Stickman's Weekly Column December 16th, 2012

The New Expats



They love technology, always carry a smartphone or two but Pacman is a good few years older than them. Despite their relative youth, some earn more in a month than long-termers may earn in front of a whiteboard over an entire semester. You'll find them at Firehouse, Oskar and Iron Ferries; Woodstock and Bourbon Street aren't for them. They have yet to experience first-hand a coup d'état. They are the newest arrivals to Bangkok's burgeoning expat community, the young guns who are doing their best to break all the stereotypes about Western expats in Bangkok. They are the new expats.





Like the expats of old, they are predominately Caucasians, but their number includes Eastern Europeans, Middle Easterners, South Americans, Indians and even some Africans. And in stark contrast with the stereotypical Bangkok expat of even just a few years ago, plenty are female.

It's not the Thai lifestyle they're here for but high-octane corporate Asia, life in the fast lane, burning the candle at both ends, working hard by day, partying hard by night.

They're not like the expats of old, waiting for the end of the office day when the fun would really begin. They're here because Bangkok is moving ahead and opportunities abound today that nary existed for the expats of yesteryear. With their fresh looks and youthful enthusiasm, the locals love them.

They spend their nights on soi 11, Thonglor, or wherever happens to be in. Red light areas are out and being invited to Cowboy by a colleague would be as shocking to them as McDonald's introducing topless ladyboy service staff.

They haven't bought property, few own a car and most don't speak the lingo. They don't need to as the people they work with speak passable English and besides, Thailand isn't their final destination, but just another stepping stone along the road.





There's a fire in their eyes I seldom saw in the expats of old. They're excited about doing business in Thailand, and optimistic about the experience they will gain here.

Today's young Bangkok expats have real jobs and they are doing real things. They are project managers, communication officers, product managers, vice-presidents, media managers and many are in marketing positions with an online slant. They're not the specialist jobs of yesteryear, engineers or other technical specialists – but are well paid by local standards, 6 figures a month minimum.

Unlike many who washed up on these shores in the past without a plan and facing limited opportunity, the new expats are filling their CV with roles that will make them more employable when they move on. A short, successful stint in a professional role in Asia looks good, not the black mark of a decade or more in the classroom, as hazardous to one's career as 4-letter words tattooed across your face.

Get a few years experience, live the life and move on. Good times, great memories and an impressive CV to boot, with no concern that what they've been doing will raise a red flag on the Google or Facebook polygraph.

They lead normal lives, a Western lifestyle with a Thai twist. They don't live in a hovel. Street food is a novelty, not a necessity. They don't waste their time on SlyGeezer, they've never heard of Stickman and all they've seen of Soi Cowboy was limited to a few scenes in Hangover II. Needless to say, they don't date or do hookers.

They have the hottest local girlfriends, educated girls, the sort of girl a successful guy would date at home, a girl whose background won't bring blushes, someone who will never nag you to eat som tam or drag you to the village. They date the sort of girl who might just know when to choose a Pinot and when you'd be better off with a Shiraz.

When I arrived in Bangkok at the height of the Asian Economic Crisis, there were opportunities for investors willing to take a risk and those who knew the city. But for a new arrival like me who erred on the conservative side, professional job openings were few and far between. Companies were downsizing or closing. Decent positions outside the education industry were few and far between and before Sunbelt turned the professional services industry on its head, setting up a business was expensive and a nightmare in bureaucracy. You hit the classroom, or you hit the road.

For the class of the late '90s, what would we have done for a chance at a real job, a position at a name Thai company or a multinational? It wasn't the money, all you wanted was the opportunity to get in the door.

Today, new expats arriving in Thailand with a couple of years experience can land a great job with a package to match.

It's not just the face of Bangkok expatdom which is changing with the arrival of the new expats, the very fabric of the city's expat community is changing, splintering expatdom like never before. Where once there were blurry lines separating expats, with the community often split by language spoken (native English speakers tended to stick together, as did Germans), and industry of employment, most of us gravitated towards the same small number of places. As Bangkok's expat community has become larger and more diversified and with more places for expats hang out, the new expats are here, the old expats there. There's not that much overlap.

Not all new expats to Bangkok land a great job and not all great jobs are exclusive to the new breed.

But the Thais know that many old Asia hands come with baggage, the scars of failed relationships, disgruntlement at a stalled career and bitterness at the opportunity cost of staying too long.

There's a very good reason Jake Needham called Bangkok the Big Mango – many Bangkok expats are just like mangoes, going from attractive and sweet to dark and rotten if kept too long.

Many see the new expats as fresh, a welcome change from the stereotypical jaded and often cynical long-timers. The new expats have a higher opinion of Thailand and the Thais often have a higher opinion of them.

Today Bangkok is more cosmopolitan, sophisticated and just plain more international. Young expats can lead a normal life, safe in the knowledge that a stint in Bangkok won't derail one's career.

The opportunities available today simply didn't exist in the past. Who wouldn't want to be a 20-something in Bangkok today with all the opportunities – professional and personal – that abound?

For the ambitious, young expat who's willing to roll their sleeves up and do the hard yards while at the same time anxious to lead something of a normal life, there's no doubt in my mind that Bangkok is much better today than when I first arrived.



Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken from Benjasiri Park, next to Emporium in the evening and showed part of the car park for Emporium Shopping Centre. There are two prizes this week, a voucher for Sunrise Tacos and a voucher for Firehouse in Sukhumvit soi 11, known for its excellent hamburgers.

Terms and conditions: The 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! You MUST specify which prize you would like and failure to do so will result in the prize going to the next person to get the photo correct.

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 Being secure in retirement.

The reason I'm writing is your rather provocative few lines at the bottom of this week's column on the folly of early retirement and how much is required. I think you may shock a few people with your comment about needing $1 million USD and even this may be short. I might be wrong, but I'd be pretty surprised if many single male retirees come to Thailand with $1 million USD to draw on. I'm working on the fact that I need to have my home paid off as well as $1 million AUD in other funds before I'm prepared to pull the plug on the workforce. That should give me a decent income (say 5% withdrawal rate per annum which should roughly preserve the capital at that level ad infinitum) in Thailand and the house rental would be the required buffer just in case of more market collapses or other unforeseen things. At my present rate of saving / investing, I'll be close to 60 before that happens – but better that than get to 70 and realise my last couple of decades will be in poverty.

Do you belong here?

If you can't make it back to the Old Country to renew your medical bone fides, your driver's licence or for your brother's funeral, you can't afford to retire here. If you have to rent a hotel room, beg a futon or stay with the ex-wife or you don't "get" that you have to pay rent and fees in two places while you visit, you shouldn't retire here. If you can't take care of your emotions and your sanity without "getting into the piss" – something you rarely used to do back home, you don't belong here. If you answer your friends "because it's cheap" when they ask you why you live here, you are lying to both yourself and your friend and you do not belong here. If after all these years you still can't tell shit from Shinola, you don't belong here. If you still believe that the guy going on about his accomplishments upon first meeting isn't hiding something, paper-hanging, or scamming, you shouldn't be living here. I could go on…

Self-imposed austerity.

A lot of Phuket expats have nothing short of an allergic reaction to bargirls and their drinks requests, the reason being the outrageous lady drink rate being anything from 150 baht and up, 200 baht now common in Patong beer bars for high-season. Who wants to be pestered by some silly bar tart to unload that amount for the privilege of engaging in mindless chat like What your Name, Where you from usually quickly followed by the buy me another drink routine?! I feel this may be more like the reason why the men were ignoring the girls, and who could blame them? Now with interest rates plummeting everywhere, self-imposed austerity packages seem to be the way to go for long-term expats.

A few cigarettes, chocolate bar or a can of spam.

I wanted to comment about the email of the week, “Nothing Lasts Forever”. Yes, it was common for farm girls to marry a pensioned up US Civil War veteran. Those were the days before social safety nets and hunger was a great motivator (no work, no eat…). As a young US soldier stationed in what was then West Germany in 1972, many of the senior NCOs were WWII vets and would sometimes talk about the good times when they had their way with a German girl for a few cigarettes, a chocolate bar or a can of spam. The locals were that desperate. Thai women now have many more choices and can be selective, even the well-nourished older ones. Personally, I believe that the tipping point is already here and that the more selective naughty boys are quietly backing off from the barfine game. There will always be a red light scene in Thailand but the days of a farm fresh country girl looking for a western boyfriend / husband are long gone.



From the dark side to the light side.

Reading your piece that mentioned girls turning to the dark side struck a chord with me. I often wondered the same, but interestingly the reverse can happen. Over the last 18 months I have frequented a very popular gogo in Pattaya and numerous girls approach me for drinks knowing that I am a buyer, not a barfiner. Slowly I have weeded out the girls that I prefer not to augment their already high earning inflated by regular trips outside, to a small group of 3 or 4. Of those, 2 of them never barfine and take the dancing salary only, plus any additional drinks commission they can get. Now the cynical amongst us would say, 'Yeah, they would say that to you, but then sneak out late with a customer'. Several unexpected visits at 2 AM and the like have made me discount that idea. Of course that does not preclude the possibility that they are just in a hurry to get back to their Thai boyfriend after work. But here's the rub…the one girl who is surely doable used to work previously at a beer bar at the foot of soi 8 for 3 years, 'much to her shame'. Her English is not good so I have yet to get to the point where I can ask her what the trigger was for her to cross to 'the light side'.

The beer bars are here to stay.

Through the years you have mentioned several prices associated with beer bars, barfines on and on. Having stayed at the Nana Hotel many times, one of my routines is to sit at the Golden Bar early in the morning and watch Soi 4 come to life while having a coffee. It's amazing what you can witness while sitting here watching the world on Soi 4 come to life. The local beer delivery truck shows up about noon. Cases of beer stacked up high but low enough to get under the overhead electrical lines, truck delivers to all bars, hotels and stores along Soi 4. Now for the simple napkin math time after time, this truck drops off 15 to 25 cases of beer at the Golden Bar each day. Now they make near 2 dollars US per bottle, so do the math, they are making around 1,000 US a day off beer, not to mention the 100 or more mixed drinks they sell and don't forget the 25 barfines they collect maybe more, and the tips just roll in. It would not be far-fetched to say this small bar makes 10,000 US a week! Now you know why these beer bars never go away.

The Sukhumvit zoo.

A quickie for you that perhaps you may feel worth a mention as a warning to your readers who are out and about in lower Sukhumvit late at night. Early this morning, Saturday 15th, at around 4:30 AM, as I was heading along the odd numbered side of towards the Soi 3 / 4 junction I almost had to swim across Soi 5. Not water, but blood! Two African guys had been going at it, tooled up with knives. As I made it over the bloodbath, one was sat roadside with a seriously big gash down his arm. I didn't get a long look as I was ushered on by a vendor I know in passing who shared the details of the fight and didn't think it was over – and I didn't hang around to find out. For someone out and about quite a bit, these black guys are those I'm most wary of. I'm pretty vigilant and always aware of who and what is going on around me but with them, even more so. It's not all beer and babes as many think. There was quite a number of white guys drinking along those street bars – none sober – any of whom could have walked right into that madness on Soi 5.



Nana Plaza sign



In a country where face is so important, the words "The World's Largest Adult Playground" added to the bottom of the sign out front of Nana Plaza are the sort of brazen honesty seldom seen in the industry, except, of course, the title probably belongs to Walking Street, or Pattaya in general. The police presence and signs proudly announcing that the area is safe reinforce the idea that the authorities really are embracing the industry.

One of the most popular bars in Cowboy for years with a keen following amongst expats especially, Sheba's has closed. The venue has been in complete darkness since last weekend. I had mentioned a few times over the past few months that it would change hands, and each time I said that I was sneered at by the venue's management who insisted I had it all wrong… Most of the dancers, service girls and mamasans from Sheba's can now be found in Suzy Wong's and a few have gone up the road to Playskool, in Nana.

The insignia of a motorcycle club seen outside and even within the premises of some bars in Nana Plaza surprised some customers. In the interests of keeping the peace and not wanting to alarm any who may have found the placement of the insignia unusual, they have been removed.

One of the conditions of the recent sale of the ultra popular late night spot Insomnia was that the venue would have to change its name. And change name it will next month from Insomnia to – you have to chuckle – the very similar sounding "Insanity"! I hope they don't change much else because the venue is great, the best late night spot on Sukhumvit in my opinion.

The footpath out front of the new Sofitel Hotel on the main Sukhumvit Road near soi 13 has become a magnet for streetwalkers. These harlots congregate outside the lush property and linger late into the night in much the same way their sisters used to a little further down Sukhumvit outside the Westin, back before Terminal 21 opened.

Competition for customers, the local tendency towards jealousy, plenty of alcohol and perhaps some pharmaceuticals and it's amazing there aren't more fights amongst girls in the bars. But from time to time things do erupt as they did this past Thursday at Tilac. A catfight broke out near the entrance to the toilets as two girls went at each other, falling to the floor, clawing at each other, screaming obscenities, knocking barstools over and bringing the bar to a standstill. It took several staff and a considerable amount of effort to stop them from tearing each other apart. What caused it to kick off I do not know, but one had been sitting with friends in Alcoholics Corner, the back corner of the bar where some of the Tilac tarts set about getting totally smashed every night.

The management at Rainbow 1 in Nana enforces a minimum price the girls must quote customers keen to get to know them better. Mamasans patrol with a laminated price list which is flapped in customers' faces in the same annoying way Patpong touts push similar cards promoting filthy shows. Rainbow 1 has instructed its girls to quote customers a short-time rate of 2,500 baht which is up 500 baht. Add in the barfine of 600 baht, a few drinks and a short-time room and suckers will be lucky to get any change from 4,000 baht. While in theory a girl could accept less, I wonder how many do? Rainbow 1 is a Jap trap and that lot aren't known to negotiate. The price-hike makes the alternative of visiting a massage parlour much better value.



Penthouse Hotel



The popular Penthouse Hotel in Soi Pattayaland 2 will host the End Of The World Party this coming Friday, December 21st, with a buy 2 drinks and get the third free promotion running all night long. Complimentary finger food will be served. All checkbins must be settled by midnight, just in case!

Pretty Lady Bar AKA Nana Main Station, is having a party the same night, Friday, December 21st, with free food and shows. Also, the venue is looking for someone who might be interested in buying a stake or even taking over the newly renovated bar. Interested parties can contact the owner at : [email protected].

Another rumour floating around about the man more popular than a Pattaya bar offering free food is that Larry, the former manager of Secrets and a guy I called – and still stand by those words – as the very best bar manager in the business, has been offered a position managing the new gogo bar Sugar Baby which is expected to open on the corner of Soi 14 and Walking Street before the end of the year.

The British Embassy has cut back its consular service to just 3 hours each morning and is now open to visitors only between 8 AM and 11 AM. It's partly because the embassy outsourced visa processing so no longer do hundreds of Thais queue up every morning. But even so, it's bad news for those who live outside the city and must feel like a double blow to those in Pattaya and on the Eastern Seaboard after the British consulate in Pattaya closed last month. A friend who visited the British Embassy this week was amazed at the state of some of his fellow countrymen who turned up in t-shirts, shorts and flip flops. Some hadn't shaved and two even brought a hooker along, each showing way too much flesh. My pal would have taken photos but the embassy now takes your mobile phone before allowing you in. Sounds like a first class candidate for a Stickman photo essay!

Across town at the Aussie Embassy, or to be more precise, at the visa centre which handles visa applications for Australia, Aussies keen to get their teeruk to Australia permanently had better have deep pockets. From January 1st, partner visa fees will increase 30%. The offshore partner visa application fee will increase from $2,060 to $2,700 and the current visa fee – if paying in Thailand – is 68,650 baht, so expect it to increase to at least 90,000 baht. This does not include the cost of medicals, document translation, police check fees to say nothing of the expense of all the running around. For those whose partner is already Down Under, you can apply for an onshore partner visa which will go up to $4,000, from $3,060. So to the increasing Aussie readership – you guys now comprise about 10% of the column's readers – get your application in before the end of the year before prices go up!



Ferarri Bangkok



They say that this is going to be Asia's century and if what I see on the streets of Bangkok is anything to go by, they might just be right. A few weeks back I mentioned that I have seen more and more Caucasians cycling around central Bangkok i.e. on pushbikes, something I find odd as the skytrain is quick and inexpensive, if not particularly comfortable these days. But while Caucasians are pedaling around the city, I am seeing more and more high-end sports cars – and when I say high-end, I mean the very best from Stuttgart and Maranello. And a couple of weeks back I was amazed to see an orange F1 McLaren parked on Sukhumvit soi 23 – the first time I have ever seen one and a model of which I believe only about a hundred were made. Top-end Ferraris are not an uncommon sight on the city's streets (and occasionally on the front page of the Bangkok Post), all of which is in contrast to the Ferraris I see back home, which are more often than not beautifully maintained 25-year old examples like Magnum PI used to drive. What makes the prevalence of these high-end models so amazing is that they cost much more in Thailand than in the West. A top-end Ferrari costs around a million dollars in Thailand. Who is buying them? The drivers always seem to be Thai!

Down in Pattaya there's a soi off Walking Street called Soi BJ. Now I won't tell you where I thought the name of the soi came from but my educated guess was wide of the mark. Apparently it's named after an American with those initials who has lived in Pattaya since 1971. He is a respected citizen and hotelier and his initials have nothing to do with a chain of specialist bars on Sukhumvit soi 7/1 that feature his initials!

I can appreciate that some are addicted to technology and may suffer withdrawal symptoms if they do not send or receive an SMS message or an email every few minutes, but at the same time I think it's kind of sad when I see visitors walking around this exciting and exotic city, yet are engrossed in their IPad! I thought about this when I saw a couple of foreign tourists sitting in the back of a tuktuk this week and one was tapping away on her IPad. I am sure they were very much looking forward to visiting Bangkok before they came but now that they are here, rather than embrace the city and all it has to offer, their head is buried in their blasted tablet! I know technology has improved many aspects of our lives but clearly some cannot be apart from it. Technology really can become intrusive. Social networking, or is it actually anti-social?

Nana Liquid has a party this coming Wednesday, themed Sex & Candy. Details below.



Nana Liquid



I notice that there are more 4-carriage trains on the skytrain Sukhumvit line these days, which makes a nice change. I got on at Asoke this week and actually got a seat, the first time that has happened in ages!

I can't help but chuckle at the way many Thais eat an apple. Rather than just bite into it, they cut it into small pieces which are placed on a small plate, often a saucer, for those present to help themselves. One apple might be shared amongst a few people meaning each person gets no more than a couple of small pieces. Watching them try to work out how to eat kiwi fruit is even funnier!

Trip Advisor seems to be the travel site many use to check out hotels or places to stay. The problem with Trip Advisor is that anyone can post a review and there are A LOT of spurious reviews, both positive and negative. I think a better place to go for hotel reviews is Agoda.com where all of the reviews posted are from people who actually booked the hotel through Agoda and were bona fide guests. Real reviews from real hotel guests. Unscrupulous business owners, slighted customers and disgruntled former employees can use Trip Advisor as a means of hurting a business that for whatever reason they do not like and clearly a lot of business owners write or pay others to write positive reviews about their property. I was checking out 2 hotels for a weekend away – one had been open for several years and the other just a few months yet it was the new property which had 5 times as many reviews – and some were so positive that it will soon surely be the number 1 hotel in that area – and I don't believe those reviews are genuine for a second! Stick to Agoda.com for hotel reviews.

