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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Bangkok and Kor Cowpat Moo* on Thailand's Islands

Allow a little sanuk into your life.... This terrrific novel from Andrew Hicks tells the story of Ben and Emma, a mismatched couple who set off for a holiday in Thailand. You just know it is not going to work out well when, early on, Ben says to Emma "You had a great body". From bustling Bangkok they head over to Koh Samet where Ben is drawn to Fon, a young woman from Isaan working on the island as a masseuse (non sexual, we hasten to add!).

This is not so much a story of their relationship, more an exploration of travelling through the written word - which is exactly what TripFiction is about! It touches on the sordid side of the sex industry, yet there is a real curiosity to understand the culture that is behind the flashing neon and 'come hither' facade. Thailand and its culture are absolutely central to this novel. From the hardships of bar girls, to the toiling the land, very little comes easily, and day to day life for many is laid bare in the writing. It becomes increasingly clear that Ben, the self absorbed Westerner, coaxes Fon to drop her defences, although at some level he knows only too well that nothing can come of this passing love interest - for him, it is exotic and far removed from the grey environment of Northern Europe. He inveigles himself to such an extent that he even gets invited to meet her family, fabulous for him, but risky for Fon. She has to give so much, risk her reputation, yet he, on the other hand, holds most of the cards. He can choose to go back to his "regular" life, which is firmly rooted in South-East England. The draw of a western lifestyle and money is a huge attraction for poor folk in Thailand, who eke out a living with minimal pay. This is a sobering and rivetting account of what lies behind Thailand's bar culture.

This is one of the biggest-selling English language novels ever published in Thailand. Through words, transport yourself to Bangkok: "By the big intersection on Ratanakosin Avenue, twenty four hours a day, the traffic pauses when the lights go red. As they turn to green, the race is on, the motorbikes in the lead leaping forward noisily over the canal bridge. The girls riding pillion sit side saddle, rather than compromise their modesty by sitting astride the machine. They are closely followed by speeding pick-ups, buses, taxis, tuk tuks and trucks, engines roaring, spewing fumes into the humid evening air. Under the arch  of the road bridge, people are sleeping by the edge of the canal.  On the pavement a family assembles sweet-scented white jasmine blossoms on strings for sale as offerings  to Buddha and the spirits. Every bit of luck must be carefully nurtured; life on the streets is precarious and unforgiving"....

*What you need to say to order Pork Fried Rice

Author Interview with Andrew Hicks

TF - You clearly are very fond of Thailand. Please tell us how you have got to know the country so well? 

AH - Thailand was my firm holiday favourite from the seventies onwards when I was living in Hong Kong and Singapore, and on taking early retirement I was inevitably drawn back East.  Thailand was just so hospitable and then of course I met my wife, Cat... and the rest, as they say, is hysteria! I won't drone on any more about this as our full story's all there as a book or e-book entitled MY THAI GIRL AND I. 

TF - If you were going to suggest an itinerary to get to know the “real Thailand” what might you suggest? And what is your favourite spot? 

AH - It's totally useless for me to say that my all time favourite spot is the Khao Phra Viharn temple on the border with Cambodia in Sisaket province because it's been at the centre of a border dispute and has been closed for some time.  It's a totally magical Khmer temple perched on top of a cliff overlooking Cambodia and when you arrive there you feel as if you are the first person ever to discover it.  As you can't actually go, you can find more about it with pictures if you scan down my blog at 

As for an itinerary, one of the problems with Thailand is that its big attractions are at opposite ends of the country miles apart, namely the mountains accessible from Chiangmai and the wonderful beaches and islands of the south.  So perhaps I can suggest a way to overcome that difficulty at much less cost.  Firstly, rivers and mountains are a relatively short bus ride from Bangkok in Kanchanaburi province towards the Burma border and of course well known for the Death Railway.  Take a long tail boat on a river or get into the mountains and you could be in Chiangmai.  As to accessible islands you could do worse than to follow Emma and Ben in a certain book and go to Koh Samet or Koh Chang (or both).  Read THAI GIRL and you'll get the picture.  I'd like them to be less developed but the seascapes are still spectacular and they are great for a relaxing holiday. 

TF - How did you come to writing? And what are you working on at the moment? 

AH -  I spent my career as an academic writing books on law and longed for something with a better storyline.  Early retirement in Thailand gave me the time and the material and THAI GIRL just cried out to be written. 

At the moment I'm writing something completely different.  I've been fascinated by the novel, A WOMAN OF BANGKOK by Jack Reynolds.  Published in 1956 in New York and London it is the prototype Romeo and Juliet story of a young and foolish Brit falling for a 'Thai girl'.  I've been digging into the life story of Jack Reynolds and am writing biographical stuff on him, mainly about his adventures in China with the Friends Ambulance Unit in the nineteen forties.  I'm also very happy that I've recently managed to get his novel reissued by Monsoon Books of Singapore. 

TF - How did you choose the names for your characters in Thai Girl? 

AH -  I thought about names for my characters pretty carefully.  Ben and Emma just sound so so very Anglo-eighties!  I was thus very gratified when Ben, the son of my oldest friend who I was visiting, turned up with his girlfriend who really was called Emma.  Maca, the eternal Aussie traveller, and Stig Ruud, the Norwegian truck driver, were named with the help of my Australian cousin and a mad Norwegian woman I met in Bangkok.  And as for Fon, the 'Thai girl' of the title.  Well, what can I say!  She's so moving, so inspirational, so lovely... every man's dream.  To call her Fon, a typical Thai name meaning 'falling rain' is so beautiful, sweet and cool.  Or at times she's a tropical downpour that blows you away in the thunder of the monsoon.  That's the way she is so she just had to be Fon. 
TF - This is on of the biggest-selling books in the English language every published in Thailand. Why might this be?
AH -  I think because it's written about and for travellers.... they like a novel that's gripping, funny, romantic and real and which asks them pertinent questions about their own lifestyles and about their impact on Thai people. And perhaps it's the only backpacker novel where Thailand and its idiosyncracies really are fundamental to the story.


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