Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Malaysia, KL, Final Episode

Petronas Towers - malaysiatourism

My Mum said I need to wrap-up Malaysia because ‘everyone knows I am back and the story needs to end properly’ So here is the sequence of events leading up to my return to BKK:
-Me, the fabulous Chinese lady and her American husband, had lunch in Chinatown. I had noodles with dubious looking beef and they shared several platters of dim sum. I listened as they told me of their travelling adventures around China – I cannot wait to go.
-We hit Chinatown shops and I spent most the time in awe of this lady who bargained like it was nobody’s business. We left the main market and went down back streets to discover air-conditioned rooms where the bags looked pristine and happy instead of tired and manhandled. She got the most beautiful replica orange Herme slouch bag for a third of the original asking price.
-I bought a ‘Little Miss Chatterbox’ shirt to remind me that talking to strangers always leads to some adventure, as long as you follow your instincts.
– That evening, after a delicious hotel room nap and raiding the cashew nuts from the mini bar, I ventured off for dinner at the famous PETRONAS Towers. I got myself a hot chocolate and sat by the fountains to people watch. Some trollop with a lisp ruined my moment by trying to chat me up so I went inside, prowled Top Shop and had Nandos lemon and herb quarter chicken which reminded me of home. The chicken was good but didn’t taste the same, although that could have been from the hot chocolate which brunt the roof of my mouth.
The next morning I was in the hotel lobby reading a book when I saw a sultan (yes, a REAL sultan) arrive at the Ritz Carlton next door. Eight tinted 4×4’s and a police escort blocked the entire street for 10 minutes while this little dude in white dashed inside.
-I noticed a hotel sign which read ‘No Durians Or Mangosteens allowed’
– Finally I set off the embassy to collect my visa, swap cards with my new friends and head off to the airport. As I sat at my gate I noticed a 70 year old Caucasian man having his neck rubbed by his 20 year old Thai girlfriend; a crusty backpacker scratching her ankle; a glamorous Thai couple clicking away on IPads with their sleeping baby tucked up in a McLaren pram, and finally, a serene-looking Thai monk wrapped in bright orange cloth. This could only be a flight to Thailand! I was going home.


Slim Up

source: slimupcentre

As I tucked into a rather bland chicken noodle dish on the third floor of Emporium Shopping Mall, I noticed a group of promo girls setting up display stands for ‘Slim Up’ a centre with state of the art fat and cellulite removal technology(don’t mention exercise). They even had life-size cardboard cut-outs of before and after cases which looked incredibly strange propped up against a railing.
I saw that two of the machines, that promised to melt fat before your eyes, set up and operating on what I assumed to be mannequins. Alas, closer inspection revealed they were real live women lying on their backs. White towels had been placed strategically over their eyes, crotch area and legs, leaving the abdomen exposed. And there they lay as prospective clients questioned the ‘doctor’ and prodded the equipment whilst flapping price lists inches from these poor women’s faces.
There was then a live band performance and long-winded introduction about the products delivered by a skinny lady wearing more sequins than Liza Minneli on Broadway. I watched marginally over-weight women cringe as they were passed ‘Slim-Up’ leaflets as they got off the escalator. After two hours of shopping and magazine flicking, I returned to find the same women pinned to their backs, bellies exposed while the roller ball was no doubt carving a groove in their stomachs.

Hospital Stint – Full Medical


Today I was given a form in Thai outlining what medical tests were required for my work permit to be processed. Having been out till 5am after watching England lose like trolls, I was very concerned about my state of health and blood-alcohol level.
The hospital was first class. You have to hand it to Thai people, they know how to run a slick operation (excuse the pun) I always get the feeling of being in a spa when I am in any hospital in Thailand. There is usually comfortable modern furniture, silk scatter cushions, beautiful plants, water features, views from the windows and an incredible sense of pride emitting from the staff who smile to you and each other. I love flicking through the glossy brochures with beautiful smiling women promising pain-free laser hair removal or gout treatment and diet management.
I was ushered from room to room for a list of various tests and examinations. When the chest X-Ray dude asked me to remove my shirt and put on the gown provided I shuddered at the thought of a starched hospital gown kicking of disinfectant. Low and behold, there, hanging in my private wooden locker, was a (slightly)trendy light gray wrap-around jacket with cute ties at the back. I actually caught myself admiring it in the mirror. Despite one British doctor who had cold, shaky hands and an abrupt bedside manner, the Thai doctors and nurses were amazing and gentle.
Once prodded, drained and weighed I was asked to relax in the waiting room. This room was more like a VIP First Class airport lounge. Pretty embroidered chairs were positioned next to huge windows which over-looked the lush hospital park (yes, you read that right, hospital park). Local and foreign magazines lined a wooden table. A bar with cookies, croissants, freshly cut fruit platters, sweet cakes, tea, coffee, milk, hot chocolate and water was stationed in the corner. I munched on cookies, fresh cut fruit and sipped fresh apple juice while they prepared my results.
Just to confirm I am officially free of: Leprosy, TB, Drug Addiction, Chronic Alcoholism (thank God for that) Elephantiasis and Syphilis. Although a rather odd mix of work permit requirements I am indeed happy that the 15 G&T’s I consumed last night didn’t appear anywhere for my new employers to see.

Malaysia Part 3

I handed over my 30RM in three notes of 10RM, scowling as I realized we got there in 8 short minutes without so much as a blip of traffic on the embassy road. (the return fare cost me 7RM)
A familiar sight outside any embassy: (whose country is a fabulous beach-clad tropical heaven that promises cheap living for retirees and teachers) piles of foreigners scattered all over the pavement clutching visa forms and passports. Despite having triple-checked the on-line requirements one still panics due to the fact that the Thai Embassy is notorious for changing the rules without changing the website. This could be something as simple as the size of the two photo’s you need to bring, or how many photo copies of your passport you have to provide. Everyone is secretly trying to peer at the next persons ‘embassy pack’ biting their nails nervously and wondering if the urine sample was a tad paranoid.
After being signed in painfully slowly by some dude in a little hut that practically re-wrote my passport contents into a A4 scrap-book, I took my lucky ticket number 21 and sat in row 7 on a plastic seat to wait my turn. There were four counters which are meant to open at 9:30am. Each ‘window’ had a blind pulled down. As 9:30am struck one blind was pulled half-way up so we could all see the torso of the first embassy person scrabbling about moving papers and switching on her PC. The second blind moved up three-quarters to expose the head-less person in number 2. He had a bag of Thai soup and some sticky rice which we all watched him painfully and partially consume because we still couldn’t see his mouth. Window three and four remained closed till 10:20am and even then, window 4 only felt like seeing two people before the blind went down again.
It was finally my turn and I passed all required documents under the slot. I had two blank spots on my application form which I wanted to ask about. I started speaking only to realize the women ‘helping’ me had her hands-free ear piece in and was chatting to a friend. PAINFUL. She then asked for 220RM (R150) fee and as I passed her 300RM (realizing I had given my exact change to the robbing thieving scamming trollop cab driver) to which she responded ‘exact change please’ PANIC. I whipped around to my left to see a 6ft5 American man shuffling his papers around and asked him with pleading eyes and a slightly high-pitched voice, to break my 100RM note. He helped me out and I got my receipt with which to return the next day at 2pm. I walked out with him and his Chinese wife and we started chatting. They were applying for a retirement visa in Chiang Mai (northern Thailand) and we just hit it off. Next thing we were all bundled into a taxi heading for Chinatown with a woman how could speak Chinese……………

Malaysia Part 2

I arrived in Malaysia at 10:30pm and found a row of red Air Asia buses lined up outside the airport which take you into KL Sentral Station. For only 8 RM (R20) you get a 45 minute drive in a comfy bus with huge windows. I did spend about 20 minutes desperately searching for the LRT (speed rail train) and ignoring the bus touts as Robbie and I had taken this 5 years before. I eventually found out that I was at a different airport to KLIA called LCCT (Low Cost Carrier Terminal – Air Asia) so I would have been searching a while considering they are a few km’s apart……heh heh
I bargained hard for my cab to the hotel. No idea where I mustered the confidence as I am usually the first to hand over piles ‘o dosh with minimal negotiation effort. I think the fact that I was alone made me really determined not to be the single foreign girl being scammed at every turn. As I arrived at the Dorsett Regency Hotel I was hit in the face with a bad, live Philipino rendition of Lady Ga Ga’s Poker Face.
Typical scene: empty lobby due to the fact it is 11pm. Empty hotel lounge (because who the hell hangs in hotel lounge) Five piece band tarted up in pleather and sequins singing too loud and off tune. Thank God the room was fabulous. Had luxurious bath squeezing each and every free bottle of bubbles and shampoo into the hot stream of tap water. Got into massive bed packed with scatter cushions and watched ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ until 3am.
I was up bright and early as you have to get your visa application in between 9:30am and 11am to be collected the next day at 2:30pm. I was not sure of traffic so I went to see the concierge to ask:
a) How far is the Thai Embassy
b) Can you call me a meter taxi
c) What will it cost me
He had to google-map ‘Thai Embassy’ and then told me that a meter taxi would be too expensive because the traffic is so bad the meter just ticks over as you sit there burning cash. I asked him what flat rate I should pay and he stated they would all rip me off and it was better to take the ‘hotel shuttle’ because it is a set rate, not a rip-off. He said for 30 RM (R75) I would get there in time. Even though I knew the embassy wasn’t that far I agreed as I was stressed. The concierge then removed his little hotel cap, walked around the back of the hotel, rummaged in his pocket to pull out a set of keys, leapt into the front of a ’97 (non-hotel-branded) Nissan Cedric and smiling said ‘I will be your driver today’
One word: Scammed

Mex Fest & Husband Stalkers


While Robbie was on one of his long walks with Finbar, a bubbly Australian girl ran over to him exclaiming how she too had a staffie (most likely we have the only two Staffies in Bangkok) while giving Fin a side-walk tummy scratch. They chatted and Robbie knew he had to get this girl in touch with me so told her to please email from website as neither of them had cards or phones. That same day she wrote and the next day she invited me to dinner with some of her girlfriends.
Being new in a foreign city can be a lonely place. Meeting these girls for dinner was a total revelation because, at some point, they had all felt this way. The problem is not that there is a shortage of women’s groups and clubs, the problem is that we just don’t fit the profile of most of them.
As I sat there surrounded by girls my age (FINALLY) eating cheesy nachos, drinking frozen margaritas and laughing about life in Thailand, I knew I was finally ‘home’ and that I could build a life for myself out here. How I have missed talking about laser hair removal, crazy ex boyfriends and whether or not one would suit a fringe. I ended up staying out till 2am with one girl who has lived here for five years and gave me some valuable insight on how to greet my new Thai colleagues on my first day at work (involves taking sweet cakes and admitting I had been thinking about them all weekend) Priceless.

Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Part 1


Did you miss me? I had to dash to Malaysia for three days to get my work permit for the new job. I ended up having a total blast on my own and made sure I documented everything in my little note pad. As a result of too many classic things happening for words, I will write this experience over a several part series.
Bangkok Airport – I see a sign on the back of the toilet cubicle door which reads:
“Please do not flush toilet paper or stockings” Who on earth flushes their stockings down the toilet? More to the point, who on earth wears stockings in a country where the average year round temperature is 36 degrees?
I love to watch people in airports. Most of them are incredibly stressed about something or another. Airports are like enormous moody animals that move around while you are not looking so you never really know where you are going or whether it is day or night outside. What I noticed is that most people make it harder for themselves. While I sat sipping my double choc latte I decided to group the people I saw:
1) Luggage Magnets – these people have three or four pieces of hand luggage including plastic duty-free bags with broken handles, tatty budging handbags and bursting baskets with no zip. They have two large pieces of over-weight luggage which they have wrapped in cling-film so the wheels don’t work. They drop things and generally end up with a teetering pyramid on a trolley. It is not long before a bag strap flops into the said trolley wheel resulting in all items crashing down and slamming into each member of the family and three innocent by-standers.
2) Mile-High Club – Not what you might think. This group consists of women, young and old, who insist on wearing stilettos when travelling. I watch them tottering about, ankles trembling as they attempt to lift their luggage onto the check-in counter scales. They trip, quiver, and constantly get left behind. Never underestimate the amount of stairs, escalators, elevators and walking time involved with air travel.
3) Tour Groups – These generally comprise of Chinese tourists or teenage sports teams. They stop at the base of escalators and take group-shots in front of departure boards and airport flower arrangements.
4) The Cool Customer – This man or woman is well-travelled and most likely on business. All luggage has not two, but four wheels, plus the handle has Velcro adjustable slots for a cappuccino, daily newspaper and IPod. They walk with confidence and never search for a passport, ticket or pen (engraved Parker)
5) Granny Trooper – I have a great deal of respect for people that attempt to travel with elderly, frail and wheelchair-bound relatives. The poor granny usually ends up being a donkey cart for young children and hand luggage anyway. Hey, perhaps that is why people take their grannies along?
6) Eager Beavers – This consists of young backpackers who dress for the destination of their travels whether the flight has 10 connections and occurs over four days or not. They are the ones in straw hats, flip flops and Billabong vests shivering their asses off in the duty-free section.
Of course most of us don’t fit into an exact category but rather can see ourselves in some or all of these. We all get luggage wheel spin and think we can handle holding a magazine, piece of luggage and hand our passport and ticket to an immigration official. For me the key is to dress comfy but stylish so you don’t get pulled over and strip searched in customs. Get a bag with four wheels so you have a free hand and always carry a pen.

Three Types of Bangkok Harlot


Last night, as we waited for the 1:30am England match to start, we bumped into a tenant from our apartment block. He is mid-thirties, British, married to a Thai lady, has two kids and one annoying little dog that always barks at Finbar. When he said he has lived here for 5 years, I decided to pass the time by picking his brains about the prostitution in Bangkok.
When you think about prostitution in general you think of girls being ‘looked after’ by their pimps who take a cut of their income for a level of security. It is a far more varied and complex in Bangkok. Turns out there are three distinct types of Trollops:
1) The Freelancer – These girls work for themselves. They generally have a little more money than the average lady of the night and therefore can afford to sit in a decent bar and buy themselves a drink or dinner. From this vantage point she can check out a single man and make her move like a ‘normal’ bar hook-up would occur. Of course, once the man in question becomes interested, he soon realizes she is in fact, for sale. The money she charges is all her own.
2) Pimp Protected – these girls are looked after by Nigerian pimps. These men look after Thai, Russian, Eastern European and African (mostly Nigerian) hookers. They take a cut of the girl’s takings and are notorious drug dealers feared by most local businesses.
3) Bar Girl – They are paid a small monthly wage (between 3,000 – 6,000 Baht) by the bar they work at. Each bar girl is expected to beckon men as they walk past in an attempt to get a free drink and perhaps more. Should the ‘customer’ wish to take the bar girl somewhere else he has to pay a ‘bar fine’ to the actual bar (usually around 1,000 baht) as well as a payment to the girl at a cost set and kept by her. He is always expected to pay for all her drinks while they are sat at the bar. Often the girls order an alcoholic drink or shooter but the barman will only use water to fill the glass and thus the girl makes money in this way. She gets to ‘act drunk’ but maintain her business head.
One really interesting point to note is that only 10% of prostitute customers are foreign. This means around 90% of them are Thai men. This was surprising to me as you just don’t see Thai men and prostitutes together. But I was informed that they hang out in Karaoke bars. These are real karaoke rooms where Thai men like to sit (not stand on a stage like in the West) and sing. Two or three Thai prostitutes will be chosen to join them. People think foreigners are the biggest sex market in Thailand because it is much more conspicuous and almost flamboyant in its abundance. It turns over however, that what goes on behind closed doors is far more rampant and lucrative.

Interesting Brand Names & Pay-Off Lines in BKK

Indian Restaurant: “Good Smells. Good Curry”
Clothing Store: “Never Say Cutz”
Grill: “Probably The Best Steak in Bangkok”
Bar: “Planet Pimp”
Video Rental: “Climax Rental”
Diaper Brand: “Mammy Poko Nappies”
Biscuts: “Creamy Colon”

Facebook Friends

Today I went to my new office in an attempt to sort out my work permit requirements with HR. Seems straight-forward enough right? Wrong, but in the best of ways…..
Thankfully this company is being incredibly helpful in assisting with all the paperwork required (of which there is mounds and mounds) outlining the rules (which change by the month) and the order of things (first to Malaysian embassy, then Bangkok embassy, then hospital for medical.…) You have no idea how precious this is unless you have lived here and attempted to do it yourself. Here is one example: the photo size parameter on the embassy site has been incorrect for years. This means thousands of poor foreign souls have flown to Malaysia, turned up within the exact allotted time (between 9:30am – 11am) stood in a long queue only to be told their photos are 1cm too small. The implications of this are HUGE. You now have to find a photo place in a new city where you can’t speak the language, hope to hell you are wearing a collar (required for the photo)and get back by 11:30am otherwise you have to stay another day as they only give you your permit the following day between 12:00 and 16:00. Like I said, this is ONE example of what can go wrong.
Then I had a classic moment that just makes me love Thailand and its people all the more. The gentleman in charge of my contract and visa applications said that his girlfriend and I would get along and we should meet up. He said he had asked her how she would feel about having a ‘farang’ (foreign) friend to which she responded positively. (Am feeling slightly awkward at this stage but it is all so charming)I said I would be happy to meet her for coffee at some point (thinking once I started working there we could arrange something) Then, while I was talking to his assistant, he handed me his landline phone saying his girlfriend wanted to say ‘hi’. So there I was, one hand gripping a stack of embassy requirements and the other clutching a phone with the cord knocking over a pen box talking to his girlfriend about her spa business! His PA was telling me to write down a list of documents I needed to compile while the HR director turned his laptop to face me showing me his girlfriends Facebook profile and doing a ‘thumbs-up’ signal! So now I tried to write her name down at the same time as trying to talk to her and remember to bring in my marriage certificate!!!!
When I got home I had a Facebook friend request from the HR director and a desk-top-dating MSN friend request from his girlfriend.
Where else in the world would something so classic occur? I love Thailand!
PS I bought some new shoes today after my flip-flop-snapping tragedy (explained in earlier blog post) so had to include a pic of the beauties. Jaspal rocks.