Stickman's Weekly Column January 20th, 2002

Acting Like Children



Why is it that many well educated Thai girls in their mid 20s still giggle like little school children? Why is that many of these girls get flummoxed when a problem presents itself? Why is that so many of these girls collect little knick knacks that the average Westerner considers barely suitable for a child, let alone a young adult? Why is it that the average NON BAR GIRL Thai woman in her mid 20s is often far less mature than a Western woman of the same age?

The answer to these questions can be traced back to the Thai education system. Having worked in a couple of the supposedly best Thai high schools, I have had a ringside seat of the way the Thai education system works. However, I don't like what I see.

A typical lesson consists of a teacher standing at the front of the classroom with a microphone, talking at the students for the entire duration of the lesson. Pauses may occur, but typically the teacher just barks out for the best part of 3/4 of an hour.

At the end of each class, homework is assigned and these poor Thai students are literally bombarded with a huge amount of homework. Some days they are given so much homework that they are forced to stay up until very late to get through it all, meaning that they miss out on valuable sleep and arrive to class the next day in no state to study. This is all compounded by the fact that so many teachers view failure to complete homework as a most serious issue.

Each day when school has finished, so many of these kids don't go straight home, but rather to another school where they do some extra study, to try and get ahead of the masses. Accusations abound of teachers who teach at regular schools but who also own private schools in the likes of Siam Square. While teaching their regular classes, some of these teachers are accused of failing to cover the syllabus adequately while at the same time promoting the courses offered at their private institute – and letting students know that by choosing to study at their institute, they will ensure that they are adequately prepared for the exams. Study at the regular school only – and some of the syllabus might be conveniently omitted!

At weekends these very same students who study extra classes during the week, are forced to go to language school, and perhaps even music school too. Three hours of each and these kids don't get a real weekend.

The result of all of this is that so many Thai students never have time to be kids. The don't have time to experience the life of a youngster as many Western kids do. They don't get time to play, and to discover things for themselves. They are always told what to do and they get into this habit of consulting a person of higher status whenever a problem arises, rather than trying to figure it out for themselves. Self discovery and experimentation are foreign concepts.

Dazed and confused, those students who somehow make it through the tertiary education system in their early 20s suddenly find themselves with this piece of paper and a mind full of information, but little ability to actually work things out for themselves.

The Thai education system needs massive reform. There are certain aspects to rote learning that do work, but the long term damage that it does through failing to demonstrate to students that most critical of skills, the ability to think, is a travesty. Until the education system in Thailand gets a serious overhaul, the system will continue to produce students who are not prepared to challenge the ideas and concepts that are accepted in Thailand today.

A large number of people correctly answered the location of last week's picture. It was of course taken on the even numbered soi side of Sukumvit Road, looking across towards soi 33 where there is a 7 Eleven on the corner.

Where is this pic?

Clue: did maenam

A fairly flash looking building, what could it be? Is it an
embassy or perhaps the HQ of a big company…or something else?

Thai service…what service?

I found out a long time ago that the attitude, "I'll just take my business elsewhere" doesn't do any good here. That's because "elsewhere" no matter where you turn, is just the same! Out of the frying pan, into the fire! It's definitely something deeply ingrained in Thai culture to treat the customer with haughty disdain; contempt even. (I suspect it might be true throughout Asia, but I don't have enough experience outside Thailand to judge.) Where we are from, the customer is King! Here he is a lowly pissant. Why, the customer should be grateful, that the business owner is providing him this service! The business owner is a hotshot! A man with real status and class! He owns the place! It's his business! So magnanimous of him, so kind and generous, to condescend to even speak with the common customer! Here, everyone is constantly assessing where everyone else ranks on the social hierarchy ladder so they know whether to suck up and kiss ass or look down their nose at the other guy. Generally speaking, business owners outrank customers, thus the lousy service. Asians are the biggest fucking snobs in the world! The rest of the world barely even notices, though. That's because Asians are so damned quiet about everything they do! When Whitey does anything racially, or class-wise prejudicial, the whole human race gets up in arms about it. Meanwhile in Asia, societies are so strictly divided along class / caste lines, that it almost amounts to slavery for the lower classes
Be careful with your students!
Just one more thought about English teachers and relationships. Indeed, teachers have great respect from most of the population. Just one caution about developing relationship with students – remember the first commandment of the business place – "Do not get thy meat where thou gets thy bread."
More about bad service…
Service can be good here. But when things don't go exactly the way they should; like when you try to return a defective product for a refund or send your under-cooked food back to the restaurant kitchen, then just watch their reaction! Thais are quick to say "sorry" over little things like accidentally stepping on your foot, but when it comes to admitting they made a serious mistake and apologizing, or Lord Buddha forbid, refunding money…well, you can pretty much forget it. Short sighted greed almost always wins out as they grab and hold on tight to the money they get from you today. They don't seem too concerned about losing your business forever after.
Can you help this reader?
I don't know if this has ever happened to you but quite often I go down to Pattaya alone which means I buy a single bus ticket. I get on the bus and the person sitting next to me is usually a Thai. For some reason it is usually a woman, and not very attractive. The person usually never even speaks to me but about half way down to Pattaya, my shoulder suddenly becomes a pillow and the person sitting next to me is fast asleep with me her human pillow. This past trip the woman was quite big and her heavy head gave me a cramp in my neck. It was quite uncomfortable. What would you do when this happens?
The good old days?
When I was stationed in Bangkok in the U.S Air Force back in 1968-1969 (being 19 years old) there was always a problem dating a nice local non bar girl. In fact I had met several encountering the same problem. My invitation of going to a movie or dinner was always NO because of them telling me being seen in public with a falang would bring shame on her family thinking she was looked at like a prostitute.
Strong thoughts from an expat friend.
After my first trip to Tland I remember sitting in my favourite Thai restaurant in Ft Worth talking to a man named Bob who had lived in LOS for a couple of years a decade or so ago. He told me that after a few years the GOOD of living in Tland would be outweighed by the bad. Of course I thought he was out of his mind. Well….. 2 years down the road and I have just about had my fill. I enjoy the bars less and less (the allure of cheap sex does wear off), the new admin has just about screwed the sense of freedom one experienced here (or perhaps that was an illusion as well), it is impossible to get anything done when one is dealing with Thais, and finally there are the Thais themselves… Firstly, as I said the bar scene has worn thin. There are many reasons for this but foremost I think it just gets old. Now I will say that the Japs invading my favourite bar like the Philippines in the 40s has not helped nor has the shitty attitude many of the girls have developed. Secondly the present Gov. has set a NO FUN tone that is echoing throughout the kingdom. From Nana to Pattaya and from RCA to Patpong, fun has been squashed for both Farang and Thai. The live and let live spirit (as long as you do not hurt anyone) that was one of the main factors in my moving here is GONE!!! Thirdly, getting anything done as a Thai is hard enough but as a farang it is almost impossible. In that one word you have it FARANG. We will always be farang….no matter how much money we have and no matter how much we add to the economy we will always be FARANG. Farang equates to no rights.
Is The British Club's stiff reputation warranted?
The British Club rugby team have Long Gun on their shirts…..are we gonna see Long Gun bargirls playing for the British Club. Or more importantly, will we see British Club rugby players dancing naked around the silver poles?
The Dollhouse luring young girls?
A friend of mine lives close to Soi Cowboy, 5th floor condo. He was taking his 3 year old daughter to the elevator to go shopping at Tops. Pushed the down button, looked out the window and was checking the newly moved "Dollhouse" sign. Problem is, his daughter got in the elevator, the door closed and down she went, alone, to the lobby of the building. Mind you my friend is probably the best, most attentive, safety conscious father figure I have ever known. Everything worked out OK, the baby was safe and the office staff took care of her until dad arrived.
A response to last week's piece from a reader about the "500 baht club".
500 baht is certainly mean by western standards, but we are in fact in Thailand, aren't we? Here, the average Thai earns around 350 baht per day, based on long hours and a six day week, and this is probably an overestimate in some cases. The cost of living is of course cheap (at least for a non farang). Seen in this light, 1500 baht for a girl is lavish, 1000 baht generous, 700 baht about right, 500 baht cheap but by no means insulting, particularly as the girl is often entertained with food and drink.

Has the contributor also fallen in to the trap of tending to overly identify with the women's perspective. As a westerner, and a Brit in particular, I am only too well aware that it is easy to become over feminised and even to feel ashamed of one's own masculinity. The fact is that in the bar scene you need your wits and masculinity, and anyway, do these grown women really need you in their corner? Generally, they are not as innocent as one might think – the average 25 year old westerner tends to be less worldly wise than most of these girls.

Where in Bangkok can you find stalactites?
At the Scala Cinema in Siam Square, of course!

The one we have all been waiting for, the grand opening of The Dollhouse's new bar in Soi Cowboy will be on Friday February 8. Dollhouse advise that they are sorry about the delay. The opening week there will be a crazy hour 7 PM – 8 PM, 10 baht drinks from the 9th to the 15th only. Normal happy hour will be 5 PM to 7 PM with a FREE buffet and 40 baht Carlsberg draft, every day.

The partitioned section of Lucky Luke's at the front of Nana Plaza is apparently going to be a T-shirt shop! Will they start to sell Nana Plaza paraphernalia in the same mould as the Hard Rock Cafe sells souvenir apparel and trinkets?!

One night last week, someone broke into Lucky Luke's around 4 -5 AM and sprayed the inside of the bar with shit – that is excrement. It would seem that someone is giving the owner a message.

The owner of Rock Hard A Gogo had to be rushed back to the US in a hurry. Was he concerned that comments that he had put on his website about Mr Purachai may have have been about to land him in some sort of trouble? No, not at all. Seems that he had some sort of bizarre accident and broke his leg, choosing to go back to the US for rest and recuperation, rather than spend the time in Bangers. Larry will go under the knife on Monday for surgery. Despondent at all that has been going on in the Kingdom recently, Larry has indicated that a return to the Land Of Smiles is unlikely. A vibrant character who always drew the crowds into his bars, if this turns out to be true, he will be missed. Rumours have it that the sharks are already circling to grab his leases. Should he not return, I will remember Larry, amongst other things, as the guy who stood up to immense pressure from "the cartel" at Nana Plaza and refused to increase his drink prices in line with the rest of them. Men of such principle are not so common these days, and in a lawless industry like naughty nightlife, downright rare.

Following on from last week's comments about Tony's Disco and how the new Bangkok branch has not been doing as well as it could, well it would be nice if we actually knew where it is! All of the advertising seems to carefully avoid letting us know just where it has been hidden. Frankly, this is a bit of a debacle!

Down in Pattaya, why is it that some of the best looking girls are outside the bars trying to get customer inside, rather than being up on the gogo stage? Maybe someone got confused and these young ladies were given the wrong jobs?!

From last week's piece about whether some bars need bouncers, the following should be noted. In some bar areas, there are cops wandering around in uniform, on patrol. This happens often at Patpong and to a lesser extent in the other areas. Then there are the cops who seem to hang around but who are not on duty. Soi Cowboy is a big one for this. The big give away of course is the brown trousers and shiny black shoes on a well built fellow who just looks a little bit too cocky…almost always a cop! Apparently some bars will call on the local motorcycle taxi riders in times of need, but in many cases, any Thai male within the area will lend a hand at a time of fracas, and will gladly use the opportunity as an excuse to have a go at a farang.

Asoke Plaza and Soi Zero are not on my regular rounds so there could be all sorts of carry on taking place in those little corners of the capital without me ever knowing about it. Walking through each of these areas this week, it seemed to me as if quite a few of the bars had closed down… Why could that be? Is business really that bad?

From the baldy man, a colleague of mine: "Dealing with the Thais, they must be kidding if they think they are destined to be a developed country."

Not once, but on several occasions this week friends have called my mobile and been told that it was answered by someone else – even though the phone was at that time in my possession. To make things more unusual, some of these people claimed to have dialled my number using their preset settings from their own phone, meaning dialling the wrong number was not an option. Is my phone possessed by a ghost or is the network playing games? Anyone else had this problem? I always thought that these digital networks were supposed to be free of such problems.

Some vendors at Panthip Plaza have temporarily stopped selling MP3 CDs. While one imagines that any anti-piracy push would come from Microsoft and the big business software developers, more noise seems to be coming out of Grammy Records than anyone else.

An Australian fellow with experience working in and managing "gentleman's clubs" down under is looking for employment in Bangers. If you're a bar owner looking to employ, contact: [email protected]

Remember the fire at the Ambassador Hotel a couple of weeks back? Well, a lot of the businesses that suffered water and / or smoke damage remain closed. Perhaps the premises have been ruined? Closure of Big Blue Bar, the swanky looking bar on the main road that always seemed to be popular, must have disappointed more than a few of the regulars.

Damage to the Ambassador Hotel in the
fire that took place a couple of weeks ago.

I finally made it along to that bastion of American culture, Bourbon Street, on Tuesday Night, Mexican buffet night. If you are a fan of decent Mexican food, this is the place to go. 210 baht ++ gets you as much Mexican food as you can eat. Excellent value for money and the food was pretty damend good too. And after you have stuffed yourself full, you could always wander around the corner to soi 22 where you'll find several new beer bars.

The Thai TESOL conference has been on this week, held up in Chiang Mai. A cynic was overheard saying that this was the biggest collection of non-English speaking English teachers held anywhere in the world. But, not having attended, I wouldn't know…

It's been getting a fair bit warmer over the past few days and I wonder if this horrible haze that has been sitting over the city has had anything to do with it. If you are not in-country, Bangkok has been blanketed by this haze which makes the city look a little uglier than usual and has also reduced visibility. Photographers note that while you could get creative with the haze lingering, there won't be too many people getting postcard quality shots this week.

Will we ever understand Thai women? A Thai woman who works for an international woman's magazine in a senior position could not say enough bad things about Dean Barett's Thailand: Land of Beautiful Women, and had denounced the book in meetings with other like-minded women. Then came a friend's birthday and what did she give him as a gift? You guessed it – a copy of Thailand: Land of Beautiful Women! Why? She said she knew he would like it and wanted to make him happy. Thai women – you've got to love them!

From time to time, I hear of horror stories involving bargirls and customers who decided that for them it was more than a one night stand, it was love! In most cases, these bargirls get you through deception – violence seldom enters the equation. But for the father of a friend of mine, this week in Pattaya will be remembered as the time that violence was used by a bargirl to rip him and his pal off. Two retired farangs were sharing an apartment, one of them with a girlfriend – that is, a former working girl. One day, while one of the farangs was out, a few of the girlfriend's relatives turn up with a truck. The farang who is at home – remember, he is a senior citizen, is physically restrained and is locked outside on the balcony! While the confused fellow is stuck out on the balcony in Pattaya's seamy heat, the apartment is cleaned out with electrical appliances and other items of value taken. it is not until his flatmate arrives home that he is freed from the balcony – and discovers half the contents of the apartment have gone!

As I was walking into Nana Plaza at a little before 7:00 PM on Friday night, I was surprised by the sight of a farang, sweating like a beast, wheeling out six Bodyguard condom dispensing machines. Seeing a farang doing such a menial task in a country with incredibly cheap labour immediately alerts you to the fact that something most definitely is up. It later came out that word had got out around Nana Plaza that the Interior Minister would be visiting and inspecting Nana Plaza and with his recent closure of a bar in Phuket because he saw a solitary condom, it was deemed that all condom machines should be removed. Those condoms are there to prevent STDs and pregnancies and to remove these machines, albeit temporarily, is taking a big step backwards.

A reader wrote in an email me this week that around 40,000 baht is the minimum amount one needs to earn in Bangkok to lead a half decent life here. I used to put the figure a little lower but now, given inflation and the availability of more and more Western goods and chain stores, I think that this is about right. Note, that is 40K as a MINIMUM. I would not want to be earning less – and this is for a single person. If you have got a brown skinned, long haired dependent, add another 10K…at least! Now, the average Bangkok based English teacher's salary is probably in the low 30s….

The book has a striking cover.

Nicolas Merriweather's debut novel "Apsara Jet" was released in Thailand just a few weeks back and I had the pleasure of meeting the author this week for a quiet drink. I hope to conduct a full interview with him at a later date but for now, I asked him a few questions about this book.

Is this your first book?

Yes.

Why did you write it?

I decided to write about things that I know about. Aviation has been a part of my life for 38 years and I have flown various aircraft all over the world, and have been involved in various wars. I flew in Desert Storm and was one of the last planes out of Nicaragua. I received the US Air Force Civilian Air Medal twice.

What is that?

It's a medal which is given to civilian pilots who support our air force pilots in times of war.

While this website is about Bangkok, I believe that about seven out of every ten people who read it are are most interested in Bangkok's renowned naughty nightlife. Will this book appeal to them?

Nightlife is an integral part of the story. It is not the entire story but surrounds it and is mixed in with various characters. The savvy reader will automatically know the establishments mentioned in the book even though they go by different names. To the experienced traveller, they'll enjoy the descriptions. To the inexperienced traveller, it won't affect things and they'll still enjoy it. It's a win / win situation!

So where can people buy the book?

In Thailand it can be found at all branches of Asia Books and also at DK Books and Bookazine. It is also available online through Amazon.com. At www.apsarapublishing.com, the first two chapters are available for download as a PDF file.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick



Thanks for info for this column go out to Khun Sanuk, Rock Hard management.