The Cauldron

There’s always this table, on which books pile up high, in one of the local grocery stores, the ShopRite of Edison township. Sometimes one or two precariously perched books on top would fall off when an inattentive shopper passes by and inadvertently brushes against the table. I’ve seen the books forever but never noticed them until the pandemic started. Isn’t it strange that when something as seismic as the lockdown happens, one’s mind starts to view things differently than before and see things one hasn’t seen for a long time? Is our brain shaken up and reframed? One day after a fruitless search for vinegar and rubbing alcohol, I stopped at the table and examined the books. I thought they were all unsuccessful romance books that nobody would care to buy, but that’s not completely true. Half concerns romance but the other half is about politics and military. I don’t really like military books but it’s the only genre that includes a lot of stories about Asia–WWII Pacific theater, Korea, Vietnam etc. Thus I have no choice but to read them since there are not so many good books on Asia or about Asians written in English. It gradually becomes my habit and now I know a lot more about wars than I had ever wished to. The strange thing is that the more one knows about wars, the less one likes wars, but still due to one’s habit one can’t stop reading about them. How weird? I wonder if one can ever really know or understand oneself.

The book is covered by a picture of two planes, which is a good start, but the title is incomprehensible “Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grants”. What does it mean? As a non-native speaker of English and non-slang comprehender, I have no idea what it means. Flipping through the first several pages, I saw Thailand and Korea, each occupying one chapter, and maps of Pacific. That’s enough for me to buy it. Coming home, I searched Amazon for other books of the same author and discovered “Asian’s Cauldron”, which instinctively attracted my attention. It’s exactly the kind of book I want to read, given the current global political circumstances.

“Asian’s Cauldron” is such a good book and the author is such a skilled writer. The author Robert D. Kaplan traveled to all these countries and he offered such spirited description of each country’s characters. It was published in 2014 and now the world is completely different. I think the author belongs to the previous generation of strategic thinkers since he’s almost retirement age now. The younger generation who are making strategic proposals right now think differently from him.

I am not very interested in the description of military buildup although I know some of my friends would love it–planes, missiles etc. I am very interested in the history of south and north Vietnam, the ethnic and religious conflicts in Philippine, and the condition of Sabah province of Malaysia. I wish he could talk about these anthropological aspects more, but that’s too much to wish for in such a book. I had a book before “Sylvia, Queen of the Headhunters”, which I only read a little since I’m too unfamiliar with the history of Malaysia to be able to enjoy it. However just such a little bit of reading makes the chapter of Sabah more comprehensible and the condition of Philippine, Malay, Chinese, Indians more clear to me.

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