Thursday, 2nd July 2020

Paul Spencer Sochaczewski


Posted on 07. Apr, 2010 by in AUTHOR


Paul Sochaczewski has a family history of involvement in the arts, sports and exploration.


My great great great grandfather, Josef (The Kalicz Kid) Sochaczewski, played in a regular Friday night poker game with Frédéric Chopin.  Josef, who was losing big, had just bet a sackful of zloty on his hand, attempting to draw to an inside straight.  Josef’s judgment was clouded because he was suffering from what he thought was a bad flu.  He blew his nose on his cream-colored monogrammed linen handkerchief, then ate a few peanuts from the communal bowl, and in doing so inadvertently gave Chopin the tuberculosis which was to kill him years later, at the relatively young age of 39 (Josef Sochcaczewski also died of TB, but not before creating “Poker by Polish Post” franchises which were precursors to today’s online gambling).


Paul’s great great great aunt Tilly was English.  She was an on-again, off-again girlfriend of the poor, but allegedly heroically well-endowed Alfred Russel Wallace.  Wallace, according to Tilly, was on the verge of marrying her (“If you think you can be happy with a poor surveyor who likes to collect colorful beetles”, she claimed he told her) but couldn’t handle her incessant chatter about the meaning of life.  “Why are there so many different beetles?” she would natter after lovemaking.  “Where do they all come from?” “Surely one or two beetles would be sufficient, you would think.”  Somewhat reluctantly, for Tilly was a spirited young woman with a terrific body, Wallace decided that her babbling was driving him crazy, and he decamped to Brazil with his beetle-collecting pal Henry Walter Bates.  But during the malarial fits he suffered during his time in the Amazon, and later in Southeast Asia, Wallace couldn’t get the woman’s blubbering out of his mind (“Why isn’t the world overrun by rabbits? — they breed so feverently.”) and he eventually used her questions to recognize that “the fittest would survive”, and so developed the theory of natural selection. Wallace then got ripped off by Charles Darwin, but that’s another story.


Sir Harry Paget Flashman, a cowardly yet highly-decorated Victorian-era British army officer, owed his nefarious career and hedonistic lifestyle to my multi-great (I get confused with counting all these generations) granduncle Bruno Oliver Sachs.  Sachs, née Sochaczewski, anglicized his confusing Polish name in honor of fellow Pole Joseph Conrad, whom he had met in a dingy pub in Elephant and Castle (yes, I am pleased to finally be able to legitimately use that place name) in London’s Borough of Southwark.

Bruno (or BS as his few friends liked to call him), rose, through sheer dint of effort, scheming and well-placed bribes, to the position of vice-rector of Rugby School, the English public school where Harry Flashman received his last formal education.

On various occasions, BS caught Flashy cheating on his exams, romping with the vicar’s wife, and smuggling rum into his student’s quarters.  This would have been valid grounds for expulsion a dozen times over, but Flashy had similar evidence of BS’s peccadilloes and abuses of power, leading to a Mexican stand-off.

Unlike many male educators-in-positions-of-power in England, BS was straight.  He took a brotherly interest in the lying and cunning Flashy. For a foreigner, BS had an uncanny knack for cricket, and he was Flashy’s most influential coach.  The two became drinking and gambling pals; it was during one of their rum-fests that BS described himself as “a scoundrel, a liar, a cheat, a thief, a coward.”  Later Flashy, never one to flee from easy plagiarism, would use those same words to describe himself, adding “and oh yes, a toady.”

BS and Flashy became fast friends, a relationship which lasted during much of Flashy’s long and glorious career.  Their paths diverged later in life when BS started a new church devoted to raising funds for good works to help orphans in central Africa.  This well-intentioned change of face was too much for Flashy to stomach and the two men drifted apart, but nevertheless remained casual drinking buddies. Unfortunately, like so many brothers, they eventually became sworn enemies after BS seduced Flashy’s Scottish wife Elspeth.  Flashy recalled that “no man has so influenced my ability to flee from hardship and challenge and be nevertheless be rewarded as a hero as my friend Bruno. To him I owe all my medals and accolades.  To him I also owe a bullet in the back of the head for seducing my beloved Elspeth, she of sumptuous body and limited intellect, while I was risking life and limb for my queen and country in the Khyber Pass.”


Then there’s Cousin Cyclops Sochaczewski, who lost one eye while play-dueling Tiger Woods when they roomed together at Stanford.  Tiger was so distraught by the injury he had inadvertently caused CCS that he gave up his dreams of trying out for the American Olympic fencing team (épée was his specialty, a passion he managed to keep secret in those pre-Twitter days), and instead turned full-time to golf.  (Cousin Cyclops Sochaczewski also can be credited with Madonna’s career move to wear her underwear as outerwear.  CCS dated the young Madonna.  In a jealous rage after he learned that she had been cheating on him with her Vietnamese manicurist, he ripped up all her dresses and locked Madonna out of the apartment.  At the time of her banishment she was wearing only her (admittedly gorgeous) underwear.  Their apartment was next to a fraternity house and Madonna, noting the appreciative reception she received because of her sartorial state, saw that underwear could be good for her career.  CCS retreated into well-deserved anonymity; his personal career highlight was opening a chain of cut-price optical shops in northern Ohio.


My own life is infinitely more mundane.

Journalism – Articles

I’ve had more than 600 by-lined articles published in the International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, CNN Traveller, Geographical, Reader’s Digest, Travel and Leisure, DestinAsian, International Wildlife, Earth Times, and many other publications.


I co-authored (with Jeff McNeely) Soul of the Tiger: People and Nature in Southeast Asia (Doubleday, Oxford University Press, University of Hawaii Press) — George Schaller, director of Wildlife Conservation International, said this was “a marvelous book, unique, intelligent, attuned to cultures and filled with stimulating ideas….”) and Eco-Bluff Your Way to Instant Environmental Credibility.

Redheads, my comic conservation novel set in Borneo, is about tribal uprisings, corrupt government officials and schizophrenic orangutans. Daniel Quinn, author of Ishmael, said “Redheads does for the struggle to save the rain forests of Borneo what Catch 22 did for the struggle to stay alive in World War II.”

The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen, a collection of some 70 articles I’ve written over the years (Editions Didier Millet, Singapore 2008), Gary Braver, bestselling author of Skin Deep, said “Paul’s writing in The Sultan and the Mermaid Queen has the humanity of Somerset Maugham, the adventure of Joseph Conrad, the perception of Paul Theroux, and a self-effacing voice uniquely his own.”

Distant Greens reports on crypto-golf (golf where it oughtn’t be), asks whether golf can be environmentally-sustainable, examines the psychology of golf (why do we make
ourselves wrong, for instance), and suggests personal responsibility by golfers.  Rick Lipsey of Sports Illustrated says: “Distant Greens is an intimate golfing tour that travels to
all corners of the planet and brings us into the heart, mind and soul of the game that we all love.”  Steve Cohen, president of The Shivas Irons Society says: “Distant Greens gets to the core of golf’s eco-spiritual essence with a collection of charming, insightful and often amusing stories, anecdotes and commentary that traverse the globe yet
reside happily in the realm of ‘good heart.’”

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles (Editions Didier Millet, 2012), a personal travel quest in the footsteps of Alfred Russel Wallace, was published in 2012. Robin
Hanbury-Tenison, founder of Survival International: “Sochaczewski, an explorer of ideas, offers informed, sometimes edgy, always accessible illustrations of issues
Wallace cared about deeply.”  Jim Thorsell, senior advisor on the World Heritage convention to IUCN: “Reminds me of Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines and Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo.” Jeffrey Sayer, founding director general of the Centre for International Forestry Research in Bogor and professor of conservation and
development at James Cook University: “This book occupies a new category of non-fiction – part personal travelogue, part incisive biography of Wallace, part unexpected traveller’s tales.”


I’ve developed four creative writing workshops, which I’ve run in more than 20 countries.

Other professional background

My international career began when I joined the U.S. Peace Corps in 1969, following graduation from George Washington University with a degree in psychology.  I served as an education advisor in Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo.  I then worked as creative director of JWT advertising agency and as a freelance journalist in Singapore and Indonesia, living 13 years in Southeast Asia.

I joined WWF International as head of creative services in 1981 where I created international public awareness campaigns to protect rainforests, wetlands, plants and biological diversity; and also helped create various fundraising campaigns and strategies.  I then managed the WWF Faith and Environment Network.  From mid-1992 to mid-1993 I took a leave of absence from WWF to write articles on environmental problems in the Pacific for the Environment Program at the East-West Center in Honolulu (under a MacArthur grant).  I now write, and advise international NGOs on fundraising and communications – clients include McCann Healthcare, BirdLife, Sarawak Biodiversity Centre, and Singapore Health Promotion Board.

I also worked for ten years as communications director of the International Osteoporosis Foundation, and during my ten years I helped to build the organization into one of the leading global health NGOs, with a budget of USD 7 million, 175 members in 87 countries. I have developed effective international campaigns, created a “take responsibility for your bone health” positioning that has been recognized through numerous international awards, restructured the program and successfully sought and nurtured new sources of corporate funding.

I’ve lived and worked in some 70 countries, speak Bahasa Indonesia and French. Currently resident in Geneva, Switzerland.

Affiliations: Fellow, Royal Geographic Society, member PEN International, member American Society of Journalists and Authors, IUCN-World Conservation Union commissions on protected areas and education.

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