Stickman's Weekly Column October 4th, 2015

A Mexican in Bangkok




Chef Luis is the executive chef at Thailand's largest chain of Mexican restaurants, Sunrise Tacos. With a colourful background that includes dashing across international borders out of sight of border guards and doing a runner from Immigration officers as they raided a restaurant in which he was working illegally, Chef Luis is not just a great chef but quite a character. We sat down for a chat about life in Thailand, working with the Thais, why Americans get so bent out of shape over Mexican food and plenty else.



Chef Luis, Sunrise Tacos

Chef Luis, upstairs in Margarita Storm, Sukhumvit soi 12.



You're originally from Mexico. I thought Mexicans cross the border and work in America. Didn't America appeal to you?

I actually lived in America for almost 14 years. I really liked it there but after 14 years I went back to Mexico.

How did you get in to America? Did you go under or over the fence?

The first time I went to America I crossed the border near Tijuana. It was around 3 AM when the border guards changed and that is when we could cross.

And it was as easy as that?

<He laughs> No, the border guard saw me and he yelled, Stop chicken! I didn't stop, I ran!

Did he yell at you in English or Spanish?

He said, "Stop, chicken" in English! I ran and ran, did not look back and did not stop!

So you were with friends?

My uncle, my cousin and some friends, yes.

Did you laugh when he said that?

I was very afraid! I was just 16 years old. I was very nervous and afraid of the border guards!

That's a long time ago.

1989.

So is it the same now? Is it easy to cross from Mexico in to America now?

Now, it's not so easy. I have many friends who try to cross the border. Last year, one friend tried and didn't make it and he had to return to his hometown.

So why did you leave America after such a long time?

After 10 years working in the US with a clean record, the company I was working with got me all legal.

So you were an illegal for 10 years?

I was illegal for 10 years! <We both laugh>

That can't have been fun. Were you always looking over your shoulder?

Actually, I had to flee the restaurant or hotel where I was working more than 10 times. I was lucky and never got caught. I always knew before they came!

You knew? How? Is America like Thailand? Do the cops tip off businesses that are paying them before a raid takes place?

<Chef Luis laughs really loudly> Haha, no! I worked for big hotels and they always received a letter beforehand so we were aware that a raid would happen some time soon.

OK, enough about dodgy border crossings. Where did you learn to be a chef?

My mother worked in a kitchen for a government department in Mexico. I felt like I wanted to learn how to cook so I helped her make some salsas, clean the meat, make dips etc.

In America my first job was in Oregon where I picked apples. I worked there for 1 year. I didn't like it because it was hard work in cold weather. I moved down to Pasadena, in California. In Pasadena one of my friends recommended to me to work in the Hilton Hotel. I started there as a dishwasher and did that for 2 years.

Most people in the kitchen were Mexicans. They taught me how to use a knife, how to cut, how to prep. I was ready to work as an assistant cook and they introduced me to the executive chef. I said I needed a chance to learn. From there I started to learn, and I went through all the different stations in the kitchen. That's the best way to learn.

When I moved back to Mexico from the US, I looked for a job but no-one wanted to hire me. I knew Italian and American food, but they only wanted to hire a Mexican food chef. I had to make Mexican food…so I decided to go to a school and I learned to make Mexican food in Mexico.

So what companies did you work for in the USA?

I worked at big hotels like Hilton, Red Lion Hotel, Holiday Inn, Double Tree Hotel and Sheraton. The last hotel was the Benson Hotel in Portland, Oregon, which was a 5-star hotel.



Chef Luis, Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok

Pasta at Margarita Storm.



What did you cook there?

All different types of food – Japanese, Chinese, American and Italian.

After the hotels, I started to feel bored because it was always the same and I knew what was going to happen next. I felt like I needed a new challenge so I looked for a new job. I wanted to work in a restaurant chain. It might be less prestigious but it is more fun. I worked at Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Chilies, Hard Rock Café and Romano's Macaroni Grill which sent me to branches in different states.

I worked for a while at Joe's Crab Shack and some of the recipes there inspired me to create some new dishes at Margarita Storm.

So when did you actually become a fully-fledged chef?

I was a line cook. After 6 weeks I was called in to the office and given a uniform with my name on it and from that point on I was the executive sous chef. Officially, I started at 9 AM but I went in at 5:30 or 6:00 AM because I wanted to learn everything I could. My Mexican friends said I was stupid working for free but that's what I wanted to do. And it paid off. The manager saw how keen I was and within 6 weeks I became the sous chef. After half a year I was the executive chef.

