Category: Out In The Cold

Wily Wells Fargo

Give these guys credit. The farm sale proceeds hadn’t been in my savings account but¬†a few days¬†when¬†I received an urgent email from a Wells Fargo Customer Service Representative. He had some¬†fancy-sounding, touchy-feely title and wanted¬†me to call the local branch ASAP to¬†set up an appointment with an Investment Banker. You see, I was undoubtedly in need of sage¬†advice¬†regarding¬†my newfound riches¬†and Wells Fargo would be more than¬†happy¬†to provide some guidance: Investment¬†Management, Estate Planning…why, there was even an Affluent Customer program that I might be interested in.

How thoughtful of them.

Keep in mind that this was a half year before the scandals came to light, which showed that Wells Fargo’s true expertise lay in forging customer signatures on sham accounts and then hitting them with fees. I, however, found my own reason for declining their generous offer.

A month before, when¬†it had become clear that the farm sale was going to close and I would no longer need to be eating street vendor food every day, I visited¬†the Wells Fargo website to do a little research. I had found¬†a Vanguard no-load mutual fund I wished to put some of the anticipated money into. If I went through the¬†company currently handling my investments (Vanguard), there¬†would be no fees or charges provided I could come up with a $3,000 minimum ‚ÄĒ an amount I was reasonably sure I could swing. Wells Fargo, on the other hand, was going to ding me $35 for each online trade. And this was only one of the many schemes¬†they had to¬†pry¬†open¬†my wallet: Account Maintenance Fees, Transfer Fees, Termination Fees‚Ķhell, I think they even had a Transgender Fee.

No surprise, however. Wells Fargo is a bank which makes a tidy profit nickel and diming customers (both real and made up) who elect to use its investment services. But the associated costs simply do not compare with a real investment company such as Vanguard.

I declined to respond to the Customer Service fellow’s email. The farm money was only in my account another week before I moved it out, and I really did not have anything pleasant to say to the guy anyway. I might be considered an Affluent Customer, but I am not affluently stupid.



The Evangelical Lutheran Church in¬†America through its many programs does a number of¬†fine things in the world. Though I am admittedly¬†no longer a church person, I was raised in this faith and continue ‚ÄĒ despite living in Bangkok, the Southeast Asian equivalent of Sodom and Gomorrah ‚ÄĒ to subscribe its basic beliefs.

It therefore seemed fitting and proper that I donate a portion of the farm windfall to the ELCA. After all, someday I would be going to that great Go-Go Bar in the Sky (which features vintage Rock & Roll; the one in hell plays Hip Hop) and would have to answer for my undeserved riches. In late March I accordingly emailed them, inquiring how I could go about this.

In my message I did not mentioned a specific amount, only that it was the result of selling some Iowa farmland ‚ÄĒ which is not going cheap. Now one would think that an organization in perpetual need of funds like the ELCA would salivate over an opportunity like this and get right back to me. Instead it was almost two weeks before I heard from them.

Their tardiness¬†made me angry. My no-nonsense Norwegian-Lutheran grandmother had¬†instilled in me the importance of doing one’s chores in a timely manner.¬†No screwing around. Maybe things in the church have become a bit slack these days. I mean, if it had been me in their position, dealing with a potentially huge amount of money, I‚Äôd have gotten off my butt and responded (in the immortal words of my fifth grade teacher), immediately if not sooner.

Somewhat reluctantly, I decided I could not work with these people. If I go to the trouble to contact an organization and offer to give them money, I’m not going to wait, hat in hand, while they take their sweet time getting back to me. They will either accord me some priority, or they will go without.

However, I am not a total Ebenezer. I have since added the ELCA as a beneficiary to a portion of my estate. (No point risking an eternity of Hip Hop.) But unless a wild Tuk Tuk driver runs me over, it’s likely going to be a few years before they see anything. They kept me waiting, so I am returning the favor. An eye for an eye.

Thanks, But No Thanks

For the five years that I have lived here, my friend Nicky has managed a combination travel agency and coffee shop just down the street. I used to go there often¬†to browse the internet until I purchased¬†a laptop, which allows me to surf¬†from home. But¬†I still try to stop by on occasion to say hello. In the past year or so I‚Äôve started to bring cookies on some of my visits, a treat the staff ‚ÄĒ¬†in particular a cute girl named Gan who’s quick with a smile¬†‚ÄĒ¬†looks forward to. Call it staying in the good graces of my pretty neighbors.

I have come to admire Nicky (pictured below), a Thai businesswoman who unlike the bar girls who haunt the Soi is not looking for some rich Westerner to support her. She has never asked me for money and runs a successful small company:

nickyPatpong Translation & Visa Service
Translation, Marriage Registration. Tourist, Retirement & Marriage Visas      

ūüďě 095-245-5195 (24 Hours)

818 / 23 Soi Udomsuk 36  Sukhumvit 103 Bangkok, Thailand 10260
(Take a taxi from the Udom Suk Skytrain Station)

Why not see if she could use some help? 

Since Nicky‚Äôs English is very good, I stopped in and sat down with her one day to¬†explain my offer. I told her about the¬†farm I’d inherited and how I had sold it¬†a couple months back, leaving me with ample¬†means. However, my mother had left instructions that the money¬†could¬†only be used to help others ‚ÄĒ no spending it on¬†myself. (In actuality mom never would have done something like that, but I’m quite sure she would have applauded the idea.) So, how about¬†a little financial assistance¬†to improve the business? Not wishing¬†to sound like a game show host, I refrained from tossing about any outlandish¬†figures. Instead, I tried to convey my sincerity¬†in a friendly, low-key manner.¬†

Throughout the course of my ‚Äúpitch‚ÄĚ Nicky seemed interested, perhaps as much in the story about my mother as the actual offer. It being Friday, she said she‚Äôd think about it over the weekend. A few days later, when I returned with my bank book, she surprised me by saying no.

This was a novelty: a¬†Thai actually declining money from a foreigner! My estimation of the woman, already high, went up another notch. But I was at a loss as to the reason. By Nicky’s¬†own admission, the past couple of days had been difficult as she wrestled with my generosity. Maybe I should have assured her ‚ÄĒ in good humor ‚ÄĒ that my¬†helping out¬†did not oblige her to¬†sleep with me.

In all seriousness, I think this was too much for our friendship. Time and again I have noticed how Thai women tend to view love and financial munificence as all being part of the same package. From that perspective, my money-only proposition was confusing. Did this mean I was now interested in her? Or had I just slipped a cog? Whatever the actual reason, I did not take it personally.

Nicky remains my friend. I will try again someday ‚ÄĒ being sure to bring cookies for Gan.
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All That Glitters

My Christmas gift to Nui almost did not happen. Back in early October, she had cornered me and asked for five thousand baht (around $150) to purchase a¬†gold necklace. I just¬†smiled and shook my head.¬†Only a few weeks before, after returning from my U.S. vacation, I had given Nui and two other girls who worked at the pool hall two thousand baht each. It had been over a year since¬†I’d last¬†visited¬†Sports Academy ‚ÄĒ got out of the habit ‚ÄĒ and the money was my way of apologizing for the extended neglect. To have Nui trying to finagle even more struck me as greedy and for a while had me considering cancelling my planned Christmas generosity. Fortunately I was able to get back into the holiday spirit.

Nui and I go back a¬†few years. I first met her in 2011 when she worked at another pool bar. The woman¬†then dropped off the¬†radar for a long while before surfacing at¬†Sports Academy. I’ve found her to be a capable¬†Eight Ball player, making (and missing) the same kind of shots I do until she becomes annoyed, at which point I’m in for a thrashing. Always serious, she’s my opponent of choice whenever I stop in¬†for a few games.

There’s never been anything more than casual flirting between us, Nui being married. However, it now sounds like she¬†is on her own. Because¬†I appeal to¬†Thai women who have troubles, our recent Eight Ball matches have been sprinkled with playful hints advertising¬†her availability. For example, instead of going home with me for the¬†night (a favorite¬†joke of ours), maybe we could¬†spend a full month together? She even seems to have developed a crush on me, confessing that she arrives at work every afternoon hoping I’ll show. Sad in a way.

Becoming involved with a married woman in a foreign culture is both messy and dangerous. It‚Äôs near impossible to tell where one¬†stands vis-a-vis the husband, who might decide to show up at said¬†suitor’s¬†door some night in an unpleasant mood. Since I prefer to keep my teeth, I‚Äôve found it easy to resist Nui‚Äôs overtures.

On the positive side, Nui‚Äôs feelings have provided me with a handy tool to discourage¬†money requests. After I’d gone the rest¬†of October without stopping by, she came up to me, a little¬†upset, and asked where I‚Äôd been. I replied I didn‚Äôt have five thousand baht, so I couldn’t¬†make an appearance. Translation: pester me about paying for that stupid¬†necklace, and our Eight Ball matches will become few and far between. Soon after that the solicitations ceased.

Nui used the Christmas money I gave her to get some special medicine for her mother. Or so she says. Regardless, it smelled to me like clever PR work. Wanting to be back in my good graces for the next time she passes a jewelry store and something bright and shiny catches her eye.


Pawn’s Sacrifice

In the past few months I have become a regular at Beer Garden on Soi 7 ‚ÄĒ a freelancer bar mentioned in an earlier post. It‚Äôs not a¬†very¬†long walk from my apartment, and on occasion¬†they actually play songs from my bygone era. The women there are friendly, if a bit on the shy side, and a fellow is less likely to encounter¬†the barracuda attitudes that infest the upscale go-gos of Nana Plaza and¬†Soi Cowboy.

A good place to hunt for my next charity recipient!

I had noticed Pawn sometime late last year. She almost always sits in the same general area I do. One night, when she ended up nearby me, I paid for her drink (a glass of water) and gave her one hundred baht for the taxi. Nothing special; just getting her attention. The next time around we talked a bit and I found out about her family (one son) and what she does for a living (works at a factory). It’s the same sad story of a decent Thai woman struggling to raise a child on her own, freelancing to help pay the bills. That night she’d been sitting in Beer Garden for some three hours and I was the first guy to talk to her.

I gave her two thousand baht ($60) and told her to go home.

It‚Äôs always entertaining to observe¬†a woman‚Äôs reactions to this. At first there‚Äôs disbelief ‚ÄĒ a guy she’s barely met giving her ‚Äúshort time‚ÄĚ money without expecting sex. Has he lost his mind? Then, when they see I am more or less sane¬†(and maybe sense my kindheartedness), I often wind up with a hug as they get ready to leave. That is what happened here.

My¬†next surprise gift, for the same amount, was handled more discreetly. When I arrived one evening around my usual time, Pawn was already sitting¬†next to a not-too-ugly,¬†grey haired gentleman¬†and it appeared the pair would soon¬†be departing for his place, or maybe one of the nearby short time hotels. Looked like¬†I had missed my chance¬†‚ÄĒ arrived a half hour too late. Not so!¬†I plopped myself down just around the corner of the bar from Pawn. Then, when her special fellow made a trip to the restroom, I casually slid over the money. Why? So she could take a night off from this depressing routine. Spend it with her son.

At this point, it looked like Pawn was going to be my next project. True, I did not know her, but she struck me as an easygoing, simple person who deserved a bit of good fortune. (Most of these women live hand to mouth so even a little assistance can be a huge help.) I began to ponder what might be the best way to get started. Maybe with a big upfront payment like I did with Sontaya? Or perhaps it would be more prudent to opt for moderation and see how she handled things.

All this thinking turned out to be premature. The very next time I came across Pawn in Beer Garden, I got rebuffed. She was sitting near her usual place, alone, and I ambled up with an envelope, which I had her put in her purse. Obviously it contained money and I said (once again) that she could head home. Turns out she didn’t want to do that and politely gave me the envelope back.

Now it was my turn to be shocked. This lady was choosing to spend the evening at the bar ‚ÄĒ drinking water ‚ÄĒ rather than taking the cash and leaving early. Try as I might, I could not get a handle on her reasoning and have since decided I’d best move on to someone else.

Funny thing, though. That envelope did not contain my usual present of two thousand baht. Instead, it was filled with¬†ten thousand baht (@$300) ‚ÄĒ the first installment from¬†my new¬†Aid Package. Without knowing it, Pawn had chosen to forego¬†what amounted to an entire month’s wages at the factory. Oh well.

Later in the evening, after flashing a few smiles in my direction, Pawn walked over and asked if I wanted her to sit by me. I smiled in return and said no thanks. These days I am not into having a companion with all the attendant complications. I just want to give these women money.

Is that too much to ask?