( reviewed by The Isaan Record )
The very breadth of Very Bangkok provides a comprehensive and fresh take on the capital and its role within the country.
Philip Cornwel-Smith has in Very Bangkok created a veritable masterpiece of the genre.
Very Bangkok is a sophisticated treatment that gives ultimate respect to the reader.
As much as a book can be, it is an assault on the eyes and can not be imagined without the adept use of color. The book is necessarily a hardback because it assumes correctly that a reader will be fingering through its pages again and again. Given the book’s quality in content and layout, 995 baht is a steal.Buy now
( reviewed by www.travelfish.org )
Cornwel-Smith peels back the layers of meaning draped over apparently mundane, everyday Thai practices from around the kingdom, such as, say, adorning the fronts of their houses with incredible elaborate grilles. Where on earth does that come from?
“Despite Thailand’s class system, upward mobility is not just possible, it can take mere dressing to achieve. Look like a winner and you must surely be a winner… Golden gates indicate good karma. Gates, of course, are a building’s face. And face must be built up, burnished and bowed to.”
But Cornwel-Smith delves deeper than the mere surface of Thai society, calling on his years of living in the country to unearth plenty of facts out of reach to the usual traveller, who may not, for instance, notice the peculiarly Thai habit of offering the hom kaem or sniff kiss. This special half air kiss, half sniff, “confirms both unconditional love to one’s child and understated passion between lovers… it’s the Thai way to reach first base.”
Cornwel-Smith’s book is an effort to locate “Bangkokness.”
The eagle-eyed traveller may however notice the various ornaments merchants use to try to sell more stuff to more people — medallions, carp fish, spiders, bottle gourds. Shopkeepers, Cornwel-Smith explains, “display not just animist and Theravada Buddhist totems, but many charms of Chinese origin, indicating the ethnic lineage of many Thai merchants”.
The tuk-tuk in all its regional variances is given the once-over, as is the Thai affection for fairy lights, Greco-Roman style, phallic charms, gambling, beauty queens, soap operas, shamans, massage, uniforms, blue pipes and inhalers. Very Thai is chockful of colourful photos of life across the kingdom, and makes for a great read ahead of a trip here, or a fab souvenir.