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Into the Monsoon

Some years ago, I took a trip to Bangkok with my father. Wherever I went with him, to the stores, on trains and in restaurants, people would look at us in an odd, slightly disgusted sort of way. The sight of my middle-aged father, striding around with a girl half his age and dressed in tank tops to cope with the hot weather, was perfectly in line with the images of similar couples who wandered around town in relatively posh shopping complexes, especially if the men seemed foreign.

The dress code was of particular importance. 'Decent' girls from wealthier homes wore the latest Japanese and Korean fashions. They were generally quite fair-skinned, perfectly coiffed and exquisitely made up. I still believe they were some of the most beautiful girls I had ever seen in the region.

The girls who worked the bars expatriate men frequented veered more towards olive. They wore, at least while I was there, almost uniformly tank tops or tight shirts and jeans.

So on the part of the average Bangkok person, the idea that I was an unsavoury trollop was a fairly normal thing to assume.

In practice, what this meant was that I would be spoken to in Thai where my father was addressed in English by strangers. If my father was bargaining with a salesperson, and the salesperson believed he was being cornered out of a good deal, I might be scolded, in Thai, for not helping. When we walked into restaurants or hotels, the staff would serve my father first, and me a little more grudgingly. People were a lot nicer when I eventually spoke up. It just wasn't the sort of thing that immediately occurred to me if all I was doing was following my dad around a shopping mall.

I used to quite resent it, but I learnt fairly quickly to understand that it was the culturally normal assumption to make. I don't think people were deliberately trying to be malicious. To make an assumption myself, I believe that most of the time, it was just that they didn't have any other point of reference.

The story I wrote, based on my observations during that trip to Thailand, became Into the Monsoon. It was originally written to be part of Bandersnatch, but this was swapped out at the last minute with a different story, and has languished for a year or so until it appeared in Fantasy Magazine this morning. The mistaken identity, the discomfort of it, the torrential rain and the darkened marketplace, were based on real life. Everything else, I fear, is delightfully fictitious.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
countlibras
Nov. 19th, 2009 04:31 pm (UTC)
After reading more of what you write, I can see why you like 'Raise the Red Lantern' so much. :)

(I'm almost done with it - I'm in the middle of the last story.)

And after reading it, I was trying to think of "smart things" to say, but then I saw your author photo and all I could think was "are you drinking tea?" XD
vampyrichamster
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:08 pm (UTC)
Almost. When we were in KL, we were both having awful colds, and I craved the Chinese herbal tea I would have when I was younger for this. I don't know if they have this sort of thing where you are, but in KL, some Chinese medicine halls set up giant brass vats of herbal tea on their doorstep, next to a booth with powdered herb mixes. If you have a sore throat or a cold, one of the best things you can do for it is to visit these shops and tell them your ailments. The person there would then mix together the powders that best suit your needs and pour hot tea from the vat on top. You get a glass of that -- it's usually a little bitter -- and a glass of sweet tea on the side to mitigate the flavour, and you just feel so much better after. My husband took that photo as I was drinking my fill.

The other novellas included with the Raise the Red Lantern translation are very good, but very grisly. I think Su Tong wrote them in a period when he was fascinated with human excretions.
countlibras
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
>> I think Su Tong wrote them in a period when he was fascinated with human excretions.

Oh, I completely agree. XD

No, there are very few Chinese herbal places here. And the ones that are here, only sell you the ingredients. You have to go home and make it yourself.

My mom never gave us the seriously bitter stuff growing up, but I am definitely fond of the ones I did drink. Especially now - I kind of like the bitterness.

Hmmm, I should ask my mom to teach me some of it.
vampyrichamster
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:33 pm (UTC)
I found Chinese herbal soup packs in good Chinese supermarkets around here. A Chinese medicine hall will be able to prepare to order though, if you have a specific medical problem.

I really like the bitter stuff too. Pure ginseng tea, for example, is actually bittersweet, rather than straight bitter. There is a mild, bland aftertaste that nicely balances it out.

Honestly, if you can take a relatively bitter beer, the medicinal tea often tastes about the same.
countlibras
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
I love ginseng tea! I was just thinking that I needed to buy a new box. :)

On the other hand, I don't drink beer. I don't drink at all. I'll cook with it, but that's the extent of my alcohol intake. lol!

Dang it, Afi... I should come to SF to make you go food shopping with me. :D
vampyrichamster
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:45 pm (UTC)
Likewise. I'm still overdue on this whole "visit friends who are now geographically approachable" thing. This year was way too much travelling for me though. :(

I only rarely drink. A beer or a glass of wine is my limit. Since Seth will take gourmet beers if they're available, I do like to sample the flavours too (read: they're bitter). My alcohol intolerance is awful and crippling enough that it's really bad for me to take more than that.

I do love to cook with rice wines though, and beer does add something to stews, especially gumbo.
scanner_darkly
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
I took that picture - she's drinking medicine. Her mom dragged us all to a Chinese medicine house in a mall because I had a near-constant cold the time I was there.

It took eight hours and near constant sugary drinks to get the bitter aftertaste out of my mouth.
vampyrichamster
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:22 pm (UTC)
*smirk*
countlibras
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
>>It took eight hours and near constant sugary drinks to get the bitter aftertaste out of my mouth.

wimp. ;)
vampyrichamster
Nov. 19th, 2009 07:37 pm (UTC)
This from a guy who helps me finish my bitter, bitter beer. I swear they don't taste that much different!
aefre
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
When I was in college, I would often go into NYC to have dinner with my dad. He would take me to a nice restaurant, and the wait staff would always assume that I was his very young girlfriend/mistress and not his daughter. Always freaked me out a bit.
vampyrichamster
Nov. 19th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)
All this started around I hit college-age for me too. At the time, I lived in Kuala Lumpur alone with my father. Whenever we'd go out together, to restaurants or stores, the sales staff would give us dirty looks.

What happened to you was in NYC is a very interesting point of cultural exchange though. I would have never guessed this happened in the US too!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )