Stickman's Weekly Column April 1st, 2007

Stick Mark II 1/4/2007


A Trip To The Farang Capital of Isaan, Udon

It has been many years since I ventured to Udon Thani and if my memory serves me right, I have only over-nighted there the once. I stayed in a small, Chinese owned and run hotel which re-defined the term rudimentary. For little more than 200 baht one got a basic room with a grubby bed. There was no table, no bedside table, no chairs, no TV, in fact just about nothing.

Looking back at it I must've stayed in the local short-time hotel! No wonder they looked at me so strangely when I said I wanted a room for the whole night. How embarrassing!

I also remember from that trip spending time in one of those huge Thai style discos and wondering what the hell was going on. I'd never been in such an establishment before and couldn't work out the mixture of music and comedy. Thai comedy that is, the type of comedy very few farangs ever get. The crowd loved it but I didn't have a clue what was going on.

I don't remember anything special from that trip to Udon but then again all I really did was stay in the provincial capital for a day and a night. Other than old guys peddling around three wheeled bicycles, my first sighting of the Asian trishaw, I didn't see much.

Researching Udon for this trip, I spent more time chatting with friends who've visited than poring over a guide book. It was agreed that the ancient ruins housed in the museum at Ban Chiang, a fair way east of the provincial capital was not worth going out of one's way for. It was also said that the city centre itself was nothing remarkable, although there were a number of farang oriented establishments opening up and that a farang should not feel out of place. I spent a good amount of time on the excellent local forum, oddly titled Udonmap. A friendly regional discussion forum where people actually seemed to provide worthwhile information, and help each other. A few other discussion forums could learn from that.

But my base was not to be the city of Udon. Oh no. That would be just too easy. My base was to be one of the surrounding districts, for we were going to stay at Miss Udon's parents' place, conveniently located not far from the provincial capital. Being a moobarn so to speak, it would give me a real taste of the Isaan countryside.

Udon Thani is 560 km from Bangkok. The bus takes anything from 8 – 10 hours whereas by road it can be done in about six. Once you are clear of the dam about 50 km south of Korat, the roads the rest of the way are very, very good. In fact the roads between Korat and Khon Kaen resemble something of a racing track. They are straight, the surface is smooth and there is precious little in the way of traffic. Many vehicles rocket along that stretch of the road. But beware, the cops know it and we saw a few speed traps, though none appeared to have a radar! As one would expect, the further you get from Bangkok, the less traffic you see. Once you're clear of Korat, the roads are fairly quiet and once you're beyond Khon Kaen you almost start to feel lonely.

I had been pre-warned that Miss Udon's moobarn was a poor area and that I might not be able to cope with it. I was expecting something quite decrepit from the descriptions and had visions in my mind of beggars lining the dirt roads and houses with that brown greyish dirt you so often see in Isaan.

First stop was the neighbourhood noodle soup shop. Introductions were made and I did not hear the word farang said once. I'm sure I am not the only farang who feels perturbed when introduced to a Thai and the word farang echoes around the gathering. I didn't hear farang said once. I was told that the idea of coming to Udon for a few days was a good choice, and that I should stay. Permanently! I should stay in Udon. "It's tranquil and the environment is free of pollution and besides, the people are nice" – those were their words and you know, after a few days in the province I couldn't help but agree!

One of the old ducks was tucking into a few beers. She was well gone and it was not even midday! I just had to photograph her but she wouldn't allow me to with the beer bottles surrounding her, so she grabbed a couple of the soft drink bottles from the kids nearby and quickly replaced them with the beer bottles! Actually, I caught the old duck with the beers, but it would be improper to run that pic. She then asked me to help find a nice farang man to take care of her. So if anyone fancies her, let me know and I'll forward her details. In fact the word went around the group quickly and I couldn't help but smile to myself when all and sundry expressed interest in finding a nice farang.

It was said that there was a nice park atop a hill less than half an hour's drive a way so we set off for Pufoilom, a spot I had never heard of before. The drive took us through more of rural Udon. In the middle of the hot season, the ground was barren and dry, the rice fields looking more like dried mud than a fertile area farmers could reasonably expect to grow a crop of any value.

Pufoilom was pleasant, but not special. It's one of those places worth checking out if you're in the area, but not really worth going that far out of your way for. After a pleasant hour spent wandering around, checking out the gardens and the views, we were now getting towards late afternoon, and of course, all thoughts were on what we would eat for dinner. Food is never far from a Thai's mind.

We had passed a market on the way to Pufoilom so decided to drop in and pick up some supplies on the way back. I have always enjoyed wandering around markets in rural Thailand, and the more remote, the better. Markets in Bangkok tend to be dirty, smelly, and the vendors tend to be a little coarse with their words. Ask a question but fail to buy it can often result in the vendor's mouth turning into a machine gun, a bunch of nasty words directed at you! It's not like that in the countryside. Not only are the vendors usually extremely friendly, the sight of a farang will almost certainly having them fight to not only chat with you, but for you to sample their merchandise, if it's something edible. Free of course.

So we wandered around the market and 200 baht picked up almost more food than we could carry, many items costing just 5 baht a bag. Cheap doesn't even begin to describe how little things cost in the Thai countryside. Knowing my preference for beef over other meats, Miss Udon said she'd go and grab some and suspiciously moved ahead of me in the market.

A few minutes later I caught up with her and the sight before me horrified me. Sat on a wooden table in the heat of the late afternoon was what can only be described as slabs of fly-covered meat. The market area was dirty and there was dust in the air. Everything I had ever learnt about hygiene was turned on its head. Meat should be refrigerated. Meat should not be left outside. Flies or other pests should not be allowed anywhere near food. You should wash your hands after you handle cash (or any other object) before you handle food again. Meat should not be left in the sun. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. But I was too late. Miss Udon had just finished the purchase and now we had a slab of beef. And not only had it been out in the sun, we still had a 40 odd kilometre journey back to her house. The meat would deteriorate even more! Food poisoning was imminent. I had seen a drug store not far from her house and made a mental note of what I would need to pick up, Imodium for the shits and a broad spectrum anti-biotic to kill the bacteria… This was one meal I wasn't looking forward to…

Wandering around the sleepy village, an area of perhaps 200 – 250 houses, home to perhaps 1,200 people of which at any time perhaps only several hundred are present, I noticed something conspicuous by its absence. Not only had I not seen a policeman, neither had I seen a police station. Inquiring as to just what the situation with the boys in brown was, I was informed that in the district capital there was a small police station. Within the village you'll find the poo-yai barn, perhaps best translated as senior village elder. Whenever there is a dispute in the village the poo-yai barn is called and along with some of his elder relatives attends any disputes and attempts to mediate. Generally the issue is settled there and then, most of which involve drunkery. But if the situation gets worse, or out of hand, the cops are called.

Back at the homestead I sat back and relaxed after a long day's drive. I wandered around outside for a while before my presence was soon noted by some of the local kids. Before I knew it I was surrounded by young kids asking me my name and telling me who their favourite football team was.

Dinner was prepared and once again the maidens of Isaan, the women of the house, proved that they are able to knock up something quite outstanding with little time and seemingly little effort. In one of the world's great mysteries, I will never ever understand how I managed to withstand food poisoning. I wolfed down the beef and never suffered any after effects at all. Amazing Thailand.

Sleeping in rural Isaan isn't always the most comfortable of experiences. An invasion of mosquitoes, the warmth of being baked in all day, no air-con and a chorus of chickens and dogs makes it harder to nod off and stay asleep, but somehow I managed to not only fall asleep, without the assistance of alcohol no less, but to make it through until about 6 AM when the dogs and chickens see to it that everyone in the village wakes up.

Another day, another town. As nice as rural Udon was, it was time to head up the road to the border with Laos and check out that pretty little town nestled against the Mekhong. It was time to check out Nongkhai.

Nongkhai sure has grown up since I was last there. The whole waterfront area has been done up with pleasant looking, comfortable salas erected for visitors to relax in the shade and admire the view across the river to Laos. There are heaps of new guesthouses, many ideally located by the riverside, and it has to be said that some looked charming with pleasant gardens and areas to relax, the sort of place where you check in with the intention of staying just a night, but end up staying a few.

Nongkhai is nice, but the downtown area offers little apart from the nice views and nice atmosphere. It is the relaxed, pretty Isaan you so often hear about but can't always find. But how long can you sit and gaze at a river for? After a meal or a few drinks soaking up the atmosphere, one usually craves something a little different so we sought out the town's most popular tourist attraction.

Just a few kilometres outside of Nongkhai is Sala GooGaew, a Buddha Statue Park. I really can't think of any other way to describe it than to say that there are many large concrete states of Buddha images housed there. That probably doesn't make it sound that enticing, but let me say that this is a great spot – a must see if you make it to Nongkhai. In fact that is not really saying enough. It really is well worth going out of your way for. In some ways it reminds me of Pattaya's Sanctuary Of Truth, a spot I like, but which I feel is over-rated (to say nothing of being over-priced!)

If it hadn't been for the oppressive heat we would have spent more time at Sala Googaew, but with the Isaan sun beating down on us it all became a little much and after not much more than an hour, we decided it was time to his the road again.

Sala Googaew can be reached by tuktuk from the town centre and at 10 baht donation for entry, it is the tuktuk ride that will cost you more.

After checking out Nongkhai a little more and failing to discover anything really worthy of our time, we decided it was time to make the journey back to Udon before night fell.

One of the funniest things happened while we were sitting chatting in the moobarn. It was late afternoon and I was just sitting outside, taking in the ambience of the village. I got back to Miss Udon's house and was sitting outside when another bunch of kids came along to see the farang. I got chatting with them and after a while one of the kid's mothers comes along. She introduced herself and sat down to chat. I can only assume that she was a lonely housewife for she had the eye of a woman who had not had a bit in a while, a real shame because she was pretty. We got chatting and she mentioned that she would like to find a farang guy. No kidding honey, it's obvious to all.

Miss Udon, who had been inside attending to the evening meal, came outside and they chatted away for a while. The pretty one asked me about what farang guys look for in a woman and I told her that in serious relationships, Western guys held honesty and integrity very highly indeed. I told her that Western men generally found Thai women attractive so finding a pretty woman was not difficult. What Western men looked for was an honest woman who they could form a bond with, and that was not so easy to find. She explained that she was up in the village for a few days only and that she actually lived and worked in Bangkok herself. She said that she was honest and that she really wanted to find a farang guy. Seeing how she looked and listening to what she said, I mentioned that I know a few guys who may be interested. She passed on her phone number to Miss Udon.

The pretty one had a daughter, one of the kids who I had been chatting with before she had come along. The daughter had been sitting close by, minding her own business, sipping away on a cup of Coke that had had a bunch of sweets thrown into it, some sort of local Isaan treat I guess. But at that point she decided it was her cue to say something and she piped up. "But Mummy, mummy, what about the guy you told me about who you have been seeing in Bangkok, the one you said you might marry!" The look on mummy's face was priceless as she realised that everything she had just said about being honest had now been shown to be a lie. She scurried off very quickly and I bet her daughter got a right ear bashing!

I just chuckled quietly to myself, and had a laugh. Miss Udon was less than impressed and told me to go back inside, lest another stray woman come and throw herself at me. Yes, it really is like that in some villages.

Looking around the village, you have to wonder how the locals make any money at all. There is almost zero industry with those employed either in farming, or in basic services, selling goods, or food. And don't think there's big money in the local restaurants. It's hard to find anything priced at more than 30 baht.

A good chunk of the population can be seen on a daily basis sitting out front of their houses, predominantly grandmas and children, just relaxing, taking it easy, fighting for a piece of shade, escaping the sun. The old and the young. That's all you see. Those in the 20 – 45 age bracket are notably absent. Of course there are a few, but it is as if the vast majority of the population is made up of grandparents and grandchildren. No surprise in that really for what so often happens is that grandparents are responsible for raising the grandkids while the parents head to the big cities in search of a decent income, much of which will be sent home to look after not only themselves, but the two other family generations.

But then you don't need much to survive in a village. Visiting some of Miss Udon's relatives, a charming vendor wandered up and asked the kids if they would like to buy some sweets.

" Mai mee tung", they responded.

I pulled put 20 baht and handed it to the vendor, wanting to treat the kids. I expected her to give them one small pack of the noodle like kanom she was peddling. Several packs later and I thought I was going to be asked for 100 baht, not 20. She took the 20, the kids ripped into the kanom, and off she went. 20 baht buys a hell of a lot of sweets! Grandma then chastised me for buying so much, telling me that the kids' teeth would go rotten because of me! No worries Grandma, another set will be on the way before too long.

All of the people I met in the village were lovely, just lovely. They lead hard lives and have few luxuries, but they are never short of a smile. Forget the horror stories you hear of farangs visiting rural Isaan. No-one ever asked for money, for a new appliance, or for a replacement buffalo. I was never asked to pick up the tab or buy bottles of beer or whiskey, although that said, I was only too happy to treat Miss Udon's family to a couple of great meals. And the cost was so inexpensive I wondered how the restaurants could possibly run at a profit.

We'd now spent a couple of days in the village, and had seen Nongkhai, so it was off to amphur meuang, the provincial capital, of Udon. I had planned to spend a day and a night there but as it happened, that turned into merely a few hours.

I have only ever overnighted in Udon Thani once before, way back in 1999 if my memory serves me correctly, and I have to say that I was not left with the most positive of impressions. My over-riding memories from that trip were the stark poverty. There was no shortage of beggars and samlor riders almost pleaded with you to choose them. If there was anything in the way of Western bars or restaurants, I never found them, although I vaguely remember some Western (American) owned steakhouse, but I could be wrong, we're really going back a few years here. Needless to say, I didn't have high expectations for the provincial capital. After all, Korat and Khon Kaen are both bigger and said to have much more going for them, yet neither of those places impress me so why should Udon be any different?

It didn't take long to see that Udon Thani 2007 has a strong Western influence. Right outside the main shopping centre, the place that everyone seems to gravitate towards, is a strip of beer bars, a transplant direct from Pattaya. Mid afternoon there were more than a few red-eyed Westerners propping up the bars. Tacky. I really cannot work out just why this strip of bars is allowed to operate immediately outside what is almost certainly the most popular entertainment and eating spot in Udon. When Udonites venture into the city centre, that is where they go – and that is what they see.

Wandering around the shopping centre were no shortage of Western guys with their Thai girlfriends / wives.

The people in downtown Udon were friendly, as they were province wide, and the shopping centre was doing a better trade than you see at Tha Mall in Korat or the cramped Fairy Plaza in Khon Kaen. There was a vibrancy about it. People were well dressed and were walking around with purpose, not dawdling about as most seem to do at malls in other parts of the region.

What surprised me the most was that even though I had a lovely lady in tow, I got smiled at by many pretty girls. Can't you see I am already with someone, honey?! That didn't seem to stop them one bit.! I had heard rumours that the Udon locals are a friendly bunch but boy oh boy, that's an understatement! And these were not just the classic Thai smile, a smile born out of politeness or deference, this was the glad eye! I'm serious!

The city of Udon is certainly worth a night. I say a night because there's not really a lot of great interest during the day, at least little that you wouldn't find anywhere else in Thailand. The city has a number of decent farang oriented bars, like the Irish Clock, but I just ran out of time and didn't get to see them all, as I had hoped.

But then a visit to Udon should not be about the city. If you want cities, hit Bangkok. Udon is rural Thailand, and that is where I spent most of my time, in the countryside, with the country people.

If you get the chance to venture into the countryside, and I really believe it would be best if you could get a local to take you, then you can be rewarded with an experience into a part of Thailand that many Westerners find fascinating.

But as nice as rural Isaan is, paradise it is not. At least not for me. I can't help but feel that there is something wrong where one's image and reputation is supposedly everything, yet few people seem to keep their property neat and tidy. Not only is the grass overgrown and gardens not kept, there are piles of junk everywhere. Watch people sitting out front of their house eating. When they're done, they just discard whatever is left, be it chicken bones, wrappers, bottles or whatever. Yes, they just toss it on to their own front lawn and leave it. Days later it is still there! It would take almost zero effort to keep properties neat and tidy but it is as if there is no civic pride at all, and frankly I found that a little strange.

The other thing I found a little off putting was the fact that there were chickens everywhere. Chickens are dirty beasts and having them run around your section doesn't do anything for it. They crap everywhere. Then we have bird flu -but that didn't seem to be of any great concern to anyone. It seemed that most houses had chickens running around, and not just a few of them but a whole clutch. The chickens, combined with the fact that properties are not well kept puts me off the idea of living in an Isaan village, not that that idea had ever grabbed me, but you know, it's nice to explore opportunities.

You venture into Isaan to feel the vibe. Sure, there is some great history and in the southern areas you have some marvellous Khmer temple ruins, Phimai and Phanom Rung amongst them. You also have some fantastic temples like That Phanom 50 km south of Nakhon Phanom as well as the huge couple, the name of which I forget, in Chaiyaphum, east of the provincial capital. And let's not forget that huge monstrosity still being built, a little south of Korat. But it's not the places that you go to visit, it's the people. Isaan is a region of characters, friendly people who are quite happy enjoying their traditional way of life. I guess the pictures tell the story here, they're more of the people we met, than the places we saw. The people of Isaan are great.

To get the best out of a trip to Isaan, and I think this cannot be underestimated, it really helps to have some command of the language. Sure, sign language and a lot of inane grinning and smiling can go a long way, but without language skills you're limited. I also think it is fun to get out into the village environment. Much of urban Isaan is not that indifferent from the rest of Thailand. Get out into the countryside, the real Isaan, home of the real Isaan people. If you really dig Thailand and the Thai people, you won't regret a trip into the Isaan region one little bit, and Udon is as good a spot as any.


FROM STICKMAN'S EMAIL INBOX (hopefully next week from Stick Mark II's inbox)

Respect vs. Face.

First of all, I believe, for every yin a yang. Perfect, is a compromise that works in your favour. One thing I like; among the many things I like about Thais, is the respect that they show in most cases, in public and in private. We are all human beings, and this is not an easy trait for us to maintain. In most westernized countries, individuality is deemed to be freedom of choice, and of course, because of the human element; lots of people take that as "F" you when the chips are down. Thais, on the other hand, clam up or deny, deny, all in the name of respect. Again, this is not perfect, but I will take that over some punk in a bar in North America getting in my face because I told him "Excuse me would be nice" after bumping into me and spilling my beer. Feel free to edit this part if you like, (if this gets used at all), but it is my opinion that the height of disrespect is the current Bush administration's Third Reich like stomping, into other peoples countries in the name of democracy. The bloodless coup here in Thailand may be perceived as an a-front to the freedoms of a country, but I believe it was done out of respect for the good of the Thai people, and that was at the forefront of the thinking of the orchestrators. This is not meant to be a political rant as much as to point out the difference between cultures.

The truth IS respected.

My Thai wife is just as in tune with the truth as any farang. She did go to school for 2 1/2 years in the US, but not until she was in her 30s (that's where we met) and does not come from a privileged Western-style background. So there are some Thais out there who do also respect the truth. In fact, she's always griping about her fellow Thais in this regard.

Stay away from the bar scene.

My advice for men whom ask you how to meet 'nice' Thai women, is simple: just don't get involved in the bar scene. Sounds simple, and it is. It worked for me without even realizing. (I admit, sometimes I wish I had experienced the bar scene before just to see how that was.)

Odd visa issue.

At the beginning of the week I mailed off my visa application-package-stuff to a Chicago based company that processes visas for USA travellers going to various countries around the world. I have used these guys many times before. I usually get the "Tourist visa" for Thailand. The Thai embassy charges their fee of $25 dollars for the "tourist" visa. Today I got my passport back from the visa service, and although I applied for the "tourist" visa I received a "Non-Immigrant B" visa and the Thai embassy charged $50 dollars. (I am not coming to Thailand on or for business.) When I talked to the visa people in Chicago and they told me the Thai embassy is no longer issuing "tourist" visas and that Thailand officials prefer to charge 500 baht per day the traveller stays over the 30 days. Or the traveller can apply for the "tourist" visa outside of Thailand and will be given "Non-immigrant" B visa at double the price of a "tourist" visa. In any case, that's what they are saying and doing this week.

Try a different counter!

We took everything to immigration to try to get an extension on visa which was due up yesterday. We qualified for 60 days but they wanted the English version of my declaration that I'm single. The translated and notified copy was with out documents submitted to them and we pointed out that another government office currently had the English version as part of the paperwork back up for the issue of the marriage certificate which we also had to give them. They wouldn't budge even when I explained that I couldn't have a marriage certificate without the English declaration. So we had to go back again yesterday and do it all over again. You know what? New girl at the desk and she didn't even look at the English version! Bloody typical.

Pay the bus fare?

A new line when you first approach a lady of your desire, "Excuse me do you have the money to catch the bus home?" I don't know about you but having extracted the requested funds to cover services rendered, the last thing I want to hear was a further request for the bus or the motor taxi fare home. Sure there are logistical reasons for this as nobody but nobody has change in this country, but boy did it really grieve me to hear this final demand on top of all the others I had to contend with. A New Year's resolution or perhaps even the ingredients for a national campaign, "No more bus fares – walk home", should be started.

Bulldozer to the rescue.

In a village close to my girlfriend’s hometown, a 60-year-old American built a 1-million-baht house for his Thai sweetheart. In those parts, where the average family home costs between 300,000 and 500,000 baht, this is pure luxury. Two months later, he found out that his girlfriend kept a much younger Thai lover with whom she enjoyed the good life in his house during his absence. Apparently, he did not waste his time arguing with her. Instead, he rented a bulldozer and drove it right through his house. The police could do nothing because even in Thailand one seems to have the right to drive a bulldozer through one’s home if one pleases to do so. Of course, the land still belongs to his (former, I believe…) girlfriend. But she can’t do anything with it because she doesn’t have the money to clear it from the debris. And the entire region is laughing about her and her lover.

Let's start with a recap of some of the major news from the past few months. Apologies if this is nothing new but for many readers this site is their only contact with Thailand and if they don't get the news here they don't get it at all.

If you didn't make it to Pattaya this summer you would have missed the huge influx of Russians who invaded Sin City. It did not matter where you went, the Russians were everywhere. The beach itself, Beach Road, shops, restaurants, Walking Street…but not the bars. At night, the majority seemed to be content walking up and down Walking Street, recording all the action on video camera, observing, but not partaking per se. Bar owners and managers have reported that the Russians are extremely tight with their money, some entering a bar in a group, ordering one drink and sharing it! And the flood of Russians to many's favourite city of sin is unlikely to let up any time soon. The Ruskies have just been approved for the visa waiver scheme, meaning that they now get a 30 day stamp in their passport upon arriving at Thailand border point, without the requirement to apply for a visa in advance.

The much anticipated Eden Club in Pattaya sadly only lasted a few days. In what can only be described as very sad news, Marc’s partner, Francis, died right at the time of the bar opening. Eden Club then closed and re-opened later, renamed as Hell Club with John as manager. It can be found in Soi LK Metro.

As far as Bangkok goes, opening hours in most of the city's entertainment areas haven't seen any change. You can figure on most bars and nightspots closing at 2:00 AM, at which point you'll be unceremoniously thrown out on to the sidewalk, forced to either find a taxi to take you home, or find a late night venue to continue your boozing.


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

The 90 in 180 days visa issue has seen a number of farangs forced to leave the country, and it continues to have a negative effect on many westerners living in the Land Of Smiles. To recap, the law was changed so that people could not just come and go indefinitely on the 30 day entry stamps issued on arrival at the border. The new law states that from the date of the first 30 day stamp, you cannot spend any more than 90 days in Thailand in a 180 day period. A number of people suggested that the policy would be forgotten about quickly, or not even enforced, but that hasn't been the case at all. It has been enforced and people entering Thailand on the third of the 30 day visas are told that once the entry permit has expired they cannot re-enter the country on that type of permit again for a certain period of time. A number of people have said that they felt it had just got too difficult and they have returned to their homelands.

Club Electric Blue, Patpong, will be celebrating their 4th birthday on Thursday, April 5 – starting at 9 PM. Join the party for lots of free food, cheap beer and cheap shots.

The best bars in Bangkok and Pattaya remain Angelwitch. Yes, in both Pattaya and in Bangkok, the best bar is Angelwitch. If they had an operation in Phuket, well, it would probably be the best bar there too. Never wanting to rest on their laurels, the Pattaya branch is spicing up show time with a real live 2.5 metre long python the current star attraction. Yep, time it right and you can see the snake show, but at the Pattaya branch only for the time being.

But the success being enjoyed by Angelwitch is not being enjoyed by other bars. Far from it, in fact. This past high season was the worst in a long time and moaning, groaning bar owners were not exaggerating when they told tales of woe and talked of profits being well down. Aside from the big name bars which do well year round, many bars have been really struggling. There are many reasons for this and they will be explored in more detail next week.

Secrets Bar in Pattaya would like to announce that Larry, aka Soi 7, is the official day time manager and will also be covering the nights that Ben is away. Larry is a great conversationalist and a friendly host and is well worth seeking out for a chat, and a few hints and tips on where is popular.

Spanky's in Nana is currently a disaster zone. The sound of sawing and hammering can be heard throughout the plaza as the construction team races to get it ready before Songkran – I think that might be a tough date to meet.

There's a new English language breakfast show on the airwaves in Bangkok. Richie Walker runs the breakfast show with decent music and news in English from 7:30 AM until midday on weekdays. We still don't have a 24 hour English language radio station, but this is a start.

There's all sorts of evidence about town that there is a very real fear of terrorist acts, read bombs, in the city of angels. Dogs sniffing for bombs have been seen in certain central areas while vehicles entering many buildings, particularly the flasher hotels are inspected before entry. For me, the most conspicuous sign that authorities really are concerned has been people and their belongings being checked when entering underground stations. Many expats have speculated where an attack might centre on. For me, I am most concerned that something might happen at or near a skytrain station and / or an underground station. Imagine if two big bombs went off and seriously damaged both the skytrain and underground lines. The city would be crippled in an instant and would remain that way for a very long time. Scary.

A number of Thailand oriented discussion forums were attacked this past week, the victims of denial of service attacks which rendered them unreachable for a period. All sorts of rumours are doing the rounds with some suggesting the authorities are testing farang websites for vulnerabilities so that in the event of any hostilities or another coup, they could be silenced. Scary #2!

Management of Hanrahan's, the newest Irish pub in Sukhumvit's Soi 4, is feeling extremely generous. They are offering pints of Tiger during their happy hour from 4 – 7 PM at just 65 baht each. That's right, just 65 baht a pint. A bargain.

Large, colourful signs placed outside the Irish Xchange on Soi Convent announce that they have happy hour deals on a variety of drinks from 4 until 9 PM on weeknights.

Is Old Speckled Hen on the way out and John Smiths Best on the way in? There would appear to be a shake up in the local market as far as real British ales go. Watch this space for the arrival of some previously unavailable popular British drinks becoming available.

Paiboon Publishing has released a new series called Speak Like a Thai with Volume 1 containing contemporary Thai expressions and volume 2 full of Thai slang and idioms.

Thai Airways has a fantastic promotion for foreign travellers who make it to the Land Of Smiles. You can get 3 domestic flights on the national carrier for a mere $US 169. That could work out to quite a saving if you are flying to the likes of Phuket, where a return journey currently costs in excess of 7,000 baht. Check out the deal here!

Is the Immigration Department profiling teachers who wish to extend their visa and continue teaching in Thailand? A bunch of teachers went to the main branch of the Immigration Department in Suan Plu to extend their visas for the next year of teaching. They were all males in their 30s and 40s. All were asked if they were married or not. Those who were married got the stamp immediately while those who were not were told that they would need to get an FBI clearance to show they are not criminals in their own country – all asked happened to be American. This raises all sorts of questions…

Signs are only for the authorities! Don't be too concerned about signs in certain supermarkets stating that alcohol cannot be sold at certain times of the day. Many will still sell liquor to you, despite the sign prominently displayed that says they cannot. A big smile works wonders.

Is it just me who thinks Dave The Rave bears more than a passing resemblance to Steve McMahon? And please, don't ask me who Steve McMahon is! (If you've never heard of him, he played for, and captained the great Liverpool football team for a number of years and is now a comments man on some of the English football chat shows shown on TV in Asia).

The cricket worked cup is not being shown by UBC, the major cable TV provider in Thailand, unless you pay the supplementary charge of 3,500 baht. A number of bars are showing the matches, especially those in Sukhumvit Soi 33. One comfortable spot to watch the cricket is Livingstone's. If it's not on, just ask the friendly German owner to turn it on for you. I spent an enjoyable evening watching it with him and taught him much of the terminology and rules of the game, but there is still a lot for him to learn yet. Just don't do like those 5 Indians who went and ordered one orange juice each for the entire duration of the match – which if you're not a cricket fan is about 8 hours.

Why is Burger King so much dearer than McDonalds at 169 baht for a Whopper with cheese combo compared to 99 baht for a Big Mac combo? Sure, economies of scale have to come into it, but you have to wonder if the difference should be so great?

Quote of the week – "Thogical = Thai logical".

A friend from the UK always stays at the same flash hotel when he is in town. On previous visits he had got to know one of the female members of staff and they had exchanged contact details. On his most recent trip he couldn't see her in the hotel and called her to find out that she had moved on to another of the big hotels. She asked him if he would like to meet her for lunch at the Emporium and he agreed. She arrived at the Emporium chatting away on her mobile, apparently not that interested in eating. She mentioned that there was a sale on watches and she would like to have a look at them. They wandered over to the watch department and she pointed to one that she liked. She tried it on and, my oh my, didn't it look good! She turned to him, with puppy dog eyes, gave him that look and softly inquired "You buy for me?" He looked at it, turned it over and saw the 65,000 baht price tag. "My dear, I have not seen you for two years. We have just spent 15 minutes together, we are not lovers and you expect me to spend 1,000 pounds on a watch for you? I am sorry but you are dreaming!" With that she huffed and puffed, declared that she had a friend to meet and darted out of there!

Remember that swinging resort in Udon Thani? Well, it finally got busted, so if you hadn't already crossed that off your to do list, you missed out.

And if you thought the Thai smile was getting hard to find, you weren't the only one as you'll see from this article in the much respected International Herald Tribune.

Ask Miss Udon

Miss Udon 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, Stick Mark II might answer them. Please do try and limit the length of questions to Miss Udon 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 travel so much now in the UK that me and my girl bought a caravan which she is very happy to live in. Last week she put a piece of coal in the fridge. Her explanation was that it is normal in Thailand and it keeps the smell down from the fish sauce and other spicy ingredients in there but she got really shirty when I started taking the piss asking for a "coal sandwich" and "coal and biscuits". I have never heard of it before and suspect it is some superstitious thing, confirmed by the fact she goes all quiet and doesn't want me to mention it to her friends. I don't mind having a piece of coal in the fridge but just out of interest I would like to know the real reason it is there.

Miss Udon says: Yes, "coal" helps to keep the smell down from the fish sauce and other things. She is right! In Thailand we put "coal" in the fridge. She is a perfect housewife and you are lucky guy! Don't make fun of that because we (Thai girls) are sensitive about our culture, especially when we have a foreign boyfriend. We just do like we usually do in Thailand and we don't know how you will act or respond to what we do. So if she does something new which you don't understand, please ask. She will explain. "Coal" is a good idea. Ah, I forgot, I better find some to put in the fridge here as well. I wish it can keep the smell down from BEER LAO!!

Stick Mark II's note: Coal in the fridge won't do a thing for smells but charcoal will. Coal is pretty much impervious to gasses but charcoal is absorbent. So might be a wording problem here.

Question 2: Me and my fiancée will be getting married soon. She comes from Roi Et and has a little daughter there living with her parents. I realise I am expected to support my fiancée's parents (to a certain extent) and her little girl, but what is bothering me is the fact that my fiancée's brother and his wife have 4 kids, and from what I can gather I am expected to support them too because neither of them have jobs. Am I being fair by explaining to her parents that I will support them and my girl's child, but I refuse to give any money for her brother and his offspring.

Miss Udon says: You don't have to pay for her brother because it's his family not yours. He is the only one who has to take responsibility. If he cannot do that then nobody could. One thing that U want to understand is "Did he ask you to help?" or are you just guessing that you are supposed to? If he did ask you to help, you don't have to because, as I said, it's not your business. If he did not ask for help and this is your guessing, I think you better be quiet and do nothing. Because "males" no matter where they are from, or who they are, "males" would not ask for help. Because a "male" asking for help is the last thing a "male" would do. If you help him because you gather that you have to help him. He maybe refuse your help because he thinks that he can do by himself and it's not your business. So make sure what he wants and do as you want to.

Question 3: I have known several Thai ladies and feel lucky to have been shown a great time and seen things off the beaten tourist tracks in the Kingdom. One thing makes me wonder with these girls and this goes for my current Thai lady friend whom I've known for some almost 4 years off and on. I am known as "Darling", which while nice can get under my skin after a few days' repetition. I am also concerned that if and when she makes it down under, because she is not shy when it comes to speaking in public and I'd feel embarrassed and even irritated with too much off the 'D' word in front of friends and in general conversation situations, especially at the 20th time in the given hour! Last month I spent several days at her home town (village I guess) somewhere near Chaiyaphum and one of her neighbours, a small boy about 6 – 7 years old came up to me in the street and said "My name Darling" (I did understand that he meant "your name is Darling"). Hopefully you get my point. My name is Gavin so maybe it is that this is a difficult word for the Thai tongue. It does come out when said by either sex, as Garween. Even if I plead to be called Gavin, (honest attempt certainly accepted) I remain "Darling" without question! My Question to you; Is the addressing of a man by a Thai lady with the use of Christian name, perhaps not the accepted manner? Should I perhaps feel special that I am termed Darling and not my given name?

Miss Udon says: The way a Thai woman calls you depends on the way we think. Your girl maybe just wants to show how much she loves you by using the word which reminds you as you are her boyfriend. And she expected somebody to hear and understand that way also. Mostly this case happens with a girl who first has her foreign boyfriend and she just wants to make it like a western couple. This may be influenced from Western movies where we see "baby, honey, darling, sweety" said and when we have a farang boyfriend we want to use those words too!

Miss Udon and I are here to entertain you and keep you up to date with what is happening in Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. We will be running on Stickmanbangkok.com for a short while before moving to our own home where we will take on a whole new look. I do hope you'll join us each Sunday at 6 PM, Bangkok time.



Yours,

Stick Mark II



Stick Mark II can be contacted via Stick at: [email protected]
(New website and new email address coming soon)