Stickman's Weekly Column March 13th, 2005

The Girl Who Didn’t Get Away


StickmanBangk ok .com


I am often asked to write about the Stickman Bargirl Investigation Service. I am also asked a lot of questions about it in person. But I seldom say anything. People who use the service require confidentiality and thus writing or talking specifics is totally out of the question. Even discussing the general trends is something I prefer not to do.

But this week I can write about an investigation, one that was conducted more than 4 years ago. It was not at all typical, but it is, I think, amusing and interesting nonetheless.

Back in late 2000 I received an extremely long email from a citizen of the former Soviet Union. Printed out, the email was 7 long pages and it was written in a most articulate manner. There was not one mistake to be found in it, the grammar ultra precise. It outlined the gentleman in question's situation.

He had been in Thailand on holiday and had had a ball in Pattaya. While there, he had met a girl in a gogo bar and they had spent several days together. He'd very much enjoyed their time together and understandably he was in no hurry to return to his homeland.

He had an early flight out of Bangkok back to Russia so he had booked his last night in the kingdom in a Bangkok hotel to allow him a less rushed journey to the airport. He had enjoyed the company of this little Pattaya minstrel so much that he invited her to join him for his final night in Bangkok.

They fell asleep in each other's arms, him willing time to slow down, and her willing him to fall asleep….

He awoke early the next morning and noticed the bed was empty. There was no sound coming from the shower and a quick check revealed that his little Thai darling was no longer in the hotel room. It was then that he noticed that it wasn't just her that had gone. His laptop, video camera and still camera, had all gone too, presumably taken by her.

He quickly contacted security and explained the situation, conscious of the fact that he was in a hurry and had a plane to catch. The 5 star hotel's security kicked into action and the hotel video tapes were viewed. There she was on camera, boldly striding out of the hotel with his belongings, now her ill-gotten gains.

The police were called, a report was made and then it was an express trip to the airport and off to Farangland, a million miles away from the scene of the crime. She could not have timed it better.

It is never easy dealing with the Thai police and following up on a complaint, but it is 100 times more difficult from the other side of the world. After much frustration and what he felt was a lack of action, the decision was made to get outside help. The decision was made to enlist the services of Stickman.

He had tried to contact the girl in question but she had not responded. Hardly surprising. He wanted to know if she had returned to the bar or, as he thought more likely, she could be found at her day job. She had told him that she only worked in the gogo bar from time to time and that she was actually a post office employee, based at the branch in Soi Post Office.

He simply wanted to find out where she worked, and nothing else. Once found, he did not want me to do anything other than confirm her whereabouts. He would then follow up accordingly which I guess meant either give the authorities a bit of a rev up, or perhaps take matters into his own hands. He gave very specific, and somewhat peculiar instructions. He wanted me to follow up on the leads that he had given me, but do nothing more than that. I felt like my hands were tied but if that is what he wanted, that was what he would get.

I reckon Somchai the bus driver must have been on some sort of go slow, for it was the slowest journey I've ever had down to Pattaya and took almost 4 hours. I was starting to get worried. It was a Friday and I needed to check out the post office but it was fast approaching closing time yet the bus had just reached the Pattaya city limits, still at least another 10 minutes to get to the bus station.

I was one of the first off the bus and straight on to motorbike taxi. Forget the songtaews, time was too tight.

With a bogus story about why I was looking for her, out popped the colour inkjet printouts of her. The post office staff had a good look at them but claimed to have never seen her before. This was verified by the manager. A dead end, but not unexpected. Gogo girls seldom have day jobs.

After checking into a hotel and doing my usual Pattaya routine at that time – Pattaya Mail, the sunset and a bottle of Heineken, it was time to get to work.

You've got to get to the bar fast. Bargirls in Pattaya are different to the Bangkok variety. In Pattaya they generally get to the bar in a timely fashion. They're not perfect and there are always a few laggards, this is Thailand after all, but they're much better in this respect than their Bangkok sisters. Get there late and the subject may have been barfined, meaning an extra 24 hours suddenly added to the job time. Client and Stickman both unhappy.

So off I trotted to the bar where I availed myself of the happy hour prices. As the night went on, I popped into the loo twice to study the printed pics I had of the girl and get an imprint of her in my head. It wasn't a big bar and my eyes are pretty good so I was confident that she had not come into work. It was getting later and later and 11 PM was approaching so it started to become clear that she wasn't coming in tonight.

I spoke to one of the girls I had been chatting to earlier and admitted that I was looking for a certain lady, giving a story of how a friend of mine had recommended her. I was told that she was not expected for a few days. Aha. That makes sense.

Same story the next night. Returned early, waited, and no sign of her. I could not wait for days and days so it was time to return the next day to Bangers. No result. A disappointment.

Upon returning to Bangkok, I sent a full report and explained that I had followed up on all leads and in accordance with his instructions had not done anything beyond that. He was happy with that and said to leave it at that. We both thought that would be the end of it. He accepted that it looked like she had disappeared, but the story doesn't end there…

The following weekend I had another investigation down in Pattaya. Same routine, but the bus trip down was a lot faster. It was a bread and butter type job, check out a bar to see if a girl was working. She had claimed she wasn't. And if God forbid she was working, verify whether she was barfineable or not. Simple.

There I was in a the bar, hunting for the woman who I was there to find, who as it happened was as guilty as sin, when what do you know, I notice a familiar looking face. Strangely familiar. I knew the face but I wasn't sure that I had actually seen her before. And then it struck me, it was the girl from the previous week's investigation!

I gave her a smile, got one in return and before I knew it, she was sitting next to me and we were engaged in conversation with her telling me how she had just got off the bus from Isaan and how she had just started at this bar a couple of days earlier…

A quick jaunt to an internet cafe and an email was fired off to Russia, the previous week's customer given the news. He was delighted but strangely didn't want any further action taken. He just wanted to let it go.

I followed up with him a few weeks later but I never did get a reply. The case may have been solved, but I never did know the final outcome. It was funny really. The fellow who commissioned the investigation seemed to regret that it had ended that way. The distinct impression I got from him was that her betraying him after what they had had was worse than the actual loss of his possessions… It's a funny old world.

And you don't need to worry, the Russian mafia didn't rub her out. I've seen her dancing around the traps, in a few different bars. Just be careful with your appliances on the last night of your holiday!

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the Dusit in Pattaya.

Back in Bangkok….

Last week's pic was taken in Pattaya and featured the Dusit Resort which is located at the northern end of the main beach. Surprisingly few 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 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 state that you are in Thailand and be able to provide a postal address somewhere in the Kingdom.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Hey farang!

About the 'Farang Farang' issue. The way to get your own back is to call Thais by the pronoun 'Khun' (or a more slang-y pronoun if you know one). Eventually they will blow, and say "MY NAME IS NOT 'KHUN" IT IS NOI / LEK / MOO" or whatever because as you know Thais have a habit of referring to themselves in a 3rd person-ish form – by their own names.

Why they are doing the roadworks now.

I wondered for a long time why in heaven’s name any city would plan a major construction project that would tear up the two major streets and its one prominent sidewalk to coincide with high season – when thousands from around the world visit Pattaya. I have an answer: High season is that time of year when Pattaya has little or no rain. That’s a tremendous advantage when repaving a road or a footpath; it avoids immeasurable delays as well as problems that rains, water accumulation, etc., might inflict on such projects.

English in Isaan.

I recently returned from a wonderful holiday in Isaan where I spent one day at the school of a Thai friend who teaches English. Her class consisted of about twenty 16-year-old girls from the local village. My friend had invited me to chat with the students, giving them some real life experience speaking and listening to English conversation with a native speaker. And I was to provide critical feedback (not easy in a country where criticism is a no-no). Two problems became immediately apparent. 1-The students were much too shy to speak with me in English; 2-When I did manage to get them to talk even a little, their pronunciation was indecipherable. I realized the reason they spoke so poorly was because my friend, the English teacher, had equally poor spoken English ability. Thailand seems to be producing a generation of students who are learning English from teachers who themselves do not speak the language clearly.

Always an outsider.

As a young man of 19 I left my native Germany to emigrate to Australia. In Australia I was always considered a “New Australian”. In fact at that time (sooo many years ago) “New Australian” was intended to be derogatory by some Australians. As a foreigner in Australia, one could never be considered an “Australian” after one year or 20 years. 5 years later, I emigrated to the USA and the question was always “Wie gehts – you are German, right?” – but “Uncle Sam” didn’t discriminate. Even now (at 60+) I get comments. “Where are you from?” My answer is always San Francisco. Then the comment “not with that accent”. Now in Thailand, I will never be Thai, because I am different from the native – but who cares? It makes no difference where one is from – people who are likely to discriminate will discriminate in whatever country. People who are reasonably educated and “world-wise” will not.

Bangkok's motorcycle trails.

Few cities in the world have taken care to ensure the safety and well being of motorcycles as Bangkok. Virtually every named road in Bangkok has a motorcycle trail. They are easy to find. They are located between the road and the buildings. They can vary in width from several meters to perhaps just one meter. Taking care to ensure the safety of motorcycles is obviously a high priority for the city. After all, having to deal with buses, taxies, trucks, tuktuks, and cars when driving on the main road can easily put the motorcycle in harm's way. The city has even provided a separate convenient invisible lane near the curb that motorcycles can travel the opposite direction on one way streets. The invisible lane is only visible from the seat of a motorcycle. Because of that, buses may accidentally drop off pedestrians directly in front of motorcycles on the invisible lane causing a collision that could injure the motorcycle operator. The only remaining problem the motorcycles have is the pedestrians that walk on the motorcycle trails. This happens very frequently because the motorcycle trails are very similar in appearance to sidewalks. It’s easy for the pedestrian to get confused and accidentally walk onto the trail. That poses a risk that the motorcycle may become damaged when colliding with a pedestrian. Fortunately for the city, few if any legal cases have been brought to court by motorcycle operators. Certainly they could successfully seek in court financial restitution from the city for allowing pedestrians on the motorcycle trails. I am sure judges can clearly see and would rule for the motorcycle. The judge could easily rule that the city is negligent in ensuring the safety of motorcycles on the trails by repeatedly allowing pedestrians on them. So for the sake of the motorcycles and the bank account of the city, Bangkok probably should make a more direct effort to keep the pedestrians off the trails. I am sure they could easily divert manpower from the police that are actively putting pressure on some adult venues that attract tourists by early closings. I understand the logic behind this indirect approach. Because tourists visit several types of venues, restaurants and stores, by eliminating one the others would also feel the same pressure by reduced numbers of tourists wanting to come to Bangkok. This is similar to clipping a few feathers on a bird wing. Just clip a few and the bird can’t fly, you don’t need to clip them all. Personally I feel that is the wrong approach. Simply because not all the pedestrians in Bangkok are tourists, and would only reduce the number of pedestrians on the motorcycle trails and not eliminate them.

It would seem that it takes more than 50 odd deaths to change things, unfortunately.

I was on a weekend break to Ko Samet a few weeks ago. The beaches were excellent, and while the roads (or should I say dirt tracks) were in need of some attention, it was truly a lovely break from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. I’ve been around the world and I would say the beaches there are some of the best I have seen. No slappers to be seen and certainly no sex tourists. Two things I would point out; there is only one ATM machine on the whole island and when it runs out of money you can’t get any, sometimes for a couple of days. So a bit of advanced planning might be in order. I didn’t really pay attention sat on the ferry headed towards the island. However, on the way back I did notice that there weren’t any life vests available. Thinking back to the journey towards the island I remembered there were life vests on that ferry but there weren’t enough for all the passengers. Given a few recent events where ferries and boats have capsized maybe all those people who can’t swim would be advised to buy their own. Hell, I can swim but I don’t know if I could swim the crossing, especially if I had to rescue my Thai girlfriend who can’t swim herself.

Is Patpong the first area to return to 2:00 AM closing? In what some will see as a clear advantage over other areas (Patpong is also the cheapest bar area for drinking – at least in terms of standard prices), I wonder if this will result in a swing back to the Pong?

The in-house Diamond A Gogo dance contest this month will be held on Sunday the 20th. Manager Ricky is making a change to the usual format by adding an extra prize section.
They are calling it "Thai tag team dancing" where the girls will dance in pairs. It looks like Ricky is up to his old tricks again!

In Sukhumvit Soi 4, the word is that Hillary bar will NOT move. It's just that the current owner fears that the lease might not be renewed when it's up, a year and a half from now. Apparently she wants to keep the name Hillary and not name it Hillary 2 or something like it. But in Thailand nothing is certain until it has already been done so just who knows what will happen.

The bars in the Sukhumvit Soi 13 and 5 area might be history, but as one bar area dies, another pops up. For a while now soi 7/1 has threatened to become a new bar area – and it is just about there. There are now bars all the way along that soi, from near the mouth and the main Sukhumvit Road all the way down to the end. Of course, that Bangkok favourite, Eden Club, is right in the heart of it. There are at least a couple of bars in the soi being built too.

There is a party for Tim at the Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy tonight. Food and wenches I was told, but it wasn't quite clear what that meant. Free food I would assume, but the wenches bit? I'll let you decide what that means!

Some bar owners are good guys. Boss Hogg springs to mind for his generosity to his staff, especially in times of need. Andy and Darrel are both good guys too, always keen to have a chat and a laugh with the punters. There are a number of others. But there are some right rat bags too. One would be a particular bar owner in Soi Cowboy. As February only had 28 days, he cut the girls' wages for that month, arguing that as the girls had not worked 31 days he should not have to pay them the same as he did for other months! Totally out of order, this.

There are several upmarket bars in Bangkok which attract a mixed bunch – local farangs, short-stay farangs, good Thais, and for want of a better term, not so good Thais. Such venues include Riva's, Spasso's, CM2 and Q Bar. A very interesting story came out of Q Bar this week. Some Thai women were refused entry. They were dressed appropriately, had ID proving that they were of legal age and had the 600 baht fee one has to pay to get inside. A couple of farang blokes go to enter and notice these two Thai girls standing there at the door, looking a little lost. Engaging them in conversation, the farangs asked them if they would be going inside to which they said they could not. One of the farangs asked the doorman / security guard what the story was and was told that "these women are prostitutes and as such they are not allowed inside." He then added that, "If that is what you're looking for then you might want to try Riva's or CM2". Ouch! So, it would seem that Q Bar is trying to separate itself away from the image that so many high end spots and actively prevent working girls from entering. Still, I would have thought that the doormen should have been a little more careful with what they said.

This week was perhaps the first week in 3 or 4 years when I had one good night out in each of Nana, Cowboy, Patpong and Pattaya. Not a lot has changed and most of the stereotypes for each bar area hold true. Patpong is pushy, Nana is expensive and Pattaya is the most fun. But funnily enough, I had the most enjoyment down in Patpong. I can't quite put my finger on why, but perhaps it was Safari Bar with the great music they play?

There is one comparison I must make between the bar areas. Patpong and Nana Plaza both stink! Soi Cowboy is no worse than any other lane in Bangkok and is hardly the most fragrant part of the city, but really, both Nana and the Pong reek in certain corners!

A friend told me a story this week which very clearly represented the differences between Thais and farangs and the nightmare that some relationships can become. For Valentine's Day he bought his wife a big bunch of flowers and they were waiting for her at home when she got home from work that day. At the sight of the flowers she sulked and it took a while for him to get to the bottom of the problem. She was angry because some of her workmates had had flowers delivered to them at work, but she hadn't. She therefore felt that even though he had bought flowers for her, it was not the same as having them delivered to her place of work where maximum face would have been gained. Is it me, or is this sort of attitude fxxxed up?

I've heard recently about an after hours venue called "the swimming pool" which is located just off Khao Sarn Road. Shrouded in mystery, apparently it cannot be heard from the main Khao Sarn Road, but if you knock on a certain shophouse door and give them the right code, you are let inside to an area where there is a significant sized swimming pool and room for a couple of people to party. They say that the music is blaring on the inside but cannot be heard from the outside. Yeah, right. It goes all night, the 1:00 AM closing meaning nothing to them. Anyone been? I always enjoy a night out at Khao Sarn Road and am almost tempted to check it out.

I was chatting the other night with an Aussie who was passing through Thailand for a few days and he told me how he felt he had gone temporarily insane a couple of nights earlier. No, he had not been swinging it around without a condom, but rather had hit Chang Beer pretty hard. If you didn't know, Chang beer is probably the strongest of the locally brewed beers and as well as packing a punch, some folks complain about some fairly odd side effects. I've always stuck with Heineken myself – it's fairly forgiving the next morning. Chang is quite the opposite.

Apparently there is (was?) a meeting this week in Sydney to discuss a possible change in legislation which would enable Thai women to work legally as prostitutes in legal brothels in Australia. As far as I can gather the rationale for this is to help put a stop to the people smuggling problem. As you can imagine, it's a controversial move which has provoked a strong reaction and sparked debate.

Yet another warning about buying local movies on DVD. Assuming that because they are in DVD format that they will have English subtitles is not a good assumption to make. Many Thai movies, even the more popular ones, often do NOT have subtitles in English, which I personally find kind of weird. Still, as Mrs. Stick said, "why would you want to watch a Thai movie?" When I first met her, she had not seen one in more than ten years! And the only one she has seen since then was because I wanted to see it and dragged her along. Funnily enough, picking up a pirate copy of a Thai movie, which is likely a foreign distributed version of the DVD ripped, has a much higher chance of subtitles than a local original!

I was talking with a friend this week about the way that many Westerners warn other Westerners not to get into serious dispute or confrontation with any locals, for fear that the stakes will be upped and in a worst case scenario, the local will employ the services of someone who will settle the dispute "for once and for all". My friend seemed to be of the opinion that this is largely an urban myth and the likelihood of it happening is very low indeed. He cited numerous examples of disputes, arguments and even fights he had been in, including a bit of rough and tumble with the motorcycle riders at the mouth of his soi and the odd duel with other farangs, usually the boyfriend of some girl he had taken a fancy to. What do you think? Will the locals really take things to the limit?

Bangkok was at one time the king of naughty nightlife here in Thailand, that is until much of the funny business was outlawed. The burning question is will Pattaya eventually suffer the same fate? Or will this outrageous double standard be allowed to continue, as though the authorities have the vision of Stevie Wonder? Those in power may think it is a good housekeeper but it is no good sweeping things under the carpet, or just moving unwanted things from one place to another. Pattaya seems at time to be a lawless city and yet the Bangkok bars suffer a totally draconian rule. Perhaps it simply daydream that Pattaya is not a part of Thailand. Whatever the answers are, such wild contradictions make it hard for certain people to be taken seriously.

Are expat circles in Thailand a hotbed for the dreaded "tall poppy syndrome?" I don't know how prevalent this is in other countries but in New Zealand, it is quite an issue. The NZ public seems to knock down those who are successful, often irrespective of whether they deserve to be knocked down or not. I can remember many years ago when one particular New Zealand cricketer, Martin Crowe, had a very high profile. He was an outstanding sportsman, one of the best in the world at the time, and he enjoyed the high life. He was well-dressed, well-groomed, had a gorgeous wife and they enjoyed a very pleasant lifestyle. Good on him I say. But many in the NZ public would criticise, or even ridicule him. Rumours were rife that the poor guy was everything from a snob to arrogant to gay. One of our great sports heroes of the day who deserved respect from the public got nothing but grief. It wasn't limited to him and it seems that many who are successful get the same treatment. Sometimes I wonder about the existence of this very same thing here in Thailand. It would seem that many Westerners here, especially those who are high profile and / or successful, are constantly knocked down. The latest attack was against top British thriller writer Steve Leather. Steve's cult novel "Private Dancer" which was published in print form just recently was slammed by one critic in the local press in a vitriolic tirade that left me wondering if the reviewer had even read the same book I had. Pretty much every person I know enjoyed it very much. Some of Jake Needham's books have had a hammering in the local press, and ironically at least one other Bangkok novel author slammed one of Jake's books in a review that to me was clearly a case of jealousy. Jake's books have received critical acclaim in such highly respected publications as the Wall Street Journal, but oh no, the local press are not always so kind. Dean Barrett's books have also received critical acclaim internationally, yet locally his books are don't always get what I would consider a fair go. And it is not just in the print media where this phenomenon occurs. Of course, no-one is perfect, but you have to wonder what is going on when a bunch of unsuccessful nobodies make a point of harshly and often unfairly heaping a tirade of criticism on those locally who are actually producing something of substance. And it is not just limited to the print media. The same poison can be found online in many Thailand discussion forums. This is one of the reasons why I am very choosy about which of these forums I spend time on these days. Apart from Nanaplaza which tends to be better managed and moderated than any other Thailand related forum, I avoid most of them. The vitriolic tirades one so often reads quickly put people off them. If you enjoy reading novels set in Bangkok, pretty much anything by Messrs Leather, Needham, Barrett or Moore is worthwhile. I am quite sure that if John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Dan Brown or any other major international author wrote a novel set in Bangkok under an assumed name, it would get slammed by the local press. What is it with these guys?! I'd like to say that the world is a funny place but this seems to be a case of "Bangkok syndrome", a place where far too many Westerners seem dead set on attempting to make a mockery of others in what I can only assume is some sort of misguided effort to make themselves feel better. GROW UP! And as far as current sellers go, you just HAVE TO get a copy of Private Dancer – it is THE Bangkok nightlife novel.

And speaking of Mr. Barrett, Dean's latest, the cover of which you can find in the in the previous paragraph, is available in bookstores locally and can also be bought online at Amazon.com. The wonderfully titled "The Gogo Dancer Who Stole My Viagra" is a collection of short stories and poetry and should appeal to both fans and participants of Thailand's naughty nightlife industry as well as Dean's legion of fans. I hope to have a review some time soon.

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. Just one thing to consider. Mrs. Stick is a middle class woman from a middle class background and with all due respect to her, Thai people in one class do not always know what is going on in another class. She'll do her best to answer all questions but remember, she'll be looking at it from a middle class point of view!

Question 1: In some cultures different types of flowers mean different things – in the west red roses are for love, carnations are for friendship or cheap bastards that don't want to pay for roses, etc. In some places, certain flowers are only used for religious reasons (lilies, etc). So, what's the deal in the Thai culture? I went to give my friend a beautiful orchid and she replied that those are only for Buddha, and it seems that white carnations are something they may like more. Can you run down the different types and what they mean in Thai culture? Some of us like to treat our girlfriends there nicely and want to make them happy – but giving them a beautiful flower that may only be only used in funerals sure wouldn't have the effect we're looking for! Please help save us all from our cultural ignorance…

Mrs. Stick says: When it comes to flowers it may be best to follow the "international rules". Roses, lilies and carnations are always safe. Most flowers that are only found in Thailand have some sort of symbolic meaning and are only appropriate to give to certain people in certain circumstances. There are certain types of flowers we give to our parents, our teachers, present at a funeral etc. Unfortunately if you give the wrong flower at the wrong occasion it can be much worse than not giving anything at all! So like I say, stick to the international rules and you should be ok.

Do the people in Thailand who really count read this column, or other websites? Some readers seem to think so. What about the authorities? Does what is reported online, and let's face it, we're a bit more risqué than the local print media, attract the attention of media watchdogs? A couple of stories reached me recently, though just how much truth is in them, I really do not know. The first was that there was an uncanny correlation between the slipping Nana closing times printed in this column and the police cracking down and ensuring that 1:00 AM closing time as strictly enforced. And the next one was that a certain individual was visited by certain authorities, again potentially based on what was written online. Do you think that the authorities take much notice of what is written online? Could they even be monitoring things? What do you think?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Dave The Rave and Bkk Grasshopper.