Stickman's Weekly Column February 12th, 2012

Another Day in Paradise


It was just another day in paradise. I'd been for my morning exercise and was back in the condo, pottering away on the computer. I can't remember if I was editing photos, or reading the news or rolling my eyes at the latest reports out of Anfield, but I was on the computer for sure. That much I know. I was killing time before a 2 PM appointment with a handful of Bangkok escort girls. No, not that sort of appointment, but an interview to find out more about their lives. It was supposed to be a relatively quiet day in paradise. Famous words those….supposed to be.

This is supposed to be the best time of year, weather wise. Again, supposed to be. It's not as cool as late December – the week between Christmas and New Year is usually the coolest of the year – but it's generally pleasant, meaning blue skies and low humidity. It doesn't get too hot and it never rains. Again, it isn't supposed to



Outside the condo it was looking darker and darker, and the clouds were getting greyer and greyer. Rain would soon fall. My appointment was still 90 minutes away so it shouldn't get in the way of me getting there on time.

It was late morning when the rain finally came. Street vendors scattered, traffic snarled up and neighbours who had hung their washing out on the balcony would come home to find that it had been stolen by the elements, blown away in a gale.

The rain was heavy and pelted against the window of the condo. This wasn't a mere mango shower, the so-called sporadic showers that can come late cool season and through the hot season, this was a full on monsoon storm.

The silence inside the condo was shattered by thunderous rumblings from the sky, almost unheard of at this time of year, as fierce and dramatic as only a South-East Asia monsoon storm can be. It sounded like there were explosions right outside my condo door.

Rain hammered down relentlessly against the computer room window, louder and louder, so loud that I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing. It was so fierce that I was drawn to the window and gazed outside, watching Mother Nature prove that she is every bit as temperamental, and even more destructive, than even the most scorned Thai woman.

Windows kept the rain at bay, as thunder boomed out loud and penetrated the building.

The sound of falling water was close. I stepped back and my feet felt water on the floor. Water had entered the condo!

I padded across to the front door to see water gushing through the ceiling, filling the corridor right outside the condo! This wasn't a few drips, or even a trickle, rain water was positively gushing in!

Condo staff were obviously aware and had placed buckets in the corridor but they had filled and were overflowing. The flow of water was so strong, the floor so slippery, that there was nothing I could do and it would be best to remain in my unit.

Stepping back inside, I closed the door and blocked the bottom of the door with towels in an effort to prevent more water entering. I retrieved a few items from the floor, mopped up the water which had found its way inside and sat back in front of the computer. There was nothing much I could do. The rain was easing and peace would soon return. There'd be a mess to clean up, but that's life. Sigh, the downside of living on the top floor!

Did Mother Nature have a point to prove? She must have, for she started to get downright stroppy. The wind picked up, the rain became heavier and thunder sounded like it was exploding right above my head. There was a massive crash right above me, the heart of the storm must have been close, almost like it was right outside my door.

Whoa, that crash was not from the sky, but inside the building!

I pulled back the towels at the bottom of the door and opened it to see that the ceiling in the corridor had broken up and had come crashing down in the corridor! Huge, heavy pieces of ceiling weighing 30 or 40 kg scattered the hallway, a scene right out of a war movie. This was no longer inconvenience, this was serious!

Rain was hammering and down and as I turned and looked back into the condo I saw that water was now gushing from the ceiling inside my condo! It was coming down through the ceiling, through the holes where the lights are mounted, like several shower heads at fall blast! My lovely condo was flooding!

For several minutes water poured through the ceiling and into the condo. Valuables had been secured, books and other items prone to water damage were in the cupboards or the closet. All I could do was watch as the condo filled with water. The flooding late last year may not have made it to downtown, but now it was my turn to experience the dreaded water first hand.

The rain eventually eased, but it took several minutes before the water gushing inside my unit slowed to a trickle. What had caused this to happen? Had the roof of the building come off in the storm? Had a water main burst? All I knew was that my condo was now uninhabitable.

Traipsing down to the ground floor, the condo staff were excellent and transferred me into another unit. Most apologetic, and very concerned about damage to my possessions – which amazingly there was none – they couldn't have been more helpful. In record time everything was transferred to a new unit.

I checked the time and figured that with the rain now stopped, there was no point in hanging around the condo. Workers would need to come in to fix it and I'd be better off outside. I could still make the 2 PM appointment on time.

More bemused than anything, I strolled through Sukhumvit's back sois, laptop in one hand, camera in the other, headed for my appointment at the Emporium. Every taxi was taken as happens when it rains, but never mind, the rain had dropped the temperature and a walk would be nice. I walking down from the top of soi 31, past Home Run and Mousse and Meringues, turned left and crossed over soi 31, passed the former Prime Minister's house and turned right into the top of soi 33. I didn't get very far along soi 33 when I discovered that the soi had flooded. As best I could see, the footpath on the western side remained above water level, just. I could walk down that side to Sukhumvit and on to Emporium.



Bangkok flooding



Down soi 33 I strolled, checking my watch and stopping to take a few shots of the flooding along the way. Soi 33 is prone to flooding, and the water level in the soi ranged from perhaps 6 – 15 inches. Vendors were setting back up and street life was resuming. Within an hour the water would have subsided and the storm would have been forgotten.

I proceeded down soi 33, past Napoleon, Demonia on the other side of the road, down past Tuktuk Cafe, Moulin Rouge, Tenderloins and most of the bars. As I carefully made my way along the sidewalk, just before Christie's Club, the water in the soi seemed to get deeper, the waves from passing cars bigger.

I got to within 50 metres of the main Sukhumvit Road. My destination, Emporium, was just a couple of hundred metres away. There, right in front of me, the sidewalk was blocked. A som tam vendor's cart blocked the entire sidewalk. Unless I was prepared to wade through a filthy flooded soi, I was not going to get any further.

So there I was, standing in very light drizzle, laptop in one hand, camera in the other – which I hoped would live up to the manufacturer's specs for water resistance – trying to figure out how I was going to cross the soi.

Another car passed and waves of water splashed towards me. I took a few steps back and stood there, just back from the street vendors.

With a bunch of escort girls to interview, I'd made an effort. Clean shaven, white shirt, decent jeans, my favourite shoes. I figured they'd be more responsive to a nicely presented guy. I stood there, contemplating the best way to traverse the flooded soi and get to Emporium without turning up looking like a drowned rat.

A street vendor's shrieking interrupted my train of thought. I snapped out of my day dream to the realisation that she was cursing someone. "You fxxxing cockroach!" Words were spitting from her lips. I chuckled quietly when I heard her say next "You fxxxing farang cockroach!" But I become a little perturbed when I noticed that she was looking right at me! She wasn't just looking at me, she was curiously looking me up and down and cursing me with crude insults!

"Fxxxing filthy cockroach!", or the Thai equivalent, she said, the volume getting louder. Then she started pointing at me. I am standing there, trapped on soi 33, just 50 metres from the main Sukhumvit Road, perhaps just a couple of hundred metres from Emporium where I have an appointment, and I'm being cursed by a street vendor!

Other vendors start looking at me, and the looks on their faces are grave. They're not happy. They are looks of disgust! They're not just looking at me, they're looking me up and down.

I am rooted to the spot. What could I have done to cause such consternation? I cannot possibly think what I could have done to upset the som tam lady, yet she is abusing me with gusto! I feel a tingle on my arm, no doubt the rain falling from the sky. I don't look as I am more concerned with this vendor calling me a fxxxing cockroach and her fellow vendors staring at me!

Have I stiffed her? Did I once eat som tam at her cart and do a runner? Nah, impossible, never done that in my life. Crazy scenarios run through my head. Did she once work in a bar and I investigated her, causing her to lose money? Again, extremely unlikely. In my interactions with locals I make every effort to be respectable and respectful, always speaking polite Thai, always well-presented, never rocking the boat. So why is she abusing me?

The situation gets worse. She picks up a broom and charges at me. She is screaming that I am a cockroach! I am rooted to the spot, running through my options.

With no laptop and no camera I could leg it. They wouldn't catch me, of that I am sure. Ditch the camera and laptop and run? No, that's way too much investment to throw away and besides, I am innocent. What do I need to run from? This doesn't make sense!

The eyes of the street vendors are fixed on me, and I am being charged by a crazed som tam vendor! She swings the broom and rather than hitting me, she seems to deliberately be brushing at my legs, at my jeans. I look down and see a scene from a horror movie. My jeans are covered in cockroaches and they are running up my body! Some have crawled on to my shirt and others are on my arms. The tingling on my arms I had felt earlier had not been the rain at all, but these disgusting creatures!

The penny drops. The vendor hadn't been cursing me at all, but warning me of the cockroaches that now covered me. And she hadn't charged at me at all, but was helping swipe the dreaded pests off my body!

I start doing my best Michael Jackson impersonation, jumping up and down on the spot, trying to shake off the filthy vermin as the vendor is doing her best to help, brushing them off me. As they fall to the ground I am stomping on them, killing them and within a minute there are dozens of dead cockroaches around me! All around me vendors are laughing and giving me kind smiles.

When the city's streets flood, cockroaches come out from hiding and as I had been standing there, rooted to the spot, they had run amok over me! The som tam lady had tried to alert me to the danger and then had the decency to take matters into her own hands, and stepped in to help. I felt huge guilt at having thought she had been cursing me, when in fact she was trying to alert me! I thank her and start heading back up the soi.



Bangkok



I only need to go a few hundred metres to Emporium but every taxi that passes by is taken. The motorcycle boys have abandoned their posts. I have no choice but to walk. I am not prepared to ruin a good pair of shoes so I have to take the long way around.

Now free of cockroaches, I work my way back up soi 33. I will have to go back the way I came to the end of the soi, turn left, and then cut down soi 31 to get to Emporium. I'm going to be late. As I make my way along the soi, I see hoards of cockroaches and find myself trotting to avoid them.

A tuktuk passes by, a courtesy vehicle belonging to a nearby hotel. The driver has draped plastic over the sides to waterproof the main passenger area. It's empty, no passengers. He glances over at me. I look back and raise my eyebrows. He nods and slows to a stop.

"Bai nai", he yells, asking me where I am going.

"Bark soi", I respond, meaning the start of the soi.

He nods, turns the symbol of Thailand on a dime, and before I know it I am leaping into the back of some hotel's courtesy vehicle. 60 seconds of banter later and I am deposited at the start of the soi, beyond the flooded soi, and a short stroll away from the steps to the Prom Pong BTS station, which lead up to Emporium.



Bangkok escorts



I arrive am at the appointed spot and as I should have guessed, despite being late for the appointment I'm the first one there! A phone call reveals that my girls are running late.

I was able to put the drama of the previous couple of hours behind me and have a fascinating hour with a bunch of charming Thai escorts, chatting about the life of an escort in Bangkok. I'll introduce you to them and tell you all about their lives next week.

Who said life in Bangkok was boring?






*Where* was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken at the excellent Cabbages and Condoms restaurant in Sukhumvit soi 12. Some silly folks say the taste of the food is more to the farang palate than to Thais, which is nonsense. Many Thais dine there regularly and love it! So where was this week's mystery photo taken?! All you have to do is tell me where the photo was taken. There are 2 prizes this week – a 500 baht credit at the Oh My Cod fish and chips restaurant, and a 500 baht voucher from one of the best farang food venues and home of Bangkok's best burger, Duke's Express.

Terms and conditions: 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 – failure to do so results in the prize going to the next person to get the photo right. The Duke's Express voucher MUST be redeemed by June 2012. The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. 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!

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 WEEKHave you?!

Several years ago when I lived in Pattaya I got to be reasonably good friends with a ladyboy who "hung out" in one of the beer bars. After we had established that I had zero sexual interest in her / him, we had many interesting conversations. One I will never forget was when I asked him if the customer always knew he had picked a ladyboy and if not, whether they get angry or violent when they discovered that what they thought was a girl turned out to be a boy. The answer was something like this, "Oh yes, but when I have a customer and he thinks I am a lady but I am afraid that he may beat me up I just tell him when we get to the room that it is my "lady time" and very bad this month. At first they are unhappy but then I tell them don't worry I will give you best blowjob of your life and you can play with my breasts and I take good care of you. Then I keep below covered up and if he tries to go "downstairs" I say again oh not good now very messy and by the time I show him how good a blowjob can be he forgets everything. Then I take the money and leave. And I think that many of these men the next day brag to their friends that the girl they had last night had the best breasts and gave the best blow job ever!" So the question is how many macho guys get BJs by ladyboys and NEVER EVER know that they just got "serviced" by a guy?

Live and let live.

I have had experience saying no to ladyboys having stayed at Majestic Suites for 10 years while waiting for my lady friend to get her holiday so we can take off to parts other than the big city. I come home alone a fair amount so I get propositioned a lot. In 10 years a pleasant smile and a "no thank you" gets a similar reaction. On the other hand, I have seen big bad men reduced to blood, sweat and tears by acting aggressive. As a matter of fact, that approach seems to work with Indian tailors, tuktuk drivers and others who want to sell me something. I am not big and scary. I am in my late 50's and almost never get bothered more than once. Live and let live means just that.

Why a boy wants to be a girl.

Go back a hundred years and katoeys would be performing alongside the likes of John Merrick – the Elephant Man. Thailand must by definition have the most beautiful women in the world, the antithesis say of an American, Australian or German female. For some reason there seems to be an excess of the Y chromosomes in Thai society. The preponderance of katoeys, as you say, cannot be ignored, an accepted part of society to the degree that not only do they seem to have become a fashion accessory, but the commercial interests are milking them for all they are worth. Leaving aside how many of them have had implants, life seems to be on the up and they are having a ball. How many avenues are really open to them that don't involve soliciting? This ain't the yellow brick road, Dorothy. Coming from an impoverished part of Thailand, refusing to become a taxi driver, it makes one wonder is this the only alternative, condemned to wearing 4-inch heels? The predominance of money seems to be an integral part of them choosing this life style. Strip that away how many of them would revert to belts and braces?

More foreigners scamming locals.

I was intrigued by the story about Indians confusing the cashier so they could get their hands in the till. Yesterday afternoon, my daughter was stopped by local police on her way home. They had pulled over a car containing four Turks (three men and one woman) who had been accused by a vendor of stealing 5,000 baht from his wallet and the police wanted a translator. According to the vendor, they had bought some fish off him up at the market in Si Bun Ruenag (about 20 miles away) and when he gave them their change they had made a fuss, asking for 50 baht notes. When he got his wallet out to look for more notes, one of them took hold of it to help him look and it was only after they had gone that he realised the money was missing. After 15 minutes of accusations and denials, the local police decided to send them all back to Si Bun Ruenag and let the police there sort it out. They may well have been perfectly innocent but it sounds very similar to the tactics the Indians are using.

Bar Bar Patpong

Zero to hero in 9 hours.

The last few times I have been to Soi Cowboy etc, I have noticed a few Western and Japanese women there. It didn't really bother me, but if they had said something or started taking photos, I wouldn't have been too happy. I think what a lot of guys have to understand is that most women are more interested in our world then we are interested in theirs. When I have been in Ko Samui, late in the evening and I am doing the "walk of shame" from the bar back to my hotel with my rent-a-girlfriend, I get a lot of western women staring at me and I wonder what they're thinking. Is it "Look at the whoremonger" or is it "That guy looks like he is having a good time". I have heard that single Western expat women in Asia complain that they can't get a look in, as most of their male counterparts prefer to go out with younger Asian women. In Australia, it's becoming very common to see a white Australian male and his Asian girlfriend or wife. There used to be a real stigma about Australian men marrying Asian women, but that seems to have disappeared. I often think it must be hard for a ugly, fat or just plain Australian woman to get a boyfriend or husband now, because single Australian men have so many other options. Women in the past have usually found prostitution to be offensive, as the saying partially goes why buy the cow when you can rent it by the hour! So it must be frustrating for Western women to arrive in Thailand and find most men they meet aren't interested in them. It's the reverse for me. I may be overweight, bald and in my 40's, but I go from zero to hero in the nine hours that it takes to fly to Thailand. I know its superficial and if I didn't have any money it would be a different story but hey, it's good for my ego!

Unintended consequences.

