Stickman's Weekly Column February 26th, 2012

Joking with Jerry


He has written about the same number of books as the works of Chris Moore, Dean Barrett and Jake Needham combined. Like Steve Leather, he has featured in the best sellers list not just in Thailand, but hit #1 in the best seller lists in his homeland too. Yet like John Daysh, Jon Cole and Jack Reynolds, authors of various works set in Bangkok, you might never have even heard of him. I’d like you to meet the very colourful Jerry Hopkins, an American author residing in Bangkok who I had lunch and a lengthy chat with this past week.

How many books have you written? I have published 36 books and there are probably another 10 or 12 that have been written and never published for one reason or another! Some of the books that were published wouldn’t be considered books by some people. Most were decent length, histories, biography, non-fiction – they are all non-fiction and I think most qualify as real books. How many have got a Thailand slant? Three, I suppose. One, “Thailand Confidential” is a collection of 40-something essays and stories about Thailand, what a strange place it is and how I came to terms with it and it came to terms with me. There’s an essay about how I didn’t learn to speak Thai, and one about what greng jai means. I observed a ladyboy’s sex change operation and that is one of the chapters. The subject matter is all over the lot! The second one which came out about the same time is called “Bangkok Babylon”. That one I have read, and rather enjoyed. It’s a collection of 25 profiles of interesting expats that I had met and gotten to know in the first 10 years I lived here. Everybody from Father Joe Maier to the late Tony Po, to Shrimp and even Trink too. And then at the end of the book I profile myself inasmuch as I pulled down the pants of everyone else I thought I should reveal my own backside. When I was writing “Bangkok Babylon”, 2 of the 25 people profiled were dead. Tony Poe and Stirling. By the time the book came out, 5 were gone. The main reason was that these guys were older, but cirrhosis runs through that book and runs through the expat community in Bangkok like a wide, deep river! The third book which has a Thai slant in it has only that. It is a book with a worldwide subject which has been published twice, first in 1999 as “Strange Foods”. It shows what is called strange in one place, perhaps where you and I came from, for example, is called lunch here! It was republished in 2004 or 2005 as “Extreme Cuisine” and the second time around I added another 16 chapters and had an introduction by Anthony Bourdain. The first edition had a lot of pictures and did not sell well and they felt the pictures were off-putting. They then cut all of the interesting ones out! What was first your connection to Thailand i.e. what brought you here in the first place? I lived in Hawaii for many year. I travelled a lot and initially all of my trips to Asia were to East Asia – Japan, Taiwan, Korea. It seemed exotic to me but not enticing in terms of being a place to live in Asia. Wherever I have travelled, I inevitably ask myself if this is a place I would like to live. And the answer in East Asia was inevitably no. A friend of mine from Hawaii had settled in Bali and he and some other friends had taken a lease on a compound with houses. He asked me to come, to come and be catered to as you have never been catered to before, he said. And so I went. I was enchanted! But again, I didn’t want to live there as it was too much like Hawaii and didn’t have the big city I was looking for a city along with paradise. The next year I went to Bali again. But also to Thailand. When was that? In the late 80s. The next year I added Vietnam, the following year I added Cambodia and so on until I had seen a good chunk of South-East Asia. Every place I went I liked. In 1993 I had just returned to Hawaii from a trip to South-East Asia and I had another one planned to begin September and I realised that by the end of the year I would have spent 6 months out of the year in South-East Asia. I was bored in Hawaii and I said who am I kidding. I sold everything I owned and I got on that plane with 3 suitcases…and I am still here! I decided Vietnam was not my place and I came to Bangkok for a variety of reasons, ranging from all the clichés – the nice people, the beautiful women, the affordable living, the good food, the geographical proximity to everywhere I wanted to spend the rest of my life. In 3 hours, I could be in Kathmandu, in Bali or Hong Kong. Bangkok also had the most interesting expat community I had found anywhere and I felt that was key. I wanted to know who my next best friends were going to be in advance of my putting myself in the same neighbourhood. Bangkok is very special in the expat department. It has got all the left over spooks from the war. It has got all the barflies and I am a bottom feeder like they are. New York, Paris and London may have more interesting expats, but you never meet those people. Here they’re sitting next to you in a bar! They’re accessible! And Bangkok Babylon came out of that. Half of those people I met in a bar! On my first day in Bangkok as a resident, living at the Nana Hotel while I searched for an apartment in the neighbourhood, I went into the Lollipop bar in Nana Plaza and sat at the stage and an older man and a young couple sat next to me and from the way they talked I knew they were Americans or Canadians. I introduced myself to a guy in a yellow coat, the older guy and he said I am Stirling Silliphant. I said “Holy shit”. He said, “I don’t get that reaction usually!” I said you’re a fxxxing legend. Stirling was the most prolific and arguably one of the best screenwriters in the history of the movie. He won an Oscar for “In The Heat Of The Night”. He created and wrote all the scripts for many television series. And so of course he is one of the people I profiled in “Bangkok Babylon”. He became a friend – and I met him in a gogo bar! I have written recently that the bar scene is changing. I also maintain that there are fewer interesting people there today than say 10 years ago. Would you agree? I don’t go to the bars. <He laughs and pauses, to consider the question> I