Now that my novel Teak Lord is flying off the shelves of bookshops and zipping sightlessly into Kindles and other e-readers, I feel it's time to offer a bit of insight to the background of the book. For that reason, I'll be posting a few short articles that go behind the scenes of the novel, beginning with Tracking the Teak Lord – Part one: the tree, the history and the characters.
I'm happy to announce that my historical novel, Teak Lord, has been published on Amazon. The ebook is available for pre-release at just $0.99 until 10 October 2022, when it will revert to the list price of $4.99.
The paperback and hardback editions will also be released by Amazon on 10 October, while residents of Thailand can order these directly from me. Full details on the next page.
I understand that for a self-published book to be successful, it needs a dozen or more positive reviews, so PLEASE help it on its way if you enjoy this gripping tale.
Venerating Mae Phosop
It was one of those magical evenings that happen once in a while – a balmy evening at the height of the rainy season (but no rain!), in an idyllic location, with a heartfelt performance from a group of talented actors and dancers.
As I had recently written a story for the South China Morning Post about rice farming in Thailand and the importance of Mae Phosop, the Rice Goddess, I was curious to see how she was portrayed.
She appeared as a longhaired, attractive woman dressed in a gold, satin dress, clutching a sheaf of rice stalks and attended by a group of long-eared nymphs.
The dance was a wonderful example of how performance art keeps Thai traditions alive.
Fortunately, the Goddess has been kind to us this year, and whatever catastrophes may occur in the coming months, at least we will not go hungry.
Will weed be fully legalized?
Thailand has attracted global attention through its recent delisting of cannabis as a narcotic, which came into effect on 9 June 2022. The country has also been buzzing, and I wrote about how cannabis is being used in cafes, restaurants, spas and clinics in my hometown of Chiang Mai for the South China Morning Post, which you can read here.
From the use of terms like ‘delisted’, ‘decriminalized’ and ‘legalized’, many people understand that cannabis can now be used freely. However, the government has stated that the only legitimate use is medicinal, and that levels of THC in the plant must be less than 0.2%, which won’t get anyone high.
In the couple of weeks since the delisting announcement, this story has changed day by day, and no doubt there will be further surprising announcements.
The first of several heritage walks
After almost two years of Covid-induced hibernation, a small group of intrepid individuals met to look into Chiang Mai’s history as part of the Payap University Lifelong Learning programme. The walk, led by Graham Jefcoate, focussed on the east bank of the Ping River. This was where Chiang Mai’s early farang (foreign) residents – an odd mix of missionaries and mercenaries – lived and worked in the late 19th century.
The walk began opposite the former First Church of Chiang Mai, which is now part of the Chiang Mai Christian School. It was designed and erected in the 1880s by Marion Cheek, a medical missionary turned teak trader who was one of the city’s most colourful foreign residents. Besides this church, he was responsible for building the first sturdy bridge over the river and the city’s first hospital.
I’m sad to hear of the death of Keith Mundy, a long-time friend and colleague, from prostate cancer in Bangkok.
I first met Keith in around 1975 when we were both living in hippy ‘squats’ in Sydenham, London – vast Victorian mansions adapted to a lifestyle radically different from their original intention, with their servants’ quarters, tennis court in the garden and so on.
We were never really close (Keith was always something of a loner) and we might never have met again if we had not shared the dream of teaching English abroad as a way to an exciting life, which we then both followed.
A review of the novel Bangkok Wakes to Rain
Everybody knows that Bangkok will drown one day. It sits a precarious 1.5 metres above sea level, which continues to rise steadily due to climate change, while the city is sinking under the weight of its concrete jungle by a few centimetres each year. Some give it ten years, others fifteen. For the city’s 10 million or so inhabitants, this is a cause for concern, and the government’s efforts to stave off the inevitable with multi-million dollar flood barriers have all the pathos of a madman trying to hold back the tide.
The scenario is ripe for a dystopian novel, which Pitchaya Sudbanthad has provided in the form of Bangkok Wakes to Rain. This wildly ambitious debut novel jumps back and forth through the city’s history from the mid-19th to the mid-21st century, and by the end all that remains of the former capital are the tops of the tallest skyscrapers, with floodwaters splashing at their windows.
One of the many reasons that I love living in Chiang Mai is the nearby presence of Doi Suthep, the city’s ‘guardian mountain’, which rises about 1600 metres above sea level. The most popular place on the mountain is the temple called Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, which sits at an elevation of around 1300 metres and on a clear day offers sweeping views of the city and valley below.
While this temple is one of the must-see sights of Chiang Mai for visitors, there’s a place I much prefer to go to enjoy the mountain’s tranquil, natural surroundings. It’s a trail that leads up the mountain about 300 metres, taking about an hour, and ends at a dramatic waterfall that runs all year. I never fail to finish that walk in a better mood than I started.
Life is tough for us folks who live in Chiang Mai, former capital of the Kingdom of a Million Rice Fields (Lan Na). The problem is that there are so many festivals and ceremonies to celebrate that we never get time to rest, and it seems we’re out dancing in the streets almost every day.
Take this week for instance. Traffic was brought to a standstill by the Poy Sang Long parade, which snaked its way around the perimeter of the old city moat. Poy Sang Long is a Shan ordination ceremony, which is accompanied by plenty of singing and dancing.
A few weeks ago I made a trip to Thailand’s Eastern Seaboard (the area between Bangkok and Cambodia) to update that chapter of the Rough Guide to Thailand. I relished the opportunity to spend some time on Thai beaches, and to visit some islands that I hadn’t been to before, such as Ko Mak and Ko Kood. As a result, I’ve put together a small gallery of images, which I’ll post here along with a few words about each island.
This tiny, hilly island is little more than an hour’s journey from Bangkok, but it’s rarely visited, perhaps because it doesn’t have any stand-out beaches. However, it’s got a great, laid-back vibe, some comfy lodgings, super-friendly locals and several low-key attractions which you can visit in a ‘skylab’ (a glorified tuk-tuk).
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.