Book Review
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Genghis Khan

Answers to all your Questions about Thailand

bangkok noir

bangkok noir

If ever you were looking for a real legend, go no further than Genghis Khan. Conqueror of nations across Asia and into Europe, Genghis Khan deserves his place in history, though like many other historical characters, do we really ‘know’ them?

John Man with this book Genghis Khan (ISBN 978-0-553-81498-9, Bantam Books, 2005) hopes to be able to enlighten and illuminate this legendary figure.

The book opens with the startling fact that one in two hundred of males living today share some genetic coding with Genghis Khan. As a conqueror he was certainly a busy chap!

It is no dry and dusty academic work, but is the work of a story teller. In a book about Genghis Khan, would you expect a recipe for casserole of marmot? For this tasty dish the cooking instructions begin with “First shoot your marmot. Using string hang dead marmot from a branch. Skin it, peeling skin carefully downwards to keep skin in one piece. Discard entrails. Ignore flies. Remove and dice flesh…” I think I’ll wait for a boiled egg, but you can get my drift, I am sure.

Much of the book relates to a very early work called the Secret History of the Mongols, and author Man’s interpretation of that. His take on various aspects is a reasoned one, and he is not one for flights of fancy, though one has to look at the most likely interpretations. This book was originally written in Mongolian vertical script, and an explanation is given as to how this came into being and acceptance.

Those were not easy times in the 13th century, and with the capital of Mongolia these days being Ulaanbaatar, a place only known to me as having the coldest recorded temperatures on the weather map, with minus 50 not being unknown. To voluntarily live there smacks of masochism or poverty, or both. However, Ulaanbaatar does have the Genghis Khan University which John Man visits for more details.

As Genghis Khan began to take control of the various tribes, his abilities as a forward thinker become obvious. Having a Mongolian script was necessary if there was going to be a framework for governance, “A new society, especially one of this size, needed new rules and new ways of administration.” These were written down in what was referred to as the Blue Book (AKA The Great Yassa).

Being a historical account, from the records of the time, religion is also covered, with Buddhism, Christianity and Islam all mentioned with the influence they had in many areas taken over by Genghis Khan and his sons who followed him. Genghis Khan, however, did not subscribe to any particular faith, but had the belief that he was guided by Heaven.

At B. 630, this is a fascinating book about a fascinating man. Plenty of references and bibliography to make it enough of a scholarly tome, but written in a very easy to follow way, almost conversational in nature. I really enjoyed this book, and since both my children have Mongolian Blue Spot, that genetic coding is even here in Thailand. It may also explain the temper tantrums!


Answers to all your Questions about Thailand

Thailand is in many ways a wonderful country, but sometimes difficult to understand for the westerner. For these reasons, self-help groups such as ex-pat clubs are formed to try and answer the questions we all have from time to time.

Three authors (Emmanuel and Ludovic Perve and Adrien Fontanellaz) who gained their experience in Thailand while running guest houses, have put together this book Answers to all your Questions about Thailand (ISBN 974-93777-1-0), and although published in 2005, the questions and the answers are generally timeless.

It has been a small project of mine, to listen to the authoritarian bar-room lawyers and armchair experts pontificating at worst, advising at best, on all subjects Thai. Be that from whether a non-Thai can own a mobile phone, to even the very origins of the word “farang” used to describe us big-nosed, round-eyed foreigners. This book renders them redundant. Incidentally, question number 133 in this book gives a very interesting alternative answer to the usual “francais” origin which supposedly came after the French envoys to Ayutthya in the 16th century. There was a descriptive term for Europeans at the time of the crusades, termed “Frank” and linguistic studies can trace this word as the origin of the Arab “faranji”, the Persian “farang”, the Cambodian “balang” and the Vietnamese “pha-lang-xa”, as well as the Siamese “farang”.

The questions are divided into 11 broad sections, covering Practical Information, Nature, Food, Customs, Society, Buddhism, Arts and Traditions, History and Politics, Minority Ethnic Groups, Sports and Leisure Activities and finally, Language. In the center of the book there are also several color plates featuring a map of Thailand and photographic images of some native Thai items of interest.
The section on Minority Ethnic Groups I found particularly fascinating. For example, the reason why Hmong women do not divorce their husbands is that if they do so, they have to refund the bride price. If this were only the case in the western societies, I hear some of you saying!

There are some answers which will no doubt prompt further bar-room discussions; for example, the percentage of the Thai prostitution scene which is devoted to catering to foreigners (if you just said five percent, then you agree with the authors), and another on the origin of Kathoeys, and the fact that there was not just three genders in Thailand, but four! Turn to question 62 to get their answer.

The authors do not go into much detail of their own bona fides, and there is no bibliography at the end, though there are several pages of recommended reading, so one has to presume that their answers were culled from the reference books. Despite the leap of faith regarding the answers, I did find this to be a good reference tool, providing the reader with good information about Thailand. It is just a pity they did not include more information on themselves and their sources, and an index.

At B. 780, it is not cheap, but still reasonable value. Well worth looking out for at the local Bookazine, which supplied my copy.

bangkok noir

A black cover is appropriate for an anthology of ‘dark’ writings from 12 authors and edited by Christopher G Moore. bangkok noir (ISBN 978-616-7503-04-2, Heaven Lake Press, 2011) has items from nearly all the writers of ‘noir’ novels, based in Thailand.

In his introduction, Christopher G Moore opens with “Behind the Thai smile and the gracefully executed wai, in the near distance is another realm: the geography of conflict, personal grudges, anger, revenge, disappearances and violence. Where loss of face, personal rivalry and competition for power often have fatal consequences.” This is somewhat different from the travel guide images of Bangkok in every backpacker’s knapsack.

The collection of stories have been written by John Burdett (Bangkok 8, the Godfather of Kathmandu), Stephen Leather (prolific thriller writer), Pico Iyer (Video Night in Kathmandu), Colin Cotterill (The Night Bastard), Christopher G Moore (another prolific writer including the Vincent Calvino series), Tew Bunnag (writes on the contradictions in modern Thai society), Timothy Hallinan (Crashed), Alex Kerr (Bangkok Found), Dean Barrett (another very busy writer with recent titles Skytrain to Murder and Permanent Damage), Pol Gen Vasit Dejkunjorn (more than 20 books, but mainly Thai language), Eric Stone (the Ray Sharp PI series) and Collin Piprell (four novels and many articles).

One with a very deep understanding of the Thai psyche is The Mistress Wants Her Freedom by Tew Bunnag, with much subtle manoeuvring as the Thai characters skirt around each other staying within Thai cultural mores, but only one holds the ace.

Another which has the reader guessing up to the final paragraph is Dean Barrett’s Death of a Legend. A brilliant thriller, set in Bangkok. Where else would you find a surfeit of hired killers?

Stephen Leather’s Inspector Zhang and the Dead Thai Gangster was almost an Inspector Clouseau as the inscrutable Oriental Inspector solved the riddle of how the man dies and who did it, before they had even disembarked from the plane. A very clever deduction.

Timothy Hallinan’s Hansum Man demonstrates just why you should never retrace your steps in relationships, particularly when you are a senior citizen, and never believe everyone from your past. They may not be!

John Burdett’s Gone East contains an expose of the HiSo includes and “… have a feel for just how low, dirty, petty, vindictive, fascist, sociopathic, paranoid and sick the fabulously rich really are.”

If you enjoy thrillers, especially ‘noir’ thrillers, this is the book for you. A dozen of the best authors of the genre all in one book. Wonderful value at B. 450. I honestly enjoyed every one. It would have to be the ideal airport novel with each item around 25-50 pages, so can be picked up and put down at will.

Christopher G Moore concludes the introduction with, “This anthology of contemporary stories weaves a pattern of intrigue and mystery where the living and the dead occupy the same space. Crooked lawyers, crooked cops, transsexuals, minor wives, killers and ghosts take you along for a tour that unlocks the secret doors and invites you to enter the space where Thais and foreigners work, live, play and die together.”