Stickman's Weekly Column February 1st, 2004

Is The Party Really Over?


Deciding to uproot your whole life from one country to another is one hell of a big deal, but hundreds of thousands of us have done it, Thailand our choice for a new, better lifestyle. While it is hard to ever look too far into the future, many moved to Thailand with the feeling that they were going somewhere as close to perfect as they could find, a return to their corner of Farangland never entering their mind. But more than any time that I can remember, Westerners are leaving Thailand and unlike in the late 90s when many were essentially forced to leave due to the economic situation, many Westerners are now choosing to leave.

One friend who I have immense respect for has commented to me on numerous occasions how the city has grown up and has become more cosmopolitan. Despite this, he doesn't feel it is the best environment for his young'un. Describing the locals as lazy, uneducated and arrogant, he has also made a few less than favourable comments about the institutionalized corruption. He simply feels that his part of Farangland can offer his family a better place to raise a family than Thailand can. He has spent more time in Thailand each year than he does in his homeland for many years, but that looks set to reverse.

A workmate often talks about how the locals increase his blood pressure to the point that it affects his overall health and how they continue to exasperate him with what he feels is their perpetual dishonesty. He has a nice life here, but is planning his escape, with hopes of returning to North America before too long.

Another workmate said to me just a few days ago that he is probably going to return to South Korea, where he worked before he came to Thailand. He never really liked Seoul but says that Bangkok is slowly driving him crazy. Fed up at being treated as a second class citizen, he described the South Koreans as "a better class of peasant than this lot". In what I thought may have been even harsher, he said that the Thais increasing arrogance needed to be brought back down to earth and another crash a la 1997 would make them more bearable. Unsure whether he was joking or not, he said that such a crash might be the only thing that would convince him to stay.

Another friend recently told me of his fascination with Malaysia, a place he has been spending more and more time. He commented that Kuala Lumpur is much more beautiful, easier to get around, less polluted and the people are friendlier. And perhaps the big one for so many foreigners it seems these days – he claims that the people are much more honest. He feels that Thailand has changed and that Malaysia offers a very viable alternative. He also cites the far easier visa rules, the cheaper property prices and the fact that KL is more civilised as his reasons for seriously considering relocation down there.

It is not just friends of mine. I have been surprised at the number of readers who have emailed, explaining their decisions to leave Thailand. Most have had negative things to say about the locals, and more than a few have commented that more than ever, they are given less and less respect by Thai people, and feel that they are seen as a soft target for the Thais to exploit.

I have given it all a lot of thought and no, I don't think it is a case of me knowing a bunch of negative people, or that the situations here are from a small group who are all at that point when they feel that they have had enough of Thailand and it is time to move on. The people mentioned here have been in Thailand for varying lengths of time, from 3 to 15 years. Some are married, others are not. A couple spend time in the bars, the others wouldn't dream of it. More than ever before, there seems to be really strong disenchantment with Thailand from many Western residents.

What about me? Are Mrs Stick and I about to join the hordes of Westerners choosing to leave Thailand? For now, no. I'll be the first to admit that living in Thailand can at times be very stressful and many of the little things that bother can all add up to really annoy you. But there are certain things that one can do to reduce the problem and in many ways, insulate yourselves from them. Learning the language to a high level and being very choosy about your friends help. More so than in the West, I think one needs a decent income here too. Spending a bit more and not doing everything on the cheap eliminates many of the problems.

In the case of Mrs Stick and I, I think NZ has grown up sufficiently in the time that I have been away that we could have a very pleasant life back there indeed. But for now, Thailand continues to provide us with what we want, even if it at times it can be a frustrating place to live for both of us. Yes, those Thais who are truly honest will readily admit that some things here are a bit screwed up.

I continue to maintain that Thailand is the best place for a holiday, but this is altogether different from it being the best place to live. One has to consider very carefully what one wants from life. Thailand may well provide that, but then again, it might not. One thing is for sure, many Westerners are choosing to leave Thailand in greater numbers than I have ever seen before. Whether this is a short term thing or the start of a long term trend, only time will tell.

Where is this pic?

It was a small restaurant opposite Wat Arun.
Somewhere on the Chao Praya.
Last week's picture featured a small restaurant right beside the Ta Dien pier where the Chao Praya River Express boat stops. It is a great sport to sit and watch life on the river – just make sure that you order food off the Thai menu as it is almost half the price of food on the English language menu. Where is this week's pic, above, again, somewhere on the river? Not too difficult this week. The first person to correctly state where it is wins a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Please note that the credit MUST be claimed within two weeks and it can only be used by the prize winner, although it can be used 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.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Any way to keep everyone happy?

Why is it that people think that getting rid of prostitution will somehow increase the number of "family" tourists to Thailand? Las Vegas is doing fine with family tourists and it as least as famous for prostitution as Thailand is. The reason prostitution and family tourism can coexist is because one does not intrude on the other's space. Notice that Nana is not next to Wat Po. The way to increase tourism in Thailand is to give EVERYBODY a reason to come here…just like Las Vegas. (Can anybody say "Disneyworld Thailand"?)
Vegas 2.
It's interesting to me that one of the great tourist Meccas, and the fastest growing city in America – Las Vegas – has nude bars and shows aplenty. They made a run at becoming a family destination in the 1990s and have now abandoned the attempt. Cities do best by making that which they are famous for, be it restaurants, nightlife, beaches or women (in Rio's case, all of the above), a safe and friendly experience (which is the only thing you don't get in Rio and therefore why I come to Thailand).
I know what you did last night!
Incidentally, there is another interesting feature of the upmarket massage places which has never been mentioned; Big Brother is watching. A friend had a less than satisfactory encounter at one, wandered off in a bit of a huff, and turned into the wrong corridor. There he spotted a man behind a wall of video screens tuned to each room. It makes sense in that the management can spot troublesome customers, but do the tapes ever get used for other purposes?
You still want to drink it?
The true story with the water system in Bangkok is that the system suffers from a serious problem and it's not corrosion. The ground settlement from water abstraction of the lower acquifers in central Bangkok is around 30 mm per year, resulting in significant ground movements and pipes near the surface becoming deformed. ALL pipes regularly spring their joints. To "solve" what would be a major maintenance task MWA only pressurize the deep water tunnels and the delivery system at the surface normally has little or no pressure. To get water out each house has a pump to drag the water out of the pipe. Normally water pressure has to be higher than groundwater pressure to prevent backflows. That's right, the water is flowing INTO the pipe in a leak situation. There are few main sewers (another failed BMA project) and most people have septic tanks which leak into the groundwater, the same groundwater being sucked into the pipes. Smells a bit funny, does it…..?
The bareback brigade, again.
I've noticed there's been a lot of discussion on this website about condom use lately. Apparently not everyone is concerned about the spectre of AIDS. For those irresponsible and foolhardy enough to go bareback with a prostitute, I have the following suggestion: look up Google on the internet. Click on "images." Make sure the "safe search" setting is OFF (no filtering). Then look up GENITAL WARTS, GENITAL HERPES, and any and all other types of venereal disease you can think of. Did you know you could catch something that would make your dick look like a cauliflower? Well, now you know. Perhaps if the thought of a long, slow, painful death from AIDS is not enough to persuade you to wear a condom, the sight of genitals covered with festering warts and blisters and chancres and sores will convince you.
Time for a new hiding place.
Only tonight I have encountered a whole new scam. I thought I was being clever (well a little) keeping my ready spends in one pocket and the serious money (4000 baht) in another pocket. Well, the lady, while I was in the shower, discovered the pocket with the 4K, and slipped it away and substituted 4 x 20 baht notes. Now that is smart, a quick feel reassures you that your money is still intact as you wave her goodbye. Only much later when you reach for your 'biggies' do you find the deception. Neat. I know the gogo bar where she works, but what chance have I got of going there and making that accusation stick?
The missing ingredient.
I for one could never imagine myself in a relationship with a western women ever again. The thought puts the willies up me actually. A friend of mine once recounted an experience with an Australian girl some years ago now when traveling overseas. He had the misfortune of linking up with a group of people, one of their number being an Aussie female, from Sydney I think he said. Anyway, this female was forever swearing and cursing and generally trying to be "one of the boys". At the dinner table one night this girl was berating the fact that she had seen many white guys with Thai women, saying that they couldn't get white girls and what was so wrong with white girls? She went on "What have they got that I haven't got"? With this, my friend looked up, broke his self imposed silence and replied – "Femininity". With this she burst into tears.
The party is over.
Me and me mates visited Thailand regularly in the nineties and always had a good laugh. Then we settled down, got married and proper jobs and all that. So we decided to go back to Thailand this year for old times sake. Crikey, you'd of thought we was in a different country! We expected prices to be double so that was cool. Admittedly we are all a bit older and uglier than before but always got on with the locals great before but for some reason not this time. They seemed ruder and more aggressive than 7 years ago and the prices we was asked to pay sometimes in shops and taxis was verging on taking the piss. In the bars that famous smile was often a snarl or a growl. I dunno what has made the people change but reckon it might be that they have finally realised that their country is always going to be shit poor so they might as well bleed the farang for all he is worth.
Everyone's freaking out again! Hotel cancellations are coming in left, right and centre as hordes of hordes of holidaymakers are cancelling hotels and calling off their holidays. I've been told by more than a few readers that they have cancelled holidays and a friend in the hotel business has seen his high season shattered as booking after booking have been cancelled. This bird flu looks like it is going to cost Thailand a fair chunk of cash.

On the ground, many folks have been steering clear of chicken and eggs. Schools have taken chicken off the menu and at least one restaurant in a 5 star hotel has taken all chicken dishes off the menu. Even a somewhat modest streetside Isaan food restaurant where I ate during the week had taken chicken off the menu. Asking the waiter about the availability of chicken he replied, "you mean you are not scared? No-one else wants anything to do with chicken at the moment"!

At a meeting for bar owners held by the Thonglor police about 10 days ago, it was said that bars in their area would be forced to close at 1:00 AM. That mean the likes of Soi Cowboy, the bars in Soi 22, Asoke, Washington Square and Soi 33 would all be forced to close 1:00 AM. It seems to be happening on and off (though not in Soi Cowboy) at the moment but it really does look like this is going to be enforced as regular policy, despite the fact that it is not the law (yet). If they do enforce this as was mooted, expect Nana Plaza to boom.

This would also explain why so many of the bars in Soi 22 have been closing early, at midnight, as reported in last week's column. This is seriously hurting business and there has been talk of a whip around to try and persuade the authorities to change their minds…

They're showing. They're not showing. They're showing. They're not showing. It's hard to keep up with the antics going on in Nana Plaza at the moment. For now, it seems that Voodoo and Bottoms Up are both showing, at least tops are off in these two ground floor bars, while others seem to be abiding by the law. So why are these two bars showing and others aren't? Well, Bottom's Up just about always shows and just think a little as to why that might be…. As far as Voodoo goes, I can only guess that as it is one of many bars in the Crown Group, they can afford to take a risk or two to lure in more customers. If they were closed, they could simply move staff around to other bars within the group.

At the Pong all of the show bars are open and it is business as usual. They are doing all the same old shows that they have always done.

The bars in Soi 33 never seem that busy to me. It doesn't matter when you go, they seem to be quiet, and if you are looking for a quiet escape from the gogo madness, soi 33 makes a very worthwhile alternative. But with the bars down there generally quiet as a rule, what will the new competition do? Word has it that no less than TEN new bars will be opening down there soon! There is a whole new block with space for 7 bars. The building has been finished and the individual bars need to be fitted out. There are also three new bars due to open, probably in the next month or so. If all of these new bars do eventuate, this would take the total number of bars in soi 33 close to the levels of other bar areas. I really do not think that the soi 33 market could sustain so many new bars, so could we finally see prices in soi 33 drop? Probably not. The long standing bars seem determined to maintain their high prices, but I'd expect most of the new bars to come in at much cheaper levels.

New Wave Bar in Sukhumvit soi 7 is under renovation and the sign o the outside says that it will open again soon.

There is a vendor near the Sala Daeng BTS, just under the BTS station at the entrance to Soi Thaniya, where bent DVDs are going for 100 baht which has got to make it the cheapest place in town for such contraband.

Another long timer has been dumped. With the changing of the guard at Rififi the mamasan / door lady Goong has been given her notice. With the advent of the net she got the surprise of her life when she found out that Rififi would be closing from this column! Lots of her friends came up to her and asked about the changes as the owners HAD NOT YET TOLD THE STAFF! Goong has known Mickey (the current owner of Rififi) for 25 years and has worked at Rififi for the past 16 years. It seems that the owners did not even think it important enough to give the present staff a couple weeks to find a new place of employment… Goong has lots of friends on the Pong and has several offers to contemplate and it is hoped that she lands on her feet.

In another case of staff changes the former cashier that had been doing the mamasan job at Kiss Bar for the past several months has been shifted back to being a cashier. It seems a little strange as Kiss Bar has on several occasions been "sold out", most of its dancers being barfined, while this lady was in charge of the bar.

The Londoner is back open after closing for renovations…but what did they change? It looks the same!

I have from time to time commented on the fact that there are some prostitutes working in Bangkok in the farang oriented sector of the industry who are HIV+. I know this because I know guys who have taken girlfriends along to hospitals and the girls have been tested positive. Invariably what happens is that the guy leaves the girl, who continues to work. Back in February 2001, an Australian reader contacted me and we met for a few beers. He told me of a girl who had taken that week to Bumrungrad and who had tested positive. 3 years on, the Aussie was back in town and we met for a drink this week. A couple of days earlier, he had been walking around Sukhumvit and he saw the same girl, staggering down Sukhumvit in the arms of a tourist. She tested HIV+ and she continues to work, three years on… Be careful. I bet she is not the only one.

Last week I asked the following puzzle: I have been living and working in Bangkok since May 1998 i.e. for less than 6 years. This website is now in its seventh year yet I didn't start the site until I had been settled in Bangkok for about 6 months. How can that be? This site started in November of 1998. So, if we count the number of calendar years from 1998 to 2004, it has been going for 7 calendar years. Easy!

Is there anywhere that stocks Timberland shoes in Thailand? I remember about three years ago when the official Timberland shop on the ground floor of Siam Centre had a closing down sale, everything offered at 70% off. At that time, Timberland product could be found both in the official store and also in various department stores like Central. But it seems that Timberland is no longer available in Thailand. I can only deduce that due to the proliferation of pirated versions of their products available in Thailand, they have decided to pull out of the market. If that is the case, it's a real shame.

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. Please note that I may not necessarily agree with what she says. 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 would like to find a Thai woman that can help around the house especially a good cook. She is willing to relocate to US and all her living expenses covered. I can pay her above a Thai standard monthly income. How do I go about finding a suitable candidate. I appreciate all the information you can provide.

Mrs. Stick says: I guess you are looking for a maid. You could find someone but it will probably be someone with a modest level of education. You can check out newspapers where some agencies advertise. You would need to specify exactly what you need and the package you are willing to provide. Make sure that anyone who applies is actually interested in doing that sort of job, and is not just looking for a way to get into America.

Question 2: I think I have fallen in love with a Thai girl who is "married" to a German, however the marriage is one of convenience so she can get a visa to work and study in Germany (she has family already living there). I knew her before she went to Germany and I also see her on her return to Thailand (without husband). How can I persuade her to come back to live in Thailand ?

Mrs. Stick says: I think if she is genuinely keen on studying, she will probably want to finish that first and I think you should encourage her to study until graduation. If you really are genuinely keen on her, you should let her know, despite the fact that you and her are so far apart. If you do convince her to return to Thailand for you, she will be making a big sacrifice so you have to be sure that that is what you want and act accordingly. What happens if you don't get along well or you decide to discard her? She will have made a huge sacrifice and that really wouldn't be fair for her, would it? Sometimes love is not just possession, but is support and sacrifice. Why don't you sacrifice your job in this part of the world and go to Germany?! If you are that keen on her, then perhaps that is what it will take!

Question 3: I speak pidgin English very slowly (cut out a lot of words) and clearly when I am with Thais who do not speak English well and also throw in a few Thai words here and there. My friends feel I am insulting the Thai for doing this and want me to speak fluent perfect English. These friends are Farangs who can speak Thai! Example: Instead of saying "Would you like to join us for dinner a little later after you finish work" I say "After finish work you hue we eat together okay la". Did I just insult the Thai intelligence?

Mrs. Stick says: I do not see this as any insult at all if you are throwing in Thai words to help them understand. The most important thing is effective communication and that is what you are trying to do. What is the point in communicating if you don't understand each other? You seem to do be doing the right thing to assist effective communication. If the person who you are speaking to does speak very good English, then it might be better to speak English only. More and more in Thailand, Thai people are using English words when talking amongst themselves, for the purpose of better communication. If it is ok for them, I think it is ok for you. Even Stickman and I jump in and out of English and Thai all the time, sometimes mid sentence!

I'd be particularly interested in hearing from residents of Thailand, particularly long termers. Are my anecdotes mentioned in the opening piece representative of you and your friends? Do you have plans to stay on in Thailand indefinitely, or are you reviewing things?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Bangkok Bob & Claymore