Stickman's Weekly Column September 16th, 2001

Thailand Ain’t Perfect



Life is good, life is grand, in Thailand. This quirky little rhyme used to be the signature of Beenthere2K, a regular contributor to one of the many Thailand nightlife discussion boards on the 'net. Beenthere2K was one of these fellows who after many trips to Thailand including some lengthy stays, decided to retire early. Unfortunately, some bad luck on the financial markets, particularly the NASDAQ, have meant that this fellow who used to profess how he loves Thailand is now in danger of having to return to his homeland, a place he has called dull, boring and perhaps worst of all, lonely.

"The weather, the food, the people, the prices, the many different wonderful aspects of Thailand and for many, not least if all, the girls. Life is just perfect here, how could I ever go back to that place that I once called home? Cold weather and people, bland food, expensive prices, and big women. Why would I want to go back there? Hell, I wouldn't have chosen to be born there if I'd had a choice." Are you one of the folks who professes his undying love for Thailand, telling everyone about how perfect it is? For a while, I was like this too.

When I'm honest with myself, I admit that Thailand is a great place to live at this point in my life. But I don't know if I could stay here forever. I mean, maybe I could, but maybe I couldn't – and then of course, they may not want me to stay so I might get kicked out before I have a choice anyway!

But seriously, the point here is that while we may rave on about how wonderful life in Thailand is, life back in our homelands really is not that bad at all, and no matter what anyone says, there is nothing wrong with loving your country. Sure, you may choose to live and work, or perhaps even retire in Thailand for a certain period, but Thailand is not perfect, far from it, and while it may have a lot going for it, saying that life here is perfect often seems to me to be some sort of warped justification for living here.

There are Thais back in my little piece of Farangland who wonder what the hell I'm doing living in Thailand. They left Thailand and they do not want to return. They much prefer life in the West and they do not want to return to Thailand. They may be in a minority as far as Thais are concerned, but their lifestyle in the West is preferable to what they had in Thailand.

When I dream, when I imagine some place perfect, a place where everything that I want can be found, I do not dream of Thailand. I dream of home. Thailand is great, but it will never truly be home. Not for me anyway.

A significant omission was made from last week's salary / spending comparison and that was the example of someone on a real deal expat salary. This lucky fellow is still young, yet he earns 200,000 + baht per month in addition to many, many perks. His averagely monthly spend is as per the table below. He says that some of his spending would be a lot higher, but for some items which can be claimed against work. He also suggests that some of these figures may be a little on the conservative side!

Expat package – B 200,000+ per month
Rent and utilities 52,000
Maid 4,000
Car 7,000
Food 15,000
Internet / mobile / computer free
Bargirls 20,000
Entertainment 20,000
Miscellaneous 20,000

When one goes through the stages of thinking what the fxxx am I doing here in Thailand, and most expats do this from time to time, an email like this really makes you feel good!

I returned to Farangland in 1997 when the currency collapsed and have a pushy woman boss (fat arse, dyed hair, company BMW.. you know the type). Always being harassed due to the man / woman power struggle we have here in the West. "So, what's your fascination with Thailand", I was asked in a piss taking superior tone. "Easy" I said. "It's a cellulite free zone". Now I'm ignored which is fine – no more hassles. I presume she had a good look at herself in the mirror that evening.
Feedback to the food at Woodstock, from a local Bangkok expat. I personally disagree with his take on the food, which I find to be very good.
Horrible food. Only an Englishman could like it. I've had better steaks from cows that laid down to die and were dried in the sun.
A friend down in Pattaya reports the following:
The Dollhouse Pattaya still have their 7:30 – 8:30 PM crazy hour, which is by far the best deal in town with all well drinks and draft beer at 30 baht!
One local farang emailed this about cost of living.
I see you quoted that you've never known a farang to budget on less than 10,000 baht per month. I agree it would be tight, but in my second month here I survived on 7000 baht, mainly due to the fact that I was worried about how little cash I may have at the end of the month. So you're right, it's a great place to live cheaply if you're smart.
Whereas another local had this to say.
I 'lived' on 15,000 baht a month, for 5 months but you can not live on it. You can survive on it, but that is not the same. Have to admit that I did not have either a TV or a computer, but then again if you make 10K a month you can't afford either of those.
I think we are starting to uncover something…there seems to be more and more Thai girls scamming on the net, that is, regular Thai girls.
Interesting comments on the 'net' influence etc. Here in England two things are growing at an amazing pace, unheard of even 2 or 3 years ago. Thai girls (or mentors / keepers etc) advertising on numerous adult type sites and yahoo type places but now offering to come to England if their air ticket is paid! They send a few photos of a girl (might even be them I suppose), gradually sucking their prey in and the number of men sending off their $400+ only to find the girl doesn't arrive in England!
And more about the scam pulled at Camelot Bar in Patpong.
It's a pity because Camelot is a fun bar, it used to be a regular place for me too. I suffered bill padding most times too, but never on this scale. Camelot is notorious for gouging customers. It also got temporarily closed down recently for employing underage girls, as I'm sure you know.
A long term Pattaya resident warns of the dangers of investing, particularly if you are befriended by a farang, especially someone of the same nationality as you.
Pattaya is renowned for it's rip offs and scams and most people think it is the locals that are to blame. Be warned that it is the expat living in the area that can separate you from your money the quickest. With words of friendship, and trust me I know the person who can do the right thing at the right price. Behind this is their 10% commission. This is understandable, but this practice has taken a more sinister approach. Bar owners of similar nationality, use these people to sell the same bar time and again.

M.O.: Potential buyer is pressured by the agent to place a deposit as soon as possible, so that negotiations for the new lease can begin. (This deposit is non refundable if the deal does not go through, he gets a 30% – 45% of this amount in commission.)

New owner now finds that the initial price has changed, or that other conditions apply.
(When you sign the lease, you will have to pay the full amount, or over a 1-3 month period. Failure to do so and lose of all money paid.)

New owner has fulfilled all conditions. Agent still drinks in the bar, makes friends with all the new customers. Over months or years, helps the customers find other bars to drink in, (normally his nationality) or tries to sell another bar to a customer.

New owners business now falling off, thinks about selling. Agent sniffs another commission. "Trust me, I can help you." Nothing is done now, no customers and the new owner has run out of money. Bar Closed.

1-2 weeks later bar reopens with the original customers at the bar. Agent still sitting at his seat at the bar discussing how he can help some other person. Rent houses, buy houses, buy land, "trust me I know the owner!"

Pattaya is going through a very quiet time at the moment, these people go around and sniff out places that are about to close. Make sure that the bar does close, buy at a much reduced price, and pull the same scam again. (Remember, one bar is bad enough, but think of the amount of cash generated, if they had 6 such deals.)

Some would call this good business sense, I call it theft !!

Bangkok buses are getting new signs in English to help tourists
determining which bus to take. This is long overdue and very welcome.

It will be a lot easier to work out where the buses are going as many now have signs in English on the side. It seems that they are writing signs for the older buses first and that the air-con buses will follow. This should prove to be very useful for tourists, especially the Khao Sarn Road troop who want to save every last satang. With the sky train going most places that I like to go, my bus days are largely over.

What happened in New York this week was truly horrifying. For farangs living in Thailand, there has been some reaction with a lot of Thais, especially the poorer Thais such as the street vendors saying sorry, notwithstanding that the person that they said it to is not known to them, and possibly not even American! Personally, I have noticed a lot of compassion and sympathy from the Thais that I interact with, and while I'm not American, it's still nice to hear that people in this part of the world do care, and do understand. But I've got to say that I'm not going to be entirely happy until I have seen the American military muscle give us the world's biggest fireworks display…and then I'll be content.

The Dollhouse Pattaya has a wooden ad banner that states to the effect of "as recommended by Bangkok's Stickman". You can see it as you go into the front door on the right, but it looks mobile so that it could move onto the main street. Chuckle, chuckle. I wonder when Woodstock will put a similar banner outside?

Is there a crackdown on underage girls at the moment? The reason that Camelot Castle in Patpong was closed was due to this very reason, they employed some underage girls. On top of this, there have been other problems mooted including some hotels tightening up on girls coming in, requiring an ID card (possibly to verify that they are 18 or over). There is a certain bar in Nana, that shall remain nameless, that has some underage girls working there. The mamasan is fully aware that the girls are underage and she also knows which hotels will accept them without an ID check, and which won't. The mamasan checks with the punters first, to see where they are staying, and if it is one of the hotels that won't allow underage girls, she gives some lame excuse saying that the girl will only get short-time, and only to certain (underage friendly) establishments. Unfortunately, there are a number of underage girls around, some bars have several. Please, please, please do not support this practice.

Any city of any real size has homeless people, but I've never seen homeless before like what we see in Bangkok. Filthy folks who haven't washed in God knows how long and have dirt literally baked on to their bodies and you can smell them at ten paces. Some of these people are quite frankly a real mess. For the men, the hair will often be long and unkempt and for the women, you barely recognise that they were once this feminine Thai lady because it is often difficult to determine even if they are male or female. In certain parts of the city, you can see groups of homeless, looking for a place to sleep. The park shown here near the Patumwan intersection (Mahboonkrong / Siam Square) is home to many. Hi-so by day and absolute lo-so by night.

This park near the Patumwan intersection is popular with
the homeless, but the rainy season will make things tough for them.

Why do many teenage Thais insist on wearing their trendy, expensive jeans with their 39 baht luminous coloured flip flops? Well, if that isn't a big enough fashion faux pas, what about the way they buy a pair of jeans that is about 4 sizes too big, especially the length, yet they simply fold the bottom of the legs of the jeans under the sole of their feet, in the flip flop. It still makes me look, and wonder. What started this? Was it a Thai pop star who started this seemingly local trend? It doesn't look too comfortable and it must wear through the material of the jeans in no time!

The management at ECC's Siam Square branch are wondering whether they should include more details about the perks of the job in their adverts as they battle to employ more staff. One of the best perks is that you get coupons for 30 free cups of coffee a month. Not 31, not 29, but 30. Given that this school is not shy in piling on the hours to teachers, I think 300 would be fairer than 30, a caffeine fix necessary to ensure teachers are alert and ready for class. Having said this, they have had some very good parties recently with stacks of food and drink, and I gather that there was no quota there.

Top selling Bangkok author Jake Needham's first book "The Big Mango" is currently being translated into Thai which is I believe a first for a locally based author to have a book translated from English and published in Thai. Grisham, Clancy and co's works are readily available in Thai but for a work by a local writer in English, I believe that this is a first. So, if your girlfriend likes the look of the book's eye catching cover, tell her that she can have a copy of it in Thai in the not too distant future. It'll make a nice gift for your Thai girlfriend and I'll be buying a copy for mine.

The Winchester Club of Jomtien Beach is opening a new place on Walking Street, above the Champion A Gogo (opposite side of Dollhouse Pattaya). The "invitation only" grand opening is on Wednesday 3 October starting at 7:00 PM.

The last Nanapong Dance contest was held last weekend and was from all reports very good, the best yet some of the 'Pongers claimed. Apparently it was all go from the first round and there were bottles of beer being sprayed everywhere, no-one and nothing was off limits! It has been mooted that the next dance contest will be held at The Dollhouse in a month's time. Please, please, please, make it a Friday or Saturday night!

Our Place in Soi Cowboy is under new management but the manager is not doing his bit to curb the overpricing and mischanging that the bar has been notorious for, for quite some time. Is it just me or do they overcharge and / or fiddle the bill with everyone?

A farang friend asked me is it true that Jatujak Market is full of shit? I asked him what he was talking about and he said that every time the sky train approached the final station on the line, right where the market is located, the driver would announce in both English and Thai, "next station, more shit".

This week Stickman was a victim of the sandwich scam! A little peckish, I went to the local vendor, hoping to buy some chicken but they had run out so I was forced to consider some of those made up, pre-packaged sandwiches that are usually dreadful – awful bread and the oddest fillings that you simply can't identify. Anyway, this particular shop had these nice looking ham and cheese sandwiches, all sealed up in a wrapper for a Stickman friendly price of 12 baht. That's me I thought and parted with my hard earned 12 baht. Dashing back to work, I tore open the wrapper, gloating to all and sundry about my new find – a ham and cheese sandwich at the right price. The first mouthful went down a treat, but the second one was a little bland, and something wasn't quite right. So, I examined the sandwich a little closer and suddenly realised why it was so cheap. The just put a tiny strip of ham and cheese in the sandwich and the way it is displayed, you simply do not realise, there was only a very, very small piece of ham and cheese. So, next time you see these pre-made sandwiches for sale, unless you know the vendor shirks this practice, give them a wide berth!

If you are employed in the Kingdom, you will likely be a minority in the office, being well outnumbered by Thai staff. In most offices, the Thais and the farangs gets on well enough, notwithstanding that the farangs earn SIGNIFICANTLY more than the Thais in most situations. This can contribute to leading you into a false sense of security, believing that the Thais really do not care what you earn and are more worried about their own income. After all, they are always pleasant to you. But when things go bad, for either the farang or the Thai staff, underlying resentment from the Thais surrounding what the foreigners earn will come out, and it can get very messy. When I got my first job, my father said to me, "throughout your working life you'll find a lot of bitterness and resentment between people over how much they earn so it is best to keep that info to yourself". I've never forgotten that. This is accentuated in Thailand, and while the Thais may have some idea, or perhaps even know how exactly much you earn, it would be best to keep it to yourself. I witnessed a Thai manager screaming at her foreign staff this week, and in a fit unable to control her emotions, she revealed her salary which was significantly lower than anyone else, all farangs, in the room.

Wandering around Asoke Plaza, you see a lot of girls working in the bars…and not so many customers. Now it doesn't take a genius to work out that some of these bars must be running at a loss. After all, each of these girls must be pulling a salary, albeit small. Wrong! In quite a few of the bars in Asoke Plaza, the girls are NOT pulling a salary and are working for free, hunting for customers and hoping for a few tips.

Where is this pic? – answer in next week's column.

clue: if you partake in Bangkok's naughty nightlife,
the odds are that you have seen it.

Street vendors selling Thai food can actually do quite well.

How much money do the poorer people in Thailand make? It's incredibly low and frankly, you don't want to know, but figures of 100 baht for a day or as little as 15 baht an hour are not unusual. Security guards seem to earn a fairly uniform 20 baht an hour, a figure so low that to make ends meet they will usually work 12 hours a day, every day and from time to time, they might do the unthinkable, A 36 HOUR SHIFT! So, I have often wondered what self employed street vendors selling food on the roadside make. I finally plucked up the coverage and had words with the vendor who I have faithfully visited most days for more than three years and asked him about his costs. He said that street vendors that operate all day, from mid morning through to early evening will usually make in the vicinity of 2,000 baht a day, which is actually very good by Thai standards. Given that it is often a husband & wife team and allowing for days off etc, they are pulling in an income of around 50,000 baht a month, which for Thais is a lot of money. Good on them, because they really earn it.

The Crown Group of Nana Plaza, encompassing seven bars including some of the big gogos, is the biggest single employer at Nana Plaza. Each month there is a meeting held in Carnival Bar where most of the girls, that is a few hundred, are present. It's standing room only and is very much Thai style, with the staff told about any changes in business that may affect them, without any chance to voice their own thoughts or opinions. At last month's meeting, the girls were told of their new start time which changed from 7:30 PM to 6:00 PM in lieu of the amended business hours due to the crackdown on closing times and that they would now be required to persuade customers to buy them 50 lady drinks a month. Both of these changes should be considered fair and reasonable, with most Nana bars opening early and most bars imposing a minimum number of lady drinks on the staff. But this week, a special meeting was called of all of the girls on Friday, and apparently bigger changes were to be announced, but exactly what, it is not yet known.

The word from some of the Thai style karaoke bars up on Rachada is that while they may be closing at 1:00 AM with no customers on the premises after that time, the girls are compelled to stay at work until 2:00 AM. They have nothing to do but just sit around and twiddle their thumbs. The management's justification for keeping them there until 2:00 being that, "well they are paid until that time so they can stay until that time". One has got to ask the question…

A very sad, heart wrenching sight in the Thermae. There is one girl (may be more, who knows?) working at the Thermae who is pregnant. Well, to be more precise, she is four months pregnant – and she has been with a few guys this past week. That's how desperate some of these girls are. Oh, and it is most definitely noticeable. She figures that she has to earn a lot of money in a short space of time and this is the way to do it. Very, very sad indeed.

A reasonably high profile farang was attacked late one night this week with a large metal bar which was smashed against his head a number of times. He was rushed to hospital and underwent surgery through which he pulled through. He is still in hospital and off the danger list, but still in a critical condition. Many foreigners wander around the city aimlessly, sometimes in a state of complete intoxication, falsely believing that Bangkok is super safe and nothing will ever happen to them. This incident proves otherwise so you should take precautions to keep yourself safe at all times.

Toilets in the Kingdom are often Thai style and at some places of work, the few Western style toilets are locked and only a few privileged staff are allowed to use them. Each and every time they want to go to the loo, these lucky employees have to go and see their manager and ask for the key to unlock the door. Approaching the manager for the key the other day, a colleague of mine was told that the key couldn't be found to which he responded, "no key so no key". Question: What did he mean? Answer next week.

The recently erected sign in Nana Plaza advertising cheap drinks.
What a good idea – but will other bars follow?

I have been asked why I am always picking on Woodstock bar, letting all and sundry know about their shortcomings and service failures. The simple fact of the matter is that in recent times, I have spent a lot of time in there as it is a great place to meet friends, an oasis of peace and tranquility amongst the madness of Nana Plaza. Unfortunately, the Woodstock Hall Of Shame continues today with news that they have put up the prices of drinks, with a beer in Woodstock now more expensive than some of the gogo bars in Nana Plaza. Hmmm, a hard decision to justify I should think…and it smacks of the Thai idea of putting up prices when times are quiet! Problem is, this bar is farang owned. Has the boss gone native? Let me re-iterate that notwithstanding my criticism in this column, and notwithstanding the often appalling service, it's still a good place to go! Nice place, great food, good atmosphere.

Hilarious site! You have just got to look at this site called "Farang Ding Dong"! http://www.farangdingdong.com/

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Itsmedave, The Dollhouse management, Khun Sanuk
and Hong Kong John for help and info in this week's column.