Books

Night of the Golden Butterfly and This is How You Lose Her- book reviews

As the fifth of Tariq Ali’s Islamic Quintet of novels, The Night of the Golden Butterfly is the most contemporary one, taking place in 20th and 21st century Pakistan and England, as well as China. The story starts when a famous but mysterious Pakistani painter Plato asks his childhood friend, novelist Dara, as a special favor, to write about his life for his lover. Hailing from Lahore, Plato and Dara met during the latter’s university years in the 1960s and developed a friendship while ruminating over politics and philosophy. The latter would come to fall in love with a Chinese-Pakistani, Jindie, the sister of their friend and the “Golden Butterfly” of the book’s title, who ends up marrying another of their friends. Jindie harbors a fascinating ancestral origin, being the descendant of a Yunnan Hui sultan who rose up against the Qing emperor in late-19th century China. The sultan’s defeat drives Jindie’s ancestor to flee Yunnan and eventually Pakistan.

Decades after their university years in Pakistan, Dara, Plato and Jindie have all immigrated to the US and England, but still stay in touch with events in an increasingly unstable Pakistan, which has uneasy relations with the Taliban, which part of its military tacitly supported (as most people know now, Osama bin Laden was killed while “hiding out” in a Pakistani military town). The problems in their homeland catch up to Dara and his Pakistani friends in the West in the form of “Naughty,” a former socialite and ex-wife of a corrupt Pakistani military officer, who flees to and gains fame in Europe as a liberal Muslim woman who openly criticizes Islam and was implicated in a murder and sex scandal involving Pakistani army generals. While the story meanders a lot, going from Pakistan to the West and to China, it is an entertaining read that cleverly mocks liberalism, art, religion, especially radical Islam, and Pakistan.

 

This is How You Lose Her is a collection of short stories from Junot Diaz, whose The Wondrous Life of Oscar Diaz is one of the bluntest, raw and profane novels I’ve ever read. As with the novel, the protagonist of these short stories is a Dominican-American guy from a working-class background. As the title suggests, the stories are all, except one, about the opposite sex. In several of them, the protagonist features his family, especially his womanizing older brother. They are a bit raunchy and profane, in keeping with Diaz’s literary style, which is like someone talking. Most of them feature sorrowful or wistful endings, which I suppose is the main point, to portray the joy and fickleness of love and passion.

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Books · China

Asia’s Cauldron- book review

The South China Sea has been the biggest flash point in Asia for the past few years, even though North Korea has stolen the thunder with its provocative missile tests in the last few weeks. Surrounded by multiple nations, but heavily contested by one that is furthest away from it, the sea is a vital conduit for regional trade with over $5 trillion worth of shipping passing through it each year. It is also rich in underground petroleum deposits. The nation that I am referring to above is China, which has expended a lot of effort in claiming and occupying islets and reefs in the sea that even extend into other countries’ waters. Asia’s Cauldron – The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific looks at this potential theater of war and the geopolitics surrounding it.

Kaplan outlines China’s rising military strength and capabilities, which last week’s news of China launching its home-built and second aircraft carrier provided a reminder of. China claims over the majority of the sea, using a dubious nine-dash map (first issued by the ROC in the mid-20th century) that supposedly shows that China historically had control of many islets in the sea. While this flimsy evidence does not have much ground in contemporary international norms or laws, China has disregarded this and continues to stand by its claims.

But yet, international conventions be damned, as other than economic collapse or a significant decline, China is set to dominate the region. However, while nations like Vietnam and Malaysia are obviously too small to confront China by themselves, the US support and cooperation among those countries can ensure a balance of power. Because to ensure stability and relative peace, balance of power rather than US domination is necessary. In other words, China’s rise must be tolerated and even given some breathing space, though the US needs to remain involved.

Kaplan also says that the South China Sea is potentially to China what the Caribbean is to the US, basically its maritime backyard over which which it has total domination. The US did this in the early 20th century and China is trying to do something similar. Of course, one difference is that rather than being filled with mostly tiny Caribbean countries, the South China Sea is surrounded by larger, older countries that do not readily accept Chinese domination.

So in addition to China, Kaplan also devotes a chapter each to key countries including Vietnam, Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Philippines, all of which he visited. He provides interesting and insightful observations of each country on their geopolitical situation,history, military, and society. Vietnam is the one most at threat from China, but despite its small size, it is a feisty country with a long history of resistance to Chinese occupiers and attackers from imperial times, not to mention its fight with the US in the Vietnam War.  Meanwhile, Kaplan surprisingly rates Malaysia highly, seeing it as a model Islamic nation that is also democratic and diverse. The chapter on Philippines makes for somewhat surprising and amusing reading, as Kaplan likens it more to a failing Latin American country than an Asian one, a result of its inefficient Spanish colonialism. In these country chapters, he provides a complete picture combining interviews, history and observations, as opposed to some writers who visit a country and use a few anecdotes or statistics to come to conclusions.

Robert D Kaplan is one of my favorite authors, due to his keen geopolitical views and insights on regions and conflicts around the world in Africa, Central Asia and the Balkans. He is famous for The Coming Anarchy, a 1994 essay that painted a very bleak picture of the world due to overcrowding, tribalism and environmental issues. But his writing is measured as opposed to alarmist or emotional. Even if you don’t agree with him, you will still learn something.

Asia’s Cauldron was published in 2014, but its topic and views are still just as relevant and vital now.

Hong Kong

Indecency at the top a reflection of society?

As we get deeper into 2017, I’ve struggled recently to focus too much on politics. It’s not that I’m unaware of major issues like Trump’s presidency, Brexit and Hong Kong’s upcoming Chief Executive election. With the US slowly descending into a political comedy, as Trump picks fights or causes controversy almost every time he opens his mouth or meets with somebody, Europe struggling, and China trying to be assertive, it’s not hard to feel that the world is going to crap. Actually it’s not, but it’s hard to think it’s getting better either. The truth is that I didn’t seem to care too much to even feel pessimistic or complain anymore. But I think I really need to shake that feeling because apathy and ignorance are probably worse than pessimism or cynicism.

A lot of people were shocked, dismayed or even revolted by the idea of Donald Trump winning the US presidency (I was quite shocked as well). Likewise, the Brexit referendum result had a similar impact on a lot of people. It’s almost as if somehow, it became alright, even laudable to be openly nasty and spout sexist, racist, and simple-minded nonsense. And it’s not just Trump. Closer to Hong Kong, you can look at the Philippines and their president who boasts of killing people and acts like a clownish tough guy, but more seriously has launched a state campaign by encouraging police and vigilantes to execute “drug dealers” in the streets. Besides the UK, far-right politicians are making headway across Europe, invoking closed borders, violence against minorities and immigrants, and extreme nationalism verging on racism. Even in Hong Kong, the localist movement (I admit a bit of sympathy) at times express stances at times that contain traces of racism and hate.

It seems like suddenly, we’ve reached the point where democratically elected leaders of countries are people championing discrimination, isolation, belligerence and misogyny. Added to this, we also have the surge of far-right movements, open hatred and violence against immigrants, and “alternative facts” – false or manipulated news that is accepted as true by many.

But honestly, I think the real danger is this is a reflection of society. There is a lot of casual racism, malice and dishonest behavior that happens all around us. Back when I used to live in China, I used to rail a lot about negative behavior, but it is apparent that callous and malicious behavior happens a lot all over. Hate crimes, for instance, seem to be on the rise in the US and Britain. Just the other day, a white American shot two Indians in a Kansas bar because he thought they were Muslims (even if they had been, it still would not be right). People seem to be indulging in the most casually obscene ways to kill others, like driving trucks into crowds of people out on the street having a good time. Cyber-bullying can become so vicious that kids commit suicide due to online taunts or extortion or their reputation tainted by being involved in unseemly incidents, even when they are the victims, which is exacerbated by social media.

