ZudRangMa Records

In previous travels, I have always known a little, or a lot, about the musical histories of the countries I was visiting. I believe it is important to have some understanding of the social, cultural, and political histories of a country before one visits, and as a musician I have also always been interested in the artistic output.

Unfortunately, before coming to Thailand I knew little about it’s musical history. Add to that a depressingly derivative and inescapable pop/rock/hip hop scene and I had a real thirst for some quality Thai music. I knew it was there, but where . . .

Then I came across ZudRangMa Records and the collection The Sound of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz & Molam in Thailand. 1964 – 1975. ZudRangMa is a small, mostly vinyl collectors record shop in Thonglor. The store is run by Maft Sai and Chris Menist, Bangkok based DJs and cratediggers that also put together The Sound of Siam compilation. This is a great introduction to some incredibly soulful music, mostly coming from Isaan migrants to Bangkok. Along with love lost, many of these songs speak to the often difficult transition from life in farming communities in the northeast, to the struggle to find work here in the capital.

You can also check out the diverse mixes of Maft and Chris at their frequent “Paradise Bangkok” DJ sets around Bangkok, and growing excursions worldwide. They play old school Thai music alongside African, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern grooves, properly situating Thai music in a high point of 1960s/70s political and artistic cross-pollination and experimentalism.

I’m sure there are some good musicians making interesting rock music, and rappers with deep beats and something to say, but until I find them this soul from the past will more than do.

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The Audacity of Farang, pt.1

Forget culture shock. Forget homesickness. Forget language barrier. The most difficult thing I’ve had to deal with in Thailand is seeing the daily display of vulgar exploitation by foreign men.

This is not a discussion of prostitution, per se, in Thailand. That is another debate, and one which, like the profession, is likely to go on forever. What is disturbing in Thailand is the ability of the farang mind to normalize the john-hooker relationship into something that is presentable to the rest of society. It’s bad enough the extent to which prostitution exists in places like Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Patpong, but foreigners, young and old alike, feel no shame in bringing their obviously paid for partners to any and every corner of the country. Malls, restaurants, resorts, beaches, condos, parks, normal Thai neighborhoods, wats! Would you take a prostitute you picked up in Los Angeles, London, Sydney, or wherever you came from, and parade her around town? I think not. You would be worried about the social ramifications, glares, and perhaps even a beating if, say, a white man picked up an 18 yr old prostitute in Harlem and went around the neighborhood hand-in-hand. But this is the “Land of Smiles” you say. “Thais have that Buddhist ‘live and let live’ philosophy, so they don’t care. Thai people look at us and say, ‘oh, nice farang are helping our downtrodden women out of poverty.'” No, no, no. They see what you are doing and they do care.

Listen. No one wants to see that shit! Thai people do not like you. Thai people do not like your audacity in throwing prostitution in their face. They do not like that a poverty exists that causes their women to think they need to choose the most disgusting, ignorant, uncultured farang in order to survive. Trust me. Go beyond the areas where people live off of sex tourist money and cater to the “white man’s playground” view of Thailand. Go beyond that. Go beyond the hi-so Thai and bourgeois expat areas like Thonglor and Ekamai, where sexpats are criticized by the “better class” but the same status markers of money and whiteness apply. Go past all that, and you will find that the majority of Thai people, and a small number of decent expats and tourists, don’t like you, and don’t want to see you and your mockery of the country.

And this is perhaps the saddest part of this whole situation. Thais present you with a country and a culture that is so beautiful, where if you are kind and gentle you will get that returned ten-fold. A culture where people will not call you out on your vulgar displays of farang ignorance like not learning any Thai even after living here for years, being incredibly rude and talking to people like shit, failing to learn the basic principles of respect in the foreign culture you’re visiting, and lax immigration laws that allow worthless farang to stay in the country for decades with nothing to offer but further exploitation. But what do you return to the Thais? You flaunt prostitution and barely veiled pedophilia because you know no one will call you out. This is the double-edged sword of Thai hospitality. It’s a wonderful thing, but also creates the opening for foreigners to take advantage without fear of retaliation. If you ask me, more cold stares, harsh words, and maybe even a handful of beatdowns might put a little fear into the sexpats and encourage them to keep their activities in the red light districts and out of the rest of Thai society. But that’s just me . . .

The scenes depicted here are so common in Bangkok and throughout the country, that I seriously considered leaving after a few months, despite the fact that I was really falling in love with the rest of Thailand. Fortunately a move out of the expat/tourist ghetto of Sukhumvit and into an outlying area of the city not infested with foreigners limited my exposure to all this. At least to a somewhat bearable level.

The struggle continues.

Food of the gods

This seems a bit of a lame topic to start a blog with. But I’m a little unsure of how to start this whole thing in the first place, and food is something I am often thinking about, so whatever.

I really love Thai food. Really. I know, I know. Every farang lists the food as one of the main reasons they love Thailand, right
after the ease of a mentally and/or physically decrepit foreigner to “get” a beautiful woman here and the low cost of living. But these are usually the same people who have to have their weekly intake of pub comfort food, eat at McDonald’s, and think Sunrise Tacos is real Mexican food (or good food, for that matter).

No, I really love Thai food, and I am a food snob. Not as far as price or presentation (“it’s expensive and hip and all the hi-so people eat here!”), I could care less, but in terms of taste and quality. And that Thailand delivers in glorious ways. (Ambience can be important too, and another wonderful aspect of the Thai dining experience, but later for that subject). I love Thai food because I lived in cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City), where people know and love the best of westernized Thai food, so our ignorance on the depths of real Thai food makes the dining experience here so striking and delicious. And the food back there, it’s not bad, for the west it tastes damn good. But since living here I’ve begun to realize how it barely scratched the surface of Thai cuisine.

Northern, northeastern, central, and southern cooking make the diversity of Thai cuisine quite incredible and delicious. I’ve been in Thailand a little over a year, and have only had a few of the standard Thai dishes I would always have back in the States. It’s mostly been dishes that I’ve never seen on menus in the west. Add to that the fact that you can pretty much eat what you want when you want. Fried chicken for breakfast, fried chicken for dinner. It’s all good, and that really suits me. Don’t get me wrong, I get the craving for a big American breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, hush puppies, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, every so often, but for breakfast rice, stir fried something, a fried egg, and some heat just seems . . . right, to me. Also, you can have it so luxuriantly spicy. And to the dismay of even my Thai friends there is no such thing as too much prik nam plaa. Is there a more perfect condiment? In the west you have to know to ask for it, because Thai Americans assume it’s too strong (i.e. good) for the western palette. And for most it is. But since the first time my Thai friend introduced it to me in the States I was hooked. To the point I take note of the variety of prik nam plaa brews when I visit different restaurants/vendors. And now I go way overboard dousing my food with it, but it really is a thing of beauty.

There are a couple of things that just don’t exist in Thailand, food wise, and things I miss terribly. Good Latin/Central American food, and American Southern/Soul food. If any farang end up reading this blog they will probably give me some suggestions, and I’ll try, but I can already tell you the verdict, nah, not so good. But as much as I look forward to eating these things when I go back to visit, I’m more than content. I’m in food heaven!

I know, lacking food and restuarant specifics, but much more food talk to come . . .