Tom Vater

Tom Vater

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

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India’s City of Joy: 3 days in historic Kolkata at CNN

My latest travel feature with Laure Siegel on one of my favorite cities – Kolkata – for CNN Travel

Mother Teresa did the same for this spendid city as Spielberg did for sharks. She ruined the West Bengal capital’s reputation for generations. But Teresa is dead, the city is on a bumpy rebound and its global reputation as a place of hardship deserves to be put into a larger perspective.

Great people, incredible historic architecture, super food, cool hotels and plenty of grit.

I’ll be back.

Read the full story here.

Hidden India: Odisha’s secrets revealed on CNN

The eastern India state of Odisha, stretching for more than 300 miles along the Bay of Bengal, bristles with architectural and cultural gems.

Tropical, remote and home to some of the subcontinent’s most striking temples, much of the state was off-limits to foreign travel for some years because of Maoist unrest but reopened in 2016.
Vast tracts of Odisha still never see any foreign visitors and even the state’s main destinations remain refreshingly untouched by mass tourism.
“People who come to Odisha are usually return visitors to India; they have ticked off the Kerala backwaters and the Taj Mahal,” says Claire Prest of Grassroutes Journeys, a travel agency specializing in tailor-made trips around the state that she runs with her husband Pulak Mohanty….

Read the full story by Laure Siegel and myself at CNN Travel.

PsycheDelhi – As Mad House as Art House

A few words om the excellent art house movie PsycheDelhi by Surya Dash.


If Godard and Tarkovsky had conceived an illegitimate child, with an anarchist bohemian Brahmin capturing the surrealist copulation on camera round the back of a chowk in the Indian capital, the offspring might look something like PsycheDelhi.

Delhi is usually perceived as a little rough around the edges by foreign visitors, not least thanks to its unbreathable air, but Surya Dash’s sprawling, poetic and occasionally tense epic Noir take on just about everything that irks liberal Indians brings depth and beauty to the grime and venal corruption that snakes through the city like a main circuit cable plugged straight into the country’s establishment, be it political, religious or freelance moralistic.

PsycheDelhi meanders through this darkness of forlorn hopes and dreams of characters – a prime minister, a poet, a gay urbanite and a Tibetan refugee – that are so tied down by system and social circumstance that they can barely move, even when they are on the run. Just before their stories hit rock-bottom, the film swerves to the left into mesmerizing sequences of city life, subtly infused with political anger, that manage to be more poignant than the violence a lesser film maker might have been tempted into.

The film is a crime story of sorts, with a detective of sorts, wearing trilby and personal tragedy with equal conviction. More Lew Archer than Sherlock Holmes, our PI guides us high and low and in between, but always further into the Noir. Dash takes narrative clues, consciously or otherwise, from classic Noir novels of the 60s. We are not really interested in who done it because we are all doing it. Instead, we look at the pathetic humanity of small losers (and that includes the befuddled PM) who have thoughts of happiness and dignity dashed quicker than your street corner cop can raise his lathi.

PsycheDelhi revels in the sublime knowledge that it has the power to infuriate reactionaries at home, while telling a heartbreaking story universal enough to deserve an international audience.

Watch PsycheDelhi here.

Photo taken at Puri premiere of PsycheDelhi at Honey Bee Restaurant. With (left to right) Debu Tripathy, Laure Siegel, myself and Surya Dash.

The Japan Alsace economic love affair in the Nikkei Asian Review

My latest feature with Laure Siegel for the Nikkei Asian Review – Japan’s love affair with Alsace grows stronger. After 150 years, French region continues to attract Japanese companies

“If a Japanese company wants to get off the ground in France, it will move to Paris,” says Japanese entrepreneur Kentaro Kitajima. “If it wants to access the European market, it will settle in Alsace.”

Kitajima began traveling to France to find new markets for MF, an Osaka company that produces protective materials for construction sites. The young businessman from Tokyo had previously studied in France, spoke French and loved French culture. He even named his son Alain after the French actor Alain Delon, whose performance in the 1967 movie “The Last Adventure” he admired.

“It was natural I was sent to Paris to expand my company’s activities. But at the annual Batimat trade fair in 2013, I was approached by a representative of the Alsace development agency,” said Kitajima. “I had been told that the people of Alsace were very serious, straightforward, and that their mentality was quite close to ours.

“When I met people from the region I found this to be true, especially when it came to working culture. And the region lies at the crossroads of Europe, it was perfectly located on a logistical level.”

Read the full story here.

The Bangkok Publishing House in The Daily Telegraph

I recently reviewed the quite unique Bangkok Publishing House in The Daily Telegraph.

The Bangkok Publishing Residence is a unique property, a one-off, and a very personable hotel experience. The building started as a row of 1960s shophouses, though most of the walls and floors have been removed, creating a beautifully open ground-floor space that’s designed like an atrium and reaches up to the fourth floor.

Garish Thai Weekly magazine covers, typesetting sorts, shelves of magazine back issues, family collectables and weird objets d’art have been lovingly assembled to make the property come to life. There’s a piano for guests, the leather couches are comfortable and nicely worn and while the metal lift is new, it looks like part of a set from an old Noir movie.

Read the full review here.

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….