Stickman Weekly  7/9/2008

Gaem's Life On The Roller Coaster

She grew up in rural Nongkhai, 90 km from the provincial capital in a dirty, poor, stinking hot village.  The last of 12 kids, she was never destined to have an easy life.

Despite excelling at school and topping the class in a number of subjects, her parents told her that beyond mattayom 3 (that's the 9th year of standard school education), they just didn't have the money to finance further study.  Unwilling to accept that a mattayom 3 education may lead to little more than a life of mediocrity, Gaem knew that work would provide the money needed for school fees, uniforms, books as well as the biggest expense of all, the cost of getting to and from school every day, more than 30 km away.

Gaem’s first job was as a dek pump at age 15, a position that is seen as less than enviable in Thai society - a gas pump attendant.  It paid miserably.  Gaem worked both the long summer holiday and the October break, saved every last baht and had enough money to finance herself through mattayom 4, her 10th year at school.

The next year fees went up and Gaem could not make enough money as a dek pump so she sought work in Bangkok and found it as a golf caddy.  Being of a small stature, she was given the plum role of driving golfers around the course in a golf cart and never so much as had to lift a bag of clubs.  Each time she drove the golf cart around the course the club paid her 180 baht and on top of that, the standard tip from players was 200 baht.  Occasionally she would be tipped as much as 1,000 baht while the less generous customers would give her 100 or 150 baht, usually Japanese she says.

Now it is widely-known that some caddies are available for grabbing your number one wood both on the golf course and in the bedroom but Gaem never did give into the temptation.  She knew that such liaisons would pay handsomely and she desperately needed money to finance her study but she had pride and a girl with pride never does that.  She was asked about her availability from time to time but the thought of losing her virginity to someone she would not marry – and remember, she was still young at that time, just 16 years old – was not her idea of fun.

Mattayom 4, 5 and 6 proved to be much more challenging and despite the fact that the school was out in the boonies, Gaem claims that the teachers were good and the level of English taught was decent.

With school completed, a more permanent stay in Bangkok and study at the country’s largest university, Ramkhamhaeng, beckoned.

Gaem worked hard in her first year at university.  She received no assistance from her parents as they simply didn't have any money.  And neither did she receive assistance from any of her siblings.  One of 12 – but only 10 remain now – all claimed that they too did not have any spare cash to help out.  Of the 12 children, one died, as many do in the provinces, of the ubiquitous motorcycle accident and another died after being administered penicillin by the village quack - and that was the day the brother happened to find out he had a serious penicillin allergy!

Gaem claims the family is close but she readily admits that of her 9 remaining siblings, she would only recognise 4 today.  Some she has not seen in many years.  The last of 12, Gaem’s mother was 48 when she gave birth to her twelfth child.  While I would never say it to her face, I wonder just how close the family really is.

Gaem’s first year at university wasn’t easy.  It’s not that the level of study was difficult, quite the contrary in fact, but she simply had so little of the folding stuff.  After paying rent for the most basic of rooms and paying for all of life’s necessities, she had almost nothing left over.  Some days she would eat two meals consisting of nothing more than an egg on rice.  She attended every class, every day, but was frustrated at how easy it was, much of the material a rehash of what she had studied at school.

In years 2, 3 and 4 of her English degree, Gaem seldom attended class.  Maybe a handful of classes each month she tells me.  When I asked her the obvious, just how did she manage to make it through, I see that cheeky, yet adorable grin and she tells me that while the last three years of school in Thailand is ridiculously difficult – her words - university is quite the opposite.  Bachelor’s degree courses are about the same level as school courses she claims although she did admit that for some courses she had to “read a book for an hour or two the night before”.

It was in year 2 of Ramkhamhaeng that Gaem noticed the opposite sex was showing more than a passing interest in her.  More and more boys would look at her and it was at this time she was offered a job as “a pretty girl”, as she called it, with a promotions company.  That's one of those jobs where an attractive female is dressed up in a Heineken uniform and promotes Heineken beer or in a Beer Leo outfit and sells Beer Leo...and so on.

The promotions company was so impressed with her that they moved her off the bar circuit and put her into the more lucrative market at Bangkok’s then flashest shopping mall, Emporium, promoting cosmetics.  The money was good and her life became comfortable.  She would attend classes occasionally as she was not working long hours most days.  She had enough money to buy clothes, eat well and she even managed to send a few baht home occasionally, perhaps 1,000 baht every other month to Mum now that Dad had passed away.  Gaem’s father checked out of life while she was in her second year at Ram.

Gaem’s was such a hit as a pretty girl that she was offered a job at the Bangkok Motor Show, not just as one of the clueless bimbos who mill around and couldn't tell a Honda from a Toyota, but as one of the motorbike hussies, the prime modeling positions in the show offered only to those with a flawless, yet buxom body.  The money on offer was very good, the daily rate more than Gaem had ever made in a single month.  But Gaem was shy and the idea of wearing a bikini for a few days solid and being photographed all day long was a bridge too far for what was still a shy, demure country girl.

Despite turning down any position at the Motor Show due to her inherent shyness, Gaem did well with the promotions company.  The money was good but the hours long.  She had little time to spend on her studies but it didn’t seem to matter much.  She had the mental horsepower to pass the exams with ease and her grades never suffered.

More and more guys started not only showing an interest in Gaem but approaching her.  Guy after guy would slip her his phone number - Thais, Japanese, farangs.  Not once did she return a call.  She’d never held a man’s hand, let alone had a boyfriend so why should it be her who called a guy, she thought.

Gaem remained a pretty girl until her degree had been completed when she sought real work and found a position as front desk staff at a good hotel in Sukhumvit.  Her good looks, classy presentation, decent English and friendly disposition made her an ideal fit for the job.  This was Gaem’s first real exposure to foreigners and it opened her mind to the fact that the average Western male had a propensity for hard-looking, dark-skinned girls from her part of the country.  She couldn’t work out why such good looking guys shamelessly brought a different girl back each night to the hotel and she remains bewildered at farangs' taste in Thai women, even today.

Gaem held that job for a year until her life changed and she faced a new challenge that would prove tougher than anything she had experienced to date.

In 2002, a few days after returning from a trip to Lopburi she fell ill and was admitted to hospital.  Within a couple of days she was paralysed.  She could move only her arms from the elbow down along with her neck and head.  The rest of her body had no feeling and no movement.

A battery of tests was done but doctors couldn't diagnose what was wrong.  She was transferred from what could best be described as a standard government hospital to a name government hospital.  There yet more tests were ordered but still they couldn't determine just what was wrong with her.  There was no trauma so spinal injuries causing paralysis was ruled out.  Tests for various viruses and diseases were undertaken but nothing was ever detected.  An exploratory operation was made on her lower back, for quite what Gaem never did know, and nothing was found – but a scar that only a butcher could leave is a life-long reminder.

Gaem was given treatment for various infections and other diseases even though the doctors still didn't know what was wrong with her.  Her condition didn’t deteriorate but neither did it improve.

After a few months in hospital and no change in her condition nor sign of improvement, Gaem was given the bad news.  She was told that she would never walk again.  All avenues had been exhausted and the doctors felt that other than simply waiting, and hoping, there was no treatment available that they had not tried, notwithstanding that they could not diagnose what was wrong with her.

Gaem was understandably distraught.  Her father had passed away and her mother was now an old woman, supported by a few baht a month from each of her kids, apart from Gaem.  Mother had recently been diagnosed as diabetic and approaching 70 her health was not what it once was.  Gaem was not close to many of her siblings and all but one had their own family now.  She would be a massive burden on any of them, something she vowed she would never be.

Gaem had never experienced love.  She’d never felt love from a man.  She’d never been kissed by a man.  What a life this was turning out to be.  Her weight was now at a mere 37 kg.

One of Gaem’s friends from university was Am, a southern Thai.  Gaem had been a study buddy of Am's and when Am learned of Gaem’s condition, that all avenues had been explored and that there was no course of treatment, he dug deep into his own finances to help.

After graduating in the same class, Am had started his own travel agency and tour guide service and was doing very well.  Profits never dropped below 100,000 baht a month.  He’d liked Gaem and was prepared to spend a significant amount to get another opinion.

Am had Gaem transferred to a private hospital where presumably the same battery of tests was once again carried out.  Am financed everything, care that would run to hundreds of thousands of baht.

But the private hospital ultimately turned out to be no better than the government run facility and despite sinking serious money into Gaem’s care, the doctors said there was nothing they could do for her - and she would be better off at home.

The future wasn’t bleak.  There wouldn’t be a future.

Gaem went to live with Am and he along with his father cared for the little girl from Isaan.  They fed her, washed her and did all the icky stuff like the daily changing of her urine bag.

Word got out about Gaem’s condition and a fortune teller expressed an interest in meeting Gaem.  She felt that the problem might not be medical and she might be able to help.  Gaem was against the idea but Am’s father was at breaking point.  He had seen his son sink a fortune into this girl’s medical care and he personally had gone way beyond the call of duty as a Good Samaritan.  He put it to Gaem that if she didn't at least meet the fortune teller then he and his son would no longer care for her.  Gaem had no choice.

The fortune teller met with Gaem and announced that the problem was not medical but one of bad “duang”.  I do not know how to translate this into English, but I guess it is something like bad fortune.  The fortune teller said that for 300 baht she could cure Gaem.  After sinking around half a million baht into medical care already, what was another 300 baht?  Am put his hand into his pocket.

Gaem was wheeled into a room where the fortune teller prepared candles and carried out some sort of spell on Gaem chanting in Hindu, Pali or some other language that Gaem didn’t recognise.

Now let's pause the story for a minute.  I am horribly cynical about this sort of stuff and wouldn’t usually believe in it.  I called Gaem on this many times and she knows my utter cynicism about such things, but she insists that within a week she could walk.  It took a few months to get her strength back but one year after she lost the feeling and movement in most of her body she was back to, or at least very close to, full fitness.

It would be inaccurate to say that Am and Gaem fell in love but Am had clearly always fancied Gaem and the two quickly became a couple.  Within a few months Gaem fell pregnant and a year after her paralysis had miraculously disappeared Gaem gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Am and Gaem were proud parents.  Am’s business was going well and he was able to buy a townhouse and two vehicles.  The business required him to work long hours and he would sometimes return home very late at night.  But Gaem didn’t worry.  She had a modest, but pleasant place to live, a beautiful baby and she was well looked after by Am.  Everything a mother needed was provided.

Am and Gaem never did marry.  There was no village ceremony, no party, no dowry and most certainly no legal registration of the marriage.  In the eyes of the law, Am and Gaem’s only legal ties were that they had a child together.

Despite her age and failing health, Gaem’s mother came down from Nongkhai to meet the newest addition to the family.  Even though Am was the father of her grand-daughter and had spent hundreds of thousands of baht on Gaem as well as care for her in her darkest hours, mother never really liked him.  There was something about him that she just did not like.  Perhaps it was that typical Isaan distrust of people from the south?  Behind his back she would tell Gaem that he was jai dum.

And there was no love lost on mother as far as Am was concerned.  Am told Gaem that her mother was no longer welcome in the house and Gaem was given an ultimatum.  Either mother goes back to Nongkhai or Am would leave her.  What could Gaem do?  Mother was in bad health and telling her to get out and make the 700 km journey back home would be right up there with the worst things a Thai could say to their mother.

Gaem couldn’t do it but Am kept his side of the bargain.  He walked out.  He was gone a few days and then returned as if nothing had ever happened except that he slept in the spare bedroom downstairs and not with Gaem and the baby upstairs.  This was not lost on mother who remained in the house.  She had never liked Am and reminded Gaem of this day in, day out.

Eventually mother left but Am did not move back into the marital bed.  He remained downstairs.

Then one day Am left altogether.  Gone with the wind.  He refused to answer his mobile phone when Gaem called.  Gaem tried calling the agency but as soon as staff realised it was Gaem calling they would hang up on her, presumably under instructions from their boss, Am.  Gaem had very little money and basic necessities were running low.  Milk for the baby, food, she was down to her last thousand baht.

Then Am reappeared.  But he wasn’t alone.  There was another woman with him.  Am strode into the house screaming obscenities at Gaem.  He told her to get out of the house immediately.  She was confused and didn't know what was going on.  Again, she was told to leave.  She didn’t remain confused long when Am screamed at the top of his lungs that the lady he had brought with him was the lady he loved, the lady he was going to marry!  The two of them would be living in this house and Gaem was to pack her bags quick smart and get the hell out!

If Gaem had any doubts that she misunderstood what was going on they were quickly erased when Am grabbed her and spun her around, pulling out chunks of her hair.  He swung her small body against the door, her head crashing into it.  As she fell to the ground he started laying into her, kicking her as hard as he could while screaming obscenities that would give the gossip hungry neighbours fodder for a month.  Am scooped up the baby and announced that if Gaem ever wanted to see her again she had to return the entire cost of the medical treatment that he had paid, a figure he estimated at 500,000 baht.  Until the money was paid Gaem would not see her baby again.

Gaem hurriedly packed her things, called one of her few friends to come and pick her up and left not only her home, but her baby, the one person in her life who truly loved her.

Gaem had been a faithful girlfriend (I would like to say wife), a housekeeper and a first class mother.  She had done everything she could for Am, cooking him his southern favourites and attending to all of his needs.  Gaem had dedicated her life to his happiness, trying to show the kindness to him that he had shown to her by taking care of her medical care and looking after when she was at her lowest.

Gaem now has a predicament.  She wants her baby back but she knows that Am will not hand her daughter over until the money, all 500,000 baht, is repaid.  Gaem has found a commission based job and is currently earning 15,000 baht a month.  It's enough to live on but there’s little left over.  Saving 500,000 baht just isn’t going to happen.

Gaem is a proud woman.  She knows little about the bar scene and the money that could be made in it.  As we sat talking about her life over coffee earlier this week, we discussed her options.  I suggested a lawyer.  I even suggested snatching the baby.  These were not options she felt.  Gaem, we need to think outside the square here, I told her.

I hinted at the bar scene.  I didn't want to, even felt ashamed for mentioning it, but sometimes you just have to look at all options.

I would never do that she told me.  No way.  Never.

Pride is strong in this one.

Gaem is insistent that she will earn the money to pay back Am and get back her baby.  She misses her baby dreadfully and has been to kindergarten and watched him play from the front gate, tears streaming down her face.

Thai women can often be heard saying that Thai men are bad.  I don’t like it when I hear this because often it is the woman who has in fact been bad and driven the man away.  But sometimes the guy really is bad.  I don’t know what to make of Am.  He went from true prince to total pig.

And in many ways I don’t quite know what to make of this story.  It is, as far as I can tell, a very accurate portrayal of Gaem’s life.

For a mother living apart from her baby Gaem is doing remarkably well.  Her smile and her all round bubbliness remain.  She has retained the beauty that saw her a star with the promotions company.  What happens in her life next, who knows.  We remain in contact and one day, hopefully, I’ll have a happier chapter in her life to write about.
 

Where was this picture taken?


 

Last week's picture was taken of the sign outside Kiss Bar, the new name for Black And White in Soi Cowboy.  Heaps of readers said it was Kiss Bar in Patpong.  Wrong!  The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British Fish And Chips restaurant.  The second person to get it right wins a free jug of margarita, valued at 840 baht from Charley Brown's, a popular Tex-Mex restaurant, offering authentic cuisine and delicious margaritas.  Charley Brown's is located in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit Soi 11.  The third prize is offered by ThailandFriends.com, an online dating community that boasts over 50,000 members, hosts live events in and around Thailand and allows basic members to send 5 messages a day for free.  The prize offered is a premium membership which adds more to the ThailandFriends experience with unlimited messaging, detailed member searches, 24 profile pictures, and a whole lot more.

Terms and conditions:  The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days.  The Charley Brown's prize MUST be claimed within 7 days.  Prizes are not transferable.  Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per month.  The ThailandFriends prize must be claimed within one week.

FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.)  Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.  I have been receiving so many really thoughtful, interesting and well-written emails recently that it has been very hard to choose the best to run in the column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK - Fellini would have loved Nana Plaza!

On our recent visit to Bangkok we stayed at the Majestic Grande, which I can heartily recommend to anyone as being a great value-for-money residence with good staff and excellent service.  On several occasions we walked up Soi Nana and took a short cut to our hotel by tramping through the Rajah Hotel.  On those occasions I couldn't help but notice the decaying ruins that are the Nana Entertainment Plaza.  How any Westerner can drink and do whatever else in that rotting property is beyond my understanding.  What an absolute shit hole of a dump!  To say nothing of the potential as a major fire hazard.  In fact the whole of Soi Nana either in the daylight or when darkness descends is reminiscent of a Fellini movie, replete with weird characters from many lands, ugly women, alcoholics, loony tunes, zonked out Vietnam War vets on their last legs and brain cells, con men, Pommy ex-convicts tattooed from neck to toe and accompanied by katoeys, the whole surrealistic scene would have made Fellini proud of his stage set.

Is it time to buy?

I was once of the same mind, reluctant to buy in Thailand and determined to only rent and have regretted it because I lost track of two fundamentals and a third emerging dynamic that will sweep across the world in a tsunami in the next 10 - 20 years or so, i.e., the coming rapid transition from a Western-based world order to an Eastern-based one.  The two fundamentals that have always applied for real estate investments are location-location-location and inflation.  They are the equivalent of physical laws in real estate and overall investment criteria.  I would regale you with tales of what I could have bought / pricing when I was based in Bangkok in the early 80s / 90s versus what is available now, but I'm sure you can imagine and besides anyone can look up which investments tend to outpace inflation over time and see in the long run it's stocks and real estate.  But it is that 3rd emerging element that most Westerners ignore or perhaps are in denial about.  The emerging market in Thailand will not be limited to Westerners.  It will be the Easterners who are rapidly gaining affluence, represented by mushrooming Chinese / Indian economies of a +2.25 billion population.  The Thais are starting to recognise the new economic order and whether your frame of reference is the Russionisation of Pattaya or the Chinese hegemony over the Eastern hemisphere and beyond.  I suggest you rethink your buy versus rent decision while you still can.

Buying a place = commitment.

I thought the same way you did, but after living for so long, paying rent, that just got boring.  You are right, that you can rent a relatively big place for not a lot of money, 25K to 50K baht per month.  First, renting forever as I did, you never get the feeling that you have any "roots".  Second, if you are in a relationship with a respectable middle / upper class Thai, there will be the need to show commitment and stability in the relationship.  Renting gives the impression that one isn't stable, in the eyes of Thais, therefore, the need to show some stability and commitment.  Even marriage doesn't give the sense of commitment unless there are assets to support the commitment.  Welcome to Asia.

In most foreign countries renting makes more sense than buying.

I have one more reason to rent instead of buy.  If the building starts attracting extremely undesirable people you can pick up and move to another place.  Two mates bought in Omni Complex on Soi 4, Sukhumvit, and the place has gone mostly Arab.  The kids urinate in the lift, over-run the pool so no-one else can use it, and insult the staff and local vendors.  It's become an absolutely miserable place to be.  Who will buy their units now?  I am not saying that all Arabs are bad, just that those migrating to lower Sukhumvit are horrible.  I am American and believe me if you brought all the Americans living in Pattaya up to Bangkok and put them in one area everyone would be running for the exits!  I agree that in most foreign countries renting makes more sense than buying.


The ultimate Thai dating site with ladies from all over Thailand!

Don't buy in Thailand!

Couldn't agree more with your synopsis on buying a condo in LOS.  During my 3 years in-country me and the missus must have looked at dozens from refurbishments through to full-blown off the plan developments.  Did I buy one?  Did I hell and most of the reasons were exactly as you described.  It is far better to rent than it is to buy and I just cannot fathom why anybody would want to invest in a country that wants you outta there when the alternative of renting make more financial sense.  Furthermore, after experiencing the joys of rooftop ting tong Thais bellowing out music for 24 hours whilst getting pissed on cheap whiskey somewhere down wind of my rented condo, I didn't fancy the idea of putting down roots in a place I couldn't escape from if I needed to escape the noisy ratbags.  As if that isn't reason enough to deter wannabe buyers, when I asked the local estate agents if they themselves owned a condo, a house or land in Thailand, only for them to respond with an emphatic "no", well that too says it all to me!  If the guy trying to sell you the condo isn't prepared to put his own money where his mouth is then why the hell should they expect anyone else to do so?!

Watch your investment!

Saw a farang style block house for sale in Sikiew, outside of Korat.  Two bedroom, one bathroom, large plot of land with an asking price of 600,000 baht.  The story behind the sale is that the German husband of three years who paid for the house found out about the existing Thai husband who was living in the house eleven months of the year!  When money from Germany stopped arriving to finance good times, the Thai husband left for greener pastures.  The lady is now back in Pattaya looking for a new sponsor but is said to be having no luck.  I would estimate that over 50% of the women married to farangs shack up with a local while the husband is away working.  The moral of this story is don't build until you are ready to retire and watch your investment.

Just another day in the kingdom.

A friend of mine who lives here in Phuket flew down from Bangkok on Friday and was surprised to be caught in this political unrest mess.  The airport had locked the gates to keep the protesters out but of course my friend could not leave either.  After four hours and a cash payment of 1,000 baht he got a tour guide to slip him out the back way.  There's nothing there but an empty road and hundreds of protesters but he was out of the airport and another thousand baht got him a ride to Rawai.  He had to leave two suitcases in storage and God knows when we can get them back.  100 baht a day for each piece of luggage yet they only charge 50 baht a day for a car!  His phone and computer chargers are in his luggage so he's out of luck.  The airport and Thai Airways in their Thai brilliance gave all their employees time off so they could join in the protest if they wanted to.  My American friend went to pick him up originally, not knowing what was going on and his car was attacked by the mob so he quickly turned around.  Many other friends of mine are having to drive their visitors and friends to Bangkok to catch international flights out.

Nana Plaza is slowly dying with Friday and Saturday night the only nights that there is any real atmosphere in the horse-shoe shaped pleasure zone.  As you enter the plaza, nothing symbolizes the state of the plaza better than the large sign, which is about 1/3 lit, 1/3 dim and flickering and 1/3 dead!  Entering the plaza, many bars are EMPTY i.e. have NO customers and some have only 1.  Even the most popular spots like Rainbow 4 and Angelwitch have many empty seats well into the night, 10 PM or later.  Nana is dying a slow and painful death.  The truth is that where Nana was once fun, it is now awfully seedy.  The feeling of fun is gone.  Frankly it is so bad that even Mr. Ever The optimist Dave The Rave will be hard pressed to put a positive spin on it.

Pretty Lady's happy hour is no longer, cut for no clear reason.

I have been sworn to secrecy so cannot name the bar, suffice to say it is a huge name venue in the Nana area.  This venue had its worst take ever last month and thus changes are expected.  In true Thai tradition, expect those changes to mean, amongst other things, increased prices.  Yep, that's the local way, when business is down, you charge more!

In fairness to Nana, the further down the soi you get, and the further away from the God awful Nana Plaza you get, the better things are.  Down around the corner with soi 6 are a number of bars with decent happy hours, venues where a beer won't set you back more than 90 baht at any time.  That said, don't go expecting Angelwitch or Rainbow quality smiles in the bars.

The signature "angel dancers" of Nana Disco are gone.  There is a possibility that they will return when, or should that be if, the high season arrives.  With less tourists late at night in the Nana area, and frankly less locals out and about, the Nana Disco dancers had the ignominy of merely entertaining the venue's service staff!  Nana Disco is closing at 2 AM for the time being.

For the night owls, Spice on soi 11 is open until 5:00 AM.

Red Lips in Nana is undergoing renovations and the front bar has been gutted.  Development is proceeding a la Soi Cowboy with outside seating for smokers.  It looks as though it will no longer be a gogo bar, but more of a chill beer bar with windows looking in on Pretty Lady, perhaps hoping to tap in on the multi-format venue that is becoming more popular.  If you like older music, with the likes of Donny Osmond and the Bee Gees played regularly, this is a decent low key gogo with inexpensive beer.

Hollywood Rock on the ground floor of Nana Plaza has their door girls dressed in traditional Thai outfits with the accompanying jewellery.  It's a look I like and the door girls are easy on the eye and it's a reminder that you're not in Kansas any more.

Shakerz, the much hyped coyote bar a hundred metres or so down Sukhumvit soi 4 never hit its straps and has seen a format change.  It's now what can best be described as a lounge type bar.  The owners need to face reality - the location sucks and the bar will never be a commercial success.

Sisterz on Walking Street in Pattaya will hold their next dance contest on Thursday 18th September.  Here's a snapshot from the previous event and no, it's not upside down!

The protests in Thailand have had one novel side effect for the naughty boys.  The largest group making cancellations have been the Japanese and hence, those who enjoy partying in the likes of Baccarra, Rainbow 2 and Rainbow 4, bars where many of the most attractive ladies show a  clear preference for Japanese might just find themselves more in favour!

There is no shortage of freelancers about and some are finding new spots to loiter.  A few years ago the men in tight brown uniforms made an effort to clear out the freelancers from the front of Robinson's at Sukhumvit soi 19 but needless to say there's no shortage today.  Also on soi 23 with the new high-rise completed and the back entrance only about 30 meters from Soi Cowboy, can be seen an inconsistent supply of freelancers trying to make a foothold on new territory.  In the notorious stretch on the odd soi side of Sukhumvit between soi 11 and soi 19 there were several darker skinned non-local ladies working.  If you can picture what you may find working the streets in Harlem in New York City, you have a good idea.  They even come with the New York attitude!  Needless to say any money made will not be bound for Isaan.

For the Isaan readership, a great new English pub opened up right around the corner from your in-laws.  It’s called, “Mojos.”  Rumour has is that they will be featuring live music in the future.  They’ve got a full sized pool table, and seating both inside or outside in the beer garden.  It’s not anything fancy like what we've in Bangkok, but for Korat, it’s a fun spot.  They have a music trivia quiz every Friday night at 8 PM and it has to be said that the owners are super friendly.

Bourbon Street's 22nd anniversary will be celebrated next weekend, Saturday 14th (5 PM until late) and Sunday 15th September (from midday until late) and will feature a massive buffet of all the Bourbon Street favourites priced at just 222 baht ++ per person.  That's a bargain!  Last year's anniversary buffet was fabulous so expect this year's to be no different.  Check out their awesome menu here.

I note that the price for new release paperbacks is significantly cheaper at Kinokuniya.  I picked up the latest from Grisham and Baldacci this weekend.  Each were 350 baht at Asia Books.  Wandering over to Kinokuniya they were 268 baht with large signs saying 20% off for a heap of new releases.  I went to pay, pleased that I had saved 160 odd baht only to realise that that 268 baht had not yet had the 20% discount put on it.  The price paid for was 214 baht a book, a bargain.  Forget Asia Books for new releases!

I have recommended ThaiLoveLinks in the past and believe it remains the best site for online dating.  Please however beware of any women who purport to be from of all places, Ghana.  They tend to be from a couple of countries further east, you guessed it Nigeria!  And we know what sort of reputation folks from that country have for integrity online.  Need I say more?!

And speaking of ThaiLoveLinks, the Thai police has a bunch of Thai women working on the site, compiling information about users.  I spoke with one of the girls involved, a 28 year old lovely.  It is interesting that they have created a bunch of bogus profiles and are compiling information on guys using the site.  They cite the reason for this project that there are foreign guys deceiving Thai women (the Thai word "lock" was the word she used).  When I asked her if they were compiling similar profiles on women cheating foreign guys I was met with a stony silence!

After the complete debacle surrounding another of the Philippines' airlines, let's hope Cebu Pacific can get it right.  They have announced a new service starting 1st October with flights between Angeles City and Bangkok with three flights per week.

Bangkok Dangerous started in many locations this week and being a movie fan, I caught it.  If you like mainstream Hollywood and like me, go to the movies simply to be entertained, you'll probably like it.  For sure, if you're in Farangland and missing Thailand there are enough scenes from downtown Bangkok, including a scene shot in Soi Cowboy near the start, to satisfy.

For those wanting to get hold of a free True wi-fi card for the zillion True wi-fi hotspots around the country, they are available at the reception desk at Siam Paragon on the ground floor.  You get a pamphlet in Thai with a card with a PIN number.  You log on to the True website, fill in your details and apparently, Bob's your uncle.

Pattaya Photo Guide

Up until two and a half years ago you were eligible for an investment visa if you deposited 3 million baht into a Thai bank account, spent that amount on Thai bonds or purchased a property for 3 million baht plus.  This visa has since been abolished.  If the Thais want to stimulate the property market, they should re-introduce the investment visa.  Simply make it that a foreigner could get an investment visa on a property purchase of, say, 4 million baht or more.  They could put a couple of restrictions in place so that the foreigner had to be living in the residence and the money had to come in to the country from abroad.  There are plenty of people who would go for such a visa and the net effect on the property market would be positive.  And let's face it, this is the sector of the market that many pundits are suggesting will suffer in the coming months...

I stand corrected on stating that to buy a condo in Thailand you had to bring money for the purchase into Thailand from abroad.  A reader reports that if you are living and working here legally i.e. with a work permit and a tax paid income then that income can be used for the purchase of a condo.

The Bangkok Post now costs 30 baht making it twice the price it was when I moved here a decade ago.  I haven't bought a copy in years because I truly feel it (along with The Nation, it must be said) is a newspaper written for Thais in English.  So much that happens in Thailand of interest to Westerners here simply isn't reported - so why should I buy it?  I'll stick with the online news sources, thank you.

For hoteliers and other businessmen in Pattaya, if you're wondering why tourism has taken a downtown perhaps you ought to point the finger at the TAT.  Check out the official Tourism Authority of Thailand website.  There is no mention at all of Pattaya but persevere and go to destinations and you will see a map with Pattaya shown.  That's a good start but when you click on it, wait for it, you get Rayong!  Pattaya Rayong same same lor?

I've been waxing about the dreadful levels of service in Thailand recently and my reluctance to tip even a single baht, so bad do I believe service levels at many venues have become.  This past week a friend and I were grabbing a bite at the Old German Beerhouse on Sukhumvit soi 11 and everything was good, apart from my pal's chicken dish which was dry and just not cooked well.  He called for the manager who duly arrived and put it to him that this was the first bad meal he'd had in the establishment.  The manager offered a replacement dish as well as the item being removed from the bill.  He was most apologetic.  It should be noted that the manager was not Thai but German, and his concept of customer service was exemplary!  In contrast to that experience, the same friend reports that he went into the Italia ice-cream cafe on Walking Street and both he and his wife received the wrong order.  It took his wife a little time to realise hers was wrong, and her complaint was met with complete silence.  That wasn't the end of it.  A few minutes later the (Thai) waitress returned to tell her she should have complained earlier.  No apology, no replacement.  In fact, the waitress turned it around and made it her fault!  The husband didn't bother complaining about his order as he knew it was utterly pointless.  I maintain what I have said in the past - you can get the best service in Thailand - as well as the absolute worst!

The whole debacle last week when Phuket Airport was forced closed by a bunch of political protestors was yet another nail in the coffin for Thailand's tourism industry.  Phuket airport may have re-opened but it's not unthinkable that it might be closed again - and it is within the realm of possibility that the protestors might even trash the place.  Imagine that.  Destroy even a small part of the airport and the devastation to Phuket's tourism industry would be MASSIVE.  The Thais have shown themselves to be totally incapable of protecting important infrastructure, one of the most basic roles the government, police and the country's security services are entrusted with.  Hell, I can remember as a teenager playing war games on my Commodore 64 and the strategy was always to destroy the opposition's airport.  Knock out that piece of critical infrastructure and you'd ultimately go on to win.  This isn't rocket science!

A friend has a car for sale - 2003 Toyota Vios S, automatic, ABS, airbag, CD player, electric windows, doors and mirrors, full options, only 65,000 km, excellent condition, expat-owned since new, book serviced at dealer, new tyres, battery and recently had a service maintenance, gold in colour, a great little car that is good on gas.  The car is located in Bangkok.  Price : 375,000 baht (compare prices at One2Car.com and you will see that this is a good deal.)  Call 089-880-8323 for more details.

Quote of the week comes from a reader.  "To me, Thailand, in general, tolerates farang for the money, but does not really welcome or promote us to become part of the country."

The square faced one appears to have been prudent at long last and sold Manchester City.

An Aussie has been arrested for lese majeste in Thailand.  That's big time bad news!

Last week's airport closures screwed up the travel plans of thousands of Brits.

The New Zealand Herald reports that Thailand's political crap cost Jetstar $500,000.

CNN discusses whether the political unrest will damage Thailand's tourism industry.  And Yahoo reports the number of arrivals to Bangkok is down 30%!



Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1:  I know that Thai people consider the feet to be unclean and offensive.  So, the people who do foot massages: are they disgusted by what they're doing?  Do they feel lowly for having to touch people's feet?

Mrs. Stick says:  You know that the feet of people who are close to us don't bother us.  We might paint out sister's toe nails or someone in our family's sole of their feet might point at us but it does not bother us.  Strangers' feet and contact with them upsets us.  I could not do that job.  I would find it disgusting.  I don't know how they do it!

Question 2:  I have been trying to understand waiing for some time, and have been fine-tuning my understanding through criticisms by my wife for not waiing, or criticisms by my wife for erroneously waiing.  Am I right then in my understanding, that if a wai was on the cards with Mr. Stick's bar manager friend, that because she is older, he should've done it first?  Of course, if he didn't and she did you can't reverse time, but if he could, he should've done it first right?  Also, I am to understand that NOT returning a wai is ALWAYS rude. If, for some unfathomable reason, a bargirl waiied a visitor, wouldn't it be rude not to wai back?  And lastly, there's a Persian guy (Iranian to the rest of us) who runs a cafe on Asoke and is constantly waiing everybody.  This is the wai I always get in trouble for not returning - he doesn't understand that it's incorrect to wai me in the first place, but it's still wrong of me to not return it.  His business seems to be doing ok, but he's probably weirding out a good percentage of his customer base?

Mrs. Stick says:  Age is not the only thing to know who wais first.  At work we have an older lady who is the maid.  She is 20 years older than me but she wais the boss first even though she is older than him.  It is about seniority which sometimes is the oldest person, but sometimes not.  The junior or younger person should wai first like a student wais a teacher or an employee wais the boss.  But it is not always like this!  Sometimes we show respect so you see a politician can wai news reporters and the public but actually his status is higher than theirs!  In a restaurant the staff might wai the customer so that situation you describe is ok.  You can return the wai if you want but you do not have to.  For me, sometimes I do, sometimes I do not.  It just depends how I feel.

Question 3: As a Thai, what does it mean to you when a Thai smiles at you?  In the event you answer it means anything and everything don't you think this devalues one of the most important human facial expressions?  For some farangs growing up we are even taught not to smile, as strangers who smile at us cannot be trusted.  Also it can be interpreted at a sign of weakness, but most of all smiles are to be held in reserve, and only expressed usually on very sincere occasions.  I am now coming to the conclusion that I have been here too long and have become too cynical.  I am getting very tired of being smiled at, to the degree that I am only returning them with my mouth and not my eyes, as nearly without exception I can see that only money is behind these smiles.

Mrs. Stick says:  I think I know what you mean.  Sometimes people smile when they don't mean it, right?  Most of the time when I see people smiling it means they are relaxed and not serious.  We like that.  It doesn't always mean we are happy, but just not serious.  It might also mean welcome if it is someone we do not know so we are not threatened by them.  I know sometimes people smile when they aren't happy and maybe they want to make us comfortable and later trick us or deceive us.  So you have to be careful.

Many, many readers sent email this week asking me to write about the protests taking place.  I have been asked to write about the history of it, who the main players are and just how I think it will play out.  Long-term readers know I am reluctant to comment on political events in Thailand.  The truth is that Thai politics is complicated and my personal understanding of them is limited.  A lot of foreigners are opening their big mouths on this issue and I have read and heard all sorts of crazy and contradictory stuff.  Many clearly don't know what is going on and simply purport their opinion of the events as fact.  Sad.  While some readers may consider my lack of coverage to be shirking the issue, I really am not the guy to comment.  I might make a few comments on what I think the effects may be on Farangdom but that will be about the extent of my foray into political commentary.  I hope you understand.  You really don't tune in each week for political talk, do you?!



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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Stick can be contacted at: stickmanbangkok@gmail.com.