Stickman's Weekly Column December 9th, 2007

The Serious Business Of Fixing Your Bitterness


Have you ever got really angry at a Thai? Have you ever said really strong words at a Thai who had pissed you off or let you down? I have. And almost every time I have done it their reaction has been the same. Recently I yelled at a woman who had let me down and her reaction was swift. She apologised profusely, and made a real effort to appease me and show contrition.

Why did she do that?

I believe that in Thai society there is a pay off in most interactions between people. One person does something for another person – and they then expect a favour in return. You buy lunch for someone today, and expect they will do the same or similar for you soon. An underling helps the big guy with his every request and if the underling gets in trouble, the big guy will be there to help him out.

The idea that there is a pay off of some sort in all interactions helps to explain some concepts in Thailand.

The Thais often refer to "free sex" – a woman having sex for a man without any payment, be it direct or indirect – as a Western concept and some Thais, especially older Thais, simply cannot get their head around the idea of a woman sleeping with a man without getting something in return. (It is this belief that is one of the contributing factors that allows prostitution to flourish in Thailand.)

It also manifests itself in the relationship between parents and their offspring. The parents raise the children, using all of their time, sweat, energy and finances, and then expect the same level of devotion from their children later in life.

So we have a basic premise in Thailand that if you do something for someone then you should receive something in return. Do a favour for someone and they are expected to do something similarly good for you.

This is not altogether different from the West, but the idea that there is a something of a "debt outstanding" in Thailand is much stronger than in the West. And Thais don't forget. When something is owed to them, they expect to be able to call that it in at some point.

After a period of time in a relationship a Thai woman might ask her Western boyfriend for a gold chain, or perhaps some money to send home to her parents. She is of the belief that she had been providing sex – without charge – and now it is his time to "pay". (That he picks up the tab for everything is considered irrelevant and not part of the pay off.) When he becomes aghast at this outrageous request for money and refuses, she will likely feel that she has been cheated. She had been giving for so long, and when she asked for something in return, he declined. The relationship will almost certainly go tits up.

But what has all of this got to do with a Thai apologizing profusely immediately after I had chastised her? It has all got to do with revenge.

Just as Thais expect to be paid in one way or another for what they have done or given, so to do they take the idea of seeking revenge, or balancing the account, when someone has done something bad to them. For a Thai to live with the weight of having been a victim without responding is something they have great difficulty reconciling.

The Thai word for revenge is "gear ken", meaning to fix one's bitterness, so beautifully literal and so perfectly appropriate.

In many ways it's similar to the Maori concept of an "utu", something which is very deeply ingrained in the psyche of New Zealand's native people. Call it what you will, an eye for an eye, but perhaps that's not precise enough. It is the relief of the burden, of the terrible weight of an obligation to undertake payment upon others for a wrongdoing, be it perceived or real.

Perceived or real. That's a bit scary, isn't it?!

Thais take revenge seriously. The act of revenge can be far more severe than the original act. Revenge local style is not always just about fixing the bitterness so to speak, but of responding with such force and such resolve that that the original perpetrator will not dare ever do anything to that person or their family / acquaintance / gang / group again.

If you have ever seen a fight between Thais you know that they do not stop when the victim is down. That's when things heat up and they really go to town, when they take the opportunity to not just hurt, but even maim their opponent. One with permanent injuries and long-lasting physical damage as well as the psychological damage of a beating is much less likely to cause them harm in the future.

If you cause a Thai enough grief, cause them to lose face so terribly badly, or do something to them so unspeakable that their lives are turned upside down, you run a very real risk of being the target of extreme retaliation. There is not one family in this country, not one, which does not have the means or the resolve to see that your life is ended. Even the sweetest, most loveable and seemingly wholesome families know where to go and who to see if they suffer at another's hands.

All Thais understand the system perfectly well. Why do so many big guys have bodyguards? Believe me, bodyguards are not for show in Thailand.

As if proof was needed, take the example of three former bar bosses who at different times ran the Hollywood Strip bars in Nana Plaza. Each ended up in a pool of their own blood not long after relieving a member of staff of their duties. Yes, just for firing someone (and it may well have been justified), revenge was sought. Bloody revenge. But don't let this infer that revenge is only made by those involved the seedier side. Oh no. ANY Thai has the potential to plot an act of revenge.

Revenge local style is extreme, and farangs are the easiest of targets. Most Westerners in Thailand are close to clueless as to what is going on around them and wouldn't perceive any danger until it was way too late. And most Westerners simply do not have the local contacts to help them or protect them, nor the knowledge to know how to go about resolving the situation in an accepted manner.

Westerners have to be careful about retaliating themselves as Thais think nothing of going to extreme lengths in cases of revenge – and that could very well result in someone going home in a wooden box. In other words, don't allow yourself to get into the situation in the first place!

So why was the Thai lady all apologetic after I had yelled at her? Simple really and you should have figured it out already – she feared revenge! Thais know that if they do something that upsets someone enough then revenge against them – or members of their family – is a very real issue. In the case of the girl I yelled at, by apologising profusely there and then she resolved the situation and there was no possibility of a later price to be paid.

I really do my best to avoid not getting on the wrong side of the locals. I am not talking about small disagreements here, and I am not talking about failing to complain when something clearly isn't right, but rather leaving someone with a bad taste in their mouth. If you have wronged someone OR if you have done something which seriously upset a Thai (whether you think their reaction was relevant or not), it is worth apologizing. To do so will most likely end the situation. Show contrition and a willingness to take on board that you were wrong and that should see an end to it.

Of course there are times when you may be perceived to have done something wrong, when in fact you hadn't. In such cases it my or may not be possible to explain the situation. Just remember that the lower classes – and that is still much of the Thai population – may simply be unable to see it from your point of view. Thais are monocultural and your logic might be completely lost on them. It might even be seen as antagonistic. Apologising is the best way to quickly resolve a situation and I don't think we are necessarily talking about giving up our pride or dignity here, but simple commonsense.

The average Thai is petrified of pissing off another Thai. That's why the average decent Thai is so fast to apologise when called on something. It is also, I believe, a small part of the myriad of complexities as to why Thais smile so often, and also why they do not often get involved in others' business, even when they could be of assistance, as in the case of a car accident or someone being picked on in a public place. They just don't want to do anything that could be perceived the wrong way.

Thais have many wonderful qualities, but if I was asked to describe the local character, vengeful would be near the top of the list. I am careful of not pissing the locals off.


Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of Victory Monument in downtown Bangkok. More than a few people thought it was Democracy Monument – but that's the 4-towered monument near Khao San Road. The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Fish And Chips restaurant 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.

FROM STICK MARK II'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick Mark II.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK The perfect wife!

Thais are money conscious by nature. Many times their thought process does not make sense to us farang and it leaves us shaking our heads in disbelief at the way they think things out. Today my lovely Thai wife of almost 9 years left me with my head shaking but this time it was a good thing. I was out of beer and she went to the shop to get me some. The shop owner told her that there was a promotion on my beer and for every 3 cases purchased she would get one case free and the promotion was going to end soon. When she returned to the house she directed the maid to open the back gate so she could get to my workshop. Now my only dilemma is to figure out how to work around 44 cases of my favourite brew! Could have been more but that is all he had! Yep, I am walking around shaking my head…but this time I'm laughing. God bless her today.

Keeping it fresh and exciting.

Your item on getting bored with Thailand is very understandable if one overdoes it – just like most anything in life. My antidote is simple: don't live in Thailand, but be close enough to travel there often. I'm a Westerner living in Singapore for a dozen years now. I travel to Thailand monthly and generally stay a few days to a week, never so long that a visa becomes an issue. My business is such that I can do it anywhere – and with low cost carriers keeping air fares down, the price of a ticket is not much. So every time I go to Thailand, it's fresh and exciting all over again. For sure I can see the shortcomings of the country, but I can look beyond them because I know my stay will be short and I can still take advantage of what Thailand is famous for.

Thailand is what it is.

I agree with the advice in your weekly summary: don't make your fantasy your reality. In fact, it is the absurdity of life that for us to truly enjoy one small, exquisite experience we have to suffer through a very long, ugly one. How many of us really enjoy that drink after a hard day's work, yet if we make it a day-long experience, become very unhappy. If you really want to make Thailand your full time vocation, you have to be ready to experience the reality as well as the fantasy of Thailand. After arriving, some are not up to it, and I suspect they are the ones who write the majority of the "Thailand is bad about this" and "Thais suck at that" letters. Thailand is what it is, like everything else in life, good and bad.

It could be much worse!

Yes, it is not perfect but I wonder how many countries the ‘farang moaners' have lived in before Thailand. Try South Korea. Taxis will refuse to take you (due to a mixture of embarrassment for not speaking English and blatant racism) and you are very likely to be served last regardless of where you stand in the queue. I am very grateful for the tolerance I receive from the Thai people in general. Maybe it is because I am polite, dress smartly and SMILE!

Attracting the cheap Charlies.

I was reading the news in Pattaya and saw where they were entertaining a group of tourists from Estonia, one of the countries where the Tourist Authority is promoting Thai tourism. The Authority is also using its funds to advertise in the Middle East, China, and Russia. I researched the per capita income of these areas and found the Purchasing Power Parity ratings from 2003. At that time the PPP for Thailand was the equivalent of US $7,450. China was $4,990. India was $2,880. Russia was $8,920 and Estonia was $12,480. Why is the Tourist Authority wasting its meagre funds to attract tourists that have minimal disposable income or even vastly less income than typical Thais as in the instance of India? Are these the "upper class" tourists they are courting while they do their best to drive away tourists from Europe and the US? I visit Thailand twice a year and spend more than the Chinese and Indian PPP combined in my 2 months holiday. Why are we being treated as undesirable "riff raff" while the Authority goes out of its way to kiss the asses of these Cheap Charlies?

The wrong hemisphere!

I'd just like to point out that the piece about Bali fails to mention one important fact. Bali is on the wrong side of the equator for the vast majority of tourists. Tourists from the Northern hemisphere, from Europe, UK and Northern America come to Thailand in December, January and February to avoid their freezing winters. They lounge around in the sun for a few weeks and then return home to show off their healthy tans. On the other hand the Northern hemisphere winter corresponds to Bali's wet season because Bali is in the Southern hemisphere.

Incapable of learning?

Has anyone else struck the problem I always have with my hotel's reception staff not understanding how a "monthly rate" works? I'm holidaying in Thailand for 41 days and negotiated a monthly rate with the same hotel I've stayed in for the last 3 years. The hotel will not allow me to pay for the full stay so every time I pay the first month (30 days) on checking in and every time there's a problem when it comes to paying the remaining days. The reception staff always try to charge the daily rate for the last few days which is almost double the monthly rate. No amount of discussion will make them realise how stupid they are being and it always ends up having to be sorted out by the hotel manager before commonsense ensues. To top it off the reception staff haven't changed since I've stayed at this hotel so it would seem they are just incapable of learning.

For fans of the naughty bars, and especially guys about to fly in, get ready for one hell of a shock to the system. You very well might feel an urge to make an 11th hour change to your holiday plans. Strong rumours have it that bars will be prohibited from selling alcohol and in all likelihood closed on the 13th, 14th and 15th of this month *IN ADDITION* to the election days the following weekend which will definitely see the bars closed, the 22nd until the 24th. On election weekend, there will be no alcohol available from 6 PM on the 22nd, until 6 PM on the 24th. This utter madness would essentially knock out two full weekends of partying in the second busiest month for tourism of the year! And to make matters even worse it has been mooted that there will be heavy-handed enforcement including, get this, jail time for any establishments of any description selling alcohol and 6 MONTHS JAIL TIME FOR ANYONE CAUGHT DRINKING! Tourists' enjoyment is obviously of no major concern to the authorities. To make matters worse still, getting conformation from any authority is impossible and things remain unclear. In typical local style, we won't know for sure until the last minute. As soon as I know one way or the other exactly what days the bars will be open and what days they will be shut, I will put a notice up on the front page of the site.

Naughty, naughty, both branches of Angelwitch have increased the price of beer with a bottle now setting punters back 140 or 145 baht, essentially a 10 baht per bottle price increase. That puts them all of 5 baht below Soi 33 prices. At least Angelwitch has imaginative shows.

It's not exactly breaking news but apparently there was a major commotion on Sukhumvit Soi 3 Friday before last. At about 6 PM that Friday Thai police as well as international law enforcement officials closed off part of the street and did a search shop by shop, building by building. Word on the street was that they were looking for drugs but to me this sounds like something more sinister. In this day and age, terrorism and terrorists is what comes to mind. I don't recall anything in the press about the raids.

It mightn't draw in huge crowds, but the crowds it does draw tend to be interesting folks, a fair few steps above the average farang in Thailand. I am however sorry to report that Fun House in Sukhumvit Soi 11 will only be open for another month and is due to close in early January. If you haven't been there yet, do swing by! The owners are looking out for new premises to shift to.

As if we needed proof that Nana was clearly on the tourist map, punters and dancing girls dived for cover as six Western girls all simultaneously pulled out their digital cameras and took photos inside Hollywood Bar on Friday night. If those photos should turn up on the net, and I bet they do, I'm one of the "hansum man" sitting in the background. Seriously though, those girls caused quite a fracas and some staff were visibly upset that the girls brazenly coordinated to take photos like that. I wonder how the reaction would have been different if the gals had been blokes.

And another sign that it is tourist season is that this is the only time of year when some bars sell more Singha than Heineken. Locals are aware of the potency and unusual after effects of drinking Singha so we stick to Heineken, Tiger or Beer Lao. And on the subject of one's choice of beer, Dave The Rave is currently extolling the virtues of San Miguel Light. With a new, trim waistline, Dave attributes his recent weight loss to switching from Heineken to San Mig Light. I think we can now officially call Dave a "hansum man" too.

Shooters in Soi Diamond in Pattaya has introduced a new "fire-up hour", their version of a happy hour. Draught Tiger, Chang bottles, Singha bottles, Singha Light bottles, Tiger bottles are offered at what virtually amounts to supermarket prices, just 35 baht each. Smirnoff Vodka, Gordon's Gin, Bacardi, Red Label, Jim Beam with mixer – and this bar gives you a decent 33 ml / 1.1 fl oz measure for just 60 baht. Non-alcoholic drinks = Coke, Fanta, Sprite, fruit juice, Diet Coke, lemon soda are also 35 baht. Fire up hour happens every night from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM.

Roxy in Pattaya is being remodeled. Roxy is NOT closed during the remodeling phase which will be completed around the 18th of this month. More sofas, more tables and two additional smaller stages (one for dancers, one for something unique in Pattaya) will complete the changes. More dancers have started in the club and a special 3-day party with special offers will be announced shortly. Shows are being held as usual from 10 PM to 2 AM daily – in the centre of the club which puts girls nearer to the customers.

New girls entering the bar trade seem to be down in numbers. My best guess is that younger girls new to the industry are entering the industry in the same numbers they always have but are being picked off quickly by hungry snakeheads. You keep hearing of bars with new girls but when the alligators make it there they're disappointed to see that while the girls are new to that bar, they're not new to the industry. The maidens' English is usually the best way of determining if she has already done the rounds. With more and more bars opening, many find much difficulty in getting girls and with many girls moving from bar to bar it can seem like it's a case of last season's wine re-bottled.

The branch of Subway on Sukhumvit soi 23 has gone 24 hours, perhaps another sign of the shift from Nana eastwards.

The countdown is on for the 2007 Barladies Christmas Party which will be held at Tony's Bar in Soi Cowboy on December 15th from 9:30 PM. Should be a fun night.

Business is booming on Soi Cowboy and it is the bars with the cheaper drinks prices which are doing well. Tilac, Long Gun, Raw Hide, Dollhouse, Coyote, Cactus, Cocktail Lounge and 5 Star seem to have more customers than Deja Vu, Midnight, Spice girls, and Our Place – all of which are known for their higher prices (although cheap draft is available.) While it would be fair to say that the bars with more reasonable prices appear to be doing better, the one exception is Baccarra, which of course targets Japanese. That bar's a real money spinner!

Larry of Rock Hard fame has always been an enigmatic figure. Following comment in last week's column about the "sick fine" in Rock Hard Patong, he will personally see to it that it is abolished. It was apparently the handiwork of Jeff, the former manager, who was relieved of his duties, something the girls were most pleased about!

Bars and restaurants are starting to promote their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day buffets. I have always been surprised at some of the rates charged by the better establishments. In previous years some of the hotel restaurants were charging 3,000 – 7,000 baht per head. That is reaching a price level that I think is hard to justify. 2,000 baht, ok, but when you get beyond that, you're starting to get into silly money territory. I mean, you can get a GREAT buffet in Bangkok which exceeds all but the fussiest's expectations for a mere 1,000 baht or so. Personally I would rather dine at one of the bars and devour a decent spread at a decent price than blow what can only be called silly money at a flash venue. Mojos in Soi 33 and the old faithful Bourbon Street both sent out emails this week with their Christmas deal, each of which looks excellent and each is priced under 1,000 baht. They'd both be worth checking out. If you want a fancy affair, the Post and The Nation will be running all sorts of bits about the finer dining options.

If you ever doubted that racism thrives in Thailand, certain apartment finding websites have a category along with whether pets are allowed, of whether Indians are allowed.

Do you want a real deal get out of jail card? It seems you would need to be a Westerner resident in Bangkok with a good knowledge of the language – that describes a fair few people these days. If you don't already have such a card (and you should!), here is your chance!

I have always lamented the national English dailies for failing to report on matters of interest involving Westerners in Thailand. This week The Nation reported on a fracas at Champagne A Gogo in Pattaya where a Norwegian customer was allegedly set upon. Reports however suggest that The Nation got its facts horribly wrong. Maybe that is why they don't report on such things!

I have always felt that the divorce rate, or perhaps more succinctly, the failure rate in marriages between Western men and Thai women, is HIGHER than the failure rate between Western men and Western women. Unfortunately research and statistics just don't exist on the subject. Anecdotally, this article from The Nation this week is food for thought. It states that in a three month period this year in Khon Kaen province there were 142 divorces, the majority of which were between marriages involving Thai women and Western men. Most of the divorces were filed by the woman.

It seems every man and his dog uses MSN Messenger these days as a means of chatting with Thai ladies online. And some aren't afraid to get risqué online. Many even indulge in a little spanking the monkey live, right before her eyes. I hope that all Stickman readers know that the installation of a simple program can download the video from an MSN Messenger conversation which is then saved and could be played back at a later time. A few people are leaving themselves open to huge embarrassment, or worse!

I was really impressed with a Thai travel program I watched recently. It followed one of the Thai TV stars as he travelled around continental Europe. In each place he would talk about the local customs, the various nuances of the culture and the way things are done there. Not once did he complain about some of the major inconveniences they struck. It was all very matter of fact. "This is the way they do things here" seemed to be the philosophy. That's something I like about the Thais. They just adapt and get on with things, whether those things are good or not.

This article ran on the BBC website about Thailand's King.

The entrance fees for foreigners to Thai national parks have been reduced, but they are still many, many times more than what is charged for Thai nationals.

This video from a Canadian news website has a short video about penis reattachment surgery in Thailand.

Quote of the week. "Why bother getting married. Just find a woman you hate and buy her a house".


Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is here to help you with your relationship and culture questions and the things that baffle you about life in Thailand. She accepts questions on matters of the heart or cultural misunderstandings. Her answers are entirely her own without any influence or editing by me.

Question 1: I have a question for you and it's related to Laos so I'm not sure if you will be familiar enough with that country to answer it. I have met a girl who lives in a small but tourist-oriented village. She was the owner of a business with her previous fiancé, but they broke up and sold it. She now works in the same business but under the boss / owner. I had a short relationship with her and we both want to continue it. After umming and erring I have come to trust her completely. Believe me it wasn't easy as it's a huge risk investing your time and effort in a woman from that neck of the woods as I'm sure you know. There is a problem. We both know it's illegal to have said relationship with a local. If you know could you tell me: 1. How likely it is that we will get caught under the same roof by the coppers. 2. What the likely charges would be (will I get sent to the monkey house!?) and 3. How likely the police would be to react to a complaint from one of the locals? I'm going back to see her in April and even she thinks it would be dodgy to meet up in her village. I think we'll probably meet in Vientiane and then go right up north, maybe stop at Luang Prabang on the way. I've asked her the likelihood of us getting caught. She doesn't think anyone would care in Luang Prabang or the far North, but getting a concrete or accurate answer out of her remains a challenge at times bless her. [email protected]

Mr. Stick says: Neither Mrs. Stick nor I am able to answer this question as we just do not have much idea about what happens in Laos. We have therefore run this question and included an email address where the gentleman who asked this question can be reached, should any kind soul who knows the answer be willing to assist.

Question 2: When Thai ladies, usually older people, act as ‘marriage brokers' to bring single people together is it customary for them to receive some form of reimbursement (like 1% of the sin-sot…) or do they do it for nothing. My being single in Thailand always seems to ‘offend' older Thai ladies who feel duty bound to find someone for me. At the moment I am considering accepting such advances from an elderly lady I have known nearly three years, though I keep stressing to her that, at the moment, I am not looking for a wife. However, if she introduces me to a lady who I like, and who likes me, and we become friends, would the ‘broker' expect some little payment from me and, if so would we be talking about a token 1,000 baht, say, or maybe the equivalent of one month's allowance that I might subsequently give to the lady I meet? I ask because this lady is already like an old friend and I would not want to upset her through ignorance…

Mrs. Stick says: You do not need to pay anything. These aunties arranging these marriages or giving you a chance to meet these women are introducing you to women they know or the daughters or family of women they know. So by arranging for them to meet a nice Western man she is helping out someone she is close to. You don't need to give her any money. A small gift would be appreciated, but not necessary.

If you want me to respond to specific comments about anything on this site, the best way to get a response is to send me email directly. I know that many articles on this site are discussed on the various Thailand forums, of which these days there are many. I scan few of the forums so email works best.



Yours,

Stick Mark II