A Walk on the Wild Side

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Bernard Trink isn't very popular with the new generation of female staffers at the Bangkok Post. Many of them believe his weekly Nite Owl column doesn't belong in the paper. Trink, however, is a Bangkok institution. For the past 35 years, he has been the chronicler of the seedy, scam-filled world of Thailand's go-go bars and brothels. So when Post sub-editor Jennifer Bliss penned an unauthorized biography of Trink entitled But, I Don't Give a Hoot! (Post Books; 234 pages) one might have expected a rant or a diatribe. Far from it. It's not the book I would have written, Trink commented recently in his column. But it's fair. It's more than that. It's an extremely entertaining read, even though the prose is workmanlike. Trink's life and writings provide a history of the Thai capital over the past three-and-a-half decades that won't be found in any academic tome. During that period Bangkok went from little more than a large town to a traffic-choked metropolis of 10 million with a worldwide reputation for commercial sex. And while prostitutes, procurers and con men find their way into this narrative, so do diplomats, society matrons and Hollywood movie stars. Trink's column isn't simply a what's on at the bars and massage parlors, Bliss writes. Each one [is] a snapshot of what was going on in the city that week, whether it was a flood, a military coup, an economic crisis or a shortage of Dinty Moore's beef stew. Through Trink's recollections and excerpts from the columns, his own peculiar voice dominates this work. Bliss resists psychoanalyzing her subject, which must have been tempting considering his unhappy relationship with his parents while growing up in New York City during the Great Depression, and his failed stint as a social worker. What's most remarkable is that, while Bangkok has changed, the form and style of Trink's column have evolved only slightly since its inception in 1965. His trademark sign-off—the book's title—began in his second effort. But Trink's view of prostitutes changed, Bliss writes, from sex objects, to victims of society, to women who have chosen an easy but hazardous way to earn an above-average income. In one excerpt cited in the book, Trink describes the women as meretricious, avaricious, mendacious and bone lazy. Never give your heart to a demimondaine: she'll chew it up and spit it out. Nonetheless, Bliss argues that Trink is no misogynist. She points out that he has used his column to campaign for women's rights, sex workers' rights, and against child prostitution and selling girls into brothels against their will. He has also been happily and faithfully married to the same Thai woman for nearly 40 years. Bliss does take him to task, however, for what she characterizes as his negligent reporting on aids, including his propagating the theory that there is no link between HIV and the disease.There is no denying that Trink still commands a loyal following. Nite Owl gets more hits on the Post website each month—about 30,000—than any other column or feature, and the surfers ride in from all corners of the globe. But there is also no shortage of detractors. He regularly receives hate mail calling him, as one memorable outburst put it, a dirty, old, fat, ugly pervert. He publishes them. The bottom line, Trink says of his column, is that it is controversial and sells newspapers. Along with this somewhat sketchy account of his life, it may also be enough to sell a few books.