your girlfriend? 7 years is a long time to be together and have children but not get married. I think you know we dream of getting married so maybe that is part of the problem? There is a problem and she will tell you when she is ready. From what you have emailed me, I don't know what else could be causing a problem, but there is something on her mind for sure.
Mr. Stick says: Her behaviour is totally unacceptable. When violence enters a relationship, it is time not to just review things, but to leave. I would not walk. I would run!
If you'd got the impression from reading this column that I follow the currency markets you'd be right. It's something I have long been interested in from way back before I ever came to Thailand. Observing the markets, one has to wonder
just how long the Thai baht can maintain its relative strength. Is the Bank Of Thailand buying baht to keep it at is current level? Will the baht soon take a fall? Or is its current strength here to stay? With most major currencies with the exceptions
of the USD and the Yen falling considerably against the baht, you can't help but think that perhaps a relatively strong baht is not in Thailand's best interests in these troubled economic times…
Your Bangkok commentator,
9/10 – I enjoyed putting the opener together and put more work into it than usual.