Stickman's Weekly Column September 27th, 2020

What’s Happening Under The Dashboard?



I take at least two trips to Thailand each year. It’s a time to relax, catch up with friends, have fun and be happy. But with Covid, we can’t get to Thailand and that means less happy time. Others in a similar situation have spent their travel money on their house, buying new furniture and making improvements. I used my travel money to buy a new car. But this new car didn’t make me happy like a trip to Thailand does…

There’s something special about a new car. There’s the new car smell. You’re the first owner and the first person to enjoy driving it. Everything works perfectly and it looks great without so much as a single stone chip. A new car should provide you years of trouble-free motoring. Mine barely gave me a month.

I didn’t need a new car. The car I traded in was 5 years old and I’d looked after it. It was still the current model. I bought a new car because I thought it might make life that little bit better. The model was new and had only come out a few months earlier. It had been getting rave reviews and it seemed like the perfect upgrade.

The test drive went well. It had good power and great poise on New Zealand’s uneven roads. All of the new tech actually seemed to be genuinely useful, and not marketing department gimmicks.

For the first 5,000 kilometres or so, everything was good. It was a pleasure to drive. But on the final stretch of our recent South Island trip a rattle developed. On smooth road surfaces the car was perfect. On chip-seal roads, however – which make up most of the intercity roads in New Zealand – the rattle became louder. And louder. It was a weird sound and seemed to change depending on the road surface, the gradient of the road and your speed. At times it was a rattle whereas other times it almost sounded like a flag fluttering wildly in a strong breeze. It sounded like it was coming from under the dashboard. Other times it sounded like it was bouncing around the interior of the car. It was very annoying and ruined the driving experience. If you turned the stereo up loud enough you could drown it out, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.

I thought the problem might be the navigation screen rubbing up against the dashboard but inserting pieces of cardboard in to the small gap between them didn’t help.

I contacted the car dealership and arranged for them to have a look at it.

I took the car out for a test drive to demonstrate the annoying sounds. The service department manager was 90% sure he knew what was causing the sounds. Back to the dealership, the repairs were performed and I picked the car up later that day.

The roads around the dealership are as smooth as a billiards table and it wasn’t until I got closer to home that the annoying rattle returned. Damn, it wasn’t fixed.

I emailed the service department. They could look at it again but as they were busy and it would have to be 10 days later. Another 10 days with this annoying sound, WTF?

10 days later I go to the dealership to drop the car off. My name is not on the list of jobs for that day. They check other days and my name is not anywhere. They had screwed up the booking.

I pull out my phone and show them the email exchange with the service manager and the confirmation email. They agree to take the car in that day. I notice evil looks from a couple of staff. I’d been polite. I was getting bad vibes.

Before midday I get a text informing the car is ready for collection. Hmm, given that they had to test drive the car, diagnose the problem, take parts of the dashboard apart, identify what was causing the problem, come up with a solution, implement the solution, put it back together, test drive it and then assuming that the fix had worked, contact me again, it all seemed rather fast. I’d only dropped it in 3 hours earlier.

Back at the dealership I am told that the noises seemed to be coming from the navigation screen. Seemed to be as in they weren’t certain. They had packed some foam around it to prevent it from squeaking. I drive out of the dealership, up the road and within minutes the dreaded rattle is back.

I was getting pissed off. Twice it had been in for a repair and twice I had collected it only to discover the problem hadn’t been fixed.

I get home and send an email, explaining how twice the car has been in for repairs, and twice it has come back with the very same problem still present. The email was polite, but firm. I close it by saying that I will be bringing it in the next morning and if it cannot be fixed, I will be looking at alternative remedies.

The dealership responded immediately. They will take the car the next day and they offer me a similar car to use while my car is being looked at, explaining it might take a couple of days to get to the bottom of the problem.

The car goes back to the dealership for the third time.

Two days later I get an email to tell me that it has been repaired. At the dealership they go over what has been done. They had taken part of the dashboard apart, couldn’t find anything wrong but there are a couple of plates they suspect had been making the sound and they had put in some packing to prevent any further rattling. They had spent several hours on the job. It should be quiet 90% of the time, they tell me.

90% of the time? That’s not good enough! It’s a new car, it should be 100%. I drive out of the dealership and less than 2 km away, the rattle is still there!

I get home and write a very strong email. I lay out the situation very clearly. The words replacement and refund are used a number of times.

I didn’t need to buy this car. I like to change cars every 5 years so the vehicle I own is always under warranty. I bought it because it was a nicer car than what I was driving and because I had some spare cash.

I am invited to a meeting at the car dealership. I read up on consumer protection law and am prepared for battle!

The meeting was brief. The service manager felt his team had done as much to the car as they could without potentially causing problems. I am told that while dashboards in modern cars are put together in such a way that they can be taken apart for any work to be done / repairs made, putting them back together perfectly isn’t straightforward and there is no guarantee that a car which had had its dashboard dismantled and then put back together will be quite the same as a car which has just come out of the factory.

They further explain that diagnosing rattles and errant sounds in the interior of a car is an art and not a science. Irrespective of whatever work they do on the car, they couldn’t be certain that I wouldn’t hear sounds when I get the car back. There is a strong suggestion that the noises are in my head. They’re not.

New Zealand consumer protection laws are strong. Purchase something that doesn’t do what it is supposed to and you have all sorts of options. You have to give the seller a chance to fix it first. I had given them a chance – three, in fact – and they hadn’t been able to fix it.

I thought I was going to have a fight on my hands but in the end it was easy. I was offered a full refund.

I handed the keys over and a few minutes later the full purchase price was deposited in to my account.

Getting my money back sounds like good news, but it isn’t. I did not need a new car. I traded in a perfectly good car. It may have been 5 years old but it was rattle-free and drove almost like it was new. The new car was great in many ways but the sounds coming from under the dashboard that couldn’t be fixed meant it was a lemon.

Now I am carless. Hunting for a new car was fun in my 20s but these days it doesn’t have quite the same appeal.

I asked the sales manager what they would do with the car. “We will put it out on the lot and sell it!”

 


Billboard Bangkok
 

 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken at the Erawan shrine. I still get asked by some readers whether they have won a prize when they get the mystery photo right. Sorry, there haven’t been any prizes for several years. It actually became a problem as some people who won weren’t happy with the prize and weren’t shy to complain. It became a hassle so I gave up on offering prizes.


Nana Plaza
 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.

Why kick foreigners out?

Let’s assume there are 150,000 foreigners currently in Thailand, who are Covid-free, having being in the country since the beginning of lockdown, and until now allowed to stay on visa waivers. Let’s also assume that each spends around 25,000 baht per month (conservative amount?). Some more, some less, but let’s go with that. 25,000 baht x 150,000 Covid-free foreigners amounts to a stimulus to the Thai economy of 3,750,000,000 baht per month. If you take an average Thai monthly salary of 15,000 baht (again, just as estimate), it amounts to a positive injection into the Thai economy equivalent to the salary of 275,000 workers, each month. The government should be rolling out the red carpet to keep these Covid-free foreigners and their money in Thailand. The Special Tourist Visa with its difficult conditions and hurdles is so misconceived that it can only amount to a catastrophic economic failure.

On the ground.

Responding to the reader’s question about the current bar experience, there is a mandatory temperature check when you enter Nana Plaza, and some of the bigger bars like Billboard also give you a forehead scan at the door. There are no mask requirements or distancing rules. When bars first reopened you were required to log your name and number for contact tracing. Some bars briefly had the dancers wear masks or face shields, but these measures have been dropped. People in Thailand complied with the lockdown restrictions and have been socially responsible about countermeasures such as wearing masks. We’re now seeing the benefit of that as life here is more or less back to normal while much of the rest of the world still seems to be struggling to control the outbreak.

The benefits of fewer punters on the ground.

I have hit several bars in Nana Plaza over the past several weeks. Spanky’s, Billboard and Butterflies are the best. Huge number of attractive girls, more than you expect given what is going on. Many bars look dead. I usually visit mid-week and Sunday, and avoid Friday and Saturday. The ratio of girls to customers is incredible and attitudes are much better than I remember any time in the last 10 – 15 years. Girls are friendly and approachable with the mamasans actively pushing to have a girl sit with you. You can tell the girls are desperate, but also bored. Many, if not all, don’t want to go back to their family home upcountry. There are no jobs there and they get bored. If I spend considerable time with a girl, aside from buying lady drinks I tip a couple of hundred baht. They are in tough straits. I don’t take girls from bars anymore, so I couldn’t tell you much about much about barfines and how much it costs to be with them. None pressured me to barfine them or go for extracurricular activities. While the whole Covid situation is regrettable, going to the bars and hanging out with dozens of girls with not too many customers isn’t too bad – from an albeit selfish perspective.

Thais and dreams.

I keep in occasional touch with my one and only Thai ex-girlfriend. We lived together for just over a year in the Middle East. The prospect of moving to Nigeria with me did not appeal (I could hardly blame her) and we drifted apart. Recently she mentioned she had been dreaming about me. I quipped back that I hoped the nightmares would end soon! Is she saying something!?

The charms of the Nana Hotel.

The Nana Hotel is old school and frayed around the edges, just like me. So it suits me fine. My last visit was in 2017 and they were still using a slotted metal rack with hand-written cards to manage the rooms.

Where are the protests going?

I see more supercars than I ever have, which seems a bit like rubbing it in the face of Thais facing penury. From my beachfront Pattaya hotel balcony, I see Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens and Bentleys drive by. Driving drive down from Bangkok, I regularly get passed by Lambos or Ferraris. I read an article a week ago that said over 70% of the wealth in Thailand is owned by less than 1% of the population, making Thailand’s wealth gap perhaps the largest in the world. Given the nascent protest movement, I wonder if economic disparity will become another plank of the protesters’ complaints list. Obviously I’d be considered a wealthy foreigner, but I never sense any resentment from Thais, perhaps because it’s obvious I never took anything from them nor benefited unfairly from political access. I do think the wealth gap is something that could erupt in protest if the Covid shutdown continues to wreak havoc on the economy. Something to watch.

 

Girl Of The Week

Ann, Billboard, Nana Plaza

Ann has worked at Billboard off and on for years.
She has gone through a number of looks and names.
In 2017, she went by “Nadia” and had raven-black hair.
She’s now “Ann” and, unlike before, she can be found in the Jacuzzi.

 

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Business in Bangkok gogo bar areas is trending down. More than half of the gogo bars in the 3 main Bangkok gogo bar areas are open including all the best bars (Billboard, Butterflies, Spanky’s, Baccara) but that doesn’t mean they open every night. Each week it seems like another bar or two chooses to close for a few days mid-week. For those who enjoy the chrome pole bars, this might just be the best time to visit. Prices have dropped a little in some bars. There are few customers around. The girls are hungry, and many are trying harder. It’s not unusual to find yourself alone in a bar with lots of girls keen to sit with you. It’s almost the peak of the rainy season and Bangkok feels like it gets more rain in September and October than the other 10 months combined. Expats tend to stay home when the rain is hammering down so it’s unlikely for trade to pick up any time soon. That means rich pickings for those who do go out.

A lady in a big-name Bangkok gogo bar attempted to commit suicide the week before last. Whether it was a genuine attempt to end her life or a cry for help isn’t known. She has scars that will be with her for life. The bar business is hard. The ladies may talk about the many friends they have in the bar and the fun they have, but the truth is that even in the good times it is a hard life. And when times are tough – as they are now – ladies soon find out they are very much on their own.

On Soi Cowboy, the iconic Dollhouse sign has been taken down. Dollhouse is often attributed as starting the transformation of Soi Cowboy. Dollhouse has been closed since March and never opened post Covid. This week there were workmen inside. Will a new sign go up? Or could it be that there really was something in the rumours from a few months ago – that the owners of the best bars in Nana Plaza were looking to acquire Dollhouse?

 

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The iconic Dollhouse sign which towered over Soi Cowboy for almost two decades is gone.

 

Some readers ask why bars don’t lower drinks prices to get more customers in. Economic theory would suggest that’s the thing to do but with so few people around, I think lowering prices will have little effect. The danger for bar owners is cannibalising existing trade and they end up offering lower prices to customers who would have gone to the bar anyway!

Are there any venues doing better post-Covid than they were pre-Covid? Word is that Hooters in Pattaya may be able to make that claim. Anecdotal evidence suggests it might be doing better than it was – at least at the weekend when Bangkok Thais visit Sin City. The whole Hooters concept fascinates some Bangkok Thais, apparently.

The Pattaya Beer Garden will close in the next couple of days. It is hoped that it will reopen when the Covid pandemic is over.

Still in Pattaya, a couple of readers have used the word “dangerous” to describe Walking Street after dark, but it’s not what you think. You’re not likely to be set upon or mugged on Walking Street, but don’t forget that it is now open to vehicles at night. Many punters still stroll along Walking Street at night with casual abandon, forgetting that it is actually a road on which cars are allowed to drive. Be careful!

Some foreigners in Bangkok joke about the Pattaya Flying Club, the name given to those who choose to end their life by jumping from a tall building. It’s not a Pattaya only thing. This week a 70-year-old foreigner fell from the 38th floor of Millennium, the distinctive 4 towers of high-end condominiums on Sukhumvit soi 18. Sadly, one imagines more will follow.

 

Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

Is the visa amnesty over, or isn’t it? Immigration warned foreigners whose visas had been automatically extended as part of the visa amnesty to leave by yesterday, September 26th, or extend their visa. Some played a game of brinkmanship and left making an extension to the very last minute. Some did so in the hope there would be a further extension to the amnesty. Long queues were reported at Immigration offices around the country this week as people scrambled to get a last-minute visa extension. Visa extensions are available on medical grounds (up to 60 days) and to those who are unable to leave due to a lack of flights to their home country. In such cases a letter is needed from one’s embassy – and you’ll get a 30-day extension. Last night the Bangkok Herald published an article claiming that there has been a last minute reprieve and a further extension would be announced through until October 31st. The article stated that this latest visa amnesty extension would be officially announced tomorrow. Many have their fingers crossed hoping this is for real.

It’s not only Sukhumvit where foreigners may be stopped and searched by police. A friend was stopped twice by two different duos of policemen in the Khao San Road area earlier this week. Said fellow dresses well and looks respectable – and as a professor at a Bangkok university, he is very respectable. The first duo searched him. He took their photo. When the second duo stopped him just a few minutes later he showed them the photo of the first duo and they let him go. These police stops are not just a couple of rogue cops on Sukhumvit and is widespread.

 

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Khao San Road is deader than dead.

 

Over in Angeles City in the Philippines, gogo bars must serve food if they wish to open. As I understand it, essentially gogo bars aren’t allowed at this time. So the way around this is for gogo bars to operate as a restaurant. Huh?! Basically, they must set up as a restaurant – meaning a full kitchen, tables, food menu etc. Once they have done that, there is nothing stopping the restaurant from having a gogo stage and girls dancing, essentially as background entertainment. It sounds daft but who knows, perhaps there is something in this concept that might catch on.

The other half told me this week about a friend of a friend who went off to a short-time hotel with a (Thai) guy she met on Tinder. This surprised me as so-called decent Thai women really don’t want to be seen anywhere near a short-time hotel. At the same time, some Thai women are so concerned about being filmed in the act that they see a short-time hotel as a safer bet when meeting someone for casual sex. Word is that some local guys have a sophisticated video recording setup in their condo. Of course, this sort of thing is nothing new and I’ve heard plenty of stories of Westerners in Thailand doing this too. 15 odd years ago there was a series of DVDs called “Ab Tie” (translates as: secretly filmed) featuring these sorts of hidden videos. They were sold at Panthip Plaza and were popular. If you’re thinking of making any secret recordings, my advice is don’t! If she finds out about it or the video somehow leaks, it could be the end of you in Thailand. Seriously, it will cost you big time. Best not to go down that road!

 

This Week’s News-Feed / Thailand-Related News Articles

Quote of the week comes from the friend of a reader, “Going back home after having been an expat is like being a retired Formula 1 racing driver on race day.”

Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “Obsession“.

Tourist visa holders in Thailand face arrest and jail if they overstay their visa.

Irish police are searching for a fellow accused of killing a working girl in Pattaya in April and managed to flee Thailand and get back to Ireland.

Thailand is taking legal action against Google, Facebook and Twitter.

There is talk of a shorter 7-day quarantine for tourists from November.

An English teacher in Thailand faces defamation charges after he posted an unfavourable and allegedly untrue review about a hotel on Ko Chang. (Said guy sounds like a complete jerk if this article from his past is anything to go by.)

 

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Sukhumvit soi 5, this week.

I watched a video on YouTube filmed this week on Soi Cowboy and along what was once the busy part of Sukhumvit. It was really quiet on Cowboy, hardly a surprise. What struck me was how the vibe looked much like the Bangkok I remember in the late ’90s. Sukhumvit is much more built up and developed these days but in terms of the number of people around, the video taken this week felt like Bangkok 20+ years ago. I know there won’t be a lot of atmosphere in the bars with few punters around but that’s not to say it isn’t fun. Actually, in many ways I prefer it when it’s quiet. I found myself a little envious of those who are currently in Bangkok and who get to enjoy the bars like this. For those in town this really could be a mini golden age. Enjoy it!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]