The Bangkok Shutdown, Endless Frustrations
It's 3 weeks since the Bangkok shutdown started, a plan of action to topple the government by paralysing downtown Bangkok. It has not lived up to its name and its goals have not been achieved. Many businesses located near the protests sites have seen a sharp downturn in trade, residents have been inconvenienced, travel plans postponed or cancelled. Now there is widespread frustration. Frustration at not knowing what the day might bring. Frustration that there is no end in sight. And the big one, frustration at the realisation that resolution in what is clearly a divided country seems very unlikely.
The patterns at the protest sites became clear after the first few days – a small number of permanent residents, predominantly southerners, sleep at the protest sites in tent villages which are more photographed than Bangkok icons. Each day after work and at the weekend they are joined by Bangkokians in dwindling numbers.
The number of permanent residents at the sites is small, and the number of Bangkokians who join them after work is in decline. Protester numbers at some protest stages are so low that at certain times of the day vendors outnumber protesters. Is interest waning? Is it that there is no longer any value posting selfies to Facebook from protest sites? Or is there a feeling that as temperatures rise, things are getting more dangerous?
Protester fatigue must be an issue. The lure of free food isn't enough. Some stages feature local celebrities performing but usually only for short periods. Free food and occasional entertainment is hardly enough to maintain interest.
Many of the speakers on stage say the same as those before them have said. It's the same old message told over and over and over again. Some screech abuse and don't leave the stage until they lose their voice. A few are more articulate and hold the crowd's interest. It reminds me of many Thai weddings, the happy couple speaking on stage while the audience just does their own thing, few paying genuine attention.
At the Asoke protest site my pet peeve is the guards. Security has been beefed up and along with their bandana, army jacket and mirror sunglasses, some have added a protective (bulletproof? stab-proof?) vest to their uniform.
In other parts of town, photos have emerged over the past 24 hours of guards involved in gun fights, proof of what has long been mooted – some guards are armed.
Around protest sites the cityscape has been scarred. Graffiti covers the outer walls of the Royal Thai Police Headquarters. The gates are firmly locked, razor wire deployed while inside it's peaceful and policemen kick a football around.
All along the outer walls of the Police HQ protesters have scrawled messages. Some are distasteful, some are crass while a few feature a healthy dose of humour.
This one translated says, "National Zoo, free entry today only". The drawing of a monitor lizard, known as hia in Thai, is a huge insult and one of the worst things you can call a Thai.
The protest sites have attracted westerners, both locals and visitors. Tourists seem to find it all rather amusing, the impression of one visitor I got chatting with made me laugh as she asked, is this really a serious protest? Certainly many visitors, even first-time visitors to Bangkok, don't seem to find the situation threatening and many find it rather amusing. Don't be lulled in to a false sense of security. Hundreds have been injured and a dozen or so killed since the protests began.
A small number of Westerners are regulars at the protest sites, decked out in colours showing their support. The Westerner in the photo above has been a fixture at the Asoke stage for a week or so. He can be seen in the same spot every day, not far from the stage and right next to a bank of loudspeakers.
Masses can be seen on the stretch of Rama 1 Road between the Rachaprasong (Central World) and Patumwan (MBK) intersections where protester wear, cheap eats and other junk found at street markets is sold.
Photos such as this are what business owners downtown are clinging to, the very image they want to project of a safe, happy downtown Bangkok. While that is what this photo may show, one ought to consider that the gun fights which took place in other parts of the city could have happened here.
Protesters sleep with speakers blaring, little different to villages around the country where the chief gets on the speaker system rigged throughout the village and starts making announcements around the same time the chickens start clucking.
The same message is belted out over and over and over again, at times making me wish I did not understand the local vernacular. You can only curse someone so many times before it becomes nauseating. It reminds me of that scene in Silence Of The Lambs where Hannibal Lecter is tortured by the warden of the psychiatric hospital who has placed a TV outside his cell tuned 24 hours a day 7 days a week to a religious channel.
For foreign visitors, inconvenience remains a possibility. Some things can be planned for and got around, others, well, you just don't know what may happen.
Everything feels like it is on hold in Bangkok. The hospitality industry is in the doldrums. Popular bars and restaurants are doing numbers that would hurt in low season, and are agonising in the high season. Few parties and events are being held and little is being planned for. Visitor numbers aren't there and many expats choose to spend their free time at home. Disruptions can be difficult to avoid.
The general election takes place today. Taking cues from what happened at advance voting last weekend – when those who are unable to vote today could cast their vote – trouble can't be ruled out. Last weekend one protest leader was killed with a bullet to the head and skirmishes were reported around the city. Yesterday there were gun battles in the north of the city. The pro-government red shirts may go out to ensure that those who wish to vote can, while the protesters have threatened to shut down Bangkok once and for all which would make getting to a polling station a mission.
Today might be a good day to stay home and watch reruns of last night's match of Stoke crushing Manchester United.
Red shirt leaders talk of relocating the capital to Chiang Mai, hometown of the caretaker Prime Minster, while an academic has come out and said that the divide between the north and south of the country could see Thailand split. Few genuinely see this as a possibility but that talk has plunged to a level never heard before shows how deeply divided Thailand is.
Thais have many wonderful characteristics, but conflict resolution is not one of them. There is no end in sight to the Bangkok Shutdown. The divisions in Thai society now seem so deep that one wonders how they will be resolved.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken outside South Sathorn Square, near the Chongnonsee BTS station. There are two prizes each week, a 500 baht voucher to use at Bully's, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4 and a 300 baht voucher to use at Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok's original Mexican grill with several branches in Bangkok.
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 and ONLY the first answer emailed counts! You MUST specify which prize you would prefer and failure to specify a prize will disqualify you from being eligible to claim one.
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 – Body art, another form of marketing.
Like you, I've viewed with amusement the massive growth of body ink in Thailand over the years, much like how piercings in body parts other than earlobes have grown in America. I was talking with a bargirl in Airport A Gogo in Pattaya who had a very impressive full-back tattoo. It was a professional job, a kitten with a money-tree with intricate shading to give a 3-dimensional impression. Cost – 80,000 baht already and it's still not done. The girl also had full braces on, which was another 20k baht in 4 separate payments. She was clearly catering to the Japanese market given the "kawaii" look she had, the intricate hairdo (3 hours), etc. Excellent English and she actually knew a bit about the world beyond the usual horizons of bargirls. It made me consider that "body art" could indeed be as good an investment for some bargirls as braces, breast enhancements, etc. because she didn't have a tattoo anywhere else on the body. 80,000 seems like a lot but if it makes her stand out to the target audience – it doesn't take that many successful barfines to make back the investment. And unlike the chest / shoulder tats, her body art could be easily covered up for a more respectable appearance. Not that she put it in that context. All she had to say about the full-back tattoos is that she liked it. I think she would have considered it rude if I even suggested that the body art constituted good marketing strategy for her target customer demographic. I think the trend of breast-enhancement surgeries would be a good point of comparison. It used to be that bargirls got them because their sponsors / boyfriends paid for them. Then girls started paying for the procedure themselves, but if you ask why they always said that they just liked it. Yet it'd be difficult to imagine that girls in the industry for years, judging by their age and English proficiency, would be unaware of the marketing benefits of enhanced cleavage. That's why I think it's a matter of "face". Whether it's breast implants or body art (which I distinguish from cheap home-made tats), the girls prefer to think of and talk about the alterations as something they like rather than an investment in their "product".
Branding your bargirl.
Having spent time in Bangkok with a Japanese company, the tattoo with three characters (大森真) above the subject's waist line on one of your photos actually reads as somebody's name, Ohmori Makoto, where Ohmori (2 characters) is the family name and Makoto (the last character, which may be pronounced as Shin also) is the given name. The word 'sajo' is probably a mispronunciation of company president, 'shacho' (社長), the first character of which means 'company' and the second 'head'. It seems, as I've already read in your column, that some cruel bugger is going around the bars in Bangkok and picking out girls to have his name tattooed without their knowledge that it's his name that they are going to be displaying on their bodies.
More accepted in Farangland, more accepted in Thailand.
Over the past 2 generations in the UK and definitely the last generation, attitudes towards tattoos have changed massively. In generations before mine (I'm 32) the only person with ink was my Grandma's brother, a bit of a black sheep who ran away to join the navy (so your point about sailors was spot on!). Now, no matter socio-economic status or education, there's a reasonable chance they might have a tattoo. Even the types of people who tattoo are changing. My artist is a fine art graduate with a teacher wife, 2 kids and drives a nice BMW! In Thailand too I think attitudes are changing. I've dated loads of office girls, uni girls and waitresses who have tattoos (usually on their backs) and a significant number more who want them but are scared of their parents' reaction. Go around places like Talad Rot Fai or the vintage clothes part of JJ where 'cool' (rock / hipster / indie) young Thais hang out and you will see a lot of guys and girls with decent, well-designed and inked tats. A few weeks ago I was at Sote in Rachada with some friends and we were drinking with some Thai DJs. These guys were well inked but were wearing Tag watches and designer clothes – a far cry from the stereotypical Thai guy with tattoos. My guess is that as with most things, tattoos will move more and more from counter culture and niche cultures until they are more mainstream. My personal experience has generally been positive. I've had many girls message me on dating sites just to say my tattoos are cool. I've had a few girls who say I look scary but once we've chatted they can see that's not the case at all. That said, the tattoos on the girls in your article are appalling! I'm a huge fan of great body art and think it can even be sexy (although boob tattoos are NEVER hot). However, with the exception of the girl in the orange shorts whose work looks reasonable, all the non-traditional tattoos look absolutely horrible!
Where's the scanner?
I noticed on my last visit to Pattaya a year ago one bargirl had a "bar code" (as usually seen on products at supermarkets) tattooed on her back. "Hmm", thought I, "You can just run her through the scanner and find out the price for the night." Heck of a deal!
Leaving David to become a butterfly.
A Thai lady friend of mine had Dave tattooed above her left breast when she was young and wild, but got it covered up with a butterfly. I'm sure she regrets it now. At least that's the impression I get when I mention its inconvenience when she wants to dress sexy (expose some of her 'assets'). She has a traditional religious type of tattoo on her back, and then she got a couple of tigers done in the same style, probably to cover stretch marks. Not at all successfully. I really don't like any of these at all.
American airlines thumbs down.
I will go a long way not to fly internationally with any American airline. They're all the same, staffed with aged, indolent, lazy, ill-tempered, shiftless old crones and geezers. The food is terrible, the service worse. My first choice is any Asian airline and I've flown them all. The last two visits the missus and I got a good deal and superb service on Singapore Airlines. Very pleasant. However, for our upcoming flight in April, I found a nice price on Qatar Airlines. Two people, round trip, $1,984 and change. I'm looking forward to seeing what the Arabs have to offer.
Beware of Putin!
Warning: Last week at the entrance to Terminal 21, a guy who looks like a younger Putin was standing nearby watching the currency exchange window. I was sure he would follow me out – and he did. Each time I would stop he would halt, light up and gaze around. I took the overpass and climbed in a taxi. At my age, 72, retreat is the best policy.
Plug for the Nana Hotel.
My luggage did not arrive with me on Air China from Beijing. It took 23 more hours to get it to me. The Nana Hotel staff, day and night, helped greatly with calls and translations. They even gave me a running account on its progress to the hotel, and one clerk called my room on his day off to make sure all was as it should be.
Girl of the week
Club Electric Blue, Patpong soi 2.
The effect of the political protests on businesses located near the protest sites seems to be worsening. A week ago bars and restaurants were down by 30%, in some cases 40%, but this week some are down by 50%. A small number of businesses benefiting – the excellent Pala Pizza Romana below the Asoke skytrain station has been doing a roaring trade since the Asoke protest site was set up 3 weeks ago and the owner must be hoping the protesters will remain there for a long time to come!
The effects of the protests and the downturn in the number of visitors has seen many girls not bothering to go in to work…which exacerbates the problem of fewer customers. With Bangkok bargirls increasingly Internet savvy, they have alternative means of finding customers and there is a definite trend towards working fewer days and targeting higher yield customers. On Friday and Saturday night the girls come out, but early week it can be very quiet in some bars.
It's election day today, bars can open but they are not supposed to sell alcohol until midnight. Expect things to be the same as last weekend, meaning alcohol will be available at Nana and Patpong although it might not be immediately obvious. Soi Cowboy bars will have plenty of Coke, water and orange juice to serve and alcohol might be hard to find before midnight.
The reason that alcohol is served in some bar areas and not in others is that each of the 3 major Bangkok bar areas is in a different police district – and different police stations enforce the law differently. Soi Cowboy falls within the Thonglor police district. In addition to Soi Cowboy, the entire Soi Thonglor entertainment area, as well as the likes of the Robin Hood, The Dubliner, The Londoner and The Royal Oak are all also in the Thonglor police district. Last night, the supervisor of The Royal Oak was arrested after alcohol was openly being sold after 6 PM. Other pubs in the area were sensible – open but dry. Being farthest down soi 33/1, beyond The Robin Hood and The Dubliner, perhaps The Royal Oak thought they could get away with it. They tried, and they failed.
On the subject of English pubs, The Robin Hood still has pints of Carlsberg at 99 baht, all day, every day.
The long-running disco in the basement of the Novotel at Siam Square, CM2, closed its doors after hosting a New Year party. CM2 has been popular for years although its heyday is long ago. It was one of those late-night venues which had a little for everyone with live music, good drinks, and it made a reasonable attempt at being sophisticated with just enough to keep the poseurs happy. At the same time it had working girls to satisfy the horny businessmen staying upstairs as well as the sex tourist crowd. CM2 suffered in the face of competition from the many new players in the now very crowded late night freelancer venue market with Mixx in the basement of the Intercontinental Hotel more popular than CM2 in recent times. Expect CM2 to reopen in a few months although whether it will keep the same name remains unclear.
Speaking of late night venues, on Sukhumvit it seems to be all Climax which has cleaned up the market. Other late night spots seem to be struggling. My favourite, Insanity, isn't the hit it once was and Mai Peng – the new name for the renovated Nana Disco – isn't doing as well as it should, given its great location and very reasonable drink prices. If you are a late night guy and want to go where the crowds are, the best choice on Sukhumvit at this time is Climax in soi 11.
Insanity will host its 1-year anniversary party on February 13th, that is Thursday of next week, with a bunch of celebrities and an open bar from 11 PM until 1 AM for expat card members, ladies card members and invitation holders.
Bully's (between Sukhumvit sois 2 and 4) doors open at 6 AM on Monday morning for those keen to enjoy a hot breakfast buffet including endless coffee. You can enjoy a Bloody Mary, Screwdriver or beer of your choice while watching the Super Bowl. The Bully's breakfast Super Bowl deal runs 500 baht, VAT and service charge included.
Sunrise Tacos' Sukhumvit soi 12 and Silom branches will also show the Super Bowl. Unlimited coffee is 69 baht at the soi 12 branch and breakfast starts at 149 baht. If you prefer to drink, cold beers are just 85 baht.
Crazy numbers are not so unusual in Bangkok but a friend was quoted 10,000 baht by a girl in Amethyst in Pattaya this week.
For any naughty boys considering a trip over to the Philippines who have Angeles City on their radar, don't bother asking me for hints or tips. I've never been and doubt I ever will go. But there is a fellow who is something of an expert on Angeles and who is willing to answer any questions you might have about Angeles. That is Larry, the former manager at Secrets in Pattaya who is now the public relations officer at Babydolls in the next soi over. Larry loves to talk about Angeles and has dozens of trips there. Pop in to Babydolls, ask for Larry and you'll be well looked after.
That small side lane of naughty massage houses just off Sukhumvit soi 24 and opposite the side entrance to Emporium turned in to a boxing ring this week as 5 girls took on one. So the story goes, a girl who worked at one of the massage houses left to start her own massage house. Words must have been said or something must have happened because merely going in to business to compete against your former employer doesn't usually result in a catfight. She found herself set upon by a bunch of her former colleagues and her former mamasan. The incident was photographed and the photos have gone viral. Who knows exactly what caused things to kick off but from eye witness accounts it was nasty!
I hear about bargain rates being offered by Bangkok hotels hurting with low occupancy rates due to the downturn in visitors because of the ongoing political crisis and the protests downtown. I say I hear about these rates because I have not seen any evidence of discounts. Scanning through the major online booking sites shows most hotel rates at what you'd expect them to be in the high season. And neither have there been any major advertising blitzes in the local press that I've seen. If these hotels really are hurting, why not give people a reason to stop by? Most 5-star properties have restaurants on the premises so why don't they offer some deals to entice those of us who live here to visit? Hotel restaurants have some of the highest prices in the city and no doubt there's plenty of fat built in to their prices. Slashing menu prices with 50% discounts (as many of the hotel dining clubs offer) would attract customers – and they'd still be profitable, I bet. There are all sorts of possible promotions to convince locals to try them out. But again, I have seen nothing! These hotels bleat and moan and whinge about the situation while their respective marketing departments do nothing.
But while hotel rates don't seem to be moving, airfares certainly are. A mate in Sydney sent the snapshot above from an Australian travel agency this week. This is the first time he has ever seen a fare to Bangkok cheaper than the lowest priced fare to Bali.
The difficulty in finding staff in Thailand continues. A small French bistro in downtown Bangkok couldn't open one day this week as they simply didn't have enough staff. It wasn't that all the staff fell ill at the same time, rather they got better offers and left to work elsewhere. The labour market in Thailand is now so tight with some employers so desperate that they are approaching bar and restaurant staff at their place of work while they are on duty and asking them how much they earn and then, on the spot, offering them a significant salary increase to leave and go and work for them!
Durty Nelly's in Ekamai is currently closed for renovations. Or maybe they have staffing issues too?!
The Sportsman Bar's (Sukhumvit soi 13, ground floor of the Trendy) quiz league has started. The prizes include a Christmas dinner with a bottle of wine for each person on the winning team. 2nd place overall gets a 2,000 baht beer voucher for the team. The team that finishes 2nd from bottom also gets a 2,000 baht beer voucher. There will be random beer and food giveaways throughout the season. Weekly prizes include a 1,000 baht voucher for the winning team and 500 baht for 2nd place. Happy hour on Kilkenny 190 baht and Heineken 120 baht.
Quote of the week, "The more people I meet in Thailand, the more convinced I am that most people are as fxxxed up as I am, just in different ways."
Reader's story of the week comes from Korski, "Frank and Annabelle".
The courts have issued an arrest warrant for a Scotsman to answer charges of fraudulently posing as a lawyer.
The Nation reports on how hotels in Bangkok have been hit by the political crisis and ongoing protests.
The New York Times reports on a popular Thai aristocrat who goes against the trend of her peers and is pro-election.
Issues arising after hiring Jet Skis in Pattaya continue to plague visitors with 5 Russians the most recent victims.
A red shirt leader says it's time to get rid of the Bangkok elite!
Amazing footage as a dive boat sinks in the Similan Islands and foreigners on board jump for their lives!
Australian media report of a red wave which could swap Bangkok if the caretaker Prime Minister is deposed.
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 am considering purchasing a house here in Thailand which is company-owned. While I am quite happy to purchase it in my wife's name only, without company ownership, as this gives her and our children future security in the event that something happens to me, would having a property company-owned by us enable me to obtain a work permit?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Acquiring a property which is owned by a company could be easily completed without going through the land ownership transfer registration at the Land Office. You can change ownership of the company by filing the new shareholders list (a one-day process) and the changes (add & removing) of directors (3-week process). While acquiring the property from a company (where the company is not included in the sale) could also be done, you, as the foreign spouse, will be required to be present at the Land Office to sign a declaration that you are not involved with your wife's purchase of this property and this property shall not be considered as a marital asset in the case of divorce. The transaction will have to be completed at the Land Office, where there would be ownership registration fees. The good thing about acquiring only the asset of that company (the property) is that you do not have the running cost of maintaining the company (such as annual audit, half yearly report and / or monthly VAT filing, that is if that company is registered in the VAT system with the Revenue Department).
If you decided to acquire the whole package (the company including the property / assets within), you could also apply for a work permit, if the company met the Labour Department's basic requirements:
* That company must have registered capital of no less than 2 million baht (1 million if you are married to a Thai national).
* Four Thai employees (proven by filing the social funds).
* The applicant (you) must be holding either a Non-Immigrant “B” visa or Non-Immigrant “O” (Thai wife) visa.
There is a chance that the Land Department will be looking into their database to identify and bring up properties that are owned by juristic entities where they could seek cooperation from the Ministry of Commerce to see if such companies are a legitimate company or a non-performing company. Non-performing companies used solely to purchase land could find themselves under investigation as to the legitimacy of ownership. Sunbelt Asia's experienced legal advisors can assist you in purchasing such a company or in transferring the land titles to your wife's name.
Question 2: My wife and I have agreed to separate. We married in the amphur 3 years ago. We will remain friends, but my wife suggests that we don't divorce at the amphur, maybe because of the loss of face she will get in her village, but also to avoid all the practical things such as name change etc. So my question is this: Could I face any problems by NOT getting legally divorced and thereby remain legally married? And is there something else I should consider by not doing so? The reason why I agreed not to go to the amphur is because I'm not in a hurry to marry someone else and because I don't want to do more damage to her heart by going there right away. Third, I will have some visa advantages.
It is also important to remember that any assets you obtain during the separation would still be considered as marital assets upon divorce and thus subject to 50 / 50 division.
Finally, if you are in a serious relationship with another woman and if the friendship between you and your wife were to take a turn for the worse, she could sue your girlfriend for loss and damage to her reputation and could file for divorce suing for alimony etc on the basis that you are having an affair.
Also, it's important to note that each year that you extend your visa based on marriage to a Thai national you must provide photos of you and your wife together in your home. Your wife will also be required to attend the visa extension interview.
Questions flood in about the situation in Bangkok. How will things be next week, the week after or some other time in the future. It's impossible to say. Most of the skirmishes have taken place away from the downtown stages, Victory Monument being the one exception, and generally most of the trouble has not been in places where lots of expats live, or anywhere near places tourists go. While expats who live or work downtown seem a little annoyed by at all, and foreign business owners are screaming, I have yet to hear one foreign visitor say visiting Bangkok at this time was an error in judgment. Many seem to feel that the backdrop of protests is something of a bonus to their trip. Yes, there is a risk in visiting Bangkok at this time, a risk of inconvenience, or maybe something worse. But then there's always a risk visiting Bangkok, isn't there?
Your Bangkok commentator,