Stickman's Weekly Column August 26th, 2001

The Period Of Uncertainty




The period of uncertainty continues and no-one really knows what is going on – or what will happen next – in Thailand's naughty nightlife industry. But one thing's for sure, whatever happens, no-one will be surprised, because when the Thais have made up their minds and set about doing something – be it for better or for worse, they will follow it through to the end.

So what would the effect be on Thailand if overnight, the farang oriented nightlife was wiped out, closed down for good? Obviously, there would be both winners and losers, but are the winners and losers that obvious?

What would happen if they acted in a swift, co-ordinated fashion and overnight, shut down the entire farang oriented nightlife industry? Well, that would be fairly hard to do but for argument's sake, what if they did do it? And let's face it, it is possible, as remote a possibility as it may seem.

First of all, the 30,000 – 35,000 girls that the industry directly supports (my estimate of numbers of girls in the industry encompassing the major areas of Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket and the secondary areas such as Ko Samui, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin etc.) would suddenly be out of work. That is a lot of people out of work, and seemingly a lot of bills are about to go unpaid. Now many of these girls support families, so at a guess, and this is just a rough guess, perhaps 100,000 people will be effected, but to exactly what extent, who knows? A lot of these people receive money from other sources, some of them no doubt blow the money and some of them probably don't even need it, so in terms of folks going hungry, the number is likely to be a lot lower than the 100,000. On top of this, a good number of these girls receive money from overseas and that money will likely continue to come. So, at the end of the day, in terms of folks being unable to survive because of a closure of the farang oriented naughty nightlife industry, I see this almost as a non-issue.

For the Thai people not directly or even indirectly involved in the industry, a reduction in the size of the farang oriented sex scene has got to be a god thing. Watching folks from abroad come to your country and break all of the social taboos by parading commercial sex workers in public is quite simply something that makes many Thais cringe.

So what would the now unemployed former working girls go on to do? The problem many would face of going from a comparatively large salary to a small one may be a bit too much to face and I predict that many would go overseas to work in a similar type of work. Work is readily available in Thailand and in today's Bangkok Post, an article mentions huge shortages of unskilled labour in Thailand, forcing Thailand to hire labour from neighbouring countries. Work is available in Thailand. The girls could do this type of work if need be – but then, they most likely would find it very hard to adjust to the comparatively low salary. Of greater concern perhaps is the idea that parasites from abroad would swarm on Thailand, actively trying to recruit these girls to go and work offshore, with promises of riches, that may, or may not, eventuate.

As far as sex tourists go, they'll be devastated, and if my email inbox is anything to go by, a good number are already looking towards other SE Asian nations with many singling out Cambodia as their next sexual playground. Little do these people know but they would potentially find themselves in bed with indentured, underage girls and would find that they have very quickly graduated to paedophile status. But for some sex tourists, perhaps they just don't care? The genuine sex tourists, the people who would stop coming to Thailand if the prostitution industry was no longer available would be one of the obvious losers if the industry was to disappear.

But what about the expats residing in Thailand? For many it seems, and this comes from chatting with a variety of people, it would not be that bad at all. Sure, if certain venues disappeared it would be sad to see them go, but hey, we are still in Thailand, and MOST people are not here for sex at all. Thailand has so many wonderful things going for it and the naughty nightlife is just a small bonus. For the expats who do like to get their leg over, less tourists equals more girls to choose from and potentially less people throwing obscene amounts of money which will reduce the inflationary effect on prices. It will also mean less hardcore girls, due to a potentially smaller number of customers. For expats who intend to stay long-term in Thailand, a closure in the industry resulting in a reduction in the number of sex tourists can only be a good thing.

There seems to be more and more Westerners coming to Thailand for the purpose of leading a one dimensional lifestyle, people who are only interested in Thai girls for cheap sex. These people, the sexpats would also be big losers.

Tuesday night and signs of things to come. Hollywood East had its lights on
while next door, the lights had well and truly gone out on Rock Hard A Go Go.

So, in summary, I believe that if the farang oriented sex scene was to disappear, the major losers would be the sex tourists and the sexpats. People who travel to, or reside in Thailand for the sole or primary purpose of cheap and readily available sex. The argument that many of these very people make that Thailand would fall over and plunge into economic depression without their sex tourist spending is an argument that I simply dismiss as invalid. The farang oriented naughty nightlife industry is large, but its eradication would not be the huge pothole in the road that would land Thailand in economic as is believed by many. It would be little more than a minor bump in the road. Contrary to the popular but errant view held by many Westerners, the Thai economy is not built around the farang oriented commercial sex industry. Obviously sexpats and sex tourists spend a lot of money in other areas such as accommodation, eating out and so forth, but I believe as Thailand's tourism numbers continue to grow, this will all be offset by new arrivals.

So, with this in mind, how would you feel if the industry shut down? Would you be upset? Well then, I guess that means that you are either a sex tourist or a sexpat… The winners are just about everyone else – the Thai people, everyone who visits Thailand for other reasons and expats who are ambivalent about or simply disinterested in the industry.

And to anyone who believes that the bar scene in Thailand will never change, let alone disappear. Does anyone remember what happened in the Philippines – in Manila in the late '80s and in Angeles City in the '90s? Then there was Cuba in '97 and from what I gather, South Korea changed a lot around the time of the Olympics. All had rampant prostitution that changed and just as in these other places, the Thai bar scene as we know it WILL change…

As someone who wants the best for Thailand, for the country to grow and develop and to be able to provide a higher quality of life for all Thai people, I like many other Westerners find myself in a quandary. If my country was world renowned as a hub for prostitution and other vices, it would not make me proud and I would want the authorities to do everything to knock it on the head. But like hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of Westerners, Thailand's farang oriented nightlife has had a very powerful effect on my life and I really don't know how I'd feel if it disappeared.

This reader has some interesting ideas about the early closures:

There may be a monetary benefits from the bars closing early:
1. Girls eager to make a deal sooner and cheaper.
2. More freelancers on the street competing for the Baht.
3. Less spent on boozing.

In my opinion, the Clinton Plaza has hurt the industry overall. It basically diluted the talent from other bars thereby making all Go Go's less appealing. Also, it is more visible to the casual passer by and traffic (the common Thais). This is an affront to their image.

I read that the authorities want to create specific zones for the Go Go's. Could the Patpong powers be behind all of the shakedowns?

Another reader writes with the following comments:
The farang bars are an easy target and a lot of people in power want to look patriotic and law enforcing in the light of this country now having a populist, nationalistic PM. Thailand never had the same intense nationalistic, xenophobic surge that other countries like Indonesia and Malaysia had after 1997 so I see current events as making up for lost time. There is a definite anti foreigner thing happening…not just with bars, but with immigration, piracy and even the restrictions they want to put on Lotus and Makro because they're foreign owned.
This email came in from a friendly fellow who I had the pleasure to meet when he was in town. Like most of us, he is perfectly "normal". What is it about Thailand that does this to us?
I'm e-mailing you to try to find some relief. I know that many guys suffer from some sort of depression in returning to reality after spending time in LOS. I never thought it would happen to me. I walked around the Bangkok airport for two hours before my flight and had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. There was this Thai women working in a flower shop in the airport that made eye contact with me. I think she knew that I was beginning to feel really bad and in some weird way she tilted her head in a way that signalled she understood my pain and wanted to make me feel better. I don't know whether it's from the overall environment that Bangkok presents or whether it was the relationships I developed with a couple of girls. Hold on a second, no money is gonna be sent to these girls (I never even got their e-mails).

I have come back to my classic white collar life with my medium term live in girlfriend to only feel that this is a dream. A dream in which I feel that I will wake up from and find myself back in Bangkok – happy as ever. I only spent three weeks in Thailand, with only a week on my own aside from time spent doing business related things. I feel as if I have been deeply changed. I look around my house, look at my girlfriend, look at other Americans with a feeling that I'm in the wrong place. I need to get back to Bangkok. Sorry if it sounds as though I'm losing touch with reality, but I can't believe I'm feeling like this.

The recently erected sign outside the Thermae, informing punters
of the crackdown enforced closing time. Problem is, it should say 1:00 AM!

Walking into the Thermae on Wednesday night, I immediately noticed that something was not quite right. I quickly realised that all of the pictures from the side walls had been taken down (although the drink price lists remained!). Even the big poster sized pictures of the covers of many of Christopher Moore's novels had been taken down. Oh no, I thought, the Thermae is going to be closed! One of the advised that the walls were being prepared to be painted. So it's not closing down I was asked to which I received a chuckle and a shake of the head. If you want to make a grown man cry (preferably one who is familiar with Bangkok,) tell him that the Thermae is about to close.

Party long and hard enough in Bangkok and eventually you might get a problem you-know-where, downstairs! Maybe the condom broke, maybe you didn't use a condom or maybe you just had a bit of plain bad luck. I have always wondered what would happen if one went into a hospital and got themselves tested for HIV and the news was that they, a farang, tested to be HIV positive. I'm guessing that HIV is a notifiable disease in Thailand and that a register is kept. What would happen next? The government would be told that Mr XXXX, of such and such a country is HIV+. Would one get thrown out of the country? Bearing in mind that many countries now require an HIV test as part of their immigration procedures, this appears more than possible. If you are concerned that you may have contracted HIV, go and get yourself tested at the Red Cross on Rama 4 Road where it is all done anonymously. And if anyone does know the official policy on what the government would do if a farang tested HIV+, let me know and I'll print it next week.

I think I have found the reason for Thai International Airway's lower than expected profits. It seems that the management of Woodstock bar fly with Thai and are pocketing all of the cutlery and using it in their bar. Next time you order one of their superb burgers, check and see if they've given you Thai Airways cutlery!

News continues to creep out of the former stock brooking / boiler room / con artist firms. At least a couple of the firms are STILL trading but instead of getting farangs involved, they are hiring Thais instead and these Thais are manning the phones, calling around the world, just as the farangs did before. This is downright surprising given that most Thais who are able to speak English to the ability required to successfully perform such a role would not be interested in such dodgy work. So, with this in mind, where are they getting Thais, with an English language ability sufficient to do the job from? Hmmm, could it be that they are recruiting ex bar girls?! "Hello, my name Lek and I want to sell you share but first you buy cola for me!" Incidentally, some of these firms had been telling their former employees that they would lay low for a few weeks and then re-commence activities. Just another week was the message every Friday for a few weeks and many of the former farang employees held off looking for alternative employment. But the word is out now that it is too risky to take on farangs and a lot of former boiler room staff are finding themselves without work, and most of their money gone…

A quote from a reader:

In Thailand as elsewhere in the world, the difference between a dog and a fox is three martinis.
The rumour about the Landmark Hotel taking over Nana Hotel does the rounds every so often, and the story is heard even more frequently in times of uncertainty, such as right now. But word from people in the know is that the Nana Plaza area is actually too small to really develop into anything other than something of a similar format such as a shopping centre, and therefore the chances of it being taken over and converted into something else, such as the mooted car park, is most unlikely.

What's the deal with the Saen Saeb Canal this week? Usually the water is a dark grey colour but this week it is a you know what brown colour and the odour that usually resembles a mixture of fumes and pollutants really does smell more like an open sewer. Is there a sewerage issue in the city that has not been made public?

The Saen Saeb Canal is looking and smelling awfully bad
at the moment. Why? Is it weather related – or something else?

The Bangkok Post publishes an A3 sized English language magazine each week called Student Weekly. It is aimed at Thai high school students and contains a collection of interesting stories from the previous week's editions of the Post. It is distributed at many high schools and many English teachers use it as supplementary material. I walked into my class on Monday this week and said to my students, "ok, today we are not going to use the book so instead can you all please get out your Stickman Weekly". <No response / puzzled looks> "Doesn't anyone have their copy of Stickman Weekly?" At that point I realised what I was saying and quickly asked them to get out their Student Weekly and NOT Stickman Weekly…life can be so confusing sometimes!

Mike from Midnite Bar, THE MAN WHO TURNED A CRAPPY BAR INTO A GREAT ONE, has been given his marching orders…details are sketchy but Mike's days at Midnite are well and truly over. But have no fear for Mike will soon return, running his own bar and this time he'll have total control to do everything just the way that he wants to do it. Mike's new bar, Club Topaz, is located on Sukumvit soi 23 and it'll open within the next fortnight – and it should be a cracker! I wonder what will happen to the old Midnite Bar website now as Mike was in charge of that? Getting one's marching orders is hardly inspiration to maintain a website for someone else's bar.

It seems that Bangkok's harsh environment is starting to take it's toll on the city's pride and joy, the Skytrain. Quite a few of the skytrains have doors with signs up saying out of order and it is becoming more frequent to see or experience some sort of problem when travelling on the skytrain, the most common being the doors not opening, just as you managed to get yourself right next to it and ready to alight – or the doors not closing as you wait for it to pull out of the station. But more than anything, I wish that those piercing speakers assaulting one's hearing with those punishing shrill beeps would die a quiet death.

As The Dollhouse says goodbye to it's loyal customers, the wild Nanapong boys have tried to take over the Dollhouse and have been setting up camp up on the dance floor – after all, the police have ordered that no-one can dance up there, but there didn't seem to be any ruling about planting tables and chairs up there and making a new lounge area.

The following came in from Dollhouse management and it is great to hear that in the face of adversity, they are not laying down:

We have today secured a new lease on building (8 years) and remodelling starts Monday AM should take about 6 to 8 weeks to finish. I do not want to say where right now BUT it will be very nice. We are staying put at Clinton until we can (maybe a month or so) I will keep you updated as we move on.

And please thank all your readers for the support they have given us the last week or so. Look for one of the biggest opening parties Bangkok has ever seen.

Patpong is closing early, just like other areas – and some days even earlier than other areas. Some days it is 1:00 AM and some days it is as early as 12:30 AM! Rumour has it that undercover are soldiers walking around late at night, keeping a watch on what is going on. Now don't the Thais realise that this is going to really make Westerners nervous… There have been harsh words said to the management of the Patpong ground floor gogo bars where the girls wear those tacky silver stickers over their nipples. For now, the stickers seem to be on hold and all the girls are dancing with their full bikinis on…how boring!

in Nana Plaza, some of the gogo bars are opening earlier, such as G Spot where girls are dancing on stage from 6:30 PM! Also, in Fantasia, the girls are dancing well before 7:00 PM. The problem being, there are virtually no customers in the gogo bars at these times and the idea of punters going out earlier than before really hasn't taken off.

The new bar on the top floor of Nana Plaza that I keep talking about, mooting that it will be called The Cave, has NOT been shelved as some people had feared. It will in fact be called Cascade. The design will be substantially different from other bars. There will be waterfalls inside and outside and running water will flow between the stages. There will be three carousels spinning around a central carousel. The reason for the delay is that the crowning piece will be a unique laser light which is being made in Taiwan. It will form a cylinder of light around the central carousel. Apparently, no such light has ever been made before. Delivery is expected at the end of October and the grand opening of the bar will be in November, just in time for the commencement of the tourist high season. They cannot finish the interior decor until the laser light has been installed as the builders require full access to the ceiling and roof.

Pattaya remains the place for Bangkok based expats to go for a cheap weekend, but it really can’t be that far away until Pattaya prices start to go up. It hasn't been a good year for people who like the Bangkok nightlife with all manner of bad news coming along – price increases, Clinton Plaza's closure, crackdown on closing times – including the previously untouchable Thermae. Just how long will it be until Pattaya too starts to become more expensive? Hopefully intense competition in Pattaya will keep prices down…

Investing in a bar is a high risk undertaking. Rumour has it that the go go bars in Clinton have each lost a minimum of 5,000,000 baht each. Consider very carefully before investing in a bar…

The Rock Hard A Go Go management is down but not out. They have left Clinton Plaza behind and have just relocated to the first floor bar in Nana (that's second floor for you Americans) that was previously known as Vixens and they even opened for business last night. There will be a soft opening party on Friday August 31. The new location is a lot smaller than their Clinton Plaza bar. Some Rock Hard A Go Go Staff have started popping up at bars in Asoke Plaza, so it'll be interesting to see how many of the old staff will make it to the new location. It should also be noted that Big Bill's Deli will still be held on the first Thursday of every month – yippee! Also, plans are already underway to erect a walking bridge from Vixens over towards Titty Twister on the other side. This will provide easier access around Nana Plaza, and should also improve business on level 2 as some of those corner bars often get walked right past.

