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April 07 , 2008

Among the Very Foreign


Five Asian pieces, four from Kalimantan, Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, and one column piece from Samarinda, in one volume. 1. His Brow in Feathers, the Dyak Chieftain and his Equation for the Order of Time.A Festival of Redemption, led by the Chief of the People Benuaq, Dyaks of the Central Lakes, Borneo. His lake was once a mountain, which inverted its form in an act of compassion for people who were without fishing grounds. The people are grateful. They understand the force of will in such a feat. 2. Bugis Street Shoes.Joey, a child of Singapore, makes his living in shoe-shine, from table to table in the restaurant mall Bugis Street, centre of the drag-scene, and since demolished by government decree. June in Singapore is not winter so much as a breath between summers, and Bugis Street is now gone, but you will get to the right time and place by imagining the sweet smells of fruit and vegetable rinds, the inconsolable cadging of cafe owners and hawkers, and so much bright blue light from second storey windows that you could read a menu sitting at any table in the street at midnight. 3. A Good Pirate Crew Can Swarm Sitting Down.You can do business of any sort at The Gangplank. The Gangplank is a bar in Taipei where it costs ten dollars, in premium grade currency, for a rum highball with a twist of scurvy. 4. Borneo Ferry.A Muslim schoolboy rides home obeying the wish of Allah that he be present at his father's death. This river is the Mahakam, a trade line inland from the Makassar Straits. The lower reach is a sea-mile wide, roadway for colliers, barges, log jams of softwoods, and ferries like ours, carrying miners, timber-cutters, shoppers from far villages, rattan baskets piled high on the roof. 5. Parties All Over Town.The Handover of Hong Kong to China, commissioned by News Limited for the Handover Issue. The handing back to China of Hong Kong was cause for celebration for most Chinese all over the world. In Hong Kong parties were everywhere, some by Chinese who had been waiting on this for decades, some by westerners who had made much money under colonial rule and whose partying was nostalgic, as those for the Merchant Bankers and in the British and the American Clubs. The stories of those parties reflect the ways continuing expatriates hope their fortunes should carry into their future.
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