Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne
|Bangkok Days by Lawrence Osborne|
|Reviewer: Robert James|
|Summary: Enjoyable anecdotes of Thailand's capital, and the foreigners who live there.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: March 2010|
Laurence Osborne has hit upon a bizarre way to save money on dentistry – pay for a month's rent in Bangkok and get his fillings done there, which works out cheaper than dental insurance in America. During the course of many visits to Thailand, he meanders around Bangkok, along with various other motley foreigners, passing through hospitals, brothels and mobile restaurants selling waterbugs.
I use the word meandering deliberately – this is a slow-paced read, with Osborne happily talking about Thailand's past as well as his own adventures. That's certainly not to say it's boring, just gently paced, as the author mixes his own experiences with anecdotes from Thailand's past and some philosophising about the differences between the country and the Western world. Osborne has a flair for description and an extremely likeable modesty, with a sample quote about himself and a friend being fairly typical.
She clearly regarded McGinnis and me with deep suspicion and I thought that, all in all, that was fair enough.
The book is peppered with similar characters to McGinnis, who Osborne describes as a sinister man who rolls down the street like a superior ball bearing – friendly, but seedy, Westerners of a certain age. Osborne seems slightly detached from most of the rest of them – unwilling to fully take part in the city's sleazy underworld, he cuts a somewhat lonely figure even when he's with these friends.
Whether eating in the No Hands restaurant, where customers are orbidden to feed themselves and personal waitresses attend to their needs, or finding himself in a 'two-girl' brothel with a pair of prostitutes, his light touch means that the experiences are nowhere near as sordid as you might have imagined.
As he goes around the city, Osborne introduces us to the kathoey – Thailand's 'third sex', either effeminate gay men or male-to-female transgender people, the farang – foreigners of European descent, and legendary characters like Mae Nak, the ghostly daughter of a 19th century village chief. I found out lots of things about Thai culture which I'd never known in the past, and the book was informative as well as being entertaining. The real triumph, even more than the information given or the cast of misfit Westerners, though, is the way Osborne captures the atmosphere of Bangkok, and this makes the book easy to read either in short bursts or much longer sittings.
There were a few things I'd like to have seen more of in this book – notably the people of Thailand themselves, who mostly take a backseat to the ex-pats Osborne mixes with. However, overall this was an enjoyable read which did a superb job of capturing the mood of the city and the people who live there. I'd definitely be interested in reading more of the author's writing, which covers a wide range of subjects, from Asperger's Syndrome to wine.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
For more set in Asia, the graphic novel Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle is worth reading, as is Rory MacLean's Magic Bus: On The Hippy Trail from Istanbul to India. For a fictional look at Bangkok, try The Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett .
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.