Oddendum: A Tale of Two Checkbins

Greetings, reader. You’ve found your way to my blog. I’m Bangkok Seven, self-proclaimed mayor of Patpong. In a few weeks, I’m gonna turn out a blog on the differences between a Thai-owned gogo bar and a farang-owned one. Think of this as a tiny preview of that spectacular exploration (spectaxploration for short, copyright BKK7). This is a tale of two checkbins in two different gogos, and how disparately they responded to separate but similar problems with said checkbins. Let’s drill down…

The first incident occurred in a Thai-owned bar on Patpong Soi 1. I’d ordered an expensive bottle of boutique Belgian beer from their cooler, and when it arrived, there was clearly something wrong with it. The staff had poured it into a glass. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was, it was foaming and twisting like a mini tornado, and there were bits of something solid—I’m guessing yeast—swirling around in the midst of that frothy tempest. Ever the optimist, I let it sit for a couple minutes, hoping it would settle down and behave like a normal beverage, to no avail. It just kept right on churning, fueled by some diabolic invisible energy I’d never seen before. The beer positively appeared to be alive. I tried one sip. It was like a mouthful of Pop-rocks. It stung my tongue. So I called the mamasan over—someone who incidentally has known me for years—and told her I didn’t want the beer because it was spoiled, and ordered a San Miguel Light. But instead of taking the faulty beer off my bill, they simply added the SML to it, and then get this: the bartender drank the spoiled one! I asked why I had to pay for the beer he drank, and my “friend” the mamasan said “Because you order, you order you pay.” Fucking hell.

Flash forward one week. I plopped down on my usual seat in a farang-owned gogo on Patpong Soi 2. Within one minute, the owner had come over to shake my hand as he does every time I go there. Then a new waitress—likely the only person in the joint who didn’t know my usual order—came and asked what I wanted to drink. I asked for a vodka soda. She promptly returned with a vodka soda. Later, I noticed the bill was 170 baht, not the correct price of 160 baht. I asked another waitress why my drink was 10 baht more than usual. She checked and discovered the new girl had ordered me an Absolut and soda instead of house vodka and soda. I didn’t protest, because I didn’t want to cause problems for the newbie, and because it was only 10 baht. But even without making a stink, the staff immediately traded out my checkbin for one with a 160b price on it, and when I’d finished my Absolut and soda, they brought me a house V&S for free. Talk about service!

I’m not saying the only reason for the disparity in treatment is due to Thai vs farang ownership. I freely admit that in every aspect of my normal life, I prefer the company of Thais to farang. I think that overall, Thais are just better people. And there are certainly Thai-owned establishments that treat their customers well, and also farang-owned joints that suck (a certain beer bar in Bangtao, Phuket springs to mind). But it’s hard in this instance not to point out the general difference in customer service mentality between the East and the West. In the West, as the adage goes, “The customer is always right,” or nowadays “The customer is king.” In most places I’ve visited in Asia, the motto could be the same, or it could just as easily be “The customer can suck my nuts.” And in the case of this particular offending bar, all of the Thai staff know me, like me, and have considered me a friend for several years. So obviously it wasn’t a deliberate slight on their part. It’s just that, in the part of the brain where one’s conscience might say “OK, I know we’ll have to eat the cost of that beer, but it’s for the greater good—pleasing a regular customer—plus it’s the right thing to do,” there’s a wall. A mental block. They get stuck on those three little words, “eat the cost” and can’t take the next step. So it all unravels into a Three Stooges episode and the bartender ends up drinking my unwanted-but-still-charged-for spoiled beer.

Maybe it’s that the Thais can’t think beyond the moment (blame it on….Buddhism?) while the foreign owner can see weeks, months, years down the road. Because I still hit that farang-owned place daily. The Thai joint—a bar I used to visit several times per week—is now a once-every-other-month choice for me, and usually only on the suggestion from a drinking buddy. It’s not even a conscious decision. My feet simply don’t take me there anymore.

So what’s the moral of the story? I’m not sure there is one. It’s just an illustration of the different ways a checkbin can go, depending on numerous varying factors that don’t necessarily boil down to the nationality of the owner. Having said that, there do seem to be some distinct differences in managing style between farang and Thais. More on that in a later blog. One thing you can take away from this story is, no matter how unfairly you perceive to be treated, never make a stink or start an argument. It’s not worth it. Simply get your slow unsatisfying revenge by never going back to the offending establishment and let that be that. And wherever you end up, I hope your beer will be cold (and not spoiled), and I hope there’ll be a lovely lady to keep your balls company while you rack up a bill in this, the greatest country on Earth—Thailand.