Stickman's Weekly Column June 4th, 2006

Barry Who?



His name appears more often in the Pattaya press than George Bush, David Beckham and Madonna all put together, but he isn't famous. He has a classic short back and sides haircut, but he has never been in the military. He was born in Liverpool, but he doesn't care for football. He drops by the police station most mornings, but he isn't a criminal out on bail reporting in. As nice a guy as he is, he's probably someone you don't actually want to meet. If you do come to his attention, odds are that you've got yourself into a spot of bother. Just who could I be talking about? Barry Kenyon, of course!

Barry Kenyon is the Honorary Consul (Pattaya) for the British Embassy and yesterday the erudite Brit allowed me an hour of his precious time to talk about his role as the British Embassy's man in Pattaya.

How long have you lived in Thailand?

I came here in 1992. I came over to teach English and also to train Thai teachers of English. I did that for a few years.

I have been connected with the embassy not quite that long, since 1996. I got involved with the embassy when someone I knew quite well died. He died at the bridge club, which I founded, and I called the embassy with whom I had had no previous dealings at all and they said I would have to handle it myself as they had no-one here at all.

Because the deceased was a friend, I handled everything off my own back and that was the beginning of my dealings with the embassy. They asked me to assist them initially for 6 months and I have never heard anything since then about that initial 6 month period. I've been doing it ever since!

How many Brits are there in Pattaya?

We don't know exactly how many Brits are here in Pattaya. There are about 700,000 Brits who come here, that is Thailand, a year. Perhaps 250,000 – 300,000 come to Pattaya every year – that would include expats, people who come just for the day, everyone together.

Do you speak Thai?

No, I am rather poor. I speak some Thai. Rather strange really as I was a linguist when I was young with Greek and Latin. You would think if I had cracked Greek and Latin that I could crack Thai too, but no.

So what is your title and what exactly does your role for the British embassy involve?

I am the Honorary Consul (Pattaya). While it says honorary, one is actually paid, but just a modest amount. I am here to represent the embassy's interests, whatever that may be, as regards individual British citizens in the resort.

Death is the first category I'll tell you about. About one a week die here. About 50 a year. We had three one week and nothing for a month. Mostly natural causes. A lot of publicity is given to the ones who are not as you well know, and there is the odd murder or the unpleasant suicide, but a lot are natural causes, or accidents.


There's no shortage of suspicious deaths.

I have looked into a number of the deaths of those who have fallen from condos, and the opinions of the police, on the whole, I have agreed with, that quite a few have been accidents. Most deaths here are natural causes. Most deaths would be lifestyle disease with older men. The Thai government has encouraged retirement visas and it is easy for older men to live here. Of course they are going to die one day. It is the same for other nationalities. Heart attacks, cancer, strokes etc. There are others that are accidents, riding motorbikes and not wearing a helmet for instance.

When there is a death I have to ascertain the identity of the deceased and I try to inform the Foreign Office of the next of kin. I have to let them know before they read it in the newspaper. I also have to collect documentation, death certificates and try to ascertain if people have a will, as well as deal with the grieving relatives.

What's the story with wills out here?

You must have a will, preferably in Thai. You can get an English translation at the same time, drawn up preferably by a Thai lawyer and that will need to be presented to a Thai court in the situation of your death. A judge will then later be able to accept your will about disposal of condos, cash in the bank etc. This will only applies to assets in Thailand.

If you make a will in Britain and try to cover your assets in Thailand, the Thai courts will not be fond of it. You should have two wills, one for your assets in Thailand and one for your assets in Britain. If the will is not drawn up in Thailand, the Thai judge is unlikely to accept a will drawn up in another country.

Another category of things we deal with are arrests and imprisonments. That is about 2 a week. You can go a month without seeing one. Some never go to court and simply spend a night in the cells before being released.

What's the most common reason for arrest?

Overwhelmingly they are visa overstay. Perhaps as many as 70%. People don't always want to go home. Staying here with insufficient funds and sooner or later they get caught.

What happens to these people?

Some people never get caught. We have had people here 4 or 5 years on overstay and eventually they gave themselves up. They may have slept rough on the beach, for years in some cases. Not many, but some. They got a bit desperate as anyone without money does. Maybe they try to steal from the supermarket, drink a beer and not pay for it, things like that.

