Bangkok Babylon


This week’s book was written by Jerry Hopkins, an author with over 30 books to his credit. He wrote Bangkok Babylon (ISBN 978-0-8048-4077-4, Tuttle Publishing) in 2005, but the subject matter makes this book really timeless.

Jerry Hopkins has obviously been a voyeur standing a little off to the stage left.  “One of the reasons I migrated to Thailand was because it had the most interesting expatriate community I’d encountered anywhere in the world.”  It is his description of these interesting expats that then makes the book interesting.

His conversational writing style makes the reader believe he is sitting on the next bar stool, listening to bar room tales of the amazing exploits of some of the subjects.  And some are definitely amazing.

It would be hard to pick just which expat should top the bill, but for me, one expat who is still battling away is Father Joe Maier.  A priest with his collar off, who fights incessantly for his flock, the slum dwellers from Klong Toey.  What drives a man like that?  Author Hopkins does give you some clues, as Fr Maier admits that he was an angry young man training to be a priest, and one who did not fit in the seminary in the US, so the American holy fathers were happy to see him go to Asia.  Now an angry old man, author Hopkins describes the turmoil that can be found in the slum, and how Fr Joe Maier wades right into the middle of it all.  His adversaries are not spared by him, Thai ‘face’ or no Thai ‘face’.  An amazing expatriate.

Another pair of interesting expats, each with their own chapter were Tony Poe and Jack Shirley, US leftovers from the CIA undercover work in Laos during the phony war.  Trained together, did similar work together, had similar styles, and hated each other like poison.  Personally I am not a war buff, but it was interesting to read just how those embroiled in war adapt in the world outside of the killings.  For some it was their own bar stool in their own bar, living what must have been a sad life in the end.

Most of the subjects have their stories told and sometimes re-told by author Hopkins, but in some he permits himself to comment on their lifestyle.  Bernard Trink is one of those with the first sentence being, “It was my belief that Bernard Trink was not only boring, he was dangerous.”  Hopkins certainly does not spare Trink, suggesting that if Trink’s writing was so popular this reflected badly not on just the writer, but also the readership of the Bangkok Post.  But I would imagine that Trink would have just his rhinoceros hide ready and displaying his line of “I don’t give a hoot.”

In his summation (his mea culpa), Hopkins draws on the fact that most of the expatriates enjoyed Thailand (in fact some reveled in it) as a place where they found themselves, or in some cases reinvented themselves.  He admits that some of the subjects could be described as dinosaurs. Good yarns at B. 525, major bookstores.