Thailand at its trivial best
Treat yourself and your friends to this delightful collection of quirky facts about the Land of Smiles
Thailand is described as a "diverse and captivating country" by the editors of "Thailand at Random", but it's the kingdom's past follies and foibles that make it special as a nation and a destination, as depicted in this compendium of odd statistics and trivia about the Land of Smiles.
"Thailand at Random" is an extremely useful repository of the lesser-known, bizarre and interesting facts and figures, anecdotes and statistics of the kingdom that tend to elude even senior Thai citizens. As the title suggests, the collection of snippets is arranged in a haphazard fashion, making it possible to dip into your favourite subjects without needing to start at the beginning. The useful index at the end of the book ensures you'll find your bearings.
The sheer range and amount of data unearthed by the contributors is stunning. With two Thais on the editorial team, the reader can be sure that even the least credible Thai facts listed here are indeed credible, as they have been verified by the natives on the editorial team themselves.
It's apparent that the tidbits have been sourced from both Thai and foreign materials. The Thai sources turn out facts familiar to Thais, but which will be revelations to foreign observers. If you want to go native, it's necessary to arm yourself some of the Thai slang now circulating among the younger generation. You're likely to think that the newly revamped Siam Center is so "fin", but many in Bangkok feel extremely "noid" about the way their prime minister dresses and speaks. You might think Bangkok's gubernatorial candidates are so "verrr" in terms of their campaign antics.
But that's just part of the fun. I found some key facts of which I was completely unaware. For instance, I didn't know that three months after their lunar landing in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin had a party in Koh Sak just 20 minutes off the coast of Pattaya. Why they preferred Koh Sak to better destinations like Phuket or Hua Hin is a big puzzle. But then it must have been cool to be there back then, as other celebs who left their footprints on the island's sand and in cement include the Shah of Iran Reza Pahlavi, Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh and Lady Bird Johnson (wife of US President Johnson). Pattaya had only just emerged from its fishing village cocoon, and there was nothing like it at Bang Saen or even Hua Hin in terms of golden sand and clear blue water, according to a report in the Bangkok Post in the late 1950s.
The book has a habit of evoking some sort of nostalgia through anecdotes of things and places that have vanished, like the tram service on Charoen Krung Road, rickshaws, clean Bangkok canals dotted with Thai houses on stilts, traditional ghost-busters and the once-famous Siamese Twins.
What has stood the test of time in this country is rather odd. Things like military coups refuse to go away, as do corruption, poverty, the Aids epidemic, the Panda Channel and NotTheNation.com.
These snippets will induce a few giggles, but that's part of the experience of getting to know my country and its quirky people.
Thailand at Random
Edited by Grissarin Chungsiriwat and Nicholas Grossman
Published by Editions Didier Millet
Available at Asia Books, Bt585
Reviewed by Manote Tripathi