Asians

May 7 2008

I found a file of sketches of Asians (and a Berber and Egyptians). I wrote them c 1995 and considerably earlier. Here are some of them. I’ve resisted the temptation to change. Make allowance for youth, and excuse the Maughamesque manner.

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Ascetic cut of Buddhist shoulders …

The right shoulders, exposed by saffron robes, are a bronze sculpture, the curves of a stupa, the bell in a shrine.

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I arrived in Bangkok on the day of the city elections. Professor Krisda Arunvongse, Governor of the Metropolitan Administration (the mayor), who had been at Davos and whom I had hoped to see, had been voted out. I rang him at home and he told me the news. He called me more than once to arrange a meeting time, but we kept missing each other. Eventually, he drove across Bangkok himself to bring me a present, which he left at the reception of my hotel while I was out. The staff were a little overwhelmed and lined up when they recognised him, palms together in the Thai attitude. Thai politics, with all their venality, are full of these gestures. A Prime Minister will suddenly appear in a hospital or a monastery. Krisda was not treating me as an old friend (I wasn’t one) but by force of habit, and with a little time on his hands, continuing to be the Governor of Bangkok.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh of Cambodia, the son of Sihanouk and First Prime Minister, carries this southern Buddhist bodily mobility to the point of virtuosity. He darts around a group of visitors like a wound-up toy, greeting its most and least important members, always addressing the whole room, complimenting them on their ties or touching on matters of state. It is a stunning exhibition of charm and comedy. He leaves as suddenly as he arrived, leaving them breathless and delighted as at the end of a coloratura aria.

Like many Cambodians, he talks much louder than the Thais, almost shouts. Chanthol Sun, Secretary of State for Economy and Finance, speaks at a conference as if he is addressing troops on the front.

The mobility of kings. In European kingship.

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Koreans sit on the floor innocently, like poor people, but with an aristocracy of bearing the Japanese cannot command. Their eyes are humorous, Eskimo-like, their faces often noble and commandingly handsome, their talk personal and intelligent. They are bandy-legged, as if their bodies had been formed on the backs of Mongolian ponies.

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Some modern Egyptians look like ancient. High nose-bridge. Even brow. African hair.

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In India, you come to love thinness.

Below slim upper bodies, sudden paunches. Solar smiles. In the northwest and Pakistan odd mouths that look as if they have been sucked. Tamil dead-square shoulders, upper bodies as if from a cubist pantomime. In Kerala and Gujarat, Arab genes, a whiff of the Gulf.

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Iranians. Plunging eyebrows which meet over the nose: Khomeini was typical in this respect. Black beards, stubble. Slim hips. Legs taper. Wide thighs.

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The Berber head was El Greco-like in its abnormal length. The voice was high. The slightly-humped back, genetically widespread in Morocco, and a sign of spirituality, an imprecation of the shoulders.

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Kenneth Williams’s nostrils were frequently flared to comic effect, but even when relaxed exposed the inside of the wall of the nose. So do the nostrils of many Turks.

7 Responses to “Asians”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    India.

    Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008).

    “A rich man’s body is like a premium cotton pillow, white and soft and blank. Ours are different. My father’s spine was a knotted rope, the kind that women use in villages to pull water from wells; the clavicle curved around his neck in high relief, like a dog’s collar; cuts and nicks and scars, like little whip marks in his flesh, ran down his chest and waist, reaching down below his hipbones into his buttocks. The story of a poor man’s life is written on his body, in a sharp pen.”

  2. davidderrick Says:

    The Gulf. Young men in shopping malls. Wide hips and wobbly arses.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    China. Policemen. Adam’s apple the seat of charm and authority. It intimidates and seduces. East Asians are the great grinners. Some of these guys wear a grin for the whole day.

  4. davidderrick Says:

    Japanese, male at least, have inferiority complexes about western bodies. So I was told by a straight Japanese man. But even they must admit that they have superior hair.

  5. davidderrick Says:

    Egyptians. Thick thighs, kind eyes, prayer bumps.

  6. davidderrick Says:

    Filipinos. Tendency to look like Elvis Presley.


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