4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
Return to the Go Go by William Peskett alias Khun Pobaah is an entertaining collection of forty essays culled from his blog, It Occurs to Me.[ Most of these short pieces are humorous first person accounts of and commentaries upon every day life in Pattaya, "Thailand's Extreme City." Our whimsical first person narrator, Khun Pobaah is a long ensconced western ex-patriot married to a Thai Buddhist. In "The living is "Easy" Pobaah describes Pattaya as ". . . not a real city, just a sprawling agglomeration of former villages with developmental in-fill and out-push into surrounding countryside." This Asian version of an expanding urban monster out of control is familiar to readers all over the world. It's that familiarity that saves this collection, I think, from being mere condescending ridicule of contemporary Thai culture. Our narrator is a transplanted westerner with an insider-outsider point of view. On the one hand he is a foreigner prone to judgment. On the other he has become not only a bemused observer of the culture that he finds himself in, but a participant who brings a portrayal of his own personal foibles and limitations to bear on his encounters with local peculiarities, encounters that he recreates with a certain amount of affection for his Thai neighbors.
In one of these Problematic encounters Peskett deftly employs language barriers and a garbled translation for comic effect, as in his simple quest for a single light bulb. His location of the bulb is, to begin with, mildly amusing in that the Thai penchant for technical advice when it comes to foreign devices mandates that this item be accompanied by a very lengthy set of instructions for its installation and use. The situation becomes hilarious when he shares with us the attempted translation, (for the benefit of European and American consumers), of the Thai language instructions into English. The absurdly helpless results had me laughing out loud.
If Peskett comes dangerously close to an ethnocentric dismissal of another culture it is not in his adopted land of Thailand but rather on a trip to Nepal. He observes there in Buddhist monasteries the famous "prayer wheels," those rotating cylinders bearing the scripts of prayers and meditations. By Peskett's account these cylinders, set in motion at the push of a hand, relieve the worshiper from repeating the prayer since the wheel's rotation is seen as performing that chore. This to Peskett is a little too lazy. His indictment becomes even more severe when he discovers that there are prayer wheels powered by solar batteries. At this point his tone becomes definitely derisive. There is no way for the casual reader, nor for a casual traveler like Peskett to fairly judge the motivations or the devotion of Buddhists who employ these ancient devices and their solar powered modern counterparts. Though this collection does not pretend to in depth discussions of cultural differences, this particular essay did seem more shallow, if not mean spirited, than any piece of humor need be. It was for that reason to this reader decidedly unfunny.
Given my reservations about Peskett's treatment of prayer wheels, I will have to say that I found the rest of the work engaging and entertaining. I liked the way Peskett's mind works. There was, for example, another of his retail adventures in which he goes in search of a single small washer to go under a bolt he means to tighten. After a short but dusty search of the shelves a less than enthusiastic clerk produces this small single item, a little disc of rough iron with a hole in it. The price is one baht, the smallest Thai coin, about the same diameter as the washer. This shiny copper finely wrought product of the government mint with its crafted embellishments and two separate images on its opposite sides is Peskett notes, a work of art. Yet here he is exchanging it for a disc far inferior. How strange! And how choice his no nonsense spouse's response when he presents her with the paradox.
Though the majority of of this collection depicts for laughs life in the big city for a clueless ex-patriot, there is one essay, " Windows of the Soul" that attacks a long standing literary device and the endless cliche's connected thereto. Forever, writers have attributed to the eyes the expression of every conceivable emotion, quality and state of mind. William Peskett has had enough! They're not the windows of the soul, he protests, they're mere optical instruments. It's only the wrinkly flesh around them that expresses. Too long in Pesketts opinion have lazy writers let the eyes, "moist gob stoppers", carry the burden of real character development. Finally someone has said it.
Though the style of Return to the Go Go is in some places over whimsical, breezy and heavy handedly self deprecating, one can easily forgive these devices since they don't dominate content that is, for the most part, funny and entertaining.Those looking for a light, amusing read. will find their time well spent on this collection. I would rate it, then, with a 4 out of 4.
Return to the Go-Go
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon
Like stanley's review? Post a comment saying so!