Friday, 24 April 2009

Thai Girl. Treasured or Trashed?

I’m pleased to report that my recent book, “MY THAI GIRL AND I” has sold out and been reprinted already and my novel, “THAI GIRL” has just been reprinted for the seventh time.

I also note in the press that Dan Brown’s plodding novel, “The Da Vinci Code” has sold 51 million copies which is more than the total sales of both my two books together.

It’s taken him six years to crank out a new novel whose name I forget and the first print run is said to be five million copies. Unfortunately, because of storage problems in Bangkok my print runs have to be smaller than that.

On 1st April 2009 I posted on my blog at a glowing review of my own new novel, “The Kandinsky Lode”, a work in the same god plod genre as all of Brown’s.

The review describes the story of how Desmond Jones, a suburban accountant in southern England is chosen as God’s intermediary on earth to reveal to mankind that Christ’s second coming has already happened. Desmond learns that God has sent his only son to confer upon us the advanced data processing capacity He uses for judgments at the Pearly Gates.

God’s son on earth at last is revealed as none other than Bill Gates, now in philanthropic mode, and the review of course is an April Fool.

On 17 October 2008 in a blog called, ‘Dear John, I’m Confused’ about how often reviews of commercial fiction are utterly ridiculous, I gave some examples from the ‘pseud’s corner’ of quotes on the inside covers of a couple of novels by John Irving and John Grisham.

Like most things where there’s big money sloshing around, the power relationships in publishing are fundamentally corrupt. Reviewers seek to flatter a major author or want to get themselves or their journal quoted and it’s their grovellings that I parody in my spoof review of “The Kandinsky Lode”.

Writing can be a solitary calling and all authors crave feedback. Before the internet it must have been lonely indeed and I’m lucky to have had loads of feedback on both my novel, “Thai Girl” and my new book, “My Thai Girl and I”. They had many reviews in the Bangkok press, mostly positive, but there was sometimes a sub-text I did not always understand.

One reviewer of “Thai Girl” met me for dinner with his photographer, praised the book to the skies and then wrote a review that rubbished it. Happily the magazine’s publisher distanced himself from the review in the next issue and the reviewer no longer had a job, but it alerted me to the strange world of book reviews.

I therefore value more highly the many personal messages I receive, which I always post on the Readers Forum on, as these come without any such baggage. Sometimes there are some critical comments but I need these too and they’re all there on the Forum, as well as some positive quotes from the media in the website’s Introduction.

A place I’ve been less well treated has been the members’ forum on What happens is that somebody asks on the forum what books to read about Thailand, “Thai Girl” gets a mention and then someone else piles in, not with informed criticism but with simple abuse. Things like, “Thai Girl” is the worst novel I’ve ever read,” and “I bet Mr. Hicks has never even been to Koh Pha Ngan”. (Actually the book is set on Koh Samet.)

As their user names are anonymous, they can be as outrageous as they like, but I do wonder why they bother, especially as it’s often clear that they haven’t even read the book. Towards the end of “Thai Girl” there’s a passage where Ben’s backpacker friends slag off Anglo/American foreign policy in Iraq and ridicule the ‘War on Terror” and I wonder if this could have given offence, though even that seems unlikely.

Usually somebody on the forum comes to my rescue and one member, himself an editor and writer, said some very nice things indeed in his post which reassured me on one point.

When I was writing “Thai Girl” I was worried that the plot might be a bit thin. In the story young Englishman, Ben, comes to Thailand and falls for beach masseuse, Fon, has a frustrating time and then flies home again. Nobody gets eaten by sharks or is killed by snakes in a locked Mercedes and there’s not even a tuk tuk chase.

I was thus relieved when my saviour on the forum (after some negative comments about the dialogue) had this to say.

“I read THAI GIRL off the back of a Haruki Murakami book... However, I was quickly drawn into the story and this is where the author's talent really lies: he has a natural gift for narrative. No matter that there's no strong plot… Hicks' raw talent for storytelling keeps the reader turning the pages and this is the prime directive in any kind of writing.

The real heart and soul of this book lies in the character of Fon (the 'Thai girl'). Beautifully observed and drawn, a striking metaphor for Thai culture itself, it is through her that Hicks adeptly explores the central theme of most books of this genre: the difficulty, frustration, pain and, perhaps ultimately, the futility of the foreigner trying to come to terms with the mercurial nature of Thailand. It is to his credit - and I believe displays and reflects the respect he has for this country - that he chose not to use the hackneyed milieu of the Bangkok bar scene as a vehicle to achieve this.”

I was truly grateful to him for so strongly refuting the psychos.

My problem on a public forum like Thaivisa is that I cannot act as my own advocate. If I could, I’d have quoted a brief review posted on by someone called Anne Merrit. I do not know her from Eve but she’s done what no author can ever do for their own book and that is to sum it up in a few words.

This is what she said about “Thai Girl”, the story of Ben and Fon.

“What comes across as a couple wrapped up in mind games will get you thinking about power games in general, and how gender, age, ethnic and economic differences all factor together. The endlessly complex characters will leave you guessing until the very end. Feminists may find this relationship hard to handle, men who date Thai women may find it instantly relatable. Regardless of your opinions on the falang/Thai romance phenomenon, Hicks’ honest dialogues and relatable themes make this an absorbing read.”

I particularly value criticism of this sort as it’s specific and has no agenda, unlike a few media reviewers and forum critics of the abusive kind. She puts it so well and I couldn’t ask for anything nicer that this, so I’d love to know who she is.

“Thai Girl” was described in a glossy magazine as, “one of the top selling English language novels ever published in Thailand”. I can thus dismiss the psycho critics and my fear that the plot might be a bit thin has long disappeared.

I know he got there first, but it’s reassuring too that William Shakespeare got good reviews for his earlier version of the story.

For that’s pretty much what “Thai Girl” is… a tropical “Romeo and Juliet” without the coffins.

Andrew Hicks The “Thai Girl” Blog April 2009

Saturday, 18 April 2009

My Google Gurgled... Why??

Every blogger wants their stuff to be read and that means maximising visits to the site.

My blog has more than 200 articles posted on it and you folks out there do seem to enjoy it. But suddenly the river of hits referred by Google searches has dropped to a gurgle. Why could this be?

I used to get lots of hits from Yahoo too but these suddenly fell away to a trickle and then last week my Google hits as good as stopped. Previously I was getting a total of 200 hits a day but that has now halved.

Previously if I did an appropriate Google search, my Blogspot would appear very high up but now it only does if the search is vey specific.

Can anyone tell my why this might be and if there's anything I can do about it?

Other bloggers have lots of little icons all over their blogs, I guess to maximise traffic but I have no idea what I should do to this end. Again I need help!

I track the referrals on my magic 'sitemeter' and it could be that it is simply failing to record referrals that are actually being received... though I think that's unlikely.

To me it's a mysterious world so can anyone enlighten me, please?



Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Thai Girls' Forked Finger Photos

Why always the vee-sign for the photo? To do with the Bunny Club?

Now there's even someone else trying to get in on the act!

This time there's only one finger between them.

But the men get in on the act too with a whole handful,

And they start young... this is Nan and her friend at school.

Some things in Thailand I’ll never understand.

Like whenever you point a camera at a ‘Thai girl’ she’ll flash you a smile to live for, pose coquettishly and give you a diagonal vee-sign, palm out and fingers forked. I have no idea why and, I guess, neither do they.

Is it ‘V for victory’ or ‘Y’ for up-yours? Or even a saucy suggestion of the Bunny Club logo? I have no idea.

It’s just the fashion, says Cat, but sometimes if I ask them not to do it they just look offended, so I’ve given up trying to get a sensible photo.

All I know is that when Cat comes home from college with shots of her friends, local farmers’ daughters uniform in short black skirts and tight white blouses, displaying perfect teeth and the usual forked fingers in the photo, who am I to complain. And while I’m not admitting to the well known Thai obsession with school girls in uniforms, I certainly don’t object when they drop by to do their homework with Cat.

So yes, Cat’s been studying again.

When I first met her six years ago she was half way through a dismal external degree in Political Science at Ramkamhaeng University and it was I who disrupted her progress. She wasn’t enjoying the indigestible diet of rote learning but ever since has regretted not getting a handle to her name. Now the wrong side of thirty, poor thing, she recently looked around for a better opportunity and soon found a new two year course in Computer Graphics on offer at a local vocational college.

Unfortunately, having registered for the new term, the strict para-miltary regime came as a bit of a shock to her. Seven thirty in the morning you’re on parade for an assembly and roll call and if you’re late you have to run round the field or clean the toilets. Not fun!

You have to stay in school all day and take part in compulsory sports and sometimes Cat’s classes (when she’s lucky enough to get any) didn’t start until evening after a ten hour wait. What with a half hour ride on the Honda each way, our personal life has been suffering as she’s never at home. Then when she has to get up at four in the morning to do homework for one of her many subsidiary subjects, I’m not well pleased.

For accounting she has to grasp terms like ‘owner’s equity’ and for office management she has lists of office equipment to learn like ‘duplicator’ and ‘facsimile’ (but not ‘scanner’). At least she’s been a top scorer in her tests in English language which is encouraging.

I remember a Samui hotel advertising for a ‘beach boy’ which demanded only graduate applicants, so in contrast the idea of teaching vocational subjects rather than force feeding useless academic subjects at so called ‘degree’ level makes absolute sense. Cat’s college has an impressive range of vocational courses for jobs from electricians to banking and accounting and its garden campus is large and beautifully kept and the buildings are modern and impressive. With its students turning up on time, immaculately turned out in their smart uniforms, it all looks very good indeed. And of course in Thailand that’s what matters most.

Thai schools such as this one love to hold big public events like sports festivals which can last for days on end. They seem to define the corporate spirit of the school and also give a good excuse to get out of boring classes for a few days. Anyway, Cat told me her college was staging a big ‘English day’ and that all its thousands of students were to take part. I was invited and was sure to be dragged in somehow.

On the day we were politely asked to wait in a VIP board room and were eventually ushered into the vast assembly hall where the multitude were sitting on the floor, boys to the left and girls to the right. The Principal had been held up in Surin so, as hostage to fortune, I was called on to cut the ribbon and read an address in English. This I did, doing a quick edit as I read it.

Then came a programme of displays and events, segregated into male or female performers, including group songs in English and a learned oration on the subject of global warming. This I recognised as a brief homily that I’d knocked off on my laptop at Cat’s request just before she went off to school one morning on her motorbike.

It’s good to make oneself useful like this!

Then the third sex came on stage. It was the school’s ladyboys and they brought the house down. Cross-dressed in flouncy dresses and livid make-up, as they came prancing up the aisle they almost raised the roof. And of all the singing and dancing, theirs was by far the best.

Yes, it is good to be useful but, as I feared, much more was to be demanded of me. I’ve never sung in front of an audience of thousands before but I knew that karaoke can sometimes be compulsory. The Thais don’t have a clear word for ‘no’, so I had to fall back on singing ‘Get Back”, one of my favourite Beatles songs.

“Jojo was a man who thought he was a woman,
But she was another man.
Get back, get back, get back to where you once belonged.
Get back Jojo!”

It’s a catchy and repetitive song that goes down well with Thais, even though they don’t know it. Never mind that it’s about a rent boy who goes off to the bright light to make a fast buck. Ladyboys are tolerated around here!

So all in all it was an impressive event and good fun, never mind if only a little English was learned. It added to the lustre of the college and it justified an article in their quarterly glossy PR magazine, replete with a prestigious picture of a farang cutting the ribbon to open the event that Cat brought home a few weeks later.

That was some time ago now, since when Cat has been struggling with the strict ethos of the regime and with the fact that they don’t seem to have the money to pay for enough teachers of computer graphics.

Given the pressures on our personal life, you may well guess the outcome of this, Cat’s latest attempt to earn herself a certificate. I didn’t want to influence her in her decision, saying that if she was still learning useful stuff about computing she should persist, but no, she said, she only wanted the certificate.

I’m now tempted to go off at a tangent about Thai education, my ignorance never inhibiting a good rant. But I’ll stick to saying that it doesn’t have a good reputation and that foreign teachers here seem to say that Thai schools generally fail to teach relevant transferable skills, problem solving, analysis or creative thinking, which is a serious failing in this changing world.

For me it’s all encapsulated by the popularity of multiple choice question in Thai university tests. I’ve seen examples in English and they were nonsensical, many having more than one possible answer. Any test based on such questions would be a lottery, but then the Thais love lotteries!

A farang friend who’s in the teaching business here recently put to me the following multiple choice question, allegedly taken from a test on English idiom. It reads as follows.

“Choose the answer that correctly completes the following sentence.
‘One swallow doesn’t make…
1. a decent meal.
2. a summer, or
3. a porn star.”

I really don’t understand it and am still unsure which is the correct answer, so please let me know what you think, giving reasons.

Andrew Hicks The Thai Girl Blog April 2009