Face and the Fish

So I picked up the second volume of Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography: From Third World to First. What I read of it, nearly two hundred pages, was not nearly as interesting as his first volume. Instead of continuing in a chronological tone, he decided to cover his life thematically, and this led him to hitting a lot of ground again, ground which he’d traversed quite well in the first book.

There was one thing, though, that stuck with me, a Chinese proverb: Big fish eat little fish. Little fish eat shrimp.

It’s a simple proverb, intimating that there’s a hierarchy to the world. A very Confucian value. I forget the context, but the parable remains true taken out of it. And it’s a very large part of life in Asia, this hierarchy.

Son to parents, fathers to sons, fathers to officials, officials to emperor. Relationships predefined. Almost as distinct as the caste system in India, but different. When I served a mission for the LDS church–back when I was young and had faith–we frequently ran across people who wanted to convert, but didn’t because they respected their parents too much, and their parents were Confucian, or animistic, or even Vietnamese Buddhist.

I won’t go farther into my mission at this point, as it is a part of my life in which I was on the verge of insanity and not necessarily perceiving reality the way it actually occurred.

What I do know is that Face, that vicious concept, rules the region. Even though one part of the region is Theravada and the other Mahayana Buddhist, there are also overlays of Confucianism, Catholicism, Animism, Daoism, Islam, and half a dozen other religions. It’s important to retain Face, and it’s also important to allow those who one deals with to do the same. If a solution can be reached in which both sides benefit, both sides keep Face, then it is far more likely that both sides will agree, and furthermore, abide by the solution.

I saw this happen in Cambodia. A foreigner came to us with a claim for an employment bonus that went unpaid. My boss, a Cambodian native who had studied in France, suggested a Face sensitive approach. First, the foreigner should go to the boss and protest treatment on his own. If that didn’t work, then the lawyer should go. If that didn’t work, then file for arbitration–a very visible action in Cambodia–and then eventually, if all else failed, to court.

The lesson here, though, is that confrontation should be resolved at the lowest level possible, to allow for both sides to maintain their Face. I’m done for now, but anticipate more discussions of Face to come in the future.



Henry Kissinger and Alcohol

I just picked up the second volume of Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiography and read the forward by Henry Kissinger. That’s enough to suggest that Lee is part of the autocratic world made by decolonization in the aftermath of the Second World War.

That is all on that point.

The other day I met with a friend who I worked with in Asia and who, for a brief period of time, lived in North Carolina. He’s moving away, unfortunately, but still, it was good to see him.

We talked about our experiences since SE Asia (I wanted to say “war”) and I talked about my struggles with alcoholism.

I’ve been back to Asia several times, trying to make things work between my brain and a job. Unfortunately, each time I went back I found some reason to drink. Usually beer, though when in Laos I did drink a lot of bourbon. But it’s Jim Beam’s fault. They came out with a honey flavored bourbon and a Devil’s Cut bourbon squeezed from the wooden barrels in which they age the liquor.

These were good things, and I and friends, would consume at least a bottle a night. So while I thoroughly enjoyed the nights, the mornings were lackluster and slow. For alcohol is my downfall. I have discovered, after a lengthy time of sobriety, that even one drink can affect my cognitive abilities for several days and thus leave me unable to perform at my job or sometimes even to not get up for my job.

This failed to please my superiors and I found myself quickly without a job. That’s why I’ve returned to the United States so many times and haven’t been in Asia for very much over the past couple years. The last time I went, I went to Vietnam and worked for a law firm there. I lasted two months before I went crazy (a different story) and left the position. I started drinking at the tenth anniversary celebration of the firm. It was a great celebration and I got really drunk. That was the end of sobriety in Vietnam.

When I was first in the hospital back in 2010 the doctor suggested I was dual diagnosis. This means that in addition to a certain mental illness, there are substance abuse issues. I went to dual diagnosis group sessions and even an AA meeting held in the hospital. This was not for me. But I agreed to a year of sobriety once I was out of the hospital. That didn’t last long (but again, another story).

And just to clarify, I did not mention Henry Kissinger for SEO purposes. It just happened to be the last thing I read before sitting down to write.




The Credibility Gap

I finished The Great Influenza, the other day. I think one of the major lessons I took away from the book was the way in which the public officials’ actions acted against the efforts of scientists and doctors in treating and limiting the epidemic.

Credibility Gap.

I first heard the term in college, in a class on the Vietnam War. It referred to the increasing discontent of the nation with the lies of its leaders. Johnson, in particular, was seen as a primary culprit of this. Per example, Hue, 1968.

Days before the Tet Offensive was launched against American positions, Johnson officials had proclaimed that the war was practically won and that the Viet Minh were co longer capable of mounting a major offensive.

This was all too obviously contradicted by the major fighting in Hue and throughout the south. Especially with pictures of the American embassy in Saigon under attack. It was the first truly televised war and the constant exaggerations by the Johnson administration of troop levels, of enemy killed, of ground taken led to a disillusioned populous.

This was considered the beginning of the credibility gap, though I would argue that it began much earlier. I don’t know when it began, but it was definitely present during the Spanish Influenza epidemic.

During the epidemic, government officials throughout the country refused to believe the scientists who told them that contact with those already sick could easily make others sick. The officials, instead of imposing strict quarantines, simply told their people that the influenza was at its peak and that there was nothing to worry about.

This attitude, taken not only by public officials towards civilians, but by military personnel towards soldiers in spite of warnings from some of the brightest medical scientists in the world, caused incalculable suffering.

Troops transferred between camps, carrying the disease on what became death trains. Voyages across the Atlantic to carry troops from American camps to Brest or St. Nazaire, became floating sick wards, many of the soldiers dying from the gruesome disease. I touched upon this topic in a previous post, but I didn’t fully discuss the idea of a credibility gap.

After weeks of lies from officials telling the public that all was in hand and that the disease had peaked, the public stopped believing them. They ignored what the mayors and the legislators and the executive officials said. They simply tried to survive. The leaders be damned.

Thus my argument that the credibility gap extended far before the Vietnam War. And if you want some humor, there’s also a comic troupe that performed during the majority of the war and beyond called the Credibility Gap.





Influenza Major

I’m currently reading the Great Influenza by John M. Barry. It is a book about the epidemic Spanish Influenza that killed nearly twenty-five million worldwide during and after the Great War. One thing that strikes me as poignant is the overriding hubris of the government in censoring news about the disease.

It was war time, yes, but that does not justify an executive branch to infringe on a first amendment right as granted by fiat of the legislative and by popular accord of the people. Wilson took other measures in hand, securing an almost autocratic control of the homefront in service to the battle front. Intimidation to ensure sales of the Liberty Bonds, censorship put in place to ensure that no news would be released if it might affect the morale of the people or the troops.

Most relevantly, this last, led to a serious failure of leadership during the fall and winter of 1918, when the Influenza was at its worst. Newspapers reported that nothing was wrong. Look at the reassurances of public health officials. It’s going to be all right, the government will protect us. Others simply remained silent, saying nothing about the influenza virus.

This censorship proved to cause more problems than it solved. As Barry points out, and as is relevant today, it created a breach of trust between the people and the government. The lies bandied about by Wilson’s appointed health officers was evidenced by a simple walk in the street. Bodies lay on porches and in hallways. Morgues and cold stores overflowed with bodies. How could this much death lead to so little concern on the part of the government? It must be a farce.

This wouldn’t be the first time the government lost the trust of the people, and it wouldn’t be the last by any means.

Noy And Her Ungrateful Husband Khamsouk

I’m excited to finally announce that tonight, come midnight, Noy Andrew Her Ungrateful Husband Khamsouk, will hit the Kind,e digital store. I set the pre-release date for June1, and then proceeded to promptly forget what day I took was, all week. Sothe night has finally come. The day is here.

Noy and Her Ungrateful Husband Khamsouk is the story of a Lao couple who are trying to navigate political corruption, desire, and paranoia. It’s a story authentic in its inspiration, many of the instances cited I experienced in some way, though the objects may be entirely different. The characters are fictitious but the events are entirely plausible.

When I worked in Laos, we contacted a political machinist company. They not only provided high level information about the politics and power of Southeast Asia, but they also related a story. In Vietnam, their client was the victim of false registration of land in the cadastral records. He had bought a strip of land with promising mineral deposits. But a clerk found out about this value and switched the registrations. This company then used connections furthermore up in the hierarchy to restore the land to it so iriginal owner.

That was in Vietnam, in Laos such corruption is even more endemic. Ministry Parkin gloats full of minimum wage earners taking home a hundred dollars are filled with Lexus, Mercedes, and SUVs. Where they get the money. . .i don the know, but there is a long and fruitful history of corruption in the country.

That’s why Noy And Her Ungrateful Husband Khamsouk is something that reflects my genuine experience in a country I love. And it’s  available for download on Amazon.com starting at midnight tonight, June 1st.

Military Commitments and Republicans

“Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s (Frederick Lewis Allen) – Highlight on Page 27 | Loc. 494-98 | Added on Wednesday, May 24, 2017, 11:07 PM Lodge rose in the Senate to express his preferences for national independence and security, to insist that Articles X and XI of the League Covenant gave “other powers” the right “to call out American troops and American ships to any part of the world,” and to reply to Wilson: “We would not have our politics distracted and embittered by the dissensions of other lands. We would not have our country’s vigor exhausted, or her moral force abated, by everlasting meddling and muddling in every quarrel, great and small, which afflicts the world.”

I’m currently reading the above contemporaneous history of the 1920s. The above is a recital of some of what Henry Cabot Lodge said in the Senate in response to the Versailles Treaty. Now, while it is sound and in fact exactly what George Washington said in his going away speech way back when, it is odd to hear these words come from an ardent Republican.

Especially in light of the Republican Party now. They have become the party of the military-industrial complex, funding military research and expansion. Furthermore, they have become the Party of military commitment, as under Reagan we fought covertly in Afghanistan and Grenada, but committed ourselves to countless bases and containment policies which meant commitments of armed forces. And then under Bush we committed ourselves to a policy of containment against Iraq, imposing a no-fly zone under his leadership that continued through to Bush W.

I also have had conversations with diehard republicans who would much rather fund a military so big we can’t even use it all, and for which there is no need, than universal healthcare of any other policy of humanity and human rights. It is ironic that this is such a concrete difference between the two parties, that the military is so much a part of the Republican agenda that it isn’t even an issue during elections. It’s unassailable.

Guns and butter. There is only so much money to go around and if you buy guns with the money then you can’t buy butter. Buy butter and you can’t buy guns. The key is finding a balance between the two, something which has not occurred yet, and which may not occur until we have a major makeover of the politicians and their drive for money and power.



Psychotisicity (I know it’s not a word)

I am crazy. When I first went to Vietnam in 2003, I had a psychotic episode that resulted in me believing, for eight years, that I had been the victim of a very well concocted scheme to drug me in my hotel room, rape me, and then spread the news all over Vietnam. This I believed for a long time, especially as I was delusional as well. For eight years I regularly experienced related hallucinations and delusions.

I went through the horrid process of “repentance” in the Mormon Church and then left the church. I even went through the events with a psychologist in California and no one had the idea that it might be a hallucination. I suppose I was that lucid.

I probably was, because in 2010, while living and working in Cambodia, I went crazy again. This time the psychotic episode caused me to focus on three possibilities. I was either being gaslit by my employers, the government of Cambodia, or the Mormon church. But there was so much more. There were incidents of knee pain. I thought for a good long time that I was dying from internal bleeding caused by the disintigration and separation of my knees. This left me bedridden over and over. I tried to kill myself with a torn Coke can, and I broke my glasses to try to get something sharp with which to kill myself. I figured a quick bleedout would be much preferred to a lengthy, painful death caused by internal bleeding.

None of these things worked and I continued my psychosis unhindered. I went to the American Embassy several times, once in my boxers, wandered around the city, going up and down from the embassy to my hotel and back. I had no money. I begged for green tea to drink as it was free and water cost money. I ended up in the hospital where they gave me pot pills for the pain, and where I hallucinated that I had to die for every sin I’d ever committed. I pulled an IV out of my arm and shoved a male nurse back with a fist. I’m not sure if I hurt him.

My cousin, who lived in Bangkok at the time, came to help me, but I quickly lost him in the city that I had walked through for nearly a year. It wasn’t until I got sane enough to wander back to the embassy and claim my passport missing that we got my final payment from my employer, paid for my hospital stay and got my passport back, and escorted me to the airport.

That’s a bit of my craziness, I’m sure more will emerge later.



A Bit of Laos

Laos. I suppose I should write briefly on that subject considering I have a book set in the country coming out next week. I lived in Laos for nearly three and a half years and during that time made some of the best friends of my life. I also consumed an unholy amount of alcohol, tried to kill myself twice, and in general mucked things up by performing at the level of a delusional alcoholic who thinks he’s functional.

That said, there are amazing things and terrible things about the country. To touch on the latter, first, my employer lost his entire investment to business partners and the government over the period of several years, despite efforts to bring international powers to bear.

The good, though, are the people. Those who have not been corrupted by power or money or cars or prestige tend to be good and genuine people. They are friendly and will share a beer if they have one. They like you even more if you buy the beer and share it with them. And the beer . . . Beer Laos is amazing. It’s a lovely lager with the taste of mountain spring. If that’s a taste.

After dating a guy intermittently, he told me that it cost a thousand dollars to get a job in a ministry, which paid him the same amount of money as he was currently making, a hundred dollars a month. But shortly after he got the job, he started posting things on facebook about cars and houses and property. A really interesting anecdote concerning the way that money and power works in Laos.

Why did I try to kill myself? Well, one time, the first, I was coming down off a trip on Ketamine. That just riddled me with depression and as I was sitting at my computer at work, the idea of trying to off myself just seemed like a good one. So I tried it. Luckily, you can’t really kill yourself with Valium, a small dose of Ketamine, and copious amounts of Beer Laos. The second time, I think I was drinking so much that the alcohol overcame the meds and I went whacko.

Luckily I had an understanding boss.

But Laos is a great place. I would like to go back, but I’m afraid I wouldn’t be able to resist the urges of drugs and alcohol for very long. I plan to visit, but that is all I can promise at this point in time. Until I know I can live without the booze in those triggering atmospheres I must abstain. Otherwise I won’t write, and I won’t accomplish the things I want to accomplish.




State Controlled Buddhism

For years I’ve thought that the Confucian beliefs entered Vietnam as a result of efforts by Le Thanh Tong, second emperor of the Le Dynasty in the fifteenth century. While it is true that he was raised in Chinese courts and learned the tenants of Confucianism, and he later did his part to embrace the philosophy and spread it as not only an administrative tool but a way of life among his people, he was not the only emperor with such aspirations.

Ming Manh, the second emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty, used the ideas of Confucianism, particularly the peasant’s attitudes towards the emperor, as a way to control his country. Not only did he seek to use Confucianism to unite a country divided by internal differences and rebellions, but he used the Sangha as well.

This, perhaps, is one of the more interesting points of what I’m currently studying. Ming Manh and the Nguyen Dynasty–begun at the birth of the nineteenth century–used Mahayana Buddhism to replace the Angkor Theravada Buddhism. Throughout the south of Vietnam, Dai Nam, Ming Manh replaced Buddhist temples of one sect with another, imposing his imperial spirits on the superstitions of the people in the Mekong Valley.

Not only did he harness Buddhism for his own means, but he fostered the animism of the people as something unique to Vietnam, something that was supported and endorsed by the government. More than anyone since Le Thanh Tong, Ming Manh was the emperor who used religion to control the state. Even though much of what he and his father accomplished came from the import of Chinese style, Confucian laws, and the Mandarin state sponsored tests that promised advancement on merit, he still felt it necessary to stamp down on hostile religions and impose his own beliefs in an attempt to unify a divided Vietnam.

One of the reasons I find this interesting is that during my tenure in Laos (where I read extensively) one of the major themes of Laos’ nationalization under Kaysone Phomvihane was his use of the Buddhist Sangha to spread Nationalistic propaganda through the monks to the people. Have other countries outside of Asia used the church in such a way? I don’t know. I do know that I need to reread Benedict Anderson.


I did not know that Germany after the end of the war was Red. This little tidbit of information I learned in the last chapters of The Stillness Heard Round the World by Stanley Weintraub. It is a well written book, though many of its pages are devoted to celebrations around the world, there are also poignant concerns and chapters devoted to political machinations among great powers.

What interests, me, though, is in the last few days of the Great War, the German home front not only saw the resignation of the Kaiser and his sons, but also the reformation of society into Citizen and Soldier Counsels. These Counsels were formed in the heritage of a commune, and decisions for each Counsel were made in the Counsels themselves. If a Soldier’s counsel wanted to return to Munish, or Berlin, then that decision had to be made together. It was an inefficient process at the time, forcing a new form of rule on a confused and worried populace.

This process came beneath the more well recognized formation of the Weimar Republic that replaced the Kaiser and his mates from their kingdom of Prussia. The soldatenraten, as they were called, wore red crepe on their arms to symbolize the red in their hearts. It was a conflict that created something of civil unrest in the war torn country, and the people, many of whom preferred a republic to a socialist state, while not necessarily raising weapons against the soldiers who came back from the front disillusioned and hardened by their experiences, the citizen counsels did their best to encourage those soldiers who hadn’t already, to don red crepe and join a soldatenraten.

The book ended with a brief account of Hitler’s first attempt to gain power in a coup held on the five year anniversary of the Armistice. By 1923, then, Germany was still a place where extremists could provide inspiration to a people adrift in political agony and shame from the Great War.