Stickman's Weekly Column July 23rd, 2006

The Importance Of Harmony In Thai Society


The Importance Of Harmony In Thai Society

This week I sat down with a colleague, a teacher not entirely dis-similar to me. Like me, he teaches both English and computer studies. We are also of a similar age. We even like many of the same things – and God forbid for the people around us, we even moan and groan about the same things.

On this particular day the poor guy was having a bit of a moan about something that happened at work recently, and as he often does, he came and had a few words with me, looking for a bit of advice. The story goes something like this…

He was teaching a class when one of the girls who is notorious for being a right little drama queen refused to shut up. He was trying to make a presentation and give instructions but she simply would not shut up. He told her to quieten down a couple of times before she finally got the message and shut up, but not without giving him a nasty look for the rest of the lesson. Disappointed with her attitude, her behaviour and her failure to do the work, he called her aside at the end of the class when all of the other students had left and had a few words with her. He tried to use the carrot approach, reminding her that she usually produced work of a high standard, and said that he hoped she could return to the “student of old”. I thought he approached this reasonably well – and what he did was what many teachers would have done. With a huff, a puff, and a pout, she strode out of the office and went straight to see the Thai teacher who looks after this particular class.

Now as it would happen this particular Thai teacher sits in the booth right across from me and I was there when the little drama queen strode in, went straight to his desk, pulled up a chair without being asked to sit down, and let out what can only be described as a diatribe about this particular farang teacher. Slightly obscured from view, one of my American colleagues who also speaks Thai was listening in, and at one point he held up a piece of paper to me on which he had written “The queen has spoken”, and rolled his eyes as this student vented about how a farang teacher had had the audacity to tell her that he wanted to see her produce a higher quality of work.

What was interesting was the Thai teacher’s response. He listened to her version of events, asked few questions for clarification, and then in many ways agreed with what she had said. The farang can't do this!

The Thai teacher then went and reported the issue to management and before he knew it, the farang teacher in the middle of what had now developed into something of a furore was called into the management office. He was told that they had heard that he had trouble controlling the class, that he had not prepared adequately for lessons, and that his lessons were not fun for the students! Exactly where all of those details had entered the fray, I don’t know, but that was what he was told. The spotlight was on him, and he needed to pull his socks up! Management was not happy!

Taken totally off guard by these comments, he attempted to explain his side of the story, but was quickly put in his place. They didn't want to know! And then to make matters worse, it was suggested that he go and talk to a shrink about HIS PROBLEM! You see, the school where I work gets a shrink in from one of the better hospitals in Bangkok and the shrink works with students who have behavioural problems – but is also available for teachers too. (Not all together a bad thing because she is drop dead gorgeous and speaks excellent English. A few of us have thought about developing some sort of mental disease, or at least appear as if we are somewhat disturbed, in an effort to get some time with her, but that is another issue.)

My colleague agrees to go and see the shrink, thinking that he would be able to explain the issue to her, and that based on the facts she would certainly side with him and put the management straight. After all, she is American educated, and she speaks excellent English….so she must, at the very least, understand the issue and where he was coming from, right?

So the big day comes, and off he trots to see the psychologist. He explains the situation in great detail as the sexy shrink nods and makes ummms and ahhhs at all the right times, taking it all in, considering everything.

After a slight pause she tells the farang teacher that Thai people do not like confrontation, and that what he had done, calling the student aside, and telling her that he expected to see improvement from her, was wrong. She suggested that perhaps he needed to be more friendly with the students in future – and with such an approach they would most likely improve.

For this poor guy, someone who is simply trying to do the best for his students, he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

One of the fundamentals of teaching, at any age group, is that while it is fine to be friendly with the students, you should not be friends with them per se. To be friends with students damages the teacher / student relationship and can affect everything from respect, to the control and command a teacher has in the classroom.

But this is Thailand. Thailand is very different to the West. Notwithstanding that this oh so pretty psychologist was educated in the ways of mental health and science in the States, her opinion was that he needed to be more aware of Thai ways. The message was that for a Western teacher to call a Thai student on something would be considered confrontational, and being confrontational is not something which is acceptable in Thai culture.

Now to me what is interesting is that a Thai teacher would have been much more assertive than the farang teacher was in this instance. Most Thai teachers have no qualms about humiliating students in front of a classroom if that student is out of line, and in a not so extreme example, I have seen students humiliated in front of an entire school. It is not the norm, but it does happen. And when the Thai teacher has a go at a student, it all comes out. Questioning the children's parentage and even whether the student is in fact the spawn of a buffalo, and not a human at all, is quite possible. When a teacher gets to this point, they have lost not only composure, but control. I see it, sadly, all the time. But never from a farang teacher.

Conversely, in any workplace, a senior Thai member of staff can blow his or her top at one of the Thai underlings, who will meekly beat a retreat and go and hide in the corner for a while. But they will in all likelihood accept, or at least tolerate it, for that is how things are within Thai society.

Now if a farang member of staff, even if they were the most senior person in the organisation, let loose on a Thai member of staff in this manner, don’t expect a similar response. It would most likely not be accepted, and that member of staff wouldn’t just beat a hasty retreat and sulk in quiet. They would more likely do anything from resign immediately to lobbying all and sundry to get rid of the white-skinned, long-nosed beast.

The idea of Thailand being a non-confrontational society seems to apply to farangs much more than it does to the Thais. A confrontational farang is much less likely to be tolerated than a native. But just what is confrontational? It seems that if we so much as say something that is not deemed to be to positive, then we are in fact considered to be confrontational. To the average Westerner this is pretty damned questionable, but it’s worth remembering.

On a personal note, I try to go about my daily business in such a way that any Thais who deal with me won’t suffer any complaint, or abuse from me. I have very, very seldom seen any good come of from criticism or complaint towards the locals, even if it was totally justified. Criticism from farangs seems to be typically be seen as not just unwanted, but unwarranted. The sad side effect of this is that in some ways it has forced me to lower my expectations, and lower my standards. I don't like it, but I've never seen the point of fighting the system in Thailand.

Of course there always is a time to complain, and one should not just put up with shoddy service, or poor quality goods, especially when one is a paying customer. But that is not really what I am on about here. It is the case of relationships that I talk about today, and the need to keep those around you sabai jai (which would be best translated here as comfortable working with or dealing with you).

I’m not going to say it is easy, and I’m not going to say that it is right, but if you want to have a relatively stress free life in Thailand, getting along with people, even if you disagree with what they are doing, is oh so important. At the end of the day, kicking up any sort of fuss only damages the relationship. It's defeatist, but it is about the only policy that seems to work a lot of the time. The importance of harmony in Thai society cannot be underestimated. It is huge.


Where WAS THIS PICTURE taken?

It was the Centre Condo in Pattaya.

Where is that?!

Last week's picture was taken of the Centre Condo in Pattaya. The roof of the temple that you can see at the bottom of the picture is the temple on South Pattaya Road, just up from the intersection where Beach Road loops up past Walking Street and intersects Second Road. Again, only a couple of people got it right. Was it really that hard?! This week's picture is easier, I guess, but it is outside Bangkok again. The first person to tell me where the picture is wins a 500 baht credit at the Rooftop Garden in Sukhumvit Soi 5, above Foodland. The second person to get the prize right gets a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Cafe in the Khao Sarn Road area. The third and forth prizes are a 500 baht credit 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 have a preference as to which prize you would prefer, do not be shy to let me know!

FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX

Is it what you say or what you do?

In regard to Mrs. Stick's reply to the gentleman of question #2 (last week) who wondered why his girlfriend was reticent about saying the words I love you; I disagree with Mrs. Stick and all other Thais on this issue. Her reply was that words are cheap yadda yadda yadda. No, words are not cheap – people are cheap; words have meaning and when you do not hear them uttered that also has meaning.

Unreasonably harsh, or genuinely good advice?!

I have quite a lot of Thai friends and only a couple I could say are involved in the criminal underground. The advice they gave to me is if you piss of a Thai person outside of Bangkok you better go kill him before he kills you. If you piss off a Thai guy inside Bangkok you got nothing to worry about until you leave Bangkok and head into the wild west then you better be packing a colt or magnum. I don't think we should take this too seriously! I mean this is their culture and we have to accept it. As you WILL know in Thailand once you leave the Bangkok area you enter into a world which is ruled by the GUN it is as simple as that. One of my Thai friends owns a resort in Ko Phangnan and he has about 5 guns! There are drive by's almost every month. This is how it is in this country. My advice to anyone who does business with other Thais where a sufficient amount of money is involved GET A GUN! I think a lot of people are foolish to think that Thailand is safe and being a farang we are untouchable, this is a falsehood and should be overturned because in my view and after reading your article the more farang integrate into this country we will have to start paying the same prices as the locals i.e. instead of getting a polite warning first we will be gunned down. You can't have everything can you, you want to live in this country and be a part of it then the same rules apply to you as they do to Thais.

What comes around, goes around.

This happened to a bargirl friend of mine just the same week. She had been doing bar in Bangkok for almost 3 years, but had had to do a runner to Pattaya when her debts got too serious and had only been working there 3 weeks. She called me to say she'd been barfined the previous night by a Scotsman who she said had a hotel in Korat, so he wasn't green about Thailand. She went off with him after agreeing 1,000 baht, but the next morning he threw her 600 baht saying he didn't know he had to pay the 400 baht barfine – yeah, right, but he owns a hotel in Korat, so must have been here a while so hardly likely. She argued with him, but what can a 90 pound girl do against a big farang? As you say, seriously uncool to rip off a girl who is trying to make a living. Having said that, she ripped me off last week when after an argument, she revealed that she had sold the 6 grand gold necklace that I'd bought her a month previously and bought a gold-plated version to fool me! Crafty little cow! She went in the bin after that, for the umpteenth time. Why do I keep getting conned?

It's not just petrol that's going up in price.

Just priced an outpatient procedure at Bumrungrad and the quoted price shocked me. It was almost as much as it costs here in the States. I had a lower eyelid lift done there last January for 34k baht. Checked the price of it today and it is now 56k baht. That’s over 60% more! It appears that the powers that be over there are getting greedy. You have recommended a Bangkok hospital that you prefer over Bumrungrad, could you send me the name? <BNH HospitalStick>

The real costs of a funeral.

With amusement I read one of the letters to Mrs. Stick concerning the fellow being asked for 100,000 baht for an upcountry funeral. I was surprised that the point wasn't made that under no circumstances does it cost 1 – 2 year's wages to have this Mekong party. This family is using another problem to clean this guy's pockets. My wife's father passed 2 months ago and her 17 year old brother on a motorcycle 2 weeks ago. In the first case about 125 people came and donated 26,000 baht which basically was used for food and the family kicked in about another 10,000 which came from me for the temple, casket etc. In the case of her brother 600 people came and donated 130,000 baht which again was mostly spent on food for several days feeding the same people. One cow, two pigs later and who knows how much alcohol, I got hit for about 7,000 baht. I do not attend but actually sent 20,000 down with the wife and received 13,000 back upon her return (there is a God). So basically it seems on average the persons attending donate about 200 baht each. The boy is being worked. It reminds me of the times I heard of a foreigner being asked for 40,000 baht so the family could plant, pick and thrash the rice field. They couldn't consume 40,000 baht worth of rice per year if they bought it at the gourmet market at Emporium. Naive is one thing, stupid is another.

A proactive bar manager, who listens to customers.

You know, I have a real thing about shite music played too loud in bars and I have a special hate on for those deaf DJs and dopey managers who don't do anything about it when you complain. But maybe that's going to change. I was talking to the manager in Angelwitch the other day and the DJ put on some jungle music that only a kid from a deprived neighborhood in LA would understand. I guess he figured the girls would be able to dance to it and the rest of us would be able to understand the lyrics if it was played loudly enough. So the manager tells him turn it off and play something else. The cheeky son of a bitch comes on the PA to announce that someone had complained about the music! At least the manager got the job done.

The Bangkok branch of Angelwitch will host a party on the 25th July to celebrate owner Matt's birthday. There will be special shows and other surprises on the night.

Most bars and establishments in Bangkok where the primary business is the sale of alcohol were closed last night due to the local elections which are being held today – and the requirement that all voters are able to vote in sound mind, and without the influence of liquor. This year has been a terrible year for bar closures – and there are more to come, with the second general election in a year coming up in mid October, as well as a fair few more holidays in the calendar when, for sure, the bars will be closed again. When I know for sure if the bars will either be open, or closed, I include it in the column. For last night, we did not know until the day before what was happening.

And after the debacle at Babewatch last week, I was pleased to hear that all of the girls who were owed salary for June have finally been paid, with the exception of one, who seems to have disappeared.

And in that same Convent Garden area, there was a very nasty fight in Club Boesche on Friday night. One farang attacked another and ended up slitting the guy's throat! The guy was rushed to hospital where thankfully he didn't succumb to this awful sounding injury.

Windmill Club welcome a new addition to the team, mamasan Mam. Previously the assistant mamasan at Babewatch, she is providing a touch more glamour to the club (she's quite a looker) and is bringing in some of the girls from Babewatch. Windmill Club now has a fixed price "ring the bell", 1,000 baht for a bottle of Tequila. They also claim to have the most competitive prices in Walking Street with draught Chang at 50 baht and 2 house spirits for 110 baht. Windmill is one of the few (only?) farang oriented bars that allows anyone online to email a lady on their website and send a photo of themselves. Windmill will send a picture back of the girl receiving her photo and message. It's then up to the guy if he would like to pay her "online barfine" to get her phone number or email address. Apparently it's proving very popular.

Chatting with a friend this week, we both lamented the lack of places to go for an after work drink, especially the sort of venue, or area with a number of venues, where we Westerners like to go and hang out on Friday evening after a long, hard week at the office. We talked about such places as Clarke Quay in Singapore, that place up on the terraces in Hong Kong and hell, even little old Auckland in New Zealand has a pretty neat bar area down by the waterfront, where you can hang out and move from venue to venue. Does Bangkok have anything similar? Not that I know of – at least not such an area that appeals to Westerners. I'm not talking about the likes of Nana and Cowboy, but a bunch of bars in one area, where one can float from bar to bar. There is always the Khao Sarn area, but that is a different environment, and different atmosphere from what we meant. It really is a shame that such a bar area just doesn't exist in Bangkok. You'd think there'd be enough of us to support it, with all of the Westerners here, the young Thai professionals who are increasingly interested in Western style joints, and of course the huge number of tourists passing through. Oh, and don't suggest Washington Square, please. Without wanting to offend any of the Washington Square locals, that bar area doesn't appeal to everyone.

One new venue worth checking out is Roadhouse which was due to open this past week. This huge bar and grill venue on the corner of Rama 4 and Suriwong Roads was supposed to open this week. I've yet to make it there myself, but it looks like it could be a new Friday night option. I'll try and swing by this week and mention it next week.

Many were up in arms at the fact that the World Cup could not be seen in English on local TV unless you had "special" cable TV i.e. not the UBC offering. Well, it has got even worse. The world's greatest rugby tournament, the Tri Nations, is no longer on UBC either. In previous years it was broadcast out of Star Sports which UBC has, but Star doesn't seem to have it this year. So instead of watching top notch international rugby from the privacy of your own condo, you have to go out to a pub to watch it. Damn. This seriously pissed me off.

Not reporting to Immigration every 90 days just suddenly got very expensive if the policy stated on a sign at the Immigration Department is enforced. According to the sign, anyone who has not reported at the 90 days not only gets a 5,000 baht fine, but gets an additional fine on top of this of 200 baht every day. So, if you hadn't reported after one year, which would be 275 days, you could potentially have a fine of 5,000 baht + 55,000 baht for 275 days, meaning a grand total of 60,000 baht in fines! If you have never done the 90 day reporting – as is the case with many Westerners, then perhaps now is the time to start! The one thing I will say is that the enforcement of such fines seems discretionary and I personally would be surprised to see an officer enforce this to the letter of the law, unless you really pissed him off!

Many guys play the ThailandFriends game, Bangkokchat, or use some of the other sites where it is possible to meet local ladies. A lot of guys manage to convince the ladies they chat with to go straight over to their apartment, under the premise of watching a DVD or something equally corny. I have heard a couple of stories recently of guys on ThailandFriends who have swapped pictures with someone who is keen to go over to their apartment. Directions are given and a bit later they get a knock on the door and in she comes, plants herself down on the sofa and before they know it, she is making herself at home. Shortly after the penny drops – it's not a she but a he! A lot of my students tell me that internet dating is "fun but dangerous" – and this is proof that it is not just dangerous for girls! Apparently there is at least one creature using pictures of really attractive women (not her in the pics at all) who is very keen to go directly to the apartment of guys… What is scary is that I wonder how many guys just think to hell with it, and do the business anyway!

Big John is offering free Chang draft deer until the first score in all live AFL, NRL & international rugby matches. If you were there for the New Zealand vs. South Africa match yesterday that special would have been short lived with South Africa scoring after 17 seconds!

I was in pursuit of a drink last night and made it out to the Khao Sarn Road where a number of places where selling alcohol under the table. But what I noticed at Khao Sarn was the increasing number of hookers out there. And they were not all the hardcore types that you get in Sukhumvit, but somewhat more attractive lasses. There has been a definite increase in the number of ladies doing business out there. They all seemed to be of the freelancer variety.

A farang business owner has been in court over the last 18 months and the court eventually ordered that his bar must be sold and the proceeds split. So, if anyone is in the market for a business on Lamai Beach in Ko Samui, there will be an auction on Tuesday 1st August 11 AM on site (opposite Bauhaus, Lamai Beach). The lease runs through until March 2012 at 10,000 per month. The spot is said to have great potential for a bar or restaurant. The sale includes all the equipment including fridge, decorative items, lighting, fans, tables & Chairs, JBL speakers and a mixer.

In one of my classes I have two students sitting next to each other, Poon, and Tang. I kid you not. Funnily enough, that is a term that I never knew until I made it to Thailand.

Why is it that the Thais will laugh in hysterics when they watch a comedy on TV, where there is some clown with super sized ear-rings, clothes three sizes too small and they are jumping around trying their best attempt at humour, but largely failing. In public, they will laugh loudly at it, but in the privacy of their own home they will say how daft it is. I don't get it!

I have the best part of 3/4 of a bottle of Black left at Club Kirara in Soi Thaniya that I will not be drinking. If you are interested in this – i.e. it is yours for free – let me know and I'll tell you how to collect it. Do note that Soi Thaniya is not cheap, as referenced in the opening piece in the column a few weeks back when I ventured down there. So while you get the whiskey free, you could still end up shelling out a bit of cash just for using the venue. But like I say, the bottle is free to whoever wants it.

The bible bashers are back again and have been spotted in Nana Plaza, Khao Sarn Road and Pattaya. I had planned to interview one of them, and still hope to, but oh, my to do list is getting longer and longer. One day, I hope, maybe….perhaps……ok, maybe not. I'll do my best!

I caught the German movie "The White Masai" last weekend – and thought it was worth seeing. It follows a young, pretty Swiss woman who travels to Africa with her Swiss boyfriend. While she is there she spots a Masai, an African tribal warrior. To cut a long story short, she falls for him, leaves her Swiss boyfriend and her business back home to pursue a life with this Masai in the African hinterland. While it is even more of an extreme, it is yet another movie which shows the major obstacles that mixed race couples where each partner comes from vastly different societies face. It is worth watching if for no other reason than to see just how difficult it is for an educated, sophisticated Westerner to settle down with a lady from a poorer part of Thailand.

Quote of the week comes from a friend. "Thailand might be a great place for a Western man but the United States is just as good a place for a Thai women." A quite liked this one…and it provides food for thought for guys who want to take their teeruk to the West. You're gonna need a big stick to beat the guys off!

Ever wonder why some bars are mentioned repeatedly in this column, and others are never mentioned at all? Some of the bars mentioned are establishments where the manager or owner sends me news about what is going at their place, of promotions they are running at that point in time. Tell your favourite bar manager or owner to email me and let us know why we should go there. Hey, it's effectively free advertising!

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. 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: In an answer to one of last weeks questions you stated that there is very little value in telling your wife that you love her and that the man needs to show her how he feels by demonstrating his love for her. From your Thai female point of view, what are the top three or four things a husband could do to demonstrate his love for his Thai wife?

Mrs. Stick says: The husband should do all of his responsibilities in the marriage well, whatever they are. But he should also do extra things too. These might be romantic things, like buying gifts or special dinners, or they might be other "special things".

Question 2: I have a great girlfriend, who has a masters degree and comes from a family with money. She drives a nice car and doesn't need my money. But I'm forever tempted by the unbelievable amount of beautiful women everywhere. I'm not talking about bargirls. I'm talking about educated woman with jobs. Though she is a great and attractive woman, she is already 30, and I worry about her losing her looks early. She also has very small breasts. In your opinion, would I be stupid to give up a good girl because she has small breasts and is a few years older than my preference? In your experience with farangs here in Thailand, is it usually an empty never-ending quest for those who keep chasing tail year after year instead of settling down with one good girl?

Mrs. Stick says: It sounds like you are not ready to settle down yet. All women's looks will age over time and if that is a problem for you then you will have trouble finding any woman to be with. So, if you do have plans to settle down with one lady and the lady you are with is exactly what you are looking for, then you need to seriously consider the situation. But please do remember that she is not getting younger and if you don't want to marry her then perhaps you should mention this to her.

Second only to the "when will you kill the black background" emails is the request that I add a discussion forum to this site. I have said it before and I will say it again. This is very unlikely to happen. Discussion forums are a major headache to operate and you really need a team of dedicated moderators to help.

I think I'm in a very small minority when I say that discussion forums are flawed, especially when the topic is something controversial. Users on discussion forums often say things they would never say in person, and their persona is that of someone completely different to how they are in real life – but often in a very negative way. So if you have a thread concerning a serious subject, it just screws things up. And then you have people whose English is not so precise, and reading the tone of what they are trying to say is very difficult, unless you know and are used to that particular poster. Personally, I am less active and less interested in discussion forums these days. Too many suffer from un-moderated, antagonistic nonsense which largely diminish their value and make them more about entertainment than valuable information. That's not one of this site's objectives.

Anyway, you get the idea. This site will remain discussion forum free.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Thanks go out to Bangkok Grasshopper.


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