She was different. It wasn't that she was striking to look at because she wasn't; she was very much a plain Jane. It wasn't that she was a Bangkok girl amongst a troop of Isaanites – Patpong bars have always had a higher percentage of Bangkok-born girls than Nana or Cowboy. It was only when I started chatting with her that I figured out how she was different. It was her first night on the job. And it would be her last.
Early evening on Patpong soi 2, and there were only a couple of customers in the bar. That made it the ideal time to do a photo shoot. All of the girls were there and no-one had been barfined yet. There were a couple of customers or in other words, just a couple of people to get anxious about being caught in the background of a photo in which they'd rather not feature.
Bar photography is about two things: the technicals and about building a rapport. The technicals is all those things like the aperture, the shutter speed, the ridiculously high ISO to balance the subject with the background, diffusing the flash and avoiding flashing lights. It's just as much about making the lady comfortable, getting her to pose and look sexy, to make it appear like she really is actually enjoying herself. I'm decent at the technicals, but suck at getting girls to pose.
In front of me was the lady I would term "Miss Awkward". This one is going to be hard to make look good, I said to Dave. It was my friend the Rave's night off and he was spending his one free night of the week in the bars, as he is wont to do.
Miss Awkward was happy to be photographed – in fact she really seemed to rather like the idea. At the same time she was the proverbial fish out of water. She seemed, well, to use that word again, awkward. I tried to make her look sexy. She didn't speak farang but we spoke Thai so she was comfortable enough. But getting her to look sexy, hmmm, that wasn't easy. She had no idea how to pose and despite suggestion after suggestion she looked, well, awkward.
I don't like to ask the question because no matter what the answer, it makes them feel bad. But I couldn't work her out so I asked. How long have you been working here? She shook her head. It took me a moment to work out
what she meant. It was her first night.
I eventually got a few photos of her but they would be unusable. She had no more idea how to pose than I had to get her to pose. She'd never make girl of the week.
A couple more girls were shot before I slinked in to the back corner and resumed the chit chat with Dave. OK, if you know Dave you know how it is, he chatted and I listened. He gave his thoughts on the way the bar was run, pointing out the sorts of things that anyone who had never run a bar would never even think about. He should be a bar consultant.
An English guy was sitting at the bar, a couple of paces to our left. Miss Awkward was on one knee, another girl on the other. The night was early but they were well on their way, throwing back shots like there was no tomorrow.
A few more customers had drifted inside. It was still relatively early, some time between 8:30 and 9:00. The hello girls took their turns to come inside and escape the heat of the hot season. It may have been well after dark but the Mercury was still
touching 30 degrees.
It was the shrieking that got us first. Shrieking, screaming and someone clearly in distress.
Looking across to our left, Miss Awkward was on the cold concrete floor, on her back, thrashing around. What had the English guy done to her? Had he belted her?
She was thrashing around on the ground, her torso bouncing from side to side, involuntary movements, thrashing around vigorously. One side of her head started smashing up and down on the ground, up and down and up and down as if there was something lodged in her ear that she desperately wanted to get out. He arms started going and her eyes were wide and unfocused, like no-one was home.
It was like a scene from a horror movie, the starlet possessed. But we weren't on a movie set, we were in a Patpong gogo bar.
Girls rushed towards her, some to her aid and some to watch. An older dancer pushed her way through the crowd and crouched down beside her. She grabbed the flailing, thrashing girl, pulled her up and started furiously slapping her back. She was slapping it harder and harder, slapping really, really hard. Was Miss Awkward choking? Had something lodged in her throat?
The DJ, i5 2.2 GHz, didn't miss a beat. The music belted out. No-one turned the house lights on. Music was playing, lights were flashing, girls were shrieking and in the middle of the bar, a distressed dancer was experiencing a serious medical condition and being frantically assisted by another dancer.
Customers sitting on the opposite wall could not see what was going on, concealed by the crowd of concerned girls who had gathered around.
And then Miss Awkward froze. She had stopped moving and for a moment I thought she had stopped breathing. Her eyes were fixed. Not glazed, but lifeless, just how I'd expect the dead look.
Howls went up from some girls, screams from others. The big English guy whose knee she had been bouncing on less than a minute earlier was protesting his innocence to no-one in particular, his voice breaking. "I didn't do anything, I didn't do anything", a look of absolute horror across his face.
Was Miss Awkward now Miss No-Longer?
When it comes to medical issues I'm an ignoramus. I can probably identify the symptoms of common medical issues, but when it comes to actually knowing what to do, let's just say that you don't want to rely on my (almost non-existent) medical knowledge to save you.
The slapping on the motionless back became more frantic. Not pounding, but slapping, hard and forceful slapping with an open palm. A slap, not a strike.
Girls were jostling for position for the best view, like vultures swooping in on a carcass. A couple turned away, a look of horror on their faces.
Every girl in the bar had come over and there was not a single girl on stage nor at the entranceway. We couldn't see a thing. No problem, I didn't want to see anything. I moved back towards Dave in the corner and remember saying, "This is not good."
Even Dave, the man with a mouth like a radio station, had gone silent. His usual cherub expression had become grim.
And then the girls dispersed. They returned to the stage, or moved back to sit with their customer. There was Miss Awkward, now sitting up. She composed herself, stood up and went to the toilet.
A few minutes later she reappeared and girl after girl went over and checked on her. She put on a brave face, as if it was all nothing. Face is everything.
The music was playing, the lights flashing, girls were dancing, customers were smiling…it was just another night in Patpong. A few minutes later it was as if nothing had happened.
The owner of the bar was offsite and the bar, like many, is without a manager. The mamasan keeps an eye on things but ultimately she looks after the girls. Translation: she makes sure the girls are making money. All else is sundry.
I wandered over to the mamasan and asked her what had happened. That girl can't handle her liquor. She had too much to drink. Hmm, I don't think that's the case, I said. She needs to go to hospital and there are two
very good hospitals within a couple of hundred metres. She drank too much, the mamasan repeated.
As far as the senior most member of staff saw it, that was that.
I needed air. I wandered outside and stood on Patpong's second soi, lingered a little and watched the world go by.
Outside, the hello girls were in deep conversation about what had happened. It wasn't just the alcohol, they said. They went on to explain, ever so sure of themselves, that this girl had just had a spiritual tattoo done. But I don't see a tattoo on her, I said. Yeah, it's invisible, they responded, with completely straight faces. Everyone knows that the spirits don't allow drinking within so many days of getting a protective, invisible tattoo and they had punished her for not respecting their wishes. E-dok, they cursed her, fucking slut. Everyone knows that you don't drink after getting a sacred protective, invisible tattoo. What was she thinking? It was all her fault!
Back inside I got another version from a couple of girls I had photographed. The fit / spasm / seizure / whatever was a result of a recent tattoo where the ink and the alcohol mixed and that was the reaction. They were adamant they were right – what would anyone else know?
I went back over to Dave who said that he had seen worse in bars. I don't want to know what could be worse.
I looked around the bar, half-expecting to see her emerge from the changing room under the shower cubicle, in regular clothes, accompanied by a couple of dancers taking her to hospital. Instead, less than 10 minutes after her medical episode, she was
back exactly where she was, on the Englishman's knee, and resumed throwing back shots of the hard stuff. Tequila after Tequila was going down the trap. No-one was in the least concerned.
I called the owner but his phone was off. No surprise, he's the one guy in Bangkok who goes to bed earlier than me.
I approached the mamasan who I have known for years. "She shouldn't be drinking, she needs to go to hospital to get checked out."
I was ignored, the silly idea dismissed.
We had planned to make the rounds of Patpong but a gogo bar was now the last place I wanted to be. I headed for the underground.
Looking back, the most likely explanation was that the poor girl had suffered an epileptic seizure. Whether the slapping on her back helped or hindered her, I have no idea.
Thais always know better and really don't like it when foreigners interfere. Suggestion that the girl should get checked out at hospital wasn't just dismissed, it was considered ridiculous. More alcohol, that was what she needed. The Thais always know better.
I returned to the bar a few days later. After leaving the bar that night Miss Awkward never returned.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the Grace Hotel in Sukhumvit soi 3. A number of readers thought it was the Dusit Thani and looking at it, I can see how they look kind of similar.
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 – Forum noise.
I loved your ThaiVisa column and it explains a lot. I thought it was a big organisation. I stopped using it years ago as many of the forum posts looked like they were from people who were bored and had nothing else to do. If Average Joe would ask, "I have a new concrete house in Hua Hin that I would like to paint light blue, what is the best advice to prepare and seal the exterior wall?", there would be 2 posts nagging him about why he lives in Hua Hin when the birds are better in Pattaya, a 3rd post telling him that light blue is a gay colour and the 4th post would be from a guy in Phuket announcing he has a "1996 Ford Fortuner for sale with only 6,000 km on the clock (guaranteed)" and it would go on, and on, and on like that…!
I long suspected a dodgy background for ThaiVisa. I suspect there was some connection between the late owner of The Game that you wrote about a few weeks ago (or at least some of his buddies involved in shady affairs). The reason I have this suspicion is that any mere hint of criticism of the shysters who rip people off in Thailand was quickly removed by the moderators of ThaiVisa. Some people tried to establish a freer forum to discuss the shady dealings but the site only lasted about 3 weeks or so. I made a few contributions hoping that site would get established but it disappeared. I had recommended the site to a few others online and then got questioned as to why it had disappeared. If every column that you published was as interesting as this week's (and the column about the late owner of The Game) I would be willing to pay a subscription fee. Together, you and Andrew Drummond could create a fantastic site worth paying for.
Links between Sabai Visa and Thai Visa.
Interesting article about Sabai Visa on Sukhumvit Soi 23. My friend might have been the only one denied a visa and we were surprised when his passport came back from Australia. Of course, it was all tea money and a business visa set you back 15,000 baht. And yes, back then there were many places offering the service, but none were as open as Sabai Visa. Maybe they were all using Sabai Visa and collecting passports. If you visited some of the places back then you noticed people coming in and handing over passports and money. If you remember the logo, it was the same logo as Thai Visa – it just said Sabai Visa. The Swedes in Bangkok have always been sure it was Sabai Visa behind ThaiVisa.
I always reckoned George was Lars but when I asked him via ThaiVisa a long time ago he said no, obviously, and just responded that he had bought the ThaiVisa.com website from Lars.
Parallels between Thai culture and ThaiVisa.
That was a wonderful piece about ThaiVisa. I've always thought the parallels between Thai culture and the online culture ThaiVisa has developed are almost too obvious to talk about, and I remain amazed at how few people seem to notice the very amusing correspondence.
Where to get toasted.
I have just read the Slyest Geezer post. I used that website once, ironically to ask for advice on the best way, as in the easiest way, to stay in this wonderful country until I get to 50 and can then apply for a retirement visa. It was a genuine enquiry. I commented that a Student Visa would mess up my days – boy, did I get my ass kicked! The 'moderators' tore into me. Just a straight up enquiry got me toasted – I guess they wanted me to tell them what I do during the days and so on. It was digital peer pressure! I walked and have never gone back to that website.
Getting Somchai on a good day.
In regards to the FIFO worker who was hassled by Immigration, I myself am a FIFO worker from Australia and have been visiting Thailand every 1 – 2 months since last year. On my last visit I realised I have a full double passport page of Thailand visa waiver stamps (since last year Thai immigration officials seem very careful to stamp the passport so that all the stamps are in order, as opposed to before when they would just stamp the first page that had an empty space). Anyway, the official noticed all the purple entries and made a remark to the bloke next to him which they both laughed at. I guess I got Somchai on his good day!
