Stickman's Weekly Column May 4th, 2003

You Spend How Much?!



Bangkok is much cheaper than virtually any Western city, yet I find myself spending much more here than I did in the West. Why is that?

I used to be a minimalist. I would scrimp and save every last penny. And no, I don't have any Scottish blood. At restaurants, I would narrow down my choice to one of the cheaper dishes. In bars I would go for a local drink over the imported stuff and I would often by copied goods instead of the original, all in the interest of saving a few bucks here and there. Worst of all was that I actually had a good salary, and it wasn't that I was forced to choose the cheapest items on the menu, it was that I chose to do so.

When I was planning the big move to Thailand, I spent hours and hours reading through Joe Cumming's version of The Bible. As one of Joe's many disciples I deduced that one could live quite happily in Bangkok on 20,000 baht a month. In fact from my interpretation of The Bible, such spending would border on extravagance and I would have a mighty high standard of living! According to Joe, curries could be had for 10 baht, 3 baht for plain rice and a portion of fruit would be no more than 10 baht. Food was cheap, but so was seemingly everything else. 20K was all I would need. And at the time, that was about what English teachers in Bangkok were averaging.

Upon my arrival in Bangkok, I quickly discovered that everything wasn't quite as cheap as it seemed. That 10 baht curry that Joe talked about could only be described as a mystery meat special, hardly suitable unless you had a cast iron stomach. The 3 baht rice was available, that is if you were prepared to spend 2.5 hours on a bus that seemingly takes you halfway to Chiang Mai to the sole vendor selling it at that price. Oh, and it is 2.5 hours to get back too! Before you know it, so many of the bargains that I thought awaited me were not really what I had expected them to be, and suddenly I found myself spending more than I expected.

And then there was another realisation. I started going out and doing things that back home I never did, and before I knew it, my spending was going through the roof. This trend continues to now. Whenever I look back and compare what I used to spend in the West, compared to Thailand, I spend a lot more here. Many folks find themselves spending more, sometimes a hell of a lot more, than they thought they would. It doesn't matter if you are an expat or a tourist, I bet that you spend more than you thought you would. So, just why is it that I spend far more than I ever did back in my corner of Farangland?

Bangkok may be cheap, but there is so much to see and do, and so much of the really cheap stuff just isn't farang friendly. A lot of the really cheap foods are unidentifiable, and many farangs prefer not to dine on the streets. (Personally, I love the experience, but that is another story). Farangs find it hard to get the lowest price, and many simply do not know where to look to get the bargains.

But there are a few other reasons too. I personally am at a point in my life now when I want to enjoy myself and saving a few extra baht here and there is not a major concern. Bangkok really does have so much to see and do, and perhaps more than anything, money spent in Bangkok can give you very good value for money, hence we tend to buy things and do things that we might not necessarily do at home, in fact things that we might not even want, but they're cheap, and we do them. Screwed up logic, but it happens all the time. I often find myself buying shit because it is so cheap and then later throwing it away, wondering why the hell I even bought it in the first place.

Another issue is the holiday syndrome, something that many expats suffer from, many without realizing it. Truth be told, for many expats employed here, as soon as work is over for the day, often the moment that 5:00 PM rolls around, they are out of the office and back into holiday mode. Holiday mode means high spending on lots of fun things.

Of course, spending lots and having a good time is the Thai way. For all of the wonderful things about Thai people, money management is not one of them. If they like it, it looks good, or most of all it is sanuk, the Thais will spend, spend, spend. Spendthrifts they are not. The longer we stay here, the more we adapt to the local ways – and even more so if we cohabitate with one of the locals.

So, I am sure it is not just me who spends more here than at home, notwithstanding that almost everything I buy here is much cheaper than at home. But I'm not complaining, because if I wanted to spend less, I could. That's the beauty of Bangkok, as discussed in a previous column, you can do it cheaply if you want, or you can spend more and have a blast. Most people choose to have a blast. Just be careful if you come here with budgetary limitations because there is no end of things to blow you money on.


Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

Notice the clothes? It
sure wasn't Thailand. It's London!

This week's pic

Last week's pic was a bit tricky because it was not taken in Bangkok, but rather in London. And it would seem that half of London reads the column, such were the numbers of people who knew it. Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon, I believe is the name. I took great pleasure and glee in responding to one smartass reader who replied that it was "some temple in Thailand". Hahaha, wrong! There are two prizes offered for the where is this pic. The first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a 500 baht credit to use at the Classics Movie Lounge. 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!

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL :
(and therefore I do not necessarily agree with nor endorse what is said)

Gallant farangs.
I just want to add to the comments made by one of your readers concerning bad treatment of Thai women at the hands of their in-laws. I actually believe that many Thai women get treated just as badly by their own families. Many parents do not seem to care if their daughters become prostitutes and I have even witnessed mothers introducing their daughters to bars. In traditional agricultural societies like Thailand, sons are preferred over daughters because sons propagate the family name and can inherit their father's land, and also provide an old-age insurance policy in the absence of a welfare state and a pension scheme. Daughters are lost to their husband's families and the dowry can be seen as a sort of compensation to the girl's parents. Also, nothing is worse for a Thai farmer than to think his land will pass to another family after his death if he does not have a son of his own. In China, there is a thriving black market in baby boys, and cases of female infanticide are not unknown. A lot of Thai girls I have met have a very low opinion of themselves and crave for love and affection. That is where us gallant farangs come in.
Criminal trainees?
If you still need convincing that those obnoxious little vermin selling roses on Sukhumvit Road need a good pepper spraying, listen up. I was walking through the Asoke beer bars when two small boys selling roses began tugging on my camera case. In just a few seconds, one of them managed to unzip the case and extract my mobile phone. Two of my friends recently told me that they have caught these loveable little urchins rifling through their pockets as well. Don’t let their size, cuteness or pigtails fool you, some of these kids are criminal trainees and are pretty darn good at their trade.
Is it better to be offline?
I don't understand why men look for Thai girls on the net. Why be one of the thousands to look at the few Thai girls that advertise themselves Thai girls who have a number of relationship offers, especially from farangs, are amongst the most unpleasant people I have ever met. Much better to find a girl in a Thai bar away from other farangs altogether.
Are you a good foreigner?
A friend of mine, having just returned from the Land of Smiles, blowjobs and threesomes said he enjoyed his trip and felt he had been a good foreigner, when I enquired why he began to explain… He flew with Thai Airways business class but service was economy, he took a metered taxi but was told 300 baht was better for him, he stayed at the Asia hotel where the touts took him to many bargain places, he barfined a girl who than asked him for 3,000 baht but wanted to leave quick as she did not like kissing, he bought a flower garland at the Erawan shrine and paid what they asked, he met a nice girl who wanted to get out of the bar scene so he bought her out of the bar and gave her 100,000 baht but when he said that should be enough for food and shelter for a year he finds he cannot contact her. He took a hotel car (old car) for 850 baht back to the airport. All of this and more made him feel he had been a good foreigner… I said no, he said why, I replied, you would have been a good foreigner if you had given all the money without being bothersome to come here, just send the money to everybody and make sure you pay the Thai bank charges as well on transferring. My feeling is they want our money but not us, they want our expertise but don't want to pay for it just to copy it. Good for some of us that they can't copy Mercedes Benz cars or speak good English otherwise that would be the end for us all here.
You were looking for love in the wrong place…
Just about the time that you think you are in love with your Isaan Stunner and with Thailand; I recommend that you visit the Nana Plaza in the daytime! Say around 10-12 in the morning. There won't be any bars open and there won't be any girls. Just contractors, and vendors, and delivery people. Walk around. Go everywhere, just like you do at night. All three floors. You will be stunned, stupefied, and amazed at the trash, and garbage, and filth, and squalor. This is the real Thailand. Absolutely no attempt on the individuals part, or the bar owners part, or on the landlords part to make a nice appearance or to be a good citizen or even to do what would benefit them in the short run and in the long run as profit seeking entities. Bags of cement, concrete blocks, construction equipment and debris, abandoned tools, broken steps, and broken tiles, and broken railings, filthy walls and floors and ceilings, trash that is a year old, garbage that is a month old, etc. And you will be the only one who notices. To everyone else (Thai), this is normal and acceptable. Your future wife (Lek or Noi or Wan) who takes 2 showers a day hasn't noticed because her house and her village and her Temple looks the same! Guys, you can do better than this. When you are Thailand just remember the four F's: Find 'em, Feel 'em, Fuck 'em, Forget 'em. Been there and been disappointed.
Going native.
A Thai who goes to Britain and learns the local dialect, drinks 8 pints of lager of an evening, talks about football, and addresses everyone he meets as "Alright mate" will be accepted as one of the lads. A Brit who goes to Thailand and learns the local dialect, drinks a bottle of Mekong, talks about money and goes around wai-ing everybody will be considered an absolute wanker. Britain has been assimilating foreigners from all over the world for the past 50 years. Thailand has a history of showing hospitality to foreigners on the understanding that they don't stay. Thailand is still an exclusive society. It is obviously important to learn the language, understand Thai ways and customs, and abide by the rules of the game. But going overboard is a no-no.
The Grace Hotel have been prohibited from selling alcohol after 2:00 AM in what appears to be quite a serious crackdown by the authorities. Following the dramatic raid last week, rumours have emerged that certain officials are seeking a more permanent ban on the sale of alcohol at the late night Grace "coffee" shop. Earlier this week, a bar manager was shocked to see vulgar, loud-mouthed lowlifes in Nana Restaurant but then the penny dropped. The Grace was shut and and many of the low class hookers and el cheapo farang were using Nana Restaurant as the new meeting place. Very difficult to have a relaxing meal and chat after a long nights work with loud-mouths occupying his local.

Quote of the week: "Put a Thai in a uniform or behind the wheel of a car and they become an asshole".

A reader has written in singing the praises of a new bar in Sukumvit Soi 7 called The Winking Frog. According to him it has decent Pommie food and good Isaan eats too. I'll pop along one day and check it out.

The world's leading sex tourist class hotel, the Nana, has a pool under development which can be clearly seen from the sky train. I thought most of the crowd there would be too busy in the bedroom to bother with the pool.

It's official. Temptations in Nana got a 30 day closure. It seems that the police really are getting tough and no lesbian shows or anything of that nature are allowed at the moment. Bars have been warned that such shows will see them closed for 30 days.

Sunbelt Asia have installed a very nice search tool on their site that allows you to search for a business using your own specified criteria. I didn't find any businesses for sale making an annual 5 million baht profit for sale at less than 1 million baht. I guess there must be a problem with the search tool…

I note that some travel agents currently have a promotion with return airfares from Bangkok to Ko Samui on Bangkok Airways, the only airway that flies to Samui, going for a mere 5,500 baht. Sure, 5,500 may not be a lot, but for the first time that I have ever been aware, the fare to Samui is cheaper than the fare to Phuket! Thai Airways currently charges 5,600 for a Bangkok to Phuket return ticket. While Samui is very popular, its growth has been stifled by the dearer airfares from the capital, when compared to the cost of a flight to Phuket on the national carrier. 5 years ago a return flight to Phuket was just 3,700 baht, but Thai Airway's domestic fares have soared since then. Please note that this a promotional fare, and I believe the regular fare is usually a little dearer.

With airfares to Samui and Phuket the same price,
could the tide swing from the Andaman to the Gulf of Thailand?

Are the Thais telling the truth about SARS? It has been mooted in some expat circles that Thailand is so damned scared of a SARS outbreak and the damage that this would do to the tourism industry that they are completely playing it down, and denying that any cases exist. Who knows what is really going on?

What's the deal with all of these teenage Thais getting their hair dyed bright, garish colours? Truth be told, it looks bloody awful. I first started noticing it in significant numbers up in Korat of all places, but I am now noticing it more and more in Bangkok, specifically in the poorer areas, with large numbers of teenagers from lower socio-economic groups walking around with orange or yellow hair. It must be a summer thing because Thai schools most certainly are not the relaxed environments that schools in the West tend to be and they do not allow shockingly bright dyed hair like a lot of these kids have.

The glamour photo industry is absolutely booming in Thailand. Thai women are flocking to studios to get their make up and hair done and then getting photographed looking a lot better than they ordinarily do. They then go on to surround themselves with these photos in an effort to make themselves feel even better about the way that they look. The interesting thing is that a lot of girls who you meet online, be it those girls who have a full profile available at one of the many dating / introduction agency sites or those girls hanging out on one of the chat sites will often provide such a photo. If you view pictures of a Thai girl online and feel that you would like to meet her, try and establish if the photos were taken in a studio. If they were, the lady in question might not look nearly as good in person. Even the ugly girls can be made to look good so get a Thai to look at the photo and they will tell you what she will really look like.

The bar areas around Sukhumvit were once teeming with customers but now trade in some establishments is as slow as the Sukhumvit traffic. Some of the more remote bars along Sukhumvit towards Asoke get excited at the prospect of one customer ordering a beer. Some bars are clearly suffering and it makes you wonder how they will survive what looks to be a long, slow low season.

Rumours abound about what will happen to the big space next to Ambassador Plaza. One rumour has it that a new Nana Plaza will be built there, or at least a replacement beer bar area for the old Sukumvit Square area. Other rumours have it that it will be a night market. The night market sounds a lot more plausible.

Once upon a time, 500 baht was the norm for a bit of companionship, someone to keep you warm on a cold Bangkok night, and to help keep the ghosts at bay. However, few bargirls in Bangkok have been happy to accept 500 baht for quite some time. But with SARS, and the dip in the number of visitors which equals less customers for the girls, many freelancers and girls patrolling the pavement have been offering themselves to guys for 500 baht. Times are tough for these girls.

A beggar was spotted on the pavement of Sukhumvit near Soi 7 crawling along the ground. Not an unusual sight in Bangkok you may think, but the funny thing is that the beggar is from Pattaya. So business is so bad in Pattaya that even the beggars are moving out! What an insult to Pattaya, even the beggars have had enough! Problem is that Bangkok is equally quiet so where will they go next?!

The Lumpini Police, that bunch of officials charged with looking after Nana Plaza, are remaining stringent with their policies for the go-go bars in Nana Plaza. Recently several bars have been checked to ensure all staff are 18 years old and that they are of Thai nationality. Some high ranking officers have also checked that there is no naked dancing or naked sex shows. These checks follow recent raids on several bars including Lollipop which it is rumoured could face a closure for allowing naked dancing.

Interrupted service for customers at Nana.

The building above Cathouse in Nana Plaza has had the entrance wall knocked down so Boss Hogg has plans for what was his office. Could well be another beer bar but with Boss Hogg who knows what he will construct next. I've heard rumours that he wants to build a walkway from Vixens across to Cathouse, which is a good idea, and one that was floating around a couple of years ago, but failed to eventuate. The Boss will come up with something novel, no doubt.

Variations of the Nigerian scam letter are popping up online all the time. Sometimes it is crippled Johnny who has a mere few days to live and other times it is some other wretch with some debilitating disease. How long will it be before some farang desperado on the bones of his ass re-writes the letter for the bargirls, and anyone who has ever known a bargirl suddenly finds their email inbox filled up with multiple copies of the same letter, all with a different name and account details?

A couple of weeks back I mentioned that there was a trail of girls making their way up the road from Cowboy to Nana, searching for a new place to work, a place where they might actually find a few customers. But with the low season upon us and with trade down, a new phenomenon is being met by the girls. A lot of bargirls applying for work are not being accepted for various reasons. Positions are more limited during low season and bar bosses are generally much more fussy about who they employ at this time of year. Bar bosses have to consider things carefully as more girls means more salaries to pay, more shit to deal with and resentment from girls already employed within the bar who will have more competition for the customers coming into the bar where they currently work. Bargirls are not adverse to moaning and groaning and to them, the grass always looks greener on the other side, hence the way they jump from bar to bar.

The following was sent in from the owner of Ecstasy Gogo in Patong Beach, Phuket. "For your information the reason I closed Ecstasy is because business is extremely low in Patong and I could not justify the expenses without making a profit. It is more economical to shut it down until business improves. Patong, unlike the rest of Thailand, is in a financial slump. Ecstasy is not the only gogo to close due to the economic situation." So, it is official. From a bar owner's mouth, Phuket is struggling. Hmmm, I wonder if the high prices for virtually everything down there have anything to do with it? Nah, high prices don't keep visitors away, Stick…

The column is published online on Sunday (most of the time). If you have a function, party, promotion, whatever that you would like given a FREE mention, please make sure yo email the details to me by the Sunday before your function / whatever goes ahead. Emailing me on a Wednesday for a function that will happen three days later will not do anyone any good.

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Each week, Mrs. Stick will answer questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick is an open-minded Thai lady who is happy to answer your questions. 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: I have heard that beards (facial hair) is not a fashionable thing in Thailand and most ladies do not like them even if it is short and well trimmed. Is this true?

Mrs. Stick says: I think it depends on your personality and how well you look after your beard. We usually see farang tourists – and you know most tourists don't gonna trim their beard often! That's why I think it doesn't look so good. On the other hand (and this is a secret between you & me, ok?) working farang guys in a white collar with a tie and a beard look very charming to me (and to tell you the truth, I have to look twice!) and I'm pretty sure to other Thai girls too! So what kind of beard have you got?

Question 2: So can Miss Stick tell me what other things initially attract a Thai woman to farangs if they are not wealthy – as most Farangs aren't rich, although I suppose even an English teacher's salary could be considered wealthy compared to a lot of jobs in Thailand?

Mrs. Stick says: I think not all attractive farangs are rich and not every rich farang is attractive. It's all about what's inside. Your attitude about living in Thailand and your attempt to understand Thai (language, culture, behaviour etc.) are more important 😉 And as long as you pay after the meal and don't borrow money from Thai people :-) then you'll be fine…

Question 3: Exactly what do you mean by: 'Thai women need more care and attention'.

Mrs. Stick says: What I mean is this. Within the Thai social system we believe that the man is stronger than the woman and thus men are expected to treat and protect women well while Thai women play the "maid role" at home in return. I'll give you an example: I know sometimes my "lifemate" gets frustrated (only sometimes) when he drives me to work when I could actually take the skytrain. And I get frustrated too when I have to do the housework while my "lifemate" is watching T.V.!!!

Hey, the column is up on Saturday this week, more than 24 hours early…not bad, even if I do say so myself.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick