Stickman's Weekly Column July 18th, 2004

HIV And AIDS, On The Ground In Bangkok


The bi-annual international HIV / AIDS conference was held this past week in Bangkok and it dominated the local news. There were various interruptions and hiccups at the conference including a mock gogo bar scene set up by Empower, various activists trashing booths and promotional materials forcing the cancellation of speeches. There was great concern from many attending the conference that despite the good work that had previously been made preventing the spread of HIV, a lot of it has been coming undone.

The truth is that on the ground here in Bangkok, the message does not seem to be getting through, and if anything, many people are conducting their lives in total mockery of the warnings and so called dangers of contracting HIV. There are several issues which have made many think that they cannot contract it.

The "you can't catch HIV from heterosexual sex crowd" have put sufficient doubt into the minds of the common man that it seems that all and sundry are partying without a party hat. The various websites that make these claims are often cited, and some people even refer to Bernard Trink's words on the subject. HIV and AIDS aside, there are many other risks.

There is the belief, supported by scientific research I believe, that a certain percentage of farangs, something like 10 odd %, have a recessive gene which inhibits the development of the virus and virtually makes them immune. Would you bank on yourself being one in ten?

There is apparently some research that shows that circumcised men are much less likely to contract HIV through heterosexual sex. The chopped brigade are quick to quote this. What they forget is that there are plenty of guys who have had the cruelest cut of all who have contracted the disease.

And then there are the personal anecdotes, of which there are many, of people who claim to have had unprotected heterosexual sex with someone infected but have not contracted the disease themselves. I remember one guy telling me had bonked a different girl in Pattaya every day for 5 years, and never wore a rubber, and that he went and got tested and was clear of HIV.

But perhaps worst of all is those guys – and I have had guys look me in the eye when they say this – who feel that by looking at a girl and looking for tell tale signs of advanced AIDS (skinny, lesions on skin etc.) that they believe tat she does not have it and that they can party without the party hat.

And word is definitely out that even if one contracts the dreaded disease that modern medicine can keep it at bay and that one can lead a relatively normal life. That is if taking a shitload of pills every days with all of the different side effects could be considered normal. A certain former LA Lakers player is often cited, and some people claim that the drying cocktail he takes (and can afford) has sent his HIV infection to virtually undetectable levels.

Anecdotal evidence from working girls suggests that around 50% of customers in the foreign oriented sector of the pay for play industry do not use, or do no wish to use condoms. 50%! You read that right! 50%!!!! And it seems that it is the local based guys, and the older guys who are the biggest culprits. Again, anecdotal evidence.

The infamous Brit involved in the local porn industry who seems to have had a roll in the hay with half of Sukhumvit didn't wear condoms for a long time despite the fact that he was clearly involved in what could be considered high risk behaviour. In fairness to him, he wears them now.

As to the dangers of HIV and the real risk it poses, I offer you the following personal anecdotes. While they might seem extreme, I assure you that they are NOT exaggerated one little bit.

* A friend's ex-girlfriend tested positive for HIV some time ago. She continues to work, knowing that she is HIV positive. In fact it has been over three years since she tested positive and I hear that she is spotted down in Sukhumvit from time to time, and that she is still working.

* I personally know of three guys who had Thai girlfriends who they had planned to take with them to the west. Each of these girls tested positive for HIV as part of, or before the visa process.

* The majority of unattached guys I know in Bangkok do not wear a party hat, irrespective of who they are with, or where they met her.

* Large numbers of girls have tested positive and VERY seldom do they leave the industry. Change workplace, yes, but leave the industry? Not a chance!

* I know of farang guys who have contracted HIV in Thailand, and we're not talking hearsay here. Confirmed cases. Yes, Western guys have caught the dreaded disease from Thai ladies of the night, and these guys are not druggies, or batting for the other team. Farang men in Thailand are NOT bulletproof.

What can one conclude? The HIV / AIDS message either hasn't got through to Westerners living in Bangkok. But then I am not sure that it is a Bangkok specific problem. Reading the news online from my native New Zealand, and various other places around the world, it would appear that the message has not got through and that infections are on the increase amongst heterosexuals.

Where is this pic?

Last week's pic.

This week's pic.

It was the last pier on the Saen Saeb canal.
Once the tallest building in Bangers…

Last week’s pic was taken quite some time ago, around 4 years ago, and was of the last pier at the Western end of the Saen Saeb canal, very close to the Golden Mount. Surprisingly, many more people got this right than the old pier in Pattaya. 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: (And thus I do NOT necessarily endorse what is said. In fact I quite often disagree.)

If the view bothers you, give Bangkok a miss.

On our last visit to Bangkok in March this year, my wife and I could not help but notice the proliferation of old men (60-70 years of age) and young Thai prostitutes walking, dining or drinking in various places in the city. We used a bar near Sukhumvit Soi 33 for our local watering hole during our two week sojourn there, and on a couple of occasions I almost felt like vomiting as we sat witness to gargantuan sized Americans drinking with Thai girls young enough to be their grandchildren. A couple of these guys were in excess of 350 lbs, and I would say that they hadn't seen their rod and tackle from a vertical position for many years. In fact, I wondered on more than one occasion whether this scenario was for the consumption of others, a charade, a public cloak of virility to hide the embarrassment of impotency, or whether the enormous heavy drinking, the incessant cigarette smoking, and public fondling was a final fling at the perceived good things in life before the curtains closed their desolate individual existences. I have travelled the world for 40 years, both as a tourist and as a businessman, but I have never come across a city like Bangkok, that publicly rents its young females to some of the most hideous males that one could have the misfortune to meet. Bangkok appeared to me to have moved on markedly both economically and socially since we were last there in 1992. The females for rent now appears to be an imbedded industry. The girlie bars around Nana and Soi Cowboy are a disgrace to human dignity and endeavour, but the scene will never change, as long as there are 350 lb lumbering behemoths trying desperately to live out their frustrated sexual fantasies, far from their homeland, and just as far from reality. The defendants of this shabby lifestyle have obviously missed the boat socially in their home countries. There are few things more sinister and lonely, than the tub-of-lard farang, staggering along Sukhumvit Road at 10 pm with a young Thai girl trying to hold him vertical. Some of these "men" are my age (60). I don't feel pity for them, as the pangs of disgust usually engulf me before the symptoms of sympathy have any chance of expression. Bangkok is a charming, vibrant and highly energetic city. It is a metropolis that gets under the skin and draws one back to it time after time, but the memories of our last trip of the nightly scenes took the shine off otherwise pleasant and enervating days spent in the capital of the Land Of Smiles.

Rabbit hunting.

When I was young one day I went out early morning with a trapper to collect some snare traps that had been laid the night before. One of the rabbits we came across was still alive and I decided to take it home to join my other pet rabbits. Here lies my analogy with Thai girls. Farangs following their holiday wish to continue their relationships by inviting their spouses to their home countries. Little if any thought is given as to how these foreigners will accept, blend in, adapt, settle in a completely alien environment. From first hand experience I have observed how they have absolutely nothing in common with the local people, are devoid of any interest in the history, arts, culture, architecture, customs, sports, and the general way of life of the local community. As if that wasn't enough they also suffer from a compete rejection of the local cuisine. They spend their days lying in bed or watching TV on foreign language stations, understanding only the pictures, waiting for their sponsors to eventually return home from work. This is only broken by the relief of cooking their Thai survival rations that they've brought with them. For those that may still be in doubt there is also the local weather to contend with. So back to my wild rabbit syndrome, when I got it home I was really surprised how it went to the back of the rabbit hutch and remained frozen in a corner, even offers of fresh dandelions are carrots were rejected. So does this paint a familiar story with your own Thai girls, ring any bells that for the duration of their stay with you they have as yet even one time to venture out of your property alone?

Do you have mutual friends?

If Holly Valence fancied me, I'd give her one, sell the story to a newspaper, then tell her to piss off. Relationships based entirely on physical attractions (and money) are doomed to failure. It would appear that most farang male / Thai bargirl relationships and marriages fall into this same category. An often overlooked but effective test of compatibility in a relationship is whether you both like the same people. If your partner thinks a certain individual is a great guy and you think he is an absolute wanker, the warning lights should start flashing. This applies to women from any culture.

Excessive ordering.

I have to disagree with Mrs. Stick's answer about the 8 dishes. I guess the girl will call every day cause she has a sucker on the line. 5 – 6 dishes would have been plenty for 4. Also if they weren't drinking the cocktails cokes would have been fine. Cultural differences are no excuse for avarice. Believe me it will get worse. Next time she will show up with more friends, all cousins of course. I've been down the same road and it doesn't get better.

Aging, again.

Once again aging raises it's head. Your visitor tires after 11 years of bars, so they are no good and not needed any more – except maybe by first timers. OK, so what's the big deal? Let the first, second and third timers have their turn. And many of those old geezers are just getting their turn after a life in harness while the playboys were having their fun. To each and all a turn at the banquet table. The first in line being full does not mean it's time to turn out the lights.

Silver Dragon hosted a dance contest and the bar, although tiny, was packed with girls and customers. These dance contests are very popular but what did Silver Dragon do to promote this one? No-on I know knew about it until the day after! There was a good punch up outside Silver Dragon to keep any bored natives entertained. It was the all Asia championship, a seldom seen event with a bunch Japanese taking on the locals, and getting their asses kicked.

The Nanapong Dance Contest will now be held on Sunday 15th August and not the 1st as was planned. It will start around 8.30 PM and it is FREE entry. There will be 2 Bangkok bars competing against 2 Pattaya bars. First prize for the girls is 10,000 baht.

Top brass police entered Nana Plaza and closed the entire complex shortly after 1 AM on Friday this week, much to the bemusement of a large crowd of customers. Is this a sign of things to come or was it a one off?

It seems that activists from the HIV / AIDS conference in Bangkok never made it down to Pattaya, or that Pattaya's police never caught on that there was such a conference taking place just up the road. Pattaya's finest are patrolling the beach looking for Thai ladies loitering, walking too slowly, etc. Approaching them, the police ask suspected ladies for their ID cards, current residences, place / type of employment, etc. They also CHECK THE GIRLS' PURSES. Why? The Pattaya police are, get this, looking for condoms! Ladies who have condoms are arrested for prostitution, fined and released! Thus, I feel it is fair to say that the Pattaya police are indirectly encouraging unsafe sex. If a lady is not a pro but has condoms for use with her boyfriend, husband or prospective unpaid date – she will be taken in and thus the message that is being sent to the ladies of the night is that they are best advised not to carry condoms. Let the John provide them…or just forget about it. Out bloody rageous.

But while they did not make it down to Pattaya, the AIDS workers did make it into Nana Plaza where they were handing out various paraphernalia. It has to be a good thing.

Shark Bar in Soi Cowboy has joined the casualty list, closed for 30 days. Notices outside advise that the girls can be found up at Silver Dragon in Nana.

A new British style pub has opened at the foot of the steps leading up to the Asoke BTs station on the even soi numbered side of Sukhumvit Road. The Nana area has been crying out for a good, traditional British style pub for a long time, a place where one could be just as happy enjoying a drink during the day, as at night. Around Emporium there are a stack of British style pubs but for all of the tourists who are a couple of kilometres up the road, they simply do not know about them. The Huntsman tries hard (and does very well – supposedly has the highest monthly turnover of all of the city's Brit pubs) but frankly, it is a little bland, and doesn't quite hit the spot. The likes of Jools, Chequers and The Winking Frog all have something going for them, but some customers feel that they are all a bit cliquey and not really the quintessential British pub that the Nana area is screaming out for. If you have a million US or so to be invested, which is about hat you need to set up such an establishment, set up the first really traditional British style pub in the Nana are and you'll clean up!

I was wrong about the beer bars of Soi 3. They have reopened as, get this, beer bars. Funny that.

Some of the soi 3 crowd have discovered Soi 5 and to be a bit more precise, they have discovered Gulliver's. They seem to like Gulliver's because they hang out there for a long time, using the free internet. These guys hogging the internet in Gulliver's don't even buy drink. One said to me, "I love Gulliver's, free internet and free women". The Thais seem to be too polite, or perhaps too scared, and do not say anything to them. Hmmm, I don't give him too long….

Interestingly, while the number of tourists to Thailand is increasing, closer analysis of the figures is revealing. Asian visitor numbers have risen and us farangs, that is us white boys and the odd white girl, have dropped off a bit. Perhaps more beach dwellers and families are arriving because the naughty bar areas at times resemble a ghost town. Very worrying for bar owners, what with the increased cost of running a bar these days it looks very bleak for quite a few bar owners. Some bars even in Nana Plaza are only getting a handful of customers. In all honesty I have not seen it this quiet since the SARS scare. The only bar that seems packed all night, every night, is Rainbow 2 because they are geared to a Japanese clientele. Love it or hate it, Rainbow2 certainly have a good business going.

Do you remember my comments a few columns back about Thai citizens getting cheaper fares with Thai Airways on the Auckland to Bangkok? Well, a reader went along to the Thai Airways office at Level 8, 23 Customs St East, Auckland and found out the following. Thai citizens are subject to a government subsidy on Thai Airways airfares. Permanent residents of Thailand are not subject to this subsidy. Legal spouses of Thai nationals travelling together can also get the subsidy. It is not clear on whether or not this government subsidy is a global policy or just for specific sectors.

Up in Korat this weekend, I both noticed, and was informed by a couple of local farang friends, that the cops are cracking down on al sorts of things, almost like some sort of minor crime crackdown. Police checkpoints were all over the show checking car registration, drivers licenses and amazingly for Korat, motorcycle rider helmets. The boys in brown have also been making sure entertainment venues close down at 2 AM sharp with pick up truck loads of cops turning up at popular venues and making sure the house lights come on at 2:00 AM on the dot. Whether this is a provincial thing or a national thing, I don't know.

It seems something is going on with crackdowns of late. Don’t know if it has anything to do with cleaning up for this weekend’s marathon (thousands of tourists are there for the annual event), or if it is a new policy to rid Pattaya of the sex trade. The infamous Sunee Plaza was raided this past week with police rounding up 60 or more young men and boys apparently working in or near the 50 gay bars in the district. Police promised further raids are forthcoming. In Jomtien, police raided the Jade Bar – a short-time establishment – and arrested 33 working girls as well as the mamasan. Don't worry, you can breathe a sigh of relief – clients were simply sent on their way.

I have been getting a fair bit of shit over my positive comments about The Londoner recently – and a couple of readers even accused me of getting a backhander to say positive things about that bar. Absolutely not true I can assure you. So for a change of scenery I made it down to The Dubliner, a venue a few readers claim to be better than The Londoner. I've been there a couple of times before and while I found it ok, I never quite felt it met the same high standards set by The Londoner. There for a couple of quiet drinks on the afternoon that Newcastle FC was in town, the bar was full of Newcastle fans and the service was slower than one would expect. No matter, I can accept that when they were unexpectedly busy. Anyway, the first round of drinks eventually came and we were asked to pay for it there and then, which we did. No sweat. I called for the menu and considered ordering something, but the prices really are dear, and frankly, the portions not that big, so I decided against ordering anything. The roast dinner sounded good, but 600 baht? Hell, that is downright expensive! To compare, The Londoner's roast beef is just 390 baht and The Irish Xchange has an excellent roast buffer for 280 baht. Hmmm, the food in The Dubliner is just too expensive I'm afraid – though I am reliably informed that the chef there is absolutely first rate. The second round of drinks came and sinking them fast because we wanted to venture elsewhere to get some food, we received the bill, for both the first and second rounds. What, we had already paid for that! After much haggling, the bill was fixed. Then there was a problem with the change. We had separate bills and each of us was mis-changed. Who knows, perhaps the cashier was having a bad day and it was just a chapter of errors. Or perhaps it was a studious, yet ultimately unsuccessful effort to separate us from our money? Whatever, we were keen to get out. You Dubliner fans enjoy your bar. I'll be over the road in The Londoner.

Fake football jerseys have always been popular items in the markets in Thailand, in fact they can be found in just about every far flung outpost of the country. The quality of the copies varies from the very poor which can be had for less than 90 baht, up to the best copies which are pretty damned close to the original, and can be found, if you hunt around, for under 400 baht. In the past one could find the odd copied rugby jersey, but they have never really been a mass-market item. That seems to be changing a bit with a number of Sukhumvit and Patpong dealers now flogging copied rugby jerseys. Unlike the football jerseys that go for a price that makes it clear that they are copies, the rugby jerseys are being offered at a much higher price, around 1,000 baht! I didn't try and negotiate to see how low they would go because quite simply, I wouldn't buy one, but imagine they would go a lot lower. The quality is reasonable, though whoever the fool was who made the copied New Zealand rugby jersey was, obviously didn't know why the New Zealand team is called the All Blacks. The jersey is black, or at least the original is. The copied version on the streets of Bangkok is a darkish blue…hardly what could be called black.

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: I was taken out to a club by a Thai female friend on a date but I am sensitive to excessive cigarette smoke. It was our first date and she is animated and seem to enjoy herself very much. I tried to excuse myself to the fact that I am starting to cry from the second hand cigarette smoke and said I would like to leave. Did I just offend her as she seems not convinced that it was the environment and not her company that was bothering me? After 3 hours I just left her there and went home alone.

Mrs. Stick says: No, you do no have to apologise for your sensitivity to the smoke. If she was really keen on you, she should have understood that and perhaps been a little more sensitive about it. If you were clear to her that that was the reason why you left, then no harm should have been done although there is always a chance she might have felt you left for other reasons. One hint for you with Thai women. If you go home separately, call her to make sure she got home alright. It will show her that you care.

When reading news at the Phuket Gazette website this week, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the fellow who sent an email in to one of the Phuket Immigration officers to answer. In what was a fairly high profile incident not so long ago, a gentleman was charged with theft, fund guilty and deported for stealing a towel from a hotel. A crime sure, but I am sure many have done worse. The said gentleman had sent an email asking as t whether he would be allowed to return to Thailand or not. He was told that the stamp in his passport denoted that not only he had been deported, that he was considered a menace to society and would not be allowed to return ever again. Be careful what you remove from hotels!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Mr Write in Pattaya & Basil Brush.