Stickman's Weekly Column September 30th, 2001

Living Quarters For The Urban Poor



DISCLAIMER: Stickman Weekly is not written for the family who sit around the table each Sunday afternoon while eating their Devonshire tea, resplendent in their Sunday best. This column does not appear in a family newspaper and as such, it can be assumed that families are not the target audience. The author does not have an editor sitting over his shoulder telling him that some things are acceptable, and others are not. Please do feel free to tell me that information on here is dull, boring, badly written, factually incorrect, old hat etc. But, please do not tell me that it is offensive. If you are easily offended, STOP RIGHT HERE.
Living Quarters For The Urban Poor

The conditions in which many Thais live in, especially some of the girls of the night, can only be described as decrepit. Small, windowless rooms that look more like a storage shed than a dwelling for humans often house entire families. Pictured below is an example of a typical low income Thai's place of abode. Little more than a subdivided space in a shophouse, this room which is currently rented by couple of girls, is fairly typical of the accommodation rented by Thais from the countryside who have moved to the capital, often in an effort to make money to send home to the family. They are prepared to live in conditions that many Westerners would barely consider rudimentary, all in an effort to save an extra 1000 or so baht, money that can be sent back to family in the provinces – and that will go a lot further there than it will in Bangkok.

About ten square metres of space for two girls
= about five square metres each!

This particular room costs 2300 baht per month, inclusive of room rent, electricity and water, and is located in a central part of Bangkok. The floor space is approximately ten square metres and is covered with dirty and in parts worn, linoleum. The walls are made of this cheap looking wood that wouldn't survive one good punch. But the wood only goes 4/5 of the way to the ceiling, the top part of the walls being a wire mesh. This wire mesh allows not only light, but also sound, from the adjoining rooms to come flooding in. Perhaps worst of all is that there is no window and with this, no natural light. In the middle of the day, with a single fluorescent tube lighting the room, it could be any time of day, noon or midnight – you just don't know. There was the obligatory picture of HM The King and a small Buddhist shrine. Despite its small size, the room housed a small closet, a fridge, some shelves a couple of fans and a rubbish bin. A small frying pan was sitting in one corner, above which washing was hung out to dry. While the room was very small, everything was clean and tidy.

While I was there, a baby was screaming in the adjacent room and someone was frying up some food in another room, a couple of doors down. Sounds, light and general commotion pierce the room from all angles, and you realise that this is just one step up from sleeping under a bridge, just one step away from being homeless. A sanctuary, somewhere to unwind and relax in privacy, this room is not.

As I was chatting with one of the girls, her roommate entered the apartment, carrying a bag with four large bottles in it. As she pulled them out of the bag, I thought that she had been to the local minimart to buy four big bottles of soft drinks, but she told me that she had actually been to get what had been empty bottles filled up with purified water, thus saving her the 15 odd baht it would cost to buy water at the local store. She had had to walk about 1 km to get the bottles filled, and then walk back again. Knowing how most Thais hate walking any distance, especially during the heat of the day, this was quite a commitment to save a seemingly insignificant 15 baht. Looking at the shelves, I noticed eight bottles of cooking oil, and a little perplexed, I asked why they would have so many. The response was that oil was on special when they had gone shopping, three baht off the usual price per bottle. Knowing they will eventually use it, they bought as many bottles as they could afford, eight, which ultimately saves them 24 baht, again, a seemingly insignificant amount.

Thai people from the countryside go well out of their way to save what seem to the average Westerner to be a very small amount of money. Talking to the girls about life in Bangkok compared to the countryside, they say that Bangkok is busy, noisy, dirty and too fast – but the opportunities to make money keep them here. When back in the countryside, they can live on less than 1000 baht per month each. Every baht really does count.

Exiting this small, dark, depressing room, I found the communal bathroom facilities immediately opposite. The toilet was of the squat variety, set above the ground in uninviting concrete. Next to this was the shower facilities which were disgusting, a small concrete reservoir with a single bowl which is used to scoop up the water which can be poured over oneself. The greenish tinge in the water made me wonder if you would choose not to bathe some days. The toilet and shower facilities were horrid, reminding me more of a medieval torture chamber than a bathroom. Dirt and grime from the hundreds of families who have lived in this subdivided shophouse from many years earlier was baked on to the surfaces, giving one the impression that no matter how much soap you used, you'd still walk out of the shower feeling dirty.

The toilet isn't nice
and the bathroom is even worse.

Wandering around Bangkok, it is easy to forget that many of the most basic things that we as Westerners take for granted, such as an apartment with a window, hot water – even clean water, are not things that the average Thai necessarily have available to them. And this applies to many Thais, not just bargirls, as was the case in this particular room. Look at those ugly housing estates, apartments and shophouses that you frequently walk past. If they look that bad on the outside, what did you really think they would look like on the inside? If you ever get a chance to visit the place of abode of some Thais from less privileged backgrounds, you might just get a shock at the state of the places that they live in, and may well live in for the rest of their lives. To steal a line from that song, it really is enough to make the hard man humble.

Following on from last weeks news, more about short time places in Pattaya.

You are correct about the bars getting busting in Pattaya. A friend of mine is buying into a smaller short time bar there and he says the girls have been unable to use the rooms upstairs. The police have come in on a number of occasions and have done spot checks. In the event a girl was caught on the premise with a customer, she would receive a fine of about 200 to 300 baht, the customer would be sent on his way, and the club would be closed down for two days. The nearby hotel is providing the needed short time services for now.
Comparing the US with Thailand, I guess I'll have to stop grumbling about prices of drinks in Thailand.
There are clubs in California where the girls dance nude. However, because of the law these clubs can't sell alcohol, only colas, coffee, juices & near-beers.

If you want a fully nude lap dance that lasts about 3 minutes tops, it will cost you $40.00. Each dancer must also sell 8 "lady drinks" PER SHIFT, and each drink costs at least $8.00! Failure to do so means she has to pay the shortage, while she doesn't gain by selling more than 8 drinks per shift. These clubs make a fortune just on the drinks they sell, and when you add the cover charge and the percentage they get for each lap dance…the profit must be phenomenal!

An Icelander has the following observations about Thai / farang marriages. Is the Iceland situation typical of farang / bargirl marriages? While this may sound somewhat odd, I have always thought that there is a definite group of guys who married bargirls because they wanted someone there for them, but weren't really prepared to give it 100% – and knowing that many Western women simply wouldn't put up with it, but believing that an Asian woman would. They sort of feel that because she was once a bargirl, then perhaps she doesn't deserve the level of respect that someone from a different background would.
Thai women who married farangs. A lot has been said about the "evils" of some of these women. But what about the men they married? Now I have to tell you a small horror story:

Here in this country, there is a small Philippino and Thai community. Probably, the majority being women who married Icelandic men. A friend of mine is a Philippino lady who knows a lot of what has been going on. She has informed me of the following.

It seems that around half the Icelandic men who married Philippinos are no-goods. People like drunkards and others who did not exactly treat their "wives" well. Including a scam, where several people into debt got "Asian wives". To help make extra income towards their debts. In one case I was informed of, the man actually dared to ask "his wife" for "rent". For staying in what I would have believed was now also her home.

But this is nothing in relation to a scam going on among criminals in the USA. They get a wife from Asia. Get a good life insurance on her and then murder her. For the insurance money.

This Phillipino lady who gave me this information asked several Thai ladies about what sort of husbands they got. Same problem there. Half the men were no goods.

The number of Philippino and Thai ladies, who defaulted into "similar things", seems small in comparison.

Fast Fred sent this very nice anecdote.
The tales I hear and read of guys being taken for a ride by girlfriends / wives reminds me of the old adage "if its got tits or wheels it's going to cause you trouble and cost you heaps of money". Hell I have had a few lemons in my time (women and cars), but maybe falling for a brownie is all part of the "Thai Experience" (whatever that's supposed to mean). So would any guy in his right mind buy a used car when he knows full well that it has a history of unreliability and bad economy? As consumer affairs keep telling us "let the buyer beware", or better still stick with the rentals, at least you can exchange them if they play up. Although most times objectivity can only be gained by bad experience.
Where is this pic?

clue: not many tourists go there.

On a beautiful day, these buildings look great, but where is it?

Last week's column did not go down well with some people, a few folks taking exception to my comparisons made between girls from Isaan and girls from Bangkok. Why is it that some people get their knickers in such a twist over what was intended as a light piece of humour? My personal thoughts on this are that there are people who live for their Thailand holidays, saving every penny for their few weeks a year in Thailand, when they can come over and spend every last moment in the bars with the girls of Isaan. They live for those few weeks a year, and nothing else matters. But when someone comes out and criticises the ladies of Isaan, these people suddenly get all defensive, for the very thing that they live for, that is more important to them than anything else, is suddenly under scrutiny.

The "where is it pic" in last week's column is the massage parlour directly opposite the World Trade Centre, near the Saen Saeb Canal pier. This is without a doubt, the grottiest looking massage parlour I have seen and some of the girls sitting around outside are more than a little rough.

What's the best bar in Patpong? King's Castle 1 or 2 seem to be most people's choices, but then there are those who prefer the more laid back atmosphere of Plink Panther or Rififi and others still who like Safari for its excellent music and DJ. What about Nana? Rainbow 1 or 2, perhaps G Spot or Fantasia. In Soi Cowboy, ask anyone for their favourite bar and the odds are that they will respond Long Gun. Yep, it's been the favourite down there for a long, long time. Notwithstanding that it is seemingly always packed, parts of the not particularly big dance floor are obscured from site by big pillars, it still remains popular. But why is it that it always smells bad? I mean, you could throw a rugby team in there and get them all to throw up, and it still wouldn't smell any worse than it does now.

For avid readers in the capital who find the prices of books a little steep, why not join the Neilson Hays Library in Suriwong Road? Membership costs 1,200 baht for six months and 1,900 baht for 12. Set on one fairly large floor in a building just along from The British Club, the books in the library are predominantly in English and they have a good selection ranging from literary classics, to reference material to more modern works.

The curtains have been pulled on MELS, the Mahidol English Language Service. Many teachers there suffered with late payments and they lost or upset many valuable suppliers as a result of the centralised finance and admin system at Mahidol University. Hardly anyone at MELS has escaped being thrown in the Mahidol bureaucratic blender over the past twelve months. The farang management tried their best to minimize its effect on the teachers, but on some occasions, despite their best efforts, they didn't succeed. From 1 October 2001, none of the current full-time staff at MELS will be employed by CMMU. Instead, they can be found on the 15th floor of Times Square Building, Sukhumvit Road, trading as MELS English Language Service Co. Ltd. They are no longer linked in any way to Mahidol University. As Big Jon, managing director said, "We will either sink or swim according to our ability, or otherwise, to serve our clients professionally and effectively. That is the way it should be in business."

Down near the Ruamchit Hotel there has been much activity with builders. They have built a new bar area outside which has at least 2 bars. It is still a bit difficult to say how many as the layout is not yet finalised. When asked if the bars were part of the hotel, the response was half and half. There were a couple of Farangs who appeared to be spending a lot of time giving instructions etc. Last Sunday the place was full of ladies being interviewed for work.

Khun Sanuk tells me that the bread at Au Bon Pain is very good. Yep, knew that already, but what I didn't know is that not only will they sell it to you by the loaf, they will also sell it to you by the half loaf. For a bachelor who is somewhat fussy about his bread being fresh, this works out at a good deal.

In the area around the World trade Centre, Gaysorn Plaza remains closed, and the signs say that it now won't open until early 2002, much later than what they had originally said. There is a huge new Big C under construction in that big empty wasteland, directly opposite the WTC. Presumably this will replace the existing Big C store that is almost adjacent to the construction site.

There are street vendors and there are street vendors. If you have yet to try street vendor food and are looking for a recommendation, there is one fellow who I thoroughly recommend you visit and he is pictured below. His food is quite frankly, the best Thai food that I have ever had – and that is saying something. A trained chef from Ubon who has been cooking Thai food for over 20 years, he was offered work in a fancy Singapore hotel but turned it down to remain in his native Thailand. He offers most popular Thai dishes and his food is of the very highest quality. At between 25 and 50 baht a plate (most dishes are 25 – 30 baht), the quality / value for money ratio is almost too good to be true. He most certainly gets the Stickman stamp of approval. To find this good fellow and his lovely wife's operation, go to Soi Kasemsan 1, the soi that is right next to the National Stadium BTS station, which in turn is right next to Mahboonkrong. Walk about 100 or so metres down the soi and right opposite the Reno Hotel, you will see this fellow. Trust me, he really is well worth going out of your way for.

Located in Soi Kasemsan 1, this Mom & Pop style operation
delivers what is without a doubt, the best Thai food I've ever had!

Not only does Playskool Bar in Nana Plaza have a nice selection of ladies, it also has a nice selection of beers. Is there another gogo bar that can boast attractive ladies AND Amstel beer? Why is it that Amstel is not so popular in the gogos? Is it a distribution thing or do people really prefer (cough, splutter, nudge-nudge, wink-wink) Singha?

While attempting to fix a friends problems with the internet this week, I had a chance to test out three ISPs, all at once, on the same fairly high spec machine, coupled with a US Robotics external modem. Friend informed me that Click TA, the ISP of Telecom Asia could not be used on his machine as their special login software will not run under Windows XP. Next was Internet Thailand, the ISP a couple of friends swear by. Sites in Thailand, Australia and New Zealand were fast, but everywhere else was slow, suggesting a problem with the link to the US. Finally, we tried Loxinfo. Loxinfo gave good transfer rates off all sites. While this doesn't mean Loxinfo is the best provider, at the time we tried different ISPs, Loxinfo performed the best.

Click TA are offering unlimited, high speed net access and they had some big ads in the paper this week. 2200 baht a month for as much as you could eat at 256 kps and 1400 baht per month for 128 kps. As far as I'm aware, this is the first reasonably priced unlimited high speed internet access in Thailand. Once Click TA get their Windows XP dial up software fixed, this could represent a very good deal indeed. Given that some of the better ISPs still charge close to 15 baht an hour, this broadband connection suddenly looks very attractive. Just remember to factor in the purchase of a special new modem at around 6000 baht.

Are you a medium or long term resident having issues or worries with your visa? It seems that the best places to get a new visa, and the places that will happily issue you with a one year multiple entry non-immigrant B or O visa, are the Thai consulates outside of Asia. Note, I say the consulates, not the main Thai embassies in the capital of the particular country. Plenty of emails to me report hassle free visas at these places.

If you missed it, the American Embassy in Bangers has issued a warning to all Americans about the subsequent commotion regarding the WTC bombing and the expected US led retaliation. One's got to be glad that we're in a predominantly Buddhist country because you wouldn't want to be an American in Indonesia at the moment. In addition to what has been reported in the press about the odd piece of abuse given to Americans in the capital, an American friend confirms that there is more than a little tension in one of the Muslim enclaves in lower Sukumvit. At least a couple of Westerners in the area have been spat on and told not to venture back into that part of town – and one has been told not to come back to a particular Muslim run restaurant. To make matters worse, these are Thai Muslims, not Muslims of Middle East origin.

The Hard Rock Cafe has great food, although you pay Western prices – and the drinks too are most definitely priced at Western prices. Lots of pretty girls there too. While they may be a little more subtle, more refined and generally more pleasant, many of these local lasses are working girls, so don't be surprised in the morning when she puts her hand out, asking for a pay out. You meet a nice girl, take her home and think you've met an Asian beauty with Western attitudes towards sex, only to find out that she was on the game! Heartbreaking that.

Rumours are coming through that it may not be the end for Clinton Plaza just yet, and that the whole site is up for sale at around 300,000,000 baht – about $US 7 million if that number of zeroes is confusing. But who would pay that much for an area of bars that falls outside the proposed new nightlife entertainment zones?

In G Spot the other night, I was horrified at the way that some of the girls were passing this dog around, and yes, it was a real live canine. Given that we have had the fish shows and frog shows for some time, was my mind racing to think that the next victim would be a poor innocent canine? NOTHING surprises me in Thailand, absolutely nothing and if that poor little dog had got up on stage and be asked to perform, I really wonder if I would have even blinked. Desensitised, I think they call it. Thailand does that to you. Speaking of G Spot, how long has that new entrance way at G spot been there? Are they going to be renovating? A lot more work is being done on Cascade Bar, the bar immediately above G spot too.

There will be a dance contest on Tuesday night at Carnival bar in Nana. Please note that this is NOT one of the Nanapong dance parties. Not much more is known about the format, the prizes or who will be competing.

So it's raining every day, and fairly early in the day too. Unlike most years when the rains commence mid to late afternoon, this year they seem to be bucketing down around mid to late morning and lasting until early afternoon. For farangs working in the Kingdom, it is generally only a hassle if it is raining when you go home, with traffic backed up horribly. For tourists, it may prevent the odd attraction being visited and force you into yet another shopping centre, nothing to get too stressed over. But for many Thais, the rainy season affects their whole livelihood. A couple of my favourite street vendors have been over the moon that the rains have not affected business up until now, but that has all changed. When it rains, most street vendors are unable to operate, the few that do continue to work will do far less trade.

Vendors like this do no business at all when it rains.

I can confirm that I managed to get my hands on a copy of the underground Thai magazine, Tanakarn Dern, which translates as walking bank. Much rumour has been heard about this publication, reputedly the bargirl's bible. Much of it was written in Laos and Khmer and was indecipherable. But there is one part that I was able to translate, a list of instructions for new entrants to the industry, THE BARGIRL'S TEN COMMANDMENTS.

1. Late week, specifically Friday and Saturday, many locally employed walking ATM machines will come to your bar. Choose carefully! Some have money, but others do not! If he is wearing a suit and tie, check that the tie is not a Pratunam special and check that he isn't wearing tennis shoes. If either of these are in the affirmative, forget him because he is likely an English teacher, and they will give you peanuts – that is if they give you anything at all!

2. No matter how fat and ugly he is, no matter how bad he may smell, no matter how drunk he is, make sure you always tell him how handsome he is. Sit close to him and run your hands over his body, arousing him. As soon as he has paid the barfine, you can stand clear of him. Even if he knows that you despise his ugly ass, he'll still pay you. The hard part is getting him to pay bar and as soon as you have done that, the rest is easy.

3. Start collecting email addresses from all of your customers. And once you have a good collection of addresses, a visit to your local internet cafe is in order. All of those email addresses should be sent an email. Simply change the name on each email and send it off to all of the guys. If you can remember something specific about them, mention that in the email too. These walking ATMs all have a soft heart so you need to tell them a story to get them to send you some of their riches. Start with a sick buffalo and if he doesn't reply, next tell him that your mother is sick. As a last resort, if he still doesn’t sent any money, tell him you are pregnant and the baby is his!

4. Practice crying on queue. Whenever something sad or bad happens – or even something that you just don't like, it is essential that you can produce tears immediately. This will have the effect of helping the walking ATM machine to see things your way!

5. When you get a customer for an extended period of time, make sure he takes you shopping, with rarn tong (gold shop) the best place to visit. Make sure he buys you gold and if he doesn't, see rule #4! As soon as he has left Thailand, take the gold back to the shop and sell it straight back to them, thus increasing your pay out.

6. When locally based farangs are inside the bars, do not speak in Thai with your friends in the bar but rather use Lao, Khmer or any other local dialects that you may know. It's bad enough that some of them can speak, and God forbid, some can even read Thai too, but Laos and Khmer should be kept as sacrosanct. Under no circumstances should the farang be taught our regional dialects.

7. Always see him off at the airport. Thai baht cannot be used in his country so it is highly likely that he will give you all of his leftover baht at the airport, as he leaves and says goodbye. Once it is established that you will accompany him to the airport, prevent him from spending any money, so that there will be more for you! Take him to all of the cheapest places you can and discourage him from making any major purchases.

8. Search for Asian customers. They understand that we like to gamble, and they understand that we have lots of unemployed brothers and sisters who need to eat. Therefore, they pay a lot better than the farangs. And, their dicks are often smaller, and they finish a lot quicker too. Bonus! If you find that the Japanese men like you, go out and dye your hair as this is what they like best.

9. Remember, when you get paid, you must always ask for taxi money and give him the excuse that taxi drivers cannot give change on big notes. Do not let him know that there is a 7 Eleven just around the corner where you can get the money changed no problem – and don't let him see the small change in your wallet. If taxi money isn't forthcoming, see rule #4.

10. If you are no longer making money in Bangkok, move down to Phuket where you will be able to start making money again. Give Phuket a few years and then move on to Pattaya. Even if you are approaching 50, it is no problem as the walking ATM machines seem to be blind, especially in Pattaya.

After being down for approximately 10 days, this site is back up and touch wood, it is business as usual. Apologies for the interruption to service which was due to server problems with the hosting service based Stateside. There will be some fairly major changes over the next month or two with this site, BUT one thing is for sure, this site WILL REMAIN FREE!

Stick

Thanks go out to Khun Sanuk, Whosyourdaddy, Shadow,
The Bonking Baron and Fast Fred for contributions to the column.