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Dodie Cross was a newlywed American expat who faced far more than a language barrier in her new home. "A Broad Abroad in Thailand" follows the adventures of this newlywed expat as she tries to settle into her new home and a life full of challenges she could not have foreseen. Her troubles begin soon after her arrival in this exotic land: from the eastern squat toilet that she must learn to use, to the auto accident on the deadly Sukhumvit Highway that should have taken her life, to the final insult-bladder surgery performed by an inscrutable Thai doctor who decided to surgically restore her virginity, and an intolerant nurse who is after her with a vengeance-and an enema tube.
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar of Reader Views is pleased to be joined by Dodie Cross, who is here to talk about her experiences in Thailand and her new book “A Broad Abroad in Thailand: An Expat’s Misadventures in the Land of Smiles,” Four Ways West/Cross Publications (2007), ISBN 9781419672354.
Dodie Cross describes herself as a Virgo-compromised female, who adheres to a strict regimen: “I write four hours a day, play golf four hours a day, quilt for a couple hours, and watch Seinfeld reruns; these tasks are accomplished whenever the urge hits me. Sleep comes in 5 or 6 hour spurts but I'm rarin' to go by 5 a.m. I'm a hopeless romantic, love and devour memoirs—the funnier the better. I fantasize about Dave Barry, Bill Bryson—The Thunderbolt Kid—and me, a literary ménage a trois, on an island in the Caribbean, writing and laughing at each other's hilarious humor.”
Dodie has traveled the world writing about her experiences in foreign countries such as Iran—very foreign; Thailand—very happy; as well as non-foreign places like New Orleans—very kinky; Orange County, California—very last week; and Lake Chelan, Washington—very old-world lovely.
She is the recipient of numerous awards for writing and poetry, including the prestigious Southern California Writer's Conference First Place Award for "Best Nonfiction" for “A Broad Abroad,” as well as First Place in their Inaugural Poetry Award. Her articles have appeared in the “Palm Desert Sun,” “Seattle Post Intelligencer” and as a guest columnist for the “Lake Chelan Mirror” in Washington State, as well as “The Monterey Bay Parents Magazine” and The University of Texas Literary Magazine, “RiverSedge.” She is also a contributing editor to the Palm Springs Writers Guild Newsletter.
Dodie is married, has four children and nine grandchildren. She spends her writer's life between Eastern Washington's Beautiful Lake Chelan and Southern California's balmy Palm Desert.
Tyler: Welcome, Dodie. I’m glad you could join me today. Wow, moving to Thailand! I can’t even imagine it. Will you begin by telling us the circumstances that led to your moving there?
Dodie: Well, Tyler, ordinarily I’d say “Buy the book and find out” but since this is an interview and I know you have inquiring-minds as readers, I guess I’ll have to spill the beans. I was in a relationship with a man who was offered a two-year assignment in Thailand. To be able to get all the perks that go along with “married status” I acquiesced and walked the plank. I mean the aisle.
Tyler: I know you had much more than a language barrier to overcome, but to start off, did you know anything of the language before you moved and what language difficulties did you have to overcome?
Dodie: It was a struggle in futility when I first arrived. I took some Thai language lessons that the company provided, but we all ended up slaughtering the language and the poor teachers were in shock as we tried to pronounce their words. I sincerely wanted to be able to talk to them in their own tongue. And they did appreciate it when you tried.
Tyler: What was the biggest culture shock you experienced in Thailand?
Dodie: The driving was probably the hardest to cope with. I’d not been overseas in some time so I’d forgotten just how bad it was, and how good it is in America!
Tyler: What did you do in Thailand? Did you work? What was an average day like for you?
Dodie: I never sat home and moped, that’s for sure. I’d make sure that my time was filled for the week. I volunteered at the orphanage, then maybe lunch with friends, some cards or tennis, usually golf at least four times a week. I spent a couple hours each day working on the Pattaya International Ladies Club (PILC) newsletter after I became their editor, and generally just enjoyed being with friends, seeing the country and trying to experience anything Thai that I could find. From shopping, to eating, to playing…life was good. However, my home life was another story, and that’s why I tried to be gone as much as possible. And, that’s another story… as someone famous once said.
Tyler: You had to have an operation while in Thailand which you described as the doctor trying to restore your virginity? Would you tell us more about this?
Dodie: Wow, Tyler! Who’s going to want to buy my book after I give this interview? Oh well, I guess I can go back to selling pencils on the street corner. Okay. I learned much later that it’s an Asian thing for a surgeon to give her female patients a little extra stitch or two when performing any type of vaginal surgery. You know, sort of “A stitch in time...” Actually, many US docs will do that for you…but I think they ask first!
Tyler: Most of the reviews for “A Broad Abroad” describe it as a very humorous book. Why do you choose to concentrate on humor in your writing?
Dodie: I don’t know how to write any other way. Most writers draw from their life when they write, and as I see most of life as humorous, it’s pretty easy to throw that in the mix. Maybe that’s why I’ve survived the things I’ve gone through. By seeing the humorous side of things, we don’t dwell on the negative so much.
Tyler: You mentioned you would love to be on a deserted island with Dave Barry, Bill Bryson and the Thunderbolt Kid? What about their humor do you enjoy? Do you see them as influences on your writing, or are their other influences you would acknowledge?
Dodie: I read, and reread authors who make me laugh. The two mentioned above are so “off the wall” but at the same time hit right on the target. Their humor just jumps off the page and smacks you in the face. I love that kind of writing, and yes, I’d love to say they have influenced my writing. By the way, the book is called “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” which was a memoir by Bill Bryson. If you have not read it, you are missing a hilarious read. Other writers are Erma Bombeck, Janet Evanovich, and also Carol Burnett, who wrote one of the funniest (and saddest) books that I’ve ever read. When I like an author, I will sometimes read them two and three times, just for the sheer pleasure of floating on their wonderful words. (I do leave a few months in-between).
Tyler: What do you think was the funniest experience you wrote about in the book?
Dodie: My opinion differs from that of some of my readers. I get emails that tell me they “…cracked up” in such and such a chapter, and then other people don’t even mention that chapter, but name another that had them rolling. I think I most enjoyed describing the “squat toilet,” but then, I’m prejudiced. I laugh at my words as I type them and then again when I edit, so I’m my best audience. My husband hears me laughing and calls out: “What’s so funny?” “Me!” I answer back.
Tyler: Despite the humor, “A Broad Abroad” also treats Thailand in a very serious way. What do you most respect about the country and the culture?
Dodie: Lord Buddha’s teachings, I feel, are what makes them so peaceful. As a card-carrying hyperkinetic American, I found myself amazed at the peaceful way they went about their lives. They seem to be amused that we foreigners are always checking our watches. They live in the “here and now” rather than focusing on what’s next. I found that those of us who respected their culture and tried to speak their language, were welcomed. If you were rude and displayed the “ugly American” syndrome, or ugly any type of nationality, rather than confront you, they would lower their head and look away. They aren’t given to public demonstrations of anger or rudeness. Foreigners are always welcomed, and they share their country and land with childish, uninhibited grace. Now, that said, there is the seamy side of life in Thailand, and that’s the sex-trade. As I said in my book, you can either join in or completely ignore it. It’s your choice. The Thais make it available, and again, it’s supply and demand that keeps it going.
Tyler: How would you describe the role of women in Thailand compared to in the United States?
Dodie: Wow, that’s a hard one. I did notice that the men had a much easier life than the women. There’s a chapter in my book that deals with that. The Thai people, as I’ve said, all seem to accept their life. Again, it’s the Buddhist influence that seems to guide them.
Tyler: You also talk about orphanages and healthcare and many other aspects of Thai society. Are there any ways you think Thailand is actually more progressive than the United States or Western Culture in general?
Dodie: You know, I would never dream to make any assumption about that. I was there in the early 90s and so much has changed since then. As for health care, a year or so there was a special on CBS 60 Minutes showing how many Americans and Europeans were traveling to Thailand and India for surgery. Not only were the charges for such surgeries ridiculously high in the States, but in Thailand the cost could be $25 to $50,000 dollars less, plus the patients were treated to at least seven registered nurses while in the hospital. Now, that is unheard of in our country. We’re lucky if we see an R.N. scurry past our room with her arms full of charts. So, obviously things have changed since I was there. Also, according to some blogs I’ve read, the Thais have picked up a sort of “shorthand” English, where they can communicate much better with the foreigner. They had plenty of nurses when I was there, but no one understood me. As I said in my book, they would have done anything I asked for, but they just didn’t understand WHAT I asked for. But, even then, the caring was there, just not the “care.” Plus, having a pre-menopausal nurse with PMS didn’t help. I honestly believe she was the only one in the country who was intolerant and “vengeful.”
Tyler: Dodie, you’ve been to many other places around the world and written about them—how would you rate or compare Thailand to the other countries you’ve lived in and written about?
Dodie: I would have to say that Thailand, because of its Buddhist influence, is incomparable to anywhere I’ve ever lived. “Serene” is a good adjective I like to associate with the people of Thailand.
Tyler: If you could go to Thailand again, knowing what you know now, would you?
Dodie: Again, it has changed in the years since I was there, with many more expats and foreigners calling it their home, but it still has the most beautiful ocean views, skies, the breathtaking jungles and flowers, and welcomes all foreigners with open arms. I am in touch with a publisher in Thailand who wants to publish my book, which for me would be wonderful because of the expat market there. So, I may be flying back there to set up that deal.
Tyler: If your book were published in the Thai language, how do you think the Thai people would receive your reflections on their culture?
DDodie: I can’t speak for them, but I loved their country, their culture, their hospitality, and I think it resounds in my book, so I think they’d be happy.
Tyler: Dodie, since you have already been such a successful writer, what kinds of writing challenges do you foresee for yourself in the future?
Dodie: I think my biggest challenge will be the book on Iran that I’m working on now. It will be very hard to be “funny” about a country that has deteriorated from a historic and old-world country that many travelers visited, to the hotbed of hate and religious fanaticism that it is today. I did have great times there, but because I made sure that I did, but it ended in a nightmare. I have to find a way to get around the bad stuff and concentrate on the good. I had some very wonderful Iranian friends while living there, so I’ll bring them into the picture as well. I would say that there were many Iranians who were terrified when they heard the Ayatollah was coming back, even though he promised a progressive Iran, he led them back into the old testament.
Tyler: I hope you’ll come back later to talk about your book on Iran. I won’t ask about the nightmare part of it now but let our readers remain curious. Do you have plans to visit any other countries and write about them?
Dodie: My husband has had Parkinson’s for some time now, so the “overland” traveling is out of the question. However, we do enjoy cruising, which is easier for him. In January he is going to have the Deep Brain Stimulation procedure that Michael J. Fox underwent, and which seemed to help him. So we will plan our trips based on that.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Dodie. Before we go, will you tell our readers a little bit about your website and what further information can be found there about your book?
Dodie: Yes, I’d love for your listeners to see all the wonderful reviews I’ve had, as well as the pictures of the little orphans and some of the beautiful Thai statues. I’d also like for them to be able to leave me their comments on the book once they’ve read it. I have a place on my website called: “contact me” where they can leave their thoughts.
Also, if they’d like the book to be signed by the author, they can purchase it on my website and in the comments section they write the name they’d like me to sign it to.
Tyler: Thank you, Dodie. I’ve certainly enjoyed talking to you. I wish you a lot of luck with “A Broad Abroad in Thailand.”