Stickman's Weekly Column May 29th, 2005

White Boys In Brown?


StickmanBangk ok .com


They linger around the start of a very busy street and in some ways they have become something of an attraction themselves. They've been around for a while now and a lot of people don't really know quite what to make of them. They wear black shirts and some of them stand around with mean looks on their faces, looking like they are actually looking for trouble. But funnily enough, this look is in total contradiction with the role that they are there to perform. They are the Thai tourist police farang volunteers.

Dealing with the police in Thailand is not most foreigners' idea of fun so the idea of getting some farangs involved to assist the Thai police would appear, on the surface at least, to be a good idea.

But who are these guys? Are they merely a bunch of farangs masquerading as policemen who are simply there for PR, or are they the real deal with the powers to act accordingly?

Quite by chance I was given the opportunity this week to ask a few questions of an Australian member of the farang volunteer tourist police and what follows are his responses.

How many farang Tourist Police are there? How are you “recruited”?

I'm one of them and there are nearly 20 of us. First to remember we are only tourist police "volunteers" and are not full blown cops. We are there to help and assist the tourist police carry out their duties to serve and protect visitors to Thailand. The farang component is also a BUFFER between the visitors and the regular cops.

Where in Thailand can farang tourist police be found?

At this stage the only farang volunteers are in Pattaya, mostly in Walking Street.

What are the roles of the farang tourist police? Just how much power do the farang tourist police volunteers have? Can you arrest people? Can you detain people? Are you equipped with equipment or weapons of any kind?

We are regulated by a long list of rules. We can arrest anyone. We can detain an offender (like a ladyboy who steals the wallet from a farang and wants to run off) until a regular cop turns up. We need to speak at least a reasonable amount of Thai. We cannot carry firearms, but we do carry handcuffs, a baton and a radio, as well as some of us who are first aid officers and carry medical kits.

What are your backgrounds? Do you, as a group, have / have to have a background in law enforcement?

All the volunteers I work with are either expats or very regular visitors to Thailand, some with businesses here and with Thai wives, and who are experienced in the way of Thai culture and thinking, more than the normal visitor ever will be, but we are still "farang" and understand you and why you are here. We are here for the same reasons and that's why by working with the Thai police we can protect our common reasons for being here. We are all local expats from many countries and between us speak most European languages.

What, if any, steps are taken to check the backgrounds of the volunteers?

We applied at the local Tourist Police for the job for which there is no pay. When farangs were called to apply, we needed to pass a background check and were trained in life saving, first aid and many other things like PR and how we are to behave in various situations.

Would you care to comment on any situations or cases where you feel the farang police volunteers have done something worthwhile / useful / helpful?

I'd like to ask your readers this question, if you were in a heated disagreement with a Thai bargirl and cops were called in, would you like it to be a Thai cop maybe from the same province as the girl, maybe speaking no or bad English, or a farang volunteer who can speak Thai and your lingo and who has "understanding" for your problem cause we "have been there, done that, like you"?

Also we try very, very hard to act as a buffer between farangs in trouble and the Thai cops and prevent something small from becoming something big. Like recently a fellow Aussie guy was very, very drunk in an alley way, or high on something. I and my fellow volunteer took him to hospital and we took his very thick wallet out and counted the money and got a receipt before handing it to the nursing staff. Would you have preferred someone else to have found you if you were in that situation?

Many farangs, both tourists and especially those resident here, are suspicious of the farangs working with the tourist police. What can you say to help appease many of these people that those volunteering to help are doing so for the “correct reasons”? i.e. do they genuinely wish to help or is this simply an easy way to forge strong connections with local law enforcements authorities to their own advantage?

We welcome any farang to come to our police bus situated at the entrance of Walking Street and ask any question you may have. Please remember we are there TO SERVE AND PROTECT our fellow farangs.

So there you have it, from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Make of it what you will…

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was opposite World Trade Centre.

Central Bangkok…

Last week's pic was taken from the World Trade Centre, shooting with a telephoto lens at one of the giants outside the main entrance to Naraiyaphan, on the other side of the road. A heap of people thought it was Wat Po, in fact about 75% of all people who emailed a response thought it was Wat Po. 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. Super author Steve Leather has agreed to provide copies of his outstanding novel "Private Dancer" as a prize so that is the prize for the second person to get it right. The book can be mailed anywhere in Thailand. And now we have a third prize! BkiThailand are offering small hand-cast, crafted sandstone sculptures as prize #3. They average 3-4 pounds in weight and vary in size but are on average 6" x 8" and depict Thai or Khmer art. They come with a small wire stand for display. This prize, due to its size, can only be delivered to winners in Bangkok. So prize number three is for people in Bangkok only (but is open to anyone here on holiday and staying at a local hotel to where it could be delivered.)

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Be polite in quiet restaurants!

Regarding shoddy service and the Thai not caring for repeat custom, I've always found it to be the opposite, with two caveats (to follow). I'll show up once, get smiling, happy service, and think little of it (other than to compare it favourably to London). If I return to that bar, restaurant, hotel, whatever again, we're greeted with sheer joy. If they see me more than four or five times in a year, they'll fall over themselves, kicking other people off of benches, cancelling reservations, or doing whatever they can to make me happy. But there are two caveats…..one, the Thai don't function well at anything over about 50% capacity. Two, you do have to be polite.

Taiwan, the most civilised corner of Asia?

I have lived in a number of Asian countries teaching English and have to concede that Asians are, in general, xenophobic and nationalist. The exception is Taiwan, although their liking of foreigners may have more to do with the need to feel protected from those evil commies rather than anything else. I have occasionally witnessed incidents involving a foreigner and a local (in Japan, Taiwan, China, and Thailand) and in all cases, other locals will join in to outnumber the hapless farang. In all cases I have witnessed, the foreigner has been the one who has started the trouble and has arguably deserved what he got. The scary thing about Thailand is that it takes very little, such as a misunderstanding about an order or a wrong bill in a bar or restaurant, to escalate into something a lot worse and the Thais seem to enjoy kicking the shit out of farangs more than anywhere else I have been to. This nasty vicious streak in Thais is one of many reasons I could never live in the Kingdom.

So why do the waiting staff say they don't get the service charge?!

This is to confirm what a reader wrote this week concerning service charges at major hotels. My girlfriend worked at the Landmark for 7 years, both in the Huntsman Pub and Atrium restaurant. Everyone received a monthly allotment for "service charge" in addition to their monthly wage. The amount would vary, naturally being higher during peak season.

Brotherhood of the dumbfounded.

Some times it only takes one visit to Thailand to gain a life long membership into the “brotherhood of the dumbfounded”. Galileo, Copernicus and other members of the “brotherhood of medieval astronomers”, spent every night of their lives looking up at the stars, consumed by a NEED to find answers. Our brotherhood isn’t really that much different. But trying to find “the answer” by looking inside the heads of these little Thai girls…well we’ve ALL been there… done that one. It only takes a couple of weeks of that approach, before one needs to check in to the local funny farm for a little “tune up”. The answer to the mystery of the Thai girl, does not lie inside the heads of these little Thai girl… the answer in fact lays else where. My brothers, that has been our mistake…these many, many years, we have all been looking in the wrong place.

Half price for farangs or twice the price for Thais?

This year, we are flying down two of her best friends from Chiang Mai to spend a week or two with my wife, mostly shopping and catching up on their lives. We have tried to book a hotel reservation at our 1st class hotel on Soi 33, though various websites. Every single one of these websites will not take a reservation for a Thai national at the same going rate as a farang. The price for the same room for a Thai national is exactly double! Fortunately, we called the hotel directly and asked if I booked the room under my name, through the website and paid for it with my credit card, then they (the hotel) don't care who stays in the room. So I guess that's how I'll do it. But I wonder why the websites won't take Thai's money? Do they not want Thais in the same hotel as foreigners, or is Thai money not good enough? I would think that it would be the exact opposite, making the farang pay more. Talk about discrimination!

Just how is Phuket doing?

I was in Phuket during the tsunami Dec 26th, and stayed until Jan 4th. I returned in January for 4 days, was there for Chinese New Year for 10 days, spent 8 days there in March, 17 days in April and 5 days in May. I have seen first hand the revival of this island. The guy who submitted that email to you to the contrary is out to lunch! Beach Road is lit up like a carnival, you have to look carefully to see any signs of the damage, Soi Bangla is as crowded as ever as is Soi Katoey and Soi Sea Dragon. The Tiger Disco is jumping and the bars are happening. Tai Pan( FBI) is packed to the walls as usual after midnight and the talent is plentiful and attractive. Jung Ceylon did postpone the opening, but they did it to help shop owners who will pay rent, to ease their start up costs and wait until high season returns because they are competing with the highly successful newly opened Central Festival for mall / shopping traffic. I am struggling to understand where this guy actually was in Phuket?!

Crazy yanks in squalor!

One Saturday morning last year I "discovered" Washington Square. It appeared to consist of clapped-out bars and Tex-Mex type restaurants. Peering into one of them, a booming Yankee voice yelled out "don't look buddy, come in". It took several moments before my eyes adjusted to the low light of the bar. A couple of crazy Yanks were playing pool and invited me to join them, which I declined. At another bar (it was only 11 AM) a bar girl (well woman really as she looked 45!) invited me inside for a drink. I believe the name of the establishment was the Prince Of Wales or something similar. Once again I declined and continued my tour. I left the square with the impression that it was dusty, dirty, and inhabited by crazy Yanks, who claimed to be remnants of the Vietnam War. The "Square" in a word, is squalid and to me at least, uninteresting.

Temptations, formerly owned by Boss Hogg, and recently sold to another American, has been re-purchased in a deal brokered by Boss Hogg and will be operated by Peter and Oh from Playskool, Sheba's, Lucky Luke's, Susie Wong's and the Old Dutch. The change takes place on June 1.

Large banners in place in Nana Plaza in both English and Japanese announce that Rainbow 1 is due to re-open on June 3, that is this coming Friday. A buffet is promised so all you English teachers take note. Free dinner on Friday, a winner! There will likely be many new staff in Rainbow One too. Ann, formerly the mamasan from Hollywood Strip, will be on the team at Rainbow One and it will be interesting to see how many of the girls from Hollywood follow. Some girls see their loyalty with the mamasan as opposed to the bar and a little birdy whispered in my ear that a good number will join the team at Rainbow.

In some ways this is a bit of a shame that Rainbow 1 is about to re-open because Rainbow 4, the newest bar in the Rainbow Group, is absolutely booming and this is largely because a good number of the girls from Rainbow 1 are in there. The atmosphere in Rainbow 4 at the moment is very much like the bars of the old days. These quiet bars with just a scattering of girls provide a very different atmosphere to the good old days. Remember when bars like Voodoo would at one point in the night get every girl up on stage and you'd have close to 100 girls up there, dancing away. It was indeed a sight to behold. Rainbow 4 resembles that and for the next few days, at least until Rainbow 1 re-opens, it is very much worth a look.

Now the Rainbow bars have quite the reputation of being the domain of the Japanese, but is this reputation totally justified? Frankly, I don't think it is. There are four Rainbow bars. Rainbow 1, the original, has a mix of Western and Japanese customers. This bar would be, at my guestimate, 60:40 Western: Japanese. Rainbow 2 is THE Japanese bar in Nana Plaza. At a guess it would be about 80:20 Japanese: Western, and perhaps that is underestimating the number of Japanese who venture there! Rainbow 3 I haven’t been in for a while but it always seemed to be predominantly Western. Rainbow 4 is booming but it is too early to tell just what the mix will be. For now, it seems to be about the same ratio of Western to Japanese as Rainbow 1. The bottom line is that if it says Rainbow on the door you do not have to be totally put off and think it is only the domain of the Japanese.

So you thought shoddy workmanship was confined to the locals? Spare a thought for the owners of Sin, the new bar and restaurant complex in Soi Nana. They imported state-of-the-art snooker tables made by Brunswick, one of the great American manufacturers. The cost? An eye-watering 700,000 baht apiece. But after just a few weeks the tables are starting to look shoddy. The linings to the pockets are only held in place by double-sided tape and several have already come loose. The owners are not happy and are planning to do the repairs themselves. You gotta feel sorry for them because they have made a huge investment in the complex.

Another of the smaller tables has a fault in its ball-return mechanism and so after every game someone has to stick their hand deep into the table's innards and grope around to free the missing ball. Sort of takes the fun out of the game.

Speaking of balls, eyebrows were raised when an elderly bald farang walked into Sin a few nights back with two of the biggest, butchest ladyboys to be seen outside of Nana Plaza. The guy didn't seem to know what he was dealing with, though for the rest of the patrons the big question wasn't whose balls would be going in the pockets, but which toilets the ladyboys would use.

The expat writer referred to last week seems to have resolved his problem with Thai officials without actually having to do anything. Several government agencies got involved in the “investigation” and filed a perfunctory report ending the matter. Nevertheless, the writer has pulled the book in question from bookstore shelves to cover his ass.

On Wednesday night the cops were going around the bars in Soi Cowboy distributing forms for the employees to fill out. I did not get to see them but if they are some sort of registration for bargirls then you have to wonder. If a girl completes the said form and the details go into some central register the chances of a girl that fills one out getting a visa to the USA, and a number of other countries, becomes remote at best. Once the authorities find out there is a bargirl registration list they will check it and being a bar girl is reason for the denial of a visa.

In a "what were you thinking moment" the girls in Dollhouse have been outfitted in short white skirts and mock sailor style tops that have the flap covering their back and shoulders like an American sailor uniform. The skirts are nice because they are short and some of the dancers have forgotten to put on any underwear. The tops cover most of the dancers' upper torsos blocking the view of what customers like to come and see.

Soi Cowboy in the past was considered the dumping ground for the old, ugly, and fat dancers that could not cut it in the other bar areas but at this point in time there are a lot of good looking dancers and they put so much enthusiasm into their dancing that now the girls in Cowboy bars can hold their own with the best of the girls in the other bar areas.

Cowboy is becoming overrun with male Asians. It seems that "tour companies" are including a stop on Cowboy in their tour packages and on any given night 30-35 percent of the customers in some bars are "Asian males".

If you’re after a quick lunch, The Bull’s Head would not be the best place to go if my recent experience was anything to go by. Catching up with Bangkok Phil for the first time in ages, the two Bangkok cynics were quietly bemused at the appallingly slow service. I know that many people really like The Bull’s Head so I’d better be careful what I say, but to me at least, the service there is appalling, especially so if you compare it to the other British pubs in that neighbourhood.

And on the subject of British pubs, does any pub even come close to The Londoner in terms of attractiveness of the female staff? Some of the staff in there are drop dead gorgeous.

But it would be unfair to dwell too long on such poor service when, from time to time, one receives truly outstanding service in Thailand. A friend had a problem with his motorbike recently. It looked as though a bolt had come off the part where you put your feet (yeah, I’m an English teacher but haven’t a clue what you call that). So he took it in to the local store for the mechanic to have a look at. The problem was diagnosed and a new bolt put in place. The mechanic also made a few other adjustments here and there. The total cost? The princely sum of 20 baht! Goodness only knows what that would have cost in the West.

Did you know that Filipina is used for women and Filipino for men? I didn't until a colleague corrected me this week. You learn something new everyday.

There will be a book club forming in June at Dasa Book Café. This book club will be open to anyone interested in reading and discussing recent novels, non-fiction books, or even old classics. Male of Female, young or old, Thai or Foreigner: everyone is encouraged to participate. The group will meet once a month at a time and date agreed upon by the book club members. For more information, contact Don or Kiwi at Dasa Book Café. Dasa Book Café is located directly on Sukhumvit Road, between Soi 26 and 28. It is about a 5-minute walk from the Emporium and the BTS Phrom Phong skytrain station and is open daily, from 10 AM until 9 PM.

Digital cameras have started to have quite an effect on the way that people travel. Despite large capacity memory cards being quite affordable now, many people now travel with a laptop enabling the download of pictures easily, and to enjoy viewing them immediately. And with people carting their laptop around, they are able to access the internet easily. I’ve been listing a few free wi-fi spots in recent columns and this week is no different. If you find yourself in Phuket, go and check out Mai Thai Bar in Soi Eric and say hello to the friendly Swede who runs it. And don’t forget to take your laptop, for Mai Thai Bar generously offers free wi-fi access in his bar.

To reader Peter (I don't know any more about you, such as where you come from etc.), please be aware that your girlfriend who is currently pregnant wants to know what you got up to in Thailand on your recent trip. She sent me an email telling me that she has been reading your email and while she can read the emails you have downloaded on your hard drive, she cannot hack the account to read others coming in. She asked me how to but I didn't relent. Time to change your password and check for keystroke loggers!

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: Do Thai people celebrate birthdays? In Farangland we celebrate someone's birthday with a party, drinking and lots of sanuk. I went with my girlfriend to her parents home in Korat whilst her birthday was only a few days away, we left the village before her actual birthday. I did not notice mum and dad wishing her a happy birthday nor was there any party. This seems very strange to me. Is this a one-off or is it normal for the more traditional Thai people not to celebrate birthdays?

Mrs. Stick says: Birthday celebrations seems to be more centred in Bangkok than in the countryside. Bangkok adopts Western things first and from there they may spread. In the country some people do and some people don't. It can often depend on the financial situation of the family too so those with money are more likely to do it than those who don't. But generally, in the countryside, it is not so much the done thing.

Question 2: What's the deal with Thai women reading comics all the time? I am only an occasional visitor to Thailand but I find it disheartening to see Thai women in their 30s giggling at what look like children's comics. I frequently see it when I am riding up and down Sukhumvit on the skytrain and it is far from an occasional spotting.

Mrs. Stick says: Good question! I don't know what is happening either! I used to read them when I was in high school, but not since then. Most of these cartoons come from Japan so I wonder if it is perhaps the influence of Japanese culture in Bangkok. I'm not really sure. I know that it shows that some people are not so mature to be reading these. Some Thai people are crazy about Japanese culture. Besides reading cartoons I know that some Thai women do some things which are childish and some do act like children. Maybe it is from the way their family treat them, with them staying with their family for a long time and perhaps this is one of the effects of the family treating them as children a lot of the time. I'm not really sure. My guess is that it is people who do not have a great education but really, I'm just not sure. I don't believe this cartoon reading is very representative of Thai women though and believe it is just small numbers of women.

I received a complaint this week that the readers' emails are too negative and whiney, so much so that the person who made the complaint felt that they were so bad that he would not read the column any more. Obviously that is his choice. It is hard to know which emails to include in that section. I have always treated it as a sort of letters to the editor type section, as you find in any newspaper. The nature of such letters is that people want the opportunity to have their voice heard, and often what they say is negative. I will try to include more humorous pieces and interesting anecdotes, but that is obviously contingent upon such pieces being sent in! (Hint, hint!)

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper, Mr. Write and Claymore.


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