Hello Shadowlands: Inside the Meth Fiefdoms, Rebel Hideouts and Bomb-Scarred Party Towns of Southeast Asia

Hello Shadowlands: Inside the Meth Fiefdoms, Rebel Hideouts and Bomb-Scarred Party Towns of Southeast Asia

In Hello Shadowlands: Inside the Meth Fiefdoms, Rebel Hideouts and Bomb-Scarred Party Towns of Southeast Asia , Patrick Winn crawls right into the underbellies of selected criminal (and colourful) subcultures across Southeast Asia. If you’re looking to read something to balance out endless Instagram snapshots of sunny Southeast Asian beaches dotted with umbrella-stabbed coconuts, this dark book is it.

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American Winn, who has covered the region since 2008, writes that he’s interested in exploring how ordinary people react when they’re pushed to the brink; when the rule of law breaks down and they have to, somehow, get by. This isn’t an academic, structural examination of political economic power in the tradition of Joe Studwell’s Asian Godfathers. Rather it’s reportage about a handful or so different underworlds and the people who populate them. These are the corners of society that the average traveller will largely be oblivious to, whether they’re on the way to Southeast Asia or they’ve already been and left. These subcultures, Winn writes, are representative of what the future holds for a Southeast Asia that is shifting towards authoritarianism. “This is the present and future of Southeast Asia: hypercapitalistic but deeply illiberal,” he says. “This autocratic sweep doesn’t just benefit the entrenched political dynasties that run these nations. It’s also a blessing for organized crime.”

Winn delves into the meth-producing regions of Burma, North Korean hospitality in Bangkok, the abortion and birth control crackdown in the Philippines, the far southern Thai border town of Sungai Golok, and dog-snatching in Vietnam. The result is not an even portrait of Southeast Asian organised crime, but rather a sketch of a few aspects of its various nefarious criminal underworlds. And while Winn’s coverage is limited, he weaves plenty of historical background of each country into each chapter, to still make this an excellent primer to read ahead of a trip to the region.

The two chapters on drugs in Myanmar are probably the most compelling and fascinating. Winn explains how a reality check is in order after the much-hyped shift towards democracy and the election of Aung San Suu Kyi. “Sure, the monks are on Facebook, its golden temples are swarmed by foreign tour groups and teenage boys can court their girlfriends over a KFC value meal. But both ends of the nation are on fire,” he writes. “Up in the hinterlands, no one is tasting the freedom. Old dreams of democracy are reduced to a sick joke—88—stamped onto a speed pill.”

Myanmar’s production of methamphetamines is enormous: It’s the world’s largest methamphetamine empire, a billion-dollar complex churning out more speed pills each year than McDonald’s serves Big Macs worldwide, Winn notes. Addiction is a massive health crisis; the rehab centres are grim; vigilantes are taking matters into their own hands.

Winn doesn’t make it to Hpakant, a notorious mining town closed to foreigners, but it’s indicative of what much of the country might become: “The state has good reason to quarantine Hpakant from outsiders’ eyes. It is one of Asia’s most blighted corners: a grim vortex, sucking in men with the allure of riches and regurgitating meth and heroin addicts. By the thousands, men descend into Hpakant’s stadium-sized quarries each day. Those who find jade stones can sell them to middlemen at the rim of the mine. The miners are then invited to spend the proceeds in an open-air bazaar selling speed, sex and heroin.” It’s a far cry from the temples of Bagan.

It's Winn’s firsthand reportage that really makes this book; it’s also a weakness, in that the coverage is necessarily limited to what he’s decided to cover in person, rather than a more studied, theoretical approach drawing on the work of many. Still, it’s fascinating, and a grand departure from the usual topics covered in the mainstream media, which is what Winn says in the introduction that he wanted the book to be.

Hello Shadowlands casts a bright light into a few dark corners of Southeast Asia. Read it to start filling in your blind spots on the region. You won’t fill them all in, but the ones you do will be forever etched in your mind in technicolour.

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108 results found

Burma (Myanmar)

Burmese Days
Burmese Days

By George Orwell

Finding George Orwell
Finding George Orwell

By Emma Larkin

Miss Burma
Miss Burma

By Charmaine Craig

The Glass Palace
The Glass Palace

By Amitav Ghosh

The Trouser People
The Trouser People

By Andrew Marshall

Cambodia

Dogs at the Perimeter
Dogs at the Perimeter

By Madeleine Thien

Holiday in Cambodia
Holiday in Cambodia

By Laura Jean McKay

Hun Sen’s Cambodia
Hun Sen’s Cambodia

By Sebastian Strangio

Hunters in the Dark
Hunters in the Dark

By Lawrence Osborne

King Norodom's Head
King Norodom's Head

By Steven W. Boswell

River of Time
River of Time

By Jon Swain

The Gate
The Gate

By Francoise Bizot

Indonesia

A House in Bali
A House in Bali

By Colin McPhee

Beauty is a Wound
Beauty is a Wound

By Eka Kurniawan

Black Water
Black Water

By Louise Doughty

Home
Home

By Leila S. Chudori

In the Time of Madness
In the Time of Madness

By Richard Lloyd Parry

Indonesia Etc.
Indonesia Etc.

By Elizabeth Pisani

On the Java Ridge
On the Java Ridge

By Jock Serong

Ring of Fire
Ring of Fire

By Lawrence Blair

The Malay Archipelago
The Malay Archipelago

By Alfred Russel Wallace

The Rainbow Troops
The Rainbow Troops

By Andrea Hirata

The Year of Living Dangerously
The Year of Living Dangerously

By Christopher J. Koch

This Earth of Mankind
This Earth of Mankind

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Under the Volcano
Under the Volcano

By Cameron Forbes

Laos

Malaysia

Singapore

Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians

By Kevin Kwan

From Third World to First
From Third World to First

By Lee Kuan Yew

If I Could Tell You
If I Could Tell You

By Jing-Jing Lee

In Transit: An Anthology
In Transit: An Anthology

By Zhang Ruihe and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow

Sarong Party Girls
Sarong Party Girls

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

Singapore Noir
Singapore Noir

By Cheryl Lu-Tien Tan

State of Emergency
State of Emergency

By Jeremy Tiang

Sugarbread
Sugarbread

By Balli Kaur Jaswal

The Tower
The Tower

By Isa Kamari (translated by Alfian Sa'at)

Thailand

A Tiger in Eden
A Tiger in Eden

By Chris Flynn

Bangkok Found
Bangkok Found

By Alex Kerr

Hothouse Flower
Hothouse Flower

By Lucinda Riley

Jasmine Nights
Jasmine Nights

By S.P. Somtow

Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind
Mai Pen Rai Means Never Mind

By Carol Hollinger

Many Lives
Many Lives

By M.R Kukrit Pramoj

Sightseeing
Sightseeing

By Rattawut Lapcharoensap

Thai Street Food
Thai Street Food

By David Thompson

The Beach
The Beach

By Alex Garland

The Drinking Food of Thailand
The Drinking Food of Thailand

By Andy Ricker with JJ Goode

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North

By Richard Flanagan

The Sad Part Was
The Sad Part Was

By Prabda Yoon

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl

By Paolo Bacigalupi

Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture
Very Thai: Everyday Popular Culture

By Philip Cornwel-Smith

Vietnam

Bright Shining Lie
Bright Shining Lie

By Neil Sheehan

Destination Saigon
Destination Saigon

By Walter Mason

Dragon Apparent
Dragon Apparent

By Norman Lewis

Fishing for Tigers
Fishing for Tigers

By Emily Maguire

The Lover
The Lover

By Marguerite Duras

The Quiet American
The Quiet American

By Graham Greene

The Refugees
The Refugees

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Sorrow of War
The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh

The Sympathizer
The Sympathizer

By Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Things They Carried
The Things They Carried

By Tim O’Brien

When the War Was Over
When the War Was Over

By Elizabeth Becker

General