Stickman's Weekly Column April 6th, 2003

It Is As Bad As It Looks



It looks like chaos because it is chaos! Driving in Bangkok is a nightmare, so should one even consider buying a car?

Witness any major intersection in Bangkok and what you see can only be described as total chaos. Traffic jams as far as the eyes can see with a massive congregation of motorbikes, all battling to be first away at the lights. The legends about Bangkok traffic are true. It is truly a nightmare.

I'm not sure quite what possessed me to do it, but recently I have been doing a lot more driving around the city than I did in the past. We always thought the car would be used mainly for intercity trips, getaways from chaotic Bangkok at the weekend, but more and more, I find myself driving within Bangkok. However, do I enjoy driving in Bangkok, and is a car a necessity in this city?

Even a very short stay visitor can see that there are all sorts of issues with driving in Bangkok. The quality of the roads is questionable. Potholes abound, the lanes are poorly marked, roads that needn't need to be banked are, and roads that could do with a nice bank, aren't. Even worse, often the sign for your destination is found AFTER the off-ramp or turn-off that you were supposed to take, making you wonder about the brain power, or lack of, of the people who erected the said signs. Then there are the road signs which are totally inconsistent. On some roads, left turn only means just that but on others, the sign is obviously wrong because the left turn only lane can just as happily be used for traffic that continues straight ahead! You can trust the road signs here about as much as you can trust that salesman who says "you can sell these gems in your country for three times the price"!

It takes quite a temperament to drive in Bangkok

We can't forget about the boys in brown. Dealing with them is from all accounts bit of a lottery. Get pulled over and say to them that you like Manchester United and not only will you miss out on a a ticket, but he may well invite you out for a drink, there and then! But the same approach with the officer at the next intersection may well result you being dragged off to the cop shop and being nailed with a fine – and if like me you have a local licence, demerit points on your licence too.

Driving around the city is much like using other forms of transport. You really have to think about the traffic at that time of day and carefully plan your route, choosing that which you anticipate to be the least busy. One wrong turn into a congested street and you could suddenly be seriously late. Traffic jams are savage and if you make a wrong turn, you can end up miles away from where you wanted to go, facing great difficulty simply at the prospect of doing a U-turn to get back on track.

But without a doubt, the bane of the roads in Bangkok is all of the local daredevils on motorcycles. They swarm around you like a bunch of hungry bees, and you just know that sooner or later, one of them is going to sting you. Every time one of them gets close to your shiny pride and joy, you wince at the thought that they will clip your car. And you just know that as he most likely doesn't have insurance (and you inevitably do), that the cop who attends the mishap will misrepresent that it was your fault – so that your insurance pays for the repairs to his bike too. Stress, stress, stress.

Being in charge of a vehicle gives you a lot of freedom. Yep, riding in a taxi is one thing, but wait until you get behind the wheel and you suddenly realise that it is even worse than it looks! Life behind the wheel in Bangkok is awfully stressful and one suddenly spares a thought to the taxi drivers, tuktuk drivers and others who have to do this day in, day out. If it was me, I'd be a nervous wreck.

But if you think I wanna give up my car – no way! Having your own wheels gives you freedom to do what you want, when you want. And even with the cheap cost of using taxis in Bangkok, there is nothing quite like having your own car and the freedom that it gives you. So many people live for many years in Bangkok without their own vehicle – even though they may well have found it impossible to live in Farangland without. Yes, car prices in Bangkok are dearer than the West – and there are numerous issues with driving here as listed above, but the freedom that your own car gives you is something that you cannot put a price on. And hell, if you want a car but driving looks like too much stress, just hire a full-time driver. They're cheap enough!


Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was MBK and the photo was
taken from Santa's on the ground floor.

This week's pic

Last week's pic was taken from Santa's Hamburgers on the ground floor of Mahboonkrong, looking up. Not that many people got it right so I guess that Santa's, formerly Wendy's, is not that popular. 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.

FROM STICKMAN'S INBOX :

Problems with the in-laws?
I tend to agree with readers in recent weeks who have expressed the opinion that the vast majority of Thai prostitutes catering for the farang market are single mothers. To this group, I would like to add most of the thousands of good ladies engaged in the legitimate foot and Thai massage industry. This suggests that there are one helluva lot of broken marriages in Thailand, far more than the official statistics reveal. If you try asking the girls what went wrong, they will come up with the usual cliches such as "Thai men no good" and "husband drink too much." Knowing the way Thailand is, I think it is fair to give the women the benefit of the doubt. If you try digging a bit deeper, you will find that the biggest cause of strife is the husband's parents. In Thailand as in just about every other under-developed country in the world, the tradition is for the groom's parents to move into the family home. Invariably, the wife is never good enough for their dickhead mummy's boy son, and when a domestic dispute occurs, the wife finds she has three people against her instead of just one. Is it therefore any wonder why so many Thai (and other Asian) girls, from the poorest Isaan peasant up to Miss World Bui and Mrs. Stick, would actually prefer to marry a foreigner rather than one of their own kind?
China is farang friendly.
I have been around in China since 1993 and never had a problem with the locals when escorting a Chinese girl be it girlfriend or working girl. Only one time have I seen a problem and that was in a small town called Wuhu, when a friend of mine who was married to a Chinese girl got some verbal from a couple of drunks in a bar. I have been living in Kunming for the last 9 months and no problem. It seems to me that the bigger the city, the less notice the locals take of you. This is a lot different to the late '80s when a friend was not allowed to share the same hotel room with his Chinese wife.
Come to dinner. I live on Sukhumvit.
In Chiang Mai in 1986, a guest house owner proudly told me that this was where Sukhumvit began and that it ended in Trat – making it the longest road in Asia, if not the world. As I'd had the clarity of trekking the Golden Triangle at the time and smoking copious quantities of opium, I was incline to think he was snorting something stronger than I was. But what burgled my brain, upon investigating his claim, was arriving at the four-ways at Bangna in Bangkok (Bangna intersection). Turn left and head off down to Trat (by-passing Pattaya, if you can), and you're still on Sukhumvit. But go straight ahead to Samrong, and you're still on Sukhumvit !!!, according to the maps and local district councils (work that one out). Phew! For practical purposes, lower Sukhumvit is the inner city area from the intersection of Sukhumvit and Rama IV down to Ploenchit (otherwise known the rich farang slum). From the intersection of Rama IV and on out is outer Sukhumvit.
Are you reading, Mr. Anonymous Swiss man?
I stayed in a village called Ban Khon, about 25 km from Kalasin. Inevitably, I was the only falang present but couldn’t help noticing a very handsome little boy, with dark hair, about 3 years old, who had entirely Caucasian features. He was being held by the hand by an old man and the two of them were chatting away in Isaan (sabay dee boh? etc.). The little boy is the outcome of a relationship between a Swiss bloke and a bar girl. Apparently, they met in Pattaya and he visited Ban Khon about five times. After the lady and the Swiss bloke fell out, she returned to the village, only to find she had a bun in the oven (i.e. she was pregnant). She then tried to locate him again, only to find that he’d left. She’s now taken up with another falang and has not been in touch with her family for over a year, leaving her elderly parents struggling to look after the little boy. So, if the gentleman from Switzerland is reading this, congratulations, you’re a Dad. However, I am sure you’ll understand that there is a family in Ban Khon that could desperately use a few thousand baht, to help bring up your little boy.
But do Thai women married to Westerners spend time with the Westerner's family?
I have read your article concerning the dowry with great interest and found that most of the cases in Asian cultures receiving and giving material items be it in monies or anything, the trend solely lies on the tradition and culture of things. It is unfair to compare it with western cultures as you have pointed it out. In the woman that is being married off in the Asian perspective, belongs to the husband’s family and no more hers. Festivals and other traditional events, the women spends it with the husband’s family and not hers. The dowry as so only becomes an honorary gift to the woman’s family as a loss of a family member and not a loss of an extra hand to help the family’s earnings.
Thai logic – profits are down so put your prices up!
Talking to a tour operator in Phuket (Mid March) and he said it had been a very quiet "high" season. The high season after Sept 11 had been bad but this latest after the Oct 12 Bali bombing was worse he said. The excellent Sim's tour of Phang Nga bay has gone from being 400 baht to being over 600 baht per person because of the entry fee to national parks for tourists and a taxi ride from Karon to Patong has gone from 150 last Sept to 200 baht – I reckon greed and stupidity are killing Phuket and Sept 11 and Bali have just sped up the process.

I have received a surprisingly high number of emails, specifically from Australia – but also from other places, from readers who are about to cancel or already have cancelled their trips to Thailand because of SARS. I make no pretence to having any sort of medical knowledge or even understanding this mystery disease, but I'd say the odds are higher of being run down by a rogue tuktuk driver than of contracting this disease. Don't cancel. Come on over. Like virtually everyone who holidays in this part of the world, you'll have a great time.

Now having said that, there is all sorts of confusing information around at the moment regarding the way that the Thai Ministry of Health is managing the issue. A report in the Bangkok Post that I found a little difficult to interpret stated that any travellers flying in to Thailand from one of the danger areas (which I think were Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Hanoi and Guangdong province in China), were required to stay at home for 14 days. This would seem like a logistical nightmare, something that is virtually unenforceable. There must be several flights between Singapore and Bangkok every day and if there is say an average of 300 passengers per flight, that would mean that there are around 2,000 arrivals from Singapore per day – and that is just one of the affected areas. We all know that it is IMPOSSIBLE for authorities to check up on people who have flown in to make sure that they are still at home. I simply do not know how they are going to contain it. What will be the next step? Spot checks of tourists and insistence on seeing their passport to see if they have been to Hong Kong recently?! They have the right idea but short of closing the borders, it would seem that there is little they can do. (Late note: I gather that Canada has been added to the list of countries too!)

So, tourism in Asia in the short-term looks very bleak and meanwhile the war in Iraq is also contributing to nerves among international air travellers. Many of the tourists to Thailand are a loyal, resilient lot and they will fly through war zones, battle through a poor economy and won't fear a new killer disease! The bars in Thailand attract a very loyal type of customer, so perhaps the numbers of visitors to Thailand will not drop dramatically? Tourists may well fly to Bangkok to avoid China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the volatile Muslim countries in South-East Asia. There has been a definite fall in foreigners visiting Cambodia too due to the recent riots but while Thailand has remained relatively trouble free and seems for many reasons and still seem to be Asia's most popular destination for many people worldwide, it is hard to see Thailand unaffected this time.

One of the genuine 5 star hotels in the city usually has an occupancy rate of 70% at this time of year but presently they are running at just 40%!

And at the end of the day, with the greatly reducing numbers coming over to this part of the world, that really must make the threats of terrorism that we were worried about a few months ago much lower – because there are less people here now.

Yeah, there are always lots of funny rumours doing the rounds about how the nightlife areas will be torn down and the latest one to reach me is that Soi Cowboy will be torn down to make a shopping mall. Hmmm, I doubt it.

But gosh, if they want to pull Nana Plaza down, it won't upset too many people because when I briefly stuck my head in there this week, the place was dead. I mean it was REALLY quiet. Voodoo had precisely three customers in it at 9:00 PM. Word from people in Pattaya is that things are awfully quiet down there too. I would suggest that some of the smaller bar – and other business – owners might really hurt through what looks like it will be one of the quietest – and longest low seasons in memory. The bar owners are going to have to come up with some promotions to entice more expats out. At least one group of bars is mooted to be applying Thai business logic to the situation. When customers and profits are down, put prices up to increase profits. I kid you not, but don't be surprised to prices increase shortly…

The former manager at Dollhouse Pattaya, TJ, is now at Carousel, on Soi Diamond. It seems that they offered him a partnership and he is turning that place around.

Regarding Mistys A Gogo in Pattaya, they are are now open from 2 PM and have a 4 hour happy hour 2 PM till 6 with prices as follows: Draught beer in the big glass – not those silly little ones at 45 baht, Gin, Vodka, Whiskey including mixer 55 baht, Bottled Heineken, Carlsberg, Kloster 75 baht, Singha 65 baht. They have about 16 daytime dancers and play Rock and Roll all afternoon. They also we have a new afternoon manager from Australia called Glen who was previously the Manager from Neros in Angeles City. Pop in and check this popular bar out!

If you were in a certain Pattaya gogo bar this last week, you may have seen the show in which a farang woman starred! Yes, the story is made even the more stranger in that the woman and her husband were just married on Monday and were supposed to be enjoying their honeymoon in Pattaya – a questionable place for a honeymoon, but that is not the point. Anyway, the woman got up on stage and did several of the shows while her husband of just a few days sat there and enjoyed it with the rest of the audience. Only in Pattaya.

Cactus Bar in Soi Cowboy are having a pre-Songkran bash and are offering free food and happy hour until 10 on April 10th.

Following on from the opening piece in last week's column and my nightmare trying to get a Thai driver's licence, a number of people asked me why I didn't just get a fake one. Yep, you can get fake licences easily enough, but what happens if you have an accident and it is found that you are in possession of a fake licence. Your insurance policy will likely have an exclusion clause which eliminates any liability on their part if you do not hold a current licence, and this is to say nothing of what may happen in terms of prosecution for purporting a fake item as genuine. No thanks, I'll stick to doing things the proper way thanks. It is all a bit like these dodgy visas, odds are you will be ok, but if the shit hits the fan, you are really going to be in hot water!

Man, what is it with this weather? It has been consistently overcast this week and much wetter than it usually is at this time of year. The one benefit is that it has kept things cooler than usual.

If a farang won, would you actually get the prize?

And just what is the deal with these lottery tickets? Yep, I know there is the government lottery and the underground lottery. Pictured here are women selling tickets to the official government lottery. But I have to wonder, what would happen if a farang hit the jackpot? Would they pay out or would there be barriers put in place to prevent us from collecting the prize? Just curious. Has anyone ever won a prize and as a farang and collected it without a hiccup?

I'd love to know the motives of the fellow who put together the site linked here. http://www.geocities.com/isaan2003/facts_and_reality.html I'll put serious money on it that the guy who put this nonsense together is trawling through Bangkokchat, trying to bed as many of the ladies on there as possible. Remember, this site is known as absolutely the easiest spot for Western men in Bangkok to meet regular Thai girls. Let me re-iterate to you that so much of what this guy says is generalised BS. I'd strongly suggest that he is going the wrong way about trying to get a reduction in the number of farangs who use Bangkokchat, so that he can try and do the dirty with lots of girls.

Is it me, or is it downright cheeky of an establishment to clearly charge a customer a service charge on the bill but then give the change back in such a way that they expect a tip too? Coming from a country where tipping is not common at all, I find this a more than a little insulting.

This is not the most up to date news, but I just heard about it this week. Remember how some time ago in the column I talked about these dodgy international driving licences that could be obtained locally? I discussed how they are totally bogus even though the Thai police purportedly accept them. Well, one of the main guys who was involved in the production and sale of these is now behind bars, apparently on charges of making false documents. This should serve as a warning to all of those people in Bangers who are mixed up in dodgy business. There seems to be a bit of a misconception that you can get away with such things in Thailand indefinitely. The fellow who had been doing this was resident in Thailand for more than ten years before the authorities got him. Be careful because sooner or later, they are gonna come and get you too!

And finally, I heard a humorous story this week from a fellow who drives in the Kingdom. From time to time he goes out to Khao Sarn Road and gets several of these licences. Whenever he gets pulled over by the boys in brown and ends up at the police station he gives on of these licences to the cops. The licence doesn't have his real name on it so they cannot trace him back. Hmm, is he brave or is he playing a dangerous game?!

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Mrs. Stick is not your typical Thai girl. As a youngster she used to be captivated by news from abroad and she excelled at English from an early age. Needless to say, she keeps an eye on what farangs are doing in her beloved Thailand and is always interested in what we do here, why we chose to come to Thailand, what we think of the place and so on. 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 may attempt to correct her English from time to time. 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: What is attractive in a man when viewed through the eyes of a nice Thai woman.

Mrs. Stick says:

Intelligence, kindness, politeness, success at work and a stable status. And for me, a big gauge of someone is the first time that you meet them, I personally do NOT like someone who talks too much – but that is me, and not necessarily other women.

Question 2: Would a "good" Thai girl own a gun? Is that common? Recently, I met a "good" Thai girl (university degree, office worker, devoted Buddhist, etc.) who is temporarily residing in another Asian country where I happen to work. She said that back home in Bangkok she has a gun because she thinks that Thailand is more dangerous than the country where I met her. So, do a lot of Thai ladies have guns?

Mrs. Stick says:

As far as I know, it's not common that Thai girls or even Thai people to own a gun. In my opinion, which I'm sure is shared by other people too, Thailand is not that dangerous as to need a gun. Pepper spray could be enough. Your girlfriend might have had a bad experience in the past or let's say "she's cautious". To tell you the truth, I would love to have one as well….hehe…

Pattaya is largely driven by tourist spending.
How will it cope with what looks to be a lean low season.?

Today's column represents a bit of a milestone, the 100th Stickman Weekly column. The column was started as a way to include news in the site, pieces of news that would date quickly and wouldn't really fit into the larger sections of the column. Also, I was posting a lot on various Thailand message boards and saw limited value in doing so. In many ways the column was my own weekly newsletter, and yeah, I'll come out and say it, my chance to do what I thought a certain other columnist should be doing.

The column has changed quite a bit over the last two years and I feel it has sort of found its feet, with the current format proving to be popular. Personally, I think it has a nice balance between news and opinions, my views and the views of others.

Yep, there have been a few readers who have gone by the wayside and stopped reading, but overall, the number of hits that the column gets continues to rise, the amount of emails continues to increase and being Bangkok, there is never any shortage of things to write about.

The direction that the column continues to head in is one that has a fairly broad appeal, to both residents and expats, to those who are interested in the naughty nightlife, and those who are not. I never cease to be amazed at the diversity of people who send huge numbers of email on a daily basis. Just this week I got an email from a Japanese girl who told me about how she had had several expat boyfriends who all slept with her and discarded her the next day. I have Thai women sending feedback regularly, the bulk of it very positive – and some even talk about the problems of trying to meet a nice farang guy. No, the audience is not totally while male as some have suggested.

I make no apologies for the reduction in coverage of naughty nightlife in the column. Truth be told, I no longer go out to such venues often, and frankly I feel all the better for it. Cynics can laugh as much as they wish, but one does get bored of it. Through writing this column, I have also found that there are huge numbers of farangs that adore Thailand – but deplore the nightlife. Believe it or not, not everyone comes here for nightlife. Yep, I'll still cover it, but not in the detail that it used to be covered in. However, from a sociological point of view, I admit that I still find it fascinating.

So, thanks for your continued support of the column and please do not be shy to tell me what parts of the column you like, and what parts could be improved. Are the where is this pic pictures too difficult? Would you like to see more or fewer email excerpts from readers? Should I be put out to pasture and make way for Mrs Stick to write the entire column? Your feedback is always very welcome.

Still your Bangkok commentator,

Stick