Stickman's Weekly Column July 15th, 2001

Six Weeks



I go through phases of spending time in different bars, and at any one time, I will have a favourite bar. For a long time, my favourite was Pretty Lady Bar on the ground floor of Nana Plaza. I liked that bar for quite a while but it was always busy so I switched to Pam's Bar in Soi Cowboy, a small hole in the wall type place with friendly staff. Got bored of there fairly fast and Rainbow 1 in Nana was next. This remained a favourite for a long time until I broke one of my rules, never barfine a girl in your favourite drinking place because after that, everything changed. Following Rainbow 1, Our Place became a nice place to relax until I noticed that quite a few of the girls there were openly taking ya ba and having an aversion to drugs, I quickly disappeared. Nowadays it is Midnite Bar in Cowboy that I like.

Constantly returning to the same bar, you slowly get to know the staff, and even those staff that you may not know on a first name basis, you recognise and you are able to watch them, as they develop, and watch how the industry slowly changes them, more often than not for the worse. In recent times, I have watched with interest the progress of two girls working in a certain bar, one who started off as a gogo dancer (girl A), the other as a waitress (girl B).

Girl A started off as a gogo dancer. When I first met her she was totally out of place in the bar, and really didn't seem to know what was going on. She danced in a full bikini and after ten days, no-one had barfined her (which I found hard to understand as she was in my eyes, easily the nicest girl in the bar). At this point she told me that this lifestyle wasn't for her and that she would leave. I returned to the bar a few days later and she had returned home to the provinces. I was pleased, thinking that this was one girl that the bar wasn't going to sully. But life in the provinces failed to produce an income so she returned to the bar a couple of weeks later. For some strange reason she remained unpopular until she started dancing topless and everything suddenly changed. Customers became more interested and she went from the least popular girl to one of the most popular girls overnight. A couple of weeks later, and she had dispensed with her knickers and was dancing nude. Shortly after this she was doing the sex shows, inserting all manner of objects up inside herself. The friendly manner that she once had changed and she started to become a lot more mercenary, never sitting with someone for more than three minutes without spitting out the you buy me Cola routine. From entering the bar to becoming what I would call fairly hard took all of about six weeks.

Girl B started off life as a service girl. She was incredibly sweet, had a mouth like a radio station and the most incredible smile. She told me that she didn't like working in a bar, but that things could be a lot worse – after all, she was not going with customers! Certainly her pleasant demeanour defied her words that this was not her ideal job. She seemed to make the most of things by chatting with everyone, receiving healthy tips, but never doing anything outside of her job description of waitress. Unfortunately 2500 baht per month along with her tips did not cut it, and after a few weeks she turned to the dark side, and became a dancer.

While dancing topless, the smile totally disappeared and she danced away, never making eye contact with anyone and even when the other girls on stage are joking away, it is the best she can do to muster up a smile. Forced to sit with customers in a bar where a lot of the customers are allowed, even encouraged, to paw the girls, this poor girl was having a very hard time dealing with what was going on. She still hasn't totally adjusted to it and her whole personality and demeanour in the bar has changed. The smile has gone, and her previous gregarious ways have been replaced by a very introverted nature. This girl is now lost, not knowing what to do with herself. She sees herself as a bad girl, and her self esteem has taken a hammering. She has become damaged. She too has been working in the bar for around six weeks or so.

Watching and observing these girls, there seems to be some sort of acceptance them that the bar slowly gets the better of them and around the six week mark, one starts to see signs that the girls are changing. The sweet and innocent smile slowly fades and is replaced by what is obviously a forced version. The makeup starts to get applied a little more liberally and rings around the eyes may even appear. The ability to drink alcohol increase exponentially and those words "you buy cola" roll off her tongue before you've even asked her name. Watching girls in these bars, there seems to be a change happen around the six week mark. Some girls may change earlier, and a few a little later, but in my experience, if they don't get out of the bar before the six week mark, their lives are irrevocably changed. Changed for good. Changed by a decision that they were forced to make when they were still very young and in many cases, very naive. Six weeks is all it takes.

How long will there be that great big mess on Soi Asoke, just opposite the west end of Soi Cowboy? Well, it could be another year or so because this section of the skytrain – or is it underground? – will not be open until later next year. The same question keeps repeating itself amongst expat circles. Bangkok floods in the rainy season, often quite badly, so what are they going to do with the underground to prevent it from flooding? Seems like a fairly valid question. As I have yet to hear it answered adequately, would any engineers like to volunteer a learned response?

Construction on the new section of the "Sky Train",
as seen from Sukumvit Road, looking up Soi Asoke.

Last week I asked for recommendations from local expats about the best places to buy bread and this is a summary of the responses. Recommendations were made about the Sogo Bakery – Erawan section, Regent Bakery, JW Marriot (especially after 6:00 pm when they drop the prices of the bread). However, the run away winner with far more people mentioning it than all others put together is the french bakery / restaurant on soi Convent Silom, called La Boulange. An added bonus about this place is that if you do not want to traipse all the way down to Silom just to buy some bread, their bread is also available at most Villa Market branches, fresh daily.

In last week's column, I mentioned girls who work during their period and asked how they manage it. Here are some responses to that:

You mentioned how come go-go ladies who only have two days off a month can manage given that their period lasts about four days. In fact, there is a drug available from the chemist that solves the problem. I don't now what it is called, but I was taking a brief holiday with a Thai lady friend once and her period came on. No problem she said and she headed off to the chemist to purchase said drug. She popped a couple of tabs and within an hour or two the bleeding had stopped. Like I said, I don't know what it is called, but I reckon it must be downright dangerous.
From another reader:
While in the Kingdom (last October) it seemed that 1 of 3 girls were on their period. That didn't stop them from working though. Now I ask first.
The responsible Mike from Midnite Bar in Cowboy had this to say:
What we do at Midnite is tell the girls if they don't want to dance while they are on, would they prefer to call customers outside for a couple of days? They are all happy to do so, and we do not cut their salary.
Can't say I've ever heard of this, but ZMan sent in the following:
I am not sure how they hide the fact they are on their period. But I do know down in Pattaya a least at the go-go bars around the carousel bar, the girls on the rag will wear a different coloured bikini bottom. I asked the hostesses why her bottom was black, and that's the info I got.
Soi 33, referred to by some as Millionaires row, by others as The Painters or the Artists, is growing. A few bars have popped up recently including Wall Street, Blue Bar BQ and Big Shots. Wall Street has a novel pricing system. There is a stick ticker with the prices rotating around and the price that is on the board at the time that you order is the price that you get. Prices can vary by more than 20 baht so if you are a poor English teacher like me, wait until the cheap prices scroll around on the ticker and order your drink at that very moment you see the cheapest price. While it may be a laugh, I can't to see this silly gimmick lasting long. It must be said that the interior in Wall Street is not nearly as nice as some of the other bars in the street. The tiny ticker and the TV tuned to CNBC's business news along with a few pictures here and there are not enough to give it a real Wall Street flavour and it just felt a little bare to me. I didn't make it into Big Shots or Blue Bar BQ that are in the little alley beside Wall Street, though the plaque outside Big Shots announcing Non-Members Only is amusing.

I have to wonder about the viability of these new bars in soi 33. In the past, most of the bars have had nice decor, girls much the same as elsewhere though they tended to be on bit of a leash and weren't too pushy and generally, they were all in shape, no really "big" girls on the premises. Some of these new bars have not kept up with the same standards and are contributing to lowering the tone of the neighbourhood, sort of like when your neighbour allows their house to become rundown by not mowing the lawn and doing general maintenance. This could potentially result in the soi losing some of its exclusivity, and it is no secret that some of the folks that drink on the soi value that.

The super breakfast served at The Old Dutch, on the corner of Sukumvit Soi 23 and Soi Cowboy is still the best value breakfast in town, and one of the tastiest too. Three eggs, a couple of bread rolls, orange juice, two cups of coffee, a selection of meats and cheese all for 100 baht is enough to fill up even those with the biggest appetite. And unlike so many places in Thailand that have good food but ruin it with a horrible atmosphere of blaring music and garish flashing lights, The Old Dutch is very laid back with the decor of an older pub, easy listening music played at a very low volume and staff who don't jump all over you. For me, it's the best place to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning, returning to where I had been partying just a few hours earlier.

The Old Dutch in Cowboy. It may not be a gogo bar or a place
to see some flesh, but Cowboy wouldn't be the same without it.

Get ready for the next round of price increases as Clinton Plaza joins some of the bars in Nana Plaza and increase prices past the psychological 100 baht barrier! Bar owners at Clinton Plaza had originally planned to increase prices in November but for whatever reason, they are now looking at doing it in the first or second week of August. Yep, Clinton Plaza will be the next 110 baht drink zone. At this stage, it seems that Rock Hard, Dollhouse and Hollywood East will increase their prices, though I'm not sure about The Whitehouse.

If Thais are so polite, why do they never say thank you when they get given their change on the bus? For that matter, if Thais are so damned polite, why is it that they do not even look at the conductor. Just why is that? The Thai idea of what constitutes being is somewhat different from our Western ideas… A Thai not saying thank you would not cause any problems but a farang wearing shorts in the middle of the city, now what would be impolite… What is considered polite in the West, and what is considered polite in the East, are two completely different things. There seems to be a small overlap in the middle.

Dean Barrett's new book, "Thailand: Land of Beautiful Women" is available in Bangers now. A photo pictorial of Thai women with a nice commentary, the book is split into two sections, regular Thai girls and the Thai girls of the night. A similar phenomenon as with Nick Nostitz's "Patpong: Bangkok's Twilight Zone" is that you find yourself looking into the background, searching for a picture of yourself and then wondering if you find such a picture whether it is a good thing or not! Overall, this is a good book and will make a nice souvenir for anyone who has enjoyed Thailand and the country's women, be it nightlife oriented or otherwise. If I had a couple of small criticisms, the cover of the book is a bit light and not a hardback like Nick's book. And it is slightly smaller than I had anticipated, but neither of these are serious complaints. It's well worth picking up, and even more so if you know or recognise some of the girls in the book.

Shadow bar re-opened on Monday night and I notice one of the first customers was that devilishly handsome young man, Mekong Kurt, who is now even more famous because of his appearance in Dean Barrett's new book. The bar is looking a lot better and everything is nice and new, but the girls are, shall we say, a little well rounded… Are they the same staff as before the renovation? Not sure as I hadn't been in there for a while but they really need at least a couple of really pretty girls to draw in the crowds.

Wandering down Soi Cowboy, I notice that the girls are very generously leaving their scraps out for some of the soi's other residents to enjoy. These rats were pictured having lunch outside of the Toy Bar a few days ago. Not small, are they?

Rats enjoying someone's leftovers outside toy Bar in Soi Cowboy.

In addition to rats, at night the elephants are back and you can see them in all parts of the city, but specifically around parts of Sukumvit and Petchaburi Road. There isn't a worse sound than hearing a poor elephant howl as the forth taxi in 30 seconds with a super loud exhaust system passes perilously close to the petrified beast. Soi Cowboy is a good place to spot them and at the odd time recently, you could see up to three of them walking down the soi at the same time.

It's official, the Thermae now closes at 2:00 AM. A large sign in both English and Thai has been erected at the front entrance stating that the hours of business for Wat Thermae are 8:00 PM – 2:00 AM. In actual fact, it takes until about 2:30 AM until it closes properly, but it isn't going until 6:00 AM as it did in the good old days. Not sure why the Thermae is still closing early, but it is definitely having an effect on the already sullied image of Sukumvit Road. So Sukumvit is hardly full of angels, but would it not be better to get everyone inside the Thermae, out of view of some of the more wholesome visitors to Thailand who would perhaps prefer not to see prostitutes milling around, looking for a bit of late night trade. Not everyone in Sukumvit is looking for a girl, but then if you are a prude, Bangkok shouldn't be on your list of places to visit.

The Thermae's early closing has been the second big blow in two months to those who enjoy (live for?) Bangkok's naughty nightlife. There are still plenty of people bitching and moaning about the increases in the prices of drinks at Nana Plaza but I get the impression that people are even more pissed off at the Thermae closing early. The Thermae is not just another late night venue, it is THE late night venue, THE freelancer place and is very much an integral part of not just the naughty nightlife industry, but indeed the farang expat subculture in Bangkok. Chatting with people in the Thermae on Friday night, there was no shortage of people who were beyond pissed off, even distressed at the change in hours of business. This could really change some of the dynamics of the industry.

A couple of months ago, a Dutch friend told me about a regular massage he had had where they finish off by massaging your balls. He said he found it quite relaxing and indeed, he even tried to return to the place after his visit for another go. The following email came in from a reader and made me laugh.

The massage said something to the effect of "balls pulled down to relieve lower back pain". Well, I at first did not want to take this one, but the lady insisted that I did. I really enjoyed the massage until the end. She told me to flip over, she massaged by genitals for about 2 seconds, then grabbed them and yanked on it. I shot up like a rocket and the lady just laughed. It was a very painful experience. Everyone that I told this story to said "what were they thinking…by making your balls hurt you will forget about your back pain". Anyway, my advice is to stay away from any massage that includes "ball pulling". My genitals still hurt.
First we take Manila, and then we take Bangkok. Financial Consultants all over the city must be starting to worry as a one of these financial consultant firm of crooks got busted in the Philippines this week. How long until your company is next? Teaching English might be tougher and pay less, but the boys at Immigration aren't going to come and round you up.

We all knows what happens to old bar flies. They end up down in Pattaya where the prices of just about everything are much cheaper, and eventually, if fate is against them, they end up as just another statistic in that fine newspaper, The Pattaya Mail. But whatever happens to old bar girls? I'm talking about the girls that were working say 20 or more years ago. Some may have been pulled out of the industry by customers but that was probably less likely back then than now as there were far fewer foreigners coming to Thailand back then. Some may be down in Pattaya, still working away at the old job, but then that isn't that likely either. Do they just return to their village or what?

Brochure from La Cherie Massage Parlour. Where is it? Where is she?
It might still exist but I can't say that I've ever heard of it before now.

Rumours about that the Dollhouse is going to change management and that a Canadian will shortly be taking over from the current American. As one of my Canadian friends said, Canada 1 USA 0. Little man syndrome…

Over at Clinton, the owners of Rock Hard shut the Crack House a couple of nights ago and fired all the ladyboys. The plan is to knock through the wall into Crack House to make a huge bar and there is talk of installing a "quiet area" or ST room rather than another gogo stage.

From the Woodstock file of disgrace, this bar currently has some cashiers and waitresses that are fiddling the bills. Happened to myself and a friend this week. In my case, the change was short by an odd number and I told them that there was a problem without telling them what it was. Without even looking at the change that I had received, the waitress went over to the cashier who gave her exactly the difference that they had tried to pilfer from me and deposited it in the tray with one of those Thai smiles that you just hate. A couple of other waitresses nearby were talking in Thai about it all, saying how the new staff are thieves!

Tilac Bar in Soi Cowboy has extended their happy hour to 9:00 PM and up to that time you can get beers and whiskey at 65 baht and all cocktails are 25 baht off the regular price. The happy hour previously finished at 8:30 PM. Talking to one of the owners of Tilac Bar, he confirmed that they relied upon locals for their business – estimating 75% of their customers as locals, and therefore they would not be putting their prices up to match the new high prices in some other areas. He also doubted any of the bars in Soi Cowboy with the exception of Long Gun could afford to put the prices up – for exactly the same reason.

While most of the bars in Cowboy charge fairly reasonable prices, why does Bacarra Bar charge 130 baht for a lady drink – all of the other bars are 80 – 90 baht. And to make it worse, the girls don't even dance topless. 130 baht for a lady drink is too steep.

Tips are an important part of the service staff's income in gogo bars. Take Rainbow 1 Bar in Nana Plaza for instance. Waitresses receive 3500 baht per month, a sum that may not even cover their rent let alone all of their other expenses. Therefore tips become an important part of their wage and it is good to know that they generally make more each month from tips than their total salary. The tips are divided up at the end of each night and at this time of year, tips run around 90 – 120 baht per person. In the high season, tips can hit 200 baht per person. The tips are divided up amongst all staff excluding the dancers and in rainbow 1 on Wednesday night this meant: the four staff preparing and dispensing drinks from behind the bar, four mamasans / papasans and two staff outside trying to get potential customers to come inside. On top of this there were 13 waitresses and one waiter, making a total of 24 service staff that the tips get distributed amongst. 24 * 120 = 2880 baht in tips received a night at this time of year, and over 5000 baht in the high season. But tips should be earned and not expected and bombarding customers with comments like "you pay bar" or "buy lady another drink" make you wonder if they are trying to convince you not to give them a tip.

What or who were the police looking for at Bahn Pe this week? Getting off the ferry from a few days in Samet, a group of four (one Canadian guy and three Korean girls, all who speak VERY basic English) were stopped by police and taken down to the police station for an hour of questioning. They were never searched nor told why they were begin questioned. After an hour, they were released, with no explanation given about what it was all about. Was it a case of mistaken identity or something more sinister? Amazing Thailand!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

ya ba – methamphetamine, popular in Thailand. These two words literally mean "crazy drug".



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