Monday, 19 December 2011

Why I love Christmas in Thailand - by Paul Garrigan author of 'Dead Drunk'


It is now only a few weeks until Christmas, and I must admit to feeling a bit excited by it all. The decorations are already up in our house; this year we bought our biggest plastic tree yet. If you walk past our home here in Minburi there is a good chance that you will hear Christmas songs. It really is the most wonderful time of the year for me – I love it.

Pagans and Jingle Bells

My current enthusiasm for Christmas is a bit surprising; especially when I consider that it was only a couple of years ago that I was debating whether to even celebrate it anymore. After all, we live in Thailand and we are not a Christian family. I also wondered about the ethics of introducing my son to the whole Santa idea. Then I remembered how much this time of year had meant to me as a child. I don’t want my son to miss out on any of that. Most of my favourite memories of growing up are connected with Christmas. Even when I stopped believing in Santa I still wanted to believe in him – I sort of still do.

A cynic could point out that Christmas is all just manufactured hype; a cunning marketing ploy to get people to empty their pockets before the beginning of the next financial year. Of course it is a special day to most Christians, but even some of them do not agree that it is actually the birth date of their saviour (which is probably in January). It is more likely that they selected the 25th of December so as to take over the winter solstice celebrations that were so popular with my European pagan ancestors. This helps explain why so many of the festive traditions are more related to paganism. So the Christians stole Christmas from the pagans, and marketing gurus in the twentieth century managed to hijack it and turn it into the celebrations we love today. You don’t have to dig deep underneath the surface of Christmas to see that it is built on a shaky foundation – even the much loved song Jingle Bells wasn’t actually written about Christmas!

I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday – So Does Tescos!

Despite the reasons to be cynical this is my favourite time of year. It is a part of my culture that I love sharing with my son. Timmy is growing up in Thailand and it can be a struggle to keep him interested in his western heritage; this is one part of my culture that he willingly wants to embrace. My wife never celebrated Christmas until after my son was born; during our first few years together in Thailand I didn’t even bother with it. Now she loves this time of year too.

Growing up in Ireland I naively assumed that everyone on the planet celebrated this holiday. The Coca-Cola advert assured me that this was true and in those days we were less savvy about marketing gimmicks. I thought it was so wonderful that we had this one day when we all tried to be friends. It gave me hope because if we could get one day right then it would be a lot easier to get other days right too. If that could happen it would be our highest human achievement so far. I’m older now and realise that Christmas is far from perfect, but it probably is the nearest we have gotten to such a marvellous day.

Happy Christmas

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Click here to check out more of Paul's blog posts, on his website paulgarrigan.com.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wanting more this Christmas


Since the release of My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia, I have been graced with words from various people around the world. It shocks me still to know that there are so many others currently enduring that which I have detailed in my aforementioned title. My perceptions on my past are ever-changing as time goes on and as I grow. Some days, I find myself frustrated and angry with the issues that plagued my young life. Other days, I feel ready to reconcile both with the past and the person that has been formed as a result of it. But neither is a permanent fixture and I can only push as hard as possible for the latter.

While writing this book, I had hoped to touch into more than just what an eating disorder is; I sought to understand myself and analyze the facets that have proved so monumental in my life: bullying, self-worth, my relationship with God, humiliation, body-image, romantic relationships and the idiosyncrasies of my childhood.

Along with these things, I hoped to touch on the presence of the western media. While I have found liberation on a personal level with so many things in my life, this remains something I simply cannot escape. None of us can apparently. It’s on our television screens 24/7 and proving a worrying powerful force in our everyday lives. It’s shoved down our throats in music videos, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, fashion and all the everyday TV shows telling us how to ‘dress to impress’, ‘beat the bulge’ and ‘make an impression with show-stopping make-up’.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m all for looking my best and what’s more, being the best me I can possibly be. But is this really what the media are asking of us? It seems not lately. The size zero culture has not only gripped our contemporary society but is steering it down a detrimental path. I worry for future youths as exposure to such ‘ideals’ becomes more and more ostentatious. All it can surely succeed in creating is a generation of anorexics, bulimics and people doubting who they are against the might of the beauty machine of western culture.

In the face of prescribed perfection – and by perfection, I mean that 10% of individuals who strut catwalks and are thus determined to be the epitome of what we should look like and how we should behave – I wonder if we are risking the magnificence of the individual for a now unattainable status-quo? With so much importance being placed on aesthetics, we could well be losing sight of the best parts of the human condition: passions, creativity, a need to explore and learn and teach, kindness, ambition, empathy and understanding.

Okay, I’m sure I sound like I’m preaching now. But as we approach the holiday season and we’ll soon all be contending with our belts getting that bit tighter, perhaps it couldn’t do any harm just to bear these things in mind. I may be a recovering bulimic, but I am still a 21-year-old woman. And like all women my age, I feel the pressure of keeping up appearances and not over-indulging during the holidays. And like all women my age, I probably will do so anyway, promising myself that the New Year will bring some form of reformation and redemption.

Pre-New Year’s resolution? Relax, Leanne. You’d rather be indulgent and jolly than dieting and miserable. I have been blessed this season. I’ve had the opportunity to document my struggles in a memoir, thus emancipating myself from the pain they carry (Apparently it took bulimia and going to hell and back just to get me to enjoy my Christmas turkey and be comfortable with all my own wobbly bits and curves). What’s more, I’m spending this Christmas doing what I love: writing. The novel takes its turns – sometimes slow and sometimes practically writing itself. Nevertheless, as the snow starts hitting, I am grateful to be working from home, enjoying the company of the people who make me most happy and more than anything else, I’m grateful to be at liberty to truly enjoy the indulgent nature of this time of year and quite simply…. switch my blasted television OFF. Sorry size zero, you’re not on the Christmas card list. I want more than you this Christmas and more for myself forever.

~Leanne

My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia is available now in the Kindle store.

Public Email: leannefwaters@gmail.com

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

On-wards and Upwards

My story has been one of repeated triumph and failure. Each has been as prominent in my life as the other, serving to produce a concoction of highs and lows, laughter and tears and the scariest roller-coaster ride that has spanned these last four years. In four years, I have gone from being a high-achiever, who was well liked and had everything going for her to a depressed, suicidal and seemingly hopeless bulimic. From there, my life became all work in the form of university studies, my personal development and writing a memoir. This was my personal hibernation. And now that I am here – published, happy and pushing on towards the future – I realise that I have come full circle. If you are one of those lucky people in the world who fortune has graced, perhaps you have arrived to this place without much turmoil. In this case, I am so thoroughly happy for you. But if, like me, you have done loops and turns over and over again just to get here, let’s congratulate ourselves on simply surviving it all. I am not writing to boost my own ego or that of anyone else; I write now instead merely to mark a new phase in the chronology of my life and my ongoing story. I am alive and what’s more, I’m actually living.

The launch of my book, My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia took place on Tuesday last, November 1st 2011 in the Dublin Book shop on Grafton Street. For me, to say it was a success was an understatement. The night was a pleasant array of old faces and new. I was more nervous than I can say. When the time came to say a few words to all who attended, my knees were clattering off one another and a lump formed in my throat at the sight of their ever-supporting eyes. That is to say, I was moved beyond all recognition. My life – and in particular, my life of the last four years – had always been leading to that point (no matter how many diversions I seemed to take!). And I can only say how extraordinarily happy I was to be able to share it with people who have graced my very existence with their mere presence.

I am a lucky person in a great many ways, more than I could ever express. And as I move on-wards and upwards in my professional and personal pursuits, I do so with the utmost humility, humbleness and irrevocable gratitude. I have taken a leave of absence from my studies and have routed myself on a highway of what I hope is full of creativity and growth. I have begun my first fiction novel and already – as with all things we undertake in life – my perceptions of this complicated world are changing yet again. Good Lord, I don’t think the learning curb is ever meant to stop. Let’s hope not.

The issue of destiny is a complicated one, like everything else apparently. Whether it is something set out for us or something we create and build ourselves is completely yours to decide. It makes no difference to me either way, because regardless of whether I chose this path or it was given to me, I’m just happy to be on it. And what’s more, I can see it now clearer than ever before. My path is set. And while I begin the closing down process of this chapter in my life, naturally I start a new one with full hope, ambition, determination and unrestrained gusto! I can only see so far ahead and to be honest, I don’t think I’d like to see much more. For now, I am happy and that’s enough.

Huge thank you to Maverick House Publishers, John Mooney, Fiona Lacey, my family, my friends, everyone who has bought my memoir, everyone who has inspired me over the years and of course, to all the media outlets who have taken heed of my story and sought to spread its message. And to all still suffering, you’re always in my prayers. I have one message to you: hope.

~ Leanne

My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia is now available to buy in all leading bookshops in Ireland. It is also available on Ebook all around the world or to order from Amazon.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

'My Secret Life' book launch November 1st

Maverick author Leanne Waters talks about her new book 'My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia' in her latest video blog here.

My body had never felt so small or so fragile. In one sense, it was a moment of ecstasy and I was comforted with soft, almost compassionate, encouragement. Delicate, she said. The word imprinted on me like the cold before it. I was weak and going numb, but I was delicate. This is what I had wanted. I wanted to lose weight and retain some ounce of delicacy to resemble that of the spider-figured women I had seen in all those flashing images. Suddenly, the lack of strength displayed by my body was counterbalanced with a surging lease of mental satisfaction and might. As I lay in bed, buried under all my layers of clothes and bed sheets, the warmth still could not reach me. It was too late for that now and I didn’t care. I just wanted to sleep, basking in my success and enduring the cold until I could finally slip into a forgetful slumber.

‘My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia’ by Leanne Waters will be available on Kindle next week.

Leanne's book will be launched on Tuesday November 1st in the Dublin Bookshop on Grafton street. All are welcome!

You can follow Leanne on twitter, facebook and tumblr.

RSVP to the launch of My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia by clicking here!


Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Paul Garrigan Blog- 12th October 2011

The Floods of Minburi – Greetings from Fortress Garrigan

Getting Ready for the Bangkok Floods

The water is continuing to rise outside our home here in Minburi. I can once again hear thunder clouds in the distance so we can look forward to another downpour this evening. Our main worry is Friday; this is when the water released from reservoirs in the north of the country is set to hit Bangkok. In other to save the financial areas of the capital this water is being diverted into the canals (you can read all about this here). Our house is situated in an area that is most likely to be affected. Already the local roads are impassible so we are stuck here until the emergency ends.

Bangkok Floods Have Caught Many With Their Trousers Down

I think most of us here have been caught by surprise. It is only really in the last couple of days that people have been taking the whole thing seriously. Some of my neighbors have abandoned their homes to go stay with relatives; others have barricaded themselves in for the duration. We left it too late to buy sandbags; apparently there still some available in the centre of Minburi but we’ve no way of getting to them. Some people have parked their cars in the airport or in department stores, and I sort of regret not doing the same.

A View of the Approaching Floods From Our Window

Building Fortress Garrigan
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My wife is the smart one in the family and if it wasn’t for her we would be facing the floods unprepared. She has built a wall at the front of our property to protect us from the water. Our main concern is to keep the car safe. If water invades the house it won’t be nice, but it won’t be the end of the world either. The only thing that we need to be careful of is that we turn off the electricity before that happens. The worrying thing is that the water is rising even when it isn’t raining. Last night there was no rain but the water level rose silently.

I must admit that Oa did a fantastic job on the wall, but she made one glaring error. She cemented in the rain drainage pipe on our side of the wall. Luckily we noticed this before the cement had dried. I can’t help worrying how we are going to remove this construction once the flood is gone.

Can You Spot the Flaw in My Wife's Flood Barrier?

The weather people are predicting that once we get past the weekend it will be the end of the rainy season. The next few days are going to be interesting, but I doubt we will suffer anywhere near the same amount of hardship as people in some other parts of the country. I’m amazed at how little coverage this event is getting in the western media.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The book launch of 'My Secret Life: A memoir of Bulimia' by Leanne Waters will take place on November 1st at 6.30pm in the Dublin Bookshop on Grafton Street. All are welcome, we'd love to see you there!


video

Follow Leanne on twitter and facebook.

Friday, 16 September 2011

To hell and back: An expat's life on the edge in Hong Kong


In the 1990s, former Royal Marine Chris Thrall found himself being sucked into a downward spiral in Hong Kong, when his work as a Wanchai bouncer drew him into the world of triads and crystal meth addiction. Now 42, off drugs and pursuing a new life, Thrall reveals how he saw the end -- and found a future -- in his autobiography "Eating Smoke."

CNNGo: Considering your addiction, how were you able to remember things so clearly?

Chris Thrall: Using crystal meth and the psychosis I experienced didn’t affect my memory. I think when you’re young and finding yourself in the world –- especially in such a memorable setting as Hong Kong -– you remember an awful lot, particularly the pertinent things like relationships you had with people and the crazy things you get up to.

"Eating Smoke" is a collection of those memories. I also experienced a great deal of highs, lows and trauma. Incidents you don’t forget in a hurry. There’s probably also a lot I don’t remember and probably just as well.

CNNGo: When was the point when you felt things had gotten seriously out of control?

Thrall: When you’re sliding into addiction you don’t realize things are getting out of control. You just believe that if you can score more drugs then you can make it all good again and everything will be just funky.

The psychosis was impossible to appreciate as it happened, too. I’d recover from a meth binge realizing that some weird things had gone on.

For example, at one point I was convinced that everything in Hong Kong had a secret set of pulleys, cables and motors linking it all up like an enormous pinball machine or a city-sized version of the ghost house at the fair.

Yet after a bender, my mind just seemed to link the experiences to being high and I didn’t feel the need to explore and question them at the time. I just had to deal with the here and now.

CNNGo: Could this have happened to you anywhere, or was Hong Kong partly to blame?

Thrall: No person or place is to blame for anything, certainly not Hong Kong.

Despite the highs and lows, I had an unbelievable time that I wouldn’t have done if I were stuck in an office in Britain. So much so, I felt compelled to write about it, 15 years on.

A raft of factors combine to make certain individuals predisposed to addiction, but rather than bore the reader with theory, I instead wanted them to go on the fast-paced and thrilling journey that I did.

I’ve dropped in the occasional hint of back story so they can work out for themselves how I went from a glowing career in an elite commando force to drug-induced psychosis and working for a Hong Kong triad family.

CNNGo: Although under unfortunate circumstances, you got to know a side of Hong Kong that most people will never see –- how would you describe it to them?

Thrall: Butlins [a holiday camp] for psychopaths. I’ve done my best to detail it in "Eating Smoke."

For me it wasn’t so much learning about the triads but getting beneath the skin of Hong Kong itself. There’s so much more to this unique enclave than meets the un-primed expat eye.

I read up on Hong Kong’s history, its culture and economic positioning. I got stuck into the language and cuisine. I learnt about etiquette, superstition, customs, religion and feng shui. And I made many Chinese friends. Through this I got a better idea of Hong Kong Chinese philosophy, and began to notice the subtler aspects of Cantonese life -– how everything ticks.

If you do this and a bit of research on the origins of the triads, the so-called "brothers of the marsh," their anti-establishment roots, dress code and discreet methods of communication, then you can stroll down Lockhart Road or sit in a Wanchai nightclub and watch it play out for yourself.

CNNGo: Living in the Hong Kong underworld, could you relate at all to other expats?

Thrall: I like to think I relate to all people across all the ethnic divides and that the friendships I write about in "Eating Smoke" show this.

I met a great deal of expats, many of whom were very kind to me. As I got more into the language and culture though and could fully appreciate the concept of "face" -– respect -– I started to resent the behavior of some of the foreign nationals, particularly the ones who talked down to the locals and acted as if they owned the place.

I think that working in a Chinese-run club, surrounded by hard-nut Hong Kong workmates and living in a Wanchai backstreet presented me with something of an identity crisis. I even began to think in Cantonese.

CNNGo: How has the experience changed you for the better? What have you learned?

Thrall: That I didn’t want to see my youth slipping away in a suit; that no one needs to be in a gang or a clique to feel good about themselves; that no matter how much you try to assimilate yourself into another’s culture you’ll always be a foreigner; that I’m now able to empathize with and support others in challenging circumstances; and that there are days when you wake up and the world isn’t the way you want it to be and that’s exactly when you must believe in yourself and strive towards your dreams.

CNNGo: What would you say to yourself now if you could turn back time and meet yourself at Kai Tak Airport when you first landed in Hong Kong?

Thrall: To quote the late [Gonzo journalist and anti-authoritarian] Hunter S. Thompson it would be, "Buy the ticket, take the ride."

Monday, 12 September 2011

'Eating Smoke' reviewed by the South China Morning Post







Check out this great review of Chris Thrall's debut book 'Eating Smoke: One Man's descent into drug psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad Heart Land. A true Story'. Click on the image to enlarge.

Click here to read more about Chris Thrall on his website.

Eating Smoke by Chris Thrall is now available to buy from the Maverick House website, click here to get your copy.









video

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

The Problem with Travel – Leanne Waters


When I first arrived in Vietnam, my own arrogance inhibited my ability to predict the very weighty effects the country itself would have on me. After all, I had traveled before, had seen poverty in all its extremities, had tested my body physically (as is required I am told for the sake of mental flourishing) and surely, had already met the greatest of people. Nam wasn’t going to have a scratch on me, I was sure of it.

Hoi An, Vietnam
The ‘traveling bug’, which we have all heard of so many times before is just an idea we are aware of when in the complacency of our own homes. It is only when we actual make that definitive trip that such a disease becomes reality. You catch it like you catch a common cold in winter. And by God, I caught it this time round!

In many ways, I suppose it’s a trap you fall into while away. The given destination initially presents itself as a temporary escapist route, which you have surely earned for one reason or another. And yet, when cast under its spell, a profound trick is played. Said destination seduces you into believing that your escapist environment is in fact a reality to which you could commit yourself fully. In this way, I abandoned almost everything I had left behind in Dublin. I had little interest in them anymore because Vietnam was far too beautiful to wish for anything that could be offered outside of its golden cocoon. But I think travel itself, no matter where the place, has that effect on people anyway. I was living in paradise and a lifestyle too simple to allow struggles of the past to infect its splendour. That’s why it’s wonderful though, right? Because everything of who you were and the life you lead back home is thrown by the wayside and forgotten at too rapid a pace to care for why it now means so little. It was just too easy to forget everything back home. So forget I did.

Taking such trips, I believe, also encourages you to see the best of people at times. For a start, the Vietnamese as a society are the most gentle, docile and accommodating people I have ever come across. They made it impossible to want to come back. But more than this, the conversations I had with other travelers and the camaraderie felt between us all on our journeys was something that could not be found in any circumstance but the given. As travelers, we convince ourselves of our own worldly enlightenment and worse still, feed off one another on the matter. Sure, it can only prove to heighten the hazy ecstasy of your trip, but will undoubtedly make the return journey all the more depressing. Never a good thing when you don’t have a choice in the matter!

I met two other globe-trotters while away who have had more of an impact on me than I believe anyone has had in years. The first was a 73-year-old man from Belgium that I met in Hanoi in Northern Vietnam. He partook in a three-day trip to Halong Bay in which I had the absolute pleasure of his company and many wise words. How very cliche, I know but it’s the truth. An educated man who spoke fluently in five different languages, he was traveling alone and doing the same route I had just finished in reverse. His youngest child was 20-years-old and the man himself never failed to make friends along the way. I wouldn’t dare so much as attempt to convey the wise words he passed along to us all on that trip, as to do so would surely be inadequate and thus undermine the weight with which they were first delivered. All I will say of him is that this man simply astounded me and I am sure of the fact that I will remember him for years to come.

The second was a teacher from Leeds, with whom I shared a hostel in Hoi An and was fortunate enough to meet again up the north of the country. Remarkably sharp-minded and utterly charming, he showed a substance to his character that I have yet to see in any other person I have met. He was the most alluring of persons with a shrewdness so penetrating I many times thought I would crumble during our midnight conversations – carried out always on a Hoi An balcony and after a few Tiger beers. My time spent with this teacher remains the nostalgic inspiration for my regular day dreams and indeed, holds a most special place in my memories.

I spent some time in Thailand on the usual beaten track of Bangkok and the islands. My older brother has raved about these places since he himself traveled there almost ten years ago. What he described to me then and what I myself discovered are two very different things. But then, I suppose a lot of time has passed and it has changed greatly. Thailand was an incredible place; a bit of a rush if I’m being honest. But I dread to think what we will have done to the place in another ten year’s time. Equally, I’m afraid to think what will happen to my beautiful Vietnam in years to come. That haven, which I escaped to at such a young age will surely be unrecognisable in time. I’d hate to think of it changing at all.

So I’ll keep it as I have found it; my Vietnam.

And in doing so, will never alter the very pristine picture of its memory in my mind. I can’t escape the reality of being home but at the very least, will be obscured from that inevitable truth. I found it terribly difficult coming home again. On this, my friend reminded me that such trips were ‘a fantasy’ and that I had to let it go now. This is the problem with traveling – after the long journey hours, the incredible sights, the precious experiences and all the amazing people you find along the way – sooner or later, we all have to leave. The circus finishes, the fantasy fades and eventually, we must all return to the lives we left behind. It has been a very hard goodbye.

- Leanne

“Names get carved in the red oak tree of the ones who stay and the ones who leave. I will wait for you there with these cindered bones. So follow me, follow me down”


Leanne Waters' memoir 'My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia' is due to be published in October 2011. 

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Siege at Jadotville




The extremely popular Siege at Jadotville by Declan Power will shortly be making its ebook debut, on amazon.com. Here's a little reminder of how the book was first received back in October 2005, with an excerpt of a review by Don Lavery in the Irish Independent.

"Author Declan Power, himself a former soldier and now a journalist, has written a superb account of a bitter infantry battle where the Irish peacekeeping soldiers were attacked by thousands of troops led by experienced mercenary officers who had served in World War 2, Indochina and Algeria.


The Irish who were subjected to intense fire from small arms, artillery and air attack, fought back from their trenches. Waves of up to 600 enemy soldiers attacking at the time were mown down by the Irish using everything from elderly Vickers machineguns to modern FN rifles.


Inflicting at least 300 dead and twice as many wounded on the attacking Katangan force the Irish had no heavy weapons, no artillery support, apart from a few small 60mm mortars, and no air cover despite repeated UN promises.


The new book shows the absolute folly in sending the Irish company to Jadotville, a small mining town to protect people who later turned on them. The single company had replaced two companies of UN troops in Jadotville in a tactically dangerous position.


Two key figures in the affair, head of UN operations Conor Cruise O'Brien, and Lt Gen Sean McKeown, the Irish general commanding the UN forces, later agreed the order to send the company to Jadotville came from UN HQ in New York. 


When the Irish positions in Jadotville came under siege young Irish soldiers fought off the attacks thanks to the leadership of their tough commander, Comdt Pat Quinlan and his NCOs.
Repeated rescue attempts by Irish and Indian troops to break through to the besieged outpost failed, the promised UN fighter jets never appeared in the skies over Jadotville, and after days of intense fighting the Irish surrendered.


'Seige at Jadotville' has a few minor errors such as describing an attacking Fouga plane as a jet fighter – in fact it is an armed trainer – or referring to elderly Irish armoured cars as Vickers 1945 vintage vehicles when they are home built Ford armoured cars armed with Vickers machineguns.


These aside the book is well written and researched using veterans words and reminisces to describe the battle in stunning detail. It outlines the bravery and professionalism of the Irish soldiers in contrast to the bungling of their military and political masters who sent them to Jadotville and left them to their fate.


The book is a welcome addition to the small number of books written about the Congo operation and should be required reading for officers taking the Army's Command and Staff course, as well as the Cabinet table."


- Dan Lavery Irish Independent October 1, 2005


Siege at Jadotville is available from the Maverick website and will be available as an ebook from amazon.com in the coming days.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Maverick House Book Trailers

Here at Maverick House HQ we have been busy creating book trailers for both our forthcoming and current titles.

Check out our new vimeo widget below to see our latest trailers!



Do you enjoy watching book trailers for forthcoming titles? Let us know what you think in the comments section.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Who Turned The Lights Out? – An excerpt from Chris Thrall’s e-mail diaries

Date: Sat, 10 Jul 2004 10:20:03 -0700 (PDT)

From: "Chris Thrall" chris@mailingu.com

To: Mission Control

Subject: Who Turned the Lights Out?


Hola Amigos!

Here I am in sunny Florida, in week two of flight-school training for a private pilot’s licence.

Firstly, please excuse any punctuation, grammar and spelling mistakes in this e-mail. The only thing you learnt at my school was how to push a big cupboard in front of the headmaster’s office so he couldn’t get out. He was only five foot one – which made it all the more hilarious! I think our school must have produced quite some many furniture removers.

The other day I flew solo for the first time. I can’t believe these maniacs trust me with a whole aeroplane – but as they have an airport full of them, I suppose they can afford to lose one or two.

Yesterday evening I flew a Cessna 172 to a tiny airport called Okeechobee, right out in the sticks, to do some practise landings. My instructor had warned me that it got dark around 9pm, so I decided to leave at 8.30pm for the half-hour flight back to Fort Pierce where the flight school is. For a student pilot, it’s strictly against the FAA regulations to fly solo at night.

Just as I’d taken off, it started to sink in it was getting dark already. But as I climbed to cruise altitude, I realised that wasn't such a problem – the problem was the swirling fog coming out of nowhere and reducing visibility to under a mile! No pilot is supposed to fly ‘visual’ flights (i.e. without specialised instruments and training) in less than three miles visibility unless they’re
granted special landing clearance from Air Traffic Control. If I didn’t get this permission, it would mean flying back Okeechobee and then a sleep in the plane to avoid the alligators.

As it got darker, I thought it best to make myself visible – that way the trees might see me coming and get out the way. I put on the red flashing beacon light, the white strobe lights, the red and green navigation lights, the tail light and the landing spotlight. I would have put on the Christmas lights, too, if I could have found them and at one point was considering setting fire to something – perhaps a wing and anything else you have two of. I radioed through to the control tower, hoping it would be that the guy from the Airplane movie – the one who’s so completely wrecked on every substance known to man that he would clear me to land upside down and backwards if I wanted. Fortunately, it was him – either that or just a very nice man with a soft spot for lost English halfwits. Not only did he clear me for approach, he didn’t even mind when I mistakenly gave my position as east of the field instead of west!

Actually, it’s easier to fly at night in many ways. You can use the street lighting for navigation and the airports have a flashing green and white beacon (so long as your pointed in the right direction or it seems to go out). He gave me ‘number two’ in the traffic pattern behind another plane that I had to avoid crashing in to. I had no idea what it looked like, but at night that’s not such a problem – especially when he or she has more lights than you do.

Then he very kindly gave me a short cut, ‘straight-on’ approach instead of a ‘holding pattern' landing. By this time, it was great fun, a light aircraft landing on a strip designed for DC 10s and jets. The runway is all lit up and it’s just for you! I was hoping he would call out the Fire Brigade, some ambulances and the National Guard – maybe even evacuate the local city, too – but then my instructor might get to hear of it, so maybe not.

I did probably the best and most rewarding landing I will ever do, thanked the very nice man in the control tower (who even directed me to the parking ramp!) and wondered if like the guy in Airplane, he was floating upside down while sniffing glue.

The good news is that the experienced pilots I’ve spoken to say you learn by these things. And that my lack of knowledge didn't stop me passing the theory exam the next day with 87% – and I didn't even cheat . . . or have to move any cupboards.

Did you know the second language in Florida is Spanish?

Vaya con Dios, Amigos!

Chris X

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland.


Friday, 19 August 2011

Chris Thrall Interview with 'Time Out Hong Kong'

Hannah Slapper of 'Time Out Hong Kong' speaks to Chris Thrall about his book 'Eating Smoke: One man's descent into drug psychosis in Hong Kong's Triad heartland'

Here's an excerpt from the interview:


What kind of trauma did you experience?

To descend into mental illness is an incredibly sad thing for anyone to have to go through. I can’t say too much about it, but in the club I worked I was set up to be murdered one night, by these foreign triads that I mentioned. And there was that cold dark moment of reality where you realise you’re about to die. I actually turned it around, but I’m not the sort of person that is easily intimidated.

How much do you think Hong Kong is to blame for making you the way you were?
It probably doesn’t help that Hong Kong has the most hardcore serious drug known to man available in abundance on every street corner, if you know where to look. Hong Kong really brought home to me how cultures can differ immensely. It’s about the philosophy and the psychology. And the Asian psychology is so ancient; it’s so different to the West.

You can read the full interview on Chris Thrall's blog here. You can also explore book trailers, blog posts and and author bio.

Eating Smoke will be released by Marverick House in October 2011.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Leanne Waters Interview

Earlier last week our very own Leanne Waters spoke to Cliona Byrne of 'The Irish Catholic Newspaper' about her struggle with bulimia, how it effected her loved ones, her upcoming memoir 'My Secret Life' and how recovery from bulimia is possible.

"The treatment Leanne undertook was psychological and focused on the 'triggers' which caused her eating and purging habits.''Bulimia can be the loneliest place in the world. But for all my harrowing loneliness during that period, I had brought my friends and family down into the darkness with me. Only after therapy did I fully comprehend how much I'd hurt them. I still remember my mother crying herself to sleep through the bedroom walls,'' she says.

Recovery is possible for those who suffer from an eating disorder and Leanne is proof that it is possible to overcome bulimia. ''I think it is very possible for anyone to recover from an eating disorder, with the right help and support system. I am still in recovery, I believe. But I have every faith that one day, this chapter in my own life will be finally closed fully,'' she says"

Read the full article on irishcatholic.ie by clicking here. If you want to learn more about learn visit leannewaters.wordpress.com or follow her on twitter @leannewaters

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The Bangkok Connection Review-


When heroin trafficker Leslie 'Ike' Atkinson was released from a North Carolina federal penitentiary in April 2007, he was in remarkably good physical shape for a man of 82. But after more than three decades behind bars, there was not much left of life to enjoy.
While he doesn't like to dwell on the past, the old US Army master sergeant does have one real regret: that he did not take advantage of the GI Bill, which would have allowed him to go to college, where he is confident he would have done well, and pursue an honest living.
Unlike the ruthless traffickers of today, Mr Atkinson is a gentlemanly, charismatic figure whose ring of former black American servicemen, his 'Band of Brothers', smuggled as much as US$400 million worth of Golden Triangle heroin from Thailand to the United States during the Vietnam War.
Touched on in the largely fictionalised film American Gangster, the true story of what the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) labelled one of the world's largest trafficking organisations is told for the first time in Ron Chepesiuk's new book, The Bangkok Connection.
The work is of more than passing interest to me because, in Bangkok in the early 1970s, I knew some of the players on both sides of the law. More specifically, Chepesiuk convincingly debunks the myth, perpetuated in the film, that the ring used the bodies of dead soldiers to spirit the heroin into the US.
Mr Atkinson calls the so-called Cadaver Connection 'a big lie... the biggest hoax ever perpetuated', and says that on the sole occasion Harlem gangster Frank Lucas, the real-life central figure in the movie, visited Thailand, he was so disorientated he had to have his hand held.
When Mr Atkinson took him to a Buddhist temple, Lucas insisted on buying a bag of apples as an offering. Then, to everyone's surprise, he burst into tears and asked: 'Does Thailand border the Holy Land?' No wonder Mr Atkinson called him 'the dumbest man I ever met'.
Lucas was just one customer in the seven years, between 1968 and 1975, during which the man dubbed 'Sergeant Smack' supervised the flow of thousands of kilograms of No. 4 heroin through the American military postal service and aboard US Air Force cargo aircraft crossing the Pacific in support of the war.
In scores of interviews with his fellow conspirators, former US narcotics agents and prosecutors, Chepesiuk details Mr Atkinson's rise from petty crime on West German military bases and how the DEA had to create a special unit, known as Centac 9, to bring him down.
Eventually undone by a handprint carelessly left on a bag of heroin, Mr Atkinson remained so low-key that when he entered the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary in mid-1975 to begin serving a 19-year sentence, there was none of the adulation that usually greeted celebrity prisoners.
But it wasn't the end by a long way. Over the next six months, Mr Atkinson remained in control of the ring from behind bars. When the surviving conspirators were finally arrested and turned state's evidence, he received another 25-year term - to be served consecutively.
Then as late as 1987, he would even try to revive the operation again with a different group of accomplices from his cell in New York's Otisville Federal Penitentiary. That ended in failure and he had nine more years added on.
A lot has changed in Thailand since Mr Atkinson's day. Khun Sa, the Shan warlord his Thai intermediaries bought the heroin from, saw his empire dissolve in the early 1990s. Over the next decade, Afghanistan slowly took over from Myanmar as the world's major supplier.
Much of Myanmar's heroin now goes directly across the border into the voracious China market, which did not exist 30 years ago. The dwindling amount still smuggled through Thailand ends up in Australia, Japan and Taiwan.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, there was almost no heroin flowing into Taiwan because the border trade was controlled by elements connected with the Kuomintang armies who fled China in 1949 and settled along the Thai-Myanmar border.
The collapse of the Communist Party of Myanmar (CPM) in 1989 changed all the dynamics and ushered in a new group of drug warlords, many of them former CPM leaders who felt no such loyalty to Taiwan.
For Mr Atkinson, crime may have paid for a while - but not any more. 'There is no money left,' says Chepesiuk. 'The little known aspect of the War on Drugs that the public doesn't know is that the authorities not only get their man, they also get his money.'
Mr Atkinson's lawyer was also his bag man, who stashed the bulk of the proceeds in the Cayman Islands and later turned over the laundered accounts when the ring was busted. The authorities also confiscated Mr Atkinson's property, including a large farm he co-owned with Lucas.
Today, Mr Atkinson lives simply on his military pension and social security benefits. It is a far cry from what he calls the 'one long adrenaline rush crammed with risks' which marked his career as an international drug trafficker who for a long time literally flew beneath the radar.

This review first appeared in the paid-subscriber section of the on-line edition and also the print edition of the Straits Times Newspaper, Singapore, July 2011.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Raymond Alikpala: The transition from 'God loves Bakla' to 'Of God and Men'

The following is an excerpt from Raymond Alikpala's blog. It details his reasons for leaving Cambodia and why he decided to re-release 'God loves Bakla' as 'Of God and Men: A Life in the Closet' with Maverick House Publishing.


"I had been living in Cambodia for almost a decade and had built for myself a very comfortable life. I had a fabulous apartment, a landlord who treated me like family, and true friends who made Phnom Penh a real home away from home. Life in “the Penh” was, compared to Manila, very cheap, stress-free, devoid of traffic jams, flash floods and the constant security issues. It was rather odd to decide to say goodbye to all of that and return to chaotic, overcrowded Manila. Most of all, it was difficult to leave the place where I had found my true love, who for reasons too complicated to go into at this time could not follow me to Manila.

As if I needed confirmation that I was doing the right thing leaving Cambodia, my book deal with Maverick House Publishers of Ireland came halfway through my transition period. In March this year, Maverick House decided to re-publish God Loves Bakla internationally as Of God and Men, scheduling it for an October 2011 release. It was, to me, a sign from God that He was indeed calling me back home!

An interesting anecdote relates to my book’s new title. It was obvious that God Loves Bakla sounded too ethnic and would make the book a tough sell internationally, so I was asked to think of something more accessible. I suggested “My Secret Life in the Closet.” But my publisher nixed it, saying the book was “more spiritual than most books of its genre.” Thus the decision to retain the word “God” in the title. I was most impressed: my publisher “gets” GLB. I knew then that I have found the right publisher who truly understands my work and can push it to a global audience. "

You can read the rest of the blog by going to raymondalikpala.wordpress.com or by clicking here

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Myths of Organized Crime


After penning nine gangster books, including the latest that Maverick House has published as The Bangkok Connection: Trafficing Heroin from Asia to the USA, I can say with confidence that, despite all the songs and the movies supposedly based on the true stories of the kingpins and the dope boys, the truth is far harder to discern. Documenting the history of organized crime can be a tedious and often frustrating experience. Reliable information is scarce. Most lazy journalists (and law enforcement) pass off myth and folklore as fact, and supposedly reliable media sources allow themselves to become breeding grounds for misinformation. Criminal sources lie or spin their recollections. Moreover, they don’t generate many records. Ever heard of a gangbanger keeping a diary or writing instructions to his lieutenants? That is both the challenge and fun in writing about gangsters, but I love it. What can be more interesting than writing about the underworld and the characters who populate it?

Along the way, though, I’ve learned a few things on the subject. So let me help dispel some of the myths regarding the history of organized crime. Here are three of the biggest myths:

1) The amount of money gangsters are supposed to make.

The media routinely report wildly inflated figures as how much money gangsters make. The truth is nobody really knows because we dealing with the underworld. But there is an invested interest on both sides of the law to inflate the figures. Law enforcement does it to justify their budgets and to get promotions. Gangsters exaggerate because of their egos.

Frank Lucas, the subject of the blockbuster movie, American Gangster, bragged that he was making a million dollars a day in Harlem in the early 1970s peddling smack. First of all, can you imagine trying to haul away in a car $1 million a day in street money? Also, Lucas was on welfare when they published that New Yorker magazine article that caught the attention of Hollywood. So what happened to the million bucks a day? I know for a fact from sources whom I interviewed for The Bangkok Connection that Lucas was in constant trouble with La Cosa Nostra because he owed them money.

2) African American organized crime does not exist, or at the least, African-Americans are not smart enough to organize crime.

Racism has affected all aspects of American society, including how it perceives Black gangsters. Four decades ago, many criminologists did not believe African-Americans were smart enough to organize crime. And it was not just the academics. Blacks were able to control lottery or policy racket in their communities because La Cosa Nostra thought it was just a petty ante criminal enterprise. The Mob was shocked to learn about the money being made and subsequently moved in to take it over. Frank Matthews, who jumped bail in 1974 with 15 million and has never been found, was able to operate under the radar of law enforcement for several years because at first they didn’t investigate him seriously. But by the late 1970s, with names like Matthews, Robert Stepheney, Zack Robinson, Nicky Barnes, and Goldfinger Terrell operating as big-time drug lords, law enforcement knew that African-American organized crime existed.

The truth is, to be a successful drug dealer at the higher level, you need to exhibit entrepreneurial skills and have brains. Some of the big names in Black organized crime have been really complex multidimensional characters.

Take Bumpy Johnson, for example. Remember him in the opening scene of American Gangster. Bumpy was sophisticated, cerebral and self-educated. Black gangster Nicky Barnes was well read and had a brilliant business mind. The Bangkok Connection is about the life story of Ike Atkinson, the Black gangster from whom Frank Lucas stole much of his story. The word law enforcement officials use to describe Ike is intelligent. One former prosecutor said he could have been a CEO of a major corporation.

3) Errors, omissions and distortions are okay in a gangster movie about a real life gangster because the movie is just based on a true story.

That’s essentially a cop-out rationale for Hollywood to make a lot of money without having to worry about its credibility. The key word is “based”. Given that qualifier, Hollywood can take all kind of liberties with the story. It has led to a lot of myths and distortions about gangland history. The recent movie, American Gangster, is a prime example. Unfortunately, moviegoers don’t take the time to check out the movie’s accuracy and the myths prevail.

Well, that’s it. There are other myths about organized crime, but take these three for a start.


– Ron Chepesiuk

Tuesday, 12 July 2011


In 2008 Raymond Alikpala self-published a novel entitled 'God Loves Batla'. The novel documented Alikpala's journey of self discovery that took him from the predominantly Catholic Philippines to Singapore, Thailand and eventually to Cambodia. It was a journey in which he joined and left the priesthood after deciding that his God wanted him to live a full and honest life, which meant coming out.

In an interview with Craig Gerard of asialifeguide.com (Read the full interview here) Alikpala remarks that "life experiences, pain, sacrifice, are what bring us closer to God" something he struggled with when he decided to come out as a gay Catholic in the Philippines.

In October 2011 Maverick House will re-publish Alikpala's book which has been described as "amazing and inspirational" under the new title ‘Of God and Men: A Life in the Closet’ to make it available to a worldwide audience.


‘Of God and Men: A Life in the Closet’ by Raymond Alikpala will be available for purchase for a worldwide audience on October 1, 20011. It is also available to pre-order from Book Depository. Click here to pre-order and save over 20%

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Regrets- Leanne Waters

Regret is a thing of tremendous contention. It’s something that almost all people experience and yet remains subject to context and circumstance. One regret of a particular time, for example, may in future prove itself to be of great value. Regrets, unlike the people who possess them, are transformative in this way. Given the ever-changing perceptions of an individual, a single regret retains the power of transcendence; an ability to alter its place both in our lives and our often clumsy interpretations.
With this in mind, I’ve found myself stuck on a question that was only recently put forward to me by a close friend. Do you regret the first time you did it? By ‘it’ she meant self-induced vomiting and by ‘regret’ she was undoubtedly referring to the many horrors that consequently followed this very occasion. The natural response to such a question is, of course, yes. Had I not done ‘it’ that very first time, perhaps I could have avoided the two years of misery that ensued. Yes, in hindsight, that would have been most favourable I’m sure. But this would be a most unsatisfying answer.
Bulimia Nervosa isn’t an easy thing to be proud of in your life; particularly when said life has been so shortly lived thus far. And though I certainly bear no pride in its dominance over my life, I also find it difficult to regret. In many ways, to regret the role of Bulimia in my life would be to regret the person that has subsequently been produced. Mine is not a story of strength or even triumph. It’s one of evolution.

My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia documents just this. The story of how an eating disorder – albeit an aggressive case – is born, developed and ultimately overcome is one of evolution; both of the illness and of the self. The mentality that first seduced me into doing ‘it’ and that endured through the depravity of my Bulimia was the same that pulled me out of that darkness. It’s the same mentality that reigns now. It has not changed nor compromised – merely evolved. And so, I find it difficult to regret such a thing. To do so would surely lead me to regret the mentality by which it was nurtured and by which this book has been written. This question is best asked under a given context and circumstance, as we have already determined is essential. Said context may be the present and the given circumstance may be the writing of this book under the mentality of today. Only then can it be assessed accurately and with all things considered. Do I now regret the first time I did it? No, probably not.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Spellcaster- Terence Donaldson

Well it has been six years since the events I described in my book 'Hell in Barbados' occurred, and a certain amount of water has passed under the bridge in that intervening time.

What I am doing now is really an extension of my previous work as a tarot reader/author; I am now a professional practitioner of healing and magic.

It was immediately prior to my last drug relapse into crack and heroin that I succeeded in writing what has become a classic in the filed of witchcraft- 'The Tarot Spellcaster'. Inside the front cover, it still carries the dedication that I made then to my girlfriend at the time- Claire- and, when, as I sometimes do, look at her name there, my mind fills with many memories- some sweet, but mostly painful.

Even so, the publication of this book has, over the last ten years, become something of a classic in the field.

In it, I attempted to show the unity between the tarot, which until then, had been viewed mostly as a divinatory, or fortune-telling instrument and an instrument whereby we can INFLUENCE EVENTS, and encourage certain things to materialize and transpire into our lives.

Through a circuitous chain of events, I am now working in association with a spiritual shop, in London's busy Holloway Road, and have attracted a large and loyal following of people from diverse backgrounds that regularly commission me to perform distant workings, or 'spells'- to use my knowledge of tarot, kabbalah, and magic influence, say, a court case, a family matter, a business, or an individual's karma.

I personally only use my knowledge for good, and to help good people, and turn away requests that sometimes come my way to use black magic on people, or to curse others.

Those interested in my work can look at my website, which is www.terrydonaldson.com

TERRY DONALDSON

Monday, 18 April 2011

The Rewards From Being An “Author” By Dr. Iain Corness



I was walking through the hospital corridor between B Building and E Building when I heard my name being called. Turning around I saw a rather attractive lady waving to me. Was this going to be my lucky day, I thought? However, the lady did not have any intention of dragging me off to some bordello, nor to ask me in my medical opinion, should she have her toenails tattooed, but to merely say that she enjoyed my book (Farang, Thailand through the eyes of an ex-pat). In fact, she enjoyed it so much she was on her way to buy my second book (Farang the Sequel) at the hospital’s bookshop. It would have been churlish not to accompany her to the booksellers, and so I did, and offered to autograph her copy, “To Jane, Best Wishes Dr. Iain” which was duly inscribed on the flyleaf. On the same day I received an email contact from one of my medical colleagues in Australia whose wife had seen the books in Bangkok Airport, remembered my name, and purchased them for her husband. He enjoyed them enough to do an internet search and contact me, after a span of some 20 odd years. So just what does all this mean in the overall scheme of things? It shows just a little of what being an “author” means. Public recognition rather than public adulation. At my level in the literary hierarchy I will not receive enough recognition or adulation to make enough money to retire. The first time I met Maverick’s John Mooney he advised me that I was never going to make a million dollars out of my writing unless my name was Dan Brown or JK Rowling. I suggested I change my name to John Kenneth Rowling, but this was ignored. For me, being an “author” is an ego boost. It is fun to hear people say that they liked the books, so eventually the money doesn’t matter (that is not an invitation to withhold royalties, John Mooney). And finally, I was in a bookshop and bumped into fellow author Dan Dorothy (Mango Rains – a great read) who was there with a friend of his, who exclaimed “I have never been in the company of two authors before. This calls for a celebration – I’m taking you both to lunch!” So, in addition to recognition and adulation, you can add “lunch”. I do enjoy being an “author”.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

'Stranger Than Fiction' by Abigail Rieley

Back in May 2008, during the trial of Sharon Collins & Essam Eid, it was a running joke among journalists and court staff that it wouldn't be long before Hollywood came knocking. It was clear from the time the jury was selected that this was going to be a trial unlike any that had come before the Irish courts in a very long time. When one of those accused is an Egyptian-born poker dealer, who had been working, until his arrest, at on of the most famous casinos on the Las Vegas strip you know the story is going to be special. When the prosecution barristers outlined the facts of the case, with a lurid murder plot, seedy sexual allegations made to RTE's Gerry Ryan Show and home made Ricin poison, there was no doubt this was going to be good, very good. This was always a case with literary aspirations. Sharon Collins, the Clare woman accused of hiring Eid, through the website hitmanforhire.net to kill her partner PJ Howard and his two sons Robert & Niall, had always talked about the mysterious Maria Marconi. Marconi, according to Collins, offered Internet writing classes but Collins found herself on the receiving end of a nasty blackmail plot. Maria Marconi has proven illusive, to say the least. The FBI found no trace of her, no official paper trail proving birth, marriage, taxation or home. Several private investigators sent by the ever faithful Mr Howard have also drawn a blank. The only thing certain is that Sharon Collins has the writing bug. When I told her during the trial that I was writing The Devil in the Red Dress she told me she too planned to write her experiences down.Eid seemed more content to be the inspiration. During the trial he used to joke that he wanted Al Pacino to play him in the big screen version of his story. We all used to play at who would play who in the movie. Well now it's a game everyone can play. I was delighted to hear that Michael Duke Productions have bought the film and drama rights for Devil in the Red Dress. The company has bought the infamous hitmanforhire.net domain to use in any future marketing. The story itself has further to go. Eid is set to take centre stage in the near future. Extradition proceedings have started to send him back to America to face charges for another internet hit scam. This time the “femme fatale” is an accountant called Marissa Marks. She's also facing charges of hiring Eid through the website. The case has already been picked up by the American media, so I'll be watching where it goes from here with interest. I can't help wondering whether American court reporters who turn up for the first day of Marissa Marks' trial in LA will have the same reaction I did when I heard heard the details of the case. I wrote about Marissa Marks and her “victim” Anne Lauryn Royston in the book. By the time I was writing, Eid's former lover and partner-in-crime Theresa Engle was already serving her eight month sentence for her part in that case. Court documents tell a tale just as bizarre as the Irish arm of the story and once again, no one was physically hurt. But despite the convoluted details of both cases it was a short lived crime spree, with only a couple of weeks between the two so-called hits. There were times writing the book when I almost forgot I was writing a true story. It's definitely one where the truth is stranger than fiction. Seeing Eid in the dock again has a strange air of unreality, as if my characters have come to life. But that was always the case, even when the first trial was going on. By the time it came to an end prosecution barrister Una NĂ­ Raifeartaigh felt it necessary to remind the jury this was not for entertainment. It's easy to forget when chuckling over the more lurid facts, that three people's lives were threatened and two families have been torn apart. I know that the plan with the film is to use my book as the basis for a fictional retelling of the story. I'm looking forward to the day when I can sit in a darkened cinema and laugh at the absurdities along with everyone else.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Burma today is a modern genocide by Daniel Pederson

The Burmese diaspora is spreading.

These days when I contact my Karen friends via Skype, wondering why I haven’t seen them for a while and looking to catch up, I might find they now live in Norway, the United States, Sweden, or Australia.

Once they lived in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

Mostly the reason I knew these people was because they were involved in the Karen people’s resistance against Burma’s ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Council.

And that is why their resettlement to a third country was fast-tracked.

Many of the most talented, multi-lingual and well-contacted figures in the Karen resistance movement that were once registered in the camps have been shunted off abroad.

Thailand doesn’t want any refugee camps to exist along the border any more, the ruling military junta wants all but the “troublemakers” back as a cheap labour pool, and international agencies are shipping people out as fast as they can.

First those “lucky” enough to be selected for resettlement, the process begins with a forced stay in an abandoned factory on the outskirts of Mae Sot for days on end.

There they have nothing to do except lie on plastic mats and become increasingly nervous about what is before them.

There is not a lot of food and when comes it is dished out communally to line-ups.

Then the refugees are tested and re-tested for communicable diseases.

Finally they are loaded into the backs of trucks and driven to the airport and sent away to “start a new life”.

And so ends the hope of simply returning home to a peaceful country.

In most countries a government helps build the human resources of a nation by constructing schools, providing healthcare and the basic amenities that foster human development.

Today in Burma, the government and its army is employing a scorched-earth policy against much of the population.

The army is intent on destroying the basic amenities of life that the people have built themselves, with no help from anyone else.

From materials cut and dragged from the jungle they have built schools, clinics, community centres and places of worship, be they Buddhist temples, Muslim Mosques or Christian Churches.

And their own supposed government is systematically destroying them, dispersing the people and stealing their food and livestock.

In Burma, the world’s longest war still rages on, and it is ruining millions of lives and has killed hundreds of thousands of people.

It is a war fuelled by greed and - have no doubt - it is all about the money.

Many of this conflict’s casualties are strung out along the Thai-Burma border and are the most visible and accessible manifestation of what is happening inside Burma.

In camps bounded by bamboo fences and barbed wire, guarded by men with guns, a remnant population huddles, watching the world go by.

They are not allowed to leave the camp and they are not allowed to work.

The men with the guns stationed at the gates and along the fences are not there to protect the people - the Thai government refuses to provide security for the camps – they are there to keep people out.

The Thai authorities along the border don’t want publicity, because then more people with cameras will come along and everything could get out of hand.

As it is now they have the UN and international agencies, bar but a few, adequately tamed.

Once upon a time this conflict was marked by annual dry season offensives, soldiers making war when it was easiest to move through a tough terrain.

But that is no longer the case.

In 1984 the Burma Army established base camps in the border areas, declared them free-fire zones and continued their offensives against the local population throughout the wet season.

In 1984 there were 10,000 refugees

By 1994 there were 80,000 refugees

In 1997 that number had increased to 115,000

Since then numbers have remained static at about 150,000

Despite the resettlement programme overseen largely by UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, the numbers remain fairly static because the people keep coming.

These figures are not truly representative of the displacement of Burma’s people.

For instance when I first began working on the first draft of ‘Secret Genocide’, in May 2008, the Bangkok Post reported that between January and April of that year, 80,000 people had walked across the Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot and simply disappeared.

There are millions of Burmese working illegally in Thailand.

They are locked down in homes working as maids, locked down in restaurants working as dishwashers, locked down in brothels working as prostitutes.

More than 80 per cent of the population of the refugee camps is Karen – they are directly fleeing fighting.

The Karen people have it particularly bad, with cabinets around the world bursting at the seams with details of human rights abuses, abuses that occur on a near-daily basis.

Other people living in the camps are mainly economic migrants, fleeing an economy ruined by mismanagement and greed.

Burma’s banking system is available only to the elite and its property laws are nothing short of criminal.

Burma’s military rulers are signing deals to sell the country’s natural resources, predominantly to Thailand, China and, of late, India.

They are locking the country into 30-year contracts, effectively robbing any future administration of much-needed income to rebuild the nation.

The role of geopolitics in the Karens’ plight cannot be underestimated.

The 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China and India combined constitute more than half the world’s population.

Burma’s military rulers are a full member of ASEAN and occupy a seat at the United Nations, just as the Khmer Rouge did throughout and beyond their slaughter of millions of Cambodians.

The fact the West bleats about China ‘propping up’ the ironically named State Peace and Development Council makes clear its ignorance of the true situation.

China is vigorously pursuing its two oceans policy.

At the moment it is constructing a pipeline from the Andaman Sea and a deep water port at Tavoy, or Daiwei in Burmese newspeak, which will feed directly into its southern province of Yunnan.

Eventually this pipeline is to be flanked by a super highway and a high-speed rail link.

This massive transport corridor will split Burma in two.

It will also slice 10 days off shipping times to get Middle East oil to China’s southern industrial powerhouse.

The Strait of Malacca will no longer be a shipping thoroughfare to China.

It is a distinct possibility Singapore Crude may be finished as a benchmark of global oil prices.

The way the world does business will be changed forever.

In Burma’s north, on the Chindwin River, India plans two massive hydropower dams that will create more electricity than Burma is currently capable of producing.

High-voltage power lines will carry the power directly into India and Burma’s people will receive nothing.

The generals will receive cold, hard cash for selling off the resource.

Along the untamed Salween River, considered one of world’s most biologically-diverse temperate ecosystems, Thailand is rubbing it hands together at the prospect of a cascade of dams that will fuel industrial development in its north.

None of these countries really care for the State Peace and Development Council.

China, particularly, is pragmatic when it comes to business.

At the moment it is convenient to do business with the small clique of generals controlling Burma.

But if they were gone tomorrow, China’s project would still proceed - it would simply negotiate to get what it wanted with whoever held power.

And whoever held power would still negotiate to enable that pipeline to be built.

Burma’s people want economic development, but they want a share of it.

At the moment the ruling military elite soaks up everything, so there is nothing left for the people.

Should they wrest power from the military, the democratic forces are not going to reject proposals that benefit their country.

But they would certainly seek to use the revenue to develop schools, hospitals and roads, rather than further bolster the armed forces or build a nuclear bomb.

For more than a decade I have gathered testimonies and spoken with people involved in this war.

If you consider the legal definition of genocide, I don’t think there’s any question that what we are witnessing in Burma today is a modern genocide.

Genocide was defined by our forefathers in the aftermath of World War II, in a bid to make atrocities punishable.

Their work was a direct bid to make life easier for us and to offer up what they had learned from a distinctly horrifying chapter of history.

How can we turn our backs on the lessons our forefathers chose to share with us – lessons that were learned through tortured experience?

If we don’t consider what has happened in the past, how can we build a better future?

We can’t rely on the international community per se, this is our society, it is up to each and every one of us to ask not ‘What can I do, but rather what am I going to do?’