Stickman's Weekly Column April 11th, 2010

It’s A Real Crisis Now



Zooming up my soi was a pick up truck adorned in red flags followed by a motorbike, the rider wearing the signature red bandana, the passenger fervently waving a red flag. The central assembly area of the red shirts might be some distance away but I didn't have to make it far from the front door to spot them.

This past week the red shirt protests in Bangkok became a full-blown crisis. After weeks occupying the Phan Fa Bridge, close to Democracy Monument and not far from the backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road, they set up a new camp at the Rajaprasong intersection, the central intersection with Central World Plaza, Gaysorn Shopping Centre, the Grand Hyatt Erawan and the Police Hospital on its corners. Bangkok might not officially have a city centre, but I have always considered that to be it. But it's not that they have taken their protest to the heart of Bangkok, to the major upscale shopping area and a part of town many tourists know. It's the attitude. Things have changed. There's a new fervour and a steely resolve that they are here for the duration. As the red shirts became more visible this week, their attitudes hardened and things reached boiling point.


I didn't venture out to the previous protest spots at the Phan Fa Bridge. Just as I didn't really follow the yellow shirts when they protested, neither have I paid much attention to the reds. That is until now. This all changed when they started to make themselves more visible.

Stand on any Bangkok street corner and you'll see taxis, tuktuks, motorbike taxis, songtaews, delivery vehicles and even some private cars sporting red flags or ribbons, openly and proudly signaling their allegiance. Bangkokians have become increasingly frustrated at the occupations, including the most recent which has forced the closure of their beloved shopping malls and forced more traffic diversions. The reds are louder and they are telling the world what they think and what they want. It's not just central Bangkok where the message is heard. They have taken it into the suburbs as young male members speed along on motorbikes or in the back of pickups, waving flags and blasting their message on loud speakers.

The best way to know what is really going on is to do exactly what you're not supposed to do – head for ground zero. So twice this week I went along to the Rajaprasong intersection. I strolled amongst the protestors, I chatted with them, I took their photos and I was scowled at by more than a few. For sure, my presence was not entirely welcome. This is what I saw with my own eyes.

In addition to the Phan Fa Bridge, just east of the Democracy Monument, out towards Khao San Road, itself a major thoroughfare, the red shirts also control one of the busiest intersections in downtown Bangkok and have set up road blocks at all roads leading to it. At the northern point they patrol the bridge crossing the Saen Saeb Canal. To the south they are set up by the Grand Hyatt Erawan. To the east it is by Amarin Plaza and to the west, Henri Dunant Road. By day there seems to be but a few thousand protestors and traffic has been allowed to pass through Rajadamri Road and on to Rama 1 Road, but at night their numbers swell to tens of thousands.

Approaching the main protest area from the West – having taken the skytrain to the Siam station – I had to pass through a checkpoint to enter the red-controlled area. I was addressed in decent English, the guard asking me if he could search my bag and a more thorough search was made than when you get on the BTS or enter a shopping centre. Seeing but a camera and a bunch of lenses he allowed me to pass. Now let me say that the guards were pleasant and professional – they even looked the part with name badges clearly showing what they were. With that said, they were big, some were mean looking, and there is no way I would have argued with them.

I proceeded slowly along Rama 1 Road, heading east towards the Rajaprasong intersection. The area under the skytrain was lined with vehicles – taxis, tuktuks and larger commercial vehicles. The road was completely blocked.

A number of vendors had set up, with all the essentials on offer from pad Thai to barbeque to water to those peddling red shirt paraphernalia as well as an entrepreneurial bunch of women offering massage. All were red shirt supporters and all were resplendent in red, had red stickers or paraphernalia decorating their kart, or both. In fact almost every one of the supporters – and we're talking tens of thousands, was in red, creating a quite remarkable scene. As I got closer to the main stage area, set up right over the main intersection, the crowd became thick and progress became slow. Being the hottest time of year and with thousands of bodies pressed up against each other it was horribly uncomfortable. Sweat was running down my face and stinging my eyes, forcing me to stop, to squint, to try and clear my eyes, which piqued the curiosity of those near by. A younger woman approached me and offered me a tissue, almost aghast that I would pull my shirt up over my face and use it to wipe my face.

What struck me most was the change in attitude since the rally I had unwittingly stumbled upon outside Panthip Plaza a couple of weeks earlier. That day there was very much a carnival atmosphere, one of fun, everyone out there as much to protest as to enjoy themselves. There was a message and there was determination, but I saw little in the way of aggression and not a great amount of intensity.

At Rajaprasong there was a strange atmosphere, welcoming but tense. Many looked angry and uncharacteristically wore frowns on their faces. As a foreigner no-one said anything negative to me, but I did get some funny looks. There was no doubt my presence was not welcomed by all.

At Panthip there had been a heap of foreigners, a favourite spot for resident farang at the weekend as well as tourists, many of whom snapped photos of the parade. I saw perhaps a dozen other foreigners at Rajaprasong, most of whom I would guess were locals.

There were a couple of clowns, lone foreigners, parading around in red. One had a North American accent – I'd say he was Canadian if pushed – had donned all the red gear and he looked a bit like Wayne Rooney. I pointed the camera at him and his reaction was like I had a gun in my hands. The guy was maxed up in red gear. He had the shirt, the bandana, a red horn in one hand and a red clapper in the other. But what got me was that he was alone. I could almost understand it if he was there with family or a loved one. Supporting them could almost be considered noble. But he was alone, of that I was sure. So I asked him, in Thai, why he was wearing this red garb. He looked at me, blank. I asked him again, in Thai, loud enough for him to hear but quiet enough so that those around us – all vehement red supporters, of course – couldn't. He had the look of a deer in the headlights! So I asked him in English and these were my exact words, “What the fuck are you doing dressed like that if you can't even speak Thai?” He slinked off quickly, not wanting to get into a confrontation. Hey, I couldn't care less what he does, but it strikes me as plain dumb that foreigners are actively protesting yet have little clue what it's all about. And hey, I count myself in that number. I do not understand it 100% – so I keep my trap shut, don't try to analyse or voice an opinion, and just report what I see.

I never did see him but one foreigner, later identified as an American, got up on stage and spoke in English of his support for the cause, every word greeted with massive applause from a crowd who in all likelihood wouldn't have understood much of what he said. Amongst the stuff he came up with was that he has been in Thailand for 15 years. 15 years in Thailand and he can't speak Thai? I wonder if he will make 16? Surely it's bad form for foreigners to not just get involved, but be so visible. It's so easy to piss off the wrong people.

After taking plenty of photos, I strolled around the huge courtyard-like area in from of Central World where there was more space and a pleasant breeze. I sought conversation with those who didn't look hostile, those who looked like they would be willing to chat. Most were friendly and happy to see a foreign face, even when I said quite honestly that I was neutral, had no real opinion either way and just wanted to come and see things for myself. They were happy to explain why they were there, different people with different reasons, some convincing, some not.

All around Central World mats had been rolled out and many of the supporters were napping, looking like they had settled in for the night. A good night's sleep would have been impossible though with loud speakers set up all around the area at Thai-loud volume, loud enough to raise the dead. I thought that the occupation by the tens of thousands was an around the clock affair but later learned that some time after midnight the masses headed off, perhaps staying with relatives. Each day they return to the protest site late afternoon. In the heat of the day there are limited numbers, a few thousand at a guess.

The area has become a real mess. While it was obvious efforts were being made to collect rubbish and refuse, some parts stunk of rubbish, other areas absolutely reeked of urine, the red shirts having put together their own quite ingenious urinal system – although just how the Sheilas cope I have no idea!

The impact on foreigners in Bangkok is very real. Thailand's best shopping centres, Siam Paragon – which is sufficiently far away that it need not close and Central World Plaza, amongst many that have shut the doors. Joining the casualty list have been Gaysorn Plaza, Siam Centre, Siam Discovery, much of Siam Square, Amarin Plaza, the shops in the Grand Hyatt Erawan and most of the smaller shops in the area as well as the street vendors. The Arnoma Hotel is right slap in the middle of it so goodness only knows how they are coping, and I cannot imagine that the noise escaped those in the nearby $US250 a night Grand Hyatt Erawan.

Few foreigners seem to be visiting the area and an article in the local press persuading foreigners to stay away seems to have been effective – and justified. Despite visiting myself, I would not recommend it.

