Stickman's Weekly Column June 22nd, 2008

A Normal Guy Living In An Extreme City


He doesn't drink, smoke and seldom goes to the bars, yet he heads up one of Pattaya's media organisations, quite remarkable given that he is so young.

As one of Pattaya's media moguls, you've probably seen or heard some of his handiwork in Sin City. And in addition to running his media empire, he puts in 6 hours a night, 5 nights a week as a foreign tourist police volunteer.

This week we had a chance to meet up and discuss life in Sin City, what it's like to run your own media organisation, being a tourist police volunteer and what it is like to be one of the ten most influential farangs in Pattaya.

I introduce to you Mr. Howard Miller.

How did you end up in Pattaya? Why not Bangkok?

Well, about 6 years ago a good friend of mine who is well known in Pattaya, Ben from Secrets, spoke to me while I was in England. He said, “You've got to come over to Pattaya. It is really good, lots of fun.” At the time in the UK I was between jobs. I thought ok, I will come over.

I did the usual thing, going to the bars and what not, the girls etc. However it is important to understand that I don’t smoke and I don't drink which makes the whole bar experience boring compared to other people. If you drink maybe you can see things that I can’t see as a sober person!

I did the 3 week thing and I liked Pattaya. Wasn’t too impressed with the bar scene, not really my thing. Back in the UK I was a professional DJ for 7 years. I saw a job offer for a TV presenter. I thought to myself I had never done that before so I approached the company which is now one of my competitors and they accepted me. I left Thailand, came back three weeks later and started the job as TV presenter.

My salary was 5,000 baht a month.

What? You're joking?!

Yeah, really! At the time didn’t bother me because I wasn’t doing it for the money. I was doing it for the experience of working in Thailand. I was promised a work permit. It never came. The employer said to me don’t worry, I will protect you but I wasn’t happy. I wanted to know I had a future here in Thailand so the guys I worked with at that job I became friendly with and we all decided to leave the company on mass and we started our own company and I have never left since then.

Can you tell me a little bit about your business interests here in Pattaya? I know about the website and the TV channel. Are there any more?

Well, I have got the TV news service and the website news service. Before I was involved with Pattaya City News. I had a nasty break up with my Thai partner and that is why we created Pattaya One News. I also fulfilled my dream and created a radio station here in Pattaya, PCN FM 105. The website is www.pcnfm.com. The website for Pattaya One is www.Pattayaone.net.

Very soon I am going to be involved in a new 24 hour English language TV channel here in Pattaya which is in the planning stage at the moment.

Your website (and I presume your TV channel which I seldom see) covers all of the dreadful goings on down here from Westerners being ripped off, lovelorn Western guys jumping from condos, traffic accidents and underage sex arrests etc. Do you become desensitized to it all?

Absolutely! Everyday I receive stories about people dying, suicides. Don’t get me wrong, we also cover social news as well, believe it or not. <We both erupt in laughter.> In my capacity as a tourist police assistant I go to fatalities. I also work with the British Embassy and inform them of any British nationals dying to ensure that the family in the UK are informed of the death as quickly as possible. Personally, I probably see about 3 dead bodies a week.

Ooooh!

In various states of decomposition.

That I couldn’t deal with.

I hope none of the Stickman readers ever get to deal with the smell of death. It is horrible. But now it doesn’t bother me.

Did it bother you before?

When I first started here in Thailand, yeah, I was really shocked when I saw a dead body and how a body can be so mutilated in a road accident or a suicide, but now, no problem.

It’s not a nice job!

Someone’s got to do it. I feel as though I offer a service to people back home in England as well as Australia, New Zealand, wherever. It sounds a bit morbid, but I think I am doing a good service.

You are and you should be proud. How much of the writing and the photography do you do yourself?

The writing of the articles I do all myself. Unless I am not there I have an understudy do it for me. I have a team of journalists who are out 24 hours a day and they do the filming for me. I receive a script in Thai which is translated into English and then I rewrite it in English. I would not class myself as a journalist. I’m more a news writer.

Why is it that some of the reports, both on your website and in the local Pattaya press have all sorts of superfluous information? I mean, how many times have we heard "Captain Somchai Imnotcorrupt, 43 year old cop with 20 years experience was munching on his som tum purchased from vendor Ba Wee when he received a report from room 308, third floor of the such and such a hotel, 300 metres along Second Road that a farang had leapt to his death?" This is not exclusive to you, but does seem to be a Pattaya thing. Why is that?

There’s politics involved in being in the media in Pattaya. If I am writing an article involving police, readers might not care who the cop is but I need to put in some details to acknowledge which cop attended to the case. I have to keep a relationship up with the police and local government. Sometimes I have to cover certain things which might not be newsworthy such as the opening of a house or a tam boon <merit makingStick> ceremony etc. It is not really newsworthy but I have to do it. There are important relationships that need to be kept.

To many guys you’re living the dream. You’ve got not just a job in Pattaya, but you’ve got your own company and media outlet. I dare say you’re actually one of the ten most influential farangs in this town. Is your life here a bed of roses?

Well that statement has shocked me <He does a double take and moves about, almost uncomfortably in his seat.> I’m very quiet, an introvert. I really am an introvert. I’m not one of these media guys who likes to sit in an office and shake the mayor’s hand. I am a worker. I work in my company. I don’t have time go and brown nose cops and local politicians. I know them. I go out with them privately but I don’t put it on camera. Others might but I don’t. I just try and do my work and stay low profile. I am not a show off. I am trying to make a living for myself. I am not a millionaire and anyone that says that I am making a fortune in this business would be wrong. I have a quiet life and a nice girlfriend. A good night out is staying in with the girlfriend. I’m a normal guy living in an extreme city.

You know that I am on record as being somewhat cynical about the volunteer police. I understand that you’re a member. Can you tell me why you decided to join and exactly what's involved?

Face to face I have no problem talking to people about it. On the chat forums people always want to have a go. I tell people if they want to talk about it then they should come down to Walking Street and we will talk about it, face to face. With all the keyboard bashing I have never had anyone come up and ask me about it in Walking Street.

For me there are two types of people who are against what we do. The first group is the people who are anti-authoritarian, possibly because they have been running from the authorities for much of their lives. And there are many of them in Pattaya. And the second group are people who have heard about what we do through a third party, bar banter, idle chit chat or whatever. When people actually know what we do the majority of people are actually in favour of us. There are still some against us but so long as they have something specific in mind as to why they don’t like it, then I don’t mind.

I am the group leader of the foreign tourist police assistants. I was the first active foreign tourist police assistant in Thailand apparently, so I am told.

That’s something to be proud of.

Yeah. What have I done over the 6 years? I have saved lives and I have avoided people ruining their lives. The work that we do on Walking Street varies from helping people who are lost to breaking up fights.

You’re not a small guy, do you think that helps?

The physical side of being a volunteer is minimal. We don’t actually do much of that. Most of it is sitting down and dealing with information. We are more like mobile information centres than police assistants. However, if there is a fight or some sort of physical altercation, with the assistance of the tourist police we are happy to be involved. Sometimes we risk ourselves getting involved to help things.

Some people say we are crazy and some say we should not have the right to do that. We are in a position where we can genuinely help people and I think that is a good thing. We are not spies. We are not informants. However if someone gives me some information about a paedophile I will almost certainly pass it on to the tourist police. People give me info all the time on people and I do not pass it on. I am not a grass. I have to be very careful because I am a businessman here in Pattaya and I cannot let the tourist police work affect my business. I get nothing out of the FPTA work. No special visas. If I get stopped by traffic police I pay the fine. We are not allowed to show our badges. I do it because I like to help people. I don’t drink, smoke or go to the bars so it gives me something to do.

What do you make of the expat community in Pattaya? My feeling is that there is much more camaraderie down here amongst Westerners than there is in Bangkok where things are much more splintered – and there seems to be more bitterness up there amongst the different ethnic and socio economic groups.

I think Pattaya is a great town to be an expat in. There’s such a wide mix of nationalities, cultures and there are many groups that bring them altogether. There are many expat clubs, other associations like the Lions, Rotary as well as other clubs. It all brings expats together. Pattaya is a very friendly place to stay. Don’t get me wrong. There are certain groups that involve themselves in backstabbing and attacking other groups. You’re going to get that anywhere. It sounds far different to the expat community in Bangkok.

It’s something I don’t like about Bangkok.

I used to work in Bangkok for MCOT, you know Channel 9 when it was Metropolis 107. It reformatted to a Thai station because they received like a golden carrot from the record companies who wanted to pay them a lot of money to play Thai music. All the farangs were thrown out.

Invariably Bangkok expats look down on Pattaya expats. What do you make of that?

A lot of outsiders think that foreigners who settle in Pattaya are sex tourists or sex tourists who have settled in a town with lots of cheap sex. Yes, there are people who live here and engross themselves in the late night entertainment business. There are plenty of professionals who have settled here too as well as retirees and foreign couples. I think one reason the expat community here is so strong helps people decide to live here. The majority of people living in Pattaya are generally respectful and nice people.

How many farang news organisations are there in Pattaya? There seem to be many for such a small town. Speaking of which, do you have any idea of how many Westerners are resident here year round?

There are many English language media organisations in Pattaya mainly because there are so many businesses we can call on for advertising. No media company can survive without advertising.

Yep, I know that story!

So many types of companies are here. In a way it is maybe not so good there are so many media companies. Quite often the same story is interpreted differently by different organisations. There are lots of companies here and there are lots of people who live here during the year.

I would estimate the permanent foreign residents probably number 20,000 – 25,000.

That is about what I would have thought.

But I would say that at any one time there are maybe 80,000 – 100,000 foreigners in Pattaya. I think that is a fair estimate.

What’s it like being one of the ten most influential farangs in Pattaya?

I don’t know where you got that from! As I said before, I am just a normal guy. If I am influencing people in Pattaya I hope I am influencing them to do good things and to be positive. This sounds like a presidential speech, doesn't it! Personally, I don’t think I am influential. I am just trying to do my small bit in the community and make a few baht <chuckle>.

A good American friend of mine calls Pattaya “the pit”. What do you make of that nickname? Do you think it's appropriate?

Pattaya has an interesting mix of foreign people that come here. There are different classes of people who come here. You have the upper class living or staying in posh condos and homes. You have got the working class on a tight budget. They drink a lot, are loud and may get themselves in a bit of trouble. And there are, for me, certain parts of Pattaya that can bring the town down. I won’t mention the areas.

To call Pattaya a pit is unfair. There’s lots to do in Pattaya apart form the girly bars and the boy bars. And with our new mayor there is more chance that Pattaya will improve. However I think many of the sex tourists may not like the improvements that are coming. That comment is based on a discussion I have already had with the mayor who’s a very international-thinking young man. Good things are coming to Pattaya but whether these good things will improve the sex industry I am not so sure.

The industry will never be eradicated but I think over the years it will become more controlled and more contained.

What do you make of the number of farang suicides in Pattaya? What is it that causes a man to leap from the balcony of his condo in what many claim is paradise?

Well in my capacity as a news writer I have reported on hundreds of suicides. Some clearly are suicides while others are questionable. Why do people jump? Assuming people do jump and they have not been pushed, I think it all goes down to the expectations of people who come here and think it is paradise, that they will meet their dream partner and live happily ever after. It doesn’t always happen that way.

For me, I have gone through a number of relationships which have turned sour. There are some that come here and rely heavily on the partnership aspect of the relationship. If this partnership ceases it can cause them to fall in to depression and for some it can tip them over the edge, pardon the pun, and cause them to take their own life.

Bar workers are good actors and actresses. Their job in general is to take our money for their families who are generally poor. That might sound a bit poor but for me looking at it from an outsider, looking into the sex industry, that is the way I feel. The way they take the money is sometimes dishonest and guys can sometimes fall in love with their partners very quickly. If they’re tricked or cheated by their partner that can cause them to ultimately take their lives. That’s the downside of the sex industry.

As a local, do you have any favourite spots you frequent? Any hidden treasures you’re prepared to share with the Stickman readership?

I spend most of my time in Secrets when I have free time.

So do I.

No hassles, good food, really good music. Everyone is friendly there. I do venture into gogo bars occasionally to say hello to some of the bar owners I know. I have got to know many over the years through my work with the tourist police. If I do go out, I go and see a movie, go and eat some food. I am quite a boring guy really!

What do you miss most about home?

Home cooking, my friends.

English weather?

I don’t miss that! There are certain things you can get in England that you can’t get here. Some food. I don't really miss too much. I am happy in Thailand. Thailand is very different to England. It has its faults and it has its advantages but generally I like it.

Are you like me, always wondering if staying in Thailand is the right thing and wondering whether you should return home?

If I was in a position where my business failed or something forced me out of the place I would have no problem going back to England, settling there again and working there. I like Thailand. I am not in love with it.

Do you have any plans to expand into Bangkok?

No, absolutely not. Bangkok is a very tricky market. There is no way I could get a frequency there. I am happy in Pattaya, stuck out here in the provinces, being a provincial player.


Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken on Sukhumvit Road from the even soi-numbered side, looking across at Soi 11/1. If you said just soi 11, WRONG! 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. The second person to get it right wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant, offering authentic cuisine and delicious margaritas. Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11.

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The Charley Brown's prize MUST be claimed within 7 days. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per month.

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 sweet, caring side of Thai nature is still flourishing.

Just going through some of the readers' submissions and some of the old weekly columns and one of the common themes is that the Thai smiles are all fake, all they are after is your money, everything they say's drenched in lies etc. Reading a little further, all these bad experiences seem to have occurred in Pattaya, Bangkok (normally Cowboy or Nana) and Phuket – the main bar areas in the land of smiles. I understand the gripes. There is certainly a lot of truth that tourists rarely understand that the Thai front is there purely to rake money off the unsuspecting. However, from experience I know that if you get away from the tourist centres (which means away from the bargirl centres) the sweet, caring side of Thai nature is still flourishing. Koh Libong for example, or Nan, are populated with people who exhibit all the Thai traits which are so addictive to the Westerner. However, with no beer bars there (that I know of) I doubt many will be interested in visiting.

Police state UK and underage Thais!

You may be interested to hear that the some of the local councils (Gloucester) are driving out local bi-laws to stop under age drinking in the UK. Although I applaud the initiative for those clearly too young to handle drink responsibility it seems that the application of the new bi-laws is being done with the usual jack boot fashion that we have all come to enjoy here in the UK. My Thai wife (who doesn't even drink anyway) and one of her Thai friends (both aged 31) went to the local off license today to buy all but a small bottle of Jack Daniels for a Thai party we are having at our house. They were both turned away because they 'looked' younger than the age of 30. Thirty!!! Can you believe it? Apparently the new rule is that if you are or even look under the age of 30 and cannot provide ID proof to the contrary then they will refuse to serve you alcohol. The fact that this is contrary to the national age limit of 18 doesn't seem to register and the shops' excuse is that they are only protecting themselves from prosecution. Both my wife and her friend were asked to provide ID to prove their age (and what discerning Thai carries her passport around with her anyway) and it was only with my intervention that the shop owner relented and gave me the small bottle of whisky. However as she did so, she also pointed to the CCTV camera in the corner of the shop and gave me a stern warning that I was not to hand over the bottle to my wife or her friend until after I left the shop! WTF! Can anyone hear the sound of jack boots anywhere? Police state UK doesn't even come anywhere near to describing this nonsense.

Trouble in American means trouble in Thailand.

Will there be fewer tourists this coming high season? Certainly there will be less from the USA. The travel industry reports that people planning overseas vacations are planning shorter trips that are closer to home. The economy here is in far worse shape than the press, TV and the government are willing to admit. I travelled a lot within the US in the first six months of this year and the same pattern of sharp economic decline was everywhere I went. Every shopping mall has one or two stores already closed. In some malls there are only one or two stores left open, the rest have all closed. Some shopping malls have closed entirely. Traffic on major roads outside of the cities is one quarter to one third of what it was three years ago. The continued flooding in the Midwest farm states is destroying large parts of the expected corn and soybean crops. That in turn will push up food prices quite sharply leaving less money for discretionary spending. A knock on effect is likely to be that the higher cost of corn to foreign governments and UN agencies will cause more prices increases for rice. Nobody is talking about it but in some of the Asian communities in New York, some kinds of rice are no longer on sale because the stores can't get the rice.


The ultimate Thai dating site with ladies from all over Thailand!

A natural ability to deny everything?

Your site mentioned the compulsive lying ability of Thais a few weeks back but I sometimes wonder if it isn't a natural ability to immediately deny everything until proven otherwise. I was staying 1 night this week at a hotel in Pattaya and was happy with the usual state of affairs there until I came back at 7 PM, opened the door and noticed something scurry across the carpet. I thought it was a mouse but got quite a shock 30 minutes later when this bloody great rat clawed its way up the curtain into the ceiling! It is pleasant sharing a room with a rat, I can tell you from experience, not much sleep. Anyway, I ring reception, inform them and what response do I get? 'No sir, we no have rat in hotel'. I stood my ground and changed rooms but at check out next day when I told the pleasant receptionist of the rat (I am on first name terms with the girls on desk), she says. 'Sorry, we only know of cockroaches, not rat'. Almost funny, don't you think?

The Dirty Doctor on the fake monks.

Seeing how you took the time to make mention of my encounters with the fake monks I thought I would tell you and your readers what happened as a result. Unexpectedly I seem to have become a sort of a hero and gained a multitude of respect from the Thais. Whenever I pass the place that the encounters happened I get a deep wai from the Thai vendors who saw me attend to the fake monks. I asked them why they feel that they should wai me, and their answer was remarkably simple, “The fake monks insult my Buddha and my King.” Apparently the fake monks are right on the edge of what is acceptable without taking action and there is some degree of doubt with some Thais if they are fake. As for other Thais, it is over the line and those Thais will make it known by dealing with the fake monks one way or another. I am sure it would not be too much of a push that the fake monks may be seen as breaking the lèse majestè laws as the King is a Buddhist and they are somehow degrading all Buddhists. As for taking their money and giving it to the police, let's just say it is an added incentive for the police to do the right things with the fake monks. The fake monks will back down when pushed although they may make some sort of hollow threat to you, but they already know they will get no help from the Thais and it may just be the other way around. The Dirty Doctor.

There was a huge fracas last Sunday night outside Spice Girls in Soi Cowboy. It appeared to start with a bottle being thrown at the bar opposite, in the direction of what can only be described as a pretty hard looking Thai guy. Things erupted and there must have been about 20 bottles thrown, and then guess what, the Arab joined in and was verbally laying into the people at the bar opposite! He then also started throwing bottles, glass ashtrays and even a table at the guy opposite! Things started getting out of control when a group of Thai guys who looked like Mafia types arrived and seemed to be ready to sort the Arab out. This went on for about an hour before the police came and after a long stand off the Arab was escorted away by a group of police. He was not arrested, rather escorted for his own safety by the look of things. I didn't bother contacting the colourful bar mogul for comment.

Was it full moon last Sunday because there was another scrap that very same night in Soi 7/1 featuring a number of foreigners.

Construction has begun in the spot in Nana Plaza that was previously home to the original incarnation of the Big Mango bar. But it will not be home to Nana's newest bar. Oh no, Czech Peter, owner of the plaza's Hollywood bars has other plans for it with of all things, a hotel planned that will have, get this, both short and long time rooms! I wouldn't have thought there was enough space, but what would I know?!

A rather hilarious rumour is doing the rounds that the Korean company which had been contracted to construct and install the grand new Walking Street sign at the start of Pattaya's most famous stretch has not just abandoned the project but has extricated themselves from Thailand! I don't know why but when I first heard this I went into fits of uncontrollable laughter!

The lack of customers is killing Pattaya and I can honestly say, hand on hear, this past week was the quietest I have EVER seen in Pattaya. Ever! I would suggest that a few of the business owners I spoke to about Sin City being in the doldrums were close to tears, many freely admitting that rather than the business putting money in their pockets, it was taking money out just to keep afloat. I ventured into some chrome palaces where there were NO CUSTOMERS. ZERO! I am not talking big name bars, but I'm not talking awkwardly located no name venues either. One big name bar owner told me that trade is down 85% – and this was confirmed by my own eyes. Many bars that used to open at 6 PM now aren't opening until 8 and it would seem that some bars have actually closed up shop for the low season.

Club Electric Blue in Patpong celebrates their 5th birthday party next Saturday, that is June 28. Big Andy would like to see all friends, old and new to help him celebrate. Free Tequila shots are offered with every drink you buy after happy hour.

A disconcerting trend in recent times is the number of girls who are seen down and out in a public place. I have observed this more in Pattaya than Bangkok – where the competition is more fierce and there are, quite simply, more girls and less customers – but in Bangkok too, there are girls seriously down on their luck. The poor lass pictured here was out for the count on the busiest part of Sukhumvit one night this week and passers by proceeded as if she wasn't even there.

Closing times seem to have settled down and most nightspots seem to be closing at 2 AM. There are late night venues around about that run later. For the time being, Nana Disco is open until 3 AM.

A not insignificant number of punters claim that this is the best time of year to visit, the bars are quiet and they have the pick of the girls. I would suggest otherwise. There's an almost morbid feeling in the air in many bars and bar areas. The girls just aren't as joyful as they usually are and many are heading back to the provinces to join the hordes that have already left. Pattaya is hurting very, very badly. Some bar owners looked like I'd put a gun to their head when the realisation of what I said set in; that the next high season is going to be well done, with fuel prices at record highs.

For those averse to paying more than 100 baht for a beer, Magic Table in Sukhumvit's Soi 7/1 is a good bet. There's a distinct Baccara type view with the college-uniformed dancers on mirrored tables and the 95 baht beer all night long makes it well worth a trip. The downside is that some of the girls are a bit aggressive when it comes to lady drinks and tips but it's nothing a skilled punter can’t handle. 95 baht beers are a good low season survival formula.

A reminder to be aware of your surroundings late at night between Nana and Asoke. A long term readers reports that some crotch-grabbing katoeys managed to relieve him of his wallet.

The American pornographer who was paraded before the press last week in Pattaya for the production of naughty movies featuring Thai women seemed to have rubbed many up the wrong way over the years. I have been amazed at the number of emails I received from people who knew him or came across him as well as some of the vitriol on the various forums about him. His fan club had it in for him!

Did anyone hear about, or better still, witness, the armed raid on some bars in Soi Pattayaland 2 about 3 or 4 Fridays back? A small battalion – estimated at about 50 in number – of heavily armed police in body armour stormed at least one large bar and pointed guns at punters, amongst other things! I only just heard about this on my journey to Pattaya this week. No wonder things are so quiet down there!

Hungry is the unimaginative name for the new restaurant in Nana Plaza, tucked in between Rainbow 3 and Cathouse. I've not had a chance to try it out there but it must be said it is a nice looking joint with both diner-style counter seating as well as tables. Prices are reasonable with many Thai dishes at just 50 baht, and even some fancier dishes priced at less than 100 baht.

One of the tricks running bars is to keep the girls "up" – bouncy and alive which helps to create and maintain a fun atmosphere in the bar. There is one Pattaya bar that does this by filling the girls with Tequila throughout the evening. Every hour or so the girls get a shot of Tequila, that is every girl for those who refuse are docked 100 baht from their salary – and no girl is going to allow that to happen. Last week one of the owners got rather excited and the girls, at least those who were still there at the end, were rather merry, the owner having treated the girls to nine shots of nasty Mexican loopy juice that night! For a small framed Thai girl, especially those new to the environment – and quite possibly new to drinking – that will make them rather merry! In fact some were more than merry, making frequent trips to the loo spilling their guts out! Coyotes in Cowboy is another bar which does this with a bottle of Thai whiskey often seen down by the Buddhist shrine at the end of the bar, although it is optional if the girls wish to partake of it.

I am hearing very good reports about 7 Seas, a single storey restaurant located on the corner of Sukhumvit sois 4 and 6 – that means it's down Soi 4, about 250 metres beyond the plaza. There're both indoor and outdoor seating and the venue is nicely done out. Good quality meals will set you back 120 – 180 baht.

The fake monks that my pal the dirty doctor is trying to stamp out are spreading their wings and can be spotted all over the city, not just in the farang-infested areas. One reader reports seeing them in Ekamai where he was dining. A fake monk entered the restaurant looking for money and this clever Stickmanite knew something was up when the masquerading scammer walked past all the Thais and headed directly to him for a donation. The manager saw this and started saying "blom, blom" (fake) and the monk took off in a hurry.

Here's a bargain for anyone looking for a business in Isaan. I can remember having a drink at The Meeting Place and enjoying good conversation with the owner at that time, the late Aussie Alan, back in mid-1999. Nice guy and a nice place. If someone wanted to run an established business in a pretty Isaan provincial capital but did not have too much to shell out – they're only asking 750,000 baht – then this could be a good deal.

Baby Dolls will have a new owner's grand opening party on Saturday 28th June. There will be lots of food and fun – you balloon chasers take note.

Some are saying that Soi 15 off Walking Street is turning into the new Soi Pattayaland 2, such is the concentration of bars there. I would suggest it isn't there yet and needs a bit more neon but for sure, the soi has taken off.

The West is going absolutely stark raving bonkers! I monitor the news from my corner of Farangland every day and this week I saw this outrageous piece about the police pulling over buses to check that they were not "overloaded"! The report showed footage of people standing in the bus, perhaps 6 or 7 people. The look of consternation on the coppers' faces was priceless. I can't imagine what these politically correct morons would think if they saw buses in Bangkok. But honestly, it is taking safety to such ridiculous lengths that makes the West seem crazy.

I have a very real concern for the major tourist spots that attract Westerners in Thailand if there is a downturn in tourism due to high fuel prices (amongst other things). My concern is that there might be a downturn in Americans, what with the American dollar tanking and the distance the Americans have to travel – and the increased fuel prices they pay – which is greater than those from Down Under or Europe. You see Americans are, in my observation, the most generous of all tourists. Americans tend to stay in better places, buy more expensive things and are generally more comfortable paying what some may consider to be higher prices. Of course, the Americans are the most generous tippers too. Less American tourists will not be a good thing in the bar areas where the Americans are generally big spenders.

Beer prices have been relatively stable here in recent years, but can we expect a drastic price hike soon? Everything points to such a conclusion. First and foremost, the rising cost of malting barley on the international commodity market. Malting barley is one of the main ingredients in beer. Furthermore, a variety of other costs are increasing for brewers, including for other grains, glass, cardboard, energy, transportation, insurance and labour. Spiraling petroleum prices are the major culprit in most such cost increases. Beyond which, the booming ethanol market is also a major influence. Because ethanol is made substantially from corn, which yields higher returns to farmers, more and more farmers have been growing more corn than barley. And now that more corn is being sold to make ethanol, there is less corn available to be fed to animals. That has lead to greater demand and higher prices for other feed grains, including barley, for livestock. Bottom line: with overall inflation in Thailand reportedly at around 7% this year and maybe hitting double digits next year, and with the rising cost of aluminium, energy, paper, freight, labour and grains, expect to pay more for beer.

Quote of the week. "Thailand can be heaven or can be hell and there is only a second, a sheet of paper or a thin line in between."

Katoey hongnams? I guess they were inevitable!

If you ever wondered what would happen if you failed to stand for the national anthem before a flick in Thailand, here's the answer.

Here's a piece on the large age gap often found between Western men and their Thai bride.


Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1: Could you kindly advise me on where I stand per below: I have been married to a Thai girl for 2 years and acquainted for a further year. I knew before we married of her previous boyfriends but advised her to not contact them again after we had got married. One has persisted with email on and off every 3 months and she has called him on occasions when I was away. I said I would contact this person with the news that we were married and tell him not to contact her again. However, when I mentioned this she went crazy and even threatened me with a knife. Is this normal or am I looking at it out of context? Your experienced advice would be well received.

Mrs. Stick says: I think this is a common situation today. If these guys were friends with her before she knew you then it means you try to stop her from communicating with her friends. No-one likes that. I think you have to understand that everyone has friends and we do not like to be prevented from seeing them, especially people she knew before she knew you.

Mr. Stick says: I have to chime in here. I think absolutely no good can come of this situation – at best – and at worst I think your wife is potentially lining up suitors while she is still married. I accept that those who are married may retain contact with the odd ex, but I think it is important that they are totally open with their partner about such contact. I also think that if your wife wants to see or meet any of these guys then at the very least she should invite you to go along too. If she is not prepared to do that then it is clearly questionable behaviour and in my eyes she is totally in the wrong. Each partner in a serious relationship or marriage has a responsibility to live their life in such a way that does not put any doubts in their partner's mind. Your wife is doing the complete opposite. That she pulled a knife on you is a bloody big issue. While it may be connected to the ongoing "friendships", it is in itself a whole new issue – and a very serious one. I don't like to say it, but if your wife pulls a knife on you, there are major problems – with her, and very possibly, your marriage.

Question 2: My wife on occasions is very hot tempered and it's usually something small that sets her off like me criticising her driving or leaving toothpaste in the washbasin. I do end up reacting to her comments which makes matters worse. Lately I have not reacted to what she says but after one particularly nasty outburst I reacted in a rather immature way. The next day on my way to work in the city I walked past a place that advertises traditional Thai massage and decided to go in and have a massage which if my wife knew would make her angry. Childish I know to get back at my wife this way. The massage place was run by 3 middle-aged women who use to have farang husbands. It's all above board and not offering massages with "happy endings". I tip them very well. I returned home with flowers and sweet words for my wife and life is back to being perfect again. That was 6 months ago. I have told the ladies my reasons for having a massage and I have been back at least twice a month. The ladies wish my wife would get angry more often. Is my spending money on these ladies putting them above my wife or as they are providing a service would it be regarded as acceptable? I don't feel guilty about it, but I do know my wife would be very upset about me giving money to another Thai woman.

Mrs. Stick says: You are keeping a secret from your wife. That's bad! I think you know that your wife will be angry if she finds out where you have been and she might think you had not only a massage. Your wife might find out about this in the future and if she does she will be very angry. I guarantee it. Then maybe she will pull a knife on you like the other reader today? I think this is a bad situation and I think trouble will come if you continue. Even if you stop going, your wife might find out about it. I think you should stop going there if you cannot tell your wife about it.

Question 3: Is it very important for a Thai lady who wants to marry a good Thai man to be virgin? What happens when a lady said she was virgin and after they were married her husband realises she was not a virgin? Are there many Thai ladies going to see a doctor to be a virgin again?

Mrs. Stick says: In our old traditions a woman was supposed to be a virgin before she got married. But I think today these traditions are not followed so much like they were in the past. Things have changed. We are getting married at older ages and I think not so many women are virgins these days when they get married. Maybe they had sex with the guy they married before marriage or maybe they had other boyfriends before him. For some families they try to preserve their daughter for marriage but I think now this is a small minority. Some families think their daughter is a virgin when she gets married but actually she is not :) In the past Thai men only wanted to marry a virgin but this changed too. My favourite politician, I won't say his name, married a woman who was married to a foreigner before. So she was not a virgin :) In the past this would never have happened and it shows times change now.

I get quite a few comments asking why I often mention the prices of various things, particularly drinks and food prices. Those emailing me take the view that whatever things cost, they're going to pay it. Invariably they're tourists in Thailand for no more than 2 weeks who intend to enjoy themselves whatever it costs – and fair enough too. What needs to be understood however is that a chunk of the readership is locally based guys on local salaries and retirees on a fixed pension. Just as you tourists watch the prices of things at home, so too do those of us living in Thailand.



Your Bangkok commentator,
Best column in a while, a very solid 9/10
Stick