Stickman's Weekly Column September 30th, 2007

Three Of The Best, From The Cutting Room Floor


"I've Got No Money"

In the late ‘90s the highlight of my week was going to Woodstock in Nana on Friday night. Readers from the old Nana Plaza message board would meet and chat about life before moving on to the nearby bars.

The Nana Plaza message board was one of the first major boards with discussions about Thailand’s naughty nightlife industry – and for the most part it was tasteful. But its name was a little misleading and it was not all about nightlife. Far from it in fact. There was no shortage of banter about the more common and mundane parts of life in the Kingdom. Through that forum many friendships were made.

As a group would take over the small mezzanine floor in Woodstock and on any given Friday night there could be 30 or more of us, a rough 50:50 split of locals and guys passing through. There was a real camaraderie amongst the forum members and as I say, friendships were formed.

Of course with so many people passing through you’re going to meet a few people who you might not always see eye to eye with.

I remember one such guy, an American in his mid 40s with a distinctive look. He was slim, had an old-fashioned haircut and he always wore the same red and black checked shirt. He loved Thailand. He was here for the nightlife. In fact as I recall that was his only reason for being here.

His finances were getting low but he had no desire to return to the States. That was the last thing he wanted. It'd be fear to say that he dreaded the thought of returning to the US.

One night he and I were chatting and he asked me for some advice. I’d been getting a bit annoyed by him and some of my answers were a bit short. I seem to be a bit of an idiot magnet at times but I'm not the most patient of people – and my tolerance of fools isn't great. He explained that his finances had almost run out and that he had no ticket back to the States – and no intention of returning. His question was simple. What should he do?

I pointed out that he needed to get a job, but he responded that that was not an option. I told him there was always a demand for native-speaking English teachers, and that there was no shortage of work available and he could almost certainly get a teaching position the next day. He wasn’t interested and I realised he was a lost cause.

As he pressed me more for ideas, I got more and more pissed off with him. The solution was simple but he refused it.

I made a throw away comment that if he was desperate for money, he could sell his passport. He inquired as to where he could do that. I saw desperation in his eyes.

There were always a lot of dodgy geezers hanging around the Soi 3 area and I said that if he was to walk up Sukhumvit Soi 3 I was sure he could find someone who would take it off his hands. I clearly remember him saying “Good idea!”

A week later and the group was back in Woodstock, and once again, as bad luck would have it, the said American was sitting opposite me. “Remember the advice you gave me last week”, he asked me.

I couldn’t for the life of me remember what he was talking about. Conversation with him was forgettable.

“I sold it”, he said.

My memory was jolted to the conversation of the previous week.

“I did just as you said and walked up Sukhumvit Soi 3. This guy gave me 15,000 baht for it. I’ve almost spent it all already. I'm not sure what to do next!”

Where's My Car?

December 2006. My car was full of friends. We were on our way to Pattaya to spend a few nights in Sin City before New Year.

It had been something of a last minute decision and I had not managed to get a room in the hotel I usually stay at. One of my friends had managed to get a room there but the rest of us were booked into a property we had never stayed at before, a smaller hotel a few sois down the road.

My usual hotel of choice has a large car park out the front, a real convenience if you drive to Pattaya. The hotel where we had managed to secure rooms was a small establishment and didn't have any car parking.

We dropped off friend #1 at the hotel where we usually stay. He went inside to check in. With nowhere to leave the car at the other hotel, and nervous at the prospect of leaving the car out on the road with all of the Christmas and New Years revellers wandering around late at night pissed out of their brains, I thought I would be sneaky and simply park up in the car park of the first hotel. The car park was large and I had never seen it full on many previous visits. I figured it was not like I was stealing someone else’s parking spot and besides, I figured I had stayed there so many times that the hotel had already done well out of me. Parking there for a few nights would not harm anyone.

So we left the car parked at the first hotel and I set the car alarm. The three of us made the short walk down to the hotel where we had a booking.

We weren’t to see friend #1 again. He did his own thing.

Pattaya over Xmas and New Year is a lot of fun, especially if you are with a bunch of like-minded friends. We only had a few days and we made the most of it, cruising around the bars, drinking a bit much and reliving our lost youth.

We had planned to return to Bangkok on New Year’s Eve and after a bit of a sleep in after a big night out we made our way back to the hotel where the car was parked to head back to Bangers.

Reaching the entrance to the hotel, I looked at the car park and my heart missed a beat before starting to positively race. The entire right-hand side of the car park, where my car had been parked, was covered in chairs and tables. Members of the hotel staff were setting up the car park for the hotel's gala New Year’s Eve dinner that night.

The space where my car had been parked was empty! Where was my car?!

A wave of mixed emotions came over me. Embarrassment, fear, trepidation. What was I going to do? What was I going to say? Should I approach the hotel desk, tell them that I had made use of their car park – illegally – and that my car had now gone. Knowing the way Thais think, I could see them thinking som num na (you deserve it, punk!).

The vehicle had a decent alarm and immobiliser so I was less concerned about it being stolen, and more concerned about where it had been taken. I imagined that the police had been called and it had probably been towed to the local police impound yard, where it would be logged in as an illegally parked vehicle. I wondered how much it would cost to get it back. The cops would see my white face and I’d see $$ signs in their eyes.

Or maybe a member of the hotel’s staff had had it towed back to his place of abode where he had had professionals come and remove the alarm, had it spray-painted a new colour, changed the registration plates and now it was a new car. His new car!

My mind was starting to race. This was going to be a disaster.

With my mates now in fits of laughter, I slowly made my way towards the hotel entrance, the hotel manager my first port of call.

But before I had even reached the lobby, I struck gold. Out of the corner of my left eye the shining gleam of a car caught my eye. It was my car! I rushed over and there it was, sitting on the other side of the car park. I deactivated the alarm and it beeped twice, indicating that the alarm had not gone off it since it was last set. How could that be? I opened the door, got in the car and checked everything. It was just as I had left it.

I walked around the car, examining every last little inch. There was no damage whatsoever. I checked the tyres to see if it had somehow been dragged the hundred or so metres from one side of the car park to the other. There was nothing, no evidence that it had been moved, no evidence that it had been tampered with.

It was baffling. How had it got from one side of the car park to the other, without the alarm going off? I wasn’t going to complain, and I wasn’t hanging around for hotel security to approach me. I ordered my pals into the car and we sped out of the car park before security could accost us.

I have since been back to the hotel a number of times and never has a word been said!

Service With A Smile

It was late 1999 and three young guys left Bangkok for a trip up into the Isaan region where they planned to check out a few of the main centres on the way to Laos.

The first leg of their journey was the shot hop from Bangkok to Korat. Their first time in the gateway to Isaan, they didn’t have a clue what to do, or where to go, and after finding themselves digs in a basic Chinese-style hotel close to the park in the centre of the city (which they were later to find out was more a short-time hotel than a place to overnight), they set about exploring the city.

Korat is hardly the most exciting of Thailand’s cities, and 8 years ago it was even less exciting than it is today. The Mall had yet to open, and apart from the large central market, and a scattering of temples, the city itself had little to hold tourists' interest.

As the sun went down, the three gents followed the neon lights and found themselves in Klang Plaza, the modest, but largest of the city’s few shopping malls.

They drifted through the shopping mall, a little lost, a little bored, largely killing time before the city’s bars opened.

Wandering though the menswear department, they found the usual set of pretty young things trying to close the deal on anything customers looked at – as well as those things they didn’t look at. And with the three guys still in their 20s, and with their looks still firmly intact, they couldn’t help but notice that the sales staff were interested in them.

But this was conservative, rural Thailand and no way was any sales girl going to slip her mobile number to one of the studly farangs with all of her friends watching.

One of the two Kiwis in the group couldn’t help but laugh at the way the staff methodically ironed every single item of clothing in their assigned area. It didn’t matter whether it was a pair of trousers, shorts, or even underwear, they would spend their time waiting for customers by ironing each and every item!

Well this fellow wanted to look as good as he could for the night out, and he beckoned to one of the ladies that she might like to iron the shirt he was wearing. Yep, the very shirt on his back. She smiled and nodded.

Unsure if it was a joke or not, the tall Kiwi removed the shirt and stood there in the finest department store in all of Korat as the lovely little lady set about slowly but surely removing every last crease from his well-worn short.

We stood there in disbelief, one of our number now standing shirtless in the middle of the store. Not only was no-one bothered, not one person so much as blinked! We could have been mistaken for thinking that this was for from an unusual event.

Several minutes later the shirt was handed back to him and upon thanking her, the lovely little lady gave my pal the most graceful wai you'll ever see!

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken on the Second Road in Pattaya, looking across at the large Chinese Shark Fin restaurant, just around the corner from Royal Garden Shopping Centre. The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod and the second wins a free jug of margarita valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a well-established, popular restaurant, offering authentic Tex-Mex Cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11 and is a firm favourite with many expats and their families. They're offering a jug, that's six big glasses, so it definitely needs sharing!

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 – The TAT are neglecting our grannies!

A few years ago my 60 year-old mother arrived at Don Muang and I went to pick her up. In the taxi back to the hotel I detailed the excursions I'd planned. Obviously we were going to the Grand Palace, Floating Market etc. After listening for a few minutes she interrupted and said, "That all sounds lovely. But what I REALLY want to see is a pussy ping pong show…" Maybe TAT should be putting that stuff in their brochures?

Money hunger in the provinces.

My wife recently visited a temple near Surin last week to pray / meditate for several hours. During the 4 hours she spent in the temple, she told me that while she was there she met about 6 different girls who were on the game. They freely shared their stories with each other and even with some of the monks over the course of several hours. It seemed that three of the girls were currently employed at various bars in and about Bangkok. The other three had worked in Bangkok but were now set up in various businesses in Surin and Buriram. They reveled in comparing their multiple boyfriends, each trying to top the others' achievements. The three who were still working had gone to the wat to try to get additional blessings by the monk in order to increase their income! They weren't looking for short-time / long-time income, but rather looking on how to get more farangs to send them money from abroad after the farangs left Bangkok. The girls resident up-country each bragged that they had at least 2 – 3 farangs who each sent them 20,000 – 30,000 baht a month routinely. Both girls had hairdresser shops that were sponsored by various sponsors. The prize went to one girl who bragged that she had four men who each sent her about 30,000 baht a month. One of the men set her up in an internet cafe business to the tune of a 300,000 baht up front investment and additionally kicked in 30k+ baht a month to keep her happy. Her other sponsors also provided money to start up the business, all thinking they were the sole investor. Yet another sponsor bought her a small sedan. Even so, this girl was not happy and felt that she deserved even more, and was using her business to meet additional men online. The other girls there were green with envy. We routinely drive by her internet shop in the local town. From the looks of it, if the business is doing more than 500 baht (internet charges here average about 10 baht an hour) of business a day I would be amazed. Coupled with rents of 3,000 baht and electricity, another 1 – 2,000 baht a month, she is making next to nothing and very bored having to be there 10 – 12 hours a day six or seven days a week. None of the girls my wife spoke with were interested in getting married or having a serious relationship with ANY of the men who were providing them support. All the girls made comments to the effect that they were 'milking the farangs like cows'. Guys please pay attention. Things like this hurt us decent guys upcountry and we get lumped in with the above suckers just by being a farang.

Thailand shows Canada how it’s done.

Last week's column had a report of precision electronics beating the West. Well here is another one. Passports! Ever tried getting your Canadian passport renewed? What an ordeal, and what is this 'Declaration by Guarantor' nonsense! And what is it about the funny photos with the signature strip? Who does that? What about the famous UK passport agency taking 45 days or passport renewal one year due to an "unexpected" surge in applications in the summer time! (Brits will be repeating the classic excuse 'leaves on the line' or was it the 'wrong sort of leaves'?) Well the Thais have them beat! I went this week to get a first passport for my Thai son. A quick trip out to the Bangna mall, found the passport office, got my number in the queue, and literally 4 minutes later I was sitting at the desk of a passport officer. There were 30 desks altogether, each one staffed. She scanned all the necessary documents, was very patient taking 3 – 4 photos with her digital camera hooked up to a computer, (a 15-month old doesn't sit still for very long) and gave me a receipt. I paid the 1,000 baht at another booth and was told to come back and collect the passport in 3 days! I timed it. 20 minutes from the time I entered the door to the time I left. Take that Canada!

Only in Thailand.

One night about a year ago I stopped at a little bar on Walking Street. I bought drinks for Mai, a cutie I’d known for a few months, and Ning, a new girl. Not new to the trade, Ning was a lively conversationalist. When I told her I lived alone in Bangkok she offered to be my maid, saying that she could do “everything” for me. But her cooking prowess was limited to various Isaan curries, and spaghetti. I shook my head. Then she suggested I buy her a new car and she would learn to drive and could be my driver. Again I shook my head, explaining that I already had a car and driver. Then she asked how many bedrooms in my house. When I said three, Ning began to plot: “You sleep in your bedroom, I will stay in one spare room, and Mai in the other. I will sleep with you on Monday night. Mai will sleep with you on Tuesday night. On Wednesday night you sleep alone and rest up. And then on Thursday night we all sleep together.” Beautiful! And Mai was laughing and beaming her approval. But at my rather advanced age I couldn’t help thinking, “and the Memorial Service will be held on Saturday.” Reluctantly I shook my head. Abandoning her elaborate schemes, Ning then asked me just to take her short-time.

A bargain Pattaya day trip suggestion.

One of the most popular things (but never promoted on the net) is to go to Bali Hai pier and get the hourly ferry (only 20 baht) to Koh Larn island. Right off the ferry you and your girlfriend rent a motorbike and go to any one of ten beaches, or go up into the mountains for great views, or go to the place where you can shoot automatic weapons, or …the whole large and varied and mountain rich island is available for zooming around and swimming, etc. It is easy (just walk to the pier), well organised (ferry every hour), cheap to get there (20 baht – how do they make money?), and fun once you get there. The Thais and the Japanese know all about this. I don't see so many farang. A great day date. The first time I just walked up the shore road north (not really recommended for an expat but interesting for a wide-eyed tourist). Total cost for the day – 40 baht.

The slow season this year in Bangkok has, at least as my eyes tell me, been the quietest slow season I have ever seen in Bangkok. It is also the first slow season since the new airport, which is a lot closer to Pattaya than the old airport, opened. Could it be that punters really are going straight to Pattaya and shirking Bangkok? The naughty boys, I mean. It's a theory, but I don't think the slow season in Pattaya has been any busier this year than last.

It started off with loosening of the blouses, then there was the flash of a nipple, the briefest glance that draw an appetite for more, and then two of the girls shed their tops completely and danced with vigour in what must be the only Nana Plaza bar where you can see some flesh. I don't know if it was a one off or it'll be a more regular thing, but in Nana you should make you way to the upstairs dance floor of Mandarin where there are a few sights not seen in a while!

Will there come a time when punters go straight to Pattaya, and on one of the quieter days, perhaps a day when they feel like a "city day out", shoot up to Bangkok for a tour of the essentials – Panthip Plaza and perhaps a couple of the other major shopping centres and one or two of the major tourist spots? So long as you time it right, driving to Bangkok and back from Pattaya, or vice versa, is quite doable in a day. I've managed it many times myself.

I don't care what anyone says, Pattaya is quiet. They are building like gangbusters with new malls and stores and
all that yet there are few people in town. I think to myself, what are these people doing? Now, it's clear that someone in power wants to attract a wealthier crowd than the Cheap Charlie single male tourist who stays in 400 baht hotels and eats 40 baht Thai meals, but personally I highly doubt there's a coherent plan to get those well-healed farangs to Thailand. And the core visitors to Pattaya should not be neglected!

A new pool hall is due to open in the next few weeks down near the Asoke intersection. What makes me chuckle is that the supplier of the pool tables, said to be 12 of the better Brunswick models, are the owners of the Ball In Hand, who themselves have a pool hall in that area. This new pool hall is said to be the bollocks, and if true it will offer real competition to the Ball in Hand who have a branch in that neighbourhood.

It has to be said that Coyotes in Cowboy is a real fun spot. With most Cowboy bars going the way of Nana, read that as them becoming more business-minded, the Coyotes bunch remind me of how Cowboy used to be.

I'm on record as saying that Angelwitch is technically one of the best bars, both branches that is. But one thing I have to say about Angelwitch that is that often there is an absence of smiles. Man, you would not think this is the Land Of Smiles standing in the Bangkok branch! My suggestion to the owner and the manager is to have a few bottles of cheap no brand Tequila handy and allow the girls to drink at will. You will soon have a bunch of happy, smiling girls again!

Business confidence surveys aren’t conducted amongst Western business owners in Thailand as far as I know, but it seems to me that business confidence is down for many of the naughty bar owners. More and more owners seem to be putting their bars up for sale, and the silly prices that had been asked for in years gone by have dropped. In other types of businesses however, confidence seems to be high – and business owners seem to be doing well. Don’t get me wrong, the bar owners are doing well too, some doing very well – but there isn’t the easy money in the industry that there used to be. Building a bar and knowing that customers (and profits) would rush through the door right away is a thing of the past.

There's a cycle lane on the footpath running east on Sukhumvit from Soi 33. These blasted cycle lanes on the footpath are a real pain in such a congested city. They might work in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe but in Bangkok where pedestrians weave backwards and forwards, the cycle lanes are just asking for trouble. And besides, it won't be cyclists who use them, but the crazy men in orange vests!

Signs have been erected in Angelwitch Bangkok again stating that the venue is up for sale. The asking price is no quoted on the sign but the price of 55 million baht is said to be what is being asked for.

Whether this is something new or not, I have no idea, but I haven't noticed it before. I'm talking about the young hoons on motorbikes, whizzing around the streets of Bangkok, shaking their bike left and right. And it has to be said that when we talk of the danger factor in Thailand, it is my opinion that these are the very culprits you want to be most wary of. Late at night, high as a kite on ya ba, you can't talk to them – if they are going to have a go at you, only sticks and stones will stop them – words don't have a chance!

The move to Tequila as the standard lady drink in a number of bars has created various issues. The first is that the whole idea behind lady's drinks originally was that the lady earned some baht from the drink, compensation for the time she sat with customers i.e. it was expected that when a lady drink was purchased the lady would sit and chat with the customer. Tequila goes down the trap in a second so forget about her sitting with you for very long. Second, it is becoming an issue that the ladies drinking Tequila as lady drinks will often ask for another immediately. Third, and this is fast becoming an issue in a number of Bangkok bars, some girls will take an offer of a lady drink to mean that she gets BOTH a Tequila and a soft drink and you get two bills for oh, about 240 baht. Fortunately this nonsense does not seem to be a problem in Pattaya. Yet!

A few changes on visa runs. At Banlaem on the border, the Thailand exit and entry remains the same, but now on the Cambodian side you must let Cambodian Immigration see your face – and that it matches your passport. In the case of Jack Golf Visa Runs, there is no stamping as it has been done this already. The inspection is done as you exit and it takes less than 30 seconds per person. It's painless – dodging the gauntlet of child beggars is much more of a pain.

You or may not know that as a long term resident / employee / retiree / pervert or whatever that you are supposed to report to Immigration every 90 days to advise your current address. Failure to do so may result in a 2000 baht fine. But how many people don’t do it? Chatting with various people, it seems about half do and half don’t. Do you? Those who don't claim never to have had a problem. When you chat with them, it makes you scratch your heard and wonder why you should even bother!

On the food and beverage front, Coke Zero, that is Coke's zero calorie product is now available in plenty of places on tap. McDonald’s has it, as does 7 Eleven. The days of canned only diet soda in Thailand are fast becoming the distant past.

I'm not a big fan of the locally brewed Kloster, but it has to be said that many expats are. According to one bar owner, Tiger beer is no longer available at Changi Airport – and has been replaced with Kloster beer from Thailand! If this is in fact true, it is quite amazing. Tiger's a decent drop! It's all the more amazing given that Singapore and Thailand have not been the best of friends in recent times. Could you imagine this happening at Suwannaphum? Singha out and a foreign beer brought in?

In the past you may have seen guys on contraptions zooming around the lower end of Sukhumvit Soi 4 on roaming space machines. They’re Bangkok’s Segway mounted tours. But you won’t see them down there any more. No, Sir! The tour operator ran into some problems with the tour going through the park at Queen Sirikit Centre. The guards decided to shake him down for 4,000 baht every time he took a group there so he moved and is now doing tours at the Ancient City and in the Khao San Road area.

Have you noticed the appalling English on the website of one of Thailand's major English dailies? What's going on? I can only assume that either the editor is drunk when going about his or her duties, or they don't employ native English speaking editors any more – or both!

I have never understood the policy implemented by a number of Thai employers whereby if an employee takes a day off, they are penalised TWICE their daily salary (or sometimes even more). Is this legal? If it is, under what grounds does the government allow such oppressive conditions of employment?

This link shows clearly that hell really hath no fury like a Thai woman scorned!

More proof that multinationals are increasingly reluctant to enter Thailand due to the draconian revisions to the Foreign Business Act.

And from the BBC, just to prove that it's not only Thai women who practice the cruelest cut of all. (Don't read if you're squeamish!)

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: To a foreigner the boundaries here for services rendered are far more blurred than they are in the West. What seems like a whole hearted acceptance of prostitution by Thai society, Mias ranging in variety from Luang, Noi, Kep, Tad, and Chow really begs the question where do honest relationships end, and where do subliminal contractual services begin. In your opinion where do you draw the line?

Miss Udon says: You will know it from your heart from your feelings. When you are with that person you will feel comfortable doing anything you like and you will both agree and enjoy being with each other. When you are away you'll miss her, when you are sick you'll miss the way she treats you, you'll miss her when you are down and need someone to support you. That person will show you that you are also special by taking care of you as she does herself, or even better than herself. Mia is the person that you know she will be with you anywhere, any time, any situation. Mia noi is maybe just the person who can give you what you want but only when she gets what she wants. A gig is a person who wants to have a short time relationship and doesn't want to get engaged or anything. I don't know what other people would think about these words but that's my idea.

Question 2: In Christopher Moore's blog (www.cgmoore.com/blog) he discusses an article on the cultural constraints of reading, how a person needs to isolate himself (if only temporarily) from the community to concentrate and immerse themselves in a novel. He suggests on his side that such an isolation from a Thai's immediate support group would be alien (although there is the question of meditation, but that has a certain cultural support, even for laypeople) and even painful. Does this thesis address what is often noted as the Thai resistance to reading? Is it that difficult for a Thai to isolate themselves?

Miss Udon says: The reason that Thai people don't enjoy reading is not because we don't want to do things alone, but because we have little patience to do things that are not exciting. When we read a book, we only read a little and we get bored. We're not patient people! For us to read a book we have to have a real reason to be doing it. If it is not that interesting, even if we know it has benefits, we won't read it! I think that's the main reason. Thai people just prefer more exciting things.

I was sent email by bar owners and one event organiser this week for a record four events, all of which were due to take place BEFORE this Sunday's column. Regrettably, if I had told you about them today, it would have been too late. So a reminder to bar owners and managers and other event organisers that yes, you can promote your event / party / special occasion here, but please do let me know about it before the Sunday before the event. If you leave it until after then, it is too late to run in the column!



Yours,

Stick Mark II