Friday, August 31, 2012

The Queen of Patpong

When I read a good book, I want to tell everyone about it. I bought this book on Apple iBooks and wrote the review for it. However, Apple is taking its time posting it. Did Apple eat my review? So until it appears on iTunes, here it is:

The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan

This book is a first class read from beginning to end. It’s about a travel writer named Poke Rafferty, who is living the good life in Thailand, along with his wife, Rose, and adopted daughter. But their lives gets flipped upside down when Rose’s dark past suddenly comes back to haunt her. (Seems Rose had been a popular bargirl in Bangkok’s notorious Patpong district.) This past comes in the form of a dangerous, psychotic ex-fiancee, Howard Horner, who is hell-bent on sadistic revenge, putting the whole family on the chopping block. He’s a villain that will curl your toes.

The Queen of Patpong is more than just a mere thriller; it’s a damn good story that is totally believable. Tim Hallinan really makes the characters come alive with some of the best dialogue and background stories ever written. (The story of Rose’s childhood is heartbreaking and all too true.) The hero, Poke, is a tough guy but no Rambo; he actually breaks, bleeds and grunts throughout the book. The cops, the mama-sans, the bargirls (heck, all the characters!) come across as complete human beings, warts and all. It would have been all too easy for this story to turn into a cliche “white man in mysterious Thailand” pulp novel, but in Tim’s hands, not only will you feel that you are part of the family, you will also come away with an understanding of what Thailand and its people really are.

That said, The Queen of Patpong is a thrilling (sometimes bloody) ride, loaded with a subtle sense of humor and a wonderful slap-dead finale. I found myself mumbling “yes... YES!” at the surprise ending. This book is one of a series of Poke Rafferty novels. It’s the first one I’ve ever read and I’m happy to see that there are several more. Read this book before it becomes a movie!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 2012

Ever so often a person gets lucky and runs into someone who helps you a lot and expects nothing in return. It's called the kindness of strangers. My kind stranger (whom I hope to keep as a friend) is the famous and talented Mr  Timothy Hallinan, author of the famous Poke Rafferty thriller series. He read The Yellow Bar, reviewed it on Amazon, and then asked me to do an interview about it. You can read it here. But more importantly, he has been helping me, a first time author, learn the ropes on about how to promote one's books. Tim, you are an angel. Now everyone go and buy his latest novel, The Fear Artist, available in both print and eBook on Amazon. For your convenience, just click the photo on the right side of the page.

Other news: The Yellow Bar is now available as an eBook on Apple iBooks, and the Barnes and Noble store.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Sites in the Book: The Metropolitan Theater

"It sat there alone in the moonlight, looking like a magnificent art deco birthday cake."

You may have noticed by now that several locations in The Yellow Bar still survive to this day. Over 90% of Manila's buildings were reduced to rubble. All the others were shot or burned to hell. The Manila Metropolitan Theater is one of the survivors. Just barely, but I'll tell you about that in a minute.

The MET was built in 1924 and no expense was spared; it was a palace made out of marble, wood and stained glass. Italian and Filipino artists heavily decorated the theater with sculptures and reliefs. It was (and still is) an art deco masterpiece.

The MET stayed open through most of the Japanese occupation, staging plays, operas and variety shows. It was heavily damaged in the Battle of Manila but was quickly repaired after the war.
But by the 1970s, she was not looking too good and there was talk of the MET meeting the wrecking ball, as the Metropolitan is on a prime piece of real estate on the heart of Manila. Once again, First Lady Imelda Marcos (Love her or hate her, she was a patron of Philippine arts.) came to the rescue and had the MET restored.

Things were fine until the Philippine Revolution of 1986 kicked the Marcos out from power. Funding was lost and the theater once again went back into ruin. The fine garden behind the theater was converted into a bus terminal. Political infighting almost doomed the Metropolitan but 2010 it seems  that a compromised was reached. The theater has been renovated and there are plans to keep her running as a legitimate theater. However, I must say this: Manila is not known for being kind to its historical sites. Real estate speculators (those snakes in the grass) have no love for history. For example, in 2000, the historical Manila Jai Alai was demolished upon the orders of Mayor Lito Atienza to make way for a project that that never built. I hope that there is enough political will to keep the Metropolitan standing for hundreds of years to come.

Interior of the Metropolitan after restoration.

B&W photos compliments of John T Pilot.
Click on any image to see a larger version.


Below are three new photos of the Metropolitan Theater that I took on my Manila December 2012 trip. I went early on an early Sunday morning to avoid the traffic. I found a lonely standalone building with no one around. Buses are now using the driveway for impromptu pick-ups. Weeds are growing in its cracks and paper trash is building up in several corners. It doesn't look like it has been used in a long time. At this point, all it will take is a stray cigarette butt to set the whole place on fire.

A shadow of its former self.
This is one of the most historical and beautiful buildings in Manila. I can't for the life of me understand why it has been abandoned so. All the new, trendy towers and malls that are now being built in Manila haven't got half the glamour of the Met. In any other city, this jewel box would be THE place for shows, ceremonies and other events.

If anyone has any information on groups or individuals that are actively trying to save the Met, please feel free to email me or post a link here. Maybe it's not too late.

Broken stained glass window
Paper Fire Traps

Friday, August 17, 2012

Sites in the Book: The Manila Hotel

"And at the end of it, they built the Manila Hotel."
The Americans wanted to remold the sleepy Spanish city of Manila into a showcase of American modernity and power. One of their first big projects was a hotel. When it was completed in 1912, the Manila Hotel was the grandest and most modern in all of southeast Asia. Amenities that had never been seen in the region, such as air conditioned rooms and hotel elevators beckoned to first class world travelers who were lucky enough to sleep under its roof. It was the place to be.
In the early 20th century before World War 2, American Manila was considered just as appealing as Hawaii for an exotic vacation, and was thought to be much safer and cleaner than the Asian mainland.

 Celebrities and world leaders flocked to the hotel, the most notable being General Douglas MacArthur and his family, who lived there in the penthouse suite like royalty for years. That is, until December 1941, when they had to run for their lives, leaving most of their possessions behind. When the Japanese arrived they turned the hotel into a barracks and military headquarters. They left the MacArthur suite untouched and used it as a de facto museum for visiting dignitaries.

During the Battle of Manila, fighting came to the hotel. It continued from room to room, floor to floor. By the time it was over, the grand dame of Manila was a burnt out shell. MacArthur's penthouse was totally obliterated. (Click on the "after" picture to see it better.)

Surprisingly, the hotel was rebuilt in just a few years, utilizing the original walls. In the 1970s, under the direction of First Lady Imelda Marcos, the Manila Hotel got a major face lift and two new annex towers were built behind it. Some people say the new renovations made the hotel lose its charm, but hey, business is business. If you'd like a little nostalgia, go take a cup of coffee in the original lobby and watch all the people go by. It will be an hour well spent.

The Manila Hotel in 2013.

B&W photos compliments of John T Pilot. Click to view larger images.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The real Imang as a young woman

This is my mother in law, Maxima Reynaldo, from a photo taken in the 1950s. She was, and still is, quite a looker! As a child in World War Two, she was forced to work in a Japanese parachute factory. It was the only factory of its kind outside of Japan. The hours were long and the conditions were brutal.

Not mentioned in The Yellow Bar is that Imang was also called into duty several times as an impromptu nurse for wounded Filipino guerrillas. She did the best she could, never thinking that if the Japanese found out that it would be her death sentence.

One of her best memories of the war was when the Americans came back and drove out the Japanese. She had never seen an American before, and when one big, giant, white soldier came up to her and gave her a Hershey's Chocolate Bar, she about peed in her pants! She has loved candy bars and Americans ever since. "Imang" will be 85 in December 2012.

The real Pepot as a young man

Yes, there really was a Yellow Bar! This is a photo of the Reynaldo men and staff in the real Yellow Bar. It was taken around 1955 during one of the many fiestas that occur so regularly in the Philippines. The war years were behind them and the family was prospering once more. My father-in-law, Felipe Reynaldo is in the first row, fourth from the left. His childhood nickname was Pepot and he is the inspiration for the Pepot in The Yellow Bar. Unfortunately, no childhood pictures exist of him.

(Click on the photo to see the larger image.)

Pepot married a beautiful woman named Imang. They had five children together: one boy and four daughters. I married one of the daughters.

The real Yellow Bar did well for the Reynaldo family. It continued to operate until the mid 1970s. As the story goes, that the family was concerned about the bad influence the bar might have on their children and they closed it down.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Happiness is a Review from a Perfect Stranger

Amazon Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book.

Seen mostly through the eyes of 10 year old Pepot, it follows the story of the Reynaldo family from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines in the winter of 1942, just after Pearl Harbour, to the apocalyptic return of General Douglas McArthur in early 1945. The storyline never falters as it weaves together the individual adventures of a host of characters, all totally convincing: Pepot himself, his beloved auntie Pinkey the singer, his rock-solid Mother, Imelda the good-time girl, Eric the fat General Manager of the Manila Hotel, and many more. The tone ranges from the comic (Pepot wets his pants during the family's first air-raid and his big sister refuses to share a room with him, but four-year-old Chi Chi puts her arms around her big brother and tells him she loves him: "Family," notes Pepot, "is people who love you even when you stink of piss") to the terrifying and even the tragic - there is one death in the book which brought tears to my eyes, and I think it would to anyone's.

Over a hundred thousand people died during the liberation of Manila, and a hundred thousand of them were Filipino civilians. This is comparable to the numbers killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or Dresden or Stalingrad, but nobody seems to know these days. Blame can be shared equally between the Japanese, who deliberately decided to slaughter all civilians under their control, and General McArthur, who botched - there's no other word - the capture of the city. At one level this novel is a memorial to the slaughtered dead of Manila, and a warning against the senselessness of war. It's not easy to write about such horror and carry it off without being either shrill or maudlin, but the way the book is written, with realism of detail and incident and restraint of prose, pulls it off. So that's what kept me enthralled: a true story of humanity in the midst of one of history's great inhumanities.