In Cities of the Hot Zone the foreign editor of The Australian newspaper Greg Sheridan shares tales of his travels through the cities of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hanoi, Saigon, Hong Kong and Jakarta. He includes interviews with prime ministers, presidents and other politicians in each of the countries as well as academics and religious leaders, along with observations of general life in the cities. Like my own wife, Sheridan’s wife was born in Malaysia and he obviously has a very strong love and long experience in South-East Asia. Many of his descriptions of Malaysia and Singapore brought knowing laughter from both my wife and I, especially the comments on the asian love of acronyms and other language oddities.
However, a central theme throughout the book is a search for an indication of future direction, both cultural and economic, of the countries, especially in relation to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. A number of different perspectives are presented, from the moderate progressive Islam propounded by Dr Mahathir, to the wild anti-american conspiracy theories of religion based political parties, like PAS. Sheridan attributes some of the anti-american perspectives to Western media, most notably the New York Times. I have not read many articles from the said paper, but I can’t help but wonder if some of these criticisms are influenced by the fact that the NYT is a competitor to the New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch (News Ltd) owned paper like The Australian.
Another aspect of Sheridan’s writing that I found slightly puzzling was his preoccupation with his Irish descent and Catholocism. I haven’t noticed any discrimination against those of Irish descent in Australia over the past 30 years (okay, apart from Irish jokes, but they were directed at people in Ireland). Apart from those quibbles and the odd bit of dodgy editing, Cities of the Hot Zone, is a very interesting read.