A delightful passage in Timothy Hallinan's Thailand-set novel A Nail Through the Heart
shows refreshing modesty about exotic travel:
"Twenty or so years ago, in one of the first invasions by a Western brand name, Nescafé shouldered aside the much more labor-intensive processes by which the Thais made some of the world's best coffee, replacing taste with convenience."
The novel's protagonist, Poke Rafferty, does not much like the change, seeing in it "a clear line of demarcation between the relatively leisurely pace of life in traditional Thailand and the hurry-up influence of the West." Does this make Hallinan an author from abroad taking an easy pot shot?
Not quite. Here's the rest of the passage:
"But Rose [who is Thai] grew up with Nescafé. She adores it, hot, tepid or iced. He has seen her eat a teaspoon of it, dry. ... [Rafferty] takes a sip, rolls it around in his mouth like red wine, and revises his opinion. It's an interesting drink if you don't insist that it's coffee."
The thought is amusing, the observation affectionate. It leads me to suspect that Hallinan, an American who lives part time in Southeast Asia, has an eye for real life among his hosts and an openness to experience that goes beyond the exotic. He is a traveller, to cite a useful distinction that a teacher of mine once made, and not just a tourist.© Peter Rozovsky 2007
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