Sightseeing

Sightseeing

I love reading about a place that I am travelling through, and all-the-better if the book makes me squirm with horrible recognition:

Browse titles by subject matter
Subscribe to the Mekong Review
Travelfish.org are big fans of the Mekong Review. If you’d like to read intelligent and thoughtful material about the region, please consider subscribing. We do.

This is how we count the days. June: the Germans come to the islands — football cleats, big T-shirts, thick tongues — speaking like spitting. July: the Italians, the French, the British, the Americans. The Italians like pad thai, its affinity with spaghetti. They like fabrics, sun glasses, leather sandals. The French like plump girls, rambutans, disco music, baring their breasts. The British are here to work on their pasty complexions, their penchant for hashish. Americans are the fattest, the stingiest of the bunch.

So starts the first story in Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap, a series of short stories (and one novella) first published in 2004. The stories aren’t all about stereotypes of foreigners, but some of them do touch on the tricky relationship between the tourist and the touristed. There’s a delicate story about first love between a young Thai boy and a Burmese immigrant who lives illegally in a shack next to his apartment building, which ends in xenophobic tears, and a lengthy piece of beauty titled “At the Cafe Lovely” which deals with loss, nihilism, drug use, and fast food. It’s not all weepy tears, but these are not stories that are easily discounted.

The final piece in the collection is a novella proper that explores a small town ruled by a strong man. The young protagonist learns the roles that she was unknowingly born into, and watches as her father powerlessly struggles against his artificially-created fate.

Rattawut was born in Chicago and grew up in Thailand. His prose is tight and fast moving, and it’s an illuminating view behind the curtain in a country that strains to put its best foot forward for visiting foreigners. I loved this book, as much for its vibrant characters as for the fact that they are damaged people in a damaged world. While the stories are not about pleasant subjects (fickle love, losing what’s important, xenophobia, the hopelessness of despair, despotism), they are not depressing. They are heartbreaking. And the writing is sharp.

So much written about the kingdom is happy advertising copy; it’s refreshing to consider that there is a darker side to all of those smiles.

“Thailand is only a paradise for fools and farangs, for criminals and foreigners,” says the mother of one of the characters. Read this right now, and see if she’s right.

Buy online: Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble |



108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General