Older Journalism

After training with Reuters in London, Elizabeth Pisani worked as a foreign correspondent for the world’s largest news agency from 1987 to 1991. She was posted in Hong Kong, New Delhi and Jakarta, and was also sent to cover stories in other countries. These ranged from the very challenging — for example she was one of the few foreign journalists actually in Tiananmen Square when Chinese troops moved in at dawn on June 4 to put a violent end to a long-running popular protest — to the rather less so. The first meeting of the Group of 15 non-aligned nations in Kuala Lumpur provides a clear contrast on the adrenalin front. During her time in Jakarta, Elizabeth also wrote regularly for The Economist.

While trailing around Indochina and Latin America in the early 1990s, Elizabeth filed occasional reports for publications such as The Economist, the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times. She returned to journalism full time with the launch of the Asia Times, and idiosyncratic Thai-owned news paper with more budget than editorial professionalism. Her post as Bureau Chief for Indochina, based in Hanoi and covering Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, afforded glorious opportunities to delve into all manner of oddity, from money laundering in Cambodia to soap wars in Vietnam.

These stories represent ancient history. However in collecting them, it has been interesting to note the familiar and rather contemporary ring of many of the subjects covered — corruption, labour unrest, accusations of neocolonialism, environment concerns in tourism and energy generation, etc. Plus que ca change, plus que c’est la meme chose.

This page carries links to some of the stories that were most fun, or most moving, to report. Their inclusion here is not necessarily a reflection of my assessment of their aesthetic or historical value!

Peking descends into chaos
Reuters News, 5 June 1989, 578 words
PEKING, June 5, Reuter – Peking descended into chaos with troops firing indisciminately at incensed crowds of unarmed residents, braving death to protest against what they described as their fascist leaders. …

Pekingers show courage beyond belief
Reuters News, 5 June 1989, 447 words
PEKING, June 5, Reuter – Angry citizens of Peking are fighting against tanks and machineguns with medieval weapons, fists and a courage that defies belief. …

Living in the land of ghosts
Asia Times, 22 April 1996, 980 words
Traipsing through the Cambodian countryside is not for the faint-hearted – in every shadow lurks a ghost of the country’s barbaric past. Wander into a collapsed schoolhouse a couple of kilometers down a dirt track from a favorite Khmer …

Girls at the front line keep the amber liquid flowing
Asia Times, 23 May 1996, 761 words
The eternal sounds of evening in one of Phnom Penh’s waterfront restaurants – frogs croak, mosquitos whine, and promotion girls wheedle: “You drink one more beeeer, siiir.” Before you have time to protest, a crack, a fizz, and yet …

High-price soap just won’t wash
Asia Times, 15 April 1997, 743 words
Cleanliness is next to godliness, so it is said, and the companies doing battle for the detergent market in Vietnam are working up missionary zeal. …

Laos’ US$1.2bn dam project hangs on World Bank assent
Asia Times, 26 June 1996, 2014 words
A demanding World Bank with a newfound environmental conscience has suddenly emerged with life-and-death power over a gigantic dam project in central Laos. …

Indonesians struggle with the tax man
Reuters News, 28 July 1989, 828 words
JAKARTA, July 28, Reuter – The Indonesian government is using patriotism and penalties to induce a reluctant populace to pay income tax, but the virtuous few who do pay are still only a tiny part of the workforce. …

Cuban trade caught in battle for Florida vote
Financial Times, 27 October 1992, 716 words
Elizabeth Pisani on a new law aimed at winning support from an exile community. Democrats and Republicans, falling over each other to woo the Cuban exile community and net Florida’s 25 electoral college votes in next week’s presidential …

Curfews and killings may perpetuate Indonesian rebellion
Reuters News, 30 April 1991, 845 words
ACEH PIDIE, Indonesia, April 30, Reuter – As corpses pile up in Indonesia’s northern province of Aceh, the government in Jakarta insists it has wiped out a separatist rebellion. …

Ordinary Indonesians suffer from army, rebel violence
Reuters News, 29 November 1990, 788 words
TANGSE, Indonesia, Nov 29, Reuter – Schoolchildren in Indonesia’s rebel-torn province of Aceh say they don’t want to walk to school for fear of finding a mutilated corpse lying by the roadside. …

Rebels without a cause losing ground in Indonesian bloodshed
Reuters News, 25 November 1990, 836 words
IDI CUT, Indonesia, Nov 25, Reuter – The people of Indonesia’s Aceh province are growing disenchanted with rebels whose apparently aimless war against the army is degenerating into brutality. …

Cannons and cartels: The spicy world of nutmeg
Reuters News, 18 December 1989, 728 words
RUN ISLAND, Indonesia, Dec 18, Reuter – Crouched in the tropical sea, dotted with a few bamboo huts and free of traffic snarls or drug warfare, Run hardly seems a match for New York.

In Cambodia, toll takers come armed
International Herald Tribune , 24 April 1992
BATTAMBANG, Cambodia – If your workday runs from four in the morning to dawn, I guess you have the right to a sour face. Cambodia’s professional bandits seem to think so.

Gemstone smugglers shine in Vietnam
Asia Times, 26 March 1997, 876 words
Sidle into a jewelry shop in Vietnam with a shifty look on your face and chances are you will not be asked what you want to buy, but rather what you have to sell. …

Clove monopoly a setback for Jakarta deregulation
Reuters News, 6 January 1991, 459 words
JAKARTA, Jan 6, Reuter – A new monopoly that puts Indonesia’s lucrative clove trade in the hands of President Suharto’s son is a sign that the days of deregulation of business in Indonesia may be nearly over, economists say. …

Hong Kong’s nightclub glamour is not what it seems
Reuters News, 4 May 1988, 897 words
HONG KONG, May 4, Reuter – Young women in evening dress drive patrons in a replica vintage car around the huge dance floor, but behind the pink and gold opulence of Club Volvo lies a hard-nosed world fired more by dollars than pleasure. …

Cambodia’s battle of the breweries
Asia Times, 23 May 1996, 1136 words
Trouble is brewing in Cambodia. The country’s second beer factory will come on stream later this year, and plans are already being drawn up for the almighty marketing battle that will ensue. Some of the 48 brands now pushed at consumers …

Golden gastropods disappoint gastronomes, gobble rice
Asia Times, 19 March 1996, 598 words
All that is gold does not glister – as Cambodia’s farmers are about to find out. Golden apple snails, more elegant in their shells than the sludge-colored local variety, are being flogged to farmers as an extra money-maker. They are new …

Pesticides poisoning Cambodia’s earth
Asia Times, 18 March 1996, 1570 words
Recognizing that it has become a dumping ground for pesticide products that no one else wants, Cambodia is drawing up a law to clear out the worst of the poison. …

Cambodian central bank battles cowboy market
Asia Times, 14 March 1996, 1092 words
“No weapons or explosives allowed inside. Please leave with security,” reads the sign at the door. A nightclub, perhaps? No, this is Cambodia’s central bank. …

Vietnamese bug-catching inventor finds golfing saviour links
Asia Times, 14 February 1996, 998 words
Le Van Danh wanted to be Robin Hood. But instead of making life more secure for Vietnam’s poor rice farmers, he finds himself making life more comfortable for the golf-playing class. …

Shellfire and bare boards – Burma’s perfect guest house
Reuters News, 9 April 1993, 744 words
MANERPLAW, Burma, April 9, Reuter – It’s illegal to get there and you’re as likely to be woken in the night by the crash of shellfire as by the croaking of lizards. But as guest houses go the one at Manerplaw has its charms. …

Sea-worm, mounted warriors bring rice to Indonesian island
Reuters News, 4 April 1991, 658 words
GAURA, Indonesia, April 4, Reuter – With bloodcurdling yells and a hail of lances the mounted warriors of Sumba battle to spill blood and ensure the success of the harvest. …

Political passion, tourist flesh-pots

The Economist, 12 March 1998
A British official, commenting in 1958 on the passions aroused by Zanzibari politics, noticed that “Funerals and religious ceremonies are boycotted by rival political parties.” Since then, the islands have come full circle. …

Cambodia’s top investor scoffs at rumors about a shady past

Asia Times, 12 March 1996, 1250 words
Teng Boonma does things big. He is Cambodia’s biggest investor and its biggest taxpayer. Some also believe he is Cambodia’s biggest drug dealer. …

Asian stock column – Jakarta to clean up its act
Reuters News, 7 January 1991, 837 words
JAKARTA, Jan 7, Reuter – The Jakarta stock exchange has a New Year resolution: to clean up its act. “We want a fair market. We don’t want any more hanky panky,” said Marzuki Usman, chairman of the state body Bapepam which supervises the …

Investing in Indonesia? Don’t look at the books
Reuters News, 17 November 1990, 779 words
JAKARTA, Nov 17, Reuter – Impressive figures, say foreign investors flicking through the books of many a company in Indonesia’s booming private sector. But are they genuine? …

The AIDS time bomb
Asia Times, 12 June 1996, 1740 words
Buddhist monk Phal Houn works in a growth industry – he claims he can cure AIDS. But he and others unwilling or unable to grasp the reality of the country’s commercial sex culture will make matters even worse in Cambodia, where the AIDS …

Rice – Rare bug threatens Indonesia pest program

Reuters News, 18 April 1990, 826 words
JAKARTA, APRIL 18, Reuter – Seventy-five thousand Indonesian farmers go to school this week to learn to wage war on a rare insect that is wreaking havoc with the rice crop and politics. …

Tigers and technology bring warnings in the ring of fire
Reuters News, 6 November 1989, 941 words
MOUNT MERAPI, Indonesia, Nov 6, Reuter – Tigers invading the villages, ants swarming out of the ground and hundreds of thousands of dollars of high-technology equipment drawing wiggly graphs. …

Brokers do brisk trade in Indonesia’s illegal abortions
Reuters News, 27 August 1989, 884 words
JAKARTA, Aug 27, Reuter – While Indonesia laps up international praise for promoting contraceptives and braking population growth, its hospitals, doctors and mystic masseurs compete for a share in the illegal abortion market. …

Dalai Lama’s January talks with China may alienate Tibetans

Reuters News, 25 October 1988, 659 words
NEW DELHI, Oct 25, Reuter – The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, proposed on Tuesday that the first official talks with China on the future of Tibet take place in Geneva in January, but some Tibetans see the talks as a sellout. ..

Sex bomb
The Economist, 04 October 2001
How often do Asian women have sex, and with whom? This sort of question is too indelicate to be asked in public, but it will be hotly debated in the corridors at the sixth international congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, due to open in Melbourne on October 5th….