Stickman's Weekly Column February 3rd, 2002

Medical Care Options



Exciting living indeed, but spend long enough in Bangkok and you'll find the city has a knack of putting real pressure on your system. It doesn't matter if you are the youngest, fittest fellow around, Bangkok's polluted environment combined with the sometimes stressful and fast lifestyles that many have, one eventually finds themselves coming down with something or other. It is time to get medical attention. In a city as big as Bangkok, there are many options available to you for medical treatment.

The first option and a relatively cheap way out is to go to one of the neighbourhood clinics that can be found in just about any corner of the city. Just looking at the appearance and general lack of cleanliness and hygiene is enough to make you think that such places are a bit hit and miss. The doctors in these places tend to make a super fast diagnosis based on just a couple of questions and a cursory glance at you before giving you bags and bags of multicoloured pills and never really explaining to you what they are for – that is assuming that you speak Thai, or they speak English. Furthermore, they don't always warn you of any potential dangers associated with the prescribed pills, such as laying off the alcohol. Do you really need all of these pills? There does seem to be a mentality with Thais when they go to see the doctor that unless they are given bags and bags of pills, the trip to the doctor was a waste of time!

Hospitals are the next option and seem to the most sensible option, and the option chosen by most Westerners. The city has many big, efficient, Western style hospitals and many of them have a very good reputation. Compared to the West, Thai hospitals provide fast and efficient service by well trained staff, many of whom may well have been trained in the West. The better hospitals are comparable with hospitals in the West. However, I have often felt that in Thai hospitals you really are treated like a number – not a patient, not even a customer, but a number. It is not like going to your doctor back home who will repeatedly say your name, may crack a joke or two to make you feel at ease and may even be able to remember previous complaints that you had. In Thailand, one goes to hospital for a standard doctor's visit but going to a Thai hospital is not like the GP that you visited for years and years back home, who knew and treated everyone in your family. Going into this huge building with zillions of people running around, one is forgiven for feeling like an ant running around with a million other ants, aimless, not knowing where to go.

And let's face it, whenever they see a farang walking up to the entrance of a hospital, they are immediately on the phone to the STD department, telling the doctor that another one is on his way…

Sure, when it comes to costs, Thai hospitals are a lot cheaper than the West, but in some respects, like so many things in Thailand, they still don't seem to have it quite right. Service is almost as good as the West and all for a fraction of the price…but it is never quite as good. And when your health is concerned, you really do want that extra peace of mind.

Last, but in Bangkok certainly not least, is Dr Do-it-yourself. Now this particular doctor seems to be getting more and more trade these days. It is no secret that you can buy just about any drug you like over the counter in Bangkok and increasingly, more and more folks are joining the ranks of those who like to self diagnose. Consulting friends or looking up info online, they try to isolate exactly what's wrong with them and then search for the recommended treatment. Ahhh, stickocycline 10 mg, twice a day for a week? Not a problem. Off they wander to the chemist, purchase the pills, take them as recommended and bingo, the problem has gone…well, usually, but not always. Is this so bad – or is this medicine in the 21st century? For low income guys who have been in Thailand a long time – and this is a growing number of people – self diagnosis and treatment is the norm.

I read an article in Thai, written about 30 years ago, that discussed the problem of untrained pharmacists and the self diagnosis and treatment of ailments, which discussed some of the complications that this can cause, some of them were somewhat nasty. Even 30 years ago, this was acknowledged as a major issue in Thailand, yet the problem still continues today. But, it is not only the locals who are doing it but also the farangs.

There are a lot of good, reasonably priced hospitals in Bangkok and really, it is unnecessary to self diagnose and prescribe medicine yourself. With all of the horrible diseases and viruses floating around Asia along with the chances of getting a more common bug, or being involved in an accident, it is comforting to know that there are plenty of more than adequate hospitals and health professionals for you to choose from. Be careful with self prescription. Doctors don't study for many, many years for nothing.

Last week's picture was not answered correctly by anyone! Yes, I win! Stickman's revenge! The picture was of the bridge close to to Rachadarmnoen Road that goes over the Saen Saeb Canal, near the Golden Mount. It was taken late afternoon, hence the long shadows.

Where is this pic?

Clue: Sarlar Jin yoo tee nai krap

A nice spot to escape the afternoon sun.

A cynic or is this really how they feel?

One often gets the impression that the powers that be would really like it if one had to a) pass some sort of income test to come to Thailand, b) agree to go only to a "TAT approved" area, c) empty their wallet out upon arrival and d) get right back on a plane and go back the hell where they came from.
So where will I look now?
I also decided to steer clear of the bar girls and focus on a "good girl". I found and married twice the non bar girl and the outcome wasn't far removed from marrying a bar girl.

Easy to find? Yes. My first wife worked at the airport and my second a manager of a travel company. So what goes wrong?

A) You still get the lies and don't be surprised if your "good girl" hasn't a husband somewhere in her past. Hidden children may appear 3 – 4 years into your relationship. This explaining where the money went each week when your wife came home with only half the groceries your money should have purchased.

B) They want a job in the west that reflects their perceived status. No cleaning jobs etc, yet their English doesn't allow for higher status work.

C) All Thai "good girls" want a Thai / Falang baby. When pressed for the reason for having a baby it is always because a mixed blood baby will look beautiful. This is a real issue especially if the guy is much older than the girl. Also most men who have spent time in the bar scene enjoy freedom and talk of babies is often spine chilling.

D) Non Bar Girls may not be as loyal as you would expect. If someone comes along with more money or promises of high living you may find your back on your own.

Good lord, this fellow writes well!
The "machine like" industrial way, that the "farang" are "processed" is I suppose, the reality of life for girl's within the sex industry. True, they can run the gamut from the most despicable psychopathic violent bitches… to the sweetest young, teenage princess, fresh from the Isaan. But as you say… most perplexing is the lack of respect, the average rank & file BG shows her foreign man. Her man who in many cases, has fallen hopelessly in love with her.

Many more of these young ladies, [if they were only smarter] could have hit the "farang lottery" and would be living a life of luxury in "Farangland" instead of burning themselves out in a few years and returning to Buriram or Surin with their nest egg.

In most cases, their disingenuousness is so transparent, it's soon discovered by the man, who is planning to marry them. Sadly, the wily BG, laughs thinking she has won, as there are more fish in the sea [deplaning at Don Muang every hour] [or on the Internet] to fleece, and presses on, "setting her smile phaser" to stun the next soft-hearted foreigner whose heart beats fast. The sad fact is that many of the "farang" that are cast aside like spent shell casings pouring out of a blazing machine gun, in places like NEP, might have cherished this woman for the rest of his life. But it's all just a game now.

Wow, English was better back then?
I visited Bangkok on R+R in 1970 during a tour in Vietnam. I have been back on 2 visits in the last 3 years. The big difference is the lack of English the girls speak now. In 1970 a majority of the bar girls spoke passable English, now it is very hard to have a decent conversation.

A mobile phone vendor has opened up at Nana Plaza.

Drink prices in the Clinton Plaza gogo bars have dropped down below 100 baht. This long overdue move in an area that has really suffered from falling numbers of patrons is perhaps a last ditch effort to resurrect business. Funnily enough, The Living Room, the bar out the front of Clinton Plaza, seems to be doing very well.

The Phuket Gazette this week published a story a few days ago which said that the super popular Shark Club has been closed down, not for 30 days, but for good! It seems that a "lewd" photo taken inside the Shark Club some time ago was sent to the interior minister who acted immediately, closing the bar down. Expect bar owners nationwide to be even tougher on anyone with a camera in their bar. The word on the street is that Phuket is going for a cleaner image, trying to attract families and couples, and by the end of the year, you won't even be able to find a gogo bar anywhere on the island. The bottom line is that Phuket is very popular and there are many, many reasons to visit it. Phuket doesn't need sex tourism as quite simply, it attracts more than enough tourists who are not interested in prostitutes. Its all good news for regular tourists. Having said all of this, I wouldn't count on seeing the beer bars disappear in a hurry.

The long empty Suzy Wong bar in Soi Cowboy has a sign outside stating that it is for sale at a cost of 5,000,000 baht. Opposite the soon to boom Dollhouse, the location is pretty good. Anyone got a tidy five big ones spare?

A friend wandered into Hollywood Rock bar in Nana Plaza this week and had a quick nosey. He didn't like what he saw, decided that he didn't want to stay and made for the exit. One of the mamasans tried to stop him and said "50 baht for a look"! He ignored her and just walked out. Now whether this was a rogue mamasan, a new bar policy or some sort of scam, who knows?

A banner above Pharaoh's Bar, the first beer bar within Nana Plaza, is advertising a Valentine's Day special at Carnival. While it's not clear exactly what form it will take, the banner mentions that you can vote for your favourite girl by buying her a flower.

Horny but only got a small amount of baht in your pocket? Head on down to Pattaya where there is at least one girl offering you the good old relief a la naturale. For 100 baht, this little vixen will give you a blowjob on the beach after dark. Yep, just 100 baht. Times must really be tough.

The Superbowl Party which was to be held at The Living Room in Clinton Plaza has been cancelled.

The fellow who has set up a stall selling mobile phones within Nana Plaza was obviously the top of his marketing class. He has both phones plus all those gimmicky accessories that the girls just love. I expect that he'll do a roaring trade there. The stall is on the middle level, sort of between Casanova and G Spot bars.

The boiler room operations are STILL going. Wandering down Silom Road this week, I saw the same dodgy looking fellow who I used to see handing out dodgy job advertisements in Mahboonkrong, now handing out similarly dodgy adverts in the city's business district. The ad, all in English, asks for English speaking Thais – so just why did he give one to me? Anyway, part-time positions at 30,000 baht a month, full-time positions at 50,000 baht a month and supervisory positions at 250,000 baht a month make this all sound remarkably similar to the structure used in the other boiler room scams that were busted or forced to close down a few months back. Remember the guys who got caught up in these scams a while ago got deported and PNG, persona non grata status, so these ventures are best avoided.

If you are looking around for a bite to eat and have a craving for noodles, I highly recommend "Nooddi, the Noodle Bar". There are three branches that I know of – there may well be more – and they can be found in Silom Road below Sala Daeng Station, Siam Square soi 4 and in the World Trade Centre. They have all manner of noodle dishes from noodle soups to fried noodles to pasta. Its not the sort of place you'd take someone along that you were trying to impress but it is great for a quick bite. It certainly beats the old standby noodle chain, Noodle House.

I hear that there is a yellow line on the floor in the foyer of the Eden Club. Somehow I have never spotted it before, though having said that, poor old Marc the proprietor, bless his heart, does not see me as one of his better customers, always going in for a drink and nothing else. Anyway, it appears that the yellow line marked clearly on the floor is to separate the girls when they stand up to be selected. Girls on one side of the line will open the back door while girls on the other side will not…

A friend who has been working in the English teaching industry locally for quite some time advises that in all of his time in Thailand, he has never known a slower January. If you're thinking of coming to Thailand to teach English – work in Bangkok, especially decent full-time jobs, is VERY thin on the ground at present.

The latest rumour about one certain English department which is on the move is that some lecturers were told that they might have to work out of their cars for a while, as their offices in the new campus are still being built!

If you need to get around quickly, the Saen Saeb canal boats are almost as quick as the skytrain, are cheaper, but are not quite as comfortable… The problem with these boats is getting on and off the makeshift piers. I've always wondered what its like in the monsoon season when the rain is driving into the boat, visibility is low, and the wind is howling. A friend confirms that he has seen one poor office girl slip and lose her dignity as well as her clean clothes as she bit the dust. But it must have happened to more than just her. In an effort to help people get on and off at some of the more rickety stops, I notice uniformed officers helping people on and off the boats at some of the piers. What a good idea.

I hadn't been into my old favourite, Midnite Bar in Soi Cowboy, for a while and ducking in the other day, I noticed that there are a whole heap of new girls in there. Many of them were apparently brought in from one of the bars in Clinton Plaza. Midnite is well worth a look if you haven't stuck your head in recently. Along with the new girls, most of the old favourites remain too.

Why buy a trash can when you can
just throw that garbage out of the window?!

The picture above clearly represents just one of the many reasons why I get annoyed with these litter patrolmen who ONLY patrol heavily touristed areas and ONLY target farangs. Their job does not seem to have anything to do with cleaning the city but rather taxing the perceivably wealthy tourists. The mess here is so typical of many Thai neighbourhoods where you can often find an area where everyone dumps all of their crap.

From last week's piece about the language school with work permit problems, details are slowly leaking out. It seems that this particular school was investigated by the Labour department who found that there were teachers working without work permits. The punishment was a somewhat unusual refusal to issue more work permits to anyone at this school – which seems to defeat the whole purpose of actually having work permits in the first place. Subject to an ongoing investigation, they hope to resume issuing work permits very soon.

WhosYourDaddy has an idea for a new business in Bangkok that would suit a younger English teacher who wanted to A) supplement his income and B) get his end away. Married Western expats who come here often lose interest in their Western wife, the allure of the local lasses being strong. These Western wives who may well be at the peak of their sexual prowess suddenly find a husband who is not particularly interested in scratching her itch. The poor Western woman suddenly finds that it is she who is not getting a bit! Her eyes start to wander and as she doesn't speak the local lingo and is wary of the local men, she finds herself searching for a farang who wants sex without commitment. Her husband is on a big whack and the poor sucker might even be depositing a good chuck of his hard earned into an account that she can access. She has money and a need… A moneyed middle-aged woman with an itch that needs to be scratch is truly a nichethat needs to be filled.

For almost two months now, there has been a lot in the press about how the Thai ten baht coin is accepted in the EC by vending machines which wrongly recognise it as a two Euro coin. This is actually quite a difference as two Euros is worth close to $US 2. 100 X 10 baht coins has a value of 1,000 baht, or around $US 23. But in a European vending machine, it is worth 200 Euros or around $US 180. Now 100 x 10 baht coins does not take up that much space, and really, is not that heavy. With this in mind, I bet there will be HUGE NUMBERS of ten baht coins making their way back to Europe over the coming months. Its going to take ages to get all of the machines rectified so as to exclude the Thai ten baht coins, and it is going to cost a lot too. I doubt there are any direct flights out of Bangkok heading to Europe at the moment where there aren't people with hundreds of ten baht coins. What's the bet that before too long, someone gets caught with a truckload of them at the airport and is charged with some sort of obscure crime in an effort to raise awareness that exporting the coins is not on.

There is little that annoys me more than a waitress who takes the liberty of failing to return my change, believing that the small amount would have automatically been tipped. Sorry, with service like that, I am not going to tip. And hey, that ten baht coin is a lot of money – it is after all, two Euros or almost $US 2! Tip $2? Get outta here!

One reader raised an interesting issue with me this week about globalization. An American in the IT field, he has seen people from Eastern Europe, India and even some SE Asian countries like the Philippines go over to the US and take a lot of the jobs that Americans would have otherwise had. He is concerned that people from these same nations and others who speak decent English might do the same thing here in Thailand and English teaching in the Kingdom might soon be dominated by people from the aforementioned countries whose salary expectations are not as high as the average Westerner. Let me allay your fears. Thai students like to see a white face in the classroom. (Its the sad truth that generally speaking, the average Thai student would rather not see someone of African or Asian extraction in the classroom, even if they are a native English speaker.) Also, with the mooted legislation that work permits for English teachers will only be issued to bona fide native English speakers, there is little chance that the industry will not be inundated with people from other countries. Having said that, I receive a lot of email from Eastern Europe, folks with perfect written English asking me about the possibilities of getting work out this way.

Just a reminder to those folks who wish to teach in Thailand but do not have a degree. If you get caught with a degree from the University of Khao Sarn, you will be in deep shit. You may well get deported, and the odds of you EVER getting another work permit again, would be remote, at best. Please do NOT ask me where on Khao Sarn Road you can get yourself a dodgy degree, because quite simply, I do not know.

The Chao Praya River, down near Klong Toey. Boat
owners will be glad to show you around for a reasonable price.

The Chao Praya River is one of the most interesting spots in town. Full of temples, hotels, factories and traditional Bangkok riverside life, you always get a good view of what is going on. But if like me you really enjoy cursing around the Chao Praya, you do not need to limit yourself to the section of river where the Chao Praya River Express Boat runs – though that is certainly the most interesting part of the river. The other day I found myself down near Klong Toey, near a part of the river that I had never explored before. I wanted to go out on the river for a nosey around, but the taxi boats do not make it down this far. There were a few boat owners around and I thought I'd approach one, and see if he was interested in showing me around. Him and his mates chuckled and said there was nothing interesting in this area. With a big grin on my face, I said I could see two temples on the other side and would be happy for him to take myself and Stickgirl for a spin over to have closer look at them. 50 minutes later and just 200 baht lighter, he had given us a nice if somewhat impromptu tour of the immediate area. So, if you find yourself near the river and there doesn't seem to be any transport around, don't be shy to approach some of the boat owners. They'll be happy to show you around.

I HATE to repeat it, but it is getting MUCH worse that it used to be. If you find yourself in Woodstock Bar in Nana Plaza – and it is a comfortable place with great food, a good atmosphere and reasonably priced drinks, then make sure you check your bill thoroughly. All sorts of nonsense is going on and it seems that one particular rogue staff member (yes, we know who you are!) continues to line her pockets with what should be the bar's profits.

Chris Moore's new book finally came out this week. Minor Wife (note it is NOT called Mia Noi) is available now. I picked up a copy but have yet to read it. A friend, The Mad Stockbroker, who reads everything written by Bangkok based authors and is somewhat of an authority on locally written books reviews it here:

"Minor Wife" by Christopher G Moore, released locally Saturday last week. 475 baht.

As a self confessed fan of Moore's work, especially the Calvino series, I looked forward to his latest offering. The story revolves around the hunt for the killer(s) of 8K, an ex-hooker so called because 8,000 baht was her going rate. She was found with throat slashed in her best friends condo; a mia noi of a wealthy farang businessman who hires PI Calvino to solve the crime. The list of suspects grows as we learn more of 8K's sponsored transformation from Soi Cowboy teenage bar girl into sophisticated call girl who likes to paint and can quote from classical literature. Using the murder as a backdrop, Moore skilfully explores many of the farang "cliches" about the perception of Thai women in society, from Isaan bar girls to the daughters of well connected Generals.

Overall I found this an enjoyable read and a page turner, not simply due to the "whodunit" style but because Moore continually develops his cast, especially the enigmatic 8K and, interestingly, more of the inner character of Vincent Calvino himself.

I did enjoy it and would recommend it. Unfortunately there were one or two printing errors which are rather glaring and not what I would expect from a 475 baht novel. However this did not distract from a rather good story. Interestingly, Moore used Midnight Bar in Soi Cowboy as 8K's bar. Note the different spelling of the bar name.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick