Thanks to a lady called Michelle in Singapore, another Jerry Hopkins book landed on my desk. Thank you Michelle. Entitled Thailand Confidential (ISBN 0-7946-0093-X, Periplus publishing, 2005), this is one of Hopkins’ 30 books, and I wondered if I would enjoy this one as much as I enjoyed Romancing the East, which I reviewed recently.
Hopkins describes himself in the Introduction as a “grumpy old man” and he would have to know, one presumes. However, grumpiness is not what comes through the book, rather it is incisive comments, in the main.
The book is made up of 42 chapters (according to Hopkins – I didn’t count them), with each being an essay on some aspect of life in Thailand. There are various groups such as “Wild Thailand” with a hilarious story about trying to ascertain the speed of an elephant at full speed, proving that you can lead an elephant to drink, but you can’t make it water (my joke).
The incisive writing begins in the section called “Behind the Smiles” with essays as “Talking Thai, Understanding Englit” and “Kreng Jai” (the curse of Thailand in my opinion, a feeling that Hopkins appears to share with me) where he writes, “Kreng Jai may be one of the slipperiest and stickiest aspects of Thai culture for a westerner to grasp, and one of the most difficult aspects of Thai Character for him or her to accept.”
The casual reader will be interested in the chapter called “Shadow Wives” where Hopkins looks at the ‘Mia Noi’ side of Thai culture and why something which is against the law, is not pursued by the parliamentarians, many of which may have a Mia Noi themselves.
Another of the ‘banned’ pursuits gets examined, that being prostitution, and Hopkins is brave enough to refute the ‘prostitution was brought to Thailand by the Americans on R&R from the Vietnam conflict.’ Enough studies by Thai authorities have shown that prostitution has been an integral part of the Thai society for many years before the American invasion, so there!
Thai cuisine is covered, especially since Thais are very proud of their food, but Hopkins appears not so enamored stating that “when it comes to rotten seafood, the Land of Smiles tops all of them.” He singles out ‘Nam Pla’ writing that critics have made “far ruder comparisons redolent of outhouses and the you-know-what that’s always found in them.” He then finishes the review of nam pla with the description by Scott and Kristiaan Inwood in “A Taste of Thailand” (1986) with the “accumulated stench of putrefying corpses, abandoned kennels, dirty feet, stagnant bilges and fly-blown offal.”
Still on food, he examines the aphrodisiac properties of many menu items, including “Five Penis Wine, a liquid of dubious murkiness caused by what I was told were the empowering genitals of goat, dog, cow, deer and snake.” “There are also people who believe in the priapic power in the consumption of mouse dropping.”
At B. 450 in the major bookstores, including Bookazine, this is an inexpensive anthology and the snippets of information will keep you amused and enthralled for days.