Who’s Sitting Next To You?
One of the things I really miss about Bangkok is the interesting people you come across in the most unlikely places. You never know who is sitting next to you, and what stories they might have to tell.
Over the years I met some really interesting people in Bangkok, completely out of the blue. In some cases it was the beginning of a friendship.
The Man Under The Hat
It was the rainy season of 1998 and I had been living in Bangkok for less than 6 months. Late one night I found myself stuck in the long-gone Pam’s Bar in Soi Cowboy. It was hammering down outside, the soi was flooded and I couldn’t leave if I’d wanted to. No matter, there was nowhere I’d rather have been than sitting in Pam’s Bar and perhaps more importantly, chatting with the lovely Peung.
Back then, on a wet night in the low season it was not unusual to have the whole bar to yourself. But just as I was getting cosy with Peung, the door swung open and a figure stood there in the doorway, the rain lashing down behind him. He was dripping wet and I couldn’t make him out clearly. It was like he was a silhouette in the doorway. If it had been a Hollywood movie, that was the point when thunder would have roared, the lights inside the bar gone out, the camera zoomed on to his face to be illuminated by a crack of lightning as the audience would gasp at the character’s dramatic look. But this was Bangkok, not Hollywood.
The drowned rat waddled inside and propped himself against the counter bar. Without a single word, Peung leapt up from my lap over to the man wearing a cowboy hat and threw her arms around him.
They obviously knew each other and a few words were exchanged before he pushed himself up, came over and in a strong Texas drawl he introduced himself.
He looked like death on legs, but was as polite and gracious as anyone I ever met. He had the attention of the hottest girl in the bar – the only hot girl in the bar – but he was very anxious to make sure it was ok if he bought her a drink. He needn’t have, for it was obvious Peung much preferred him to me.
Despite efforts by Peung to get his attention, the man under the hat was happy to have a chat with me.
He had a distinct look and I’d see him around the traps frequently back then.
It was not until a few years later that I would learn that he was a local personality in Washington Square who wrote a column chronicling the comings and goings of that area.
The first time we met was before either of us had started our respective online ventures. The man under the hat was Mekhong Kurt.
Down The Back Of The Thermae
Many of my best memories from the early days in Bangkok are from the Thermae. I remember watching France beat Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final. I fondly remember Miss Roi Et, Miss Nongkhai, Miss Khon Kaen and so on. But it wasn’t just the damsels from Isaan who made the Thermae such an interesting place, the place brought in interesting punters too.
You don’t expect to meet a rocket scientist in the Thermae but that’s exactly what happened. I got chatting with another American with a southern drawl – Mississippi or Arkansas, I cannot remember which – and we hit it off right away. He shared his wisdom of a few years living in Bangkok, but what was really interesting what that he’d worked for NASA in the States and the embassy in Bangkok.
If I met someone telling me that these days, I’d think they were just another Bangkok bullshitter. But I was new and hadn’t yet realised that so many expats in Bangkok created a fancy persona based on a bogus background. But in Mark’s case, it was all true.
We’d often bump in to each other in Thermae and chat away like old friends, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later when I had arranged to meet the guy behind the BangkokGuru website that I would discover I already knew him. It was Mark, from the Thermae.
We became good friends and spent many fun nights exploring the far-flung corners of Bangkok, eschewing Sukhumvit for Thai nightlife venues where no white face had been seen before.
You don’t meet rocket scientists and spooks in bars here in New Zealand, but in Bangkok you just might.
Not Quite The Highlight Of A Nanapong Dance Contest
The first Nanapong dance contest was such a roaring success that DC2 as it was called followed shortly after. A friend from the Thai language school I was studying at raved about it and insisted not only did I have to go, but I should take my camera along too.
So there I was, taking photos, when I get chatting with another guy who was also taking photos. I was shooting digital and he was shooting film. He was fascinated by digital and we got talking about it.
He’d been around Bangkok for about 10 years, had photographed the bar scene extensively, had developed a name for himself and in some circles had become known as the nightlife photographer in Bangkok.
We were different, from our outlook on life to our politics – which couldn’t be more different – but we had a shared love of photography and Bangkok in common and stayed in touch, hanging out a few times, rather than becoming close.
He transitioned away from photographing the nightlife just as I was getting in to it. Nick Nostitz was well-known and respected amongst long-termers, particularly among correspondents of that era, and was another of the many interesting characters in Bangkok I just happened to meet for the first time by chance when out and about.
The Golden Grin
I hadn’t noticed him in the departure lounge because I would have remembered if I had. His dramatic look – a full mouth of gold teeth – would mean he always stood out. I couldn’t help but notice him on the flight back from Saigon, especially as he was sitting directly across the aisle from me. I didn’t give him a great deal of thought and being kind of judgmental when it comes to people’s appearance (live a long time in Thailand and this can happen to you if you aren’t that way already), I probably thought he was a wannabe gangster and tried not to pay too much attention to him. I mean, seriously, who else has a full mouth of golden teeth?
I really didn’t give him any more thought until we found ourselves standing next to one another at the taxi rank at Don Meuang, late at night, with not a cab in sight. We got chatting, discovered we were going to the same area – me to Sukhumvit soi 16, he to Phrom Pong or Thonglor as I seem to recall – so we did something I have never done in my life, share a cab with a complete stranger. We walked out to the main road, hailed a cab and headed for downtown.
He was very open about himself and as someone at that time who had lived in Bangkok for about 15 years, I was immediately suspicious. Artist, DJ, actor including a James Bond movie, and too much else to remember. I’d seen and heard it all before. This guy was laying it on way too thick. I was just waiting for him to say what so many dodgy Brits in Thailand make – he’s former SAS. That never came.
But he was friendly and struck me as a decent enough sort, if a bit too talkative. Besides, if he had that much going for himself, why was he sharing a cab with a complete stranger in a city where cabs are so cheap after flying in on a budget airline?
He didn’t speak any Thai and his reason for being in Thailand was fuzzy. He didn’t have a Thai wife and if I recall correctly, he was shacked up with a Canadian. Bangkok didn’t seem to draw him for the usual reasons. He was a character but he wasn’t a Bangkok character. He was different.
He must have seen the doubt on my face and I remember him telling me to Google him when I got home.
I did just that and everything he told me was true. He is known as Goldie, and his real name is Clifford Price. He had lived a colourful life and then some.
I never heard a peep about him in Bangkok after sharing a cab with him, but then he never struck me as the sort who would hang around the circles I did.
I watched The World Is Not Enough a couple of nights ago, saw Goldie and the memory of sharing a cab ride with him came back. I Googled him again out of curiosity, and it seems that he may still be based in Bangkok. Since that cab ride in 2014, he has been awarded an MBE. Good on him!
Bangkok is full of foreigners who have led interesting lives. There are those who have made a life for themselves in Bangkok, and there are plenty who made it on the world stage and then moved to Bangkok, perhaps for the perceived relative anonymity it offers. More than a few actors, musicians, sports stars and the like who you come across in Bangkok are not passing through – they live there. When you’re out and about in Bangkok, don’t be shy to start a conversation with the person sitting next to you. You never know who you might meet.
Last week’s photo was taken outside the gate at the south-east corner of Lumpini Park, looking across the treetops at Lumpini Park View Condo. Just three readers got it right. Was it really that difficult?! This week’s isn’t that challenging….or is it?
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Cheap airfare surprise.
I am uncertain when my next trip to South-East Asia will be. That said, I just looked at the prices flying in November and returning in December and the fare is 4,700 Swedish krone (15,500 baht) with Qatar. It has never been this cheap!
My prediction regarding international travel is that we will get back to some normality this year with countries like Australia, NZ, Singapore, China, Korea and maybe even Thailand. But Europe and USA? I think that could be a few years away and how it plays out will really depend on a vaccine and / or herd immunity. It’s hard to predict anything. And I think the rule will be simple – you can travel from one of the above countries to another of the above countries, without quarantine, so long as you have been in the country where you start travel from for 14 days. This would stop the scenario, for example, that Korea lets someone from Japan in, and then that Japanese person decides to travel to Australia. They would only be allowed if they had been in Korea for 14 days (and shown not to have the virus). What this also implies is that short trips are likely out – you will need to be in each country for a minimum 14 days before being able to fly internationally again. Not an issue for me, but it would be an issue for many, especially those in a place like Singapore who like weekends away in Thailand.
Don’t call Bangkok expensive.
For those who complain about Bangkok barfine and drink prices, I am now in Santiago de Chile where in a popular strip club with the most beautiful Venezuelan and Columbian chicas, a lady drink is 30 USD. A barfine is 150 USD and 1 hour of action is 180 USD. Oh, and not to forget, a beer for a customer is 19 USD. There are other ways of course. Some girls give you their WhatsApp number and you can get a deal. Or you can order from websites where hourly rates start at 80 USD. It’s hard to resist the stunning chicas.
What happens when you don’t abide by the alcohol ban rules.
I was shaken down by cops on Saturday, April 30th, the last day of the alcohol ban. I was carrying a non-transparent dark carrier bag containing 6 cans of Chang on 2nd Road in Pattaya when 4 traffic cops sprang out of a small police box, made me go inside, and open the bag. They could only have guessed that there were cans of beer inside from the shape of the bag. I wasn’t buying or selling the beer, just carrying it to my new hotel, as my old one had to close at the end of April. The cops insisted carrying alcohol was illegal, and that I would have to go to the police cells for 2 nights until court opened on Monday and would then be fined 100,000 baht for contravening the Emergency Decree. It was fairly obvious that this was a shake-down, but even with that knowledge it‘s difficult not to be shaken down when confronted with four cops in a police box. They demanded 20,000 baht to let me go, and eventually settled for 9,000 baht after ascertaining that was all I had on me. I suspect I could have paid them a lot less, but made the schoolboy error of getting my wallet out in which I thought I had about 4,000 baht and figured 1,000 baht per cop might secure my freedom. Unfortunately there was 9,000 baht in there so they took the lot which worked out at almost £40/can of Chang. When they let me go, they were insistent that the beers were put in a big black bin bag within the carrier bag to disguise their shape, obviously fearing that another posse of cops would intercept me before I reached my hotel. This suggests that the cops have been doing very nicely during the alcohol ban, and as this was the last night of the ban, were really stepping up their efforts before it ended. Perhaps this explains where some of the pressure was coming from to extend the ban in to May.
Different filming techniques.
One thing which is noticeable about Soi Nana & Soi Cowboy vloggers is that most Caucasians sit in a bar and film out on to the street, whilst those from India etc. do the reverse and walk the streets, filming in to bars. In one case a trendy Indian lad was filming himself outside of the exchange booth and beyond in to Nana Plaza when one of the security told him in no uncertain terms to go away! It is from the latter where you can tell how busy the bars are or are not.
Restaurants were allowed to reopen in Thailand this week – with various new rules imposed as well as some restrictions – but there wasn’t the rush of customers that owners had been hoping for. Delivery continues to do well. The analogy a friend used was that everyone was invited to the party but hardly anyone turned up, with most preferring to stay home and party alone.
Bars remain closed and there’s been no indication as to when they will be able to open. About the only thing that is known is that bars will probably be the last type of business to get permission to reopen. The issue in bars is social distancing. Could bars be ordered to change the layout and seating in such a way that encourages social distancing? Booth seating, perhaps, and very limited numbers on the premises? It wouldn’t do much for the atmosphere. It could be a slow road back for bars and the announcement will not be a simple, “You can open again on xx/xx/20.” There are going to be restrictions – just how tough they will be, we will have to wait and see.
Still, some bars are throwing caution to the wind and opening on the sly. Det 5 down Sukhumvit soi 8 is one such bar. You might even be able to get a special coffee if you ask nicely.
And thinking about bars and social distancing, what does that mean for hotels? Will hotels be allowed to be guest-friendly? Will security guards / receptionists allow unregistered guests in to a hotel? So many questions!
Some of my American friends in Bangkok can make me nauseous the way they go on about how good BBQ is back home in the States. Maybe Bangkok’s newest American-themed eatery, Texas Chicken on Silom Road might help them miss home a little less?
In a recent column I commented how the salaries paid to foreign bar managers these days are often measley, especially when you consider that some bar managers earn less today than bar managers in similar positions were earning 10 or even 15 years ago. But funnily enough, it is a farang thing and it is absolutely not the case with Thais managing bars. There were stories floating around for a while of a long-popular Bangkok gogo bar where the mamasans could take home 100,000 baht / month. That was not their salary per se, rather their total take home pay which was mostly commission, made up of a small bonus for every lady drink and barfine That particular bar had a huge number of dancers and barfine numbers ran well in to 3 digits every night. So just how well are some Thai managers / mamasans paid? There are some in Bangkok who earn 50,000 baht / month. That’s not the norm and they are outliers, but still there are plenty of others who earn 20,000 – 30,000 baht a month with lady drinks, tips and commissions on top. It’s not a bad monthly salary for a Thai female working in the bar industry who doesn’t have to drop her knickers.
From down Pattaya way, the beer bar complex at the start of Walking Street mentioned in last week’s column as being dismantled has been totally demolished. In answer to questions from a few readers about the adjacent Beer Garden, it looks like that venue has not been touched.
The Walking Street area could be a mess for months to come with word that the new drainage pipes laid along Beach Road in recent years making it feel like a permanent construction site are about to laid under Walking Street. Work is due to start in the next couple of weeks on that section and it is expected to last for many months.
But it’s perhaps not such a big deal these days as Walking Street is not ground zero for the nightlife like it used to be, at least not for the real players. That would be Soi LK Metro. On Soi LK Metro, the Japanese owner of Ninja A Gogo has thrown the towel in and there is a big sign up for sale.
And still on Soi LK Metro, word is that many bars have been given a 20% discount on rent from the Thai landlord. It is very much a take it or leave it deal. The odd bar reports that their landlord has offered them a much more generous discount.
Around the corner from Soi LK Metro on Soi Buakhao is where freelancers have been hanging out in recent weeks. From around 5:30 PM onwards, many are all dollied up and putting on their sweetest smile to grab the attention of passers-by. The popular spot is around the Tree Town Night Market and the Skaw Beach Hotel soi where you will find plenty working in the world’s oldest profession. Word is that the local constabulary are turning a blind eye.
Popular bar and restaurant The Sportsman on soi 13 was rumoured to be a casualty of Covid-19 but that rumour has been proven false. It has reopened and food is being served. Drinks will follow when restaurants get the green light. Across Pattaya, the majority of restaurants have opened but strictly no alcohol can be served.
As far as bar managers in Sin City go, word is that some have been told they would be paid half their salary through the period of the Covid-19 shutdown. That said, at least a couple of those told they would receive a part salary are still waiting for the money they expected on April 30th.
There have been sad scenes over on the darkside where plenty of Thais live because rents are lower. Many of those who have been laid off and are without an income – think not just bar staff, but hotel staff, cleaners etc. Streets have been lined with those queuing for free food and water, in some cases the queues estimated at hundreds of metres long.
The big thing the other half chatted about when talking with friends in Thailand this week was salary cuts. A number of her friends have seen their salary slashed due to Covid-19. None of her friends has been laid off – yet – but some have taken massive pay-cuts. How much are we talking? Her best friend & her best friend’s husband work at the local branch of a major international company. They each earn 70,000 baht / month and each has had their salary cut to 32,000 baht / month. Initially, they each had their monthly salary cut to 40,000 baht / month and then just a few days later to 32,000 baht / month. They have a couple of kids and a couple of properties – and what they now take home won’t cover their fixed monthly outgoings. They’re now looking at renegotiating one of their loans to interest-only repayments for a while. The worry is now about job security – will they even have a job in a few months’ time? To make matters worse, as I understand it, those who are laid off because of Covid-19 or whose salary is cut may not have the usual protections afforded them under Thai labour laws. Another of the other half’s friends had her salary cut from 35,000 baht / month to 15,000 baht / month. Obviously many people are hurting financially, and it’s only going to get worse.
How much will the black / underground economy in Thailand contract during Covid-19? Most working girls have essentially been put out of business, drug deals have been difficult due to the curfew, ditto gambling dens. Will the underground economy contract by a similar number in percentage terms to the regular economy? Or will it perhaps contract by an even greater percentage?
Quote of the week, “The only thing that has spread faster than this virus is stupidity!”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Anonymous and is unusually titled but is still very much Thailand-related, “Memo to Antipodean Prime Ministers“.
A group of 7 Russians are caught partying on Ko Phangnan.
3 foreigners are arrested at Pattaya’s Pussy Cat Club for the heinous crime of drinking.
Could contact tracing in bars mean customers have to register before they enter?
A Bangkok Post opinion piece on the craziness of killing the economy nailed it.
The order closing Pattaya beach and surrounding beaches has been extended until May 31st.
A visit to Pattaya Beach could cost you 100,000 baht and a year in jail.
Photos capture the closure of Bangkok’s nightlife.
The Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit has closed for the time being.
A murder hunt is on after a German expat in Prachinburi is stabbed to death.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org