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Authors: Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Sightseeing

Praise for
Sightseeing:

“Seven deeply affecting but never maudlin stories. Rather than endure in noble silence, Lapcharoensap's characters bicker, swear and suffer lurid nightmares. The author's skill in conveying their humanity invites empathy rather than sympathy.”

—
San Francisco Chronicle

“An uncannily smooth Thai-American writer … Seven subtle and tone-perfect stories … He sketches an adolescent's postpubescent cruelty, a grandfather's ornery isolation, a daughter's bitter humiliation, with equal skill.”

—Carlin Romano,
The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Each story is crisp, and characters are painted with startling economy, clearly defined by word and deed. … [Lapcharoensap's] characters are well defined, his dialogue is clear, and his mastery of the craft is amazing.”

—Robin Vidimos,
The Denver Post

“[An] auspicious debut … Young or old, male or female, all of Lapcharoensap's spirited narrators are engaging and credible. Anger, humor, and longing are neatly balanced in these richly nuanced, sharply revelatory tales.”

—
Publishers Weekly
(starred review)

“Lapcharoensap's writing is both elegant and vivid.”

—Carole Burns,
The Washington Post

“Superbly well paced, nimble, vividly descriptive … many faceted… these tales of modern Thailand are fresh and captivating, funny and sad, and exceptionally astute.”

—Donna Seaman,
Booklist
(starred review)

“A truly novelistic richness … Most impressive of all is the manner in which Lapcharoensap finds moments of beauty in otherwise bleak settings. This collection is intensely political and profoundly angry about the corrupt, poverty-stricken condition of Thailand, yet every story is primarily driven by a warmth and a belief in humanity that allows for unexpectedly uplifting and touching moments. That he achieves this without ever straying into kitsch is astonishing.…
Sightseeing
is not mere reportage, but storytelling of the highest quality, profoundly human and universal.… Every story in this collection is dense with event, emotion and meaning. This debut shows more than mere promise: it is a fine achievement in its own right.”

—William Sutcliffe,
The Guardian

“So tenderly crafted and beautifully realized that they'll snuggle up behind your heart and stay there for a long time.”

—Priya Jain,
Salon.com

“A writer to remember … Lapcharoensap displays a wicked command of language and an unerring sense of place … as he charts the inevitable collisions between East and West.”

—Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg,
The Wall Street Journal

“[A] brilliant collection … The perfect novella “Cockfighter” … [is] a stirring coming-of-age fable, brimming, like most of
Sightseeing,
with sharp-clawed survival lessons.”

—Mark Rozzo,
Los Angeles Times

“The short story is not dead. But it has taken a young, Bangkok-raised author named Rattawut Lapcharoensap to infuse moving, imaginative new blood into the literary form. … His prose carries an unforgettable resonance. Lapcharoensap's stories of family life—often terribly dark and tragicomic—take you to places both familiar and exotic.”

—Steve Garbarino,
New York Post
(four stars)

“A newcomer to watch: fresh, funny, and tough.”

—
Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“Set in a contemporary Thailand that's resonant, rich, and real; the style is vivid and lush, tactile and enveloping, immersing us in an immediacy of sights and sounds. … Lapcharoensap's vision is candid and wise well beyond his years.”

—Sara Good,
Elle

“The beaches of Thailand, graced by Technicolor sunsets and eerie blue phosphorescence in the waves, are beautifully described in
Sightseeing,
a brilliant debut story collection by Rattawut Lapcharoensap. … Learn to pronounce his name—you're going to be hearing it again.”

—Carole Goldberg,
The Hartford Courant

“[The stories] have the ring of personal experience that is irresistible.”

—Nancy Schapiro,
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Display[s] a degree of compassion and perception that is rare in a writer of any age …
Sightseeing
manages to showcase both a writer of promise and a writer already capable of delivering on that promise.”

—Brad Zellar,
Star Tribune
(Minneapolis)

“Lapcharoensap's keen eye for … cultural idiosyncrasies brings Thailand to startling life on the page.”

—Parul Kapur Hinzen,
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Absorbing … daring … The stories in
Sightseeing
move swiftly, thanks to the author's cinematic eye and excellent pacing, through settings few Western readers will recognize. … You may only be sightseeing when you visit Lapcharoensap's Thailand, but you'll almost certainly bring some of it home with you.”

—
Seattle Weekly

“Stunning in their craft, evocative in their sunbaked setting, these stories avoid a tourist's-eye view of Thailand, instead traveling deep into the heart of this country and its Westernized people. … Lapcharoensap crafts the seven stories in his collection with incredible realism and grace.”

—Ricco Villanueva Siasoco,
The Boston Phoenix

“‘Pussy and elephants. That's all these people want.' What a splendid truth, hilarious and sad in equal parts. Gifted with colonialist global-gallop subject matter, the writer does not rest there. He finds a deadpan heartfelt voice, true comic scope, a whole new use for rage. There's a force and rich latent potential in all the work.”

—Allan Gurganus, Judge's Citation from The Hopwood Award

“This is a brilliant collection. … It has an interesting set of characters with their own idiosyncratic concerns, complex cross-cultural settings in both Thailand and the USA, and, best of all, a manner of direct-but-subtle presentation that gives to all the scenes an intelligence, humor, restraint, and feeling that are most impressive.”

—Charles Baxter

“A collection of stories by a prodigiously gifted writer, exploring themes of loss and identity, what it means to be a son, a brother, a parent, a lover, a Thai, an American, a Thai-American, a human being. This writer is blessed with intelligence, humor, a gift for language, a fine sense of structure and deeply important material. Sure to go far.”

—Eileen Pollack

SIGHTSEEING

SIGHTSEEING

Stories

Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Copyright © 2005 by Rattawut Lapcharoensap

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, or the facilitation thereof, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Any members of educational institutions wishing to photocopy part or all of the work for classroom use, or publishers who would like to obtain permission to include the work in an anthology, should send their inquiries to Grove/Atlantic, Inc., 841 Broadway, New York, NY 10003.

Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Lapcharoensap, Rattawut.

Sightseeing : stories / Rattawut Lapcharoensap.

p. cm.

eBook ISBN-13: 978-1-5558-4673-2

1. Thailand—Social life and customs—Fiction. 1. Title.

PS3612.A59S54 2005

13'6—dc28  2004   054131

Grove Press
an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
841 Broadway
New York, NY 10003

Distributed by Publishers Group West
www.groveatlantic.com

For my mother,
Siriwan Sriboonyapirat

It is no wonder if the Siamese are not in any great care about their Subsistence, and if in the evening there is heard nothing but singing in their houses.

Simon de La Loubère, A
New Historical
Relation of the Kingdom ofSiam
(1693)

CONTENTS

Farangs

At the Café Lovely

Draft Day

Sightseeing

Priscilla the Cambodian

Don't Let Me Die in This Place

Cockfighter

Acknowledgments

SIGHTSEEING

FARANGS

This is how we count the days. June: the Germans come to the Island—football cleats, big T-shirts, thick tongues—speaking like spitting. July: the Italians, the French, the British, the Americans. The Italians like pad thai, its affinity with spaghetti. They like light fabrics, sunglasses, leather sandals. The French like plump girls, rambutans, disco music, baring their breasts. The British are here to work on their pasty complexions, their penchant for hashish. Americans are the fattest, the stingiest of the bunch. They may pretend to like pad thai or grilled prawns or the occasional curry, but twice a week they need their culinary comforts, their hamburgers and their pizzas. They're also the worst drunks. Never get too close to a drunk American. August brings the Japanese. Stay close to them. Never underestimate the power of the yen. Everything's cheap with imperial monies in hand and they're too polite to bargain. By the end of August, when the monsoon starts to blow, they're all consorting, slapping each other's backs, slipping each other drugs, sleeping with each other, sipping their liquor under the pink lights of the Island's bars. By September they've all deserted, leaving the Island to the Aussies and
the Chinese, who are so omnipresent one need not mention them at all.

Ma says, “Pussy and elephants. That's all these people want.” She always says this in August, at the season's peak, when she's tired of farangs running all over the Island, tired of finding used condoms in the motel's rooms, tired of guests complaining to her in five languages. She turns to me and says, “You give them history, temples, pagodas, traditional dance, floating markets, seafood curry, tapioca desserts, silk-weaving cooperatives, but all they really want is to ride some hulking gray beast like a bunch of wildmen and to pant over girls and to lie there half-dead getting skin cancer on the beach during the time in between.”

We're having a late lunch, watching television in the motel office. The Island Network is showing
Rambo: First Blood Part II
again. Sylvester Stallone, dubbed in Thai, mows down an entire VC regiment with a bow and arrow. I tell Ma I've just met a girl. “It might be love,” I say. “It might be real love, Ma. Like Romeo and Juliet love.”

Ma turns off the television just as John Rambo flies a chopper to safety.

She tells me it's just my hormones. She sighs and says, “Oh no, not again. Don't be so naïve,” she says. “I didn't raise you to be stupid. Are you bonking one of the guests? You better not be bonking one of the guests. Because if you are, if you're bonking one of the guests, we're going to have to bleed the pig. Remember, luk, we have an agreement.”

I tell her she's being xenophobic. I tell her things are different this time. But Ma just licks her lips and says once more that if I'm bonking one of the guests, I can look forward to eating Clint Eastwood curry in the near future. Ma's always talking about killing my pig. And though I know she's just teasing, she says it with such zeal and a peculiar glint in her eyes that I run out to the pen to check on the swine.

I knew it was love when Clint Eastwood sniffed her crotch earlier that morning and the girl didn't scream or jump out of the sand or swat the pig like some of the other girls do. She merely lay there, snout in crotch, smiling that angelic smile, like it was the most natural thing in the world, running a hand over the fuzz of Clint Eastwood's head like he was some pink and docile dog, and said, giggling, “Why hello, oh my, what a nice surprise, you're quite a beast, aren't you?”

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