I arrived in Bangkok not knowing a soul, without a single friend. I was embarking on an adventure, opening a new chapter in my life. I thought about the places I would see and the experiences that would follow, but never gave much thought to the people I would meet, or those I would befriend. On joining Bangkok's expat ranks one of the first pieces of advice I was given was that it's not the Thais you should be wary of, but your fellow foreigners.
It's easy to see someone who looks much the same as you, speaks the same language and grew up worshipping the same heroes and sharing much the same beliefs as safe. And often it's not until you have the odd bad experience with such people that you learn. It has taken years for me to become consciously aware of the types to keep at a distance.
It's a new country, no-one knows so you can be a new person. You can reinvent yourself – and many do by rewriting the past. In Bangkok expat circles the most common lies concern people's backgrounds. What they did before they arrived in Thailand, the amount of money they have, and their sexual conquests seem to be the big 3. They have low self-esteem and pump themselves up in an effort to make themselves be someone they're not, someone they can now be happy with. They studied at MIT, their girlfriend has visited every hotel room in town and they have the American ambassador's private number on speed dial.
But worse than merely trying to make themselves seem superstar, liars can manipulate you, making up stories to get you to change your thinking or behaviour in such a way that they benefit.
Unnecessary lies in friendships are insulting. Put in an embarrassing situation, anyone is capable of lying or glossing over something to avoid an awkward moment. Everyone has done this. This is not the habitual liar.
For me, nothing kills a friendship faster than realising someone is a habitual liar. Unfortunately, Thailand expat circles are full of them.
It's an irony in a country which prohibits the sale of alcohol from supermarkets and convenience stores that the sight of foreigners drinking heavily at breakfast doesn't cause you to blink.
In many expat circles there is an expectation that when you go out, you will drink. The problem might not be that some people can handle drink and it might not whether they change when they drink or don't. It is that they expect to drink AND they expect those out with them to drink too. I'm happy to have a drink from time to time, but more often than not I would rather not. And it's no fun being around those incapable of enjoying themselves when they are not drinking.
For some of Thailand's expats, particularly some long-termers, alcohol seems to be used as a crutch to deal with problems that are never faced head on. For others it seems to be a means of overcoming boredom.
I enjoy a drink when I catch up with friends I have not seen in a while such as friends from home, or friends living in other provinces. But do you have to drink all the time?
Bangkok is widely known for its nightlife and I write a column that covers news and gossip from the bar industry – but that does not mean I want to hear about anyone's sex life.
For some, their existence revolves around sex and it's the only reason they live here. It's their sole focus and all they seem to be able to talk about is working girls, or girls they've met online – and what they supposedly did with them.
A healthy sex drive is a good thing, but isn't talking about sex all the time what teenage boys do?
Looking at the local female populace as nothing more than sex objects, and the misogynistic attitudes of some are nauseating.
I've got way better things to do than listen to someone talk about their (often imagined) sexual experiences.
Worst of all, sex-crazed expats don't seem to realise that most women aren't available, that talking about conquests outside the bar industry is juvenile, and some of the things they say in polite company can be dreadfully embarrassing.
Holes In Their Pockets
Being born in the West is the lucky ticket, all you need to make enough money to have a great life, yet many Westerners living in Thailand are almost penniless.
Westerners aged 60+ have lived through the period of greatest wealth accumulation in the history of the world. If you had bought a house in your 20s and are now 60+, odds are you have enough money just from the value of your house to retire in Thailand. If you'd upgraded properties along the way, even better. If you had investments in stock markets there have been some incredible periods of growth, plus a couple of hard crashes too, mind you. The bottom line is that any Westerner who has already retired in Thailand at retirement age, irrespective of career choices, had every opportunity to accumulate plenty of money along the way.
If you're a Westerner aged around 40, you only need to have saved $30 or $40 a week since you started working, bung it in the bank, and you'd have $100,000+ to your name. Not a fortune, but enough to provide a comfortable buffer, to buy a small unit in Bangkok if you so wished. If you had made some good decisions with property or investments, had stock options or perhaps had a bit of luck, you may already have accumulated enough to retire.
So why do so many expats in Thailand have money problems? Some struggle to pay their rent each month, others are no more than a few banknotes from being broke in a foreign land.
Those with money problems often have other problems. Visa overstay problems – often of considerable length – seem common amongst this group.
Thailand is no place for a foreigner out of money, and it's no good to be around those who have money problems. They may ask to borrow money that they have no intention or ability of repaying, and when they eventually become desperate, look out!
The Hard Of Hearing
Is there anything more infuriating than those who persistently suffer from the same, usually self-inflicted problems, who ask for advice, but who consistently fail to act on the advice you give them – and then come back to you later with the same problem?!
Thailand attracts many foreigners with a victim mentality, those who always seem to have one problem or another but make no effort to solve it, or simply repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Moving from one bad girl to another is a classic example.
Those who seek advice and then fail to act on it are as frustrating and infuriating to be around as liars.
The hard of hearing don't just share their problems with you, they are often needy and drag you down by constantly going on about the ills in their life.
With Bangkok such a social place, we tend to spend a lot of time with others. We are surrounded by Thai people, the Thai language, Thai food – all things Thai – and while it can be fun to socialise with Thais, most of us eventually crave the familiarity of and conversation with our own kind.
Don't drop your guard just because someone looks like you. There are some folks out there who being close to will do you no good at all. Be choosy about the foreigners you allow to get close to you. And consider one final thing. The Thais will make judgments about you by the company you keep. If you spend time with those who have issues, problems, who are embarrassing or are just plain seedy, don't expect to be well-received by decent Thais.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of a pedestrian walkbridge on Rachadapisek Road, just a few hundred metres south of Sukhumvit Road.
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 – The similarities between relationships and business partnerships.The rules for forming business partnerships in Thailand ought to be similar to those for marrying a Thai woman:
– Never go into business with someone you have known less than a year.
– Never lend anyone money, your ATM card or your passport unless you are absolutely certain about them.
– Always check someone's background first.
– Whenever possible, get a reference. Better yet, get two. Or three.
– Always assume they have another scam going on.
– Never think you're the only one.
– Expect to be cheated. Be thankful when you're not.
– When in doubt, walk away.
Why Thailand attracts them.
Amazing story about Alex! What keeps puzzling me is why Thailand seems to attract what appears to be the greatest concentration of scum from every corner of this planet? Is it some sort of perfect conditions of muddy, third-world legal environment plus enough money in the country to tap plus corruption plus a huge number of beer-diluted expat brains with life-time savings to blow and all that spiced with readily available and comparably cheap sex to indulge in while pulling off another scam? Go figure.
A magnet for weirdoes.
Nice piece of journalism this week on Alex. Often I've looked at the creatures that inhabit Sukhumvit Road and the nearby environs and wondered, "Where are you from, what are you running away from and what are you hiding?" Bangkok seems to attract more weirdoes than just about any other place that I can think of.
Who are you really?
I know folks who live here that while not quite up to Alex's big adventure, are nonetheless the same sort of characters. They exhibit all the same characteristics of being liars and making up stories about everyone they know so as to reinforce their aura of superiority. One individual brags to all and sundry that he never pays for sex, how much money he has, that he went to the best technical university in the US, always has a fictitious story to tell about one of the group. Yet he is pretty much computer illiterate, can't book an airline ticket online, has to pay an agent to do his 90-day reporting and renew his visa. His over-the-hill girlfriend is pumped so full of silicone it would be impossible for her to drown, and the failed business he bought for her is never mentioned. It just goes on and on, and those in the small group all seem to thrive, feeding on all of the insanity of each other. The girlfriends are almost as bad with the jealousy and gossip they spread and some of the trouble they have caused. Needless to say I don't hang out with them anymore and haven't for a few years now because as far as I am concerned it is better to be alone than to wish you were alone. When one of them calls to arrange a get-together I just politely say I am busy and can't make it.
What a load of pish. I was bored shitless about a quarter of the way in to the Arsenal Alex story and by halfway I was feeling suicidal.
How did it end? Does anybody actually give a toss? You could have said it all in one sentence: There is an arsehole called Alex swanning around pretending to have a shitload of money, give him a wide berth. Poor effort indeed.
Positive experiences with the boys in brown.
The Thai Police have a pretty bad image in general, mainly for stop and search and fining motorists for traffic offences, real or imagined. However, in my several years of living here I have only had good or exceptional service from them, often of a higher standard you would find in the west. My first encounter was many years ago when I was walking down a highway to a department store. This must have looked a bit strange, being the hottest part of the day and somewhat dangerous. A policeman rode up, got off his bike and asked me what the problem was. When I explained I was just walking to the shop he snapped to attention, saluted and rode off. Recently we were driving around Bangkok, lost and low on gas, when we got stopped at a checkpoint. They were going to fine us for using red plates after dark but when the Mrs. explained the situation they dropped the charge and escorted us, lights flashing, to the nearest gas station! A few weeks ago my wife had some belongings stolen on a train so went to the nearest police station to report it. They said she had to go to another station some way off. When she said she had no money the officer took 150 baht out of his own pocket and gave it to her for the fare. I don't think that would happen in London or New York! I am not saying Thai cops are all angels, but there are certainly a lot of good ones out there.
The mobile phone disease.
The reason people expect an immediate return on emails is because the majority have their emails sent directly to their phones, which you know they never put away. Since they are always up and operable on their phone, they expect similar insanity from others. This phenomenon transcends race, colour, creed and gender. It's global and if anything, the infection is increasing. These phones are a more powerful addiction than mind-altering drugs, maybe because they do actually alter the mind themselves. They instill in the user a mindlessness and almost hypnotic state that's disturbing. It's almost like watching people in Vegas on the slot machines, just sitting there watching the wheels spin and their money go down the drain. The more the phones are capable of doing, the less the human needs to do. "Thinking" is becoming unnecessary, not that people have made it a practice of doing that very often anyway.
Mature Western male transforms in to pre-teen girl!
I can confirm that Jimmy Page was in Bangkok. I was sitting in a soi 4 bar, doing some people watching, when he walked past. Being a huge Led Zep fan (owning every album and about 40 bootlegs) I recognised him immediately. Just to make sure it was him, I called out "Jimmy" when he had passed about 5 – 10 metres. He turned around to see who was calling his name, so it must have been him. He turned in to Nana Plaza. After absorbing the initial shock of seeing this legendary man I admire so much walk right past me (I felt like a 12-year old Justin Bieber fan), I decided to go to the Plaza to see if I could get a picture with him (without annoying him too much). As I walked up the stairs, I wondered if the stairs of Nana Plaza were like a stairway to heaven for him. I looked in every bar, including the ladyboy bars, meanwhile thinking how I would explain that, were I to be seen leaving such a bar by a friend. "I was just looking for Jimmy Page", won't really cut it, as true as it was. After going around the Plaza twice and checking all the bars, I came to the conclusion he did not like what he saw and left quickly, perhaps to Soi Cowboy.
Girl of the week
Meow, hostess, Strikers Bar, Raja Hotel car park, Soi Nana.
A native of Yasothon, she likes swimming at the beach,
something she cannot do in her land-locked province.
Clearly unhappy at not being mentioned in this column for months, The Arab struck back with a vengeance this week and is once again mentioned for all the wrong reasons after his doormen thugs set upon a punter outside Kiss Bar on Friday night. Exactly what happened before the beating is unknown and almost certainly the customer did or said something he shouldn't have, but the ferocity of the beating was upsetting for everyone who saw it, and made all the worse after The Arab's thugs came running from his other bars to take part in the violent assault.
Bangkok's buses are crowded, a pickpocket's dream. Old editions of Thailand travel guides warn of pickpockets on the city's buses, particularly the #29 bus, which runs from Don Meuang Airport all the way to Siam Square, and beyond. Some Westerners who had hopped off a plane and hopped right on the bus, quite possibly worse for wear and less aware of their surroundings after a long flight, later discovered they'd been pick-pocketed or one of their bags had been slashed and valuables removed. Today pickpockets on the buses are still an issue. But there is somewhere else you need to be careful – the skytrain and the underground! These days at peak times the underground and the skytrain are every bit as crowded as buses – and pickpockets are targeting skytrain and underground commuters. A bar owner got off a packed skytrain this week and noticed that one of the compartments in his laptop bag had been unzipped. He then discovered his iPhone, which had been stored there, had been taken. Too late, the skytrain was already zooming towards the next stop.
Could Sukhumvit soi 33 be ready to make a comeback? Infrequent mentions in this column of what was once known as Millionaires Row are seldom favourable, yet enough is happening in the soi to warrant a mention. Plans for the building that housed Renoir are now clear. It will be a British-themed pub, called the Bull & Bush with one of the guys who was behind The Bull's Head involved. With 4 British pubs within a few minutes' walk, there's a market there to tap in to. And with confirmation that the plans really are for a 5-level venue, including a pub on one floor, a restaurant on another, a cigar smoking room and a rooftop bar, it should offer something a little different. Factor in that the popular boutique hotel in the soi looks like it is about to change hands and any redevelopment there along with the opening of the Bull & Bush, and not forgetting the recently opened Velvet, well, there might just be reason to believe a renaissance in soi 33 is possible. Let's wait and see.
One of my favourite bars, Pretty Lady Bar, in Nana Plaza, is having a Diamond Party on Friday 21st, with free food, sexy shows and a lucky draw every hour with a chance to win drinks and barfines. You may just find a diamond in the rough.
The Strip in Patpong soi 2 has a special through until Friday June 19th. To coincide with the release of the new Superman movie, they're calling it the Supergirl week. Details below.
Lolita's in Sukhumvit soi 8 opens at 8 AM. If you need a kickstart to your day, you can drop by before breakfast!
Zen Bar, the open beer bar just to the right of the entrance to Nana Plaza, is offering happy hour prices all night long on Mondays and Wednesdays. That means all local beers and house spirits are just 79 baht all night.
The Japanese government has announced that it will allow visa-free entry for Thais visiting Japan although the exact details have yet to be announced. Why does this news appear in a column for Westerners in Bangkok? I imagine few expats would take their teeruk to Japan for a holiday, but because this policy will almost certainly have an effect on the number of Thai women who go to work in Japan. Just as there will be increase in Thai women who choose to ply their trade in Tokyo, expect direct approaches from those with bars in Tokyo to Thai women with the lure of plenty of Yen. Expect to hear more Thai spoken on the streets of Tokyo and behind the curtains of venues with bright neon lights.
Who is the Aussie with way too much cash in his pocket supporting a girl in a Pattaya soi 6 bar to the tune of 80,000 baht per month? I don't spend that much per month living in Bangkok! This girl used to go upstairs 4 or 5 times a day until her Romeo came along and made her an offer no working girl could refuse. She also happens to be dripping in gold, all courtesy of the lovelorn Aussie who works in the mines of Western Australia. For the time being she remains working in the bar and again, for the time being, she is being a good girl. Will she remain faithful?
Are you looking to meet some like-minded expats, to network, or meet some new friends? You might want to try the new Bangkok WNDC (Bangkok Wednesday Night Drinking Club). This is going to take place every Wednesday night starting at 6 PM and running until midnight at Tuk Tuk Bar. Whether you're an expat or just passing through, everyone is welcome. It is not a lady bar but a spot where you may find a game of domino being played by expats with Tuk Tuk or a place to watch live sports. Tuk Tuk Bar can be found in Queen's Park Plaza, in Sukhumvit soi 22.
Renowned thriller writer Steve Leather has published the latest in a line of Thailand-themed short stories. "The Ladyboy Lover" is about a guy who falls in love with a lady from Nana Plaza's longest running ladyboy bar, Casanova. You can get a copy for your Kindle here for less than a dollar.
Of all of Bangkok's farang bar areas, Nana Plaza seems to be doing the best at this time. There are more good bars in Nana than the other two major areas combined, and more genuinely pretty ladies. In addition to all the usual bars which are often mentioned like Rainbow 4, Billboard and Pretty Lady, Mercury is definitely worth sticking your head in. The current crew are a lot of fun and there's no shortage of pretties!
Many bars neglect marketing. Not Billboard in Nana Plaza. Check out this Bangkok gogo bar video! It's been on YouTube for a few weeks and really makes you want to go and check it out.
Bangkok's love affair with wine bars and boutique wine outlets continues with Home of Wine opening on the main Sukhumvit Road this week, directly opposite soi 22. It's a small, 2-shophouse venue that doubles as a wine bar and a wine shop. It's an odd location surrounded by businesses selling sacks of rice to old cameras and film to street food. It's an unusual location for a wine bar, but with soi 22 looking like it will move more upmarket perhaps there's a market there.
I recently saw a photo on a forum of a well-known bar owner who had lost a lot of weight – and I mean a lot of weight. He had been dreadfully overweight for a long time, all the worse given that he's still relatively young. He has really trimmed down. I then heard that it was drug-induced weight loss which would explain why it was so rapid. Would he have taken weight loss drugs in his home country? I gather the drugs he used are not approved in the West. Drug use is widespread in Thailand – and I don't just mean the likes of the usual narcotics. Many Western residents shoot themselves up with testosterone, steroids, and all sorts of other shit. I never cease to be amazed at the stuff some foreigners do in Thailand that I imagine they would never do at home. And this is not something to blame on the Thais – these guys have made a conscious decision themselves.
The Game, the sports bar under the Nana BTS, has done very well in its first year and will celebrate their first anniversary this coming Thursday, June 20th, with a free buffet and drinks specials all day. If you have yet to check it out, this is as good a time as any.
The litter police have been more active recently in and around Emporium. You see them predominately out the front of Benjasiri Park, next to Emporium.
Pattaya is many things to many people, but there is one thing it might just be to all of us, the bus capital of Thailand! With so many visitors to Pattaya and so many tour groups visiting on whirlwind tours, buses are everywhere. With the beachfront through to Second Road bursting at the seams with hotels and visitors, wherever you go in Pattaya there are buses. It feels like the bus capital of Thailand!
No-one seems to know what's going to happen when employment in the ASEAN region opens up in 2015. What is understood is that employment restrictions will be lifted for certain professions and one of those is nursing. With Thailand heavily promoting medical tourism, and the fact that English skills aren't great in Thailand, there is an opportunity for nurses from the Philippines to seek employment in Thailand. In fact many Filipino nurses are working here already! At Yanhee Hospital, a facility famous for plastic surgery and which attracts many foreign patients, there are around 80 Filipina nurses. The management says they get along very well with foreign patients – and no doubt their superior English skills are a big part of that.
Bring your umbrella if you're visiting Bangkok for we've been having heavy downpours most days. The Thais are saying the rainy season is here but it isn't really typical rainy season weather. It can rain morning, afternoon or night. Sometimes it's a brief torrential downpour and other times it drizzles for hours. It's a pain in a city where heavy rain inevitably means the traffic chokes up citywide. The nightlife industry is affected when it rains early evening as many girls don't bother going to work. And to make matters worse, some bars in Patpong soi 2 experienced power outages on Monday night due to heavy downpours.
Reader's story of the week comes from The Silent Majority and is titled "As Good As A Rest" – excellent read!
A record number of dengue fever infections in Thailand and deaths has been predicted for this year.
A Chatuchak Market pet shop owner is found with 14 rare lions and other rare species, and is arrested.
Forbes.com looks at what it calls the brutal business of child boxing in Thailand.
The case of the 93-year old German / Aussie charged with kiddy fiddling has been suspended due to the accused's bad health.
An American accused of selling drugs and wanted by FBI is arrested in Bangkok.
The Bangkok Post takes a novel look at the idea of how it would be if Bangkok was redesigned to reflect reality.
A disgusting Kiwi child sex tour organsier loses his appeal.
Reuters reports that Isaan is booming, great for the region known as the poorest in Thailand.
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 bought a condo off-plan in Pattaya in December, 2010. The contract states the date of completion as December 2012. It's almost completed now but the delay is 6 months as of now and the contract stipulates returning my money if the delay is more than 6 months. Now for various reasons I want to use that "money back" clause which runs as follows: "In case the Seller is not able to complete and deliver the unit to the Buyer on scheduled time, and it's agreed that 180 days of delay will not be considered as a default on the Seller's part, regardless of any reason whatsoever, the Buyer is entitled to receive a full refund of all money paid." My question is: given the wording of the clause (absence of time frame for refund) and the existent law practices in Thailand, how high are my chances to actually claw back my money out of court? And if worse comes to worst, what are my chances of winning in court and how lengthy and pricey might it be?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Before requesting the refund it is best to review your contract and check two things:
1. What advance notice (if any) is required for you to give the developer that you intend on terminating the sale.
2. Within how many days is the developer required to provide the refund after termination notification has been sent.
If you have submitted your notification letter to terminate the sale and purchase agreement due to the developer's failure to deliver the completed condominium to you (after all the extended period), and the developer still refuses to return all the money that you have put down, you should retain a lawyer to initiate the legal action in the following order:
Your lawyer sends a demand letter (acting on your behalf to demand for your refund) – giving 15 – 30 days for the developer to reply and / or respond. If they fail to respond within this given timeframe you then proceed with the court process.
As this is a civil case (breach of agreement), you (as the claimant) must pay a court fee equivalent to 2% of the claim amount. If you are able to resolve the dispute during the mediation stage (the initial stage of the court process), you will be given a partial refund on your court fees, but if this goes through the full court process (the trial), then the court fees will not be refunded.
The chance of winning the case depends on the witness(es) and evidence that both parties bring up in court and your lawyer will need to see your side of the documents first. Please note that the amount awarded (the court decision) will be at the discretion of the judge.
The case (civil case) may take approximately 3 – 9 months depending on the court's availability, the complexity of the case and postponement of sessions made by either side of the dispute. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you with determining the wording of the contract precisely and, if needed, take it a further legal step.
Question 2: My girlfriend has a 3-year old girl who lives with her mom. The father is Thai and she was married with him but divorced before the girl was born. The father visits his daughter every month for half a day. My girlfriend takes care of the girl financially 100% and her mother who takes care of the girl. The father has announced that he will take the baby girl with him and his new girlfriend. Is that legal in Thailand? What can be done to avoid that?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: According to section 1536 of family law, “A child born of a woman during wedlock or within three hundred and ten days after the termination of the marriage is presumed to be the legitimate child of the husband or the man who used to be the husband, as the case may be. If the child was born more than 310 days after the divorce then he is not the legal father unless he was registered as such at the District Office.
We would need to see the divorce agreement between the man and the woman at the time that they divorced at the district office because it would normally specify about alimony and child custody and maintenance. If the child custody issue was not stated in the agreement, then it would be presumed that both parents will have an equal share and responsibility, which means that any legal action related to the child must be with consent from both sides (e.g. applying for the child's visa or making a passport or enrolling the child into a school).
If there is no divorce agreement between them, it should be considered that they have an equal right to the child.
One of the parents may file a petition at the Family Court to have sole custody of the child, but it does not mean that the court would award what is requested. All decisions would be made with the ultimate goal being the child's best interest and considering each parent's appropriateness and behaviour.
To prevent the child being taken away, the client should advise everyone, teachers etc, that nobody but the mother is allowed to take the child out.
Sunbelt Asia can help in determining the divorce agreement and in informing the father of his parental rights and those of the mother. Sometimes having a third party negotiate in these matters can avert custody issues.
Have you noticed that I mention the same bars over and over again in this column? Have you ever wondered why that is? It's quite simple and there are two reasons. The first is that there is a small number of bars which provide me with news of events and promotions and parties taking place. There is an open offer to all bars to provide me with info about such events and receive a mention here, yet not that many venues take advantage of it. The other reason is that there is a very limited number of bars that I enjoy visiting. I don't visit every bar because there are many bars I just plain don't like unless I have a very specific reason to do so – and as such there are plenty of venues that never get mentioned. So to all bar owners and managers or owners of establishments, don't be shy to let me know of any events, parties, promotions or orgies taking place at your venue. If I don't know about it, I can't tell people about it. I can't be everywhere at once and there is plenty I miss so do let me know what's going on at your place!
Your Bangkok commentator,