Stickman's Weekly Column February 23rd, 2020

Mamasans Clipping The Ticket



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

In Thailand it feels like everyone is clipping the ticket. Doing a real estate deal? Anyone providing so much as an introduction wants a cut if a deal is done. Often it seems that anyone who has anything to do with a deal being done gets a cut. And that’s how it is in the bars where mamasans quote a price for a girl’s services – and expect a commission.

It’s a scenario that is happening more often in some bars. A lady is snuggling up to a customer. The music is good, and he’s got a buzz going. She whispers in his ear that she’d like to go to his hotel room. He’s in his happy place….and then the mamasan kills the moment by barking at the customer, “Barfine lady, pay 4,000 baht now, include everything!” The mood is killed, and the illusion of something special is gone.

Some mamasans have added a laminated price-list or a calculator to their tools of the trade as they increasingly insert themselves in to deals between girl and customer. It’s nothing new, but it seems to be happening more often these days.

The practice has become prevalent at two of the most popular bars on Soi Cowboy, Crazy House and Kazy Kozy, where recent reports have it that some mamasans pitch girls to punters at the unusual rate of 3,850 baht.

Mamasan explains that the barfine is 750 baht. 3,000 baht is the short-time fee for the lady. And the remaining 100 baht? That’s a tip for mama. 100 baht as a tip? I think customers could almost live with that. But it’s not really 100 baht, is it?

What the mamasan doesn’t tell you is that the lady does not get paid 3,000 baht and the breakdown of the 3,850 baht all-in price mamasan quoted was not accurate. The component for the lady’s short-time fee is actually only 2,000 or 2,500 baht. And mamasan gets 500 baht or 1,000 baht as a commission, on top of the 100 baht “tip”. Not a bad pay day for doing almost nothing!

Any mamasan brokering a few such deals each night could do very well for herself.

Mamasans insert themselves in to the deal to line their own pockets. They quote a price that is near the top end of what a customer is willing to pay – a number over and above what the girl is willing to accept, leaving plenty of fat for mamasan to siphon off a commission.

Let’s be clear about this. The mamasan is not inserting herself in to the deal to help you. And nor is she doing it to help the lady.

Are the mamasans offering a useful service? In 99% of cases, no, they are not. A lady new to the bar scene – of which there are very few these days – may need a little help the first week or so. But is that not already part of a mamasan’s job?

For customers, no good comes from a mamasan inserting herself in to a negotiation. The mamasan will make out that they’re offering a special deal and helping you get the best price. It’s BS. All they are doing is manoeuvring in to a position where they can clip the ticket. There is no reason to deal with the mamasan and most punters know it’s best to deal with the lady directly. Keep the mamasan out of it and well away.

Most Westerners know this. Asian customers, especially those who speak little English and no Thai, may not. They will often pay whatever is asked, so long as the number quoted is in the ballpark and not totally outrageous.

Some mamasans have been around the bar biz a long time, decades even. Often they are former working girls. They know how to manipulate inexperienced girls, while the younger dancers may even see mamasans as mother-figures. In Thai culture, respect is given to those older than you. Some mamasans prey on that.

Many dancers feel like they have no choice but to pay a commission to the mamasan who claims to look after them, whether that mamasan had any part in the negotiation or not.

In some cases the mamasan will hit girls up for a commission every time she is barfined. It’s like this is a fee for the mamasan looking after her. It feels like a protection racket.

That the girl in some bars have to pay money to mamasan every time they are barfined is one reasons why girls may ask for more money these days, and why short-time fees continue to go up.

Mamasans may tell younger girls some nonsense about how they take the hassle out of negotiating a price and how they will get her the best price. Sort of like a real estate agent selling a property. Funny that, I have long struggled with real estate agents, just as I do with some mamasans.

At the same time, the mamasan makes out to the punter that the girl will be the lay from heaven…..and if there is any problem he can come straight back to the bar and talk to mamasan who will sort out any problems.

Which is rubbish. Customers who have had a problem and returned to the bar quickly find out no-one is interested. The bottom line is that many mamasans don’t care about anyone but themselves.

Thai-speaking customers and regulars don’t play the game and refuse to engage. That keeps the mamasan at bay. But that necessarily won’t stop some mamasans from brazenly interjecting, making out that she is there to help. Later she will hit the girl up for a commission.

So what should you do if a mamasan comes over while you’re enjoying the company of a lady and barks “Pay barfine now!” simply refuse to engage with her.

This crap has taken hold in quite a few bars. Worst of all, it happens in some farang-owned bars. I get it that it happens in Thai-owned bars.

A big shout out goes to the owners of Lighthouse on Soi Cowboy, one bar which has stood up against this practice. The foreign bosses put their foot down and said no to this crap!

Down in Pattaya, a farang-owned and managed bar on Soi LK Metro doesn’t allow this carry-on and the 2 mamasans know that if they try it on, it’s instant dismissal. To keep the mamasans happy, the foreign boss got creative. On top of their salary, mamasans are paid a commission of 1 baht for every lady drink and 5 baht for every barfine. Over the course of a month that adds up. Incentives work well with Thais.

Mamasans inserting themselves in to deals, inflating prices and taking an undeserved commission is a problem that needs to be stamped out. Customers shouldn’t have to deal with this crap. Bar owners should make a stand against mamasans preying on the girls and stamp this crap out once and for all.


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mystery-photo78

Last week’s photo was taken of Soi Nana from above. Almost everyone who responded got it right. This week’s is a bit more challenging…


Nana Plaza
 

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

Coronavirus making people forget the pollution.

I just got back from 3 weeks in Thailand. Like you, I think this is a huge overreaction to the coronavirus. Staff at some buildings check your temperature before they let you in which is a bit of a joke. You’re more likely to get hit by a car than get the virus. The pollution levels were very high most days I was in Bangkok. I wore a N95 mask, not because of the virus but because of the pollution. But I guess the coronavirus is a good diversion from the pollution problem and as long as the Thais look to be doing something about it then pollution issues become second or no news at all.

Airlines consolidating schedules.

I am not due to fly back to the UK until March 5th, but I have already received two emails from the airline rescheduling my departure time from Bangkok. As things stand, we are only talking 4 hours change to my original booking. I also have a whole day to play around with before I have any solid commitments in the UK, so it’s not a major issue for me. However, there is obviously some consolidation going on between the respective airlines, and as reported in the press, Thai Airways has dropped some flights. With this in mind, I would say be careful not to have a tight itinerary if travelling around South-East Asia over the next month or so. Also, be wary of strict deadlines for work or other commitments back home. In situations like this, airlines prioritise their bottom line over the convenience of customers.

Delaying travel because of the virus.

I have been visiting Nana Plaza for almost 40 years. I was scheduled to leave for Bangkok today, but I cancelled. I don’t want to fly 16 hours with the virus going around. Also, I read that 200,000 people from Wuhan visited Thailand last month. Thailand has no restrictions on the Chinese visiting. I don’t visit Thailand for the beaches, so the idea of hooking up with a babe who has been with lots of guys is just too risky now. Good luck to all the guys who don’t care. I hope you don’t catch a bug.

Air and water, same same.

A pal said something to me this week which really struck home: “I can’t drink the water or breathe the air. Remind me why I live here again?” For the first time I didn’t see this as a classic expat moan. He had a palpable point!

Postcard from Phuket.

A quick update from Phuket. Naiharn and Rawai are as dead as a doorknob. You could fire a shot down the street and not hit anyone. It’s like low, low season. Pity those in business here right now – guesthouses, small resorts etc. It’s gonna be messy.

Postcard from Pattaya.

Finally got out of the smog and went to see what all the kerfuffle about Pattaya being dead was all about. It’s shocking. The town has the same feeling it does in the end of July, the dead of low season. In two days I’ve seen 3 people speaking Chinese and not a single tour bus – not one. Restaurants are empty. The pier is nearly empty. The only tourists you see in numbers now are Russians and Indians. The press keeps going on about Westerners increasing, but that’s BS. What they are is more noticeable and prominent now that the waves of Asian tourists are gone. Also gone largely are the Japanese and South Korean tourists, who are always the first ones to stay home any time there’s a crisis, medical or political. In two days I’ve seen a few scattered groups of Japanese, but that’s about it. The Chinese are not big go-go bar goers, so the bars are not as slow as the rest of town. But the loss of the Japanese and Koreans is having an impact. Pin-Up on Friday night was hopping, but there were plenty of open seats throughout the night. Other Walking Street bars popular with farangs were doing well, but again not rammed. I’d say the same number of farangs are in the go-gos, but what’s missing are a large chunk of the Asians. Bottom line, it’s stupid slow and, not having any skin in the game, I like it. But people are hurting for sure, especially those who put all their eggs in a Chinese basket.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

 

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Nana Plaza, Saturday night, 22 February.

 

Coronavirus concerns have seen visitor numbers dip on Sukhumvit. Idle taxis park bumper to bumper outside hotels. Hotels close entire floors off due to a lack of guests and in the case of the Grand President, an entire tower is closed. Bargirls stand around looking even more bored than usual. The operator of arguably the best gogo bar in all of Bangkok was quoted this week as saying, “It’s extremely slow.” And when we were talking about trade in the bars earlier today, Dave The Rave said to me, “Every night is like a Sunday” (which is typically the quietest night of the week).

At Patong Beach, Phuket, word is that it feels like the good old days with fewer visitors, less crowds and no tour groups led by guides carrying a flag.

In Pattaya, Soi LK Metro is doing ok. Elsewhere in Pattaya, word is that it’s grim.

I am convinced that with visitor numbers low and service providers eager for business, RIGHT NOW is probably a really good time to visit, arguably the best time to visit Thailand in quite some time.

Despite the drop in visitor numbers, one farang-owned gogo bar hit a record high in takings over the first two weeks in February.

One western guy dropped close to a million baht last week in a few hours at Lollipop in Nana Plaza.

 

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After making a comeback on Patpong soi 2 with XXX Lounge just a month or two back, Big Andy has surprised us by announcing he is throwing in the towel after 20 odd years in Patpong. He says that he just doesn’t have the time to work on it and he wishes to concentrate on his business interests in Pattaya. It’s time to let someone else have a go. He’s looking to make a quick sale at a very reasonable price. If interested, let me know and I’ll put you in touch with Big Andy….and no, I am not inserting myself in to the deal and, no, I don’t want a commission!

Angelwitch in Pattaya is not being remodelled after all. The recent activity reported was simply the venue being cleared out as the owners handed back the keys to the landlord.

On Soi Cowboy, one of the dancers at Long Gun says the reason for the continued closure of Rawhide – which some like to think of as the sister bar of Long Gun – is a dispute between the owners. Said dancer said that The Arab is actually a part owner of Rawhide and doesn’t own it outright. As it happens, all of the Arab’s bars were closed this past Monday night which, apparently, is not that uncommon.

Some told me it was hyperbole to suggest that 200 baht drinks were coming to Bangkok’s gogo bars. I never did put a timeframe on it but if pressed, I thought 200 baht would become the norm before the end of next year. It’s happening already. One of the big name foreign-owned bars in Soi Cowboy, Shark, has just put up the price of standard drinks from 180 to 195 baht.

A couple of doors along Soi Cowboy from Shark, Dollhouse has gone the other way with a fantastic deal launched this past week. On Mondays and Tuesdays, all drinks are priced between 95 and 110 baht, all night long. It looks like Dollhouse is taking a leaf out of the Lighthouse playbook and its Wednesday all-night-long 100 baht drinks special.

 

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If you’re watching your pennies, Soi Cowboy has the best happy hours – and here is a short list. Tilac has 90 baht drinks until 9 PM (and if you ask nicely, they will let you to pre-purchase up to 4 coupons just before 9:00 PM that allow you to get drinks after 9:00 PM at the happy hour price of 90 baht per drink). Dollhouse’s regular daily happy hour is until 10:00 PM but as already mentioned, they now have happy hour prices all night long on Monday and Tuesday. Lighthouse and Shark happy hours run through until 9:00 PM with all drinks 100 baht. Lighthouse also has cheap drinks early in the evening and its popular all night long happy hour every Wednesday. Five Star has a happy hour until 10 PM and Oasis has a different cheap drink every night.

Could the new bar area on Sukhumvit soi 7 become known as a late-night area? Already, some bars in this new bar area think their niche could be staying open when most other bars have closed.

Some readers tell me they refuse to go to the new bar area in soi 7 because of its proximity to the Arab quarter. Seriously?!

A reader sent the photo below with the subject line, “The changing face of Soi Cowboy.” I thought it was a great capture which nails the Soi Cowboy of today.

 

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The changing face of Soi Cowboy.

 

When business is good, the party is in full swing and money is being made, the Thais can be a lot of fun to be around. But when times are tough – as they are now – and with bills to pay and family members with their hands out, old scams can make a return. Keep an eye on your bill for drinks added that you didn’t order, and keep an eye on your change too.

For years the old rumour would do the rounds that the closure of Nana Plaza was imminent, and it would be converted in to a car park for the Landmark Hotel. Never happened, and never will. The rumour that does the rounds in Pattaya every so often is that the Pattaya Bay side of Walking Street will be demolished (there has long been speculation about the legality of all of those buildings) and Walking Street opened up with a new promenade built. This rumour pops up from time to time – and it popped up again this week. A senior local government official is adamant that this time it’s for real. I simply mention it to see if anyone else has heard anything. I have no idea if there is any truth in it or not so don’t shoot the messenger!

The latest Vincent Calvino novel from Christopher G. Moore, Dance Me From The End Of Time, is available now. It’s the 17th and last novel in the Vincent Calvino series and caps a 30-year period. It finds Vinny looking for a missing person in a future Bangkok turned upside down by climate change. The early reviews have been fantastic. It’s available on Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

 

latest-calvino

 

In last week’s column I ran a photo of a tuktuk in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with the name of a Pattaya bar emblazoned across the back. A couple of days later Pattaya businessman Bryan Flowers dropped me a note about it. He was in Phnom Penh with the owner of the bar, La La Land, who is a mate of his. He asked his pal if he would be interested in advertising on the back of a tuk-tuk if he could wrangle a deal. They managed to work something out and it has proven to be very effective, generating discussions all over the place. Genius marketing.

Speaking of Bryan, his Night Wish Group are on a charity drive to raise money for good causes. If you would like to get involved or make a donation, you can learn more here.

The other half and I were talking this week about business in Thailand generally, those businesses which succeed – and specifically, why they succeed. In her mind, unless it is the sex industry, businesses run by farangs shouldn’t look to target only farang customers, but Thai customers too. She gets the idea that many farang businessmen still have this misconception that foreign customers spend more than Thais. In fact, many businesses with farang and Thai customers report that the yield per customer is often much higher for Thais than farangs. (And what she didn’t say but what I have heard from plenty of business owners is that Japanese, Chinese and Korean customers all typically spend more per person than white guys do.)


 

You hear a lot about the concept of face in Thailand, and how it is much more important than the idea of reputation to Westerners. But face in Thailand is not necessarily viewed in the same way nationwide. While it is something of a generalisation, I think there is some truth in the idea that for folks from the provinces – and especially from rural areas – face is more important than it is for those in the capital. Why is that? My best guess would be that city folk are more likely to see the big picture whereas country folk may not.

Storyville, Fishing For Love: How To Catch A Thai Bride screened on UK television this week. If you have a UK IP address you can watch it at this link.

Whatever happened to those little PCT phones that were so popular in Thailand 20+ years ago? If you don’t remember them or they were before your time, they were like a poor man’s mobile phone. Think of it as essentially a cordless phone with a super long range. When you went out you would take the phone with you, while the base unit was at home. If someone called you on your home / land-line phone number, your PCT phone handset would ring and you could take the call despite being far from home. I never did understand how they worked. They were popular back in the day when mobile phones were very expensive in Thailand.

 

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Quote of the week comes from a friend, “The more you learn about Thailand, the less you wish you knew.”

Reader’s story of the week comes from Anonymous, “Pattaya This Week“.

Phuket is feeling the effects of a massive drop in visitor numbers due to the coronavirus.

teenage Thai boys rescue a trapped puppy out of a burrow after hearing it whimper.

This article on the Bangkok number 8 bus is well done.

Is it time to oust some outdated Thai traditions?

Immigration has scrapped the TM28 form’s change-of-address reporting requirements for all but a few foreigners.

Police arrest the ex-husband of a Thai lady shot a week after they divorced.

A German jumps from the balcony of his Pattaya condo, refuses medical help…and dies!

A 50% off sale by Chevrolet sees all remaining Captivas sold out in one day.

 

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Pattaya this week, dead. Photo kindly provided by NotThatBobJames.

I’m not in Thailand at the moment so I rely on the help of friends and readers. I am very grateful to those of you who take the time to drop me a note and let me know what you see with your own eyes, especially those of you who send in photos. Without the help of you guys, this column would be a good deal lighter. I’ll be back in town before long but for the time-being, let me reiterate that I am very grateful for all your help.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]