Other worlds: The Lanfang Republic

18 05 2015

Few things are more fascinating that pondering the great historical “what if”s. What if, as in Philip K Dick’s sci fi novel “Man in the High Tower”, Japan and Germany had won the war and divided the United States between them? What if the Chinese had colonized Africa before Europeans? Or the Africans had sent a fleet to Asia?

It was in this spirit that I was amazed to read of the existence of something I never knew had existed – the Lanfang republic, an ethnic Chinese quasi-democracy, acting in concert with the Dayak forest tribespeople, deep in Indonesia. On the island of Borneo (or today’s Kalimantan), Lanfang resisted against the Dutch for one hundred years. Paying allegiance to the Qing emperors but with a strikingly participatory model of government (an interesting riposte to the benign dictatorships of “Asian Values” advocates), the republic lasted from about the same time Australia was coming in to being to (about) the time of the Victorian Goldrush, leaving behind towns with still majority-Chinese populations today.

Imagine how differently this could have turned out – would China have stretched all the way to the Tropics today?

It put me in the mind of Palmares and the quilombos of Brazil, the lost ancient Garamantians or the mooted post-independence United States of Latin Africa.

It is such an amazing world we live in.

Bright lights, black magic: Contemporary HK Lore

10 05 2015

After a mad run in the last few weeks, Hong Kong’s stock market is bracing for a crash landing – all the moreso now that a certain TV series, widely considered to be an infallible omen for a bear market, has popped up again on repeat. In the perfect synergy of Hong Kong’s obsessions with money, celebrity and, err, feng shui, the 90s stockmarket drama “Greed of Man” is believed to herald a downturn on the city’s bourse every time it appears. Wikipedia explains:

“The Ting Hai effect, also known as the Adam Cheng effect, is a stock market phenomenon in which there is a sudden and unexplained drop in the stock market whenever a film or a television series starring Hong Kong actor Adam Cheng is released.[2] It still remains as a popular topic among stock brokers, years after the television drama The Greed of Man was broadcast in Hong Kong in late 1992. The effect is named after Ting Hai, the primary antagonist in the drama, who was portrayed by Cheng.”

Read the full article here.

It all reminded me of the hilariously tongue-in-cheek “Li Ka-Shing Forcefield”, an invisible barrier which is said to repel typhoons from the city during the working week, in order to protect billionaire kingpin Li Ka-Shing from having to issue paid time off to the city’s harried workers.

Again, wikipedia has more.

Mummified 200-year-old monk found in Mongolia in ‘very deep meditation’, Buddhist academic claims

7 02 2015


A tale of mystery, wonder, corpse-thievery, supernatural powers and Buddhist redemption – the full story at the Independent here.

Hundreds of cats to be crushed in building demolition

28 01 2015

Coconuts Bangkok reports on the tragic fate in store for hundreds of stray cats who have Murakami-esquely taken over an empty apartment block in Bangkok.


23 12 2014

Just when the media and entertainment industries should be slowing down for their Christmas break it suddenly seems like there is controversy and action breaking out everywhere – new Madonna album appears out of the blue, possible stolen. North Korea is at war with Sony. D’Angelo suddenly has an album out. And Azealia Banks is having a go at Iggy Azealia…again.

Regardless of whether you agree with her or not (I don’t) it makes for pretty damned entertaining radio.

World wide weird

17 11 2014

The Brazilian city of Belem, on the banks of the Amazon, is best known for its colourful riverside market of rainforest herbs and strange, monstrous fish, almost constant rain and more recently, a vibrant music scene that has spawned the likes of Jaloo and Gaby Amarantos. It was also here, in my early twenties, that I experienced one of the more exotic episodes in my travels, waiting out in a decaying nineteenth century brothel for an emergency credit card – my lifeline to the outside world – to arrive. Yet this week it has been in the news for a string of “whats app” murders, preceded by a mysterious text message telling people to stay off the streets..

The residents of outer-suburban Paris were terrorised by a tiger this week, sighted (and photographed, indistinctly, of course) outside a local supermarket. Despite a massive military manhunt the beast has still not been found, although after several days and some track mark analysis, the threat was downgraded to “Eurasian lynx”.

And finally, a sinkhole opened today on a busy pavement in Hong Kong’s own Causeway Bay, swallowing a passing pedestrian, who was later rescued by an ambulance. A friend told me something similar had happened in Beijing once, but there the unfortunate victim had been boiled alive by leaking hot water pipes.

Halloween Happy(land)

1 11 2014

Just in time for Halloween, the wonderful Coconouts Bangkok website has published a translation of this Thai article explaining the forgotten history of one of the city’s first theme parks, named Happy Land. This was a  place where numerous children died and, it claims, disappeared. The park has long since closed but its name lives on in the macabrely ironic name of the housing estate built in its place and in the remaining faux-medieval castle that I stumbled upon once in the Bangkok suburb of Lad Phrao, host (perhaps fittingly) to a festival of “sad music”.

Read the original article in English here.


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