Stickman's Weekly Column July 25th, 2004

Car ownership, 18 months on




More than a few friends and colleagues' eyebrows were raised when I let them know that I intended to buy a car. All of the expected responses were fired at me: Bangkok’s terrible traffic, the prohibitive cost of cars in Thailand and the fact that there are many transport options in Bangkok. No, my mind had been made up. I wanted to buy a car. 18 months on, I reflect on the purchase of a vehicle in Thailand.

Bangkok does have many transport options, especially if you live in a relatively central area. But when you really look closely at them, while they sure are cheap, and convenient, they can contribute to increasing your stress levels. The skytrain is getting busier and busier and I can't remember the last time I actually got a seat. The danger factor means that I am reluctant to use motorcycle taxis unless absolutely necessary. The canal boats are uncomfortable and hardly suitable for someone in work attire. It seems that more and more taxis should be sent to the garbage dump, such are the condition of some of the heaps of junk on the road. Where I once enjoyed chatting with taxi drivers, now I much prefer the solitude of my own car, the radio station that I want to listen to, and don't have to put up with the usual where you from, what your job and most annoyingly, how much you earn questions.

Initially driving in Bangkok was so stressful that I really did wonder how long it would be until my first accident, and secretly hoped that it wouldn't be a bad one. Luckily, that day has yet to arrive. In fact the whole idea of an inevitable accident has long since waned and the craziness on the roads doesn't bother me nearly as much these days. But driving in Bangkok can still be stressful. Stressful from the fact that if one doesn't plan their journey well, or gets caught out, you can get stuck in traffic for ages. Outside of Bangkok, driving is great. I wouldn't quite call it a pleasure, but it is a whole lot better.

But that's not to say that driving here is fun. Anyone who tells you that driving in Bangkok is pleasurable has a screw or two loose. The traffic is shocking and it seems to be getting worse. Any journey has to be carefully planned and it is someone with ample time on their hands who just jumps into their car without giving it serious thought first. There are certain places you just don't drive at certain times of the day, the journey time could be hours and hours. Added to the terrible traffic jams, some of the roads are terrible, and a combination of poor signs and bad road surfaces add even more challenge.

But you do get used to driving in the city. I’ll never forget the first month behind the wheel when I got to find out just what local driving standards are really like. It is one thing being the passenger in a car, invariably in the backseat of a taxi, but it is another thing altogether behind the wheel of your own car. Indicators are seldom used, red lights mean you have a few extra seconds to get through the intersection and everyone, and I mean everyone, drives as fast as they possibly can. The big problem is that to survive, you need to adapt, and yeah, that means you need to drive much like the local! Like a lot of things in Thailand, you have to make compromises.

I hate to think how my driving has changed and I’m sure I’d be heavily ticketed if I drove like I do in Bangkok in the West without major change. That's one of the major problems, you fall into some really bad driving habits. If you adhere to the speed limit, you get passed by all and sundry. If you keep a reasonable following distance, everyone just cuts in front of you and you find yourself forever braking, trying to keep the ideal following distance. If you don't run the occasional orange or even red light, you might get stuck at that intersection for ages.

But there are many advantages to car ownership in Thailand. While they are a lot more expensive than in the West, they do not devalue nearly as fast – at least in the case of Japanese cars. (European cars seem to drop in value really fast.) Having a car opens things up and one starts to see and do many more things that one never did before, not just outside of Bangkok, but in the city too. At the weekend the idea of going for a quick run down to Pattaya or Hua Hin becomes a real option. One's quality of living improves a lot, more than I ever thought.

But there is one area where the car has been a boon, something I had never really thought about. Sitting behind the wheel of the car is the one time when I really feel in control in Thailand, the one time when I am the boss and when no-one else can tell me what to do. The simple fact of the matter is that most Westerners in Thailand have *very* little control over their lives. We can set the direction where we want to go but ultimately we are much like a skateboarder on ice, able to head in one general direction, without the ability to maneuver exactly as we would like to. Driving a car is the one time in Thailand when you are totally in control, and that, combined with the opportunities to see, do and experience many new aspects to life in Thailand, have made the purchase worthwhile.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic.

This week's pic.

It was the Dusit Thani Hotel.
Not too difficult….

Last week’s pic was taken outside the Dusit Thani Hotel, on the corner of Rama 4 Road and Silom Road. Yes it is a bit too expensive for me as that cheeky bugger Mike over at Thai Rose said. Actually I photographed it exclusively for the column when Mrs. Stick and I took our first ride on the underground.

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:

The opinions in these emails are NOT necessarily endorsed by me. I simply select what I consider the most interesting emails as well as those which are most representative of the type of emails I receive. I would love to include more as many people write in pieces specifically for publication, but space constraints exist. What do you think? Would you like to see more emails from readers included in the column?

Who was the snitch?

"In Jomtien, police raided the Jade Bar – a short-time establishment – and arrested 33 working girls as well as the mamasan. " It is a sad day when the ranks from within have betrayed us. I used to get a bit of stick from some of the girls when I speak in Thai, now I will just have to learn to keep my mouth shut or they may think I'm one of those wankers. Anyway if I see or find one of them (unprotected) “I WILL SHOW THEM HOW MUCH I APPRECIATE THEIR FXXXING HELP IN CLEANING UP THIS CITY.” Do you know what I mean? Someone has overstepped the mark, maybe it was someone who just got pissed off with the attitude of one individual in the Jade and wanted to extract their revenge with an abuse of their new found power. My feeling is that a farang who is already a “hobby bobby” is a GRASS and needs to be convinced that this is not an appropriate career path to follow. People like this could find themselves at the bottom of the Gulf of Thailand without breathing apparatus.

Pub wars.

I'm firmly on your side in supporting The Londoner over the Dubliner. I've been in both, and, while the Dubliner does have the benefit of a front-row seat for closing hour at the Mambo, it is, well, too much of a "plastic" Irish bar. The food is good (I believe their cook was a sous chef at Shank's in Dublin; 1 Michelin star) but expensive for Bangkok. Now, the Londoner, outside of the Beefeater outfits, makes no real push at being "English" other than that it really does feel like a modern, urban London pub, rather than some tarted up tourist joint. The food is very good, the place is quite family friendly (my kids only spot for baked Alaska, until it was taken from the menu), and you can have a chat with your mates (or a game of stupid poker). But, lest anyone forget, they have BEER! Real beer. Honestly, the Londoner has the best cream bitter to be had in all of South East Asia (I'm going out on a limb with this one). And when they're running happy hour, which seems to be 24/7, it's a very good price for a good pint. There, I had to get that off my chest (and into my belly).

Ageism, the end.

Just like the vehement homophobes who are really latent homosexuals themselves, the 60 year old geezer who rants on about other old farts going with young Thai girls sounds like he is need of a good shag himself. For someone who obviously knows the Bangkok scene, just what was he doing I wonder taking his old dear to Sukhumvit, the world's largest indoor and outdoor brothel? It's like going to Baghdad then complaining that somebody there wants to chop your head off. Everyone is entitled to their opinion of course but this geezer should complain to his local archbishop, not Stickman and his good readers.

Greed, or basic economic principles?

I was in Bangkok during the AIDS conference. All hotels were fully booked and the prices were increased by at least 50%. Already at the airport I was confronted with price increases. The prices for Thai Airways limousines were increased from 650 baht to 1500 baht. When I questioned them they offered a reduction to 1000 baht which I refused. Afterwards I wanted to take a taxi (for which I usually pay 300 baht plus expressway, highway 70 baht), but was finally approached by a new limousine service which accepted 550 baht including everything.

Admirable behaviour?

I admire all bargirls making most out of their customers and really feel that they are doing a great job. Congratulations to all of them who are taking advantage of these stupid Westerners. Prostitution of course exists all over the world but I am convinced that no woman selects this trade if she can make the same amount of money in an "honest" profession. Poverty and bad education breeds prostitution.

The AIDS problem is real!

Three years ago a work college of mine, and myself, met with 3 gogo managers at a place by the beach, a few hours drive SE of Bangkok. We all know where that is. He was selling self-testing AIDS kits. To prove the point he offered – free of charge – to test every one of the dancers in each establishment. If a positive reading were found then the manager would accompany that particular lady to the local hospital and, also, free of charge, have an AIDS test done and be party to the outcome. In the space of 4 nights we tested 317 ladies of the night, all of these from prominent establishments in that area. These included both dancers and waitresses. The average was 1 in 12 were tested as positive. Between us we had bets on who was positive. I lost, I never picked one! The biggest problem is trying to convince the Thais. Sabai Sabai and Mai Pen Rai is not the answer.

Hard to imagine the old days!

In past centuries, Thai women didn't look anything like they do today. Until the nineteenth century Siamese men and women dressed similarly in a simple sarong; they might toss another about their shoulders, but women were not concerned about covering their breasts. The Thai exhibit little sexual dimorphism (which means average heights and weights for men and women are quite similar), and this, coupled with the fact that both sexes dressed similarly and wore their hair cropped short, meant that European visitors could often not tell the sexes apart from the back. Women's lack of feminine attire and their betel-blackened teeth were deemed repugnant by Europeans, who routinely pronounced Thai women hideously ugly. Nineteenth century kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn were the first Thai monarchs to speak English well enough to read travel accounts and learn how harshly Thai women were judged because of their non-conformity to western standards of femininity; they encouraged elite women to stop chewing betel in order to maintain white teeth and to grow their hair long. In the twentieth century Thai prime minister Phibul Songkram first encouraged, then legislated, that the Thai adopt western gendered modes of dress: public education posters exhorted men to wear pants, shirts, and hats and women to don skirts and dresses; people were admonished not to go out on the street with their upper bodies bare or in undergarments (for women sometimes wore only the newfangled bras with no blouses on top). Women were instructed to wear their hair long and not carry things on their heads. Though the campaign was much ridiculed at the time, it was a success, for today sumptuary custom in Thailand conforms to western standards.

Word has it that this week Soi Cowboy was on camera, rumours suggesting that the BBC were filming something there. Despite attempts to find out just what was going on, no-one seemed to know. Maybe this was the BBC's stealth team?

The Irish Xchange in Soi Convent have their excellent carvery buffet at lunch time from Monday – Thursday. On Friday they have an Indian curry buffet. At just 280 baht, these buffets represent absolutely outstanding value for money. If you want a good old fashioned farang food pig out, this has to be the best deal in town at the moment.

A major crackdown on the sale of Viagra is taking place in Sukhumvit. I wonder if the girls have noticed that some guys performances might be sub par at the moment? I have been unable to determine whether the crackdown is on the sale of the drug without a prescription or whether it is due to many pharmacies selling generic brand Viagra. Whatever the case, don't expect to be able to buy Viagra in the Sukhumvit area at the moment.

Sheba's in Soi Cowboy will reopen on August 2.

Blue Wave and New Wave on Soi 7 have had the police come in and close down our pool tables, nothing in writing. Despite a previous meeting between the owner of Blue Wave and the authorities where the owner was assured that there was no problem with 6 pool tables unless there was some change – and that would be in writing to all bars. Well, such a change has come about and it looks like the owner will be shopping for a snooker license come Monday, about 200,000 for a transfer I am told. The second floor of Blue Wave is being worked on and it will be called The Champagne Ultra Lounge. They are looking to open on September 15.

Angel Witch started two new shows this week, the "fluoro girls show" and the "smoking show". The first show sees the girls dancing with various fluorescent shows attached to their body, the second one a little odd. In the smoking show, four girls sit on the stage and puff away on cigarettes while another girl dances erotically around them. Weird? Yes, but it is nice to see a bar actually doing something new to attract customers.

The Hollywood bars on the top floor of Nana Plaza are now selling Tiger beer which has been available in Thailand for just a short period of time. Actually, they have a decent selection of beers with Heineken, Kloster, Tiger, Asahi, Singha and Chang. They can all be had at 95 baht during the happy hour too.

Having done the journey many times in the last year, and having had some dreadful journey times, the worst of which was 7 hours at Songkran last year, I am delighted that all of the construction and roadworks on the stretch between Bangkok and Korat have been completed. The road to Korat complete, the journey is easily doable in well under 3 hours, though add about another 20 odd minutes if you stop at ChokChai Farm for one of the really excellent burgers they sell there (in the burger joint, not the steak restaurant).

I finally made it down to Robin Hood for a drink and a bite to eat. While it is on the main road, it has more of a neighbourhood feel about it than say The Londoner. Prices are lower than other British pubs in the area with a Heineken going for a reasonable 90 baht – and they do NOT sting you for VAT or a service charge. To me, the food is a bit average, though I probably need to go back a few times before making any comments. It is certainly much cheaper than the offerings at The Londoner or The Dubliner, but then the food in both of those places is very, very good. Still, a friend went there this week and ordered the half chicken, and said it was great. So there you go, different strokes for different folks. It has a nice atmosphere and it is a pleasant venue, a welcome addition to the growing number of British style pubs in Bangkok.

When you open a bank account in Thailand, you might be obliged to open it with not only the bank that your employer banks with, but also the very branch where their accounts are held. This is because within the banking system, it seems that for your employer to direct credit your account, it must be held at he same branch where the business accounts are held. This can become a major hassle because there are a number of banking transactions that you can only do at the branch where your account is held, meaning that if the location is not convenient, you might have to traipse across town to complete a transaction. In this case, it is sometimes worth opening another account at a different branch which is more convenient to you.

There's an interesting new book available in Bookazine called "Pattaya Snaps, A Celebration Of The Women Of Pattaya". A two page introduction is followed by a book full of snapshots of the working girls of Pattaya. I have to admit that I really do not quite know what to make of this book. While the gentlemen behind the book are frank and say that the book was created with photos taken by digital cameras (which is no excuse because a 40,000 baht digi-cam can take great shots), many of the photos are, quite frankly, awful. For the most part the pictures are nicely composed, but the quality of the shots in terms of resolution, colour and contrast (or maybe it is the printing of the book?) are very disappointing. The colour balance in some photos is way out. I almost got the feeling that some shots might have been taken with the still picture facility of a digital video camera, such is the level of chromatic aberration in many of them. Such a book has great appeal to the hundreds of thousands who holiday in Pattaya this year, and if well marketed, this book could sell by the truckload. It is just so disappointing because it could have been done so much better. Given the quality of the photography, the 595 baht shelf price seems a little steep to me. Dean Barrett's "Thailand, Land of Beautiful Women" is a lot better, and for the Rolls Royce of picture books of Thai women in the nightlife industry, nothing comes close to Nick Nostitz's "Patpong, Bangkok Twilight Zone".

Quote of the week comes from Mrs. Stick. "The worst luck in the world is working under a Thai boss".

Two very interesting Thailand related articles appeared online this week. These two links are well worth checking out:

BBC documentary about Thai prison

Westerners catching HIV in Thailand

Jake Needham (www.JakeNeedham.com), the crime novelist whom the Singapore Straits Times called “Asia’s most stylish and atmospheric writer of crime fiction,” is certainly the most internationally known among those few writers who regularly set their books in Thailand and among our expat communities here. Jake has recently been spending most of his time in California where his classic, The Big Mango, is steadily making its way down the long road to becoming a major studio motion picture, but he and his family are now back at their place here in Bangkok for a couple of months. I caught up with Jake recently. While they are in town, he will finally make a long-postponed trip to Pattaya to meet some of his many local readers who live there. His appearances in Pattaya are being jointly sponsored by Bookazine and the Pattaya City Expats Club. Jake will make brief visits to the three Bookazine stores in the Pattaya area on July 30 to sign books, and then on Sunday, August 1, he will talk to a Sunday breakfast gathering of the Pattaya City Expats Club about the development of the movie version of The Big Mango and what the growing international prominence of his books has shown him about the way Thailand is perceived around the world. The breakfast will be at Henry J. Beans in Pattaya on Sunday morning, August 1, with a buffet of both American and Thai food being available from 9:30 AM. Jake will speak at about 10:30 AM, but my advice is to go early. The club frequently gets turnouts of over a hundred for their breakfasts even without a genuine celebrity in attendance (I always knew there was nothing much to do in Pattaya during daylight hours), and they are expecting many more people to be there to hear Jake tell stories about what really happens when Hollywood meets Patpong. Everyone, whether a member of the Pattaya City Expat Club or not, is welcome.

True's high speed internet is getting the sort of feedback I feared it might. They have obviously been inundated with requests from people wanting to sign up and the old adage of if it seems too good to be true, it probably is, would seem relevant. From what I have heard, there are problems getting it up and running once one is signed up, and when one finally gets it going, the speeds are, while a lot faster than dial up, not quite what some users had expected. Lower your expectations and you'll probably still be content with it. As one friend said, "it will cost me the same as I pay for dial up, so as long as it connects at a little faster than that, I'm ahead".

The Bangkok Post always seems to be missing something on a Friday with Trink's column long gone. Rumours are that the Post recognise this and that a replacement for the Bangkok legend has been found and something will start in the next month or so… I re-iterate that this is a rumour.

It is always amusing hearing guys talk about how their girl met them at the airport at the start of their trip, or how she accompanied him to the airport at the end. Some women do this out of the goodness of their heart and / or because they want to spend every last moment with their man. Other women have an ulterior motive. In the case of women who go out with their guy to the airport when he leaves, it is often in the hope that he will leave all of his remaining Thai baht with her. Some women have done VERY well out of this, getting payments of upwards of 20,000 baht. (Anyone want me to see them off at the airport?!) But the girls who meet a guy at the airport when he arrives often have a slightly different agenda. They want to make sure that it is them who he is coming to Thailand to see, and not another girl. By meeting at the airport, they are essentially marking you as theirs, and can monitor you from then in, because they know when you arrived and where you are staying. Crafty!

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: Something that has troubled me for years about Thai ladies from all walks of life is their penchant for shutting down totally when upset. They become sullen, silent, intractable. I have been involved in long-term relationships with business women, college graduates, a Thai Air stewardess and ladies of the night, I am certain such behavior is not unique to the uneducated working girl from Isaan. As you no doubt know, when western couples experience a problem in the relationship, they confront that problem, discuss it openly and resolve it as best they can. Not so with Thai ladies who invariably do not even reveal what is causing their anger / sadness / upset. My question is: Why do they react as they do and how do we best deal with it?

Mrs. Stick says: Are you putting a lot of pressure on these women? We do not respond well to being put under great pressure so perhaps that is the problem. You're right that you need to be able to talk about things in a relationship but then again, talking about problems and the status of the relationship all the time can become a problem in itself. If your girlfriend refuses to talk to you about things then yes, that is a big problem. Stickman sometimes tells me that Thai women expect too much from a Western boyfriend or husband. I don't necessarily agree with him, but you do need to try and be aware of what is bothering or may have upset your girlfriend. If there is something that has upset her and it can be fixed without the need to talk about it openly, then you will have done very well indeed. If however you have different ideas on an issue and she won't talk about it, then that is the biggest problem of all. I'm sorry. I do not have a suggestion on how to fix this.

Question 2: In the past 24 years of going to Thailand and 9 years of permanently living here, you are the only woman that I have spoken to outside of the trade, frightening thought but there you go, I just wonder how many of your other readers have had the same experience, so if anything your position is really quite unique.

Mrs. Stick says: Thai women are friendly and if you approach a Thai lady under the right circumstances, she will be friendly. But just consider when is the right time and when is not. On Friday when I was out shopping with a friend a man approached me and gave me a piece of paper with his phone number on it. This is a good example of a bad time. But if you are in an environment when it is suitable to approach a Thai lady or she is giving you signals that she is interested, then it is ok.

Naughty Nigel, I want to interview you! The readers want to know more about you! If you're reading this, or if one of your mates is reading this, drop me an email.

Wanna help Stick? If you notice any spelling, grammatical or other problems with the column, especially on Sunday night shortly after the column has gone, let me know. Yep, even we English teachers screw the language up!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, The Mad Stockbroker and Boss Hogg.