Stickman's Weekly Column June 5th, 2005

He Drove A Red Pick-Up And He Looked Like A Criminal!


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I enjoy driving very much and I have a good driving record. I’ve only ever had one accident which was many, many years ago and that was another person’s fault, a young female who was at the wheel getting lessons from her old man. Silly cow pulled out right in front of me and I smashed into the drivers side door. Still, it wasn't serious. Both cars were drivable and no-one was hurt.

I’ve been driving for a couple of years in Bangkok and thankfully have yet to have a moment of excitement although truth be told, there have been a few close calls.

However, there is one clear indiscretion I have made since driving in Thailand, a very clear error of judgment, and one which had somewhat humorous events follow.

Out and about with a Kiwi mate, I was reversing the car out of a car park but my mind was somewhere else. I heard that sound that we all dread. CRUNCH! I had backed the car into a wall! Even though the car was barely moving, the back right hand corner of the bumper made contact with the wall and was stove in. There was red and white coloured paint scratches there, the colour of the wall. I was pissed off about it but it was nothing serious. Hell, it had happened and there was nothing I could do about it. We drove off.

One of the problems of a busy lifestyle is that one becomes absent-minded and forgetful. And I have one hell of a busy lifestyle. The "WWW" I say my life is – work, wife, website. I simply forgot about the damage to the car altogether. And this was all compounded by the fact that whenever I park the car, I back it into parking spaces. This means that I never see the rear end of the car. So, for the next couple of weeks, whenever I took the car out, I never saw the ass end, and I never saw the damage. With plenty on my mind, such as what to write about in the next column, the damage to the car was completely forgotten about.

A couple of weeks later the Mrs. and I took one of our trips to Korat. That particular morning the Mrs. was in a foul mood. As we were loading up the car, I noticed the damage. Oh shit! I didn't feel like mentioning it at that moment so just left it. She didn't notice it as she was loading some stuff into the front of the car and not into the boot where I was. We drove up to Korat and parked the car right outside mother in law's house, unloaded all our crap and went inside. Quite miraculously the damage to the car was never noticed by anyone. I still can't fathom how it was missed but everyone missed it – and the entire family had come out to help us unload all of our junk from the vehicle.

That weekend in Korat coincided with one of the most important sports events of the year, the New Zealand vs. Australia rugby match. The family knows that this is something that I refuse to miss at any cost so off I ventured to find somewhere to watch it. I found a small Lebanese café and the owner was only too happy to change the channel and allow me the pleasure of watching these great rivals thrash it out. (And it was even better cos the good guys won.) While I was in this little Lebanese cafe watching the match, the car was parked outside on Suranaree Road, one of the main roads in Korat.

At the end of the match it was time to return to the house so back I went and the car was again parked outside the house with the damaged part of the vehicle there clearly for all to see. The house is not on a busy soi but there is still a number of people walking up and down. I guess other vehicles run up and down the soi every couple of minutes. Mrs. Stick, mother in law and various sisters in law walked outside the house for this or that, perhaps to go the local shop to buy some ice, for a trip to the local ice-cream shop, or to throw some junk on the empty plot opposite. Every time someone went outside they walked right past the parked car. One carload of relatives popped around to visit and parked right outside. A number of people walked right past the car. Not one person noticed anything. I was waiting for someone to say something, but they never did.

6:30 PM came and it started to get dark. Still the damage had not been noticed. I was puzzled. Perhaps they had noticed it and didn't think it a big issue, something not even worth a mention? It got dark. Conversation centred around the evening meal. The car never popped up. Bizarre.

After dinner the Mrs. and her sister decided that they wanted to go to shopping but I wasn't so keen. I said I'd stay and chat with mother in law and grandma. They've always got interesting stories for me, especially about the Thailand of old. Shopping? How boring!

So, the Mrs. and her sister piled into sis in law's car and backed out on to the soi. Mother in law and I were deep into one of our long sessions about the Thailand of old when then the fateful moment came. The horn of sister in law’s car pierced the tranquil Korat evening. It screamed out, as if signaling something was seriously wrong. And then I heard the Mrs.’s voice. “Rot ben arai” – what is wrong with the car?

I came out of the house and asked what was wrong. There she was looking at the car, pointing at the damage with a contorted look on her face. “Oh my goodness”, I said. "What happened?" I tried to keep a straight face. Family piled out of the house to see what was going on which had a domino effect and before I knew it half of the soi had piled out of their homes to examine the damage. Everyone was looking at the car, studying the damage.

And then it started….. One of the neighbours started it. She explained that she had walked past the car not more than an hour ago and it was ok then! Sister in law then explained that she had walked past it only half an hour earlier and there was absolutely-certainly-definitely-without-a-doubt no damage then! Another sister in law came out. She looked at the damage and noted the specks of red paint in the dent. She considered it carefully for a moment and then she announced what had happened. “I saw a red pickup truck screaming up and down the soi. It slid and it must have hit the car but I didn’t realise that at the time. I was inside the house but I could smell the alcohol on the driver’s breath. He was drunk! He looked evil, sinister. I am sure he was a criminal.” Nodding all around and it was suddenly deemed by all that that was *exactly* what had happened. It was then added that he looked seriously like a Cambodian, nothing like a Thai. Nods all around, everyone in complete agreement!

That day I saw a side of a few people that I had never seen before. No-one would admit that they had missed seeing the damage! The loss of face was too great! Did they really believe a drunk, crazed Cambodian had lost control of a pickup in a narrow soi where no-one speeds? To admit that they had not seen the damage beforehand, or realised that it had even happened would not have damaged just one person's face, but that of the entire community in the soi. And that it had happened to their favourite farang, a guest in the community, sort of made it even worse. I wanted to come clean, but with 20 odd people all staring at the damage, my voice suddenly felt like that of a mouse. Best to just feign ignorance!

The front room of the house, where everyone relaxes and lounges throughout the day, is no more than four metres from where the car was parked. It would be nigh on impossible to not hear the car being hit by another vehicle. The mere shape of the indentation should have also wised them up to the fact that it was very unlikely to have been caused by another car – although there are some odd shaped contraptions on the roads in Thailand, so you never know.

In time, the story changed a bit. On the next visit to Korat, when it was still very much a talking point. In a face-saving hypothesis of events, it was thought that a rogue tuktuk may have collided with it while it was parked outside the Lebanese café where I watched the rugby. Some even suggested I should not watch rugby as that might have been somehow related. Yet another suggested that perhaps I had upset one of the local Aussies who then smashed the car in a rage.

I never did have the heart to tell them that it had all been my fault.

Now whenever we go to Korat the car is always parked off the road and if I even so much as leave the car parked out front for 5 minutes I am reminded of the day that the car was hit while parked right outside the family home…

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Patpong soi 2.

Central Bangkok…

Last week's pic was taken on Patpong Soi 2. One has to wonder about the satellite dish mounted like that now that we are in the rainy season. It might as well be a reservoir! This week's pic is FAR TOO EASY! There are three prizes available this week, one for each of the first three people to email with the correct location of the pic. The first is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. The second prize is a signed copy of Steve Leather's cult novel set in Bangkok's bars, "Private Dancer". The third prize is a beautiful hand-cast, crafted sandstone sculpture offered by BKIThailand – for this prize, you MUST be in Bangkok. Unfortunately, these prizes are only available to people in Thailand now – though you can be either a resident or a tourist. If you would prefer one particular prize over the others, please do not be shy to tell me! Next week we should have a new prize available, exclusively for the Pattaya readership. More next week!

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Opening a camera shop?

In relation to the comments about tourist police, I am sure that some do the job for the right reason. I think some volunteers are misused. I saw one about a week ago taking cameras off the 'photo girls' on Soi 8. He had at least 4 cameras over his shoulder and was trying to cover his face as the folks in the bars watched him. A good friend has also told me about a volunteer pushing a food cart vendor who had walked along Walking Street as the most direct route from one of the sois to another. I didn't witness this but this is a long term friend and I have no reason to doubt what he tells me. The scenario described by the volunteer who was good enough to be interviewed suggests that the Thai police are incapable of doing their job and the best we can hope for is a volunteer should we need any assistance. If this is the case then surely it is a sad indictment for the 'tourist police'…

Fearless!

