Work hard Play harder!

Three days worth of business trip, three weeks worth of shopping and fun. This time going to Thailand was different.

6 AM sea side walk, meetings from 8.30 AM to 6.30 PM and shopping in the evening, that pretty much sums up our time at Pattaya where our client is based. But Bangkok was a different play field altogether.

Bollywood mania in Thailand – I saw Devdas dubbed in Thai being sold in stores and what took my breath away was a Thai girl singing “Dhoom macha le Dhoom” and perfectly at that – this was in the hotel lawns for some party. It seems the locals know the song very well – everybody was singing and dancing to Dhoom!

Ever since Tarique returned with his Patpong experience (2 years back) I have been wanting a redux and I got my chance in this visit – Patpong is not just famous for its flesh trade, but also for its night bazaar – you get everything there – right from local woven silk purses to international brands – and what fine imitations, right out of the spam mails!! “madam -authentic Gucci at 50% discount” “Authentic Rolex at big discount” are the phrases you keep hearing as the pavement shopkeepers try to woo you to at least have a look at their goods, and once you have looked, you are hooked 😉 I bought several items from the bazaar – a Thai silk purse, a lovely painting on Thai silk, a huge folding fan – I almost bought a Gucci purse indeed a 100% authentic imitation right down to the stitch details

While we navigated the bazaar and went inside a different type of whispers and calls beckoned- “Madam, ping pong show ”, “Sir, come inside, have a look and don’t pay if you don’t like the show” every step you take, there were men and women asking you to peep inside the dance houses and sit if it pleases you. So we went inside one of the dance house – the nude shows are never held on ground floor they are always on the mezzanine or first floors of these dance bars – I had a good idea of what to expect there so it did not surprise me – there were of course nude girls dancing and doing the acts they are famous for, but it was more of a circus than a dance show. There were several women watching the show, men falling over the dancers and the bars owners making money. In short it was crude, somewhat funny and amusing but not titillating to the least. I got bored pretty soon and had it not been for an Indian making a perfect fool of himself, I would have moved out earlier. This gentleman, was summoning girls and playing with them – throwing money at the girls and the girls asking for more and more money without obliging him – he was drunk, being had and he did not know. He looked like a novice (or may be he was not) but I was so tempted to whistle and shout some advice in Hindi! This too got monotonous after a while and we left… May be there are better shows somewhere but got the feeling that they were mostly the same every where….

Some observations: The tourism industry of Asia is really on a down swing after the series of consecutive disasters – SARS, Tsunami – the sex center of Asia – Patpong is now less than half of what it was (comparison by Tarique since his last visit). I noted the same about the Chatuchak market – Bangkok’s most famous and biggest weekend market where one gets *everything* – the shops were barely starting to open at 8.30 AM on a Sunday and the shopkeepers were disinterested – the items on sale were not appearing new, the people walking around were mostly Thai youngsters who had nothing else to do on a weekend. The range was not as vast as it was since my last visit to Chatuchak two years back. However, we did manage to get quiet a lot of stuff for ourselves and Aasim – some fossils, shells, dried star fish, Black and Decker sets, table lamps, no clothes – clothes and T shirts were of extremely bad quality in Chatuchak this time unlike my previous visits. The best of clothes we bought at Central Plaza – branded stuff at low prices.

At Central plaza, we also had best of food – I stuffed myself several times with grilled Salmon steak. We successfully refrained ourselves from getting into MacDonalds, Pizza Hut and KFC and experimented with various cuisines. Tried Japanese, did not like it perhaps MK (A famous chain of restaurants which also serves Japanese) is not a good place to start the Japanese experience. Most traditional Thai dishes have too much lemon grass for my liking.

Our return was as eventful as this entire trip. We were due to take flight to Nagpur on Monday morning, but on reaching Domestic Airport and being told that the airport transit rooms were full, we were wondering what to do for next few hours when I noticed that the evening flight to Nagpur was delayed and due for departure in 40 minutes. Ran around a bit, got ourselves two seats and we were on our way to Nagpur within two hours of getting off the plane from Bangkok. We did not get to sleep much in the night as Aasim was too excited but it was well worth spending more money, wasting the apex tickets and reaching home.

This morning Tarique started to write an LJ entry but left it half way – here’s what he wrote before giving it a ditch.

“She was sick with my cribbing about not having time for fun on our trips and decided that it was time to fix it. To start with the tickets were booked for as nearly connecting flights as possible and did not waste a complete day sitting at Mumbai. The client had suggested that we do not meet the very next day, in consideration that we will be tired but we said *No*. We reached Pattaya via a 2 hour cab ride. We were put up in a nice sea facing room at the Hotel Asia Pattaya. and were at the Client’s office at 15:00hrs. This aggressive schedule set the mood for the entire trip. We shut our mind to the physical tiredness, being in good physical condition helped, and concentrated on doing what we wanted to enjoy, pursuing fun with the same *has to be done* attitude as we usually apply to our work. So from meeting it was straight out to shopping for few of our favorite things. Another thing that we had firmly decided that this we will not eat at any of the fast food brands. KFC/McDonald/Pizza Huts were out!”

Fringe Benefits

Most of us like to turn a blind eye generally towards the accountancy procedures and specifically towards additional tax announcements by the government.

Its easy to think “this is not for me -it happens to other people.” Ignorance is bliss -truly -but only till the point it does not start affecting you. One such thing is the recently announced The Fringe benefit tax.

The Fringe benefit Tax

I entertain a client, give 50% of what I spent on the client to the government.
I travel on business, I spend on tickets and give 10% of the cost of the tickets to the government.
I give benefits (petrol, travel allowance) to my employees – I pay 30% of the amount I spend on feel good benefits for my employees to the government.

In short, the companies who go a step further to provide hospitality, benefits, travel to clients/employees end up paying tax for spending the money.

What is it and how will it be calculated

The taxation of perquisites, or fringe benefits, provided by an employer to his employees, in addition to the cash salary or wages paid, is fringe benefit tax.

Any benefits or perks that employees get as a result of their employment are to be taxed, but in this case in the hands of the employer. This includes employee compensation other than the wages, tips, health insurance, life insurance and pension plans.

The value of fringe benefits shall be the aggregate cost incurred. That is, the total expense deducted will be considered for purposes of levying fringe benefit tax. From this, a certain percentage will be deducted. The difference therein will be taxed at the rate of 30%.

However, the fringe benefit tax rate varies from 10 per cent to 50 per cent depending upon the expense incurred: For example, for the use of telephones 10 per cent fringe benefit tax will be charged, while entertainment expenses, festival expenses, gifts, use of club facilities, etc will be taxed at the rate of 50 per cent.

End result: SMEs will end up paying way more to the government as tax. The heads that will come under tax include *everything* -just look at the list.

festival celebrations
use of club facilities
provision of hospitality of every kind to any person whether by way of food and beverage or in any other manner
maintenance of guest house
employee welfare
use of health club, sports and similar facilities
sales promotion, including publicity
conveyance, tour and travel, including foreign travel expenses
hotel boarding and lodging
repair, running and maintenance of motor cars
repair, running and maintenance of aircraft
consumption of fuel other than industrial fuel
use of telephone
scholarship to the children of the employees

So will employers who will pay fringe benefit tax deduct 30% more as taxes more the employees take home? Weather or not the employee is a tax payer. Most likely.

No wonder the entire industry is opposing it. Its detrimental to the growth of industry to have this kind of tax structure. The first repercussion will be on the employees -they will not getting as many increments or wont get increments in their salaries at all. In all likely hood their take home will be reduced by 30% should the companies decide so. And forget additional benefits totally!!

The only respite would be if the finance ministry is considers a threshold staff strength for levying the fringe benefit tax on employers. But then every company grows -wants to grow. This would seriously hamper the growth of the company.

So the general public are dead one way or the other. VAT and FBT in combination would be one of the worst tax structures implemented on the Indian Junta