Jason Magabo Perez on Teaching Jai Arun Ravine’s The Romance of SIam: A Pocket Guide
Dr. Jason Magabo Perez, California State University, San Bernandino
Dr. Jason Magabo Perez is the author of two hybrid collections of poetry & prose: a chapbook, Phenomenology of Superhero (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2016), & a full-length debut book, This is for the mostless (WordTech Editions, 2017). Currently, Perez is Assistant Professor of English at California State University, San Bernardino.
Let’s imagine you got some students who are thinking about studying abroad, or joining the Peace Corps, or teaching English to the un-Englished, or simply backpacking their way through unemployment. Let’s imagine that these students got a hunger and a thirst and a longing for the magically real happening elsewhere—that possibility of teleporting through a rice cooker, that possibility of reinventing oneself. Let’s imagine these students fantasize about rocking Beer Chang tank tops and cargo shorts somewhere in some paradise. Let’s imagine these students ain’t even gotta be white! Let’s be fair and equitable, these students are also you—before and now. These students, and you—before and now, might, however, desire whitely. In other words, these students, and you—before and now, might desire things and land and self and ideas and possibilities like an anthropologist-settler-colonizer-taker-overer. You all have that First-World burning for self-discovery, that Loralei Gilmore feeling after Cheryl Strayed, or that universal white traveler feeling after Elizabeth Gilbert. White desire might be, and most likely is, articulated or entangled or whatever to your nonwhite desire, thus making impossible the distinction between what you all desire and what whiteness desires for you all. So, then, you all can admit: things, and you all, are a mess. And you all—desiring machine of whiteness or not—wish to study this mess. So, you all turn to Jai Arun Ravine’s The Romance of Siam: A Pocket Guide (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2016). This book is so very mad complicated and so very mad troubling and so very mad inspiring. It is structured as a “subversive travel guide.” You all find the book to be acerbic, satirical, playful, critically alert, wildly speculative, yet convincingly realistic. It is a genre-bending tour de force, a trenchant critique of whiteness, of white desire, of Orientalist constructions and consumptions, of what Jai Arun Ravine conceptualizes as “white love.” The book is a choreography of poetics, fiction, lectures, and cultural commentary.
Jai Arun Ravine reads and samples all things regarding Thailand: YouTube videos; YouTube comments; travel guides; travel logs; tourist industry ephemera; films; pop song lyrics; and dissertations. In this book, you all find “rotting pad thai” and “abandoned rice cookers” and Jim Thompson and Nicolas Cage and Yul Brenner and Christy Gibson and Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and Tiger Woods and Tony Jaa and white elephants and Sagat from Street Fighter II. You hear on full blast the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream and featured songs of the Amazing Thailand tourism campaign. This slim but gargantuan book of poetic riffs and obsessive sestinas disrupts and unsettles—with an unflagging commitment to messiness and mixedness and contradiction—both the settler and tourist imaginary within and the self-reinventing journey of whiteness. After working with and through the book, and desiring and un-desiring, after supplementing your study with readings on Orientalism, tourism, and militarism, you all slip copies of this book into the travel sections of local bookstores, you all gift the pocket guide to friends and family who have quit their jobs or dropped out of school in order to find themselves in Thailand or elsewhere, and you all hand the book to white foodies who shamelessly reminisce about authentic Thai food and authentic Thai massages and authentic Thai smiling and quietness while eating at the local and beloved hella-far-from-Thailand Thai restaurant.