Book Reviews – More Readers Messages to Andrew Hicks
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Never again did I feel so sad that a book has actually come to an end. In
reading through to the last pages, I couldn’t help but wish there were hundreds
more left. I truly, thoroughly enjoyed it. However, in finishing this excellent
novel, I realised how much I learnt during the time it took me to read it. In my
view, Andrew Hicks has been very succesful in teaching the reader a lot about
the Thai culture and migrant workers, and the extraordinary thing is that he has
done that in a very subtle way: when one reads the book, it can be taken as a
pleasant story. But in a discreet and subtle way, I found that I was actually
learning a lot. In fact, a lot can be said about this, which in my view is a
unique skill that is not easily achieved.
In addition, I believe that the author has achieved this by providing a
balanced point of view. Perhaps I thought that due to my own views in the
different matters, but I thought that the author was not taking a ‘patronising’
approach to the issues that arose during the book. Instead, he allowed the
reader to form his/her opinion (for example, on matters such as commercial sex,
the migrant workers, the economy, the discussion on 9/11, etc).
The book was also very funny. The number of times I laughed out loud were
numerous! Hicks’s sense of humour is witty and a bit cynical. In particular, I
very much enjoyed the way the author potrayed the different accents. Not only I
found that very entertaining, I was highly impressed because in my view, he was
spot on! I found myself reading these dialogues out loud, and based on my own
experiences of meeting people from different countries, I have to say that he
couldn’t have expressed their accents on paper better!
As for the story itself, contrary to what some other readers have stated, I did
not find that there was any mystery in the behaviour of the diifferent
characters. Somehow I found myself understanding and sympathising with all of
them, at least as far as the main characters go. Ben, Fon, Emma: it is easy to
appreciate where there were all coming from. Emma’s anger and disappointment
towards Ben, Ben’s confusion towards both women in his life, Fon’s feelings
towards the farrang and her decision to take a cautious approach. I thought that
the characters made a lot of sense and their reactions were justified. In fact,
this is what makes the book real: the author did not choose over-dramatic
personalities. His characters were the antithesis of a typical ‘hollywood’ type
of character. These were normal people with normal feelings and reactions. Like
us, like our friends next door. That way you can relate and appreciate the
characters much better than if there were extraordinary or very different to the
rest of us.
In short, this is an educating, funny, entertaining and touching novel. I can
hardly wait for the authors’ next contribution to literature. I hope it won’t be
Hello Mr. Hicks,
I have not read other people’s letters so sorry if my comments are similar to other readers.
Your understanding of the Thai society seems to be OK, but I don’t agree with you regarding Fon’s interaction with Ben.
You also deliberately confuse us by not elucidating crucial details such as “is Joy Fon’s daughter?”, or “who is the mysterious boyfriend?”.
Fon is 24 years old, an age when most rural women are long married and have already born children. She is not averse to men, she flirts with Ben, yet she doesn’t consummate the relationship. By doing (or rather not doing) this she appears more as a “teaser” than a chaste woman. Other reasons for not “going all the way” do not correspond to her age: being younger, and therefore being (or trying to appear as) a virgin, or being older and having been burned by a former lover/husband.
I also believe that country folks have less hangups in privacy than you’re trying to portray “Fon”.
A good example (in this case between two Thai country people) is the courtship between the hero and the heroine in the Thai movie “Monrak Transistor”. She resists his flirt, but when he buys her a transistor radio, and is about to be conscripted, she relents.
Fon’s other alternatives are a Thai husband – she has told us that she doesn’t trust them -, or to remain a spinster – which would be worse in Thai rural society than the “qu’en dira-t-on” of her relationship with a farang.
If she is devoted to her niece (or daughter) Joy, and her mother, common sense would dictate that she considers marrying Ben, combining love and a financial security for her relatives.
Her overly concern about what other people think about her being seen with a farang are exaggerated. Being with a farang means having overcome the financial burden of the family. Even for country folks money is a source of pride, and in most
cases nobody cares how the person acquired his (her) wealth, which is not a concern for Fon, since everybody in her village know she is not a bargirl.
Thai country people have suffered too much hardship and humiliation, and being seen with a farang is sometimes a source of pride, especially with a decent character like Ben, who is also the same age as Fon.
On the other side the discussion on Bush between the backpackers seems very real, and reaffirms my belief about what the majority of the world thinks about America.
I still believe that the best description of a Thai girl is that of “Vilai”, the “Number One Girl” in the book “A Woman of Bangkok”, (originally titled “A Sort of Beauty”), written in the fifties by Jack Reynolds.
Incidentally, following the publication of the book, and despite writing under a pseudonym, the late Jack Reynolds (whose real name was Jack Jones), was disinherited by his Scottish missionary family.
Thank you for nice reading,
You can find the book A Woman of Bangkok by Jack Reynolds on Amazon.com
Thanks for writing in about “Thai Girl”. I’m glad you enjoyed the book and that it got you thinking.
Do I deliberately confuse you or is it Fon who is the deceiver and is taking Ben for a ride? Is she, as Jack Russell warns Ben, one of those women who tells the farang what she wants him to hear? You go on to suggest that Fon’s behaviour is not typical of the rural Thai women you have met and that her behaviour is different. Perhaps these are the things that make Fon interesting, an enigma to the reader as much as to Ben.
Fon keeps reminding Ben that there is a price for a Thai woman being seen with a farang; the inevitable implication is that she is being paid for sex. In response to this, Thai women do not of course all behave uniformly. A rice farmer’s daughter with little to lose who sees going with farang as a good career has to accept that price, while, as Dutch tells Ben, many families will not allow their daughters to go near a farang. Fon seems to fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. She claims to adhere to traditional principles, and she stands to lose a well-paid profession and to lose her reputation if she goes with Ben. As Clarissa says, for Fon to keep her reputation within a tight community of masseuses is both important and difficult. So it seems that Fon can stand on her own two feet and does not need to risk becoming dependent on men .
Fon is highly suspicious of men in general and hints to Ben that she has been taken in before by them but that she will not let herself be sweet-talked again. Or is there really a boyfriend in the background, possibly the father of Joy, and she is hoping to get back together with him. (Or is Fon really a ladyboy and herself the father of Joy? You have to keep asking the questions?!)
So unlike the women you talk about, Fon sees going with Ben as high risk and for whatever reasons she is determined not to be swept away by him. Knowing that her family will trust her to behave properly, she is able to take him home to Buriram, but is she now weakening, is she finally falling for him? This I hope is what keeps the reader intrigued and keeps you reading to the end. It’s not a Hollywood ending but then life isn’t like that either.
You are the second person recently to recommend the Jack Reynolds book to me. I must try to get hold of it. Are you based in Thailand or back home in France?
Thanks again and best wishes,
Dear Khun Andrew,
I probably the first Thai who write to you as I have not seen any
letters from Thais, or they might ask you to keep their letters
privately as well as me. I do not often read English novel because I
found it difficult. However, your book is very interesting so I needed
to try. Similar to many Thais, my English is poor but I think you’ d
like to hear from the Thais too. But, sorry if I missed some things or
got some things wrong.
I would say I enjoyed reading the Thai Girl so much, and thanks for easy
(a bit) writing. I was glad that I got your sense of humour. The Thai
English and pronunciation are very true. Your observation about Thai
people at bars, restaurants, in rural areas, and people like Odin are
also right. I can see that you worked hard really.
The story and the people are very realistic, and it was your intentions
to make this kind of story I guess. Characters like Ben and Emma are
real, but I’ m not sure about Fon’s. It sounds like Fon is
conventional, but was also seductive. These are very contrast, and made
me confuse. Is this to explain Fon’ s conflict inside? Anyway, this
makes the book more fun and
I guess you intended to make the book both informative and emotional. At
the beginning, the book seems to be more successful in giving
information. It is more emotional and enjoyable when the relationship
between Ben and Fon started, and I like that. I prefer a happy ending
story but not for your book because your have tried to make it real.
For foreigners, information may be as much important because they need
information as travellers, but for the Thais (me) it was some time a
bit too long.
There were some informations about Thai women that are not quite right.
May I explain some things about Thai women in families. Thai culture
like most Asian countries, women are inferior to men but not as much as
Chinese or Indian culture. Thai women do not always live with husband’
families. This is really depend on many factors to make a decision.
There is no strict rule about this. Traditionally. more often, men
move into women’s families, and the youngest daugthers often get their
parents house and look after their parents. So many times, people
prefer to have daughters. Today, of course there are lots of problems
between in-law so more people prefer to have their own houses. But this
is rather different in chinese Thai families.
You are right about the Thais’ preference of white skin, but not because
they want to be white as central Thai people. Real central Thai people
are actually quite tan, only people in the north and chinese Thais that
are quite white. We actually like people with tan skin too, as long as
they are beautiful! We have words tell the beauty of tan skin that say
“even a monk wants to give up his status (to marry a tan woman)”. The
more popularity of white skin seems to be the effect of marketing.
Thank you for the good story and intelligent plots. It is interesting to
know how foreigners think about Thai women and Thai cultures. I just
realised that there are many books about Thai women from your website
and when I was trying to get the Thai girl from book shops. I ‘ll try
to read them too.
I hope many more Thais read your book, and perhaps someone want to
translate it into Thai.
I was so pleased to receive your message. Yes, you are the first Thai to write in though several Thais have spoken to me and told me they enjoyed the book. I hope many more will write to me as you have.
I am delighted that you too enjoyed the book, that you found it funny and true to life. Yes, I have spent a lot of time in Thailand, mainly family holidays when my children were younger. That is when I came to love Thailand and its people and culture, and it is now like a second home for me.
Yes, Fon seems traditional but is rather seductive at the same time. Perhaps she is confused about what to do, and Ben is very unsure how to read her signals. Is she telling him the whole truth and what does she really want from him? But is this so unusual? I’m sure you can think of friends who are a bit like that, who are fun and playful with men, flirtatious even but who mean very little by it and really intend to keep themselves for a long term partner.
I found your comments about white skin and marriage customs particularly interesting and must make a few chamges to the book for a future edition. Yes, the Thai people are among the best looking in the world and it is sad if people want to be white or have cosmetic surgery for their nose or eyelids, just so they can imitate another race. That is the power of the media and marketing!
As to marriage, it is I believe the Chinese custom for the girl to move to the husband’s family home and for that her family is compensated with a bride payment. As you say, for Thais it is more varied, though a sinsot payment is usually made. I think though as somebody says in the book, a farmer’s daughter probably fears the situation where she has to move in with her new husband’s family and her mother-in-law turns out to be a nightmare. By being independent and going away to Bangkok or Pattaya she can avoid all that.
Well,thank you again, Pimpimon. It is very important to me to have a Thai readership and I hope you will pass on the book to your friends. And even I hope persuade some of them to write to me!
With best wishes,
I’m writing this note to you for two seperate reasons: firstly, I have a
feeling that I am about to become involved with a Thai woman and would
be interested to hear your(or your readers’) perspectives on this;
secondly, because I would like to raise the question of how best to
support the prevention forced migration/prostitution. Please feel free
to publish some, or all, of this letter on your forum.
However, first of all, I would like to congratulate you on an excellent
book. From your short biography, it would appear that you beat me to
Thailand by about ten years. I’ve never lived there for more than 3
months, but have visited so many times that I’ve lost count: initially
as a backpacker, then as a more “up-class” tourist, and in recent years
a couple of times on business. I think your accurate and detailed
observations of the way that visitors react in the Thai environment,
and the way that the Thais react to “us”, are absolutely first rate.
Whenever I looked up from the pages, I regularly had to think for a few
seconds to remember that I was not in Thailand! I could not put your
book down because it so well portrayed, and then offered explanations
for, or perspectives on, the many customs and behaviours I have
witnessed, but not always understood, whilst in Thailand. Furthermore,
it provokes challenging questions about migration and the sex industry
– questions around which there is a lot of shotgun moralising, but for
which there are no easy answers – as I think you have indicated through
Let me start with the simpler of my two reasons for writing. For several
years I have been thinking that I would like to do something to help
“save” potential, forced sex workers from their fate. As a matter of
fact, and by pure coincidence, I once ended up illegally smuggling a
Latino woman accross a European border in order for her to escape the
brothel. She had been told by “friends” that she was going to work in a
restuarant and would earn good money. Once there, not speaking the
language and with no money of her own (not even enough to pay for a
train ticket to escape – even if she had been able to get accross the
border) she was in hell. She managed to call a friend, who called me,
and I agreed to meet her and transport her back to where she had come
from (and was also living as an illegal immigrant). I will never forget
how she spent the whole night sobbing to herself because of the one
night of work she had performed. And it also made me realise that I
wanted to help like this again if I could.
So, my question is: do you, or your readers, know of any charities or
organisations which aim to prevent forced migration/prostitution? I
would like to stress here that I am only talking about forced migration
and/or prostitution. Personally, I do not believe prostitution per se
is wrong. Especially after reading your novel, it would seem to me that
a relatively modest amount of money would be enough to support a poor
rural family to such an extent that it would not be necessary for the
children to be forced into the sex business.
Concerning my second reason for writing: on a recent business trip to
Thailand, I met, and had dinner with, a 19 year old Thai engineering
student. Even before reading your novel I was well aware of the
conservativism surrounding relationships with Thai women: it was a nice
dinner, a pleasant coversation, and that was all. And that is also all I
was expecting. However, before I was even on the plane back, the SMS
and email exchange had started. And then continued. And now, even
though we only ever met for one single dinner, we have organised a trip
to Koh Samui together, staying in a bungalow on the beach. And that is
not what I expected at all. In contrast to my picture, and experience,
of the Thai culture, which is consistent with your novel, our upcoming
trip to Samuii seems to me to be an extremely forward and liberal
approach for an educated Thai woman. I can also not understand why she
is so readily prepared to endure the innevitable assumptions (also
described in your book) of all the Thai and foreign people who will see
us together. Naturally I plan to talk about this with her when we meet.
However, I would be interested to get your, or your readers’, comments
about this. Again consistent with your book, my understanding of the
Thai culture, was that women are either bar girls or totally respectable
and conservative with very little, or nothing, in between. Is this now
changing? Is there now a new generation of middle-class, young Thai
women emerging, who are more liberated, adventurous, independent, and
less constrained by the assumptions of those who observe a them
together with a farang?
I am 38 years old, divorced with no children, live and work in Europe,
and although I am not a “corporate star”, I do have a good, comfortable
career with a large multinational company. I am a very versatile Thai
cook, but cannot speak the language, other than a quite large
vocabulary of classical Thai dishes – aroy aroy.
I look forward to any replies, and congratulate you again on your book!
Well I finally finished your book after numerous delays. So when
are you publishing the next one?
Here are my comments: I thought you developed Ben and Fon’s
characters quite well and it gives a realistic insight into many
social issues in Thailand. I also felt that the ending was quite
realistic. Ben’s character reminded me in many ways of myself as a
young guy in the Navy. Ben’s typical “love ’em and leave ’em”
behavior is why you see so many Thai gals married to older farangs.
You also explained why Thais do certain things and how they think,
which I thought was very enlightening.
The beginning of the book seemed a little slow to me but, just as I
was getting impatient (a fault of mine), it started to pick up and
moved at a good pace through the rest of the book. If you haven’t
heard that before, it is probably just my perception.
I thought your representation of the Thai people was very accurate
as far as it went, however, it had a little of the “looking through
rose colored glasses” effect. Poor Thai people seem to be happier
than their counterparts in other Asian nations. They are indeed fun
loving and sponaneous. They certainly can be generous and helpful.
However, many are corrupt, selfish and amazingly greedy. Sometimes
farangs don’t treat the Thais very well, however, the worst
treatment that I’ve seen Thais receive has been from other Thais.
And we don’t need to discuss the courtesy of Thai drivers!! So I
don’t think your book was critical of Thai culture – far from it.
As far as the diatribe against Americans and their foreign policy,
I’ll just put that down to another Brit who is still mad about the
Revlolutionary War!! Seriously, we certainly have our faults and I
don’t think we should have invaded Iraq for many reasons. But to be
fair and balanced, I believe that Sadam, the Taliban and other
Islamic extremists have killed far more people than were killed by
the war in Iraq. Most Post-War deaths, if we can call them that,
were really not the fault of America except to the extent that they
under estimated the insurgency. If the insurgents simply want the
Americans to leave, they could help establish law and order.
History has shown that the Americans, unlike many European nations,
never made a serious effort to colonize other nations and would
probably be happy to leave quickly as we did in the first Gulf War.
One other comment: The book did not read as you would expect based
upon the cover. I assume that was an intention to appear a bit more
“racy” to attract buyers who might pass up a more staid cover.
My comments are intended to be constructive and I really did enjoy
the book. I will certainly buy a copy of your next book. I haven’t
seen you in any B2S book stores yet so I assume you still haven’t
cracked that market. Or on a more optimistic note, maybe they have
just sold out!
I have read your book “Thai Girl” and enjoyed it very much. I went to
Thailand in early December and spent two weeks there and enjoyed the
country and the people very much. This was my first visit to Thailand
but will not be my last. Reading your book I found myself looking at me
and the Thai woman I met there. She spent time with me and travel with
me, but also kept a distance between us just like Fon did with Ben,
which is I think a natural thing so they will not be hurt in the end.
The woman I met knocked me off my feet the first time I saw her. She is
beautiful and one of the only Thai’s I met that enjoyed laying out in
the sun to have darker skin. One of your readers made mention that some
Thais like darker/tan skin.
People all around the world have this image of Thailand as nothing but
drugs and sex 24/7 and nothing could be further from the truth. I told
a few friends that Thailand was more than that and you could find the
sex and drugs in every city around the world. Thailand is abeautiful
country and the people are warm and friendly. The Thai woman I met, I
told her up front I wanted her to spend time with me and that she did
not have to perform. I was more interested in having her company and
learning about her and the Thai people. She was a little shocked, but
thanked me for respecting her as a woman and not as a sex object. That
is where I was like Ben in a way. He wanted Fon, but was not going to
push it with her. He, as I wanted it to happen naturally.
I can see families sending their daughters off to Bangkok to work in
what ever trade they could do. The sad part is most do end up as bar
girls selling themselves to any frang that comes along. I saw the bars
lined up in the streets and sat and watched the girls try to get frangs
to come in and have a drink. I felt sorry for them, but knew this was a
way of life in Thailand and sometimes just as in your book most of the
money went to support their families.
Again I enjoyed your book and actually learned a few thing from it. I
remain in contact with my Thai Lady friend and will go back to visit and
learn more about Thailand.
Thank you for a great story — the very same story I am living now. I
met a beautiful young girl named Koh at Jomtien Beach six years ago.
She was doing beach massages with her aunts, and was 22 years old
working to finish university. I was 34 then, and we spent much time
together, always with a family member present. She was both
affectionate and pushed me away, which drove me absolutely crazy. We
held hands when no one was looking, but could never, ever kiss, even
when we snuck away. Fast forward to 2005 — I ended up marrying
another Thai girl, and Koh married a guy from England, the first man she
was ever intimate with. Only both of our marriages did not work out
the way we had planned, and now we are both separated and seeing each
other again! And again the complexities begin — still the need to
have a family member present, and still she is “hot” and “cold” towards
me at unexpected times. The Thai culture is hard to penetrate, and
your book allowed me to see that I am not alone in facing this
challenge. I bought your book on Koh Samet while I was there with Koh,
who is from Rayong. I will see her again in two weeks, and she now
wants to read your book because I told her you wrote our story. Your
words are very valuable to the many who will be able to see their own
lives in the pages of Thai Girl. Thank you so much.
James J. Miller
You can’t judge a book by its cover and nothing truer could be said of
“Thai Girl”. Several of my friends gave me funny looks while I was
reading this book as they made certain assumptions about its content.
If only they knew what it was really about.
I have made many visits to Thailand over the past nine years. During
that time I have learnt a lot about the country. I have been fortunate
through my relationships with certain Thai people to see and learn
many things about the country. There are so many wonderful things
about Thailand and the kindness and generosity of the Thai people is
extraordinary. However, I like to think of the fact that there is the
land of smiles and the land of not-smiles. Unfortunately most foreign
visitors only see the land of smiles and remain happily ignorant of
the land of not-smiles.
I really like the sensitive way you have captured the two worlds in
your book. I think your writing about the experience of a foreign
traveller and a young Thai woman are realistic and accurate. Thank you
for writing this book. I will definitely recommend it to anyone who
wants to know more about Thailand.
I was really pleased to receive your message and your comments about
“Thai Girl”. Perhaps the cover induces some of the more thoughtless
tourists into reading the book and perhaps having some of the tough
reality of being a poor migrant worker pointed out to them. So many
visitors treat Thailand as an adventure playground and the women as a
free for all and I hope the book makes them stop and think. I like your
way of putting the converse to the land of smiles. It is so easy to be
seduced by it on holiday and to skate over the surface.
Thanks for you kind comments. I appreciate them enormously. I am so glad
you enjoyed the book. And do pass on the word to your friends and
perhaps get them to write to me as well.
I am in Isaan at present where I am living and it’s getting hotter!
Where are you? Still in Thailand or back to Northern climates?
With thanks and best wishes,
I bought this book at Phuket Airport on my way back home and finished
reading it in about 30 hours, even though I spent some 24 hours of that
in planes and airports where I normally lack concentration to focus on
Definitely a nice book, I could easily relate to Ben having experienced
something similar during my previous trips to Thailand.
I am a 60 year old Australian male. I have visited Thailand and its neighbours several times in recent years.
I read your book during my most recent trip. I was on Ko Samet at the time! On my first reading, I must be honest and say that I thought it was a bit “light”.
Good for a holiday browse but not much more. However, I am now back in Oz and have just completed the read yet again.
And this time it made me think – this time I heard the messages. This time I identified the characters because I have surely met all of them many times during my travels.
I too am an author (children’s books) and publisher. Many friends have urged me to write something based on my journeys through SE Asia.
Your penmanship may just have motivated me in that direction. Thankyou and good luck to you.
Many thanks for your message which I found intriguing.
Yes, I think the book can be read at different levels, as an easy poolside read and also as carrying some important messages about the impact of travellers on Thai people of all sorts, and especially the young women.
Some visitors to Thailand skim over the surface because that’s what they want from a holiday, and the same could be said of readers of the book.
Different people see different things in it, but I do hope it can be thought-provoking about Thailand. I think that’s what a travel novel should be.
Good luck with your writing and publishing. Incidentaly I have just signed a contract with Monsoon Books in Singapore and it’s possible if they are successful in promoting “Thai Girl” that it will later appear on the shelves in Australia.
Thanks again and best wishes,