Stickman's Weekly Column January 17th, 2010

Benjawan Becker, Looks And Brains Too



A decade ago the Thailand section of local bookshops was dominated by one name. Moore. Christopher G. Moore's works took up most of the shelf space. Chris's fine works are still on the shelves today but where the name Moore once dominated, there is a new challenger. Becker. Who's he? German? English? American? His name seems to be everywhere. He is in fact a she, and she is Thai!

The first time we met a few years back, Benjawan Becker suggested a modest eatery in the Nana area that she later revealed to me was a favourite spot of hers. Belying her hi-so looks and elegant appearance, Benjawan is remarkably friendly and down to earth. She is unmistakably Thai, but manages to combine the best of the East with the best of the West.

Benjawan Becker owns and operates Paiboon Publishing, considered by many to produce the best Thai language learning resources, many of which she put together herself. This week we chatted about life, language learning and how a Thai living abroad views changes in her homeland.

Can you tell me a little about yourself? You're not a Bangkok girl, are you? And neither do you even live in Thailand! Tell me a little bit about yourself, how you made it to the US and how Paiboon Publishing was born.

I was born in Bangkok but my family moved to Yasothon, in Isaan when I was 7 years old. Both my parents are from this area and my family is actually ethnic Lao. I grew up speaking both Thai and Lao.

My father taught my siblings and me English and English was my major when I studied at Khon Kaen University. After graduation I was awarded a scholarship from the Japanese government to study sociology in Japan and I received my Masters degree from Kobe University. At that time, because of the huge economic growth, there were many Thai people working in Japan. Besides learning to speak Japanese fluently I started a Thai translation service to assist the Thai people and began teaching Thai language classes to the Japanese.

My next plan was to study for my PhD in the United States. After arriving in San Francisco I began teaching Thai language classes at Thai temples, at Stanford University and I had many private language students. By this time I had developed my own Thai language teaching materials that were based on my practical experience of what worked and didn't work in my classes.

My PhD plans were put on hold as I established my translation and interpretation business as I had done in Japan. I found that my Thai language teaching materials were very well received and decided to write my own books.

Once I developed my concept into a manuscript I shopped it around to a number of publishers. Almost all of the publishers I submitted to rejected my book proposals outright. The one that seemed interested offered me such a low royalty compensation rate that I'd never make any money. Therefore, with no experience in the publishing business, I decided to publish my own book.

I became a publisher out of necessity so that I could get my Thai language learning materials into the hands of people that wanted it. In the early days we had a table selling Thai for Beginners and Thai for Intermediate Learners on Sukhumvit Road. That was our first outlet and that's how Paiboon Publishing was born!

Wow, I didn't know that. I don't know if you would want a stall on Sukhumvit Road now, especially at night when it takes on a rather dark character. Am I right in saying that while most of the books you publish focus on Thailand and the Thai language, you're actually based in the US and don't spend much time in Thailand these days. Does it make running the company and keeping up to date with what is happening in Thailand a challenge?

Although I am in the San Francisco area a lot of the time, I take extensive trips to Thailand once or twice a year. With the Internet and the current state of technology, running a business over a long distance is not a problem. Spending time in Thailand is not a necessity but a great reward to me since I enjoy being there so much.

And keeping up with news and developments in Thailand is easy with Thai news websites and gossip from my friends. Also I have many Thai friends and colleagues in the US that have strong ties to Thailand. They help me stay abreast of trends and changes going on in Thailand.

Do you prefer living in the US to living in Thailand? Most Thais don't want to leave their homeland but you've been in the USA for ages. What gives?

Actually I love living in both the US and in Thailand. I am very grateful to be able to live in both of these countries. Each has something different and exciting to offer.

San Francisco is one of the premiere cities of the world and you can't beat the weather. With a large Thai population we have the support infrastructure that provides just about anything a Thai person would need or want. Yet living in the US affords certain amenities that don't exist in Thailand.

But Thailand is my home country and will always be. Every time I am there I look forward to seeing my friends, family and my Thai dog, Fu-Fu. There are so many things that I love about Thailand it's hard to even list them. I am truly blessed to be able to have the best of both worlds.

In the decade or so I have been floating around Thailand the country has undergone massive change, some changes for the better, some perhaps not. What changes have you seen in your homeland, and what do you make of them?

Now the bargirls are fat!

Thank you so much for saying that. Now, hopefully, some readers will believe me when I say it!

Actually, Thai people in general are a lot more overweight than they used to be. I believe that in their desire to emulate the Western world Thai people are giving up their healthy eating habits and value systems.

I find Thais, in general, more materialistic and less happy than they used to be. The people in the Land of Smiles were much happier before they were taught that they needed that new cellphone or Mercedes. Good old Western advertising works just as well on Thais to make them feel inadequate without the hottest car or motorcycle. And do we really need whitening deodorant?

You don't know how refreshing it is to hear this from a Thai. When I even hint at or merely imply this sort of thing, I am jumped on by both Thais and foreigners, which can be infuriating.

I enjoy wearing traditional Thai outfits for everyday events. Most Thai women would never think of wearing a traditional skirt or shirt. Yet, when I go to a meeting or out to dinner all the Thai women love what I wear. I would like to see Thai people embrace their Thai cultural identity and be able to feel passionately about being Thai in addition to taking on the trappings of the Western world. I think we can have both.

