This week’s book review is very local and is the result of a series of interviews with Saifon Somdaeng, a 33 year old bar girl working out of beer bars in Pattaya. Last Exit Pattaya (ISBN 978-616-7111-19-3, Bamboo Sinfonia, 2011) was written by Louis Anschel, previously known for his books “A Farang Strikes Back” and this year “A Snake in Paradise”.
This book is initially very noticeable, with the front and back covers representing a credit card, a very clever marketing ploy. Full marks to the publishers Bamboo Sinfonia for innovative creativity.
The book consists of interviews with the bar girl Saifon (Fon) Somdaeng done between January 24 and February 10 this year.
Anschel has done a very good job in getting this woman to open up for him, and the resultant replies come across as totally factual. There are no slips that would indicate some obfuscation, and the dialogue comes as truly indicative of the English spoken by a bar girl from Buriram.
The book traces her life from being the eldest in the family, through to her first liaison with a Thai boyfriend, who subsequently dies and she takes up with another Thai who befriends her. Romantic notions such as “love” do not come into it.
The jump from living with someone to charging a fee for living with someone is certainly not a chasm for Fon, and so it becomes the only truly viable lifestyle for an Isan girl with family responsibilities.
By the end of the narrative, you are left wondering:
a) why have I heard this story before, and
b) are all the Isan bar girls like this?
The most telling item is actually on the back cover where the story is described as, “All this without playing on anyone’s heart strings, criticizing social customs or condemning her customers, and most important, without any judgment or interpretation by the author. The main character (Fon) is her own referee. It’s all about hard facts. Facts in her own words.”
It would be easy, in fact too easy, to look upon Fon as a woman with neither morals nor scruples, but in her favor is the fact that with her complete lack of schooling, and the Isan family culture of a wastrel father and ineffective mother, with only the grandmother holding the family unit together, which by the time Fon was in her twenties includes her two children. Even work as a check-out girl is denied to those without a school leaving certificate.
The truth in her tale is apparent from the photographs where Fon appears in overseas locations, but like most Thai country girls, cannot make the transition to life in foreign countries.
She does get given the opportunities to climb above her background, but with her lack of ambition this will never happen. Every step in her life has a monetary value, and she is not satisfied until ‘paid off’. A sad book in many ways, but for some an eye-opener.
It is a slim volume, but not an expensive read at B. 395 and is available through Asia Books, Bookazine and DK Bookmart.