Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Publisher: Grove Press

Subject: Short Stories/FICTION /Social life and customs/Thailand

Publication Date:January 2005

Binding:Hardcover

Interview with the author courtesy The Guardian UK (mp3 File)









All seven stories from American-Thai writer,Rattawut Lapcharoensap's, debut collection have been set in Thailand and because they are so engaging they present the reader with an interesting dilemma - do you devour them all in one sitting like a bag of popcorn at the movies, or do you savor them like expensive chocolate, bit by bit? I decided to go with the second option and I read them slowly enjoying the flavors and sounds of Thailand, as I read.


The book opens with the "Granta" prize winning story "Farang" (Westerner or tourist in Thai) about an adolescent Thai boy who works in the tourist trade and how he can't help falling in love with young bikini-clad American tourists even though all of them, without exception, will break his heart when they return to the US by forgetting he even exists. This story beautifully shows the love hate relationship that the Thais have with the farangs:

Ma laments. "You give them history, temples, pagodas, traditional dance, floating markets, seafood curry, tapioca desserts, silk-weaving cooperatives, but all they really want is to ride some hulking gray beast like a bunch of wildmen and to pant over girls."

"Sightseeing" finds the young narrator and his mother becoming farangs themselves as they travel to a remote island in Thailand called Trawen. The title of the story becomes more meaningful and poignant when we learn the mother might be losing her sight.

"Don't Let Me Die in this Place" is about a wheelchair-bound American who uproots himself from all he has ever known in the US and travels to Thailand to live with his son and his Thai wife and family. This is a powerful story of how Jack learned to overcome his prejudices and culture shock and actually grows to love his "mongrel" grandchildren.

"Priscilla The Cambodian" is another story that will tug at your heartstrings - it examines the contempt of the Thai people for the Cambodian refugees thus making this story an interesting lesson on the racism and snobbery that exists in Thailand.

I could find something wonderful to say about each of the seven stories, but my favorite was "Draft Day" - a story of how money,power and influence can drive a wedge into even the strongest of friendships. The narrator's voice, his guilt and shame at what he had to do to his best friend is will stay with me for a long,long while.


pic of author: courtesy Village Voice.com
Five out of these seven stories are told in first person from the point of view of a young narrator in the story. When young people recall events there is a certain innocence to it that tugs at our heartstrings, drawing us into the events until we're resonating as one with the story.

Although all these stories talk about situations that at first glance appear to be unique to Thai culture, the universal themes of family relationships, love and loss, death, injustice, prejudices etc. run through the book allowing to relate completely to the characters.

Having spent quite a bit of time in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand, I can attest to the influence of tourism in the country. You cannot go anywhere without being reminded that Thailand's entire economic infrastructure is reliant upon the presence of tourists and their fat wallets...and when rich tourists rub shoulders with people so poor that they would do anything for a little money, it makes for very interesting and often very sad and dangerous, situations. Everytime I am in Bangkok, I cannot help but be reminded of a verse from the Murray Head song "One Night in Bangkok"


One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
Not much between despair and ecstasy
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
Can't be too careful with your company
I can feel the devil walking next to me


Sightseeing, as you will have guessed by now, is no happy tourist guide, but it's a view of Thailand from the vantage point of the Thai people. I found it to be a fascinating read.

You can read ,"At The Cafe Lovely", one of the seven stories from "Sightseeing" here


45 comments:

Anali said...

This sounds like a great book. Collections of short stories are my favorites. I don't know much about Thailand, so it would be good to learn more about the country than what I see on the news.

And short stories are definitely to be savored like expensive chocolates! : )

Happy Reader said...

Lotus, you whetted my appetite with your wonderful review! Thailand is always fascinating to me and looks like this book would offer me a delightful glimpse of it! I should probably check it out!!

poodlerat said...

You've certainly piqued my interest with this review. I've never read anything from Thailand before, but there are 27 copies in my library system - and the copy on hold for me should arrive soon. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

Sanjay said...

Lovely review. I loved the song snippet as well. Don't let me die in this place- is probably my fave.
Tourism is big in Thailand, which may be why the "sexual" tourism part of the trade does not get talked about much. I am not sure who big a component of Thai tourism that is.
Perhaps "Farang" talk about it (or maybe not), but there is a darker underbelly to it.

Beloved Dreamer said...

Lotus It's late but just wanted to say hi to you, Although I don't usually read short stories this sound great. I will look into it. Hope all is well with you my dear.
I will read the short storu you have linked to yoyr blog in the morning.


love-bd

Lotus Reads said...

hi Anali! I never used to enjoy short stories, but when I learned that it is perhaps more difficult to write a good short story than a novel, my appreciation for the genre went sky high. This is an amazing collection of short stories and I have to say the author is very self-assured for a first time writer.

Hi Chitts or Happy Reader :) Yes, this would give you a very satisfying and probably authentic glimpse into Thailand. If you do read it, I would be very curious to know what you thought of it.

Hey Poodlerat! YOu're welcome! There are seven great stories in there and I've picked my favorite "Draft Day", I'd be very interested in finding out which one touched you the most. Happy reading!!!

Hi, Sanjay I have no stats, but judging from what I saw in Bangkok, Phuket and even Chiang Mai, a huge chunk of the tourism is sex tourism. It's sad, but their poverty leaves them vulnerable and dependent on the handouts of the farangs. I'm sure they resent that very much. "One Night in Bangkok" is a great song and it's true, you often feel the devil walking next to you...more so in Bangkok than any of the other places in the country.


Hi Beloved

Lotus Reads said...

Hi ya again Beloved Not sure why blogger ate up my comment to you! lol Anyway, I was saying it might be a good idea to read the short story I linked to, that way, you'll get a good feel for the rest of the book. Sleep well.

Bellezza said...

Lotus Reads, forgive me if I comment instead on the quote in your blog header. It really struck me tonight, as I read it, of a way I often feel. It's like the quote in Exodus which says, "I have been a sojourner in a foreign land." (Ex. 2:22)

I guess many of us feel that way...

Lotus Reads said...

Hi bellezza!

I was happy to read your comment.
I put that quote up one day when I was having an identity crisis - all this travelling and living in different places sometimes makes me feel I've become a citizen of the world but the downside to that is it may have erased my sense of belonging to any one place. I take comfort in knowing I'm not the only one to feel this way.

beenzzz said...

Great review! You know, I've always wondered how the people of Thailand viewed American an European tourists. It's really quite sad what they have to put up with. I felt so badly when I read the part that said, "You give them history, temples, pagodas, traditional dance, floating markets, seafood curry, tapioca desserts, silk-weaving cooperatives, but all they really want is to ride some hulking gray beast like a bunch of wildmen and to pant over girls." They have such a wonderfully rich culture, and that is all that seems to be the focus of tourists. It's quite sickening.

Ash said...

Sounds like a lovely book!

Lotus Reads said...

beenzzz Exactly! It baffles me, too! Why isn't it known more for its history, scenic beauty, cuisine, culture and so on??? Is the fault partly that of the Thais? Do they not promote their country as they should? Is there so much money being generated from the wrong kind of tourism that they are reluctant to take a stand against it?

Ash Thank you for visiting. I see you are from Pune and a fellow-Cancerian? That's terrific, will visit you soon.

Ally Bean said...

I almost don't want to come here and read your great reviews of books because I always want to go right out and buy the book you review. I could go broke!!

This book sounds particularly interesting to me. Thx.

Sanjay said...

I have no stats, but judging from what I saw in Bangkok, Phuket and even Chiang Mai, a huge chunk of the tourism is sex tourism.

I guess once places get a rep for something like this it's hard to get past that? Not to mention the govt that does not do much. It's sort of a magnet for ppl who would not get away with some things in their own lands.

jacob said...

Hi Lotus,
Lovely review as usual. I can't help but remember that song whenever I'm in Bangkok. I think the city's troubles started when it become the R&R junction for the US troops during the Vietnam war. But these days, it's becoming increasingly favoured for the food, the boutique hotels, Chatuchak (the world's largest flea market, they say.) and of course, the lovely friendly Thais themselves.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi allybean lol, sorry! I don't want you going broke, but I don't want you to stop visiting either. How about we talk cinema for a change? ;)


Hi Sanjay Yes, I think you nailed it...I think it goes on only because those in power prefer to turn a blind eye.

Hi Jacob Thank you for the comment. It's heartening to know that the city is finding recognition for its terrific food and hotels, you can't beat the hospitality, luxury or the rates offered that side of the world. I was in Chiang Mai (on our way to Burma) just months before we came to Canada and it was distressing to see the kind of tourists that came there. I'm hoping things are changing there too.

Asha said...

OOhh!! I love short story collections!Less taxing on my eyes and my brains than reading a long Novel.Looks interesting.I will try and get it from the library.Thanks Lotus.

ML said...

No wonder they have a love hate relationship with the tourists. I can definately see the reason.

Really interesting. Thanks for the great review.

Hollydolly said...

Lovely review Anjali:

Thailand is a beautiful country and the people are so gentle. As so many have said, it would be nice to see the positive side of the people and their culture, literature etc. and less of the sex side. I guess we have to keep the seedy side in the news to a point, so the world is kept aware of the horrors of the children in this awful, awful life. But how to help them...if only we could.....

jenclair said...

This anthology sounds very good; your descriptions of the stories are enticing! Thanks for the way you offer exotic possibilities to add spice to my sometimes mundane reading, Lotus. My daughter has a close friend from Thailand, and both Chom and her Mom have been a part of my virtual world for about 12 years now. Have I ever thought about reading any Thai literature before? Well, I'm thinking now.

Angela in Europe said...

I wonder if I can find that book here? It sounds so good, especially about the poor cultures touching the rich cultures through tourism.

Laura said...

I remember reading about this book when it was published and thinking it looked really good. I have this problem with short stories though, I never finish the book of them! However, after reading your review I will definitely give this one a whirl. It sounds completely interesting!

Parth said...

Interesting to note the use of the word "Farang" Westerner or tourist in Thai. In India, that would be 'Firangi'. Same word origin perhaps?

J said...

Hmmm. I have a bit of credit at Amazon.com....I might have to pick this one up...

Susan in Italy said...

Sounds like a thought-provoking book. I have a friend who's a S.E. Asia scholar (with red hair & freckles) who went up to some Thai women and asked for directions in Thai. They looked at each other and commented (again, in Thai) "hey, the farang speaks Thai" right in front of her. I think they were so surprised they couldn't get their heads around the idea that a foreigner knew their language.

starry nights said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and I hope you do stop by again.I love your blog.I am an avid reader and love the reviews.I think I would enjoy this collection of short stories.

nessie said...

Lotus, what a coincidence! I just finished a book which was a collection of short storied though I didnt know it till I started reading it.

Its not a genre that I particularly appreciate. the japanese do it best.

Then again am not into poetry but loving what am reading now. it can be because its a little naughty. (Art of Love by Ovid) posting coming oh so soon!

Sugarlips said...

Your reviews make me go n grab the book rightaway :) I really enjoy short stories collection.
Have u read "The Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri?

Stay Beautiful...!!

booklogged said...

Sounds very interesting. I'm putting this on my list for the library's summer reading program. One of the requirements is a collection of short stories. This one would be perfect.

Lotus Reads said...

Hey Asha I will dedicating all my short story reviews to you henceforth. I have another one coming so stay tuned! :)

You're welcome ml! In a short story collection like this you learn many different facets of Thai life, I found it really interesting.

You're absolutely right Sylvia, it's so unfortunate that positive things are not as newsworthy as stuff that is bound to cause a negative reaction. Take Africa for instance, we rarely hear of that continent unless it has to do with an epidemic, a famine or war...are they telling me nothing good ever happens there?

Thank you, Jenclair! I'm so glad you found the review helpful. I think you would enjoy this book and what's more, you can discuss it with Chom and her mom, I'm sure their input will be invaluable. I, too, have never thought to enquire about Thai literature and the translations. If you find out authors and titles, please do let me know, Jenclair. Thanks!

Hi Angela! I'm pretty certain you will find it on Amazon (France). The book I have here in on a ring from bookcrossing.com, but I do believe it's the UK edition. Let me know.

Hi, Laura! You're not alone. Lots of people find it difficult to read short stories, infact, I am a very recent convert to the genre. The thing I like about short stories is that you can put the book down after every story and pick it up again whenever you like, without feeling a sense of interruption as you might feel with a novel.

Lotus Reads said...

Yeah, Parth I feel pretty certain, the origin is the same. I, too, thought of that the minute I saw the word "firang". But firang, even in Hindi, is slang isn't it? Wouldn't the appropriate word be Ajnabi?

Lucky you J to have credit at Amazon. I spent every last penny there during Christmas! Hope you enjoy the book!

LOL Susan! Come to think of it, if a Westerner walked up to me in India and asked for directions in Hindi, I might do a double take myself even though it's not as uncommon as it sounds. But hat's off to her for learning to speak the langugage - it's tonal isn't it? Does your friend write in Thai as well? I love written Thai, it's beautiful!

hi Starrynights Yes, I am going to visit you often, infact, I am coming over today! :) Thanks for the return visit!

LOL Nessie You do read the nicest books and you always have stunning reviews! I must keep in mind about the Japanese being the master of short stories. Do you have a couple of recommendations? Can't wait for your review of the Ovid book - is it something like the Kamasutra I wonder?

carra said...

Well my husband has recently been to Thailand, he told me all sorts of terrible things... And how many times he pointed at his wedding ring and heard an answer "it's not a problem" and all he could say "it is a problem for me" I would like to read those stories because it interested me so much. Personally I am affraid of poverty (not in a bad way) and I could not possibly go to places like Thailand etc. So I could see and feel the country in my imagination without actually visiting it. As for being affraid of poverty it would take too much to explain. Do you ever come across bad books?

Lotus Reads said...

Awww sugarlips Thank you! I had "Interpreter of Maladies" sitting on my shelf for the longest time, and one day a friend asked me for my copy and i gave it to her, but I will bring it back one of these days and read it. It's a Pulitzer Prize winner isn't it? DId you like it?

Hi booklogged Great idea! I think you will enjoy this collection of short stories, they're beautifully written and easy to read because content is so interesting,

Hi Carra! Oh yes, I have seen them broach male tourists on the road, in the malls, in restaurants and it made me very uncomfortable. They also call you in your hotel room offering all kinds of services starting with the innocuous massage and ending with things that make you want to blush or puke. Have I ever read a bad book? Interesting question and thankfully I haven't, atleast not in a long, long while. I have read boring books, but nothing that I wanted to throw in the garbage and that could be because I usually have a fairly good idea what a book's about before I read it. Have you?

Thanks so much for your comment!

J said...

OK, I ordered it. :) Maybe I'll save it, in case a short story challenge comes up, I'll have it waiting for me...

These challenges are addicting, I'll tell you. I'm reading Henry and June right now, for the Classics Challenge, and I caught myself thinking, Hmmmm...This is non fiction....but that one is later, so never mind. ;)

Sugarlips said...

Lotus Pulitzer award winner one is "The namesake" :) I really liked "Interpreter of Maladies" :)

Stay Beautiful...!!

Sai said...

The book sounds very interesting. Another interesting fact is that "farang" sounds the same as our Hindi "firangi" for a foreigner! Wonder if they have the same etymology.

hellomelissa said...

i think i'll try to print the one out to take with me tomorrow. a short story would be a good diversion!

Lotus Reads said...

J Good idea! Save it for a short stories challenge, I'm sure there'll be one sooner or later. I'd be very interested in finding out which one you rate as your favorite story. "Cockfighter" is supposed to be the piece de resistance, but I didn't like it that much!

Hi Sugarlips Not sure why I thought she won the Pulitzer for the "Maladies" one, I must be getting old! ;)

Hi Sai Yes, Parth pointed out the same thing, too! Makes me wonder if Hindi has a lot in common with Thai. Interesting.

Excellent idea Melissa! Good luck for tomorrow!

gautami tripathy said...

My reading has gone to the dogs!

:(

Beloved Dreamer said...

Lotus, just checked out your other two blogs. Loved your notes and learning more about you in yet another meme. I read the ss from the book memtioned above and to my surprise I really liked it. I might get the book.
Thanks for reading my poem and for your nice comment
You must be so busy. I don't know how you do it

Joy said...

Lotus ~ Sorry, I didn't read your post. I just wanted you to know that I deleted your name per your request. You can start over when you're ready. :)

Bybee said...

What a great book! Thanks for the review.

my male coworkers like to vacation in Thailand, but if you ask them why they like it so much, all they can do is talk scuba diving and pant over the girls. They make it sickening for me, and although it's quite close, I have no interest in going.

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Joy Not to worry. Thank you for amending that for me. I should have my list up sometime this week.

Hi Bybee I long to learn more about Korea and Korean lit. from you. Such a fascinating country!

Shashikiran Mullur said...

Excellent assessment. I enjoyed the stories very much too.
Thanks for Murray Head's verse. He got it perfect.

Keith said...

Thailand in woman's opinion is not only scuba diving, but also Thailand is a country with wonderful beaches that are visited by people not only for sunbathing but they are used for diving as well. Besides in Thailand you can see gorgeous girls dancing traditional Thai dances, wearing colorful costumes and moving their hands and fingers in a fascinating way. Moreover, Thailand is the paradise of tropical fruit and the home of a multitude of mysteries related to the invisible world of the spirits. But nowadays, Thailand is an opportunity for those who want to purchase Thailand property, this is a great opportunity especially for foreigners who come to live in Thailand, because one of the local laws concerning foreigners restricts the right for them to own a land in the area. On the other hand it is beneficial for local people too, to get a condo, because Thailand is situated not far from Bangkok and people living in the capital can afford to purchase a Thailand property as a weekend or holiday destination.