The True Untold Story of the Feud with The Big Mango, the Daily News story, and the Death of BBK.com
I have been vacationing in Thailand for 4 years. Summers and Winter break, I rent an apartment, lease a car, own a motorcycle kept in Bangkok and enjoy living in Thailand.
I have attended language school and am functional in spoken Thai. Thailand is a great place and I wholeheartedly recommended it to anyone looking for adventure and an easygoing good time. If you take the time to get beyond the tourists hangouts and activities, Thailand is a ton of fun and will expand your world view.
For the first couple of years, I patronized a Bangkok bar owned by two Americans, Nicholas Louis Dattoma and Michael Francis Smith and an Englishman–Graham H. Jones. Nick was working for BEA Systems/ Oracle in India and now works at WebLogic as an Engineering Manager , Michael recently worked for Yahoo in Singapore and is now employed by Spuul.com, and Graham is an Engineering Consultant in the oil industry who in the past has worked a consultant for Saudi ARAMCO.
For those not familiar with Bangkok, many bars, including the Big Mango Bar, are actually brothels. They employ girls who are paid a small monthly salary and get most of their pay from commissions on drinks customers buy them and from what are referred to as barfines in Bangkok. A barfine is a fee paid to the bar that frees the girl from working for the rest of the day and allows the girl to go out with the customers. Sometimes customers take girls dancing and to dinner but most of the time they take the girl home for sex. There are quotas and girls who don’t get barfined enough or induce enough men to buy them drinks get their salary proportionately reduced.
It sounds worse than it is because the girls are all over 20, are free to quit whenever they want, go home with whomever they please, and, in the end, many actually end up marrying and/or girlfriending men they meet at the bar. Legions of Thai girls from poor, uneducated, impoverished backgrounds have found opportunity and a better life by working in Bangkok bars and meeting foreign men over the years.
The whole system sounds a bit unsavory to Western sensibilities but the system is ubiquitous in Bangkok among foreigners and native Thais and a form of the same system is prevalent in most Asian countries–Communist China, Hong Kong, Japan, and Vietnam. It is even rumored that the wives of several high Thai government officials and politicians started out as a hostesses in similar clubs. Before BigBabyKenny.com was turned off, you could have read through the many posts on the site for more information. Now that BigBabyKenny.com has been turned off, I’m not sure if an equivalent source exists.
The Big Mango Bar advertised itself with a blog. Most of the entries were written by Michael and Nick and they cataloged their experiences navigating The Thailand Girl Scene. The blog was humorous, provocative, eye opening, great reading, and I was an occasional and popular contributor under the screen name BigBabyKenny.
The feud started over an article I wrote entitled Fresh Produce Shopping Part 2C-Buddha and Babes by BigBabyKenny
The gist of the article was advice to guys looking for long term relationships to leave the bars (referred to as The Reservation) and look for potential girlfriends and wives among the universe of normal Thai women. The article specifically recommended hanging out at a popular shrine in downtown Bangkok where women with romantic problems go to make offerings and ask the shrines’ god to deliver themselves from bad relationships or help them find a good husband.
My suggestion was to dress nicely, politely approach women who were leaving the shrine after asking the shrine’s god for relationship relief, introduce themselves, strike up a conversation and ask them to share a cup of coffee at the nearby mall. That way they could meet normal Thai women instead of Thai girls who worked in bars, who make a living on drink commissions and barfines, and, frequently, are specialists at scamming foreign men out of their money.
Nick and Michael originally published the article and then decided it was too disrespectful of Thai Culture and religion. The feud started because after censoring my article, they made some disparaging remarks about me on their blog and refused me the opportunity to respond to them. It really got me going that guys who owned and supported themselves by running a brothel/bar would get on their moral high horse and excoriate me for disrespecting Thai culture. What they were doing seemed far worse.
There was a lot of interest in the Bangkok Expat community about exactly what was in the article but Nick and Michael deleted all discussion and comments about the episode from their blog and continued disparaging me in print.
A couple of months later, I started BigBabyKenny.com so that my original article could see the light of day and to defend myself against the things Nick and Michael had written about me.
The spirit of BigBabyKenny.com was to allow anyone and everyone to say what they wanted, when they wanted, and how they wanted. Rather than deleting and censoring argument, BigBabyKenny.com would encourage open debate where anyone could say anything about everything—- No Hidden Agenda, No Censorship, and No Bullshit was chosen as the sites byline.
In the first few months, debate was animated, spirited and intense, Nick and Michael took a lot of heat and criticism and they didn’t like it. They felt the adverse reaction was affecting their business —driving customers away from their bar.
Shortly thereafter, I began receiving threatening anonymous emails. These emails were very straightforward. If I didn’t turn off my blog I would be beaten and possibly murdered. The address of my Bangkok apartment was noted and the anonymous emailers threatened to wait on the street outside my apartment building, ambush me when I returned home on my motorcycle, and beat me up or kill me . The emails also threatened that if I was seen in public they would call a group of Big Mango supporters and they would beat me up.
I also received emails directly from Graham threatening to out me as a sex tourist if the blog was not turned off. These were sent to my university email address. In one memorable one, Graham threatened to hire people to stand in front of the university library handing out fliers identifying me as a sex tourist and pedophile—- if I didn’t take down my site.
The university where I work also received a series of anonymous emails pointing out the existence of my site, which was anonymous and had no university affiliation. Anonymous pages were put up on WordPress.com where the site was mischaracterized and my character was attacked.
I had several email exchanges with university administrators over the summer and they confirmed what I already knew. In the U.S., people have freedom of speech. As a prof., I was free to say what I wanted about anything I wanted. America is a great country, isn’t it?
At this time, I also made a decision to dig in and not be pushed around. The threats of violence, the anonymous emails to the university, and the open threats from Graham were nasty and just not right. Giving in to them, although it was the easy thing to do, was just wrong. Come what may I was going to face them down.
Nick, Michael, and Graham could threaten all they wanted but I had done nothing wrong and I wasn’t going to let them silence me or push me around. Whatever happened, I was not going to let them prevail.
Things heated up in the Fall when Nick, Michael and Graham put a restaurant they owned, The Duke of Wellington, on the market. They hired a business broker in Bangkok and the bar was publicly advertised on the internet. Certain claims were made about how much revenue the bar was generating and that the bar was profitable. These claims were discussed openly on BigBabyKenny.com.
Nick felt the open public discussion of their claims was preventing them from unloading the restaurant and this time Nick wrote the university president under his own name asking the university to force me to turn off my blog. The letter was very facetious because it conveniently glossed over the brothel aspect of their business. Nick claimed I was hurting the continued livelihood of his employees but conveniently omitted mentioning that he, Michael, and Graham were making a living renting the girls they employed for sex with customers. The university gave the same response that in the United States people are free to say what they want. BigBabyKenny.com had no university affiliation and I was free to write what I wanted.
In the following months the university was pelted with anonymous emails about my site. The emailers got public email addresses off the internet, bulk emailed faculty in an attempt to embarrass me, and they wrote the university HR department claiming the site was hosted on university computers—which it isn’t .
A campaign was also started where local newspapers were anonymously emailed.and asked to investigate. The campus newspaper, the Los Angeles Times and the Daily News were written. Others newspapers that I am unaware of might have also been anonymously contacted.
The interesting thing about BigBabyKenny.com is that as time went on, more people found the site, interesting and provocative posts continued to be published, the readership expanded and the site became one of the most popular, widely read, influential, and famous Bangkok Nightlife sites/forums.
The unedited exclusive pictures of nightclubs, bars, Thai clubs, and girls inhabiting the Thailand Girl Scene stand as groundbreaking photojournalism. You couldn’t find anything like it on the internet or in the mainstream press and the photography was one of the most popular features of BigBabyKenny.com.
Open debate and a free uncensored internet worked for a time. .
Most of you are here reading this today because of an article written in the Daily News about BigBabyKenny.com. That article is the direct result of this anonymous email campaign.
The byline of this site has always been No Hidden Agenda, No Censorship, and No Bullshit.
BigBabyKenny.com continued true this ideal to the very end. Every post and comment ever written and posted was preserved — unedited, undeleted, and uncensored. Everyone had a seat at the table and could write what they wanted, how they wanted, and when they wanted. BigBabyKenny.com accepted and published posts from anyone and everyone about anything having to do with life in Thailand and The Thailand Girl Scene. Any interested reader could go back and read everything and anything that had ever been written there. History was not censored, redacted, or altered in any way. Everything that had been said and done was recorded and preserved..
Unfortunately, BigBabyKenny got too good for it’s own good.
The articles were too good at laying bare the economic underpinnings, the inter-personal dynamics, the nuts and bolts, and even the humorous side of The Thailand Girl Scene.
The discussion of The Thailand Girl Scene was too interesting and too revealing about the realites of life in a third world country where the usual ways women advance themselves socially and economically in The World are blocked off.
The photography was too good at documenting the nitty gritty nature of the various nooks and crannies of the Thailand nightlife industry.
The realities of life, love, dating, marriage, and sex in Southeast Asia and the politically correct western centric view of the world clashed.
Better to live in a make believe fairy tale western fantasy version of Southeast Asian culture and society than deal with an accurate, well documented truth.
Unfortunately, because I am a professor at a big public university, the popularity and publicity surrounding the ideas, the subjects and questions discussed and debated, and, of course, the ground breaking photography at BigBabyKenny.com became so great that the site had to be turned off.
Here is the official statement from the University on the matter.
When principles and reality clash sometimes reality wins.
Note (4/4/2013): An account of the closing of The Big Mango Bar was recently posted by a reader.