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Journalists on assignment in Bangkok often turn out amazing prose. It's a glittering, messy and alluring city that tends to inspire.
Trouble is, out-of-town reporters have a tendency to rely too heavily on the fantasy Bangkok they imagine on the plane ride over. The city offers a feast of cliches: lurid sex, prowling transsexuals, low-lifes who'll kill for cheap. And what better place to finally work the phrase "seamy underbelly" into your copy?
The latest example can be found in Maxim Magazine's spread on the bizarre death of actor David Carradine. It's riveting, perfectly paced and dripping with detail -- the type of writing I'd hope to crank out on my best day.
It's also full of uninformed guesses and bad cliche.
From the piece, which the writer has posted on his Web site:
"Looking for answers at the dodgy Nana Hotel, I meet a striking-looking child bride who calls herself A. She pours herself into my lap. Like everyone I talk to in the Patpong, she doesn't know anything about Carradine, but for 10,000 baht (roughly $300 in U.S. currency) she will come back to my hotel, choke me, and stay the night."
This child bride-turned-dominatrix is one of five (five!) unnamed sources in the story. And there's a geographical blunder: the city's three foreigner-centric red-light districts, located in three different places, become one amorphous "open-air sex market." (Hey, don't look at me like that. Everyone in town knows where they are.)
The piece is filled with aliased sources (none of them Thai) explaining that "life is worth nothing here" or "they'll kill you for 500 baht here." That's $15, by the way. Good thing "they" won't kill you for condescension.
There's also a Hollywood producer living in Bangkok who insists that Carradine was murdered by a "ladyboy" or transsexual. Don't bother asking for proof. You're just meant to assume all ladyboys are homicidal vampires.
Honestly, of all the cities in the world, Bangkok should be the one you don't have to sensationalize. It's a shame out-of-town journalists resort to depicting the cliched Bangkok.
Because the real city is sometimes much more interesting and strange.
P.S. The Maxim piece really is quite entertaining, so don't let my whining get in the way of a good read.