Stickman's Weekly Column September 9th, 2007

The More You Know It, The More Third World It Seems


After the chaos of Siam Square, Bangkok’s version of central station where thousands push, hustle and jostle for a prized seat, the skytrain effortlessly glided out of the station. 15 seconds later, the madness of Siam Square had been forgotten as the natives riding on Bangkok's most popular form of public transport went into robot mode, deathly quiet, too scared to say or do anything.

Sitting next to me was a young English couple. Their appearance could best perhaps be described as somewhat sloppy, the beachwear defying their upper class English upbringing, so obvious from their Oxbridge accents.

It must have been their first time in Bangkok, and they were lapping it up, the city providing no end of sights, fascination and stimulation.

She might have had that upper class, well to do accent, but I got the feeling she might have missed a few years’ schooling somewhere. Either that or they had just stepped off a plane and was still jet-lagged. “Oh look at all the high-rises”, she said. “There must be more high-rises and skyscrapers here than London! Oh, look, that one has got a gap in it near the top. Isn't it amazing?”

As the skytrain hugged the rails and slowly turned right, heading down Rajadamri Road, she was like a country girl who had just arrived in the big smoke for the very first time, gazing at all of the high rises that line Rajadamri Road. Down past the main branch of AUA and looking out over Lumpini Park, she stared at all of the tall buildings that call Bangkok home. "Oh, what a beautiful park", she exclaimed, though thankfully this time she did not try and compare Lumpini with London's Hyde Park.

Looking at the very same view I gazed out and wondered how many transvestites were attempting to accost innocent world travellers in the lungs of Bangkok, Lumpini Park. Pleasant at the weekend when full of Thais, Lumpini becomes a different world during the week. While never dangerous, foreigners are often approached by tall, local women with a deep voice and an Adam’s apple claiming to be seeking English conversation practice. If conversation practice is offered, it won't be long before they ask for a tour of their victim's hotel room. I thought of the monitor lizards, the snakes and the turtles, and as I looked out over Lumpini, far across to its eastern border, I thought of Klong Toey. Klong Toey Slum that is, the biggest slum in all of Bangkok, and home to more junkies and drug dealers per square foot than anywhere else in the Kingdom.

I noticed that the direction of his gaze had changed. The conversation had died for a moment, as he and his girlfriend were wooed by Bangkok’s 21st century appearance. But it wasn’t the cityscape of the Thai capital he was looking at. No, Sir. They’d clearly only just arrived, but he had already discovered the beauty and femininity of the Thai woman.

Looking off to his left, clearly trying to sneak a look without his girlfriend realising, he couldn’t help but gaze at the angelic creature sitting opposite, just a few metres away. Not wanting to be labeled a pervert, he tried his best not to look her up and down, for which he was completely unsuccessful. Each one of the sitting Thais opposite, all secretly spying on everyone else, had spotted this unkempt foreigner eyeing up the Thai princess.

He looked her up and down, taking in her smooth, tanned legs, her soft lines, her slight frame and the grace with which she sat. She’s only sitting, for God’s sake, I could hear him quietly thinking to himself, yet she does it with a grace that a Western woman couldn’t possibly manage. Trimmed, painted nails, every hair in place and carefully applied make up all made quite an effect on him. He won't forget her for some time… He snapped out of it, but not before he had been well and truly sprung by his travelling companion. He had almost forgotten that he was travelling with his girlfriend.

She clearly has no dress sense at all and the outfit she was wearing, a light pastel coloured suit, almost certainly was bought at Pratunam Market. If she shops there, she has a modest income and is probably employed in a low-end office position. Looking at her face and her features, it was clear she was of Isaan descent. That unmistakable Isaan jaw line, and the short, bridgeless nose real giveaways. Her slim physique would attract any foreign man, but should not be mistaken for her being in shape. She wouldn't be able to run 100 metres in less than 30 seconds, that is if she could even manage to run that far at all. Finishing school in Isaan, she may have attended university in the region, or perhaps come to Bangkok and been a scholar of Ramkhamhaeng, that institute of higher learning laughed at by Bangkokians, the place where teachers threaten their students they will end up at if they don't study harder. What bothered me most was not noticed by the Brit. It was that comic book on her lap, the literature equivalent of junk food.

The train stopped at Sala Daeng, perhaps the third busiest station after Siam and Phrom Pong, and the crowds once again jostled to be the first on board, ever hopeful, yet totally dreaming at this time of day, of grabbing an empty seat. Amongst the passengers, a uniformed policeman got on board. He perched by the door, scanning the passengers, looking people up and down. He paid particular attention to me and the two Brits. We were, after all, the odd ones out.

This was not lost on Khun Male Brit, and I overhead him whisper to his girlfriend that the train was patrolled by policemen as a deterrent against terrorism. “Look, he even has a gun visible, for all to see!” The whisper had now become excited chatter and other passengers had tuned in, perhaps the word gun had caught their attention?

“Proactive policing”, the Brit knowingly informed his girlfriend. “If we had had armed policeman on the tube it never would have happened”, he said, referring to the train and bus bombings that brought chaos and bloodshed to one of the world’s great cities back in July, 2005.

I sat there, avoiding eye contact with the policeman, knowing that the very reason he had looked at me, resplendent in my best work threads, and the two Brits, was that he was in all likelihood eyeing us up to see if we presented any value to him. I pondered that I had little to do with the Thai police, but on the rare occasion that I had, cash had played a part in what could only be termed a transaction, not an interaction – and never once had I received a receipt. When it comes to seeking out assistance in an "issue", I thought of how I would exhaust all other options first, and then, only then, would I go to the police. Personal experience as well as the countless experiences of others have taught me that the police are there to enforce the laws selectively, quite possibly in the manner that best suits them!

First time visitors to Bangkok, or even frequent visitors, could be forgiven for thinking that the city is one of the modern marvels of Asia, moving ahead at a furious pace, not just catching up with the developed West, but passing it.

The more I get to know Bangkok, and the more I understand how society works, the more third world I think the place is. When I first arrived I was lured in by the central city's modern appearance. This place is as developed as home I thought to myself.

But beneath the veneer of the high rises, the glitzy shopping malls and the flash restaurants lays a society that runs on a system not that different to Medieval Europe.

Don’t get me wrong. Bangkok remains a great city, a place where one can have a marvellous lifestyle, enjoy great food in a pleasant climate and be surrounding by smiling, seemingly happy locals. But to say that society is as developed as the West is clearly a misnomer. The more I understand Thailand and the longer I live here, the more third world it seems.


Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the songtaew trucks down in the little lane beside Saphan Taksin BTS station. I thought it was difficult but a number of people got it right. This week's picture is difficult for sure. it is in Bangkok – not outside! 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 – Sir, you have broken your neck!

Concerning last week's email from someone with a perforated eardrum and his visit to Bangkok Hospital and their misdiagnosis, I know of someone who needed to get out of a difficult business position without losing face, so he faked an accident, saying his neck had been hurt. He was taken to a private hospital in northern Bangkok by friends. The hospital not only said he needed to stay in for observation, finding a non-existent neck injury, but even produced x-rays to support it. Remember, he had nothing wrong at all! Do hospitals keep X-rays and other 'evidence' ready to support their demand for ongoing treatment and the fee that attracts? A scary thought. Yet another Thai scam, it seems.

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!

This is one of those things that has to be seen or experienced to believe but I assure you, one of the latest crazes that’s really caught on with Pattaya drivers is to crawl at a snail’s pace through green traffic lights to ensure as few drivers as possible behind are able to get through the lights before they change back to red. This ‘advanced driving style’ is similar to other maneuvers regularly seen on the roads here such as waiting till approaching traffic is dangerously close then lose engine power when conducting U-turns, likewise when entering busy traffic lanes, or slowing to an almost full stop on busy roads before turning left, ensuring a protruding rear end to maximise disruption to traffic behind. Point is, there’s really nothing you can do about any of this…except of course to do likewise. See why it caught on so fast? But if you want to contemplate something really scary, just try and put yourself inside the mind of the kind of people that feel they can / should / ought to behave like this – and if you ever work out what’s driving them, please let me know!

The hypocrisy of cracking down on fake documents.

Your warning about using fake licenses is good advice, but if the police don't like them being used then why do they allow them to be sold? Every time I walk down Khao Sarn Road (on my way to Oh My Cod!) I see several people offering fake licenses, certificates, ID cards etc, even with police standing right next to them!

The MRT security staff is on the ball!

It shouldn’t take too much thought to figure out what the guards are looking for at the entrance to the MRT and the BTS. If the guards are properly trained they will be profiling each and every passenger that enters the transit system looking for certain “tells” or behaviour often seen by criminal suspects. When they look you in the eye and smile they are looking for your response. By letting one begin to open a bag they are looking at your body language and demeanor and have no intention of searching your property unless they detect something is amiss. Don’t sell these security guards short. From the description of their performance by the writer last week they are doing EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing.


The best Thai dating experience

Living on 20K baht a month.

I have been rather astonished by the huge sums of money on which some farangs are now claiming they can no longer live. I have to conclude they either have rather extravagant lifestyles or they have large families to support. I can sympathise with the correspondent whose income has dropped by 36,000 baht / month but, just as a comparison, I actually live in Thailand for about half that amount! Obviously one man’s feat is another man’s downfall. I rent a one-room apartment (outside Bangkok) for 7,500 including water, electricity and cleaning. This is in a newish building, with proper security and reception facilities, and not a backpackers’ dive. In this town it is actually possible to rent a brand new two-bedroom townhouse for around 5,000, and walled villas go from about 15,000 upwards. I never eat in farang / tourist oriented restaurants – I don’t need to be reminded what I am ‘missing’ because I am happy with Thai food. I have one particular favourite restaurant where the owner is happy to adjust things a little to my tastes and I eat there, almost as one of the family, most evenings, at an average cost of about 100 baht / meal. Once or twice a week I cook at home, and I usually have lunch and breakfast at home. As for the bars, well, I have to admit I don’t drink, and I have considerable difficulty downing more than one or two sodas per evening so my bar bill is hardly ever more than 100 baht / evening. At my age I find I have less and less need to take any of my friendships with the ladies further than the bar so I average 3 – 4 nocturnal visits / month – and that’s only when I try hard! The first two years I spent in this town I averaged 17,000 baht / month – in total. The past year I have been a little more generous, to myself as well as my friends, and am now spending nearer 22,000 / month. These figures only include my living expenses. In the past year I have bought a new car, a new computer, and a new camera, and I have had flights out of Thailand once (occasionally twice) a year – these are extras because they are not part of my essential living costs in this country.

Everybody's Talkin'

We all know that the major reason that we are all here is because of the girls, but what about the second most important reason? I would wager on the weather, with food following close behind. The image of Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and Enrico "Ratso" Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) getting on a bus and heading south in Midnight Cowboy had a profound effect on me in 1969, but it was the song "Everybody's Talkin" that gnawed and haunted me for the next 25 years before I finally put the lyrics into practice :

I'm going where the sun keeps shining
Thru' the pouring rain
Going where the weather suits my clothes
Banking off of the North East wind
Sailing on a summer breeze
And skipping over the ocean like a stone

So for those that are just thinking about getting out your winter wardrobe there is an alternative, just follow the birds. I absolutely hate the cold, detest dampness, and just loathe those overcast depressing days that seem to go on forever, and cast a spell over everything. In a word, the difference of climate that Thailand offers is freedom over incarceration, great to be alive or just killing time. Wind chill factors are replaced by wind hug factors. Have you ever walked along a beach at night and been hugged by the wind, an unforgettable experience. The price you pay for enduring a northern hemisphere winter cannot be solely counted in financial terms, the quality of one's life is greatly diminished.

Apart from a few of the most popular bars, Nana Plaza is struggling to attract customers. During the week it is generally quiet and even on Friday night, it is really only the big name bars that are doing any real business. And it is not a case of the city being quiet because down the road Cowboy is pumping. In Our Place, Raw Hide and Long Gun it can be a task to find an empty seat and while I am not a big fan of the place, I bet seating is hard to come by in Baccarra too. It's a case of swings and roundabouts in the bar areas but at this point in time, I would suggest that many Cowboy bar owners are content.

And one of the most popular bars in Cowboy at this point in time is Our Place. It was not that long ago it was a place to be avoided but it's pumping now! The new owner brought a new design, new girls, new shows and although one or two look as though they have been copied directly from Angelwitch, it all comes together well. The atmosphere is fun, and Our Place reminds me very much of the bars in, you guessed it, the good old days.

Shark A Gogo in Cowboy will celebrate their birthday party in style this coming Tuesday 11th September. There'll be a free buffet, a lottery and a dance contest.

Still in Cowboy, Cowboy 1 Bar has been gutted and work is proceeding at a furious place. It is mooted that Cowboy 1 will be a carbon copy of Cowboy 2 – I don't know if that's a good thing or not.

I'm not sure if it's new or not, but I don't remember seeing it before, so I guess it is new. Big Dogs has installed, and is running, one of those awful mist making machines, you know, where ceiling mounted nozzles spray a light mist over the bar area and the punters to keep them cool. Most people I know hate that and move out of the spray – which would be a bit hard in a smallish bar like Big Dogs!

A dreadful fracas broke out at G Spot this week. It's not clear exactly what happened, but a farang leaving the popular middle floor bar was allegedly bottled by one of the male G Spot staff. There was blood all over the show and hysterical shrieking from the ladyboys in nearby Casanova drew much of the Plaza's attention to the incident. Full marks go to staff from the adjascent bar, Rainbow 4, who took the fellow in and cleaned him up while he waited for the cops. As I say, there is much conjecture surrounding the incident and it is unclear what caused it.

Nana Plaza bars are closing at 2 AM every night. One Nana manager mentioned to me that he felt the coppers were allowing the bars to remain open until that time as none were pushing it and trying to remain open later. His thoughts were that as long as the bars self-policed and really did close up shop at 2:00 AM then the coppers would not crack down on them and force 1 AM closures, as they have the power to do.

I'm convinced that DC 10 in Nana plays the best music in town (so there's a reason to go to Nana!). Yep, even better than Safari in Patpong – and for sure, the lasses are prettier than in Safari too. Oh, and they have 80 baht drinks at happy hour as well.

Angelwitch has changed their play list and the music is more dance and mainstream and less rock. Frankly, I think that's a good thing.

I had to laugh on Friday when I was making my way over to Nana to see Dave The Rave. On the back of a motorcycle my rider cut through the tobacco factory where I counted four people out for an evening run. All were farang. Thais really don't like exercise, do they?!

Yes, Dave The Rave is back in town but his website won't be updated for a while yet. Dave returned to the UK to attend his father's funeral. Our deepest sympathies go out to Dave. He mentioned to me that he will try and get an update out this coming Wednesday – but is trying to get into the right headspace first.

Do you remember Mr. Ben, you know, the lawyer / detective / translator / jack of all trades who had a small, pokey looking office under the expressway that separates Sukhumvit Road from Ploenchit? I thought the demise of Soi Zero and all of the bars there as well as the disappearance of his office may have signaled curtains for Mr. Ben. Well, it seems he may still be in business. Wandering down Silom Road, just down from the Indian temple at Soi 15, I noticed those familiar looking signs. And when I looked more closely, I saw a sign saying Mr. Ben! The office looks like the same shambles it did in its previous location – but appearances can be deceiving and it has to be said that everyone I know who has used him has been very pleased with the service! So if you want to use Mr. Ben's services, head on over to Silom Soi 15! His premises are pictured here.

Adding to the Soi 22 chronicles, the latest report of the cops pulling over farang concerns a white guy and his Indonesian girlfriend. The couple was in a taxi on Soi 22 where they were stopped by the police – and held for more than 30 minutes! Are they targeting white guys with Asian women in taxis? This is getting more and more peculiar! I have got a good mind to grab the nearest Thai girl, jump in a cab and drive up and down soi 22 and see what happens. Could make for a fun column!

Bully's will be celebrating its 3rd birthday on Tuesday, September 18th. Bully has been missing the beach sunsets and coconut trees and decided to throw one up for his birthday, The Island Beach Party. There will be a best dressed prize for men and woman at midnight – all contestants are requested to wear their best beachwear. The night will inaugurate their first karaoke night where you can sing and show off your singing voice. Hmmm, that sounds like they’re trying to pitch the event to the Thais who often feel that a night out is incomplete without making fools of themselves with a microphone. There will be drink specials from 4 – 7 PM with 120 baht premium pints and 80 baht local pints as well as 70 baht local bottles. The Bully's hosted dinner starts at 8:00 PM and includes roast pig and tender lamb carvings, baked herb red snapper, and cast iron potted stew. Key lime pie and grilled pineapples will be on hand to finish off the night. And to cap it all off, Bully's nurse will be at the entrance for a quick examination and to give you your upside down cocoa shooter.

I managed to make it to Molly Malone's, Bangkok's newest Irish pub, in Soi Convent. It is of course a restyled version of the Irish Xchange. The ground floor feels more open and is brighter. There seem to be more TV screens and they are better located to watch sports. There's a new food menu and you know what that means – new prices! But Mark has bucked the trend of a new menu meaning higher prices and many items are priced a little less than they were under the pub's previous guise. They now also have a 99 baht fry up breakfast! And I am VERY pleased to see that they are still doing their excellent Sunday roast buffet at 349 baht. That's the best roast dinner deal in town! And if like me you don't actually care for Guinness, you'll be pleased to know that they stock Beer Lao!

I have been hearing random comments about long waits at the main Immigration office at Suan Plu, be it for those extending their visa, those applying for a re-entry stamp or even those popping in for their 90 day reporting. It’s a real hive of activity these days so there are probably a few factors contributing to the madness. One of the problems is the visa brokers (?) sneaking in at the side of the desks where they unload several passports at a time, essentially cutting in line. It is so bad that even the usually outwardly-calm Thais waiting are getting more than agitated and even complaining! As has been reported in this column, Immigration has been asking people to include a map of how to get from the Immigration Office to people’s residence and for some visas you are required to do this. If you neglected to take a map to Immigration there are maps supplied so assuming you actually know the way from your place of residence to Immigration, you could draw one on the spot. If you are applying for a marriage visa, you are expected to provide several photographs of your house including the front, back, sides as well as photographs showing the mailbox and also photos of you and your Thai wife posing outside and inside in some of the rooms! Why on earth would they ask for such? The good news is that starting from NEXT year you will NOT have to get the certificate from a doctor or clinic that you have had a physical check up – although this is not always asked for these days anyway! If the madness of Suan Plu doesn't appeal to you then there are of course a bunch of other Immigration offices in Bangkok, any of which you can go to. Suan Plu may be the main branch, and may be the one you’re used to and the easiest to find, but boy oh boy, it’s super busy these days! And don't think that getting there early will avoid the crowds – it seems worst early morning! If anything, around 3:00 – 3:30 PM may be the best time.

The Commander of the Pattaya Immigration Office has said that the requirement to obtain a stamp from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Bangkok as verification of the authenticity of the embassy letter certifying pension income has been cancelled. This requirement was initially supposed to go into effect on October 1.

Did you know that Siam Paragon now has four branches of Starbucks? And don’t think they’ll stop there! At certain times of the day all four have a queue!

The jury's out on where you can find the finest hamburger in Thailand, but for sure, one of the top burgers could be had at BBQ Bob's outlets in Pattaya, of which there were three that I know of. Anyway, something odd is going on for all three appear to have closed down. Whether this is a temporary hiccup or what, I do not know, but if they have gone it would be a great shame, because his burgers, while not cheap by local standards, were amongst the best you could get in Thailand.

I'm hearing good things about the burger offered at The Tavern in Sukhumvit Soi 4. A sizeable burger is said to go for a mere 110 baht. The Tavern is located about 100 metres further down soi 4 from Nana Plaza.

Have you noticed that the quality of the local beef is getting better, either that or more and more venues are offering decent local beef. There are now a number of places where for around the 400 baht mark – sometimes less – you can get a perfectly reasonable steak dinner. OK, it might not be as good as the imported stuff, but it's still pretty good. Both Thai French and Thai Premium, two local meat producers, offer decent cuts of beef. It should be noted that while prices are reasonable for the time being, they're creeping up.

Here's one of those humorous spot the ladyboy videos. Find out if it's possible for you to ride on the wrong side of the bus!

A Thai man died in a Thai hospital in which he was waiting to receive treatment for cancer. He was bitten by a snake inside the hospital! More here!

For the Thai readers, here is ANOTHER case of a local man getting his tool severed. Actually, in this case the tool was not totally severed. The wench slashed his face for good measure too. And there was a case yesterday where a woman cut off her husband's penis and threw it into the Saen Saeb Canal! Two or three days ago there was yet another case of a woman who came home to her husband, to find another woman in bed with him! The woman fled but the husband remained asleep. The wife took out a huge knife and sliced it off! These aren't isolated cases, gentlemen!

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 and Stick may very well disagree with what is said! Like I say, it is a Thai woman's perspective and her answers are edited for grammar, but not for meaning.

Question 1: What happens to old katoeys when they get older / retire to their village? Are they scorned or made fun of or are they helped out like any older person by family and neighbours? I am curious because I have a jaw-dropping beautiful katoey girlfriend who has had all the operations (breasts, Adam's apple, and the big one) and am worried what will happen to her in 20 – 30 years or so?

Miss Udon says: They live like others. People in the village will still think that he is a member of the village and it does not matter whether he is a real man or a post-op katoey.


Question 2: Under what circumstances would a Thai woman cut off a man's penis? I think this is every farang man's worst nightmare.

Miss Udon says: Because men are naughty and always use their penis to think instead of their brain. Actually, I think it is good because this idea will make men too scared to cheat because they will be scared about what might happen if they do! If a guy cheats then I think it is fair. I wonder if this has ever happened to a farang man with a Thai woman? Will you be the first? When a Thai woman truly loves a man, she loves him very deeply. When he betrays her like this he hurts her very much and the hurt is extremely bad. She then feels that he must feel the same hurt as she and so she may do this. When a Thai woman loves you, she really loves you. But don't make a Thai woman hate you. When a Thai woman hates you, she really hates you and there is no limit to what she may do. The downside of a few hour's fun is that you might never be able to have that same type of fun again.

Question 3: Is this really happening or a devious scheme? I have been with this Thai woman for almost 7 years – she is 33 and beautiful. Meet her on Soi 7 and I really love her! She has professed her true love for me time and time again. When the money I earned here was great, things were good. The last six months money problems but I seem to make everything work at the end of the day. It seems we always had issues (verbal fights) – she has a quick temper! She has always gone out with her girlfriends and I never said much – but within the last year she has been staying out all night – coming home drunk – playing cards – skipping off to Pattaya. The last 10 – 15 times she has come home like this I just locked the door and would not let her in. So the last time she came home after an all night session she asked if I wanted her to go and I said yes for the time being. So then she calls me and says she is working in a bar, has customers, etc. I do not love you anymore, need money for my daughter which the daughter's husband does not let her see her unless she brings money. She also said if I bring home more baht she will come back to me. Is all of this true? She says with such conviction!

Miss Udon says: In my opinion you should ignore her and not believe anything she says. When you have problems she should be the one who is always beside you to help you solve the problems instead of bringing you more problems! What she did shows me quite clearly what the reason is for being with you. It's her duty to make money and go see her daughter if she really wants to meet her, not yours. I guess she just wants money and doesn't think about any others apart from herself. This is not going to happen for a girl who is really in love and wants to be together with her boyfriend. Money is her target, not love. That's why she has acted this way.

Penning this column is like negotiating a minefield. The world has gone a bit crazy in my opinion and people seem to be so picky and sensitive to what is written, even if it has nothing to do with them whatsoever. Let's take the example of an HIV+ Thai woman. Let's say I am reliably informed that a woman working in a bar is HIV+, fully aware of her condition. If I wrote about this in the column I would be criticised. If I mentioned I knew of a woman who was HIV+ and told guys to be careful, I would be heavily criticised for not naming her. And if I did nothing (which is what I would actually do) I would be heavily criticised by those who I told privately. It truly is like negotiating a minefield.



Yours,

Stick Mark II