The Royal Crematorium

To my mind, the word ‘crematorium’ sounds industrial, but that’s the way it was translated into English. The remains of the late king, Bhumipol the Great, are not here, but my first impression would have been of a strangely joyous necropolis.

The construction of the place where the king remains are to be cremated was an elaborate process, with strict traditions. At the same time, the king had ruled so long that I doubt there was anyone involved in the process who had worked on it before.

I am not Thai, but I have learned to respect King Bhumipol. More importantly, that it is important to respect the love of the Thai people for him. The closest I can think of to explain the reverberations of his passing is that it combined the nationalist shock of the assassination of Kennedy with the spiritual impact of the death of the long-reigning Blessed John Paul II.

This Is Not A Lake

This is a farm in Thailand after terrible floods that weren’t covered in American news.

History Of Thailand

I’m glad that I read it; after all my in-laws are Thai. But… I could have hoped for a bit more from this history.

The book breezes through the past rather quickly and tends to let things become a jumble of names of places.

There is a (relatively) lengthy section on the Kingdom of Ayudhya, one of the two roughly medieval kingdoms (along with Sukhothai) that are considered the foundations of modern Thailand, and the author seems engaged and interested when writing about it.

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Another Episode Of Facebook Poetry In Translation

It’s been a while, but it’s time for more “Found Poetry That Is Actually Facebook Translations of Posts from Thailand.” Enjoy.

I knew it.
It’s raining. It’s not going to go out.
It’s raining through a mirror
a movie.

I’m putting sleeping pills in the rice again
Good night.

My eyes… the birds are very satisfying.
It’s more fun than that, Dr. Wig,
eyes on the. A bird.

Leftist Thai Literature

Siburapha, the pen name of Kulap Saipradit

I read some short stories by Siburapha, who wrote Behind the Painting, and all three were dominated by ideas from left leaning, socioeconomic activism, something that I could only see in the novel in light of these stories (and even then, so much more faintly; the novel is, ultimately, about the loves of Thailand’s upper echelons).

In fact, I would say that the stories verge on being downright marxian (particularly one entitled, Lend a Hand, which featured an explicit dialogue about the relative value of labor vs capital).

Enjoyable, but like the novel, a little too much driven by ideas and a little too little driven by character (arguably, only Dostoyevsky ever wrote a truly successful philosophical novel, where a plot entirely driven by intellectual concerns still managed to be a deeply riveting narrative; I’ve always felt that The Brothers Karamazov is the most architectural novel ever written).

Behind The Painting

After I bought this, my better half perked up. This book, she said, is a sort of classic. It’s one of those books that every Thai student is given to read in high school. She then quoted to me a translation of the final line, which is, apparently (and one other Thai person confirmed this to me), iconic.

I die with no one to love me, yet content that I have someone to love.

We were at a Cherry Blossom festival in San Francisco’s Japanese neighborhood (in LA, that neighborhood was called Little Tokyo, but I think in SF they called it Japantown) and I excused myself to check out Forest Books, a great little used bookstore, specializing in books about Asia and literature in translation. They had shelves devoted to Eastern European, Chinese, and Japanese literature. And they had a Southeast Asian shelf, so I figured I would see if they had anything from Thailand. Not knowing anything about it, I bought this.

It’s romantic, and I’m a sucker for that, even if it was a little slight.

Farewell To Old Siam/Nana Thai

A sad moment. I won’t say it was the best Thai restaurant, but it was good. Even when they changed the name to Nana Thai, it remained Old Siam to me. And so it shall in perpetuity, I reckon.

I didn’t even get one last meal in. By the time I had made up my mind to go, the furnishings were on the street and the staff were inside eating pizza.

This place was pleasantly close to my old apartment in DC, but after we moved to a house in the Atlas District, I apostasized and switched my loyalties to a Thai place called Imm on H.

The world keeps moving, I reckon.

White Privilege

I was having drinks with a married couple who were both old friends (though I’d met the wife first). We had all visited Thailand earlier in the year. She had a complaint that my own better half once echoed. Everyone was looking at her husband. Like my better half, she was Southeast Asian. Like me, he was white. He protested that he hadn’t noticed any such thing, which, to her eyes, beggared belief. But I understood.

I also had a bit of a revelation. Why didn’t we notice (assuming it was actually happening)? Because, as white, heterosexual males, we always feel normal. The culture we live in reinforces that we are the norm. We set the norms. Even though we may be the only white guys for miles, wandering through a sea of capital-O ‘Other,’ we don’t feel out place. We never truly feel like the ‘Other.’ Even in a place where, by all rights and logic, we are the ‘Other.’ We didn’t notice any staring because, why would people stare? We always belong.

If you take it to absurd extremes, yes, you can find situations where we don’t belong. The classic/infamous/terrible cult classic, Cannibal Holocaust, for example. We, as white heterosexual males would feel a sense of not belonging in a situation where our party was being eaten by Amazonian cannibals. But even then, could we truly know what it is like to be ‘Other.’

Our better halves noticed the staring. Why? Because, as part of the ‘Other’ in America, they are attuned to it. To the reactions of the defining cultural group. Whether the reactions are good or bad is almost beside the point.

So this is part of white privilege. It is something that, no matter how enlightened or tolerant (which, when you think about, is a terrible word; ‘tolerant;’ how good of me to be ‘tolerant’ of others; how very… white of me) I feel I am (and, let’s be honest, in the eyes of the ‘Other,’ I may not appear so wonderful as I do to myself), I have not escaped, that maybe will never escape, and which will always be a wall between myself and true understanding of the challenge of being a person of color (in this case, but feel free to add in ‘woman,’ ‘LGBTQ,’ etc) in a society still defined by white privilege.

National Gallery Of Singapore

I didn’t actually go there. Or rather, I went inside the foyer, but because of an impending airplane back to Thailand, didn’t actually visit the galleries.

But nonetheless, I was excited by this article on the National Gallery.

Notably, that the author said that museum ‘indicates a strong belief in culture holding its own rather than it serving as a sub-branch of tourism.’

This was something that I felt myself while over there – that the nation felt that the arts were a critical part of the small country’s identity going forward (possibly because, lacking a lengthy national history, the arts become a way to build a national culture and support a national identity).

Poetry Is A Necessity When You Travel

Reading Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was a lucky coincidence. The book was a gift. I had been looking for a proper book of poetry to bring with me. Poetry is a necessity when you travel. You can pick it up, open it a random point, at the beginning, at a point, not random, but chosen because it has relevant meaning to what you have encountered.

My original thought had been to bring Whitman, but most editions are too big to be easily carried about.

But there was something of Whitman in Leaves of Grass. The pleasure in humanity as a mass. The aspects of the flaneur. Yes, the homoeroticism. Nothing in Lunch Poems resembles Whitman’s aching Civil War songs and laments, but, then again, what does? A reminder of Whitman’s power and influence over even the best poetry that followed. Or, perhaps, especially over the best poetry that followed.

Frank O'Hara: 'Lunch Poems'