Stickman's Weekly Column January 23rd, 2005

I Have To Buy What?!


StickmanBangk ok .com


I was sitting in my boss's office recently when one of the other farang teachers came in for a bit of a chin wag. He was planning a trip back to his corner of Farangland and we were chatting about what he would do while he was back there.

Our boss who was listening in to the conversation waited until there was a pause and then seized the moment to slip in a suggestion. She asked him a little bit about the trip and then closed by saying, "When you are down in Australia make sure you don't forget to buy some kanom* for the director." (* kanom – generic Thai term for desserts, candy and all things sweet.)

My colleague smiled at the suggestion but the smile was not the most genuine. As the conversation with her had run its course we exited her office into the larger teachers' room next door. At this point my Australian mate leapt into a tirade of abuse about what our boss had just said. "How dare she tell me that I have to buy kanom for the director. Who does she think she is? I'll buy what I want when I want and I will never ever let a Thai tell me what to do with my money. This really pisses me off. All they want is my money!" He cooled down a little later and that was pretty much the end of it.

He had been angry because like most Westerners, he hates being told what to do, especially when the thing that he is being told about has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the person giving the advice! And when money enters the equation, so many Westerners are horribly cynical when it comes to the motives of Thais.

In many cases, we have reason to question their motives, but in this case, our boss was trying to do him a favour. Let me explain…

In Thailand, the concept of face is huge and by allowing others to gain face, you essentially build up "credit" with the person to whom you give face. What my boss was trying to do was subtly give him a small piece of advice about how to build up some credit with someone with influence and thus, a certain amount of power, but without going into the workings of Thai culture and explicitly explaining exactly what the deal was.

My colleague went down to Australia and returned to Thailand without any kanom. Had my friend returned from Kangarooland with kanom for the director (read a box of biscuits or some only available in Aussie dessert or a box of sweets with pictures of exotic animals that leap several metres at a time) then the director would have been given a gift that she would not likely receive from anywhere, or anyone, else. She would have put this on display in her office and everyone who ventured into her little domain would no doubt have asked her about it. She then would have explained that this kanom was a gift from one of the farang teachers from an exotic land, and that it was not available in Thailand. She would likely have exaggerated that it is truly a culinary treat, or perhaps very expensive and exclusive. She would have gained a good deal of face from this, and perhaps even admiration too.

It is no secret that most Thais in the workplace think that us westerners are very difficult to deal with and this would have shown to all and sundry that she not only has control within the workplace environment, but has respect from the farang staff too. The kanom would have sat there on her desk, for all to see, for a week or so, at which point it would probably have been taken home. Her family would then ask her as to the source of it, as would any guests to the family home and again, she would have gained face when she explained that it came from a foreign member of staff. Eventually, all members of the family would have tried the exotic kanom when it was eventually opened and whether they liked it or not, they would have commented on just how delicious it was. To cut a long story short, the director would have got a hell of a lot of mileage out of it.

Going back to the start of the story, when our boss suggested that my Aussie pal buy kanom for the director, something that would cost a very small amount of money, just a few dollars perhaps, my colleague had a great opportunity to gain, to some extent at least, not just some credit with, but possibly even an ally in, the director. Now one could argue, with our Western way of thinking, that you are in effect buying the director's support, but you've got to try and suppress those thoughts sometimes. This is Thailand and by doing things that contribute to others gaining face, you are in effect helping yourself in the long run. In Thai culture, and here things really are not that different from the West, if someone does a good turn for you, you are expected to be there for them when / if they need you. But the Thais take this much more seriously than Westerners and in a country where who you know is a very big deal indeed, my colleague had been given a grand opportunity to allow the most important and influential person to gain face. He failed.

If there was a dispute in the workplace involving him, the director may have been that little bit more inclined to side with him. If there was a promotion or something else coming up, his name might have been moved closer to the top of the list. But with no kanom, the director may not look at him any differently to anyone else.

Petty corruption? Ass kissing? It would be easy for Westerners to interpret it that way. But when we are only talking about such a small and truly insignificant amount of money in the first place, it really is worth playing the game. Things are very different in Thailand and the small things like the giving of kanom really can help make the ride that bit smoother.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE?

It was Sukhumvit Soi 7/1 – Soi Eden!

Bangkok Tonight…

Last week's pic was taken from the Nana skytrain station looking down in to Sukhumvit Soi 7/1. If you said soi 7 without the slash one, I said you were wrong – and some people didn't like that! 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 and you MUST state in the email that you are Bangkok based. So, to claim that prize, you must be in Bangkok at some time in the next two weeks.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Buffet heaven.

A note about the buffets. Almost all hotels have a membership program which entitles you to 50% off the meal prices for two. Many times the service charge remains the same as full price but the food and non alcohol is cut by 50%. Alcohol usually 15-20%. Marriott dinner buffet 1250 for two includes service and VAT. Sheraton Jazz Sunday brunch 1250 for two inclusive. Hyatt also, Le Meridian also. The membership card costs 5,000 – 7,000 baht per year but if you frequent one location often it's quite a deal. The Marriott card is good at all Marriotts in Thailand at all restaurants including Trader Vics, Benihana's New York Steak House etc. You get other perks also.

Justifiable vertigo.

I wonder if you have been hearing about the large migration of expats from the high rises around Bangkok? I have lived in a high rise near the Emporium for the last 4 years. I have been happy, no make that ecstatic, with the location, the facilities and the condo in general (great maintenance, security, etc). When the earthquake (EQ) hit three weeks ago, the almost 50-story building got a good shake and many of the tenants (mostly Japanese and Korean live here) ran for the sidewalks outside. We never had a central alarm go off and when I tried to contact the office / security shortly after the shake, there was no answer. The reason was that all the staff and security had already fled to the street. Now three weeks later, there has been no announcement from the building owner as one would expect in the US. My landlord who is Thai has not heard anything from the building owner. The maintenance guys at the condo say that the building was inspected and should be safe. Hardly comforting! I am from EQ country in California and lived in Japan where I also experienced some large EQs, so EQs do not generally cause panic in me. But, I know that the structure codes and building methods in Thailand do not compare favourably with either of those countries. The creaks in the building made it sound like the building was coming down. There are large visible cracks on the exterior of the building and I am not sure that they are purely cosmetic regardless of what the maintenance men say. I am moving out on Feb 1st to a 2 storey building in the area. I am hearing from many neighbours and also anecdotal evidence from friends that they are either moving or looking to move in the near future. Just wondering if this is a local phenomenon within my building or whether there is a mass exodus from the high rise building in Bangkok by expats?

Did the vendor fail maths or…?

Just a small observation. The past three times I have used the skytrain, I got change from the window to put into the machine. On all three occasions a 'mistake' was made and I was left 20 baht short. So, 8 rather than 10 coins. Each time this happened at On Nut so I can't judge other stations. Each time it happened and I pointed it out the person in the window booth was very apologetic. Can it be coincidence that a middle aged (40) farang woman always gets the person who can't count?

Does she excite you?

A question has been lurking in the back of my mind for some time now. As a woman, a hot-blooded American woman, I wonder what my chances are with some of the farang men who go to Thailand? Here's a description of what I will look like the next time I go to Thailand: 5'6" (translates to 165cm I think), 130lbs (translates to 59kg), long blonde hair, really cute face, 35 years old (obligatory mention that I look much younger than my age – thanks mom & dad!) I have c-cups and curvy hips, broad shoulders and I'm fun. Tan skin, brown eyes, nice manicure / pedicure. I would be dressed in low-slung attire with high heels (of course) and with the necessary accoutrements (cute handbag, earrings, cellphone, condoms.) So there's me. A lot of the submissions on your site sound like they're from fun guys who get into drinking & dancing, which is right up my alley. What I'm wondering is, if I sat at Nana hotel, would I get any "play" from the guys (not paying customers, just NSA fun) or would I be left adrift for the young, tiny Thai bargirls? Do guys really prefer paying for it with girls who are young & cute & don't speak their language or would they prefer someone a little closer to their age, still cute, and speaks the language? This might be a 'wait & see' type thing, but I was hoping to find out before I go & make a fool out of myself.

Will the Thais follow suit?

Have you heard about the new bill going through the UK parliament, where they plan to allow licensed premises to choose their own opening and closing times, in effect, 24 hour opening? The idea is to bring the UK into line with the rest of Europe. This is a result of the phenomenon of binge drinking in the UK, and the social problems associated with that issue. Everyone tries to down as many drinks as possible, as fast as possible, before the bars shut at 11 PM, getting totally wasted. Then of course, the bars empty, and the streets are mobbed with drunken louts getting into fights over taxis, women, fast food queues etc. The police are tired of dealing with it, and the UK government has realised that the best way to move away from this mess to allow the establishments to decide when closing time is appropriate, thereby ebbing the flow of people into the city streets. I wonder if the Thai government pay attention to what's happening in Farangland?

Advice from a Thai woman.

I am a Thai girl married to an English guy, we are happy together, had two boys and no I
wasn't a bargirl. I felt a shame of those girls when I read yours horror stories Thai wives. They don't deserve to have anything at all. Don't marry all of them or look for a girls who work in a shop / shopping centre, most of them are good people. I know some of them living in England they just take a piss of theirs husbands, some had an affair with husband's nephew without any guilty felling at all. It a joke, they like to take and take and they like to show off with people back in Thailand. I do support my family but I have to work to earn money and I love my husband very much. Whoever want to meet Thai girls make sure you declare your financial with them / that'll tell you who do they love, the money or you. Good luck.

Both Mandarin and Erotica bars are unable to open their upstairs floors due to lack of gogo dancers. This is not occasionally but a nightly problem. Mandarin and Erotica are both small bars, especially Erotica and with only one floor in operation this cannot make them much of an attraction. This would be like closing off half of a bigger bar like Hollywood!

Vincent Van Gogh bar in Sukhumvit Soi 33 have made some renovations recently. There is what they have termed a "chill-out lounge" upstairs and there is a new sound system downstairs. More renovations are planned.

Confirmation of what many of us have been saying for a long time, but this time it comes from the horse's mouth, one of the gogo bar managers / owners! His bar is, according to him, “full of ugly slappers” but is still doing great business. Seems like the average sex tourist is not too concerned about looks but more interested in their sexual ability, something which has not been questioned!

Some bars play disco music, some play classic rock, some play modern dance music and some play a mix of them all. But I'd never heard Frank Sinatra in a gogo bar until Friday night when "My Way" was played in Long Gun. The girls didn't seem to like it too much and they really didn't know how to dance to the soothing sounds of Frank. I wonder just whose idea it was to play Sinatra in a gogo bar? And I wonder what he would think about it!

If you're looking for certain books written about or set in Bangkok that have shall we say, a racy theme, odds are you won't find them, especially new releases, in Asia Books stores. It would seem that Asia Books are steering clear of certain titles with a racy theme. No worries though, you'll find them all at Bookazine.

Novelist Dean Barrett will give a talk on "Writing in Thailand" at Pattaya's oldest and largest expat meeting, the Pattaya City Expats Club, on Sunday the 30th of January at 10:30 AM. The group meets every Sunday at Henry J. Bean's Restaurant at the north end of Pattaya Beach Rd from 9:30 – 12:00 for an international breakfast buffet, guest speakers, and helpful advice for expats. Everyone is welcome. Admission is free. Dean will also be signing his previous books set in Thailand. For more information call Drew Noyes at 06-3142361.

The accident on Bangkok’s underground train this week has highlighted what so many people have said for so long, even with the very best technology, it is easy to get human error to undermine it. While we simply do not know what sort of damage there is to the station or tracks (presumably the carriages are stuffed and will be under repair for some time), I simply do not see why they can’t re-open it as quickly as possible. Crashes occur on train tracks all around the world and as soon as the repairs are done, it all re-opens. It is just as well that they do not do this sort of thing with buses. Can you imagine it? A bus crashes in Bangkok and they stop all buses citywide while an investigation is conducted into what caused it? The traffic jams caused have been awful and traffic in certain areas has been a nightmare since the underground crash.

Remember last week how I mentioned the visor in the taxi I rode in that had an LCD screen hooked up to a DVD player which was playing advertisements? Well, two of my colleagues at work also stepped into a cab which had one, but the driver was able to offer them a choice of movie. They had two choices, either "Sar-pider-man", or porn – they thought it would be fun going down Sukhumvit Road watching porn so that is just what they did! I thought that cab driver had real balls.

Why is it so hard to find a decent lamb dish in Bangkok? There are a fair number of restaurants that have lamb on the menu but many of them offer up a version that truly is as tough as old boots. The better hotels usually do lamb well, but too many other places have a cheek with what they serve. Any good recommendations for decent lamb dishes out there? Frankly, the local Muslim curry house probably does the best reasonably priced lamb dishes.

Quote of the week comes from a reader. "Just got my ticket to LOSS (Land of Smiling Sharks)."

The overhead walkway that connects the main Siam Square area with World Trade Centre has been completed, at least the main part of it – there are some escalators and walkways into adjacent buildings that aren't yet complete. It looks great and you get a good view from there of, amongst other things, the Erawan shrine.

Chatting with a couple of the local PIs who look into bargirl's backgrounds, it would seem that business is a little quiet and three people doing such work have reported that there are less investigations undertaken these days compared with the past. Exactly why that would be I don't know but I would speculate that punters are A) better educated about the dangers of entering into relationships with working girls and B) the fact that the bars are quieter and there are likely fewer customers and fewer girls around these days – or at least that is how it would seem to be in Bangkok.

If Jersey Paul (nickname – Squaalee) is reading this – or anyone knows him, please note that your good friend Robert McIlroy is looking for you. He has lost contact since 2003 and would very much like to get in touch.

Apparently there was a police raid on Bed Club on Tuesday this week. Tuesday is hip hop night and often their busiest night. Apparently they piss tested everyone including the hi-so Thais and caught a few somewhat prominent folks with some illicit substances. This was reported in the Thai media during the week. No foreigners were caught (you must have passport with you to get in now) so that’s why I guess it didn’t make the English language press.

The long rumoured arrival of San Miguel on the local scene has happened. Not as expected their popular San Miguel Pilsner, but a beer called Red Horse, in Thai still Red Horse. Not translated bur rather just written in Thai script. It is 6.9% making it quite a strong brew. It's brewed & bottled by San Mig Beer (Thailand) Ltd in Pathum Thani. It is cheap, in Big C a small bottle or can will set you back a mere 19 baht, while it is 34 baht for a 640 ml bottle. I would think this means that they are going head to head with Chang and possibly this product launch is a test before their flagship product, San Miguel, hits the market to compete with other established brands. The Philippines' greatest export I have heard it called, no doubt the Thai breweries are conscious of its imminent entry into the marketplace.

What is the story at the ever popular Ruamchit Hotel in Bangkok, that is the place right above the infamous Thermae. More than a few readers have mentioned that the charging of the deceivingly named joiner fees are erratic. One person suggested that maybe the charges only apply after 11 PM. Anyone know for sure what the policy is? I would have thought that this establishment would eschew the practice, given their location. Maybe it is just a rogue late night staff member scooping some extra cash?

Wondering how business is in the bars in Phuket since the disaster last month? The Sydney Morning Herald has this story here which is worth checking out, if only for the fact that within the article it states that sex tourism makes up 5% of Thailand's gross domestic product. I would love to know how they came up with that figure. Thailand’s GDP is about $150 billion so 5% is $7.5 billion – or about 300 billion baht. No way does sex tourism alone account for this much.

A Thai female is looking for flatmates in the Lad Prao area, female flatmates. 2 Rooms available in Ladpraw area, need female to share. Price is not over 3,000 baht / month. Contact Polly on 01-9080331.

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 having said that, she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about.

Question 1: In general, do Thai women like for farang to wear men's cologne in an attempt to smell nice? I certainly am aware that Thai women don't care for men smelling badly, so what about the extra mile to smell not only clean, but nice as well?

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, we like it! Smell is one of the factors that attracts women to men. Farangs have the stereotype amongst many Thai women of being a little dirty, or at least not having the level of personal hygiene that Thai women like. So a farang who is clean cut, well dressed, clean and who uses cologne will break this stereotype and separate themselves from those who conform to the stereotype. Just be careful with how much "nam hom" you apply because too much can be worse than none at all!

Question 2: Are there prenuptial agreements in Thailand? If so, are they enforceable? What do Thai women think about such agreements?

Mr. Stick says: I think I can answer this one better than the Mrs. Yes, there are pre-nuptial agreements in Thailand. To ensure that the document is legally enforceable, it has to be filed with the "amphur office" at the time of the registration of the marriage. Obviously the usual warnings apply and you should seek the advice of a lawyer who specialises in such things. As for what Thai women think of them, most I have spoken to do not like the idea of them, but for what it is worth (and as I wrote in the opening piece of a column back in June of 2004), the law of marriage (read: divorce) in Thailand is very much slanted in the man's favour. Having said that, in a Thai vs. Farang dispute, it is easy for things to become twisted and distorted and for you to suddenly look like a nasty piece of work which could have a major bearing on the judgment and thus, you might want the protection of such a document.

I made a real effort to gather more news from the bars this week but in my visits to the naughty bar areas, there really wasn't much going on, or much new to report on. And the bars only seemed to be moderately busy, apart from Friday night when Cowboy at least was doing very well. I hear Nana did well at the weekend too. News coming out of Pattaya is that it is positively booming! Phuket remains very quiet. That's all for another week.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave & Charlie KeeMao.

Special thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper.