At Home In Asia
Expatriates in Southeast Asia and Their Stories
|Video “Harold Stephens at the Oriental”|
At Home in Asia comes from the pen of Harold Stephens who has spent most of his adult years in Asia where he has become one of that region’s best-known writer/adventurers. He has authored more than a dozen books (travel, adventure, exploration, biographies) and thousands of newspaper and magazine articles on his Asia experience. From mountain climbing to jungle trekking, from sailing to diving, few have experienced Asia and its people with the richness of Harold Stephens. He presently divides his time between Miranda, Northern California, and Bangkok, Thailand, where he writes a weekly travel column for the Bangkok Post and is Travel Correspondent for Thai Airways International.
In this book, Stephens introduces the reader to some of the fascinating expatriate men and women he has come to know over the years. The biographical sketches of action photographers, artists, philosophers, entrepreneurs, sailors, environmentalists and others, are as varied and alluring as Southeast Asia itself. The book can also serve as a how-to book for those who dream about living abroad.
The Book’s Foreword, Written by Mort Rosenblum, Associated Press, Paris
As a foreign correspondent, my job involves the usual small wars, upheavals and workaday mayhem. Every so often, however, the mail includes a pleasant surprise which takes me away from the boring routine: a letter from Harold Stephens, filled with some real excitement.
You can spot Steve’s letters from across the room: The address is written in urgent printed characters, with the no-nonsense, slightly-askew strokes of a man who has struck gold and is racing to catch the last burro to Eureka. The envelope seems to twitch and quiver from all the energy within.
I remember one which reached me in Singapore, full of the usual chatty news: “Chased by crocodiles …”, “capsized off Tioman …,” pirates nearly got us near the Celebes …” At the end, when he added, “Wish you were here,” I thought, “Me too!”
What always struck me was the tone of the letters. Always humble, courtly, full of derring-do but absent of bravado. But this was only to be expected. Adventure is Harold Stephens’ natural state. To boast of his exploits would be like bragging about breathing.
A product of long nights with Conrad on a Western Pennsylvania farm, he grew up with a code of honor and a sense of ingenious wonder. He is burly and broad-shouldered — in “Mutiny on the Bounty,” he doubled for Marlon Brando when the action got tense — but his buckles don’t swash. Handsome, with eyes that, in fact, twinkle, he is no ladykiller. His code, in that regard, is more Sir Walter than Erroll Flynn.
Steve can give you Lord Jim by heart: “He saw himself saving people from sinking ships … Cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through surf with a line, or as a lonely castaway, barefoot and half-naked, walking on uncovered reefs in search of shellfish to stave off starvation.” He can tell you about every one of Maugham’s rubber planters and district offices.
He is always after something that eludes normal men. If someone tells him a prehistoric, enigmatic Big Kneecap is running loose in the Burmese backcountry, he’ll be off before the informant finishes his sentence. If he hears of an ancient Greek olive oil convoy lost in the Mariana Trench, he’ll head out with snorkel and swim fins. But unlike quixotic amateurs, Steve will most likely bring back the kneecap and the olive pits.
One day Steve announced to friends that he would build a vessel to take him on his odysseys to forgotten archipelagos and against currents that others avoided as a bad idea. It would be made of cement. “Of course,” we thought. Months later we were spending our weekends slapping concrete across a transom.
Steve’s Third Sea must have done a million miles, its low-slung pirate-brown schooner hull crashing against the reefs in every lost corner of the Southern hemisphere. He racked up adventures even he hadn’t dreamed of, from the nastiest straights of the Philippines to Cook’s favorite waters across the Pacific.
One day, in another of these letters, the news was bad. The Third Sea was blown onto the rocks off Hawaii in a hurricane. Even Lord Jim couldn’t save her. it must have been a hell of a blow. If there ever was a time for a little self-pity, this was it. Not a trace of it. Steve had lost one love of his life, but he had others.
Once I tried to write a book about Steve. But who would believe it? Anyway, he writes his own books, and they’re good ones. But my notes spill out of a large crate. Steve lied about his age to join the Marines so he could fight in the Pacific. He exaggareated his language skills so he could be a translator in China. Imprisoned by the Chinese communists, he escaped and swam out to a passing junk. He rode a motorcycle across Australia, a jeep across Russia, and — was it a pogostick, across the Arctic?
Once Steve was married to a woman of Philadelphia high society, with a respectable job in naval intelligence. The marriage ended. That was when he went to Tahiti. One ranking government official invited Steve home to a family dinner and sat him down to watch a TV series called, “Adventures in Paradise,” to explain the ridiculous Hollywood romanticizing of a dull reality. Soon afterward, Steve was in the cast of the series. And in paradise.
But even more than he amasses adventures, Steve collects characters. He is drawn to people who distinguish themselves from the chairs they sit in. And anyone in that category is drawn to him. With a writer’s skill and a friend’s warmth, Steve describes the remarkable lives of the people who populate his world.
Biographical Sketches of the People inHarold Stephens’ “At Home in Asia”
Chapter 1. John Everingham, Professional Photographer
Australian ex-patriated to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. Ran charcoal temple rubbings across the border into Saigon to sell as souvenirs to American GIs during the Vietnam War. Became a “gofer” as part of the technical crew for Walter Cronkite.
Chapter 2. Hans Hoefer, Author
German expatriated to Singapore and Malaysia. Writes travel guides to the nooks and crannies and jungles and beaches of southeast Asia. Finds everything from hundred-year old rubber tree plantations, to a Buddhist monk living in one cave, and a hermit living in another; tracking wild elephant herds with native game wardens.
Chapter 3. Della Butcher, Grand Dame of the Arts
From a stewardess on a charter airline called Hunting Clan Airline, to the Grand Dame of the Native Arts of the aboriginals from Singapore to Borneo.
Chapter 4. Robin Danhorn, Press Relations Consultant
British expatriated to Bangkok. Press Relations for Thai International Airways, in charge of creating a global image and identity for Thai International when it added Bali to its international routes.
Chapter 5. Han Snel, Artist
Dutchman expatriated to Bali. A life full of paradise and intrigue.
Chapter 8. Lisa Choegyal, a true lady of the Himalayas
British woman, expatriated to Nepal. Married to a Tibetan prince, and leading a storybook life in the Himalayas.
Chapter 10. Bill Heinecke, race car driver
At 18 years old, Bill Heinecke is hired by Ford Motor Company to drive Singapore to Bangkok — 897 miles — in record time (30 hours). Unpaved roads, unbridged rivers, monsoon, few gas stations and Muslim rebels.
Inger Lissenovitch, Mrs. Boris of Kathmandu
Barbara Adams, Every woman’s dream
Wachtevitl, Goerlach & Company, The General Managers
Bill Mathers, searcher for archeological wrecks in the Asian seas
Tristan Jones, author of 14 books about the sea
“At Home in Asia is to be savored and treasured and kept …”
— Mort Rosenblum, Associated Press, Paris
“If you’ve ever been tempted to chuck one life and start another, At Home in Asia can be positively dangerous.”
— David Tenor
“Stephens has the same feudal hold on Asian post-colonial mythology as…Maugham had on the subject of forlorn district magistrates.”
–S. Tsering Bhalla, The Sunday Times
“Some of the stories are the stuff of which movies are made.”
–Berni Cooper, The Bangkok Post
“Stephens in fact is a very gifted, infinitely curious and highly disciplined writer.”
–Dennis D. Gray, Bureau Chief, AP Bangkok.