Stickman's Weekly Column February 6th, 2005

The Golden Age?


StickmanBangk ok .com


A reader sent in a story recently about himself and a friend. They had been friends through university and after graduation, they came out to Thailand together for a holiday. They enjoyed it immensely. Both ended up as teachers, one in the UK, and one in Thailand. 20 years on, the fellow who has worked in Thailand is looking at returning to the UK in an effort to try and get some money behind him. In his time in Thailand, he never managed to save up much. In contrast, the fellow who worked in the UK is looking at relocating to Thailand, with a lot of money in the bank, more than enough to buy a mansion in the countryside and still have plenty left over – and the prospect of a very comfortable existence indeed.

This story raised the age old question of whether it is better to move to Thailand at a young age or whether one should accumulate wealth in the West before moving out here in middle age, or later.

I came here relatively young, well before my 30th birthday, and things have, on the whole, gone fairly well. But I did leave a lot behind and was in a position of some strength in my native Kiwiland. I felt bored and really, I felt like I was forever going through the motions. Every day was much the same. There was no real spark. I came to Thailand with the intention of only staying one or two years, but all that changed… Thailand has been great!

But one does get restless after a while. On one hand I want to move back to New Zealand and enjoy all that my homeland has to offer, but then I think about what I would lose, all of the good things that Thailand has to offer, and I start to wonder if what I would lose might just outweigh all that I would gain. I shouldn't complain and I guess it is nice to have such options.

In the relatively short time that I have lived in Bangkok, the city has really grown up. The infrastructure has improved, the quality of many facilities and services has improved, it is more cosmopolitan than it used to be and frankly, I think that for foreigners living here, Bangkok 2005 is better than Bangkok 1998.

There are many good things about living here. Warm weather, great food, friendly people, a local female population which is both very attractive and very interested in Westerners, great personal freedom, the ability to pervert justice in one's favour along with the low costs all contribute to a very pleasant place to live. But how many of these things will remain constant? Or will things change?

There are many places in the world with better weather, but they tend to be more expensive. There are places with (in my humble opinion) more attractive women than Thailand has, but they are not nearly as easy to meet. Better food? Personally, I find it hard to think Thailand could be beat in this regard, but I could well be wrong. There are cheaper countries, such as Laos and Cambodia, but they don't have nearly the same level of infrastructure as Thailand. There are some countries where apparently one has almost complete freedom to do what one wishes, but that comes at the cost of safety. Frankly, with so much going for it, Thailand is hard to beat.

But Thailand, like all countries, will see change. I think we can say with some surety that the weather will remain warm, the food great and the women stunningly attractive. But what of the other things? Will Thai people always be so friendly, and so welcoming of foreigners? Will the locals continue to find us Westerners attractive. Will things remain so affordable? Will we be able to buy our way out of running a red? There are a lot of question marks here.

Will Thailand always be quite this good a place to live? No-one can predict the future but I seriously think that now is a very good time to enjoy all that life in Thailand offers. I really don't think things will be like this forever.

And in addition to the mooted changes that may take place, some argue that the increasing numbers of foreigners living here (and visiting) make each of us a little less appealing, perhaps a little less unique. I disagree. Given that most foreigners here make cultural faux pax every day, those who make that little bit more effort will separate themselves from the masses and reap the rewards.

I therefore wonder if what we are experiencing now is the golden age of living in Bangkok? While many of us bitch and moan about life in Thailand, I truly believe that overall, it is a better place to live now than when I first moved here, in early 1998. In fact, it is hard to realistically imagine it being better.

Many old-timers, always so keen to point to the number of years they have lived in Thailand, tell us how much better Bangkok was in the past, but so often their argument falls back to the availability of cheap, attractive women. They fail to mention the lack of the skytrain and the horrendous traffic jams, the lack of even basic Western goods such as a decent selection of English language paperback novels. They fail to mention that communication was a problem because the locals spoke much less English back then – and hell it must have been a problem because some of these long term expats can barely communicate in Thai now, so I can't imagine how they communicated way back then.

A few people I know have left Thailand in the last year in the belief that returning to the West may be better. Two returned to the West and have since come back to Thailand again, one from Australia and the other from the States.

Plans of saving all of one's life, waiting, waiting and waiting before the eventual relocation or retirement to Thailand can be ruled out if life serves up one of its cruel blows. How would you feel if, having scrimped and saved for so long, the Thai dream was finally ruled out because the doc said you've only got a limited time left?

I reckon if you have got your shit in order – and this part is important – life in Thailand isn't so bad. In fact it is pretty good. Obviously, the equation is different for everyone, but deep down I have to admit that some of the inevitable changes that will sweep through Thailand, just as they have through other parts of the world, will not be all positive, and it is hard to see Thailand getting much better than it is now. For someone with a bit of cash in their pocket and their life well organised, is it possible that life in Thailand right now could just about be the golden age of living?

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE?

It was Central Rama 3.

One for the night owls…

Last week's pic was taken inside the shopping centre at Central Rama 3. Heaps of replies with Seacon Square, Lard Prao, Phahonyothin and other suburban Bangkok shopping centres. Just a handful of people got it right. 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 will be in Bangkok in the next 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

Greedy cops.

I was just reading some of the comments relating to driving in Thailand particularly avoiding the attention of the boys in brown. I drive a lot and I can tell you Thais would not pay the money the cops ask for. I got really fed up with them, the last time about 2 years ago I had to give one greedy bastard 800 baht. That was the last time. A cheap measure to avoid detection is to coat the windows of your car with a black screen. You can see out but they can't see you. I have only been stopped once since. When I was stopped I played the tourist, refused to understand anything he said in English or Thai and he left me go. You need to be tough but polite with these guys.

Can bonk, can't walk!

Had a gal last night, and she could not get enough. I mean, she kept playing with my pecker all evening, and even when I was sleeping. Last evening, we probably went five or six rounds. Funny thing was, though she loved the exercise of the endless sex, she pouted endlessly when walking up and down the five flights of stairs to my hotel room.

Futuristic tuktuks.

I've been reading about the DVD players showing up in taxis, although I haven't seen one on this trip I think I just witnessed the ultimate. I'm in Chiang Mai for a couple of days with my friend. On Sunday she wanted to go to the Sunday walking street market sideshow. So we go out to the street near our hotel and grabbed a tuktuk and there on the little dashboard is taped a portable DVD player playing a Thai movie. Say do you think I could get one on the handle bars of a motorcycle? We have a saying in San Francisco "only in S.F." but I think it works just as well in Thailand.

The good old days.

I used to go to the Bangkok bars. Up until a few years ago it was as close as a man could get to heaven and still be on earth. Gosh, how fondly I remember the days of walking into a bar after a long week at work, drinking a beer, listening to the fantastic sound system, and drifting up to heaven as I watched the girls dance naked on stage. Ah, those were the days. But I don't go anymore. Why should I go into a place where I'm going to get hassled to watch girls in swimsuits? If I want to watch girls in swimsuits, I'll go to the beach. At least at the beach, I don't end up stinking of cigarette smoke.

The Philippines, Asia's new electronics Mecca?

I have been looking to replace my Sony Erickson 610 with the new more powerful 910i. I looked in Singapore and they wanted the same price as Farangland. Next was Batam in Indonesia at 900k (US 985). Next was Thailand at 34k baht (US 884) but I finally bought one in the Philippines at 43k pesos (US 781) so there are still some very good bargains in the Philippines with the peso currently at 55.21 to the USD.

Return of the wrinklies!

Following on from my comments about the changing face of Pattaya, I am happy to report that whilst careening around sois 7 & 8 last night, there had been a complete change from a month ago, the small complex of bars that runs from the Wonderbar on Beach Road through to Soi 8, the scene of my previous comment and observations, had transformed itself back into low season, hardly a young shaven-headed, tattooed whipper snapper to be seen. The wrinklies had re-emerged from under their stones and were once more holding sway, impressing all the young maidens with their lopsided toupees and ‘false teeth in glasses’ tricks.

Ghosts haunting bargirls!

I hear that the bargirls of Phuket are in a tizzy about the ghosts of punters that seem to be haunting them. A Thai woman (that I know in the US) read in a Thai magazine that many bargirls are reporting that they are being pursued / haunted by the ghosts of punters who promised to see them the next day (and died in the tsunami), or who disappeared in the hotel room only to be next seen the next day in the photos of tsunami victims (who died three days ago), or who seemed to have no weight (or substance) when they were on top of them making love. Good spooky ghost stories – with a sexy twist. This may affect the recovery of the sex industry in Phuket for longer than expected.

Three little pigs went to market…

Three men from key west went to Pattaya for inexpensive women, one fell in love and continued to purchase jewellery, motor bikes, washer and dryer and microwaves, only to send 20,000 baht a month to make her not work at a beer bar. HE THOUGHT SHE WAS LOYAL! Now she calls him after umpteenth baht for 2 and 1/2 years only to tell him she was to marry another American man, (so much for loyalty, I guess). He only knows now he raised the bar for others to compete with. There is nothing wrong with taking care of the women of Thailand within means. He only realizes now that it is only a short romantic encounter, please tell people not to raise the standards, as my friend knows now it's only a good dream!

Trade has been brisk in the popular bars of Nana Plaza this past week. It picked up considerably towards the end of January, in fact it took quite a climb. There are obviously still a lot of people around Bangkok. Some major bars ended up taking considerably more money in January than December and barfines have risen dramatically. But there is still the odd night when it is very, very quiet.

This past week Nana Plaza has been keeping its doors open until around 1.30 AM. I have noticed that the police are not so keen to come into NEP and close all the bars at 1.00 AM sharp. Just lately it has been between 1.15 and 1.30 AM. Is this a sign that the authorities are loosening up a bit and we are beyond the peak of the crackdown?

And one can't help but notice that the police are not doing the intense inspections they were doing just a month or two back. Also, for the time being, we have not seen any of the checks with tables being set up by the police for what is essentially the public drug testing of the bargirls of Nana. There has not been any kind of large police presence for a couple of months and this is welcome news for all. It's encouraging for bar owners and bar workers, when the only time they see the police is at the end of the night.

On this coming Friday, that is February 11, there will be the annual anniversary party at Goldfinger Bar in Patpong. It's always good fun. The next day, on the 12th, another party will be held at Pussy Connection to celebrate manager Goong's birthday and the first anniversary of her moving over from Rififi.

One of the most popular gogo bar managers, Ricky, most recently at the helm of Angelwitch, has moved to Pattaya. Ricky no longer has anything to do with Angelwitch and has taken over at Diamond Gogo in Soi Diamond, Pattaya. The big move happened on February 1st. This was another of those badly kept secrets that we were sworn to keep hush hush until it actually happened.

How will this affect Angelwitch? For some time now, some people have been saying that Angelwitch (like many bars) is not as popular as it used to be, though how much truth there is in that, I do not know. It seems to be pretty busy whenever I stick my head in the door. Ricky was a tremendous host there and this will be a blow to Angelwitch. They had a busy bar before Ricky arrived as manager, but Ricky did attract quite a following of resident expats. Will those expat residents who had followed Ricky around several Bangkok gogo bars now be so keen to frequent Angelwitch? This remains to be seen, but Angelwitch has certainly lost one of the most popular bar managers in the history of Nana Plaza. Ricky was always on the top shelf of bar managers, one of the best hosts a bar could have. Nana Plaza has lost a very good friend. This is certainly NOT good news for Angelwitch OR Nana Plaza which has lost just a little sparkle with Ricky's departure. I imagine this will be a bigger loss to Angelwitch than the owners may think. As for Ricky life will go(go) on. I wish Ricky good luck, and what is no doubt Angelwitch's loss is most certainly Diamond's gain.

Thais are often blamed for profiteering at the expense of Westerners, but some farangs who run businesses here are quick enough to forget about customer service if it saves them money. The Robin Hood (a British-style pub opposite the Emporium) closed its doors this weekend, blaming the Thai government and saying that the election alcohol laws prevented them from opening. So did the Bull's Head, down the road. In fact, the Government didn't order the closure of pubs and bars, it merely prohibited the sale of alcohol over the election period (for two reasons – one, the Government wants a sober electorate, and two, so much cash is paid out in bribes over the election period that they know everyone would go out and get drunk.) Anyway, there was no reason that the Robin Hood and the Bull's Head couldn't have opened. They just decided to save money by shutting their doors and blaming the government. Not so The Dubliner, across the road. The Irish pub stayed open, serving food all day Sunday even though the no-alcohol rule would cut deep into their profits. Now I know which pub has my interests at heart, and where I'll be spending my hard-earned money in future. I still haven't forgotten how The Robin Hood dropped its regular menu on Christmas Day and insisted that its customers eat their high-priced (and very mediocre) Christmas lunch.

I have always said that it is very easy to feel that two plus two can sometimes equal three in Bangkok. Things aren't always as they seem and inconsistencies are great! There has been a major crackdown on Bangkok's naughty nightlife and the worst of it, as far as many customers were concerned, culminated in the authorities ordering no nudity in the bars and absolutely no sex shows, whatsoever. You can see the odd breast in Bangkok gogo bars, and the odd simulated sex show though these days, it is all a lot more suggestive than it once was. (Personally, I think that anything that gets the imagination racing rather than in your face action is better, but I seem to be in a minority on this one.) So, you'd think that while you cannot see any of the naughty stuff in the gogo bars, that it would be much the same elsewhere. No, you'd be wrong. The following email comes from a reader who ventured down to one of the gay bars in that lane of boy bars off Suriwong Road, very close to Patpong. Warning: If men + men action turns your stomach, DON'T read the next paragraph.

Inside was quite small and about five rows of seats in front of a stage. The guys were on at first poncing about for about 15 minutes before the show started. There were a couple of shows, normal stuff of the candles and dripping wax onto the guy's bodies and quite a good Thai dance complete with costumes and 6-inch fingernails. Afterwards the lights dimmed and 6 guys came on to the stage, butt naked. They danced around a bit then decided to take it in turns to give each other a blowjob. After this the guys turned round and proceeded to get shafted from behind! This went on for quite some time and when it was finished all the guys left the stage apart from two who proceeded to go found wheel-barrow fashion, firmly connected and frequently thrusting with groans from the guy in front. They hassled many customers and did get quite a few tips. For the next show, curtains at the back of the stage were opened and revealed a large glass tank with four guys swimming in all their glory. After the shows were finished we decided to leave and discovered that they have a standard charge for every drink of 200 baht! The bill was about 3,600 baht!

There is yet another way to send money to your teeruk which is cheaper than both Western Union or Moneygram. Check out moneybookers.

The Chinese New Year will start this week, I think on midnight Tuesday-Wednesday, February 8/9, but I'm not sure. 2005 is year 4703 in the Chinese calendar, so if anyone thought 2548 was stretching things, think again! This year is the year of the rooster though for those farangs living in rural Thailand it must feel like it is the year of the rooster, or the year of the dog, every year! If you've ever overnighted in rural Thailand, you'll know why everyone wakes up at the crack of down – and you really don't have a choice. The roosters start howling and then the dogs start barking. And then the roosters howl again, and then it is the turn of the dogs. And so it goes on…

It's Valentines Day in a week's time so you might want to send something special to your teeruk. And if your lady friend is of Chinese ancestry, you could send her something to celebrate Chinese New Year too. Flowers Thailand are giving Stickman readers 10% off all orders received before midnight on Thursday – just let them you know are a Stickman reader. Click on the link above.

These 10,000 baht "final leave the bar barfines" are a joke. At least one bar in Soi Cowboy gives 5,000 baht of it straight to the girl (when the guy is out of sight of course) while a bar on Sukhumvit Soi 4 (not in the plaza) gives 2,500 baht to her. Some bars may use heavy handed tactics to extract this amount from the guy. Don't give in. It is one big have.

I notice a lot of the bars in Soi Cowboy end their happy hour at 8:30 PM. It's quite early to go to the bars then as nothing is happening. Some bars stretch it to 9:00, but none seem to run their happy hour as late as say Hollywood 2 in Nana where it goes until 9:30. Given that the naughty bars in Bangkok really are not as busy as perhaps they could be (contrast them with Pattaya which is booming), I wonder if there will be any changes such as extended happy hours, to lure back customers?

Don't expect the winner of today's general election in Thailand to have noise control on their agenda of issues to address, irrespective of who the winner is. Many of the candidates have been going up and down the road outside our condo making a HUGE noise. It is amazing that from within the confines of a closed condo several floors up, we still had to turn up the TV volume so we could hear it over the racket they made!

And speaking of the general election, there has been a lot of talk in the Thai press about vote buying, something which is said to be at chronic levels. I was curious about this so asked the Thai family about it, little nervous that they might think me cheeky asking about this. They were not surprised at all – and quite happy to answer. It happens at every election, they said. At around 9:00 – 9:30 PM on the night before the election one of the "heads of the neighbourhood" goes around each house and simply asks how they will be voting. This person knows how many people live in each house in the neighbourhood. If the person responding says they will be voting for a particular party, a sum of cash will be passed to them. At the last election, it was 200 baht per person apparently. This year, it is said to be higher.

So much for the cooler weather of "Winter". It sure has heated up this week.

Some customers to the bars in Phuket post tsunami are writing in complaining that the girls should lower their prices, due to the low number of farangs down there. What do you think about this? My thoughts are that no, they shouldn't. I think there is a certain point below which they shouldn't go, but some readers seem to disagree with this….any thoughts?

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: I am considering doing the visa thing with my girlfriend, an ex bargirl. Unlike when she was in "bargirl mode" she was totally against full on kissing. Previously this was not an issue. When I sat her down and told her I could not fall for or indeed marry a girl if she would not do that….she explained that she has only ever done that when she worked in the bar, as part of her "act" (her word after she looked it up in the dictionary) for farang clients. She said that all the Thai boyfriends she has had in the past never bothered kissing her (this does surprise me a lot because she is quite kissable) when they made love, and she thinks it's kind of disgusting! The rest of the lovemaking was quite enjoyable. Do I need to wake up and smell the coffee here, or is this a familiar ex-bargirl who has gone back into her shell a bit scenario? Or is it a farang vs. Thai culture thing that you forever warn us about?

Mrs. Stick says: I wonder if she has become bored of you. This could well be some sort of excuse. Have a look at your relationship seriously and see if there is anything missing, such as excitement, good sex, and how the general interaction between you and her is. Passionate kissing is the beginning of good sex. If you are absolutely sure there is nothing wrong with your relationship, maybe you could kiss another part of her. Haha. If she still complains, perhaps it is time for you to look for someone else!

Question 2: Is it socially acceptable for males to go out for a social drink in the evening in Thai society? I have friends in Cha Am and after the evening meal it is almost implied that the door is locked stay home. Is this normal or is it that a Farang wandering around their locale will bring a certain shame to the family or is it to stop the boys from going out getting drunk and maybe visiting one of those strange bars where everyone is oh so friendly?

Mrs. Stick says: I guess the answer to this question depends very much on the people, their social class, and their job. For some people, it may be part of their job to meet people at night. Believe it or not, going out to a pub and drinking a lot is not actually considered a good thing in Thai culture, and is often the behaviour of playboys, socialites and young people. Thai men have more limitations on their behaviour once they are married than farang men. For married men who go out regularly at night and drink, it is considered a bit unusual.

Who are the mysterious people who I thank each week for their assistance with the column? The most frequent name that appears is Dave The Rave. The effervescent Dave is a bar manager who helps me with news from Nana Plaza when I can't or don't make it there during the week. (Don't tell Dave but I much prefer Cowboy these days). Does this mean that I don't make it down to Nana and just rely on him for all the news? No, not at all. I am still down there frequently. Claymore is another name that appears often. Claymore is a long term reader, and a fan of Patpong. He often provides news from Patpong, especially things like the movement of staff and parties. Bkk Grasshopper is another long time reader. He doesn't help with the gathering of news, but does help with correcting the inevitable spelling and grammatical mistakes that I miss though often these are not fixed until Monday. Without help from these people, the column would not be what it is.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Claymore and Thailandguru.com.

Special thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper.