Stickman's Weekly Column July 31st, 2005

Being Blind Is Not So Bad


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My first visit to Thailand was in 1997, a trip I made with one of my best mates. We'd both travelled a fair bit before, had both been to Asia, but neither of us had ever really had the inclination to visit Thailand. In fact the only reason we decided on Thailand was that the local travel agency had a special where for the cost of a return trip to Bangkok you got ten nights free at a 4 star hotel in Phuket, all domestic flights, and all transfers thrown in. It was a super deal, one that was never repeated until after the tsunami. The idea of relaxing at the beach in the middle of Winter appealed.

As this really was a holiday decision made on impulse, rather than something planned well in advance, we'd done precious little research on just what lay in store for us, apart from buying the Lonely Planet guide. Back then, there simply weren't the same number, nor quality, of websites providing information about Thailand and the sites that I did check out tended to be about things or places that just didn't interest us or concerned places which were located outside of the area where we would be staying.

In Phuket, we hired a driver to drive us around the island and show us the highlights. Just 900 baht to drive us wherever we wanted to go until 6 PM. Unbelievably cheap we thought, and actually, it wasn't a bad deal. He took us to many of the interesting sights as well as gem stores, a tailor's and an elephant park. Gems weren't our deal and we had no need for tailored clothes, but riding an elephant was fun. We probably paid way too much for the elephant ride, and I'd say the driver made at least 500 baht commission on that.

Out on a boat trip to Phanga, we got chatting to a Scotsman who was doing his level best to keep up the Scots' reputation for thrift. He told us how he had eaten at "mobile kitchens", as he had described them, and never paid more than a pittance for a meal – and had never had any problems. We'd been eating in the hotel restaurant and other restaurants in the neighbourhood the whole time, far too nervous about eating on the street.

Of the time we spent in Phuket, we only made a couple of mistakes there – paying too much for an elephant ride and failing to sample street food. Never mind, it was no big deal. The food we had was great and cheap enough already. So we paid a bit more than perhaps we could have – and that really only amounted to a few dollars extra for the elephant ride and food. Who cares?

We had just a couple of nights in Bangkok. I'd heard that the Grand Palace was impressive so we went down to the concierge in the hotel and told him that we planned to go there. An excellent idea he said, indeed a must see. An hour or so would be enough time to wander around. He arranged the taxi for us, a mere 400 baht there and back – and the driver would even wait for us outside to ensure that we got back to the hotel safely. What service, and what a bargain we thought, about $NZ 20 at the time. Given that this was for a return journey to goodness only knows where – and that as there were two of us and we would be splitting it in two, it would be just ten bucks each.

Well, with that sort of friendly service, of course we would go and see the same fellow in the evening when we wanted to go to Patpong. He arranged a taxi for us to go there for only 200 baht. What a bargain! Only $NZ 10! As it turned out, it was only about 4 km to Patpong and I realised that we'd been had, but I was not going to get upset over a few dollars.

While browsing the market at Patpong, my pal went to put his hand in his back pocket and found that someone else's was already there. He had more than 50,000 baht in cash in his wallet which at the time was around $US2,000. A few seconds later and it may have been a different story but the wallet was still there. Transferring it to his front pocket virtually eliminated the chance of him being pick-pocketed.

We ended up in a bar with these stunning Thai women, King's Castle 3. We preferred the women in there as they were not short and dumpy like most of the other bars and they all seemed to be a bit taller, which made them look, to us at least, a bit healthier. They were also happy to bounce up and down on our laps and let us grope their knockers right there in the bar. Of course, Patpong aficionados will know that King's Castle 3 is exclusively katoey. We really didn't know! Kind of embarrassing when we think back about it, but no harm was done.

Getting a cab back to the hotel, the extremely kind driver offered to take us for just 100 baht. Bargain! What a guy!

I laugh when I look back at all of the mistakes we made on that trip. We spent too much. We went about things the wrong way. We missed out on certain attractions and adventures, BUT, we still had a great time. It really didn't matter that it cost us a relatively small amount of money and frankly it was all part of the fun. We didn't buy any gems, even though they were offered. We didn't check our brains in at Don Meuang. We didn't fall in love with any hookers.

Sometimes it is not so bad to get lost in Bangkok, to discover things yourself and just let nature take its course. That's how it was for us and we had a great time. So long as you have common sense, you should be fine. Most Thais are very pleasant and helpful and if you are in real distress, they will go out of their way to help you.

Websites like this one can give you a huge heads up on what to expect, what to avoid, what to pay and what to be aware of. But sometimes such a sanitised trip of what is an exciting city can remove a lot of the fun. I really think part of the fun in Thailand is getting lost and discovering things for yourself.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Diamond Tower near Chongnonsee.

A bird's eye view of where?

Last week's pic was a difficult one. When I put it up online, I didn't actually know where it was myself so had to check it out before I could answer all of the email inquiries as to where it was! Many people thought it was the Amari Boulevard, taken from the Landmark but it was in fact overlooking Chongnonsee BTS station with Diamond Tower condo (the chisel shaped building) on the right and the edge of Bangkok Bank head office on the left. The shot was taken from atop State Tower. There are three prizes offered 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 – either resident or tourist. If you would prefer one particular prize over the others, please do not be shy to say!

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

A novice writes.

I find it hard to believe your reader from last week who claims to have contracted the HIV virus after 6 – 8 bareback rides with poon in Bangkok. I may be a relative novice in these matters, but the times I have taken home girls from the Plaza, they have all insisted on use of a party hat. Had I refused, most of them would have just left, I'm sure of that. Assuming that the gentleman in question was telling the truth, then it's a good bet he was infected by a street hooker. You have to wonder why they choose to stand on the street when there are well-known freelance venues they can hang at, or bars where they can get paid for plying their trade.

The hair cut and the dragons!

I thought about a comment you made once describing a stage Thai women go through when they cut that beautiful long black hair: I think that ought be amended to three stages: the first is of course the uncut phase, then the practical short hair, but then they seem to do the puffed up hair thing that must mean “I’m successful so don’t get in my way.” I think of these as dragon ladies and have had the misfortune to cross a few too.

A retiree's paradise.

You've had it handed to you in the west, maybe that prom queen has changed her mind. Now it's 30 years later and you are considered middle-aged. And you find the lovely faces that scorn your glance back at home as if you suffer a malady they will never know, maturity. But your body needs nourishment and you are not so arrogant and broke as that younger guy you were. How is Thailand for an answer before it swallows up all the western consumerism and women's superiority? There is hope for at least companionship and some measure of love, so what if it is based on economic security, isn't it everywhere? Do these farm girls know anything about non-possessive love? Does she have reasonable grounds for worrying about her man being seduced away in this land of unbelievably lovely women? So, after the euphoria of abundant sex and not having to accept whichever woman decides you are worthy as happens in the west. Don't we just get out there and spend our money and see her enough times so that something is started? I did it, barfined the number one girl in the Patong gogo scene enough so that something like love happened. Well, reality crept in over time and the cultural differences plus lifestyle contrasts over took us in about a year. As a retiree Viagra fuelled man who respects money and health i.e. I don't gamble, smoke anything, and can read and write. Allow me to suggest that one either becomes immunized or endures such giant differences. Well right now I am thinking this old and too familiar pain can be abandoned and if it flies, floats or fxxks, rent it. Every man has to make his own call and sleep on his own bed, be it short time or with a stranger trying to stay longer for more money… Come on over, stop complaining and start living. It beats TV.

Tuktuk driver no like dollar!

Walking down soi 4 last week, I saw two western girls trying to give a tuktuk driver one dollar US for a ride. Thinking they were stupid I stopped to assist. As soon as they spoke I knew they were a couple of Russian hookers.

Exchange office no like dollar!

During my last LOS visit I wanted to cash several US dollar bills and was stunned when the girl refused to accept several. Reason: certain year-series are unacceptable in Thailand because there were many forgeries in those series. Luckily I had my MasterCard with me otherwise I would have been in trouble. The ATM really saved me then. Here are the series of US dollars which are unacceptable in Thailand: 1990, 1993, 1996.

Love Bangkok.

I’ve heard the complaints about the vendors on Sukhumvit taking up so much space, and I understand the frustration. But to me, a tourist who’s there for only one month at a time, it’s entirely bearable. In fact, it’s part of the whole. I deal with that the same way I deal with tuktuk drivers, or aggressive katoeys. Where else in the world is there so much magic, so much possibility, so much unadulterated fun? I love Bangkok.

Visa run nightmare.

I was in Poi Pet on Friday. The visa story was correct. It took approximately 2.5 hours to get to the counter. However, there are 4 counters only and all of them were manned. Normally foreigners have only one counter to use. However, officers allowed them to use the ‘Thai’ counters too (as the number of foreigners was larger than the number of Thais). This later changed and only long rows of Thais were seen. Once I was inside it only took 20 minutes to the counter. The wait to get into Thailand was a headache again (2 hours). It was whispered that the tour agencies like Jack Golf were not allowed to do the fast track that day (and probably the next two days) because Thai officers were afraid that those waiting would be offended and officials would use their resources to process all in the same way. Finally at 5:00 PM I had a new stamp in my passport. Missed the last train and bus, but was able to travel with a mini VIP bus to Pattaya and the next day to Bangkok. A terrible trip!

It is business as usual at the Rainbow Group with all of the bars now renovated (of course Rainbow 4 is new so no renovations needed there). Now is a good time to see just how well the bars in this group do as they have all been doing sensational trade over the last couple of months, a period in which there was always one closed for renovations meaning that the others were overloaded with pretty girls. Rainbow 1 and Rainbow 2 have been popular for a very long time and they seem to be as popular as ever. Rainbow 4 is obviously doing a roaring trade, helped by the fact that it is a really sizeable bar and there are a heap of girls in there. Rainbow 3 remains a disappointment, a poor location stuck in a corner which forces them to employ aggressive touts to entice punters in the door.

It had to happen sooner or later. This week saw the first round of drink price increases down at the Pong. Some bars have increased prices to 95 baht and others to 100 baht. Prices on the Pong are still cheaper than most bars on Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza but next time you go into your favourite watering hole at Patpong check your bill to see what the bar is now charging.

The venerable institution Tip Top restaurant on the Pong has been closed and the interior has been gutted. No one knows yet if it will remain a restaurant or what will become of the space.

Pink Panther girls have been outfitted in jazzy new bikinis and have see through skirts that stop right at the beginning of the dancer's assets creating some nice rear views. A new coat of paint has been applied to the inside of the bar area and it is a light colour making the inside of Pink Panther much brighter.

Apple, the long time server that worked years ago in the old Rififi, and was recently working at Thigh Bar, is now the new mamasan at Superstar. The good thing is that now you can enjoy the Superstar girls and current girls from Thigh Bar who have been coming into Superstar to see their old friend.

Full nudity can be seen in a certain corner of Nana. Despite the fact that the police in the Nana area act quickly, at least one bar is being a little naughty. An interesting spot, it is.

It used to be that walking along Sukhumvit was a fairly laid back sort of affair but the increase in vendors selling junk on the footpath has made it much worse. But the street vendors are not the only problem… These days, there seem to be more and more street whores lingering, and they are not at all shy in approaching you. It is MOST EMBARRASSING when they grab you in the middle of the day and make loud suggestions in English, this while you are obviously going about the day's business, dressed in business attire. Cripes, I'm petrified someone might see me when one of these girls makes a suggestion, even though I'm entirely innocent! These girls are getting way too aggressive!

Last Sunday was Thai Food Festival in Battersea, apparently the biggest Thai festival in the world outside of Meuang Thai. It pissed rain all day and was eventually cancelled. A number of Thai celebrities were in attendance. A sad sight it must've been, thousands of gloomy Thais trudging out of Battersea Park. It had pissed rain all day and then lifted at 4 (just in time for the Aussies to finish the English off at Lords. Ha!) The whole thing was abandoned and some people would have lost serious money.

A reader asks where the best place to play pool is in Pattaya, and that has me stumped. There are plenty of great places in Bangkok, my favourite being the Ball In Hand which is in the same complex as Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4, but in Pattaya I just do not know. Any recommendations from the Pattaya readership?

Down in King's Corner in Patpong this week, currently my favourite bar – yes, really – I noticed that they have implemented a new policy, one which gets the thumbs up. When you order a drink, any drink, the waitress will write up the bill in front of you and ask you to either write your name on it or sign it. The reason for this is that should you become intoxicated – as more than a few folks do, and then go on to dispute the bill, again as quite a few folks do, there will be signed bills as proof that you ordered what they say you ordered. Disputed bills are a huge problem in the naughty bars so this policy would appear to be a good idea. While I did not see it with my own eyes, I believe that this is either now or very soon to be the policy in all King's Group bars. I wonder if it will be adopted elsewhere? I would suggest that Monet in Soi 33 would be well advised to implement it too…

It took me a while to work out why, in recent times, I prefer to go out to Patpong. Quite simply, there is more energy down there. In Nana and Cowboy, so many of the bars seem full of zombies, lifeless girls who are so obviously going through the motions. A few of the Patpong bars seem to be better managed and there seems to be more energy and more variety which means more fun for everyone.

Some farangs work in Thailand for long periods without a work permit, and it is not difficult to find people who have lived and worked in Thailand for many, many years and never had a work permit. Perhaps they were content doing visa runs or perhaps they had another means of getting a visa, a retirement visa, a marriage visa or perhaps they used the services of one of the dodgy visa firms. Of course, in the old days, and you really only have to go back as far as say the early '90s, work permits were a lot harder to come by, at least in terms of knowing how to go about getting one. Anyway, it would seem that from time to time, the Labour Department is looking much more closely at people who have lived in Thailand for a long time but have never had a work permit. Questions are being asked of people who have lived (and obviously worked) in the Kingdom for so long without the little blue book. The advice here is that if you are employed locally, put the hard word on to your employer to get your employment status sorted out. It really is not difficult and having everything in place leaves you much less vulnerable to any of a myriad of problems.

For those keen on making progress with their command of Thai, there is a really excellent new book on the market. "Thai, An Essential Grammar", is written by the guru of Thai studies, David Smyth. You can find this book in Asia Books and while pricey at 1,250 baht, it is very well laid out and especially easy to follow if you are an English teacher as it breaks things down grammatically. This would be a really excellent purchase for anyone who has a good basic understanding of the language, but who may have plateaued – often a sign that their grammar needs a bit of work and this book provides just that. While an excellent resource, it is not ideal for someone with no knowledge of the language as it is more of a reference than a self-study book. It's the best thing I have seen since the Linguaphone course, which funnily enough was also Smyth's handiwork.

Boy, did I piss off some of my students this week, especially the females. I told them that they could not bring their dick to my class. A few of the females got quite upset. How could they study without their dick? I got evil looks galore. The boys didn't seem to mind though. The "dick", as talking dictionaries are referred to by Thai students, is an electronic dictionary that translates Thai into English and vice versa. After experiencing problems with a number of words being mis-translated, (e.g. the Thai word ka-yan, which means diligent or industrious being translated as industrial) I decided that it was counter-productive to use this dictionary. So, no dicks in my class!

Never underestimate the face thing in Thailand. The locals will do all that they can to preserve their reputation and maintain face, no matter what. It took us more than a week to find out that there had been a murder in the apartment building we live in! Several floors up, a Thai woman blew away her lover in his apartment, two gun shots we heard. I asked the security guards about it and they were awfully hush hush, at first refusing to admit that anything had happened and then pleading with me not to mention it to anyone. Not a problem there, but I did ask them which unit it happened in because no doubt that one will soon be sold real cheap, the fear of ghosts and everything else putting off any prospective purchasers!

Generally Thai people are friendly and passive, but watch out when they get mad. There have been various reports online in the past week concerning foreigners getting the shit beaten out of them by Thais going berserk. One concerned an issue over a disputed bill in a very well-known backpacker venue in the Khao Sarn Road area and the other was in Asoke. In both cases, Westerners were set upon and very badly beaten by a pack of locals. Westerners resident in Thailand want to read about these sorts of things but the local English language print media do not always cover them which simply re-enforces the FACT that the net is becoming a more and more important source of news to farangs in Thailand these days. The internet, and particularly blogs and discussion forums, often cover items of interest to foreigners in Thailand that the traditional print media never covers.

Quote of the week comes from Mrs. Stick. "The problem with Thai women is that they try and control their boyfriends or husband." She made this observation after we saw a whopping great argument between a Thai couple in a restaurant.

Big brother is here. No, not that crap TV show but big brother, watching your every move! A total of ten surveillance cameras have been installed covering most of the street areas of Patpong 1 and 2 and the police box. There are also cameras at the Bangrak police station and they are live 24 hours a day everyday. The good news is you can access the camera feeds from your own computer. The bad news is SO CAN YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER. You have been warned! They are mounted high up so most views are from above meaning that a hat and dark glasses should protect anyone on an innocent trip to the Pong. Check them out at: www.knk.samart.teleeye.net and www.knk.anurak.teleeye.net. PASSWORD for either is 123456.

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Please note that for general bargirl related questions, Mr. Stick might answer them. It has to be said that Mrs. Stick is not your stereotypical Thai woman. She is not Buddhist and she is not shy to criticise things about her own country and culture, although having said that, she remains proud to be Thai. Mr. Stick will try and answer the questions which Mrs. Stick is not so sure about.

Question 1: I am headed to Thailand to meet my fiancé's family. We have met over here in the west and she is in no way connected with the bar scene. Her family is not rich / not poor, the father is a retired minor government official who now owns a little market, and the brothers all work. She hasn't been back for many years either and is starting to buy gifts for them, no request of me to do so though. What can I expect from the meet? Also I feel that I should bring some gifts, but to who? Just the father? The brothers? All the people she is bringing them to? She has told them I am coming so there is no surprises, but I would appreciate any comments you may have.

Mrs. Stick says: For the people who are most important to your fiancé, it would be nice to give them a small gift. For the father, the gift should be a little more substantial or special than gifts for others, which represents his higher position in the hierarchy. Really, just ask your fiancé and see what she thinks. It might be a good idea to buy something like assorted sweets or candy which can be easily distributed amongst the extended family who you will no doubt see a lot of while you are visiting.

Questions to the Mrs. have been a but thin recently and the thought of canning her part of the column has once again entered my mind. Over time a number of readers have asked me about the possibility of her writing a bit every so often. I had mentioned this to her previously but she has never been too keen on the idea. However recently she seems to have warmed to the idea somewhat. With this in mind there is chance that she might actually start penning a few thoughts. I hope it happens, but no promises. 50/50 at this stage.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper and Claymore.