I always enjoy the drive back from the regular trips we take up to Korat. I know the stretch of highway between Bangkok and Korat pretty well now and even though parts of it are rough and the standards of driving in Thailand often leave a lot to be desired, the freedom and pleasure of driving on the open road gets my mind away from the craziness of Bangkok for a few short hours.
Passing through the vineyards and farms of Saraburi, the temples of Korat and spotting all of the gorgeous young Thai women in university uniform along the way, it is usually a very pleasant drive. Unfortunately the last time we made the trip back to Bangkok it didn't go quite so well – and it wasn't bad roads or driving that were too blame.
We had left mother in law's place and the petrol gauge showed the tank to be a quarter full, enough for 120 – 130 km so I thought it would be easier to fill up in Korat and then just drive straight through to Bangkok without the need to stop. The first gas station on our way out of Korat was a Caltex branch and as we pulled in, an attendant ran out and pointed to where he wanted the car stopped. I had stopped short of the mark so he motioned for me to move the car forward, well beyond the point where I would normally stop. Sensible lad I thought, he wants to make sure any other cars pulling in behind me can reach the pump and fill up too. Sensible guy.
I told him to fill up and just sat back, enjoying a few quiet moments, reflecting on the couple of relaxing days we had just spent in Korat, trying to cast aside thoughts of returning to the grind in Bangkok the following morning. Even sitting in the car waiting as the tank was filled, I thought to myself what a pleasant place Korat is. Friendly people, a pleasant environment and virtually none of the problems of Bangkok.
My daydreaming was interrupted as the assistant came around to the driver's side window and told me the price, 700 baht. It took a moment to register. What? How much? 700 baht!? WTF! Mrs. Stick looked across at me and wondered why my face had suddenly become contorted and why I looked like I was ready for a fight. Surprise for her turned to shock when I leaped out of the car and went straight to the gas pump to check it. It had been reset back to zero even though no other cars had pulled in behind us. There had been no reason to reset it.
I told the gas station assistant, who had gone in my mind from a helpful little fellow to a slimy little twerp, that there was no way it could be 700 baht and that there had to be some sort of mistake. Little twerp seemed surprised that this white skinned, long nosed barbarian could speak Thai. He told me that it was definitely 700 baht and that there was no mistake which made me even angrier. I told him that I wanted to verify the price and wanted to see some sort of computer records and that failure to do that would mean that I would not pay. Seeing a farang jumping around the forecourt ranting in Thai, the manager came out. A wizened old duck with a look of contempt on her face that hardly inspired confidence in an aggrieved customer. She looked largely disinterested and worst of all, she didn't seem at all surprised that I was angry. Did I smell a rat?
I politely explained to her that the attendant had told me that the cost of filling up was 700 baht. I explained to her that it couldn't possibly be that much and that it should have been closer to 400 or 450. Even though I had explained it all very clearly to her, politely and had remained jai yen, she refused to respond to me. When there is a dispute between themselves and a farang, Thais often refuse to communicate with the farang and choose to talk with any Thai who is with the farang. She addressed Mrs. Stick and had the audacity to say that “he is a good lad and would never do anything like this.” Like what? I hadn't even accused him of anything yet!
So now I did. I told him that he was trying to cheat me, told him that he was attempting to make me pay more than the actual amount and had made it difficult for me to prove this by resetting the pump, an act that was totally unnecessary. Asking to see the actual value on the pump, we were told that this was not possible. WTF? Is Caltex operating petrol pumps from the valley of the dinosaurs?
By this time a small crowd had started forming and the boy, just a young fellow in his late teens, was ducking for cover. I started to let him have it and told him what I thought was going on. The crowd must have thought I was a crazy farang as I started mimicking certain parts of the Korat dialect and followed the boy around the gas station forecourt asking him just what he planned to do about it and whether cheating Thais was the norm, or if only farangs were chosen for this. The poor lad wanted to disappear and at one point I thought he was going to run off. When he saw my camera come out, he dashed inside to an office and hid!
Then the clouds began to part, the sun shone through, and I understood exactly what the little twerp had done. When we had pulled in to the gas station, he had directed me to move the car forward to such a point where it was impossible for anyone in the car to see the pump! This way he could claim it was more than it was it actually was and thus pocket the difference. Clever. Had he not pushed it too far, he'd probably have got away with it. But asking 250+ baht more than it should have been took it up to an unrealistically high level that was obviously not correct.
We have never managed to get 600 baht into the car even when the fuel indicator has been right on empty. I expected that the total cost would be around 450, give or take a little. Thinking about it further, I remembered that the car only had a 35 litre gas tank. We had a brochure for the car in Thai so I showed it to him which clearly stated that the petrol tank had a capacity of just 35 litres. I tried to get the point across that it simply couldn't take 700 baht of petrol, at least not at 16.44 baht per litre.
So, calling for a calculator, I showed them that at a price of 16.44 baht per litre, an empty tank could take just 575 baht of petrol, nowhere near the 700 baht they were asking. With the brochure and calculator in hand, they had to accept that we were right and that a mistake had been made. It took this level of absolute proof to show that 700 baht couldn't possibly be right. The little twerp still wouldn't reveal how much it should have been so I gave him 400 baht and told him that if that was not enough, then tough luck!
As we were leaving jai yen turned to jai ron and I sent a barrage of obscenities at him, displaying coarse versatility in his native tongue and letting him know in no uncertain terms not to underestimate farangs.
Speaking with Thai friends and family about it later, most said that we should not have paid any more than a couple of hundred baht. They said that without proof, there was no need to pay more than this, and thus force the twerp to make up the cost out of his own pocket. The idea of doing that never crossed my mind, and certainly wouldn't sit well with me, even though he had obviously tried to scam us.
There is no reason why this scam could not be tried elsewhere, but having driven in many countries, the only place where someone has been tried on with me is Thailand. Still, at the end of the day, it was resolved, but it made my blood pressure boil for the next half hour and no-one wants to be behind the wheel of a car with their emotions raging like that.
Where is this pic?
It was looking out of Sukumvit Soi 20.
It ain't Sukumvit this week…
FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:
At least a couple of bars in Soi Zero have closed in the last few weeks. According to one Soi Zero bar manager, the owners gave up because of the lack of business and the uncertainty of the new closing times. If any more bars close, it could mean that it falls below the critical mass level of bars and Soi Zero might go the way of clinton Plaza, destined to Bangkok folklore. It's one thing to go out your way (and you have to, to go there) to look at 10 bars but if there are only 7, would you? Or 5? Or 3? It has never been the most salubrious spot stuck there as it is, in a dark area right under the expressway. Are its days now numbered?
One popular Walking Street gogo bar in Pattaya reports that they have had 7 girls from Nana start this past week. Yep, the exodus from Nana and Cowboy to Pattaya has started even before the midnight closing has arrived.
Patpong over the years has screwed itself with bill padding, high high pressure both inside and outside the bars, high prices and generally wayward business practices that don't encourage repeat custom. Electric Blue Andy, one of the really decent bar managers, would like to try and ensure readers that when Electric Blue Showgirls opens its doors in Patpong on April 3rd that there will be no rip offs of any kind and no katoeys will be employed. "I always do the best when I open a new bar and intend to carry on like that in Patpong", Andy told me. Now that is just what we like to hear!
Word coming out of Nana is that most of the bars will open at 6:00 PM from Monday and close at midnight, meaning that they will effectively lose one hour of business, although they will be opening at a time when people are perhaps not quite in the party mood.
Bar owners down at the Pong are reporting that they have been offered the choice of two license types. One has operating hours of 6 PM until 1 AM and the second type offers hours of 9 PM until 2 AM. It looks like the opportunities for graft have just doubled, as the boys in brown can now check both opening and closing times of all the bars on the Pong. No-one knows when and even if the licenses will be issued. Some bars are thinking about having BOTH licenses as one attorney that works with the bar owners has said he thinks this will be legal. Talk about enforcement problems for the boys in brown.
The work on the old Rififi continues day and night and they are completely stripping both the inside and outside of the bar. The door has been moved from the center of the front wall over to the left side and at this time the inside is completely empty. The new owner has been heard to say he doesn't want one single thing left over from the Rififi.
Business looks good for this time of year in Patpong with Kiss Bar again having to resort to getting the waitresses up on the dance floor because most of the dancers had been bought out. At The Pussy Connection (great name for a bar!) earlier this week they had their best night yet under the direction of Goong with most of their dancers also being bought out.
The eighth Calvino novel from Christopher Moore has a very nice title, "Pattaya 24/7". The story follows a domestic murder case takes the private eye to a private estate on the edge of Pattaya. It is not out just yet.
From Chiang Mai, it appears that most of the Chiang Inn Plaza bars will be moving to the entertainment plaza on Loy Kroh Road about 300 meters west of the night bazaar. This has had bars for about 2 years but no customers to speak of. There is a flurry of activity as much remodelling is going on there to make the April 21 deadline. It appears that Chiang Mai will get its own mini NEP! It remains to be seen how the opening and closing hours will be effected there and how it will affect the bars.
More details about the cops who get you for speeding on the expressway that passes the airport on the way out of the city heading north. There has been a lot of speculation as to whether the cops accusing drivers of speeding actually have a radar, or whether they just pluck numbers from thin air and try to pin you with them. Well, in their quest to free Thailand of speeding drivers, it seems that there really is a cop out there with a radar! He positions himself on the median strip which makes him REALLY hard to see. Blink and you'll miss him! He is usually around 1 km or so from the final toll booth (as you're heading north). The one clue as to where hs is is the lone motorcycle parked in the shoulder on the left.
I hear a lot of daft tales, but one I heard this week was just downright stupid. Chatting with a farang fellow, he told me how he was moving apartment this week. He mentioned that he had never paid a deposit in his current place and that there was therefore no reason to pay his outstanding utility bills before he left. He then went on to tell me how practically the whole soi was owned by a wealthy Thai and that the bills that he paid were all in the Thai's name so there was no legal come back to him. Intentionally cheating the locals is one of the most stupid things one can do. This guy could well find this comes back to haunt him later. Why do people do stuff like this, especially when it is a very small amount of money? DUMB!
Protests, petitions and demonstrations. What the people opposed to the early closing in Sukhumvit are trying to achieve is lobby the government to make Sukhumvit Road an entertainment zone. There are many good arguments that soi zero through to soi 36 along Sukhumvit should rightly be an entertainment zone, as it is a tourist night spot. The petition of many thousands of Thais who work in the Sukhumvit area opposing the new zoning laws, was to be presented to the government this past Friday. The Thais leading the protest are hoping to present the magic figure of 50,000 copies of Thai workers' IDs, from those in the Sukhumvit night entertainment industry. If there is no response from the government to at least put this on hold or to be reviewed, they plan mass demonstrations. In addition thousands of petition signatures of foreign visitors who also oppose the new zoning laws, are also being presented to the Thai government to add weight to the argument.
Last week I mentioned how broadband is getting cheaper in Thailand. Well, the price listed last week for broadband has just been smashed by Ji-Net who advertised in the newspapers this past week the same speed broadband connection, unlimited data (though throttled to 140 MB an hour) at just 1,550 baht a month. And I also hear from a friend who has an ADSL connection (512/256) with TelecomAsia for 1150 baht / month. The first 40 hours are free and additional hours are 24 B / hour. A new brochure from TelecomAsia only written in Thai shows a new deal where for 1800 baht you get 60 hours (512/256). The 256/128 service is 1050 baht. You need to have a non-TOT phone line which can be installed for around 3000 baht. Music to our ears. Now broadband internet in Thailand really is affordable!
If you haven't been to the Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy recently, you probably don't know about their innovative ping pong ball promotion. Customers are offered 5 ping pong balls for 100 baht which he then throws to the girls on stage and any girl who catches a ping pong ball gets 20 baht. It sounds like a bit of a laugh and a nice idea for the girls to make a bit of money, but in reality it's horribly demeaning. Watching the girls jump all over the place, pushing each other, trying to get that 20 baht is tacky. Given that The Dollhouse in Cowboy probably has the prettiest girls in the soi, they don't need to do this.
Midnite Bar is alive again! A couple of years ago it was the fun bar but then with a change in management it seemed to go quiet for a while. It is busy and happening again, not as wild as it used to be, but certainly the most fun bar I have steeped into in months.
The warm weather is with us and Bangkok has started to become uncomfortably hot and sticky. But there is one advantage to this time of year and they are available in all markets and supermarkets now. It is the time of year when some of the best fruit starts to become available. Bright yellow, ripe mangoes are now available and reasonably priced durian will be here soon too. Come the end of the season for these fruits and then we see the availability of my favourite of them all, lychee. So the hot season isn't so bad after all.
Did the press cover the arrest of the bodybuilder, Dennis James, in Pattaya this week? What I thought would have interested many of the foreigners living in Thailand did not appear to have been picked up by the English language press, even though the gym where he was arrested was stormed by not only the Thai police, but by DEA agents and a number of reporters and cameramen. Check out the reader's submission called "Pattaya Drug Bust" for more.
Following the roaring success of the branch near the Nana intersection, construction began on a new branch of Subway on the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 7/1. I guess that will make this lane the best place in town to get a "sandwich". Opening is scheduled for April 1st.
Has there been a big drop off in the demand for flights to Thailand from the US? One would think so if this link is anything to go by, offering flights from LA to Bangkok return for a mere $US 425, cheaper than it would cost to fly from Tokyo to Bangkok and back!
UBC channel 11 is looking for English speaking guest panellist on a talk show program. The show will be discussing the government's new midnight closing regulation. The other guests will include a representative from the Interior Ministry who will be defending the new regulation and a foreign bar owner. If you would like to be a guest panellist please email them at email@example.com. The show will air on March 6, 2004, so they will need a reply before March 1, 2004.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 have been in Thailand for six months and have been involved with my Thai girlfriend for most of that time. I have been getting more serious about this girl and it seems she has as well. She keeps asking when we will get married. I know that she has continued to be in contact with other guys and even met more (she has told me and assured me they are only friends). I suspect she has been more involved than she has let on and wonder if this is a common occurrence among Thai girls. I also wonder, if this will only change once married. We have talked about living together. Is it reasonable to expect her to live without this "safety net" of other guys before actually marrying her or does Thai society consider this normal?
Mrs. Stick says: This is a toughie. 6 months is not really a long time and perhaps she is still looking around, sort of like shopping, looking for the best deal. If she is not too "breeow" and is not saying the same thing to other guys, then I think she is quite serious with you. Remember, marriage is a big thing. Why don't you give yourself and her a little bit of time to find out if these other guys really are friends, or perhaps more than that. Give it a bit more time and see where it all goes. Just be sure that this is not some sort of trap to convince you to get engaged with her faster than you are comfortable with. I bet you two met online, yeah?!
Mr. Stick says: Sometimes I have to offer a few thoughts of my own, because I see this completely differently to Mrs. Stick. Some time ago I wrote a column abut the way that more and more modern Thai women are dating several guys at once. There is nothing wrong with this as such, except that these women are not open to any of the guys that they are dating several guys, and make each guy feel that he is the only one. Usually there is one "main boyfriend" and several others that she manage to keep interested. From what you have written, I guess that you are the "primary guy" and the others are her backup plans. I REALLY do not like it that she is talking marriage with you yet continues to entertain other guys. Maybe they are just friends, maybe not. But if she is genuinely considering marriage with you, her behaviour is totally inappropriate. I assume that you are only seeing her, and no-one else. With this in mind, I'd be very frank with her about what your expectations are.
Question 2: I have seen a girl maybe 4 or 5 times for lunch / evening meal and a movie as well as chatting on ICQ about the little things in life. Nothing romantic (as in becoming boyfriend / girlfriend, getting married etc) has been talked about. She has invited me to her university graduation ceremony. Its obviously not like being invited to a wedding but her family will be there as well. Just how big an event is this for her? Is this a subtle hint that she would like me to become more involved or that she sees me as a real friend and wants me to share a happy event with her.
Mrs. Stick says: For Thai women, if she thinks you are a real friend, then it is no problem for her to invite you to her graduation ceremony as a friend, and only a friend. Graduation ceremonies are probably the second biggest ceremony for Thai people after weddings, but it is still quite different. An invitation to attend her graduation ceremony doesn't necessarily mean anything more than this, but of course, there is some "risk" for her as people might misinterpret your relationship. If you would like to act appropriately, I can give you a few suggestions. Don't spend too long there. Give her a gift or a bunch of flowers like other people do. Take a few photos and say congratulations. Don't stay too long if you are just friends and be careful of your body language. With you being farang, you will attract more attention from others.
Articles are appearing in respected newspapers around the world about Bangkok's bar closing. This article about the changing Thailand appeared in the New York Times this past week. It is well worth checking out as is the article in the Financial Times especially the third paragraph!
To finish up this week, there is speculation that the midnight closing might not eventuate. Some people are saying that the new laws only apply to venues built from now on. Ok, I give up. Let's just wait and see what happens.
Your Bangkok commentator,