The people who get cheated that way usually call the police. And when the police arrive it soon comes out that they are on overstay and often have other problems, nowhere to live, no money etc.

We can not pay their fines. We cannot get people out of prison or pay fines – even though that is what they often want!

We can make them aware of this situation and whether it is serious or not. We can let them know where they are in the system, bail matters if applicable, legal advice, that is if they have money for a lawyer.

It is not always visa overstay. There are others such as working without a work permit, the second most common reason for arrest this. Some people are naive. They do not even know this!

After that, assaulting a Thai person would be another category. Often a Thai woman. Foreigners don't realise that this can be extremely serious. Then there is a clutch of even more serious stuff than that. Possession of drugs. At the top end is the serious stuff like drug trafficking, murder and pedophile offences. They are often big in the media in the Bangkok Post or The Nation.

We can liaise between people in prison and their relatives. Occasionally I will go to court on someone's behalf. We do this occasionally but it would be in extreme circumstances such as when someone is HIV+ and is suffering from AIDS. That would be an example.

If found guilty of a criminal offence, foreigners will nearly always be ordered to be deported. Eventually when they finish their sentence, long or short, they will be deported. They have to pay for their own deportation. Neither the embassy or the Thai government will pay.

But then they can come back, right?

It is at the discretion of Immigration whether people can return or not. There is a blacklist and people can be put on that for any period from 6 months to 99 years. Not many people are on it and most can return. The people who are likely to be on the blacklist for a long time are drug traffickers, pedophiles or repeat offenders. The Thai authorities are quite lenient about small time offenders returning. It is not an automatic entry on the blacklist by any means.

Serious hospitalisations is another issue we deal with frequently. Hospital bills here are getting quite expensive, particularly in the private sector. Sometimes we have people who do not have insurance or the insurer reneges, perhaps on a pre-existing condition or an exclusion clause. We cannot pay people's bills but we can inform people back home that there is a problem. We can try to assist people bringing money over to pay bills, perhaps through Western Union or the Foreign Office. Sometimes we liaise with hospital bursars and insurers. Most people who fall ill here can handle it. But there is a plug hole through which some people fall down. We do not pay people's bills but we are always asked to do this. You can imagine what it would be like if we paid people's bills. You could imagine how many people would be knocking on our door!

General advice would be the last major area we deal with. If you lose your passport you might not know what to do. If you are the victim of a crime, such as belongings stolen, people needing help with things like that, needing legal advice, a civil dispute etc. A lot of them go to the tourist police as a point of contact and if appropriate the tourist police may suggest they ring me or one of my volunteers.

We do not operate a visa section down here for Thais. We cannot advise Thais on a passport to the UK. Visas for Brittan are now dealt with at an outsource centre and not at the embassy itself.

Another group of people we have to help are those who cannot remember what hotel they are staying in!

You're joking!

They check in and deposit their luggage at the hotel, go out, and cannot remember where they were staying! They might remember there were 3 swimming pools, or that the building was purple.

This is a clutch of general inquiries. Altogether the number of cases we handle would be around 700 a year. Don't forget a lot of it is not serious.

Chonburi is not known as the easiest place in Thailand to get a work permit and there are a lot of foreigners working here without the little blue book. Do many foreigners have problems related to this?

They do, not because they cannot get one, but because they have not applied for it in the first place. The work permit is about paying tax and capital investment in a company. The people who get in trouble are often the people who would not be able to apply for a work permit, or because they have not put sufficient capital in, or do not even know about it. Or perhaps they work in a sector where you cannot get a work permit, such as a gogo bar. It is very difficult to get a work permit to work in a gogo bar.

But generally, if your application is in order, it should be ok. A lot of people are married to a Thai and think having a work permit doesn't matter. Just because you are married to a Thai does not excuse you. The Alien Labour Act 1980 applies.

What's the typical penalty?

There is little point pleading not guilty! The penalty will be quite small in the sense that the Thai courts will fine you or 2,000 – 3,000 baht. If you can pay it, which they rarely can, because they are often on overstay, you will not be let out, but rather you will be deported. If not, you have to wait in the jail until someone comes up with the money. There is one jail in Bangkok, the Immigration Detention Centre, where they end up.

What about if you just don't have the money, or the means to raise it?

You can pay it off by spending time in the prison cell. The rate is 200 baht per day. So a 2,000 baht fine would be 10 days.

What rights does a foreign national have if they get in trouble i.e. arrested, in Thailand. Are there any things they specifically should or shouldn't do?

Under the Thai constitution, in most areas, foreigners are entitled to the same rights as Thais. There are exceptions on things like land ownership and elections. But by and large, the Thai constitution does give foreigners and Thais the same rights. You have just the same rights to sue in a court for libel. You have the same rights as a Thai. Sometimes foreigners are treated slightly more leniently. For example, in some prisons foreigners are given a couple of days in an orientation cell where there is a little more privacy so they can get used to incarceration. This doesn't happen to Thais. In some prisons we can take in fresh fruit and vitamins. I do not know of any cases where a foreigner is worse off than a Thai.

The things not to do, if you are arrested. Try not to sign anything early on, unless you have the Thai language skills to read it. All the documents are in Thai. While you can say to a judge you did not know what you were signing, it is still best not to sign what you do not know. Under Thai law, only the Thai language can be used in official papers. You can get translations later. The other thing not to do is to use threatening behaviour or abusive behaviour or be particularly disruptive. This does not help at all and is usually a bad idea. Try and remain calm, cool and collected.

Is it only British nationals you assist or are there other nationalities who you assist?

On request we assist other nationalities sometimes. Either I or a volunteer go to the Pattaya police station practically every morning to check up on new arrivals. Some have disappeared by dinner time. If we feel we can be of assistance to other nationalities we will bring it to the attention of the consulate in Pattaya, if they have a consulate here. It is mainly where this is no presence in Pattaya when we will liaise with the embassy in Bangkok. The Irish for example, I have a very good working relationship with the consulate in Bangkok. They do not have a presence in Pattaya.

For the first time ever, just yesterday actually, we have a man from Iceland. They have no representation in Thailand. I called my bosses in Bangkok. They contacted the authorities in Reykjavik. Quite a lot of countries don't have representation, even in Bangkok, some from South America and Africa. Algeria to give you one off the top of my head. And sometimes the embassies are not necessarily maintaining a presence with their nationals. Maybe they see their role as a trade mission. The bigger American, European and Australian embassies offer a full range of similar services to their citizens.

My feeling, and this is based on what I see with my own eyes, is that Pattaya is not nearly as safe as it used to be. What do you think?

I think that I would be able to quote the local and national police when I say that they have become concerned in recent times about street crime, as an example. People having their bags stolen, or motorbike thefts, this kind of thing. I think Pattaya is still a lot safer than many places in the UK or in America. We mustn't get carried away with the argument, but I think crime is rising and this is a concern to police as they have stated on a number of occasions. The police have now introduced light planes specific to Pattaya and Banglamung. Officers can operate from these light planes. Remember OJ Simpson?!

Another initiative they have introduced is the wider use of police volunteers. Mostly Thais but also a few farang volunteers assisting because they have the language skills. They are not there to arrest people but are there to act as a mediator between the police and the foreigners. There is a van on the Beach Road every night for example. It is partly for information purposes and partly to help with any difficulties. Another initiative being considered is neighbourhood watch, groups of people looking after their own neighbourhoods. I am sure the reason why crime is on the increase is because this is a rich city. Billions of dollars are being poured in by foreigners.

We often hear about the Russian mafia, and occasionally the German Mafia. Do you think there is a real mafia or organised crime syndicate operating down here, or is it simply a bunch of petty criminals who get off in thinking of themselves as some sort of sophisticated crime syndicate?

I personally am not convinced that there are independent foreign mafia here. I can tell you I have never come across them. There are dark influences and forces, but of what I have observed, I have never seen any foreign mafia here.

One of my workmates, himself a Brit, told his family back home that should anything happen to him in Thailand that they should not try and fight the system, irrespective of whether he was innocent or not. What do you make of that?

I don't think it is a fair comment at all. It depends on the circumstances. I have known of a handful of situations where people were innocent and were acquitted by the courts. I don't think if you end up in jail you should just let the waters wash over you. I don't think there is any reason to give up altogether.

I have written a lot over the years about the dangers of getting involved with bargirls.

Yes, I know you have!


Do you get many complaints from guys who have been taken to the cleaners by the girls? What's your take on this?

Yes, I am afraid we do. There isn't too much we can do as a rule. Occasionally legal intervention, or taking a civil action has worked, but by and large if you have voluntarily given money to a Thai lady you met in a bar or if you gave her the pin number to your ATM card, it is up to you. If you scream later there is not likely too much which can be done. I can think of one or two situations where people have got a legal solution. But it is not only Thais. Other foreigners may try to cream off your funds. There have been many cases of farangs ripping of other farangs.

What about the HIV / AIDS situation down here? Does the embassy have anything to do with those who are unfortunate enough to contract it?

Some people are HIV+ in prison. We try to get them retro-viral medication from one of the hospitals or AIDS charities. There are things we can sometimes do. It isn't our job to counsel people, but I do know one or two counsel centres so if we get an inquiry like that we would try to assist. It is not a big area of work. We are not phoned up about it everyday, but we do get a call occasionally.

I love figures and statistics because they can give you a certain background that can help you to understand things better. Do you know any interesting stats about anything concerning farangs down here?

I can give you one or two. There are about 700 Brits a year who need our assistance in Pattaya, be it trivial or serious. There are maybe 650,000 – 700,000 Brits coming to Thailand a year, about 300,000 to Pattaya.


What advice could you give to foreigners in, or coming to Thailand, and perhaps specifically to Pattaya.

Bring medical insurance. The biggest problem that is easily avoidable is those who fall ill and cannot pay for good private sector insurance. We think that maybe one in two Brits who come to Pattaya do not have any medical insurance – and this is a city with a number of traffic accidents.

The other one is to stay away from any form of drugs. Smoking one marijuana cigarette can end up with months in jail. There are undercover police watching you!

Of course the third is sex. There have been a number of people in the press who have been arrested for sex with young children. This can result in long terms of imprisonment for the sex offences. This penalties under the Sexual Offences Act 1996 are very severe. For example if they are under 15, it is no defence to say they consented. It isn't allowed.

Stay away from crime. Don't think you're not being watched because there are plain clothes police looking for people involved in serious crimes. Even for things like marijuana smoking.

What you have to be careful of if you are British and you do not live here is that you don't bring with you a lot of the mental attitude you'd have in Britain. Nobody bothers much about marijuana in Brittan, but they do here. If a relative dies here, the procedures are very different to how they are in Brittan. A cremation urn in Britain doesn't have bones in it, but here they do. People come form Britain with certain expectations that things are the same, but you can be very wrong about that and things can be very different here.

Court cases can take 18 months before the trial begins, maybe even 2 years. Not every time, but sometimes.

So it will be business as usual for you for a long time to come?

We have never had an office in Pattaya but it has now been agreed by the Foreign Office in London that we can have an office and a paid secretariat. I hope that by the end of the year we will have a little better structure than we have at the moment, which is essentially my mobile phone and three volunteers who help. To have a base, it would be rather nice. It is coming.


Where WAS THIS PICTURE taken?

It was the footbridge leading into MBK.

Where is that?!

Last week's picture was taken of the footbridge connecting the skytrain to Mahboonkrong. There was a quite unreal response to the picture in last week's column. The first prize is a 500 baht credit at Tony's Bar and prizes 2 and 3 are a 600 baht dinner voucher for 2 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. You MUST say that you are in Bangkok and able to claim the prize or I will consider you ineligible. If you do not explicitly mention you are local or that you will be in town in the next two weeks, you cannot claim a prize.

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Underestimating the number.

I think you might be on the low side with your estimate of the number of working girls. Why? I think one needs to add in all of the other places that you didn't mention, such as the massage places. In Bangkok alone, there are at least 150 parlours according to one list I saw. And these places cater to farang. Who knows how many hundreds more there are for the Thais? Then in Pattaya, you've got the big parlors on Second Road, at which during peak hours have 60 – 100 girls working. Don't forget the clubs around RCA and all of the karaoke places that are no more than take out brothels. Finally, one website I saw about a year ago claims that a count was completed in Pattaya, and that the total amount of bars at that time in Pattaya was, get this, a staggering 3,053!

