Stickman's Weekly Column March 21st, 2010

A Trip To Panthip Plaza



Saturday is shopping day across the developed parts of South-East Asia as many flock to the comfortable sanctuary of air-conditioned shopping malls. Shopping malls have it all from shops to eateries, to cafés to cinemas to bowling lanes to swimming pools and maybe even an aquarium. It's a place to go to spend a pleasant afternoon and to escape the scorching summer heat.

And so I chose to visit Panthip Plaza yesterday. I had to buy a new memory card for the camera and another external hard drive. I hadn't stepped foot in Thailand's most infamous computer shopping centre in months and with a short shopping list I thought it would also be a chance to check out what new products were on the shelves.

After a pleasant lunch on Sukhumvit, I hopped in a cab for the short journey to Panthip. Easy. It didn't turn out that way…

Traffic was very light, much lighter than you'd expect early Saturday afternoon on one of the main boulevards of an Asian metropolis so when the cab turned right on to Rajadamri and I saw that the traffic was backed up I wasn't at all surprised.

So there we were, sitting in the cab, stuck in traffic outside Central World. We waited a few minutes and then a few minutes more and it started to become apparent that this was more than just a regular traffic jam. After a little deliberation we decided to hop out and walk the final 400 or so metres. We thought there must have been an accident or perhaps a royal or political motorcade coming, which would explain why traffic had come to a standstill.

As we walked towards Pratunam, over the bridge crossing the Saen Saeb Canal, we heard the sounds of cheering. As we crossed the bridge we could see a procession of vehicles up ahead full of folks wearing red, waving red flags, everyone having a great time. They were waving the national flag, waving what appeared to be a flag of their movement and holding various placards, most in Thai, some in English, all with less than complimentary messages. We'd stumbled upon the red shirt protestors!

I don't tend to follow what's happening with the protestors apart from trying to work out how what they're up to affects me, so I did not know that the red shirts had taken their protest on a tour of Bangkok, forming a massive motorcade that some estimated to be 45 km in length, driving a long protracted tour around some of Bangkok's busiest thoroughfares. There were private cars, lorries, farm vehicles, tuktuks, motorbikes and pickup trucks, oh so many pickup trucks, making their way on a prolonged tour around the city. There were passengers on the roofs of vehicles, sitting in the cab and even hanging off or outside moving vehicles, all wildly waving flags, placards and delivering their message to the capital. Wherever you looked, everyone was wearing the cause's trademark red colour.

We struggled through the adoring crowds, many of whom were also decked out in red. They were saluting their heroes driving the movement, those who call themselves the UDD, short for the National United Front Of Democracy Against Dictatorship.

I have to admit that politics doesn't really interest me, be it in my homeland, here in Thailand or anywhere for that matter. I don't really follow it and am not always sure exactly what is going on. But a good friend, Richard at Connecting The Dots, has become a major blogger on this issue so I gave him a call to see just what was going on. Richard explained that there was a massive traffic snake formed by the red-shirted protestors and it was working its way through Bangkok, parading through many different neighbourhoods. The head of the snake had passed Prakanong already, which I'd estimate at some 12 km or so away from where I was, and apparently where I was at that time was not even the middle of the snake. Goodness knows where the tail was and just how far backed up it was across this huge city.

Traffic outside Panthip Plaza and on Petchaburi Road was snarled up and most of the vehicles passing by were red shirts supporters. On what is usually the busiest day of the week, Panthip had only a small number of customers, the nearest skytrain station much too far away for the average Thai to walk from in the heat of the summer sun. The red shirts' plans to be noticed was working.

The reds haven't received a great deal of positive press in the English dailies but the first thing that struck me was that the red shirt protestors seemed genuinely happy. Despite being there to protest, they were smiling, seemed happy and were laughing. I wandered through the crowd and received nothing but friendly gestures and words. Once it was discovered that I could hold a conversation in Thai, I found myself surrounded by red-shirted protestors and supporters, imploring me to take as many photos as I could and to convey the message of their cause, as if somehow I had the eyes and ears of every white man in Bangkok.

They explained to me the reasons they were there, the reasons for the protests and why it had come to this. They were measured in what they said until the Prime Minister's name came up and their language disintegrated into cussing. They were painstakingly clear that they felt that theirs was a voice that had not been heard – and they were going to damn well make sure that it was heard now. There was emotion, passion, a deep love for the country, and a determination and belief that what they were doing was right. They wanted the best not only for themselves, they wanted a truly fair, democratic Thailand where their voice would be not just be heard, but would be worth as much as anyone else's.

Here, amongst armies of red shirted supporters, some of whom did look as if they had seen a bit of rough and tumble in their time, the mood was buoyant and dare I say it, even joyful. They were there for a cause that their heart was in, like nothing else on this earth mattered, and they were going to see it through to the end.

I'm far from a regular at these rallies, in fact yesterday I had not even expected to stumble upon one. I once also inadvertently stumbled upon the yellow shirts in anti-Thaksin rallies back in 2006 when the square-faced one was still the Prime Minister. Things felt different then. Whereas yesterday I wandered amongst the red shirts freely and felt perfectly safe and even welcome, back in 2006 I can't say I felt the same.

I don't take sides and like I say, I have almost zero interest in politics, but you could not help but be sympathetic to a cause where those fighting for their beliefs go about it not just with vigour and drive, but with a seemingly permanent smile across their faces and a gentle manner.

Supporters of the status quo will have you believe that the red shirts are barbarians and that they aren't worthy. They're rural folk, uneducated, coarse, and if you would believe some, not even worthy of voting. Who wouldn't object to that?

It's true that the red shirts might be dominated by the populace of the poorer parts of the country and this shines through in the way they are going about things. Thailand's rural poor are amongst the nicest people you'll meet, always with a ready smile and pleasant demeanour, keen to ensure that you're not hungry and that you're comfortable. Don't you just love the way they say hello in Thai by asking, literally, “Have you eaten yet” or “Are you comfortable”, phrases so appropriate for people who are truly the salt of the earth.

But don't believe the propaganda. The red shirt movement is not exclusively made up of the impoverished. You have some super rich, many ultra poor and plenty in between. The red camp encompasses some with money, plenty in business, many holding political positions and no shortage of government officials from all levels. Indeed some of the coppers in attendance had the red shirts' signature red clappers and were enthusiastically shaking them whenever one of the larger vehicles passed by.

What I have not yet seen reported in the local press is that the red-shirted protestors received huge support from the local crowds which lined the streets. They were rapturous and unwavering in their cheering, showing their support for the never-ending procession. Many no doubt are transplants from the reds' main power bases, the north and northeast, but clearly there were a lot of Bangkokians present too.

There were foreigners not just in crowd, but also in the procession. Many foreigners were waving, saluting and showing their support, although many were clearly tourists who appeared to be treating it more as some sort of circus parade! Amongst the sea of signs, one read “American Red Shirts”. How prudent it is for foreigners to get actively involved I do not know, although their support was clearly welcome.

Little turns my stomach more than photos or footage of protests, often from the West, where kids are brought along to make up the numbers, often marching in support of an issue or against a policy that is incredibly complicated and which they simply could not possibly understand at that point in their life. I saw very few children brought along to make up the numbers.

The resolve of the reds is strong. This massive show of numbers and the depth of their feelings was clear. While it might not be long before they return to their homes and into the heartland, don't think that they're just going to disappear.

I would not like to predict what may happen next, or where politics in Thailand is going. It's a complicated issue and one I think it's prudent for me to steer clear of. With that said, there's potential fall out for Westerners in Thailand, those resident and those visiting – and that's one area I can comment on.

The red shirts' assembly in Bangkok has had a not unexpected negative effect on a range of farang-oriented businesses over the last 9 days. Farang restaurant and bar manager and owners have been screaming at how bad trade has been and the eyes don't lie – there were fewer people out and about this past week. The consensus from Sukhumvit restaurants and bar staff is that trade is down 30 – 50%. March is usually a decent month, but March 2010 looks like it will be the worst on record for businesses for whom Farangdom make up their primary customer base.

Locals have become rather blasé about the political situation in Thailand with such nonsense now seeming like it's a regular occurrence. One joked to me recently that he hopes the latest round of protests by the red shirts keep up – never has traffic been so light in Bangkok. That said, traffic heading out of Bangkok this weekend was said to be heavy as Bangkokians escaped the nonsense to find peace and quiet in the likes of Cha Am, Hua Hin, Bang Sean and Pattaya.

For visitors it's a different matter and many seem quite concerned. The drawing of a thousand litres of blood from the protestors which was thrown on to the grounds of Parliament and at the Prime Minister's house was beamed around the world and no doubt has done the tourism industry no good at all. I'd hate to think of the accumulative damage that has been done to Thailand's tourism industry over the last few years. The protests, the coup and all the other nonsense must have cost the country billions and billions of dollars.

For many expats the political protests and the uncertainty it creates has become par for the course. If the political landscape was straightened out, we'd almost feel as if something was missing. I think of all of the political nonsense as I do a soi dog – you know it's there somewhere and you know it's best avoided, but even if confronted by it the odds are nothing much will happen.

I have no idea where it's all going. What I can say however is that the protests are for the most part peaceful and as a foreigner in Thailand you should not be overly concerned. Yes, there could be some inconvenience but there is no reason not to visit Thailand.



Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the overhead walk bridge that connects MBK with Siam Square. Very easy I thought – but few people got it right. 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!

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.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – Once Thailand is in the blood…

A recent discussion was whether one can assimilate in Thailand, or if I put it more broadly, in a foreign land in general. That one eventually ends up doing things his native way especially resonated with me as I have spent some 11 years living and working abroad, albeit not in Thailand. The first two years were in Germany and then eleven years in the UK. In Germany I ended up communicating mainly with my compatriots, and eventually decided to return to my home which was in a very poor economic state rather than try to stay longer; the cultural differences were too great to see yourself hanging any longer. One realises our brains are culturally hard-wired. And homecoming is usually so great: one feels himself fitting into the environment, sees old mates, the familiarity of the streets you know down to the small stones, it's almost like even the trees love you and the sun welcomes you back. And speaking your own language, somehow you feel that some of that subconscious stress has been removed. Even sometimes it feels that the libido is being awakened. But there is an issue. After several months it all fades away and one starts craving something less cosy and spicier. Living abroad is challenging, and in some way uncomfortable since there is a kind of "potential difference" between you and the environment. But this difference, almost like an electric current, makes you grow, and since you are not going to fit in anyway, this impulse does not subside. Now imagine your life at home. If we forget about long term stability issues with Thailand, what would you be passionate about there? Would you be able to write a column there? Who would know you and write to you? What would there be to write about? What issues to ponder? While you do things the Kiwi way, in reality Thailand is still probably a very important part of your life, as it still drives you. It still makes you tick. You may not notice it now, but if possible go home not for a week, but for several months, and you could feel the difference. We live and do not notice whether the air is of any value for us at all, but if it is taken away, then it all becomes clear.

What motivates one to join the red shirts.

There has been much speculation about how the Red Shirts are funded in their fight against what is, let us not forget, an unelected government. The common view is that billionaire and ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is financing it all, paying people to march on Bangkok, paying for their food and all the other requirements that thousands of people need, such as provision of toilet facilities, medical back-up etc. But, according to my wife, there are countless organisations set up, in villages, offices and schools all over the country where envelopes are passed around for donations. Much of this, such as in government-run schools, is done quietly so people are not at risk of losing their job. Market traders donate food etc. Exactly like people donate money and goods to their local temple. She says people go to meetings not because they are paid to, but because they want to. Areas to make donations are also set up at the protest meetings.

Thais happy in Canada.

I went to a party on Saturday night in my Canadian city hosted by one of the members of the local, very active, Thai-Canadian Association. There were over 20 Thai women there, one farang woman (who has an adopted Thai child), and not nearly as many farang men as Thai women i.e. a few of the women's husbands never attended, but there are also several single Thai women in the community. I assume that some of the single women are separated or divorced but chose to stay in Canada. I've spoken to several Thai women in Canada over the past several years and surprisingly very few return to visit Thailand with any regularity and they claim not to miss it. When asked why, many offer up a reason many farang will appreciate, "Sick of my family always asking me for money – they think because we live in the West that we're rich!"

Scam or moron?

I just bought an external portable CD/DVD re-writable drive at Panthip. The thing works great after about a month of use. But I just noticed that when the girl who sold it to me put the little "warranty" sticker on it, she put it on the top side of the device. The only catch is that she placed the sticker on top of the clear protective film that is usually removed after you purchase the item. Scam to alleviate them from "warranty" responsibility or just a dumb salesgirl? I actually tend to go with "scam" since usually they put those stickers on the BOTTOM of such electronic devices. Something to look for next time you but an electronic device that gets the little sticker.


Looking for Thai girls? Look no more – you just found ThaiFriendly.com

Insular Aussies.

There is a strange balance on Soi Bangla. On the one hand, the bars at the town end are much quieter of late but at the beach end of the road, or Aussietown as I call it, there is standing room only at the bars on, or nearest to, the street. The only conclusion I can arrive at is that we have an unusually large amount of Australians here just now, not to mention an amount of unusually large Australians, and as a nation they do seem to prefer their own company to that of other nationalities.

It's a start.

For what it's worth, on my last few visits to the Arab's bars, I have walked in the door, taken a quick glance at the stage and then asked the mamasan if the coyotes could be barfined. When she said no, I thanked her for the information and told her that I'd return when the policy changed. A one-man boycott won't accomplish much, however.

Erectile dysfunction drugs in Sex Tourist Alley lack potency.

You mentioned in that the Viagra / Cialis sellers are openly hawking their goods on Sukhumvit. I know that the prices are rock-bottom, but I fear that the Cialis on offer lacks potency. The recommended storage temperature is 25 degrees Celsius, with brief excursions permitted to 15 – 30 degrees Celsius. I've seen the vendors in question display their wares in the heat of the day. Surely the medicine has been adversely affected by the heat.

Once bitten, twice_____?

My wife and I made the mistake of returning to a very well-known and popular Thai restaurant in Sukhumvit soi 12 last night after they had given us poor service last time. Although we told the waitress that we did not want to order the main meals until after the starter was finished, she insisted that we order together. We did so but insisted that the mains follow the starters. Guess what? After rejecting the main meal when they were twice brought to our table during the starters, we finally got them at the correct time but they were completely cold! There was no manager on duty to complain to – apparently he doesn't start until 8 PM. After being fobbed off by the 6 PM manager, we managed to get the mobile number of the 8 PM manager who did at least say he would look into it. He did say that unless we spoke Thai things would obviously go wrong with the service staff but all of the ordering was done in Thai! An international restaurant? Hungry and 1,624 baht lighter we left unamused.

Radio City in Patpong reopened recently with a new design and features the same live music. It's one of a few pleasant spots on the main Patpong soi which makes for great people watching.

Tilac Bar suffered on Monday night when most of the service girls went out to the red shirts main rally / assembly area with only a few left in the bar to serve customers. Waiting times just to get a drink or pay the bill were such that a number of punters abandoned the bar and ventured elsewhere.

Hollywood 2 in Nana is a construction site, a complete mess and just a shell of the bar that a few years back was one of the best in Nana. I thought it would be well into the low season before customers can again walk through the doors but the owner has said that that Hollywood Strip, or Hollywood 2 as it was also known, will reopen with a new name as soon as next month.

And the whole front rail / walkway on the top floor of Nana on the left hand side is being redone, beautified as someone said. Perhaps a beautification project at Nana is planned for it to challenge Cowboy? That said, any bar owner spending much money on a venue within Nana Plaza is brave, given the uncertainty of its future.

If you party late, Hillary Bar 2 on Sukhumvit Soi 4 has live music until 3 AM every day. And if that's not late enough, you can continue the night in Climax in Sukhumvit Soi 11 where the party continues until 6. Climax is still doing its free bottle of Red Label from 9 – 11 PM and there are 3 different bands playing every night.

The newest gogo bar on Walking Street, Powers, is located is located directly above Champion and its theme is supposedly based on the Austin Powers movie. It's a large bar with lots of open space but could do with a little more work on the interior. In saying that it does show potential in terms of the girls.

The IPL cricket tournament is being played in India right now but South African satellite TV – the sports TV broadcast in many Bangkok expat pubs – is pulling the plug on the tournament and there won't be any coverage on that network. Brian, the publican at Crossbar which is located a couple of hundred metres up Soi 23 from Soi Cowboy, has just installed a new satellite box which will show all of the IPL cricket matches live, so cricket fans need not fret.

It would seem The Arab's cage has been rattled by those – like me – who point a camera at his bars. Security in Rio had a go at me this week for pointing a camera at the bar – and an American friend reported exactly the same a day later. And I think I have worked out why that is…

It seems originality is not one of The Arab's strong points. The logo for the newest addition to The Arab's collection of bars, Sahara, is nearly an exact copy of the logo used by Sahara Casino in Las Vegas, the one difference being the letter S is upside down. Naughty, naughty!

The manager of the Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy reports that he is seeing more and more guys with cameras, some quite likely pros – with big cameras and even bigger lenses – walking up and down the soi, snapping away, night after night. Cowboy must be fast catching up to Wat Arun as the most photographed spot in Bangkok.

And if The Arab's own shenanigans weren't questionable enough, now some of his staff are in on it with reports from Midnite Bar – yep, another of The Arab's properties – that a rogue mamasan is informing punters wishing to barfine a girl that they MUST buy her three lady drinks on top of paying the barfine. Failure to buy the girl three lady drinks and the barfine cannot be paid! This is actually not The Arab's policy at all but that of the rogue mamasan. Why she would do this, I can only speculate. It's not like money for drinks goes directly into her pocket, unless of course she is pocketing the cash and not running it through the till. I guess it's possible, but in these days where most bars run electronic bills it's unlikely. My best guess is that she is on some sort of bonus and if certain targets are reached she receives a few more baht at the end of the month. Forcing customers to buy more lady drinks would increase the total revenue of the bar and thus get her closer to her bonus. Purely speculation on my part.

The Dutch owner of Cathouse is continuing the tradition of the bar's Chang beer buffet. The special on Chang draft is 250 baht for as much as you can drink between 7 and 9 PM. In the old days it was 100 baht for all you could drink between 4 and 8 PM – which created a scene which wasn't pretty. The state some got into was quite unreal and some bar owners would be on the look out for wasted characters drifting out of Cathouse and stumbling around the plaza. Chang has a high alcohol content and a reputation for being a bit of a loopy juice. That it's exported around the world and marketed as a premium lager makes me laugh!

The boys in brown are getting hungrier. A mate took a lady out to Scirocco this week for a few drinks and they later left in her car with her at the wheel. They were stopped at a police checkpoint where she was brethalyzed and found to be over the legal limit. She was told that as she was driving while over the legal limit she would spend the next 48 hours in the slammer before she could be bailed. That would be followed by an appearance in court which would most likely result in a hefty fine of 10,000 – 20,000 baht, loss of licence for a lengthy period and maybe even jail time. This was all averted by a 20,000 baht on the spot donation. 100 – 500 baht would have done it in the past. Inflation is running high in some quarters.

There's been a discernible drop in the number of girls in the bars recently. In Tilac, which I often use as a barometer for the various things in the industry, there are only 3 sets of girls dancing most nights instead of the usual 4.

There are a few terminals with free internet on the top floor of Nana Plaza, just along from Hollywood. Whenever I walk past no-one is ever using them. I cannot work out why there are computers there and why free net access is offered. I mean, who paid for the computers, pays for the power and the net connection and just what do they get out of it?

Apache Beer Bar hasn't taken off yet, despite the owners doing a fabulous job converting it from a gogo to a beer bar. It's beautifully done out and there are flat screen TVs wall to wall showing live sports. One of the owners told me he is not happy with the lighting inside which he feels needs a little work. The football world cup is just three months away and I am sure it will become more popular then.

I note the chicken kebab lady in Cowboy has upped her price to 65 baht. From 50 baht, that's quite a hike and represents poor value when compared with the Middle Eastern kebab vendors in the soi 3 and 5 area, many of which are a uniform 50 baht – and they make a larger kebab. I do have one universal complaint about kebabs in Bangkok though, even those from most of the Middle Eastern vendors. Why oh why do they have to use ketchup? It does nothing for the flavour, instead giving it a generic junk food taste.

There's been a noticeable increase in rip offs by bargirls over the past year or so. I heard a funny story from a mate this week who dragged a girl back to his condo. He has no shortage of electronic gear in his flat from laptops to camera to mobile phones, IPods etc. and he often even has reasonable sums of cash laying around. The girl must have seen all of this stuff but she did not lay a paw on it. He realised some time after she had gone that she had pilfered one of his towels, a plain white towel! Now with all of the other goodies he had out in plain sight, why would she take a towel?! This is even funnier when you remember that just a few years ago there was a widely reported case in which a Western visitor was caught stealing a towel from a Pattaya hotel which pressed charges against him. The case went to court where he was found guilty and he was not just deported, but also black-listed from ever returning to Thailand again! I wonder what punishment this lass would get if she was caught?

Now if that is not bad enough, something hilarious happened to another friend this week. He was in Bangkok for the weekend and ended up at Soi Cowboy, in Baccarra to be precise. He found a lovely and negotiated for her to accompany him to his hotel room where she would spend all night for an agreed x,xxx baht. They went back to his room, the evening was consummated and after an hour she got dressed and said that she was about to leave. He was disappointed, having specifically sought a girl who would stay all night. As she had stayed just an hour, he said he would pay her half the agreed all night fee – which seems fair. She went berserk, made wild threats and he said he was genuinely concerned that she might do something harmful. Fortunately his money and other valuables were in the room safe and he managed to get her out of the door…and peace and quiet resumed. But that was not the end of it. The next morning he was ready to go out and he went to put on his shoes…but he couldn't find one. After turning the room upside down, he eventually realised that she had stolen one of his shoes – and to make matters worse, he had only brought one pair of shoes with him! He was forced to visit the local super store to buy a new pair. God only knows what his wife will say when he returns home missing his favourite pair of shoes! One trick some guys do to avoid this sort of thing is to negotiate both a short-time and a long-time rate – so if she does a runner, you don't face this argument.

There's something about history and tradition that is comforting, something that makes you feel like you're in the company of an old friend. When I see the small sign for Our Place up above the sign for Rio, I remember the good times I had in a bar that was a favourite in late 2000. Our Place was one of the oldest bars on Soi Cowboy, in name at least, going back to the late '70s or early '80s, I believe. The sign for Rio is spectacular, as is the neon outside most of The Arab's bars, but Our Place has been around forever and when that small sign at the top of the photo here is removed, as no doubt it will be soon, yet another slice of Soi Cowboy will be consigned to history.


As much as I like living in Thailand, one of the things that bothers me most is the apparent inability of the locals to learn from past events, especially tragedies. On New Year's Eve 2008 a stack of people were killed and many more maimed when the night spot Santika caught fire. Many were trapped and could not get out. This week, a good mate wandered down to the local shopping centre, Central Lad Prao, around the same time that a *small* group of red-shirted protestors were said to be in the area. The shopping centre, in its infinite wisdom (not!), locked all of the exits in the basement level and there was no way out! As he roamed backwards and forwards, wandering corridor after corridor looking for a way out, he noticed that many Thais were doing the same – and they weren't happy about it. The word Santika was being uttered and some were getting anxious. Not panicking, but anxious. Obviously no-one at Central Lard Prao remembers Santika. What a blatant act of stupidity it was to lock the doors like that.

I had dinner this week with Dave The Rave at Bukhara, the Indian restaurant located right next to the pedestrian over bridge beside Sukhumvit soi 7. It has been around a long time but neither of us had ever tried it and we both thought the food was absolutely excellent. If you like Indian, it's well worthwhile.

For fans of English soccer, be careful where you get your clothes washed. Someone I know who is a Manchester United fan – I don't hold that against him – gave his dirty washing to the laundry in his apartment as he always does and collected it a day or 2 later. He didn't think anything of it until he went to wear his Manchester Unite shirt some time later – and it looked a little different. He examined it closely and realised that it had been replaced with a fake!

In the old days, getting the internet in your apartment or condo used to always be a pain and in some buildings, especially cheaper places, it still can be a pain. Thankfully things are changing and more building owners are aware that for many the Internet is more important than TV and as such wi-fi is available in more and more low-end condos. You should be aware that you're sharing a single connection with the entire building although in the more aware places bandwidth-sucking file sharing ports are closed. Buildings which install wi-fi and offer it to the residents must be doing very nicely. The cost to set it up is low and they can on sell Internet access for many times what they pay for it. What they usually do is get one high speed connection like a 10 MBps line for which they would pay less than 2,000 baht a month and then they just offer that bandwidth to everyone in the building via wi-fi access with what seems to be becoming a standard 500 baht a month fee. A nice little earner! Of course, if you had a connection yourself and were feeling entrepreneurial, there would be nothing to stop you setting up a few wireless routers, and on-selling your own connection!

Margarita Factory, the newest Mexican spot in Pattaya, will open in The Avenue Shopping Centre on Second Road on March 26.

For the Americans sniggering at the Brits' dismay at the plummeting pound, it's time to stop laughing. On the streets of Bangkok, you're down to 31.XX baht for your greenbacks.

The British Foreign office has done a great job of providing travel advice and transparent information about travel in Thailand on its website. I found the figure for lost passports to be alarming – almost 800 Brits visiting Thailand lost their passport last year.

What is it with this awfully strange trend where some Thais are addressing foreigners with the word "sir" – much more than they ever did before. You'd never hear the "sir" word in the past unless you were in a fancy hotel or resort but now I hear it in bars, restaurants, some 7 Elevens and even the local fried rice lady always says to me "Thank you, sir" when I doubt she knows any more than a handful of English words. Of course it could be the influence of the huge number of Filipinos teaching English in Thailand. That lot totally overuse the word "sir" too.

Reader's story of the week comes from Old, Fat & Bald and is titled, "Dating In The West; A Response To Wanderlust And Billy Bunter".

Quote of the week, "Middle age is the time of life when the narrow waist and the broad mind begin to change places."

From the Phuket Gazette, an Aussie will no doubt regret being caught with drugs in Phuket.

CNN have an hilarious piece on the fashion crimes of farangs in Bangkok.

More problems in paradise as cruise liners slam the rip off problems in Phuket.

An Aussie dies under mysterious circumstances in Thailand.

A Swede in Pattaya harms himself after the horrible stress of things going south between him and a lady of the night.

From the Bangkok Post comes a piece from a Western-educated writer titled Amazing Thailand and its vulgarities.

From the BBC's coverage of the protests in Bangkok this week, the Thai PM admits the country is divided.

Not Thailand-related but interesting enough, from Mexico, this is what happens to aging working girls.

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. She received two questions this week but as she is away this weekend they have not been answered and will run next week.



I can't say I am looking forward to Songkran for it's a time of year that I detest, that feeling of being trapped in the condo and unable to go for a stroll around the neighbourhood for fear of being drenched. But today being doused in water might not have been such a bad thing, so hot is it getting. It must have been high 30s today and I hear that upcountry some places are touching 40. I put my head down after my morning run and fell asleep, waking up startled at what the time was and worried I would be late with the column. No problem, I'd only been out for about 3/4 of an hour. It really is sizzling outside.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick