Stickman's Weekly Column September 25th, 2005

The Thread That Runs Through Many Needles


StickmanBangk ok .com


I sometimes wonder why I give so much coverage to the naughty nightlife in this column. I go down to the naughty bars about once every second month by choice, that is I am there irrelevant to the needs of the column. Virtually every other visit, which is generally weekly, is for the purpose of gathering news, or sticking my nose into other people's business.

In the early days myself and a friend would go down to the bars about twice a week, usually once during the week, and once on either a Friday or more often, a Saturday night. We enjoyed it. It was fun. Whether the industry has changed since then is a moot point, but one thing's for sure, these days my visits are less frequent.

But while I may not enjoy it like I used to, I still remain fascinated by it all. Of that, there is no argument. As a keen observer of human behaviour and life in general, the bar areas are absolutely first class for people watching.

If I look at my 20 odd farang colleagues, all but one have been customers in the naughty bars. And going through all of the names in my phone book, I would say that virtually everyone has spent time in the bars, in fact I can find just one person who hasn't.

But maybe it is just a Stickman thing? Do I attract the sort of people who like to hang out at the bars? Is it just me and my mates and our type there, or have most Western guys living in Bangkok spent a lot of time at the bars? It is my belief that a very high percentage of Westerners living and working in Bangkok are familiar with the farang bar areas and at some time in their Bangkok adventure spent a not insignificant amount of time down there. And I'm not just talking about my friends, or colleagues or English teachers, I'm talking about all Westerners in Bangkok.

At the interview to my first job in Bangkok, I was told that the staff, a bunch of ragamuffin English teachers, would have staff meetings at Nana Plaza. I wasn't so much surprised at this fact per se, but that I was told it at the interview. OK, so it is known that a number of the foreign teachers in Thailand are people who were initially attracted to Thailand by the girls of the night but to voluntarily announce this at a job interview?! Looking back at it, I think if I had responded negatively to that comment, I probably wouldn't have got the job. I never did attend one of the meetings there, funnily enough.

At the other end of the employment scale, I could name two ambassadors who have used the services of Bangkok's girls of the night, one a current ambassador, one former. And just in case you were wondering, neither of the countries they represent are countries where English is an official language – and neither are Asian. (Don't bother emailing me to ask who they are as I absolutely will not reveal it. But, if you know where I used to work, you can surely guess one of them…)

International superstars and celebrities are often seen in the capital's naughty bars. As has previously been mentioned in this column, Oliver Stone has been spotted in Nana Plaza more than once. Jimmy White, the English snooker player, has been seen in Soi Cowboy as have various other sportsmen. In fact a few years back when an English football team was in town, I was contacted by someone who claimed to represent an English newspaper who said that if I was able to take any shots of players from the touring team then it would be "well worth my while financially". It was even suggested that should I see any of the players that I try and set something up or even provoke them to get a good picture. No thanks.

Of course someone must have made some money snapping shots of Hugh Grant in a Soi Cowboy bar a couple of years back. If you've got an eye for celebrities, there might even be some value in staking out the bar areas with a camera and low aperture lens. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I understand why not just the bar staff, but punters too, are so touchy about cameras in the bar areas.

Going off on a tangent for a moment, I can remember in late 1998 when a friend and I videoed the Miss Soi Cowboy contest and got half an hour's footage inside Long Gun bar with the video camera sitting right there next to our drinks, pointing up at the dancing girls, with the red record light clearly visible to everyone. The advent of the internet and some unscrupulous punters posting pictures of girls all over the 'net means that one can get a lot of grief just taking photographs outside the bars. If you so much as point a camera at the interior of a bar you get the staff all hot and bothered very quickly.

Back to the patrons of the bars, an English gentleman who fronts a number of sports shows broadcast on cable TV in Asia is a regular at Nana when he's in town. During an interview with a correspondent here in Bangkok this past week he was not shy in joking about this particular fellow's "hardship posting". Knowing what he gets up to when he's in Bangkok, I couldn't stop laughing.

The father of one of Thailand's hottest acts is down in Patpong fairly often, in fact you could say that he is down there most nights, and according to the girls of a certain bar in Patpong 2, he isn't, shall we say, "a shy lad".

There are enough fancy suits and Italian neckties in the naughty areas on a Friday night to make it clear that all three farang gogo bars area are favoured places to have a few after work drinks for those on true expat packages.

And if the email addresses of those who send email to me are anything to go by, it is not just the poorly paid, poorly qualified English teachers who frequent the bars. Emails are often received from teachers at the very best schools who foolishly email me from their school email account, clearly showing where they work. (Don't worry, I NEVER reveal anything to anyone, but you really should be more careful.)

Patong Harbor View Condominiums

You see local farang celebrities in the bars all the time. Most of the locally-based authors can be spotted in the naughty bars from time to time. In fact, can you name a popular Bangkok-based farang author who has not included the naughty nightlife in at least one of his books? No, neither can I. But then in my mind that is a good thing. Imagine a Bangkok bookshop without copies of "The Big Mango", "A Killing Smile", "Private Dancer", or "Thailand: Land Of Beautiful Women".

Now just because people are in the bar areas doesn't mean that they are being naughty. Like me, they may merely be casting their watchful eyes on proceedings or perhaps meeting up with friends for a few drinks.

But you can't escape the bar industry simply by not going to the bar areas. Physically away from the bar industry you still see so much of the bar scene. Frankly, wherever there are farangs in Thailand, you'll find bargirls. I challenge you to find a hotel in Bangkok frequented by farangs where you won't see bargirls being sneaked in at night. And likewise during the day, from the most popular tourist attractions like the city's many glitzy shopping malls and restaurants, wherever there are a number of farangs, there will be bargirls.

For some guys golf is the common denominator. For other guys it is the English football Premier League. There are a few photographers around, like me. And then there are the gourmands. We've each got our own hobbies and interests but we all still gravitate back to the bars. It really is a Bangkok phenomenon. I mean, how often would you go to strip bars in the West?

There are a number of readers who have told me to cut back on the nightlife content of the column, or at the minimum, separate the nightlife content so that they can avoid it. The idea of clearly labelling the different news and views sections is a good one, and one which I hope to implement before too long, but the nightlife content is here to stay.

Whether one cares for the industry or not, this is Bangkok, a city known for its bars and nightlife. Bargirls are everywhere! Unless you have your eyes closed, you quickly realise that there are remnants of the bar industry in every corner of the city and that the bars and the bargirls are the common thread through the needles of all farangs in this city.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the overpass into Panthip Plaza.

How many 7 Elevens are there in Bangkok?

Last week's pic was taken from the overpass close to the Indonesian Embassy on Petchaburi Road, looking east at the overpass from the northern side of Petchaburi Road into Panthip Plaza. A heap of people got it right so I have made this week's pic a bit tougher. 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.com – 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

Will they listen to the farang?

A while back my girlfriend's mom bought a truck even though nobody in the family can drive. They also built a fence around their entire property so the car wouldn't get stolen. My girlfriend sends her mom 6,000 baht every month just to make the car payment, plus another couple of thousand for whatever. This seriously cuts into her monthly allowance and she constantly bitches about money. I then tell her to talk to her mom as it's stupid to pay so much for something she can't even use. Hell, I don't even have a car! The response I get is that I don't understand, her mom has always wanted a car, and I'm not allowed to criticize her family. Fine. The mom's boyfriend just started learning to drive and a couple weeks back the car was stolen from a public parking lot. The family has insurance but it doesn't cover theft. So they were worried enough about the car getting stolen to build a fence around the house, but they didn't bother to properly insure the car. My girlfriend asked if I'd pay off the loan so her mom won't go to jail. I told her that my input was unwelcome before, so I'm not going to bail them out. She can keep making payments for the next 30 months. I wonder if next time she'll listen to the stupid farang?

Farangs and assimilation, or lack of it.

I'm a letter carrier in a town which has had quite an influx of Mexican people who have come to America in search of a better life. The city is at least 50% Hispanic and there are many Hispanic areas with stores that cater to the Mexican community, similar to Thailand with expats. Many of these people I've known for 20+ years (I speak some Spanish). The same complaint I've been hearing my whole career is "they come to live in America but they don't want to learn the language. Why don't they go back to Mexico if they want everything to be like home. He's lived here 10+ years and doesn't know English and expects me to know Spanish." Why is it we expect people to conform to our culture and language but so many expats in Thailand are just like so many Mexicans in America? If you live in a country for any length of time you should learn the language just as you would expect someone living in your country for any time to learn your language.

Jealousy.

Have to agree with a lot of what you said in your weekly about the pitfalls of a relationship with bargirls. Just wanted to add one more problem that I think is common. This is jealousy. My friend who is living in Bangkok with his new wife has found out this to his cost – he is not allowed to leave her side for more than half an hour, and if he asks to do so then she enquires suspiciously why he wants to do it. While visiting him on holiday he kissed a karaoke host on the hand as a gesture of thanks and his wife crucified him for the rest of the night. Thai women obviously don't understand the meaning of "personal space"…but also I think once a Thai girl gives herself wholly to you then she expects 100% commitment back, and this means being surgically attached.

One strike and you're HISTORY!

Seen you comment twice lately about your believing in the "one strike and you're out" rule. Yes, I agree, but with the following caveat. When the strike occurs, you have to ask yourself if the behavior she has displayed is indicative of her character in general. That is to say, is she likely to repeat such behavior in the future, or is the act truly an exception and something really out of the ordinary for her? (Sadly, many guys don't really even know their teeruks very well at all and can't come close to answering this question, yet still are considering marriage to them!). If it is not an exception, then it is truly a strike and she is out! If you truly consider it an aberration, then maybe it's just a foul ball and she's still at bat. Or if the strike is big enough (like infidelity), then you MUST automatically assume that it's truly indicative of her character, can be expected to be repeated in the future, and she is OUT. The really crazy thing is the number of guys who fail to walk away after even many strikes.

Thai jewellery vs. Western jewellery.

You had a guy ask about whether to buy a diamond ring in Thailand or Australia. I was in America and talked with a smart young jeweller who had lived in Thailand and had a Thai wife about this very thing. He said that most of the diamonds sold in Thailand were investment diamonds, big rocks. There is was not much action in smaller engagement rings with smaller settings and stones. The opposite was true in America (and most likely Australia) where most people use a ring with smaller diamonds (relatively speaking). So the good quality smaller diamonds are in abundance there. Also, the west likes to use 14-18 karat gold for the ring, it’s stronger and will hold up to daily use. The Thais could not imagine anything that wimpy, they love their 24 karat Thai gold. It’s OK for special occasions but not for washing dishes.

Being a maid's a shitty job.

I recently was up in Bangkok for my annual check up at Bumrungrad. Stayed at my favourite, cheapy hotel off Sukhumvit the night before. The hospital requires you to bring in a stool sample as part of the comprehensive tests. So I was up at 6 AM packing up to check out and head over to the hospital. I had taken my turd and stuffed it into a zip lock bag. Not wanting to be seen walking thru the hospital with the loaf on display, I put it into one of those bags that the hotel wraps the clean glasses in. Grabbed my bags, shut off the lights, and ran down to check out. Sitting in the hospital, waiting to have my blood drawn it dawned on me that I had left the bag-o-shit in the room on the counter next to the TV. I wonder what the maid thought when she found it. I am sure that, given the hotel proximity to Soi Cowboy, she has found some strange personal items people have left in a room, but never a bag with a steaming turd in it! Do you think that they will keep it for my next visit?

Last night there was a meeting at the Old Dutch, the pleasant and atmospheric restaurant on the corner of Soi Cowboy and Sukhumvit Soi 23. The meeting was between Thonglor Police and the bar owners of Soi Cowboy and several new measures are to be implemented more or less immediately. The first is that during the time that bars are operating, the soi is to be closed off to all traffic including motorbikes and vendors, making it a walking street. Second and more important is that bars will have to put up signs that all customers will need to have ID on their person when entering the bars. One establishment has already experienced a bust with 8 farang being fined and the bar in question was fined, the rumour mill having it that the fine was as high as 50,000 baht. These measures are apparently to be implemented nationwide and will have to be policed by the owners as the local police can do spot checks at any time without warning.

Nana Disco will be having a wet T-shirt contest tonight around midnight. The first prize is a very generous 10,000 Thai baht with 5,000 for second, and 2,500 for third. This should bring out some attractive contestants. They have been trying to make it an amateur night and have turned away a number of bargirls. It should be a great contest.

The piss testing continues and continues and continues. It seems that you can just about guarantee that there will be piss testing at some venue, somewhere in Thailand, each week and I wonder if it is even worth reporting it any more, as it would seem to be the norm, as opposed to something newsworthy. This week it was the turn of Mystique, that multi-themed disco come nightclub on Sukhumvit Soi 31. On Thursday night the boys in brown came and tested the patrons, a good percentage of them farangs. I've yet to know what happens to a farang who tests positive, but one thing's for sure, it wouldn't be pretty.

The expansion of Angelwitch in Nana Plaza is nearly complete. There is already an extra row of seating and the new bathrooms are open also. All should be complete in around 2 weeks.

Nana Plaza was quite busy and Tuesday and Wednesday appeared to be two of the busiest week days seen this year. Carnival is doing shows, as are Mercury, and both have a reasonable number of good looking gals.

The pool bar next to the open air food court on Sukhumvit Soi 7 is fast becoming a freelancer venue in the afternoons and evenings and gives the Biergarten some competition.

Down in Pattaya, a trend over the last 12-18 months has been for the ladies of the night to shave themselves downstairs. The latest craze seems to be piercings, with many choosing to have piercings down there. Oooh, it puts me off.

Coyotee Bar is said to have a lot of pretty girls and some very good shows and as always, Diamond A Gogo continues to do very and they are holding their monthly dance contest tonight at 9:30 PM tonight. There 11,000 baht up for prizes.

On another part of this site recently there have been a few articles about whether short men have problem attracting women in Thailand, an issue which has seen opposing points of view put forward. One should remember that there is a bar in Pattaya on soi 13/1 near Starbucks called the The Legless Arms Bar. The owner is about 3 feet without his prosthetics. He has no arms to the shoulders and no legs to the knees. He has learned to walk with prosthesis, and he has not one problem with the ladies. Now that is a fact.

Christopher Moore's latest, "Gambling On Magic", will be officially launched in Bangkok on Friday, 7th October 2005, at 5.00 PM at Central Department Store Chidlom Branch at the B2S bookshop on the 6th floor. If you are in Bangkok it is a chance to go along and meet Chris who will say a few words and will also be happy to sign your copy. I'm about half way through it at the moment and can confirm that Chris was on form with this one. While the official launch is still a couple of weeks away, the book has been available in some Asia Books branches since early this week.

A few years back I wrote a paragraph in the column about how myself and a friend had been up at a disco in Rachada and how after it had closed we went down to Nana Plaza. I made the comment that the women up at Rachada were far more attractive than those at Nana Plaza and received a heap of hate mail for my efforts. I experienced deja vu this week. I was just about to leave my castle to meet a friend for dinner when the heavens opened so my plan of going by motorbike failed and I was forced to take the skytrain. But the journey wasn't so bad because it was just after 6:00 PM and the skytrain was full of pretty women. I marvelled at the number of pretty ladies on the short journey, most of them beautifully done up office girls on their way home. I got off at the Nana station at about 6:30 PM as rain was pouring down. There was a large congregation of ugly women waiting at the top of the stairs at the Nana BTS station. Ugly women, roughly dressed with crudely applied make up and worst of all, talking using the most coarse terms. It took me just a few seconds to work out who they were – the girls of bars in the Nana area! They were trapped at the skytrain station, waiting for the rain to stop. Comparing office girls with the girls of Nana just isn't fair. Let the flood of hate mail resume.

From Phuket comes word that there are lot of beauties employed in Bangla Road. It would seem that there has been an early start to the new season's crop, and not only has Phuket been blessed with a large volume of girls but also quality has re-surfaced.

Still in Phuket, over at Banana Disco, they are meticulously abiding by the rules, and close at 1 AM on the dot every night, while at Tiger & Taipan it's usually around 3 AM. So if you want to party late, now you know where to go.

They call themselves One MB – a group of expat farangs living and working in Bangkok and nearby provinces. They all apparently hold very senior positions and believe they are largely responsible for running the Thai / Asia-Pacific operations of their global companies. The ‘One MB’ is tongue in cheek, but is to signify that at their level, one million baht per month is not uncommon. As for what they do, well, they meet every so often for social chit chats, drinks, food and basically network. They claim to be the complete antithesis of the beer bellied overweight dropout tourist farang loaded with a bar girl on his arm. (Those were their words, not mine.) They meet at Bangkok’s best bars and restaurants and they are now seeking highly educated, motivated, intelligent expats wishing to get together to discuss how they can help and inform each other. They are happy to review an individual’s specific circumstances based on their age, profession, seniority, length of time in Bangkok etc. They can be contacted in the first instance by email at [email protected]. I know nothing of this group and do not vouch for them.

One of the very best articles written about Pattaya appeared in Time magazine a while ago and is now available online. Click here to read it.

It's that time of year when traffic is light, almost entirely due to the closure of schools for mid-semester break. But before the break comes exams and exam time when the endemic corruption within all but the very best schools shows its ugly face. Over the years I have witnessed many events in the exam room which truly warrant the name, Amazing Thailand. Teachers giving answers to the students, Teachers distributing exams days before the students are to sit them and the one that has taken hold of our school this year, Thai teachers distributing last years exams to students, knowing full well that many farang teachers recycle the previous year's exam. And they wonder why they're falling behind…

Quote of the week comes from the mother in law and is sure to enrage a few readers. "You and some of your friends got lucky by marrying decent Thai women from decent families. Back when I was young you would not have been able to meet decent Thai women. During the Vietnam era, these young and handsome American soldiers, for the most part, ended up with bargirls. Few got truly decent women. I felt so sorry for them."

Dasa Book Cafe, Bangkok's best second hand book store, are looking for a new employee – Thai nationality. They must be able to work regular 8-hour shifts for 4 or 5 days every week. The employee must possess good English language skills, have a good personality, and be willing to work hard and learn the book business. If you know of anyone looking for a good job (pay depends upon experience and education), please send them over to Don to arrange an interview at [email protected].

I was listening to the talkback radio from New Zealand the other night when an ad came on for some tin pot menswear store, the sort of place that frankly sells the sort of junk that you wouldn't want to be seen dead in. $NZ495 for a suit, what a bargain the announcer said. And then it registered to me, that is more than 14,000 Thai baht for a suit that would not be nearly as nice as what you could get in Bangkok for less than half that price. Sometimes I forget just how lucky we are to live here. Despite its problems, Thailand remains a great place to live.

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 met this girl in a massage parlour on Rachada. The kind of girl I would like to date in my homeland – fun, cute, bright. I was wondering what are the prospects of this girl in the future. The girls at the upscale massage parlours have the look Thais like, but do they ever marry to a good, decent middle class guy? Is their situation any different from bar / gogo girls?

Mrs. Stick says: I think you know the answer to this question yourself, but you expect me to say something different. I'd like to, but I can't! If you just want to date her for fun, then do it and enjoy. But there is a very high chance that you will end up like one of the guys who emails my husband with a tale of woe. Try and get things straight in your mind before you fall in love with her and become blind and cannot see the real picture.

Question 2: I live in a small village in Isaan. One day a neighbour (Thai) come and asked me if I would drive him and his wife to a village 25 km away. "Of course", I said. Why do you want to go there? Then he told me his son had had boom boom with a girl. Both of them are 16 years old and study in the same school. The parents of the girl had phoned him and wanted to speak with him and his wife. So we went to see the girl's parents. It was a long talk in Thai and I didn't understand a word of it. On our way home I asked my neighbour was what all about. Then he explained for me. The girl's family want compensation, in cash, for the shame his son have made to the family. They couldn't make any agreement this time so we must go there one time more after a week. This time my neighbour take two friends with him to help him negotiate, one of them was a pooyai barn (senior village personStick>. This time was it a lot more people from both sides and everybody had something to say. The girl's father asked for 25,000 baht in compensation. After about 3 hours talk and a lot of beer they come to an agreement of 15,000 baht. My neighbour is a very poor farmer, but the girl's family are wealthy. The girl was not pregnant. Are such things common?

Mr. Stick says: The answer to this is complicated. I asked both the wife and the mother in law about this and we had a long discussion which I will try and summarise. Mrs. Stick really wasn't too sure so deferred to her mother. The mother in law first speculated that the law had been broken by them sleeping together at such a young age and the agreement of money to compensate the girl and her family was essentially a settlement away from the police. I then put it to her that the age of consent was 15. She claims it is 18, I claim 15, though neither of us is 100% sure. Mother in law then said that people of Isaan may have felt that by sleeping together they had "pit pee" of which my best translation would be that they had behaved in such a way so as to upset the spirits of their ancestors. To appease the spirits they would need to get engaged and have an engagement ceremony but that would not appear to be the case here. It was then said that this girl has now been "spoiled" and that she would not be able to command a price for the sin sot (dowry) when she goes to get married. Mother in law said that if the girl had willingly slept with the boy AND they were of legal age, but she had not yet been married AND didn't necessarily intend to marry this boy, then she was foolish and no money would be owing whatsoever. My take on this is that the wealthier family has put pressure on the boy and his family to get compensation for a situation when I personally do not see it as valid.

Note: Checking online, Ageofconsent.com states that the legal age for sex in Thailand is 15, but 18 when money is involved. The mother in law would have none of that though!

Question 3: I will be giving my girlfriend an engagement ring during a visit to meet her family in Surin in November. I bought the ring in America. It is a centre stone ruby surrounded by diamonds but now I worry that this is not the proper type for an engagement. So, that is why I am asking you. What do you think. I bought the ring because a ruby is her birthstone and I think it is a very beautiful ring. Is the type of ring given at engagement important? Can I tell her that we can shop together for a wedding set and she can choose what pleases her? I cannot return the ring now and I bought it to surprise her but I think she knows that I am going to pop the question.

Mrs. Stick says: The purchase of a ring is something that is often decided on by both him and her in Thailand and the happy couple will often shop for it and choose it together. Often engagement is talked about and agreed on before the purchase of a ring, which is different to the West, I believe. A diamond ring would typically be more common but what you have bought should be fine. You have not made a cultural taboo if that is what you are concerned about.

The where is this picture competition attracts a large number of readers. If you enter specifically to win one of the prizes, you need to be quick. Over recent weeks the column has been posted online between 3:45 and 4:00 PM. I always try to get it up before 6:00 PM, my self-imposed deadline, but usually it is up earlier. In recent weeks, when the picture has been somewhat easy, we have had 3 winners as early as 4:10 PM. But then this week is a bit of a curveball because I've been up in Korat which means the column goes up before 1:00 PM. I'm currently in negotiation with two more prize providers and with a bit of luck, there might soon be five prizes offered.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper, Whosyourdaddy and KL.


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