Stickman's Weekly Column June 3rd, 2007

I’ve Changed, I’ve Gone Native


A friend and I were having a drink, shooting the breeze, watching the world go by and lamenting the fact that neither of us are really where we want to be in Thailand. As we were watching the world go by and reflecting on life in these parts, a bunch of expats walk past, laughing, seemingly without a care in the world.

The conversation changed and we started speculating about how much they earned per month. They were obviously on a good chunk of change. Their suits were the real deal made in Europe variety, not the cheap local crap you get in tailor’s stores. They wore fancy looking ties, had impressive looking watches and just had that aura about them that you knew they were genuinely successful expats – and not well-dressed English teachers.

I suggested that they probably earn in the region of 400,000 – 500,000 baht a month. My friend’s eyes almost popped out of his head at the mention of such figures. He questioned how such a high salary could be justified in Thailand so I quickly broke down how I reached such a figure.

He then looked at me and said that I should be doing their job. He argued that I almost certainly speak better Thai than them, I know my way around Bangkok and Thailand in general and know how to fit in with the locals.

I looked at him and shook my head. “No, local knowledge is not in demand. Such employers want people who will put in place Western standards and the Western way of doing things. They want staff who are quite different to the locals. That is not me. It was once, but it isn’t now. I have changed. Local hires take care of the required local knowledge and the highly paid experts brought in can put in place Western standards and the Western way of doing things.”

I have changed. They are scary words.

Changing is one thing but it is more than that. I have, to some extent, gone native. I admit it.

When I first came to Thailand I was as Western as anyone. I was aggressive in that way that those who are successful or trying to be successful, in the West, tend to be. I was not shy to speak my mind and while I tried to adapt to and fit in with the local way of doing things, as well as respect the local culture, if I felt any sort of conflict with my goals by doing so I simply reverted back to the Western way of doing things.

But that is not me today. Oh how I have changed.

Out on Khao San Road recently, I cringed at the sight of the humanity out there. The clothes they wore and the showing of skin. It didn’t upset me quite as much as it may a Thai but you know what? It lacked class. Oh God, I have started judging people by the way they dress. I vowed that this would never happen but it has. It’s too late.

And the way that people went about their lives out there actually made me a feel a little uncomfortable. The intimate touching in public actually made me cringe. At one point these two hairy, and frankly dirty-looking hippy wannabes decided that they would massage each other’s tongues, with their own tongue, right there in the middle of Khao San, for all to see. I wanted to puke. Several years ago I wouldn’t have blinked but now it actually grates. I even thought of photographing them, so absurd did I find the behaviour.

I wouldn't dream of entering someone's house without taking my shoes off whereas in my first year or two in Thailand I just charged in without even considering the cultural faux pas.

I find myself not particularly comfortable when Westerners start complaining in a loud and aggressive manner, even when what they’re complaining about is justified and with good reason. It is not so much that they don’t have the right to complain – they absolutely do – but it is the way they do it. I can see what is going to happen next and that is the complete opposite of their desired outcome. Such loud complaining makes me uncomfortable, just as it does the Thais.

I get perturbed when people complain to me or about me and unless criticism is made really subtly, constructively and is truly justified, it is not always taken on board, another classic Thai trait. I respond badly to threats, and when threatened I immediately go into "how can I get this fxxxxr back mode", again, just like many Thais.

I have become a little over sensitive at times, sometimes reading into things something that isn't there. This is, I hate to say it, another classic Thai trait.

When out with people who earn less than me I instinctively go to pay, and when out with those who earn more I don’t think of going for my wallet. As someone who used to be very careful about covering his own bill and showing complete disinterest in covering someone else’s, irrespective of their financial situation, this is, for me at least, a significant change.

When I walk past the big boss at work I wai him. I stop moving, I pause for a moment and I give him a proper wai. I'll even admit that I have felt proud when Thais have commented me on the correct way I wai. I don’t do it to other senior members of staff as many Thais would but give it a bit of time and it might just happen.

I’d like to feel that I have adopted the positive aspects of the local culture, and not the negative, but one can never be sure. I don’t drink and drive – as is so common in Thailand, and I don’t sleep around on the Mrs., another national pastime. I don’t lie outright but then I have been known to say that I will be at a certain event or function and never make it – in fact I never had any intention of making it – which again is very much the Thai way.

And there are other aspects of the local culture I refuse to adopt. When I have a meeting or an appointment, I am always on time and never turn up late. I can honestly say I am always on time. And I do get annoyed at people who turn up late, so in this respect I am nowhere near going native completely.

I admit that I have changed. I figure that I started changing at around the three year mark. Up until then I was the bona fide farang. I'm not anymore.

So what about you? Has living in Thailand for a long period of time changed you?

I think most Westerners resident in Thailand over a period of time change. Some have gone totally native. I say this neither in a positive or negative way, simply as an observation. After all, there are positives and negative in all cultures.

What would be ideal is to operate on two different systems, one for when I am amongst Western friends and colleagues, and another for when I am with Thai friends and colleagues. The ability not just to operate, but to thrive in two different systems would be ideal. I may be able to do this at a language level and communication level, but not at a functioning level. Funnily enough, the people who seem to do this best are Western educated Thais. In my experience few farangs are able to manage it.

The biggest worry is that some of the changes I have undergone are traits which would not necessarily go down well in the West. The uncertainty of life in Thailand means that you can never turn your back on the West completely. There is always a chance that you will return, perhaps forced, perhaps by choice.

If you change greatly, just how well suited would you be to life back in the West? Could you return as if you had never left? Could you operate effectively in the workplace? After adopting Thai beliefs and behavioural norms, would one even be happy in Western society? So many questions…

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the Jewellery Centre in Bangkok. Not one person got it right. Hell, I ran that picture because I thought it would be easy…how wrong could I have been? There are four prizes each week and the first four people to identify where the picture above was taken and email me with the answer win a prize. You can choose from a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod OR a 500 baht credit at Lennie's OR a 500 baht credit at Catz Gogo OR a 500 baht credit at Octopussy Bar in Hua Hin. Each of the prize providers is in a different area so please specify which prize you would prefer. Oh My Cod – Khao San Road area, Bangkok. Lennie's – Pattaya. Catz – Pattaya. Octopussy – Hua Hin. This week's picture is in Pattaya!

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II)

Loved the wooden frog!

I did buy for my son a wooden frog with the serrated back, and the scrapper which made the funny frog noise. He loved it. And to tell you the truth, I bought every knick knack that I could get my hands on. Loved them all.

Loved the wooden frog part 2!

Yes, me on my last trip to Pattaya one night in the bar area from one of those hill tribe souvenir ladies. Of course I way over paid. I don't care – I love them. I got a big frog and a baby frog. Love the sound. Took them to work and showed them to a Thai-Chinese lady. She liked them!

Frustrating Thailand.

Your comment on trying to get to the Floating Market – the sign for the turn off was placed AFTER the turn off itself. "Yes, there we were, sailing down the road, looking for the sign, when we see it, and realise that the turn off was about 200 metres before the sign itself" – is exactly the kind of thing that drives me nuts about this country. Absolutely no logical reason for doing something wrong. Reminds me of when I used to live out Bang Khen way and all the bus-stops had the number of the bus routes they served put on them. Except they put 105 instead of 150. Dozens and dozens of them wrong, for no logical reason. Perhaps they couldn't understand western numerals!

Give me Thailand any day!

Not at all surprising to discover there are so many Stickman readers in Japan. I know a bunch of guys who bust their backsides teaching English conversation part-time at different universities in Tokyo. The gig with these jobs is that they pay 12 months a year. This means that these dudes get 5 months annual paid vacation to chill out in Pattaya and Phuket when school is out. As for Japanese women, they are not everybody's cup of tea. Crooked teeth, face moles, bow legs are the least of their problems. They can be as boring in the sack as they are out of it. It is no surprise that so many Japan-based guys prefer the fun-loving spontaneity of tawny Thai poontang. To find a real Japanese hotty, you need to go the hostess bars – unfortunately, the majority of these places refuse to admit foreigners no matter how well you might speak the lingo. Give me Thailand any day!

How to tell if it's a boy or a girl.

The last time that I went to King's Corner was about 7 months ago. However, I believe that it's very easy to tell the girls from the ladyboys. The badges on the girls have 2 digit numbers and the ones on the ladyboys have 3 digits. I've never verified this with anybody, but that's how it appears to me.

Floating Market thumbs up!

I took a trip to Damnoen Saduak about 3 years ago and it was one of the best times I've had in Thailand. We went the night before and stayed in the only hotel in town (Nok Noi I seem to remember). It's old and shoddy, but you can get a good night's sleep and be on the water at 6 AM. The proprietor arranged a boat for us and we saw all the sights for several hours before the tourists showed up – very peaceful followed by pandemonium. But the best part of the trip was the return journey – we took a boat all the way back to Bangkok along the oldest canal in Thailand (whose name I've forgotten), a wide, graceful strip of water, whose banks are lined with old houses, children playing, women washing clothes, people fishing – all in the klong, life from a hundred years ago continuing uninterrupted, wonderful photos too! Everyone smiling and waving to the farangs in the boat.

Men do the physical labour and the women do the selling?

As to your comment regarding the women being the only ones selling form the boats: it is an interesting phenomenon, but I have even seen it here in our Vietnamese population. The men do the physical labour and the women do the selling. I do not know for sure, but I would guess that commerce is seen as a woman’s job, and unmannerly. I first noticed it here on the fishing boats. Some years ago I noticed a small fishing boat, too small to stay out for more than an evening, and figured that the old couple that ran the boat must be pretty poor, so I decided to dedicate my business to them. I have bought shrimp from them for years, the husband sleeping on a hammock inside the boat, the poor old woman selling shrimp and fish on the deck (in the hot sun too). I never saw them off the boat in the many years I bought from then, but then 2 years ago I saw Mary (obviously her American name used for round eyes) at the post office. I said hello and she greeted me as she always has, “Hello, how your wife?” We chatted a minute and then she walked off and, to great surprise, she got into her brand new Lincoln Continental and drove off (a very expensive American car if you do not know). She had never lied to me in all those years of doing businesses, but, being as smart as she obviously is, she never tried to look anything but poor. The old man sure knew who had the brains in the family!

Angelwitch for members only now.

You always seem to recommend Angelwitch as one of the best bars in Nana. Perhaps somebody might like to tell the nauseating, ignorant, hysterical female at the entrance that not every person of southern European appearance is an Arab, to be treated like dirt. I happen to be British, living in Isaan. Last night I tried to go inside the bar when this bitch blocked the door and told me very aggressively that entrance was for members only; at the same time, she yelled 'Welcome, come in' at passers-by of more Anglo-Saxon appearance. I offered to show her my ID but she just ignored me, continuing to block the entrance and inviting passers-by to enter. As the situation was becoming tense I moved on but if you ever start announcing that this bar is not making as much money as it would like, you won't be getting my sympathy.

There's a growing resentment amongst expats, those resident in Bangkok, about drinking at Soi Cowboy. With some bars charging 140 baht for a standard drink and 800 baht for a barfine which ironically is offered as a happy hour price, all Cowboy bars are being tarnished with the same brush – and more than a few are suffering as residents trundle off to Nana in protest. Truth be told, Nana is only a fraction cheaper, but the principle of the matter is key.

The Nana Hotel has updated their menu…and we know what that means, ANOTHER price increase. By my reckoning, prices are up 10%+ across the menu. Their delicious yellow chicken curry which was a mere 90 baht just a few years back is now 180. Ouch.

And can anyone tell me why there is a constant trail of pretty ladies going in and out of the kitchen in the restaurant of the Nana Hotel? These are not the waitresses but the girls who loiter around out in the car park. One night this week they were walking in and out of the kitchen all night and I couldn't for the life of me work out what that was all about.

The huge Country Road Pub on Soi 19, its neon signs for so long a landmark, and a venue I used to frequent in my early days, has closed down to make way for a new hotel. As is often the feeling when venues like this close, it is like seeing an old friend leave.

Down in Cowboy, Apache has re-opened after a few weeks and bar top dancing is the new theme.

Still in Cowboy, the Long Gun lasses are getting a lot more cuddly than they ever were in the past, this in a bar that has always been known for attractive lasses. I can only guess that they must be receiving so much money they don't know what to do with it all – and end up eating and eating…

The pretty Mock Tudor Hotel on Soi 4 is being demolished (again for a new hotel I heard). I can't remember the name, but it was a mock-up of an old Elizabethan house with wooden timbers… now just a shell.

Wednesday saw a huge night for the ever popular Metro Bar in Soi 4. Manager Dave (not The Rave, that's a different bloke) reports that Paul Masefield (expert football comments man on cable TV across Asia), Ian Rush and John Barnes (former Liverpool heroes and true football legends) came down for a monster session of pool and drinking – and all very well behaved. Both players had plenty of time to chat with fans – Thai and Farang alike. These guys have been doing charity events in Bangkok and Chiang Mai, teaching Thai kids football skills, something they do regularly all around Thailand – great stuff!


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

An error by the boys in brown resulted in a number of big name Pattaya bars being closed on both Wednesday night and Thursday night when in fact they only needed to close on Thursday night, it being a Buddhist holiday. The boys in brown had advised the bars beforehand that they would need to close Wednesday which was in fact incorrect and were too late letting some bars know they had made a mistake which resulted in closure!

A 16th Anniversary bash will be held at the Det 5 Restaurant & Bar in Sukhumvit Soi 8 (www.det-5.com) on Friday 8 June. There'll be a free Thai & Western buffet, decadent shooters, a draw for special raffle prizes every hour. The whole thing kicks off at 8PM. Every other night, the bar has a happy hour until 7 PM with 60 baht beers – now that's a real happy hour price.

We've read the stories of people getting turned away from Thailand at the border due to their failure to produce a ticket or some sort of proof that they have the means or the intention of exiting the country. But don't think that the battle is only waged at the Thai border. Stories coming out of Australia show that Jetstar, a budget airline with flights to Bangkok, requires all passengers flying into Thailand to either have proof of a ticket exiting the country or an appropriate long term visa. While on this occasion it might apply specifically to our Australian readers, this regulation could just as easily be applied by any other airline flying from any other port.

And be warned that wearing a yellow shirt may not be enough to charm the Thai Immigration staff at the Cambodian border to get you a new visa upon entering Thailand. A friend did a visa run to Cambodia this week and tried to re-enter Thailand with an air ticket that showed his departure date as August. Immigration said that the air ticket had to be within the period that the visa was granted and refused him entry. He then had to go and find a travel agent where he changed the date of the ticket and proceeded back to the Immigration checkpoint at which point he was allowed in. First thing he will do in Thailand is go to a different travel agent and change the date of his ticket again. What bureaucratic madness.

At least one Bangkok law firm is telling their clients that when applying for a new visa the Western employee must submit photographs of ALL members of the organisation, and not only that, the photos must be taken at their place of work – in the actual place where they work, i.e. behind a desk or working a machine, or whatever. The problem is that one fellow who is faced with this requirement works in a firm that employs 800 staff! Any cheap photographers out there?!

The famous farang beggar is still begging. He comes and goes and changes the wording a little on his sign, or perhaps writes up a new one when the old one gets too tatty – though with that in mind perhaps a tatty old sign is the way to go? Why doesn't he get a teaching job? Because he earns much more begging!

Over the years I have seen a number of girls with physical impediments working in the bars. Those who spring to mind are the 6 fingered girl at a beer bar off Bangla Road in Phuket (was it Mai Thai Bar?) Of course there was also the one eyed girl in Hollywood on the ground floor of Nana who allowed her hair to drape over her missing eye. Then there is the girl in the documentary "A Bangkok Girl" who lost a number of fingers because her mother put her hand into a burning hot pot and held it there as punishment for some so-called indiscretion. Bitch. The latest in the collection is a pretty young lass in Long Gun who was born with all of the fingers on one hand missing. In a country where people are discriminated against by the way they look, it is sad to see these girls end up in the bar because of their physical issues.

I get nervous whenever I approach police checkpoints in Thailand. Not because I have broken the law, because the fines for breaking the law are negligible, and not because I have been drink driving because I never ever drink and drive. I just get so angry, so hot and bothered when they try and shake me down. Whenever they see my white skin and long nose they flag me over – I am sure other farang drivers know the feeling. So the trick is to somehow make it so they cannot see you. Tinted windows? No, that doesn't really work unless you had the windscreen tinted. Thailand is a challenge enough to drive in so reducing your visibility, particularly at night – yes, that is what a serious tint does – would further add to the challenge of driving here. Forget that. By chance I discovered a very simple trick which works – and works well almost all the time. As I approach a police checkpoint where they are waving over one in ten cars – and 100% of vehicles driven by farangs – I simply lower the visor and sit up straight in my seat. It reduces how far ahead I can see, but it also means that the boys in brown cannot see that it's a farang driving until you are right beside them, by which time it is too late! This works every time! And it pisses them off too. You see them pointing at you in your rear view mirror! Ha!

"Tom Yum Goong" is a Thai made film that was released a couple of years back, although much of it was filmed in Sydney, Australia. I never saw it until it ran on UBC recently and enjoyed it. Sure, it was cheesy and the story was a bit silly but the fight scenes were really well done – think Jackie Chan style. Throughout the movie there are three languages spoken – English, Thai and Chinese. Damned UBC did not bother to put any subtitles in the movie so unless you speak all three languages well, there were lengthy scenes where you didn't have a clue what was going on! OK, many are comfortable in both Thai and English but when it comes to Mandarin or was it Cantonese (?), I had no idea what was going on. I guess UBC, or True Visions as they are now called, do not read this column, as this is not the first time this issue has been bitched about.

With the Thai school year now underway a number of schools are desperately looking for Western teachers. Many schools which recruited new teachers sight unseen have found out, much to their chagrin, that that is not always the best way to go about finding people not just new to teaching, but new to Thailand. Some people come out to Thailand and decide that it is just not what they were looking for, and take off somewhere else. Others find the school and the supplied accommodation just didn't meet with their expectations. I will never forget the story I heard about 4 years ago of a bunch of qualified, experienced American teachers who were hired at a certain international school out in the eastern part of Bangkok. They were on huge deals by teaching standards, around 150,000 baht a month but they found that Thailand just wasn't for them and when a holiday weekend came along they took off to the airport as soon as they'd collected their salary.

A farang is leaving Thailand to return to America and has a number of things for sale, some at low prices. Here is a full list of what is on offer, as well as his contact details.

A reminder that you really should not think of putting naughty video or pictures of locals online. I am still surprised at the number of guys who not only put naughty photos up online, but put themselves in the pictures! On one hand these guys get full marks for bravery, but on the other hand, I don't think any good can come of it at all.

We hear a lot of crazy stories of Westerners in Thailand getting themselves into hot water but this story really takes the cake!

And this Brit English teacher got it even worse, murdered by his Thai girlfriend.

Quote of the week comes from a friend currently in Helsinki. "Bars close here at 4 AM. In fact, I don't know anywhere in the world they close as early as Thailand."

Miss Udon is here to answer questions surrounding anything that confuses you in Thailand, particularly issues of the heart. Feel free to send questions in for her to answer and get the perspective of a Thai female. You and I may well disagree with what she says. The purpose of this section is to provide a Thai woman's perspective!

Question 1: I found out recently that a good friend of mine has contracted HIV. She is a bar girl, and luckily for me I found out before we got intimate. In the States, there are so many outreach programs and public services available, and HIV is not as much of a death sentence that it must be in Thailand. I found out later (from an independent source), that she contracted it from her Thai boyfriend who has fooling around on her (go figure). Scary to think of the domino effect that he has / will cause. It is a shame because this girl is very smart, and speaks great English. She could get a good job elsewhere, but I think that she enjoys the party lifestyle. She found out because her former employer tests once a month. She was fired, but still works in the biz at a little hole in the wall beer bar. She is 18 and does not want to tell anyone, even her parents. Is there something that I can do or direct her to in order to get help?

Miss Udon says: I am sorry to hear that and I hope that my answer will provide helpful information. As I know in Thailand we have some small clinics for people who have contracted HIV or some other diseases. It's called "Clinic Ni Ra Narm" and is run by the Red Cross Society. You can find out more here.

Question 2: I would be grateful if Miss Udon could explain the different forms of Thai address, together with when and to whom they should be applied. My wife and her close friends sometimes use the prefix 'ee' when addressing one another, as in ee' Tang, or ee' Noi etc. The male equivalent of this form of address is 'ai'. I have been told this originates from the Sukhothai period but is now considered impolite. I have not received a satisfactory explanation as to why it is both impolite and also acceptable for use between close friends. I would also like to know why both establishing and then recognising seniority in terms of how someone should be addressed is so important within Thai society. For example, when speaking to a 49 year old, a 48 year old might use the respectful prefix 'pi' in recognition of that person being their senior by one year. Why is that? Whilst last in Thailand, my wife (who is an ex-tour guide) and I meet an old friend who was enjoying the girlfriend experience following a messy divorce. The bargirl addressed my wife as 'jae'. Apparently this is of Chinese origin, again in theory a respectful form of address to a senior. Far from being pleased, my wife felt it was quite rude, telling me the bargirl should have addressed her as 'pi'. Once again, I'd appreciate Miss Udon's insight on this.

Miss Udon says: The prefix as 'e' or 'i' both are very impolite for use in public society but between good friends these words are often used. About 'jae' and 'pi' both of them can be used when talking to older people but different are a little different in meaning. 'Jae' isn't a Thai word. We use this word in cases where we know the person is older but do not wish to give them 100% respect. Mostly we use for people who are older but still friends such as workmates or cousins. And sometimes we use it when referring to a lady who is leader of a group, but its use it not always considered to be that good. 'Pi' is much more polite and also respectful and that's why your girl wanted to be referred to that way.

Question 3: I have 2 questions regarding the relationship that I am in (for over 2 years; she is over 40). First question: in all the time we have been together I have never met any of her friends, but have met all her family. She, though, has met all my friends, associates, work colleagues and family. Why is this? My second question concerns her not keeping her commitments (her word; her promise). This is something I take very seriously – when someone tells me they will do something, or stop doing something I fully expect them to keep their commitment. Why is it that commitments (her word / promise) mean so little to her?

Miss Udon says: For the first part of the question and the reason why you have not met her friends, there are many possible reasons. The first could be that she simply does not have many friends or maybe she does but she doesn't consider them to be that close. The second could be that she is scared of you making a negative judgment about her friends which could have a negative effect on your relationship. It could be that she wants to hide you from her friends as she might be concerned that you will be interested in one of them, or one of them is interested in you. She might even be ashamed of you and scared to introduce you to her friends. There are so many possible reasons!

For the second part of your question, it might be that she has never been serious in a relationship so she might be careless with her words. It could be that she has had bad experiences with promises in the past and that she has somehow become scarred by them. I wonder how serious she is about you? It sounds like she is not serious at all.

Stick Mark II says: It might just be that she is just not honest. Personally I think that these are very bad signs and I don't know how someone could remain in a relationship with broken promises and failure to introduce to close friends after such a long period. There is clearly something going on or something you are not aware of.

Question 4: I have a question for Miss Udon. I am rather tall, 6'4" (I guess that's about 193cm). My question is, with no other considerations being made, is being tall considered great, a detriment, or neither? I know that every girl may have different preferences, I'm mainly interested in the general perception. In context I'm average build and looks, blonde, blue eyes, 36 years old and probably interested in a gal from age 27 to 32, who is at least 5'2" (157 cm), for potential marriage.

Miss Udon says: Thai women are interested in the way a person looks and the way they carry themselves, whether they look pleasant or not. We are not interested in your height, size or colour. We really don't care about that. After we have chatted with someone and hopefully found that they are a good person, a nice guy and someone who is genuinely serious about love then the way someone looks becomes much less important. We like people who we can chat with and laugh with who are not too serious. We like intelligent men.

The big news in Thailand this week was the dissolution of the largest and most popular political party, Thai Ruk Thai, which was formed by Taksin Shinawatra, the high profile Thai businessman / politician who lives in London in exile. What raised the eyebrows of many was that the Democrat Party was not dissolved while the Thai Ruk Thai party was. I thought they might do it Thai style and allow face to be saved and censure both parties but dissolve neither. Many feel that things started to go bad for the average Westerner resident in Thailand when Thai Ruk Thai came into power. That coincided with the introduction of populous policies and increased xenophobia. Will the dissolution of this party which made up the government before they were ousted in the coup in September of last year have much effect on the average Westerner in Thailand? Many seem to think it will. There certainly does seem to be an increased confidence amongst a good percentage of Westerners since Wednesday's verdict. Let's wait and see…



Yours,

Stick Mark II