Thursday, August 28, 2008

Thailand is Cool

Thailand is a separate universe, proof of the multiverse theory, the strings here are not like the strings that give substance to anywhere else.

I’m watching a Korean TV show, some kind of Gong Show, non-professional acts, singers, dancers, some kind of weird-outfitted MC. The audience consists of all ages, and everybody is equally amused. Nobody is holier-than-thou, the oldsters love the hip-hop dancing and the hippie kids love the old time singers. It’s got a real cultural rhythm to it. There’s a crew of five hip-hop dance guys that would be a cool act in New York or Paris. The thing here though is that everybody, hip or not, old or young, is on board, it’s all Korea baby, it’s all us, we can dig it. And none of them are cool.

The shared value of all of the acts is talent, ability. They are very accomplished at what they do. Lots of Asian countries have TV shows like this. Good acts, universal approval, we are all (Fill-In-The-Nationality-Blank). It’s so dull.

In Thailand, however, real talent that displays itself freely is a detriment to entertainment value. I think it makes people uncomfortable. Thai’s prefer acts that are having fun, but not exhibiting any real talent. That way we can all have fun together, nobody feels inferior. Fun is cool.

So many Thai singers are really not very good, and many, most Thai dance acts are horribly spongy in their presentation, all the girls are beautiful, the guys are handsome, everyone is smiling but no one is dancing to the same music. Don’t get me wrong, lots of Thai entertainers are very talented, their genius is to make it look so easy, so effortless, that they appear to be just another half-wit comically failing at something. They typically have real half-wits on the show with whom they are completely indistinguishable. Sometime the act or routine features genuinely talented people, who show off their talent to its best advantage unashamedly, who make the other star appear totally amateurish and inadequate. This is all a delicate balance to maintain, intended to make all of the viewers comfortable, intended to make the stars appear to be just like anybody else, no better or more talented, we’re all in this together. These entertainers, and their viewers, are cool.

The reality is that all Thai people are cool, you heard me, unless they try. Those Korean hip-hop dancers were very good, lots of practice, got that shit down pat, no one could hold that hard work against them, Korean people appreciated the effort, made us all look good, amen. In Thailand, the effort to stand out is seen to make most of us look second class, not so good, so cut it out. Let’s just have fun.

I’m telling you, any Thai woman selling Mango and Sticky Rice somewhere, wearing cheap shorts, giant old lady bloomers, a cheap bra made from scraps, a Popeye the Sailor T-shirt, and plastic flip-flops, with a sixth-grade education from out in the rice field somewhere, she’s cool. Cool is a relationship with reality, a casual understanding of what is important, and a casual disregard for everything else. She’s not trying a bit, she’s just doing her thing and having fun. Fun sleeping, fun waking, fun cooking, fun working, fun talking on the phone, fun at a funeral, fun at a party, fun kissing her boyfriend, fun at the temple, fun riding her ten year old cheap motorcycle, fun in the cold bucket-shower, fun drinking and snacking with her friends and family, fun, fun, fun, and never trying to be better at anything or better than anyone. What could be cooler than that?

Most Thai’s have this cortex-disconnected, solar-wind-unconscious, natural, pre-Freudian kind of cool thing going on. Most poor Thai’s anyway. If they get some money, or try to be cool, they only fuck it up.


Anonymous said...

You can never come back to the US, Fred. You know it, and I know it. Re-assimilation is futile.
Have you broken the news to Ann yet? She probably knows by now, huh?

fred c said...

I tried re-assimilation after the Peace Corps, and L.A. was just annoying. Everybody is prosperous, but nobody is satisfied. All of that striving for more is a real vortex of negative energy.

If I were young and ambitious, I'd be back in the States making money; since I am neither thing, I'm over here enjoying the good life.

I'm sure Ann gets it, she's always been a few steps in front of me.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Fred, you are living the middle-aged Paul Gaugan fantasy: Quit it all, flee to an exotic locale, dance and boogie with the natives. Re-invent yourself! ("Re-invention" being a long-standing American tradition of self-delusion. See also "Finding Yourself.") Can anyone run far enough away, far enough to escape themselves?

you know who

fred c said...

"Reinventing" one's self is generally just you doing something different; "Finding" one's self is generally just accepting yourself; "escaping" one's self is an oxymoron, it's foolish to even try.

I'm just here because the work is easy, the living expenses are low, and the immediate surroundings always offer something really interesting, maybe even a little exciting. Also, of course, I'm running away from reality, which has never been a good fit for me.

Anonymous said...

You make good distinctions.
Do you suppose if we were different men still in our Home Town we'd be hiding from reality in the darkness of a dingy bar, hmmm? No airfare or learning of new languages required.

fred c said...

I don't know, I felt pretty comfortable in Scallywags; I was in at least five of the pictures on the wall. I went all the way through St. Fidelis and Holy Cross with Mike, plus Cub Scouts.