Stickman's Weekly Column September 4th, 2005

Who Is Bangkok Phil?


StickmanBangk ok .com


Outspoken yet very clearly erudite, Bangkok Phil is one of the most well-known Bangkok based webmasters and perhaps the second most well-known English teacher in the entire Kingdom. (He’d need to shave his head and start speaking ‘Strine to be the most known.) Acknowledged as something of an expert on the English teaching industry in Thailand, he has an almost cult like following on the very popular Ajarn.com site which he runs. But Ajarn.com is not the only site that Phil has been responsible for. He was the creator of Bangkokmouth and he's a busy boy who always seems to have some irons in the fire. Just who is Bangkok Phil?

Your original website was an absolute cracker and had the potential to be huge, but you seem to have stopped developing it. Just why is that?

Bangkokmouth was purely a labour of love. I worked like a demon on that site for about 2 years. Sometimes up until 3:00 in the morning because I felt I had so much to say and there simply comes a time when you to say to yourself that this isn’t making me any money. Not only that, but I’d run out of things to write about and I was probably experiencing frequent writer’s block. I felt it had just got to the end of the road.

I think it was only the emails of support and praise that kept me going for longer than it should have.

Do you still get a lot of feedback from it?

Very little. It has more or less the same traffic now as at did at its height. But people can see that it is a dead site. It hasn’t been updated for a long time, 2 years, and that is a long time to not update a website even though a lot of the information on there is as applicable today as it was then. Some things do not change.

You lost the domain name for that site? I’ll rephrase that as a question. Did you lose the domain name for that site?

A good question. Yes, I lost the domain name. It was purely my own fault because I forgot to renew it. The domain name I want now is Bangkokphil.com but apparently a computer company on Sukhumvit Road has bought it. I’m not joking. I contacted them about a month ago to ask if they would sell it to me but I’m yet to get a reply. I believe the company is run by expats so maybe there’s another Bangkok Phil I don’t know about who’s about to hit the internet and give me a run for my money? I’ll keep you posted.

Would you agree that you are the second most well-known farang teacher in Thailand, only Andrew Biggs being better known?

Andrew Biggs doesn’t have much of an internet presence though does he? Then again, I haven’t been on the telly loads of times or given lessons on the Microbus. Ajarn Terry from the Bangkok Post is pretty well-known too….and then there’s Kru Kate of course. Stick, am I in the top twenty when you come to think about it?

Yep mate, whether you like it or not, you are! Do you know Andrew Biggs?

He emailed me several times during “the BangkokMouth period” to say how impressed he was with the site and we both shop at Foodland on Srinakarin Road. That is about as far as it goes. I’ve seen him many times but have never brought myself to say hello for some reason.

Can you talk me through the history of Ajarn.com?

It was all started by Ian McNamara in 1999. I contacted Ian when Ajarn had been up for a few months and I offered to write a teachers’ tales section. Ian loved the stuff I was writing so we arranged to meet and became very good friends. I started to do more and more for the site though I can’t remember what exactly. As fate would have it I guess, Ian and I worked together in 2002 and I took over the site when he went to work in China.

As the name has become more familiar, the workload has increased. There are tons of emails to answer from teachers both here and abroad and there’s the responsibility of always keeping the site fresh with new articles etc.

Does anyone help you run the site?

I get help with the jobs board and the discussion forum.

The most difficult part of running the site since the beginning, has been without doubt the discussion forum simply because of the mix of posters and readers that we get and the need to keep control of some often very volatile characters.

For a couple of years we were constantly being hacked for fun and I was about to give the discussion forum up completely when a guy called Louis Minson came to the rescue. He’s an academic director of a school in Songkhla, a computer wizard and a keen forum member. He offered to take over and as part of the deal I said that any money he made from advertising was his to keep. It’s like his little business within a business and it sure takes the headache away from me.

What are the best things, and the worst things, about running Ajarn.com?

The worst thing is when I get emails from people abroad who have maybe lost a job or at the end of a broken relationship and want to come and look for teaching work purely because they once had a nice fortnight’s holiday here. And they are asking me to play a massive part in decisions that affect their future. I find that an enormous responsibility. How can I answer questions like, “Will I be able to find a job?” How can I honestly answer questions like that? I’m honoured that people would ask me but it’s a huge responsibility to make sure I be truthful with my answers.

The best part of running the site? I’d be lying if I said the advertising money wasn’t nice. The site has become a ‘nice little earner’ to use a good old British expression. And whenever I get an email that pats me on the back or gives me words of encouragement. Those are always welcome.

Get one or two a year, do ya?

Yeah, (wry grin!)

I get about 50 – 60 emails a day. I’m happy to help people if I can but I wish people would get to the point with emails. Sorry Stick, I feel passionately about this. The death of the handwritten letter and the birth of email have put us back years as far as the ability to communicate is concerned. I get great long multi-paragraph emails, which I read from top to bottom (sometimes twice). Then I scratch my head and think what the fuck do you want?! Was there a question in there? What am I supposed to do now? I guess I am growing more impatient as I get older.

I get a buzz every time I talk to someone and they know the name Ajarn.com. When I talk to a Thai person at the tiniest little language school and they know the site, it gives me the horn, especially when you consider what I know about internet marketing and search engine optimization. Namely sod all.

How has the teaching industry changed A) in the time that you have been here and B) in the time since Ajarn.com arrived?

I arrived in 1990 so I’ve been here 16 years. Since I’ve been here the main change has been the range of jobs available. In the early ‘90s, in the days before the internet, you either looked in the Bangkok Post or the Yellow Pages and you phoned whatever private language institutes were around. Now you have secondary schools, kindergartens, rajaphats, unis, colleges, the whole nine yards. There is just so much more choice. There are vacancies for teachers of maths, science, history, physical education.

To answer the ‘since Ajarn.com part’ I’m not going to claim all the glory, but I seriously think that salaries have increased across the board. I believe that to be a stone cold fact. Very rarely do I post full-time jobs in the 20 – 25 thousand baht per month range – and there used to be many. Ajarn.com and the internet has killed it for those schools (I’m happy to say) who were paying low salaries.

Teachers are so much savvier these days. The internet has been an absolute good as far as teachers are concerned. I think many schools would disagree because it has hammered some serious ‘cyber nails’ into their coffins.

Do you think the typical Bangkok teacher, if there is such a thing, has changed over time?

Yes, in two major ways. One they have become more entrepreneurial. You find teachers juggling several jobs instead of tying themselves to one particular institute or language school. Having a part-time position at an institute and supplementing it with well-paid private work or freelance work, can be very lucrative. But you do need to have some business acumen and that is why quite a few teachers don’t make it work. You do need that business acumen.

Teachers have become more demanding money wise because, but it is not so much how teachers have changed but how Bangkok has changed. There’s more to spend your money on. Everyone wants a kick ass computer, there are always DVDs to buy, 80 baht coffees etc. This wasn’t here in the early ‘90s. A weekend in Pattaya was your only treat!

Is there any real difference between those who teach in Bangkok and those who teach upcountry?

I think you’re either a city person or you’re not. It’s as simple as that. While we are on the subject, I do not buy into that crap that cities like Chiang Mai and Hat Yai are significantly cheaper to live in than Bangkok. Whenever I go to Chiang Mai I find it more expensive than here, yet salaries up there suck!

You have never struck me as a typical teacher. Why do you continue to teach?

I look on my teaching salary as the bread and butter money. It is always there. Income from the website goes up and down but the teaching salary is steady. I think it is very important to have your fingers in as many pies as possible.

Is that specific to Thailand?

I realised about 3 years ago that the best way to survive in Thailand is to have your fingers in as many pies as possible because you never know when one door is going to close. Make sure it is not the only door. I have been involved now with three institutions that just closed down or there was a conflict of personality and I found myself out on the street, unemployed. I look at teaching as one of my revenue streams. Sometimes I do actually enjoy it (wry smile).

If you could give someone in their mid ‘20s considering abandoning the West for a career as a teacher in Thailand, what advice would you give them?

Come here and have a couple of month’s holiday first and try and find out if Thailand is really for you. Living here can be very tough. Make no mistake. Don’t base your experience on a package holiday.

What about someone abandoning the West at any time in their life, and not necessarily to teach? Is Thailand the land of milk and honey?

One of the most exciting aspects of life in Bangkok over the past few years has been seeing the number of opportunities outside of teaching, opportunities for foreigners. Many foreigners are blind to these opportunities but they are around. Gone are the days when a farang could only be a teacher or own a beer bar. Whether it is going to be a land of milk and honey and you are going to make tones of cash is however another story. But, the opportunity is most definitely here.

You’ve been here a long time, 15 odd years. Do you feel that you have burnt your bridges and that a return to the West gets harder and harder every day?

I never think about it. I still love England and I’m fiercely patriotic but I have no intention of ever going back there to live. I don’t believe you ever burn your bridges in life. I hate that expression.

You’re a married man now. Is it all going to plan?

Best thing I ever did. Gave my life a purpose. Coming home at the end of the day to someone who cares about me is something my life was missing. I just didn’t realise it. And perhaps the most important thing is that her cooking is getting better!

I have written a number of articles construed as being somewhat negative recently which could perhaps be summed up in one simple sentence, “Westerners who think that marrying a Thai woman will result in an easy and fulfilling marriage are fooling themselves and are probably actually better off with a farang woman in the long-term.” Care to comment?

I hate to see your readers and guys on forums poke fun at farang women even though I do join in at times <another wry smile>. There are some wonderful farang women, lots of wonderful farang women. Thai are women are sexier, more feminine blah blah blah. Personally I have never bought into that. All women are great.

You have a good understanding of Thailand and you are as aware as anyone of the potential problems farangs can get into by calling the wrong person the wrong name. As someone who has laid his hat here, do you ever get nervous that they might try and throw you out?

No, I think you have to do something seriously wrong. Very seriously wrong. I hear a few stories about people who have been kicked out or who are no longer allowed in the country but I don’t know those people personally. One of the hardest things about living here is sorting out the fact from the fiction.

What’s the deal with supporting Manchester United? It would seem to be the only black mark I can find against your name. Do you have David Beckham posters all over your bedroom walls?

My father is a fanatical Man U supporter and I grew up in a Manchester United household. There was never going to be another team. Nothing annoys me more than football supporters who poke fun at Man U supporters and label them as glory hunters. I used to belong to the Man U travel club in England and I travelled all over the country watching them. I wasn’t an armchair supporter.

Did you ever get involved in a bit of biff?

Yes, I did but I was usually running in the other direction. I was at an away game in Middlesborough when about 3,000 United supporters who had been locked in the ground after the game stormed a metal fence, the fence collapsed and we heard on the radio that two supporters died. That’s the closest I have been to any football tragedy. You tend to follow the herd when you follow Man U.

So with Ajarn.com do you have quite herd following you?

My Filipino flock especially is growing out of all proportions. I don’t know what it is with that country but they seem to be leaving in droves – and they’re all asking me to find them a job. At least that’s what it feels like.

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was Foodland in Ramkhaemhaeng.

Very central Bangkok…

Last week's pic was taken inside the diner at Foodland but NOT the branch at Sukhumvit Soi 5 but rather the branch at Ramkhaemhaeng. A heap of people got it wrong. One reader even called me a cxxx when I told him that no, it wasn't Foodland in Sukhumvit Soi 5 and told me to "open my fxxxxxg eyes." Lovely. About 50 people guessed it was the Sukhumvit soi 5 branch. 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

The cursed Canucks.

The article on Canadians was great and to be honest not too far fetched. It is my humble opinion that the reason we Canucks are at a gullible stage in our Thai adventures is simply that we are the new kids on the block. Our neighbours to the south (Yanks) had Vietnam to discover the Land Of Smiles and stories taken home where indeed reason enough to visit. The same can be said of the Brits as they where around before and after WW2 and again it's my belief that word of mouth certainly is reason for the first visit to the Kingdom. The Aussies and Kiwis of course are a lot closer than the 23 hour flight to Thailand than we must endure and took back fascinating stories of pleasure and adventure, and the youth is a little more adventurous than ours so it's not uncommon to see university aged kids from both the above mentioned countries.

The Canadian approach.

If I may reply on behalf of my fellow Canadians, I’m not really surprised that such is the case. You see, Canadian males, born and bred on hockey rinks, are used to solving all inter-personal problems by giving opponents a good solid body check into the boards, preferably face-first (it’s a contact sport), a spear (a hockey stick rammed blade-first into his stomach), a buttender (the other end of the stick) a face wash (you grab a guy’s face with your hockey glove and try to make orange juice out of it), a poke in the nose, or a two-handed lovetap (you swing your stick overhand onto his noggin). You can do all of the above to Canadian women due to their hefty physiques, but can you do the same to a wee Thai lass? No, you can’t. We have our code, after all. And they can’t even skate!

When is the big hit coming?

The Bangkok meter-taxis were already running when I first visited Thailand in 1993 although there were still many non-metered taxis plying the streets at that time. As far as I know, the meter-taxis have never raised their fares (can you imagine what a mess it will be when the meters actually do need to be recalibrated?). Your point about their fuel costs not having increased because the taxis run on LNG rather than petrol or diesel is well taken. My prediction though is that when the powers-that-be do finally allow for a fare increase, it will be a whopping rise since fares have never gone up. Pretty much the same as what happened when the authorities finally got around to reviewing visa fees a few years back.

Vital statistics.

Facts: 200 million adults in the U.S., 127 million overweight, 60 million of these obese. Now subtract the old, the ugly, the lesbians, the ones with bad attitudes and the good ones that are married and what do you have? A one-way ticket to Bangkok.

Wife = just another form of prostitution?

Not that I'm any nearer understanding that aspect of old style Thai culture – as I think you would agree, it's downright crazy! Apart from little presents (and some big ones) that are usual between husband and wife, there is no bloody way I'm giving any woman money for the sake of it whilst she has her own! I'm reasonably well off but it didn't come easy and I still work hard for every penny so Mrs. Stick will hopefully forgive me for saying that under no circumstances would I give any woman money for simply being my wife….kind of smacks of a form of prostitution to my way of thinking.

Bargirl speak translations.

  • “This my brother.” – “This is my Thai boyfriend.”
  • “This my sister.” – “We’ve been toiling here together for the past two years, which is about the only family relationship we have apart from the fact that we’re from the same village.”
  • “Hello, handsome man!” – “Hello, enticing wallet!”
  • “I want take care you.” – “I want to clean out your wallet.”
  • “I only work here one week.” – “Yes, I’ve been only working here for one week, but I’ve already been through six different other joints in my 10-year career.”
  • “Where you come from?” – “In case you’re German or Italian, scram!”
  • “Tomorrow my grandmother bird day.” – “Slip me a couple of hundred Baht, sucker, because my grandma’s been dead for ten years already.”
  • “Water buffalo sick.” – “I want you to pay for a new house for my family.”
  • “How about Germany?” – “I am a transvestite and would like to go work in Frankfurt.”
  • “You very funny.” – “You bore me to death. Just buy me another lady’s drink and stop groping my crotch, old man!”
  • “I want stay with you forever.” – “Please pay the barfine.”
  • “Where hotel you stay?” – “Is your hotel’s security weak enough so I can take off unharmed with your expensive SLR camera?”
  • “You have lady before?” – “How knowledgeable are you about our scams?”
  • “How many time you come Thailand?” – “What is the potential of exploiting you further?”
  • “Why you no like me? I like you too much!” – “I’m afraid you may have seen behind my charade.”
  • “You teacher in Thailand?” – “You know too much about Thailand.”
  • “I go dancing now.” – “Another customer is waiting. You’re not the only sucker I serve.”

Construction at Angelwitch is going along well and the new, expanded Angelwitch in Nana Plaza should be open in about 3 weeks. It had been hoped that they would be open around now but Thai builders aren't known for working at the briskest pace.

And speaking of Angelwitch, I made mention in last week's column of two twins who work there but who were not available for take out. Well, it would seem that perhaps that might not be the case after all…I mean the twins are there, that part was right…

I note that there are quite a number of pretty girls in Playskool in Nana Plaza at present. I have no idea if they are new or have been around for a while, but there sure are some cuties in there.

Rainbow 1, 2 & 4, Angelwitch, and Pretty Lady, seem to be the only bars that are very busy at peak times in Nana.

I keep hearing that certain bars in Soi Cowboy are well worth a visit these days – Tilac has some attractive girls, Long Gun has improved, and Suzi Wong's & Sheba's are steaming hot. Dollhouse has some pretty young things but you have to get in early as they seem to get barfined quickly.

Several Bangkok gogo bar bosses have once again declared that August was a very poor month, even worse than July apparently. Some bars are reporting that July and August were their worst months on record for the past few years. Although it is low season, these past two months have seen bar takings fall considerably when compared with previous years. It would seem that only a small number of bars are doing the sort of trade they would hope to be doing.

And it is quiet down at Patpong. Locals are staying home and staying dry and tourists, well, there just aren't as many around at this time of year. If you used to like sitting at the beer bar outside the front door of Pink Panther bar watching the world go by, you will have to find a new spot to sit for the next few weeks. The whole bar and some of the places in front of the boy bar have been torn down and there is nothing left but a big hole in the ground filled with old concrete and construction materials.

Last Friday the boys in brown conducted piss checks in several Patpong bars. They checked staff only and did not bother any of the customers. Staff had heard that they were coming and some bartenders who are known to indulge in illicit substances played cat and mouse with the boys in brown, moving from bar to bar to keep one step ahead of the piss inspectors.

Many bars, both beer bars and gogo bars, put in place practices that strongly discourage their employees from meeting guys after work without paying a barfine. It has been reported in this column that girls are known to be docked a barfine from their salary if they are seen meeting a guy after work. A guy goes into a bar, meets a girl and does not want to pay the barfine so he arranges to meet her as soon as the bar closes. The bar then misses out on the bar fine. If the barfine is looked at as recompensing the bar for the time that the girl is not there, then surely the barfine need not be paid? Having said that, if everyone did this the bars would make much less money and then there would be less bars. This practice of girls meeting guys after the bar closed used to happen a lot in the past, especially with poorly paid locally based guys – I have never heard of it being a big thing with tourists. The bar felt they were missing out on a barfine so prohibited the girls from doing this. But things have got a LOT worse at some bars. There are some bars where if a girl meets ANY guy after work, in or around the bar area – but not in the bar, then the bar deems that a barfine must be paid. This is starting to get a little silly, but wait, there's more, and it gets a even worse. There is one bar, a rather large bar which I will at this stage choose not to name, which has put in a place a policy whereby any girl who meets any guy after work will be docked one barfine AND an extra 2,000 baht on top of that. This to me is quite outrageous. The bar is foreign owned and foreign managed, so this is NOT an issue where the farangs can point the finger elsewhere. Dirty business indeed.

Next Saturday, that is the 10th of September, a dirty dancing contest will be held at Electric Blue on Walking Street in Pattaya. Words from owner Andy "If you thought the Nanapong dance contests were fun, wait until you see this!"

An update on the first month of business from Coyotees in Pattaya. They were off to a good start, choosing to employ quality girls, not quantity. Amazingly, they turned down over 120 ladies who they felt didn't make the grade and have started with just 50. They are trying to do things different, use video scenes from movies or video clips combined with each show, to create more atmosphere during the shows. They also have about 15 shows and this month there is a happy hour from 8.00 PM to 9.00 PM where draft beer is only 35 baht and standard well drinks 50 baht. The first show commences at 9.30 PM.

In last week's column I talked about the salaries of the gogo girls and joked that some of them were doing very well indeed with at least one bar in Nana Plaza paying 12,000 baht a month. Well, rumours have reached me, and I will repeat that, at this stage they are just that, rumours, that some Pattaya gogo bars are paying 15,000 baht a month to their top girls. 15,000 baht salary! Wow! In fact there was a rumour that one bar even paid 18,000 baht for a while. It would not at all surprise me if these figures quoted for Pattaya were true as there is intense competition down there for the best looking girls.

From the seaside city of Sin, Pattaya, comes word of a new campaign to clear Beach Road of prostitutes – but no word of a campaign to clear it of construction rubble or gaping great holes. And there has yet to be a campaign to thwart robbers, to rectify traffic congestion, to deter driving infractions, to eradicate corruption, or to deal with the severe water supply crisis; but the city is once again targeting poor working girls on Beach Road. You have got to wonder. Apparently this campaign has been born from a number of complaints from tourists. REALLY?! Maybe it is time we started making a few complaints about the state of the roads and all of the real problems…

It's interesting watching the progress of the respective marriages of people I know in Thailand. I have always thought that the couples with the lowest chance of a successful marriage were the guys who met their wife in a bar. But it seems that they are not the group who have the biggest problems. From my observations, the couples who have the largest problems are those who met their Thai wife overseas before they had ever visited Thailand. My theory is that perhaps a guy who is already in Thailand has had a chance to get a feel for Thailand and develop some sort of understanding of the place, but for guys who get hitched and then come here afterwards, it seems that the divorce court is eventually on their path. Of course one could argue that someone who had lived in Thailand first had had a chance to get all of the nonsense out of their system too.

As a language teacher I should perhaps be more sensitive to them and not burst into laughter, but there is one question from Thai girls that still makes me erupt. "You have my wife?" Whenever I hear that one I burst into laughter, good-natured of course. I still find it to be so cute!

Quote of the week comes from an Aussie bird on another part of this site, when she was having a go at Western guys getting involved with Asian women. "You would not expect lies, deceit and greed from a woman in your own country, yet so many seem to accept it in Thailand."

Naming a half Thai / half farang child is always difficult as one searches to find a name that does not have any odd meaning in the other language. I have always felt that "Tittiporn", the Thai female's name, is one to be avoided. A girl with that name at a school in the west might get a comment or two.

Remember the much reported case from a couple of years back when a taxi driver attacked two farang teachers with a machete late at night, one taking blows to his head and the other, an American, losing the sight in one eye. Well, I received email from one of these guys this week and they told me the outcome of that case. The cabby was found guilty of one count of attempted murder, not two. The judge said that slashing the guy's eye was NOT attempted murder but the other guy who he hit on the head was, and for this he was found guilty. He was given 10 years in prison. There was no compensation awarded to the victims and while they could sue and would presumably win, the fact that the cabby was from a poor background and is thought not to have any real assets means that such an action would be pointless.

There were a record number of errors in last week's column. Typos, grammar, wrong words, and general screw ups. Sorry!

I find it quite disturbing that a small number of readers got upset about my use of the word "Oriental" in last week's column. Apparently using this word marks me as a sinner, a racist and goodness knows what other awful things. I was told that the use of the word Oriental was inappropriate as it is not considered politically correct. Well damn, this whole column isn't politically correct! To me, the word Oriental conjures up romantic connotations of the East, long before large numbers of white guys were holidaying here, or even relocating. When I think of the Orient, or Orientals, I think of cheesy Bruce Lee movies, Chinese music and of the romance of the undiscovered parts of Asia.

You've got to wonder about the local media's prioritising of the news from time to time. With all that is going on in New Orleans at the moment, you'd think that that is what people would want to read about and that Katrina related articles would be splashed all over the front pages of the newspapers? Well, I note that the front page of one of the English language dailies this week was a story with a large picture about a love hotel. A love hotel for dogs. And it wasn't even in Thailand. Front page news? Hmmm…

Ask the Sticks

Mrs. Stick is usually here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. However this week there were only two questions, both of which had been asked before, so effectively, there were no questions for her this time around…next week.

From time to time this column contains provocative pieces, some of which elicit a fairly strong response from readers. One of the ideas behind writing this column IS to generate discussion on certain issues and to challenge the conventional wisdom of Westerners who live in Bangkok or who choose to frequently visit. The last thing I want this column to become is a little boys' club where we all sit around and pat ourselves on the back saying that living in Thailand is paradise, that Thai women are perfect and that there is nowhere else that even comes close. It might be that Thailand is as close to perfect as one can hope for, but hey, challenging the idea and discussing it is all part of the fun. Don't get too upset if an article discusses something that is close to your heart in a less than favourable light. Sometimes I try to be provocative!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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