Translated by Tony Waters, Jiranan Sirikunpahisan (Taew), Airin Horatschek (Airin), Kwanjira Wiwattana (Palm), Mayweya Koryaklang (Fang), Kuansiree Suanek (Meaw), Supon Phonchatchawankun (Su), Thirawit Pung-nagm (Thor), Krittaporn Ruankaew (Yo), Hande Yilmaz (Hande), Sasithorn Katika (Cake), Nattaporn Chantajitpreecha (Nati)
Note: This is a translation by a Thai author, ‘Rong Wongsawan about his trip in California in 1976. It was read at a recent meeting of the Informal Northern Thai Discussion Group in Chiangmai, Thailand. For more information, click here. This is the first time portions of this book have appeared in English.
The last day in the last week of June, 1976
It was 102 ° F in Los Angeles. Your humble writer told Mali it was time to quickly escape from the hot weather. Not the kind of hot which came from lying soaked with sweat next to a Thai canal, but the kind of hot that challenged anyone to walk naked into the concrete jungle. So after two minutes of thinking, I chose to travel by the Greyhound bus. It was a charming and speedy iron horse that gave a smooth ride for so many years of roving around California. I did not love or hate it—like other vehicles.
“Just leave the driving to us” as the television jingle went.
“Let us accept the duty of piloting the vehicle!” they meant.
This advertisement worked quite well.
Driving your own car can cost the state more than one million dollars per mile to build the road. This state of California was so proud of its expensive roads and taxes!
Americans have a car culture. If it is possible, they will trade in their car every year—it is worth the money to them! And that 6 percent sales tax was immediately charged whether drinking coffee or buying shoes,
In the earlier paragraph it seems like I had not yet quite revived from my wine. After all, airplanes are the transportation that saves time and money; it takes only 50 or 55 minutes from Los Angeles to San Francisco by air. Most Americans usually use the plane due to the hurried nature of their lives, but there is really no scenery; we see nothing except clouds and the underwear of the stewardesses. Airline companies in this country compete with each other aggressively, and they try to attract customers in order to make more profit. Some companies intentionally or not, design seductive uniforms for their stewardesses in this competition.
Americans in fact are accustomed to being naked, and even talk or discuss “sex” openly at dinnertime, or on the bed. But, for some strange reason, that little peek at the stewardess is still a provocative sensuality.
The next reason your humble writer wanted to travel by bus is that I wanted Mali to see the western states of America through a pane of glass that has movement, not just clouds. So, I chose to ride the Greyhound.
I hope that the audience will not hate Mali when she takes some action in this story. However, I will not let her appear on paper more than necessary. I guarantee that Mali will not interfere with the story in a fashion that the audience can blame her for ruining it. After all she’s just the wife of the writer, and not that of someone like the Prime Minister.
Another Confusion for Me: The “Finding-Myself Society”
4.00 pm Paso Robles
Towns in this area have Spanish names. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring my dictionary with me, so I can’t figure out their meaning.
Some passengers in this area were youthful travelers, male and female. They pack some stuff, guitar, marijuana, and some uncooked poetry in their backpack or bag. Their eyes seem to be hiding something slightly naughty. This is another feature of American society.
It is a confused society trying to create a confusion of another kind.
There is no concise explanation, but it can’t give itself the clear meaning it wants. Teenagers, they are too lazy to study in the university, and want to pay more attention to looking for themselves, or as they say in English “Finding Myself.”
And of course, this is a big worry for parents, which makes them really tired.
When talking about the situation in the family, it sounds like this, people who do not understand each other, but are inextricably entwined in their mutual love and incomprehension;
Ronnie “I made a decision already that I will travel the country!”
Dad “But Ronnie, the university has admitted you!”
Ronnie “It doesn’t matter!”
Ronnie “I must find myself first.”
Dad “You will find it?”
Ronnie “No one knows the answer, but if there is no action, nothing will ever get started”
Dad “I think you should start at the university”
Ronnie “Insane! The university is filled with fools and stupidity.”
Dad “If you weren’t so stubborn you would trust me, Ronnie”
Ronnie “However, I won’t change my mind. The university has nothing to teach me. America every day deteriorates because of the university, doesn’t it?”
Dad “What do you want, my son?…”
Ronnie “All that ever happens is so far away” (Ronnie shrugs his shoulders) “Tell me, what lessons does the university really have to teach?”
Dad “I really don’t know! But it is certain to be something important, and this is the reason you should go out and seek it.” Your friend Fred ran away. He is on the road now for 3 years, just because he wants to find himself. His parents only find out where he is when he calls home long distance and asks for money.”
Ronnie “Some people take longer to find themselves than other people.”
Dad “Where are you going, Ronnie?”
Ronnie “I will first take a bus to Nevada, John is there with many friends. Everyone is lovely there, they are real serious seekers. Perhaps after that I will go to Arizona where I know some people from the Navajo Indian tribe who weave blankets.”
Dad “Why? You really think that weaving blankets with the Navajo will help you find yourself?”
Ronnie “If I work with my hands it really might amount to something.”
Ronnie “It goes back to the inherent cruelty of the mechanistic modern society.”
Dad “You are annoyed with society that much?”
Ronnie “Of course.”
Dad “So what’s next?”
Ronnie “I will have time to think about goodness and the disappearance of capitalism.”
Dad “Ronny! Let us talk man to man. I always love your ideas a lot. You are not stupid, but you are not yet clever enough. Um, nothing is more important than the fact that I have saved enough money for your college. You know that the fees are increasing every day. If you hurry off to find yourself first, the money won’t be enough to pay for your college. I want to advise you: Go to college first! Then wouldn’t it be a good idea to go find yourself? “
Dad “Don’t you feel sorry for me?”
Ronnie “Our times are very different.”
Dad “But Ronny, I really worry about you, don’t, you understand?”
Ronnie “But I need to use modern reasoning. I don’t want to miss the chance to travel the country. I also want to go to South America with Susan.”
Dad “Susan? Does Susan also want to find herself just like you do?”
Ronnie “No doubt…”
Dad “Lord help me!”
Ronnie “We are good friends and always together, but the most important thing is that Susan has a Volkswagen. And we can go wherever we want easily.”
Dad “So what do Susan’s parents think about this?”
Ronnie “Maybe I’m saying something crazy. But Susan feels she has no choic here. If she doesn’t leave home now, her life will stop at high school, she will then get married, and then she will have children. Susan said that when she looks forward from that perspective, she can’t see a future.”
Dad “Future, The future of what?”
Ronnie “Staying here means she will always be in this small orbit. A life which is always behind the times.”
Dad “Maybe it’s really true for you, having a wife and children is really too old fashioned for today’s world.”
Ronnie “Dad, don’t you see how necessary it is that our generation should protest?”
Dad “I don’t know! It’s up to you.”
Ronnie “That is a cute sentence.”
Dad “My son, you don’t have to love me or maybe you want to hate me sometimes. I won’t be angry with you. Call me when you need money.”
Dad “Can you allow me to ask you a final question? If Susan gets pregnant in South America, what would the two of you do?”
Ronnie “Crazy! My generation doesn’t bed down like that. Don’t forget that we travel for finding ourselves! We are all familiar with such traps.
Art Buchwald: Explaining the Conflicting Thoughts which Make for Laughter
Dear reader, your humble writer would like to invite you to take a tour of the American’s mind by borrowing a special feature. I want you to meet a part of the American’s mind by describing situations that are different from our sense of what is familiar in Thailand. In the United States, there is a very strong conflict between the generations. And it’s impossible avoid.
Do you, dear reader, ever have a question about the bad smell of the bad American boys and girls? One of those reasons is the role model of hippies (Bupachon), which can be either concrete or abstract, but includes in these times long-haired people smoking marijuana. They may lose their own philosophy, or unsuccessfully attempt to identify a new way of understanding the human condition and its times. But it destroys with loneliness the very basis of its struggle. But still the hippie civilization refuses to die during this process!
Something that young men and young women use as weapons to protest against American society is a bit dirty. They try to explain why mocking clothing fashion makes their opposition to society so logical. Conveniently they ignore the role of older people, and assert that everything comes from the traditions of the younger generation.
Art Buchwald, an American newspaper columnist, has a prudent view of these contradictions. He tried to explain about this by addressing the irony embedded in such a generational conflict. He does this in a fashion which helps the older people conceal their anxieties.
Your humble writer has adapted Art Buchwald’s script for how this inter-generational conflict occurs in the following lines.
The drama begins in the evening time where a father proudly reviews the high school exam scores of his beloved teenage son. And so the father wants to invite him to go for dinner in celebration. This is a traditional way of congratulating someone for a job well done, and the father offers to do this by using polite and congratulatory words.
Son “Cool! Can we go together?“ (His son readily accepts the invitation and stands up).
Father “I think…you should wearing a proper dress shirt, it’s better” “
Son “I have T-shirt already, why? It doesn’t look right, does it?”
Father “It should be a shirt and a necktie.” (The Father smiles softly)
Son “Are we going to have dinner, or are we going to a wedding ceremony?”
‘Rong The son expressed his doubt through his face.
Father (Father smiled softly). “It surely is a shirt, but it is far from a minimum standard.”
Son “Are we going to dinner together, or are we going to get married?”
‘Rong The beloved son left little doubt that he had bettered his father in the argument.
Father “Stupid! Untidy! Unfashionable!”
(Father begins to scold) “But you have to act like other people. Go-go, go put on a proper shirt and a tie, no more arguments!”
‘Rong Mother comes out quickly from the next room and asks
Mother: ”Eh, Uh, why are you so loud, what you two arguing about…? ”
Father “I want to take him to have a dinner to congratulate him for his achievement, but he refuses to wear a tie.”
‘Rong The son sits and sways along with the rhythms of folk-rock;
Son “I won’t go! If you force me to have a tie, I won’t go, don’t go-won’t go!”
Mother “Is it really too hard to have a tie?” (his mother asked consolingly). “My dear son, please…”
Father “I am not proud of you anymore!!!! And I don’t want to be ashamed when other people know that I’m your father, and have such a dumb son like you.”
‘Rong The son made a snarky smile, and then walked awkwardly toward his room.
After that two minutes, he came out and standing snootily in front of his room with a frumpy shirt and a tie which was worn and old.
Father was trying hard not show his feelings towards his son’s challenge. He just nodded instead of saying that it was time to go. However, he accidently saw a surprising thing before he left the room.
Father “Hey there! You didn’t put on your shoes.”
Son “Oops! I guess I didn’t hear you talk about the shoes? And why do we have to wear shoes? What happens if we don’t wear it, are we gonna go to hell?”
Father “Don’t be silly!! Put on your shoes right now!!!
Son “My feet aren’t that good looking! Who the hell wants to see them? I will place them under the table, so I’m sure no one will see.”
Father “When you are entering, people will definitely see your dirty feet and you must know that civilized people consider wearing shoes an important part of their culture. Do you want to risk having those cultured people in that high class restaurant puke because of the smell of your feet?”
Son “Why? My nose doesn’t smell anything of my feet? Anyway, that is not so important. But, this is summer, so no one wears shoes. I swear ‒ I will not do such an out-of-date thing as wear shoes, since none of my friends wear them either.”
‘Rong Now it was a time for mother to hurriedly return to the conversation before her son will be kicked. It is not sure whether they will fight or not.
Mother “My dear please, put on your shoes. If you don’t like leather shoes you can wear your sneakers. Please do it for the sake of your father’s social status.” (Her son scowled.)
‘Rong The father tried not to show his feelings, and reminded them that they should not forget that he had never thought about having dinner in high-class restaurant.
However, to stop being annoyed by his parents, he put on a tie, and climbed into the fine car. Such a car is indeed a source of such pride for so many Americans.
Not long after leaving home, the father’s mood softened, and he began to speak gently to his son.
Father “I don’t want to annoy you anymore, but I’ve thought that uh… if you take off your headscarf before we arrive at the restaurant it might be better?“
Son “How good is that damn restaurant? Why won’t they welcome people with headscarves?”
Father “it’s the highest quality restaurant that we have in this town. The way they season food is well known. I just think…. You are grown enough, and you should know how to live the right way and respect the lifestyle of our society. Eating is both an art and culture, which has been passed on by many generations for many centuries. It is not difficult at all. Just try to and get used to it. Our life needs more than milkshake and french-fries.”
Son “What? What did you say? You said it has no milkshake and French-fries? You said it’s a high-class restaurant?”
‘Rong Now it was the son’s turn to choke.
The father sighed deeply and thought.
He pulled the car over to the side of the road.
Father “Keep it to $2! I’m giving up on you, It’s obvious now we have been born to different times. There is a hamburger stand–get out and buy it by yourself. I don’t care anymore!”
‘Rong The father smiled sadly.
The beloved son whistled.
Lower the curtain.
This is a model of a normal American life.
Joe Chung’s Cocktail Lounge, 891 Market Street, San Francisco
‘Rong Your humble writer sat at Joe Chung’s Cocktail Lounge frequently during Happy Hours 5.00 pm. – 7.00 pm. The whisky and cocktail were sold for less than the normal price, i.e. for 60 cents rather than 70 cents. Even just 10 cents is not much, but it gives meaning to the relationship. So, drinkers are more likely to come and relax than at other times, and it makes it easier for friends and acquaintances to meet, because they know about this hour.
The bartender was Chinese, with small elliptical eyes shaped like a sesame seed featured prominently on his face. Among the American faces he was different. He wore a dark blue Chinese pants and a dinner jacket. He also wore an outer red jacket trimmed in gold, maybe just to show off his wealth as a Chinese, more than for any other reason.
But being Chinese also means that the costs of doing business are to be avoided, and kept down in a way that keeps profits up. No other group can copy this Chinese method of doing business.
The black man sat down on the left side of the counter. He is a young man not older than twenty-three years old.
Man “Scotch whiskey!”
‘Rong His manner indicated that he had little experience with the protocols of drinking.
He does not select the type of whiskey, but trusts the judgment of fhe bartender. And in such a case he absolutely will get the cheapest whisky in the bar. This bar near the road doesn’t care more about its customer than it does profit.
Your humble writer peeps at him again. He drinks a lot, and he doesn’t wait for the whiskey to be cold enough. But he swills it down his throat before the ice can melt, and he continues with a second shot, not even a minute later.
No, he doesn’t get angry! His face is so happy, and there is a smile. He has just never learned how to love whisky. So, he hurries to drink it. He drinks it as if it were an enemy to be endured. I tell myself that he still needs to learn about whisky, and how to be a friend with it.
Then whisky will be his very good friend.
Vexed, this is one more action your humble writer observes.
He is black, with a blue suit and cream colored necktie. He looks like he has just come from the office. He has lots of money and he is a young man who seems so like an innocent calf, soon to be a vicim of the atomoshper in Joe Chung’s Cocktail Lounge..
Mali “He looks like Sammy Davis” (whispering)
‘Rong Sammy Davis’ dark skin was like that of every American black, and your humble writer shrugs his shoulder.
He looks with excitement for a chance to flirt with a white girl who sits next to him.
Man “It’s mighty windy tonight!”
Linda “It’s strong like it is every day in San Francisco, you must come from another place?”
Man “New York”
Linda “Well look. People from here don’t speak like that. They begin the conversation much more coyly.”
Man “I didn’t know what I should say.”
Linda “But you can say lots of things.”
Man “I feel lonely. ..”
‘Rong The young black man put his glass down on the bar, and told the bartender to fill it again.
Linda “You wanna have someone to drink with?”
Man “What are you drinking…?. ..” (he asks rather than answers.)
Linda “Vodka Martini ” (she looked away) “To be honest, I don’t drink vodka that someone else buys for me”
Man “I don’t think you should refuse ”
Linda “Actually-you may think I am annoying and look down on you. But I have never thought about the nature of skin color.”
Man “Vodka martini for her,”
Linda “On the rocks.”
‘Rong That lady is over 35 years old, your humble writer guesses, but probably not 40 years. She has a bright face that said she loved alcohol more than water or milk. She looks so seductive, like the girls I saw in the bars in the brothel districts of Patpong in Bangkok or around the bars of Bang-Lamphu Square, she would be called ‘cougar’ or whatever.
But now that I meet her in Joe Chung’s Cocktail Lounge, she’s in this story at first sight.
Linda “How long have you been here?” she asked
Man “2 months.”
Linda “Do you like San Francisco?”
Man “I’m not really sure…”
Linda “I bet that you won’t go anywhere. People who come to San Francisco usually want to spend their whole life here.”
Man “Are you from here?”
Linda “I was born in Oakland but I really love it here in San Francisco, so I moved across the bridge.” (She said this with a smooth and moderate tone.)
Man “Have you ever visited New York?”
Linda “Nope, I’ve never been further than Reno, just three hours to the east, in Nevada.”
Man “Did you go to play cards there?”
Linda “If not to gamble, why would I have gone to Reno?”
Man “Some go to get married there?”
Linda “You’re right…” (she said while sipping Vodka Martini) “but I never got married in Reno.
Man “Just playing cards in Reno?”
Linda “I played every gambling game there-blackjack , keno, roulette-except I didn’t play the slot machine. I hate the slot machine–it is a bastard thief with one arm.”
Man` “I think I don’t like it either.”
Linda “It sucks your money, doesn’t it?”
Linda “Is it that much?”
Man “Not just a little,”
Linda “I think you have not checked, have you?”
Man “Perhaps, next Friday I will ride that iron horse, the Greyhoud Bus, to go to Reno.”
Linda “Why don’t you invite me to go with you?”
Man “Would you mind….?”
Linda “No ! I don’t mind help from a pretty boy like you”
Man “I’ll tell you once a woman shouted at me ‘Piece of shit! Just become I am black’”
Linda “I’m sorry for you, but that was not me.”
Man “You are a good girl”
Linda “No, I’m just a combination of good and bad.
“People in the church say that I am bad, but the homeless living on the street say I am good.”
Man “I see what you mean. ”
Linda “But as we are going to Reno together, I beg you-please don’t be jealous.”
Linda “I have been there-getting a divorce from two of my husbands.”
‘Rong The man just shrugged his shoulders and whistled.
She went to the restroom which was located behind bar.
The bartender poked his face over a counter, and spoke to that inexperienced young black man.
Charlie “I don’t want to intrude on your business, but you must know some facts about life. Some women are o.k. to take out for dinner, watching a movie together, and making love, but they are not suitable to ask for marriage. Some are even more terrible. They are not suitable for anything. Listen to me, that woman is a blood sucking leech; you should hurry to go back home, because it is better than dating her.”
‘Rong At that moment, San Francisco heard a young black man cuss.
But the curtain of drama didn’t closed yet, the various duty of black and white!
Man “Leeches! I have heard that Chinese people like to eat them, is it true?
Charlie “Sorry, I just thought that we are friends…..”
Man “Thanks, Charlie! But I feel lonely.”
‘Rong Americans, black or white, they prefer to call Chinese people Charlie, which is a reference to the old Charlie Chan movies, [or perhaps their experience in Vietnam where the Viet Cong were called ‘Charlie]. It seems like it has a contemptuous meaning, just like the word “Chink.”
As for blacks, your humble writer does not have any reason to hate black people. The many black people I knew they are wonderful friends. Some of them are doctors of high esteem. Some of them are musicians who create the world of jazz. Some are very charming bisexuals that your humble writer spent time with in the gay bars without knowing whether it was day or night. Some of the black people are poets who like to explain about the trash and flowers at the same time, as well as much else. They are friends who help each other when in need.
Some novels refer to goodness of the black people, and their yearning for freedom. It is the special condition that Americans admire equality for all before the law, and it is part of the constitution of the nation. And this is the historical cause the people in the past pursued, in order to make it for people today.
It is the conflict underpinning American society.
That white girl is back from the toilet.
The cheap perfume she wears is sweetly scented.
Linda “Shall we go together, honey?”
‘Rong She said it as if she had slept on the same pillow with him last night..
Man “Do you not drink more ? ….
Man “One for the road?”
‘Rong He used this as an excuse for one last drink.
It is the last shot at Joe Chung’s Cocktail Lounge.
Linda “I never refuse alcohol “
Man “I believe that…”
‘Rong But the Drama is not over yet.
Black and white look deeply at each others eyes, through his glass of water and blended Scotch whisky, and her vodka martini, without even knowing each others names. But that’s not necessary.
The bartender shrugs his shoulder.
A lonely horny guy and an alcoholic woman. She is hungry. What misfortune hit her? Or perhaps she doesn’t have money for the cheap room rent in the slum? Is her kid sick and staying in a poor hospital? Is her husband disabled by the war? Anyway, the pension is not enough to blow away the coldness and loneliness in her life?
She can fill any one of these roles.
She is Linda, but a Dirty Bitch Linda!
‘Rong The bartender is shaking his head because he’s bored. As with the psychiatrist and the police, a lot of people are at his bar at his counter. If he were a writer he would have a lot stories to tell.
Charlie “Linda is dangerous woman.”
Charlie “She named herself after Linda Lovelace the movie star. This woman calls herself Linda in her honor.”
‘Rong He is referring to the movie called “Deep Throat.” This movie was so scandalous that it shook the church, the court, the monks and the censors. After fighting in court to be allowed to meet the letter of the decency laws, the film was finally allowed to be publically shown. Still, the Americans were worried. They were concerned about the problems of morality, and what that meant for the country. But the nation’s erotic mood was edgy, and people were frustrated to the point that in some cases they became mentally ill. And so the film was just obscene for anyone who was pessimistic about the state of society’s morality. And the more optimistic viewed that film as reflecting the capacity of a more liberal society to throw aside old ethics. But to find that optimistic answer you must be indifferent to the relationship between sin and merit; but for the second group of people, you could almost hear them exhale. So. your humble writer promised to take Malee to go see the film on a night we were both free in San Francisco.
‘Rong “Do you think that she is a blood-sucking leech?”
Charlie “I don’t want to gossip about anyone. But in the garden in which she plays with men, that is the thing that is true.”
‘Rong “Is Linda a liar?”
Charlie “Worse than that…”
‘Rong “Perhaps an incorrigible bullshitter? Tricky?”
Charlie “It’s just a matter of how and how much trouble she will cause. I’m just saying that the bitch’s gonna take whatever she wants. She wants money, and will get money if she can. If she doesn’t get any money she will get a ring. Got no ring, take a watch. If she could take off the man’s shoes, she would, I think. Anyway, I feel like my mouth is always butting into others’ business where it does not belong. I’m feeling pity on that poor black calf.”
‘Rong “Blacks don’t want any pity, do they?” Your humble writer offered this thought.
Charlie “Everybody all over the country is the same, all throughout the country. It’s an American thing. But as for me, I am different. I do not have the feeling that I am a person unto himself. I am an Asian, so I empathize with others. ”
‘Rong “I understand your feeling, Charlie.”
Charlie “But think again. Tonight, that dirty slut Linda will surely have money for tomorrow.”
‘Rong “Have you known her for a long time?”
Charlie “Since her name was Marilyn, Marilyn on the sidewalk. Marilyn who never was the playful lover of a person like President Kennedy. But her ass is unbeatably beautiful.”
Charlie “Yes- she is.”
‘Rong“ I am also thinking about the superstar agencies in Hollywood. They’re also leeches.”
Charlie “It’s similar but not the same. These leeches have different kinds.”
‘Rong “She’s a beautiful woman. Hmm, I mean, she was.”
Charlie “Many people have said the same that you do. Let’s face it, her life is sad and horrible. If it had been someone else’s life, that person would kill themself. But Linda never gave up. You know what? On some nights when she isn’t able to get a man, she sells her blood down on Mission Street. Some weeks she is thin like a zombie,
‘This was her destruction… After donating blood, the money she received could be used to buy just a few glasses of whiskey. Then she walked out and fell down in the street.
She was told that by the place where the blood was purchased is for the hospital. But it was really a private business.”
‘Rong Along Mission Street is found the transcript for poverty. Pawn shop, cheap grocery stores, and a rented room where big rats with wet fur run from the pipe hole to the ceiling. Thieves and starving people walk by in opposite directions. Pickpockets wait for the victim in the building corner and so forth. The blood-purchasing clinic is situated in this dejected atmosphere–in order to suck blood from the poor to help the rich.
So, the poor had no choice, and they sold their blood for food
So blood was turned into sausage, vegetables, and bread in this fashion. Some portion turns to shit, some turned into energy and that which is left is turned back into blood. It is the infinite cycle, one that does not end until the last drop of blood evaporates from the corpse.
Charlie “May Satan himself protect this woman.”
‘Rong I heard myself praying
Linda dirty bitch! Your humble writer will not forget the spark that is still inside her eye.
Her sad smile reflects crying. But she still has a lust for life, while becoming accustomed to the punishment of being human.
Her price is cheap! But somehow she is still worth more than the Buddhist nun who does not observe the strict precepts, who uses religion as a mask to cover her face, but who wanders along the street begging for money, seeking friends in this world who will share her suffering.
Tomorrow, your humble writer hopes to meet Linda again.