Daily Archives: August 9, 2005

“The Story of Jan Darra”

A scene from the movie Jan Dara

After I wrote my last blog about “Letters from Thailand”, I received numerous excellent suggestions from other bloggers here for expanding my own shelf of Thai lit – a pretty sparse shelf indeed as it housed only the one book which was threatening to topple over at any time.

Since I could find nothing at the bookstores I usually haunt, and in the spirit of Mr Wit from thai-blogs with his Thai music collection, I went online and bought books through the excellent dcothai.com. They don’t have an actual bricks and mortar store in Bangkok but delivery anywhere in Thailand is 40 baht no matter the size of the order – would cost me more than that to take the Skytrain somewhere to pick them up.

“The story of Jan Darra”,was the first book I picked up and, yes, mostly because I was familiar with the movie and hence the title, but I was also drawn in by the description of the author on the inside flap: “A heavy drinker, Pramoon (Un-hathoop, who wrote the book under the name Utsana Phleungtham) was plagued by stomach ulcers from his mid-thirties, and spent the last twenty years of his life in and out of hospitals. Bukowski in Bangkok! Choice made.

I imagine distant bells might go off in the minds of some who read this due to the film “Jan Dara”, (why they dropped the extra ‘r’ i don’t know) which was based on this book and received a big opening abroad at film festivals. I was not in Thailand during its opening but news reports indicate that the film’s directors had to pay more than one visit to the Government Censor Board who greeted them with scissors in hand.

After finishing the book, I watched “Jan Dara” once again and to me it didn’t’ measure up to the book, but then again that could be said for any film adaptation of a book that I’ve enjoyed (save say the rare, rare instance like Shawshank Redemption or some such). Having been in Thailand for a longer while as well I must say that the actor playing the elder master of the house (known in the novel only as His Lordship) did to me bear something of a striking resemblance to my one-time fellow Christmas mass celebrant Mr. Chuwit himself! Maybe it was just the moustache.

The movie Jan Dara came out in 2001, but the book was written years before that in 1966 released as “Rueang Khong Jan Darra” and the writer himself was obviously aware that his book would meet with more than just an upturned eyebrow or two. Pramoon wrote in the foreword to his book: “This is the writer’s first novel, and he must insist that his work of fiction is unsuitable for kids and most offensive to sanctimonious pricks.”

Marcel Barang, who edited the translation of Jan Darra, writes in his postscript to the book that Pramoon infuriated those who petitioned against his book by answering them with a simply two-word riposte: “Phom chawp” (I like it!)

Barang in his postscript says that this is the only Thai erotic novel of merit in the history of the Kingdom’s literature. Seems like a bold claim but his defence is that other supposedly “erotic” books have been written, and bawdy tales dispatched to men’s magazines he notes, but they are pornographic rather than erotic and do not approach literature, as this book most certainly does.

Pramoon is said to have based the goings on in this book on real life events in a castle near to where he lived – he befriended the cook’s son and was provided with enough tales from the inside to lead to the publishing of this work. The protagonist’s first name is derived from ‘janrai’ (damned) and is given to him by his would be step-father who hates him (we learn why later).

Jan witnesses all manner of debauched sexual behaviour from an early age instigated by “His Lordship”, who uses his position of power in the household to bed all the maids, cooks, visiting relatives and even his own wife on occasion with seemingly unlimited verve and aggression. This has the effect of deepening Jan’s hatred of the man and also of spawning a family tree that it would take a patient scholar years to delineate.

His Lordship eventually banishes Jan from the household and sends him to Phichit where his family roots lie. That section alone is an interesting slice of the book for me – sure once we get a whiff of the tone of the book not much can surprise us in “His Lordship’s” castle of debauch, but the goings on upcountry are something else indeed! Jan has to invent pretences to ward off the advances of women and the instances of “romantic congress” are so frequent and occur in so many locales that one wonders at how these people remained upright long enough to complete any farming business.

This is a gothic novel and reads very much like one, with little reality outside of the dark household of His Lordship. Aside from his adventures in Phichit his journeys outside His Lordship’s compound only take him to school in his youth and it is there that he has a brief virginal relationship with a female school friend. That he counts as the love of his life and she’s gone before the reader can even register her presence. Pining for her, Jan begins to dive headfirst into the hedonistic world trail-blazed by His Lordship.

The novel didn’t read to me as a recounting of this man’s education of the opposite sex. When he walks in on two women sharing… intimacy… he for a moment is not sure what he is witnessing but when he can finally focus his eyes, he observes:
“Two women who could have been mother and daughter were engaged in an unnatural and obscene act that should have been struck by lightning.”

The Story Jan Darra starts out seemingly in a perfect frame to be a story of revenge – the mean-spirited owner of the house suffering for his wickedness at noble Jan’s hands. It doesn’t quite turn out that way. What happens I don’t want to spoil for those of you who may end up picking up this book, but suffice it to say that what we have in this saucy, supposedly sensationalist tale, is very much a Buddhist lamentation on the ruinous nature of desire, attachment, suffering and change. A typical Western tale this is not – here the feud that drives the narrator of this story also ensures his long-term unhappiness. Jan says at one point: “It’s true what they say; happiness and suffering are all in the mind.”

Thanks everyone for your excellent recommendations. On my third book now of the Thai Classics series and really enjoying it. I plan to write another blog about the Thai Classics series itself at a later point, but for now here is the information for this book:

ISBN: 974-89283-0-6
Translated by Phongdeit Jiangphatthanarkit
Edited by: Marcel Barang for the Thai Modern Classics Series

Tweety Birds on a Chiang Rai Hillside

A caveat to any amateur (or pro) ornithologist reading this blog. This is neither an entry about my search for a new species of aviary mystique in the jungles of Northeast Thailand, nor is it an essay about Warner Brothers’ influence on Thai culture. No, the tweety birds to which I am referring were the ones I saw above my melon after being knocked flat on my butt at Wat Phra That Doi Tung. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In April of 2004, I spent two weeks in and around Chiang Rai. I would either drive Pon’s father’s motorbike (a risky endeavor, I admit), take the bus, or ride with her uncle in his rickety Toyota pickup (he was the only person in the very entended family who had a car).

On one of my last days in Chiang Rai, Pon and I, along with about eight of her relatives (I kid you not) loaded up into this old pickup for a ride into the surrounding hills. One does not need to be a member of Mensa to realize that five or six people would be riding in the bed of said truck. I happened to be one of those windblown unfortunates. Suffice to say, at the end of that day, my milky-white skin ended up a beautiful BBQ’d red, not unlike moo daang! This in spite of using sunscreen. April in Thailand? Are you kidding?

Chiang Rai Countryside
The view from Wat Phra That Doi Tung

After a long ride, we ended up at Doi Thung Mae Fah Luang Flower Garden. These beatifully manicured grounds sit around the “chalet” that was home to the King’s mother in her later years. She had it built to look exactly like a Swiss chalet, to remind her of the years she spent in Switzerland when her children attended school in that country. The gardens were beautiful, and I took several photos. Pictures were not allowed during a tour of the interior of the chalet, so I am sorry that I cannot show how it looked. It was very beautiful. I don’t think anyone lives in the residence now. Most of the rooms are roped off and left as they were when the King’s mother passed away in 1995.

Doi Thung Mae Fah Luang Flower Garden
Some of the garden park

Not far from this chalet and garden park, sits Wat Phra That Doi Tung. One of the more interesting aspects of this wat is that it has Buddha’s left collar bone enshrined in a chedi that is draped with a saffron-colored cloth.

Buddha's Collarbone
Here’s the chedi housing Buddha’s collarbone

Another interesting aspect of this wat, is the walking path leading up to it from one of the lower parking lots. This steep ascent is lined on both sides by large bells. Hundreds of them going all the way to the summit. People going in both directions will retrieve sticks from the thick foliage, and bang each bell as they pass. The walk is anything but a time for introspective meditation in aesthetically-pleasing surroundings.

Upon reaching the summit, the climber is afforded gorgeous views of the countryside. So…I was walking around these grounds taking in everything. I spotted a beautiful vantage point from which to take of picture of the distant haze-covered hills. I knelt down by a bench to steady my view. “click” I took a couple of snapshots. Then I stood up..”BONG!!” right into a bell that was hanging next to the bench!

I don’t think that I was knocked out, but it took a moment to get my wits gathered back into my ringing noggin’. My sunglasses were sitting sideways on my sunburnt face. Embarrassment turning my already red face an even darker hue of scarlet. I was flat on my back, my legs splayed akimbo. A nice purple knot appeared almost immediately above one eye.

I sat up amidst the flashing stars and looked around; my eyewear still draped precariously off of one ear and part of my nose. Such a sight I must’ve been. Bystanders’ concerns for my well-being were quickly dispelled as I sat up. This concern was replaced by the urge to chuckle at the clumsy pink-faced Farang sitting on the flagstones, blinking slowly and surveying his surroundings. I had to laugh myself as I stood up and brushed pine needles off my keister. A truly memorable day for me this was..at the Wat of the Tweety Bird.

He looks like how I feel
Oh, my aching head!

Stories….From Thailand

Life has certainly become a lot more hectic recently. I’ve had a whole legion of enthusiastic new students knocking on me door asking to learn English. Then on top of that, I’m busy helping me fiancee with our wedding arrangements for October. But, I started this ‘bloggo section’ of mine, so I just gotta keep the train moving. After a sordid series on our nation’s beloved ‘People in Power’ I thought I’d pit-me-wits at knocking up a new series on pretty funny but true stories that have left the nation’s ‘news crazy’ folks creased up in laughter.

There are many advantages about speaking and reading the country’s language. You can read where the darned Bangkok buses are actually going, enjoy a decent meal, and definitely one of the best advantages is being able to watch the Thai news and read the daily Thai language newspapers. So for this week, I thought I’d share with yous all, a few absolutely wacko stories.

Us foreign tourists can be a pretty gullible lot for ‘getting cheated’ and my fave ‘scam some cash outta the Farang schemes’ has to be one fiasco that goes on in Pattaya. Every now and then, a Thai boxing festival is set up for the Farang tourists to go and witness for themselves a group of ‘supposedly’ grade A Thai boxers fighting for glory. Now, gambling is actually illegal in Thailand but, there are a few exceptions. There is the ever popular government lottery of course but besides only this you are allowed to gamble at the major boxing stadiums to the likes of ‘Lumphini’ and also at the country’s ‘Horse Racing’ tracks. Of course you aren’t allowed to gamble at the so-called Pattaya Boxing Festivals, but who gives a darned, This Is Thailand.

Once at this ‘supposed’ festival, which I went along too, there were dozens of massive big-bellied Germans with their stick-insect Thai girlfriends sat on the back of some rented Harley Davidson Bikes and a whole squad of English football hooligans too out to gamble for the night on the supposed ‘hot’ boxers of their choice. A whole pack of Thai guys soon arrived and within no time at all the Farang tourists were betting loadsa cash against these Thais. What a farce! We had one boxer who resembled some six-foot four mean-looking Israeli soldier straight out of the Gaza Strip up against against this chopstick boxer who looked like a Victory Monument beggar. Going into the fourth round, all the Thai guys shouted out to the likes of 1,000 baht on the crappo skinny boxer. The Farang guys thinking these Thai guys were pretty stupid at wagering on such a potential ‘loser’ were soon flashing the cash. Of course, the boxer all the Farangs bet on soon lost his momentum and was remarkably knocked-out soon after after a blinding upper-cut.

You must have been pretty dumb not to realize that every one of the fights were ‘set-up’ as a scam to replenish all the cash from the drunkard Farangs ongoers. If that wasn’t enough, all the Farangs were also charged a 500 baht entrance fee! (I paid the Thai price of 50 baht!)These so-called boxers should have won a trophy for their acting skills! As for the Farang guys they were soon fuming after beginning to realize that had been scammed for thousands!

All the Thais know that many a big Thai Boxing fight has been set up over the years and one classic had to be one that was shown live on Channel 7 a few years back. Here, we had one famous Thai promoter who enjoyed dressing up like that beaver-head American boxing promoter ‘Don King’ and one Sunday afternoon was seen showing off his new superstar to the TV cameras, who he had promised ‘Would knock the living daylights out of anyone!’. Well, hearing this fantastic news the arena’s audience were soon flashing their wallets around the ring, sure they were ‘Gonna make a killing’ on this fight.

What a great start! Thailand’s Don King’s new ‘whipper-snapper’ boxer was running around the ring smacking the other guy to shreds. That was until the third round. Our gallant boxer had suddenly decided to impersonate an intoxicated chicken and run round the ring trying to ‘slap’ the referee in the face instead. His opponent didn’t even need to throw a punch as our Thai ‘Rocky’ superstar just tripped over his own foot, fell down and was out for the count.
It was found out later that the promoter ‘Thailand’s own Don King’ had gambled several hundred thousand on the actual opponent and so the rag his corner had used to sweat the boxer’s brow at the end of the second round had in fact been doused in some sort of ‘Knock out Lotion’ normally used by surgoens. Guess his trainers just over did it a bit.

One of my fave stories has to be the one from last year that made the news headlines. As I’ve written before, our Thai friends just love having a party, playing cards and getting ‘sloshed’. Now, one of the most fun type of parties here in Thailand has to be the ‘Funeral Party’. After paying their condolences to their dead neighbour the party on-goers are soon having a right fun party at the deceased expense. On going home for the night they are all hoping that someone else soon ‘kicks the bucket’ so as to have another ‘fun night out’. So, just last year or so there was a story from the province of Nakhorn Nowhere that went something like this.

A fine funeral party was going on and all the attendants decided to ‘play cards’ and gamble their hard-earned salaries away. That was until the local police arrived to ‘do the bust’. Of course, all of them dashed out the windows and back door only for the police to say ‘Darned, all the scum have fled the scene’ with only the dead corpse of the deceased remaining in his coffin. Not so. After inspecting the crime scene one of the police suddenly heard this repititious ‘hic-up hic-up’. The cop on hearing this, asked his colleagues ‘Did you hic-cup?’ ‘No’ came the reply from every single one of them and so they asked each other ‘Well, who the heck has the hic-ups?’ Of course, none of them did and the police queried ‘Is it possible for a corpse to hic-cup?’. Sure, our finest cops aren’t exctly a very stupid bunch and decided to go and ‘tickle’ the dead body just for the fun of it! The supposed ‘dead body’ with tears in his eyes jumps out of his coffin and coffesses to the likes of ‘OK I’m not the dead body! The dead thing was lying under me!’ Of course, our gambler friend on being rather slow on fleeing the seen had jumped into the coffin on top of the dead body hoping the police wouldn’t realize. Unfortunataly for him he had just one too many whiskey and sodas that evening.

Talking about the police. I can remember a couple of years ago when the police complained to the media about a certain Ladyboy who was under their custody. What was the problem? you may ask. Well, after the Ladyboy’s capture and failure to pay a lowly fine for gambling or something like that the police could do nothing but lock the Ladyboy up for a few days in lieu of being unable to pay the fine. Probably for the fun of it, the comedian guards stuck him/her in the men’s cell. Well, after a few days the police said to the Ladyboy ‘You can go home now’ only for the Ladyboy to reply ‘I don’t want to leave, I want to stay here, it’s great being locked up with a few friends!’ So, the police just let the Ladyboy stay put and after a few more days the police had to virtually handcuff the Ladyboy and throw him/her out into the streets after they had realized that this certain Ladyboy had been having lotsa ‘fun’ with the other randy inmates every night.

Then, just last week we had the pretty hilarious goings-on of a certain farmer and his wife up there in the north-east. This is the story. Our farmer friend had just managed, to his great relief, to secure a loan for 50,000 baht and being a supposed ‘model husband’ had given his wife 49,000 baht to look after while he kept 1,000 for a night out in town with his buddies. Well, our farmer friend must have been having a splendid night out celebrating as he got so unbelievably drunk that on arriving home he ordered wife to hand over the other 49,000 baht to finance his night out. Of course, his wife wasn’t haven’t any of this and slammed the door in his face!

Infuriated at the disobedience of his wife, the farmer managed somehow or another to get his dirty hands on a small childrens’ water gun. Running back to the house with the wife fast asleep, he immediately ordered her at gunpoint to ‘flash the cash’ or she would be shot! Taking the wicked threat seriously, she quickly hands over the cash and he runs back to join his friends. One plus one equals two and after a quick chat with her neighbours she realized he had been ‘taking the pish’ and swore her revenge! She soon spotted her beloved husband in a local open-air bar surrounded by an entourage of sexy dancers. Infuriated at the capers of her loved one, she went up to the table and slammed him in the back of head with the family’s huge water pot.

Hospitalized for a couple of days cause of his head injuries, he told the media ‘Please tell me wife that I didn’t mean it. I still loves her. I just had a few too many to drink!’ Well, the wife must have been pretty stupid too, as when being interviewed by the media she burst into tears and says ‘Oooooh, I’m so sorry too, I shouldn’t have hit me husband so hard, I just hope he forgives me!’

And finally there is the ‘classic’ tale of a cartain Samlor Driver (Cycle Rickshaw/Tricyle Driver) that cocked-up his life so much that there is even a saying in the Thai language that originated out of him ‘Mue-an Samlor Tuk Huay’ (To behave like a Samlor Driver that has won the lottery). Quite a long time ago now, it hit the news headlines about this extremely poor Rickshaw Driver from Nonthaburi that had struck it lucky and won a huge two million baht on the country’s national lottery. Absolutely delighted with his win, he kicked his wife and mother-in-law out of the house and decided to ‘go on the razz’ as a single man. So, for the next few months, our Rickshaw Driver friend did nothing but party-it-up and have a whole string of adorable girls at his ‘beck and call’. He must have enjoyed himself so much that he gave his money away like pieces of paper and blew the entire sum of two million baht away within the spate of six months! Today, our Samlor friend, still single, can been seen once again driving his Rickshaw around the streets of Nonthaburi Town. And I’m not joking!

1979: New To The Kingdom

The newlyweds flew in from Hong Kong that early monsoon morning from Kowloon, Hong Kong.

We’d met a fellow traveller at KaiTak airport who told us of the wonderful land of Thailand, a place full of green tropical jungle, rice paddy, Pagodas by the score and the river city of Bangkok.

The greeness filled our eyes as the plane circled over the Cobra Swamp before descending towards Don Muang airport.

The rich aroma of Asia filled the big DC10 as we dropped below 15,000′.

Customs was routine, the kind agent inquired if I was US Military, I told him I was USArmy Special Forces retired, he grinned and quickly mentioned that he had also been in the Thai Army and had killed several Communists. We shook hands and he bid is well on our way.

The commotion outside the airport was chaotic to say the least, the taxi driver encirlced us quickly as we walked thou the doors and out into the 90% humidity and the ever constant 90F temperature.

Some of the drivers decided to “help” us with our luggage and push my wheelchair towards their fleet of againg Toyota Corollas! We finally made a deal as to what we considered a “fair” price to haul us the short drive to Bangkok.

The road was two lanes, crowded to 4 or 5 lanes of traffic, depending on what vehicle filled the way.

Horns honking, motorcycles by the thousands, large overloaded trucks, huge buses, all filled to the brim, samlors, tuk tuks, bicycles, and those that pushed wheeled carts,etc filled the “superhighway” from the airport all the way to town.

The heavy monsoon, it was after all June, also filled part or all of the road, hear and there, sometimes you’d see folks with throw nets fishing the side klongs, but most were trying to navigate the flooded streets without bogging down. Those few drowned out vehicles just became another hazard to go around, honking honking honking was necessary, otherwise someone behind might forget where they well.

Our crowed, non air conditioned taxi finally got us to our destination in the capital: The Hotel Myjestic! Our driver had mentioned that it was “almost” 4 star, at least “Number 1” and he could get us a great “deal” there!

We made our way into the aging hotel,its best days far behind it. The desk clerk cheerfully logged us in, told us about the “Number 1” pool they had,etc,etc,etc.

The bell man carried our one suitcase and pushed me in my wheelchair at the same time, squeezing in the intricate, almost french Victorian elevator.

He made it squeak and holler like a rat with it’s tail caught in a trap. We started and stopped, jerking all the way up to our “suite” on the 4th floor.

Showing up inside our room, Raymond Chandler must have stayed at this place! It’s interior designed decades earlier, the hot Asian sun had turned nearly white, the once elaborate red curtains. The bed, complete with “lumps” didn’t leave us with much hope for a good nights sleep, but we were more tired from the taxi drive from the airport, than we’d been from the flight from Kowloon.

We gave the driver a buck, and he’d said he’d be on call anytime we needed assistance, just to call the desk.

Looking out, past the moldy curtains, I could see far down below, the green infestation the desk clerk had called a “Number 1” pool. The moss was growing thickly around its edges and the thought of a refreshing dip were soon drowned by Pattys yelp as she noticed the rather large lizard in the bath tub.

I managed to corner the pesky foot long creature with one of my crutches, only to have it slip thru a small crack behind the toilet. With our safety now guaranteed, we left the room and made the elevator screech for several minutes, landing us in the lobby once again…

Enquiring at the desk where the TOT[Tourist Authority Of Thailand]was, the jovial bell captain informed us that it was “just a little ways down the street”…to be continued…