Stickman's Weekly Column May 20th, 2001

Stickman Weekly 20/5/2001

On the front page of Friday's Bangkok Post was an article about some girls from the north who had been sold into the flesh trade. These girls had been kept in an apartment in the Lard Prao area, often in chains. From there, they were taken off to various locales to service local men. The article went on to say that the girls had been sold by their families who were originally hill tribe people and Burmese, for between 20,000 and 30,000 baht each. These girls were almost certainly made available for the local Thai men only, and the likelihood is that no farang got anywhere near them. But does this sort of thing happen in the farang oriented scene? Well, not usually, but as a lot of farangs do cross over and indulge in the Thai scene, the farangs who do so are indirectly supporting this type of thing. Unfortunately, there is no solution and until the poverty that still affects a significant number of people in Thailand is gone, such situations will continue to occur. There is still a lot of shocking things happening behind the scenes.

There's a new small magazine style brochure out called Bangkok Nightlife. I spotted the second issue, dated May – June, while in a Nana Plaza bar. It's dual language with both English and German and while it is full of advertising for different bars, there isn't really a lot of information inside. The content is largely taken up by colourful ads of many bars with photos of all of their prettiest girls. It does however contain some nice maps with sections of Sukumvit showing the nightlife areas and a good listing of all of the hotels in the area. This is a good example of a publication that is as much a souvenir of Bangkok's naughty nightlife than anything else. I just can't see too many people picking it up in a bar, looking at the pictures and then deciding to go to one of the bars, based on what they see in the magazine. Still, I'll collect them as they come out. Anyone got a spare copy of issue number one floating around?

Friday night's Nanapong Dance Contest #4 was a fantastic night with the Nanapong boys proving that after three successful events that had the odd hiccup or two, they have finally got it right. And what a night it was. A selection of some of Bangkok's sexiest ladies dancing against each other for the chance to win the very generous 10,000 baht first prize. The crowd was far more lively than previous contests and while some of the girls were dancing, their friends in the audience were screaming out above the sound system, encouraging them to try that little bit harder.

When famous girl number 33 and her set of 35,000 baht knockers came out to dance, the crowd went wild and I remember jostling with a friend to get to the other side of the bar to get the best vantage point to take her photo. It was a fantastic night and even after the competition had finished, people stayed in the bar, discussing who they thought should have won and just contemplating a really excellent event. While I may have said that once every few months is enough for these competitions, I just can't wait for the next one, whenever that may be. Well done Nanapong.

The Nanapong Dance Contest #4, held at Rififi, was the best
yet of their excellent dance competitions. When's the next one?!

In last week's column, I mentioned how some Nana Plaza bars (the Crown Group Of Bars, Hollywood Strip on level 3 and Play School) had put up prices of drinks to new levels. This has been a hot piece this week and while I am against any price increases as much in principle as that I am a lowly paid local, the price increases deserve to be looked at more closely.

At first it seemed downright peculiar to me that the Crown Group should use this time of year to implement their price increases. It is now officially low season and the time of year that one might expect the bar owners to rely on their expat customers to see them through to the next high season. But walk into many of the NEP bars and what you see is predominantly a sea of yellow along with folks who are obviously farang tourists, and not locals. Locals probably only make up around 20% of customers in many of the NEP bars.

It is a fact that the tourists who are travelling to foreign currencies with fat Western salaries will not notice the price increases nearly as much. You're hardly going to spend a small fortune to travel around the world and then shirk a bar because of an increase in the drinks prices. To someone drinking 100 bottles of beer over the course of their holiday, drinking all of these within the aforementioned bars would only cost them $US 50 / $NZ 120 / UK 35 more than before and while I do not like to think in terms of Western currencies, for those people who now make up the bulk of customers in Nana Plaza, it is a drop in the ocean, given their total holiday spend.

The reason that the bars chose 110 baht for the cost of a standard drink is fairly easy to explain. Going from the previous 90 baht to 95 baht or 100 baht could potentially drop, or even eliminate tips, given that many people hand over a 100 baht bill. Setting the price at 110 baht will result in more change being left in the tray and the likelihood of a larger tip. Please do note however that tipping is NOT necessary in Thailand and is very much at your discretion. If someone providing a service ever asks for a tip, as many of the waitresses do, don't give them one! Let them learn that a tip (to insure promptitude) is reward for good service and not just an obligatory expense.

For locals just out for a drink with friends, the price increases may or may not make a difference. There are a lot of local expats on decent salary packages, often pegged to a Western currency, and also a lot of locals are often so drunk that they won't even notice the new increased cost of drinks anyway. The price increases may indeed have been a shrewd move by the bar owners who could well see their profits rise with no discernible drop in business. Despite moaning and groaning amongst many in the expat community, they may have done their homework and got it right. Alternatively, a lack of patronage may occur. Who knows? Only time will tell. But, with the shift in patronage at Nana over the last few years with the vast majority of customers now being tourists, I believe that the bars that have increased their prices will not notice any reduction in profits at all.

I note that Hollywood on the ground floor of Nana has just put up their prices so I would now say, expect many of the bars in Nana to follow VERY shortly. I wonder if Hollywood was waiting to see how customers responded before upping their prices? It'll be interesting if some of the smaller bars, particularly those on the second floor, follow. There are a few smaller bars that are not quite so popular and I would have thought that they couldn't really afford to put up their prices as they have a loyal following amongst locals…time will tell.

Carnival (top) and Fantasia (bottom right) are both part of the Crown Group.
Notwithstanding the price increases, Fantasia is my favourite NEP bar.

Ever wondered about those Thais who sit out on the street with a table, a mobile phone and a sign in Thai that you can't make out except for the number 4. What exactly do they do? These folks are quite entrepreneurial and provide a nice service allowing you to use their mobile to call anywhere in Thailand at any time, all for a very reasonable 4 baht a minute. Given that the standard rates, during the day time especially, can run a lot more than this, how do they do it? Cleverly, they sign up to one of the high usage mobile call plans where the per minute rate is just 1 baht per minute, and they then allow you to use the phone at 4 baht a minute, thus making a profit of 3 baht per minute. Clever! A nice service, but I can't help wondering if the TOT will somehow try and put a stop to it, as at the end of the day, its providing competition for them. If you hadn't already noticed, the TOT really doesn't like any competition at all!

At around 9:45 PM on Monday night, I tried to access the sanuk board, the internet discussion forum that has been an important place for thousands of foreigners who share Thailand as their common bond. Unfortunately where the board had been hosted decided to charge board members to use the message board that they hosted, and with 99.9 % of the members refusing to pay, it is as good as dead. A new message board has replaced this old one, but I can't help but feel that it is just not quite the same.

The boys in brown still can't make up their mind about the Thermae. Around 3:00 AM on Friday night the lights were turned on and as per usual, a good percentage of the girls drifted outside where they milled around, looking lost and confused. A lot of the punters just remained inside and continued to order drinks. A lot of girls remained inside too, but with the house lights on, the whole atmosphere changed and it suddenly felt like time to go home.

Jake Needham's second novel, "Tea Money", is still in The Nation's best seller list, six months after it was released, which is damned impressive. The movie rights for Jake's first book, The Big Mango, have just been sold to Hollywood and the script has been sent to two top notch actors who could be potential Eddie Dare's and they are currently looking at it. While it would be fantastic to see this book made into a movie, a well directed flick with a lot of scenes in Bangkok's gogo bars could truly result in the flood of tourists that were talked about, but never really materialised after the release of "The Beach". And with that, prices of drinks and so forth would really go through the roof. But seriously, while the movie rights to many books are sold, some make it on to the big screen quickly, others decades later and some not at all.

Why is it that fried rice costs a lot less than the old fried food on rice variety? Order a plate of chicken friend rice in a small air-con restaurant and the price will probably be around 40 baht for the plate. But order a dish where you ask for fried Thai food to be put in top of rice such as sweet and sour chicken on rice, and the price jumps to 70 or 80 baht. The amount of ingredients is almost identical as is the cooking time. Why is there such a big price difference?

The Pizza Company continue to add to my waistline and their new seafood special is a real winner – hell, it's so good that I ordered three in three days! But the driver who delivered mine the other day was cheeky and asked me for a tip. Alai na! Now, which farangs out there have been tipping him and raising his expectations? This action really is a lack of respect on the part of the delivery boy as they would NEVER dare say this to a Thai customer. If he asked a Thai for a tip, he'd get his marching orders the moment he returned to base.

I previously mentioned Midnite Bar in Soi Cowboy as a shining star in offering their show girls a very reasonable contract. Well, it turns out that while the show girls get treated very well, the service staff are not on quite the same package. One lovely waitress who just started a couple of weeks ago receives the princely sum of 2500 baht a month, and no doubt a few tips too, but its still a measly amount.

Budding wannabe Bangkok expats take note. IDP Education Australia, previously known as ELCA, advertised in the Bangkok Post this week for English teachers, paying up to 55,000 baht per month – a very reasonable package for an English teacher. However, to get this salary, you would no doubt have to be suitably qualified and experienced. While life in the English teaching industry is never a smooth ride, it is unusual to see someone openly state in their advert "you will have……a work permit after satisfactory performance" indicating that they most likely have staff working there at any given time without a work permit.

A view of the city from the Siam BTS station this week.

We complain about corruption. We complain about the way the locals drive. We complain about levels of service and that the locals cant speak English. We complain about it being too hot. We moan and groan about the anti farang policies of the present government. We scream and yell about the state of the footpaths and a million other things. But what would it be like if all of these problems didn't exist?. What would we have? Hell, it would be just like Farangland and then we'd really have cause to complain!

MORE stories about Monet bar in Soi 33 padding the bill. This bar seems to be doing its best to scare customers away. I wonder if it is because they think people will continue to go back there because it has the nicest girls in the soi? If you venture into Monet Bar, INSIST that they put a tumbler in front of you with all of your bills, or expect a padded bill.

I notice there seems to be a greater demand for *female* English teachers in Bangkok. The demands are coming from managers of schools where young children (aged 12 and under) are taught which is understandable. It also seems that groups of males studying English would prefer to have a female English teacher, and at some schools they are not shy to request "a cute female teacher".

I just found out, a little late I know, that there was a nasty fight in Titty Twister bar in NEP last week. A local expat had had a bit too much to drink and asked the DJ if he could play a certain song but the DJ declined. With a bit too much alcohol in his system, the expat muttered an expletive and slapped the DJ on the head (BIG mistake!). The DJ went outside and mentioned this to one of the bouncers who came into the bar and with one clinical punch to the farang's mouth, sent the expat flying! The police were never called, the expat came around and that was the end of it all. While it is silly to mutter things at Thais, slapping them on the head, the most sacred part of their body, is a big no no!

On the back of last week's apartment website idea, another idea for wannabe Thailand based expats. The cost of printing is very low in Thailand and greeting / birthday / Xmas type cards printed in the Kingdom are very cheap. Exporting these in large quantities to the West and selling them at a high mark-up would result in a nice profit. Also, posters and prints bought in Thailand are extremely cheap compared to the West, but exporting those would be difficult as many of them are actually copyright and I'm sure none of the copyright owners are receiving their rightful royalties for the versions sold in Thailand.

Why is it that flying a kite so much more fun in Thailand than in Farangland?

Your Bangkok commentator,