Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Deadwood: A Hell of a Place to Live

Kev took it out of the bag, and slapped it down on my table, letting the contents flow out over itself. Giddy from our new purchase, we began divvying it up between us. Three people, 1200 baht, not bad. This will keep us busy for a couple of weeks. Easy. Then we’ll just have to find something else to entertain us when we’re not busy working for the Junta.

Deadwood. Season 1-2.

If you’re not familiar with this show, and judging by its recent cancellation, you’re not, it’s a Western original HBO series. Based on the historical town of Deadwood, South Dakota, the series follows the stories of both factual and fictional characters as they negotiate the rough waters of corruption, greed, prostitution, and violence that define the era.

Reading the back of the package, my friend noted, “corruption, greed, prostitution, drugs. Huh, sounds kind of like Thailand.” He sat back, forgetting what he’d just said. Never thinking someone might actually take him seriously. Maybe might even watch the series with a specific eye as to how closely these two communities resemble each other.

He was wrong.

Dead wrong.

Here’s a little rundown of some of those characters, and some of their counterparts in the lives of PCVs.

Deadwood: Al Swearengen
Thailand: Nayok TAO

“I declare myself leader of this meeting as I have the bribe sheet.”

Al Swearengen owns the Gem Saloon. He’s a cutthroat, deceiving, and corrupt pimp. He is the leader of the camp because he has his hands in the most pots, stealing everything he can. Alternatively, he is the driving force behind setting up a stable government, and creating some kind of law and order, if only so he can control it, break it, and unsettle it for his own personal profit.

Minus the aptitude for violence, that’d pretty much describe the prototypical Nayok. Except that my Nayok own ostriches. So there’s that.

Deadwood: Doc Cochran
Thailand: Motivated Counterpart

“Hell, I’ll do it Pro-Bono! That means it won’t cost ya nothin’”

Doc is an educated, moral man who is probably the most useful, irreplaceable member of the camp. At no other point in the show is another doctor even mentioned, and this one serves the medical needs of every character at one time or another.

A motivated counterpart is not only the life and blood of a community, but also the saving grace of a PCV’s time at site. Without a counterpart interested in working with us, we can’t do anything at all. They’re the ones with the tools, the contacts, and the time. We’ll only be here two years, and well, are about as useful as the gimp.

Deadwood: AW Merrick
Thailand: Thai TV Channel 11

“I believe in the 4th Estate, and here I find myself- an instrument!”

Yes, that is Ned Rooney, Dean of Students from Ferris Bueller’s. Glad to see he’s still in the business. Merrick is the editor of the Pioneer, the local daily newspaper. He’s a dedicated, righteous man who intends to provide the camp with unbiased opinions and news regarding the ever-shaky political future of the camp and its stakeholders.

Thai TV is the public service station of Thailand. Formerly of the Prime Minister’s office, the network is supposed to be providing important news to Thais regarding changes in climate, whether political or meteorological. Both forecasts, according to channel 11, are sunny.

Deadwood: Calamity Jane
Thailand: Drunk Thai Guy

“Maybe I will have a fuckin' drink, for sociability's sake and 'cause I'm a fuckin' drunk.”

For two seasons, Calamity Jane is completely, and unceasingly, fall-down drunk. I fail to realize what purpose she has on the show.

Drunk Thai Guy, on the other hand, is an absolutely necessary part to Thailand. What else would I rather hear yelled at me from across the street than, “Whiskey Rice! You You Whiskey!”? Drunk Thai Guy must be commended not only for his diligence, but most of all, his endurance. There is nothing weird, in any way, about him drinking his third beer before 9am. Sometimes, during the rainy season, DTG will change roles and become Johnny Rice Farmer.

Deadwood: Ellsworth
Thailand: Johnny Rice Farmer

“A working fucking gold claim, Joanie, and thank you for allowing me my full range of expression.”

Ellsworth is the moral backbone of the series. He is hard working, well-liked, and honest. He represents the vast majority of people at Deadwood- prospectors. During the day, while all the political hubbub is going on in town, Ellsworth has his legs knee high in creek water looking for gold. He marries rich.

Johnny Rice Farmer is Isaan. He’s bent over, planting rice seeds every day for weeks, then hibernating for months before harvesting those crops. Johnny father, his father’s father, and his father’s father all planted rice. Johnny will not be marrying rich; he in fact already married his 12 year old neighbor when he was a teen too. Like every member of the majority, it’s his vote that counts. And in my village, that’ll be less than 200 baht.

Both Ellsworth and Johnny Rice Farmer win the I Have One Night Left in Town, Who Do I Choose to Hang Out With Prize.

Deadwood: Cy Tolliver
Thailand: Factory Owners

Cy Tolliver is the proprietor of the saloon competing with the Gem. He’s new to Deadwood, and to be honest, couldn’t care what the hell happens to it as long as his pockets keep getting fatter and fatter, know what I mean?

My town has over 15 factories, all contributing to the size of the pockets of the Nayok, its owners, and if you believe in trickle down economics, Johnny Rice Farmer. Unfortunately for Johnny Fish Catcher, the river is polluted and all the fish are dying. Also it smells like rice whiskey when it rains. Factory Owner is easily confused for Drunk Thai Guy.

Deadwood: Francis Wolcott
Thailand: Crazy As Shit Ex-Pat Guy

“I am a sinner that does not expect forgiveness. But I am not a government official.”

Francis Wolcott brings money to Deadwood. As a geologist preparing the way for George Hearst by day, and sadistic murderer of prostitutes by night, this is a man whose transgressions must be protected.

Crazy As Shit Ex-Pat Guy is showing up more and more frequently at the night market, usually checking out the Army Surplus tent. But for his paler skin, CASEXPG can also be easily confused for DTG, with the obvious observation that the young teenager serving him his drinks is also his wife. Thanking God that Viagra was made generic, CASEXPG spends his foggy days wondering how it all got to be so good, and sending his young bride to beg the local Peace Corps Volunteer to teach him Thai.

Deadwood: Jewel the Gimp
Thailand: Peace Corps Volunteer

“[To Jewel] Well open your mouth, Jewel, and say something we can’t fucking understand.”

Jewel is a directorial technique to make Al Swearengen look like not such a bad guy after all. For whatever reason, he tolerates Jewel, a physically disabled and mentally handicapped chambermaid. She is certainly an oddity serving at the local brothel, and her face is handicapped in such a way as to make her permanently in mid-smile. If you’re a prostitute and you need a gun for protection from Al, Jewel is who you go to.

Like Jewel, we PCVs have very little useful skills, and a minimum of conversational ability to express those skills that we do possess. Our one ability is to bring undying enthusiasm and motivate Motivated Counterpart to help get that elusive project off the ground. We do a lot of smiling and nodding. At the TAO, our very presence makes our TAOs “Hi-So”. If you need a new ringtone on your cellphone or want to know if white people’s stomachs can handle sliced papaya, I am who you go to.

By the way, I’m pretty sure that Jewel is actually mentally and physically retarded in real life. So I’m going to hell for that one.

Deadwood: Wu
Thailand: Peace Corps Admin

Deadword has a large and hard-working Chinese community. Wu himself owns a pig farm, which is why he is important. If you mouth off to the wrong man, get caught cheating at poker, or touch up one of Al’s prostitutes, your mortal remains will be quickly digested by Wu’s pigs. (5$)

If you are a PCV, and ride your bike without a helmet, get on a motorcycle in a country where only the well-off have cars, or forget to tell your program manager you’re going to Bangkok for the weekend, your mortal remains will be swiftly taken to the airport and brought back to America. No warnings. (Free of charge.)

So that’s either proof that Thailand and the Wild West are similar scenes of corruption and treachery, or verification that given a couple hours and a keyboard, I can make anything sound pretty similar to anything else.

I didn’t even mention the prostitution and drugs. My god.

But there is one thing that Deadwood has on my town. It isn’t the immense untapped natural resources, the beautiful tamed horses, or even the cool, intimidating name.

Facial hair. The staches, the handlebars, the fu-manchus, the flavor-savers, the rollie fingers, the BURNS, baby!

It’s exquisite. Even the women can grow a better beard than I can.

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