Monthly Archives: March 2006

Private Dancer by Stephen Leather

 

  • Monsoon Books Pte. Ltd. (December 15, 2005), 288 pages

A “No Kissing Till Marriage” book will leave you feeling like the devil amidst blue eyed, yellow haired saints. It might be a good idea to surround yourself with ‘judases’ every now and then. No seriously, there’s no topic not worth reading. There was a month last year when I was given a series of Bangkok flights , 4 times in a month, one after the other. I think it was given to me deliberately because I got into a frenzied misunderstanding with the schedule team…(Koreans, what can i say..)

So to sort of “pre-empt” me or to at least give me something to look forward to, I started reading “The Beach” but then a day-long layover won’t ever give me the privelege of going out of town, so Ill just frustrate myself reading on Ko Samui and Phuket. Since I will be stuck in the streets of Bangkok, I might as well read up on what’s very prevalent along the area: Farangs (foreigners) with local girls. Its not just in Thailand, anyway. Even in Manila, Phnom Penh, almost everywhere in Southeast Asia, we’ve seen couples like this. White men–ranging from the old, emphysema-ish, to the beefy korean/vietnam veteran, to the average middle aged joe, to the youngish student who’s ventured into somewhere new other than Cancun for springbreak. Arm in arm with a diminutive local girl, who is, although, a ‘bar girl’. (didnt want to use the P word). These types of women dont fit the standards of ‘beauty’ that Asians generally perceive. Whereas “white skinned and western facial features” are considered to be ‘pretty’ for Asians, most of these women are dark skinned, short, and have facial features which would never land in a “get white skin in just 3 weeks” Ponds advertisement.

Private Dancer ‘stars’ Pete and Joy (the ‘farang’ and the local). Pete supposedly is a smart single 30 plus guy who works for a travel guide company (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, etc) and Joy is a 19 year old Thai who works in a bar. Pete falls in love (ridiculously in love) with Joy. And such is the typical sad cycle but now beginning to be viewed as ‘thats how nature is’ with a foreigner-bar girl relationship.

Set in a format that you can the point of view of all the characters involved, it shows how Pete’s life is graciously destroyed by Joy. Leeching him his money, cheating on him, treating him like a stupid cow, and later on, he loses his job, and even his LIFE for the girl.

Note worthy in the book are the occassional exceprts from a study called “Cross-Cultural Complications of Prostitution in Thailand”. It perfectly and professionally explains how such relationships work. There are 2 kinds of foreigners who frequent the red light districts. There are the tourists who go only for short time fun. And then, there are the expats. And these are the ones that the girls look for. Becuase expats are lonely, and most often, alone (left girlfriends/wives/children) abroad. Its ineveitable that they visit the districts. And most of the time, they are dispatched by their companies for several months/few years, and they are apt to look for a ‘permanent’ (for the time being) partner. Meaning, the more emotionally involeved they get, the more the girls get. Pete’s character is not the sleazy type. He would be the last type of guy you would think that would enter a ‘go-go’ bar, much less get into a relationship with a bar girl. But, as it is:

“I dont know if it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen, jet black and almost down to her waist. She had soft brown eyes that made my heart melt, long legs that just wouldnt quite and a figure to die for. She was naked except for a pair of black leather ankle boots with small chrome chains on the side. I think it was the boots that did it for me.”

They fall for these girls, because they (the girls) are trained / or it just comes in the Asian culture, to be showy of giddy affection, and laugh at all his corny jokes. The girls, naturally, like them for one thing. But before we see these girls as goldiggers, the book also shows how the girls also play the role of the used and abused foreigner–these girls of course do not let their emotions fall for the white guy. They also like to have a ‘real’ relationship, and more often than not, they get in a shallow but ‘as real as the situation would let it’ relationship with the Thai guys in the pub–the DJ, the bouncers, the pimps, etc. And these guys, in turn, use these girls for their benefit. They allow their girlfriends to get into a ‘relationship’ with the white men, even coaching them how to leech for more money. And naturally, there are the families back home, several miles away from Bangkok, who depend on these girls.

The main victims of this cultural set up are both the foreigner and the bar girl. Reading on the progress of the story, I cant help but be frustrated at how stupid Pete is, for him not to realize he’s being cheated, and there are even times when he Knows he’s being cheated but he cant seem to do anything about it.

“I love you long time…”

I say to this book , “I read you long time…” the story takes you to one too many ups and downs of the relationship until you yourself gets exhausted–before it reaches the devastating climax. And the way it depicts how Joy talks, (Yoda is more tolerable) “Pete I love you too much. I not go with farang anymore. Only you Pete.” And Pete finds it cute. I was afraid Id put down the book speaking like that. But the ‘realness’ factor in it is so clear that its hard to think that this was a fiction.

But think about it, it doesnt take much of an imagination to create a fiction like this. Its practically everywhere. There are thousands of Petes and Joys all over the world that its hard to not put them in a Pete and Joy packaging when you see a farang-local couple. This book was a bestseller in Thailand, and one review says that “This should be compulsary reading for all first timers to Thailand. Buy one for your friends”.

Personally, no, I wouldnt suggest this to a friend who would be going to Thailand for the first time. It would be better for someone to see things in his own eyes first before expecting generalizations. It might make or break their holiday. Depends on what their agenda is anyway.

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Can You Keep a Secret? by Sophie Kinsella

Dial Press Trade Paperback; Reprint edition (March 1, 2005), 384 pages

Its always nice to have a light sweet dessert after a meal. This novel is the PERFECT dessert after a main entree of heavy duty literature. And, what can I say, Im also a girl who enjoys “Chick Lit” from time to time. I finished this book in just one sitting, and got me laughing out loud (not giggles, pure hearty laugh as in HA-HA-HA…all by myself). There’s just something about Brit humor, or herr…humoUr..that’s downright hilarious (think Bridget Jones).

Ive been seeing the other works of Sophie Kinsella, the “Shopaholic” series, but I never picked it up because I somehow know I couldnt relate to it. But after reading a series of Christian books, I decided I needed a reality check (haha) and a break from ‘heaven’, so I chose this. Saw it on a book review from Cosmo, or was it Marie Claire.

We all have our little secrets. Im not talking about top secret matter of life and death confidentiality. Just mundane “so what” secrets but somehow we find it unnecessary to reveal, even to our bestest friends or boyfriends. Example, a personal information that I dont want EVERYONE to know (but well its out now isnt it??) okay..here we go: Even if im a dog lover, I absolutely LOATHE our other dog, Maximus. A toy poodle that always seeks attention, running all over the place like a lit rocket, and most of all, always bullying my dog, Tofu around. And when you try to be affectionate to him, he will just try to BITE your hand.

So, thats a secret unveilled! In this novel, we follow the daily ordinary life of ordinary girl Emma Corrigan. She finds herself on a plane ride next to a handsome stranger ( although believe me, the chances of that in real life– almost NIL) . She is afraid of flying, but pretending to be a seasoned traveller, panics when they experience a severe turbulence, and grabs on to handsome stranger, and somehow, because she gets chatty when nervous, reveals ALL her little secrets to him. Secrets such as:

1.) Ive lost my virginity int he spare bedroom with Danny Nussbaum while Mum and Dad were downstairs watching Ben-Hur.

2.) I have no idea what NATO stands for. Or even what it is.

3.) Im actually a size 6 but I tell everyone, including my boyfriend, that Im a size 4.

She told him EVERYTHING, even how she would lie down to her side with elbows propped on her head, after a rompy session in bed with her boyfriend, because “that way your cleavage looks bigger”

So then, later on, she gets back to work, and her company announces that one of its founder will be visiting from America. And surprise, surprise, the CEO turns out to be the “confessEE”.

Sort of like Cinderella (predictability factor and not-so-chic-girl-gets-the-hot-guy pattern), she ends up with the stranger, much to the surprise of her family and co-workers, who all treat her like dirt.

Again, this novel is not so much a “blockbuster plot” book, but just a hilarious down to earth novel that everyone can relate to, as we all have our own insecurities as well like Emma. Like Bridget Jones, Emma also has her SBF (Supporting Best Friend), who’s always there, and like Cinderella, she has her stepsister in the form of her cousin Kerry, the achiever in the family, whose Emma’s own parents worship.

We’ve been sitting around the table now for forty minutes, and the only voice we’ve heard is Kerry’s.

“Its all about image,” she’s saying now.”Its all about the right clothes, the right look, the right walk. When I walk along the street, the message I give the world is, ‘I am a successful woman'”

“Show us!”, Mum said admiringly.

“Well,” Kerry gives a false modest smile.”Like this”

She pushes her chair back and wipes her mouth with a napkin.

“You should watch this, Emma!”, says Mum. “Pick up a few tips!”

As we all watch, Kerry starts striding around the room. Her chin is raised, her boobs are sticking out, her eyes are fixed onthe middle distance, and her bottom is jerking from side to side.

She looks like a cross between an ostrich and one of the androids in ATTACK OF THE CLONES.

“I should be in heels of course,” she says without stopping.

“When Kerry goes into a conference hall, I tell you, heads turn,” says Nev (husband) proudly, and takes a sip of wine. “People stop what theyre doing and stare at her!”

I bet they do.

Oh God. I want to giggle. I musnt. I musnt.

“Do you want to have a go, Emma?”, says Kerry. “Copy me?”

“Er, I dont think so,” I say. “I think I probably…picked up the basics.”

I cant control the snort of laughter that erupts, so I turn it into a cough.

“Kerry’s trying help you, Emma!”, says Mum.”You should be grateful!” She beams at Kerry, who simpers back.”You are good to Emma, Kerry”.

And the next week, when Emma’s immediate supervisor calls her in for a deliberation, she wanted to grab the opportunity to ask him for a promotion, and remember’s the walk:

“Emma,” Paul appears out of his office and snaps his fingers at me. “Appraisal”.

My stomach gives an almighty lurch, and I nearly choke on my last bite of chocolate brownie. Oh, God. This is it. Im not ready.

Yes, I am. Come on. Exude confidence. I am a woman on her way somewhere.

Suddenly I remember Kerry and her I-am-a-successful-woman walk. I know Kerry’s an obnoxious cow,but she does have her own company and makes zillions of pounds a year. She must be doing something right. Maybe I should give it a go. Cautiously, I stick out my bust, lift my head, and start striding across the office, with a fixed, alert expression on my face.

“Is something wrong, Emma?” says Paul as I reach his door.

“Well you look very odd. Now. Sit down”

She doesnt get the promotion.

This book is a perfect ‘girlfriends’ book. Downside however, is well….readers might go unecessarily telling little bits of embarassing secrets to unwilling audience…just like what I did.