Stickman's Weekly Column October 4th, 2009

After Dark Magazine, In The Spotlight


AfterDark magazine is a bi-monthly English language magazine published in Thailand featuring the sexy bargirls of Pattaya and Bangkok. Since its inception a few years ago it has grown in popularity and each new issue is eagerly awaited. AfterDark features photo spreads of some of the hottest bargirls as well as features and articles that appeal to the bar-going crowd.

This week I sat down with two of the main partners in the AfterDark empire and learnt more about the magazine, how it is all put together and the challenges they face.

How did the magazine come to be? What was the background before it got off the ground?

One of us did a magazine like this back home, working at an agency in the States shooting models. There was a guy doing a magazine back in Minneapolis and he got in touch with me through a photographer that I worked with at this ad agency as he needed a photographer for his local stripper magazine. We were shooting strip clubs in the States. I worked for him for a couple of years, just as the shooter. His name was Rob Roko and he used to make porn in LA with the guys from Wicked Pictures and Vivid, big names in the porn industry. That's what he did before he started that magazine in the States. To cut a long story short, Rob and I decided to come to Thailand and when we got here he saw all of these gogo bars and said, "I am going to be a millionaire here!" Back in the USA, the accounts were 200 or more miles apart whereas here we saw 50 gogos in Walking Street and thought it would be so much easier and we'd become millionaires.

Then we met a couple of gogo girls and got together with them. Rob's gogo girl drove him insane. He hired a PI to follow her. She had a Thai boyfriend in Bangkok. The thing about Rob was that he was a spokesman for AA and he was drug free when I knew him. But when he came here all that changed. Rob lasted about 2 months and died of a heart attack in Diana Estate. He was flipped out on Viagra, Tequila and God knows what else. He was like 35 years old and way overweight!

When Rob died I stayed here for several months with my gogo girl squeeze who I later took back to the US. Rob had wanted to do a magazine and I took over his magazine in the US. I then started spending more time here and started After Dark magazine.

When was that?

We started it about 3 years ago. We met a guy here in Pattaya who knew a lot of people and he told me about another guy who is now a partner who had had 6 years experience in Thailand supplying the gogo bars with other products.

How many people make up the After Dark team now?

There are about 7 of us altogether. There are 4 partners, 2 full-time graphics people and one delivery guy / full-time messenger / part-time salesman.

What is involved in putting the magazine together?

Stress, aggravation, whining, a lot of fighting between us, screaming, shouting, and drinking a hell of a lot in the bars! Then there's chasing some bar owners for money. It's not like back home where they just write you a cheque. There are some bars where I walk in the front door and I swear the bar owner sees me, pretends he didn't and sneaks out the back door! We do have some real stand up customers and in some bars when I walk in the owner says like "Do you need any money for that ad in your magazine?"

With the magazine in the US, you would drive 300 miles to get the guy who hadn't paid you in 3 months. You would cut him off if he ran. But usually they would say, "Hey, you drive all this way, here is the money!"

Here in Thailand it is more like, in general, the club owners are party animals. A lot of the bars are nothing more than their hobby. They are like, "I am back in London for 4 months – catch me when I come back!" You wonder how guys like that can keep it going. He probably has a million dollars in the bank back home and a real business. A lot of the guys back in the States run their bar as a real business, not as a place where they could just enjoy themselves and have fun.

The worst are the Thai-owned places because the boss never shows up before 2:00 in the morning and only stays until 2:08 and then he is out of there – and only a few days a week!

Do you mainly shoot Pattaya girls or Bangkok girls and is there any difference working in each?

One of us used to live in Bangkok for the first year of the magazine so we had more Bangkok accounts then. Living here in Pattaya we only get up to Bangkok about once very two months so it's harder to track down the owners of the clubs.

As far as shooting the girls, that can be a problem. Because of the nature of the business, for the girls it is all about getting barfined, not about doing a photo shoot. That's not part of their job description! So the problem is you go to Bangkok, you have already found a girl to shoot but when you get there she isn't there! They're moving targets and it can be difficult to go to Bangkok and then find the girl when she is actually there. It's a road trip and it is much more difficult than doing it all here in Pattaya. You see, we don't pay the girls to be in the magazine.

What? You're joking! Why not? So why would they even do a photo shoot?

And usually the bar owners don't pay them either!

That's not their expense to cover, surely?

I usually explain it to the girls that they should be paying us because once they are in the magazine they will have so many customers and they will have so much revenue coming in from the many new customers! The thing is, the club owners should be paying the girls because then they would be there for the shoot when we show up.

The problem is that the girls have sponsors. We want to shoot her but they will say that they have a guy sending them money and it is like he will know they are still working.

Yeah, I have that problem when I pull out the camera when doing the rounds these days.

You know the score better than anyone. The girls tell sponsors that they are working in a bakery or some place, never a bar, and are out of the industry. The sponsor sees the girl in the magazine and boom, the meal ticket is cut off!

There are a lot of girls on the list to be shot so we wait for them to finish with a guy and then we go and shoot them. Every girl who says they are too shy to appear in the magazine really means that they have a sponsor.

Do you only shoot bargirls?

Yes. That's what out readership wants. The whole idea of the magazine is that you look for the girls in the magazine and the girl on the cover, where she works etc and then you think that's where I am going! We are trying to make them look glamorous and I think we do.

The little Isaan farm girl is a supermodel once she is in the magazine. The whole concept is designed to appeal to the Western idea of her being an icon. The man from the West understands Beyonce, Madonna etc, that they are stars but these girls just don't get it. They don't know how to promote themselves.

With the magazine in the US, girls appearing in it would take a copy of the magazine they were in to the club, sign it and sell it to the customers for ten times the retail price. That's something these Thai girls don't get. The club owners don't really get it either. They have their cover girl in the bar and the magazine is sitting there in the bar and all they do is talk to their mates about Manchester fxxxing United instead of getting that girl marching through the bar with the magazine and trying to generate revenue.

Matt at Angelwitch is one who understands it. And Jason at Champagne who used Yui, his star, gets it too. He used her over and over again to promote the bar. The other owners just don't do anything. You try to tell them that this girl is a supermodel but they don't get it!

I always tell the bar owners that their ad in the magazine can get the customers to the front door of their bar. They have to take over from there. If you have a club that is mismanaged or has a bad reputation, customers will make a u-turn the moment they get there. We can get them to the front door but they need to do the rest.

What is the circulation of the magazine?

We print 10,000 copies every two months. We probably give out about 5,000 for free. The rest are sold through newsstands, subscriptions. Club owners get a certain amount depending on the size of the ad they place in the magazine.

Does more money come in from advertising or from magazine sales?

It used to be advertising but it has shifted now to the point where there is more revenue from the sales.

Is it profitable?

It's in the black but we're not ordering the Gulfstream 7 yet!

So you have to make a point of going around and meeting and getting to know all the bar managers and owners. Be honest here, how do you find them to work with?

The majority of them are good guys. A couple of them are major pains in the ass. Most of those pains in the ass support you so no names mentioned here! The club owners here, as crazy as they are and as whacked out as they are, are into fostering friendships and having fun. The bonding with the guys is more like they are your pals, whereas back home, it's different. The guys here are fun to be around and are more like your friends than the owner of the business you're frequenting.

One thing that guys that don't advertise with us don't understand is that we have friends who come over from the West who spend a week or so here and they spend serious bucks. These guys drop more bucks in any club than any of the ads in our magazine cost. We only take our friends to see the clubs which advertise with us. Non-advertisers just don't get it. They're not that aware of it.

A friend of mine came here and saw a girl in the magazine and was looking for her. Guys go in to a bar and they don't make an announcement to the bar owners that they are there to see a girl from the magazine but they are, they really are. There is a guy who waited 7 months to see one girl he had seen in the magazine and he hunted for her. The bar owners don't see that.

I know that story. Potential advertisers don't see the potential value.

Advertising is branding. People should advertise with us, in your column and other places and build their brand.

Most club owners have not built the business through marketing so this is like a new frontier for them plus they do not understand the idea of a signature. Use Revlon as an example. They had "The Most Beautiful Women of the World Wear Revlon" as an ad campaign. They just changed the faces of the girls and used a new supermodel every month. You had this brand recognition. It's the same with any successful brand or catch phrase. They repeat it over and over. The guys we are dealing with do not understand this. They want to change their ad and the girls all the time. Matt in Angelwitch has run the same ad for 3 years and it has become his signature. Matt gets it.

You see sexy bargirls all the time in your line of work. There is much talk made of whether the women are as pretty now as they used to be and how the industry has changed with perhaps less attractive women out there these days. What do you make of that? Are the girls as hot now as the past?

Depends how much we're drinking. Sure they are hot! I remember in a place like Nana Plaza, which has gone down, there used to be a lot more girls there. There are some smart guys there like Marc from Spanky's who has taken on the challenge of rebuilding the place and he has got a hopping place. It is tough for the club owners because to keep the hot girls you need a lot of customers.

For us, we only need one girl to photograph. We need that, not 50 cows!

When you are choosing a girl to photograph, are there any specific physical characteristics you look for such as long hair, flat nose, fair skin, tattoos etc? Is there anything that does or does not photograph well?

I'm looking for girls who look like Jessica Alba. Just Google her and you will understand. Short of that it's the girls with the fewest problems. I prefer girls that remind me of fashion models so that means tall, long legs etc. Tattoos are cool sometimes if it's not their ex boyfriend's name. Girls with under bites and stretch marks we try to avoid at all cost. Another problem of late are the girls with the fake fashion braces. I think the girls look cute but they can't move their lips in the photo! At the end of the day, you never really know how a girl will perform in front of the camera considering they are probably doing it for the first time. Sometimes the shy hello girl outside holding the sign will simply blow away the club's best showgirl when it comes to actually taking pictures.

Do you encounter any problems when selecting the girls to photo?

Well, there are usually 3 problems. The first choice usually has a sponsor so we cannot shoot her. She is always the hottest one and the hottest ones ALWAYS have a Thai boyfriend and ALWAYS have sponsors. The second group is the hot girl the bar owner is banging or wants to bang. The third girl who is almost as good as the first, might look almost as good or might not be as great a dancer, but they still look good. You battle between the girl the bar owners wants to bang and the other girl and we usually get the right one. The thing with After Dark is you seldom see the first girl we pick because she has a sponsor!

Tell me about the technical side, the photography side, which particularly interests me. What sort of gear do you use and do you have your own studio for the shoots?

We have a studio we shoot in and for a lot of reasons we drop in a lot of backgrounds. You shoot in an environment where the girl is not connected to her work. It seems to help. The problem is they are not always awake when we shoot them. They might have just got out of bed or they are recovering from trays of Tequilas the night before and being banged all night long, of course.

We shoot at around 6:00 PM. The ideal situation would be to go into the gogo bar at 10:30 PM. It would be like the Twilight Zone and the customers would disappear. A regular model knows if she has to be ready at 10 AM then she will be and everything will be ready, her hair, her make up and she will be there on time, ready to go. A gogo girl doesn't function until late at night and after a few drinks. When we shoot in those situations, in a gogo bar, you have got to shoot early. She comes in, Somchai is not there to turn on the lights and she forgot to do her make up and then there are cleaners mopping up and preparing for the night ahead. It is an atmosphere not conducive to doing good work. We really need a studio to work in.

And what gear do you use?

I use a Nikon D70. The lighting is simple – umbrellas. A soft box would be better but they are too difficult to cart around. On location umbrellas are simple. We use a zoom lens with varying focal lengths depending on how far we are away from the girl.

What lenses do you use? I hear the new Nikon 24-70 is very nice.

The latest lens! Like, hell, I don't know!

When I was in New York once, I got to sit in with a guy who did Cosmopolitan magazine for years. He just used one light that he set on the floor and he would do this shoot and he needed to change lens. He like says to his assistant, "Give me the bigger lens, give me the smaller lens!" He was shooting with a Hasselblad and he had no idea about his lenses!

The moral of the story is that it is all about the model and what she can do. As far as equipment goes, simplistic is best. The better your model is, the better the shoot will be.

What are the legal issues revolving around photographing Thai women and publishing their photos?

As long as we don't show any nipples or pussy it is ok. It's all about the nipple! Look at Maxim. They shoot sexy girls but they never show the nipple. If you go the extra mile you get problems with distribution, advertising etc. And in Thailand, the law can be whatever they decide that day!

So you don't feature any nudity at all, right?

No, not at all.

What do you make of the phenomenon of guys photographing girls from the bars fully nude, often engaged with them in sexual acts, and then posting these photos to the local forums with full details of the girl, her nickname, where she works etc.

Personally, I am totally against it. How would these guys feel if the girls were showing photographs around and the guy's wife or girlfriend back home got to see it? It makes a problem for us because the girls are scared of being posted on the internet. Those guys are so vindictive! You've got a girl and he says, "These are just for me" but then to go and post them online and to put personal information there is just so wrong.

We realise these girls are in a compromising position because of their job. They are so different from the girls back home. The girls back home make a lot of money but only one I ever met here had a car or a checking account. Most of the money goes to their boyfriend. The girls here are on a crusade to take care of their family and improve their social status and we respect these girls. The guys who post these photos have no respect for the girls whatsoever. To them it is a big joke.

Of course all the girls we photograph sign model releases.

So, come on, tell me the truth, do you take the girls for a ride after the shoot?

<Chuckles all around that get louder and louder and escalate to the point that others in the restaurant start looking at our table!> The girls can't wait to get out of the photo shoot and get back to the bar. The photo shoot can take 4 – 5 hours of their time all up and it disrupts their schedule. The girls don't think they are going to be Madonna. You know the story, unless they have white skin, they really think are not going to be a movie star or a celebrity here in Thailand. They cannot see how the photo shoot and the exposure is going to take them anywhere.

In the US a girl can see that this might be her lucky break and things will come from it but that isn't the case here. She thinks she will always be the ugly girl from Isaan. The future is the guy she's going to meet in the bar. This is going to give her and her family and her Thai boyfriend security for the future.

The unwritten rule amongst the owners of the magazine is that we do not do any girls who appear in the magazine. There have been times when the girls appearing in the magazine where, umm, maybe something had happened a long time before the photo shoot.

What are some of the other difficulties you have?

I was once in a bar's back office shooting a girl. I go to the bar and it is easy to shoot the girl there because it is easier for her rather than her coming to the studio. I lug all my stuff there. The girl I am shooting has a guy who wants to barfine her in the bar and she tells him that she will be 20 minutes out back and he can wait. He agrees. In the back office I am shooting her but she keeps looking at the pictures from inside the bar on the monitor in the office. The guy who wants to barfine her cannot wait any longer and he leaves. She sees that and she is now totally bummed out for the rest of the shoot. She is not being compensated and perhaps as much as 4,000 baht just walked out the door. They really think they would be much happier being shagged than photographed, you know, out there making money.

That makes the whole magazine a bit of a mini miracle because the girls cannot see the benefit of being in the magazine.

Sometimes the atmosphere is like if you're shooting a potato. They are often on and off the cellphone with Somchai, their Thai boyfriend.

This is a dream job, right? I mean, come on, you get to meet and photograph lots of really sexy – the sexiest – Thai bargirls. I mean, what guy would not want this job?

We aren't living in Northpoint, are we? <One of the most expensive condo buildings in PattayaStick> We don't have a penthouse suite, do we?

The problem for us is that we have been here a long time. When you do the girl for the magazine they know they do not have to put on a show and pretend they are going to be your girlfriend and the attraction is so minimal. Honestly, you're doing the photo shoot and they are constantly on the phone to their 16-year old Thai boyfriend. It's not a turn on at all.

OK, finally the money question. Where can Stickman readers get a copy of the magazine? And is it available to readers overseas?

All of the advertisers in the magazine carry it so you can get a copy from any of them. It is sold at scores of newsstands in Bangkok and Pattaya, supermarkets. We ship anywhere in the world excerpt Iran. We currently have over 1,000 subscribers in 22 countries. Check out Afterdarkasia.com for details.

* Please note that the photos that appear in this column were taken by Stick and not the AfterDark team.



Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken on the overpass above Rama 4 Road, coming from the Rama 3 area and heading north towards the Asoke intersection. I took the photo while on the back of a motorbike and you can see the Stock Exchange of Thailand building on the left. 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 postal address within Thailand. 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 – Shared misery.

In trying to determine exactly why the level of animosity is greater in Thailand than in Farangland when things go awry between 2 farangs, here is my take. It's a 2-pronged equation. You rightly pick out the fact that the farang specimens who make it to Thailand are not the most savoury of characters. Thailand has more than its share of bottom feeders. But there is another factor involved in the level of corresponding anger and even violence on those occasions when things go awry. Did you know that the most violent crimes in the USA are committed by blacks…against other blacks? Not white on white, not white on black, not black on white…etc. Black on black. Why is this the case? You will readily hear black Americans referring to each other as "nigger". This should be the most derogatory of terms possible, but it's often tossed out casually and even with a laugh. If a white guy were to use the word in reference to a black, trouble would ensue for certain. But the word is common between blacks in their regular discourse. Just why is this? Many blacks in the USA see their position as one of shared misery and being part of the "collective downtrodden". They share a bond by having a common denominator between themselves. Forget if this is a correct perception; the fact is that the perception is all that matters. They regard themselves as "it's US against THEM". They view themselves as being a definite fringe of American society instead of being part of the melting pot. With this in mind, the expectations of behavior and treatment from one black to another are meaningfully altered. This is the case only from one black to another. Blacks expect other blacks to "cover their 6" more so than they would from a white guy or maybe a Mexican. When you have an increased level of expectations, a higher degree of loyalty is expected between the group. It's all psychological. And when that expected loyalty does not manifest itself from one individual to another, there is a greater likelihood of, when things going awry, things going REALLY awry. Same thing with guys in jail. They refer to each other as "convict". Not exactly a term of endearment, but its use actually fosters a bond between convicts. Same with farangs in the LOS. Here we all are in a foreign country which is sooooo foreign it might as well be another planet. The same rules don't apply in Thailand as in the USA, Oz, Kiwiland, UK…name your country. Therefore, what many farangs develop is a set of expectations that the level of camaraderie and even loyalty should be correspondingly greater, as you are now part of a unique crowd – Thai expats (or tourists…no matter). It's all about EXPECTATIONS. To further depict this with an analogy, imagine 2 friends living in France together, both having been born there. One asks another for money to buy a sandwich. He gets declined, for whatever reason. Will animosity ensue? Probably, but it shouldn't get out of hand. Imagine those same 2 guys now in Antarctica, with the same sandwich being declined. The variables are obviously not the same. Maybe not a perfect analogy, but you see the point. By changing location, and here very dramatically, we are not dealing with the same situation whatsoever. The expectations are significantly altered. There is an outright expectation that the sandwich should be forthcoming.

Such a difficult place to meet good friends.

You absolutely echoed my views in your column this week regarding choosing friends and the people who turn bitter when Thailand doesn't turn into the dream they were expecting. Personally I've never found such a difficult place to meet good friends. I lived in Bangkok for 4 months before I met anyone I would genuinely want to hang out and shoot the breeze with. I've lost count of the number of people who turned out to be lying about their professions or were into some very strange activities. I would say even now there are only three people who I would class as friends and all are pretty successful guys. I worked as a teacher for two years and while I got on reasonably well with my co-workers, I rarely socialised with them. On the occasions that I did I can safely say that I came off the worst financially! Also, I feel that I became a source of resentment for some because I still had a decent income in the UK and was able to afford to live a pretty reasonable lifestyle for a teacher. When I invited some colleagues back to my place, one person didn't come, apparently because he thought I was trying to show off! As well as this, many would only go to places where the drink was cheap, regardless of the quality of entertainment. I could understand their reasoning but I felt I was wasting my nights in such places. I think that when you have friends in Bangkok that are comfortably off, then you never have to worry about their motives for befriending you. Of course there are plenty of wealthy idiots as well, but I think they are less likely to stab you in the back than someone struggling to carve out an existence in Thailand because all else has failed.

The measure of a person is his ability to be good to his word.

On the subject of fragile friendships, I find myself in agreement with you. In more recent friendships, I find that the people I thought were friends, in the end just didn't share as much in common with me as I'd originally thought. We may have met as “drinking buddies”, or apartment hunters, or food enthusiasts, whatever, but after a while you realise that the conversations are becoming repetitive and monotonous and nothing new is coming in to stimulate the friendship. On a personal note, I find that the measure of a person is his ability to be good to his word. That has lead to more than a few disappointments with my friendships here in Bangkok. I don't think my standards are too high but I do expect people to be as considerate as I myself always strive to be. So many people seem to adopt a mai pen rai attitude when it comes to making plans and keeping their word and I find my patience wearing very thin. If you can't count on your friends to treat you well and have your best interest at heart, then who? Back in the US I was very fortunate to have a good solid group of friends that I knew I could count on and vice versa. Here in Bangkok I now find myself in the position of settling for acquaintances of a more transitory nature as that seems to be all that is available. That really is my only complaint about living here, the lack of true friendships.

Is creating friendships in Bangkok low on the to do list?

I was thinking about the fragility of friendships in Thailand amongst expats and realised I have made few true friends amongst expats. I ran across a couple of guys I have been able to call friends but mainly they were like advisors rather than friends and they were mostly in some sort of business role. So I started to compare how I had encountered people in Thailand versus here in the USA and how friendships developed in each place. Other than lifelong friends (those you've known since childhood), most of my friendships have either stemmed from professional, fraternal or service organisations. Most of the time these organisations have a common goal or theme and their membership unites toward those goals creating teamwork and unity. From those type of encounters many a friendship develops. I happen to be a member of a fraternal organisation well recognized throughout the world and have found there many friends. I also worked in many service organisations throughout the years and again found some great friendships. So when in Thailand most of the foreigners / expat / farangs (like me) clearly abandon those avenues for let us say a more casual, less structured lifestyle such as is found in the entertainment and nightlife venues. If I were going to stay full time in Thailand I am sure that eventually I would have to join some sort of service organization or spend more time participating in fraternal matters. Another observation I have made is that it seems to me most expats are so immersed into Thai culture for so much of their day that when they do get a chance to be around fellow countrymen or like travelers they have a tendency to overdo everything from venting, sharing, celebrating or complaining. I also find that extreme jealousy can develop over pretty much anything from girls to living quarters. Then there is the fact that many people come to foreign and exotic lands to basically rid themselves of their past relationships and obligations with family and friends. These types have a tendency to be more of a loner and friendships are hard for them any place. Given these circumstances I guess creating friendships for many of us just doesn't rise up high on the to do list.

Move to Bangkok for the better quality expats?

I have so far been fortunate with my choice of friends having got in with a great group of professional people that I would also choose to socialise with at home. Just had a mate up who has been staying on Samui for 6 months talking about the low-lifes that infest the bars down there and being somewhat jealous of the circle of friends I have been able to develop here and the normal activities like mountain biking and tennis and all sorts of things that you can do here that he can't. He's thinking about shifting to Bangers to try to get some normality.

The biggest news of the week comes from Pattaya where the Australian manager of Coyotes Gogo, TJ, was found dead in a hotel room. Apparently he checked into a hotel in the third road area on Monday night and never checked out. TJ had been involved in the industry for years with Bangkok's Dollhouse, Phuket's Firehouse, Heavens Above, Carousel as well as Coyotes appearing on his CV. He was always someone who looked after himself and looked much younger than he was. That was until the debacle at Coyotes not so long ago and later his arrest, all of which put him under huge pressure. While I had not seen him in some time, friends in Pattaya tell me the poor fellow had aged dreadfully. A 52-year old being found dead in a Pattaya hotel room begs all sorts of questions. Whether it was suicide or something more sinister would be speculation. What is most curious about this whole affair is that despite it being the hot topic on the lips of expats in both Bangkok and Pattaya for the past few days, it has not been reported by any of the local Western-run media in Pattaya which makes it all the more suspicious. TJ is survived by his wife and young son. May he rest in peace.

I am not a fan of the bar by any means for the atmosphere is all very business-like and less about fun, but there is no denying that the girls in Rainbow 1 in Nana Plaza can wow a long-term expat, even after all of these years. A decade ago it had arguably the most attractive dancers in Nana and I would stick my neck out and say that nothing has changed. The number of genuinely attractive girls is so impressive that I reckon a Thai guy would be suitably impressed – and Thai guys are much more discerning about beauty than your average Westerner. If you're going into Nana for the first time, DON'T go to Rainbow 1 first up because every other bar you visit will be a disappointment, at least in terms of pretty women.

13 is a lucky number this month with every 13th drink free at Nana Plaza's Pretty Lady A Gogo from tonight until Halloween night. Swing by and don't miss the count.

A quick run through Pattaya this week left the impression that, dare I say it, things might have picked up a little bit, just a little. Despite the rain, it felt like there were more people about, but then I was only in town for the briefest time so won't stick my neck out and say the tide has turned.

There's a war going on in Nana Plaza between Angelwitch and Spanky's which can only be good for punters as the two farang-owned show bars next to each other on the second floor try to outdo each other. In the red corner we have the German-owned Angelwitch, the show bar which ripped the title away from Long Gun as the best show bar in Bangkok. In the blue corner we have the new boy on the block, a young, successful American who is determined to not just turn Nana around, but to make his bar, Spanky's, the best in the plaza. Spanky's fire show has got Angelwitch in a tizz although they are fighting back with a bunch of new, professionally choreographed shows.

But the war doesn't end on the dance floor. Each bar is sinking money into the venue to spruce up the premises. Spanky's will have about 20 new seats in the next week as owner Marc sets about fixing the design flaw created by the former owner, the Arab. Workmen have been working through the night from bar close at 2 AM as they race to get the job done. The bar will remain open while work is in progress and there will be some nights where there will be seating available on one side of the bar only. There will be not just more seating but more comfortable seating. Another complaint about the Arab's design was that the seating was dreadfully uncomfortable so that will be fixed too. In a nice touch for customers, the owner has termed this period a construction party and has reduced the price on all beers to 100 baht until it's complete. Angelwitch have responded in style, as you would expect from a bar with an experienced owner and a veteran manager, and the whole front of Angelwitch has been redone and a new sign, the most attractive in Nana, proving to be effective with a definite upswing in trade in the bar.

You might remember me mentioning 2 weeks ago about someone with Baccarra interests and grand plans for a new establishments on Pattaya's Walking Street. Well it seems that one of the reasons for the expansion is that 50% of the Bangkok location was recently sold at a new benchmark in the gogo bar price book. I wonder if the new partner recently won the lottery?

Soi Buakhao and Soi LK Metro will never supplant Walking Street as ground zero of Pattaya's nightlife but I couldn't help but notice that the bars in that part of town were doing rather well, not booming, but certainly steady. Oasis has been a popular gogo for a long time and the two Secrets copies, Club Blu, and the not so far away Papagayo were also doing decent trade. What I like about that part of town is that you don't get the tourists who are in town for a look, and only a look, you know the crowd who walk up and down Walking Street with a video camera but never stop anywhere for a drink or actually enter venues.

The fat dog that has been a fixture in the Nana area for years has somehow lost sight of its station in life and has been seen a few days this week in the plaza itself where it has tried to dine on some punters' legs. It was tame when it was out by the road but in the plaza it seems to have taken on a new, more aggressive character – perhaps it has learned from the girls in the plaza?! Of course the locals just sit around and look at it and think it is all a great joke!

That new Pattaya gogo bar on Walking Street that I referred to a week or two ago as "I Ran" A Gogo has now become "Iron" – which makes more sense.

On Thursday night a mate was in Gulliver's in Sukhumvit soi 5. At around 10:30 PM he ordered a glass of red wine and waited for his change. It came, 100 baht short. He's no mug and quickly quizzed the waiter who suspiciously lifted the silver plate to reveal the missing 100 baht note hiding underneath! My pal was outraged and demanded to see the manager who after speaking with the member of staff who denied everything, refunded his money and took back the drink. After shaking his hand and announcing that the problem had been resolved, the manager sulked off while my friend became subject of nasty looks from the rest of the staff, no doubt for "causing a problem". You expose someone who is stealing from customers and causing ill will in a business and then it's the customer who becomes the problem. This is a crazy situation. Amazing Thailand!

There does seem to be a new trend with girls in the bar. I seem to be talking with more and more girls who have entered the bar industry for the first time because a relationship recently went bad. Nothing unusual in that, except that these girls just broke up with a Westerner. They are not at all typical of the bulk of girls in the industry who typically are divorced / separated single mothers from Isaan who had never been involved with a foreign guy.

Who is that strange, skinny, almost puny middle-aged man who wanders around the bars – I have seen him in Nana Plaza as well as the Biergarten – who carries a bag with a live rabbit in it?! Every so often he pulls the rabbit out of his bag, holds it, and strokes it ever so tenderly. He gets a lot of looks and comments, in fact one guy was so taken aback but what this guy was carrying – harmless enough if you ask me – that he wanted to have a go at the guy.

You know one of the things I like about eating out in Pattaya over Bangkok? So few places have the dreaded ++ so not only do dishes start off cheaper, the silly tax is not added at most places.

Speaking of good dishes, the beef nachos at Shenanigan's in Jomtien is as good as I've had anywhere in Thailand and worth going out of your way for. They're probably better than what you get at most of the Mexican restaurants.

Punter69.com which is dedicated to nightlife and fun in the UK and Thailand will celebrate its first birthday with a party on October 10 at The Rock House in Pattaya's Soi LK Metro. A Philippine band will perform live music, there will be a magic show, delicious Thai and Western food, and sexy free T-shirts for the first 50 members of Punter 69 to arrive – meaning you should sign up now and turn up to the event early!


Thai ladies in Bangkok, Pattaya, and all over Thailand

I haven't made it down there for a while but a long-time reader reports that it seems that Patong, Phuket's most poplar beach and the heart of its nightlife, is fast becoming the gay capital of tourist Thailand. He tells me that ladyboys are everywhere and there are quite possibly more of them now than on the streets of Bangkok or Pattaya. Ok, so I can't see Phuket overtaking Pattaya for being the gay capital – there are heaps of gay venues in Pattaya, spread over a few different areas – but it is said there are battalions in Patong. It seems that they are multiplying. Just how do they manage that?! The bars that always seem to be busy these days are those near the Royal Paradise Hotel (Patong's Boyztown) and my correspondent reports that sometimes he sees more guys strutting up the road with one or two gay lads, or ladyboys, than are seen barfining girls.

If you drive frequently between Bangkok and Pattaya, it is my experience that hassles from the boys in brown – often with accusations of infractions you never committed – are much more likely to happen on the motorway i.e. highway 7, than on the elevated expressway above Bang Na / Trad. So if you wish to avoid such irritating hassles, it might be an idea to take the elevated highway. As a bonus, you'll also save 20 baht on the tolls.

We all know that the security guards and metal detectors at shopping centres, hotels and skytrain stations in Bangkok are very much for display and do not really function as genuine security checks. When I was in Jakarta recently the local security staff were efficient and took their job seriously, taking the time to carry out thorough checks. Anyway, I could not help but laugh when entering Siam Centre one day this week. As you get off the skytrain at Siam Station, you can enter Siam Centre by either taking stairs down to the 2nd floor or up to the 3rd floor. If you go down, as most people do, you pass through a metal detector and your bags may be checked by a guard. If you go up there is no metal detector and no guard on duty which makes it all seem so pointless. Oh, that's right. I forgot. It's all for show!

There's a curious new title on the shelves of Bookazine titled "Too Many Girls, Not Enough Time" by a fellow called Chuck Wilson. You really have to see it to believe it…

If you thought there was something different about riding in a taxi recently, you'd be right. All taxis have been compelled to elevate the meter unit so that it is located above the gearstick where previously it could be obscured and not easily viewed by passengers. In some cabs the meter unit has been mounted on the dashboard whereas some have it mounted in the dashboard itself.

If you only take one thing from today's column, take the advice of a friend who was stopped by police on Sathorn Road late one night after enjoying a few drinks. With the coppers getting hungrier and hungrier and it has to be said, more vigilant when it comes to drink driving (which is a serious offence in Thailand and can result in jail time for the first offence!), my friend, who had been riding his motorbike, was stopped. The copper requested that he take a breath screening test and when he did he was shown to be over the legal limit. Naughty, naughty! Another driver was tested next to him and he also tested above the legal limit. My pal saw that driver taken from his car, put into a cop car and taken to the local station. The copper dealing with my pal explained that he too would have to go to the station and was told that he could expect a fine of between 10,000 and 50,000 baht! Yikes, that's much more than you would be fined in my homeland for the same offence. Now my friend is clean cut, dresses well, speaks excellent Thai and most importantly, is unfailingly polite (and yes, it really is a friend, not me!). My pal knew that once it got to the station there would be little he could do so he asked the copper if he could settle things there and then. The copper refused. My pal tried again in ever so polite Thai. The copper looked him up and down, noted his polite use of the language and eventually said it could be resolved for 1,000 baht. My mate opened his wallet and there was only a 500 baht note in there. The cop rolled his eyes but….took it! Being clean cut, well-dressed and speaking good, polite Thai does go a VERY long way to resolving any of a number of problems in Thailand, even moderately serious ones.

There's something about taking the baht bus over the hill from Pattaya that gives me the creeps. I quite like Pattaya for a couple of days – but only a couple of days. After that I have to escape. When going over to Jomtien, I always take the baht bus – it's easier than driving but the older foreigners I see with their long faces on that bus make me wonder. Is it their presentation, or that they are clearly impecunious or is it that they have somehow managed to find the ugliest girl in all of the eastern seaboard? I know there are heaps of perfectly normal and well adjusted folks living in Jomtien, but I swear, every time I take the baht bus over the hill it seems to be a day out for the local loonies.

Stickman reader's story of the week is the tale of a relationship between a Western guy and a Thai girl gone horribly wrong. This author of "You Gotta Know When To Hold 'Em" could really do with your advice!

Quote of the week. "Thailand is a graveyard for gullible western investors, the unwary and those who choose to be ill-informed."

A Brit is dragged from a taxi and raped in a coconut plantation on Ko Samui.

The Sydney Morning Herald reviews a Thai restaurant and says what I have always been saying – that Thai food is best outside of Thailand!

One tourist dies and another is hospitalized because of spiked drinks in Pattaya.

The Bangkok Post ran an interesting opinion piece about Prime Minister Apisit.

The World Bank sees no progress on the massive problem of corruption in Thailand.

From the Sydney Morning Herald comes the story of how an experience in a Bangkok taxi resulted in the creation of a hate taxis website.

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've been in a relationship with my partner for more than three years. We've never, ever argued. Really! However, a few days ago we were walking back home from a restaurant and there was a barrier and a security guard blocking the way, letting cars out from a car park. After waiting a few minutes (when the flow of cars had pretty much finished) I dodged around the barrier and carried on walking. When my partner caught up with me he was furious. I really don't know why. I asked what was wrong and really didn't get a straight answer. He said he was worried about my safety but he also mentioned some (not polite) comments from people behind him. Why? Why did my partner react so strongly to my being a bit hot-headed?

Mrs. Stick says: You are a woman? We expect that men must look after women in our society. Maybe a man must collect his wife from work if it is dark so she does not go home alone on a bus or in a taxi because it is dangerous. One role of a man is he must look after and protect his girlfriend / wife. I think maybe he thought you made a dangerous situation and made him feel he could not look after you and so you made him feel bad. But I am not sure because the situation is not clear, but I think it is like this.

Question 2: Europeans are pre-disposed to take it upon themselves for a variety of reasons, to do do-gooding and missionary work in under-developed countries. From a Thai perspective, how do you view these acts of philanthropy? How do you think those that are the beneficiaries view it? And to get this all into another perspective, have you ever heard of Thais doing such similar work say in Myanmar, Laos or Cambodia for example?

Mrs. Stick says: I think it is nice when people can help other people. It happens in Thailand a lot. On our birthday we might visit the temple and make a donation or we might do something like work for a day in an orphanage or help old people. There are Thai people who work and help citizens of our neighbouring countries but I don't know if they are paid or not. I think it is very nice when foreigners like farang can come and help people in other countries. It's good for the country that receives the benefit and it also shows the humanity of the people and the country who come to help. So I think it is good for everyone.

Question 3: What do Thai women think about men who are fanatical about weightlifting. I have theory that Thai women don't find men with large bulging muscles attractive at all. I suspect they think the heavily muscled look is ugly and looks like there is something wrong with the man. Can you comment on this? What is your opinion about whether Thai women find heavily muscled men attractive or not. Thanks!

Mrs. Stick says: When I went to Australia I thought the policemen (young ones) were very nice and handsome because they wore a uniform and were strong and had big muscles. Before Stickman and I were married we were in Pattaya one time and many American navy were there. They were in uniform and they had big muscles and were young and strong and I liked them too. I like a man who is healthy and strong. For me and all of my friends, I think no-one likes a man who has super big muscles. You're right, we don't like that. But I think someone does but not me and my friends.

There's an odd trait I have noticed in some Westerners resident in Thailand, more likely to be found in those who have been here a few years or more, it seems. It is that they do not believe any story you tell them that they perceive is pushing the boundary a little. I was tipped off on Thursday that poor old TJ from Coyote was no longer of this world. I subsequently made a couple of phone calls to connected friends in Pattaya to confirm the story. In between times I spoke with a couple of friends in Bangkok who quite simply didn't believe me, notwithstanding that I said that at that stage it was still an unconfirmed rumour. In fact they were totally disbelieving of it, one accusing me of making it up! What I find truly peculiar is that in a country where so many weird and wild things happen every single day that there is a number of Western residents who disbelieve such things could happen. To me that is even more weird!



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick