Southeast Asia isn’t an entirely lawless region, but you could be fooled into thinking so based on these stories by investigative journalist Patrick Winn. Winn clearly has a professional fascination with skulking around in the murky, unruly underworld of crime and corruption. ‘I’m interested in well-meaning, logic-driven people who choose to live outside the law,’ he explains.
By and large, the resulting discoveries are surprising and highly engaging, if also consistently equally depressing. His investigations take us from violent Burmese Christian conversion camps, to the desperate search for birth control pills by thousands of ostracised women in Manila. From Asia’s mysterious network of North Korean night clubs, to trôm chó, the killings of dog snatchers by the distraught Vietnamese communities whose canines have gone missing in the middle of the night.
“A large segment devoted to Myanmar paints a picture of a country far from on the mend”
Winn argues that the military continues to brutally run things for its own profit-generating enterprises – including allowing drug lords to turn it into Southeast Asia’s top supplier of methamphetamines, churning out six billion pills every year. While unafraid to bring in his personal thoughts and emotions on a subject when necessary, Winn’s journalistic skills remain firmly in charge throughout, objectively reporting on what he observes without casting judgement. He is able to maintain a remarkably matter-of-fact demeanour while describing situations such as vigilante trials for narcotics addicts, with ‘defendants’ physically punished right in front of him.
At the same time, he’s comfortable remarking on such bizarre paradoxes as Thailand being one of the world’s hottest tourist destinations, yet simultaneously sitting alongside Syria and Iraq as one of the most terror-afflicted countries. Hello, Shadowlands is an intelligent and timely glimpse into a region of the world rapidly growing in importance, and ensures you’ll never think about Southeast Asia in the same way ever again.