Stickman Readers' Submissions February 4th, 2002

The Laste Word

The Last Words

By Duncan Donuts

Stick, having a bit of extra time on my hands recently — thanks to Khun Pure Thai — I have been wandering (and wondering) through your website and noted with interest many of the comments from your contributors and those that you yourself have made. As a 15-year veteran of Thailand, there are many issues on which I could add my 2 cents' worth. But one relatively innocuous paragraph of yours has left me mortally wounded, struck down like the great farang lover who's paid the bar fine and the short time hotel only to discover he's not the only prick in the room. It's regarding the editing of books and newspapers. I'm a professional newspaper editor (damn it, Mabel, I am), having been in the business for 30 years, and am generally regarded as being proficient at my job (Thais say it to my face all the time). So, let me don my hair shirt and make a whining, grovelling and probably totally pointless defence of the standard of local newspaper editing — this is not an attempt at self-justification, merely an explanation so that next time you meet one of us you'll be so awed that you'll shout us beers all night.

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To aid in your recollection, here is the paragraph of yours that I refer to (the mistakes are all Stick's): "Why is it that novels penned locally along with the Bangkok daily newspapers have so many errors in them? As good as it (and it's well worth picking up a copy), Christopher Moore's latest book "Chairs" has SO MANY typos that it makes me wonder if anyone proofed or edited it. Reading through the two major English language dailies, there are stacks of errors in there too. Why is this? Is it because Bangkok is home to some of the world's worst English teachers? In Christopher Moore's case, this is probably not relevant, but in the case of the newspapers, maybe!" — Oh dear, Stick, your pen drippeth with the blood of innocent lambs.

Before jumping to the defence of my colleagues (at least those who haven't rushed to get to the bars before 2 AM), I'd like to make a comment about Christopher Moore's books. I have only read one, "Spirit House" — a copy of which I picked up in Hong Kong several years ago. Given the atrocious state of this book, I can only assume that Moore was under pressure to send in his copy and that the money-hungry publisher took the rushes and rapidly published them without any editing whatsoever. It soured me on Moore's books forever, sadly. In my opinion, Moore and the woman whose name was listed as the editor should have sued the hell out of the publisher. I have never seen anything so disgraceful nor disrespectful to both author and reader. (As an aside, many of the other locally-published authors have quality editors, a fact you perhaps could have noted, sweet mouth.)

One other point that can be taken from the paragraph quoted above is your predilection for belittling English language teachers — which is totally justified, in my opinion, for they are the poor white trash of Asia. Kick these scum out of Thailand, or at least make them read "Spirit House" 10 times each so they can find out what they're doing wrong and why they're so badly needed. I'm not sure how many find employment in the book publishing game (any thoughts on this, Chris?), but few find permanent positions on the two major English language newspapers, thank Christ. So, they can hardly be blamed for the mistakes that appear. Damn, I think I've just shot myself in the foot — never mind, I shall soldier on with this ridiculous self-justification.

And that brings me to . . . the problem of errors in the daily English language newspapers. A pet subject of mine, as you would expect, given my pedigree (very definitely a "bitsa").

First, let's look at the job of editing, which is generally beyond the intellectual capacity of English language teachers, anyway. There are few natural editors in this world (and, if Stick is to be believed, none in Thailand — thanks, you shit!). Like any job, editing is a skill that has to be learnt. Developing an eye for detail is something that takes time — although some people never learn, and so their existence on this earth is pointless (unless they deign to become English teachers or authors of Bangkok websites). Traditionally, newspaper sub editors are scumbags — errr, sorry, older, more experienced journalists who have served their time as proof readers, whipping boys for subs ("Bend over, son, and I'll show you how to insert a comma in the right place"), cadets and reporters, before moving on to sub editing, whence they do indeed become scumbags who mess up copy and make deliberate mistakes in order to make writers look stupid (this is called "revenge" after years of having their own precious prose turned into dog shit by other scumbags).

In other words, they are thoroughly trained before taking up the all-important task of crapping on writers' copy. Sadly, the kind of progression described above is lost in the modern world of newspapers, not the least being because the title "journalist" no longer carries the cachet that it used to (and no one with a eye-dropper full of nouse wants to be one), and careers nowadays tend to be "fast-tracked" (it's sort of like you don't have to pay your dues, anymore, which means ignorant shithead with a BA in Obscure Obfuscation today, god-like newspaper editor tomorrow).

Now let's look at the term "experienced journalist" that I used above. (It's a great term, isn't it — "experienced journalist". What a crock of shit — it only means someone who's been making the same stupid mistakes far longer than others, in my case 30 years.) Anyway, as journalists progress in their careers and develop their skills, they also tend to get married and settle down with families. To uproot and relocate to another country, therefore, requires certain assurances (a job helps). Before anyone comes to a place like Thailand (and, as you know, everyone wants to come here), they have to be assured of many things: a decent home for their families, schooling for their children, etc. Every expatriate knows the details. But it costs money: to settle a nuclear-age family — two adults, two brats — in Bangkok can cost as much as two million baht — about 150,000 for relocation of household furniture and goods; 100,000-plus for air fares; at least 200,000 for deposit and first month's rent on a reasonably decent place to live (some farangs get uptight about living in a one-room apartment, for some reason); close to a million baht for the joining fee and first year's fees for a good international school for two primary-level kids (Bangkok Patana's joining fee is 180,000 per child, and about 280,000 for one year). Incidental expenses can add considerably to that. I should say here that these figures are conservative, given that I was recently told that an American couple without kids who are about to relocate here had a rent threshold of 190,000 baht — I'm still struggling to come to terms with that one.

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So, you can see that it is not cheap to hire a mid-level foreign worker. Now, the Bangkok Post and The Nation employ a hell of a lot of foreigners in that mid-level category (some are very good, some are average, some are bad, some deserve to be English teachers), and they're notoriously tight-fisted because the advertising dollar is limited by their small circulations in comparison to the Thai language press (thank you for telling me that, Mr Chairman, I shall remove my begging bowl immediately). So they normally don't hire journalists from overseas and relocate them here — they wait for desperadoes like myself to pass through, or send a press-gang to Khao San Road (I jest, but only a little bit).

When you consider that these two newspapers pay their sub editors an average monthly salary of 40,000-50,000 baht without any of the above-mentioned perks, then you have to realise that top quality subs are not always going to be available to them. I mean no disrespect to those employed as sub editors here now (yes I do, you're a bunch of scumbags), as I will explain shortly, because most do their jobs very well under trying circumstances. What are these "trying" circumstances? Usually their own personal inadequacies that made them come here in the first place — no, sorry, I didn't mean that. What I mean is, well . . . no, stuff it, their own personal inadequacies.

Actually, as most readers know, dealing with Thinglish can be excruciatingly difficult, requiring not only supreme editing skills, but a deep understanding of the Thai psyche and the intuition of an Albert Einstein — which is no excuse, of course, for the Post and The Nation to employ the people that they do. No, sorry, I'm being insensitive again. The truth is both papers have some excellent editing staff who are hampered by the fact that interpreting Thinglish is often painful and time-consuming, and that the bars now shut at 2 AM (although a real journalist should be able to sniff out those places which still serve beer outside of closing hours — it's a job requirement in any country except Saudi Arabia, where most local journalists have learnt to type with one hand, just in case).

Unlike my dear friend Stick (actually, he's not dear to me, nor a friend otherwise the shit wouldn't have made such offensive comments about my colleagues), we newspaper sub editors have to turn over many thousands of words a day, and always in a hurry. Some of the better subs who actually can read can handle that kind of quantity with alacrity and churn out mistake-free pages. They're to be admired, and I hope the two papers one day employ some of these people. Besides the difficulties of dealing with Thinglish, there are many other aspects of the job that throw up enormous obstacles, thereby making the whole process of publishing a newspaper one that is fraught with landmines. These include insufficient cigarette breaks, Thais snacking at the next desk, parades of mini-skirted PR girls (aahh, the perks of the job, but they're bloody distracting when you're in the middle of local council reporter Therdpong Lik's latest opus on cleaning up Saen Saeb canal), and checking your email on the Internet.

Then there is something well known in the newspaper world called "Gremlins". Well schooled in Murphy's Law ("what can go wrong, will go wrong"), these Gremlins have a field day. Completed pages suddenly disappear into the ether. Computers crash just as you were about to save the previous hour's work. Reporters' cell phones run down just when you desperately need to talk to them. The editor decides that the picture you've carefully selected is crap and wants it changed — usually 20 minutes after deadline. You accidentally hit the "delete" key as you fire off a page to the film room. The chief sub finds your hidden stash of Johnnie Walker. That sort of thing.

So all-in-all, we brave warriors on the frontlines of the news war do not have it easy, Stick. I hope you remember this next time you feel inclined to put shit on us. We're a delicate lot, you know, easily brought to tears by callous indifference by readers to our lot and harsh criticism by ignoramuses who can't spell their own bloody names (not you, Stick, you've managed that one okay). So, spare a kind thought for us next time you pick up a newspaper. Or we'll find that photograph of you with your arm around a naked bar girl, publish it on the front page and send a copy to your wife!

(I hope everyone has taken the above rambling in good nature. It was not meant to be serious. As for English teaching, I tried it once and found myself totally incapable of doing the job. So I pay my respects to those who have the ability to impart their English language knowledge on to others — just don't approach me for a job, okay?)

PS: Much comment is made on Stick's website about hot-looking bar girls being complete duds, especially in bed. My suggestion — and I stick to this quite rigidly — is to take girls from beer bars, where the interaction is far more satisfying (none of this 30-second "hello, what you name, one cola for me" crap). Not so pretty or young, in some cases, but nearly always companionable and more enthusiastic in bed. And you seldom ever get any crap from them. The beer's cheaper, too.

Stickman says:

Ahhh, so now we know…and that would not have been a grammatical mistake I found, would've it?!

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