Stickman's Weekly Column July 25th, 2010

Living Life His Way



Blackie, the colourful Australian expat who I have written a few tales about over the years, passed away last week. He was in his late 60s. I've met some real characters in Thailand, but have never met anyone quite like Blackie. Blackie was colourful, entertaining and there was never a dull moment when he was around.

An only child, Blackie left his native Australia as a young man and headed across the Tasman to the shaky isles where he spent a couple of years terrorising the maidens of the Kiwi capital. With a deep, gravelly enunciated voice, he was always going to be a star on the airwaves and working in radio, his Australian twang was considered exotic in a country that was still something of a backwater. After filling his boots in Kiwiland he headed back to Australia before beginning the next adventure in his life, moving to and settling in the UK. There he married, had a daughter and later divorced. Blackie spent 26 years in the UK all up until one day remembered he had a mother and returned to Australia to visit her. Around a decade ago, with his daughter grown up and no real ties to the UK, he decided it was time for the next adventure in his life. Next stop Thailand.

Blackie had been in poor health before moving out to Thailand. Seriously overweight and a lifetime smoker, he suffered two heart attacks long before he arrived in Bangkok. He'd managed to turn his lifestyle around in the UK. The doctors told him he had to or it would be the end, but arriving in Bangkok, out of earshot of the docs, he was back to his old habits.

Blackie's decision to move to Thailand was not typical of those who moved here at that time – he hadn't been visiting the country year after year before relocating. In fact if my memory serves me right, he had only visited once for a couple of days before he made the decision to move here. He arrived in Bangkok a newbie but was quick to make friends. An Internet junkie, he was a member of the message board of the now defunct NanaPlaza.com. Members had weekly get-togethers on Friday nights at Woodstock in Nana Plaza. Blackie came along, met the gang and his gregarious nature quickly made him many new friends.

Not long after arriving he settled into a large, comfortable condo in Sukhumvit soi 26 which turned into something like a kennel for stray dogs. Friends would often turn up at odd hours and stay over, particularly those who were having problems with their other half.

One such fellow was G, a career teacher who found the temptations of Bangkok too much to resist. G was a regular on Blackie's sofa after he woke up one night to find the light on and his wife clutching a large knife. She said that she had had enough of his playing around and the moment he fell asleep she was going to slice off his manhood as retribution. G suffered sleep depravation that night and the next day in the classroom must have been hell before he took up what was an offer largely open to anyone to use Blackie's sofa.

Blackie would host his new friends at his condo on Sunday afternoons where we would meet for drinks and share yarns. Blackie was perhaps the last to join a gang of us who arrived in Bangkok in the late '90s and who were finding our way and trying to carve out a decent living in this crazy, addictive city. Blackie enjoyed a drink at any hour and for no particular reason, and was never short of a story. His condo was as well stocked as many bars. Everyone always had a great time at Blackie's and he was a fantastic host.

Blackie was not drawn to Bangkok for the women but he found the bars quickly enough. One of the first (the first?) girls Blackie barfined wasn't typical of the bar scene at all. Mart was to become his live in, the first of many. She served him well and he was kind to her – as he was to all the women who were close to him. If my memory serves me correct, she stayed with him for several months before moving on. A serious drinker, Blackie would often go out and get pissed but he would always come home to her. He might have been a drunk but he was a faithful drunk.

A favourite Blackie memory concerns the time that Khun Sanuk, the webmaster of NanaPlaza.com, and I, were the first to arrive at Blackie's one Sunday. Blackie dragged us through to his computer room where he showed us photos of a bird he had taken the night before. "Oh mate, she wouldn't shag me but she gave me the blowjob from heaven." Standing behind Blackie whilst looking at the computer screen, Khun Sanuk and I looked at each other in horror. We could both clearly see that she was actually a he! Blackie was no fan of ladyboys and would have been appalled had he known.

Blackie had arrived in Bangkok with a truckload of toys, a number of brand new laptops, digital cameras, video cameras and various other gismos that were top end models, state of the art in their day. On the one hand he was a bit of a geek, but on the other hand he never knew how to operate his toys. I would be pulling my hair out teaching him such basic things as moving files from one directory to another or resizing photos. But he loved his computers and he loved being online. When he wasn't drinking he was invariably online.

Blackie's first live-in Mart eventually moved on and Blackie spent more time in the bars and fell into the pattern of inviting girl after girl back to his pad.

Often when he took a bird back to his place he would be so drunk that he would conk out without doing anything. The next morning he would wake up to find that not only had the girl gone, so too was his mobile phone and his wallet had been cleaned out as well.

If my memory serves me right – and we're going back 10 years here so things aren't as clear as they once were – he was ripped of by three different girls on three different nights in one week. Each girl had been found in the Thermae. Word must have been out that he was an easy mark, a drunk living in Aladdin's cave, and every girl's eyes must have lit up when he sauntered down the steps of what was then Bangkok's most famous and popular freelancer venue.

It got to the point that when he took a girl from the Thermae or other freelancer venue back to his place he would scan their ID card on his computer, knowing that if anything went missing he would have some sort of recourse. That did the trick and he didn't have to give up taking freelancers.

In addition to scanning their ID card, Blackie used to love taking photos of the girls. Way back in the day when we oohed and aahed over the quality of photos from 3 megapixel cameras, Blackie had the biggest wank bank in town. At one time he probably had nudey photos of every girl that worked in his favourite Five Star Bar in Soi Cowboy.

Despite his gruff ways, Blackie couldn't take girl after girl after girl and feel nothing for any of them. Eventually Blackie fell for a maiden of Udon Thani, Pen. Blackie had paid the 10,000 baht "release fee" from the bar, a percentage of which Pen had pocketed, as is the norm in some venues. There were a number of live-ins over the years but I always felt that Pen was his favourite.

Blackie was never shy to tell his fellow foreigners what he thought of them or what was on his mind but he was generally very good around women. On the few occasions that he met Mrs. Stick she thought he was quite charming! But I'll never forget the rage he flew into when one day, in my presence, his live-in, Pen, said to him that the money he paid her bought her pussy but would never buy her heart. Blackie went absolutely berserk!

It was around that time that Blackie started to have the first of his money problems.

Before he left the UK to move out to Thailand, Blackie had a fantastic income stream registering domain names online. He placed ads in local newspapers and people would give him money to register domain names for them, something which I guess they were unable to figure out how to do themselves. It was more an income stream than a business, but it was highly lucrative. Blackie charged £70 per domain name per year (back when £70 was worth many more Thai baht than it is today), and was pulling in £2,000 – £2,200 profit per week!

In addition to the manual registering of domain names, Blackie was also a domain name collector and had amassed a collection of domain names, some of which were worth something. I seem to recall he had about 300 domain names and amongst those that I can remember were rocknroll.com, rugbyunion.com, rugbyleague.com and yourname.com.

Blackie had been in contact with one of the world's largest media / entertainment companies which had offered him $US 100,000 for rocknroll.com. He turned it down, telling them that it was worth a million dollars – and he would not accept any less. And knowing Blackie I don't doubt that that message was filled with expletives!

I never did understand how he planned to keep that service going once he had moved to Bangkok. He had set up some sort of website set up so that his customers could contact him whereby he would register domain names for them and then be somehow paid. I seem to recall that he had someone running things for him when he moved out here, but I guess that that person realised that there was no need for them to be the middleman and they could essentially operate the business themselves. Bad planning meant that his source of income was gone.

But all was not lost. Blackie had an American Express card – and it worked a charm for several months. He ran up about a million baht of credit over several months before the day came when it refused to work any more.

Blackie started running up debts amongst his new friends. One mutual friend, a Kiwi, was willing to loan Blackie some money but only if collateral was offered and a legally-binding contract signed. After all, this fellow, like the rest of us, had not known Blackie that long. To cut a long story short, Blackie was unable to repay the fellow who waited and waited before eventually selling the items of collateral which Blackie became quite nasty about.

Blackie had befriended an Aussie pilot in the adjacent condo building and borrowed a fortune off this fellow, several hundred thousand baht, before the pilot had to return to Australia for cancer treatment. Blackie never had the cash to pay the pilot back and with the pilot gone it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.

Others leant Blackie money. Some had it repaid much later while others never saw their money again.

With Blackie's money problems widely known, as a keen rugby fan I made Blackie an offer on the domain name, rugbyunion.com. One day I took over 60,000 baht in cash and put it on the table. His eyes lit up like a child's on Christmas morning. I told him I wanted rugbyunion.com and he must have spent the next 60 seconds telling me what an insult my meagre offer was! It wasn't like he had bought it second-hand and paid a premium for it – he had simply registered it his own name as it had been available. Perhaps another 60 seconds later he was suggesting we go to Cowboy for a drink. That was Blackie!

While Cowboy was the first bar area he became a regular in, his money woes became widely known amongst the girls and so he began to spend more time in soi 33. Blackie became friends with the owners in the popular Australian-owned soi 33 bars, The Office and Lookie Lookie, both of whom were happy to help out a fellow countryman.

With no money to pay for his 16,000 baht a month condo, the landlords responded to his failure to pay his bills in typical Thai-style. They did not evict him nor even give him notice. They had the equivalent of two months notice and simply turned off the electricity and the water. The electric was the first to go which was bad enough. Blackie lasted a week or so without power but when the water supply was cut off the condo quickly became unlivable.

The time had come for Blackie to move on. Despite being forced to leave because he had no money – and no sign of any money coming soon – Blackie fired some choice words at the landlords, blaming them entirely for the predicament he was in!

Next step was what could only be described as a hovel on Soi Sribumphen, Bangkok's backpacker ghetto which predates Khao San and is still home today to perhaps a dozen guesthouses. It's also home to many of the rough wenches who can be found selling themselves for 500 baht a shot around Lumpini Park late at night. Blackie lived in a room, just one rung up the ladder from a slum. The building was a collection of hovels and where you were liable to be propositioned in the stairwell by one of the hookers for a hundred baht blowjob. It was unimaginably bad.

On my one and only visit to that dive, Blackie was desperately trying to raise money any way he could and offered to sell me and a mate who visited half-drunk bottles of liquor!

Despite major health issues and a really unhealthy lifestyle, I always thought Blackie's biggest problem was that he was horribly disorganised. He never knew where anything was and things were always getting lost. Since moving condo he hadn't been online for a while and when he eventually got back online he started going through his multitude of email accounts. He was horrified to find that he had lost most of his domain names. They had lapsed. He'd been sent renewal notices, reminders, last-minute reminders and now had notification that the registration of most of his domain names had lapsed and as such they had been lost. He didn't have the money, nor even a valid credit card, to renew them anyway but I am sure he could have found someone to help out.

It was around then that Blackie ran out of money. He had not a single baht to his name. He was broke. He was on the verge of being destitute and was forced to plead with friends to help him out financially.

With the small amounts of money he was able to get by pawning off various personal items, including a Rolex that he had forgotten about and later rediscovered, Blackie took solace in the local Internet cafe. He would spend his days in the small room watching TV and in the Internet cafe and then drink himself silly at night.

Out of the blue Blackie received an email of interest on one of his few remaining domain names, Yourname.com. The offer was made by a domain name registration company. Genuine interest was being shown. After much negotiating they eventually settled on $US 50,000, at the time a touch under 2,000,000 baht.

The money came through and Blackie moved out of the hovel and into the suburbs where he rented a fabulous house for peanuts. He had a few debts to clear, those people who he could no longer avoid, but many of his debtors had long since moved on.

Living out in the suburbs and well away from Sukhumvit, he didn't venture too far and he managed to cut back on his spending. He spent his days online searching for business opportunities and drinking. He was always drinking.

Always a sucker for new toys and again with a decent wedge of cash, he just had to go out and replace all the toys he had lost and so a few trips to Panthip later saw him replenish his collection of computers, digital cameras and mobile phones.

And before too long he was up to his old tricks again, getting women over, drinking too much and, you guessed it, waking up to find his wallet cleaned out and his mobile phone gone!

I remember when his finances fell below the amount you need to extend a retirement visa as being the point when he once again started to realise the gravity of the situation. He had no assets – all his domain names were gone – and he had, with a lot of belt tightening, enough money to last a year at best.

He explored business opportunities online and found that he could buy counterfeit Viagra in India for next to nothing. He figured he could sell it in Bangkok at a handsome profit. He contacted the manufacturer in India and made arrangements to fly there and make a large purchase.

The trip to India went well and he managed to return to Thailand and walk through Customs with thousands of fake Viagra pills packed in his luggage. The taxi from the airport dropped him off at his place and when he got out of the vehicle he slipped over and broke his leg, a nasty break which required surgery.

When he eventually returned home his leg was very slow to heal. In fact it never did heal properly. His situation was now worse than ever. He had run out of money and didn't even have enough to pay the hospital bill. His health had never been good but now it was compounded by the problems of his leg. It had swelled up and was forever weeping gunk from blisters. He was in great discomfort and wasn't mobile for weeks. The leg slowly improved but it would never be right. Years later he had to walk with a cane, and at the pace of a hundred-year old man.

Blackie's last remaining asset was the thousands of Viagra pills he had bought in India but he could not get down to Sukhumvit to sell them. His plan had been to sell them in the bars of soi 33, where he was known, and liked, by some of the bar owners. He thought the owners would be happy to allow him to approach customers in the bars and peddle his contraband.

But Blackie faced a number of problems. He wasn't mobile and ED drugs were popping up in pharmacies up and down Sukhumvit at prices much below what he wanted to sell them at. Desperate for cash he sold the drugs at not much more than he had paid for them.

He'd been on the social, as the English call it, for many years and his dabbling with domain name registrations, while ingenious, was only ever going to be a short term thing. Blackie had an entrepreneurial edge, but he never managed to build a business and always seemed rather more intent on just making money.

Throughout his time in Bangkok he had all sorts of visions of making it big and becoming rich. The two ventures he was most keen to pursue were the VIP Visa Run Bus, which he explored in detail but found the leasing costs for a luxury coach to be beyond his finances – and by that stage his reputation was known and no-one was willing to back him. His ambitions became more modest and after scouring Chatuchak Market he thought selling exotic, multi-coloured shirts online would be a winner, which he was going to market as Troppo Shirts. The cost of posting the shirts internationally meant that he would have to sell huge volume for it to be viable and it never got going.

Blackie reached the point in the cycle he had been at a couple of years earlier. Money was so tight that he had to sell off his toys. Cameras, TVs, computer peripherals and top shelf liquor, it all had to go. The liquor was always the last thing to go!

He reached the point when he had no assets, nothing of any real value and no means of making money. The writing was on the wall. Broke and a physical wreck, Blackie boarded a plane and returned to his native Australia, a country he had not lived nor worked in for 30 odd years.

Thailand might be a great place if you've got some cash in your pocket, but it can become a lonely, even desperate existence when the money runs out. And that is what happened to Blackie.

Blackie's daughter was in the UK and the only relative in Australia he felt he could turn to was his mother. They had fallen out decades earlier but he turned up on her doorstep and she took him in. But not in the house. Blackie was banished to the garden shed!

Once he settled back into Australia and got signed up for the pension, he seemed to be permanently logged on to Skype and MSN Messenger and in many ways he lived his life in the cyber world. I'm waiting for the old bag to die he'd tell me online, domiciled in a shed down at the end of the yard.

His mother must have been in her 90s but it seemed she was healthier than he was. He shocked me when he said that he could go days without seeing the old bag, as he called her. She would prepare his meals and leave them on the kitchen bench. He would go in and collect them and deposit the dishes when he had finished.

His life in Sydney was dull and boring. He was stuck in a hot tin shed, spent all his time online and using what little pension the Aussie government provided to buy cigarettes. He didn't go out because he couldn't afford to.

He saw a specialist about his leg which was deteriorating but for whatever reason they never did manage to fix it.

One day he left his shed and went into the house to pick up his meal. There was no food there. It was always there at the same time. His mother has been a stickler for routines.

Exploring the house he found his mother had expired. Like so many failed expats, he prescribed to the Bangkok pension plan – waiting for parents to die and collect the inheritance to extend his retirement in the tropics. The day he had been waiting for had come!

Things became uglier when he started cursing the existence of his daughter who had caused his inheritance to be reduced.

Blackie didn't immediately return to Bangkok. Once the will had been executed and he had received his share of an estate that he told me was worth "high 6 figures Australian", he rented a place in Sydney. Now with enough money to do largely as he pleased, it didn't take him long to figure out that the Australia he remembered was but a memory. That Australia no longer existed. He figured off he would be better off in Thailand and so he returned.

Blackie's health had got worse and enforced a lifestyle change. Goodbye to the life he once knew in Sukhumvit, he lived on the Thonburi side of the river in a house he rented. He bought a mobility cart to help him get around. He made the occasional visit to his old haunts but Cowboy and Soi 33, like the Australia he used to know, largely became memories.

The last time I saw Blackie I bumped into him quite by accident, about a year ago. I have no idea what gangrene looks like but his leg really looked like it was ready to meet Messrs Black and Decker. He didn't care to see me and let me know. I doubt I was the first person with whom he had taken a deep breath before giving his lungs a work out and letting everyone within earshot know that he thought I was a cxxt!

Bangkok is home to many colourful expats, but many we consider characters today tend to be those living on the edge and most of whom I would describe as one-dimensional. They're notorious whoremongers. Or they're big-time drug users. Or perhaps they run a boiler room operation. Blackie was none of these. He was much more interesting. There was never a dull moment in his company. He had a way with words and a propensity for using choice words. He was engaging and always willing to go out of his way and help others in any way he could. He was a gracious host. Rough around the edges and a drunkard, yes, he may not have been capable of looking after himself, but he remained likeable. He had charm. His is a dying breed.

Blackie's the third Thailand expat I know to pass away this year. He is also the most colourful character I have known in a city known for colourful characters. There was much about the way he lived his life that I didn't care for, but with that said I always admire someone who isn't prepared to just go with the flow. Blackie was someone who made his own choices and took his chances. If he'd stayed in Australia I'm sure he would've ended up in a nursing home, bored out of his mind. It would have been painful for him. Rather, he chose Bangkok where he lived life to the full and probably went out the way he wanted. Well, not quite. The report of his passing said nothing of him being found in the saddle with a bird from soi 33.

Blackie is a Bangkok legend. May he rest in peace.

* The photos above were taken in 2000 or 2001.

Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken from Morning-Night Bar, looking out on to Sukhumvit soi 4. The first person to email 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 correctly guess the photo wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the very best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express. Duke's is conveniently located in the Emporium shopping centre. It would be nice to get some more prize providers for the where is this photo competition as every week dozens of people enter and only a couple of readers can win a prize. If you are interested in providing prizes in exchange for a link in this section of the column, let me know. Ideal prizes are food and drink so any bars or restaurants interested, please drop me a note!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Duke's Express coupon MUST be used by March 31, 2011. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per 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 – If you wouldn't do it in the West, why do it in the East?

It's the public displays of blatant whoremongering that cause most of the problems with our hosts / western women (though the latter would be bothered seeing us with any babes younger / thinner than they are). The Thais keep things away from public display, and even if you see an older Thai guy having dinner or drinks with a young cutie, he usually does not draw such attention to himself as a white older guy who is fat, poorly dressed or loud. And typically, the older Thai (or Japanese) guys I've seen out with their gigs or mia nois are not normally with the sort of rough looking birds with tattoos and whorish clothing that many farang are often seen with. Going to normal public places with garish or obvious hookers in the West is frowned on as well.

Stick's anti-Nana nonsense!

Stick, your anti-Nana bias is well-known, but you've taken it to even sillier levels in your latest column when you said NEP wouldn't be missed if it disappeared. I can tell you that I and many others would indeed miss it. The reader you quoted last week had it spot on when he said that your preference for Cowboy is a typical attitude of those who frequent the nightlife areas for a drink and a sticky beak and nothing more. Those who are actually chasing a bit of skirt for the night are going to find a hell of a lot better choice at Nana – both in terms of numbers, attitude and price. To some of us, that counts for a damn sight more than the quality of the neon and upholstery. It's your column and you're perfectly entitled to your own opinion but you're doing a disservice to those of your readers – particularly those who only intermittently visit Thailand – who want to know where the best place is to find some company and they're being consistently pointed in the wrong direction. Your regular assertion that Nana is about to close seems more like a wish than a forecast. All the empirical evidence seems to be pointing in the other direction, with regular opening of new bars, beauticians, restaurants etc in the surrounding area. Perhaps all these people are spectacularly misinformed about the imminent closure of NEP, but perhaps not. I would love to read something more than speculation and supposition, and perhaps get the word from some horses' mouths. How about an interview with some of the farang bar owners and managers to get their take on it? Short-sighted decision making blights too much of Thai management, and it wouldn't surprise me if the owners and landlords of the area were stupid enough to institute a massive price hike come the end of the existing lease and thereby prompt the closure. Remember the Big Mango silliness. But in the current economic environment, I defy anyone to come up with any business model that could fit inside that tight alcove – hemmed in by buildings that aren't going anywhere – and would generate more revenue or be more capable of paying a steep lease than would the bars. Another hotel? Shopping centre? No way. As they say, the best question to ask when knowing why something happened or will happen is the Latin 'cui bono'. Who benefits? And who would benefit from the closure of Nana? I really enjoy the column but I find the 'NEP is crap' chorus totally unjustified.

What's the attraction of Beach Road?

I remember Beach Road as a complete freak show and could never understand how it existed given the quality of the 'women' on show. It used to amaze and sicken me when I saw a guy approaching one of the hookers. What on earth do they get out of it? Surely the sight of her naked would extinguish any sexual desire! It is a really sad situation when these girls have a Thai boyfriend who takes the winnings and I will never understand why the girls get themselves into such a ridiculous arrangement. She sells her body for sex, he takes the money and spends it on alcohol, drugs and hookers and the daily cycle continues. It's really sick and pathetic. How can a man live with himself by treating a woman like that? Well I suppose they are not men, just scum.

The technical stuff is a bridge too far.

I am a partner in two IT companies and employ over 350 people globally so I think I can say something useful about comparisons in the skills between many countries. Thais rank absolutely at the lowest for anything at all complicated technically. Especially software development. Give me a Filipina/o or an Indian any day. I recently went through 45 interviews as we are looking for a new java team to do coding. I had high hopes for one candidate in particular – a university lecturer who was head of the international java coding course at a well-known university. He had ten years in this job. At interview, he was not nervous and appeared confident and his English was good. But he couldn't answer basic questions about the code language and how it works. We were flabbergasted. If this was a one off I would consider it as such but unfortunately we have come to expect disappointment when it comes to Thais and IT. They can do: website design, creative IT, very well. They can't do: anything really technical. Our longest serving network engineer, who we trained from a graduate on 12k a month to now his senior position on 55k a month, can be compared to our Jakarta based equivalent almost exactly in terms of education and salary and opportunities / training. Why then is the Indonesian more than twice as competent and knowledgeable as our Thai counterpart? So while I do not look for westerners, although we employ several, I DO look for other Asians, Indians, Flips, Indonesians, Malays, Chinese and ABAC has been a good hunting ground for such employees as graduates who can be trained. We even hired a Burmese website designer – simply because at the age of 21 he knew more about web design and produced better work than our 4-year in-house Thai with a decade's experience. I should note that we operate a profitable business in Thailand largely thanks to Thai employees and generally speaking our staff do excellent work – but compared to foreigners (non Thais) they simply don't match up in general.

Something else the USA leads the world in.

When it come to things like harassment and being politically correct, the USA is screwed up. Men have to be very careful about what they say and do, especially in the workplace. Sometimes, it seems, that some women are on the lookout for something to complain about. I lived in Australia for 4 years back in the 80's, and my mates there were anything but PC! I think the PC pendulum has swung too far, at least in the USA, and hopefully it will swing back the other way, soon!

The converted speak.

I just read your column interview with the ladyboys. The "girls" you talked to are absolutely right when they say that if you have tried a ladyboy you lose interest in real girls. I consider myself to be a normal heterosexual man, and I have been with more than a hundred non-prostitute women and enjoyed it – and probably just as many whores. But, one day, by accident, I stumbled upon this gorgeous girl and took her home. I had a suspicion she was a little special, but nevertheless who dares wins! She turned out to be a pre-op ladyboy from Laos and I have been living with her for two years now. Sex with a ladyboy is just as described by the girls in your interview. They have got everything and a something little extra. It is so very much more fun! I have not lost interest in real girls and I still go with them, but they are just a bit boring. It's highly recommended to try it!

About a year or so ago it was reported in this column that the authorities were considering the removal of the beer bars from the centre of the ground floor area in Nana Plaza. Nothing happened nor was anything more heard and it looked like it was just another issue that had been forgotten about, or someone had been paid off to make it go away. But go away it hasn't and this week saw the beginning of the demolition and removal of the bars! Roadhouse and the next bar have already been closed. Pharaohs, the best located beer bar in the centre of Nana Plaza from where you have a view of Nana's entrance is still in business, but it is doubtful for how much longer that will be the case. With the beer bars cleared from the central part of the plaza, Nana is going to look rather different.