Last night I wandered around parts of central Bangkok. It felt like we were on the verge of civil war. Police had abandoned their traffic control booths and red shirts controlled the Nana and Sukhumvit soi 8 intersections, only allowing those vehicles with red stickers, ribbons or flags to pass, all others diverted or made to do a U-turn. The red shirts had gained control of key intersections with ease – and there weren't even that many of them. The sight of these youngsters rejoicing in the street, dancing, waving red flags and celebrating being in control was sickening, but not as sickening as the way the brown shirts had fled their post. Still, it seems that the coppers have been ordered to use minimal force which has reinforced the message to the reds that if you want it, you can take it!

Down at Soi Cowboy, where I recognise the characters lurking in the shadows, a bunch of government intelligence agents were monitoring things. Maybe police, maybe another security / intelligence branch, who knows? There were at least 3 at each end of the soi, obvious from their athletic physique, cropped haircut, earpieces and eyes which homed in on every last little detail.

Earlier I had walked past the JW Marriott where there were heaps of security out front, perhaps 15 or more security staff.

In the taxi on the way home – and getting a taxi last night was a real mission – the driver spoke with vigour of the cause and how they would fight to the end, logic and commonsense thrown out the window. It was an us against them thing. Thailand is clearly deeply divided.

I got home to images on CNN of chaos, blood and death on the streets of Bangkok. I scurried down to 7 Eleven, the Mrs. shrieking, ordering the purchase of water, Mama noodles and other essentials. I desperately wanted to go out into the heart of it last night, to see it for myself and to capture it. Prudence prevailed. I got back from 7 Eleven, got online and read that amongst the casualties was a Japanese reporter who had been killed in crossfire. Reports of gun shots around Khao San Road and blood on the streets around Democracy Monument were all over the news.

The way they both sides are going about things is not going to endear them to anyone but their own supporters. For the red shirts, screaming around in wild packs on motorbikes late at night, taking their cause to quiet Bangkok neighbourhoods and seemingly willing to get in people's faces is not an approach I thought I would see. They've turned the heat up. They are cruising around on bikes in packs late at night, adorned in red, flying the red flag, yahooing, screaming and frankly, behaving like thugs. They smile for any Westerner who points a camera in their direction but that aside, they're a public relations disaster. They're like mosquitoes buzzing around that you cannot swat, more nuisance than harmful. I wouldn't expect them to get aggressive; the leaders seemed to have instilled in them the importance of refraining from violence. But away from the leaders' eyes it can be easy to become agitated and anything is possible.

The skytrain was closed yesterday amidst reported threats that the red shirts would destroy it, whatever that means. Destroy the stations? Destroy the cars themselves? And with the skytrain shut down yesterday and offering very limited service today, some taxi drivers are cashing in and asking extortionate prices, many refusing to use the meter. As the temperature at the height of the Thai Summer soared, shots were fired, grenades were thrown and there were casualties on both sides.

To sum up, the red shirts currently occupy two locations in Bangkok, at Phan Fa Bridge near Democracy Monument and at the Rajaprasong intersection. Following violent confrontations that at last count left 20 dead and hundreds injured, they are digging in for the long haul. Soldiers have been taken hostage. Around the country there have been mass rallies in the reds' strongholds, the north and the northeast. Roadblocks are in place in many provinces and in some military installations security has been beefed up. The biggest and most popular shopping centres in downtown Bangkok remain closed. Many shops in and around central Bangkok – read, the places where foreigners go – have closed. Red shirts are spontaneously taking over intersections and diverting traffic, sometimes forcing vehicles to turn around and go back the way they came. The skytrain is running a very limited service servicing only the ends of each line. It has been reported that there are thousands of foreigners at the airport desperate to get a flight out. Police have abandoned their booths and in central parts of the city where you see them 24/7 they are conspicuous by their absence. Are these the ingredients of what we call chaos?

The Thais are good at many things. Conflict resolution is perhaps not one of them. It's really hard to see any way out of this mess.

For the first time in all my time in Thailand, I would say that it would be wise to look at your country's travel advisory and yeah, I would take heed of what they say. Really.



Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the Offshore Fish and Chips store on Sukhumvit soi 23. 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 correct wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the very best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express. Duke's is very conveniently located in the Emporium shopping centre in central Bangkok. We have ANOTHER new prize starting this week! For the next 5 weeks I also have 5 Zanny calendars to give away, making a total of 4 prizes! If you wish to win a prize, please specify your order of preference!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. To claim the book prize and the calendar prizes you must provide a postal address within Thailand now. Te Duke's Express prize must be redeemed before March 31st, 20100. 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 – Had enough of the political nonsense.

I can't see anything good coming out of this political nonsense, at all, ever. The problem with the lack of law & order is there's no damned law & order! Yeah, it's nice to take care of traffic violations with a smile and a few red notes, and not worry about absurd regulations but it's a double-edged sword. There seems to be nothing the authorities can do short of using force. Everyone's tempers are getting frayed in the heat and Team Red is using the intelligent tactic of NOT saying where they're going to hold their next Dingbat party. Hong Kong news showed some woman, a Bangkok resident, screaming blue murder at a group of Reddies, the announcer said she was telling them they were preventing her from earning a living (note, this was a typical resident, not a demimondaine, to crib Trink). If they slink back to wherever, or are replaced by some different Dingbat faction, or have drag races inside Siam Paragon while drunk off their asses on rotgut rice whiskey, it's all fine with me. The visa situation will continue to be a mess, corruption will be rife, and some things will never change. Hookers will charge less or more or drug & rob you or not. Businesses will fold. New Westerners will fall in love and give away all their money. But from what I've seen on the local news, HKers will not be thinking of Thailand as a place to set up shop, for whatever that's worth. Last time I saw a Hongkie who owned a Thai biz interviewed on local news was a guy in Phuket after the tsunami. He asked people to please come and give him much needed biz. I did. I did my part to try to help Thailand out. But right now, there are about 8,000 HKers in Bangkok and when they get back, they are NOT going to be recommending the place. You do NOT prevent a Hong Konger from shopping!

A little encouragement can go a long way.

I was thinking how an innocent remark can have such an effect. It's funny, but my telling a Soi Cowboy bargirl I have been seeing when she had a cocktail in Pattaya that she looked hi-so has really inspired her to improve herself. No-one had offered her any respect before, I guess. Now she keeps talking about wanting to be hi-so, but she also knows she has a very long way to go. But she's made a start.

Do you like surprises?

Back in '99, my first trip to Bangkok, a pal and I are in some bar in Patpong. It was getting late and the manager was feeding us shooters. To get liquor goggles on us, no doubt. It worked! My pal picks his lady for the night and I was enthralled with the one with big tits. We pay our barfines and got taxis back to our respective hotels. Up in the room, she's working my tool pretty good when the clothes come off. I recall starting to get a little suspicious but I was pretty clueless then. Clothes off and no, there was no tackle on this one. Whew! Upon closer inspection, this one had had the big cut done. Quite the conundrum as she was beautiful. I just couldn't do it. Thought about it but couldn't. Paid her, thanked her and sent her on her way. Reflecting, I stayed at the JW Marriott and damn, if only I had known about the famous car park just around the corner I could have got dressed and got a real woman!

Thai food in the West.

A thought to consider on why Thai food tastes different in the west – health standards. When it gets cold, I would sometimes make up a big pot of tom khaa soup. Like others, I could not quite reproduce the taste despite using quality ingredients and following the recipes. Then I simply left the pot of soup out on the range overnight, unrefrigerated. That's when the taste started to get closer to what I was looking for! Street stalls don't refrigerate the food, and when fine restaurants don't have air-conditioning – you think they store all the food in fridges? I think the taste in Thai food may sometimes depend on letting the food sit out for a while – like how some cheeses must be allowed to "age". Sadly, health regulators have little patience for restaurants who might want to store their pot of tom khaa soup unrefrigerated so it can pick up the proper flavor.

It's in the ageing!

There's been some discussion on the "different" flavours of overseas Thai. Yes, part is due to the freshness of the ingredients, but a good point was raised to the contrary, and I confirmed it in discussions with David Thompson (from Nahm in London) in October. Health officials in many places have a deep mistrust of foods being fermented in Asian cuisine. That healthy little bit of rotting – crucial to Thai, Korean, and other cuisines – can draw unwanted results out of a health official. (Mind you, these are the same sort of people that feel that cheeses made of unpasteurized dairy products would be the end of civilization).

What excuse can he come up with now?

As someone who spends most of his time in Thailand up in the Khon Kaen area I enjoyed reading your latest report. However, the news that Asia Books has opened a branch up there leaves me with mixed feelings. For the last 25 years I've been stopping off for three days in Bangkok each time I arrive in Thailand so that I can stock up on reading material and British-style bacon and sausages for when I'm up in Isaan. Last year I found Makro in Khon Kaen stocks decent sausages and bacon and now you tell me I can buy books up there too. What the hell I am supposed to tell the missus when I go missing for three days this year?

Western women condition us to be yes men?

A Pattaya-based friend has for a long time said that if guys are paying silly money then they're looking in the wrong places in Pattaya. Bangkok will always command a premium and I think guys probably have to accept that to a certain degree. He maintains in a recent email, that girls may ask for a certain amount but that is usually a starting point. One of the problems for western guys is that we've become conditioned by western women to accept what we're told. As a result, newbies take things on board from Thai women far too readily.

This whole red shirt thing is killing businesses in Bangkok. After a prolonged period of downturn, this could really be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Many have shut up shop for Songkran early. This week things were much worse than last according to the staff in pretty much every venue I talked with, bars and restaurants in the Sukhumvit and Silom areas.

Down in Pattaya I hear that one of my favourite watering holes Toyz, formerly known as Catz, is on the market. With owner Robert finally looking to retire and put his feet up, I'm told that it's available for a very reasonable price. Given the bar's previous popularity / profitability, if the number I've heard is correct there's a bargain to be had for a lucky someone.

Spanky's in Nana will hold a dance contest on April 16.

Spanky's is one of few venues in the nightlife areas which will actually close on the 13th and 14th. The girls really hate to work at this time, Songkran, the Thai new year – and would much rather be at home with their family. Spanky's boss is realistic, saying that he feels like a greedy prick making them work – and knowing that not many will come to work anyway he is one of few bar bosses who knows it is better to just close for those 2 days – and his staff will be much happier for it.

Speaking of Songkran, the Thai new year and the time when the country goes crazy with water fights in every corner of the country nationwide, some of the worst places can be the nightlife areas and perhaps Nana Plaza is the worst of all. Every year there are a bunch of wankers sitting near the mouth of Nana, which has just one entrance and one exit, who delight in drenching anyone who passes by. If you want a drink but don't want to get wet, Cowboy is a much better option at this time of year.

The 21-year old #21 in the Dollhouse is proof that there are a heap of tit guys in Bangkok. Check her out and I'm sure you'll agree that there's an argument for her having the most impressive chest in Bangkok. Many punters are in agreement and she is doing serious trade, 3 barfines some nights not unusual.

Two readers reported they were searched by police at police checkpoints in the Asoke area this past week. There's no surprise in that and the issue of police checkpoints in that part of town late at night is something I have covered recently. What did raise my eyebrows is that in each case they were in a taxi with a Thai lady who was not asked to get out of the car, was not asked questions and was not searched. In each case the vehicle was stopped and the foreigner – and only the foreigner – was asked to get out and have his person and belongings searched. And to make it worse, in one case they apologised to the lady for the inconvenience – but not the foreign guy! It seems we have been profiled as criminals in this country now.

The recent high profile arrest of an Englishman purported to be working in a Walking Street gogo bar wasn't an isolated case. There has been a crackdown on Westerners working in the Pattaya bar industry without a work permit and the rumour mill has it that he was the 19th such guy arrested in Sin City in the current crackdown.

How long have the girls been standing outside The Arab's bars in a state of undress? On Friday night in Soi Cowboy, at every one of The Arab's bars, the girls were milling around outside in large groups, lined up, in their bikini tops and shorts – and nothing more. I can only conclude that this is a (very well thought out) way to entice more punters inside his bars. Full marks to him. I hope other bars take on a similar policy!

Down Phuket way, the Russian has gone from Rio (under Rock Hard a gogo at Patong Beach) and it has been gutted. Apparently Larry is planning to open it as Rock Hard Cafe. Hmm, did he not have something similar to that a while back? Speaking of Larry, I understand that he won his case over the venue's name when the Hard Rock chain challenged him years ago, but now that the real thing is open in Phuket with big guitar and all, a kilometre down the road, I wonder.

I was up Ekamai the other night and noticed an Irish pub. Can't even remember the name but I do wonder how successful it will be, given its location. I sure hope the investors do well but the location, which is sufficiently far off Sukhumvit that you would not know about it unless you lived in the area or were passing by, could count against it. The management really ought to start advertising to get the word out. Hell, I cannot even remember the name of the place!

This is how the new Spanky's 3 in Patpong looks inside after the recent renovations. The booths have been given a new look, with white cloth covering them and to the left of the picture, just out of shot, is conventional gogo bar tiered seating. But the big question that everyone, me included, is asking, is just where do we find Spanky's 2?!

Will you be an unwitting extra in an Indian movie? A film crew from India was working in Soi Cowboy on Thursday night and a number of scenes were filmed outside Tilac and Cowboy 2 Bar so if you were in Bangkok's strip that night, who knows?!

Twice in the past week I have got into a cab that has had a rigged meter. How do I know? It's simple really. The longer you use cabs – and I usually use a Bangkok cab at least once a day – the better an idea you have of what the fare will be. And in both of the cases this past week, I was running the most common route I use – and the fare was much more than it has ever been before. In the first case, the meter ticked over even when the car was stationary. Yes, there is a waiting time component which is approximately a baht minute – but the meter was ticking over at the rate of about 5 baht a minute! The other time the rate just went up faster than it should have and for a journey of less than 8 km and with no waiting time the fare showed as almost 90 baht – when it should have been around 70. That taxi also had no fare schedule, no driver's ID was displayed and the driver was wearing jeans and a T-shirt – all dead give ways that something was up. A mate mentioned that he had experienced something similar and a long-time poster on a popular discussion forum recently posted that he too felt the meter was rigged when he caught a cab from the airport to his hotel. Whether the rigging of meters in Bangkok taxis is becoming more widespread or this is all coincidental I do not know. I can't say I am a big believer in coincidences. Is this going to be the next big scam? If you do happen to be a victim at least it won't cost you too much. In the two cases I experienced, I simply told the driver that the meter was wrong and that I took that route every day at almost the same time – which is true – and I would pay the usual fare of 70 baht. In both cases I received no argument whatsoever which suggests to me they knew the meter was dodgy. In each case, the driver was a young cowboy. I really think there is something in choosing a taxi with an older driver. Note the fare in the photo here and that there is no waiting time – and check it against the fare schedule next time you're in a Bangkok cab!

It's one thing charging 155 baht for a drink, but I personally find it appalling that the bar with the most expensive drinks in Nana does not even make a decent mixed drink. I stopped going into this particular Nana bar, a bar I used to go to all the time, because: A) I refuse to pay the prices they charge for water – which is what I drink more often than not these days. B) I stopped drinking beer – which, admittedly, is fine in this bar. C) The mixed drinks are a total joke – glasses only 3/4 full, ice cubes so small they melt in moments, tiny glasses, the staff are skimping on the liquor and putting in a minimal amount (I do not think they water it down) and their Coke / soda is often like water – obviously old. Some bars mix good drinks – two bars that come to mind are Secrets and Toyz in Pattaya – but the drinks in some Bangkok bars in the naughty nightlife industry are a total joke.

The top selling expat fiction novel Private Dancer is now available through Kindle, Amazon's eBook reader. In the States it costs just $2, and it's $4.23 in the rest of the world – a bargain. For more details, check it out here.

A big name Bangkok firm is looking for a good writer. They offer an extension of stay and work permit with a salary of 35,000 baht a month. You can apply by email.

A mate told me a funny story this week of how he dealt with a girl he had met online who turned out to be money hungry. They had chatted online for a while, eventually met and quickly found themselves in a taxi, presumably off to get a bite to eat or catch a movie. He had not been in her company for an hour when she asked him, in English, in the back of a cab, whether he could pay her rent for that month. He was shocked. Here was this girl who he had enjoyed chatting with online and who seemed to be a straight up sort, but was now was showing her true colours, asking for money from what could best be described as a relative stranger. So to get a Thai perspective on this, my mate asked the taxi driver, in Thai, what the driver would do if a girl he had just met an hour earlier and was in cab with asked him to pay her rent. The driver's reply was priceless. He said that no way would he be sitting in a cab in the first place with the type of girl who would so brazenly ask for money like that. Needless to say, this caused the girl major face loss and she was silent for the rest of the ride! It is just crazy the way Western guys throw money wily nilly around at these girls. I don't know why, but many seem to use the approach that they will try to buy a woman's heart. Madness! The average Thai guy, even those with a high income, doesn't throw money around like that despite what some of the girls may tell you. For the average Thai guy, if their girlfriend needs assistance, they will consider helping out, but only in small amounts – and certainly not until the relationship is well established. A Thai guy will wait until he knows the girl and the relationship is solid first. He won't try and buy her from day one, at least not with money like that. Sure, he may take her to nice venues for drinks and dinners but that is something rather different. Unfortunately there are some Thai women out there of questionable virtue who ask foreigners for cash from day one. Thai guys would not get involved with this – or if they did, they would consider the girl to be what she is – a whore. If you are with a girl you think is relationship-minded and you have a significantly higher salary and wish to help her out, it really is best to wait until the relationship is solid and then you should consider helping out in a responsible or small way. Start with something like buying her skytrain card, then perhaps credit for her mobile and go from there. That way she will continue to respect you. This throwing around of silly sums by some is just plain dumb – and often does more damage to the relationship than good.

A very popular character in Samui and Pattaya known as Big Joe was cremated last weekend after being killed in a car crash near Hua Hin. You can find various stories about him by Googling 'Big Joe Samui'. A massive affair, an estimated 600 foreigners turned out for his funeral where his coffin was too big for the burner! Big Joe had a very successful business making pies.

If you thought that Soi Cowboy seemed a little brighter since late this week you'd be right. Moonshine Joint and Jungle Jim's both erected new neon.

We run the air-con around the clock at this time of year and our power bill really spikes. We had the air-conditioning unit cleaned and the power bill dropped 700 baht per month – or about 30%! That's quite a big difference – and even better given that we did not pay a cent for it to be cleaned!

I can't help but feel that the business with the Qatari guy who groped the massage girl in Pattaya, a story I linked to last week, could create a very dangerous precedent. To recap, he groped a girl in a Pattaya massage venue and she screamed and ran out, claiming his advances were unwanted and of a sexual nature. They ended up in the local cop shop and later settled on 30,000 baht. Let's face it, for many massage girls – and especially massage girls in Pattaya – they may not be trained in massage and they get a maximum of 100 baht per hour for performing massage, often less. If they can get you aroused then they can potentially make a whole lot more. So let's say she gets you aroused, you're in the mood and you grope her but she then screams that you have mishandled her. Well, that may be just what happened in this case and now we have a precedent set – if she claims you groped her then you could find yourself up for 30,000 baht or more! Very dangerous indeed. And let's face it, some of these girls will see this as a way to make some very easy money. I hate to say it but this could become yet another widespread scam. From a massage girl's point of view, this is a totally brilliant way of lining her pockets!

A number of readers have asked me to cover the red shirt stuff on a daily basis. I would love to and while it is getting kinda interesting, I just do not have the energy to do that. To cover it on a daily basis means going out to the protest sites every day which really would be a bit much, not to say rather dangerous.

The note posted above the hand basin in the toilet in Sexy Night in Nana Plaza, pictured right, is a riot! If you cannot read Thai, ask your girlfriend or wife what it says!

Do you want to be the new Stickman? I can't keep this up forever so someone is going to have to take the flame one day. But anyway, if you are interested in building your own website but do not know how, there's a new web design school in downtown Bangkok targeting Westerners with tuition in English. They provide a heap of courses covering all the skills you need from web design, graphic design, e-commerce group courses and bespoke one on one computer courses. They're centrally located on Asoke, not far from the junction with Petchaburi Road and the courses they offer should appeal to the expat looking to increase their income, or just someone who wants to set up their own site. They have already taught over 100 people how to design websites and some have been pleasantly surprised at the amount of money they can earn running a site, launching their own business online or managing their current company's website. I know a lot of retirees take up Thai language courses but many drop out after a month or two, often disgruntled at the way some Thai instructors have an attitude that the teacher knows best – which does not go down well with Westerners. You won't find this abhorrent attitude at WebCourseBangkok. As a final incentive, they are offering all Stickman readers 10% off their first course. Just tell them that you are a Stickmanite and you'll get the discount.



Quote of the week comes from a long-time reader. "I prefer even the ladyboys to those damn tailors!"

In a week of many excellent readers' submissions, the reader's story of the week comes from Cowboy Crawler. " Changing Someone's Life" is the story of a kind soul who does his best to make a bargirl's life a little more comfortable.

Drowning, and the problem of a lack of swimming skills in Thailand, the biggest killer of Thai children, is being looked at.

Bangkok's unusual Atlanta Hotel was profiled in the Aussie press this week.

CNN has an interesting bunch of Thailand-related articles on their Uncovering Bangkok page.

From PhuketWan comes yet more (!) jet ski problems in Thailand.

This *really* has got to be one of the worst jobs in Thailand!

Tourism related business in Thailand is down 15% since the latest red shirt occupation.

An Australian news site ran one of the ever popular how to spot a Thai ladyboy articles this week.

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial on the red shirts occupation.

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: Is it normal to ask your employer for permission if you have to go to the hospital in another city? I was laid off from a school in Nakhon Phanom province for that reason. I had to do a trip to Bangkok to, among other things, go to the hospital. After only 15 minutes I was called and told, basically 'You're fired, cause you didn't ask for permission to leave town on your days off!' Note, it was never mentioned to me in any way that I had to. Is slavery still existent in Nakhon Phanom? As for the school, the administration is a mess. No timetables, no planning, but absolute chaos. I went there from Bangkok for a summer camp (not having received any paperwork) and, possibly, a full-time position starting in May. I had to go to a hospital in Bangkok on my days off at the weekend, while my girlfriend was to stay on in the wooden house provided by the school. We went to the bus station to buy a ticket for me and after only 15 minutes we got an angry phone call from the head teacher (who seems to have more power than the head of education), telling me that I should return to the school immediately to pick up my pay for one week's work and 'be off'. Teaching was no issue, as students were lucky with my teaching. BTW, an Aussie expat told me that I was actually the third teacher who had turned his back on the school within only eight days, and about the tenth within a year. This expat once worked for the school as a volunteer, but he had to stop as they couldn't even put a timetable together for the classes they wanted him to teach!

Mr. Stick says: I think quite simply you are better off having nothing to do with this school and leaving is the best thing you could have done. This employer sounds like an absolute nightmare! Really, you can do MUCH better than this lot unless you *really* want to be living and working in that part of the country – and as pretty as Nakhon Phanom is, and as nice a place as it is to visit, I imagine it would get boring fairly quickly living there, especially if you were not fluent in the local lingo. To answer your question, no, there is nothing in Thai employment law that says you cannot leave the area you live / work in – and the employer was quite ridiculous to use that as a reason. I would be curious to know if it was a foreigner or Thai who said that nonsense.

So it's Songkran this coming week, that period when the country goes mad – as if it wasn't mad enough already – when anyone and everyone stepping outside the sanctuary of their castle becomes a supposedly legitimate target for those celebrating the Thai new year. Like most long-term expats, I really don't like this period, no, let's say it for what it is, I hate it, and I lock myself indoors, venturing out only when I have to and when I can take the confines of the condo no longer. The days of locking myself indoors for a few days with a couple of books and the number for pizza delivery embedded in my mind are long gone. I need to get outside, need my daily exercise and just simply need a change of scenery. I have almost resigned myself to the fact that when running some prick is going to drench me. If he is Thai, I'll accept it begrudgingly, but if some farang has a go, he had better be prepared for some choice words.

Oh, and don't worry, despite this being my second piece on the red shirts in recent weeks along with mild observations of the political landscape, Sticky is not going to turn into a political commentator. At least not just yet. That said, the political landscape is much more interesting, even to this apolitical fellow, than the bar industry is at the moment.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick