February 1, 2005

Thailand Tatler magazine

‘Fluorescent tubes aren’t the usual décor du jour at the Jim Thompson House. But on December 20, the teak compound was bathed in neon from multi-coloured striplights dangling from trees, in the style of roadside markets. The reason was to launch the book by Philip Cornwel-Smith, ‘Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture’. The party adopted themes from the 65 chapters exploring the unsung ephemera of home, street and sanuk.

Hence the array of fairy lights, tiny pink tissues, vendor carts, and fortune teller. The family of the publisher, MR Narisa Chakrabongse of River Books, turned the ubiquitous blue PVC pipe into flower and candle holders. Even the book retails for the ‘lucky number 9’ figure of 995 baht.

People, too, illustrated the trailblazing tome. Hi-so ladies arrived in full regalia, as did Miss Jumbo Queen and other multi-purpose celebrities. A blind street band played luuk thung. Celebrating his tenth anniversary in Thailand, the author wore that icon of Thai streetwear – the motorcycle taxi jacket. His T-shirt depicting Nang Kwak, the beckoning lady trade talisman, evidently worked since he had to spend half the night signing copies.

The unique atmosphere could only be called ‘ngan wat nouveau’ – contemporary temple fair chic. Authentically, food was from pilgrimage-worthy hawker stalls, offering dinner-on-a-stick, squid-off-the-peg, ice cream-in-a-bun, coffee-through-a-sock, and to guests’ bemused delight, wine-in-a-bag. Guests soon got the hang of supping wine or beer through a straw. Many found the hanging loops more practical for cocktail snacking than glasses, which always require an extra hand. We also noticed would-be lotharios downing shots of yaa dong herbal whisky aphrodisiac.

An exhibition upstairs in the Araya Hall featured some of the book’s 500 photos by John Goss and the author – all in saturated colour and interspersed with a signature Thai trait: miniature plastic chairs. Anthropologist William Klausner introduced the book, the publisher and the author on behalf of the host, the James HW Thompson Foundation, which staged the event with great enthusiasm. Then everyone toasted things very Thai by raising their plastic bags…

Launch of Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture by Philip Cornwel-Smith

Venue: Jim Thompson House compound

Menu: Fish balls, pork satay, rolled squid, fish maw soup, somtam, kai yang, khanom krok, roti sai mai, coconut ice cream in buns, yaa dong, kafae boran, wine-in-a-bag.

Guests: Media types, art bohemians, culture vultures, fans of things very Thai

Posted in: Events,