Stickman's Weekly Column January 4th, 2004

Thailand, 2004



This website, of which the column is just one small part, was built initially on three sections, before the forth, Travel in Thailand, was added. Today, I take a brief look at these aspects of life in Thailand – naughty nightlife, expat living, English teaching, and travel.

English Teaching

The English teaching industry continues to grow and grow and grow, and it seems a week doesn't go by when we don't see a new language institute open, or another Thai school join the ranks of schools that seek out foreigners to come and teach as so called experts in that subject. So, with this in mind, there are more and more opportunities for Westerners to get their foot in the door in Thailand via teaching. The sheer number of English teachers here now along with would be teachers arriving every day ensure that pay rates stay low. There is something horribly wrong when you have teachers fighting to get a job that pays a mere 30,000 baht a month and then gloating that they are well paid when they get it! With the number of teachers in Thailand, basic economics determine that it is very unlikely that things will change. Teaching salaries will remain low.

It would be nice to think that things have improved quality wise in the industry but in all truth and honesty, I haven't see that happening. A few institutions maintain genuinely high standards with the British Council standing out but other than that, schools come and go, often started up by keen, enthusiastic teachers who want to make a difference who ultimately realise that the holy grail of quality education, happy teachers and profitability is almost impossible to reach.

English teaching is a great way to get your foot in the door. Do it for a year or two and you'll make a lot of friends, both farang and Thai. If you secure a job with a light workload it shouldn't be too stressful and it is a relatively gentle way to get settled while looking around for something else more lucrative.

Travel

Thailand remains about the best place on the planet for a holiday if you take into account safety, costs, friendliness of people, shopping variety, weather, beaches and I could go on and on. Perhaps the major thing it has against it is that it is, at least as far as countries with farangs are concerned, is that it is a bit of a hike to get to. Still, that's probably a good thing because if Thailand was located next to Europe or North America, it would be completely over touristed like parts of southern Europe are.

Almost everyone who comes to Thailand has a great holiday and not only do they return to Farangland and tell all of their friends, they often return year after year. However, the Thailand tourist experience isn't always perfect and the often used acronym of LOS – Land of Smiles, is replaced by some to be Land of Scams.

Too many tourists have too many problems, and I am not talking communication problems or a case of the trots, all of which are to be expected. Too many foreigners get ripped off in Thailand with the same old scams rearing their ugly head time after time. The annoying part is that these scams and problems have seemingly existed forever. They have been reported to the police and the TAT zillions of times but no real measures are taken to prevent them from occurring. The gem shop scams are still

The analogy that I like to draw is of a wooden floor in a home that has become scratched and dirty over time. If you want to fix it properly, you have to sand it back to the wood, and then apply a new layer of lacquer. If you just apply a new layer of lacquer over the top without first sanding it back, it will look shiny at a distance, but all of the crap remains. The way that the various Thai authorities have dealt with the scams and problems within the tourism industry is similar.

Expat Living

As the capital becomes more and more modern, it becomes an exceptionally easy place to live. One really could almost forget that they were in Asia. It is now very easy to live a life of dining at farang food restaurants, reading farangs books, magazines and newspapers and socialising with farangs and dealing with locals exclusively in English. Many expats seem to live a more sophisticated lifestyle than those who were here in the past, something which I at least partially attribute to Bangkok growing up, though that is not to say that a sophisticated lifestyle is better. Certainly, Bangkok is becoming a more liveable city.

On the downside, increasing prices, tougher visa regulations and more than a touch of xenophobia amongst the locals are some of the issues that we have to battle. Sorry farang, you are not the novelty that you fore brothers were 30+ years ago. There is huge opportunity here now, much of which didn't exist in the past. It is annoying however that we often find ourselves forced to cut a corner or two to get ahead, which makes us a little vulnerable to say the least.

Overall though, Bangkok remains a great place to live and I guess like anywhere, the more money you have, the better your lifestyle can be, or in Bangkok's case, the more you can insulate yourself against some of the problems inherent in living here. If you have made your money already or have a decent retirement, Bangkok is still hard to beat. If you're trying to make a life for yourself, Bangkok has huge opportunity, but you really have to be a certain type of person to be successful here.

Naughty Nightlife

Interesting times lay ahead for the bar owners and investors in the farang oriented sector of Thailand's naughty nightlife industry. Since the middle of 2001, all sorts of barriers have been thrown up to make things more difficult for the bar owners and punters alike.

Reduced business hours, enforced registration of working girls with the authorities, frequent random drug testing, no nudity and price increases have all impacted on the industry in a negative way. The industry is slowly changing.

While the government has good intentions, some of the policies are backfiring horribly. Girls are being squeezed out on to the street and after hours, parts of Sukhumvit make up the world's largest open air brothel. This very area which is seeing all sorts of construction of new upmarket hotels is the working place for girls who will proposition any farang with a heartbeat.

But despite all of the problems, the punters keep returning. Thailand's naughty nightlife brigade are a resilient lot, awfully loyal (some call it addicted) and they'll come back no matter what. If the government really did want to kill this sector of nightlife in Thailand, they would have to go for the jugular – and I personally do not see them doing that.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic

This week's pic


Near the WTC intersection…
The Chao Praya River is not precise enough.
Last week's picture was taken just along from Gaysorn Plaza, outside the NEW Intercontinental Hotel. Just a few people got it right, though that might be du to no prize offered last week. This week we have a new sponsor for the weekly pic. The good folks at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy are offering a 500 baht credit to the first person to correctly provide the location of this week's pic. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks and it can only be used by the prize winner, although that winner can also use it to buy lady drinks. So, to claim the prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks to venture down to Tony's Bar to claim the prize. This week's pic is quite frankly too easy!

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Cripes, yet unhappy reader…

I always have great pleasure in reading your site both your articles and the ones of your readers. The only thing which deeply offends me is the repeated attacks that are made against ladyboys. I think ladyboys constitute a significant part of Thailand's brand mark and make a great contribution to its economy with the likes of Alcazar, Tiffany etc. and for my part, visiting Bangkok and Pattaya 2 or 3 times a year for the last 10 years, I only have good memories of my contacts with them. All over Asia, Pattaya is equated with ladyboys. Personally, I have never been cheated, beaten or stolen by any of them although I do not deny that some of them, as among any other group of individuals, might indulge in such behaviour. Moreover, I consider my life has truly been enlightened by the contact with my ladyboy friends. They are wonderful human beings, showing great courage and dignity, love for their parents, a deep sensitivity, a great sense of friendship and true kindness as they suffer so much unwarranted discrimination from base and cruel individuals, both Thai and Farang, who make a point to hit at what they see as weaker than them. All in all they are our brothers (or sisters), they neither need nor ask for anything else than being treated as normal decent human beings. I am not a ladyboy and do not know how it is to feel, be or become a ladyboy. Just live and let live and take a lesson from them.
The money or the bag?
Back in the early 60's there was a classic game show on TV called Take Your Pick. The order of play was to answer as many questions correctly as possible, then pick a box from 1 to 13. Inside a potential grand or bobby prize awaited. Michael Miles the host, just prior to opening would then try to offer a cash inducement in lieu of opening the box. This is the same dilemma that the girls find themselves in at this time of the year, with four offers of marriage this girl I know last night told me she had no idea which one to accept, does she take the money or open the box?
Economic reality?
I was in Pattaya last November and watched a traffic cop on the Walking Street, pulling over bikers with no helmets. They were all farang, while locals were mostly spared. The cop took a passport from one of the farang (Aussie, I think). Afterwards the cop wouldn't give it back. The guy complained for a while then gave him 10 baht for it. One young Thai guy did get pulled over. The cop made him wait while he ticketed the farang and when they were all gone, he made the Thai guy do 10 push ups and let him go. Then he pulled over an Indian couple. They quickly gave him a couple of coins and were sent on their way. Double standard? Sure! Racism? I don't think so. Economic reality.
Wanna be a cop?
My father, his Thai girlfriend Wanna and I were sitting on the front veranda of my Dad's house watching TV when a police officer was shown in a car chase. I mentioned to Wanna that my cousin is a police officer. In response to this Wanna asks, "Why you study be lawyer when you be police like cousin. Police make money more.
A new angle.
Prior to coming to Thailand I couldn't be myself. Not only did I feel incredible inhibited but I also had to censor myself on so many occasions. However the biggest problem I had without sounding vain, was in trying to stop women wanting me, let me explain. On so many occasions I found myself having to ration just how nice I was to these women, to the degree that sometimes I even started being horrible to them, which in fact if anything just made matters worse, as they then seemed to want me even more. My problem was in trying to get a balance between them liking me and wanting me, this proved more or less impossible, with the consequential turn over that relationships rarely lasted longer than six weeks. Thailand and the girlie bars has been a tremendous release for me, as in between two very strong attractions there is the insurmountable obstacle of money that comes between us, saved by the bell you could say. To the degree that on arrival I was conceited enough to think I could break these women, by seducing them for free. You'll be pleased to know I failed miserable. I love to banter with them over the repartee that I've learnt over the years, I can say anything and everything that comes to mind, and as long as I have a glint in my eyes we all seem to have a good laugh. Girlie bars are not solely for losers but winners too.
Lost in cyberspace.
I had a weird thing happen to me this week regarding my Loxley account. For the past three years (at least), I have paid my monthly Loxley bill by using Bangkok Bank's Bualang Phone service. Never any problems. I paid my Loxley bill in the usual manner at the beginning of December and never noticed that the green Loxley receipt never arrived in the mail. On Christmas Day, I received a follow-up notice from Loxley that my account balance was overdue and that I had 'til the 30th to get current. After some chasing, I determined that the money in question was certainly deducted from my Bangkok Bank savings account but nobody seems to know where it went other than into a black cyber hole. The bank is supposed to have the matter resolved sometime next week and I'll get the money re-deposited to my account (hopefully). In the interim, I had to pay the Loxley bill a second time to stay current with them. This sort of thing doesn't happen too often in Thailand, but it happens more often than it should. One of my friends had the same basic thing happen with a Visa Electron card a while back: no money to merchant, money taken from the bank account. This is why I have always been wary of using one of those 7-Eleven Pay-Point services to take care of my monthly bills even though doing so would be more convenient than chasing around to the various companies each month.
In Soi Cowboy earlier this week the boys in brown were out in force, patrolling and making sure everyone was aware of their presence. Suzy Wong and Black & White were both singled out for extra attention, in the case of the former it was closed for a short time. Not quite sure why or what happened but this sort of thing happening at a peak time will certainly drive punters away to dare I say it, other countries.

It would seem that Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza are in a head to head battle to woo Hollywood's biggest names. Hugh Grant's name was plastered over both the British tabloids and Thai newspapers which reported that he had been chased out of Tilac Bar in Soi Cowboy while this week Oliver Stone, the great movie producer, was spotted in a certain Nana Plaza bar. Who will be the first Hollywood start spotted in Patpong? No big deal really, unless of course they are caught in the Kangaroo Bar… So keep your eyes open when in the naughty bars, you never know quite who you might see.

A friend went into the Spotlight gogo bar in Chiang Mai and thought it was very good. I don't know, as I have never been there, but this trusted friend said it was both good, and busy, the girls there all fairly pretty in his opinion. Still, form what I gather, this gogo bar is a sex tourist's nightmare for it attracts a lot of the younger, handsome backpacker types who grab the bargirls' interest.

Megabreak Lounge is happy to announce the start of our inaugural player's league commencing on the 11th of January. A 12 week 8 and 9 ball round robin tournament divided into 3 divisions. Players will decide themselves in which division they wish to compete and over the course of 12 Sundays the champions will emerge! The first ten weeks will see each player compete against every other in their division. The 11th and 12th Sundays will be reserved for all “catch up” games so that missed matches can be played out. The final week will see prize giving and a knock out tournament amongst all divisions with more prizes and free buffet. All those wishing to take part are requested to sign up before the 9th January and pay their entry fee of 1,950 baht, which includes free table time during match play, regular drinks at 60 baht and soft drinks at 30 baht.

What is the story with government employees entering a relationship with a foreigner? Talking to my mother in law last week, she told me that any Thai female employed as a teacher who wanted to marry a foreigner would have to resign from their job. I've never heard about this before – and I also note that many of the women whose profiles appear on the Thai dating sites are government employees. Is this true? Would they really have to quit their job?

A friend and his better half are here in Thailand on holiday for the first time was out in the Khao Sarn Road area this week. They wanted to get a tuktuk to the Grand Palace and were told that it was "Lucky Buddha Day" and the cost for a tuktuk ride anywhere would only be 20 baht – to which they agreed. The tuktuk driver eventually took them to the Grand Palace but not before wasting an hour of their time taking them to a gem store and a duty free store where he, unbeknownst to them, collected petrol vouchers for taking them there, which more than compensated for the low fare he has asked. They weren't bothered about the detour and actually considered him to be very nice, showing them places which they would not have otherwise found. After wandering around the Grand Palace it was time to go back to their hotel so they just jumped into a tuktuk, told him where to go and off they went. They had not bothered to negotiate a price. When they arrived at their destination, the tuktuk driver asked for 100 baht. My friend gave him 20 baht and innocently explained that it was Lucky Buddha Day and that all tuktuk journeys were 20 baht today. Yes, he truly believed this. The tuktuk driver protested but my friend and his lady just walked off and somehow escaped into the sanctity of the hotel! Apparently the tuktuk driver was left scratching his head. This is a genuine story! It should be noted however that he was exceptionally lucky. 20 baht was much less than it should have been and another tuktuk driver might have responded differently.

Nana Plaza has 3 katoey only bars – Obsession, Casanova, and the newest, Cascade Bar. Obsession and Cascade are part of the Crown Group which seems to be going the way of the King's Group in Patpong, that is to fill their bars with katoeys which the sex reassignment hospitals appear to be churning out. This makes one wonder if the Crown Group is in fact like McDonalds – who I gather make more money from real estate than hamburgers, buying up a whole block, putting a McDonalds in the middle of it and then selling the real estate a few years later after foot traffic has increased due to the burger outlet and increased the value of the property. Perhaps the Crown Group investors bought the best gender reassignment hospital and are steering their staff in that direction. Sounds lucrative! I am fascinated as to why this trend is developing and there must be some kind of rational explanation. Are punters so hardcore these days that one flavour is not enough? Is it that freakier is better? I really don't know, but I can confirm that sitting in Lucky Luke's or Big Dog's watching customers leave the plaza with their teeruk for the night, I very seldom see the katoeys going out. So just how do they make their money? Katoeys have always been around but they seem to be going mainstream in the farang areas which, to the prude that I am, seems awfully odd. The Japanese love them which may account for Patpong but Nana Plaza, aside from the Rainbow Bars, has long been farang turf. Any ideas on what is happening here? Dana, this is your thing, any ideas?

Why is it that every farang teaching English at a high school in Thailand insists that the school where they work is one of the top five high schools in Thailand. Quite amusing really. I will not upset said folks by speculating on why I think it is they make this claim…

Quote of the week comes from Sydney Tom, somewhere in Surin, "why do I keep giving myself a David Attenborough commentary when I walk around my wife's village?"

I'm already on record as moaning and groaning about the quality of fruit juice here and the somewhat expensive prices charged for it in a country where fresh fruit is abundant. I prefer the Malee range of fruit juices over Tipco but am forever disappointed with their orange juice which doesn't come close to what comes out of Australia or their apple juice which isn't a patch on New Zealand apple juice. But I notice that they have just released three new types of juice. It has to be said that their pomello, guava and sweet orange juices, all of which were just put on to the market recently, are fantastic. The guava juice especially, is excellent.

I must confess a very empty feeling at seeing no Trink column in this past Friday's Bangkok Post. It actually felt as if something was seriously wrong – and I guarantee many others felt the same. Despite no longer having a column in the Post, he was spotted wandering around Nana Plaza this week. Perhaps there is some truth in the rumours that he will be reborn elsewhere?

At least two Pattaya gogo bars appear to be paying their dancers 15,000 baht a month, just for dancing. There must be a few conditions such as a phenomenal amount of lady drinks needing to be bought for them. Hmmm, no wonder the price of drinks and barfines has been going up.

A well known New Zealand bar owner in Walking Street, Pattaya, strongly believes that the government will NOT introduce the mooted 1:00 AM closing time. In fact, he is so confident that he will happily put his money where his mouth is and take a bet on it with anyone who cares to bet against him.

Mrs. Stick's Corner

Each week, Mrs. Stick answers 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. If you would like to thank her for her advice, she has a nasty addiction to wine, any wine, she tells me. 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. Questions for her should be limited to 100 words.

Question 1: I was wondering; what is the situation with Thai men who marry Western women, as opposed to the other way around? Are such men considered to be "wrong" to have married outside their race? Are their prospects limited with a foreign bride as a partner? Or is it an asset in any way?

Mrs Stick says: This would be quite unusual as there really aren't that many Thai men who marry outside of the Thai race. In my way of thinking, the guy would have to be a very good man for the farang woman to accept him. Thai men do not really respect their woman that much so it might be quite difficult for them.

Question 2: For the last 3 years I have been having a long distance relationship with a Thai lady, not a bargirl. We have seriously been discussing marriage and building a home together. Last week I made a big mistake. It was my birthday and we were visiting a bar where one of the bargirls gave me a birthday kiss. I ended up with one arm round her and the other round my lady. My lady said if I wanted bargirl it was 100% ok. I remembered an article by Stick recently and so told my lady I did not really want a bargirl. When we returned to hotel my lady became very angry, and left. My 'crime' was even thinking about going with bargirl in the first place. Is there any way I can ask my lady to take me back without her losing face?

Mrs Stick says: Are you sure that the lady you are dating is not a bargirl – and that you simply don't know? Maybe she is deceiving you all along? Thai women do NOT allow their boyfriends / husbands to go to prostitutes, especially as overtly as this. No woman can accept you showing strong interest in another woman.

Question 3: From a Thai wife's perspective you stated that in marrying the Honourable Stickman that you both have had to work harder at your relationship, coming from different cultures. Are their examples that are printable, that you could relate how you were both able to resolve problems and conflicts that seemed insurmountable at the time. Not so much the issues in themselves, but more importantly how you both were able to compromise if that was the case.

Mrs Stick says: Very good question but very tough. We talk openly about how we feel about things. We will often compare the Thai way of doing things and the farang way of doing things and we do our best to find a situation that is acceptable to both of us which is probably the same that other couples all over the world do. That we both have an understanding of each others' cultures which helps a lot. I think understanding why people think or do what they do is a key here. We have to be careful not to talk about every little detail though because that can become tiring and maybe even destructive. I guess we have developed our own little set of rules of what is acceptable and what isn't.

I enjoy all of the feedback the column generates and it is often amusing to read people's analysis of me and my life in Bangkok. Don't get too analytical because while I give a few things away here, there is plenty that isn't revealed. As one of my workmates said, I don't read your column because that isn't the real you.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick