The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis book review: Bataan Death March: Mario Machi’s ‘Under the Rising Sun’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 19•15

MachiRisingSunOne of the most infamous incidents in World War II was the Bataan Death March, in which the Japanese military force-marched 60,000-80,000 Allied and Filipino prisoners along a 60 mile route. Along the way, thousands of prisoners died, bayoneted or shot by Japanese soldiers, or victims of wounds, disease, or malnourishment. And Mario Machi, an American prisoner of war, was there. His Under the Rising Sun: Memories of a Japanese Prisoner of War (1994, ISBN 0-9642521-0-4) tells the grim and fascinating story.

The book is compelling, and at 176 pages, a quick read. Machi, a San Franciscan, shipped out to the Philippines and began keeping a diary. After being captured in Manila, he was able to surreptitiously slip his diary to a local citizen, who mailed it back to him after the war. Many of the stories in this book come from the diary, but Machi’s memories from the march and imprisonment in Camp O’Donnell and Cabanatuan were not documented: a found diary meant instant death.

Philippines-290x200We here at WoWasis found the book to be sobering and inspirational at the same time. Obviously, there’s lots of death here, but also compelling stories of how the survivors managed to stay alive against seemingly insurmountable odds. Bad food, no food, and dysentery are ongoing themes, as are the camp rules that, once violated, often resulted in the execution of the prisoner who breeched them.

Machi is a born storyteller, and was helped along in this book by veteran travel adventure writer Harold Stephens. The Bataan Death March is a story told in many books detailing the Pacific War, but perhaps not as forcefully as this, told by a man who was there, on that road of death. Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: ‘Aloha Attire,’ a handsome history of Hawaii’s fashion trade

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 18•15

AlohaAttireBookCoverHawaii’s apparel industry encompasses more than aloha shirts, and the whole story, including women’s fashion, is told informatively by Linda B. Arthur, in her highly informative Aloha Attire: Hawaiian Dress in the Twentieth Century (2000, ISBN 0-7643-1015-1). We here at WoWasis loved the book.

The author focuses on four traditional garment types worn in Hawaii, the holoku, muumuu, and holomuu, worn by women, and the aloha shirt worn by men. There’s a lot of history in the book, richly illustrated by dozens of color photographs of historical garments dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. Arthur is a clothing scholar and includes important historical information as to the cultural importance of these garments, along with insightful information on how they were manufactured, distributed, and sold. In addition to the dazzling garments, a final chapter includes photos of clothing labels, a boon for historians and collectors. For those wishing to begin or add to a collection of Hawaiian clothing, she offers a then-current (2000) market price, adding additional value for scholarship purposes as well.

Kahehameha swimsuit, 1960s

Kahehameha swimsuit, 1960s

What could the book have done better? Only a couple of things. We would have liked to have seen a bit more qualitative commentary on some of the more marginal designs. Some of the garments, particularly those made in the latter century, were hideous, and are included without any critical commentary. Perhaps this is understandable in light of the fact that the author is a friend of the industry, and ruffling feathers in such a fashion certainly wouldn’t make her any new friends in that very small but fascinating world.

Overall, the book is an important one, as valuable as ever despite the fact that it’s 15 years old. It’s published by Schiffer, a company known for publishing handsome historical books with an eye to scholarship. This book has annotated footnotes and leads the interested reader to further resources.

AsiaPromoBannerIt’s highly recommended for clothing historians, people interested in Hawaiian culture, and anyone who has at least one Hawaiian garment in his or her collection. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis toilet product review: The Swash bidet toilet seat that keeps ‘em coming back for more

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 08•15

BrondellSwash300Here at WoWasis, we’re pretty well known for our bathroom plumbing product reviews, from Thai toilet hoses to heated, pulsating toilet seats from Asia. Geez, we’ve even shown you how to wash your butt on a 747 jet airplane! But we gotta tell ya: after installing the Brondell Swash 300 toilet seat at the WoWasis world headquarters, we just can’t keep visitors off the thing. They use the warm water jets even when they don’t have to use the toilet!

What makes the Brondell Swash 300 bidet seat elemental for every home is its affordability: it’s selling for under $300 USD, more than 50% less than similar seats by other manufacturers. It’s sturdy, easy to install, and a snap to use. It replaces your standard toilet seat in just a few minutes. All plumbing gadgetry is included. When you’re done, you simply plug it in to a grounded, three-prong electrical outlet. And you’re off to the races!

Here’s what you’ll love:

1) There two nozzles, one for “front,” the other for “rear.”
2) The water temperature and pressure are adjustable to three settings.
3) Nozzles are retractable and self-cleaning after each use.
4) Adjust the seat temperature if you’re in the cold season.
5) The lid doesn’t slam down, it floats down.
6) Warm water nozzles are triggered by someone sitting on the seat: no unwanted geysers here.

The product is made in Korea, with exceptional Korean craftsmanship. Installation instructions are simple to read. You’ll be able to do it yourself in an hour or less.

You can spend a whole lot more on heated bidet toilet seats, up to $1000 USD. But why should you? For the extra money, you’d get stainless steel nozzles and an air intake, which is advertised to remove smells. We don’t think either is worth the money. You could also spend less, perhaps $200 USD, but you wouldn’t get warm water. And you’ll love the warm water.

The remote includes instant controls for front or rear wash, water temperature and pressure, and seat temperature

The remote includes instant controls for front or rear wash, water temperature and pressure, and seat temperature

The handy controls on the Swash 300 are mounted on a wireless remote device that you can attach to a wall (via magnet, double-sided tape, or screws), or you can use it hand-held. The bidet seat comes in two sizes, elongated (approximately 20 inches from lid screws to front of bowl) and round (approximately 18 inches).

This is truly a revolutionary product for the Americas, and has a real chance to move Americans away from the barbarity of toilet paper (you still use paper, but only to dry yourself). Its price point is right and it’s durable and easy to use. Once you use it, you’ll never want to go back to the old way of using the bathroom. The Swash 300 can be found in various hardware stores, but you can buy it now, without making a trip, at the WoWasis eStore.

A media giant flees Bangkok: farewell to photographer Nick Nostitz

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 06•15

Nick_NostitzThailand, and Bangkok in particular, isn’t always an easy place for the working press. The latest to depart the Land of Smiles is noted documentary still photographer Nick Nostitz, who was recently roughed up by thugs associated with the PDRC (People’s Democratic Reform Committee). He was rescued from that fracas by Thai police, but has now chosen to pack up and leave.

Nikolaus Freiherr von Nostitz arrived in Thailand in 1993 and is perhaps best known for his photo documentary book Patpong – Bangkok’s Twilight Zone: A Photographic Diary (2000). He is being given a public goodbye at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Friday, July 9, 2015, at 7pm, with a farewell retrospective of his work. As soon as legal complications are addressed, he will be leaving to relocate to Germany.

As Nostitz noted in his blog on December 19, 2014, “After the assault against me by the PDRC on November 25, 2013, a broad hate campaign was launched against me, and which led to a fortunately failed abduction attempt on May 7, 2014. I am still receiving threats, and the group responsible for this has so far refused any communication or attempt to clear the situation. This has compounded my financial problems, and is severely affecting my ability to work. I have not been able to work at all during the 7 months of PDRC protests, and even now I cannot, for example, go anywhere in southern Thailand, as this is the main support base for the PDRC.”

The cover of 'Patpong-Bangkok's Twilight Zone'

The cover of ‘Patpong-Bangkok’s Twilight Zone’

His story sent us, here at WoWasis, back to looking at Nostitz’s book. It’s a chilling but very real document of the nightlife scene in Bangkok at it was from 1993 to 2000, focusing primarily on street people, sex workers, customers, and expats. The photos are mostly black and white, and gritty. The text, typed, handwritten, and taped to the page, is right out of William Burroughs. There are entire chapters dedicated to clubs such as the Thermae and the equally legendary hardcore ladyboy bar  Casanova, which still exists in Nana Plaza.The book is a valuable and still important time capsule of a world gone by, while remaining an endlessly recurring story.

The ongoing tale of expats in Thailand has many flavors, and Nostitz was never afraid of mixing it up. Finally, he got caught in the cement mixer. It’s sobering to review his personal essay in the book, written in 2000, and reflect on where he is, philosophically, today:

Life was always too narrow for me in Germany. Since I can remember I wanted to be somebody else, live somewhere else. I got kicked out of schools, threw stones in demonstrations, did drugs. Nothing made me happy. Always searching for something.

I thought I found the answer when I went to India for the first time. It opened a new world for me, full of questions. A freedom I had always been looking for, no rules or regulations but my own, no expectations, just to be.

In Germany I knew my future would have been university, job, family. Suicide.

So I barely finished school, worked nightshifts for two months, then left. With a few intervals I travelled for the next five years. Walking Hindu pilgrimages in the Himalayas, surfing in Indonesia’s islands, getting lost on India’s plains, sipping tea in China’s mountains, chewing kat in Djibouti’s slums, attending timeless ceremonies in Tibet. What a life, just caring for the present moment.

But I became restless and lonely. Until I found Bangkok. All my friends carried some sort of load on their backs. In Bangkok there was no need to hide it, it was accepted, even expected. We fucked up, life fucked us, so we fucked life, and had loads of fun with it.

Because bad things had happened to us we thought we could behave the way we did. But bad things happen to everyone, so that was no reason. In truth it was just coincidence: right time, right place, right state of mind.

We were so naive, and had no idea that serious things were waiting to happen. We came from all backgrounds, some of us had no education, most had left careers behind. We went out together, shared women. And Bangkok’s night became our prison. We were addicted to the lifestyle, slaves to it; intoxicated by a moral set-up incomprehensible and alien to anyone outside the scene. And in turn we couldn’t understand other people anymore, their bigotry, their double standards, trapped as we were in our bubble of illusions.

Many of us have left, some have been or still are in jail, a consequence of the life we chose. Most of us have created some sort of life for ourselves here in Thailand.

Bangkok has changed our lives so profoundly it will never leave us. Whatever we do, our experience of Bangkok will remain. We just have to come to terms with it. Somehow.

ThailandPromoBannerThose who will be in Bangkok on January 9 should plan to be at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, close to the BTS Chit Lom station, at 7pm. Nick Nostitz’s exhibited photos will be compelling. We suspect he’ll be there in person. Whether or not you can make it, we recommend his book. It’s an important document. And whatever his future holds, he shouldn’t be forgotten. And won’t.

WoWasis book review: Dean Barrett’s ‘Pop Darrell’s Last Case’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Jan• 04•15

BarrettPopDarrellVeteran Bangkok-based author Dean Barrett is always full of surprises. In addition to his Thailand beat, he’s been a New York-based dramatist, lived in Hong Kong for 17 years, and he’s served as a Chinese language specialist for a branch of the Department of Defense. Somehow, just about all of that has made in into his latest thriller, Pop Darrells’ Last Case (2014, ISBN 978-0-9788888-4-8).

Set in New York, the story involves a retired cop whose suicide is interrupted by a crying woman at the door. Soon, he’s going after some very nasty Chinese and New York gangsters. Or more truthfully, they’re going after him.

While the overall theme is entrenched with the ancient tale of young vs. old, it soon turns into classic Sword & Sorcery, influenced by a touch of Dr. Jekyll and a whole lotta Chinese mythology. It also touches on human trafficking, but, as any Barrett devotee can guess, that particular crime isn’t always written in black and white.

As is the case with Barrett’s previous book, A Love Story: The China Memoirs of Thomas Rowley, the author seems more and more bent on exploring Chinese mythology, rather than the Thai scene explored in many of his earlier books. Expect to come away with knowledge of a couple of important characters from Chinese lore that you might not have known about before.

ChinaPromoBannerThe book kept us here at WoWasis riveted, waiting for Barrett’s usual turns of events. And love or hate Pop Darrell, you won’t be seeing him again, as the title suggests, any time soon.

Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

Thai Bargirl Lek describes the book of Genesis: Just when you thought you knew your Bible

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 23•14

BarrettPopDarrellVeteran Bangkok novelist Dean Barrett recently quizzed bargirl Lek on the beginning of the world. It turns out that this college-educated beauty had the whole thing sussed out. We here at WoWasis are printing her explanation, which we assume will soon be a major element in every Thail university’s science curriculum. And you get to read it, right here:

OK. Here, there, topside, bottomside, no hab nothing. No can see nothing. Can say no hab here; can say no hab there. Dark too much. But hab Topside Man. Topside Man Him have power. Can do what him like. Maybe him pay off police. When Him say light can hab, light hab. Him looksee light say, OK! Him happy.

Him say light go there; dark go there; say light day, dark night. So then one, two, three day can hab. Him know how many. And Him say OK now hab water too much. And Him say OK now hab land too much, and hab heaven and land but not same same, and land no hab water. Him like. Him happy. OK.

Him say rice, mango, nam pla, somtam, tom yam kung, can hab. Then hab. Him say OK. Him like. Him make hot season. Him make rainy season. Him make big light for upstair and litten light for downstair and make star too much. Him look, him happy, say OK!

Him say OK now can hab something in water and something can fly over land and him looksee, say OK! Him happy. Him make elephant and water buffalo and cow and chicken and pig and duck and gecko too much. Him say OK now all can boom boom so can make more same same. And more day hab go by.

Then Him say now make puyai in charge look same same Him. He be number one. So Him make puyai from dust. Him say name him Sombat. Then Him make specien garden in Nana and Him say OK you man go garden hab breadfruit, durian, rambutan, mangosteen, appen so many fruit. Can eat. But Him say one tree specien, you no can eat. If eat, you know too much. You be sorry too much. Sombat him think maybe Topside Man dlink too much but him say OK.

ThailandPromoBannerBut Topside Man Him see Sombat lonely so Him say Him make somebody keep company for him. Him Make Sombat go sleep and kamoey rib Sombat and make woman for Sombat so Sombat can hab sanuk. When Sombat him wake up, Topside Man say OK you hab her longtime. Sombat looksee woman, Sombat him happy, no care lose one rib, two rib, twenty rib, no care.

Woman she happy, her name Noy. Both no hab nothing can wear. Sombat him say to Topside Man, OK, nothing can wear maibenlai, krab, but Noy she begin think about go shopping.

Nana hab one Burmese python, him wicked but plenty smart. Him say to Noy, Why no can eat specien tree? Noy say Topside Man say they die. Serpent say no way. Topside Man Him know if you eat you know too much, same same Him. So he no like; he want be number one. Noy no listen. But serpent, him say, You eat, you say must hab clothes, so you can go shopping.

Noy she like tree, like looksee, like eat, like go shopping, so she eat fruit Topside Man say no can eat and she tell Sombat eat too. Him eat. But then they think no hab clothes specien too much, not like before; Sombat looksee Noy him get big and boom boom Noy. Him happy! Noy happy too – now can go shopping. At first they find frond too much from banana tree and make clothes can wear. But they can hear Topside Man him coming so they hide in bamboo grove.

Topside Man say where everybody go? Sombat say, I no hab something to wear so I make banana leaf to wear and hide myself in bamboo grove. Topside Man him moho too much! Him say who say you no hab clothes? I tell you no can eat specien tree but you no listen! Sombat say not his fault, Noy she give him fruit and Noy say serpent he put her under magic spell, not her fault.

So Topside Man tell serpent because you no listen you allatime got to crawl on ground. Him tell Noy you no listen so Him say from now on when she hab child she hab jeb too much. Nobody tell Noy what mean child so she think maibenlai; but when Topside Man say from now on she must do what Sombat say then Noy pissed off.

And him say to Sombat, You number ten! You listen Noy not me, eat fruit, so now you hab work hard and you someday hab got die. Sombat think nobody tell him what is work, what is die, so him think maibenlai.

Then Topside Man make coats of animal skins for Sombat and Noy, and Noy she very happy. But Topside Man kick their ass out from Nana and they hab plant rice and till ground with water buffalo.

But Noy she still happy too much, she get more clothes later. Sombat him very happy, him get Noy longtime. And they live happily ever after.
Copyright Dean Barrett 2014

WoWasis book review: Duch, the Khmer Rouge King of Torture. ‘The Master of Confessions’ by Thierry Cruvellier

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 20•14

MasterConfessionsIt’s tempting to stop reading about the reign of terror in Cambodia, led by the Khmer Rouge. The major statistic, an estimated quarter of the nation’s population murdered, is well-known. It’s the why of it that leaves us here at WoWasis, along with the rest of the world, perturbed. That’s where French author Thierry Cruvellier’s The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer (2011, ISBN 978-0-06-232954-7) comes in. For it climbs into the mind of Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Duch,” who headed the notorious S-21 concentration camp, perhaps better known as Tuol Sleng prison.

Cruvillier’s book is based on Duch’s testimony before Cambodia’s United Nations-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), held between February and November of 2009. It’s more than a tale of “I was just doing my job, as odious as it was” which was essentially Duch’s position in court. His fascinating testimony describes how a phalanx of school teachers — including legendary torturers Mam Nai (Ta Chan) and Tang Sin Hean (Comrade Pon) — adopted a Cambodian form of Maoist Communism to rid their country, first of anyone who had dealings with Westerners, and then of people sharing their own philosophy. Three-quarters of the estimated 14,000 people tortured at Tuol Sleng and soon murdered were Khmer Rouge themselves, purged in a sordid tribute to Stalinism.

There’s plenty to reflect upon in this 326 page book (in a remarkable oversight, there is no index; it badly needs one). Three of its most cogent concepts are those surrounding the nature of Communism, the importance of secrecy as a weapon of control, and whether or not the mortifying deeds described in the book are those of a monster or a rational human being. Early on, the author ruminates about the act of the vilification and ultimate murder of a specific class — rather than an ethnicity —- of people:

Duch’s is the first international trial concerned with crimes committed in the name of Communism. International lawyers and human rights activists are scathing about so-called
nationalist revolutions-those that openly pursue racist or xenophobic aims. No one has any trouble rejecting the movement for a Greater Serbia or denouncing Hutu Power. Yet many balk at the notion that, in a trial of the Khmer Rouge, Communism itself takes the stand as well.

When right-wing revolutions conflate purity with race, the violent resulting ideology is cause for alarm; yet when a left-wing revolution conflates notions of purity with class, it is somehow deemed appealing. Desiring a single race of men is a hateful project; desiring a single class of men (or two, or four), a good intent.

To create the “final solution,” through, a certain degree of secrecy must be maintained while it’s being accomplished:
Secrecy: nothing was better maintained than secrecy. So precious was secrecy to the Khmer Rouge leadership that for a long time the Party’s very existence was kept hidden, and the name of Brother Number One, Pol Pot, wasn’t divulged until more than a year after the 1975 victory, and then only discreetly.

“I was instructed to share nothing with my colleagues,” remembers Prak Khan. “I was told to keep everything secret. Each of us had to keep things secret. We were supposed to look after only those things that concerned us, or else we would be reported.”

Duch taught his staff that secrecy was the very soul of their mission and that, without it, their work made no sense. Guards and interrogators were not authorized to communicate with other units. Merely having contact with the outside world was deemed suspicious. Secrecy was an obsession, the Party’s alpha and omega. It was also a formidable instrument of control that, like everything else in Democratic Kampuchea, eventually imposed its own insane logic over all other lines of reasoning. The systematic execution of prisoners at S-21 was in large part due to the absolute imperative of keeping the prison secret. Due to secrecy becoming of utmost importance, it was decided that nobody could get out alive. And if someone were arrested by mistake, then the secrecy of the institution took precedence over that man’s life.

The author, reminiscent of filmmaker Alain Resnais’ ‘Night and Fog,’ Nazi concentration camp film, waxes almost poetic in his descriptions of the famous photographs in Tuol Sleng:

But it is the photographs of the prisoners that anchor the experience of visiting S-21. Around two thousand portraits are exhibited in what were once classrooms, then prison cells, and now museum rooms. Their subjects look frightened, questioning, restless, quiet, defiant, smiling, tired, swollen, puffed up, gentle, jocular, determined, shocked, stiff, confident, obedient, despondent, resigned, evasive, astonished, sweet, sad, anxious, exhausted, proud. They are young, old, good-looking, ugly, baby-faced, thin, plump, blindfolded, and tied up. There is nothing more crushing than seeing these portraits hung tightly together, panel after panel, room after room. The intellectual power, emotional charge, documentary, and even artistic value of these snapshots of the thousands who died in the days or weeks after their photos were taken are what both define and anchor memory at S-21.

Yet almost everyone who visits S-21 walks past the photographs of its victims utterly unaware of the ambiguity inherent in many of them, including in the famous, harrowing image of a beautiful woman, understated and elegant, her hair slightly disheveled, her expression one of exhaustion, despair, and resignation, who is holding on her knees a sleeping infant in diapers, its eyes closed and hair slick with sweat. This woman, who was murdered in 1978 at S-21, was herself a revolutionary, the wife of the secretary of the southeast region, one of the regime’s high officials who fell from grace and was eliminated, along with his family, by the regime he had served.

And in the countryside surrounding Anlong Veng, the final resting spot of Pol Pot:

For a long time, the road to Anlong Veng was sufficiently rough and corrugated by rain to dissuade most visitors, including most tourists, from venturing there. The sleepy, remote little town lies at the foot of the Dangrek Mountains on Cambodia’s northern border. Its location appears to serve a dual purpose: on the one hand, it is protected from Thailand by the mountains, but on the other hand, it provides easy refuge.

Just before the bridge leading into town, a track veers off to the left. The track leads three hundred meters out onto a small peninsula covered in mango trees and jutting out into an area that is both land and water, known locally as “the lake.” The subtle, muted combination of water, wild grasses, and tall, bare trees soaring spear-like into the sky infuses the area with a meditative peace. If you stand on the peninsula and look out over this marsh, you can see the village of Anlong Veng without being seen from it. This promontory suits wise men, thinkers, and soldiers on watch, and it’s here that Ta Mok, the most powerful and brutal of Khmer Rouge military commanders, lived.

Thierry Cruvellier really leaves no stone unturned, here. Duch’s fear of Ta Mok is described and there are nearly full chapters on people such as François Bizot, author of ‘The Gate,’ and one of the few European survivors of Duch’s ministrations, and Ta Chan, that most rigorous of interrogators.

CambodiaUltimately, what is the reader left with? After a disagreement among his lawyers, Duch received a life prison sentence. His testimony, in essence, can be described as a textbook for mass murder as codified by the state. The word ‘sadism’ isn’t mentioned in the book. Although Duch presided over the terror that occurred inside S-21, Ta Chan and Comrade Pon were ultimately the most significant “hands-on” torturists. At any rate, the author avoids sensationalism as much as possible, enough so that there are no photographs in the book. What’s written in words is terrifying enough.

The country of Cambodia is still in recovery over its Khmer Rouge era. The historical record has been accurately described by writers such as David Chandler. But the psychology of how intelligent and rational people such as Duch dehumanized themselves in search of an idealistic goal has been given perhaps the most powerful voice by Thierry Cruvellier.

Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

Four things you can do to avoid getting murdered on Koh Tao or any tropical island, Thailand or elsewhere

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 16•14
Idyllic Koh Tao, Thailand

Idyllic Koh Tao, Thailand

The murder on Thailand’s Koh Tao island of two young British citizens, David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, could have happened on any tropical island with little police presence, coupled with a strong local mafia. Two Burmese illegals have been charged with the murder, but rumors are rampant that youths well-connected to the local power establishment were responsible. Let’s see what comes out in court. One of our WoWasis staffers nearly had this happen to him and his wife a few years back. It was in the Caribbean, probably a similar situation to that faced by Miller and Witheridge. Here’s his story, and four strong recommendations:

“The island was off the coast of Central America, where a local strongman owned a few restaurants and places to stay. I was 24, my wife was 21, and she was a beauty. There was very little police presence on the island. All law enforcement, as it was, was in the hands of the strongman.

“We were staying at one of his beach bungalows, and he invited himself for lunch, buying us a few rounds. He tried to give my wife a palm-reading, but I told him sorry, I’m the only one allowed to touch her. We had come to do some snorkeling and he offered to take us out with a couple of friends the next day. We said yes.

“Later that afternoon, I ran into his daughter, home from college for the month. I told her that her father seemed pretty accommodating. She gave me a rather cold look and said ‘There’s a lot you don’t know. I’d be a lot more careful if I were you.’ And she walked away.

“My wife and I talked about it over dinner. I didn’t like the way he was getting touchy-feely with her, and his daughter wasn’t his biggest fan. It was beginning to look dodgy, and I could see me getting killed out on the boat, fed to the sharks, then her getting raped and murdered, shark food also. And no one we knew back in the states would even know we’d been to that island.

“So I told her — since we’d pre-paid our bungalow — let’s go now, this very minute and get to the mainland, about three miles away over the water. I went down to the pier, where the motorboats were moored. They did a busy taxi business between the island and the mainland. But none of them would take us. None. I suspected they’d been warned, and that what I perceived was on tap for us might very well have previously happened to others.

“I went back to the bungalow, told my wife to pack now and lock the door. I had seen a boat or two on the other side of the island, and would hike over. I found a kid, maybe 12 or 13, and told him I needed to get to the mainland fast. He said he couldn’t. I offered to pay him double. He nervously looked around in all directions, and asked ‘When?’ I said ten minutes and there’d be another passenger. And it worked. We made it back.

“That island, we found out later, was a classic old pirate enclave. In those years, a lot of people were disappearing in the ‘Bermuda Triangle,’ in the Caribbean, victims of thieves who rape, murder, and steal, then scuttle the boats of their victims. The crap about supernatural reasons for disappearances was a smoke-screen. Lots of murdered people disappeared forever, bodies never found. Food for barracuda and other sea predators.

“David Miller and Hannah Witheridge weren’t as fortunate as my wife and I. Whether they were killed by the Burmese, the island mafia, or someone else may or may not come out in court. But here are four suggestions for travelers to islands, when young beautiful females are in the mix.”

1) Take phone photos of everyone you meet, and email them to someone you know and trust. Group photos are really good. A murderer won’t kill someone whose picture folder includes one of him.

2) Plan an emergency way off the island. Ask around. Determine if there’s another pier that carries passengers on an ad hoc basis, and figure out how you’ll get there if you need to.

3) Carry bribe money in a money belt and use it only for extreme emergencies. You may need to buy your way out of a jam when an ATM isn’t near, or you can’t afford to be seen.

4) When possible, stay around large groups of foreigners, and if isolated, keep a sharp eye for others in your vicinity.

Plenty of people play in the islands and have a great time. Documented murders of travelers still fall into the “rare” category, but forewarned is forearmed. Above all, do watch out for warning signs, such as local men being a little too friendly, touchy-feely wise.

WoWasis book review: ‘The Marriage Tree,’ Bangkok fiction by Christopher G. Moore

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 15•14

MooreMarriage TreeHere at WoWasis, we make it a point of avoiding reviewing books in which vampires and ghosts play prominent roles. So we thought veteran novelist Christopher G. Moore sandbagged us when he introduced some phantasms in the early pages of his most recent novel, The Marriage Tree (2014, ISBN 978-616-7503-23-3). We needn’t have worried. They belong in the story. This, the latest in Moore’s Vincent Calvino detective series, revolves around two main themes, the fate of the Rohingya, disadvantaged Burmese Muslims who have fled to Thailand, and Calvino’s dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, a consequence of the action in Moore’s previous novel, Missing in Rangoon.

The author here introduces us to Calvino’s unwelcome spirits via the ingenious use of letters written by the detective to his therapist, who is charged with helping him to clear his recurring visions of the people he lost in his recent Burmese-Thai adventure. The brain plays some strange tricks. This reviewer saw recurring snippets of a 30 second movie for six months after a brain surgery once, a piece of cinema that would pop up at random in the left field of vision. So we get cranial aberrations, we do.

The Rohingya situation, in contrast, was pretty much news to us, in terms of the slavery business being run by “influential Thai businessmen,” to populate fishing boats and factories with undocumented (and unpaid) Burmese. Moore, who’s lived in Bangkok since the late 1980s, again provides the reader with data that doesn’t often appear in newspapers, salting this latest adventure tale with cerebral material involving, in addition to the Rohingya element, high tech spyware such as the GSM interceptor, and tracking technology involving microchips embedded under tattoos. They figure prominently in this story.

The tale begins with a dead beauty lying on the grounds of Bangkok’s Tobacco Monopoly, resulting in Calvino being banged around by the Thai police during a tense interrogation scene. His erstwhile Thai police confidant, Colonel Pratt, has been marginalized by his superiors, leaving the detective on his own to prove that he wasn’t the murderer and sort out, ultimately, who was. We won’t spill the beans about how the spyware become involved. It’s a juicy part of the story and we’re not going to spoil the fun for the reader. Moore is adroit at discussing the mechanics of how it’s used, and we’d guess that most readers will review the passages more than once, just to get it right.

In terms of the evolution of Moore’s style (this is his fourteenth Calvino book), we see more of the tale emerging through dialogue, rather than straight description, and Moore’s good at it. He once wrote radio plays, and it shows. At 429 pages, it’s not to be read in one sitting. It will keep the reader up at nights, though, as the action is fast-paced and full of enough twists to foment insomnia. We just gave up and spent a couple of nights reading until 3 am. For readers who loved Missing in Rangoon, this follow-on book provides something of a final resolution.

And although the reader may well be satisfied with Marriage Tree’s ending, there may be one small knot left purposely untied by the author that we somehow feel will be addressed by Calvino sometime in the future.

ThailandPromoBannerCan we be a bit nit-picky? There are still perhaps too many similes herein for our liking, like a surfeit of old clothes stuffed into a cheap suitcase. We still think that if Pratt continues fingering the buttons, rather than the keys, on his tenor sax, then he’d better switch to accordion. And jazzmen play tenors, altos, sopranos, or baris, not saxophones. Moore’s so good at bringing the reader into the spyware lexicon that we hope he’ll do it with jazz, too. The reader deserves it, and the author’s ongoing tribute to Dexter Gordon in this book really demands it. But these are minor details in which reviewers revel, and Moore is well-aware of the joy of keeping readers on their toes. In his Acknowledgment page, he states: “Whatever errors remain are the result of my own success at making them invisible until after publication in order to give the reader that extra pleasure of discovering a piece of loose debris.”

A fast-paced story with plenty of good twists involving cerebral puzzles and fascinating characters has become the hallmark of Moore’s fictional work. The added bonus is that the reader gets a worm’s eye view of the rotten core that defines the ever-present Thai underworld, played out daily in Bangkok’s newspapers, but elucidated to a devilish degree by the author. So read The Marriage Tree for a compelling, well-crafted story, and come away with an education in the process. It’s not just for Bangkokers, either. Anyone with an interest in inner-city politics and police practices — or malpractices — will find a home here.

Buy this book now at the WoWasis eStore.

Khun Lee’s Bachelor in Bangkok: Top Eight Rules for dating non-bargirls in Thailand

Written By: herbrunbridge - Dec• 13•14

BachBKKLKee1cWoWasis columnist Khun Lee weighs in on the bachelor scene in Bangkok:

More and more guys are choosing to date normal Thai gals instead of restricting their pool of potential lasses to the ones who hug chrome poles or are otherwise engaged in sex for sale. This certainly is a good thing as far as I am concerned, but it also brings about new challenges as it is no longer a simple pay-for-play scenario. No matter how much criticism is aimed at the sex industry, the one big upside to the professional gals is that all you need is money in your pocket. You don’t need to be handsome, rich, personable or even presentable. It is strictly pay as you go, or as one of my mates calls it “point and shoot.”

I have always played in both the professional and normal gal arenas and it has really been a pleasure and education to see the world from both angles. With the professional gals becoming more mercenary as time goes by, and the normal Thai gals becoming much more open to meeting western guys during this same period of time, it has become inevitable that more guys will cross over to the other side, or as my Sunderland mate likes to say “cross over to the light side.”

So with this theme in mind I would like to offer the following words of advice to any guy who has spent the majority of his time in Thailand with pros, but from time to time has wondered just how to act if he chose to cross over to the other side:

1) You will need to dress and act more appropriately. Wear smart clothes and be polite at all times.

2) NEVER lose your cool under any circumstances.

3) Smile and have fun. There is no bigger turn off for a Thai gal than a serious guy.

4) Awaken your spirit of adventure. Normal Thai gals will show you a side of Thailand that you never thought existed.

5) Be a man. Guys may be going “metro-sexual” in the west, but in Thailand the man is the boss and makes all the important decisions. Be polite but don’t take any crap from the ladies. When I first meet a lady I employ what I like to call my “one strike and you are out” rule. The first month or so if they show up late without calling, ask me for money, raise their voice at me or use foul language then I delete their phone number and move on. With bar gals the biggest issue is normally money. With normal gals my biggest issue has been that they want to marry you. Many get very jealous and possessive right away, and it is not unusual for a gal to want you to be her boyfriend after just 1 or 2 dates. Don’t despair guys, I am only talking about 30% or so of the gals being whacko like that.

6) Learn some Thai. Bar girls can all speak a smattering of broken English but many normal Thai gals have studied English from first grade and are still shy to use it in public.

7) Be discreet. In Thailand there is the public world and the private world. If you go to brothels and sleep with a different hooker every night, but act like a gentleman around your lady, then you are a good man. If she sees you having a cup of coffee in Starbucks with a female friend then you are a bad man. Thai men rarely leave the bar with a pro, they use the rooms upstairs in the nightlife establishment or at least go to a short time hotel and have the staff pull the curtain to cover up their automobile. This concept of a public world and private world seems to be especially difficult to grasp for western guys, but is at the heart of all things Thai.

8) Protect you freedom. Like I mentioned before, some gals will try to “fast forward” the relationship and become your girlfriend right away. Always remember that paradise is not paradise any more if you have a weight (girlfriend) around your neck. Be patient. There are millions of Thai gals dying to have a foreign boyfriend, but only a few thousand of us. We hold all the cards.

ThailandPromoBannerI hope this short list has helped in some way. The real wild card here is understanding Thai culture and the way things work over here. As one friend of mine said when referring to a mutual acquaintance who has lived here for years and has yet to learn a single thing about Thai ways “when he meets a new gal it is like he showed up to a football game with ice skates on… it’s going to be ugly.”

Read Khun Lee’s other WoWasis columns for more advice on navigating the adult dating scene through the backstreets of Bangkok