Wednesday, January 4, 2012

DVD? CD? Come Look, Sir! - The Pantip Plaza Touts

Patpong Night Market - with a DVD stall halfway down the right side

The first real mention made here about the sales touts that accost you if you happen to venture onto their turf was back in March of last year, some 500 posts ago, [Sexy Movie? Sexy Movie? - The DVD Touts ] and it was about how I had a little fun with the guys who surreptitiously sidle up to you and try to get you to look at and buy X-rated movies.

Many of them had a crudely made scrap of paper or cardboard they'd palm and show you, so I made some myself back home and on my next trip flashed mine at them.  It was fun, and even before I left Bangkok 10 days later I saw how they'd taken my idea and run with it; they'd made their own laminated versions!

My home made "Sexy Movie" card

The porno market is a very small part of the overall copied media market in Thailand, and although it's illegal to copy and sell movies, music, software and games there you can find them almost anywhere. Even in recognized movie and music chain stores you're likely to see what could only be generously be "grey market" items.

If you buy a computer from somewhere other than a major retailer you're liable to find that the Microsoft Office that you also purchased and had them install isn't legal, either.  I've heard stories from folks, but since I'm not that adventurous I haven't tried buying computer gear there... yet. I tend to stick with the rules, anyway, and would likely be sweating like a pig trying to bring any sort of bootlegged items back through US Customs.

That said, I haven't been above purchasing movies and music to enjoy while I'm in the Kingdom, but I leave them behind with friends when I leave.  To you purists who are grinding your teeth, I agree: it isn't right to do that, either, but I'm a country mile away from perfect - and my friends are always pleased to have the spoils, so to speak.

In addition to the market stalls - especially in areas where tourists are found - you'll find shops in many towns to buy such items, and if you're lazing in a beach chair beneath an umbrella on any number of beaches you're likely to have some of the same items carried to you by a walking vendor, although those primarily tend to be mainly recent movies and porn.  One of these days I expect to hear some beach vendor approaching repeating "Mac? Windows?" as he trudges along, but it hasn't happened so far.

Some of you will remember the Where The Wild Boys Live story that ended with the two go go boys making use of my room to watch some porn VCDs they'd bought on Jomtien Beach that afternoon while I sat in the lobby and wrote for an hour, and it's a fair indicator of how people's curiosity about sex tends to cross all boundaries. 

[As a side note: VCD or video compact disc is a format foreign to most in the West, but it's common in parts of Asia. It uses CD discs rather than DVD discs, and often splits a movie onto two discs due to capacity limitations.  The video quality usually suffers, too, but you'll see players that play them throughout Thailand. While many are legitimate releases they won't play on your regular DVD player at home.]

The central core of Pantip Plaza in Bangkok

In Bangkok there's an enormous shopping mall devoted to all things electronic, including grey- and black-market items. Point of fact, there are others I've heard of, but since Pantip is an easy 10 minute walk from the Ratchathewi BTS station I've usually gone there. It's a great place to buy batteries, cables and other electronic peripherals, as well as all sorts of other electronic toys and chotchkes.  As you can see from the stitched panorama photo above that I took from a higher floor, it's huge; the photo only shows the open atrium area that encompasses half of the total area, if that much. You could spend hours there, and if you get hungry there's a food court, an S&P bakery/restaurant, an A&W root beer burger place and the usual assortment of vendors on the sidewalk out front.

There are dozens of shops on the ground floor selling CDs, DVD and VCD movies, Wii/PlayStation/X-Box game knock-offs, and a fair number of similar stalls around the landing of the 2nd and 3rd floor escalators, too.

Thousands of sleeved covers in cellophane to peruse - and this is only one shop of dozens

The police know they're there, and they know that the police know they're there.  More than once I've seen a vendor get a phone call and suddenly lower the shades or curtains over their stand, having been tipped off that uniformed "visitors" are about to arrive.  On one visit they all heard at about the same time, and the shuffling and swooshing sounds of stalls "closing down" was a rushed and audible event all around the area.  The vendors then either hide inside or stand near their stalls, looking as innocent as possible to avoid losing what stock they had on hand or paying the "fee" to make peace with the officers.  If you don't notice what's going on and ask one of them about something you're looking for you'll get "Can not," or "Not have".  Sometimes those stalls are shuttered for a day or three, depending.

Examples of pick-up receipts
In fact, most of the time in places like Pantip Plaza they don't have the actual discs on hand in the stall at all. After you pay for your selections from stacks of covers in cellophane sleeves that are clamped onto a clipboard you're given a slip of paper as your receipt and a "runner" is sent off outside of the building to retrieve your selection. You're told to come back in 20 minutes or so, and they then hand you a bag with your items in it.

Naturally, although peeking in to make see if you think you got what you ordered is acceptable you are not welcome to open and peruse your purchases in front of their stand.

Some of such merchandise is kept on premises, but such shop stalls are far into the nether regions of Pantip; far off into the back, or high on the top floors, where the lights are dimmer, let's say.

The cost for these items is less than 25% of what you'd be likely to pay in your home country, but it all depends on how lucky you feel about getting them through customs when you return home.  The one time some years back that I did bring a movie home with me for a nephew the agent who was rifling through my bag pulled it out, looked at it and said "Oh... I didn't know Star Wars was out on DVD here yet."  "It isn't," I replied, figuring that was 100baht I'd never see again, but he again said "Oh", and put it back into my bag.  It made me uncomfortable enough to stop while I was ahead.

As an example of cost, though, I had a man show me a set of extended releases of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in Blu-Ray, nicely packaged in a metal tin made in Japan, including the earlier 1970s Ralph Bakshi cartoon version for US$25 - and this was nearly a year ago, long before similar sets were released here at well over US$100.

Naturally, I'm not in any way encouraging or endorsing any such behavior, but as the saying goes: you can pay your money and take your chances - and there are chances a-plenty.

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