Some Thailand expats talk of their homeland as if it is hell. High prices, over-regulated and unfriendly women are the main complaints. These expats don't return to their homeland. Not for holidays and not even for special occasions. I like living in Thailand, but I really don't like Songkran, so what better place to escape the water fight madness than my homeland. How would I find it? Would I share a similar cynicism, distaste and bitterness of my homeland that some expats do of theirs?
First stop was Auckland, the city I have always thought of as my hometown, even if it isn't where I was born. When I was young the icon of the city flitted between the ugly harbour bridge and Rangitoto, a dormant volcano in the harbour. Today it is the Sky Tower, the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, that completely dominates the city's skyline that is the icon of the city.
Auckland consistently ranks very high in surveys of the best places to live, and is almost always in the top 10. Recently it made it to #3 in one survey. By most measures it rates very well.
At lunch time in downtown Auckland a middle-aged white guy has no problem attracting birds.
The biggest gripe some expats have with their homeland is the lack of attention they receive from women. Age-sensitive dating seems to be a catch cry in the West these days. I did get the impression though that if you're well-presented, aren't penniless and aren't after someone half your age, a decent guy can do fine. If you have unrealistic expectations – and dating someone half your age isn't realistic in the West – you'd better be particularly handsome or filthy rich.
It's not so much the pretty scenery which I like at home, but the fact that the air is clean. As a younger man I never thought about that but as the years pass by, a nice environment counts for more…for me at least. With that said, the air quality in Bangkok is much improved from what it was in the late '90.
The gannet colony at Muriwai Beach, West Auckland, is, of course, free to visit – for everyone, not just locals. A constant irritation of mine in Thailand is the way foreigners are required to pay way over the odds to visit national parks, some of which just aren't that impressive and may not even be deserving of such a designation. It is not the money, but the way you're singled out as an alien. It might not happen often, but when it does it's annoying.
With an economy that is ticking over nicely and a currency bubbling just below all-time highs, New Zealand has become a pricey destination. Fortunately many of the attractions are in the great outdoors – and for that you don't need any money to enjoy it.
The rugged west coast, not far from Auckland, is home to some of the country's more famous surf beaches. OK, so I'm not a surfer, but the beaches in NZ are every bit as good as any in Thailand. The water, however, is cold much of the year.
Taihape, in the lower half of the north island is typical of small town New Zealand. The railway runs through, there's one (very old) cinema, a medium-sized supermarket, a few tearooms and most folks look like they just stepped off a farm because, well, they probably just did. Inexpensive living, friendly people, but unless you want peace and quiet, it could get awfully boring.
Even in small town Kiwiland these days you can find good food and coffee. Dining out in New Zealand has come a long way and the days when the country was known for top quality produce and lousy cooking are firmly in the past. The country has become something of an epicurean destination as local diners have become much more demanding of a quality product. There's a growing coffee culture, even if the setting might not always exude sophistication. Still, sipping a strong coffee while breathing clean air and looking out over sheep-covered hills isn't something you can do everywhere.
Many conversations these days revolve around food (although house prices are still the most talked about subject) and there are numerous cooking shows on TV. Auckland and especially Wellington are packed with many really good eateries.
Despite a cost of labour about 10 times higher than Thailand, eating out in New Zealand can be cheaper than Bangkok! The meal above cost $NZ20. Two great curries, two nan breads and rice in a wonderful Indian restaurant. Not a food court, but a decent establishment in a desirable suburb. Water was complimentary, tips are not expected and there is no such thing as mischievous menu pricing and tax being added to the total. The cost? $NZ 20, just 500 baht.
Lakeside in Rotorua, white birds in New Zealand prove they aren't that different to their Thai sisters and are quite capable of stopping traffic.
Early morning near Lake Taupo in the central north island and tour buses whisk hordes of Asian visitors around the sights of the attraction-rich central plateau. It's a scene seen all over the world as Asian visitors spend precious few minutes posing in front of attractions to take photos before getting back on the bus to tick off the next place on the list.
A dedicated rugby channel on TV, sports radio dominated by rugby, the general public with a rugby knowledge second to none, and rugby fields in every corner of the country make New Zealand the spiritual home of the oval ball game.
As the announcer at the stadium said over and over again, it's more than just a game. English Premier League football matches are shown live at the perfect time in Bangkok, 9 PM Saturday night, and as much fun as it is watching with these fantastic supporters who truly passionate about their sport, I just can't get in to it quite the same like I do with rugby. Even when Liverpool deliver 6 of the best like they did last night, give me a game of rugby any day.
One of many scary figures from the Weta Cave, a mini museum and souvenir shop attached to Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's special effects company which played a part in movies like Lord Of The Rings and The Hobbit. Fortunately that's about as scary as things get in Kiwiland. Some Westerners complain about safety in their homelands but that's not an issue in a country which averages around 50 murders a year.
Wandering up Cuba Street in downtown Wellington one night, I noticed 2 ladies standing on a street corner. With skirts that may have fit them way when they were teenagers, makeup that caked on like Papier-mâché and lipstick as bright as a fire engine, it took me a moment to realise that they were available. As much as one chortles at how things have become in Thailand, the alternative in New Zealand is quite frightening. That was about as scary as things are here.
When it comes to homeless Caucasians on the street, comparing Bangkok and Auckland would be a close call. Even with the country's ridiculously generous welfare system which encourages sloths to remain idle, there are still some who end up on the street.
I loved the 3 days I spent in Wellington City. The Kiwi capital has a genuine charm and unlike the country's biggest city has a real sense of identity. Many of the city's homes are older villas with character and with everything in the city centralised, the city has a real heart. I could see myself living in Wellington, more so even than Auckland where family and friends are.
Friends tell me that Songkran celebrations in downtown Bangkok were more subdued this year and that my escape half way around the world was overkill. The inference was that I would have had a better time in Bangkok, even with all of the water madness. I doubt it. I enjoyed myself back home – yes, home – immensely.
New Zealand is not without its issues. In Thailand we complain about prices but this place is at another level. Bureaucracy is out of control and political correctness has taken a foothold, although it's nice to see a growing movement against the lack of sensibility that comes with it.
So many expats dread returning to their homeland and little can get some more animated than the thought that one day they may find themselves back living in Farangland. I've gone through phases over the years, wondering how it would be back home. As places have changed and as I have changed, I've come to realises that while some adjustments would be necessary, I'm more convinced than ever that I'd be quite happy living back in New Zealand.I guess you can take the boy out of Wellington, but you can't take Wellington out of the boy.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the lower end of the main road at Chinatown, heading towards Little India. There are two prizes this week, a 300-baht voucher for Sunrise Tacos and a 500-baht 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 – How many taste genuine success?
There have often been comments from both Stick and in numerous submissions that farang / bargirl marriages have little chance of success. That may be so, but it isn't limited to that pairing. It equally applies to any Farang / Thai marriages if the experience in my wife's village is anything to go by. About 10 members of her family or people she knows in her village have had relationships with foreigners, and not one of them has survived. Some lasted longer than others, but all ended eventually. A couple no doubt involved bargirls, but others did not. Perhaps it was the hardship of a rural life for the foreigner that finished things between them, or perhaps the culture and language gap was too big to bridge.
Facebook to the rescue?
We all know we have to adapt to the way things work here but I draw the line at safety issues. I refuse to compromise if at all possible when it puts my family at risk as it frequently does. The thing that most worries me is the really dangerous habit of the motorcycles riding along on the sidewalks / pavements in Bangkok. It might not do any good but I want t try to raise awareness by making a Facebook page in English and Thai. Can I count on your support through your site to raise awareness and try to get a ton of likes / shares for it so hopefully the boys in brown start preventing it?
The Japanese don't have it all their way.Thanks for your kind comments regarding Japanese in Bangkok bars. I am a Japanese national living in Bangkok although I was educated in USA so I guess am part-farang in culture. What many westerners do not realise in regard to Japanese one encounters in bars in Thailand is that the majority are not tourists but engineers and management working for Japanese electronic and automobile companies and their suppliers. Furthermore, many of the "Japanese" you can see in bars are not Japanese but from Korea, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore. The recent depreciation of the yen is a big problem for all employees because we receive salary in yen but Thailand still represents good value when it comes to choosing female companions. Not only prices, but we can actually meet the lady in person before we do our shopping. In Japan the law is structured in such a way to make this impossible. We have to choose from a photo and the bait and switch scam is very common. One thing that might surprise westerners is we Japanese sometimes get refused by ladies because they only go with westerners, especially in some bars in Soi Cowboy!
Speaking Thai.If you don't live in a major tourist area, or even if you do, learning at least rudimentary, polite Thai is just polite. It's their country. I would do my best to help a Korean tourist in my neighbourhood in the US, even if they spoke no English. What about a Korean I knew had lived there for 5 years and spoke no English? Maybe not so much. Why shouldn't Thais feel the same? They see me every day. They know I live here. If I walk into a local shop and expect people to speak English, why wouldn't they think I was being rude? I live in an area with 2 Westerners in a 2-mile radius. Almost no-one speaks English. You can almost see people visibly relax when they hear you speak understandable Thai. People outside tourist areas CAN apply context and CAN decipher an incorrect tone – funny about that, huh? – they don't need to prove anything. Some of them will even correct your speech once they know you.
In a further upgrading of the facilities at Nana Plaza, the lift on the left hand side is being renewed / replaced. It is boarded up at the moment. The girls will love that – they are about the only ones I ever see using it!
The craters of the moon have been flattened! Anyone who has taken the Sex Tourist Express – as the bus from the Ekamai bus station to Pattaya is referred to by some – knows that as the bus makes its way through the bus station before it exits out on to Sukhumvit Road, it traverses over potholes so deep that the vehicle rocks from side to side reaching such an angle that some passengers gasp, thinking that it could go all the way over. Long overdue, the car park has been resurfaced so the rodeo-style ride through the minefield of giant potholes is a thing of the past.
Bangkok's longest running fetish house, Demonia in Sukhumvit soi 33, will celebrate 10 years with celebrations on May 9, 10 and 11. There will be free presents, slave and mistress interactions between 5:30 and 9:00 PM and a special show each night at 11 PM.
Titanium in soi 22 will celebrate its 6th anniversary next Saturday, May 4th. There's a complimentary gift and a free premium gift for everyone.
All jokes aside, why is it that all the best known ladyboy bars seem to be centred in Bangkok? I can't think of any large ladyboy bars off the top of my head in Pattaya. There's Jenny Star Bar below Marine Disco but that's relatively small. What else is there? There are bound to be others, and there are plenty of ladyboys mincing on Walking Street but I don't see the same concentration of ladyboys you get in the bar areas in Bangkok.
Recent changes at The Dollhouse seem to be a success. Last Sunday night saw a full house of punters downstairs despite the bar being short of girls. The downstairs crowd at Dollhouse was bigger than that at Tilac – and Tilac had a good number in. Tilac was also short of girls with just 2 sets of dancers which is the norm in the post-Songkran period as the girls take their time to come back to Bangkok.
And signs outside the Dollhouse looking for staff show why there are more and more coyote dancers these days. The monthly salary band for gogo dancers is 10,000 – 15,000 baht while coyote dancers receive a cool 17,000 baht per month.
Shirtz Bar, which was the bar that preceded Fanny's in Soi Cowboy, was run by English Robert and Dutch Jack. English Robert lost touch with his former partner several years ago and would like to contact him. If anyone has any information on how he can contact Dutch Jack, please contact : [email protected]
An Apache bar reunion takes place every night at Cocktail Club where there are no less than 6 dancers and 4 service staff who were once employed at Apache when it was a gogo bar. There are 2 other dancers from Apache floating about in Nana but word is they may join their friends which would just about make the rebirth of Apache complete. Drink pricing at Cocktail is the same as Tilac, as is the decoration. Why is that? It's the same owner!
What has happened to Crossed Pistons in the Raja Hotel car park? A nicely put together, purpose-built venue where motorcycle enthusiasts could meet, it appears to have closed and for rent signs have been erected.
The gates installed where taxis drop off departing passengers at the airport do not appear to be used. They have been installed but don't appear to be closed which means that the age old trick of going to the top floor so as not to have to queue to get a taxi still works.
Sensations A Gogo on Walking Street is jammed with women, a mix of house girls and agency girls. Wow, if you're on Walking Street, check it out!
No, it's not a pharmacy, but a live music venue! Next to Firehouse on Sukhumvit soi 11 is Apotheke, which I hear has fantastic live bands. If you're in to live music, check it out.
Bully's, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4, will celebrate Cinco de Mayo next Sunday, May 5th. Bully's Taco Bar will serve from 5 – 9 PM and they will also have hand-crafted margaritas all night long at 150 baht per glass.
What's going on with Thai Airways flights to Europe? Announcements were made this week about a reduction in flights between Bangkok and a number of European cities including London and Frankfurt on the national carrier. Could it be related to the economic mess Europe is in? That seems the most likely explanation.
From time to time news reports tell us that the Immigration Department is getting serious about hotels (and apartment buildings and condos) reporting to them every foreigner who is staying on the premises. It would seem that they are making a greater effort with notices (in Thai) posted in some buildings stating the requirements and also listing the punishment for not reporting, a hefty fine. Ironically, in the case of condominiums, the residents are probably legal for the most part. The girls from Myanmar and other neighbouring countries who some condo owners have performing maid duties probably aren't though!
The other half believes what fortune tellers say. I mean she REALLY believes it. I've tried to get the idea through to her that they talk nonsense, even if a couple of times I have had them say things to me that were eerily accurate. They clearly have a means of operating, perhaps of reading body language or some other sort of trickery. The other half's blind belief of what fortune tellers say makes me think about an ex-girlfriend who had been to see a fortune teller. The fortune teller made a few predictions – and they included me. She went on to say that the fortune teller had told her that I was a good man and that I would never cheat on her. The funny thing was that, I am not proud to say, I had just done that! It was early days in the relationship, and I felt neither of us was serious about the other. I never had the heart to tell her that I had been no good which would have proved that fortune tellers aren't to be blindly believed!
I notice more and more hotel and restaurant owners in Bangkok are taking real notice of what is said about their establishments on TripAdvisor.com as can be seen in the sandwich board in the photo above which is outside Bradman's Bistro every day. I also see venues displaying certificates on the premises showing the rating they have received from TripAdvisor. Plenty of this in New Zealand too, all of which got me wondering. Do people really put a lot of weight on what is said on that site? I don't look at TripAdvisor as it feels too much like a forum, a place people use to vent and use as a means of getting back at businesses when they are not satisfied, even when it is over the most petty things. Some people's negative postings are so negative that their whole mental state comes in to question. Who cares if service staff do not smile at you? Further, it's widely known that there are a lot of dodgy reviews i.e. owners talking up their own establishment while trashing those of their competitors. Still, I see more and more establishments taking on board what is said on TripAdvisor.
I notice that the top Phuket forum, Phuket-info.com, has been down, which I guess is probably a consequence of the sad passing of the site's founder and owner, Nicke. I understand that there is talk of legal issues regarding the ownership of the site and things may end up in court. Here's hoping that there is some resolution before it gets that far. No way would Nicke have wanted that to happen. As a webmaster myself it's food for thought.
I'm always happy to listen to ideas on how to improve the column, but some can be a little odd. One reader however came up with a good, and smile idea, suggesting a new section to the column, a gogo girl of the week with a photo or two and a bio. Good idea or not? It would be easy to implement so if enough readers like the idea I'll do it.
Reader's story of the week comes from renowned expat author, Dean Barrett, "Farewell to Washington Square".
A Thai woman prostitutes out her 9-year old daughter!
Pattaya has been called a food paradise by a Malaysian newspaper.
A Thai stickman is proving to be a hit at the heart of snooker, the Crucible.
The Washington Post mentions the documentary on the Thai / Cambodia border skirmishes that has been banned in Thailand.
If you didn't manage to make it along to Checkinn99 on ANZAC Day, you can watch the festivities on YouTube.
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 was entering the lobby of my condo when I was approached by two non-uniformed Thai men who said they were from the Immigration Police. They asked to see my passport. I asked to see some ID and one of them showed me a black leather badge with a shield and "Immigration Police" printed on it in gold. It had no photograph or name. I didn't want any trouble, so despite my doubts, I showed him my passport copy. He asked me what country I was from, took a photograph with his phone of the picture page of my passport, but he did not unfold the copy to look at my entry and permission to stay stamps. This took place on private property, more than 50 metres from the road. I asked at the Juristic Office if the Immigration Police were on the premises, but they said that the Immigration Police do not notify the Juristic Office when they are on the premises and confirmed that they do come in plain clothes sometimes.
1. What does an Immigration Police ID look like?
2. Do the Immigration Police have the right to enter private property without permission (and presumably without any sort of warrant)?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Immigration officials in uniform will be wearing shoulder patches on their uniforms as shown in this link.
Police officers, from any division including Immigration, are normally required to have at least one official in uniform when on patrol or on duty. While they do need a warrant to enter private property, the common areas of a condo would be considered public space as it is open to guests. If this happens again you should request to speak to a uniformed officer and get the officer's business card. If you obtained a visa using Sunbelt's service we provide a free service of support if you ever run in to a problem. We will talk to the officer and explain we are representing you. In most cases that will end the conversation very fast and end with "You can go".
Question 2: It seems that every girl I talk to in the land of smiles has, almost without exception, a story of her parents getting themselves into stupid amounts of debt. One thing I wondered if you could clarify that seems to be a common theme is this: many of these talk of the debt being somehow placed with the government or restructured by the government somehow. I know this is an overly generic description, but do you know of such a scheme? If so, do you know if this debt is personally tied to an individual or would the greater family need to fulfill this repayment after a parent's passing? Do these contracts follow someone's estate i.e. when someone passes on, does the obligation or is this in general a modern form of "enslavement" by debt?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The government has introduced government loans through numerous programs in order to help farmers (and agriculturists) in resolving debts that they obtained from loan sharks which sometimes result as the farmers (and / or family members) being physically harmed, threatened and the loss of their land. While this loan contract could be inherited, the beneficiaries could never inherit the excess liabilities, that is liabilities beyond the amount of asset inherited.
Not a lot of news nor gossip this week, a result of me being away. Whilst away, I am reliant on tidbits from friends and news / announcements from bar owners. There are a few bits and pieces I have heard but I would rather verify them first than write about them blindly. I considered not putting together a column this week, but friends advised me against it, the consensus being that it was better to publish something than nothing. Normal service with no mention of countries on the other side of the planet will resume next week.
Your Bangkok commentator,