Archive for the ‘東南アジア’ Category

Thanks to Archaeology Magazine’s online news feed…

Some further details on the 18th century ship unearthed at the World Trade Center site have been unearthed. After the preserved wooden skeleton of the ship was discovered back in July, archaeologists have been working to figure out what sort of ship it was, its age, and other such details.

It remains unclear just how the ship came to rest under the World Trade Center, though it is important to note that the site was, 200+ years ago, part of the Hudson River. Whether the ship was intentionally or accidentally used as part of landfill to build up Manhattan Island, we might not be able to determine. The scientists are now saying, however, that the ship was a “Hudson River sloop,” traveling up and down the river, or perhaps up and down the East Coast, carrying such goods as sugar, rum, molasses, and salt. Seeds, nuts, and fruit pits have been found in the ship’s remains, though scientists are still considering whether these represent the goods being carried, or just the crew’s lunch.

The ship was originally roughly 60-70 feet long, the length of an extra-long NYC bus, the article explains, though only 32 feet remain today. As is the case with many other older ships found in this manner, underground or in bogs or the like, it was the waterlogged, anaerobic environment which preserved the ship, preventing microbes from breaking it down, as they had no access to air. Now uncovered, the ship must be kept soaked, to prevent it from decaying, so they have apparently placed it in a tank of purified water. It was not the only thing from the late 18th and early 19th centuries to be found in the course of cleaning up the Ground Zero site: china dishes, many many shoes, stemmed glasses, and bottles were found too, as well as a coin, found inserted into the ship’s structure, a half-penny from the reign of George II (1727-1760).

Today’s article finishes with a brief summary of how the ship was originally found, for those who haven’t heard about it until now (all too often, I feel, the news assumes you’ve been keeping up with it, and only tells you the newest part of the story, so this is a welcome addition).


Meanwhile, a brief article about Vietnam’s World Heritage Sites being under threat from wear and tear of the great numbers of tourists visiting, and lack of funds to repair or maintain the sites.

This is, of course, nothing new. World Heritage Sites and other historic sites the world over, especially in Southeast Asia, suffer from the damage done by millions of hands and feet, by the moisture in our breath, and by the lighting used to make the sites visible and accessible. A friend wrote her MA thesis on this subject, and I am sure it is a much-discussed topic, a serious problem with no obvious answer.

I just hope I get to see some of these sites in Vietnam before they are gone. Let me rephrase that. I hope that the funding can somehow be obtained, from within the country, or overseas, from governments or non-profits, to preserve and maintain these sites already acknowledged as being of importance to the entire world.

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Alex Kerr, author of Lost Japan and Dogs and Demons, an American who has lived in Kyoto & Bangkok for decades and who has his hands in a lot of heritage protection and cultural revival activities, has finally published his latest book, Bangkok Found, which he had been working on for many years.

Of course, the book relates to Thai history and culture, concepts, and language, and I cannot imagine that I will find it as easy to understand or to appreciate as “Lost Japan”, but nevertheless, I have faith that Kerr’s writing style and skills will paint for us, the reader, an entrancing and intriguing view of the city that is at once romantic and yet fully in touch with, and frank about, the less appealing or attractive aspects of the city.

At $20, it’s more expensive than your average paperback, but far cheaper than most academic volumes… I must admit I’m not exactly running out to the store this very moment to buy a copy, but someday I will get my hands on a copy. I expect to enjoy it very much, and will write a review at that time…

In the meantime, some reviews from people who’ve actually read the book and know a lot more about Thailand than I:

Christopher G. Moore
Bangkok 101
Women Learn Thai.com

(And, yes, these links are all reviews Alex has linked to himself on his site. No, I am not a shill for him, no I am not getting paid by him, and as you’ll see from my previous posts on the subject, I’m not exactly 100% his biggest fan. I’m just being lazy, is all, not directly intentionally biased. If/when I get my hands on the book and write my own review, I can practically guarantee it won’t be 100% positive or promotional.)

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Another beautifully written art review from Holland Cotter, New York Times art critic.

This Viet Nam show really sounds wonderful. Wish I could be there.

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Arts of Ancient Viet Nam: From River Plain to Open Sea” opens today at the Asia Society in NY. It seems to me relatively rare that any large exhibits are ever devoted to Viet Nam, with most museums devoting most of their Asian art attention to Chinese and Japanese art. (And there are plenty of good reasons for that, starting with the nature & composition of their collections, the history of collecting which led to the collections being this way, etc.) This seems a nice and special opportunity, therefore. It’s made all the more exciting by the fact that the exhibit does not restrict itself purely to ancient Viet Nam, but covers Hoi An as well, a major early modern trading port of the 16th-18th centuries. Hoi An was one of the chief SE Asian ports for Japanese trade, and the site of one of the largest Japanese communities, in the late 16th to early 17th centuries, which is how it attracted my attention, and came to form a major section in my (first) MA thesis.

I really wish I could be in NY to see this exhibit. If you are, go check it out.

(I must say, however, that I remain perplexed by the overwhelming dominance of ceramics and other “decorative arts” or “craft goods” in exhibits of Southeast Asian art. Yes, I know it’s not really PC to make a distinction any longer, to imply that decorative arts, crafts, ceramics are any lesser than so-called “fine arts” such as painting. But, those politics aside, where are the paintings? Surely, Viet Nam produced paintings just as every other country in the world has, heavily influenced by Chinese traditions just as much as Okinawa, Japan, and Korea were, the art of painting raised up above ceramics and other arts and treasured and celebrated just as much as in any other Sinosphere culture. So, where are the paintings? Okinawa was ravaged by war, and a great deal was lost; but even so, there are still paintings surviving and exhibited in Okinawa and Japan, if not in the US. … Well, at least the exhibit doesn’t focus exclusively on religious sculpture, like so many SE Asian galleries in major museums do.)

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Every now and then, in my readings and class lectures, I am introduced to an artist whose work just catches my eye and grabs my attention.

Walter Spies (1895-1942) is one such artist. Born to German parents in Moscow, he made his way to the Dutch East Indies in 1923 and never returned to Europe. In Java, after expressing an interest in gamelan music (something which I must say I enjoy very much as well), he was made Master of the Sultan’s Music and came to live within the grounds of the palace and to direct the sultan’s gamelan. He developed a written notation for the gamelan music – whether he was the first to do so, or the first Westerner to do so, and whether his notation continues to be used today, I have no idea, but I wonder. In any case, he moved to Bali in 1927, where he would remain the rest of his life. After a brief time living in a rajah’s palace, he established his own home.

Spies engaged in a wide variety of artistic activities, including painting, composing, and photography, and gathered around him a large circle of friends and acquaintances, as well as becoming something of a local celebrity. He is described as being appreciated by both the colonial Dutch and local Balinese authorities, and was active in a number of enterprises, including serving as curator of a Bali Museum for a time, and organizing an artists’ collective with as many as 150 members.

Sadly, in the 1930s, there came a wave of crackdowns on homosexual activity, which was illegal in the Dutch colonies as it was in most parts of the (Western?) world at the time. The Balinese argued on his behalf, as did renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, that homosexuality was traditionally not considered a sin, crime, or abhorrence in their society, and the father of a boy with whom Spies had had relations likewise argued that he saw no problem with it. Still, in the end, Spies was imprisoned for some months. When the Netherlands fell to the Nazis, Dutch authorities in Indonesia rounded up and interned German nationals, including Spies, who was eventually placed on a ship to British Ceylon the Netherlands. (Why would the Dutch send free citizens/residents of the free Dutch East Indies back to Nazi-occupied Holland, I don’t understand. But nevertheless, it happened…) Spies never made it there, however, as the ship was sunk by the Japanese.


Spies’ paintings really strike me for their unique style and forms, not to mention the exotic subject matter of the Balinese context. Academic 19th century “mainstream” Orientalist paintings of the Arab world, as typified by the work of Jean-Léon Gérôme are stunningly gorgeous in their own way, but I would argue that they lack a personal touch. They are so carefully detailed and realistically depicted, that they lack to some extent evidence of the artist’s personality or creativity.

“Traumlandschaft” (1927)

Sadly, many of Spies’ paintings survive today only as black-and-white photos of the original works. On the other hand, perhaps one should say “luckily, black-and-white photos of many of Spies’ works which are otherwise lost, have survived.”

I’m not sure if this painting would reflect any particular Balinese myth or story, but the fantastic element is obvious, the incredibly tall, thin, form of a man extending up through the treetops and clouds, providing a sense of the magical which infuses many of Spies’ paintings and might be presumed to be an expression of the magic he experienced and enjoyed in life in Bali.

“Die Landschaft und ihre Kinder” (1939)

“The Travelling Salesman” (Date Unknown)

The dark greens and bright, pale, blues of many of Spies’ paintings creates a sense of the lush, verdant, environment, and a powerful sense of mystery and magic. I particularly like his figures, so extremely thin, with their broad hats, represented so similarly from work to work as to seem characters or caricatures.

In light of having seen numerous paintings of other tropes, such as Gerome’s of the Arab World, Chinese and Japanese paintings of their own respective landscapes, etc., this distinctly different scene of Balinese fashion, figures, and landscapes is all the more intriguing.

“Sumatran Landscape” (1941)

And then, sometimes Spies just does a straight-out stunning, picturesque, landscape largely absent of Orientalist elements.


While Walter Spies was by no means ethnically Balinese himself, and did not paint in a style which can be considered natively or traditionally Balinese, the magical and unique style seen in his work, distinct from any I have ever seen used to represent Chinese, Japanese, Middle Eastern, or European/Western subjects, as well as the actual content of his pieces, namely Balinese people and places, make his works feel distinctly Balinese. They inspire in me not an interest in Western painting, or even so much in Spies as an individual “master”, but in Bali, its people, its culture, and its landscapes, and in the romantic notion of “going bamboo” as Spies and so many others have.

All images courtesy of Geff Green’s wonderful Walter Spies Page. I am sure there is plenty else out there on Spies, particularly on blogs devoted to Balinese art, in catalogs produced for exhibitions of Spies’ work, etc. though I have not myself taken the time to go through them all. If you are interested, I invite you to pursue this… and to perhaps even come back here to share what you have found.

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Art Radar Asia offers a look at the new Bangkok contemporary art museum.

Bangkok museum opens with seminal survey, a who’s who of Thai modern contemporary art « Art Radar Asia

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My hits spiked when I wrote about politics, but even then I still didn’t get any comments, despite the potential of my words to be quite offensive… But then the point of writing a blog isn’t to write what will get hits or what will get comments, but simply to write what I am interested in sharing. Now, if only companies thought the same way, allowing creators to make marketing decisions instead of marketers – if companies produced and marketed and sold things they wanted to share with the public, rather than things their marketing research shows will sell… If the ultimate goal were to produce a worthwhile, meaningful, creative product and not simply to make the most profits…

Anyway, this weekend I noticed a bookstore in Harvard Square, Raven Used Books, that I never noticed before. I wonder how long they’ve been there. My goal of course was not to buy but simply to browse while killing time, but of course, in the end, I ended up buying several books. Hey, when you happen upon things for relatively cheap (under $15) that you never expected to find outside of the SOAS library, you have to jump for it.

Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan

Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan

Studies in the Institutional History of Early Modern Japan (John W Hall, Marius Jansen eds.)

A rather dry title, to be sure, but this is an academic book after all. A collection of essays on various aspects of the economic, political, and social structures of Edo period Japan, this book contains quite a number of articles that, I get the impression, are fairly foundational, and certainly ones of great relevance to topics I enjoy and intend to pursue research on.

Includes articles on feudalism, urbanization, economic structures, and Tokugawa law, as well as several articles focusing upon Tosa and Satsuma, though these are used not as interesting topics unto themselves but merely as examples exploited for the purpose of advancing abstract theories about historical interpretations of political/economic/social structures, an approach that I harbor a distaste for. Still, it’s great to have all these articles collected up in one book rather than having to rely on photocopies made from individual academic journals, etc, which would have been quite time and money consuming.

Some articles of particular interest:
*”Foundations of the Modern Japanese Daimyo” – John Whitney Hall
*”The Consolidation of Power in Satsuma han” – Robert Sakai
*”The Castle Town and Japan’s Modern Urbanization” – John W Hall
*”Bakufu versus Kabuki” – Donald Shively

Southeast Asia in the Early Modern Era: Trade, Power, and Belief (Anthony Reid, ed.)

Another collection of academic essays, another book providing good foundational sources. I’m far less knowledgeable, experienced in the field of Southeast Asian studies than in Japanese, but from what I gather, many of the scholars featured here, particularly the book’s editor, Anthony Reid, are big names in the field, and not only reliable, but would also serve me well as core reading.

As I may have mentioned in a previous post, I wrote my MA thesis on Japan’s commercial and diplomatic relations with Southeast Asia in the 17th century, focusing particularly on relations with Ayutthaya (Siam/Thailand) and southern Vietnam under the Nguyen lords. Japanese history tends to be fairly inward-looking (just look at the previous book, Studies in Institutional History), focusing on culture within Edo, politics within a domain (han), trade routes and economic systems within the country. It is also the study of a country which thinks itself quite homogeneous. And so, to talk about maritime history, overseas trade, the colorful multi-ethnic, multi-cultural ports of Southeast Asia was an exciting change of pace for me. It is easy to fantasize and romanticize about adventurers on the high seas, interesting characters who fled Japan or were exiled and sought fortunes overseas. Samurai fighting on elephantback alongside Thai forces against Burmese invasion; Japanese silk traders in Viet Nam dominating the market despite their inferiority of numbers against the Chinese, driving prices up and driving the Dutch crazy. Japanese from well-to-do Osaka merchant families marrying into the Nguyen noble family which ruled southern Vietnam. … And to just imagine the ports themselves, what a vibrant and exciting place they must have been, seeing the kind of intercultural exchange one rarely sees in early modern Japan, with its strictly controlled international interactions.

Some articles of particular interest to me:
*”Nguyen Hoang and the Beginning of Vietnam’s Southward Expansion” – Keith W Taylor
*”Restraints on the Development of Merchant Capitalism in Southeast Asia before c. 1800″ – J. Kathirithamby-Wells
*”The Vanishing Jong: Insular Southeast Asian Fleets in Trade and War” – Pierre-Yves Manguin

Japanese Castles AD 250-1540 by Stephen Turnbull

A far less scholarly book than the previous two, Turnbull’s writing tends to be marketed towards the young enthusiast who thinks samurai and ninja are kewl and want to learn more about the real thing. Which isn’t really something I can fault anyone for; after all, that’s how I got into it, that’s how a lot of people got into it, his books are cheaper, far easier to find, and far easier to read than the proper scholarly books.

His books tend to be short, covering the topic in a rather cursory manner, going into way too much detail on some points and leaving massive gaps in the big picture. But he does focus on a topic for its inherent interest, and is not simply using this as an avenue to discuss historiographical theories. I also get the impression from those who do take military history a bit more seriously that Turnbull misinterprets his sources and often takes them too literally, uses some sources excessively and others not at all, and just plain fails as a reputable scholar (and thus a reliable source) in general. A good read, and mostly accurate in its content, but perhaps not quite enough so to quote from, cite from, in a formal dissertation or essay. Outside of the fact that he has no inline citations or footnotes whatsoever, listing his sources only in a works cited in the back, giving the reader therefore no indication of which assertions are derived from which sources, I have only one real quibble with his writing that I myself have noticed. He very rarely mentions controversies or uncertainties as a proper scholar should, making assertions (for example, in this book,) about the relationship between the Yayoi and Jomon people, the Korean origins of the Yamato people, the colonial status/identity of Mimana (the Gaya Confederacy, which he misspells as Minama) as if they are fully accepted truths without even hinting at the fact that these are things that are in fact hotly debated in the academic community.

Nevertheless, all of that aside, it is a book which focuses well on its topic, covering “Japanese Castles AD 250-1540” in greater detail, more straightforward language, and with more pictures and illustrations than any historian whose focus is on historiographic analysis of social trends in political structures of the economic impact of whether or not feudalism is a valid word to apply to Japan ever would.

For some reason I cannot fathom, the professional proper academic community looks down upon, or outright ignores, military history. … So, for what it is, Turnbull’s works can be quite interesting and valuable.

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