Sunday, May 30, 2010

"The Rounds," Monday, May 31, 2010

NOTE: Please notice that immediately below each entry here, there's a "Comments" button you can click then type in a comment, observation, or reply to anything I've written. I wish the button were larger and more obvious; I suspect most people don't even notice it, because it's so darned tiny. Anyway, please do feel free to comment. Just keep it polite and on-topic!


Taffy Going to America

"Wily" Wayne Trying to Go to Nigeria

Regulars Rollicking 'Round the Square of Late

And a Bit About Me . . . (and Other News as Well)

The Broader Overview

Taffy Going to America

The Bad Boy of Bangkok, a.k.a. "The Terror of Thailand," namely Khun Taffy of New Square One Pub is off to America to visit with "The Minnesota Mob," headed by Charlie "The Don."

Taffy's getting quite excited as the day nears, which I think will be this coming weekend. Not only is excited about seeing Charlie, Bubba, and Mike -- nice guys who are always welcome here -- but this will also be Taffy's first visit to the U.S., or, indeed, anywhere in the New World.

He will have to be on guard against one thing: Minnesota has positively monstrous mosquitoes, and considering that mosquitoes in Britain, from whence Taffy comes, and here in Thailand positively adore him -- why, the nearest mosquito can be a mile away but it'll lock onto Taffy and make a beeline to him! -- I imagine the American Cousins will find him just as tasty as their British and Thai relatives do!

He's flying on Delta, and I'll be interested in how his flights go; it has been about 18 years since I've flown on that particular airline, and no one I know has happened to fly on it in recent years, so Taffy's report will be new, updated information.

The routing's sounds okay; he stops in Tokyo both directions, the flight to and from Minneapolis scheduled to be non-stops. That means he'll be cooped up on the flights between Tokyo and Minneapolis for around 13-14 hours.

I also have reminded Taffy not to get too sassy with any U.S. immigration or customs officers, as they can be downright grumpy; it wouldn't be much fun for him to start his trip cooling his heels in a cell waiting for Charlie to come try to bail him out!!! ;-)

He'll be gone, let's see, I think he told me a little over a week. He'd like to stay longer, but figures, no doubt rightly, that he really can't be gone much longer than that since he does, after all, have a business to run.

It should be a great trip for him. All of us certainly hope so!

As for me, I'm eager for him to get gone and get back -- he has promised to bring me a smoked summer sausage and a chunk of smoked cheese, both of which I positively salivate over!

Bon voyage, Khun Taffy!!!

"Wily"  Wayne

Trying to Go to Nigeria

Cajun Riley's good friend and fellow Bayou Boy Wayne is in town between jobs, and has been offered a new one in that vacation paradise of Nigeria.

It's proving to be a less-than-straightforward matter for him to get a work visa, however. We got together yesterday, as he had asked me to go over his paperwork with him to help him be sure he has everything he needs and in order. As far as I can tell, he does, at least according to an information sheet he has from the Nigerian embassy here. The requirements are typical -- a letter of employment, his letter of acceptance, a document from the company identifying how many foreigners they can employ, copies of Wayne's professional certificates and the like, photos, and the visa application.

However, it turns out there are two kinds of work visas, and therein lies the rub. He went to the embassy here to apply for the type his boss-to-be specified, but the lady at the embassy, a Thai lady, is insisting he needs the other type, and that because he's American, he has to apply online. He has been in further contact with the folks in Nigeria, and they're puzzled, because the type of visa they told him to get is the type the Nigerian authorities have always specified for their foreign employees. Further, when he goes online to the appropriate Nigerian page -- as he did with me sitting right there looking over his shoulder -- there's a message for Americans applying from outside the U.S. to click a link, which takes you to a page belonging to what appears to be a private visa company, "VisaHQ." Fine -- EXCEPT for the fact that on that page the message is that Americans outside the U.S. applying for a visa have to go in person to the nearest Nigerian or consulate to apply.

Wayne had already run into that before he asked me to help, if I can, and has already been back to the embassy -- but the lady continues to insist that he get the other type of visa AND to apply for it online. I can't really help him, other than to confirm it looks like to me he has everything for the visa the company wants him to get, and that the paperwork he has is more than required for the other kind of work visa, and that yes, the message online does direct Americans to go in person to a Nigerian embassy or consulate. By the way, that page provides no other options.

There may be another sticking point. Wayne thought he had read a requirement for a police report, but the sheet he showed me doesn't list that as one of the required documents, so I asked if maybe the lady had said something, which he says might be the case, but he's sure it came up somewhere.

In the first place, nothing on the information sheet or online indicates anyone has to submit a police report with a visa application. In the second place, wayne has a retirement visa here in Thailand -- and his local address is his legal, permanent one. He doesn't own any property in the U.S., and on the rare occasion he needs to receive mail or a package there, he has it sent to his Sister's home, though that's not his legal address. He doesn't even have a U.S. driver's license and isn't registered to vote.

So -- where does he need to get a police report -- the U.S., since he is, after all, an American, or Thailand, since his permanent residence and legal address are here???

I saw him again last night, and he said he has decided to go back to the embassy this morning or tomorrow morning -- visa hours are 10:00 A.M.-Noon ONLY -- to try again. He did save the webpage that says for applicants to apply in person so he can show the clerk at the embassy.

I speculated to Wayne that perhaps the "embassy" isn't really an embassy at all, but the office of a local honorary consul, and that the consul well might not have any idea about the particular type of visa Wayne's potential employer wants him to get. (Come to think of it, I really don't see why there are two types of work permits, nor, given that there are, what difference it makes to the company -- so long as he can legally work.)

Given the difficulty employers have getting non-Nigerians to be willing to go to Nigeria, and given the Nigerian government's apparent desire to have such people work there, one would think work-related matters would be as simple and streamlined as possible. That's not proving to be the case, at least not so far, for Wayne in his what's turning out to be maybe a quixotic quest!

We'll see. . . .

Regulars Rollicking

'Round the Square of Late

Over the past few days I've noticed a number of the regulars out and about, some at the same time, making the Square a bit livelier lately than it has been since before the demonstrations started awhile back.

Cajun Riley came knocking around several days in a row. One day he cooked up a batch of his splendid seafood spaghetti -- or I GUESS it was its typical splendid; I didn't know about it until the pot had been emptied, licked, washed, and put away! Dadgumitall. Anyway, several people who did get to partake of it assured me, in the midst of their evil, cruel gloating, that this batch was every bit as delicious as anything Riley cooks -- and he is one helluva a cook, one of the best around.

The cooks at the Texas Lone Staar, Riley's usual headquarters when he gets the urge to whip something up for his friends, of course were delighted. Not only do they, too, love his cooking (hell, they love any food -- and does it ever show!), but since he cooked, they had less to do than normal. You wouldn't be far off the mark were you to describe the cooks as folks less-than-enamored of their work! ;-)

At least I have gotten to see Riley's wife, the lovely Lek, a time or two, when she's come to the Square to take him home when he's run out of steam for the day. It's always a great pleasure to see that fine lady, who is universally liked by us all.

Scottish Doug has been out and about, including -- unusually -- over this weekend just ended. He even got all wrapped up in what turned out to be a several-hour session playing pool at Taffy's the other day. And he's quite a good player. He started off playing Taffy, whose no slouch on the pool table, so it was fun to watch them shoot it out.

"Naughty" Nigel made it in from the yard for the first time in awhile, and I happened to be out when he came strolling into the Lone Staar, so we had a chance to catch up a bit. He says his business has been something less than thumping, but I guess that's pretty much the norm everywhere in just about all kinds of business these days. But he's getting along just fine, I was glad to hear.

"Gabbing" Gary is presumably safely back in New Jersey with his folks, lounging away in one of the two beach houses they own. Haven't heard from him yet, but I hadn't expected to, either. He's undoubtedly enjoying relaxing, taking an occasional stroll through the Atlantic surf, throwing bread crumbs to sea gulls, and other time-wasting-but-fun activities! I think he said he, his Dad, and his Uncle will be going to Aruba (or somewhere down that way) later on in the summer, something I know they invariably enjoy. I've sometimes wondered why Gary stays in Bangkok instead of moving to somewhere such as Pattaya-Jomtien or Hua Hin, both within easy reach -- two or three hours by car or bus -- and both seaside resorts, though Hua Hin is considerably quieter than madhouse Pattaya, in particular. (By the way, I've heard from multiple sources that Bangkok's misfortune of the demonstrations turned out to be Pattaya's good fortune. It reportedly was packed throughout those tumultuous weeks, especially the nine days there was a curfew here in the capital. As Pattaya had been sitting largely empty, many bar, restaurant, and hotel owners sweating it out, no doubt there was much rejoicing to the sweet music of cash registers ringing!)

Anyway, here's to a great visit in America to Gary.

Aussie York, he of Harley-Davidson fame, has become a regular fixture at the Texas Lone Staar in particular, and, to a bit lesser extent, the Silver Dollar. He overheard me and Wayne talking about Wayne's "Nigerian Nightmare" and said his company has a nice new contract there but that happily, he won't have to be going there himself. Come to think of it, as many years as I've known York, I don't have the slightest idea what his line of work is, so of course don't know the nature of the work for which his company landed a contract. It's just flat never come up in conversation. Anyway, apparently his company is doing just fine, always nice to hear, especially in these hard times.

Saw my upstairs neighbor Gene both Saturday and Sunday; first time we've bumped into each other in maybe three or four months. I was surprised to see him Saturday when I was at the Square, as it's unusual even when he's not busy, as he is now, other than on Sundays. Told him to drop by sometime when he's coming or going and notices my door open, which it is most of the time when I'm home and at my desk or sitting on the sofa watching the tube. I can't just drop up to his place (even if I remembered his apartment number) for the simple reason I don't have a key card to get into the door leading to the elevator and stairs. My place is on the ground floor with a private entrance, so I don't need or have a key card anymore, having given it to another upstairs resident when I moved down to my current shophouse-apartment. Gene's a really nice guy, an American who's been here for years, longer than me, as I recall, and I'm coming up on my 16th anniversary in the Kingdom come June 12th.

Wouldn't you know it: we finally had our last curfew this past Friday night -- and Saturday marked the beginning of Buddhist Lent, so a number of places were closed the entire day, though some were open during the daytime, closing at night. I did find a couple places open that evening, and of course they were doing brisk trade. One owner from Queen's Park Plaza told me the police had warned them very sternly -- oddly, several around the Square hadn't been visited at all, and didn't realize it was a major Buddhist holiday. Anyway, he added that the entire Plaza had been closed since closing Friday night.

And a Bit About Me

. . .
(and Other News as Well)

During my travels in quest to get new glasses Friday-before last, I walked along Soi 22 between the Soi 22 entrance to the Square and Sukhumvit Road, then around the corner towards Soi Asoke on Sukhumvit Road itself. During that stroll I noticed a couple of new (to me) bars, open-front ones, that I haven't visited yet, as well as one on the corner of Soi 22 and a sub-soi on the west side of Soi 22, one open on the side facing Soi 22 and on the side facing the sub-soi. Since I couldn't SEE very well, I didn't even attempt to note the names of any of them, but I plan to go later. I want to borrow a camera before going so I can take a few photos while I'm at it. I'll probably get around to that in the next two-three weeks then write about them in a future column.

That same day, when I came out of the eyeglasses shop on Sukhumvit Road a little west of Soi Asoke, the lady who took me there and I walked back around the corner on Soi Asoke to catch a taxi to return to the Square. We bumped into a guy who greeted me, and while I recognized his face, for the life of me I couldn't place him. Then, one day last week, Burma Richard commented someone had forwarded an extract from Stickman's weekly column in which I was mentioned -- but I still didn't connect the dots. However, Richard forwarded that bit to me, and it dawned on me I had chatted with the Stickman his very own self. I last saw him several years ago, when he interviewed me one afternoon at the Lone Staar then wrote it up as "The Man Under The Hat, Mekhong Kurt" in his weekly column -- of May 22, 2005. So, it had been just about exactly five years since I had last seen him. The more recent bit was just putting to rest rumors he had heard that I had passed away, and is quite brief. If you're interested in the now-dated interview Stickman had with me, you can read it at this URL:

The Broader View

About the only observation I can make about the future of the political and social conflicts here with any confidence is that no one can predict just what's in store, not with any real accuracy anyway.

It probably is safe to say that ignoring the deep rifts exposed during the recent turmoil isn't a viable option, that the Thai people will have to either find some way to address the underlying problems or to at least paper them over, if that can be done. All that's at the domestic level.

Internationally, the government and other image-makers have their work cut out for them to try to restore Thailand's international image. Given that tourism alone provides about 6% of the GDP and around 15% of the employment, getting the shine back on people's image of the Kingdom is critical, particularly since there are equally attractive destinations -- including from a business perspective -- elsewhere right here in the region; places such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau spring to mind, all under three hours away from Bangkok by air.

But Thailand does still have much to recommend it to international travelers and business folks.

The weather remains a major draw, particularly for people from cold climates, such as northern Europe, the northern U.S. and Canada, and, in this part of the world, Japan, South Korea, and China, especially that part of China from roughly the Yangze River and north. The weather is beneficial for business as well -- no one has to miss work because they're snowed in at home! I suppose the last time it might have snowed anywhere in Thailand was at the coldest point of the last Great Ice Age -- if then!

And there's a nice topographical mix of hundreds of kilometers of beaches, many of them world-class, the vast central plains, and the mountains of the north. Add in the widely varied wildlife, particularly the emblematic elephants, and you have a very attractive landscape.

The people are the best draw of all. Thais are famously hospitable. Less famously, they also are quite varied. Contrary to popular belief, the people who live here are a very mixed lot (and I'm not talking about foreigners like me, but about Thai nationals). Probably the best known non-Thais are the members of the hill tribes concentrated in the northern parts of the country, especially along the border with Burma and, to a lesser extent (I think), along the northern stretch of border with Laos. Then there are the Laotians and Cambodians whose families settled in areas of present-day Thailand long, long ago, retaining something of their own customs, cultures, even languages. The same is true with Malays in the far south, as is obvious is the southernmost provinces. As for the Thais themselves, a leading theory for years has been that they originated among the Tai minority nationality in the southern extremeties of China opposite Thailand, though just recently I read an article that said a growing number of researchers, both here in Thailand and abroad, are beginning to question that idea. In any case, many traditions are represented. Maybe that's most obvious in the area of religion; while the vast majority of Thais are Buddhist, there are appreciable communities of members of other religions, most notably Islam (concentrated, but not limited to, not by a long shot, in the far south) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Christianity. I suppose there are likely some locals of the Jewish faith, though I never have known one, at least not as far as I know.

Prices remain competitive, in many cases, extremely so. In what other major capital can you take a taxi and have the fare start at a measly 35 baht -- about US$1.10? How many places can you get a nice hotel room in an upper-end 3-star or lower-end 4-star hotel -- in the city center -- for way under US$100? And Thailand is a shoppers' paradise, though you need to use a bit of caution and common sense, particularly buying items such as precious stones -- scams abound, and the poorly-informed shopper often gets cheated, sometimes badly so. And there's no real recourse, not easy recourse at least. Anyway, know a bit about what you want to buy, and you can find downright stunning bargains on a great many different items. That includes everyday items, too. For instance, I had a picture frame custom made for an oversized panorama photo for an amazing 800 baht. That was a couple of years ago, when the baht was somewhat weaker than it is now, a time when 800 baht equaled about US$23. (Today it equals about US$25.)

Some might point to news reports that dissenters might go underground and conduct sneak attacks. I suppose that might be true, so a bit of caution when moving around in public is in order -- but it always is, especially in large cities, and not just in Bangkok, but large cities the world over. After all, purse-snatchers, pickpockets, and the like don't operate sailing with the political winds!

I've read countless comments from foreigners on the Internet in discussion threads critical of one group or another here in Thailand, groups involved in the recent conflict. While as an outside observer I do think there probably are a number of genuine, legitimate grievances all around, I remain just that -- an outside observer. These problems are between the Thais, not us and Thais. I live here, have a number of close Thai friends, and follow the local news closely -- but much of all this remains quite murky, even invisible, for me. And I suspect that would be true even if I could perfectly read, write, speak, and understand every single Thai dialect.

I might draw a light-hearted parallel to the strong sense of rivalry between the U.S. states of Texas (my home state) and Oklahoma. Most of my foreign friends with any knowledge of the two states just don't get it, pointing out that we have largely similar geography and topography (although Oklahoma doesn't have anything remotely resembling the low mountains in West Texas), both have mineral resources, both have a major agricultural industustry, complete with real, live, genu-ine cowboys. So, those friends are left scratching their heads.

I've tried to explain it, but eventually realized I couldn't -- for the simple reason that when I sit back and think about it, I don't get it, either! It's silly, when you get right down to it.

I hasten to add I don't view the problems here in a light-hearted way, nor am I belittling them. That's not the comparison I'm making. The comparison is in the difficulty, maybe even impossibility, of those of us on the outside looking in ever truly understanding what's going on here.

On the up side -- that means that tourists can still come here and have a grand time, and it means there are still business opportunities for foreign business people. Just look at how remarkably -- and, to me, inexplicably -- stable the Thai baht has been, even in the worst of the recent violence.

In ways, now is a particularly attractive time for foreigners to come here, both for pleasure and for business. Various players are striving mightily to attract such people, and have been sweetening the pot in various ways in a bid to draw foreigners. That doesn't mean you're going to be able to find a luxurious 8-million-baht condo for 3 million; it does mean there are some great deals on hotels, tours, and the like -- and the government is working away at tax breaks and the like for businesses.

Tourists (and visiting, but not resident, business people) can even get up to 5,000 baht refunded for VAT taxes they paid, as long as they have receipts to back up the claimed amount. There's a special office dedicated to just that at the airport here in Bangkok. I think -- I'll have to check -- the same is true in the airport in Phuket. While that's not a king's ransom, it is a nice little saving on your purchases and other VAT-bearing expenses (which is practically everything, outside of open-air markets and the like). By the way, the VAT rate is 7% of the price. So, if you spend 20,000 baht, you'll pay 1,400 baht in VAT -- and can get every single baht back.

Also keep in mind that practically anywhere outside Bangkok is cheaper, often WAY cheaper, for just about anything.

Anyway, now that things have calmed down, there's really no reason to avoid Thailand. It appears the calm is settling in, at least for the foreseeable future. But, again -- we can say that about jsut about any place at all.

C'mon in -- the water's fine. . . .

Until next time --


Mekhong Kurt

1 comment:

Bakwahn said...

Sawasdee kraph dear Khun Kurt,
here is Charly from Hamburg writing.

Many thanks for your new round, dear Kurt.

It is always good for my sick soul to read something about the square, its bars and customers.

Some annotations about the political situation:
I have been watching news and reports about the troubles in Siam on German TV and I read several articles in German newspapers.
Why does the King keep silence? I know he is old and seems to be very sick (maybe Alzheimer’s symptoms or something like that) but why does not comment the Queen or the Prince or the Princess the actual political situation? Why does the royal house remain silent about that critical political situation?
For example: When the King (or one of his authorized spokesmen) would have said: “We will have new elections in November this year and the terms and conditions will be as follows 1. – 2. - 3. –“
neither the actual government nor the Redshirts could not say “no”. The authority of the king is too big, too strong. Nobody of the Redshirts and even the Prime Minister could contradict!
But I think the King and his family are against the Redshirts. They are on the side of the Bangkok elite and the “old meritocracy”.
But ok. Let us wait and see what will happen in the near future.

What will be in Siam when the King dies?
I think the country will descend into chaos, in poignant grief and sorrow. Oh my goodness.
I discussed that topic with my actual Thai friend Nirut here in Hamburg (a Major and pilot of the RTA) and he told me, that after three days of official period of mourning general life is back to normal in the whole country.
On 11 of June his general stuff class (Generalstabskurs) is finished and I’ll bring him to the airport back home to Bangkok. I would like to accompany him, but it is not possibly.

Bye dear Kurt
Greetings from Charly
Hamburg / Germany