Saturday, June 30, 2012
Noir is the path of a man that is morally corrupt yet seeks to uncover the goodness in a world that is inherently bad. A Noir hero is not the perfect cop, the clean living heroine, the guy that wakes up in the morning and decides to be good because being good is all that he is good at doing. A Noir hero makes bad right by mistake. He operates in darkness , shaves in a broken mirror, wears heat in the pocket of a three-piece suit. He hates normality, drives a heap, and wishes he were just like you. He is Noir.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
A review of Bangkok City by Tom Tuohy author of Watching the Thais.
When a friend suggested I read James Newman’s new book, Bangkok City, I did so with a sense of trepidation. For one thing, despite 15 years in the Kingdom, I’d never heard of him. I’d read the better known expat writers of course, like C. G. Moore, Stephen Leather, Colin Piprill, and William Page, and I enjoyed their writing immensely.
I’d also assumed that James Newman’s genre was a mish mash of the usual sexpat genre that we see on many a book shelf in Kinokuniya or Asia Books: a staple diet of essentially the same tawdry story - overweight, divorced expat, seeks new life in Thailand, meets a bar girl half his age, falls in love, takes care of her family, till finally one day he wakes up realising he’s been fleeced of his savings and, with nothing left and having been shorn of the last vestiges of his self esteem, he throws himself off a condo in Pattaya.
I was wrong. James Newman’s writing is anything but tawdry or predictable. His characters are full of home spun wisdom and his sense of storytelling, including pace and characterization, is extremely good. His knowledge, not just of the way Thais think and act, but of the places they inhabit, mentally as well as physically, is unique among expat writers currently in the Kingdom. His ear for the subtle nuances of language, both in Thai and English, show a world that few expats ever see. His inside knowledge of Buddhism, Brahmanism, and the way both religions weave around the general, day-today Thai superstitions encapsulated in magic and doled out by the maw doos (psychics), is incisive and well researched.
Despite a few typos here and there, and the occasional structural flaw, his ability to construct a sentence and to add clever imagery also suggests he’s destined for greater things in the literary sphere. The Bangkok in Bangkok City is reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. The very notion of the city is shown for what it is: a repository of broken dreams and unquenched desires; a city populated by people who are not what they seem; corrupt cops, ex-Muay Thai boxers cum gangsters, spiritually and emotionally bankrupt expats, and fatally ambitious Thai hookers ready to sell their souls for the promise of a better tomorrow; a world that, were he still alive, Charles Bukowski would have recognised in all its tacky urban splendor.
With the exception of C. G. Moore and Rattavut Lapcharoensap, I think few have accurately depicted what it’s like to live in Thailand. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to discover the real underbelly of Thai living: a place where things can be had for a price, but not necessarily one worth paying; a place where you can enter into a Mephistoclean pact just as long as you know that when you reach the proverbial checkout counter, you may have to pay the ultimate price and give up the thing you value most: your very soul.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Does he know where he’s going? Does he even care? Sure he does. He's your friendly farang loving taxi driver. Just jump in and point to the meter. Sit back. Relax. Enjoy the Bangkok scenery crawl past for an hour or so before your driver admits he hasn’t the foggiest idea where you are. Last week he was planting rice in Surin. Now he's in Bangkok City. Pay the fare (with a generous tip ) and step out onto a strange street lined with stalls selling fried insects. There's a funky smell in the air. Don’t be alarmed. Just hold out your hand to the oncoming traffic. There are hundreds more clueless taxis itching to whisk you away and spit you out at your unintended destination. Repeat until intelligent driver found.
Tuk-tuk mister? Speak English? Only 20 baht? Where you want to go? Sexy lady? Now Happy Hour? Look only? Yeah. You have to love these guys. Great for tailor-shops, government gem stores or anywhere else the driver has a nasty little scam brewing. Don’t believe the temples are closed. They aren’t closed. Temples never close. Use Tuk-tuks only once. Take photograph. Post photo on facebook. And never use one of these two-stroke scamming pollution buckets again.
Now we’re talking. Great for those that haven’t yet figured out the bus routes or enjoy travelling like cattle on the way to market. The views are great and the only way to travel lower Sukhumvit to Siam if you don’t have a more than a week to make the journey. Avoid use during sociable hours.
Frighteningly modern. The rotfia shuttles beneath sin city with the precision of a polished lug through the barrel of a high-class bean-shooter. Climb down into the subterranean utopia. The London Tube this is not. Clean, precise, fast. Only the Germans could achieve such a thing.
So modern. So clean. So smooth. How did they do it? Siemens again. So German. Over ten minutes wait between trains excludes this as a commuter option. But for getting into the city from the airport (what it was intended for) this is a thing of beauty. Just make sure your hotel is next to the airport link stop. I hear the Nasa Vegas is nice. Otherwise refer to the rest of this list and the best of British to ya.
Wow. What a network? Bangkok bus system reaches every nook and cranny in the city. The fast-track-training scheme for drivers gives Somchai from Ubon another chance in life. Last week he was driving an old beat up Honda wave and drinking white whiskey on the farm. He was thinking about suicide daily. Now he has a fast speed passenger vehicle and enough ya ba to propel him to work double shifts. Accidents? Pah. He fed a mangy soi dog some sticky rice this morning so there’s no way this love boat's gonna crash, baby.
An unemployable toe-rag buys a vest from the mob. Cost? anywhere from 1k to 500k. He joins the motorcycle taxi gang for life. You need to find out a bus route? Want to pay a bill? Deliver a package? Ask a motorbike taxi. You want to find out where the cheap accommodation is? Ask the dude in the orange vest. Motorbike taxis know everything. Everything apart from how to drive a motorcycle. Use only in emergencies and keep in mind if you do crash and need immediate medical attention you are in luck. A motorbike taxi is the only means of transportation that will get you to the emergency room with any chance of being alive on arrival, as long as you don't crash again, on the way.
You. Are. Never. Safe. On. Foot. You see those black and white lines painted across the road? Now, they may look like zebra crossings. In fact they are designated suicide zones. Cross by all means, but don’t expect to live. See those red lanes painted on the sidewalk with pictures of bicycles painted on them? Those are motorbike lanes. In fact all sidewalks, pavements, and footpaths are motorbike lanes. Bangkok is the only city in the world where you can skilfully cross four lanes of traffic and make it to the pavement the other side of the road only to be mowed down by a Honda Wave 125cc.
Enjoy travelling in Bangkok. And when that bus races through lanes of traffic, narrowly avoiding collision at every jerk of the wheel spare a little thought. When that Tuk-tuk pulls a wheely in rush-hour traffic. When the guy in the orange vest doesn't have a spare helmet. Remember In Thailand death is not the end. It is simply the transition to a better life.