don’t know! I can’t respond to this question. I mean the bars I go to are the ladyboy bars because of the book I am writing. I also happen to like ladyboys and have a long association with them going back to my days in Hawaii. The customers there are all in the closet. They are married straight guys who don’t want to be acknowledged and they don’t want to be dragged into a conversation with a nosey journalist! We may be getting a less interesting group of expats, but I just don’t know. The girls in the bars have certainly changed. In your view, how so? I have my opinions, but would like to hear yours! This will sound superficial but there are more tattoos and less public hair. I don’t see the C-section scars so maybe there are fewer kids, or maybe they don’t do C-sections as ordinarily as they used to. What has been your most popular or bestselling book? “No-one Here Gets Out Alive” was the first biography written of Jim Morrison. I had previously written a biography of Elvis Presley which was the first one for him. He was still alive and making all those crappy movies for Hollywood and hadn’t even gone to Vegas when I started researching that book. And everybody said, what do you want to write book about him for? Before I wrote the Elvis book, while I was interviewing Jim Morrison for Rolling Stone, he suggested I write a book about Elvis who was a hero of his, although I did not know it at that time. I wrote the Elvis book, and it turned out that Jim and I had the same agent for his poetry book, the same editor and the same publisher in New York when I went ahead and did the Elvis book. The Elvis biography is dedicated to Jim but he died before it was published and the editor called me and asked if I would like to do a book about Jim. I said yes, I had already decided to. So I started to research a book about Jim and everyone asked why I wanted to do a book about him! When Elvis died, 6 years after my book was published, it was still the only Elvis biography in print! And it sold 3.5 million copies the first year after his death. Wow! That’s impressive! Really impressive! The Morrison book, although I had been commissioned by a major publisher, subsequently was rejected by that publisher and 30-something other publishers! Why? When Warner Books took it on the third submission it went straight to #1 in the New York Times list. It is still in print and it has sold in excess of 4 million copies. That must make you the most successful writer in Bangkok, in terms of number of books sold, because local authors don’t get anywhere near those numbers! Yeah, well, umm, err, no comment! With 7.5 million copies of just those 2 books, that puts me in some kind of elite wherever I might choose to live, I suppose. I mean, those people were regarded as having dubious readership value when those books were published. My royalty rate is not such that I am rich. I am scrambling to pay for my 26 dependants in my new family in Surin. Sometimes it is a struggle. But I can say at the end of the day I was there first for some reason. I thought those 2 guys, Elvis and Morrison, were worth writing books about. It’s funny that you should say, that those books had dubious readership value. The same could be said of my column, and much of the expat fiction on the shelves today. When I speak of the dubious readership value, that is from the context of the books being aimed at an international audience. Your website and Chris Moore’s book, and whatever, don’t have that kind of exposure that I was fortunate enough to get with Simon & Schuster and Warner Books. At the time they were two of the leading publishers in the business and once there was any indication that the books in fact did have some value I had gigantic corporations behind me. I was available in all the supermarkets. Wow! So in a sense it was a lot easier for me. These 26 dependants. <We both laugh> Tell me more! It was before I even came to Thailand, a buddy of mine who had been living in Asia for some time said you’re going to fall in love with someone, you’re going to be introduced to your “village-in-law” and that is of course an exaggeration. I am not fully responsible for my wife’s 26 siblings and their kids but there’ s a lot of trickle down and I help wherever I can. You know, most of what I earn and much of my social security goes to my family in Surin and I am happy about that. They give me a lot back. Sorry to jump around. You’ve mentioned to me a few things about ladyboys in the past. Do they rock your world? I mean, are you happy to talk about it or is that part off the record? I am happy to talk about that because I would like to put in a plea for ladyboy lovers. When I was living in Hawaii I had a 3-year live-in relationship with a ladyboy streetwalker. I was in love with her. It was not a secret. Everyone knew, including my kids. I was not then married, my kids were grown and when I moved to Thailand I am sure that they thought I was dating real girls again! But I continued to see ladyboys socially. When I was living in Hawaii, we were invited to a Halloween party at the home of a very prominent local artist and her equally local prominent doctor husband. It was a party that was on an annual basis attended by politicians, lawyers, businessmen, the elite of Honolulu society and I told her I wanted her to go with me. She was terrified and asked what kind of costume should she wear. I said why don’t you go as a man. She had a brother who was about her size who was in jail and he had a 3-piece suit that fit her like a glove. She put that on, leaving the vest unbuttoned deliciously and as she always did when she was nervous about something she put on far too much make up. But that was ok, it was Halloween. I took her to the party and she was the absolute belle of the ball. Everyone came over with their tongues hanging out. She had made her grand entrance into straight society! I see no reason to be ashamed of it. To be ashamed is so show those girls no respect! That’s why I sent you that email about white guys being upset about white girls in the bars. They should look at themselves as obviously they are not entirely comfortable with their own behaviour! But then people back where we come from people are unforgiving about any kind of deviation from the middle of the road. That’s one of the reasons I don’t live there any more. Many ladyboys from the United States come to Bangkok for their sex change operations. I would be their guide. I knew the doctor, I would go with them to the doctor’s office. At that time there was only one ladyboy bar in Nana, Casanova, so I would take them there. Today I am writing a book about ladyboys. Tell me about this ladyboy book you’re working on. It is a big coffee table book that will profile 25 or more and I am looking to talk to ladyboy lovers, like myself. As a group they are rather secretive. They have trouble dealing with the fact they are bisexual. They have homophobic fears that cause them to be rather reclusive and secretive. Some, on the other hand, like myself, celebrate these wonderful creatures and marvel at them. They are the funniest people I have ever met. And there is absolutely nothing gay about a relationship with a ladyboy. This funny character thing you talk of. Is that a ladyboy thing, or a Thai ladyboy thing? Oh, it’s a ladyboy thing. There was a period of time when I didn’t see these people and now that I am writing a book I have reconnected. I have forgotten how funny they were. It’s the same kind of outrageous, bent sense of humour and sense of themselves, self-mockery even. You have to laugh at them, or laugh with them, because they are having a good time. I was interviewing one of these girls for the book in her room and she asked if I wanted a beer. I gave her some money and she came back with a beer and a friend, another ladyboy who was wearing a tank top and a bath towel. The friend sat on the stool across the room and she stood up, turned her back to me and took the towel off and I could see that she was wearing nothing underneath. She put the towel back on and sat back down again. Then she untied the towel and revealed the most erect penis I have seen lately. Now that didn’t mean she wanted to do anything with it or me to do anything with it. It was let’s yank the farang’s chain and see what he will say, or what he will do. She tied the towel back up and we went on talking. That kind of behaviour is ordinary with ladyboys! There’s an openness of oh, what the hell attitude about life. You know what I think? I think that that same behaviour can be found with a lot of Thai women, but I am talking regular Thai women and not necessarily those in the industry. I have had similar experiences with Thai women…all of whom were never bargirls. There’s an openness about sex and their sexuality and sensuality that you don’t find, or at least I never found, in the West. You should have hung out with ladyboys in the West! <We both laugh loudly> So, how is the ladyboy project going? The photographer has been here and did some studio shots. I am now doing preliminary interviews and when I have interviewed maybe a dozen or 15 in the industry – and they are all in the industry – he will come back and we will start doing more photography. What we intend to do is completely invade their lives, photograph them at work, in their crappy rooms in Pratunam, go to their home villages, meet their families and they are all happy to cooperate. But because of the book’s nature, there will be photography without the towel although it won’t be “that” kind of book. I feel it would be a dishonest book if we did not include at least one full-frontal, nude erection. That means this book will not be sold in Thailand, or the United States for that matter. But we have a publisher in mind in Germany and of course it will be available on the Internet. And it will be a totally respectful book. I have a lot of respect for these people and I speak of them as if they are aliens, and I almost feel that way some times, but what they have done to themselves in order to live out some kind of fantasy which they can never ever achieve is beyond my understanding. The chemistry and surgery they have brought down on themselves in order to be something that their anatomy suggested was impossible is truly amazing. Once you have gone the full distance, and most of these girls have not, you cannot change your mind! How do you reconcile your love of ladyboys with your love for your wife? I am bisexual. It is a different kind of love entirely. What I feel for my wife has absolutely nothing to do with what I feel for ladyboys. I took my wife to Nana to meet the ladyboys and they sat and chatted, amiably, amicably, whatever the right word is! I couldn’t do this secretly, you know? That would be dishonest, wouldn’t it? I mean this is going to sound disrespectful but I love ladyboys the same way I love beer. OK. I could live without either one of them but I don’t want to. Make it books and beer. <Intense stare in his eyes> It is easy for me to do this, Stick. I am a writer. People expect me to be weird. I feel sorry for all these guys in the ladyboy bars who have to stay in the closet. I am given all kinds of freedom because I don’t work for somebody. I don’t fear losing a job! My wife says it’s ok. My kids are ok with it. How do you think Bangkok has changed since you’ve been coming here? I knew you were going to ask me this question! Who the fuxxx cares? Is it really that interesting? Is there someone who wants to talk about ’60s all the time when people were running around with flowers in their hair? Who the hell wants to do that today? Someone wise once said, “These are the good old days!” For someone who is a third my age, these are the good old days for them! Ok, so I’ll change the subject and move in a different direction. Bangkok or Surin? Do you spend much time upcountry these days? I go upcountry for 10 days to 2 weeks every month. I have been doing that for 12 years. Where I live in the middle of the rice paddies in Surin, with a big family all around me, where there is no internet connection, I guess you could say I refuel, or relax, or something. I would be bored full-time in Bangkok and I would be bored full-time up there. The way my life has worked out without my trying, I have got the best of both worlds. My wife comes down here every month or so for a short visit, taking a break from farm duties that prevent her coming more often.

