Stickman's Weekly Column June 8th, 2008

One That Got Away Part 1


Have you ever had an itch in Bangkok and been unable to scratch it? Is it possible that a guy wants to get laid in Bangkok and cannot? I have to admit that it has indeed happened to me. Not once, but twice. Read on…

It was September 1998 and the weekend had come around. Back in those days I worked a Tuesday to Saturday work week so Saturday night was my Friday night, the night I would go out with a mate, or a bunch of mates, have a few drinks and enjoy a good time.

The week before myself and an Aussie mate had been out at one of the large Isaan nightlife venues on Srinakarin Road. He brought along a lady he had been seeing and one of her friends who I felt I might quite like. She was an Isaan girl, a lass whose family had struggled to put her through school and university. She had been in Bangkok working in an office job for a couple of years, making money for her family, scraping by.

She was a lovely girl and we got on really well. There was a mutual attraction and in retrospect I was perhaps too much of a gentleman on that first night. I don’t make a habit of inviting nice girls back to my place the first time I met them, but I was to later learn that she was let down that I hadn’t.

A couple of days after that first meeting my friend let me know that she wanted to see me again and she expected more than a couple of drinks and dancing. Nudge nudge wink wink, Stick was in!

My Aussie pal arranged for us to meet in Country Road, just a few metres from the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 19. The girls liked Isaan music and both being new to Bangkok we were happy to go with the flow and discover new venues. We had planned to meet at 9 PM.

I finished work at 4:00, was home by 4:30 and pottered around, killing time before the hot date I was very much looking forward to.

Not long after I had arrived home the heavens opened. This was late '90s Bangkok and the city's drainage systems were not nearly as efficient as they are now. The soi where I lived flooded and the area outside my condo became a small river. I remember a couple of hours before the appointed time going downstairs and seeing several inches of water to wade through to get out of the apartment building's compound and on to the soi. I wondered if I would even be able to get outside, let alone make it down to Sukhumvit. Fortunately the rain stopped soon after, the soi drained and by 8:30 I was traipsing down the soi towards the bus stop. This was pre-skytrain days and due to certain routes prohibiting tuktuks and taxis from passing, the quickest way to get to my destination was actually by bus.

Down the soi I bounded. I was a man on a mission with a big grin on my face. Tonight was going to be the beginning of something special, possibly the start of a relationship with what would be my first Thai girlfriend.

The main road had transformed into a small river. There was no traffic to be seen at all and into the distance I couldn't see anything. There must have been some flooding up the road preventing traffic from coming on to this stretch.. Here we were in the heart of Bangkok and there was not a single vehicle to be seen. This was an open air bus stop merely denoted by a single sign and there was no shelter when the rains started again. The few of us at the bus stop scurried for cover. This was the peak of the rainy season and it was positively hosing down. I looked at my watch and we were getting on for 9:00. I was going to be late, something I really hate.

But it was then I spotted a large blue blob hurtling down the road, water spraying up on to and even over parts of the footpath. In the driving rain I could just make out that it was my bus! Yippee, I would make it on time or just a little late. I leapt on board the large blue blob and it headed towards Sukhumvit at a good clip. There was almost no traffic and there few passengers to pick up. After leaping on board, I pushed 6 baht into the conductress’s hand, received my ticket and discovered I was one of few people on the bus and found a seat.

We crossed the Patumwan intersection, passed Siam Square and were through the Rajaprasong intersection in record time. The bus hurled past Chidlom towards Sukhumvit. We were making record time and I would not be late.

We were approaching the overhead expressway which marks the end of Ploenchit and the start of Sukhumvit when disaster struck. Instead of heading straight ahead on to Sukhumvit, the bus turned left. I had taken this route a zillion times on my regular jaunts down to Sukhumvit and it had never once done this. What was going on?

We slowed for a moment as the driver paid the expressway toll and before I had had a chance to register what had happened, we were on the expressway and zooming north. I was dumbfounded! What was the bus doing up on the expressway? We passed exit after exit after exit. What had happened? Had we been hijacked? Where were we going?

I called over the conductress and asked where we were going and she said something I couldn’t understand nor figure out. A passenger realising my distress told me that we were on the expressway heading for the airport. WTF?! I want to be on Sukhumvit!

“Oh, didn’t you see the yellow sign in the front window? This particular bus takes the expressway!”

I looked at my watch and it was now past 9:00 PM. As the seconds passed we were getting further and further away from Sukhumvit. Further away from my Aussie pal and much further away from the little Isaan office girl who was waiting for me.

I don’t know how long we were on the expressway for but it seemed like an eternity. Perhaps 15 minutes later we finally turned off the expressway. I pushed the buzzer and soon after the bus pulled up in some neighbourhood out in the northern part of the city. I was lost and didn’t have a clue where I was. All I could see was the Hopewell Project, the huge pillars leading even further out of the city. I was late for a hot date. Let’s rephrase that, I was late for a sure thing. I could hear planes overhead so I can’t have been far from Don Muang Airport which I knew put me about 25 km from where I needed to be!

Now this is 10 years ago and a mobile phone cost about one month’s salary for a teacher. I didn’t have a mobile and neither did my Aussie friend. I had no way of contacting him and telling him that I would be late.

There was little traffic in the area and I waited for a taxi. I waited and waited and waited. It was now after 9:30 and I was very, very late.

I saw the red light of an available taxi and waved him over. “Sukhumvit Soi 19” I told the driver and he laughed and sped off. WTF!

It seemed like an eternity before the next available cab came along. “Rot did” the driver told me when I told him where I wanted to go. It would be a good fare but the driver clearly did not want to be stuck in snarled up traffic.

This pattern repeated itself over and over. I was stranded somewhere in the north of the city and I remember looking at my watch at 10:10 PM, realising it had been more than half an hour and thinking what a disaster the night had become.

Another cab came along and I got the predictable response – he had no intention of taking me anywhere near Sukhumvit. I resigned myself to my fate. Sukhumvit was about as attractive a destination as Chernobyl. I queried the driver about taking me back to where I had come from and he agreed.

A forlorn young Stick saw many flooded neighbourhoods of the Thai capital pass by that night for the first time. Perhaps an hour later the taxi pulled up outside my condo and a dejected figure made his way back up the apartment. Alone. That had never been part of the plan!

It is hard to imagine that one has an itch they want to scratch in Bangkok and is unable to manage it. It happened to me. Unfortunately, that was not the only time…

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the skytrain about to turn on to the track over Silom Road, from Chongnonsee. As with the pictures of the two previous weeks, few people got it right – so I have made this week's picture MUCH easier! 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 Not everyone marries a bargirl.

Re: The e-mail in this week's column that you headed "Wear the trousers and control the purse strings." Yes, there are those complete idiots who do seem to lose everything. However, I, too, have our home in my wife's name, and our savings accounts are joint. But after 14 years of marriage, there've been no problems whatsoever. One, she's not a village girl, but rather from Bangkok. Two, she's not an ex-bargirl or uneducated labourer, but rather an assistant professor at the top university in Thailand. And I've never had to help her family with money; indeed, her family has more money than I do! So, not ALL of us who have stuff in the wife's name are complete idiots, although I do concede that type exists.

One of America's most wanted?

I would say any American living on 20,000 baht a month is either mentally ill or wanted for a crime in America. Most likely the second. You can check out the website for America's Most Wanted and possibly find your new friend. There may be a large reward on his head so it may be worth looking in to.

How many older brothers do you have?!

In answer to your question re: homosexuals and katoey in Thailand, have you ever noticed that most gay men in Thailand are quite slight and small, even by Thai standards, while most katoey are preternaturally big by Thai standards? Take a peek in a ladyboy bar some time – they're all Amazons. Given (potential) muscle mass is largely determined by testosterone levels, in both men and women, and the male sex drive is largely due to fluctuating testosterone levels, the size of the katoey and gay men demonstrates the hormonal schism within the tendencies of the gay community. Feminine gay men and sexually aggressive gay men, which make up the majority of ladyboys, are at opposite ends of the spectrum rather than being grouped together. Katoey are towards the extreme of overtly male sexuality while feminine gay men are much more like women at the other end of the continuum. A run-of-the-mill straight man would be somewhere in between. Another factor to consider is this – many studies have shown that the likelihood of a man being gay is closely linked to the number of elder brothers he has, with the number of sisters irrelevant. The theory is that the amount of testosterone passed via the mother when the child is in the womb decreases with each subsequent male pregnancy. Next time you're in a conversation with a gay guy or a ladyboy (your secret's safe with me) ask them how many piichay they have and you'll see how often this pattern correlates – large katoey will rarely have any. Gay men usually do.


Thai dating at ThaiFriendly.com

Marriage, money and controlling the cheque book.

I was lucky, I guess. And I didn’t learn about this until a few years after marriage. Just before the wedding ceremony and party my “best man”, a good friend who had lived in Thailand for many years and spoke Thai well, took my bride aside and said to her, “You know, Jim is very keenio (stingy). His family is keenio. That is the way he was brought up. That is just the way he is. Do you still want to go through with this?” She did, but maybe this message tempered her expectations for financial largesse. Actually, we discussed financial and practical decisions openly and patiently, respecting each other’s opinions. We agreed, for example, to help her widowed mother. We sent 5,000 baht per month (15 years ago that was worth more than now). And I made it clear that I would not be comfortable having any of her family members living with us. I kept control of the checkbook and gave her a monthly allowance she could spend on herself. We let the joint savings account build up until, after two years, we could buy a new car. And later we had money for her to start a business and to pay half the cost (350,000 baht) of a new house for mother. I think she learned the advantage of saving money until we could make big leaps forward. A good friend, who also had about a million baht saved up, told me his new Thai wife called his bank account derisively, “sleeping money”. She just couldn’t see the point of keeping money in the bank and not spending it. This seems to be a rather pervasive Thai attitude. Deal with it openly before it becomes a source of tension and fights. Be able to explain compound interest on both loans and savings. But do understand that Thais traditionally value gold and land titles for financial security. There are other factors that may influence how a Thai woman and her family view marriage to a farang. Many Thai men, who can afford it, have a mia noi (mistress). Providing financial support is part of the arrangement, quid pro quo, so to speak. During the Vietnam War years many American forces in Thailand lived with a mia chao (hired wife). As that term implies, money was part of the deal. And nowadays many older farangs have married Thais and retired to Thailand. They are often rich and quite generous. But oh, a Thai woman can be so loving and caring, and a delight to share life with. Don’t let money matters interfere with that. But keep control of the checkbook!

Trying it on!

The reason a writer to the mailbox was watched like a hawk as he breakfasted at the Emerald Hotel is simple. It's the same reason that your room is always checked when you leave a Thai hotel, even though you've said that you have not used the mini-bar etc. So many Thai people 'try it on' and try and sneak off without paying in full that the staff trust no-one. Farangs get tarred by the same brush. Just another side of Thai culture they conveniently ignore. I can't help it, but I often lose it when the staff treat me as a liar and make me wait while they check the room.

The (s)low season is not seen any more clearly than by observing customer numbers in Morning Night Bar, the large open air beer bar just around the corner from the entrance to Nana Plaza. This goldmine is one of the most profitable bars of its type nationwide. Day, night, whenever, it's almost always packed. That was until this week when I strolled past whilst making my rounds and I couldn't help but notice that the whole front seating area was empty. Ok, there were heaps of girls perching on the ledge barking out to passers by but there was not one guy sitting out the front. This is almost unheard of! And it is not just Morning Night that is hurting. Rainbow 4, which most likely has the highest turnover in Nana as well as the highest number of dancers had less than 20 customers at peak time one night this week. Big name bars are doing ok but many no name bars are doing a dreadful trade. I know the bar owners say it every year – and I report it seemingly every year, but this REALLY IS the quietest low season I have seen.

With that said, Cowboy was positively heaving on Friday night. Punters were out in big numbers, the bars were busy, many were full and there was a really nice vibe in the air. My feeling is that the failure of the forecast rain to arrive probably tempted a few guys out, especially those who had stayed home a lot recently with all of the rainfall we've had.

The cat and mouse games between bar owners and the authorities over the new anti-smoking laws appear to have been won by the authorities. A run through Nana this week revealed that not one single bar had ash trays out. One or two bar owners will turn a blind eye to their friends or big spenders having a cigarette inside the bar but if you're not known or a big spender, forget it. The rails on the walkway around levels 2 and 3 of the plaza have a plentiful supply of ashtrays and customers are being encouraged to smoke outside. Even the Rainbow bars which are hugely popular with Japanese customers – known as big smokers – have dispensed with ash trays in the bars. The Rainbow bars get a little more latitude than others so this suggests the crackdown is very real.

Any why don't the Rainbow bars stock San Miguel Light?! What's that all about?

According to the farang manager of a Sukhumvit disco popular with foreign men and local birds, the boys in brown have introduced a temporary licensing fee for venues showing matches in the European Championships. The reason given is that it is a measure to stop or at least reduce gambling. Hmmm….

A new high end bar targeting Western customers and said to be similar to the recently closed Champagne Lounge is due to open on Sukhumvit between Asoke and soi 20. Apparently it is near done but for now the curtains remain closed.

The footbridge from the skytrain at Asoke going over the treacherous Asoke intersection is nearing completion and looks likely to open before the end of the month. It will allow us to safely cross the intersection from all corners by going over or under the road.

Thought you'd seen a lot of Russians in Thailand, especially Pattaya, over the past year or two? Numbers out, if true – and I personally am not convinced that they are – suggest that Russians now number the highest of all "farang" visitors. 889,000 of them are said to have visited Pattaya alone in the past year, a number which exceeds the number of Brits or Americans or Germans visiting all of Thailand, typically the three largest groups of farang by nationality visiting Thailand. If this trend continues, I think we can see even more change in the Thai tourism industry.

Joy Bar at Cowboy has started low season pricing with 95 baht beer available from 8 PM until closing. Lady drinks run 150 baht – that seems more and more to be the common price for lady drinks these days. Snorkeling lessons for the ladies in the back of the bar run 500 baht.

I checked out the new Big Mango bar this week and was well impressed. They have successfully recaptured the flavour and feel of the original venue. Many of the old staff have returned, the same music is played, the same sports are shown, free wi-fi is available (and three computers for customers to use absolutely FREE upstairs) and within a couple of weeks they will have the same food too. Plenty of old customers made it for opening night and they managed to attract a number of pretty freelancers too. Welcome back Big Mango, it's great to have you back and I look forward to making it my first stop on Friday nights again.

Prices in Bangkok are on the rise. Across the board, it's not just petrol and food prices that are going up but the prices for seemingly everything. The only things not increasing in price are a can of Coke, rents and taxi fares – although the latter is under review and a price rise is just around the corner. A friend, reader and contributor to this website spent a mere 2 days in hospital earlier this week. This was a hospital in Chiang Mai, not one of the 5 star hotel variety you find in Bangkok. Two days in hospital and his bill was a whopping 400,000 baht. The big question is what would it have cost in Bangkok? The full version of events can be found in his report here. I can remember when medical care in Thailand was considered cheap, but more and more the prices I hear charged seem to be close to Western prices.

Stateside readers are emailing me about the steep increases in air fares for their upcoming trips. One reader is looking at booking his Christmas trip from Los Angeles to Bangkok. His last non-stop flight on Thai Air was around $1,500. Now, 5 months later, the same flight is almost $2,000. The fares go up each month thanks to the rising cost of fuel. At least the dollar has made a mild comeback and might help to defray further price increases…a little.

And the drop in tourist numbers is having an effect on business away from the heavily touristed part of Sukhumvit. From the girlfriend of a friend who sells jeans in MBK in a store largely patronised by foreigners, sales are way down. During the peak of high season the outlet sells between 130 and 150 pairs of jeans per day. Typically in low season they sell around 50. For the last month they have been selling about 30 pairs a day.

A long term reader asks about HD movies. Are they readily available in Bangkok and if so, where? Also, are we being a little hopeful in coming across any of the bootleg variety?

I visited the Tasty Thai restaurant this week, this site's newest advertiser. Tasty Thai bills itself as a Thai fast food outlet serving delicious, nutritious Thai food. They have all the usual favourites like green chicken curry, pad Thai, Penang curry, spring rolls etc and they see themselves as competing with the more well-known fast food chains. With that in mind they strive to serve most meals within 100 seconds. They tell me their food is nutritious and I can confirm that it tastes awfully good. Prices are very reasonable and the restaurant is bright and modern. Their only Bangkok branch is open on Suriwong Road, just a little bit down from Patpong, opposite the soon to open Le Meridian Hotel. A special mention needs be made of their smoothies which are particularly good. Smoothies are a license for restaurants to gouge with some – Starbucks being notoriously guilty of this practice – charging well over 100 baht for a smoothie that is made with syrup! Tasty Thai don't cheat the customers and their smoothies actually contain and are flavoured by real fruit. There's a little chili in them which gives them a mild kick and at 49 baht, they represent good value.

Speaking of food, another spot that has zoomed on to the list of Stickman favourites is The Black Swan, under the Asoke BTS station on the even-numbered soi side of the road. It's the closest I've found to a traditional English pub, probably on a par with the Bull's Head in that respect. The food is wonderful, not cheap mind you, but very, very good. If you're a Brit feeling homesick, check it out.

Some girl somewhere in Asia is dead-set on ruining a poor teacher's life in Thailand. The French Canadian apparently did the dirty deed with her and then called things off. But EXACTLY what happened, who knows? The lady in question was not pleased how things ended and is now sending nasty emails to all and sundry telling anyone who cares to read them what a bad guy he is and casting really nasty aspersions about his character. She even went to the extent of contacting his employer. How low can you go?! I guess the moral of the story is that you have to be careful with the local girls OR do as a friend of mine does and not even tell them your real name or real place of work!

Damn, why do all the new internet cafes have to install such large monitors! It seems to be the norm in internet cafes these days that computers have massive monitors, the big problem being that all and sundry can see everything you do and even read what you type! What's the point of having a 19 inch monitor in an internet cafe? So much for any notion of privacy!

Drink driving is a huge problem in Thailand and the frequency with which people from all strata of society drink and drive (yes, even your pretty, dolled up innocent-looking office girl is prone to it) is alarming. In years and years of living in Thailand, I don't know that I have ever seen a single checkpoint specifically targeting drink driving. Up in Korat things are a little different. In the gateway to Isaan the police have been on the rampage catching drunk drivers – and good job I say. Several farangs living there have been arrested and thrown in the slammer overnight. The usual fine is 20,000 baht as well as around 100 hours of community service. One of the places the police like to set up their roadblock is in front of the Pegasus Hotel, right up the street from Big C on the main road out of the city heading towards Khon Kaen. The police are not cutting any slack for foreigners – and neither should they.

Quote of the week comes from a mate in a Cowboy bar from this past Friday night. "I like this girl. She's like an espresso, short and dark and gets straight down to it." In fact the same guy came up with another classic this week. "I got a new job. They just offered me a load more cash. Not a lot of difference between stockbrokers and Nana bargirls…we go with the highest offer!"

Get used to the sight of Russians in Pattaya. This article reports they are buying up property large in Sin City. Maybe it is time to hit the local Russian lingo school and start translating this site into Cyrillic? And this article from the IHT suggests that Phuket interests them too!

I wonder if this book would appeal to some within the Stickman readership?

Is Thailand internet traffic being monitored – and is that the reason for the stuttering internet most users have suffered in recent times? This Bangkok Post article this week may shed some light.

Another foreigner falls to their death from a Bangkok condo, this time a 32 year old female American teacher. Why oh why do foreigners go to the top floor of their condo building when they have been drinking?!

Here's an interesting piece by a Thai about that most dreaded of topics, the dowry!

Ask Mrs. Stick

After being precariously close to ending up on the scrap heap, readers have resumed sending in questions for Mrs. Stick. She is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you. She *needs* your questions if her section of the column is to remain!

Question 1: Living in Thailand and learning about Thai culture has been a very interesting experience for me. But one thing I can not understand is why it is the oldest daughter and not the one or more of the sons that is expected to take care of the family in old age. This seems especially cruel in that women are often denied an education and face strong gender discrimination in the working world. And this often results in the lady having to turn to selling flesh. What is the origin of this cultural norm and why has it survived for so long?

Mrs. Stick says: In Thailand we think it is the female's duty to look after our parents if they are sick or not well. The sons are usually working and making money so it is the daughter's responsibility to look after parents when they are old. All children in the family are expected to help by providing money for the parents. This part is not only for the daughters but for all family members to assist. If someone has a job then they are expected to contribute. I think women who work in red light areas can make more money than others so they might contribute more but actually it is everyone's responsibility to help, not only that of one daughter.

Is it a case of déjà vu? The political situation in Thailand feels remarkably similar to how it did, what, about two years ago. And we know what happened then. Does that mean that we are going to see another…..? Stop, Stick, we're not allowed to talk about that sort of thing! The city is already awash with rumours! One thing's for sure, I have got my camera ready and the number of the local motorbike taxi rider stored in my phone. As soon as, or should that be, if all hell breaks out, I'll be joining the rush to watch it all take place again. I won't make the mistake of waiting until the next day again and missing the best part.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick poor column this week 4/10, opening piece didn't work and not much interesting news