Archive August 2015
|A Slice of Post-bomb Bangkok Reality
In Bangkok, press reports
of the bombing said at least 20 people had been killed and more than a 100
people were injured at Erawan Shrine on early Monday evening during rush hour.
http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/17/asia/thailand-bangkok-bomb/ The subsequent police
investigation of the crime scene, the announcements by various officials in
government, and the post-bombing analysis pulsates along swift currents of the
social media in Thailand and elsewhere. One of the many stories is that of BBC
correspondent Jonathan Head who several days after the bombing found pieces of
shrapnel which he tried to hand over to police only to be told they station was
closed for business.
Here’s a link to Jonathan
Head BBC report where he seeks to handover evidence to the police in Bangkok:
Head’s adventure with the
police has elements we come to expect from contemporary reporting on major
disaster scenes: irony, sadness, inexplicable official response and disturbing
lack of professionalism by those on the frontline. Evidence connected to a major
incident involving the death of many people had been refused by the police in
front of police headquarters in Bangkok.
Head has provided evidence
of a much deeper story beyond the refusal of police to accept evidence. I want
to look at that story in this essay in the context of a book I’ve finished
reading. The book tells the story about the process of how the manufacturing
process of truth serves a reality designed to favor the interest of the
The book was written by
Matthew B. Crawford, and titled The
World Beyond Your Head, Farrar, Straus and Giroux(2015). He has three messages
1/Our connection to
reality is largely a consumer product that has been manufactured.
2/Truth’ isn’t found in
reality any more than a bottle of vintage wine is found on the moon; truth has
become indistinguishable from any other product and is processed and packaged
like any other commodity.
architecture of reality is a business and political model. There is profit and
power in such design.
4/The modern cult of
personal autonomy, fueled by the consumer-based political and economic world,
rests on an individually atomized notion of free will.
On lying, the whole
structure of manufactured reality is built from lies. The Matrix was a little
sign that maybe people should pay attention. They don’t. They’re distracted.
Look, there’s a squirrel and they forget a moment ago they were upset about
something. But they forgot what it was. Lies need stupid and ignorant people to
thrive and create the vast colonies you see around the globe. None of the
official stories hold together any longer. Presidents, generals, ministers, all
of them avoid the truth. You can understand in a strange way. Truth is complex,
vague around the edges, no real certainty and constantly needs updating. Lies
avoid all of that mess.
Reality, unmediated by
governments and corporation, is brimming with noise. Embedded in all of that
noise there may be a signal. But it takes an enormous amount of effort,
resources and patience to find a meaningful signal in the noise. The
unpredictability, randomness and uncertainty of reality causes people to
feel anxiety, frustration and fear. Emotional needs compel most people
to seek certainty, peace, and predictability. Everywhere you look, someone will
be offering you a platform that promises resolution of these problems. The
scaffolding is hidden out of sight and the more shoddy ones collapse around us
every day and we hardly notice.
There are good emotional
reasons to recoil from the raw material of reality. It’s not a hard sell.
Sifting through reality for the truth is more painful than going along with the
lies. People are basically lazy except they emotionally are better able to deal
with half-truth, lies and just-so stories than that dark, hidden place called
reality. We go shopping for the truth among the purveyors who promise they know
the reality. Who offers the best deal? That deal is the one that sit well with
what we wish reality to be and mainly that is enough for most people.
Without a deep-seated
narcissism we would challenge the stripped down, communized comic strip reality
and make independent inquiries. On this basis, reality is what you choose it to
believe, and that choice lines up with your personal beliefs, cultural habits,
and aligns the reality jigs designed by the commercial world. We don’t set out
to upturn our internal reality. Quite the opposite, we do our best to confirm
our reality through representations made by others who share our
Why does such a powerful
force easily capture and hold us hostage for a lifetime? We are afraid of the
messy, unpredictable, contradictory and confusing state of affairs that lies
outside the doorstep of the commercial lies from the private sector supplemented
by the official lies told by governments. There is no longer a lie-free space to
escape to—it has vanished in the workplace, schools, shops, clubs, shopping
malls, restaurants, airports, hospitals, etc.—all the public spaces we pass
through have been colonized by truth fabricators. The images and voices of the
hawkers are all around us—in the newspapers, TV, social media, film makers,
authors, generals, politicians, celebrities, and board rooms.
There is an entire
industry devoted to creating ‘your’ experience, ‘your’ style, ‘your’ self and
‘your’ knowledge about how the world works and ‘your’ place in it. What you know
and believe has been through committees, consultants and experts, audience
tested, rolled out and delivered to with the right emotional hooks to grab your
attention. And what is worthy of our attention? Or more important what is your
attention worth? Look at Google, Facebook and Twitter and you’d find it’s worth
a great deal of money.
We hunger for ideas and
representations that put us in the centre of the action, of the world and
reality. Like a virus it infects our view of the world and each other. We think
we can step out of ourselves and have a look around as if we are from an alien
world; we have no third-party vantage point. All we can do is engage in the
world, with each other, and accept that co-operation and competition are normal,
and that normality includes conflict and uncertainty. What politician or
corporation is going to abandon the truth manufacturing business? None of them
will because it has no benefit.
We no longer have to be
force fed, as full-blown narcissists we are addicted to constant reconfirmation
that our psychic needs are being attended to. At some level, people must know
that what is being fed is noise. But it is pleasant, addictive noise that lulls,
soothes, and comforts. By disconnecting us from reality and feeding our
addiction to fantasy, we find the real world jarring and soon enough retreat to
the manufactured reality.
We need to live in a world
that is represented as real. It turns out that government officials and
corporations have long ago figured out that our basic physic needs are vastly
more important than evidence or facts, and those who can serve those emotional
needs to feel secure and protected, popular and loved, admired and special, will
win wealth, fame and power. It is a dirty little racket—this marketing of lies.
There is no official or commercial incentive to offer people the red pill—the
Matrix is too seductive and powerful to resist.
Christopher G. Moore last book of essays is titled The
Age of Dis-Consent.
|The Hot Countries (2015) Soho Crime by Timothy Hallinan
Reviewed by Christopher G.
Ever since Paul Theroux’s
classic Saint Jack, with its Singapore, appeared in 1972, and Jack
Flower uttered the famous line that “it is kinda hot,” the idea of the
oppressive heat and steamy nights in the tropics has become the weather report
in contemporary novels set in Southeast Asia. The heat drives people mad; it
makes them careless, languid, and bleeds them of energy. The personal cost to
live an expat life in Southeast Asia has been a theme for a couple of decades in
Bangkok is an idea with
multiple landscapes, some of them imagined, some real, and more than a few
caught in the no man’s land between the two. The expat territory is as varied as
Thailand itself with features running from valleys, rivers, mountains, field,
pastures, scrubland, and beaches. There is no representative expat. Nor could
there be with people from China, Canada, Norway, England, America, Nigeria,
Burma, Cambodia, India, Denmark to mention just a few of expats that form
enclaves in Bangkok and elsewhere in Thailand. No one will ever write the
definitive expat novel. One would need to switch to writing an ethnographic
encyclopedia. Such a book would have a dozen readers.
In Tim Hallinan’s The
Hot Countries, he does what the rest of us who write novels about
expats in the tropics do: we show up at the mine face where these expats live,
work, play and die, looking for the rare nuggets buried inside. Hallinan’s
series, set in Bangkok featuring Poke Rafferty, has produced an extraordinary
cast of American expats whose lives intersect at the Expat Bar. Rafferty and his
fellow expats carry a heavy Cold Countries cultural cargo strapped to their
souls. Hallinan focuses his novelist’s eye on the busy intersection where Hot
Countries and Cold Countries cultures collide in Bangkok, where everyone is
running the red light and driving on the pavements. The readers in the front row
seat watch the ice melt as they adapt to Thai life.
Poke Rafferty, an American
from Lancaster, California, has settled into expat life as a travel journalist.
He’s an old Asia Hand and he and his gang remember the life of expats when
Bernard Trink wrote his weekly column for the Bangkok Post. While
Bangkok has moved on, Poke Rafferty and his friends continue to live on the
margin. Poke showcases the low-budget expat life weighed down by demands of an
ex-bargirl wife named Rose and an adopted daughter name Miaow (the Thai nickname
for ‘Cat’). Miaow, a street kid, carries the damage of abandonment. Seven years
earlier Poke Rafferty adopted her. Poke’s world revolves his family and his
friends. Within this circle, Hallinan excels at allowing a free-flow of ideas
between his characters, which ably colour their emotions, foreshadow their
motives, and limen their beliefs.
His friends have secrets
and painful pasts. Some like Wallace are haunted by their experience during the
Vietnam War. Wallace’s Vietnam experience, along with others he served with,
figure into the mystery. The 1960s in Bangkok and, in particular, the Golden
Mile, the hedonistic playground, where young American GIs left the jungles of
the Vietnam war for R&R, are stylishly imagined and with a genuine feeling
for the era.
The Hot Countries
takes time to establish the networked interaction inside the family members and
friends, showing their weaknesses, loyalties, foibles, egos, doubts, and
defenses. Poke’s wife for seven years, is three-months pregnant, but refuses to
have an ultra-sound to confirm whether she’s carrying twins. Their 14-year-old
adopted daughter, who’d been abandoned by her parents, is addicted to British TV
(particularly period dramas), books and celebrities. This isn’t a conventional
mystery. Instead of a series of actions and clues, Hallinan allows the reader
time to explore and understand the full range of cultural difference that caused
difficulties for his characters. Poke’s friendship with Thai cop Arthit (and his
family) brings to the story the Thai threads to the mysterious game of power,
culture and thinking.
The centrifugal forces
start to spin inside Rafferty’s world, gathering warp speed with Arthur Varney
unexpected arrival. By this time, we know what is at stake for the characters
and the limits of their life. The mystery and thriller elements take over and
push against the walls of those limits. The heart of the mysterious Arthur
Varney, his connection to Rafferty, a young luk-krueng Thai girl named
Treasure and Treasure’s dead father. Varney shows up at the Expat Bar and hands
Poke Rafferty a number he written down: 3,840,00.00. It was the US dollar amount
that had disappeared from Haskell Murphy’s house the night Poke killed Murphy
and the house was destroyed in a massive explosion. Poke managed to pull one
case containing $640,000 and has hidden it in his Bangkok apartment under the
floor. The rest of the loot has, we presume, gone up in smoke. But Varney, by
his very presence, suggests he believes Rafferty has the whole amount and he’s
come to Bangkok to get that money. And for his partner in crime’s daughter,
Treasure’s father was
killed by Rafferty. He was a hardcore, dangerous criminal. He dragged his
daughter through Southeast Asia. Treasure was at the scene the night that Poke
killed her father. She approved, thinking he’d done her a favor. Rafferty
secured a safe place in a shelter for Treasure, and is waiting for her to become
older before handing over the money he took that night from her blazing house.
Varney scares Treasure, causing her to panic. She presumes that he’s come not
only for the money but for her, and she carries the memory of her father warning
that if anything happened to him, Varney would own her. Like Miaow, Treasure is
psychologically damaged, and we learn a about expat life as Poke balances his
role as her self-appointed guardian and his family.
Rafferty makes it his
mission to find Varney in Patpong and resolve their outstanding issues one way
or another. And Varney is seeking to get Rafferty’s attention, including
murdering a street kid. As in all good mysteries, who you are looking for and
what you find are often two different things. And the person you start out
chasing after, you end up taking steps to avoid him finding you and your family.
Rafferty’s life and times show the melting point when the Hot Country and Cold
Country make him shiver and sweat at the same time. That may indeed be the
expat’s fate. He loses his ability to know how to culturally dress for the bad
weather blowing his direction.
The Hot Countries
is an absorbing and rewarding look at life in a hot country expat sub-culture.
Poke Rafferty’s humanity, commitment and ingenuity are rare qualities and they
allow him to adapt and survive in his life as an expat. Any reader can forgive
the odd slip or mistake in the narrative flow when he or she is in the hands of
a talented author like Hallinan. All of us (including myself) who write about
Thailand, make them. It is what makes books and us human.
The characters in The
Hot Countries are finely detailed along with their vulnerabilities, tragic
flaws, and mutual dependence. Hallinan takes us inside their dreams, nightmares,
fears, and hopes, making them larger than fiction. They are characters that will
stay with you. Hallinan knows how to bring memorable fictional characters to
life. His characters cling onto the edge of a bleak, hardscrabble expat group as
if they’d been tossed from a life raft into the jaws of raging rapids. Poke
Rafferty is the one person they trust to conjure up the life vests and guide
them safely to shore. The Hot Countries hurls you down those rapid and
when you emerge at the end, you will know that you’ve been on a grand adventure
with characters you care about.
G. Moore’s latest novel is Crackdown.
|Working Magic in the Shadow of Time
This week the producers of
the Calvino series are in LA working to put together a deal. Maybe they will or
maybe, as in the past, it will come to nothing. This kind of work reminds me of
a gravediggers shove—it can be used to build or to bury.
It is a devilishly
difficult business. Film. Books. Life.
A friend shared the
thought of a Danish author who toiled without moral support and against the
wishes of husband, family, friends until finally she succeeded in having her
novel published. By that stage all of the people who had been negative shrugged
off her success and let her know that was nothing special. They, too, were now
writing a novel. It seems many people are feverishly writing books.
The Danish author’s
insight illuminates a core problem. The vast number of people have led fairly
predictable, organized, safe and ordinary lives until one day in their 50s or
60s an alarm goes off inside their head. Maybe someone close to them had a novel
published, reviewed, admired, loved. Or someone close to them died on the way to
the funeral they started to ask: What is the meaning of life? Have I wasted my
life? The thought arises that I can confirm and signal the singularity of my
existence by writing a book. Preferably a novel, a work of art, and I pour my
heart and soul into this enterprise as if the demon of a new religion had seized
hold of me.
There is a slight problem.
Writing is more than sitting behind a keyboard, imagining a world as if tapping
into a magical pipeline and typing the script of what you’ve discovered. All
writing, in the larger sense, in travel writing, notes from the frontier of a
journey, which has been unpredictable, unsafe, disorganized, and from that web
of uncertainty patterns emerge. It is in the assembly of those patterns after
observation and thought that makes us turn the page. When your worldview is
turned upside down, you flee or you find a way to restructure, evaluate, modify
your factory template of constructs that defined your home reality. You begin to
see the context as an aggregation of symbols, patterns, ethics, or morality
shaped by forces outside of your own experience.
We acquire an array of
weapons and shields when we go into the world. You sense when someone’s shield
logs in a speedy reaction time until the psychological or emotional threat
passes. Or when they deploy a weapon to defend themselves. Our culture and
language equips us with both shields and weapons to go forth in combat mode.
Along the journey you learn the art of reading when shield are activated, what
they are protecting, and understand it is our vulnerability that makes us human
and expressions of that vulnerability differ in substantial ways around the
world. We react too quickly. We shoot to fast. We try to hold our ground even as
it moves beneath us. What is universal is how people’s shields locked into
defensive mode in light of contractions, inconsistencies, disagreement, and
disapproval. We have little tolerance, it seems for those who disagree with us
or dislike us. We cocoon ourselves in groups that like us and agree with us.
They validate our value. We strive for validation at the expense of tolerance
and co-operation with those who don’t like us or agree with us.
In my case, I was lucky as
taking this journey has been a way of life since I was young. The need to break
free of the known and to explore was something that happened to me relatively
young. Can it happen in your 50s or 60s or later? Anything allowed by the laws
of physics is possible. Of course the door only has to be opened and you walk
through. Easy to say. But how many people open that door and close it behind
them? That’s where the stories are buried. Mountains of them are waiting to be
unearthed by you. Whatever the age you happen to find yourself, there will come
a time when the door to new adventures and experience will be closed. You have
passed a hundred times, rattled the doorknob, but the distractions of life
pulled you away. People can write all they want, but the bank of experience,
exploration, wandering, searching, listening and observing only comes easily in
one’s youth. Or to the young at heart.
Pull back for a moment and
look out at what is around you. It is theatre. You’ve been assigned a part.
You’ve played it. Learnt the lines, know your cues, where the chalk marks are
for you to stop on stage. Some have become stars and that has made them wealthy
and famous. Don’t envy them. They, like you, are a mere shadow, and locked in
their roles as securely as any high security prison. Take the red pill and look
again. People have been killed in the slaughterhouse of modern consumer online
life where they are turned into living sausages and processed and packaged and
eaten on elite buns. And that is hugely important to know. They opened a door
like in Monty Hall and thought they’d won a prize with credentials, status,
position and power. These all prove to be a poor substitute, an illusion of
life. You may be a late starter who never had a chance to take the journey,
opening the door, which appears to have nothing inside. Strangely, that is the
right door. Take it and you can escape the non-living of the past.
Writing won’t recover lost
lives. Breaking out of the grave that they dug all those years ago isn’t going
to happen at the keyboard. There is the panic, the envy, the jealousy that winds
through the system. It’s not so much about money or wealth, it is about the
handful who lived their lives and wrote about that experience to be shared their
memories of finding the less traveled path that leads to the same edge of
darkness. Facing what we all face is within. There is no government change,
program, or TED Talk that can act as a time machine and send them back. That
makes them bitter, frustrated, angry and vengeful. They are lost. Writing and
getting their book published is their way of finding out the scope of that
I feel compassion for
these people. I know how very hard it must be to wake up too late. All the
appointments, schedules, and meetings that atomized their lives have left
nothing of substance behind. That empty hole can never be filled. Compassion,
yes, as much as I can possibility deliver to the world. Whether Calvino makes it
on TV or as a film, whether new publishers come along, none of that matters
against the larger reality. I took a chance. I never gave up. I found friends
like you and that has made all the difference in the world. Better than a film
or publishing contract. I don’t share the panic of the others. Nor do I deride
them. This is the way people are. They don’t wake up soon enough. A couple of
minutes before midnight opens a brief moment in time to do a few things that are
unscripted. Just do them. Improvise. There is life all around you, hungry and
with wings. Don’t waste a moment behind a keyboard, I’d tell them. The shadow
merges soon enough. Don’t turn your back and think you can escape. It has your
I know these things and
share them with you. I was recently in Paris at the Musée d’Orsay where there is
an iconic clock. This is ‘me’ in front of the clock. It is my shadow. I am
looking out of the window at the skyline of Paris. The picture tells in an image
the story I’m seeking to reveal in this essay and throughout 30 plus
We are a mere shadow on
the clock face of time, facing outward, watching as the darkness closes in to
joint. Does the shadow merge with that large darkness and extinguish it? Or does
the shadow find its destiny by rejoining the darkness from whence it came? I
don’t have an answer. I don’t really need an answer. Let me tell you why. In
that space between my shadow and the failing light, I took a journey of
exploration, knowing that one-day a void would be lingering on the horizon.
There was no reason to fear the coming darkness. The absence of light doesn’t
mean nothingness and this is the main lesson from taking the journey. All of our
lives we stand at this crossroads watching the flow like a river.
Along the road we pass
people whose lives seem to be invisible to us. Often they are beautiful souls
seeking a connection with life. As life has often rejected or ignored them, they
find other ways to perform small acts of grace. These are people just like us.
These are the beautiful people we pass without seeing.
I find elegance and beauty
in this image. It touches and moves me. No shield is raised, no weapons to
attack. This simple human act of reaching out is where I’d like to find myself
as the darkness enfolds my shadow.
|Bangkok Beat by Kevin Cummings
Bangkok Beat ebook and POD editions available at Amazon.
Christopher G. Moore
The Bangkok artistic scene
is a puzzle locked in a box, inside a room, no windows or doors. Four blank
walls and a party has been going on inside. Kevin Cummings arrives with a
jackhammer and cuts through the wall. After a lot of dust and debris, Cummings
sticks his head in. What he reports from those visitations is found in Bangkok
Beat. He doesn’t steal the silverware. His tour inside is like the first version
of the Lonely Planet; a first-hand, on the ground, description of the
expats and locals bonded through creativity, artistic expression, the bliss that
comes from following your own demons and angels through the layers of heaven and
Cummings does this like
all good literary anthropologists who squatted down beside one of the natives
and lulls them into his confidence—that’s interview style and it is a good one,
the artistic types opened like oysters in a month with an ‘R’ in it. We have the
words of authors, poets, painters, photographers, and musicians. He’s undercover
the underground Bangkok noir movement that has been gradually building over the
last five years. Why hadn’t this movement come together earlier? I have a
theory. Any movement needs a meeting place, a place where people can hang out,
talk, interact, gossip, complain and relax. Without such a place artists are
atomized individuals. They thrive in colonies where the bees bring back the
nectar. Bangkok noir needed a venue to play out the dark musings, images, and
sounds. The honeycomb and field of flowers turned out to be the CheckInn99,
following the vision of artistically inclined owner Chris Catto-Smith, who
turned the club into a meeting place. The rest is, as they say,
If your interest includes
a roundup of the expat artistic side of Bangkok, you’ll want to read the
interviews and articles found in Bangkok Beat. There you’ll find the
card carrying, full membership holders such as: Jerry Hopkins, John Burdett,
Timothy Hallinan, Colin Coterrill, James Newman, Ralf Tooten, William Wait,
Chris Coles, Christopher Minko, Dr. Penguin, John Gartland, along with a lot of
others. Here’s the part where I disclose that I am one of the locals Kevin
Cummings approached. Let me explain.
It must have been the bone
in my nose and I was holding a stick with a rat on it over open fire. It was
lunchtime after all. Kevin Cummings approached me for an interview. In the noir
parts of the world cultural anthropologists are at their best in a large pot
over a well-tended fire. That way, they turn out quiet tender. The meat of my
interview, as stringy and wild tasting as a wild boar, also appears in
Bangkok Beat. If you asked one of the natives from Somoa about what he
thought about Margret Mead’s book Coming of Age, in which he featured
as a character, he’d probably aim one of those cool bamboo poison dart weapons
at your liver. I never got the hang of using one of those weapons. It’s just
practice so I am told. Kevin Cummings is relatively safe. So far. The crew
inside that room isn’t always that stable. New people come and go. Old people do
what old people do best—they die.
Bangkok Beat is a
celebration of a movement, a group of irregulars who have taken a different
path. Henry Miller, one of Kevin Cummings’ heroes, would have fit right in to
one of the Sunday improve Jazz sessions. When Barney Rosset used to come to
Bangkok we’d talk about Henry, and wonder how his life and writing would have
changed had he taken the boat not to France but to Thailand. I wished Barney (he
died in 2012) had lived longer. Bangkok Beat inspired a thought I’d
have liked to have shared with him. It’s about a couple of places I would have
liked to have shown him. A back alley and upstairs series of short-time rooms
abandoned, and filled with dust and broken furniture.
There is a back entrance
to the CheckInn99, which lead to back alley you look around. You don’t need for
anyone to describe ‘noir’ to you; just have a look around and you see the
characters who live, breath, work and die in the world of noir. Go up the stairs
and look at those rooms. The ghosts of the past still walk and talk and make
love up there. Barney would have looked at it, taken it in, and understood that
something fundamental in Henry Miller’s world view would have shifted, anyone’s
perception would change, standing in the old short-time rooms or in the back
alley—do it around midnight as the saxophone filters into your consciousness. Of
course Henry Miller would have been a changed man. All of us who share our lives
in this place have changed through such experience which, Kevin Cummings so