Stickman's Weekly Column August 17th, 2003

Bangkok, Anything Goes



Bangkok, the City Of Angels. I often wonder how representative such a name is of this mad city. After all, the word angel conjures images of all things pure and wholesome, a couple of words that could hardly be used to describe Bangkok. Known the world over for all the wrong reasons, the name "City Of Angels" is deceptive at best, fraudulent at worst.

From commercial sex to narcotics to counterfeit goods and more, all of the sins of Thailand can be found in abundance in Bangkok. It's like the city is a crazy zone of its own where residents and visitors alike feel that they can do anything – and many do.

Contrast this with life outside of Bangkok. In my frequent trips to Korat, I find the locals to be incredibly friendly, but somewhat conservative. Simply wandering around the market-like shops that surround the central square is something from which I get a lot of pleasure. The locals are fun, easy-going and are never short of a few things to say. A farang who can speak the local lingo and just wants to have chat will have no shortage of new friends. However, if the conversation gets on to anything racy or naughty, they will quickly shut up, and may even look at you with more than a hint of disapproval.

Back in the capital, I also come across a few Korat natives, but their attitude is quite different to the traditional folks I meet when up in Korat itself. It seems that they are much more confrontational, much more driven – and much more open to the idea if anything a bit naughty.

Away from the prying eyes of people from home, be it Korat, Chiang Mai, London or New York, the temptations of Bangkok often become too much and it seems there are few who are not affected, perhaps even sucked in, by the city's lures. People from all over the world come to Bangkok in search of fun, an escape. in Bangkok, many behave in such ways that they would never get away with at home, indeed would never even consider. Both Westerners and Thais. Contrast this with the provinces of Thailand where the behaviour of the average Thai is very much different, much more conservative.

The provinces are a lot more traditional, conservative and of equal significance, the people living and working there tend to have been raised there – and many seem to think that in time they will return there too. In their own province, they are much more restrained but in Bangkok it is a whole different story. Thais from the countryside will travel around the country to search for work, and more often than not that involves getting on the Bangkok bus. I don't know what they serve on that bus, but when they get to Bangkok everything changes.

Thais will do all that they can to avoid losing face and suffering any damage to their reputation. But such damage would primarily be done when in close proximity to friends and family. When in some distant city, namely Bangkok, they seem to adopt the idea that one is free to do as they please and to sample and experience all of the temptations of the big city. When out of sight of friends and family, people have the propensity to do all sorts of things.

While Bangkok is most definitely Thailand, it is atypical of so many things Thai. And that so many of the inhabitants of the city, in fact a majority I believe, come from other parts of Thailand, all contributes to the feeling that Bangkok is some special sort of zone, in some ways like Fantasyland and in others like a chapter from a horror story, a place that at times seems lawless, a place where almost anything goes.

Capitals and other major cities around the world over are often not that representative of that particular country, and Bangkok is no different.

If you've seen and spent time in Bangkok, you haven't necessarily seen much of Thailand. If you think you know Thailand from time spent in Bangkok, you probably don't. But more than anything else, what happens in Bangkok is quite likely not acceptable elsewhere in the Kingdom. I often feel that you can get away with doing just about anything in Bangkok, but just remember that such behaviour would most likely not be accepted anywhere else in the country.

Yeah, crazy stuff takes place in every corner of Thailand, but outside of Bangkok (and for that matter Pattaya, though that is more like the Wild West than Thailand), the behaviour and the norms are quite different from the big city. It is worth remembering that when you are outside of Bangkok.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

It was Gulliver's in Suk soi 5.

This week's pic

Last week's pic was ridiculously easy, and records were broken with the number of people who got it right. It was the new branch of Gulliver's in Sukumvit Soi 5. To provide a greater challenge, this week's pic is difficult and frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if no-one correctly guesses it. There we are, do you dare answer? The only clue is that, obviously, it is not in Bangkok. Come on, prove Stick wrong…where is it?! There is a prize offered for the FIRST THAILAND BASED PERSON who correctly informs me of the location of the weekly pic. (Make sure you state that you are local if you want the prize.) The first person to get it right wins a 500 baht credit with Cheap Charlie's Phonecards. I'm sorry that for now, the prize is only available to guys who are Thailand based – that is, anywhere in the Kingdom. However, for guys outside LOS, still do feel free to email me your guess and I'll reply letting you know if you are correct or not

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

No increased prices…but decreased quality?

Lately bars have begun skimping on the quality of the alcohol as well. Tell your readers to take a look at the kind of liquor that the bars are now serving. In the last year, many of them have gone to the real cheap shit. I like vodka the places that I made my regular hangouts had good music and good liquor, but no more. In the past year almost ever bar in Nana has switched to the worst vodka imaginable, Skyy. Why, because it is the cheapest. I told the waitresses at my favorite bar there that I wouldn't be coming in much anymore and when I did I wouldn't be drinking much, since they switched vodkas; and I don't. I am saving a lot of money, but that is not the issue. I am simply looking for a decent place to hangout.
A short visit to hell.
Last week I went to the court for what I thought was a 30 minute plea of guilty/not guilty. I didn't know that the courts and the police were treated as separate entities and so the bail must be passed from one to the other. As a consequence I was led directly to the cells below for 5 hours. At 6.00 PM I was handcuffed to another prisoner and taken by paddy wagon to a prison by Don Muang airport (2 hours on a Friday night). I was not allowed any phone calls at all. At the prison (6000 inmates) I was stripped, had my jeans cut into shorts and taken to a cell (15m x 5 m) with 49 other inmates. We slept on the tile floor, no pillow, mattress or blanket. I go out last night (5 days / 4 nights) and in that time had no washing equipment, couldn't take out my contact lens and was not allowed contact with the outside (a friendly guard rang a friend). A very scary experience and believe me I, along with the others who arrived with me were treated as convicted criminals. Guilty until proven innocent. This could happen, and I met other similar cases inside, to ANY farang in this country.
Hat Yai, no place for a "stickman".
Bars in Bangkok don't offer what farangs want? Music too loud? Not the right sounds? Then vote with your feet! There are thousands of bars available in Bangkok – if you don't like one – stop moaning and move on! I live in Hat Yai – a city of 110,000 people…and NO POOL TABLE!! Not one! I have to travel 32 km for a game of pool. However I have talked to local bar owners and two have agreed to install a table – I will believe it when I see it!
Where can you buy a mobile jammer (before Mr Shinawatra bans them?)
Why is it that good manners seem to be non-existent when mobile phones are involved? This past week I made a bus trip to Nongkhai. From midnight on it seemed as though I was trying to sleep in business office. Mobile phones were ringing at least every half hour, and it was not just the Thais. One farang (pejorative) on the bus was the most annoying as while at least the Thais can talk quietly, if they wish, the farang received somewhere between 3-5 calls that night and in each case had to talk sufficiently loud that the whole bus could hear. I was sitting two rows from the front and he was the second to last row in the back. I need to find a device that jams mobile phone signals and carry it with me on overnight bus trips!
Tell them to xxxx off.
You're right, Thais interpret favours as kindness as in weakness. My most generous Canadian friend in the Beer Garden used to light cigarettes, give cigarettes, give 5 baht for the toilet, buy drinks, purchase cow pats, bus money home, lend money, but it spite of all these good deeds one day he refused a request, only to be confronted that he was keeneeow number one. So now when someone comes up to him to use his lighter he just tells them to fuck off.
Because it is the polite way to drink, to say nothing of being more hygienic.
Something that has dawned on me since my last visit to the LOS is that there are straws-a-plenty in this Kingdom. Go into a 7-11 and buy some water and you get a straw for every bottle purchased. Go into any restaurant/eatery and you get a straw in your drink. I am somewhat perplexed as to why the Thais like to drink out of straws so much. I am somewhat relieved that they don't place a straw into your bottle of beer !
No wonder the English move to Bangkok.
It seems that everyone eating and drinking on the hoof, but the best one that I saw was a guy trying to get on a moving open double decker bus that was pulling away. Mobile under the ear with a Starbucks coffee to hand, briefcase under the other arm, with one foot on the platform as the bus departed. Just like a silent movie the coffee was thrown up in the air along with its owner only to land all over his shirt as he was lying on the ground. The pace and pressure is now so demanding now in London, that convenience food and drink outlets have mushroomed everywhere, and if for some reason they demanded 5 pounds for a coffee or a sandwich I can still see the people paying it. As for sex I don't possible know where people have the time to meet each other, have time to think about when it might take place, and finally be in a fit enough condition to actually perform it. Real sex has been replaced by mobile sex, just talking about it.
No wonder the Americans move to Bangkok.
However, I must tell you that heterosexual men are already considered and treated as second-class citizens and outsiders in the Bay area by most American women. A male has to be gay or have four legs to be accepted by the Women here. Despite the large gay population it is NOT A single man's paradise. It is counter-acted by the great amount of lesbians and man haters who also live here. Good deals of the lesbians are taking testosterone shots to make them bulk up and become as big as men. Yes, San Francisco prides itself as being tolerant and diverse, but the truth is everyone hates one another for past offences real or imagined done to their ancestors.
More than just a gogo bar, Rock Hard in Patong Beach, Phuket, is a landmark. Arriving in Patong almost ten years before McDonalds, it is one of the most well known spots in Phuket's thriving tourist capital, and probably one of the most well known gogo bars in Thailand, which I guess for that matter, makes it one of the most well known gogo bars in the entire world. It should come as no surprise then that the reported 75 million baht fee that I heard was paid for it this past week should come as no surprise. Yep, 75 million baht – that's not that far off two million US dollars! Whoa, we're talking real money here! Someone should send a note off to the good people at Guinness, because I am sure that that breaks the record for the highest ever gogo bar sale. Larry, next time I bump into you, it's your round! From what I understand, Larry didn’t really want to sell but the buyer, an Israeli guy, offered such a high price that he could not refuse. Apparently it is still very profitable, partly because the rent was only 20,000 baht per month due to a long term rent agreement. However, how long will it stay like this?

Very high ranking police and Government officials are implementing a major crack down on ALL gogo bars in ALL areas! It has been all over the newspapers and the Interior Minister has come pout with some very strong comments, saying that Thailand does not need the type of visitors that these bars attract and that such visitors do not spend much money in Thailand. Hmmm, think he got his wires crossed there… It is the backpackers who do not spend so much, sunshine… Anyway, Nana, Patpong and Cowboy are as far as I know, all NO SHOW. Bikini only in all the bars. No shows, full bikinis and some very strict new police regulations. There was a major raid Friday before last in Nana Plaza. Once again the goal posts have moved and the Thai Government seem to be more serious than ever! A lot of people believe that this major crackdown is due to the upcoming APEC meeting. Combined with President Bush's visit, this clean up campaign is timed well. This is THE biggest raid I've ever seen and the Thai Government are doing their level best to confirm that they are indeed anti Farang.

All staff from all Nana Plaza bars have to register with police meaning forms, photos, ID, a hell of a lot of administration. Bar owners and managers have been told that the police will be checking regularly, following new regulations which include full bikinis in all gogo bars in all areas. No shows of any kind are permitted. Staff are to be 18 years old minimum and ALL customers must be at least 20 years old. So how do you take one girl to another bar as many are 18 or 19 years old?

Nana Plaza is a lot quieter following the raids, and some people have said that it feels like the SARS era all over again. Yeah, when there is no nudity or naked shows, the crowds become much less interested. A friend was in Angelwitch the other night talking to another friend, all the while with his back to the stage. The mamasan asked why he was not watching the show to which he replied that it’s hardly a show when they keep all their clothes on! Bars that rely on sexy shows, like Angelwitch, could really suffer.

There is a rumour floating around that Mekhong Kurt has removed his beard. By God, those girls will only have eyes for him.

Look out your window and all you see is rain.
Yep, the rainy season is here.

Last week I asked two questions to readers. One was whether freedom existed to import fruit and vegetables into Thailand and the other as to whether spouses can sue each other. Several people emailed me and said that they have brought fruit and vegetables into Thailand through Don Meuang, declared them at the airport and there has been no problem at all. There was another person however who mentioned that he had had fruit taken from him. And yes, spouses can sue each other. Is this a case of the ugly, antiquated concept of “alienation of affection” or some twisted Thai form rearing its head in Thailand? Actually, probably not. You can sue on the grounds of embarrassment or loss of face, that was caused to you. Yep, loss of face AGAIN!

Some hotels won't allow guests to take 'friends' back with them. Others have a check in policy and allow girls to accompany guests for a small payment. Others just take the girl's ID card for security reasons. But the Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya seems to be adopting a whole new attitude. They've just announced a 'Men On The Rock' promotion. It's for men only, and from Sundays to Fridays (i.e. not Saturdays) the room rate is Bt2,200 for a Deluxe room with a sea view, Bt2,800 for a King's Club room with a city view and Bt3.300 for a King's Club room with a sea view. And just so there's no misunderstanding, the 'Men Only' package includes breakfast for two! Now just who is their target market? The offer, which is a good price for a good hotel, is valid until October 31.

I mentioned previously about the annoying habit that some Thais have of speaking English in public in what seems to be an amusing effort to impress others. It has just dawned on me that more than a few farangs do exactly the same thing, using Thai, when English would suffice, in an effort to impress others. So, I guess it goes both ways.

I have heard a quite shocking but unverified report that in an effort to crackdown on the pirate CD trade at Panthip Plaza, the cops have resorted to standing outside and hassling customers who exit with bent software! Yep, you may well be stopped by the boys in brown and asked what you're carrying in your little bag. Not good at all. If this does in fact turn out to be a regular thing and not a one off, it may well push purveyors of high quality duplicated software and movies to other areas peddling said contraband.

Au Bon Pain must prescribe to the Thai school of logic. Just as a real competitor, Subway, arrives in the marketplace, they go and put up their prices by around 20%.

From the Winchester Club in Pattaya which has changed name to the Blind Beggar, I can confirm that the issues down there did not involve narcotics at all. Management have advised me that they did not wish to pay 1. Immigration, 2. Tourist police, 3. Bangkok Suppression Division. 4. Pattaya Soi 9 and 5. Pattaya superintendents. Sounds like a lot of people wanted to get their fingers in the pie.

Quote of the week comes from a reader "There is nothing wrong with katoeys, nothing a bullet would not put right".

So many people have warned me about it, but I didn't listen. Seafood in Thailand is great they told me, but avoid seafood pizza at your peril. Well, I didn't listen and I paid the price and Stickman became just another statistic. I joined the legions of farangs who have suffered food poisoning via a seafood pizza at one of the country's two top pizza restaurants. Pizza will be off the menu for some time for me, such was the pain I went through. Don't worry, I'll spare you the details!

Despite the reputation that Bangkok (deservedly) has for being the sex capital of the world, trying to find sex toys or similarly erotic lingerie is not at all easy. In fact if you want to fool around with sex toys in the City Of Angels, it would pay to bring your own from abroad. You can buy "the real thing" here, but sex toys are a whole lot harder to come by.

Could the bars of Sukumvit Soi 33 finally become more mainstream? In the past they have suffered from being too expensive, that is, when compared to other bar areas but with drink prices elsewhere hitting the 120 baht mark, the price difference is not so much. And remember, the soi 33 bars all have a great happy hour with drinks at just 80 baht in most establishment before 9:00 PM. The bars don’t need many people to get a good atmosphere due to the enclosed design of the bar. At Napoleon Bar the other night night they had a free food buffet and did a show which involved a totally nude girl with a great body on the pool table. There is more chance of seeing some muff in 33 than Nana these days!

Spend a lot of time in and around the bars and you can slowly start to believe that Thai women are all a bunch of slappers who will drop their knickers in a flash. This is far from the truth. I observed an interesting situation slowly come to a head over the past few weeks, a story that shows that not all Thai woman are slappers, and that many of them value their virtue. A Thai female friend around the same age as me had been in a relationship with a Thai man of about the same age for several months. They seemed reasonably serious though they were not living together. She had introduced him to her parents but he had yet to introduce her to his parents. To cut a long story short, the relationship went sour with him losing interest in her and gaining interest in another girl. The original woman was quite upset at this and despite efforts to get things back to how they were, the relationship just fizzled out. However, as she had introduced him to her family, there was a significant amount of face lost. In an effort to redress the perceived loss that she had suffered, someone close to her met with her now estranged boyfriend and said that as was the Thai traditional way, he had a choice – either to get engaged with her through an official ceremony (with diamond ring and gold) or to compensate her financially for the situation. Now in my opinion such a request is crazy. To want to marry someone who has lost interest is madness and the request for money makes it all one step away from prostitution. But in asking Thais about this, traditional and somewhat conservative Thais that is, they saw it as quite normal. It all serves to demonstrate the different way that farangs and traditional Thais look at relationships.

When you buy a mobile phone and a SIM card, you'll get a small card with the mobile number and another code on it. Keep this card! If you lose the phone or it gets stolen, you can produce this card to the mobile provider and they can get you back your old number…but not your old phone. Well, DTAC can anyway. Not sure about Orange and AIS though.

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 for 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: Is there way to convince a Thai girl that “Mai mi fan, mai mi mia, jing!” (translation: I do not have a girlfriend or a wife, really) and that I am not cheating on anyone's back." It’s even true! Any advice on what could convince a Thai girl that a 27 year old farang living in Thailand, babbling a few words of Thai and sporting a smile isn't necessarily engaged with a Thai girl (or any girl for that matter) would be very much welcome.

Mrs. Stick says: Don't worry too much. Even if Thai girls keep saying or making you think that they feel you don't have a girlfriend, they are just checking. Deep down they will be happy to see that you don't have a girlfriend. They probably just want to make sure because farangs are very, very popular with Thai women today. As long as you can keep yourself clean from those accusations, these Thai girls can be yours! Don't worry too much. You are not a Hollywood star, are you?

Question 2: How much does it cost to build a nice home upcountry?

Mrs. Stick says: As Stickman hasn't bought me a house yet, I'm not entirely sure but it is a lot cheaper than in your part of the world for sure. Land prices are quite low upcountry and you can build a pleasant place for around 1 – 1.5 million baht – and this would include almost everything.

That's all for another week.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Special thanks go out to Dave The Rave, as always.