Stickman's Weekly Column March 11th, 2012

Stick & Jake Do Lunch



I couldn't decide if it's easier to interview someone you know, or a person you've never met. That was what was on my mind when I sat down for lunch with Jake Needham, who is more than just someone I know, but someone I call a mate. With Jake's books reappearing in Asia Books after an absence and a new title due out any day, it was time to catch up.

Halfway through the interview I had the answer. It really doesn't matter if you interview someone you're familiar with or a complete stranger. What matters is that the person you're interviewing is true to himself, is not shy to say what is on his mind, and what he really thinks. And that's exactly Jake's style, to call it as he sees it.

What follows is a transcript of our chat over lunch at the new Bourbon Street, where we talked about writing crime fiction, the e-book revolution, what it's like to be on the wrong side of the mob and plenty more!



So how did you come to start writing crime fiction set here in Asia?

I started out in life as a criminal lawyer and somehow ended up in the movie business through a series of accidents so bizarre that truthfully I'd rather forget them. Then I spent more than a decade writing and producing cable television movies in the US.

To tell the truth, I've never been all that fond of movies, and I got sick of writing screenplays. We were in Thailand for a couple of months in about 1998, I sat down and wrote a novel out of sheer boredom. I called it "The Big Mango" because we were in Bangkok then, of course, and it was the first title that came to mind. I was a screenwriter and had absolutely no idea how to write a novel, but I didn't much care. It was just something I did for the hell of it and I didn't give a thought to what would become of it after it was written.

But "The Big Mango" became a bestseller anyway, didn't it?

It sold extremely well right from the beginning. I guess it would be fair to say that surprised me, but then I really hadn't thought much about it one way or another. Anyway, an awful lot of people appeared to enjoy the book so I decided maybe I ought to take this novel writing stuff seriously and try to write some novels set in Asia that were perhaps a little more sophisticated than "The Big Mango." The crime novel genre seemed particularly suited to Asia settings, so that was the direction I decided to go. I'm glad I did.

You come to a point in life in which you look around at what you do and you ask yourself if it's worth giving up part of your life for, if you're doing something worthy enough that it's worth a big chunk of whatever time you have left. I can tell you honestly that my answer to that question is yes. Actually, it's hell yes! There's nothing better than getting email from people who tell you how much they enjoy what you're doing and ask for nothing in return but that you keep doing it. It just doesn't get any better than that.

You seemed to disappear for a while with new no releases and all your books just disappeared off the shelves here in Bangkok. Now you're back and the name Needham can be seen next to Moore, Barrett and co. on the shelves of Bangkok bookstores, or should I say, the shelves of Asia Books branches. What happened? Where did you go?

I didn't go anywhere. I wrote three more novels after "The Big Mango" and all of them sold well everywhere in the world except for two places: North America, where I don't allow my books to be distributed at all, and Thailand. The problem here in Thailand was that a couple of people at Asia Books had gotten angry back in 2000 when I moved on to a bigger publisher after initially publishing "The Big Mango" with them, and for quite a few years after that Asia Books refused to sell or distribute any of my books here. They pretty much have a monopoly on the distribution of books in Thailand, so most people here thought I had completely disappeared.

But they're all available now?

I think so. Asia Books is importing at least some of my titles from the publisher now, although to be honest it's in pretty small quantities. I guess you could say that my books have gone from impossible to find in Thailand to just difficult to find in Thailand. I don't see a lot of copies around, but to tell the truth I don't really look very carefully. One thing I have learned over the years is that when a writer goes into a bookstore he should never look to see if they have his stuff on the shelves. They will always be missing a few titles or you won't like where they have your books shelved or you'll see somebody who you think can't write for shit is shelved better than you are. You'll almost always leave that bookstore really pissed off and it will ruin your whole day, so I don't look.



Well, I think your books are well placed now. I see them in the branches of Asia Books I stick my nose in.

I hope you're right. That would be a nice change. It's always been a real disappointment to me to know my books aren't displayed in one of the two places where we live.

You're best known for The Big Mango, which along with Private Dancer and A Killing Smile are what I consider to be the three defining pieces of Bangkok expat fiction. The Big Mango is your best-known work, and I think best-selling work. Is it the top seller?

Yes, but I think only because it got the biggest distribution by a huge margin. In the days when physical books were the only alternative, the name of the game was distribution. If they put 500 copies of your title in the front of a store, you would sell a lot of books. If they put one copy on a back shelf of that same store, you wouldn't sell many books. It was just that simple.
The popularity of e-books has changed that, of course. But in the days when finding physical copies on the shelf was the only way readers discovered new books, everything depended on getting broad distribution. A decade ago, The Big Mango was up front in every bookstore in Southeast Asia and it stayed there for a long time so it sold incredibly well. It's been translated several times and reissued four times in English by four separate publishers. The total number of copies in circulation is well over 100,000 by now.

There's a lot more of what seems to be termed expat fiction on the shelves today. In the old days it was Moore, Needham, Barrett and then Mr. Leather came along with "Private Dancer" and stole everyone's thunder. Now it's a case of who hasn't written a book in Bangkok!

It's strange, it really is. Where do all these bargirl and bullshit books come from? There's no such thing in Singapore, no such thing in Hong Kong, no such thing in Los Angeles, no such thing in London. What is so unique about Bangkok that it causes people to turn up here without any discernible talent for writing and decide they just have to publish a novel about the place anyway? Why don't they do the same thing in Cleveland? It just baffles me. It really does.

So back to The Big Mango, is it your best book?

No, I don't think so. It was my first book so really I hope it wasn't my best. It would be awfully sad if the first thing I wrote was the best I can do. Some reviewers say my books keep getting better and more complex, and I think that's true. I hope that's true. If you don't keep learning and getting better at whatever it is you're doing, then I figure you probably ought to stop doing it.

From a purely personal standpoint, I have to say that in some ways "Killing Plato", the second book in the Jack Shepherd series, might be the best book I've published up to now. My wife certainly thinks so. On the other hand, Killing Plato got the least distribution of any book I have ever published so it's sold the fewest copies, at least so far, and it's probably my least well-known book. That's just how the cards come down sometimes.

The third book in my Jack Shepherd series, the one that follows Killing Plato chronologically, will be published next week. It's called "A World Of Trouble," and it's about Thailand poised on the brink of civil war. I hope it's going to be my best book. I really think it might be.




Getting back to The Big Mango, that book would make a great movie and I understand the movie rights have been sold. Is that right?

The film rights have been optioned five separate times in 12 years.

What does that mean?

It means I've signed five different deals under which a production entity of some sort, a studio or an individual producer, has paid me for the right to turn The Big Mango into a movie. Each of these contacts has set out what the terms of a movie deal would be, and the holder of the option has had the right to acquire the book under those terms and conditions for a specific period of time. Of course, the buyer of the option pays me for that right, but if he doesn't use it within the specified time and make the movie, then I get the movie rights back and still keep the money. It's not much, just a few thousand dollars. There's no real money involved for any writer unless a movie is actually made, and sometimes not even then.

We hear rumours of various Bangkok novels being worked on to become a movie…but then nothing. We've heard it with your books, Steve's books, Chris's books and still nothing!

There are hundreds of movie deals made for movies that are never actually made. Honestly, almost all film deals turn to shit. It's the nature of the business, not a reflection on the subject matter. I made movies for HBO and Showtime for a decade and let me tell you this: it's a stupid business. Almost everything you do is a waste of time.

Getting a film made isn't a function of how good, or bad, the underlying material may be. There are a lot of screenplays. There are lots of books. Most of them aren't all that special. A movie gets made because of the availability of name talent and their involvement with the project. The industry refers to that as attaching an element. With a strong element attached, you can make the Cleveland phone book into a movie. Without an element, no movie is ever going to happen no matter how great the material is. The whole process is unbelievably random. Even when sincere people honestly want to see a particular book turned into a film, the chances that it will actually happen are 1 in 100,000. Probably worse.

Yikes. How close did The Big Mango get to becoming reality?

Pretty darned close. Somebody gave Jim Gandolfini a copy of The Big Mango and he wanted HBO to buy the rights for him to star in it as soon as The Sopranos ended. It almost happened that way.

I actually went to New York and spent some time on The Sopranos set with Jim right at the end of The Sopranos final season and we talked a lot about how to get a filmable script out of the book. But then Canal+, the big French production house, made an offer to buy the rights and HBO wasn't ready yet to step up and write a cheque, so I took the deal Canal+ was offering, which included their promise that they would include Jim as the star. Of course, about 3 months later Canal+ decided that Jim wasn't a big enough star and they could get someone bigger. So they dropped Jim and he decided I was responsible. Right after that I started getting threatening emails from Tony Soprano. Let me tell you, it concentrates your attention wonderfully when you get emails from Tony Soprano with subject lines like: You Are A Motherfucker.

Canal+ pitched The Big Mango to Tom Cruise, and for a while there it looked like he might do it. But he didn't, so the whole deal died and everybody moved on to other projects. That's the way almost every film deal ends.


Jake Needham The Sopranos


You seem to be going down the e-book path full steam ahead. I personally don't own an e-reader and don't plan on getting one any time soon. Why are you – and so many other authors – moving in this direction?

E-books have changed the book business in exactly the same way ITunes changed the music business. Particularly for writers who, like me, have always had difficulty getting broad international distribution, the widespread attraction of readers to e-books has been a wonderful thing. Anyone in the world can now find all of my books all of the time with a couple of clicks on a keyboard. Not long ago, you had to track down the damned things in a store, and that wasn't always easy.

But there's something about e-books that I think is even more important than their availability. The dirty little secret of the book business is that booksellers, on the whole, seldom give a damn what books they have on their shelves. Mostly they see bookselling as a commodity business. A book is like a five-pound bag of sugar. As long as the supermarket has sugar on its shelves, they don't really care whose sugar it is. If you want sugar, you'll buy what they have.

So the whole game with physical books has been for publishers to persuade booksellers to take their books in large quantities and display them prominently. Sometimes throwing around a lot of money did that, but sometimes there were other motivations at work, too. Because some people at Asia Books didn't like me and wouldn't sell my books in Thailand, you probably wouldn't discover them if you lived in Thailand.

With e-books, however, the gatekeeper largely goes away. All my titles appear on Amazon looking exactly like Steve Leather's or Lee Child's. No matter where you may be in the world, you can get any of my books now in 30 seconds. The book business is never going to be the same again. And thank God for that.

Is it therefore potentially more profitable for a writer to publish e-books?

Yes, for some people. But don't take that to mean that more people will be able to make a living out of writing than they did before. It's still a numbers game. You have to sell an awful lot of books to make a living from writing. There are a few authors who sell e-books by the hundreds of thousands, of course, even by the millions, but not very many. Most e-books hardly sell at all. Of course, there are some writers like me who are in there between the hundred-thousand copy sellers and the almost-no copy sellers, but selling ten or twenty thousand copies per year isn't much of an income stream if you're only getting a dollar or two per copy. Very few people who write books can honestly claim to earn a living from it.

Getting away from books and looking at Bangkok, when I interviewed Jerry Hopkins last week he seemed to get his knickers in a twist when I asked him what he thought about the huge wave of change sweeping across Thailand. Change is fascinating and for someone commentating on expat life, it means there's plenty to write about. Floating between the East and the West, as you do, how do you see this change, from the perspective of Westerners living in the East.

There was once a way of life for foreigners here in Thailand which I think was both engaging and worthy, but that time has gone. The Thais have never particularly liked us being here, although most foreigners either never noticed or pretended not to notice. But for all sorts of reasons we've lately become a real irritation to a great many Thais and Thais have begun making their displeasure at our presence far clearer. Our place here – if we ever actually had one – has been whittled down now to almost nothing.

There was a line in "Laundry Man" I always particularly liked. Jack Shepherd said, a little sadly, that Bangkok had been wiped out in less than a generation by concrete, steel and the Mercedes Benz. Those same things have, more or less, destroyed our place here, too.

But what about all the Westerners who call Bangkok home?

Bangkok has always been a magnet for the world's lost and misbegotten. It's never been much of a magnet for achievers and builders. Sometimes I think it's no wonder that Thais have such contempt for foreigners who live here.

To be fair, most people everywhere view foreigners who live in Thailand with contempt. Mention you live in Bangkok anywhere in Europe or North America and people will immediately assume you are one of those people. When anybody back in the real world asks where in Asia I live, I never say Bangkok. All that does is start a conversation I don't really want to have. Instead, I say I live in Singapore. That always kills the conversation stone dead.

There is a bar in Sukhumvit soi 4 called The Big Mango, which may just have the same name as your first novel by coincidence. But given that the bar used to have poster-sized copies of the covers of your novels in there, I think there's something you're not telling us. Have you become a bar owner on the sly?! If not, what's the connection?

The name's no coincidence. The partners who opened The Big Mango in its original location on the second floor of Nana Plaza were two young American computer guys from San Francisco who did it as a bit of a lark. They were both huge fans of my novel so they asked me for permission to use the title of my book as the name of their bar. Now there aren't a hell of a lot of bars named after novels, certainly none located in whorehouses, at least not as far as I know, so I figured that might be the best shot I'd ever have at immortality. My royalty payment for the use of the book title was that they kept a bottle of Oban single malt under the bar and poured me drinks any time I went in. I'm not a big drinker so it was a pretty good deal for them, and they didn't really have to ask my permission to use the title in the first place so it was pretty good deal for me, too.

Bangkok seems to be more of a, dare I say it, holiday destination for you these days. Do you prefer living in America?

I wouldn't call our coming here a holiday. We've maintained permanent homes in both Thailand and the US for over 20 years now and both places are simply a part of our life. Our youngest son has just graduated from school in the US and will start university there next year, so we've been spending less and less time here and more and more time in the US. I suppose, to be completely honest, that's also a matter of choice for us. Life in the third world gets tiresome after a while and I've been here an awfully long time.

I can relate. If I had the money, I wouldn't be here. You're currently penning a weekly blog – I don't know if blog is the right word – called "Letters from Asia". Are you going to be the next Stickman? Do you really think you can take me on? Perhaps you want to be the next Trink!

<He laughs uproariously> Good Lord, nobody can replace Stickman, and I think one Trink is enough to last the world for many generations.

Look, I'm just writing a few short essays about some of the background to my novels and sending them out every week or so under the title "Letters from Asia." It's not a political column. It's not a series of comments on current events. It's not a listing of where to find free food and cheap blowjobs. I guess you can call it a blog, but if there is a more unattractive word than 'blog' for a collection of essays, I don't know what it is. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is even reading any of the stuff I send out.

That sounds familiar! <Loud laughter again>

I get an awful lot of mail from readers and a good deal of it asks about things that appear in my books, primarily how much of it is true and how much of it is made up. When the places are real, I sometimes include photographs of them in my Letters from Asia, which a lot of readers seem to find interesting. For example, one of my characters is Jack Shepherd. He's an American lawyer who took a job teaching at Chulalongkorn University on something of a whim. In one of my Letters from Asia I included some photos of the Chula campus and the building there that I was thinking of as the place where Shepherd has his office.

I really liked that.

I even tossed in a few photos of Chidlom Place, the Bangkok apartment building where Shepherd lives. It's a real building. I lived there once myself.

If you read fiction set in Asia because the settings mean something to you, it seems interesting to me to read a bit of background about what the author had in mind when he wrote it.

Do you have any plans to write more novels set in Bangkok or dare I say it, a follow up to The Big Mango which amongst people I know, is still one of their favourite Bangkok books? I know, for example, that Steve Leather would really like to write a follow-up to Private Dancer.

No, I really don't want to do The Big Mango again. I'm a lot more interested in expanding both the geographical territory and the intellectual territory my characters inhabit.

A few minutes ago I mentioned "A World of Trouble," the third novel in the Jack Shepherd series that's coming out later this month. Shepherd was fired by Chula at the end of Killing Plato for having gotten involved in a very public controversy which the university saw as an embarrassment to Thailand. So in A World Of Trouble Shepherd has taken up residence in Hong Kong where he is trying to figure out how to earn a living again. The problem he has is that his connection with Thailand just won't leave him alone, no matter how much he might want it to.

Sounds a bit like you!

I don't see myself as a novelist of Thailand. I never have. I really don't understand how novelists who happen to live in Thailand have become so stereotyped. A few minutes ago, you yourself referred to us as expat novelists. I write crime novels. I set them in Asia because I can think of no better place in the world to set crime novels. I happen to live in Thailand part of the year, but once upon a time I also lived in Hong Kong and in Singapore and in Sydney and in New York and in Los Angeles. How that makes me 'an expat novelist' of Thailand I'm not quite sure.



So what does that mean for Jake Needham's future as a writer?

Sometimes I think about giving up on Asia altogether as the background for the books I write. My friend Steve Leather certainly thinks I should. I agree with him that there's a lot of negative baggage that comes with being an American writing novels set in Asia, and novels set in Asia clearly don't have the worldwide appeal that novels set in other places have. All of us who have written Asian novels have learned the same thing: they just don't sell all that well. Still, there are just so damned many great stories here that I haven't been about to bring myself to break away yet, at least not altogether.

I know a guy who was an intelligence officer in Asia for most of his career and he asked me once where I get some of the stuff I write about. I told him I make most of it up, and he thought that was hugely funny. "You can't really make up anything about crime in Asia," he said. "Whatever you think you make up, eventually somebody will come up to you and say it really happened, or worse, that it's about to happen."

He's right, of course. And the plain fact is that wouldn't be true if I wrote novels set in Minneapolis. So I probably won't.


Letters From Asia go out by email about once a week. If you want to subscribe, you can do it here. Otherwise, you can find them on Jake's website here a few days after they're mailed out.



*Where* was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken of the large construction site next to the Prom Pong BTS station. 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 WEEKAussie reader spreads the good word!

It's common convention on Sydney's trains to leave one's newspaper behind so the next person might benefit from it. As a result, I believe newspapers get read some half-dozen times or more. Mostly it's the bloody awful Daily Telegraph (much like The Sun, of which you spoke in your last column), so I mostly still have to pay for my Sydney Morning Herald. But I still do my bit for the community – every Monday I print out your weekly column for the train journey to Pymble. I make a point of leaving it on the seat, warts and all, delighting in the knowledge that dear old Aunty Agatha & co. will have learned something new by the time I get home!

Is it worth it?

During my last trip, I picked up a girl from a Walking Street gogo who it turned out was from Vietnam. Long story short, she had no rubbers, I was drunk and we ended up having unprotected sex. I am filled with anxiety and regret and am now really afraid that I may have caught some nasty STD or HIV. Touch wood, no symptoms on me at the moment. I will be going for a full and comprehensive screen in a couple of weeks. I just wanted to ask you about the STD and HIV situation in Pattaya, Walking Street in particular. Any figures or personal info you could enlighten me with? <Best *guess* is 1.5% HIV+ and maybe 10% carrying an STD of some sortStick> The girl mentioned that they go for monthly STD and HIV checks. This was further confirmed by the boss. What's the protocol and common practice of the gogo bars if the girls have STDs or HIV? I haven't done anything like this before and I feel really worried that I may have caught something from that encounter. I feel really stupid and irresponsible.

Amusing lack of discretion.

Your warnings of inappropriate talking in public reminded me of what happened to an Aussie mate of mine on a business trip to Bangkok. He arranged to meet his friend in a bar and whilst catching up with each other a stranger to my mate and only a bar acquaintance of his mate came over and disrupted their conversation. The stranger was asking for advice as he was worried about HIV or STDs after having unprotected sex with a katoey. Details came out ending with the statement that "He was only in me for a few minutes." My mate was howling when the stranger went away!

Does anything ever change?

I arrived back at Sawawannapoom this week to the usual chaos. The immigration hall was packed with queuing down the slope, with such a crush of people that the procession of wheelchair passengers had trouble getting through. As usual, too, several desks were unmanned. A Russian in front of me asked a girl who was wearing a shirt with welcome on it in several languages and who was obviously there to assist tourists if it was always like this, and she didn't speak English! It beggars belief, doesn't it? But it doesn't surprise me because soon after the place opened I asked a girl at the landside information counter something or other, and she didn't speak English either. I got talking with the Russian and warned him of more of the same on the way out. He told me that he flies through more than 30 airports a year and he had never seen anything as bad as Bangkok. After I had been waiting nearly an hour and there was just one person in front of me, I was asked to go to the adjacent Thai only desk. Now, why couldn't they have done that 30 minutes earlier? As usual, the toughest part of the journey was from the plane to the taxi.


Bar Bar Patpong

Good for her, good for him!

For years now when I sit with a girl I get her one lady drink, then if she is ok and I am enjoying the chat I suggest to her that she drinks it very slowly and I will bung her 100 baht for every drink I buy for myself. As you can imagine, her Coke is rarely touched from that point on. I get to save a bit on the lady drink, mamasan sees she has got a drink and my bargirl is making double her commission. It is win : win for nearly everyone. More than one bargirl has told me that they get free water or soft drinks anyway if they are thirsty and not with a customer so why not just give them cash?

New friends at Lumpini Park.

I make a point of being in Lumpini Park by 9 AM every day and staying until at least 1 PM, sometimes longer. I am always surprised when I mention the park to foreigners that the majority of them give me a blank look. Like you, I find the park relaxing and everyday there is something of interest going on. I remember a few years ago there was a group of about 20 Thais watching a world championship boxing match on a TV plugged into one of the power outlets and as I passed I slowed down to glimpse the action. Two of them saw me and waved me over, made a space on the mats and offered me a beer and some snacks. At that time I spoke no Thai and they spoke no English but we sat there for more than an hour as though we had known each other for years. It is a great shame that so many foreigners do not know or maybe just don't bother about the park, but at the same time I guess that is what makes it such a peaceful place to escape to.

Stick to Lumpini during the day.

I personally started visiting Lumpini on visits in the 1990s. I also love the quiet, uncrowded, motorcycle and vendor free time. What is interesting though is that if I was in a bar and mentioned that I had been to Lumpini Park I immediately received scowls or looks of disgust. I asked and apparently it was assumed by the girls that if you went to Lumpini you were a paedophile or at least interested in young girls. On further asking apparently young girls would hang around outside the gates in the evening.

Farangdom.

I have never met such low quality people as many of my countrymen I've met here. They seem to believe that their financial success validates their outrageous moral codes and aberrant personalities. I now have learned why so many older farangs do not interact with new farangs. Loudmouths and bragging are two prime qualities I cannot imagine a sober person considering attractive.



It sounds kind of scary to me but I guess some will be interested to know that the Footplay World Master Championship will be held at Bar Bar, Patpong's fetish venue, next week. I have no idea what shenanigans will take place…and I am not sure I want to know!

The popular sports bar and restaurant in Washington Square in the old Washington Theatre, The Sportsman, has had its latest stay of execution granted. With venues closing all around it – Cheers Pub closed just last week – The Sportsman is carrying the flame at Washington Square and will be trading for at least another 3 months, the latest lease extension good until the end of May. Management is looking for new premises but have not found anywhere suitable yet.

I note that the sale of Wall Street in Sukhumvit soi 33 fell through and the former owner remains in charge. Being a bar known for rugby coverage, I have stuck my head in the door a few times – and never see a soul there.

The Nana Beer Garden in the Rajah Hotel car park has a new promotion – buy any 3 bottles of Carlsberg or Tiger and get 1 free. Or buy 1 pint of Heineken and a chicken or beef kebab for just 175 baht. Bangkok Beat in Sukhumvit's soi 7/1 will host a black and white party on Saturday 24th March. Wearing those colours gets a 20% discount off all drinks for that night.

I note sexy eyes herself has returned. Miss Pla, the hottest bird in Tilac for about the past 2 years, is back and now donning the #7 badge. The police were noseying around Soi Cowboy on Friday night. What was that all about?

Visitors to Soi Cowboy's Tilac Bar who wish to retain contact with the outside world face difficulties staying in contact. No, the bar does not use a mobile jammer and no, the bar does not bar the use of mobiles inside the venue – to do so would see resignations en masse. A little bit of local knowledge is needed if you wish to stay in touch with the outside world. Sit on the left-hand side of the bar and you get stellar service from the waitresses but no service from your mobile phone i.e. no mobile or at best a very feint signal can be picked up on that side. Sit on the right-hand side of the bar and you get no service from the waitresses, but you do get service from your mobile phone where the signal is strong enough to make or receive calls. So which side would you sit on?

Bully's is having a special on St. Patrick's Day with a corned beef and cabbage dinner. You get corned beef, cabbage, boiled potatoes and carrots throughout the day and evening for 295 baht. They will also offer a corned beef sandwich and fries for 229 baht. The special is available on Friday, March 16 and Saturday March 17.

I spent a few days in Pattaya this week, my first visit to Sin City in 2012. Bar owners and hotel staff confirmed what I thought, that while it may look busy, trade is down – no surprise given the peak of the tourism season has passed. It's the same story as last year with Russians outnumbering other nationalities by a considerable margin.

Every time I go to Pattaya I say that there are more Russians and less naughty boys and that the city is changing, shedding its image – and every time I write this the detractors (read: those who love Pattaya for the nightlife) say I have got it totally wrong! You know Pattaya really is changing when you see a boatman sitting on Beach Road engrossed with his IPad, Russians speaking reasonable English and the issue that is going to become even more problematic over the next few years, many big name bars very light on girls. But of course the hardcore naughty boys will say I have got it all wrong and Pattaya isn't changing at all!


Russians in Pattaya


Walking Street has plenty of discos / late night bars already with Insomnia, Marine, Lucifer's and more, but that hasn't put a bunch of investors off throwing their hat into the ring. New York, New York will join the ranks of Pattaya discos, opening in the spot that was once home to Coyotes, on a side soi off the main Walking Street. 4 Americans are behind the new venture.

Spanky's Pattaya is able to turn on the lights tonight and will host a party to celebrate the bar's 30-day closure being over. Free food will be available from 8 PM, but being Pattaya, be quick – there will only be so much.

Martin, the well-known American who has been in charge of FLB Bar in Walking Street for a number of years, suffered a heart attack this week. Fortunately he managed to get to Bangkok Pattaya Hospital where a stent was inserted and he is said to be well on the way to recovery. Get well soon, Martin!

Someone is obviously very optimistic in Pattaya, investing in the construction of a 40 beer bar complex, Blue Rahtree, on Soi Buakhao, about half way between Soi Diana and South Pattaya Road. Given that the humorously named Action Street beer bar complex – also on Soi Buakhao, seems to be doing miserable trade, why would someone invest so heavily in this 2-storey beer bar complex monstrosity in what is known as a Cheap Charlie part of town? I don't doubt that in years to come the beer bars will move away from the prime real estate on Beach Road to the other side of Second Road, so perhaps this complex is ahead of its time.

Spanky's in Pattaya and Bangkok has some guest DJs playing over the next week. On Tuesday 13th, DJ Antonio, a resident DJ from Nikki Beach, will be playing in the Pattaya branch for one night and then next Thursday 15th and Friday 16th he will be playing at Spanky's in Bangkok. On March 17th Daryl Reed will be playing in Pattaya. This guy played with The Doors back in the day. He played in Spanky's in Pattaya last month and it was a huge success and will perform again in Pattaya on March 17th.

I was approached in the Arab sector of Pattaya early one evening by two ladies who claimed to be from Hong Kong. Initially I thought they were some Thai birds playing a prank but when I discovered that they didn't speak a word of Thai and really were nattering away in one of the Chinese languages I took them to be genuine. They didn't muck around and asked me if I wanted a massage, obviously on the game. I don't know if there are many Chinese birds on the game in Pattaya, but both easy on the eye and better looking than probably 98% of the working women in Pattaya, especially if you prefer fair-skinned maidens.

Pattaya's Beach Road is not the place to go if you're looking for a little action during daylight hours – there weren't that many ladies on patrol. When the sun dropped below the horizon it all changed and the seaside stretch was rammed with ladies. Whether or not they would grab your fancy is a personal thing…


Beach Road Pattaya


And if chubby is your thing, you might want to bypass Bangkok altogether and head straight to Pattaya. If there was an impression the working women of Pattaya made on me this week, it is that they are becoming more well-rounded. The gogo girls, at least those lingering around outside the bars, seemed mostly slim, but outside that sector it's Generations McDonalds!

I eyeballed the largest bar checkbin I have seen (or heard of) this week, an astonishing 460,000 baht. You read that right – four hundred and sixty thousand baht spent in one bar, in one day, by one guy! Obviously the only way to run up such an outrageous amount is to ring the bell over and over and over again, and that is exactly what the well-off Australian did!

There was a humorous scene in soi 33 this week with a punter all over his bargirlfriend. He had just dropped 80,000 on a new MacBook for his teeruk and she was playing with it, happy to be the recipient of such an expensive toy – which means bragging rights and much face to be gained, but at the same time she looked confused. You could almost see the look on her face, kind of like "I know how to use a computer but what the fxxx is this thing you have bought me!" What's the bet that when he leaves it's off to the pawn shop where she will get about half of what he paid for it a week ago, and then she'll go out and spend 20K baht on a Windows-based machine – that she knows how to use – and pocket the difference? Buying a MacBook for a bargirl so she can stay in touch with you is plain ba! (Ba = Thai word for crazy, but in this case could just as easily mean stupid!)

I have said numerous times that one way to avoid problems in Thailand is to refrain from doing things in Thailand that you would not do at home. But perhaps an even better rule to follow is to refrain from doing things that a Thai guy wouldn't do. Now before the detractors refer to the motorbike taxi riders or other Thais from difficult backgrounds, consider a Thai of similar social standing as yourself. Refrain from doing things a Thai guy wouldn't do and I am utterly convinced you will avoid many of the common problems that beset foreign men in Thailand.

D

ining in Emporium on Friday night, at the adjacent table were a bunch of teenagers wearing sports gear emblazoned with the name and logo of their school which is widely regarded as the best school in Thailand following the British curriculum. What struck me as strange was not that they were speaking absolutely perfect English – but that they all did with a strong American accent. This school has a preference for hiring Brits, overlooking Aussies and Kiwis notwithstanding that Antipodeans often speak a version of English easier understood than anyone born north of Watford. So where does the American accent come from!?

Quote of the week comes from a Pattaya bar owner, "It's the same price for a good looking one", poking at those who go for birds who are, shall we say, appetite killers.

Reader's story of the week comes from Mega, the brilliant trip report "Tales of Caves, Monks and Serpents".

From The Nation, a mainstream publication gets it right reporting that Thailand's sex workers do not want to be rescued.

Pakistan and India almost go to war in Pattaya!

The Huffington Post looks at the mysterious Sak Yant Festival.

The Wall Street Journal took a look at fortune tellers in Thailand this week.

Yet more bad news from Phuket with a Russian tourist electrocuted in a hotel this week.

Two foreigners perished in a hotel fire on Sukhumvit soi 22 this week.

A maverick Thai politician is looking at importing Japanese porn stars to his hometown of Buriram to hot up New Year's!

The Bangkok Hilton's longest serving farang is checking out!

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: Are multiple-entry re-entry permits supposed to be valid (1) for one year from the date of issue?, or (2) Until the associated work permit expires. I got a job contract for 6 months that started on September 30, 2011 and will end on March 31, 2012. I went to an in-country Immigration office and got my non-immigrant 'B' visa renewed. I simultaneously got a multiple (not single) re-entry permit. On the permit, it states that it is valid until March 31, 2012.

Sunbelt responds: The re-entry permit expires at the same time as the extension of stay permit based on business with single or multiple re-entries which corresponds to your work permit. Cancel the work permit and even though your visa (and re-entry permit) still has validity, you must exit the country when the work permit expires (since once it's cancelled so is the non-B) on March 31, 2012 you either must leave Thailand that same day or get a 7-day extension with government fees of 1,900 baht.

Question 2: I am an American citizen and wish to marry a Thai national. I have been told by the Thai embassy in Portland, Oregon that I do not need to have a bank account in Thailand because I am a American and can apply for a Thai marriage visa out of Portland. The closest city to where I live in Thailand is Nakhon Sawan. Can I just go there every 90 days to report in and stamp my visa? Will they ask to see some proof of income or a bank statement from America or here? The office in Portland asks for a copy of the marriage papers and a copy of her Thai passport. I believe I then pay a $100 yearly fee. Can this be done from Thailand every year?

Sunbelt responds: Getting married and obtaining a visa are two separate steps.

If you wish to get married in Thailand you need to go to the American Embassy and sign an affidavit of freedom to marry. This then needs to be translated into Thai and taken to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for certification. You then take this document, your fiancée's ID card and house registration to a local District Office where you then get married. If you wish to get married in the United States, then you simply marry according to US law.

Once you are married, you can then obtain a multiple entry one year non-O Visa from Portland based on marriage to a Thai national but will need to exit Thailand every 90 days to obtain another 90 day stamp. Alternatively if you get married in Thailand, then you can go to a neighbouring country with your marriage license, a copy of your wife's ID card and her house registration papers to get the one year multiple entry non-O visa with the requirement to exit and renter Thailand at least once every 90 days.

If you wish to remain in Thailand without exiting every 90 days then you will need to apply for an extension to your visa which gives you a one year extension of stay permit based on marriage to a Thai national. You will need 400,000 baht in a Thai bank or a work permit and a verified salary of 45,000 baht a month in Thailand in order to obtain the extension. You will need a re-entry permit with this extension if you wish to leave the country.

Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience in helping people to get married and once married obtaining the necessary extensions.

Question 3: My question relates to the jet ski scams. I witnessed such a scam in progress at 3:30 PM, March 1, in Pattaya. A ringleader was explaining alleged damages to a policeman ‘arbitrator' who in turn translated (in bad English) to the victim the damages. A large crowd gathered as the victim proclaimed "No, no, no." I unwisely (in retrospect) thought it safe to intervene by telling the victim, "Do not pay, it's a scam." A large number of nasty-looking accomplices instantly turned on me with screams and gestures, so I luckily made a hasty retreat. Later I saw the punk scammers whooping it up on the beach near their damaged jet skis with bottles of beer. A successful scam. So warnings by embassies, notices in publications, complaints to the authorities and attempts to intervene do not work to prevent such outrageous extortions in broad daylight. Could a brave journalist or filmmaker clandestinely document such an incident and have any success through the Thai courts to get these extortionists arrested, and have any affect in eliminating these (and other) scams from Thailand?

Sunbelt responds: Overseas news channels have covered these incidents before, but it doesn't seem to have any effect on those who wish to still rent a jet ski. The person who has been defrauded can go to the tourist police and file a complaint or go to civil court and sue the company. The tourist police have gotten involved in the past. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Jet-Ski-Scams-in-Thailand/156358667787526 The cartoon unfortunately says it best "750 baht to take the jet ski out, 80,000 baht to bring it back."



Pattaya


You may think of this as a nightlife column, as opposed to a column which I think is better and more accurately described, as a column covering expat affairs. I think the past week probably demonstrates what I mean. I spent a few days in Pattaya this week and when I returned to Bangkok a mate mentioned that he would be going down this weekend and asked me which the best bars in Pattaya are. I told him that I didn't know. You see, I spent very little time in the bars and did not go into a gogo bar. I had plenty of time to do so, but I didn't, simply because I didn't care to. And in Bangkok this week I did not step into one bar, at least not a naughty bar. British and expat pubs on the other hand I could be found in. I know that some readers would be horrified to think that here is someone who lives in Bangkok, travels frequently to Pattaya, and covers the nightlife but spends bugger all time in the bars. It's a funny old world, eh?!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Firehouse