by Lang Reid
the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) looming in 2015, I thought it might be
prudent to learn something more about the ASEAN before that date. There on
the Bookazine shelves would appear to be the answer - a very slim volume
(just over 50 pages) to explain ASEAN. Almost the definitive ASEAN for
Dummies publication, or something similar. And the price was only B. 114.
What a bargain!
The book also proclaimed that this was the second edition, so there must
have been a sell-out first edition one presumes. This second edition is
also, rather strangely, only for Thailand (ISBN 978-616-215-022-7, Silkworm
Books, Chiang Mai).
The format is in Question and Answer style and covers the formation of the
Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), now of 10 members from the
original five signatories in 1967, which were Indonesia, Malaysia, the
Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.
These ASEAN nations laid down seven aims and purposes for themselves and
included economic growth, regional peace and stability, collaboration in
economic, social, cultural, technical, scientific and administrative; mutual
assistance in training and research; collaboration in agriculture, industry
and communications and improvement of living standards and cooperation with
regional and international organizations. All a very noble beginning.
The other nations joined later, with the final three being Laos and Myanmar
in 1997 and Cambodia in 1999.
Question Five asks what have been the most important accomplishments of
ASEAN, and proudly states that “No two ASEAN members have ever gone to war
with each other.” This has been done by the system of Dialogue Partnerships,
the ASEAN regional forum, the ASEAN Plus Three process and the East Asia
summit. Perhaps the authors had missed the Preah Vihear conflict between
Thailand and Cambodia which has been ongoing for 100 years and escalated in
2008 which resulted in several deaths in April last year?
In 1993, the ASEAN ministerial meeting issued a long communiqué on human
rights, which unfortunately is given lip service by many of the members.
Remember the Tak Bai Massacre and the Kru Se Mosque incident for example?
The much vaunted war against drugs must come in here as well. Lofty aims,
but working? Hmm. I wonder. However, they have signed a pact to be nuclear
arms free, so that is something I suppose.
ASEAN has done some good, however, with common concepts on tourism, other
than Thailand which has opposed a common visa for the region (like the
European Shengen visa).
The book poses the question, “What is ASEAN doing to combat international
terrorism and other transnational crime, including the drugs problem?” The
answer being that ASEAN members signed an anti-terrorism convention and
written down a mechanism to counter the drug problem. With around 4,000
killed in the South of Thailand since 2004 and with many instances of
cross-border movement of terrorists, one has to question the ability of the
ASEAN convention. And drugs? The problem still exists, with the
manufacturing sites being within ASEAN countries themselves.
After wading through the rhetoric, it was impossible not to come to the
conclusion that one was reading about all the ceremony without much of the
Private Dancer revisited
local Bookazine in Big C Extra was having their stock-take, so I decided to
re-run Private Dancer which I consider to be one of the most important books
of the decade.
Private Dancer, written by well known author Stephen Leather, has been a
best seller in Bookazine for many years, and even though I reviewed the web
copy, I felt that this book has been such a strong seller, I should review
the paperback, which I now do again.
It is a very cleverly fabricated story, relating to a journalist (Pete) who
comes to Bangkok to work and who falls in love with Joy, a dancer at a bar
in Nana Plaza. She is to become his ‘private dancer’ from which comes the
title of the book.
What sets this manuscript apart from the overdone ‘farang falls in love with
bar girl’ books is that Stephen Leather gives the side of the central
character Pete, and then follows that up with the thoughts of the girl Joy.
After that, at various important milestones in the relationship, other
people are brought in who give their impressions of what is going on. These
people include Pete’s boss Alistair, the owner of a bar called Big Ron, whom
Leather admits is well known identity Big Dave, and the bar called Fatso’s
was Big Dave’s establishment called Jool’s on Soi 4 Sukhumvit (as anyone who
has ever been there would pick immediately). Others who give their opinions
include Pete’s friends, his flat-mate and even the owner of Joy’s bar, who
is even more cynical than Big Ron.
Where Stephen Leather has excelled with this book is in his understanding of
the Thai viewpoint. And to then put it down in print. There will be those
who will say that a farang can never get inside the mind of the Thais.
Perhaps not, but this book of Stephen Leather’s must go damn close. Close
enough for me! Take for example the words from Joy after Pete rang her in
her room to say that he had been talking to Park, her Thai husband. “Park
was in my room when Pete telephoned. I asked Park what he was playing at,
and he said he didn’t know what I was talking about. I got angry then and
said that he’d spoiled everything. He had no right to talk to Pete, he was
my customer.” And it all hangs on that last word!
This is the best warning book about bar girls ever written, and at B. 595
should be compulsory reading for all single males before arrival in
Thailand. Make that for all single males period. Love and logic only start
with the same letter, and that is where the similarity ends, and where
self-delusion starts. The world is populated with Petes, about whom Big Ron
states, “Was I surprised at what happened to Pete? Of course I (expletive)
wasn’t. He was on the road to ruin as soon as he let her get to him. A lost
If you have not read it, do so, and keep a copy for overseas visitors!