Stickman's Weekly Column February 9th, 2003

The Realities Of A Thai Schools



Ever wondered why Thais go about their lives they way they do? Ever wondered why they do a few things that us Westerners find, well, sort of peculiar? The answers to these questions can be found in the very places that they go to learn…at school. They learn about life at school of course, and if my observations are anything to go by, there is quite a correlation between what happens in the exam room and what will happen over the rest of their life! What follows is a collection of some of the more amazing things that have occurred while I have been invigilating in the exam room. Each observation is followed by a comment on how it relates to the Thai lifestyle.

During one exam, the discipline teacher entered the exam room. Yep, you read that right, the discipline teacher! We don't have them in the West, do we?! Now I have no idea if she actually does anything outside of that most important area of school work, discipline, but if she does, I have yet to become aware of it. Anyway, while the NUK-REE-UN were trying to do the exam, this discipline teacher decided that it was time to check the female students' ribbons. You see, all of the female students who have hair longer than what could be considered lesbian short, must tie their hair back with a ribbon. A hair tie is not good enough – it must be the regulatory ribbon. Any female student who did not have the regulatory ribbon tying their hair was belted over the head with a rolled up magazine. Yep, they were given a good clout. APPEARANCE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SUBSTANCE AND BEATING WOMEN IS NOT UNUSUAL.

During one exam, a teacher entered the room and told all of the students to stop what they were doing and listen. The students were then told that even if they finished the exams early, they would not be allowed to go home before the usual finish time. While the announcement was understandable, could it not have been made immediately before the exam or even before the date. THERE IS LITTLE SENSE OF ETIQUETTE OR OCCASION.

During another exam, my favourite teacher, and the star of a previous column, Ajarn B, insisted that I check one particular student's answers, for it was the English exam after all, and tell them which answers they had got wrong, so that they could change them! CORRUPTION RUNS AT ALL LEVELS

Throughout the exams, students were frequently caught cheating, having employed the most unsophisticated means of smuggling notes into the exam. Some wrote notes on their leg, others on their arm, and yet more on the palm of their hand! Amongst those students who smuggled in notes written on pieces of paper, one student had the audacity to fill a whole A4 sized piece of paper and attempt to unfold it in the exam room, before super sleuth Stick, using all of his investigative skills, pounced on the hapless lad. CHEATING ISN'T THAT BIG A DEAL.

In another exam, one teacher interrupted the class and came through collecting money for something or other. That the kids were in the middle of an exam did not register to her, and any student who did not have the money to give to her was scolded in no uncertain terms. MONEY IS OF GREAT IMPORTANCE.

Notwithstanding the huge importance placed on exam results as a means of measuring a student's success or otherwise, most students enter the exam room late – and then have the audacity to cry foul when the invigilaters collected their exam papers when time was up. TIMELINESS AND THAILAND JUST DON'T GO TOGETHER.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was Jim Thompson's House.

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 was taken at one of Bangkok's most under-rated tourist attractions, the excellent Jim Thompson's House. If you haven't been there, get your sorry ass over there when you have an hour free. The 100 baht entry fee includes a tour in either English, Thai, Japanese or French. It is open every day and is well worth a visit. Take the sky train to National Stadium and wander down to the end of Soi Kasemsan 2, just a 5 minute walk from the BTS. And when you are done at Jim's, drop by and see Mack in Boss Apparels, the ONLY TAILOR IN BANGKOK THAT I RECOMMEND. 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!

AMONGST THIS WEEK'S EMAILS :

The Thai smile.

In Moscow, they frown. In Glasgow, they stare daggers at you. In Bangkok, they smile. If you were to ask casual visitors to all 3 places who they thought were the friendliest people, I have no doubt that the vast majority would say Bangkok. The fact is that the standard facial expression that people wear is something which has evolved over centuries as a response to each society's own particular environment. Smile in Moscow when the temperature is 30 below, and your face will get locked in that position for the rest of the day. Smile at a stranger in Glasgow, and they will want to know what your problem is. What makes the Thai smile so perplexing is that we Westerners are accustomed to interpreting it almost exclusively as a sign of joy, which is often not the case here. The Thai smile has served its people well over the years by disarming potential invaders by making them feel welcome as short-time guests. The Bangkok smile gives an impression that its people are full of the joie de vivre, just as the Moscovite frown gives the impression that all Russians are depressed and the stare the impression that Glaswegians are always looking for a fight. People in Bangkok are no more friendly or hostile than Moscovites, Glaswegians, or people in any big city. Just don't be duped by that damn smile.
Undeclared earnings.
It's true that we farangs get heaps more for the same work..officially. But I think traditionally, Thais are expected to use their positions to get "tea money." So the salary isn't necessarily a reflection of the total income from the job. For example, down south where I used to work, high school teachers would tell their students that the class would not cover all the material necessary to pass the final exam. The students would have to come to the teacher's house on Saturday morning for extra classes, which they'd have to pay for. This was so commonplace that I heard they were going to make it illegal. Another example comes from a friend who was always one document short of getting her marriage registered, until she coughed up 5,000 baht to the immigration officer. Stories like this abound. When I first came to Thailand I couldn't understand why the standard of living was higher than the average income would indicate. Now I think the hidden economy explains a lot of that. Anyway, the point is that farangs generally aren't on the take, certainly not English teachers (if anybody knows how, I'd like to hear about it). So the higher salaries of farangs may be more apparent than real. And keep in mind that the cost of living is higher for us. That is, we sometimes pay more than a Thai for the same goods and services (affectionately called the 'white tax' by a friend of mine).
Do they earn their keep?
On expats and their cost, yes, there is the question of value for money, and do you get three or ten or whatever times the bang for your buck with an expat hire in terms of productivity? But there's a hidden value in expats as well. When I was young, I worked for a Vietnamese immigrant in Canada and he had a great insight about expats in Asia. They're greatest value is in their use as a foil. If you need something done, you have the expat do it. He can insult people, walk across family boundaries, do whatever needs doing, and, at the end of the day, he can be either forgiven (for being ignorant) or disposed of with no real repercussions. A local can't operate in that manner, as the complications that will arise will haunt not only him, but his whole family for ages after, and if he really screws up, he's got nowhere to go. It is far simpler to rely on an expat for these things. Of course, that does imply that one's value as an expat is only retained in so long as you can live in a country while remaining outside of it culturally……which takes us back to an earlier week's column.
Same the world over?
It seems, after reading many reader stories, that many farang men have a very negative opinion of all Thai women. I agree that finding that "nice girl" can be a trying experience. In Farangland it may prove difficult to achieve your goal. Add to the mix a man who is "mature" and financially set. Then a young lady from a family who may earn $3500.00 a year (a high estimate at that) meeting this mature man who, on a retirement income, may take in 10 times this amount. What woman, including those in Farangland, would not be interested? I find women all over this planet have a desire to be secure in their future $$$. So can you blame these girls for seeing $$$ signs when a Farang is in sight? I have found one thing that is different about Thai girls then Farang women when thinking of their future. At thirty you better have it together if you want a good and successful future. But don't we all want financial security in our future? I think these girls want the same thing we all want, but work a hell of a lot harder to get it. So to the Farangs who say "all Thai girls are no good", shame on you. Give and take is the way of life. Nothing is free, even in Farangland. No free lunch brother! But chose wisely from the menu, you still may get indigestion.
Patpong poem.
As I walk along the neon lit street,
I sleaze on every girl I meet.
I know its wrong, I think I'm havin a blast,
Each fuck more meaningless than the last.
Empty promises, broken hearts,
Will I ever get enough of these money grabbin tarts.
From men in dresses To girls that look eight,
I gotta tell ya That's pretty fucked up mate.
At the end of the day we're all havin fun,
Until you get a call saying "hey you, I have your son!"
There has been quite an increase in the number of booze barrows along Sukumvit Road. These street vendors peddling various potions seem to do quite a trade. However, there is something about them that I just don't trust. Whenever I see them peddling my beloved Jack Daniel's, something inside me tells me that it just ain't Jack… And truth be told, they are not that cheap. Many of them seem to charge 60 baht for a beer, which is around the same price as some of the beer bars. They add a trifle of convenience, but if you are a tight English teacher, you'll pick up a Heineken fro Seven 11 at 38 baht and sit down on the street and drink it there. Ooops, actually, if you're an English teacher, you'll probably by something really cheap and nasty like Chang from Seven and drink that in the street.

Madame Claude's Bar in Sukhumvit Soi 33 has undergone some changes recently. In December of last year a new farang owner from New Zealand took over this establishment from the previous Thai lady owner / manager. The existing décor is unchanged as it was almost new and is very smart but friendly staff with an orientation to a high level of customer service have been brought in. A new manager / mamasan combination have also been appointed (ex Dollhouse Clinton), a new bartender hired and some lovely new ladies recruited. Several of the ladies are fresh to the industry and have regular day jobs or are students, and peculiarly, more than one of them are in fact virgins. This seems to be a big hit with customers despite the limited services offered! New music is in place and a new MP3 based music source is being installed shortly which will provide customers with a huge range of music and a play list which can be perused and one's favourites selected. A wider range of alcohol is being stocked and Carlsberg Draught is being installed in the next couple of weeks. Happy hour is currently from 6 – 9 PM with the usual soi 33 special prices offered. Two private lounges are available for hire and plenty of free parking is at hand (up to three hours). A rear entrance (sounds interesting) can facilitate discretion for the shy types. (I didn't think shy types liked rear entrances, but obviously I was wrong…) Future expansion plans include additional furniture to allow the mezzanine area on the second floor to be utilized as overflow are from the main downstairs bar. This provides a very discrete area to sit and chat with the hostesses, enjoy the surroundings etc. There is a large room on the upper floor that will be turned into a TV Lounge with a projection system and accompanying large screen. Along with UBC and DVD this will facilitate movies and sports events. Additional licenses are required for this to be offered. Custom furniture needs to be made so this facility will be a two or three months away but will cater for private functions, sports events and business / client promotions. Bookings for subsequent use of this area can be made now. The entire premises have been booked for the evening of February 21st for a private function of some 40 people where Madame Claude Bar are providing a buffet meal service, drinks, hostesses and waitresses to ply the guests with drinks and nibbles while they conduct their function. All in all there is lots happening at Madame Claude's to justify a visit to what has to qualify as one of the nicest bar premises in the City of Angels.

It really makes me laugh the way Thai people scoff off at Cambodia and the people of Cambodia. If you believed what many Thais say, Cambodians are the bane of the planet, a scourge which poor old Thailand is semi forced to support and prop up. With the destruction of the Thai embassy in Pnom Penh last week and other anti Thailand protests across the border, it is no surprise that anti Cambodian sentiment is on the rise in the Land of Smiles. But what makes me laugh, in fact downright cracks me up, is the way Thais give money to beggars in and around the centre of Bangkok. On the one hand these same Thai people moan and groan about the Cambodians, yet on the other hand, a good number of the beggars in certain areas are not Thai at all, but Cambodians! In the work environment, constant bickering is made about Cambodians, yet these very same Thais will unknowingly drop their loose coins into the grateful arms of Cambodians. I can't help but chuckle.

The Central Market in Pnom Penh. Why beg
there when you can make much more in Bangkok?!

On Wednesday of this week the Thonglor police called a meeting of bar owners whose bars fall in their district. The police outlined a few rules and stated that they would be enforcing these rules very firmly. First of all, they said that all bars must ensure that their licences are in order. There was the obligatory warning about drugs and drug use. They then requested that bars lodge photos of all their girls at the police station. They requested that all girls have their ID on them at all times (in accordance with the law). Finally, the boys in brown stated that they require all girls working in bars in their area to be 20 years of age, minimum. Thonglor police get the thumbs up for trying to do the right thing.

Lumpini police did more drug testing in Nana Plaza this week and yep, the old tables were out again. Two girls from each gogo bar were tested along with the doorman assigned to each bar! At least twenty uniformed officers were present including the Lumpini station commanders. Again, I am all for this drug testing. Perhaps it should be done discretely so as not to cause concern amongst punters, but then on the other hand, with it being done out in the open, it shows that the police are trying to do the right thing.

Boonrawd Brewery strikes again! From the brewery that brought us the awful Singha Beer, comes ES Beer. Truth be told, I'm not sure how long this one has been around for but I tried it for the first time the other day and have to say that it is about the worst beer I have ever tried, and coming from NZ, that is really saying something. The label states that it is "tequilized brew" whatever the hell that means…couldn't find that word in the dictionary. It may be 5.5% alcohol content, but oh God, it tastes like the proverbial weazel's piss. But hey, beers are an individual thing so you might like it. But I'd recommend that you buy just the one initially.

There is a very, very sad chap in rural New Zealand at the moment. A few months back he was in Thailand with a friend and found himself a lady in an upcountry whorehouse, a cheap and nasty brothel. God only knows what possessed him to do it, but ended up doing the dirty with one of the damsels who works on the premises, a short time experience costing him a budget friendly 300 baht. Mr Naive Rural New Zealander duly fell in love with the girl and through a friend somehow managed to get her a visitor's visa to visit NZ. I had the displeasure to see her in Bangkok and while I am loathe to pass comment on someone I saw for but a few seconds, she was one hard bitch. The fellow in question is nice enough guy, but sadly, he is someone who earns but a moderate wage. With return air tickets, visa application fees, guarantee money lodged with the NZ Embassy etc, he was up for around $NZ10,000 to get her there, most of which was put on the plastic. Silly boy. When she got to NZ he discovered that she had recently had an operation and was unable to get down and dirty with him. If this wasn't bad enough after just a few days she wanted to return to Thailand! But things were to get worse, oh God, they aware to get soooo much worse! The poor darling started complaining of stomach pains and was duly taken to hospital for a check up. Not being a NZ citizen she was refused treatment unless someone would guarantee payment. Love struck STUPID New Zealander signed a form stating that he would pick up the tab for the medical treatment. Well, it seems that she was experiencing some sort of complications related to her recent operation and spent 5 days in ICU, a lot longer in the general ward, underwent blood transfusions and at least two different operations. The total bill is estimated to be in the vicinity of $NZ50,000 ($US27,500). F*%K! Needless to say, there is one awfully sad Kiwi who VERY much regrets ever coming to Thailand just a few months ago…

“Gene” Morris, 67, former Marine and Air America pilot, passed away on January 31, 2003, in Honolulu, Hawaii. Born on July 27, 1935, in Estherville, Iowa, the son of the late Norman and Alice Morris. He lived an exciting life and made many wonderful friends while travelling the world. His love of flying took him to Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand as a pilot for Air America. During the early seventies, “Gene” and his wife also ran the infamous “Cloud Nine” bar on Patpong II in Bangkok – a favourite “watering hole” known to flight crews around the world. He will be missed by many.

Down in Phuket the street vendors have been clamped down on and the tailors are not as aggressive in the way that they grab at passers by. Despite discussions that there may be some movement, the closing times remains obscure. All the 'old' bars, gogos and discos are firmly closed at two on the dot. However Soi Sansabai, a dead end street, opposite the top of Soi Bangla which has a number of "restaurants" which seem to be able to serve drinks all night with or (mostly) without food. Also, since a local enterprising business person has installed a booze barrow right outside VIP, a dense crowd forms there from about 2.20 AM and makes it difficult for residents to get into or out of, the street, on foot, never mind in a vehicle. Most of these people are already drunk, and inevitably fights break out. Otherwise the local law enforcement officials sip their coffees in the Sand Inn and ignore it all!

Different rules for different bars in Phuket.

Smoking Joe's, on the second floor of Rock Hard in Phuket is closed and is available for rent. There has been a "for rent" sign on the door for the last 3 weeks and they also
put a classified in the Gazette last Saturday.

Some friendly banter overheard in the staff room at work this week. A Canadian was explaining to some students about his accent when he started by saying, "At school we learn British English and the British way of spelling things, but as we get older, we start reading a lot of American texts" at which point he was interrupted by a British colleague who finished the sentence for him by saying, "and then we start making mistakes".

Quote of the week comes from a reader who found his regular girl asking for a hand out. "As nice as it may be that the working girls give you the girlfriend experience, unfortunately, it also works the other way around. Your good girl girlfriend may give you the hooker experience."

And another good quote from a reader, "How could someone come to this paradise and spend the whole time at Nana?"

The Executive Lounge is advertising on Smooth FM. It would appear that they are a restaurant located in the Emporium building. I wonder if they know that there is another Executive Lounge in Bangkok that also targets farang customers. However, located in Patpong, it is not quite in the same line of business…

Ordinarily, the protocol of Thai commuters ranges from anything between mediocre to shockingly bad. Be it a taxi, a bus, or whatever, the locals are falling over themselves as those trying to alight from their chosen form of transport battle with those trying to get on. Often 50 people or more, all well dressed, middle-class folks can be seen aggressively battling for that last empty seat. The skytrain is no different and at peak times it can be a battle to get on as the normally timid Thais swing their elbows in a frantic battle to be the first on board, the prize a chance to rest their lazy ass on the last empty seat for the duration of what is but a short journey. So why is it that there is a brief window in the morning at one particular station when skytrain commuter protocol changes, and everyone reverts to being polite and orderly? On weekday mornings from approximately 7:15 until around 8:15 at the Silom line at the Siam station, two queues are formed at the markings on the ground to each doorway of the skytrain. It is a most unusual sight to see these very same people who often battle their way on to the skytrain, queuing in an orderly manner. But the thrill is not for the people in the queue who are about to get on board, but for people like me who get off. Everything slows down and I feel like the world is moving in slow motion as I stroll through the gauntlet, a queue of people either side with me walking down the middle. 80% of them are female, and 80% of those females are drop dead gorgeous. Welcome to the "Bangkok office girl show" where some of the prettiest girls in the city are all dollied up and looking their absolute best. Anyone who enjoys sitting in a Nana Plaza gogo bar really should try the Silom line platform at the Siam BTS station on weekday mornings between 7:15 and 8:15. The view is unreal.

Stickgirl's Corner

Stickgirl is a your typical Thai girl, drop dead gorgeous and always with a smile in reserve. She enjoys jazz music in the morning, likes British movies and when she is not burning a hole in my wallet with her appetite for good wine, she'd rather down a Pepsi over a Coke (see, she isn't perfect). Perhaps most interesting of all, she is fascinated by farang culture and the behaviour of us foreign barbarians in her beloved Thailand. Each week, Stickgirl will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner 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. I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Please note that she doesn't have the time to reply to your inquiries via email.

Question 1: In the Thai society, where money and love are inseparable, with a significant mia noy culture, am I expected to pay cash to my "good" girl friend?

Stickgirl says: There are no specific rules on this. It depends on the situation of the two people in the relationship, and the individuals. Are you in a situation where you are able to support her? Are you comfortable to do it, without it feeling wrong? Is she in a situation where she needs money? If she expects money from you, it is probably is not a good thing, is it? In Thai society, most men, especially those who are good boyfriends, will support their girlfriend in one way or another, either through money, or by buying her nice things, or at least help her when she needs help without her asking. That will show your kindness and impress her. Remember when you give her money, you are giving kindness and showing your willingness to help her.

Question 2: Is there any stigma in Thai society associated with a Thai girl dating a farang?

Stickgirl says: I can't say that there is nothing. I can't say no to this question but it is not necessarily a definite yes either. Again, it depends on what type of guy the farang is and what type of girl the lady is. While many people know right away if the lady is a working girl as they are familiar with the stereotype, most Thai people can figure it out correctly. It can be two things really. Some people will look down on the couple perhaps initially thinking that the girl is bpree-ow*. But if the two of you look good together, they can't deny that and for some Thai people, this can create jealousy. And some people will even admire the couple if the couple really does appear to have a strong, loving relationship.

*bpree-ow – hard one to translate this, but it basically means a girl who is a little naughty, who may dress a little provocatively and who generally would not be considered the "typical" conservative Thai girl – Stick.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick