I am on lesson 10 of my Thai language CD, best birthday present of 2012. Thai is a tonal language, pronounce it with the incorrect tone and you could change the words. ‘Ma’ with an up tone means horse, with a down tone means dog, which could confuse a vet and cause problems in a pet shop, for example. I know a few phrases to get by and have mastered a couple of sentences which translate as, ‘I can speak a little Thai, but not very well’, but it sounds fairly impressive. This goes down well with taxi drivers and in coffee shops, which is most encouraging, and I vow to get onto lesson 11 before the month is out. Baby steps, ey.
At first I thought the CD was geared up for lonely businessmen, “how to address a Thai woman”, and “how to ask a Thai woman to go for a drink”, it kind of is this, but not in a sleezy way. I think it’s in our nature to stereo-type, it’s only our ignorance that does it, lack of knowledge, life is easier for ourselves if we can compartmentalise. For example, when I see a lone, white, middle-aged overweight male on the streets of BKK I think, eeew, you dirty bastard. Now, my Dad is visiting and fits some of that description, but he’s not a creep, looking for a “good time” (least I hope not), and I’d hate to think anyone was judging him as such. Likewise, not all gorgeous petite Thai ladies in skirts and high heels, are looking to provide a “good time” either, nor are they harbouring a secret penis. Lesson learnt, this is good, I like these awakening moments. Not all white middle-aged men are here looking for prostitutes; not all Thai women with older, less attractive males are providing the oldest profession.
A few weeks ago I read an expat magazine, it was pretty same old same old with regards to the articles – cosmetic surgery, yoyo dieting, saving soi animals, and 2 pages on dream interpretations. An aside – Is there anything more dull than listening to someone else’s dream? (James, listen, I had that dream again, no, not the one where I slaughter people in a machete style blood bath, the one where I’ve missed all my seminars and lectures and I’m failing my degree.) James is excellent at pretending to be interested in my dreams, I think he’s actually well jell that I remember them, whereas he rarely does. So, does it sound inspiring? The expat magazine? Surprisingly it was, for me, although my evenings have been spent in a haze of gin since we arrived thus hampering my judgement.
I was inspired by the magazine to attend a writing group, something I’d have liked to do in Manchester, but what with cramming full time work into part time hours – the myth of equality in the workplace – so I could crack on with unpaid employment (kids/home related, will bore off with the details) there simply wasn’t time. But the article said:
“One of the special things about ‘the writing group’ is the way the members interact”, the “group leader says that, after experiencing the destructive criticism of many writers’ groups ‘on several different continents’ (but mostly in London) that left her unable to write, sometimes for weeks after a group meeting, she is determined to nurture and encourage writers….” “So whether you are a best selling author OR A BLOGGER, a journalist or a poet, join ‘the group’ and get inspired.”
I go. It’s my first night out other than walking to the shops and back. I’m nervous, I don’t know the mall where it’s held, and I’m pretty devastated its not in a pub. I don’t know what to expect, just that I have to bring 3 pages of my own writing with copies for the group. Despite setting off mega early I arrive late, having been lost in a maze of shops, and finally giving in and asking for directions, in Thai I might add. I attend, it is diverse – though crossing continents, not genders, it is fast-paced, there are no introductions beyond ‘hello, sit down’, I don’t get to give my rehearsed schpiel about being new to BKK, a mother, a lover and a woman in my own right. I understand the reasoning, as the leader points out on several occasions ‘there isn’t much time’, and ‘that’s the nature of this group’. There is a clear structure explained at the outset, we are all to read each others work, critique/comment in a friendly, helpful way, not like in London. London or Londoners are getting a pasting.
I find it hard to come up with things to say, I regress to seminars in degree poetry where the lecturer had clear favorites and girls with educated accents knew what to say, or so I thought. (My take on William Blake, “it’s the lyrics of The Verve”, I feel like a dufus, enter tumbleweed, never speak in poetry again). I comment that it’s tricky to absorb the text and my comment is immediately met with ‘you have to read fast’. (Back in your box Kenno).
James has printed off my last blogpost to share, we have no printer yet, and because my short story (ironically based on a not-boring-dream) is not fit for critical consumption. This was a mistake. It’s like taking my diary along. Who critiques a diary? Lovers of Anne Frank and Sue Townsend perhaps. It is not well received, or so I fear. The woman opposite folds her arms and despite being vocal up until now, feeds-back nada. Uh oh. Then our leader tells the group she is “sick and tired” of the same stereotypes of Asians (she is from Europe), being described as ‘exotic’. She goes on about stereo-typing, I try to confirm that it’s a building with wild tropical flowers I’m calling ‘exotic’, not my talented masseuse. It goes unheard, like the tail end of every Hugh Grant sentence, and suddenly I’m a Londoner.
Stereotyping is different to racism, but falls under the same umbrella. I’m left feeling accused of something I’m vehemently against. Then the question, “Why do you write this? Who is it for?” For friends and family back home, I say, without time to add that it’s also a cathartic process, helping me adapt and settle in. Then I’m hit with “well if you already have readers then why would you need to come to this group?” Repeated twice. Ouch! Where’s my feedback sandwich? E.G. I like your individual style, the contents is racist, but overall it’s a jolly good read). Disclaimer – no one has said I am racist, clearly this is hyperbolic, I am incredibly paranoid and don’t respond well to criticism.
I sink lower into the chair, my mouth dry, my heart pounding. I didn’t dare get a drink having arrived late and feeling the tension. Is my blog too harsh? Too English? Too colloquial? Stereo-typing? I cringe. I have read the other offerings with enthusiasm, and found words of encouragement for every writer, which was challenging at times, but who gives a shit what I think anyway? And why should I give a shit either? The leader says I’ve written about what everyone writes about when they first arrive in Bangkok. I’m also obvious and normal, eek. Who led the London writing group? Nina Myskow? Brian Sewell? I feel misunderstood, misinterpreted, lost in translation, labelled and pigeon-holed. Perhaps how my writing group leader felt in London. Her issues? Her revenge on London via my well-meant blog? Some questions follow, but by now I’m withdrawing, “How long did you spend writing this?” “Do you write anything else?” “Perhaps you could bring that next time”. Ick!
Writing this I can’t believe I’ve been toying with the idea of going again, (though contemplating taking John Cooper Clarke’s, “Chicken Town” to pass off as my own work strikes me as amusing, yet immature). It’s tonight, the group, and I’m not going. I’d have liked to have gone to defend myself, but I decide if I feel I have to defend myself then maybe it’s not the group for me. Also, I’ve been in touch with a genuinely good soul from the group who didn’t get onto the harshness I felt, and with common sense and tenderness convinced me its probably not the place for me to make friends. Not yet, though I may return…