So you have the ladyboy book you’re working on now. Any other projects for the future? I thought you’d never ask! The next book will be called “Whore Lovers: Junkies, Aficionados And Connoisseurs”. That’s a risqué title! This is a book that was suggested to me by someone who was far more qualified to write it than I am. He wanted to call it “Whore Junkies” but I felt “Whore Lovers” was closer to what we both wanted to talk about and that is those people obsessed with whores. And if you insist upon calling them sex workers, fine, I don’t care! Those who are not ruining their lives by this obsession. This is not going to be a book about Charlie Sheen, nor is it going to be a Thai book. This is an international phenomenon, no matter where you come from, there are whore lovers. Some of them live out their obsession on vacation as many do in Bangkok. That’s called sex tourism. Some actually move and they are called sexpats. Bangkok happens to be full of them, as does Pattaya. Some of them stay at home and they may be secretive about it or not, availing themselves of the local talent. But they are not wrecking their lives. This is a book about Johns. It’s a book with a prevailing attitude that prostitution is ok. It’s just another service industry. The only thing wrong with it as far as I am concerned is the way that society at large perceives it and the way society at large treats these men and women. If it sees the light of day, and I hope it does, this book will appeal to a lot of my readers. It will appeal to a lot of their wives too. Why does my husband fxxx a whore! Let me count the ways. <Eruption of laughter> One of the chapters will be called “Whore do I love you, let me count the ways”. Whore is a word, by the way, that those in what is called the radical whore movement, use freely in the same way many African Americans use the word ‘nigger’ about themselves. I think the expression is that they are “taking the word back”. Political correctness has pushed the West into hypocrisy. Political correctness is a violation of the freedom of expression. It gets in the way of the first amendment in a way that is insulting, humiliating, unrealistic and stupid. You seem to be happy and it sounds like your life is never boring. You seem to have a really nice life! I have never been happier in my life than I am today. First of all I am alive. Most people my age aren’t! I had the first psychedelic store head shop in LA. It opened in 1966, the first in LA, the third in the USA. Everyone asked me why I wanted to open a shop like that. Anyway, we sold lapel buttons which were all the fad at that time and one of them said “Edenism is the only ism for me”. I don’t have one of those buttons, but I am living my life by that philosophy. So long as nobody is getting hurt, everything is ok!
Jerry Hopkins

*Where* was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week’s photo was taken on Saphan Lek at the end of Yaowarat Road facing the closed Merry Mill Department Store close to Pahurat near the Little India area. So where was this week’s mystery photo, which is much easier, 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 WEEK – Deviants make it easy for the “normal” guys!

Your escorts interview made it sound like that there may be a few deviants to be found among farang men looking for fun. I am very happy they exist – it makes it that much easier to get good attention for being an actual nice guy. On the other hand, Thai girls do seem to have an almost clinically pragmatic streak about themselves with regard to what works and doesn’t work between the sheets. The main difference I’ve found seems to stem from the difference in religion. Whereas most Europeans have their ideas of naughty tied up in Christian values of sin and taboo, Thai girls in general seem to have their limits set around the idea that as long as they don’t run into the limits of how they are seen and respected in public, anything is fair game. Most things considered sinful in Christian terms seems to just garner a shrug and a “That is just fun, why shouldn’t that work?”

Depraved foreigners.

I think we have all been enlightened in a way after your exposé on the escort girls. Shit-eating foreigners must top the depraved list, stopping just short of cannibalism, isn’t it? What really would have put me off my lunch is if he asked for a kiss afterwards. Glad you didn’t ask that one.

Getting rid of pesky vendors, Thai-style.

The comment in your column about management doing nothing about pesky vendors, solicitors, etc., is true, and it’s puzzling why it’s tolerated. Maybe the Thai’s live-and-let-live attitude is partly to blame. Piss-poor management has a lot to do with it, too. However, your comment reminded me of a hilarious situation I witnessed some years back. I was sitting in what is now O’Reilly’s on Silom. The air-con was nice, the food OK and the beer good. Suddenly, in the front door walks a Buddhist nun. Shaved head, white robe, etc. Except you could tell by looking at her that her elevator didn’t go all the way to the top. The robe was a bit grubby and she looked as if she could do with a bath. Oh, and she was talking to herself. The poor lady keeps yakking away, and approaching customers. I have no idea what she was saying, but assumed she was soliciting donations. Maybe she was just rambling, as she truly wasn’t playing with a full deck. But the funny part was watching the staff’s reaction. The poor waitresses looked positively mortified. They couldn’t let her just roam around and accost the clientele. Not only bad for business, but that has to reflect poorly on Buddhism. But they couldn’t just chuck a nun out on to the street. That’s gotta be bad karma. Two or three waitresses huddled quickly, jabbering away a mile a minute. After a few seconds one of them (I presume the one who drew the short straw) broke away from the group and zipped over to the cash register. She opened it and took out a couple of small bills. Then, she gently took the nun by the arm, started speaking softly, but quickly, to her, pressed the bills into her palm, and escorted her out the door with more words and a wai or two thrown in. The sense of relief among the wait staff was palpable. The customers had a bit of entertainment, much face was saved and they even made a bit of merit. That incident has always stuck with me. I’ve never seen anything quite like that since.

Bar Bar Patpong Another farang bum on the streets.

I walked up Ploenchit Road and saw a farang panhandler who looked to be in his 50s at the foot of one of the Chidlom BTS exits on the Central Chidlom side of the street. As I passed him, he was shouting at a 20-something Thai man. The farang said roughly the following to the Thai, “F-ck off! Leave me alone! I need to make money somehow.” In front of him he had some booklets that he was trying to sell to passersby. His approach seems to alternate between asking for money and selling the booklets. He looked filthy, hard-up, and red-faced, and I saw at least one person (an Asian) buy one of his pamphlets. I couldn’t pinpoint the farang’s accent, but I think he comes from an Anglophone country.

Songtaews, Pattaya style.

Just back from a couple of days in Pattaya, and the attitude of the songtaew drivers seems to have hit a new low. Upon arrival at the bus station on ye olde sexpat express, the only options available for the few clicks into the heart of Gomorrah-By-Sea is either a songtaew or a motorsai taxi. And if you have anything bigger than a backpack, it’s only the former. I got into the back of the next departing songtaew, along with 9 other people, some lugging big bags, and waited, and waited and waited. I asked the driver in Thai what we were waiting for, as it was full. He insisted more people could fit in, and believe it or not we waited a further 5 minutes until he found a couple of customers who were willing to stand on the little platforms hanging at the end of the chassis! I understand that the more customers he has, the more money he makes because it’s a set fee of 20 baht into the centre of town, but having people crammed uncomfortably into the seats and even hanging off the back of the vehicle is too much. What makes it beyond irritating is that there are clueless tourism officials wandering around with their clipboards and vacant stares, doing nothing to alter a practice that gives tourists a bad experience as soon as they set foot in the town. Then, once in the center of town it’s either feast or famine. You can be certain that if you’re just standing by the side of the road, trying to cross through the dense traffic, that half a dozen of the things will stop and beep at you (memo to songtaew drivers – if you’re parked 2 feet away from me beeping and I show no indication of wanting to use your service, beeping your horn again is not going to make me change my mind). However at night the situation changes immeasurably, as they become very picky for some odd reason and most of them drive straight past!

