Stickman's Weekly Column December 9th, 2018

Going Native


Over time, long-term expats adapt to their host country and may adopt habits and ways of the locals. Some of these habits may be admirable, some perhaps not. Stay in Thailand long enough and yes, farang, you will eventually go native.

Many Thais have a relaxed attitude towards punctuality. Thai time long frustrated the hell out of me – and it was not so much the Thais who frustrated me, but my fellow foreigners.

Turning up late for a social engagement is poor form in my book, but worse still is not apologising. In my mind, it shows a lack of respect. I know that getting around Bangkok isn’t easy with the traffic and it can be tricky to plan journeys, but it’s not that difficult and some of us make the effort to ensure that we are always on time. Being late is one thing, but Thai time is worse than that. Not only do some think nothing of arriving late, neither do they feel any need to apologise for being late, nor do they feel any guilt about it. It’s as if it simply saying “Thai time” means it’s a non-issue, that is the end of the story, nothing to discuss here! Plenty of long-term expats use the Thai time line and think it’s ok. Sad.

Drink driving is a huge problem in Thailand, and not limited to the locals. Unlike in the West where there’s a real social stigma against drink driving, in Thailand it’s often seen as just another silly rule. Drink driving in Thailand is so widespread that some motorbike taxi riders can be seen with bottles of whisky in their small groups from late afternoon onwards as they wait for their next passenger with no effort made to conceal what they’re doing.

What is perplexing about expats drinking and driving is that most wouldn’t dream of doing it back home. Why do they do it when they know it’s wrong? The obvious answer is that they also know it’s unlikely they will get caught.

In my corner of Farangland, the common excuses for drink driving are that there was no public transport available at that time of night and hence no other way to get home, or if there was, it meant an expensive taxi ride. Neither excuse works in Thailand where public transport is ubiquitous and cheap. The saving grace is that plenty of expats don’t drive in Thailand so the problem is not as bad as it could be.

The Thai language does indeed have the word “borrow” but to an outsider it can seem that Thai idea of borrowing is more akin to requesting a gift. Many Thais borrow money from friends or acquaintances with little thought given to how or when they will pay it back.

Money problems are not uncommon in expat society and many of us have been asked for a loan by foreign friends or colleagues. And just like with the Thais, the chances of the money being repaid aren’t great.

The worst cases I have heard of expats borrowing money from multiple people and not paying it back have, amazingly, been expats with a profile / who are well-known. It’s like they trade on their reputation by asking for a loan which they have little or no ability to repay. And then what tends to happen is that the borrower avoids the lender. Word eventually gets out and the borrower’s reputation is trashed. I’ve heard plenty of expats say never lend money to a Thai, but I’d rephrase that entirely and say don’t lend money in Thailand to anyone!

When it comes to activities between the sheets, the Thais are reckless and there’s a lot of unprotected sex going on. I think much of the reason for this is that in Thailand there is this deeply ingrained notion amongst many Thais that condoms are for commercial sexual encounters. You use condoms with hookers and with your girlfriend / partner / wife you don’t. Pull out a condom with a Thai woman in the heat of the moment and some will be insulted, as if you consider them a prostitute or a one-time fling.

While unprotected casual sex can be partially explained by a lack of any real sex education, I think part of the reason teenage pregnancy is such a problem in Thailand is due to the law. Get a woman pregnant and invariably the young man walks away scot-free. If they are not married it’s hard to get the fellow to be responsible and besides, what can a young single mother do when the father of her baby has no money (as is the case with most young Thais)? A carefree lifestyle can be fun, but sooner or later the piper has to be paid.

High-risk sexual behaviour (refusal to use condoms with all new / casual sexual partners) is common amongst foreigners in Thailand and seems to be especially so with long-term expats. Conversations over the years suggest it is especially prevalent amongst older, long-term expats. Why, I do not know…although more than a few who state they refuse to use condoms have had the snip. Making a baby worries them whereas STDs appear not to.

One of the worst things that can happen to a long-term expat is losing perspective about the world in general, and specifically where Thailand fits in. Many Thais see Thailand as the centre of the universe and really do believe the world revolves around it….and more than a few expats adopt a similarly distorted view.

In Bangkok last month, I found myself chatting with a few guys employed in the bar industry. One commented that he was paid 60,000 baht per month. A couple of others nodded approvingly – this was a good salary. When I said that 60,000 baht / month is less than minimum wage in New Zealand and high-school dropouts packing supermarket shelves, or mopping shopping centre floors make more, I saw disbelief in people’s eyes – when what I had said was absolutely true.

Some long-term residents have been in Thailand so long and are totally out of touch with the rest of the world that they compare the Thailand of today with the Farangland they remember. That version of Farangland may no longer exist. Foreigners who have not been outside Thailand / visited any developed countries in a while lose perspective.

The Thais have an excuse for seeing Thailand as the centre of the universe – they went through an education system which promotes the idea and many Thais are essentially brainwashed about Thailand and its importance. And, let’s face it, most Thais don’t have the option to move to another country so why take much of an interest in what’s beyond the border? Foreigners didn’t go through the Thai educations system, have options and could leave at any time – yet many are out to lunch about where Thailand fits in to the world.

Many Thais lack ambition although in fairness, that is changing. The attitude of some Thais towards paid employment is that work means turning up and doing just enough to collect their salary at the end of the month. They have little drive to do more than the minimum. Employers in Thailand do have to take some responsibility for this because many Thais in business / management positions still treat staff like slaves and do little to make staff feel like they’re part of a team which causes resentment and staff to do the minimum required to keep their job. Many Thais are content with a job that pays enough for them to have a pleasant lifestyle without having to exert themselves. That’s good enough and they’re content with that. They don’t have the drive to strive to achieve more and create a better life for themselves / their family. I can relate because this is one area where I went native.

Before I moved to Thailand, amongst my friends in New Zealand I was the go-getter, the one with the drive, the one who sought opportunities and who made things happen. By my early 20s I had travelled around the world, had returned to New Zealand where I had my own thing going and was making very good money. It was fine in Thailand in the early years but after several years there I took my foot off the pedal. I had a nice apartment, a decent car and a pleasant lifestyle. I felt like what I had was enough – and I slipped in to bad habits and tended to do what was required and not a lot more. That’s not so bad when you’re 50+ and you’ve already made a life for yourself and your family, but I was still in my 30s. Fortunately, I managed to snap myself out of it.

Thais are the original snitches. Throw in a serious jealousy streak and Thais have a propensity to threaten others. Throw foreigners in to the mix and when there is a dispute between a Thai and a foreigner, the locals have been known to threaten foreigners with Immigration.

Some expats in Thailand follow the same playbook. When they get in to a dispute with a fellow foreigner, they may make noises about contacting Immigration, or their friend or family member <insert high-ranking official position> who works at Immigration. More than a few expats have said to me that they would go to Immigration to report another foreigner they were in a dispute with. They would try to get a fellow foreigner removed from Thailand and prevented from ever returning. This person might have family in Thailand, property and business interests, yet they are trying to get them separated from all of that.

I have always thought this sort of thing could escalate in to a really nasty situation. Most foreigners in Thailand cut corners here or there. It could be anything from drink driving to sleeping around to working outside the conditions of their work permit to not having a work permit at all. Thais don’t have the same vulnerability, and cannot be thrown out of their own country. Foreigners tipping off Immigration about other foreigners’ illegal activities is common. I have heard on more than one occasion that some Immigration offices get so many anonymous tip-offs in English about foreigners that they could not possibly follow up on them and invariably they don’t do anything about them.

Spend enough time in Thailand and you’re going to pick up some of the local habits and ways, the good and the bad. You probably won’t even know and it’s not usually until someone you haven’t seen for a long time such as a friend from home points out how you have changed. The longer you stay in Thailand, the more likely it is that you will pick up Thai habits.

 

 

 

Billboard Bangkok

 

  

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 11 in the vacant space that used to be the small sub soi with Charley Brown’s, Cheap Charlies and other popular eateries and drinking spots. This week’s photo might look like it could be any one of the tens of thousands of temples throughout the country but it’s actually right slap in the centre of the city. Readers of this column have almost certainly walked right past this location….but I am guessing that perhaps no-one will get this week’s photo right. Let’s see…

 

 

Lighthouse Soi Cowboy

 

 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.

Which gogo bar is best is not a simple equation.

I don’t think you can classify any of the gogos as the best. I do think Billboard ticks a good portion of the boxes. Music decent and not the techno head-banging shit that plagues the industry. The line-up is pretty awesome. 140 baht for a Leo is extremely competitive when most places are 150 baht upwards. Lady drinks 170 baht instead of 200 baht is good. It’s definitely a party atmosphere. It is well-managed. My barometer on that is how many staff have stuck around over the past few years. Downside? Bad ratio. The place is full of guys. Wouldn’t it be better to walk into a bar with hotties and have less competition? I also think that despite the girls being sweet that there is the underlying dynamic that if you want one, it is going to cost you dearly and you will be rolling the dice on whether you get value for money, but if you want to check the trophy box, it’s there. I think comparing gogos is like comparing apples and oranges. A good night in a gogo can also depend on something as simple as the day of the week, a staff birthday party and definitely how much money you are willing to part with. The more money, the merrier. I think there are plenty of places that do tick the necessary boxes. You only need one good night with a sweetheart to brighten your rose-colored glasses or one padded bill to break them. Also one must remember, more often than not, that a 10 in the bar is a 6 in bed and that a 6 is usually a firecracker. Most importantly, look into the mirror before you head out and think about that poor girl who has to lower her standards.

Perhaps the bar doesn’t want you to pay a barfine?

I sometimes pop into Sexy Night bar in Nana Plaza to see a lass I know, so I’m not too surprised that it has put up the price of bar-fines. At a guess, this is to discourage punters from doing so. At Songkran, the barfine price was 1,500 baht. Not being the biggest bar, Sexy Night has only a few dancers (with most well past their prime) so a couple taken away from the place makes it seem deserted and those remaining are not a good advert for the place. Having “block-booked” my friend as is the norm when I’m in Bangkok, one time she received a phone call from the mamasan asking if she could return to the bar until 10 PM as a few dancers had not shown up / been bar-fined. She had to explain that we were in the middle of a meal and had arranged to see a mutual friend’s band play later that evening. Another friend from the same bar who was with us agreed to return. (I’d promised the lass a meal the previous night whilst the beer was flowing and always try to keep my word.) I did ask that if she had returned would the mamasan return my bar-fine money? This may be the best joke I’ve cracked in Thailand!

Thai driving habits.

I think there is a distinct difference in Thai drivers in Bangkok traffic and when they get on the expressways. In traffic, they are surprisingly calm and you seldom hear a horn. Like if I tried to turn right or do a U-turn across 3 lanes of traffic in Sydney and just pushed my way, holy shit, there would be a barrage of horns and yelling of abuse! In Bangkok it’s the norm, including turning right from the left lane and vice versa; indicators are purely for decoration and as for one-way streets, well Thais always only travel one-way at a time. No one blinks an eye, yells abuse or stands on their horns. But get them on an expressway and 95% truly go berserk! High-speed undertaking in the breakdown lane. Lights flashing when they come up behind a car doing the speed limit and lane changing without indicators is the norm. Maybe the amount of traffic in Bangkok streets is their only hand-brake?

Who’s buying all those condos?

You ask, “And who is going to buy all of these units? They’re going up EVERYWHERE and prices are, well, more than you’d pay in many developed economies. I am scratching my head trying to work it out…” My answer (and I try not to be too cynical) is people who have ill-gotten gains, primarily from China / Russia and other former Soviet countries like the -stan countries in Central Asia. This could be money ripped off from the state or through dodgy / illegal business deals. I was speaking to my girlfriend (from this region) about this and she absolutely believes this is what some of those criminals do. If you have an amount of money which is going to attract attention in your bank account in your home country which you can’t explain how you earned it or you fear it will be confiscated at a future date or should you fall out of favour with someone higher up the political order then you need to park those funds outside your home country. Moving that amount of money into easy purchase real estate in Thailand would be sensible. You probably aren’t looking for the property as an investment, just somewhere that you can wash your money and likely use it as a bolt-hole should something change in your homeland. These properties in Thailand can then be sold and the original buyers are willing to sacrifice 15% of the price they paid because it wasn’t their hard-earned money in the first place. It’s just a theory but one I believe to be true if you look at all the Russians in Pattaya. Wealthy Russians do this in London and thousands of Chinese are known to have done this in Vancouver. It all has a knock on effect on property prices in these cities, pushing them up for the locals trying to get on the property ladder. But in Bangkok with so many condos being built and not being lived in, I imagine they’re just washing some illegally acquired wealth.

 

 

Nana Plaza

 

nana-plaza-sunset

The high season has come early and it’s looking good for bar operators.

 

Word from Bangkok is that business on Sukhumvit continues to be brisk and what I reported when I was in town was not an aberration. Early signs are that this high season could be the best Bangkok has seen in years.

But don’t take that to mean that it’s booming everywhere. From Pattaya it’s rather a different story, with high season crowds yet to hit Sin City.

Some days there is an entry fee at Crazy House, other days there isn’t. Some readers report being asked to pay an entry fee at Crazy House while others report that they walk straight in the door. You may be asked to pay an entry fee, or you may not. As I said in last week’s column, not being able to get to the bottom of things like this due to geography is the frustration of writing this column from afar.

Which Bangkok gogo bar will be the first to host tour groups? Could coach-loads of mainstream visitors fascinated by the neon jungle become a part of the gogo bar business model? Already some bars actively encourage the Hangover Tour operator to bring its (small) tour groups by. Those groups include plenty of young Western females. But how would you feel if you were in a gogo bar and there were, say, a coach-load of older American couples? Would it have an effect on your enjoyment in the bar? Would it cramp your style? There could be a good trade in bars that host tour groups / mainstream visitors who don’t have the confidence to go inside a gogo bar on their own. But while it might be good for business, my best guess is that the average punter would hate it. But then a bar operator on the ball could make it work for everyone – get the tour group in and out early (say between 8:00 and 9:00 PM), before the naughty boy crowd arrives….or perhaps not even open the doors to the general public until 9:00 PM, when the tour group has left?

Word on the homeless foreigner photographed in last week’s column is that he has been living on the streets of Bangkok for at least 3 months. He has been spotted panhandling in Soi Nana, and sighted on various occasions sweeping the pavement under the Nana BTS station. For someone who has been on the street for months, he is in remarkably good shape. One of the curiosities of homeless foreigners in Bangkok is that the cops don’t do anything until they are in a tragic state. Remember Michael, the German who was a fixture on the streets in Bangkok in 2011 and who I frequently wrote about? He later showed up in Pattaya and eventually – some time in 2012, if I remember correctly – was picked up by Immigration. They did nothing until he was a right state: absolutely filthy, looking tragic, out of his mind and wearing the same set of clothes for several months which were so worn that his pants kept falling down and his schwanz hanging out. Surely the police know there is a foreigner sleeping rough under the Nana skytrain station? You’d expect them to round him up, but no, he is left to his own devices.

Down in Pattaya, in some Walking Street chrome pole bars, dancers have those little Band-Aid-like stickers covering their nipples. So they’re dancing topless and you can see the shape of the bosom, but you can’t see the nipple itself. These stickers are silly and not at all sexy. It would be much better kitting the girls out in sexy bikinis than having them dance like that.

Back in Bangkok, 7 friends dancing in Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy all got identical tattoos with a racy picture and a slogan in English below the tattoo proper which reads, “The Gang Big Family”. The girl who explained to me what the tattoo was all about kept telling me that these girls were members of – as the tattoo says – the gang bang family!

The drug-dealing Africans who have been a fixture at the start of Sukhumvit soi 13 for years were nowhere to be seen this last trip. Have these troublemakers gone for good or is their absence but a temporary reprieve?

Does Bangkok have an expat bar area these days? It used be that expats gravitated towards the British pubs and of the 3 major bar areas, Soi Cowboy was largely the domain of expats whereas Patpong and Nana Plaza had a mix of both expats and tourists. I liked Soi Cowboy in the late ’90s and through until around 2001 when it was almost entirely expats. It had a much more laid-back vibe – partly because it was largely an expat crowd. Will we see any expat dominated bar areas like we did in the past with Soi Cowboy and Washington Square, or has the Internet changed that?

 

SoiCowboy1999

Soi Cowboy, late 1999, when it was very much the domain of expats.

 

Chatting with a mate in a gogo bar the week before last, the cost of a night out in Bangkok came up and the conversation turned to something neither of us care for, the buying of rounds. We agreed that we prefer to pay our own way and don’t wish to be part of what seems to be a largely British thing, buying rounds for one another and drinking at the same (often fast) pace. Personally, I hate it when anyone tries to get you to drink at their pace just as much as I hate it when people try to put drinks in front of you that you don’t want / are not ready for. I get the feeling that myself and my pal are not the only ones who are not in to this buying rounds / drinking fast BS. Let me drink at my own pace and pay my own way, thank you. I’d love to know what others make of this.

Speaking of throwing money away, 60 baht to get a motorbike from the top of Soi Nana down to Soi Cowboy. No, thanks, I’m happy to walk. (And, no, the BTS ain’t worth it because the Nana and Asoke stations are only 500 metres / about a 6-minute walk from each other.)

Do you have problems understanding different accents and dialects in Thailand, even though you do just fine communicating in Thai in Bangkok – and perhaps even boast a degree of fluency? Don’t beat yourself up about it because you’re far from the only one who struggles with the many accents and dialects in Thailand. Thai TV, particularly news programs, frequently adds subtitles (in Thai) when there are interviews / reports with people from the south, parts of the northeast, some rural areas and even occasionally people from the far north. The Thais themselves struggle with accents and dialects in their own country so don’t be too frustrated if as a foreigner you don’t get what a Thai is saying – plenty of Thais might have exactly the same problem!

For the Brits and anyone visiting London, there’s a play set in Thailand that looks like it could be a lot of fun. My Dad’s Gap Year is described as the story of a dad in mid-life freefall who takes his repressed, gay, teenage son William on a wild adventure to Thailand to lose his virginity. More details here.

The Old Dutch in Soi Cowboy closed for the last time last week and is now rather a sorry sight as the venue which out-dates most of the bars on the soi is dismantled as the space is cleared before construction starts on Bangkok’s newest gogo bar, Crazy House 2.

 

the-old-dutch-bangkok

The Old Dutch at the soi 23 end of Soi Cowboy in darkness.  * Thanks to reader Simon for the photo.

 

I noticed a couple of trends with Bangkok taxis this past trip, one quite understandable and the other a bit of a worry. Where once 99%+ of Bangkok taxis were manual transmission, now the majority seem to have an automatic gearbox. That probably makes things that little bit easier for drivers – and with autos no thirstier these days than a manual transmission, there’s probably no downside. But what is a concern is the many drivers who mount their mobile phone on the dash / console facing towards them so they can watch movies / live TV while driving. My understanding is that here in New Zealand you are not allowed to mount a device with a screen like that in a position where the driver can see it, and I wonder if Thailand has a similar law. Knowing Thailand, probably there is such a law but it’s not widely enforced. The day before I left Bangkok this last trip I happened to take 3 taxi trips – and each car of the 3 cabs had a mobile phone mounted on the console with movies / TV playing. And each driver would take his eyes off the road and frequently look down at the screen. Not good!

And still on the topic of taxis, rather than hail down a taxi or deal with taxi drivers in areas where they are reluctant to turn on the meter, you can use the Line Man app to book a cab. There’s a 45 baht surcharge but it’s worth it if you’re in a part of town where you can’t find a driver who will turn on the meter / take you where you want to go. When you make the booking and the driver confirms the job, you can follow his progress on your mobile via GPS as he comes to collect you, which is kind of cool.

I’m a big fan of fresh coconut water and find it hard to pass by a street vendor without grabbing one. My favourite vendor is the lady who operates at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 12. When I was in town she was selling whole coconuts for 40 baht. At some markets you can get the big coconuts for as little as 25 baht….but 40 baht is still fine. I miss those fresh coconuts!

Steakhouse Co in Patpong soi 2 has introduced a new set lunch deal so if you’re in the Silom area around lunch time and feeling peckish, do drop by.

 

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Reader’s story of the week is a charming tale from Mr. Anonymous, “A Bangkok Story“.

Thailand is to launch new e-visas which will roll out over the next 3 years with the Chinese the first to be able to take advantage of them.

Thailand has become the most uneven country in the world for wealth distribution.

 

butterflies-bangkok-gogo-bar

Beauties from Butterflies, to be featured in an upcoming photo essay….maybe next week.

I have to admit that since returning from Bangkok writing this column has become a bit frustrating. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy writing it because I do, but rather that not being there on the ground makes compiling and verifying the news section challenging. Take the issue of the entry fee to get in to Crazy House. I could easily find out what was going on if I was in Bangkok. Of course, I can ask friends to drop by Crazy House and find out for me but none of my close friends like Crazy House and most prefer to avoid the place. There are plenty of similar situations. This column is not the big part of my life that it once was, but at the same time I want to write it as well as I can…and at the moment it is just a little frustrating when it comes to the gathering of news and gossip and clarifying stuff I am tipped off about. But don’t go reading anything in to this: I am not going to be moving back to Bangkok for the sake of the column and I am not going to throw in the towel or anything like that. I simply want to do this as well as I can and I need to vent a bit about the frustrations I face. I feel like I have been given a free pass for an hour with the hottest girl in Billboard but she is wearing a chastity belt and the key can’t be found! It’s frustrating!
Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]