When I first started this website I had no idea that it would grow into what it is today. I had no idea that some people would get so much enjoyment from it, nor that others could get so upset about it. And never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that someone would get so angry about it that they would go to extreme lengths to discredit me.
In the second half of 2006 the Thailand expat blogosphere was captivated by the crazed rants of someone who started his own website all about this site and me.
The first I knew about it was spotting an ad for a site with a name that was remarkably similar to mine. I followed the ad through to a site with a name that sounded like mine, looked like mine and I discovered it was all about me!
That site generated widespread interest online which even spilled over in to the mainstream press.
It started off innocuously enough, a site mimicking this site's design with general criticism of this site and me. The approach soon changed and what I wrote in this column would be twisted and interpreted rather different to my intended meaning a few days later with speculation purported as fact for the reasons why I wrote and said what I did. If I wrote that a bar was good, I must be getting paid off by the bar to say nice things about them. That sort of thing.
I didn't think it would last and thought that whoever was behind it would soon get bored and / or run out of steam. I was wrong.
Whoever was behind it had a reasonable budget and spent plenty promoting it through Google ads. As it became better known, it was picked up by local discussion forums and from there it went viral.
What started as mere criticism became personal attacks. Very personal. With a swelling readership, the odd person I had pissed off over the years started sending in stuff to the site's owner about me which was published without any effort nor care to verify its veracity.
You live by the sword and you die by the sword. Objective criticism is a good thing. But this was seldom objective.
Spicy episodes from my life in Thailand were written about in a grossly exaggerated way as the site gathered momentum, quickly clocking up impressive numbers. Just as this column has a massive spike in reader numbers on Sunday night and Monday morning, so too did that site. The site was a bit like a car crash – you knew you shouldn't look, but you couldn't help it.
As the commentary got nastier and outright lies about this site and me personally made up much of the content, the identity of the person behind it remained a mystery.
Spurred on by swelling numbers, the person behind it started to reveal a little about himself, claiming to be an American businessman in what he termed "the far north" of the country.
He became annoyed that I had not been in contact with him. I saw no reason to do so and never even acknowledged his existence. Did he expect me to extend the hand of friendship to someone who was writing a pile of BS about me every week? He seemed genuinely miffed that I had not been in contact. I perused what he wrote to begin with but just as quickly tuned out, that being the best way to deal with some of the nonsense that can be said about you online. Some of what was written was true, but most was hyperbole, total exaggeration or outright lies.
A couple of months after the site started and with the writer becoming increasingly angry that I refused to acknowledge him, he became nastier and even more personal. In what was admittedly a very clever and sneaky move, he asked what my colleagues thought about what he was writing – and dropped in pertinent details about my place of employment. He didn't name the school and he didn't name me, but he dropped in enough detail that a simple Google search would reveal who I was and where I worked. Traffic to the school's website went through the roof as all and sundry typed the relevant search phrase into Google and were directed to the school's site where they found bios of me and my colleagues, to include nationality, official portrait and other personal info.
I thought the leaking of my identity would bother me, but in the end it didn't. I was flooded with emails, 98% supportive.
His next step was to publish photos lifted from the school's website of a number of Thai female members of staff with a banana super imposed in the photo over their mouth, insinuating oral sex. It was a play on something I had written the previous week about sexual innuendo and bananas in the workplace. As if proof was needed that my colleagues were tuning in for his updates, my mobile went crazy within minutes of that article being published.
He had crossed the line.
That was when I first contacted him, via the email address on his site. His response was quick, coy and insulting, pretending to wonder what it was I had on my mind. There was a very real chance of widespread fallout from the posting of those photos, including legal action by those involved against him, both individuals and the institution. I pointed out that it might be in everyone's interest if the photos were removed. He didn't see it that way.
The shit hit the fan.
At school the next day a meeting was called behind closed doors and attended by a handful of the school's foreign teachers. They were concerned that they would somehow get caught up in what was becoming a mess. The fear was that a few were involved in dodgy goings and that the whole issue would blow up, the authorities would come to the school and the lifestyle of each foreign teacher would be scrutinised. Parts of their lives that they would prefer remain quiet could be put in the spotlight which would cause them serious grief. After an initial meeting amongst themselves at which I was aware of, but did not attend, they discussed what they should do. Should they go to the school management and tell them what had happened? They felt that the school with all of its contacts could get this sorted quickly, but they were also scared of the fall out. They decided to talk to me first and I was called to meet with them, answer their questions and allay their fears.
It was a difficult time. There really wasn't much I could say or do. I had been attacked online and the school had been dragged into it. I didn't know who was behind the site and I didn't know what his objectives were. He was a crazy man, playing with me, much like a cat plays with a mouse.
The school became a decidedly less fun place to be. The foreign contingent, numbering some 20 odd teachers, was split into three groups. 4 teachers were clearly against me. They were upset, indignant and in the case of one guy who was trying to turn everyone against me, furious at what had happened.
The foreign contingent was spread across different offices around the school. All of my officemates were on my side, numbering almost half of the foreign teachers. A couple in another office were also with me. I guess about 10 were on my side. They understood that despite the unseemly goings on, I had not done anything to provoke this guy. There were half a dozen who were neutral, some showing remarkable disinterest in the whole affair. And then there were the 4 against me. I had the numbers, but it didn't help. The vibe at school had changed.
I had to try and allay the concerns of 4 foreign teachers, 2 males and 2 females. It was explained that they felt it was unfair that young Thai female members of staff had been caught up in the mess. I explained to them that I was doing all I could to find out who was behind the site and when I did, I'd be in a better position to know how to proceed.
The pressure went on me to find out just who was behind this hate site. It had been running for a bit over 2 months at that point and had gone from being a bit of a laugh, to mean-spirited cyberbullying, dragging in unrelated people whose livelihoods could suffer.
A few days later the teacher who had been riled about everything, all of which is quite ironic because he still to this day reads the column religiously, provoked one of the female teachers into going to the school management and spilling the beans. She did, I was summonsed upstairs and now the school was involved.
The biggest concern for the school was that it could damage the institute's fine reputation. One of the most prestigious schools in Bangkok, their priority was managing the situation so that didn't happen. They were deeply concerned that a student would find out what was going on and amazingly, to this day, as best I know, that didn't happen. The moment one student knew, every student in the school would know within hours. As part of the effort to manage the situation, only a handful of the most senior Thai staff were aware of it and high-level meetings were held. Many senior staff weren't present, and I don't doubt that that was because they couldn't be trusted to keep things quiet. Thais just don't know how to keep secrets.
The crazy man had me. I was swimming in a sea of shit and he was reveling in his success. He started making threats to disclose information about some of my colleagues and what I had always feared became true – he was being leaked information by a workmate. It was clear to everyone that one of the foreign staff was betraying us.
I still didn't know why this nightmare was happening. Who was this guy? What had I done to him? Things were getting serious. People's jobs were on the line and as legal action beckoned, I was racking my brains to figure out who it could be.
I had to figure out who it was, and fast!
Away from the unpleasant vibe at school, I sat down on a Saturday morning and put on my investigator's cap. I vowed that I was going to figure out who it was that day. To do so I would have to relent and read the content of his site which was about as appetising as eating soi dog on rice. I read everything, all of the content, from start to finish. I went back over it, trying to use an objective eye, reading between the lines and looking for clues as to his identity.
I made notes about what he was saying about himself, and built up a profile. An American businessman with a manufacturing facility somewhere in the north of Thailand who couldn't keep himself out of the red light areas down south, Pattaya particularly. When someone smiled at him or was nice to him he just had to comment on it. Socially awkward, it was obvious he didn't have many or maybe even any friends. He had been careful not to give too much away and the clues I were looking for weren't there. Or I was missing them. I thought that he must be in Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai and quietly cursed. It's a part of the country where, at that time at least, I had few local contacts.
I looked at the photos and made notes of all of the places he had been. I downloaded photos, looked at the EXIF data, determined what program he had used to manipulate them, examined into the background, looking for clues about his location.
I looked at the code in the site and worked out what HTML authoring tools he was using. I was looking for clues as to his identity, perhaps inadvertently left when registering the authoring tools. There was nothing there.
I dissected the English. It was obvious he was American with many Americanisms used, to include American spelling and American syntax grammar. This was useful, suggesting that info he had given about himself was likely to be true.
There was something familiar about the writing style and some of the things he talked about, but I was sure I didn't know him. Had I perhaps corresponded with him? Even back then, I received hundreds of emails a week and when you exchange a lot of emails with someone you develop a feel for them.
What I got was the strong message that he loved living in Thailand. He loved the lifestyle, the way people treated him and the life he could lead here. America was hell as far as he was concerned. He'd found his Utopia.
I was getting a feel for the man, but I wasn't any closer to identifying him. As frustrating as it was I battled on, my determination to discover his identity punctuated only by frequent walks outside the condo to clear my head.
I made pages and pages of notes, but ultimately found myself getting nowhere.
My lucky break came after night fall, some 10 hours after I had started. I typed his nickname, the name he used to write under, into Google. Amongst the search results was a domain name featuring that nickname followed by Thailand. This was not the domain name from where the site was published.
I had previously checked the registration details of the domain name from which he published but they were, as I expected, that of a proxy. Finding out who he was that way would have been way too easy.
I checked the ownership details of this other website and struck pay dirt. The owner was listed, strangely, as another website. I checked the registration details for that website and it showed a vaguely familiar name with an address in Pattaya. I did a search of my emails to see if this person had ever emailed me and bingo, he had. Many times! Gotcha!
I read and re-read every email this person had ever sent to me, spanning years. He was a huge fan of this site and often gave feedback or asked questions. He had sent me many questions over the years, and also told me about his life in America. He had previously invited me to visit him at his home in rural Thailand. He had also revealed that his first visit to Thailand was as a member of an organised sex tour group which he named. It was following that sex tour that he subsequently moved here.
His more recent emails – which had stopped not long before he started his hate site about me – had spared details of exactly what he was doing here although he had mentioned that he was running a business in "the far north". It was not just what he wrote but the syntax of his emails. I had a match. This was definitely the guy!
Reading through those emails, the closest he came to disclosing his location had been to name a former Prime Minister who he said lived very close to him, all said in a cocky manner as if I wouldn't have a clue where he meant. I wasn't born yesterday and knew exactly where this PM was from and where he lived.
I now had his name and the city where he lived!
He had named the sex tour group he travelled to Thailand with and I found their site in Google and went through every page. There were several galleries of photos from previous sex tours, showing tour members with their girl du jour. Stupidly, the site's owner had used the real names of the tour group members in the photo filenames. As I searched through the site I found several photos of him taking part in the sex tour!
I had not been covering this whole sordid affair of the hate site. While it was newsworthy, my site's traffic was so large that to mention it just once would have given him massive free publicity. While he was getting decent traffic, I suspected that perhaps not even 10% of my readership actually knew about his site. Why give him the other 90%?
I contacted the owner of what was then a popular Bangkok website and suggested we meet. This guy had been covering events so I figured there was no harm in him writing more about it. I leaked everything to him, including this person's identity, the sex tour photos, the lot. I have him the story of the year on a golden platter. The crazy guy had outed me so I was going to return the favour, with interest! The story ran and received phenomenal traffic.
I continued to search for even more details about the crazy guy. I secured his phone number and called him anonymously. I threatened him, and told him to stop the site or else. He didn't.
Back at work the next week, the school management called me in to another meeting. They were scared and didn't know what to do. They wanted my suggestions. I provided them with details of who the guy was. They were highly suspicious not just of him, but of me. How had I figured out who he was and why had I provided print outs of a sex tour website? They couldn't rationalise how I had come across such information and my explanation was lost on them.
Another meeting was called later that week in which the school invited senior police officers known to them to attend. To get the meeting going, I was asked to explain the whole sordid affair, which I did. The cops looked at me not with suspicion, but with interest. This seemed to be something new to them, something they were unaware of.
Sections of the crazy guy's website had been printed and were distributed to them. We concentrated on the article with photos of female staff from the school and banana super-imposed over their faces. That was the part which was of most concern to the school. There was a point in the meeting where my boss was describing the photos to the cops and she started saying how na-glee-it (disgusting) it was. I tried to suppress a smirk but couldn't and at that very same moment the senior-most cop happened to look at me, catch my smirk, and smirked himself. Thank goodness my boss missed it!
The police in Thailand get a lot of grief but I have to say that on this occasion they were excellent. They asked many detailed and pertinent questions before they finally seemed to have an overall understanding of the situation. At that point they went through the options that were available. They also felt that the best thing to do was to play everything down, agreeing that if things became official then the public fallout would be unwelcome. There was never any talk of anything being done off the books and when I hinted at such, it was ruled out immediately. Things could only be handled officially. Either an official complaint be made to police who would then have to investigate, or get a lawyer. There were no other options discussed.
With my identity out there, my ability to produce this column had become compromised. I would have to take a step back with some of what I wrote. It was not that I was not confident in what I was writing, or scared to voice my (often strong) opinions, more that this is Thailand, and stating facts and speaking the truth is not necessarily a valid defence if faces with a charge for libel.
Things were at boiling point and as much as I hated to do it, I felt that it was prudent to take a break from the column, a break that would end up lasting 4 long months. It was best to wait for things to settle down a little. Personally, I could deal with any fall out but I was becoming increasingly concerned about those around me, my colleagues, and friends. I also needed a break. Putting the column together takes much time although to be fair, that wasn't the primary reason for taking a break.
The school told me that the police had contacted the crazy guy and he had been told to remove the photos and references to the school. He did, but that was all he removed. He became angry and went into overdrive, his rants a mix of extreme exaggeration and downright lies.
Crazy rants started about people I knew. That was what I feared most, innocent people being unnecessarily drawn into it.
He extended his circle of hate further, and started to rant about various people in Thailand he had had dealings with over the years. Libelous comments spewed from his weekly commentary, judiciously mixed in with a few facts. He wrote with such vigour and determination that many of his readers seemed to believe him. There are expats and frequent visitors in Thailand who seem to be one step from the edge, the kind who try to piss on your leg and then convince you it's raining. That lot believe whatever he said. Feedback on discussion forums and supposed emails from his readers he ran suggested he was gaining in popularity. He reveled in the spotlight.
I spoke to him at length on the telephone in late 2006. He was aghast that he had been outed and was shocked that not only his identity was out there, but it was accompanied by photos showing him as a member of a sex tour group. He said that he wanted this information removed from the site that had run it and said that he would scrub everything about me and my friends in exchange. It was a ceasefire of sorts, a de-escalation of events.
It didn't work out. He was impossible to deal with and couldn't be trusted. Everything was a lie. On each of the few times I talked to him over the phone his mind was all over the place and he would often come back with crazy, unrelated stuff.
I always knew that ending it would never be that easy. He couldn't be negotiated with. Another approach was needed.
I got in contact with the owner of the web-hosting company which hosted his site. That guy's English was so bad that he failed to grasp what was going on and convincing him to take action wasn't possible for someone not fluent in Mandarin.
Finally I spoke with a good, trusted friend who I felt could help with a creative solution. We got together and strategized. We knew the town he lived in and also knew that most guys move to that part of the country because of a woman. As he had been there for a few years, we presumed he lived with a long-term girlfriend or wife. We decided that we really needed to know more about him.
The plan we formulated was simple. We would drive up from Bangkok to the town where he lived. We would establish his domestic situation which we presumed was married, probably with kids. We would put the heat on his Mrs. who we assumed did not know what was going on. He had broken a number of laws and we felt that making her aware of what he had done, and the potential fall out for her and the family if he were to face charges would make her force him to stop. It was a good plan and we were confident it would work. The nightmare would soon be over.
Next stop Isaan!
My friend is a colourful character, a decorated soldier with a background in investigations amongst other things. Most importantly, we're on the same wavelength.
It's quite a journey up into deepest, darkest Isaan. We're not talking Roi Et or Khon Kaen or even Udon Thani. No, we had to go way beyond there…
We stopped at the region's first giant shopping centre, The Mall, in Korat. My pal was concerned about where we parked, insisting it had to be close to where we would eat. We each had camera gear in the rear of the truck but with heavily tinted windows and night long having fallen, no-one could possibly see inside. While he was poking around in the rear of the vehicle, I stuck my head in to see what he was doing and caught sight of various items I had no idea would be there. I knew he was ex-military, but how does a farang in Thailand come across that sort of hardware? We weren't going to war for God's sake! I was scared and excited at the same time.
After filling our bellies in Korat, we made quick time up the road to the next major provincial centre, Khon Kaen, where we over-nighted. It was a few more hours to our destination the next morning.
Arriving in the riverside town, we dumped our gear at a hotel and set about scoping out the place. It was a small town, very pretty, and set against the Mekong it was easy to see the attraction.
I had prepared for the trip and had secured the crazy guy's last known address through an Immigration department contact in Bangkok.
We located the property mid-afternoon and after brief surveillance, no easy task for two white guys in a Thai neighbourhood in a very Thai town, we determined that no-one was home. Assuming he was at his place of work, wherever that was, we decided it would be best to come back early evening. It would be much easier to scope things out at night.
Returning after dark, we discovered the small house that had been quiet earlier in the day was home to a large family. It didn't take long to see that the profile didn't fit and these weren't the sort of people who would be associated with our guy. We either had the wrong address, or he had moved.
Making out to be a couple of lost international documentary makers – we were both carrying cameras with large lenses – we feigned interest in finding foreigners living in the district with a couple of nearby shopkeepers who confirmed what we suspected – a white guy used to live at the address we had but he had moved.
There we were, several hundred kilometres from Bangkok and the address I had gone to much hassle to procure through a dodgy Immigration contact was no longer current. Bloody hell!
Never had I felt the sort of pressure in an investigation that I did right then. I'd carried out hundreds of investigations into Thai women for guys from all around the world, but this time it personal. This time I was carrying out an investigation for me. I had a vested interest and I needed to get it right. And things hadn't started well.
Darkness had fallen so we repaired to the quadrant a block back from the riverfront with a small number of restaurants and bars. We grabbed a meal and reviewed the situation. We had to figure out where our guy lived or worked, and go from there. We'd booked into a hotel for a couple of days and could stay longer if necessary, but with that said, we had soon realised that the town had precious few foreigners resident and even fewer foreign visitors. We stood out and didn't want to be seen lingering in a town which attracts few whiteys for longer than necessary.
My pal was exhausted from the long drive the night before and again that day and headed back to the hotel. Me? I put on my investigator's hat and went out into the Isaan night.
My pal wasn't a drinker but I wanted, no, I needed a drink. I grabbed a tuktuk from the hotel and shot back into the town centre. January 2007, early evening in far flung Isaan in the middle of the cold season, what the locals may even refer to as winter and it was positively chilly. In jeans, a t-shirt and a sweatshirt, I sat huddled up on the deck of a bar that gave the best vantage point over the town's main entertainment area.
I had the element of surprise on my side. The guy we were looking for had no idea that I knew the town he lived in and no way would he have expected to see me there. But he had seen and posted to his site a recent photo of me and his hate site had become such a big part of his life that I had no doubt if he saw me, a stranger in this small Isaan town far from the tourist trail, he would recognise me. I had to be careful.
To make matters worse, I knew from a few readers that he had a frequently approached foreign visitors in town. Three readers, two of whom I knew personally and one I had never met, had met the crazy man once his identity had been leaked. They had each let me know that they had previously visited this town and this very character had approached them and introduced himself while they were milling around the riverfront. I couldn't allow that to happen to me!
So there I was, sitting in deserted Barkoo, the only foreigner in the entire bar area, occupying the best vantage point, with a clear view over not just that venue, but most of the small bar area. Would I find him?
I started on Thai beer and moved over to whiskey, hoping that it might warm me up. I was wrong. As the night crept on, it went from merely chilly to positively cold. Visitors may not believe that Thailand can possibly get cold, but in that far flung corner of the northeast, at night, near the river, at the coolest time of year, it was hardly tropical.
An investigator has to be able to fit into any situation and play a role, and be able to do it at a moment's notice. As I sipped on my drink, conscious of not drinking too much, especially given that my prey was supposedly a non-drinker, I knew that if I saw him he would be lucid. I had to avoid the desire to throw a few back in the interests of staying alert.
I waited for more than 2½ hours, well beyond what would be considered dinner time. I figured he might come out for a bite to eat but being a teetotaler, he wouldn't be out for a drink. Still I had not seen him. I was making all sorts of assumptions that he would show. Does he eat out regularly? He might be home with his wife and kids. He might be working. He might not even be in town! We'd given the town the once over and figured that if he went out at night, this would be where he'd go. There were other bar areas, but they included a block of bars that got going much later, as well as various local low-end brothels I didn't figure would be his style.
I wanted to stay quiet and remain anonymous, but I couldn't stake this patch of dirt out forever. The bar area may have been quiet – it was a week night after all – but there were plenty of staff milling around. I had to find someone who had a bit about them, someone who actually observed things and enjoyed interacting with customers. As I watched the staff, most of whom seemed intent on watching Thai soaps on a small TV at one end of the bar, I spotted one girl, particularly pretty, who seemed to have a bit more about her and be a bit more chatty than most. I waited until she passed my table and waved her over, putting on my best charm.
I explained that I was in town on business and that I was due to meet my supplier the next day but was not sure where his office was. I told her what line of business my supplier was in and she interrupted me, "Oh, you mean Khun so and so, the way she said his name missing the final two consonants making it sound like "Mr. Shit" and drawing a laugh from me that she didn't quite get. Yep, that was him. "His office is on that street just over there and around the corner", pointing in the direction of a main road, not much more than 5 minutes walk from the bar. She explained that he lived and worked in the same building.
"Do you know him well?", I asked her. "And does he come here very often?"
It turned out that he was indeed a regular in this area and visited most nights for his evening meal. He could show up any time from early evening until late. He would have a meal in one of the restaurants in the area and sometimes linger, notwithstanding that he wasn't a drinker.
I asked whether he was married, making the waitress think that I was inquiring as to whether I should pick up a small gift for his wife. She said that he was single and didn't even have a girlfriend. Of this she was quite sure. He was known to hit on women who worked in the area as well as those out for a night out. Asking about him in general, she felt that he was harmless but then I know most Thais in a situation like that would give a polite response.
I was thrilled that I had managed to find out where he lived, but disappointed he didn't have a Thai wife or live in girlfriend. That was the leverage we needed to end this stupid debacle. I'd tried to build a rapport with him, tried reason and tried threats. Nothing had worked. Options were running out and leaning on his wife or long-term girlfriend was doable. If no such woman existed, the plan wouldn't work.
I settled the bill, left Barkoo and wandered off in the direction of his place.
Like many provincial capitals in conservative rural Thailand, the streets were dimly lit at night, and off the main roads the only light came from passing vehicles. I'd spotted soi dogs and uneven pavement earlier in the day but the short walk was uneventful. Light-fingered ladyboys lingering in the shadows are very much a Bangkok / Pattaya problem and the locals in far flung Thai provincial capitals are as tame as you'll find anywhere. Wandering around dodgy sois in provincial Thailand is no more dangerous late at night than it is during the day.
I spied a small, typical rural Thailand brothel, Christmas tree lights and a red hue glowing from within. Young looking girls all tarted up were huddled inside the door, wrapped up in jackets and other cold weather clothing but despite the chilly weather, they don't miss the chance to show some leg. Fair-skinned, they're almost certainly illegal imports from across the river. Farangs aren't the norm around here and there are no calls of hello hansum man.
I rounded the corner on to the main road and headed towards the riverfront. Across the road to my right was the landmark the waitress had mentioned, meaning the building where my guy should be was on my left. It was the nicest part of the city, the riverfront. There was no-one around, no traffic and no cries from tuktuk or motorcycle drivers of "Where you go?" Perhaps one car would pass every couple of minutes. It wasn't quiet, it was dead.
On the Mekong in this far flung corner of the Kingdom there was a genuine tranquility, unfound in the likes of Bangkok or Pattaya. Across the river I could see the lights of a small town in Laos. It wasn't even 11 PM yet there was no-one around. Not a soul.
Standing near the corner of two main streets I looked around. There was a small bank branch, a police station and some small, run-down commercial premises. A red mail box was attached to the entrance of a commercial building beside me and looked a little out of place. There was a name and address in English. I read the name. It was his. I'd found him! This was where he lived and worked, right in the heart of the small town.
I crossed the road towards the riverfront and stood there, in the cool, still Isaan night. I took in the view of the building where my nemesis operated. In complete darkness, there was an evil, foreboding about it, like a little slice of hell found right here on earth. A chill shot down my spine.
After taking in the scene and strolling around the area I realised there was nothing I could do so I headed back to the hotel, the mid-winter cold of Isaan accentuated as I huddled up in the back of the Isaan style tuktuk that sped to the hotel, breaking the tranquility of the peaceful night.
Back at the hotel, I went straight to my pal's room and pounded on the door. There were murmurings inside and eventually the door was opened not by him, but by some bird! The filthy bugger, what had he been up to?! It turned out she was from the massage centre downstairs. He instructed her to continue the (traditional) massage as I filled him in what I had found out. I wasn't sure what he was more disappointed by – me pounding on his door while he was getting a rub down or learning that our man didn't have a wife or girlfriend.
The bird giving him a massage looked like a spicy vixen so I returned to my room, pulled open the curtains and sat on the chair, staring out over the Mekong. I wondered then, as I still wonder now, just what had the initial attraction been to this town. Was it a woman who had lured him there in the first place? Was it the ridiculously low cost of living? You couldn't spend much for there was nothing to spend it on. No flash restaurants, no flash bars, no shopping malls and nothing for the farang; the shops peddled junk brought over the border from Laos, much of which looked like cheap Chinese seconds.
Maybe the attraction hadn't been a woman or the low cost of living. Maybe it was the idyllic setting? Set against the Mekong, the lovely town shares little in common with the rest of the region where provincial capitals tend to be cookie cutter copies of each other, a cocktail of dust-lined streets, drab grey townhouses, country people and pollution. As pleasant as the natives may be, even getting a decent cup of coffee can be impossible. For someone who wanted a quiet, pleasant life in a pretty town, it was ideal – but that didn't seem to be what our crazy guy was after.
We reconvened the next morning and reviewed things over breakfast. There was little chance of using any leverage against our guy, but we still had a good opportunity to gather intel. In a small town like this, it would be imprudent as outsiders, whites at that, to ask too many questions. There could be only one plan, surveillance.
We parked up a hundred metres or so away from his building and watched the comings and goings. A few motorbikes were parked outside, obviously those of his employees, although they only seemed to be there for part of the day, suggesting that any staff he had were part-timers or contractors. The tales of grandeur he had of being a sophisticated businessman with an advanced manufacturing facility were not what we found at all.
We spent much of the day watching. He never appeared. We did see him at the window and we photographed the building from every possible angle, but with an ideal vantage point to watch the building, there was no sign of him venturing out.
That evening was spent in the quiet entertainment quadrant, watching out for him. Hundreds of kilometres south, in the capital and Sin City, hotel rooms would be hard to come by and bars and restaurants were packed. Up there on the beautiful Mekong where the air was fresh and where the riverside road was lined with magnificently kept temples, it was deathly quiet. There were few people about and we saw but a handful of foreigners the whole time we were there. Even the locals weren't venturing out and many of the bars and restaurants were closed, only opening at the weekend.
We reviewed the situation again. My pal thought we should stay another day. I thought we should leave. I wasn't confident that further surveillance would bear fruit. And on top of that, surveillance is deathly boring. The primary reason for making the trip was finding him with a live-in girlfriend or a wife who we would lean on, either there and then, or later. Discovering that he was a perennial bachelor had scuttled the plan.
The pal I made the trip with was the ideal companion in that we each brought different skill sets. I was the Thai-speaking expat with local knowledge and a decent understanding of the people and the country. He was from a military background, evidenced by the hardware he had brought on the mission. I came up with solutions by trying to understand and get inside the minds of the locals. His solutions were somewhat more practical, and certainly more permanent. I couldn't see an opportunity to use my skills to achieve our objectives. We had to look at what he brought to the mission. He suggested that we storm the building that night and capture the guy. He was serious. This was not what I had envisaged.
He explained that once we had determined that the building was clear, the mission would be easy. The employees left early in the day and as I had seen the day before, once the sun went down everyone went home and it was like a ghost town. We could enter the building using the element of surprise, capture him and restrain him. He clearly was not a physically imposing guy and besides, my pal had a military background, a truck full of military hardware, a chest like a barrel and forearms like a wood chopper. When the military and civilians clash there's only going to be one winner. He suggested that we do one of two things. He had plenty of rope so we could restrain the guy and tie him up. Once restrained we could persuade him to provide the login details of his website. Once we had those from him we could take ownership and control of his site. Alternatively, we could psychologically distress him and let him know in no uncertain terms that if he did not stop then we would be back – and next time it would be much worse.
Things were rapidly moving outside my comfort zone. Violence doesn't sit well with me and the only time I'd be prepared to use force would be in self-defence when it was the last resort. Rambo ready to unleash himself on the crazy guy and I would be but an observer. Things could have ended there and then. My pal could have sorted it. Despite everything the crazy guy had done, and with my very future up in the air, the temptation to give him the green light was almost overwhelming. Was I willing to do this? You're crossing a line and going places you really don't want to go. Things can get out of hand and you just don't know what might happen. What if the cops became involved? What if things went awry and we seriously hurt him, or worse? While we were trying to right a wrong, the cops wouldn't see it that way. No, this was not a path I wanted to go down. And besides, I could not really afford to be involved. The crazy guy knew what I looked like and besides, if anything happened to the crazy guy the first person they would look at would be me.
The decision was made to abort the mission.
I didn't sleep well that night. I kept imagining that my friend was going to take things in to his own hands and the next morning when we were leaving town we would drive past the building surrounded by police cars. As American military, he didn't need my help. He knows what he is doing, had all the equipment and for all I know had done this sort of thing before. I dreaded breakfast the next morning and being told that he had taken care of things. There was an Immigration checkpoint right there and I could escape to Laos. A couple of flights and I'd be back home. My country doesn't have an extradition treaty with Thailand – not that many Western countries would ever extradite their own to Thailand anyway. My mind was racing. I went outside the hotel to check that his vehicle was still in the car park. I couldn't see it. My heart started pounding and I thought it was going to leap out of my chest, until I remembered that he had parked it at the back, near the security guard's hut. I returned to my room, but still tossed and turned all night.
There wasn't any announcement at breakfast and we left the hotel and made the slow trip back to Bangkok. Our mission hadn't been a success. But then again, neither had it been a complete failure.
The rantings of the crazed man continued and I was far from the only target of his poison pen. He started on others who were subjected to the same sorts of nasty comments and no doubt the same lies that I had been subject to. Various people were named and cursed, from webmasters to businessmen to a high-profile farang real estate agent. He'd write incredibly nasty things about people he knew nothing about. He would search online for info on those he didn't like and attempt to contact anyone who once knew them, often former colleagues. He'd start with an innocuous email requesting information about the person, and any info obtained would be twisted and end up as vitriol published on his site. He emailed former colleagues, old friends and even their family in Farangland, before spewing dreadful lies about them. He posted photos of the real estate agent's wife and said dreadful things. Appalling untruths were written about people he didn't know, incredibly harmful and hurtful comments that in the case of a Thai woman could send her into deep depression.
Fancying himself as a lady's man, he boasted about his sexual exploits, comfortable talking of frequent unprotected sex with Pattaya bargirls. He'd often say how wonderful Thai people were and how he respected them, yet such reckless, self-centred behaviour defied his words.
In mid-2007, several months after he arrived, his intensity dropped off. Some content was removed from his site. I suspected visitor numbers dropped as readers started seeing through him.
Around a year after he arrived it looked like he was going to disappear. Our mad man announced that he would be taking a break, that "his work was done".
Many asked why he had done it. Why would he so viciously attack people, putting their livelihoods at risk while making incredibly mean, nasty and untruthful comments about people he didn't know. When asked this question, I would reply that I truly didn't know. I was looked at like I was fibbing. His attack had been so vicious that some couldn't possibly believe I could be innocent. You really must have done something bad to stir that hornets' nest, they would say.
He wrote that I had once written lies about a friend of his. He referred to a humorous anecdote from my column in 2006, concerning one of the owners of Club Boesche in Pattaya who was beaten up by mistake – the people who beat him up had got the wrong owner of the bar – and he claimed that the story was untrue and the person beaten up was a friend of his. The story printed was indeed accurate and the person he referred to as his friend was not his friend at all. More lies.
After a period of silence, the beast was awoken in late 2007 when the real estate agent he had written terrible things about and libeled decided to file criminal charges against him in a Thai court. At first the crazy man thought it was some sort of joke and wrote about it with the sort of concern you'd have if a mosquito was buzzing around you. He turned up at the initial court hearing in casual attire with what was described as a farmer in a bush shirt as his elected translator. It was real. He may not have known it at the time, but that was the beginning of the end.
Facing legal action prompted him to resume writing. He called on readers for information about me and others. I presume little came in as he had less and less to say. People had seen through him.
Whether he made stuff up or people sent him in lies which he took as truths and published accordingly is unknown. I suspect it was a combination of the two. I laughed when someone sent me an email and told me to read something he had written. He wrote that I had been spotted in Soi Cowboy with a bargirl. To give the story credibility, the time and place was detailed as were the clothes I was wearing. I was outside the country at the time! It was amusing but annoying at the same time.
His postings became sporadic and facing legal proceedings, which had been filed in the court in his home town, he cut a forlorn figure. He talked of a bad economy and how people were suffering when it was obvious that what he meant was that his business which was doing badly. The bravado with which he once posted was gone. He made the classic mistake some bloggers make of projection, talking about his own situation as if what he was going through applied to everyone. The bad economy in America and the weak US dollar were making life less enjoyable for those in Thailand. Translation: there was little demand for the plastic trinkets he was peddling online and when he did manage to make a sale, he was getting fewer baht for them than he had been.
His destruction of my character was not limited to his website. Those who emailed him were told the most scurrilous lies, quite ridiculous stories from my involvement in the Mafia to my attempts to hurt him. Eventually people seemed to realise that he was full of it, his words total exaggeration or outright lies.
It was around that time that I made my second visit to his town. I was alone and there for a different purpose. I had an investigation to carry out in the province and fancied spending some time there again. It was a chance to revisit the magnificent temple 50 odd kilometres down the road from his town. I would carry out the investigation and then spend a couple of days in town relaxing.
I spent a few nights in the pretty town, enjoying time away from the chaos of Bangkok. One night, while seated in a restaurant concealed amongst the vegetation – see the photo below – he ran right past me. He looked right into the restaurant where I was the only Westerner, but nothing registered and he kept going.
Lunching the next day at a restaurant with views across the Mekong, I spotted him riding his motorbike around town.
It seems that he had few, if any, friends. Habitually approaching strangers at the riverfront suggests he was lonely. One guy he introduced himself to said that he was personable and friendly. He invited that guy into his house, the first place we had staked out when we had been in town the first time. It was described as Spartan with little inside, without even a table to eat off. He was said to be very careful with his money and it was intimated that he didn't seem to have much, despite the bravado of being a high flying businessman.
If there was a positive about him, as far as Thailand was concerned he always thought the glass was half full. He loved his life in Thailand, liked the people and especially seemed to like the fact that everything was so cheap. He always seemed to be concerned about money, the baht : dollar exchange rate and the cost of living. He never wanted to return to the US and certainly never wanted to leave Thailand. That would be the worst thing in the world.
He claimed that I was behind the legal action taken against him. The man who brought the legal action against him was unknown by me at the time, although we did meet on one occasion and have spoken many times.
Our crazy man lost the case, resulting in a large fine plus a suspended prison sentence.
Another charge followed and this time a guilty charge would mean the sentence would no longer be suspended. If found guilty – and there was every chance he would be – the next stop would be the monkey house.
While I cannot be certain that he was the person behind it, all evidence suggests that he was behind visits the plaintiff filing charges against him and I received by the authorities at that time. A complaint had been made against each of us and we had to answer those, which we did. The timing strongly suggested that the crazy guy pressed the nuke button. The nukes fizzled.
Hearing after hearing went by in the second case, and I received the occasional update from the plaintiff. The wheels of Thai justice seemed to slow to a crawl.
About a year ago I received a report that the defendant, the crazy guy, had done the wild thing in court. Apparently he had flipped out before the judge, refused to answer questions and told the judge that he was American, the court was not in America and as such it had no jurisdiction over him and he didn't recognise its authority!
He was sent to the cells where he spent a couple of nights. I believe he was forced to put up either a sum of money, or his business, as a surety to be released.
At that point it was obvious that it was just a matter of time. The beautiful riverside town would soon be saying goodbye to its least favourite adopted son. I don't doubt that he knew it.
The site, which had been pared right back with most content removed, was taken offline altogether. The fat lady had all but sung.
A period of nothing followed. He was old news. Old expats left and new expats arrived and his name wouldn't be recognised. He'd gone from an almost someone to a no-one.
There was little talk of the second case online. He was yesterday's news and had largely been forgotten.
From time to time a new thread would pop up on a discussion forum or an old one would resume. The usual speculation followed. As is the case with many Thailand discussion forums, those saying the most often know the least.
Earlier this month a message appeared on his business website stating that the business would wind up at the end of this month.
Around the same time he failed to show up at court for a hearing. This was his last chance to mount a defence. He didn't take it. The plaintiff will automatically win the case. A custodial sentence awaits.
He ran. Knowing that the writing was on the wall and that he was looking at a one way trip to the monkey house, he ran. He fled the country.
An arrest warrant has been issued for him. Should he turn up at any border point he will be arrested. His failure to defend the charges means that he will be found guilty. The verdict will soon be read. The suspended sentence charge will kick in, as will whatever punishment is handed down by the court for the current charges. Potentially a number of years in the monkey house.
He leaves behind a business. He will lose his bond, believed to be around 200,000 – 300,000 baht.
More than anything, he leaves behind a life he loved. It was his adopted home. He was happy here. It was where he wanted to be.
While much is known about him, just as much isn't. Why did he move to far flung Isaan, for example? Despite crowing of commercial success, all indicators are that he barely eked out a living and gave the word keeneow (meaning "stingy" in Thai) a new meaning. Was he a peasant masquerading as Mr. Prosperous?
He caused me a number of problems, cost me advertisers, lost me readers, damaged my credibility, incited mockery and derision and brought friends and colleagues into something they shouldn't have had anything to do with.
He distressed many of my colleagues and caused sleepless nights for some. He also turned what was generally a happy workplace into something altogether different.
He libeled a good number of decent folks living in Thailand, many of whom had never known him nor had any dealings with him whatsoever.
Despite musings to the contrary, his outing of the webmaster effectively killed the Mango site which once had quite a following.
He reveled in bringing grief and misery to others and went to great lengths to mess with the lives of many good people who just happened to be doing things he didn't agree with, or approve of.
His tale of self-destruction is sad. All he gained was infamy and what, in the end, amounted to self-imposed deportation.
I could see where things were going and sent him an email a few months ago, asking him if it was all worth it. Previously he would answer emails quickly with an incredibly smug tone. He never replied.
Since fleeing Thailand, it's unlikely he'll ever return.
He may be gone from Thailand, but it's not over for him. Far from it. The guy who took legal action against him has done so at great personal expense. He may have succeeded in driving him out of Thailand, but that isn't enough and he isn't stopping now. He has various legal action options available to him and intends to pursue them with vigour. As he said to me earlier this week, "I am by no means finished with him. He made the wrong man angry!"
Bad karma catches up with you eventually.
Last week's photo
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken outside Pretty Lady Bar on the ground floor of Nana Plaza. This week's photo is outside Bangkok. The first person to email me with the correct location of the photo wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant. The second person to get it correct wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the 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 in central Bangkok. For readers in Phuket, we now have a new prize provider in Patong Beach. Bliss Lounge on Bangla Road is offering a 500 baht drink credit and with some great imported beers from Belgium, Germany and Holland, they're unique for a venue on Bangla Road.
Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Duke's prize must be utilised by March 2011. The Bliss Lounge prize must be claimed within 3 months. Prizes are only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week! If you wish to claim a prize, you must state a preference for the prize you prefer, or list the prizes you would like in order of preference – fail to do so and I will award the prize to the next person to get the photo right.
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 – Good driving, teeruk!
One day my girlfriend was trying to teach me to drive a motorbike. I never rode at home, and 52 is a bit old to learn. I cut a corner taking a right turn, zooming through a tiny gap and getting just enough ahead of traffic that we didn't get killed. "Oh teerak, that's great! You're driving like a Thai!" I never drove a bike again! She drives better than most Thais and has been since she was nine. My life is more important than my ego. I asked about driving lessons one day and her response was, "People take driving lessons so they know what lies to tell when they have an accident."
Will Pattaya follow Vegas?
To look at the future of Pattaya, look at the history of Las Vegas. In Vegas years ago the ladies were out and about selling their wares, booze was flowing and the good times went 24/7. Now it's a family destination with prices sky high, unemployment is at an all-time high, house prices drop daily and the city is so deep in debt that taxes are being raised. The same will happen to Pattaya; it's just a matter of time. It is over-built, business is off and sois are vacant. The current tourists are just lookers and freeloaders.
Delightful Samut Prakan
On Saturday we went out into the country and stopped at a ma & pa store opposite a fish farm. The large Leo I drank cost 45 baht (I'd paid 47 in the local convenience store the previous evening) and my girlfriend's Sprite was 10 baht. Mama then disappeared around the back and reappeared with 6 mangoes off their own tree – absolutely delicious, and she wouldn't accept a single satang for them! I may end up missing the beaches of Phuket (although if you follow the local online newspapers, you will know these aren't as pristine as many would like us to believe), but the people here in Samut Prakan are in a totally different class.
A party in the Dollhouse.
I visited some gogos for the first time in a few months. At Dollhouse I was one of only 3 or 4 customers sitting downstairs. The bored wait staff was sitting down directing some new funny dance moves for the girls on stage who were trying them out and laughing. A man got up to leave who was at least 75 years old, probably more like 80, and the staff jumped up and did a few moves in front of him. Instead of leaving, the man started absolutely going for it! It wasn't a Bangkok shuffle either, he was really moving! 20 minutes went by and he was still dancing, outlasting the waitresses and a couple of the gogo dancers who had joined him until quitting because they were laughing so hard. Some new customers walked in the door and just stared at him in awe. Most fun I've had at a gogo in ages.
Don't overdo it with the $$.
I have married two women from other countries (Vietnam and Colombia) and it is usually the case that when they hit the States, or whatever country out of their own turf, they turn big time! They don't need you any more. The sex is nice and all that, but sooner or later they revolt and tell you what they want and how they want it! I have a girl in Thailand, and thank God she does not want to come to America! She wants me to be with her in Thailand. She also has two kids about 13 and 14 and parents who keep her busy, rice farmers who make enough rice for the family's consumption. But to make a long story short, for all the farangs out there, never ever give a Thai woman a lot of money, and try very hard not to pay the dowry. I did not pay what she wanted – 250,000 baht for a divorcee with 2 kids – but I fixed her parents' home, and I send her about 6,000 a month. When I am there I spend money, purchase food, and give her mom about 2,000 baht. I leave her with about 10,000 – 15,000 baht. I do not over do it.
Are we annoying to the Thais?
It appears more and more you are taking the steps to exit this place. Selling your car and an outlook that reflects disappointment. I can understand because even though I have been in Thailand less time than you have, I can see the Thai attitudes toward foreigners declining. I am beginning to wonder if a point will be reached where foreigners will need to fear for their safety just walking down the street. I agree with your observation that there is a huge increase in foreigners and that could be the culprit. I believe we have become quite annoying to the Thais. I hear others speaking of this too.
The nephew of a mate of mine will be visiting Bangkok for a few days and we were talking about the places and sights he should visit. There is so much to see in Bangkok. The problem is the tours that are arranged through the hotels always leave the hotel at 7 AM in a packed minibus and end up at a gem store or some other crap outlet which really ruins the day. Hiring a taxi or tuktuk for the day is off the cards as he will be scammed or taken to places he doesn't want to go to. The best idea I had was to hire a hotel car for the day. It would be more expensive but at least the route would be agreed and the driver has to report to the hotel so there should be no nonsense. Do you know of any reliable i.e. no gem store personalised tour guides?
Hollywood Carousel on the top floor of Nana Plaza has reopened under new management and with a new name, Billboard. Here's hoping the new American owners can make this ill-fated location a greater success than it has been for, oh, about the past 6 years!
In what seems to be becoming something of a regular thing, a number of expat bars in Bangkok that stock Guinness report that they are all out of it and there's no supply in the market. Was it last year, or the year before, when exactly the same thing happened, just as Paddy's Day is approaching.
There's some weird stuff going on down in Hua Hin's bar district. Unfortunately, it's hard to get the full picture from here, but from what I hear, there have been issues with early bar closures. All across Thailand, bars are supposed to close at 2 AM although you find the odd venue open until a lot later. In Hua Hin the bars were told they had to close at midnight. Then the boys in brown changed their minds and bar closure times reverted back to 2 AM…and now they are said to be back to midnight again! There's also talk of a prohibition on girls standing outside bars dancing and / or beckoning passers by inside their venue. There's even talk of relocating the entire bar area away from where it is, in the main downtown area, and pushing all of the bars WAY out of the main town area! You hear a lot of this sort of talk in Thailand and often nothing comes of it…but sometimes, just sometimes, it does. Just look at the ground floor of Nana Plaza. A year after rumours broke of the ground floor area being cleared of all bars, it really did happen.
Larry's Big Birthday Bash will take place on Friday, March 25, in my favourite Pattaya bar, Secrets. There will be all sorts of fun, free food as well as friendly (and some filthy) girls. No, that's not Larry's birthday present in the photo, although I bet he wouldn't say no!
Next Sunday, March 6, owner Tom will hit the big five oh and will celebrate his birthday in style at the Stumble Inn, on Sukhumvit soi 4. There will be live music from 8:30 through until midnight, and food throughout the evening. All beers are still priced at a reasonable 65 baht all day and all night, including Carlsberg draught. Because it's a special occasion, local bar owner Keith Hancock will be doing a short stint live on stage which will run for around 30 minutes (Hancock's half hour) namely 10 until 10:30. Only one rotten tomato per person please! In addition to the upcoming party, the Stumble Inn shows all 6 Nations rugby matches live, as well as all Premier League football matches too.
With Angelwitch being taken over by new owners, fear not for the future of the gogo guru himself, Dave The Rave. He was asked by the new owners to stay on and will in fact run the show in 2 bars, being Angelwitch on the middle floor and the new, cavernous Billboard up top. Dave will be given more authority as the new owners have money but are relatively new to the industry. If you remember back 6 years, Dave was once the manager of Hollywood – now Billboard – and the bar was packed most nights. When Dave departed, the venue took a dive and never really recovered. So Dave is up to the challenge to restoring the top floor to its glory days, which has to be good for Nana!
The next party at the Strip in Patpong is scheduled March 4 and will feature a snake show. No, don't be silly, it ain't a trouser snake but a real live snake, a python I believe. There'll also be body painting and a fire show.
Business seemed brisk in Cowboy this week with Dollhouse full to the gills with standing room only for a good period.
Pretty Lady Bar in Nana Plaza will host a carnival party on Saturday March 5, offering draught by the glass for a mere 49 baht, bottled local beers for 110 baht, FREE food and special shows. There will be a costume contest and a FREE carnival cocktail for every costumed customer. The wheel of fortune will spin and there will be chances to win drinks and barfines. All are welcome!
The person who has the rights to supply Setanta-i cable TV throughout Asia is aware of the pirated Astro feeds being broadcast by a number of bars in Thailand and they plan to encrypting the Setanta-i channel very shortly. That means that bars showing Astro might not have it for much longer…
A reader let me know this week that he felt bargirl inflation was totally out of control when he was quoted 20,000 baht for 2 girls at Alcatraz for what would have been the threesome of his dreams. Let me remind you that such ridiculously high numbers are usually quoted when she does NOT want to go with you, for whatever reason that may be. The next guy was probably quoted a much lower price.
If you crave a different flavour, yes, it is possible to meet white women in Bangkok and no, I don't mean Eastern European hookers but white birds who aren't intend on raiding your wallet. The biggest concentration of white women in Bangkok would be Khao San Road although I have found that there are better pickings with local women out there. The relatively small number of moneyed up, single white women on expat contracts can often be found at wine bars such as Vino di Zanotti or V9, the wine bar on level 37 of the Sofitel on Silom as well as other high-end clubs. If your budget doesn't stretch that far, Charley Brown's in a small sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 11 seems to get plenty of female foreign teachers. They are out there…
The Bangkok Administration this week announced a 50 km elevated walkway that would loop around the city. The actual route has not yet been outlined, but I would guess it would probably follow the skytrain and underground area in parts. Given that footpaths are used by all and sundry – and I don't just mean pedestrians – I wonder if the mooted overheard walkway will have a ramps too so, at the very least, motorbikes can go up and use it to avoid the traffic below! This is an awfully strange project given many Thais' great reluctance to walk.
Don't listen to anyone who tells you that you can't get a decent steak in Bangkok. You can. Just expect to pay way more for it than you would at home. And unless you're paying absolute top dollar, don't be surprised if you get a piece of meat that resembles old boots. I have to admit I have yet to swing by Home Run which can be found in one of Sukhumvit's back sois. The food looks great but it seems rather pricey, at least by Bangkok standards. With all that said, it could be worthwhile checking out on a Wednesday night if you crave a decent steak. At Home Run on Wednesday nights it's 2 steaks for the price of 1 making it much more affordable. So where do I go when I crave a decent steak but don't want to pay through the nose for it. The Londoner, of course, and always on a Monday or Tuesday when you can use one of their 50% food discount vouchers. The Aussie rib-eye and the Argentinean strip loin are both great and with the discount are priced under 400 baht. I'd pass on the T-bone.
A certain Mr. Barrett seemed disbelieving that he would get an avalanche of traffic following his interview in this column last week. Most humorously, he got a notice from his hosting company advising him that for the very first time he had exceeded his monthly bandwidth allowance. Ah, if you want exposure, Stickman is the place to be!
From time to time I am asked whether a website exists where Western men involved with Thai girls can check and see if their lady is involved with someone else, as in presently being supported by other guys. Given that some women do have a lot of guys sending money to them – I think the record I have heard is one girl with 5 different sponsors at that point in time – she may have had more either before or after that point too. It would be horribly unfair on the girls (because many guys lie to them and are married, or perhaps considering other ladies themselves), not to say that it would undoubtedly be illegal to run such a site in Thailand, due to privacy laws and what not, but I am kinda of surprised that such a site does not exist. How you would monetise it, I do not know, because it would rely on guys with a lady reporting her to the site in the first place. There's a (dodgy) business idea for someone…
Quote of the week comes from Phet, "I believe there is a low level of genetic diversity amongst the Thai nation."
Reader's story of the week comes from Peter Kaman, "Hansum Man, Hansum Man!"
The Bangkok Post ran an interesting piece on a Bangkok coyote girl today.
A Thai woman renting her 16-year old niece out to foreigners in charming Pattaya is arrested.
The Economist magazine profiled Thailand's orange shirts this week.
The Daily Mail called it a triple tragedy with three foreigners having major problems in Thailand in one day.
Thailand's mainstream media is criticised for failing to highlight many injustices that plague the country today.
A bunch of Scandinavian scammers were arrested this week by the Pattaya constabulary.
Even the elephants are in on it and are killing foreign tourists in Thailand.
Thai tennis star and his former Miss Universe wife are no longer an item.
The Kiwi who murdered a Thai prostitute and kept her body at his place for months was sentenced to life.
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: Having consulted the condominium's juristic person, who confirmed in writing that my prospective purchase would easily fall short of the 49% foreign freehold status quota. On these grounds I then made a 10% non-refundable deposit, only to find that this was not the case. Would it be worthwhile trying to sue him to recover my deposit? Is so what would you envisage your fees and court costs to be, and in the event I won would the judge award these costs against the defendant?
Sunbelt Legal responds: You need to check your agreement to see if it contained any clause or obligation on the part of the seller that if he is not able to transfer the ownership then he must refund the deposit to the purchaser. Professional fees would require detailed discussion of the case to determine but court costs are 2% of the value of the claim. Before going to court you would need to put your claim to the court specifying costs and fees involved including the petition process.
Question 2: In the event that occupants, leaseholders, freeholders flat refuse to pay maintenance charges, sinking funds, in practice how many are taken to court, evicted, their properties confiscated and sold to pay off the charges that have not been paid?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Before the juristic management can take the case to court they must first deliver written demands for payment. If, once the case goes to court, the court rules in favour of the Juristic Management, then they would then have to request the Court to appoint a prosecutor in order to confiscate and auction the defendants' assets (the assets of the owner / owners of the disputed unit/s) in order to cover the awarded amount. Any tenant leasing that property should refer back to their lease agreement which specifies the responsibility party for covering common property area fees.
Question 3: As your average well meaning idiot I built a home on a lady's chanote in Nongkhai. I of course paid for the home and furnishings. Now that the relationship has gone pear-shaped, am I able to remove all the items I have bought such as the bed, fridge, tables etc?
Sunbelt Legal responds: If you do not have a lease agreement or any type of contract on the land (i.e. usufruct) with the lady then the structural building (i.e. permanent fixtures) are the property of the land owner. Movable fixtures that you have bought with receipts in your name then you should be able to take them with you. If the movable assets were bought as gifts for her or so that you can both live together (even if not married) then they are her property.
If you do have a lease agreement, usufruct or other contract on the land then you need to check for clauses in the agreement related to ownership of the structural building on the leased property. There may be clauses that specify that the building belongs to the owner, or that the building belongs to the lessee and the land owner must pay for them when the lease is terminated. If it is not specified in the agreement, then the building would be considered the property of the land owner.
Question 4: My wife, son and I are planning on moving back to the UK. We have one problem which is giving us a headache. It's the mortgage on our townhouse. We will not be able to afford this once we are renting in the UK. We have had the house on the market for 18 months but nobody has even come to look at it. The price is as low as we can go without having to owe money to the bank. It's worth 6 million and we are asking 4.6 million for it. The reason it's hard to sell is that the house has a huge crack going right through the middle, all the way up to the roof and across all floors and down the other side! Nobody in their right mind would buy it. What can we do? We are willing to walk away from it and hand the keys back to the bank but what could happen to my wife in the future when she comes back to Thailand from the UK if we do this? Is there anything we can do that is legal and will enable us to offload the house?
* The gent who asked this question is keen to hear ideas readers may have and anyone with suggestions can contact him at : Markah1@hotmail.com
Sunbelt Legal responds: Leaving the house completely without settling with the bank not only leaves your wife in trouble with the bank, but also the person who is acting as her guarantor. If the borrower ignores the bank's demand letters and refuses to contact and / or communicate with the bank, the next person that they would approach is the guarantor, where he / she would be regularly contacted to settle the outstanding installments, additional interests and late penalty fees on the borrower's behalf.
Should the situation end up in court, the bank will file a lawsuit against both the borrower (as defendant #1) and the guarantor (as defendant # 2), and the bank (lender) may be awarded with a court judgement that they are allowed to auction this property out. The funds derived from the auction will be applied towards the borrowed amount plus interest and their additional fees (e.g. having a lawyer sending you the demand letter, their lawyer's fees when pursuing the court process, the fees for auctioning the property etc.). Should the final bid be greater than the owed amount and other expenses, your wife (the borrower) will be entitled to the remainder of the funds. But should the final bidding price not cover the bank's expenses and owed amount then the bank shall further proceed by requesting the court to appoint / assign a prosecutor to confiscate any other assets that could help the bank to recover the remaining owed amount. The final outcome for being unable to repay the loan amount would be filing for bankruptcy.
This process would definitely damage your wife's credit rating at the credit bureau as well as being categorized as a bankrupt person, but she would not be arrested upon her return.
You may be able to sell the property to the bank but the price would be minimal. You should contact the bank to negotiate this issue.
You could try to rent the house out, and have some or all of the rental income cover the mortgage payments but you would incur expenses should you renovate it before renting it out.
Today's opener was the longest I've ever written making this is easily the longest column I've put together which this week is in excess of 14,000 words. The opening piece was a story I've wanted to tell for some time, but I had to wait for it to all play out before it could be told in full. Next week's column will be back to the usual length. This was an immensely satisfying column to write and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did putting it together!
Your Bangkok commentator,