Stickman's Weekly Column January 1st, 2006

The Blue Sky Of Winter In Isaan



"But it's New Year" she pleaded, "The time of year when Thais are supposed to go and spend time with their family."

"I thought that was Songkran", was my response as I rolled my eyes at the thought of being stuck in a tin box for several hours, trying to reach Korat in the heavy traffic that so often mars holiday weekends in Thailand.

The Mrs. wanted to go to Korat and me, bored of the place, didn't. Not only do I find Korat less than interesting these days, I knew the traffic on the main road up to Isaan would be awful, and if there is one thing that brings the very worst out of me, it is being stuck in a traffic jam, watching the fuel gauge creep down and slowly, ever so slowly, my life tick by. She didn't sulk, fortunately she is not the type, but somehow she persuaded me that spending a few days in Korat would be more fun than in Bangkok. So as I write this I find myself sitting in my little sanctuary in central Korat, the mother in law's front room.

The drive up was not so bad and leaving a day and a half before most people left Bangkok helped no end. 3 hours door to door is making good time, but I was more than a bit concerned that within 5 minutes of arriving mother in law started telling me about how the authorities were going to be installing speed cameras on the main highway between Bangkok and Korat, amongst other places. Yikes, you can't get to Korat in 3 hours sticking to the speed limit… But those concerns were quickly forgotten as the magazines on the table were replaced with a huge spread. Excluding rice, no fewer than 9 different plates of food were brought out – and given that there were only three of us eating, there was no shortage of food left over. When you see the way Thais eat at home it quickly makes you realise why they are never shy to order a few different varieties of food when they eat out, even if it is only a couple of people, although I cannot help but thinking that such amounts to avarice.

Not much happened the first evening. I set up the computer, got online and did my thing while the Mrs. and the mother in law sat glued to the TV. Is there a household in Thailand that doesn't have a TV? Talk about a nation of TV junkies.

But playing around with the computer got boring so I thought me and the camera would go for a mid-evening wander around the neighbourhood. Mother in law's house is located about 3 km from the very centre of Korat City, meaning well within the city limits, and over the past few years on the main road a number of entertainment venues have sprung up. In fact, there are two places so close to mother in law's house that I could chuck a stone and hit them! Time for a bit of night photography!

The first spot was a karaoke bar where a number of the girls were sitting outside slurping away at their noodle soup, probably trying to keep themselves warm for it sure was nippy out. I was damned tempted to wander over and have a drink, but that would have been a bit much for the Mrs. and the in-laws. She is 100% happy for me to go out and nosey into other people business, or meet friends in the bars in Bangkok, but so close to home would be rubbing her nose in it. In fact poor old mother in law would have a heart attack if the neighbours started gossiping that luke koey (her son in law) had been seen sticking his head into the local whorehouse. Because that is what these karaoke joints are, a place not only to sing a song, but also arrange to meet the damsels later in the evening, if one so desires.

A real down-market place, but the girls looked ok… Slightly flasher looking place.

I went to venture down the road, no doubt looking a bit odd, carrying a tripod and camera, with the intent of wandering to the major entertainment venues and shooting them from a distance with a telephoto lens. Even in Korat this is probably not a good idea so in retrospect, the fact that a bunch of mangy looking soi dogs effectively chased me back to mother in-law's place was probably altogether not a bad thing. It's funny really, many neighbourhoods in Thailand feel safe at night (whether they are or not is another issue), but the soi dogs are a real menace.

The next morning we went through the usual ritual of breakfast with another zillion plates of food brought out, and mother in law trying to top up my plate with rice, me refusing and her wondering if 'I was feeling sick'. A hundred times I must have told her that I don't eat much in the morning but she just ignores that! Many older Thais seem to believe that someone who is a trifle overweight has a hoon khon roo-ay (the body size and shape of a rich person!)

After breakfast it was time for a quick dash up to Phimai, a district about 60 km northeast of the city of Korat. We were going not just to see the historical park, which I have visited a dozen or so times already, but also to visit sister in law who is a teacher at a school in the district. It makes me chuckle that while she is a native of Korat, the first time mother in law had been to Phimai is when I took her there a year or so ago. It goes to show how little many Thais travel. She saw the seaside for the first time earlier last year and will venture to Chiang Mai for the first time later this month. The average Thai really hasn't seen nearly as much of their own country as many farangs have!

As we were setting off, mother in law went through the ritual of locking up the barn (house). There are double locks on every door, sturdy grates on the windows as well as bolts top and bottom for the shutters. The front gate is a monstrosity and there are two locks as well as two padlocks and yes, they are all used all the time, even when someone just pops out for garlic or chillis at the local market! I once asked why there were so many locks and was told that Thailand is full of thieves and if you didn't want to get robbed, this is what you had to do!

Pulling out of the soi on to the main road, I realised that I hadn't seen my friend yet. Let me explain. My friend is the security guard who watches over the commercial building which is on the corner of the soi where mother in-law lives and the main road. He is a native of Isaan, but not of Korat. Every time we go to Korat I wander along and have a bit of a chat with him and he is full of interesting stories and anecdotes. Anyway, I commented that he wasn't there and mother in-law told me "you do not need to worry yourself with him". Hmmm, what does that mean?!

She went on to say that he had got himself into a bit of hot water. Apparently he has a wife in his home province but had got himself involved with another woman, here in Korat. Now it would seem the other woman was married to a gentleman in the army – there are a heap of army personnel here in Korat – and this fellow came to the soi with a gun to blow the security guard away! No kidding! As luck would have it, the security guard wasn't here at that point in time and when he returned he was told who had come looking for him and why. Needless to say he made a hasty exit and he hasn't been seen since! Mother in law says that we won't be seeing him around these parts ever again! Now what I found interesting is that this guy, with all due respect to him, would not have been the best catch in the world. He was getting on in years, had a dead end job which probably paid 3,000 – 4,000 baht per month, and, amongst other things, had a mouthful of rotten teeth! What this lady happened to see in him, well, I couldn't see it. Anyway, it looks like we won't be seeing him again. This started the mother in-law off on a story about how gentlemen who cheat are no good and I could not resist the temptation to say how lucky one of her daughters was to marry a farang!

An hour or so later and out first port of call was at a school a few km outside of the small township of Phimai. Here we were visiting sister in law who is a computer teacher. Funny that, same as me. I've visited a few schools in rural Thailand (most of the in-laws are teachers) and they're all much the same. A couple of three storey buildings make up the classrooms, an open air cafeteria where the students eat lunch, a couple of soccer "fields", one clay and the other concrete and a small, modern building with the only air-con unit in the school – the principal's office of course!

Sister-in-law's school was just as expected and after the obligatory wai-ing – we must have been greeted by and waied by half the school. Mother in law was grinning from ear to ear like a Cheshire cat, introducing Ajarn Stick, farang teacher from Bangkok and getting serious mileage out of it. As with a lot of rural Thailand, some of the locals had never seen a white skinned, long nosed creature before so everyone came for a closer look, the more daring grabbing me and pinching me, probably a test to see that I was actually real. We had a quick tour of the school and make a quick exit before I was asked to teach an impromptu lesson.

Next stop was to be a bit of an eye opener. Sister in law gets free accommodation as part of the job in a sort of government sponsored type of deal, the sort of thing that is frequently offered to teachers, policemen and some other government officials. The accommodation itself is free, but there is a small charge of 300 baht per month levied for water and electricity. Sister in law said that the place was very nice, that she had a good view, and that she even had a balcony overlooking gardens. From the outside, the building looked pleasant enough, but the moment we got inside, I knew that what awaited us was not going to be pleasant. Sister in law is positively glowing, oh so proud that she has got such a nice place at such a good price, and showing it off will gain her a lot of face. As we made our way up the stairs, I felt cobwebs being collected on my shoes and as we reached the top, I was sneezing at all of the dust. Sister in law opened the door to a room that cannot have been bigger than about 10 square metres. You really couldn't swing a cat in there. I've seen rooms in Bangkok for 1,500 baht per month, but this was WORSE! But I couldn't say that, oh no, I had to keep my trap shut, smile, and take a few photos. It would have been disrespectful to include such pictures here, suffice to say, it was a hole!

Next stop on the merry go round was Thailand's very own Angkor Wat, the ruins at Phimai, or as it is officially known, "Phimai Historical Park". It's a real shame that Phimai is not in Korat city itself for it would surely encourage more people to visit Korat – and probably go on to see more of Isaan. Farangs' fascination with the region is largely due to the huge number of Isaan natives that they come into contact with, and no small number of farangs are intrigued about the region. But Korat city itself doesn't really offer enough to warrant the trip from Bangkok without a side trip to Phimai. If Phimai was in downtown Korat, there'd no doubt be a handful of good hotels and it would be a popular tour from the capital. Anyway, the ruins at Phimai are one of my favourite spots in Isaan, very well looked after and very impressive if it is your first visit to Khmer ruins. But if you've seen Angkor itself, it's probably not worth going out of your way for. Phimai Town itself is quaint. After wandering around the ruins, the Mrs. and her mother using an umbrella to protect themselves from the sun, it was time to head back to Korat proper.

No trip to Korat would be complete without a visit to the town square, the central market and the Khunying Ya Mo statue and shrine, she being the fair lady of the city who helped organise the troops to save the city from the invading Laotians. It is a lovely area and most of the locals are friendly, but more than once the experience has been tainted by locals who come up to you and ask for your money. I've mentioned this to local farangs who say it never happens to them so I can only conclude that I must look like the generous type.

Mother in law's closest relatives, including her own mother, live in Chaiyapum, a province that borders Korat, to the West. It takes about an hour or so to get there, passing plenty of farmers and e-dtaens along the way – those curious multi-coloured trucks that are only seen in the Isaan region.

Visiting relatives is a big deal at this time of year, yet it is something that I have to admit to being ambivalent about. The natives of the bahn nok (a commonly used but slightly derogatory term for country people) are always friendly and hospitable, but a little uncouth, and not only without sophistication.

It might seem harsh to say so, but many lead grubby lives and have dirty, anti-social habits. (Before you jump on me for being unreasonably harsh, mother in law is always the first to say this.) The dwellings are often filthy and I have to admit that the idea of contracting bird flu did cross my mind when wild chickens were running around within a few feet of me.

I cringe when food is offered and I have become expert at accepting it and pretending to eat it, but tossing it when the locals aren't looking. Now this all might sound rude, but if you had seen some of what I saw this weekend, believe me, the last thing you'd be doing is putting that food into your mouth. One particular woman, always with a huge grin on her face, was making a sauce and dipping her grubby fingers into it, tasting it. She then brought some out to the balcony where everyone was gathered to eat, and simply put her finger into the bowl and pushed some on to the plate in front of me! Aroi! I smiled, as you do in this part of Thailand, and then carefully pushed that part of the food aside when she wasn't looking. Comments were made by a few that farangs usually use a spoon. She just grinned and said, "We're in the barn nok now!"

Doing a little tour of this somewhat prosperous (by Isaan standards at least) village, I observed that each house was much the same, at least in contents. Virtually no furniture could be found and mats with mats used instead – you eat on mat, you sleep on a mat and you sit on a mat when you watch TV. While there was little or no furniture, every house seemed to have at least one if not a few, show cabinets, in which their fine China was kept, as well as graduation photos, if they or their kids had made it tertiary study. Photos of various family members could be found on the walls and there was always a photo of either the current King, King Rama V, or perhaps both. There would be various cooking utensils and a wok or two in the corner, and that would be about it. There are always two appliances that you find in every house, a fridge and a TV.

To me, the interesting thing about such villages is just how the people there survive. All you see in such villages are the elderly and the very young. Really, the ages of the people you see are either north of 50, or south of 12 or 13. In between, there would appear to be very few people. Hardy folks, people of the land, the elderly look like they no longer work. In this particular village in the eastern part of Chaiyapum province, there would be approximately 20 – 25 houses. As best I could tell, there were only two that were generating money, one with a small general store, and the other with an abattoir – and you couldn't escape its smell from anywhere in the village! Like all villages, there is a temple.

So what about everyone else? How do they survive? Well, at New Year, members of the family come along and slip them some cash and I'm told typically they will end up with a few thousand baht. In addition to this, every house has a decent sized plot of land and they have various trees as well as crops that they have grown for many years. Vendors from the local market will come along and pick their crops and give them a small amount of cash for the crops. If they're lucy, they might get 500 baht or more a month this way. Obviously throughout the year younger members of the family will slip them a bit more cash. According to mother in law, people in the village can live on about a thousand baht per head per month.

One often reads reports online of Western guys spending days and days with the Thai family out in the sticks, and most of their time is spent boozing it up in the morning, recovering in the afternoon, and the resuming again early evening, sleeping it off through the night. There really is no surprise in this because once the initial wonder has worn off, one quickly realises that they have very little in common with the locals. And if you cannot speak not just Thai, but understand the local dialect, you'll be left out after a while. There will always be a million smiles for you, but smiles do not overcome the feelings of boredom, unless you are a true anthropologist. My trick is to bring along the camera and simply go wander. There is no shortage of sights to capture and wandering around and chatting briefly with the people you come across is fun. Thankfully the Mrs. doesn't really care for this environment either so once she has gossiped for an hour and had a meal with the relatives she too is keen to move on.

The Isaan region is an attractive part of the country at this time of year. It may not be classically beautiful as say Switzerland or New Zealand's south island are, but there is something about the late afternoon sun in Isaan, so low in the sky at this time of year, that when it hits all of the bright, multi-coloured signs, the clay, and the colourful clothes that so many of the locals wear, it brightens up not just the surroundings, but the golden glow lifts your mood and raises your spirits.

My thoughts on Korat haven't changed much since I wrote the article several months back about being bored of the place. But for a couple of days every now and then, it is, I must admit, quite bearable, especially at this time of year. This is Thailand after all, and you can always make your own fun. The locals smile and they all like a person who is out to have a good time.


WHERE IS THIS PICTURE Competition?

It was the Farang ghetto!

Where the hell is that?!

Last week's pic was taken from a high rise at the Petchaburi Road end of Prakanong, looking southwest towards Emporium, part of what is often known as the farang ghetto. This week's first prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy. Prizes number 2 and 3 are a 600 baht dinner voucher for 2 to be used at Sin in Sukhumvit Soi 4. The prizes are only available to people in Thailand now – either residents or tourists, and must be redeemed within 2 weeks. Please let me know if you are local and able to collect the prize.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Not a fan of the Paragon.

My wife and I were not impressed by Siam Paragon. It seems TOO large and soulless. This is definitely a case of bigger NOT being better. The shops we saw were just more of the same from elsewhere. Like the Sony shop being bigger than their Emporium and Mahboonkrong counterparts, but so what? Basically the same merchandise. Kinokuniya is bigger than in The Emporium, but so what? They just fill the extra space with stupid crap I would never want, like Japanese comics or Thai textbooks. I looked in the comics section for quality adult comics, like Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer prize-winning "Maus" or anything by the likes of, say, Roger Crumb. Nada. Just "peanuts" fluff and other basic comic books, which there's nothing wrong with per se, but does go to emphasize the narrow mindset of whoever decides what to display. Give me the close intimacy of The Emporium anytime. Siam Paragon sucks, and we will NOT be making it a regular stop.

Racism is alive and well.

Concerning “racism” in some Bangkok locations that allow Japanese but turn away any Westerners, please let me note this: Over the years, several bars in Nana Plaza, Patpong and Soi Cowboy have experienced an ever increasing influx of Japanese. That might be due to the fact that prices are generally lower in “farang” places than in many of the Japanese-only bars. I have yet to learn about any single place that has turned away Japanese as “undesirables”. I also have yet to find any establishment that enforces a “British only”, “German only” or “Lithuanian only” policy. There also is not a single night spot – at least none that I’d know about – predominantly frequented by Thais that would turn away a “farang” or Japanese or Lithuanian customer. I find the policy of restricting patrons to a certain nationality questionable at best. Of course, we do have some localities which will not admit customers who seem to hail from India or the Middle East, which is equally abominable. I do see a sort of reason to not admit Middle Easterners or Arabs, because they are not supposed to visit places where alcohol is offered, let alone that they would order a beer or whisky. If these people have to travel all the way to Thailand to get their booze, I would advise that they first strive to change the rigid rules in their own countries and calm down on their contempt of persons whose religions do not forbid the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Which, of course, does not yet justify the racist attitude with regards to Japanese vs. non-Japanese customers enacted by some local bars. Next time I go I’ll take a samurai sword with me and will cut down anybody who refuses me entrance.

Sensitivity.

I am always amazed about the sensitivity of Thais toward criticism of their own country. There is plenty "wrong" with Thailand and it would be better if Thais were more realistic and truthful. In the US, criticism of government policy, cultural issues and all sorts of other things have always been accepted – everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. No big deal. I remember when I briefly immigrated to Australia and couldn't get a phone line for my flat in Perth. For a first world country, the phone system in Perth was a disgrace at the time. I complained that the phone company in Perth was just as bad as the U.S. The Aussies, just like the Thais, were incensed that a foreigner would dare to criticize – even if what I was saying was absolutely true. But then again just like Thailand, Australia has always been uncomfortable with foreign immigrants. I was once told that Australia didn't need immigrant computer engineers who had five years of experience and a college degree. I pointed out that most Australians couldn't qualify for immigration to their own country.

The reliable Thai post office. (500 packages, what was he sending?!)

Of the 500+ packages & letters I have posted, not a single one went missing! My favourite Post Office is Banglamphu: great service, nice and helpful staff. The one down the road (Rachadamnoen), on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Another thing: if anyone wants to use UPS, do *not* go to one of the agents, because they have higher prices; call UPS up, and they will pick your stuff up at no additional cost – and it still is cheaper than walking to an agent!

The biggest surprise this week comes out of Pattaya, where veteran manager Ricky has been forced out of Diamond A Gogo, the Walking Street nightclub that he has turned into Pattaya’s number one gogo bar. Word of his imminent dismissal reached the Pattaya rumour mill even before Ricky was allegedly forced out by his partners mid-week in what could best be described as a partnership dispute. Friday was his last night in charge at the successful Soi Diamond spot.

The incident is all the more shocking because it was Ricky who put together the deal a year ago – inviting his partners to join him in the venture. Since then, he revamped management techniques, brought in a bevy of beauties, and introduced alluring shows that set new standards in erotic entertainment. That winning combination transformed Diamond into one of Pattaya’s most popular and prosperous clubs, and I stuck my neck out for only the second time in this site's history and proclaimed Diamond to be the best bar of its kind in either Pattaya or Bangkok.

Ricky was not available for comment this weekend. He is said to be relaxing for the first time in a year, mulling his options for the future. Friends say he will probably remain in Pattaya. He had managed several nightspots in Bangkok before relocating to the beachside resort at the end of 2004. Meanwhile, Diamond was filled to the rafters this holiday weekend, as were several other smart venues on Soi Diamond, such as Carousel and Super Baby, and the nearby Club Electric Blue, Peppermint, and the New Living Dolls.

Happy A Gogo, traditionally turning away customers in peak season, offered immediate seating this weekend. Coyotes, which has been getting rave revues of late, had only a sprinkling of punters. Farther south, in the Covent Garden complex, the new Club Bouschet and Katz packed them in.

The proliferation of gogo bars in Pattaya – more than doubling in the last four years – and reduced number of tourists of course means fewer customers are now spread over more venues…except for those SRO establishments that continue to feature the best looking girls, creative performances, and importantly in price sensitive Pattaya, reasonable prices.

Christmas weekend in Pattaya did not provide the numbers hoped for by most barkeeps. This year's high season is just not developing as in the good old days. In fact, the last two years or so have not reflected high seasons of the good old days when many gogos and beer bars enjoyed SRO crowds and overflowing tills. It may still happen, but doubtful. Too many negative developments in Thailand; too much negativity in economic and social climes of Western countries.

Walking Street itself was a pedestrian traffic jam this weekend – not because of the number of visitors but because of food stalls that crowded the walkway! If anything, numbers appear weak for what should be the busiest time of year, with the majority of visitors to Fun Town appearing to be Thais from other parts of the country rather than typical farang who frequent beach-area drinking establishments. Goodness only knows what the Thais make of all of this carry on in Pattaya.

Back in Bangkok, Erotica is back open again. They were apparently only closed for a couple of nights, which is an unusually short period of time to be closed for. If you're ordered closed it is invariably for a month or longer, and no-one does renovations at this time of year. However, it is noted that they have mysteriously changed the name to "After School Bar". Remember, there is an After School bar in Soi Cowboy. Is there a connection?

Big Bill has decided to refrain from managing any more gogo bars after he parted company with Playskool. The full reasons behind the owners decision to release Bill are unclear but one thing's for sure, poor old Bill hasn't had a lot of luck as a bar manager.

The new Angelwitch in Pattaya, located on Soi 15 off Walking Street, about 40 meters up on the left side (coming from Walking Street), will open in the next few days with the soft opening said to be Thursday 5 January. They have decided to skip the busy New Years Eve party with a brand new team and rather get properly organised first.

Yet more stories have reached me of farangs being ripped off. At a certain Sukhumvit hotel are two farang employees who live on the premises. Each of these two guys was the victim of a crime, and in each case the story was the same – picking up girls off the street. The first fellow picked up his lady for the evening and took her back to his room where it would appear she slipped something in his drink which resulted in him waking up 18 hours later with the mother of all headaches. Not only did she steal his 200,000 baht watch (!) and a number of his flash imported clothes, she was so confident in the strength of the drugs that she took a relaxing bath in his tub while he was laid out! Given that she also stole some of his flash threads, keep a look out for a motorbike taxi boy in Versace – it was likely his girlfriend who was the perpetrator! The second guy also took a streetwalker back to his room. He happened to have 50,000 baht of the company's money in his possession and you guessed it, she stole it. This poor fellow then had to go to his Thai boss and explain that not only had he brought a hooker back to his room, a streetwalker no less, but that the company cash had been taken by her. He has been forced to repay it out of his own savings. Ouch!

Regular readers will know that I have been hugely impressed with Pattaya over the last few months. No, I don't plan on moving down there just yet (the Mrs. will start sharpening knives if she hears talk of that), but I really do think the seaside city of sin has come on in leaps and bounds over the past year or so. The bars seem to be better run with a fun atmosphere in many, prices across the board are significantly cheaper than the capital, the city itself looks better than it used to with newer buildings, lots of neon and so forth and, well, nightlife in Bangkok, in the naughty bars at least, really isn't that much fun any more. (There are notably a lot of very good English and Irish bars where you can have a good time in Bangkok, one area where it does outdo Pattaya.) Anyway, while I mention it all being rosy red down in Pattaya, behind the scenes there are all sorts of manoeuvres being made by bar owners to get the right staff (read pretty dancers) to lure in customers. I understand some gogo bars are in a fierce struggle to recruit attractive dancers. Strong rumours have it that things are being taken to a whole new level with some bars offering 20,000 to 30,000 baht PER MONTH to lure ladies away from competing bars! This compares with average wages of 8,000 to 10,000 baht per month a year ago. This is not an industry-wide thing and would only appear to affect a limited number of bars, but this is NOT a good thing for customers. If the girls are getting paid that much money, just how are the bar owners going to fund it? No need to answer that…drinks price rises are imminent. One of the great things about Pattaya is that the 100 baht drink barrier has not really been broken, at least not by a large number of bars. I hope these ridiculous salaries being paid do not contribute to that happening… This gives the upper hand to top-quality gogo dancers on at least two levels. They can be more selective and demand much higher fees for nocturnal services (because she has less need for the extra income), AND she can call the shots at her place of business (coming and going as she pleases or acting out when the spirit moves her; if management doesn't like it she can take off and get the same or better pay down the street).

Following on from the recent report about soaring rents at Patpong, two more bar managers reported large monthly rent increases at bars on the Pong. Not quite as bad as the one reported last week but still steep at 25 – 30%. Don't be surprised to see drink or entertainment price increases at the Pong.

The new outside bar area at Superstar Bar in Patpong looks to be almost complete and its unveiling should be in the very near future.

Kloster beer at the Bouche (how do you spell it?) Club is going for 170 baht a bottle! Staff say that it is imported, yet everywhere else in Thailand it is a standard priced drink, and priced accordingly.

In last week's column it was mentioned that Angelwitch were not happy that their shows were being copied at Hollywood Carousel. Well, it would seem that they had no right to be pissed off about it as apparently they themselves copied it…..from a gay bar in Suriwong, Jupiter 2000 to be exact. No, I do not venture into such establishments myself, but rather, a learned reader pointed this out.

Although 'showing' is still heavily policed in Phuket, having been for the last 4 years or so, there is now one notable exception, where ladies dance in short lacy negligees, having forgotten their underwear. Even stranger, the place is the only a-go-go in Phuket to be awarded the new 'white certificate' which is awarded only to places that excel in their adherence to certain standards, i.e. No drugs, no under-age persons, no late serving and no lewd shows. Co-incidentally, the place in question, named after a popular Chinese mythical creature, is, reputedly, owned by the mayor of Patong. It is also packed every night.

There might be a cover charge at Nana Disco but at least they are open until 3:00 AM, one of the few places to open "late". A few years ago, who would've thought that 3:00 AM was considered late in Bangkok?

I've always liked Shenanigans in Pattaya – their breakfasts remain a favourite, but 1,250 baht for their Xmas buffet?! Hmmm, is that not taking the piss or what? Admittedly, I didn't see it myself and only heard the price but whoa, that is dear!

It can be a hard life for teachers in Thailand, overworked and underpaid tends to be the rule rather than the exception. The growth in the industry over the past few years has been in government schools employing foreign teachers. If you are employed by a government school make sure you get a government employee ID card from the school. This has many benefits, perhaps the big one is that it is generally accepted by the authorities – read the boys in brown in place of a drivers licence. Even if you have a Thai drivers licence and get pulled over while driving, show them the government ID card first as unlike the drivers licence, they will not keep it to force you to pay a fine. MANY hotels in Thailand have several rates and the rates for Thai government employees is often the lowest! And virtually temple and national park will accept this card and allow you to enter at the Thai price and not the inflated foreigner price. You want to get one if you can. Sorry, I've never seen copies available on Khao Sarn Road!

A long-term Bangkok expat is looking for people based in Bangkok who would be interested (and have enough free time) to conduct interviews with physicians for a variety of healthcare studies. The jobs generally do not require any previous experience, but an outgoing personality, a responsible attitude and adherence to deadlines are a must. Foreigners are preferred, but Thais with a good command of English will be considered. Occasional upcountry travel might be necessary. No selling of any products is ever required as this is strictly legitimate research only. Email: [email protected]

This article might be about the Philippines as opposed to Thailand but the message in it is just as applicable to the Land Of Smiles.

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. Please do try and limit the length of questions to Mrs. Stick to about 100 words. We get many questions that are entire stories of several hundred words which I'm afraid are just too long to run here.

Question 1: I am coming to Thailand for two weeks in January to be with my girlfriend. During that time we are going to Chainat so she can present me to her parents and family. I haven't been able to find much on the Internet about Chainat – can you tell me something about the province and its people? Also, would it be proper of me to propose to her during that visit (we have already agreed to marry through email correspondence)?

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, it would be ok to propose during that time, but do remember that there will usually be an engagement ceremony and that may take a little bit of organising, so it mightn't be a bad idea to signal your intentions so the family may be "ready" for it.

Mr. Stick says: Do a search online for Chainat!

Question 2: I have just started a relationship with middle class girl. She immediately brought up the topic of sex and said she wanted to wait until she was married. The way she dresses I did not expect this. Is this common? Do girls like this change their mind? Further Information: This topic came up after she phoned her best friend studying overseas to tell her about me, who said I would expect her to sleep with me immediately.

Mrs. Stick says: Don't get her wrong. The way she dresses is simply to attract you to her and may not be representative of her intentions, sexually. Many Thai women do dress in a way that might excite guys, but this does not mean that they want to jump into bed with every guy. As to whether she will change her mind, that's an individual thing and I would not like to speculate. If the fact that she is unwilling to have sex with you until marriage is a problem, you should be open with her about it.



2006, the start of a new year, and the 6th calendar year for this column. Things got shaky there for a while in 2005 and I was wondering what the hell I was doing here in Thailand, thoughts of a quick escape to New Zealand running through my mind on a daily basis. While a return to NZ is a certainty at some point, I think I can confidently say that this time next year, I'll still be in Thailand, and getting perilously close to 10 years in Kingdom. I still can't believe I have been here so long.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2006!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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