East is East, and West is West and
never the twain shall meet. Or said Rudyard Kipling. Always beware of the half
truth; it trips people up, makes them swallow a half as if it were the
The truth is in 2009 they do
meetonline, chat rooms, Skype, bars, shopping malls, Starbucks, museums,
bookstores, and through mutual friends. Why is that suddenly the whole concept
of globalization shuts down the minute sex enters the equation? This is no
longer Rudyard Kipling universe. But from the opinions and reviewers Ive read
about a recent book (see below) by IHT journalist Richard Bernstein, it is as if
the sun still never set on the British Empire.
Writers, by their nature, observe,
notice, and process life. That is the conventional view. But what happens when
the accelerated is pressed to the floorboard, and life becomes a blur. How well
can we observe and make sense of the jumbled motion?
Life in Bangkok flies by at warp
speed. One sanctuary is a park off Sukhumvit Road. A place of peace and
contemplation located deep inside the boiling pot of daily distractions.
Everyone is looking for meaning and most are looking for it in the wrong place.
The destination isnt so much a place for the state of mind a place
Anyone who has learnt to speak Thai
understands the difficulty of the task. Mastering a new vocabulary, grammar, and
syntax requires patience and practice, and if one is persistence, after a few
years, you find yourself speaking and understanding the
Why is learning a new language such
as Thai so difficult. Part of the answer is that our brains have been wired for
a grammar and syntax template that is alien to its counterpart in Thai. That is
what makes literal translations, well, so literal, and often so over the top
funny. There are entire websites devoted to the humorous translations found
throughout the world.
Pundits have for the past year
danced around those shoveling dirt onto the grave of traditional publishers. Not
that publishers will vanish into the hole any time soon. But the emergence of
ebooks seems ready to drive the mass of readers to electronic readers.
Darknessis the ebook youve been waiting
for. You have the chance to read one of my standalone novels on a different
God of Darkness is available as an ebooks that can
be downloaded to a variety of readers.
One of the great challenges to
creativity is the Internet as a portal to seemingly unlimited information.
Entering that portal turns many of us into yak shavers. We finish with one yak,
then another comes along, and another and at the end of the day, the floor is
covered with pretty much an indistinguishable amount of yak hair which weve
done nothing to weave into the next magical garment of the mind. Piles and piles
of that hair build day after day until we no longer remember why we came to
shave the yak or what in Gods name we will ever do with all the hair weve
Dying under mysterious
circumstances in Thailand if you are a famous American actor is bound to attract
international coverage. I first saw the first coverage on Thursday night on the
BBC news around 10.00 p.m. News of Carradines death has been picked up in
virtually every major newspaper around the world. David Carradines death in a
Bangkok hotel on 4th June 2009 will shine a spotlight on Thailand,
the tourism industry and police investigations and methods used when a foreigner
is found dead.
The Heisenberguncertainty principle states that certain pairs of physical
properties, like position and momentum, cannot both be known to arbitrary
precision. That is, the more precisely one property is known, the less precisely
the other can be known. It is impossible to measure simultaneously both position
and velocity of a microscopic particle with any degree of accuracy or
On the quantum level Heisenbergs
principle of uncertainty explains the weirdness of the state of a particle. The
act of observation will fix the state. What does this have to do with writing or
reading fiction? China Miévillemakes a case drawing upon
Heisenbergs principle of uncertainty. And in my view, there are some problems
with making such analogy.
Writers and boxers stand their
ground and try their level best to win by a knock out. But it has always been
easier to identify who wins a boxing match. With fiction, things arent so easy.
Writers expose our inner most secrets. Readers stagger against the emotional
ropes when realize what they believe as reality is little more than a tissue of
selfishness, deception, hypocrisy, or irrationality.
Think of Ralph Ellisons Invisible
Manor Harper Lees To Kill
a Mockingbird or George Orwells Nineteen Eight-Four. The full power of the state is
often complicit in the delusion manufacturing and distribution machinery that
converts injustice and unfairness into its opposite. Thus books are banned,
writers jailed, exiled or murdered. Schools become indoctrination centers.
Teachers become the agents of official truth. A serious writer, like a boxer,
must be able to take a punch, too. Most of the writers I know can.
Two writers who set mysteries in
foreign settings that you should read: James Church and Matt Beynon
Sarah Weinman is one of the most
thoughtful and insightful crime fiction critics, and if youre not reading her
Confessions of an
Idiosyncratic Mind you are missing a gem of a
website. Recently Sarah interviewed James Church who writes a series set in
North Korea with features police inspector O. Ive read A Corpse in the Koryoand highly recommend it. Only someone with first hand
information about North Korea could hope to produce a book with such splendid
details about the functioning of the bureaucracy and working relationship among
the North Koreans living in a totalitarian state.Church is direct about what he sees as
the keys involved in understanding the country: North Korea is a bureaucracy,
it is Asian, and it is a totalitarian state inhabited by human
Recently Colin Cotterill and Timothy Hallinan were in
Tim as a thriller set in Bangkok
that will be published in New York in August 2009. Breathing Water is getting a lot of advance rave
reviews.Tims earlier two novels
set in Bangkok have received a great amount of attention; deservedly so as his
Bangkok series shows how a master can take menace to a new level. Colins
publisher Soho Crime is also releasing in August The Merry Misogynist. Dr. Siri Paiboun, the aged and antic national coroner of
mid-1970s Laos, continues this internationally prize winning series to bring in
thousands of around the world.
Martin Amiss article in the Guardian explores the life and writing of
This observation caught my
His [J.G. Ballards]imagination
was formed by his wartime experience in Shanghai, where he was interned by the
Japanese. He was 13 at the time and took to the life in the camp as he would to
a huge slum family. But it wasn't just the camp that formed him - it was the
very low value attached to human life, something he saw throughout his
childhood. He told me that he'd seen coolies beaten to death at a distance of
five yards from where he was standing, and every morning as he was driven to
school in an American limousine there were always fresh bodies lying in the
street. Then came the Japanese. He said "people in the social democracies have
no idea of the daily brutality of parts of the east. No they don't, actually.
And it's as well that they don't.
Matt Beynon Rees who writes the international award winning
Omar Yussef series interviewed me recently. If you havent read The Collaborator of Bethlehem,you are missing an insiders view of the
dynamics behind the internal violence inside of Palestine. Hes walked the
streets and knows the people, their history, culture and language. And his books
give you a dimension of the human face behind the news
Adaptation to the world has always
been, Darwin teaches us, a struggle. And uphill battle where casualties are the
norm. Many fall aside. And when that happens, it is often labeled failure to
adapt. Terry Eagleton has written a piece that links the role of capitalism to
the shedding of beliefs in the sacred. The contradiction is in the continuing
emotional resonance of metaphysical values in daily life--whether they become a
source of inspiration or one of parody. Jon Stewarts Daily Show popularity
suggests the preference is leaning toward the latter.
The Western audience in search of
spiritual transcendence, at least in the traditional ways, has increasingly
shrunk in influence in the modern secular world. Their voice is one voice among
many. Again in the West, the central role and legitimacy of the institutions
traditionally vested with a monopoly over spiritual values have eroded over
time. The question is what scope is left for such institutions to play in the
modern political world. That is the essential unanswered (and perhaps at his
juncture unanswerable) question of our time. How it is officially answered is
the line drawn in the sand between cultures.
Some in the media have called it
Black Songkran. Demonstrations over the traditional Songkran festival turned
ugly and violent. Soldiers, APCs, and tanks were in the streets. Buses burnt.
Confrontation found the Reds and the military and police on opposite sides (most
of the time). Then suddenly it was over as quickly as it started. The
demonstration was called off and the protesters in the thousands who had camped
out at Government House left, loaded into buses provided by the
This is a blog devoted to books.
There are a number of such political blogs that have given a blow-by-blow
account of the events over the last week. Foremost would be Bangkok Pundit which
contains a good source of foreign reporting, local Thai newspaper and TV reports
as well as the English language newspapers in Bangkok. If you scroll down, you
will find a number of related blogs that present points of view on the current
had the chance a couple of weeks ago to go on a Chao Phraya River cruise. My
Swiss friend Marcel Emmenegger (making the victory sign) was the organizer,
assembling people to visit Punntara Resort. Our group was composed of friends of
Marcel and Khun Peerapong.
Bangkok has a large expat population.
No one can hope to know everyone living here. Sometimes people slip through the
cracks that you wished youd had sat down for a couple of hour conversation.
Only you find out about them too late. A case in point is playwright and
filmmaker Ronald Tavel. He died a few days ago on a flight
from Berlin to Bangkok. Apparently hed been a resident in Thailand for a dozen
This is from the New York
Ronald Tavel, a playwright and
screenwriter who brought a bawdy sense of the outrageous to some of Andy
films and helped mold the Off Off Broadway avant-garde theater movement in the
1960s and 70s, died Monday on a flight from Berlin to Bangkok. He was 72 and
had lived in Bangkok for the past 12 years.
It's easy to see why Moore's books
are popular: While seasoned with a spicy mixture of humor and realism, they
stand out as model studies in East-West encounters, as satisfying for their
cultural insights as they are for their hard-boiled action.
Back Jack is out in hardback edition published by Atlantic Monthly Press in
October 2009 and in the UK by Atlantic Books in December 2009.
A certain marketing idea may have
started with Disneyland. And that idea is roughly a place must have
entertainment value in order to be worth spending money to visit. It should be
fun for the entire family. Nothing scary or too real ever makes the grade; that
puts people off. What people want is safe, clean, and with benches to sit. Never
mind that the fairy tale story castle the children love is not remotely like any
The same fate is destined for old
battlefields. I suspect that the recent construction to turn the Dien Bien Phu
battlefields into tourists attractions can find examples elsewhere. Call it the
war of the battlefields where each site, village, province and country seeks to
out flack its competitors by offering a more entertaining tour of a place where
a historic battle was fought.