Asian Sweetheart, Dean Barrett and Perceptions of Thailand

I really, really love Asian Sweetheart’s site but I feel that she has a very slanted view of farangs.  I don’t think she means any harm by it but the words she chooses often betray her underlying feelings. She recently chose to use Dean Barrett’s book “The Go-Go Dancer Who Stole My Viagra And Other Poetic Tragedies of Thailand” as an example of negative portrayals of her country saying:

They interview that author named Dean Barret who writes trashy novels about the scummy parts of Thai culture. Is there any farang who writes about the nice parts of Thai culture? Or are there no farang interested in reading that that type of writing? As an example, Barret has a book titled “The Go-Go Dancer Who Stole My Viagra And Other Poetic Tragedies of Thailand”. Geez, what garbage.

So Khun Barrett left her a comment on her blog.  Awkward.  And as any you have read his books might well imagine; he was charming, sweet, and funny in his reply.

But the part that frustrates me a bit with Asian Sweetheart’s take on this is that she called his book garbage without even reading it.  A true case of judging a book by it’s cover.  I have to admit that this is not one of Barrett’s books that I have read but from what I have read from him in the past I couldn’t imagine it being an overly negative portrayal of Thailand.  Barrett has always struck me as a lover of Thailand, Thai culture, and someone who has a much more compassionate view of the life of the average working girl in Thailand than most Thai people do. Watch these videos on YouTube (the first three) and tell me whether or not you feel this man only writes about the negative sides of the country.

So, unlike Asian Sweetheart, I went to Amazon to read some reviews to get a sense of what his book was about.  Here we find three reviews:

Review 1:

I almost didn’t buy this book as I thought it might be too superficial but although it is uneven (it would have to be given the number of styles the author uses) most of the poems are very well written, some are moving, and some are very humorous. The one on fates of writers (mostly suicides) is interesting and poems on Thailand show the author’s knowledge of and love for the country. Not all pieces are poems, but all are thoughtful and well written. If you like irreverent poetry, try this – you’ll be glad you did.

Review 2:

This book of poetry and ballads is as the back cover says a lot of fun but there is also a lot of skill in the execution of many of the poems. Some are actually lyrics for songs and a few of these are quite moving. Just a bit over half are on Thailand and some of the others like I Had A Kid Brother are not poems that anybody will soon forget. Excellent and not only for Thailand lovers!

Review 3:

This is poetry with a flair! Most set in Thailand and the rest about other places and other things. The ballads are a blast esp. Noy of the Horny Toad. Bukowski would have loved it.

Hmmm . . . “shows the author’s knowledge and love for the country,” and “not only for Thailand lovers!” doesn’t really sound like a disparaging book about Thailand or Thai people at all.  I may pick it up in the airport for reading on the flight home.  Though to be honest I am not a huge fan of poetry so I may not.

But it would not be the first time Asian Sweetheart has jumped to a conclusion without research.  She once commented on her blog that this blog was one of many writing about shagging bar girls.  As I pointed out in my rebuttal to her there is very little bar girl commentary at all.  Maybe I should put more and I would get more hits from Google searches but my love for Thailand extends beyond Soi Cowboy, Nana, and Patpong.

There are many, many negative things about Thailand.  I would say that prostitution is only the tip of the iceberg.  We could go on for pages discussing corrupt politicians, police, and . . . well, just about everything.  We could talk about the third-world living conditions outside of the major cities.  We could talk about many things.  But at the same time there are many, many wonderful things about Thailand.  And there are many, many people online and in books who have written about the beauty of Thai temples, the country, and the people.

The problem that I feel that Asian Sweetheart needs to get over is that people are going to write about both.  I can tell you stories about kindness shown to me by Thai people that would move you but I can also tell you stories about being screwed over with such ruthlessness that your average farang simply can’t grasp what would drive someone to being so callous.  I have seen temples so beautiful you can only be awed but I have also seen a one legged man crawling down Sukhumvit on his belly begging for money.  You cannot say only write about the good and ignore the bad.  Often when I tell a Thai friend about something horrible that has happened to me or someone I know they reply “Oh, but not all Thai people are that way.”  And they are right but at the same time, not all Thai people are like them.  You can’t simply ignore that bad people exist and bad things happen.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts the best way to make something better is to put a spotlight on it and fix it.  Many Thai people would prefer that we all just ignore it and only focus on the things that are good.  But if you leave things unchecked they tend to become even larger problems.

And from the perspective of us farangs we need to talk about these things so we can protect ourselves.  How many MORE men would be left penniless and heartbroken if it were not for sites like Stickman’s?  How much MORE money would have been stolen in gem scams if farangs didn’t warn each other about how they work?  Farangs don’t have the option to turn a blind eye to the negative parts about Thailand because we wouldn’t be able to survive if we didn’t develop defenses and share information.  So when someone pens a fictional (or semi-fictional) story about man meets bar girl, man falls in love with bar girl, man losses everything to dishonest bar girl; it is not because someone enjoys writing bad things about Thailand.  It’s because the author is hoping that the story will educate his reader and maybe prevent the same thing from happening to him.

Yet even with as much information that has been put out there and with so many stories written about the dangers that can fall on a farang in Thailand farangs are still getting taken.  Bar girls are still milking guys for support.  Gem scams still happen.  So maybe even more needs to be written about the negative parts of Thailand.  Maybe an even bigger spotlight needs to be shined on the negatives.

Because maybe, just maybe, the Thai people will get fed up with hearing about all the negative things that they will demand the government do something about it.  Maybe the government will help the people of Isaan in a way that gives them a standard of living that doesn’t make it attractive for girls to run off to Bangkok and Pattaya and shag foreigners for money.  Maybe the government will change business and land ownership laws making it less risky for farangs with money to invest in Thailand.  Maybe farangs will be treated fairly by the legal system encouraging people with wealth to live and invest in Thailand.  Maybe the police will clean up places like Soi Cowboy, Nana, and Patpong so that they aren’t circus freak shows that lure people to write about them.  Maybe the government will crack down on Thai people who rip off farangs.

Unfortunately, not enough people in Thailand care about the image of Thailand to change things that would eliminate the negatives.  There’s simply too much money being made by looking the other way and pretending it doesn’t exist.  The government would rather make big empty gestures like writing a letter to Manchester City asking why someone would write Thaksin across a Thai flag.

But because Thai people cannot count on their government to change things they write on blogs or in newspapers about how farangs bring all the problems to Thailand.  They complain when negative things are written about Thailand and Thai people but never ask why their government allows those things to happen in the first place.

I love Thailand but just because I love Thailand does not mean I can overlook the negatives.  If more Thai people started complaining to the government to change things instead of complaining to us farangs when we write about them then maybe there wouldn’t be anything negative for us to write about.

Oh, and Asian Sweetheart, just to answer the question you asked on your blog, why not look on Amazon to see the 70,000+ books written about Thailand.  I think you’ll be surprised how many focus on the positive aspects of Thailand and Thai culture.  I would also suggest that you read some of Kuhn Barrett’s books and see how much love he has for your country and your culture.