Stickman's Weekly Column July 4th, 2004

A Tourist Forever?


I lived in my first apartment in Bangkok for 5 years. It was a small, but very nice, studio apartment, about as central as you could get. MBK, Siam Square and World Trade Centre were all within easy an easy walk.

As I wrote in the weekly column of 22/10/2002, I felt that one of the great things about living in Bangkok was that one could live in a smallish studio without the need to surround themselves with all of the trappings that we are used to in the West. I explained that many Thais would live in a modest apartment but would venture out frequently, and that they wouldn't need all of the mod cons within their apartment as various businesses provided the necessary services. There was need to cook because cheap food was easily available on the street and there was no need to wash clothes cheap laundry services were available in most apartment buildings.

The problem cited by many with living like this is that in many ways we end up living like a tourist, our place of abode not that indifferent from a hotel room.

Some Westerners can live in Bangkok like this ad infinitum but for others, the existence is too much like that of a tourist. I lived like this up until about 18 months or so ago and while I liked the lifestyle, I felt that it was time to change things a little.

For the same price (read: rental) as an inner city apartment, you can get a much more spacious apartment, or even in a house, in the suburbs.

I moved into a much bigger place in the suburbs, bought a car and filled the apartment with all of the things needed to make it a more comfortable place to live.

Things are great with the comforts of a big, bright apartment. As we started to buy a lot of furniture and other bits and pieces that I had avoided for more than 5 years, I started to feel more like Bangkok was home. In 5 years in Bangkok, I had never owned a TV, nor a fridge! Yep, even though I had lived in the big city for 5 years, had a good job and a lot of friends, I still never quite felt like it was permanent, largely due to the way my apartment felt like a hotel room.

While the benefits of the new place were great initially, the reality of living in the suburbs started to become more apparent. One doesn't realise how useful the skytrain is until one moves away from it. Paying bills in the suburbs can be a hassle and can mean a bit of a hike to the office where payment must be made. The lack of farang friendly businesses like English language bookshops and farang food outlets is missed. And even speaking good Thai, I still get frustrated, not through lack of understanding, but through the inanity of the language.

I started to miss life downtown. I started to miss the farang ghetto where I lived. Despite al of the negatives of living a tourist-like existence, one eliminates many of the stresses and worries that seem to be inherent in a "more permanent Bangkok lifestyle".

Conventional expat wisdom is that one starts in the centre of the city in a small studio and eventually works their way out into a palace in the suburbs. This may work for some, and moving into a bigger place will be a necessity when you get a teeruk in tow, but it is not the be all and end all that many believe it is. While we might be programmed to think that a big house in the suburbs is preferable to a small inner city apartment, we have to remember that we're no longer in Kansas, and that we have to look a lot more closely at the situation.

While I couldn't go back to the style of living that was the norm for me in my first 5 years in Bangkok, I do look back with some regrets at the easy lifestyle I once had. I now live in a much more comfortable apartment and with that have a much greater feeling of permanence. But life was easier in the past, and in an increasingly busy and stressful city like Bangkok, that counts for a lot.

It's funny really, I used to think that moving somewhere provincial like Korat would be great, but even a move into the suburbs of Bangkok has left me feeling like I miss the convenience of inner city living.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic.

This week's pic.

It was the katoeys getting ready for work at Nana.
Not in Bangers…

Last week’s pic was taken from the top floor of Nana on the right hand side, looking down on the area outside Casanova Bar, early evening, as all of the katoeys get ready for work. Thousands of you got it right, suggesting that there are a bunch of katoey fans out there. Remember, you have to be the FIRST person to get the pic right to win the prize.

Each week 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: (I receive a lot of interesting email and it can be difficult to choose the best / most interesting to include so don't be too sad if yours didn't make it.)

If you find yourself in Hong Kong…

After 7 weeks in Hong Kong I have finally found what I am looking for. As many of your readers who frequent Wanchai know the various rip off bars with mainly Filipino girls are on the main drag in Lockhart road. However the next road along running parallel to Lockhart, towards the river is a place called ¡s Neptune's bar. It ¡s a bit like the Thermae, you could very easily walk past it while looking for it but once inside all the girls there are freelance. Based on a very unreliable survey (chatting to the totty on the way to the bog) I would say 75% of the girls in there are Thai. Unfortunately Hong Kong being what it is the girls won't take 1000 baht short time (I did try but $HK 1000 appears to be the going rate) but if you want to chat to a Thai girl, it is a lot cheaper than anywhere else in HK as there are no silly lady drink prices. Neptune's is a real find to a cheapskate like me and I hope it might be of some use to your readers if they visit HK. I swear by the Lonely Planet guide but for some reason this place is not mentioned.

False pride?

Having lived with my Thai wife for over a year now, I can report that she is very, very proud to be a Thai. As a matter of fact, if she wasn't the sweetheart she is, I would regard her as being arrogant about it. Some of my friends have noticed this as well. Everything Thai is wonderful, everything and all else is second best. She does admit that there are a lot of "crazies" living close to her family and I'm not quite sure how this plays out in her mind. As an example, all tropical plants are native to Thailand even though I know some were imported there. But those are very small issues in a relationship and I would rather deal with pride as opposed to low self-esteem, although it could be argued that "false" pride is equivalent to low self-esteem.

It still looks a bit….

I for one am a strong supporter of the older generation’s right to come to Thailand and participate in the naughty nightlife industry. There are certainly no rules written anywhere that I can find that strictly prohibit their right to do so. I don’t despise or pity any older dude for walking down the street in public with a bargirl half his age – I applaud him and I consider him fortunate to still have a sex drive and financial means to facilitate his healthy desires. To suggest that there is something morally wrong with older dudes hanging out with 20 year old girls is an irrational and illogical value judgment. Quite simply they are both grown adults responsible for the own behavior and acting of their own free will. I find it hard to look down on the older dudes because it is quite possible that one day it might actually be me walking down the street with a girl young enough to be my daughter and I really don’t see what is wrong with that.

The value of a good upbringing.

A girl doesn't have to be super intelligent, sophisticated and well educated to be a good partner. Just an honest personality, brought up in an uncomplicated environment with a close nit family, which I believe many Thai girls are, can produce a very pleasant person. A couple of months working in Nana might undo all that, but I can honestly say I have had some of the best times of my life in the company of Thai woman and not just the bedroom antics. Experience of my western women was one of greed, longing for status, manipulation and hatred when things didn't go her way; if that's what guys want, go and marry a white women.

Pasty faced Thai TV.

I'm 28, American, tall and not hard to look at. I have lived here for 2 years in Pattaya. I own a few shops. I used to get really upset at the Thai attitude about white skin and the lighter the better mentality they possess. I likened it to what my own people in the States went through during the "Jim Crow" era, 1900-1960's or so, where we had all kinds of skin whitening products, hair straightening creams, and even black churches who would not let you become a member unless you where not darker than a brown paper bag! I can't hate Thais for not loving blacks when they don't even love themselves. Look at all the ads and TV shows and movies on TV. Most Thais are relatively dark skinned down to downright brown, but if you were to watch their TV you would think they are all pasty faced pseudo-Chinese! You NEVER see a dark skinned Thai on a commercial, on a TV show, or on stage as a popular singer. And the Thai people allow this to continue because they think that being white somehow makes you better.

Even Tiger Woods mania couldn't solve it.

Regarding local racism. I once got on a crowded bus going to Soi Suan Plu. There was a seat vacant next to a black guy that no Thai would sit in, so I took it. I asked him where he came from and he said Sudan. The Thai passengers where horrified that I sat down, and when I remembered my little Swahili and talked to him they were stunned. I thought Tiger Woods fever would cure this but it never did.

Would it stand up in court?

You should warn your readers about the issue of 30 year renewable leases. I am very wary of these. As far as I am aware none have been tested in the courts. Basically the problem I foresee is where you have a 30 year renewable lease with an individual. What if that individual dies? That is a distinct possibility on a second renewal. Will the heirs be as willing to attend at the land office to renew the lease registration as the original leaser was? If they do not, will they demand more money or will you have to go through the courts to get the renewal registered. I do not see this as a problem on the newer managed developments where the management company owns the freehold and the leaseholders are shareholders in the management company from whom the lease is held.

Upon entering Midnite Bar this week, punters would have noticed that most of the girls were topless and no effort was made to cover up whatsoever. What gives? It would seem that they felt they had nothing to lose and that they knew that they were going to be forced to close for a month. One rumour said a 30 day closure for Midnite while another mooted that they may be forced to close forever, as in totally shut down! We'll have to wait and see the outcome but the 30 day closure is the most likely. Still, if it was worse than that, one would not be entirely surprised as that is one bar that has had a lot of violations over a long period of time.

And it is not just Midnite Bar which will be closing. Word is that the Sheba's, Cowboy 1 and Cowboy 2 have all received their closure orders. 30 days apiece. Slap in the middle of the low season, this closure will no doubt drive customers away from Cowboy, and presumably up to Nana. Girls from bars forced to close will be juggled around to work in other bars but even so, this is the last thing a bar area needs. Not one, but 4 bars! And we're not talking the little single shophouse size bars, but the big ones.

Big Dogs in Nana has done a nice job installing two large TV screens for their customers and it is god to see that even in these "hard times" that some bar bosses care about their customers to the point that they make a significant investment in the bar. I'd hate to see the bill for them! The management are planning to put in a new large TV screen in Lucky Luke's too.

Around midnight on Friday the police were in Nana Plaza testing the girls downstairs, and sensibly trying to be as low key as possible.

A friend was out and about the other night, exploring the discos of Rachadapisek Road. As closing time came, he jumped into a taxi for the short journey back to his hotel on Sukhumvit. The taxi was stopped by police at a checkpoint on Asoke and he was asked to show his passport. He didn't have it with him and told the police that it was back in his hotel room. The officer then told him that he must carry it with him at all times and that there is an on the spot fine of 1,000 baht for this infringement. My friend politely but firmly refused to pay this. They debated the point for several minutes before the cops waved the cab on. There may be a fine for not carrying your passport, but it is not an on the spot job. Has anyone else been asked to pay a fine for not carrying their passport?

Bangkok's new underground train opened yesterday to much less fanfare, at least as far as farangs are concerned, than when the original skytrain first opened. I guess that the skytrain serves the major business and shopping areas and perhaps most importantly for farangs, the main area where farangs live, the original farang ghetto, Sukhumvit. Still, the underground is very welcome and will make getting from Rachada to Sukhumvit amongst others, a breeze. And the new underground train has been given a novel nickname by some expats, "the soapy express", alluding to how there are stations next to some of the giant massage parlours on Rachadapisek Road. The trains themselves are remarkably similar to the skytrain and the stations remind me of the underground system in Singapore. Thankfully they have got recorded messages for the approaching stations and you do not have to listen to a driver who has just said it for the 1000th time that day and is clearly having troubles remaining enthusiastic about it. Unlike the skytrain stations which are a bit small and cramped, the underground stations are spacious and we shouldn't seethe same problems with crowds as are so common on the busier BTS station platforms. These pictures were taken earlier today.


At long last comes proof that Andy at Electric Blue in Pattaya has lost his marbles. He is offering draft beer for 35 baht. Nothing new in that I hear you say….well, this is all night, every night in the best gogo bar in Pattaya! Yep, Andy has spent a bit too much time in the hot Pattaya sun. This is without a doubt, the best drink deal in Pattaya.

Huge irony down in Sukhumvit where pictures of Mr. Chuwit who is running for Bangkok governor can be found on the walls surrounding the wreckage of Sukhumvit Square. With conjecture in the local press that he was the fellow behind the destruction, one has to wonder what could beat this as the most ironical thing of the year.

To celebrate the opening of a new branch, those kind folks at Subway are offering buy one footlong sub, get one footlong FREE…with any purchase of a cookie. It is good until July 10 and they deliver too. To make your order by phone, call Subway Nana (between Soi 4 and 6) 02-6420213 and Subway Sukhumvit Soi 7/1 02-6510866.

And another celebration at Tony's Bar where it is owner Mark's birthday this Thursday 8 July so make it on down to Tony's Bar where all are welcome and food will be provided from 7 PM onwards.

The Sex Tourist Express (the bus from Ekamai to Pattaya) takes the overhead expressway on the way down but not on way back. What gives? The cynic in me wonders if the driver is given money for the tolls but pockets it on the way back. Cripes, I really am getting cynical, aren't I.

It seems that I got it wrong in last week's column when I speculated that the Carlsberg logo on billboards at Euro 2004 had been pixilated in the football replays due to a dispute between the parent company and the Thai subsidiary. It seems that the pixilation was due to a ban on alcohol advertising on TV…and not due to it being Carlsberg per se. Ok, so that is confirmation that I really am a cynic.

There is another crackdown taking place on bent DVDs and other software in Panthip Plaza. For over a week contraband hasn't been on display but it is the same old story, you can get it from the many guys loitering in the corridors.

Bourbon Street are running a special buffet with a distinct American flavour today to celebrate American Independence Day. Just

295 baht ++, kids half of that.

If you find yourself bored in Auckland, New Zealand (how could that be possible in that most happening of cities?!), you might want to check out Club 99, a slice of Thailand right in downtown Auckland. With Thai food and Thai music, it is very popular with the sizeable Thai community, along with other recent Asian immigrants, and Asian students, in NZ. An ad for the venue appears on the right.

Interesting quote of the week comes from a Thai woman living Stateside who was back in town recently. "I know how busy everyone is in Bangkok and the rest of Thailand. I was actually shocked by this unbelievable state of busyness that has taken over my Kingdom. It use to be more about sanuk. Now it seems Thailand is more interested in $$ and less in sanuk."

Have you noticed how quiet Sukhumvit is on a Thursday? I am not talking about the bars but the complete lack of street vendors and roadside stalls. This is allegedly because the boys in brown do their rounds on a Thursday to collect their 500 baht rent!

Strong rumours are coming through that in the next 2 or 3 weeks, True will offer unlimited ADSL access for 750 baht. This offer already exists but only for Thai websites while foreign website are accessible at this price for just 40 hours per month. This month, so the rumour has it, they will extend the deal to all websites worldwide making it the best high speed internet deal in Thailand! Only thing is that it will only be 128 kps, not 256, at least not at this price. Still, that beats dial up!

Guinness is now available in the Nana area at a reasonable, by Guinness standards at least, price. Drop by and see Derek at The Winking Frog in Sukhumvit Soi 7 and you can enjoy a Guinness for 160 baht a pint.

Electric Blue Patpong is finally open and business looks good. They have a mixture of new girls and girls that have migrated from other Pong bars. They are paying substantially more than other bars so they should be able to keep the good looking one around for awhile. So if your special Tilac is missing from others bars you might want to look into Electric Blue and see if she is there now.

From the English teaching industry, there seems to be a huge movement of teachers away from jobs that do not offer work permits. It seems that the average Bangkok teacher these days insists on a job that comes with a work permit. At least one firm that offers VERY good part-time rates, but no work permit, is having real trouble recruiting. Overall, this has to be a good thing as no teacher should have to risk working without a work permit. Just as the salary for teachers has increased over the past few years due to people refusing to work for the peanuts that Bangkok teachers used to be paid, hopefully schools will now be forced to get a work permit for all employees.

The English language Baht & Sold hardcopy is now distributed in Phuket / Kamala / Kata / Karon, Krabi / Ao Nang, Samui, Hua Hin / Cha Am, Bangkok, Pattaya / Jomtiem, Udon, Khon Kaen, Kanchanaburi, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and quite a few hamlets in between.

A controversial former mayor was re-elected by a slim margin in Phuket last week. His campaign pledge was "I will open all businesses in Patong 24 hours". Perhaps that was why he won the bitterly contested election? He also owns 50% of a very popular disco, recently busted for underage patrons. It was ordered closed for only 15 days, however somehow that order was rescinded! (Not unlike CM2 in Bangkok?) All discos (except Banana) are open late in Patong, and the Thai owned ones, which are out of view) are raging till 9 AM most nights. A stark contract from suffering Bangkok…

Some unlucky fellow has opened the old Mike's Bar which is located at the end of the alley beside Foodland leading to the garbage storage room. The problem is, and always has been, the terrible smell coming from the piles of garbage in the room next door and the overflow in the alley. Remember, a foul smell is a very big issue to a Thai, much like loud noise is to a farang.

It seems that after last years very quiet low season in Phuket that this year, all is good in Patong, so long as one is well located. The former manager of Hollywood Rock in Nana Plaza is there running a guesthouse though he's on a street parallel to Soi Bangla, 300 meters away and the street is suffering. People go where others are. Despite the late closing times, Patong is still ultra moral on showing ANYTHING in gogo bars.

In some branches of Central department store they have a reasonable restaurant called The Terrace. Decent food at decent prices. Flicking through the menu, my eyes fell on the picture of a banana split. Now I know that the Thais are not shy at putting their own style on farang food, as can be seen by pizzas smothered in mayonnaise, corn and other equally unsuitable things, but what was in this picture really caught me. I swear that the banana split was covered in…..corn flakes! Really! Imagine that! Cornflakes on a banana split! Whatever will be next?!

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 job.

Question 1: From what I have witnessed and heard, I am convinced that when a farang man gets married to his young Thai wife, 99% of the time it is the farang's second (or more) time down the wedding aisle. Am I too liberal here in my percentage? Is it closer to 100%?

Mrs. Stick says: I think it depends on the circles you mix in. If I think of all of the farang / Thai couples we know, most of them are first marriage for both partners. Obviously this is influenced by the fact that as we are still relatively young, our friends tend to be around the same age. 99%? No way! If it seems to be 99% with the people you know, it must simply be the circles you mix in. I guess it is most likely that you and your friends are older.

Question 2: It's comical watching the old farang men with their young Thai "girlfriends". Is there some age difference that becomes just too far apart for the Thai girl? When is the farang's age just too old, not considering the importance of the almighty baht?

Mrs. Stick says: Age is not the first thing Thai people look at when they see a farang / Thai couple. The way they present themselves and the way they conduct themselves in public is what will get the most scrutiny. Unless the age gap is huge, age is less of an issue than people may think. If one or both of the couple present themselves or behave in ways that are not respected in our society, then that is more likely to get looks (and comments).

What's the bet that there is a shift of farangs from Sukhumvit to Rachadapisek and the other areas where the new underground train runs? Property agents tell me that EVERYONE who comes to them wants a place within walking distance, or a short motorcycle ride, of the skytrain, skytrain station unspecified. This demand has resulted in occupancy rates of such apartments soaring and has made them much more difficult to come by than in the past. Demand should ease a little bit now. A good thing because new arrivals as well as those people here wanting to move have found it increasingly difficult to find an apartment close to the skytrain, at least in the under 20K baht a month bracket.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Basil Brush and Rock Hard.