Thai-dyed

2 08 2011

One of my recent discoveries on my last trip to Bangkok was the existence of a very cool-sounding writer, artist and photographer called Rong Wongsawan. He was one of the leading light of the Thai counterculture movement of the 1960s. (Yes, there was one!)

Unfortunately, as with the other intriguing Thai writer I found, Prabda Yoon, none of his works are available in English. Its a real problem.

Even so, you can tell he was one cool dude from the covers alone. Rong was apparently quite a stirrer. As a photogrpaher he focused on images of the urban poor such as his “Children of the Garbage Mountain” series, stirring authorities into action.

A satiricial writer, one of his novels was apparently the first in Thailand to deal explicitly with STDs, while another titled “Banglamphu Square” was a semi-autobiograhical piece about the life of a Bangkok high school drop out (interestingly set in the area around Khao San Road, decades before it became a backpacker Mecca).

In the 1970s, he moved to San Fransisco as a correspondent for a Thai counterculture magazine, started wearing dashikis (I had to look up what that meant) and, according to his obituary in the Guardian demonstrated “his commitment to sexual liberation”.

He died in 2009 widely admired and seemingly quite wealthy, with one hundred works to his name and (again, according to the same obituary) “the ironic humour and turns of phrase he invented (having) found their way into everyday Thai discourse.”

Sounds really interesting. I’d love to know more.

If you are in Bangkok, you can find old Thai books with these groovy psychedelic covers in the street market at Saphan Kwai skytrain station on Saturday mornings, leading into Chatuchak. I saw some, and now I wish I’d bought them – even if I can’t read them. I’ve just downloaded the images for iPhone screensavers instead.

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One response

2 08 2011
ib

Wow, I love these book covers – especially the pink lady tending her garden… I’d really like to check out the street market you write about, since I have something of an addiction for the designs 70s paperbacks.
As ever, a really interesting post!

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