Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
- PROBLEMATIC PANHANDLING PACHYDERMS
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Thai Sex Slaves
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An Arab Bar? Oh, YES !
There would be no conceivable way to give an accurate accounting of Bangkok's Night Entertainment Scene without the inclusion of the elephant. As MIDNITE HOUR's sole raison d'κtre is the recording of the ongoing history of Bangkok's Nightlife Arena, we would be entirely remiss in not paying this mighty beast it's due.
We admit we also felt some sense of urgency in preparing this story, as the nightly Nightspot visits by these popular pachyderms could come to a halt at any time. Those of us who have been here 'too long' tend to forget that nowhere else in the world can one go bar-hopping whilst rubbing shoulders with elephants. With the Autocratic regime's authoritarian attitudes becoming more so all the time, this free-for-all night-circus could quickly go the way of the Bangkok tram lines and the eating of grilled squid in our Capitol's cinemas. Were that to happen, MIDNITE HOUR would not be able to forgive itself for failing to record a first-person account of one of Planet Earth's truly unique Night Entertainment experiences.
One of the first things making itself evident in our investigation into the "plight" of the elephant was a nearly universal reaction of pity by the local population. "Songsarn !" is the almost instantaneous response. Part of their pity stems from seeing such a large animal out of its natural environment. Another very real source of their pity derives from an almost hereditary belief that the elephant is a regal animal, and should not have to beg for a living. This has, of course, a legitimate historical basis - in former times the only people who kept elephants were kings and their generals. It goes without saying that they were the only ones who could afford to.
Likewise, most visiting and resident Farang express concern over the harsh life these leviathans are forced to lead in the city. More than this, the newly arrived foreign population tend to inject their country-of-origin bias into the question of Thailand's elephants begging on Bangkok's city streets. Comments such as, "Don't touch them, they're dirty," or, "They make a mess," or, "They could get hit by cars," or, "What if one goes berserk!?" are often heard. Those who have been here longer become imbued with a visceral sense of 'animal abuse' - the elephants having been made to live under "these conditions". They soon begin to conjure up ecologico-environmental theories of what is "right" and "wrong" for the elephant. Bangkok's Farang population have proven themselves a constant source of these 'solutions', usually hair-brained, on how to handle the elephant 'problem'. These 'more environmentally aware' Farang have even more solutions for the disposition of the city's elephant population than they do for solving the problem of our subsiding sidewalks. (A good many of them becoming quite emotional in their defense of these wing-nut "cures".) The 'common denominator' platitude of these solution-oriented Farang seems to be, "Don't feed them, you'll only encourage them," In practice however, these well-meaning sentiments are ignored by the bulk of excitement-seeking tourists, many of whom have never come face to face with an elephant before, let alone touched one, or fed one, or had one's picture taken next to one.
But what is the real story? Is the 'elephant problem' a problem for the elephants? Is it a problem for the residents of Bangkok? Having long observed Bangkok's elephant phenomenon from the middle distance, MIDNITE HOUR decided it was time to get into Bangkok's Neon Sois and talk with the mahouts, the handlers and their touts - and observe these obviously intelligent animals nose-to-nose.
While waiting for the Jumbos to arrive on Soi Cowboy a few nights ago, MIDNITE HOUR interviewed a Farang bar owner who had been at that same location for the last 20 years. He mentioned in passing that since Thonglor's Finest no longer have someone full time on the soi, the elephants have returned in force. It was his (shared) opinion that the elephants were not a nuisance in any way, they were only a supplement to the normal entertainment. It was his belief that there was not much the police could do about the elephants in any case, other than tell the mahouts to leave when they saw them there. He said, "What are they going to do, arrest them? What would they do with the elephants, take them down to the police station? Are they going to fine them? Do they think the mahouts could pay fines?"
On the reappearance of the great grey beasts at the mouth of the soi, we went out to greet them, buy them some sugar cane and to speak to the mahouts. We learned a lot. Firstly, the elephants eat well (a large part of their diet consists of unmarketably ripe bananas), and that the mahouts make a surprising amount of money each night. It seems that they seldom bring the mature bulls into town as they are from time to time, harder to handle and are potentially more dangerous. We learned that as they work at night, they do not suffer from the heat, either directly or from hot pavements. We observed that the young elephants appeared healthy and in high spirits, often showing-off by 'dancing', or swaying back and forth, and trumpeting to get attention. We did not observe any harsh handling by the mahouts or handlers (the young elephants are not ridden by mahouts). The elephants usually 'work' from between 8:00 PM to 1:00 AM, which to them is equivalent to foraging, and while their nightly rounds are not exclusively in the Night Entertainment Areas, they are centered in these locations because this is where business is best. The elephants rest overnight wherever they can, usually in a vacant lot where adequate drinking water is available, but not their usual bathing water (the only real drawback we observed). Elephants currently plying the Sukhumvit Road area 'overnight' in vacant piece of land just off Soi Asoke.
One of the first items of concern to those directly involved in the elephants' welfare in Bangkok in particular, is the number of injuries, many of those being road accidents. What they fail to mention is these statistic, compiled at the elephant 'hospital' facilities, are the country-wide statistics -- not to mention that it is highly likely such incidences as illegal logging accidents are reported as 'road accidents' as well. Likewise, the mahouts' accounts of 'almost no road accidents in Bangkok' sound too much like denial, and are equally unverifiable. At the very kindest, we can only say these statistical and hearsay accounts are very unrealistically and inexactly applied to accidents involving Bangkok's elephant populations. The jury is, as they say, still out, with the truth likely lying somewhere between. Accidents, while they do happen, do not appear to be disproportionate in the Bangkok area.
One relevant and highly interesting observation by the world's scientific community is that many species of both plants and animals have resisted extinction, not in spite of human habits, but because of them. There are numerous examples of animal species that have been able to not only survive, but thrive alongside and in human populations. Many cases of both co-existence and 'domestication' exist today, from the rat to the cat to the pigeon to the sheep to the dog; the list goes on. What is harder for the 'Westerner' to grasp on an intellectual level is the same thing has happened with the elephant. It often comes as a surprise that, at least as far as the Asian elephant is concerned, the domesticated population exceeds those living in the wild - for which we can thank long term rapid deforestation, in the main.
The first known instances of domestication were for purposes of fighting wars and to work in the timber and other heavy local industries - the elephant and man are old friends. But both warfare and logging practices have changed over the last two hundred years, leaving a large population of domesticated, continually breeding elephants which would either have to be assimilated into the human population in other ways or be returned to the wild. However, returning these giant critters back to the wild would not work today for the obvious reasons. First, "the wild" is shrinking at a calculated rate of square kilometers per minute - and we are not making that up. Secondly, the remaining "wilds" in Southeast Asia already have existent elephant populations - the remaining forested areas can't support additional elephant populations (because the additional elephant foraging would denude those very forests). Lastly, the domesticated elephant certainly doesn't mind foraging in the wild, but they feel equally at home with man - there is little to do about keeping them in the wild, once they have their minds set to "come to town". Or come to someone's plantation, for that matter, as a recent news article mentioned, where hundreds of thousands of baht worth of produce was joyfully eaten and/or destroyed by the grateful herd.
Elephants, as we have seen, have been 'in captivity' for centuries and have found many niches along the way, so how does Bangkok's Behemoth Beggar Brigade fare with other 'captive' elephant populations, past and present? Are they better off than those elephants kept in zoos? Or how about circus elephants? Or how about Thailand's 'elephant show' elephants, such as those found in Ayuthaya and the Rose Garden, etc.
At the top of the list for health and welfare of the elephant MIDNITE HOUR lists:
Followed in order by: -
So then, what to do with Bangkok's large elephant population? Send them back to Surin Province (from whence most of them came)? The annual Surin Elephant Roundup has become a major tourist attraction, and helps a little in terms of bringing in some desperately needed cash to maintain and feed some of the animals, but falls far short of maintaining the elephants for the entire year. The Government has tried such schemes as sending all of Bangkok's panhandling elephants to Ayuthaya to perform in 'historic' shows, to parade around, and to give rides to tourists. While it was better than nothing, it just didn't provide adequate livings for the mahouts, handlers and keepers. Albiet, the elephants were well fed. (Unless we are talking about confining the elephants in a zoo, equal or greater consideration must be given to the livelihoods of the mahouts and handlers.)
The thought that seems to have escaped everyone is that the best solution would be, and should be, to do nothing. It has been MIDNITE HOUR's observation that we had been too ready to accept that something was 'wrong' with elephants coursing through Bangkok's traffic-laden streets. After having observed them and walked with them through the sois and boulevards over this last month, we were unable to see anything 'broken'. And if it ain't broken, don't fix it.
So in spite of what the 'ecologically enlightened' conservationists in our midst are saying, Bangkok's Night-Scene pachyderms are healthy, well fed, well treated, have companionship of other elephants, have extremely light work schedules (working -foraging- less hours per day than I do), and as far as possible to know, appear to enjoy their work. We here at MIDNITE HOUR would like to take this opportunity to lend our support to this marvellous and unique form of Night Entertainment, and we would like to say in advance that we will not be subsequently offering an apology for, or a retraction to this article, no matter how many of those 'ecologically enlightened' folk out there think we should.
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Night Entertainment Areas - for the month ending 1 JUNE, 2004 :
Not that anyone will notice, but the SuperStar is now legally the "SuperStar" and not P.P. Super as it has been, legally, up until just recently - and so says their Thai language sign. So next time Bang Rak's Finest come a-gangbusting for those miscreant name-gamers, the SuperStar won't have to tape a temporary sign over their neon... PATPONG I
They opened in December of 2003 as the Topless 2 Pool Bar, but even before they could get their permanent sign up, they switched to Tavern 3 Saloon. By February of this year, having been caught-out by The Authorities for playing the name-game, they changed yet again to Top Light 1 - the legal name. But we could see that something was in the wind, as all the Top Light 1 signs were felt pen on cardboard and unceremoniously taped over the old sign. Last month (May) they pulled down the cardboard signs and became Tavern 3 Saloon once again. We welcome you back to the ratpack, whoever you really are... PATPONG II
The "Thai Traditional Massage" has decided to pull the plug. Located on the 4th floor of the Cosmo's stairwell, there was just not enough business to keep them going. Their digs now being used as the Bua Luang group offices. PATPONG II
Cascade, on the 3rd floor was caught-out by Lumpini's Finest for not having their legal (Thai) sign up. The problem was immediately corrected by - are you ready for this? - writing the Thai name on a piece of paper and taping it over their neon. As Farang customers now couldn't see that it was in fact the Cascade, they wrote the word "Cascade" in English on another piece of paper, and taped it up over the remaining part of the neon sign. I'm sure this is logical, it's just not our logic. Hey, shake it, don't break it, guys, you know how The Authorities are on this name-game issue We know it now means paying the 50 thou for the new name, but it's still better than being shut down for a month or two, and then paying the 50 thou. NANA PLAZA
As sign problems seem to be haunting the entire civilized world as we know it, we thought we might mention that Lucky Lukes is not now really called "Lucky Ukes". There is a simple explanation -- their sign fell apart. They will be repairing it just as soon as the curse of the signs lifts from the Bangkok Night Scene. NANA PLAZA
... and started tunnelling through the labyrinthine mountains of paper on and around his desk. It seems that according to the Zootramp Publications database, there was a bar there as early as 1975, mostly -but not exclusively- for Thai clientele called Chitra. This was not the Chitra's Bar in the late '70's, says Hartman, in fact this original Chitra preceded Cowboy's opening of the Cowboy Bar by more than two years - back when the soi was still called Soi Gold Label. Be that as it may, we wish the @ Corner luck in these precarious times. SOI COWBOY
The Spice Girls opened as scheduled on 4 May, covered in balloons, streamers and party treats. The mirrored walls give the impression of a much larger bar. Upstairs has a single pool table and an 'overflow' bar. A-Go-Go is the prime agendum. Nevertheless, we couldn't help wonder how they would fare the next time the Crackdown Squads start checking for legal, registered names - isn't Spice Girls taken? Nevertheless, we wish them prosperity as they cast their fate to the rain swept nightwinds. SOI COWBOY
Cowboy One A-Go-Go mysteriously closed (vibrato organ music here) - only later did we find out they were doing a quick renovation, to include a big, brand new neon sign, just like their sister bar, Cowboy Two. They plan to reopen on 3 June - the day after tomorrow. SOI COWBOY
The New Crazy Cats have some door art worthy of mention - and the reason we mention it now is the door is as ancient as the art - and will surely fall to the ravages of Time in the not-too-distant future. The door and it's "hippy art" are probably the last their kind on the Bangkok Night Entertainment Scene. Have a look before it goes the way of the dodo.
The Apache have recently sat out two weeks of arbitrary penalty time courtesy of the local arbiters of nighttime street-justice (Thonglor's Finest). All that behind them now, they have hit the soi running, and have once again pumped up the volume on the rock-n-roll like there was no tomorrow. Welcome back to the sharkpool. SOI COWBOY
The C.J. bar beer now calls itself the Friendly Bar. Their new sign, almost too small to notice, has been nailed up out in front to advertise the fact. Status-quo-ante. Rock on while the rockin's good, gang. COWBOY ANNEX
Gone but not gone, the Fantacy (sic) has relocated from the 4-Pak out back, and is trying their luck once again, after a one-month hiatus. These new digs, not much bigger than their sign, are easy to miss but they make up for their lack of size by their enthusiasm. Keep on keeping on. COWBOY ANNEX
The Richiy Bar Pool, (which was, of course, owned by Richiy) is no more. The ongoing renovations we noted last month were for an office-like structure, now almost completed. COWBOY ANNEX
Spanky's Bar 3, after threatening to do so for the last couple of months, has finally put up a sign saying who they are, so now you will know it's not part of the Monza Bar next door... COWBOY ANNEX
While we are on the subject of very large Night Entertainment Facilities, double shifts are hard at work bringing the two super-sized units next door to Mojo's to completion before the end of the month (June). They are telling us the two units will be combined to become a very elaborate karaoke lounge - orientation Oriental. If they have a name picked out for it they were very inscrutably not telling... SOI DEAD ARTISTS
For those of you who have Statistical Historian genes in your makeup, here is an interesting factoid concerning Soi Dead Artists (Soi 33) for your consumption. Since reaching "critical mass" in November of 1999, this Night Entertainment Area has tripled in size. It has gone from 17 Night Entertainment Venues to this month's total of 51 - all in less than 5 years. And it's still growing. SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Despite the fact that their brand-new neon sign reads, "Jack Daniels No. 7", they are still the Friend's Bar. They have decided to spring for some new neon, so they took their old sign down for an overhaul. Its replacement should be hung out to glow before the end of the month. TOBACCO RD (Soi 0)
Tapas Room Club had all the flowers and bunting out curb-side for their 10th Anniversary party last weekend. We don't want to rain on their parade, but the Zootramp Publications database shows them, then as Tapas Cafe, opening in the old Genesys digs in April of 1995. What do you reckon, a belated Y2K problem? SOI KATOEY
The newest kid on the block is the Mook Bar. Modus operandi - bar beer. They have opened with an enthusiasm possessed only by those who have never owned a bar before. We hope their enthusiasm is rewarded - Easy Square, while becoming better known, hasn't really caught fire yet. EASY SQUARE
Since 'death by signs' seems to be our fate this month, we should briefly mention that both the Sweetheart and the Smile Bar have hung out brand-new, bigger, brighter, better shingles. All else, including the friendly service remains unchanged. QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA
Way in the back, The Corner is in a state of controlled annihilation - construction workers running back and forth in the middle of the night rushing to completion a rather ambitious expansion project - which they say should be completed by month's end. They can't be sure, but they think there will be a name change in the cards. QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA
--- Datzit Fernow
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