|Want to practice your SE Asia geography?|
Before deciding to travel to SE Asia I didn’t know much about any of the countries I have now visited. I was drawn to SE Asia because it was supposed to be a safe place for traveling solo, it was an inexpensive place to travel long term and it was so unknown to me. I had heard about Thailand only in more recent years from friends who vacationed there and because Andrew Zimmerman started doing segments about Thai food. Laos, I had heard of during my childhood thanks to a Laotian friend of a family friend, but I couldn’t honestly tell you anything about the country. Thanks to People magazine, that along with Newsweek were my two major childhood news sources, all I knew about Cambodia was that in the 1990’s Princess Diana visited, met with land mine victims and promoted humanitarian programs working to clear mine fields. In an attempt to shatter my naivety, before visiting SE Asia I started to read memoirs about life in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam to try and help me understand some of the recent history in these countries.
The first book I read about Thailand, which I picked up at The Best Little Bookstore in Winters, was about the sex industry in Thailand. It tells the story of a woman who was forced into prostitution as a teenager, became pregnant, and had her daughter stolen from her. She spent the next 15 plus years searching for her daughter while becoming a successful singer. I cannot remember the title though the book is likely still circulating around Winters. After a couple months in Thailand I realized a movie I had watched as a teenager, Anna and the King, was about Siam’s King Rama IV. There is another book that I’ll have to read when I am back in the states because it is banned in Thailand.
July 2015- I just finished the Railway Man about the building of the Death Railway in Thailand. Until recently I had not idea that World War II has such an impact on so many countries outside of Europe because in school we always focused on the German invasions across Europe.
I read several books before traveling to Cambodia. Last spring I read The Road of Lost Innocence by Somaly Mam, which looks like it may not be a true story, about the Cambodian sex industry. When I visited Luang Prabang I found Emergency Sex: and other desperate measures, a book about UN work in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990’s, at a book exchange. While in Chiang Mai I read First they killed my father: A daughter of Cambodia remembers by Luong Ung about her childhood spent in the Khmer Rouge work camps and two more of her books about living in the United States after escaping Cambodia. I also read two other books by Ung, Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind and Lulu in the Sky: A Daughter of Cambodia Finds Love, Healing, and Double Happiness. While in Kampot I watched The Killing Fields about an American journalist and his Cambodian assistant during the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime.
May 2015- Most recently I read When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him which is her memories of a childhood spent starving in labor camps during the Khmer Rouge regime.
For Vietnam I read The Girl in the Picture by Denise Chong about Kim Phuc who was badly burned by napalm during the Vietnam War and is the main subject of one of the most recognizable photographs of the last century.
I read The spirit catches you and you fall down, about a young Hmong girl with epilepsy caught between the worlds of eastern and western medicine, years ago when I was in either high school or college. Only after looking into this book again did I realize that the family immigrated to California from Laos.
We are hoping to visit Burma this summer. I haven’t picked a book yet though I know I want to learn more about Aung San Suu Kyi.