Stickman's Weekly Column September 11th, 2005

Mail Order Brides

StickmanBangk ok .com


There are a heap of marriage agencies, both online, and operating in other areas, which offer Westerners the chance to meet purportedly marriage-minded Thai women. One of the biggest operators is Thai Professional Introductions which has been introducing Western men to potential Thai brides since 1997. Thai Professional Introductions is the brainchild of Lawrence Lynch and his Thai wife, Thapanee. This week I had a chance to meet up with Lawrence and talk about his business and the Mail Order Bride industry as it is sometimes known.

Can you talk me through the history of Thai Professional Introductions?

I came to Thailand in 1996, just for a holiday, that was all, and as ridiculous as it may seem I hadn’t had a holiday for 2 years. I needed a new wardrobe of clothes as I had just got divorced from my second wife who had run off with the gardener. The first wife went off with the boss and the second with the gardener. The third has been ok though!

I came basically for a holiday, I was just chilling out. I realised it was a piece of cake to meet women out here, but not the type you’d want to bring home to your mother, if you know what I mean. Anyway, I went back home and decided that I wanted to do a bit of a reccy about how you would meet women outside of the bars.

Now I don’t want to say anything disrespectful about them because I understand the economic situation which puts them there and if I wanted to meet girls like that I could meet them back in the nightclubs in England. Basically, I did a reccy around a few of the agencies for people doing introductions, sort of scoped out the market.

I came out again and went to a Chinese matchmaker who worked under an assumed name, it turned out. I won’t mention who it is! Suffice to say, things were not all as they should have been. The girls in that particular agency would come in pairs and would not want to be left with the agency boss for reasons you can guess. The fact of the matter was that when I was at that office I saw a lady and said I’d like to meet her. He tried to get me to meet someone else! Not to put too fine a point on it, there seemed to be a system whereby the ladies who were introduced to men had endeared themselves to the proprietor! It was pretty rough! I met her and we spent a month together in Thailand and I got somebody to cover for me back in the UK as someone needed to run my music shop while I was away. Thapanee, was working as a diamond checker, and she is now my wife. Her story has actually been told in the Daily Mirror.

As you know, education beyond 14 years of age here has to be paid for. Her three brothers were well educated and all have very good jobs but it was decided Thapanee would stay at home, look after her parents and look after the rice fields but she didn’t want to do that. So, she got a job as a diamond checker and when I started going out with her she said that she would have to leave her job if she was going to have more time off work so I asked how much she earned a month to which she replied 8,000 baht. I said that I wanted to spend time with her and that she could give up her job and I would support her until she came to England.

I went back to England and Mr. Chinaman did not support or help us. I came out on a second trip and we spent more time together and an application for a fiancée visa was submitted. She got it first time even though she had not been properly prepared. I had a phone call from the British Embassy asking me a few questions. Funnily enough I have never had a client get phoned by them. I was happy with my fiancée but cheesed off with the agency's service. Thapanee is a very caring person, service-minded, and likes to help people. Together, we decided that we couldn’t do worse than what we had seen and we felt that there might be a market for sincere men to meet decent marriage-minded Thai women, and so we decided to start an agency. And that is really how it started.

You run the business from the UK. Is that a challenge?

We registered the company and all that sort of thing and I started advertising in the UK. I have clients from all over the world now. I’ve got a few customers here at the moment, one from the UK, one from the US and another who is a bit older. My wife is going to find someone of suitable age for him. I'm rambling!

Well basically, we just advertised in the press as when we started the internet was not very big.

Do you advertise in conventional press now?

Yes, of course in the UK. Very extensively.

Where do you get more customers from, the internet or the traditional media?

I have got to say, from the press. Actually, sometimes I am surprised that even now in 2005 the number of people who have a computer but have a virus or do not know how to use it or are simply not well versed in computers. We will eventually live out here permanently and I guess then we will get all our customers from the internet.

What is the breakdown of your clients by nationality?

We have people from everywhere. By the nature of the fact that we are based in the UK, about 70% of guys are from the UK. 20% US and 10% from the rest of Europe.

What is the cost of the service you offer?

There are two price schedules actually, $US 1800 for American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand customers. Or £ 1650 Sterling for all Europeans.

Why the difference?

For the Europeans we do everything. For US clients, they have to go to an attorney in the US and then they will fly back with all of the documents to do the visa and we will prepare the woman here.

What do guys get for their money? What exactly does the service you offer entail? Can you go through all of the steps? I ask because $1,800 seems awfully steep in a country where most things are cheap, and where one US dollar can get you a plate of chicken fried rice AND a bottle of Coke.

A lot of people think this is a licence to print money but it isn’t. I’ve had 8 previous customers of mine who started a similar business of which lasted anywhere between 3 months and 3 years but they were totally misguided. We do not make a lot of money out of this. They think we have X amount of customers and we make a lot of money. We spend mammoth amounts of money on press and website promotion so the bottom line is that we survive. I run another business so if we have a quiet time the other business keeps things ticking over. Two recent clients have started operations, one for 8 months and the other for 18 months. There really isn’t a sufficiently large market for people to think they can make a living out of it, as ridiculous as it may seem.

People use us for one reason. We do absolutely everything for them. Think of the logistics of going to Thailand, being able to meet the right type of lady, get the real background with all of the language and cultural differences. The logistics of all of that and keeping it all together when the guy is not here, getting the girl through the visa and her having support in the UK during her initial period of acclimatisation. The logistics of all of that are quite daunting. I have had a man who has been to Thailand 22 times and he still came to me to find a Thai wife because he was just going around in circles trying to meet the right woman.

We even do other stuff and help out guys with their mobile phones, hotels if they need it etc. We really do offer every level of service.

Gentlemen who sign up with us pre-select women from their home country about 3 or 4 weeks before departure from the website, or they can get a brochure if they are not online. They can select as many as they want, the more the merrier. Sometimes we have a guy who REALLY wants to meet someone so we can "lock" that woman until the guy has met her. We will contact the ladies and tell them that there is a guy who wants to meet her and arrange the date and time for her to be at the office.

Clients are met at the airport and brought to their hotel. Next day they are brought to the office and are introduced to the ladies one at a time. When I met my wife, Thapanee, I was in a room with 6 girls in a line and I was asked which one I wanted to meet. It was a most embarrassing situation A bit like choose a lobster from a tank in a restaurant – which one do you want to kill and eat!

The introductions take place at hourly intervals with an interpreter in attendance. Maybe 20% of the girls speak good English. Usually the client will have a checklist with questions. They always start meeting the girls at the office and not outside in a bar or other less suitable environment.

So if he likes the girl, it is a done thing and they go and get married right away?!

No, not at all. It is a two way thing. We’ll separate the man and the woman and ask the woman if she likes the guy. Rejection is pretty low generally. 8 out of 10 of the girls will want to go out with a guy who wants to go out with them. Interview, meet, date and see how it goes.

If things do get serious we often recommend that they both go up to Bumrungrad to get checked out. AIDS scares many people. You can get tested and get the results back in two hours. Actually most women quite like this as it shows that the guy is responsible.

I tell people you can meet a girl in Thailand within 2 hours and she will be on to you like a leech. You don’t want her. We help people meet women who they might not so easily meet. The ladies that gentleman meet through us are gainfully employed.

What steps do you take to ensure the “history” of the girls you promote?

Let’s put it this way. First of all, all of our staff are ladies – that is an important point. If you have seen any programs on agencies where there were any men on the scene there is always the possibility, or maybe even probability, that they are acting improperly.

Basically we check where they are living and where they are working. We do NOT advertise for girls. Most of the other websites will advertise for girls. If we had that we would have everyone clicking on the website and we would not know who they were. Every lady who comes to us has to come for an interview. We check their ID, where they are living and or working. Most ladies come as referrals. One lady got married and referred 10 ladies from the country. They all came together to the office in a pickup truck! All are gainfully employed.

I say the same thing to the men as I say to the ladies. If a guy asks me if this if this woman has ever done anything negative or untoward in her life then I will point at him and ask him how I can be sure that he has done nothing untoward himself! That’s it really.

The girls are beyond a reasonable doubt decent gainfully employed ladies. The men are beyond reasonable doubt sincere marriage-minded men who are not out here to fly their kite.

Patong Harbor View Condominiums

What do you think when you see an old guy ready for the grave walking around with a young hotty? Doesn’t it look bad? I mean, not everyone is as handsome as you.

We won’t arrange people of such mismatched ages to meet. I have a man of 73 coming in two weeks' time and he is looking for ladies about 50. I always explain, irrespective of how old or young they may be, that Thai ladies are quite happy to have a man who is a fair bit older because they believe he is going to be more responsible, more mature and not going to look at all and sundry in a skirt and is going to have greater responsibility towards her. Thai women want to meet someone for life and responsibility is so important. But the age gap can not be too great.

When a gentleman first contacts me I will find out about his marital status, job and if he has retired, whether he has more than a standard state pension.

If I had a man in his 70s ask to meet a girl aged about 30 then I would suggest that he would be better served to contact another agency. A man of that age would have to meet a woman right at the top end of our age range.

One guy met a girl on the 6th, today is the 9th, and they were engaged today. We will take her off the books, move her off the website and now he is going to spend more time with her. That is perhaps an exception. What is more typical is that a guy meets a series of girls and meets a certain girl and spends the time with one he finds an attraction with. The guy then says he does not want her to meet other guys when he goes back and so they get engaged.

The guy goes back to his country and keeps in contact with the her. The guy must then come back. US customers don't come back out so quickly as they have to do the visa application documents and that can take some time. I always tell a customer to take at least 3 months before returning.

Why?

It gives both parties a cooling off period! When the man makes a second trip it demonstrates a more solid sort of relationship. It looks better at the embassy. Our service with the contract is for 12 months.

He has 3 options when he comes out for the second time.

A) He has fallen out with her or just lost interest. Extremely rare, this, maybe one in 50. We've not had one this year. In this case he would have to start again. They are back at square one again.

B) If he is from the States, she will go for the 90 day K1 visa.

C) If he is from the UK, then he has to apply for either the 6 month fiancée visa or 24 month wife visa.

At the end of their first trip we ask the clients to come back to the office to tell us what is happening so we can help them with what will happen next.

What do you think are the primary motivations of the women joining your service?

People come to me and say that the women are economic migrants and passport seekers. This is the general belief as has been re-enforced in the media. The fact of the matter though is that if you ask most of the girls where they would like to live, they would rather stay in Thailand and have a Western husband here.

The Thai ladies on our books are looking to escape from Thai men but not from Thailand!

I am always up front with the way the Thai system works and that these women are from all over the country but they are living and working in Bangkok. They might go home and see their relatives 3 or 4 times a year and they are sending some money back to their family. It might be 40% of their wage. When the ladies come to England I always tell the men because what is promoted is that if you have a Thai wife you have got the whole family. I say that when the lady moves, she will want to maintain the same level of support to her family. If she doesn’t do that she will be considered jai dum. Thai ladies in a non-Thai country will be living in relative luxury compared to how they were living in Thailand. I have one girl in my books whose parents owned a profitable and well-known business though this is an exception. The only problem will be if she stays at home and he wants her to be a housewife then he may have to put his hands in his own pocket to help support her family. We encourage her to get a job so that she can continue the support to her family.

So what about the dreaded dowry money?

We suggest that when a dowry has to be paid that the amount should be around 70,000 baht. This is a happy medium, not too much and not too little. A lot of guys don't pay, perhaps the lady's parents have passed away or it just doesn't come up.

Do you agree with me that farangs who wish to marry a Thai woman are better off finding a woman who doesn’t explicitly want a farang man?

I would say to you that every lady that comes to us comes with the explicit intention of meeting a non-Thai man so that doesn’t really apply here. Thai ladies want to meet a good man whether he is Chinese, Thai or farang. The Thai ladies who come to us are empowered Thai ladies. This is what I say to the feminist ladies who come to us in the UK. I say that these girls are empowered women who are not going to put up with the errant and promiscuous ways of the average Thai man. The fact of the matter is that it is inherent in the culture and I do not see it changing quickly.

You often talk of all of the relationships that ended up happily ever after, but what of those that didn’t? Can you tell me of some of the relationships that went horribly wrong?

We have done 750 marriages, approximately, and to my knowledge – and we are there to give a help and support so if there is a problem we are the first to know about it. There have been 5 divorces and 2 of these guys have come back to us to find someone new and remarry. The common denominator of failure is marrying too quickly. We had a Scottish man who called me from Heathrow and said that he was coming to use the service. “I am going to be married by the end of the week”, he told me. He got married within 4 days and we were asking him why he wanted to do this. He had signed the marriage papers after 4 days! 3 days later he changed is mind! He then got divorced right away, as you can. He is now married to the very same lady and they are living together in Scotland!

We never ever have people registering papers on their first trip, nor having a Buddhist ceremony on their first trip, unless it is an extremely long trip.

The other problem is a large age difference. I always ask how old a client is and how old the woman he wants to meet is.

I have had a guy of 60 use my service twice. He met and married a woman much younger than him and got divorced. We cannot stop them but if we have a verbal agreement and then he goes off for a younger woman who wants to meet up with him then we cannot say that he cannot meet her or cannot go out with her. We end up beating our heads in situations like this. Some guys have their brains in the wrong place.

Who are your typical clients? I saw one photo out the front of your shop and I do not wish to sound cruel, of one poor fellow missing an arm. Some of the others look a little, oh I don't know, but not exactly Brad Pitt look-alikes.

We never discriminate against anyone. We have had people with arms missing, legs missing, hands missing. We will do a “straw poll” to ascertain whether we have enough ladies who are willing to meet such a man. Interestingly, all the guys with missing limbs resulted from motorbike crashes.

Some guys who come along would have no problem finding someone in their own country. 6 foot tall, handsome, good job and everything going for them. I have had English lords, council workers, millionaires, US judges, blind men, all sorts. We get people from all walks of life from those who are workaholics to those who find socializing difficult to those who find western women disillusioning. A lot of guys believe Western women should have the middle name, “what have you done for me lately?”

We will turn down guys if their income is too low. I will ask them if their income is basically above or below a certain level, although obviously it depends on more than just the income. A disabled guy on only a disabled income, forget it. If he has other income, then it is ok. Guys are always crying that we are going to pass these details on to the lady but we never give this information to them. We are interested in clients who we can deliver for. Some agencies will take on any Tom, Dick or Dirty Harry, and we will not do that.

The man with one leg wanted to meet a woman who had been born in the year of the rat, who was a Pisces and who spoke good English!

We have never had anyone under 27. The oldest was 86. Things are changing a lot. The average age used to be 55 but it is probably more like 45 now.

(Just to quash the stereotype, when I was in his office, there were two guys there, one who was probably about 50 odd, and another who was 30, tall, well presented and frankly, the type of guy who would interest a lot of Thai womenStick)

Guys who meet women through services like yours get a lot of grief in the West and the term “mail order bride” is hardly a compliment. What advice do you give them to manage their lives in the West?

Clients do get very negative responses from Western women. My wife is size 8 and if I see a woman while we are out shopping I sometimes wind them up. I’ll say something like "I think that dress is size 10 – it's too big for you!" Western women are jealous and intimidated by Thai women.

Let us not forget that there is a movement of middle-aged women going to Africa to meet tribal chiefs and well endowed young men. These Thai women are a threat to them all.

I always say to clients that if you do this you need to be your own man. I do not give a monkey what anyone thinks of my lifestyle!

This is a dirty business, isn’t it? There are a lot of unscrupulous operators. Tell me about them and some of their tricks.

First of all, I do not think it is professional to really comment on other agencies but I will answer your question.

Let's just say I wasn’t surprised by that interview you ran recently, in any way, shape or form.

One bad thing that happens is when the girl has to sign a contract with the agency that she says she will give a percentage of any engagement gifts (this is a MUCH better term than dowry or sin sot – engagement gifts is what they tend to beStick) given to the lady to the agency. We know of a girl who was bought an engagement ring and had to sell it and give 50% of the money from the sale to the agency!

Some agencies charge a very modest fee of around £300 and all the guy gets is a list of ladies to meet somewhere like a bar. There is no service provided at all! They might get a do it yourself visa guide if they are lucky. People pay us for a professional service and they get what they pay for. We do everything for our customers.

I want people to think that this is a genuine way for like-minded people to meet, who for various reasons have not been successful through other means.

90% of people who have met their wife through us say they met elsewhere, but not through us. What’s the difference? Some guys are a bit embarrassed about it. People used to be embarrassed about internet dating but they are no longer as that has become a more common way to meet people. So why are people so embarrassed about using an introduction agency? It is like a slap in the face for us.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Empire Tower.

Central Bangkok, again.

Last week's pic was taken from State Tower looking across at Empire Tower, the huge building on the corner of Sathorn and Narathiwat Roads, which I believe is either the third or forth tallest building in Bangkok. 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, do not be shy to say so!

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Is it safe to open our mouths these days?

Someone took offence to the term "Oriental"? What planet were they from? I thought this was one of the safest terms to use when in need of a generic catch-all. (Mind you, I did find out in Egypt that an Oriental restaurant is going to be serving houmos and tahina, and not a noodle in sight). Still, we've been away for awhile, so you never know what the current fad is going to be. Heck, I can't even refer to myself as "white" or "round eye" now for fear of offending someone. I've never seen the Caucasus Mountains, so I guess that's out, I was born in St. Lucia, but I always get odd looks if I call myself a Carib or a Westies. I guess I can be a Canuck, but that's a lot like putting your dog's breed down as "mongrel". Is Anglo acceptable, or is that going to get the G's (Gallic and Gaelic) up in arms? I guess it'll be "farang" for now.

The dodgy man in the phone booth.

Beware an Asian guy wearing glasses (35 – 45 years old) who has a tendency to hang around phone booths, often around the area of the Ploenchit Road / Wireless Road intersection. As you're walking by, he'll lean out of the phone box and ask you casually for change for the phone. He speaks very good English as well. I didn't think it suspicious until my friend told me later she has seen him doing exactly the same thing some weeks earlier. How desperate a situation must this guy be in? For the gain of 5-10 baht a time?! His accent would indicate he's educated. Drugs or a gambling problem no doubt.

Just because she is a cashier…

The girls who say they don't go out, cashiers in the naughty bars, are really saying "I am waiting for someone better" or "I already have a boyfriend". Living here I have noticed that sooner or later I will see them on the street with a farang, and this is without exception. What other reason would they be involved in the industry in any way? A genuine good girl cashier could be employed in Robinson. Sorry guys, but you must take these polite refusals for what they are, a 'knock-back', just because most of the girls say "Yes" you cannot expect it to be every single one, unless perhaps you are Brad Pitt, but even he must get knocked back sometimes in his circles.

The superior Thai postal service.

I spent four months in the LOS this year and during this time I sent back to the USA around 6 boxes of souvenirs, gifts, relics, extra clothes, etc by slow air by Thai Postal Service. The service was extremely reliable and the packages arrived after approximately 3 weeks – except for the last two that I sent last June. After waiting 6 weeks, I contacted the US Postal Service to attempt to trace them. One person told me he had no idea which port they would arrive in and another said most boxes were now inspected by US Customs and that if there was anything in them that they did not like, well, they would just keep the stuff, all of it. US Customs representatives were equally as unhelpful – even after waiting through several pre-recorded messages. Not really satisfied with the responses from the US Postal authorities and US Customs, I sent an email through the Thai Postal Service web site. They requested the numbers from my receipts, which I sent to them. About 2 weeks later, the packages arrived at my office. US Customs had indeed opened them, some things were broken, but the boxes were resealed with yellow US Customs tape and sent to me. Perhaps the US could sub-contract an official with the Thai Postal Service in order to improve the service here?

Would you want to be a Bangkok taxi driver?

I've always found that metered taxi fares in Bangkok were ridiculously low. Where else in the world can you get to or come from an airport some 25 km away and pay a mere 130 baht to get to or depart from downtown? 130 something baht is not even 4 US$. Since their inauguration in 1993, taxi meter fares have never risen despite the constantly increasing price of petrol. I vividly remember that standard petrol was about 11 baht back in 1993. Now the price stands at 26+ baht and is likely to hike again. And those guys mostly do not own their taxis, but hire them from a bigwig company and pay not only the fuel but also the rental fee. There can't be much left to make a living.

The stereotype.

The stereotypical semi-skilled, middle-aged, beer-gutted farang male with his much younger uneducated ex-bargirl spouse can be found now in practically every town and city in western Europe. One of the not so obvious reasons that many of these relationships do not work out is that both parties are often divorcees from previous marriages with partners from their own country and therefore not very good at making compromises, an essential feature of a successful relationship anywhere. Earlier this week, the BBC showed an excellent but scary documentary about a British man whose Filipino wife he met in a bar in Angeles City was murdered by her new lover. Had it not been for the dogged efforts of the victim's mother in pursuing justice plus a load of money to fund private investigations, the little slut would have got away Scot free. The man in question was not the stereotype mentioned above, but young, educated, well-off, and generous. His fatal flaw was that he was a dreamer, unable to see reality around him and believing in a world that existed only in his imagination. I think it is these personality types who are most at risk of being taken to the cleaners, and that only their best mates, often people they have not known for very long, are in a position to talk sense into them before they wreck their lives.

When service is good in Thailand, it is sometimes outstanding.

My DVD player wasn't working anymore, so I took it back to the shop. The shop assistant said it would take about two weeks to repair, which I felt was a bit too long. So he suggested I take it to the manufacturer's repair shop myself, since then it would only take a day or so. At the repair place they were very surprised to see a farang – everyone was smiling and very friendly. They said for 100 baht I could have express service and wait for it to be repaired (ca. 1 hour). I didn't feel like waiting, and next day pick-up would have been okay with me, which I told them. They then asked me to come inside the cool office, sat me down, offered me a drink, and said "For you okay, no charge express fee – but can wait". 25 minutes later I was out the door, my DVD player fixed.

With all of the neon lights, pretty girls and what is generally an atmosphere of fun and excitement, Nana Plaza can be quite inviting. But Nana Plaza is generally about sex and truth be told, the fun factor is not what it used to be. Most girls in the bars lose interest very quickly, quite possibly venturing off to the next customer, when they realise a guy does not want to hire them for the evening. And ever since the demise of Woodstock there hasn’t been a spot where you can just go and relax, enjoy a drink, a bite to eat, and watch the goings on. You can of course do that in Big Dogs which is a great spot for people watching, but it does get a bit tight in there. The Big Mango, named after Jake Needham’s first novel with his permission (although Jake has no financial interest in the bar whatsoever), is the most recent addition to Nana and I have to say that I am very impressed. The two-storey bar is well laid out. The main bar area has subtle lighting which gives a very relaxed feel to the bar and they have a full bar meaning that a good number of cocktails are available and I was amazed at just how cheap they are. The likes of a Singapore Sling or a Mai Tai can be had for just 90 baht! A bottle of Heineken will only set you back 80 baht and a Jack Coke is just 85 baht which I believe makes this the most reasonably priced venue for drinks in all of Nana Plaza. They open at 5:00 PM and like the gogo bars they are forced to close at 1:00 AM. I imagine that while they currently open at 5:00, in the future I am sure there will be demand for them to open during the day. Upstairs there are three pool tables and up until the grand opening which has yet to be announced, the pool tables are free! Winner stays on the table until he (or she) is knocked off. Women are available in the bar although they do not have many at this stage, and food will be coming soon. They have plans to offer food, hamburgers and the like, and wish to supply decent burgers, not just any old burgers so it is taking a bit longer than they thought to get the kitchen sorted. But the very best thing about The Big Mango is its location overlooking the plaza. With large windows and an outdoor area, from most points in the bar you get a very pleasant view of the comings and goings and it really is a great spot to wile away some time. Check it out – I reckon you’ll be impressed. However, there is just one concern I have and that is the location. For them to do even just average trade they will need to work very hard on marketing the place. Getting into The Big Mango can be quite an ordeal and it isn't always easy negotiating one's way to the door. That location has felled many noted bar owners and managers including Kevin & Anton, Ricky, LA Larry, Eddie & Chris, Steve, and even Boss Hogg. Let's hope these guys will be successful.

G Spot has recently acquired some very attractive girls and currently they have a very good line-up of dancers. G Spot is by far the best Crown Group bar, in fact it is light years ahead from the rest of the Crown Group bars. A couple of people I have spoken to cannot remember G Spot being any better than it is now, which comes as a pleasant surprise to Nana fans. Birthday suits are not an uncommon sight.

Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4 opened its downstairs club on Friday and it was packed.

Nana Disco's new air-conditioning system does a good job at cleaning out the smoke which used to be like a heavy fog. Now it is much better and this is obviously good news for non-smokers.

An error appeared in the column when it was originally published stating that there was a katoey in Suzie Wong in Soi Cowboy. That was a screw up on my part and there aren't any such katoeys in there at all. Katoey lovers need to look elsewhere. Apologies to Suzie Wong for that. As was put the earlier edition which was true, the rest of the dancers are generally very pleasant on the eye.

While talking with some of the dancers they revealed that at Cowboy bars the girls that do the "shows" that have total nudity and or providing "entertainment" with other girls on stage receive a paltry payment of 50 baht per show over and above the 7,000 baht monthly salary. Compared to the "normal" salary of 6,000 for just dancing with no topless or shows.

Walking Street’s once-popular gogo Club Electric Blue never reached its potential when converted to a discotheque but has now gained a semblance of respect re-morphed into a trendy gogo bar once again. Featuring a remodelled interior and attractive staff of dancers in various modes of undress, the club is making a comeback. Helping too are the bare-breasted barkeeps downstairs and the bare-bottomed ladies upstairs, truly a treat for sore eyes. Hoping to further enhance the club’s image and revenues, popular bar owner Andy sponsored a gala dance contest last night. Seasonal rains discouraged traffic on Walking Street but failed to dampen the spirits of enthusiastic performers or their admiring audience of oglers.

Brits visiting Fun Town take note: the British Embassy in Bangkok has named Barry Kenyon as named honorary consul in Pattaya. In essence, the long-time expat helps Brits (and often non-Brits) in trouble with the law or finding themselves in other serious problems. As nice a guy as Barry is, he's probably not someone you want to be meeting!

Speaking of expats and the law, the Pattaya Immigration office (now on Soi 8) will relocate to Jomtien by year’s end. The new facility (on Soi 5) will feature technology that allows farangs to register online instead of visiting the office every 90 days.

On the heels of last week’s report that authorities are cracking down on Beach Road freelancers, officials now say they are determined to shut down lewd shows and revoke the licenses of offending establishments permanently. No more warnings or simple 30- or 90-day closings. Both crackdowns supposedly were sparked by protests from unnamed foreign tourists who complained they were unaware that they would be witnessing live sex shows AND that the shows were too expensive!

There seem to be a number of raids on popular Pattaya nightlife establishments and word from within the boys in brown is that one of the reasons is due to complaints made by the wives of Asian tourists from outside Thailand! It has been speculated that such complaints have been made in part because of the tour guides who herd these mixed groups into clubs that have explicit shows and expect a commission. I have witnessed this myself and seen the looks of disgust on female visitors' faces, who are not impressed by their husbands obvious interest and excitement in the shows. Many walk out with their disappointed husbands in tow. On returning to their home countries they complain to their travel agent as well as the local Thai embassy which sometimes results in action being taken. Sometimes a few do-gooder farang male tourists who want to save Thai girls from evil make complaints to the local police.

Judging by business at most niteries – bars, gogos and discos, Pattaya might be perceived as a ghost town relegated to local customers. In fact, however, even at the tail-end of the low season, the resort plays host to tens of thousands of tourists. It’s just not the same mix as in years past. Many visitors now are husbands and wives – some honeymooners, some families with children, tour groups young and old from China, Korea, Russia, etc. all there to take advantage of what Pattaya has to offer: low prices on accommodations, meals, water sports, sightseeing, etc., without the high-season crowds. These do not fit the profile typically associated with visitors seeking more lascivious entertainment – or even a night out for drinking and dancing. Now, if these visitors were only rich, the powers that be would have realized their ambitions to transform Fun Town into Dullsville.

Following on from a piece in the column a few weeks back, I can confirm that customers must sign for every drink they order in all of the King's Group Bars. It might sound like a hassle but in practice it isn't, and I personally applaud it.

Word from a reader is that Russian lasses are hitting Spasso's in serious numbers. Haven't been for a while but this sounds like a reason to go along and see how things are.

Farangs with Thai girlfriends can send money to their tilac the modern way. I notice another company is offering electronic funds transfer into Thailand. Express Cash Thailand has started a service that makes electronic payments to Thailand possible. Notices have been posted in the toilets of Soi Cowboy bars offering their service. For more info see here. Their rates seem to be similar to those of Western Union, perhaps a bit cheaper, and they do seem to offer a few other services such as delivery to the person in question and digital photo of the person collecting payment.

Don't you love chatting with Thai females online when they have a webcam? Thai women are photogenic and swapping pictures with them can be a little deceptive as most of them look good in a single image. Watching them on a webcam in a more natural setting allows you to get a better look at what they really look like. But more than that, I don't think these girls realise that by allowing you to see them chatting in real time, if you watch their eyes closely, you can clearly see their eyes dart to different parts of their own computer monitor – each one being a different guy's dialog box – so you can see how many different guys they are chatting with! They'll always say they are chatting with only you but that is seldom the case. Having said that, chatting with multiple guys at once is hardly a crime.

One suggestion to solve the problem of girls meeting guys outside the naughty bars after closing as the guy doesn't want to pay the barfine could be curtailed if the bar gave the girls a greater share of the barfine. That way the girls would be much less likely to meet the guys later though it might increase the incidence of short time as girls rush back to the bar again to get barfined again.

That party animal, Electric Blue Andy, has something for you to help him with. Andy From Misty's A Gogo and Andy from Electric Blue, "Double Trouble" I call them, have teamed up to open a new club on Walking Street in Pattaya. Through the club is small they feel that it would make a great spot for table top dancing. But this is where they have come unstuck. They cannot agree on a name, so they are asking for your help. If they find a name that they can both agree on, they will use it to name their new club and the winner will get one free night of beer and one free barfine of a girl of their choice. Please email names to Andy at [email protected].

When we talk about how much money the girls in make the bars, reporting an average really doesn't convey much meaning. My guess is that the average bargirl catering to Westerners who works most days a month probably earns around 30,000 baht. That is a guesstimate at the average and encompasses all girls, from the old ducks in some of the Pattaya beer bars who have been around for such a long time that they can remember when I was young and handsome, to some of the girls who are doing, shall we say, slightly more miles. One "superstar" on Cowboy makes a confirmed 150,000 baht each and every month. She has a good attitude and dances in one of the shows and goes out at least two times every night and often goes out three or four times IN ONE NIGHT, all at the down to earth price of 3,000 baht. While the deed might be done, there's a definite shortage of sweet talk or cuddle time and she is out the door back to the bar. I guess that she must be good as she has many "repeat" customers.

In Patong, Phuket, there is now a real English style Fish and Chip shop. Maybe you don't come all the way to Thailand to eat fish and chips, but for those who live here and anyone who wants a break from the local ring burning stuff this is a real treat. Run by Simon, who is apparently qualified by the UK Fish Fryers Federation and, has experience of running an English chippy, this is well worth a try. The cod is good but the local fish is even better because it is fresh not frozen. Both fried in a traditional beer batter, donner kebabs coming soon. It is called "Simons Great British Fish and Chip Shop" and is opposite Christin Massage on Second Road, local fish and chips are 180 baht and Norwegian Cod and chips is 250 baht. One can eat in at small bars or at pavement tables or takeaway. Phone in home delivery is available anywhere in Patong for 20 baht on any size order and a little more for Karon or Kamala.

In Bangkok the Fish And Chips Shop on Sukumvit soi 23 is known by locals as a place to get authentic grease pit style fish and chips. I used to go there a bit but really, we're talking artery hardening, the absolute genuine article here. The fish and chips are ok, but the pies are a bit of a let down, to say the least. It would seem a new spot has opened in the last month or two, about 150 metres up past Soi Cowboy, called Mamas. Word on the street is that the Fish And Chip Shop will be lucky to survive as Mama's offers good quality British pub style food at what have been called giveaway prices. I went to go there once and it was full, so have yet to try it myself, but have heard nothing but good things about it.

The people of Isaan and even the region itself get a bit of a hard time from Bangkokians who are never shy to make themselves feel better by putting down others, especially people from Isaan. It is therefore something of a surprise that when these very Bangkokians are hosting people, particularly in a business situation. When they have guests at their office Bangkokians often wheel out a trolley full of Isaan treats. Som tam, larb, nam dok and obligatory sticky rice are all native Isaan dishes. You've got to laugh.

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 have a girlfriend in LOS and although I have no intention of working towards marriage I would like your opinion on our specific situation. She is from Buriram. Both parents are dead. For the moment she claims to work in Bangkok, making shirts. She has 3 brothers and 1 sister of whom the eldest brother has some sort of little shop back home. What about the sin sot in such a case? Is the elder brother the one to (co-)decide and to cash in on the money, as there are no parents left? Or is there some other procedure?

Mrs. Stick says: In this situation it would depend on the point in time when the parents died and how and by whom your girlfriend was raised. If the parents died at a young age and she was brought up by a relative then the sin sot would be paid to that relative who raised her. However, if the death of the parents was around the time that she left home or after then, then it is much less likely that sin sot be paid.

Question 2:. There are so many thousands of ladyboys in Bangkok. Why? No other city / country in the world has this situation to such an extent. Some are quite beautiful. Some work in regular jobs in stores, supermarkets, etc. Are they accepted when at home or are they outcasts. What do Thais think of ladyboys?

Mrs. Stick says: Most Thai people accept ladyboys as regular citizens. There are even some professions where ladyboys are particularly well-known and even where their services are especially sought, such as beauticians and as contractors doing the make-up and hair of couples on their wedding day. When I was in Sydney, Australia I saw a number of ladyboys but not nearly as many as we have in Thailand. Just why they are so prevalent in Thailand, I do not know.

Question 3: How can I encourage and support my Thai girlfriend in learning more English? When we first met, she could say hello, that was about it (not a bargirl), but after a couple of weeks of travelling together, her English expanded at about the same rate as my Thai. Thank Buddha for having a Thai – phonetic Thai – English, English – phonetic Thai – Thai dictionary on my mobile! But really it is amazing how much you can figure out otherwise (my first trip to Thailand I travelled a fair bit with a friend from Spain whose verbal English was limited,) so not that different really language wise. I know that she has the will to learn since every free minute she had her nose in an English language learning book, while we were together, and afterwards I understand as well. Since then she has taken a few courses and is getting better. I give her verbal encouragement all the time (as do most Thais encourage farangs in leaning Thai), but she is not progressing as fast as I would like. (and neither am I am on my Thai). Some friends tell me it is a mistake for me to try to learn Thai at this point, and that it is much more important for her to "have to" learn English. If she thinks that I will learn Thai easily, then they think she won't try as hard. I am enlightened enough to believe that me only speaking Thai to her, and she only speaking English to me, would prove to be the best and fairest solutions, but I remain in a position of seeking advice on the matter. What are your thoughts and suggestions.

Mr. Stick says: As an English teacher I feel that I am perhaps better qualified to answer this question than the Mrs. is. I truly believe that the best way to learn a language is to study it formally in a language institute environment. Assuming that one is motivated and has a competent teacher, then this is, in my experience, the fastest way to make good progress with any language. I would also encourage you to learn to speak Thai, but there are obviously far greater benefits in her learning English than you learning Thai. In an ideal world you would both speak each other's language to a high level.

Quite unexpectedly, today's column has ballooned into the longest Stickman weekly column to date, largely due to the length of the interview with Lawrence. The interviews will continue for the time being with the opening piece in the next two columns most likely featuring more interviews. Hopefully you won't feel interviewed out!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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


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