Shutters are down on the mini bar complex in Sukhumvit Soi 3, which contains the why Y Not Bar among a few others. The complex has remained closed for about a week.

The violence in Pattaya gogo bars continues with a punter set upon by another punter in one of Sin City's most popular bars, Baby Dolls. Located just opposite What's Up, the scene of a nasty incident last week, the episode in Baby Dolls did not involve any of Baby Dolls security. Two foreigners got involved in a bit of fisticuffs and both ended up down at soi 9 (what the local cop shop is often referred to as). I wouldn't say Pattaya is getting any more violent these days – scuffles in or around the naughty bars are common enough down there.

Bars in Pattaya received official notices on Thursday ordering them to close for the two Buddhist holidays this week, tomorrow and the next day, that being July 26 and 27. Late on Friday bars in Nana Plaza and Cowboy received papers ordering them to close too, not a "request" to observe a holiday as they sometimes get, but specific closure orders! Bars have been warned that failure to comply will lead to closure by "the big police" along with stiff fines. It seems that the police really are serious about this. A couple of dry days won't hurt anyone and it gives the girls a deserved break.

With that said, Patpong is the one area that may be open. Being something of a tourist attraction seems to give the bars there a special dispensation. I am unsure if the Patpong bars will be open on Monday and Tuesday or not.

Black Pagoda in Patpong will host a party on Monday night, a shisha tee and special cookie party (I have no idea what this is!), which sounds rather curious.

Some of the seating inside Cowboy 2 has been renovated with some booths converted into tiered seating which would appear to give the bar capacity to seat more customers.

On August 6, Spanky's in Nana Plaza will host a dance contest with a 10,000 baht prize. Girls from any bar are welcome to enter. The event is being called, "Stuff your favourite dancer's box" because for every drink you buy you get one vote and you can stuff that vote in her box! The girl with the most votes wins. It will kick off at the rather late hour of 11:30 PM and they are limiting the number of entrants to 30.

Melodies UK Bar on Soi Nana is undergoing a major remodel and has been almost completely gutted. A sign says that the tattoo shop above the old Melodies remains open for business. The building right next door to Dynasty Inn is gutted and the builders are in.

Guinness is back on tap at those venues in which it went out of stock. The Robin Hood, near Emporium, has large boards outside advertising that it's back but surprisingly few other venues seem to be letting punters know.

There's a disconcerting trend – which seems to be more apparent in Pattaya than Bangkok – where the odd gogo bar is employing dancers' boyfriends as security in the bar. I can just imagine what these guys think when they see their girlfriend / wife go out with Western guy after Western guy. Given that some bars almost allow these guys licence to deal with problems as they choose, I reckon this is a recipe for disaster.

Notwithstanding that he hails from New York, the Texas Lone Staar in Washington Square is one of Dean Barrett's favourite hang outs and on Saturday August 7th he will be there signing copies of his latest book from 2:30 – 4:30 PM. Permanent Damage is the sequel to one of his most popular novels – and my favourite Barrett book, "Skytrain To Murder". In stores Permanent Damage costs 450 baht but at the signing the book it will be available for a very reasonable 300 baht. The lovely ladies of the Lone Staar will be there and with ladies drinks so cheap, consider buying them one. After all, at the Texas Lone Staar on Saturday afternoons, your meal is free.

Bourbon Street in Washington Square used to have the American food market all to itself but in recent years a number of American-themed eateries have opened and what was once many an American expat's favourite venue faces much competition. Bourbon Street has responded with a perplexing happy hour menu with a grand total of three items. The happy hour runs from 5 – 7 PM and 11 PM until midnight and for 100 baht you can get a glass of house wine or nachos or popcorn shrimp. A rather odd happy hour but hey, they're making an effort which is good – and 100 baht for a glass of drinkable wine is cheap by Bangkok standards.

Mobile phone reception is iffy in a lot of the naughty bars in Soi Cowboy. In Tilac, you can't get reception on either side of the venue, but you can at the back of the bar. It's the same in Shark Bar, where on the side you cannot get a signal, but go into the loo and you get a signal with decent strength. If you're one of those sad saps who has to have his mobile on at all times so his other half can keep track of his movements, you might need to experiment to check in which seats in which bars you get reception!

Duke's at the Emporium had so much demand for its Southern fried chicken at the American 4th of July event that they now have it on a special menu. They also have a couple of other new dishes, a honey chicken and ribs combo which is good and grilled John Dory fish which is absolutely outstanding. I eat at Duke's often and find the food to be great. The venue has that most unusual characteristic whereby they seem to do every dish really well. Some venues are famous for, or do certain dishes particularly well i.e. Tony Roma's is known for ribs, Bourbon Street does good Cajun etc. At Duke's it's all good! Their burgers are, for me, the best in town. Their salads are huge and fresh and their main dishes are great.

