I’m pleased to announce the release of the fifth of five books in the Curious Encounters personal travel tales series — a collection of stories I’ve written based on my 45 years of living and traveling in curious corners of Asia.
The five Southeast Asian countries highlighted in this volume – Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and the Philippines – include economies in different conditions of health and evolution; political systems of varying degrees of style, maturity, and reliability; and a variety of religions, belief systems, and approaches to life.
In some ways there is little that connects them except propinquity. Yet in other ways they are similar, combining deep and proud cultures, diverse nature (although not always healthy or well managed), and involvement in topsy-turvy geopolitical gamesmanship. Social patterns have also changed, brought on by improved infrastructure, education, healthcare, and communications.
They are not always touchy-feely neighbors (witness Thailand’s spat with Cambodia over ownership of an ancient Khmer temple), and Laos and Cambodia, the poor guys in the middle of the Thailand/Vietnam sandwich, are squeezed for resources by their larger neighbors. The Mekong River, which flows through four of the countries mentioned in this volume, is being dammed without mercy; no good news there for the downriver nations.
Meanwhile, the ogre of the Middle Kingdom consumes key parts of whatever flies, swims, grows, or crawls – tigers, pangolins, elephants, and tropical hardwood feature in the shopping lists. And China is claiming economically and strategically important territories in the South China Sea, but Vietnam and the Philippines, which claim the same territories, can do little about the bullying.
But let’s go beyond the politics and saber-rattling; you can find such stories in the daily newspaper. In this new book I’ll share surprising encounters and provocative conundrums:
- What’s the attraction of coffee that’s been digested by a civet?
- Can 200-million-year-old fossilized freshwater shark dung bring you good luck?
- Why do boys like to make things go bang – hey, lemme try the AK-47!?
- Why is the belching and slovenly widow of Laos’s first president so possessive about the animal she considers her white elephant?
- How did Vietnam’s last elephant hunter, at the age of 90, get a lucrative sponsorship deal for a tonic that makes men more powerful?
- How do Vietnam’s “copy artists” capture Mona Lisa’s smile?
- Did a love potion help a Filipino politician become governor?
- And what role did an absurdly rich, secretive American businessman (who enjoyed deflowering virgins) have in creating Vietnam’s golf boom?
This is Southeast Asia as you’ve perhaps never imagined, full of memorable people, startling happenings, and unexpected moments of humanity and introspection, giddiness and solemnity, avarice and ambition.
“In the great tradition of Asian reporting. The humanity of Somerset Maugham, the adventure of Joseph Conrad, the perception of Paul Theroux, and a self-effacing voice uniquely his own.”
—Gary Braver, bestselling author of Tunnel Vision
“The spirit of Kipling in contemporary Asian journalism. This collection is essential reading for anyone who wishes to pass beyond even the unbeaten track, right to the heart of Asia.”
—John Burdett, author of Bangkok Eight, Bangkok Tattoo, and Bangkok Haunts
“In this series, Sochaczewski explores the hidden corners, the forgotten people, and their surprising tales. All the personal traveler’s tales in these volumes are captivating, all filled with humor, drama and insight, with an edgy take-no-prisoners voice. You won’t find anything else like this on the bookshelf.”
—Jeff McNeely, chief scientist, International Union for Conservation of Nature
“Sochaczewski is a world-class searcher, reporter, and observer who has criss-crossed Asia for thirty years, pausing in the most unlikely places and finding extraordinary people. The essays in this insightful and witty chronicle present a rich tapestry of eccentric nobles, self-serving naturalists, scoundrels who will make your teeth ache, celebrity monks, and memorable folks whose stories are too good to be true. But they are.”
—Christopher G. Moore, author of the Vincent Calvino novels and Heart Talk
“If anyone can pull off something as innovative as Curious Encounters, it’s Paul Sochaczewski. Expect pellucid writing, insightful irreverence, and universal truths elegantly presented, in a genre that defies categorization.”
—John Keay, author of India: A History, China: A History, and Mad about the Mekong
For the first week only (through March 7), I will offer the ebook at a special price of 99 cents/pence (prices may vary when ordered from other markets).