Poking fun at Thailand’s cliches

Yawn: A Thriller By Collin Piprell

Chloe and Waylon are living a quiet married existence in suburban Vancouver, Canada, along with Chloe’s sister Meredith. Insurance man Waylon is neurotically tidy and conservative, and lingers housebound at the weekend asking questions like "Sorry, but who put the can of three-in-one oil on the condiments turntable?" Chloe, a feature writer who has lost touch with her reasons for writing in the first place, is itching for something more out of life – something more than Waylon, at least – but dabbling in adultery hasn’t improved things much. Meredith is, in her words, into psychoneuroimmunology.

And the three of them are coming to Thailand for a month-long holiday.

The first morning is really where all the trouble begins. Waylon yawns, his jaw locks, and before his disinterested wife has rolled over in bed he’s seeking help from Meredith, who’s staying in the bungalow next door. One locked jaw leads to one mighty big marital indiscretion and sisterly betrayal.

Appearances are maintained, and the typical Thai holiday gets underway in earnest (or perhaps not quite so typical – there’s no trip to Chiang Mai before heading to the beaches). Pattaya might not be the most typical spot for a bunch of conservative Canadians to head, but it suits the plot and is painted well.

A soapy tryst between a prostitute, Waylon and Chloe, leads to Waylon going off on his own, abandoning Meredith in a bar, and getting roaring drunk with a new bunch of prostitutes. The fate of the holiday is pretty much sealed.

While Waylon gets side-tracked into the world of go-go bars and scuba diving, Meredith heads to a vipassana retreat with Chloe following in hot pursuit. But she’s too late – Meredith has been locked away (with consent) – so she compromises by staying at the 4H Club next door. That’s the Holistic Herbal Garden and Institute of Holographic Healing.

Half-hearted attempts to contact each other – their answering machine back in Vancouver is one medium that works for a while – let each of them know that the other is alright, but a break seems to be just what they need.

But while it seems they are holidaying in worlds apart, they are spiralling closer and closer together. Waylon gets stuck – and laid – with a pill-popping malevolent woman called Jessie who has a driving reason for doing her dive courses. At the 4H club Chloe studies meditation under Gorgi, who likes "to smoke dope and watch screensavers till he [is] pretty well as enlightened as he was ever going to get." But Gorgi has a darker past, as his connections with Terdsak, a Thai underworld figure with fingers in every crooked pie there is – including the 4H club – would suggest. But are they on the same side?

As the book rips along, sketching in a whole motley crew of colourful second-tier characters, all is revealed.

A light-hearted, entertaining read that cleverly pokes fun at all of the cliches Thailand so very readily supplies on the backpacker and Westerner fronts – as well as a few pokes at the Thais themselves. Terdsak’s attempt at singing karaoke, for example, leads to him performing "The Wrong and Widey Load", "My Way" and "The Yeroe Loase of Teksat".

Piprell also manages to capture the reality – and exaggerate it in good humour – in the hype of many things such as meditation retreats.

Take for instance Ruthie, who’s in charge of fining people at the 4H club for breaking house rules, but loses her temper at one of the dogs for taking off with some of her food stash: " ‘That innocent puppy stole by beef jerky,’ Ruthie proclaimed… ‘Beef jerky?’ said the Rev. ‘Beef jerky? This is a vegetarian establishment, is it not? What, may I ask, are you doing with beef jerky?’ ‘Don’t you talk about rules to me, you fat prick."

Very well done to the author, too, for not mentioning that "main pen rai" means never mind until half way through the book.

On the one hand, you shouldn’t expect this book to change your life or expand your literary horizons; on the other, it’s a good long read suitable for a weekend on Samui. Munch through the fast-paced chapters, sip on a cool beer, and from your deck chair have fun spotting the various clich?s strolling past – before realising that perhaps you’ve turned into one yourself. Have fun deciding which one.

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