Stickman's Weekly Column August 16th, 2009

The Big Durian


There's something exciting about going somewhere new. Sights to see, new bars to drink in, people to meet and adventure to be had. But what if you've been most everywhere in Thailand? There's nowhere left to cross off the list. It's time to find somewhere new, a place you've yet to experience. Malaysia, Laos, Singapore, Cambodia. Been there, done that. You want some adventure, a little risk perhaps. How about Jakarta, or as it's known to the locals, The Big Durian!

Arriving at Jakarta's airport is underwhelming given it's the gateway to one of the world's biggest cities and the 4th most populous nation. Passing through Customs and Immigration was a breeze, a few US dollars parted with for the visa on arrival. Entering the arrival halls, the first thing I saw was decaying money changer booths patrolled by some dubious looking characters. Exchange rates were all over the show. In one booth one New Zealand dollar would get you 4,700 Ruppiah, in another 6,300. As the lone foreigner in the arrivals hall, arms were flapping out of the booths as they all competed for my business. Where are the big name banks with electronic exchange rate boards? Where are the pretty women in tailored uniforms? Initial impressions underwhelm.

Into a cab and heading for the city centre, the traffic is quite unreal, unlike anything I've ever experienced, Bangkok included. The traffic is not like Bangkok and has a character of its own. There are endless streams and unlike a Bangkok nightmare jam, they do actually move, albeit slowly. I notice few intersections controlled with traffic lights. Weird. Getting on the tollway makes little difference and we slowly make our way through a characterless city. Looking out the taxi window, I see endless traffic streams below, tall condo and office buildings, shopping malls and slums. There's more green than Bangkok but the haze hanging over the city is noticeably heavier. There are no obvious landmarks and over the huge flat expanse it's impossible to orientate yourself. The journey into town takes well over an hour.

Initial interactions with the locals are positive but rather different from the streets of Thailand. The inane grins are gone, but when you engage someone in conversation they are invariably warm and willing to chat. Getting a feel for the city walking around the streets of downtown Jakarta I saw very few Westerners. Correction, I didn't see any.

I hunt for a convenience store, which in Thailand, even in the most far flung villages, is about as difficult as counting to 5. Not so in Jakarta. I couldn't find one anywhere and was left wondering if such a thing exists.

I quickly realise that Jakarta is not best seen on foot. There's nothing I enjoy more in Asia than walking and exploring but in Jakarta that doesn't really work. Whereas in Thailand life is very much on the ground, Jakarta is well, rather quiet at street level unless you want to venture into some of the racier neighbourhoods. While I like to push the boundaries a little, it would be imprudent to do so as a first time visitor. I could not help but feel at times that walking around central / south Jakarta, the main business district, was a bit like walking around parts of Singapore. Dull, boring and bland. Who would have thought it?!

Security is a big deal in Jakarta. Every time you walk in and out of a hotel or a shopping centre or any building of any size you pass through a metal detector, your bags and any items you're carrying are checked, the guards much more thorough and professional than their Bangkok counterparts.

One of the amazing things about Jakarta is that you could go hours, possibly all day, without seeing another long nose. In this respect Jakarta and Bangkok could not be more different. There are so few white faces around – and I was staying in the South Jakarta area, home to the big hotels, the glitzy shopping malls, the international banks – just where you would expect Farangdom, oops, I mean Bule – the Indonesian term for us lot – to congregate.

With camera in hand, I start snapping away, only to receive protest from some caught in the lens. Some young men were suspicious, almost to the point of being hostile at seeing a Westerner roam with a camera. It was almost as if by taking their snapshot I was removing a small part of their soul.

I couldn't help but feel that some Indonesian men look at foreigners with suspicion. It's almost like they were thinking "Just what is your reason for being here?!" Whereas in Thailand the lower classes are friendly and will invariably smile at you and perhaps even greet you, I was less comfortable with the poorer Indonesians. With the country experiencing double digit unemployment and no shortage of young, rather rough looking Indonesian men milling around, I began to be more circumspect about where I pointed the camera and who I made eye contact with. A few obviously middle or upper-class Indonesians said hello and engaged me in conversation but the lower classes seemed full of suspicion. Or maybe I am so used to the inane Thai smile that when I don't see it I mistakenly infer it as hostility?

I was told that the level of English spoken in Jakarta is far better than in Bangkok but my experience was quite the opposite. I struggled with the Indonesian accent and found myself frequently asking people to repeat themselves. Many spoke no English at all. I was surprised at first that taxi drivers and even hotel employees spoke very little but then when I opened my eyes and saw so few Western visitors it was easy to understand.

The streets of Jakarta are much darker than Bangkok. There's less going on and with a conspicuous absence of street vendors I found walking into unknown areas a little disconcerting. Whereas in Thailand and in neighbouring countries I have almost complete confidence wandering aimlessly at night taking photographs, it was rather different in Jakarta.

In fairness a few people did engage me when I dared to stroll at night but there always seemed to be some sort of pay off, from the mother who posed with her baby and suggested a photo, to the packs of young kids who would hail you a cab, all of which would be followed by a request, and then harassment, for a tip.

The Indonesian Ruppiah can take a bit of getting your head around. Ordering a coffee and being charged 34,500 Ruppiah sounds like a lot but when you put it in to dollar figures it's not so bad. 10,000 Ruppiah is about one US dollar. Don't do what I did and then try and calculate what it is in baht after that. Too much headache! My feeling is that overall the costs of most things, be it eating, drinking, taxis etc. are a little higher in Jakarta than Bangkok, but not enough to hurt.

I'd love to write about the various sights of this monstrosity of a city, include photos of gold-gilded mosques attended by worshippers in flowing gowns, regale you with boat trips up and down canals through slum communities as youngsters waved out with big grins and shouted hello. Such romanticism is easily found in Thailand and Cambodia but Jakarta is rather different. Just getting around the city is difficult and when I did make it to a few recommended sights, I didn't think one could really be called a must see attraction. You would expect such a huge city to have a vast array of interesting sights to see and places to go but I didn't find them. It left me wondering what the locals do for kicks. Shopping, I guess. Like any Asian capital, Jakarta has its share of truly impressive shopping malls.

OK, so you've been patiently waiting for the bit where I venture out into the night and explore Jakarta's nightlife. Let's cut to the chase. If you're not resident in Thailand, or elsewhere in the region for that matter, you're probably not aware of quite the reputation Jakarta's nightlife has. The naughty nightlife in each of the different South East Asian cuntries has its own unique flavour.

Thailand is known as the easiest and the biggest, at least as far as Westerners go, but is fast gaining a reputation for mercenary girls and, in Bangkok and Phuket, lofty prices. That said, it's still far and away the most popular and most people's favourite.

Laos is pretty much a no go. It's there but it's frowned upon and I've never heard of anyone venturing to Laos specifically to be a naughty boy. Ditto Myanmar.

Vietnam is home to the most mercenary working girls who it is often said will lift whatever isn't nailed down. They quote in US dollars and despite Vietnam being one of the poorer countries in the region, prices are said to be high and attitudes aggressive. The Vietnamese girls are lookers though!

Cambodia has the lowest prices in the region and a unique scene where local girls and Vietnamese girls – who hate each other – compete side by side. Despite this, Cambodia's naughty nightlife scene hasn't really taken off.

Singapore has Orchard Towers and the notorious four floors of whores where girls from all over the region flock in pursuit of the moneyed up Singapore expats. It's awfully expensive and very much a local scene.

The Philippines is the favourite for many and Angeles City kicks Pattaya and Bangkok's backside for price and, it is said, for sweet girls who speak great English.

Malaysia has avoided becoming a destination, partly due to its relative wealth.

That leaves Indonesia. The mere mention of the Indonesian capital is enough to make many old Asia hands salivate with excitement. More than a few long-termers have told me that Jakarta is THE place for good times. Not perhaps for quantity, but for the quality of the experience.

I don't pretend to know what all of the local Jakarta nightlife options are. In a city that big, there must be both a huge variety and a huge number of venues. As far as foreigners are concerned, I am informed that there were primarily two options, the first being a bunch of upmarket discos in swanky hotel bars with Bats in the Shangri La popping up more than once in conversation. But hotel bars just aren't my thing, at least when I'm travelling alone.

And then there was Blok M.

I guess it was the "blok" part of the name that had me expecting Jakarta's equivalent to our very own Nana Plaza, a small shopping centre full of scantily clad women. But Blok M is nothing like that. My first impressions were that this was Jakarta's version of Washington Square and for those of you unfamiliar with the Square and the local denizens, or as they like to be called, "Squaronians", I'm afraid that's no great thing. Blok M is in fact the name of the area which happens to have a small street with less than a dozen bars where Jakarta's Bule (that's Farang to you) meet for a drink, watch sports and meet local women. Working women. The bars range from small disco like venues, Top Gun having something of a feel of Nana Disco in its hay day to Sportsman's Bar, a brightly-lit typical sports bar to D's Place where there was a pretty sad effort made at clothed gogo dancing.

As best I could gather, all were freelancer joints and most didn't really get going until after 10 PM. Cruising the soi, I mean lane, we're in Jakarta, not Bangkok, earlier in the evening I saw few people about, guys or gals.

The lane is rather dark and dirty by Jakarta standards – generally the city is much cleaner than Bangkok – and there is a rather less than inviting feel with many bars having some heavies outside who I could not help but think were off duty coppers. They looked like tough guys but were remarkably friendly and helpful.

The bars seemed to be a throwback to the past. Many were modestly decorated with a cloud of smoke lingering in the air. Indonesian working girls smoke en masse and my best guess would put around half as keen smokers. Think Thermae or Nana Disco in the late 90s and that's pretty much the feel many venues had.

Talking with the girls of Blok M was a real struggle. In Thailand I always use Thai in the bars, never English, and there are no communication problems. I had forgotten what it's like to attempt to converse with someone when neither speaks the other's language. Incredibly frustrating. This to me was the single worst thing about Blok M. I visited to observe and to learn, and the best way to do that is to engage others in conversation. But I found girl after girl after girl just could not speak any English. If they could it was limited to the absolute basics and a few vulgar terms.

Drinks prices are inexpensive with Bintang, the local beer, going for around 35,000 Ruppiah, or around $3.50.

The dreaded ++ is alive and well in Blok M pushing drinks prices to levels beyond what you find in similar venues in Bangkok. Take the Sportsman, for example. A Jack Daniels + Coke will set you back 60,000 Ruppiah + 7.5% service charge + 10% tax which means you're paying 70,500 Ruppiah for a single drink, or over $US 7 or about 240 baht. This in what could not be described as anything more than a regular sports bar.

The women themselves seemed pleasant and sweet and didn't seem to have that hardness many women in the industry in Thailand have but honestly, I thought few were that attractive. You find more attractive women in similar bars in Thailand. I couldn't help but feel that what's available in Jakarta's Blok M is about the same as what you would find in the soi 7 Biergarten. And just like in Thailand, the bargirls are pretty much the least attractive women around. Local ladies going in and out of office buildings and sauntering through the shopping malls were far more attractive than those working late at night.

One curiosity with the Indonesian women is that they seem to look about their actual age or sometimes even older, rather different from the Thais who often look younger. At least that's what I found. Why this is the case I have no idea.

The dynamic in the Blok M bars is completely different to anything you find in Bangkok. While chatting with a girl, don't be surprised to see other girls not just make faces and gestures at you but approach you with the idea that you jettison the lass you're with and choose her instead! In Thailand this would result in a cat fight for once a girl has marked you, you're all hers. In Jakarta this silly rule doesn't exist. It makes a guy feel that he is the one in charge – as it should be because surely it is a case of he who pays is he who says. The way so many weak Western men let Thai prostitutes dictate terms to them is something I have never been able to understand.

Blok M feels like it has been there for decades and no doubt there's much history, but you just can't compare it with any of Bangkok's bar areas. It's so much smaller and there really only are a small number of people. It's raw and without the commercialism that has in many ways marred the industry in Thailand in recent times. Just as a mid-engine mounted rear wheel drive is for the motoring purist, Blok M is for the mongering connoisseur. The dirty street suits prostitution and there is none of the Las Vegas / carnival feel that you get in Soi Cowboy.

As far as the women's fees go, I have no idea what the norm is. I spoke to two girls who promised me a night to remember for a million Ruppiah each, about $100 each. After telling them that I wasn't interested they dropped their prices fast, all the way to 300,000 Ruppiah each – and then couldn't understand it when I decided it was time to leave. I got the feeling that that price was something of a recession special, but I'm not a local so I just don't know. There are no barfines and no lady drinks. That said, if you chat with a girl she will soon ask for a drink and if it's not forthcoming she'll be off.

The customers were a mixed bunch, the vast majority being Jakarta locals or frequent Jakarta visitors. There appeared to be fewer young guys around than you typically see in Thailand.

There was something about the expat population in Jakarta I just can't put my finger on but for sure, they're rather different to what you find in the Land Of Smiles. Despite Indonesian being an easy language to learn – much easier than Thai – few I spoke with seemed to have any grasp of it at all. Few really knew that much about Jakarta and fewer still seemed to really have committed to the country. I got the feeling many lived in a small expat cocoon. Unlike many expats in Thailand who would do anything to remain in the country, I got the distinct feeling it would not take much for a Jakarta expat to decide to leave.

Nowhere in the region is as well-served as Thailand when it comes to online expat resources. Here in Thailand we're positively spoiled. In researching Indonesia online prior to departure I found Indonesia's expat forums to give nothing more than a vapid overview of the country, reciting guidebook drivel with almost nothing in the way of a real insider's perspective. The Indonesia expat sites were a tremendous disappointment.

From the perspective of this visitor, Jakarta's problem is its vibe. It just doesn't seem to have one or if it does, I never felt it. As crazy as it sounds, in 3 days I never saw a market, never saw a car dealership, could not find a convenience store, saw little in the way of street vendors and I didn't even see a single school or a student in uniform! And forget finding an internet cafe, that was an impossible dream. There were endless traffic jams yet I saw few buses and when I did see one, there was hardly anyone on board. For all of the endless sprawl of the city, most of what I saw was lush green and tall building after tall building. There was so much of life seemingly missing that I could not even begin to understand how the city functions.

I left Jakarta perplexed. Why are 90% of the cars on the roads either black or a shade of grey / silver? Why was it that everyone told me that English was spoken so well, yet I found the complete opposite to be true? Why don't taxis have a radio installed? And what on earth do all the residents of Jakarta do with themselves?

Indonesia's capital did not set me on fire. I'd like to say that you could see the city's highlights quite comfortably in 48 hours but just what are the highlights I wondered as I left! The few so-called tourist attractions I checked out were rather uninspiring. The nature of Jakarta means that you need to either have some locals show you around or you have to immerse yourself to really get to know it. It's not intuitive. You'd need much more than a few days to scratch beneath the surface.

They might both be Asian capitals and gigantic metropolises but Jakarta and Bangkok share little else in common. Where Bangkok is easy, Jakarta is a challenge. A real challenge. That's not to say it's intimidating, for it's not, but neither would you say the city is entirely welcoming either. No doubt it would be best experienced with a local to show you around. This first time visitor struggled to uncover the magic of the city and while I would be keen to visit again with the aid of a local, I have to say that my initial impressions are that The Big Durian has nothing on the Big Mango.


Where was this photo taken?


The photo in last week's column was taken from Cathouse in Nana Plaza, looking down on Lucky Luke's, the first bar on the right as you enter the shopping centre of debauchery. Many readers, perhaps more than 50 of all responses, thought it was Big Dogs. This week's photo was taken outside Bangkok. 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, 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 – Unsatisfying Soi Cowboy.

I have to agree with you and others who complain about the Arab's bars. In one, during what was advertised outside as happy hour, I had an officious older girl (not a mamasan but a know-it-all, bossy type) upbraid me for writing a text message in the bar. Having faced her down and thus made myself persona non grata, I finished my beer in due course and called for the bill. An argument ensued over the 145 baht they tried to charge me, eventually being settled with a 100 baht note and me leaving trailing muttered insults. I then made the mistake of going for a 90 baht draft beer in another bar belonging to the same owner. This duly arrived in a toy town-sized glass mug, one-third filled with froth. After duly complaining, the service girl obliged by filling it with another centimetre of beer. So that was two down. Not to be fooled again, I took your advice and had a beer in Tilac. I have to say I was underwhelmed – the girls, while their attitude was pleasant enough, were, in my range of vision, nothing to write home about, some distinctly on the long-toothed side. Still, I had my wits about me sufficient that, when I called for the bill and paid with a thousand baht note, I checked my change. I'm sorry to say they brought back 830 baht change, which, to an unwary, beer-befuddled mind might seem appropriate change for a 130 baht beer. I don't know if it was intended or not, but the same ruse performed on, say, ten customers a night who tender a thousand baht note would net the perpetrator four hundred baht, a valuable addition to their modest salary. Anyway, we got that sorted and I'd had enough of Cowboy for the evening. The gentle caress of Cowboy has gone for me. Back to the old hardcore Pong, where a spade is, and has always been, a spade, for me.

Who is the sales assistant trying to assist?

I needed to buy four air-conditioning units. Having inspected all the catalogues and websites at great length, I decided on the Sharp units. So I went off to Home Pro, found an assistant and told him I wanted to buy four units. He frowned a little, and asked why I wanted the Sharp units. Quietly and secretly, he opened them up and showed me all the flimsy plastic inside. Then he showed me another unit by Fujitsu and demonstrated that the inside was made of plastic that perhaps wasn't so flimsy, although I couldn't really see the difference. But then he said that he could give me an extra special 5% discount beyond the discount already offered. This made the price better than the Sharp units so I agreed. But he couldn't give me the discount straight away. He gave me his card with the store number and told me to call in a week with my bank account details and he'd transfer the money to me. It all seemed very strange, but this is Thailand, and for some reason I agreed to this bizarre plan. Well, the units arrived, they work fine, and when I called him, he transferred the money to me immediately. All was good. But I learned one interesting thing. When I called the store and gave his name, there was a little confusion. I was pronouncing his name wrong. Finally they realised who I needed, and said, "Oh, you mean the Fujitsu salesman." In Home Pro, and I believe also in Power Buy, many of the sales assistants standing around are not actually employed by the store. They are employed by an individual brand, even though they may wear the same uniform as store staff. They get commission only if you buy their brand! So any chance of impartial advice is out of the question. They will give misinformation and downright lie about other brands in order to get you to buy their brand. They have been known even to say that the model you want is out of stock when it isn't! If they really want a sale, they might be willing to give you a share of their commission. But you will have to wait until they get the commission before they can give it to you. So, my only advice is that you should never rely on any information given to you inside the store. Do your research before you get there.

Slow Pattaya.

I'm back from 40 days in Pattaya. It was very slow in most of my usual haunts. My regular massage lady showed me the books at the shop she works at. She has gone from giving 3 – 5 massages a day to 5 or 6 a week. Some days the 11-girl shop sees less than 10 customers. On the other hand, dozens of businesses are being rebuilt everywhere. Even the beer bars that were closed on Second Road near Soi Diana for a year are being refurbished.

Another postcard from Vietnam

In last week's column, a reader gave his impressions of a recent trip to Vietnam. While his assessment of the tourism situation in Vietnam was mostly valid, I would like to make a few clarifications. You can take an unmarried Vietnamese lady to your hotel room, no problem. There is no official government policy or norm against taking any lady into your room as long as you both register together at the front desk in advance. Very rarely, a hotel may ask for a marriage certificate but usually only to try to get you to book two rooms. In order to avoid any embarrassment, it is best to book the hotel in advance through a Vietnamese travel agent giving both your name and the Vietnamese lady's name who will occupy the room. However, this method only works if you have an established Vietnamese girlfriend. For newly acquired girlfriends from a bar or freelancer spot, it may be only possible to go short time at one of the many guesthouses (nha nghis). In this case, spending the entire night may be problematic or require some additional pay off. As for taxis, you should still beware. There is never any problem with the major taxi companies, but you should take caution with taxis parked near the tourist spots in Hanoi such as Hoan Kiem Lake or the Temple of Literature. These taxis will usually try to bargain a US dollar price or have a dodgy meter.

An apologetic for Thai Christians.

Pure speculation on my part from conversations with friends but they report most Thai Christians are of hi-so Chinese descent and that the church is a vehicle for networking – especially business networking – in that circle and for providing face. I don't question that it's also a community of faith but just that this is another characteristic of the group. The lack of fun you attribute to them may be a characteristic of their social caste more than their faith.

Thailand bar owners lack generosity?

A reader wrote in recently about how he has not been bought any beer by the tight-fisted bar owners in Thailand. This guy is dead on the money. If some of these bar owners allegedly make the kind of money that you claim in your earlier article, you would think some of these Cheap Charlies would open their wallets from time to time to spring for a drink. I find these owners tighter than a clam's ass with personalities that resemble the boyz-n-brown. I have been going back and forth from Thailand to the Philippines since about 1981. I can only remember one guy by the name of Stewart who ran the Oasis Bar up in Chiang Mai. When I walked into his bar, he immediately introduced himself to me and we talked for hours that evening. This has never happened in any other bars or clubs in Thailand and I have been to probably at least 500 throughout Thailand. I also consider myself a friendly person who can carry on a conversation with royalty or a piss boy. In the Philippines I have been bought numerous rounds by the friendly bar owners mostly from Australia, Switzerland, and America. Not only do they buy my friends and I rounds, they seem to make it a point to get to know you whether you are there on a holiday or reside there. Just my two cents.

Nana was very quiet on Friday night, so much so, it looked like a Monday. Only Rainbow 4 was doing decent trade.

The Crown Group's decision to raise drink prices to 145 baht appears to have backfired. On Friday night the Crown Group gogo bars looked like a mortuary with flashing lights! In stark contrast down the road in Cowboy Tilac, Shark and Baccarra were packing the punters in.

It looks like Nana may be looking at a new niche of the market as Carnival has joined the ranks of bars boasting a bunch of cocks in frocks and becomes Nana's 5th katoey gogo! What on earth is going on? Is there really the demand for that many ladyboy bars?!

There's a 3 AM crackdown in place on Walking Street although for how long it will last, who knows? Probably only a week or so as that seems to be what Thai crackdowns are about – clamp down for a week and then forget it ever happened! Walking Street might be ground zero but Pattaya's bars are spread all over town. While the crackdown seems to be happening in some areas, it isn't in others, often an adjacent soi!

Big Shots, opposite Lookie Lookie, closed down about a month ago. They sold out the location to Take Care, the curiously named hair salon next door, for a reported 15.5 big ones! Surely that cannot be right? More than 15 million baht? That's a heap of cash! The Big Shot girls mostly moved over to Kiss, but business is very low as, without wanting to be cruel, there's not much of a draw to Kiss Pub, a narrow one shophouse wide venue with a single pool table and numerous obstructions.

Speaking of barfines in that little bar on soi 33, Kiss Pub, they have about 10 – 12 girls on any given night and, it seems, just a handful of customers each evening. Proving that business is dreadful, there have been less than 10 bar fines this month so far for all the ladies combined. So, what does the bar go and do? Raise the barfine from 1,200 to 1,500 baht! There really are some geniuses in the bar industry…

Is there a new trend emerging in Pattaya? A number of massage shops on Second Road have ladies who entered this word as lads. They're right out front, attempting to solicit customers as only a ladyboy can! But there's no deception involved. Happy Hand Massage also known as Honey Inn Massage openly advertises that they have both women and ladyboys available. Looking at the lovely lad here, would it be so bad? All things being equal, you'll get a firmer massage and if you close your eyes, hey, you'll probably never know!

If you're into clubbing and fancy Western style clubs, the new club by Bed Supper club in Phuket's Patong Beach is now open for business.

Speaking of Phuket, I have been averaging about two emails a week from readers complaining about prices in the bars down there. From time to time I do mention the outrageous prices charged for lady drinks and what not down there but for sure, visitors are being totally put off.

There was a brief blitz by the boys in brown on counterfeit DVDs and the like on part of Sukhumvit this week. It only lasted a short time before it was business as usual.

The Thai government's curious move to stimulate tourism by waiving the fee for a single entry tourist visa raised eyebrows and despite being seen as generous, few really believe it will do anything for visitor numbers. However, as seems often the case in Thailand, the visa fee waiver has backfired with some consulates charging a "processing fee". Much speculation surrounds whether the fee paid for a visa at a consulate is kicked back to the government or is in fact retained by the consulate.

While you would never say that Korat is changing fast, nightlife is moving ahead and there are two new gogo bars that have opened up. The first is called 2 Peace (Yes, I know, PEACE, haha!) and the other is called Slender. I couldn't help but notice 2 Peace because it is barely a stone's throw from the in-laws and wandering in I was amazed at the quality. Boy, half of the birds in there should be down in Bangkok because they have some really stunning birds! Almost every night you can see 20 odd girls sitting out front, the perfect advertisement for the venue. The bar features the usual coyote dancing but most unexpected for Korat is the shower show! If you talk to the mamasan you can arrange to take a girl away from the bar for a purple. Slender is owned by Axel, a Swiss guy who is well-known and popular in Korat. He made a truckload of dough back in his own country before relocating out here. He enjoys the naughty side of life so you can imagine what his titty bar has to offer. I've not been in yet, but let's hope his recruitment policy is representative of the bar's name.

Phuket taxi drivers have a bad name which is probably more about the songtaew drivers but they are lumped with the same bad rep. This week a Kiwi pal told me a story which really drives home how nasty some in the tourist industry have become. My pal and his Thai girlfriend along with a friend and his Thai wife arranged for a Phuket cab driver to pick up the couples from their respective hotels in Patong and take them to the airport for an agreed fee of 800 baht. They were picked up as arranged but about 2/3 of the way to the airport he said to one of the Thai woman that the cost of fuel was expensive nowadays and he wanted 1,000 baht instead of the already agreed 800 baht – which, if I am not mistaken, is already over the odds for the Patong to airport run. The lady relayed this to her husband who gave a firm "no", a response that did not please the driver at all. He was not happy at that and set out to make the rest of the ride as hair-raising as possible, driving as fast and as erratically as my mate had ever experienced in his 48 years on this planet. It is this sort of quite disgusting behaviour, both the failure to honour an existing agreement and then to throw a tantrum and behave in such a way that put the lives of others in danger, that is giving Thailand's tourist industry such a bad name.

Make Money Online

Is Immigration finally cracking down on the 90-day reporting evaders? I heard two different stories this week of long-term expats who had never reported – not once in all their time in Thailand – for one, 10 years. When each went to renew their annual visa the failure to report in was picked up and they were fined. In one case, the fellow in question was given quite a lecture! One guesses that the government may be looking at every way of raising revenue as it has been reported regularly that the tax take is way down this year.

A farang con man operating at Suwannaphum Airport of all places shares more than a passing resemblance with the fellow that used to operate at Big C in Pattaya. Has he moved on to greener pastures? This schmuck is approached fellow foreigners right there in the departures area of the airport asking that biggest question of all red flags, "Do you speak English?" If a white-skinned stranger asks you that in Thailand, walk away! Anyway, my pal, being a fellow Kiwi, is a rather polite, as we tend to be, so he gave the con man the time of day. You saw it coming… "Can you help me out with 1000 baht? I'm short for my airfare to go home". When my mate refused, the con man asked for 100 baht. He didn't look very happy when my pal told him he had no baht left. You really would think that after all of the dreadful publicity that Suwannaphum Airport has attracted that the Thai authorities would be quick to pick this up but no, the guy is there for all to see. Perhaps they don't even realise what he is up to?!

Every week I receive questions about what the best business to set up in Thailand is. I really believe that a guesthouse or small hotel is the way to go. Build up a good reputation and you could be full year round. It would probably also be a lot of fun to run. Hotel is the best business because once you have won a customer, they forever return. The few people I know in the hotel / guesthouse business are happy and all seem to be doing well.

A reader is looking for a pal he knew from 23 years ago when he was in Bangkok working for an Australian company called Bliss Welded Products. He is looking for Jim Scott whose card read “James A Scott”. Back then he would have been about 30 – 40 years old. He worked for SAFCOL (South Aust. Fishing Cooperative Ltd.) in a canning plant. Can any readers help?

The news article about the Chinese gang arrested recently in the Phuket Gazette had the headline "Scam Gang Banged Up in Phuket". Was this an error, one wonders?

Stickman reader's story of the week comes from Dana and is about not the women, but the men you meet in Thailand, "Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 222".

Quote of the week, "Money rhymes with honey."

Chinese officials believe checking out katoey shows in Thailand is perfectly normal!

A Frenchman's camera is lifted in Pattaya.

The Washington Post ran a piece on the Bangkok Airport fiasco.

This sort of slug gives foreigners in Thailand a bad name.

From The Nation, a bank teller is found guilty of posting an obscene message online.

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: I am a 57 year-old American and I met my Thai girlfriend last November on a Thai dating site. She resides in Loei and is 35. I just received an email from her saying she wouldn't be able to chat for nine days. This is a little unusual as we chat almost every night. This was her message: “I have to go to temple with my friend. We would like go to practice the dharma at the temple for good luck of life”. She went on to tell me that the wat had no electricity explaining the reason for limited contact. Over the months my girlfriend has attended temple on a fairly regular basis and taken food to the monks as is the custom. My question – Is such a retreat common or typical for Thais in general? Frankly, nine days to practice “good luck of life” seems a little suspect. Please enlighten me.

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, this is normal. Please do not worry! We might go into the temple when we have problems in our life and it might be for a few days or more than a week. It's normal, ok?

Question 2: In the Thai culture, do 32 year old virgins exist much? My girlfriend is beautiful. I so find it hard to believe she was a virgin before me – and, if she's lying about that, she could be lying about other things. How often do Thai women working in regular jobs have a sex job on the side? My girlfriend seems like a pro with her sexuality even though she says she was a virgin – unless she learns really fast.

Mrs. Stick says: Yes, you can find virgins every age in Thailand. I think very few have a regular job and a sex job. This is not normal.

Mr. Stick says: As far as employed women freelancing on the side goes, what tends to happen is that a woman dips her toes into the water so to speak by maintaining her day job and trying out in a bar. If she decides it is for her she will probably give the day job up as night time earnings can far exceed what she can earn in the day – and with many Thais working long hours it is just not easy to have a regular job and also be whoring on the side.

Question 3: I've been chatting with my girlfriend for 10 months now. She is 35 years old, resides in the north and has an 11 year old daughter that does not live with her. She does not work but stays at home helping her mother since her father passed away some years ago. There are no male bread winners in the household but they do have an adequate home and land. She has not attended college or university. I spent some time with her and her family in April and we got along very well. I returned back to the States feeling that this might be a promising relationship. Later, while chatting I broached the matter of sin sot. She was surprised when I mentioned this but consulted with her mother and replied 500,000 baht. WOW! I was also informed that the money would not be returned or gifted back. When I try to address the issue I'm told “don't worry about it now”. Are they joking? I feel that under the circumstances that this is an outrageous amount but I also feel that I may have contributed to the problem by addressing the matter so directly. I'd appreciate any comments or suggestions you might have.

Mrs. Stick says: 500,000 baht sin sot is very high. I think she must come from a very good family, or from a powerful and influential family. If she does not, then they ask you for too much.

The internet is a fabulous medium and without it you wouldn't be reading this column. Being Bangkok, some aspects of this site are a little risqué and just running this site means that I am taking something of a risk, a small one, but a risk nonetheless. As such, I need to be discrete. I seldom name people, the exceptions being where people's name or identity is widely known and they are comfortable with, an example being Larry, the manager of Secrets in Pattaya. Due to the lifestyles many lead in this country, discretion and concealing our identity is vital. Unfortunately there are some who don't respect this and may even revel in exposing others. Such behaviour opens people up to threats, damage to their reputation and perhaps even extortion. Just as I don't want this website to get its biggest audience after my mug is plastered across the front page of the Post dragging a ball and chain while flanked by the boys in brown, so too others don't want their identity plastered all over the net. I know this is not a Bangkok-only problem but it does seem to be widespread here which is rather sad. Much of what we get up to would not endear us with the locals. I can't reiterate enough that Westerners in Bangkok need to respect their fellow foreigners' privacy.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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