Item description for Beyond the Pancake Trench: Road Tales from the Wild East by Tom Vater...
Using many short chapters, the author lets his topics and descriptions jump around in what at first seems an irritatingly random order. But once you get going, you will be grateful for the device of changing the subject every so often (and then coming back to it later). It lightens the load that some horrifying descriptions, e.g. some aspects of social life in post-war Cambodia, impose on the reader.
What a surrealistic, unreal country Cambodia has been - and still is! I have travelled in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took over and many scenes are still recognizable. For example, that certain type of middle-aged derelict western bar fly is not only still there, he booms with large numbers hanging out all over Cambodia. What is different to pre-war times is that they do not only trade and consume huge quantities of drugs and alcoholic drinks (which at least benefits the local economy) but also freely do the same to many under-aged local girls. The social fabric of pre-war Cambodia was weak but now seems to be almost nonexistent.
There are some truly hair-raising descriptions, some reminiscent of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Vater uses a highly appropriate, laconic, almost deadpan non-judgmental style to describe the awful legacy left by the Vietnam War in Cambodia and Laos. Sometimes the suspicion arises that the war only made existing problems worse - much worse - but that it did not create them from nothing. Yet these are the descendants of the people who built Angkor. One is left to wonder (e.g. when bumping along on the ramshackle Cambodian railways about which there is a splendid section in the book) just what it is that causes some societies to hold together - and others to fall apart. Deep waters, these!
The Andaman Association
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Tom Vater is a writer working in South and South East Asia. He writes both in English and German. His articles have been published around the world. He is the author of several books including, Beyond the Pancake Trench: Road Tales from the Wild East and has co-written a number of documentary screenplays for European television.
Tom first visited Asia in 1993. His first destination, India, proved to be a life-changing experience. At the time, Tom was documenting the music of India’s indigenous minorities for the British Library’s International Music Collection. This project continues and has resulted in the collection of hundreds of hours of musical traditions, many of which are slowly fading away in the face of globalization. Because of the unique contact Tom had with many indigenous communities, he began to write about minorities in South Asia.
His first publication (barring a virtually forgotten past as editor of student magazines and music critic for a German daily) was a full page spread on Nepali folk music in Nepal’s biggest English language paper in 1997. Since then, he has never looked back.
Tom’s work has appeared in a wide variety of publications - from well-known dailies to specialist magazines - The Asia Wall Street Journal, The South China Morning Post, The Irish Independent, Marie Claire, Courier International, Fortean Times, and many others. His feature articles are syndicated by Planet Syndication (planetsyndication.com), the UK’s largest feature agency and he is a regular contributor to the South Eastern Globe in Cambodia. His books on South Asian themes include a novel, several non-fiction titles including Moon Cambodia (Moon Handbooks), travel guides and photo books such as Moon Spotlight Angkor Wat.
Much of the year, Tom is on the road, researching stories, fulfilling assignments. His travels have led him (on foot) across the Himalayas, given him the opportunity to dive with hundreds of sharks in the Philippines and left him stranded in dozens of train stations, airports and bus terminals around South Asia, Europe and the US. On his journeys, he has joined sea gypsies and nomads, pilgrims and soldiers, secret agents, pirates, hippies, police men and prophets. Everyone put up with him longer than he deserved.
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