Stickman's Weekly Column September 22nd, 2002

We Are A Band Of Misfits



Coming to live in a foreign country, a land where they eat boiled rice and gunky soup for breakfast, where dead bodies are guaranteed to be on the front page of the newspaper and where you can buy real deal Rambo knives on the street for a pittance can all be a somewhat daunting and disconcerting prospect. But have no fear, for you are not the first to make this journey. Far from it. Farangs started moving to Thailand as an alternative lifestyle choice decades ago, and ever since the end of the Vietnam War, the stream of Westerners moving to Thailand and adopting it as their new home has got bigger and bigger and bigger. Tens of thousands of farangs have moved to Thailand already. You need not worry about all of the intricacies of life in Thailand because you will have absolutely no trouble meeting and making lots of new friends.

Meeting so many interesting Westerners is one of the great things about living in Thailand. From the moneyed professionals on real expat salaries through to the armies of English teachers, folks working remotely via the net, guys mixed up in dodgy shit and even that North American clown who begs for money outside the Erewan shrine, you should never find yourself wanting for Western company.

It seems that as a group, we are able to the overcome the traditional barriers to forming friendships that exist in our own countries such as age, nationality and income bracket. Many Westerners agree that we battle so much in this exotic land, that we often feel that we are up against it, and this has the effect of making a lot of Thailand based farangs form friendships quickly and easily.

The nature of relationships in Thailand, and the fact that a good number of farangs have very few, if any, Thai male friends, makes us tend to stick together. Just the fact that we decided to go against the flow and move from the West to the East means that we immediately have something in common with virtually any other Westerner we come across.

Looking at my friends in Bangkok is like looking at a snapshot of Occidentals from all walks of life. All of the English speaking nations are represented as are a few of the European countries too. They range from fellow teachers to down and out retirees to stockbrokers, professionals and dare I say it, unprofessionals. While some of them are what I would term "drinking buddies", many are real friends, guys who I have shared many memorable experiences with.

We are a band of misfits, and many of us would not necessarily have developed friendships with these same people had we been in our own countries, yet we all seem to get on well together here. An exotic mix of Westerners all melting together in the same spicy pot. Having always been attracted to slightly eccentric people, Bangkok satisfies my desire to meet interesting people and delivers more than its fair share.

It is one of the hugely under rated things about living as a farang in Thailand. You really do meet so many interesting people. Sure, you might not want to get too close to some people and / or spend too long with some, but a bit of exposure to some can help one to understand them a little better. And after all, there's not a lot worse than boring friends, is there?

The idea of returning to a country with a largely homogenous bunch of people who all speak the same language, talk about the same things and who do not have that zest for life that is so common amongst Westerners living in Thailand is not something that appeals to me at all. Thailand has so many attractions, but the bunch of folks you meet here, even the marginal ones, is an attraction in itself.

One need not worry about being the only farang in town. As a farang moving to Thailand, the path you walk will be a well trodden one. You'll meet plenty of interesting people.

Where is this pic?

There's only about 50 or so McDs
branches in Bangkok, so which one is this?!

Last week's pic was taken looking up Sukumvit Soi 11/1. This is NOT Soi 11, but rather the small soi between soi 11 and soi 13. The prizes for the where is this pic will almost certainly resume next week.

Consistently good for a long time.

Just got back from my latest Thai adventure and have to say that the girls at Rainbow 1 in Nana are sensational and easily the best of all the bars that I visited which included just about every bar in Nana and Soi Cowboy along with lots of beer bars and a fair number of go go bars in Pattaya. They only wanted to go short time and couldn't budge them under 1,500 despite the fact that there were fewer punters than I can ever remember seeing at the bars.
10 Buck 2, part 2.
I've been here in 10-Buck-2 for about 5 months now -far, far from farang land. It has taken me this long to become more of an insider with the locals. I have many friends but I tend to favor talking to females all in the range of 18 and 26 for obvious reasons. A surprising majority of them do not have boyfriends and are not currently dating. I wanted to know why, as many of them are pretty and some are down right beautiful. Three ideas kept surfacing during a number of conversations. 1) Girls and guys are usually doing quite a few activities in smaller groups – therefore the girls don’t feel the extra need for company 2) Guys simply are not asking the girl out! It almost seems as if Thai guys are a bit shy about pursuing. 3) Many of the girls have the strong opinions about Thai guys as being no good (I heard this in Pattaya before). I had one 18 year old girl point out the words “liar” and “lady-killer” in a Thai-English dictionary. Consequently, (you guessed it) these girls have either very few sexual experiences or just none at all. Next time I’ll clue you in on a few secrets for meeting larger numbers of girls in cities like 10-Buck-2.
Remember, they sing the national anthem EVERY morning before school, for the entire duration of their education. I think the message sticks….
May I suggest that anyone considering putting down roots here, take a look at the National Anthem, just for a start? It will give you tremendous insight into the country's mindset, and specifically, their attitude toward foreigners. I think anyone who, after reading a translation of the National Anthem, entertains any thoughts of becoming accepted and assimilated into Thai society, needs to have his head examined! Thais feel a unity and love for one another that is so strong, it excludes all outsiders. That means YOU Farang! Thailand is for Thais EXCLUSIVELY. They very much see the world as consisting of two distinct parts: Thailand, and the outside. They are rabidly nationalistic. Don't get me wrong – It's their country and they have every right to make the rules here, including rules affecting foreigners on their soil. Thais are very gracious hosts, but as hosts, they will always regard Farangs as GUESTS. That's all we are here- GUESTS. And when guests are felt by their hosts to have overstayed their welcome, they can be asked to LEAVE.
Branded for life?
Returning to the hotel with my date for the evening, I saw walking on the pavement just ahead of us a bargirl with a very unusual tattoo on her back, right between the shoulder blades. Clearly visible above her low-slung halter top it said, "Fuck and Forget!" This was a genuine, permanent tattoo- not the fake kind that wash off in a couple of weeks. Now, I've gotten to know quite a few bargirls over the years and some of them have become old friends. I'm always hopeful that the girls with a little intelligence will someday manage to get out of the scene and find something better to do career-wise. It is possible. I know gals who have saved a good-sized nest egg with the goal of starting some sort of business or going back to school. I also know several who have successfully married Farang guys who treat them well. But, what about this young woman with the shocking tattoo? Clearly, she has completely resigned herself to the life of a bargirl. No woman with any hope of ever becoming "respectable" again would have herself branded like that. She might as well have had "WHORE" stencilled on her back. Then, I wondered what other Farang guys would think about it. What kind of guys would barfine a gal with a tattoo like that? Some guys are turned on by a girl that seems to fit some notion they have of a "dirty woman." If she drinks, smokes, spits and swears, they'll bar fine her. For a night or two. Nobody is going to fall in love and marry a girl like that. Well, nobody with a brain, that is. This girl obviously feels permanently doomed to this lifestyle. She has given up all hope for anything better, and with a tattoo she has sealed her fate. How sad.
About Visas.
They're getting tougher for many reasons. Pressure from US about letting anyone in? Growing number of paedophiles in Thai jails? Hordes of poor whites taking the easy way out and not putting enough cash in? Less chance of getting a back hander as things tighten up? General desire in some quarters to reduce reputation re; nightlife. Westerners staring to commit serious crimes? etc…
Perhaps….
For me, the ugliest girls in the world are to be found in New Zealand. You can blame the diet, but half the female population could win an olympic gold medal at shot put if they trained. When you do meet a pretty one, she is likely to take you to task for eating meat or offering to carry her books. Yep, Kiwi girls take the biscuit, with the Aussies not far behind.

The floating market at Ratchaburi.

Notwithstanding that all of bars on Soi Cowboy have signs outside stating that no-one under the age of 20 is allowed inside, one bar has a 17 year old mamasan! Yep, you read that right, 17. While she should be at school learning her ABC, this young lass is there to guide all of the new girls in the industry, liaise with customers and generally oversee things!

Did you know that the new Shark bar in Soi Cowboy is actually owned by the Crown Group? Is it that they are expanding their business, or that they are concerned about Nana Plaza losing favour, and are thus hedging their bets by opening new outlets elsewhere? Also, this is the third bar to open in the last 18 months featuring multiple floors with the top floor made of glass, allowing you to peak up the girl's skirts a la Bacarra and Mandarin. But there is a SERIOUS design flaw and the glass floor is far too small, meaning that for most of the folks seated downstairs, the view is somewhat limited…and you can only see a very small part of the action.

And speaking of other new bars, I made it into the recently renovated Cactus Bar for the first time this week. Now this is another new Cowboy bar that opened perhaps a month or so ago, but like Shark bar, it suffers from another SERIOUS design flaw. The bar is narrow, just one shophouse wide, like so many of the Soi Cowboy bars. But what they have done in the renovation is put the gogo stage running through the middle of the bar with just a small amount of room on either side to walk past and to sit. With this somewhat limited amount of room, the seating is not the usual comfortable chairs our lazy backsides are accustomed to in gogo bars but rather less comfortable stools. Stools do not keep customers comfortable for very long. As nicely done out as this bar is, I predict that many customers will stay for just one drink and leave for elsewhere, in search of a more comfortable seat.

I notice one exit / entrance of the still under construction new BTS station at the Asoke intersection comes up right beside the Asoke Plaza beer bar area. Hmmm, it is hard to see these beer bars staying there too long at all.

A new Hard Rock Cafe will be opening in Thailand and the big opening should be in April. Phuket will be home to the third Hard Rock Cafe in the Kingdom, and the high prices of the Hard Rock will no doubt fit in nicely with the niche in the market that Patong beach has, being the highest priced beach in Thailand.

Opening hours in Pattaya seem to have been relaxed again, especially at the weekend with late night clubs operating an informal "rotation" system. Marine disco is the first to get going and winds down around 3 AM just when the Marine Two club opens for a couple of hours. Around 5 AM the party swings around the Boom which can take you through to breakfast time. A word of warning however, the later it gets, the more punters seem to be taking more drugs. It would only take one dawn raid by the boys in brown to place a lot of people in a most embarrassing situation!

Still in Pattaya, Ken of Living Doll fame has bought Blackout A Gogo and plans to close it at the end of the month. It will undergo extensive redecoration – basically having its guts ripped out – the stage is far too big anyway – and more seating added. Ken promises it to be a "different kind of gogo" with the emphasis on costumes and shows. Given the success Ken has had at turning around Living Doll, formerly the dreary Dream A Gogo, I am looking forward to seeing what he can come up with this time.

The 10 year anniversary party of the Bangkok Blues Society will be held on 1st October at Check-Inn 99 with The Blues Factory House Band and they have got a great promotion that night, for just three hours. From 6:00 – 9:00 PM, it will be 10 baht beers and a buffet for 10 baht. So you can get dinner and a beer for 20 baht. Expect serious numbers of the city's underpaid, under-nourished English teachers to be there at those prices… If you don't know this place, it is that odd bar that you have walked past 100 times not far from the Nana intersection which has a dwarf standing outside.

I've had a few emails this week from people complaining abut the cost of non-alcoholic drinks at the Dollhouse gogo bars. Some people were outraged that a Coke or a water is 90 baht. Yes, that is expensive. But this is the same price as is charged in a lot of bars! Admittedly, some bars do give discounts on non-alcoholic drinks, but we are not talking a great deal of difference in most cases. And remember, the Dollhouse does do one thing that VERY few other bars do and that is have price lists clearly displayed on all of the tables. Check the prices first, you tight assed English teachers!

The Siam Intercontinental is slowly being dismantled.

I heard a rumour this week about McDonalds on Ko Samui and how the prices for everything there are exactly double that of the McDonalds branches in Bangkok. While this doesn't sound right, it did come from someone that I trust and apparently the reason for it is that Samui is an island and getting everything transported there is costly. Also, rumour has it that beers cost 160 baht at the gogo bar on Samui. Has my leg been pulled good and proper this time?

Sometimes the folks responsible for doing the subtitles for movies in the local cinemas just don't get it right. Understandably, there are some things that are very difficult to translate between Thai and English and the translation is close, but not really right. This is understandable, even acceptable. But there are other times when they mess it up totally, and the meaning is quite simply wrong. But what is most interesting of all is when in an English language movie, you have a scene with characters talking in a foreign language, such as Nicole Kidman talking Russian in "The Birthday Girl". While it appears that the original film maker's never translated these segments into English and the meaning wasn't necessary, the Thai translator must have got hold of a Russian speaking pal and got those scenes translated too! There was one scene too when someone is whispering and it is not audible at all, yet the Thai translator still translated it!

I was chatting with a friend the other day when he said something that sort of caught me out, but when I thought about it, I believe that it makes a lot of sense. A local professional who has to meet with a lot of Thais in various business situations, he said that it "is expected that he will have a nice girlfriend". Having a lower class girl is sadly, totally unacceptable in a business environment. Having no girlfriend may rise eyebrows about both his sexuality and even his status and his ability to succeed in both life and business may be questioned. Yes, in many circles it is EXPECTED that a successful farang will have a nice local girl hanging off his shoulder.

I have always wondered about this Asian practice of hanging the washing out on the balcony of the apartment to dry. What happens if a gust of wind comes along? Usually the occupants rush out to the balcony and take it inside before that happens. Well, as I write this on Friday afternoon, one of my neighbours just lost several pieces of washing to an unexpected gust and they got blown out of sight! Som num na!

If you are in the Bangkapi area, there is a scary freak show on the 2nd or third floor of The Mall. You peak through these slits in the glass and see a bunch of sloppily dressed weirdoes prancing around. Many need a haircut and most need some fashion advice. The show is actually free but for the brave, if you pay a couple of thousand baht, you can actually enter a room and watch these freaks up close for a couple of hours each week for several weeks.

It's a long road ahead of us all, gentlemen. I just heard a story this week about an 86 year old American gentleman living down On-nut way. His 28 year old wife is currently 4 months pregnant, after just giving birth to their first a few months back. Obviously the fellow feels he has something to prove because he also has a mia noi too!

Casey, the extremely pleasant and friendly manager of Midnite Bar was given his marching orders. Not sure quite what happened but I have always found him to be a perfect gentleman and imagine he would have been a great bar manager. Remember that this same thing happened to Mike who became known as Midnite Mike. Beware ye who accept the position of manager at Midnite because it seems that they give you your marching orders before you have been there 12 months.

And Mike has just disappeared from Dollhouse Clinton too! Is it full moon or something because these bar managers are dropping like flies!

It looks like that month when it rains heavily for a month or so has just started in the capital. Every year we wonder if we have been spared the rainy season – and every year it never fails to arrive.

One has to laugh. I got the weekly column up last week about 8:00 PM Sunday, Bangkok time and this week, I even beat the previous 6:00 PM Sunday deadline. So, best I can do is say that it will either be released Sunday night, or if not then, try Monday before 6. Actually, it look like Sunday deadlines will be met more and more over the next 5-6 weeks, if not longer.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick