Stickman's Weekly Column February 13th, 2005

Mr. Colourful Part 1


StickmanBangk ok .com


Mr. Colourful

We had met just one time previous, a very brief introduction in G Spot Bar, about three years ago. He is one of the most recognisable figures in Nana Plaza. He's owned 65 houses. He has owned and managed a truckload of businesses. He has had 6 wives, four of them Thai. You could be forgiven for thinking he was the original Mr. Colourful. He is the man known to many of us as Boss Hogg. As has been reported in this column, Boss Hogg is winding down his business interests in Thailand as he is relocating back to the States. I was lucky enough to have a chance to meet with him and chat about his life in Bangkok, and particularly his experiences owning bars in the Nana area.

So who is Boss Hogg and how did you end up in Bangkok?

The first time I came here I was in the diamond and Rolex business in the States. There was an ad in the paper – Northwest had a special to Bangkok – 50% off. My partner and I had always talked about going to Bangkok so that got us going. We were well off and successful already and always flew first class. But we went coach because it was 50% off. 4 movies later we landed. My first trip was just 5 days. My partner could only come for that long. We had no idea what we were doing or where we were going. Our plan was to attend the international gem show; A friend in California had told us that we should go to the Nana Hotel.

We got out of the airport at midnight. Same old crap, it was hot and humid, and back then there was no expressway. Told the driver Nana Hotel and he took us there. Took an hour and a half that night. Been stuck on a plane 18 hours and now we're stuck in a taxi. Decided to go out for just one beer. It was around 2:30 in the morning. The biggest bar at that time was Hollywood in the back corner of Nana, owned by Johnny. It was the only bar that had a lot of action going on at the time. There were a couple of small bars, more like enclosed bar beers with a couple of dancers. Johnny was the one who kicked off Nana Plaza as it is today. At that time it was packed. The girls were the friendliest you ever saw. One beer turned to six. My partner looked at me with that look and said can you believe this? We left as the sun was coming up, about 5:50 in the morning.

We went back there the next two nights and went to the gem show in the day. Went to Pattaya for two nights and stayed at the Flipper Lodge. It was brand new at the time. Came back, spent one more night and flew out. That was it! I came back 6 months later.

Did it have much effect on you at the time?

Yeah.

I thought about getting into the silver jewellery business. I came back 6 months later to do that. My second trip from memory was 21 days. I started beating the streets, looking for manufacturers. I did end up in the silver business, but was out of it in a year because it is competitive. It didn't really go with priceless diamonds. In the meantime I looked at getting bronze worked here. What images were available, moulds etc and started putting together a container of bronze to ship back to the US.

The girls were simply an added plus.

I was a CPA by trade. This was only ever a sideline business. It was too far to come for vacation and I was always looking at how I could make money from the trip to Thailand.
We got into bronze. You have to put up 30-40% for production. Nothing is pre-made. All production is based on orders. I never lost anything. It takes 2-5 months to get the order completed and I never had bad problems. I NEVER lost one deposit! Any time the product was not up to par, they remade it. I never had a bad experience. Never! Production dates were usually kept. Had some baht fluctuating issues in later years. What was interesting was that I always dealt direct with manufacturer, no agents and that is probably why I had no problems.

Once I knew the business I would often think that the prices they were giving me were too low. I would actually give the guy 10 to 15% more to help the guy stay in business and make sure he could fulfil the orders. Like any business it is about building relationships and you want to build a long term relationship. You want your supply trail to stay. You do not want it to dry up.

The first guy I came here with came with me for 4 years. Come the fourth year he said it was his last trip. We told him he was in the graduating class. Every trip we would bring someone new and call them the freshman. Of all the guys I brought over, 50% now live here.

In the first 6 or 7 years, I never saw the same girl twice. I would laugh at guys who came here and kept the same girl for a two week vacation and then went home. I never understood that concept. Never could figure that one out! I hate to be ethnic but the German guys always had the ugliest girl you could find! I had to wonder why you would take an ugly girl when it was the same price to get a pretty one. I still wonder about that, maybe personality does win out sometimes.

Yes, the girls have changed. The reason is this. (Picks up and shows me a mobile.) 7 years ago a mobile was 25,000 baht. Now you can get one for 3,000. There were no networks to use them in the village, even if they could get someone to buy a phone for them. The only way for a girl to work was to be in a bar. After a year they had customers who came each trip to find her in that same bar. Within a year the girl has a customer base. Guys are repetitious. They come at the same time each year. Even for superstars, they had to stay in the same bar to connect with these guys. They did not have phones in their village home and most times they did not stay put long enough in one place to have a phone in Bangkok.

Today? Bingo. Everyone is independent. If they can speak English or German and they have a phone, they only ever have to work in a bar for a few months and they never have to work in a bar again. So, the girls you get left in the bar are the girls who are not the most business oriented. With a phone at their side they are waiting for the next call. Hence the change from long time to short time.

Guys can buy a beer anywhere in the world. They can't buy everything else everywhere in the world. If Big Dogs didn't have girls, we would only do 30% of what we do.

Where did the name Boss Hogg come from?

Baronbonk. It was TweedleDum, not TweedleDee. I knew TweedleDum long before that started.

How do you feel about the name?

I would hang out at Lucky Luke's and one of the guys I knew there knew the bonk and through that relationship, I met TweedleDum and once a week we would drink there. The name didn't bother me at all. I thought it was in jest. He had worked in America, in Florida during the time of an American TV show called "The Dukes Of Hazard". He just came up with it one day when he was writing the column before TweedleDee moved here. I took it as it was and it was fun. I was never disturbed by it.

How come Boss Hogg never went in for branding? There was no way to know which bars were managed by you, unlike the King's group in the Pong or to a lesser extent, the Crown Group in Nana.

I guess it goes back to how I ended up in the bar business. It was 100% by accident. I was here on an export trip. I was sitting in the old Lucky Luke's at 4:30 in the afternoon. It was a real pigsty back then. Lucky Luke's had been leased out by the owner of the master lease for 3 years and the lease was coming to an end. The leaseholder was coming into town and he said that no, he was not going to renew the lease. Within a day, a female friend approached me and asked if I had an interest buying it. I wasn't interested. It was a falling down place with 20 seats selling beers for 65 baht. I didn't even live here! She asked me to go and talk to the owner so she would gain merit.

We went into Hog's Breath. The conversation took 20 minutes to get going. Typical conversation in Thailand. She asked if I was interested in buying when I was thinking how the hell to get out of there. I finally asked her how much she wanted for it and she gave me a number. I asked about the rent and she said it wasn't much. Like an idiot, I got caught in the negotiation. This conversation went on for like 15 minutes and before I knew it, I had said I would buy it! This dumpy crappy bar went for 6.5 million baht, back then. We're talking 5 years ago.

Was that you first foray into the bar market?

Actually no, I had bought a lease on Sukumvit at Soi 22 where Flyers is now. I did it up and sold it at a profit and got out quickly. Decided it was the biggest mistake of my life, at that time. But I got out at a profit, which looking back was a miracle. Back to Lucky Luke’s the next day I woke up and thought you dumb ass; you just paid 180,000 US for that! I hadn't given any money or done anything yet. I was talking to myself and saying you don't want this bar. You haven't put any money up. You haven't signed anything. Then I thought, but I have given my word. There are three things I have never done in my life. I do not lie, steal nor not keep my word. And I then said to myself that hey, I said I'd buy it last night. So I bought it!

Two days later I put a deposit down and then typical Thai she says, you cannot have it until 24 July. She explained that she was Thai and that she had to throw a big party to gain face. If no party, she would lose face I was thinking that if someone was about to pay me that much money for this, I'd take the money and get out of town fast before they had a chance to change their mind! The date was about 7 weeks away. So I give her a couple of million deposit and went back to America and figured I would have to come back later on… Came back on the agreed date, paid her money. I told her that the next morning there would be a couple of girls to open up, and that would be that. In the meantime, I went to the Nana management office and asked about the lease which was up in 18 months. The manager, who has been there for 20 years, looks at me and said that typically every 3 years we issue a new lease and the rent goes up 15 – 25%. I asked if there was any reason why that would not happen and was told no. I buy the bar and transfer the lease.

The next morning we go to open and everything was gone. Every glass, TV, bottle of beer, sign, décor item and all the sound equipment. Everything that could be taken was taken. Not that anything was worth anything, but for 6.5 million baht, you at least think you'd get the ashtrays. I spoke to the seller’s western husband and asked him what was going on and he said "you know what these Thais are like – I wish you had talked with me first".

Tell your wife I'm not very happy!

"You mean bitch women", he said!

We went around and bought what we had to and had the bar open by 3:00 PM that afternoon. Everyone was coming by to congratulate me. You'd think I'd bought the Oriental Hotel. I was looking around and thinking yeah, I am really lucky! And thinking the damned women stole everything in the middle of the night. It gets back to her that I had called her a thief, which is true. Two days later she walks in with two lawyers and a bag of money and says, "this is for you". I looked in the bag and there was all of the money I had given her. They tried to give it to me and said that she is not selling the bar. I pushed the money back.

They said she didn't want to sell it because you said she is a thief. I said too late – get out of here. You heard me. I said get out! Now I have even talked myself into believing the bar is worth the money I paid for it.

At 5 PM I get a phone call from the cashier. Come here, come here. She is breaking beer bottles. What? I go to the bar and there is the woman on the second floor outside Hog's Breath, throwing beer bottles through the air at the customers in the bar! Heaving them, throwing them at the customers and the girls! I never spoke to her and have never spoken to her since. She has stayed away since then…

Two guys came to me with an unsuccessful bar where Cathouse is now and asked me to buy it. It was called Millennium Bar. They wanted 2 million which is a lot less than 6 million and sounded like a bargain. It was once a place of all male prostitutes called the Beer Corner! You couldn't see in! Guess who the customers were? The girls! The bargirls would go there to go and pay 1,000 baht to the guys to take them out and then take them out and be in control!

I put in two pool tables and it did a little business…nothing great.

The next week I was in Lucky Luke's. There were two small bars across the driveway and the two bars and Lucky Luke’s would compete for the loudest music. I approach the first bar and suggest we do something about the music. Boss Hogg, you buy 1.5 million? I got it for 1.4 million. This was behind the gold shop. It was doing very little business, less than 4,000 baht a day. She was a nice gal, not that you see that too often. I told her to keep quiet and then went and asked the girl next door to buy her bar. She was not ready to sell and eventually we settled on 2 million. I had bought them to stop the music problem and then we opened what was essentially the rear 2/3 of Big Dogs. Finally, the same music.

I then got a phone call from a Thai gal. She was the one with the lease on the shop house where the gold shop was. She wanted to meet.

We talked about the lease and she told me what she was paying. The number 50,000 came up and I said that if the lease was 50,000 baht a month I'd pay her $250,000. I wanted to see the owners of Nana Plaza. I was told the manager at the plaza handled all plaza affairs and no one ever dealt with the owners. Eventually I found them and was granted an audience. They must have smelled the money coming from the west. Three Indian families own the main lease for the ground that Nana is on. I went into a dark conference room office where these Indians were all sitting around a table. A son was called in on the grounds that the others' English was not sufficient. Bullshit! That was so they could speak in Hindu and I wouldn't know what they were talking about.

I told them that I had bought Lucky Luke's. They asked for how much. I told them – figured they'd know anyway. I told them that the women had approached me and wanted to sell me the lease on the gold shop building. I told them my concerns on the lease that was to expire in 18 months and I wanted to establish what their plans were. They said that it was a year and a half away and they didn't know. I kept trying from a different angle but no luck. No, no, no.

I asked them why they had a Tower Records sticker on their office door. They said they owned the Tower Record Stores in Bangkok. I looked at them and mentioned a name. Eyes got big. They asked how I knew him. I told them that I was going to leave but asked them to make a phone call to the person and inquire about my integrity. I went back to the US and returned in 2 or 3 weeks. They told me to come on down and now we were old friends. They then shared with me their plans for the front shop houses of the plaza. Last time we gave an 18 year lease. When it expires, we are going to give a 3 year lease. We will require tea money, I said what did you say, key money? No tea money which is an upfront payment – we never pay that in America, ever. The biggest deals don't have up front payments.

I asked them how much. They said, for discussions sake, 4.5 million! And the rent for discussions sake, 50,000 a month. (Mimics using a calculator.)

Let me get this right, they are paying 6,000 baht a month right now and you are going to raise it to 175,000 baht a month and you want $100,000 up front? I said that sounds pretty ambitious. I asked how they thought the shops could afford it. They said, they have had the keys for 18 years and now it is time to give them back. I walked out. I thought that lease would be worth nothing.

I went back to the woman and said to her that I thought there would be no profit left in this deal because the lease is going to be increased greatly. We were in touch and arranged a meet in Bangkok. I got here and didn't see her. I finally saw her at 2:00 PM that afternoon. She had already been to see the landlord. She said she had signed a contract.

For how much?

For 4.5 million and 50,000 baht a month for 3 years. Meaning 175,000 baht a month.

What! Why?

I felt it had to be done! Next day she came to me and said I need to buy her lease. I told her there is nothing to buy. She was insistent. She looked at me and said if I didn't buy that lease she would not renew the lease on the three existing bars. I had just spent 6 million baht on bars and I am not going to get anywhere close to my money back – and I could lose 4.5 million baht.

She said she wanted the 250K US I had offered + 6,000 baht a month. I asked about the gold shop and she said her nephew would like to rent it back at 40k a month.

I told her I'd give her the 10 million but at 2 million a month. She said she would take it in cash, US dollars. I go back to California and start paying her. She had literally held a gun to my head. I finished paying her. What about the gold shop she asked? I had a cashiers check for the last amount due. She transferred the lease and I said that I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is that your nephew can get out of the gold shop by 5:00 tomorrow and the good news is he can live upstairs till the end of next month.

I had no idea how Big Dogs would do. I thought it would be merely ok. I knocked the walls out and the day we opened we did 30,000 baht opened. The two units at the back had been doing about 20 a day. Next day 40 – and it just kept growing. Everyone thought we were doomed the minute Morning Night opened. I will admit I was a bit worried, but after a few days we were back to normal. First the location, the guys want to watch the show come and go through the Nana entrance. Second we have set certain rules in place such as the girls cannot smoke, eat or carry their mobile phones in the bar. We attempt to keep the vendors out and we still pay a commission to the girls if the lady drink happens to be a beer or spirits. The guys like to buy the girls drinks that get them happy. We are the only bar I know of that allow this and let the girls have their full commission. The result is that 80% of our lady drinks have alcohol. Considering we are open from 10:00 AM I am always shocked by the number.

How does Big Dogs take compare to the gogos in Nana?

Some days I take in more in Big Dogs than any gogo in the entire plaza. That is more than any bar. That is on my big days. Take bars like Hollywood on the third floor, they used to have much bigger days than now, with later hours, nudity and shows.

Their good days were three years ago when they could do 140+ bar fines a night. I'd say on record days they did 250,000 or 300,000 baht per night. If I take New Years Eve away from the factor for Big Dogs, the biggest day we have ever had is 152,000 baht in one day. Last year, Big Dogs was at the top of the list in sales and the profit would be greater then any gogo.

How is that?

The reason is clear. We have many more hours a day to do business. It seems the tighter the gogos get, the better we do. In the past the gogos had nudity and shows. This was the advantage over the bar beers. The disadvantage was higher prices, loud music and girls who left you sitting alone while they went to dance. The disadvantages are still there and the advantages have disappeared. So we do not lose as many guys to the gogos anymore when they open at night. Some gogos still seem to do well. Playskool always has a good following and the Rainbows seem to do well with the Japanese niche. They are probably beating everyone. I am not allowed in and I don't know their pricing.

Here is the big difference. If you run a gogo, your bottom line profit should be between 34 and 38% if you run it right and know what you are doing. If you ran a bar beer right and you do a good amount of business the profit is 52 – 58%. So when you look at bottom line comparison, there it is. Lucky Luke's makes good profit, 4 million baht last year, but it still does just 20% of Big Dogs. Lucky Luke's only has 4 staff, 4 paid employees. The rest are lady drink girls. In America we fight for 10% profit and if we stumble we do not even make 10%. 10% is a success story! Here, 55% is a success. Lucky Luke's looks dead and it is, comparatively speaking, but it adds up at the end of the day.

It is the same with the gogos. Look at Fantasia. The rent is only 45,000 baht a month, 1,500 a night. A bar can look dead and easily do that! Put a whole load of dead bars together and what do you get? Having said that I do not apologize for making money, it is a very risky and volatile business. The investment has become substantial to be a bar owner. The reputation of investors and partners having been taken advantage of in bar business has not helped. Having been the largest single investor in the plaza, I always warn potential bar owners to do due diligence and buyer beware.

Nana Plaza could have been Las Vegas. There could have been so much made. A lot has been made, but it could have been so much more. The various bar owners not working together have kept the plaza from reaching its full potential. The majorities of them have made money in spite of themselves and were at the right place at the right time. You sure do not see any new great ideas. To reach potential the place needs an overhaul both physical and in attitude.

What about Soi Cowboy?

Soi Cowboy doesn't count. There are no hotel rooms in walking distance. Nana has 1,000 rooms in walking distance. If you moved those hotel rooms down there then Cowboy would be the biggest thing in Bangkok. 1,000 hotel rooms that is the key. Sheraton Grande is the closet place, but this is the wrong market. Your clientele is sex tourists, not businessmen or most of the people who stay in here.

You figure how to get hotel rooms down there and it would be a success overnight, tripled business, maybe quadruple. It is the most comfortable place to be.

So how is business?

December was our biggest month in history and it was 20% better than the December before. January has always surpassed December but this was the first year it didn't. The tsunami wiped out tourists. Most come to Bangkok for a day or two, then go to Phuket and then come back. They didn't come. We were still 15% more than the January before, but 10% less than January last year. March and April are always great months.

The initial allure to get things going here are the girls. It was the case for me and if you are being reflective, I am sure it was the case for you too. This is not an easy place to do business. In export, it was clean cut. In the bar industry, the majority of bar owners are alcoholics, screwing their own girls and drinking their drinks. I brought a business model and have always been willing to put money back into the bars and got lucky. I really did get lucky. Having owned 11 bars in Bangkok there was no master plan. You still have to be careful, I got lucky. I bought Hollywood on the ground floor. That worked out to be fine. Big Dogs as well, let's just say you just need one Big Dogs in your life. If I had gotten that lucky when I was 30 I would have wasted it all and be dead.

Back to Lucky Luke's. It was a long time after signing the lease and getting a copy. Upon the transfer being returned to me the plaza manager looked at me and said when you renew next year there will be key money. The owners had just told the manager. I asked them about the key money and they said that they had decided that I needed to pay key money. Remember before buying Lucky Luke’s I had asked the plaza manager if anything was going to change and had been assured that nothing was going to change. So one more trek to the owners and we discuss the tea money again. I point out to them that their manager had assured me I had nothing to worry about and the patriarch of the family looks at me and he says, "you paid 6.5 million baht for the bar and that is our land and we should have gotten something for that". I started to get out of the seat. The renewal wasn't coming for a year but I was still starting to get heated up. I said, "maybe you should have been running the bar if you think you should profit from the sale". The tenant who built up the business deserves the profit, not the landlord. Closer to a year later when we really did negotiate.

There had been a change of arms and the other family was overseeing the day to day operations of the plaza. They own many companies and apartment buildings here. They are a different bunch. I kept asking why we weren't meeting with the other family. It dawned on me a couple of months ago that the other family had taken their company public on the stock exchange and they do not need to be known as the landlords of Nana Plaza. I ended up paying the key money – there was no way out. There was small negotiation and it was not much different to dealing with Hasidic Jews. You'd move on your offer up 100,000 baht and they'd move down 20 baht. The trade off was that I was given the longest lease at Nana, 9 years, with no rent increase. Everyone in Nana has 3 years left. I have 6 years.

Oh yes the rumours of the plaza being turned into a parking lot for the Landmark. 10 years ago as a frequent customer at the plaza I remember even then the rumours ran wild. It was as though you better drink quickly in case the plaza was coming down. Well the truth is the land lease runs another 7-8 years and is sure to be renewed then. When you add the rent in the plaza it is hard to believe there could be a larger return so my direct sources feel the plaza will be around for many years to come.

What about Thai women?

I have hired over 3,000 girls. I have one bit of advice. Until probably a year and a half ago, I personally hired every one of them. I stayed in Big Dogs 2-3 hours a day for two years. I personally know of two farang / Thai success stories, only two. Both guys were form America. One girl had worked in the bar two weeks, the other three weeks. Both couples are still together. One for 6 years and one for three years. Neither throws money at the girl. Real stable relationships not based on the money. I believe the girls got out quick enough. Neither guy was extremely generous.

I have had as many bargirls as anyone. I walked out of Hollywood in Nana one night with 6 girls. I walked into the Nana Hotel and the bellman and the desk clerk started clapping. I'm in the elevator starting to sober up and I am thinking what I am going to do with these girls? My buddy was in another room. I knocked on his door. I said I had brought the party. I gave two of the girls 1,000 baht each and pushed them into his room and then I took the four down to mine.

My buddy asked me what I did with 4 girls. I said two of them kept me busy while the other two went through my pants pockets.

I was in the Beergarden a few years ago. It was not nearly as busy back then as it is now. I was in there a couple of weeks ago and it was really busy. In the old days when it was just the one bar they had a real nice group of girls. You could go in the afternoon and joke and have a laugh. It wasn't at night and I was plastered. I was taking three girls to the Playboy before I knew it. My buddy called me the next day and asked me what I did with those girls. I said I didn't know. I thought that one day I wanted to be sober when I did that. He said "bullshit, if you were sober, you’d never do it". The bargirls are a lot of fun but to attempt to build a long lasting relationship is a long shot. I believe money has nothing to do with the outcome except that you will have less when you finish than when you started.

And then the battery in my laptop died, and so the interview with Boss Hogg finished somewhat abruptly. I'd heard a lot of nonsense talk about Boss Hogg in the past and I can only conclude that the people from whom it had come were those who couldn't deal with the fact that he is a straight shooter and tells things as they are. Some people simply don't like the truth. I left the Boss Hogg most impressed. Here was a man who had brought Western business principles to Thailand and applied them to an industry which is fraught with problems. He went on to succeed.

It is hoped that I will get to finish this interview in the next couple of weeks. Boss Hogg assures me he has many interesting tales about the girls in the bars and other lighter aspects to the bar business. With a bit of luck, I'll run part 2 soon.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Soi Cowboy, of course!

Outside Bangkok…

Last week's pic was taken of the fire escape above Black And White Bar in Soi Cowboy and you can also see parts of Sheba's at the extreme right of the pic. 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. For the next several weeks, top British thriller author Steve Leather has very kindly provided some copies of his just published novel, "Private Dancer" to give away. So, for the second person to correctly state where the pic is, a copy of the book will be sent to you. You must provide a postal address in Thailand. This week's pic is outside Bangkok.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

A bar owner on the long term barfine…

The bar buy out normally 10,000 baht, I have always had a bad feeling about it but attempt to do it. Here's the reason. It ensures the girl the ability to come back to work whenever she wants. Without it, every bar customer whom wanted to take a girl for a week or two would either talk her into forgetting about the barfine or she would charge it and not give it to the bar…or she would just disappear for a while when the cell phone number keepers come to town and then come back when she wants… We do give the girls 2,000 baht at the time and she receives her salary as she normally would. Crown Group also gives the girls the 2,000 baht. Actually I think most bars do in Nana. If there was a better way, I would love to do it. With the affordability of cellphones the girls are in business for themselves and use the bar for a current customer base to build a data base. And of course every local customer gets the phone numbers from the girl. Circumvent the bar fine…all it really takes is for the girl to speak decent enough English and she is off and running.

There's no place like Thailand.

Suppose if I'd come to Thailand at a younger age, I'd be hard-pressed to choose as well. My first trip was in 1991, and already 43 years old, I decided the best move would be to retire here. Made a few job inquiries back then, but would have made about one tenth the salary I made in the States. After 47 trips between 1991 and 2003, trip #48 was with a one way ticket and a retirement visa in hand. Think I would have found it difficult working here anyway. There are far too many temptations around in the evening – it certainly would have been difficult dragging my sorry butt out of bed to face the workday. And it's great having the freedom now to do what I want to do when I want to do it. Pretty sure it'll work out the way I planned – going to run out of air (to breathe) before I run out of money. Did I miss a lot? You bet. But I figured it would still be here when it was time for me to come for good. For younger guys though, it's a really tough choice. Travelled around Asia a bit, and there's NO PLACE LIKE THAILAND.

Repairs in Bangkok.

When I was in BKK last month my very trusty Sony digital photo printer gave up the ghost. What do to as I still had three weeks of vacation left? Early one morning I made my way down to the Sony service centre in New Petchaburi Road and submitted the device for repair. The service staff told me to wait and they will look to see what was wrong. Two hours later, it was all fixed and the bill was a whopping 182 baht. If that had been in Farangland it would have been over 50 bucks at least to have a look.

The importance of learning the language.

Lack of fluency isolates you and keeps you from being able to participate in what is going on and keeps you from knowing what is going on. If I were to retire to Thailand I would take Thai classes but I would not attain fluency and the result is that I would be isolated from a lot of what was on offer. The result would be that I would find Thailand a bit bland. Without the constructs of job or familiar culture and the panaceas of alcoholism or depression or self-pity there are simply too many hours in the day. I think many of the criticisms of Thailand that you hear from ex-pats are really expressions of boredom.

I thought they were just saying "hi"!

I have contacted you before on this subject – being stopped by the boys in tight brown uniforms constantly and being invited to contribute to the widows and orphans fund. Since I started hanging one of those garlands of flowers off the mirror in the car, I have only been stopped once. Since I can't stand the smell of whatever the blossoms are (jasmine?) I have artfully purchased a plastic one. The next problem to arise is the sellers in the streets who seem to think I need to replace it, normally I give them 20 baht to keep the bloody stinky things. I think that the police see the floral masterpiece and don't look any further, assuming I am Thai! The other thing I do (probably not to be recommended) is just drive on when they wave me down. If, as they sometimes do, they have someone else up the road who they have radioed to who stops you, just explain that you thought they were waving!

Mr. Extremely Stupid strikes again!

I just wanted to comment on the issue of the "permanent bar fine". I know a certain girl in a certain Soi Cowboy bar who had the "permanent bar fine" paid for her at the princely sum of 200,000 baht. She ended up getting 20,000 of that and within 2 months of the punter going back to Farangland she had gotten married to a previous customer who returned to her bar only three days after Mr. Extremely Stupid left. Sorry guy, I guess you should identify your investments better. I think the said thing is not that he was taken, but that he can't even go back there and take her out now, that was the deal for him, he didn't want her to necessarily quit the bar just yet, he just wouldn't have to pay the next time he came to take her out. I would also like to comment on the prices in Phuket. I guess if I was a customer I would want the cheapest price also, but reality dictates these situations, less customers will equal a higher price because they can't "work" as much, and more customers means they afford to lower prices because they will get the money anyway. So my basic concept is, haggle the price, but don't go to low, be a gentleman about it, those girls are people too.

Do you need a reality check?

People like me love Thailand, but cannot understand why some people criticise Thailand and the Thais so much. If it is so bad just leave, any taxi driver would be very happy to run these farangs to the airport. Give these farangs a year in "Extortionate Europe" or "Anti-septic America" with fat, ugly farang women who basically rule a lot of those countries and they will be begging to come back to the LOS. Some expats here are like the spoiled brats of Asia and they certainly need a reality check.

Woodstock, that oasis of sanity slap in the middle of the madness of Nana Plaza, has been on the market for a long time. For so long the asking price was 25 million baht although recently I heard that that had been dropped to around 19. The bar has finally sold. The Rainbow Group have bought it and will renovate it and convert it into a gogo bar and rename it Rainbow Four. I heard that the sale price was 20 million baht, which seems very high but if any bar group can make that investment work it is the Rainbow Group. 20 million baht would probably be the highest amount paid for a bar in Nana, though hold the press, that record might not last long… Peter, the owner of Woodstock, has said that the Crown Group offered him various amounts over the past couple of years but they never met his asking price. These offers are believed to have been in the 13 – 14 million baht range. The staff in Woodstock has confirmed that the deal has been done, and one can’t help but feel sorry for them as they had very sad expressions on their long faces. If it all goes through, it will be sad to see the back of a bar that has been running since 1984 but then again, it is hard to see how the owner made much from it in the last year or two when it seemed to be quiet most of the time. However, the big question that must be asked is whether the bar can legally be converted into a gogo bar. Strong rumours have it that this bar does not have the necessary licenses for a gogo bar and that such licenses are no longer being issued. Rumours, of course. It's hoped that there will be a farewell party at the end of the month.

Hog's Breath has been closed for one month by the police. It all stems back to an incident that happened the best part of two months ago when one girl got drunk and "showed something". The girl was taken to the police station but the wheels turn slowly and the penalty has only just been enforced. Such a penalty is never good, but it is better now than over the Xmas / New Year / January high season period.

Nana Plaza has been closing earlier, at around 1.10 AM this week, although a couple of nights the bars were allowed to operate through to 1:30. It looked like they had loosened up and that 1:30 had become the de facto closing time, but perhaps not. Down in Cowboy, it seems that most bars close at 1:00 AM sharp, although at least two bars don't close until 1:30 AM.

While the rest of the building is still being renovated, a new bar has sprung from the rubble in the old Tin Tin Building down at The Pong. The new bar is in the part of the building on Patpong 1 and is right on the corner of the small soi that leads from Patpong 1 to Patpong 2. The owners have forced all of the food vendors that used to clog the soi out and it is now a much easier walk between the two sois. The bar has a modern upscale theme, live band and outside seating. It was so new that the staff could not provide the name of the bar! Long time Patpong visitors were happy to see Wayne, the former manager of the popular, long since closed bar Limelight at the 19th Anniversary Party at Goldfinger last night. Wayne is a long time resident that has not been seen in the Pong in some time.

A large number of patrons and friends showed up at Pussy Connection last night for Goong's birthday party. It was standing room only and extra barstools and bartenders had to be imported from Goldfinger bar to support the overflow crowd. Long time resident friends and staff from long ago at Rififi showed up to wish Goong a happy birthday. It was the biggest crowd EVER for Pussy Connection. The staff was in a party mood and the dancers got in the act with some very aggressive dancing.

There is a late night drinking venue down in Cowboy that seems to go just about all night long. This venue, with the name of the world’s first ever postage stamp (some people are paranoid that if I say the name it will not remain open much longer hence the code…) is one of a few places open very late.

In Pattaya, TJ has left Carousel to move upstairs to Heavens Above.

Last Sunday, that was the day of the national election, some bars didn't even bother to open with the confusion over whether bars could sell alcohol or not. Also a lot of bargirls who had recently been paid their salaries took the advantage of a weekend off with the bars ordered to close on Saturday night. Two beer bars in Soi Nana were closed by the police for serving alcohol too early, but at 10 PM the police allowed the bars to serve alcohol. It was inevitably a very slow night as most bars just didn't have enough girls and there was only a scattering of customers. Apparently in this democratic society, the girls were told that if they had not voted their names would have been taken off the electoral lists. They are then told that they will not be eligible for any government aid, handouts or government backed loan programs. So every election the girls have to trek back to goodness only knows where to vote. BUT Pattaya must be outside the nation, because beer and spirits never stopped flowing…

Following on from last week’s bit about girls refusing to drop their prices in Phuket, something which I personally completely respect, I have to say that I am surprised that a good number of hotels do not seem to have slashed their hotel rates. Yes, slashed. I believe that the major impetus needed to get people back to Phuket is for the hotels to slash their rates. Once people are there they will spend money everywhere else. Checking out a few hotel reservation sites, I see that rates for most hotels remain the same as they were pre tsunami.

I had prepared the lens for the shoot. I knew the angle I wanted to shoot from and knew the look I was after, but when I got there, my subject had gone! On the second road, not far from the Hard Rock Hotel, on the other side of the road, used to be a number of beer bars that had been beautifully done out in this sort of traditional Thai / Buddhist style. Lit up at night, they looked great. They have closed down. What a shame.

With all of the new businesses opening up in Pattaya, I'd love to be in the neon business down there. Pattaya seems to really be booming down there, with large numbers of tourists and there seem to be more and more businesses opening up, many of which seem to have the obligatory neon sign. I wonder if Pattaya hotels will start to raise their room rates? Pattaya (and Chiang Mai for that matter) are perhaps the only two places in Thailand which are extremely popular with foreigners where you can find, shall we say, genuine Thailand hotel prices, and not prices which have been seriously farangised, i.e. inflated. Ok, so in the capital you expect high prices but in places like Phuket and Samui the prices for accommodation have soared to Western levels. Will Pattaya soon go this way?

These new 2 baht coins are annoying – I keep mistaking them for 5 baht coins.

Diamond A Gogo in Pattaya is always worth a look and they have a busy February planned. On Valentines day they are holding a fantasy lingerie fashion show. Manager Ricky promises that the lingerie is erotic. There will be both some of the Diamond A Gogo girls AND some outside models doing the catwalk! And the very next day, February 15, is khun Tee's birthday. He is the owner who started Diamond and is liked by a lot of Thais and farangs in Pattaya. He is a well known character, so it should be a good night. Finally on February 27 they will have their monthly in-house gogo contest where the best Diamond dancers compete for cash prizes. This is usually a wild night!

To my eyes, a higher percentage of holidaymakers in Pattaya were Western couples and families than I have ever seen before.

Down in Pattaya for a flying visit this week, the Mrs. and I couldn't help but notice that a heap of vehicles had a bunch of flowers attached to the front / grill area. They seemed to be predominantly on pick up trucks and the songtaews. Even the Mrs. had no idea what they are symbolic of. Anyone know?

Feedback from farangs resident in Phuket makes for interesting reading. Word has it that single male tourists are starting to return, but families are few and far between. It sounds like the more wholesome tourists, just those the Thai government have been most trying to attract are those who have been scared the most… I've always said it, sex tourists are a resilient bunch and they will return through thick and thin. Even an outbreak of Ebola wouldn't scare off the hardcore.

I never realised how much cheaper petrol is in Pattaya, compared to Bangkok. 17.76 a litre for 91 octane down there compared to 18.84 here in the capital. Damn, it took me 7 years to figure that out.

You've got to laugh at the internet. What is generally regarded as Thailand's best hospital, with standards that meet or possibly even exceed many hospitals in the West, posted an ad on Thailand's top English teaching website for a teacher. A dream job for many, to teach English to what would likely be a lovely bunch of young, Thai professionals. The opportunity to meet someone special would be, well, EXCELLENT! This ad was picked up and posted on one of Thailand's leading sex tourist discussion forums. I couldn't stop laughing when I saw it had been cross-posted. I wonder who will get the position?! No doubt competition will be intense.

Thailand is a great place to live but sometimes it just doesn't feel, hmmm, I don't know…normal. Sometimes I feel like I am a I am just another character in a big cartoon. Have you ever had that feeling?

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: As an American Farang, 43, well off, never married, world business traveller, how would you suggest that I try to hook up with a well educated, English speaking, non-bargirl type for long term possibilities? I only have one connection in Bangkok and come to Bangkok 1-2 times a year. I assume the internet dating services are all scams.

Mr. Stick says: I can answer this one for you fairly easily. You need to move here or spend A LOT more time here than you currently are. If you have not yet married at age 43, that may suggest you are a little more discerning than many, and thus may like to find out what someone is really like before popping the question. Does it give you enough time to figure that out? And for a Thai woman, it is a big ask for her to only see you a couple of times a year. How does she know you do not have someone back in the States or elsewhere? If someone better comes along in Thailand, why should she wait? There is a great deal of uncertainty for her. And as I have always said, women have needs too :)

Question 2: The responsibility Thai women feel towards the family is well known. What are the duties and responsibilities of the Thai son? Reading online, I have the impression that Thai men are not known to be faithful or duty bound to wife and family. Is this true? What is your opinion of Thai men?

Mrs. Stick says: The responsibility of Thai men is not really that much different to the responsibility of men in other countries. The major role of a Thai man is to provide financial security and in Thailand that is especially true for people living upcountry. In Bangkok things are a little different and more and more the lines are becoming blurred with both husband and wife working outside the house to earn an income and helping each other inside the house too.

In the modern world we live in, communication systems and devices allow us to enhance our lives in so many ways. But while they have many positives, such systems and devices can also become the bane of our lives. I just hate the way that wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing, most of the world has a direct line to you, and in many ways it can make you feel like the guy who just stole the crown jewels and is being tracked by every law enforcement agency on the planet. So, if you see old Stick online using MSN Messenger, don't make the mistake of thinking that he likes to sit in front of the computer and chat about inane stuff. MSN runs purely to tell me when email arrives. Chatting online is a great way to waste time. Email works though. I like email. I answer it when I do have a bit of free time. I just wonder if I am the only one who thinks mobiles and real time chat programs, while immensely useful, have a downside?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave, Claymore and Bkk Grasshopper.


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