Stickman's Weekly Column March 7th, 2004

5.5 Years And Counting


It was the rainy season of 1998. The cab pulled up on Soi 23 and I got out beside The Old Dutch. It was absolutely hosing down and within a few seconds of getting out of the cab, I was soaked. I quickly dismissed a sprint to one of the bigger, more popular bars at the other end of Cowboy and instead ducked into one of the first bars in the lane. My plan was to nurse a drink there until the rain stopped, at which point I would go on to one of the other bars.

The bar I had entered was small, single shophouse sized bar, but it felt even narrower. Sitting under a small lamp at the front of the bar was a big Thai lady with straggly, greying hair wearing what looked like her bed clothes. She had a weathered face but her friendly smile made me think that she was likely someone with a pleasant disposition. Despite looking like she was ready to put her head down for the evening, closer inspection revealed that she was doing the accounts for the bar. She welcomed me in and called a couple of her girls to get towels and help dry me off. I was a little bit embarrassed by all of the attention but soaked it up nonetheless. I later learned that the older woman's name was Pam and that she was the owner and manager of the bar, and had been for the last 17 years.

Rainy season deluges keep the punters at home and there were very few guys out that night, me being the only person in that tiny little bar. After a clumsy, if somewhat amusing effort had been made to help dry me off, I ended up spending a couple of hours in the bar trying to communicate with one of the girls in pretty basic Thai. I can still clearly remember her teaching me the meaning of such basic phrases as mong arai (what are you looking at) and ben arai (what is wrong). She was pleasant company and I enjoyed chatting with her and went back to the bar a handful of times. I bought her a few drinks, chatted with her, learned some basic Thai and learned about life in Thailand in general. But that was the extent of it. Nothing more, no funny business.

I remember Harold, one of Pam's larger than life sons, telling me that I shouldn't fall in love with her because she had a son and a boyfriend in Chanthaburi who she sent money to regularly. This was especially amusing because I had never been naughty with her, never paid bar or anything like that. Still, it was nice of Harold to say that, and show that he was looking out for me.

I remember another time when a fellow with a goatee beard, a cowboy hat and quite the Texan drawl, came into Pam's Bar and made a signal to her that magically pulled her away from me to him. While she would sit next to me on one of the couches and chat with no physical contact whatsoever, when this particular punter came into the bar she had her arms around him in a flash. It was the first time I had seen one of Bangkok's more colourful farang characters, Mekhong Kurt. It's nostalgic looking back.

As far as I can make out, she left Pam's Bar and went to work in another Cowboy bar. My memory is poor at the best of times so I can't remember which, but it was one of the big ones like Tilac or Long Gun. After that she disappeared for a while, probably back to her province. I say that because her English never really developed and had she been involved in a relationship with a farang, one of the tell tale signs would have been the improvement in her English. The next time I spotted her would have been around 2001 in one of the King's Castle Bars in Patpong, either I or II, again, I can't remember which. And then a couple of years ago I spotted her in Anton's Hollywood Rock in Nana. Like all of the other times I saw her, I had completely forgotten about her, only to be reminded of her again when I walked into a certain ground floor bar in Nana Plaza recently. There she was, up on stage, dancing with her latest set of friends.

There was never anything between us, but she is one of those girls that you remember because you met her when you were new to it all. Yeah, I had a soft spot for her on always hoped that something good would come of it all for her.

Some of these girls remain in the industry for a long, long time. I have been asked several times how long the girls remain in the industry on average and the truth is, I simply don't know. I just haven't hung around the Bangkok traps for long enough to know. But I have heard of the odd girl who claims to have been in the industry for over 20 years. That is truly sad. You want the best for them but you know that after so many years in the industry, even if there have been interruptions along the way, that they have changed.

Even though I have spotted Miss Chanthaburi from time to time in my less and less frequent jaunts to the bar areas, I haven't spoken to her in years. I hope she is doing ok and I hope that someone takes her out of the industry, away from the lifestyle. Thais by nature are able to make some of the most mundane things fun but long term, time in this industry can't be good for them. Hopefully she will exit the industry for the last time soon.

Where is this pic?

It was looking Starbucks at Central Chidlom.
Again it ain't Sukumvit this week…
Last week's picture was taken outside Starbucks at Central Chidlom. A few readers complained that the pics are getting easier though funnily enough, there have only been about 15 – 20 people getting them right unlike some weeks, like when I ran the pic of the Elephant Building, when 100+ people got it right. A few people also said that they thought it was Starbucks at Chidlom "but it couldn't be because I said it wasn't Sukumvit". Well, that's funny…Sukumvit becomes Ploenchit Road and Central is most definitely on Ploenchit! This week's pic could be anywhere, couldn't it? All I'll say is that it is somewhere relatively central and not out in the suburbs. 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 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 West or the East?

Interesting statistics just released from Phuket Gazette – 3 murders on this small island in 22 days! 68 offences against property and 34 people arrested. An admirable 50% arrest rate. I wonder why our (UK) police don't publish statistics like this, as if I did not know. Drivers do not get hassled much by the police here, except on helmet crackdown days, but the standard of driving is atrocious and the accident rate alarming. Still where would you rather live? A country where you have to stay alert and drive carefully to avoid accidents, but your person and property are pretty safe, or a country where you have a better chance of getting back to your burgled and vandalized home with your car unscathed?
Similarities between Ireland and Thailand?
Here in Ireland, we have a similar tourist problem to Thailand. Too many of the 'wrong' type of tourist (boozy British stag and hen parties) are ruining it for those who want to come as ordinary tourists. Unfortunately, Thailand seems to be a mecca for the 'wrong' types – Arabs, Indians, Brits, Aussies, and Yanks just boozing' and whoring' – meanwhile families have to try to avoid these unsavoury louts. I have a rule of thumb that when Paddy Irishman goes en-masse to a destination, it's time to find a new destination, because the Irish are definitely Paddy-lasts when it comes to 'discovering' a new destination! – and lots of 'Paddies' are going to Thailand. In Ireland, pubs who fought to get extended hours now want them brought back to 1130 (1230 on Fri / Sat night).
War of the classes, again.
I really am at odds with all the 'Thais hate us now' theory. Sex tourists are looked at with curiosity and interest by Thais. Try walking a girl out of Soi Cowboy and along Sukhumvit for a couple of hundred metres [if you can get the girl to walk that far] from the near stationary cars and buses you will attract many curious glances that often reflect amusement, intense interest or even pity but never anger or resentment . English teachers [and I have been one] even if somewhat underpaid, command respect and are usually appreciated as long as they behave in a professional way. The Farangs that are despised more than any other, and usually behind their backs, are the increasing ranks of 'professional expat'. You know, the ones who work for greedy multinational companies who come to Thailand to tap into a large population and exploit cheap labour. These people get paid a salary in foreign currency 10 times and more than the wage of a hard working Thai doctor or university lecturer. A wage completely out of reach of most Thais. You know the people I am talking about. They can be seen on the skytrain in their office clothes, clutching a briefcase and more often than not talking complete bollocks into a mobile phone. Other times they get chauffeur driven around. A car in Bangkok? Are you f**king nuts! They send their spoilt brats to some overpriced international school where they all pick up a really nauseous American accent for some bizarre reason. These so called expats with their huge disposable income push the prices up for all of us. I guess the only good thing is most of them only seem to stay for 2 or 3 years, it is then time to take their greedy, futile career elsewhere. When I first got here in '85 these people hardly existed. Most expats seemed to be retirees, ex military, interesting people with a story to tell. Life in the city seemed to have more of an edge, raw and gritty.
Rag rage!
What if Khao San Road were to close early? Wow! Those hippy backpackers would not be happy. Backpackers and Cheap Charlies could become scarce! Flip-flop sales would plummet! (Might even cause a rubber sales crisis). Also a sales crisis for lentils, happy hour, singlets, and bad taste party shorts. In fact the lack of demand for bargain basement clothing could create an outbreak of a new crisis – "RAG RAGE!"
An ATM machine with 4 wheels.
I don't know if this is the norm for other farangs in Thailand, but I am always getting pulled over by the police when driving. Most of the time it is for trumped up charges such as failing to use my turn signal or speeding. When in fact I have been driving in the same lane the whole time. I assume that I get pulled over more than a Thai person due in hopes that when the payoff is offered I might pay the ridiculous fine they ask for, rather than the standard 100 or 200 baht. If a payoff is not paid the norm is for the police officer to write you a ticket, and then take your license, where as you have to go to the police station to pay the fine and get your license back. Recently, more than one Thai person has told me that the taking of the license to insure payment is the norm, but that the police do not have the right to take your license if you refuse. Do you know if this is true?

The many sides of Thailand.

After spending a couple of weeks in Bangkok slowly visiting bar after bar, I felt rather disgusted with myself and started to feel very ashamed and guilty of what I was doing. The initial feeling of euphoria at being able to have any women and to go where I wanted and when I wanted had worn of. That is why I liked your article so much because it reassured me that I was human after all, and would not slide down the slippery slope and end up living on the streets of Thailand as a beggar because I refused to leave. I find Thailand both gorgeous and at the same time repulsive, inviting but sometimes unwelcoming, happy but mostly sad, and very in your face but also very private.

What a fizzer! After all of the excitement, anxiety, nervousness – call it pretty much what you want, the midnight closing did not eventuate as had been expected. It seems that a decision on the midnight closing has been deferred, but until when? April 1st? It sure feels like that. While we keep hearing talk about it just being put off for a week or two before it will eventually commence, I personally believe that the government underestimated the backlash from the public and realise that politically at least (if not economically), it would have been a disaster. My best guess no is that it will slowly be pushed to the backburner before being conveniently forgotten about. That way, no face is lost and no-one has to admit that it was all a silly idea in the first place.

A bit of news from Soi 33 that is a couple of weeks old, but slipped beneath the Stickman radar. Napoleon Bar have been told that they can't use their back room any more. It houses a large 12 x 6 snooker table, and whilst it was thought the ban may be to block the potential for behind the scenes "special services", recent rumours have it that this was because they have a licence for pool tables and not snooker / billiard tables! WTF! So, change the balls! Likewise, Bacchus Bar were told by the brown shirts that they couldn't use their upstairs facilities anymore, nor could Richmond Bar use their upstairs karaoke room.

Did you know that King's Castle 1 and 2, two bars that are generally regarded as having some of the finest looking working girls around, still only charge 80 baht for a Singha beer and 90 baht for a Heineken? Yep, Patpong is stressful, noisy and it can get a bit much pretty fast, but these prices are a lot cheaper than the other bar areas. If you're on a tight budget and simply want to pop into a few bars, look, drink and not touch, Patpong has its advantages.

Some Pattaya bars are awfully jumpy when male Thai customer enter the bar. Unlike Bangkok which largely bans male Thais from entering the bars, more than a few go into bars in Pattaya. But when they enter, the girls usually stop dancing nude. So next time you are in a Pattaya gogo bar and the girls suddenly put their gear back on, look around and you may well notice some Thai guys just came in, invariably with some farangs.

I am reliably informed that both Living Dolls and Hooters, two farang owned gogo bars on Walking Street, are both very popular and doing very well indeed.

There is all sorts of commotion at the Nana Hotel at the moment as workmen begin work from 7:00 AM. If you are looking for a sleep in, the Nana Hotel might not be the best place to stay at the moment, or at least the wing where all the construction is taking place.

Wandering through my local supermarket, I perused the prices of whisky, for I am almost out of my favourite Jack Daniels. At 899 baht for 700 ml, it is not cheap so I checked out the prices of a few others, just for the sake of comparison. I couldn't he[ but smile at the prices of Johnny Walker Black. A 750 ml bottle costs 976 baht while a one litre bottle costs just 19 baht more at 995 baht. Somehow, I doubt they move many 750 ml bottles.

Buckskin Joe's Village has the potential to be the best place to build beer or gogo bars. 1. It's away from the locals so they don't see nothing unless they wanna come around. 2. They won't raze it anytime soon for high rises as they may in the other bar areas which are located in pricey real estate areas. 3. While it is on the main road, it is sufficiently out of sight that it is not in the face of the average Thai citizen OR the wholesome farang tourists.

Music to my ears is the quote of the week which came from Mrs. Stick. "There is nothing I hate more than people who cheat others." Actually, this is a translation from Thai but shows that Thai people, especially those who spend a lot of time with, or are in relationships or married to farangs, are aware of the cheating that goes on.

Big John's pies and pastries are now available in Villa Supermarkets at: Sukhumvit 33, Ploenchit, Lang Suan, and Sukhumvit 49.

One must ask the question of whether Bangkok’s traffic problem is being looked at from all the wrong angles. We hear propositions to solve the problem that include such things as new traffic computers, new roads and expressways and better enforcement of the law. But perhaps they need to look at one of the major causes and contributors to the traffic problem? The worst time for traffic is the regular rush hour, from before 7:00 AM until well after 9:00 and again late afternoon. One of the biggest contributing factors to the traffic problem in Bangkok is school students. Yes, school students! Many students attend a school a long way away from the family home and they are invariably driven to school, another car contributing to the traffic problem. If schooling was zoned and students were forced to go to a school in the area where they live, there would surely be a reduction in traffic. There would be many other benefits too such as more standardized education quality. Somehow though, I feel that many of the wealthier and influential Thai families, the elite so to speak, would be strongly opposed to this idea.

It’s all on down in On-nut. While his girlfriend was away upcountry, khun horny farang invited not one, but two lasses around to his apartment for a round of the bedroom Olympics. In the middle of the events her got the shock of his life when the door was unlocked and in came his girlfriend, back early to surprise him. When she saw what was going on, she smashed a bottle on his head, cutting it open. He ended up in hospital and someone called the cops. Despite the fact that it was the farang who would appear to be the “victim” he was forced to pay 3,000 baht compensation to his girlfriend!

For prospective English teachers, you might want to reconsider the idea you have of working at a university. The government run universities generally require the highest standards, have the most prestige, yet pay the lowest salaries. Something is really wrong with the education system. They'll tell you they realise the salary is low, but you can make money by teaching extra classes. But why should a uni lecturer have to moonlight to survive? Like so many things in Thailand, this is awfully hard to comprehend.

Following on from the opening piece of last week’s column where I refused to be the victim of an errant gas station attendant, I was very surprised, but also very pleased, to receive a reply from Caltex. They were most apologetic about what happened and advised that the individual in question had been dismissed. Caltex need a big pat on the back for this, and they just won back a customer.

In last week's column, I briefly mentioned that I thought that the Soi 33 bars were a lot better than the average gogo bar – and I stand by that, but we are talking personal preference here. It must be said that not all of the bars in soi 33 are of the so called top end hostess variety. Bars like The Office, Blu Bar BQ and Wall Street are something more akin to a neighbourhood bar, where girls are also available. It must be said that these bars are all a lot of fun – and WAY cheaper than the other places in the soi too.

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: Why do Thai females in their 20s and 30s wear clothes and accessories (Snoopy etc.) that most western girls have grown out of by the time they are 13?

Mrs. Stick says: If you read Stickman's column regularly you would have found the answer. To tell you again, Thai women grow up slowly, partially because they are stuck at home with their parents for a long time, usually until at least the time of graduation. They often do not feel that they have a chance to be themselves until they have finished all of their studies. And to tell you the truth, many Thai people also have very poor fashion sense and you often see people with bad clothes being copied by others. Are you dating someone with Snoopy clothes? What an embarrassment for you!

Question 2: I have noticed a Thai website on which Thai lesbians post pictures of themselves to be voted upon by others of a similar persuasion. I have no problem with this believing everybody's sexual preference is their own business. However, I am surprised at the large number of young ladies whose pictures (together with their name and email address) feature on the site often in school or university uniform. Is lesbianism the ‘in thing’ among young Thai females at the moment or has it always been so wide spread? I would have thought that posting your picture, personal details and sexual preference on the Internet (unless you are a working girl) ran counter to Thai culture.

Mrs. Stick says: I have no idea about lesbianism so cannot answer this well. I graduated many years ago so it is hard to say but back then people were not doing this. Even if we think about Thai women who are straight, I don't know much about this. I don't think this is a cultural thing at all and I really do not think it is widespread. It is probably just a small group of people who really do not know what they are doing, sort of like a fad in a small, impressionable group.

Question 3: On my travels to Thailand and talking with friends who also visit regularly we are amazed and baffled by the girls' attitude regarding using condoms. Many of them are happy to have sex with men without using them. Or if they do insist on the man using protection this only lasts a few times then they don't bother. What level (if any) of sex education and AIDS awareness, is taught, or made available to students in schools and colleges in Thailand?

Mrs. Stick says: I think Thai people are fully aware of the dangers of AIDS and other diseases. The government has advertised it widely and put it into the school curriculum many years ago. They teach about safe sex at school. There was a big discussion about this many years ago with one group arguing that it encouraged teenagers to go out and have sex and the other group saying it was necessary to educate about the dangers. When I was at school, there were some lessons in biology and health about how the body works in grade 9, but never about sex education as such. It was very indirect and we were taught such things as "when you start to menstruate, you are ready to have children" but they didn't outright say that that is the time when you actually need to start using protection if you want to avoid pregnancy. It was implied, but not stated. It is more direct now, I believe.

So it looks like it is business as usual down in the bars, much to most people's relief. But to all of you bar owners, don't let that stop you from mixing things up a bit. I maintain that we want to see something a little different, and see a few new specials and so forth. Remember, if you have ANY specials or promotions whatsoever, let me know and I'll mention it here for you. It is after all free advertising!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Flashermac.