Just as expats in Thailand cause the locals to scratch their heads and wonder, so too do us Kiwis find the Thais in New Zealand a bit curious at times. I’ve been reflecting again on the differences between the lifestyles of Kiwis and the Thais who call New Zealand home.
Many – I won’t say most, but it’s certainly a majority of – Thais in New Zealand don’t show great interest in pursuing or living what I’ll term the Kiwi lifestyle. Many Thais here live in a bubble, eating Thai food, watching Thai TV and speaking in Thai with their Thai friends.
When it comes to food, Thais are fiercely patriotic – even when some of the dishes they are so proud of are not strictly Thai (but don’t go telling them that)! Thais in New Zealand predominately eat Thai food (although most do seem to enjoy local fruit). Most Thais have the full complement of Thai sauces and spices in their kitchen and can rustle up a decent version of their favourite Thai dishes.
But it’s not only on the dinner table where they don’t do things the Kiwi way. Thais in New Zealand are much more likely to know what is happening in Thailand than what is going on in NZ. Many Thais in New Zealand have boxes that allow them to watch Thai TV and they refuse to miss an episode of whatever the current popular soap opera is, even if they have to stay up late because it screens in the evening in Thailand which might be 2:00 or 3:00 AM, New Zealand time.
Living a Thai lifestyle in New Zealand comes back to one thing – most Thais here have Thai friends, and few Thais seem to have Kiwi friends. Even if their command of English is stellar which, to be frank, is not often the case, the Thais hang out with other Thais with whom they eat Thai food and discuss what’s happening in Thailand with little interest of what’s going on locally.
But is this that unusual? Most Western expats in Thailand are much the same in that they follow their favorite sports teams from back home, eat & drink in expat / foreign restaurants and pretty much all their friends are expats. It’s not like I know a single foreigner in Thailand who has a genuine friendship with a Thai.
Even Thais who speak English fluently just don’t seem to care to socialise with Kiwis. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. They have Kiwi colleagues and they might exchange pleasantries with the neighbour over the fence, but friends who they spend time with away from work, have over for dinner etc? Nah.
Kiwis are certainly open-minded to foreigners and happy to befriend them – but it is up to the foreigner to make the effort to adapt to New Zealand ways, and not the opposite. I know plenty of Kiwis with Indian friends, for example. Most Thais here just don’t seem that interested in making a genuine effort to assimilate.
Thais in New Zealand with non-Thai friends seem to hang out with other migrants – Koreans, Japanese and Chinese or in other words, those from the same region with who they seem to identify. And just like in Thailand, few Thai women have male friends in New Zealand i.e. genuinely platonic friendships with males.
There is a definite correlation between the English ability of Thais in New Zealand and their job / how much they earn and dare I say it, how happy they are in NZ. The better their English, generally the more money they make. And the more money they make, the happier they seem to be. Money seems to be the primary motivator of Thais here, and one might even say it’s the main reason why most of them are here, which is curious given that many have crap jobs.
The Thais I know who speak fluent or near fluent English earn above average wage / real money. The Thais with poor English all earn less. I wish more Thais would make a better effort to learn English, but many are horribly stubborn and after many years in New Zealand their English can remain embarrassingly poor.
You seldom come across Thais in professional roles in Kiwiland. Some do manage to work their way up the corporate ladder but for the most part, Thais typically earn much less than the average and in terms of Thais in professional positions, you just don’t see many. The one exception who comes to mind is a Thai dentist in Auckland who, it is jokingly said, has the details of more Thai females in his Rolodex than anyone else in Kiwiland.
I understand that you do come across Thai professionals in other countries like, say, the USA, but not here.
An older Thai woman I have a lot of time for insists that the vast majority of Thais simply don’t make it in New Zealand. Few make enough money to move back to Thailand and retire, which she says is the plan for most. She is adamant that Thais fail to make it here and I have seen no evidence to suggest otherwise.
Many Thais never seem to see New Zealand as their home, long-term. You know they’re not really settled when after a year or two or even three that they’re still converting local prices in to Thai baht and comparing with the prices back home (and complaining about how expensive NZ is).