There has been a proliferation of new Mexican restaurants over the past 5 or so years in Bangkok, and almost all are between Nana and the Emporium on Sukhumvit. This week a pal and I tried the buffet at Coyotes, near Sukhumvit soi 33. This special deal is offered on Monday nights from 6 PM – 9 PM. The selection is small but the quality is high. Not bad for 249 baht although I didn't think it was as good as what you get at Bourbon Street where the selection is far more extensive. Coyotes also has a happy hour on its signature Margaritas each and every day. A Margarita will set you back 195 baht, but they do 2 for one from 3 PM – 7 PM and some nights from 10 PM – midnight. The 2 for 1 deal also applies to bottled beers. It should be noted that if you are keen to meet a farang bird, the two branches of Coyotes (Sukhumvit Road near soi 33 and Soi Convent) seem to be favourites for the younger, prettier Western birds employed in Bangkok.

There's a new skybridge going in at the busy Asoke intersection which will connect the northeast corner of the busy intersection with the skytrain.

Paiboon Publishing which must now be the world's biggest publisher of Thai language learning resources is branching out with software soon to be available for the IPhone. Check out their site for more details.

With all of the nonsense with the red shirts protests earlier this year and the general economic doldrums the world is in, there's been much speculation about discounting in Thailand as a means to attract tourists back. As far as Bangkok hotels go, those properties in the mid-range and below don't seem to have done much, if anything, in terms of low season specials. But at the top end of the market it's a different story. Many of the 5-star properties, both in Bangkok and outside, have some really good deals. One such property is the Peninsula, one of the finest hotels in the city, which has been advertising river view rooms, free breakfast as well as a free set dinner for two, for just 3,000 baht. The usual cost of a room there is 2.5 – 3 times that, let alone the freebies thrown in. Some of these deals are so good I have been tempted to check in to try them out for a night! In many cases, to avail yourself of these special promotions you need to contact the hotel directly.

More and more visa runners have emailed me with complaints about Jack's Golf which is generally regarded as the best visa run firm in Bangkok. There have been two quite different types of complaints. The first concerns guys experiencing problems getting a new tourist visa. They take the bus to the border and then stay on the Cambodian side of the border while their passport goes to the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. Apparently Jack's staff does all of the work while the visa runners lounge around the pool at the hotel. However, on a recent visa run the Thai embassy visa staff in Phnom Penh requested that it eyeball the visa applicants in person which has thrown a spanner in the works. It is unclear if this is happening all the time or has just occurred on a few odd occasions. The other complaint is that the bus breaks down frequently, a story I have heard many, many times over a long period. As best I can work out, Jack's Golf have either bought the bus they use or it is on a long-term lease and thus they are stuck with what appears to be a lemon. These complaints aside, Jack's still has far and away the best reputation of all of the visa run firms.

If you pop in to Secrets in Pattaya over the next month or so, you won't see the manager, Larry. Larry went under the knife this week and has gone bionic and is now the proud owner of a new hip. Word has it that the operation went well and while he is recovering, Larry is wondering which lovely he will put his new hip through its paces with.

Times might be tough in some bars, for some staff, but not everyone is hurting. In at least one of Boss Hogg's bars the service staff make about 20,000 baht a month, the total of their salary as well as their share of the tips combined. 20,000 baht a month and they don't have to drop their knickers!

Business remains bleak for many in Thailand. Unfortunately we're starting to see excuses made by some operators as to why business is so bad with the world economy and the red shirts protests frequently cited. What needs to be understood is that, yes, while some business are struggling, there are others thriving. There are bars which are booming, hotels at full or close to full occupancy and restaurants where getting a table without a reservation comes down to luck. Other factors which we need to look at are over capacity in some industries – there are twice as many gogo bars in Pattaya now as there were a few years back and the number of British pubs is exploding – yet there are only so many customers to go around. Finally, many venues just don't advertise. No-one knows about them! Opening a venue in a saturated market and not promoting it is hardly a recipe for success. I feel for those operators who aren't doing well, but often it is much more complicated than blaming it on external factors. Of course, if you want your venue to be better known amongst Westerners in Thailand you could always advertise in this column! :)



Quote of the week, "Thailand doesn't welcome expats to a level playing field, but rather giant chasms that have to be bridged and negotiated at every turn."

Stickman reader's story of the week comes from Steve and is titled, " The Western Mentality".

News of The World ran an article today on young Brits buying sex in Thailand so expect a deluge of Brits to Pattaya after they read this!

Popular local expat writer S Tsow wrote a refreshing perspective on the whole Taksin issue in The Nation this week.

Has the Russian composer in Pattaya accused of kiddy fiddling been deported even before being found guilty?

An American has confessed to killing a bargirl in Phuket, saying it was a terrible accident.

A more extensive article on the ex US Navy man, turned bargirl killer, ran in the UK's Guardian.

The New York Times ran an article on Japanese call centres in Bangkok this week.

Not Thailand-related, but interesting nonetheless, Chinese women are being pleaded with not to sleep with foreigners !

CNN highlights a freaky Thai baker who bakes bread in the shape of body parts!

Ask Sunbelt Legal

Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.

Question 1: If considering marriage to a Thai and planning to build a house in Thailand, can I put the land in my wife's name and have her lease it to me for a 30 year period, thereby insuring that I will not be legally evicted if the marriage does not work out?

Sunbelt Legal responds: If considering the purchase of land that does not yet have a home on it, or if your fiance or wife has land where you will be building a home, a few simple steps to follow to protect her and your investment. The first step is to do a title deed search at the local land office so that your wife and you can see the current owner of the land, make sure the land is free from all loans and encumbrances and in this case make sure there is no home or structure currently titled on the land. The next step would be for your wife to register the land in her name and then to register a Usufruct Agreement at the local land department. At the land department you will sign away your rights to the land as an owner of it. The usufruct is basically a lifetime lease which is granted to you and will allow you to inhabit the land and use and modify the property as you wish. You can issue a 30 year lease to another person as the usufruct holder (such as a relative) so the servitude does not end upon your death. You will never own the land, your wife will. However, as the lifetime property manager of the land and the owner of the house, you cannot be evicted. Once the land is in your wife’s name and the Usufruct has been issued then you can begin construction on the home. In building the home make sure that all of the building permits and utilities are put in your name and make sure any and all payments for the home's construction have receipts issued in your name. Once the home is complete you will return to the land department and title the home where you will then be issued a yellow house registration book. You will own the building in your name. This book is identical to the house registration book any Thai national would have except Thai nationals are issued blue house registration books. The yellow book specifically denotes foreign ownership.

Question 2: I am planning a trip to Thailand to explore some potential international trade with some Thai manufacturers. The purpose of the trip is to meet with the manufacturers, assess company capabilities and get a "feel" for the business climate while talking to the potential suppliers who are already exporting internationally. I have travelled to Thailand on numerous occasions, always on a tourist visa, both issued on arrival and issued through the embassy in my home country. I may be leaving Thailand with product samples if they are small enough to ship as luggage, otherwise they will be shipped. My question is whether I can enter and leave the country on a tourist visa or will I require an invitation from a Thai company to get a business visa in advance of my visit. My worry is that I do not want to mislead the border guards upon entry and say that I am "just visiting" as I am a terrible liar.

Sunbelt Legal responds: As your intention is to hold meetings with Thai manufacturers, it’s best to get an invitation from a Thai company and get the business visa. This can be obtained from any Thai Embassy or Consulate outside of the Kingdom. One of the Thai companies that you intend to meet with will be able to facilitate your business visa by providing you with a set of company documentation to support your application. The company will also be able to issue a sponsor letter (stating that you require a business visa for the purpose of exploring investment opportunities), which will need to be submitted along with the company paperwork. Depending upon which Thai Consulate or Embassy you visit to make the application, you will receive either a one year or a 90 day Non-Immigrant B (business) visa. We have had cases when a number of foreigners were arrested as they had a tourist visa when buying multiple samples of jewelry. They said they were buying it for their company overseas rather than for themselves on a personal basis. Hence they were arrested by Immigration who claimed they needed to have a non-immigration B visa. This happens we understand quite a bit during raids of gem centers like Mai Sai, Mae Sot, or Chantaburi. If you are unlucky enough to be there when a raid is conducted you can have all your gems confiscated, along with all your money, and you can be detained and then pay a stiff fine. When released, then you can be deported on the next plane out at your own expense. Not a problem if you had purchase one gem but multiple samples…beware, it’s best to have the proper paperwork. Many people especially ones not buying jewelry never ever had a problem. We never ever heard of a case outside gems. Tourism and a foreigner spending money is great for the economy but if you live in Thailand long enough, nothing will ever surprise you. It's easy enough to get a business visa and then you have no worries.

Question 3: I'm 41 years old and have been married to a Thai woman for over 15 years. We want to move to Thailand and retire. All I read about is retirement visa, but I'm not old enough, and I don't want or need to work. What is the best way for me to get a long term visa for Thailand? She has dual citizenship – U.S. and Thai.

Sunbelt Legal responds: While you may not qualify for a retirement visa, you can actually apply for a long-term visa under the category of “Extension of Stay based on Marriage to a Thai national”. You may apply for an initial Non-immigrant O type visa based on marriage at the Thai Embassy abroad issued for 3 months and consequently extend this at the Thai Immigration for 1 year extension of stay based on marriage to a Thai national. You as the applicant must be able to show either a monthly income of no less than 40,000 baht per month (an affidavit of income can be obtained at your embassy in Thailand) or 400,000 baht in your Thai bank account – these funds must be deposited into the said bank account for at least 2 months (for first time application and 3 months for the renewal). If you were married abroad, you must have your foreign marriage certificate certified by your embassy in Thailand and have it translated into the Thai language. It has to be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for official certification. From then, you must submit this to the District Office nearest you to obtain a form called “Report of Marriage Abroad” (Kor Ror 22). Additional requirements for a marriage visa may include photos of you and your wife, her Thai proof of identity and house registration including a map of your residence in Thailand.

Not for the first time I came down with a nasty dose of the trots this week. I really don't like to take medicine unless it is absolutely necessary but this time it was, and so I sought medical attention. I was told that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of cases of food poisoning, diarrhea and general stomach upsets in Bangkok in the last month and while not widely reported, medial professionals haven't worked out why this is. For sure, it seemed worse than it usually is but after popping pills things cleared up quickly. With that in mind I haven't ventured out into the night this week since Monday night. I did make a couple of runs through bar areas during the days but not much was going on then. Hopefully I didn't miss any major news this week in my absence.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick