Stickman's Weekly Column March 28th, 2004

20,000 Baht A Month Is A Fortune!


A question for Mrs Stick in last week's column which I took the liberty of answering myself, concerned how much money should be sent to a woman living outside of Bangkok to keep her. My response, that 20,000 baht a month is a whole heap of money, raised more than a few questions and even some angst among readers, many claiming that this was not nearly enough! So in an effort to explain why I believe this figure is plenty, here we go.

Just to qualify the question from last week, the person concerned was living in rural Korat and in addition to herself, there was one child and her mother who had to be supported too.

Outside of Bangkok, all of the necessities of life can be purchased at very reasonable prices indeed and in rural Thailand everything is cheap, very cheap. The average wage outside of Bangkok is around 7,000 baht per month. So an average family, which I would speculate would have around three children and likely at least one elder member of the family living with them, gets by, on average, on 14,000 baht a month. If a typical family can get by on this amount of money, surely 20,000 baht is ample for three?

Most Thais in rural areas live in a house or dwelling that has been in the family for years and thus there is no rent to be paid. Even those in rental accommodation would seldom pay more than 5,000 baht a month – and for that, you would be looking at a large house in the city in one of the major centres like say Korat or Khon Kaen. For a dwelling in a village, rental costs are very low indeed.

As far as food goes, it too is incredibly cheap. One can easily find a decent meal in a restaurant for around 50 baht, or get food on the street for 20 baht or less. But Thais don't like to eat alone as Westerners are generally content to do, and will eat as part of a group, which has the effect of lowering the actual cost of food per person. And generally speaking, rural Thais will go to the local market in the morning and buy fresh meat and vegetables which they'll cook up at home. In a small family as previously described, seldom would the total cost of food for the three people reach 150 baht! This would give them enough to feed the family for the day.

As far as eating out goes, you can find excellent value in rural Thailand and the locals know all the places. The original question asked about rural Korat. Depending on just how rural it is, you might not be able to find anywhere to spend more than 100 – 150 baht on a meal for three. These curiously named "Korean BBQ" places where you cook the food at the table yourself and are all the rage these days are awfully cheap. You can stuff three people full of food for 80 baht. That's 80 baht all up, not 80 baht per person!

As far as the costs for a child go, diapers and milk apparently run up to around 1,500 baht a month. Spending another 1,500 baht a month would provide for clothes and toys. Sure, you could spend a lot more, but that would be spending a lot more than is typical in rural Thailand.

In the countryside most people have a motorbike, invariably a Honda 125 – and these run on the smell of an oily rag, the cost of petrol negligible. Mobile phone running costs aren't too dear though admittedly many locals have a problem controlling their mobile usage and can run up large bills.

Incidentally, the following email was sent to me this week by a friend in Farangland whose girlfriend is currently up in the north of Thailand. This is a real life situation and shows that a small amount of money goes a long way. This situation needs to be qualified by the fact that the lady in question lives with her family and thus no rent is required.

She is doing the mother thing but is looking forward to my coming back, she does seem pretty genuine and trustworthy, and is making the best of a bad situation. Does not spend money much, seems to cope quite well on 8,000 – 10,000 per month and that includes all the train fares, cellphones (mine included), her food & living costs, food, nappies and clothes etc for the baby. Mind you its a reasonable wage there I know but she does not seem to concerned with accumulating possessions or showing wealth to her friends which is good.
I haven't bothered to do the maths because everything combined doesn't even come close to 20,000 baht. There would be plenty left over for any contingencies such as a visit to the doctor, special occasions or even hire purchase payments on larger purchases. Mentioning this 20,000 baht figure as a required monthly allowance to my mother in law, she just about choked. She said that some rural families could feed themselves for several months on this amount!

I maintain that 20,000 baht is a whole heap of money in rural Thailand. Sure, it might not be enough to save for luxury items or make major purchases, but it should be plenty for a small Thai family as described above to get by on – and even enough to have a pleasant lifestyle.

Where is this pic?

It was Lucky Luke's.
Outside the big city.
Last week's picture was taken in Nana Plaza from Big Dog's Bar, looking across at its "sister bar", Lucky Luke's. A whole heap of people got it right. Where is this week's pic? It is outside of Bangkok, but just which beach or island is it? Not easy….and no, it is NOT Patong Beach in Phuket! 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. So, to claim that prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks.

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Cheap Charlotte!

I was in an internet shop which charges 30 baht per hour with no minimum charge. A well dressed farang girl in her mid 20's entered and in a perfect English accent said "1 baht….2 minutes right?" Then she sat down and frantically bashed the keyboard through the hotmail pages. Moments later she stood up and offered the guy 1 baht, at which point he had to inform her that the total cost was 2 baht. She said nothing paid up and left. All I could do was cringe and hope nobody noticed I am from the same country.
Ouch!
There are a few cities in Asia where foreigners are welcomed (Taipei, Pnom Penh, Vientiane), many where foreigners are tolerated (Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai), and some where foreigners are generally disliked (most of mainland China, Baghdad). I think a person would have to be very naive, optimistic or insensitive not to have realised that Bangkok has slid into this bottom category. The effects of mass tourism must share some of the blame, even a nation full of saints could be forgiven for turning sour at the sight of so many free-spending idiots flaunting their wealth while the locals work their bollocks off for a pittance. A bit more understanding is needed on both sides and I'm sure the pendulum will swing back favourably in our direction one day.
20 years hard work undone in a moment!
I followed the path of learning to speak the Thai language like a native. I learned the culture and how to behave correctly in polite Thai society. I went out every other night with high class Thai friends accompanied by their wives and mistresses. For twenty years I got it right and enjoyed the fruits of my effort to be a farang in looks, but a Thai at heart. And then, one evening it went horribly and embarrassingly wrong. You see, part of the reason I speak Thai so well is my ability to imitate others voices. I can imitate Margaret Thatcher so you would think, if you didn’t know I was there, she was in the same room, and as for Bill Clinton, Monica Lewinsky look out. But, my pride and joy is an imitation of a very old Jamaican lady's voice, and here lies the reason for my sad undoing. You see I was out on the town with my super rich, super polite Thai friends, not paying a penny in the cabaret restaurant because the richest guy always pays for the others in Thai custom, and I was always the poorest, when it happened. We were all listening to a Thai girl country singer doing her rendition of a song by the famous deceased queen of Thai country, luk thung, Pumpuang, and for a laugh I decided to speak Thai like an old Jamaican lady, clearly a difficult one to pull off. And, I was doing fine, and the sartree opposite me was laughing till the tears ran down her face. But then, I introduces a Jamaican particle, the words are spelt in English eeh hee*, and mean I agree, you're right in Jamaica. To my drunken horror I realized that I had said something that meant something entirely different in Thai. And, as the lady in question didn’t have a clue about Jamaican patois. She flared up in a rage, in a heart beat, and in front of all my now former friends I inadvertently lost my face, and no explaining that what I had said was not rude in Jamaican would be accepted. I went back to my pad in disgrace for the first time in more than twenty years in the kingdom. Imagine the next day, as in the warm sun I sought solace, by explaining to another Thai friend, who of course said never mind. And, even though he had understood exactly what had happened, I will never get over the fact that my friends of the evening before would not believe my side, for what had happened.

* <The closest I can get to this in English would be you fxxxen cxxt! – Stick>

To complain or not to complain?
"Do we or do we not have the right to comment?", rather I believe we have a duty to comment and if possible take action when we come across injustice. We should do so wherever we find it. With this in mind, I find the willingness of other foreigners to call for the silencing of foreign comment to be both disturbing and indefensible, I wonder what their motives might be. I want to take part in the community I live in, where ever that might be, doing so in Thailand can only improve the lives of 'the People of Thailand', regardless of what race, creed or gender they might be.
How to make friends 101.
A comment on the item on "making friends"….someone who became a very good friend of mine gave me the best advice. Cook. It's an act that shows your willingness to do things for people that require actual effort (rather than just spending money), and, by doing so, you almost guarantee that they'll be happy (studies indicate that almost everyone is in a better mood after eating a proper meal). This in part is borne out in almost every Asian culture, where it's unthinkable to have someone come by and not feed them. It's also a pleasant way to get on a good footing with many of the urban Thai, as they have a genuine interest in foreign / Western cuisine, and often are avid students of the culinary arts. Heck, what's a safer topic than food (except, of course, for the French)?
Isolationist farangs.
Last week's email on the large number of isolationist farangs living in Bangkok prompted me to look at my own lifestyle and search for reasons why so many of us drift in this direction: 1.) a select population: Many of us who live in Bangkok have abandoned our families and friends back home. We have never put a high value on social support networks in the first place. 2.) mutual hostility: Historically, catty behavior has been the domain of women, as they have competed with one another on the same playing field to attract men. Farang males engaged in a one-dimensional lifestyle of chasing the same pool of Thai women have likewise become natural adversaries. At least on a subconscious level, single guys trolling the same waters here simply don’t like one another. 3.) emotional laziness: Extending ourselves to make friends involves a certain amount of emotional risk. We live in a country where go-go dancers, massage girls and the like provide instant ‘friendship’. Engaging them involves little risk of rejection or emotional pain.
The new Electric Blue Showgirls in Patpong soi 2 will have their grand opening next Saturday, April 3rd. With 50 baht drinks all night and FREE food, it would seem that they are going about it the right way to attract the masses on the first night. Remember, this new bar is where the old Rififi used to be.

It had to happen. With all of the complaints about dual pricing and foreigners so often forced to pay more than the locals, a website has been erected which highlights businesses that indulge in this dual pricing. FairPrice-Thailand.org is a new website which provides access to information on the pricing policies of businesses and other establishments in Thailand, in particular the operation of dual pricing structures which discriminate on the grounds of race, nationality or immigration status. I expect this site to attract a lot of visitors indeed.

A local long time Bangkok resident died Monday before last and when the authorities got involved it turns out that all his documents were fake! Whoever he was, he claimed to be an American citizen but rumours persist that he was everything from a Belgian to being from any of several other countries. One local bar owner got a mysterious phone call from someone claiming to be a friend from the USA but local mobile phone showed up on display. The caller asked the bar owner to go to the embassy and "claim" the body and ship it to the USA! The bar owner declined and after the phone call tried calling the displayed number back but no-one answered the phone. Suspicious. The deceased was a frequent patron of several watering holes in the Pong and knew lots of people so maybe someone can really identify him.

At least a couple of bar owners are reacting with one hell of a jerk of the knee down at Soi Cowboy. Strong rumours say that two foreign bar managers have been given their marching orders, each due to leave at the end of this month. Low takings is the reason given, though it would seem hard for a bar to make a lot of money when the number of tourists coming in appears to be dropping.

Were the raids by police and government officials on Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy on Thursday night co-ordinated? Down at Cowboy the entrance ways to Apache and Five Star bars were blocked and as police entered to make various checks. At Nana, there were long queues of girls at Lollipop bar with their police registration forms filled in, waiting to be fingerprinted. That is, registration forms that clearly state that they work in the service industry. Lovely. Urine testing was taking place in some Nana bars too.

Moaning about your job? Meetings running late and getting home a little late for dinner? Spare a thought for some of the girls of the Crown Group who were asked to attend a meeting at Voodoo Bar 2:00 AM on Thursday morning! The meeting was apparently about the mooted 1:00 AM closing and new targets. Girls who had been barfined flocked back to the bar for the meeting, though just how many attended isn't known.

Patpong's market seems to be changing. No, not the night market on Patpong soi 1 but the type of punter who goes to the Patpong bars. Patpong remains popular with tourists who feel a little mischievous poking their nose into one of Bangkok's famous gogo bars. These people continue to flock to Patpong, many of them ignorant of the existence of places like Nana and Cowboy. But there is a change in the air. A number of locals are choosing Patpong as their preferred place to drink and in many ways, some Patpong bars have taken over the role that Cowboy used to have. While somewhat generalized, it used to be that tourists went to Patpong, sex tourists to Nana and locals looking for a quiet place to drink – and not necessarily female company, would go to Cowboy. But Soi Cowboy has scrubbed up over the last couple of years with lots of new bars, bright neon everywhere and dare I say it, a lot more pretty girls. This has had the effect of drawing more and more sex tourists to the soi, making it all a bit busier and frankly, a lot less laid back than it used to be. Locals who used to enjoy it have found the new atmosphere not quite to their liking and have moved – and many of them can now be found at Patpong. And despite rumours to the contrary, Patpong is cheaper than both Nana and Cowboy if all you want is a drink.

And the night market on Soi 1 at Patpong is changing too. Amongst the goodies are all of the latest Hollywood release DVD 9s. A better selection of DVD 9s in Bangkok won't be found and at a starting price of 120 baht, which can easily be negotiated, Patpong is the best place in town for DVDs. However, if you used to buy DVD 9s, safe in the knowledge that they are all perfect copies, put that notion to the side. It used to be that the 9s were perfect, but they are now as suspect as any other copied goods and one takes a chance. I have also noticed that the same vendors who are selling copied DVDs are selling original computer games. Yes, originals.

There was an interesting piece on the Thai television news on Monday night about 50 tertiary students who had been on to search Thai based websites and websites with information about Thailand for "unsuitable content". Exactly what constitutes unsuitable content is unclear, but if any of your favourite Thailand websites look a little different at the moment, they might be one of the sites who have perhaps sensibly taken precautions and put any material that might be considered questionable offline for the time being.

A friendly farang in Thailand who has been through the legal ringer over the past year or so is willing to provide legal help and assistance to any fellow farangs who may require it, free of charge! Having had a little too much experience of the Thai legal system through various court cases and legal procedures, he now feels like a bit of a veteran of the Thai legal system. Please note that he is not a lawyer and the advice that he gives should be seen as guidelines only. Still, it is nice to be able to get pointed in the right direction by a fellow farang who has no agenda. Contact him here.

Paradorn, why did you dump Tatayoung? If you have seen the music video to the song, "Sexy, Naughty, Bitchy" by Tatayoung, then you too will be wondering why Paradorn, Thailand's tennis champion and number 10 in the world, dumped Tatayoung. My goodness, she is very, very pleasant on the eye.

If you're an Aussie feeling a little homesick, get on down to the branch of Villa in the basement of the Ploenchit Centre. They have a "Taste Australia" promotion with a couple of aisles full of food products and various groceries from Kangarooland. Actually, just wandering around Villa, it is amazing how much of what they sell is sourced from Oz. It would be nice to see them run a similar promotion for product from other countries.

Hollywood 2 on the top floor of Nana Plaza has always existed in the shadow of the bigger bar next door, Hollywood Carousel. Well, things might just be changing as Ann, the former mamasan and now the bar manager, has turned things around. With a bunch of pretty girls, a new DJ, a slightly remodelled bar and new silver bikinis, punters could do a lot worse than check it out.

In a new trend to obtain dancers, several bars in both Patpong and Soi Cowboy now offer new dancers the option of being paid 200 baht daily as opposed to monthly salaries. This arrangement allows new dancers to look around and see if they like the particular bar and also lets the bar have more than their usual number of dancers. For punters it is the old good news bad news story, on one hand they get to meet more new faces but those new faces may have moved on the next time the punters come in to see them again.

I hate to piss on people's parade, but to you guys who are getting down and dirty with the girls of the night and wonder why she doesn't seem to have much energy, have you considered the following? A girl you barfine late at night might have been bonked by three different guys already that day! In a worst case scenario, a girl may have done the dirty with her boyfriend or husband before leaving home late morning, or early afternoon. Next stop could be the Beergarden where she and a customer had some afternoon delight. Off to the bar where she employed and she is short-timed, only to return an hour later to get the final punter of the night who may wonder why she has so little energy, not knowing that he was the 4th different guy that she had jumped into bed with in a 12 hour period… So, if you think that gogo girls are any different to the girls who work in massage parlours and who clocks up high mileage, think again. Jumping into bed with a lady of the night is like buying a used car – you have no idea what the genuine mileage is.

In a reverse trend of what was happening, a couple of dancers from Pattaya have moved to Bangkok and are now dancing at Pussy Connection. Goong must be doing something right there as staff from other connected bars have moved over to work there too.

The DJ at Kiss Bar must have finally gone deaf because on several occasions now the music was being played so loud that it hurt the ears. Pleas to the manager to lower the volume met with deaf ears and resulted in some long term customers choosing elsewhere to drink. It's amazing that a bar would allow this noise to scare away long time customers without doing anything to correct the problem.

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: Following your recent answer about why Thai girls mature so slowly, what is the defining moment when certain Thai women change from acting and looking as if they are in their teens into middle age ‘Dragon Ladies’ with substantially increased weight, two piece suits, a bouffant hair do and a look that would strip paint at 100 meters?

Mrs. Stick says: It is different in every case, but there eventually comes a time when they can think for themselves and make decisions for themselves, away from what their parents' influence – and that is when they have reached adulthood. Or rebellion?! When they start to follow friends, or boyfriends and no longer follow their parents exact wishes is when they have become an adult. Knowing what they like and why they like it, or what they want to do, and why they want to do it, is perhaps the defining moment.

Question 2: One day at Central City Bangna, a farang and his Thai girlfriend walked by me. He was a hulking great lug, fresh off an Idaho potato farm and looked like he could have carried a buffalo under each arm. She barely came up to his waist and looked like she'd just been dragged from a paddy field. She clearly did not want to be with him, and he looked so dumb he didn't even notice. The sight of them made me, a farang, embarrassed, but they attracted few stares from the Thais. I'm well clued in on the concept of kreng jai, but why didn't the Thais find this incredible sight embarrassing? Is it really kreng jai, or do Thais simply don't want to notice these things?

Mrs. Stick says: In situations like this, I feel that what the farang in question does is up to the farang. Many farangs in Thailand have quite a high opinion of themselves and consider themselves intelligent so it really is up to them what they do. They are the ones who have to live with the consequences of their actions. Thailand is not the same as their country. I do not pity either the woman or the guy in such situations. The both seem happy. Yes, they do look silly and yes, Thai people do look at them.

Question 3: Even though I lived in Thailand for two years (a rural amphur in Korat),
I found myself constantly baffled by the relationships between the sexes. Many times I heard, "Oh, we're just friends" from Thais only to find out a few months later the couple is engaged. Why are many Thais (particularly in rural areas) so secretive about their relationships with the opposite sex? My second question is: Do Thais marry mainly out
of love, for financial reasons, a desire to have children, or a combination of all of these?

Mrs. Stick says: People in the provinces, especially in the rural areas, are VERY conservative and hence people in these areas are not open about their relationships at all. For a Thai female, telling someone that you have a relationship with someone else can be construed as you being a bad girl. In answer to your second question, most people will get married at some time and perhaps one or all of these situations are the reason. It varies from person to person. Unfortunately yes, some people do get married for money and it is not unknown for younger women from the countryside to be encouraged to marry much older men, wealthy men, in a marriage where love or the desire to have children plays little or no part. Thai people are getting married later in life than they used to.

If you get in any trouble in Thailand, get the best lawyer that you can. If you want a recommendation, get the lawyer that Duangchalerm had, the lawyer who got him acquitted on charges of the murder of a policeman in a Rachada bar a couple of years back. I reckon that lawyer could get anyone out of anything.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Claymore