Count me as one of those who's none too thrilled about the increasing numbers of western women showing up at Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza. For years I'd remind the naysayers about Patpong that the place at least served a useful purpose in diverting the gawkers away from Nana or Soi Cowboy. Now they're showing up and as with Walking Street, most just take pictures outside and the silly signage wars in Soi Cowboy play to that. Talk about unintended consequences. But a few venture in, usually with their beau and thinking they're the first ones who've thought to do that. Sometimes the couples unwittingly provide a bit of a show for the more observant male patrons. The other night I saw a western couple in their early 30s, with the woman looking like a young version of Ann Coulter. She was getting all chatty and the guy knew he had to keep his eyes fixed on her and not look up to the stage or he'd get massive cumulative punishment meted to him over a long period of time. Mostly, though, it's a big buzz kill.

Buy online!

The bookshop price of the latest Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand here in Melbourne is $49.95, about 1,550 – 1,600 baht, compared to 895 baht in Bangkok. I wanted a copy of the new edition so ordered it from Amazon on the internet. Price including postage was just under $20, about 620 baht. Took about 10 days to come.


A party will be held on February 16th, that is this coming Thursday, at the venue which started the modernisation of Soi Cowboy, the Dollhouse. Details are scarce but management have said there will be booze, bitches, food and a blowjob contest – the mind boggles!

@Life, the small bar at the bottom of the stairs connecting the ground and first floors on the right hand side of Nana Plaza is a favourite location for Thai guys gambling. They drink heavily, get loud and animated and there are baskets of cash openly on display. Some are rather unsavoury characters and that hidden corner of the plaza seems to have become their hangout. Gambling is illegal in Thailand and while snapping a bunch of Thai guys gambling with the neon jungle full of hookers behind them would be an award-winning shot, it's best advised that you don't linger too long in that corner!Pattaya Coyote

A contest is being held to find Pattaya's top dancer next Saturday, February 18. The dance off will be held at Soi Lucky Star, which I'm unfamiliar with but have a funny feeling it is what was once known as Goodfellas. An audition will be held the day before.

Bar bosses in Soi Cowboy seem less concerned about Western women roaming the soi, but positively annoyed at the Khao San Road brigade showing up in greater numbers. Not sure who the Khao San Road brigade are? Look out for young couples, or groups of youngsters, walking up and down Soi Cowboy perching in the outdoor seating areas of bars, refusing to buy drinks, preferring to grab a 30 baht can of Leo or Chang at the local 7 Eleven!

Restaurant and bar owners and managers really ought to get tough on the pests who enter their establishments and approach customers looking for donations, supposedly for some cause or charity. It happened in The Londoner this week and it has also happened in Sunrise Tacos, two of my favourite eateries. The disappointing thing is that it seems to be up to the customer to shoo the pests away with staff showing total indifference! My concern with this lot is that not only are they pests, there's no way of knowing if they are actually sanctioned to be collecting donations, or whether it's one big ruse.

What's the story with the farang violinist who plays on Soi Cowboy some nights? The tall, middle-aged Westerner shows up some nights, places his violin case alongside him for donations and plays. It's just another odd Bangkok sight, a Westerner paying a classic instrument in a red-light area. He seems to be well-received by girls and punters alike.

I missed the antics of a young, drunk Englishman who made a total ass of himself in Tilac bar, but a mate saw it and relayed the details. The young Brit was sitting next to the dance floor, aggressively grabbing at and attempting to grope one of the dancers. She made it clear to him that his advances were unwanted. He ignored her protests and continued bothering her and then tried to leap up on stage. The girl was clearly distressed and the idiot's actions were not lost on the Thai boss, Sam, who stepped in to handle the situation. Sam took a microphone from the DJ's booth, went up to the guy and spoke to him slowly, and clearly, with her words broadcast around the bar via the sound system. What she said went something like this, "This is a place where people come to have fun. It's not a place for bad behaviour. If you are here to have fun, you're welcome to stay. If you're looking for trouble, then go home. I repeat, if you're looking for trouble, then go home!" This young idiot's actions had not been lost on other customers and the bar quickly turned against him. Some stated chanting "Go home, go home" and the chant was picked up by others and soon it felt like everyone in the bar was chanting, "Go home, go home!" The guy got the message, settled his bill and left the bar to great applause!

The sign for Insomnia erected out front of Tilac in Soi Cowboy (see photo below) changed this week. The new sign says *in the Thai language* that Insomnia is giving away 12,000,000 baht in prizes in 2012. That's serious money! 12,000,000 baht for the year is 1,000,000 baht a month, or around 33,000 baht per day, EVERY day for a year! I wonder if farangs can claim a prize?



Soi Cowboy





If chasing freelancers in Pattaya is your thing, you might need to find a new place to go as rumour has it that the ultra popular Walking Street freelancer hangout Insomnia has been ordered shut for at least a month.

At long last there are now some 4-car trains on the Sukhumvit line of the skytrain. It's still terribly busy and awfully jammed at peak hour, but this is a minor reprieve.

Fans of Thailand whose life is in the West often think of all the lovely Thai ladies and how they would rather be in Thailand with a pretty young maiden than in their corner of Farangland. But you know what, as much fun as it is living in Thailand, we expats often think about the pleasures of home – and that is reflected in our behaviour in Thailand. As if proof was needed that you can take the boy out of Kiwland, but you can't take Kiwiland out of the boy, a regular contributor to this site and fellow Kiwi, Mega, told me how he chose a sheep over a bird! He's been regaling me for a while now about this hi-tech cooker he bought that does a tremendous job cooking meat. He'd been out to Foodland and bought himself a lovely leg of New Zealand lamb and had just put it in the cooker when the phone rang. It was a nubile young lass who had an itch she wanted scratching. He checked his watch and dashed over to her place and sorted her out. One round wasn't enough and the randy little vixen pleaded with him to stay the night. This hot young thing, considerably younger than him, a former Rainbow dancer, no less had needs that particular night, but in the back of Mr. Mega's mind was the slow-cooked lamb that was waiting for him at home. What to do? Proving himself to be a proud Kiwi, he made his excuses to the lass, telling her that he had to love her and leave her and left. He never did tell her that he chose roast lamb over her!

It's easy to think that some of the antics and theatrics that Thai girls pull are saved for Western men. They're not! There I was sitting on the underground when a couple of young Thais, mid 20s at a guess, come along. A lesbian couple, one very pretty girl and one Tom, the Tom takes the last empty seat right next to me, crosses her arms and makes a point of closing her eyes. Standing over her, right in front of her, and glaring at her, is her girlfriend. The girlfriend just stands there, unwavering, glaring at her, waiting for the Tom to open her eyes. The Tom lifts her eyelid for a split second and the barrage starts! The pretty girl starts, right there on the busy train, ranting away at her Tom girlfriend about the 500 baht she had lent her for one thing but which she had spent on another. Why people put up with this nonsense I don't know. In the case of Western guys involved with a Thai woman in Thailand, don't forget that despite a big increase in the number of Westerners living in Thailand, it is you who is in demand – and there is no need to put up with this crap!

Was this the week of the homeless farang bums? I spotted 3 homeless farangs on Sukhumvit within a kilometre on Wednesday. First of all, the Englishman living under the steps at the Nana BTS station is still there. The photo below – crap as it was taken with a mobile phone – features a Westerner sleeping in front of a currency exchange booth close to the Asoke skytrain station. That's the only time I have spotted this particular guy. I wondered if he was living rough or just sleeping off a few too many drinks, but being barefoot and surrounded by possessions suggests he is living on the streets. Another farang bum is begging around sois 23 and 25. He is English – at least his accent is that of an Englishman. These farang bums living rough on Sukhumvit have three things in common – all are male, in their 40s and come from Europe.



farang



Why does lending money in Thailand so often end up in disaster? Irrespective of whether the lender or borrower is Thai or foreign, the outcome seems inevitable – some or all of the money will not be repaid. Asking the other half about this – and she agrees that lending money in Thailand without a contract is crazy, she says that it's simple. Money often trumps friendship. Some people just don't care about losing a friend, but they *are* concerned about getting a reputation for borrowing money and not paying it back which would be much worse than losing a friend!

Is there a branch of Starbucks that doesn't have lengthy queues all afternoon as Thai office workers flock to take advantage of the 2 for 1 special? The genius who came up with that idea should be given a bonus, but then I wonder if Starbucks will lose customers over it? Au Bon Pain has done well as Starbucks regulars flock to competitors. How many foreigners are willing to queue for 20+ minutes for a cup of coffee?

Speaking of Au Bon Pain, someone screwed up big time on their latest promotion. Make any purchase and you get a one-use 10% discount card. In English it says that the discount is available for purchases up to 200 baht. In Thai it says that the discount is for purchases of 200 baht or over!

Sunbelt Asia was the first foreign-owned professional services company in Bangkok to offer a wide range of professional services at reasonable prices. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Sunbelt is lowering their professional fees back to the rates they had 10 years ago! Company registration is now just 2,500 baht instead of 7,500 baht. Corporate Tax ID is now free when you form a company. Work permits will be lowered from 9,500 to 7,500 baht. Retirement or marriage extension of stay permits are 7,000 baht. The professional fees for the extension of stay permit visa for business has gone from 9,500 to 7,000 baht. All these rates will be in effect right through until June. With professional services, I believe it wise to use an established name. With some fly by nighters out there, here today and gone tomorrow, I'd never use the new generation.



If you're in the market for a camera or any photography accessories, the floor above ground at Fortune Town has been renovated and transformed into a photography zone. There are a bunch of camera stores right next to each other, and competition is fierce. Pix One has traditionally had the best prices although I find them frustrating to deal with as their prices are incredibly attractive but they are often out of stock of the item I want. Fortune Town may be the best place to get the best price, but if you want the best service, full warranties without any hassles, and staff who know their ISO from their F-stop, the new branch of Fotofile in the basement of Central Rama 9, the new shopping mall directly across the road from Fortune Town is worth a look. The staff are VERY service-minded and if you take your camera body along they are happy to let you play with pro gear and try items out in store. Over the road at Fortune there are stores which expect you to buy pricey items without even touching the item!

The Check Inn 99 on Sukhumvit Road, between sois 5 and 7 is that odd venue that was perhaps best known for the dwarf who used to stand outside and try and invite passersby inside. After much rumour a couple of years back that it would be no longer, I can confirm that Check Inn 99 is still in business and has a number of events lined up over the next few days to celebrate Valentine's Day.

I get so annoyed with service levels in Bangkok that sometimes I feel the need to go to a 5-star hotel, where service levels are good and the food excellent. Of course the downside is that such eateries are expensive. But if you look around there are deals to be had. At the Grand Hyatt Erawan, [email protected] (a wine bar) has a happy hour every day from noon to 10:30 PM with glasses of wine from 99 baht++. Tapas are available for 100 baht++ from 5:00 to 10:30 PM every day but Sunday. Note: the bar closes at midnight. The bakery in the same hotel has a 50% discount on baked goods (including cakes, pastries, bread, croissants, and quiche) every day from 6:30 to 10:00 PM. All items are of the quality you would expect at a high-end bakery at home.

It's Valentine's Day on Tuesday, a big deal in Thailand where it is embraced more so than it is in the West. Students trade cards and gifts, restaurants fill up, and short-time hotels have queues! If you're looking to send flowers or a gift to your darling in Thailand, gogoflorist.com has looked after Stickman readers at Valentine's Day for almost 10 years. It's an English-owned and operated florist in Thailand and if you order now they can deliver by Valentine's Day!


Thailand florist


Quote of the week comes the dirty doctor, "It's better to push than to pull!"


Reader's story of the week comes from Mega, "A Journey to the Deep North (Isaan) and Beyond: Part Three".

The Siamtastic site is a riot and features highly amusing quotes from Westerners in Thailand!

The New York Times looked at Bangkok from the perspective of wine lovers this week.

A young Aussie dies in Laos, the third Australian citizen to die in Thailand's northern neighbour in a month.

Thailand has the inauspicious honour of topping the dirty hotel list!

A Sydney Morning Herald columnist says don't change South-East Asia as it provides an escape from the Oz nanny state.

The Pattaya Mail reinforced what I have long been complaining about – there are many underage girls in Pattaya gogo bars.

Bangkok's best food critics visited and reviewed the new Bourbon Street restaurant on Ekamai this week.

A German is stabbed in Pattaya after availing himself of a Beach Road girl and then refusing to pay her!



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: Each month I am paid a net salary of 110,000 baht per month with the gross salary being approximately 135,000 baht. My annual bonus is paid in June of each year and consists of a net payment of 140,000 baht with the gross payment before tax of approximately 200,000. The total withholding tax contributed by my employer in the first 7 months including the bonus would be approximately 235,000 baht. I will be moving back to my home country after July without any further work in Thailand and from my calculations I would be due a refund as the amount of tax owing would be 156,500 baht, not the 235,000 baht paid in the first 7 months. On a net salary arrangement with my company, would this 78,500 baht be refunded only to me?

Sunbelt responds: You can get any overpayment of taxes back from the Thai government when you file your tax return. Believe it or not, they do pay! Sunbelt Accounting can file your individual tax return if you like.


Question 2: I'm Belgian and would like to apply for a retirement visa (O-A) next year. Two weeks ago you replied to a reader's question, "Additionally, a police report showing you have no outstanding warrants or arrests will also be necessary." However, on the Thai MFA site it says "Having no criminal record in Thailand and the country of the applicant's nationality or residence." I do have a record in Belgium for one minor fact some 12 years ago (no jail time), but have no other outstanding warrants or arrests. But this 1-time thing is still on my record and will stay there forever. Does this mean I can never retire in Thailand because the Thai embassy will request a copy of my criminal record?

Sunbelt responds: Assuming you meet the income requirements of 800,000 baht in the bank or a verified monthly pension income of 65,000 baht (or a combination of the two), the Immigration Act B.E. 2522 (1979) Code No.12 (6) allows exceptions for minor offenses for those applying for a retirement visa (O-A visa). On the other hand, if you apply directly in Thailand for the extension of stay permit based on retirement then no police check is required.

Question 3: I plan to retire in Thailand in a couple years. I was wondering if I shipped my car to Thailand (because I think it would be cheaper than buying a new car) from the US, could I use the car in Thailand? The steering wheel is on the left. Would I have to convert the wheel to the right? Are there any Western cars driving around Thailand? Do you know any laws pertaining to Western cars.

Sunbelt responds: For the importation of used / second-hand vehicles, an importer needs to obtain an import permit from the Foreign Trade Department of the Ministry of Commerce before the arrival of the vehicles; otherwise he / she shall be liable to a fine equal to 10% of the price of the vehicle but not less than 1,000 baht, or exceeding 20,000 baht.

An importer is eligible to import only ONE used / secondhand vehicles for personal use.

Where the importer is a non-resident, he / she is required to stay in Thailand for at least ONE year and present a non-immigrant visa issued by the Immigration Bureau, together with a work permit issued by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare at the time of importation.

Where an importer is a Thai resident marrying a foreigner, he / she is required to present documentary evidence of marriage and proof of changing residence to Thailand. Also the importer has to own and possess the imported vehicle for at least one and a half year while staying abroad, from the date of transferring the ownership to the date of arrival into Thailand.

Where an importer is a Thai resident, he / she is allowed to import a vehicle only when such vehicle is accompanied the owner on the change of residence and he / she has owned and possessed the imported vehicle together with the valid driving license for at least one and a half year while staying abroad.

It is legal to drive a left-hand drive car and get it registered but import duty is quite high on imported vehicles and most people find it cheaper to purchase one in Thailand.



San Miguel


It's a couple of years since I've written anything really edgy, an opening piece that exposes injustice and which generates much interest. Choosing not to publish anything controversial has been a deliberate decision. As a foreigner living in Thailand, there's no real upside to it. There is, however, a definite downside. Simply saying the wrong thing about the wrong person can cause you untold grief in these parts. From time to time I might refer to various questionable things going on, but deliberately refrain from mentioning names. I may hint at the identities of those involved, or I may not. I hope that readers understand that if you wish to enjoy this column in the future, there is method to my madness and I am simply being prudent. All it needs is one juicy column and that might be the end of my weekly ramblings (and maybe the end of me too)!



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Firehouse

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