In addition, I find Thais appropriating a lot of English words into their conversations. As a linguist I find this interesting, but a little disturbing since it will eventually dilute the Thai language in everyday usage. Young Thai people don't know how to speak proper Thai.

I understand that you actually create a lot of the language learning titles yourself. How long does it take to create a volume in your Speak Like A Thai series and what is involved?

Each volume of Speak Like A Thai takes about 4 to 5 months to produce from start to being available for sale in bookstores. I'll begin with an idea for the volume and then begin to research and gather information. Depending on what the subject matter is I might have to do research on the Internet. There is a tremendous amount of information in Thai on the Internet but besides knowing the language it's important to know where to look and how to do Internet searches.

For Speak Like A Thai Volume 5: Northeastern Dialect my aunt and my mother provided the majority of the Isaan phrases. So, each volume requires a different approach for gathering the information.

Once I have written the phrases and accompanying sentences and explanations for the booklet we will record the audio CD using four or more voices. I like the idea of having both male and female voices, both Thai and English, so I write the material with this in mind.

A lot of beginning Thai language learners don't understand the concept of the series, but experienced students appreciate the idea and this series is very popular in Thailand. The Speak Like A Thai series is geared for people who already know some Thai. Each volume in the series is a stand-alone slice of a particular aspect of the Thai language. It is not a complete course in learning Thai. If one wants to learn basic Thai then they would use Thai for Beginners and the Paiboon Thai-English dictionary. I created the Speak series for people to learn the language beyond basic textbook Thai, the type of textbook Thai phrases that they will find in mine or any other beginning Thai language book.

Actually, the Speak Like A Thai series is my dream language learning material. You have to hear it in order to learn. I wish they had these in other languages that I am learning, but unfortunately, they don't exist.

Along with David Smythe, you're one of the gurus of Thai language instruction resources for English speakers. What do you think are the major difficulties and obstacles Westerners face learning Thai?

Unlike English most people are unfamiliar with the Thai language since they don't hear it spoken much outside of Thailand. But it is actually easier to learn basic Thai than it is to learn English. Most people are afraid to cross the line of putting the effort into learning the language but simple conversational Thai is not that difficult and the grammar is easy.

Most students have difficulty with tones, one consonant and 4 vowels, mostly because they are unfamiliar with them. That's why I wrote the book Improving Your Thai Pronunciation. To learn Thai or any new language the student needs to put in the time to practice and study consistently. One of my favorite negative reviews of Thai for Beginners stated, "This book is totally useless unless you are serious about leaning the Thai language."

I hate to think who wrote something as silly as that so I won't ask! What do you think some of the common mistakes Westerners make when learning Thai are?

The most basic mistake in learning Thai is to avoid learning the Thai alphabet and being able to read and write Thai. I created the Paiboon system of transliteration, which we use consistently in all of our publications. Beginning students use it as a crutch to help them learn the sounds of the Thai language. Unfortunately many students never get beyond the crutch and learn to walk. Dependence on the transliteration system does not help you learn Thai to a higher level.

Putting in the effort to learn the alphabet will help advance you in your Thai studies. Once the student has put in the initial effort to learn the alphabet all of their future efforts will show progress, unlike spending the effort to hold on to my transliteration system.

Ah, great, so you agree with me that studying to read and write Thai first is the best way to ultimately reach an advanced level? It's been my one mantra about learning Thai – make sure you learn to read and write.

Definitely yes! As I explained, holding on to a transliteration system, mine or anyone's, will not help advance your Thai studies. The quicker a student puts in the effort to learn to read and write Thai, the faster they will reach their goal of mastering the Thai language.

Much is made of what is sometimes termed "bargirl Thai", what those who spend a lot of time with the girls in the bar industry pick up – a lot of words from Isaan and terms not commonly heard outside the industry. Do you think this is a problem for these guys and do you think everyday Thais would work out where these words were picked up?

In general most Thais are very forgiving and also very appreciative when a Westerner speaks or even attempts to speak some Thai. Therefore, I would encourage all Westerners to learn to speak Thai. How a Thai person will interpret the language spoken by the Westerner will depend a lot on the social status of that Thai person.

Thais are quite judgmental plus our society is very structured and stratified. So to a Thai person that is more educated, the "bargirl Thai" spoken by a Westerner would not be appreciated the same as a Thai that works within the industry.

And that brings up another issue. How are Westerners able to associate and make friends with Thais that are in a higher social and educational class than the typical service industry worker?

Our publication Thailand Fever, although a very good expose of Thai society, only shines a light on a small segment of Thai women; the segment that most Westerners will be able to meet in the service industry. Westerners will typically only be able to interact with hotel staff, restaurant workers, taxi drivers and other service industry Thais.

Unfortunately, without the ability to speak Thai properly, access to all the other levels of Thai society are almost closed to Westerners. Therefore, a major segment of the population is inaccessible to many Westerners. This also has a major impact on the Westerners' perceived notion of who and what Thai people are. If one can only associate with a segment of the population that view might be quite limited.

To answer your question, yes, Thai people will easily determine where the Westerner spent time learning their Thai and they will develop an opinion. The exact opinion will depend on the particular background of the Thai person.

Do you personally know many, or even any Westerners, who have reached true fluency in the Thai language?

Actually I do know quite a few Westerners that have a high degree of the command of the Thai language, so it isn't impossible. The majority of the Western people I know that speak Thai very well are involved in Thai language studies in some way. Some are teachers of Thai while others have translation or interpretation businesses. The unifying thread is that all of these people are using Thai as a part of a business beyond casual conversation needs. Possibly it takes an additional incentive to inspire some people to really master a language. For me it's just the satisfaction in learning a new language.

I wrote a column recently outlining some of the arguments against learning Thai. With the level of spoken English in Thailand getting better and better, do you think that frequent visitors and residents even need to be able to speak the language?

It really depends on what someone wants to get out of their experiences and their level of interest. Yes, I agree there are many Westerners living in Thailand that do not need to learn much Thai to live a somewhat comfortable life in some areas of Thailand. Those areas would be the most touristy places in the country. But, beyond these isolated areas of tourist havens, not being able to speak Thai will probably make a Westerner's life in Thailand more complicated and potentially more frustrating. It will also separate them from all the wonderful daily interactions with the native people.

Would you consider moving to the UK or Australia and live happily ever after never having a casual conversation with a local about politics, a football game or the neighbor that crashed his motorcycle last night?

Most Westerners who don't speak Thai are living on the surface of Thai society without understanding what makes Thai people laugh or motivates them to react in the unexpected ways they sometimes do. My Speak Like A Thai series explains not only phrases and slang and heart words but also the meaning that Thai people associate with these words and phrases. Getting to know the language opens up how the native people think and process information and what they value.

So it's up to the individual what they want from their time in Thailand. Of course I will always feel that learning the language is the key to learning the people and affords the deepest experience but I realise other people have other priorities and each must determine what is best for them.

What general advice would you give foreigners studying Thai?

Buy our Paiboon products.

Seriously now, check out the various Thai language learning materials available. See which ones have a beginning Thai book and an intermediate and advanced book. Do you want to stop at the beginning level or want to continue your studies? Which books come with an audio CD? It's difficult if not impossible to learn Thai without an audio CD to listen to.

A dictionary is indispensable when learning a new language.

I have to admit that I really like your dictionary and it is the only one I use, the one that sits next to my computer.

Check out all the dictionaries available to find one you like. Our Thai-English dictionaries use the same transliteration system that we use in our language books. You don't have to learn another system to use our dictionaries with our books. In April we will be coming out with the PC software version of our Thai-English dictionary with spoken Thai words for all entries. Soon after our cell phone version will be available. It will be very convenient to have your dictionary on your cell phone.

Each person learns differently. Do you prefer a book or software? Do you learn from singing along to songs? Are you a visual person and prefer to watch a video to learn Thai? At Paiboon Publishing we carry all of these.

Try a few different books and methods. Maybe you prefer the structure and approach of another author. Maybe you enjoy or find another transliteration system easier to use. Find out what Thai language learning materials work best for you and use those. But also see how far you can go using the system and products offered. If you are comfortable with the depth of Thai language materials offered go with them. When I start learning a new language I buy dozens of books and try them all. I finally settle on one or two that work for me.

One of my favourite books of yours is Thai Law For Foreigners. It's dry, but there's a lot of meat in there – which is what I personally want from such a resource. Has it sold well?

I can see you haven't read many law books if you think Thai Law for Foreigners is dry. Most law books are excruciatingly boring and convoluted. We tried hard to live up to the subtitle of the book, The Thai Legal System Easily Explained.

The book has sold quite well. We wanted to make it a good resource book, but also a good starting point for further research with all the references and websites. Besides sales to individuals we sell a lot of copies to schools, institutions and government agencies. And lawyers are very interested in the book.

The book grew out of my experience as a registered legal court interpreter in the US. I've interpreted for Thai and Lao people on thousands of legal matters from attempted murder, domestic violence and driving under the influence to prenuptials and divorce matters. I have an extensive knowledge of the US legal system and wanted to use my experience to write a law book helping to explain the legal system in Thailand to foreigners.

I established the table of contents based on what I determined to be the most important issues facing foreigners. The book also includes sample forms that would be most useful for Westerners living in Thailand. I tried to keep it interesting by writing stories about some potential experiences like driving, getting married in Thailand and even an average day in a Thai prison.

One may question why the book is bilingual, both Thai and English if the title is Thai Law For Foreigners. The bilingual aspect came about as a result of our other publication Retiring in Thailand. One of the biggest complaints we received about Retiring in Thailand came from Thai people who wanted it in Thai. Many Thai people living outside of Thailand have worked hard for many years, have been successful in their business ventures and now want to return to their homeland and retire. They wanted and needed a guidebook to tell them the same things any Westerner would need to do, how do I transfer my retirement funds to Thailand etc. Therefore, a substantial amount of sales of Thai Law For Foreigners is actually to Thai people who want to understand the Thai legal system.

Perhaps the best known title in your range of books is not one of the language learning volumes, but the love handbook, "Thailand Fever". May I ask how many copies it has sold? Are there any plans for a follow up or a revised or edited edition?

Thailand Fever has sold very well and along with our Thai language series is consistently one of our best sellers. Thailand Fever was written by Chris Pirazzi and Vitida Vansant and published by Paiboon Publishing. The authors have talked about a follow-up book but there is nothing currently planned.

I will be starting work on a new book this year, which in a way takes the next step in the Thailand Fever experience. Next month I will be working on the Interpreter's Journal, based on my experiences with Thai and Lao people living in the US. It will be a memoir not a reference book and I intend to make it humorous and filled with slice-of-life experiences of Thai and Lao people married to Westerners and living in the US. It will take the courting and honeymoon phase charted in Thailand Fever to the married and realities of living in a foreign country phase.

This book deals with the difficulties facing Westerners and Thais in cross cultural relationships. I have said many times that sometimes the differences are just too great to overcome – not for everyone, but for many couples, especially when there is a large age or education mismatch. What do you make of that?

I know many couples with the same backgrounds and education level and language and they still have difficult relationships. Hey, relationships are hard work for everyone. Add on all the other aspects of differences in education, age, language and cultural backgrounds and it becomes even more difficult.

Again, it has a lot to do with personal preferences and desires and here it means from both sides. The more traditional and rigid someone is the less likely they will be willing to change. There is no way a Westerner and a Thai couple will be able to survive without a massive amount of compromise and empathy. I agree that this is difficult but not necessarily impossible, but it takes two unique individuals. Without empathy for the other person's feelings and background no relationship will last.

We published Thailand Fever in the attempt to dispel or explain some of those cultural differences. And we have had many emails telling us that our book has helped many people. But, words on paper do not change a person. If the feelings for the other person do not override one's own personal comfort zone then change will not happen and the relationship will not last.

Has publishing this book made you become something of an agony aunt for those in such relationships? Do you have any funny or humorous stories to share?

True, we periodically get emails from people wanting advice on their relationships, which we forward to the authors. In fact there have been so many requests for relationship consultations that the co-author Vitada Vasant started her own translation and relationship coaching service. You can check out her website.

We had a Thai woman call our Bangkok office complaining that her Western boyfriend read Thailand Fever and called off their wedding. She wanted us to know that we had published a "bad book"!

Another incident occurred when we received a rush order for the book from a Western man and a week later we got a phone call from him asking to return the book and get a refund because he broke up with his Thai girlfriend.

We also heard a story from a Western man that after reading the book his Thai girlfriend started limiting the number of family members staying in their apartment. She only had her mom and two sisters and their kids stay with them and this would allow her boyfriend to have his Western style privacy at home that she read about in the book.

Another consequence of publishing Thailand Fever is the number of unsolicited manuscripts we receive from Western men who have spent a year or more living in Thailand dating Thai girls and have written the most informative novel on the subject. Although this is not the type of book we publish we do seem to attract the attention of many would-be authors.

Send them my way, I'll happily run their stories as readers' submissions. So what does the future hold for you and Paiboon Publishing?

We are very excited here at Paiboon Publishing about all the new products we will be releasing shortly.

Last month we launched the first in our new series, Thai Hits Vol. 1, the unique way to learn Thai with brand new songs. I wrote 6 new songs. Each song focuses on an aspect of the Thai language like heart words, abbreviations, etc. Three of the song lyrics on the album are in the public domain but our young and talented Thai musicians created new music for these songs.

Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1 is available now in bookstores in Thailand and from our website and many of the standard ways that we sell our product. It includes a printed booklet, which explains all the songs and has our guide to pronunciation.

We are also expanding our sales channels since our Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1 is also available as downloads from iTunes, Rhapsody, Amazon, Emusic, Napster and from our Paiboon Publishing website. From these sites our customers can buy one song or the entire album.

We created music videos to promote the songs and they are posted on YouTube. If you click on the "see more" link on the right side of the page you will see all 10 videos.

The music videos on YouTube have been so successful that we are currently working on the DVD version, which should be out in a few months.

This is a link to the product description on our Paiboon Publishing website for Thai Hit Songs Vol. 1.

Another exciting development is the upcoming launch of our software version of our new Three Way Thai-English dictionary. We will first be issuing a software version for Windows PC and later an iPhone version and eventually on other platforms. The software version will be ready for download and in stores by the beginning of April.

I can safely say there is nothing on the market that can compare to the quality and features that we will have in our software dictionary. It includes a spoken word for each entry by a native Thai speaker (me) not a computerized voice. People should check our Paiboon Publishing website in the coming months to see when it is available.

Also, I will be releasing volume 7 of my Speak Like A Thai series, which will be Thai Abbreviations and Formal Thai. This product should be in bookstores by the end of March.

And if you haven't had enough, in about a year look for The Interpreter's Journal.


Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken looking down Sukhumvit soi 10 with the large fence on the right separating the soi from Chuwit Park. 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 correctly guess the photo wins a signed copy of Stephen Leather's superb Private Dancer, which many refer to as "the bible". It's widely regarded as the best novel set in Thailand's bar scene! We have a new prize on offer this week! The third person to get the photo right wins a copy of Jake Needham's excellent "The Big Mango" which is the only Thailand book other than Leather's Dancer that I have read twice!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. To claim the book prizes you must provide a postal address within Thailand now. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week!

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 – Those great actresses.

Last week I was in a beer bar in Pattaya, drinking with the owner. A huge woman from Northern England walked in and announced that she wanted to get drunk. Apparently she and hubby had had a bust up and he was still in the hotel. Actually I can imagine he was going mental being in Pattaya with her, wondering where he had gone wrong in life! She summoned a group of bargirls and started ordering shots for her and the girls. She must have gone through at least 15 rounds. It only took about an hour before she was semi-conscious. The girls were wholeheartedly joining the raucous drunken fun. Then, checkbin time. There was quite a tricky time getting her to fork out for the bill in her state but she eventually did. Then something miraculous happened. All the girls suddenly underwent an instant return to complete sobriety, totally recovered and went about their normal business. They called a taxi and helped her into the back. They had of course all been drinking water! All the drunken raucousness had been a total act and they had been brilliant at it. After all, that's what bargirls do every day, act. It was a great fun to watch and see how adept they had been.

He really was different.

Early last year I had a few hours to wait at the airport before my flight and was sitting with a couple of policemen just inside the departure doors when I was approached by a fellow Australian with a sad story of a lost wallet and no money to get a ticket home. I have lived and worked in Thailand for 18 years and have heard many scam stories, but for some reason this one sounded different. I lent him some money and even one of the policemen rolled his eyes in disbelief. When I next returned to Australia 4 months later I had a phone call from the guy and he wanted to pay me back. To cut a long story short, the full amount has been paid back and when I am next in Perth we will have a beer together. I would not recommend throwing money at the next guy that comes along but this guy was obviously in some distress. I have been in positions all my life dealing with employees and can usually pick a bullshitter in a few minutes.

Don't go cheap and expect civility.

Reading the comments in today's column, "Early morning sitting in a family style restaurant in my budget hotel on New Year's Day in Pattaya…" If you're going to stay in a budget hotel in Pattaya, then what do you expect but lager louts at breakfast? They haven't got any education, so their income is limited, and therefore these are the type of places they tend to stay. Spend a few hundred baht extra and stay somewhere nicer and you won't have to put up with it, farang keeneow.

To the locals, pigeon holing is quite normal.

Rather interesting in your weekly tonight you talked about the crappy offensive emails you received re: your article of the previous week. Bloody idiots, don't they understand that Thais do judge people by their partners and gossip seems to be a favourite pastime. Thais, as we know, are heavily class-centred. So many farangs can't seem to understand this and seem to think their bargirl wife can mix in Thai society as an equal with those from a very different strata. Even I have noticed the comments made at markets about the ex-bargirl mia farangs. When at the local market, my wife and I were served ahead of an ex-bargirl and her husband. My little Thai nephew talked one day of his two girlfriends at school, both called Chompoo – Chompoo Lek and Chompoo Yai. The nephew's school teacher mother said words to the effect of Chompoo Lek can never be your girlfriend because her mother is a Pattaya bargirl! A little bit weird perhaps, but it showed her thinking. It will always upset those who can't see this part of Thai thinking.

The argument for the new (as yet, unopened) airport link train.

I for one will use the new airport link. I firmly believe that my death will occur while being driven in a Bangkok taxi along an expressway. Flimsy tin cans, no seat belts, being driven by someone who has no idea of defensive driving. For the moment I use the AOT limo or some other similar service; I can't wait for the airport link to start. Fortunately I don't travel with the kitchen sink and my apartment is near a BTS station.

The argument against the new (as yet, unopened) airport link train.

Let me share a few thoughts about the airport rail link. The position of the city terminal is right in the heart of traffic jam central. Many visitors getting off the train there will be looking for a taxi, perhaps to a hotel to the south of the station. Not a journey I would fancy. As I understand it, taxis leaving the station will have to head north. The city terminal is little more than 100 metres from an underground station. Why is there no tunnel linking them? Surely that would be a great convenience to the travelling public. Will the rail link be a success? I am not sure. If I were headed south of the city terminal, I would choose a taxi from the airport every time.

When paranoia sets in.

I am desperate for information and I think that you might be able to answer a few of my questions. Last week while in Bangkok, I made the mistake of kissing a freelance prostitute. I am now extremely paranoid that I could have contracted an STD. I am not sure if I should tell my parents so that I can go see a doctor about it. Do any of these girls get tested for STDs at clinics regularly? The girl I was with seemed very clean and her apartment as well but I guess this means almost nothing.

Pattaya baht bus troubles.

This year in Pattaya I have noticed more than ever hostile baht bus drivers, especially late at night. Many are reluctant to take a passenger who will jump straight on as they want to negotiate a price, always a ridiculous amount. I have also been shouted at for being too slow in getting off and paying the driver and thrown around like a bean in a can by furious driving. Conversely the buses that ignore you try to run you over or insist on stopping right on you when trying to cross the murderous Second Road.

The Arab strikes again and his pursuit to be the sole operator in Soi Cowboy continues relentlessly. It can be confirmed that Soi Cowboy's biggest landlord is behind the purchases of both Tony's Bar and Joe's Bar. I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, his bars are slick and he is the driving force behind Soi Cowboy's neon revolution. Tony's and Joe's are throw backs to an era long passed, when the girls were older, friendlier and Cowboy was a haven for those who wanted a more laid back atmosphere, very much the quiet cousin of Nana and Patpong. It's a safe bet that the wall between these two bars will be knocked out and a new, larger gogo bar built. The way he runs his bars, I guess we can expect sour girls in a flash bar. Frankly, his formula is getting boring.

For fans of Boddington's, Bangkok Beat will be the first venue in town to offer it on draught.

As much as I'm not a fan of The Arab, I have to admit that one of his bars, Cowboy 2, is doing particularly well at the moment. Sometimes it isn't easy to find a seat – and that is saying something in what is a sizeable bar. But don't think I like it. I most certainly do not!

A dance party will be held on January 22nd at Black Pagoda in Patpong, that's this coming Friday. The event will be called Deca Dance and there won't be a cover charge. It features DJ Junior and the drinks specials include buy one bottle of black label and get a second free.

Birthday suits remain the order of the day in Nana but it would seem despite supposedly getting the green light, bar owners are still jittery about showing. In two of the Rainbow bars there was the subtle flashing of the house lights and then the not so subtle, and in fact hugely comical scene of nude dancers leaping off stage and making a mad dash for the changing shed to cover up while at the very same time being replaced on stage by bikini-clad girls. It must have been a practice run because no-one in brown appeared on either occasion I saw it happen. The way the girls do it, laughing and smiling, is one of those "only in Bangkok sights" I love. I guess there's more to the whole Nana showing issue than meets the eye.

And just to reinforce this point, the cops came sniffing in Nana on Wednesday night and seemed to focus in on a certain large bar on the top floor run by a Czech. I wonder why that was?!

Showing and the anticipation that there will be a revival at Nana Plaza has got a lot of mongers who've been around for a while excited. The saliva is dribbling out of their mouths and they are licking their lips in anticipation. But just why are they getting so excited when most agree that Cowboy is better? As good as Cowboy is now – and it is very good – it is NOTHING on what Nana was like in its hay day. In the late '90s, Nana Plaza was out of this world and about as good as the industry could be, I reckon. And that is why the change in birthday suit policy has many excited. Can it return to its former glory? A lot has changed in the last decade and it's hard to see the clock being turned back completely, but for sure, a revival at Nana is something to get excited about.

There was another altercation in Nana this week when a drunkard had words with a bouncer outside a certain farang-owned bar and came off second best. You might be able to get away with calling a bouncer a cunt in the West but it doesn't work here. Ain't it funny that most bouncers speak hardly any English but have excellent comprehension when it comes to being cussed?

The face of nightlife in Bangkok seems to be evolving and becoming more cosmopolitan with more and more bars allowing entry to those they may have excluded in the past. Most likely the dancers' vote will be the deciding factor, but the days when Indians and Africans were prohibited entry into some venues seems to be consigned to history. So long as you're not a Thai male, you're welcome in most places.

If you're someone who watches their pennies, Frog Bar, one of the busiest beer bars on Walking Street is one venue you may wish to avoid. There is a disturbing trend of the girls ordering lady drinks without asking and putting them on your tab and if that is not bad enough, if she makes it one of the so-called "special lady drinks" for which the price is 200 baht. That doesn't seem to be putting many off and Frog Bar remains one of the busiest beer bars in Pattaya.

Which makes me wonder if the concept of "double lady drinks" that is apparently all the rage in Angeles City in the Philippines will take off here. There is every reason that it will – the girls and the owners would benefit greatly.

For visitors to Pattaya who have had enough of the Russians and are thinking of trying somewhere else in the Kingdom, cross Phuket off your list. It would seem that the trickle of Russians down to paradise island is turning into a steady stream and now there's a new Eastern European / Russian gogo in Patong! The venue is nicely fitted out and the long-legged dancers put on a good show, but avoid it unless you have plenty of folding stuff.

The Sunrise Tacos Sukhumvit Road branch, located between sois 12 and 14, will rise like a phoenix from the ashes and reopen this coming Wednesday, January 21. As mentioned in last week's column, it was closed because of damage from a fire in the kitchen. Like the phoenix it will be better than before as they were able to remodel and have put in a new area where you can watch the tortillas being made fresh. They have also expanded the fresh salsa bar which will now have its own island in the middle of the restaurant where guests can help themselves to fresh salsa at no charge. Rumour has it that owner Greg has booked a ticket to visit the city of the sun, Heliopolis, next month with a small box.

Bangkok's Lolita's, in the first side soi on the right off Sukhumvit soi 8, has a bunch of pretty new faces. Be sure to say hi to Miss Cream when you visit, a most appropriate name for a Lolita's girl. Just don't ask her whether she likes the job or not. She always says the same, "This job sucks!"

Things are heating up in Toxic, the club on the ground floor of Town Lodge down at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 18. It's growing slowly, but boy oh boy, are there some hotties there or what?! Toxic is open from 7 PM – 2 AM and if the lovelies pictured here appeal to you, don't be slow in getting over there.

The government has announced that it will continue to waive the fee for single entry tourist visas until the end of the year. Previously they were to be free until March but the policy has been extended. For holders of passports from Western countries, you will get 30 days on arrival at the airport, or 15 days if you arrive at a border point overland. A tourist visa obtained at an embassy or consulate outside the country will get you permission to stay for 60 days – and it can be easily extended for another 30 days in country.

Why is it that waitresses in some naughty bars squeal if you request more than one checkbin per person? They should in fact be delighted because in all likelihood each punter will tip a few baht, rather than just one tip for what would otherwise have been just one bill – and the waitresses and all of the service staff who share in the tips, will benefit. Silly girls.

And while I am on the subject of questioning why the girls do what they do, why do bargirls go crazy over that Michael Learns To Rock song, "That's Why (You Go Away)"? They go into this weird sort of soppy trance. I can remember in the late '90s in the Thermae the way almost all the girls went plain weird when that song came on and today, irrespective of venue, they're still doing! What is it with that song?

For bargain hunters, the Sportsman in Washington Square has bottled beer at 75 baht from 12 – 4 PM every day and you can play pool for free at that time too. On Thursday night it's 75 baht a bottle all night long.

The wrecking of the Living Room bar as reported in the major Phuket English language newspaper was much exaggerated with the battle of the lager louts on the small soi outside the bar near the Seduction Disco. They grabbed chairs from the bar to use as weapons but the local police chief Superintendent Grissak marched in to the fray and arrested the lot of them. For a small guy, he certainly has a commanding presence and must be one of the most active senior police officers in the local force, walking the Bangla beat several times a night.

Business has been ok in Bangkok this past week. On Tuesday night Tilac was packed early, a little after 8PM and I could not find a seat – or at least not a decent seat. I hate those stools and decided to go elsewhere. And then on Friday night Cowboy was again very busy with the bigger, more popular bars packed. The girl count seems to be recovering as customers return to their corner of Farangland – and send their long term barfines back to the bars.

The doctor sat next to 2 punters from the UK who had their wives in tow, and they inquired about ping pong ball shows. The doctor said to them that Patpong would have those shows, and that Long Gun did some shows like it. So apparently there remains demand for such depravity.

How long will it be before someone tampers with the ATM machine recently installed in Soi Cowboy? Alternatively, the place to rob someone who made an ATM withdrawal would be where those withdrawing cash are wasted – and Soi Cowboy meets that criteria.

No, Central Lad Prao is not part of Rachadapisek Road but my oh my, you could have been mistaken for thinking it was. What an amazing bunch of truly beautiful women can be seen in the Starbucks there – just like looking at the fish bowl in one of the massage parlours of Rachada where you get real beauties, not the riff raff so typical of Sukhumvit. As you sit back in your comfortable seat near the front window in Starbucks there's a constant flow of absolute knock outs walking past and with the escalators right in front of you, you get a fantastic view. These birds are seriously hot. It's like it's a day trip for all the staff from one of the massage parlours.

The old manager from Charley Brown's, David, became disillusioned with Phuket and has returned to the capital – and back into his old job. He has revamped the whole place – inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, the kitchen and has put in place a new menu and even new uniforms are on the way. And business is said to be way up too. Charley Brown's, pictured here, is in a small sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 11, the same one as Cheap Charlies.

O'Reilly's on Silom is making a come back. They have a great Irish band on Mondays and Thursdays called the Roaring Bhoys which kicks off at 9:30. They used to play Molly Malone's in Phuket. There's also a quiz night every Tuesday at 7:30 with some good prizes to be won.

I came across a decent restaurant review site for Bangkok. Worth checking out if you're looking for somewhere new to dine.

Bus Stop on soi 4 still does decent food at give away prices but the venue, a Bangkok landmark and a bastion of Aussie culture, seems to be sputtering these days with few girls and fewer customers. It's a venue I've always liked and once again I have to congratulate the owners for refusing to increase food prices. They do a wonderful cheeseburger for under a hundred baht and matched with their excellent potato wedges, it's a great way to start the evening. The doc and I often start the evening there and always enjoy it.

Quote of the week comes from a friend who was talking about his regular. "She appreciates the attention I pay her." Yeah mate, she is in it for the "attention"!

Reader's story of the week from Rahiri is brutally honest, "About Mongering, Hypocrisy, Reality and Consequences".

From the Sydney Morning Herald, Thailand blames its critics for the refugees' removal.

From the Herald Sun, an Aussie on honeymoon is killed while on a day tour in Phuket.

300,000 baht of gold is ripped from a Finnish fellow's neck in Pattaya.

A Russian tourist is cut in half in Pattaya!

The Vietnam News Agency reports the country is outdoing Thailand in exports to the USA.

Scientists remain concerned about Bangkok sinking.

The BBC reports that 20 years on, the Thais are trying to fix the rift with the Saudis dating back to the jewellery issue.

The FT's latest interesting article on Thailand is titled "Faded Smiles".

Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1: I have a relationship with a Thai Chinese girl. She works very hard, beyond what she should be doing. Her dad passed away in October and she took a loan on her credit card to help her dad for about 300,000 baht. He passed away. Now she has to pay 15,000 baht every month for the next 2.5 years. She is very depressed about her living conditions right now. This girl has had a tough upbringing and if she had been born in my country she would be a rocket scientist by now. Now she only has 70 baht a day for food. I adore this girl and she knows the problems for me taking care of her. She doesn't like that. She wants to be independent! What is the right thing to do for me? We are only friends but I care for her so much and maybe one day, who knows? She is so bright! What can I do? Her mum is asking for money but her mum doesn't understand the situation. Her mum has no clues about her debt and refuses to understand. What is this all about? Zero compassion! Here mum is only 57 years old but she craves money. What do you think?

Mrs. Stick says: I think your mother must know about this situation and the money problem. Why does she ask for more? It's not right. If her mother doesn't know about it, your girlfriend must tell her. If her mother does know about it then I don't like to say. Is she your girlfriend? I think it is very nice if you can support her. It is up to you.

Mr. Stick says: 300,000 baht "loan" on a credit card? Mrs. Stick has a very good salary but her credit card credit limit is nowhere near 300k baht. This smells to me.

Question 2: I would like to ask a question about my Thai wife. She is from Chiang Mai and has been living with me for 3 years in The Netherlands. She works as a caregiver for the elderly. Her job contract ends soon. A few years ago she inherited some land from her grandfather. She was sending money to her parents every month to build a house. That is, money she earned herself by working. She sent a debit card to her parents in Chiang Mai and they have direct access to her account. My view is to build a future outside Thailand and share expenses. As I get paid much more than her with my work, I also pay much more. She does pay some expenses but yet I am not happy because I feel she has put the house there as a much higher priority. Last year I found out that she borrowed 300,000 bath extra to finish the house. She never told me this and made me believe the house would be paid for and finished first in 2008, then in 2009 she tells me 'my parents say it is more expensive so I need to send 300 Euro a month for the next 2 years. The money itself is not bothering me too much, but I am concerned about her priorities. Would culture be the issue? As far as I am concerned, what she wants, especially the way she goes about getting it, is unacceptable and I don't like being lied to. For me this is a good reason for a divorce. If possible, would you give me advice?

Mrs. Stick says: Our parents bring us into this world and do everything to prepare us for life. They make big sacrifices for us. So now we have a responsibility to them and we can never repay everything they did for us. So we try to do everything we can to make them happy, comfortable and proud of us. We can look after them, buy them things they need and live our life in a good way to make them proud of us. Building a house for parents is one of the most honourable things we can do for them so I think it is normal for her to do this.

Mr. Stick says: I can feel your disappointment. Your wife most likely expects you to put her first and do everything you can for her, yet here she is putting her parents ahead of you! You have every reason to feel disappointed by this and every right to be angry if you feel she has misled you. If a Thai woman puts her parents first – as many Thai women married to foreigners do – it's very difficult to get her to understand how you feel. I guess you need to sit down with her and "negotiate" what the priorities for the marriage are, what your future plans together are and from that what your respective responsibilities in the marriage are so that those plans can be realised. Don't expect it to be easy though!

Question 3: I'd like to hear your views about how it is girls come to choose the bars they work in. We've all been in those bars full of plain girls with one or two glamorous. When you ask the glamorous girls why they chose to work there, they always say because their friend / cousins etc works there. Why don't they leave and go to a bar where they'd get barfined just about every night and make a mint? Is it A) they're loyal to the mamasan and other girls or B) they're shy about going to work at a bar where they don't know anyone, or even too shy to even ask a mamasan about a job or C) they're simply comfortable working where they are, make enough to get by and see no need to move, or D) is it something more nefarious? Would there be nasty consequences for them if they leave? I was speaking to a bar owner a while back, and he was frustrated at his attempts to woo staff to his bar, even though the monthly wage and number of customers was far better than in other bars. He put it down to the girls, saying their short-term thinking meant they were only concerned with getting by, providing for their kid / mother etc, rather than making real money.

Mr. Stick says: To answer this question, you first need to understand the background of these girls. Most come from rural Isaan, a traditional, male-dominated part of society. These women don't tend to travel far and are generally only familiar with and comfortable in their own village / town. When they first arrive in Bangkok or Pattaya, they are overwhelmed by everything. The whole environment is like nothing they have experienced. Thais tend to trust those they know so girls who have made the decision to enter the industry will take the advice of their friends / relatives and work in an establishment where they know someone. When a girl enters the industry, she has no idea that Rainbow 4 or Angelwitch or Tilac or Peppermint do the best business. They know about the industry, of course, but not the individual bars, or even how the bars in Pattaya or Bangkok or Phuket are different. It takes them a long time to work that out and even after years in the industry they still might not know. There's A LOT of lies told by the girls to other girls and many don't know the difference between fantasy and reality. That's one reason why Bangkok girls might say "Pattaya girls are no good", and vice versa. Some really believe this! Incidentally, for many Thais – and I am not talking about the bar scene here – they would be happiest working entirely with people they know or with family members. If everyone in the workplace was a family member that would be ideal for them! So to answer your question, generally girls will go where they know someone already.



My monopoly of your Sunday continues and this week the column is almost 10,000 words. It was 11,000 words 90 minutes before publishing time but then I pulled out the broad sword and chopped away at the last minute, leaving it just short of that milestone. I don't know quite how I feel about putting together a column so lengthy. Is it like smashing a double century at Lords, or is it more like a boring old professor whose lecture just goes on and on and on…?



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick