The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

Thai Bargirl Lek describes the book of Genesis: Just when you thought you knew your Bible

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 23•14

BarrettPopDarrellVeteran Bangkok novelist Dean Barrett recently quizzed bargirl Lek on the beginning of the world. It turns out that this college-educated beauty had the whole thing sussed out. We here at WoWasis are printing her explanation, which we assume will soon be a major element in every Thail university’s science curriculum. And you get to read it, right here:

OK. Here, there, topside, bottomside, no hab nothing. No can see nothing. Can say no hab here; can say no hab there. Dark too much. But hab Topside Man. Topside Man Him have power. Can do what him like. Maybe him pay off police. When Him say light can hab, light hab. Him looksee light say, OK! Him happy.

Him say light go there; dark go there; say light day, dark night. So then one, two, three day can hab. Him know how many. And Him say OK now hab water too much. And Him say OK now hab land too much, and hab heaven and land but not same same, and land no hab water. Him like. Him happy. OK.

Him say rice, mango, nam pla, somtam, tom yam kung, can hab. Then hab. Him say OK. Him like. Him make hot season. Him make rainy season. Him make big light for upstair and litten light for downstair and make star too much. Him look, him happy, say OK!

Him say OK now can hab something in water and something can fly over land and him looksee, say OK! Him happy. Him make elephant and water buffalo and cow and chicken and pig and duck and gecko too much. Him say OK now all can boom boom so can make more same same. And more day hab go by.

Then Him say now make puyai in charge look same same Him. He be number one. So Him make puyai from dust. Him say name him Sombat. Then Him make specien garden in Nana and Him say OK you man go garden hab breadfruit, durian, rambutan, mangosteen, appen so many fruit. Can eat. But Him say one tree specien, you no can eat. If eat, you know too much. You be sorry too much. Sombat him think maybe Topside Man dlink too much but him say OK.

ThailandPromoBannerBut Topside Man Him see Sombat lonely so Him say Him make somebody keep company for him. Him Make Sombat go sleep and kamoey rib Sombat and make woman for Sombat so Sombat can hab sanuk. When Sombat him wake up, Topside Man say OK you hab her longtime. Sombat looksee woman, Sombat him happy, no care lose one rib, two rib, twenty rib, no care.

Woman she happy, her name Noy. Both no hab nothing can wear. Sombat him say to Topside Man, OK, nothing can wear maibenlai, krab, but Noy she begin think about go shopping.

Nana hab one Burmese python, him wicked but plenty smart. Him say to Noy, Why no can eat specien tree? Noy say Topside Man say they die. Serpent say no way. Topside Man Him know if you eat you know too much, same same Him. So he no like; he want be number one. Noy no listen. But serpent, him say, You eat, you say must hab clothes, so you can go shopping.

Noy she like tree, like looksee, like eat, like go shopping, so she eat fruit Topside Man say no can eat and she tell Sombat eat too. Him eat. But then they think no hab clothes specien too much, not like before; Sombat looksee Noy him get big and boom boom Noy. Him happy! Noy happy too – now can go shopping. At first they find frond too much from banana tree and make clothes can wear. But they can hear Topside Man him coming so they hide in bamboo grove.

Topside Man say where everybody go? Sombat say, I no hab something to wear so I make banana leaf to wear and hide myself in bamboo grove. Topside Man him moho too much! Him say who say you no hab clothes? I tell you no can eat specien tree but you no listen! Sombat say not his fault, Noy she give him fruit and Noy say serpent he put her under magic spell, not her fault.

So Topside Man tell serpent because you no listen you allatime got to crawl on ground. Him tell Noy you no listen so Him say from now on when she hab child she hab jeb too much. Nobody tell Noy what mean child so she think maibenlai; but when Topside Man say from now on she must do what Sombat say then Noy pissed off.

And him say to Sombat, You number ten! You listen Noy not me, eat fruit, so now you hab work hard and you someday hab got die. Sombat think nobody tell him what is work, what is die, so him think maibenlai.

Then Topside Man make coats of animal skins for Sombat and Noy, and Noy she very happy. But Topside Man kick their ass out from Nana and they hab plant rice and till ground with water buffalo.

But Noy she still happy too much, she get more clothes later. Sombat him very happy, him get Noy longtime. And they live happily ever after.
Copyright Dean Barrett 2014

WoWasis book review: Duch, the Khmer Rouge King of Torture. ‘The Master of Confessions’ by Thierry Cruvellier

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 20•14

MasterConfessionsIt’s tempting to stop reading about the reign of terror in Cambodia, led by the Khmer Rouge. The major statistic, an estimated quarter of the nation’s population murdered, is well-known. It’s the why of it that leaves us here at WoWasis, along with the rest of the world, perturbed. That’s where French author Thierry Cruvellier’s The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer (2011, ISBN 978-0-06-232954-7) comes in. For it climbs into the mind of Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Duch,” who headed the notorious S-21 concentration camp, perhaps better known as Tuol Sleng prison.

Cruvillier’s book is based on Duch’s testimony before Cambodia’s United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), held between February and November of 2009. It’s more than a tale of “I was just doing my job, as odious as it was” which was essentially Duch’s position in court. His fascinating testimony describes how a phalanx of school teachers — including legendary torturers Mam Nai (Ta Chan) and Tang Sin Hean (Comrade Pon) — adopted a Cambodian form of Maoist Communism to rid their country, first of anyone who had dealings with Westerners, and then of people sharing their own philosophy. Three-quarters of the estimated 14,000 people tortured at Tuol Sleng and soon murdered were Khmer Rouge themselves, purged in a sordid tribute to Stalinism.

There’s plenty to reflect upon in this 326 page book (in a remarkable oversight, there is no index; it badly needs one). Three of its most cogent concepts are those surrounding the nature of Communism, the importance of secrecy as a weapon of control, and whether or not the mortifying deeds described in the book are those of a monster or a rational human being. Early on, the author ruminates about the act of the vilification and ultimate murder of a specific class — rather than an ethnicity —- of people:

Duch’s is the first international trial concerned with crimes committed in the name of Communism. International lawyers and human rights activists are scathing about so-called
nationalist revolutions-those that openly pursue racist or xenophobic aims. No one has any trouble rejecting the movement for a Greater Serbia or denouncing Hutu Power. Yet many balk at the notion that, in a trial of the Khmer Rouge, Communism itself takes the stand as well.

When right-wing revolutions conflate purity with race, the violent resulting ideology is cause for alarm; yet when a left-wing revolution conflates notions of purity with class, it is somehow deemed appealing. Desiring a single race of men is a hateful project; desiring a single class of men (or two, or four), a good intent.

To create the “final solution,” through, a certain degree of secrecy must be maintained while it’s being accomplished:
Secrecy: nothing was better maintained than secrecy. So precious was secrecy to the Khmer Rouge leadership that for a long time the Party’s very existence was kept hidden, and the name of Brother Number One, Pol Pot, wasn’t divulged until more than a year after the 1975 victory, and then only discreetly.

“I was instructed to share nothing with my colleagues,” remembers Prak Khan. “I was told to keep everything secret. Each of us had to keep things secret. We were supposed to look after only those things that concerned us, or else we would be reported.”

Duch taught his staff that secrecy was the very soul of their mission and that, without it, their work made no sense. Guards and interrogators were not authorized to communicate with other units. Merely having contact with the outside world was deemed suspicious. Secrecy was an obsession, the Party’s alpha and omega. It was also a formidable instrument of control that, like everything else in Democratic Kampuchea, eventually imposed its own insane logic over all other lines of reasoning. The systematic execution of prisoners at S-21 was in large part due to the absolute imperative of keeping the prison secret. Due to secrecy becoming of utmost importance, it was decided that nobody could get out alive. And if someone were arrested by mistake, then the secrecy of the institution took precedence over that man’s life.

The author, reminiscent of filmmaker Alain Resnais’ ‘Night and Fog,’ Nazi concentration camp film, waxes almost poetic in his descriptions of the famous photographs in Tuol Sleng:

But it is the photographs of the prisoners that anchor the experience of visiting S-21. Around two thousand portraits are exhibited in what were once classrooms, then prison cells, and now museum rooms. Their subjects look frightened, questioning, restless, quiet, defiant, smiling, tired, swollen, puffed up, gentle, jocular, determined, shocked, stiff, confident, obedient, despondent, resigned, evasive, astonished, sweet, sad, anxious, exhausted, proud. They are young, old, good-looking, ugly, baby-faced, thin, plump, blindfolded, and tied up. There is nothing more crushing than seeing these portraits hung tightly together, panel after panel, room after room. The intellectual power, emotional charge, documentary, and even artistic value of these snapshots of the thousands who died in the days or weeks after their photos were taken are what both define and anchor memory at S-21.

Yet almost everyone who visits S-21 walks past the photographs of its victims utterly unaware of the ambiguity inherent in many of them, including in the famous, harrowing image of a beautiful woman, understated and elegant, her hair slightly disheveled, her expression one of exhaustion, despair, and resignation, who is holding on her knees a sleeping infant in diapers, its eyes closed and hair slick with sweat. This woman, who was murdered in 1978 at S-21, was herself a revolutionary, the wife of the secretary of the southeast region, one of the regime’s high officials who fell from grace and was eliminated, along with his family, by the regime he had served.

And in the countryside surrounding Anlong Veng, the final resting spot of Pol Pot:

For a long time, the road to Anlong Veng was sufficiently rough and corrugated by rain to dissuade most visitors, including most tourists, from venturing there. The sleepy, remote little town lies at the foot of the Dangrek Mountains on Cambodia’s northern border. Its location appears to serve a dual purpose: on the one hand, it is protected from Thailand by the mountains, but on the other hand, it provides easy refuge.

Just before the bridge leading into town, a track veers off to the left. The track leads three hundred meters out onto a small peninsula covered in mango trees and jutting out into an area that is both land and water, known locally as “the lake.” The subtle, muted combination of water, wild grasses, and tall, bare trees soaring spear-like into the sky infuses the area with a meditative peace. If you stand on the peninsula and look out over this marsh, you can see the village of Anlong Veng without being seen from it. This promontory suits wise men, thinkers, and soldiers on watch, and it’s here that Ta Mok, the most powerful and brutal of Khmer Rouge military commanders, lived.

Thierry Cruvellier really leaves no stone unturned, here. Duch’s fear of Ta Mok is described and there are nearly full chapters on people such as François Bizot, author of ‘The Gate,’ and one of the few European survivors of Duch’s ministrations, and Ta Chan, that most rigorous of interrogators.

Ultimately, what is the reader left with? After a disagreement among his lawyers, Duch received a life prison sentence. His testimony, in essence, can be described as a textbook for mass murder as codified by the state. The word ‘sadism’ isn’t mentioned in the book. Although Duch presided over the terror that occurred inside S-21, Ta Chan and Comrade Pon were ultimately the most significant “hands-on” torturists. At any rate, the author avoids sensationalism as much as possible, enough so that there are no photographs in the book. What’s written in words is terrifying enough.

The country of Cambodia is still in recovery over its Khmer Rouge era. The historical record has been accurately described by writers such as David Chandler. But the psychology of how intelligent and rational people such as Duch dehumanized themselves in search of an idealistic goal has been given perhaps the most powerful voice by Thierry Cruvellier.

Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

Four things you can do to avoid getting murdered on Koh Tao or any tropical island, Thailand or elsewhere

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 16•14
Idyllic Koh Tao, Thailand

Idyllic Koh Tao, Thailand

The murder on Thailand’s Koh Tao island of two young British citizens, David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, could have happened on any tropical island with little police presence, coupled with a strong local mafia. Two Burmese illegals have been charged with the murder, but rumors are rampant that youths well-connected to the local power establishment were responsible. Let’s see what comes out in court. One of our WoWasis staffers nearly had this happen to him and his wife a few years back. It was in the Caribbean, probably a similar situation to that faced by Miller and Witheridge. Here’s his story, and four strong recommendations:

“The island was off the coast of Central America, where a local strongman owned a few restaurants and places to stay. I was 24, my wife was 21, and she was a beauty. There was very little police presence on the island. All law enforcement, as it was, was in the hands of the strongman.

“We were staying at one of his beach bungalows, and he invited himself for lunch, buying us a few rounds. He tried to give my wife a palm-reading, but I told him sorry, I’m the only one allowed to touch her. We had come to do some snorkeling and he offered to take us out with a couple of friends the next day. We said yes.

“Later that afternoon, I ran into his daughter, home from college for the month. I told her that her father seemed pretty accommodating. She gave me a rather cold look and said ‘There’s a lot you don’t know. I’d be a lot more careful if I were you.’ And she walked away.

“My wife and I talked about it over dinner. I didn’t like the way he was getting touchy-feely with her, and his daughter wasn’t his biggest fan. It was beginning to look dodgy, and I could see me getting killed out on the boat, fed to the sharks, then her getting raped and murdered, shark food also. And no one we knew back in the states would even know we’d been to that island.

“So I told her — since we’d pre-paid our bungalow — let’s go now, this very minute and get to the mainland, about three miles away over the water. I went down to the pier, where the motorboats were moored. They did a busy taxi business between the island and the mainland. But none of them would take us. None. I suspected they’d been warned, and that what I perceived was on tap for us might very well have previously happened to others.

“I went back to the bungalow, told my wife to pack now and lock the door. I had seen a boat or two on the other side of the island, and would hike over. I found a kid, maybe 12 or 13, and told him I needed to get to the mainland fast. He said he couldn’t. I offered to pay him double. He nervously looked around in all directions, and asked ‘When?’ I said ten minutes and there’d be another passenger. And it worked. We made it back.

“That island, we found out later, was a classic old pirate enclave. In those years, a lot of people were disappearing in the ‘Bermuda Triangle,’ in the Caribbean, victims of thieves who rape, murder, and steal, then scuttle the boats of their victims. The crap about supernatural reasons for disappearances was a smoke-screen. Lots of murdered people disappeared forever, bodies never found. Food for barracuda and other sea predators.

“David Miller and Hannah Witheridge weren’t as fortunate as my wife and I. Whether they were killed by the Burmese, the island mafia, or someone else may or may not come out in court. But here are four suggestions for travelers to islands, when young beautiful females are in the mix.”

1) Take phone photos of everyone you meet, and email them to someone you know and trust. Group photos are really good. A murderer won’t kill someone whose picture folder includes one of him.

2) Plan an emergency way off the island. Ask around. Determine if there’s another pier that carries passengers on an ad hoc basis, and figure out how you’ll get there if you need to.

3) Carry bribe money in a money belt and use it only for extreme emergencies. You may need to buy your way out of a jam when an ATM isn’t near, or you can’t afford to be seen.

4) When possible, stay around large groups of foreigners, and if isolated, keep a sharp eye for others in your vicinity.

Plenty of people play in the islands and have a great time. Documented murders of travelers still fall into the “rare” category, but forewarned is forearmed. Above all, do watch out for warning signs, such as local men being a little too friendly, touchy-feely wise.

WoWasis book review: ‘The Marriage Tree,’ Bangkok fiction by Christopher G. Moore

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 15•14

MooreMarriage TreeHere at WoWasis, we make it a point of avoiding reviewing books in which vampires and ghosts play prominent roles. So we thought veteran novelist Christopher G. Moore sandbagged us when he introduced some phantasms in the early pages of his most recent novel, The Marriage Tree (2014, ISBN 978-616-7503-23-3). We needn’t have worried. They belong in the story. This, the latest in Moore’s Vincent Calvino detective series, revolves around two main themes, the fate of the Rohingya, disadvantaged Burmese Muslims who have fled to Thailand, and Calvino’s dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, a consequence of the action in Moore’s previous novel, Missing in Rangoon.

The author here introduces us to Calvino’s unwelcome spirits via the ingenious use of letters written by the detective to his therapist, who is charged with helping him to clear his recurring visions of the people he lost in his recent Burmese-Thai adventure. The brain plays some strange tricks. This reviewer saw recurring snippets of a 30 second movie for six months after a brain surgery once, a piece of cinema that would pop up at random in the left field of vision. So we get cranial aberrations, we do.

The Rohingya situation, in contrast, was pretty much news to us, in terms of the slavery business being run by “influential Thai businessmen,” to populate fishing boats and factories with undocumented (and unpaid) Burmese. Moore, who’s lived in Bangkok since the late 1980s, again provides the reader with data that doesn’t often appear in newspapers, salting this latest adventure tale with cerebral material involving, in addition to the Rohingya element, high tech spyware such as the GSM interceptor, and tracking technology involving microchips embedded under tattoos. They figure prominently in this story.

The tale begins with a dead beauty lying on the grounds of Bangkok’s Tobacco Monopoly, resulting in Calvino being banged around by the Thai police during a tense interrogation scene. His erstwhile Thai police confidant, Colonel Pratt, has been marginalized by his superiors, leaving the detective on his own to prove that he wasn’t the murderer and sort out, ultimately, who was. We won’t spill the beans about how the spyware become involved. It’s a juicy part of the story and we’re not going to spoil the fun for the reader. Moore is adroit at discussing the mechanics of how it’s used, and we’d guess that most readers will review the passages more than once, just to get it right.

In terms of the evolution of Moore’s style (this is his fourteenth Calvino book), we see more of the tale emerging through dialogue, rather than straight description, and Moore’s good at it. He once wrote radio plays, and it shows. At 429 pages, it’s not to be read in one sitting. It will keep the reader up at nights, though, as the action is fast-paced and full of enough twists to foment insomnia. We just gave up and spent a couple of nights reading until 3 am. For readers who loved Missing in Rangoon, this follow-on book provides something of a final resolution.

And although the reader may well be satisfied with Marriage Tree’s ending, there may be one small knot left purposely untied by the author that we somehow feel will be addressed by Calvino sometime in the future.

ThailandPromoBannerCan we be a bit nit-picky? There are still perhaps too many similes herein for our liking, like a surfeit of old clothes stuffed into a cheap suitcase. We still think that if Pratt continues fingering the buttons, rather than the keys, on his tenor sax, then he’d better switch to accordion. And jazzmen play tenors, altos, sopranos, or baris, not saxophones. Moore’s so good at bringing the reader into the spyware lexicon that we hope he’ll do it with jazz, too. The reader deserves it, and the author’s ongoing tribute to Dexter Gordon in this book really demands it. But these are minor details in which reviewers revel, and Moore is well-aware of the joy of keeping readers on their toes. In his Acknowledgment page, he states: “Whatever errors remain are the result of my own success at making them invisible until after publication in order to give the reader that extra pleasure of discovering a piece of loose debris.”

A fast-paced story with plenty of good twists involving cerebral puzzles and fascinating characters has become the hallmark of Moore’s fictional work. The added bonus is that the reader gets a worm’s eye view of the rotten core that defines the ever-present Thai underworld, played out daily in Bangkok’s newspapers, but elucidated to a devilish degree by the author. So read The Marriage Tree for a compelling, well-crafted story, and come away with an education in the process. It’s not just for Bangkokers, either. Anyone with an interest in inner-city politics and police practices — or malpractices — will find a home here.

Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

Khun Lee’s Bachelor in Bangkok: Top Eight Rules for dating non-bargirls in Thailand

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 13•14

BachBKKLKee1cWoWasis columnist Khun Lee weighs in on the bachelor scene in Bangkok:

More and more guys are choosing to date normal Thai gals instead of restricting their pool of potential lasses to the ones who hug chrome poles or are otherwise engaged in sex for sale. This certainly is a good thing as far as I am concerned, but it also brings about new challenges as it is no longer a simple pay-for-play scenario. No matter how much criticism is aimed at the sex industry, the one big upside to the professional gals is that all you need is money in your pocket. You don’t need to be handsome, rich, personable or even presentable. It is strictly pay as you go, or as one of my mates calls it “point and shoot.”

I have always played in both the professional and normal gal arenas and it has really been a pleasure and education to see the world from both angles. With the professional gals becoming more mercenary as time goes by, and the normal Thai gals becoming much more open to meeting western guys during this same period of time, it has become inevitable that more guys will cross over to the other side, or as my Sunderland mate likes to say “cross over to the light side.”

So with this theme in mind I would like to offer the following words of advice to any guy who has spent the majority of his time in Thailand with pros, but from time to time has wondered just how to act if he chose to cross over to the other side:

1) You will need to dress and act more appropriately. Wear smart clothes and be polite at all times.

2) NEVER lose your cool under any circumstances.

3) Smile and have fun. There is no bigger turn off for a Thai gal than a serious guy.

4) Awaken your spirit of adventure. Normal Thai gals will show you a side of Thailand that you never thought existed.

5) Be a man. Guys may be going “metro-sexual” in the west, but in Thailand the man is the boss and makes all the important decisions. Be polite but don’t take any crap from the ladies. When I first meet a lady I employ what I like to call my “one strike and you are out” rule. The first month or so if they show up late without calling, ask me for money, raise their voice at me or use foul language then I delete their phone number and move on. With bar gals the biggest issue is normally money. With normal gals my biggest issue has been that they want to marry you. Many get very jealous and possessive right away, and it is not unusual for a gal to want you to be her boyfriend after just 1 or 2 dates. Don’t despair guys, I am only talking about 30% or so of the gals being whacko like that.

6) Learn some Thai. Bar girls can all speak a smattering of broken English but many normal Thai gals have studied English from first grade and are still shy to use it in public.

7) Be discreet. In Thailand there is the public world and the private world. If you go to brothels and sleep with a different hooker every night, but act like a gentleman around your lady, then you are a good man. If she sees you having a cup of coffee in Starbucks with a female friend then you are a bad man. Thai men rarely leave the bar with a pro, they use the rooms upstairs in the nightlife establishment or at least go to a short time hotel and have the staff pull the curtain to cover up their automobile. This concept of a public world and private world seems to be especially difficult to grasp for western guys, but is at the heart of all things Thai.

8) Protect you freedom. Like I mentioned before, some gals will try to “fast forward” the relationship and become your girlfriend right away. Always remember that paradise is not paradise any more if you have a weight (girlfriend) around your neck. Be patient. There are millions of Thai gals dying to have a foreign boyfriend, but only a few thousand of us. We hold all the cards.

I hope this short list has helped in some way. The real wild card here is understanding Thai culture and the way things work over here. As one friend of mine said when referring to a mutual acquaintance who has lived here for years and has yet to learn a single thing about Thai ways “when he meets a new gal it is like he showed up to a football game with ice skates on… it’s going to be ugly.”

Read Khun Lee’s other WoWasis columns for more advice on navigating the adult dating scene through the backstreets of Bangkok

Surprise! Bangkok’s used panty vending machine a favorite of western female customers

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 12•14

PantieMachine1cWhen Khun Roren installed a “used panty” vending machine just inside the front door of the Black Pagoda bar, he knew it would probably be a hit with his Japanese male customers. What he couldn’t have predicted, as your WoWasis correspondent discovered, was that western women would buy more of these aromatic panties that all the Japanese customers combined.

Located on Bangkok’s Patpong II, Black Pagoda is a club where music, art, and go-go all cross, in a pastiche that’s unique in a city that’s formidably unique. Having seen a panty vending machine in Tokyo, Khun Roren installed one on-premise. It’s something of a cooperative venture with his go-go dancers, who provide the basic material. It’s hard not to miss the vending machine. It says “Bangkok Pagoda Pantie Machine: Fresh Hot Used Bangkok Panties.”

The panties are beautifully packaged, labeled, and documented. The name and a photo of the dancer is provided, along with the date last worn, the number of days worn, the body perfume the dancer uses, and whether she’s shaved or not. The ultimate is a package with a red dot that indicates that the dancer was on her period when they were worn. The level of data is extraordinary, “kind of like baseball cards,” notes Khun Roren. Each package carries a lipstick print of the lady on the cover, too.

NanPanties1c“I’ve really got to refill the machine, we’ve just about been bought out,” Khun Roren continues. The Black Pagoda has become something of a draw for western lesbians, who are among the biggest customers of the panty machine. “But it’s not just the lesbians,” he says. “Western women come in with their boyfriends and buy them as souvenirs. Khun Roren, who sells the packaged panties for 300 baht (about $10 USD) a unit, gives 100 baht of the profit to the dancer, along with a new pair of panties to be worn. “Extra profit for the dancers,” he says. Everyone wins, especially the lady who now has less to do on laundry day. Dancers like Nan think it’s all part of Thailand “sanuk,” and she even flashes a “V” for victory sign, thinking about the additional baht going into her pocket.

It’s not just about fragrant panties, though. It’s readily apparent than Khun Roren is an archivist. “I’ve got a back-stock of 300-400 pair ready to go into the machine, but I have another thousand that will never be sold. They are in the permanent collection.” Thus, he’s morphed, quite accidentally, into the world of the archivist, with metadata meticulously collected and referenced to each pair. In terms of displaying this archival material, he’s looking at building a wall to artistically display the finest in the collection.

ThailandPromoBannerUnlike archivists working for educational institutions, he doesn’t have to worry about endless arguments on the subject of what to keep and what to de-accession. Filmmaker John Waters famously used “odorama” cards to accent one of his films: scratch, sniff, and enjoy the experience. One wonders whether this technology can be that far off in Khun Roren’s world of “underwonders.” He smiles, with the look of a man with the Mother Lode all to himself. With an eye to keeping the best material for the archive, he can de-accession at will, fill the machine with old classics, and cook up new candidates with just several days’ notice.

Mahachai rural train: The best thirty cent tour of Bangkok money can buy

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 07•14
An old station along the Mahachai train line

An old station along the Mahachai train line

OK, we here at WoWasis actually paid thirty-two cents. And it’s greater Bangkok we’re talking about. Nevertheless, the thirty cent tour of the countryside of Thailand aboard the train to the town of Mahachai takes you through scenery that’s hard to find in the city of Bangkok these days. The round-trip train ride takes about two hours, and it’s well worth it. Here’s how you do it.

The train leaves from the Wongwian Yai train station, just over the river, to the west of Bangkok. To get to the station, take the BTS skytrain to the Wongwian Yai stop. Go down to the street, then take a 20 baht motorcycle taxi to the Wongwian Yai train station. There, you’ll buy a one-way ticket from Bangkok to Mahachai. It’s an hour ride.

On the way to Mahachai, you’ll see beautiful old teak houses along waterways, colorful laundry hung out to dry, banana trees galore, and country towns and small neighborhoods. The train is diesel-powered, and the shifting gears cause the train to lurch unexpectedly over old tracks, stopping at quaint, tiny stations on outlying areas to accommodate students, grannies, and businesspeople. We here at WoWasis recommend sitting on opposite sides of the train on your round trip. The train has only one class, and it takes an hour to get to Mahachai. There, you’ll get off, buy a return ticket (if there is a round-trip ticket, we couldn’t figure out how to buy it), and get back on the train, which departs in ten minutes.

MahachaiTrain1cTrains leave Wongwian Yai station every hour at varying times. The first train leaves Wongwian Yai at 5:30 in the morning, the final train departs from Mahachai at 7:00 pm. Remember, in Mahachai, the train stops for ten minutes and then returns to Wongwian  Yai. Miss the return train? It will return an hour later. You can buy a beer at either station and enjoy your trip. Unbelievably, beers cost 35baht each, while the hour-long train ride costs 10 baht each way. One beer is more expensive than the entire round trip by train!

Writer Harold Stephens, in his book Return to Adventure: Southeast Asia, mentions this train:

From the slum area of Thonburi the train passes through a wall of clapboard shacks, so close that you can reach out and touch them… then enters open rice fields… stopping at villages no larger than a city block. As you pass through a village, you can look into the houses, into the very bedrooms. You are looking at rural Thailand close up.

It’s hard to beat this round-trip train ride for a fun, inexpensive, and easy excursion in the Bangkok area. There are rarely any farang on this train, so you’ll be sitting with the locals, who are very curious as to why a visitor is on the train. You’re there, of course, to see a world that is increasingly difficult to find in the backstreets of Bangkok. On this train ride, you get to see plenty of old Thailand in spades.ThailandPromoBanner

WoWasis travel advisory: scams are rampant in Patpong I in Bangkok

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 05•14

BachBKKLKee1cWe here at WoWasis have just finished our annual review of adult entertainment zones and venues in Bangkok, the three best-known of which are Nana Plaza, Patpong II, and Soi Cowboy. Patpong I, which runs parallel to Patpong II, was also a candidate for inclusion. After spending part of an evening there, we concluded that it’s not just the worst adult entertainment experience in Bangkok, it’s the worst we’ve seen anywhere in the world. We recommend that you remove it from your bucket list. Here’s why.

The street itself represents an unwieldy walk, as pedestrians have to wind through a byzantine number of knick-knack stalls that have thrived, cancer-like They’ve taken over so much of the street that it’s impossible to see anything, high, low, or across the street, from anywhere. This claustrophobia is enhanced by the worst part of the Patpong I experience, the touts. These vermin (think we’re being hyperbolic? Go there yourself and come up with a better word) accost every traveler on the street, trying to cajole the individual into going into one bar or another. The visitor cannot stand in any one place for longer than one second without being set upon. Walk another few feet, there’s another idiot pestering you. Dozens ply Patpong I, assailing each and every visitor.

It goes without saying that the touts work on commission. Go to one of their bars and it’s a guarantee that your bill will be padded to pay for the commission. Think you can go to a bar on your own? Forget it. A tout will follow you and claim that he brought you in. Your bill gets padded anyway.

For years, Patpong I earned well-deserved reputation as a place in which bills are padded on a regular basis, either through the tout scam, or just by adding drinks the customer never got, much less ordered. It was a rip-off haven. Still is. Patpong I hasn’t changed. Along with the seven bars on Soi Cowboy owned by The Arab,” it represents a textbook case of fleecing visitors as if they were carnival marks.

Patpong I also sullies the reputation of Patpong II next door, which is a terrific place to spend an evening. So honestly, if you want your adult entertainment experience in Bangkok to be a memorable one, make sure those memories are good ones. Cross Patpong I off your list. We have.

Building scam in Bangkok: court orders 25 story hotel to be demolished

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 02•14
Awaiting the wrecking ball?

Awaiting the wrecking ball?

Our favorite building scam story in Bangkok has taken a new twist, as the Supreme Administrative Court has ordered that the 25-story Aetas Hotel on Soi Ruamrudee be either completely demolished or brought down to a legal height of 7 or 8 stories. And it’s all supposed to happen within 60 days.

As first reported by WoWasis in 2012, this major monstrosity was erected illegally on a tiny street with a width of fewer than 10 meters. For reasons of safety and traffic control, an edict (the 1979 Building Control Act) states that any edifice built on such a street must not be higher than 23 meters, approximately 7 stories.

Against the complaints of neighbors, though, it was erected. And they’ve been complaining ever since, vociferously as well as through legal channels. Now the court has ruled in their favor, and the court says the building must come down or have its height reduced within 60 days.

Are there powerful “influential forces,” as they say in Thailand, behind the scene here? Such elements tend to make it a habit of thumbing their noses at laws by buying their own justice. If that’s the case, paying the authorities to look the other way while putting up the Aetas Hotel must have cost a pretty penny. (We’re not formally accusing anyone of accepting bribes, of course, but a Bangkok Post op-ed piece published On December 4, 2014, quoted the Supreme Administrative Court as listing former Bangkok governor Apirak Kosayothin and former Pathumwan district chief Surakiat Limcharoen as being “guilty of negligence of duty” in the affair).

As WoWasis has reported in the past, most construction scams in Thailand typically revolve around substandard building practices, ignoring codes, and paying off inspectors. Take a look at the bowels of any condominium structure where more than one unit is on the sales block, and you’ll see what we mean. Huge cracks in and around the base of a given structure are legendary and pervasive. And that’s just for starters.

If the Aetas was built with similar dodgy construction, it should, in theory, be easier to tear down. We’ll know within 60 days. Or will we? With “influential people” behind the scenes, there may be powerful forces on call, ready to subvert the Supreme Administrative Court’s decision.

If so, we’ll wager that these folks, in these times of major police corruption scandals being unearthed and made public, will hope to find some regulatory person or agency asleep at the switch. If they do, the amazing saga of the Aetas Hotel will continue. In the interim, everyone (lawyers, the hotel operator, the landlord, those who “possibly” have been bribed) gets rich, except for the neighbors.

Thai evening working ladies incensed about Bangkok hotels stealing their money

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 01•14

BachBKKLKee1cThe scam involving Bangkok hotels and how they steal money from working girls has been going on for years. Here at WoWasis, to our knowledge, it’s a topic that’s never been reported. Like all scams, though, it should be reported as the first step in correcting it. But unlike most scams that affect other people, there’s something many people can and should do to stop this one. Here’s how it works…

The scam involves hotel desk personnel and the female entertainment providers that visit a male customer’s room for companionship services. Upon entering the hotel, these women must relinquish their Thai national identification cards or, if non-Thai citizens, their passports. The ladies then go to a given man’s room, provide companionship services, then leave. They usually leave the man’s room unaccompanied. When they arrive at the desk to reclaim their identification cards or passports, they are forced to pay 100 or 200 baht to the person at the desk, usually a member of hotel security. No pay, no ID. The lady has no one to complain to, so must pay this bribe to get her ID back. The security man would never do this in the presence of a hotel guest. It only occurs when she’s unaccompanied by a man. It happens at virtually every hotel in Bangkok. Probably yours is one of them.

This scam, incidentally often works in conjunction with “joiner fees,” charged to the desk for bringing a female guest up to his room.

Men who avail themselves of companionship services, therefore, can stop these women from being scammed and exploited simply by accompanying them from their rooms, back to the desk where their IDs are held, and making sure they get them returned, bribe free.

While researching this story, we found not a single man that knew this con existed or was prevalent. The women we interviewed, though all did, but were surprised that the men were not aware of it. It’s one of the best-kept secrets in Thailand. it no longer has to, or should, be that way.