Global Grammar (2009) by Pinyo Trisuriyatamma

: เซ็กซ์ อำนาจ สงคราม อาชญากรรม และความรัก โดย ภิญโญ ไตรสุริยธรรมา (literal: Karma Sutra: Sex, Power, War Crimes and Love)

Yesterday I picked up the short story collection Global Grammar (2009) by Pinyo Traisuriyathanma, a lead editor at Bangkok-based Open Press and a columnist with the fashion and style-conscious magazine Image. This collection brings together the monthly Image “short stories” (loosely categorized—but somewhere between essay and “suppose several global subjects were brought together in such and such a situation) published over the past two years. The sixth story, and reason for purchasing the book as a whole, is called “Bangkok/Paris, Jiang and Cindy: On an Old Road that Brought Us Together.” My first thought was Pariya Phiphathphorn’s short story “The Next Station Is…” where the writer begins a narrative about the Skytrain’s movement through the city with a comparison of Bangkok to New York City, London, Paris, and other cities, “in the way I’ve seen them in movies (Phiphathphorn 2002: 82)” she says. And then there’s the Bangkok-Paris comparison in the early 20th century critique of the film Gone Astray, for its immorality, cited in Chris Baker and Pasuk Phongpaichit’s A History of Thailand (2005). And obviously, the most foundational of all events regarding Thai film, is the June 1897 arrival of film technologies from Paris, via S.G. Marchovsky (Sukwong & Suwannapak 2001: 6).

All of these themes, of a relationship between two cities based in a visual technology, are colored through the prominence of the landscape. Rather than rambling on about the theories behind this, the overall design of “Bangkok/Paris, Jiang and Cindy” is aesthetically legit—in that it keeps centering landscape, politics, and something that should otherwise ‘fade’ into the background. A China-based entrepreneur Jiang learns that Singapore-based business law expert Cindy will be in Bangkok to clear up the ‘issues’ with the Temasek acquisition of Shin Corp (this transaction marks the beginning of the end for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in 2006 when Temasek, the investment division of the Singaporean government was seen to be ‘colonizing’ Thailand’s major telecommunications network). Cindy and Jiang met in years previous, in a chance romantic encounter at the same hotel in some global city. Cindy is married, however. Jiang has come to Bangkok to be with Cindy, presumably because this is the only time away she has away from her marital commitments to pursue an adventurous affair. Reunited at a Bangkok hotel, the landscape and its urban construction becomes the center of their first conversation. Jiang has narrowly escaped a recent earthquake in China that left many dead, due to the strong construction of his condominium—suggesting that safety, and life, must be paid for monetarily. Thankful for their safety, they release an hour of passionate karma sutra upon “the battlefield of love.”

In the morning they awake, eat a European breakfast, and talk about attending a photography exhibition of Paris in a gallery in the Old City. People also call this area of royalty and protests Krung Rattanakosin (in terms of being the old strategic fortress of Bangkok) or Phra Nakhorn (in terms of being a significant Bangkok district), and embedded in the landscape is Rama V’s architectural inscription of roads and buildings influenced by his late 19th century visit to Paris (Rama V had also brought back a movie camera, projector, and films). Jiang and Cindy decide to attend the photo exhibition because they’ve “never been to that part of Bangkok before. (72)” On one hand, they are going to the Old City to see black & white impressions of Paris, and on the other, they believe that shopping and the norm of cultural activities are cliché in today’s global village (a referential nod back to the book’s title). But their intentions cannot elude the reality of politics connected to the landscape.

As Cindy and Jiang travel to the Old City in a chauffeured BMW they pass the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC), “after Singapore created an Arts Center”, alluding to Thaksin’s intention to follow the Singaporean model of a creative industry (the Thailand Creative and Design Center [TCDC],( i.e. design and aesthetics as a means of “value-added capital”), then they head left on Sri Ayuthaya Road—which cuts to the Old City, before going South toward their destination on Ratchadomneun Nok (the extention of the most political of all Bangkok streets). Here, Cindy and Jiang encounter an anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) yellow-shirt demonstration. The chauffeur mumbles the nature of the protest, as Cindy and Jiang observe from the window, in movement toward the gallery.

This angular view that usually follows the shot vocabulary of films finds its way into Cindy and Jiang’s experience at the Paris photography exhibition at the Ratchadomneun gallery. In the first photography narrated, the couple look through the camera lens of a highrise Paris, toward the old city of the Eiffel Tower—where buildings reside at a lower level of vision, due to a municipal ordinance on building construction at the time. The reader can associate a similar ‘global grammar’ in the Bangkok’s Old City, where building construction is similarly restricted to four levels. Cindy responds to the image in saying “I really like this image. It invites one to inquire what they were thinking and where they are heading.” The “were” and “are” of the sentence, the past and present of Paris, are connected to the angle of urban vision that “invites” thought. In other words, the landscape that everyday viewing captures consequently connects time with the landscape. Jiang “thoughtlessly” attempts to compare their relationship to this “past” and possible “future,” and Cindy reveals she’s thinking about leaving her husband—to continue the theme. In the next section “On an old road” the narrator fills in Cindy’s back-story about an unhappy, married young, relationship that she now seeks to exit in pursuit of greater freedoms. Jiang connects this story with stories of his own independence, after a near-death experience of a construction crane collapsing in the heart of the Chinese city. Again, the landscape and its construction, as in the earlier earthquake reference, is re-centered. In the same paragraph, Thai politics is likewise re-established when, walking to hail a taxi on Ratchadomneun Rd., they encounter the PAD protest again (75).

They stop and look at a map to determine their next destination. They head away from the PAD demonstration and discuss Temasek’s (i.e. Singapore’s) acquisition of Shin corp (i.e. Thailand)—and they both side with Singapore as they both believe Te Ma Sek took a large risk, and significant financial loss, by entering the transaction with Thaksin Shinawatra. Jiang “changing the story from everyday life to political problems” suggests that “globalization’s response is nationalism. (76)” Furthering the landscape presence, the author transitions into the next scene as they cross the Chamai Maruchaet bridge. Back at the hotel they make love. And in the story’s final sentence, the location is re-established: “Bangkok, that afternoon, was extremely hot.” The story is about the Bangkok landscape, it’s global (and Western) referents embedded within it, the visual connections between image technologies and everyday encounters, and a romantic relationship that instead of being central is, more or less, one of many possible episodes unfolding in Bangkok on any given day. But more than this, the destination of narratives—as in moving between two fixed points on a map, is disrupted by the visible presence of politics in the city. And for this reason I believe Pinyo Traisuriyathanma’s “Bangkok/Paris” is about movement in disruption, about the discontinuity of everyday life that requires a unique cinematic formula for narration. As this story shows, the landscape is a significant part of the Pinyo Traisuriyathanma grammatical diagram.

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