Stickman's Weekly Column March 21st, 2004

Should We Keep Our Traps Shut?


On a mid '90s summer night, myself and a few friends were milling around outside The Empire Tavern, enjoying a few cold ones, bullshitting about the cricket, women, our careers and life in general. Located right beside a major intersection, it was no surprise when we heard the dreaded sound of an accident just metres away. There were no screeches of tires and luckily, no-one was hurt. It was a minor accident. The driver of what can only be described as an old heap backed into the car behind them, a much newer, late model Japanese car. The damage to the heap was minimal but the damage to the Japanese car was more than you'd expect with the bumper, front grill and and lights all smashed. Everyone at the bar went quiet as we watched, eager to see what would happen next.

A bunch of young, tough looking Kiwi lads jumped out of the old heap and a group of Asians who appeared to be tertiary students got out of the car that had been hit. It was plainly obvious that the local Kiwi lads were in the wrong. The Asian youths remained calm and tried to claim that they were innocent victims and that their car had been hit while stationery. Someone from the bar yelled out a few words about Asians and their driving prowess and before we knew it, it was all on. The poor Asian students were getting it from every angle. "If you actually opened your eyes you might be able to drive." "Go back to the rice fields." "You're in the wrong, Mr Wong!" Asian accent imitations were coming from every angle and at least a couple of guys in the bar had their fingers at the corner of their eyes, giving themselves a slanty eyed look.

As I recall it – and time is never kind on details – there were an equal number of passengers in each car and they were of about the same age. But with the support of their fellow countrymen liquored up at the bar nearby, the local guys who were clearly in the wrong got all aggressive. They basically told the owner of the Asian owned car that the damage was minimal and asked them if they really wanted to "make something of it". With the atmosphere becoming increasingly hostile, the Asians decided to make a quick exit and each car drove off in a different direction. Whether anything else came of it, I have no idea.

What is interesting is that this happened in what is generally regarded as one of the friendliest, safest and most politically correct Western nations. In fact it was about the last place I would have expected it to happen. Maybe it was the alcohol or maybe it was something else?

If a similar situation happened in Thailand, it is highly unlikely that a farang in a vehicle accident would get abused like this. The locals would not call out names, abuse them or mock them. I just could not see it happening. There is every chance however that a farang might get blamed for the accident and may even be forced to pay an on the spot fine.

A friend of mine back in Kiwiland had a guy from Hong Kong who boarded at his house and I got to know the guy, his friends, and his girlfriends, who were all from either Hong Kong or Taiwan. They seldom ever said anything negative about New Zealand at all. They used to always comment on the positive, never on the negative. Now I know that there were certain things that they didn't like about NZ or just couldn't adapt to, but they would NEVER say it in front of any of us.

This got me thinking about us Westerners living in Thailand. We often complain about what we cite as unfair treatment in Thailand and we are never shy to say that it would never happen in our own countries. Clearly it does happen as the story here illustrates, though I believe to a much smaller degree.

Do we, as farangs living in Thailand, have the right to complain? Do we have the right to voice our opinions, especially if it is in the negative? Do we complain too much? Many locals really hate it when farangs complain about what goes on in Thailand. Ask a Thai what their two biggest issues with us complaining are and they will often cite our privileged position in Thai society and they'll also say that often, we do not know what we are talking about and do not understand Thailand or Thai culture. To me, neither of these are valid criticisms.

Yes, there are some farangs who live a privileged lifestyle but that is totally irrelevant and smacks of envy. It is the second point that really gets to me, when the locals complain about us not really understanding Thailand. While many Thais would never admit it (or perhaps don't even realise it), there are vast numbers of farangs here that have a great deal of knowledge about Thailand. They speak Thai and possibly even read and write it, very well. Many farangs have visited more temples than Thai people and know more about Thai history than the locals. The farangs may well have travelled all around Thailand and seen much more of the country than many locals. As outsiders we have the ability to move in and out of different levels of society, something which is not hindered by their status – and that is something which most Thais cannot do.

Is it right that we avail ourselves of the many advantages of our new home but then go on to complain about certain things? I believe that us Westerners resident in Thailand – and anyone here on holiday – has every right to complain when things do not go as they should, or when things are clearly unfair. Of course we should remain gracious to our hosts and be sensitive to their culture, but at the end of the day, when things go against us, especially when it is clearly due to racism or corruption, it can be very difficult to keep our traps shut. Perhaps the locals simply don't realise that while we may complain from time to time, we actually want the best for Thailand too?

Where is this pic?

It was Sukumvit Soi 7/1
Early evening…
Last week's picture was taken of the corner of Sukumvit Soi 7/1 and the main Sukhumvit Road. Despite the fact that there were six prizes available, only one person got it right! I'll check with the sponsor of the other five and see what he wants done with them… So, where is this week's pic? 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:

The farang price.

Thanks to my sister-in-law who works for a major 5 star hotel in Phuket, we got a "tour company" discount for what was to be a lovely cruise off Chalong Bay. For 350 baht per person, you go out to sea for about 1 hour and eat a buffet, watch the sunset, etc. We received via fax a confirmation that we only pay for one person and 2 get in free, as part of a tour company. We show up (tilac and 2 farangs), pay the 350 baht, we present the letter and tickets are issued. As we walk to the bus that takes us out to the Chalong Pier, we are called back to the booth. One of the persons there had telephoned the person who authorized the discount. As my tilac chatted on the phone, her face changed. The buffet boat is only for Koreans and Japanese. Farangs have to pay 450 baht per person, no discount. I leaned over the cash box and took out my 1000 baht bill and threw the tickets and change on the table. Never mind the fact that I NEVER pay falang prices. I refuse. I also have a Thai drivers licence. I live here for chrissake! But it showed me just how bigoted they are here. If they think that treating tourists in that manner is an example of THAINESS, I prefer the dark, miserable rainy days of Glasgow any day! My dislike towards Thais multiplied exponentially. That "smile" means nothing to me. There is always a knife in one of their hands. Malaysia, here I come. Easy 5 year visa, no 90 day visa runs.
Making friends, or otherwise.
Friends, we all need them but when did you last make a concerted effort to make new ones? They say you can be lucky to count your real friends on one hand, so let's just say we'll settle for making some new acquaintances out here in LOS. In the event that you are employed, on paper that should give you an advantage, but outside of a work environment you're left to your devices. Due to the climate participating in sports is hardly conducive, there are a few clubs and societies, but outside of that there are the bars if you're a drinker of alcohol. One source of friendship you would think would be your western compatriot neighbours, but here comes the rub, I have never come across so many independent, self centred, isolationist, farangs in my life. Okay for those amongst you that are exclaiming sacre blue, let me ask you when did you last hold a party, cook a meal for others, or even offer a friendly cup of coffee on your porch? Ah, but there are your girlfriends and wives, maybe they can succeed with their opposite numbers where you have failed. Well the women fall into two groups, those that have come from the service industry and those that have not. And just like oil and water the two shall never mix. So amongst all the other trepidations that you may have about moving out here, trying to assimilate and be friendly with even your own kind can prove to be extremely difficult.
It's better to let it expire!
The new laws for drivers licences are in place. I had a 1 year that was due to expire on March 13th. I checked the week before and was told that I had 2 choices. If I renewed it then and there, I could get another 1 year. If I waited until it expired, I could get a 5 year license. Went in on Monday the 15th. Needed photos and copies of passport and visa. No residence certificate or doctor certificate. Costs were 505 baht for car, 255 baht for motorcycle. The new ones expire in 5 years, but they use your birthday as the expiration date, so these are good for 5 1/2 years. Ready in 1 hour.
Show your work permit or local ID.
I saw the email about the double pricing in National Parks and thought that you might like to hear my experience. I was holidaying in Rayong las month with my parents and my father wanted to go to Khao Chompoo national park. I don't like paying the 200 baht but decided to go to please the parents. On arriving the ticket seller looked in the van, saw three farangs, and out came 3 x 200 baht tickets. My wife was charged 20 baht and the kids were free. I explained to the seller that I live and work in Thailand, pay taxes and have a social security card. On showing the card she said no problem and let me in for 20 baht. I don't know if this was just a lucky case or it applies to all national parks. It's worth a try. And in the confusion she forgot to charge for one extra farang ticket!
No need to cry!
I know Thailand has its wonderful food, pristine beaches, great cultures & religions, and some of the most friendly people BUT if Nana Plaza was to shut at 12 I would cry like a baby girl!
War of the classes continues…
I would like to comment on the letter written the week before last about 'professional expats' and it's subsequent replies. The author of the former is clearly a hopeless dreamer and romantic with unrealistic expectations of the East, and probably reads Kipling. However one has to show respect for his decision to move away from an increasingly materialistic and distinctly un Eastern Bangkok, and I wish him well in his new life in the small town in the middle of nowhere. How many expats would be willing to do the same? It takes courage and no small commitment to the nation. Well, I too admit to feeling fairly nauseous at the sight of overpaid desk jockey farangs being driven around town while locals bow and fawn around them. But things move on, places change and Bangkok is surely not the same experience for Johnny foreigner looking for romance as it once was. Accept it or leave! The business man? He didn't specify his job, is certainly a generous chap to be giving away all his savings to Thailand before taking his last taxi ride up Don Muang highway. Let's say he earns 300 thousand a month, saves half of it over a 3 year period. Five and a half million give or take a few satang, generous indeed! Let's hope he doesn't have a Thai girlfriend, I think she might create a fuss! So let the guy go public about it on the site and have a few worthy causes come forward to make a claim. I am sure it will set a good example for other well paid types to do the same. Whole families coming out here, not out of choice but because the company has sent them here does worry me slightly. Have you lost charge of your own lives? And do you realise how dangerous Bangkok pollution is for small children? A study done some time ago in the city claimed children lose a significant number of IQ points due to the damaging affect of being exposed to the various chemicals present in Bangkok smog during the years of growing up. Just food for thought.
There is a rumour doing the rounds about the future of Soi Cowboy and that it will be redeveloped into something completely different – and even that the deal has been done already! Aa the rumour goes, the deadline is set for about 18 months from now. This could be one of those silly rumours like Nana Plaza being turned into a car park for the Landmark Hotel, a rumour that has been going around for 20 odd years. While my bet is that it is just that, a rumour, one cannot afford to discount it entirely because just look at what happened to both Clinton Plaza and Sukhumvit Square! What started as rumours went on to eventuate.

Good news at last for everyone who was ripped off by the man featured in this column who allegedly stole money from many people by getting them to invest in various Sukumvit Soi 4 bars. Strong rumours have it that he is now in the hands of the good guys at Lumpini Police Station on charges for cheque fraud. It also appears that charges will be laid for the 8 million baht he allegedly misappropriated from the gentleman in the wheelchair. He was found living it up in a resort in Ko Chang where he was arrested by police and brought back to Bangkok. The funny thing is that he was never the real owner of the bars. He was a paid manager who then used that front (of being the owner) to encourage people to invest in the bars. Although the fellow in the wheelchair is the most well known victim, many others were deceived and tricked into parting with their money. It seems that since he was arrested in Ko Chang staying in a hotel resort, his girlfriend, who is rumoured to be a former lady of the night, has done a runner. When the heat turned up many months ago they managed to get away from Bangkok and were spotted in Pattaya before slipping down to Ko Chang. If anyone believes that they are owed money or have any justification to report the gentleman for theft of their money or fraud, then you should make a report at the Lumpini Police Station in Wireless Road. I remember meeting the gentleman in the wheelchair and chatting at length with him about it all. He seemed like such a nice guy and one couldn't help but feel pity for him for what had happened. While he was foolish to part with so much money, no-one deserves to be swindled like that.

Saturday last weekend was very busy due to the fact all the bars were closed last Friday night. Then the rest of the week from Sunday to Thursday was very quiet. Where have all the puntrs gone? There has been a dramatic drop in bar takings, which started last month in a significant fall in bar trade. There just does not seem the volume of customers to be shared around all the bars and many Bangkok gogo bars are doing only an average trade (during the week especially) if they are lucky. For some of the less popular bars it barely seems worth them opening their doors at all.

I was under the impression that Carlsberg had stopped producing their fine product locally. Foodland stopped selling it two weeks age. However, it is back on the shelves again. Does anybody know what is happening?

Observers need only take a look at how the gogo bar business has transcended into the very clinical and stringently controlled industry it is today. Full swimsuits are the new order and shows in Nana and Cowboy were outlawed some time ago. One has to ask how detrimental the restrictions enforced upon the gogo bars in the capital have been on the industry? It would seem that the officious law enforcers have taken a lot of the "fun" out of sin city and this is beginning to take its toll on the industry. Combined with economic and global problems like terrorism, the bird flu, unstable world economies and turbulence down south, it is no surprise the gogo bars in particular are so quiet.

Whilst the rest of the world has declared a war on terrorism, some people have mentioned to me that they feel the locals are on the verge of declaring a 'war on tourism'. Even now it is uncertain if bars in Thailand will have to close its bars at 1 AM or 2 AM. In total contrast to the capital, naked dancing and naughty shows seem to be the norm in many bars in Pattaya. Lae enforcement officials have enforced strong laws in the gogo bars of Nana and Cowboy, yet it would appear the Pattaya bars are a law unto themselves. This is very much as I predicted quite some time ago that Bangkok being the capital would be cleaned up (and Phuket too I bet) but they'll largely let Pattaya go. In time, I bet that it will develop even more of a reputation for a bad boys town, a place where anything goes.

Goong formerly of Rififi was working at her new home The Pussy Connection when some old friends came in to see her. They told her that they knew she had moved over to the new bar after reading about it in this column. Here we have a Thai national who has never had a computer, doesn't know how to use one and has never even looked at a website, being effectively connected to the world by this column. Nice!

Good news at The Pussy Connection (you gotta love that name for a bar…) They have a bunch of new dancers that are a step in the right direction on the beauty scale as compared to the old staff. Now customers stopping for a cold one have a great view.

Mickey from Rififi is due back next week from the UK to begin his new management duties at the new bar that will be replacing Rififi.

I'm pleased to hear that last Sunday the auspicious figure of a certain Mr. Trink was seen making his rounds with his wife, talking to bar owners and observing what is going on at The Pong. Yep, Bernard Trink is the original Bangkok nightlife columnist and you can now find his column at www.idontgiveahoot.net

Doing something really silly that causes a loss of face to you, or perhaps more importantly, those people around you, and your whole life could change. In a worst case scenario, you could be out of a job. Saturday before last was the latest in what has now become an all too popular routine of raiding the naughty bars in the city. It is always amusing to watch what happens when the police and camera crews come along. Some people actually try and get in front of the cameras, thumbs up, dumb grins and you can only hope that such reactions are fuelled by a belly of beer. Some of these guys aren’t tourists. Some work here. All it takes is for a cameraman to snap you there in a photo full of hookers in a story titled “drug bust in known hooker spot” and anyone caught in the photo is suddenly out of a job. Don’t think this is an over-reaction because it isn't. Face is everything in Thailand.

A friend is studying Thai at the Unity Thai Language School on level 15 of the Times Square building in Sukumvit and is very pleased with the way the course is going. He says the teachers are very good and feels that he is making progress – which is surely the most positive feedback. The fees are 5,000 baht a month and the hours of study are either 8 AM to midday or 1 PM ­ 4 PM. During the first module some English is used in the classroom but from then on it is all Thai. The majority of students seem to be Koreans and Japanese. There are typically 8 ­ 12 students per class. Worth dropping by if you want to improve your language skills.

Well now that the high season has come and gone, Club Electric Blue is doing a summer madness promotion with great prices for the punters – and easy prices fo the service girls to remember. All drinks are 99 Baht – lady drinks, Black, Breezers 99 Baht, Heineken bottles. Heineken draft is 2 for 99 Baht! There is a happy hour from 8 – 9 PM when all drinks are 35 baht including draft beer. Electric Blue in Bangkok on Patpong 2 will open on April 3rd with the same drink prices. Sounds like a great deal.

As a farang earning decent coin locally, are you sick of all of the credit card application problems in Thailand? Despite the fact that you may be settled in Thailand with a stable job, a high income and perhaps even married to a local, many guys find that their credit card applications get turned down despite the fact that they appear to meet or exceed all criteria. Unlike the local banks who are always finding new excuses to decline applications, American Express are foreigner friendly and seem to approve all genuine applications. Apply before April 30th and you get a no interest card. For more details, go to their website. EVERY person I know who has applied for an American Express card locally has been approved and has had the new card within a few days! Americanexpress.co.th

Following on from the piece in last week's column about the fellow with O negative blood, a civic minded farang sent in the following:

My blood type is O negative like the gentleman you wrote about last week. I would like to put together a list of people in Thailand with O negative blood who are willing to help each other out with donations should the need arise. I recently found out that quite often, Thai hospitals have NO O negative blood on hand because it is so rare in the Thai population. Anyone living in Thailand with O negative blood please send your name, email address, home phone number and mobile phone number to [email protected] I will compile the list and then email it to everyone who sent me his or her contact information. That way, if any of us have an emergency, we will be able to quickly contact O negative donors who are willing to help us. Thanks!

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: From your perspective, coming from Korat, do you feel that Bangkok is, in many ways, a different country? In many other places (London, Amsterdam, Toronto, New York) these urban conglomerations are seen as the habitats of strangers, of people who aren't part of "us". Do you feel that's the case in Thailand, or is there enough coming and going from the provinces that there feels like some linkage exists?

Mrs. Stick says: I guess this really depends on who you ask. To me, there isn't a huge difference. Thailand has a very strong identity and you will find that identity in most places in Thailand, be it Korat, Bangkok or just about wherever else. But I must qualify this by saying that I have been in Bangkok for many, many years already. If I think back to when I first came here, I felt excited and it felt very different to where I came from, but it still had the Thai flavour and was undeniably Thai. Everything here in Bangkok is Thai, just as it is in Korat. In Bangkok it is just that there is more of everything, everything is faster and often it is more intense. Remember there are many people from the provinces living in Bangkok. Bangkok is a city of extremes, Thai extremes. To answer your question, I have never felt that Bangkok is like another country.

Question 2: Can you please tell me the family structure of the Thai family? For example what does it matter if a girl is the first born or is the youngest?

Mrs. Stick says: I am Thai and not Chinese Thai and to us, we do not have superstitious thoughts about this sort of thing like those of Chinese ancestry do. To me, I feel that Thai people prefer to have a daughter to a son because when they grow up they and have their own family the girls will always return care of their parents. Some men do, but not all of them whereas Thai women seem to be closer to the family than men. If we compare Thai families with farang families, there is a much stronger sense of bond from Thai children towards their family than I see with farang families. We have a role to look after our parents in old age.

Question 3: For the past 2 years I have been supporting my girlfriend who lives in Khorat and has one child and she also takes care of her mother. I send her 20,000 baht every month. In addition I am in Thailand every 2 month for 10 days. I give her additional money and buy her clothing etc. during my stay. I want her to go to school – particularly to learn better English. She insists I also should pay for the school, 6,000 baht this time because I don't give her enough. I insist "you have the time and the money – take responsibility for your life". What do you think? Am I unfair – or is she money hungry?

Mr. Stick says: I am not going to let Mrs Stick near this one. As a great American friend of mine describes such things, you are being JUICED! 20,000 baht is a whole heap of money in Korat and if this isn't enough, cut her loose NOW! Hell, when I first arrived in Bangkok, I lived on that amount of money and Bangkok is WAY more expensive!

This week has really been one of those weeks and work on the site has been very slow. Requests have been made for lots of changes to be made and I have been really slow getting back to people by email. This coming week should be a bit more productive. Oh, this was column #150 by the way…and we're still going strong with more readers than ever before.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick



Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Basil Brush and Claymore