Stickman's Weekly Column October 18th, 2009

Investigations, Battling My Conscience


"What's she doing? Who's she doing it with? She wouldn't continue to work, would she? She loves me! That time we had together was the best of my life. She told me she felt just the same! But how can I be sure? How can I know that she loves me, and only me? Where's Stickman? I need to know now!"

Looking into what ladies of the night are up to for their boyfriends (AKA sponsors) abroad can be fun. It can also become stressful as you find yourself embroiled in a situation where what you report can have a direct bearing on not just someone's future, but potentially the course of their life.

Over the years I have stuck my nose into a number of girls' business for their boyfriends abroad. It's a service I have provided on and off. I say on and off because at times when I've been particularly busy I've had to stop. But there is another reason why at times I suspended the service. Checking up on these girls really can play on your conscience.

Yep, it's a task that has seen me come under fire. Antagonists argue that no matter what agreement a lady might make with her boyfriend, she is free to do what she wants, when she wants, how she wants and with whom she wants. Even if he is supporting her handsomely, to the tune of $US2,000 per month or more (and yes, such monthly stipends are not that uncommon), and he has mapped out future plans for them to be together as soon as possible, some feel that she has every right what to do as she pleases. I wonder if they would say that if she was their girlfriend? I've always felt that checking up on whether a girl is being faithful is not dissimilar to getting a pre-purchase vehicle inspection carried out on a second-hand car or due diligence performed on a business you were considering purchasing or investing in.

Bargirl checks play on your mind, play with your conscience and sometimes leave you feeling a little empty. I often think back to three cases that played on my conscience, each for a different reason.

Case 1: When Joy Turns To Heartache

There are straightforward cases and there are less straightforward cases. These days nothing is simple. As more and more punters understand that the situation of their darling continuing to work the bar is not the only danger, so too they may want verification of whether she has other guys on the go. Today, checking for the existence of other sponsors and the existence of a local boyfriend or husband are a sponsor's biggest concerns. It's not always easy and can be time consuming – but it can be done.

This case was a throwback to the good old days. The objective was simple. All that was required was to check whether she was still working in the bar or not. She had told him that she had stopped working but he felt that she was still in the bar. He was anxious to find out right away. Decisions about the future hung on the result of the investigation.

When we chatted on the phone we hit it off. Rather than just a quick couple of minutes to verify that we were on the same page, we ended up speaking for much longer, about life in Thailand and life in general. I really liked the guy and I wanted to try even harder than usual to get every possible detail for my fellow ANZAC, notwithstanding that this was a straightforward case.

I found myself on Pattaya's second road, in one of the ubiquitous beer bars with that most boring of views, looking out on to the road. I've always felt that the required building permit for the construction of a beer bar complex should be contingent upon the bars being located along the sea front. Second road and other built up areas are, quite frankly, totally unsuitable for the concept. I guess I go back to my very first visit to Thailand, Karon Beach in 1997, when myself and a mate hung out at the beer bars adjacent to our hotel. The setting directly across the road from the beach and the sea view was perfect. The evening breeze made us temporarily forget the heat at the height of the hot season.

But I digress, beer bar jobs are among the easier tasks to carry out. There aren't many girls in a typical beer bar. They tend to go to the bar every night and you can see the entire bar from any seat in the bar. But what I really like – and what customers like – is that taking photos in beer bars is generally ok. Oh, the odd girl might turn her head or ask you to point the camera away from her but a lady drink or two later and she'll be leaping in front of the lens, keen for snapshots of her that make her look prettier than she really is. When you can take photos, you can provide the customer with proof. Everyone's happy except the subject of the investigation!

I arrived early. I had to. I only had one night to carry the task out which is far from ideal. I had to be sure that if she was working she would not be barfined before I arrived at the bar. He'd sent me really good information – good, clear background info and photos of not just her but of her friends too. He outlined which of her friends were clever, who was suspicious and who he felt was approachable. I couldn't have asked for better background info.

So there I was, on a stormy Pattaya night, sat at just another dingy second road beer bar. It was the low season in what was a very low year and I was the only guy there. Ideal! You can do without the distractions of other punters – getting into a bar lady drink bidding war for a bird's attention can be hazardous as I once found out. Within seconds of arriving I recognised two of the subject's friends and offered them drinks immediately. Beer bars often attract cheap customers meaning offers of lady drinks so quickly and willingly gets the punter immediate jai dee status. And at the end of the day the most important thing when carrying out these checks is to build up a rapport with the girls. I was off to a good start with smiles all around and laughter resonating around the bar.

I chatted with the subject's friends at the back of the bar where I had a great vantage point looking out over the bar and on to the street. The bar area was no bigger than that of a decrepit studio room. The subject was not there. If she came, I couldn't possibly miss her from where I was sitting. An hour passed, two…and still there was no sign of her.

I chatted away with her friends and the drinks kept flowing. Connect 4 had come and gone, as had that horribly annoying building block game. But the girls were having fun – and that's what matters. Mr. Jai Dee de jeur was buying drinks and chatting to them in Thai. He'd already explained that he had a Mrs. in Bangkok and would not be barfining anyone but he was happy to chat, buy drinks and enjoy the night. As long as they are drinking and have someone to chat with the girls are happy.

Eventually, after more than 2 hours in the bar, I slowly brought the conversation around to why I had chosen to drink in that particular bar. I mentioned that I had visited a few months earlier, a lie, but a necessary ruse for what would follow. I explained that I had met a lady who hailed from the south, how she seemed different and how I had hoped to see her again. I told the lovelies that I could not see her and alas, neither could I remember her name. They figured out who I meant from the description I gave. The name matched with that of the subject. The girls talked amongst themselves and as far as they all knew, since leaving the bar she had remained at home, far away from the distractions of Pattaya. I had confirmation. She had left the bar. They could hardly call her to come to the bar and see me as her home was several hours' drive away. We checked with the owner of the bar who was sitting in the corner, seemingly in a trance, in his own little world. He verified that she was long gone and would not be coming back. She's history.

I stayed on for another hour and a half, laughing and joking with the ladies, checking and double checking that the subject would not be coming back. I asked the same question in different ways and used various tricks to try and trip them up. I didn't need to. For sure, they were being honest. Other girls from the neighbouring bar were brought over to face the Stickman interrogation. They could remember her but she had long gone. You have to cover all the bases. You look to trip them up, to catch them off guard, to try every angle, not dissimilar to a journalist pursuing a hot story. She really had left and gone back to the family home, leaving not just the bar but the industry. It was a good news, a rare positive result.

With all bases covered, I left the bar.

Later that night when I returned to the hotel room I typed up a report, included some photos and sent it to the client, outlining not just my findings, but how they had been reached. Attached were photographs of all the girls in the bar including the subject's friends. I detailed what I had talked about with them and the outcome which was good news. She had stopped working which gave him the green light he had desperately sought to proceed with the relationship.

I received an email of thanks from him the next morning. He was thrilled at the outcome. She was clean.

I was on a high. I really liked the guy and I was thrilled that the outcome had been positive. He would be able to set about planning his move to Thailand.

The next day I received another email from him. I expected some follow up questions, perhaps asking for advice on how to proceed with her. That's common.

I opened the email from him and saw that he had forwarded me an email from a third party which was proceeded by a few comments from him. I glanced at the forwarded email. It was written in reasonable English but certainly not the words of a native English speaker. The email was from his girlfriend. She had just returned to Pattaya that very morning. She had an important message for him. Her parents were poor, her whole family was poor and she had a chance to make a difference in their life. So she was returning to Pattaya to work. She was sorry. She wanted him to know that she could not wait for him. It had not been an easy decision, but this was what she wanted. He should forget her.

I had missed her by a mere 12 hours. Had the investigation been carried out 24 hours later the result would have been completely different.

For the client, joy had turned to heartache.

For me, I felt a great deal of guilt, not because I had done anything wrong, but simply that I had given someone good news, only for him to be let down very soon after.

Case 2: When Her Future Is In Your Hands

Clients don't always reveal the reason they want an investigation undertaken. They don't have to and frankly, it's none of my business. I've sometimes felt that some clients have actually been hoping to receive bad news, a handy excuse to call things off with a clear conscience. They could tell their teeruk that she had been up to no good and that was why they were saying goodbye. Try and tell a bargirl you've been supporting that you've got bored of her or met someone else and watch her reaction!

But this particular client spelled things out right from the start. He had been supporting her with a allowance much greater than your average farang Bangkok English teacher earns in a month. He had bought a vehicle for the family just a few months earlier and perhaps the clincher, he was due to marry her in a couple of weeks! He felt that something wasn't right and contacted me to check things out.

His darling resided in Bangkok where she took care of her child. That's an instant red flag. Why on earth would a woman being supported so well choose to stay in Bangkok (or in Pattaya for that matter) when she could return to the family home and save on rent and other expenses, to say nothing of being close to to her family. Any woman who claims to be on the straight and narrow yet remains in Bangkok or Pattaya is more often than not up to no good.

He was certain that she'd stopped working at what is one of the most popular gogo bars in the capital where relatives of hers and friends still worked. It would be my first stop. A foreigner can hardly go wandering around Thai neighbourhoods, carrying out surveillance on a bird's place of abode. Any foreigner who believes he can blend in to be just another piece of the local landscape in a Thai neighbourhood is totally clueless. It's akin to parking a tank in a Western neighbourhood. People don't just notice you, they come out of their homes to look at you and they will start talking about you, trying to work out just what the hell you're doing there! Surveillance in a Thai neighbourhood is a task for the locals, not the farangs – so checking at her place of abode wouldn't work.

So off I trotted to Nana to one of the few gogo bars that has a bunch of fabulously beautiful women. No sooner had I arrived than I fortuitously stumbled upon the sister. The first thing you do in any job is ply her with drinks, and gently insist that it's something alcoholic. Alcohol really should be nicknamed the truth serum. Enough alcohol and the truth always comes out. Seldom do you ever meet a girl who can drink as much as you can. Is that cheating, I wonder?!

We got chatting and I used my usual PI persona, Michael from Australia. I can pass for an Aussie even amongst expat company so doing it with the locals is no problem. That said, the black rugby jersey with a silver fern might have been picked up in expat society. Such details don't matter with the locals. We're not talking Mensa material in the bars.

Sis turns out to be incredibly helpful, revealing that rather than stopping work a year ago as she had made out, the subject had just finished up in the bar the previous month. That meant she had been stringing my client along for more than a year and had presumably taken time off work when he visited her. Ever so helpful, sis told me that the subject could be called and told to come to the bar if I wanted to go with her. I made excuses that I had an early start the next day. I found out all sorts of other incriminating info and was provided with a phone number. I make my excuses to call it a night. I need to consult the client to see how he wishes to proceed.

He tells me that he needs proof that she is up to no good. It's a gogo bar and it's not possible to photograph her inside. Even photographing her outside as she enters would be a bit of a lottery. I've never seen her before and the photograph he supplied wasn't clear. I'm not confident I would even recognise her walking into the plaza. We need an alternative approach.

I decide that I will call her, make out I am on old customer – as I had told sis and request to meet her. I will explain in very specific detail what I intend to do with her so there can be no misunderstanding. But I will not meet her. I will photograph her from a distance and provide the photos to the client. He likes the plan and tells me to proceed.

So I make the call, explain who I am and yes, of course she remembers me! "Miken, my teeruk ja. I miss you na!" The nonsense flows with this one! I tell her that I will soon be returning to Australia to nurse my aging mother and memories of our time together linger strong and I desire one last night of passion with her before I return home. I am blunt and tell her that we will meet for a fabulous dinner, heaps of alcohol at one of the city's finest hotels after which time we will be having a very busy evening together. She's up for it. I give her very detailed instructions on where to stand, outside a particular entrance of the hotel. I will be some distance away with a telephoto lens and will capture it for the client. Presumably everything will be history at that point.

I inform the client that she has agreed to meet. She says she cannot meet me for 2 days so I call her on the day we are supposed to meet to confirm. I'm already to go ahead with the second part of this task, the gathering of proof.

I call her but she does not answer. I call her many times and there is no answer. I call her from another phone and when she realises it is me calling, she hangs up. I do the same again from a public phone and again, she refuses to speak to me and hangs up. She refuses to accept a call from me and appears to have changed her mind. It seems she does not want to talk with me and does not to go to the hotel.

Was it a 6th sense? Did she feel pangs of guilt? She was very keen to meet and then she stopped all contact. Why, I will never know.

I have to admit that I was almost a little relieved that I didn't speak with her and never did meet her. Had she gone through with it, I would have got the photos which would have been the proof the client needed to know she was up to no good. That may have prompted him to call off the wedding which was supposed to take place just two weeks later. Presumably everything had been arranged months earlier, a venue booked, monks organised, flowers, food and booze paid for and invitations sent out. What an embarrassment that would be for everyone.

There was of course the not so small issue of her continuing to work in the bar long after she has said otherwise. But for concrete proof, the photos? She backed at and the client did not get them.

There's no doubt that the little vixen had been up to no good, but when you give a report that can change the course of someone's life, that's a lot to deal with and it really does play on your conscience.

Case 3: Using Devious Means To Get The Answers

I'm not shy to turn down a case. It happens often. You might be asked to do things that are illegal or which you are unable or simply not prepared to do. Supplying phone records or bank account details spring to mind, both of which are highly illegal. Very, very naughty to get into that sort of thing – and I don't. You receive the odd inquiry to look into what a ladyboy is up to but a lack of familiarity and discomfort means I could never take on such a case. And then there are those cases where you're just not confident you could provide the answers the client is looking for. Perhaps the objectives are just too difficult, or the time required to determine the information would result in the cost ballooning. Sometimes you just have to say that you're not confident that you could satisfy their objectives and decline the task. Taking on a task where you're not confident or capable of carrying it out is totally unprofessional.

So when this particular inquiry came in, I came very, very close to turning it down. The fellow in question had been providing generous support to his Thai sweetheart who, surprise surprise, had promised that she had finished working some time ago. She had made the usual promises and said all the right things.

The bar in which he met her had a webcam broadcast. Anyone online could tune in to the bar's website and watch what was happening there live in real time – which funnily enough provided an ideal means for punters to check up on their darling! He would tune into the bar's webcam feed and casually check to see if she was there. He really didn't think he would see her so it was more a case of reminiscing the good times they'd shared there. The live cam would be running on his computer and every so often he would have a quick look as he went about his job. Night time in Thailand was morning for him.

So there he was, going about his job when something, or rather someone, catches his eye in the small webcam window. There is his darling, sitting in the bar…with some guy! He's sure it's her!

His heart starts to race. He stops what he's working on and stares at the small window being beamed half way around the world. She's sitting next to a man. The quality of the webcam broadcast can at best be described as reasonable. He cannot make out details. What is she doing with her hands? Why do they appear to be on his leg? What is she even doing in the bar? Why is that bloke pawing my girlfriend?!

He picks up the phone and calls her immediately, waiting as the call is bounced from satellite to satellite as it makes its way around the world. He's listening into the phone, waiting for it to start ringing and watching the screen at the same time. It doesn't ring! The phone goes straight to voice mail. Her phone is turned off!

They had made an agreement. She would stay away from the bar and be exclusive to him. He in turn would support her and get her to the States as soon as possible. The visa process was already underway but a K1 visa, even with the help of a good lawyer, takes months and months. He had done everything right, mapping out a clear future for the two of them. He'd been clear from the outset about how long it would take her to get to the US and what she would do when she got there. He was supporting her generously. There was no excuse for this! Or perhaps the guy she was with was just a friend? No, friends don't grope each other like that!

No sooner had he spotted them than they were gone. Out the bar, out of sight and off to who knows where. He tried to calm down and resume work but his mind was fixated on what he had just seen. Why was she with him? Who was he? Was it something innocent or something more sinister? He couldn't believe she would do this and he started to think that he had been seeing things. Maybe it wasn't his girlfriend, but someone else. He didn't recognise the clothes she wore. Perhaps it was something else?

He milled over it for a few weeks but paranoia got the better of him and eventually, as they all do, he dropped Sticky an email. He was articulate and spelled out the situation clearly. He would call her each day and she would usually be in her room. From time to time she'd be out, but she always picked up the phone and she would tell him where she was – and knowing Pattaya well, the story was always plausible. He started to doubt if he had seen her that night with another man but he needed to know. He wanted me to verify if it was her or not.

This would be no easy task. Thais try to be helpful. They tell you what they think you want to know – to keep you happy! Explaining that you just want to know the truth and not what they think you want to hear is not an option and just does not work. Asking bar staff if a former member of staff was there with a guy a couple of weeks ago would result in the answer they thought you wanted to hear. "No, she not work bar!" That was not an option. I needed to come up with a plan that would get the truth.

The task was outside of Bangkok. That meant travel expenses and time. The cost would be much higher than a similar job in Bangkok job and I had to get a result while I was there. The client could confirm that she no longer worked in the venue. His frequent phone calls strongly indicated she was not working anywhere. When she had finally turned her phone on the next day he felt awkward about raising it. The time to do that had passed. His objective was simply for me for me to verify if she had been there that night, for what might have been a relatively short period.

Analysing the case and given that the client was certain that she was no longer working either in that venue or any other venue likely meant one of two things. She was either meeting past customers when they came to town or she had a local boyfriend. Establishing whether she was meeting past flames would again be very difficult. Verifying what someone did at some time in the past is not easy in Thailand. I explained my theory and stated that I could check what she was up to now, but to verify one moment on one night weeks ago was something I just could not do. To successfully complete this case, I needed to concentrate on the present and question a foreigner, not a Thai. An unknowing long-nose will generally give you a straight answer but in the bar business an owner or a manager will almost never divulge what the girls are up to. To do so would get them totally offside with the girls and likely result in a mass exodus.

The bar where she had worked and was spotted had a foreign manager. I knew him. He wasn't someone I'm good mates with, but I'd met him a few times. I thought long and hard about how I could extract the info from him without asking him directly. I would have to be sneaky. Devious even. I don't like to, but if I have to, yeah, I can do devious.

I eventually settled on a plan. His bar had a very small website. I have a large website. I would drop him an email, tell him I was going to be in town and suggest that in the interests of search engine optimization I was interested in doing a link exchange with him. I would explain that this would result in a lot of well-targeted traffic to his website which would result in more customers, to say nothing of the improved placement in Google. I sent him an email and got a favourable reply. I told him when I would be in town and we made arrangements to meet. The date was set!

A few days later I rocked into town and made it to the bar at the appointed time. We sat at the bar and enjoyed a few drinks, bullshitted about the industry and had a few laughs. Eventually we got around to talking about the link exchange that I had proposed and agreed to get links up on our respective sites. The deal was done.

I had probably been in the bar about an hour and a half at that point. I had softened him up. Eventually I dropped into the conversation that there was a lady in the bar I used to know and I wondered what she had been up to. He had no idea that I was probing for info and came straight out and told me that she was being looked after by an American but was still meeting previous customers, of whom he claimed she had plenty – and some of whom he claimed still paid a barfine for her at the bar, notwithstanding that she really had stopped working there. But these guys didn't know that. It was a win : win situation for the bar and for her. He revealed that she was so popular that some of her previous customers would spend their entire holiday with her and he was sure that some even knew that she had a guy supporting her. He even offered her me her phone number and joked that he wouldn't charge me the barfine!

While I was not able to confirm what she had been doing that fateful night a few weeks earlier, I had it confirmed that she was still up to her old tricks. The client immediately stopped payments and ceased all contact with her. He refused to answer any calls and blocked her email address. She never knew why he gave up on her – and probably wrongly assumed he found someone else! Silly girl really, she was not getting any younger and had found a wealthy guy who was willing to do everything it took to get her to the States and make it work.

I felt guilty at the way I carried out that case, pulling the wool over a fellow foreigner's eyes and just being plain deceptive. With that said, the link exchange went ahead and I am sure he benefited from it big time!



Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken at Siam Paragon, looking north with Patumwan Resort and another Phyathai Road condominium building, the name of which I do not know, in the background. 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 signed copy 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 prize 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 (The following emails are 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 – Avoiding the boys in brown.

I think there is a gestalt shift in touristed Thailand. Five, ten years ago a drunk guy involved in an altercation might have limped back to his hotel room with some bruised ribs. But once the cops get into you now (and it seems they are looking for new ways to "interact" with farang as well), they know the buffalo will pay to stay out of jail. All they have to do is threaten, and the cash is in hand. It's simply taking advantage of an opportunity. I think this is the way it is now and will continue to be from now on. Farang who are in a precarious situation i.e. a situation where police might normally be involved, altercation or some such, will end up fleeced. Although the publicity of these activities is sporadic, and a lot of farang trouble is self-inflicted one way or the other, I think it's important to know. I never used to worry about Customs or cops while in Thailand. Now, even though I don't drink and have never had any serious problems, I will be more careful on my (less) frequent visits.

How many towels does he need each day?

Are you aware of the denizen of the Nana Hotel who as regularly as clockwork strides across into the plaza at about 9 PM and takes three girls back to the hotel. Then, around 11, or thereafter, he goes back for a couple more. And he does this every day while he is in Bangkok. Yeah, I mean every day! The money alone makes him an urban legend – 5 x 600 baht bar fines; 5 x 2,000 (at least) short time rates = 13,000 per day, 65,000 per week. You can catch him these days wearing heavy black shades (maybe an unfortunate medical issue) but otherwise he always dresses the same – ball cap, shirt out over large paunch and shorts and sandals. It never varies. Never seen with any friends, doesn't drink, doesn't sit in the gogos, deals only with mamasans in the bars, says little to the women (probably can't speak any Thai), never seen in Cowboy, never seen during the day in Nana. Just out at 9, back with 3, out at 11, back with 2 night after night. He has become a Bangkok urban legend because no man has that sort of sexual prowess, even at 19 (he's got to be over 60). You're talking 35 a week! One girl told me he works in Iraq. Another guy told me a girl he knows said he has girls put on shows for him but they fake them. Another girl said she went once, would never go again; others go all the time in repeat business. The girls, again because I know some, are often not known to each other and may not even be from the same bar.

Isaan bargirl preferable to hi-so Thai woman?

My brother's boss who is a senior engineer working for a major development company in Thailand met his wife in Soi Cowboy. He could have had the choice of any upper class Thai girl but chose a girl from a bar solely because she was fun to be with and they shared a nice connection. It's funny, my brother tells me when he goes to work functions which are always populated by the cream of Thai society how they look at her and talk about her, of course knowing. But he does not care because he is happy and has now been married to her for 5 years. This guy is rolling in money and could have any Thai girl, yet chose a girl from Soi Cowboy! It's funny how the bargirl can sometimes win out over the so called high class girl simply because they end up being more fun to be with and that is often more important. Sometimes the good girl just does not have enough to offer and may even be boring. Incidentally, this guy is handsome, rich and always extremely well-dressed. Many farangs in Thailand don't always choose the higher class Thai girls when they have that choice for other reasons and I know that for a fact some farang are simply not interested in good girls. My brother who is an engineer earning big money in Thailand chose a poor farming girl from Petchaburi over a wealthy upper class Chinese Thai girl whose family owned serviced apartments. I have even had my chances with these wealthy girls but you know there is something interesting about that poor, little bit naughty girl that us farangs find attractive. Not all farangs go for the nice upper class girl as a lot of them are boring.

Well-targeted marketing?

The TAT is spending all of its funds to attract tourists from countries that have a lower per capita income than Thailand. The current Thai level is $1,838. The Chinese level is $865 and India is $441. These countries do have citizens that make far more than the average, but they are accustomed to lower prices in their home countries. Thailand is becoming more expensive and the sticker shock that awaits visitors on a tight budget limits their ability to enjoy their holiday. Thailand needs to reduce its prices by 2/3 if they want to attract low budget visitors.

How light is it in the bar?

The customer's rule is this. If it's dark, the bar is hiding something. If it's light, the bar has something to show. The owner's rule is this. If you have nothing to offer, hope the customer is drunk enough, keep it dark, hope he keeps ordering before he notices the prices and the lack of talent. I used to tour all the bars regularly because you never knew what you might find. Now, I'm down to about five regular bars. Owners, not politics, not tourism, not the collapse of the world financial system, are killing the nightlife in Bangkok.

Why Long Gun and Raw Hide aren't what they once were?

Quite a few years ago the owner of Long Gun and Raw Hide was involved with a German guy who pulled the strings behind the scenes. He did all the emailing at that time for the girls and helped them to get visas. He imported underwear and stockings from a very famous shop in Germany and helped to create shows. At that time, as you wrote, it was very difficult to get a seat or even a place to stand in those bars. As the German sort of got "kicked out" but won his court case, things went south with both bars.

Does money make them happy?

What percentage of the girls on the game are fundamentally looking for one spouse as opposed to that insane mantra of 'money first', and is there any way for the guys who are looking for this option to level the playing field? These are the questions I proposed to my girlfriend's sister yesterday, who's about the most savvy and streetwise Thai girl I've come across. She runs a hair saloon, with some of the best looking girls of Patong frequenting it. Her answers took me aback. First of all, some of these girls have struck what's seemingly the biggest gold vein on the planet, not so much the big fish but the whole ocean it's swimming in. She said without exception that her clients are solely and only looking for money to the degree that if a customer is trying to offer anything other than money he won't be entertained. What ever these guys cough up financially is never enough – they are programmed to want more. More from the guy that they are presently servicing, more from a whole catalogue of past, present and future sponsors that they are permanently communicating and keeping in touch with on the internet. The net along with mobile phones might as well have been invented for them, a net that can trawl all the banks accounts of the world on a daily basis with funds being remitted instantaneously. For those getting depressed or considering a sex change at this point, some good news is at hand. You'll be pleased to learn that none of these girls, again without exception, are happy. All of them are complaining about the guys that they are with and trying to find richer alternatives.

A last minute rumour just before I was about to go live with the column has it that the A-rab has sold 3 of his Cowboy bars. I have had no time to verify but will do so this week. Note, this is an unconfirmed rumour!

The Australian Pub & BBQ on Sukhumvit Soi 11 has a great quiz night every Tuesday at 7:30 featuring quiz master, Lee Shamrock. There are prizes and cheap beer followed by live music from, you guessed it, Lee Shamrock! I've never attended one of Lee's quizzes but he's a great entertainer and some of his Bangkok versions of popular songs are hilarious. Worth going out of your way for.

The Africans I mentioned in last week's column have discovered Cowboy – both the women and the men. As I sat there outside Tilac Bar with a few mates watching the world go by, 4 of us, all long-term Bangkok residents, couldn't help but notice the new trend. The men go into the bars and women saunter around seemingly looking for trade. What is interesting is that, in Cowboy at least, I did not notice any getting challenged when they went to enter the bars – which is in stark contrast with how things were in the past. I wonder if this has anything to do with what has been going on in Pattaya with Indians deluging the authorities with complaints about racist attitudes towards them which has resulted in pressure being put on a lot of business operators, bars included, to accommodate them. It's a fascinating dilemma this creates for businesses when Indians, I am sorry to say, have a justifiably bad reputation. You just have to look at their behaviour in the naughty bars, ordering one Coke and 4 straws is a complete joke and then later wanting to barfine one girl and expecting her to service 4 guys is just ridiculous. Yes, this might not happen all the time but it does happen, hence they find themselves banned as a race because venues cannot be reasonably expected to know who is decent and who is not.

There are a number of late night snack options in the Soi Cowboy area. Full meals can be had at the Old Dutch at the soi 23 end. If you want a snack, the kebab lady is around about sometimes although she seems to be in Cowboy less and less these days. There's Tiger's hamburger stand opposite the Old Dutch and there's a branch of Subway on soi 23. But there's a new player on the soi, ok, not entirely new, but she hasn't been around forever either. The sausage lady who can often be seen outside Raw Hide who sells hot dogs, Bratwurst and various versions of each does a reasonable trade. For 70 baht, you can get a very nice Bratwurst with mashed potato, gravy and kraut. I have to say it's excellent!

There's a rumour doing the rounds that the Biergarten in soi 7 might not live much longer than its previous owner. That person died a few months back and the venue was willed to the son, who it is said is a born again Christian and does not approve of the venue one little bit. The rumour mill has it – and it has to be stressed that this is a rumour – the venue might not still be in operation in 2010.

The transformation at the Thermae is almost complete. On a reasonably busy Friday night, there were heaps of really pretty local ladies, lots of Asian men, predominantly Japanese – and less than a dozen Westerners. The Thermae looks destined to become known as a Japanese bar. Will the day come when entry to Westerners is barred?

Out with a connoisseur this week, myself and a friend agreed that #150 in Rainbow 2 was exquisite. My first time in that bar in a long time, I see the music has improved considerably.

Was there a mass exodus from Tilac a week or so ago? The day after pay day, as is to be expected, a lot of the lovelies disappeared, but more than a week later most have not reappeared. This makes me wonder if they have turned up in another bar although nothing to that effect has been heard.

One, often unmentioned, reason why Tilac may be a good choice for a drink is that they charge just 30 baht for a bottle of water. Ok, so that might not make it a great bar but that is damned reasonable! And this is not a special happy hour price but the price you'll pay for a bottle of water, all night long. Coke is also very reasonably priced at just 70 baht. If Tilac can do it, I see no reason why other bars have to gouge those who don't want to drink alcohol. Sure, the price of a drink is also effectively an "entry price", but when such bars charge over 100 baht for a bottle of water or Coke it does seem rather excessive to me.

And still in Tilac, is the music a little louder than it used to be? It seems to be because conversation was more difficult this past week than it usually is.

Fierce competition and a lack of tourists has seen the streetside bars on Sukhumvit's soi 22 place boards outside announcing 65 baht beer all night long but still there seemed to be few – or even no – customers around. Beer bars looking out on to a busy, congested and polluted street has never struck me as a recipe for success.

In previous columns I have mentioned the infrastructure in Soi Cowboy and how the neon signs often cut out when it starts raining. I am now not so convinced that that is the case, but rather, for some reason, they are turned off as soon as rain starts falling and turned back on when the rain stops. Could there be a reason for this? Who's the resident neon sign expert?

The sight of a girl in conversation on her mobile while dancing on a gogo stage in front of a full bar is not an unusual sight in Bangkok, but I think I saw a first this week. A lovely was dancing and first removed her mobile from one of her boots. She then goes into the other boot, pulls out a few items and is most interested in a small plastic envelope. She opens it and removes a SIM card. She removes the SIM card that is in her phone and puts it into the envelope while inserting the other SIM card into the phone. She then plays with her phone, presumably checking for missed calls, voice messages and SMS messages before going through the whole process again and putting the original SIM card back into the phone. All the while she was gently swaying backwards and forwards in front of a full bar, totally at ease with what she was doing! I can only imagine that there was some urgency to check, for why she chose to do it while up on stage and not while sitting is beyond me.

The new seating is done in Spanky's as the last remnants of the Arab's Nana Plaza legacy is dismantled. There has also been a new laser machine installed as the Spanky's upgrade continues.

In the event you are stuck on soi 23 and fear navigation of the flood in front of Old Dutch to enter Cowboy, the new building next door has a well marked passage that will deposit you at the entrance to the subway i.e. at the western end and importantly, non-flooding end of Cowboy so there's no need to hike all the way down to Sukhumvit and around the block!

Secrets Bar in Pattaya is behind a 4-person Texas Scramble which will be held at the Eastern Star Golf Course in aid of providing Christmas presents and much more for the children of the Baan Jing Jai Orphanage. This year will be a team event to top all team events. Teams will not only be playing for themselves, but also for an orphanage as this year will also benefit a second Orphanage, and the colour of the competition shirts will reflect which orphanage the team is playing for. The winning team will be presented with the Orphanage Cup. Team trophies for overall champions, 1st and 2nd in division 1 and 1st and 2nd in division two, plus individual technical prizes (only one team prize per team). Last year's event raised 118,000 baht and provided the children of the Baan Jing Jai Orphanage with a complete new set of clothes including shoes, a great Christmas present each and they even had enough left to buy 3 much needed wardrobes and some blankets.

For those of you staying in Thailand on tourist visa after tourist visa, tsk, tsk. You really do need to look at a long-term solution and not use what apparently has been until now a convenient work around to exploit the law. At least one visa run company is saying that embassies and consulates in the region will no longer issue back to back tourist visas although whether this is policy at all of the embassies and consulates remains unknown. When your tourist visa expires you now have to get another type of visa – a visa waiver stamp is adequate – and then a subsequent application for a new tourist visa will be approved. It all seems rather convoluted to me. If you're under 50, unmarried and not working, your best bet is to get a one-year validity multiple-entry Non-Immigrant B visa from the Thai mission in your homeland.

Some of the nightlife areas often resemble a tattoo convention so I guess a lot of visitors to Thailand, and by definition readers of this website, are into tattoos. For you tattoo fans, the annual MBK Tattoo Contest will be held Friday this coming week, that is October 23, in the area outside MBK next to the National Stadium BTS station. This year will also include a small motorcycle exhibition, music performances and on-site tattooing.

The cashier at Bourbon Street is up to her old tricks. Despite the restaurant already *forcing* you to pay a 10% gratuity, your change is delivered in such a way that a tip is expected on top of what has already been added to your bill i.e. as in this week when I received 150 baht change and it came with 7 x 20 baht notes and some coins. If that is not bad enough, failure to give a tip – after you have already been levied 10% – gets a comment from the waiter. Owner Doug is a good guy and all the 10% put on to your bill is divvied up amongst the staff – so they are just being greedy and rude by trying to get more out of you.

I received an hilarious email this week from a Thai woman – I have no idea who nor how she got my email. Could be some online bird I chatted with many years ago. The email read that she was pregnant and that I was the father. Yeah, right! The funny thing was that she sent it to 36 different guys, all of whom seemed to be Western – at least they had Western sounding names from their email addresses. I was online when the email came through and replied almost immediately. Of course, I made a point to copy my reply to everyone in the list. She won't have been amused by my reply. Silly girl.

I am told that one of the reasons the boys in brown may take an interest in your cigarette packet when carrying out a search of your person is not necessarily to check for marijuana, but to check that the cigarettes you have are genuine. Apparently they take a very dim view of black-market cigarettes, those where the tax has not been paid. It's just another thing you have to be careful about in Thailand. Apparently, the local Krong-Thip-Kao-Sip if sold / purchased within Thailand have a red band above the filter which indicates that the tax has been paid. Those sold duty free at the airport have a green band above the filter which indicates they are for export only and apparently – so I am informed -if you are caught with them within Thai borders it can mean serious trouble i.e. big fines and even imprisonment! I do remember some years ago at one of the border crossings that there was sign that said that importing counterfeit cigarettes was an offence and you would be fined, if my memory serves me correct, 15 times what you paid for them as well as have them confiscated.

Now I have to admit that sometimes I get a little paranoid of the boys in brown and last Sunday was one such time. I'd been out with a few mates and we'd been sitting outside one of the bars in Cowboy, just chewing the fat. Two of us, me being one of them, were taking photos of the comings and goings. Usually I only take one camera body and lens but on this occasion I had a bag full of lenses. I left Cowboy with a heap of images, some which could be called a little racy I guess, but all were perfectly legal. As I walked out of Cowboy, I was going to walk a bit of distance to walk off the drinks before jumping in a cab. But then I thought to myself that this is ground zero, the area where coppers are known to hassle foreigners. While I have been approached by them before and dealt with them and had no problem talking my way out of a frisk search without a problem, I just didn't want the hassle of being asked why I had a camera and a bunch of lenses and so on. You just don't know where it could go and how they could try and twist – to your disadvantage! So instead of going for a wander, I jumped into the first cab I saw, prudence winning the day. But the simple fact that I chose to do that makes me reflect on how things are in Thailand today. I'd never have done that in the past but I felt it necessary. It's sad that things have come to this, it really is. In the past you were never too concerned about random interactions with the constabulary but these days they are, rightly I believe, to be avoided at all costs – just as the writer of the email of the week wrote.

A reader has a condo available for rent, a brand new one-bedroom unit at The Room Rachada Lad Prao. The asking price is 22,000 baht a month negotiable and comes with brand new furnishings and appliances. You can contact him for more details direct on 081-9067991.

Stickman reader's story of the week comes from the most prolific writer of all, Mr. Anonymous, and is titled "My Thai Road Accident Experience".

A $200,000 plea for finance to open a Pattaya bar is the weirdest ad I have ever seen on Craigslist!

From the Bangkok Post, Hitler lives in Pattaya.

From The Nation newspaper the tables are turned as a Danish man drugs and robs a Thai woman!

Quote of the week comes from a mate and had me laughing loud, "Don't ever get between a Thai and an ass about to be kissed!"

An American gent has started a blog about getting the kids of a Thai spouse into the United States.

The Sun Herald reports Aussies are the biggest exploiters of the icky stuff, kids.

Owe a Thai 10,000 baht? Best to pay up before they murder you!

More Russians are arrested for credit card fraud in Pattaya.

CNN reports that the performance of the local Thai stock market reflects fears on the health of HM The King.

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: How would a Thai person define or perceive "being in love"?

Mrs. Stick says: It's when everything is happy in your life. I think when we meet the right man then all the small problems go away. He can make us happy in every way and he tries to solve all the problems, and protect us and make us happy in every way. He cares about everything in our life and is interested in everything that we do so if we want to go shopping he comes with us and if we are working late he can collect us and deliver us home. I think that is being in love.

Question 2: My mate (yes it's my mate, I'm still looking) is getting very serious about his Thai girlfriend and I suspect there will be a visit to momma during our next trip at Xmas to discuss the future. His girlfriend has been married once before to a Thai guy. She is university-educated and has a good job. Definitely not a bargirl. What is the protocol regarding the sin sot for a second marriage?

Mrs. Stick says: Actually, it should be the same if she was married before or was not married. Your friend must meet with her parents and request for her to marry him. They are expecting this because she already told them before he comes so they agree and then you discuss your plans for your life in the future and talk about work and home and family etc. It's also the time to talk about the sin sot. Even though she was married before, he still must pay a sin sot. It's best you take someone to help you. I think for university-educated lady with a good job it can be 100,000 – 500,000 baht range.

Mr. Stick says: I disagree 100%! The sin sot, while complete and utter nonsense as far as most Westerners are concerned – let's get that out the way first – is supposed to be a reflection of many things about the lady you're marrying such as the position of her family in society, her education and frankly, if she is, umm, errr, "innocent!" If we're going to look at this and examine it honestly, let's spell it out as a Thai man would! If she is spoiled goods – that is how a local man would view it if she was not a virgin, that is very much reflected in the price of the sin sot. It needs to be remember that it really was not that long ago that a Thai woman who had been previously married would simply not be considered marriage material by another Thai man. I think your answer lays there…



I went off Bangkok expat literature for a while. Unless it had the surname Leather, Needham or Moore on the cover, I didn't bother. I've been let down so often that I couldn't face reading anything from anyone else. But I broke my Bangkok book drought this week when I picked up a copy of Sebastian Williams "Send Them To Hell", the latest in a long line of "I did time in a Bangkok prison" books. In all honesty, most titles of this genre are, while morbidly fascinating, a little sensationalist – with the exception of David McMillan's "Escape" which is probably the pick of the bunch. Let's change "is" to "was". "Send Them To Hell" is a very well written book – written by a real author who tells another man's story – and is for me, the best of this genre. If you're after something to read, Asia Books has it in stock. And trust me, if you do read it, you will do everything humanly possible to avoid ever going near a Thai prison. Honestly, I don't know how one could survive in such a place, let alone retain their sanity.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick