Dispatches From The Pacific Century

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9780201626995: Dispatches From The Pacific Century

In 1979, Frank Viviano, then a reporter for a San Francisco wire service, bought a round-trip ticket to Asia. The Cultural Revolution was ending in China, and the final chapter of the Indochina War was unfolding. There were rumblings of change from Singapore to the gates of Beijing. Viviano thought he'd be back in a few months. Thirteen years and more than a million miles later, he was still on the road. Throughout his travels, Frank found a world of people adrift - caught between the waning past and a vague future, between cultures east and west. There were two stories in the dawn of the Pacific Century: one was the quantified balance sheet of high technology, gross national products, and the Japanese-American rivalry, the Pacific of the economic boom. The second story could only be seen from the inside, where the currents of immense cultural change coursed, uprooting some of the earth's most traditional societies and replanting them in the twenty-first century. Viviano's Pacific is the bui doi - "dust in the wind" - orphaned Southeast Asian teenagers who roam an archipelago of cheap hotels, surviving on petty theft. It is Zhuhai City, the Chinese Las Vegas, a honky-tonk resort town on the Pearl Delta for the newly affluent of the People's Republic. It is Irkutsk, Siberia, in the summer the Soviet Union fell apart, jammed with fast-buck artists from a dozen nations and reeling with consumer fever. It is the arrival of the lambada in Mongolia, and democracy in Taiwan. Dispatches from the Pacific Century pictures an entire world in cataclysmic upheaval, where Red Guards have become commodity traders, Stone-Age tribes from the Golden Triangle emigrate en masse to California, and vast newcities explode into existence in a matter of months. A world where the familiar everywhere is yielding to a road without maps.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

Nineteen brief but resonant vignettes of life in the Pacific Basin as the area is transformed by its entry into the world of international trade and finance. Drawn from Viviano's experiences as a reporter for the Pacific News Service and San Francisco Chronicle, the larger story of economic development, societal change, and shifting values is captured here in the day-to-day lives of such individuals as a former Red Guard, a Taiwanese bok-choy farmer-turned-entrepreneur, and a Hmong tribesman transferred from the Laotian highlands to California's Silicon Valley. Temporarily assigned to the Far East in 1979, Viviano quickly becomes fascinated by Asia, and his sojourn eventually stretches to 12 years. During his stint, the sharp-eyed author travels to the tottering People's Republic of China during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, to the Philippines of the newly installed Corazon Aquino, to the Las Vegas/Atlantic City glitz of China's ``fleshpot'' resort of Xiamen. In every venue, Viviano manages to interview individuals whose lives are being transformed by the events around them, and he's continually on the alert for ironies and irrationalities--as highlighted, for instance, in his discussion of Singapore: ``It was amusing, in these years of Washington's Evil Empire rhetoric, to hear Ronald Reagan cite Singapore as a sterling example of the achievements of free enterprise, when it was actually one of the most thoroughly socialistic nations on earth.'' Viviano also points out that, although the Gulf War prevented him from doing so, James Baker was scheduled to take part in an expedition in Mongolia to hunt the seriously endangered ibox. Marred slightly by the author's reticence about his own life; otherwise, a satisfying work that's less scholarly but perhaps even more effective than Stan Sesser's The Lands of Charm and Cruelty (p. 359). -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Library Journal:

This ambitious account of the way in which the introduction of capitalism has affected much of Asia is provocatively described by foreign correspondent Viviano. Covering roughly 15 years, Viviano (four-time nominee for the Pulitzer Prize and currently European bureau chief for the San Francisco Chronicle ) uses character sketches reminiscent of Studs Terkel to convey a powerful message: While much of Asia has been spurred toward economic advancement and technological growth, many people--in many different walks of life--remain ambivalent about these changes. Says one Yakut tribal elder: "I knew who I was a few years ago, and right now I only know who I am not." The range of countries is impressive, including Singapore, Malaysia, China, the Philippines, Laos, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Mongolia, and Russia's Siberia. In this Pacific century, Viviano points out that even the United States has been affected not only by Asian immigrants who have excelled in the American educational system but also by the Asian gangs that have floated from Saigon to Los Angeles. Highly recommended.
- Peggy Spitzer Christoff, Oak Park, Ill.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Viviano, Frank
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