Stickman's Weekly Column January 19th, 2003

Earnings In Bangkok



Most Westerners working in Thailand earn a salary many times more than a local could ever dream of, even though they are essentially doing the same job. With the great emphasis on face in Thai society and the way they locals are so often trying to out do each other, it is quite frankly amazing that many Westerners do not suffer a backlash of hatred from locals who are jealous at the whopping great salaries that many Westerners working in Thailand are paid.

But just how much do Westerners working in the Kingdom make compared to the locals? Are the salaries paid to outsiders really that much higher? First, let's look at the most popular occupation of all for foreigners, English teachers. The average Bangkok English teacher makes around 35,000 baht a month and of this lot, I'd guess that the average teacher probably has around 2-3 years experience teaching. If we compare that with a Thai national teaching English with 2-3 years experience, I can report they earn a paltry 7,000 baht a month! At the other end of the scale in the executive and senior management positions of large companies, there is more than the odd farang pulling a 500,000+ baht a month salary with many, many benefits on top including car and driver, accommodation, maids, expense account etc. A Thai national in a similar position heading a company could, depending on the size of the company, expect to earn around 100,000 – 150,000+ benefits baht a month. Using these two examples, we can see that Westerners typically earn around five times what a Thai national does FOR THE SAME JOB.

The question that must then be asked is whether the high salaries paid to foreigners are justified or not. The simple fact of the matter is that in some fields, the expertise simply doesn't exist locally and if Thailand and Thai companies wish to make use of the expertise, they have to pay market prices, which in baht terms may seem very high. But in most cases, these salaries are no higher (and may even be lower) than what the foreigner would earn in their homeland. Remember, demand exists in Thailand for the positions held by foreigners because the locals simply can't do it, or not enough of them are qualified / able to perform these roles satisfactorily. That is why they issue us with work permits. We are considered experts in our field, or at least looked at as being able to offer something that the local can't.

But we still haven't answered the original question. Does a foreigner who is paid five times more than the local would earn justify his / her salary? It is very difficult to examine the work output in any position and make accurate comparisons, but anecdotal evidence is nonetheless interesting. Certainly, in the case of English teachers, one has to question the wisdom of a school paying (on average) 35,000 baht a month for a foreigner when a Thai teacher would do it for around 7,000. In most cases, but not all, the Westerner speaks better English, and if qualified (truth be told, not that many are actually qualified to teach English), probably has better teaching techniques. The Westerner will use Western teaching techniques – which is exactly what they are paid to do. However, not all Thai students respond positively to such techniques. It seems that the whole Thai education system still revolves around rote learning and Thai students are used to being told information, write it down and then forced to memorize it, regurgitate it at exam time, and then largely forget it. A Westerner in the classroom who demands that students get involved and use their initiative and actually participate, may find students reluctant to get involved, and these students may very well get less out of the class than they would with a Thai teacher!

And this is where the big problem lies. While Westerners working in Thailand earning comparatively high salaries are paid to do things the Western way, Thais may not respond to those Western ways! In some situations they will respond positively, but in others, they won't, meaning that the salary paid is in effect a bad investment, and a Thai employee might actually be more effective.

As foreigners who are well paid here, and that is virtually of us who are gainfully employed, we have a responsibility not only to the Thais to do the very best that we can, but also to our fellow Westerners. The Thais just love the chance to knock Westerners off our perceived high horses, and a high salary that is not matched with quality work will give them plenty of ammunition.

There is more than a little resentment from many Thais who see Westerners earning what they consider whopping great salaries and living the high life in Thailand. Envy runs deep in Thailand and the average Thai person likes to be seen to be enjoying life. So for Thai people viewing some of the farang residents of Thailand doing things that they know (because of the high salaries) that they could never afford can be a bitter pill to swallow. And if these particular farangs and perceived to be doing no more than an average job, or God forbid a bad job, then the resentment can turn into even stronger emotions.

The Thais have their own way of doing things. Frustratingly it can so often seem that they have THEIR way of doing almost everything. And this is where the foreigner working in Thailand can come unstuck. Even the foreigner with the highest professional standards and the very best intentions can find him or or herself cast aside as the locals find the Westerner's ways abrasive, questionable, or perhaps even quite simply wrong – and certainly not suitable for the Thai workplace.

It seems to me that those foreigners working in Thailand who are most successful are those who are not only very good at their job, but who also try to understand the Thai way of doing things and do their level best to adapt and fit in, without completely compromising their professional integrity.

In conclusion, many foreigners are paid highly in Thailand and are seen by locals to be beneficiaries of the system without really making a contribution commensurate with their salary. In certain positions, the supply of expertise simply doesn't exist locally and hence the locals are forced to look abroad. It must also be said that the locals are so often paid poorly.

Due to the inherent envy of money in Thai society, this situation won't change. However, foreigners who flaunt their earnings in the faces of locals while doing a piss poor job will not do any of us any good at all. Compared to the locals, most of us Westerners are paid well. We should therefore pull our socks up in the workplace and do the best we can.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was Starbucks Thong Law.

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 the new Starbucks branch on Soi Tonglaw – NOT the old branch. This week's picture is a lot more difficult because Jake Needham told me that they were getting too easy. OK Jake, where is this one? (Actually, I'm fairly confident that you will get this one…) 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!

THIS WEEK'S MOST INTERESTING EMAILS:

Wallets with legs?

I was in Pattaya late one night, sitting in BJ's bar when a baht bus stopped directly in front of the bar and a single European passenger got out. The farang had used the baht bus as a taxi. After a brief argument the farang grudgingly gave the driver a 100 baht note. At that time the going rate was about 25 – 40 baht. The baht bus driver proudly waved the red bill for all the girls behind the bar to see. They all looked on approvingly.
I said in my near perfect Thai "Farang ngo, mee ngern mak." (Stupid foreigners have a lot of money). The bargirls all agreed, laughed and repeated what I had said with big smiles. A few minutes later, I said Khon Thai chalat, mee ngern noi (Thais don't have much money but are smart). The girls again approved and continued smiling and laughing. It seemed they enjoyed talking (in Thai) to a farang who clearly understood. I then kept repeating over and over, louder each time: Farang ngo, mee ngern mak. Khon Thai chalat, mee ngern noi. Very, very slowly all the laughs and smiles disappeared. Embarrassed that they were now losing face, things turned ugly instantaneously. Some of the girls picked up the ashtrays in a threatening manner. I quickly slipped out of the bar and just around the corner. I smiled and laughed. Thais think foreigners are just wallets with legs.
Be aware at all times.
I got robbed first time ever in a massage parlour on Soi 23. After 100's of massages over the years it happened to me. I admit I had grown rather complacent never even feeling the hint of being ripped off or robbed. But I did catch them almost in the act. While showering, I heard someone leaving my massage cubicle, when I opened the shower door saw the manager, katoey, going down the steps. Suspecting something was up checked my pockets, sure enough 1000 baht note was missing. Started to get dressed, yelling in Thai language bullshit, thief, police. The massage girl came in asked what was wrong, I repeated in Thai police, thief, bullshit, I telephone now. She ran to the manager he, she, came back in the room an conveniently tripped over my 100 baht note on the other side of the room I had not even walked too. Got my money back and left. Please tell you readers to beware of the Relax Zone Sukhumvit Soi 23, the first massage place you come to heading away from Sukhumvit and on the opposite side of the street after passing Soi Cowboy.
Who are the second class people in Thailand? The poor or the farangs?
I thought I'd share my opinion with you. The Thai People: Maybe I'm just a negative person and seem to remember the bad before the good…maybe I spent some of my time around places where the best of Thai people were not represented…I felt that "the land of smiles" is an appropriate title, but it seemed to me the only time anyone really smiled was either, A: When they talk with the people around them about you and laugh. B: When they try to rip you off (and it felt like everyone was trying) C: When you're looking at them and they're trying to pretend they don't hate you. D: When they relieve you of you baht…I don't want to be crass but feel I must and use a quote from an acquaintance "We're the ni**ers here". I found that to be accurate at times.
Can't buy me love?
I use to have an American girlfriend who felt loved when you made her jealous. At the same time, she would try to make me feel jealous. I hated it. But, for her, she needed to feel jealous. Some girls feel loved when you listen to them. Some girls feel loved when you buy them stuff. Some girls feel loved when you have sex with them. Some girls feel loved when you make them jealous. Some girls feel loved when you hold them. Some girls feel loved when you make them laugh. It seems like Thais feel love when you buy them stuff. They may like the status of expensive gifts. They may feel powerful. But, aside from those things, I am asking if there is a pure or noble side to the desire for gifts. It seems this way because Thai girls seem to tell me how much stuff there boyfriend bought them when telling me how much he loved her. I also notice that the emphasis is on how much he loved her. They don't seem to talk about how much they love him.
Do other golfers concur?
I myself am an avid golfer and Thailand is one of the best places to play in the world. Would be better it the courses had fewer Thais playing the game since their behaviour on the course sometimes equals their behaviour behind the wheel of a car! Golf is supposed to be a "gentlemen's game" you know…
Do a Carl Lewis and bolt!
I feel sorry for the reader who had the shit kicked out of him outside <bar name edited> last week. I'm sure he did nothing to deserve it. But you have to ask what he was doing taking a Thai girl to a go-go bar at 5 in the morning. Without the full picture, it is difficult to make judgements. I happen to believe that there are some people in this world who attract unwelcome attention wherever they go. Whether it be bad vibes, a facial expression, or just bad luck, I can't explain it. My advice to anyone who finds themselves in a potentially dangerous situation is to RUN, regardless of whether you are guilty or not. By trying to explain your way out of trouble to a drunk or unreasonable aggressor in a language he doesn't understand well, you risk inflaming him even more and giving other hostile elements the time to gather and support him. Another piece of advice I would offer when going to a dodgy bar is to always sit near the exit door. And wear a comfortable pair of sneakers.
* Important Note: The reader who supplied the story in last week's column about the fracas at the bar does not quite seem to know where it happened. First he said it was one of the Rainbow bars and then he changed it to another bar. I am now wondering whether it even happened or was something that occurred in a drunken dream.
Temptations Bar in Nana was raided by the police last Tuesday night and two underage girls were taken to the police station. The word is that Temptations are looking at a 30 day closure for not listening to warnings. They are licensed so they will receive the full penalty.

This past Friday night police raided Rainbow 3 at 1 AM. Again, lights on and the girls ID's were all checked. Absolutely ridiculous on a packed Friday night though for now at least, it seems as though they are just hitting the smaller bars. I can't see Rainbow 2 or Bottoms Up being checked myself, or at least not without a big warning beforehand. It will never ever be a level playing field. So that is a few bars being raided in Nana this week – pretty serious stuff.

Mandarin Bar, who were also the employer of a purported large number of underage girls, appear to have escaped by the skin of their teeth due to a legal technicality – apparently they do not have an official document (license) so they cannot receive a closure. Work that one out if you can! Mandarin had it coming to them as they kept on employing these young girls and some of them are not even Thai nationals but rather Cambodians or Laotians who had been sneaked across the border. When will they ever learn? Look at the seemingly untouchable Long Gun being closed. No bar is untouchable.

The latest Nanapong dance contest, number XXII (that's #22 for you non Romans) will be held in Cascade Bar in Nana Plaza. Now this is an excellent choice of venue because the bar is huge – and these contests sure do attract a lot of punters. The contest will be held on Sunday 2nd February 2003 and will kick off around 8.30 PM. Admission is free. 20 girls will be competing for the 10,000 baht first prize. Rumour has it that the boys might be taking a few months off after this one…but then you just never know what they might do.

Closing times at the bars in Nana are slipping back later and later. Hollywood Strip which seems to be about the most popular bar in Nana at present closed around 2.15 AM, Sunday and Monday 2.20 AM, so things are looking quite good for the night owls. Compared to recent times, there has been little police presence. Nana is really buzzing at the moment.

After 2 AM the sois near Living Room and Thermae are packed with punters sitting at cheap tables drinking cheap beer. Seems strange that all the Thai Government has achieved with enforcing 2 AM closure is putting people on the streets, which surely is more of a menace.

With a seeming increase in reported violence against farangs in Bangkok, it may not be a bad idea to be aware of the tourist police telephone number. In the situation where you think things may get out of hand, dialling 1699 and shoving the phone at the Thai in pursuit of you may get you out of trouble, but then again it may not. Still, its worth a try. One thing I have found is that in the case of confrontation, Thais cannot always be reasoned with.

Getting back to the piece from a week or two back about a farang only casino, it appears that the area targeted for one of the casinos is……Koh Chang! All that construction and road building over there makes sense now…along with the new airport in Trat!!

Feedback coming out of Phuket is that there has been a major change in the mix of the tourists visiting the paradise island. It seems that more and more families are booking trips to the pearl of the Andaman, meaning less hotel rooms for sex tourists. This has resulted in les business for the bargirls and some have started voting with their feet – and have relocated elsewhere, some purportedly all the way to Pattaya!

The Pattaya bus station has been done up recently.

Remember my opening piece in the column a few weeks back about farangs photographing and / or filming bargirls? Well, it would seem that some naughty farangs are in deep, deep shit for doing just that. Thai Rath reported on January 8 that a Swiss national was arrested on charges of making lewd movies, of which it is alleged that he was the star alongside Patpong bar girls! Just to exacerbate things, he was found with heroin in his apartment and a dodgy French passport. Seems that he will be another long term guest in one of HM's establishments – what a frightening prospect! Perhaps this was reported in the English language press, but if it was, I missed it. And all over the press this week was the story of a British national who it is alleged had photographs of Thai boys aged 7 to 13. If true, this guy is one sick fxxx. This fellow was caught at Don Muang, exiting the country with a video camera and digital still camera and apparently all manner of naughty material, some of which he had already put online on his pay site. Dear oh dear, just what is the world coming to? With the huge popularity of digital cameras and the number of punters who are photographing these girls in shall we say, compromising positions, I just wonder how many more people will be caught at Don Muang with memory cards or laptops full of naughty pictures?

And just to prove that the Thai press really do cover things in greater detail than what we get in the English language press, I notice that the Pattaya Post (a Thai newspaper) reported the death of an older Englishman in Pattaya who overdid it, just after taking a decent dose of Vitamin V (viagara). Bu they didn't just report the death, they also printed a picture of the guy's dead body on his bed, just how he was found…

The English are copying the French! After the success that the French woman has had begging and scamming for money in the Nana area, it seems that her ways are being imitated. A shortish Brit, in his early 30s with a crew-cut and a bit rough overall is trying the same trick. He tries to establish if you are a native English speaker and comes up with a sorry tale of how he was fleeced in Pattaya and how the British Embassy won't help him. He asks to borrow some money and promises to pay it back upon his return to England. Yeah right! That money will be blown in Nana in no time, the beneficiary being one of the maidens of the plaza.

Quote of the week comes from the sly old dog, Dirty Derek. "The Thailand bar scene is like a candy store. Everything tastes sweet to begin with but after a while you get sick of it and know its bad for you".

Other than the fact that I am trying to steer the bulk of the column slowly away from the naughty nightlife, it should be noted that it is not always easy to get news out of the bars and the bar owners. While we one can make observations with their own eyes and ears, some of the real juice comes from those working there on a daily basis. There may be some friendships between some of the bar owners, but jealousy and envy also have its place. Some of the bar owners who give me news do so on the premise that sources are not revealed. There is a lot of shit that goes on behind the scenes that cannot be repeated too.

Hollywood Strip in Nana, the most popular bar at the moment.

Stickgirl's Corner

Stickgirl is a still youngish Thai woman with a very good education and a good job within a large multinational. She is fascinated by farang culture and the behaviour of farangs in Thailand. She has never worked in a bar and could be considered your average "good Thai girl". Each week, Stickgirl will answer any questions you may have about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average farang in Thailand. Please forward questions to her, via me, at the usual email address. Two questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine, and I may not necessarily agree with what she says!

Question 1: What would be greatest age difference that would be socially acceptable (without raising any eyebrows in public for the wrong reason) for a farang man and Thai "good girl" relationship? And does this difference get greater the older the people are. e.g. if it's ok for a 30 year old man to date a 20 year old woman, would a 50 year old man be accepted with a 30 year old woman?

Stickgirl says: If a Thai woman is of a "mature age", then the age gap is not so significant. However, I notice that young Thai girls seem to prefer guys who are older than them. It is generally not accepted within the Thai social system that a man be younger than his female partner. This is one reason. The other reason is that older men (5 year age gap up) would be better suited because they are more mature and should have a better ability to lead her and be head of the family in the future.

Question 2: Much has been written by contributors to the site of the dishonesty of Thais. People say that Thais regularly tell things that are not true and blame the other person when they are caught in that lie, instead of apologizing for lying in the first place. What is your opinion?

Stickgirl says: This is a tough one to answer. It is imperative for Thai people that they maintain their image and reputation, especially to their partner. This may result in them saying things that are not 100% true, but not actually a lie either. What they say may be a natural response as part of their defence system to the criticism (being blamed). Some people don't want to be seen to have made a mistake, hence this response. If the person who is being accused of lying doesn't easily accept the criticism, the accuser may then think that what was said was not actually a lie.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick