Stickman's Weekly Column September 21st, 2008

And The Driver Fled The Scene


If you’d asked me at the time what the worst sound in the world was, my answer probably would have been the sound of finger nails down a blackboard. But with more and more schools installing whiteboards, the odds of hearing that horrendous sound are minimal these days. My second answer then probably would have been the sound of someone throwing up. It’s not that the sound itself is actually that bad, more the sight of someone throwing up and that smell, oh that awful smell.

Friday before last I was to find out for sure, once and for all, what the worst sound in the world is.

With disgusting sounds it is not just the sound that gets you, but everything else associated with it…

I was in a semi-meditative state and it felt like I was the only person on the planet. Me, alone, in Stickworld. Rabid soi dogs barked at me, high revving motorcycles taken to the red line and beyond zoomed past me and the inane calls of “Farang, where you go” from the locals were all lost on me as I pounded the pavement on the familiar route of my daily run. I was a couple of kilometres from home and moving at a decent pace. I had built up a good sweat and didn’t have a care in the world.

I was at the major intersection of Rachadapisek and Chongnonsee, about 400 metres from Central Rama 3. The sound of a diesel engine accelerating heavily blended into the background, a sound you hear every minute of every day on the congested roads of inner city Bangkok. It had to be a large vehicle, perhaps a lorry, maybe a bus. The sound of hard acceleration was replaced by that of Somchai braking heavily, quickly followed by that of screeching tyres. It was loud, no more than 50 metres away and I found myself making an involuntary jump, probably some sort of silly self-preservation manoeuvre, fear that a vehicle was headed right for me.

The screeching of brakes and tyres of a large vehicle sliding out of control are truly the worst sound in the world and I think I can safely say that it is these sounds that are even worse than what follows, the unmistakable sound of a road accident, metal on metal.

I hate to have my run interrupted and hate to stop for any reason but this was extraordinary. After that silly little involuntary jump followed by my arms grabbing my abdomen in a protective pose, I stopped and looked over my left shoulder to see one of the city’s white buses sliding out of control. The back end was sliding into the left lane as the driver unsuccessfully tried to swerve and avoid a motorcycle right in the middle of a major intersection. The driver broadsided the motorbike at one hell of a rate of knots, the bike went one way, the rider the other and he was then dragged a short distance somehow squirting out from underneath the bus.

If this was Hollywood the sound effects would have stopped and we would have a few seconds' silence as the camera zoomed into the eyes of the main character witnessing the event. But this is Bangkok, city of madness, and life didn't stop. Nothing stopped. Everything continued as if nothing had happened. Despite the fact that a bus had just smashed a motorcycle and come to a stop blocking a major intersection, motorbikes and other vehicles which had just been given the green light made their away around it, seemingly completely disinterested in the horror smash that had just taken place right before their eyes.

The mangled mess that was the rider of the motorbike was motionless and within seconds, even at some 50 metres away, a pool of the red liquid of death was forming.

Looking at the scene and trying to work out just what had happened, my best guess is that the bus must have accelerated to make it through the intersection before the lights turned red. Presumably it was a little late and the motorbike had anticipated the lights turning green and accelerated out directly into the bus's path. It was almost certainly instant death for the motorcycle rider.

This is not an uncommon scene. Drivers running reds and collide with other vehicles and causing death is a daily occurrence around the world. It's what happened next that didn’t just surprise me, it astounded me.

The bus driver had not managed to maintain control of the vehicle and it had slid at an angle of about 15 degrees as he lost control under heavy braking and had presumably spun the steering wheel to avert disaster. The bus was now spread across two lanes. The motorbike was out of sight, presumably on the other side of the bus and the rider, or what was left of him, was a mangled mess of human flesh. The bus driver’s head popped out the side window of the bus and surveyed the scene. He saw the body. He saw the blood. He saw the result. His head was outside the window for two seconds maximum. The head then disappeared, the bus started – he had stalled it – and he continued down the road.

As I looked across at the bus which had about 15 or so passengers, each one of them sat in their seat like a bunch of clones. Head fixed staring straight ahead, no-one looking out the side of the bus. What they didn’t see never happened, of course.

The bus proceeded to the next bus stop, less than 100 metres down the road. No-one got off the bus. Three new passengers, all of whom must have witnessed the crash, got on board, and the bus proceeded down the road….as if nothing had happened.

The bus drove several hundred metres along Chongnonsee Road to the next intersection where the light was green and proceeded on to Rama 3 Road at which point it was out of sight.

Bangkok buses ply one big loop so presumably the driver would pass that same spot a few times a day. What would he think the next time he drove past it? Would there be a next time? Would the bus be stopped by police before he finished his shift? Would he turn himself in? Would he do a runner? Probably the latter, I deduced.

Looking back at the lifeless body at a busy intersection, two motorbike riders had stopped and were standing over the body, just staring at it. I couldn’t make out their eyes but there seemed to be a look of bewilderment about them. They kept a distance of perhaps a couple of metres, no doubt concerned at the prospect of upsetting the ghost.

There was nothing I could do to help and frankly a foreigner is best advised not to get involved in such incidents in Thailand so perhaps 90 seconds after the accident had occurred, I continued on my run, albeit feeling a little uneasy and more than a bit queasy.

Anyone who has read the local newspapers knows that when it comes to accidents on Thailand's roads, particularly accidents involving buses, the article ends in the ubiquitous “and the driver fled the scene”. In the event of any accident causing death the driver of the other vehicle is automatically arrested. In this case it seemed to me that the bus driver was at fault. But it was the way the driver continued on as if nothing had happened along with a busload of stoic-faced clones also acting like nothing had happened which gave me a really bad feeling. Where was their compassion, their humanity? And that no-one actually rendered assistance to the victim at the scene was disappointing. In my own defence, it is common knowledge that as a Westerner you're generally best advised to avoid rendering assistance. You might get caught up in the whole incident and perhaps even somehow blamed for it!

I've seen some pretty horrific things in Thailand, but that bastard's head popping out the window for a second or two and then starting the bus up and continuing down the road as if nothing had happened will stay with me for a long time.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken of the bridge that goes from Rama 3 Road over Rama 4 Road to Asoke, next to the Klong Toey Market. It was not easy and few got it right. 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. The third prize is offered by ThailandFriends.com, an online dating community that boasts over 50,000 members, hosts live events in and around Thailand and allows basic members to send 5 messages a day for free. The prize offered is one month premium membership which adds more to the ThailandFriends experience with unlimited messaging, detailed member searches, 24 profile pictures, and a whole lot more.

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. The ThailandFriends prize must be claimed within one week.

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

EMAIL OF THE WEEK "Farang, where you go?!"

I used to get pissed when I would go to my wife's village, and everyone, including her family and "cousins," would call me farang. After all, there was only one of me, so couldn't they learn my real name, damn it?! Well here I am now, 7 years later, marriage, a kid, and lots of time spent in that village at our home there when we can visit from the US. And guess what – just like anyone you've known for a while, they have all learned my name. The problem now? I have to admit that I have not learned all of the "family's" names. So who looks like the jackass now? Who should be offended now? The lesson here: Don't get so pissy about being called farang! It's better than being called "that jackass who doesn't know my name after 7 years" (my words, not theirs).

Is it so bad being served by so many pretty girls?

We often see surplus staff in shops in Thailand. I was served by six girls for one purchase in the Emporium this week and I even took the items to the cashier myself. I handed the items to the cashier, foolishly thinking she could cope with the situation, but she then transferred them to another girl. Obviously the task was not in her job description. Then there was a rather long discussion on how the scanner should be used involving plenty of "uuhh"s. One to scan, one to pack and one to operate the till and three for back up, like a reserve team. I am not complaining about being served by six girls, the pleasure was all mine, but why do we see this vast waste of resources all the time. In our company car park we have one 'guard' on each level, normally asleep in their chairs. When awake all they do is wave you to proceed in the direction you are driving, a bit like the police on the expressways; completely pointless.

A positive side effect of the downfall in tourist numbers.

I arrived back in Bangkok from Bali this week and you could just take your pick of the empty immigration desks. Some of the staff on the desks were actually stretching and yawning. Wonderful! No 30 minute wait in the farang lines while the Thai lines are empty. ALL the lines were. My flight was around 90 percent full, but less than 20 people were at the carousel collecting bags.

The perils of Sukhumvit at night.

A late night walk for a snack along the stretch of Sukhumvit between Asoke and McDonalds (Westin Hotel side) is very hazardous indeed. On the guard against light-fingered katoeys and the like, I wasn't so guarded against the aggressive jostling by a 7 or 8 year old boy prodding me incessantly to buy flowers as I walked. Over a distance of 10 metres he continued to push the flower bouquet into my thigh as I continued to walk. When he finally relented and dropped off behind, I placed my hand in my pocket to discover 11,000 baht (11 x 1,000 baht notes) gone. I turned and saw him 20 -30 metres behind raise his hand to his female partner in crime (mother, sister?). I chased him and caught him, searched his pockets and clothing (as he pleaded innocence) but found nothing whilst his female accomplice insisted he didn't do anything. As the last resort I checked under his armpit and, bingo, my 11,000 baht was back in my hand. No police presence around so I figured a wasted exercise to report it as they'd be gone in an instant anyway. Certainly makes it more of a challenge to guard your pockets having to juggle an umbrella on these wet nights too. These criminals know that. Please beware. I was very lucky indeed.

Why are helmets not worn?

I am confused why many motorcyclists and passengers still don't wear crash helmets in Bangkok. As far as I am aware it is the law and every day we see accidents on the streets which demonstrate why it should be the law. Is it stupidity, the lazy can't be bothered attitude that is so prevalent here or an act of defiance? When the Vietnamese government imposed the same law everyone was wearing helmets the next day. Many companies even bought helmets for their employees. The act of breaking the law in Vietnam has a real consequence compared to the 100 baht bribe in Thailand. That is the benefit of the rule of law.

Amazing Thai Airways!

A reader's story this past week from Khun Bill was about Thai Airways, and in it he questioned how the airline would be in an emergency. I know. I was flying between Dubai and Bangkok, when a fight broke out between two passengers. Someone had, it seems, repeatedly kicked the back of the seat in front of him and the occupier of that seat got upset. What did the crew do to sort out the situation, which woke up the entire plane? They were nowhere to be found, all hiding behind their curtains in the galley. It was left to the passengers to calm things down. Great, hmm.

Closing a company in Thailand.

It’s MUCH harder to close a company in Thailand than to open it! When I moved back to Thailand several years ago I went through a (well established) company owned by a friend of a friend to set up a company and get me a work permit. Big mistake! What a screw-up he was. It cost me about 30,000 baht and I never even ended up with a work permit. The only saving grace was I only paid him half up front with the promise I’d pay the rest when the company was set up and I received the work permit. When he sent me a follow-up invoice he’d changed the wording from “Services to set up a company and provide a work permit,” to “Services to set up a company and apply for a work permit.” I returned the invoice and pointed out the discrepancy! In the end I found a job myself and I got my work permit through the company at no cost to myself. About a year after opening my company (which I never did anything with because I got the other job and work permit) I received a call from the friend of a friend telling me there was a letter there for me. It was from the Thai police's Economic Crime Suppression Division and I was to report to them immediately or an arrest warrant would be issued. The worst part was that the letter was sent to his office six months earlier and he never bothered to call me. To make a long story short I called the cop immediately and in my very basic Thai explained the situation and set up an appointment with him and eventually sorted it out. I went elsewhere to close the company (and of course costing me more money, but at least it was done properly). Ah, lessons learned!

I made a flying visit to Pattaya this week and just had a few hours in town. Perhaps it wasn't long enough to comment but things did seem quieter than ever before. EVER! I can clearly remember how quiet it was on my second visit, way back in September '98, and even that was busier than how it is now.

The newest gogo bar on Walking Street seems to be something of a take off of Soi 15's What's Up, albeit a slightly tamer version. Air Port Club is another of these "filth bars", the newest and frankly, most popular type of gogo bar in Pattaya. Filth bars typically feature Jacuzzis, soaped up women and some fairly frightening antics. It can be a bit of a laugh the first time you see it, that is if you have enough alcohol in the system, but sticking my head in the door this week stone cold sober I thought there was only one word to describe it – grotty. It's a nice bar, but I can't help but think the location is oh so wrong. Can they get away with those antics for long in that high foot traffic location? I mean, when they open the curtain you can see into the bar and all that is going on – and that is right there on Walking Street. With that said, owner Nui is rather well-connected.

There was an elephant traffic jam in Cowboy this week with 5 elephants of varying size in the little lane at the same time. Earlier the same evening there was a real traffic jam with a bunch of motorcycle taxis banked up with about ten of the blocked at a small impasse where two vendors were pushing carts along. Fortunately the motorcyclists seem to disappear around 8 PM. They are, quite frankly, a real nuisance with some of them reveling in opening the throttle and scaring pedestrians in what really should be a traffic free lane.

The owners of Soi Cowboy's Tilac Bar have a new bar under development in Soi 27 of all places – a somewhat quiet lane and not on the farang drinker's map. The double shophouse bar which some of the staff are referring to as Tilac 2 – that won't be its final name – will be a pool bar. A few of the dancing staff are looking at getting off the dance floor and over to the new joint which is due to open around this time next month.

Moonshine Joint in Cowboy has been renovated.

A new bar will be opening in October in a new four star hotel in Sukhumvit Soi 11. The bar will be a Manchester United bar and restaurant, and the opening night should have several players in attendance. With Thais being English soccer mad, this venue should do very well.

Sakura Club 69 in Walking Street's soi 15 is a daft name for a bar. Spending 20 minutes in there this week – and that was 20 minutes too long – I can't help but feel The Kennel would be a more appropriate name.

Speaking of Club 69, the rumour mill has it that the owner was offered 4 million baht for it but has lofty expectations of getting 6. Optimistic in these troubled times!

Here's one for the calendar. Legendary bar boss Ricky turns the "big six oh" on the 12th of next month and there is going to be one hell of a bash at Baby Dolls. The rumours about Ricky ending up in one of the Jacuzzis are, I am afraid, without substance but there will be the usual fun and frolics.

It must be party season at Baby Dolls because this coming Saturday, that is September 27, owner Terry celebrates his birthday. It'll be the usual fun and frolics in a bar that really comes alive at party time.

Former owner of the Fun House and administrator of ThailandFriends, Rob, will be hosting his own birthday party on Saturday the 27th at Larry's Dive. The party begins at 9 PM and the first round is on the house. I joined this site a long time ago, and it has been around since 2003. Now it has close to 60,000 members and hosts large member events in and around Thailand.

It's a popular venue but keep a look out when it comes to checkbin time at Gulliver's. Stories are reaching me of bills being padded at the Sukhumvit Soi 5 branch of Gulliver's. The MO is always the same – a single Guinness is added to the bill, usually only when the bill is in excess of 1,000 baht. What is odd is that in these cases no one had ordered a Guinness so it stuck out like a sore thumb. The usual MO with bill padding is that either the grand total is fudged or an extra drink or three are added. But to add a drink that was not even consumed by those paying the bill seems odd, and quite frankly, just plain dumb!

Pattaya Photo Guide

The US navy may have left Pattaya but they will be back in 3 weeks time when the Reagan, another Nimitz class carrier parks up and several thousand horny seamen make another injection into Pattaya's economy. Word has it that many of the sailors will be given 4 days open shore leave so they won't have to make a mad dash back to the boat by midnight. For those who don't like to fight the young, handsome and willing sailors who pay many times over the odds for the local lasses, you might want to plan your visit carefully.

And the rumour mill also has it that one seaman, one of America's finest, didn't leave Pattaya, succumbing to alcohol poisoning while availing himself of all that the city of sin had to offer. Oh well, if you've got to check out, can you think of a better way to go?

There's a new bar in Patpong, next to Bar Bar – the S+M Club. It's an unusual set up with plenty of good looking girls dancing on a centre stage. Surrounding the stage are several curtained booths which can be rented for 500 baht for a half hour private show with the dancer of your choice. Prices for extras are said to be a bit steep, but it has a good atmosphere and the staff are friendly and attractive. They also have this unique concept, a personal happy hour , where you pay 1,000 baht and drink as much as you can for one hour PLUS you get twenty minutes in a booth with one of the girls.

We'll never know for sure quite what is going on, but the rumour mill is going wild that the Thai police have an Israeli-designed, half-million dollar Internet traffic monitoring system in place that is responsible for logging pretty much all Internet activity in Thailand. It is also said that this is the reason why Internet traffic has slowed down markedly in the past couple of weeks… That this coincided with the introduction of new laws about the gathering of Internet activity by individual ISPs gives it some credence.

The photograph here shows no women standing outside Lolita's, a venue which would appear to be suffering more than any other bar in the Kingdom since the introduction of the anti-smoking laws. Lolita's has been declared a no smoking zone and there is a sign fixed outside the bar to that effect. Just how Lolita's is going to remarket itself, I don't know. Said little Lek, a long time employee of the bar, "My customer come bar but he not come. You know what I mean? He want smoking but now no smoking. No smoking for anyone in the bar!"

I am hearing more and more stories about thefts from local bank accounts using so-called fake ATM cards AND there have been a number of reports in the press this week about this very issue. I personally have had three separate emails about this problem from readers this week which suggests this is a growing problem. It seems that a device is attached to the card slot of the ATM machines which scans your card when you use it and then later a copy is made which is used to access your account. This is not something new and is a worldwide problem. The pertinent issues here in Thailand is that the local banks do not just reinstate your funds by default. You might find yourself in quite a battle to get the money back, even if you can prove that the withdrawals could not possibly have been made by you because you were elsewhere and can prove it! The one thing I do to prevent this sort of thing happening is to make sure I only ever use ATM machines that are within a bank's premises. I think these machines are much less likely to have a scanner attached than an ATM in a more public or remote location.

Yikes, what happened to the cost of coffee at Coffee World? Do they really think that following the Starbucks model and hiking prices by about 15% across the board is a good idea, especially in the days of economic difficulty where more and more of us are cutting down on goods that we may consider excessively expensive? See ya later, Coffee World, you just priced yourself out of the market as far as I am concerned.

I've never heard of price cutting on condoms but then I'm never surprised at anything that happens in Thailand. Bodyguard Condoms, the American run condom firm which makes condos more suitable to the farang fit will dispense packages from its vending machines which can be found in many farang bar areas containing two large size condoms for the usual charge of one, 20 baht. It's not faulty stock, just a good deal on offer.

I finally managed to get a shot of the new Walking Street sign in daylight. It can't just be me who thinks this is one ugly monstrosity. The last one was a landmark and this one, well, what can you say?!

A young lass described as awfully pretty and very pleasant started at a Pattaya gogo bar at the start of this month and was barfined by a local known to the management on her first night. On the subsequent two nights she returned to the bar to pay the barfine and then they never heard from her, or him again. Word got back to the bar a few days later that she had shacked up with the guy. But it didn't last long. A week later, she stumbled into the bar, an arm bandaged up and her face all black and blue. Had hew new boyfriend beaten her up? It turns out that he was out drinking one night and she was in bed in his condo when the door was unlocked and in walked a lass who had just returned from a trip upcountry, a lass who just happens to be the guy in question's wife! Needless to say she was not at all pleased at seeing another woman in the marital bed and attacked the new floozy, inflicting no end of damages. The beaten up lass returned to the bar but the trauma of it all seems to have got to her and she returned upcountry a few days later and hasn't been seen nor heard of since.

If you're thinking of becoming a teacher in Thailand and are currently weighting up the various teacher training courses, there's yet another reason to do the course with TEFL International. New teachers to Thailand must take three days out of their life to do what most consider a complete waste of time, a Thai culture course. If you successfully complete the TEFL International course you also get this silly certificate meaning you do not have to do the course separately. This makes the TEFL International course even more attractive.

Sisterz in Pattaya is doing all it can to get punters in the door with a heap of events lined up between now and the end of the year:

Thursday 2nd October Girls Gone Wild Party
Thursday 16th October Limbo Dance Party
Thursday 30th October Halloween Special Party
Thursday 13th November Mexican Theme Night
Thursday 27th November St. Trinian’s School Girl Party
Thursday 11th December Dance Contest
Thursday 25th December Christmas Party
Wednesday 31st December New Years Eve Countdown

Bangkok Dangerous seems to be getting the thumbs down from all and sundry. I personally quite liked it but then no-one ever seems to agree with my taste in movies. It has to be said that there were quite a few warm, fuzzy, flowery scenes in the movie which could not have been scripted better by the tourism authorities of Thailand. I cannot help but wonder that such scenes had to be included for permission to film in Thailand to be granted. These scenes were just too sickly sweet to be part of a Hollywood action movie.

Quote of the week. "Sometimes farangs living in Thailand go native and start using fuzzy logic."

The despicable trade of underage prostitution proliferates because the Thai boys in brown allow it to.

A Pulitzer prize winning journalist is unimpressed by Thailand's justice system.

Not at all Thailand related, but given that there is a large contingent of foreign teachers in Thailand, this article from the New Zealand Herald about a primary school teacher moonlighting as a prostitute is food for thought.



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: My wife's birthday is coming up. I was looking at Thai Buddhist items in the US to create an area for her in our home. She did not bring anything from Thailand with her. She has told me not to spend the money as she has many of the items in Thailand. She does not seem to think buying things for her birthday is a good use of money. Is it normal not to expect or want gifts for a birthday? She may be concerned as she knows I spent $5,000 in airfare (her and three children) and US immigrations fees have gone up to $1,010 each. What are the regulations on my wife bringing in Thai Buddhist images and HM King's image. She would like to bring back with her next summer when she goes for a visit.

Mrs. Stick says: Actually you know that it is not so common to buy presents for people in our family on their birthday. We might go out for dinner with our family or we might go out for dinner with our friends but buying presents is more a Western thing. Some Thai families buy presents but I think it is for families that are in the cities and more Western. For poor families and in the countryside sometimes we don't even acknowledge birthdays at all.

Mr. Stick says: For the export of Buddhist statues you are supposed to have an export licence but many people take Buddha statues out of the country without such a certificate. For the export of images of HM The King I am not aware on any restrictions.

Question 2: Why do I see so many schoolgirls with ugly blotches or what seems to be acne on their legs? I'm not talking about motorcycles burns. Is there some kind of virulent skin disease that causes this?

Mr. Stick says: These are scars from vaccines. I don't know why but they tend to scar those from the countryside whereas people in the cities seldom have these scars.

One of the great benefits of travel is that you get to see and experience foreign cultures first hand. It is generally accepted that those who are well-travelled have a greater understanding of other cultures and tend to be more tolerant. I was thinking about myself and my personal development and the way I have changed since I moved to Thailand. I hate to say it, but I think Thailand might have had quite the opposite effect on not just me, but quite a lot of us. When I first came to Thailand, I had only very moderate racist tendencies. Let me qualify this – I believe that EVERYONE on the planet is racist to some extent. After living in Thailand for many years, I, like most foreigners who have lived here for a long time and had their eyes open, have suffered the effects of racism and seen certain things and certain behaviour that I believe may have contributed to making us somewhat racist. If you have spent long periods of time in Thailand, or perhaps another country in the region, do you think you more or less racist now than in the past? Or has there been no change? I'm curious.



Your Bangkok commentator,
7.5/10 – decent opener although quickly written
Stick