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Update January - October, 2020


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Update by Thanaphon Paewsoongnern
 
 
Grapevine
 

Grapevine - July 3 - July 16, 2020

Future of the visa amnesty

Everyone is waiting with baited breath to know the future of the immigration amnesty for foreigners “stuck” in Thailand after it ends on July 31. Given the ongoing problems with restricted flights and closed borders, expect some kind of extension month-by-month. But the detail may well vary according to your nationality/passport. And we hear that one year and Elite visa holders will need to resume reporting their 90 days.

Airport ready by 2055

The mammoth, multi-billion baht infrastructure to rebuild U-tapao airport and create a satellite city over there will happen in stages. Expect a new terminal by 2024, a high-speed railway by 2024 and a final countdown to completion by 2055. The whole scheme which is central to the Eastern Corridor economic project is funded by a consortium of public and private sources. In other words, there may be some slippage in those dates. But you’ll likely never find out.

 

Pattaya’s new hub?

Although we have got used to seeing for sale and for rent notices all over town, the area in and around Tree Town on Soi Buakhao seems to be doing better than most. It’s a lively and competitively-priced entertainment district with some exotically-sounding names such as the eateries The Hungry Hippo and The Chunky Monkey. Parking nearby might be a problem at night, but you should mosey on over there.

 

Tourists in a long queue

If you are in a special category – such as an investor, a businessman, a medical tourist, a permanent resident or a foreigner married to a Thai – at least you have been mentioned by the government as a priority group sometime in the near future. But ordinary tourists – especially from UK, Europe and the United States – are not scheduled for permission to land in Thailand any time soon. We are in for the long haul as it were.

 

Bring your wallet to Cambodia

You are welcome to go to the Land of Dreams. Sort of. But you will need at the airport a Covid-19 free certificate issued in the last three days and travel insurance worth US$50,000. Then you will need to open a bank account there with at least US$3,000 in cash which the authorities can dip into to pay for your two weeks quarantine in a Phnom Penh facility. Did somebody say that Cambodia is a cheap country?

Chess players neglected

The last time we looked, the cozy chess alcove on the fourth floor of Central Festival Pattaya Beach was still closed. Given the relaxation of the coronavirus rules and the fact that chess players are hardly a crowd, it is surely time to reopen a facility which used to serve a good professional purpose for lovers of the game. A two-meter social distancing rule would not be a problem in that location.

 

Bernard retired at last

Bernard Trink’s Nite Owl column was dropped by the Bangkok Post in 2003 and with it the mini reviews of bars and clubs in Bangkok and Pattaya disappeared forever, too. Bernard soldiered on for a while with his own website and managed periodically to write book reviews for the Bangkok Post. But the website was disabled years ago and his last book review was in January 2020. Born in 1931, Bernard is finally retired but it’s likely he doesn’t give a hoot.

 

Pandemic a fast learning experience

Awful though that pesky virus is, it has taught us a lot about the English language. We now hopefully know the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic and a travel bubble versus a green tunnel. All of us are conversant with newly-learned expressions such as Covid-19, new-normal, Covidiots, terminal procedures and accidental impregnation. Six months ago, nobody would have believed a world plague would contribute so much to our learning curves.

 

Booze thoughts for the week

“Actually it takes only one drink to get me loaded. Trouble is I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or fourteenth,” (George Burns). “A man is never drunk if he can lay on the floor without holding on,” (Joe E. Lewis). “He died of cirrhosis of the liver and I can tell you that’s something that doesn’t come cheaply,” (P.G. Wodehouse).


Grapevine - June 19 - July 2, 2020

Makes you wonder

The director-general of the Thai probation service has informed us that over 2,000 curfew breakers and illegal party goers were not fined and sent to prison, but instead were diverted to temples or community service. This is in line with the policy of samneuk di or conscientiousness. Thai prisons are overcrowded as it is. One wonders if any foreigners were included in the group?

A novel Covid-19 approach

A Brit signing in manually at a Pattaya department store clearly printed his name and telephone number but added “no calls between 2 pm and 3pm”. The security assistant did her best to explain that he would be telephoned only if there was a coronavirus outbreak. “Yes I know,” he said, “but not in the mid afternoon because I always take a nap then.”

 

App ups and downs

The Thai Chana registration device may be useful – we don’t really know what would happen if 10,000 people all received SMS messages to go and get tested – but it’s not fool-proof. Some people are forgetting to record their departure and, more seriously, some people are just pointing their phones at the QR code even though they are not connected to the internet.

