There he was across the aisle. With a monster beer gut pushing his tatty old singlet way out over a pair of shorts that might have fit him comfortably a few years ago but now looked a little too snug, I just knew that this guy was from my part of the world. As we crossed in the produce section of the local supermarket, I heard him talking with what appeared to be his wife and the Australian accent just confirmed what I already knew, he just had to be an Antipodean.
While the Thais openly looked at him as a right mess, a walking nightmare, a horror story on legs, I knew immediately that this was the type of guy I would like, the type of guy you could sit down with, have a beer and share a few good stories. What he lacked on the outside, and this guy really was no oil painting, he would no doubt make up for on the inside. At the risk over over generalising, I'm sure he would have an opinion on which innings was Bradman's greatest, he'd know that the Wallabies don't have a chance against the might All Blacks next week and he'd be able to tell you the relative merits over the latest Commodores and Falcons, all good bloke's talk.
A few Thais were giving this guy the look. With his sloppy presentation, no doubt he was being judged as the lowest of the low on the ladder. That he looked like a decent guy to me and that more than a few people were giving him questionable looks due to his appearance annoyed me. It really annoyed me. The guy may well have had a decent job – and the amount of groceries he was buying suggested he was no pauper. Just who are these uneducated peasants to judge him? Before I knew it I was doing just that, judging them too.
When I got to the checkout with a trundler full of groceries I noticed the lady behind me had just two items. In NZ I would always allow that person to go in front of me but then in Thailand, no-one would ever do this for me in Thailand so why should I do it for her? My mind suddenly went into overdrive about how Thai politeness is farcical and how these people are a bunch of uncivilized third world peasants. Bugger her, she can wait I thought quietly to myself. While it may sound like I was having a bad day, at that moment I was suffering from symptoms of the love / hate relationship that so many farangs have with Thailand. While most of the times things are great and we can feel like we are in heaven, sometimes we are reminded that heaven it is not, and heaven it will never be. I quickly came to my senses and eliminated all of the mindless thinking. "Cool down Stick, this is just a trip to the supermarket, no need to be so serious!"
I'm usually fairly placid and have always tried to live with the attitude that I won't let the little things in life bother me – and most of the time they don't. But sometimes it really does bother me that this love / hate relationship rears its ugly head and that as much as I try, there is the occasion when it does affect me. I like Thais but there are many things about Thailand that I don't like – and probably never will. You push these issues aside and just get on with things. After all, there are things you don't like about home too. But it remains and no matter what, there is that odd moment when the mind starts jumping to conclusion after conclusion and in no time I'm wondering, what the hell am I doing here?
For me, such moments happen no more than once a year and they disappear as quickly as they came. But it did get me thinking about the lifestyles that us farangs in Thailand have – and how different we are from the locals. Beyond the very basics, farangs and Thais are fundamentally different.
With such fundamental differences in culture, outlook, beliefs and values, we have to try and control our emotions, but from time to time, we all get pissed off with the locals. Looking at the guy in the supermarket, he was obviously much less concerned about his appearance than he was with what was on the inside, as is the case with many farangs. For many, but certainly not all Thais, it is the complete opposite, the way you look and your personal presentation being considered of utmost importance. While most of the time we fit in with the Thais just fine, when differences appear, it can cause symptoms of love / hate to arise, like they did with me today.
The differences between farangs and Thais are huge. In many ways it is probably a minor miracle that so many Westerners live here happily for so long with relatively few problems. Remember that we are all different and don't let the little things bother you because to do so will mean your life in Thailand will ultimately be much less enjoyable.
Last week's pic
This week's pic
It was Nakon Sawan.
What on earth is that? Lego?!
FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:
I wonder what he means by extraordinary conditions?!
people are ignorant in these matters or just figure it does not matter in Thai society if they have an original name, rest of the world be damned.
Recently, I heard of just such a case about a Bruce and a Porn (fictitious names). Bruce met Porn on his MBA course in Sydney, and they fell in love. Porn had a Thai childhood sweetheart waiting to marry her when she got back to Bangkok when the course finished. Bruce proposed, and Porn was faced with a dilemna. Which one did she choose, do you think? The Thai! She said it was because that's what her family wanted. I believe the same would happen in nine cases out of ten.
I notice that a piece published in one of Thailand's regional English language newspapers has said that any farangs who believe they have dodgy visas should go to the local police station and say that they have been the victims of a fraud. It goes on to suggest that anyone doing so would not get in any major trouble – but anyone leaving the country with dodgy stamps would get in trouble. Unless an official amnesty is announced, I'd suggest throwing your passport into the Chao Praya before going into the local cop shop. I can just imagine what would happen at 99% of the country's cop shops if you went in and volunteered what you had done…
I heard an absolute classic story about the way that some of these so called dodgy visa firms used to procure the dodgy visas. At least a couple of firms used to simply send customers' passports via the postal system to one of the Thai consulates abroad along with the completed forms and requisite photos, were the visa would be processed and sent back to them. The easy consulates were always recognised as one each in the UK, Australia and the US. Actually, the passport would usually be sent to an intermediary in that particular country who obviously has a local address, who would then send it on to the consulate. The consulate would process the visa and send it back to the local address who would then send it back to Thailand. The fee charged for this used to be several thousand baht and given that the cost of the visa was around 500 – 1000 baht equivalent and that it would cost no more than 500 baht all up for postage, the visa agent was making a good profit for very little work! I guess that the consulate staff processing the visa never noticed that according to the stamps in the passport, the passport holder should still actually be in Thailand. So, if you obtained a visa through such a firm, you could have just sent it in yourself…
Apparently there is a group of three girls (?) and a katoey up to no good in the Sukumvit / Nana area. At least one Brit was rolled, given a good hiding and lost all he had on him, including his glasses! Beware.
While I haven't been shy in criticizing the Nana Plaza bars for pushing up prices to levels that I believe are simply too high, did you know that the barfine for a showgirl in Rawhide and Long Gun is now 700 baht? Ouch! Will the high pricing disease hit Cowboy too? In the interests of fairness, it must be noted that Bacarra Bar in Soi Cowboy has, I believe, the highest drinks prices of any gogo bar in Bangkok, including all in Nana Plaza. I'm not sure what is going on with their pricing but you are looking at 140 baht a drink in there. So in fairness to the Nana bars, there is a bar elsewhere with higher prices.
You know things have got really bad at Nana when more than a few former Nana girls have moved over to Patpong. These girls have complained that the bars in Nana simply haven't been doing much business and they personally were not barfined much at all over the past couple of months. This is one for the books because in the past, girls displeased with a lack of business have tended to gravitate towards Nana. No more it appears. Walking along the main Patpong soi on Friday night, my quick price inspection showed that prices have not increased like they have in other areas.
While there are a lot of teaching jobs around at present, and salaries are a lot better than they were just a few years ago, I note that a lot of the professional teachers and career teachers are not staying on in Thailand. More and more, it seems that the real teachers are becoming disenchanted with the system in Thailand, and often the regime at their school, and many are moving on. For so many teachers, Thailand is not the land of milk and honey that they had hoped it to be. Apart from the very best schools, employment as a teacher in Thailand more often than not results in one being forced to compromise their integrity. And yeah, I even include many of the international schools here. I heard the story this week of a couple at an international school, each of whom was comfortably clearing over 100,000 baht a month, collecting their pay and leaving on the last day of the month, dissatisfied at all of the administrative nonsense they felt they suffered at their school, all of which prevented them from doing the type of job they felt that they should be doing.
There are at least three different people / production companies in Thailand right now planning or actually in the process of making documentaries of one nature or another about farangs in Thailand. One of them sounds particularly interesting and follows the lives of a couple of farangs who have lived in Thailand for a long time, both of whom speak very good Thai, yet they still feel like outsiders, still pay higher prices and generally feel that they do not fit in like they should. Sounds great, and if you would like to be involved in this particular production, drop the director an email on: email@example.com
The reader inquiring about strong condoms in last week's column ought to take a trip to South Africa if strength is the most important thing that he looks for in a condom. The South African government issues are real passion killers, but strong and larger than what is available in Thailand. They are dispensed by the box full (100) if you want, and at no cost. The new South African government went on a condom awareness campaign and dished out thousands of condoms with a "how to use" message. Only problem was they stapled the condoms through the centre onto the message card!
I had to feel sorry for one of the security guards in my apartment building when I walked out of the building on my way to work earlier in the week. He had just finished the night shift and had changed out of his uniform into something more casual. The poor fellow probably doesn't read English and thus didn't realise that the T-shirt which he had no doubt been given by his sister, girlfriend or God forbid, his wife, read "Classroom A Gogo, study with the best". He is such a nice fellow too… Any farangs seeing him in that would no doubt have had a chuckle.
Hollywood Carousel has reopened in Nana and it will be interesting to see if they can repeat the huge success they had before their 30 day closure. Being closed for so long, they have no doubt lost a few girls, as any bar does that is closed for so long.
A quick reminder for anyone in Pattaya tonight who is not sure how to spend the evening. Take a trip down to Electric Blue on Walking Street for the Nanapong dance contest which should be a lot of fun.
I forgot to report that The Office Bar in Soi 33 has increased the price of its Carlsberg draught from 59 baht a glass to 69 baht a glass. Despite the increase, it is still easily the best deal in the absurdly priced Sukumvit soi 33 bars.
One has to wonder about the logic of many things in Thailand. One is supposed to specify an address where they will be staying on the TM card when one enters the country and if left blank, the Immigration officer may well question you. So, if you are supposed to complete this before being allowed through immigration, why oh why are there so many hotel booking services the moment you pass through immigration and customs at the airport?
The friendly manager at Eden Cub wishes to advise that not all establishments are like that in soi 33 mentioned in last week's column which literally refuse customer service. To remind you of what happened, a customer barfined a girl who came back to his place and not only did she give him an STD (they used protection), but she also stole his mobile phone. The farang managed soi 33 owned bar did nothing to assist and were totally disinterested. The Eden Club is quite different. Any problems at all and the manager will be there to deal with your complaint professionally. I like my knee caps too much to mention which soi 33 bar we are talking about.
And hot on the heels of last week's dissatisfied customers comes yet another story from a soi 33 farang managed bar. The latest concerns a guy who drinks at a certain soi 33 bar regularly. He had a problem with his drink and he complained to the farang manager. In what has to be the worst example of customer service imaginable, the farang manager went and barred this fellow AND his 8 friends! Now sure, there may be more to this story than I have been told, but on the surface it sounds bizarre.
I heard an hilarious story this week. Remember the girl I mentioned a few weeks back in the column who was making terrific money in her first ten days as a bargirl? Well, shortly after that, she took off upcountry for a few days before returning to the soi 33 bar. She hadn't told them she was leaving and upon her return was told that if she wanted to continue working there, she would have to pay 5,000 baht for being absent, despite the fact that she was the highest barfined girl.
Mrs. Stick's Corner
Each week, Mrs. Stick will answer your questions about Thai / farang relationships and general issues that baffle the average Westerner in Thailand. Mrs. Stick likes to think of herself as an open-minded Thai lady so go ahead, ask anything because you won't shock her. Please send questions for her, via me, at the usual email address. Two questions will be chosen each week and answered in the following week's column. The responses are hers and NOT mine although I may attempt to correct her English from time to time. Please note that I may not necessarily agree with what she says and unfortunately, she doesn't have time to reply to your inquiries via email.
Mrs Stick was just saying to me that she sees more and more farang and Thai couples in Thailand, not just the short termed hired girlfriends, but serious couples, more and more of whom are marrying. She sees many issues associated with these couples. She is not sure if it is a fad, or if it will continue like this with more and more She is concerned that a lot of these couples are perhaps not so well suited to each other and it might be that he is merely after an Asian wife and she is after "a farang" i.e. any farang – and that neither of them are discerning enough to make a good choice, someone suitable as a lifetime partner. There are many luk kreung in Thailand and so many have just a mother, no father, which is a real shame. More and more, we are hearing stories of expat couples moving here, and he loves the place while she hates it. And more and more we are seeing him leaving her for a local Thai lass, or at least is having a lot of late night business meetings… Basically, Mrs Stick is cynical about many of these couples and has great concerns for both their longevity and long term happiness.
Question 1: I have a regular Thai girlfriend and we are quite close. I understand that some Thai women allow mia nois. We are not yet married but I do sometimes go out for a bit of fun and my girlfriend doesn't know. Should I tell my girlfriend? I like to be honest with her, and as I have heard that some Thai women allow this, I feel it is best to be honest.
Mrs Stick says: I hope you're not surprised if she says that she is the same, playing around behind YOUR back. If you are sure that she will be cool with it then do tell her and maybe she will feel the way you hope she feels so why not tell her. There is no harm in trying. And please tell us exactly what she says!
Question 2: Do you think that honest Westerners, those people who are so damned honest that we could describe them as "honest to a fault", are suited to life in Thailand? With Thailand's rampant corruption which permeates every level of society and which is truly unavoidable if one wants to live here, can such people survive here, or do they have to change and thus compromise their principles?
Mrs Stick says: There is a Thai idiom that basically translates as "do as others do". Actually you do not need to change your beliefs and convictions because let's face it, these are things which are really difficult, if not impossible to change. If your happiness comes out of absolute honesty, then you may have troubles, but perhaps you just need to look at Thai society and accept it for how it is, and that doesn't mean you have to partake in things that you do not like nor approve of.
Thanks for the all of really positive feedback about the opening piece in last week's column, the very brief informal answers to a few questions I asked Mrs Stick's mother. Truth be told, I was sitting in the lounge of her house in Korat a bit stuck with what to write about and the idea came to print a few responses to some of the things we were talking about. It was essentially a an informal interview, but next time I am up there, probably after the end of the rugby world cup, I'll do a full length interview with her which will be much lengthier and more interesting than last week's piece. That's all for another week. I hope you're enjoying Bangkok at the moment as much as I am. These warm days with blue skies from dawn to dusk really are the best time of year in the big city.
Your Bangkok commentator,