Among the Very Foreign

Book Cover: Among the Very Foreign

Five Asian pieces, four from Kalimantan, Singapore, Taipei, Hong Kong, and one column piece from Samarina.

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. So fiercely did the effort compress its foundations that the bedrock ruptured, its rich blood ran, and the broad water here is forever crimson.

The butterflies became shrimp. The birds became fish. The crowns of mountaintop trees lived on as flowering lotus, now free swimming, their pale roots webbed like the feet of duck, paddling in search of the sweetest currents. As in the skies, the fish which were once birds fly to the trees which are now lotus so the Dyak fishermen corral this foliage together, they drive stakes deep into the lake bed to fashion aviaries as large as islands, and the channels leading toward the shoreline pass between these gardens, where praus dry their nets aloft on booms as if they were windless sails.

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 café 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.

A Good Pirate Crew Can Swarm Sitting Down.

A Frivolity from Taiwan.

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. Waiters here swash and buckle abut in pirate rig, the bartender’s parrot knows all the libretto from Penzance, and girls in pantaloons ply you with strong cigarettes. There’s enough tar in a packet of those cigarettes to paint a quarter-deck.

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.

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.

For Handover night brokers Morgan Stanley took the ballroom at the Grand Hyatt. The centerpiece here is a chandelier make from ropes of crystal which echo the jewelry of the diners below. Many of the guests here are clients, and the wealth they each command is of a magnitude to allow the purchase of the chandelier, were it made of diamonds, for a concubine’s trinket. When these men speak of the coming regime, this is to say that Beijing knows it is best served by keeping the rich of Hong Kong as rich as they are now. They say this often.