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Phuket Books: Peace Corps Redux

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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Phuket Books: Peace Corps Redux | The Thaiger
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PHUKET: What to make of Paul Theroux? He has written 19 novels and 15 travel books. His traveling persona and fictional characters both share a certain mean-spirited crustiness.

But, his latest novel The Lower River (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Boston, New York, 2012, 323pp) is written close to the heart. Like Paul Theroux, the narrator Ellis Hock had been a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi at the time of independence. Hock ditches the family clothing store in Medford, Massachusetts, along with his wife and daughter, and returns to the village of Malabo, for the first time in 40 years. Here he had spent the happiest four years of his life. What is Malabo like now?

The book is also informed by Theroux’s epic travel book of 2002, Dark Star Safari, an overland trek from Cairo to Capetown. A consistent nemesis of his travels are the white Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) workers, riding around in their air-conditioned Land Rovers, who never offer him the slightest bit of courtesy. He distills his hatred of these outside interlopers in the fictional aid organization Agence Anonyme, a sinister outfit of military precision with helicopters and walled compounds, which dominates the Lower River region in the south of Malawi, where the Sena tribe ekes out an existence of near starvation.

It must be said straight up that The Lower River contains some of Theroux’s best prose: the sights, sounds and smells of Africa. “He recognized the flattened landscape at once, a kind of disorder even in the trees and the tall grass, and an order of dust and smoke. It had been different from anything he’d known, not beautiful, too flat and featureless to photograph, but powerful, his first experience of the world, ancient in its simplicities.”

Hock finds the 30 huts of Malabo sadly shrunken, the school he had helped build gone to ruin, the destroyed dispensary occupied by an itinerant Witch Doctor, the church gone to ruin too and the Italian missionary priest long vanished. People suffer from the lassitude of hunger and despair. Feral children, AIDS orphans, run in packs. The exuberance of independence has long subsided into sullen cynicism. The villagers had once entranced Hock with their dignity and innocence and gentleness. “All that had vanished, and what was worse, not even a memory of it remained. They weren’t corrupt now; they were changed, disillusioned, shabby, lazy, dependent, blaming, selfish; they were like most people.”

Hock’s own generation has largely died out. The old chief’s grandson, Manyenga, now rules in his place, systemically cadging money from Hock while keeping him in a lethargic prison of inertia.

“Time, too, was retarded or else crazed, circular, inverted, as it might be in deep space, in one of those black holes into which the science fiction writers trucked their voyagers. Hock could not remember when he had arrived.”

Keeping vigil with him on the porch of his hut is Snowdon, a demented dwarf, and the illiterate teenager Zizi who cares for his daily needs.

“In the tall, fixed, vigilant way she stood when she was idle, Zizi reminded him of a water bird, head erect, her arms tucked like wings, one skinny leg lifted and crooked against the other, like the elder sister of those stately herons at the edge of the Dinde marsh, the thin upright birds planted in the mud on big feet.”

Zizi is the granddaughter of Gala, the thin, bright-eyed fellow teacher whom he had loved in the old days. Now old, obese and broken in health, Gala warns him to get out of Malabo: “Once they have eaten your money, they will eat you.”

Hock makes his escape down river toward Mozambique only to fall captive again to a strange village of AIDS orphans, sustained by flights of the food supply helicopter of Agence Anonyme. Hock comes face to face with the first white people he’s seen in months, only to be ignored. He winds up back in Malabo.

The novel stretches out too long in the same eerie stasis. The pages could be shorter and the pace quicker, but the climax is swift and full of surprises. Theroux has delivered a heartbreaking portrait of modern Africa as well as a damned good read.

The book is available from amazon.com or by ordering through all good bookshops in Phuket.

— James Eckardt

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Archiving articles from the Phuket Gazette circa 1998 - 2017. View the Phuket Gazette online archive and Digital Gazette PDF Prints.

World

Darth Vader actor David Prowse dies – May the force be with him

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Darth Vader actor David Prowse dies – May the force be with him | The Thaiger

“…his swish with the black cape and his screen presence in the foreboding, shiny black high-tech exoskeleton won him a legion of fans.”

Darth Vader has died… May the force be with him. The man who played the bad guy in the first Star Wars trilogy, British actor David Prowse, died at the age of 85 after a short illness.

American actor Mark Hamill, who played Darth Vader’s son, Luke Skywalker, alongside with David and the initial cast of the epic saga, sent his condolences in a tweet.

“So sad to hear David Prowse has passed. He was a kind man & much more than Darth Vader.”

“Actor-Husband-Father-Member of the Order of the British Empire-3 time British Weightlifting Champion & Safety Icon the Green Cross Code Man. He loved his fans as much as they loved him. #RIP”

Star Wars co-star, and fellow Brit, Anthony Daniels, who played the gold-plated and effusive C3PO in all but one of the 12 Star Wars instalments, paid tribute to Prowse’s contribution to the saga.

“Dave’s iconic figure dominated the finished film in ’77 and has done so ever since.”

David wore the ominous black suit and helmet to play the Star Wars villain Darth Vader although it was the American actor James Earl Jones who provided the character’s voice in post-production. George Lucas felt that David’s West Country English accent was “unsuitable for the part”. The decision to replace David’s voice caused a long-term rift between actor and director that eventually saw David cut out of official Star Wars publicity events. But his swish with the black cape and his screen presence in the foreboding shiny black high-tech exoskeleton won him a legion of fans.

Darth Vader actor David Prowse dies - May the force be with him | News by The Thaiger

David’s career as an actor spanned 50 years, but it was his role as the Sith Lord in Star Wars that brought him international fame and attention.

But it was his role as the “Green Cross Code Man” from a British road safety campaign that Prowse said he was most proud of. David was awarded an MBE, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in 2000 for that role.

David Prowse was born into a working class family and grew up in a council estate in Southmead, in southwestern England. He gained a scholarship to attend Bristol Grammar School. He had a passion for bodybuilding and was crowned British Weightlifting Champion several times in the 1960s. He became lifelong friends with actors Arnold Schwarzenegger in his weightlifting years.

His towering figure helped land him roles as monsters and villains in TV shows and films. He played the monster in “The Horror of Frankenstein” in 1970 and a bearded torturer in “Carry on Henry” in 1971. That same year he made an appearance as a bodyguard in Stanley Kubrick’s dystopian film “A Clockwork Orange” in 1971. He went on to play Darth Vader in all three of the original “Star Wars” films, in 1977, 1980 and 1983.

With the success of Star Wars, Prowse became a regular on the fan circuit and attended conventions around the world for almost 40 years, but he was rumoured to have later fallen out with director Lucas and was banned from official events in 2010.

He published an autobiography, “Straight from the Force’s Mouth,” in 2011.

SOURCES: Reuters | CNN | BBC

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Chiang Rai

Ron Howard to direct cave rescue feature film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Australia

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Ron Howard to direct cave rescue feature film ‘Thirteen Lives’ in Australia | The Thaiger
PHOTO: The entrance to the real Tham Luang cave near the Myanmar border in far north Thailand

The Australian Government is putting up A$13 million to Imagine Entertainment and film giant MGM to shoot a live-action feature film called Thirteen Lives, based on the Chiang Rai Tham Luang cave rescue story. The film will be shot in Queensland, Australia in the hinterland areas behind the Gold Coast.

The film will be directed by Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, The Da Vince Code, Cocoon, Solo: A Star Wars Story, Splash, Frost/Nixon), and start filming in March 2021. The state’s Gold Coast hinterland will double for Thailand with a similar hot, humid climate.

The Australian Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, Paul Fletcher MP, says the production ishould inject more than A$96 million into the Australian economy, “directly creating around 435 jobs for cast and crew”.

Thirteen Lives will tell the remarkable story of the effort by many volunteers, including Australians, to undertake an incredibly complex rescue. And I am proud to say that this story will be told here in Australia.”

“I understand this project will also undertake a significant amount of cutting-edge visual effects work here, a great opportunity for our local post, digital and visual effects companies.”

Thirteen Lives follows the true story of the 2018 Tham Laung cave rescue of the Mu Pa (Wild Boar) football team, trapped in a cave by heavy rain and flooding in Chiang Rai, far north Thailand. After the team was stuck for days with no supplies and falling oxygen levels, a group of diving and rescue experts from all over the world were called up to work together with their Thai counterparts to save the 13 young men. Among those experts were a group of divers from the United Kingdom and Australia.

The first major feature film about the rescue operation was The Cave, released in October 2019. The film was quite critical of the Thai red-tape which hampered much of the early rescue efforts.

Ron Howard has worked with plenty of Australians in the past.

“From Thirteen Lives to the animated projected I am directing with Animal Logic in Australia, I am excited about the opportunity to film and work in Australia and dramatically expand on that list of collaborators whose sensibilities and work ethic I have long admired and respected.”

Imagine Entertainment and MGM’s Thirteen Lives will be distributed by Universal Pictures International.

Watch a message from director Ron Howard HERE.

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Thailand

Covid tourism standstill gives Thailand’s southern sea gypsies a break

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Covid tourism standstill gives Thailand’s southern sea gypsies a break | The Thaiger

Phuket’s sea gypsy communities are getting a much needed break after the Covid tourism standstill have their traditions a break from the tourism onslaught. 42 year old Sanan Changham says now there is an abundance of fish and shellfish to eat. Tourist boats have been docked at the quay, making fishing easier for the Chao Lay, or “people of the sea.“

“We don’t dive as deep as before, so it’s less dangerous.“

More than 9 million visitors came to Phuket in 2019, impacting the sea gypsies and their way of life, mostly located at the southern end of the island. The booming tourism brought a decline in fish stocks, decreasing fishing grounds and loud construction of hotels. And the traffic. Such hotels signal an even bigger threat to the 1,200 Chao Lay in Rawai, as property developers have tried to evict them from their ancestral strip of land that faces the sea.

Ngim Damrongkaset, a Rawai community representative, says he hopes the area where developers have taken a stake is abandoned.

“They want to drive us out of our homes, but also to deny us access to the sea.”

For the Chao Lay people, the fight to keep their land has been unequal as most are illiterate and were unaware of the fact that they could register their land, but the government is trying to help them. One way for authorities to buy the land and entrust it to them.

Narumon Arunotai, an anthropologist at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University, says the government must seize the opportunity provided by the pandemic to rethink their vision on Chao Lay.

“Covid is an opportunity to change mentalities. Mass tourism in Phuket has been a catastrophe for the sea gypsies.“

The land in Rawai was originally claimed by Indonesian ancestors of Sanan, before the island became flooded with international travellers. But since tourism has become more profitable, authorities have cracked down on the sea gypsies unless they are sailing in protected marine reserves.

“Before, we risked being arrested by a patrol or having our boats confiscated.“

For the animist Chao Lay the beach is a vital space where they keep their colourful wooden boats and where they pray and give thanks to their ancestors. But not only their unique cultural heritage has helped them navigate the waters.

The Chao Lay people are experts at detecting any abnormalities in the water, as such they were able to escape before the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami hit, while saving loads of tourists. Furthermore, Children of the Moken have 50% better visual acuity in the water than their European counterparts, according to a 2003 study.

SOURCE: Thai PBS World

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