I shouldn't have to remind readers about the littering scam i.e. the municipal authorities who follow and pounce on foreigners who drop litter. The enforcement of littering laws is not a scam per se, but what is highly questionable is the way that it is foreigners who are targeted. If you litter on the city streets and one of these guys catches you, you're in the gun for an on the spot fine of up to 2,000 baht. The annoying part is that they seem to target foreigners only and many times I have seen Thais drop litter right in front of them with no action taken. Officers work from a desk or small booth in teams of 2 or 3 and are in contact with each other by walkie talkie. They follow foreigners they see eating snacks or smoking cigarettes in the hope that rubbish will be dropped and they can nab them. In fairness, there are signs up everywhere in English such as the one below, and those who discard litter deserve to get a hard time. The hot spots on Sukhumvit are between sois 2 and 4, around sois 31 and 33, the area out front of Benjasiri Park next to Emporium and near Soi 15.



littering in Bangkok


Quote of the week, "Walking Street in Pattaya is a meeting point for all the ugliness of the world."

Reader's story of the week comes from Korski, "Dual Pricing and the American Dollar".

Emirates now flies an A380 from Phuket to Dubai daily.

Transparency International says that corruption in Thailand is getting worse.

Chris G. Moore published a funny article about dumb criminals which made me laugh out loud a few times!

And Chris G. Moore also featured in a radio interview this week, talking about his new book, Phnom Penh Noir.


Ask Sunbelt Asia 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 visit Bangkok on a yearly basis for a month or so duration, and while I'm there I buy beads and accessories, and ship them back to my business partner in the UK for processing and eventually selling via the internet. I always buy in bulk and with cash, as all of my suppliers deal in cash only. As a result I could be walking down Sukhumvit Road with over 100,000 baht at any one time but not all the time. In the light of recent shakedowns by the local plod, if I was stopped, searched and asked why I was carrying so much cash, told them the reason, and they told me I needed an export licence, and without one relieved me of a quantity of cash or worse. The question I'm asking is, do I need an export licence to ship goods back to the UK? The lads at UPS and FedEx who I use to ship have never mentioned anything.

Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: If you tell them you are "just shopping" you should have no problems. However, if you respond that you are buying for your business then they may ask to see your work permit. If you find yourself in legal trouble with the police please don't hesitate to call Sunbelt Asia Legal. We have lawyers experienced in handing police matters regarding work permits and other problems.

Question 2: I read something about it being illegal to export gold from Thailand. Would this include gold taken personally out of the country for individual use?

Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: It is not illegal to take gold jewellery out of the country so long as it's for personal use. However, please be aware that the country you are going to may impose duty on it on arrival. The export of gold bullion or coins however, is restricted.





Soi Cowboy


The debacle over the future of Sheba's, a story that unfolded in recent months in this column, shows the difficulties I have verifying what is going on in the bar industry. I was originally tipped off that the Arab was offering silly money for Sheba's and gave it a gentle mention, stating at that stage that it was nothing more than a rumour. What followed – and what I did not publish nor even hint at – was a most indignant rebuttal by management that there was no truth in what I wrote. They flat out denied it while behind my back they were saying "How the [email protected]#$ did Stick find out?!" One manager commented that I should refrain from mentioning it, lest my credibility be damaged. It all started to become a big joke with the management denying it while at the same time the mamasan was telling regular customers that the bar had been sold! Bar owners request that I verify facts with them but what's the point when many tell me a load of porkies? I remember Baronbonk saying to me many years ago not to believe what bar owners say about their bar because most are drunks and when it comes to the bar industry, all of them are liars. I wouldn't go quite that far, but there's some truth in it. So the next time I run something in this column and a bar manager or owner denies it and says that Stick has got it all wrong, think again.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Firehouse