Department of Corrections: Fark Ta

Jaimie Summerfield discovers that there is no city of “Fark Ta” in Thailand, it was simply a typo

In remote northern Thailand lives a man, his wife and 4600 Scorpions. Suang Puangsri used to breed scorpions to be devoured by rich Thais and adventurous Contiki tourists. And then he changed his mind. Well…freed his mind. Suang become a Buddhist. Now he lives with 4600 of the stingy critters to atone for his sins. Move over Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson there’s a new Scorpion King in town. A town called Fark Ta.

If you’ve ever read an article with a similar–if less grammatically questionable–lead you’ve been lied to. Not about Suang. Not about his scorpions. Not even about hilarious but true spelling of Dwayne. You’ve been lied to about Fark Ta. There is no Fark Ta.

In September of 2009, Reuters journalist Noppawan Bunluesilp travelled to Northern Thailand, to write an article with a lead just like this one. From all accounts, her’s was the first of our Scorpion overlord. She interviewed Suang, took some photographs, shot some video and filed her story. Scorpion King went viral.

For most Gen Y-ers finding an unexpected picture of your mug online isn’t exactly unusual–even if you have a scorpion in your mouth. But Suang comes from a part of the world where shoelaces are considered high tech. Becoming an internet sensation was unfathomable.

Yet Bloggers took to Scorpion King like he was a very expressive gopher.Bunluesilp’s piece was republished and reappropriated everywhere. Reputable if pulply publishing sites like the Huffington Post did a simple copy and paste job, leaving Bunluesilp’s byline intact.

But hundreds of dodgy bloggers with no sources other than Bunluesilp’s piece wrote their own (quotes intended ironically) “original” pieces. Pieces which referenced Suang, his scorpions and his town. Always his farking town.

But there is no Fark Ta. Fark Ta, it seems, was a misspelling or a mistranslation of the district of Fak Tha; a much larger area of Northern Thailand that contains at least 11 separate villages. Now Fark Ta is a Google-able Thai getaway, know for its “lush forests” and whacky residents. Fark Ta is a fictional construction born from a lack of fact-checking. It is town built on a typo.

I’ve seen ways too many fake baby carrying eagles to so easily believe everything online. I approached the existence of a non-pro wrestling Scorpion King with trepidation. “Does he really have 4000 deadly Scorpions?” “Why the fark would he put them in his mouth?” “Surely his wife is not cool with this!” But I never questioned the boring stuff.

I trust Wikipedia articles on dead presidents and skin conditions because I figure, what’s the fun in faking it? But boring things can get farked up too; Not to mess with the zombified brains of internet news consumers but because our brains are zombified. Because we consume and consume mindlessly and unintelligently. Because all bloggers think they’re journalists. When in truth, most are just typists with a good handle on the hot keys for copy and paste.

There is no Fark Ta. But it’s such a farking boring fact that no one thought to check it. Towns can be created by the click of a mouse. Villagers without shoelaces can become internet sensations. Pro wrestlers can be cast in Disney movies. I just don’t know what to believe anymore.