Stickman's Weekly Column October 30th, 2005

Is The “Real Thailand” A Real Option?

StickmanBangk ok .com


To some it is the holy grail, the pure, traditional, and dare I say it, innocent, Thailand.

Wandering around Sukhumvit, Siam Square, Khao Sarn Road, Silom or any of at least a dozen other areas, one could be mistaken for thinking that they were in a farangised version of Thailand. Westerners can be seen everywhere, shops stock foreign brand name goods, and there are more signs in English than in Thai.

Wander around somewhere like Nichida Thani, the large moobarn in the Nontaburi area, and you could forget that you were in Thailand altogether. Shops and restaurants offer exactly the same sort of things that you could get in the West, the shop assistants themselves all speak English while blonde-haired, blue-eyed Westerners skate around the streets. You might even see a game of baseball being played out on the street.

But there are those who bemoan the reminders of Farangland in Thailand, people whose desire it is to experience not just a more Thai version of Thailand, but the so-called real Thailand.

"I want to live the real Thailand. That is what I want to experience, not the metropolis of Bangkok, or Phuket or Pattaya, enclaves of which bear a greater resemblance to Farangland than Thailand itself. I want to experience and embrace the real Thailand, and the real Thai people."

I cringe when I hear people saying that they want to live their life in the "real Thailand". It is not that it is unpleasant, more that it is not quite what they expect.

Wealthy Thais tend to live a lifestyle that incorporates many Western influences, so the real Thailand largely exists beyond the suburbs of Bangkok. You've really got to go upcountry to find the real Thailand…

The first thing one notices in the real Thailand is the living arrangements, which tend to be group style. Two, three or sometimes even four generations of a family may live together, in what appears to be harmony.

And not only do they live together, they do things together. They go on outings together. They eat together. They watch TV together. In fact I sometimes wonder just what they don't do together.

You want to buy a car? Don't expect to choose it without consulting with the family! You want something small and sporty like a Honda Jazz? Well that would be all very well but there are 19 of you in the family and 19 won't fit into a Jazz! And then there is grandmother's back. Well, it isn't quite what it was, and getting into a Jazz might be something of an ordeal for the old duck. No, no, a Jazz just will not cut it. Now you may want manual transmission because the joy of driving is one of life's pleasures, one of those things you sorely miss from Farangland. Forget it! Old Aunt Noi opposes that. She did have 3 driving lessons with Uncle Somchai before she backed into the pregnant buffalo, killing it (something that you have since paid for) – and old Aunt Noi can only drive an automatic, so an automatic it will be. And black? Black? Who buys black cars? Gold is the colour that grandmother says it must be. After all, most of the family are adorned in gold and well, if money gets tight, they'll just melt the whole car down and see how much gold they can get from it. 9,000 baht per unit of gold these days, remember!

Get the picture? Individualism goes out the window. This might seem like something of an extreme example, but this is how things are in a Thai family. The family ALWAYS comes first, no matter what. That's the real Thailand!

In the real Thailand the quality of the produce, particularly meats and poultry, is not what you find in the capital or in the areas popular with tourists. And the further you get into the countryside, the worse it seems to get. Admittedly, the quality of fruit and vegetables does not differ much, the but range available may be limited.

Farang comforts go out the window. There may be no cable TV, no English language newspapers available, and few or possibly even no other farangs. Forget your imported food products. You won't find imported New Zealand lamb, Turkish apricots or your other favourite food products in the provinces.

Patong Harbor View Condominiums

When talking to Mrs. Stick about this article, she reminded me to re-iterate that Westerners resident in the Thai countryside really are looked at as the proverbial walking ATM. When the locals see such farangs their first thought will be money. If you do anything wrong and they feel they could use it against you, there is a very real chance that they will, for a cash settlement, of course.

When we look at it more closely, just what is the real Thailand that so many wax lyrical about?

The real Thailand is to me the epitome of all things that most farangs do not really want! In the real Thailand, you do what your elders tell you to do and you can toss any ideas of individualism out the window. You want to go and do this or that? You consult the group, in other words the family, first.

I understand that maybe you didn't come to Thailand to eat McDonalds, sip coffee at Starbucks, and buy Western brand name goods but hey, there is nothing wrong with doing those things from time to time, is there? Is it not true that most farangs who come to Thailand want to avail themselves of the advantages that the country offers over their homeland – warm weather year round, friendly people and affordable prices – without giving up some of the advantages that you only find in the areas popular with farangs.

Don't let anyone tell you there is anything wrong with desiring a good imported a steak, watching your favourite football team, or having a beer with your farang buddies.

I used to think it would be great to sit down and watch a night of TV, back when my language ability was not up to it. Now I find I can stomach the news but that's it. Once the soaps, game shows or "funny shows" come on, it's time to get online. Thai TV, like so many other things in Thailand, pleases the locals, but really doesn't appeal to foreigners.

Whenever I meet Westerners in the countryside, they crave conversation with other farangs. They tell you how wonderful the real Thailand is and how they could never live in Bangkok, yet they beg you for the 3 day old copy of the Bangkok Post sitting in your car, and any other English language material you may have. You have to make excuses to get away, and you can see in their eyes that they are desperately lonely.

Trust me farang, you'll have a more enjoyable, fulfilling life in Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Chiang Mai, Hua Hin or somewhere similar, than you would somewhere rural or remote, somewhere with little to remind you of all things farang. As farangs there is much we embrace about Thailand and Thai culture, but severing ties with our roots is something most of us are unable to do. A few do it successfully, but truth be told, most don't.

So the next time someone tells you that they know the real Thailand and you don't, don't get too worried or upset at it. Odds are that you are enjoying yourself a lot more than they are!

WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the Miami Hotel.

VERY Central Bangkok.

Last week's pic was of the Miami Hotel on Sukhumvit Road. The name was removed from those square blocks on top of the hotel with Photoshop, but still quite a few people got it right. This week's prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. The prize is only available to people in Thailand now – either resident or tourist, and must be used within two weeks.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Are some Thai girls rude because of foolish farangs?

With regards to the friendliness of the girls as you travel further out of Krungthep, I have found this to be a common phenomenon everywhere else around the globe. As an extreme example, many people complain about Parisians being the rudest people on earth, but visit the country towns and it's the complete opposite. I also think that Bangkok girls acquire rudeness because a lot of their farang customers are fools, lack assertiveness and do stupid things that cause them to lose face and respect. There are so many of these guys around that the girls come to think that most farangs are the same, unless one is quick to assert his authority from the start and put them in their place.

Counterfeit cops with real powers?

I was just in the beautiful Land Of Smiles and happened to spend about 10 days in Phuket. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't you interview a Thai Tourist Police volunteer a few months back, and didn't he say that they have no Police powers and are merely a liaison with the tourists? I am a Police officer and I found it somewhat alarming to see, patrolling the streets of Phuket, a crew of Thai Tourist Police volunteers. My concern stems from the obvious appearance of these, volunteers. If they have no Police powers, why are they patrolling the streets with no official Thai Police presence. If they have no Police powers of arrest, why are they equipped with handcuffs? If they have no official Police powers why are they equipped with mace / pepper spray holders? If they have no Police powers, what is the need for collapsible batons? If their presence is to provide assistance to tourists and act as liaisons between the tourists and the Thai authorities, why are they dressed in paramilitary attire, combat boots and black berets? As a real Police officer, I find it extremely offensive to see these pretend Police on patrol without any supervision. When they volunteer, are these play Police screened for arrest history in their country of origin? They should be. In my profession I find many wannabe cops impersonating the Police, but the fact is you are either the Police or you're not. Looking at these counterfeit cops, and the general age, it is obvious that these guys couldn't make it as real cops in their country of origin, for whatever reason, and now they want to play dress up. Unfortunately for the tourists, this is a dangerous situation. In times of crisis, or in an emergency situation, it is critical that fully trained personnel are present at the scene and not an imitation of authority. I know that this is not how the volunteers are used in Pattaya. I have never seen the volunteers patrol Walking Street without an official Police presence. What makes Phuket different? The concept of Thai Tourist Police volunteers isn't bad. I think they should have greater control and screening practices to ensure that the volunteers are volunteering out of a sense of responsibility to the community and not out of a desire to exercise their perceived authority.

Service staff's imagination and the checkbin.

Regarding La Brassiere in Chiang Mai, they are a good restaurant, but they have a well deserved reputation for bill padding. They are actually very creative about it. On my last visit, they presented the handwritten bill with an adding machine tape stapled to it. But, what they did is this. First, they entered an extra 300 baht as the first number on the tape. Then, they advanced the tape and tore that number off. Then they entered all the real numbers. This padded the bill from 1,300 to 1,600 baht. Normally, one would assume that an adding machine would not make an error, and the staff pockets an extra 300 baht. I checked the bill, and saw what they did. So, we took our time, passing the bill around and all of us checked it – making the ladyboy head waiter VERY uncomfortable watching us. Then we handed it politely back, saying that it was wrong and please check it. The corrected bill came back quite fast, with the statement "Oh, sorry. My staff make mistake."

Why you shouldn't give to beggars.

A few weeks ago I sat myself down at the window of a coffee shop on Sukhumvit to enjoy a nice afternoon. Outside the glass I could see the torn clothes and the wretched body of a poor Thai man. He was begging with all his heart and sole for a meagre donation to help sustain his miserable existence. As I watched closely for 30 minutes, I saw farang after farang drop money into his cup. As the coins fell in, he quickly emptied the cup and dropped the money in his pocket. In about 30 minutes, he had collected about 50 baht. That equates to 800 baht tax free for 8 hrs of begging. Compare that to the skilled factory worker who earns 350 baht for an honest day's pay before being taxed on their earnings. CASE 2: I gave a bag full of fresh fruit to a beggar lady on Rachada. She looked in the bag, sneered at me, and threw it aside.

A Thai's reaction to two-tiered pricing.

One of the funniest stories I heard was from a Thai-Chinese who worked for a very large Thai agri-conglomerate in Indonesia. He married an Indonesian-Chinese and came back with her to Bangkok. One weekend his in-laws came for a visit and he took the entire group to the Grand Palace. The next day, he was ranting at me about how the group arrived at the Grand Palace and he had to pay for his wife and his in-laws (he got in free). This was all very "unfair". I had to restrain myself from laughing out loud.

Want good farang food? Come to Thailand!

The one thing that came across during my recent holiday was the quality of farang food that is available in Thailand. It seems strange and a bit of a contradiction, but it's definitely true. I was very impressed.

Deja Vu in Soi Cowboy was closed more than a week ago. It is gathered that when they were closed a couple of months back the owner, in his wisdom, decided that he would form a separate company and re-open again, as the premises would have separate licenses. He was warned that if he did not abide by the original closure order he would be closed for a further 30 days. Foolish really because now we are just about touching on high season, the very time when you do not want your bar to be closed!

There is a large banner aloft in Nana Plaza stating that Voodoo Bar will host a Halloween Dance Contest on October 30. The last DC in Nana Plaza, that is dance contest, was in Hollywood Rock and people were not impressed. It was described as tame and it seemed like just a bunch of plane Janes had entered it. And now some guys seem to think the same about this one in Voodoo, though we're speculating here and nobody seems to know about it either. The best dance contests are held in Pattaya where it is a case of just about anything goes. In Bangkok, the girls are under strict instructions to be much better behaved, something that means Bangkok DCs can be dull in comparison.

Gogo bars full of girls dancing in full bikini, as is the case in most Bangkok gogo bars, is not the most erotic place in the world. Seeing girls up on stage in their bikini makes you think that they may as well be wearing a Winter fleece. The whole reason you go to such places is to get a peak at a little bit more, is it not?! If you prefer the birthday suit to the bikini, you'll be pleased to know that girls do dance in their birthday best in some bars in at least two of the three major Bangkok gogo bar areas. I have chosen not to name the bars, but let's just say that you should not have to venture too far to find what you're looking for.

G Spot in Nana are doing a brisk trade and have a good line-up of girls, especially some cute, friendly service girls. G Spot has been noted as being at its best for quite some time. OK, this bar does not have the stunners, nor is it doing the same level of business as say the Rainbow Group, but it remains well worth a visit. And unlike the Rainbow bars, you can actually get a seat in G Spot!

Club Electric Blue in Pattaya is having a Halloween party this Monday. They will be offering Budweiser and Miller Lite at just 100 baht a bottle and giving away free Frozen Virgins Blood which sound kinda interesting. But the scariest thing of all is that Andy will from all accounts be up in Bangkok that night. Goodness only knows how mad it will get in his absence!

And from Coyotes in Pattaya comes an update. Things are shaping up well for the dance contest tonight. As high season approaches and Coyotes prepares themselves for it, a heap of new showgirls have started there in the last week. There are now 23 showgirls alone, which means that during some shows punters feel like they are surrounded by naked girls covered in oil and soap all around the bar with girls gyrating on the poles, table top floors and centre floor all at the same time.

A new gogo bar will open its doors in Pattaya with a soft opening on Tuesday 1st November. The official opening party will be on Friday 4th November. Called "Catz", it's in the new Covent Garden complex on Soi 16 Walking Street which is next to Nang Nual Restaurant, just a bit down from Tony's. They've splurged with the decor and believe that it'll be right up there with the very nicest bars in Pattaya. They're keeping drink prices to sensible levels, below the key figure 100 baht mark. It'll set you back 95 baht for beers and standard spirits, with premiums spirits like JW Black priced at 115 baht. Ultra-important in price sensitive Pattaya, draft beer will be available at 50 baht all night long for a large 330ml glass. Lady drinks are priced at 95 baht. There'll be an enticing happy hour every night from 7:30 – 9:30 PM – critically running later than the 9:00 PM cut off which is the norm at most places – during which time all drinks are 50 baht excluding lady drinks, Breezers and cocktails. Check it out, this promises to be a flash bar.

In last week's column I mentioned two-tiered pricing. I was reminded by a reader that it goes the other way as well. Some hotels in Pattaya will not accept Thai customers at wholesale prices and will ask for higher room rates! You would not imagine the screaming some Thai office girls working at hotel reservations companies get when a Thai customer hears that! Maybe Pattaya is a fun place reserved for foreigners?

A large group of hockey players were celebrating their hockey tournament in Thailand and virtually took over SuperStar and Goldfinger bar on Friday night. They organised an impromptu dance contest at SuperStar and the place was packed. It started slowly but soon the dancers got into the mood and it finally took skin to win and several of the finalists must have gotten hot from all the dancing and removed ALL their skimpy clothing to cool down. The crowd of about 50 hockey players and a whole bunch of others who came in the see what all the screaming was about enjoyed a fine show. A young dancer from Goldfinger deservedly walked away with the 3,000 baht first prize.

In another blow to Safari, for so long a favourite bar at Patpong for many expats, the management has, in their infinite wisdom, decided to try and keep the girls in the bar for Halloween and effectively prevent them from going out! Punters looking to take out their favourite dancer will have the privilege of paying a whopping 2,000 baht bar fine on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday night. More expensive barfines for major holidays like Christmas, New Years I can understand, but just why do it at Halloween? Let's hope other bars do not adopt this policy, or even anything remotely similar.

The Beach Road remains quiet in Pattaya. Down in Fun City on a flying visit this week, it was the same as when I was there last time. A few of the girls were lingering there during the day, that is when it wasn't raining, but at night, the girls seemed to be something of an endangered species and few were to be seen. I can't imagine that this crackdown on girls on the beach road will last much longer. Surely Pattaya has bigger problems, one of which is the awful drainage down there. When it rains heavily, it floods badly, as can be seen in the picture here, taken last week.

I'm starting to see why Bangkok gogo bars do not offer the same specials and promotions that similar bars offer down in Pattaya. At a popular Bangkok gogo bar this week that offers ultra cheap drinks early in the evening, just four people were spotted during happy hour. Quite simply, it would seem that such promotions are not supported in the capital and that it therefore doesn't make sense to run such specials. Having said that, Cathouse used to do well with its 100 baht all you can drink beer Chang special.

The more questions of yours she answers, the more Mrs. Stick is commenting on Farang / Thai affairs. And from her comes the quote of the week. "If you are good to Thai people, they will be better to you, but if you are bad to them, they will be worse to you."

FineAsianArts.com, that is the crowd behind the banner right above this paragraph, would like to advise that they have a 20% special price reduction for November. Check it out!

If there is one law in Thailand that I think is really dumb it is the no petrol sales after 10:00 PM. I make sure my car never has less than half a tank of gas. You just never know what may happen and a phone call in the middle of the night that someone is ill upcountry and we have to go and see them could be most embarrassing if the car was only half full. To me, there are just so many reasons why this law is just plain silly.

A long time reader asked me to write about the postal system in Thailand but truth be told, I have little experience with it. I think I have had precisely one thing go missing, and that was something that was sent to me. As far as items I have posted myself go, everything has reached its destination. You do hear from time to time of problems, but they seem to be isolated to a particular apartment building, indicating someone in the building is pilfering things, or to a certain area, indicating a lone, rogue post office official. I've found the postal system works well, and if you need to get something somewhere quickly, use EMS, which is really fast and reliable.

If you're wondering how Phuket is recovering after last year's tsunami, I heard an interesting snippet just today. All flights between Phuket and Bangkok were full this weekend. That is all flights on all airlines. Ok, so there are less flights now than there were at this time last year, but it does show that things are picking up down there.

Missing Person request! Does anyone know the whereabouts of Manuel Post, the fellow pictured here. Manuel is well known in expat circles but has not been seen since Wednesday 26 October and concern is held for his whereabouts. If you know anything as to his whereabouts, please call 01-9083889. Alternatively you can drop me an email and I'll pass it on to those who are co-ordinating the search for him.

There seem to be more foreigners in Bangkok and a few more in Pattaya as the high season gets closer and closer. But another indicator suggests to me that the high season is just around the corner. As of about two weeks ago, this site has been averaging about 1,000 more unique visitors per day, than it had say, on average each day last month. The annual invasion of farangs is about to begin.

There has been widespread discussion amongst Westerners about just what the legal age of consent is in Thailand. Some people say it is 15, and there is some evidence which may support this. Others say it is 18. Then there are those who say that it is 18 if she is a hooker or 15 if she isn't, or at least if there is no money involved. I always thought that it is best to stick with women aged 20 and up. Thai women generally look younger than they are so why would anyone want someone who was younger than 20? Anyway, this article (in Thai) concerns an American guy who slept with a 17 year old girl shows that it is best to stick with 18 and up. It is somewhat complicated, but if you can read Thai, you'll find it interesting. To cut a long story short, he is based in Udon Thani and did the dirty with a 17 year old girl who purported to be 20. Now the girl's mother is involved after talks of compensation for the girl "broke down".

Can you imagine this happening in Thailand? I read this and laughed. Loudly! It will be interesting to see how the case goes…

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 my Thai girlfriend (40 year old divorcee with no children) in Thailand 9 months ago while I was on holiday. We got in touch through an internet website. Since then I have been to Thailand to see her 2 times and she has visited me in England 1 time and plans to come to England again this week. These trips have been at my expense. We get on very well and from the beginning she wanted marriage but I said we need more time to get to know one another. We have discussed marriage – sin sot, gold etc but no agreement has been made. She said that we would have to compromise on this. She does not ask for and I do not send her money when we are apart. The reason I am asking for your thoughts is that she continues to use the internet for chat and email with Western men. I know this because she has volunteered some information and she also lets me use her computer while I am with her! I have told her I do not like this but she says that they are her ‘friends’. This may be true in some cases but in others the men are looking at her as a potential partner / wife. She does nothing to discourage this; instead she invites them to pay her a visit. I am sure that no meetings have taken place, apart from one brief one, which she did tell me about in advance. She has also told some men she has a boyfriend in England, one of whom had been emailing and phoning her for months before she told him about me. Her attitude seems to be that all men have many women and it isn’t a problem. I would not expect this behaviour from a Western woman. Is this normal for Thai ladies or is it some character flaw?

Mrs. Stick says: Once you have agreed that you have a future together, then at that point what she is doing becomes clearly wrong. Why do you want to marry this woman when she is obviously not fully committed to you? You need to ask her just what she wants, because what she is doing is clearly not right. Perhaps she needs some time to think about what she wants? It seems to me that she is auctioning herself off to the highest bidder. Tell her that if she is still communicating with others as before, then she is not committed and that marriage is perhaps not the best thing for the two of you. She needs to stop doing what she is doing, or else it is time to move on. If this woman meets men and claims that they are only friends, then she should be bringing you along and introducing you as what you are, her partner. If she won't do this, then there are big problems.

Question 2: I was talking with someone at work today that once lived in Thailand in the 80's, and he told me about a friend of his that used to own a bar in Bangkok. This friend of his was also married to a Thai lady, who ran a bit of the bars business, in particular most of the supply chain. He said that the guy's wife was sleeping with one of the distributors (I guess this brought prices down), so his friend would 'butterfly'. When the wife found out about it though, even though it was known what she was doing, she didn't take it so well. Apparently what she was doing was okay because it was business, but when he slept with another woman, his wife lost face. Is what the wife did really acceptable in the Thai culture of the 80's, or even now?

Mrs. Stick says: No way is this ever acceptable! No matter what reason is given, this woman was totally wrong. I can only guess that she tried to find some crazy reason to somehow explain that what she was doing was ok. We do have a problem with prostitution in Thailand but generally Thai women will not cheat on their husbands, and this was especially so in the past. For Thai women who are married already and cheat, this is a very big deal indeed and they will be looked at in a very negative light.

Mr. Stick says: While you didn't ask about this specifically, I thought I'd mention it as I think it is relevant. A husband can divorce his wife on the grounds that she slept with another man. He can also sue her AND sue the guy she slept with. Effectively, he would be able to divorce her and get a settlement very much in his favour. It is entirely different if a married man sleeps with a woman which is not necessarily grounds for divorce (unless he did it in the marital home or kept the woman as a second wife.)

Question 3: I am due to have the family meeting and sin sot chat at the end of this year on my next trip. Mr. Stick tells me with the info that I have given him, with her never having been bargirl and very middle class I should expect to pay in the area of 250k baht all in (sin sot, gold and ring all together). As my Thai is, well, non-existent, my Thai girlfriend has offered to be the go between in the talks as I don't have any close friends that speak Thai. Would this not be putting her into an uncomfortable spot? It's odd to me to have her sit in and hear herself being talked about based on a number, or is that just my farang sensibilities showing up where they have no place being? Thanks for any input you can provide.

Mrs. Stick says: I actually think you have something of an advantage here with your girlfriend offering to help. To avoid possible problems, why don't you talk about it in detail with her first and find out what the magic number is so that when you finally sit down in front of the parents it is essentially just a show with the behind the scenes negotiating having already been done. You do not want to find yourself in an awkward situation with a number you didn't expect being said – and risking you going crazy in a situation where that is absolutely the last thing you must do. Remember when you talk with just the two of you, face is not relevant. But if you talk with three or more people, face is relevant!

This website takes a lot of time to put together. Bangkok Phil recently said that to keep a website up-to-date and a worthwhile spot for readers to return to regularly, you need to be spending 25 – 30 hours per week on it, and that is exactly the amount of time I spend on this one. Reading and responding to 300+ emails a week, reading and editing 15+ readers' submissions per week, researching and writing the weekly column, and updating the various other parts of the site all take up a huge amount of time. The opportunity cost is significant. While you're out on the golf course with your mates, or having a few bars and a chat with Dave The Rave, I'm hammering out the week's column, my hair going grey at the thought that it might be the first column in a year to be published late, whether I have enough news or whether the opening piece works or not. Thankfully, this site is supported by some companies which ensures the sites longevity. Their support is VERY gratefully received. You too can help support this site. If you own or operate any business that offers something of interest to the readers of this site, read: products or services in Thailand or to people who travel to or reside in Thailand, do consider supporting this site by way of paid advertising. The rates are low and the exposure is high. Take this column for instance. Last Sunday's column was read by in excess of 13,000 people within 24 hours of it going online, thousands more through the week – and many more in the future. This isn't a number to sneeze at. Advertise and support Stickman!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bkk Grasshopper, Claymore and Thailand Tom.


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