Sunday, September 04, 2005

Asia Fan Fantasia

Like other pundits in a crowded field, Backman reads obsessively and travels constantly. Mainly brainy reading - The Economist, New York Times, Asian Wall Street Journal, International Herald Tribune plus scholarly articles and monographs. Unusually, he keeps bowerbird notes, looks for patterns, and buttresses his analysis with recent, relevant facts and stories.

The result is a cut or two above the usual avalanche of personal travelogue and cultural stereotyping. In his new book, published September 2005, Backman is good on the 'stans - the five central Asian republics sitting on a vast ocean of largely untapped oil and gas. He has fun with President Nyazov of Turkmenistan, but his more serious thesis concerns the 'stans dominant position at the top of Transparency International's hit parade of corruption, which discourages Western democracies from investing - but not China.

Also on offer are thoughtful perspectives on Aussies abroad, the Asian art market, Nepal, how rich Saudis trash their hotel rooms, and the Anwar Ibrahim saga in Malaysia.

In a remote village in Nepal, Backman is accosted by a band of Maoist insurgents with automatic weapons, demanding money. He hands over 1000 rupees (about US$13) and is astonished to receive a neatly printed receipt, which the bandits sign and date and carefully stamp with a hammer and sickle insignia. He is advised to produce the receipt to avoid paying again - he does, and it works! His conclusion: surely it should be possible to negotiate with these guys.

The best compliment for an author: his first three are now on order from Amazon

Backman Backlist
Asian Insider 2004
Big in Asia 2003
Asian Eclipse 2001

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