Stickman's Weekly Column May 15th, 2005

The Great Bangkok Rip-Off?


StickmanBangk ok .com


In North America it is virtually compulsory and if you don't do it, you might just get away with it, but then again, you might not. Failure to do so could see you verbally abused or in a worst-case scenario, chased down the street with a knife!

In Europe I believe there is a growing trend towards it though in many places it is far from compulsory and remains optional.

Down under it is absolutely optional and seldom will you even see people do it. It is not really even part of the culture.

What am I talking about? Tips, of course!

Whenever we talk about money and what we choose to do with our money, heated arguments can arise. So just what is the story with tipping in Thailand?

In Thailand tipping varies from establishment to establishment, social class to social class, but the Thai way seems to be that coins and perhaps a small banknote or two from the change, read a 20, are left as a tip, irrespective of the size of the bill. A bill for 285 baht might see 15 baht left whereas a bill for 2,768 baht might see 32 baht left. Generally speaking, and I'm generalising here, a small amount is left that does not necessarily correlate to a percentage of the bill. More may be left from time to time, but would hardly be termed the norm.

I'm a Kiwi and in our culture, we don't tip, so to me personally this is something of a foreign concept. If I was in the States I would tip, for it is the culture there and I understand and respect that. I know from many of the North American readers the idea of not leaving a tip goes totally against what they are used to back home. But if I am dining out in Thailand and the service sucks, I wouldn't tip. That's the way it is here.

Whether people tip or not in restaurants in Thailand is largely up to them, but what I do want to look at is the SERVICE CHARGE that many establishments levy on their customers. To me, the service charge represents a compulsory tip, a flat rate (invariably 10% though a few establishments charge 5%) tip levied by the establishment for the service staff. This should negate the need for one to pay a tip, should it not? But this is Thailand, the land where many things are not quite what they seem.

What actually happens to the service charge paid in a restaurant in Thailand?

The Hard Rock Cafe, itself a bastion of American culture, cruelly keeps the service charge that oh so many customers assume is the tip! Asking one of the waiting staff at the Pattaya branch of the Hard Rock Cafe about the service charge, she replied that the waiting staff do not see a single satang of what I estimate must be hundreds of thousands of baht in service charges passing through that venue every month. This is downright questionable, if not criminal, in my opinion.

The Huntsman, the British style pub / restaurant in the basement of the Landmark is known by many in the farang community for its very good British pub style food. Unfortunately, it is yet another establishment where the staff do not see a single satang of the service charge. Asking a waitress about the service charge and whether they see any of it, she simply replied, "we get paid a salary and that's all".

And so it goes on. Many restaurants, particularly those in a lot of the better hotels, keep the service charge and do not pass it on to the staff at all.

But it's not all bad news. In Via Vai, that decent new Italian restaurant in Sukhumvit Soi 8, one of the waitresses informed me that the service charge which is automatically charged to the bill is distributed amongst the staff.

One of the most popular venues with farangs in Bangkok is Bourbon Street, and one of the most recognisable figures is Doug, the owner. I put the question to Doug about this service charge issue of 10% charged in his establishment and he gave what is quite frankly, the model answer:

This is a very good question that deserves to be asked at any outlet which adds the ++ which is VAT=7% and 10% service charge…the staff get every baht of service charge from Bourbon St. and The Courtyard. And why not, it is their money.

Yes, that is the correct answer. Go straight to the top of the class, Doug. It is the staff's money!

What about smaller venues? There is a small Thai chain of noodle restaurants called Noodle House which levies a 5% service charge on the bill. A bowl of noodles typically goes for around 50 baht, a drink no more than 20 and other dishes go for around 30 – 40 baht. The cost per head of eating there would typically be around 100 baht. The service charge of 5% IS divvied up among the staff at the end of each day, just as I believe it should be. Hell, I even leave a few more baht because the staff are so nice.

Of course there are many venues where a service charge is not included on the bill – and in some cases, such as in the Irish Xchange, the menu clearly states that a tip is optional. This, in my humble opinion, is how it should be.

I strongly resent the practice of an establishment charging what is termed a "service charge" and then keeping it themselves and not distributing it amongst the staff. Whenever I see the magic words "service charge", the last thing they'll be getting from me is a tip. The funny thing is that the Thai staff may not be shy to give you a rude look in a situation like this, or perhaps even say something to the effect of, "Where is the tip, Mr. Kee-neow*", something I detest.

I don't wish to be mean-spirited and deprive service staff of a tip *if* one was deserved, but I truly believe it is the MANY establishments who collect a service charge and fail to pass it on to their staff who are mean-spirited. And the cheek of suggesting that a tip be paid on top of a service charge is taking the piss big time.

* kee-neow – Thai word for stingy. It is used more often than stingy would be in English.


WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya.

Somewhere in Bangkok.

Last week's pic featured the Hard Rock Hotel in Pattaya at night and a heap of people got it right, probably in excess of 100. Unfortunately 99+ didn't get a prize. Each week the first reader to correctly state where the picture 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.

I have to admit that one prize is not really enough given the huge number of people who send in a response. If you would like to offer a prize for this section of the column, please get in touch (Your banner ad will appear here). Free beer / food would be ideal, but a credit at a shop or establishment that would appeal to the majority of readers would be good too.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Why the Germans are staying home.

About the Germans coming to Pattaya: Being Austrian myself, and living in Pattaya now permanently for about a year, I might be able to give some comments on this: First, the area in Pattaya where you see most of the Germans was and is Naklua. I rarely ever go there, but from my infrequent observations it looks that even there the business with Germans is going down. And why? From reading some German speaking forums, the news about the social order campaign as well as the 1 AM closing has really hit hard among German tourists of the Pattaya kind, with many of them, including the large group of “family oriented tourists without children, on the look for some raunchiness to spice up their love life” (and believe me as a bar owner, there are more of this kind than you might consider!) stopping to go to Thailand as they don’t want to be told what to do and when by a repressive granny state. It took a year or two until these tourists learned about these regulations and their rather (in Thai terms) strict enforcement, and I fear it will take another year or two after (hopefully!) restoring more laissez-faire until that would be acknowledged by the tourists. Why is this a big theme with Germans and not with Britons? I really don’t know, but maybe the British are still used to the (not so long ago) 11 PM closure at pubs back home that they see a 1 AM closure as normal, while Germany has developed a 24/7 bar and nightclub culture within the last 10 or 20 years.

Is Asia better after all?

One of your readers wrote about the lack of freedom in the US. I returned from Asia to live in my native Chicago for the first time since I was a teenager about this time last year. The lack of freedom has hit me like a kick in the face. The funny thing is, no one here notices it. You so much as mention it, and all of a sudden you are the enemy. Checks on government action are virtually extinct. People have been lead to believe America is number one, and there is no one that will tell them differently. Truthfully, I’m scared. I used to think Asians were ignorant. No no, it's the vast majority of the States that never considers the outside world for anything but their resources that is truly ignorant. I am generally a law abiding citizen, yet I live in fear of the police. And believe me, Chicago police are just as corrupt as the Thai police, it's just that the corruption is more organized. I hope to return to Asia soon.

The benefits of cheap international calling cards, marketers take note!

I'm just off the phone from my Sunday morning phone sex via that wonderful country Thailand. Came from Prachinburi this time. 3 calls in the last 12 hours to me. Maybe I brag too much? I'm mainly telling you cause I have never heard this mentioned on your site before about farang based guys doing this. Not meaning to sound rude, but it's the best way to whack off first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The texting is good too. I have about 5 on the go regularly. I work it so they end up calling me. I guess with call cards it's cheap enough too. I believe though there is a lifespan for such things like this though unfortunately. 'Love' kicks in with them and when I can't get out there I guess it's gonna fizzle but that's just an educated guess.

The Japanese, explained.

The Japanese have been coming in for a bit of stick from readers recently for pushing up the prices of short-time gigs, which I feel is a little unfair. I have been working for a Japanese investment bank for close on 10 years now, including a two year stint in Bangkok, so I know a fair bit about the Japanese approach to bargirls. The average Japanese tourist knows the going rates at the bars and is just as reluctant as anyone else to pay more – there is a monthly Japanese publication called "Exciting Bangkok" which is amazingly accurate in all these details including where to score. The Japanese you see under the Rainbows tend to be single men in their 30s or 40s who are only in Thailand because they are losers are far as their companies are concerned. They tend to have petty egos and get easily infatuated, hence 4,000 baht to assure the services of a particular girl. The girls are just as much to blame, for their greed and for playing regular customers off against each other to raise the stakes. Another factor, which as a westerner is a bit hard to swallow, is that a lot of Thai poon actually prefer Japanese men. If not for their looks, then for their humble, courteous and reliable attitude. They do not engage the girls in meaningless conversation (also because their English is crap) or waste the girls' time. They do not have 50 inch waists and have high standards of personal hygiene. But there is a further factor which cannot be ignored. There are some Japanese around (few thankfully) who will not go with a girl if they see her going with a westerner, which explains why so many of the Rainbow girls only go with Japanese.

Hold the mayo for Mr. Old-fashioned.

What is it with the Thais and mayonnaise? In this country, I have to constantly remember to specify "NO MAYO" with any food order I make, especially for foreign food. I grew up in Ireland and England in the 60's and 70's and I was probably 30 (or more) before the disgusting, cold, slimy, crap taste of mayo ever passed my lips. Yet when I go to a farang food joint here, if "god forbid" I forget to tell them differently, they will wield the mayo bottle like a demon possessed. Coleslaw? What kind of crap is that? When I was young "coal" was what we burned to keep warm. I shudder to even think what "slaw" is. Bring on the spuds boiled in their jackets. I like the girls though, as long as there is not the leg of a cricket protruding from their teeth.

Rainbow 4 in Nana opened on time last weekend and was packed. A lot of the girls working in there were existing staff from the other Rainbow bars who were juggled around to ensure that there were enough girls there for the big opening. Pricing for beers is the same as the other Rainbow bars – typical Nana prices.

Rainbow 1 in Nana is closed for renovations.

Boss Hogg's has been sold to two Americans and the deal has been finished. Temptations, also a Hogg property, has been sold to another American.

Champagne, the beautifully decorated bar located above Bully's on the main Sukhumvit Road just around the corner from Soi 4, has been sold to yet another American and will open no later than June 1. Whoa, sounds like the Americans are invading Sukhumvit. Boss Hogg, who was the previous owner of Champagne, previewed 40 of the Champagne girls this week and said that they were many steps up the ladder from the normal Soi 33 / Cowboy / Nana variety. He didn't say better, just said better looking. Hey, now that he is not an owner he can sample each and every one of them! That may be even too much for Boss Hogg. (I wonder if he has been waiting for this moment….?!) Could he afford all 40, not to mention the energy that would be needed? What follows is a goodbye message from Mr. Colourful, Boss Hogg.

Except for my real estate holdings, Boss Hogg has left the plaza having sold all operations in excess of 68,000,000 baht, paid in full. Good and bad, this has been a great 5 years in Nana Plaza for the Boss but I found it necessary to move on to cleaner places. My sincere thanks to all the friends, customers, staff and even bar owners who have shared a laugh on many occasions over the past 5 years. A sincere thanks to Stickman, Night Owl and of course Baron Bonk whom in his own way gave me advertising through insults that were more than I could have paid for. A very special thanks to David of Crown Group and Peter at Playskool for teaching me the ropes.

Boss Hogg

Not so quick Boss Hogg, you can't escape that easily, and indeed he hasn't. Bully's, Boss's bar on the main Sukhumvit Road is still on the market. Interested parties should contact Sunbelt Asia for more details.

Last year Dirty Derek and the team at the Winking Frog in Sukhumvit Soi 7 raised 120,000 baht for Father Joe Maier's charity and they hope to do better this year! There will be live music on the day and also a free buffet. So please take some time to drop by and buy some tickets which go towards a good cause before 20th May 2005. Tickets are just 50 baht each (so buy a few!) and the prizes include a motorbike valued at 30,000 baht, a holiday voucher and sports memorabilia. Let's hope Derek doesn't think his dirty gruds from a game of squash constitute sporting memorabilia! The booby prize, perhaps?!

Over in the States, return air tickets (or should I say round trip tickets?!) are up to about $1000 a pop, even for the cheapest available at the moment, flying out of the US to Bangkok. Economy class tickets in the past usually went for about $700.

For the users of mobiles with a pre-paid SIM (plans like One 2 Call, Happy DPrompt etc.) things are very much up in the air at the moment. There has been much talk in the press that everyone using such an account will have to provide their details to the mobile company. How this works for folks who are out of the country and only use the number during their infrequent trips to the Kingdom, I do not know. There are also various stories going around the various Thai grapevines at the moment about people being approached by bearded geezers covered in a bed sheet wanting to buy their mobile with SIM at a price far in excess of its real value! I kid you not! Even Mrs. Stick told me to be careful of such people, though she needn't have.

How does a certain bar in Pattaya continue to operate with an all white girl dancing staff? Rumour has it that the bar is owned by, or at least partially owned by, a fellow whose day job sees him in a brown uniform. Word has it that before the bar was filled with white women, he went for a stroll through the seaside city of sin and told several women from the Ukraine that should they wish to continue to sell their wares in Pattaya they would have to do it from this particular bar. If they did not, they could expect to be on the next plane home. Rumour or fact?

I got it totally wrong in last week's column with Tony's in Pattaya. The bar itself WAS and still IS closed – and management have seized the moment to do some renovations. Despite this, the outside bar right in front of it is still open. I was given a brochure by someone on the street for Tony's and walked along and saw this part open and assumed the whole place was open, which it was not. My mistake.

Work continues night and day on the building between Patpong 1 and Patpong 2. Word on the street is that when finished it will be a hotel with massage parlour and seafood restaurant.

There are major rumblings out at Khao Sarn Road with the cartel increasing the price of pad Thai to 15 baht. Street vendors use to sell it at a universal 10 baht but it now can't be found for less than 15. Needless to say, some backpackers are not happy!

In a rather strange move the manager at Safari Bar has outfitted the dancers with short student type skirts. This is one change in a bar which is very successful but the other change is more dramatic. Safari has been known for a long time as a place where very good rock and roll style music is played but this has been changed to more modern disco type. Somewhat questionable I would have thought given that many who know the bar go there specifically for the music. The waitresses still have the formal style long dresses. The dancers now have to pay the bar 20 baht a day to rent their mandatory skirts and the waitresses have to fork over 10 daily baht for their dresses. 10 or 20 baht a day may seem like small change but for the girls that amounts to a pay cut of about 600 baht a month, which can be a lot to these girls, and the bar will make a healthy profit as the cost to them will be paid off in no time.

Lots of new girls on the poles in most of the bars on the Pong with another influx of girls from upcountry. Several girls have moved laterally from one bar in a group to others in the same group. Has anyone ever figured out the reason behind the timing of these mass movements of girls?

The Nana disease is spreading – although it could be argued that it originally started in Patpong. From Soi Cowboy a Bangkok resident was knocked back when a dancer at Long Gun wanted 2,500 baht for short time. She was very aggressive when he broke out laughing at that ridiculous price and blocked the door with her body when he tried to leave demanding he take her with him.

So many absurd things happen in Thailand that one almost becomes desensitized to some of the amazing stories we hear on what can at times seem like a daily basis. One of my workmates started a scrapbook of such stories, clipping such stories from the local newspapers, but he gave up after a month – he'd already filled up one large scrapbook! The following story would never appear in the local English language press, but it absolutely did happen and shows just how absurd some things are in this part of the world. A bunch of Westerners decided to drive from Bangkok, where they are based, up to Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, and back. After preparing the exhaustive list of paperwork required by the Thais to take a vehicle out of the country, they drove to the border at Poipet. They were cleared through the Thai side and stamped out of the country but were turned away at the Cambodian side. They were told that they could enter the country, but they could not take the car with them. The car would have to stay on the Thai side – and the Cambodian immigration authorities would arrange a taxi to take them to Angkor Wat, at a cost of course. They tried to bribe the Cambodian border officials but amazingly, they weren't successful. Bugger it, they decided that they would leave Cambodia on principle, and would return to Thailand. So, they were stamped out of Cambodia in record time, and stamped back into Thailand. There is a casino in no man's land up there, sort of in between Thailand and Cambodia so they took the car back to the Thai side, parked it, and then back out of Thailand they went into the casino. They played at the casino until late and decided to overnight it there in the hotel which apparently has very nice rooms for a mere 800 baht. The next morning it was time to return to Bangkok. They went back to the border point but were denied entry into Thailand! They were told that the Cambodian exit stamp in their passport was from the previous day and that they could not enter Thailand unless the exit stamp was of the same day they wished to enter Thailand. So, back to the Cambodian border point they walked. They were told that for 500 baht their exit stamp could be changed to today's date, allowing them to get back into Thailand, to which they agreed. After all, they really had no choice now! So, they gave their passports to the official along with the 500 baht and away he went. Five minutes later the immigration official appeared with the passport. The date had been changed with liquid white-out and the current day's date written! Back to Thai immigration who accepted this and back into Thailand they came. The moral of this story? Carry a bottle of white-out with you at all times!

Regular customers of Q Bar seem to be getting used to the hassle of the bar being raided and them being asked to provide a urine sample to the boys in brown. What I find hugely ironical is that just before the raid takes place the boys in brown often park their vehicles in the Bed car park, a rival nightspot located just around the corner. Hilarious!

While often called over-critical, one thing I have not complained about before is the difficulty of getting a good drink in a gogo bar. Sure, a bottle of beer is a bottle of beer, but what if you want spirits? You can't tell me that what many bars serve is a good drink. There is no way some of the spirits you are served is what you ordered. But on top of that, often you get a very small glass and my pet hate is the tiny ice cubes they serve. In the heat of Thailand, such small ice cubes melt even before the drink gets to your table! It would be nice if a bar actually provided decent drinks, that is the REAL spirit you ordered in good measure, served in a decent sized glass, not a 5 baht Jatujak special, with decent sized ice cubes. Perhaps I'm dreaming?

A heap of Italian restaurants have opened up in Bangkok over the last few years, many Italian owned and operated and most of them are great, that is if like me you like Italian food. True or not, I heard an interesting rumour about a contributing factor as to why so many have opened. Apparently the Italians in business in Bangkok argue and fight amongst themselves a lot. They have heated fights about various aspects of running the business so when you have a restaurant with a few different Italian investors, they often argue with each other to the point that they end up splitting up with each party going their own way and opening a new restaurant. This cycle is repeated with new investors coming in to the new restaurants, a major argument following and so it goes on. One thing's for sure, there are a heap of good Italian restaurants here and us Italian food lovers are the winners.

The Mrs. calls it Unhappy DPrompt and has no end of trouble making calls due to the "network being busy". One 2 Call may be more expensive but it is largely trouble free, or so I have found it to be. I always tell her it doesn't hurt to pay a little more…

Chris Moore's latest, "Gambling On Magic", will be released by Heaven Lake Press in the trade paperback size, you know the one that is bigger than a standard paperback, on October 4. A deluxe limited edition is being pre-sold for delivery in August 2005 and each copy will be numbered and signed by the author. If you buy your copy for delivery to an address outside of Thailand, it will be shipped via UPS. If you live in Bangkok, your copy will be delivered to your address by EMS. Priced at US$39.95 plus $5.00 for shipping, the deluxe edition is your chance to receive an advance copy of the novel and take a flutter that this is the book that will prove to be Moore’s breakout novel, a book that appears on collector websites selling rare editions.

Ajarn.com is a great website for those teaching in Thailand or those thinking of teaching here but unfortunately commercial realities mean that the webmaster cannot allow extended discussion that may cast aspersions on certain schools. This is disappointing really because there are a number of truly bad employers out there that people ought to know about. But, a new website has come along to take up the reins – Thaischoolwatch.com. What I like about this site is that they actually allow you to say what it is really like to work at certain schools. For those not in the teaching profession locally it should be noted that many, many employers treat their staff like shit, and thus the existence of such a site may allow others to avoid finding out the hard way.

And on the subject of English teaching, I have always wondered about the benefits of Thais studying English for so many years. I mean, I see students who have had TWELVE years of English study at school, that is many periods of study every week, and at least 6 years with farang teachers, if not more, who complete high school and can barely put together a grammatically correct sentence, be it spoken or written. So when they reported on TV the other day that a survey out of Singapore found that the Thais spoke the best English in Asia after Singapore and Hong Kong (I'm assuming the Indian subcontinent was not included), I was surprised to say the least. Thais better than Malaysians at English? I'd never have thought so.

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: I hope this is NOT too personal but Mr. Stick states that you are not a
Buddhist – I assume Christian? Would you please comment on your 'conversion' to Christianity in terms of age, reasons, etc., but also the feelings you have of being a Christian in a HEAVILY Buddhist country. Thailand, in my eyes, seems to have a 'state' religion in Buddhism thus do you ever feel uncomfortable being a non-Buddhist? Any hostility from other Thais?

Mrs. Stick says: That's a very good question and I'm happy to answer it. Believe it or not, even though Thailand is strongly Buddhist, it did surprise me that many people did not have such strong reactions when I changed. People became intrigued by the reasons that made me change and how it changed me. Some people were confused, and surprised, but in time I was able to prove to them that I knew what I was doing and they respected my choice. No, there has never been any hostility and I have never felt uncomfortable not being Buddhist. Supposedly being Buddhist but not really understanding it in depth was frustrating. I feel with Christianity it is so much easier to understand and that the "direction" it gives is so much clearer. At the time I changed I think quite a few people looked at themselves and sort of examined themselves to see what they really thought about their own faith. Our religion is chosen for us from birth so I think we have a duty to actually examine religion if it is chosen for us, and decide if that really is the best for us, or not.

Question 2: I once had the great luck to have a wonderful Thai girlfriend. She was attending a university in Bangkok (ABAC), came from a good family and was a genuinely very good and nice person. It was a long term relationship and when I visited Thailand we would be as a couple. She was younger and this was actually what ended our loving relationship. My question is, how would a 'good' average Thai woman view or handle the termination of a relationship if she was sexually active in that relationship without marriage. Is there any 'fallout' from having a premarital sexual relationship that would affect her?

Mrs. Stick says: Don't be silly. If she had anticipated a major problem from the break up, she would have been much less wiling to break up with you. Marriage with a much older boyfriend would actually be of greater effect in her life than the pre-marital sex, would it not? Thai women in this day and age may appear silly but actually they're not. She would have been fairly clear in her own mind what she was doing so don't worry yourself too much with feelings of guilt. Thai society is changing and while in the past this would have been a very big deal, it is less so these days.

If you're not in country you may not be aware that an American national with an appropriate surname, Prowler, was arrested this week in Bangkok and charged with the most heinous of crimes, fiddling with young boys. Quite disgusting really and something to turn the stomach of even the most hardened Bangkok expats. It has been novel watching this guy get assholes online in the various discussion forums and the torrents of abuse that have been heaped on him. Remember, it is no crime for a bloke to jump into the sack with another bloke, but it was the age of the offenders he was caught with, purportedly 15 and 17, that got him into trouble with the authorities. A huge number of guys living in Thailand liaise with the local service girls from time to time. I hate to tell you but a heap of these girls are underage. Many guys may have unwittingly done the dirty with an underage girl….so before you start screaming about those who jump into the sack with minors, have a quick think about little Lek who said she was 18 but was as flat as a pancake, or nubile Noi who was 20 but had the body of someone much younger. What about dirty Daeng? She said she was 19 but the lack of curves made you wonder. There ARE underage girls in the farang oriented sector of the bar scene. Be careful.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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