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‘Leaving Thailand’ – From Phuket with love and heartaches

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“In his new memoir “Leaving Thailand,” a former journalist, film tech and Phuket resident looks back on his life and loves in the kingdom that continue to haunt and inspire him.”

By Jim Algie 

I’m wary of memoirs set in Thailand in which a sex-starved Western man descends on the country to get caught up in the carnal circus of bars, bargirls, sex tourists, wastrels, pleasure-seekers and those eccentric expats I call “Bangkooks”.

But Steve Rosse quickly differentiates himself from the herd in the first story, “A Woman of Bangkok,” by noting how he stumbled upon the famous novel “about a young Englishman who falls in love with a Thai ‘dancing girl’ in Bangkok circa 1950. She takes all his money, breaks his heart, costs him his job, and finally leaves him to a future of failure and bitterness. But despite its turgid plot, the book is brilliantly written. It is a story full of wit, pathos and plain old human drama, and it’s one of my favorite books in the world.” 

I quote this passage at length not only because it sums up the story arc of so many Thailand books, but also because Rosse brings many of the same qualities, like “wit, pathos and plain old human drama,” which are the lynchpins of Jack Reynolds’ book, to these stories. The effect is a fresh take on a hoary genre that quickly morphs into something much more substantial and distinctive.

In the early parts, however, the blow-by-blow descriptions of the harlots-for-hire scene on Phuket around 1990 are tastefully done and largely sympathetic to the women. As a student of both Thai language and culture, Rosse casts himself as both participant and observer. By straddling that divide, he brings plenty of universal observations about life and hedonism to this specific milieu: “Everybody bears some burden of self-loathing, and for some that burden is so heavy they will only allow themselves joy if it’s connected to an act of penance.” 

From the nether regions of Phuket the memoir scales the heights of high-society after the narrator, despondent about breaking up with a bargirl, marries a respectable Thai lady he doesn’t love and starts a family. 

Now working in a five-star hotel, Rosse’s depiction of his life as a PR shill is both candid and comedic: “Normally I would greet a VIP in the lobby and walk him to the dining room, doing the warm up jokes on the way. Find out if the VIP has enough English for the intellectual jokes or if I would need to stick to jokes about farts. Settle in over appetizers and aperitifs, laud the hotel, hand out business cards, and then when the food hit the table ask for my photo opportunity.” 

In one of the most memorable tales in “Leaving Thailand” (available from Amazon as an ebook or paperback), the author develops an unlikely friendship with their young nanny from Myanmar, both of whom have been tyrannized by Steve’s wife. (“A 38 year old man and a 13 year old girl. We were Vladimir and Estragon waiting for Godot in an empty, sterile, existentialist landscape.”) 

But the story’s strong suit is that it plays out against a far bigger backdrop than the Phuket setting across a much wider swathe of personal history. In 2003, now in Iowa with his wife and children, the author took out a classified ad in The Phuket Gazette to try and track Pui down. The search results were zero.

Along the lines of JD Salinger’s classic short story, from which the title “For Pui with Love and Squalor” is taken, the friendship between Steve and Pui breaks free from the constraints of time and geography to float in a timeless realm. Sure, the particulars may have changed a little, but since maids and nannies from Myanmar remain fixtures throughout Southeast Asia, the story’s huge heart still pulsates with vitality.

In both Thailand and the US, the author covers plenty of ground. He takes a long trip up north to go trekking and smoke opium with a hill-tribe, which used to be a rite of passage for many backpackers. Once again, the story is not without its blackly comic interludes. When the author arrives back at JFK in New York an opium pipe he’d bought as a souvenir and forgotten about falls out on the table when the Customs agent searches his bags. After whisking him off to the back room for a personal search, he writes, “I told God, ‘Dear God, if you keep this cop’s finger out of my ass, I promise I’ll go back to Thailand and study Buddhism.”  

There’s also a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Oliver Stone movie, “Heaven and Earth.” Steve was the Head Set Dresser, and the only foreigner working on a team of nine Thai men. It’s another autobiographical piece in the collection with much grander ambitions than mere diarizing. In one passage he skewers the foreign stereotype of lazy and unreliable Thai male workers; these guys are both diligent and resourceful. In another, he conveys the main drawback of being an expat stranger living in very strange lands.

“And after two years of being the farang in Thailand, always being just outside the conversation, always trying to learn the rules and not accidentally insult anybody, always paying more for everything, it felt good to finally be on the team.” 

For me, the most captivating story is “Cellies.” It starts in Iowa at a high-school graduation party in a bean field, illuminated by the lights of pickup trucks and energized by kegs of beer. Coming home from such a party, similar to one that Rosse attended, a blonde cheerleader is paralyzed for life when her boyfriend rolled his pickup on the way home. 

Dorothy ends up in a nursing home across the street from the house where Steve grew up. After returning from Thailand in 1997 with his wife and two kids he winds up living in the family home again.

The contrast between all the developments in his own life, going to university then working in the film biz in New York, travelling all over Thailand before his bittersweet homecoming, and the details of Dorothy imprisoned in that nursing room, unable to move but still possessing the gifts of speech, sight and hearing, is both a devastating juxtaposition of parallel lives and a considerable feat of empathy for this hapless woman.

Hemingway famously said that the best stories are like icebergs; the biggest parts of them float beneath their surfaces: “The Old Man and the Sea” isn’t just about a fishing trip, right? 

“Cellies” put me in mind of that quote, but also my hometown in Canada and all the old friends who never left. Maybe they were paralyzed by a lack of curiosity about the bigger world or all tied up in the straightjacket of a 30-year mortgage. I don’t know. It’s an open-ended kind of story. Do your own reading and choose your own interpretation.

For the most part, the stories unfold in chronological order. Towards the end, however, the author’s reflections span the vast gulf of nowadays and yesteryears after a return trip he made to Thailand in 2019. 

Full of articulate and realistic stories written with candour and humour, the collection is a worthy non-fiction successor to “A Woman of Bangkok” told by “A Guy on Phuket,” who, despite the book’s title, never really left the kingdom.  

Jim Algie is the author of the nonfiction collection “Bizarre Thailand” and the more recent book of music journalism and literature, “On the Night Joey Ramone Died: Tales of Rock and Punk from Bangkok, New York, Cambodia and Norway.” Both are available from Amazon.

'Leaving Thailand' - From Phuket with love and heartaches | News by The Thaiger

The author, Steve Rosse

'Leaving Thailand' - From Phuket with love and heartaches | News by The Thaiger

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South Korean thriller “Parasite” sweeps the Oscars

Greeley Pulitzer

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South Korean thriller “Parasite” sweeps the Oscars | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The cast and crew of South Korean thriller celebrate their historic Oscar wins - Getty Images

“Parasite,” a South Korean thriller and dark comedy about modern poverty and wealth, swept the Academy awards on Sunday, taking home four Oscars including Best Picture, and making history. It is the first non-English-language film to take home the most coveted prize in Hollywood.

Its Best Original Screenplay award was the first Asian Oscar in that category, and the first for a Korean in any category. It comes on the heels of the 100th anniversary of the birth Korean cinema in 2019. The film also snapped up the prize for Best International Feature Film, as was widely expected.

Filmmaker Bong Joon-ho, who also won for best director, could barely contain his enthusiasm:

“I feel like I’ll wake up to find it’s all a dream. It all feels very surreal.”

The vicious satire about social inequality snagged the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival last year, and Best Foreign Language Film at last month’s Golden Globes, two more firsts for a Korean movie.

The movie follows a family of scammers from South Korea’s underbelly, who plot to secure work in an affluent Seoul household, as tutors, a driver and a housekeeper.

Critical reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Bong told his Hollywood audience in his Golden Globes acceptance speech: “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Bao Nguyen, a Vietnamese-American filmmaker, says Bong’s Oscar win is an “example to aspiring Asian and American filmmakers to follow”.

“Parasite” is deeply rooted in its depiction of Korean society without having to pander in any way to foreign audiences.”

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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Cast of popular TV show claim they were stiffed

Greeley Pulitzer

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Cast of popular TV show claim they were stiffed | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Actress Duganghathai Satthathip speaks to reporters on Thursday - Wassayos Ngamkham, Bangkok Post

The cast of a popular Thai costume drama allege they haven’t been paid. Actors in the semi-historical TV drama Lued Suphan or “Blood of Suphan” have accused the producer of withholding about 2 million baht in wages.

The cast went to the Crime Suppression Division head office in Bangkok Thursday to file a complaint, saying the production company refused to pay wages owed to actors, actresses and scriptwriters.

While they did not publicly name the company, their Facebook page indicated it was produced by the Pre-Pro-Post-Live Entertainment company.

Actress and star Duanghathai Satthathip says the cast were hired after the producer got the work from the Ministry of Culture. Production began in August last year and continued into September, and it was broadcast on TV Channel 5 in October.

Duanghathai says some of the cast received wages, but she and other members in her group are still owed about 2 million baht that should have been paid by September 1 last year. The producer kept postponing the payments, which totalled about 2 million baht, while in the meantime, the drama has been rerun, she said.

Duanghathai says the cast contacted the Ministry of Culture and learned that the producer was paid in full, so they want to know why they haven’t been paid. Over the years, she says, they’ve worked on other productions with state agencies and had never encountered such a problem.

After examining the evidence, CSD investigators said it’s a civil, not a criminal matter and advised them to consult a lawyer about filing a civil lawsuit.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020)

The Thaiger

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Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | The Thaiger

PHOTO: Kata Rocks

Where better to spend your new year’s celebrations than the tropical island of Phuket. There’s such a variety of excellent choices you have some big decisions to make! From the insane to the family-friendly, busy Patong Beach to stylish beach clubs, they’re all here waiting to carry you into the new year.

