Stickman's Weekly Column August 30th, 2009

Nick Nostitz, On Thailand’s Front Lines



If there is a Western journalist in Thailand who digs deeper below the surface than Nick Nostitz, I don't know them. Nick digs into the deepest depths of Thai society.

Once known as Mr. Nightlife, very much because of his debut book, the acclaimed "Patpong: Bangkok's Twilight Zone", Nick is in fact much more than a nightlife reporter. With the recent departure from Thailand of the BBC's Jonathan Head, Nick is now one of the most well-known Western journalists operating in Thailand.

Nick recently published "Red vs. Yellow Volume 1: Thailand's Crisis Of Identity" which covers the political turmoil and events that took place in Thailand after the 2006 / 2007 coup period. The first 70-odd pages of the book are text followed by 90 odd pages of photos from the ground, right in the heart of the action. The first half is a matter of fact chronology of events while in the second half Nick expresses himself through the lens of his camera. Nick has gained a reputation for grit and being right there on the ground in the thick of it and this book is his account of just what he saw.

The funny thing about Nick and I is that our political beliefs are completely different and totally opposite. He is left, I am right. But we're happy to talk about them openly and respect each other's differing opinions. We recently got together to catch up and talk about his new book and life in general.


When did you decide to do this as a book, as opposed to mere reports?

I thought at first that this should be part of a book project, which I have been working on for the last 10 years, about problems in Thai society, rural migration, urban problems and resulting political conflicts. I have been covering the political problems since the start – about 4 years ago. The first protest I visited was the Sondhi Limthongkul TV show in Lumpini Park some time in late 2005. It became really interesting after the military coup when I started covering the anti-coup movements. But at that time photographically there was nothing really there. It was really boring for taking photos. In mid 2008 though the situation started heating up and suddenly within a very short period I had a huge number of extremely interesting photos and then coupled with the reports I did on New Mandala someone suggested I should do a book on that subject alone, around New Year 2008. The political situation developed so quickly and became radical so fast that it became too big to merely be just a part of a book. So, as I knew that there would be very little interest outside Thailand on the subject matter I never even approached a foreign publisher. I just approached a Thailand-based publisher, White Lotus, who would also appreciate that this was not just a photo book to show off photography but quite an important historical document which has to be written in depth.

Why did you start writing for New Mandela in the first place?

For years, I took photos of the protests, especially the anti-coup movement protests. I still am completely obsessed with it. Almost every time I opened a newspaper it did not reflect what I experienced there on the street. The foreign media for whom I usually work had basically no interest in the subject matter which was quite frustrating. I needed somehow an outlet and I didn't have one. So there was Nick Nostitz and his rage against the machine. I regularly have long conversations with Dr. Michael Nelson and over several months he convinced me that I should write for New Mandala . It is owned by two researchers from the ANU, the Australian National University. Somehow the blog is there to bridge purely academic works on South East Asian studies with particular emphasis on Thailand and Burma as well as normal, everyday politics and to make academic works readable and accessible for the common man. I am not an academic and neither do I pretend to be. At first I was quite hesitant because of course there was no money involved but then as my need to have an outlet became stronger, especially as New Mandala has a good reputation and is read by people who are really interested in the subject matter, so I decided yeah, I will write for them. It didn't really matter in the end that I didn't make money out of it, especially after my report from October 7th. It had massive reactions, both positive and negative and somehow I finally found an outlet where I could communicate what I feel is the truth, how I see it. And without my reports on New Mandala, I quite possibly would never have been able to make this book because it forced me to write in detail about all these events, which I would not have done otherwise.

Was there any opposition to the book when you started talking to people about it?

The publisher accepted it straight away. We obviously had a huge amount of discussion and debate how the format of the book would be. As you know I am quite protective of my own subjects, quite opinionated <we laugh> but the opposition came later on and suddenly four printers refused to print my book.

All local printers?

Yeah. There was no legal problem because we were very sure that we were within the law. In that sense I am a documentarian and not an activist and so I have to obey the law and that was why I had people in the intelligence services and the police force read the manuscript to make sure my facts were right and that I was within the law. Also one of the, in my opinion, foremost academics in the field of Thai Studies, Dr Michael Nelson, fact read my manuscript and gave me extremely valuable criticism. The forth printing company, which is a very large printer, was very nice with their refusal and they explained to me why. They said they liked my book and it shows quite well problems of Thai society and that is exactly why they could not print my book. They said they might have problems with state contracts later on. They advised me to go to a mid-sized printer who does not rely on those state contracts and said if I can't find one myself they might even help me finding one. But then I found one through a good friend of mine. They said that as long as it was within the law they had no problems and if some politicians didn't like it that was not their concern.

You talk of problems within Thai society. Briefly, what are these problems?

To make it as brief as possible and trying to avoid the usual simplifications, Thai society has reached a point where it is actually a pluralistic society. But that pluralism has not yet found its representation in parliamentary politics. That means you have to try to get a little bit away from the simplistic rural / urban or rich / poor divide. You have so many sectors of society with completely different demands on politics. In that sense you have for example the rural poor from the Isaan and parts of the north but on the other hand in the same regions you have rural rich as well. You have provincial middle classes in urban centres upcountry. In the south you have a large rural population but it is not as impoverished as the rural north in Isaan. You have urban rich and poor, and the middle classes. You have a massive and mostly unstudied urban proletariat. Then you have patronage networks going through all sectors of society from top to bottom. Now you can see how complicated the social set up of Thailand is. And in Parliament you have very little representation of this. Even Thai Rak Thai and Peua Thai, let's say, was a conglomerate representing many opposing sectors of society. Yet they were actually the first political party that developed and campaigned over proper policies for the disadvantaged sectors of society which makes them so popular. But one obviously cannot mistake them as a party for the poor because it also or presents a large capitalist interest as well. The Democrats represent on the one hand urban middle classes and urban upper classes, and traditional elites. On the other hand their power centre is in the southern patronage networks. They may have offices in every provincial capital, but in the north and in Isaan they did very little actually. They have no policies for these people. They cannot communicate to the more disadvantaged sectors of society. So, basically, you see how very complicated the situation is here. Necessarily, this discrepancy between society and parliamentary representation causes a lot of friction in the developing democracy which Thailand is.

Thailand remains in political limbo today but let's face it, this is nothing new. Is Thailand even ready for Western style democracy or does the country need to undergo some fundamental changes before Western style democracy can work here?

Well in some ways it is in limbo but in some ways it isn't. One thing is very clear – there is no turning the clock back. We are in the middle of huge social changes. This is very different than during the communist insurgency or during the '91 / '92 period, even though much of today's events are a consequence of those eras of Thai history. Now much larger sectors of society and almost all regions are involved. In the long term I am quite optimistic that these changes will lead to democracy. I hesitate to use the term "Western style" sometimes because it can mislead. Paraphrasing Professor Titinan, he said: "Democracy is a historical force". It is not a question of Western or Eastern, it is a question of development. I have huge problems with the line of argument that the West and the East are fundamentally different.

Why?

Because in a historical perspective, Western societies also have faced similar points of societal change from feudalism over absolutism to dictatorships and now representative democracies. I mean, it is not like what Thailand is facing now is unique even though in some quarters some try to make out that it is would be. Every society and culture has its own unique path but not this fundamental difference between East and West.

Getting back to the book, is there any one incident that sticks out in your mind when you think back over the events you covered in this first volume?

One of the most disturbing incidents for me was the battle over Makhawan in the early hours of 2nd September 2008.

What happened?

That was when the red shirts marched towards the PAD encampment at Government House and a massive battle broke out between the two sides in which one Red Shirt was beaten to death, somewhere between 50 – 100 metres away from me, dozens were wounded and I was caught in between the lines. Gun shots were fired, on that occasion just by the PAD. The utter brutality of both sides showed me what might come in the future.

While the tone of the book is genuinely impartial, you personally do seem to be more on the side of those wearing red. Am I right?

Well it's difficult to say. I do have sympathies for the ordinary red shirt protestors. Many of their demands are absolutely justified. Even if I may not agree, especially on the point of Thaksin Shinawatra, they do have a right to express their views and I think that right was taken away from them in the military coup and has not yet been completely given back to them. A lot of the complaints the PAD has on the system are justified as well yet I have huge problems with their ideology and their proposed solutions.

Tell me more.

Such as their ideas on labeling large sectors of Thai society as too uneducated and therefore not able to vote. I mean this is counter to any serious study undertaken on these issues in recent years. A perfect example is here vote buying which is often used in polemic propaganda but is a lot more complex subject matter.

Related to that, is the issue of protestors being paid a day rate. What do you know about that?

It is a very complex subject again. I really don't pay much attention to that on both sides. What I pay attention to is whether people truly believe in their causes. It is my experience that on both sides, being paid or not, people do strongly believe in what they protest for. Receiving money does not automatically mean that people are a so-called 'mob for hire'. Again we could go on forever about this because it also has some very logical reasons in the make up for Thai society, especially the patronage networks. So I found basically both sides being paid and people not being paid but all I have spoken to clearly believe in their cause. On the PAD side, what is very well known is that their guards have been paid. Who would spend month after month on guard duty while they cannot work to provide for their family? For example in the final war, the airport occupation, the PAD brought thousands of people from the south by buses. Now obviously these buses were paid for and food was paid for. You look on the other side, the red shirts. Much, not all, but many, come from impoverished villages or are taxi drivers, or laborers. Now, these people have huge difficulties in the best of times to make ends meet and provide for their families. Can you expect them not to feed their family because they go to a protest? You're being paid does not say anything about the political views and opinions of people. That is how I look at it.

You're very clearly white, a foreigner in a country not his own. You've been there right amongst it on the front lines of what is a very Thai issue. How are you perceived and seen by those in red and yellow shirts out on the streets?

In the PAD I have met a lot of xenophobia on the street. A very typical situation is when we discuss their ideology and I ask some very uncomfortable questions which they cannot answer, quite regularly comes the standard answer "Oh you are the foreigner, you don't understand about Thailand!" In the red shirts, I didn't have that problem at all.

I see.

I have to be a lot more on guard with my own personal views when I am around the PAD. I don't like to hide my personal views when I discuss issues. So, in that sense I have never made a secret that I am not exactly a Thaksin supporter which has obviously been accepted by red shirts, both leadership and common protestors. While when I discuss with PAD protesters more than regularly when I point out that Thaksin was not all bad I am accused of having been paid by Thaksin. I have been shouted at, insulted and get that same answer about being a foreigner and not knowing about Thailand – which in my case is a ridiculous thing to say. Yet there are some in the PAD who I have a very good relationship with and can discuss things openly.

I understand that you have had threats made against you, have been cursed on many Thai online discussion forums and had police protection. Do you sleep well at night?

I sleep well at night.

I mean not from your own conscience; I know you're a man of integrity. I mean in terms of the threats made and the things said about you.

I have to be very careful what I am doing, what I say, but I do have a lot of friends. There are a lot of people who like what I write and who protect me – military, police and security forces. At times they advise me and I can always call them for advice. I listen to their advice too <he looks me straight in the eye and gives me a steely, serious German stare>. These people have a wealth of experience, massive experience on the complications of Thai policies and society.

How do you think the position of foreigners, namely white foreigners, like you and me, has changed in Thailand – if at all – over the past few years with this in the background?

I think the position of the average foreigner hasn't changed that much yet.

You say "yet"!

Yes. Obviously, naturally, rising crime in Thailand does affect us in some sense as it does Thais. And the time that foreigners are treated differently from Thais is almost over, fortunately, for good and bad. What has tremendously changed is that in the ongoing conflict, foreign media have been pulled into the centre of events. Where previously what we foreigners wrote about Thailand has been more or less irrelevant other than in some little prudish use, now we are closely observed. One side looks at us as their adversary, accuses us of being involved in all sorts of conspiracies against the Thai state. The other side looks at us as some of their saviours, being on their side which we aren't and we can't be, as journalists. But even within the group of us Western journalists, there are huge arguments and conflicts about the way we report on this conflict. There are some who accuse people like me and Nirmal Gosh or Jonathan Head of being pro Thaksin. We aren't, it is not our place, in my opinion, to advocate in our reporting our personal political preference; we have to stay with facts, analyse according to those, and not according to ideology. I do the footwork I report from the street on both sides and my reporting reflects that.

So you must have joined the ranks of the likes of Needham and Leather and be raking it in from your book, right? I mean, come on, you've put on a few pounds recently! Are you living the high life?

Wouldn't that be nice?! <wry smile> Reality is I have never been as broke as I am now since I left school! To save on taxis I go everywhere on my small Thai-made motorcycle and sell books out of my backpack for a bit of additional profit which basically brings food to the table for me and my family.

As far as the photography goes, I understand you only recently moved to digital. What prompted you to do that and how do you find it?

I didn't really move to digital. I use digital but I still love film. When my Contax G2 broke in late August 2008 I had to buy a digital and for that subject matter digital is ideal.

Why?

It is fast. When I shoot this sort of news on film, I have to get films developed, I have to scan the films and then I have to Photoshop each image for at least half an hour. Digital I just put it in the computer, spend at most 10 minutes in Photoshop and save a lot of time and money.

What sort of digital camera did you get?

I have used up two Canon EOS 450 bodies. I bought them because they are the cheapest 12 megapixel camera available. I cannot afford the proper professional models. I bought a Sigma 18 – 55 lens 2.8 throughout because the quality is much better than the kit lens. Then in the Songkran riots, early morning at Din Daeng just after the military attack, my camera broke and I was lucky that I found the only open store that day, which was only open for an hour or so and I got myself a replacement, another EOS 450, and continued straight away. And 4 days ago that body broke as well and I bought a EOS 500D which I hope lasts a bit longer. Unfortunately, I need the image quality of 12 or 15 megapixels but I can't afford a quality built professional camera.

Have you put your venturing into and covering the nightlife behind you? And I am assuming you have no more nightlife related projects you're working on such as your first book, Patpong, Bangkok's Twilight Zone.

A project I have worked on since that book was published which is still not finished, which I still continue to shoot in film, touches very much the nightlife. I have many photos from the bars there, but it also goes much further and beyond that book because I move into the Thai angle on it. I move into Thai crime, Gangland, drugs, and problems of migration. I haven't been working much on it since the political problems started but I still once in a while continue shooting it, and hope to finish it one day.

You've showed me some shots you have done over the years and they were great.

That I continue shooting in film because film has some very strong, I can blow up the prints much larger and speed is not the deciding factor which it is in covering the protests. I also think the creative possibilities with film are better than with digital.

So are you more a photographer or a journalist these days? How do you see yourself?

It depends on the subject matter. When I cover the protests, I have to work in a very documentary style, very journalistically. While on the other projects, or projects planned for the future, I prefer working a lot more as a photographer. I believe that with what the book is about I have to do justice to the historical perspective and not to my own personal quirks. There are subjects where I can live out my very personal views, but the subject of this socio-political conflict is not one of them.

How confident are you about the future in Thailand? I ask this question because we have known each other for about 9 or 10 years? We only see each other now about once every 3 years and I think it's fair to say that we've changed. We age, and we change, it's normal. Where are you at in terms of your future?

For me one big thing has changed. We have a son now. For that reason we do plan to move at some point in the future back to Germany because there is no way I can afford a proper education for my son here. Also Germany itself I find has become a much more livable place than it once was. Maybe I am just getting older? But Thailand, in the long term, I think it will be a flourishing developed country one day. Even these social and political difficulties now don't mean that Thailand is a bad place to live. For me personally, it is still exhilarating and in many ways more so than it ever was. While reporting on the conflict, I have made many very, very good friends amongst Thais. In many ways it is much easier to have open conversations on all subject matters now. One thing I have always found missing in Thailand previously was the lack of interest in politics and I think that has completely changed. In every sector of society now, political discussions and debates are now the norm and I think it is a positive development in Thailand for people to speak a lot more freely and to take a lot more interest in the running of their own country. There are some people who miss the comfortable land of smiles, the land of dreams and illusions, but I don't think that has ever existed! I think I feel in some ways more comfortable in Thailand than I have ever felt regardless of all the dangers and the problems I am having now.


* "Red vs. Yellow Volume 1: Thailand's Crisis Of Identity" is available at Asia Books, Kinokuniya, Bookazine at 995 baht and online at DCO Books for $33. Anyone who knows Nick personally can call him to get a copy direct.

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken outside a Patpong bar – buggered if I can remember which one but not to worry, not one person got it! 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! 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…

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod and Molly Malone's prizes MUST be claimed within 14 days. 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 – Not so charming Phuket.

For me Bali triumphs. Phuket has become a boring dump. The Patong beer bars are no fun any more and in fact have become quite dodgy, so that side of it holds no interest. Last time I visited I got the feeling that the Thais were being very pushy, especially the girls hanging around outside the massage parlours who would get up and approach you and even stop you walking to try and get your attention. We all know what a pain the taxi driver mafia are down there. It's a disgrace that they are allowed to operate the way they do. Phuket no longer has nice beaches. There is nothing scenic in a beach overshadowed by high rise hotel and condo blocks. The golf and the diving are reportedly much better in Bali though I am no expert. The locals are far more friendly than the Thais (I'm not sure there are any locals in Phuket). I don't remember much about the food in Bali which suggests it was not very impressive. However I have tried Indonesian food here in Singapore and it was excellent so it must be possible to get a decent meal there. I first went to Phuket in 1994 and it was the most beautiful island I had ever seen. How quickly greed and stupidity can destroy such an asset.

More Bali and Phuket.

I have been to Phuket twice, the last in November 2008 and Bali once in March 2009. My immediate thoughts on comparing the two are; Phuket taxis drivers are a pain, how can you walk past rows and rows of them and still get the inane, "taxi, taxi!" Did they not see where you have just come from? Plus they cost a fortune compared to Pattaya baht buses. Balinese taxi drivers are less aggressive and I don't feel that they are intruding. Indian bloody tailors and shopkeepers. In Patong I saw a woman dragged into an Indian shop against her will by the aggressive staff who plague the streets. The scenery in Bali is wonderful, but I prefer Sanur to the tacky Katu and other like towns on that side of the island. Phuket scenery and beaches are lovely south of Patong, but the island cannot compare with the stunning scenery of Bali. The beaches on Phuket are cleaner than those in Bali. I spent hours picking up rubbish from the beaches in Bali. It was only in Nusa Dua and Sanur that the beaches were clean. I spoke to the manager of a hotel in Nusa Dua who informed me that his hotel and the one adjacent have six employees between them cleaning the beaches in their resort area. I believe that Phuket is a rip off compared to Bali. The only negative thing I could say about Bali is that I resent the tax on arrival and the tax on leaving!

The Nana gun incident.

Some punter has his teerak pull a gun on him? Right in the bar? Hell's bells! That fool must have really pissed her off. It's a stark reminder that you don't mess with these girls outside the confines of the normal punter / bargirl arrangement. If they've been working for a while, they likely have friends in low places who'll happily oblige to take care of business if the punter gets out of line. The girl certainly didn't have to go far to get the gun, did she?

Correction re: drug sales in Thailand.

In your article last Sunday you mentioned that the police at Ekamai hassle people for having prescription drugs without a prescription. Actually in Thailand a pharmacist can dispense prescription drugs without a prescription except for specially controlled drugs. Please see the Thai FDA link under modern drugs. Specially controlled drugs include narcotics, steroids and I believe that Viagra and other ED drugs are in this category. The registration number may give an indication of the classification. Just refer the police to the Drug Act 2510 and that might scare them off! The Thai text is "ยาควบคุมพิเศษ" and this is required to be on the label for a specially controlled drug. Not sure whether this is on the Viagra pack. In the case of steroids, the pharmacist may be able to dispense them but is expected to keep a register of what they dispensed and to whom – not often done!

Somchai is getting desperate.

Yesterday I went to buy some students books from a university bookshop. You have to leave all bags with security at the entrance to the bookshop. I was in there for about 45 minutes and when I left and collected my bag which normally holds my notebook computer I noticed that the small front pocket was slightly opened but didn't think anything of it at the time. When I got home I opened it and noticed that my reading glasses case was missing. I thought I'd left them at work so rang there and the receptionist told me she remembered that I had put them into my bag after signing some paperwork just before leaving. The only place I stopped at on the way home was the book shop. So the only place that they could have gone missing from was the bookshop. Thinking back on all of this I remember thinking it odd that the security person had taken my bag from just below the counter as when I left it there they had put it quite low close to the floor. What really pisses me off is that these glasses are only a month old and cost 4,000 baht. So now I've got to go out and get new ones, something I really hadn't budgeted for. The glasses were the only thing of value in my bag as the rest was just books and paperwork for teaching.

Get out, you dirty foreigner!

I was at a cinema watching the film "Coco after Channel". There were three people sitting next to me who were constantly talking and answering their mobile phones. I asked them very politely to stop because I couldn't hear the film. The next time I asked them to shut up after they answered the phone. The boy then swapped places with the girl. Then she started to tap her drink on my chair constantly. This went on for five minutes and I ignored her. Suddenly she screamed out that I had groped her! Now this was unpleasant enough, but what happened then showed me something about Thais. She screamed that a farang had touched her up! At that point people started to shout "get out you dirty foreigner" etc. At this point I made a move to the exit. I tell you it could have become a lynching. The speed that they turned into a lynch mob was probably less than 15 seconds. What I found most interesting though was the speed that it turned into "you fxxxing rapist foreigners". Dirty farang was said a lot both in English and in Thai. I could see one farang was terrified as we left, and he stood up and may have left after us. I was at the end of the row so it was easy to leave. On the way out 2 other girls in the end rows screamed as if I had touched them too! It was a very nasty experience. I know it is only one experience, but I think it shows how attitudes to us are changing. I am not joking in saying this was one of the most frightening experiences of my life.

The fake busker.

I saw possibly the strangest beggar I've ever seen anywhere yesterday in Siam Square. An older guy was standing on the sidewalk playing the violin like a busker with his violin case open to accept tips. Except he wasn't really playing the violin; he only pretended to play while a recording of music played at his feet. Except the recorded music was not violin music, but rather some sort of wind instrument!

This Tuesday, September 1st, one of my favourite bars, Secrets in Pattaya, celebrates its 3rd anniversary with a big party featuring free food and lots of fun.

Pretty Lady A Gogo in Nana Plaza will hold its first party weekend on the first weekend of the month and invites everyone to the September Full Moon Party on Friday 4th, followed by a Hawaiian Night on Saturday the 5th, offering free snacks, sexy shows, the magic of disguise and lots of body-painted beauties.

A fire broke out on Thursday night at Cowboy's Tilac bar. At around 9:15 the neon sign outside decided it had had enough of Thai electricians and revolted in a blaze of sparks and flames which lead to panic and screaming as many, both punters and pussy, ran out of the bar, memories of the many deaths at New Year's Eve disaster at another bar obviously still in the back of the minds of some. It really wasn't that serious; the fire was quickly extinguished and the night's revelry continued with only a brief interruption.

While new staff in Raw Hide have already been caught out trying on the short-change trick, don't necessarily expect them to stop. Readers should be wary when paying with a 1,000 baht note and the change comes in the form of many 100 baht notes. Often it is one short. The other problem in Raw Hide is that it is darned cold and the air-con really needn't be set that low, especially at this time of year.

Customer numbers seemed to be lower than they have been in Cowboy this week. Very quiet it is.

Coyote Apache has extended their happy night special and now every night from Sunday through to Wednesday it is 75 baht for standard drinks all night long. That's as good a deal as you could hope to find in a Bangkok chrome pole palace.

I'm of the view that the peak at Tilac has been reached, and passed, and I hate to say it but I feel it is a bar slowly in decline. There are lots of new girls and while many are pretty, I don't know that the attitudes could be accurately described as wonderful. Tilac has become a high pressure sell joint with girls asking for a drink within 30 seconds and being abusive if one is turned down. Sigh, another good bar turns crap.

And speaking of Tilac, a bunch of Indians found their way there this week but received virtually no attention from the girls. Lonesome would describe their time there. Yes, if you are of Indian ethnicity you might find that you don't get the same attention as a white man. Sad, but that's just the way it is in a country with huge racism problems.

Angelwitch's Jojo is doing the multiple knickers removal show in her Technicolor wig again. It might look fancy but hair is often a Thai woman's best feature and it seems a shame to hide it behind that awful wig.

In fact Angelwitch has a bunch of new shows and I have to say that I am very impressed. They are tasteful without the vulgarity that you so often see in shows in Pattaya's so-called show bars, venues I think would be more accurately termed smut bars.

Soi 4's Sin Bar is reopening as a late night venue after the owners upped and left allowing the previous owners, those who set the place up in the first place, to stroll back in, take the keys and take charge again.

For the voyeurs amongst you, the girls are not the only ones who get into the shower at Spanky's. Check out their shows from 10 PM every night.

Crossbar is running a novel promotion called "The Malt Experience" for those of you who like the finer things in life. They have a bunch of quality malts from which you can choose 6 for 1,000 baht. These are, I am told, all the good stuff, with some going for up to 300 baht each if you were to buy by the single glass. You can choose 3 malts from List A and 3 from List B. List A includes Laphroiag 10 Year Old, Glenmorangie 10 Year Old, J W Green 15 Year Old, Jura 10 Year Old, Highland Park 12 Year Old. List B has Balvenie 15 Year Old, Macallan 12 Year Old, Bowmore 15 Year Old and Jura 16 Year Old.

There's more stress for bar owners in Pattaya's most popular beer area, sois 7 and 8, with a raid carried out this past week and a number of bar owners found to be operating without the proper licences.

Bully's is about the only venue located west of the Nana intersection that I can recall that has been a commercial success. It seems that pedestrians leaving soi 4 invariably cross Sukhumvit or turn right and those walking up Sukhumvit just don't venture beyond Soi Nana. I therefore wonder how any venue on the wrong side of the Nana intersection will fare. Gazebo Sukhumvit is described as a club and restaurant and can be found on the 4th floor of the renovated building at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 1 which was once home to a bunch of motley beer bars that never really took off. This new venue has a few zones with a restaurant, a couple of pool tables, a dance floor and a DJ. It sounds like they're hedging their bets and trying a bit of everything. Before 10 PM, there's a special promotion of buy 1 cocktail and get 1 free and if you buy a bottle of whisky, you get free mixers all night. They have a bunch of parties lined up including bikini parties with Penthouse girls. The location still concerns me…

Every couple of months a Paddy emails me asking where he can catch the hurling or the Gaelic football while in Thailand. I always reply that I have yet to see it shown on TV here. I have since been informed that Tropical Murphy's on Samui is the one spot in Thailand that does broadcast it and that with a bit of luck, a popular Bangkok bar will soon feature Irish sports too.

There are new owners at Nana Internet, the internet cafe down the back of the petrol station at the Nana intersection. They already operate one very successful net cafe in the Khao San Road area, beside Oh My Cod, and have since purchased the Nana location as they saw the potential even though it had been neglected for a long time. The outlet has been renovated, brand new computers with nice LCD monitors installed in very private workstations, and importantly, they have lowered the prices. It used to be 3 baht per minute which was insane for the quality of service and equipment on offer but now it's just 1.5 baht per minute. They also offer international calls from 4 baht per minute. They can be found directly across the street from Nana, on the other side of the big white wall / at the back of the PTT gas station property, behind the pharmacy or behind the 24 hour McDonalds. The new owners are two Canadian guys with experience in corporate IT back home. Their outlets run two net connections from two providers so if one does go down they can route all the machines to the second connection. When both connections are up they load balance so it makes all the machines have the best possible though put. It's worth noting that 99% of net cafes in Thailand run on residential internet connections which can be flaky at times. They pay extra for a fixed IP business connection and in their Khao San location they have never been down in 18 months. All machines run at least 2.5 GHz chips and a minimum of 1 GB of RAM. They also run a nifty little device called an undo card that basically does a re-image of the hard drive with each reboot so viruses, spyware and all that crap is of no concern, but perhaps more importantly, any personal info, files, photos etc. all go with every reboot. If you don't travel with your laptop and use wi-fi or a mobile to access the internet, this is the next best thing.

It was a scene that for me typified the way the bar scene has gone. As I was walking out of Nana Plaza, I saw a sight in Bog Dogs that made me do a double take. One of the girls was sitting at the ledge while behind her a foreign guy was standing, giving her a massage. There is no way a Thai woman would allow that in the past, the shame involved would have been too much.

More reports of street violence and muggings have come in as a 50-odd year old farang woman was smashed over the head and her bag taken on Sukhumvit soi 22 by assailants on a motorbike last night. Be careful out there.

There appear to be new procedures at the Immigration office up in Chiang Mai. Long-term reader and ace submission writer Sawadee2000 and his wife made the trek from their Lampang base up to Chiang Mai to get his yearly visa. Imagine his surprise when he was told that the joint bank account they've had since moving to Thailand is suddenly no good in terms of showing the annual fund requirements. This week's interpretation of the rules say that he has to have an account is his own name! He uses this account solely for his visa extensions and hasn't touched one baht in it. Of course, with the account solely in his name, when he dies I can imagine the calamity his wife will have attempting to get the money transferred from that account to her own. It seems that the individual Immigration offices enforce the law as per their own interpretation of it.

UOB Bank was, I believe, the last bank to hold off charging the 150 baht fee for withdrawals at their ATM machines from a foreign account. However, it seems they have succumbed and using a UOB Bank ATM will result in the same 150 baht fee being charged by the other banks. Are there any banks left that don't charge the fee?

The dirty doctor obviously failed in his attempt to rid Bangkok of the fake monks. They are back on Sukhumvit.

Are the police getting a little hungrier these days? A long-time reader was stopped on his motorbike which was legal in every way – he had paid his road tax, was in possession of a valid Thai driver's licence, the bike was insured and he had not broken any road rules at the point when he was waved over by the boys in brown. The copper brazenly asked for 200 baht for the never before heard infraction that "Farang cannot wear black helmet!" The reader asked him for a receipt as well as his name & number to which the cop made a show of slowly undoing the leather strap on the holster of his gun before asking him if he wanted to make a ploplem. The place is rife with it now.

It was difficult picking the Stickman reader's story of the week this week but I felt "Immoral Behaviour" was a touch better than the rest.

In what seems to be a popular storyline in the UK with many newspapers, the Times of London says Thailand is the most dangerous place for Brits abroad.

Oh God no, another Western woman thinks she can solve all of Thailand's problems. She gets Stickman most uninformed person of the year award.

Here's an interesting piece from the Bangkok Post about Westerners approaching Thai women in public.

Have the Bangkok Airport problems been blown out of proportion? And then another article mentions reducing security measures which would take them below industry standards!

A pregnant Pattaya woman hid drugs in the same cave as her unborn child.

Was this Pattaya – based German attacked by his wife?


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. When Mr. Stick feels he is better suited to answering the question he will do so.

Question 1: I know you don't work for the police force but maybe you have an insight into a very strange occurrence that I always find. Why is a farang death in Pattaya always viewed as a suicide in so many cases where the person is young and or the safe is missing from his room and many other strange coincidences that have happened when the body is found but I don't want to go on. There was the case of the young farang guy who was questioned about the hanging of a Thai girl in his room while he was out, that it may have been murder so why does this not happen when the farang dies?

Mr. Stick says: This is a tricky question to answer. A similar question was asked of Barry Kenyon, the British Consul General in Pattaya a few years back, a man who has to deal with these sorts of things all the time. Here is the question and his answer repeated:

There's no shortage of suspicious deaths.

I have looked into a number of the deaths of those who have fallen from condos, and the opinions of the police, on the whole, I have agreed with, that quite a few have been accidents. Most deaths here are natural causes. Most deaths would be lifestyle disease with older men. The Thai government has encouraged retirement visas and it is easy for older men to live here. Of course they are going to die one day. It is the same for other nationalities. Heart attacks, cancer, strokes etc. There are others that are accidents, riding motorbikes and not wearing a helmet for instance.

Question 2: I was hoping you might have some suggestions for finding someone that robbed me Thursday night. She is a girl I met from ThaiLoveLinks and she came over and cooked dinner and then when I realised that she was a nut-job I tried to kick her out. The tears started flowing and I was waiting out in the hall with the door open for her to leave but she went into my bedroom and laid down on the bed and started talking crazy shit that I didn't love her. Anyway, I finally pulled her up and showed her the door, but I guess when I was in the hall she lifted my watch (20,000 baht) and my gold Masonic ring (priceless) and the key to my room. She closed her profile on TLL. The only clues I have are her name Viena, born Vietnam, speaks English very well, 5'9 115 lbs, TLL member number 804xxx, email [email protected] and mobile number 081xxx8462. I guess it could have been worse and I really hate that I'm another Canadian statistic with the Thai girl that done me wrong syndrome running rampant lately. All things considered I've felt that it was only a matter of time that I ran up against a thief and I thought I'd been pretty damn careful having been reading your articles for a few years now and prided myself on being savvy to the tricks. My number finally came up and this is the only bad experience with a girl from TLL. Don't really expect much to happen and probably won't waste any energy finding this crazy bitch. The thing that bothers me is that she is taunting me with SMS now. She is being careful not to admit to any of my allegations, playing dumb but it's obvious by her lack of defending herself that she is the culprit. There were many red flags and I actually tried to cancel that date because my guts were telling me something wasn't right with this girl, but after she was almost two hours late, she pleaded with me that she was coming and that the problem was the typical Thai excuse of traffic and rain. Against my better judgment I caved in. Live and learn. I should have known better when it was her suggestion to cook at my condo, sight unseen, instead of meeting in public and sent me 34 SMS messages the day we planned to meet. Expensive lesson for a cheap Charlie and a loyal reader.

Mr. Stick says: There is a remarkably simple solution to this. Go to the police. As you outlined the situation it seems you have no reason not to report this crime to them. Tell them exactly what you have said in this email and provide them with all the details, being her TLL number, her email address and most critically, her mobile number. You would be amazed at how many crimes are solved by police these days using mobile phone records. It is simply a case of the police contacting the phone company, getting a list of her sent and received calls and text messages, contacting the people who she has been in regular contact with and finding out exactly who she is. They will then easily find out where she lives and / or works and the game will be over. Theft in Thailand is a very serious offence and if caught she is looking at a number of years in jail. If it were me, I would communicate this to her and give her an ultimatum of a few *hours* to return the stolen property. If she failed to do so, I would go to the police and file a report. I would act quickly because these items are not going to be kept but taken to a pawn shop. I am assuming if you have property of that value laying around your condo then you probably live in a decent building with reasonable security. Go and see the security guards and the building manager NOW and get them to make a copy of the video tape of her coming and going which can be given to the police. Don't be a victim. This woman is an unsophisticated criminal and it won't be difficult for the boys in brown to catch her. The ball is now in your court!

Question 3: I went to Thailand last year and loved it and want to move there so I decided when I got back to England I would concentrate on making money. As luck would have it I met a Thai girl here. She's 10 years older than me and she's been divorced for 4 years. She was a bargirl and came over with her English husband. She said she's come back here to make lots of money and retire because when she was with her husband he took most of the money from the 2 jobs she was working. She earns a lot of money over here cooking. When we first met I'd just lost my job and she paid for everything for me and now I have a job again but it is low paying. She earns in a day what I earn in a week so in this aspect I don't worry about her being after my money even though I live at home with my Mum and Dad and it's a big house. She says she wants her own place for both of us. The problem is she works away a lot. I mean in the last 3 months I've probably seen her for about the total of one week which seems a bit strange to me. I know she wants to make money but that just seems like she doesn't really give a shit about me. At the start of October she's going back to Pattaya for maybe 2 months as she wants to make lots of money for us and then we can live in Thailand and have a business set up and be happy which sounds good. She talks about soi 6 so I type soi 6 in Google and fxxx me I didn't realise what this place is like. I know she doesn't have to have sex for money but how do I know that when she's there she doesn't just see loads of guys? I wouldn't have worried if it was anywhere else I don't think but that place is all about the sex. It's not that I don't trust her. I'm a very trusting person and sometimes this worries me because I think am I just getting mugged off. When she talks to me it could all just be BS. I got her pregnant and she had an abortion and I'm wondering if it even my child? Paranoia gets me but maybe she's a good girl. I don't know. I know when she goes away it's going to be tough for me though.

Mr. Stick says: Run! Don't hang about! Run as fast as you get! Do your best impersonation of Usain Bolt and even if you can only manage 100 metres in 20 seconds, that should be enough to get the hell away from this woman! She is going to be nothing but bad news. It is fairly clear what she is up to in the UK – cooking up a storm in the bedroom!



My time in Indonesia has given me a chance to consider life in Thailand. We are often harsh on Thailand, making criticisms about every little thing. Sometimes the criticisms are justified while other times they are born out of frustration and sometimes they come from the way that things are done here which is very difficult to elsewhere. Indonesia is a great place, but it has its own set of problems. As good as it is, there are endless frustrations there too which all helps to put Thailand's issues into perspective. Nowhere is perfect.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Never miss a column again

Every Sunday, right in your inbox.


Alternatively follow us and stay up-to-date