27 Dec
Posted in: Books
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The Trouser People

Now I’ve started reading The Trouser People: Burma in the Shadows of the Empire, by Andrew Marshall, and I can’t put it down.

Here’s how it starts:

Philip the Miracle Monk rummaged at length in the mysterious folds of his orange robes and retrieved a trilling mobile phone.

‘Excuse me for a second,’ he apologized, but I was getting used to it. Philip’s robes had been ringing all morning.

Hairless, podgy and swaddled in robes, Philip reminded me at times of a very large, very bright baby. I had met him in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, soon after dawn, and it was immediately obvious that he was a highly unusual monk. For a start, most monks were not fanatical fans of the heavy-metal group The Scorpions–at least not as far as I knew. Monks weren’t usually called Philip either. His Buddhist holy name was as long as his arm, and was a bit of a mouthful for foreigners, so he had chosen an English name inspired by an electrical appliance.

‘I liked the sound of it,’ he told me. ‘It sounded very modern.’

Nor are monks supposed to know as much about troup movements as Philip seemed to: the Shan State Army, he whispered, had just dispatched 2,000 fighters to positions in north-east Burma. Not long ago, it was rumored, Philip had returned from Thailand’s frontier with Cambodia, where he had negotiated the release of a clandestine arms shipment from some overzealous border police. His heavenly powers of persuasion in such dealings had earned him the nickname ‘Miracle Monk’. Sometimes he was also called the Combat Buddha. Later on, in the jungle, I spotted him sitting with sculpted calm, his robes wrapped tightly around him, reading “Guns & Ammo” magazine.

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