Tom Vater

Tom Vater

Irreverent, informed and downright eclectic crime fiction and reportage from Southeast Asia and beyond

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Burma, a Country United by Hatred and Murder?

Burmese army soldier in the hills above Myauk-U, Rakhine State, looking for Muslim ‘terrorists’

400000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma in the past couple of weeks. Overwhelming evidence suggests that the Burmese military, along with civilian militias, is engaging in ethnic cleansing, driving people from their homes, torching their villages, raping their children and murdering their men.

It seems as if almost all of Burmese society wants to get rid of the Rohingya minority – from the brutal military to the ruling NLD and Aung San Suu Kyi, the Buddhists, to the 88 Generation students (erstwhile campaigners for freedom), the media, the remaining rebel groups, everyone, and the country is going all the way to achieve this.

Erstwhile victims and perpetrators of the country’s struggle with dictatorship now unite. The men who used to put plastic bags over the heads of other men and women are now united in rage with their erstwhile victims. An entire generation of rape victims, torture victims, unjustly incarcerated, starved and beaten people now embrace their former tormentors, not in forgiveness, but in an orgy of murder and abuse of a third party. Fifty years of history and struggle for freedom seems to have vanished and becomes meaningless in the face of these horrors. There are Burmese who are too scared to speak out against the blood-letting, but they are quickly shouted down.

And hardly anyone saw this coming. As little as two years ago, western media brushed away the warning signs, happy to see ASSK win a flawed, constitutionally rigged election and thus preparing the country for the coming genocide.

Where next for Burma, and more importantly what next for the Rohingya, and the rest of the Muslim community in the country?

The international community, rudderless and Trumped as it is, won’t do much. Burma is part of the Great Game between the West and China, everyone wants the country’s resources, the democratic transition is and always has been a sham, and the British military actively trains Burmese soldiers – so that they can rape, pillage, burn and kill more efficiently. The generals, most of the population, the Buddhists radicals and presumably some in the NLD won’t care if the country slips back into pariah status and becomes a globally shunned basket case nation once again.

And as genuine reform will be illusive as long as the country’s old power structures remain in place, this war on the weak will not be the Burma’s last one. When the Rohingya have all been killed or driven away, the Tatmadaw will destroy other minorities.

I suppose tourists will keep traveling to Burma to sip beers in Mandalay or to wander the temples of Bagan while the killing and burning continues unseen around the corner. In the bad old days when the military kept ASSK under house arrest, tourism was frowned upon and some guidebook publishers did not release titles on the country, one could have made an argument that foreign visitors might have helped to open the bamboo curtain a little, to bring some foreign exchange and hope to ordinary people. That argument no longer holds water. Those same ordinary people have joined hands with one of the world’s most brutal armies to snuff out a community that cannot defend itself.

It’s sickening and heartbreaking and may be a sign of things to come in other countries in the region where rule of law is breaking down and reactionary nationalism is blooming, from the Philippines to Cambodia.

At the very least, western travelers should think twice about spending their cash in Burma. If you do, you are supporting ethnic cleansing, genocide and an orgy of hatred that is both a reminder of past European history and a warning against our current collective march towards bigotry, increasing tolerance of hate speech, institutionalized injustice and an ever-increasing gap between the have-nothings and the filthy rich.

Burmese army soldier in Myauk-U, Rakhine State, looking for Muslim ‘terrorists’

On Air in The Panic Room – Talking crime fiction

Cambodia: A Journey through the Land of the Khmer remains bestseller in Cambodia

Cambodia: A Journey through the Land of the Khmer by Kraig Lieb, with my text, continues to shift copies in Cambodia.

Photo taken at Monument Books, Siem Reap.

Mekong Shadows anthology on Cambodian book shelves

Mekong Shadows, the new anthology of fiction from and about Cambodia, published my Saraswati Publishing is not available in print from Monument Books in Cambodia.

The story collection features and extract from The Cambodian Book of the Dead along with contributions from many local and ex-pat writers.

Read a review in Thailand’s The Nation.

Researching Moon Angkor Wat 3rd Edition

Currently in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to research the 3rd edition of the Moon guide to Angkor Wat.

Just had a gloriously sunny day amongst the monuments, with few other visitors in sight away from the main sites. Adding a chapter on how to beat the crowds….

Mekong Shadows reviewed in The Nation

Great write-up by Paul Dorsey in today’s Nation newspaper for the Mekong Shadows anthology with praise for The Cambodian Book of the Dead.

The anthology’s best episode, hands down, is actually a long excerpt from “The Cambodian Book of the Dead”, a taut and disturbing novel by Tom Vater (“Sacred Skin – Thailand’s Spirit Tattoos”). Rippling with clever wordplay, it’s a very dark reading indeed of Phnom Penh. Vater evokes “the smell of the tropics, saturated with reincarnation and ruin, this hypnotising combination of extremes, of promise and danger, of temptation and failure”.

Read the full review here.

Mekong Shadows – A collection of short stories set in, or with connections to, Cambodia. There are tales of hope, of love, of despair, and even a sprinkling of black magic. Featuring stories from John Daysh, James Newman, Mark Bibby Jackson, Steven W. Palmer, Tom Vater, John Burdett, and many more.

Mekong Shadows anthology features The Cambodian Book of the Dead

Earlier this week, Saraswati Publishing in Phnom Penh launched Mekong Shadows a new anthology of dark tales from Cambodia.

Edited by British journalist Iain Donnelly, this collection includes both Cambodian and ex pat writers, both complete unknowns and widely published authors, including Kosal Khiev, John Burdett and James Newman.

Feedback has been positive with coverage in the Khmer Times and the Phnom Penh Post.

The anthology features a couple of chapters from my first Detective Maier novel, The Cambodian Book of the Dead, currently out with Crime Wave Press.

Grab a copy of Mekong Shadows at Amazon

Grab a copy of The Cambodian Book of the Dead at Amazon

Master of escape seeking to become master of Noir – Roy Harper talks

Roy Harper, who has escaped three times — twice from the State Penitentiary at Parchman —has written two crime novels now from his small cell there, editing each one on an illegal cellphone. Both ‘Shank’ and ‘Heist’ are out with Crime Wave Press.

Jerry Mitchell reports for the Clarion Ledger. Read the full story.

Here’s the opening paragraph of ‘Shank’.

“Buck, that’s what they call home brew here. It’s wine made from fermented fruit and it usually tastes pretty damned awful. Dirty socks; turn that smell to a test and that’s what buck puts me in mind of.

“In search of ways to escape reality most inmates will consume anything; subject their system to any mood-altering substance in pursuit of a high. They’ll drink Windex or squeeze the fluid out of stick deodorant for its alcohol.

“Myself, I’ll drink a little buck or smoke a little weed now and then to take the edge off and relax, but my favorite mood-altering activity comes from exercise, especially running and weight training. Standing an even six foot in my socks and a few pounds under two hundred, I’m healthy and fit.”

A recent Amazon review:

Having spent time in prison myself, the first thing I’d like you to know is that Roy Harper’s terminology is accurate. For example, “Buck” is some horrible tasting, and I mean horrible, prison wine (the fruit, typically oranges taken from the Kitchen, does smell like dirty socks once fermented and added to the toilet water) and can usually be found in toilets for celebrations, such as New Year’s Eve. This very first word brought me back to my own prison experience, and I can tell you I was shell shocked. Immediately I felt I was back. For this reason, if you are looking for an authentic prison novel, guess what? You’ve found the real deal.

Laure Siegel’s Hong Kong dossier at ARTE TV

Just spent a mad week in Hong Kong, following ARTE correspondent Laure Siegel conducting interviews  with ten residents on the imminent 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from the colonial Britishers to the Chinese, for ARTE TV.

Check out the Hong Kong Dossier here. My portraits are in the vignettes of Témoignages : les voix de Hong-Kong.

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia in The Nikkei Asian Review

Circus shows temple tourists another side of Cambodia – Creative training offers an alternative lifestyle for young performers

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — It is a stiflingly hot Friday evening in Siem Reap, western Cambodia. The big top is packed, and there is an air of excitement as 300 or so spectators squeeze onto narrow wooden benches. Backstage, the artists are getting ready.

The lights dim, and the audience falls silent. Traditional Khmer music emanates from the darkness. A blue light appears above the performance area as 12 actors kneel in a circle, ready to launch into “Eclipse,” a highly physical and beautifully performed reflection on Cambodian village life, rejection and the gods. Seconds later, bodies glide and fly through the air in gravity-defying stunts that are a mixture of spectacle and narrative.

As Cambodia continues to wrestle with its tragic history and current dysfunctional governance — mass bombing by the U.S. in the 1960s, the Khmer Rouge communist revolution and genocide in the 1970s, civil war in the 1980s and 1990s and subsequent political dominance by authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen — foreign acclaim for the impoverished Southeast Asian kingdom has been rare…

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