Stickman's Weekly Column April 12th, 2020

Bye-Bye, Mr. Nana



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Former gogo bar manager, nightlife website operator, Nana Plaza personality and friend to many, Dave The Rave announced this week that he is leaving Thailand for good. After living and working in the heart of Bangkok for more than 20 years, Dave has come to the end of the road.

Dave and I first met almost 20 years ago. A Canadian friend and I were goofing around in Hollywood on the top floor of Nana, teasing service staff about what a rip-off we thought the 10,000 baht permanent barfine was. It was a con, of course, a 10,000 baht fee usually split between the mamasan and the girl. We pissed some staff off, Dave got wind of what we were up to, came over and his first words were, “You’re Stickman, right?” It would be the beginning of a long friendship.

Dave is known to many as Dave The Rave, but perhaps he should have been called “Mr. Nana”. Most of Dave’s life in Bangkok has been on Soi Nana. He worked in various bars and in various roles in Nana Plaza. And he lived in the soi too. For weeks, sometimes months even, Dave hardly ever left Soi Nana. Everything he needed was right there.

Dave has seen the bar industry change massively over the years. He can remember when bar managers were well-paid and bargirls weren’t, quite the opposite to how things are today.

There was a time when gogo bar managers earned a respectable salary. Many would take home per month about the same as an international school teacher. 15 years ago the bar biz was booming and Dave frequently made over 100,000 baht / month. With a salary like that back then, he never wanted for anything. He lived in an enormous condo of around 200 square metres down the end of Soi Nana. He had a great life, being paid a decent salary to look after a party every night.

Dave was at the helm of some of the best gogo bars in the plaza at a time they had a claim to be the very best in town. Pretty Lady in the late ‘90s. Dave was the manager. The Hollywood bars on the top floor in the early to mid 2000s. Dave was the man. Angelwitch around the period of the GFC. Dave was Matt’s faithful lieutenant. Each of those bars was arguably the best bar in the plaza at the time, maybe even the best in all of Bangkok. And Dave was running the show.

Dave had some short stints away from Soi Nana. He spent a short time in Patpong in late 2015 and while he tried to be upbeat and positive about it, I felt it was like watching a sportsman change code. Dave running bars away from Nana? That would be like Steven Gerrard playing for Man Utd – it would never work. Dave soon found himself back in Nana Plaza, where he belonged.

Dave also did some relief work managing some bars in Pattaya. Like many of us, he enjoyed a short visit to Sin City but he was always keen to get back to Bangkok. At the time he would often remark about how Pattaya attracted a different type of foreigner, and a very different type of Thai, from Bangkok.

In later years when things weren’t so rosy I suggested to Dave that perhaps he pursue a bar manager’s job in Pattaya. He would always remind me about the time he had spent there. The bars may look much the same, but he felt as places to both live and work, Pattaya and Bangkok were very different.

Dave experienced the golden period in the bars, a time when everyone with any connection to the bars was making money hand over fist. They weren’t just the golden years in terms of fun, they were the golden years in terms of making money.

It hasn’t been so easy recently and Dave is the first to admit that he has been riding his luck. The good times we knew were never going to last.

In many ways, Dave’s career in the bar business has mirrored the decline of the bar industry. As bar after bar decided it no longer needed a foreign manager, Dave found himself changing jobs frequently. And it seemed like each new job came with a lower salary. It wasn’t that Dave had done anything wrong, it was simply that the industry was in decline.

Bar rents were on the rise, competition to recruit a smaller number of attractive girls was pushing up dancers’ salaries while at the same time bar takings were trending down. Foreign bar managers’ salaries have been going down for most of the last decade.

Dave’s website provided a small source of income, but hardly enough to live on. He tried to make it work but competition was fierce and advertisers demanded more for less. The golden age of Bangkok nightlife websites mirrors that of the bar industry itself – again, the best days are in the past. Today you need a large and loyal readership to make a living running a Thailand nightlife-centric website – and even then it’s a challenge.

Eventually Dave would leave Soi Nana and take up cheaper digs elsewhere. It was to be a new beginning.

Hanging around the bars isn’t a healthy lifestyle, especially when you’re drinking every night. Dave battled health issues and suffered multiple amputations due to diabetes complications, something he has written about.

The writing has been on the wall for some time. A terrible low season, a high season not worthy of the term and then the hammer blow, Covid-19. There’s not an ounce of exaggeration when I keep saying that this is the bar industry’s darkest hour. And that’s a big problem for those who make a living from it.

I am surprised Dave lasted as long as he has – and I say that very much as a compliment. He is a survivor. He stuck it out as long as he could. Few in the bar industry will survive Covid-19.

Sticking around in Thailand with neither savings nor an income just isn’t an option. Thailand has never been kind to foreigners without money.

The end of the road is proving tricky to navigate. It’s not as simple as getting online, buying the next available air ticket out and jumping in a cab for the airport. Most airlines have stopped operating, there are limited flights and the airport is closed until next weekend. Funds have to be borrowed, a reasonably priced ticket found and then fingers crossed that the flight is not cancelled.

We’ve been in regular contact in recent weeks and I had a long chat with Dave a couple of days ago. He had mixed emotions, while he knows leaving is for the best, and for that reason alone he sounded upbeat. The hard part was actually making the decision. Now that it is made he is looking forward to going home. The word he used was “Home”. England. Home. He kept saying it over and over again. England. Home.

Dave plans to write a book about his time in Thailand, tentatively titled, “Sex, Mugs and Rock’n’Roll”. I can’t wait to read it.

Dave The Rave is an icon of Nana Plaza and a friend to many. He maintained his upbeat, positive and cheerful nature through the tough times, right to the bitter end. Visiting the plaza will never be the same without Dave The Rave there. Goodbye, my friend. You will be missed by many.


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mystery-photo-90

Photo credits: Asia Photo Stories

Last week’s photo was taken of the footbridge between Central World and Platinum at Pratunam. This week’s is one for the bar hounds. Know your Bangkok bars? If you do, you should be able to get this week’s photo. It’s a well-known gogo bar which was once very popular….it’s not that hard!


Nana Plaza
 

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

What of the future?

For the past 3 weeks you’ve chronicled the demise of tourism in the land of smiles. It’s interesting to note that despite the high prices charged it has only taken a few weeks for many businesses to fold. They were so reliant on cashflow that they could not weather a downturn. I’m no expert but from what I’ve gleaned, the problems stem from high rents. If this recession is greater in magnitude than the GFC, I suspect it’s going to be the end for many nightlife venues. Could Thailand see an end to mass Chinese tourism? China’s economy is export-oriented and relies on western consumers to power it. If those consumers cannot even pay rent because they’ve lost their jobs, are they going to buy shoes, clothes and electronics made in China? A devastated economy would be cosmic justice to the CCP who covered up the epidemic, allowed it to spread and then shipped back all the medical equipment they could buy from Western countries.

Residents only.

Apparently North Shore condo in Pattaya has a residents only policy where they try to keep owners and renters from inviting guests over. Not sure how legal that is or the success they’re having, but I do wonder if something similar will come to my building.

Social distancing in the staff room.

A friend is a teacher at an international school. He’s still getting paid, but must go to school 3 days per week. The school has been scrubbed and disinfected. Administration wants to keep it that way. So on the 3 days that teachers report to school for work, they work together in one room as all others are closed off to stay clean. Social distancing? Not if you’re whitey and we want to save on the cost of cleaning!

Refusing a friendly offer.

I was walking home tonight from a 7 Eleven here in Chiang Mai. It’s about a 3-minute walk down a narrow soi in the old city. I heard a motorbike roaring up behind me and I stepped aside. The bike stops next to me and a lovely young woman asks, ‘Where you go’ and asks if I want ‘Suckie, suckie massage, 1 hour 600 baht’. She then grabbed my crotch, and pleaded with me. Nice motorbike, new and expensive. She didn’t look like your usual woman of the night, and looked rather mainstream. She is the most aggressive woman I have ever encountered in Thailand and that includes Bangkok and Pattaya. I am not a player so I refused politely but the thought did cross my mind.

The dynamic in Thailand to change?

The bar scene in Thailand was on its arse before Covid-19 came along. Let’s not forget that. But now? Tourism could take years to bounce back from this. I can’t see a lot of visitors going back after this. It becomes less and less appealing. The madness of the place (read: bars) is what made it. The baht is still not taking a proper beating either. So we got: not cheap, bar scene finished and the atmosphere ain’t fun anymore. Visa rules and the general attitude towards foreigners from the government is rock bottom. The world has changed in the last 20 years. The internet, mass communication, less reliance on “The West” to do stuff that Asia felt it was lacking. The magical Far East with dirt cheap prices and lots of fun is gone, for the most part. It was great fun back in the day. But as somewhere to move to now and live? I am not sure. “It is what it is”, as they say. This has to change the dynamic in Thailand.

The plight of expats in Cambodia.

I am a member of Cambodia orientated Facebook groups. It sounds as though many expats in Cambodia are getting more desperate. Some are trying to arrange direct private charter flights to Darwin in the face of Australian government inaction. The flight plus the compulsory 2-week quarantine package comes to $AUD 6,000 which many balk at. I suspect they hope to get free flights out which most likely won’t happen. Expats in Cambodia are not known as high-rollers and many are there because they can’t afford Thailand anymore. There is talk of a state of emergency being imposed but whatever form this takes is a mystery. I am glad I got out.

Healthier to cook for yourself in Thailand.

I prefer to cook myself than trust others with my food, especially in Asia where cheap oils and sugar are the order of the day. I don’t see a hassle ordering a load of veges in once a week and having some chicken in the freezer. I lived alone and had a Thai-style outdoor kitchen. I survived on a rotation of laab with steamed veg, fried rice and kapow. All a piece of piss to make and all made with loads of fresh veg. With decent olive oil and brown rice it was much healthier than most locally cooked food. One could argue I take a hit on flavour with less added sugar and MSG but it ain’t that bad.

 

Demonia Bangkok
 

The walls must feel like they are closing in all over Thailand. There’s a curfew from 10 PM – 4 AM. Pattaya is on lockdown and you cannot get in or out of the small district of Pattaya without a special reason. Ditto down south where in each of the districts of Patong, Karon and Kata beaches on Phuket you cannot exit or enter. In fact the governor of Phuket would like people to remain in their homes and not go out for 24 hours. Further, in Phuket everyone should expect a knock on the door as the authorities plan to visit every home and check the temperature of every person on the island. Have a temperature? You’ll be taken away for interrogation for further health checks. In Bangkok, Chiang Mai and several other provinces the sale of alcohol has been banned. All over Thailand, governors are introducing restrictions in their respective provinces. If you are missing Thailand and wish you were there, give yourself a slap. Thailand is not the place to be as a visitor at this time.

Immigration was forced to act after numerous photos and videos went viral this week showing the daily scrum at Immigration offices around the country as foreigners stuck in Thailand scrambled to get their visa extended. Under the new policy, all visas due to expire between March 26 and April 30 are automatically extended until April 30. In other words, if your visa expires on April 15, you don’t need to do anything as it will automatically be extended to April 30 – and there will be no issue with overstaying. If the current situation continues, I’d expect the policy to roll over.

Titanium in Sukhumvit soi 22 has announced it has closed for good and won’t be reopening. Word is they hadn’t paid rent for March or April, the landlord wasn’t prepared to work with them and they have called it quits. Titanium was a little different – think a cross between a hostess bar and a live music venue – and for that reason alone it will be missed.

From Pattaya, rumour has it that two popular spots with expats and frequent visitors to Sin City have also closed permanently. One in soi 13 and one in Soi Diana. No names until I have verified they’re closing for sure.

Any bar / restaurant / business that announces it is closing this year can point to Covid-19 and cite that as the reason. And it will be the reason why some businesses are forced to close – but not all. In the case of bars, for many trade has been in the toilet over the last year or two. They can save face and cite Covid-19 – and while it may be the straw that broke the camel’s back – it might not necessarily have been the main reason.

I hear that Graham from the very well-known and wildly successful Happy Group in Pattaya passed away this week. He hadn’t been well for some time. RIP.

Popular Thailand YouTuber Kevin In Thailand also passed away this week. Kevin was diagnosed with cancer a year or so back. RIP.


 

Do the Thais say Covid nineteen i.e. say “19” in English to make it sound like it is a foreign disease? Which I guess it is…

A couple of readers emailed this week about how they are concerned about food shortages in Thailand and what would happen to society if there was no food on supermarket shelves or in markets. Don’t worry about that, there will never be food shortages in Thailand. The country produces enough food to feed the population many times over and fresh food is in abundance year-round. Further, when there is a crisis in Thailand, Thais are in it together. Remember the 2011 flood? The Thais acted like a team of 65 million all in it together. It’s when the crisis is political when all bets are off. Don’t worry about society in Thailand breaking down – I see zero chance of that happening.

How are expats who don’t have a girlfriend and / or cannot cook and / or don’t have a kitchen faring? Plenty of foreign residents eat out all the time and I suspect have zero skills in the (non-existent) kitchen. That doesn’t sound like fun.

The Nation ran an article this week showing a breakdown of the top 15 visitors to Thailand in the first 3 months of this year, sorted by nationality. There was not one farang country on the list. By farang country, I mean developed Western country – not Japan or Singapore, which are obviously developed but not farang countries. None of the UK, USA or Germany were in the top 15.

 

sukhumvit-soi-11

Sukhumvit soi 11 is dead. Photo credits: Asia Photo Stories.

 

The opening piece two weeks ago about the 2 Kiwi Colins who find themselves stuck in Pattaya went down well, even if a number of readers question the wisdom of staying in Thailand at this time. Just a quick update about them: they’re getting by ok for the time being, despite Pattaya being in lockdown. They’ve no idea how long they will be there but it does look like it could be for some time yet.

Bangkok expats can be a haughty bunch at times and when I lived there I was probably just as guilty as anyone. Bangkok expats often laugh about Pattaya expats, positively scoff at expats in Isaan and many see themselves at the top of the expat tree. Mention Singapore to them and I guarantee that the word “boring” will follow. Ask any long-term farang resident of Bangkok if they’d like to trade places with an expat in Singapore and most would laugh at the idea. Singapore has a reputation amongst Bangkok expats of being regimented, stuffy, expensive and most of all, boring. But if there is one thing I have learned from Westerners resident in Singapore over the years it is that generally they are happy there. Singapore might have a reputation amongst some as a boring place but the few expats I know living there all say the same – they’re very happy there. And it’s not necessarily the case that when they finish working they will leave and return to their homeland or relocate to somewhere like Bangkok. Many expats actually stay in Singapore because they are genuinely happy there. I raise this now as a few expats in Singapore have said the same thing to me over the past few weeks – they’re happy they’re in Singapore, especially at this time, and would much rather be in Singapore than in Thailand.

Many of the ramshackle slums scattered around Bangkok are slowly being dismantled. This is nothing new and it has been happening for decades. Foreigners may dismay at this slice of the Bangkok of old disappearing but remember that most of these communities are illegal, many are on prime public land and the living conditions are often appalling. While there is a certain romance in the Bangkok of old and it’s sad to see them disappear, they are hardly pleasant places to live. Bangkok’s march in to the modern world is accelerating and these little Thai rural-village-like areas are disappearing faster than ever. If you find them somehow charming, take a stroll through and I suspect your views might change quickly.

 

vitamin-iv-booster

 

Quote of the week is timely given what is happening all over the world with Covid-19, “Is the government a replacement for our immune system?”

A Pattaya bar owner talks openly in a thread on Reddit about what it’s really like to run a bar in Sin City.

Expats in Thailand are feeling the pressure of the Covid-19 crisis.

A Frenchman in Phuket was arrested and charged for the grievous crime of failing to wear a face mask.

Pattaya went in to lock-down on Thursday of this past week.

The one I call the Mad Professor was interviewed in this YouTube video.

20 foreigners are caught partying late at a Samui hotel.

Here’s a great video of Phuket as you have never seen it before.

 

nana-plaza-darkness

Nana Plaza remains in darkness. Photo credits: Asia Photo Stories.

 

The big question is when things will return to normality, and just what might the new normal look like? When will Thailand reopen its borders? When will foreigners be allowed back in? When will bars and restaurants popular with foreigners reopen? I’ll tackle what’s going on with the bar industry and what might happen when business resumes in the opener of next week’s column. Until then, take care and stay safe.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]