Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes Part 272
LATELY I HAVE BEEN READING
Greetings Stickmanbangkok. com fans, Dana fans, and ceiling fans:
Lately, I have been reading (just finished) a book called My Consulate In Samoa–A Record Of Four Years Sojourn In The Navigator Islands, with Personal Experiences Of King Malieto Laupepa, His Country, And His Men. Whew, what a title. There'll be a quiz tomorrow. This fun read was written by William B. Churchward and originally published in 1887. A few things:
1. I always read all of the addenda to the main stuff first when I have a new book in my hands. You know, the Chapters page, and the Index, and the Glossary, and the Introduction, and all the other stuff that surrounds the main text. I like to be prepared and then to kind of sneak up on a book. This book surprised me with a page right in the beginning I have rarely seen before. It was in real small type and headlined CORRIGENDA. This is from corrigendum: an error in a printed work discovered after printing and shown with its correction on a separate sheet bound with the original (Webster's).
In other words, it is page in which the publisher and the author list all of their mistakes. How refreshing. Why haven't I seen something like this at least one thousand times in my reading career? How honest. It turns out there are eighteen of them. Two Examples:
1. Page 2, line 24, for 'Mahetoa' read Malietoa.
2. Page 345, line 19, for 'Thinking' read 'Hinting'.
Try and imagine what some of these CORRIGENDA pages would look like in some of the Thai-farang novels and 'true life' anecdote books that can now be pulled off the shelf at Bookazine in the Kingdom. Smiles of Deceit by Jim Cornick might have a CORRIGENDA that equaled the length of the book. At least it would be honest, and show some caring. But why pick on Cornick? An awful lot of these literary repasts stocked in Thai bookstores for foreigners are replete with stupid errors of indifference and incompetence. And no one has the decency to apologize for anything. Hey, it's marketing. Get with the program Dana.
And what is the program? Well, in 1887, the program was to write intelligently and treat the reader with respect. By page 192 (out of
402 pages) in the book My Consulate in Samoa I had already stumbled across:
I'm sure the list expanded from page 193 to the end of the book but I had dropped my note taking pencil behind the couch. We think we are so smart and it is always easy to make fun of the past, but how many of your friends would (could) write with this vocabulary? And do not forget the Latin words I just skipped over because I am not as well educated as someone from 124 years ago. It has been 124 years since this book was written and I do not think I have a friend smarter than this author William Churchward.
So what of the Thais that are writing today? Is any Thai writing by Thais being done today that will stand the test of 124 years? In the year 2135 will Thais be able to go back 124 years and find writing by their people in their language that is of this high standard? I don't think so but I would like to be mistaken. William B. Churchward of the last part of the 19th century was all English empire to the bone and frank about his prejudices; but today some of those prejudices are starting to look more and more like facts; and there is no denying that highly educated high class Englishmen were often smart, observant, and literarily competent.
Mr. Churchward never postures as a writer but his extensive English empire education combined with his native intelligence serves him well. Good writing is not just genes. Education counts. His descriptions of South Seas terra firma verdure on Samoa is the best descriptive writing of flowers and plants and shrubs and trees in 'paradise' I have ever read. Mix in the larger and additional categories of shore, beach, sky, rivers, mosqitoes and you feel like you are there. Does any contemporary Thai writer (or foreign writer) do that today in describing Thai landscapes and Thai seascapes?
Northern Thailand is about landscape and landscapes: plants, flowers, shrubs, trees, and water features. Parts of southern Thailand are known for seascapes, maritime vistas, and beautiful islands. Essan is a plateau and a region of specific landscape features. All are under the pressure of increasing population, pollution, and change. In 124 years will there be a Thai or foreign authored book that beautifully and accurately describes what these geographic parts of Thailand looked like so that it will at least be in a text archive? I hope so. Don't you wish someone had written beautifully about the way Siam's Bangkok looked like before all the klongs were filled in? Who is the Thai or foreign William B. Churchward who will do this job like he did his job for Samoa and the surrounding islands and islanders as of the late 19th century?
Mr. Churchward's job as consul of Samoa was basically a made-up job. Various members of the British empire would write introductory letters and send out likely specimans to monitor new nations or territories; to help them learn the ways of English government protocals, and to help them down the Christian path. Basically, these rich mens' sons would wade ashore with a fancy, stamped, wax sealed, heavy parchment, beribboned letter; introduce themselves to the King or tribal leader, and proclaim that from henceforth a whole lot of stuff had to go through them. Pity the locals. The opportunity for prudery and snobbism and abuse was huge but Mr. Churchward was no fool and learned to like and respect the locals. Some of his descriptions are in the Now I Have Heard Everything dept. For instance:
Alcohol was very popular in the islands. It was used for currency, barter, gifts, influence peddling, and stunning orgies. But not everyone had the money required. So . . .
"It was a common thing in the evening to see the ladies one after another coming out of the dancing dens when a sailors' ball was going on, with their mouths full of spirits, which they would eject into the mouths of their relations expectantly waiting outside."
Gee, I know Thai culture is a family loving culture where the girls do what they can for poor relations and boyfriends, but I have never seen this. Heck, on my own I never would have thought of this–hence the joy and the value of reading. With my luck I would receive a spit gift from a local girl who had just filled up her mouth out of a seltzer water bottle. I guess it always pays to remember that it is the thought that counts.
Anyway, what I learned from this book is that 124 years ago there were people as smart as and many times smarter than people today and those people like William B. Churchward reflect well on their culture and on human beings. I hope 124 years from now that that there will be Thai writers or foreign writers that have done as much for Thailand.
Sub came in late and I am running out the door to comments to follow.