Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cool cat who cried coup


IF THERE were a TV series about Bangkok’s 20-somethings middle-class, what would it be?

“Gossip Girl (the American TV series which revolves around the lives of socialite teenagers growing up on New York City’s Upper East Side) ... but not as rich,” suggested Alisara Kitty Chirapongse, a 23-year-old prominent Thai blogger.

Why? “It’s the social aspect, how everybody knows everybody’s business. And it is about kids wanting to be adults ... but they are still doing childish things,” explained Gnarly Kitty, a magazine writer who blogs in

If Kitty were a character in Gossip Girl, who would she be? Jennifer ‘Jenny’ Humphrey, she said, “because she is in society but she does not let it affect her.”

“Jenny is kind of an outcast. But at the same time her sense of fashion and social interaction are at par with the other characters,” she added.

The typical 20-something middle-class Bangkokian, observed Kitty, is someone obsessed with shopping and nightlife. “They just spend their money shopping and going out drinking at night. And they repeat the cycle the next day,” she said.

Kitty is atypical.

She does not read Elle (a magazine focusing on women’s fashion, beauty, health and entertainment) but Wired (a magazine and on-line periodical reporting on how technology affects culture, the economy and politics).

“When I go out it is because of music and not because I want to get drunk,” she said.

And Kitty does not hang out at the usual haunts favoured by her peers.

“I don’t go there because it is a crowd where you always have to look pretty. If you don’t wear a certain brand or a dress in a certain way (revealing your legs or boobs), people would go ‘what are you doing here?’” explained the writer who describes her fashion style as dek naew.

Dek naew, according to Ian Stewart, CEO of media consultancy The Filter Group, are Bangkok youths into indie music and the art scene, who “mark themselves out by being distinctive, rather than wearing designer clothes or sporting brand-name accessories.”

The dress code for Bangkok’s Gossip Girls, according to Kitty, is a Louis Vuitton Speedy bag, high heel shoes and short skirts. And their conversation is about getting their nails done, boys and botox.

Botox and the 20-somethings? “They are not getting rid of their lines but making their face smoother,” she explained.

Plastic surgery is not uncommon for the 20-somethings. It is a trend, said Kitty, for 20-something Bangkokians to go to Seoul to undergo surgery so that they look Korean – “little almond sized eyes with big pupils” and “cheeks that are rounder.”

“It is the Korean wave. It is blowing up here,” added the woman who cuts her own hair.

While her contemporaries are out partying, Kitty prefers to be home, snuggled in front of her white Macbook.

She prefers to live online because nothing much in Bangkok appeals to her. She surfs sites (blogs on tech, fashion and news) that appeal to 20-somethings from other countries.

In January 2006, Kitty started blogging on things that interest her, such as the colour pink, iPhone and Fisheye camera. On Sept 19, 2006, attained 15 minutes of blogosphere fame when it was one of the first few blogs to post on the coup against Thaksin Shinawatra.

Her pink-themed blog screamed: “The Military is staging a coup against the PM! The current government is down! The military has taken over.”

Subsequently, Gnarly Kitty was featured in a tech book, Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky: “Alisara Chirapongse, a fashion-obsessed college student, posted coup photos to her weblog along with a running commentary on the immediate aftermath of the coup.

“On why a fashion-obsessed college student blogged about something as serious as a coup, Kitty, who is not gnarly in person, purred: ‘It was something that was big.’

“But I did not expect it to be huge ... that people started to link to my blog. It was scary as it was something that I don’t usually write about – politics, protests and military intervention.”

Probably while Gnarly Kitty was blogging about the coup, her Bangkok contemporaries – the Gossip Girls – were hogging the dance floor.

(Published by The Star on March 28, 2009)