12 July 2019

Book Review: Bangkok Noir by Roger Willemsen

I am not sure I enjoyed this book. It was a whirlwind read, and after finishing it, I am not sure I got the point. This happens to be the second book I picked up by Roger Willemsen, and I must say I enjoyed the previous one more.

See, Willemsen decided to go to Bangkok and stay there for a few months. And during his stay, he participated in plenty of the city's nocturnal events. So this is perhaps not the travelogue that reflects many people's experience of Bangkok. He meets shady people, attends events of a dubious nature, and sees Bangkok night life in all its shades and hues. He recounts his many experiences, and I suppose, I find it hard to relate to these activities. I mean, hanging out with prostitutes and taking them home for the night, these are activities that I just don't do much to actually relate to.

Anyway, I somehow lost the point of this book. What was he trying to achieve? Perhaps he was trying to attain an anthropological experience? Perhaps he was trying to figure out and search for the hidden gems of Bangkok? Or perhaps I was just too comfortable in my middle-class bubble that I have already judged these lower-class Thai citizens who are forced to live this way, due to poverty? I cannot say for sure, as my experiences of Bangkok are limited. The best I can do is to take Manila as a stand in, and yes, knowing Manila, there are plenty of people who scour its streets at night, not by choice sometimes, but in order to survive. And these are the people that the author decided to mingle with during his three months stay.

I suppose the other thing that irritates me is the explicit exoticism that this writing brings. Okay, the Western reader now thinks that Bangkok streets are dangerous during the evening. The comparison between that and how it is in the West is just another step. And while this is indeed the reality for some cities in the developing world, there are plenty of other things that the developing world can offer, not to mention the fact that the developed world isn't all spic and span either.

In any case, I am not sure I fully enjoyed this book. It made me think, yes, but at the same time, it left questions that I found relatively disturbing. I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.

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