Features on Asian Art, Culture, History & Travel
Graham Greene’s Saigon
I deliberately used a quotation from Graham Greene’s The Quiet American in the introduction to this book. It’s probably the best novel, at least in English, on Vietnam, its politics and its mores in the middle of the 20th century. No Vietnamese city is more closely associated with Greene than Saigon. Yet his chief protagonists – Fowler, and Pyle – travel much further afield, to Hanoi and Haiphong in the north, to Ninh Binh and the cathedral town of Phat Diem in south-central Tonkin, as well as to the Cao Dai Holy See at Tay Ninh, northwest of Saigon. Fowler even takes part in a French dive-bombing operation in the northwest near Lai Chau, while the sound of heavy artillery from a major battle at Hoa Binh can clearly be heard at night from downtown Hanoi. Even legendary Halong Bay gets a mention.
Images Of Doi Mae Salong
A vision of pristine hills, long ago, straddling an unmarked and unobserved frontier between states as yet unformed. Unpopulated save by birds and beasts, the only human visitors are wandering hunters, mystics and anchorites, refugees from justice – or from oppression. A Southeast Asian Shangri-la without name and beyond knowledge, silently awaiting discovery and settlement.
Ordaining Pol Pot
Should Pol Pot Be Allowed Into Monkhood
The Venerable Maha Ghosananda, one of Cambodia’s most senior and respected religious figures, recently suggested that both Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge "Brother No. 1", and his most effective and ruthless military commander, Ta Mok, should abandon their struggle and enter the monkhood. "If they agree to be monks, they will give up their ambition, violence and killing," argued Maha Ghosananda in a recent issue of the Khmer-language paper Liberty News.
Genghis Khan: Mongolia’s "Man Of The Millennium"
It is the ultimate ’rags to riches’ story. It begins with a 10-year-old boy in a small family encampment abandoned by his tribe on the harsh steppe, surviving only on what his mother could gather from the land. Forty years later he was well on the way to establishing the largest empire the world has ever known, stretching from the shores of the Yellow Sea to well beyond the Caspian, from the frozen wastes of the north into the tropical heartland of Asia. The boy was Temujin, better known as Genghis Khan, who has been declared by no lesser authority than the Washington Post to be the "Man of the Millennium".
Vientiane’s "Bun Nam" Water Festival
No country shares closer cultural and social links with Thailand than Laos. The majority of the inhabitants of both countries – Thai and Lao – belong to the same Tai group of peoples, the predominant religion is Theravada Buddhism, and the languages are, for the most part, mutually comprehensible. It is hardly surprising, then, that the Thai and the Lao share many festivals, both sacred and mundane.
That Luang: Heart Of The Lao Nation
"Near Wieng Chan is a very interesting pagoda called Wat Luang. Religion and war are there combined; the lower part is a perfect fortress riddled with loop holes. The Haw Chinese took possession of it without any opposition, and by means of ropes pulled off the spire in search of treasure." - James McCarthy, Report of a Survey in Siam, 1895.
The Splendours Of Phimai
A Classical Khmer Gem of Northeast Thailand
Perhaps the best-preserved, and certainly the most famous Khmer temple complex in Thailand may be found at the small town of Phimai, fifty-nine kilometres north-east of Khorat, on a turning off National Highway 2 to Khon Kaen. In classical times the site was directly linked by road to Angkor, the capital of the Khmer Empire. Indeed, there are clear indications that Phimai was the main religious and administrative centre to the north-west.
From Ta Mok To Colonel Kurtz
Recent reports from Cambodia claim that Ta Mok, the much-feared Khmer Rouge Chief-of-Staff who is also known as "the Butcher", has surrounded himself with a special bodyguard of thirty hand-picked fighters. Strangely, all are from non-Khmer ethnic minorities, and all are female. Are we witnessing a Khmer Rouge re-run of Apocalypse Now? Or are the explanations more mundane?