English pub boom.
I was struck by your correspondent's observation on the boom in English pubs in Bangkok. There is certainly no boom in English pubs in England where pubs are dying rather fast. There is, however, a similar boom in Hong Kong. Oddly, there was once a time when men went to girlie bars in Hong Kong and treated them like pubs – I am speaking of 30 years ago. It was not unusual to "hit the Wanch" for an evening's drinking and conversation, with no particular idea of paying a barfine and taking a girl out, although one might watch a few girls jiggling around shiny poles during the less interesting phases of the conversation. The last girlie bars that were regularly used as pubs were the Highway, run by Christine Yeh as an orthodox girlie bar, and Country Club 88 (still going) which was the first girlie bar to be as much a disco as a girlie bar. Both were used as pubs by people in the ship-owning, ship management and ship-broking businesses.
Reversal or maturation?
You are correct about the destructive and damaging effects of the industry on the women in particular. Yes, there are lots of sickos who frequent these places too. Those that rationalize their use of the industry as helping the girls with money for sex…well, it's just a defence. There may be a few women who can escape unhurt from the industry but not many. You are correct, the industry is a result of extreme poverty and a lack of equality for women. I have a couple of bargirls as friends and when they open up to me and tell me what is deep inside, the shame and the pain and the hopelessness….no-one can tell me any different. Thank you for reporting the facts on the effects of the industry on its patrons. I don't see your position as a reversal, I see it as maturation.
Pattaya gogo bar dancer Private Dancer has been acquired by Big Andy of Club Electric Blue. Big Andy has plans for it which include teaming up again with popular bar manager Captain Hornbag who has been doing a great job in Nana for several months. All is on schedule for Club Electric Blue Pattaya to start rocking Pattaya from May 1st.
The dancer at Dollhouse with the full-back tattoo is to add to her collection. She says her next tattoo will be just above her pubic area and feature Stickman mowing the lawn. She thought it would be a cute conversation piece and create more interest in her, luring customers to buy her more lady drinks. Are there many other professions where a tattoo potentially increases your income?
I frequently receive emails about Bernard Trink, what he's up to and how he's doing. The truth is I don't know; Bernard and I are not in regular contact. For that matter, I don't have his current contact details, nor do I know anyone who is in regular contact with Bernie. If you do wish to contact Bernard Trink, I suggest you send a letter – yes, a letter – to Bernard Trink care of the Bangkok Post in Klong Toey. Bernard still pens book reviews for the Post and I am sure any correspondence sent to Trink via the Post would reach him. And if you happen to catch a flick at Scala in Siam Square – the city's finest movie house (and the cheapest at just 100 baht for a movie ticket) – keep an eye out for Bernard as he has long been a keen moviegoer and a regular at Scala.
The skydiving photos on the walls of Dollhouse reflect the owner's keen interest in the sport. Dollhouse has a doorman / security boy who is a popular member of the team, both with staff and regular customers. Owner Darel thought it would be nice to do something special for him so took the lad for his first plane ride. The plane took off and headed for the sky. That lad is one of few people who can boast that he has taken off in a plane in which he didn't land but survived to tell the story. He was thrown out of the plane and enjoyed a tandem jump with Darel from several thousand feet.
After 3 years of CheckInn99 offering their most popular drink special, Stickman Jugs – a litre of Heineken draft for just 199 baht, the computer showed that as at this past Friday they had sold 9,750 of them. That's 320 kegs of beer! The 10,000 person to be sucking down a Stickman jug should happen in the next few weeks. It has been a great promotion which amazingly doesn’t cannibalize other beer sales; overall draft beer sales have gone up. Selling 10 – 20 jugs on any given night means the beer is always fresh. It might not be a big margin but margins aren't everything. Offer a good deal on one drink and people don’t whinge about 350 baht cocktails or imported beer when there is cheap draft on offer.
It is not my intention to stick the knife in to ThaiVisa and last week's article about the history of the site which included my thoughts on what I consider the lost opportunity of ThaiVisa made mention of an Australian who for a long time was an honorary Thai consul and who has became embroiled in a dispute with the owner of ThaiVisa after an arrangement that lasted many years soured. This person is currently under investigation by the Australian Federal Police with claims that someone with inside information tipped the authorities off about him. Who could that have been?
I've always said that Jake Needham's The Big Mango is one of the three best Bangkok novels and one of few books I've read more than once. It's been on and off as a movie project more times than I can remember over the last 15 years, and Jake once told me the only time he was really upset the project fell apart was when Jim Gandolfini (Tony Soprano in The Sopranos) died. Jake says Gandolfini had been looking forward to producing the film himself as well as playing the part of Eddie Dare, and he was particularly excited about shooting the film in Bangkok. He and Jake had worked for many hours on the script during breaks in the filming of the last season of The Sopranos and Jake tells me he was stunned by Gandolfini's sudden and unexpected death in Rome. After that, the movie project languished for a while, but I just heard from Jake that it is hot again. Mike Medavoy, one of the founders of Orion Pictures – and the producer of The Thin Red Line, Shutter Island, and Zodiac among many other movies – has resurrected the idea of doing a big screen version of The Big Mango and preparations are now underway. It will be at least late 2016 before The Big Mango hits the silver screen, so I suggest while you're waiting you grab a copy of the book and read it if you haven't already. It's a fun read that shows you how Bangkok was for foreigners around the time I first arrived. The Big Mango is available at Amazon's Kindle store, Apple's iBooks, and other online e-book sellers, but is no longer in stores in print, I'm afraid.
Jake on the set of Sopranos with Gandolfini.
What is it with these nasty scars on the upper arm of Thais, more often than not on females and usually up near their shoulder? My understanding is that it is a reaction to a vaccine, but I might be wrong about that. Surprisingly, it seems to be mainly on darker skinned girls and those from poorer parts of the country. Yeah, I know it's a generalisation but I cannot remember seeing these sorts of scars on fairer-skinned, Bangkok girls. Why is that?!
I reckon the honeymoon period for the average new expat to Thailand, irrespective of financial position, age, nationality etc is around 2 years. During the honeymoon period everything is wonderful and the new arrival may feel like he is in paradise. Some new expats become quite defensive when long-timers make comments about the country or the expat lifestyle that aren't positive. I often receive emails from new arrivals who feel the tone of this column and the site in general errs on the negative. I wouldn't say it's negative, rather that it's realistic. As a regular Thai female reader of this site (yes, they DO exist) said to me recently, many of the criticisms simply reflect the harsh reality of life for foreigners in Thailand. Those were her words. Get through the honeymoon period – it lasts a different period for each of us, but figure it to be around a couple of years – and then let me know what you think. Ignorance is bliss.
I was surprised to see the website of Thailand's leading farang investigative journalist, Andrew Drummond, joined the tens of thousands of sites to which access from within Thailand is blocked. There's all sorts of speculation about just who might be behind it. Drummond is not shy to shine a spotlight on Thailand's farang criminal class so the list of people who may be behind it is long!
On April 25th, ANZAC Day will be commemorated with a Dawn Service and Gunfire Breakfast at Konyu Cutting, below the Hellfire Pass Memorial Museum and an 11 AM Memorial Service and Wreath Laying Ceremony at Kanchanaburi War Cemetery. For those unable to make the morning service, Checkinn99 will host its annual ANZAC Dusk Music Salute from 8 PM featuring the British Club Pipe Band and Royal Conservatory trumpeter Damian Samson who will play The Last Post. The Ode will be read by a current or ex-serviceman or woman to be selected on the day. For those arriving early, talented Thai female acoustic singer Earth Collide will perform from 6:00 – 8:30 PM in her Checkinn99 debut. Checkinn will be serving Stickman jugs at 199 Baht and Gun Barrel Coffee (Bundaberg Rum with anything) at 99 baht a shot all night long. After the solemnities, house band Music of the Heart will perform a music salute of Down Under classic rock until late. You don't have to be an Aussie or a Kiwi, this great night is open for all. CheckInn99bkk.com
Fun artwork provided by reader, Dan.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, "If you want to know why you should be careful of many westerners in Thailand, just hang around on ThaiVisa.com for a few days."
Reader's story of the week last week was linked to the wrong story – apologies about that. The best reader's story of the past 2 weeks comes from Mega, " The Final Word".
The UK's Independent newspaper reports on Bangkok's growing craft beer scene.
The state of journalism in Thailand and the Bangkok Post in particular, gets a scathing review in the Columbia Journalism Review.
A lengthy article, Bodies For Profit, ran in a New Zealand newspaper this week about human trafficking and touched on and featured photos from the heart of Bangkok's sex tourism industry.
An Aussie traveller posts about their holiday from hell in Thailand and cruelty to elephants in the Land of Scowls.
The Japanese fellow who was cheated by a Bangkok cab driver and ranted online has resumed his ranting.
Ask Sunbelt Asia Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: My daughter started in a new kindergarten in a well-established international school in the countryside a few years ago. We look forward to our next daughter entering next year too. A new principal came to school last summer and this month he raised the kindergarten fee by 67%, claiming the original fee was a "start up rate" when establishing the kindergarten. However, no parents have ever been informed the kindergarten fee was a "special price" and even so, the original fee is far higher than competing schools in the area, nor is such information to be found in writing anywhere. Actually, he is the only one claiming so. We feel we have been fooled and the extraordinarily high price increase is to cover the costs that the school has not achieved to recruit new students. Is there anywhere we can take the principal or school to claim them wrong or even to court for misleading or alternatively, for an outrageous price hike?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors responds: There are three major types of private schools recognised by the Office of the Private Education Commission (OPEC): 1. Privately-owned schools that do not require support or subsidies from the government. 2. Privately-owned but requires partial governmental support (government provides 70% support). 3. Privately-owned, but are under a charitable organisation, government provides 100% support.
The tuition fees for the second and third type of schools are controlled by OPEC with a price ceiling that the school cannot exceed. The first type has no limit on their rates, the only control OPEC has is over curriculum and teaching quality.
Schools normally inform parents of tuition fees for the next academic year within a month or so before the end of the current term. Usually for fees for the current term, invoices are issued using fee rates that were previously published. Organised and established international schools would have their price list (the tuition fees excluding equipment fees, field trip) available to parents (especially to the enrolling family) after the admission test / entrance examination / proficiency test, so that parents will know the likely fees when their child progresses on to the next level and / or the years after.
Some schools promote and enhance the admission rate by offering discounts on the first enrolment fees (initial fees). However, such private schools can establish different rates for different levels due to differing costs, expenses and personnel. There is no established regulated framework for when such fully private schools can inform parents of the rate changes.
Songkran was a little different for me this year. There was water fighting but it wasn't anything like what I witnessed previous years and those who didn't want to be part of it were left alone. There was Morlam music, dancing and much partying but it didn't go late in to the night and neighbours in adjacent sois weren't kept up late by loud music. There was lots of food but it was kind of pricey and not very spicy. There was much drinking but it wasn't followed by mindless drunk-driving and there was no spike in road fatalities. If I have to endure Songkran, this is how I prefer it. If I had to use just one word to describe the Songkran I experienced this year, it would be restrained. I hope your Songkran was as palatable as mine.
Still your Bangkok commentator (and probably will continue to be for a long time to come),