Saturday, July 05, 2008

Real-life Bangkok romances aren’t typical Western cliches


HERE’S a book to read to avoid the cliches of Bangkok. It is titled Bangkok Blondes and it is a collection of short stories and poems about Bangkok by 14 women writers (13 Westerners and one Thai) who are from the Bangkok Women’s Writers Group (BWWG).

“It is a good book to read before you come to Bangkok as it gives you an idea of real everyday life in Bangkok. And it pays attention to the small things in life,” gushes Anette Pollner, who is the coordinator of BWWG, which was founded in 2000.

Bangkok Blondes, notes Pollner, is different from 90% of the English-language non-fiction books published in Thailand because it is not testosterone-laden with Bangkok stereotypes such as a farang (Thai for westerner) falling in love with bar girls or a farang ending up in prison.

These books (My Name Lon, You Like Me? Even Thai Girls Cry. A Farang Affair), which are written by farang male writers, says Pollner, portray aspects (such as prostitution, drugs, gangster and prison) of Bangkok which are completely different from the experience of the majority of the Thai and farang population in the City of Angels.

“As a resident of this city I feel angry that Bangkok has been misrepresented in a very negative way,” declares the over-40 writer who has been living in the Big Mango, as Bangkok is affectionately known, since 2003.

When Pollner, who describes herself as a citizen of the world, returns to Europe, she is usually asked, “Isn’t living in Bangkok dangerous?” or “Aren’t there many bar girls in your street?”

“When I tell them, ‘No, Bangkok is safe’ or ‘No, in my whole district there aren’t any bar girls’, they don’t believe me because they believe the (cliche-laden) books they’ve read,” relates the farang who lives in Ari, a trendy district.

Pollner’s Bangkok is far removed from Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza, which are Bangkok’s touristy red light area. Her life revolves around the Bangkok Opera (she’s the theatre director), National Museum (she’s a volunteer) and BWWG.

You get the picture. She breathes a cultured, cosmopolitan life.

However, she admits that before visiting the Thai capital she thought it was “seedy, full of bar girls, and you have to be careful not to get shot in the street”.

In 2003, while backpacking around the world, Pollner decided to visit the City of Angels for three nights and found her notions were false.

“My experience was against the cliche – farang women can’t find love in Bangkok. I met my lover here. And he was not a bar boy but someone I could have met in London,” reveals the writer whose story of that romance The Last of the Great White Lovers is immortalised in Bangkok Blondes.

The cliche that love eludes farang women in Bangkok, according to Pollner, is a malicious propaganda by men who visit the city to have sex with bar girls because they could not find a partner back in Europe.

There are Thai-based websites where these men write hate message against Western women who live in Bangkok, she adds.

Ironically, as the manuscript compiler of Bangkok Blondes, Pollner reinforces the stereotype when she include Jess Tansutat’s short story Butterfly Game, which is about how it could be frustrating for Western women living in Bangkok to find real romantic partner.

“The choices for decent men are limited here,” writes Jess, who is a Thai.

“There are several possible factors. Although Thai and Asian men are generally sweet and gentle, they can also be a bit immature and too feminine.

“The ones who are good-looking, dress well and smart can turn out to be the ‘sorry, lady, I’m gay’ type. (Farang guys) are spoilt. Thailand is just a big playground for them.”

Refusing to be drawn into a discussion on whether Jess’s story is a cliche, Pollner points out there are other stories in the book where various authors narrate their relations with men in Bangkok.

For example, Chloe Trindall’s trilogy titled Love Bangkok Style focuses on her romance with a poor Thai boy from a small village in Isaan.

So what’s real everyday life in Bangkok?

In Anna Bennetts’ Ghostbusters, it is speaking to the spirit haunting a farang woman’s new apartment.

(Published in The Star on July 5, 2008)


J.F. Gump said...

Hi Philip,

Seems Ms. Pollner (did I get the name correct?) hasn't read my books very closely. None are set in Bangkok, none talk about gangsters, and none degrade the Thais in any way. The nightlife is so much of the Pattaya scene that I would look stupid if I ignored it. I would ask why she is in Bangkok hooking up with a Thai man. Perhaps she is setting a double standard?

J. F. Gump