My curry rice place for now
I saw the movie “Get Out” maybe a week ago, and like many people have said themselves, I am still thinking about it. After reading this wonderful Jezebel interview with the actress Betty Gabriel, who played “Georgina” in the movie, it got me thinking even more … about Thai street food.
To me, “Get Out” is a literal illustration of what cultural appropriation is. It also serves as a tidy metaphor for colonization. This is what empires did: taking over foreign lands, cherry-picking the most valuable bits, and co-opting them as their own to their economic benefit. This is frequently seen as an example of the bad old days, when powerful Western countries were less enlightened than the progressive nations they are today, having safely been enriched by those bad old days already.
But some say a hidden type of colonization still exists. Of course, this belief is often derided as coming from arch-conspiracists and the sort of non-American ethnonationalists who rail against the evils of McDonald’s and Hollywood. I would say, however, it’s not that far off (*adjusts tin foil on head*), because that is something like my experience with McDonald’s and Hollywood. Just because we aren’t asking God to save the queen every time we make a toast or saluting a foreign flag doesn’t mean we aren’t in thrall to a foreign way of thinking — a way of thinking that makes us, deep down inside, hate ourselves and see ourselves as the enemy. And just because that isn’t your experience doesn’t make it untrue. We, me, a non-white on the rural Western edge of Pennsylvania: from very early on, we see in magazines like American Vogue or movies like “Ghost in the Shell” (“Oh God,” ScarJo sighs, sipping a margarita poolside in Cabo. “This again.”) that white is prettier. Smarter (if not in a nerdy sense, then at least in a “street smarts” way). More rational. More relatable. More interesting. And, if you are Asian, more manly. More important. The blue-eyed, blond “anak” dude in the Philippines tourism commercials on CNN: the world is there for him to explore, to be given free sweets, to be treated like family, smiled at and coddled even if he makes a mistake. How lovely for that guy. How often I’ve wished that “anak” meant “moron” or “dickhead”.
In “Get Out”, people are just like suits, identities to be discarded when the next “in thing” rolls around (is that a spoiler alert? Aw, sorry, anak). It’s assumed that they’re not as important as the stars in everyone’s show. And that does something to us, we, me. We start making ourselves the supporting actors in our own head-movies: at best, the funny best friend in “Crazy Stupid Love”, perhaps, or Nicki Minaj in “The Other Woman.” At worst, we are Georgina, the shell hiding an entirely person on the inside, a person who hates and fails to identity with her outside (in Betty Gabriel’s words, “the worst kind of assimilation.”) That begs the question for us-we-me: where do we fall on that spectrum? Am I Georgina? Probably sometimes. How could I not be? Why wouldn’t we want to be a part of the stronger team, and how far would we go to get there?
Let me revert to nerd-speak for a moment. Georgina is like Sansa, before Ned’s sentencing in front of the Great Sept of Baelor. Sansa, who wished to marry Joffrey, and rushed to tell Cersei of her father’s plans to leave King’s Landing. How we all hated Sansa and claimed to identify with Arya, just like all those Harry Potterheads who think they are Gryffyndors (although one could argue that Arya is her own kind of Georgina, rejecting her own “feminine” qualities to take on the “active,” “strong” characteristics of the far more powerful men). Maybe, to paraphrase the movie “The DUFF”: Everyone is someone’s Georgina.
Including Bangkok. See, I finally did get there. Bangkok appears to have internalized the image of Asia as written by people like Rudyard Kipling: a collection of rickety warrens filled with dirt and squalor and bleating live animals, populated by untrustworthy, nattering natives (not to mention the things they get up to when left to their own devices on what to eat — bugs, intestines, yuck!). In other words, we’re a background to whatever Indiana Jones is doing at the moment. Bangkok thinks of itself as a city of extras. It is Georgina-ing itself, of its own volition.
Streetside food on Ekamai in happier times
Maybe that is why, in the interests of “cleaning up” the streets and imposing some “order”, Bangkok authorities are methodically clearing away the “mess” on the sidewalks that the authorities never walk on, simply telling vendors to move elsewhere … until they have to be moved again. Presumably, the idea is to make Bangkok more like modern-day Singapore, an artificial city built as a commercial port for the British empire. The problem is that, when trying to turn yourself into someone else, you will invariably become a pale imitation of the original. Sure, you can try to become Singapore, but Singapore will still speak better English and, sorry, remain far more efficient than you. Just sayin’, Bangkok. Don’t get so upset. Why do you always have to take things so hard? You had your own things that make you pretty, too. Isn’t that what we always tell little girls? You were pretty in your own way, Bangkok.
The latest area to be “tidied” is Ekamai, Thonglor and Phra Khanong. Unlike Sukhumvit 38, where both local residents and tourists ate, this latest clearing is really a strike against the regular people who work the many restaurants, shops, banks etc in the area: the regular working Thai. Where are they to eat? I guess Emquartier/porium, where all the Bangkok authorities eat? But where will they really eat? Undoubtedly 7-11. Bangkok is condemning these workers to a diet of instant noodles, cream-filled buns, white bread mayonnaise sandwiches, and sausages of dubious origin. That’s better food, right? It’s “cleaner” and certainly “tidier”. It’s more “progressive”. And if a cursory look at what’s available by the highways nowadays (Starbucks, Burger King, McDonald’s, and of course 7-11), it’s the food of the future.
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