 

Locating the wife

Of all the odd excuses offered by motorists when stopped by police during curfew hours, the weirdest may be the guy who said he was searching the area for his wife who was mentally ill and needed constant medical attention. An officer shone his torch onto the back seat and found the wife fast asleep.

Covid-19 insurance

Just worth noting that several Thai companies are offering insurance policies specifically against the disease with ages permitted from just born to 99 years. Farang must have resided in Thailand for at least six months or have a work permit. Of course, there are loads of restrictions and get-out clauses, but it may be worth the resident oldies checking out on the internet.

 

Airport delays ahead

Nobody knows when normal service will be resumed on the mass tourism front. But current government thinking seems to be leaning towards very substantial documentation. To get into the country, you may need your passport, a health certificate and insurance paperwork as well as subjecting yourself to quickie temperature and virus tests. Then there’s the growing likelihood of needing to download an app which can trace your movements whilst in the kingdom. Is this the new normal and how many people will opt out of overseas vacations?

 

New expressions abound

Every day witnesses one or two phrases which we had never heard of before. New normal is a case in point. One of the latest is “travel bubble” which seems to mean you are in a pilot tourist group from a favoured country (such as China) but will be whisked away to one of the Thai islands without stopping anywhere en route. Since Pattaya is not usually considered an island, local businesses won’t benefit from these particular bubbles.

 

Immigration amnesty choice

Just because you don’t need to report your 90 days in the period March 26 to July 31, that doesn’t mean you cannot. The local immigration is bureau is not busy at present, so many resident farang are keeping their paperwork up to date. That’s not compulsory but could save you queuing up after the amnesty comes to an end.

 

Queuing for food

Some cynics believe that the long queues for free eats contain many free-riders who simply want something for nothing. Seems unlikely. Standing in line for an hour or two with the hot sun shining down or risking breaking the curfew by queuing in the middle of the night for a 7 a.m. rice handout sound like genuine cases.


Grapevine - June 5 - June 18, 2020

Some common questions about dying in Thailand.

How does anyone know?

Nearly all deaths occur at home, in a hospital or in a roadside accident. In all cases, the police will be notified by witnesses. They will in turn likely inform your embassy. But a friend or relative is well advised to make contact as soon as possible. Embassies need to know who the next of kin is.

Is an autopsy automatic?

It is a police discretion, but autopsies are necessary unless the dead person died in hospital after a documented illness. Most autopsies are performed at the police hospital in Bangkok. They are not necessarily detailed procedures and it is open to close relatives to organize and pay for a second one.

What do embassies do?

They can contact next of kin in the home country and provide information sheets on funeral directors and lawyers, if required. They issue a letter of release to the next of kin or the executor of the will so that the body can be hygienically disposed of.

What are the options?

Most foreigners are cremated in Thai temples, but transport back to the home country can be arranged. It is very difficult to arrange a traditional burial in Thailand. The cost of a Thai cremation can range from 20,000 baht to well over 100,000 baht depending on location and requirements. Repatriation of the lead-lined coffin back to Europe can cost several thousand US dollars or equivalent.

What if there’s a will?

A Thai will must be submitted to the court for a judge to issue the necessary probate authorization. This is the first stage in disposing of the assets of the deceased. If there is a separate will drawn up in the home country, the authorities there will need to see the Thai will and probate. This is to ensure the two wills do not contradict each other.

What if there’s no will?

A Thai court has the power to dispose of the assets of the deceased. For example, a Thai wife with a marriage certificate will be in a strong position. But it is not a good idea to die intestate as the proceedings can be expensive and open to challenge. The same thing applies to wills in the home country. Legal fees can be enormous.

What happens to the deceased’s passport?

Some embassies want it returned and others are unconcerned. The passport will have been cancelled anyway. It is a courtesy to visit the local immigration office but not essential.

Can a Thai widow obtain a pension?

The situation on state pensions varies country by country. For example, the British pensions authority gives no financial support of any kind unless the Thai widow has worked in UK and has a national insurance number. But the widow may be able to claim a benefit from her husband’s private or occupational pension. This depends on the policy document.

What are the most common problems?

Dying intestate or with a poorly drawn-up will is the main issue. Whilst you are still well, it’s best to seek the services of a recommended lawyer here who can draw up the document in both Thai and in the first language. Costs vary according to how complicated the text is. Budget between 10,000 and 20,000 baht.

What happens if nobody claims the body?

Thai authorities will eventually cremate the body, perhaps collectively with others in the same position, or hand it over to a charitable organization such as Sawangboriboon. Sometimes unclaimed bodies are buried in designated cemetery areas which are cleared every few years and the bones cremated.


Grapevine - May 22 - June 4, 2020

Bizarre defence 1

Some folk offer the most odd explanations of curfew breaking. A Rayong guy was stopped after police noticed he was driving slowly down the highway in the wee hours. He explained he was looking for his wife who was very absent-minded and frequently wandered off. Police then asked who was laid out sleeping on the back seat of the vehicle. You are right – his wife!

Bizarre defence 2

Police raided a “mua soom” or a group of five people drinking beer, laughing and joking contrary to the state of emergency regulations at the time. Their defence was that they were drinking from cans and bottles in the garage which were so old that the alcohol content had evaporated. One of their number then drew attention to an internet site which said exactly that. It seems you can’t believe everything you read on the world wide web. It’s a pity.

Open for booze

When the dry season ended on May 3, there was a shortage of hard information about the new opening hours for off-sales. Some stores thought we were back to the good old days of 24 hours opening. Others thought the authorities probably meant 6 am to 6 pm, or maybe 11 am to 6 pm. Then again they might have meant to go back to 11 am to 2 pm and then 5 pm to 6 pm or even to 8 pm. Or maybe a cut-off time at 10 pm to coincide with the start of the curfew. Not surprising that a suspicious public decided to stock up in a rush whilst they could.

Corona balance sheet

Many people have commented that an upside of the pandemic has been environmental improvement as smog clears over cities and the turtles come back to lay their eggs on the beach devoid of humans. Over the entire world, pollution may be down by 10 percent or so. On the downside, there has been a truly gigantic increase in the amount of plastic used in the packaging of takeaway food and temporary knives forks and spoons. Whatever happened to that campaign?

Fake news breathes

Following a comment in Pattaya Mail that one of the silliest fake news stories about Coronavirus was the one suggesting you hold your breath for three minutes, a reader wrote in to point out somberly that such a practice is dangerous as you will die rather than recover. Thanks for that. But not sure if holding your breath longtime is any more stupid than the notion from a senior American source that drinking or injecting bleach might be a cure-all. Either way you meet your Maker sooner than you might like.

Future of take-aways

Some argue that the April closure of sit-down eating opportunities in cafes and restaurants, now sort-of rescinded, means that people have now got used to home delivery of food and will not resume their eating-out traditions. Certainly possible, but let’s remember that add-on charges mean that delivered meals by motorbike can work out more expensive than taking your seat in a restaurant. The jury is out on that one.

Technology takes over

Even people who have never learned to send an email nor even to turn on a computer will surely agree the Coronavirus scare has provided some mind-boggling developments. Temperature testing by hand-held device at the entrance of the Bangkok Pattaya Hospital has been replaced by a walk-past machine which silhouettes your whole body and gives an instant temperature reading without a human pressing a button near your head. On Pattaya’s Beach Road these days you might hear a drone overhead barking out the latest orders where you can sit or asking you to move along.

Toilet paper shortage jokes

The pandemic has given rise to many jokes on that subject. Here’s a couple. “If you need 144 rolls of toilet paper to survive 14 days’ quarantine, you should probably have seen the doctor long before Covid-19.” And, “I spent yesterday trying to explain to my kids why a guy eating bat soup in China led to a toilet paper shortage in Liverpool.”


Grapevine - May 8 - May 21, 2020

Applying for Thai residency

One of the most common questions asked about Thai immigration is the procedure to apply for permanent Thai residency. Assuming you qualify – not a foregone conclusion by any means – what then are the advantages?

Well, you can live permanently here without needing an extension of stay. This is an improvement on visa extensions for one year at a time and also on the Elite visa. The latter is technically for 5-20 years, depending on the type and cost, but requires some kind of action every three months.

With residency, you can also have your name on a blue (not yellow) house registration document and can own a condominium unit in Thailand without proving the cash was brought here from abroad. Work permits are easier to obtain and you can even become a director of a Thai registered company.

The most likely candidates

But you cannot vote in Thai elections. Nor can you own freehold land in your own name. The immigration bureau handles all permanent residency applications and there is a quota system of 100 persons per country in a calendar year. Applications are made between October and December but the exact dates may change from year to year.

The next question is whether you qualify to apply. You must have held a Thai non-immigrant visa for a minimum of three years prior to application - three consecutive yearly extensions – and be in possession of one when you send in the forms.

Most successful applications in fact are holders of non-immigrant “B” (business) visas and an up-to-date work permit issued by the Labour Ministry. Tax returns and other relevant documents are part of the application procedure. Minimum income levels also come into play. After 10 years, you can apply for Thai naturalized citizenship.

There are several other categories for application, although it is fair to state they tend to take longer or even fail on technical grounds. These include a steep cash investment category, an “expert” category (although there is a separate working visa for hi-tech experts) and a special “humanitarian” group who has a close blood relationship or marriage with a current Thai citizen.

The devil is in the detail

The list of documents required depends on the category of application. The period of waiting can be lengthy, 1 to several years. If finally successful, a blue book for residence will be issued which in turn enables you to register it with the local authority and obtain a house card. Shortly afterwards, you will apply for an alien red book at the local police station (not immigration this time) which has to be re-registered from time to time.

In effect, the bureaucracy associated with permanent residency is lighter than with one year or elite visas – for example no 90 days reporting – but has by no means disappeared. Re-entry permits are always required with residency.

After accepting an application for permanent residence, the immigration bureau will grant a six months’ extension of stay from the actual date of submission. Additional periods of six months are granted until residence is granted or until the application is refused. It may be necessary to have a series of interviews with Thai immigration officers and the applicant’s knowledge of the Thai language is likely to be probed. Expect health checks too.

The actual cost of the whole process is difficult to state as there are umpteen variables. Between 250,000 and 350,000 baht would be a fair estimate - all aspects considered. If the successful applicant is under the age of 20, the charges are maybe half.

Not suitable for everyone

In summary, most expats probably won’t get into the detail as they may well not qualify or feel that the bureaucracy isn’t worth the trouble. But it is worth emphasizing again that most successful applicants are from business executives who are married or have close blood relatives who already hold the residency book.

Expats who simply like the idea of having a longer visa than 12 months are probably better suited to the Elite visa which is very flexible, easy to obtain and requires only a cash payment at the time of application of between 500,000 and one million baht.

Otherwise, it may be best to remain with your annual retirement extension or your visa based on marriage to a Thai citizen or your annually renewable non-immigrant “B” if holding a work permit.


Grapevine - April 24 - May 7, 2020

Corona fake news

There is nothing new about fake news, especially in times of crisis. In the first world war, it was widely believed that the Germans were bayonetting babies to pass the time. In the second, many Brits believed that the Nazi radio propagandist William Joyce (Lord Haw Haw) was accurately predicting the demise of Britain.

The Covid-19 crisis obviously is producing limitless opportunities on social media for nonsense to be published. Does this mean that people are hopelessly gullible? Not really. We are all titillated by overblown stories. So when you read on social media that you cannot catch the disease if you drink large quantities of boiling water (to stop the virus leaving your throat) or that Bill Gates financed the Wujan laboratory where the virus was being developed, you might well smile and move on. Hopefully!

A recent internet falsehood suggested that holding your breath for 10 seconds is a good test for the virus whilst another proclaimed that a product to clean fish tanks was a cure because it contained the wonder drug chloroquine. In truth, hundreds of millions of people have heard that chloroquine is a miracle drug but they are mostly skeptical pending the outcome of proper medical tests.

Is vodka a cure?

In the vast majority of cases, people either ignore the supposed curative aspects of certain substances or use them to justify behavior they want to engage in anyway. Thus, if you are a chocoholic or an alcoholic, you are more likely than the rest of us to believe that consuming large numbers of Mars bars or swallowing vodka by the bottle will keep Covid-19 away from you. The best of luck!

A reliable clue to whether you are reading fake news circulating on WhatsApp and the rest is the claimed source. So when you read, “This comes from a relative who actually works in the Chinese laboratory” or “My father works in a New York hospital so he knows what he’s talking about,” you should already perceive that what follows is bunkum.

Corona has much in common with other crisis situations. The main issue is not that people gullibly accept whatever they are told, but that they fail to carry out recommendations from authorized sources such as their government. People collectively tend to mistrust politicians which is understandable as they do tend to lie unashamedly on a daily basis. So when Boris Johnson tells people there is no shortage of food in the supermarkets he starts a panic buying spree.

Who can you trust?

Panic reactions, such as stockpiling toilet paper or pasta, reflect a lack of trust in the promise of the leadership that supply lines are safe. There is also the worry that, even if you refrain from stockpiling, maybe your neighbours and friends will be unable to refrain. Stockpiling is perfectly rational when looked at from this point of view.

The most basic point about fake news is that, when evaluating information, we first compare what we are told or have read with our existing beliefs. Fake news takes an enormous advantage here by reinforcing our prejudices. If you are racist by nature, you are more likely to believe COVID-19 is a Chinese conspiracy to bankrupt the West. If you are a drinker, it’s comforting to think alcohol is a cure for whatever.

Much of the above can be incorporated into a review of reactions in Thailand to the pandemic. Thais who don’t much care for farang believe the foreigners are responsible for Thais losing their jobs and wages. Foreigners who are sweating profusely whilst walking a short distance are especially drawn to the argument that strong sunlight kills the virus outright.

Fake news is said to have begun in ancient history. Roman pagans, in their campaign against Christianity, accused the followers of Jesus of drowning babies (baptism) and drinking blood (transubstantiation). Of course, we have come a long way since then. Or have we?


Grapevine - APRIL 3 - APRIL 16, 2020

A potted history of Pattaya water hurling

What no Songkran?

By no means everybody is disappointed by the prospect of this year’s holiday and watery Songkran being postponed. The obvious justification, of course, is the spread of the Corona virus although the water shortage may have played a minor role in the unfolding drama. Many spoil-sport expats here are likely quite happy about the City Hall abolition decision which is in line with all other local authorities in Thailand that we know of.

Ancient history

Over the years, many have campaigned for Songkran’s suspension or abolition. As early as 1997 Pattaya Mail carried a reader’s letter arguing that throwing buckets of water on passing motor bike riders merely created extra business for local mortuaries. He added that if this practice was allowed to continue, Pattaya’s tourist market would be doomed forever. Yes, so many seers have prophesied that scenario.

Medieval history

In 2005 there was much talk about zoning. This would mean that people could throw water to their hearts’ content in specially-reserved areas (Buddha Hill was one proposal and another was the then-deserted Jomtien 2 Road) whilst the residual population continued peacefully and dryly in the rest of the city. The matter was even scheduled to come up at a Council meeting before, sad to relate, a military coup in September of that year sank all such debates for the foreseeable future.

Early modern times

In 2010 another letter appeared in the local press demanding that Songkran be abolished on the grounds that mobile phones were very expensive commodities and not at all happy to be dripping wet. In 2012 a speaker at an expat club demanded action on the grounds that he had heard from a confidential source that the white powder might contain arsenic whilst the ice water might have been drawn from dirty sources too shameful to mention.

The changing scene

In spite of the failure of these campaigns, Pattaya Songkran is not what it was once. In recent years, the whole thing has been toned down. Ten years ago, the April water gun bandits were lined up on Pattaya’s Second Road as early as 8 a.m. These days, nothing much happens before lunchtime because the will to squirt has obviously declined. The reasons are likely linked to the decline of youngish western tourists and the advent of the imperious Chinese who don’t appreciate street warfare of the liquid kind.

One day wonder

Indeed, by 2019, Pattaya Songkran was more or less restricted to the single day of mayhem which is invariably April 19. But even that solitary day seems to have lost momentum. Last year, the 19th was more or less an ordinary day for business at the immigration bureau, whereas in the past very few visa extenders dared to venture into Jomtien. Contrary to popular belief, the 19th has never been a public holiday. But it used to seemed like one. No longer.

But watch out!

When we say that Songkran has been postponed this year, what exactly does that mean? Nobody knows for sure. Official celebrations certainly won’t be held, not even the gentle and historic blessings of pouring water over the hands. But the government has made it crystal clear that the whole holiday period has been postponed. One assumes that there won’t be a trace of what used to happen on splash days.

Silly Moo

If Songkran really is missing a beat, sadly some of the humour will be missed. Last year, an elderly farang was walking towards Jomtien’s beach road when an old lady drenched him with a small bucket of ice water. “You stupid cow,” he yelled. “Excuse me,” replied the lady, “I know the word ‘stupid’ but what is ‘cow’? Sadly, the historical record does not reveal what was his reply, if anything. Learning new language skills has never been part of the Songkran tradition.

Other cultures

Believe it or not, water hurling goes back a long way. Apparently, the ancient Carthaginians threw water on their elephants just before a battle both to refresh the pachyderms and to alert them to prepare to charge the enemy. Unfortunately, the Romans soon learned what to do in response. They banged their spears on their shields, made a terrible noise which caused the terrified elephants to turn round and mow down their own side.

Off to Cambodia

But if you really want to ensure a wet Songkran this year, there is always the option of Cambodia where the water hurling has got wetter as Pattaya has grown dryer. The best bet over there is Siem Reap. But nothing happens in the daytime. Drenching time starts as the skies darken. Note: The Cambodian authorities have since cancelled this year’s April festivities.

 


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Grapevine - July 3 - July 16, 2020

Grapevine - June 19 - July 2, 2020

Grapevine - June 5 - June 18, 2020

Grapevine - May 22 - June 4, 2020

Grapevine - May 8 - May 21, 2020

Grapevine - April 24 - May 7, 2020

Grapevine - APRIL 3 - APRIL 16, 2020