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Book Review: by Lang Reid

Master Key to Thailand

Master Key to Thailand (ISBN 978-616-91113-0-6, Scand-media corporation, 2012) has been written by Kenno Simonsen and covers culture, communication and management, and was the subject of his thesis on cross-cultural psychology.

What author Simonsen has done, is to use his many interviews with people in Thailand, both Thai and Danish, which formed the nucleus of his masters degree, to put together what should be termed a ‘resource’ book on living and working in Thailand.

The book is divided into four main parts:

1. Facts about Thailand and Thai family structure, standards, rules of conduct and even a sub-section on the different Thai smiles.

2. Theories, both anthropological and psychological approaches.

3. Communication and management.

4. Advices and hints at establishing in Thailand.

Simonsen has found many truisms during his research, such as “It is easier to change the culture of your own company/department than it is to change the culture of a whole nation.”  Initially this can be put down to Thais are living in Thailand, so the cultural norms are stronger than edicts attempted to be forced upon the workforce by foreign management.  However, it is just as difficult to get the Thais to accept any deviations from their own culture, even when living in a foreign country!

Simonsen looks at the all-pervading influence of Theravada Buddhism on the local culture and explores the differences in cultural mores as regards time keeping, safety, dreams, ghosts and death.

Simonsen has done well not to degenerate into a ‘Them and Us’ debate, but calmly shows why there are so many inherent differences between the native Thai and the expat westerner.

An example of this is shown in the section called Time Management, where it is pointed out that a watch is an item of adornment, and not a device to be used to make appointments ‘on time’.  In fact at the end of that chapter he states, “If an disagreement should end up in court, one has to remember that the judges are Thais as well.  They are brought up in the Thai culture and therefore have a Thai approach to time management.  In addition, one must take into consideration that corruption, as well as nepotism are powerful factors in the Thai society.”

Important items such as work permits for foreigners, purchase of real estate, applications to the Board of Investment and how to get around the thorny path of ‘kraeng jai’ are covered, and the advice is excellent.

Despite the fact that English is not his native tongue, author Kenno Simonsen has a good command of the language, though occasional odd usage of words does occur.  However, what is more upsetting is his use of “bath” instead of “baht”!

The book does have a legitimate place in the “living in Thailand genre”.  The preponderance of Danish data does not take away from the overall value of the publication.  His explanations make good sense of situations where conventional western thinking is at odds with the Thai reality.

The book was left at the Editorial office, without price, but I would expect to pay around 600 baht.

Great Leader, Dear Leader

With the recent death of the despotic ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, and his son Kim Jong Un taking over, the parallel to Kim Jong Il’s ascendancy from his father Kim Il Sung is apparent.

Seven years ago, the book Great Leader, Dear Leader (ISBN 974-9575-69-5) and written by Bertil Lintner, was published (Silkworm Books).  With the current political situation in North Korea looking just as hazardous, if not more, I thought it was apt to publish my review of Great Leader, Dear Leader, Demystifying North Korea under the Kim Clan.

At that time, a defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “North Korea is quite capable of responding to any kind of military action that we take with a devastating attack, an artillery and missile barrage on the South that would inflict millions of deaths and casualties.”

In his introduction, Lintner writes, “The North Korean regime has always been perceived by Western - and even Asian - politicians, diplomats and scholars as unpredictable and inscrutable.”  It is from that stance, that the book is written.

The first chapter is enthralling, as author Lintner describes the historic summit meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea in 2000, but then goes on to lay open the financial scandals that followed.  Lintner uses the well proven principle called ‘follow the money’ to find the truth.  And the truth proves quite capable of leaving some fairly muddied waters on both side of Korea’s DMZ.

He delves into the history of the leader and his son, and again any questioner is presented with legend, folklore, propaganda and fact, all of which requires much deduction.  “It is also extremely difficult to separate fact from fantasy and propaganda - both northern and southern - with respect to Kim Il Sung’s past,” writes Lintner.  That Kim Il Sung was a guerilla fighter is not doubted at any stage, the differences between his lifestyle and that of his son and current leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, is explored, even if just to show the blind faith of his followers.

How North Korea became a nuclear power, and allied with others is also demonstrated by ‘following the money’ and it is a chilling tale.

As befits any resource material, the book also features a chronology of important dates from 1910, a Who’s Who, Notes from the copious annotations throughout the book and a detailed Bibliography.  This is not a novel.  This is a serious factual publication.

Lintner takes the reader on a true literary voyage of discovery on a subject that not many of us have had the opportunity to explore, and does it in a very readable fashion.

It is important in the overall scheme of global overviews that we have some reasonably credible, factual building blocks, and not biased propaganda.  I believe Bertil Lintner eschews propaganda, and has presented the real facts to my satisfaction.

You can make your own decision after visiting any bookstore that stocks better quality books.  A ‘must read’ for any Asiaphile.  Otherwise it is in stock via Amazon.  And a very informative read.

A prayer before dawn - A nightmare in Thailand

Another book on life (and death) in Thailand’s prisons.  This one, A prayer before dawn and subtitled A nightmare in Thailand (ISBN 978-616-7111-20-9, Bamboo Sinfonia, 2012) was written by Billy Moore, an English likely lad.

In many ways, this man’s book is a reflection of society in the UK.  “The alcoholic, violent dad, the valiant mother brutalized and broken down by caring for six children and having to deal with a violent husband.  The endless poverty, the 70s council estates rigidly divided into ganglands…”

Author Billy Moore comes from that background, and although he does not use this to excuse his actions, which end up having him incarcerated in Thailand, it becomes part of his case history.

Pattaya gets an inglorious mention: “Pattaya is a seedy sex resort” which is not quite true today.  (It is like saying “London is a seedy sex capital” because it has Soho.  However Sun, Sand and Sex is always a good attention grabber!)

He describes getting off drugs through a rehab establishment, but then describes very eloquently his relapse.  His ‘demon’ is “…always ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.  But he won’t kill me with an axe or a gun - his weapon of choice is drugs.”

During his sinking to the drug-fuelled depths he alternately becomes paranoid and then very bitter.  “Nobody was for real in Thailand; friendships were fictitious.  The real Thailand, the one that didn’t smile, was a dangerous place to be.  That’s why I stayed - for the thrill and excitement.  The fantasy that I could build here was of my own making.”

Much of the book is taken up with introspection as he begins to understand just how he managed to end up in the many predicaments his fantasy had taken him.  “I have no one to blame for who I am.  I am who I am through the choices I made, making acceptance of my current predicament easy for me.”  He turned to religion, any religion, to help him.  “I would have believed in anything, ghouls, goblins, even fairy tales!”

However, much of the book shows that he was having many problems with “acceptance” and so he turned again to drugs.  Mind you, from what he (and others) have described, it would almost be impossible to come to any kind of acceptance of inhumane treatment.  “I had been stripped of all my dignity.  Every facet of my human rights had been violated and no one I cared about knew.”

This genre of book has probably had more than its fair share of published offerings, and every foreign jail bird appears as a frustrated author.  There is no doubting that Klong Prem is not where one would choose for one’s self, but it is probably just the fact that we know we will be horror-stricken that keeps us coming back for more.  However, it is well written (which makes me think there was perhaps a ghost writer) and at 450 baht an inexpensive look into a life of drugs.  Available at Bookazine, AsiaBooks, DK Post Office, DK Central Road, DCO Thai on-line.

If You Can’t Stand the Fun, Stay Out of the Go-Go

If You Can’t Stand the Fun, Stay Out of the Go-Go is another title from local publisher Bamboo Sinfonia (ISBN 978-616-7111-24-7, 2011) written by William Peskett, a retired Brit who has obviously spent some time in different cultures.  He has already published two books of poetry and two novels, so he is no tyro to the genre.

This particular book is an anthology of columns which were printed in the fortnightly newspaper Pattaya Today, the 92 short chapters representing over three and a half years of newspaper editions, so there is a fair to middling chance that some prospective customers may have read sections already.

However, on the pro side, with 92 columns why not publish them in book form rather than let them become chip wrappers, the fate of all newspapers (even this one).  But there is also a downside to this.  In a fortnightly column, with many readers who may be first-timers, it becomes necessary to introduce the main players and the environment with each column, but with a book, that introduction needs to be done only one time.  His wife for example gets an introduction every chapter “The woman of my dreams and custodian of my loving heart.”  Right, I know who that is, it doesn’t need repeating to the book reader chapter by chapter.

While I am in the gripes, let’s get the last one out of the way.  In his columns he uses a pen name, in this case K. Pobaan, but when you have your real name plastered all over the front cover, K. Pobaan’s cover is blown.  I firmly believe he would have better served his readers of the book, by just being William Peskett.

The book is centered mainly in Pattaya, on Soi Khao Talo, otherwise known as the “dark side”.  When author Peskett and the woman of his dreams moves there, it was practically deserted.  It is no more, as Pattaya has grown.  As it has grown, mind you, it has opened up a writer’s eye to many opportunities, and author Peskett avails himself of those very well.

On motorcycling, “…where people take to motor bikes shortly after they are weaned, wearing a crash helmet is a fashion mis-statement which no self respecting villager would wish to make.”

On Go-Go’s “If you don’t want the go-go treatment, don’t go to a go-go.  And if you don’t like the price they charge for a Heineken, go to 7-Eleven, that’s my view krap.”

He discusses the origins of the rubber mud flap art, and decided it was the Bee Gee’s, but I am with his friend who claimed it was Kris Kristofferson.

Despite my negativity in some ways, it is still an amusing book, and anyone married to a Thai lady will recognize all the cultural nuances and traps.  Life for a foreigner here can never be dull (unless the foreigner is himself a certified dullard), and Peskett is a good raconteur.

The book should be available in Bookazine/Asia Books with an RRP of B. 395.  Pattaya old hands will enjoy it.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Master Key to Thailand

Great Leader, Dear Leader

A prayer before dawn - A nightmare in Thailand

If You Can’t Stand the Fun, Stay Out of the Go-Go