Further Thai Fiction And Cross Cultural Differences

 Over the last 30 years there has been some fantastic fiction based around Thailand and the South East Asian region and in particular I have always found the work of Christopher G. Moore to be not only enjoyable, but also very informative.  Christopher Moore is a Canadian writer who has spent the last 20 or so years living in Thailand and really knows the culture and history of the country so well with 22 novels to his name and other work currently in progress.

I first thought that listing all his work would take too long, but after consideration not to list all of his work would be doing him a dis service so here goes.

  • A killing smile, a bewitching smile, a haunting smile
  • His Lordships Arsenal, Tokyo Joe, Red Sky Falling, God Of Darkness, Chairs
  • Waiting For The Lady, Gambling On Magic
  • Spirit House, Asia Hand, Zero Hour In Phnom Penh, Comfort Zone
  • The Big weird, Cold Hit, Minor Wife, Pattaya 24/7
  • The Rise In Fidelity Index, Paying Back Jack, The Corruptionist, The Vincent Calvino Readers Guide
  • Non Fiction: Heart Talk

The Corruptionist is his latest novel.

Bangkok: Location often used in the work of the author Christopher G. Moore

At home now on my book shelves  I am in easy reach of ” Minor Wife” , ”God Of Darkness”, ”A Killing  smile and ”Chairs”. It is however Chairs that I want to talk about. I was recently lucky enough to acquire a copy of the book Chairs whilst in Thailand and was really glad I did, I happen to like short stories and Chairs is jam-packed with 16 of them, it means I can start at any new chapter and read a story totally through. Chairs is based on and is the name given to  a group of Bangkok based freelance journalists and their invited guests who share stories, scandal and the latest gossip from their community over coffee each Saturday morning in the Amarin Plaza. Besides the very enjoyable stories there are some fabulous culture notes right throughout the book, whether in the footnotes or in the text itself and you are able to receive a solid grounding in everyday Thai life. The stories come thick and fast with great variation. There’s a freelance journalist who’s real dream is to write fiction, but it all ends in tragic circumstances, then there is the importance of grabbing the viewing chair on a Saturday morning and its first out of the blocks who wins the race, why is it important to grab the viewing chair well forget the  coffee and stories for the moment as the words escalator, long black hair and goddesses seem to work well together. A gentleman who had published a book about jungle food after visiting 15 jungles throughout the South East Asian region and was looking to bump up sales, but what an earth did Tina Turner have to do with it.  The Head Mistress is one of my favourite stories about a Chinese woman who runs her own English language school in Bangkok with great success, in fact she is a very successful lady in every respect and admired and envied by all who know her. The only part missing or the dark hole in her life is the absence of a man, with the qualities in life she already possesses of knowing what she wants and how to get it, she sees an opportunity to rectify this….. great story. The rest of the stories which I cannot give justice to in this short space go in to such topics as ghosts, war veterans, executioners, diplomats, body snatchers and mistresses. I can’t do the book  justice, to do that you need to read it and other fantastic novels by the very talented Christopher G. Moore. To purchase the book Chairs just click here http://www.engagingthailand.com/booksaboutthailand.html

Before I leave the world of Thai/Asian based fiction for the moment I must give a mention to the work of  J.F. Gump whose work I have also enjoyed, very explosive loved the novel ” Even Thai Girls Cry” and also ”The Farang Affair ” and One High Season” thought it was all great drama. I will take a look at this and others who I have not mentioned yet at a later date.

The Culture Of Group Oriented Versus Individualist

Its a generalisation as I suppose most things are to say that westerners are more of an individual based culture and the Thai more group oriented of course there are exceptions I know, but for the most part this appears to be true. I for one am English and could think of nothing worse than a bunch of uninvited people descending upon me, I like my own space and for that I make no apologies. However my wife is Thai from the city of Nakhon Sawan and likes nothing more than a bunch of uninvited guests to turn up. usually it is a lot more Thais with a lot of food and this is how it has always been the own space finding individualist and the group orientated friend receiver. In the beginning I did my best with the meeting and greeting scene , but it was not long before I found myself being pulled towards the solitary confinement of my study. In any relationships there are trials and tribulations, but in a cross-cultural relationship the understanding of one’s culture and personality are incredibly important. I have always made big efforts to learn and understand Thai culture hence limiting the amount of cultural gaffe’s I might carry out accidentally in Thailand, but it is very difficult not to put your big western foot in it somewhere along the line. However  my wife knew right from the start that I was not going to be moulded in to something I was not and let me stay comfortably  in my space. Now if your thinking he seems to have it his own way then please think again as there is no way in the world my wife would be anything but herself and in my book that is how it should be. Have you ever tried to make a Thai do something it does not want to, the picture I am forming in my mind right now is me trying to pull a stubborn mule that won’t budge. So life in  a cross cultural relationship/marriage can swing from side-splitting laughter to hair pulling frustration or from hair pulling frustration to side-splitting laughter ( and that’s on both sides of the equation,but if you’re looking for an answer as to which side is worse, then my wife at this stage in life has a lot more hair than I do), but usually it is all those ingredients in a 24 hour period. The one thing it is not is dull.

Nakhon Sawan Thailand

Aunty And Uncle Came Too….. Oh and the niece, nephew and friends of theirs

My wife and I were on one of our many visits back home to Nakhon Sawan to visit khun Maa  (Thai word for mother) and the family before traveling over to the royal seaside resort of Hua Hin. I have always liked Hua Hin and surrounding area and there are always a few friends to catch up with and have a beer or two with as well. Instead of taking the bus or train I was informed by my wife that Mon the name of my wife’s niece and her husband Tuk would take us there in a nice spacious Toyota pick up wagon, how very nice of them I thought and the convenience of not having to carry the luggage about (or should I say my wife’s luggage) was a blessing. By this I mean I travel lightly, I hate clutter and carrying things around so a few books, a bit of writing material and a few sets of clothes and its all in one bag, however my wife has perfected the art of just running under the legal requirements of the airline with her two suitcases. I have often asked why all this is needed, but it is futile,  there are clothes that she wants to leave in Nakhon Sawan for the next time she visits even though there are clothes here from the last time she visited and there is the clothes for the new baby her niece has had and the winter jackets for everyone as it is January and the cold season(and I am still in T-shirt) . So after my great plan and feel good factor of only one bag and feeling rather smug with myself I am now carrying my one smug bag and one of my wife’s massive great suitcases and of course complaining at each step I take, this is also futile as my wife went deaf to any of my complaining about two years after we were married and its now 24 years and counting. It is rather clever and comical that my wife realises that our baggage allowance is one suitcase each and that her husband has not got a suitcase only a carry on bag, so she will have two suitcases, but the key here ladies is keep the other suitcase out of sight and don’t inform the husband until you are loading it in the vehicle to go to the airport, by inform I mean until he says what the heck is all that. I assure you he will give up and totally surrender just to be on the move, although the first hour could be a bit quiet. Anyway as usual I digress.

Maeka lady  แม่ค้า (literal meaning Mother trade) Hard working ladies and after carrying suitcases I knew how they felt

 The next morning things have changed slightly and not only are Mon and Tuk taking us, but they are also going to be staying a few days in Hua Hin with us as well having negotiated a few days off of work, how nice I thought. I was looking forward to the trip Mon, Tuk and Mother in the front, the family stretched out in the back and I could do some written work that I have planned to do… yes pleasant. We are all loaded up, fueled up and ready to go. After about 10 minutes we stop off at the house of Mon’s friend who apparently has something to give Mon regarding work, she actually had nothing to give her it turned out, but was carrying a small suitcase made the traditional greeting of a wai (see below) accompanied by Sawatdii kha (see below) and got in the back of the truck. Now this is about when my confusion antennas spring up and questions begin to pour in to my mind the alarm bells ring as memories of previous experiences are called upon and I begin to question my wife, but this must be done in a cautious way with precise probing and  jabbing. It is a battle of wills, craft and guile as I put her slightly uncomfortably on the back foot.

  • Me: Why has Nok got in the vehicle are we dropping her off somewhere?
  • Wife: Yes I think she has something work related to do for Mon
  • Me: Oh (accepting the explanation)

Nok’s brother arrives at the rear of the pick up truck performs a wai and a sawatdii khrap greeting and boards with a suitcase and a fishing rod. I let a small period of time go by of about 2 minutes and then ask my wife..

  • Me: Where is Nok’s brother going?
  • Wife: Oh he is off to help Nok I think?
  • Me: They must be staying a couple of days as they have suitcases and he has a fishing rod
  • Wife: Is silent feels there is no need to respond to this.

Nok’s Mum and Dad approach the rear of the truck with a small boy (to wave us all off or so I thought) give a wai and a greeting of sawatdii and climb aboard the pick up truck, but this time the game has really been given away as the boy is carrying a bucket and spade. Another 20 minutes driving and we are back in the centre of Nakhon Sawan to pick up my wife’s sister and her husband and another little boy who is dancing around excitedly with joy and does not look like someone on his way to watch his elders work. Suitcases are tied to the tail board, visibility is nil and I already feel like a sardine packed in a tin.

  • Me: I glance towards my wife, but she pretends she has not noticed and after a bit of a throat clearing exercise  I say are they off to Hua Hin by any chance.
  • Wife: Yes, but I have only just been told by Mon I did not know before
  • Me: Of course you didn’t dear
  • Wife: Apparently they are going down to stay at an uncle’s place
  • Me: What all of them, does the uncle know?
  • Wife: No they are going to surprise him
  • Me: More like severely shock him

Wife laughs knowing the beast has been tamed once again and all is well.

It is at that point when you see the funny side, can you imagine taking that many people to an uncle’s house in England with bags to stay for a few days and he doesn’t know about it, he would have the door bolted with the crowd of relatives outside the door in no time at all. I finally surrender my best laid writing plans and am teaching English to all in sundry in the back of a pick up truck with a bag of sticky rice in one hand and a greasy piece of chicken in the other. The refreshment stops were something else to witness a pack of sardines with cramp and pins and needles unpacked and then repacked on each occasion. Now don’t get me wrong here I loved the way the whole family came with us it is just the element of surprise, because you never actually know a lot about things in Thailand until they are happening. A great piece of advice in Thailand is ”expect the unexpected” it will very seldom go as you expect it to go and when that happens it is just better to bring in a western saying at that point. ”if you can’t beat them …. join them”.

Resembles the trip to Hua Hin

In Praise Of  Thais

You have to give great credit to the Thais for the way they look after family so well, it takes pride of place number one in life and the way they do things together in a group and the fun-loving attitude they possess. I think a valuable lesson I learn from the Thais is how to live in the now, they enjoy what they are doing now. It is so easy to either dwell on the past or be hell-bent on creating the future, that you forget about the now and if we are always preparing for the future then we never actually have any now time hence no conscious living at all. I find living in the now quite consistent with the Asian region and talked about in ”The Book Of Secrets” by Dr Deepak Chopra. I also find the Thais to be quite spontaneous, maybe an idea springs to mind or a bit of business needs seeing to,  that might involve traveling to Bangkok to complete and within a couple of hours the  ticket has been purchased and off they go, yes when a Thai makes their mind up to do something and quite often on the spur of the moment, then they do it.  I believe this to be a couple of fine qualities for living ”life in the now” and spontaneity.So when a Thai has said to me in the past those words of advice ” don’t think to much”  or ”you think to much”I think I finally get what they mean.

Wai  Is a gesture of respect made by placing the palms of your hands together as if praying at about chin height.

Sawatdii  Similar to hello, good morning or good day, but not used as often as we would say hello or good morning. Always used when meeting someone for the first time and accompanied by a wai.

Khrap Spoken by the male Kha  Spoken by the Female  (added to show politeness, always used when speaking to strangers or when meeting someone for the first time, but remember ladies say (Kha) and gentlemen say (khrap) I enjoy the continued learning of Thai as it is an incredibly polite language.

These stories are based around true encounters, but are a light-hearted look at the differences in  cross cultural relationships between the Thai and the Westerner, or even the East and West. No criticism is directed at any time to any party and no right way or wrong way to do something, just different.  I have great affection for the Eastern region and in particular  massive respect for Thailand its people and culture.

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