Lolitas

The Nana Group (Angelwitch, Billboard, DC10, Las Vegas and Nana Liquid) has introduced a VIP card. At 2,500 baht, it can be used at all of their venues, and entitles the cardholder to a 20% discount. Imagine you had 3 drinks @150 baht each for a bill of 450 baht – with the card it would only be 360 baht. This is a fantastic deal – the 20% discount essentially takes prices back 9 years, to 2003! And there is no expiry date on the card! What’s more, for the next week only, Stickman readers are offered 500 baht off the price of the card. Go into Las Vegas, on the top floor of Nana Plaza, any time this week, that is from 26th February to March 4th, and say you read about the card on Stickman and the Nana Group’s excellent VIP card is yours for just 2,000 baht. If you are a regular, or even occasional visitor to Nana, you could save a lot of money with this card! Sabai Sabai, the bar towards the top of Sukhumvit soi 3/1 on the left-hand side that was popular with Africans, is no longer. The space has been cleared out with no remnants of the bar remaining and presumably a new business will take over the premises. Whether the bar’s demise is due to the recent, conspicuous drop in the number of Africans in and around Sukhumvit or another reason is unknown. Sabai Sabai Bar always had a notice up requesting that passersby refrain from taking photos of the bar and its patrons, something which didn’t surprise me as of all the nationalities and sexes in Thailand, it is males from Africa who are far and away the most concerned about having their photo taken. One can speculate as to why that may be… The Huntsman, the pleasant English-style pub in the basement of the Landmark, has long been a mildly popular freelancer hangout. The bar staff has always kept an eye on the freelancers and those who were, shall we say, rather skanky, were often made to feel unwelcome and if they didn’t get the hint, they were shown the door. So what is going on upstairs at the Landmark Hotel’s outside balcony, that wonderful people watching spot which seems to have become something of a freelancers hangout? Freelancers are grabbing tables, ordering (not inexpensive) drinks and aren’t shy introducing themselves to single guys at adjoining tables! One of the most popular bars in Nana Plaza, Billboard – on the top floor of the plaza on the left-hand side, will host its 1st anniversary party this coming Thursday, that is March 1st. There will be discounted drinks and free food from around 9 PM!

Billboard Bangkok

The pesky Indian watch sellers are all over soi 22 now. A fixture on Cowboy where they are a real bother, soi 22 is now on their rounds. Obviously someone at Nana made the decision to tell them to take a hike as you don’t see them in the plaza. And on the topic of our curry-loving friends, there’s an orange-coloured exchange booth in the Nana area (probably best to leave it at that without providing any more details) that has a sign up that says “No Indian Currency”. This makes you wonder if they’ve perhaps been presented with counterfeit Indian currency, or if it’s some kind of indirect, perhaps even politically correct way of saying no Indian customers. Almost as pesky as the Indian watch sellers are the Thai women found in small groups up and down Sukhumvit Road between Nana and Asoke. They are dressed in black Amazing Thailand polo shirts giving them an almost official look, and call out to foreigners passing by, saying that they are conducting a tourist survey. A couple of daft questions is merely a ruse for them to attempt to secure your name and hotel room so that someone from within their organisation can contact you and attempt to get you to sign up to a timeshare plan – for which they receive a commission. This nonsense used to be popular along Beach Road in Pattaya. I am kind of surprised that some bar owners in Cowboy aren’t entirely in favour of the Dollhouse’s recently installed outside disco-style lit floor and pole dancer. Some say that it might attract unwanted attention from the authorities while others say that the music played is too loud and disturbs patrons in the bars on either side. I say it’s a good thing and the only improvement needed is the dancer be given a spicier plate of som tam so she has more energy to really boogie! Makhabucha Day, one of the more important Buddhist holidays, falls this year on March 7th, that is Wednesday after next. While nothing is ever certain, it’s quite possible that bars will be closed that day. So if you are going to be in town that day, you may wish to plan accordingly. The beer bars in Patpong’s soi 2 which were part of a building which was demolished are back. The deliciously named Topless Pool bar has returned, as have the two beer bars next door. When it comes to beer bars, new can mean sterile, and sterile and naughty bars just don’t go together. It’s good that they’re back, but the atmosphere in them is not like it used to be.

Bargirls love being given gold as a gift. But for the foreigner presenting his Thai darling with gold, it should be noted that while you might see it as a gift given from your heart, the average Thai may not see it that way. To most Thais, gold is seen as a commodity. With this in mind, as soon as you are out of the picture, gold given to a Thai, especially one who used to once work in the industry, will very likely be converted into cash. If you wish to give a gift with sentimental value, hmmm, this might just be the wrong place for that. While there is a word in Thai for sentimentality, it’s like the Thai word for “compromise”, I don’t think I have ever heard a Thai use it and only know it because I looked it up in the dictionary! You have to laugh at bargirl logic, if indeed it can be called logic. A mate was in Q Bar, a high-end bar which attracts a mixed crowd and found himself chatting with a working girl. She quoted her price, the usual outrageous high-end venue figure of 5,000 baht which made him laugh. She didn’t miss a beat and said that as someone with international experience – she explained that she had worked in both Hong Kong and Singapore – she could command a higher price. It’s not often you get working girls boasting of being experienced working girls! Duty free alcohol is a popular purchase for Thais and expats when visiting neighbouring countries. At many border crossings alcohol is available on the other side of the border for less than it costs in Thailand. I was told this week of a practice that reinforces that you should not bring in more than the duty free allowance of alcohol – currently one measly litre per person. Apparently, what is happening at some border checkpoints is that some merchants in the neighbouring country have the phone number of entrepreneurial officers from this side of the border. When someone purchases alcohol over and above the duty free limit, the merchant calls the officer across the border with a description of that person and informs them how that person is crossing the border – be it on foot, by car, by bus etc. The officer locates the person and watches to see if they declare all of the alcohol. If they do not, they are stopped – often away from the official area. They are searched, the alcohol is located and they are told what the fine official fine is – and for importing alcohol exceeding the duty free allowance without declaring it is outrageously high. An agreement is then reached whereby an on the spot fine is paid. The seller on the other side of the border, who no doubt already made a tidy profit, gets a cut. This is just another reminder to do things right. On top of this, one often hears stories about wine being poorly kept by duty free stores on the border so consider that too if you’re a wine fan. I don’t think I have ever recommended a ladyboy bar, but this week I found myself in Cockatoo Bar, and I have to say that yes, it really was fun. No, I’m not into ladyboys and not into such bars. In fact I haven’t stepped foot in a ladyboy bar for years, but I did this week and enjoyed it. Cockatoo is nothing like, say, Casanova in Nana Plaza where I was dragged in a couple of times many years ago and found the inhabitants to be horribly aggressive. One thing that struck me was how quite a few of the ladyboys have gone for that cutesy look that the East Asian guys go for, sort of similar to the way the Rainbow girls dolly themselves up.

Cockatoo

The Thai consulate in Hull in the UK has stated that there is a new policy in place for those applying for a visa on the basis that they have fathered a Thai child but are not legally married to the mother of the child. They have stated that such applicants do NOT meet the criteria to qualify for a non-immigrant O visa. Some consulates and embassies have been refusing applications lodged on those grounds for some time already. The sad part is that it might simply make it too hard for the Western fathers of some Thai children to get a long-stay visa to legally remain in Thailand. Will some just say it’s too hard and abandon a child they may well have otherwise supported? I cannot imagine how such a change in policy came about. Surely it would be in the country’s best interest to allow fathers of half-Thai children to stay in the country and be close to their child? I am not shy to slate people in the industry who I think are hopeless, are schmucks, or perhaps are even cheats. But perhaps it is about time I gave some kudos to a bar manager who seems to be on top of things and who, in many ways, is a model for the industry and someone others could learn from. Aussie Bob at The Office in soi 33 always seems to be ahead of the game. His bar must have been one of the first in town to offer free wi-fi to customers. He has a knack for ensuring that the big game that people want to see is the one shown in the bar. And he does a good job promoting the bar by emailing a schedule each week of the sport that will be shown in the bar the coming weekend. Many bar owners and managers could learn a lot from Bob. ThaiLoveLinks remains the biggest of all the Thai dating sites for foreigners keen to meet a Thai woman, but more and more friends who do the online dating thing report that the women they meet on ThaiLoveLinks, or as it is better known, TLL, tend to be less interesting these days. If you’re looking for alternative sites to meet Thai women online, consider signing up for DateInAsia.com, FindLoveAsia.com or ThaiFriendly.com – all of which are free. The latter seems to be growing in popularity with office girls who have become disillusioned by negative experiences on TLL.

If you’re into camera gear, you’ll know that generally the best prices are found in the USA. While it might not be the cheapest store in the States, many swear by B+H Photo in New York. But there might just be a surprise package in terms of camera gear and lens pricing in this region. No, it’s not Hong Kong, and neither is it Singapore. And you can cross Bangkok off the list too. So where might not just be the cheapest place in the region, but possibly the world for high-end camera gear? Phnom Penh! Yep, Cambodia is not just a great place to take photographs, it is a great place to buy high-end gear too, at least if getting the lowest price is paramount to you. To show you what I mean, here are a few price comparisons (using current listed prices from B+H in New York, and Fotofile in Bangkok):
Model Cambodia USA Thailand
Canon 7D $1,299 $1,599 $1,463
Canon 5D Mark II $1,999 $2,399 $2,260
Canon 85mm 1.2L lens $2,099 $2,089 $2,493
Canon 8-15mm lens $1,300 $1,425 $1,626
A note to my friends in Bangkok, please do NOT send me SMS messages to which you expect an immediate reply. I treat SMS messages the same as I do email – which means I will reply at my convenience, most likely within a few hours. If you need to get me urgently, call me. Next Friday, that is March 2, will be the last buffet for Los Cabos as after much rumour and speculation it is closing. Owner Rob will be looking to sell / give away everything! The buffet will be 195 baht with the chance to get a bottle or three, sounds like a deal to me!

Quote of the week comes from popular reader submissions writer, Phet, “There is honey to spare…once you ‘take care’“. Reader’s story of the week is another charming, self-deprecating yarn from Phet titled, ” Loser“. Some totally bizarre questions were asked in the recent O-Net exams in Thailand. Known as Rick the baker to many, this Pattaya personality died in a motorbike accident this week. From the Phuket files, an island which seems to have descended into a cesspool where every tourism-related story seems to be more bad news, a pregnant Aussie teenager is beaten and robbed by a ladyboy! The Thai police help a victim recover his stolen IPad in Bangkok.

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: I have a Thai wife and two Thai stepdaughters (not legally adopted). I am considering buying a house in the name of my two daughters which I then want to lease from them for 30 years. If my wife and I were to divorce at a later time (after purchase and lease), would she have any claim on this particular property in the event we do a 50 : 50 split? Sunbelt responds: Since the land was purchased while you are married, the Family Court will most likely adjudge this land as a marital asset. Question 2: I plan to move to Thailand but continue working in my present positions (teaching an online course and web consultant for small businesses); both of which could be done using phone and Internet / email communications. What would the US and Thai tax liabilities be? Would there be any deductions for US taxes for this type of situation? Sunbelt responds: If you claim your tax home as Thailand, or qualify via the bona fide residence test or physical presence test then you have to pay taxes for the amount of income over $92,900 for 2011, $95,100 for 2012. In addition, you can exclude or deduct certain foreign housing amounts. You can find out more about the tax benefits of being an overseas resident here. However, you may be liable for taxes in Thailand. Question 3 : I am in the process of getting a divorce from my Thai wife of 2 years. We were married in the USA and not Thailand. My Thai lawyer has told me that I can sell my condo and keep all the money since I owned it in my name, fully paid off before I married my wife. While the condo was under construction I signed the contract to purchase and began payments to the developer before I ever met her. Now my lawyer has mentioned “common law” and stated that if I lived with her before the marriage she may have a claim. Does Thailand have 2 different standards? Sunbelt responds: As you purchased the condo before you met and married your wife, it is not considered a marital asset. If you had purchased the condo while you were living together, once you split up she could apply to the courts for a division of common property. From the Common Law, section 1356 to 1366: When woman or man applies to Court for a division of common property, one of them has to show evidence of their relationship: 1. Evidence about the relationship that shows it was like a marriage i.e. photos, or other evidence that can prove they had a relationship similar to a marital relationship. 2. All evidence of property / assets acquired during the period of the relationship. 3. Evidence of an agreement to sell or buy property together including payment, slip, bill, transfer money, bank account.

Pattaya golden bike man

Is February the month of the interview? 3 columns this month have started out with an interview and I have one lined up for March too. But that will be it for a while and I don’t have any more in mind for the time being. Interviews seem to draw a mixed reaction – some readers like them, others don’t care for them. For me, I enjoy meeting and chatting with those who may have a unique perspective or insight. I’m always keen to interview interesting people so if know any particularly interesting expats in Thailand, or anyone with a Thai connection who has a particular insight, let me know!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick
Firehouse