Stickman's Weekly Column December 29th, 2002

Is The Countryside For Me?



After my first visit to Bangkok, I couldn't wait to leave. The chaotic traffic, the unabating heat and perhaps more than anything, the filthy, heavy air that I felt I could almost chew, all affected me in such a way that I wanted out – and fast. Funnily enough, just a few days after my return to boring old New Zealand, I started to crave Thailand and with work issues becoming problematic, it was less than a year later I left NZ for what I thought would be just a year or two…

I never intended to relocate to Bangkok but sort of just ended up here and I have to say that while I never liked the city on my first visit, I do enjoy living here now. There are many reasons for this but it could perhaps be narrowed down to a few key points. The variety of things to do from the huge number of good restaurants to eat at, many cinemas with all of the latest movies in English and lots of good shops provide you with many choices for your free time. Being the capital and far and away the largest city in the Kingdom, there are of course a lot of other Westerners to get to know and socialise with, and importantly, lots of jobs.

Until recently, whenever I went away from Bangkok, be it within Thailand or overseas, I always found myself wanting to return to the big city. I felt like I was returning home. But over the past year or so, trips out of Bangkok have left me with a slightly different feeling. Contrary to how I felt in the past, there have been a few occasions recently when I simply didn't want to return to Bangkok. I have started to look more closely at my choice of living in Bangkok and have thought about where else I would go if I was to leave Bangkok.

Visiting Singapore earlier this year really made me realise just what I am missing out on. I had forgotten about many of the positive things from the West, simply remembering the negatives. And when my mate BangkokPhil sent me an email recently about how he had visited Kuala Lumpur and how it made Bangkok look a bit primitive, even more fuel was added to the fire.

For now, my life is in Thailand so discussing the idea of living elsewhere is not an issue, so I'll look at an alternative place to live within Thailand.

Having recently become engaged to one of the lovely maidens of Korat, I have found myself spending some time in the city of Korat. Just 250 km northeast of Bangkok, Korat is, depending on which numbers you go by, either the second or third largest city in Thailand. It is commonly referred to as the gateway to Isaan, although many people in Korat will tell you that Korat is not Isaan!

I had visited Korat a couple of times previously and truth be told, I found it dull and boring. I found little to see and do, and I guess that as far as tourist destinations go, there really isn't much there. But, visiting the city with a local is a quite different experience, and when looking at it as a possible alternative to as a pace to settle, it has potential. In fact there is something about Korat that grabbed me on recent, albeit brief, visits.

So, just what is it that Korat has that has touched me? What can a provincial Thai capital have, that the great metropolis of Bangkok does not?

The first thing you notice about Korat, like everywhere in Thailand, is that it is MUCH smaller than Bangkok. You can drive through the city in a relatively short amount of time and the traffic is nothing like Bangkok. It makes you realise that Bangkok really is a huge pain in the ass to get around.

Everything, and I mean everything, is cheaper in Korat. Food is much cheaper, getting around is much cheaper, and major purchases like houses are a lot cheaper too. But, this is all offset by the fact that getting work in a place like Korat is not easy, and jobs in provincial centres pay a lot lower than a comparable position in the capital. Furthermore, there are far fewer farangs living there than Bangkok, and with Bangkok being something of an intellectual graveyard at times, one might just about go stir crazy in a place like Korat if intellectual stimulation is even remotely important to you.

The Mall opened a huge great shopping centre in Korat a couple of years back, but it is one of these shopping centres that targets Thais, sort of like The Mall Bangkapi, Seacon Square etc, and most of what is in there will appeal to farangs about as much as a bowl of som tum boo will. An Emporium, Siam Discovery Centre or Mahboonkrong it isn't.

Could I live in Korat? Hmmm, tough question. Once one has settled down in life and assuming they no longer require the madness that Bangkok is famous for, a city like Korat might just satisfy. It is very typically Thai but when compared to the capital it has few of the creature comforts that make Bangkok such an easy place to live for a foreigner. Take away these creature comforts and life is not quite as easy.

To survive in a city like Bangkok, you would have to WANT to live the Thai lifestyle. The lifestyle lead by so many farangs in Bangkok is most certainly not typical of the way Thais live!

Somewhere like Korat would allow a Westerner to lead a typically Thai lifestyle with certain creature comforts at a very low cost. However, I have to wonder to myself just how many would want to live like this. If you speak Thai well, are content living on Thai food most of the time and genuinely enjoy the Thai way of life, then a place like Korat could be for you. If you require interaction with farangs and all of your farang comforts, then I doubt you'd survive in a place like Korat. Important note: I refer to the city of Korat here and NOT the countryside.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was Central Chidlom

This week's pic

First to get last weeks pic right won $25 worth of goodies from the good guys at ClubHombre.com. The picture from last week was of Central Chidlom with all of the extra lights that they erect at this time of year. Remember, there are TWO prizes offered for the where is this pic. First person to get the pic right, irrespective of location, wins the prize of $25 worth of goodies from ClubHombre. In addition to this, the first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a tube of MyCreme sexsational cream. You MUST be in Bangkok to claim this particular prize which will be delivered to you. So, to all Bangkok based folks, make it clear in your email that you are Bangkok based so that you qualify for the cream that will send your teeruk to heaven!

The most disgusting thing I have read recently…

I have been sending a small proportion of my salary to the tilac in Isaan enabling her to live with her 9 year old daughter. Recently, I was back in Asia and we spent a couple of quite idyllic weeks together but I was quite disturbed at something she told me: apparently adults in her Isaan village, having discovered the nature of her previous employment, are going up to her daughter and telling her that they expect her to follow her mother's career path in the near future. I find it horrifying that people should do this to an adorable 9 year old who, since the return of her mother, has really settled down, is working hard at school, taking extra courses and become absolutely determined to escape the poverty in which most of her family has been trapped.
Not an uncommon problem.
Last summer in the month of July I went on holiday to Thailand. I visited Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Pattaya. I had a good time. But last week I got a message from my bank about a problem with my VISA card. Somebody used my card in Australia, but I never went there! Now the bank thinks that somebody made a copy, during my stay in Thailand. I know where they made the copy because I only used this card one time. I prefer using my ATM. I am sending this mail as a warning to other people, do not use your VISA in the Thai gold shops in Pattaya more specific Pattaya Klang. Watch out!
Why Thais say cancel, confirm and clear!
It didn't strike me, but when I showed a buddy that had never been to Thailand the snippet from last week's column about Thais using the English words "cancel", "confirm", and "clear" mixed in with their Thai, his first reaction was "those are all buttons on an ATM!" Come to think of it they are also common mobile phone (SMS) menu options. Somehow an ATM or mobile phone being the source of new lingo for younger Thais seems to "ring" very true!
Pattaya leaves a lot to be desired.
Pattaya is a crazy place to live. Most westerners here are tourists, and they only stay a few weeks, at most. The expats are a weird bunch: There's the geriatric set, living on a meagre retirement pension, sitting all day and night on the benches lining the beach boardwalk, clutching large bottles of cheap Chang beer and chatting with the dregs of the whores- diseased, old, battle scarred hookers who look like they've been at it since the Tet offensive. Then there's the younger guys, with no legitimate means of earning an income, yet desperate to stay here with the bargirl they fell in love with. Or maybe they're hiding out, on the lam from some crime they committed in their home country. Thailand looks like a safe haven, so they set up their mafia operations here. I really don't see many respectable-looking westerners; just criminals and crusty, old perverts! So, I keep to myself mostly, and limit my social interaction to pillow talk with uneducated farm girls. The sex can be good, but other than that, this lifestyle leaves a lot to be desired.
Who knows what really happened?
Perhaps you could publicise the disgusting scenes I witnessed in Patpong on Sunday night. A lone Western guy was set upon by a rabid pack of "brave" Thai men and bar girls on Patpong soi 2, outside Foodland at around 2.30 AM, just after bar closing. Already bleeding from a head wound the poor guy was doing his best to defend himself until the odds became overwhelming and he tried to flee for his life, but he was chased and caught by the mob. These Thai men were trying smash his skull with bricks and bits of paving stone. Eventually, a couple of security guards intervened and saved the poor bloke from being lynched. I got the story from several Thai witnesses who, to there credit, said that he was the victim of a completely unprovoked attack by a couple of farang hating bar girls. The o-so-brave Thai men just wanted to join in to prove what fearless and brave people the Thais are. The guy was taken to the police box on Surawongse road, where no-doubt the police will have blamed the farang, as they always seem to do. He was eventually taken away in a police pick-up truck. I just hope the poor guy is not sitting in jail right now. To be sure the Thai attackers will have been back at the scene of their crime the very next night looking for more innocent victims.
A "broad-minded, modern farang woman" speaks…
I'm a 22 year old female English and music teacher working here, and obviously love Bangkok and all it offers me. It is just highly disturbing how few farang females there are here, and how it is assumed (by me, increasingly more, unfortunately) that if you're a farang here you're here for the prostitution or easy women. I find it unacceptable and am a normal, broadminded, modern woman. It's unbelievable to me how 'normal' it's become. I'm living with my farang boyfriend, who finds it hilarious that everyone assumes he's here for the sex industry. Most of his work colleagues think he's a little crazy to be attached to a farang girl whilst living in such a haven for people who want to pay for sex. He just points out that he didn't have a problem finding girls to sleep with in the UK, but if you went around shagging everything you found attractive in a bar (and he prefers blondes like myself, who are a little less easy in my country), you'd be a social outcast and seen as a pretty crappy person. Being a relatively moral person, he thinks the way the sex tourists here have become the social norm here is just crazy.

The World Trade Centre will be mad on New Year's Eve as hundreds
of thousands come to celebrate – and then battle to find a taxi home!

Although the Gold Class cinema at Grand EGV in Siam Discovery charges a hefty 500 baht a ticket, I note that tickets still sell fast. Even in it's second week, James Bond was sold out 4 hours before show time. You gotta get in quick!

And I notice that for Lord Of The Rings, many cinemas jacked up the prices by 20 baht. This seems to be common for really long movies, especially those which exceed three hours.

Rajadamri Road, the place where lots of farangs can be found strolling around, looking at all of the amazing lights and neon, is now home to packs of working girls! Exactly where they have come from, I don't know, but they may well be the Lumpini girls searching for trade, or possibly some of Sukumvit's finest following the farang gravy train up Ploenchit.

An English gentleman resident in the Kingdom for a few years would like to get together with interested amateur musicians for jamming and possible band formation. Interested parties should contact Eddie at [email protected] Particularly interested in blues and swing jazz.

Fancy a night in but can’t face cooking? Room Service is a great idea. One phone call and an hour later a guy appears at your door with food from your favourite Bangkok restaurant. The company's neat gimmick is that the guy is dressed like a bellboy from a five star hotel and he presents you with a single red rose along with your meal! There's a minimum order of 200 baht, and a 30 baht delivery charge for each restaurant visited. I reckon it’s a bargain. The latest restaurant to sign up with Room Service is my old favourite Woodstock. They offer their full menu with hamburgers starting at 130 baht, roast beef sandwiches at 185 baht, and a sirloin steak with all the trimmings at 280 baht. David Walls’s superb French restaurant Les Chevaliers in Sukhumvit Soi 3 has also signed up with the company. Call Room Service on 02 299 0992 and get them to send you a menu.

Word in Soi Cowboy is that the recent fire there was caused by a bargirl lighting a candle at a shrine in the hope of increasing her chances of having a lucky night. Just goes to show that your prayers aren’t always answered!

A friend bumped into a gogo dancer in Pattaya that he's known for a year or so. She was dressed in civvies and he asked her why she wasn’t dancing. ‘I’m here with my boyfriend,’ she said. The boyfriend was at the bar knocking back pints with his mates. He was a British guy, not much older than she was. Seems he's paying her fifty thousand baht a month, plus another fifteen thousand to send back to her parents. Good money by any standards. He told her how lucky she was to have such a generous sponsor but she pulled a face. ‘Boring,’ she says. ‘All we do is eat or go to the bars. I think I’ll finish with him next month and start dancing again.’ Just goes to show, not all bargirls want to be rescued!

Pink Panther in Patong lost their license, but have managed to reopen under a new name "The Height". Not too sure what they mean by that name though! Not sure how they managed to organise new licenses so quickly, but I guess "baht" can do anything.

Customers are up in arms over the 1000 baht bar fines that many bars charge at this time of year. But the word is that customers are parting with 1000 which must really make the bar owners think about increasing the prices to these levels permanently. See my new year predictions below…

Celebrate New Year's Eve at the Living Room where regular drinks will be 75 baht all evening. The Soi Dogs Blues Band will play from 9:30 PM until late and the DJ will bring in the new year at midnight when the Living Room will provide the complementary bubbly.

Yep, more of the WTC….nice at night.

Notices up in the toilets of at least one Nana Plaza gogo bar state that any girl who fails to show up for work on Christmas Eve will be docked 1,000 baht and any girl who fails to come to work on New Year's Eve will be docked a whopping 2,000 baht. While these nights are often a bonanza for the bar owners, these penalties placed upon the girls are totally unfair and show an unreasonably harsh attitude on the part of the bar owners which is totally against the spirit of this time of year.

The motorbikes have not yet returned to the entrance way at Nana. With all of the concern recently about how some madman might try and drive a bomb into the main entrance way at Nana, the bikes did provide some sort of barrier, largely preventing this.

Those of us who live in Bangkok look forward to the cool season, the short respite from the oppressively hot weather that we suffer most of the year. Unfortunately it appears that someone forgot to give the big man upstairs the instructions and he hasn't turned the dial to "cool season". It's as hot as hell in the capital although in the North and Northeast it has cooled down a lot. Where we sometimes see expats wandering around in light jackets and jerseys in the period between Christmas and New Year, most have a handkerchief in their hand, dabbing away at the beads of sweat rolling off their head.

If anyone from Burger King is reading this, your staff could do with some English training. And if any entrepreneurial teachers are reading this, you could do a lot worse than approach Burger King with an English course in mind.

The Mad Stockbroker would like to ask a question about girls who have worked in the bar industry for a while and who have become conditioned to having sex more frequently than most. His question is "How do they feel when they don't get a bit for a while. Do they miss it and require it – or is the quality of the sex so bad that they just forget it?" Hell, I've got no idea! My answer to him was that women's sexual appetites seem to increase with age and that would be more relevant than whether the woman in question had worked in a bar or not. This all came about when we were talking about divers who often get it for free with bargirls… What do you think?

I received a lot of email this week from readers concerned that I would eliminate nightlife coverage from the column. Yep, I know many live for their weekly Bangkok naughty nightlife fix! Don't worry, such coverage will remain, but will NOT be the major focus. Believe me, you'll get bored of it one day…

Someone commented recently to me about the risk to tourism in Thailand posed by bin Laden and his cronies. It was suggested that one attack could cripple the tourism industry here. I tend to see things differently. Thailand has many tourists who return here, loyally, year after year, and I really do not think these people would stop coming unless there were a series of attacks. Admittedly I am much less familiar with the dynamics of tourism in Indonesia than in Thailand, but I really do feel that people will keep coming back to Thailand, just about no matter what. So many people really do love it here, and we all know it is an unbeatable place for a holiday.

Think you can always spot a ladyboy? It isn't as easy as you think, even outside the Land of Smiles. Visit http://www.henry.martinez.net/misc/femaleorshemale.htm and check out the quiz there!

I was going to comment on the predictions that I made this time last year, but really, I think that is a bit lame, so I'll just bore you with a few predictions for Bangkok and Thailand in 2003.

EXPAT LIVING

– There will be a backlash of negative feeling against the skytrain as it gets busier and busier, and people start to acknowledge and complain that the the skytrains themselves are not frequent enough, and don't have enough carriages, amongst other issues.
– More and more local restaurant chains will open.
– Traffic will get worse and worse as the economy picks up.
– Tourist numbers will continue to increase as more and more people discover what a fantastic place this is for a holiday. This may result in hotel prices increasing further, notwithstanding that many of the better places are overprices – YES, overpriced, already.
– More and more foreigners will relocate here, many of them working remotely with the internet vital to their business.

TEACHING

– Little change in the industry, although there will be more and more qualified teachers battling for the better jobs, meaning that some of the more choosy language schools will have a full contingent of qualified teachers – which is a good thing.
– More Thai high schools will hire farangs, meaning that the total number of teaching positions will increase. Many will be filled by people teaching for all of the wrong reasons. Sad.

NAUGHTY NIGHTLIFE

– There will be some major price increases by the bars in the first half of 2003 in Bangkok as bar owners rightly realise that tourists, the bulk of their customers, will bitch and moan about the price increases – but keep coming back to the bars nonetheless. The Philippines is dying and Cambodia is still a bit much for many to handle. Nowhere compares to Bangkok and the bar owners know that they have the product.
– Soi Cowboy's popularity will drop off as prices down there reach Nana levels. Unfortunately, "Nana attitude and prices" seem to have reached Cowboy, but the beauties remain in Soi 4.
– Sukumvit Square will reflect Clinton Plaza – promise so much but never really deliver.
– There will be a high profile case of a Westerner contracting HIV from a Thai bargirl. How this will effect things, I don't know.

I trust you didn't overdo it at Christmas – like I did (and do every year…) – and I hope that New Year brings you all that you deserve. Many thanks to everyone who has read and supported this column over the past year, to the hundreds of people who send email every week and to the thousands who read it. While at times putting this column together gives me a headache, and has been responsible for more than a few grey hairs, I still very much enjoy putting it all together. Some people said the column wouldn't last 6 months, but here we are, just three months away from the two year mark. Stickman Weekly is here to stay!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick