Stickman's Weekly Column December 26th, 2004

This Site, This Year


StickmanBangk ok .com


Another year has passed, and it is that inevitable time when we look back over the year that has been and make a few comments on this and that.

2004 was another happening year in Bangkok and as always, farangs featured in the news. We had another bunch of bars decimated much the same as Sukhumvit Square was last year although this time round it was almost expected. There were the usual stories of lovelorn farangs committing suicide, some of them quite appalling like the poor Aussie who leapt from his apartment, landing on the fence and splitting in two, as well as the peculiar, with a number of farangs in Pattaya choosing to commit suicide by suffocating themselves, miraculously doing so as their hands were tied behind their backs. I never did figure out how they managed it… And with those two poor Brits horribly gunned down in Kanchanaburi, allegedly by a policeman, it seems that whenever farangs in Thailand feature in the local news, it is something sinister.

The award that no-one wants, "farang asshole of the year award", was a keenly fought contest with many doing their best to get their hands on the prize, but in the end there was a very clear winner. The prize goes to the one legged German who slept with hundreds of young girls in Chaiyapum province, luring them into his bed with promises of cash in return for sexual services. He failed to let them know that he was HIV+ and apparently he never used protection with any of them. Worst of all, it would seem that this did not break any laws and he was arrested on visa irregularity charges.

Blow after blow hit the naughty nightlife industry this year in what has turned out to be a year that many would like to forget. More and more drug tests were made and at some bars, admittedly outside of the so called naughty areas, the doors were shut and every single person inside, that is all customers and all staff, had to submit a piss test. But this was but a small inconvenience to partygoers compared with what was to follow. The authorities got tough and the once unthinkable happened, all bars were informed that not only were lewd shows prohibited, so was nude dancing. You can still find the odd bar where a bit of flesh is on display but it is getting harder and harder. Bikini manufacturers must have had a good year. But the biggest blow of all to the industry seems to be the introduction of 1:00 AM closing. Many, many visitors to Thailand stated that that that was the straw that broke the camel's back, and that they had changed their travel plans accordingly. This notwithstanding, I notice more tourists than ever in Bangkok at present.

For Westerners resident in the Mango, life remains much the same. The same issues that bothered us last year still bother us this year, but then most of the things that we enjoyed last year haven't changed much either. Forgetting about the changes to the naughty nightlife which really affect visitors more than locals. The opening of the underground has been great if you live anywhere near it. The city seems to be getting more and more cosmopolitan and more and more farangs are moving here. Hell, some who left in frustration in the last year or two are moving back too. Life remains good for most Western residents in Bangkok and throughout the country.

This year has been the busiest and most productive year in this website's illustrious life. It has been the first year when there has not been a Stickman Weekly column missed, each of the previous years in the column's short life I've missed one or two. The site has been up virtually all year, with very little down time indeed, which is more than can be said for the last two years. In 2001, it was down for about 10 days, and last year there were a couple of 48 hour periods when it was down. In addition to the weekly column and other updates to the older sections of the site, there have been, at the time of writing, 781 new readers' submissions published this year, and needless to say, the number of readers to the site, especially this column, continues to increase.

I had hoped to introduce some new features into the column this year including some articles written in Thai. This one never got off the ground, because what I came up with was horribly negative. It was hard to write for the Thai audience and maintain a positive tone, and anything negative wouldn't have got a good response so I decided to can it.

The idea of implementing a gallery of photos of Thailand from a bygone era was also canned, for three major reasons. The first was that photographs take up a lot of bandwidth, and thus the costs could be quite high. The second reason was one of copyright. It is very difficult to determine if any photos sent were copyright or not. And as a keen photographer myself, I have no shortage of shots to put up on the site.

The column is a lot easier to put together these days than it used to be. I'll never forget soon after I had started it, when a certain other Thailand columnist said that writing a weekly column was overkill and that if I wasn't careful I'd run out of steam within 6 months. There are always things going on in Bangkok, so there is always something to write about.

The most difficult thing about writing the weekly column is finding the time to do it all. At a guess, I spend around 25 hours a week on website related stuff, which really is a lot given that I have a full-time job, and one which in the last year has been busier than ever. As the weekly column goes up late Sunday afternoon, I am already working on the column for the following week. I try and do a little bit each day so that by the time Sunday comes around it is just a matter of tidying things up.

Sunday nights can be fun as I battle to reply to emails which are coming in, sometimes faster than I can reply to them. I play this little game where I am the winner if I can reply to them all and clear the inbox within an hour. Simple things for simple minds, eh?!

One thing I have discovered is how truly sensitive some readers are to certain issues. In the odd case it is understandable, such as when something of a factual nature is misrepresented, but when I commit the crime of actually giving an opinion on something and it is not precisely what some people may believe on the issue, then there are some readers who get horribly upset. I was asked recently to write an article on the availability of abortion and recommended abortion clinics and what not in Bangkok. I'd hate to see the responses from people on this one, something which I accept is highly controversial, so this is one piece which will likely never see the light of the day.

I've also learned that there are certain things that you can't print, or at least are strongly advised against. Even if what you write about is spot on the money, there are some things that can get you in hot water, and we're not talking about the authorities here. There are some things which simply don't get reported. I was recently told of a bar in Pattaya where a reader insisted that there were three girls working there who were HIV+ and that he had proof and that "I had a duty to tell the readers". No, I have no right to breach someone's privacy. There are of course a few dodgy farang "investors" out there and if you were to ask me privately, I'd tell you, but as for printing stuff about that in the column, no way. BUT, I will try and post warnings in general, but without the specifics.

The weekly column is the part of the site which will continue to get most of my attention. New photo galleries are planned and one should go up online this coming week. Incidentally, I also have plans to create a digital photography site, something which I am very keen on, and offer something a little different to what is out there already. Time will be the critical issue here however. The book review section will also be expanded. As far as the larger sections of the site go, I imagine there will just be a few small changes here and there, a few small updates, but nothing major. A bit added here and there. I just don't have time to go through and do anything major there.

As far as the naughty nightlife section goes, I have to admit that I don't have any plans to re-erect it, for now at least. At 98,000 words, a major re-write – which is what would be needed for it to go back online – would take a lot of time, and time is something I am struggling to find these days.

One of the most common questions in the last few months concerns the existence of sites similar to this for other countries in the region. Is this a reflection that people are looking to go further afield? Apart from Gordon's excellent site which specialises in Cambodia, most of the other countries in South East Asia, from Indonesia all the way up to Laos and Myanmar, lack farang run sites that are both thorough and actually dare to address the issues. It is understandable in some countries though such as Vietnam from where there have been reports of citizens who have been persecuted for daring to actually speak out about certain things online. While not in South East Asia, I maintain that the first Westerner to produce a really kick ass site about China will do very well and could profit tremendously from it. The problem once again is that China is not Thailand and they might well get the chance to write about the inside of a Chinese jail too… Here in Thailand, a Westerner running a site about the country doesn't have much to fear so long as a few certain topics are avoided. For all that we moan and groan about, we still have relative freedom.

It is no secret that I have been seriously wondering about my future in Thailand. The glass ceiling is stifling. A trip to New Zealand in 2005 will allow me to have a look at my in Thailand somewhat more objectively and perhaps with a little more clarity.

This site is still great fun to put together, to maintain and to compile. I have met so many great people, made some wonderful friends and ultimately, running it all has been like this really intensive study of Thailand and Westerners' relationships with the country and its people. For 2005, the basic architecture of the site will largely remain the same. There are a lot of things I'd like to do, but we'll have to find a way to forego sleep before we get there.

There is little doubt that 2005 is going to be even better than 2004, both for the city and for this site.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE?

It was the BTS at Chidlom.

Peak hour in the Big Mango.

Last week's pic was taken from one of the walkways at the BTS station at Chidlom, facing west towards Gaysorn and Siam Square. Last week's photo was taken just a few minutes after the shot I ran the previous week of the Grand Hyatt Erawan, and a few readers picked up on that. Well done! Each week the first reader to correctly state where the pic is by email to me wins a 500 baht credit from 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 EMAIL INBOX

High demand for property in Bangkok.

I suggest that Thai woman are viewed as property, consistently looked upon as sex objects due to the social, professional and financial restraints placed on them both by foreign and Thai male society equally. When you are raised in a country where you can buy anything, what else would you expect. Why are all the secretary jobs age related i.e. under 25 etc. The emphasis is placed on looks, not ability to do the job. That's why my daughter will be raised elsewhere so that she may reach any goal she desires and hopefully be independent enough to live her life as she sees fit.

The joys of banking, Thai style.

I applied for a credit card with my local bank who have known me personally and business wise for three years. No problem but I had to keep 200,000 baht in my personal account. I needed the card for my trip back to the UK earlier this year. Needless to say the card did not arrive in time so I tried to withdraw cash to see me through. This would have taken my bank account under the 200k limit and consequently I could not get the money. They could not see the logicality of barring access to MY money because I had a credit card despite the card not being issued. However that is not the end of the story. The cards, MasterCard and Visa arrived, although I had only applied for one, with a consolidated credit allowance of 100k baht. I was unable to spend more than 100k baht on my credit cards, but they retained 200k as security in my account. I queried this with their head office and was told the excess was in case I spent over the 100k limit. The fact that this was not possible as the card would not be authorised over 100k was not an argument they could even comprehend.

100 baht buys the truth.

When I came to Bangkok on business last year, I met a delightful girl of 20 at a hostess bar in Soi 33. She was an accountancy student at some university and working to pay her studies. She didn't sleep with customers but one of the rules of the house was that she had to get barfined 4 times a month to keep her job. I took her out for a meal a couple of times. She used to joke that she wanted a boyfriend like me and I used to joke that I was too old. Truth was that I enjoyed her company but she wasn't my type. So when I was back in town last week, I went back to her bar to look her up and she wasn't there. Other girls I met there last time seemed very reluctant to tell me what had happened to her but a hundred baht did the trick. A guy of 56 had come in during the summer for 5 consecutive days and on the fifth day proposed to her, which she accepted. A baby was now on the way. Being an ex-monger myself I felt secretly pleased for the guy, although the girls in the bar had nothing good to say about him. But it does make you wonder why a nice girl, seemingly with good prospects, should marry some drunken old fart she knew practically nothing about. Are Thai men really that bad? Is marriage to a farang more viable than a job in an office? There are some things about Asia I guess I'll never figure out.

New liquor laws.

Last week on Saturday after finishing work at noon and driving back from Laemchabang to see my family in Rayong, I pulled into the Shell station on the highway to fill up with diesel as usual. Also as usual I went into the shop to pick up a couple of cans of Beer Chang to relax and enjoy the drive home, but the assistant refused to sell me any beer, saying that it was not possible until after 5 PM. What the f**k? My Thai is reasonable, not great, so I asked her in Thai why? She would not answer me, so I just gave up, drove down the highway to a small typical Thai store and bought my beers there, carried on my way and didn’t think too much about it. Then, last night I was in Carrefour in Pattaya when I noted that at each check out there was a notice also banning the sale of alcohol until 5 PM due to some new law passed by the government, in a supermarket! I can understand a gas station, but in a supermarket? What’s going on? High season is upon us and now it has been decreed that you can not buy a beer in the afternoon, how long before this is applied to bars as well? I love this place for all it’s craziness, but surely this is yet another nail into the tourism coffin, how many more nails can be applied before the coffin is considered well and truly shut? I don’t reckon life in Afghanistan under the Taliban was a barrel of laughs, but we seem to be slowly and inexplicably down the same route in what used to be known as the Land of Smiles.

It would never work in Switzerland because….she would never be on time.

I had a Thai girlfriend in Switzerland for three years before I came here. Almost every time she went outside men would come up and say, "hello, what's your name? Are you from Thailand?" etc. Several times even cars would stop and try to pick her up on the street. In Thailand we, the rich farang males, are basically the kings amongst millions of women. Take your girl back to Farangland and suddenly the role is reversed and she becomes the queen and you are just another farang amongst millions. Once she gets to know this, you are in for a bad time. The Thai fun-loving instinct comes to play, and its "fun" to be chatted up and taken out. I could write more than a book about what goes on when the husband / boyfriend goes out to the 08:00 to 18:00 job. If I have to return to live in Farangland, I will never, ever, take a Thai girl back with me. I know it will just be heartaches and headaches all the way. I've been there and suffered. Here in Thailand the little "queen" knows that inside of five minutes I can find another girl. I know you don't like the word "control", but that's what its about. Staying in control of our own lives.

The corner of Asoke will not be developed into new bars. There are completed plans for the area showing that it will be a shopping plaza and hotel. In the case of the debacle of the bars being destroyed in a matter of hours, it seems that nobody had a lease and many would not move. In the US for example, it would take 90 days at the most through court and the sheriff would move everything off the land. But we are in a country where it seems that squatters have more rights than land owners. The person whom makes the investment and takes a risk is pissed on by all and sundry. The Asoke Plaza debacle has not done anything for farang investor confidence in Thailand.

Just a reminder for those of you who may have missed it, alcohol is now only available from liquor stores, convenience stores and the like from 11 AM – 2 PM and 5 PM until midnight. I guess there must be something sacred about the period between 2 and 5 PM which I am blissfully unaware of, some strict reason why the sale and consumption of alcohol at that time is a sin.

Word on the street is that Soi Zero is dying. One month ago there were 20 odd bars down there. They are closing fast and there are only 13 open now, and from some reports, another handful are seriously considering closing. A bar area needs a certain number of bars open to attract punters and if many more close, that will probably be it although truth be told, Soi Zero has been dying a slow death for many years, refusing to give up.

Just who is the Bangkok gogo bar manager who spent some time in the monkey house recently following visa irregularities? Well, it would seem that these dodgy visas are STILL being offered and some fools are STILL using the "agent's" services. One of the really crazy things that has come out of this is that one of the guys still offering the service is a farang and as he is a farang, as opposed to a Thai, some farangs using his service trust him. DON'T GET INVOLVED IN ANY OF THESE DODGY VISA DEALS. It is one of the best ways to get yourself in really deep shit, and in a worst case scenario, you might be deported and never allowed to enter Thailand again!

For New Year's Eve, Hollywood Two (next door to Carousel on Floor 3), has reinstated their happy hour. All regular beers and spirits will be offered for 95 baht from 7:30 until 9:30.

Not much has changed in Pattaya over the last couple of weeks. Hotels seem to be full or near full, but visitors are not evident outside of Walking Street. This weekend finds many gogo bars in that area filled well beyond capacity. Others are virtually empty – both on and off Walking Street. Those that are drawing the crowds invariably offer draft beer at 45 to 60 baht and present at least a handful or more of young, attractive ladies – most of whom are showing and / or performing. Most entertainment venues are clearing the premises between 1:30 and 2 AM, while some beer bars continue to serve until the last customers leave the next morning.

The bad news is Pattaya’s petition for relaxed operating hours has been denied by the Minister of the Interior. The good news is that the 1 AM curfew will not be enforced New Year’s Eve. My understanding is that revelries may continue until 6 AM January 1. The city itself is producing a gala event at Bali Hai Pier, replete with entertainment, fireworks, countdown to 2005, etc. Tens of thousands are expected to crowd the venue.

A new gogo bar, Fantasy, has opened on Walking Street featuring dancing girls as well as katoeys. Comments from visitors have not been particularly inspiring.

I never saw it myself but apparently a certain chain of convenience stores installed self service beer machines in many of their stores. So, along with self service coke, and self service coffee, one could also fill a cup with beer and then take it up to the cash register and pay for it. Not surprisingly, this never did last and the chain which had them installed has since had them removed. I can only imagine the abuse of the system!

I don't get excited about bars these days but if I was hanging out down at the bars, I reckon I'd be down at soi 33. There are that many new bars down there that and the atmosphere is somewhat pleasant. It is one of the few areas where you can go and have a few quiet drinks, yet enjoy the atmosphere and ambience of the pleasant bars and pretty ladies without expectation of anything else.

Of the naughty bar areas, Soi Cowboy continues to impress me. I wandered through briefly on Christmas Eve and there was a real carnival atmosphere. There seemed to be some sort of show going on but I didn't stick around. Heaps of bars had free food on offer, there were THOUSANDS of balloons decorating the bar fronts and the girls were outside the bars in big groups, dancing around and having fun, you know just how Thais do, most of them wishing punters Merry Christmas, rather than nonsense talk. It was a great atmosphere and it very much reminded me of Soi Cowboy, 1998 vintage. Want a prediction for 2005? Soi Cowboy will have a very good year indeed, especially if they can keep this sort of thing up.

There has got to be good money in a calendar of girls from the various gogo bars and I see that a calendar with photographs of girls from Pattaya gogo bars is on sale at the very reasonable price of $9.95. Perhaps comment is premature and unwarranted, but the photos they have in the online ads for it don't inspire one to buy it. It would seem that they have photographed the girls under ideal lighting conditions and then gone and cut and pasted their body on to a bar background! It is sort of odd looking.

There are still some restaurants and some hotels, namely the better ones, where chicken is off the menu. A damned nuisance if like me you don't eat pork and your budget doesn't always stretch to imported beef or lamb.

A reader asks how strict they are in Thailand about letting kids in to see films with a restricted rating at the cinema. He asks if it is possible for an 8 year old to get in to see "Blade 3" which is restricted to people aged over 15. My suggestion would be to pick up a copy of the DVD, but that doesn't actually answer the question. Any ideas?

There is a branch of McDonalds in Rotorua, New Zealand, the country's Maori heartland. The interior of the branch is decorated with Maori style carving which while not exactly ornate, still add to the atmosphere and give it a definite and unique Rotorua flavour. When I was touring around Germany many years ago, I remember that McDonalds branches had beer on the menu, reflecting that country's culture. So, how do you think a branch of McDonalds might differentiate itself in Thailand? Some elephant pictures perhaps? Figures of some lovely dancers in traditional Thai outfit? McDonalds Bangkok's offering to the world is not one of the wonderful things of Thailand, but rather, one of the nuisance things, noise! The main branch at Siam Square instead has a resident DJ, DJ Delight, and along with a couple of loud speakers they play what can only be described as blaring music through the branch. Now McDonalds could hardly be top of anyone's list as a quiet place to grab a bite to eat, but still, it seemed fairly obvious from the looks on most customers' faces that the blaring music was hardly to their preference, and in fact seemed to make people move on really fast once they had finished their food.

A friend using True's ADSL internet service mentioned that it is wonderful now and the words he used were "super fast". At last, high speed internet in Thailand, at the right price AND most importantly that really works as it should.

One of the very best Thailand nightlife novels will finally find its way into print. Steve Leather's "Private Dancer" which has been available online will soon be available at book stores in Bangkok. Steve has a couple of different versions of the cover and is undecided on which one to use. Check out the two covers here and drop Steve an email with the one you think is best. Steve's email is [email protected].

And of books that are available now, browsing through local bookstores this week I came across two recent releases, both of which looked rather interesting. The first was "Thailand Fever" which gives advice for farang / Thai couples on how to have a successful relationship. The entire book is written in both languages, English and Thai, with English on one page and Thai on the facing page. The other is Bangkok Inside Out which is a strange sort of a book of very nice street / candid photography, each photo accompanied by a mini essay about that aspect of life in Bangkok. I'll have reviews for both of them in the book reviews section very soon.

I have been asked the inevitable question by a number of readers about where they should venture to on New Year's Eve. It's a difficult one to answer. My best advice is go to the sort of place that you ordinarily like to go to. If you like fine dining, many of the better restaurants, particularly those in the better hotels, have all sorts of New Year parties with fancy dinners and entertainment arranged. Expensive for sure, but I imagine it would be fun. The naughty bars will offer the usual although you need to remember there are often barfine hikes at this time of year so you'll be paying 1,000 baht barfines, and some bars might not even allow barfines to be paid until after midnight – remember bars can remain open to 6 AM that night. Different rules apply in different bars, but that's the gist of how it has been in previous years. The masses head to World Trade Centre for the big countdown but if like me you have an aversion to whopping great crowds, that area may be best avoided.

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Please note that for general bargirl related questions, Mr. Stick might answer them. It has to be said that Mrs. Stick is not your stereotypical Thai woman. She is not Buddhist and she is not shy to criticise things about her own country and culture, although that said, she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about.

Question 1: My question for you is about my girlfriend. When she stays with me, I always ask what time she needs to get up to go to her classes in the morning and she tells me. But invariably, she always wants to go back to sleep for another ten or twenty minutes repeatedly, so I lose valuable sleeping time monitoring the clock. Also when she doesn't have to get up for classes, she says she is going to leave at a certain time, but always stays way beyond when she plans to leave. If I ever remind her about these things, she gets angry at me and accuses me of wanting to get rid of her. But the honest thing is, I'm just trying to plan my time, my day, my life, and it is difficult with someone who always says one thing and does another. First, is this really common among Thais? And second, is there any way to cure her without making her angry every time she leaves or is forced to get up? I wonder if other guys suffer this same problem. To be honest, I do let her always have her way and I never get angry or put my foot down.

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, this is very common amongst Thai people. You've got to try and make her understand what you're trying to do and try and generalize that perhaps the Western way is a little different to the way she is doing it. Give her examples. Try and get her to see it from your a general point of view, and how you are suffering because of what she is doing. Try to start of by generalising but if that doesn't work, be specific and apply what you are saying to your personal situation with her. Thai children tend to be raised in a yes and no way i.e. their parents will say that you CAN do this, and you CAN'T do that. Maybe you need to tell her what is what and that what she is doing is unacceptable, though that should be the last resort. You say she is going to classes so perhaps she is still quite young? Just remember that Thai people do not like confrontation and do not like to be told directly.

Mr. Stick says: I can't stay quiet here. Mate, that last sentence of your question is awful, a disgrace! Read it again a few times and then have a think about it… Frankly, are you a man or a mouse? While it is nice to be nice, Thai women often see this as a major sign of weakness and will push the boundaries out further and further until the relationship gets to a point where you have had enough and the two of you will fight because she is taking too many liberties (which you have pretty much allowed, inadvertently or otherwise) or you will just walk away, fed up. With Thai women, I believe you cannot allow them nearly as much latitude as you can Western women. Just my thoughts….I am sure many would disagree.

Question 2: Is marriage more of serious thing in Thailand than in the West? My Bangkok girlfriend seems to indicate that dating and fooling around a little is ok before marriage, but after marriage the woman must be totally straight. She says marriage is VERY serious to Thai people. I do not understand: why would fooling around be ok when dating a serious boyfriend, but not ok when married? In the West you are committed to stay with a single man, whether dating a serious boyfriend or married.

Mrs. Stick says: If you are married you are fully committed, totally, 100%. During boyfriend / girlfriend status, I guess there is no clear black and white, no certain line. You have to make things clear between you and your girlfriend, what is acceptable, what is unacceptable and what your expectations are. If she is not faithful or she is what you would consider untrustworthy, then you have to make up your min whether you want to accept that or not. If not, you might just have to find someone else.

There we have it, the last column for 2004. I'd like to thank everyone for their support and contributions in what has been another typically colourful and exciting year. This column could not have been put together without the help of many regular readers and friends so thanks go out to, but are certainly not limited to: Mr Write, Eyebee, Claymore, Dave The Rave, The Mad Stockbroker, Gapton and Grasshopper. Special thanks also go out to all of the sponsors of the column and also to the staff and management at Tony's Bar who have done a fabulous job with the where is this picture prize, making it easy for the winner to collect.

I look forward to producing my weekly BS in 2005 and would like to wish everyone a great holiday and a wonderful 2005!

Still your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Mr. Write.