Random Thoughts from a Strange Studio
Up until about the mid-1980's or a bit later, I avidly read every novel or book of short stories written on Thailand I could find. Well written or not, I felt I could always learn something and sometimes even poorly written novels can have a few interesting qualities. But at some point I found they were coming out so fast there was no way I could keep up with them. And now these days every guy from the West who got laid in Thailand is sure he has a novel in him and that there will be a big audience for it. He may even pay someone to print it for him. Whatever, with the Thai fiction bookstands full of novels, I find that unless I hear it from a source I respect I pretty much stick to the tried-and-true novelists I know who know Thailand well (assuming even the Thais know Thailand well - let alone farangs). Because there is some very good writing being done on Thailand as well as some writing by folks who might want to find another occupation. Either because they don't know enough about Thailand or because they can't write.
But as I know there is some fine writing being done, I am always careful never to generalize on those writing Thai fiction. Because if you use a broad brush and, for example, condemn them all, that would indicate that A. you have read them all or B. you are a genius or C. you are are an embittered wannabe novelist who can't cut the mustard. Well, we have a genius among us and his name is Andrew Biggs. As I doubt any human being could possibly have read even the majority of novels on Thailand, and as he's busy pushing his language classes, he must therefore fit into category B. or C. Probably both. Here is what he has to say:
How I love it when
fiction writers decide to set books in Thailand! But that's because I do
love kitsch. Reading their tomes is a little like walking into a cheese
shop. Normally lucid writers inexplicably froth at the mouth as they write
stories about Patpong prostitutes, Western detectives or mysterious ancient
inscriptions that lead to gold bullion - in Kanchanaburi's Li-jia Cave,
In book shops I usually cast a cursory, cursed glance at the ``Novels About Thailand'' section, which should by law require a neon sign flashing above it saying ``DANGEROUS TO YOUR BRAIN: EVEN `TUESDAYS WITH MORRIE' IS BETTER THAN THIS LOT!''
In this section you will find titles like Skytrain To Murder and Patpong Secrets. ``Another Detective Ryan Kilmore thriller!'' says one, as if Ryan's up there rubbing shoulders with Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Inside are characters as flimsy as cardboard, such as Noi the bargirl who makes languid, cryptic comments like ``you butterfly same same no good'', causing Detective Ryan to embark on a treacherous journey overland from Bangkok through the malaria-infested jungles of the North as he risks dysentery to decrypt Noi's verbal code...
Now in case you don't know who Andrew Biggs is he is the court jester to Thailand. He speaks fluent Thai and has a bald head and protruding ears, a combination which Thais find hilarious. A kind of chrome-dome comedian pandering to the easily amused. And he has carefully perfected his image as much as he has perfected his language skills and he milks it for all it is worth. Does he ever! He mentions Skytrain to Murder but never quotes from it so it is not even clear if he has read it. Maybe he just finds the title as funny as the Thais find his bald head and his clumsy efforts to ingratiate himself with them. (Tip: Regardless of how fluent one is in Thai, down deep Thais have very little respect for farangs doing the bow-and-scrape.)
He also writes for the Establishment Paper - the Bangkok Post - on Sundays and I have noticed his painful efforts to be funny in writing as well. Unfortunately, he falls flat as he hasn't developed the skills of a humorist and, yes, it is painful to read. Playing to a Thai audience from the stage and writing humor for a largely farang audience are two very different things.
I do have enormous admiration for anyone who can learn the language as well as he has but I remember I knew a fellow at East West Center in Hawaii who spoke five languages and he was a complete idiot. (But at least he could be a complete idiot in five languages.) But I have learned over the years that language skill does not necessarily a bright boy maketh. It takes breathtaking arrogance and mind-boggling hubris to condemn all writers writing fiction on Thailand (or anywhere else) but Andrew Biggs must know because, well, he must be a genius. Like religious fanatics, this expert on all things Thai doesn't need to read books to know they are bad.
I could name at least six writers who have had wonderful reviews in the West (and locally) and who have had at least one novel optioned for film in L.A. or in England or both. And who know Thailand well. Very well. And who know how to write. And, of course, having first arrived in Thailand in 1966, and seen Thailand then and now; and having seen Thailand over the years through the eyes of a soldier, Chinese linguist, traveler, English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reprobate, I like to think I might actually have a few insights worth reading. But, no. Andrew Biggs - the puffed-up popinjay - has condemned us all to the fires of hell worse than those specified in the hate-filled Koran. No exceptions. Perhaps the law should require a neon sign flashing above this bloviating buffoon's head at all times: QUIET! GENIUS AT WORK!
Over the decades I have run into people like Biggs. They were farangs who lived in Thailand or had lived in Thailand for years and when it came to understanding Thailand they were invariably full of themselves. I am sorry to say it was often Peace Core Workers or ex-Peace Core Workers, but, of course, not always. It wasn't enough that they wanted you to know that they could speak excellent Thai; they also wanted you to know that they knew the food, culture, music, politics, etc., etc. Like Andrew Biggs their ego was enormous. Gargantuan. And that is the danger. This baldheaded blowhard has such a huge ego that at some point I fear it will explode. Very much like a suicide bomber setting off his explosives to join with the 72 virgins. And then the poor Thai cleanup workers in special protective gear will have to spend days scraping up his ego from the ground and surrounding buildings and sweep up what is left of innocent bystanders incinerated by Ego. And, as with Chernobyl, the area will have to be evacuated for some time. So don't get too close.