Writing crime fiction set in another culture requires an understanding of the culture, the history and the language. Crime must be properly centered in the culture where the act has been committed. The attitude and expectations of the perpetrator and the victim should reflect the underlying reality of the culture. These elements are brought to life when they are like any good operating system—buried in the background but running the whole operation. Fiction after all is story-telling, not preaching or academic discourse.
Opening that operating system is something that is possible on a blog. It allows me to address some of the more difficult, subtle questions that arise when I create characters who are long-term residence of the country. I ask myself about such a character: Has this character adapted to the new culture to the point that they go native? What is left of his or her old identity? Or does character retain his or her cultural identity and remain on the outside of Thai culture? In that case, what price is paid for staying on the outside of the culture where you live and work?
These are among the issues that Tim Rackett raises in his review of Robert Cooper’s Thailand Beyond the Fringe.
“Cooper’s book seems to equally address incurable cultural romantics terminally intoxicated Thais- as calm, shy, polite, smiling and proud -and those infuriated by the gaps between Thai saying and doing, officially sanctioned appearances and reality- oscillating between being: spiritual and materialist, mindful and mindless, inferiority and superiority, selfless and selfish; equally accepting and capable of contemplation and coups, meditation and massacres. Thai ‘tourist culture’ seem to say to strangers: Yes, you may! And at the same time No, you cannot’. Thai society is a paradoxical’ permissive-prohibitive’ society with a puritanical- hedonistic culture whereby it is a both a duty to enjoy and obey. No wonder global voyagers might be perplexed living on planet Siam!”
Later Rackett raises the issue of the tricky art required to embrace values in another culture when those values conflict with those of your home culture.
“What exactly do Thais want from long term ‘guests’? Their: recognition, love and/or money, to do it the Thai way, or, the highway? Ex-pats often are given the stark choice, but not surprising for a ‘soft authoritarian’ society, love our ways, or leave! Obey, submit and conform. Politics, power and history are the stuff cultures are made from as effects and are not really very funny, especially the selective, and occasional, application of the rule of law, inequalities, corruption as a way of life and multiple human wrongs in multi-racist Thailand.”