Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 16th December, 2008
Misery memoirs sell, especially first-hand accounts of child abuse, which is why, I suppose, the Irish publishers Maverick House (who also publish in Thailand) have put a picture of a tiny boy holding his head in his hands on the cover of Chai Pinit’s Bangkok Boy, as well as giving it the subtitle ‘The story of a stolen childhood’. In fact, the book is nothing of the kind, but rather the fascinating account of the down-spiraling life of a pugnacious provincial youth from a relatively prosperous Thai Khmer background, who was spoilt as the eldest son by his father, threw his weight around amongst his peers, and got involved in gambling and violence from a tender age, soon to be followed by alcoholism. Despite the deeply misleading jacket blurb, he was not sexually molested by anyone while he was a child, but he learned from schoolmates when he was 15 how to use his physical charms for gain, later becoming a gogo boy in Bangkok at the age of 23 at the urging of his younger sister. He later recruited his two younger brothers into the skin-trade.
This might all sound very sordid — and indeed, a lot of it is — but the book’s strength lies in its brutal honesty. Chai Pinit — who now works as an unofficial guide, shepherding tourists to the Thai capital’s fleshpots — details some of the underbelly of Thai society: the prostitution, the thuggery, the police corruption, awful prison conditions and his own bouts of wife-beating when drunk. There are some occasional flashes of humour, such as when he speculates whether he will be reincarnated as a mosquito as punishment for his wickedness in this life. But much of the account is truly horrific, including the savage battering he received at the hands of a former friend, who left him as if for dead in a Bangkok backstreet. It’s a pity that the pubishers have chosen to misrepresent totally the book’s contents, because they make a gripping and illuminating read.