Ironically, technology appears to be a big reason why there is so much ignorance and hate in society. Rather than being something to broaden our knowledge and awareness of issues and people around us, for some, technology is a tool to foster more hate and ignorance. Fake news, alternative facts, and social media all play a role in disseminating false information that ramp up hate and intolerance, and not to mention stupidity. It would be silly and amusing if it weren’t so tragic at times, like the aforementioned American who shot and killed people because of mistaken ethnic identity. While it might be faintly amusing to think the US, the world’s only superpower and supposed leader of the free world, has plunged to such depths, it’s not amusing when one thinks of the worse things that happen in the developing world, especially Asia. The governor of Jakarta, capital of Southeast Asia’s largest nation Indonesia, supposedly one of the top emerging economies, was put on trial in December for blasphemy. Remind me again what century we are living in?

I am not saying every single ignorant and racist person is a Trump or Brexit supporter, because that would be too simplistic and too lazy an explanation. Besides, it also allows us to wallow in moral complacency. In actuality, I think there were probably Obama or Hillary supporters who were not exactly good guys too. Likewise not all Brexit Leave voters are monsters or Remain voters angels. But more importantly, let’s not pretend there aren’t people in regular life spouting racist or sexist garbage or flaunting their arrogance.

Maybe I’m not expressing myself clearly – I tend to think about different things and see common strands but am unable to  tie it together well enough. But we are living in a sorry period of history, when despite widespread impressive technology and wealth and knowledge, there are a lot of people who don’t know right from wrong, who don’t know real from fake. This applies to knowledge, this applies to morals, and it applies to behavior.

Hong Kong

Looking back at 2016 and hoping for a better 2017

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With just hours to go (in Taiwan, that is), 2017 is almost upon us and I think most of us will be glad this year is almost over, because we can’t handle any more shocks, tragedies and turbulence that blighted the world in 2016. While it is obvious that a lot of people are enduring tough times worldwide, due to a bad economy and wars and conflicts, the result of the US Presidential Election in November really caused a deeply profound shock even to the most cynical among us. That something which many people, including myself, take for granted, which is that the US is the world’s superpower that is stable and stands for ideals that is an example to the world, can be destabilized by someone like Donald Trump winning its highest office.

The joke stopped being funny and come January 20 it will be reality, but what is more disturbing is what his win meant. If even tens of millions of citizens in the world’s mightiest nation and largest economy can be so disillusioned or enraged or ignorant to vote for such an absurd and callow candidate as Trump to be president, what does it mean about the rest of us. In Hong Kong, this disillusionment also exists as can be seen by the rise of anti-establishment localist parties and their strong support, which saw them win seats in September’s legislative elections. A lot of other countries, such as the UK whose populace voted for Brexit in June, another deeply shocking result, France, Turkey and of course, the Philippines, who voted in an inane president themselves, have seen a rise in nationalism which has been reflected in their politics (Brexit, Duterte etc). And let’s not exclude China, where Xi Jinping has continued his strongman act domestically while engaging in provocative actions overseas in the South China, and puerile talk about how offended and hurt they are everytime Taiwan does something.

For me, 2016 was memorable because I finally moved to Hong Kong to work. Though that was my aim at the beginning of the year, after leaving China in 2015, I still find it surprising how fast the months have passed since I came to HK, that I’ve been working here for three-quarters of a year. It wasn’t easy getting accustomed to how different it is working and living here compared to just visiting, as the crowds, high costs of rent and food, and fast pace of life wear on you a bit. Also, it was challenging starting a new job with several main responsibilities, but that is going along better now.

In terms of travel, I went to Sri Lanka in January and then went back to Taiwan for the end of December. In between, I went back to China for the first time in over a year in September to neighboring Guangdong, then crossed over to visit Guangzhou and Guangxi, both of which was my first time.

All that said, I hope things will improve in 2017 and that the world doesn’t become significantly worse. I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year and a great 2017!
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Took a very decent trip to Sri Lanka back at the start of the year, amid the job-hunting. Was a good omen because I would soon get a job within weeks after returning.
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Hong Kong is fantastic to look at from afar, but close up, as you can see below, things don’t seem quite as sunny.
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Spent Christmas in Guangxi, China, where I enjoyed the fine karst scenery despite some fog and rain 

China · Taiwan

It’s China, not Trump who’s at fault in the Taiwan President Phone Call controversy

So Donald Trump hasn’t even become president yet but he’s already causing international scandals. Judging from some of the shocked and horror-stricken reaction in the media and from some people, it is like he almost caused World War III to erupt. If you don’t already know, what Trump did was to call the president of Taiwan Tsai Ing-wen, and have a conversation with her last Friday, December 2. It was a mere phone call, but it was unprecedented in American history, because it was the first time any US leader or president-elect had spoken directly to a Taiwan president since official relations were severed in 1979.

As expected, China reacted angrily though not as badly as many people expected, because they were probably as stunned by the seeming audacity out of nowhere from Trump. After all, this is a guy who many people in his own country don’t understand.
Now, I’m no supporter, fan or admirer of Trump and I think he is a vile, arrogant and pretentious person. But I can’t deny I felt a little bit of  for what he did. Many people don’t see it that way because they think this upsets the critical state of affairs between the US and China over Taiwan. Basically, Taiwan is a nation that China claims belongs to it, due to the losing government side in the Civil War fleeing to Taiwan, then a former Japanese colony that had been returned to China, in 1949 to govern for themselves. Since then, Taiwan has become a democracy and a relatively well-off country with its own government, army, currency, courts and schools, in short basically everything a country has. And China has never relinquished its view that Taiwan belongs to it, forcing all major nations and the UN to give up official relations with Taiwan. The US also gave up official ties with Taiwan in 1979, but remains Taiwan’s main ally and provides tacit support, including military arms albeit outdated and in limited quantities.

However, many people were annoyed or angry at what Trump did, because they think this might provoke China into declaring war on the US and starting a regional war in East Asia and the South China Sea. But while I understand these folks, including a few expat friends and acquaintances of mine in China, don’t support China’s regime, they are letting their anger at Trump overshadow the actual situation. They guess that Trump is a fool who made a reckless move (I doubt that though), or that he only made the call (Trump has since claimed Tsai called him) to discuss investment projects his associates had previously visited, as reported by the BBC. The danger though is that they end up supporting or giving weight to China’s position, as unjust and groundless as it is.

One person who I knew from Beijing, a very intelligent and knowledgeable writer, came out with this piece where he makes an interesting but in my opinion, groundless, argument. Basically, it is that the Communist regime has drilled into its people so successfully, that Chinese strongly feel that Taiwan belongs to them and is part of their country. If the government even appears to look weak by not constantly pressing its claim on Taiwan and allowing even the slightest international acknowledgement of Taiwan as an independent nation, there is a danger than an angry Chinese population could stir up and force the Chinese government into taking military action. The article does make good points to try and back up this argument, but there are a couple of big holes which ultimately make it a flawed argument. One is that what the Chinese government imposes on its citizens about Taiwan belonging to them is a lie, and one which has serious international ramifications. As foreign countries and the UN freeze Taiwan out (besides not being part of the UN or many international bodies, Taiwan participates in the Olympics as Chinese Taipei and flies an artificial flag that is not its own), this perpetuates the lie among many mainland Chinese. However China reacts, whatever it does, such as threaten or increase provocative actions near Taiwan, the fault is not Trump dared to talk to a Taiwanese president, but that the Chinese Communist Party has maintained a nonsensical lie for decades while attempting to bully and coerce a nation of 23 million people.
The second is that the writer stresses that the lie is so deeply ingrained that to mainland Chinese, it is “weird and taboo” to consider Taiwan as anything but a part of China. This is not true in my experience because I have met a number of mainlanders who are sympathetic or open to Taiwan being a separate nation.

It is time more mainlanders become aware that the world isn’t what their party forces to tell them. They need to know that Taiwan is not a part of China, but a separate nation, and just because their government claims it is, that is not true. If a lot of Chinese can’t accept that and get their “feelings hurt,” so be it. But I doubt all 1.3 billion Chinese, especially not the ones I know, are rabid, mindless, nationalist maniacs intent on forcing Taiwan into being part of China. This situation is still causing consternation with both China and Trump, with Trump responding with some bold (but not exactly untrue) tweets about China after Chinese state media criticized him.

So whether Trump’s motives were, the result is that it has brought Taiwan’s plight into the open, and put some pressure on China. I’m still not certain or ready to accept he could be a decent president, but I certainly don’t share a lot of people’s anger over Trump and I grudgingly give him a little credit for talking to Taiwan’s president on the phone.

Hong Kong

When the unthinkable happens

Well, what many of us didn’t think was possible turned out to be possible and I think we all know what I’m talking about. The next US president will be a callous, racist, contemptuous billionaire who has denigrated women and Muslims and Mexicans and has no experience in public office. What is scary is that not only did he win this election despite his despicable conduct, such as being accused by many women of molesting them, being heavily reported on, but he won it with a sizable margin winning even previously staunchly Democrat states. One day after, I still can’t believe this happened, and when this man is actually sworn in in January, it will be a dark period for the world.

After Trump’s victory, I can’t help thinking about the Brexit referendum in the UK in June, when “Leave” actually won, to the consternation of a huge segment of the population, the media and pundits. Not just only because of the shock of the result, but the fact that the more supposedly unpopular and disingenuous campaign won – Leave with their scare tactics and exaggerated, false promises, and Trump with his racist and vile comments against women and minorities, not to mention his boasts about not paying taxes. Yet it would be foolish to casually dismiss, as tempting as it seems, Trump voters as ignorant, uneducated fools. His victory probably says a lot about the true state of society in the US, there are many people who are caught up in poverty, unemployment or other difficult circumstances, and/or sick of socioeconomic inequality and corporate dominance (monopolies, closure of small businesses, huge gap between executives and workers pay).

Now, the US will have to face up to an immediate future where it voted for a president who purposely antagonizes women and minorities, has simplistic views towards foreign policy and will likely push forward domestic laws that will make America a more closed and less global-looking nation. George W Bush also comes to mind, and it’s stunning to think he seems like a reasonable president compared to Trump.

A lot of American folks and the media will have to come to grips and try to understand why so much voters supported Trump. Is it because of desperation, an urge to rebel against “the system,” ignorance, or just plain nastiness? While Trump handily won more states and electoral votes than Clinton, she won the popular vote, and it should be noted that the Libertarian and Green party candidates won more than 4 and 1 million votes respectively. If only some of those 5 million votes had shifted to the Democrats, or conversely had not been drawn away from the Democrats, it could have been a different story. The Democrats also need to take a good, long look at themselves and where they and Hillary went wrong.

This week has been a bad one for politics, because before the US presidential election debacle on Tuesday, Hong Kong suffered a blow when Beijing announced it would ban two localist legislators, as I wrote in my last blog post, due to their pro-Hong Kong independence sentiments. However, the worse consequence is that by issuing this ruling based on their “interpretation” of Hong Kong Basic Law Article 45, Beijing interfered in Hong Kong’s law, a significant breach of the “one country, two systems” that is supposedly in place. There is also talk about Beijing wanting to ban more legislators due to their making certain statements during their oath-taking. Things have been happening quite fast since the weekend, and Beijing seems to be wanting to do more than just make a statement, but make it clear they have had enough. In doing so, they are showing more of their true colors, but this is something many of us already know.

Books

Open City- book review

I heard some good things a while back about Teju Cole being a young, hip, talented novelist but I honestly found it tough to enjoy his debut novel Open City, which came out in 2012 and earned him acclaim. Set predominantly in New York City, the narrator meanders while working as a psychiatrist and pondering various things. With a brief vacation to Belgium and some flashbacks of his childhood in Nigeria, which echoes the heritage of Cole as an American-born Nigerian who grew up in Nigeria, the plot fleshes out the narrator’s life as a series of diffuse and conflicting segments, such as a mixed upbringing and a distant relationship with his mother that then escalates into estrangement. It is, for lack of a better word, a haunting novel and I felt it drifted a lot without any focal point.

While that may have been deliberate, it seemed a little too contrived and dull. The book does make you think at some points, such as the narrator’s random but deep thoughts about the question of blackness and alien identities. I also did think part of the narrator’s life applied to mine as I do drift in life and wonder about issues randomly.
Another fault with the book, and it is a major one, is that near the ending, the narrator is confronted with a shocking accusation about his past by a female friend, but he doesn’t react to it and the book concludes without referring to it anymore. We never know how the narrator feels about this disturbing episode, and this just made me feel absolutely no sympathy or connection with the narrator. Which is also I felt about the book too.

Books · Travel

Grounded- book review

Christmas is one day away, so enjoy a photo of a very “Imperial” Christmas tree in Taipei, and a book review. Merry Christmas everyone.
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In Grounded – A Down to Earth Journey Around the World, a couple circumnavigate the world by train, bus and ship, without ever going on a plane.
They do this because, according to author Seth Stevenson in the detailed intro: “We despise planes and all they stand for,” (we being him and his girlfriend). As a result, starting from the US, they cross the Atlantic in a container cargo ship, take the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow to Siberia, go from Japan to China through SE Asia to Australia by ferry, bike, and train, cross the Pacific on a luxury cruise liner, then go across the US by train to where they started from.

The journey sounds like an ordeal but Stevenson pulls it off rather smoothly, despite relying on desperate last-minute luck a couple of times. The writer makes it sound so easy, so much that the main challenge is often pure boredom such as when they cross the Atlantic in a cargo ship and encounter a week of mostly unchanging scenery.

One drawback about such a journey is that they often stay in major cities for very short times, sometimes leaving on the same day that they’ve arrived. I know sometimes people say it’s more about the journey than the destination, and Stevenson emphasizes this as well, but I’d rather read more about Moscow and Helsinki than just a page or two. Stevenson does admit this problem later in the book, wishing that he could see more of Sydney for instance. Similarly, the two cross Japan and China in a blur. The book breezes by and before you know it, they are back to the USA.

Coincidentally, the most interesting part is also the longest time they spend in a country, when they take part in a biking tour that cycles across Vietnam in 2 weeks. It is the only time they travel with other people in a group and the group dynamics and camaraderie turn out to be quite positive, though not with a judgmental overview about the tour guide at the end that was a bit harsh.

There’s a lot of complaining during the trip, as you’d expect when trips involve overnight train rides on hard seats and dodgy freighters and crossing the Pacific by ship. Stevenson also doesn’t hesitate to be candid about his fellow passengers and is downright insulting about rural mainlanders visiting Beijing. Stevenson’s girlfriend Rebecca is a peripheral character throughout the trip but steadily reliable, and one can think he was lucky to have someone like her. Rebecca is so steadfast that even after Stevenson leaves her behind in Singapore to run onto a ferry going to Australia, Rebecca “bears no ill will,” Stevenson assures us, and she flies to Bali to rejoin him on the ship.

Having first mentioned it in the beginning, Stevenson further reiterates his disdain toward flying and stresses how doing that robs travelers of a connection to the world. He explains how the ease of flying has taken the charm out of travel and led to the demise of ocean liners and trains, at least in the US.
He is right on some counts, as air travel has actually become a less luxurious experience (mainly for us plebs who fly economy class) than the past despite becoming more common, such as cramped seat space, long pre-boarding security checks and mediocre food. But the accounts of his ferry and liner trips in this book do not make those modes of transportation sound any more attractive. Props to the author for crossing the Atlantic and Pacific by boat but I feel no desire to do it myself especially after reading how his experiences were.

But weirdly enough, despite all these issues, I enjoyed the book and I found myself wishing that it could have been longer.

Books

Back to Blood- book review

Tom Wolfe is a big name in contemporary American literature but I’ve only just read one of his books. And what a book it is. Back to Blood is a 600-plus-page drama-filled novel set in Miami, the only US city dominated by a minority, Cuban Latinos. There are the Cubans, who dominate Miami politically and culturally, the Anglos (whites), a dwindling minority clinging to their privileged lifestyles, mysterious Russian tycoons, with African-Americans and Haitian immigrants also in the mix.

A Cuban-American cop performs a daring rescue of a Cuban refugee atop a ship mast in full view of TV cameras and a crowd, making him a media hero and a traitor to his own people. According to American law, any Cuban refugee who reaches American soil gets to stay (as a “dryfoot”) while those who are picked up in the water are taken back to Cuba via Guantanamo Bay. The “hero” Nestor gets ostracized by his own family and to make things worse, outrage from his own Cuban-American community forces him to be transferred to another unit. But of course, this doesn’t solve the problem because Nestor then gets involved in a drug bust where he takes down a black dealer twice his size but is videotaped saying some racist words in the heat of the moment. The police force has another racist scandal involving Nestor. A hotshot reporter reaches out to Nestor for help with looking into a suspicious Russian tycoon who donated US$70 million worth of contemporary art to a new Miami museum. They investigate some intriguing leads but the plot then ties in a little too neatly from this point and the ending is abrupt.

Wolfe spares little in describing bluntly and in detail the social dynamics at play. Actually, he revels in highlighting the craziness and absurdities of these dynamics. The cast features the traditional Cuban lower-middle class, a Haitian creole professor who idolizes French agonizing over his son speaking creole and a social-climbing TV celeb sex therapist who employs and steals Nestor’s girlfriend. The writing certainly isn’t politically correct but Wolfe makes sure no race emerges unscathed.

I wasn’t a fan of some of the writing devices such as the frequent interjection of words describing sound effects in the middle of sentences like “the boat bounces, comes down again … SMACK but Officer Camacho’s fellow SMACK cops”. As you can see, it has an annoying effect.
Wolfe does also have some gems such as when Nestor describes his own lack of knowledge of high culture in that “he wouldn’t last two sentences in a conversation about art.”

The novel loses some steam in the latter stages as the focus shifts from ethnic-social dynamics to crime and politics. Maybe I am too interested in that kind of issue, but I find it makes places seem more realistic. With the recent set of racial incidents in the US, race relations are certainly still a contemporary issue.
Wolfe presents a vivid painting of swirling colors at first before winding it down into a black and white sketch.

China

Rise of Xi and his big dreams

Evan Osnos of the New Yorker has this indepth story of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, detailing his humble past, his rise, and his reign as the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao, though not necessarily in a good way. It’s an interesting piece which paints him as a formidable leader with a humble past during which his father experienced political persecution and Xi was sent to a rural village as a teen. Xi has not been shy in exercising his power, carrying out a protracted anti-corruption crackdown whilst also increasing censorship and arrests of activists, among other things. Xi has a lot of big dreams and ambitions, such as creating cross-continental economic initiatives and multilateral institutions in which China will play a leading role.
For example…

A lot of attention has been put on China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and its success, even though it has not actually started. This is because China, which proposed the AIIB, a multilateral institution that will fund projects across Asia, was able to attract the likes of the UK, Germany and France to join, despite opposition from the US. The broader implication is that the AIIB will be a sort of rival to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, existing multilateral institutions that are “led” by the US and Japan. These two countries have notably held back from joining, with Australia, which the US also tried to persuade against participating, that is yet to join.

One of the AIIB’s intended purposes is to fund the “One Belt, One Road” initiative, which comprise land and maritime infrastructure projects across Asia and between China and Europe in an attempt to recreate the ancient Silk Road- vast, intercontinental connected trade networks. It sounds incredibly ambitious, though for China’s leadership, no doubt it will be a success that fuels trade and prosperity across Asia and be a “win-win” situation for everyone involved. There are numerous challenges in getting other countries to be involved and allaying security concerns, as well as that the whole plan sounds very vague and promises big but lacks specifics.

China released an action plan about the entire initiative at the end of March, which you can see here.

There will be a lot of funding involved from China which has promised $40 billion for a Silk Road Fund, and at least $50 billion for the AIIB. In addition, there is the New Development Bank or BRICs bank, which China has also promised over 41$ billion for.

The US may have made an incredible misstep by trying to stop the AIIB, but it is also too soon to call it a success. China’s new initiatives sound impressive and promise big, but I’d rather wait a little longer for more specifics before I’m convinced.