The main store was out in Utah where they do their training. Whenever a new franchise opened they sent me to support the chefs there. Sometimes I went to towns in Wyoming and I was the only Mexican there. You can go like 20 kilometres and there is not one person, no exaggeration! When they see a Mexican, they think you ran all the way from the border. Kind of like when the border guard yelled Stop chicken and I never stopped running and ran all the way to Wyoming! They had never seen a live Mexican before and they were looking at me, all these cowboys, thinking, what ya doin' here, boy?!

Why did you leave America? Did Immigration catch you?!

No, I was legal! I just left…but then I had trouble if I wanted to go back. If I wanted to keep my residency I had to be there for 6 months minimum per year, but I didn't go back so it automatically expired.

So why did you go back to Mexico?

I was missing my family after so long away. When I went back it was totally different. I couldn't even find my house! My homestead was very small and when I went back it was really big. There were American restaurants like Wendy's, McDonald's and KFC. America had taken over and I felt like I was still in America! There were all these American department stores like Wal-Mart and Home Pro. This was America again! I left a small town with 8 districts and when I went back there were 120 districts.

Many businesspeople invested money there and had big plans. Big companies moved in from all around the world. This was a small town with a resort area and it became like a go to place like New York's Hamptons…but I guess maybe not quite as nice!

What did you do next?

For a month I enjoyed time with my family, no work and just spent time with friends. After a month, I started looking for something to do. I worked for one of the big hotels in my hometown for 6 months. One of my old friends was working for a Mexican chain restaurant, El Fo Gomcito. They have many branches in Mexico. He called me and said he knew I had been in America. He was an old school friend and was now a manager and wanted me to open one of these restaurants in my hometown. I was there for the opening. After a few months, I thought to open a small business myself to sell Chinese food. That went well as many people liked the food. The owner of this company came back to me as he knew I had married a Chinese lady.

Hold on a moment. You married a Chinese lady? Where did you meet her?

I met a Chinese lady who was studying Spanish in my hometown. They came to my restaurant and they all spoke English but no Spanish and I was the only one who spoke English. From there, I kept in touch with them, and you can guess the rest! Anyway, my friend wanted me to go to Beijing to open a branch of the restaurant there.

And you went?

I went to Beijing by myself and my wife was still in Mexico. She was pregnant and I went there myself for a few months. Then I went back to Mexico, and brought my wife and son to Beijing.

Tell me about China. What was it like living and working there?

Living in China is fun. Everything was new and some parts of the lifestyle are good, some not so good…like everywhere, really. It takes time to get to know the place. The Chinese people listen to you but you have to know how to talk with them and you need to be nice with them and be positive. In America, we can tell people straight or use words that are not so polite. My Chinese employees all had notepads and they always wrote down everything I taught them. If I taught them a recipe they would write it down and would ask questions about it. The next day they would follow the recipe, cook the dish and they would get everything right. They are excellent learners and good workers. Chinese workers always follow the recipe. They really like to do things well and they have pride and passion.

Did you have any difficulties of problems working in China?

Aha <he says, with a cheeky look in his eyes>.

One time all of the staff walked out! It was a 600-square metre restaurant and there 28 people in the kitchen. I'd been there about a week and I tried to do things my way. My boss was from New York and we made the staff listen to us and do things our way. This New Yorker had bought a Mexican restaurant. He said he didn't like the old chef's ways, the recipes weren't right and he wanted me to come in with my recipes and make changes. I told them that everything must go this way. Everyone just walked out. I was by myself with maybe 300 customers in the restaurant and there I was, the only chef in the kitchen!

One of the staff spoke good English. He had walked out with all the staff but he came back in. He said, Hey chef, you're working kind of hard! He explained how to talk to Chinese people. I looked at his face and felt he was a good guy. He gave me a few hints and when I said I was prepared to do things that way, he called all the staff and they came back in.

Different staff had a different coloured bandana which showed their position. Like yellow for prep and red for a senior cook, blue for a cook with 3+ years experience. This guy had a red bandana, he was like an assistant, almost a sous chef. And then everyone was back and we worked hard. I made him my sous chef.

He told me not to threaten the Chinese workers. He said the secret to working with Chinese was to engage them, make them feel important and then they will follow you. After that there were no more problems. I resigned from Beijing because the weather is so bad in Winter and the air pollution is so bad too. I moved to southern China which has better weather and is a better environment for my son.

I went down south to open a different restaurant and many staff wanted to follow me. The New Yorker boss called me and asked me not to take too many staff with me! The guy with the red bandana came down and then 7 staff arrived…and I was thinking, shit, you guys are going to make me problems with the old boss! This was a new restaurant with a new boss. It was Guangzhou and the boss there was an Aussie.

What other problems did you face in China?

