Thailand Footprint: The People, Things, Literature, and Music of Thailand and the Region

Posts by Kevin Cummings

Paul Bowles on the Steamer Ship to … 

“Paul Bowles’s first and best novel, “The Sheltering Sky,” published 70 years ago this fall, was a book few saw coming. Its author was better known as a composer. Doubleday, the publisher that had paid Bowles an advance, rejected the manuscript, telling him it was not a novel. “If it isn’t a novel,” Bowles said angrily, “I don’t know what it is.”

When the book appeared, in fall 1949 (it was finally issued by New Directions), no one else knew quite what to make of it either. But they knew this bleak, spare story about a young couple from New York who drift from city to city in the North African desert marked the arrival of a different kind of American voice.” New York Times – Dwight Garner

 

Paul Bowles in Bangkok

By Phillp J. Coggan

The question that bothered Paul Bowles is this: Is the universe indifferent, or positively malevolent? His father advised him to get out of the gutter and enjoy the view, but when he did he saw the emptiness behind the sky. At his bleakest he is the author of ‘The Delicate Prey’ and ‘The Sheltering Sky’, at his most compassionate, there’s ‘The Time of Friendship,’ but while natives are incomprehensible, it’s an American who hammers the nail into the ear of his sleeping companion.

So what’s Bangkok to Bowles, or Bowles to The City of Angels? Nothing, of course. Bowlesian noir is the darkness at the heart of the universe itself, whereas in Bangkok it is society that is dark at the heart. So the two should never have met, but for a few months in 1966, they did.

It was all about money. Bowles needed to pay for expensive medical treatment for his wife Jane, so when Harry Sions of Little, Brown (a publisher that paid its authors good money; they did exist in those distant days) asked him to contribute a title to a series on Great Cities of the World, he accepted.

But which city? The Bowles name was already stamped all over Tangier, so naturally, Sions suggested Cairo. They’re all Arabs, aren’t they? Indeed they are; ­in 1991, after Gulf War I, Bowles wrote to a friend that American tourists were staying away from Morocco because they confused it with Iraq. But he didn’t want to write about Cairo. He whimsically suggested Bangkok, and Sions agreed. They’re all foreign, aren’t they?

And so, in June of 1966 and with the advance in his account (“Never accept an advance before the book is finished”: Bruce Chatwin), Bowles, who abhorred airplanes as he abhorred everything that had happened since 1931, the year he discovered Tangier, set off on a cargo freighter bound for Bangkok via New York and Panama.

He was expecting … what? Temples, canals, a gracious people secure in their own culture, which is to say, Tangier 1931, but with coconut palms. Disappointment was inevitable.

Bangkok is the capital of Yashoodabinia (“Yashoodabinia when…”). He’d arrived fifteen years too late, or so everyone told him. The nymphs had fled, the canals were filled in and paved over, the air was foul, and the place was full of GIs with mean faces.

He stayed in a concrete and glass hotel on the Chao Phraya. The sun heated it like an oven and the molten river reminded him of Venice, but with three-inch cockroaches. The city was vast and treeless and to get anywhere meant spending half the day in taxis, nor was walking possible, the streets being uncrossable. Yet nobody minded, at least nobody Thai, because accidents were karma, and if you got knocked down by a bus it was because you had it coming.

Bangkok 1966 View from Wat Arun 

One day he visited Ayudhaya with three monks. “What is the significance of the necktie?” asked one, and seemed perplexed to learn that there was none. They toured museums and ruined temples in the all-pervading heat and the monks bought Bowles a pod of lotus seeds. Then a man on the bus whom Bowles took for a lunatic screamed at the back door until the monk told him this was the driver’s assistant warning the driver of on-coming traffic.

The book was doomed from the start. Connections failed to connect, requests for interviews went unanswered, letters drew no response. Long-term expats talked of leaving on vacation in order to avoid the GIs and their floozies and arrogance, the heat continued, and the government simply didn’t want him there. Permission to stay beyond the regular tourist period was not forthcoming, the fruitless seeking of it ate up the days, and after four unproductive months, he left.  

He arrived back in Tangier in January 1967 to discover Jane had had a stroke and needed to be hospitalised. He returned the advance and asked Alec Waugh, the nicer brother of Evelyn, to take over. Waugh wrote a pot-boiler concentrating on colourful incidents from the reigns of kings and carefully avoiding anything critical, while Bowles wrote a short story called ‘You Have Left Your Lotus Pods on the Bus’, the title tells it all. “And there continued to be more and more people in the world, and there was nothing anyone could do about anything.”

 

Philip J. Coggan was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1950. He has worked as a diplomat and for the UN in many countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Burma, Morocco and Iraq. He began writing on his retirement, beginning with the Hotel Cambodia series of “Asian noir” short stories. He divides his time between his home in Australia and travel in Asia. His books include Spirit Worlds reviewed here as well as a recent published history of Cambodia. He is best known as a friend of John Fengler. 

Philip J. Coggan at a recent book launch

Photograph by Steven W. Palmer

 

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Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton

 

“Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying. Only the echoes of my mind.”

Those lines were written by Fred Neil and popularized by singers Harry Nilsson and Glen Campbell in the lates 1960s. They are perfectly applicable today.

There once was a time when we looked to songwriters, poets, and novelists to be our voices among choices. They were the ones who best articulated what we were seeing, thinking, and feeling.

Their positions – the songwriters, poets, and novelists – have gone down in our society from my perspective, while everyone else’s have risen. The rise of a great mass can be as disruptive as a tsunami.

It’s not all bad, of course, this blog is an example of my voice. While my audience is small it is an avenue for me to express my thoughts not unlike the songwriters, poets, and authors of yesteryear. When there are no gatekeepers anyone can crash the gate.

Memories are often laced with nostalgia and not particularly accurate. I like to think that we listened better forty years ago, but maybe I am fooling myself?

What I do know for sure is that we don’t seem to listen very well today – myself included. “Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying. Only the echoes of my mind.”

Nowadays everybody can have their own personal echo chamber. And if they don’t echo back on cue, well, fuck them. That’s an unfriend or a block. Easy enough.

“People stopping, staring. I can’t see their faces. Only the shadows of their eyes.

I have quit Twitter. Four months ago now. I was told that Twitter was needed to follow breaking news. Maybe? But I don’t miss it. A friend once described blogging as sending out words into the great white void. That’s how I felt about Twitter.

Most everybody is also staring at their phones in this moment of time and they often don’t even bother to stop to do the staring. Many a time I have proceeded down a sidewalk in right of way mode only to have someone headed my way on a collision course, looking at their phone. I hold my position, firmly. It’s like a game of chicken where only one party knows that they are playing. The results stay pretty much the same.

“I’m going where the sun keeps shining. Through the pouring rain. Going where the weather suits my clothes.

I have just spent the summer in California and soon I will be headed back to Thailand. During the summer, and before too, I get what seems like constant descriptions of an America I have never seen. I am not saying it doesn’t exist, I am just saying I have never seen it. I don’t look for it either – maybe that’s the problem or better yet, the solution. A place where racist policemen are the norm, where white supremacists are on the rise, where innocents are gunned down daily due to corrupt politicians more concerned with NRA money than the safety of their constituents (that one is pretty accurate), where opportunities are diminishing, a country with massive amounts of people with no health insurance, saddled with paying hundreds of dollars for their insulin pens.

Who writes this stuff anyway? I’ll tell you who. Anyone who wants to. Anyone who can. And anyone can nowadays. There’s the rub.

Well, I’ll keep on moving, moving on. Things are bound to be improving these days. One of these days.” Jackson Browne

It’s not easy remaining an optimist in the year 2019. Being too optimistic is seen as being naive and not being realistic. A surfer’s world view – only as far out as the horizon. Maybe so. From my vantage point the surfers are the ones to emulate, not the academics, polemicists or politicians.

“Just get away from the shady turf. And baby go catch some rays on the sunny surf. And when you catch a wave you’ll be sittin’ on top of the world.” Beach Boys

So what’s the point of this meandering essay? I am not sure. It may be just another example of the prevailing yada, yada, yada out there. There is no beef or bisque to this story. For that try the Ramayana.

“So I’ll seek out the company of poets, the company of poets I’ll make mine. They’re taking passion’s pulse and they are signaling the future, they’ve freedom for a mistress and they’ve history for a tutor, and they can image water into wine. ” John Gartland

But I for one will continue to look for the best words of wisdom, not on Twitter or Facebook or esoteric blogs like this one. I’ll take the good advice of John Gartland and seek out the company of poets: Dylan, Cohen, Browne, Springsteen, Minko, Prine, Young and dozens of others. For these voices not only represent the soundtrack of my life, they represent the little wisdom I have picked up along the way.

“I’d love to stick around, but I’m running behind. Running on. You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find. Running blind. Running into the sun, but I’m running behind.” Jackson Browne

This blog post is running on empty. Time to take the Doobie Brothers good advice and listen to the music or read a good book. Thanks for tuning in.

 

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Bangkok based crime fiction writer, Anthony Perry

(Photograph by Jim Darkle)

I am a big fan of Christopher Hitchens. His stance on the Iraq War never bothered me much. You weren’t a real fan of Hitch if that swayed you away. Nobody’s perfect. Hitchens left behind a lot of wisdom. Among the quotes I like of his is this one:


“One should try to write as if posthumously. Because then you’re free of all the inhibition that can cluster around even the most independent-minded writer. You don’t really care about public opinion now, you don’t mind about sales, you don’t care what the critics say. You don’t even care what your friends, your peers, your beloved think. You’re free. Death is a very liberating thought. ” Christopher Hitchens

Anthony Perry is not perfect either. Given enough time I am convinced I will become a fan of the author, too. In fact I already am, although I have not read his novel, Lyle’s Grief, yet. 

Why a fan, you might ask?

I did read this one and only passage written by Anthony Perry in a Facebook Thailand Expat Writer’s List group. Out of the blue, it seemed to me, Anthony wrote:

I wasted decades smoking weed, heroin, cocaine, stealing, collecting holocaust art, Alfred Manning, Russel Flint, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Thomas Moorcroft, Royal Worcester, Georgian Silver and obsessing over chemical equilibrium. Along the way I had five children, five black children cursed with a white junkie dad. I hope I’m not the only father looking back with regret and feeling unloved.

Another fine writer in that group commented, “I wanna read more”. That’s exactly how I felt. Anthony Perry was taking Hitchens advice and executing it. He was also killing it as a writer or so I thought. In one paragraph, consisting of three sentences, I gleaned that Mr. Perry is not a man who cares much about public opinion, I doubt he cares about what his critics have to say, and I am not even sure he cares about what his friends, his peers, and his beloved think – about this one paragraph anyway. As for sales of his books, I’ll guess that’s not a major concern of his either. In short, what Anthony appeared to me to be was a liberated writer, someone writing freely, as if he were already dead. That last sentence of his would make for a fine dying utterance in a noir novel. 

This author was worth some further investigation. So I contacted Anthony Perry and asked if I could interview him for this blog. Friendly guy that he is, he has obliged. One of the first questions I asked Anthony was, “How old are you?”. He replied, “As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” Before I begin my first interview of a Bangkok based author in the seventh year of this blog, here is some information you can find about Anthony, which I have summarized from his Amazon author page:

If you want to know what year Anthony was born it can be found easy enough. I prefer the mystery of it all. 

In his twenties, Anthony became a heroin addict. An addiction that lasted fifteen years. During that time there were stints in prisons in his native England and abroad. In the year 2000 Anthony underwent a successful nine-week detox program in Portugal and has remained drug free.

After rehab he went to college and studied counseling for four years. Upon graduating he became an addiction counselor and has worked in various prisons and treatment centers throughout London, where he still lives part of each year. Anthony has taught poetry classes for the homeless and art classes for people with HIV and AIDS. He now devotes his time to a life of writing crime fiction and helping others recover from addiction. 

Lyle’s Grief is his first novel.

 
 
KC:  Welcome, Anthony. Do you live in Bangkok? If so, talk about a random interaction you’ve had recently in the CIty of Angels. 
AP: Yes, I live in Bangkok for 8 months of the year.
Two days ago I was sitting upstairs in a members room of a cigar bar in Soi 24. Myself, six other men who are multi-millionaire businessmen, and a 22 yr old Thai-Chinese woman. I asked her at what age did she realize the effect she had on men. With that, the whole room fell into silence in eager anticipation of her answer. Bearing in mind three of the men were married to Thai women, I guess they had a special interest. She sat bolt upright and simply replied, “Power and control.” At that point, I heard a couple of nervous squeaks coming from her audience. I abstained from further questioning because I got the answer I wanted everyone else to hear. To cut a long story short she held court gathering information about how best she would obtain a USA visa. I evaluated she was starring in her own feature film by demonstrating her sense of power and control. I wanted to leave but stayed around thirty minutes before doing so. The music in the background was too loud for me, and the semi soprano singer was trying to sound cool and jazzy, and I detached and all around me it was a nightmare. 
 
KC: What is your first memory of illegal drugs? How much did you spend on drugs during your time as an addict?
AP:: My first clinical experience of mood change was in 1962 with Purple Hearts. I smoked weed and hash every day from most countries who farmed for commercial reasons. Although I always felt paranoid, I think the mood change is what I had become obsessed with. After breaking my back in 1971 I soon found relief with Heroin. At the time I had an antique shop. Heroin was £100 a gramme, and I needed to fund my habit. I used the Times tabloid and always checked out obituary columns to find abandoned properties that housed aristocracies precious items.
This is my first roll-call. Cost of my drug habit was around £5.2 million, but my addiction cost me much more. I gambled from the age of fifteen. However, my addiction cost a whole lot more than money.
 
KC:  What is the criminal justice system like in the United Kingdom? Does it work or is it broken?
AP: The simplest answer I can give it’s corrupted, its always worked and its always been broken. There are and always have been special open prisons for white collar crimes. Fraud, big money fraud usually carried around a two-year sentence, and that’s why it’s corrupt and has always been broken. One tiny example of this is the MPs expenses scandal and just the one was imprisoned. The government funds various organisations for drug rehabilitation, and most clients are in the criminal justice system. As soon as someone is held in police custody a drugs worker asks if they have a drug problem. The government have a system in operation that requests KPT (key performance targets), and this enables them to state figures which imply the government are doing a great job. Most first time prisoners reach the status of a repeat offender.
 
 
Anthony Perry at play
 
KC: Tell me about your time in the hoity-toity art world? Do you have any Lucien Freud or famous client stories, per chance? 
AP: I sold art and antiques for many years and my clients were among London’s top auction houses. I bought a large collection of art from Phillipe Le Bon, a leading pioneer in cosmetic surgery and hair transplants. He was a collector and was grieving the loss of his wife Pandora Astor. He was a using friend of mine for many years and we cleaned up together but Phillipe relapsed and lost the desire to stop. I attended auctions across the UK and bought art mainly for American clients.
Lucien was a compulsive gambler. He ran into our club with a painting for £275.00 to gamble one time. He offered it to my Jewish friend and I bought it. I also bought a few nice pieces from Lord Lucan (John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan). Lucan gambled in Curzon st Mayfair. He did too much cocaine and famously killed his Nanny.
 
KC:  Talk about your first novel Lyle’s Grief and how would you classify your writing style? 
AP: Lyle’s Grief is about a black female detective murder squad chief. I attempted to highlight the consequences of slavery. Missy Lyle’s only son committed suicide under the strange mix of Heroin, Cocaine, Hallucinogenics, and Amphetamines. My writing style for me is difficult to evaluate, but I tend to describe my characters as not being off the cuff.
 
KC: Are you in control of your demons or vice versa.
AP: No, I am never going to be in control of my demons and I hope they will never be in control of me. After 15 years of trying to control my demons, I surrendered and waved the white flag and it has been raised for almost nineteen years. I do this by talking with other recovering addicts. I found listening to the insanity of addiction and working with clients at times to be challenging.
 
KC: Why do you think you are still alive? What’s in store for your Act Three? 
AP: I am alive through pure chance. I overdosed many times and had a few accidents and emergency admissions. I have let go of the past and the future and hopefully the best is yet to come.
 
Click the book cover above to go to the Amazon page for Lyle’s Grief 
 

For more entertaining words from Anthony Perry click the YouTube Video above It has close to 10,000 views on his Facebook page.

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Looking Forward, Looking Back

After two books, two T-shirts, and six years of blogging I have done all I have set out to do in this less than trivial pursuit. I’ll be Medicare eligible on my upcoming Birthday in June. Reading is down, books may or may not be on the decline, more and more people even bad mouth good old Bangkok. So why continue being a Bangkok blogger in an even more instant gratification era of vanity going straight to audio and video, via podcasts and YouTube channels? It’s a good question. I missed the Kickstarter boat after all. I make a mean potato salad myself. He who hesitates in this day and age is indeed lost. 

I do this blog for a few reasons:

  1. It’s fun.
  2. I get to meet interesting people, read interesting books, and ask those people and authors questions.
  3. It seems like the right thing to do and it’s selfishly rewarding too. 

The most important thing I have learned in the last six years, but don’t always follow is, “Don’t burst my illusions and I wont burst yours.”  Calvino’s Law. 

 

John Flano says good morning to Bangkok

In six years there have been over three-hundred blog posts here. I still have a few more in me. So let’s get on with it, as one of those interesting people I have met along this journey, Christopher Minko, once said. 

I’m expanding my horizons in year seven. Starting with an interview with a Bangkok contradiction, good guy and bad guy, actor and man about town, John Flano. He only plays the bad guy in the movies. 

John Flano (seated) with another artist

KC: Welcome John Flano to Thailand Footprint. You’re a SAG card carrying actor, an avid motorcycle rider and a transplanted Californian. Lets talk about rejection. That’s the first thing I think about when I think of actors: rejection. What’s it like? I’m reminded of an old Wide World of Sports intro. “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” Tell me about your thrills, chills, and defeats in any order you like.

JF: A WOW question. This could turn into a novel on this one subject. When Auditioning I give it my all. Most, if not all auditions you have very little info for the character or what they are looking for when walking in front of the Camera. Let’s just say that I rarely get upset when I don’t book a gig…. and of course I am beyond child like excited when I do book jobs. You must have thick skin and not take things personally in order to survive in this business. There absolutely have been a few gigs that I thought I was perfect for and the Audition seemed to go great….. But for what ever reason I didn’t get it. Damn it. Oh, well. On to the next.

I grew up with a Improvisational theater type background. I have booked jobs with large agencies, products, SAG Union Productions…. Domino’s Pizza, Shield Soap, Lee Jeans, Cadillac, Molson beer, Bud Dry, Jack in the Box Burgers…..  What was the question again??.. Oh yeah, Rejection. No one likes to be rejected on anything…. But as an actor hustling around… You can not let it be personal. I always say, just bite the bullet, smile and keep moving forward and upward.  

John Flano with some of his fans

KC: When did your passion for motorcycles begin? How many times have you been to the ER? (Ever been to Four Corners and Alice’s Restaurant in Woodside, California by the way?) .

JF: 1984 and Skyline Blvd and Alice’s was a frequent hang for me, especially midweek before lunch on a school day as there was virtually no traffic up there. I can fondly recall being over and grinding foot pegs on my Honda CB 750f super sport and also my Moto Guzzi 850-T3…… My other bikes were unable to grind pegs… 😅 I honestly don’t know when the motorcycle thing happened. It has been in my blood. It is just a fluke that I grew up in a motorcycle family from a baby and when I did eventually meet my biological father he told me he grew up on motorcycles and skiing as I did. I was adopted at age 2.  I met both my biological parents separately when I was 21 yrs old.

I remember at 6 years of age…. Right before I started first grade and just after returning from living on Norfolk Island and our 4 year world tour….. Mounting a 5 hp Bonanza Mini bike and cracking the throttle wide open straight into a curb and I went airborne into a field of thorns… Stickers….. I was hooked ever since. 

One ER trip due to a tourist pulling out in front of me in Hawaii on the big island. Long story but I was on a Harley VRod rental putting along minding my own business…. a retired couple who just landed on the Island were in their Rental VW four-door Jetta and they were in the oncoming lane and just before they were about to pass me they decided to make a sudden left hand turn directly in front of me…. I laid the Harley down and my front wheel hit their right rear wheel and I high-sided up against the car and then flipped over it….. I then proceeded back up the mountain I had shortly just rode down but this time in back of an ambulance looking out the rear window as I was laying down in the gurney laughing as I heard the medic on the radio to the ER saying that they had a “donor” in bound.. 😅 😅 When I arrived at the ER one of the nurses who met us upon arrival said, where is the donor?… The Ambulance medic said I was the donor.. 😅 When they receive motorcyclists from accidents they normally do not live thus they call them donors as they accept to have organs from the motorcyclist to donate…. I sustained some injuries but I was okay. That was my only time to the ER from a motorcycle accident.

KC: When did you first come to Bangkok and why did you decide to stay.

JF: I first visited the Kingdom of Siam in 1990. I was living and acting in Tokyo at the time. I had a break between two big commercials, Suntory Whiskey and Panasonic GAO TVs and decided to go to Bangkok with a fellow American Expat who was living in Tokyo and had to do a visa run. I found myself on an Island, Koh Samet, not so far from Bangkok and fell in love with the Thai culture, food and people. After Two weeks in Thailand I returned to Tokyo, picked up my money from the commercials and went back to Bangkok for 5 months. I had nothing but positive experiences and said I want to live here some day. I returned to San Francisco and then moved to Los Angeles until 2007; then I moved to Vietnam until 2013. I Love Bangkok and I Love Thailand.

John Flano, making friends during his Vietnam days

KC:. You seem to be the opposite of  a “Grumpy Gus” at heart, but could probably play one on the Big Screen just fine. What do you think of the complainers in life? How should they be treated, with compassion or with distance?>

JF: Thank you for your kind words. I have definitely had my moments of being grumpy for sure… 😅 I think that is normal sometimes in life. You just can’t let it ruin your day or life in my opinion. Depending on what and how people are complaining dictates whether they should be distanced or you should feel compassion, I believe. But if someone is always complaining I would say distance is probably the best thing to do. No negative vibes please. Don’t harsh my buzz dude. 

KC: You mentioned you were adopted. When did you find out? What can you share about the adoption process for you? What can you share about nature vs nurture as it applies to John Flano? 

JC: It was in 5th grade when I was asking my mom what a baby looks like inside the womb. My mom showed me an illustration and I said, Wow mom, that is the way I was inside you, yeah??

She replied… “well, I think we need to talk”  at that moment I knew that I was not from them!!!!  I was so shocked but now things started to make sense to me. I was always so different from all of them. She told me that my mother was not well and was unable to keep me. Her baby was taken away from her. She wanted to keep me but was not allowed. My grandparents were also not good people, actually. At one point later my Grandmother said to me that it was better for me to live with the Flanagans because they didn’t want to screw me up like they did my mom. Crazy shit. So, my grandmother was always around me growing up but I didn’t realize that she was my grandmother until after the 5th grade. From that time on I would always grill my Mother and grandmother about my real mother and father. I didn’t get much info until just before I turned 21. I finally met both my real parents individually at that age. 

When I met my mother all we did is hold each other tightly and cry. She was happy and sad. She is a small petite woman with a huge heart of gold and she can ramble as can both my biological grandmothers. I have the “ramble” gene for sure. I can’t help it. My father is very pleasant but distant. Turns out he grew up on motorcycles and skiing as I did. So my father is/was a federal forest ranger up in Arnold California. We spent some time hanging out for a few years and then drifted apart. My mother and I would see each other occasionally over the years. I am very social due to my mother. I am also very good on my own because of my father.

I believe adoption is great when the family really wants to save a kid. My case was probably a bit unique due to the fact that the Flanagans had no intention of having another kid. Keep in mind that I was born in 1964 and the times were so different then. Families were different. Not much divorce back then. I have grown up dealing with certain childhood traumas as probably many kids do. But it was my friend’s families who really took good care of me.

KC: Talk about your community of creative types and friends in Bangkok. What do they mean to you? What do you like to do as a group. 

JF: I am very impressed with the creative community here. Pretty much everyone really gets along and is very supportive of each other and I really like that. We have Film makers, social events occasionally and those are great to get together and brain storm and network. There are screenings, exhibits that we all come together for. 

KC: What are you currently working on, John? 

JF: Currently I am shooting a great film called Spit and Sawdust, directed by veteran actor Byron Gibson. It is kind of a gang thing. I would say it is a mix between Quinton Tarantino and Guy Ritchie.  I really love working with this Director and cast.

John Flano at work on the set

 

KC: What are you afraid of? There’s gotta be something.

I am afraid of the scorn of women. Not that I have any reason to be subjected to such but it does scare me. I had a Thai girlfriend once; I didn’t want to eat her cooking. She was very upset with me about that. I am also constantly afraid of the way our world leaders are behaving. I will save you and not go further on this topic. I am also afraid of getting run over by a bus here in the Bangkok traffic.

John Flano, temporarily avoiding hell’s fury

JF: I want to thank you for your taking the time to interview me, Kevin. 

KC: Thank-you, John. Break a leg. And watch out for those Bangkok buses. 

 

 

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This blog will turn six-years old in less than two weeks. It has put me in a reflective mood. The world changes – quickly. Technology disrupts. Greed is in no short supply. As George Harrison wrote, “It Don’t Come Easy”. That applies to artists of all kinds in the year 2019 – authors are no exception.

Let’s review some popular Bangkok fiction and note the publication dates. 2016 seems to have been a pivotal year.

The Bangkok Asset by John Burdett, first published August 3, 2015 came out in paperback in July of 2016. This is another fine Royal Thai Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep novel by Burdett, number 6 in the series, which took a different path. Some took issue with it. I was fine with it. By all accounts it sold well. The Bangkok Asset surpassed Bangkok 8, the 1st in the series, as my favorite. Will there be a lucky #7 in the series? My review of The Bangkok Asset can be found here.

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, first published in September of 2009. It sold a ton and won bookoo awards. Simply put: not my cup of tea. I didn’t finish it and I know many who make the same revelation. I got 90 pages into it, which was 60 more than I enjoyed.

Fool’s River came out in August of 2017. It seems longer ago to me. Tim is the author of my favorite Bangkok Thriller of all time, The Queen of Patpong, which burst upon the scene way back in 2010. Fool’s River is #8 in the Poke Rafferty series. Many readers have grown to love Poke’s patchwork family. Here’s a review I did on the series as it stood in 2014.

Jumpers by Christopher G. Moore, published by Heaven Lake Press in October of 2016 is #16 in the popular Vincent Calvino series. That’s 2 1/2 years ago – a long time for Vinnie, making some people wonder if he’s ridden off into a Canadian sunset? The Calvino series always captured the times and technology of Bangkok perfectly. Times have changed as has technology. If you can’t wait for a new Calvino novel I suggest you re-read the old. My favorite is Missing in Rangoon. My review of Jumpers can be found here.

Fun CIty Punch published by Spanking Pulp Press is James A. Newman’s 5th in the Joe Dylan noir series. It came out in June of 2016; that makes almost three years since we’ve seen any Bangkok fiction from Newman. Being the youngest writer of the bunch he may have transitioned to other media. If you are a fan of Newman look or listen for him on film and audio projects. The once possible heir apparent to the Bangkok fiction mantle may be ahead of the curve. My favorite in the series remains The White Flamingo

Harlan Wolff made quite a splash when his debut novel, Bangkok Rules appeared in April of 2013 – six years ago. It garnered over 100 Amazon reviews lickity-split. More than some Pulitzer Prize winning novels at the time. A remarkable feat. Six years later some people feel they have been waiting a long time for the author’s second offering.

For readers looking for something completely different there is Genesis 2.0 by Collin Piprell. It too was published comparatively recently, by Common Deer Press out of Canada. The hardcover edition has only been out since March of 2018. It is the sequel to MOM, which I reviewed here. 

Set in a dystopian future with comic touches Genesis 2.0 will appeal to readers of science fiction and fans of Collin’s insightful fiction.

The best book I have read with Bangkok as a character in the past 18 months is the expanded edition of On The Night Joey Ramone Died by Jim Algie out since February 2018. There is not a private investigator to be found in this novella set – only clever writing and interesting characters. We recently lost the longtime Bangkok based author to the desert life of Arizona. Jim was married four months ago and now lives outside of Tucson with his wife, Rhishja and their two dogs. Is there any Bangkok fiction left in the pen of Jim Algie? I have my doubts about that but no doubt we will be hearing good things from the American author in the future.

So where does that leave us? “What have you done for me lately?” as the expression goes. The last Bangkok crime fiction of any note published by an author in the last six months that I am aware of is The Monsoon Ghost Image by Tom Vater – the third in the Detective Maier Mystery Series. I always enjoy Vater’s fictitious adventures including his take on American politics – very entertaining. My nit with Tom is he could be more gracious toward his competition. When you waste time talking about authors negatively, you aren’t talking about your own products.

I wasn’t going to include Jo Nesbo’s Cockroaches as I didn’t read it and don’t know enough about the author. Tom Vater, evidently, does as he is quoted in an interview saying Jo Nesbo is a “shallow” author whose books he finds “mind-numbing”. I’ll take Vater at his word. No reason not to – he’s informed. The hardcover and paperback of Cockroaches came out in 2014.

I wish it were easy to write shallow fiction for millions of dumbed-down readers – I’d throw my hat into the ring. Alas, it’s quite difficult to do what Jo has done. Lucky he is. For what it is worth Cockroaches has over 800 Amazon USA reviews and a composite star rating of 4.2. A sure sign Nesbo is no artist if ever there was one. He probably eats well too.

Bangkok Wakes to Rain has been marketed well but doesn’t seem to have sold well. Written by Pitchaya Sudbanthad it came out with much fanfare just six weeks ago yet it has collected only five Amazon reviews, two of them less than stellar. The days of a Big 5 publishing contract never guaranteed success but it certainly helped your chances. I have begun, but not yet finished, this stylistic collection of vignettes.

In an age when the novel has been declared dead more times than an unlucky cat, what can readers who like Bangkok as one of their prime characters look forward to?

The Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne is due out later this year. It will be the third Osborne novel with an Asian backdrop but his first set primarily in Bangkok. Mr. Osborne is a hot author these days who broke into the Bangkok literary scene by plunging deep into expat-living with his work of non-fiction, Bangkok Days – published almost 10 years ago. Prior to that he had a twenty-year run as a top notch journalist and freelancer in New York City. Lawrence took an old Harvard Business School maxim and successfully applied it to his craft: Writing by Walking Around.

The Kingdom will be no franchise novel – it is set to follow the lives of four women living in an apartment on one of Bangkok’s colorful blocks. Given the roll Osborne is on, with various film projects in pre and post production, the story is sure to have cinematic qualities, classic ones given his taste.

So there you have it – one blogger’s take. What does the future of Bangkok fiction have in store for the next five or six years? I have no idea. As Lawrence Osborne is quoted in a recent interview, “I think people do still read. I get feedback from people.” The question is will they be reading what has come to be known as Bangkok fiction in the future? And if so, whose will it be?

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bangkok air

It had to be the emanon bar,

I can’t tell you how unhinged he was to see me.

We’d had a few of their specials and we were getting loose.

I’d probably be teetotal if it wasn’t for this bar.

You get drunk of course, but, it goes without saying

(you’re obviously a cultured man) that context is everything,

always, and juice is only juice.

He ordered a trio of witch killers, bottled in Japan,

it’s thirty five percent; strontium and alcohol.

Bottle’s so cold you can’t put it down but

after a few pulls you aren’t afraid of frost bite

or polar bears or even the Koran.

A couple of rats were foraging

confidently under a food stall opposite,

the cat, as usual, was in hiding.

The mamasan, as only she can

displayed her astounding assets to man

leaned across the bar and lit a smoke.

There’s poison in the city air,

wherever you’re residing.

It’s the frisson before storytime.

He looked his age, whatever it was,

but obviously he could tell a joke.

A surprising number of city folk

are masked for pollution apocalypse .

I haven’t fully sussed it yet, but

it’s like a horror movie set, and

maybe we don’t know we’ve had our chips.

He allowed himself a long consoling toke.

Decomposition, baby, your place, or mine?

I hadn’t planned on retirement

in a zombie social paradigm.

He looked his age, whatever it was,

but obviously he could tell a joke.

Took up where he’d begun

when an arch and sexy female voice says

are you sitting comfortably children?

Here’s the latest shit from the oracle,

as she leaned across the bar and lit one;

do bars get better than this he asked

and I took that as frankly rhetorical.

She will eat you alive

but I will risk it he said,

then I’ll describe it later.

I’m old, he laughed, and bent

by all the vortices of vice,

but I retain a certain skill

in my role as the narrator.

It’s been poisonous for years out there

and will get worse tomorrow.

My advice to those outside this bar

is don’t inhale, or swallow.

 

Different Drummers, a book of non-fiction interviews, literary reviews and stories, which includes over 50 John Gartland poems is available at Amazon in paperback and all the major and minor online retailers as an eBook.

There are still a very limited number of copies available of the Advance Uncopyedited Edition of Different Drummers at Queen Bee Tavern located on Sukhumvit 26 – directly across from the Hilton DoubleTree Inn.

John Branton at Queen Bee Tavern with a cuppa tea and Different Drummers

Look for promotional details on my Facebook wall soon.

https://www.facebook.com/bangkokbeatbook

For more poems by John Gartland go to Amazon.com or his Facebook page at Lizardville Productions

 

 

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A long time ago in a galaxy far far away there was a place called the 1980s. It was a simpler time. I wouldn’t call them the good old days. These are the good old days, after all. Or they will be at some point in the future if you’re lucky enough to get there. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were in their heyday. It was quite a rivalry that began when the two met as part of their respective teams for the NCAA Basketball Championship in 1979. Magic came out on top that day.

It was a rivalry for over a decade but it was in the 1980s where it really shined. As one Sports Illustrated writer, I forget who, asked and answered a clever question: “Does it matter that one player is black and one player is white? Of course it does; it’s part of the fun.” The writer was right, of course. It was all part of a fun rivalry.

Some people picked sides, as people do. Me? I liked them both. During the mid-1980s I walked into a sports memorabilia shop. There they had certified autographed, framed photos of various sports stars including Magic and Bird.

How much for the Magic and Bird photos, I asked

$55.00 for Magic and $45.00 for Bird. (It was a West Coast Sports Shop).

Mmmm …. How about $90.00 for the two?

No can do. My margin is too slim. $55.00 and $45.00.

Tell you what. Can you write it up $50.00 for Magic and $50.00 for Bird? Because I can’t see paying more for Magic.

For $100.00 I’ll write it up any way you want.

Sold.

I still have those pictures.

Nowadays Chris Rock laments you can’t say, “The black kid over there.” It has to be, “The kid in the red tennis shoes.” So I am not sure if that simple question asked in the 1980s with a truthful answer given by anyone with a passing interest in the game of basketball could even be asked any more without offending someone? If Bird and Magic were playing today and someone didn’t know who was who it might be safer to say, “Bird is the one wearing the green Chuck Taylor Converse shoes.” Of course no one wears Chucks anymore. Times change. Quickly.

So what’s this got to do with Facebook, I hear the many non-basketball fans reading this asking? Facebook is a black and white world too, only without the fun part a lot of the time. People pick sides kind of like shirts and skins or black and white. People also play it safe. People like hanging out with their own views on Facebook I think. They are not really looking for contemplation, consideration or changing their point of view. They’d rather shoot hoops by them-self than have a fun game of one-on-one. Everyone likes to shoot the ball after all and the matador defense is your best bet.

Olé!

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My blog post is a twist on a favorite Cormac McCarthy quote of mine from the book, No Country for Old Men:

“You never know what worse luck your bad luck has saved you from.”

As my friends and more than a few acquaintances know I am not a big fan of soccer. But you didn’t have to be a fan of the Beautiful Game to be immensely sad, even if only momentarily, for the loss of football player Emiliano Sala, the lanky free-scoring Argentine striker killed in a single-engine plane crash as he was piloted over the English channel to join his new team, Cardiff, in the English Premier League. A dream come true turns into his friends, teammates, and a family’s permanent worst nightmare.

With technology being what it is nowadays Emiliano had the opportunity to record some thoughts when the plane developed engine trouble. He is noted as calling a family member and saying, “I am so scared.” And that is perfectly, 100% understandable. But if I had one wish for Emiliano Sala before his plane ended up in the English Channel it is that he was able to conquer that fear and have some pleasant thoughts enter his mind at the end. Maybe it’s a fantasy but it’s a fantasy I’ll hold onto. Rest in Peace, Emiliano Sala and the pilot, age 59 Mr Ibbotson.

Another footballer had the good luck to fall in love, get married, and honeymoon in Thailand. His name is Hakeem Al Araibi and he is currently under arrest and being detained in Thailand awaiting an extradition request from Bahrain for him to serve a 10-year sentence related to the Arab Spring uprising of 2011. Hakeem denies the charges. There is ample evidence that supports that.

There has been much international criticism regarding the handling of the case so far but it is fairly early. Thailand has the discretion to release Hakeem to Australia where he has refugee status and is a model citizen. Let’s hope in this tale of two footballers Hakeem’s story has a much better ending. There is no logical reason why good luck has to lead to bad. Justice delayed is justice denied. Save Hakeem indeed. It’s the right thing to do. And who knows? Maybe Hakeem’s bad luck, so far, has saved him from worse luck. It’s possible. Cormac knows what he’s talking about. May Hakeem be back home with his wife in Australia soon.

 

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Author T Hunt Locke at Maeping Mango Resort along the Ping River in Kamphaeng Phet, Thailand

Last week I had some fun reviewing Locke’s latest historical crime thriller set equally in his former home along the Eastern Seaboard of Massachusetts and his current home in Southeast Asia. For those who missed it, it can found here: Chicks Dig the Long Ball and Sam Collins – Murder in Milton – A Book Review. 

As I noted in that review, Thom and I are friends. He hails from the East Coast, I from the West. In the beginning of that face to face friendship formation there was some good-natured ribbing going on. I knew Thom hailed from South Boston. I, on the other hand, grew up in Southern Cal as a kid. Yet we got on fine. The occasional arguments were a plus. At one point I said to Thom, “Are you sure you’re not from California?” Thom replied, “Well, I did work at a California Community College for quite a long time.”

What Thom and I do share is an American experience. I can’t speak for him but for me what I think that means is that we learn to take a punch. We know the critics of the USA are out there. We know further that some of the criticism is justified. But we keep on plugging away because we also know we are lucky for having had the experience. Many more people would like the opportunities we’ve had, but not all will get them.

“It’s a wonderful neighborhood, the views are marvelous, and there are some terrific water features, the transport links are excellent, and the neighbors? The neighbors are great, no troubles at all.”

From the book, Prisoners of Geography, Chapter 3. United States.

We are all prisoners or explorers of our own geography. Thom and I now find ourselves in Thailand. But we carry our American experience with us wherever we go. You’ll get a taste of that unique experience in this short and sweet interview.

Twenty Questions with American Expat Author T Hunt Locke

Q1: Where were you Born?

I am a Southie Boy. To be more specific, I took my first breath at Carney Hospital.

Q2: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

The center fielder for the Boston Red Sox. I can still hear Sherm Feller’s voice, the famed Sox PA Announcer, “Batting Second & Playing Center Field, Thom Locke.Ah that voice & that cadence…the crowd always roared!

Q3: The Godfather or Sopranos?

So the tough questions begin I see. First of all, I have recently binge watched The Sopranos. If I held it in quite high regard before, it rises even higher as a rewatchable. Gandolfini isn’t just good, he set the bar for character development and the anti-hero. And boy oh boy, Carmela, Big Pussy, Junior, Paulie are like old friends. But Kevin, in the end, ‘leave the gun, take the canolli.’

Q4: Celtics or Bruins? 

A toss up. In any case, the Bruins were in my life since before I can remember. Dad had season tickets & I was in a lap at the old Gaaarden from the time I was a baby and it hasn’t left my system…Go B’s!

Q5: Who is the one person living or dead you would like to have dinner with and why? Bonus round: name that restaurant and meal.

The Restaurant is Easy, The Clam Box, of course (http://clamboxquincy.com/ ). The person is easy too. My Dad! I really miss him… Dad would opt for the scallop plate and I the fisherman’s platter. An order of steamers would be shared for an appetizer. We’d follow it up with a walk on Wollaston Beach. If I could make that happen with Megan and Hunter in tow…

Q6: Where is your favorite place on the planet? Only one. 

Ok, so only one. By a hair I would have to say Cape Cod. But just barely over Chiang Mai. Luckily, once retirement arrives, I’ll be able to enjoy both locales.

Q7: Favorite athlete?

Like your first love, that first sport idol will always hold a special place in your heart. For me that person is #4 Bobby Orr.

Q8: Favorite politician?

Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill. “All politics is local” is how he went about his business. A wonderful man and a true man of the community. His breed is long gone.

Q9: Favorite civil rights activist?

Malcolm X. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty nor was he afraid to change an opinion when confronted with a new set of facts. This is a ‘favorite’ question and of course there were/are many men and women of color who have made a significant difference.

Q 10: Favorite feminist? 

Abigail Adams. This monumental figure in Colonial America laid a foundation for other women of strength and intellect such as Elizabeth Blackwell and Jane Addams. And from women such as this we can see the birth of the modern feminist movement. It all began with Abigail.

Q11: Favorite movie of all time? 

This is one of the most difficult questions. While there are several movies that I feel are exceptional there are only a handful I’ll rewatch. Good Will Hunting is at the top. The relationship that develops between Matt Damon and Robin Williams is a tough feat to accomplish over the course of two hours. No car chases, no capes, no CGI, no fights…Damon recently commented he could not get that film made today. What a shame!

Q12: Favorite Colonial figure?

Dr. Joseph Warren was quite an impressive Colonial and Revolutionary figure. He organized Paul Revere’s famed ride to Concord & Lexington, dumped some tea into the harbor, and gave his life for liberty on Bunker Hill. Quite the stickman as well from all accounts!

Q13: What gives you inspiration?

I don’t know what gives me such a love & lust for life. ‘Tis a mystery…

Q14: Favorite Century in Thailand’s history and why?

The 15th Century and especially the reign of King Boromtrailokat. Many of the reforms he put into place 450 years ago are still in place if modified throughout the years. A Great Man!!

Q15: If you could collaborate with anyone in the world who would it be and why? Make it unrealistic. What would the collaboration be? 

Mike Wallace, the former reporter & commentator from 60 Minutes is somebody I would love to have a chat. The collaboration would be to write a series of murder mysteries based on the stories he covered over a period of some 60 years. That would be a gas. I also hope we can collaborate again!!

Q16: What is your favorite sandwich? Bonus round: what beer goes with that?

Lobster Roll with a Sam Adams Autumn Ale on an Indian Summer Day at Brax Landing https://www.braxrestaurant.com/  We are now almost able to touch heaven, Kevin.

Q17:  What is your favorite cartoon and why?

I do not have a favorite cartoon, comic book, or comic figure. Just found out who Stan Lee was actually. Still find myself in dismay with adults who get wrapped up in a superhero movie. But, as you know Kevin, I am a different type of drummer. You Too!

Q18: Bruce Willis or Bruce Lee?

I missed the Bruce Lee Phenomenon. So, Bruce Willis. I think, if I was of that age, I would have gravitated towards Mr. Lee. He had a phenomenon after all. Not sure Bruce Willis ever got to that rarefied air, but the first Diehard was quite good.

Q19: Favorite Kinks song of all time? Okay, make it two. 

As the Queen whispered in Ray’s ear while making him a Commander of the British Empire: “So many songs.” Surely a difficult task. But two it is. All Day And All Of The Night & Mr. Churchill Says.

Q20: What’s next for T Hunt Locke? 

A lot! 2019 will see a collection of short stories and essays published along with my second novel in Bangkok Murder Mystery Series. Then, in 2020, my pen will return home to my beloved Cape Cod for another thrilling Historical Thriller featuring Dan Burdett. Oh, and a long overdue drink with my mate at Jack’s Bar!

 

Hey, this was fun! Thanks for having me for a chat at https://peoplethingsliterature.com/author/kevincummings1954/

To you and all your readers, Have a Great 2019.

Follow T Hunt Locke’s Author Page at Amazon Here

 

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Full disclosure: Thom Locke is a friend of mine. I root for his success like I do my favorite sports teams. I’m with him through good times and bad, as any true fan is. Thankfully, I am riding a winning streak right now with Thom. Maybe not as great as Thom’s New England Patriots over the past 9 years but a winning streak just the same.

It’s been fun watching Thom progress as a writer – and I say that as a regular reader of his work. I had my doubts in the beginning. There was the abrupt change from 16th Century China to the excellent retirement community of Chiang Mai – in one paragraph. But that was back when he was playing Rookie Ball. Since then he’s studied the pitches of his peers, improved his batting average, and he still hits the long ball. He’s always had that ability in his writing – a Declan Power belly-flop from a third-floor balcony comes to mind. Consistency is the goal for Thom or any good writer. I’m a critic so I get to consistently criticize. This task is easy. Writing novels is difficult. Writing a good crime novel is extremely difficult, as any novelist knows or should know. Even I know that. That’s the reason I don’t write novels.

T Hunt Locke’s latest novel is Murder in Milton. With duel settings it has the pace of a Forrest Gump table-tennis match. Since Locke juggles a full time business, a full time family, and a full time lust for life, the pace comes as no surprise but herbal tea or decaffeinated coffee will work just fine for this read. There is no need for speed. Locke provides that for you.

Top Gun, T Hunt Locke with son Hunter and daughter Meghan

The protagonist is Sam Collins, a cigarette smoking, former Boston Police Department Detective with tragedy and vengeance in his past; he’s made a new life for himself in Thailand. He’s a likable, inconsistently religious, common man, equally familiar and at home with a Pabst Blue Ribbon and the old guard ways of New England or the back-streets and street food of Bangkok or Kampot, Cambodia. In this thriller he’s been the target of an assassination. Sam is now an historical lecturer of note and this allows Thom to entertain the reader with historical details, additional stories really, that always add luster to the primary tale. Put another way, there is an art to the info-dump and Locke has mastered the art. It sets him apart from the herd and it is a large herd when it comes to fiction set in Southeast Asia. Sam Collins is the perfect man about multiple towns to find the skeletons in anyone’s closet in rather creative ways – and he finds them primarily in Milton, Massachusetts. Sam does this without carrying a gun or other weapons, although he’s plenty good with verbal daggers. In fact Sam hates guns and is a poor shot. But he’s resourceful. When he needs a gun, there’s is always a friend around to lend an arm. Sam has lots of friends and plenty of enemies too. Sometimes it is hard to tell who is who?

Locke chose to bounce between Milton, MA and Southeast Asia like that special effects ping pong ball in Forrest Gump. I found that distracting at times, but it grew on me as the novel went on. I did think Locke’s best writing occurred on the Eastern Seaboard, visually and with the written word. I also thought it has the best chance of making it onto the silver screen as, lets face it, other than Stephen Leather with his recent Jackie Chan adaptation of The Chinaman, no author writing about Southeast Asia has had much luck getting projects onto visual media, outside of paid for vanity projects or one minute video festivals. Just a thought. And even The Chinaman was set in England now that I think of it.

The other part of the mystery is the tried and true, is it a murder or is it a suicide? Not particularly original but at least we aren’t dealing with a crazed mass murderer.

In Murder in Milton the pace is brisk, the characters are believable, the dialogue is a blend of Micky Spillane, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Dan Brown. I really enjoyed the historical components of this historical thriller. Will every reader? Possibly, but Americans and expatriates living in Southeast Asia are sure to have the better chance. Murder in Milton by T Hunt Locke has a dinger of an ending. No spoilers here. Not all chicks will enjoy it, particularly a fictional one.

To get to the Big Leagues you have to shag a lot of fly balls. If anyone is able and willing to put in the work it is Southie Boy, Thomas Hunt Locke. I wish him the best of luck. The higher up you go, the better the reviewers will be too. You have that to look forward to as well.

Coming up soon an interview with Thom: Twenty Questions with the Author.

To learn more about Thom’s books go to his Amazon page here

To follow Thom’s blog The Locke Report click here

 

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