But what about those with a devious plan to marry a local man to divorce so they can get their grubby hands on his riches? There’s not a lot of evidence of that happening. As aforementioned older Thai women says, due to the very high cost of lawyers, the long wait to file divorce proceedings (you’ve got to be separated for two years first) and other challenges, if their plan is to get rich from their husband they’re probably better off waiting for him to die.
On the topic of Thais making it in New Zealand, her advice to Thais is that if you don’t have something profitable set up within 5 years then you should return to Thailand. She has seen many Thais stay in New Zealand for what she considers “too long”, in dead-end jobs or trying their hand at business after business which fails. They eventually return to Thailand with no money (and often leaving debts behind). They have to start again at the bottom of the ladder with the only thing to show for their time in New Zealand is improved English – and even then, there’s no guarantee of that.
Many Thais come to New Zealand with great hopes that life will be easy and they will get rich quick. But a combination of home-sickness, the fact that you actually have to work hard to get ahead here and the general feeling that seems to envelop Thais after a year or two that New Zealand might not be the land of milk and honey causes many to sour on the place (when perhaps they should be looking within and asking why things haven’t worked out).
So many Thais move from employer to employer. No doubt some have legitimate grievances and good reasons for moving on, but at the same time Thais seem to struggle to fit in to Kiwi workplaces. When things don’t work out as they expect, they tend to resign, have a period out of work and blow what little savings they have before they find a new job and the cycle starts again.
I’ve written before about how some Thais here act as private money changers, offering a great service for Thais who wish to move money between New Zealand and Thailand – in either direction. But I can’t for the life of me work out how they make a profit from it….which makes me think that there is some sort of fiddle going on, but I can’t work that out either! Let me explain.
If you wish to send money between the two countries, you’re offered the Super Rich mid-rate. The person facilitating the transaction logs in to the Super Rich website and let’s say that the buy rate for New Zealand dollars is 22.5 baht and the sell rate is 23 baht, they will take the rate at the midpoint, which would be 22.75 baht. But it doesn’t matter if you’re moving Kiwi dollars to Thailand or Thai baht to New Zealand, the rate is the same. You’d think they’d sell at one rate, buy at another and the difference would be the profit, but no. And they don’t charge a service / transaction fee either. So how do they profit from it? For that matter, how do they avoid making a loss? The New Zealand dollar tends to bounce around so a money changer on the wrong side of a currency movement could find themselves out-of-pocket. Of course, they could wait for the currency to move in the right direction before effecting the transaction – but the transfer is always done there and then on the spot, so that’s not possible. There’s something going on but I cannot for the life of me work it out – and it’s frustrating me like a puzzle I can’t solve!
Many Thais here have some or other fiddle on the go. And as much as I hate to say it, the impression I get is that many Thais in business here are up to no good at some or other level. Probably the best way to put it is that Thais in New Zealand tend to do business much as they do in Thailand.
One self-employed Thai I met a few times is a home handyman who has been self-employed in New Zealand for more than 20 years. He got Kiwi citizenship many years ago. But he has never been registered for tax and doesn’t pay any business or personal taxes. And for 20 years he has managed to get away with it.
But for the most part it’s not Kiwis who the Thais are cheating. Just like in Thailand, Thais tend to prey on their own. It’s sad to read the local New Zealand Thai Facebook group and learn about some of the fiddles going on and the warnings about some Thais by other Thais.
You get some odd complaints from the Thais in New Zealand. Amongst the most novel, some (very attractive) Thai women are surprised at the lack of attention they get from Kiwi men, wondering why these guys prefer local women. And then there’s the complaint that pork in New Zealand smells bad. More than a few Thais complain about the smell of New Zealand pork when compared to Thai pork. A few places sell pork imported from the United States and the Thais here much prefer that.
With New Zealand house prices sky-high and the high cost of living, most households need two incomes to keep on top of the rent / mortgage and general expenses. Unless one person is earning well in to 6 figures, two incomes are needed. In plenty of Kiwi / Thai couples, she is reluctant to contribute towards the cost of running the house. Take a Thai woman to your homeland and you might have to have a serious conversation about how expensive the country is compared to Thailand – and that it simply may not be possible to run a household on one income.
New Zealand is good to migrants. Most Kiwis are generally accepting of foreigners who move here, at a personal level at least. And the benefits to migrants in New Zealand are very real. One can become a permanent resident within 3 years which means the right to stay forever, along with free medical care and access to many government benefits and hand-outs. And you can get a passport – one of the world’s best – in 5 years. Yet despite all of the advantages, the majority of Thais refuse to identify as “Kiwi”. They’ll avail themselves of all the benefits of being a Kiwi citizen while continuing to beat the Thai drum. They are always a Thai, who just happens to be living outside of Thailand.
Thais in New Zealand are much the same as Thais in Thailand, and the old cliché seems almost tailor-made for the Thais here – you can take the Thai out of Thailand, but you can’t take Thailand out of the Thai.
Last week’s photo was taken at Patong Beach in Phuket, before the island changed with the rapid development to keep up with mass tourism. This week’s photo is back in downtown Bangkok.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
The threatening nature of ladyboys.
I agree with everything you wrote about ladyboys except one thing, that they are harmless. I have no problem with ladyboys or those who like them, but I do mind when they accost me as I’m strolling up Pattaya soi 6 (or any other soi). I’m always polite with unwanted female attention and I’m the same way with ladyboys, but with women I don’t ever feel threatened if I reject their advances. With ladyboys I always feel the aggression and the vaguely threatening posture some throw off if you show no interest. I always go into a conflict management mode when they approach. Sometimes that’s not necessary but oftentimes it is. I wish them all happiness but I also with they would learn to dial back the aggressiveness.
She had a chest like a bloke.
I have nothing against the 3rd sex. I once accompanied one from Nana BTS to a bar in the Rajah Hotel car park because she was a looker and I was curious to chat. The only thing about the experience that didn’t sit well with me was that when she showed me her boobies her nipples were the same as a man’s. That just didn’t seem right on a ‘woman’.
Acceptance and sexual ambiguity.
I think those who spout vitriol against ladyboys are really saying more about themselves than they are about the dreaded ladyboys. I understand that most men have no interest in them sexually. No-one is forced to enter ladyboy bars or consort with them in any way so there is no need for some people to get so upset about them. I love ladyboys and feel lucky in my attraction. They are a very diverse bunch, much more so than the girls in the bars. They are usually more self-aware as they have chosen to be outsiders. As to the whole gay / bi / straight thing, is it really a big deal in 2018/19? Live and let live, in my view. Having said that, my take on it is that a larger than generally thought percentage of people are quite flexible in their attraction. I think a lot of men are attracted primarily to femininity and beauty. Therefore they are attracted to pretty ladyboys as well as pretty women. Very feminine young men such as ladyboys or even femboys are more attractive than unattractive, aggressive and sexless women. That is why, as you mention, the ladyboy bars are found alongside the girl bars and not in the gay areas. In my view there is an element of bisexuality in this. From reading the ladyboy forums I would say some men are quite comfortable with their ambiguous sexuality while others are attracted only to very passable ladyboys and see them sexually as women. That might seem strange for us farang but in many parts of the world sexual ambiguity is much more taken for granted.
The ladyboy phobia.
I’d like to thank you for your thoughtful and important commentary on ladyboys in Bangkok. I think the best medicine for removing the social stigma around ladyboys is to speak up on the absurdity of the phobia. I myself enjoy the company of ladyboys and have no interest in men. The very idea of intimacy with a man makes me uncomfortable but I have never felt this with a ladyboy. Sexuality is on a spectrum and is rarely black and white. I suspect a point some may try to make about their fear of ladyboys will stem from the situations where ladyboys will claim they are naturally born women to trick men into going with them. This may happen and it is unfortunate, but does not reflect the majority of ladyboys who know better. 90% of ladyboys will make it very clear to you that they are ladyboys. It’s almost always right there in their Tinder and ThaiFriendly bios. Very often, when I walk into a ladyboy go-go bar, the host will warn me that it is a ladyboy bar. This is a no-brainer to a ladyboy because tricking a possibly drunk and homophobic individual into this situation is a recipe for danger and disaster. This scenario has created another harmful and inaccurate stereotype. In the past, I have neglected from speaking up about ladyboys but this column reminded me that the discussion is necessary to cast a light on ignorance.
Isaan’s furthest province.
It’s impossible to take Pattaya seriously, yet families (tourist and expat) seem to do so. Wheelie-suitcases and baby-strollers bump along the irregular sidewalks nowadays, although the Singha-singlet / shorts & sandals brigade is still on parade, faded cheap tattoos graven into sunburnt arms. At Xmas, the “nightlife” areas (LK Metro, Chaiyapoon…no point in visiting Walking Street any longer lest you crave facial recognition from the dragoons of YouTube-wannabees lensing everything in sight) are rammed with bemused 30-something farang, moving slowly among the crowds while eardrums throb to discofied Isaan tunes replete with cowbell. Chaiyapoon remains an ankle-jarring mix of gravel and asphalt chunks, which doesn’t deter girl staff in Santa drag from forcefully grabbing the arms of passersby. I’m more a soi 6 guy, and gals I dallied with there all said that business is way off from two years ago – this seems the agreed-upon timeframe. It’s still fun, but in 2018 the Six seems more about noise, alcohol and looky-loos than the good clean dirty fun that put this soi on the map. Further north on the map is the new Terminal 21: a shabby imitation of the successful mall in Bangkok. While the Bangkok T21 food court is navigable, the Pattaya version is cramped and – like the mall itself – seems hastily designed based on available space. Pattaya still has fun available, but while its increasing gentrification may enrich owners of malls and tour-bus operators, it’s a bit like slapping pancake makeup on an aging demimondaine. A new slogan for Sin City eludes me, but perhaps…”Isaan’s Furthest Province”?
The jury is out on just how busy the bar biz has been this past week. Why do I bang on and on about how busy the bars are week after week? It’s because there are implications for an industry that has been in an almost imperceptible decline for a number of years. And besides, with me writing remotely these past few years, the column these days is more about general commentary and trends than a guide to what’s on this week in Bangkok, as perhaps it once was.
In Patpong soi 2, does 69 Bar have the best bar name in the business? It might be a good name, but if the opening topic of last week’s column was not to your taste then 69 Bar might not appeal either.
Another reader reports – and thus confirms the previous reader report – that security at the entrance of popular Hillary 2 in Soi Nana is stopping punters at the door and advising that a drink must be purchased before entering. Said reader told door staff that he wanted a rum and coke, which they didn’t have in their ice chest barrel, so he was waved through and in the process revealed how to get inside without having to buy a drink first.
The foreigner bar areas make up but a tiny part of Bangkok and are only a very small part of expat Bangkok. For some, what happens on Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza is of great importance – but these places are insignificant in terms of the big Bangkok picture. Check out the photo below. Soi Cowboy is at the bottom, between the 4-storey aqua-coloured building and the 6-storey light green-coloured building. Do you see what I mean? Soi Cowboy is tiny! There are probably more people working on just a few floors of the adjacent 35-storey Interchange office building than there are in all of bars in Soi Cowboy. Do you see what I mean when I say the foreigner bar industry really is tiny?!
If you’re still struggling to get your head around the concept of agency girls, here’s a brief overview. As the bars struggle to recruit girls, there are agencies (in reality these operations are not nearly as sophisticated as they sound and generally an “agency” is one Thai person with a mobile phone, and a manner that younger Thais warm to) who recruits girls and acts a middle man providing girls to the bars on a daily / weekly / contract basis. Generally the agency will charge the bar 1,000 baht or 1,500 baht per night, per girl. The girl will be paid 700 – 1,000 baht by the agency, with the agency’s profit the difference between what the bar pays them and what they pay the girl. It’s a lucrative business. Down in Pattaya, you often hear the term “contract girls”, which is much the same. The girls work at the same bar for 10 days in a row, after which they typically take 1 – 3 days off. After that they might return to that bar or go to another. Agency girls have a minimum number of lady drinks they have to get every night – which explains why some can be quite pushy in requesting lady drinks – and they can command premium barfines, usually in the range of 1,000 – 2,000 baht, which offsets the cost the bar paid to the agency. The trend is that more and more bars are taking on agency girls simply because they struggle to hire girls themselves.
How does the idea of themed gogo bars sound? There have been a few examples over the years of bars which set out to hire ladies exclusively of a specific body shape or with a particular look. The first bar that comes to mind is G Spot which a few years ago featured a lineup entirely made up of fat girls. Not a little overweight, but in some cases seriously big / overweight as in north of 100 kg. It was novel the first time you saw it because it was unlike anything you’d seen in a gogo bar before. But it didn’t last because it wasn’t popular – which was hardly a surprise. And then there was the short-lived MILFs on the ground floor of Nana Plaza where the plan was to fill the bar with MILFs (which, if you didn’t know, is an acronym popular in the porn industry that stands for Mothers I’d like to ….). Just like G Spot’s foray in to hiring ladies of a certain look, MILFs was short-lived, all of which suggests themed bars don’t work. Or was the problem with these two bars the choice of theme? One could argue that there are plenty of bars in Pattaya with the MILF theme although that is more by accident than by design. So how about a themed bar where every lady was large-breasted – which was the concept for Billboard 3 years ago? One imagines that would have a decent chance of working. Is there a theme you would like to see? And for that matter, what theme would I like most? OK, perhaps not a theme so much, but a bar where all the girls were 100% free of tattoos would be a winner for me.
After all of these years I note the best books that feature Bangkok nightlife are still those written by Moore, Needham and Leather with Private Dancer still the most popular. These titles are becoming harder to come by in print, and a little birdy whispered in my ear that Private Dancer won’t be available in print forever – so if you want to grab a new, unthumbed copy before it becomes a collector’s item found only online or in second-hand bookshops, pick up a copy sooner rather than later.
The large pharmacy just around the corner from Soi Nana walking in the direction of the JW Marriott Hotel has long been a favourite with expats to pick up prescription medicines. It is probably the most popular / #1 pharmacy amongst expats who feel comfortable dealing with the same staff who have been behind the counter for as long as anyone can remember. What was a rumour can now be stated as fact: the pharmacy will close. I imagine quite a number of expats will be disappointed. There is no shortage of pharmacies in Bangkok but do note that prices vary wildly – so shop around if you pop a bunch of pills daily. “Tilac Phil”, a since departed friend who used to carry out investigation work checking out whether the pharmaceuticals sold in Bangkok drug stores were the genuine article or not used to always say that South-East Pharmacy between sois 13 and 15 was the best bet on Sukhumvit Road for genuine drugs.
From a long-time reader comes word that when passing through Immigration a couple of weeks ago everyone was being asked to show proof of accommodation which meant much rifling through documents and phone / tablet documents. Whether that was a one-off or others have experienced it would be interesting to know.
There are some things in tourist areas of Thailand that may be priced in US dollars. Suits from custom tailors come to mind. There are a few other examples including tours from some operators and even some hotels which advertise room prices in US dollars. But given the changing demographics in Thailand’s tourism industry, how long will it be before prices are quoted for some of these things in renminbi?
Getting around Bangkok before the skytrain opened in December, 1999, was a nightmare. You had to plan your journey carefully, thinking about traffic, peak hour congestion etc. Then the skytrain came along and for those who lived on Sukhumvit or Silom it felt like the city had opened up and you had been given a green light to move around the city. What was once described as “transport for Bangkok’s rich and foreigners” is now used by all and using the skytrain these days feels the same as it did on the buses 20 years ago. Carriages are packed and it’s much less pleasant and at times is decidedly unpleasant – which makes me think that the advice I was given when I first moved to Bangkok in the late ’90s is once again relevant. Assuming you can afford it, live in an area close to where you work and / or play.
Scruffy Murphy’s Irish Pub invites you for a night of traditional Irish music and folklore from acclaimed Irish musician and scholar Mick Moloney. The 1999 recipient of the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts’ highest honour, the National Heritage Award, and friends will take the stage at the Bangkok Sukhumvit Soi 23 pub for a series of traditional Irish music gigs January 8 – 10 and January 13. All the performances will begin at 7 PM. A native of Limerick, Ireland, Moloney was an important figure on the Dublin folk-song revival of the 1960s. In 1973, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the U.S. where he gained fame as a member of Irish groups The Emmet Folk Group and The Johnstons. Since then he has performed and recorded with a variety of groups and individuals, including Eugene O’Donnell and Séamus Egan, Marie and Martin Reilly, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. In all, he has recorded more than 40 albums of traditional music. Over his career, Moloney also has taught ethnomusicology, folklore and Irish studies courses at the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown and Villanova universities, and currently teaches Irish Studies at New York University. In 1999, he was awarded the National Heritage Award, the NEA’s highest official honour for a traditional artist in the U.S. He also received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from the president of Ireland in 2013. Be sure to book your table early, as Scruffy Murphy’s Irish Pub will be packed for this one-time concert series in Bangkok.
The Immigration Department has just announced a change to the way that what is known by many as retirement visas are processed. It’s actually a fairly simple change, but explaining it is not so easy. So rather than try to explain it myself, I went to one of the organisers of the Thai Visa Advice group on Facebook who is the oracle on such matters. He kindly sent this response:
The changes to the police orders that concern yearly extensions of stays are ONLY for people who were using the affidavit of income from abroad notary letter from their consulate IF their consulate discontinued issuing the letter (UK, US, Australia & Denmark).
If your consulate still issues the affidavit of income from abroad notary letter you can use it like normal.
Anyone who got an affidavit of income from abroad notary letter BEFORE their consulate stopped issuing them can use them for an extension for the next 6 months because embassy notary letters are valid for 6 months from the date they’re issued.
Anyone who WAS using the embassy notary letter for monthly income from abroad who can’t get it anymore and wants to continue using the monthly income method for extensions of stays that allow it (marriage, retirement and raising half Thai kids) now has to transfer in to the country into a Thai bank account in their name only at least 40K baht a month for marriage and raising half Thai kids or at least 65K baht a month for retirement for a FULL 12 months before they apply for their extension.
They need to show that these are INTERNATIONAL transfers into their Thai bank account and that they don’t come from inside the country.
The immigration office has NOT issued an amendment or exception on how they will deal with people this first year going from the income affidavit to the monthly transfer method.
They need to do this (example; my extension is up in August, I couldn’t have gotten an embassy notary from the US consulate before they stopped issuing one because it would have only been good for 6 months and my extension is after that, BUT I also didn’t know I would have to have transferred in 65K baht a month EVERY month for a full 12 months before my next extension until I found out in January <- meaning even if I started that month I would only have 8 months of transfers NOT a full 12).
A big thank you to the Thai Visa Advice group on Facebook for this. Do join this Facebook group if you have any Thailand-related visa questions. These guys know their stuff!
Reader’s story of the week comes from Arnoud, “Ever Thought About Indonesia?”
Quote of the week comes from a friend resident in Asia, “A regular Tuesday night in Asia is better than New Years back home.”
This 40-year old video on YouTube shows what Pattaya was like in 1979.
Thais and alcohol don’t always go together as a Thai man kills six family members after New Year’s Eve Party.
Tourists flee southern islands ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Pabuk.
While it has not been a continuous, uninterrupted service – and there have been a couple of lengthy breaks along the way – it’s close to 18 years since this column first appeared. It is true that this column would be better if I was still living in Thailand, but merely living there doesn’t mean it would that much better. The argument is that if I was there on the ground, I would see what’s happening with my own eyes and be less reliant on others to supply bar industry news and gossip. That is true, but it’s actually only part of it. In terms of bar news and gossip, living in Bangkok helps but the big thing is spending time with and socialising with bar bosses and bar managers. That’s how you get to know what’s really going on, as well as what is happening behind the scenes. And to be frank, hanging out with bar bosses is not something I did a great deal of. I know plenty of bar bosses but I think many saw me as a bit of an outlier, someone who stuck his nose in and wanted to know what was going on while constantly declining invitations to drink with them and hang out. Some didn’t really know what to make of me….writing a column with plenty of bar biz stuff but not spending a lot of time in it and not really someone you could call a regular in their bar. Some will point to the early days when I was out all the time, right? No, it was never like that! Just weeks after this column was launched I started a new job and for the next 8 years I was up before 6:00 AM ready to face a new day at work. I was hardly out in the bars the night before, was I? Yes, it would be easier for me if I was living in Bangkok and the column would have more nightlife content, but would it be all that much different? Nah, it wouldn’t.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org