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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.


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!