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Bangkok Days

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Tourists come to Bangkok for many reasons—a sex change operation, a night with two prostitutes dressed as nuns, a stay in a luxury hotel. Lawrence Osborne comes for the cheap dentistry. Broke (but no longer in pain), he finds that he can live in Bangkok on a few dollars a day. And so the restless exile stays.

Osborne’s is a visceral experience of Bangkok, whether he’s wandering the canals that fill the old city; dining at the No Hands Restaurant, where his waitress feeds him like a baby; or launching his own notably unsuccessful career as a gigolo. A guide without inhibitions, Osborne takes us to a feverish place where a strange blend of ancient Buddhist practice and new sexual mores has created a version of modernity only superficially indebted to the West. Bangkok Days is a love letter to the city that revived Osborne’s faith in adventure and the world.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published May 26, 2009

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About the author

Lawrence Osborne

30 books441 followers
Lawrence Osborne is the author of seven critically acclaimed novels, including The Forgiven (now a major motion picture starring Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain), and Only to Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Novel, a New York Times Notable Book and nominated for an Edgar Award, as well as six books of nonfiction, including Bangkok Days. He has led a nomadic life, living in Paris, New York, Mexico, and Istanbul, and he currently resides in Bangkok.

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5 stars
126 (13%)
4 stars
323 (34%)
3 stars
299 (32%)
2 stars
131 (14%)
1 star
54 (5%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 113 reviews
Profile Image for Daren.
1,300 reviews4,372 followers
August 12, 2022
I read this book concurrently with Farang by Iain Corness, as a sort of antidote to that books vanilla content.

The author travelled to Thailand to get some cut price dentistry, and discovered he could live in Bangkok for practically no money, so he stayed. Throughout the book he comes and goes from Thailand, but it is never really explained. At various points he has no money, and resorts to stealing, other times he is just poor, and is supported by his fellow farang, other times he seems well off.

His story revolves around the non-touristy Bangkok. He spends a lot of time walking around the lesser known parts of the city. The parts where the servants to the wealthy live and the urban areas and their hidden sights. And of course, it tells the story of his fellow expat weirdos, and the unusual lives they live in Bangkok.

The book contains some great descriptive writing, and the author is obviously fond of the back streets, the grit, the aging colour and the fringe culture. While there are many mentions of sex and the prostitution well known in Bangkok, it is certainly not central to the narrative, but always present, and the author remains surprisingly coy about his involvement along these lines. There is a certain cynicism to the book, which suggests the author is living alongside the other characters, rather than with them.

It is probably worth touching on the other farang in this book, as the large part of the story revolves around them. They are, I guess, a pretty sad, but realistic bunch of expats living (hiding?) in the city. They include the ex-military Scotsman, living across the border is Cambodia, running an adventure guiding business among the mines - who spends more time in Bangkok looking for guests than he does with his wife in Cambodia; there is the aging and lonely retired Australian bank manager, preparing to die here; a strange an eccentric Spanish artist; the mysterious McGinnis whose background and business are never clear; Lionel the gay French journalist with the attractive wife in a marriage of convenience; a German BMW salesman having a testicle amputated who Osborne meets in hospital.

The book covers a lot of ground, and there is a lot of detail in the stories, but one can't help thinking there is a bit of embellishment going on here. There is plenty of opportunity to mix and match stories, as there is no real avenue for validation - however the sleazy bars, the decaying temples, the strange characters all make for a good read. On this train of thought, I like the quote on the back cover: Far more than a travel book, Bangkok Days explores both the little-known, extraordinary city and the lives of a handful of doomed expatriates living there, 'as vivid a set of liars and losers as was ever invented by Graham Greene'

Three and a half stars, rounded up.
Profile Image for Jeff Chappell.
25 reviews8 followers
September 23, 2009
God, how to describe this book ... imagine if O'Rourke were British and little less concerned with sociology and politics and a little more philosophical, and you can begin to imagine Lawrence Osborne.

First off, a caveat: this book, which was just published this year, is marketed almost as some sort of expose on the steamy, sordid underworld of Bangkok. As the subtitle says, "A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure," which resides on the book jacket next to an ostensible working girl, her face partially obscured by shadow, but her red lips are nevertheless highlighted and parted. I was -- almost -- embarrassed when I check it out of the local library.

There actually isn't a lot of sex in this book, and it certainly isn't central to book itself. The inside jacket gets it a little better when it states "Osborne takes us to a feverish place where a strange blend of ancient Buddhist practice and new sexual mores has created a version of modernity only superficially indebted to the West. Bangkok Days is a love letter to the city that revived Osborne's faith in adventure and in the world."

At it's core, I think the book is more about why people travel, in particular those of us that are predestined to be expatriates -- those of us that feel more "at home" when they're away from home because they don't really have a home -- at best they are from somewhere. More specifically, the book does look at why Bangkok and Thailand attract this type of person, including our intrepid Mr. Osborne.

I forget what it was that bugged me somewhat about the first third of the book. I didn't have a lot of preconceived notions about the book; I merely got it because I have read a few of Osborne's pieces in magazines before, and his books often come recommended from other travel writers (and their readers) that I like. That, and my interest in all things Southeast Asian lead me to check it out. Whatever it was that I had a problem with (hence the 4 instead of 5 stars) seemed to have worked itself out by the middle of the book -- I was so enthralled I reserved another of his books at the library before I was done with this one.

This is excellent travel writing: witty and insightful, without the pablum one usually finds in typical travel writing, which I think of more as vacation writing, more often than not. To wit, one of my favorite quotes (and one of the last paragraphs of the book):

"It was at that moment that I remembered why I liked Buddhism, despite being unable to adopt it: because there was no drama of love at its heart. Love simply didn't insinuate itself into its view of animals and people, where were seen coldly and clearly for what they are. The misery of love didn't take center stage at all. It was breathtaking, when you compared it to us, who are taught to believe in love from day one, who believe in love as a sort of birthright. We don't see ourselves as coldly as that. We think our lives are great, meaningful dramas defined by love -- and of course they are nothing of the sort."

Keep in mind this is obviously some missing some context, which would take too long to get into here. The book itself is not as cynical as this quote might make it seem -- although the book is nevertheless rather British, shall we say; it does have a healthy dose of post-modern, post-colonial cynicism about it (but then I'm a Yank; maybe a Brit would find Osborne upbeat). In the end, the best I can say about this book is that I hope I run into Osborne some day in a dingy hotel bar on the other side of the world; If I do, the first few rounds are on me.
Profile Image for Tim.
1 review2 followers
February 20, 2017
Readers of this book should take note of these words in chapter 4: "...memoirs are rarely empirical in nature. They are statements of purpose, descriptions of life as the writer WOULD LIKE IT TO BE." (His emphasis) "...but the faultless memoir doesn't exist---indeed, it's a lame, moralistic fantasy."

James Frey couldn't have put it better.

That Osborne isn't concerned with facts or accuracy shows in his writing. The book is loaded with mistranslations, transliteration errors, inaccuracies, and bald-faced lies.

Some of the mistakes are minor, and could be just typos:

The word for 51 is spelled "haa sip ek" when it should be "haa sip et".

"Rot-din gern' (for traffic jam) should be "rot-dit gern".

He says he was in room 7036, which would put him on the 70th floor of a hospital with only 12 floors.

If you're trying to impress your readers with your foreign language skills, you should at least get the right word:

He says "maeng-da" are insects. The word he's looking for is "malaeng". A "maeng-da" is a water beetle.

Sacred tattoos are called "roi sak" in the book, which just means tattoo. Sacred tattoos are called "sak yant(a)".

He writes that "Amarin" means angel. Wrong again. It means the god Indra.

He claims nobody knows the meaning of Kluay Nam Thai. (He guesses "banana forest".) It's the name of a variety of banana.

A couple of times he makes reference to "the northern girls of Issan" which makes about as much sense as saying "the midwestern girls of New England".

He does include lots of interesting trivia, though:

Sukhumvit's the longest road in the world.

Bangkok's the hottest city in the world with average temps of 40 degrees celsius.

The British make up the largest group of foreigners in Bangkok.

The Thai national anthem was composed by the King.

The above trivia would be even more interesting if any of it were true.

He tells us that "guaytio nam" is "Thailand's national dish, which you'll never find in a Thai restaurant." Both the name and the dish itself are from China, and it's sold in restaurants throughout the city. (Apparently, Osborne forgot he'd told us that he was being served guaytio in the no-hands restaurant.)

When I read the first chapter, I thought the book showed promise. I thought it would follow the struggles of a lonely farang on the down-and-out. He certainly sounds like he's broke. He has to make less than 500 baht last five days. He's so desperate, he steals money from a middle-aged Japanese woman. But, after that, nothing adds up: He never mentions work, but when he gets sick, he goes to one of the most expensive hospitals in town. This brings you to the most ridiculous chapter in the book. Despite having a life-threatening illness, he goes downstairs to a bar and is served alcohol. His roommate lights up a cigarette. His friend suggests a trip to Nana Plaza, which they make with their IVs still in their arms.

This book makes "The Hangover Part II" look like a documentary.
Profile Image for John.
2,017 reviews197 followers
March 22, 2017
This is the second book I've read recently where one's impression may be swayed by gender. Having never been a woman, I'm not sure, but I think that Osborne's descriptions of the largely male characters in his Bangkok expat life might not seem so . . . balanced? They do lead a rather Peter Pan existence, which he does a great job at depicting. Before reading the book, I was aware that Thailand is known for where western men go for mid-life crises.

He excels at making Bangkok a "character" in its own right, including experiences with a local priest and nun. I visited once, twenty years ago now (please pass the Geritol), but have spent enough time in the tropics to find the descriptions familiar. Residents of western cities certainly possess biases against other areas (neighborhoods), but Osborne highlights that fact that one can be just plain unaware of whole sections of this city. As a travel narrative, the book works well.

So, would I recommend it? Yes, as one expat's view of the city, definitely not as some sort of authority on "this is how it is." He writes well, and you won't likely be bored.
Profile Image for F.E. Beyer.
Author 1 book84 followers
May 24, 2023
A great book to read during a time when it's hard to travel. Bangkok Days investigates various nooks and crannies of the Big Mango. Osborne is “on the lam” in Bangkok a place he can live cheaply. (Still possible?) He makes this discovery while visiting to have dental work done.

“The days were empty by design. I didn’t have a job; I was on the lam, as old American gangsters had it. A perfect phrase. The lam. It means “headlong flight,” according to my Webster’s dictionary. Lamming, to run away.”

The book is meandering and unstructured, but Osborne is a good observer and writer so this doesn't matter. His days are not completely empty, he becomes a flâneur, a man who wanders observing society - through the malls, nightlife districts and less accessible neighbourhoods.

“This part of Rattanakosin just north of the canal which empties into the river is one of the few remnants of the old city that the authorities, no doubt in a fit of absentmindedness, have neglected to bulldoze. The surfaces of the houses are a vertical maze of cracks and puzzles, in which cicadas are lodged as if they have mistaken it for a man-made forest.”

Osborne covers the much talked about topic of middle-to-old-aged Western men who have gone to Bangkok for one final hurrah before the big empty. He does this well without moral sermonising or crass lionising of his friends' libertine ways. If there is any glue which holds the narrative together it comes from the bonds formed at the Primrose Apartments, where Osborne initially stays in Bangkok. There he meets his cast of escapees, running from their life of invisibility in the West. The most developed character is McGinnis.

“McGinnis was six foot seven. He towered in doorways, in hotel lobbies, in the light of streetlamps. There was something wonderfully sinister there, and I love sinister men. A sinister man doesn’t just walk down a street, he rolls down it like a superior ball bearing. A sinister man cannot be amiable, but he can be good company. Despite his association with the science of air-conditioning, McGinnis was also subtly aristocratic and refined, while doing nothing better with his life than selling mass-produced cooling units.”

Then there is Dennis, a decrepit retired bank manager from Perth, with the best lines about how Bangkok is the place to be, where one can feel alive again.

“Dennis often said to me that Bangkok reminded him of an ancient Roman city, at least as we imagine them to have been. Cities of polytheistic lust. Nothing, he added, could be further removed from the cities of Anglophonia, which were based not on a love of pleasure but on a worship of power.”

New York, by contrast, where Osborne, a pom, lived for twenty years always sounds like hell when he mentions it.

“...not sure I have much talent,” I replied, quite truthfully as it happened. “And if I did have some, I wouldn’t go around talking about it. I come from New York, where everyone does that, even if they have no talent whatsoever. It makes me want to vomit. I think I came here to escape exactly that.”

Osborne travels to Malaysia and Macau for journalistic missions and tries to relate these episodes back to Bangkok. I found this an indulgence and the editor should have cut the non-Bangkok parts. Towards the end of the book, he takes a break from the libertines to visit a priest and nun helping addicts in a slum. He observes that a lammer like himself feels sorry for these missionaries alone and stuck in a foreign slum forever - but at the same time, they feel sorry for the likes of him and his purposeless brethren. This reminded me of Graham Greene’s “A Burnt-Out Case” where the worldly man seeks refuge with priests in a leper colony. Osborne has been compared with Greene. (Stop comparing Osbourne to Greene, please! He's nothing like him.) In interviews, Osbourne has said he's a long way from Greene's level yet but is flattered by the comparison. I haven’t read Osborne's novels - I have high hopes for them (and was later disappointed.)

He relates a couple of his own sexual escapades but there is nothing too raunchy. He sleeps with a prostitute at the Primrose, an introduction to the kind of pleasure that is on offer in Bangkok.

"There is a word in Thai, sanuk, which embodies the idea of enjoying life to the full as a duty. It is usually translated as “fun” or “pleasure,” but it is really untranslatable. Porntip was a bearer of sanuk. She came every fourth day for a month, with a curious punctuality, as if she was coming upriver between classes."

Whether we Westerners should or can enjoy a sanuk lifestyle is a debate for the ages. Can it be of benefit or just damage us and those around us? If there is anybody around us.

My favourite tale is of him buying bathroom plugs. He rings his upper-class Thai landlady but she has no idea how to say plug in her language - or refuses to share this knowledge with a foreigner who couldn't possibly be able to use Thai words. He eventually finds out that Thai for plug is 'pluk'. But at the store, they can’t understand him - he has the tone wrong. Eventually, he resorts to pointing and gets his plug. He goes through the process of buying a plug multiple times before he can pronounce “pluk” well enough for the store assistant to get one right away. He then has a bunch of plugs he’ll never use, but hey one word of Thai mastered, however many thousand to go. The same happens with a chicken dish, he practices saying it (and eating it) every day for a week before Thais can understand him. He recognises that not understanding the language provides a kind of protective cocoon. I know what he is on about. In China, it was reassuring when I finally learnt to understand conversations. Mainland Chinese shouted so I thought they were constantly fighting, in fact, they were discussing lunch. However, from time to time I'd pick up on rude comments directed my way. I remember being at the Summer Palace and a mother warning her child (in jest?) to stay away from me or I’d kidnap him and take him to America (the home of all Westerners obviously)... On Lamma Island in Hong Kong, a Mainlander said to his girlfriend, “Look at the size of the great white hunter’s feet!” If you don’t know the language, you don’t have to hear these things. But enough about me...read Bangkok Days.

Edit May 2023: I'm travelling to Bangkok tomorrow for the first time in twenty years. As for Osbourne, after enjoying this book his novels have been a disappointment. I haven't got through any of them, what I have read I found slow, stuffy and mannered.
Profile Image for Gabril.
732 reviews163 followers
September 20, 2021
“A Bangkok si arriva quando si sente che nessuno ci amerà più, quando si getta la spugna, e a pensarci bene la città è solo questo, il protocollo di una caduta.”

E allora: diario di una caduta, racconto di viaggio e di fuga, sguardo acuto e pungente sui pellegrini occidentali in cerca di salvezza dentro una città che sfugge ogni definizione, deborda ogni limite, accogliente e ignara, scintillante e opaca. Oltre ogni luogo comune, ma profondamente dentro l’esperienza e la prospettiva originale di un viaggiatore disincantato e brillante come Lawrence Osborne è.
Profile Image for Lisa Findley.
743 reviews13 followers
July 8, 2012
Lonely, middle-aged white man writes about lonely, middle-aged white men in Bangkok. That's a real perspective, and there's some good phrasing and a few fun stories, but in the end it's too limited to be very interesting.
175 reviews15 followers
September 5, 2011
Borrowed this book from a friend while living in Bangkok. This was my daily BTS read for a bit more than a month. It's hard for me to put into words what I liked and did not like about this book. But lets try. It's an interesting introduction to the fucked-up lives of dirty farang ('foreigner' in Thai) expats living in Bangkok that seek to escape their past. There are many of them here and I bet this is one of the the best books written about them. I liked it enough to recommend it to anyone with an interest in Bangkok. It's well-written and as shown in other reviews here, it has some beautiful prose here and there.

I liked the somewhat cynical approach towards Thai culture and the colourful farang characters. I identify with the writer's appreciation of chaotic Bangkok and the urge to follow random roads until they end on late hours. It's a bit of a travel book in that regard. Bangkok is filled with little secrets, unexpected sights hidden in side-soi's, or sometimes just unnoticed in that street you walk through every day. This book describes these sorts of places, analysing and writing about them. I do have some different world views than the writer and sometimes he seems a bit fatalistic. It's hard to describe what exactly bothers me here, but I suppose I'm a bit more idealistic. At the same time though, while he distinguishes himself from the dirty sexpats and from the Thais themselves (be it yaba-addicts in Klong Toey or hi-so 'housewives' in Thong Lor), it's without pretension or arrogance. I appreciate that.
Profile Image for Monik.
120 reviews22 followers
April 23, 2023
"Aquí todo envejece con una rapidez extraordinaria. Los tailandeses creen que cualquier edificio que haya sido habitado antes, probablemente esté encantado, y en lugar de adaptarse a la posible presencia de los fantasmas, los derriban y construyen otros nuevos, sin hechizar. No es sólo el capitalismo lo que ha modificado y reestructurado la antigua ciudad, sino también las viejas supersticiones tailandesas. Por esa misma razón, la construcción en Bangkok es más rápida que en cualquier otro lugar del mundo. Todas las noches el horizonte urbano cambia unos centímetros. Las obras son una actividad permanente y sus focos brillan sin descanso en la ciudad".
Lawrence Osborne, escritor británico, vivió intermitentemente en Bangkok durante varios años y este volumen es un compendio de sus aventuras en la ciudad junto con otros farang (extranjeros blancos). Historia, arte, paisaje humano y urbano y muchas anécdotas chusqueras hasta llegar a las casi trescientas páginas que lees casi del tirón porque Osborne escribe muy bien. Otra cosa es la lectura moral que uno haga de la obra, esto es Bangkok. A mí el autor me ha parecido, supuestamente y bajo mi humilde opinión, un tocino. Y como en el de la Patagonia de Chatwin, me mosquea soberanamente que estos señores blancos siempre acaben tratando sólo con seres de su misma condición y nada con la gente del pueblo. Suspicaz que es una.
Profile Image for Donald Quist.
Author 5 books55 followers
November 28, 2012
No one is a victim in Osborne's Bangkok, or perhaps everyone is. This is especially true in his interpretation of the sex industry, which dominates the majority of the book's focus. There are no villains either, and on at least 3 occasions the book aims to dispute Bangkok prostitution statistics gathered from the United Nations and other NGO's. No opposing numbers are provided, rather, the reader is to take the word of Osborne and a group of desperate losers in self-imposed exile. He tries so hard to empathize these men. So much time is spent rationalizing their behavior, playing up their weaknesses, and insisting that the relationship between the sex tourists and the sex worker is one of "mutual predation." Osborne glosses over, if not totally ignores the darker facets of this industry, like sex slavery, unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, or the rampant poverty that might drive these men and women to sell themselves.

This tendency to gloss over extends into other aspects of the book, as Osborne rushes past opportunities for deeper reflection and chances to build a stronger narrative. The one consistent female character, Kitty, is only mentioned in passing but often enough to make her role in Osborne’s life seem more significant. But the reader is never given any further information about their relationship or if she means anything to him. Big political events are hastily summarized, like the coup in 2006 which receives a paragraph before rolling back into another chapter of walking around aimlessly and going to go-go bars. There is a scene where Osborne is watching a large group of citizens gather for a political rally and he notices their signs are in English. He does a fine job in this moment of conveying its implications. I wanted him to stay in that moment. What I got instead were 200 pages of middle-aged White men tramping around South East Asia. This would have been fine if Osborne didn't seem so capable of more. I wanted him to spend more time using these personal experiences to speak about the culture. My favorite parts of the book are the digressions, when Osborne abandons the narrative about his time slumming in Bangkok and reflects on the nation’s identity, its history. In these passages his knowledge conveys a true love for the country represented in the text. He does a great job of this in the chapters “The Blue God,” “Ladies of Kuching,” and “In Search of Another Past.”

Osborne’s priorities seem to be sex and brevity. The book has a quick pacing but it is uneven. There are often scenes when he rushes the action and things get confusing due to the lack of directional prose. Also, in Osborne’s attempt to give the narrative a greater sense of of urgency, he often leaves out much needed dialogue tags. When three male characters are having a conversation, and two of them sound identical to nearly every other auxiliary male character spewing cynical expatriate bullshit, one cannot afford to remove dialogue tags. I had trouble finding distinction between voices, with the exception of Father Joe and Sister Joan, a priest and a nun working and living in a slum in Klong Tuey—once again Osborne misses an opportunity to say more about the dichotomy between Bangkok's extreme poverty and a widely expanding middle-class, limiting what he sees and experiences in Klong Tuey to a single chapter and never referencing it again. I know things may be based on real people and true events, but I couldn’t help wishing Osborne had consolidated some of these “characters.” Thankfully, one of them, Farlo, has an accent. Osborne employs dialect whenever he speaks.

Also, there are a significant number of clichés and sloppy metaphors that only make things harder to understand. There is a scene where he describes a friend's eyes as being like a goat. What does that mean? And this on page 204: “…a man with burnished skin the color and texture of a primate’s fingers.” Do primates all have the same color fingers, and how many people know what a primate's fingers feel like?

Bangkok Days feels rushed.

The Good:
One of the greatest aspects of this story is its lack of presumption. Osborne never claims to be an authority on Bangkok, which he implicitly states in the Author’s Note. His open-mindedness is admirable and his gaze is compassionate. He allows others to make the more provocative assertions about Thai culture. Osborne’s obvious intelligence is another appeal to the book, his seemingly vast knowledge of…everything. The text is made richer by his references to art, music, and contemporary and classical literature from all over the globe. It is redeemed by the way Osborne uses words from those like Rumi and Hemingway to illuminate his own pontifications on one of the world’s most complex cities.

Despite its shortcomings the book served me well, helping me learn some useful Thai phrases and providing a list of cool sites around Bangkok like the Erawan Shrine, the Forensics Museum, and Loha Prasat.
Profile Image for Patrick McCoy.
937 reviews73 followers
December 29, 2015
I suppose Lawrence Osborne's memoir, Bangkok Days (2009) isn't for everyone since the Bangkok it describes is that of single middle aged men running away, hiding, searching, or just living out their last days in a vital and potentially decadent city: "Bangkok is where some go when they feel they no longer can be loved, when they give up." It is also a city that I have returned to many times over the years as I have used it as a base to travel to other countries (Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam), attended conferences in or in Thailand (Khon Kaen, Chang Mai), and have visited friends who briefly lived there. One of the many characters Osborne meets makes an observation about the lack of cleanliness in Bangkok: "I have also hated clean cities. Cities should be as dirty as possible. Dirt is the sign that they are healthy. Not trash-that's something else. We don't want pizza cartons and Big Mac wrappers everywhere. That's obscene. no, I mean decayed fruit and swill and pig bones and spittle." Bangkok was the first Asian city I visited outside of Japan and the first one that felt truly Asian to my imagination of what an Asian city would be like, that had that lack of cleanliness and the old world decay that I saw in my mind.

My stomping grounds are similar to Osborne's; Sukhumvit and the many Sois of pleasure and commerce along that stretch of road. The author first arrived as a medical tourist to get his teeth fixed, but he found himself returning and spending long stretches of time in the city. Osborne has a very fluid and informed style in which he makes astute observations about the people he meets, Thailand ("However conversant in Thai culture, he will never get close to the bottom of it."), Buddhism, Bangkok, life ("We respond with instinctive bitterness to this loss of visibility, but we also recognize the first taste of our future extinction, and we accept it.") and himself ("Do we head to places which we know will undo us, take the long hand of our clock and bend it backward?") throughout the book. I am a sucker for this kind of memoir since it is not only a personal memoir, but a love letter to Bangkok and a kind of analysis of the type of people who find themselves living in the vibrant city. I have been waiting to read this book after spying it in a book store in Bangkok, thus another visit to Thailand this year has inspired me to finally read it. It was exactly what I was looking for in order to bring the city alive before I actually go there.
Profile Image for Solanasaurus.
4 reviews8 followers
July 20, 2009
I visited Bangkok for the first time only weeks before reading this book, and really enjoyed following the adventures of Lawrence Osbourne in a small underworld community of foreign transplants to Bangkok. It's a travelogue, and nothing too momentous happens, but the sights, sounds, impressions, are beautifully narrated. I particularly enjoyed the naked honesty and self-irony Osbourne employs in describing some truly awkward and embarrassing moments. I laughed out loud many times, but also felt sad, engaged, and provoked at different times throughout this thoughtful story.
Profile Image for Mar Martinez Ripoll.
486 reviews40 followers
March 24, 2023
Un libro que narra las estancias en Bangkok del autor, parecía que iba a dar a conocer muchos detalles de la ciudad y su historia... Pero no es así. Quitados algunos capítulos (como, por ejemplo, el que habla de las misiones religiosas que ayudan a los más desfavorecidos) o pequeños retazos de la historia de Tailandia en algún que otro capítulo, el libro sólo deja la sensación de que es un país al que va quien tiene algo que ocultar o que ya es tan viejo que busca quien le haga sentir que vale, entrando directamente al tema del turismo sexual y el cual se convierte en monotema del libro.
El que el autor además quiera hacer ver que es algo que las mujeres hacen porque así ganan dinero, ha hecho que no quiera saber más de este autor, a pesar de lo ágil que es su forma de relatar.
Profile Image for Alessandra Gennaro.
300 reviews29 followers
February 7, 2021
Vivo nel sud Est asiatico da molti anni, conosco bene Bangkok e chi la frequenta e, fino alla lettura di questo libro, non pensavo che si sarebbero potute raccontare in un solo volume la complessità, le contraddizioni, la bellezza che ti mozza il fiato e la ripugnanza che ti stringe lo stomaco della più amata delle metropoli di questa parte del mondo. Osobrne ci riesce e lo fa con lo sguardo di chi ne ha viste troppe, per giudicare, e troppo poche per non lasciarsi ancora sorprendere e commuovere dalla poesia che si nasconde dappertutto. Un romanzo che è a metà fra il reportage di viaggio e l'autobiografia, una penna che demistifica, dissacra, diverte e avvince. Da leggere, prima di partire per Bangkok- e da rileggere molte volte, al ritorno.
Profile Image for Blair.
315 reviews18 followers
April 26, 2021
Thirty years ago, I moved with McCann-Erickson to start a new job in Bangkok. It was a life changing experience for me as there are few places in the world, that are the complete opposite of Toronto. I moved from organization to chaos. From rational to seemingly irrational. It was a City that changed the way I looked at the world. And it started 20 years of living in Asia before returning home.

I often think back on those "good old days" and when I see a book entitled “Bangkok Days” I’m drawn to it. More often than not they cover the seedier sides of the city. Perhaps this one was different? Likely not as the subtitle is "A Sojourn in the Capital of Pleasure."

Bangkok Days isn’t really a book. It's a travel journal. It’s about a few days during the many trips that the author, Lawrence Osborne, spent in this amazing city. It is well written and was a very fast read. But it wasn’t very insightful.

Osborne at times tries to examine why he continues to visit and why the “Lifers” in Bangkok, remain there. He makes some attempts to talk about how Buddhism, commercialism, and the sex trade influenced his decisions. But he seems to fall short in answering what did I learn? Why does this matter? What can I share?

There was the potential to abstract what he learned, but that wasn’t the point. I think his point was more to make quick buck by publishing his journal, so that he could continue traveling. There’s not much value in it for the reader.

I’d give it a pass.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 6 books193 followers
April 2, 2016
from 3/21/16 Interview about sense of place:
"For me, place is everything. The atmosphere and spirit of place. I think I spend more time thinking about that than anything. The subtle intuition of nature is something that all people possess and are alive to, but it's lost in urban environments and, therefore, in urban novels. One of the reasons I like living in Bangkok is that, although it's a megacity, it's very saturated with nature—the vast and brooding skies, the sudden storms and rains, the vegetation and even the animals that abound. In the novel, this raises for me philosophical questions about how human beings exist via their consciousness. What does that consciousness consist of, if not what D.H. Lawrence called the "spirit of place"? How does that determine their behavior?"
Profile Image for Greg.
1 review
November 18, 2018
After sifting through many glowing reviews, finally found one accurate assessment of this book by Tim. The book showed early signs of promise, but any tales of interest were soon spoiled by Osborne's obsession with excessive "Purple prose" Most stories were incomplete, eg; so what happened after the low act of pinching the Japanese lady's money? Scant details, then the subject skews off into another philosophical rant. Couldn't gel with any of the characters. Many nonsensical events, why would three guys go and check out a slaughterhouse in Bangkok, then say you could happily live around there? A litany of errors in Thai, which could have been easily corrected by a Thai. Unfairly portrays most farangs as low lifes, and lost souls, when in fact there are many interesting, intelligent expats enjoying fantastic lifestyles in Thailand's stimulating environment and culture.
Profile Image for Cheryl.
965 reviews95 followers
March 29, 2018
ugh. classic cynicism that is incredibly boring. it was more about people than place, and not worth the time.
Profile Image for Alien Bookreader.
316 reviews32 followers
January 16, 2023
By no means a holistic capture of the lives of expats in Bangkok, not even close. To be fair, the book doesn't set out to do this. It doesn't even try to observe the lives of diverse groups of expats who for various reasons live in Thailand (missionaries, charity workers, ESL teachers, digital nomads - all with their own subcultures). Instead this book focuses on a specific and prominent type of expat - the middle aged, western, exiled man. The kind of man who has a midlife crisis and moves to Bangkok to start over. What exactly the book aimed to uncover I am not sure.

The cast of characters are all escaping their past, searching for freedom in this city that is a paradise for foreigners and a regular city for actual Thai people. The observations in the book are at times astute, interesting, cynical. At other times, the author's outsider view of cathuys, sex workers, and Thai people comes across as shallow and gawking.

The lack of interaction with anyone besides other exiled, middle-aged men makes for some dry repetition in these vignettes. Osborne's style does draw me in however - something about capturing the small moments of every day life mixed with light metaphors appeals to me. By the end of the book I feel slight entertainment and slight pity.
Profile Image for Reed.
142 reviews1 follower
March 10, 2022
Lawrence Osbourne’s Bangkok Days is the best book on life in Bangkok I’ve read. He’s captured the essence of why men, especially older men, come to Bangkok. It runs deeper than the throw-away sobriquet, “well, they’re just dirty old men looking to score with downtrodden whores.” How convenient that is coming from the more virtuous. Here are a few lines that resonated:
…either way he was now one of those dirty old men. But then, the old had a choice that couldn’t be avoided. They could choose dignity, neutrality, and asexuality, of course, but mostly that dignity was chosen for them. They didn’t go for it of their own accord, because no one in their right mind would…
That about sums it up. As Osbourne asserts, Bangkok (and the nation within which it resides) is the most sensual city on earth. Eat the sensational food, stroll a temple ground, inhale the tropical city fumes both noxious and fragrant, and yes, admire the women. If your senses are not assailed, you’re among the walking dead. Less alive than the ancient farang farts strolling Sukhumvit boulevard.
Profile Image for David.
343 reviews
November 9, 2014
The author has a gift for writing. He really depicts scenes/happenings in the city well. And I can relate as I visited there last year. I also learned about the Hindu learned in Bangkok (Which I either don't remember or never learned)

That said, I cannot say I like to author as a person (which to me is imperative in a autobiography). He seems to treat the people he meets with condescension. Eg. he describes older men he has befriended as dirty old men who came to Bangkok because of easy women and cheap Viagra. He doesn't delve into their characters. He also openly admits to stealing money from a Japanese woman in her hotel room who pursues him, without the slightest bit of remorse. The author never quite explains his own flaws, and/or what keeps him in Bangkok.
Profile Image for Tuck.
2,223 reviews208 followers
August 31, 2009
great book about bangkok and the(western)men who who inhabit it. also very sad and melancholy. reminds me of jan morris' book "trieste and the meaning of nowhere", sad and profound, and irreverent and informational, if you like the dark streets, the side streets.
Profile Image for Kali Samutratanakul.
39 reviews26 followers
September 13, 2019
I'm Thai. Read this book when I was seventeen, hid it away and intentionally lost it so that wouldn't have to chance rereading or even *looking* at it ever again. To this day, I don't know where my copy is. Orientalist piece of crap.
470 reviews23 followers
June 18, 2017
Lawrence Osborne’s The Forgiven was one of the finest novels I have read in this century. Here he writes a travelogue about Bangkok. (Can one write a travelogue about one city?) Now I have been to Bankkok twice, but I have little knowledge of the city that Osborne writes about. He is intimate. He writes about the town with the same intimacy that Henry Miller writes about women.

Oh, he knows Bangkok. And he shares the streets, the bars, the temples, the bar girls, the transsexuals, the food. And just when you say, “Well, I’ve about had enough of this,” you turn the page. And there you are with another friend in another year in another neighborhood. And you are enjoying ant egg soup.

The book reminds me of my childhood when I read all I could of African exploration, for Osborne is an explorer. He hacks through the jungles of the canals and streets and districts. He survives illnesses. He leaves the city only once with us to go to a resort in the midst of a hurricane, which is high fun adventure indeed.

Probably the book is best sampled in small doses rather than a full regimen, but the author never lets us down and his philosophical meanderings always return to ground, with the feeing we have been left with a meaningful souvenir of his time and of his place.
315 reviews3 followers
July 11, 2019
Aus HansBlog.de:

Das Bangkok-Buch beginnt mit fast vorhersehbaren Themen: Alte weiße Männer in schäbigen Wohnklitschen und Klamotten - "in baggy pants, a crinkled shirt… espadrilles"… "undescribably shabby and old now"… "paunchy and mottled" (während wir von Autor Lawrence Osborne nur Dandy-Fotos im Anzug kennen); dazu Bars und eine Prostituierte für mehrere Nachbarn. Sie ist eine der ganz wenigen Thais im Buch mit Persönlichkeit. Die anderen Einheimischen haben Kurzauftritte als Kellner, Krankenschwester, Vermieterin oder berechnende Loverin – vor allem aber portraitiert Osborne alte weiße Männer. Einmal fällt der Ausdruck "Thailand as a place of exile", und das hätte besser als Buchtitel gepasst, mit dem Zusatz "für stillose alte weiße Männer". Es wundert nicht, dass Osborne über seine Zeit in Istanbul kein eigenes Buch vorlegte.
Osborne, geb. 1958, schreibt elegant-lakonisch gelangweilt, trotz vieler Themenwechsel und Banalitäten driftet das Buch oft gut lesbar dahin. Die zahlreichen kurzen Episoden sind scheinbar chronologisch angeordnet, so dass man den sehr kurzen Band auch als durchgehenden Bericht auffassen kann; freilich redet Osborne nach einem Krankenhausaufenthalt unerklärt von einer ganz anderen Umgebung – irritierend. Tatsächlich mixt er Erlebnisse aus unterschiedlichen Aufenthalten, ohne dies zu sagen.
Manchmal schreibt Osborne seitenlang so Belangloses, dass er sich scheinbar etwas schnöselig über den Leser lustig macht, etwa bei Aufzählung der Läden im Emporium-Center, im Paragon-Einkaufszentrum, in On Nut oder auf der Straße Thong Lor. Gelegentliche Thaiwörter lässt er lässig unübersetzt.
Manchmal will Osborne mit Anstößigem ein bisschen schockieren, so etwa mit den regelmäßigen Besuchen der Prostituierten, etymologischen Betrachtungen zum Wort "cunt", Phrasen wie "the color of pea soup into which a baby has puked" und den eingelegten Leichen im Forensischen Museum; stolz schildert er auch, wie er einer einsamen Japanerin Geld stiehlt und dies in ein No-hands-Restaurant trägt. Diese mild pubertären Ausbrüche erinnern an entsprechende Absätze beim Reiseautor Paul Theroux, aber auch an Osbornes eigenes Trinkerbuch The Wet and the Dry.
Ganz wenig alltägliches Thailand, und alles nur ganz flüchtig, so schleppt sich Osborne von einem Kurzthema zum nächsten, u.a. noch
- Insekten essen
- "The Eden Club was a "two girl" club…" (mehrere Erwähnungen)
- "ageing Japanese Ladies" in Bangkok
- "Nana entertainment complex"
- ein "British Club"
- Drogen
- "Kuching, in Sarawak, is even hotter than Bangkok…"
- Macau
- ein Nobel-Spa in Hua Hin
- Besuch in der Bar eines Body-Massage-Tempels
- Thai-Aussprache
- die nach Künstlern benannten Bars in Soi 33
- das Swissotel Concorde
- zwei weiße Samariter im armen Viertel Klong Toey, u.a. Medienstar Pater Joe
- ein selbstsüchtiger spanischer Künstler
- Kathoeys/Ladyboys
- Ratchanadaram-Tempel
Dazu kommen ein paar Seiten allgemeines, nicht auf Bangkok angewendetes Lexikonwissen u.a. über Buddhismus, die Moslems im Süden, über den Geisterglauben, über den Gott Brahma in Indien und Thailand, über "the female spirit Mae Nak", über Phibunsonkram ("one of the … most successful dictators") oder über Memoiren mit fake news: Die angeblich unglaubwürdigen Memoiren Chateaubriands sollen vielleicht darüber hinwegtrösten, dass auch Osbornes Geschichten nicht durchgängig plausibel klingen. Ein paar peinliche Fehler liefert er auch, so heißt W.S. Bristowe einmal A.S. Bristowe, Mae Nak heißt zwischenzeitlich Mae Nang (S. 157) und statt "haa sip ek" müsste es ha sip et heißen (für die Zahl 51, S. 134 in der UK-TB-Ausgabe von Vintage Books/Random House; "ek" wäre korrekt auf Hindi) und statt "Mindaloa in the Philippines" meint er offensichtlich Mindanao. Goodreads-Rezensent Tim listet weitere peinliche Fehler auf.
Weit ausführlicher als jedes andere Thema bespricht Osborne seine Tage im teuren Bumrungrad-Krankenhaus. Hier interessiert ihn vor allem sein Bettnachbar, der Deutsche "Fritzy", sowie ein paar Luxuskuriositäten einschließlich dem schicken Krankenhausrestaurant; das besuchen die beiden Herren im Schlafanzug mit Tropf am Arm:
We sat at the bar's end and the waitress asked if we were permitted to drink.
No further questions were asked.
"Two glasses of champagne, Jill."
Das sind aber auch schon meine Lieblingszeilen, so trocken schreibt Osborne sonst nicht.
Ein paar Themen liegen offen vor ihm, doch Osborne ignoriert sie fast demonstrativ:
- so geht er angeblich gern ins Lumpini-Boxstadium, das jeder Tourist in Bangkok als Skytrain-Haltestelle und als Gebäude kennt, erzählt aber nichts von den Vorgängen darin
- immer wieder spaziert Osborne Soi Thonglor entlang und bemerkt die vielen Hochzeitsboutiquen; er erzählt aber nichts von den Hochzeitsbräuchen vor Ort
Merke: Extra was recherchieren für uns wird der Herr Osborne nicht, Bangkok ist schließlich auch so schon heiß genug.
Wann er wie lange in Bangkok lebte, verschweigt Lawrence Osborne. Wir erfahren undatiert von der Eröffnung des Skytrains (2000), vom Tsunami 2004, von Anti-Thaksin-Demonstrationen (welche?) und über "the end of the year 2006". Auf Worldhum erzählt Osborne, dass er 2005/2006 in Bkk lebte und dort das Buch schrieb.
Von Osborne gibt es weitere Reise- und Reise-Trinkbücher sowie Romane, die u.a. in Marokko, Kambodscha und Griechenland spielen.
Assoziationen: Bangkok-Bücher von
- James Eckard (auch nicht toll),
- Carol Hollinger (anders, besser),
- Michael Smithies (beschaulicher),
- Jerry Hopkins (ebenso fad; Jerry Hopkins' Bücher erwähnt Osborne mehrfach)
Profile Image for Robert Chang.
56 reviews2 followers
December 6, 2021
I think I've read all of Lawrence Osborne's books and this feels like his most personal. It is a book where he (or an unnamed narrator) wanders aimlessly, in a perpetual state of melancholy but alert interest. His state of mind draws him to people in a similar state of mind.

When I picked up the book I could tell that I would like it right away: his writing style is distinct and literary. He is usually compared to Graham Greene, which is mostly fair. The book description from Goodreads is misleading, maybe even a little grotesque. Osborne is not peddling pornography but at the same time, his literary sensibilities are Modernist, maybe even Edwardian. Stated in another way, I think this was a book that could or should have been written in 1910 or 1940. The most accurate labels that should be applied to Osborne have become unpleasant epithets: imperialist, chauvinist, orientalist, slumming. Osborne's melancholy is possibly comparable to Graham Greene's Catholic guilt. Women are totally absent, except the Thai women who are sexual objects. Osborne is very aware of this (there is a chapter entitled Men without Women) and in an eloquent passage, he goes to great lengths to show this is the reason lonely, sad Western men with a long history of failure (and one wealthy Japanese woman in one specifically poignant passage ) are drawn to Southeast Asia.

Greene's melancholy was partially due to his Catholicism but also had to do with the knowledge that the empire was collapsing all around him. Here, the colony has become it's own country and the empire has already collapsed. Greene's characters were career civil servants, always hoping for the promotion that would let them go home but sent and paid to serve their country: Osbourne is in Bangkok of his own free will. These are important differences but they result in the same existential angst.

And yet I really liked the book, and respect the author's worldview which is very personal, where he feels the privilege of his skin color, but being British, cannot allow the false flattery and adoration of the natives to affect his knowledge of his actual standing on the social ladder, a knowledge that has seeped deep into his psyche. He is fluent in the language, and educated with a observant eye, but still feels his otherness, which of course is ironic, considering his views of the Thai as Other. It is a great book, but unfortunately (for book sales) speaks to a much older generation: one that is much less politically correct and much more willing to speak about race in a deterministic way.

General Summary: lots of generalizations about sex and race which I found insightful but with a high potential to annoy, irritate, and trigger. It never had this affect on me which is why I liked it
Profile Image for Emmapeel.
131 reviews
August 11, 2017
Altra terra e altro mare sospiravi -Trovare una Città, un supremo approdo, Da contrapporre a questa, dove incombe Su ogni mia passione una condanna...' Bangkok vuol dire ‘città degli angeli’ e in effetti, atterrandoci di sera, mi sembrò questa la vera Los Angeles di Blade Runner: una selva sterminata di grattacieli sotto una pioggia perenne, gigantesche pubblicità luminose, un traffico a livelli mai più visti altrove, una miriade di carretti con ambulanti che vendono noodles e una folla coloratissima ed etnicamente variegata di sradicati in fuga dal passato e senza alcun domani, come il protagonista di questo libro. 'A Bangkok si approda quando si sente che nessuno ci amerà più, quando si getta la spugna, e a pensarci bene la città è solo questo, il protocollo di una caduta'. Fra reportage e romanzo, con uno stile sorvegliato ma ricco di descrizioni fulminanti, Osborne è bravo a immergerci nelle nottate, più che nei giorni, di un uomo senza qualità che a Bangkok si lascia (finalmente?) andare: “a Parigi tra tutti quei restauri impeccabili, mi ero sempre sentito in colpa, convinto che tutti mi vedessero per quel che ero: un essere non abbastanza perfetto. A Bangkok ciascuno è libero di andare in pezzi come meglio crede”. Un resoconto divertente e disperato di vagabondaggi senza meta, incontri più o meno casuali con altri expat a vari livelli di deriva esistenziale, ricoveri in ospedali dove si fuma e ci si scolano vodka tonic, alberghi di lussuosa volgarità dove si gioca a poker puntando numeri di telefono, ragazze dall’inglese e dai nomi talmente improbabili da far virare un presunto momento erotico in una fuga tragicomica. Nessun moralismo e nessun orientalismo d’accatto nel registrare l’assurdo, il mistico e il cinico di una città dove l’overdose di sesso convive serenamente con la spiritualità buddhista. Fra Houellebecq e Mastroianni in una Dolce Vita del nuovo millennio ancora più priva di senso, Lolant segue e racconta la scia luminosa e colorata delle lunghe notti piene di bar e di templi, alla ricerca, forse suo malgrado, di un’epifania finale che anche qui arriva dall’acqua, nel suo caso dai monaci sui taxi boat del Chao Praya che con sguardo soave e ironico sembrano chiedersi guardandolo “Allora è questo, un uomo solo?”
Profile Image for Marshall.
Author 29 books76 followers
May 18, 2010
I just finished this one, although I've got the UK edition, with a very different cover. Osborne is a gifted author. There's a meandering quality to this book, a sense of a man adrift, which was what life in Bangkok was like for many (I spent summer 2008 there and have made several shorter visits; it's one of my favorite cities) until the recent spate of violence broke out. In fact, it was the violence that motivated me to read this book. I was there when the protesters barricaded the Pathumwan area. I suppose I had some sense of things about to get worse; I wanted to reminisce a bit about what Bangkok had been like.

Osborne does a good job of walking the line between reflecting the hot lushness and decadence of the city without tipping over into purple prose. He rarely falls into the trap of overwriting. If anything, he tries too hard to communicate by implication at times. You can read an entire chapter without salient information being revealed until the end, and although you sensed it was heading in that direction, it would have gelled better had he just told you up front what was going on. That said, this discretion serves him well at other times, considering he's writing about the city many regard as the world's brothel. This is not a sex memoir; it's a fond, layered look at the rest of Bangkok.

Another reviewer here compared it with Jan Morris's excellent Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, which anyone who enjoys travel writing ought to read. This is a terrific comparison, because the sense of melancholy Osborne finds in Bangkok is reminiscent of the windswept sadness of Morris in Trieste. Outwardly, the two cities couldn't be more different, but they're both places where history has set people adrift.
Profile Image for Jim.
897 reviews2 followers
March 9, 2021
This was an interesting travelogue - not that the author travels anywhere outside on Bangkok. It’s more of an “insider’s guide” where the insider is much more interested in the seedier side of the city as opposed to the Buddhist shrines and such that the city is also known for. He also enjoys the company of the more Jeffrey Barnard type of characters to show him around some of the less salubrious haunts that Bangkok has to offer, although I have to admit that while I always expected the author to take a deep dive into the various strata of sex and vice that Bangkok is known for, he never really does. He talks about it, visits brothels, does drugs and booze with his cronies but refrains from really indulging in it on these pages. And I have to say the book is better for it. The writing reminded me slightly of Paul Theroux, a bit jaded, a restless traveller who kind of wants to fit in with the locals but then decides he doesn’t. He’s passing through, he might return, but he’ll be passing through again when he does. He can’t seem to resolve to remain in Bangkok, much as he likes the place, and wonders why his expat friends can seem so settled with their lot so far from home? But where is home? Is it a physical place, a mental refuge, a social base or all, or some, or none, of the above? The book is mostly interesting and is the first I’ve read by the author. I’ll have to try another couple to see if he is to join Theroux as one of my more favourite non-fictional travellers, who I can rely on to paint a more unique picture of places and people than the more mainstream travel books you might pick up.
737 reviews13 followers
September 16, 2013
Bangkok Days by self-confessed 'lazy ****' Lawrence Osborne is an alternative, and slighty seedy account of the lives of ex-pats in modern Thailand. He originally visits the city for some cheap dentistry (cost of flights, hotel and dentist's bills cheaper than having the work done at home) but soon realizes that he can get by on just a few dollars a day - the perfect scenario for someone who appears to be an ageing slacker - so decides to stay for a while and soon hooks up with a ragtag bunch of Westerners in his Bangkok apartment block.

You will discover a cast of drunks, rogues and scoundrels blagging their way around Thailand's capital city. Most of them appear to be on the run from something in their past. All of them have a story to tell, some of which Osborne manages to pry out of them.

And it is all pretty entertaining as far as it goes, although I was a bit thrown about a third of the way through when the timeline seemed to change. Osborne returns to Bangkok to track down some of his old acquaintances but it wasn't obvious that he had actually left in the first place. One minute he is there, next minute he has come back. No mention of him leaving in the middle. That bugged me.

So a slightly grubby, somewhat frustrating but overall entertaining read and refreshingly different from the usual travel fodder.
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