Stickman's Weekly Column August 12th, 2007

Assimilation? What’s That?


So there I was, sitting in the lounge of my new friend’s house. He was the first friend I made in Bangkok and we’re still friends today. He’d invited me to his place and we were just hanging out, having a bite to eat and a quiet drink. Also at his place was one of his good friends, an Austrian doctor. It was the only time I ever met the Austrian.

At that point in time, some 9 years ago, my friend had been living in Bangkok for about 5 years. If my memory serves me right, the Austrian had been in Thailand for about 4 years although he was not based in Bangkok, but somewhere upcountry.

A special news announcement was made and the two of them were glued to the TV. It was a bulletin about the government and a few minutes later they were excitedly discussing it and the perceived impact it may have on the country. They may have been talking in English, but I had no idea what they were on about. The concepts were foreign and the language may as well have been.

I could read and write Thai and had a basic command on the language, but understanding what was said on TV was way beyond my level of comprehension. These two guys encouraged me, telling me that it would not be long before I too could understand TV programs and would sit there glued to special news bulletins. Of course I was given the usual encouragement that newbies get – to find myself a long-haired dictionary.

My friend had married a year or so earlier and his wife was a few months pregnant. While we were relaxing at his house, a couple more of his friends dropped by. Thai guys. I remember these guys as being particularly likeable, one was a former cop now involved in some sort of private enterprise and the other was a businessman, though exactly what line of work he was in I can’t recall. While my friend spoke Thai with them, they spoke English to me. I was impressed at the life my friend had made for himself. Five years in-country and he was running two successful businesses, had married a pleasant woman, bought a house and had a circle of nice, interesting friends.

He had successfully assimilated into Thai society. His friends were predominantly Thai. His family was Thai. He did Thai things, including watching Thai TV and eating Thai food – every meal. He had well and truly embraced the culture. I quietly thought to myself how nice it would be to have a life like his.

My first boss in Thailand was an Englishman who I was friends with for a period of time. We would venture out in the evening from time to time but his heart was never in late nights out on Sukhumvit. He’d been in Thailand for 8 years at that point in time and had never really embraced the bar scene. He’d warn me of the dangers of spending too much time on Sukhumvit. Occasionally was fine he would tell me, but too often and “you’ll end up like the rest of them.” Perhaps I should have listened to him?!

He much preferred to hang out with his long-term girlfriend and her Thai friends who were very much his social group. He had adopted many of the Thai ways and from what I could see he enjoyed a pleasant lifestyle. More than anything, I believe he was genuinely happy.

I used to day dream about reaching the point that these two guys were at, having a command of the language that would allow me to do many of the Thai things with Thai people and enjoy life in the Land Of Smiles like they were – and still do.

Fast forward several years and things did not quite work out how I expected. I nailed the language side of things. But I never really made any Thai friends along the way. It’s not that I was against that, quite the opposite in fact. It just never happened. It is one of my major regrets that after so many years in Thailand I don’t have any real Thai friends.

And you know what, neither do any of my close friends, the two aforementioned guys, who I don't see so much these days, aside. At least from what I can tell none of my close friends in Bangkok have Thai friends. I mean people you like to hang out with, people you can do almost anything with. I don’t know of any of my close friends who have Thai friends like this either. Thai guys in brown uniforms who you pay money to every month don't count.

If I look at the group of people I first knew when I arrived in Thailand many years ago, the majority of them had made an effort to assimilate into Thai society – and they seemed to thrive in Thai society. They had well and truly succeeded. I don’t see that today. I don't see anyone even trying to do it.

For farangs relocating to Thailand we seem to be living in enclaves, living lifestyles that don’t just resemble Western lifestyles – they are Western lifestyles. We just happen to be living a farang lifestyle in a non-farang country!

Today I see very few farangs adopting the customs and attitudes of the prevailing culture. I don’t even see a gradual movement in that direction. It just isn’t happening – or if it is, it's only a minority of Westerners living like that. Even out in the provinces, in the chonabot (countryside), Westerners out there seem to lead a Western lifestyle. They watch cable TV, read Western literature and socialise with other Westerners.

The vast majority of Westerners in Thailand lead very much a Western lifestyle. I don't know if I even know anyone who goes a few days without eating Western food. Thai food every meal for more than a couple of days? I can't think of anyone who does that. The only folks I know who eat Thai food exclusively are those who are on their last legs financially and are forced to, Thai food being much more affordable than the farang alternative.

It's not that I think we should adopt the local ways, it's just that I notice that those guys who have been here a long time, say 12 years or more, seem to have assimilated successfully – and most importantly, they seem to be a lot happier than those of us who followed, the “Starbucks Generation” for want of a better term. For many of us, we lead a lifestyle that could just as easily be transplanted to Sydney, London or Atlanta. I'm well and truly in that group.

So what about you? Is the lifestyle you lead in Thailand largely the same as that which you lived in Farangland? Do you have genuine Thai friends you like to socialise with? Do you patiently wait for your favourite Thai soap opera each evening? Do you follow the Royal news on the box at 8 PM every evening? Do you wear a yellow shirt with pride?

What is it that largely keeps the whole concept of assimilation into Thai society by Westerners off the menu?

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken at Saphan Poot, also known as Memorial Bridge, one of the many bridges connecting Thonburi with Bangkok and home to a thriving night market popular with teenagers. The first person to email me with the correct answer wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod. I am looking for new prize providers in Bangkok, ideally restaurants or cafes.

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

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – A business idea for someone?

I have been reading how helpless farangs are against Thais when a violent situation arises. Why haven't the permanent farang residents come together to collectively own and operate a security company which would ensure them some powerful friends at the top of the food chain via some consulting contracts with various chiefs of police etc? It would seem that the local farang population could all afford $20 – 30 per month in fees to help float this company, and when someone gets threatened, or winds up in a problem, they would have the ability to call this same company and have the Chief of Police, or his brother show up and tell everyone to settle down. I also wonder why the local permanent farang population hasn't come together to form some type of lobbying group for enacting some laws that make things a little more fair for the farangs as a whole. Surely 30k farangs donating $50 per year could buy some kind of influence in LOS?

The crotch grabbing cop!

Well, I just had an experience with two uniformed cops stopping me in a dark corner of a soi. I had just left Bally Suites serviced apartments that lies in between soi 20 and 22 and was stopped and searched without any kind of explanation. It was all very unpleasant and included a groping of my crotch! They searched my wallet twice and demanded to see my passport. I had a photocopy with me but that was not enough so I had to go back to my room to get it. After that they let me go. What really bothered me later was that I was supposed to carry 72,000 baht with me that night to give the owner of my new apartment as downpayment. At the last moment I decided to do that the following day. I got really paranoid because they also had possession of my wallet with my credit cards while I was back to fetch my passport. I started to wonder if this was a scam and these clowns were not real cops. Because it happened so close to Ballys I went down to reception and asked them if they saw the incident. One girl said she saw it and recognised them as Thonglor policemen. No hanky panky was done to my credit cards so it probably just a case of harassing random farangs. Still, it was really unpleasant.

Disagree with the idea of marrying an HIV girl.

In regards to the farang wanting to marry the HIV infected Thai, her family ought to be paying him to take her off their hands. My advice to him is find out where he left his brain, collect it and get out of the situation as fast as he can. The Thai arrogance is so out of step with reality it amazes me. The stupidity of this guy is amazing as well.

Western prices.

English meals are more expensive in Bangkok, but just for a second turn this around. How much is a top quality Thai meal for two in London? I know this one as I recently paid 7000 baht and the food wasn't a patch on somewhere like Cabbages and Condoms where you pay around 2000 baht for the same meal. As far as a steak goes, get out to Rangsit near the end of the Don Muang expressway and try Chok Chai Steakhouse where you'll get a quality aged piece of steak for around 800 baht, top quality service thrown in for free.


The best Thai dating experience

Cheaper *if* you live like a local.

I don't agree with you about the prices in Bangkok. Yes it's expensive in Bangkok IF you are / want living like a farang.
Live like a local and you will find it so much cheaper than in most of the western countries. I know you know it. You can have a nice meal for about 40 – 70 baht including a soft drink. Where can you get that in the western world? Buy a beer in a beer bar for about 100 baht, buy a lady a drink and it costs you about 110 – 130 baht. Yes of course sometimes more but still much cheaper than most of Europe. Well if you want to buy a shirt, not a copy, it doesn't matter where you are, it's still gonna be expensive. And personally who cares if it's real or not as long you as like it yourself. You can still buy that shirt or your jeans really cheap in almost any shop or street as long as it not the real thing. Try to find a nice apartment with decent rent in the middle of London, New York, Stockholm etc. good luck. Here you can find a good place with low rent in the middle of the city for a reasonable price.

How is the dollar affecting the Thais?

Could you do us a favour? Could you ask some Thais how is the weakening dollar affecting them? High, middle, and lowly (I use the word lowly loose as all men are created equal) Thais. I am sick of Westerners complaining because now they have to purchase one whore instead of two. When all they really have to do is move back to their well-fed nations.

The increasing cost of medical care.

I beg you to do anything to keep the horror stories posted on your site regarding malpractice and enormous billing cases in the so called best private hospitals in Thailand. Their greed and cynicism has long reached huge levels. Of course in most of Farangland the same stories are also plenty. But to say, now, that in Thai hospitals you will find an ideal environment to cure one's medical problem, surgical or otherwise, is mere nonsense. Unless you are willing to pay whatever they charge you or accept not to ask any questions regarding proposed medical treatment, including major surgery, to avoid the specialist losing face. If you dare do, they answer back something like "In your country you pay thousands of dollars more…" or you die in your country before see a doctor.

The skyrocketing costs of medical care!

I have not even finished reading the weekly but just had to comment on the escalating prices for healthcare in Thailand. Three years ago, I was in an accident over there. I spent a month in the hospital and underwent a total of 36 hours of surgery. This in addition to physical therapy six days a week for eight months. The entire bill for all of this medical treatment was 800,000 baht. Earlier this year, I had a one hour surgery and stayed in the hospital for two days. When I was discharged, my bill was 217,000 baht…one line item and no detail for the charges. That, my friend, is a testament to the skyrocketing costs of medical care!

Electric Blue will be holding one of their infamous parties next Saturday night. There will be loads of free shooters and drinks. The owner, Andy, is always looking for new ideas to make a fun night out so he's introducing a "Liquid Buffet", starting at Saturday night's party. It costs 1,000 baht and then you can drink as much as you want for the next 2 hours. It includes ALL drinks except top shelf brandy, cocktails, Bacardi Breezers and Corona. The line-up of 50+ girls is way above standard for Patpong and their uniforms are eye catching. Doors open at 7:30 PM and the girls are usually drunk by 8! Draft beer is only 55 baht a glass during happy hour plus there's a buy-two-get-one-free promotion available.

There was a buzz down in Patpong last week when a new girl arrived willing to sell her virginity in the gogo bars. Rumours spread quickly and lots of guys arrived to put their bid in. I believe the winner paid 20,000 baht, but by the looks and confidence of this girl, if she was selling her cherry – it was definitely second-hand!

It might be quiet at this time of year but there are some major developments steaming ahead in Pattaya that will play a part in the gradual, but very definite change in the face of Thailand's naughtiest beach resort. The large multi-building complex on the Second Road, opposite the Lek Hotel, is a shopping centre not dis-similar to the Big C complex at the north Pattaya end of Second Road. This new complex which is home to a 24 hour branch of McDonalds and a Major Cineplex, both of which are open already. A sign states that the newly located Shenanigan's is due to open this month also – the previous location has closed and all of the furniture and fittings have been stripped out.

Also under construction, the even bigger Central shopping centre on the Beach Road is not going ahead quite so fast but when finished that it has got to contribute towards giving Pattaya something of a more legitimate feel.

But despite all of these developments being erected at a furious pace, Pattaya remains awfully quiet and as has been reported for a number of weeks now, the bars are really hurting. Walking Street's trade isn't helped by evening drizzle which keeps punters in restaurants, and out of the bars. Entrepreneurial locals are selling umbrellas along Walking Street for 200 baht. The same thing will set you back 99 baht in Bangkok's Pratunam Market.

Farang oriented bars continue to be very quiet. It doesn't really matter where you go in the capital, the vast majority of farang bars are dead. The odd venue might have a good night but that's about it, the odd bar. Of course, the entertainment complexes and venues which target Thais are as busy as always.

For those who have been forced to look for a new home after Thailand tightened up visa regulations, Cambodia seemed many people's next option given that $20 a month gets your visa renewed, indefinitely. There is another option. Recognising the huge value to the economy of wealthy westerners, the Philippines has amended their visa rules so that you can now extend your visa easily in-country for two months at a time up to 2 years – and possibly even indefinitely. Like Cambodia, the Philippines is said to be cheaper than Thailand in general.

Pattaya has got its own 24 hour English language radio station which can be found at 105 FM. The station's website which includes live streaming can be found here. My initial impressions? It gets the thumbs up!

Angelwitch Pattaya has been experiencing a renaissance period and is doing a very good trade indeed. I stepped in twice on Friday night and had to return later for I could not get seat (on the ground floor). It is said that their gross takings are higher than Bangkok Angelwitch – and that is saying something. It is amazing to think that BOTH Angelwitch bars are taking more money than they did this time in 2006.

Galaxy in Pattaya is not closed. What happened was that the police showed up one night and wanted to deport all the girls back to Somewherestan but they were miraculously convinced to do otherwise. In the end, the venue was only closed for a few hours and I can confirm that lovers of both Western and African women will not be disappointed.

It's natural that when you buy a large quantity of one item you feel that you deserve a discount on that item. But how often do you get a discount on ping pong balls in the bars? 5 ping pong balls 100 baht, 50 ping pong balls 1,000 baht, so the sign says. Well, Windmill in Pattaya has got with the program and the more you buy, the lower the per unit price. Of course, it probably means that the girls earn less per ping pong ball – but then again, it is not like they really do a lot to earn that 20 baht, is it?!

The following press release was received from the manager of the Irish Xchange which will re-open as Molly Malone's.

The pub will be closed for renovations until the 1st of September 2007 when it will reopen its doors as Molly Malone’s. The re-branding of the pub is due to the fact that we have been taken over by Molly Malone’s Phuket. The pub will reopen following substantial remodeling but we would like to assure you that the distinctive character and friendly staff that has made the pub Bangkok’s favorite watering hole will remain. Improvements will include:

* A brand new air-conditioning system.
* New keg room and beer chiller to guarantee a cooler fresher taste.
* Complete new state of the art sound system with improved stage area.
* New soft lighting.
* Improved access.
* Remodeled safer up stairs access.
* Increased standing capacity.
* Increased seating capacity.
* New line of draft beers.
* New menu from upgraded kitchen.

A bright new-look to the pub. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience while work is carried out on the pub. We are sure you will be delighted with the results and we look forward to welcoming you through the doors of Molly Malone’s on September 1st 2007 for the opening night party!

Bangkok is home to some crazy goings on, and this week there was something a fracas between a farang guy and two ladyboys. The guy was in a car with one of the ladyboys and the other ladyboy was outside the car, trying to stop it from leaving. Finally s/he opened the rear hatchback door and grabbed a tyre iron and then tried to climb over the back seat! The farang guy jumped out of the car to reason with her which turned out to be a bad idea. The minute he turned his back she whacked him in the head with the tyre iron, jumped in the car and the ladyboys drove off together! The westerner was left with a deep cut and slight concussion. No-one will be surprised that one of the other spectators was a policeman who sat on his bike, enjoying the spectacle with all of the other amused onlookers.

I notice that Central World Plaza is getting a lot busier and at weekends many of the restaurants (how many restaurants are there in the whole complex) have lengthy queues. I have to say that I much prefer Central World Plaza to Siam Paragon, which seems to be much more of a poseur's hang out. And of course Central World Plaza has Bangkok's only branch of White Spot Triple O where you can get some of the best reasonably priced burgers in Bangkok.

Amidst rumours that After Dark magazine is no longer being published, NOTHING could be further from the truth. The original founder of the magazine (the one who takes all of the photos – not the other partner who claimed to everyone to be original founder) and the accounts manager have now taken over the magazine. Volume 4 will be available in 2 – 3 weeks. The partner who was causing them so much grief and spreading the unfounded rumours has been ousted. Rumour has it that he is in the middle of trying to start his own magazine.

There's been a little relief for Americans in Thailand whose salary is denominated in $US or who pull their finances from the US. The US dollar has increased against the baht a couple of percent in the last two weeks. OK, it isn't enough to make much difference but it has come off its lows and the trend is ever so slowly for the baht to depreciate against the dollar.

What's up with the Rugby World Cup? Will it be shown on UBC? No-one seems to know. Conjecture has it that it may be pay per view, like the Cricket World Cup was. That would work. Of course all of the bars with South African cable TV will screen the matches but who wants to go out every single night to watch it? It would be nice to have a few beers at home and enjoy the matches in the comfort of your own condo with a few mates.

English football fans are happy that there appears to have been no real change to the coverage of English football in Thailand but don't get too excited. The match build up with knowledgeable Westerners like John Dykes, Steve McMahon and co seems to have been dumped for some local guys who, quite frankly, offer nothing. There was of course much conjecture about what would happen to live coverage of the world's most popular football league, but all is well and we can watch it live, every week, just like we did last season. It's just a shame that the whole build up before matches is not quite the same…

We all have our little idiosyncrasies, our habits and ways of doing things, all of which have some effect on those around us. For me, when I am looking at Thai women, possibly considering someone as a possible girlfriend, I have what I call the 'supermarket test'. To know if they are a suitable candidate as a girlfriend, I do the supermarket test and we go shopping together. If she is totally disorganised, slow, insists on buying the cheapest crap or lingers too long, she is unsuitable. I know it might sound a little weird, but I have found that it works without fail. I really think this test is relevant with Thai women – with farang women it won't tell you much.

Bangkok's a hell of a big city and my rounds only allow me to venture so far. I have no idea what is happening with the skytrain extension beyond Onnut and I haven't set foot in the new shopping centre called Esplanade on Rachada. Sometimes I forget just how big this city is. In fact I reckon there are probably huge chunks of it I have never got even vaguely close to! That's one reason why the news and views in the column tend to come from the same parts of the city each week.

If you were a Thai copper, how would you feel about this?

Chang Beer is about to take on the USA.

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 am thinking about getting married to my Thai girlfriend. We are very much in love and I do think and hope that our marriage would last, but considering statistics we all know that not all marriages do. So, for me to get married to her I would like to have a prenuptial agreement. I have not told her this yet and I do not know how she will react. I would like to know what your opinion is on this and what you think is the general opinion in Thailand regarding prenuptial agreements.

Miss Udon says: A prenuptial agreement in my opinion is fine but other Thai girls would feel sad that you don't trust her. I understand that western guys always think that we Thai girls want only money to be with them. And you don't want your girl to think like that. If she loves you she has to forget about what you have got and be with you because she wants you and not your things. You have no idea how hard we try to be with Western men like you even we have so many different things but we still try. You may think that it is because we want your money and that's why we keep trying. I had better tell you to rethink. If you always think about material things you will only ever have material things. In your case if you want to make an agreement then make it. She will understand and let you do it. But she will feel sad and always sad. She may not want your money but she wants your trust. I would like to warn you that what you are going to do, you can do, but you have to accept what's going to happen next. We Thai girls sometimes ask boyfriends to buy things for us. But what we want it isn't a thing but it is the feelings that you care about us that we want. You know your girl better than me. What I can give is my opinion. Good luck.


Question 2: Referring to question #3 in last Sunday’s column, I asked her and her sister if their mom knows about the HIV and they said yes. Although before this my girlfriend said she did not because she didn’t want her parents to know yet. So I really don’t know if she knows or not. I’ve thought about it and am willing to pay 100,000 baht, at time of marriage, for my girlfriend sake. It will make her happy that even though she has HIV, she is able to do something for her family. But I do expect them to agree with us being engaged and for her to more in with me now, with no money involved. I would like to talk to her mother about this and that I will pay 100,000 for sin sod. Miss Udon, how can I talk to her mother? I can’t speak Thai and I can’t think of anyone I know to help. Should the person be closer to her parent’s age? It does no good to have my girlfriend tell her mother what I’m saying because she just starts crying. Some things I want her to tell her mother she doesn’t. Do you have any ideas?

Miss Udon says: Regarding the mother, I don't think she knows that her daughter has HIV. In Thailand we are not supposed to upset parents in any cases. I don't think she can tell her mother about that. Anyway I am glad that you still want to make things right. For the sin sod please talk to the mother direct because I don't think the idea of asking a lot of money for the marriage is exactly from her. So better talk to her in front of your girlfriend. True that you can not speak Thai but you can write the numbers, let your girlfriend be your translator for the other part of conversations. I am not sure about the sister so I won't give you suggestions to talk to her. If you still wonder I think better you talk to your girlfriend about this plan if she is ok then it's good to try. Good luck!

We seem to be getting holiday weekend after holiday weekend after holiday weekend. This weekend is a holiday weekend, as is next weekend, and we had a holiday weekend just a couple of weeks ago. There are probably no more public holidays in Thailand than in other countries but it really does seem sabai sabai at the moment with all of these breaks.



Yours,

Stick Mark II