In Guangzhou we were visited by my old friends, Immigration! Here in Thailand it is very easy to get a work permit but it is not like that in China. The first week I was here I got a work permit. In China, as a qualified, experienced chef and with a Chinese wife, I could not get a work permit.

So just like in America, you were illegal again?!

Yes <big smiles and laughter>. But this time I got caught! When I went south to get away from the cold it was a different district and I had to wait 3 months for a new work permit. Immigration visited us and when I showed them my work permit the officer said it was valid only in another district.

Actually, the first time they visited us I was back in Mexico. I had to bring 3 more Mexican chefs because we were expanding. So Immigration visited us and there were 4 of us, all without a work permit! Nearby was another Mexican restaurant owned by a Chinese guy who was a known Mafia figure with bars and all that. His restaurant used to be busy but we killed it. Immigration came in and went straight through the restaurant to the kitchen. There were about 10 Immigration officers. I saw them coming so walked a little, and then a little more, and then I ran! And no-one said Stop chicken this time! I ran and ran, out the restaurant, down the street, around the corner and I just kept running, for hundreds of metres! I got somewhere safe and I called the owner's assistant. She knew Immigration was at the restaurant and said that they wanted to arrest one guy – the guy who ran. And I was like, Yeah, that's me!

My boss placated me and said he had to pay a 25,000 RMB fine per person.

How much is that?

About 125,000 baht per person, or half a million baht total for the four of us.

Yikes!

I had not fronted to the Immigration officers when they originally came in the door and they were angry with me! They had retained my colleagues' passports.

We had to go to the Immigration office. When we were there I was looking around and thinking where can I run? I saw a tree and saw a branch and was thinking if we had to we could jump out the window, on to the tree, climb down and run. We were all speaking Spanish together cos we knew they couldn't understand!

One by one they called us in to the office. My boss's assistant was all super polite and greasy with the Immigration officer. He asked if I knew who he was. I said no, I didn't know, I only know you're Immigration. He was like, I am the big boss…and I was like, I don't want to go to jail! He had all our passports and he said, I can send you back to Mexico now! The boss's assistant was beside me nudging me to be nice to him. He threw my passport down hard on the desk. We were charged and it went to court. After 3 months we eventually got our work permits.

I was visited one more time by Immigration. At that time, I had another 3 assistants. I had a work permit but the three new guys didn't! So we were arguing about what to do. I had my work permit so they couldn't do anything to me…but my boss had to pay fines again.

There's so much red tape over there to get a work permit.

But the money is good there. I actually made more money in China than I did in the US.

Sounds like a sign of the future.

They paid for my apartment, medical, food, flights to Mexico, even my laundry, everything was paid for. It was great! Not every company is like that but my salary was higher than in the USA and I had all these benefits.

I thought the Chinese were cheap?

No, not at all! They spend a lot of money and they drank Tequila like it's water. But they are good with money and they plan. From the past, people died because they had no money but now it's different. When they go out to try something new or different, like Mexican food, just one couple may order 6 plates of food because they want to try a bit of everything. They don't finish it all but they like to try it. If it's a big family, they order so much food.



Chef Luis, Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok

Calamari at Sunrise Tacos' sister restaurant, Margarita Storm.



So why did you come to Thailand?

My son has breathing issues when it's really cold. Even in the south of China, in Winter time it was a problem for him.

So, was Thailand to be the 3rd country you ran from Immigration?

Haha, no, not any more! I searched in Google for Mexican restaurants in Bangkok and found Sunrise Tacos. When I came to Bangkok I went to the Sunrise Tacos main branch and there was Big Greg. This was when the city was flooding, no-one was around and Terminal 21 had just opened. It was October, 2011.

I started here November 27th, 2011 and I had a work permit. Yeah! More important, my wife and son were legally able to stay in Thailand as I had a long-term visa and their visa is connected to mine based on having a work permit.

Did Sunrise have a Mexican chef then?

I hear that there used to be this big Mexican guy who looked like Vin Diesel but when I arrived, no.

So you were hired as the executive chef? Tell me about working in Thailand.

First, there was no more stop chicken! Working in Thailand was kind of hard, especially the first 3 months, and especially working with the local people. They are very different how they work. The culture is totally different to both the USA and China. The workplace culture is very different.

If I compare China and Thailand, Thai people are nice and I really love them. But they are poor listeners, especially when a foreigner says something. When a Thai mother or senior Thai person speaks to them, they listen. But they don't listen to foreigners. And in the workplace, a Thai person can bellow at another Thai if they are old enough or senior enough, but even when I am the executive chef, I cannot do that or even say anything. They would see it as my fault for saying something not nice! I don't raise my voice. Thais are very sensitive when it comes to foreigners. It's almost like they are looking for an excuse to cry. Their Thai boss can do or say anything and they will apologise and feel bad about it, but not a foreign boss!

One thing I liked with the Chinese is that you teach them something once, and you go back and check and they are doing it exactly how you told them to. With a Thai, if you go back and check they have taken shortcuts and do not follow your instructions. Here it is totally different to China. I'll give you an example. One of our recipes requires you to mash the ingredients fresh. They must be fresh. The same way they make Thai som tam with a pestle and mortar. I soon figured out that some Thai staff had used a blender. They thought it was the same, but it is not. The flavour and texture is totally different. I had to explain a number of times before they got it. In China, that would never be a problem. As soon as you turn your back here they do it their way! I would tell them they had used the blender and they would outright lie and deny it! So I would bluff and ask them if I had to check the camera (there isn't one) and they would become sheepish. That is just one example of so many.

In China the staff always want to learn and time doesn't matter. They will come to work early because they're so keen to learn. Come early or go home late, they were ok with it so long as they are learning. They never said no. Nothing was ever a problem! Even in the US, many cooks would stay and work long hours and be happy. But here in Thailand, it's different! Actually, it's not just the local people. The Filipinos always look at their watch too. As soon as their shift finishes, they just walk out the door. The Burmese are very good, they are excellent. They stay late and work hard. And that is good because they are not in the 4:1 quota system for work permits. There is red tape but it's different. In China, the staff had notepads and manuals which they would take home and study. I never saw a Thai in the kitchen with a notepad and the manuals always sit in the same place and never move!

I have found the Thais are more polite as a people. I hated it when you saw a beautiful girl walking down the street in China and then she spat on the street!

I know that from time to time you go around and try the food in other Mexican restaurants here in Bangkok – what do you make of it? Before you answer that question, let me tell you a story. I went to La Manita and I thought the food was terrible, but my Thai other half thought it was the best Mexican she had ever had. When I asked her why, she said it was Thai flavored food using Mexican style ingredients like beans, soft tortillas etc and so it appealed to her.

I should mention that in China we tried to make authentic Mexican food like chili enogaga, pollo mole, pozole, zopitos, cochinita, tampiquena and menudo. Not many people liked authentic Mexican. These dishes you would not find in a lot of Mexican restaurants. It's very hard to sell them because people don't know them but actually, in Mexican restaurants in North America, they will have them. In China, after we added nachos, quesadillas and burritos, business improved.

What do you mean by authentic? It's all Mexican, right?

In Mexico, there's a big difference between food in different regions. It's a big country. In the north, the tortillas are different to the tortillas in the south and the way of cooking is different. And with Mexican food in America, in say Houston, the way they do things is different from one side of the tracks to the other. So you can even split a city like Houston by different Mexican food styles!

Actually, now Mexicans have adapted and you can find nachos, quesadillas and fajitas all over Mexico! Even 10 years ago, you could not find these in my hometown. I asked my mum to make a burrito and she's like, what's that!



Chef Luis, Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok

The Cowboy Tacos at Sunrise Tacos are the top seller on the menu.



Why do some Americans get SO angry about their idea of Mexican food! They rant and rave and some even get ugly – uglier than I ever see them get over anything else, perhaps politics aside. Some rant and go on and say, this isn't Mexican! Honestly, Mexican food brings out the very worst in some Americans (and only Americans) and it seems to be a VERY emotive issue. Sometimes I think you could shag an American's wife and serve him Mexican food not to his taste and the latter would make him angrier!

It depends on the version of Mexican food they are used to. They will probably never be happy unless they eat the version of Mexican food they are used to. Like in the Yucadan, they use a lot of nuts and anise and cinnamon but if you use that in some dishes, these people would say the kitchen doesn't know what it's doing by putting nuts in their Mexican, but actually it is authentic to that region! Look at Thai food, it's different between the south, the north, the northeast etc. We cater to a lot of Americans, especially those from California who really love our food. Even from New York, they like it too. We have to cater to the majority. We have 12 branches so we have to appeal to what the majority wants and offer the top sellers. We have tried to adapt to what people want. I am a Mexican executive chef and I will try to make special requests and stuff not on the menu. You can ask me!

I had a woman tell me she didn't care for our soft corn tortillas which we make from imported corn using the nixtamal method. She grew up with tortillas using maseca which is instant corn flour mix. It's like using real potatoes for mashed potatoes or instant mash in a box. It's how she grew up. She said she would come back to show me how to make chili con carne. Everyone has their own ideas. Why do some people think they know more about Mexican food than a trained chef from Mexico?! I will always make a dish for any guest the way they like it. Just ask for me and happy to do so if I'm at the location.

Chef Checkie is from Michoacán which is known for carnitas, a slow-roasted pork dish. Just as som tam is famous in Isaan, this is famous in Mexico. And just as som tam is different in different parts of Isaan, so is Mexican food different in different parts of Mexico.

So what are the challenges making Mexican food here?

We use top grade beef. Good beef is readily available in the US but here we import it from Australia. We have chilies imported from Mexico. A Mexican avocado is going to taste different from an Australian or New Zealand avocado. Everything else is local. Tomatoes here just don't taste the same. Sorry, but Thai tomatoes just aren't great. The colour, the flavor…no! Tomatoes in the US are fresh and juicy, but not here! Even something as simple as the cilantro and the onions taste different here…so Mexican food here will never taste exactly the same as home. In Mexico, you get an aroma from these ingredients when you hold them at a distance from your nose but with the Thai-grown you can hold it right up to your nose and hardly smell it! The jalapenos we get are only available at a certain time of year. Cheese is many times the price here than it is in the US and a lot of people are always comparing the price of our food compared to the US. What they don't realise is that rent here is higher, good quality meat is much more expensive and avocados, cheese and sour cream are all so expensive! The actual costs are really high given that we source quality ingredients.



Chef Luis, Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok

Chef Checkie, left, and Chef Luis, right.



So you also run the kitchen at Margarita Storm?

Margarita Storm was born because boss wanted to introduce some of the dishes I cooked which were based on recipes I learned at restaurants in America, and so Boss Greg started Margarita Storm.

Are there a lot of Mexicans in Bangkok? Is there a Mexican community here?

It's very small. I heard the embassy say there might be 100 Mexicans here. We've had Mexicans come in and have a birthday here.

Today, everyone is a restaurant critic. You have a couple of plaques here showing Sunrise Tacos is ranked excellent on Trip Advisor. What do you think about these? I ask this because I'm known for being no fan of these review sites.

Some reviews could be people from who are not real. Maybe 7 out of 10 are real but sometimes people write stuff that is so inaccurate I wonder if they've ever been here! Someone wrote that our guacamole is watery but we actually used imported avocados and they had eaten the free guacamole sauce, and not the actual guacamole which is chunky and creamy.

I know some chefs get temperamental…are you like that when things don't go your way?! Are you animated in the kitchen?!

You know, always the customer has a reason for saying what they do. You have to try and make them happy. With the staff, sometimes they make things not quite right so you have to be nice to them. I have never sworn in the kitchen nor raised my voice because I was taught a different way…so I am not really like Gordon Ramsay!





Sunrise Tacos Facebook




Where was this photo taken?






Last week's photo was taken at the renovated Lucky Luke's Tiki Bar just inside Nana Plaza, which used to be called just Lucky Luke's. I thought it was easy but only one person got it right!





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 – Cuba Dave and potential ramifications.

Cuba Dave indeed has gone too far and been too much. He is a narcissist branding himself as Mr. Girlie Bar Wonder. Easy to laugh at. Easy to scorn, even for other guys in the bar. But he is facing years of prison time for breaching a law, newly minted, that makes it a crime to present in public media Costa Rica as a sex tourist destination. Think of the ramifications. What laws will be produced in the future by authoritarian regimes that just happen not to like this or that on the internet? Will the Thai rulers make a similar law that brings Stickman to prison? I knew that there isn't any sense of solidarity among sex tourists. We are not a community, just a huge pack of lone wolves. It disappoints me that the jolly crowd of beer guzzlers can't see beyond the legs by the chrome pole. If Cuba Dave can be attacked like this, what about posters in the forums?

The importance of having your affairs in order.

My friend is in a Bangkok hospital in ICU (Intensive Care Unit). He has had at least one stroke and the doctor cannot say when / if he will recover. It is costly to be in ICU, starting at 30,000 baht per day, so the funds he has in Thailand are disappearing fast. He has a Thai wife in Thailand and bank accounts in the USA, but the wife is not listed on the accounts so they are locked as far as she is concerned. Her English is poor, and non-existent in terms of reading and writing. Until you are involved in something like this, you have no idea how little help is available. I suggest in your column that you urge people to have things in place for emergencies like a power of attorney, joint bank accounts, contact information for your relatives etc.

Sexy Night.

