The sharper edge to traveling in Asia

WoWasis visits Ecuador’s largest medical museum, in the city of Cuenca

Written By: admin - Jun• 12•14

FacadeMedMuseum1cVeteran WoWasis readers know we love medical museums (read our review of Bangkok’s grisly Siriraj Medical Museum). In South America, we stumbled on a terrific one in the colonial city of Cuenca, Ecuador. After Quito and the Galapagos, Cuenca is the most visited spot in Ecuador, but if you’re looking to enjoy a medical museum in Cuenca, you won’t find it in your Lonely Planet Guide. It’s not listed.

That’s too bad, because after a couple of days of looking at cultural museums and old churches in Cuenca, you may want something different. You’ll find it here at the Cuenca Medical Museum. To visit, cross the Rio Tomebamba from the old town, over the Benigno Malo street bridge. Turn left (east) and look for the sign that says “Museo Historia De La Medicina Guillermo Aguilar M.” You’ll be entering a courtyard of the old San Vicente de Paulo Hospital, built in 1876. Covering two stories, the collection is a ramshackle display of medical devices dating from 1895 to about 1970. There’s even an early Atari 130 XE Computer.

A vintage Emerson iron lung

A vintage Emerson iron lung

The place is loaded with mystique. There’s an old, decaying iron lung (pulmundiacero) just sitting there outside a window, a birthing chair for expectant mothers that looks like an inquisition device, and an instant anesthesia device that’s a hybrid of two devices, among hundreds of the items displayed. You’ll even find a mummified 5 year-old girl who died of an intestinal ailment and what’s left of an 8 week old. It’s a wild way to spend a couple of hours. The museum was founded in 1982 and restoration on the old hospital was begun in 1984 to house the eventual collection. It was opened to the public in 1996. There are approximately 10,000 items in the collection and exhibitions change every two months.

A few of the hundreds of jars in the Cuenca Medical Museum apothecary

A few of the hundreds of jars in the Cuenca Medical Museum apothecary

Presiding over it all is Sra. Cecilia Castro, who takes your one dollar admission from a little office at the top of the stairs (by now you’ve already passed the iron lung) and is willing to tell you everything she knows about the history of the museum and its collection. In Spanish, of course. But she’s ingratiating in any language, and is delighted to greet visitors. Her favorites pieces are the wood-burning Ecogit autoclave from 1985 and the phenomenal Radiguet & Massiot wood and marble x-ray machine that dates from the same era. Señora Castro told us that Quito had a medical museum as well, but it’s smaller. And sure enough it does, the Museo Nacional de Medicina “Eduardo Estrella.” Judging by the map, it’s not in Quito’s tourist area, which would seem to make Cuenca’s museum more accessible to the western visitor.

You’ll spend more time here than you think. Just reading the instructions of how to operate the iron lung gave us shivers (they’re in English, on an affixed metal plate). It’s sobering, fascinating, and not to be missed.

Museo de Historia de la Medicina Guillermo Aguilar Maldonado
Corner of Avenida 12 de Abril and Avenida. Solano, just south of the river, near the Benigno Malo bridge
Cuenca, Ecuador
Open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.

WoWasis book review: 22 Fascinating Walks in Bangkok by Kenneth Barrett

Written By: herbrunbridge - May• 03•14

Barrett22WalksBangkok is one of the world’s most fascinating cities, particularly when you can get into her inner essence. It’s tough to do, though. The Skytrain floats above it, traffic is usually a mess, and then there’s the heat. We here at WoWasis have always found walking to be a pleasure in Bangkok, especially if you have a destination and have your eyes open along the way to see many of the fascinating buildings, people, shops, and temples that grace the city. That’s why Kenneth Barrett’s 22 Walks in Bangkok: Exploring the City’s Historic Back Lanes and Byways (2013, ISBN 978-0-8048-4343-0) is so necessary and welcome.

There’s plenty of history and culture in this 319 page book. The author, a journalist who’s written on travel, food, and industry, among a number of subjects, revels in the stories surrounding many of these places, providing fascinating details that will please old hands and newcomers alike. Who knew anything about Lek Nana, whose surname lords over the Sukhumvit Soi 4 intersection? And what was the story behind Nai Lert and the penis shrine on his property off Wireless road? Barrett doesn’t miss much, and takes the reader to arcane and interesting spots such as the Siriraj Hospital forensic museum, long a favorite place of ours.

This book will prove especially interesting to visitors staying along the Chao Phraya river in high-end hotels. If you’re one of these folks, you’re pretty removed from much of the action in the center of town, but you’re very close to most of the walks in this book, and you won’t need transportation to get to many of them. Travelers on a budget will love this book as well, as no money is required to see most of what’s in the book.

ThailandPromoBannerThe one fault we found with the book is that there are no blank note pages at the end. We started scribbling all sorts of notes on places we wanted to see, but soon found there was no place to put them all. Tuttle, the publisher, tends to keep its books in print for decades, and it is hoped that a subsequent edition will have those blank note pages. They’re needed.

This book ought to do well, as it will have appeal to every ambulatory visitor to Bangkok. It’s a big city to get one’s arms around, but there are fascinating elements around every corner. Barrett’s aim is to ensure that you don’t miss any. Just make sure you take a hat and a notebook so you can notate further things that interest you on these splendid treks through the city. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis book review: Juan Perón and the Enigmas of Argentina

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 29•14

PeronEnigmasThe ascendance, decline, and re-emergence of Juan Perón into the political life of Argentina remains one of the more compelling stories of twentieth century South American politics, and Robert D. Crassweller’s Perón and the Enigmas of Argentina (1987, ISBN 0-393-30543-0) tells it in remarkable detail. Part of the power of this book is that Crassweller is a natural story-teller and the book reads somewhat like a novel. It’s been said that for a biographer to succeed, he or she must, to a certain extent, fall in love with the subject, or failing that, has to at least try to live in the subject’s skin as much as possible. Only then can he or she make educated guesses as to why and how the subject reached decisions, the reasons of which might otherwise be buried in time. The author has done an admirable job of doing that.

Crassweller provides a small yet important history of the Argentina that preceded Perón, the strongmen, the gaucho culture, and the mestizo sensibility that partially explain the popularity of Juan Perón. We here at WoWasis found this 432 page book fascinating. Highlights include discussions of his relationships with union, military, and political leaders, his relationship with his wives Evita and Isabel, and his May-September romance with the teenage Nelly Rivas. His troubled relationship with the Press, political engagement with the Catholic church, and impeachment of the Supreme Court are described in detail and, we thought, with a good deal of objectivity. What results is that, at least twice in the turbulent history of his nation, Perón was the man of the hour. There are delicious anecdotes and quotes, including the report of a brilliant riposte made by Spanish poet Augustín de Foxa to an insult made by Perón, then in exile in the Dominican Republic. Perón, who never made a secret of his dislike for the United States while occasionally having to court it, told the poet “I realize that you don’t like the Americans, but I suppose you like their dollars,” to which de Foxa relied “Yes, true enough, but I also like ham, and that’s no reason for me to go and bring the pigs into my house to live.”

This is a wonderful biography by a terrific writer, a real page-turner for anyone wishing to get an insight into a remarkable individual that, for a few significant years, represented one of the great military and political powers of South America. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis art review: street murals in Buenos Aires

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 28•14

PiazzollaMural1dBuenos Aires is notable for its wall graffiti and subway art, but unless you’re in the San Telmo neighborhood or taking the subte, you may miss the best examples. Not so the street murals, which grace much of the city, in particular the Microcentro area in the heart of the city.

These murals are lovingly painted, and include iconographic Argentine figures. One of the most visible is the massive mural featuring Astor Piazzolla, the late king of the Nuevo Tango, whose mural takes up the entire first floor of a large building on the southeast corner of Avenida 9 Julio and Avenida de Mayo. Here, the concertinist is shown blissfully playing under a gas-lit street lamp, musical notes soaring over the traffic heading north on 9 de Julio, led by a school bus.

EvitaTower1cFurther south on 9 de Julio is a massive metal sculpture, figure of Evita Person with a microphone, twenty stories above the boulevard on a building’s north face.  Nine stories tall, it takes up the entire width of the building.

GhostDancers1cMurals are incorporated into storefronts, decorating rolling doors, or seemingly appearing out of nowhere, embellishing small spaces separating adjoining buildings. Commonly, their themes relate to drinking, dancing, and the tango. Their ubiquitous presence underscores Buenos Aires’ reputation as an art capital, and are constant delights to those seeking surprises where they may least expect to find them.BreoghanBar1c

WoWasis art review: Ceramic murals in Buenos Aires’ subte subway stations

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 26•14

9 de Julio station

9 de Julio station

Buenos Aires is notable for its street murals and wall graffiti art, but some of the finest ceramic art can be found in her subway, or subte (for subterráneo) stations. Begun in 1913, the system comprises 6 lines and 83 stations, and rides cost five pesos (62 cents USD).

While nearly all stations have art, two of the most compelling are the Diagonal Norte and General San Martin stations, both accessible from Line C (the Blue line).

Diagonal Norte

Diagonal Norte

Diagonal Norte features the landscapes of Spain, featuring azulejos and ceramic murals that detail scenes from Burgos, Madrid, Aranjuez, El Escorial, and Madrid on the South platform, and Avila, Toledo, Soria and Segovia on the North Platform. The drafts were made by Martín S. Noel and Manuel Escasany in 1934. The azulejos were designed by J. Ruis de Luna, from Talavera. From Diagonal Norte, you can also make a short underground walk to the 9 de Julio station featuring a mural, created by Alfredo Guido in 1936, depicting the industrialization of Buenos Aires.

SanMartinSubteDetail1cThe outstanding abstract mural in the San Martin station was designed by Felipe Noe in 2006.

The subte stations of Buenos Aires offer a feast for the eyes in terms of their murals, and art lovers will want to take a few extra moments to appreciate them prior to leaving the stations.

WoWasis book review: ‘Evita First Lady: A Biography of Eva Perón’

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 20•14

EvitaFirstLady1aTwo iconographic Latina women have remained conversation topics in North America, decades after their deaths. Evita Perón is the one without the mustache. When you visit the Museo Evita, on Buenos Aires’ Calle Latinfur, you get several informative movie clips, an exhibition of her clothing and jewelry, a death mask, and as a finale, a trip you the gift shop where you can buy Evita wine bottles, key chains, and coasters. One film clips describes her foundation, which, among other things, distributed toys to poor children. As expected, there’s nothing negative about Eva Perón in the museum, so one suspects, upon seeing the mask of her desecrated face, that some important information about her life is missing. And in author John Barnes’ Evita First Lady: A Biography of Eva Perón (1978, ISBN 0-394-50289-2) an explanation surfaces. Evita had it in for the rich, whom, as a class, she neither liked nor trusted. And they took their revenge upon her death.

The story of her childhood in a hard-scrabble rural environment is well-known, as is her rise to a degree as social success as a radio and film actress, culminating with her meeting of Colonel Juan Perón and their subsequent relationship and marriage. As Barnes attests, she used her new-found power as the first lady to secure better pay for workers, women’s suffrage, and better living conditions for the poor, backed by the political authority of her husband. Her impatience for social change, fueled by her impoverished background and a sense of evolving her country from rural feudalism, was the driving force, accomplished by virtually any means possible. She was a bully, and never forgot a slight, seeking revenge upon just about anyone that crossed her. She and Perón censored newspapers and controlled radio stations that didn’t adhere to the party line, and disagreement on any level with the Peróns’ approach would guarantee the loss of a favored position or career. Barnes’ book describes what appeared to be a constant flow of disposed intellectuals, oligarchs, and military men from Argentina to new homes across the Rio de la Plata to Uruguay.    

The Peróns’ rule had enigmatic facets. Juan Perón was an early supporter of the Nazis and admired Mussolini. Jews were openly threatened, and pro-Perón backers were documented looting Jewish-owned business and beating their owners. And yet, several years later, Evita’s Social Aid Foundation sent shipment of food and clothing to the young state of Israel. The story of the Foundation is a key part of this book.  Evita strong-armed individuals, companies, and union organizations to give to her charity. Books were never kept, and the book offers strong hints that Evita’s considerable wardrobe and jewelry collection were bought by the Foundation. And yet, in the eight pages devoted to it, remarkable things were accomplished, from expanded heath care, to schooling, to food programs. To a very great extent, the workings of the foundation contributed to what was increasingly becoming a strong and viable middle class.

What’s all the more remarkable is that she accomplished so much before her death at the young age of 33.

The book is not without criticism. Barnes sees the Perón era as being led by Evita, and characterizes Juan Perón as little more than a facilitator of his wife’s bidding, which we suspect is a simplification of the relationship and the regime. The author, a veteran journalist, arrived in Argentina in 1955, three years after Evita’s death and a year after Perón was overthrown. He eventually became Newsweek’s Latin-American correspondent and published this book several years after that. It covers the strange twist of the fate of her body, secretly buried in Italy, and later returned to Buenos Aires’ Recoleta cemetery, where today, thousands visit her remains in the Duarte family mausoleum. Her body arrived with a broken nose and a slash across her face, a fact unfortunately not mentioned in the book.

What ultimately fascinates us about this book is the woman herself, flawed, angry, impatient, and vengeful, who marshaled her forces, took the bully-pulpit, offended thousands, and managed to change the course of history in her country. Other books will offer a more comprehensive telling of the Perón era, his overthrow, and return. But this one, we feel, offers a real insight into the passions, human failings, and compelling actions of the woman herself. Buy it now at the WoWasis eStore.

WoWasis art review: Buenos Aires graffiti wall art

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 19•14

SprayCanLady1cBuenos Aires is notable for its street murals and subway art, and this artistic consciousness has spread to her graffiti-covered walls, especially in the streets of the San Telmo neighborhood, south of Avenida de Mayo. This ad hoc art is not always welcomed, but every blank wall is fodder for artists and amateurs alike. What’s apparent is that building owners don’t bother to remove it anymore. Some of it has morphed into larger murals, while other expressions have taken on additional features as others add on to the original art.

What’s true is that these scratchings have added color and design to the streets of this neighborhood, forcing passerby to re-consider the nature of art in an urban environment. Nothing is sacred, from walls to roll-up doors, to niches as mundane as streetside power meters.

Tanghetto1cWhat is also true is that the art is ephemeral and will be changed, covered over, or replaced, through planning or whim. Each day, though, offers new and exciting art adventures along streets such as La Defensa, where vistas evolve repeatedly through an ever-changing palette of paint and permanent markers on the urban structural canvas of the streets.

BAGraffitiDoorway1c

WoWasis toilet product review: the Bidematic, an Argentine toilet hose contraption that just doesn’t work

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 19•14

Mounting structure of Argentina's Bidematic

Mounting structure of Argentina’s Bidematic

The Thais, Japanese, and Koreans all have magnificent ways to keep clean after using the toilet. As reported here earlier at WoWasis, Thais typically use toilet hoses, while Japanese and Koreans use electric toilet seats that are essentially high tech bidets. Here at WoWasis, we love them, because we consider toilet paper to be Barbaric, a cut above the Sears catalogue, but not by much. 

In Argentina, we encountered a toilet hose gizmo that looks positively 19th century, one that really has the look and feel of an old dental device. As the picture indicates, the Bidematic’s swivel spigot is bolted onto the toilet through one of the holes that is used to fasten the toilet seat. A hose is attached to the water source. The “business end” of the device contains a water tap and a swiveling spigot that shoots water upward. The swivel allows the spigot to rest inside the edge of the bowl and then later turned into position once cleaning is needed.

The problem?  It just doesn’t work very well.  Furthermore, it’s not exactly hygienic. First of all, you have to manually aim the hose perfectly under your butt by using the lever. On our initial attempt, we screwed up and got water all over the floor. Once we re-aimed, we had to slither all over the toilet seat trying to get the spray just where we liked it, forward, backward, side to side. The Japanese devices operate in a fixed position when extended, and we’ve never had a bad aim with them. The Bidematic is a slave to water pressure, too, so the stream wasn’t effective enough to get a good washing. That’s not a problem with Thai hoses, as you can just direct the stream downward right over the crack of your butt, use the other hand too lather up and wash, more or less the way you’d do it in the shower. The simplicity if the Thai hose is its best quality, while the Argentine devise really requires some degree of operational sense, kind of like driving a caterpillar tractor through a field of mud.

That nozzle gets crusty. Who wants to clean it???

That nozzle gets crusty. Who wants to clean it???

The hygienic problem with the Bidematic is three- fold. If you forget to swivel the device back to its rest position, you will most certainly foul it on your next visit, and we don’t even want to think how we’d ever clean it… a toothbrush and bleach? Not fun. And don’t think this couldn’t happen. Plenty of us mosey over to the toilet at night and don’t bother to turn on the light. Another hygienic issue is that poop sometimes causes splatter, and when it does, you’ve got fecal matter all over your water jets.  Finally, in the toilet in our hotel, flushing caused the waterline to rise above the Bidematic’s spigot. There’s got to be a clan of e coli bacteria living in those jet holes. And not our e coli either.

Bidematic has a website, which lists years of the company’s operation from 1998-2012. We’re not sure they’re in business anymore (we sent an email, with no response), but you find these devices all over the country. We’ll say this, though: we’re sticking with Thai hoses and Japanese toilets in our own homes, and will forget the swivel and tap device we found (and disliked) in Argentina.

 

Bachelor in Bangkok: Khun Lee on tough Thai bar girl honesty

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 18•14

BachBKKLKee1c

WoWasis correspondent Khun Lee on the honesty of selected Thai bar girls:

I don’t know about how other guys feel, but I have always thought that sex should be fun and reduce stress instead of increasing your stress level.  Heck, it is the one activity I normally enjoy that takes me away from all the mundane problems in day to day life.   Well, I ran into a very sexy gal at a party the other night and I must say we were getting pretty hot and heavy on the host’s sofa, and I was very enthusiastic when she asked me if I wanted to go back to her condo just a few kilometers away.  We made some hasty excuses and practically ran outside to her car.  A few minutes later we were in her condo panting and sweating and exchanging saliva when she asked if I had any condoms.  Geez this precocious little number doesn’t have any condoms in her condo?  I asked if there was a 7-11 or mini-mart close by and she answered that there was one just around the corner.  So I hastily pulled my pants over my protruding…..enthusiasm and slinked out the door hoping that perhaps I would become a bit less….enthusiastic on my walk to the store. 

Just as I am making my way out the door she blurts out “don’t just get a 3-pack, I expect you to really fuck my brains out.”  Now, guys I know that many would consider that to be a positive thing, but I gotta tell you that it gave me more than a bit of performance anxiety.  To make matters even worse, when I barked back at her that I know she must just be teasing me, she got a very serious look on her face and said “if you don’t really do me good I am going to be very angry with you.”  I slinked out the door and I noticed that I had become somewhat less enthusiastic already, both literally and boner-wise.  Sex is supposed to be fun damnit to hell!  She just took that away from me and we hadn’t even consummated the arrangement yet.  I did manage to make it to the 7-11, and on the way back to her place I was giving myself and my libido a little pep talk in hopes that I could rekindle the animal lust that had brought me to her little corner of Bangkok.  Do I need to say at this point that my performance was less than stellar?  I ended up ashamedly cowering from her condo with my manhood and pride dragging on the floor behind me. I really should take a reader’s poll to find out how many of our horny fans out there would be more or less turned on upon hearing the words “don’t just get a 3-pack of condoms, I expect you to fuck my brains out.”

ThailandPromoBannerI really need to stop calling babes when I am drunk.  I know that guys have been making arses out of themselves for centuries while in the inebriated state and who am I to mess with a fine tradition, but lately I think I should hide my mobile phone from myself before going out on the town to get plastered.  I have done the stupidest things while drunk at 3AM such as telling gals I barely know that I love them, making promises that any sober man would know could never be kept, or worst of all, committing the unforgivable crime of being completely honest about my feelings for a girl.  Oh the shame.  Hey, I have a terrific idea!  Breathalyzer locks on mobile phones.  I have a mate who got arrested for drunk driving back in Antisepticville and the authorities put such a lock on his car ignition.  The guy had to drive to work, but they wanted to make sure the engine couldn’t start if the driver was over a certain blood alcohol level. We need one of our well capitalized horny readers to invest in coming up with the first “Khun Lee’s Mobile Phone Breathalyzer Lock.”  You don’t need to split the profits with me, just buy me enough 3-packs of condoms to keep me humiliated for the rest of my life.

Guys are always complaining about how dishonest the bargirls are in Bangkok, but last week I happened to meet the gal who wins the prize for most honest in this fair land of ours.  I was sitting in a friend’s steakhouse restaurant when a punter walked in with what was an obvious “working” girl.  He was late forties or so and dressed like he just came up from Pattaya.  Oh, for those of you who admire our columns from afar, Pattaya is a sleazy seaside version of Sodom and Gomorrah that would easily win the prize for most poorly dressed foreign men.  A good mate likes to say that spending even a single day in Pattaya could bring back any man’s self-confidence, because if he has ever laundered the t-shirt he is wearing he will easily be the handsomest and best dressed man in the city. 

I digress.  The gal with the punter in my friend’s restaurant had the usual bored look on her face and was trying her best to tolerate the agreed upon arrangement for as long as needed to receive payment.  The guy was ranting on and on about subjects that would bore any sane person to death and the gal continued to play with her mobile and look like she wanted to die.  Then he suddenly changed tactics and began hinting to her that he had a lot of money and would consider putting her on salary to keep her from needing to return to the bar and work.

Well, I don’t need to tell any of you savvy party guys that a salary is the Holy Grail for bar gals.  Large sums of money for literally no work whatsoever if the guy doesn’t live in Thailand.  If a slick gal can get 2 or 3 guys sending money from abroad she may make more in a month than a doctor or lawyer.  Much to my astonishment these golden words flowing from his mouth brought absolutely no response or change in demeanor from her at all.  If anything she looked even more comatose than before if that’s even possible.  The guy looked a bit offended and excused himself to go to the toilet.  When he was safely out of earshot I began chatting with her in Thai and let her know in very clear terms that she was missing an opportunity of a lifetime, and all she had to do was BS this guy for a few more hours and she would be rolling in money for months if not years.  Heck, I live here and I root for the home team.  If the gal can score some easy money from a guy who has way more money than brains, good for her. 

Her response to me was so frank and honest that I was a bit in shock.  She said “I am just too bored to lie.”  What a breath of fresh air! This is easily the most honest service provider in all of Thailand.  To even further cement her award winning style, the punter returned momentarily and asked her straight out what she would do all day if she didn’t need to work at all. This is where the gals normally excel and lay some story on the guy about how they want to return to study or go help their family work the farm blah blah blah.  Not this girl.  Her answer to what she would do with her free time was simply “sleep.”  The guy at this point looks a bit confused and apparently feels she is dodging the issue.  He says “no, really, what would you do all day long if you didn’t need to work.”  She looks at him disdainfully and shouts out “SLEEP!”

And that is exactly what she would do.

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

WoWasis book review: Asian Godfathers, powerful, influential, dangerous business barons in Asia

Written By: herbrunbridge - Apr• 12•14

AsianGodfathersBookFor those of us who frequently travel to and do business in Asia, it becomes increasingly important to understand who the major players in the business world are, and how they have traditionally operated. Two books we here at WoWasis have reported on before are Martin Booth’s The Dragon Syndicates: The Global Phenomenon of the Triads, and Vichai Suwanban’s classic, Big Business in Thailand. To this important list, we’ll add Joe Studwell’s Asian Godfathers: Money and Power in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia (2007, ISBN-13: 978-0-87113-968-9). Studwell is a reporter who’s been working the Asian beat since 1991, has a keen eye for detail, and a veteran reporter’s curiosity.

Studwell here relates the histories of 88 families and individuals that have profited enormously since the end of the Pacific war, encompassing the countries of Hong Kong, Indonesia, Macau, Malaysia, The Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. The reach of these families is extensive, crossing over borders to align with other factions, and pervasive, affecting politics and governmental decisions in every country. We’ve often said that “truth” is a western construct, and the book underscores that “corruption” may very well operate under the same classification. With these families and individuals, everything goes into the same bin as “business as usual.” We also we be remiss if we didn’t use the word “dangerous.” Individuals and families as powerful as these routinely buy justice, and while this is not a book on crime per se, crossing these people while involved in any business dealing could be hazardous, financially or otherwise.

AsiaPromoBannerThere are scores of fascinating stories in this 328 page book, well-indexed for those who missed something along the way. We found ourselves reverting to it dozens of times. Highlights are many, and will vary according to the interest and country-focus of the reader. Those following the news stories involving the distribution of assets from Macau gambling magnate Stanley Ho’s empire will note that the complexity involves 17 acknowledged children, never mind the reported dozens of others lurking in the background.  

Among the more fascinating items in the book are related to financial matters in post WWII Hong Kong:

It was the educated, the well-heeled and the cosmopolitan who profited most readily from war. In Hong Kong members of the local Chinese elite made fortunes buying up ‘duress notes’ – Hong Kong dollars issued by local bankers under Japanese direction – just before the British resumed power. The notes were purchased at a fraction of their face value in the expectation that the returning colonial power could be persuaded to honour the currency as a means to restore ‘economic stability’. In 1946, this turned out to be the case. The Hongkong Bank bought HK$119 million of duress notes at their full face value. One of the prime beneficiaries was said to be Sir Sik-nin Chau, a London- and Vienna-trained surgeon and businessman and son of Sir Shouson Chow, who had been the first Chinese appointed to Hong Kong’s Executive Council.”

 Some of the best parts of the book are subtle indicators of practices that are still in wide use today. The Chinese “credit ticket” system described on page 7 relates how immigrants travel to other countries for work by becoming indebted to employers in return for their passage, a business practice popular still, particularly in the western hemisphere, in countries ranging from Canada to Argentina. Those flying on Cathay Pacific will have noted the Swire logo on airplane fuselages, and the author includes the Swire domain in his list of power brokers. We weren’t aware of Malaysian godfather Ananda Krishnan until we read this book, but his story is among the most compelling, detailing what began as his off-track betting empire and morphed into projects such the 88-story Petronas Tower in Kuala Lumpur.

The book is essential reading for anyone doing business in much of Asia, providing a detailed history of how things get accomplished, with tendrils reaching to major players and governmental bodies. It also is an important historical document that will fascinate anyone curious about the nature of big business in Asia. Buy it here at the WoWasis eStore.