If you have a fascination with Thailand and the Asian region and enjoy the pleasures of reading then quite certainly you will have built up your own library of Thailand and Asian fiction over the years and I hope you find a few here you don’t know about. if you are new to Thailand then I hope to be able to try to point you in the direction of some great books over the coming posts.
After my first trip to Thailand at the end of 1984 and the last stop on a round the world working and loafing when at all possible trip I developed a taste for Asian fiction especially based in Thailand and also other informative based books on the region and began reading as much as I could on the subject. However I dabbled with a couple of novels, but I was able to put them down and return to them when I felt like reading a little more, but now and again and just now and again you come across a book that hooks you, one that you cannot put down. A good novel or a good information based book can awaken something in you, it can basically jump right off the page knock you around a bit and leave you open – mouthed. It is a great way to self discovery, although usually what you have read already exists within you, but the author has given you a reminder, coaxed it out and put it in a way that has struck a chord with you. I have a habit which is both bad and good regarding books, the bad part is most of the sentences, words or paragraphs of any value to me are all marked with a highlight pen, the good part is I have the information. I was reading something the other day where the author advised to read purely for enjoyment only and not for learning purposes and as much as I could see what he meant my natural reaction when reading something of interest to me is to learn and enjoy. A good author on a subject you are interested in, put in a way you relate to is both entertaining and informative and I can gauge the books meaningfulness to me by the amount the highlight pen has been used. Yes a bad habit with a clean mint condition product I know and I am already seeking therapy.
With regards to Thailand fiction in the 1980’s you could flick through the books on the shelf in Asia Books or DK Books make your choices and be off (after paying for them first of course), but nowadays with online resources you can do everything from the comfort of your own home plus of course now anyone who has set foot in Thailand (or maybe even that hasn’t) has an e-book product available for instant download usually with the rather worn out title of ”how to pick up Thai women” I never actually knew so many fell over never mind requiring a manual on how to pick them up. Like any industry it is good to know who the main stayers are, those who live there and are vastly experienced in the knowledge of Thailand its people and culture. For me it is back to what I previously mentioned that I want to be entertained, but I also want to learn something from the author.
Soi 8 Sukhumvit Road Bangkok
Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet
The first book that really got me hooked on Thailand fiction was a novel called ”Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet” by Nick Noye first published in 1985 I suppose the fact that it had an old English major in the novel who liked to have a moan about most things really (only doing what we are renowned for) that endeared the novel to me even more. Set in a Bangkok restaurant a strange friendship exists between two ageing alcoholics the Chinese restaurant owner and a retired English major who for the past 7 years have drunk whisky together at a back table of the restaurant. Neither speak the same language or understand the others language, but the friendship lives on. The poor hardworking Chinese restauranteurs wife who is frustrated by her husbands drinking and impotency and yearns to feel like a woman again, tries all sorts including black magic and ancient exotic recipes to revive him, even including a word with her niece a manicurist/masseuse in a local barbershop with expertise in other areas. I found the novel throughly entertaining and enjoy it as much today as I did on the first reading in 1986. There are some classic lines spoken by the major as he goes in to an English kind of moan / rant on why for him he wound up in Bangkok to die as England is not the place to die or live in. He says on England ” Take the weather. Where else can you experience winter, spring , summer and autumn within 24 hours? You need the metabolism of an eskimo, the endurance of an Indian ascetic and the skin of a bloody rhinoceros just to survive.” ”The major said on retiring from the army…. no couldn’t have returned to bloody England . A rented seaside flat, afternoons in the park or library, the Telegraph an evening sherry the television and a pitiful survival on my bloody pathetic pension. No not bloody likely. The author got the character of the English major perfect and each moan or complaint throughout the book (and there were plenty of them) left me in fits of laughter. The book was written in a way that for each chapter one character informed you of how they saw daily life unfold around them past and present and each character had two or three chapters where they told their story, unexpected solutions are found for the characters at the end of the book. Absolutely great stuff. Ne’er the twain shall meet is something you say when two things or people are so different that they can never stay together or agree with each other. This book can be purchased at http://www.engagingthailand.com/booksaboutthailand.html
China Town in Bangkok
A Kind Thai restaurateur
I guess I related to” Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet ” as around the time of reading the book in 1986 I was in Bangkok for a lengthy period staying at the Miami hotel in Sukhumvit Road and the levels of English at that period were not what they are now and my Thai was certainly not what it is now in fact it was virtually non-existent. One of the days bored with having food in the hotel and paying hotel prices I ventured out of the hotel up some steps and crossed over the bridge and came to a small restaurant with a few people in it. I paused to look in a glass counter full of the days dishes and the owner tried to usher me in to take a closer look, it was then I remembered that I could hardly utter a word of Thai let alone ask for lunch and I was now stood there with mouth open and a dumb look (normal before any of you write in to tell me) with his other paying customers now not only provided with food, but entertainment as well. I looked in at the dishes and was so pleased to see that Pork and rice were on the menu, it is not even as if I like pork that much, but I had learnt the word for pig and for rice so I told the gentleman ”moo which is pork” khao which is rice and walked to the fridge and picked out a pepsi . The owner nodded approvingly and began preparing the dish by hacking at the pork with a big meat cleaver adding the rice (whilst repeatedly saying ” moo khao” It sounded more like the sort of stuff they teach you when you are a baby and you are learning about cows ”moo cow”) and applying some soup juice to remove the dryness. I was also assigned my own table at the back of the restaurant where I dutifully arrived each lunch time for the next six weeks. Each day he would be out the front looking waiting for my arrival would then straight away prepare pork, rice and a bottle of pepsi and talk Thai to me like I was a native speaker, but I had no idea what he was talking about. I was actually fed up with pork and rice after about 4 days, but the delight on his face as he brought to my table each day the dish he thought I loved completely halted me from changing it, even with my new Thai dictionary and plenty of revision. When all was said and done the man welcomed me to his restaurant, a restaurant where I was the only ever farang (or foreigner for those not familiar with the word farang) greeted me when I arrived, prepared and delivered the dish to me with great delight, told me a life story in Thai in between, carried a consistent smile and look of happiness on his face daily and the charge was barely noticed, just a real top man. I suppose in a real strange way like in the book ”Ne’er The Twain Shall Meet” we got on like a house on fire. It just goes to show that not all the ingredients have to be in the mix to make us return as customers, but treat people right and they will like. respect you and return and he knew this. I often wonder whether the gentleman is still alive today although the restaurant is no more and has not been there for a long time, but I often recall his kindness and fantastic attitude in life.
Sukhumvit Road Bangkok
More Thai Fiction
After reading Ne’er the twain shall meet I developed an insatiable appetite to devour any foreign author but Thai based fiction I could find reading books like Occidental Adam, Oriental Eve by John Cadet approximately 10 short stories from Thailand first published in 1981, more short stories by Colin Piprell called Bangkok Knights and he also did Kicking Dogs and Yawn before moving on to the work of the excellent Christopher G. Moore.
Not moving for now Sukhumvit Road Bangkok
Moore Thai Fiction
Christopher G. Moore is a to be quite frank a legend in the world of literary fiction on Thailand and South-East Asia and held in high esteem in Thailand , North America and Europe. He has written such classics like ” The land of smiles series, the Vincent Calvino private eye series and God of Darkness just to name a small percentage, but we will have a look at his publications in the next post as there are so many to tell you about as he has written approximately 22 novels and that is probably doing him an injustice (in fact I think it is) as it could be more by now. Has lived in Thailand for more than 20 years and has a vast and in-depth knowledge of the area, one of the type of authors I was talking about where you not only enjoy his work, but receive great insights in to Thai culture and Thai life, however much more on this gentleman in the next post.
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