Monday, April 27, 2009

A club

So I was taken to a club as I said I'd like some live music. I forgot that every whim is angled toward catering to the assumptions of the tourist. There is nothing I can complain about because it was so well done, but I felt like I was in The Twilight Zone.
After entering and passing the bar we're seated in comfortable rattan chairs around a small table, an artificial waterfall doing it's thing to the side of the stage and three girls are singing.
I need to try to be precise here because it was so eerie and strange and not bad, but not quite my thing. They were flawless at what they were doing and what that was consisted of soft ballads of the late sixties and seventies. They wore matching dresses with black lace bodices and the dress of a print that I'd call late seventies post psychedelic in shades of tan and brown, almost like the print in the carpet of a movie theater.
Their moves were flawlessly rehearsed, step, twist pause move the arm a certain way and step back and twist and turn and it was all done, song after song perfectly, a movement routine for every song that they knew really well. They also knew how to sing in English really well, fairly unaccented English at that. After every song they said "Thank you so much ladies and gentermen" and it sounded vaguely like the two Chzeckoslovakina Brothers routine of Steve Martin when they spoke.
Song after song, in a strangely identical phraseing, a man in the back with two or three synthesizers filling the room with soaring sounds and beats as they twist turn nod, wave, bend in unison without ever looking at each other once.
Song after song, The Look of Love, Stuck in Lodi, The Sea (La Mer), A Kind of a Hush, I knew too many of them and the ones I didn't know sounded like the others anyway. I was asked if I liked them, how could I not, how could part of me keep from almost breaking into laughter at the strange flawless yet completely disconnected from the source nature of the performance?

I don't know what to say. It's this pandering to the tourist that gets me. I came here to see Thailand not American pop and consumer culture thrown up in the mirror for me to adore. I don't adore it, I'm part of it, I can't escape it, yet that's one of the reasons to travel, to get away and to see other cultures and how wonderfully different they are in their unique quirks and manners.
In Phnom Penh the bell boy took me to the night market the night before I left. It was more like the kind of street fairs we have at home. There were vendors selling stuff, clothes and crafts and jewelry and so on, so of it appealing even. But what was nice was that it was all Cambodians there. They were there because they wanted to be. Some had their children, there were food vendors and there was a large area covered with straw mats that couples and families had gathered on and were grouped eating a picnic or something they bought. In front was a large stage and a man singing in a sort of soaring power ballad style, again with a man in back with a synthesizer but this did seem somehow more indiginous and less pandering, in fact not pandering at all really. At the end a group came on of men and women slightly reminiscent of a group I saw in Siem Reap, performed a series of folk dances. They did one here as well, men dressed alike and women dressed alike. But this was for them, not for tourists. Make no mistake, they were eager to sell me anything they could, but there was an auro of innosence that is missing in Thailand. The people are really nice but thus far I am surrounded by tourist culture and not Thai culture, hopfully that will change.

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