A spectrum phenomenon.

Your estimate of 29,000+ Thai prostitutes specifically available to Westerners seems accurate. It might be interesting to also look at the courtesan class, women who have dropped out of the bars to work one or more Western men for monthly stipends. Using the Internet, mobile phone and acting skills, they promise (whatever that means in Thailand) sexual exclusivity in return for financial support. A large percentage of retired or inactive bargirls are in this situation. They should be considered prostitutes by almost any definition and would add perhaps another 20 – 30,000 to the nose count of Thai women servicing Western men. Bottom line is that prostitution in Thailand is a spectrum phenomenon. Women are considered sexual commodities on many levels, the main difference being the length of the lease.

For statistical analysis!

I think there is possibly double the number of working girls here in Patong to what you mentioned at any one time. Also, you must take into consideration the number that are on holiday or back in the village until the money from their sponsor runs out, or till they get bored. One more consideration would be that a great number of freelancers work only a few days a week as they also have sponsors. Anyway, just thought I'd throw my 2 cents worth in. You also might want to consider many of the massage girls.

There's someone else in the shadows!

In your column this week someone asked about why his girlfriend doesn't like to kiss? Well, I was told once by a very well-educated Thai lady that this almost certainly means that there is another man in that girl's life that she loves more.

You bought her all that?!

Bad news for one British sponsor of an "ex" bargirl. He has purchased a house, a Honda Jazz, gold, and most recently breast implants for his long time girlfriend who also gets a generous monthly allowance. When she heard that the US Navy was in Pattaya she left from visiting her family in Korat to hit the beachside city. She has been exhibiting her new implants in private situations with a number of sailors. Her reasoning for this is that she is not officially married to the unlucky Brit, only his girlfriend. She is very attractive and can easily find a new sponsor if he catches on.

Trying to understand the girls.

Hypothetical situation: If you didn't need the money, you would never be interested in the girl who is right now your "girlfriend". Now ask yourself these questions: How would that effect you psychologically? How would that effect your values? How would that effect your feelings about her? How would that make you feel about yourself? How would that effect your dignity and self-esteem? Put yourself in their shoes and think about it for a few days… Then it's not very hard to understand these girls.

Another freelancer spot.

Since I don't have a place in Bangkok anymore, I rent a hotel somewhere along Sukhumvit when I come into town. But, I can't get into a room until later in the morning, so I often find a coffee shop (usually the Coffee World near Soi 7/1). While one person's working day is just starting, the working girls are still outside Coffee World / Subway at 5 – 6 AM freelancing. As I'm carrying my notebook to catch up on emails before heading to the hotel, one or two of the girls makes a play to go with you. The mouth of Soi 7/1 is definitely an endless freelance hangout.

Be certain of the price beforehand!

I got taken by the Narai Hotel. I had to fill in one night before we caught a train north. They quoted my 3,000 baht (a crazy price but I was tired) then as I checked-out they charged 5,400 baht – saying I had ‘been upgraded to a suite’ something I didn’t ask for. We argued and their first reaction was to become angry. Suddenly even the simplest English words were impossible for them to understand. About the hotel – it’s badly run down and there is constant hammering from of heavy building work somewhere in the building – stay away from this place.

Shocking news has come out of the Covent Garden complex in Pattaya this week. Ricky, the hugely manager of Babewatch, has been shown the door. He got the news on Wednesday. The owner said he was letting Ricky go because he wanted to, get this, cut costs! Now I am not privy to the salary Ricky was on, but bar managers don't earn that much, and there is little doubt that Ricky would have earned it. Not only is he an experienced and successful bar manager, one thing that Ricky brings to the table – and few bar managers can boast this – is a huge following, a group of punters who will follow him wherever he goes, and who really add to a bar's takings. Try and have a chat with Ricky in any of his bars and there can be a queue – and all of these guys are buying drink after drink after drink! Babewatch was very average before Ricky got there and I fear that without him the owner has effectively signed his own bar's death warrant. I can’t say Babewatch evolved into my favorite gogo since Ricky took over, but it did improve immensely. He transformed the line-up of ladies from generally unattractive and older to pretty and young with good figures. It became congenial. The layout leaves something to be desired, but that could not be resolved by any manager. What he could and did do was improve the shows, create a more exciting atmosphere, and attract clientele. So, with Ricky now up for grabs, who will be the lucky bar owner to secure his services?

Is the Big Mango the cheapest joint in town for Beer Lao? It goes for just 60 baht during their happy hour and 85 baht the rest of the time. Now that's a great deal! But what everyone wants to know is when it will become available outside of the bars, in supermarkets, 7 Elevens and other convenience stores. Beer Lao is catching on really fast and many guys who used to drink Heineken have switched to Beer Lao, me included.

Recovering from his recent stroke, PJ has taken some R&R outside Bangkok away from the bars and he seems to be getting along fine but it's a slow job.

Apparently the owner of Hilary bar in Sukhumvit Soi 4 has had to agree to sell only Beer Chang during the World Cup when the actual games are shown, something to do with Beer Chang sponsoring football. I wonder how many other bars will have to do the same? Chang?! It's hardly the most popular beer amongst Westerners…

The opening party for the rooftop bar above Foodland on Sukhumvit Soi 5 will be this coming Thursday night, that is the 8th June, from 8 PM. Take the lift to level 2. The format of the bar is a sports bar with TVs in a beer garden setting. They will be showing all world cup games with English commentary.

The Fun House Bar Ladies' Night has been a success since it began last month. Starting at 8:00 PM every Thursday, ladies drink free draft and Fun House cocktails all night. The main benefit is having a better chance to beat the tipsy ladies at pool! The Fun House Bar is located at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 11, between Bed Supper Club and Q Bar.

ONSPEED - The Aternative To Broadband

Some Pattaya expats had a scare last week when the Chonburi Land Office refused to record land titles involving companies that claimed 51% ownership by Thais. They were told there was a new law which required proof that the Thai shareholders in the company must first disclose their assets and prove they have money in the company and where it came from. While foreigners may not own land in Thailand, that restriction is commonly averted by setting up a company – in which the farang has a 49% stake – to make the purchase; the other 51% is owned by Thais. Once the purchase is made and recorded, the 51% is “bought” up by the farang. However, in reality, there was no new law in Chonburi or anywhere else. It seems that the Interior Ministry issued a directive to better enforce the existing law to prevent foreigners from circumventing the restriction by setting up dummy companies. The intent, as we understand it, is not to prevent individuals from buying homes, rather it is aimed at speculators who are purchasing developments or large numbers of homes through these questionable companies. Land offices in other provinces have not refused to record such land titles yet, and the Chonburi office is telling applicants to return when, by which time it expects to receive clarification on the directive.

In areas popular with Westerners, particularly the beach resorts of Phuket, Pattaya, Hua Hin and Ko Samui, can be found a significant number of foreigners living in houses that they bought in the name of a company they control. If this directive is enforced, such purchases will no longer be possible. But it is not only house and land purchases that will be affected. Where I personally believe the big problem will be is in the condominium market where in some buildings foreigners make up the bulk of the owners. Foreigners can only own a certain percentage of the units in any building and after that percentage has been reached the only option is to buy in a Thai company's name. The sales offices at many condo developments are geared up for this and have lawyers on hand to handle it all – the new North Shore on Pattaya's Beach Road springs to mind. In that building the number of units bought by foreigners exceeded the percentage and those who purchased later on could only do so in the name of a local company. Needless to say, this directive has the potential to seriously damage the property market. And for any foreigners sitting in a fairly flash (let's say north of 10 million baht) pad, selling it just got a whole lot harder. All over Bangkok condominium developments are shooting up….and given that sales are slow already, this directive could contribute to major economic problems.

The hello girls working outside of New Living Dolls One on Walking Street have been giving out free draft beer vouchers to potential customers walking by. And there isn't a catch. One beer for free, and not anything silly like buy three and get the 4th free. Living Dolls One is doing very well. Unlike a lot of the Walking Street gogo bars which seem to be down on the number of girls, this bar is overflowing with pretty maidens, and as a sweetener, a good number of them are sitting around topless. Walk around the bar and you'll be bouncing off all the mammaries. This bar has a great atmosphere and is well worth stopping in.

But nowhere, absolutely nowhere, can compete with Heaven Above in Soi Diamond which has without doubt the most energetic girls of any gogo bar. The girls there are positively into their dancing and leap around with vigour. The bar has an excellent atmosphere that is helped by the proximity of the girls to the customers. Unlike most gogo bars which have an elevated stage, the girls in Heaven Above dance on a stage that can only be a foot or so above floor level, so they are right there beside you, not looking down their nose at you as they do in most bars. And for customer leaving the bar, they hand you out a free beer or Thai whisky voucher which can be used any night between 7:30 – 9:30. Like Living Dolls, they don't need to hand out such vouchers because this venue really is worth a visit. Is it too much to ask for Bangkok gogo bars to offer free beer vouchers to customers?

Images A Gogo opened a month ago but it doesn't seem to have got going. There is nothing worse than entering a gogo bar to see no customers, a bunch of bored girls standing on stage, not even dancing, and worst of all, a number laying down on the sofas in the bar, trying to get some winks. Despite the presence of an open-minded mamasan who is keen to get the bar moving, I fear that the writing is on the wall unless they do something drastic. Slashing the price of draft beer would be a start – it's about 30 baht more per glass than anywhere else in the Convent Garden Complex.

Catz A Gogo continues to do a good trade and it's not hard to see why. The tried and trusted formula of good service and pretty girls in a bar that plays great music will always be a winner. And Catz may just happen to be the playground for the rich and famous, because this past weekend there was a gentleman voluntarily paying 1,000 baht for a ping pong ball, that is just one ping pong ball, and throwing it to the girls to grab. Something resembling a rugby scrum ensued as all of the girls dived to get their hands on the thousand baht. And the same gentleman donated a 20,000 baht gold chain for what was essentially a dance off on Saturday night. Some guys have got too much money!

Diamond used to be one of my favorite gogos in Pattaya. There were nine customers at one point in there last time (a show may just have ended, usually resulting in a stream of exiting customers). Several more came in over the next hour. BUT the place has lost any semblance of excitement – unless you consider LOUD, POUNDING music exciting (much too heavy on the bass). The girls were unattractive, the shows trite and lackluster. One 10-minute show has two clothed ladies dancing freestyle to country music. I can't quite work out who their target audience is… Then the standard S&M presentation with two girls, les-be-friends show with four girls, etc. But none of it was done with any imagination or style. Quite a contrast from when Ricky managed the joint.

Still in Pattaya, the Dollhouse seems to have picked up and is doing a better trade than it has in a long time and Peppermint is packed to the rafters, as usual.

Despite the recent invasion of the US military, many bars and businesses in Pattaya claim to be hurting, and from what I can make out, this time they're not exaggerating. Bars and other businesses in prime spots on Walking Street will always do a good trade. But in other areas, further away from Walking Street, it really is quiet. The popular beer bar sois of 7 and 8 were very quiet and a number of ladies I chatted with were leaving to go home, a couple had even arranged factory work in Bangkok for the next three months where they felt they could do better, and at least have a guaranteed income.

The American military seems to be getting a hard time from all and sundry, and most of it totally unjust. While everyone was in agreement that the modern US military is full of a bunch of friendly, polite young guys, both the girls and local expats complained about them. A number of expats claimed that they took all the girls and for the week they were in town in serious numbers that the girls lost interest in the locally based guys. But that is in total contradiction with what a lot of the girls reported, that the guys are mostly young and that they found a lot of the Pattaya girls too old for them, and hence spent their money on food and drink as opposed to girls!

If you're a football fan visiting Thailand at the time of the World Cup, it may pay to brush up on your Thai language skills. It would seem that the main cable TV provider, UBC, will be showing most (all?) of the matches with Thai language commentary only. It remains a moot point but at this stage it would appear that if you want the English language commentary, you will have to watch it in certain hotels – and no doubt a number of bars – which get the English language commentary feed. Apparently this has all come about due to the much higher cost for the feed with English language commentary. (Any managers of bars which will show matches with English commentary let me know and I'll post it here.) I am guessing that some of the venues that get cable TV out of South Africa – like a lot of the bars in Sukhumvit Soi 33 – will have the English commentary.

I note that a few of the internet cafes around town have changed their modus operandi. In "older style" net cafes you use a computer and are charged for your net use by the minute. In Bangkok there is a trend towards selling you a username with a password that can be used for a period of time at any terminal in that venue. While this might not sound particularly special, internet cafes set up this way may also have card readers built into the computers as well as built in CD and DVD burners, meaning that you can plug in a memory card from your digital camera and burn picture files directly to a CD or DVD, making the terminal not just a 'net terminal, but more of a useful workstation.

Anyone who has spent a lot of time in Bangkok will know that beggars can actually do very well and make quite a lot of money. Many who used to work in the World Trade Centre area came from Cambodia. Now I say "work" because that is exactly what they were doing. Begging was their primary source of income. And I put it to you that the photo here shows a fellow who is also working. This gentleman has been seen begging with a similar sign in a number of areas including Victory Monument, Siam Square, Mahboonkrong, Central Chidlom and the Silom area. I've mentioned him in the column before. This particular photograph was taken around 8:00 PM this past Monday at the Sala Daeng BTS station. That he continues to do it suggests that it must be profitable – and he is darn cheeky asking for 1,000 baht!

It's a crude comment, but there is truth in it – sometimes it is hard to tell people of a different ethnicity apart as we are not privy to the subtleties of that ethnic group's look. Often I have heard guys talk of how they are unable to differentiate between one Thai and another. Do Thais have the same problems with Westerners? I would suggest that they do. There I was in the New Zealand Consulate on Sukhumvit Soi 33, otherwise known as Wall Street Bar, getting ready to enjoy the Super 14 rugby final. One of the staff sat down next to me and impressed me when she pointed to the guy on screen, Tana Umaga, the former New Zealand rugby captain, and announced that he was "player world number one". I wouldn't quite agree, but that he is a fine player and a great leader is without doubt. Tana, while a New Zealander, is of Samoan ancestry. (If you don't know squat about rugby, many of the best players come from the Pacific islands.) So, the match begins and Tana Umaga gets the ball and runs with it. "He number one I tell you before". I nodded and smiled at her enthusiasm. A few minutes later, the ball went to Ma'a Nonu who made a good break. Nonu has a similar look to Umaga and again the girl said to me, "he number one"! I stayed quiet and had a quiet chuckle to myself at her having confused these two similar looking players. A few minutes later the captain of the team Rodney So'oalo got the ball and again this little number said "he number one man" and I had to laugh, audibly this time. Umaga, Nonu and So'oalo all have a similar look, but they are three quite different people. This little number hadn't worked that out!

It feels like it is the rainy season at the moment even though it is still supposed to be the hot season… It seems to have rained virtually every day in the capital for about the last three weeks.

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 simply offers the perspective of one 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: My lovely Thai girl has worked in a large store for four years and seems to have many very good qualities. I am an older, slender, attractive Westerner and she is much younger and very attractive at age 30. When we go out to a nightclub, and some other places, she wants to bring along her girlfriend so that she will not look like a bar girl. I understand and this is fine with me. We are never affectionate in public. However, when we marry, how can we make a "happily married" image so as not to raise questions?

Mrs. Stick says: Really, you should just be yourself. When you are yourself you will be happy. If you try to do something that is not you, you will not look happy. You do not have to change to make people think that you are something that you are not. Don't worry too much about what other people think.

The opening piece of last week's column discussed the number of Thai hookers who work in Thailand with foreign customers. My somewhat conservative estimate reached a number of about 30,000, no small number. Most readers who wrote in – a couple of emails of which were included earlier in the column – think I was rather light with the number. The general consensus is that the number is much closer to 50,000, if not north of that. What would also be interesting to know would be the number of Thai women working outside of Thailand in this industry. All sorts of figures are bandied around and who knows how many there are, but the number is not insignificant by any means. Whatever the number is, there are a heap of Thai women employed in the world's oldest profession.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Thanks go out to Bangkok Grasshopper and Mr. Write.