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A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam (original 1951; edition 2003)

by Norman Lewis

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Member:suzebutch
Title:A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam
Authors:Norman Lewis
Info:Eland Publishing Ltd (2003), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
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Tags:true stories, travelogue, laos, cambodia, vietnam

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A Dragon Apparent: Travels in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam by Norman Lewis (1951)

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Norman Lewis traveled to French Indochina in 1950 as the war clouds were gathering in the region. He hoped to catch a glimpse of the people who lived in this remote and still unknown area, and record their way of life before war changed everything. These countries would very soon after and for the next four decades suffer terribly in a way nobody could have imagined. Lewis is one of the very few writers who saw these places in the twilight of the French regime, whose experience would provide a rare insight into the rich cultural diversity of Indochina, which the wars, genocide, and the communist governments that would come soon, would stifle or destroy altogether.

Saigon is his first stop, and he roams the streets forming his impressions. Like a typical Western tourist on his first trip to Asia, he is repelled and at the same time fascinated by the strange food, and had the rather naive notion that the national mania in Vietnam for gambling is explained by religion. He manages to arrange with local French officials trips inland to more dangerous territory, traveling on military convoys. He visits Cao-Daists who include Victor Hugo as one of their divinities, and continues to the high plateaus of Central Vietnam where he meets the Moïs, a tribal people of Malayo-Polynesian stock regarded in the early part of the century as "articulate animals rather than human beings" and whose numbers are rapidly dwindling. He is witness to their innumerable rituals, all of which require the participants to reach a drunken stupor in order to gain respectability. He learns about their conception of the universe and their motivation for everything, which was obedience to the spirits.

Lewis continues on and meets the M'nongs, the Rhadés, the Bahnars -- tribes which were vanishing, either because of Viet-Minh reprisals for supporting the French, or missionaries whose evangelizing work transformed their way of life in the most complete way. He crosses over to Cambodia and receives his introduction by way of Phnom Penh's leading opium den, and gets to meet the Prime Minister, as well as King Norodom both of whom lectured him about relations with the French and communist influence among the rebellious Issarak tribes. He heads to Siem Reap to the magnificent temples of Angkor, and then flies to Laos where he joins another convoy driving up from Vientiane to Luang Prabang, enjoying the fantastic, yet untouched landscape of Laos while at the same time, terrified of possible ambushes and road mines. He gets a chance to visit the Meos, a major tribe living in the mountains in the heart of Indochina, who cultivated poppy fields. On his return to Vietnam, he was able to arrange a visit to a Viet-Minh camp, and saw with his own eyes how a future victorious people's army was being shaped and moulded. ( )
  deebee1 | Sep 21, 2012 |
Lewis is apparently a celebrated travel writer who has written many books including novels. Set in the early 1950s before the Vietnam War, Lewis travels around Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos which are all still French colonies in 1950. He documents the lives of the persecuted Moi tribe scattered about Vietnam who have minimal household possessions but drums and jars for alcohol. The Moi men are conscripted to work for a pittance for rubber plantation owners where they are forced to work twelve hour days, seven days a week. The conscription of the Moi men leaves the tribal villages quiet and unproductive.

Although the book jarred at times because Lewis travelled around with French civil servants and stayed in their Résidences, he makes a compelling but subtle argument against the exploitation of the indigenous tribes such as the Moi, whose customs and way of life are being obliterated in the pursuit of profit. Lewis was also critical about the treatment of indigenous tribes in the Americas, which lead to the establishment of Survival International.

Really interesting book. not too dated. It is telling however that this is not a travel book written for twenty first century writers, there is very little commentary about the food! ( )
1 vote cerievans1 | Jan 25, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 090787133X, Paperback)

Originally published in 1951, it is said that A Dragon Apparent inspired Graham Greene to go to Vietnam and write The Quiet American. Norman Lewis traveled in Indo-China during the precarious last years of the French colonial regime. Much of the charm and grandeur of the ancient native civilizations survived until the devastation of the Vietnam War. Lewis could still meet a King of Cambodia and an Emperor of Vietnam; in the hills he could stay in the spectacular longhouses of the highlanders; on the plains he could be enchanted by a people whom he found ""gentle, tolerant and dedicated to the pleasures and satisfactions of a discriminating kind.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:37:57 -0400)

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