Peter Walker profiles Rattawut Lapcharoensap, author of Sightseeing:
“Sightseeing carries the publisher’s tagline “The Beach bites back,” a reference to the novel by Alex Garland about Western backpackers in Thailand, later made into a film in 2000 starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
Rattawut dismisses the slogan as “literary marketing,” but admits that while he enjoyed The Beach as a novel, he was aware that its few Thai characters were little more than “background chatter.”
If Sightseeing has a riposte to this, it is in its first story, titled Farang, a derogatory Thai term for foreigners.”
Granta carried ‘Farangs’ a while back, and it was pretty impressive:
“This is how we count the days. June: the Germans come to the Island—football cleats, big T-shirts, thick tongues—speaking like spitting. July: the Italians, the French, the British, the Americans. The Italians like pad thai, its affinity with spaghetti. They like light fabrics, sunglasses, leather sandals. The French like plump girls, rambutans, disco music, baring their breasts. The British are here to work on their pasty complexions, their penchant for hashish. Americans are the fattest, the stingiest of the bunch. They may pretend to like pad thai or grilled prawns or the occasional curry, but twice a week they need their culinary comforts, their hamburgers and their pizzas. They’re also the worst drunks. Never get too close to a drunk American. August brings the Japanese. Stay close to them. Never underestimate the power of the yen. Everything’s cheap with imperial monies in hand and they’re too polite to bargain. By the end of August, when the monsoon starts to blow, they’re all consorting, slapping each other’s backs, slipping each other drugs, sleeping with each other, sipping their liquor under the pink lights of the Island’s bars. By September they’ve all deserted, leaving the Island to the Aussies and the Chinese, who are so omnipresent one need not mention them at all.”
“In seven stories we get the most unparadisaical glimpse of gangs and cockfights, whores and shantytowns, thrust up against sandy beaches and mango trees. It’s the distance between that outsider’s paradise and the native’s often grim reality that Lapcharoensap shows us in his tales, so tenderly crafted and beautifully realized that they’ll snuggle up behind your heart and stay there for a long time.”