By Christopher G.
MooreMany of the
events, images, and personalities in Bizarre Thailand will be familiar to
experienced travelers or to expats who have lived in Thailand for any length of
time. Over the years, most people
in these two groups will have read an article about See Uey, the Chinese
Cannibal, sex workers, body snatchers, amulets, fighting fish, and the
supernatural. To his credit, Jim Algie makes these subjects fresh, vivid and
personal. My first impression was this would be a book that you would dip into.
That wasn’t the case for me. I read this collection of articles from cover to
cover with admiration for the way Algie was able to keep my concentration and
focus on subjects that I thought that I knew inside out.
The essay titled ‘The Artist of
Bizarre Architecture’ registers the multi-faceted personality of Sumet Jumsai in
the tradition of the best, balanced biographies. Another standout essay is titled
‘Empowering Sex Workers’ in which he details the long fight for acceptance by
the authorities by a tiny group of NGOs who have stayed the course and made a
big difference in the lives of countless people in the sex industry.
The pieces on Chavoret Jaruboon,
Thai’s last executioner by rifle fire, Dr. Porntip
Rojanasunan, Thailand’s top
forensics expert, and Susan Aldous, an Australian who set up a one person NGO to
assist people in prison and jail bring to the forefront the inner emotional
lives of these well-known people. Algie was able to dig deep, to get under their
skin and to allow them to reveal the deeper layers of their personality, allows
us to better understand what motives them.
My favourite articles feature the
author and his Thai wife, traveling to Cambodia and we follow as she gradually
sheds her prejudice against the Khmer. The book also succeeds as a personal
chronicle of her reassessment of orthodox ways of Thai thinking, whether about
the Thai prejudice about the Khmer, Thai history books version about Siamese
twins Chang and Eng, and the meaning of cowboys and the wild American West. The
author and his wife become our guides as they contemplate each other’s cultural
wisdom and we discover how they have enriched each other’s lives as they travel
through the bizarre world of Thailand.
I’d recommend Bizarre
Thailand to anyone who wants a new perspective about Thai cultural elements
that have made and continue to make Thailand unique and amazing. Algie has taken
his journalistic instincts inside the half-concealed enclaves, which shields the
most interesting people and has used his literary skills to reveal their
complexity. He takes the reader along for a memorable, authentic, and exciting
journey into the heart and soul of Thailand.