Stickman's Weekly Column September 27th, 2009

Fragile Friendships


I greeted him with a warm good morning. He glared back at me and grumbled something incomprehensible.

I said to him, "I said good morning" but he muttered something again and I intimated that I didn't know what he had said.

After clearing his throat with a long, deep growl as only a lifelong smoker can, his voice became clear. "I'm all the better for seeing you this morning", he said.

I frowned, a little taken back by what I had misinterpreted as him being friendly.

His body was a wreck, marred by decades of alcohol abuse and chain smoking. And then there was his leg which had long been giving him problems and now looked like it was not to be of this world much longer. I'm sure he had gained more than a few kilos since I had last seen him on what was already a hefty frame. He could but manage to hobble along.

"I've waited for this day for a long time", he said.

"What do you mean?", I asked, now a little concerned at what was to follow.

Despite being what could reasonably be described as a physical wreck, his voice was as strong and powerful as ever. Good volume, excellent projection and despite an Aussie twang, clear pronunciation and enunciation that would be ideal for radio. And then he bellowed, to my horror, for we were hardly alone, "I just wanted to tell you to your face that you're a cunt." With each word of the sentence he got louder and louder and for good measure and on the off chance I had somehow missed it the first time around, he repeated himself. "You're a total cunt!"

I'm not concerned about face and reputation as a Thai is, but neither was I thrilled for all and sundry to hear what he had to say about me. It was the first time in my life I've been called the "C word". I wasn't going to hang around longer than necessary. Clearly I was not in his good books and no good was going to come from talking to him so I used my two perfectly good legs to my advantage and slowly but surely, me and David of Mangosauce fame, who was rather bemused at the abuse coming my way, scampered away.

The Aussie and I had been friends once, not close friends, but friends nonetheless. But as it seems are so many friendships in Bangkok, it was fragile. And when it went bad over something so ridiculously trivial, it went really bad. The friendship didn't just end. I felt as if I had suddenly became a lifelong enemy of his. It's sad to lose a friend, but much more disappointing when someone you once shared a friendship with decides that they hate you.

I've fallen out with friends in my own country, but not in a very, very long time. In fact I don't think I've fallen out with anyone in the West in my adult life. I can't remember the last time a friendship went bad in Farangland. 20 years ago, perhaps? Sure, you might grow apart from people and eventually contact ends, but that doesn't mean that the friendship went bad and you don't suddenly hate each other without any real reason. You just grew apart. It happens. That's life. If you were to bump into each other at a later date you'd enjoy catching up and if you each had the time you may well stop somewhere for a chat over a coffee or a beer.

But in Thailand, as always, it's different. When friendships go bad here, they have a habit of really turning to the point that you regret having ever met that person in the first place. It's happened to me a few times.

There was the teacher from England I worked with who one day I called on his ethics and morality, suggesting that he had done a fabulous job of picking up not just the Thai language, but local ethics too. That was not just the end of that friendship but he took my comments to heart and threatened to camp outside my condo and have a piece of me. Sad.

There was the brainless Australian who somehow managed to find employment as a teacher and with whom I had the misfortune to work with. I called a spade a spade and suggested that he really ought to work harder to increase his knowledge of the language before masquerading in a classroom teaching high level students grammar points that he just couldn't get his empty head around, let alone begin to explain to high level students. He really got his knickers in a twist, threatened me physically and then even tried to extort money from me. That whole affair will make for a great column one day.

And then there was the arrogant Chinese American who retired way too early. He used to mock me and a couple of colleagues for being nothing more than bottom-feeding, lowly-paid English teachers (his words). When the NASDAQ crashed and along with it his retirement plans, he found himself the one being mocked and started to make all sorts of threats with constant references to his marital arts training. It was good natured banter but he couldn't take it. Sad.

I began to wonder if it was me. Was this a Stickman thing? Were there issues with my social skills? As I observed the friendships of those around me I saw exactly the same patterns emerging. This wasn't a Stickman thing, but a Thailand thing. Friendships went sour with amazing frequency.

This website has, unfortunately, made me an unwilling minor celebrity and there are some who want to know and be close to Stickman. Sad. Very bloody sad. I'm just a regular guy who writes a load of nonsense each week. Many lead much more interesting lives than me. It does seem however that some have an idea of what Stickman should be and when Stickman is not as they expect, they get their knickers in a twist. They don't look at the regular me. I've seen this same phenomenon with bar owners too, with some big-spending punters almost idolizing them. When they get to know them and discover that they are not exactly as they expected them to be, they turn. It's just plain weird – and it only seems to happen in Thailand.

Life is too short to have to deal with unbalanced people who have the propensity to become nasty or mean-spirited. That is why I am very, very choosy about who I socialise with or who I allow to be close to me.

The big question is just why does this happen? It would be easy to respond with an all encompassing "Bangkok is a magnet for weirdoes and so you cannot expect to meet the same sort of quality people as you do at home". While somewhat true – Bangkok is not where you find the best of the West – there are probably other reasons.

I often think that many of the people you know and socialise with in Thailand aren't actually real friends at all, but rather just drinking buddies. Do you only ever meet them in bars? Have you ever invited them to your condo? Are you as happy meeting them for a coffee as something stronger? Do you play sport with them or travel with them or do things where alcohol isn't involved? It seems to me that while many of us have a large circle of friends, many are in fact nothing more than drinking buddies.

For some, Thailand is the land of milk and honey, the land where their dreams can come true. It is more than an adult Disneyland, it's their last chance. Life never quite worked out in the West as they had hoped and this is their last throw of the dice. So when things don't go to plan in Thailand and they realise that this really is the end of the road, they become frustrated and take out those frustrations on others.

You've got to be so careful who you're friendly with in Thailand and who you allow to be close to you. When selecting friends, it is my experience that those who have been successful in life, those who have managed to carve out a decent living, perhaps run their own business or reached a decent level in a company are the safest bets. But just as importantly, there seems to be a greater success level with those who look after themselves and are perhaps what we could refer to as healthier specimens. Where so-called friendships have gone bad there have been a few common factors with those former friends being (often heavily) overweight, being of advanced years yet with little or no money and often living hand to mouth.

I am now very, very choosy who I spend time with in Thailand. Fortunately I have managed to build up a decent set of mates with whom I am just as happy hanging out with over a coffee as a beer. There have been more than a few potholes along the road though.

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo of the large, white alien was taken outside the new Bangkok Arts & Culture Centre at the Patumwan intersection, opposite MBK. 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! I also have signed copies of Stephen Leather's superb "Live Fire", much of which is set in Pattaya, to give away. PLEASE SPECIFY A PREFERENCE FOR WHICH PRIZE YOU WOULD LIKE!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod and Molly Malone's prizes MUST be claimed within 14 days. To claim the Stephen Leather book you must provide a local postal address. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar 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 – Corruption goes back decades.

Corruption at every level is nothing new in Thailand. Although I must admit that the crims are getting bolder. Having first set foot in LOS in '87, a friend who lived there took me to an upmarket restaurant serving European food owned by an Austrian. The restaurant was well patronised, so at the end of our dinner while chatting with the owner (my friend was a regular) I remarked that there was ample room for setting additional tables in the place. He could make more profit. He remarked that he wasn't booked out every night and that he had to pay the local military a monthly bribe based on the number of tables or the place might "accidentally" go up in flames. If he set additional tables on the busy nights and was caught out doing it, he would have to pay for that higher number even if he removed them on the quiet evenings. That week there was a news item in one of the English language newspapers about an American couple that had boiling water poured over them as they were passing through some slum soi. The restaurant manager said that they had been campaigning about sweatshop conditions involving minors operating in the area and were agitating for justice. Having ignored warnings to stop stirring things up, they got badly burnt for their efforts. Of course everybody knew who was behind it, but as usual nobody was caught.

Thailand, 2009.

I have to agree with you on the struggles Patpong will have to bring back punters. I was there for old time's sake last week with a couple of buddies. We didn't even stop for a drink in the Safari – one girl on stage, perhaps three others wondering about. It was awful. Randy in Goldfinger is now more focused on playing dice than running the bar, but Superstar at least still showed some signs of a pulse. I've been back in Thailand almost five weeks now and all I can say is that this country really is attracting the dregs of Western (and African) society. Last week in a bar in Pattaya, observing the drunken antics of the farang there, I thought to myself, "In Thailand every Westerner is a winner, which is why it attracts so many losers." Listening in on a conversation between four English teachers in the coffee shop of the apartment I'm staying at today, I had to wonder, if these people moved to Canada what job would they qualify for? I don't think they'd be hired as sales people in a retail store or even as restaurant staff making close to minimum wage. Perhaps they'd be manual labourers on a construction site, much like the Burmese in Thailand. Sad to think that Thai youth are conned into thinking that these people are teachers.

Refusing to visit Patpong.

On Patpong, in civilized countries business owners form associations to bring up the quality of business areas. Of course in the US that's so they can run out of town anything that looks like a good time for the boys (unless they are gay). It's a puzzle that the owners in Patpong can't see what's in their own best interest. I've visited Thailand 20 times and because of its reputation I have never visited Patpong.

Goodbye Bangkok, hello Manila.

It was my last night of this holiday. I went to a few gogos and played pool for many hours. Seemed pleasant enough. Until it was 2 AM and Hillary closed. I walked back as always to the connecting soi from soi 4 to 8 where Lolita's is. Before I reached it however I was approached by a katoey. Nothing unusual I thought. Until I saw for a glimpse of a second that she had grabbed my expensive Nokia phone out of my shoulder bag! I was quite drunk but I am always aware of what's going on. So I tried to grab it back and she dropped it on the floor as if to remove evidence! I took it and left. I did not want to get involved with the police on my last night. However I was enraged to say the least. I went back and threatened her with my pepper spray. I am fed up. I have had it. My own episode of big trouble in Thailand! I will not spend one single baht more in this corrupt and hostile treacherous xenophobic country of superficial crooks! The next time I will take the connecting flight to Manila!

Hostility towards immigrants a global thing?

There is degree of schadenfreude in the scams and terrible events that most of us have suffered at some point in Thailand. But on the other hand I think that is rooted in disappointment because so many good and also great times have been had in Thailand. So, ultimately, what is more interesting if you take it one step further is why this kind of behaviour happens. To post that it is all due to innate Thai qualities of greed and racism is really quite anti-Semitic or colonial and it does not really explain much given that every nationality has its supposed traits according to whatever stereotype you choose to believe. There are some cultural arguments you can make but it does not really explain why behaviour has changed, and I think most people would argue that is has indeed changed, at least in attitude. The core issue seems to be the Thai obsession with money and intolerance towards foreigners in general (disdain, insults and violence) and on certain specific issues (visas, property ownership, tolerated scams). To me, if you look at what has happened in the West with regards to immigrants, the change in mindset is identical. While being initially welcoming of foreigners, our societies in large part turned hostile towards them. This happened due to a mixture of a feeling of threat (they are taking over our way of life and changing the culture) and dislike (due to bad behaviour, rise in criminality, breakdown of traditional community). I think in general, societies react this way when foreigners become too conspicuous. There are many examples. Thailand is not an immigrant society as such and democratic culture is not strong enough to provide the tools to deal with diversity – and this does not really work that well in, say, European societies, either. Add to that, that farangs in Thailand are not the "best of the west", the burgeoning whore economy which very visibly permeates tourism, and low levels of education in Thailand combined with financial jealously and I think you get where we are now. It may well be good for Thailand that tourism is lower than usual so that Thais get a break from foreigners. I can only hope this will improve relations. But ultimately, the situation is likely to return to lowest common denominator. Really I think what Thailand lacks is public policy for how to develop socially and instead the void has been filled with lawless capitalism.

Time for a change.

I was reading the Bangkok Post online and read, to my surprise, they will increase the airport tax to 900 baht starting October 1. Last week I sent email to a hotel in Pattaya to make a reservation for the coming month and the rate is 15% higher than the same time last year and there's no monthly rate! The ATM fees, the higher prices in many bars, more and more unfriendly, sometimes even aggressive locals, etc. And all this in spite of the very poor low season? 'Thai style' is less tourists so higher prices to get the same profit! Or TIT. I will shorten my stay in Thailand this time and visit other countries in South-East Asia. It's time for a change!

Bar owners tell me that business in Nana, at least in the busier bars, has picked up yet my own eyes tell me that the situation in Nana can be described with one word – dire. There may have been a temporary spike in trade with the 5-day holiday in Japan this past week but to my eyes, Nana is struggling. I think I'll trust my own eyes over those of the bar owners.

Cowboy seems to be steady – not busy, not quiet, just steady.

Business is down at Patpong to levels I've never before seen and it's plainly apparent that many bars have less girls on the books. Less girls will mean even less customers as guys stick their head in the door, see few pretty girls and head elsewhere. Some Patpong bars find themselves in a vicious cycle – they can't get girls because there are no customers and they can't get customers because there are so few girls.

Owner Marc has been coming up with some wild new shows in Nana Plaza's Spanky's. The "customer eats sushi which is strategically placed on certain parts of a woman's body" is novel although when I was invited to dine I lied that Japanese is not my thing. It doesn't quite have the sophistication or class of Angelwitch, but the shows in Spanky's are fun. The fire show is another novelty and the staff really get into it.

Next door, Angelwitch is in the process of jazzing up the entrance to the bar but I'd like to see them concentrate on other areas of improvement. Efforts made to change the attitude of the girls wouldn't go amiss. Some now refer to Angelwitch as Angelbitch, so bad are some of the attitudes. The venue has seen a change in uniform with even less revealing outfits de rigueur. The girls now wear black 4 nights a week and red 3 – but they are going to need more than that to regain the crown as the best bar in Nana.

With the pendulum firmly swung in Cowboy's direction, it seems that those pesky creatures, the ladyboys who used to roam Sukhumvit between sois 5 and 11, are following the crowds and can be found in greater numbers in and around soi 19, especially under the Asoke station, late at night. So if you're taking the well-trodden path from Cowboy to the Thermae after the witching hour, beware of the light-fingered beasts of the night.

Soi Cowboy was once again struck by the age-old problem to which there just doesn't seem to be a solution. As the rain fell, the neon lights were knocked out giving the impression to passers by that little lane was closed. When the rain eased later in the evening so the neon decided to reawaken. Is this really too difficult for local electricians to fix?

The other issue at Cowboy is that of jail bait. There seems to be a lot of fruit that has been prematurely harvested these days. Be very, very careful.

Would someone at Soi 7/1's Magic Table please tell the lass with hairy legs that if she wishes to dance on the table top that she really needs to apply the device to her legs that she very clearly applies to another part of her anatomy. Hairy legs ain't a good look.

It's hard to believe it has been around for so long but Bully's Pub, just around the corner from Soi Nana, turns 5 this coming Tuesday, September 29, and big celebrations are planned. The milestone will be celebrated at Bully's all day and night. As many will remember when Bully was born 5 years ago, his prognosis was terminal. In fact many said he would never survive. Dr. ET nursed him through the next 5 years and he has become strong and healthy. In fact Bully likes to graze at Bully's so much that he has been placed on a diet. From 11 AM – 6 PM all imported pints and spirits will be 125 baht. There will be chances to win drinks at 20 baht throughout the day and Bully will host his favourite buffet of chicken, ribs and side dishes galore from 8 – 10 PM. From 9 PM through to midnight they will be toasting Bully on the top of the hour with shooters on the house. Past birthday bashes have seen the bar at capacity and Bully wants this to be the best ever so venture down on Tuesday and join in the fun.

More readers report police checking foreigners in taxis and those pounding the pavement late at night in the Asoke area. The cops make a thorough check to the point that they may ask you to empty out your wallet, turn out your pockets and even check your cigarette packet if you are a smoker. My feeling is they are looking for drugs but then it could very easily be that they are looking for any excuse to request a donation. Such police behaviour is putting some readers off visiting the so-called Land Of Smiles and is becoming a real concern. It all seems to be confined to the soi 22 and Asoke area which suggests to me that it is just a few coppers involved.

And on the subject of these coppers cruising the soi 22 / 23 / Asoke area looking for farangs to hassle, I note that they don't always wear helmets despite being on a bike, yet will issue a ticket or take an on the spot fine to those not donning the requisite safety device. Hypocrites!

I have always wondered about the Clown Group and their katoey bars. I mean, do guys really go into those venues? It seems they do. Word has it that of all of the Clown Group's bars, it is Obsession – an exclusively ladyboy bar – that has the highest turnover each month, followed by Lollipop, their most popular girly bar with Cascade, another all ladyboy venue the third most successful bar in the group. Once popular venues G Spot and Fantasia are doing a miserable trade these days.

If you think some girls in Tilac have big knockers, you'd be right, but in a number of cases, look a little more closely. The girls of Tilac often use their bra to store all manner of items from their mobile phone to make up to menthol nasal inhaler to mints to keys to money to, well, just about what ever you can think of! As one girl said to me, the more they put in their bra, the bigger their boobs look – and more guys take an interest in them!

A mate was down in Pattaya and found a young lovely he took a shine to and decided to barfine her, mentioning that they would do the rounds of a few bars, have a few drinks and hit a disco before retiring to his room. She was excited at the prospect of a night out and went out back to change, emerging a little later in a full-length dress so conservative that he swears she could call it her Sunday best and wear it to church. He was none too impressed at her choice of apparel so pulled out 1,000 baht and told her to go down the road and buy some slutwear and return to the bar appropriately dressed where he would be waiting. She took off and duly returned half an hour later with the requisite tight top and shortest of shorts. He was well impressed. The did the rounds of the bars and had a great time. A little later in the evening she opened her purse and he happened to notice the same, distinctive 1,000 baht note that he had given her earlier to buy the slutwear. She then admitted that she had not bought any new clothes at all but had leapt on a motorbike, raced back to her room, changed clothes and quickly returned, thus being able to keep the 1,000 baht! These girls are nothing if not resourceful.

I talked up Bangkok Beat last week in the column and said I would be back again this week. I was, and it was even better than the week before. If you're looking to work for it rather than pay, it's the place.

Who knows how the next high season will be and whether we will even be able to legitimately call it the "high season". Early indicators aren't bad with a number of popular hotels already booked solid over the busy Christmas / New Year period.

A reminder that if you need to go to Immigration in Bangkok it moves this coming week from Suan Plu to Laksi.

One of the worst things about living in Bangkok is the noise which at times can be almost inescapable. Noise from guards blowing whistles, construction noise, noisy motorbikes and tuktuks etc. But help is at hand in the form of a group called the Quiet Bangkok Club. Its purpose is to try to lessen the noise pollution in Bangkok. There are over 500 members now and they are starting to have some success, getting hotels and shopping centres to stop their guards blowing their whistles. Recently the guards at Amarin Plaza, Holiday Inn, Intercontinental Hotel, and Gaysorn Plaza were all convinced to stop using their whistles 100%! They wrote a letter to the manager of the Landmark Hotel and got the guards to stop using the whistles there too. If anyone wants to join the club or find out more about it, they have two homes online. The first one is the website, which is mostly in Thai and the second is a Yahoo Group, which is mostly in English. Their next meeting will be held at the ICPA office on the 21st floor of Silom Complex (connected to Sala Dang BTS so it's easy to reach) on October 7 at 7 PM. All are welcome.

I have said for years that selling umbrellas on the street, especially around skytrain stations at around 5 PM in the rainy season – just when the heavens open – would be a very good business model indeed. At last I see some entrepreneurial locals doing just that. Good on them.

The best-known Bangkok-based visa run firm, Jack Golf, has been hit by the recession and lower tourist numbers and has made the decision to can their Monday visa run bus service from October 1. They still do a border run to Cambodia 6 days a week and a run for longer stay visas on Sunday and Wednesday. In the old days Jack Golf had two buses running most days which just goes to show how much quieter things are these days – and no doubt the much talked about tightened visa rules have pushed many away to neighbouring countries.

Of course you could use Skype or any of the other online cheap calling systems, but if you don't want to stuff around with an Internet connection to call overseas and want to call lands afar on the cheap, go to any 7 Eleven and get yourself a "True Inter SIM card". With this type of SIM card inserted in your mobile you can call most Western countries from your mobile for just 1 baht a minute. That's a hard deal to beat. Remember it must be the "Inter SIM" – a regular True SIM card does NOT have this promotion.

I thought they had forgotten me this time around but Lonely Planet have mentioned this site not once, but twice in their latest Thailand edition – and have given what I feel is a fair and accurate description. Under "Internet Access" on page 106 they say "For a relatively authoritative list of wi-fi hotspots in Bangkok, go to Stickman" and on page 107, in the boxed text entitled "The Inside Scoop", "Several Bangkok residents, both local and foreign, have taken their experiences to the 'small screen' and maintain blogs and websites about living in Bangkok. Some of the more informative or entertaining include Stickman which was formerly associated with naughty Bangkok nightlife, but the 'new' Stickman is a more general blog about life, work and love in Bangkok."

Congratulations are in order to Howard Miller, the popular leader of the tourist police volunteers in Pattaya, who next month will be marrying his very lovely teeruk.

A reader misses UK crumpets or pikelets as they are sometimes known in some areas of Blighty. Can anyone let him know where they can be found locally?

I have a couple of small requests to make. First of all, please don't forward me joke emails and other stuff unless it is Thailand related. I am always interested in news that has a Thai connection, but for joke emails don't bother. Also, don't email me when you're drunk. I enjoy reading all the emails I receive and enjoy corresponding with readers. If you've got anything on your mind I am always happy to give you my thoughts on any given Thai-related situations. However, if you send me email while drunk or are abusive, I have found the block email feature works really well.

The reader's story of the week comes from Caveman and is called "Butter and Cheese".

Quote of the week comes from renowned Pattaya expat, Robbie7. "What's the fascination with katoeys – they're just blokes with make up!"

A Brit drinks too much in Pattaya.

A Brit tries to commit suicide in Pattaya because of money worries.

The government is passing a curious new law that would see BUYERS of pirated goods subject to a fine!

Would you want your child to study locally after a Thai teacher is filmed beating a student!

A Canadian's Thai wife is found hanged in Pattaya.

The BBC reports that a trial HIV vaccine in Thailand reduces the chances of infection.

Time Magazine's Bangkok correspondent waxes about the rainy season.

From the UK's Daily Telegraph comes the story of a Thai bride who gambled away 2 million pounds . However, when they say in the article that the money was spent in casinos in Bangkok, hmmm, what casinos?

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 have many friends that I have made over the years in the United States, some of them women. My girlfriend does not like it when I spend time with some of these friends, especially one on one. I understand her position because she can not be here with me and does not know these women. I assure her these friends are platonic (and they are 100%) and they look forward to meeting her when she comes on her fiancée visa. The question is, Thai society does not seem to have significant single male and female platonic friendship – is this true? I intend to have my fiancée meet my friends and spend time with them – and she will likely be invited to any future get-togethers when she is in the US. What specifically would help you be comfortable continuing friendships with women friends (and not girlfriends) he had met before meeting you. Thanks for any help you can give.

Mrs. Stick says: I think for middle and upper class many people have friends of the opposite sex and it is normal to meet those friends without our boyfriend / husband. But for the lower class they might socialise with their own sex most of the time. I think sometimes when you meet your female friends you can take your girlfriend with you too and not meet them alone every time.

Question 2: My girlfriend got angry at me recently when I introduced her to one of my friends and said she had been my girlfriend for 3 months. She said that we are not boyfriend and girlfriend which is crazy. We are exclusive and spend every weekend, the whole weekend together at either my or her apartment. What is wrong with her and why did she get so angry when I said that she was my girlfriend? Sometimes I cannot understand her. Can you help me understand her?

Mrs. Stick says: When we tell our close friends and family that a guy is our boyfriend we are sending the message to them that we are very serious about this guy and think he is the guy we will marry. We can date a guy for a long time and maybe sleep with him but we might only be dating him and maybe don't think we are going to marry him. Then we will not refer to him as our "boyfriend". So I think the message your girlfriend sends to you is that she is still not sure about you and she has not committed to you 100% for the future. When you tell people close to you that she is your girlfriend she is scared that they think you are going to marry when she has not made this decision yet! I know this is different to your country but when we say someone is our boyfriend, it means we're really, really serious about them!

Question 3: I am a long-term visitor of Thailand and I spend around 6 months each year in the Kingdom. Having recently split up with my long-term girlfriend I found myself in a small bar on the outskirts of Pattaya. My intention was to have a short-time adventure there, however I was amazed to see a beautiful girl who was quite stunning and had started work there a few days before. She spoke no English but that's ok as I am proficient in Thai. I barfined her for a week, and then she decided to move in with me and she is now attending English lessons in school. My problem is that the bar owner and mamasan are pursuing me for a "leaver's barfine" of 10,000 baht. I've refused saying it's the girls choice, and as they didn't pay her a penny they can sing for it. My view is that slavery ended here 100 years ago, but the mamasan has threatened to call the police. This bar is French owned and the mamasan is the partner of the owner. I am quite a strong-willed person, but a lesser man would have backed down and paid, I'm sure. Have I done the right thing in refusing? If she worked in 7 Eleven they wouldn't want a fee if she left, would they?

Mr. Stick says: I've said it before and I will say it again. The long-term barfine or leaver's barfine as you refer to it is a total have, a con job and something which does not belong in the 21st century. If someone wishes to leave a job in Thailand they can do so without having to pay any sort of release fee (although they may forfeit their salary for that pay period). That the mamasan has threatened to go to the police is laughable, at least based on what you have told us about the situation. The one thing to be aware of is the absence of some details you may not be aware of. For example, was your girlfriend paid a salary in advance, or perhaps given a loan from someone at the bar? If she was, they might be looking for the return of that money – but this is a very unlikely as if money was owed I am sure they would be more direct about it. Quite simply, I would ignore them – but I would also never return to that bar again. NEVER! Legally, there is nothing they can do. In fact it could be argued that they are threatening you and perhaps that could constitute extortion but frankly, you don't want to go there. They sound like nasty people and you don't want to get in a pissing match with people like that. I am sure they will give up soon.

One of the most difficult things about putting this column together is writing it in such a way that the majority of the readership feels that they get something from it, perhaps they learn something or perhaps they are entertained. I want the readership to be satisfied but then I am not prepared to sacrifice quality to reach that goal. The difficulty of course is that the readership is an awfully diverse bunch. We have readers with 40+ years in Thailand to others still in the West who have yet to visit Thailand, readers fluent in Thai and those who have lived in the country for 20 years and cannot speak nor understand a single word. Last week I wrote that I am trying to be positive to which I received what could perhaps be described as a minor backlash, predominantly from long-term expats and visitors who rightly pointed out that by being overly positive I may not be being accurate, nor entirely honest. It's difficult because I want to be positive and I want to tell you all the good things about life and holidaying in Thailand – but I also have to be accurate. With this in mind, I am putting aside the idea of being positive and will simply concentrate on being objective. That means that I will tell it like it is, as I always have, although at times I admit I have held back a bit. I ask those of you who are relatively new to Thailand, and I mean this with the greatest respect, not to get too upset if the tone does border on being a little negative at times. Long-term expats with their eyes wide open know that Thailand is not always a bed of roses, that it suffers many unnecessary problems and that it can at times be frustrating when we see the massive potential this country has not being reached. So my revised goal is to continue to be objective. Sugar coating reality could lead newbies and the uninformed down a dangerous path. If you want positive, read the TAT's advertising and brochures. If you want objective, read Stick.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick