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Bangkok Found: Reflections on the City Paperback – April 16, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Writer, scholar, preservationist and entrepreneur, Alex Kerr has spent most of his life in Japan and Thailand. He majored in Japanese Studies at Yale University (1969 - 74), and earned a BA and MA in Chinese Studies as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University (1974-77). He first visited Bangkok in 1973 and has been based there permanently since 1997. Alex's book. Lost Japan (1993), reflections on how he saw Japan change after the 1960s, won the prestigious Shincho Lierary Prize, the first time it was a warded to a foreigner. His next book, Dogs and Demons (2001) described the industrial devastation of Japan's countryside. Alex's long association with Thailand has taken many incarnations, from restorer of old teak houses to promoter of cultural events, culminating in 2004 with the founding of Origin, a program that teaches traditional Thai arts in Bangkok and Chiangmai.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: River Books Press Dist A C (April 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9749863925
  • ISBN-13: 978-9749863923
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,958,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was lead to "Bangkok Found" after reading Kerr's "Lost Japan". I came to "Bangkok Found" with astronomical expectations: "Lost Japan" is one of my favorite books ever, fiction or nonfiction, and I was so impressed that I tooled around Japan with my 3-cylinder Daihatsu and visited nearly every temple, shrine, and town that Kerr describes.

For better or worse, "Bangkok Found" is a very different book. Kerr opens it with the search for the "City Pillar" marking the center of Bangkok, where he finds two. Which is the real center? It's impossible to say. To me there is something disappointing about such an outcome, and it reflects something that disappointed me about the book. I felt that reading it didn't lead me to the center of Thailand. That said, Kerr comes back to this point, and suggests Thailand is a more ambiguous country. So I can't regard this as honest criticism.

The book lacks the swagger of "Lost Japan". In "Lost Japan", Kerr came across as a superhero with a key to the whole nation. He describes "inside" conversations with famous Kabuki stars, renowned art collectors, Buddhist abbots -- you name it, no door seemed to have been closed to him. If he'd taken an interest in the Imperial family, I got the impression that he would have simply knocked on the palace doors in Tokyo and described the ensuing conversation with the Emperor. I, for one, was deeply impressed --- the book really gave an inside view.

"Bangkok Found" strikes a much more modest tone. He describes failures in his personal and business life, and other ways in which he didn't manage to penetrate the inner circles of Thai life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Alex Kerr has written some interesting and provocative books about Japan and Japanese culture in the past (Lost Japan and Demons and Dogs) and has also written a similarly compelling book on Bangkok and Thai culture, Bangkok Found (2010). Kerr has studied Chinese and Japanese history academically and had lived most of his adult life in Japan before he moved to Bangkok permanently in 1997, therefore he makes several points by comparing or contrast aspects of Thai culture with those of Chinese or Japanese culture. For example he discusses the different roof designs from traditional buildings in China and Japan that point down to the ground whereas Thai roof eaves point up deflecting the negative energy away from the earth. I think he also does an excellent job of explaining Bangkok's appeal to foreigners and why it is such a fascinating and interesting place. Much of this has to do with Thailand's openness to foreigners and all things foreign. Kerr's background and interests lie in traditional arts like dance, flower arranging, and collecting art objects like pots, vases, and the like; therefore he explores the differences of these arts between his experiences in Japan and those in Bangkok. I found the section on Thai etiquette also quite interesting because the wai and bow is something that is absolutely charming and indicative of Thai-ness, but so frequent and out in the open that one doesn't really contemplate the meaning and significance of such gestures. It is important enough to Kerr that he teaches about it, along with the other arts in the Thai culture school, called Origin, that he founded. It is part memoir, part cultural history, and part love letter to one of my favorite cities in the world.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This book is a disappointment after the author's other bookend, Lost Japan. Not terrible, just a disappointment. Bangkok Found is less pretentious than the Japan book, but it also has much less substance. It feels superficial compared to the deep cultural and artistic grounding of Lost Japan - which may just be that I found the author's artistic and cultural interests in Bangkok less interesting. This is a shame, because I love Bangkok, but the book feels more like a tourist guide than a cultural experience or interpretation. And where we do delve into culture, the author's horizons are quite limited and there is a lot of repetition. Probably too much gloating on purported world-class restaurants and design, but there is some thoughtful commentary on "Japan/Thailand - contrast and compare".

It was good to read of the author's pangs of conscience over the obvious despoliation of cultural treasures throughout the region to feed into the interior design market - and his worthy decision to totally withdraw support for the vandalism and theft.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Wonderful introduction to the dynamic city of Bangkok for those planning a trip or who have just returned, told by expat Kerr who has lived there permanently since 1997. I particularly appreciated its emphasis on Thai arts - ceramics,textiles and dance. Kerr also muses upon the food, the historical influences on the city, the architecture and its people. Most interesting were the contrasts he draws between Thailand and Japan where he was raised.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Alex Kerr pays attention to what he sees over time in his chosen homes. The benefit to us is that we don't waste time trapped in tourist tracks. Having this book, we know where to go and what choices to make. I love it.
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