Category Archives: Thai Books

Very Bangkok: Neighbourhoods, Networks, Tribes

Undoubtedly one of my favourite books about the real Thailand is one by Philip Cornwel-Smith called Very Thai. I always recommend it to any of my friends who want to see the country with new eyes. I thought I already knew a lot about Thailand but Philip’s book certainly opened up a new chapter for me. Now he has a new book coming out called Very Bangkok: Neighbourhoods, Networks, Tribes which is published by River Books. I just ordered an advance copy from where they say it will be published on16 July 2012.


The following information on the book comes from the publisher:

Bangkok arrests the visitor with its bewildering juxtaposition of old and new, hi-tech and impromptu, sacred and profane. While modernizing at great pace under myriad outside influences, the Thai capital draws equal vigour from its historic communities, cultural diversity and contemporary urban tribes.

The author of Very Thai and Time Out Bangkok, Philip Cornwel-Smith takes an alternative look at the subcultures of his adopted town in this practical thematic handbook. With the aid of maps, listings and references, the visitor can engage with Bangkok’s contradictory character according to their mood or interest.

Explore the city’s contrasting environments, architectural fabric, ethnic patchwork and intertwined beliefs. Encounter distinct social scenes, whether hip or hi-so, local or bohemian and see how traditional roots infuse the current Thai flowering in arts and entertainments, fashion and food lifestyle and spas. Photography by Dow Wasiksiri – selected for the prestigious 9 Days in the Kingdom project – enhances this insider’s guide to a city like no other.

UPDATE: I’ve had the follow update from the author who talks about the delay in publishing this book:-

Thanks for your interest. I really appreciate it. The Bangkok book is taking much longer than expected to write. It keeps expanding and having to be cut back. Much research I’ve done will have to go into later works. Meanwhile, I’ve needed to update Very Thai into a full 2nd edition with more pages, some new concluding chapters – and a bigger typefont! Yay! Most chapters have changes big and small, while some have been heavily rewritten to deal with Thailand’s dramatic transformations of recent years. The 2nd edition of Very thai will come out in about 3 months, along with an updated German version and a new Japanese translation, ‘Tottemo Thai’. The Bangkok book will then follow. Thanks for your patience.

Buy Thai Books!

Sawat dee Krab!

Welcome to my latest bit of blog on one of my most favorite of all things Thai next to Thai food, my books! Sometimes I’d almost rather have my nose in a good book more than even a plate of Pad Grapao smelling all that spicy, basilly Thai goodness. I guess you can say that’s one way to diet!

Long before I became a Thaiphile I was a bibliophile I’ve always loved books and collecting books too. As a kid I was the reclusive and introspective sort so diving into books (at least ones that didn’t bore me) was a natural fit. Would it sound too geeky to say some of my best friends were books? Well they were at least in high school where it was easier to escape into a good book then deal with the pressures of my high schools social life (or lack there of!)

Most of the time things were cool but sometimes constantly buried in a book was an invitation to get the snot beat out of me by some of the Neanderthal jerks at my school. Back then I was into science fiction books like the Martian landscape of Edgar Rice Burrows or Ray Bradbury and Carl Sagans books on science and everything out there among the “billions and billions of star stuff.”. Even though I was a poor student reading those books marked me as being ‘brainy’ and an instant target for those of the knuckles-dragging-the-ground mindset. I can just imagine what my tormentor’s reaction would be to seeing me reading books about Thailand. “You readin’ books on wha’? TIE-land?” Oh I could hear the bad attempts at humor now *shudder*

I didn’t have a clue back then about my adopted country but all that has changed due to my passion for reading. That plus my determined drive to get my hands on anything I could find on the subject! So today I thought I’d write about my collection of books I have on Thailand. At my most recent count I have about one hundred books on darn near just about anything and everything to do with the Land of Smiles. In fact I joking tell folks I probably have the largest privately owned Thai library in DC not counting Wat Thai or the Thai Embassy here. Too bad that’s too big to fit on a business card 😉

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Muay Thai: A Living Legacy

Sawasdee Krab Thai True Believers!

Welcome back to part two of my little missive on the butt kickin’-est martial art there is this side of Boise, yep none other than Thailand’s number one export for sports, Muay Thai! Was the book cover a give away?

This happens to be one of my favorite in my personal collection of books on Thailand. It’s like the Bible of Muay Thai with just about everything you’d want to know about Thai kickboxing. The book is beautifully loaded with enough excellent pictures to make any Thai coffee table book green with envy. It’s also crammed with enough info inside and out to be any serious kickboxing aficionados’ number one reference on everything ‘muay.’ All this and there is even a fold out poster in the back! An excellent choice for the little kick boxer on your Christmas list this year.

Last blog I breezed over some of the history of how Muay Thai came to be, this time I thought I’d delve into some of the nitty, gritty details about what makes this such a fascinating event to watch if you ever happen to see a real Muay Thai match. Last time I also tried to let my writing chops and literary excess paint a scene of what going to a Muay Thai exhibition would be like. However I think all my ‘purdy words’ fell flat without the street cred of having actually seen a Muay Thai bout myself. *sigh*

My Muay Thai (stuff)

Forget Home Theatre Box office I’ve got Home Theatre Boxing! I’ve seen enough fights with my Muay Thai VCD collection that I have some idea what they are like. How nuts am I for Thai kickboxing? Well in addition to three very excellent books on Muay Thai I have about a dozen VCD’s of Muay Thai championship bouts, most of them by Thailand’s Number One Kickboxing Promoter Songchai Ratanasuban who is like the Don King of Muay Thai but without the wild hair.

I found a series of kickboxing VCDs on eBay once so I bought the whole set. They highlighted fighters as young as 8 years old up into the late teens competing. Some of the tykes showed some talent for kickboxing while a few of the really young ones looked like they were having it rough just to hold up their oversized boxing shorts!

I also have three VCD documentaries on kick boxing that are a hoot to watch since they are all bilingual. On my TV I set the ‘Audio adjust’ to the far left and everything is in Thai, move the setting to the far right and an Australian guy (the accent is unmistakable) is now doing the narration in English but he’s still speaking in Thai grammar! Too weird!

My other really cool ‘how to’ VCD is on the history and style of Muay Thai’s cousin Krabi-Krabong which I mentioned at the end of my last blog. This is a combat style that really deserves a blog of it’s own if I can’t hit some of the high lights here that is if ya’ll are still with me later *wink*

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More heart talk – lessons in Jai

When I wrote my blog last week on Jai ใจ, the Thai language of the heart, I don’t think I realized potentially just how big a blog I planned to take a bite out of to chew! Writing about Christopher Moore’s book ‘Heart Talk’ I learned there are just so many really cool and uniquely ‘Thai’ nuances to express the heart. I mean tipping the scales at just over 450 different phrases to convey about 400 different kinds of feeling… that’s a lot of feeling! I was being way too optimistic to do a fairly decent write up on this and be anywhere near complete in just one blog there are just too many good examples to pick from.

Looking at the scope of what I could write about in several pretty decent blogs I was at a loss just what to do. Chop everything up into bits and blurbs of Jai like curry? Some spicy, some sweet or some hot? Write and write and write until my cracked and bleeding fingers can’t type anymore? Oui, the checks my brain writes that my body has to cash sometimes. And I have to go to bed in about 5 hours!

Therefore I decided rather than trying to tackle the whole book in one go I thought in ode to Stevesuphans ‘do and don’t’ series I’d do something similar. Yes, Virginia when in doubt or facing a deadline plagiarism (sort of) is alive and well in America, I mean just look at TV!

I’m thinking there are 13 chapters in the book so why not pick a chapter or two to write about at a time? That enough blog material for each month at least for a year! Like the saying goes, ”How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. How do you write a blog this big? One chapter at a time. Nguu nguu, bplaa bplaa. Same thing. This way a little over time actually says a lot, perfect for a perpetual talker like me, chai mai?

That being said here now is part 2 of Heart Talk my new on again, off again (like my coffee habit) series of blogs on Jai, the Thai language of the heart so let’s get to the good stuff starting with today’s line up. However, if you’re like me and not the patient sort to wait till the end of my blog series to learn everything about Jai you can always buy the book from Richard’s bookshop. I’m sure he won’t mind just tell him Wit sent ya 😉

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Language of the Heart

Hands down without doubt the thing I love best about Thailand is the language. Listening to spoken Thai and reading written Thai can even edge out a deliciously so-spicy-will-kill-a-normal-human plate of pad gra pao from my affections.

Thai language is such a beautiful language and really, when you think about it, such a simple language. In Thai you can say the same thing in two words that in proper English would take a dozen or more words sometimes. Example? Thai: Bpai Nai? Meaning: Where are you going? In Proper English: I say old chap where are you popping off to this evening? It’s no wonder Thai kids may sometimes not be thrilled to learn the old pasah Ankrit! 😉
Richard and Steven – My apologies for a little poke in the English ribs there lol

On the other hand Thai is one of the only languages I know where you can say the same word in only a slightly different way 5 times and come up with 5 completely different words like the Thai tongue twister I posted last time maai mai mai mai mai ไม้ใหมไม่ไหม้มยั้ (meaning “New wood doesn’t burn, does it?”).

Be that as it sometimes may when I hear someone speaking Thai my reaction is automatic. I start to physically draw my body into the conversation as if I could absorb the language by osmosis. If I am sitting down like in my Thai class at Wat Thai I start to lean forward more, elbows resting on the table, my head resting in my hands with all the rapt attention of a spellbound child. I listen to the rhythm and cadence of the Thai words that flow out gently like wind or water. Especially when listening to the monks talk about Buddhism in such a peaceful relaxed tone unlike anything, no matter how poetic, that can be said in English or dare I say any other language.

I would swear a look of dopey puppy love crosses over my face. When this happens I wonder if my Thai teacher, Phrapalad Ampol, must think I am his most attentive student or maybe I have a crush on him! 😉

It fascinates me that classic Thai is like a lyrical poem of metaphor, like the epic Ramayana or even the true name of the City of Angels Bangkok. But Thai is also much like modern English in that it can speak its own language within a language in a code of slang and innuendo.

This is a level of true Thai that you will never learn in Thai language books or by listening to Thai audio tapes. It’s only by getting verbally ‘down and dirty’ on the mean streets of Bangkok or ‘sweaty and gritty’ with the hill tribes and farmers outside the city. I can understand this even though I have never been to Thailand before, the only Thailand I know from books, tapes and CD’s stacked up around me here so I know I don’t carry the same Thai ‘street cred’ as most of the veterans here Thai-Blogs. Still this makes sense to me because it is the same way here in America. Different cultures all speaking their own language of solidarity. But I am getting off the point here..

Just as fascinating and a heck of a lot easier to learn is the Thai language of the heart. Metaphors have been a part of written and spoken language since the time of the Egyptians but I’ve never run across a language before that expresses the heart and emotions in so many ways and can be compressed into so few words yet once you learn them can envelope you in such a universal understanding of feeling.

Therefore one of my favorite books on Thai language is Heart Talk: Say What You Feel In Thai by Christopher G. Moore and available at Richards school bookshop. Written by a farang no less, Heart Talk is quite a comprehensive list of the many expressions of ‘Jai’ ใจ, or Thai heart. The book lists from A to Z about 450 heart phrases or words to express over 400 moods and feelings. And you thought learning 44 consonant and 32 complete vowels of the Alphabet was hard? Pish-tosh!

The heart phrases, perhaps ‘phases’ being an equally important label, in this book cover everything from the ‘absentminded heart’ to the ‘zen heart’ including the most common and some of the pretty obscure along the way.

Each chapter usually lists a dozen or more Heart Talk expressions for categories such as Good Times, Hard Times and Condemnations, Heart Talk in Relationships and in Society. As well as expressions for Heart Talk Warfare, Body Talk, Self-Control, Perception, Heart Talk Choice and Romance. Whew! Could anything possibly be left out?

Therefore without further ado is my short list of some of the best, most intriguing (to me) or flat out odd (me again) from the list.

Heart Talk for the Good Times

Pleased Heart

Kruem Jai ครึ้มใจ or Kruem ok Kruem Jai ครึ้มอกครึ้มใจ

When someone gives a special gift or bestows a favor, the one receiving feels a sense of pleasure or ‘please heart’. This is like whenever I get more books or CD’s from Thailand, yeppers I’m always pleased about that!

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