Forecast in Phuket for the day is 29 degrees and partly cloudy which assures a beautiful, balmy evening to see in 2020.

See in 2020 at one of these recommended locations…

Blue Tree

Blue Tree is the newest tourist venue on the island featuring a humungous man-made swimming pool and leisure entertainment experiences. The Blue Tree Phuket concept is simple: a menu of fun, entertainment, dining, challenges and relaxation underpinned by our uncompromising sustainability platform. The amazing new facilities are in Cherngtalay, in the middle of the island.

Say goodbye to 2019 and ring in the New Year 2020 in Amazonia, Blue Tree style! Become Tarzan & Jane of the jungle, where adventure and creativity come together, with sustainability in mind. Dance the night away and experience the true spirit of Tree House: great vibes, creative cuisine, crafted cocktails and best tunes played on the island.

The Tree House will celebrate New Year with an unforgettable night of extravaganza, featuring signature entertainment, live performers & International & resident DJs line up.

NEW YEAR 2020 | TREE HOUSE PHUKET

NEW YEAR 'S EVE GALA | AMAZONIA | BLUE TREE STYLEVDO credits: IG Video_Phuket_NiceAndSimple

Posted by Tree House Phuket on Sunday, December 15, 2019

 

The celebration begins at 7pm, with the Chef’s extensive Seafood and BBQ Gala Buffet on the Lagoon Beach. A Champagne Gala Dinner will be held on the second floor of Tree House Restaurant, overlooking the spectacular Blue Tree Lagoon, followed by after party & fireworks. An exclusive VIP Area, Bottle Service Packages and selection of premium Gourmet Platters are available for those who would like to maximise their experience.

For more information about Amazonia at Blue Tree, click HERE.

They also have a family-themed event that starts at 4pm in the afternoon, more suitable for the kids.

Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | News by The Thaiger

Café Del Mar

The stylish ‘orange cube’ along the coastline of Kamala is THE place to be seen on any visit to Phuket. Café Del Mar is holding a special New Year function overlooking the Andaman.

The have two events on the night of December 31 – a NYE 2020 Gala Dinner Buffet from 8 – 11pm. And then the bog party to carry you into the new year, the New Year Eve Party

Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | News by The Thaiger

Patong

There are plenty of great locations about Patong for New Years Eve – it will be difficult to escape the party in south-east Asia’s premier party town. This year, the New Year celebrations will be held under the banner “Save Our Earth – Say No to Plastic”. Activities will be held from December 27, culminating in the biggest party on December 31.

The star attraction for the New Year’s Eve party on the beach will be Portuguese DJ Diego Miranda, who is well known as one of the Top 50 DJs in the world. The nightly parties, including New Years Eve, are being held on Patong Beach at a specially erected sound stage at the end of Bangla Road. Party in the sand!

Patong’s Mayor Chalermluck says that safety and security for all visitors is a top priority.

“Thirty-seven CCTV cameras have been already installed along the beach, and security guards will take care of everyone.”

The Patong beach road will officially close for an hour as Patong revellers celebrate New Year 2020 at the island’s most famous beach. Thaweewong Road (Beach Road) will close from 11.30pm-12.30am. Most of the beach road will be closed to traffic from Prachanukroh Road in the south near the Absolute Sea Pearl Beach Hotel to Hatpatong Road near Loma Park.

The fireworks will be spectacular and you’ll get an amazing view from just about everywhere along the beach.

Or you can party anywhere along the famous Bangla Road…

Every bar will be full of an international New Year reveller crowd. It’s not sophisticated or romantic. It’s loud!

For the GLBTI crowd there’s also Soi Paradise, off Rat U-Thit road (second road back from the beach) – an entire street where the clubs and bars will be in top form for a colourful New Year countdown.

There’s something for everyone around Patong for this New Year.

Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | News by The Thaiger

Central Phuket International Countdown 2020

Right in the middle of the island, and organised by the Central Groups’ Central Festival shopping centre, is a big, family-friendly night of entertainment to bring in the new year. There is lots of parking available, for bikes and cars, and the event will be staged adjacent to the new Central Floresta shopping precinct. Taxis will be lined up to take you home if you decide to leave your transport at home. The line-up is mostly Thai celebrities and musicians but everyone is welcome to attend.

Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | News by The ThaigerTop 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | News by The Thaiger

Beach Clubs

Along Phuket’s west coast is a range of world class beach clubs that will hold amazing New Year celebrations for 2020 eve. From Kudo Beach Club in Patong to Catch Beach Club in Bang Tao, Dream Beach Club in Layan to Coast Beach Club based at Centara Resort in Karon. Or for something a little more boutique and special, head to Iguana Beach Club hidden away off the main coast road between Patong and Kamala. Also, just north of the island is the amazing Baba Beach Clubon Natai Beach.

A list of Phuket’s Top 10 beach clubs HERE.

Top 5 places to celebrate New Years Eve in Phuket (2020) | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: The fireworks along Kata Beach on December 31, 2018 from Kata Rocks.

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