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The Daily Yomiuri

July 21, 2002

The Daily Yomiuri

Fascinating journey into Golden Triangle

Declan Hayes Special to The Daily Yomiuri

The Shore Beyond Good and Evil:
A Report from Inside Burma's Opium Kingdom
By Hideyuki Takano
Kotan Publishing, 277 pp, 23.95 dollars

If you find the Lonely Planet guidebooks too blase, read the travelogues of Hideyuki Takano, who likes to go abroad and, as they say, meet interesting people. None come more interesting than the drug smugglers, Chinese secret service agents and similar characters who pepper the pages of this fascinating book, which details the author's travels into the twilight world of the Golden Triangle. Takano spent seven months in Myanmar's remote Wa State, living among the local people and participating in the cultivation of opium, the source of heroin.

The author explains how the area's geographical isolation means the people have no alternative to opium as a cash crop. He also says Myanmar is the Yugoslavia of Southeast Asia, a veritable Shangri-la to behold but one beset by ethnic conflicts that have yet to run their bloody course. He makes plain his distaste for the "Rangoonists," as he calls the Yangon-based generals who have waged a long and unrelenting war against the country's marginalized minorities.

The author's clear and cogent explanations of the power politics being played by the governments of Myanmar and China, as well as of the motivations of a Byzantine array of devious warlords who would have baffled even Machiavelli, are reason enough to buy this book. The vivid photographs of pastoral settings, women performing dances in traditional dress and rifle-toting men in green khakis protecting their opium harvests, are another.

Although there are, of course, more dangerous places in the world, Myanmar has been home to insurgents and their interminable rebellions for more than 50 years. Takano is to be commended not only for explaining the region's social, economic and political fabric, but also for doing so by employing universal themes to bridge the vast chasm between their world and ours. By learning the people's language, cultivating poppy seeds with them, getting drunk with them, flirting with their women--in short, by participating in the seasonal rhythm of their lives--he gives us invaluable insights into a world we forget at our peril.

He also goes to pains to show how backbreaking labor underwrites the Golden Triangle's poppy crop and, by extension, all the local, regional and global miseries that spring from it.

Whether as a travelogue, a sociopolitical treatise, or simply as an eminently good read, this book is highly recommended.

Copyright 2002 The Yomiuri Shimbun



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