Seven Years in Asia – a Wanderer’s Tale

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Another book from an ex-pat writer domiciled in Thailand came across the reviewer’s desk at the end of 2011.  Robert Baldwin, a well traveled chap, has put together his memoirs/anecdotes into one self-published book with the simple title of Seven Years in Asia.

I have to point out, that as a reviewer I have an obligation to the reader, rather than to the author.  With self-published books (sometimes called ‘vanity publishing’) a reviewer first thinks, “Why was this book not picked up by a publisher?  What will be the availability of this book?  Will readers be able to buy it through main-stream bookshops?” Rightly or wrongly then, self-published books start off on the wrong foot.  Having said that, perhaps it explains why it took a little time before Seven Years in Asia made it to review.

But to the reviewer’s table it did indeed make it, and I must say from the outset, that I am glad it made it.  It is a most enjoyable book; however, like many self-published books, there is a dearth of information about the author.  He only admits to being pointed towards journalism when he was younger, but did not take it up.

Several Asian countries are involved in his wanders, beginning with India.  The wanderings cover many years, but the stories are kept in geographic sequence, rather than a conventional timeline.

After a few pages of his Indian experiences, it became obvious that author Baldwin did indeed have the ability to spin a yarn or two, in a most readable way.  In fact, as the reader finishes one enjoyable story, you automatically begin the next.  Infectious writing.  Or infectious reading?

He begins in India, saying, “India remains a country full of the weird and the wonderful, all that discourtesy I experienced is indicative of its contemporary reality which boasts little of Kipling’s adventures…”  Some of the discourtesy he experiences, he actually brings on his own head, being of a feisty nature it seems.  He writes of being asked for money by a beggar.  “I paused, put my own hand out, and raised the middle finger in a loving Christian gesture.”

He describes the ambient noise in India as, “… emitting a babble of sound reminiscent of the speaking in tongues following the Biblical destruction of the Tower of Babel.  This cauldron of olfactory assault, clamor and color combined to epitomize the aromatic, auditory and visual experiences of the mystical sub-continent of India.”

An interesting interlude was his visit to our neighbor Laos during the Hmong New Year where he witnesses the courting rituals carried out at that time – and only at that time.  He wonders, “I don’t know how a guy’s supposed to manage if he gets the hots for somebody at other times of the year.”

He comes to Vietnam and finds that all the local restaurants serve dog.  In fact, only dog.  He goes hungry!  He does the Hanoi to Saigon trip, and wonders … “for the first time, who the bad guys really were.”

An interesting book.  RRP B. 395 available at B2S Central Festival.