Stickman's Weekly Column February 15th, 2004

Midnight It Is


After much debate, it looks like it is really going to go ahead. The mainstream press this week reported that the cabinet has passed the decision to implement new closing times for bars and night time entertainment venues. The new policy which is due to be enforced from March 1st states that all entertainment venues that are outside the designated entertainment zones must close at midnight. Bangkok has three designated entertainment zones where venues may continue to operate until 2:00 AM. They are Patpong and the immediate surrounding area, Rachadapisek Road and RCA / Petchaburi Road. The last two are areas predominantly frequented by Thais while Patpong is popular with farangs as well as Thais in the gay soi, Soi 4, and the Japanese, in Soi Thaniya.

There are so many issues involved, so many people affected, and so many possibilities of just what might happen. I try to unravel a few of the possibilities and offer a few thoughts.

Nightlife Entertainment Industry

I believe that "non naughty nightlife entertainment" venues that fall outside o the entertainment zones will be hit terribly, and if the laws are enforced to the letter, we will see lobbying for new designated entertainment zones and / or more entertainment venues opening up in the existing designated entertainment zones. Let's face it, many people simply do not want to go out until late and many of the city's popular venues do not get busy until around 11:00 PM or later. After going out during the day, many people like to go home and relax before getting ready for a night on the town. A late dinner which might run through until 10:30 and then they are keen to hit a pub, club or disco. Arriving at 11:00 PM, they would have just one hour to enjoy themselves. I just don't see people changing their whole lifestyle so that they can go to night time venues earlier. If they can only party for an hour, they won't even bother.

For any venues which are fortunate enough to fall into one of the designated zones, they could well do very well indeed as partygoers will continue to go there, and people who went to other venues that fall outside of the designated entertainment areas will go to the places where they can party until 2:00. But what about places in Sukhumvit, home to some of the most popular nightspots but an area which is not within a designated entertainment zone? Places like Bed Supper Club, Rivas and Q Bar all don't get going until late. If the law is enforced, these places will be in very big trouble indeed. Anyone for new office space?

Farang Residents

Of the people that I have spoken with, the vast majority of whom are employed as opposed to retired or bumming around, most are indifferent about the midnight closing and if forced to say whether they were either for or against the decision, most said that they were in favour. Let me qualify this by saying that the people I have spoken with tend to be well-paid teachers or reasonably paid expats.

The reasons cited by friends of mine are as follows. People with jobs simply can't go out that often and most lead "normal" lives which means a few quiet drinks a couple of nights a week, but not usually a lot more than that. The average age of my friends is a little older than me, probably around the 40 mark. Guys at this age got a lot of the partying out of their system already and most are in stable relationships or marriages. Late night partying does not have the allure it once did.

But there is another side to it. For many Westerners living here, they simply don't like to see other Westerners coming here and going crazy for a few days because it reflects badly on the rest of us. A few guys I know are delighted at this ruling, saying that it is a major disincentive for some of the rowdier types who come to Thailand and give all of us farangs a bad name. The percentage of Westerners living in Thailand who feel like this is not insignificant.

Yeah, of course there are some guys who do not like the idea of being told that they have to stop partying at a certain time, but the majority of people I have spoken with agree that as residents who are perhaps a little more aware of venues outside the tourist areas, there are many other alternatives.

Farang Tourists

If what people are saying in their emails to me of the last few days is anything to go by, there is going to be a reduction in farang tourist arrivals. Many readers are saying that they will boycott Thailand. I even read a website that someone has just created trying to get others to boycott Thailand too!

I hate to say this, but for the Thai government this would be a dream come true. I think the Thais realise that the type of tourist attracted to the country is changing, and the type of tourist that the regulation change discourages is the type of person they don't want. So many times the Thai government has stated that they want "quality tourists" and in their definition of the word, people who go to bars late at night do not fall into that group, irrespective of how much money they spend. I wonder how aware they are of tourist spending habits and the number of people who come for the naughty nightlife though? People who go out late at night spend a lot of money, and not just at night, but during the day too. Discouraging such people could result in them discouraging some of the biggest spenders. Take those who partake in the naughty nightlife industry. Many easily spend $US250 a day (accommodation, food, sightseeing, souvenirs, entertainment and umm, err, companionship) while in country, a number not to be sneezed at.

Some tourists will be bothered, others won't. Some tourists who are annoyed at this will be able to overcome it while others may choose to spend their precious holidays elsewhere. Good luck to them, but I think they will struggle to find anywhere as good as Thailand for a holiday.

Naughty Nightlife Industry

I wonder what is the lesser of all evils, as far as customers of the naughty bars are concerned? Is it the early closing times? The "no showing"? The increased prices of, well, everything. Or perhaps the overall decline in what was once a fun environment to one which is now very much about business and money. Whatever they dislike the most, this will be the last straw for some.

For the bar owners who have had a couple of very turbulent years, their worst nightmare has come true. For anyone with an investment in a bar outside of the designated entertainment zones, it looks as though their investment just took a massive broadside. For anyone with a bar located inside one of the entertainment areas, your investment suddenly looks a bit brighter. Shorter hours of business means less sales resulting in a very likely reduction in profits. Let's hope that that ugly "only in Thailand do prices go up when profits are down" phenomenon doesn't rear its ugly head again. If it does, that will be it, the bars may as well close up.

For the staff of the naughty bars, this is as much a nightmare as it is for the owners. Salaries will likely be cut and they will likely suffer a drop in lady drinks too. If the number of punters drops, they will get less "end of the evening pay outs". A drop in salary doesn't do anyone any good at all and for those who don't make much now, they could find themselves in real financial bother. Not everyone in the naughty nightlife industry gets rich overnight. Some of the staff barely get by.

One Nana Plaza bar owner sent out an email to a number of people urging them to send email to The Nation newspaper showing just how concerned they are. Interestingly, the particular bar manager mentioned that he was unsure whether they would even be allowed to open the gogo bars from 6:00 PM until midnight, speculating that they might only have a 3 hour window from 9:00 PM until midnight. If that was the case, they are screwed, no question.

But all is not lost. There are a great number of things that the bars can do to attract customers and perhaps it is time for some of them to actually do something a little bit different. Most of the naughty nightlife bars are run on exactly the same model and sophisticated management and marketing don't really enter the equation. My guess is that now we will finally see something a little bit different as bars fight for the customers. I hope I'm right.

Thai Employees

A great number of Thai people, many of whom live a lifestyle precariously close to poverty, are going to be adversely affected. Wander up and down Sukhumvit Road at night and you will see many entrepreneurial locals selling all sorts from food and drink to souvenirs to bargirlwear. A lot of these people eek out a living, profiting from the late night demand of party goers for snacks or perhaps a streetside snack. Demand is driven from, the customers or employees of bars of nightlife entertainment venues. Carts are set up late at night and the vendors do most of their business into the early hours of the morning. If these people are forced to close, as looks the case, just what will they do? They cannot operate in the same spot during the day because other vendors use that spot at that time. Many, many people will lose their livelihood.

As far as the naughty nightlife industry goes, if it does implode, Thailand could be on the brink of a crime explosion. So many of these women of the night who have become used to a lifestyle afforded by a relatively high income will not only be out of work, they will not be able to find anything that pays anywhere not what they have become used to. What will they do next? If they are pushed out of the safe, relatively concealed bars where they currently ply their trade, expect to see the streets of central Bangkok, and in particular Sukhumvit Road, cement itself as the world's biggest open air brothel as they are all forced out onto the streets. This has to be the last thing that Thailand wants! Imagine the scene now, one the of central boulevards of its capital with big name 5 star hotels right there, over run with prostitutes propositioning tourists who were walking around at night, enjoying the pleasant tropical weather. Disaster! What's worse is that this is happening to some extent already due to previous late night bars that ran until 6:00 AM being forced to close at 2:00 AM.

A Few Predictions

My guess is that tourism to Thailand will, statistically, be largely unaffected and if anything, the number of arrivals will go up. Thailand just has so much to offer that I can't see this affecting things as much as some predict. As far as people boycotting Thailand over this is concerned, I just cannot see that happening either. For most people, the alternatives do not stack up very well. Yep, a few people will wander off to the Philippines, Malaysia or Cambodia but most will come back to Thailand. Holidaymakers who go elsewhere will be replaced by new visitors. One should never underestimate that visitors to Thailand tend to really enjoy their time here and come back year after year. Significant numbers refusing to visit Thailand over this? No way!

And speaking of tourism, my feeling is that they will not enforce these rules in tourist areas, or will allow a special dispensation for areas that are genuine tourist driven economies, like the beaches and islands. Phuket, Pattaya, Samui, Hua Hin etc are all tourism driven economies. I believe it will be business as usual. More than anywhere, I just can't see them turning the lights off in Pattaya and I reckon that the city of sin will continue to operate until 2:00 AM, and many bars may even open for business well beyond that time, as they do now.

I do fear that a number of Thai people will lose their jobs, many of them finding alternative employment hard to come by, a dangerous situation, and a very real catalyst for an increase in crime. This has got to be a very real concern.

I also think that the present government might have underestimated the response from the Thai public over this. To a good number of the Thai population, the current government are a bunch of darlings despite the fact that there have been what I term "extreme policies" implemented with many Thai people suffering, or even perishing, such as the slaying of many accused drug dealers. This government's popularity amongst the fun loving Thai public might just take a hit, and a big one at that.

Is the writing on the wall for Thailand, so often considered a good time place with the over-riding idea of sanuk? Policies have been known to change frequently in Thailand and enforcement of the law is not always as strict as it could be. But despite all of this, it looks as though the shape of night time entertainment in Thailand is going to change drastically. The party might not be over, but the lights sure are being dimmed.

Where is this pic?

It was Walking Street in Pattaya.
A nice day in Bangkok…
Last week's picture was of of Walking Street in Pattaya. Many readers incorrectly guessed that it was Khao Sarn Road. This week's pic is back in the capital and I'd like to know what the big building in the background is AND where the picture was taken from. The first reader to correctly state where this week's pic 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:
(The biggest bunch of negativity to be found online about Thailand, but hey, that has very much been the tone this past week.)

Respect, or lack of?

Heard many years ago that the Thais actually respected foreigners when in their country, and treated us with genuine respect. Now obviously, this is no longer the case. Last December when first landed in BKK went to immigration and the gal opened a line for me. I went, she took my passport and partially stamped it. Then she casually walked away and chatted with another, and then she picked up the telephone and appeared to have a casual conversation with a friend…which went on and on. She left me there, and I was basically stuck, so just stood there for some 20 minutes until someone else came by and completed stamping the passport.
Even the Thais have started noticing changes.
One comment I would like to make is that Thailand is changing to the extent that even my Thai wife notices it and comments on it. The smiles are no longer there, and when they are, they are transparent. For the first time in nearly 20 years I felt a sense of dare I say it, racism. The attitude of the officials at the airport, the check in people at the hotels, the waiters and waitresses, the tuktuk drivers all seem to have a never seen before attitude towards foreigners. I read through the site that many long term residents also feel Thailand is changing for the worse, perhaps it is, but as I no longer live there I really can only comment from an “outside” perspective now.
You no help me, you no love me!
I have worked with Thai people here who have been on degree courses in the UK. When they want help with their work, what they really mean is that they want you do it for them, if you suggest that's not the right way, and you're happy to help but they need to understand things themselves, they just get angry and accuse you of not wanting to help.
Their own lives, their own money.
The one thing many of your pro-Thai-whore-as-wife posters forget or don't have experience with is the fact that in the West, most of us single guys under 70 would not be dating illiterate 3rd world prostitutes but rather girls / women from the same socio-economic background as our own. These women would have their own lives, their own money, and would not be with anyone for the occasional monetary gift. The real question is not whether you can afford a particular woman, but why you would want to be with any woman where that's an issue in the first place.
Back to the good life.
I have recently left Thailand after 12 years, with a Thai wife and daughter, my wife early 20's, and all though not a former bar-girl, pressure from her family to assist them, meant she certainly was a freelancer – anyway, although ALL my mates without exception gave her little chance of adapting – in about 3 months she has become almost a typical Kiwi – loves the life, rides a farm bike, goes and picks blueberries and then comes home and makes muffins, cooks a great Fillet steak, knows a Pinot from a Cab Sav. – and even comes out and plays a few holes of golf at times !! – the key to all this, OK, 1. Our daughter, my wife very quickly realised how much better her life / upbringing is going to be in NZ compared to in Thailand, and 2. I have a buddy who lives nearby, with a Thai wife of a similar background, so they can chat away, cook Thai food etc. almost daily -and of course I have to make regular visits to the "Thai shop" in Hamilton which stocks a fair array of thai foods / products / magazines etc. Certainly without the above factors, things would not have gone so smoothly, but as long as you can plan something in a similar vein, I would be fairly confident most Thai girls will adapt – of course it also helps that they genuinely love you!
No money, no honey.
The current dysphoria amongst farang ex-pats might have more to do with simple economics than Thailand's cultural flaws. Many farangs living here as teachers, editors, etc… live on subsistence wages while facing long and stressful hours at work. In addition, many males are seeing their main entertainment source (young, attractive female sex workers) being siphoned off by globe-trotting Europeans and wealthy Japanese and Korean businessmen. After spending spend 5 minutes walking through any American Walmart store, I'll take the civil, graceful, easy-going Thais any day, but not with an empty wallet. Bottom line: this is a great place for farangs if you're fortunate enough to have a high salary or other sources of income. Otherwise, an educated, qualified Western professional may have better options elsewhere.
Yep, they really did it.
So they really did it! 12 O’clock closing from March. I guess they're damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Either Thailand will become the Asian Ibiza with lager louts and yobs, the Benidorm of the East with cheap package tour families…or, they'll just put themselves out of the loop altogether as far as expats / independent tourists. Either way, we'll find ourselves heading for more welcoming destinations like Vietnam, Cambodia, The Philippines etc who will be happy to see our $$$ and have equally beautiful beaches / girls…bloody fools.
Addiction.
Speaking as a seasoned business traveller in Asia, I have noticed a growing tendency for guys to use the services of prostitutes rather than try and get off with normal girls. We're not talking old farts or social inadequates here, but fit young guys in their twenties and early thirties who ought to have better prospects. You can understand a tourist in Bangkok who has a fleeting experience with a beautiful young Thai girl the like of which he knows he would never get without having to pay for. Yet some of the girls you see with farang guys look like something the cat brought in. There exists a kind of global "hooker culture" which appeals to a minority because of its illicit and somewhat dangerous nature, and a fascination with the seamier side of life. It's rather like having a smoke at the back of the school yard between classes. What starts off as a bit of a cheap thrill soon turns into a lifetime addiction to tobacco. When a man has set off along the path to hookersville, there is almost no turning back
There is a big meeting in one of the more salubrious hotels in the Sukhumvit area tonight for business people who will be affected by the midnight closing. Leaders of the group will present their protest to the Government and it is believed they will present figures of the number of businesses and Thai workers from this part of town who will be out of pocket.

The staff from the now closed Rififi have all moved over to the formerly closed Pussy Connection bar on Pong 1. Goong is in charge and there are a few newly hired dancers also on hand.

New Wave has reopened on Sukhumvit Soi 7 larger and remodelled, pool tables and freelancers galore. This will provide a bit of competition for Gulliver's which is, quite frankly, the last thing Gulliver's needs. A huge amount of money went into the construction of Gulliver's and while it is busy from time to time, it is hard to see them making any real money.

You know that Western bloke who makes all of those naughty movies with Thai women and sells them online? Well, it seems that he might not be making any more in a hurry… Rumour has it that he has been arrested on charges of credit card fraud in Germany. Details are sketchy, but it would appear that the charge is in no way related to the website. Whatever the case, fans of his antics might have to put up with re-runs for a while.

I am currently working my way through David Young's latest book, "Eddie's Lucky 7 A Go Go. Regular readers will know that I am quite a fan of Mr Young's work. As of Friday, it still wasn't available in the local bookshops, but it should be shortly.

Demolition of the beer bars on Sukhumvit t soi 23, you know the ones between the main Sukumvit Road and Soi Cowboy, is virtually complete. The rumour is that they will be re-built and reopen in 3 months even though that is a little hard to imagine. However, there is also the possibility that the development planned for that land may at long last go ahead. The original development was scuppered by the 1997 crash.

The police are insisting that all the bars in Soi Cowboy show the name that is on their bar licence as well has have the bar name outside in Thai! Joy Bar for instance has had the 'Bar' part of the sign removed and 'Ngwen' added in cut out polystyrene letters. Ngwen being the owner's own phonetic spelling of the Thai word for money.

If you make it up to Korat, expect to see a lot of American soldiers floating around. They'll be there for around four weeks. And coming this May, expect the city to be over-run with them as around 10,000 soldiers descend on the city! Usually it's around 1,000, but every five years they have a big get together in Korat and this is the year for it. Most of them will be staying on the army base.

How many places in downtown Bangkok allow you to get online for free? Gulliver's in both Khao Sarn Road and Sukhumvit have a few terminals where customers can access the net. There is that colorful bar on Sukhumvit around Soi 7 and apparently in Robinsons on Sukhumvit Soi 19 on the third floor between the book and stationary stores are two internet terminals for free use. On the ground floor of Siam Centre in that largish restaurant near the BTS are two free terminals. I'm sure there are many more too. Free internet is convenient to check your email if you are out and about and are expecting important email but it is not quite the draw it once was as many internet cafes charge 30 baht or less an hour, an amount that is within anyone's budget.

For a change I have a bit of news from Chiang Mai. Chiang Inn has closed and is to be renovated as a Dusit property. The bars on the plaza south of Chiang Inn have received notice that they will be vacated as of 21 April. This area will be the parking lot for the renovated hotel. A lot of wringing of hands and weeping. However the "Peak" area about 100 meters north has plenty of bars and few customers at present so it may be a blessing to them. Also there are rumours that some new bars may be built on the same soi.

I heard a funny tale about a guy who used to work at my place of employment. Known as one who frequently had the Heineken hangover, so common in Bangkok English teaching departments it seems, this fellow was on his way home from a bender. It was a weekday morning, coming up to 7:00 AM, and his taxi stops at the traffic lights, close to his apartment. Snuggled up next to him is his temporary girlfriend, her lips nuzzled into his neck. He looks across at the car stopped next to him, a Mercedes Benz, and a look of horror appears on his face. Inside the Mercedes, little Lek asks her mother who is driving the car, why is the maid kissing Ajarn Bob’s neck, the sweet little innocent darling, one of Bob's students, mistaking Bob’s temporary girlfriend for his maid! As soon as Little Lek got to school the gossip did the rounds and needless to say, Bob didn’t keep his job much longer after that.

Thailand is always flavour of the month with the American military. In addition to soldiers in korat, there are also a contingent of US service members, primarily Navy, in town in Pattaya. The number at any one time might not seem large because they are staggering their liberty in small contingents instead of letting the entire crew go all at once which is apparently an anti terrorism measure. Not certain how long they will be in town, but I believe the ship is in at Sattahip. This is not related to Cobra Gold Exercise, which takes place in May.

Despite the current law stating that entertainment venues are supposed to close at 2:00 AM, many Pattaya beer bars are still open at 5 or even 6 AM with a punter or two still nursing a drink. They merely keep the lights dimmed and this seems to be effective as the police are in no hurry to close them down. If the police are not enforcing the closing times in place already, why would they enforce new ones? This would lead to the conclusion that new closing times would have little or no effect on Pattaya beer bars. This applies to some beer bars and not all. It doesn't apply to the gogo bars which do close at 2:00 AM.

The rubbish police within Lumpini Park are the latest bunch to be overzealous and once again, it is farangs who are the target. Yesterday Mrs Stick and I were lazing away the afternoon in Lumpini, and we watched the rubbish police targeting farangs. They would watch from a distance and as soon as a farang who had been sitting down stood up to leave, they would rush over to check for anything left behind. You guessed it, if there was even the smallest piece of rubbish left behind, they were given a 2,000 baht fine. I noticed at least two lots of Thai people who left crap behind virtually under the noses of the rubbish police and they didn't blink. They were only interested in targeting farangs.

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: My girlfriend comes from a conservative middle-class Thai Chinese family in Bangkok. I met them for the first time a few weeks ago although I've been together with my girlfriend for over a year. I would like to take her to my country (England) for a couple of weeks in April. This period is one of the few times when we're both free for 2 weeks. It might not happen again for a long time. Her mum said "no". Is there anything we could do or say to change her mind?

Mrs. Stick says: No way in this world! Forget about it except if you would happily take her mother too. Give her mother a dowry and then she might change her mind. You are fighting a major concern within Thai culture and people of her mother's age can be very conservative indeed!

Question 2: I'm just wondering what a Thai girl has to do to get a passport? I met this girl on my last trip and I know she would like to visit me in the USA but every time we talk about it she tells of all the trouble and hassle of trying to get a passport. Some of the things she told me she had to do were unreal. If I was a bargirl who wanted to meet a nice Farang and get out of the sex business the first thing I would do is have a passport ready! It would seem to me that the smart girls would be doing this already?

Mrs. Stick says: Easy! I think there are 4 (?) passport offices in Bangkok. One in Bang Na, one in Meuang Thong Thani and two others but I am not sure where they are. I think all she needs is her ID card and the house registration papers (tabien barn). In the past when I applied it took two weeks but it is supposed to be both faster and easier now.

I try to be positive in this column but with the events of recent weeks, it is very hard. Last week, in an effort to be positive I wrote about my favourite farang food places but oh no, you really didn't like that column! Feedback was universally bad, "we want the nitty gritty of what is going on, positive or otherwise." Thailand is a funny place and if you get analytical, some things when looked through a Westerner's eyes just don't add up, and when things don't add up – and you start to see some things for what they really are, negativity creeps in. That's life, I guess.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Russian Bob and Claymore.