Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 120
WHERE IS THAT BOOK?
"I went to (Thailand) because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." (with apologies to Henry David Thoreau)
In the Pattaya-Jomtien area there are estimated to be approximately 30,000 expats of diverse countries of origin and background and interest and educational level. Men now living in a place of such wonder and frustration because of differing culture and language and place that their days and their emotions and their moods are like the arcing shuttle cocks over a badminton net. Every day they leave the house or the condo or the apartment is a day of adventure because no predictor can be relied upon. Continually missing or misinterpreting social signals, language illiterate, without civil rights, constantly subjected to the vagaries of a minority class; they stumble and bumble and smile and grit their teeth through days and experiences and surprises and horrors and relationships of wonder and disappointment and heartache.
So where is the great literature? Where are the great books? The 600-1000 page tomes of brilliance and personal moments that represent filtration and diamond cutting of the Thai expat experience. Where are the social historians, the scholars, and the brilliant cartographers of their own place and time? The linguists of their interior Thai experienced self? Where are the books that soar like dust motes in a cathedral? The chronicles of grandeur and humor and solemnity and dignity and personal feelings?
I challenge you to find on this earth more potential for storytelling and personal reflection than being a member of a minority. Days of hope and fear and confusion followed by more days of hope and fear and confusion in an unending rollercoaster ride that alternately makes you smile and makes you scream. The only way off the ride is to jump so you hang on and hope for the best. Oops, here we are at the start of another drop. Hang on. . . . ! Thailand for the newbie is a story-a-day place. Later on for the expat a story-a-week place. More than enough material for great literature. And yet there is none. Or not much.
Of the short variety there is writing on the internet. Some of the writing is excellent but it is in the form of essays or rants or humor pieces or stories or opinion. No great books there. Of the humorous variety there are the ‘funny expat experiences' books sold in bookstores. Humorous and eye catching glossy covers and funny stories and anecdotes inside. The kind of thing you read on airplanes or in bathtubs. Funny stuff. Reliable gifts. But not great literature. There are clever witty journalistic sorts who have cracked the code on the Thai-farang-bargirl-crime novel. Many of these books and all satisfying. But a week later you can't remember the characters names or the plot. A little like eating Chinese food. Tasted great. Now what is next? When do we eat again? Time to buy another book. Great covers. Are you buying the book or the cover? And more and more now you can find books detailing the true story of a farang and his relationship with a Thai woman. Every single book reminds you of the quote:
"Romance is a turbulent surf that, withdrawing, leaves behind a tangle of debris in its wake." (Joyce Carol Oates)
Instructive and interesting cautionary tales about losing your heart (not to mention your money and your mind) to women not of your culture. But these are not great books. Just stories that a publisher smiled on and that a tourist will read tomorrow in the hotel room if it is raining.
So where are the great novels? Or where are the great social documentary books? The giant gifted displays of story and talent and personal participation in the world of Thailand from a foreigner's point of view. Why isn't anyone writing? I mean am I the only one in this over-rated tropical armpit who is even keeping a diary?
"Dear Diary–Today I shaved and powdered my groin and pumice stoned my genital warts before taking a roast chicken down to Song at the RIM ME bar on Soi 6 in Pattaya. After that I wiped the leaves on all the plants because Fa was coming over to have her picture taken as Eve surrounded by the jungle of Genesis. After that we took a hot bath and I nearly broke my toe in the drain hole. After Eve (I mean Fa) left I spent the last hour looking at myself in the mirror. So ends another great day."
Ok, it's not timeless but at least I am writing. Where is your book nimrod? Where is anybody's book?
Is CNN really that interesting? Is the BBC really that interesting? Is televised sport on television really that interesting? Are Thai soap operas really that–oh, forget it. Is the 5476th beer really that interesting? Isn't anyone keeping any journals? Didn't any of these expats have writing careers before deplaning in paradise? In the Pattaya-Jomtien area there are approximately 30,000 expats. There are a lot more than this number of expats in Thailand. Let us suppose that the approximate number of expats in the Kingdom is 200,000. Is not one expat in 200,000 going to contribute to the world a book that becomes the cult classic novel that defines what it means to be an expat in Thailand?
There are currently educated erudite worldly expats that have been in the Kingdom 20 and 30 and 40 years. Where are the great books? Don't any of this group of men who imagine themselves to be examples of class and style and education and breeding and deportment have any ideas? Bump into these guys at an embassy party or a gallery opening or an expat meeting and you always come away diminished. They are so so smart and so experienced and so knowledgeable about Thailand. Ok, I'm a buyer. You sold me. You are one hundred times smarter than me and more attuned to the Thai experience than me and you have pictures on your bamboo inlaid piano of your Thai wife and your children. So where is your book? Where is the book you should have written by now? If you have been in the Kingdom for twenty years and you did not start writing the GEN (Great Expat Novel) until you had been here ten years and the book is one thousand pages long then you only had to write 3.65 pages per day. Been busy have you?
Think I am being too tough? Does 3.65 pages sound like an insurmountable mountain to climb for someone new to the game? Ok, how about the farang focused Thai themed authors that are already being successfully published and sold in Thailand? The farang and expat authors with websites and fans and signing parties at naughty bars and flashy covers and exciting stories of Asian exotica and sex and crime? When are these guys going to get serious? Instead of writing leaves on the wind, when are they going to write a novel of stone crushing importance that will get them deified and deported on the same day?
You know what? I think they are scared. Guys who get the yellow stain in their underpants every time a Don Tan duck quacks. Anxious above average guys so thrilled not to be writing toothpaste jingles or street signs that they have stopped reaching for the stars. Gutless wonders who took the easy way out and decided to throw literary grain to the masses rather than sweat like a Sirin sauna snake and throw themselves into the fight of their life with great ideas and great writing. Plebians masquerading as artists.
Heard at a booksigning at a naughty bar:
"Gee Mr. Thai fluent expat Author, where did the inspiration come from for that clever plot point conversion in chapter six? Was it based on the homoerotic sensibilities of the post-Euclidian novels of Victorian England or was it a result of your super secret career as a Braille Chinese linguist with Air America during the run up to the Vietnam (oops, I hope I didn't give away a secret) war?"
Sometimes I wish there was a flashing neon sign attached to my head that I could activate and it would say in Vegas pink: "Is everybody kidding?" Some of these books are nothing but borderline airport terminal soft core Asian exotica porn with the male obsession with things (guns, planes, cars, women's' body parts) thrown in. Books for people who do not like to read with a dictionary by their side. Oh, and let's not forget that they are also instructional. Don't know anything about the red-light districts of Thailand and the denizens of said districts? You will know everything when you are done.
Are these novels? Was Dostoevski trying to teach us things? Or was he simply channeling a story bigger than himself and hoping he could wrestle it onto the page? Great novels present, they don't explain. When the reader's hairs are rising on the backs of the reader's neck; that is when the writing is happening. The reader has discovered something for themselves. At that moment you could not get the book out of the reader's hands with blasting caps. Now you are a writer and now you are writing because now the reader is feeling. Before you were just a storyteller. The word novel makes me edgy. I think somewhere between novella and novel maybe we should be calling these things storybooks. A story is not always a novel. Sometimes I want to stand up and say:
"Writing is what happens when you are not looking, just feeling. Storybooks are what happen when you are trying too hard."–but who would listen? The present generation raised on instant media gratification isn't interested in the trip anymore, just the results. Did the woman in chapter six have sex with the bar owner in chapter seven? Did the airplane crash before it could deliver the illegal cargo? Did the bargirl with Aids get revenge on her lesbian lover at the end? All results. No attention paid to the word choices or references or similes or metaphors or sentence construction or mood building or clever images or funny alliteration or pace or rhythm of the author's presentation. No awareness of the brush strokes. Just:
"What is in the painting man? I gots to do a book report."
"A dead French dude in a bathtub holding a letter? Thanks dude–I got it."
The practical writers with an eye on the mortgage premium schedule pen for results and for an audience of 'dudes'. Their agents and publishers call them novelists. Fools and non-readers of commerce and greed that will say anything to turn one dollar into two dollars. I guess the real writers are working on journals and diaries that their survivors will burn in the fireplace.
"Too bad Uncle Fester couldn't write good man–you know, like that guy that wrote that thing about the deal that blew up a bunch of bitches in Bangkok. Now that guy was a writer. I think he was a secret agent too. Yeah, that be it–he was like a crazy government dude who was takin' it to the man and scorin' slant-eyed chicks at the same time. Everything he wrote was like true man. Too bad Uncle Fester wasted his life reading books."
If I go to visit an expat writer in Thailand and he proudly shows me a wall sized grease board or blackboard on which he has written in chronological order the character development and plot points and props and asides and special references of every chapter paragraph by paragraph of the novel that he is 'writing' I am suspicious. In the movies this is called storyboarding. It keeps everyone on track including the bankers and the accountants and the lawyers. Nobody is kidding anybody. It is not called show art, it is called show business. If you are going to storyboard a book that is fine if it is a biography or a social document or history or a text book or a manual on Phantom motorcycles. But a novel?
If I ever get invited in the Kingdom to go visit an expat who says he is writing the Great Expat Novel (GEN) and I see a storyboard, I am going to turn around and walk out. Passion always trumps storyboarding and passion leads to literature. Tell me there is a gaunt faced crazy-eyed expat under the King Taksin bridge with a laptop and an addiction to spiced licorice sticks. That guy I want to meet.
And another thing while I am on the subject of things I do not want to see. If some experientially staggered expat in Thailand does manage to squeeze out an 800 page farang testament like a constipated pachyderm dropping a two thousand pound load of green jungle goo I do not want to see a three quarter length page thanking the editor. This has become all the rage in the last ten years and I am heartily sick of it.
Who wrote the book?
You, or the editor?
The 'editor-thanking' pages now have become paens of patronizing simping that make it look like the author and the editor were playing butt darts in the back room of The Big Mango. I've got news for you. If the editor spent more time on the book than you did then you are not the author. Put his/her/it's name on the front cover. If you wrote the book then it should be delivered to the printer ready for the ink. Anything else is just laziness. You are supposed to be an expat Moses coming down from hill tribe country with the final and complete and unimprovable revelation, gospel, and inspiration; not some blown out over-the-hill beer bellied dilettante columnist waiting for stringer emails to come straggling in. Get serious Sven.
Submitting every page and paragraph and chapter to an editor for his review and input is what children do. Gosh Mommy. Gosh Daddy. Do you love my book? Do you love me? Grow up. Write the book yourself. And if any publishing houses send editors around to see you–kill them.
Kill the editors.
Kill the editors.
Kill the ed . . . .
But I almost digress. Look, I'm not really involved in this. If you want to spend ten years of your life in Mae Sot chipping away at a literary diamond until against all odds you manage to write the GEN (Great Expat Novel) and then you turn it over to a woman named Apichatpong Watthanasartsathorn with a dual major from Chulahorn University–
1. SOCIOLOGY: The Burmese–Are They Human?
2. ECONOMICS: Obtaining World Bank loans for Khao San road braiding booths.
who proceeds to 'edit' all of your r's and all of your l's so that 'lilly' becomes 'rirry' and 'rarely' becomes 'lalery' that is your business. She must really be cute and I hope that is sufficient compensator for the fact that by the time this 'editor' is done with your manuscript it will be incomprehensible. Me, I'd rather write my own books.
Listen, like I said before, I'm not that really involved in this. I know I don't have the talent to write the GEN (Great Expat Novel). I'm no history making writer. If I had to pass a note that said,
"My penis is on fire"
at a Hua Hin beach jazz concert during some killer saxophone riffs by Sekpol Unsamroan I would probably get the tense wrong and people would assume the problem had been solved. I'm simply not a good writer and I know it. If I fell down a well in Wang Chin no one would think to try and save me because no one would understand the message I sent up. God knows there is no more dispassionate cold hearted chronicler less inclined to exaggerate than me but I just find it almost beyond belief that there is no one in the Kingdom that could write the GEN. I hate to see history denied it's due. Thailand may not last forever and the phenomenon of expats in Thailand may not last forever. It would be a shame if the story never got told.
There are expats in Thailand with writing talent. If they want to take the low road and wallow around in the trough of mediocrity like retired grub hunting pigs from Pak Chong that is their business. Is that all there is: One more hockey game on your big screen TV in the high rise condo in Jomtien–One more booksigning to hear the fans mix up the plots and the characters–One more trip to Lucky Luke's bar to correct the girls on their Khmer and their Laotian and watch their brown eyes light up like pools of Dickens gas lamp light in London street puddles? Pitiful. Not the stuff of dreams and not the stuff of champions.
What these self described alpha males of literary pretension should be doing is going down to the Egyptian embassy on Ploenchit road and finding out when is the best time to be on the muddy banks of the Nile river with a machete, a string of water buffalos, and a gaggle of Essan minxes cutting papyrus reeds. Because if one of these nimrods does manage to squeeze out the GEN (Great Expat Novel) the first printing will be ten million copies and there is not currently enough papyrus available to handle the demand for pages. Time waits for no author and the smart ones plan ahead. Ditto for goatskin leather for the bindings. Smart authors should be over on Soi 3 negotiating with the shish-ka-bob people for all of the dead kid goats they can get. It's going to take a lot of baby goats to provide the leather for the bindings.
If it was me; I'm not sayin' it ever would be–but if it was me; I would be suckin' up to every turban head and dot head and water pipe sucker and camel jockey to make sure that when the time came that I would have first dibs on wholesale dead baby goats. No pressed paper airport terminal covers for my book thank-you; I want my readers to know just by holding the volume that they are going to be transported to a faraway place of exotica and personality and history and novel experience that will change their lives.
But heh, it's not my concern. If the people that are smarter than me do not want to set an example by reaching for the literary stars then I guess I can't be faulted for my shower drain bargirl hair collection. Whatever. It's just that . . . ok, I can't let this go–
I find it 'inconceivable and monstrous' (thank-you Jack London) that in the forty years between 1965 and 2005 that no farang focused, Thai based, expat driven novel of stone crushing weight has been written. In the 60's and the 70's was there no chain smoking expat huddled in a thatched building in Puay Noi or Pak Khat or Wang Pong or Na Wa pounding away at a typewriter and spitting bits of cigarette paper at the reams of handwritten notes? A listless fan overhead recirculating the hot fetid air, two cats in residence to look for snakes, geckos on the ceiling, and the walls covered with maps and books and research notes and the desk littered with dictionaries and 3×5 cards and old plates from forgotten meals and a thesaurus and a rolodex with the numbers of librarians and other expats? Was this scene not enacted one single time in the 60's and the 70's? Apparently not.
In the 80's and the 90's and on up to the present day has not one pre-diabetic expat author strung out on beers and cokes and mystery meat hunched over the keyboard of a computer in the air conditioned splendor of a beach front condo in Pattaya or Patong or Rayong managed to take his brain and his heart and his Thai memories and put them down on paper? Apparently not. Apparently this is just my idea.
The TV as heroin has now taken over our lives and thoughts and memories; dreams and literature are of the past. No one is writing anything down and no one cares. I feel like an anachronism baying at a moon no one can see. Forty years is a long time to have produced nothing. Maybe time is up. It will never happen.
Beats me? I don't know. But I can't be the only one wondering this. The bookstore owners must be heartily sick by now of the publishers sales reps recommending one more sexy bargirl novel and one more personal story of a broken heart with someone named Wan from the HUMP ME bar in Patpong. Yawn. Where is the literature? Is this the best that farangs can do?
Thai Bookstore Owner: "And these loud talking, fat wallet, world traveled, super educated expat monkey asses make fun of us?"
Personally, I can not think of anything more interesting or more fun or more rewarding than writing the GEN (Great Expat Novel). I imagine it would go something like this:
I would negotiate a one year lease on the ocean facing 6th floor suite in the AA Hotel on the corner of Beach road and Soi 13/0 in Pattaya. Best view in Pattaya, nice hotel, wonderful suite, and no more than one minute from freelancers. Can you say 'paradise'? I would move the bed and have a computer geek from Jomtien come up and install multiple TV screens and multiple computers and printers, etc. Surrounding shelf units and bulletin boards and a bank of phones. Maps and charts on the walls.
Sitting ensconced in this cockpit of authorship like the pilot of a 747 I would be happy. Foreground the computer screen. Next the big plate glass window. Middle ground the whores on the boardwalk. Background the sea and the sky. Happy. So so happy. And pounding out text like a demented pianist with Turette's syndrome. Moaning and growling like a coke addled black musician and my leg going like a terrier dog humping the furniture. Writing. If you want to watch TV that's your business. I'd rather be pounding and moaning and growling and humping. Writing. The final frontier.
A typical day would start at 7:30 and a walk down the boardwalk for breakfast treats saying hello to the girls coming and going. 9:30 would have me back out again to pick up Fa. Writing would commence around 11:00 and go to around 3:00. Four hours. Doesn't sound like much but remember my talent tumbles out in supernova waves of gaseous heat never before seen in the literary world. Don't want to burn out. If you want to spend ten hours a day trying to decide whether to use a comma or a semi-colon that's your business. Me–I've got talent. I can produce 10,000 words per day standing on my head. Wearing mittens.
Rewrites? Forget about it. Typos? Never happen. Better ideas? Impossible. When I sit down at the keyboard it is like a sewer outfall pipe after a rainstorm. Shakespeare? A panderer to the masses. Burroughs? A junkie with a writing disorder. Bukowski? A drunk postal clerk. Aristotle? Wrong about the universe. All you need to know is Dana. You know how sometimes now when you buy a book it comes with some kind of CD as part of the package? Well I am thinking of including a T-shirt with every copy of the GEN (Great Expat Novel). All of the book buyers will wear the T-shirt and it will say:
"I bought Dana's book and I really enjoyed it. I'm a happier better person and I've lost weight and my love life has gone through the roof. Dana is the greatest writer in the history of the world and his GEN (Great Expat Novel) is like a second sun shining on the earth."
Title? Well, I haven't got a title yet for the GEN. I may need some help with this. It should be something short and pithy and have the words 'world's greatest' and 'Dana' and 'literary genius' and 'hansum man' in it. If you get any good ideas send them along. Of course no credit given. It's all about me. Genius.
Anyway, around 3:30 I would go down to the open air bar at the corner of Beach Road and Walking Street and pick up Tum. Great author's need support from the little people. Between 6:00 and 7:00 pm I would wrap up the day's literary diamond cutting with final reviews and note taking. 9:00 pm would see me entering the Superbabies bar in Soi Diamond (gathering material and fact checking) and the evening would end with a final contemplative author walk down the boardwalk. Another day of literary clairvoyance and high production comes to an end.
Every seven days (great authors need discipline) I would take the previous weeks production up to the Silver Dollar bar in Washington Square and sit opposite Mehkong Kurt and spend the late morning and the early afternoon on new ideas and incoming asteroid bits of GEN (Great Expat Novel) astonishment. We would sit knee to knee and laptop to laptop pecking (he) and typing (me) away happy in the notion that we are the number one (me) and the number two (he) most talented writers in the history of the English language. Lovely girls (ok, available girls) and beers would surround us and there in the medieval gloom and filth and low standards of Washington Square we would commune and commiserate and create as only highly evolved beings can. Next day back to Pattaya. It's a grind producing the GEN but the dark matter of the cosmos has sent me a gift I can't refuse.
It is said that writers write in isolation but that's not me. I have more talent than the grains of sand in a three year old Thai child's bathing trunks. When I am in the zone nothing can disturb the flashes of lightening-like automatic writing flowing from my being into the keys of the keyboard. Man and machine mixing and communing in a holy coupling of technology and chromosome. I would leave the door to the suite open. People going up and down the halls would stop in. People getting on and off the elevator would peek in. The maid would arrive around 2:30 pm (she wants me). The mini-bar maid would arrive around 5:00 p.m (I want her). The snickers bar maid would arrive at 5:30 p.m (her one wandering eye makes me crazy with desire). Small Thai children with wide eyes and fingers in mouths would stand in the door and stare in wonder. Their Thai mothers would snatch them away but they would go back to Roi Et and tell everyone they had seen a white light over a farang's head. Isolation? Not me baby. I'm spreading it around for everyone. The GEN (Great Expat Novel) is going to be inclusive. It's a party. Everyone is included and everyone is invited. Genius is like that.
Eleven months after starting the galley proofs would receive their final signatures and I would start putting the suite back to it's pre-Dana Great Expat Novel status. The cross-eyed Jomtien dweeb would come up and retrieve most of the computer crap and I would move the big bed back in front of the big picture window. As soon as I got a call that the first printing of ten million copies was started I would go on a boardwalk cruiser bender that would nearly make my dick fall off.
Within days of the first deliveries to embassies and government offices and schoolteacher conventions and the United Nations and book seller conventions and institutes and bookstores the accolades would start. Like a tsunami rolling a child's toy over and over in the surf I would be pummeled and fawned and kissed with public adulation not seen since Lady Godiva took a horse ride. Ten days later there would be a second printing. Twenty million copies in two weeks and governments all over the world having to call out the army to protect bookstores and delivery trucks and printing houses. The British government would make me Sir Dana and the Laplander Order of the Farang (LOF) would present me with the Golden Reindeer Antler. The United Nations would pronounce that a border crossing passport for me was not required, the United States would eliminate my requirement to pay taxes, Thai women would name their children Dana, farangs would pronounce my Great Expat Novel the quintessential portrait of farang life in Thailand, and the Thai government would deport me.
At least that is how I see it . . . !
Ok, I don't know. Anybody got any ideas? Where is the literature that defines the expat experience in the Land of Smiles–the Kingdom–Thailand–Siam? The big giant book that takes hold of you and won't let go until you have read the last page. The book that exhausts you and transforms you into a page turning addict. The book that adds to your life. The book that you read every five years for the rest of your life. The book that travels with you from home to school to condo to nursing home to grave. The book that has the reach of Homer and the passion of Dostoevski and the spareness of Genesis and the dialogue of Plato and the pathos of a ten year old's love letter and the content of Melville and the imagery of Coleridge and the rushing wonder of Milton. A book so engrossing that it makes a non reader read.
WHERE IS THAT BOOK?
No comments today as I'm away from Bangkok and pressed for time.