Asia Archive

Ghosts of the tsunami on Radio 4

I’ve mentioned before a piece that Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor of The Times, wrote for the London Review of Books about Japanese people who reported seeing ghosts of the dead years after the tsunami of 2011. He has now made a Radio 4 documentary based on that piece, and it’s due to be broadcast on Friday morning.

Growing up hungry in North Korea

About 5,000 to 6,000 tourists a year visit North Korea, and occasionally a writer sneaks in among them (see Nigel Richardson’s pieces from 2013 for Telegraph Travel and National Geographic Traveller), so we know what it’s like to be a visitor there. In a new book, Yeonmi Park, who fled the country at 13, tells what it was like to grow up there and to endure the famine and economic collapse of the 1990s. In In Order to Live: A North Korean Girl’s Journey to Freedom (Fig Tree) — serialised in the Telegraph Magazine — she writes:

“Because electricity was rare in our neighbourhood, whenever the lights came on people were so happy they would sing and clap and shout… When you have so little, the smallest things can make you happy — and that is one of the very few features of life in North Korea that I actually miss.”

‘The Emperor Far Away’ is now out in paperback

David Eimer’s excellent book about China’s volatile borderlands, The Emperor Far Away, which I recommended when it came out last year, is now available in paperback. You can read a short extract on Deskbound Traveller.

Dasgupta’s Delhi

Rana Dasgupta’s Capital: A Portrait of Twenty-First Century Delhi, is among six books short-listed for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, the winner of which will be announced on Monday (May 18). On a video for his publisher, Canongate, he says Delhi seems “like a prophecy of the world we’re all going to live in in the coming years”.

‘Ghost-story country’ in Vietnam

The Vietnam War ended 40 years ago, but the scars and memories remain. Nigel Richardson, for Telegraph Travel, uncovers them on a road trip though “ghost-story country”.

People ‘more at home in water than on land’

The most poignant moment in the first episode of Hunters of the South Seas (BBC 2 last night), in which Will Millard stayed with a Bajau family in Indonesia, came during the night. In the two-room house on stilts eight feet above the sea, Millard was close enough to ask a little boy, “Lobo, what are you dreaming about?” To which Lobo replied: “I’m dreaming about fishing.”

Lobo, however, has a disability that prevents him from swimming, which puts him at a severe disadvantage in a community of people who are “more at home in water than on land”, and who depend on the god of the sea, Bojango, for all their needs.

The Bajau, who until recently spent their entire lives at sea, are having to make adjustments to a changing world. Bojango has been less bountiful of late, perhaps because outsiders in their powerful boats are scooping up in a quarter of an hour what the locals might take two or three months to catch. The Bajau are also increasingly at the mercy of a predator they don’t encounter in the water: the loan shark.

Last night’s programme was the first in a series of three for which Millard, 31, spent three months learning how Indonesians make a living from the sea. If you missed it, it’s available on iPlayer (as is his “Journey of a Lifetime”, aired on Radio 4 in 2013, on his descent of the Mano and Moro Rivers, which divide Sierra Leone and Liberia).

Everest – mountain and mirror

A year ago this week, 16 sherpas were killed in an avalanche above Everest base camp. Carole Cadwalladr, who travelled to the camp for The Observer, says Everest is a mirror as well as a mountain: “We see in it what we want to see. And our ideas about it fit the ideas we have about the world we live in. Lefties see exploitative labour practices, mountaineers see a corruption of the sport they love, Sherpas see economic opportunity and each year around 300 people see a fixed point against which they can test themselves.”

Travels with my censor

The best way to understand censorship in China? Take a tour with your censor, says Peter Hessler. In The New Yorker, Hessler, author of an excellent trilogy of books about China (River Town, Oracle Bones and Country Driving), reports on what he learned.

Land of the living goddess

For her new book, The Living Goddess, Isabella Tree spent 15 years researching the Nepali tradition of the Kumari – the young girl worshipped as a deity. She talks to Mick Brown in the Telegraph Magazine.

Bombay, by a resident poet

“You’ve been to Mumbai a couple of times,” a colleague said to me a while ago; “what should I read to get a flavour of the place?”

Off the top of my head I recommended Maximum City, Suketu Mehta’s plump and populous non-fiction account, and Rohinton Mistry’s novel of endurance, A Fine Balance, and his short stories about life in an apartment building, Tales from Firozsha Baag. If I were asked again, I would have a few more suggestions, among them the poems of Arundhathi Subramaniam.

Subramaniam lives in Mumbai (Bombay), where she works as a writer, editor and curator. She was short-listed for this year’s TS Eliot Prize for her collection When God Is a Traveller (Bloodaxe Books), and I heard her read from it at the Royal Festival Hall in London last month. Ian McMillan, MC for the evening, noted that her words and stagecraft won her “the first whoop of the night” (actually, it was the only whoop of the night). There were giggles, too, during several of her poems, including one about a garrulous fellow-passenger on a train, “Or Take Mrs Salim Shaikh”.  Among the many snippets of autobiography that Mrs Salim Shaikh dispensed were the lines ‘My heart is pure.’/’I practise no religion,/only homoeopathy.’, which, four days after the massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, was funny and poignant at the same time.

“I  have mixed feelings about Bombay,” Subramaniam said that evening, “but its trains have often offered me fodder for poems.” Those feelings are forcefully expressed in “The City and I”, which she wrote after the terrorist attacks there in November 2008, and which I’m now featuring on Deskbound Traveller. You can hear her discuss her work in an interview for the BBC World Service programme “The Forum”, recorded when she was in London for the TS Eliot Prize readings. On the video below, she reads more of her poems.

Arundhathi Subramaniam from Neil Astley on Vimeo.