A View of Thai Life

Tone Deaf in Bangkok: And Other Places - Janet Brown

Years ago I sat in a Thai restaurant in Kansas watching a young lady pour hot tea into my cup. I knew that day I had fallen in love with that woman. She has been my wife for ten years now. What I didn’t know was that another love affair had started that day as well, one with Thailand and her people. Over the years I have sought to learn all I can about the country and it’s people, all without having the opportunity to set foot on Bangkok's streets. Books have been one of my main sources of information and enjoyment. I have taken in any book I could find with fierce gluttony. That is why I am ever grateful when an author like Janet Brown shares their experiences of the land I have loved from afar. 


Mrs. Brown takes her reader through a small portion of her life as a westerner in Bangkok in the same way someone tells a story over coffee. There is no real sense of time, she just shares what has effected her most. She talks about small things with an acute focus, like a mattress being abandoned in an overgrown vacant lot. She focuses on the people she met, like her friend Eddy, who exemplifies the Thai philosophy of Sanuk, or having fun. She showcases many Thai attitudes about life like their concern over ghosts. A belief in the after life weaving it’s way through everyday life is a staple of Thai culture. Whatever aspect she discusses she keeps it personal, these are her memories of her spiritual home and she isn’t glossing them over for to convince anyone to buy plane tickets and stay in four star hotels.


Each of the chapters are short and vivid, like someone sharing photographs and explaining each one with more memory than detailed events. The actual photographs used in the book, taken by Nana Chen, are perfect complements to Browns Polaroid chapters. They are wonderful shots taken of Bangkok life not seen in travel brochures. She catches people at their most natural whether they are a vendor selling food or using the bus. 


This book is not a guidebook that talks about all the fun places you can shop at to pick up distinctively Thai items to bring home as gifts. This book is not a travelogue that recalls a pleasant vacation taken by someone expecting to go home when it’s all done. I wouldn’t even call this a memoir, for that would imply the author was leading you along a path of thought she wanted you to follow. This is not the kind of book that demands from you, it is the kind that gives.


This book is more like a collection of poetry, short glimpses of a life being led comfortably out of place, or like an avant-grade independent film. It gives you beautifully disjointed views of a time and place. It takes you through a loose knit story that is too internal to show and better implied and when it reaches the end it offers no conclusion, for that is for you to determine. Of course, everyone who watches this movie will disagree about what the point was. My view of this book is simple, it was written for the author herself first and foremost, but it was also written for anyone who has lived and loved in this Kingdom. It invites those who have not, to find in the real Thailand those special moments when you know you have fallen in love.