“Sometimes,” said Sternmeyer, “I get into that gym and I just sweat.” And then he shone his successful face at them. Everything about Sternmeyer was successful—the titanium watch, the oiled trekking shoes, the clear tan skin; everything shouted—I have never lost!
“What does he want with the likes of us?” Willet wondered.
“He’s bored,” was Hudson’s explanation. “You get these people with trust funds, and they’ve got all the stuff.”
Sternmeyer, then, was bored of stuff. Incredibly to Willet, he was bored of his condo-with-a-pool and his Italian clothes and his German car. He wanted experience.
The day before, sitting on plastic stools drawn up to a noodle cart, Hudson had waved his chopsticks at the fragility and squalor of the small border settlement—the semi-naked children heedless in the mud, the haze of flies worrying at the fish heads and banana skins rotting in the open drains, the pats of buffalo dung hardening in the road, and waiting in the gathering clouds, the tropical rain that would whisper down all night, making more red mud that would have dried into red dust by late afternoon. He said, “To him all this is exotic.”
Thailand was probably the only state in South East Asia to have escaped colonial rule. The country evaded colonial rule because the French and the British decided to treat it as neutral territory to avoid conflict of interests. The policies enacted by King Chulalongkorn of the Chakri Dynasty , which continues to hold sway in Thailand to this date from 1782, also helped.
The resultant effect, says a report, is “the lack of English readers in the country — which reflects the absence of Western imperialism in Thailand, along with the linguistic colonialism it facilitated.”
The numbers from University of Rochester’s Translation Database, which track original literary translations published in America show that Japanese literature leads the way, with 363 books since 2008, followed by Chinese, with 254, and Korean, with 141. Whereas only five Thai novels have been translated to English.
We studied the extensive menu, which listed both international as well as local cuisine. Joe and I were fast decision makers when it came to selecting our dishes. Joe settled on rice with Crispy Catfish in Chili Paste and a side order of the ubiquitous tangy Green Mango Salad to share, while I chose rice with Red Curry of Roasted Duck, a dish Joe had suggested after describing it as a bracing Thai classic combining tender roasted duck with a perfect blend of spices, coconut milk, and pineapple. The food arrived within ten minutes of ordering, and was excellent in both presentation and taste. My duck curry surpassed Joe’s mouth-watering description. I complimented Joe on his recommendation. His quiet response was “I’m happy you liked the duck.”
Food aside, what do you talk about with a charming Thai man whom you have just met on his home turf? A lot, apparently. I told Joe about my job, and he pressed me to tell him more about the documentaries I had shot from Singapore to Bangkok. As I had at least a dozen documentaries under my belt in Singapore but only one in Bangkok, I gave Joe capsule highlights of my work. He seemed impressed. It was now Joe’s turn to talk about himself. His voice was even and fluid as he told me about his student days majoring in
The ASEAN Young Writers Award is the region’s literary prize jointly established in Thailand by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration and the Organizing Committee of the S.E.A. Write Award in collaboration with the S.E.A. Write network and the Faculty of Liberal Arts of Mahidol University.
The ASEAN Young Writers Award will be given annually and providing a platform for the creation of a new generation of writers as well as the cultivation of literary networks in the ASEAN region.
According to the award organisers, ‘the new prize is introduced with the objectives to promote a new generation of literary talents, strengthen the region’s cultural ties and instill the love of reading and writing among the young people of Thailand and around the region’.
It also serves as a lasting tribute of the 35th Anniversary Celebration of SEA Write Award and the occasion that Bangkok was designated 13th World Book Capital by the World Book Capital Selection Committee and UNESCO.
Brightways loved his pickup. It was the kind of doting, paternal love you’d extend to a large dog. A bull mastiff, perhaps, of shuddering weight, who barked at your enemies, understood nothing and trusted you implicitly. So it was with the pickup. Brightways loved the way the engine started the first time, with a jolt like the detonation of a small bomb under the bonnet. He loved the steady vibration of the cab, the deep three-litre, diesel-consuming growl.
Also, driving it made him feel more Thai. For two years now he had been collecting such feelings and marshalling them as evidence he presented to himself: he could live here. His flat was one such proof, his girlfriend Ning another. And now the pickup. In the cab’s elevated height, on Bangkok’s choked and dusty roads, among the other pickups and thundering lorries, the weaving motorcycles and buses groaning with human freight, Brightways felt that he belonged and in fact, was surviving.
It hadn’t always been thisway. He’d spent six months travelling on the buses himself and had frayed at the edges, taken apart by Asian entropy. The hindering crowds, diseased street dogs, splattering overhead drains, odours of rotting vegetation wafting up from black-water canals. He’d bought the pickup to escape from all of it.
“For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.”
― May Sarton
Time for the thing that you do when you start all over. Time for the moment of checking in. Seeing if where you’ve come from and where you’re headed, or your idea of it, anyways, are at least a little known for you. “The end of all our exploring will be to arrive at where we began, and know the place for the first time,” said T.S. Eliot.
January’s pink sky over Bangkok in the evenings reminds me to take the time to notice. The way the air feels heavier than it did five months ago, when I scrambled here from Vientiane to get to the Indian Embassy and see about visas to India. I had big ideas, back then. You put all your hopes and dreams into one idea, and you think it’s the only way.