Press: Sing Tao Daily
Queer Bangkok: 21st Century Markets, Media, and Rights
Edited by Peter A. Jackson
Description and Author
For customers from the USA & Canada, please order here.
For customers from Europe, please order here.
For customers from Australia & New Zealand, please order here.
The Thai capital Bangkok is the unrivalled centre of the country’s gay, lesbian, and transgender communities. These communities are among the largest in Southeast Asia, and indeed in the world, and have a diversity, social presence, and historical depth that set them apart from the queer cultures of many neighbouring societies.
The first years of the twenty-first century have marked a significant transition moment for all of Thailand’s LGBT cultures, with a multidimensional expansion in the geographical extent, media presence, economic importance, political impact, social standing, and cultural relevance of Thai queer communities. This book analyses the roles of the market and media — especially cinema and the Internet — in these transformations, and considers the ambiguous consequences that the growing commodification and mediatization of queer lives have had for LGBT rights in Thailand. A key finding is that in the early twenty-first century processes of global queering are leading to a growing Asianization of Bangkok’s queer cultures.
This book traces Bangkok’s emergence as a central focus of an expanding regional network linking gay, lesbian, and transgender communities in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Philippines and other rapidly developing East and Southeast Asian societies.
Peter A. Jackson is professor of Thai cultural studies in the Australian National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific. He has written extensively on modern Thai cultural history with special interests in religion and sexuality. He is editor-in-chief of the Asian Studies Review and founder of the Thai Rainbow Archives Project, which is collecting and digitizing Thai gay, lesbian, and transgender magazines and community organization newsletters (see http://thairainbowarchive.anu.edu.au/index.html).
“The myriad faces of Thai gender/sexuality culture have been an attraction for both pleasure-seekers and researchers/scholars/activists. Exploring the rapidly changing LGBT cultures and Thai queer identities, the essays collected here provide insightful analyses of historical continuities as well as developing variations within the highly complex erotic/economic texture of Thai society. A must-read for anyone in the booming field of gender/sexuality studies.” — Josephine Ho, National Central University, Taiwan
“In the global imagination Bangkok is identified with sex, much as were Paris or Shanghai in previous eras. Peter Jackson has done a first-rate job of bringing together interactions with the full range of sexual others in the expanding worlds of Bangkok, underlining its significance as a regional inspiration and the ways in which Thai notions of sex and gender have interacted with Western images to create new communities, identities and political possibilities.” — Dennis Altman, La Trobe University
“An impressive collection bringing together important and innovative research. This volume will be essential reading to those with scholarly and activist interests in South-East Asian studies, as well as sexuality and gender studies. It will also be useful to students of nationalism, postcoloniality, popular culture, urbanism, and capitalism.” — Tom Boellstorff, University of California, Irvine.
Nigel Collett reviews Bangkok Free Fall, book number 10 in mystery writer Richard Stevenson’s Don Strachey private eye series. Four books in the series have been filmed with gay Hollywood actor Chad Allen in the lead role.
Bangkok Free Fall
(American title: 38 Million Dollar Smile)
ISBN 13: 9789810864095
Albany private detective Don Strachey is on the hunt again, this time with his cute if ethically challenging boyfriend, Timmy, along for the ride. This time the not-so-strictly monogamous duo are in pursuit of a sex tourist who has seen the light, rich American businessman Gary Griswold, who goes to Bangkok to find boys but, after the usual interlude with the odd characters for sale rather than love and with names like Mango, finds Buddha and something not quite approaching enlightenment. He also finds something which makes him disappear for six months. The trouble is, Griswold has taken with him 38 million dollars he’s raised by selling off the stock he owns in the company he, his brother and his ex-wife, now sister-in-law, inherited from their parents, and the other two are mad as hell. So they hire Strachey to track down the missing link to their money.
There’s no family love lost here, more of a murderous feud, which takes Strachey first to Key West (where else as a US prelude to the East?) before he and his almost reluctant boyfriend fly off to what they are unsure is still ‘the land of smiles.’ They are right to be dubious. The mess their quarry has involved himself in includes several prominent persons freefalling without parachutes from high rise buildings and soon has them in danger of their lives. Boyfriend Timmy ends up tied for forty-eight hours to newly made katoey friend, Kawee, not tied so closely, though, as to prevent their whiling away what might be their last few hours exploring more than each others’ philosophies (though, this being Thailand, they do that too).
Thailand, in this gay detective novel, has a more sharks swimming below its alluring surface than you’d find in the Andaman Sea; they smile as they spray you with bullets, and as the police are up to their ears in the plot, there’s no use running to them. Instead, Strachey has the good fortune (well, this is a novel) to run into local private eye Rufus Pugh (really Panchalee Siripasarporn, but as this novel’s largely aimed at ignorant farangs like this reviewer, he’s acquired, by a rather roundabout route, another moniker). PI Pugh has contacts in every pie in Bangkok, and the other places they all end up in like Hua Hin, and has a private army only slightly smaller than the Bangkok police force, if a tad nicer. This is not a picture of Thailand that the Thai Tourist Board would ever want you to see. It comes complete with fraudulent fortune telling seers who fail to forecast their own demise and an army coup to round it all off.
There’s a good deal going for this novel; plenty of gratuitous sex to match the violence and some nice one liners from the cast. Stevenson, here in the 10th of his acclaimed Don Strachey series, has done a lot of homework to get the detail right, though he’s clearly not hung about in the classier parts of Thailand, and as for this being a real description of the country, well… There’s just enough of the place, though, to make his a passable storyline and enough of the real scents to get the juices flowing, even if they are, in this novel, as Timmy remarks on one occasion, ‘the scent of jasmine and the occasional whiff of raw sewage’. That’s a line that might go for the novel, too.
Besides, if you pick this up in the departure lounge and are looking for an enjoyable few hours read onboard your flight, you’ll not be looking for an in depth study of the country, and you’ll probably settle for the easy read, the sassy lines and the rather enjoyable make-believe you’ll find in Bangkok Free Fall.
XU XI has always chosen the titles of her books with care, and that of her latest novel, HABIT OF A FOREIGN SKY, is no exception. At the heart of this tale is a theme familiar to a good number of us Hong Kong dwellers, whether Chinese or expatriate, which is the difficulty of living a life torn geographically, racially and culturally between different places, under different skies. More, though, is implied in the title, for “habit” here refers not just to the adapted customs needed to fit into each new place, but also to the disguises that ineluctably cloak the very shape of the exile’s soul.
Gail Szeto, the story’s protagonist (who could well be described as its heroine, which she is in many ways, though that would perhaps give an over romantic colour to a novel of such harsh realism as this), is Eurasian, illegitimate child of a love match between her dance hostess Shanghainese mother and her only fleetingly present American father. Brought up by her mother in Hong Kong, she disdains the American half-family she feels has abandoned her. Child of her times, she has broken free (so she thinks) of the cultural shackles of the old world that governed her mother’s life and has made a success of a financial career in the city. In pursuit of this, before the novel opens, flying from Hong Kong to Shanghai and New York, she has lost her doctor husband to another woman and her young son to an accidental tragedy that occurred during one of her many trips abroad. Now, as the novel opens, once again away from Hong Kong, she finds that she has lost her mother. She is alone.
How Gail copes with the realisations that blood (even half blood) is thicker than financial contracts, that cutting off one’s roots doesn’t make them evaporate and that in her attempt to turn her back on her past she has lost herself, forms the meat of this novel. It’s a gritty read: no easily-earned redemption satisfies Xu Xi, so don’t expect to have your heart warmed. Never do the characters surrounding Gail bump into her and rub up against her with any degree of real comfort. They do so with lust, and do so often, but even here strands of selfishness mingle inextricably with the resulting sex. The flashes of human empathy, as in real life, don’t last very long and Xu Xi takes evident pleasure in leading the reader into what he or she hopes might be, just for once, a balmier meadow only to dash such hopes with a douche of cold prose. Like Gail’s patient but not ever-sufferring Filipina maid, Conchita, the reader has to take a lot of rough with not a great deal of smooth. Unlike Conchita, though, the reader is not tempted to walk out before the end.
Some classic Xu Xi themes weave through this story. There’s the key element of loneliness, of course, the loneliness that comes from an intellectual’s fight to establish an identity free of past and surroundings. The key figure of the mother looms importantly throughout; as often with Xu Xi there’s a deep sub-text of the relationship of mother and daughter. Place figures strongly; this is a book straddling the Pacific but one with a powerful scent of the Hong Kong in which most of it is based. This is very much the Hong Kong many of us know and the Hong Kong many of us have watched developing out of its past, the place she portrayed two years back in the autobiographical notes that form part of her Evanescent Isles. The family in this novel is not her own, of course, and Gail Szeto is not Xu Xi, but Gail’s Hong Kong is Xu Xi’s Hong Kong and the feel of the past here is the same. The racial and cultural issues of the Chinese diaspora are familiar, too, to Xu Xi’s readers; they filled her 2004 volume, Overleaf Hong Kong and clearly exercise her still. This should not surprise, given her own trans-Pacific life style and a career spanning several places here and in the US, a career which has come, one feels perhaps temporarily, to rest now at the City University of Hong Kong where she is resident writer. She wrote of similar themes, though set some three decades ago, in her novel Hong Kong Rose.
Xu Xi’s followers, and I own to being one, will spot more that is familiar. There is the love-hate relationship with the male sex, for one. Men in Xu Xi’s eyes are necessary, liked, indulged even, but always let down the women they chase then dump. Their roguishness, and there are two major and several minor rogues in Habit of a Foreign Sky, is part of their charm, but all of them, ultimately, aren’t to be trusted. It’s just their nature, and Xu Xi seems not to hold much of a grudge about the way her men behave; her women get less forgiveness. Her men have been behaving badly since at least 1996, when she published her short collection of stories Daughters of Hui. One thing that has changed, if not in significance, rather in quantity and clarity, is her habit of plain speaking. Xu Xi can shock with the explicit, and Habit of a Foreign Sky has a good deal of sex and a good deal more of thinking about it. She puts the cool breeze of her prose to good effect to clear the minds, of all but the most befogged, of the notion that Chinese women don’t talk about these things, let alone do them. Gail Szeto does a lot of both.
Xu Xi has always been interested in the breaking of taboos. Incest and sexual diversity have figured before in her works. This time she is on the surface more conventional, and divorce is about as sexually deviant as things get. Instead, she focuses here on grief and loss, things that most of us would rather try to forget. Death, of course, is as great a taboo in Hong Kong society as is sex, and in examining how Gail Szeto’s so finely constructed life falls apart due to the deaths of all those close to her, Xu Xi is in reality turning once again to a forbidden subject. It’s a painful one, whatever one’s culture. The cover of the paperback edition, with a woman’s head covered with a slowly unravelling ball of wool, sums it up neatly. Death unravels the reality we think we know.
Gail Szeto’s already tough carapace is forged anew as her world falls to pieces. In effect death completes the journey she set out on as a child. Like her, no, but admire her who could not.
Xu Xi’s depiction of what Hong Kong has meant over the last sixty years will become one of the key pathways by which future generations may delve back and understand what our day here was like. I have a feeling that Gail Szeto is a character who will become, as Becky Sharp became for Regency England, a symbol of a whole Hong Kong generation.
|Nigel Collett is the author of The Butcher of Amritsar: Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer.|