Stickman's Weekly Column April 7th, 2019

Stick & The Fortune Teller


I like to think of myself as sensible and logical so I struggle to get my head around things that do not make sense. But sometimes things happen that cause me to rethink what I know, and what I think I know. Such a thing happened recently.

I have written of the two house guests we welcomed earlier this year, the other half’s sister and her best friend. On their return to Thailand, the other half’s sister went to see a fortune teller, or as they are known in Thai, a mor doo. And I would later learn that the mor doo had a few things to say about me.

The other half’s sister had given the other half’s name and her date of birth to the fortune teller. That is apparently enough for the mor doo to comment on her fortune too. It would not be a full reading as such, but some comments would be made.

Apparently the fortune teller didn’t have that much to say about the other half but did have a few things to say the other half’s partner. That would be me.

First things first, I would not be cheating on her, according to the mor doo. She was happy about that part. But the rest wasn’t so good.

The mor doo said I had to be more careful when driving. Fortune teller said that I am not a careful driver (which is crap) and I should be more careful otherwise something would happen, and soon.

And, finally, there was a warning that the week of March 5 – March 12 would be a very bad week for me when I had to be especially careful as two things would happen – both bad – one minor and one major.

I am beyond cynical when it comes to fortune tellers and dismissed it all without further thought.

Later that day we had to pop out to the supermarket. We needed quite a few things so rather than walk to the supermarket and carry it all home on a hot summer’s day, we drove. At a roundabout close to home I was about to proceed when out of the blue a truck and trailer came around the roundabout. Had I proceeded through the intersection – I had edged forward just a little – the truck would have ploughed in to the side of me. How I didn’t see it I will never know because I genuinely believe I am a good driver – and my driving record proves it.

The other half immediately referred back to our conversation earlier that day. The fortune teller was right, she claimed, and I needed to be more careful behind the wheel. I dismissed it as pure coincidence while still trying to figure out how I hadn’t seen the truck and had almost caused an accident.

It was at this point that the other half piped up with something else that the fortune teller had said. If I wanted to avoid this week of bad luck in March then either she or I should make two donations, of precisely 111 baht each. No specifics were given but two separate small donations should be made to two worthy causes. It could be to a temple, or to charity or to homeless people. The other half suggested we pay 111 baht towards the power bills of two different people who didn’t have much money.

The other half was quite insistent that we should do this. I was not. It wasn’t a money thing and I have no problem donating to a worthy cause like the SPCA or charities for sick children. But I don’t believe in any of this fortune teller nonsense and I don’t believe that making such a donation will ward off the bogeyman. I do like the idea of karma in general, but I am not sure I believe in that version of it.

That was late January and I forgot about the fortune teller completely.

Last month we visited Thailand. It was a good trip overall. But in all truth and honesty, it was not as good as it could have been – and I am not talking about the oppressively hot weather or the terrible pollution. A couple of things happened, one minor and one major.

I had a bunch of bar photo shoots lined up, the first was at Billboard. I knew that my main lens had been misbehaving and I’d only just finished shooting the first girl when the lens died. I was not surprised as it has been misbehaving. I’d prepared for it and had a similar (although not nearly as good) lens with me. It was still a nuisance. I was in the best gogo bar in Bangkok and my best lens had died. I’d now have to shoot several ladies in Billboard using an older lens. And there were at least another 5 bars lined up to shoot in. The thing with photography is that it’s not so much about the camera, but more about the lens. The photo shoot went well enough in the end but could have been better.

The next day was a Saturday, March 9th to be precise. I was wandering around the Sukhumvit area reacquainting myself with that spare lens and how it performs. I was trying to get some sun as apparently it helps with jet lag. The weather was odd that day, fine, sunny, very warm  – all of which is normal. It was also windy – and wind in Bangkok in March is anything but normal.

I was walking up from the Asoke intersection, just past Citibank and just a couple of metres from the entrance to Soi Cowboy. I was going to do a walk-through by day to see what had changed since my last visit. Just as I was passing that small bar that operates against the wall at the end of Soi Cowboy, a strong gust of wind blew. It collected a large canvas sheet which the bar drapes over the bar counter to protect it when it’s closed and blew it right in front of me. It was sudden, unavoidable and my leg collided with the steel rod that runs along the bottom of the sheet, acting as a weight to keep the sheet from flapping around.

Immediately I felt a sensation in my lower leg. It wasn’t so much pain, more a combination of a head on collision with something solid along with a sharp and intense stinging. I looked down and silently groaned to myself. The steel role had split the front of my shin open, all the way down the front of what I would later learn is the anterior tibialis muscle. And when I say it had split it open, I mean exactly that. A large swathe of leg swelled up before my eyes, and the claret was flowing, running down my leg and on to my sock. It was the brightest shade of red like an oversaturated photo of a fire truck. This wasn’t a minor wound. It looked serious.

I’d not even been in town 48 hours and I’d had an accident that was going to affect the whole trip. But there was no time to wallow in self-pity, I had to get it seen to and fast.

I quickly walked through Soi Cowboy, remembering that there were two 7 Eleven stores not far from the soi 23 end. I paid no attention to the nightlife soi and the only thing on my mind was my leg. I looked down and blood was flowing on to my shoe.

I popped in to the first 7 Eleven and grabbed a large bottle of water. Outside the store I must have looked quite a sight, perching just near the door as I opened a perfectly good bottle of water and pouring the contents over my the bottom half of my leg. What looked almost like a deep red wine turned in to something more like a streaky rosé. My first aid knowledge is limited but in my mind I has to clean any muck out as quickly as possible.

The bleeding continued and that sock will never be white again. But that was the least of my worries. It didn’t look to me like I was losing enough blood for it to be life-threatening, but I still had to stop the bleeding. I had to bandage it up and get it elevated.

In central Bangkok there are pharmacies everywhere. Ordinarily that would be of almost zero interest to me, but at that very moment, a pharmacy was like a gogo bar for a sex tourist flying in to Bangkok after being gone for a year.

I was staying in the area so I headed to Foodland on soi 16 which has a decent pharmacy. Dettol, Betadine, swabs, gauze pads, bandaging and medical tape. Crazy cheap, a bit over 300 baht for the lot.

Next stop was the hotel, where I could take a closer look at the wound. Could I clean it and dress it myself, or should I get myself to hospital? I really didn’t want to seek medical attention. It wasn’t about the money – I had travel insurance – but more about the length of time it might take.

The hotel was a short walk away so in less than 15 minutes of the accident occurring I was back at the hotel with the wound in the shower, washing it out. It was a deep, wide gash, perhaps 15 mm wide and 15 cm long. It was like someone had taken some Medieval tool and gouged a chunk right out of the front of my shin.

Next step was to apply Dettol to disinfect the wound and the surrounding area. Have they changed the formula of Dettol? I can remember my mother applying it to scrapes and cuts when I was young and it stinging like crazy. This time I felt nothing. Or maybe they make bootleg Dettol and it was just coloured water and not the genuine article?

Betadine was applied over the wound and the wound site took on a yellow hue. Hell, now I wouldn’t be able to tell if it was turning septic, but then it shouldn’t given that is exactly what Betadine is supposed to protect against. Finally, I bandaged it up, which wasn’t easy when it’s your own leg.

I probably went overboard with the bandaging and when I FaceTimed the other half who was visiting family and showed her on camera what had happened, she said it looked like I had just come back from war.

It was then that the other half reminded me of what the fortune teller had said. Be careful when driving or something would happen. Something almost happened. And then I had to be careful between March 5th and 12th because two things would happen, one minor and one major.

It was at that point that I will admit that doubts entered my mind. I’m not superstitious at all, but the be careful when driving message had proven prescient. And now my leg was a mess. The fortune teller had said two things would happen in that one week in March. The worry was this: was the accident with my leg the minor one or the major one? It felt pretty major right there and then, but it wasn’t life-threatening so if something worse was to happen, it could be something really bad. Was something else going to happen?!

For the next 3 days I was careful in pretty much everything I did. When I was in a taxi I wore a seatbelt. I was ultra careful walking along Sukhumvit which was a giant mess with the pavement being redone. And when motorbikes screamed by me when I was walking along the soi I would almost flinch.

Well-meaning friends seeing the state of my leg didn’t help. I cannot count how many people reminded me that lower leg wounds in the tropics are a worry. Infection can take hold and spread quickly and before you know it the only option is amputation. One diabetic friend who had part of his foot amputated a few years back saw the wound and wasn’t shy to say that if it was him, it’d probably be hello gangrene and goodbye leg.

The 12th passed and I admit it, I did breathe a sigh of relief.

I changed the dressing daily and cleaned the wound carefully, each day for a week. It never turned red, nor did it leak any yellow or green gunk. It didn’t sting nor did it smell bad or swell up beyond the initial bruising.

A scab formed quickly and after a week I felt the bandaging wasn’t necessary. I was walking around Bangkok for the remainder of the trip with one ugly scab running right down the front of one shin.

Not that I visit such places anyway, but soapies were definitely off the menu.

On returning to Kiwiland, the scab would eventually fall off and the wound would heal well. There will be a scar, but that’s the least of my worries. The other half wanted to go shopping for some scar-healing cream but I’ll wear it as a badge of honour. Such a wound wouldn’t worry me in New Zealand but in Thailand, in that heat, and with all the shit in the air and bacteria and viruses and whatnot, it was a concern. It all healed up and in the end it didn’t have all that much effect on the trip, so all’s well that ends well.

In my week of bad luck I guess the lens was the minor problem and the leg was the major one.

I still can’t get my head around fortune tellers and I am dismissive of anything like that. At the same time I cannot deny that the fortune teller got a few things right. She predicted 3 things, and they all turned out to be true. If we had made those 2 x 111 baht donations, would I have avoided all that trouble?

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

Mystery Photo

bangkok-mystery-photo19

Last week’s photo was taken of the sign outside Shenanigans at the corner of Patpong soi 1 and Suriwong Road. Not a single person got it right which says many things to me, one of which that it seems Patpong is not an area Stickman readers are so familiar with. So this week I have included (what I think is) an easier photo.

I am pleased to announce that the first person in Thailand to get this week’s photo right wins a copy of the first novel by Zach Brodsky, Bangkok Delusions. Please note the prize is only available to readers in Thailand.

 

bangkok-delusions

 



 

 

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

An angel in the industry.

In Billboard I was lucky enough to have what I felt was the most attractive woman come sit with me. I kept her plied with enough drinks so we could spend a while chatting. Of course the banter is silly, but in that environment it’s fun and reminded me of the ’90s when I was a young, hormone-filled newbie smitten with Bangkok. Though pestered by an aggressive mamasan to ‘pay barfine’, I had all the entertainment I sought merely by buying drinks, so I passed. When I got up to leave, I took out a 1,000 baht note to hand as a tip to the young woman. She looked shocked and said, “You bought me too many drinks, so I cannot accept that from you.” Go figure that out. She then walked me outside, gave me a big hug and a kiss, and said, ‘Thanks’. The cynic in me cannot help thinking it might be long-term marketing on her part, but I have to face the possibility that there just might be an ‘angel’ in the industry. Perhaps others have had a similar experience, but that was a first for me.

Business class travel and the premium lane at Immigration.

It has taken years, but I think Bangkok Immigration is finally waking up. When I checked in today  for my flight, Singapore Airlines handed me a new-style premium lane card. Damn, have they changed it again so soon? Is my latest collection of cards redundant? Anyway, on arriving in Bangkok I went to the premium lane line at Immigration and to my shock / horror, this guy wanted to keep my premium card. So not only a new card, but I couldn’t keep it. Does this finally mean that the only way to use the premium lane is to fly business class? It’s starting to look like it. Most of the time I fly business, but it will be a pain on those 10% of flights where I don’t, if it happens there is a long queue at the standard line. I haven’t used the standard line, yet. Oh well, times change and it is not just the bars, unfortunately.

Recapturing the magic of 1990s Bangkok.

There is the odd bar that brings back old times 100%. It is in the most unlikely of places i.e. not Soi Cowboy or Nana Plaza but if makes you feel just like you arrived in Bangkok 1998 again. Such bars do exist. You just have to know where they are, and above all keep them a secret which is the biggest issue these days with the over-flow of information that has the immediate effect of destroying what you found.

Social media, a blessing and a curse.

Since you are not on social media and in particular Facebook, it is now quite common on seeing a bar or restaurant advertising a happy hour or some other deal only for those commenting in response to the post to indicate that the product is more expensive than back home. Social media can be both a blessing and a curse!

It’s all about the vibe.

When service levels decline, attitudes goes downhill, mainstream tourists flock and prices rocket. Why isn’t “atmosphere” a bigger selling point? I still enjoy Patpong and I “really” liked Patpong soi 2 in its (last) heyday. It reminded me of soi 15 in Pattaya. Or even more, the narrow upper part of Soi Diamond, where there are a couple of small bars with lots of atmosphere.

What’s changed, us or the bars?

Am I progressing from middle age towards old age or what? I was on holiday in Bangkok for 27 days in February & March. I did not visit Soi Cowboy or Patpong at all and I only visited Sukhumvit Soi 4 once. There is nothing wrong with me. I am a good, red-blooded male. Well, maybe too good!

The Strip and the changing industry.

I agree completely about The Strip. I had a few visits over the years and I had some of my best nights out there. Always a good vibe, girls were always ‘fun, friendly and frisky’. Buy them a few drinks and a party would start! I think its final demise was not due to one thing but a combination of issues, none the least being Patpong customer levels falling off in general. I do remember when Club Electric Blue closed, and The Strip had a new lease of life as a few of the girls moved over to The Strip and for a while it was like old times again. However, due to the lack of customers and therefore income for the girls, they moved over to bars in Nana where they can earn more. And that’s the real reason I think. A lady can earn 5,000 baht a night at Nana with the right customer. Patpong just doesn’t have that. Personally, I think there is a deeper shift here, where the previous customer base of western guys looking for a party and fun has shifted to a more transactional type looking to drop money on a girl’s head just for her time, but no real concept of a personal connection. It’s a sign of the times as people move more of their communications to online away from developing a human connection. Throw in the demise of Western currencies and rising costs and there you go!

 


Nana Plaza

 

 

Very seldom do the chrome pole venues of Chiang Mai get a mention in this column and truth be told, the northern city has never really been on the naughty boys’ circuit. A friend currently visiting Chiang Mai tells me that anyone thinking that they can take a one-hour flight up north and find a bevy of beauties waiting for them with prices from yesteryear is dreaming. The going rates these days in the few gogo bars of Chiang Mai are 3,000 for short-time and 5,000 for long-time. The barfine will set you back 700 baht and after you’ve bought a few drinks the total outlay will be much the same as in Bangkok or Pattaya.

The Asoke / Terminal 21 end of Soi Cowboy is particularly popular with mainstream visitors and I note there has been mainstream visitor creep as the gawkers get more daring and venture further in to the soi. Outside Tilac Bar has become a real favourite. The tables between the entrance to the air-conditioned interior of Tilac and the railings are often taken by regulars and expats, whereas the tables out the front of Tilac which are set up on the soi itself are often full of mainstream visitors.

At the other end of Soi Cowboy, the doormen at Kazy Kozy are now asking some customers to pay for a drink before they go inside, just as they have been doing at Kazy Kozy’s sister bar, Crazy House.

The generous happy hour at Shark notwithstanding, be aware that some girls in Shark – not all, but some – are pulling the double lady drink scam. Offer to buy a lady drink and she returns with two glasses / two drinks and a bill of around 360 baht. This happened to a friend this week and he was not pleased. He called over a mamasan, explained what had happened and, amazingly, one drink was removed from the bill. So if this happens to you and you’re not willing to accept it, don’t be shy to voice your disapproval. At the same time don’t expect the lady to stick around after that.

Speaking of Soi Cowboy, it has become a hot spot for street food options at lunch-time as the soi turns in to even more of a popular spot for office girls who wouldn’t dream of being seen there after dark.

 

soi-cowboy-lunch-time

Soi Cowboy attracts the office lady crowd at lunch-time.

 

Soi Twilight, the gay soi off Suriwong Road just a stone’s throw from Patpong soi 2 and generally considered to be part of Patpong (in terms of the greater Patpong area), closed earlier this week. Apparently the land will be developed in to a new mall / office / condo. Rumours of the closure broke a year or so ago when most of the bars were told they could stay another 5 more years. But then all of a sudden they were told April 1st was the end. That’s it for Soi Twilight, another area consigned to Bangkok bar history. But don’t think it’s the end for all those gay bars – they have quite a following. Many of the gay bars will move to Patpong sois 1 and 2 where there is quite a bit of vacant real estate. The Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 2, Pink Panther aside, has been gay for a while and Screw Boy has been there forever. It looks like Bangkok’s oldest bar area is going to see an influx of gay bars opening over the slow season and I would expect Patpong will become more of a mixed bar area than it already is, encompassing gogo bars for both straight guys and gay guys.

I know that Bar Bar, the Patpong soi 2 fetish bar, is an acquired taste, but for those who have yet to check it out, now is as good a time as any. The owners have renovated the premises and the venue has new play areas, and various subtle changes to the main bar / play area. Word is that it looks better and feels cleaner (as in hygiene and general tidiness) than it used to.

Mizu’s Kitchen in Patpong soi 1 closed last week. It was perhaps the longest running “farang” eatery in all of Thailand. I put the word farang in quotation marks because while the food wasn’t classic farang fare by any measure, the location, customer base and the strong following it had amongst many looooooong-time expats made it a farang eatery, in my estimation. I wrote about Mizu’s Kitchen briefly in Timeless Patpong several years ago. I only ate there once, which in retrospect was a mistake. Again I had made the classic mistake of assuming that something that had been there for so long would still be there the next time I felt like dropping by. Mizu’s Kitchen will be missed.

 

Mizus-Kitchen-Bangkok

Mizu’s Kitchen, Patpong soi 1.

 

From time to time I get emails from readers asking how bar owners managed to wreck the industry (a few readers have used these exact words). I think the notion that bar owners are responsible for the industry’s decline is wrong. There are many reasons why the bar scene has been in decline and many feel the Internet and mobile phones are a big part of it. There’s truth in that but as much as anything, I think it is more that working in the bar industry is no longer a necessity for the girls, but a lifestyle choice. And you have to ask yourself just who would choose to work in the bar industry when there are other choices. The Thai economy is booming and good money can be made elsewhere. You end up with the industry being staffed by people who have a history of making bad choices. That’s a big part of why things are the way they are today.

Another change in the bar industry, albeit a small one with a more negligible effect is how the bars find girls has an effect on the vibe in the bars these days. Where once much of the recruitment was by word of mouth – girls employed in a bar making good money would tell their friends in the village who would be eager to make good money too and so entered the industry – and worked with their friends in the very same bar. These days most staff don’t know one another when they start a new job. Thais are not like your average Westerner and are much happier when working alongside family and friends as opposed to working with those they are not familiar with.

Down in Pattaya, at Crystal Club in Soi LK Metro the Crystal Catz perform a pole dancing show every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 PM. A pole dancing show in a gogo bar might not sound like something you’d go out of your way for, but these girls are something special and if you find yourself in Pattaya, do check them out. And if you had any doubt whatsoever about how things are changing in Pattaya, pay close attention to the poster below which features, amongst other languages, Asian scripts and Russian. And remember, this is a bar in Soi LK Metro, which some say is very much a farang soi and not on the radar of the new Pattaya visitors like the Chinese, Indians, Middle Easterners and Russians.

 

crystal-club-soi-lk-metro

 

In recent weeks I have said Patpong has problems and that soi 2 is not what it was, but at the same time I do enjoy the vibe at Patpong. I like the history of the area and the fact that it is not over-run with tourists. Patpong can surprise you, whereas in Nana and Cowboy everything is so formulaic. Patpong still has a few nooks, crannies and bars out of view where it feels like anything is possible. That is a big part of the appeal of Patpong.

I have a simple question for readers which I’d love to hear your opinion on. Do you think 180 baht is a reasonable price for a standard drink (local beer / non-premium mixed drink) in a Bangkok gogo bar? That’s pretty much the standard price these days. Some bars are a little cheaper, some are a bit more expensive but 180 baht is about the norm. Do you think this is a fair and reasonable price? I won’t tell you what I think as I don’t want to influence your answer. The best responses will run next week.

Another question I put to readers some weeks back was about hotel recommendations in central Bangkok. A few people replied and I will run those replies in the next week or two.

Bangkok’s newest ladyboy bar is Shadow Ladyboy Bar which opened at the start of last month. It is similar to Cockatoo, no surprise as they are both owned and operated by the same group. I stuck my head in the single shophouse Shadow Ladyboy Bar and it’s nicely done out as you would expect in a brand new bar. There was only a small number of ladyboys and there seemed to be some rotation between it and Cockatoo Bar, the other ladyboy bar on Soi Cowboy.

 

shadow-bar-ladyboys-bar-soi-cowboy

Inside Shadow Ladyboy Bar, Soi Cowboy’s newest ladyboy bar / what was the old Shadow Bar.

 

When I was in town last month I was surprised at how some friends – all of whom are long-term expats – are so out of touch with what Thais working in Bangkok earn these days. Many are living in the distant past and still believe that the average Thai woman working in a professional office job in Bangkok earns 20,000 baht per month. How many times do I have to say that the economy in Bangkok is rocking along and there are heaps of unfilled job openings. Companies are crying out for good staff and salaries have increased markedly as demand exceeds supply. If you think most office girls are still only earning 20K baht / month, perhaps that’s why you’re still single?

And on a similar note, chatting with two 30-something Thai women in the lovely city of Tauranga this week, I wasn’t surprised when they each said they were considering leaving New Zealand and returning to Thailand. They both like New Zealand but they feel they can make more money in Thailand. Many Thais living in New Zealand don’t earn more than minimum wage. They believe they can make more money in Thailand than they can here – and when you factor in the lower cost of living for Thais in Thailand (as opposed to foreigners living there) it’s not hard to understand their thinking. Earn $40,000 / year in New Zealand and you barely survive. For a Thai earning 40,000 baht / month in Thailand (which is less than half of what they might make in New Zealand) they can have a nice life. I imagine it isn’t dissimilar in other parts of Farangland.

There’s long been a debate in Thailand about whether foreigners are required to carry their passport at all times. Some Thai cops want to see your passport if they stop you in the same way they ask to see a Thai citizen’s national ID card. The jury is out on whether you should carry your passport with you at all times although for what it’s worth, I almost never did. While most foreigners are against the idea of carrying their passport on them all the time, there are a few instances when it can actually be helpful. If, for example, you wish to top up the credit on your skytrain card, you now need to show your passport the first time you do this so the authorities know who the card belongs to. This is a new rule that friends living in Bangkok tell me is being enforced.

A reminder to those who might be about to visit Thailand that this coming week is Songkran. No need to go over what that’s all about. I just hope that any of you who are visiting at this time enjoy water fights. I loathed Songkran when I was living in Thailand and I would never visit over Songkran, but that’s me and you might be amongst those who like it.

 

scruffy-murphys-songkran

 

Quote of the week comes from a friend visiting Pattaya, “I’ve just walked the gauntlet of soi 6 and let’s just say that with what’s on offer you’d need a very strong constitution!“

The Sun takes a look at military conscription day in Thailand and how ladyboys are amongst those required to turn up.

Are the authorities serious this time about cracking down on extortionate pricing of food by beach vendors in Hua Hin.

Tourists in Phuket who take selfies from a beach adjacent to the airport of planes on approach to land have been threatened by Thai officials with the death penalty – and no, it’s not April 1st!

The Nation looks at an exhibition at Candle Light Studio, the new studio in Patpong.

 

mt-maunganui-nz

Here in New Zealand, this week my travels took me to Tauranga.

 

I must be turning Thai. This week we drove 300 km to visit the wonderful city of Tauranga, spend the day there, visit friends, eat some good food, check the place out generally and then drive 300 km all the way back home again. That’s the sort of distances Thais frequently cover on a family day out, and it’s something I used to find amusing when I lived in Thailand. I hadn’t visited Tauranga in over 20 years, but what a fantastic place it is, better than the city where I live in many ways, truth be told. I’d actually consider living there, I really would. It felt like a baby Auckland – and that is no bad thing. So how is this relevant to Thailand?, I hear you ask. Well, it isn’t really. Or perhaps it is, in a round-about sort of way. While at the same time I wouldn’t consider living in Bangkok again, at least not at this point in time. I’m not suggesting that you should leave Thailand and return to your homeland but what I am saying is this: For me, some aspects of my home country are better than how I remembered them when I was living in Thailand. Open your eyes and you might just find that you feel the same. Why am I closing off this column on this note? Simple: every time I take a look at Thailand’s biggest expat forum there are a lots of posts from people leaving. What I am saying is that I understand their decision.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]