Bangkok reading matter

4 08 2017


All this, plus a strange book in the Japan Foundation Library, “Vita Sexualis” by Mori Ogai, the sexual autobiography of Japan’s 1909 Chief military surgeon!



Day 1 Ansell & Elliott cafe 11am

24 07 2017


Saphan Kwai hipster!

A general theory of oblivion

2 07 2017


A General Theory of Oblivion by Portuguese-Angolan author Jose Eduardo Agualusa is a work of fiction based on a startling true story. In the tense last days of Portuguese colonial rule in Angola, an expat colonial woman finds herself unexpectedly alone in the increasingly hostile environment, and in panic and desperation, walls herself up inside her high-rise apartment…not to set foot outside for another thirty years. Through the windows she can look down on the city below, hear the gunshots and see the demonstrations, watching as the once-grand colonial apartment block all but collapses around her. She withdraws into herself, hermit-like, her days an endless stream of sunny, silent days in her penthouse, looking out over the trees and the bouganvillea flowers.

It is  fascinating premise and reading the book, so evocative of the heat and the clamour of Luanda, in the baking Hong Kong Summer is an experience in itself.

Feminist fictions

10 06 2017

Fresh from ‘The Handmaiden’ and ‘The Dispossessed’, I think I have found a new favourite fiction genre – late 1970s and early 1980s feminist ‘sci fi’, books set in the future that speculate not (or not only) on developments in technology but in how societies can be run, how gender relations can be regulated and interestingly, in how language can be used as a tool by regimes to institute their worldview. All of these themes come together in Suzette Haden Elgin’s “Native Tongue.” Written in 1984, it is set in a United States where women have been stripped of their rights and become little more than the property of male ‘guardians’. At the same time, contact and trade have been established with alien races and the world’s economy is dominated by an inward-looking cabal of linguists who alone can act as interpreters and in-betweens between humans and alien races. It is among the women of this group, that a new idea emerges, to create a language only for women which will free them from the grip of patriarchal thinking…

Sexual Freedom

31 05 2017

18698424_1334589043245618_7808201595902147979_n 18557372_1324481034256419_5428932106546461156_n 18519730_1324479037589952_5737829805185306186_n

Over the weekend I caught up with the new TV adaption of one of my favourite recently-read books, The Handmaid’s Tale. It is a dystopian and brilliantly realised series about a woman who finds herself in a new world where women have been stripped of their rights and placed in a rigid, ritualistic hierarchy of oppression: from well-coiffed but powerless society wives to domestic drudges known as “Marthas” and then “handmaidens,” the women whose sole purpose in society is to bear children. The book was originally written as a chilling thought experiment, and the TV series is just as compelling.

It made me wonder afterwards – what is the connection between sexual and political freedom? Can sexually repressed countries ever be politically free? To what extent has the oppression of women thoughout history been driven by the wish to control their sexuality? Or is it the other way around, is that just a “symptom” of a powerlessness that is primarily economic?

Hong Kong: horrible histories

27 05 2017


Facts I learned from Jan Morris’s charmingly dated (it was written in the 1990s by an author most interested in British colonial history) book about Hong Kong:

  • The pre-colonial inhabitants of the area suffered from a “horror called Xhu Mao Bing, the Bristle Disease,whose victims found spiky bristles like pighairs (sometimes apparently fishscales, too} sprouting through their skin.” Curious, I looked this up online but couldn’t find any other reference to it anywhere.
  • In 1857 a Chinese nationalist plot poisoned the city’s bread supply, (presumably few Chinese ate bread in those days so it was a cunning way to target the British administrative elite). The dosage of arsenic was miscalculated however, so that the poisoning lead to mass European vomitting but not death, and the colonial regime survived.
  • The first ever hijacking of an aeroplane occurred in 1940 on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Macau by sea pirates looking to diversify.
  • Smoking opium was legal until 1940.
  • Under the Japanese occupation, Queens Road Central was re-named Naka Meiji-dori and a monumental Shinto temple was planned for construction on the Peak (but blown up when the occupation ended).
  • It was not until 1981 that the census recorded more than 50% of the population had been locally born, rather than migrants from the mainland. So in other words, the influx of people (and money) from the mainland is nothing new. Rather, the brief relative lull during the 1980s and 1990s was the outlier.

Fever dream

21 05 2017


“Fever Dream” is the woozily disorienting, and quietly terrifying, English language debut by Argentinian author Samanta Schweblin. A five star read.