I always try to read about a place before visiting. This impulse to research is obviously much stronger if we are moving to a new country. Leading up to our move to Bangkok I learned that very little non-fiction has been written about the city, or about Thailand, in general. There is, not surprisingly then, even less written about foreign women living in Bangkok… yet every time I take an outing in this sprawling city, I encounter interesting-looking foreign women. I always want to ask them about their story.
So here are the books that I have read… in the order I have read them… and a short passage from each that I have found helpful.
Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne
“You could hear drops hitting the seething river. In pockets, the city has a surprising quietness, an absolute tranquility. Heat steams the window glass, and through it the banana leaves dip down under the onslaught, with a swaying rhythm. And yet it’s not the rainy season, just a premature taste of it.”
“Tackling Bangkok is simple if you avoid rush hour and dehydration.”
Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (Short stories)
“Uncle Mongkhon used to have a corral full of elephants before the people at Monopolated Elephant Tours came to the island and started underpricing the competition, monopolizing mountain-pass tariffs, and staking their claim upon farangs (Thai word for foreigners) at hotels three stars and up – doing, in short, what they had done on so many islands like ours. MET was putting Uncle Mongkhon out of business, and in the end he was forced to sell several elephants to logging companies on the mainland. Where there had once been eight elephants roaming the wide corral, now there were only two…”
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith
“Thailand has two massage cultures. Clothed and unclothed. Don’t confuse the two.”
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux (Chapters 19 and 20)
“(Rama V) was also the son of the king portrayed in the book that inspired the plonking musical The King and I, both book and musical loathed by all Thais, who see them as insulting falsifications poking fun at their revered monarch. Thais regard all their kings as semi-divine, benevolent and far-seeing, not to be spoken about casually, much less demeaned or criticized as a risible Siamese royal, waltzing or dallying with an intrusive farang.”
I also learned (on the Internet… where else?) that most Thais refer to the capital city as Krung Thep which translates to City of Angels. I like that name… and I wonder who the angels are.