To me, one of the most notable differences between Thais and most Westerners, is that from an early age Thai children are brought up with a "no fear" attitude towards life. Quite the opposite of course in the US (where I come from) where fear is now the general order of the day. But there is one thing that virtually all Thai people fear and that is the police. Just like all of us expats, Thai people go out of their way to avoid the police knowing that the results of any contact are unpredictable and will usually end up with money out of their pockets.

The farang fuzz!

In another country, another region, perhaps. But you have to laugh at the Aussie farang volunteer in Pattaya who says he is doing it for the love of his fellow man. For one thing, many foreigners in Pattaya are scoundrels and mongers, so arguably do not deserve protection. If these volunteers really wanted to assist the foreign community, they could form an association to help and protect the interests of bar owners, or base themselves as interpreters at the emergency unit of the hospital or police station, or start up a charity to help farangs who are in trouble. Instead, they pose and posture in Walking Street like Wyatt Earp and are generally despised by all the people whose interests they are supposed to be representing. Since the volunteers all speak Thai and have proper visas, it is obvious they are doing it to help their own business interests and for no other reason.

Asking for a slap.

One Saturday lunch time I was sat in Big Dogs having a light-hearted disagreement with a girl there. She said I should go across the road to buy a new brain from the pharmacy! In reply I said, “That wouldn’t help – they only sell Thai brains”! She was not amused.

Local hospitality.

I was waiting for a taxi in Jomtien in the dark and in pouring rain one night last year. As ever, once the heavens had opened, the taxi guys seemed to have disappeared, leaving me stranded. After about 15 minutes standing under the shelter of tree, I finally managed to wave down a songtaew. I climbed in and off we went. I thought it a bit odd that the tail-gate was down, but didn't really worry too much about it as long as I was dry and on my way into Pattaya. I was the only one in the back and through the window I could see that there were 2 guys in the cab up front. Looking around me I started to realise that this was perhaps not a normal baht bus as there was no number, standard fare notice etc. It seemed I was in fact in a labourers' pick-up, the kind of thing they use to take the lads to the building site. They carried on driving towards South Pattaya, and when we got to the lights they made gestures as to whether I wanted to get off or not. I stayed on with them up to Royal Garden then knocked on the glass and got them to let me out. I went to the passenger window offering a 50 baht note, thinking that was well worth the dry carriage but I was still half expecting to be fleeced for a 100. The chaps smiled, refused the money, waving me off with a 'mai pen rai' and sped off into the night. Net result; they get to tell the tale about the daft farang waving them down and climbing into the works van. I tell the tale of an example of basic decent Thai behaviour.

Heaps to smile about!

In the UK there was a "good news newspaper' launched about 10 years ago, devoted to reporting the lighter side of life – it flopped inside 6 months. Last week an article about the English said "52% can't remember the last time they had anything to smile about." Well, I can remember – it was this morning when I woke up next to my beautiful, daft girlfriend and went to a job I love in sunny weather. Any time I start to feel like bitching about imperfections in Thailand – I try to imagine what I would be doing back home. And to all those negative writers…take a look around you! There's plenty to smile about in the Land of Smiles.

Phuket, I give up.

I read with dismay the report 'Will Phuket recover' from your 22/05/05 issue. I visited Phuket from May 17-20. I was also there a year ago, before the tsunami. My impression is that it is back to about 75% of what it was. On the main beach road in Patong, the Starbucks is back to normal, the McDonalds next door is still a shell. Certain hotels are operational while the Holiday Inn is choosing to do major remodelling. The main Bangla Road is close to motor traffic after 8 PM, but this is a good thing! While the nightlife is quieter than one year ago, it isn't dead! I got a great deal on a hotel whereas Samui or Koh Chang was double the price. Tell your teeruk we went, swam in the sea, and saw no ghosts! Now is the time to visit Phuket!"

A couple of weeks back I recommended Temptations in Nana Plaza as an alternative bar to visit, a quiet sort of place where the music was good and the girls somewhat standoffish – just the sort of place I like. However, now it is a quite different prospect. Temptations has become a ladyboy bar, that is, the FORTH ladyboy bar in Nana! All the girls who used to work in Temptations have been given jobs at either Lucky Luke's or Playskool. Without any advertising or major launch, Temptations had its best night in history on the first night with the new format which just goes to show that the change seems to have worked.

Rainbow 1 on the ground floor of Nana Plaza re-opened on Friday and was absolutely packed. In what appears to be a truly shocking trend, the opening night featured a katoey cabaret style show. What is going on in Nana? What is it with all of these katoey bars and shows?! Ann, the former mamasan of Hollywood upstairs is now the mamasan in Rainbow1 and had 15 odd of her girls there with her, as was predicted in last week's column. These girls are loyal to the mamasan, seldom to the bar – especially if the owner is farang! I remember a couple of years back one of the owners of Playskool telling me how important it was to look after the mamasan – look after the mamasan and she'll make sure the girls are happy.

Champagne, the upmarket bar above Bully's opened on June 1 but there seems to be a few bugs to work out. It looks great and with a bit of time it should work out well.

If you thought that Bangkok's reputation as a place where beautiful nude dancers could be found on every neon light was coming under threat then have no fear. Nudity is once again becoming more and more common in areas where not so long ago it was hard to find. (Give it a few months until the annual police shake up happens when it will all revert back to bikini clad dancers.)

Rumour has it that a few bar owners are starting to sweat, and it is not entirely due to the awful hot days we're currently experiencing. The Tax Department has been snooping in the Nana Plaza rental office getting copies of leases for all tenants.

It would seem that there was some commotion in Sukhumvit Soi 1 Plaza this week. Alcohol was being sold later than the local boys in brown deemed appropriate and a bar was busted and all and sundry piss tested.

Singaporean Casey may no longer be employed in the nightlife industry but his influence remains. Jeff from Midnite bar called Casey and asked him to design a new look for them. Word on the street is that it will be completed by the end of June. Actually, a few bars or parts of bars have been designed at the Casey Institute Of Bar Design – Suzie Wong (front), Spice Girl (all floors), Cocktail Club (second floor), Midnite Bar (front).

Down in Pattaya this weekend, Walking Street did not live up to its name with quite a drop in the number of punters wandering around. Early in the week there had been more, but still comparatively few with say a month ago. I guess this isn't too much of a surprise as May and June are two of the quietest months for tourist arrivals.

Admittedly, Pattaya residents had been gloating in the sunshine while Bangkok was inundated with heavy rain almost every day this past week. Those rains have reached Pattaya over the last few days, thus dampening local nightlife.

Attendance in Pattaya's bars was down dramatically even from a month earlier. Ricky at Diamond reports that business is slow and, based on Saturday night, he speaks the truth. Despite a bevy of beauties and one of the most erotic set of onstage performances, Pattaya's number one gogo bar was less than half full even over the weekend. Even 45 baht draft and 80 baht lady drinks did not bring in the crowds.

Carousel Gogo, one of the beach resort's most popular dens, similarly attracted fewer customers. In fact, at prime time a mere 20 customers feasted on the young lovelies. Drinks were a reasonable 60 baht for draft and 90 baht for lady drinks.

One venue that continues to draw good crowds is Living Dolls Showcase. Like Diamond and Carousel, Living Dolls Showcase offers good rock at acceptable volumes, but drinks are on the high side by Pattaya standards at 110 for liver wasters, 120 for Heineken draft, and 125 for lady drinks. But the ladies are plentiful – counting more than 60 dancers and showgirls – and quite attractive. Another plus: the cast of dancers changes with each song, thus avoiding the boredom of looking at the same retinue shuffling their feet four or five numbers or more. Lots of skin everywhere.

Bar owners take note. A Dutch company has produced some software that allows you to implement controls with the cashier. This software has been developed specifically with bars in Thailand in mind. The software itself is relatively cheap. More information can be found here.

The Robin Hood on Sukhumvit celebrated its first year anniversary this past Thursday night. There was free finger food on offer and the place was packed, their Thursday night 120 baht Guinness special no doubt a contributing factor. I would have told you about this anniversary last week, had I known…

Kings Corner in Patpong has some incredibly lovely ladies, some the genuine article, and some not quite so genuine – but still just as lovely. If you're not sure which is which, look at their footwear. The real girls wear knee length boots while the not quite so genuine wear high heeled shoes. Now you've got no excuse.

I created a bit of a fuss in Sideline Bar this week. Sideline Bar is one of those upstairs bars in Patpong soi 2, one of the ones upstairs, where a variety of shows are hosted. There are a heap of guys hanging around, a door that is locked from the outside and perhaps the biggest sign of all, no chits for drinks on the tables. When I went in I asked the prices for drinks and was told 100 baht. I asked if there was a cover charge for the show and was told no. When the drink came, no chit came with it so I asked to pay for it there and then. This caused a bit of a stir but it was eventually laughed off by one of the guys who said in Thai, "you know too much". It was all light-hearted. They realised that I knew the score (variable pricing and outrageous charges for shows) and I hate to imagine what some of the other punters were charged. But, a big smile and some light hearted banter in Thai ensured that nothing ever came of it. The point being that if you do venture in to any of the upstairs bars in Patpong, look for the tell tale signs, and no bill with your drink is a classic.

There are some absolute nutcases out there in the bars and I reckon you could trawl some of the most notorious sanatoriums of the world and not find anyone quite as crazy as some of the lasses in the local bars. Stories of crazy behaviour and self-mutilation are not uncommon. Hang around the bars long enough and you will see the tell tale signs of scars on wrists, a cry for help. Well, this next story is a little different. Some details have been blurred so as to protect the person in question's identity. A European was in Bangkok on business recently and was taken out to the naughty bars by local colleagues. He fell head over heels in love with a girl. Nothing unusual in that but what follows is. He offered her one million baht in cash if she would move to his country with him. She turned him down and the guy was shattered. He then slashed his wrists right there in the bar! There was a heap of blood and he was rushed to one of the city's best hospitals. You have got to wonder.

If you thought traffic got even worse this past week then you'd be right. The remaining schools have finally opened and traffic, at least in the parts of town where I drive, has got noticeably worse.

During my first couple of years in Thailand I had cases of the trots more often than I would have liked. As often as once a month I'd be spending a lot of time on the bowl. I noticed that when I stopped buying fruit from vendors on the street that the problems stopped. I've found that most cooked food from street vendors is ok. Perhaps it is part of the cooking process that kills the bugs? But fruit on the street? Forget it! That is one of the those things that I just don't do any more. Sort of like riding on the buses. Gave that one up a time ago too.

Many reasons are given as to why the naughty bars are perhaps not as much fun as they were in the old days. Some people say it is because the girls are less attractive. Some say it is because prices have gone up. Others say that the decline is due to the attitudes of the girls which is much more mercenary than in days gone by. I have another possibility to put to you, one which is much more simple. The number of girls in the bars. In the past the bars employed more girls than they do now and I really do believe that the sheer number was a big part of the attraction. I can remember in the good old days when some of the ground floor bars of Nana were booming, bars like Voodoo and Pretty Lady. The one thing they had in common was that there were very serious numbers of girls working in there and in one night there would have been upwards of 100 dancers. Even the biggest bars in Nana don't seem to have those numbers these days.

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: As a Thai culture question (the meat of this), do adult Thais read much literature in their spare time once they've graduated? I don't see people with books on the park benches, skytrain seats, or restaurants, but perhaps I'm not looking at the right times in the right places. I know the West is often self-flagellates about how the novel is a dying art, but I still find the average person generally has something about that they're reading.

Mrs. Stick says: Reading is not really a big thing in Thailand, at least when compared to the West. Even though we are really good at copying, I think the new generation are reading more than people in the past did. We don't really have as many great, or known writers, as the West has. I know a lot of really popular Western authors' works are translated into Thai but that these books are set in the West means that their appeal is lost to many Thai people. Some books have been popular, such as Harry Potter. Thai people may not read novels so much but magazines and newspapers are very popular. The motorcycle taxi guys in our soi are always reading the newspaper. Thai people are more interested in what is happening now, than perhaps novels, literature or art.

Question 2: What's up with the ghost thing? Do Thais really believe they have seen ghosts or believe others who tell them of ghost sightings?

Mrs. Stick says: It depends on which group of people we're talking about. People upcountry are much more likely to believe in ghosts than city people. Based on my personal experiences, I do believe in them though it is not something I take seriously and it is not such a big deal to me, but yes, I do believe.

At last a new section to this website has been added, albeit a small one. As no-one else seems to have done it, I have started a list of all of the free wi-fi hot spots in Thailand. The list will be updated often so if you know of any free wi-fi spots anywhere in the country, please do let me know. So far we have listings for Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper. Special thanks go out to Mr. Write.