BACKPACKERS 2: [WHITE GOES EAST]
When you say Thailand is tolerant of gender variance, you’re referring to the “ladyboy” you almost had sex with who turned into a zombie and threw an arsenal of coconut bombs at your head until you went into a coma. You were airlifted in a special issue Orchid helicopter operated by Thai Airways. When you came to, you got a massage (“that kind” of massage) and sat at a table with a tablecloth and silverware in a restaurant catering to White expats and served by zombies.
The real-life star of Beautiful Boxer would have been denied entrance because of her symbiotic polarities, but your pet boxer who runs into walls—there’s a place setting for him. You think “ladyboys” are so articulate and earnest and innocent, you want to take them out to restaurants to teach them how to use forks and knives, you want to take them home and make them cook with Lite Coconut Milk from Trader Joe’s, because the real kind makes you fat. You make them give you massages every afternoon at 3, you make them put tiny little orchids in your cocktails. “Devastating” and “beautiful” are adjectives used to describe orchids and the second kind of woman who finally learns how to be a boxer and defend herself on the street.
The number of White people learning Thai massage makes my back hurt. At the guesthouse there’s a sign saying “IF YOU BREAK THE RULES AND BRING ‘LADYBOY’ WE’LL CHARGE EXTRA IMMEDIATELY 1000 BAHT.” Coconut water is so trendy, they serve it at restaurants out of the can. Somewhere in the continental US, a Thai restaurant opens. Several seconds later, an orchid specialist orders take-out Pad Thai. Later that night, young green coconut pulp dries to crust on the specialist’s dead body—CSI: Bangkok.
After the break, you watch televised boxing matches and buy miniature tuk-tuk cabs made out of recycled Singha beer cans. You think “ladyboys” are one of the most fascinating Siamese breeds. You are the first to declare that, like the orchid, it is a Perfect Hybrid of Both Worlds. I’m going to box the living shit out of the best of both and leave you with coconut-sized bruises on your face, swollen so much like a coconut you’ll want me to hack at you just to relieve the pain. A massage would be nicer but I’m not fucking nice, I’m a beautiful boxer and I don’t give a shit about your fancy Thai restaurant chain or the new breed of killer orchid steaming up your bedroom like a “ladyboy.”
I’m Thailand’s # 1 tourist attraction: a “ladyboy” in a coconut milk can imported on Royal Orchid Airways. Excuse me, Sir, chair massage is the only way to fly. Please stow your authentic restaurant inside this box.
INFORMATION: “White Goes East” is a chapter heading in Maurice Collis’ book Siamese White (Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1936).
DID YOU KNOW? This destination references the film Beautiful Boxer (2004), about the life of Nong Tum Parinya, a Thai transgender woman (or sao praphet song, “second kind of woman”) who is also a professional boxer. The guesthouse sign was spotted by the author in Chiang Mai in 2011.
Jai Arun Ravine is a writer, dancer and graphic designer. As a mixed race, mixed gender and mixed genre artist, their work arises from the simultaneity of text and body and takes the form of video, performance, comics and handmade books. Jai’s first full-length book, แล้ว AND THEN ENTWINE: LESSON PLANS, POEMS, KNOTS, re-imagines immigration history and attempts to transform cultural inheritances of silence. Their short film TOM/TRANS/THAI approaches the silence around female-to-male (FTM) transgender identity in the Thai context and has screened internationally. THE ROMANCE OF SIAM is their second book.