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Book Review

Last Exit Pattaya

This week’s book review is very local and is the result of a series of interviews with Saifon Somdaeng, a 33 year old bar girl working out of beer bars in Pattaya. Last Exit Pattaya (ISBN 978-616-7111-19-3, Bamboo Sinfonia, 2011) was written by Louis Anschel, previously known for his books “A Farang Strikes Back” and this year “A Snake in Paradise”.
This book is initially very noticeable, with the front and back covers representing a credit card, a very clever marketing ploy. Full marks to the publishers Bamboo Sinfonia for innovative creativity.

The book consists of interviews with the bar girl Saifon (Fon) Somdaeng done between January 24 and February 10 this year.

Anschel has done a very good job in getting this woman to open up for him, and the resultant replies come across as totally factual. There are no slips that would indicate some obfuscation, and the dialogue comes as truly indicative of the English spoken by a bar girl from Buriram.

The book traces her life from being the eldest in the family, through to her first liaison with a Thai boyfriend, who subsequently dies and she takes up with another Thai who befriends her. Romantic notions such as “love” do not come into it.

The jump from living with someone to charging a fee for living with someone is certainly not a chasm for Fon, and so it becomes the only truly viable lifestyle for an Isan girl with family responsibilities.

By the end of the narrative, you are left wondering:
a) why have I heard this story before, and
b) are all the Isan bar girls like this?
The most telling item is actually on the back cover where the story is described as, “All this without playing on anyone’s heart strings, criticizing social customs or condemning her customers, and most important, without any judgment or interpretation by the author. The main character (Fon) is her own referee. It’s all about hard facts. Facts in her own words.”
It would be easy, in fact too easy, to look upon Fon as a woman with neither morals nor scruples, but in her favor is the fact that with her complete lack of schooling, and the Isan family culture of a wastrel father and ineffective mother, with only the grandmother holding the family unit together, which by the time Fon was in her twenties includes her two children. Even work as a check-out girl is denied to those without a school leaving certificate.

The truth in her tale is apparent from the photographs where Fon appears in overseas locations, but like most Thai country girls, cannot make the transition to life in foreign countries.

She does get given the opportunities to climb above her background, but with her lack of ambition this will never happen. Every step in her life has a monetary value, and she is not satisfied until ‘paid off’. A sad book in many ways, but for some an eye-opener.
It is a slim volume, but not an expensive read at B. 395 and is available through Asia Books, Bookazine and DK Bookmart.

Driven to Distraction

One of the latest books from Jeremy Clarkson is entitled Driven to Distraction (ISBN 978-0-141-04420-0, Penguin Group, 2010) and follows the same basic format as his others “The World According to Clarkson”, “I know you got Soul” and “For Crying Out Loud”, where he has collated his weekly columns from the British Sunday Times and Penguin has published it in soft cover.

Jeremy Clarkson is very well known to most petrol-heads as the anchorman for the very successful TV series “Top Gear”, which although it has cars and sundry assorted vehicles as the subject matter, it is not technically based and the format is such as to entertain, rather than educate.

This format Clarkson uses in his weekly Sunday Times columns as well. There will be, eventually, some description of a test vehicle, and Clarkson’s opinion of it. In many instances, the punchline comes right at the end, such as his report on the Audi TT, “I shall stop short of saying I loved the new TT. You cannot love something that looks so similar to something you loathed. But I did enjoy driving it.” Damned with faint praise, a technique Clarkson uses many times.

However, sometimes there is a brutality, such as for the Mercedes R Class where he writes in the final two sentences, “This, contrary to my earlier reports, is not an estate, it is a 4x4. And not a very good one. You’re better off buying a condom.”

His attack on the Mini Cooper S Clubman is straight to the point, “Unfortunately after a week, I have decided it’s one of the worst cars in the world. About as desirable as a packet of dung or a can of worms. Truthfully? I’d rather have a goat.”

He has a healthy disregard for the modern lifestyle dictated by being PC and describes an English traffic jam as “… the road was chockablock. More crammed than a public bog in Algiers the day after Ramadan.”

As opposed to columns with cars as excuses for their being, this book has what is called a Part 2, which has no cars, but are forums for Clarkson to wax eloquent on subjects as diverse as President Bush, the Russian situation and Red Square, and space travel. His style is in a similar genre to Bill Bryson where hyperbole is used for comedic effect “… the tyres were made of plywood.” It is this Part 2 that you can see that Clarkson is a very funny man, and does not need motor cars to be entertaining.

With 58 chapters (albeit short chapters) it is a thick book at 466 pages, but the format is such that you can pick up and put down at will. It is not the kind of book you settle into for a weekend.

Because his weekly column is in a British newspaper, there are many references to people of note in the UK. Some of these are not known to the wider global audience (or to me) but this did not impinge upon the enjoyment of this book. At B. 425 it is a cheap chuckle.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Last Exit Pattaya

Driven to Distraction