Soap operas are losing the battle with Facebook and smartphone message apps are the place for friends to meet. And when friends do happen to be in the same physical space at the same time, some refuse to put down their digital device. The Internet is now such a big part of our lives that it's hard to imagine living without it. It wasn't always this way.
I've been a regular Internet user for 20 years. In December 1995 I signed up for an Internet connection so confusing that even with an IT background I had trouble getting it going. The connection was slow and the apps clunky & unwieldy, but once I got it going I never looked back. The telephone line was tied up all night long with a dial-up connection as reliable as a knock-off Patpong watch yet I became a 'net addict and the only time I got offline was when someone called and the call waiting beeps caused the modem to have a fit and break the connection.
From the technical side with fast and stable connections the norm, to the huge amount of content and applications that allow you to do just about anything you can think of, the Internet really is another world. If you so choose you can live your life in the cyber world – and these days it seems many do just that.
I was without an Internet connection for 6 months in the late '90s, from when I first moved to Thailand in the early 1998 until I bought a computer later in the year. With mobile Internet still many years away, using the 'net meant visiting the local net cafe. It was a great 6 months, spent discovering Bangkok. I'd get online once a week or so to check email.
After rent, and general living expenses, there wasn't much left from my teaching salary. In Bangkok, an Internet connection at home was almost a luxury back then and it cost about 10 times what it does today. A dial-up connection with Loxley ran 45 baht per hour and each time I called out to connect – anything other than dial-up was outrageously expensive – it was 3 baht a time. My combined monthly internet / phone bill could exceed 5,000 baht.
It was a different world back then and the Internet was still a novelty in Thailand where only the wealthy had connections; most Thais didn't even own a computer.
During those first 6 months in Thailand without a computer and a net connection, I made the most of my time away from the classroom. I'd jump on buses that passed my place and just see where it went. If I saw somewhere interesting I would get off, have a walk around, get something to eat and then jump back on a bus going back the other way. I did all the tourist stuff in Bangkok and the surrounding provinces, from the popular tourist spots like Ayutthaya and Lopburi to smaller out of the way places. My new colleagues, some of who had been in country a few years, couldn't believe how much of the place I had seen in a relatively short amount of time. With few friends and no girlfriend, you can only go to the movies so often or read so many books.
When I finally relented and bought a computer in late 1998, my lifestyle changed completely as I went from visiting surrounding provinces to visiting websites. I returned to my computer nerd roots.
I would soon discover a couple of expat forums and fell in to the trap of spending inordinate amounts of time online. They weren't just a place to talk about life in Bangkok, there were weekly meetings so you met new people, made new friends and extended your social circles.
The hot spots online for expats and regular visitors back then were the Sanuk forum (today Thai360.com) and the soc.culture.thai newsgroup.
As a new kid on the block, I enjoyed reading posts from those who had been in Bangkok a while and learning from old Asia hands. I remember one guy saying he'd been living in Bangkok for 4 years and I was in awe. That guy must know everything!
The forums were civil, and any nonsense or abuse was knocked on the head immediately. Time on the forums was just like the meetings in real life – a bunch of well-behaved strangers with common interests chatting about life. On the forums, established users took time to help newbies, the tone was positive and there was a real feel-good factor.
What makes this a little surprising is that the early Thailand forums often had a naughty boy theme. Up until the late '90s, sex tourists were the mainstay of the tourism industry. That's not to say that everything discussed was bar-related, far from it in fact. Forum threads most popular tended to be those with something quirky such as where to buy a large tub of Marmite or the latest sighting of Bernard Trink. They were different times.
It wasn't only Thailand-centric forums I participated in and I became a regular on photography, rugby union and investment forums. They were as entertaining as they were informative. The online experience was so good that I found myself spending more time online and less time doing much of anything else.
In recent years, Thailand discussion forums have been on an upwards trend in terms of visitor numbers, but a downwards trend in terms of quality. Knowledge has been replaced by ignorance. Civility is out, hostility in. Poetic prose has become inane ranting or abuse. Once an enjoyable way to wile away the hours, to be entertained and informed, most Thailand-centric forums are now anything but. I can't think of a single Thailand-centric forum immune to the malaise.
I was of the opinion that this was just a Thailand thing. Like I've long said, Thailand doesn't always attract the best of the West.
But then I started to notice much the same thing on sites which have nothing to do with Thailand. On photography forums, arguments between Canon and Nikon fanboys got so heated that they escalated and spilled over in to real life. Rugby forums disintegrated in to the online equivalent of a rival school punch-up.
I found myself enjoying the online world less and less. Away from reading the local Thailand news, catching up on what was going on at home and responding to emails, I spent less leisure time online.
I would move away from spending time online and time in front of a computer generally. I rediscovered the joy of reading, and in my last few months in Bangkok I walked and walked and walked, often from just before the sun went down until very late at night. I'd walk for hours, sometimes without a clear route in mind. Sometimes I dragged a friend along and Lecherous Lee was my main victim, hauling him on a walking tour that started in Sukhumvit, went down to Chinatown, followed the river up to Khao San Road, and on one occasion went all the way back to Sukhumvit. I'd start late afternoon and get home around midnight. I loved it, and it beat the hell out of wasting so much time online.
Arriving back in New Zealand, I turned to the Internet to research the property market and other stuff I was out of touch with. Signing up to local forums I was amazed at how much nonsense there was. Even in little old New Zealand where folks are friendly and genuinely nice, the online world was rather different.
There was a pettiness, a nastiness and a general atmosphere of hostility on blogs, forum posts and social media. The bad Internet experience wasn't a Thailand thing at all. It was an Internet thing.
It wasn't always like this.
Did politeness go out of fashion? Is civility and basic manners online really too much to ask for? Why do some revel in mocking or plain outright attacking someone who asks others for their thoughts or advice? When did it become cool to be a cunt online?
The Internet is such a major part of our lives but it can be quite depressing to read the inane and mean-spirited ramblings from those who give the impression they are inadequate in their own lives and achievements.
The cyber world has come a long way since those days when the modem would always disconnect, and when you had to wait for a webpage to load. In terms of the technicals, the amount of content and the huge array of apps available, the Internet has come a very long way. At the same time, the general nastiness has had a detrimental effect on the general user experience.
Cutting back on the amount of time I spend online has been the best thing I've done in years. It means more time for exercise, to meet friends and to explore. It almost feels like those first 6 months in Thailand without an Internet connection. It's nice to spend more time in the real world.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the Golden Mount AKA Wat Saket, in the old part of the city. The unusual angle made it more difficult. The one clue I will give with this week's photo was that it was taken recently, and not by me.
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 – A rookie responds!
Are you calling me a rookie when it comes to whoremongering? I assure you my credentials as a bona fide whoremonger are impeccable. I have the necessary number (in the hundreds, probably more) of whore encounters, consummations and transactions. I've done just about everything imaginable with whores, short of marrying one. There have been short-times, overnights and even week-long encounters. There have been beauties, plenty of Miss Averages and a few downright uglies but I tried to be an equal opportunity whoremonger. While I have every right to be offended if you call me a rookie, what I don't have is any defence to that slur of rookie because what every professional whoremonger should know is that every encounter with a lady of the night is never the same or routine. Each one has the propensity to turn even your best laid plans into turmoil, chaos and / or disaster. Anyone who thinks they have mastered the whoremonger's world is merely on standby to have their ass handed to them in their hat because to every whore you are a rookie!
The bars still rock.
Thinking back on my 2 months there recently, in reality it was actually pretty good. There was one of me and all these choices one could ever ask for while on holiday. Even the line-up in front of the Nana offered more choices and a guaranteed score. Guys in the west would be elated to take any one of those ladies home in their home country on a Saturday night. All of the gogos I went in had beautiful, friendly girls. I made it to Spellbound, Black Pagoda, Club Electric Blue, Glass House and Happy A Gogo. Not running the gambit, but enough to wet my whistle. The discos were full, and the beer bars I went in to in Udon and Pattaya didn't have punters but really livened up when I, the only punter, bought a round. It definitely wasn't the glory days of the late 80s and early 90s, but it was good. If you never saw the early days, you would never know the difference. The same held true when I bought the girls in the gogos a drink. I must say that beer prices were more expensive than I am used to but maybe the drop in the baht will ease some of the pain. The only really bad feeling I got was paying the equivalent of $5 a drink in a beer bar and the beer was warm. For $5 a beer should come out ice-cold.
Hidden Kuala Lumpur.
I was in KL a couple of years and can confirm that the Asian Correspondent article is correct – the area called Bukit Bintang, in the heart of downtown Kuala Lumpur, is a large brothel – not in your face like Nana Plaza or Soi Cowboy, but I was still surprised to find a Muslim city with such open prostitution. A mate of mine from Melbourne told me a while back that KL is an undiscovered whoremonger's paradise. Maybe not anymore.
Not knowing their own body.
I remember you asking about medical problems and the number one has to be yeast infections. Some girls just get them naturally. It is amazing the ignorance of the subject (and most anything about reproduction beyond the act). They have no idea what it is and how easy it is to get rid of if they do have it. This came to me recently when a pretty new girl showed up and the other dancers started calling her smelly behind her back. When I asked if anyone had told her what simple medicine to buy over the counter to get rid of the problem I got, "You mean there is medicine for that?" They had no idea that a combination of an insert inside capsule and 3 pills over 3 days will cure all but the very worst cases with no prescription or doctor visit needed. Of course, after that I became the go to person to ask what meds to buy!
Thai cutting routes.
I see that Thai Airways is abandoning flights to Los Angeles, as well as to Spain, Italy, South Africa and Moscow. Will it soon be just a regional airline only flying to China?
100 Pipers + a cigar butt ≠ Jameson's.
Poison a load of bar customers with the same man-hating, farang-hating hillbillie dyke's version of what Jack Daniels, JW Black or Jameson is supposed to taste like? Pour juniper-flavoured Ethel into a Tanq bottle (and if he complains just prove to him that it's Jack / Tanq / Jameson / Jonnie by showing him the bottle…so make an idiot out of him too.) If he dies? Or suffers temporary blindness? Excruciating headaches? Well, there's way more fools where he came from. Insist to a guy who's been gargling the real stuff for 40-odd years that he's wrong about fake booze. I'm guessing that "Thai Jack" is (by now) a secret family recipe with a Sang Som base and that their "Jonnie Walker" is 100 Pipers (if you're lucky) and for the Jameson's they may marinate a cigar butt in 100 Pipers before transferring it into a recycled Jameson bottle. We're not on any hierarchy that touches them (so, read not human) so you could actually go blind in the bar and they just wouldn't give a F. I'll pay corkage on my own Bourbon or order Singh Soda and occasionally add (where I've cleared it with staff) a drop or two of bitters. Or a Beer Lao. Best suds for the money when you feel like a brewskie.
Thailand and a few good men.
No way are you overly negative about Thailand. If anything, you give Thailand the benefit of doubt when reporting on what really goes on. I can think of a Hollywood movie line from “A Few Good Men” that is applicable here: Jack Nicholson to Tom Cruise, “You can't handle the truth!” If some of your critics actually lived in Thailand full-time they would be more inclined to view the place without their rose coloured glasses…
Which foreign bar boss in Patpong got in to fisticuffs with a DJ in his bar one night last week?
If you can find a copy of the August issue of the Indian edition of GQ magazine, popular Nana Plaza bar Spanky's is featured.
The manager of Club Electric Blue in Pattaya, Captain Hornbag, will celebrate his birthday with a Nanapong-style dance contest to be held at Club Electric Blue in Pattaya next Saturday, August 15th. And this won't just be Nanapong in style, it will be Nanapong in content with a bunch of girls from Dollhouse Bangkok going down to Sin City for it. The owner tells me that when I get reports about this one I'm going to regret being on the other side of the planet.
And if you don't manage to make it, there are more events tentatively scheduled with hopes of a Nanapong dance contest in late September / early October and a mega party and dance contest in late November. More details when the events are confirmed.
As a reminder, happy hour at Club Electric Blue in Pattaya runs every night from 8 PM for 2 hours. It's buy one, get one free on house spirits and draft beer is just 45 baht. After 10 PM, draft beer is a still reasonable 90 baht. And do remember that while the likes of Soi Cowboy and most of the bars in Nana Plaza close at 2 AM, down in Pattaya it's typically later. Electric Blue in Pattaya is doing well with at least 40 dancing girls every night. Captain Hornbag insists that he does not have any girls with a snot-rag attitude and no customer will hear one of his dancers say, I not go with customer I coyote. Do stop by!
Word is that The Den in Sukhumvit soi 12 is not doing as well as the owners hoped it would. It's a shame such a nicely done out venue offering a better day-time experience can't seem to compete with the Biergarten. The building adjacent to The Den has been renamed to Lion's Lair Karaoke and Guesthouse although whether the rooms are available for more than an hour, I do not know.
Next Saturday, August 15th, Heaven Above will celebrate one of their biggest parties of the year when the bosses & Mamasan Nong's birthdays are celebrated. Happy Hour runs from 7:30 – 9:30 PM with 50 baht spirits, soft drinks and Heineken draft. San Miguel is 75 baht all night long. The party will feature a free BBQ along with Thai food and ice cream. A new troop of showgirls will do their thing from 9 PM. There are lucky door prize draws and other surprises. Heaven Above is located on Soi Diamond off Walking Street. It promises to be a big night, combining three birthdays in one big party.
Human trafficking has become a buzz word recently, but just what is the definition of human trafficking? I get it that language and terminology evolves, but this term "human trafficking" seems to have become a catch-all that is used to shame anyone involved with anything that verges on cross-border employment exploitation. So, what about this scenario? If females from one country, say a neighbour of Thailand, cross the border to their wealthier neighbour to work in the bar industry because there's more money to be made than doing the same job at home, is that human trafficking? These ladies are there of their own volition, but they don't have a work permit. I don't know that hooker is on the list of prohibited professions for foreigners, but then neither do I imagine assassin or torturer is either. There are some jobs that it just goes without saying that a work permit wouldn't be issued. So how do they make their way across the border? They manage to get a non-immigrant L-A visa which allows 2 years permission to stay on entry, making it an easier visa option than your average Westerner has available to them. So, getting back to the question about human trafficking, let's say that some dodgy geezer called Casey How employs ladies from a neighbouring country who are working in his bar by choice, have a visa issued for a purpose other than which it is being used, is that human trafficking?
The photo below would have made a good photo of the week but I'm not sure anyone would have got it. It's the ruins of The Black Swan Pub, next to the Asoke BTS station. The new Black Swan has been running for a couple of months a little way up soi 19.
The ruins of The Black Swan pub, near Sukhumvit soi 14.
When senior military officers took over the running of the country, one of their first promises was to return happiness to the people. What did they mean by that? They would explain that corruption had got out of hand and one of the problems they had to solve was people were being asked to pay for things when no payment was in fact required. Requests to pay fees to government officials to get routine stuff done is not limited to Thai nationals. Over the past year or so – the period in which the military has been running the country – there have been a number of reports of foreigners being asked to pay to over the odds at some branches of the Immigration Department when applying for visa extensions. Reports have appeared in forums and on news sites bold enough to print them. For a short time late last year the satellite branch of Immigration at Patong Beach in Phuket charged a 200 baht service fee over and above the standard visa extension fee. Those not willing to pay it were told to go to Phuket Town where, it was added, the queues there were long – to say nothing of the hassle of having to traipse across to the other side of the island. When reports appeared online and complaints were made, this service fee ended. In Chonburi province, reports appeared online about a 5,000 baht fee asked of those extending an ED visa. Failure to pay it meant they might not get a full 90-day extension; paying it meant the full 90 day extension was issued. At an Immigration office in Isaan, there were countless reports of how paying 1,000 baht saw one's visa extension processed immediately and failure to do so meant a wait which may require returning another day. The latest report received this week comes from an Aussie reader who applied for an extension on his non-immigrant O visa on the basis of retirement. The Immigration officer told him he had to pay a 7,000 baht fee as the officer and his boss had to go to the Aussie's residence and take photos, which is obviously out of the ordinary. This has all happened since the military took over running the government.
But there was some good news on the visa front this week with a new visa announced. While the details aren't yet known, the mainstream media reported that a new multiple-entry tourist visa would be launched. I would expect it would allow permission to stay 60 days each time one enters the country. Given the visa has a validity period of 6 months, I imagine it means someone holding this visa could essentially use it as a long-stay option and could stay in-country for 8 months – with a quick trip to the border and back every 60 days. It may work out cheaper and easier for those who use double-entry tourist visa after double-entry tourist visa. Perhaps best of all, it reverses the recent trend of tightening up on unmarried foreigners aged under 50 who wish to stay in Thailand long-term and sends a message that Thailand actually wants long-stay visitors.
Chatting with Thais here in New Zealand about Thai food here, they disagree with me when I say Thai food here is better than in Thailand. The reason I say Thai food is better here is because the quality of produce here is much better than Thailand. Thai food here is made with better cuts of meat, the vegetables are of a higher quality and usually everything just tastes fresher. The Thais actually agree with me on this point, but they say the taste – as in the flavour – is different. Discussing it further, it seems to me that for a lot of Thais such subtleties as the texture of food and the way meat is cut is lost on them. For many, it's all about the taste – and if that is not right, they're not happy. Given that Thai food in New Zealand is often for the local palate – which means less sugar so it's not as sweet and the inclusion of more vegetables, the Thais often prefer to cook at home than eat out.
A couple of videos appeared on YouTube celebrating the Thermae. One is a mélange of all the available photos and raw footage of the original Thermae Coffee Shop in Bangkok and the other is a carnivalesque lurch through the street bars that line lower Sukhumvit in the small hours. Visions of Thermae & Stumbling to the End of the World are both worth a look for fans of the Thermae.
If you've visited the Thermae in recent years you may remember the kindly older lady who has been a permanent fixture outside. Once an employee of the Thermae, after losing her job she stood outside each night and looked after girls' belongings for tips. Some kind foreigners also gave her a few baht. She tried to make herself useful and always had a ready smile and an infectiously cheeky manner. Word from Bangkok is that Khun Nuch passed away last weekend. May she rest in peace.
Khun Nuch, outside the Thermae in 2011.
Quote of the week comes from Jack Black, "Biergarten girls at premium prices – any comment would be superfluous."
There's a crazy process for registering a SIM card in Thailand.
There are predictions the Thai baht is going to drop further in value.
Vocational schools will not accept applications from those with tattoos or stretched, pierced ears.
A new multiple-entry tourist visa with 6-month validity was announced this week.
A Thai working in Harrods in London narrowly misses jail after accumulating customers' loyalty points.
An opinion piece in the Bangkok Post this week looked at the rights of female sex workers and prostitution.
Three friends depart Bangkok for France in a super-cool customised electric tuktuk with solar panels on the roof!
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: I rent a condo in Bangkok from a non-Thai person. 3 weeks ago I received word that the condo had burned out. I was in Denmark at the time and had not been there for about 5 weeks. The fire report has not yet been made but an electrical malfunction is suspected. The fire was confined to my condo. There were smoke and fire detectors in each room. None of those worked although it's a relatively new condominium. The fire burned itself out when access was gained. My question is where do I stand. Am I to blame or am I entitled to compensation for all the belongings I lost in the fire? The owner has no insurance.
Sunbelt Legal responds: As the tenant, it is possible you could be held responsible until there is a clear determination of what caused the accidental fire. As for compensation, you will need to refer to the lease agreement which may specify an insurance policy and who is responsible for the premium. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors always recommends that the lease agreement be fully reviewed to determine if there are any clauses or issues that may cause problems in the future.
Nana Plaza on a particularly quiet night (photo from the archives).
I'd love to have included more bar industry news and gossip this week but from all accounts there wasn't much going on. From Cowboy to Nana to Patpong, everyone said the same thing – that business hasn't been great and that the daily rains are keeping punters at home. Quiet at this time of year is nothing unusual.
Your Bangkok commentator,