It is always interesting to watch the progress of new arrivals in Bangkok. The city can be a bit daunting at first and while the Thais are generally friendly and helpful, the lack of farang community spirit amongst many Westerners resident here means that new arrivals are often left to fend for themselves. After getting their bearings, scoring a job and arranging new digs, one's Bangkok life begins.
It may or may not be what drew them here in the first place but before too long many a new arrival will find themselves down in one of the naughty nightlife bar areas. The bars can be very inviting, especially for someone new to the city who may have had a shortage of company and conversation. Before one knows it, they are not just a regular, but this is the only type of place they go out to, often because they simply haven't made the effort to discover what else is out there.
Some guys spend a lot of time in the bars by choice, and good on them, they enjoy it. A lot of guys sort of end up there, a bit lost. But for anyone who spends a lot of time in the bars, they can start to get a slightly skewed idea of what Thailand is and who the people are. After exposure to the naughty bar industry, some guys find that their whole lifestyle begins to revolve around the industry and the girls. Their whole frames of references of all things Thai goes back to bargirls and the naughty nightlife industry. All that they know is skewed to bargirls and the lifestyle. Conversation is invariably brought back to bargirls and the industry in one way or another. It is funny to listen in to the conversations of some Westerners in Bangkok who feel the need to preface what follows with a disclaimer such as "and I don't mean bargirls" or "I am talking about regular girls".
It can be easy to believe that everyone is doing the same. They're not. NOT everyone is bedding working girls. Despite what some may think, the guys living the barstool lifestyle are a minority. Sure, most Western residents have dropped by at one time or another, but living it is something else.
Whether we like it or not, the PC ways of the West are slowly migrating to Thailand and folks spending long periods of time in the industry, perhaps leaping in to bed with with rice farmers' daughters do not have quite the bragging rights they feel they do. Despite the city's deserved reputation as one of the wildest places on the planet, today in Bangkok, such behaviour is becoming less and less admired, and in some circles, even unacceptable.
Don't get me wrong. Stick has not gone all moralistic and is not standing at the pulpit delivering a sermon about the ills of bargirls and messing around with them. What each person wishes to do is entirely up to them and I guess I have more friends who "have" than "have not". Certainly, for everyone who consciously wants to spend time in the bars, then that is great – they are happy. But for the guys who do not know what other types of venue exist and who may be a bit lonely, there are so many other entertainment options.
Bangkok might not have the museums and art galleries of Europe or the sporty, outdoors culture of Down Under, but it is still Bangkok, a city of more than 10 million people that is rapidly becoming more and more cosmopolitan. Not only are there are heaps and heaps of other exciting places to go and interesting things to do, there is always something new going on.
Go along to the naughty bars, have a few drinks and have your fun. But as a local, don't forget that there is so much else to do. Keep it in perspective. If you are happy venturing to the bars regularly and living the lifestyle, that is great. We all crave happiness and if you have genuinely found it in the naughty bars, well done. But if you are not really enjoying it that much and sort of just go there by default, it is time to make more of an effort and see what else is available.
The penetration of the naughty nightlife industry into the farang community in Thailand is huge. Everyone knows all of the bar areas and most have visited them. Reportedly the most popular column in the Bangkok Post used to be Trink's Nite Owl, a summary of the week's news from the naughty nightlife industry. If you are spending a lot of time in the industry, just make sure that that is really what you want. There are alternatives.
Where is this pic?
It was Ko Larn, near Pattaya.
A nice day in the city…where?
FROM STICKMAN'S BAG OF EMAIL:
Tragedy struck Playskool Bar in Nana Plaza earlier this week when a fire that started in the DJ's booth and destroyed the entire bar. It will need to be gutted and re-built. The girls from the bar have been moved to a couple of other bars owned by the Playskool team including Sheba's and Suzy Wong in Soi Cowboy. Due to electrical damage, the beer bar outside, which appears to have escaped damage, is closed for this period too. Interestingly, news of this fire was quite high profile on both Thai TV and radio.
But things are not going to be quite the same when Playskool re-opens because from tonight, 4 April 2004 onwards, all Nana Plaza bars must close from 1:00 AM. Just when trade was starting to pick up another blow hits the industry! The bars were closed at 1:00 AM on Thursday night at Soi Cowboy but at 2:00 AM each night since then. A betting man would say that they too will be forced to close at 1:00 but no official word from down there yet. As far as Patpong goes, who knows? Every bar area seems to be operating under a different set of rules. The bars at Nana Plaza remain on their best behaviour and the closest thing you'll see to a bare chest is a naughty calendar in one of the toilets. Down at Soi Cowboy, more than a few bars have topless girls and Midnite has, at least on some nights, a bunch of fully nude dancers. Down in Pattaya, while things aren't quite what they used to be, in some bars, truly anything goes and I mean that, ANYTHING. Bar owners will be pleased when they are on a level playing field with all the other bars, even if it is just in Bangkok.
On Thursday night there was another fire in Nana with a bit of smoke from behind the escalator on the right hand side. A few Thais were seen running around with extinguishers but it turned out to be nothing serious.
Rumour has it that Apache Bar in Soi Cowboy may be facing a 30 day closure for not registering their staff.
Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy are having a party to celebrate both their first anniversary and Kob's birthday. It will be held this coming Tuesday, April 6, and all are welcome.
Word is that while April 6 is a public holiday, the bars will still be open…
A couple of locally based Brits have set up a new magazine called "EAT MY GOAL". It concentrates entirely, for the time being at least, on English Premiere League Football. Their first issue hit the streets a few days ago and it consists of a roundup of the week's games and gives a bit of commentary, goals scored etc. They tell me that there is no other mag like it in English available in Thailand. Given the remarkable popularity of English football locally it should become popular. Free copies can be found on Sukhumvit at: Megabreak Pool Hall – Soi 4, Wall Street – Soi 33, Gulliver's – Soi 5, Flyers Bar – Soi 22, Corleone's – Soi 8 and La Rueda Latin Bar – Soi 18. If you want any more details, send them an email on [email protected] or telephone 06-5034419 or 06-3264364.
TEFL International, the leading English teacher training school in Thailand (and for that matter, probably all of Asia) have just opened the first of what promises to be many new language schools at The Mall, Ramkhamhaeng. Existing language schools had better look out because TEFL International have built up quite a reputation and there is every reason to believe that they will be aggressively chasing a sizeable piece of the ever growing market.
With Songkran just around the corner, I am glad that I am not one of those passengers who place their fate into the hands of the drivers of the thousands of buses that will be zooming backwards and forwards between Bangkok and the provinces the week of Songkran. One of the worst things about these bus drivers – and this is just one of many – is the way they coast on big downhill sections of the highways – and even coast on some of the windy stretches. About 60 or 70 km south of Korat on the main highway to Bangkok is a dam and a number of long, windy sections where drivers invariably put the vehicle in neutral, steer, and hope for the best, seemingly unaware that by doing so they loss a huge amount of traction and therefore control of the vehicle. One can only guess that some of the drivers are on a bonus for saving gas because there seems to be no other reason for putting the vehicle in neutral like that.
It is always amusing to watch the Thais when something totally unexpected happens because they often just do not know what to do. Dining in a cheap noodle bar this week with Gordon from TalesofAsia.com (yep, I think he is almost as poor as me), we were bemused by a Western guy who came into the restaurant and systematically wandered around to each table where he placed a keyring atop a laminated card with a message in both English and Thai explaining that he was mute and he was selling these keyrings at 50 baht each. The keyring was nothing special and he was obviously playing on his (supposed?) disability. I was surprised at the number of Thais who actually bought a keyring. The staff watched, bemused, but didn't actually do anything. Funnily enough, had a Thai tried the same thing on, I am sure they would have been shooed out. Before I forget, Gordon wants me to tell you that he has added a discussion forum to his site and that "the best Cambodian website just got better".
Big Shawn is in the news again. Remember the fellow highlighted in the opening piece of the column a few weeks ago who, at a time of desperate hunger, gave his last 500 baht to a lady of the night…even though he'd had nothing to eat for more than 24 hours. The poor wretch continues to be hounded by bad luck and his life warrants another mention. A month or two back he had a mobile phone stolen from his house, the fifth he had had stolen, I believe, but that is another story. What is interesting is what happened after the theft and his, as yet, unsuccessful efforts to get it back. He reported the theft of the mobile to the local police station who have done virtually nothing, even though calls through to the phone are answered by the thief! So, Big Shawn returned to the bar where the girl who stole the phone still works, a farang owned and managed naughty bar, and the owner wasn't interested at all! One has to wonder what someone has to do to get a bit of justice in this city.
Thai immigration at the airport is now asking for boarding passes, or the portion that is left, when one arrives in Bangkok. Yes, not just when passengers depart but when they arrive too! In the past, as I recall, they only looked at boarding passes on the way out. So, now it is both coming and going. I assume that it is some sort of security measure. Do people actually keep these? And just what would the immigration people do if you had thrown it away or couldn't find it?
And what about the immigration authorities in other parts of the region? I don't know about boarding passes but they are being vigilant in other areas… Singapore has more than recovered from the tourist doldrums of a year ago. With relaxed attitudes toward entertainment venue operating hours and naughty nightlife, they welcome farangs with open arms while at the same time many people feel that Thailand's tourism industry is starting to suffer from anti farang sentiment further damaged by avian flu, terrorism, draconian (and selective) laws / regulations that limit or threaten nightlife, sanuk and the economy. However, not all foreigners are welcome to Singapore's shores. At least for the moment. It seems that more than a few ladies holding Thai passports are being turned away. On two flights this past Wednesday (31 March), a number of girls arriving from Bangkok on a Swiss Air flight and on a Thai International flight were sent back to Bangkok, their documents stamped "being ineligible for the issue of a pass under current immigration rules." One lady was with her (genuine) fiance; he was admitted, she was rejected. Unofficially, the groups were told that "too many ladies are now coming to Singapore to work, so we are barring entry until after Songkran." The process reportedly is repeated on every flight from Bangkok, which must involve serious numbers of Thai women every day! Working girls in Thailand have seen a decline in foreign customers and, as reported earlier in this column, they have learned they can earn 80,000 to 100,000 baht a week in Singapore. Will Western expats in Singapore start to notice a drop in numbers (and an increase in prices) at Orchard Towers?!
Flowers in Thailand are offering all Stickman readers a free bottle of wine OR free large box of chocolates with any order of $50 or more. This promotion is valid for all orders received and to be delivered on or before 13th April. This promotion is available in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Pattaya. Remember that Songkran is the Thai New Year and it is very much a tradition to send friends or relatives flowers and gifts.
It would seem that there is a new farang owned and operated business brokerage called, of all things, Sunshine. With a name like that, would they be trying to take the piss or what?!
If you're in the heart of Sex Tourist Alley (Sukhumvit Road from Soi Zero to soi 23), the choices for a bar with Guinness on tap aren't too good. If you have won the lottery, you might head into the Huntsman in the Landmark and pay a wallet-emptying 320 baht ++ for a pint. But if you are a man with a bit of patience you'll wait a couple of weeks until it is available on tap at the Winking Frog in Sukhumvit soi 7. The affable manager Derek promises that they will be offering Guinness at a fair price. And speaking of the Winking Frog, a fund-raising night was held there recently which raised 120,000 baht which will be donated to three different upcountry schools – great stuff! This is a very pleasant neighbourhood bar, devoid of working girls and a place where you will not be bothered by the grating "hello hansum man you buy cola for me" routine. Just whatever you do, do not ask the very affable and friendly publican, Derek, about his journey to the premises where his bar is now before he bought it. Not a pleasant story at all.
My condolences go out to Casey, formerly of Clinton Plaza, Midnite Bar and most recently Cocktail Club. Due to falling sales, Casey was unceremoniously given the chop last week. I have always had a lot of time for the man and have a lot of respect for him. Whereas some bar managers run a sloppy operation, Casey runs his with precision, with detailed accounts for everything and a level of organisation that frankly, isn't common in this industry. If anyone is looking for an experienced, competent bar manager, drop me an email and I'll give you Casey's contact details. I'd certainly vouch for him.
For the time being, the unrest in the south of Thailand does not seem to have been of major concern to the majority of Westerners coming to or living in Thailand. But with the reported theft of over a tone of explosives which one news report said would be enough to "blow up a small town", perhaps there should be a greater level of concern? The separatists had targeted local interest only until the recent bomb at a night spot where a number of Malaysians are known to frequent. One has to wonder if they will up the ante? For now the protests seem to have been isolated to the southern provinces but one has to wonder if they will perhaps start to take action further afield?
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. Mr Stick may answer the odd question in place of Mrs Stick of he thinks he can do a better
Question 1: I know a bar girl who I've been seeing for the last year. We don't officially consider ourselves a couple but we keep in touch and she says she likes me a lot. At first I was wary about her intentions but it seems she does like me and doesn't ask me for money. I like the way things are right now and she does too. What I find odd, mostly because of my ignorance to the culture, is that she tells me she does not go with customers any more because she likes me and her parents don't know she works in a bar and they send HER money to live in Pattaya. Isn't it usually the other way around? I know her pretty well now and her friend is a good friend of mine who I've known for four years, and she is able to confirm most of what this girl says. Not that I care what she is up to, but I was just wondering does that sound normal to you? She is from the Nongkhai area, and I guess the impression I get is her parents aren't all that poor.
Mr Stick says: I have never ever heard of a situation like this before. Many Thais, especially the people of Isaan, have said to me that "Pattaya is no good". They are not naive and they know exactly what goes on down there. Sending a daughter down there to live and sending her money to support herself is most unusual. The only exception I can think of is if she is studying, though I have not heard of people from the Isaan region choosing Pattaya as a place to study.
Question 2: Last year I lived in a hotel in Pattaya. It was very cheap and after a few weeks I knew the people working at the hotel pretty good. I had a computer and a printer in my room, and with a digital camera a took the employees' photos and printed out for them. Sometimes I bought fruit and sometimes I bought some black label and shared with them. Other times I just gave away a few bottles of some other whisky. Sometimes I even gave them a little money. Almost every evening we played dominoes together, but not for money, just for fun. Once I used Photoshop and manipulated one of the girl's head on to a naked woman and printed it out. I showed it to a male employee and he told me this was very bad and that he would destroy the photo for me. He did not. He kept it and after a few months he showed it to the girl. The girl was understandably very angry at me. I told her it was just a joke and just for fun and I said that I was very sorry for offending her. She hit me in the face and went away. A little later I tried to speak with her again and she said she wanted money. I asked her how much, but she would not say. The male employee had called two other men who were sitting nearby on a motorbike and they were watching us. It was a kind of scary situation, but nothing happened. Later in the evening I thought I would not stay at the hotel that night and I went for another hotel. The next day I thought I would speak to my embassy but it was closed. I then went on to Bangkok and in the evening I got a plane back home. When I came home I donated everything in my room to a charity organisation. They had some trouble getting the stuff out of the room but finally they got the stuff, except some whisky and beer that had been stolen. Would it be safe for me to go back to Thailand? Did I brake any law in Thailand?
Mrs. Stick says: I don't know about the law so I can't comment on that. Personally, I do not like what you did. Doing what you did suggests that you had some thoughts about her in that way, more or less. She has every reason to feel angry at you and you could have very seriously damaged, or even destroyed her reputation; face. I can see why she wanted to be compensated with money. If you return, you really should be careful with what you do as this is not appropriate behaviour anywhere.
Question 3: I was invited unexpectedly by the gallery owner I bought antiques from to her sister's restaurant and obliged. I was driven and chauffeured around past the Chao Praya River very far away from where I was staying. I did not bring enough money as I did not expect this to occur and there were no ATMs in the area I was taken to. I wanted to offer to pay for the meal but was refused as the restaurant belonged to the sister and then I asked not to be driven all the way back to my place as it is out of the way and just asked to be dropped by the BTS Saphan Taksin station. After much hesitation my host agreed as the traffic was horrendous that night. Did I just insult the hospitality of my host? First for offering to pay for the meal and second for asking to be dropped instead of chauffeured back to my place which is in the Sukhumvit area.
Mrs. Stick says: That's really thoughtful of you. You did not offend anyone and you have acted as a gentleman, so no reason for concern. It sounds like you tried to be a gracious guest and you didn't want to take advantage of anyone. Don't worry about this at all. If you are still concerned about any of it, you could invite your new friends out for a meal to thank them for the kindness they showed you.
Sukhumvit Road has a reputation amongst Westerners for heavy traffic and it is justified, the traffic there really is bad. But so is the traffic in other parts of the city, just about everywhere it seems. Over the past couple of weeks I have had reason to get out and about around many parts of Bangkok, some of which I had been to before but some I had not. Is it me or is Bangkok traffic getting worse? Everywhere I have been, the traffic has been horrendous. I would hasten to say that it is the worst it has been in the time I have been here – though some guys say that it was worse in the mid '90s. I can't wait for the new underground to open. Just a couple more months.
Your Bangkok commentator,