I am so pleased you mentioned Sexy Nights. I have been frequenting this bar for 16 years now. I regularly give the DJ music from the UK which the Thai staff have never heard of and it is always played: Adam Faith, Them, Rolling Stones, Oasis, Free etc to name a few. It is always nice to chat to the very friendly girls, drink cold beer and listen to older music played at a suitable volume. I believe Sexy Night is one of only a few bars run by Thais in Nana Plaza and is run by a mother and son. Many of the staff have been working there for over 10 years. I have never seen any trouble in the bar or rip-offs yet there are some seriously heavy looking large Farangs that drink in the bar. It is always my first port of call when in Bangkok – I stay for a few beers, spend a bit on staff drinks, am welcomed by the outside staff and I always feel safe and at home in the bar. I feel if ever I needed advice on any problems in Nana Plaza or the area the management of Sexy Nights would be willing to help. On a number of occasions when other bars have been closed for whatever reason it seems Sexy Nights is always open.

90-day fun.

I just had a problem at Immigration that might be of interest to your readers. It seems that 90-day reports must be made counting from the date of the last report OR the last reentry into Thailand – but cannot be counted from the date on which a visa is reissued. Apparently, a visit to Chaeng Wattana to get a new visa DOES NOT count as a report. I tried to question their logic but they told me that was the regulation, and I had to pay a 2,000 baht fine.





Cheapest may not be the best.

Readers have been reporting cheap flights to LA but the cheapest ones I see now at $678 makes you lay over in China for 4+ hours each way (could be more because getting clearance to take off from China sometimes takes as much as an hour), extending the total time of the trip. For $800 you can fly through Taipei and have a one-hour layover (which is just enough time to deplane and get to the next flight) without much delay. What some people will do to save a buck will surely take a heavy toll on their body.

An alternative night with a bargirl.

Having spent the past 14 years visiting Thailand I have done the short time, long time, soapy, beer bar, gogo thing to death and decided to set myself up for a night with a difference. 4:00 PM I was sat in K&S Bar on soi 4. I selected a maiden – attractive, early 30s but not stunning. We agreed a price for short-time – 2,000 baht and with the barfine paid off we went. First stop was the 48th floor Octave rooftop bar at the Marriott hotel on Soi 57; what a view and with happy hour drinks two for the price of one, cheaper than expected. The staff were friendly and the Thai manager was very polite to my girl whose dress and Buriram accent left no doubt as to what her status was. Next stop was Pan Pan restaurant on Soi 33 for some excellent Italian grub. My girl loved it and finished an entire plate of seafood spaghetti and a couple of glasses of wine. The final stop was the bar on the 31st floor of the Landmark for a couple of cocktails, again not cheap but a lovely setting, and then back to K&S where we parted at 9:00 PM. My girl was lovely and said she had never been treated that way. She showed all her friends the photos of the places we had visited and insisted I take her phone number. As she had been so nice, I gave her another 1,000 baht when I left making a total cost for the evening out in excess of 7,000 baht, but from my point of view I really felt like I had achieved something. I had a great time, my girl was really pleasant company and we had done something different.

Young and old don't agree.

I would beg to differ with the younger reader who says how much things in Bangkok have improved. As a slightly older reader who has lived in Bangkok in the past, I must say I far preferred it then. The Thais were generally far friendlier and more fun. And to me, Bangkok has lost / is losing much of its old character. Another around my age mentioned the cracked pavements etc. Well to me those things are all part of a city's character. God forbid it becomes too sanitized and boring like Singapore. His wife's attitude is also contrary to mine. My wife is only really happy when she is in Thailand and has just moved back again for a while. I find in my experience many Thais are not really happy unless they are in Thailand.

The things people do.

I am a 58-year old white guy who is going to move from USA to Phayao, Thailand, and marry a virgin 38-year old with an MBS, supposedly. I will move and retire on her farm. I am poor. Why would she want me when all I have is SSI? Will she kill me and take my SSI? Why else? I grew up in Hawaii so I have that going for me, meaning the weather and knowing how to defend myself. I have not been in a fight for 40 years and am a very nice person, but maybe stupid. I have not met her. Your thoughts please. <You're madStick>





The new Den in Patpong soi 1 was to have a soft opening this weekend with the same format of the original operation in soi 12 bringing something new to Patpong – a day-time freelancer venue which is something I don't remember in Patpong. I still struggle to get my head around the original Den which cost plenty to set up, is said by those in the know to run at a staggering loss yet apparently the owners have no concerns about this whatsoever. Just why could that be? (No need to answer, old Asia hands know exactly what's going on.)

The joke of a security device at the entrance to Nana Plaza, the silly metal detector that could easily be bypassed, is gone.

The Golden Bar has closed and is now being used by a different set of girls. A couple of days after its closure, the bar stools have yet to be removed and are being used as a place to perch by some of the freelancers who congregate in and around the Nana Hotel car park.

Next weekend the Nanapong legend will return to Soi Cowboy with a dance contest to be held at Dollhouse. It will feature girls from the host bar, Dollhouse, as well as both the Club Electric Blue bars – each of Bangkok and Pattaya. The night coincides with Dean Barrett's birthday and the popular novelist will be in attendance with 100 of his books to give away, absolutely free of charge. Get there early as the best seats will go quickly.

Still at Dollhouse, owner Darel was doing his best dancer imitation this week sliding down the pole from the mezzanine floor over and over again. Is he trying to get the courage back to return to jumping out of planes?

Word on business in what is traditionally a quiet time of year in Bangkok is mixed – some say it's slow, others say business is ticking over nicely. The one thing most people agree on is that the start of the week (Monday – Wednesday) tends to be quiet and things pick after that.

It must be quiet in Soi Cowboy because you can walk in to popular Crazy House and find empty seats near the front of the bar. But sit down in what appear to be prime seats and you soon find out why they are empty. Some Muppet installed a laser light system in Crazy House and guess where the laser beams point?! One long-term reader reports that they have a pulse mode and if you are sitting in certain seats and looking at the girls dancing on stage you get laser beams right in your eyes. I'm not sure when the laser lights were installed but as best I can remember they were not there when Crazy House first opened. The units the lasers beam out of is about the size of a football and there are perhaps a dozen beams. If you sit inside the entrance to the left and you look in the direction of the stage the laser beams target you like a sniper's rifle.





One of the highlights of the year for Thailand's transgender community takes place in Pattaya in November with the 4th Annual Ladyboy Water Volleyball Contest. This unique event, scheduled again at the Areca Lodge, on November 7th, is a day of fun, frolicking and celebration with the proceeds going to 3 charities as the ladyboys make a positive contribution to the community. Six teams will compete this year – five sponsored by entertainment venues in Pattaya and Bangkok and the sixth a team comprised of port workers at Laem Chabang. The goal this year is to raise 750,000 baht. A total of about 3 million baht was raised in the three previous contests, and every event has surpassed its goals. This year's charities are organisations which help children – the Pattaya Orphanage; Baan Gerda in Lopburi, an orphanage caring for HIV children; and the Bamboo School in Kanchanaburi, near the Myanmar border. This year, teams have been given names – Red Dragons (Check-In Bar, Bangkok), Yellow Canaries (Cockatoo, Bangkok), Purple People Eaters (Kings Bar, Pattaya), Blue Dolphins (TJ's Bar, Pattaya), Pink Panthers (Laem Chabang), and Black Scorpions (Stringfellows, Pattaya). The bikini-clad players will be available for photographs poolside starting about noon at the Areca Lodge on Soi Diana. The matches begin an hour later and should go through until about 5 PM. All teams will play off against each other and the victors will celebrate at an evening gala that includes an auction and free raffle. Tickets, priced at 1,500 and that includes an international buffet, are now available at sponsoring nightclubs or at the competition website, Lbwvb.com, or by writing [email protected] Individual and corporate sponsorships are also being solicited. As a friend said, if you're an aficionado of the ladies, seeing 50 of them leap and whoop in wet bathing suits is quite a way to spend an afternoon in the sun. I reckon it would be a fantastic photo opp too.

Talk in the mainstream press about the Immigration Department's plans to put in place a new system at all border points where passengers are finger-printed could be a curse for those who have circumvented being blacklisted by changing their name in their homeland and returning to Thailand with a passport with their new name. Foreigners can find themselves blacklisted from Thailand if they're convicted of certain crimes – just being arrested and charged with a crime in Thailand is enough to be fingerprinted. Presumably, all fingerprints taken in the past will be in a database that that new system will cross-reference with and one would imagine that in the case of someone who was blacklisted from Thailand that would raise a flag in the system. With that said, this is Thailand so those who have been finger-printed in the past were most likely finger printed with ink and there is no certainty that all of those old inked sets of fingerprints have been loaded in to a central database….so I guess those of you who have beaten blacklisting by changing your name (hi, George!) can probably break a sigh of relief.





Whether a trend of not, I do not know, but an immigration attorney who helps wealthy Asians immigrate to the United States has told me that there has been a large spike in Thai nationals of Indian descent / ethnicity looking to get out of Thailand and in to America. Previously, most of those utilising his service were from China, Korea and Vietnam. Do these Indian Thais know something the rest of us don't?

Today, there are many Western bloggers / columnists / internet reporters / call them what you will all across South-East Asia. Some build up a following, some don't. Across the border, little known (or at least little mentioned) Cambodian site PenhPal is no longer. It was the only Cambodia expat site I tuned in to on a semi-regular basis since the plug was pulled on TalesOfAsia. I don't know the reasons for PenhPal's demise, but it's a shame that a site which was honest, refreshing and well-written appears to have called it a day.

The issue of pesky timeshare salespeople approaching visitors on Phuket is not unique to the island, but it is a problem which Phuket is better known for than anywhere else in Thailand. At long last the authorities are actually doing something about it and signs have been erected around the heart of Phuket's nightlife area, Bangla Road, warning visitors that these timeshare or "holiday club" products may be bogus and the claims made about them may be misrepresentations. If you're approached in Phuket by a fellow foreigner or a smooth-talking Thai who gives you a scratch card or offers you a chance to draw a card and then claims you've won and it's your lucky day and you need to go to their office to collect the prize, tell them where to stick their prize.





One of the top two dating sites in Thailand – and a site that is now famous well beyond Thailand's borders, ThaiFriendly recently introduced an app for the iPhone.

What do I have to do to get the message across to some readers that many educated Thai females employed in decent jobs in Bangkok jobs are doing just fine financially. There are more international companies operating in Thailand than ever, and more big Thai companies in Bangkok pay well these days. The days of university graduates starting on less than 10,000 baht a month in Bangkok are the distant past and I know of plenty of Thai women who start on 20,000 baht a month and are earning around 40K baht a month within a few years. No, these are not professionals per se, just university graduates who put their head down, do what's required and tow the company line. Many are in administration or accounting roles. If you're talking professionals, plenty earn 50,000 – 100,000 baht per month and some can earn a lot more. Thai women, like women the world over, want a man who can take care of them. In the past it was difficult for Thai women to get ahead, but these days there's much more opportunity. Don't get stuck in the past thinking that most Thai women struggle financially and would be happy with a Western guy eking out a living in Thailand, or living on a piddly pension from back home. Put your head down, work smarter, maximise your income and you'll be more attractive to the local women. That's a whole lot better than being one of those irritating guys who bitches about women who find a guy with money attractive!

Welsh photographer Andrew McNeill is a regular visitor to Thailand and has photographed many parts of the country as well as other parts of South-East Asia. A master of street photography and capturing people going about their daily lives, Andrew has produced a brilliant book, Under the Bridge, featuring portraits of homeless people in his native Cardiff. An exhibition of Andrew's work will take place in Bangkok from November 7th until December 26th at the Kathmandu Photo Gallery at 87 Pan Road, off Silom. You can meet the photographer himself at the opening party on November 7th.







Nanapong





Quote of the week comes from a Thai lady, "The reason many foreign guys have problems with Thai women is that they place an inordinate amount of emphasis on the lady's sexual ability, and consider little else."

Reader's story of the week comes from Mega, "Around The Traps: August – September in South-East Asia".

The Bangkok Post profiled the British ambassador, Mark Kent.

Brits name Thailand as the country they are now most afraid of visiting.

The TAT has ambitious plans and hopes to attract 50 million visitors to Thailand by 2018.

American author Jake Needham who writes about crime fiction in Asia is interviewed on a New Zealand crime fiction website.

The number of visitors to Pattaya is expected to drop about 10% this year.

A Reuters photo essay looks at the growing anger in north-eastern 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: Assume an American man, resident in California (a no-fault, community property state) marries a Thai lady in California, USA. They then primarily live in Thailand, but do not get married there. If a divorce were to occur, would it purely be a California divorce issue, since there was no marriage in Thailand? What if a Thai marriage occurs after the California marriage? Which divorce rules prevail?

Sunbelt Legal responds: Legal marriages in the US are recognised in Thailand and vice versa so any legally recognised marriage would be valid in either country. Divorce laws would depend on where you choose to get divorced. Thai law specifies that any assets held before marriage are the property of that person and are not marital property, but all assets gained after the marriage are marital property and would be split 50 : 50. If a foreign man and his Thai wife purchase land in Thailand then the man would have to sign a document relinquishing all hold on the land as marital property and it would be the sole property of the Thai wife since foreigners are not allowed to own land in Thailand.



Arrowtown

Is this the new Stickman HQ? Is the website operated from the back of a van?



This week marks 6 months since I left Bangkok, yet the column continues much the same as when I was living in Bangkok; website traffic remains strong and there haven't been many complaints. I do the best I can from afar and overall I'm generally happy with how things are going. Thinking about how things would be if I were still in Bangkok, I wonder if I might have ended it. I had reached a point where I needed a change and leaving Bangkok probably extended the column's life. It's nice that website numbers remain solid and despite being almost 10,000 km away from Bangkok that you continue to stop by. Thanks for your support and for continuing to tune in!



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick