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Book Review: by Lang Reid
Looking for Mr. Rin
for Mr. Rin, A Family’s Roots in Northeast Thailand” is published by Falling
Rain Publications, ISBN 978-463-419, and is printed in Ubon, written by
Lawrence Whiting. Author Whiting is a British expat, who had married one of
the eight daughters of Mr. Rin and his wife Yai Hom.
Mr. Rin, it turns out, was a native of Phana, a small province in
north-eastern Isan, and the author soon saw that his chronicle of the family
he had married into was also the chronicle of the life (and times) of the
patriarch Mr. Rin Mahanil, a teacher and small farmer.
Author Whiting notes that for most of the Isan people, the roots back to Lao
are very strong. He mentions that at family gatherings, “Pensri and her
sisters spoke Lao together, rather than Thai, … with prolonged and
tear-inducing laughter among themselves, and a bemused sense of alienation
amongst the rest of us.”
Further on in the book, he shows historically the ethnicity that holds the
Isan people together with the Laos peoples, following the ceding of much of
the region to the French in 1893 (to form French Indo-China) and the need
for King Chulalongkorn to then consolidate “Siam” as one country and not a
collection of vassal states. Much of this is then expanded upon in the
writings done by Mr. Rin throughout his long life.
Author Whiting writes much in the early parts of the book of his anxiety in
becoming part of an Isan family, with all its deep roots. Later he has the
problems of trying to strike a balance in life for his children, half Thai
and half English. He comments, “It is difficult to achieve cross-cultural
balance, let alone equality, when one culture is seen as generally more
highly developed than another, particularly on economic terms, and it would
have been easy to allow the Thai half of their heritage to be submerged by
He goes on to write, “The English culture had lots to offer them in the
terms of literature, and the tradition of parliamentary democracy, the Thai
side had more to offer in the areas of interpersonal relationships,
traditional practices and customs and the extended family network that
provided such a secure framework for Pensri and her sisters.”
The book gives a very detailed account of not only the lives of an Isan
family, but also Isan ceremonies and rituals, including the cremations of
Mr. Rin and his wife.
“Looking for Mr. Rin” is available at most good bookshops with an RRP of B.
550, though copies can also be purchased directly from the author through
the contact email [email protected] For those expatriates who are
married to an Isan lady, this book will undoubtedly mirror their own
experiences of marrying into a Thai family (make no mistake, they do not
marry into the husband’s family to the same extent), and also perhaps go
towards explaining the seemingly complex cultural mores that the Lao-Thai
possess. It held my attention all the way through, and I found it to be
insightful as well as entertaining. A good read.
Arts - Entertainment - Lifestyles: Taiwan Film Festival at Chiang Mai University, February 4-8
A selection of ten Taiwan films - with a couple of
extraordinary inclusions - are being shown. Here is the remaining schedule:
The Shoe Fairy (Robin Lee, aka Yun Chan Lee) 95 Min.
Director of the current My DNA Says I Love You, this earlier film of
hers is a candy-colored modern-day Chinese yarn similar to “The Little
Mermaid.” Narrated by Hong Kong superstar Andy Lau, the story centers on a
young girl in a wheelchair who grew up listening to fairytales. After an
operation on her feet, she grew into a beautiful young woman with a passion
for shoes - which causes problems with her husband. For the sake of domestic
bliss, she gives up buying shoes - but then she finds she can’t walk any
longer. And her shoes are very unhappy.
Taipei’s Bohemians: The Life of Theater 55 Min.
Documentary on a group of theater artists in Taipei.
Grandma And Her Ghost (Shaudi Wang) 80 Min.
A 5 year old boy moves to live with his grandma in a small town in Taiwan.
Soon after, he discovers that his grandma is not only a vendor, but also
good at catching spectres. One day, she comes to realize that her grandson
has mistakenly released some of the ghosts and demons in her house, some
almost pitiful, some quite threatening. A colorful, funny, and enchanting
animated film, distinctly Taiwanese in its use of folk beliefs.
The Last Rice Farmer: Let It Be (Lang-Chuan YEN) 110 Min.
Documentary on the lives of three elderly rice farmers.
Fishing Luck (Tseng Wen-chen) 96 Min.
A light romantic tale set on picturesque Lanyu (Orchid) Island, off the
southeast coast of Taiwan, and inhabited by the Tao race, descended from
Filipinos. Impressive scenery.
The Rhythm in Wulu Village (Wang Chung-Shung) 75 Min.
16 mm images and music infuse this documentary about Taiwan’s indigenous
Bunun people, focusing on the Wulu village where much effort is being spent
on education, especially the Bunun language, music, and weaving, to preserve
this traditional culture.
Three Times (Hou Hsiao-Hsien) 132 Min.
Variety: Synthesizing Hou Hsiao-hsien’s ambivalent relationship with time
and memory, Three Times forms a handy connecting arc between the Taiwanese
director’s earlier work and the increasingly fragmentary direction of his
recent films. Best appreciated by those familiar with his slow rhythms and
pessimistic take on contemporary life, this film presents three stories
using the same leads set in three time periods to explore love and how the
present circumscribes lives.
The periods chosen - 1966, 1911, and 2005 - have resonances in Hou’s psyche.
The first, “A Time for Love,” matching the director’s youth, takes on a
relatively linear narrative with well-defined characters, reminiscent of his
earlier autobiographical works; the segment hinges on the meeting of a
soldier boy (Chang Chen) with a pool hall hostess (Shu Qi) and his
subsequent search for her.
Second episode, “A Time for Freedom” set in a kind of upscale brothel,
represents his attraction to the past, with Shu essaying a courtesan tending
to Chang during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan.
Third episode, “A Time for Youth,” set in present-day Taipei, is the
bleakest, as to be expected from someone continually prodding at the
disorder at the heart of contemporary Taiwanese life. Tale here centers on
an epileptic singer (Shu) who casually takes up with a photographer (Chang)
while increasingly ignoring her female lover.
The Chocolate Rap (Chi Y.Lee) 83 Min.
Spectacular breakdancing and nice music, with a slight story based around
dance and the theme of teenagers coming of age and finding their identity,
and about peer pressure at a young age. The film celebrates street life, and
street dancing in particular. Good soundtrack and visuals.
Tuesday, February 5 13.00 - 14.35/14.30 - 16.30
The Shoe Fairy (Robin Lee) 95 Min./Taipei’s Bohemians: The Life of
Theater 55 Min.
Wednesday, February 6 13.00 - 14.30/14.40 - 16.30
Grandma And Her Ghost (Shaudi WANG) 80 Min./The Last Rice Farmer:
Let It Be (Lang-Chuan YEN) 110 Min.
Thursday, February 7 13.00 - 14.30/15.00 - 16.25
Fishing Luck (TSENG Wen-chen) 96 Min./The Rhythm in Wulu Village
(WANG Chung-Shung) 75 Min.
Friday, February 8 13.00 - 15.15/15.20 - 16.43
Three Times (Hou Hsiao-Hsien) 132 Min./The Chocolate Rap (Chi Y.Lee)