Stickman's Weekly Column March 14th, 2004

Big Jack, A Bangkok Legend


Thailand is a great place for farangs to live, but from time to time, things don’t go quite as they should and occasionally things can even go badly wrong. Today I recount a story that took place around 18 months or so ago involving two people known to me.

Big Jack has been in Thailand for around three years. He can be a little abrasive at time and might have rubbed a few people up the wrong way but to me, he remains a nice guy. He's always been good to me and I have to admit that I have quite a soft spot for him. He is horribly disorganised, barely speaks a word of Thai, drinks and smokes far too much and can at times be horribly brash, but overall I maintain that he is a decent bloke.

Big Jack moved to Thailand with great expectations. He arrived with a certain amount of money and had an existing business which he should have been able to operate from Bangkok. Unfortunately he was the victim of what appears to have been a well planned crime through which he lost his business, and along with that all of the plans he had to make money.

Still, he had been a successful businessman and had a bit of money to play with so he was fine for the first year. As we all did, he very much enjoyed his first year in Thailand even though he went through his savings fast. Unfortunately the good times couldn't last forever and eventually he ran out of money. With various appliances, electronics and some jewellery on hand, a once proud man had to swallow his pride and pawn some of his possessions. This money allowed him to get by for a while but it didn't last long. Desperate times called for desperate measures and as the situation got even worse, he was forced to ask some of his friends for a loan. Knowing that I was but a poor teacher, he never once asked me for money. I’d pop around to see him and while he never had much, he would always offer what ever he had, be it food or drink.

Times got really tough and poor old Jack didn’t have enough money to pay for his rent and utilities and was eventually evicted from his apartment. He somehow managed to rustle up some funds and move into a very modest apartment in what can only be described as a particularly dodgy part of town. To make matters worse, he was the victim of more than one robbery. Down on his luck, the money eventually ran out and he had no money left, not a single, solitary baht. He wasn't destitute and still had a few assets but these were things with sentimental value that he really didn’t want to get rid of. With no money in a foreign country, one is suddenly in deep shit. No money didn't only mean no honey, it also meant no food. Now while one can go without the honey, try going without food. You won't last very long.

Many of Big Jack's friends had abandoned him and now, in his moment of most need, there was but one friend who had remained faithful throughout it all, one person who had remained by his side. Terry.

Terry was a young Brit who like many of us was a poor English teacher trying to break into something else in Bangkok. But Terry was loyal and even through the bad times, he was there for Big Jack. Terry had a typical English teacher's salary of just 30 odd thousand baht a month and while this covered his own expenses, there wasn't much left at the end of the month.

When the money finally ran out and there was no food on the table, Big Jack became hungry, desperately hungry. He called Terry and the conversation went something like this.

“Terry mate, it’s Jack. Look I hate to ask but could I borrow some money.”

“Jack”, replied Terry, "I am sorry mate but I've barely got enough for myself.”

“Terry mate, I’m desperate, could you just give me 100 baht for food. Please. Even just a couple of containers of fried rice to tie me over. I haven't eaten for a day! Please!”

Now Terry being a particularly decent sort knew a genuine call for help when he heard it. Those words "I haven't eaten for a day, please" rung over and over in his head and he agreed to go over and see Jack. An hour later he was in Jack's apartment.

“Terry, you wouldn't believe how hungry I am. I haven't eaten for a whole day.” Terry, bless his heart, dove into his wallet and scooped out a crisp 500 baht note and gave it to Big Jack. After chatting for an hour or two, Terry disappeared leaving Jack to decide just what and where he would eat.

The next day the phone at Terry's rang. “Terry mate, it’s me, Jack. Could you lend me some money for a bit of food? Mate, I’m desperate, I’m really desperate, I haven't eaten for two days! Please!”

“Jack, I just came around and gave you 500 baht last night! What happened?”

“I went out to get some food last night but before I got to the end of the lane I met a girl and you know, I had that 500 baht you gave me. So I haven't eaten yet.”

And so the story goes! Yep, Big Jack was able to cast aside being ravenous and was instead seduced by a woman of the night.

Everyone has their Bangkok legend stories. It might be the guy who drank so much in one sitting or the guy who had all manner of sexual exploits. We've all met the extreme types in Bangkok, some of them are all talk, but this being Bangkok, some of the stories really are for real. But for me, when I think of Bangkok legends, I don’t think of guys who have been here for 30+ years, speak flawless Thai and gloat about the good old days. I don’t think about the guys who claim to have spent every night with a different bargirl for the last X number of years. I think of Big Jack and his 500 baht. He is a Bangkok legend and every time I tell this story, I still can't help but laugh.

Where is this pic?

It was Soi Convent.
Central Bangkok, somewhere….
Last week's picture was taken in Soi Convent looking across at The Irish Xchange. More than a few people got it right, including the manager of the bar! This week's picture might be a little tricky because of the quality, or lack of, of the picture. For this I apologise but it was the best I could do (the pic was given to me by someone else). 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. After the first winner who gets the prize from Tony's, the next five people to get the pic right also get a very nice prize. I'm sorry, but for various reasons I can't actually say what it is, suffice to say that it is very nice and would be happily enjoyed by the winner. To claim these other prizes, they must be collected in Bangkok before the end of the month. So, that makes it SIX PRIZES THIS WEEK!

FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:

Those blasted words, mai mee!

I visited Chiang Mai for the first time and about 6 o'clock I strolled into a restaurant with a sign displaying "ENGLISH FOOD". The waitress handed me the menu and I thumbed through until I found the English section. "Steak Pie and chips please"…."not have", ok, "lamb chops please"…"not have". I pointed to a couple more dishes and got the same response. "What English food do you have then", I asked…."not have, cook sleeping". Geees ok, I thought, I am not too hungry so I asked when the cook will wake up and I will come back then. "Tomorrow", she answered, then she removed the English section from the plastic wallet in the menu, leaving me with just the Thai food and waited for me to order. What got me was she looked miffed when I said I wanted English food and stood up to leave….what did she expect?
Thatcherism in Thailand?
Anyone who lived in the UK in the 1980s will have experienced the profound social changes which took place under the callous Thatcher regime. It became socially acceptable to be pushy, materialistic, greedy. If you did not have a job, it was your own fault for not trying hard enough. The long-term unemployed were a drain on the country's resources and became the new underclass. I think we are experiencing a similar kind of hardening of attitudes in Thailand today with farangs as the new unwanted class. It is okay to hassle, overcharge, rig the meter, pull a fast one, because farangs do not deserve their wealth, are of inferior intelligence, and have no automatic right to be in the Kingdom in the first place. I for one am on my way out to the city of angels – Angeles in the Philippines.
War of the classes, continued.
As for those expats with "huge" disposable income pushing up the prices 'for the rest of us', well to quote the author from last week's piece – that is complete bollocks. Unless the author is sending his kids to international schools, shopping at Emporium or eating at The Oriental, I doubt they have any effect on his lifestyle or his cost of living. Most of the professional expats who are obviously despised by the author are just regular blokes doing jobs for their foreign based companies. They are paid what they would earn in their home countries plus allowances for differences in the cost of living and for the fact that they have to uproot themselves and sometimes their entire households to live in Thailand. For some of them, this is not a lifestyle choice! Without these incentives they wouldn't come. Since the author of the letter is happy with gross generalisations, here's one of my own: A lot of the 'interesting' retired, ex-military types I've met since I've been here have been the worst kind of expats…hard core sexpats who have treated the locals with absolute contempt and done bugger all to raise the lot of the locals they come into contact with. They are drop-out leaches, here only because their pension cheques stretch further and they can happily blow it all on the local ladies and booze, no questions asked.
On behalf of the professional expats.
I was pretty pissed off with the article ‘war of the classes, again’ in you column last week. It seemed to be a savage attack on us ‘professional expats’. I have a great affection for Thailand and its people. I go out of my way to help them when I can and I treat them with respect. I have made a promise to myself that when I leave Thailand I will not be leaving with more money than I arrived with. Any profits will be put back into the country probably in the form of a donation to a worthy cause. We are not all ‘fat cat business bastards’. There seems to be a them and us culture between most teachers and other expats. I believe this stems from those who call themselves teachers but are no more than English speakers. I am getting tired of people saying in a surprised manner, “oh, you have a proper job,” when they find out I am not a teacher. Surely the good teachers are also ‘professional expats’ and have a proper job. I feel sorry for the good teachers who are having there professional status dragged down by the lesser skilled individuals.
Taxi, sir?
A while back, went to a graduation ceremony of a major university, which was held in one of the most expensive and well known BKK hotels. It was a very fancy event with the six course meal, entertainment, and the rest, at the cost of sitting through the ceremony speeches of the university president. When all was done, and it really was well done, I and a few friends went to the front of the hotel to get a taxi. The front desk made us wait for 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 minutes with the usual "The taxi will be here soon". He said there were no taxis around, and that we would have to wait longer. Well, after waiting 40 minutes and the usual Thai time crapola "Please wait five more minutes", I walked down the street, and as far as the eyes could see were a sea of taxis. I was practically blinded by all the taxi lights. The last thing I remember was getting in a taxi with my friends while the guy at the front desk was literally running towards us yelling "Please wait, the taxi will be here in just a few minutes!!" The guy was perfectly content in inconveniencing the farangs for hours, just so he could get his 20 baht commission for the hotels overpriced taxi.
Bloody bars!
Visited the King Group's "show bar" above "SuperStar Bar" and there are two things to beware of. The first thing you run into is the new stucco they have applied to the walls in the entrance stairway, there are no handrails along the steep stairs and when I put my hand onto the stucco wall to keep my balance going up the stairs I felt a sharp pain. I looked down and saw that the freshly applied stucco is so sharp that just lightly putting my hand on it resulted in a nasty cut that drew blood!
At 5 mins to 2 in a certain Nana Plaza bar last weekend three well dressed farangs entered for what looked like a final drink. The smooth talking mamasan was on to them and they left 15 minutes later with 11 girls in tow! The girls they left behind were shouting “take me, take me”. All in all, this particular bar did 75 bar fines on Saturday which isn't bad considering they have 60 girls. Who said the bars were quiet?!

Every Thai person I know and every Thai person I speak to claims that they won't vote for the present prime minister at the next election. This ranges from professional people to taxi drivers to street vendors. Maybe it is just a fad but with the government talking about getting 400 seats in the next election, I wonder just who is it that is going to vote for them. Hell, this is far from a scientific survey and this is just a little bit of feedback of a few people here and there, but nonetheless, I have been surprised.

I can't figure out what is going on at Kiss Bar which has a set of dancers that leave something to be desired in the beauty department but they continue to be bought out at an above normal rate. At 11 PM one night this week there were 10 girls per set of dancers. Before finishing one beer over the course of half an hour there were only 10 dancers left in the place and the waitresses were called into action to fill all the empty spaces on the stage.

The friendly folks in brown uniforms who patrol the roads in the Rama 3 area have very thoughtfully made up a list of the various traffic offences in English. So for any driver who doesn’t speak the local lingo, the traffic cops just pass you the aged laminated list of traffic infringements and point at the infringement that you purportedly just committed. Even more thoughtfully, the price is listed beside each infringement. I wonder if the police in other areas are so thoughtful to the non Thai drivers?!

The popular DoReMi music shop in Siam Square appears to be no longer. For the past couple of months it has been closed and while initially I thought they might be renovating, it would now appear that they have closed down which is a real shame because the lady who ran it spoke excellent English, was incredibly friendly and helpful and perhaps most importantly of all, she really knew music. Invariably, if you asked about it, she would either have it or get it for you. I believe that the music shop on the third floor of Panthip Plaza, which is also very good, is run by her sister.

From Phuket the Star Club closed down after just two months operation. Direct from a bar owner comes news that the bars have had to apply for the new entertainment license which is very confusing. The deadline was a couple of days ago but how much they will charge us is still unknown, it may be 30-100,000 baht depending on the options chosen. There are reportedly many bars which are not aware of this and some said they will not apply, so I guess a few bars might be forced to close down in the coming months.

The King's Group of bars in Patpong are very proud of their "no organised, or bar sponsored rip-offs" policy. A first timer in Bangkok told one dancer that he wanted to buy her a drink. He was clearly overheard saying "one drink only for you". Well when the drink arrived there were TWO drinks, one for the indicated dancer and one for her friend who had been hovering around in the background. When he asked about the two drinks the dancers quickly made themselves scarce. The first timer and his locally based buddy left shortly after with the out of towner saying "forget about the 80 baht as it was no big rip-off". His locally based friend however told the boss who wanted them to go back inside and sort it out. So, it is great to see that the King's Group management do want to take care of problems like this.

The Irish Xchange has extended its happy hour and it now runs Monday to Friday from 4 PM till 7 PM, and includes Heineken pints, Heineken bottles and house pours all for just 50 baht per shot. They also feature live music Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, while on Wednesday nights they have a jam session where all musicians are welcome. This coming Wednesday is St Patrick's day – 17th March – so all night long they will have special drinks promotions, free shooters and live music. There might be a few headaches in expat circles on Thursday morning!

I must have gone five years without having shepherd's pie but then in the last few months, I must have tried this dish in at least five different British style pubs. So which establishment does the best shepherd's pie in Bangkok? For me it is the Irish Xchange. Not only does it taste great, but it is only 150 baht, much cheaper than most other places and it IS worth going out of your way for!

When I first came to Bangkok, Panthip Plaza used to be a weekly thing for me. Each Saturday or Sunday I’d pop by to see what new gizmos were available. But truth be told, I was never been a big fan of the place. It is always mobbed with people, the vendors are really pushy and the air-con in the whole joint doesn’t work too well – and that is especially bothersome at this time of year. In the past, Panthip not only had the best range of computer goodies but it was also the cheapest – and that was what kept me going back. These days I prefer to go to the IT Mall at Fortune Town. It is much quieter, you can get virtually everything that is available at Panthip there and it is much less stressful. If like me you are sick of Panthip, head on over to IT Mall at Rachada for what is a much more pleasant shopping experience.

The good folks at Sunbelt Asia are known for business brokerage but don't be mistaken for thinking that that is their only field. While popping by to meet head honcho Greg for lunch this week, he introduced me to the charming Sarah Allen, head of Sunbelt's new property department. Sarah has been in the real estate business in Bangkok for many years and I was amazed at how much she knew about the industry. She struck me as someone very knowledgeable, thorough and above all else, as someone who was honest. So, if you're looking to rent or to buy, give Sunbelt a call. No longer do you have to deal with some of those small time agents who just have a scrap of paper with a handful of listings who are so obviously trying to push you into a place that is hardly suitable, just so they can score a commission. And before I forget, Sunbelt has far and away the best deals on various legal services such as company registration and the like. They can register a company for you for 3,900 baht. Yes, while this sounds unbelievably cheap – because so many others charge 60,000 or 70,000 baht, this is an ALL INCLUSIVE charge. Pretty amazing really!

Pattaya Today, the city's leading twice-a-month newspaper I'm told, is looking for a columnist to write "Talk of the Town." Payment is minimal, but so are the criteria: "you must know difference between its and it's." Put your journalistic flair to work writing about virtually anything with local flavour. Contact Barry Kenyon (01 782-7363) or email
[email protected]

I received an email from a reader this week who outlined an emergency situation. Within minutes of reading the email the main index page was redesigned and anyone accessing the site saw the following request right at the front of the site.

A US citizen living in Bangkok is in URGENT need for blood type “O negative” donors. He is currently at Bumrungrad hospital in Bangkok where he is on the ICU (Intensive Care Unit) with kidney failure and an abnormal sized liver. This blood type is very rare especially among Asian people and so far no blood of this type is in stock. If you have this blood type or know anyone who does, please contact one of us. We can be reached 24/7: Claus Boman, phone 069880011 (speaks English and Scandinavian languages), Supreeya Premthong phone 013301565 (speaks English and Thai). The donation will take place in Bumrungrad Hospital at Sukhumvit Soi 3. All transportation costs and hospital fees will be taken care of.
Nothing, and I mean that, absolutely nothing, makes me feel better than seeing this column assisting someone who really was in desperate need. The message was picked up and forwarded in al directions online. Not only did people call Claus directly but many emailed me asking me how to help. I forwarded them all to Claus and in the process found myself researching such conditions online and find out more and more about it. What follows is the latest from Claus.

The reactions where amazing. From 11 o’clock Monday morning people started calling, either as donors or ideas where to get the blood. Within the next three days my girlfriend and I got about 25 calls directly from donors, mostly from Bangkok, but also Phuket, Koh Samet and Chiang Mai. Most of them farangs, 4 – 5 Thais. We got SMS from Germany from a guy who was coming on holiday soon carrying this blood type. A “son” from England mailed his father in Thailand to let the father give blood and even a friend of us in England saw the message and mailed instantly. Besides that we got about 10 – 15 mails from possible donors, also tourist on the way to Thailand. The US Embassy came to us, BNH hospital, The Central Blood registrar and many more. The doctors announced that they would keep taking names and contact information for possible donors but we now reach a limit where our friend can be refilled from now to Christmas! His condition is better although too weak to get out of bed at all. Two days ago they took him away from ICU but he still faces many weeks at the hospital. They are still not sure whether he got a tumour or not but he is facing chemotherapy in a weeks time if present medication don’t help or react. He had blood transfusion 3 times so far but is likely to be in need for more. A word about him is that he is a guy, 52 years old, never drink, don’t smoke and goes to bed before 9 o’clock PM. If that's the problem of his illness I don’t know but he is a healthy guy in general. He lived in Asia for many years with a good physic and is a fit person.

I have never met any of the people involved, but on their behalf, I would like to thank all of you who got in contact to give / or have already given blood. While many farangs living in Bangkok seem to back stab each other something chronic, it is nice to know that people put their hand up in times of need. THANK YOU!

This column – and indeed this website – is available to you in times of need. We have successfully matched up family in both the UK and the US with long lost relatives and have now assisted someone in an emergency situation in hospital too. God forbid, if you ever have an emergency, and feel that a call for help online would help, email me. I'll have the situation up online in minutes!

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 am in a long-term (4 years this month) relationship with a Thai girl living in Bangkok. I am working towards becoming a monk for about a 6 month period before considering marriage. My friend thinks that it will be very difficult for me as a farang. I just finished a Buddhist pilgrimage with her in India and feel even more convinced that I would like to experience the freedom from material possessions. Would it be a good idea to ask her to sponsor me? Would her family look poorly on her if I decided to stay in the Sangha for a more extended period of time?

Mrs. Stick says: When you say sponsor do you mean by giving food etc? You must both be quite religious I guess. The idea of becoming a monk before getting married is, for Thai people, to honour their mother and the whole family. You don't typically do this for yourself but for others. The family believe that they will "dai boon" or get some merit from it. It is generally considered that it is done for a reasonable period of time, but not too long. Within Thailand, the Ministry of Labour allows Thai men to take 3 months off to do it but if it is going to be longer than that, you really need to discuss it with your girlfriend and her family very closely indeed.

Question 2: What would be a reasonable amount of money to send a Thai lady who is considering a move to Nakhon Phanom. The monthly income would be to support herself and her 9 year old daughter. I know different people have different requirements, in the past she earned about 8,000 baht per month in Rayong and that was adequate.

Mrs. Stick says: Nakhon Phanom is very cheap and the cost of living is low there. 8,000 baht per month should be enough for them to have a comfortable lifestyle. The average income there would be MUCH less than that and is probably around 4,000 baht per month. So 8K is fair.

Question 3: While out on a drive my Thai wife, our 3 year old son and myself decided to visit a National Park in the south of Thailand. I bit the bullet at being charged ten times the price as my wife (200 baht against 20 baht). When I told them our son was half Thai / farang and what was they going to charge him they said 100 baht! It was then that I spit the dummy. Even my wife had a go at them. As a result we didn't go in and settled for a day at the beach instead. I wonder what your opinion is on this double charging. Personally I think it stinks. Racism at its worst, Government sponsored.

Mrs. Stick says: I would have thought that a 3 year old child would get in free, irrespective of nationality. Of course if the child had to pay, it should have been at the Thai price. Double pricing is taking advantage of people. It is as simple as that. If at all possible, try and work out what the price is before you get to the point where you pay and just give them the "right price". I have experienced this a couple of times with Stickman and I hate it that these people think they have the authority to judge you and charge you accordingly. Maybe they even get some of the money themselves? You have to be confident and state clearly what the price should be, and just pay that.

So another week goes by in the big city and boy oh boy, is it getting hot!

Over the coming week or two there will be a lot of juggling with the content of this website, and it might go down for very short spaces of time. If that happens, please do not be to concerned and just try again a little later. There will also be some changes with certain sections removed and new ones added.

Your Bangkok commentator since just after the turn of the century,

Stick

Thanks go out to Phuket-info.com and Claymore