The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Stephen Leather’s ‘Hungry Ghost’ from Hong Kong

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 17•13

LeatherHungryGhost1aStephen Leather never ceases to tantalize us. It’s not just the vicious murderers or the fetching murderesses, either. Hungry Ghost (ISBN 978-0-340-96072-1), originally published in 1992 and re-released in 2008, is replete with all the cerebral stuff we’ve grown to expect from the author. His “no stones unturned” approach is something we figure he picked up from his years as a journalist in Hong Kong, which serves him extremely well in this book. His descriptions of what goes on inside the Hong Kong police department and the triads contribute to the compelling cultural feel of this thriller. We liked one of the murderers, too.

The story involves a rogue plot by British operatives to change the timing of the handing over of HK to China. The plot goes horribly wrong, leaving the police, the triad, the Chinese government, and British and American undercover operations all vying to fix the mess. From our perspective here at WoWasis, the most delicious part of the book recounts a secret triad meeting. It runs seven pages and it’s fascinating. The author told us he mined the data from a friend working for the Hong Kong Police, and we recommend that passage for anyone interested in the triad culture.

This 450 page book is thrilling from beginning to end, with Leather’s well-known plot twists and changing affiliations. The reader alternately roots for the good guys, the bad guys, and the questionable guys. At the end, the reader is left to determine, when the dust has cleared, who was right and who was wrong. And we think you’ll fall in love with one of the murderers, too. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

Bachelor in Bangkok: Khun Lee on why you should NOT sleep with Thai women

Written By: herbrunbridge - Nov• 17•13

BachBKKLKee1cBachelor in Bangkok: Khun Lee on why you should NOT sleep with Thai women

When I first lived in Paradise 8 years ago I made a lot of mistakes, the most noteworthy of these was exhibiting a total lack of discipline when it came to sleeping around.  Now, I know my nickname is Khun Nana and everyone knows I am a dog amongst dogs, but the reality of living here is that there are times and situations where it’s better just to walk away from the opportunity and live to cat around another day.  My first 2 years here I bagged pretty much every hot gal I bumped into, and the day came that it was uncomfortable for me to go to many of my favorite places.  Here is a short list derived from my numerous indiscretions and the resulting difficulties that ensued:

1 )Nailed 2 gals at my fitness club (one member and one staff) and no one said hello or acted friendly to me there afterward. This was quite costly to me as my daily workouts and socializing at the club was something I looked forward to each morning.

2 )Nailed the cashier at the only 7-11 (at the time it was the only one anyway) near my home and almost got hit in the back of the head by a coke bottle the next time I went in there.

3) Mistakenly bagged 2 cashiers at the only supermarket that was walking distance to my home, resulting in hushed silence and dirty looks every time I needed to go food shopping.

4) Had a very kinky night of sex with the Starbucks cashier and had to start drinking my favorite ice coffee elsewhere.  She was a vixen though!

5) Slept with the waitress at my favorite (and VERY cheap) Thai restaurant and after she turned out to be a total whacko jealous possessive she devil (with a very tight body) was scared to death to ever walk back into the place.

6) Had a lovely night of animal sex with the daughter of the lady who sold fruit in front of my apartment.  Really I should have been shot for this as that lady has the freshest fruit in town and now I have to walk on the other side of the road when I see her cart.  Man do I miss her mangoes.  Her daughter could suck a gold ball through a garden hose too.

7) Went to a party with the hello girl at my favorite Thai fast food restaurant, and let my guard down for a minute and let one of her friends give me a blowjob in the bathroom.  That damn restaurant had the best grilled chicken I have ever tasted.

8) Had sex with one of the realtors who showed me apartments when I first arrived.  This really shouldn’t have been such a problem, but when I jilted her she dumped sand in front of my door every night for a week.  I still don’t know where that damn sand came from.

9) Shagged the bartender at my favorite British Pub, and she ended up telling me that if I didn’t marry her she was going to tell everyone in the Pub that I was gay and liked little boys.  She definitely had issues.

10) I saved the worst for last.  I was invited to a wedding outside of Bangkok, and the groom arranged for a van to carry 12 or 13 of us to the ceremony which was several hundred km. away.  Fortune had it that I was the only man in the vehicle among 12 gals.  I really didn’t think this would be a big problem as sometimes I get car sick on long trips and thought my manhood would stay firmly tucked inside my pants because of this.   I couldn’t have been more wrong.  Within an hour of departing one gal fell asleep with her head on my lap.  I ended up getting an erection as she kept moving her head and body around as she slept, and when we stopped at the first of many rest stops she followed me into the men’s bathroom and proceeded to alleviate my discomfort.  I thought this was very sporting of her and was prepared to travel the remainder of the way without incident. 

The problem was that she must have told one of her friends, and when we stopped 2 hours later at the next rest stop another gal followed me into the rest room and literally sucked my cock like a popsicle.  I wasn’t really in the mood having just had an orgasm, but I hadn’t formally been introduced to this gal and felt it might be a little impolite to not cooperate.

We made it to our destination without further incident, and I told everyone I was going to rent a hotel room for myself in spite of the fact that everyone had been invited to sleep at the bride’s home.  This old bugger just ain’t sleeping on any more wooden floors.  It turned out that 3 of the gals from the van really wanted a decent night’s sleep also, so I invited all to stay with me and we slept 4 to the queen sized bed that I was given at the very inexpensive motel.  When the lights went out it was really dark in the room (man is the sky black at night when you get outside the big city) and I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  Imagine my shock when in the middle of the night I woke up and one of the 3 gals was sucking my cock!  She then crawled on top of me and proceeded to ravage me while staying as silent as she could.  To this day I still don’t know which of the 3 gals it was, but in the morning no one was talking to anyone else!  It really wasn’t my fault as I was only semi-conscious, but the rest of the trip was so uncomfortable that I flew back to Bangkok alone.

The moral of the story is:

Just because you can fuck ‘em all, doesn’t mean that you should!!

Read Khun Lee’s other WoWasis columns for more advice on navigating the adult dating scene through the backstreets of Bangkok

WoWasis book review: Haruki Murakami’s Japanese sci-fi novel ‘Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Sep• 10•13

MurakamiHardBoiledIn his sci-fi novel Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (2003, ISBN 978-0099-448-785), Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami weaves a cerebral tale of speculative fiction that explores the concept of parallel worlds. In one, a man finds himself tasked with reading the memories of previous residents of a walled town, by drawing out the information stored in animal skulls. For us here at WoWasis, the town is reminiscent of the village inhabited by actor Patrick McGoohan’s character in the old TV series ‘The Prisoner,’ where happiness is virtually guaranteed via the absence of each individual’s mind. This is accomplished by the excision of an individual’s shadow which, as it turns out, is the source of his or her memory.

The other world is a futuristic one in which two opposing political forces vie to control every facet of the life of the protagonist, whose brain has been altered to perform information processing tasks. In keeping with the theme of lost identity, the protagonist in neither world is given a name. A major reason the book carries such momentum is Murakami’s pendulum-like swings between short chapters involving each world, an effective way of keeping the reader involved with the characters in each sphere. 400 pages goes quite quickly in this book.

AsiaPromoBannerThis book will appeal to readers who wouldn’t otherwise buy a science-fiction book. There are enough stories in today’s daily papers regarding chip implanting, genetic engineering, and governmental intrusion into virtually everyone’s online data, that the futuristic world portrayed in the book isn’t really that far-fetched. In terms of human relationships, Murakami tantalizes us. Their completeness is continually thwarted by the complexity of the technologies the author has so effectively created. In essence, the book is a dual-nightmare in which both main characters seem to be always running through molasses, striving to complete an end-game that eventually pulls these disparate worlds together. The book is riveting, and is a terrific intellectual exercise for readers looking for a well-written and thought-out tale of how life could be in a world where technology has run rampant.

Buy Hard-boiled Wonderland now at the WoWasis eStore. 

WoWasis book review: Kenzaburo Oé’s Japanese novel ‘A Silent Cry’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Sep• 02•13

OeSilentCryPulitzer Prize-winning author Kenzaburo Oé’s novel A Silent Cry (1994) is a psychological thriller relating to the familial travails surrounding two brothers. As in much of the author’s writing, there are no heroes here, as all protagonists are enveloped by a deep-seated malaise that continues to descend as the book progresses. Oé is a master of describing troubled souls unable to escape their misfortunes. They continue to make bad decisions, seemingly on paths to destruction. For the reader, this is fascinating, an exercise in anticipatory terror as the main characters are prone to suicide, rape, violence and demagoguery.

Most of the action takes place in a remote forest village where younger brother Takashi has developed a cult, encompassing idealistic youths and traditional village people. Their target becomes the local supermarket, owned by a Korean expat. Encouraged by xenophobia, they loot he market, successfully, as the village does not have a police presence. Older brother Mitsu makes vain attempts to bring a degree of conscience into the picture, reminding his younger brother that the local Koreans didn’t come to Japan of their own volition, as they were conscripted as slave labor by Japanese forces in World War II. No matter, Mitsu mainly keeps to his own council, voluntarily lives in an underground cellar, and no longer has the respect of his wife, who’s become Takashi’s lover. Eventually, the whole thing unravels as Takashi takes an action that shocks and distresses his followers.

AsiaPromoBannerFor us here at WoWasis, we found that ultimately, the book is a treatise on the perils of shudan ishiki, or group consciousness, where adherence to group harmony is more valued than individual initiative or morality. This theme has been a popular one among post-war Japanese writers and filmmakers, epitomized to a shocking extent in director Shūji Kataoka’s Subway Serial Rape series of films. This book is Oé at his best, a compelling read with increasing momentum to its final page. Buy A Silent Cry now at the WoWasis eStore.  

Dunkin’ Donuts blackface poster in Thailand raises ire with NGO Human Rights Watch

Written By: herbrunbridge - Sep• 01•13

Dunkin' Donuts Thai advertDunkin’ Donuts Thailand is being called on the carpet by the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) for creating an advertising poster showing the CEO’s daughter in blackface, advertising a “charcoal donut.” Blackface comedy has been a staple in Morlam shows all over Thailand for decades, but it seems that the venerable doughnut institution crossed the line by introducing a model in dark-colored paint into an urban area, where HRW representatives were apparently enjoying coffee and doughnuts while discussing Khmer Rouge atrocities.

According to a recent AP article,  “Dunkin’ Donuts has apologized for the ‘insensitivity’ of an advertising campaign in Thailand featuring a woman in blackface makeup to promote a new chocolate flavored doughnut… the Dunkin’ Donuts franchise in Thailand came under criticism Friday after Human Rights Watch called the advertisements ‘bizarre and racist.’ The company’s chief executive in Thailand initially defended the campaign, but the U.S. headquarters quickly followed up with an apology.”

The article goes on to state  “The New York-based Human Rights Watch said it was shocked to see an American brand name running an advertising campaign that would draw ‘howls of outrage’ if released in the United States. ‘It’s both bizarre and racist that Dunkin’ Donuts thinks that it must color a woman’s skin black and accentuate her lips with bright pink lipstick to sell a chocolate doughnut,’ said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. ‘Dunkin’ Donuts should immediately withdraw this ad, publicly apologize to those it’s offended and ensure this never happens again.’ “

“Hours before the apology was issued by Dunkin’ Donuts headquarters, the company’s chief executive in Thailand dismissed the criticism as ‘paranoid American thinking.’  ‘It’s absolutely ridiculous,’ the CEO Nadim Salhani said in a telephone interview. ‘We’re not allowed to use black to promote our doughnuts? I don’t get it. What’s the big fuss? What if the product was white and I painted someone white, would that be racist?’ Salhani said that the Thai franchise of Dunkin’ Donuts operates independently of the American operation and that doughnut sales have increased about 50 percent since the campaign was launched around two weeks ago, which he attributed to curiosity about the new advertisements. ‘Not everybody in the world is paranoid about racism, said Salhani, a Lebanese expatriate in Thailand who said his teenage daughter was the model featured in the campaign.”

Thailand is a nation where just about everything is considered “sanuk,”(fun)  and virtually everyone is a target for humor. Thais have no problem laughing at themselves. The United States, on the other hand, is a nation where just about everything is open to a lawsuit, virtually everyone is thin-skinned, and as far as humor is concerned, “That’s Not Funny!” U.S. citizens spend millions of dollars a year on therapy because they can’t laugh at themselves.

One Bangkok-based entertainment provider we know refers to those of African origin as “Chocolate People,” easier for her than “black” (not a definitive descriptive of skin color) or “African-Thai” (she says she hasn’t yet met a Thai born in Africa). She welcomes and charges the same to everyone, regardless of skin color. We would guess she’s representative of the vast majority of Thais.

A question that no one seems to be asking is whether Human Rights Watch is diluting its effectiveness by seeing racism around every corner. The proliferation of skin-lightening creams in Thailand is a serious health issue. Might HRW be more effective if it took the time to address the very real problem of companies selling products to those wishing to have lighter skin, rather than in busting a doughnut shop?

WoWasis book review: Kenzaburo Oé’s Japanese novel ‘A Personal Matter’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 29•13

OePersonalMatterAs translator John Nathan writes, “Kenzaburo Oé, awarded the 1994 Nobel Prizein literature, is in a real sense Japan’s first modern writer, both in the sense of having come of age in the postwar era, and also in the sense of dealing with contemporary, and deeply personal, issues in a direct and sometimes violent way uncharacteristic of most Japanese writing even today. Unlike earlier Japanese novelists who took European authors as their models, Oé considers Huckleberry Finn to be his inspiration. Twain’s novel, which Oé first read as, a child, has colored his imagination ever since, and his subsequent encounters with radical political movements and French Existentialism only intensified Oé’s identification with Huck’s individualism, his willingness to defy societyeven at the price of damnation. Oé’s personal commitment to individual action is evidentin his work, and contributes to its power even in translation.”

This emphasis on individualism, colored by Existentialism, is a key to Oé’s literary approach in his book A Personal Matter, written in 1964. The author’s protagonist, Bird, is seemingly capable of succeeding at only having sex, drinking, and vomiting. As a 27-year old disinterested teacher in a “cram school,” he’s a failure, and the book’s low point — and tellingly, also its high point — is structured around the birth of his brain-damaged son. The author manages to leave out virtually every element concerning his wife, other than the fact that she’s given birth. Her role as a non-entity is heightened by the conspiracy among all members of her family to deny telling her exactly what’s wrong with her baby. Stepping into Bird’s personal void is ex-girlfriend Himiko, a sexual adventuress known for her red MG roadster.

AsiaPromoBannerThe book has autobiographical elements. Oé’s own son was discovered to be autistic, and in his introduction, translator John Nathan refers to the author’s increasingly deep relationship with his son. Here at WoWasis, we found it easier to relate to Himiko than to Bird. As the book progresses, her dreams take flight at the possibility of joining Bird on the trip to Africa about which he’s fantasized for his entire adulthood. They’re both in badly need of an escape, but by the book’s end, Bird begins to realize that in essence his entire life has been about escaping from reality and responsibility, and the book finishes with a somewhat unexpected conclusion amidst a notion of a far from certain future. Buy A Personal Matter now at the WoWasis eStore.  


WoWasis book review: ‘Yankee Samurai,’ Nisei working for the US in WWII, by Joseph Harrington

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 28•13

YankeeSamuraiAuthor Joseph D. Harrington has written an informative and insightful history of the Nisei (Americans of Japanese Ancestry, or AJAs, the first generation to be born outside of Japan, and children of Issei, their Japanese-born parents living in the United States),  working for the U.S. armed forces in the Pacific during World War II. Yankee Samurai: the Secret Role of Nisei in America’s Pacific Victory (1979) is no whitewashed narrative, as it exposes U.S. internment camps, prejudices, and the frustrations of patriotic Japanese-Americans who wanted to fight for their country, but were initially rebuffed. As the book relates, not all Nisei were in favor of fighting, and even those that did encountered another kind of prejudice at first, from Hawaiian-born Nisei who more than occasionally felt that continental Japanese-Americans just didn’t measure up, linguistically-speaking.

Like other children of immigrants, the Nisei were, to a large extent, caught between Japanese tradition and U.S. culture. The concept of honor, an essential element in Japanese-American family life, ended up serving U.S. military interests well:

A good Nisei obeyed father, while hoping with all his heart never to disappoint mother. Behavior expectations were based on Confucian morality. Loyalty to country, respect for parents, and maintenance of harmony in family and other personal relationships were paramount. These topped all considerations a Nisei might entertain. Issei fathers could never digest so radical a concept as human rights. These had no place in the scheme of things. The race, the group, the family came first. The individual came last, if indeed he got any consideration at all, which was not likely. Living consisted of observing one’s obligations, not dreaming of entitlements. A well-reared Nisei’s life was guided by theprinciples of on, gimu and giri. On was a moral debt one owed nation, parents and teachers, from whom all blessings were known to flow. The nature of on was such that the debt could never be fully repaid, and was therefore lifelong. Gimu covered moral and legal duties. It required that every Nisei be a good American, a good student, a good worker; that he honor and obey his parents; and that he meet all responsibilities. Giri worked in the social area, with moral overtones. A Nisei had to be meticulous about repaying all favors, gifts, and help provided by anyone. He dared not bring haii (shame) on his race, family, or even neighborhood by breaking the law or committing other unworthy acts. Failing in school was unforgivable. Also, a Nisei had to neglect or overlook no opportunity for bringing honor on his family, so that it might have pride. Everything was based on self-abnegation. Teachings, sayings and stories from an age-old culture illustrated each major and minor point.

  These concepts were the hallmarks of Nisei serving in the U.S. military, allowing them to excel in spite, or perhaps as a reaction to the internment of their families on U.S. soil. The book begins by describing the Military Intelligence Service Language School and discusses the challenge of Nisei having to learn Japanese as spoken in Japan as well as the complicated nuances of Japanese writing, of which three forms needed to be translated from purloined or intercepted documents:

Kaisho. The printed version of Kanji. In various forms, it is used for most publications, which can only be read by someone who has memorized a great number of ideographs. For Americans, a formidable barrier.

Gyosho. Hand-written Japanese. Comparable, although not precisely, to the Palmer Method of Penmanship the author and his peers had to master in pre-war grammar school. Very difficult for Americans.

 Sosho. More or less a shorthand rendering of Kanji, called “grass writing.” Highly individualized. Almost impossible for an American to master. Most Japanese Army field orders were taken down over a telephone in sosho. The ability to translate rapidly this personalized “scribbling” from documents seized near the front was the most potent weapon in the arsenal of a linguist.

 As the author notes, it was usually Kibei (AJAs who had been sent to Japan, as youths,  by their parents to learn Japanese) who proved best at deciphering sosho. Kibei, like other Nisei, who’d been kicked out of the Army early on, had to be found, approached, and asked to join again. Many of them were interned in stateside camps.

AsiaPromoBannerA main objective of Harrington’s book is to do his best to ensure the names of Nisei contributors to the U.S. war effort are not forgotten. As he points out, Nisei didn’t brag about their efforts, and tracking down dozens of war heroes thirty years after the fact was an exhausting effort. Poignantly, many of the most outstanding Nisei servicemen never received a battle award. When they were photographed at work, the military made them turn their heads so that they couldn’t be identified, thus helping to prevent relatives in Japan from being arrested and tortured. The author has done an outstanding job of uncovering names and telling little-known stories. Especially fascinating are the ones that describe the analytical acumen of Nisei translators, as with this one regarding comfort women:

Comfort girls may have had some Nisei wondering whether the enemy’s ideas on how to wage war might be more compatible with the average infantryman’s wishes, but the linguists did turn use of them against the enemy. A document, picked up on Guadalcanal, helped. Later discovered to be in the gosho handwriting of a senior Rabaul staff officer, it was the officers’ and enlisted men’s schedule – with prices – for use of comfort girls at the New Britain base. It listedhours for each, and even had the menstrual period for each girl plotted, so that a customer could decide upon the day, as well as the hour.

 This document was thoroughly analyzed, to develop when the maximum number of senior officers would be patronizing the girls. An air strike was then laid on for that hour. After that, according to John Anderton, “Japanese leadership at Rabaul was never the same.”

  This book has appeal to a wide audience, but will be of particular value to Nisei and Sansei (children of Nisei) wishing to know more about the extraordinary contributions made by Nisei to the United States’ success in World War II.

WoWasis Banned Book review: ‘Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté’ by David Streckfuss

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 23•13

StreckfussTruthIn our previous review of Paul Handley’s book The King Never Smiles, we quoted from the book’s back cover: “Any journalist or academic who takes an interest in Thailand soon learns that one topic is off limits: the modern monarchy…  it is dangerous, and one risks expulsion or jail for lèse-majesté” for reporting on sensitive matters relating to the royal family. And deeper into the weighty, difficult, challenging, murky morass of Thai law relating to lèse-majesté wades author David Streckfuss, in his impressive monograph Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-Majesté (2011, ISBN 978-0-415-67574-1).

Streckfuss here offers a telling historical chronology of Thai defamation laws, dating back to the 19th century, with a number of charts illustrating their effects and punishments. This well-researched book isn’t a quick read, but it’s an important one, full of surprisingly intricate analyses of Thai laws, governmental minutiae, and politics. Hold onto your hats: here are wonderfully insightful essays on Thainess, military coups, and Theravada Buddhism. These all contribute mightily to the arcane series of edicts that comprise the lèse-majesté laws that result in stiff prison sentences for those found guilty of libeling or slandering the royal family, its agents, the government, or the Buddhist faith. As the author points out, from a practical perspective, it’s virtually impossible to defend oneself after being charged, the laws being overly broad and full of gray areas that are a boon to prosecutors. And for the person charged, even bail becomes an issue. For a newspaper editor, for instance, bail sometimes must be paid to three entities, the police, the prosecutors, and the court. A case, with all fees and upfront costs, could total 300,000 baht ($ 9,402 USD), so, as one interviewee suggests, 20 to 100 cases per year could cost a newspaper dearly.

From our perspective, this issue with newspapers leads neatly to our favorite entry of the book, an interview with Police Lt. Col. Samphan Satthaporn, the Press Officer of Bangkok who oversaw the enforcement of Order No. 42 from 1976 to 1991. This magnificent seven page excerpt is found in the Defamation and Truth chapter under the heading of Truth in news. Samphan is a fascinating character that could easily be novelized and the author admits to finding him to be “colorful and gracious.”  Samphan virtually romps through examples of lèse-majesté edicts applied to press situations, delving into issues such as the King’s picture placement on a newspaper page, to vulgar words, to the treatment of Buddhist monks. It’s a wonderful passage for anyone who has wondered why certain high-profiled news stories never get reported in Thailand, told with a certain amount of glee by the effervescent police colonel.

There is a lot in this 315 page book (488 pages, if you include the notes, appendix, and index), and the concepts of Defamation and Truth are at its core. Here at WoWasis, we’ve always considered “truth,” as we know it, to be a Western construct that has little to do with how the concept is regarded in Thailand. For years, visitors have used the term “bargirl truth” to describe anything a Thai girlfriend wants to tell a man as what she thinks he wants to hear, or what she feels that he should want to hear. It often has little to do with actual facts. Streckfuss spends a considerable amount of time discussing the concept of truth in Thailand:

Thailand stands at one end of the continuum of defamation regimes, where its defamation laws — especially the lèse-majesté law — have banished truth from the public sphere, where truth is translated in a complex world of signs decipherable only by modern-day People of Virtue. Truth exists in the margins and veiled worlds of the private sphere, hidden deep within the national institutions of rumour and gossip.

 We agree with the author, but suggest that the issue is much wider in scope than in politics alone. Obfuscating the truth (again, from a Western perspective) is a national pastime.

The concept of Defamation, particularly as it relates to a political regime, forms a major discussion point of Streckfuss’ book, and includes fascinating minutiae, such as his description of a court case involving a man who was arrested for wearing a pair of socks sporting the Thai flag (feet are often a problem in Thailand; simply pointing them at someone or stepping on a windblown Baht note to keep it blowing away — the King’s visage is on the note — are insults).

This book is an important one, and the author’s research chops are formidable. The book serves as a critical history of Thai law, with a discussion of how lèse-majesté encompasses the world of the monarchy, politics, law enforcement, and religion in Thailand. It’s not difficult to see why this book is banned in Thailand, as even the discussion of many of the topics addressed in the book are seen there as volatile.

For non-Thailand based readers wishing to see under the skin of the Land of Smiles, this book offers a compelling microscope. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: Haruki Murakami’s Japanese novel ‘Dance Dance Dance’

Written By: admin - Aug• 14•13

MurakamiDanceHaruki Murakami, Japan’s best-selling novelist, likes his protagonists troubled, in love, work, and play. Except they never get to play much. In Dance Dance Dance (1994, ISBN 978-0-679-75379-7) Murakami’s protagonist’s occasional insecurities are augmented by the fact that his name is not mentioned once in this 393 page book in which the story is told in the first person.   

The protagonist is a restaurant reviewer, well aware of the fact that it’s a hack job, but pays the rent. He checks into a small hotel in Sapporo, which starts a cascading series of deaths of his acquaintances. Several of them are also linked to his friend Gotanda, a romantic lead actor in low-brow popular films, and much of the best dialogue in this book results from their conversations. Gotanda is jaded by his popularity, but is intelligent enough to verbalize lots of self-analysis. We here at WoWasis particularly enjoyed his take on pay-for-play, a philosophy that has been shared by many notables in the public eye:

“After my divorce, for a while there I would call up and these girls would come and spend the night. No fuss, no muss. I wasn’t up for an amateur and if I was sleeping with someone in the industry it’d be splashed all over the magazines. So that’s the companionship I had. They weren’t cheap, but they kept quiet about it. Absolutely confidential. A guy at the agency gave me an introduction to this c1ub and all the girls were nice and easy. Professional, but without the attitude. They enjoy themselves too.”

The book isn’t predictable, particularly given his bizarre friendship with a 13 year old girl who,  many readers will note with dread, represents the teen-ager from hell. To a large extent, the protagonist defines his life by his interaction with females, and when one high-end call girl friend of his gets murdered, the police step in and consider him the initial suspect. Deliciously, the actual killer is present for virtually the entire book.

AsiaPromoBannerWhere we found fault with the book was in its crossing-over into the supernatural. Skeptics and freethinkers may very well have an issue with a plotline that causes them to suspend their belief systems, and our criticism is that Murakami is such a damn good writer that he could have been more effective, we think, if he’d kept some elements of the plot more realistic. Nevertheless, the book is worth reading. The author adeptly delves into the psychology of all his characters, and he’s terrific at dialogue. Our favorite character was Gotanda, the actor, and the conversations between he and the protagonist are terse, insightful, and to a large extent, carry the only clues the reader will get to understanding the ultimate outcome.

Buy Dance Dance Dance now at the WoWasis eStore. 

Why is my expensive Thai hotel is ripping me off with a 10% dining-in service charge?

Written By: herbrunbridge - Aug• 11•13

pafaranghalo[1]The Good Manner: Advice on Thailand from WoWasis’ Pa Farang

This week’s scam unveiled: My expensive Thai hotel is ripping me off with a 10% dining-in service charge

Dear Pa Farang,

I routinely stay at one of the top Western hotels in Thailand, and eat frequently at its top restaurant.  Each time, a 10% “service charge” is added to my bill, and my server insists it doesn’t go to the wait staff, but instead is shared among all hotel staff.  Who really gets the money?

- Frequent Guest

Dear Frequent Guest,

It differs by hotel, and each has its way of doing things.  I’m not sure if “all hotel staff” are getting anything, but I’m quite positive your server gets none of it.  What follows is my educated guess…

Your retaurant is not owned by the hotel.  Instead, it pays rent to the hotel.  This could be a flat monthly fee, a percentage of net profit, or a percentage of gross receipts.  It could even be a combination of all three.  I suspect yours pays 10% of its gross receipts as rent.  A convenient way to pay the fee is to charge the customer a 10% surcharge, which means you, effectively pay the restaurant’s rent on top of what you pay for the meal.  Any “hotel staff” who asks where his or her “service fee” money is will probably be summarily sacked as a troublemaker. The staff are not ignorant, and will refuse to jeopardize their jobs by asking to actually receive the fees which are allegedly collected on their behalves.  You, on the other hand, are quite possibly on expense account, so you may not ask too many questions either.

ThailandPromoBannerFact is, you’re being dunned twice, once for the tip to your server, again to pay your restaurant’s rent.  If you want to ensure that your server does indeed get a tip, give him or her paper money by placing it in his or her hand. If you place the paper money tip on a plate or in a leather credit card envelope, it will either go directly to management, or be shared among all restaurant staff. That restaurant managers worked their way up through the system, and generally speaking, believe they deserve the tips left in plates and charge envelopes. After all, they were victims of this unfair systems once themselves.

If this situation angers you, vote with your feet and go elsewhere.  And yes, we consider 10% meal service fees a scam.

Avoid all scams, show the Good Manner, and have a great time in Thailand.

Marayat dee,
- Pa Farang

Read Pa Farang’s other columns in WoWasis for more advice on relationships and cultural matters in Asia