(SANTO CILAURO; TOM GLEISNER; ROB SITCH)
The beach resort of Thong On? The capital city of Bumpattahbumpah ( pro. Bumper-to-bumper )? The red light district of Slo Phuk? Only in the country of Phaic Tan, that far eastern jewel which has been hidden from the Western tourist until now?and wonderfully exposed by three Australians whose travel guide writing began with the book on Molvania. Molvania, and indeed Phaic Tan, is a parody of the ubiquitous travel guide that some find indispensable and yet some find a tad patronising. Personally, I find the genuine travel guide useful, and Phaic Tan is a superb send up. The humour in Phaic Tan relies on the similar phonetics of some Asian languages to the English which is belied by the spelling, and also on a stereotype of life in a token far eastern country. Virtually every aspect of what the west has in mind about the east is brought to the surface here, albeit in a remarkably amusingly depreciating way. In fact, the authors were accused of racial stereotyping on the publication of Molvania - they countered by saying it was a playful dig at the worst experiences they had encountered on a trip to eastern Europe: that particular theme is continued in this book. To tell the truth, if they produced a book on Britain then I?m sure I would find it equally amusing, such is the lack of insecurity over my form of identity which is certainly not national. Yet, digression aside, the book?s humour is based on the typical visitor?s impression of an asian nation, and includes such references as the traffic congestion as suggested by the name of the capital city; the perceived fact that the menfolk smoke an inordinate amount of cigarettes, therefore it is illegal to sell tobacco to children under 16 years of age unless they can produce the correct money; the prevalence of counterfeit goods as is evident by the pictures of cans of soft drink called Phan Tah, and camera film called Kodaq; the food often being far too delicate for the western stomach highlighted by the statue erected in honour of the only westerner to be admitted to hospital with constipation; and of the European colonisation being thrown off thanks to the hardline revolutionary going by the name of Tuph Nhut. The book is produced as a standard guide, replete with photographs with accordingly humourous taglines, and even has its own group of writers which every traveller, no matter how extensively they may wander, will recognise, ranging from Philippe Miseree the hardened backpacker ( who insists you haven?t been ill until you?ve been medivac?d by Medicine Sans Frontiere, as of course he has ) all the wayup, via the cautious traveller who advises 'to avoid night crime barricade your door, remove the lights from their sockets and sleep in night vision goggles', to Jonathan Quibble the luxury tourist, for whom a review isn?t complete without excessive use of French ? je ne sais quois! Ultimately a superbly designed and thought out book: all will find amusement in it, be it the rugged traveller or the occasional tripper. Rather than an offence, it?s more of a hat tipper to the culture, and therefore should be applauded and read with tongue firmly in cheek, and is a refreshing change to the usual blandishments. Now for some Withnail and I.