Stickman's Weekly Column May 3rd, 2009

Reflecting From Afar Part 2


Last week I wrote about what it was like to be back in my homeland, New Zealand. My initial impressions were overwhelmingly positive.

Catching up with friends and family is always great, but it was more than that. Everyone – and I include people I had never met before – was friendly. The weather was great. Even my favourite rugby team being hammered couldn't dampen my spirits. I was home, amongst friends and family and I was having a ball.

My initial impressions were that Auckland, New Zealand's largest city and my hometown, compared very well to Bangkok. And just in case you really thought I was off my rocker, I note that this week Auckland was voted the 4th most liveable city in the world. And frankly, who would want to live in the three cities that beat it? All in central Europe and all rather too cold for this Kiwi boy.

A week on, have things changed?

The Changing World

Meal after meal, the Thai food in New Zealand consistently tastes better than Thai food in Thailand.

Where the vixens of Nana Plaza pout at the suggest of anything less than 1,500 for short time, Asian hookers in Auckland advertise 20 minutes of fun in the local paper for $NZ 40 (800 baht).

A Filipina or a Chinaman has the final word on whether you will get that bank loan at the bank you have been with all your life – and where they started their first job in your country a year ago.

Is this really the city I grew up in?

Auckland has become increasingly cosmopolitan, helped in part by the fact that the majority of the 30,000+ immigrants who arrive in the country each year settle right here. What was once a staid, perhaps even boring, if incredibly pretty city, is now home to a thriving dining out industry with the cuisines of most countries represented. Where New Zealanders once looked to the south of Europe and the cafe lifestyle with much envy, it can now be found in our own backyard.

I mentioned last week that the prettiest women in Auckland – in my eyes at least – were the recent immigrants from Asia, proof if ever it was needed that yellow fever runs strong in this one. It's not Vancouver yet, but Auckland's downtown area is not 90% white as it used to be. Whites are but a minority in the central business district where signs in various languages other than English, many of which I don't even recognise, run the length of the city's most expensive street.

Much like the UK, grumpy, bossy Indian Immigration and Customs officers throw their weight around telling New Zealand born citizens what they can and cannot do when they enter and exit the country. Walk into a bank, supermarket or fast food outlet and good luck finding a native English speaker.

There are so many New Zealand passport holders crossing the ditch to Australia that the migration has had the effect of raising the IQ of both countries at the same time.

This is not the New Zealand I grew up in. It's not better and it's not worse. But it is very, very different. The country you remember no longer exists.

You're One Of Those!

It hits you with the force of an express train, profound and totally unexpected.

He was an Englishman working in the heart of the city. He'd only been here a few months. I was buying a shirt and he was the sales assistant. We'd engaged pleasantries and, until that point, polite conversation. The weather had come up and he commented that he had not realised New Zealand got so cold. I agreed that it was indeed cold for the time of year, especially so for me, having just come from the high 30's in Bangkok.

"Oh, you live there, do you?", he had asked.

"Yeah."

"I hear that Bangkok is over run with Western guys now."

"Yep, it's true. That's where I live."

"Oh, you're one of those?!"

I'm sure that as soon as the words left his mouth he was more embarrassed than I was. The English are (used to be?) known for their politeness. I was a customer and I will almost certainly never see the guy again. I could have responded in any way I liked. But I just couldn't be bothered. I let it slide.

The truth is that the world thinks Bangkok is dirty. Not the city, but the people. Not the Thais, but the foreigners. It's undeniable. All around the world, those of us who choose to make Bangkok our home – for whatever reason – are tarred with the same brush.

You've lived in Bangkok for 11 years? They squirm. It's noticeable. Especially the women. Bangkok? Why? You're not old. You're not ugly. Why Bangkok? They look at you like you're from another planet. Like you're one of those.

And Then The Cracks Started To Appear

Catching up with your mates, you splurge. You dine in the best restaurants and order the best dishes. These are your closest mates. You have precious little time and you want to make the most of it, catching up with friends, some of whom you've known since your early teens. Deep friendships with much history. This is the reason you came.

But the cracks soon appear, or more succinctly, you're reminded of the factors that helped you make the decision to depart your homeland in the first place.

Cool evenings are great for getting a good night's sleep, but 11 years in Thailand didn't prepare you for the unseasonably cold overnight low. 6 degrees Celsius. You wonder how you used to cope. Auckland doesn't get much colder but after what felt like a never-ending Summer in the tropics, the cold hurts. You wonder if you need a serious dose of harden up pills.

New Zealanders compare well internationally. Frank, BS free. Super nice, super genuine and super friendly. But this is Auckland, where the rest of the country refers to the residents as JAFAs (Just Another Fuxxen Aucklander). You know the reputation isn't entirely unwarranted. It's the same the world over in big cities.

Poor city planning and a population explosion over the past decade means traffic problems. Auckland may only be a little smaller than Bangkok and has just 1/10 the population yet it has traffic problems. Not Bangkok bad but bad nonetheless. The public transport is poor. Taxi fares would make a Patpong driver asking for 200 baht positively blush. And you're reminded of the driving standards. New Zealanders really are the worst drivers in the Western world.

The Auckland weather does your head in. Four seasons in one day. They sang that song about Auckland, you know. Yeah, Crowded House was a Kiwi band. The Aussies tried to claim them but they're ours.

As a white boy you get odd looks from some quarters. Envy. Hatred. There are massive racism problems and the nauseating political correctness sweeping the country prevents it from being addressed. You can't fix a problem you're not allowed to talk about it. Minority groups can't be discussed. The expression on the face of the Maori carving below accurately expresses the feelings of some of the country's indigenous population against its white conquerors. Me.

Perceptions

My closest friends, some of whom have been to Thailand several times themselves, feel that I have stayed there too long. They talk of the benefits of life in the West, the relaxed and laid-back nature of life in New Zealand. They politely suggest that life back here offers more than Thailand ever could. We've drunk in Cowboy, thrown up in Patong, photographed the sunset on the Mekong. Great experiences with my closest mates from home comprise some of my best times in the Kingdom. They know me and they know Thailand. And they think I am mad to stay in Thailand. They simply cannot fathom the reason for staying on. They've lived overseas, returned, and to them Thailand just doesn't compare. They've all bought property and constantly remind me that you can't do that in Thailand. They've all got cars. Fast cars. Beamers. Jaguars. Even a Porsche turbo. Again, They remind me that you can't do that in Thailand either. Ok you can, but it's hard. I'm reminded that I explore Bangkok behind the wheel of a Japanese shopping trolley. They're my close friends. They know me well – as well as anyone does – and they implore me to leave the Kingdom.

I scan through photos on the laptop while providing a running commentary of life in the Kingdom to those who have never visited. They're mates, but not my closest pals. I feel like I am once again in front of a classroom and the students are my friends and they are hanging on to my every word. They are aghast that one would ever consider leaving. Their eyes widen as they view the Stickman private collection. As I tell them about life in the Kingdom, the adventures I get up to, they are unanimous in their feedback. There's nothing in New Zealand for me. Thailand is it. Utopia. In their minds there's no reason to come back.

Each and every one of them wants to come to Thailand now. The TAT really should be paying me a commission.

Auckland vs. Bangkok, The Ultimate Decision

You can live almost anywhere in today's world. You rule out anywhere too cold, too dangerous, unfriendly, unstable or uninteresting. For me, the choices are down to two. Conventional logic has it to earn in the West and spend in the East. But that's a bean counter's logic. You want to live where you're happy. Money is important. But it's not everything.

The decision is not just about the places you're comparing. And the decision is not entirely yours. Other people's thoughts enter the equation. We factor in our own personal situation. No-one, not even those closest to us, is aware of the factors and influences that enter the equation. Auckland is the winner on paper. Clearly. Better in every way. Bangkok fares badly. In almost every way.

Two days ago you were having lunch with your best mates. It'll be another year before you see them again. Your life is in Bangkok.

Somehow Bangkok won. Some things in life just don't make sense.

Where was this picture taken?


Last week's picture was taken on Narathiwat Road, looking towards the Tesco Lotus which is just a few hundred metres away from Central Rama 3. This week's picture is possibly the easiest ever! I have hundreds of boxes of Bodyguard condoms to give away so everyone can be a winner! The first person to email 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 the picture right wins a fantastic roast buffet at Molly Malone's on Bangkok's Soi Convent. The buffet runs every Sunday from midday until 7 PM and the winner gets one buffet free! I like the buffet and partake of it myself often! Bodyguard Condoms also provide large condoms as prizes. So, for the forth, fifth and sixth people to get the picture right, I will send you a few packs of Bodyguard's high quality, extra large-sized condoms to try out. The Strip in Patpong's soi 2 is offering a FREE BOOTH. That means that you and one of the ladies enter the booth and the curtain is closed for 30 minutes. This prize has a value of 550 baht, the cost of closing the booth. It should be noted that if you wish to do anything more with the lady than chat then a tip will be expected… In total, we now have SIX PRIZES EACH WEEK!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod and Molly Malone's prizes MUST be claimed within 14 days. Winners of the Bodyguard Condoms must provide a postal address within Thailand. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per month.

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 – Taking your slice of Thailand to the UK.

Thai girls brought over to the UK go through probably a year of adjusting, missing the food and their friends etc. Girls that come over here bring their address book (understandable, as they don’t know what might happen), and in moments of weakness phone friends, who can give them good or bad advice – in my experience, mostly bad! And some of their friends could well be previous clients. A friend of mine, whose wife ran off, kept him on a hook for 2 years with the promise that she would return – of course if never happened. Still, he ended up living with a young Thai wench in Samui for 10 years, so she probably did him a favour! The problem is, you can explain to them what living in the UK is like, and that how you behave on holiday is not what you do for the rest of the year, and they do a very convincing job of saying how much they understand that – but it means nothing! And if it is to work, you do need to give some understanding in that first year or so, otherwise they will feel even more isolated. It’s a very difficult balance, between being firm enough to keep their respect, and letting them enjoy their life. One guy I know wouldn’t give his wife her own key to the house for a year, and whatever the risks, I can’t see that could ever be right. You make your choice and you take your chances. Despite the Thai characteristic of never planning for the future, some girls will wait 5 years before they implement their master plan. You simply have no way of predicting that. The first year is a very dangerous time for them to contact Thai friends. If they phone the wrong friend, saying ‘I’m not too happy with my husband at the moment’, a good friend would say ‘Well, sit down, talk to him and sort it out’. Sadly, it is more likely that their friend would say ‘Never mind, come to the disco and you can get a new one’.

Champions is smoker-friendly.

I am not sure when your email poster was last in Champions in Pattaya, where he claims 'smoking is strictly prohibited'. That is simply not the case. There used to be a room at the back where the smokers went. That is no longer there, and smoking is permitted in the main area. The Russians particularly could not even consider sitting there without lighting up. I admit you don't see the girls smoking, but the owner of Champions has, I guess, decided that he can't be the only place in town persecuting the addicted. That law just didn't take in Fun City.

Stickman's recommendations gets the thumbs up!

After reading the column about Tilac last week a pal & I just HAD to go check out the 2 numbers you mentioned – #95 & #211. Well, #95 was no longer on the premises even though it was only 9:30. Most likely she was still at a class at Ramkhamhaeng. But #211 was there. WOW! What a BABE! She did not disappoint. Funniest thing was that she said "How you hear about me? On the internet?". Guess a few of your other readers beat us to her. Any time you have other #s you take a fancy to, please let us know. Well worth the trip.

Enough negatives can give you itchy feet.

Reading your latest column, I suspect you may be thinking of returning to your native country. I must admit to having similar feelings. I have only been here for four years but the negatives of Thailand (political instability, bureaucracy, anti-foreigner rules and attitudes, low-life farangs, corruption, et al) seem to be outweighing the positives for the first time.

"Free" hotel rooms in Pattaya.

Pattaya message boards are talking about the offer of free rooms in Pattaya to bring in more tourists. I just checked the website of one budget hotel. They are offering a pay for 3 nights stay 4 deal. Costs 600 baht per night. I stayed at the same place for 400 baht last summer and the ad shows a walk-in rate of 450 baht. Are these people idiots? They own a number of hotels in Pattaya and Bangkok and have given a decent raise in all of their prices.

The katoey menace continues.

Last week I had a few drinks in Nana Plaza. Let me say that I don't like katoeys and I have no idea why otherwise straight men are attracted to them. While between bars, a katoey made a rather lewd and uninvited suggestion as I walked past. I guess he didn't care for my reply because it prompted him to take a swing at me. I cleverly blocked his haymaker with my left eye causing my glasses to break into three bits. I responded in kind which caused the katoey's legs to buckle and he fell on his behind into a puddle. I quickly picked up the wreckage of my spectacles and retreated, leaving the katoey sitting on the ground shrieking. Fortunately for me, no-one came to his aid and although pleased with outcome, I realise that this could have turned out very badly for me. The best thing is to just leave them well alone.

Mobile phone culture in Sing.

I thought that the Thais were obsessed with their mobile phones but here in Singapore I think it is worse. A number of times I have seen people nearly walk into each other on the street or subway whilst typing or reading an SMS. We went on the Singapore Flyer (the big Ferris wheel) some time back and we shared a capsule with a local couple. The view was incredible and the whole experience was great. However the local guy spent the entire 30-minute ride on his mobile having one of those stupid grunting and mumbling conversations whilst his partner tried to enjoy the ride. In the building where I work there are shared toilets on each floor. The other day one guy was standing at the urinal struggling to hold his pants up because he was on the phone. The best has to be the person using the third cubicle toilet which is a squatter and answering a call. Having used a squatter a number of times with great discomfort I can't imagine what sort of mess he was in. It would never occur to me to even attempt to answer a call whilst using the toilet. And what about this so called internet on mobile phones. I have just bought a new one, only because the old one broke, and it has this internet service. What a load of nonsense. How the hell can you read a webpage on a 1.5" x 2" screen. Then we have the iPhone which is very popular down here. Whoever possesses such a phone and actually uses all of the functions must have an enormous amount of time on their hands. I mean who on earth wants to watch movies on a mobile phone.

It was party night this past Thursday with Dave The Rave celebrating his 46th. Angelwitch got going slowly but by 9 PM loads of people were flowing in to wish him the best. There was a change in store early evening with the unfamiliar theme of house music. The number of girls was on the lean side, but most were quality stock. For those on the prowl, Angelwitch is worth at least one drink.

Raw Hide is on the come back trail with afterburners full on. The rebuild may not yet be complete and amongst the improvements, the DJ has been not forgotten. He apparently was given a budget, and he most certainly spent it wisely. Every time you got ready to leave the music style would change prompting another drink. The new sound system with a good set of sub woofers makes a big difference. A lot of old classics are played from rock to blues to house to songs of genre I cannot identify. Outside of their signature shows and the accompanying songs the play list is largely new. Each time a new group of girls got on stage, the format changed suggesting the girls are matched to the music, something not often seen in such bars. The dirty doctor is still waiting for Samanthas Fox's "Touch Me" and audience participation… There was no shortage of new faces on stage and the bar is pretty much full to capacity by 10 PM most nights. Well worth a visit.

That little goldmine of sanuk, Coyote Apache, has been doing well and it shows on the girls' faces. The venue went through a slow spell and the party atmosphere disappeared for a while, but that seems to have passed with 15 to 20 dancers performing nightly. There's plenty of fun to be had.

Are we starting to see the first signs of cracks in the bar industry? In busy Cowboy, Apache Coyote dropped their prices from Friday. Happy hour remains 70 baht until 9 PM from which time local beers will set you back a reasonable 100 baht and spirits run 110 baht. Lady drinks have dropped from 140 to 130 baht and lady Tequila is 120 baht. Joy Bar has the same pricing after 9 PM.

A similarly named bar, Coyotes A Gogo in Pattaya, is undergoing a major change with a number of key staff receiving their marching orders. Always a risky manoeuvre for Western management or owners to clear the decks, the rumour mill has it that some staff considered their salary inadequate and decided to put themselves on to a nightly bonus system.

5 Star is sporting some new faces, the seasonal after school flow from Isaan is no doubt underway at Cowboy.

The Arab bars continue to struggle although that is no surprise. Who wants to go drink where fun isn't allowed? Punters seemed to be walking past, some even refusing to look in, a wise precaution to avoid getting beaten up by the management.

This coming Friday, May 8th, is Visakha Bucha Day, an important Buddhist holiday in the Thai calendar. From the reports that I have received, the bars in Bangkok will *most likely* be closed this coming Friday. This Tuesday, May 5th, is also a public holiday, Coronation Day, but the bars will be open. For news of bar closures, Dave The Rave usually does last minute updates so check the main page of his site.

Despite the dreadfully unpleasant hot weather that Bangkok has been experiencing, Thursday night at Cowboy was all go. It was hard to tell we are officially in the low season.

Cactus John, the long-time American owner / manager of Cowboy's Cactus bar has confirmed that he has no plans to enter the neon war. It looks like Cyrus the Virus has won that war.

As if confirmation was needed that Cowboy is the most popular bar area, in addition to many girls gravitating to Cowboy from other bar areas, some of the riff raff beggars and pickpockets from Nana are now fixtures in and around Cowboy.

But the beggars and pickpockets aren't the only menace on Sukhumvit. Who would have ever thought that Sukhumvit would be invaded by big mammas! Yes, it's true! Along the stretch between Sukhumvit Soi 3 and Soi 5 there is a number of generously-proportioned African women with a predilection for white men and they are openly accosting passers by. With backsides like elephants, these mammas are something of a horror show. Remarkably, not everyone is as averse to such well-rounded specimens as me and yes, they do conduct some trade! Honestly, in a country known for its pretty (and available) women, who would choose one of these mammas over all of the sexy Thai babes around. Some people need their heads testing (but I am sure none of the Stickman readership are amongst them!)

A new venture kicked off this past Friday. BangkokRocks looks like a welcome addition to the slowly dwindling live rock music venues in Bangkok. Close to the Asoke BTS, location won't be a problem. If live rock is your thing, check it out.

For the Spanish speakers amongst the readership, keep an eye out for the translation of Chris Moore's super "Risk Of Infidelity Index" which for me is one of the three top Bangkok novels, along with Big Mango and Private Dancer. The Spanish title translates as "High Infidelity" giving it a Chandler like ring.

Pretty Lady A Gogo on Nana's ground floor will have a “Full Moon Party” next Saturday, May 9th, featuring special shows, a newly inducted dance show, professional DJ “Pac-Man” scratching song requests, a newly invented compartment – for urgent desires the management tell me – free food and a lucky draw. See you there!

Many years ago I used to hang out at Ramkhamhaeng for Mrs. Stick had an apartment out that way. As I came to know the area I realised that there were more young, single, farang-friendly women concentrated there than anywhere else in the country, it being home to the country's largest university and other institutes of higher learning. I mentally noted that if things didn't work out, it would be an area of high opportunity and well worthy of my time. Things did work out and I never did get to prowl out at "Ram". But out there the week before last on business I could not help but notice the number of Western guys around. No surprise in that, but what I couldn't help but notice was that some were openly hitting on the local women.

Millions of men flock to Thailand every year looking for sex and love and many say they would never again date a Western woman so two female Finnish journalists decided to investigate this phenomenon and the results of their findings can be found in the most interesting sounding title, "Thailand – Men’s Paradise?". Put together by a mother / daughter team, it will soon be launched via Amazon and later by Asia Books. Stickman review coming soon.

The 150 fee charged by most local banks for the withdrawal of funds from offshore accounts at an ATM machine in Thailand is infuriating many Westerners residing in Thailand. It seems that UOB, Kassikornbank and one other (sorry, not sure which) have yet to implement the fees. I am sure they will eventually but if you wish to save 150 baht then making a withdrawal from one of the banks not yet levying the fee is the way to go. It will be interesting to see what those with really tight finances do to try and get around this problem. Transferring lump sums to Thailand regularly would seem to be the easiest way around it although that incurs a fee at each end. In a country where many people spend no more than 30 baht on a meal, the 150 baht fee charged really does seem to be a slap in the face of rich foreigners.

Quote of the week, "For a poor family, marrying a farang husband is like finding a treasure and they have to keep digging until they get all the treasure."

Stickman story of the week comes from the inimitable Dana. Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 207 looks at the thorny issue of reaching the wrong conclusion in Thailand.

Someone forgot to tell this English bird that drug smuggling in South East Asia is seriously bad news!

Can you believe that 20 police vehicles could not catch a katoey on the run!

Spurning the advances of three comely transsexuals resulted in a Dane being beaten up in Pattaya.

Thaksin gets it both barrels from a Thai woman! Great video, this!

It is no surprise that hotel occupancy rates in Thailand have dropped.

From the Financial Times, the fatal flaws that wrecked Thailand's promise.

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: Our Thai grandson (12 years old) stays with us and is a pretty good kid. I have just found out that some older Thai kids (16 ~ 17 years old) have been beating on him. Things like they will punch him quite hard in the arm, hard enough to leave bruises. These older kids are what I would call bullies. My missus says she will have a chat with the older boys' mother, but this never seems to happen, so I offered to have a chat with the boy's father, who I slightly know and have drank a few beers with. The missus says, no, for me not to get involved as this is a Thai thing. I don’t agree. A bully is a bully and should be sought out and stopped. I have experience in these matters back in the USA, so I understand what needs to be done, but TIT, so I am jai yen-yen and biding my time, but almost out of time and want to do something. Should I stay out of it or should I have a chat with the older boy’s father?

Mrs. Stick says: I think your wife can manage this situation. I think it is not a good idea for you to talk with the father. This is a Thai problem and I think you will be unwelcome if you try to solve it. Actually, if you talk with the father the problem might get worse!

Mr. Stick says: Nothing much to add, suffice to say it's unusual to hear about this as school age bullying is not really a problem in Thailand like it can be in the West.

Question 2: My girlfriend does obviously not have a lot of sexual experience. She had two boyfriends before me. She doesn’t dislike sex but she is very new to it. She acknowledges that her Thai culture doesn’t help Thai women in discovering their sexuality. I helped her look at her genital organs for the first time in her life and even had to explain a few basic notions of female anatomy. She got an orgasm with me and was absolutely astonished. After talking I learned she never had an orgasm in her life nor did she ever masturbate. My question is, is this still much the case among regular Thai women not to be very knowledgeable about their own sexuality.

Mrs. Stick says: When I was young we never talked about sex. We never talked about it at school. It was never talked about at home and I never saw anything on TV about it. We did not have sex education at school so I don't know what they teach you. The first time I ever heard about sex was when the boys talked about it at university. That's the first time in my life. Thailand changes but I think many people are raised the same way I was so I think many women still do not know much about sex and sex education.



I really thought today's column would be something of a light version but help from friends managed to keep this week's column a reasonable length. Ensconced in New Zealand, it is hard to write about Thailand. Next week we'll be back to 100% Bangkok content. The brief soirée to Kiwiland will be but a distant memory…



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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