Stickman's Weekly Column March 30th, 2003

Park Next To The Kerb, Stick



Driving is one of life's pleasures, or so I thought. This week I experienced first hand the joys of the Thai driver's licence testing system.

Due to a bit of a hitch which came about through a change in the New Zealand driver's licence system, I am unable to get a replacement driver's licence here in Thailand for the licence which I lost. No, I didn't lose it through careless or reckless driving, but simply lost the physical document. It didn't matter in the past, but now, with a bit of time on my hands to get behind the wheel, I find that I really do need that magic piece of paper. Anyway, the Government back in my corner of Farangland will not issue me with a new one until I have travelled all the way back there to do the obligatory 30 second eye test so I found myself forced to go through the Thai driver's licence testing system to get a local licence.

Although a couple of farang friends have Thai licences, I had little idea what the test would involve, mistakenly thinking that I should be in and out in a couple of hours with a new licence, perhaps with the assistance of a purple or two.

To get a Thai driver's licence, you have to pass an eye test, spend two hours listening to a lecture in Thai on road rules and driving in general, successfully pass a written test (23 or more out of 30) and then complete a practical driving test.

One friend told me how he had slipped an official 500 baht a couple of years ago and got his licence that way and frankly, that sounded like a fairly appealing prospect. So, there I was with a crisp new 500 baht folded neatly in my pocket, but who the hell do you give it to? The venue was pumping with people, official people in uniforms everywhere. Who do I slip my carefully folded 500 to? Ahhh, bugger it. I'm on holiday and I have time on my hands so what the hell, I'll do the test myself. It cant possibly take more than an hour or two. And hey, if things go wrong, it might give me something for the column…

Let me say right from the start that the Transport Authority is most definitely not farang friendly and the ability to read Thai is almost essential. After getting the application form and completing it (it is all in Thai), one has to to follow the crowds around the circuit, getting a "pass" or "completed" stamp at each stage before returning the papers to the main desk where they will make up your licence.

After successfully passing the eye test, I was told that I would have to attend the 2 hour lecture on traffic regulations and road safety. But I am but a stupid ignorant farang who speaks merely a few words of Thai was not enough, and I found myself in a room with a bunch of teenagers. In principle, the lecture is a good idea, and in all fairness, the woman who conducted it did so in a lively way, using a lot of visual aids, cracked a few jokes, and got everyone involved. She successfully managed to make a relatively boring topic quite interesting. We were all given a copy of the road code in Thai. Hmmm, yeah, I can read Thai, but there were still a few things that had me more than confused. To get anything out of this at all, your Thai needs to be good. Truth be told, I understood 95% of what the women said, but only about 50% of the road code. I guess there was a benefit in being in that room, but most folks will find it a waste of time. Still, you get a stamp for attending the lecture, and no stamp means no licence!

We have to remember that this Thailand, a part of Asia, a region where drivers are not know for their high levels of skill. Believe me, there is a real good reason why Asian drivers have the reputation that they have. It is one thing being a passenger in a vehicle here, but wait until you drive. Oh my God, these people are shockers behind the wheel, but the answers to the first question in the lecture room surprised even me. Being asked what side of the road we drive on in Thailand, the class was split in their responses, with half saying left, and half saying right! Yep, some of these people who just two hours later would be doing their practical test, did not know that they are supposed to drive on the left…

When the lecture finished, I was singled out of the class. Oh shit, what have I done this time? Maybe my lack or participation was going to get me six of the best? I was taken away to a small room and told "you do test". Fortunately the test was in English too and somehow I managed a very respectable 29 out of 30.

It was now 3:45 PM and I'd been there since 10:20 that morning and I went across to the go-kart like circuit where one has to do the practical test. I was told that there was no time to do it today and that I should come back the next day.

I returned the next day, all ready to get this damned thing over and done with. Asking one of the officials what I had to do, he said just look at the window at the circuit and just copy what everyone else was doing! Are there instructions in English? No! Could you just take a moment to explain to me what I have to do? No! I saw a lot of motorbikes riding around in circles, the riders flapping their arms like crazy, practising their hand signals. WTF? I have to do hand signals too? Hmmm, so be it…

I jumped into the car and followed the car in front of me, but instead of entering the circuit where the bikes were, he went off to a different circuit. Oh hell, here we go… I watched the cars in front of me as the drivers attempted the first "test", parallel parking. Of the four cars that went before me, three totally stuffed it up, failing the test. Parallel park, easy. Mr Stick gets a pass for that section.

Watching the cars in front, I saw that they would go over and stop next to a gentleman who would then give them instructions about driving in a straight line and then reversing – and that seemed to be it. So, when my turn came, I drove on over to the said gentleman and waited for instructions. Mai parn the bustard screamed at me! "You failed"! WTF?! I asked him what I was supposed to do and he said that I was supposed to park no more than 25 centimetres from the kerb, and no more than 1 metre from the stop sign. I was miles from both and it must have been plainly obviously that I didn't know what to do. However, that was it and I had failed! I appealed to him in my best Thai, telling him that I hadn't been told what was required and that there were no instructions anywhere. You failed! come back again three days and try again!

Failure due to ineptitude is quite acceptable and something that I can deal with, but failure due to the incompetence of the instructors to adequately brief those sitting the licence is not. I can just see the scene now with Somjai the examiner jumping up and down, him and his family revelling in the way that they screwed over the farang! There were instructions in Thai and had I read them, I would have known what to do…but I didn't, and I failed. I returned three days later, at this point six days after I had first arrived at the testing centre, and completed the test. My licence was with me within 15 minutes of giving them the completion papers, proving that they can be efficient when they want to be.

In summary, there are many reasons why Thai drivers are bad, but the testing system is one thing that is seldom cited. Believe me, it is not adequate to ensure that people are skilled enough to handle a vehicle on the road. It simply proves that the person holding the licence is able to reverse a car 10 metres, park a car and my favourite, stop at a stop sign, close to the kerb. Funnily enough, ever notice how Thai drivers will avoid parking buildings for the rest of their lives, notwithstanding that they finally managed to park the car on the test circuit?!

If you do find yourself in need of a Thai driver's licence, you need to have your passport, work permit, 2 x 1 inch photos and a medical certificate. The fee is a Mr. kee-neow friendly 105 baht. Oh, and don't forget your patience! But, if at all possible, don't lose your licence from home like I did!


Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was the Sukhothai Hotel.

This week's pic

Last week's pic was of the area just outside the ballroom at one of the city's finest hotels, The Sukhothai, on Sathorn Road. I was surprised by the high number of people who got the pic right, suggesting that readers to this site are indeed purveyors of the highest quality. There are three prizes offered for the where is this pic. One person, irrespective of location, wins the prize of $25 worth of goodies from ClubHombre which will be shipped to you anywhere in the world. In addition to this, the first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a tube of MyCreme sexsational cream. To win the MyCreme, you MUST be in Bangkok as the prize is delivered to you, but the other two prizes are open to anyone worldwide! 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 third prize comes from the good guys at the Classics Movie Lounge who will provide you with a 500 baht credit to use at their fine establishment.

EMAILS FROM THE PAST WEEK :

Maybe Thailand is NOT that developed after all…
I get a very sketchy description of events from her since it is filtered through my wife's reports of phone conversations she had with her family up there. Apparently there is a politico up in Northern Thailand who has declared that anyone who is involved with drugs up there will be executed. I'm used to that kind of thinking since I'm originally from Texas, the execution capital of the U.S.A. Last night my wife said one of the guys from her village was ambushed on a main road at 10:00 AM. Apparently they filled the truck with so many bullet holes it was totalled. I asked if the police killed the man and she said they have "much puen" do it. I translate "much" as hand and "puen" as gun. I presume that is bounty hunter or assassin. She said that the jails are all full so they just started shooting anyone suspected. Sounds like they don't want to get to bogged down with pressing charges, evidence, trials, etc. I thought Thailand was a little more advanced than this.
Foreign nationals are a pain…
The one problem that I found in the system is it is always a local national doing the Visa processing and approving or disapproving the Visa, not an American. Why is this? They are not an American citizen, why do they have the right to approve a Visa. I as an American have to ask a foreign national permission to bring my wife to the U.S. What rights does the Foreign National have to this? Just because they are an employee of the U.S., but they are not an American citizen. There is something screw up in the system, when this is happen, I agree with a local national helping with the processing and be in the interview, but not making the decision on the Visa.
It is a two way thing.
Regarding dowries, bear in mind that the face issue goes both ways. The parents gain face by getting that huge chunk of change, but they also ensure that the groom gains face by it being made known that he could pay such a dowry. If you go back through the monographs on hill tribes and other remote communities, the requirement of a bride price makes a lot of sense. It's effectively pushing marriage to a point in a person's life where they can afford it, and comply with the social obligations that will go with establishing a household.
Are you a whore?
Thai women were and still are ranked according to class. Interestingly, one of my professors told me that a man's social status is determined by the type of woman he is married to, so if a man marries a whore, he is seen as a husband of a whore. The whore's status is not raised. This is why so many Thais are so incredulous when foreigners marry Isaan farmers/prostitutes. They can't believe a foreigner would marry women lower than his class when he has the resources to marry well. From a Thai Buddhist perspective, the notion that a man would marry a prostitute or a woman from a lower class demonstrates that he was a man of low morals and character in a past life. Like I said before, a man's status is lowered, and woman's status remains the same in this hierarchy of relationships.
History behind the bride price.
While doing some research I have come across a thesis written by one of King Chulalongkorn's sons that describes, in part, the Thai dowry system. The parents of middle and upper class families were required to equally contribute a portion of their wealth to their children as a wedding gift. For example, the bride's family was required to provide the land for a house, and the groom's family was required to build a house on that land. For the lower classes, the man was required to "buy" his wife from her parents, but at the wedding, the parents of the wife and groom were supposed to give back to the children the equal sum of the "bride price" in order for them to start a new family together. The bride price was called sin sort, which I am sure you know. And the parent's equal in value wedding gift was called Tun. The onus of responsibility was never entirely on the groom. And the system was put in place in order to provide "start up capital" (actual translation) for the children to start a new life. The prince never describes sin sort as a provision for the parents. In fact, it is the other way around. The bride price was to be held in trust rather than be spent. Now here is the interesting part. If the wife left the husband or did something wrong or deceitful that caused the dissolution of the marriage, she was required to give the bride price back to her husband. All other property was distributed equally between the divorcing parties. If a woman didn't bring a dowry (ton) into the marriage, which was unthinkable at that time, all property, including the bride price, was given to the husband in the event of divorce or death of the wife. The wife's family had no claim to her and her husband's assets.
A way for the poor to make money?
During my two years of living in Thailand, (and frequent bouts with culture shock) the importance that Thais place on money was one of the aspects of the culture which bothered me the most. I had a few discussions with a female friend and other people about the bride price system. My argument was always that love and money aren't the same. Her view was that paying a huge dowry showed how much a man loved his prospective wife. I think in many Thais' minds love and money are inextricability linked, particularly in rural Isaan, the poorest region of the country. I lived in a small town in Korat for 2 years. Certainly, the bride price system is a venerable Thai tradition. But I think in the past 5-10 years, with increasing numbers of farang men coming to Thailand and marrying Thai women, the bride price has become a way to extort huge sums of money from farang men. I suspect in very few cases is the money ever returned to Thai/farang couples. But what the heck. All we farangs are filthy rich, aren't we?
Bangkok is wet! Yep, we have had more than a few days of unseasonably wet weather, certainly the wettest period in March that I can ever remember.

The Bangkok bars have been hit by tourist slump. Trade is down, no doubt at least partly attributable to the war in Iraq. One bar owner told me that it feels as though the low season is upon us already (?!) and this is being complicated by the unseasonably heavy rain we have had which tends to make the girls stay at home rather than go out to work. Lazy sods! These three things have all combined to make even Nana Plaza, which had been the busiest bar area recently, quiet over the past week and a half. Word coming out of the UK, the single biggest source of farang visitors to Thailand, is that flights are quiet and you can virtually choose any flight and seat you want. How long will this continue for?

I received an email claiming that in a few days something was gonna happen in Saphan Kwai which would seriously impact the nightlife, including the farang nightlife in Bangkok, and possibly in all of Thailand. What this is supposed to be this person did not know, or at least did not say, but it was from someone who has proved to be very reliable in the past. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

Spankies, the old Three Roses Bar, floor 2 Nana, has been open about for two weeks. It is very small – about the size of Temptations / Titty Twister and a considerable amount of reddies have been spent on it. The initial purchase plus refurbishment means the new owner has spent in the region of 10 million baht! Absolutely staggering considering some establishments have bigger toilets! I am sure it will be a lengthy period before the new owner gets his investment back. Now, if we consider that the a bar makes around 60 baht per drink sold, that is 10,000,000 / 60 = around 166,000 drinks to sell, just to break even! It is all actually a lot more complicated than this, but boy, that is a lot of drinks!

The police usually wander around Nana late on Friday and Saturday nights to make sure that the bars have shut when they are supposed to – 2:00 AM. However last weekend, the police did not show up so bars were open late until 2:20 – 2:30 AM. Rumours believe they have been assigned to taking care of foreign embassies because of the worldwide anti-war protests. There has been no police presence at all in Nana over the last 2-3 weeks, no checks, no hassle.

Quite a few girls are leaving Cowboy
for Nana where there are more customers

Price increases in Cowboy are reportedly driving some customers to Nana and the biggest bar in Nana Plaza has taken on several gogo dancers from Cowboy. This is very significant and when girls start moving district. Bar owners might even consider it serious. And we are not just talking one or two here. This particular bar has got at least 6 girls from Cowboy working there and the manager is only taking on the attractive girls too, refusing others on a daily basis.

Further to my comments of a couple of weeks ago about Cabbages and Condoms, I hear that some Thai women may not like to go there because the building next door, also run by Mr Mechai, is an abortion clinic – and Thai women are quite concerned about the ghosts of dead bodies…

Another English language monthly magazine has been released into what is already an overcrowded market. The Scene might be up to issue number 3 already but it seems that they suffer the same problems that the other monthlies suffered when first released, namely distribution. I went hunting for a copy of The Scene but couldn't find one anywhere, and that is not because it had sold out – but because no-one had even heard of it!

Twice in the last week, and once on each line, I have sat on a skytrain where the air-conditioning hasn't been functioning. It is funny you know, because it is cooler on the platform than it is inside the skytrain! You can see people visibly cursing the skytrain as they drip in their own sweat, many in business attire, some no doubt dashing to make an important appointment. Things break down, it is perfectly normal. But when the air-con breaks down in the peak of the hot season, it is no fun at all.

Rumour has it that the red and blue taxis are the only taxis that are insured, meaning that if you are a passenger in a cab that has an accident, they will pick up the tab for any medical costs.

Whilst checking out apartments recently, I read an official apartment notice in Thai that was posted in the lift – where apartment notice boards are usually found. It stated that someone with an unpronounceable local name was no longer employed by that apartment building and that no tenant should hand over their rental money to that former member of staff. What had obviously happened is that that person had taken the month's rental money from a number of people at the front counter and had then done a runner. Why does this happen so often? Staff working at the front desk in apartment buildings are notorious for doing a runner with the cash and I know at least three people who have paid their bills only to hear that the person who took the money has bolted – and then it has all become complicated. Being Thailand where so called lesser crimes still get a stiff sentence, when these crooks get caught, they will likely face time behind bars… With this sort of problem being more prevalent than you would imagine it is just one reason why you should ALWAYS keep the receipt for rental money paid at your apartment – and get the receipt at the time you pay, not allowing them to put it in your mailbox later on "cos we are too busy to write it out now".

Different people in the capital seem to have a different idea of exactly where "lower Sukumvit" is. Most people seem to refer to the area with the lower soi numbers, particularly the area west of Asoke. But there are others who seem to think that lower Sukumvit is down from On-nut out to Bangna. Can we agree on which part it refers t because it gets hellishly confusing otherwise.

Sometimes it is cooler on the platform
than it is on the skytrain itself!

I was asked this week how I deal with the rude comments that I must inevitably get when I walk around the city hand in hand with my wife. I was a little taken aback about this and had to think for a moment. Yes, there was one occasion when Mrs Stick, then Miss Stick, did receive a rude comment from a low life on Ramkhaemhaeng Road. We'd been out for dinner and were taking a stroll when we passed a low life who said something that would best be translated as "would you like me to stand on your boyfriend's head". I half caught it but dismissed it, knowing that any response wouldn't do anyone any good. These comments from local men to farangs in mixed race couples are not really a problem here in Thailand at all, as I gather they are in Korea and China.

Vonn & John Dooley created a new band this week; "Acid Soul" is John on bass, Vonn Strummer on guitar and vocal and "A" on percussion and vocal. They're doing an acoustic show at The Log Cabin beginning the 1st of April, 2003 (no joke!), Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday nights 8:00 – 9:30 PM). The Log Cabin can be found at 540/7 Sukhumvit 55, Thonglor 18.

I accidentally deleted some emails that I received over the weekend, about 10 in fact. So, if you emailed me over the last 2-3 days and I haven't responded, feel free to resend. Amongst them was one titled "a contribution to your site" which I guess was a reader's submission. I you sent this, please re-send it.

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Mrs. Stick, contrary to what I have said in previous columns, is not your typical Thai girl. She is fascinated by farang culture and the behaviour of us foreign barbarians in her beloved Thailand. Each week, she will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Please send questions to her, via me, at the usual email address. Two or three questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I do butcher her English, generally making it worse. Note 1: I may not necessarily agree with what she says! Note 2: Unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email.

Question 1: How did it happen that over the last 20 (?) years Thais think luk kreungs are so attractive? <Translation of luk kreung is someone born to one Thai parent and a parent of another race, usually farang – Stick>

Mrs. Stick says:

Typical Thai people are dark skinned, small framed and have a distinctively small nose which Thai people find ugly. Farang style and fashion has taken Thailand by storm since the late 80's. Actually, in the past, Thai people looked at luk kreungs as "mai dee" knowing that many of them were actually the love children of GIs with bargirls. But now, we know that this is not necessarily the case at all. But to cut a long answer short, Thai people have embraced farang fashion and not only do we like the clothes that farangs wear, we also like the way that farangs look.

Question 2: Is it normal for a Thai girl to threaten to kill her boyfriend, just because he suggests that they end the relationship?

Mrs. Stick says:

Thai women often fall very heavily in love with farang men and become totally devoted and dedicated with so much of their life and existence dedicated towards pleasing their man. So when the farang men suggests that the relationship might end, the Thai woman simply sees the end of the relationship as unacceptable and might do silly things or even lose control, as in your question.

Question 3: What do 'good' Thai girls make of novels set in Bangkok by farang authors. Do they think they are rubbish written by desperate foreigners with no knowledge of the Thai female mind or do they learn some useful insights. And, also which Bangkok farang novel do they most prefer?

Mrs. Stick says:

I'm actually reading "The Big Mango" by Jake Needham right now but it is the only such book I have read. I have found it really interesting to find out about what farangs think about Thailand because it is sort of like you are looking in the same mirror but from a different angle. People know who they are and how they are, but it is also very good, and perhaps even better, to know how you are thought of from another person's viewpoint. This is what I think and I do not know about other Thai women.

I'll do my best to get the column up on Sunday next week, because it is a milestone, the 100th Stickman Weekly column.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick