Stickman's Weekly Column January 31st, 2010

From Participant To Spectator



My introduction to Thai bargirls was unexpected. In Phuket on holiday with a mate who had a thing for Asian birds, I joked that he would be dragging back girls to the hotel night after night. But it didn't work out that way. On our third night we ended up at Rock Hard A Gogo. He took a tuktuk back over the hill to our hotel at Karon. I spent the night in Patong.

Moving to Bangkok was never about the women but after discovering Nana Plaza I started to enjoy the bar industry more and more. Nana Plaza was in its hay day and I was a regular. I enjoyed the gogo bars immensely but it was discovering the Thermae when the addiction really began.

I've talked numerous times about how ending up at The Thermae was part of my Saturday night routine in my early days in Bangkok. I loved the atmosphere back then at what was similar only in name to today's Thermae.

I would find someone in the Thermae most weeks. Sometimes she had a real job, most times she didn't. She would hang around for much of the next day. As a new kid on the block it was fun enjoying simple things like a movie or lunch and discovering new places and visiting new neighbourhoods. Often the girls were new to Bangkok too and it was very much the blind leading the blind.

I would visit Nana early in the evening, drift down Cowboy and eventually the Thermae. I'd yet to make any genuine friends and spent a lot of time exploring parts of Sukhumvit alone. The only online resources at that time were ASFO which was for the hardcore and the Sanuk Fun in Thailand page, what I consider to be the first real Thailand nightlife site. I preferred to find out things for myself.

I never barfined much back then, a combination of being tight and being on a teacher's salary. So the Thermae was my haunt.

When a Canadian I met soon after moving to Thailand relocated here a year later I started to spend more time in the gogos. We hit Patpong often where the selection of girls was exquisite. I often felt like barfining in Patpong but the girls quoted prices that were beyond me. 4 or even 5,000 baht requests in Patpong in the late '90s were not unheard of. I remember once agreeing for a girl to come back to my place at the end of the shift because I could not afford both the barfine and her fee. It was much more common back then and I never recall bars preventing the girls from meeting guys at the end of the night – as is the case today. The girls have always been in it for the money, of course, but they were much less brazen back then and seemed to respect you if you said you wouldn't pay bar but would still be keen to meet her after the bar had closed.

Soi Cowboy was nothing like it is today. Today it's Bangkok's best bar area, successfully replicating what made Nana Plaza so popular in the late 90s – lots of pretty neon and bars full of pretty girls. The atmosphere at Cowboy was different, much quieter. Long Gun was the only bar ever full. In any other bar there would be but a small number of customers. Even on a Friday or Saturday night you could have your choice of where to sit in almost any bar. I would chat with girls at length and never be asked to buy a drink. Shameful in retrospect that sometimes I didn't offer to buy. I guess I barfined a dozen or so times from Soi Cowboy, less than some guys do in a 2-week holiday. It's hard to remember really, it's so long ago but I don't think it would have been more than that.

I strain to recall the few times I paid bar in Nana and when I try to break it down to the different bars it becomes easier. Angelwitch springs to mind when the baron of Baronbonk fame won a free barfine voucher and sold it to me at a 100 baht discount. Once from a Rainbow bar, once from Hollywood and I think that's about it.

There was a waitress from Carnival, the top floor Nana bar, who used to visit me every other night when she finished work back in the second half of 2000, a dark period in my life. When the chips were down, she was a bright light. That's something I liked about the bargirls. They can be nice even if you make zero effort. She'd call me, check I was awake and if I was, she would be knocking on my apartment door a few minutes later. Security downstairs was generally pretty good but after 2 AM the security guard would be fast asleep.

I think the apartment building staff liked me. I helped them with various little things like correcting the English on the notices around the building and helping the owner's kids with their English homework. One of the receptionists once pulled me aside and asked me if I could ever marry a prostitute. If ever there was a question I wasn't expecting, that was it. I feigned ignorance to which she said something along the lines of the reception staff not understanding why I brought a different girl back each week. Why couldn't I find just one "nice girl" to be my girlfriend? She stressed the word "nice". They were perplexed at my routines although I was far from the only one in the building. If I couldn't sleep late at night I would turn the TV to the channel from the camera in the lobby and watch my neighbours coming back for the evening, and check out their date du jour.

I used to take frequent weekend trips to Pattaya. If I was going to pay a barfine, it was more likely to be in Sin City than in Bangkok. I found myself in Pattaya often in late 2000, always on Friday and Saturday nights. I'd hit the gogos early evening, visiting bars many of which no longer exist today before hitting sois 7 and 8, or Second Road, where 200 baht would be parted with and back to the Apex Hotel it would be, my first choice hotel back then.

I've never really given much thought to how many bargirls I went with. It must have been more than 50 but certainly less than 100. And it's kind of funny looking back at it now. The girls I barfined were very different from the girls I later dated. I used to often go for the stereotypical Isaan girl, small in stature with dark skin and a flat nose. It's not a look that excites me today. No tattoos was a strict rule but funnily enough I was never too bothered about that with the regular girls – although with that said they're not that common in regular society. The bar maidens would teach me Thai and occasionally some Isaan. Even back then I would go out with a pen and paper (these days it's to make notes for the column) to write down new words. Much of the Isaan language is spoken, not written, and I slowly developed a feeling for it. Ironically, I would use it against them later when I wore my PI hat.

The very first time I went with a Thai bargirl, Noi at Rock Hard more than a decade ago – there's always a Noi, isn't there – I was paranoid I would catch something. For the next couple of weeks every time I went to the bathroom I would study my manhood for changes in colour or appearance that might be the first sign that I had contracted something. I really was green. I slowly got over the worry of contracting an STD and when I eventually turned my back on bar maidens I couldn't help but feel I had dodged a bullet.

I enjoyed the bargirl years. Having girls come on to you or be receptive to your advances, even if you know they're working girls, can do wonders for a guy. I still remember saying to my old friend Whosyourdaddy in Angels Disco late one night that all of the girls were looking at us. He corrected me and said, "No, they're all looking at you". Don't listen to any old guys who say the girls don't care for young guys. They most certainly do! Of course I still venture to the bars a few nights every week, but the girls know. They don't see the hunger in your eyes. They leave you because they know there's nothing in it for them.

So what happened? Why did I go from participant to spectator?

It's something I have thought about a lot recently. There was never a conscious decision, rather a few things that happened around the same time.

It took me a while to realise that I was going out, looking for someone but I kept ending up at home alone. It didn't matter where I was, Bangkok or Pattaya, it was the same old story. I would be out on the prowl, hunting for someone, visiting many bars but I just couldn't find anyone! It wasn't that the girls weren't pretty, it was that I just couldn't click with anyone.

When I did find someone I would often feel the next morning like I had wasted money. The money given to the girl, while earned fair and square by her, was money that quite frankly I would rather have spent on something else. It just felt like it was all a waste of time.

Around the same time, late 2000, a mate visited me. Each night we would go out to the usual haunts. We would drink, laugh and joke but neither of us barfined. Dancing girls were but a backdrop for two mates catching up. My pal said that it would be a shame if I was to return to my homeland with most of my memories of Thailand of the bar scene. Of course he enjoyed his few days there but the inference was "you've been in Thailand for 2 and a half years and you've only had one girlfriend and that didn't last long and there's nothing really wrong with you so why are you spending all of your time here?" It really played on my mind.

And then there was ICQ, the first popular online instant messaging system. In some ways it's better than those most popular now, MSN and Yahoo Messenger. I used ICQ to chat with mates back home. Other users, people I didn't know, would send me messages and initiate chat. As a registered user my details were in the ICQ database. That was my name, my age and my geographic location. Any user online could perform a search for other users online, setting parameters for the search. It turned out that there were local Thai women keen to meet Western men. They would search online for men in a certain age group in Thailand and then look at their names. If you had a Western name they would send you a message. They didn't just want to chat. They wanted to meet. And they were hungry.

The first woman I met was Jane. We got chatting early on the morning of December 30, 2000, and by 11:00 we had agreed to meet. She suggested Panthip Plaza where we had lunch before walking around the corner to the World Trade Centre to catch a movie. After the movie finished it was back to my place. Jane spoke good English, was intelligent, had her own life and was not looking for a house, a car or someone to attend to the buffalo's ailments. We went out several times and I still have fond memories of her but ultimately we could each see it was going nowhere and it petered out.

ICQ proved to be a happy hunting ground. Every time I got online local women would come on to me. It was them who did the pursuing. Those who experienced the halcyon days of online dating in Thailand know that the girls playing the game back then were nothing like those online today. Back then computers were expensive and even an hour in a net cafe would be more than many Thais could afford, 100 baht an hour the average. These were women with real jobs, their own life – women with substance, genuine relationship material. With Bangkok's expat population much, much smaller than it is today and fewer young guys about, it was heaven.

I realised that I had little in common with the bargirls. With all of the attention I was getting online, I lost interest in going to the bars.

I wrote a column 8 or 9 years ago announcing that I was going off bargirls and I pretty much did as I said I would. There may have been the odd dalliance after that but the love affair with the bar industry, at least as a participant, had faded. It was like the flame of a candle slowly burning out.

Thinking about friends and acquaintances here in Bangkok and those who have moved on, many have followed a similar path. It doesn't matter if the bars were the reason for moving to Thailand or not, we seem to go through a period enjoying the bars just as we eventually tire of it. It's almost like a Bangkok rite of passage.

Many guys – and this is perhaps more about my social group more than anything else – had much trepidation about crossing the line and utilising the services of a prostitute. That line was crossed in Thailand, our first experience with a sex worker. I bet many of us who have enjoyed time with a bargirl in Thailand haven't done so anywhere else in the world. It doesn't feel like Western perception of prostitution and that's a big part of the industry's success. But when you start to scratch below the surface, you start to realise that the industry and those involved with it can have allsorts of problems. Whether you become bored of it before that point or not is an individual thing. Some just get bored. Some see it for what it is. And some stay happy participants forever.

Just as I get reeled into the industry and ended up spending much time in the bars, so too did I slowly go off it. For some the fascination with Thailand's bargirls lasts a lifetime. Some readers tell me they have been visiting Thailand for 20 or even 30 years, and it is the girls that bring them back year after year. But for many it just slowly loses its appeal.

I didn't think I would ever be interested in bargirls. I had preconceptions, some would say misconceptions. I overcame those, enjoyed it for a period of time and then slowly lost interest.

Just knowing that the industry is there, that if you really wanted to get a bit, you could, is incredibly reassuring. There really is something in knowing that you need never go without. It gives many a certain confidence they never had in the West. Women have but two weapons, making you feel guilty and withholding sex. Remove one and their arsenal in the battle of the sexes weakens markedly.

Sometimes I wonder how much longer I would have lasted if Jane hadn't come on to me that fateful day some nine odd years ago. Would I still be fooling around with the girls now?


Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the Mai Thai restaurant in central Auckland, one of the best Thai restaurants in that fine city! If you're a long time reader you will know I used a shot from the same location a number of years ago. 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! The third person to get the photo right wins a copy of Jake Needham's excellent "The Big Mango" which is the only 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 prize 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. This past week I received more email in one week than ever before hence the emails to Stick section this week is longer than usual.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Questioning orthodoxies.

You've chosen to question certain orthodoxies pertaining to "the scene." Resistance and deconstruction of any popular orthodoxy is a revolutionary act but in this case I'd say that your decision to do so was not so terribly extreme. It was the natural course of events and whatever your motives, I applaud your willingness to open this up. Problems here: Your opening of this discussion was not hypocritical, dishonest or inconsistent or for that matter was it even a manifestation of the moral relativism so rampant in this particular jurisdiction. I saw it as an expression of intellectual flexibility; the orderly acceptance of new information by an introspective mind in an individual whose belief systems are open to change. Most of your critics ignore the fundamental existential truth that when the facts change, or rather, the passage of enough time permits a clearly alternative consensus to accumulate, people with some degree of intellectual breadth change their opinion. For some at least, the facts surrounding this particular mongering question have changed, or re-weighted themselves so they have changed their opinion. This is not to say that this re-formed opinion will never "re-change". On the contrary; new orthodoxies can be just as toxic as the ones they replace. And I'd never want to say that evenings in and around the traps aren't completely enthralling to those of us addicted to people watching, pretty girls and "the craic" of Bangkok nightlife. But that is decidedly NOT what is under discussion here. For the detractors? For those who resist intellectual innovation, new ideas, change, and maybe, um, growth, in favour of clinging securely to some kind of personal "code" or belief system, the notion of accepting new facts or new thought is too alarming and frightening to entertain. So you've been attacked as being inconsistent. As if… It's easier to attack and ridicule an innovator than to properly engage him and the guys here are nothing if not big-time fans of the easy way.

What are the other options?

There are many truths to your observations in this week's article. However irrespective of what some people think or what outcome they would like, their judgments and opinions will be rendered irrelevant by the law of supply & demand. The best outcome that some countries have achieved when it comes to the sex industry is to legalise it, bring it into the open for some transparency and regulate it. However regulation, legality and transparency are concepts that are nebulous and unachievable when applied to Thailand. With regards to the conditions and general welfare of the women in the industry, one needs to compare those with work standards / pay that apply in any other industry in that country. The fact is that whether we like it or not, for most Thais, life just wasn't meant to be easy. Just look at the number of people that are forced to work in two or even three jobs just to make ends meet. Often Westerners accuse Thais of laziness when they see them napping everywhere. One needs to take into account that it's probably the only sleep they get. Also, the next time they shop in a department store, just ask the shop attendant what her hourly rate is. You will be shocked. So what options does the average sex worker have?

Education is what is needed.

I enjoyed reading your essay on the way it is and the way the girls are affected. Everything you say is completely correct but the industry will never die until there is universal free education for the masses and enough other work for them at reasonable rates. How many generations will that take? Prostitution is endemic in most poor Asian countries; was even worse in Indonesia where I worked for a number of years. And then there's the Philippines, and Laos, and Cambodia and Myanmar and India, in Bangladesh too. It's a factor of poor, Asian existence. Some girls, make fortunes I imagine, but I guess most do not, to which you alluded.

Will demographics kill the industry?

The nail in the coffin will be the demographics of Thailand which will simply end the inflow of new girls. I think we are seeing this already. The average age in the gogos has certainly soared in the last what, 10 years? It will get worse and so will the customers who are prepared to put up with the ever increasing BS hence the industry spiraling down to its death probably within 10 years or so in Thailand.

The truth cannot be denied.

Congratulations on a really first-rate piece in this week's column. I think you have shown great courage to write this article and no doubt you will receive a lot of negative feedback. But you are there in the middle of this industry observing it from a fairly impartial view and I think you have made some excellent points drawn from your considerable experience. A lot of people will not see it this way but I think they are in denial. It's easy to look at the bar scene from just one perspective, but when you look at it from the girl's perspective then the truth cannot be denied. From all the columns you've ever written, this is the best piece ever.

If it were in your backyard?

I have tried to think about the bar industry from a local perspective. How would you feel if there were bar areas in your home town or towns like Pattaya at the coast with tarts all over the place? OK, it could never happen but just imagine the sight of local (Kiwi, English, American etc) girls dressed like sluts, covered in tattoos pouring out of the bars on to the streets holding hands with the dregs of society before getting shagged for money. I would be totally ashamed and embarrassed. Are the Thais ashamed of the bar scene and the image it gives people of their country? I really don't think they care until they go overseas and realise the reputation that Thailand has.

10 years of revulsion.

Your column this week says it all for me. I've been revolted for years by what I witness just walking along Sukhumvit early in the evenings. I go to bed early (10 PM), so I can only guess what the bloody place is like at that hour and later. You really don't need to write about those shit holes (sex bars) Stick. There is so much to write about in Bangkok by itself, let alone the rest of the country. Those mournful pictures of morbidly obese old Westerners living a life full of deceit, misogynists by upbringing, cynical and distrustful, living out the fantasies of a blubbering mountain of fat in one of the world's most sordid and socially decayed locations. Those pictures depict pathos, hopelessness, exploitation, ignoble exchanges and ultimately the futility of pursuing a life based on paying for sex and consuming vast amounts of alcohol. Are these craven creatures of the West happy and fulfilled? I think your photographs convey to all, quite emphatically, the emotional desert that these "men" have chosen to inhabit and the debilitating consequences over time for the women employed in that sorrowful and exploitative "industry".

Respect.

I really liked your latest weekly submission and if I may suggest, your views are born of respect. Ultimately, you have respect for the Thais, be they bargirls or orchestral conductors, which is as it should be. I suspect many of the posters on your site do not. Don't have it in Thailand and never had it in their home countries. They don't respect women of any nationality. They don't respect any national identity outside of their own. Dare I suggest they don't respect themselves.

What's the alternative?

This discussion has been rehashed since R&R days of Vietnam. Mentally and physically, overall, sex for $ in a business transaction = negative consequences for women is a given, period. I think the real issue is the fact that there is no real viable alternative for these women. This falls firmly in the laps of the Thai government and Thai society and religion. Until there is a concerted effort to provide an "out" for these girls, this problem will not diminish. It will not go away completely. It doesn't go away completely anywhere in the world, but the means to be able to say, "This is not for me", then be on a path of change immediately must happen first before there is any change at all. "Face" gets in the way again. The Thai government does not want to announce to the world that they are taking steps to provide halfway houses, treatment centers, employment centers, councilors and whatever else it takes to help remedy this problem when it can bury its head and blame farang mongers and justify the illusion of happy, rich farang / Thai bargirl marriages. Like you say, the industry really isn't that big. The perception of it is though and I think the Thai government is a little mystified by that paradox.

No longer a Sticky fan.

While I have enjoyed your site, I have always had misgivings about your conservative views and analysis. Now ALL is revealed and you're just another Western moralist. Why don't you join the Christian bros outside Nana! ONWARD Western CHRISTIAN colonialist SOLDIERS! Force the girls back into the arms of Thai brothels for Thais, where they fxxx for food only! Go back to fxxx sheep where you belong!!!



For all those bar managers who complain about the high season being so bad, don't believe that there are fewer tourists in the country than last year. The Bank of Thailand released its monthly data for the economy on Friday which includes what they call FTA – foreign tourist arrivals. A total of 1.68 million people visited Thailand in December, an all time record for a single month, up 45% on December the previous year. Given that many bars are not doing as well as owners had hoped, it's yet another indicator that sex tourists comprise a smaller percentage of total visitors than they once did.

The hugely popular late night Walking Street venue, Insomnia, is coming to Bangkok. The old Price Leader supermarket next to Sunrise Tacos on Sukhumvit Road, near the entrance to soi 12, is being razed to make way for it. Insomnia Bangkok is expected to open in August and will be spread over two levels. What will be interesting is to see just what time it can open until. In Pattaya, Insomnia does most trade late at night but in the capital closing times are enforced much more strictly. The location for Insomnia Bangkok is in the Lumpini Police district. They can be tough and uphold the law with most venues in their jurisdiction closed at 2 AM. I assume it will attract a similar crowd meaning that it will essentially be a new freelancer venue which will add to the already wide choice of such venues in that part of Sukhumvit, most of which are within a few hundred metres of the proposed location.

Spanky's continues to grow in popularity and the owner appears to have been scouring other bars, looking for ideas and introducing them in his own bar. There's a definite taste of Pattaya's What's Up in Spanky's these days. I'm not saying this is the case with the Spanky's owner, who is a really good guy and popular in the plaza, but a number of bar owners and managers are actually banned from other bars, often because they are known for attempting to entice the prettiest girls to go and work in their bar. One bar manager who passed away not so long ago was banned in a heap of bars on Walking Street for poaching girls and at least one Bangkok commentator is banned in some venues too, but that never stops him going in :)

Last week I reported on the new barfine policy at popular Pattaya bar Heaven Above which did not allow the girls to leave the venue in the first two hours of their shift. This policy has now ended. It was put in place for a short period at the peak of the high season. Heaven Above has two shifts of girls, one starting at 8 PM and the other at 10 PM. It has to be said that the bar was reasonable about it and customers could pay bar earlier if they wanted to reserve the girl and either wait for the girls or pop out for a few drinks elsewhere and return later.

Not only can you get 50 baht drinks in a number of the bars in the main Patpong soi before 10 PM, if you would like to buy a drink for a girl or the mamasan, that will only set you back 50 baht as well. 50 baht lady drinks in Patpong might be hard to believe, but it's true. I am not sure that this slashing of prices early in the evening is proving to be that popular though, but it is good to see bar owners making a genuine effort to attract customers.

Bangkok Beat's expansion started this week with the opening of their lounge and restaurant this past Friday. Located above the mezzanine, The Lounge has a cosy atmosphere with leather sofas and low wooden tables. There's an open air terrace and the restaurant offers Thai & Western cuisine as well as a list of affordable wines. There is a set dinner and a 10% discount on drinks for those who go downstairs to the main bar area after dinner. All prices are net, all inclusive and no ++ BS. The restaurant opens daily at 7 PM with the last order taken at 1:30 AM – so it seems to be targeting a late night crowd. And it's good to see that they have a dress code, something more venues should enforce. I love the sign at the Robin's Nest eateries in Pattaya that says "no shirt, no service". Bangkok Beat's dress code is simple – no tank tops, no thongs and no flip flops.

Down Phuket way, a Canadian who already owns a Soi Sea Dragon Bar has bought the former Bierkutsche on the corner, paying a whopping 7.5 million baht key money up front plus agreeing to monthly rent of 360,000 baht for the next 3 years, all this with no guarantee of an extension. He is busy renovating and keen to open ASAP and catch the high season crowds. Here's hoping this brave investor recoups his investment.

I haven't seen Ann, #27, in Tilac since Christmas. Ann is one of the finest dancers in the bar so hopefully she's doing ok. Probably out on a long-term barfine.

In fact you'd have to say that the all hands on deck at bar opening that has been such a feature at Tilac in Cowboy and something the doctor and I very much enjoy being there for seems to have been suspended. Many of the more attractive girls don't seem to wander in until closer to 9 PM. In fact it has been this way for several weeks.

There are a couple of old boilers in Tilac who roam around offering massage. They rub your shoulders and your back for 10 – 15 minutes with the expectation of a tip, 100 baht being customary. For some this is a welcome service and for others these two old ducks are a right nuisance. Just bear in mind that giving massage is their livelihood and they don't provide the service for free, so if you avail yourself of the massage and attempt to feign ignorance thinking it's free then it won't just be words said! It should be noted that quite a few of the dancing girls worked massage at one time so in addition to stimulating intellectual conversation, your lady drink might also get you a bit of a rub down.

In Phuket many Ruskies are making up a larger percentage of the visitors down there. Three Russian guys were sitting in a bar, sharing a single bottle of water between them, waiting for one lady to finish her shift so they could share her barfine and carry her off to some Russian idea of paradise, involving her and all 3 of them. But someone else stepped in, paid bar and off they went. The Ruskies gave it up and moved on, looking for their next victim.

Remember The Wanking Frog in Sukhumvit Soi 7 run by Englishman Derek? That small far-flung corner of the British Empire closed a few years back and after both business related troubles and personal issues, Derek headed east to start a new life in Cambodia. The Wanking Frog name returned and Derek's latest venture was a guesthouse and restaurant in what has been described in an "out of the way location" in Phnom Penh. Derek must have been confident because he took on what sounds to me like a rather high rent of $6,000 a month. I always believed Derek was skint when he left Thailand and rumour has it that some sucker coughed up $US50,000 and was a silent partner, leaving Derek to manage the establishment. Derek never seems to be too far from dramas and a month ago the shit hit the wall. Derek was given a beating around New Year, by who I have no idea, and then a week later his guesthouse was trashed and most things of value looted. The whole episode doesn't sound like robbery, more like someone owed money getting what they could, while they could. Today the venue is not just closed but padlocked up and Derek hasn't been seen in Cambodia for weeks. Much speculation surrounds what happened but the rumour mill has it that the business was not going quite as Derek had hoped and unpaid bills were mounting – never a good idea in these parts. I always found Derek to be a well-meaning sort who was pleasant enough company, but even a blind man could see that he was horribly disorganised. I don't doubt that he was well-intentioned but he never struck me as someone I would want to be in business with. I can remember chatting to him at length about visa options some years back and I may as well have been speaking with a 5-year old. He didn't have a clue about dealing with the Thais, didn't seem to want to learn how to do things better and when things got difficult he would start chugging back the beers. Still, it's sad to see a man lose his shirt, irrespective of what happens but with that said, if you fail in Cambodia where do you go next?! My best guess is that he's back in Thailand, probably somewhere cheap easy with plenty of beer. Pattaya perhaps?

Much is made of which is the better show bar, Angelwitch or Long Gun. It's a moot point and they each have their strengths. What I will say is that the girls in Long Gun often come off the stage at the end of their routines dripping with sweat whereas the girls in Angelwitch saunter off like they're parading on the red carpet. I think it would be hard to argue against Angelwitch having the edge. Its shows are more varied and more professional, but I reckon the Long Gun girls put much more effort into it. I guess we can say that the dream team would be the Angelwitch choreographer and costume designer and the Long Gun girls.

I have been saying for some time that Cowboy has it all over Nana – and pretty much everyone agrees. But if you were to actually add up all of the receipts from all of the bars within Nana Plaza, and compare it with the receipts from all of the bars in Cowboy, how would they compare? I'm no accountant – and you'd never get your hands on the real numbers – but I kind of get the feeling that more money goes through Nana than Cowboy. Cowboy still has a few small bars which don't do much trade at all. Nana has the Rainbow bars and Angelwitch which are goldmines as well as a bunch of katoey bars which also do very well.

And on the subject of ladyboy bars, Stickman readers do go for ladyboys, it seems. A couple of weeks back one of the ladyboys in Cascade attacked a customer, a Stickmanite, with a knife in a short-time hotel in Nana Plaza. A full report with photos of his injury can be seen here.

Music Station in soi 33 has a bunch of new promotions during the day time. There's a happy hour with bottled beer including Heineken, Singha, Tiger, Chang, Asahi and San Miguel Light at 95 baht from noon until 7 PM. There's free pool from noon until 5 PM. There's a happy hour on draft beer from 5 to 9 PM – buy 1, get 1 free (half pint 90 baht, full pint 150 baht). Every Friday from Friday 5th February, one of the best Filipino bands in Bangkok, Earthquake Band, arrives at Music Station. They are regular performers in popular Bangkok live music spots and are fantastic.

I note that Angelwitch Bangkok is up for sale at a cost of 47 million baht, or in real money, about $1.5 million. Owner Matt, without a doubt one of the smartest guys in the industry, is probably wise to look to get out of the industry with the knowledge that the bar's lease has less than 3 years left with no guarantee of renewal. Yep, as I have said a number of times over the past 18 months or so, the master lease for Nana Plaza runs out at the end of 2012 at which point no-one knows what will happen. The other thing I found interesting about the ad is this line, "The bar took in receipts of more than 40,000,000 baht per annum in each of the last three financial years, which led in each case to net profits of over 20,000,000 baht" which suggests a net profit ratio of around 50% – very high for a gogo bar and more the norm for beer bars which have much lower overheads and generally a higher net profit ratio despite lower drinks prices.

Many governments take a cautious approach when issuing travel advice about other countries and seem to err on the conservative side. I note the Australian government is particularly strong in its warnings concerning travel to Thailand at this time. Now I would never take any notice of this sort of thing myself and much prefer to gauge things from travellers and the local expat community, but it seems more than a few Aussies are taking note. Friends of a friend were all due to visit and then read the travel advisory for Thailand and cancelled.

The crazy weather continues and while we never really had a cool season this year, what slightly cooler weather we did have seems to be well and truly over. We're back to unseasonably hot and sticky and heavy showers in the capital this week. And while the air-con was off for what, all of a few days, it's back on now.

Searching online, a reader has found it difficult to locate a babysitter in Bangkok. He will be staying at the Lebua for a week and is very keen to head out with the wife while someone keeps an eye on their two kids. The hotel can accommodate the babysitter request but the quoted rates are higher than what he would pay in his native Australia. If he doesn't find something reasonable soon he might not get to see the best of Bangkok at night! Can anyone help with a recommendation for a professional but affordable babysitter?

The Thai consulate in Melbourne appears to have gone from a soft touch to a typical branch of Thai bureaucracy. A friend swung by this week to apply for a class of visa they have previously granted him many times without problem but this week was to be different. They now require various documentation they had never requested before which, as best I can tell, no other Thai embassy or consulate requires! Just crazy.

The new One Stop Service Centre at Chamchuree Square, the new building at Sam Yan MRT station, is worth knowing about for expats. The centre itself can be found on the 18th floor of the office tower, and is very easy to get to and very efficient. The atrium part of the complex has a branch of most coffee shops and restaurants. Given that it is located next to Thailand's best university, there is some remarkable eye candy around.

Quote of the week comes from a reader who was walking down Sukhumvit Soi 4 with a married expat friend. There was a sign on the wall near the soi for Big Mango that read "Apartment for rent, furnished, wi-fi, nice view, 6,000 baht / month." He turned and said "Hey, I spend more than that on short time hotels every month!"

Reader's story of the week comes from Rahiri, a most insightful take on the lack of freedom Thais have titled, " Freedom and Responsibility in Thailand: The Decision to Enter the Sex Industry".

Australia is keen to extradite one of its own back from Thailand to faces charges over a million dollar heist.

An expat is stabbed to death outside a 7 Eleven store in Phuket.

As this YouTube video shows, I clearly got it wrong last week saying there are no good luck ceremonies in Soi Cowboy.

From the NZ Herald, hard work pays off with a new Thai temple built in Auckland.

Aussie newspapers reported that budget airline Jetstar passengers were stranded in Thailand this week.

The UK's Sun reports a known British naughty boy dies in Thailand.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Aussies working against trafficking in South East Asia.

The Hotel Association recommends hotel prices not be cut in Thailand this year.

Maxmilian Wechsler has penned a number of good articles in the Post recently, his latest is about the Russian cargo plane.

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. There were no questions for Mrs. Stick but a few interesting emails for Mr. Stick which I have included here.

Question 1: True Fitness is trying to stick (sorry for that word) me with a 74,000 baht penalty fee for not completing my contract. Do you remember about two years ago a report in the paper that said a government official went after them and California Wow for ripping off people with these contracts? They said they would no longer do it. Well, when they first opened four years ago I paid for a membership; paid the first month's fee and signed the contract. Not reading it was a big mistake. I only went three times. Each time I had a personal trainer. I told him I had a pain in my back. After three visits and following the trainer's direction I had severe pain. I told the manager I was canceling. Visits to BNH and Bumrungrad spine specialists left me with a message that I needed spine surgery. I went back to the USA. The spine specialist said, "Yes, you do need surgery, but not now." When I saw the article in the paper I tore up the copy of my contract and the newspaper. I will have a meeting with an attorney soon. If you have any information or recall it would be helpful. I must add, my Thai girlfriend of ten years also signed up at the same time. They have been harassing her for years. They have threatened her with the police if she does not pay 74,000 baht within two days. She went in twice and they accused her, a poor Isaan girl, of everything.

Mr. Stick says: This issue with gym contracts and hefty cancellation clauses has been around for a long time now. It's hard to comment really because a legal contract has been signed and as much as I hate to say it, you should have read the contract beforehand. Of course with that said, there should be some reasonable exit / cancellation clauses – and a spine injury would seem to be a very reasonable reason for getting out of the contract! I'm interested to hear what happens when you meet with the lawyer and what he / she says.

Question 2: I have a question about Thai Customs. On both my visits to Thailand they seem almost disinterested in anyone coming into Thailand. I travel light. Next time I come to Thailand I will be carrying quite a few extras although nothing illegal. I will be carrying more than my share of wine and a dozen beers. My Thai friends say you can bring anything in and no one cares but I wondered if this is correct. I will be over my limit on booze but nothing else. Should I declare or not as I know Thai officials can get really shitty when they catch a farang breaking the rules. If I declare, am I likely to get stung with extra charges by Customs or not as I have watched other visitors get stung by your boys in brown with "instant fines". I have no idea if Customs play the same game when you declare as you are very much at their mercy. I thought I would ask for your point of view.

Mr. Stick says: Customs seem largely disinterested in visitors arriving. What you do need to be aware of is that if Customs *see* that you have brought in alcohol over and above the allowance – which is just 1 litre – OR they do carry out a check and find that you have brought in alcohol exceeding the duty free limit, they WILL FINE YOU – and the fines can be very high. Exactly how much I do not know but at a guess, they could be 10 times or more what you paid for the liquor. What you need to understand is that what you propose is illegal and there is a risk. If caught you could face a large fine. The chances of getting caught are low. So long as the alcohol is out of sight i.e. in your checked in luggage you should be fine. Only you can decide if that is a risk worth taking…

Question 3: I've been to Thailand 4 times in the last 18 months with the longest period being 3 months and have fallen in love with the country. I'm only 21 and am interested in moving there and working. Just wondering if you would be able to help me out with a bit of advice about working in Thailand. Firstly I would like some advice on what areas are best to study to gain employment and what type of salaries to expect if there is any type of average. Secondly, is it possible to gain employment with a Thai company or do you generally have to get employed in your home country and work for them in Thailand. Any other additional advice would be greatly appreciated.

Mr. Stick says: I think it is fair to say that foreigners working in Thailand fall into one of three main groups – teachers, professionals or business owners. To teach, all you need is a degree, but experience and a specific teaching qualification certainly help. To be a professional, you need professional qualifications and experience in your field in your own country. To be a business owner you need money. I think you need to think carefully about which of these three paths appeal most and then think about how you can make that happen. I would encourage you to go down the professional path. Study something that you are interested, get a job in your own country and do that for a while gaining valuable experience. Then after a few years you could look at moving to Thailand, if it still appeals.

When I was in my late teens I worked part-time in a most magnificent cinema. But to merely call it a cinema really doesn't do it justice. I like to think of it more as a movie house, a wonderful period structure built in the 20s, probably the most well-known movie house in the country. It's steeped in tradition and while it has undergone various facelifts over the years it has retained its original flavour and 80 years after it was built it is still magnificent. Located in the heart of the city, all around it are newer, modern buildings. Tall and sleek, most feature the typical glass / mirror exterior so common on buildings built today. But when you look at these newer buildings, you see the reflection of the grand old lady, still most people's favourite building in the city. These newer buildings might be more modern but they just can't compete so they steal from the older movie house. Anyone gazing at the new buildings sees the old movie house. I hope the analogy isn't missed…

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick