Saturday, November 14, 2009

"The Rounds," Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Evolution isn't perfect. If it were, we
might have wings instead of wisdom teeth."

1. Washington Square News

2. Time to Talk about Thai Bar Girls . . . Again

3. New Airport Link Video

4. TOT to Offer 3G Service

5. Great Online Resource for Learning Much About Thailand (and Other Countries)

6. Terrorists Renounce Terrorism

7. Tips for Travelers from Pros 

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Washington Square News

Well, here I've let it get until Tuesday without writing a word for this column, so thought I should get started. I've decided to start off with news of the Square first this time, as a nod to those whose primary -- maybe sole! -- interest in reading here IS to read the latest about the Square!

First, and technically right outside the Square, there's a new hotel called I Style Trend Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 22 across from the Soi 22 entrance to the Square, i.e., if you're coming from Sukhumvit Road, the hotel will be on your right immediately past the Regency Park Hotel.

I haven't even entered the hotel yet, so can't give you a personal report. (I will try to get a photo of the exterior of it before putting this week's column online.) However, I did research it a little.

At one booking website, the prices for one night/one person started at THB4,100/~US$123.00, so it's not exactly cheap, though neither is that truly expensive for an apparently reasonably upscale hotel located in this area. However, on the hotel's on website a room can be had for as little as THB3,400/~US$102.00. To put this in some context, the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel, just a little further inside the soi, runs around the THB4,000 range, while a room at the Regency Park Hotel (next door to I Style Trend) starts at THB3,525/~US$106.00.

It's worth mentioning that the hotel's own website says the swimming pool won't be open until about the end of this month. I don't imagine someone coming to Thailand to swim would really worry about a swimming pool, not with the Kingdom's long coastlines offering numerous resorts.

It is a bit surprising a new hotel has opened now, especially with three other comparable hotels on the same soi within about two blocks -- and with the number of tourists and business travelers still down, despite recent improvement in that number.

Moving inside Washington Square itself, there may be a new bar opening on the back side of the Square, i.e., the same side where New Square One Pub, Bourbon Street, and the Prince of Wales Bar are located. However, I'm not completely certain of that. I have passed there in the evening a couple nights and seen a few people, some Thai ladies and men, sitting there, mostly outside. Last night, they were singing karaoke -- but no one was making any effort to entice passersby in; it seemed more to be a private party. But maybe whoever has the place now isn't quite ready to open, assuming the intention is to open a bar of some kind there. I'll let you know once I know more.

Though the details aren't set yet, food will be served at the Texas Lone Staar on Saturday afternoons again starting this Saturday, November 14th, according to the manager during a brief chat we had last night. However, it won't be offered free. I asked the manager about pricing, but he said he doesn't know yet; I'll check back in a day or two and post whatever information I learn.

I stopped by Bourbon Street last night and had a  small Kilkenny draft beer, forgetting that the last time I did so a few weeks ago I was surprised that the bill came to THB165, compared with the previous price of around THB120. So, the increase is substantial. I didn't look at the food menu, so I don't know if those prices have gone up as well or not. Still, it's a very nice place with great food, and for people not into the Bangkok bar scene, a welcome port in Washington Square, especially men bringing their wives/girlfriends or children. The service is excellent, and the wait personnel all speak very good English. I do like the place, a lot.

Have run into most of the folks I've mentioned in the last edition or two of this column, and nothing new is going on with any of them, so I'll just make the collective statement they're all doing well.

I have learned since last writing that Herb S. of Las Vegas isn't coming this year. I learned that second-hand, but from someone in a good position to know, so I assume the report to be accurate. This comes as no surprise, really, since last year Herb told me himself that now George of Texas Lone Staar has passed on, last year's trip well might be his last.

However, Charlie W, the "Godfather" of the "Minnesota Mob," is confirmed to be arriving sometime soon. I think his [and our] buddy Bubba may be coming with him. Haven't heard anything about Mike F., another "Mob" member.

Kent C. of Texas Lone Staar is getting settled into his new house and job in Kentucky. He reports his daughters are doing well in school, though switching from a private international school in Bangkok to a public school in Kentucky is something of a huge shock for them -- understandably. Kent does grumble about not being here, though had he insisted to his employers they allow him to stay here, he likely wouldn't have a job, almost certainly not with them! So, all things considered, Kentucky's fine, just fine.

And Roger C., Kent's Dad, already has another ticket out here (I think). No surprise there. He's moped more than once "this will be my last trip" -- then we find out aftger he's headed back to the U.S. that he's already scheming for next trip! And that's fine with everyone around the Square, the staffs and Squaronians alike, as Roger is uniformly very well-liked.

Saw "Big" Joe's girlfriend two or three nights ago, and she mentioned Joe is back in the U.S. right now. She had spoken with him on the phone either that day or the day before, I forget which, and told me he's doing fine, though he didn't say when he'll be heading back out here East of Suez.

Ott of the Silver Dollar Bar remains in Houston running her Thai restaurant in Houston with her daughter, the lovely Khun Pook. I see Ned, Ott's husband, regularly, but haven't asked him of any travel plans either he or Ott might have. I suppose they might want to get together sometime over the holidays, whether here or in Texas.

Saw "Ba" Burt Nestle a few days ago -- did I write this already? Anyway, he's fine. His daughter, the lovely Jan, was off to Los Angeles and due back Sunday, but I haven't heard from her yet.

Had some very positive feedback on the story last week about Tata Young; unsurprisingly, some of the comments were specifically about the sexy photo of her I put at the top of last week's column. A few of the Squaronians have mentioned it; Tata's Father used to let her come with him to the Square back in the days when he was still a regular Squaronian himself, though I haven't seen him in years, and I've never met Tata herself. Maybe I'll search for another nice photo of her to plug in at the top of this edition!

By the way, let me give a plug for the food at the Silver Dollar. It's all good, though I'm particularly fond of their Tex Mex food, especially the pinto bean soup, which is out of this world. They also cook ribs on the grill every Monday night, and even I, not a big fan of ribs, find them simply splendid -- they're delicious. Besides, it's a very comfortable place (but, then, I feel that way about several of the places around the Square!).

Business still isn't all that great around this neighborhood, neither in the Square, nor along Soi 22, nor in Queen's Park Plaza. But all the owners and ladies are hoping this turns out to be a good tourist season; we'll just have to wait to see if more tourists start coming. I hope so, for all concerned.

As for me, I'm fine, and still plotting a trip to the U.S. in the near future -- like in the next week or two, I hope. I haven't been in America for the holiday period since 1997, and Christmas in particular is my favorite time of the year -- yes, I'm still a little kid about it! -- so I sure am looking forward to that. Except I'll probably freeze!

Well, it's only Tuesday, so I'll probably return to this story to add something, if nothing else other than the details about the Saturday meal at the Texas Lone Staar.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

UPDATE, Sunday, November 15, 2009: I deliberately delayed uploading because of two events in the Square yesterday I wanted to attend then write about.

First up is the Silver Dollar Bar's new Saturday lunch offered from noon until 4:30 P.M. They're offering their most excellent spaghetti and meatbals for 140 baht. Garlic bread is available as a side order for just 20 baht. I really like the spaghetti there -- almost as much as I like my Mother's, and I can assure you that's saying something!

Because I ate like a pig Friday night, I wasn't hungry yesterday afternoon, but I did make it a point to make a port call to Silver yesterday -- in fact, I'm in the bar now using their computer to write this update. And I was pleased to see that there was a right healthy amount of business, and everyone was in a fine mood.

The Silver Dollar is a really great bar. I like the bar itself, the staff, the owners, and the other customers -- I'm plain comfortable there. I do hope you'll drop around and give it a try if you've not visited before; you may be in for a pleasant surprise. (For the record, my other two favorite bars are the Texas Lone Staar and New Square One Pub, both also well worth a visit.)

Next up is the new Saturday offering at the Texas Lone Staar. Starting yesterday, they have a 99-baht blue plate special, available all day. I do need to stress this is experimental, but if yesterday was any indication, it's going to turn out to be a roaring success. While it's not my place to blab their business publicly, I will say I asked the manager earlier this morning what their results were for the day, and I was downright shocked by the numbers he quoted, though I knew from having been there the place was booming. It's true that part of that was because yesterday was also the birthday of one of the ladies who is extremely well-liked by one and all. But a lot of the guys there were either newcomers or Squaronians unaware it was Joy's birthday. In any case, they had a good enough day to paste great, big smiles on the owners' faces!!!

Also in connection with Texas Lone Staar, the famed Christopher G. Moore will be holding a book signing there on [American] Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26, 2009. He will have his latest Vincent Calvino mystery novel, The Corruptionist, as the main feature for just 499 baht (I think -- a discount from the cover price anyway), but get this -- he's also going to have some his older titles on sale for just 249 baht each.

If you're unfamiliar with the Calvino series, Chris has written a total of ten novels which feature American private detective private eye Vincent Calvino as the main character. (As prolific as Chris is, he'll undoubtedly keep expanding the series.) Calvino lives in Bangkok and manages to get himself into the middle of all sorts of affairs, none of them good. Chris has any number of strengths as a writer; two of his chief ones is his excellent character development and his tight plotting; you find yourself breathing quickly and sliding forward in your chair (or scruching further under your covers) as you get excited with keen anticipation for the next development. In other words, the novels are page-turners with memorable characters. His style sometimes approaches the staccato, which he uses to excellent effect, gripping the reader with almost unbearable anticipation.

And Chris as a person is one of the nicest people I've ever met, and it's a great pleasure to count him as a friend. He;s very approachable, not the least bit any sort of stuffed shirt all full of himself, as he might have become given his [ever-growing] success as a writer. (A movie is in the works, but more about that as it firms up.) He is "Grisham Gone East" -- he's a Canadian lawyer who still does some legal work, but writing is is true passion. And he serves as an excellent counter-argument to the notion that lawyers are bad folks: he's a downright great guy.

Do drop by the Texas Lone Staar for his book-signing; I promise you he will greet you warmly -- and with total sincerety. That's Chris.

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Time to Talk about Thai Bar Girls . . . Again

Of late I've noticed that even in places where I'm well known, which means the ladies know I don't like them to ask me for a lady drink, crowd around me, and so on, the ladies are doing exactly that, in some cases: cowding right around me (and I mean several, not just one) fishing for drinks. While I understand that the commissions they get from lady drinks are an important part of their incomes, I still don't care for the pushiness.

However, being an Old Thai Hand, I don't mind simply ignoring them, or, if they get overly and overtly aggressive, I stop ignoring them and tell them point-blank to leave me alone. I don't enjoy either one, but like most people, I simply can't afford to be buying dozens of lady drinks every time I happen into the Square (or anywhere else, for that matter). Nor am I inclined to do so.

Anyone who lives here and likes to go to bars either becomes rather inured -- hardened, some would say -- or go crazy, or maybe go back to wherever home is. 

Old Thai Hands, including Squaronians, have learned this, adapting to the realities of life here (including the widespread poverty, by the way, which is why many of the bar ladies become bar ladies in the first place).

Of course, the ladies get hardened, too; who can blame them?

Newcomers have trouble balancing the thrill of being surrounded by beautiful ladies, all hanging on him seeking his favor, with the cold, hard fact that no, L'il Noi doesn't really love him; she saves that for her husband or boyfriend upcountry, or wherever. Most of the time, she really is helping care for her parents and other family members, and her first duty is to family -- not to you, Mr. Newbie.

One of the best personal stories I have illustrating this whole scenario took place a few years ago in the Internet shop in Washington Square.

I went in to check my e-mail, and there was only one computer available. I sat down, and idly noticed the very attractive Thai lady seated next to me had a sheet of paper from which she was copying English text into an e-mail.

She happened to glance up and made eye contact, then smiled. Hesitantly -- but in darned near perfect English -- asked me if I speak English. When I said I do, she asked if I would check the letter she had written to send out via e-mail. well, I was still actively teaching writing (among other subjects) at the time, so I didn't mind agreeing to read her letter for it.

There wasn't a single error. The words were all correct, including in their forms -- adjectives and adverbs in correct form, verbs in correct tenses, punctuation all spot on.

But it was odd; for instance, it read "Dear _____," "I hope your trip back to _____ was nice," and other fill-in-the-blanks and multiple choices (hot/cold/snowy/rainy). And so on.

Turned out the gal was sending the same e-mail to five foreigners, all of who sent her money each month -- between them, US$4,000, in all.

So, you guys coming here for the first time, realize that most of these ladies (1.) come from extremely impoverished backgrounds, (2.) will do just about anything to improve their lots and take care of their families, (3.) more likely than not have a local boyfriend or husband upcountry, and maybe a kid or two, and, (4.) no, she's not different, and no, she doesn't really love you.

Yes, there are exceptions; I know several foreign-bar lady couples who've been married for decades, and made a go of it. But those fairy tales are incredibly rare; I don't know -- maybe one in 50,000?

Hang onto your hearts -- and your wallets. And don't forget and leave your brain on the plane to Bombay!

For a somewhat different perspective, see the following discussion thread in a Bangkok Post forum about Thai-foreigner marriages; interestingly, a couple Thai ladies made comments.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

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New Airport Link Video

Here's a pretty slick video about the rail link set to go into operation sometime in the relatively near future. While the voice-over is in Thai, for those who don't understand the language but can read English, there are English subtitles.

This should be an excellent service, and not just for air travelers. Two services, actually.

One will be a non-stop express running between Suvarnabhumi Airport (a.k.a. "Bangkok International Airport") and Makkasan Station, which is essentially downtown; the travel time will be just 15 minutes. Furthermore, for people heading out to the airport, there will be check-in facilities -- including for luggage -- at the Makkasan Station.

The other will be a city line serving a total of six stations that has a station at one end on Phayathai Road. Obviously, this route will be slower than the express route, but it adds to speedy ways to get across this often-congested city.

Also, both routes provide connections to the MRT, increasing the effective reach of the system.

The intention isn't just to whisk people back and forth between the airport and the city; the authorities also hope it helps relieve traffic congestion. For that matter, everyone wants to see traffic congestion eased.

I don't know just when this new airport link is scheduled to open; the last I read, which was some weeks ago, was "early next year." And that won't be a moment too soon!

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TOT to Offer 3G Service

Read a story yesterday (which of course I can't find now to send you to; apparently the Bangkok Post has pulled it offline) anyway, it said that the Telephone Organization of Thailand will approve five local companies to offer 3G telephone service starting December 3rd.

The writer also speculated that 3G service will start a price war between the carriers -- and that prices will be only 10% of what they now are.

I don't know about that.

After all, I already pay only 3 baht for the first minute to call a Bangkok hand phone, and half a baht a minute thereafter, and that's pretty darned cheap. Works out to 9 U.S. cents for the first minute and 1.5 cents for further minutes. And I can call the U.S. for just 5 baht per minute, or US$.15 -- whereas the top rate when I came here in 1994 was a wallet-draining US$3.28 per minute. Put another way, the cost for that call today is a little less than 5% of the cost of the same call made during the day on a weekday back then.

But leaving aside the question of pricing, I still am not sure if 3G service will really become available anytime soon. The story mentioned that more than one government agency is involved in awarding licenses, and not everyone has issued those yet.

I've read any number of stories critical of members of the various agencies involved, but those complaints really aren't fair. The regulatory framework is sorely lacking, and that doesn't have anything to do with the individuals serving on the various boards. The Constitutional Court has been asked to consider whether or not certain agencies even have constitutional authority to regulate the industry.

Well -- we'll see. Consecutive governments have had the lofty aim of making Thailand a communications hub for this part of the world, but so far, none have had the remotest success.

Friday, November 13, 2009

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Great Online Resource for Learning
Much About Thailand (and Other Countries)

 Happened across a Bangkok Post forum in which a writer gave his explanation of the name "Thailand," though that explanation is quite controversial.

But never mind that; one person who replied put up a link to a particular essay about Thailand during World War II at the most excellent Country Studies website.

This information was gathered by various U.S. government agencies, so it is dispassionate and straightforward, so anyone seeking titillation is likely to be disappointed. But anyone interested in learning factual background -- the total project took place from 1986 to 1998, so the information is a bit dated -- will find reams of stuff here. For instance, the Thailand index page alone has some 80 entries.

This website is useful for people about to move to another country (or ev en just to visit), for anyone wanting a comprehensive look at their own country, and so on.

Well worth saving in your favorites list!

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Terrorists Renounce Terrorism

The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leadership has released a new set of guidelines for jihadi -- and they are a direct challenge to al Qaeda generally and Osama bin Laden particularly.

There have been moderate voices raised in the world of Islam denouncing terrorism, but for the LNG to make a formal declaration is especially significant, particularly given that group's own bloody past.

You can read the excellent CNN story here: New jihad code threatens al Qaeda

I just happened across the CNN story. It's puzzling this hasn't made headline news right around the world, since it's clearly the most significant challenge to those terrorist bastards ever, coming, as it does, from within.

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Tips for Travelers from Pros

Ran across a really good list on CNN in a story headlined "These tips for travelers could save your life" that's well worth taking a few minutes to read.

Some are common sense, but others aren't at all obvious. For instance, Americans are advised to leave their Social Security cardes at home, even when traveling domestically.

At the heart of all these recommendations is what security experts call "situational awareness." And that means exactly what it says: be attuned to the people around you and what they're doing.

Sometimes you need to be aware of different building construction practices. For isn't, practically no bar or club, nor even some restaurants, here in Bangkok outfitted with a second exit. That's one reason I quit going to places such as Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Patpong. all areas targeted by criminals. The places I go in Washington Square mostly have only a single entry and exit, but, then, that's not really a tourist area, so I know practically everyone anyway. And I do take note if a stranger does come in, especially if he appears even slightly drunk, or starts talking loudly, even if he's not speaking rudely to anyone.

Some people reject being situationally aware, arguing they "don't want to think about that." but when a robber sticks a gun in your face, it's too late. Years ago, when I was a security officer, a friend's grandmother who had recently lost her husband asked me to teach her how to load and unload her late husbands 9-mm pistol, so I did, and had her practice loading and unloading it several times until she felt comfortable and became reasonably proficient. Then I started trying to make plans to take her to a gun range a few days to have a professional firearms instructor, a police sergeant I knew who taught rookie  cops and private security officers, to teach her how to shoot. She was horrified, and flat refused. Then she unloaded the pistol, put the bullets back into their box, and asked me to put the pistol up way high in her bedroom closet -- while she locked the pullets in a lock box she kept in a lockable drawer in her bedside night stand. Fat lot of good that would do her. But there was no convincing her. When she died some years later, her grand-daughter told me she found the pistol and bullets exactly where they had been left that evening years before; apparently the lady never got them out again.

Not think about bad guys won't keep them away.

That doesn't mean you need to be paranoid, and I certainly wouldn't dream of urging anyone to arm themselves unless they truly felt a need and were willing to learn how to use the weapon safely. (How many stories have we all heard of one family member shooting another, thinking there was in intruder in the home?)

There is one recommendation I would add to the list: when you're in a new place to dine or drink, try to sit where you can keep an eye on the door. That's especially true if your alone, and even more true if you're a lady. If a robber comes in, at least you'll be able to drop to the floor before any shooting starts.

It's easier to develop the habit of being situationally aware at all times than you might think. And it doesn't have to spoil your enjoyment; for me, it's automatic. 

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

"The Rounds," Friday, November 6, 2009

Tata Young, Thai Songtress
(Thought I'd start this edition
right; she's the subject of Story
# 5 -- plus there's a video!)

Submissions -- only, please -- to: squaronians [at]

1. A Great New Food & Travel Website

2. Thai Elephant Walking Well With New Ariticial Leg(!)

3. A "Diversity Immigrant Visa" for the U.S. Is a Real Visa

4. The Nation and Launch Joint SMS News Service

5. Tata Young, Very Talented (and Sexy!) Thai Songtress

6. "Smile Series" Available for Kindle Reader

7. "Smile Series" Available for Kindle Reader

8. Visa-Extension Confusion

9. Washington Square News

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A Great New Food & Travel Website

I have a Hong Kong-based American friend who's a professional writer and who has started a new blog Accidental Travel Writer that is well worth exploring.

He has begun with a tight focus on cuisine, but the site is rapidly evolving into a much broader one, in terms of both subject and geography.

Michael speaks fluent Mandarin, which gives him a decided advantage in traveling around China, since that's the official national dialect and practically everyone these days speaks it well, even if as a second dialect. (In Hongkong and environs, for example, Cantonese is the Chinese dialect of everyday life, and Cantonese is markedly different from Mandarin.)

Even a cursory glance at Michael's blog shows he's also a good photographer as well, which certainly adds much visual appeal to his efforts. that's especially true when (1.) you're starving, (2.) you're salivating as you look at a photograph of some dish he describes, and (3.) you're near your kitchen or there's a great Chinese restaurant just around the corner!

Michael not only describes dishes and regional cuisines (including their histories) but also recommends specific restaurants that are his personal favorites for the dish or cuisine he's writing about. Of course, if you're sitting in Blahsville, USA, that don't help you, but if you're in town, it will.

I think he should make a deal with every restaurant within 3,000 kilometers that serves any cuisine he discusses -- you go in to order and say "Michael Taylor sent me!" and he gets a commission!

One indication of the potential popularity of Michael's blog is found in the Google ads showing up on it. (Blogspot is owned by Google, and a writer can have Google serve up relevant -- supposedly -- ads on his or her blog.) That sounds arcane, even unlikely, but it is some indicator. As he gets more widely known -- or his blog does, more correctly speaking -- then perhaps his site's number of readers will starting growing exponentially.

Also -- and this is important -- you can become a "follower" of Michael's blog, just the same as you can follow someone or something on Facebook, etc. When I signed on as a follower earlier today, I *did* have to scroll way down past the posts watching the right-hand column until I finally found the place to click, but it is there. Please follow his blog. It's free, it won't cause you to get spam, and it may help him. At the very least, it will build his ego!

Trivia question: Do you know what the name "Hong Kong" means? "Fragrant Harbor." There was the day when people had a different concept of the meaning of the word "fragrant" than they do today, at least when they're thinking about the breeze wafting the complex, um, "scents" floating above world-famous Victoria Harbor . . . but never mind.

Leave a comment on Michael's blog and please loudly say I sent you!

Accidental Travel Writer


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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Thai Elephant Walking Well With New Ariticial Leg (!)

A traiditonal role of elephants in Thailand (as you probably already know) is that of carrying logs in logging camps.

Motola, a 48-year-old female elephant was working doing just that in 1999 near the border with Burma in an area with many landmines -- and the unfortunate stately beast stepped on one, badly mangling a foot. Her foot and part of her leg had to be amputated.

But in one way she's fortunate. There's an Elephant Hospital in northern Thailand, and eventually she was treated there.

Her treatment wasn't merely a case of popping her into surgery, strapping on a prosthesis, then sending her on her way.

About three years ago, doctors fitted her with a temporary prosthesis. Though I'm assuming here, I suppose her stump needed several years to settle into its final form, so the prosthesis makers could properly measure her for a prosthesis. And I suppose she "practiced" with the temporary one for three years to help her adjust to handling it.

She got fitted with her new prosthesis in August of this year -- see "Thai elephant takes 1st steps with artificial leg" for a short article about that -- and is doing well. I say "is" because I've seen later stories mentioning her rapid progress in becoming quite capable of walking fine with her new leg.

Asian elephants are smaller, on average, than their African counterparts, but that doesn't make much difference to you and me, since either one is huge compared to us. I've been Asian bull elephants that sure didn't look "smaller" than much of anything to me!

It's impossible to do justice in words to try to capture the splendor of an elephant, so let me direct you to a AN AP photo of Motola with her new leg. (I can't reprint it here for compyright reasons.) Sure, a lot of us have seen elephants in zoos and circuses, but that's somehow not the same as seeing them working, as I've had the good fortune to do here in Thailand, and I don't mean just the ones whose mahouts take to tourist areas so tourists will buy bunches of bananas and cane to feed them. I've seen elephants actually working on construction sites. And that's not the same as seeing them in the wild, which I've not done (and may not be too eager to do!).

Motola will undoubtedly be well-tended the remainder of her days And we can all rejoice about that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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A "Diversity Immigrant Visa" for the U.S. Is a Real Visa

We've all seen those online ads urging people wanting to emigrate to the U.S. to "CLick here now! For just a truckload of money you TOO can win the U.S. Green Card lottery!" Scams.


However, I ran across a story that steered me to an official U.S. Department of State webpage that shows that there is indeed an annual lottery to hand out 50,000 "diveristy visas" that are permanent residence visas -- the famous "green cards."

What you need to know right away is you (1.) don't NEED to use a service, (2.) the lottery itself is absolutely free (though there are fees for winners), and (3.) the lottery is computer-generated, so there's absolutely no way any person or company can "improve" your chances of winning a diversity visa. THe State Department explicitly says this online. "I'll get to links in a minute, so be patient.)

This isn't an entirely random lottery, which is something else anyone hoping to enter needs to know.

First, no one from a country that has sent more than 50,000 legal immigrants to the U.S. within the past five years is eligible. Yes, I tried to find out Thailand's current status, but didn't find it, so no, I don't know if you can find out before you apply.

Second, there are a number of personal requirements, such as educational level, work experience, occupation, etc. While these requirements are simple, they're strict. Or "incredibly rigid," dpending on your point of view. (Many foreigners are surprised by the extent of anti-immigrant sentiment there is America, itself a nation of immigrants. Heck, I'm American, and it surprises me! I guess that's one reason our immigration laws are very, very strict.)

Third, though I don't know the details, I'm quite confident in saying you'll have to show you have the financial means to survive on your own. In other words, even if you're able to meet every other requirement, if all you can show before leaving for America is a one-way ticket and US$20, with no job and place to stay waiting, I would be hugely surprised if you would be allowed to go.

I'm not trying to deter anyone who wishes to go for the gold and try to win one of these visas. I just want you to understand it's not going to be a quick or easy process. And I want you to understand it is a lottery, after all. And a lottery means a chance of losing -- a far greater chance of losing than winning, in fact. (While I have no idea how many people apply each year, I would bet my last dollar that the number is far greater than 50,000.)

Okay. Here are a couple of places to start:

Diveristy Visa Program Information Page

Diversity Visa Application Start Page

Good luck to you if you decide to apply.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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The Nation and Launch Joint SMS News Service

I bet this becomes popular, although it's not free (except for a 14-day trial). However, with a monthly fee of just 49 baht (a little under US$1.50), the cost is negligible to just about anyone wanting to keep up with news from here -- keep up in English, that is.

Another attraction is that you can subscribe for the service whether you have a pre-paid or post-paid account.

The service is available to AIS, One-2-Call, DTAC, and True Move, according to the story on "Good News for Expats" (get it? get it? "Good News"???) -- which is silent on whether other partners might become available later.

The two assure everyone they will *not* get SMS spam (a real and growing problem -- I just dumped six messages, all spam, in the middle of typing this, that all came within seconds of each other.)

Now (from me, not the story) if you travel outside the Kingdom frequently, have roaming service, and get charged for receiving SMS messages when your away, you might want to think about your service's per-message charge. I've never received an SMS message when I have been away, so I don't have any idea what such a fee might be, nor indeed, if providers here even charge for them (charge receivers, I mean). But I do know that roaming charges for phone calls are exorbitant to the receiver; last time I got one, I was in Cambodia, and it cost three baht per second -- I love you and all that, but I'll call you later!

It's going to be interesting to see how this develops; it's a smart move, I suspect, for both the paper and the website. There is a lot of synergy possibilities there.

To subscribe, dial *424010011.

And NO, I don't get any baht for THIS, either! ;-) Shoot . . .

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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Tata Young, Very Talented (and Sexy!) Thai Songtress

Tata Young has a beautiful voice, in the opinion of many (including me), and is extraordinarily attractive. I've long enjoyed her music, and feel she doesn't have as much recognition outside Thailand and the region -- she does have a considerable following throughout East and Southeast Asia -- as her talent merits. You can judge her attractiveness for yourself -- in case you missed it, that's her photo at the top of the column. (If you missed it, get glasses, or get new ones!) Here's a well-done video of her singing one of my favorite songs:

If you like this video, you can go to and type in Tata Young in the search box and find others by this lovely lass.

[This story is specially dedicated to Brad "The Lad" and Tobin "The Robot." You're both most welcome!]

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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Want to Fly to Some Out-of-the-Way Place? Rent a Plane or Helicopter!

Okay, so this isn't for Mr. or Miss Weak Wallet, but renting an aircraft does open up possibilities.

I was looking around the Internet yesterday and happened to see an ad for an outfit called PriveJets that can arrange a turboprop, jet, or helicopter to take you to just about anyplace you want to go -- anywhere in the world.

I made a quote request for a flight from Don Muang Airport here in Bangkok to Loei and back. Oddly, a turboprop is listed as starting at -- are you ready for this? -- US$117,900. But a light jet capable of carrying 6-7 passengers is listed starting at US$9,500! Go figure. And if you like your elbow room, why, just rent what they call a "heavy jet" that's capable of hauling dozens of passengers starting at just US$41,100!!! No helicopters listed for that route, at least not on the dates I specified, though I imagine PriveJets' folks could fix you up. Wouldn't that be fun -- buzzing all the Nakhon Nowheres betwixt and between! Roar right up Main Street, just a few feet off the ground! WHEE!!!

The list of places in Thailand is impressive, with a total of 68. That doesn't mean 68 different cities, however; Chonburi alone has four listings, much to my surprise, particularly since on that page there's only one listing for Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi International Airport (though when I checked the Bangkok-Loei flight, a window popped up requiring me to specify that airport or Don Muang). I imagine that if you give them enough notice, they can probably arrange to fly you literally anywhere that has a level enough spot with sufficient clearance for a helicopter rotor.

Just imagine . . . you've met The Girl of Your Wildest Fantasies on Soi Cowboy, and you want to impress her and her family, who live in some remote village in Isaan. So, you give PriveJets a call, arrange a helicopter, and descend like a god into Sweetie Pie's Nakhon Nowhere! (Let's gloss over the complete idiocy of your doing this.)

Since PriveJets says they can arrange even a jumbo jet, it's possible to fly intercontinentally.

Besides opening up many more destinations, renting an aircraft has other advantages, not least in the airports at either end (unless you're taking off and landing in a helicopter in the middle of nowhere). No long lines, no lost luggage, and so on.

Actually, I seem to recall reading somewhere recently that in the U.S. at least, the situation for private aircraft may be changing -- for the worse, in terms of time, with increased security checks, etc. And the U.S. often sets the pattern, with other countries following suit.

Sometimes this can be downright ridiculous. I remember being on a flight from Hong Kong to Los Angeles that had to stop in Anchorage to refuel. In those days, there was still a smoking section, and I had specifically booked a seat in it. That was fine on the Hong Kong-Anchorage leg. Then we took off again headed to Los Angeles. I kept waiting for the "No Smoking" sign to go off so I could fire up, but it didn't. I stopped a stewardess to ask her about it, thinking the cockpit crew had simply forgotten. Her initial response really confused me: "You can't smoke when we're in U.S. air space." I was seated on the left side of the aircraft, and it was early afternoon; I could seen the Canadian Rockies not far off, and mentioned that little detail. She clarified, saying "But we're flying between two U.S. cities, and as far as the U.S. government is concerned, that makes this a moestic flight flying through U.S. air space." I've wondered since just what our friends in Ottawa might have to say about declaring the air above a Canadian province to be "U.S. air space." All I could do was to grumble inwardly; it wasn't the stewardess's fault, after all.

Anyway, for the well-heeled, or for the executive on a truly generous expense account, renting an aircraft can be the way to go -- literally!

Friday, November 6, 2009

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"Smile Series" Available for Kindle Reader

Got a notice from my friend, Christopher G. Moore, the well-known resident-in-Bangkok-for-many-years author that his classic "Smile" trilogy is now available as ebooks for the Kindle reader.

I've written before that this trilogy ought to be required reading for anyone coming to Thailand, especially men coming alone (whether married or not). And I've written they ought to be required to take an exhaustive test about the books before boarding the plane to come here -- and to pass it with a score of, oh, let's say at least 95%. (Women, children, and men traveling with their family would be exempt. Well -- maybe not men, even if they are traveling with their family! Such men can sneak off from the hotel and get themselves into a heap of trouble -- in a heartbeat!)

The three books are A Killing Smile, A Bewitching Smile, and A Haunting Smile. (The links are to each book's order page on In his blog, Chris says the books retail for US$8.95 each, but when I checked just now, they're listed at US$10.95. You can buy a Kindle reader here for a cool US$259.00.

I put a link to Chris' blog because it's an excellent resource for anyone remotely interested in the art of writing. Learning at the feet of a master isn't a bad way to go, and Chris is certainly an accomplished one. (He's also one heck of a nice guy, by the way.)

Chris is a prolific writer; he has some 20 books to his name, and that's no small feat. He's very disciplined about his art, workind according to a set schedule, from which he varies only when he has to travel somewhere -- as he has just done; he went on a mixed business and pleasure trip to the U.S. and his native Canada. (Hey -- I'll ask him what he thinks about "U.S. air space" in Canada! And he's a lawyer to boot!)

Anyway, getting back to the Smile" trilogy, I don't think they're in print anymore, so it's great they've come out for the Kindle. If I didn't have the dead-tree copies I do have, I would certainly buy the ebook versions. (Though I prefer the dead-tree version; I plain like holding a book in my hands.)

And no, no, a thousand times NO! I don't get a commission from Chris, either!!! :-(

Friday, November 6, 2009

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Visa-Extension Confusion

I guess there's still some uncertainty about getting a regular 60-day tourist visa extended.

Last time I went to Immigration here in Bangkok to extend such a visa, the lady handling my request called me back up to the desk to tell me the 30-day extension I had requested was no longe available, but that I could havce a 7-day one. She also pointed to a sign on a piece of A4 paper that had exactly that written on it, along with an official Immigration stamp and someone's signature.

However, just a few days later, a friend of mine went, and got a 30-day extension. He didn't notice any signs, but then he wasn't looking for one, either.

Just a day or two later I saw a friend who was on his way to apply for an extension. I told him about my experience and the other guy's. When this guy came back, we met in Washington Square and he told me he had gone to the appropriate window before filling out the application form and asked an officer if he could apply for 30 days -- and the officer said "yes," and, my buddy added, looked at him like he was from another planet. Said buddy also carefully looked all over the place but didn't see any sign such as I had seen.

Further, the lady dealing with me told me I could get only a single 7-day extension, in contrast to the rules before. Then, a person 50 or older could get two consecutive 30-day extensions for a 60-day visa, for a total of 120 days.

Sometime after my buddy got a 30-day extension, he got a second one -- just like before. But then a third friend went, only to be told he could have only a single 7-day extension.

It should be said that despite some apparent confusion, including among Immigration officers themselves, the Immigration authorities here are very, very generous with us; Thailand has about as laid-back visa regime as one can reasonably hope for, especially in terms of tourist visas.

There is another way to stay longer legally. You can fly out and back, even on the same day, and when you come back through Immigration at the airport, you get a so-called "visa on arrival" good for 30 days. This isn't a visa, technically, but a stamp authorizing you to stay even though you don't have a visa. I should note that certain nationalities are granted shorter periods, and a few aren't eligible at all, but must have an actual visa to enter the Kingdom. But note this: if you enter by land or water, you get only 15 days, not 30, a situation that started in November, 2008.

Any extension will cost you 1,900 baht, at least for now. Also, be aware that if you overstay, you will be fined 500 baht per day, up to a maximum of 20,000 baht. You also are subject to arrest, though in over 15 years, I've never heard of anyone being arrested solely for overstaying a visa. I did know a guy who got accused of dealing in drugs who also was several months overstayed and who got arrested initially on the overstay charge, but once the police decided the accuser was lying (which he was), they let my friend pay his fine and leave the country -- and he was back five days later!

There are other visas for which you might qualify that are valid for one year and that can be renewed without your having to leave the country.

First is a retirement visa for anyone at least 50 years old. You have to have 800,000 baht in a Thai bank or 65,000 baht per month coming into a Thai bank account. In any case, the money must come from abroad. You have to have had the 800,000/65,000 in your account for at least three months prior to applying and maintain it at least three months after being granted the visa. There's also a stipulation that if the money is coming in monthly installments it must be from an "approved source" -- but other than old-age pensions, government retirement pensions, and military retirement pensions, I don't know what qualifies.

Next is a so-called "marriage visa," though in fact this visa is available to anyone taking care of a Thai national, at least if that person is a minor. (I'm very unclear about what happens if, say, you're supporting your girlfriend's elderly parents.) The rules for this kind of visa are the same as for a retirement visa, except the amounts are half as much (which has always struck me as odd -- a single person taking care only of himself has to have double what another guy who has a Thai wife has to have, although the married guy is caring for at least two people, and likely an entire village!). A word of caution: a village wedding has no legal status, though a village wedding is the way practically all Thais marry, never bothering to officially register their marriage with the government. So, if you do marry a Thai person, you can flat expect to have a village wedding -- not to do so is simply unthinkable -- but if you want then to apply for a marriage visa, you need to go to the appropriate government office, fill out a form or two, and pay a fee of 1,000 baht (last I knew, that is). I went with a friend and his wife to such an office, as they thought they needed a witness, but in fact none was required. They were in and out in under 20 minutes, so it's pretty painless.

If you have substantial property or money abroad, you need to find out what the laws in your own country -- even if your property and/or money is in a third country -- treat ownership of those assets once you're married, and your marriage is recognized by your government. For example, my ex-wife was a Chinese national whom I met and married in Beijing. We took the required paperwork to the U.S. embassy, where our marriage was formally recognized, enabling her to apply for U.S. permanent residency. The fact that the national government recognized our marriage meant that my home state's government did, too; in my case, that's Texas, where I maintain my legal residence. When we divorced a few years later, we did so in Texas, and had she wished, my ex-wife could have claimed up to 50% of my assets. (Lucky me, she wanted nothing -- except out!) So, all you guys with oil wells and gold mines need to think about that! ;-)

There are other types of visas, such as student ones, but they apply only to a given category, obviously, and may not be for an entire year, depending on the specific circumstances. That is, if you come here to study in a 6-month course learning Thai, the visa will be for six months, not a full year. And so on. Check with a Thai embassy or consulate for further details for people of your nationality.

There's another detail you need to know if you plan to work here. A work permit is an entirely separate matter from the accompanying visa, and is issued by the Labor Department, not the Immigration Bureau. Furthermore, you have to have a work permit even if you're not being paid a single baht nor provided any food, housing, etc. That's right -- if you come as, say a volunteer with your church (or whatever), you are legally required to have a work permit.

Normally, visas (and work permits) are handled by someone here, though you well might have to make at least an initial appearance yourself at the Immigration Bureau, and, if appropriate, the Labor Department. But after that, As for anyone applying for a retirement or marriage visa, well, you're on your own.

By the way, the law says you have to report your address every 90 days, even if you haven't moved in 27 years.

Enforcement of some aspects of this apparently is discretionary, to some extent, on the part of Immigration officers, but it's best to have everything in order -- according to the law -- just to be safe.

Note that I am not an attorney, so don't accept anything I've said as the last word. Check with the appropriate authorities, i.e., Immigration and Labor Department officers and, if you feel it necessary, an attorney.

By the way, once you're here, you'll see advertisements for "visa service" companies. Beware: you pay a fee, and the company has someone take a bunch of passports out of the Kingdom (or sends them out some other way). Yes, the passports are stamped out and back in, good for 30 days (the "visa on arrival" business). A variation is the passports are taking to a Thai consulate and have visas stamped into them. But either is strictly illegal, and if you're caught, you will have a bad, bad day. At best, you'll likely be fined 20,000 baht and jailed until you can arrange a ticket back to your home country. Not to another country -- your home country. And you do not want to be locked up in the International Detention Center, I assure you. There's a bucket for a toilet and you sleep on the floor. And jail food is terrible (though you can have someone bring you food from outside).

Not fun. Don't risk it. remember you're a foreigner here, and any "rights" you may have are limited to those the Thai government chooses to extend to you -- which is only fair.

Friday, November 6, 2009

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Washington Square News

Well, the short version is this: the beer, booze, and bums continue flowing serenely along. . . . ;-)

Actually, the weather has been a big topic amongst Squaronians; the cool season came to town in late October, and boy oh boy, has it ever been nice. It's as warm right now (10:45 A.M.) as it has been for awhile, with the temperature about 29C/84F. There have been a number of nights I didn't use my aircon at all -- it would have been too cold. Up in the far north, in the mountains the temperature at night has dropped to around freezing; even at lower elevations, it has dropped to not very much above freezing. This is my 15th autumn in the Kingdom, and I don't recall the cool season ever coming this early before.

I guess you folks in places like Yellowknife, Barrow, Archangel, Oslo, etc. can just be jealous!

Happily, there's no real news, the "happy" part meaning no bad news.

Burma Richard is nearing completing his latest statue; he told me two days ago he imagines he'll be ready to take it off to the foundry for casting. Richard reminds me of a 21st-century version of Van Gogh, except Richard hasn't cut off his own ear . . . yet. (I'm waiting, however.)

"Ba" Burt Nestle made it to the Square this week -- twice. The first day he came, he called me, and I said I'd go right up, but he told me he was going back home; his wife forgot to put his bank book and passport into his bag for him, and of course Burt can't take care of himself, so he got to town only to discover he was flat broke! But we got together the following day, as the second time around he actually double-checked his bag before he left home to be sure he had everything he needed to withdraw some money from the bank. I bet he didn't put his bank book and passport into his bag, though -- Jan, his daughter, is off in Los Angeles, but undoubtedly Mrs. Burt stuffed them in for him! Anyway, he's fine, and reports his wife and Jan are well, too.

Some of the offshore guys have been around, coincidentally arriving within the same time frame: Gavin, Cajun Riley, Scottish Alex, English Tony, and a few irregulars. They're all fine, except after several hours in the Square! ;-)

Saw Taffy yesterday and asked about his Mother-in-law, who has been ill, apparently rather more ill than I had realized -- but she's out of hospital and well on the road to recovery, I'm glad to say.

Aussie Cal is still in town -- in fact, I saw him yesterday and learned he's not only been here about three weeks already, but that he went to extend his ticket a couple more weeks yesterday morning. It's rare for him to be here for such a long time, and it's nice to have him around. Great guy.

Chris Moore has made it back from his North America tour. I thought I was going to meet him and Burma Richard at the Texas Lone Staar yesterday, but they weren't there. The staff had had someone paint a room or something, and the bar itself reeked of it. Richard called me a couple hours later and told me they had met then fled to the Dubliner; I hadn't thought to look there for them, as that's not one of their usual stops. Anyway, I hope to see Chris today -- I'm leaving to the Square soon for that express purpose.

"German" Tony's in town for his annual month's holiday here. His first few days were, as usual, one long fog, of course, but he's settling in now and enjoying himself -- calmly, that is! :-)

Have stopped by the Hare 'n Hound to chat with the affable Dave, and by Cheers to chat with Chris. If you haven't visited either of those places, do go by -- they're nice places, and Dave and Chris are both nice guys, plus the staff are all nice, as is Dave's wife.

I was startled to learn that Flyers, which wasn't within the Square itself but nearby, on the southeast corner of Sukhumvit Road and Sukhumvit Soi 22, has been literally leveled -- the building (and an adjoining one) are gone. Kaput. Razed to the ground. No one I've talked to knows what's instore for the lot, which is large and certainly a prime piece of real estate. Of course, with rumors about the fate of the Square, everyone got a little nervous; I think the ultimate owners of the razed lot are the same as own the Square's real estate. Haven't heard anything, though.

Well, let's hope the cool season (gloat, gloat) keeps up!

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Enough for one go . . .

Mekhong Kurt