Stickman's Weekly Column August 19th, 2001

If Nana Closed?




Flying into Bangkok, you look out of the window down on the dimly lit streets, and see the usual long streams of slow moving traffic, notwithstanding that it is but an hour before midnight. Even at 6,000 feet, you can see several buildings with huge neon signs, advertising the local massage parlours and karaoke bars, but you know that these are both fronts for whorehouses. Ahhh, the thought that you'll be enjoying a similar type of establishment in less than two hours revitalises you and you instantly forget that you have been on a plane for the best part of 24 hours.

The queues at customs are as long as you remember them but the pleasant sight of long haired, smooth skinned Asian beauties lessens the boredom. You impatiently look at your watch every couple of minutes, mentally calculating how long it will take you to get down to Sukumvit, booked into the Nana Hotel and then make a mad dash over to Nana Plaza before it closes for the evening.

45 minutes battling officialdom and you are walking gout of the terminal, to once again be greeted by the unrelenting heat and that unmistakable smell that you only find in Bangkok. You know the routine and a moment later you are into a taxi and roaring down the expressway, next stop the Nana Hotel. A quick check of the watch puts your ETA at the Nana Hotel at 1:00 AM. After checking in, quickly showering and changing, you'll be over in Nana Plaza with at least 30 minutes before the 2:00 AM closing time. Perfect!

The remaining 15 minutes of the journey into Sukumvit are spent reminiscing the lovely ladies that you have met in the past, and the wonderful experiences that you have had with them. Approaching Soi 4, the excitement starts to get too much as you spot the Nana Hotel, to be the venue for the following week's round of bedroom Olympics. The taxi pulls into soi 4 and looking around, you notice a lack of neon and where are the usual crowds of people? The smile that had been permanently glowing from your face starts to erode. Soi 4 seems so much lot darker. Where is everyone? The taxi turns right into the car park at the Nana, and you notice a few gentlemen standing around in groups, deep in discussion. But where are the long haired beauties?

Something's wrong. Something's seriously wrong. You overhear some hushed words coming from one of the groups of gentlemen nearby and you hear the four words that will haunt you forever, Nana Plaza's closed down! Jumping out of your taxi like a beast possessed, you sprint across the Nana Hotel car park, over the narrow soi to what once was the entrance to Nana Plaza, the entrance to your favourite place on earth. Where once neon signs glowed, radiating a warm, colourful welcome to visitors from all over the world now lays an empty site, the entrance to which is blocked off. You swing your head back in horror, looking to the sky, to the great one for inspiration, but instead you see an image of the devil. It's a sign in Thai, incomprehensible to you. There is the somewhat square shaped face of a white skinned Chinese looking, middle-aged man, with a smirk on his face and the only bit that you understand are three letters in English at the bottom corner, "TRT".

Confusion quickly turns into pandemonium as you grab the wire fence and start screaming at the ghosts on the other side, just like an incarcerated man who can stand it no longer, pleading for his freedom from within prison walls. A crowd of locals form around you, perplexed at the behaviour of this weird farang, not the first to behave just like this in exactly the same spot today…

While the above may be pure fiction, there is little doubt in my mind that this would be a fairly accurate description of the reaction many would have if they arrived to find the farang oriented prostitution industry closed down.

I can remember many years ago as a youngster tuning through the short wave stations around the world and I caught a broadcast coming out of Thailand. A strong North American voice said a few words to the effect of "Come to Thailand for the temples and the beaches. Come not for prostitution". Even back then, probably about some 20 or so years ago, Thailand was well aware of how the farang oriented prostitution industry harmed the country's image.

About a year or so ago, I added a piece to another section of this site, stating that I believed that there is a time limit on the farang oriented prostitution industry as we know it. I stand by this. My personal belief is that in the past Thailand did not want to tinker with the industry, afraid that to do so would potentially harm the tourism market. I believe that now they have reached the point where they realise that tourism numbers are growing at such a rate that irrespective of what happens to the naught nightlife industry, people will continue to return to Thailand. Sure, there may be a bit of a dip in numbers of the farang oriented scene was to disappear, but they would recover.

Hey, I could be way off base, but that is what I truly believe. Give it a few years and you won't recognise the industry. No-one will want to invest in an industry where they are unsure if there bar will be closed down overnight. Equity in existing bars will plummet too. New Nana Plazas will not open. The "golden age" is slowly coming to an end. I truly believe this. The naughty nightlife industry for Thai men will continue and I am picking that farangs will be barred from using the services at most places. For now, most of the commotion that has been going on has been related to other issues such as the crackdown on drugs but wait until they actually target the farang night industry and things will happen very, very fast.

The argument that the sex tourism sector of the market provides too much income for Thailand and is just too critical is flawed. You're right that it is a valid argument – there would be significant financial losses and some parts of the country, such as Isaan would take a bigger hit than others. But you must remember that Thailand has a history of doing what Thailand wants to do, with little regard for the consequences.

So, has Stickman finally lost his marbles or what?

Thank you for all of the feedback regarding the length of the column. The general feedback was that people like reading the contributions from other readers as it provides the column with a more balanced view and that for now, the length of the column is ok. Therefore, if the column runs a little longer some weeks, I will not prune it back. The target for the length of the column each week is 4000 – 5000 words.

In response to my piece last week about living in Thailand and leaving a structured lifestyle, TJRD12 says:

I think that everyone needs a governor in BKK. For some it is a job, others it is a girlfriend, the gym, and only drinking once a week. Many of these guys NEVER got laid when they were in high school. Some of us did so the power of the POONTANG is not as great with us.
Cripes, are there any Oil company managers out there? If this email from Fast Freddy is anything to go by, IT'S TIME TO SLASH THOSE DAMNED SALARIES!!!
Forget about blaming the tourists for overpaying and pushing up expectations of the girls……more blame should be laid at the feet of the expat oil worker / engineer….one of which I know regularly pays 10,000 Baht short-time and has girls keep themselves exclusively for his stable at 50,000 baht per month. All of which to no doubt offset his own insecurities.

The view from one of the suites at the Baiyoke 2 is enough to
keep you in the hotel and off the Bangkok streets.

I had my first look inside the hotel at Baiyoke 2 Sky Tower this week and have to admit that I was very, very impressed. A friend passing through town had paid $Aust 79 (about 1800 baht = $US 40) a night and for this he had a monster suite with two large rooms, a beautiful bathroom, all with fantastic views – see picture here. I note that many of the supposedly better hotels around town charge around $US 100 up for a room, but for less than half of that, you get a monster suite at Baiyoke 2. I've heard rumours that this place is not guest friendly but I can confirm that I walked in with an unmistakably Isaan girl in the evening and no-one said a thing… For the price, Baiyoke 2 represents good value.

A truncated version of an extremely long email received this week follows. Are the regular girls of Thai society starting to learn from their Isaan sisters? Do all Thai girls want a piece of the farang gravy train? Are regular girls becoming aware of the opportunities to make money from farangs, particularly via the 'net? What do you think of the following story? Me, I think he's a sucker.

Back in May 2001 a young Thai girl contacted me via ICQ. She is attending university. She sent me her picture and she looked very cute. I sent her my picture and to my surprise she said I was handsome. We talked everyday for a few weeks and I also called her on the phone during this time.

I bought the tickets and went to Bangkok for 10 days. I went to her home and she lived in a decent house with 5 bedrooms. I stayed in her room while she slept in a spare bedroom with her friend. My stay went well and we did the usual boyfriend girlfriend stuff, movies, dinner, sightseeing. I learned I could not show any intimacy with her in public, but in private we would kiss and hug.

<during his time in Bangers> she did go to bed with me and I got to make love to her. To my shock she also 'smoked' me which I was not expecting. That was a pleasant surprise to learn she was willing to do that.

When I was at her house I used her computer. As I suspected she had tons of ICQ, MSN, Yahoo contacts. I knew she probably would, but I figured she would have at least made an effort to hide some of them from me. While I would sit and read my favourite home country web-sites I would get flooded with chat requests from some of her contacts. Clearly she had made many on-line boyfriends because the kind of talk they used was the same as we had done with each other.

About 2 weeks after I came back to the USA she told me her mom wanted her to move out. She told me her mom gave her the money for a 8000 baht per month apartment. 24000 Baht she said she had to pay for the first 3 months. I read this a standard for Bangkok and that a 8000 baht per month apartment is fairly nice. Then a few days later she told me that she had no 'life' money and if I could start giving her money every week. I asked her how much she needed and she told me her mom used to give her 4000-5000 baht per week. This disturbed me greatly and this was before I read all the stories about Go-Go girls doing this with their farang 'boyfriends'. I have reluctantly agreed to do this.

Nicolas Merriwether, a colourful fellow who has spent a lot of time in and out of Bangkok sent me the following press releases about his soon to be released first novel. It sounds like it could be worth reading if you like stories set in this part of the world.
Apsara Jet is a powerful, erotic, politically incorrect story of love, lust, betrayal, death, and revenge; in the high stakes world of narco trafficking in South East Asia. John Jackson Jr, an unemployed Vietnam veteran and former distinguished Eastern Airlines pilot, had fallen to the bottom of his alcoholic depression. Convicted of felony drunk driving in Miami… Divorced, homeless, and living in his car… he is given one last chance for redemption… To return to Indochina for Alexander Chen, and into the cockpit of a McDonnell Douglas DC-8 cargo jet… Jackson unknowing at first, involves two of his old friends… then, feeling that there was no way out… he sucked deeper, into the dark world of Burmese Drug Lords & The Russian Mafia… Betrayed, they survive a fiery mid-air collision, only to crash land in a riverbed in remote Northeastern Cambodia. There, he and his partner, excise pilot A.P. Scott, recuperate, and later seek an apocalyptic revenge on Chen, their former employer, for millions of dollars in cash. So tighten your seat belts. The radar is painting red. Yes, indeed; There is Turbulence Ahead! Caution… Rated R!
I had to laugh when I entered a small street side restaurant the other day and read the Thai menu offering McDonalds and KFC chicken nuggets, amongst other things. I questioned the vendor about these items and she assured me that the chicken on sale was sourced from the same place that makes McD's and KFC chicken and sampling them both, I have no reason to disbelieve her as they tasted exactly the same. To make things even more amusing, the price of these chicken nuggets was significantly cheaper than buying them at either of the fast food outlets. But then I started to think, perhaps it was the stock that failed the quality control, or perhaps had reached its expiry date… Still, in Thailand anything is possible and maybe soon we will see copied Big Macs available at streetside vendors?!

Over the past 18 months or so, MBK has been getting a face lift and it now feels a lot more upmarket than it used to. There's a flash cinema complex on the top floor, a nice bowling alley and some upmarket shops including a Tag Heuer shop and a bunch of the more fashionable Thai labels opening new stores in there too. Even the bus stop outside the main entrance is one of the more stylish bus stops in town. But it would be nice if they did something about the public toilets in MBK – they can only be described as disgusting. And my pet hate; where is the toilet paper?! But I guess that I've lived in Bangkok too long to grumble about the lack of toilet paper.

Mahboonkrong is going upmarket. Work has been done improving
both the interior and exterior and making it look more soo-ay.

A line from a reader:

In Thailand's sexual mathematics, I've noticed that two sixes often make a ten.
Last Sunday was the quietest day, or should I say quietest night, that I've ever seen in the capital's favourite party places. All of the bar areas were closed including Patpong. First time in a few years that I've seen Patpong closed. The night market was quiet too with some vendors absent and not a huge amount of foot traffic. A few massage parlours were open as touts were as hungry as ever to steer you towards those parlours rewarding them with a high commission.

Last night, a huge dampener was put on all of the gogo bars in Clinton Plaza. The police came in and gave the bar management an ultimatum: no girls dancing whatsoever. If any girls are caught dancing, OR EVEN JUST ON STAGE, we will close you down. So, entering Clinton Plaza, I was met with the sight of the girls just milling around, looking lost, not knowing what to do. Saturday night in Clinton Plaza was really quiet, to say the least. So what has happened to cause this to happen? It seems that the two Dutch owners of The Whitehouse Go Go Bar in Clinton recently fired one of their mamasans. And to make matters worse, they fired her on the spot without any compensation at all. Now for a Thai, this would have resulted in a huge amount of face and if there is one thing you can count on when a Thai loses face, especially if caused by a farang, revenge will follow. And the revenge will be far, far worse than whatever it was that caused her to lose face in the first place. So, this woman got in touch with a high ranking official and made claims that Clinton Plaza was home to all manner of illegal and deplorable acts from underage girls to lewd sex shows to no liquor licences and even tax fraud. Such claims gave the local police just the excuse they needed to throw a cat amongst the pigeons and effectively close the bars down. After seeing the sad state of affairs last night, I can report that a gogo bar without dancing girls isn't really a gogo bar at all.

It has to be said that it was all gloom and doom at Clinton Plaza last night and there was a real feeling that this could be the beginning of the end – and this was from bar owners with a lot of experience in the industry. Given that the growth in the gogo bar industry has tended to come from farangs, this is not a good sign at all. Who is going to invest more in an industry where no-one knows what is going on and where as a foreigner, one is incredibly vulnerable. In a short space of time, Clinton Plaza has become a very popular spot and it would be a dreadful shame if its lifetime was to be cut short. Unfortunately there are some other issues at Clinton involving a certain Dutch bank that holds the lease for the whole area. It seems the Dutch don't like Clinton.

Closing times are all over the place at present so don't be surprised if you are sipping away at your beer, yet to have made your choice for the evening when the house lights burst into action, sending unwanted bright light into your eyes and highlighting the many imperfections on the girls left dancing at that time of night. Basically, you cannot count on the bars being open late at night, so if you absolutely want to meet someone to take home to discuss Thai politics or what not, it may pay to make your selection early. Will we start to see people arriving at the bars earlier? It should be noted that this is not just Bangkok and Pattaya has been effected too. For now, it seems that just about everywhere is being effected by the 1:00 AM closing time blitz.

They are going to have to amend the recently erected sign at the bottom of the steps entering The Thermae. It says that our favourite former after hours venue closes at 2:00 AM but in fact for now it is 1:00 AM, just like every where else. Cops enter via the stairs at the back and go straight to the jukebox, pulling the plug from the wall and within 60 seconds, the lights are on, the girls let out their obligatory screams and yelps and everyone makes for the nearest exit. But what is perhaps more interesting at the Thermae is that the girls seem a lot aggressive, especially in the hour from midnight until 1:00 AM. The girls are far more proactive, walking around approaching you, pinching your ass as they walk past and generally hustling more than they ever did before. The Thermae has changed completely and to me, it is no longer the relaxing place that it used to be. You used to be able to just sit there, relax and watch as a freak show unfolded before your eyes. But now it feels like everything around you is in fast forward mode. It fills up much faster than it ever did before, girls approach you more frequently and at closing time, you are told to piss off in no uncertain terms.

Clinton Plaza and Hollywood East have joined the Crown Group, the Hollywood bars and Play School Bar, all of Nana Plaza, by putting up the prices of drinks. The prices are now much the same as the more expensive bars in Nana Plaza with beers and spirits at 110 baht, soft drinks 95. The manager / owner of The Dollhouse emailed me the following, explaining the situation. While no-one likes to see prices going up, especially me, at the end of the day, the fellow has a business to run and if there isn't any profit, then the business will close – and we all lose out.

When you open a bar you have to look at how many hours you can operate for (bring money in). When we first opened we were staying open until 3 AM, then we were told we had to close at 2 AM, now the latest BS from the Thai Government is all customers out of the clubs by 1 AM (NOT close at 1 AM ). The club has to be closed and all customers out by 1 AM.

Now we are losing somewhere between 45 to 60 hours a month of revenue time. Yes you have guessed it, our prices are going up Friday, so before you shoot us down think of the big picture. We did not put our prices up the same time as NEP or did we put them up in August when you thought we would.

Rumour has it that Pattaya is also going to start to get the same early closing, we (Dollhouse Pattaya branch – Stick) got closed every night last week at 2 AM (which is real early for Pattaya).

The big question now remains how long can the other bars in Clinton Plaza keep their prices at these levels? It'll be great if they keep a lid on prices but we saw what happened in Nana Plaza when one operator put up prices – others followed soon after. It should be noted that Rock Hard A Go Go HAVE NOT PUT UP THEIR PRICES. They have withstood the pressure of everything that is going on around them and for now are keeping prices at previous levels. If you're in Clinton Plaza, that really does seem like a good reason to go in and support them.

I notice another example of heightened xenophobia in Thailand with the Thai police threatening to come down heavily on any caught selling / distributing copies of the Thai blockbuster movie (?) due out this week called Suriyothai. What message are they trying to send? It's ok to copy anything from another country, but copy a Thai made product and you'll be for the high jump, sunshine?

With the Bangkok Post's web site once again redesigned, Trink's Nite Owl column is a little harder to find. Simply click on the "Real Time" link on the first page, which takes you a new page with some more links and from here you can select Trink's column. No, they will not be removing his column in a hurry as it draws a huge amount of people to the site.

IDA Language School in Phyathai Road, opposite the Asia Hotel are yet another of the Thai language schools who cannot see any reason to produce their own materials, knowing too well that what they would otherwise produce would be pitifully inadequate. So, what do they do? Go out and copy existing material of course! Parts of Essential Thai, Thai For Beginners and other self study courses are all used by this language school. But what makes it laughable is that each of these books uses a slightly different transliteration system so you have the same Thai words in the material spelt differently using Roman characters. This is a GREAT way to confuse students. And then there are some pieces in Thai script too! Laughable really… But to sum it all up, they just had to reproduce it all with the IDA logo at the top of each and every page.

Want to teach English in Bangkok but worried that because you're not a native English speaker you'll have trouble finding a job? Have no fear because Ideal Language School is here! Of the twenty full-time teachers that they currently employ at a certain outside contract, eight of these teachers are non-native speakers. The non native speakers are from a variety of nations including Bulgaria, India and Greece. There is also an amusing story about the Egyptian fellow who is the DOS (director of studies) at that school. Apparently he used to be a teacher there but his English was soooo bad that the students couldn't understand him so they promoted him to DOS instead! Maybe "Less Than Ideal Language School" would be a more appropriate name for this lot?

Another dance contest? Yep, but this one is not being organised by the Nanapong boys. On August 26, The Dollhouse Pattaya will be hosting The Dirty Dancing Contest #2 starting at 8 PM. The Dirty Dancing contest will have dancers from several bars in Pattaya: TQ2, Champion a go-go, Bubbles a go go, The Black-Out, Blues Factory, Frozen A go-go and The Dollhouse Bangkok and Pattaya. The 1st prize is 10,000 B, 2nd 5,000 B and 3rd 2,500 B and there will be a total of 16 girls who will be getting down and dirty. This will be the second dance off in Pattaya following the first one which was held at TQ 2 some two months ago.

The cost of mobile phones used to be oppressively expensive in Thailand but they have come down to far more realistic levels in the last six months. And I think we can give DTAC a big pat on the back for being a big contributor and introducing some real competition. Just remember though that there are all sorts of complications when buying / using a mobile phone in Thailand. Phones bought in other countries and brought into Thailand may have to be modified before they can be used – it is not as simple as just dropping in a Thai sim card. On top of this, it seems that some mobiles in Thailand have been modified in some way so that using them in other countries becomes a problem too.

Visiting soi 33 bars this week, the one thing that struck me about the girls down there is that if you go into the right bars, you'll find girls who can actually hold a conversation. Ask a few questions, dig a little and you'll often find out that some of these girls have the benefit of a tertiary education. If you are not just looking for a bit of wham, bam, thank you mam, these girls can actually provide some fascinating conversation, unlike the majority of their gogo dancing sisters who become very boring, very quickly.

Jatujak Market, where one can buy just about anything
– and a great place to source products to export.

For would be entrepreneurs, I notice a lot of farangs buying goods of all sorts of descriptions from the various vendors at Jatujak. Items sold there are incredibly cheap and there have got to all sorts of opportunities to get into exporting various Thai made products around the world. Chatting with a few vendors, one learns that there are a lot of farangs in the export business, buying in bulk from Jatujak and shipping the goods back to their homelands. Examples include items like small unbranded pieces of clothing that sell in Thailand for as little as 70 – 80 baht and may sell in the West for $US 15 – 20 equivalent. Just be careful with the copied goods which one is best to steer clear of.

Two Thailand nightlife books that have been around for a while have both undergone updates. The new edition of "Hello My Big Big Honey" has just been published in San Francisco and has been expanded to 252 pages including 25 colour photographs spread over 16 pages. This edition is not yet available in Thailand. The new edition (clearly stated on the cover) of Jeremy Seabrook's "Travels in The Skin Trade" is available in Bangkok now but at 695 baht for a book that has been printed on what appears to be one of the world's worst printing presses, it seems awfully steep. These two books both made for an interesting read when they first came out, perhaps due to a lack of decent material available elsewhere but with the huge growth of the internet, and the amount of good Thailand nightlife material available online, these books are not the must buys that they were a few years ago. I must also admit to finding it somewhat confusing that these books are available in Asia Books stores when Dean Barrett's classy "Thailand: Land Of Beautiful Women" is not. Strikes me as odd, but then so does a lot of what goes on in Thailand. The moral of this story is that if you are going to publish a book in Thailand that has anything to do with the girls of the night, keep pictures out of it – makes it a bit tricky if it is a picture book though!

If you haven't downloaded it already, you MUST download Stephen Leather's
superb Private Dancer, a novel set in Nana Plaza. And it's free too!


Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

For the compilation of this weeks weekly column, thanks go to Whosyourdaddy, Ranger , the management of The Dollhouse and the management of Rock Hard.