Readers' Submissions

One Crowded Hour


I must admit I never thought I would write another submission. Especially now seeing the website is but a shadow of its former self, but a shadow nonetheless. And making his now very rare appearances, Stick has become the ghost that haunts the website’s corridors.

I see people are still reading, but unfortunately not many writing.

The title of my article is an abbreviation of the quote from Walter Scott, “One crowded hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name”. It is also the title of the autobiography of the Australian foreign correspondent Neil Davis, written by Tim Bowden.

Why am I writing about him on this site? Well because much like myself and the vast majority of your audience, Neil Davis fell in love with South-East Asia. Especially Thailand and Cambodia. He eventually settled in Cambodia in 1971, before being forced out by the Khmer Rouge in their uprising in 1974. I am also writing also because he has hardly been mentioned on your site (or have I missed something?), which I find surprising. I understand not all of your reader / writers are “Literati” or history buffs but then not all or dunces or dropouts either.

I found his story amazing, fascinating, gripping and eventually very sad.   He worked during the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s covering just about every major conflict in the region. He almost always went with front line soldiers to get his stories. He was the reporter who filmed the iconic scene of tank 843 crashing through the gates of the Vietnamese embassy in the fall of Saigon. He was eventually killed by shrapnel in a tin pot revolution in Bangkok in 1985.

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The most fascinating part of the autobiography to me was how he came from humble beginnings in Tasmania, to work and eventually live in South-East Asia. That his fascination with that part of the world was the same for him then as it is for us now. The same attraction to the food, culture sights sounds smells dangers and of course (and no disrespect whatsoever to his memory) the girls. A situation most of us have in common. TIT and TAT had very different meanings for him.

It is amazing and fascinating to read of Bangkok and Patpong, and its many bars filled with correspondents, off-duty soldiers and shady types. The scene from the ‘60s, ‘70s and early 80s would have been just fascinating, and an incredible time to be there. The intensity of the Vietnam War followed by the sadness of the Khmer Rouge. Gosh Bangkok and Patpong were definitely places of genuine stress release during that era. What an amazing atmosphere it must have been back then. It seems “the good old days” started around the mid-‘50s, not long after the Second World War. This leads me to another book I have read.

Titled “Beyond the Bamboo” by Rohan Rivett, it tells his first hand story of being a POW on the infamous Thai Burma railway. From his capture to eventual release 4 years later, the story is both depressing, uplifting and almost monotonous….describing exactly what the prisoners went through. There were definitely no good old days then. Just dysentery cholera and death, at the hands of Japanese / Korean occupation.

It also describes a Thailand and South-East Asia totally different from today. One of jungles, rice paddies, farmers and village life.

The most recent book I tried to read but didn’t finish was the much-lauded “A Woman of Bangkok” by Jack Reynolds. The beginning of the story I found excellent reading. I was engrossed up to the point where he meets the femme fatale. After that point in the book I struggled, because it read like a Stickman submission! And plus I hate reading fiction, although the novel is apparently a loose autobiography.

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So going back to the title of my article. It is the effect South-East Asia has on us. We live as two week millionaires, some eventually live there and shack up with the locals, others returning multiple times. Is it the water? is it the air? is it the food? The people? You just can’t put a specific reason. It simply gets under your skin. And as I have read in the three books mentioned, that place on Earth has such a mesmerizing affect on most of us.

I had lived in Europe for 4 years in the ‘90s (Germany, Italy, UK) and nothing there came close to the intensity of being in South-East Asia.

And that’s how Thailand and South East Asia makes us feel and live, as “one crowded hour”.

Thanks for reading.

The author of this article cannot be contacted.