Speaking of Asoke Entertainment Plaza on Sukumvit soi 23, walking through there the other night, it is coming along nicely. No, it will never be the next Nana or Patpong but to me, it has taken over from Soi Zero as the new laid-back / budget conscious drinker's farang oriented area. It's all a little rustic but unlike Soi Zero, it is not located under that horrible, dark, depressing expressway. Asoke Plaza is now a nice mix of beer bars, bars with pool tables and restaurants. It is definitely worth an hour or two of your time.

English teachers are paedophiles! Well, no doubt that story has been doing the rounds in the Thai press as the story gets out that Eric Rosser, the American paedophile who was on the FBI's 10 most wanted list was training to be an English teacher in Bangkok. Oh, just thinking about that is really horrible… But the big question remains, which school was he training at? Given that there are only three schools offering English teacher training courses in Bangkok, it shouldn't be too hard to find out, but somehow, I think the school who had accepted them will be keeping very, very quiet about that. Extreme embarrassment!

It's a simple request really, not too much to ask I would have thought. The idea is to buy 6 pairs of socks, black socks, suitable for wearing to work. They should be comfortable and should last for a year – that is after one year, they can start to develop holes and be ready to be thrown out. Six pairs, one year = each pair will be worn about 40 odd times. Is this too much to ask? Well, getting such socks in Thailand is more than a chore. In my first year, I made the terrible mistake of buying six pairs for 100 baht at Pratunam and three washes later, they were hopeless, full of holes and about as good as a set of tits on a bull. I then graduated to socks at 55 baht a pair and the six pairs really didn't last that much longer, wearing thin after six weeks. I've been in my current job for 3 months and the six pairs I bought at 75 baht a pair have had it already. To get decent socks in this city, how much I you have to spend? I'm going to try a new strategy, and go for socks made OUTSIDE of Asia.

The world's cheapest socks? This vendor at Jatujak sells pairs of socks
at a whopping 10 baht a pair, with no minimum purchase – but are they holeproof?

A reader tells me that if you are married and want out, it might actually work out – in a lot of countries at least – to be cheaper to murder her than to settle through the courts. In plenty of countries, with good behaviour and a bit of luck, you'll do seven years and be out with all of your finances still intact. And if the markets have been kind to you, you might have doubled your money. Crazy or clever?

Any one care for some good instant noodles? Yeah, I know that sounds like a bit of on oxymoron but read on… Go for the big sized tubs with all of the Japanese writing on the side of them. No, not one of those typically overpriced Japanese brand imports where they hit you up for 140 baht (yes, really!) for a tub of noodles, but rather one of the Thai made brands that are exported to Expensiveland, I mean Japan. 31 baht at Foodland – does anywhere else stock them? – and they almost don't taste like instant noodles, they really are that good. And it beats going down to the local noodle stand in the rainy season…

A reminder for anyone looking to pick up a copy of Dean Barrett's "Thailand: Land Of Beautiful Women". The book is available in a handful of bars in soi 33, Washington Square and Nana Plaza and also in Bookazine – the most convenient store for most is probably the branch near the mouth of Sukumvit soi 5. Those pedantic folks at Asia Books don't carry it.

This Thai girl seems a little sensitive about what people think about her country, specifically Westerners who come to Thailand for a bit of hanky panky. Check out her site and see what a 30ish Thai lady thinks about some foreigner's views and behaviour in Thailand. Voice From Thai Girl.

I'm happy to provide this website free of charge and am happy to answer any and all questions that I get via email. But please do not ask me to run errands and deliver messages for you in Bangkok as it isn't a small village, you know!

The last word again comes from Whosyourdaddy talking about the old Rock Hard in Clinton. "Have the owners of Rock Hard A Go Go gone Thai? They put carpet everywhere in the bar, including on the walls, but not on the floor"!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick