Remembering the Railway of Death

About a week ago the New York Times had an article entitled “Seeking Recognition for a War’s Lost Laborers” on the lack of recognition for the Asian victims of Japanese forced labor in the construction of the famous “Railway of Death.” According to the article, the history of the 200,000-300,000 Asians who were employed, and often killed, in the construction of the railway, which was being constructed to link Bangkok and the Burmese (Myanmarese) capital of Rangoon (Yangon) to provide logistical support for Japan’s invasion of Southeast Asia, has been almost completely overshadowed by stories of the smaller number of Western POWs.

Between 200,000 and 300,000 Asian laborers — no one knows the exact number — were press-ganged by the Japanese and their surrogates to work on the rail line: Tamils, Chinese and Malays from colonial Malaya; Burmans and other ethnic groups from what is now Myanmar; and Javanese from what is now Indonesia.

“It is almost forgotten history,” said Sasidaran Sellappah, a retired plantation manager in Malaysia whose father was among 120 Tamil workers from a rubber estate forced to work on the railway. Only 47 survived.


By contrast, the travails of the 61,806 British, Australian, Dutch and American prisoners of war who worked on the railway, about 20 percent of whom died from starvation, disease and execution, have been recorded in at least a dozen memoirs, documented in the official histories of the governments involved and romanticized in the fictionalized “Bridge on the River Kwai,” the 1957 Hollywood classic inspired by a similarly named best-selling novel by Pierre Boulle.

One reason given for this inequality of historical memory are that virtually none of the Asian victims were from Thailand, giving the local government little incentive to commemorate them. Another is that, unlike the American and British POWs who wrote memoirs and gave countless interviews to journalists and historians, virtually none of the Asian laborers were literate, and they lacked ready access to mass media.

At this point, I would like to present some photos I took at a very peculiar museum that Adam, his (now) wife Shoko, and I visited when we were in Kanchanaburi, the location of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai.

The Jeath War Museum (JEATH is an acronym for Japan, English, American and THai) is a rather eccentric museum based on the collection of a wealthy Japanese history buff, who apparently purchased a building a number of years ago, stocked it haphazardly with local WW2 memorabilia of both great and small interest, and has not had arranged to have it cleaned since.

First, some photos from outside the museum itself.

This is a picture of the famous Bridge which I quite like.

Here are Adam and Shoko posing with the bridge behind them. I do not know the sleeping man, but I have to assume that he is a war criminal of some kind.

This is a silly little train which lets  tourists ride across the bridge and 1 or 2km into the jungle on the other side, and then ride backwards to the other side.

I blurrily snapped this memorial obelisk in the jungle across the river, from aforementioned silly train. It says something along the lines of “the remains of the Chinese army ascend into heaven.”

This plaque is location near the bridge. I did not, however, see one for the British POWs, although I certainly could have just missed it.

And now we reach the museum portion of our tour. I do not seem to have any photographs of the entrance area, but the first thing you see upon approaching the entrance to the museum proper are these statues of historical figures, with biography written on the wall behind them. I will transcribe the highly amusing text another time.

Here is Tojo.

Adam and Shoko again, with their good friends Josef Stalin and General Douglas MacArthur.

The lovable Albert Einstein gets a wall as well.

Inside the museum we are confronted with more dramatic statues, such as this tableau of POWs constructing the railway.

Here is one in a cage. Note the real straw.

Eerie closeup of another caged POW statue’s face.

Adam and his new friend, the WW2-era Japanese soldier driving an old car.

The driver.

Another old car. I do not recognize the make, but it is covered in dust that may weigh as much as the steel.

US Army signal core teletypewriter

Recreation of Japanese army tent

Read the text carefully. Do you know when the CD was invented?

A message from Japan to the Thai people. It’s a bit hard to read, so if anyone wants I can transcribe it.

A British anti-Japan political cartoon

Overall, the museum is a complete shambles. While it has a huge array of cool stuff, it is strewn about almost at random, covered in dust, and sometimes behind other stuff. Not to mention placed in crowded and un-lit cases with poor labeling. Despite the numerous flaws, it is certainly worth a visit if you are in the area, but I can’t say that it will do much to provide any sort of historical narrative, and certainly does not even try to meet the standard hoped for by the Times article I began this post with.

A bit more on KMT remnant in SE Asia

I was pretty surprised and fascinated by a BBC mention last week of KMT soldiers who had fled to Southeast Asia instead of Taiwan, and turned to banditry and drug trafficking instead of soldiery. In an excellent coincidence, the Taipei Times ran an article on Saturday’s issue on just this subject.

Descendants of KMT soldiers living in limbo

ON THE MARGINS: The offspring of former KMT soldiers who fled China are finding that while they are welcome to study in Taiwan, they may not be able to reside here
By Loa Iok-sin
Saturday, Nov 03, 2007, Page 2 “Stateless” descendants of former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) troops stationed in northern Myanmar and Thailand yesterday pleaded with the government to naturalize them.

Tens of thousands of KMT troops retreated across the Chinese border and stationed themselves in northern Myanmar and Thailand following the defeat of Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) Nationalist forces by the Communists in the Chinese Civil War.

As the push to retake China never took place, many of the soldiers and their families were stranded in the region.

Since these people entered Myanmar and Thailand illegally, they are not recognized by the two countries. Their descendants have thus been denied citizenship, although many of them were born and raised in these countries.

Some of these stateless people faced a new challenge after coming to Taiwan to attend college.

Chen Chai-yi (陳彩怡), from northern Myanmar, told her story during a press conference held at the legislature yesterday.

“I passed the college entrance exam held by Taiwan’s Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission [OCAC] and was accepted by a university in Taiwan in 2003,” Chen said.

However, since she had no citizenship from either country, Chen purchased a forged Burmese passport to travel with, she said.

It was only once Chen arrived in the country that she discovered she would be required to prove her status before receiving Taiwanese citizenship.

“I wasn’t aware of this and the OCAC didn’t tell me when I took the exam [in Myanmar],” Chen said.

“I cannot return to Myanmar because I will be imprisoned for life for holding a forged passport, but my stay in Taiwan will also become illegal once I graduate from college,” Chen said. “I’m basically stuck.”

Liu Hsiao-hua (劉小華), chief executive of the Thai-Myanmar Region Chinese Offspring Refugee Service Association, estimated that more than 1,000 students from the region are in a similar situation.

Lee Lin-feng (李臨鳳), an Immigration Bureau official, said that there are difficulties involved in granting these people citizenship.

“What has blocked these people from obtaining Taiwanese citizenship is that neither they nor the Ministry of National Defense have any proof that they are descendants of former soldiers,” Lee said. “Even when some had proof, they were unable to submit a certificate renouncing their original nationality.”

Lee said she would seek a solution at the next Ministry of the Interior meeting, “considering the special circumstances.”

I’m rather surprised that these former KMT soldiers and their descendants have remained stateless for so long. It is hardly expected that Burma or Thailand would have granted them citizenship. Although both countries do have communities of Chinese citizens, they would hardly have put escaping soldiers and criminals in the same category as immigrant merchants. The article does explain that “these people [do not] have any proof that they are descendants of former soldiers,” but I have yet to see any reason for why the KMT remnant in SE Asia never rejoined their main force on Taiwan, once it was clear that they were well established there, and the threat of invasion from the mainland began to recede.

The article mentions the Overseas Compatriot Affairs Commission [OCAC] (see their official English language website here,) which handles documentation and residency for overseas Chinese citizens (Overseas Compatriot.) While in a strict technical sense, Republic Of China citizenship theoretically extends to all of China, as the ROC is constitutionally the government of China, but as the ROC itself has shrunk to include what may someday be called merely the Republic Of Taiwan, ROC citizenship today more or less means Taiwanese citizenship, and in practice excludes any citizen of the People’s Republic of China.

While I do not have time at the moment to examine it in detail, the OCAC provides rules on Overseas Compatriot status, as well as rules for applying to study in Taiwan through the OCAC, using the process referred to in the above article.

Another mention of the KMT remnant turned criminal in SE Asia comes from a surprising source- the subject of the new Denzel Washington film American Gangster, the famous real-life New York based drug dealer Frank Lucas. The following text is from an interview article in New York Magazine:

Lucas soon located his main overseas connection, an English-speaking, Rolls-Royce-driving Chinese gentleman who went by the sobriquet 007. “I called him 007 because he was a fucking Chinese James Bond.” Double-oh Seven took Lucas upcountry, to the Golden Triangle, the heavily jungled, poppy-growing area where Thailand, Burma, and Laos come together.

“It wasn’t too bad, getting up there,” says Lucas. “We was in trucks, in boats. I might have been on every damn river in the Golden Triangle. When we got up there, you couldn’t believe it. They’ve got fields the size of Tucson, Arizona, with nothing but poppy seeds in them. There’s caves in the mountains so big you could set this building in them, which is where they do the processing . . . I’d sit there, watch these Chinese paramilitary guys come out of the mist on the green hills. When they saw me, they stopped dead. They’d never seen a black man before.”

Likely dealing with remnants of Chiang Kai-shek’s defeated Kuomintang army, Lucas purchased 132 kilos that first trip. At $4,200 per unit, compared with the $50,000 that Mafia dealers charged Stateside competitors, it would turn out to be an unbelievable bonanza. But the journey was not without problems.

“Right off, guys were stepping on little green snakes, dying on the spot. Then guess what happened? Banditos! Those motherfuckers came right out of the trees. Trying to steal our shit. The guys I was with — 007’s guys — all of them was Bruce Lees. Those sonofabitches were good. They fought like hell.

“I was stuck under a log firing my piece. Guys were dropping. You see a lot of dead shit in there, man, like a month and a half of nightmares. I think I ate a damn dog. I was in bad shape, crazy with fever. Then people were talking about tigers. I figured, that does it. I’m gonna be ripped up by a tiger in this damn jungle. What a fucking epitaph . . . But we got back alive. Lost half my dope, but I was still alive.”

(Via the Fighting 44s blog, pointed out by my friend Jon Lung.)

Tangential end-note: searching for “military remnant” on Google produced an article on the remnant of the Galactic Empire in Star Wars, following the end of Return of the Jedi.

Memories of Thailand: The Sylvanian Hedgehog

Sylvanian Families is a line of Japanese-made toys featuring doll houses and anthropomorphic animal pals, “a quintessential part of the 1990’s boom in craze (or fad) toys” says Wikipedia. This little guy was greeting shoppers outside a Sylvanian specialty shop at Central World, a Bangkok mall with kind of a nonsense name:


After this photo was taken Mrs. Adamu and I helped ourselves to copious free samples at the mall’s upscale supermarket (hummus and pita anyone?) and watched the movie Sunshine (the new one by 28 Days Later/Trainspotting director Danny Boyle that’s not released in the US yet) for the equivalent of US$12 for two, with popcorn. Hm, I may have the dates mixed up on that (it might have been Deja Vu that I saw instead) but basically that was a good spot for myself and Mrs. Adamu.

Adamu in Japan – blogging to be spotty, directionless

I’ve finally arrived in Japan to live after spending almost 4 years away, save for some brief visits. My blogging up to now has been a way for me to keep up on Japanese current events from the outside. But now that I’m here and have easy access to TV, ads, products, marketing campaigns, convenience stores, books, etc, I’m going to have to make it about something else. I’m still kind of thinking about that.

But first, some good things about coming to Japan:

  • Cleanliness: I swear, I would be more comfortable sleeping on the Tokyo sidewalks than on the floor of my college dorm room. That’s how clean this place is. Perhaps I’m just surprised at the relative difference with unabashedly filthy and smelly Thailand (a trait which, btw, takes nothing away from its charm).
  • Awesome food: Thai food is amazing, and I miss it to death (and all the real American food that’s available in Bangkok) dearly. Still, Japanese food is fresh, delicious, and healthy. I haven’t felt this clear-headed and energized in months.
  • Speaking the language: My spoken Japanese is very rusty (and was never all that great to begin with), but it is still good enough to do whatever I need to in life, unlike Thailand where I had to wildly gesticulate and scream a mix of English and the few Thai phrases I knew to get anything done at all. That’s another major source of stress lifted.
  • Fast Internet: In Thailand I was suffering with a crappy DSL connection that was slow, required quirky proprietary software. On top of that, the authorities banned YouTube out of the blue 2 weeks ago because of a video defaming the king. The connection I’m using now is a smoooooth hikari fiber line that lets me get the new Sopranos in less than 2 hours.
  • Japanese bookstores: I love Japan’s weekly magazines and manga, and Japan is, obviously, Japanese literature heaven. When I get some time I need to head over to my local library.
  • Lame things about being in Japan:

  • Bad TV: Even though I couldn’t understand it, I knew I hated Thai TV, in particular the comedy shows, that constantly feature slide-whistle punchlines, wah-wah-wah sappy jokes, and Munsters-style fast forward action. Ick. Japan’s TV shows have a bit fewer of the vaudeville trappings, but watching crap like Kazuko Hosoki still leaves me feeling like my IQ is being sucked into the TV. The TV news analysis shows are usually really lame too.
  • Expensive! I need to move closer to Tokyo fast because now just going there costs about 2000 yen. Going out to lunch is easily 3000. How does anyone manage to save money?
  • Cold! It’s been like winter since I came here, which has jarred me after coming from Thailand. It’s going from one extreme to the other: In Thailand I had only spotty A/C in the middle of intense, constant heat, and here there is no central heating when it’s cold.
  • Japanese culture: For some reason I feel forced into things a lot of the time. I realize I can’t come to this country and act exactly as I did in Thailand or Japan, but this isn’t North Korea and I’m not Private Jenkins.
  • All in all, I’m excited to be here and start my married life (filed the papers on Monday) and get back in the game with my career after almost a year of translating at home in a situation my wife calls “house arrest.” I’m not sure what I’ll be blogging about from now on, but expect more translations and my occasional thoughts and pictures.

    Contemporary Art Tokyo to feature Thai Artists (and Adamu, sort of)

    Translated from the museum’s official site (edited as needed):

    The First Exhibit to Offer an Expansive Look at Thailand’s Modern Art History

    mitemithai-644_1_3.JPGFrom April 18-May 20, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo will hold Show Me Thai, an exhibit jointly produced by the Kingdom of Thailand’s Office of Contemporary Arts and Culture, to commemorate the 120th anniversary of Thai-Japanese friendship.

    This is the first attempt to take an expansive look at Thailand’s contemporary art history. The exhibit will take visitors from the country’s early contacts with Japanese culture, which started before World War II and progressed through Japan’s era of high economic growth (1955-1975), to the time of high GDP growth in Thailand (1986-1996), when the Buddhist kingdom absorbed massive amounts of Japanese pop culture, including manga, music, and fashion, all the way to the present day.

    A diverse array of pieces, including paintings, sculptures, mixed media, video, installations, cinema, animation, and music will be displayed throughout the museums’s exhibition space. And that’s not all – the artists themselves will be there to participate in performances and panel discussions.

    Among the 60 artists and groups participating (Links lead to samples, mostly, or at least a picture of the artist):

    Pinaree Sanpitak (painter)
    Rirkrit Tiravanija (installations/mixed media)
    Nobuyoshi Araki (photographer)
    Sutee Kunavichayanont
    Navin Rawanchikul (mixed media, lives in Fukuoka)
    Wisut Ponnimit
    Yasumasa Morimura
    Ichi Ikeda
    Apichatpong Weerasethakul (filmmaker whose filmography includes “Blissfully Yours,” a romance that was showcased in a non-competing section of the 2002 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the more interestingly titled “The Adventure of Iron Pussy”)
    Yoshitomo Nara (pop artist who has done Shonen Knife album art and is the subject of a recent documentary)

    The museum is open from 10AM-6PM, and will be closed on all Mondays save for April 30. The museum is easily accessible by Tokyo Metro, Kiyosumi-Shirakawa (清澄白河) Station on the Hanzaemon and Oedo Lines.

    Disclaimer/self-promotion – I learned of this event because a translation I did about Thai-Japanese contemporary art exchange will be featured in the exhibit’s ‘art catalogue,’ with full ‘translator’ credit! This doesn’t exactly mean a whole lot, but I’m pretty excited to go see this, not least because this is my first time being published but also because I just might get to take in more Thai culture in Tokyo than I did when I lived in Bangkok.

    First mention of comfort women in the English press?

    The discussion over the proposed presumably well meant but ultimately pointless US congressional resolution condemning Japan’s wartime system of “comfort women” made me wonder, when was this first reported in the US? Since I have easy online access to the New York Times archive I thought I would check there. It seems highly unlikely that the NYT would have passed over mentioning the issue if some other paper had reported it first, so this is most likely as least an approximate date.


    January 14, 1992

    Japan Admits Army Forced Koreans to Work in Brothels

    Three days before Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa takes his first official trip to South Korea, the Government admitted today that the Japanese Army forced tens of thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II, and hinted that women who are still alive might receive some kind of compensation.

    Until today, Japan’s official position has long been that the “comfort girls” were recruited by private entrepreneurs, not the military.

    But many historians have attacked that position as a convenient rewriting of history, and over the weekend Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s largest newspapers, reported that army documents found in the library of Japan’s Self-Defense Agency indicated that the military had played a large role in operating what were euphemistically called “comfort stations.”

    Mr. Miyazawa is widely expected to address the issue on his visit to Seoul and to offer a fairly specific apology. The vast majority of the women were forcibly taken to Japanese-occupied China and Southeast Asia from Korea, which was a Japanese colony from 1910 until Japan’s defeat in 1945.. ‘Abominable Episodes’

    Over the weekend Japan’s Foreign Minister, Michio Watanabe, said “I cannot help acknowledging” that the Japanese military was involved in forcing the women to have sex with the troops. “I am troubled that the abominable episodes have been unraveled, and they give me heartache,” he said.

    Today Japan’s chief Government spokesman, Koichi Kato, offered a more specific apology, saying, “We would like to express our heartfelt apology and soul-searching to those women who had a bitter hardship beyond description.”

    But he said that because Japan settled issues of wartime compensation for Korea in 1965, when the countries resumed full diplomatic ties, there would be no official compensation for the victims. For weeks the Government has been talking about finding private sources of money that would settle claims by surviving “comfort women,” without setting the precedent of reopening reparations claims.

    In December, around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, three Korean women filed suit in Tokyo, demanding compensation for forced prostitution in China. Occasional Protests in Seoul

    Though the Government said that officially all compensation issues have been settled, officials acknowledged that they could not openly contest the suit without roiling relations with South Korea. Periodically there have been small demonstrations in Seoul denouncing the Japanese for their failure to face the issue.

    The question of Japan’s refusal to acknowledge official involvement in the forced prostitution has been a continual irritant in Japanese relations with South Korea and, to a lesser degree, with China. Many of the women were killed or brutally beaten. While historians disagree about how many women were forced to have sex with the troops, estimates run from 60,000 to more than 200,000.

    The documents reported in Asahi Shimbun were found by Yoshiaki Yoshida, a history professor, who reviewed them at the Defense Agency. They have been in Japan since 1958, when they were returned by United States troops, and it is not clear why they have stayed out of view for so long.

    The “comfort women” debate has been but one of the continuing tensions between Tokyo and Seoul in recent years. South Korean leaders have long complained that they have yet to receive an adequate apology from Japan for wartime atrocities. Last week, at a dinner for President Bush, President Roh Tae Woo of South Korea reportedly expressed concern that Japan has yet to apologize fully for the war.


    January 18, 1992


    Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa of Japan made a formal public apology here today for Japan’s actions in forcing tens of thousands of Korean women to have sex with Japanese soldiers during World War II.

    In a speech to South Korea’s National Assembly, Mr. Miyazawa said: “Recently, the issue of ‘comfort women’ in the service of the Imperial Japanese Army has come into light. I cannot help feeling acutely distressed over this, and I express my sincerest apology.”

    Mr. Miyazawa’s visit to Seoul has been preceded and accompanied by vociferous campaigning in the South Korean press for an apology from the Prime Minister, and for compensation from Japan for the surviving women.

    This call has been echoed by protesters in South Korean cities.. Estimates Up to 200,000

    Korean historians estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers before 1945, when Japanese colonial rule ended in Korea. It is not known how many survive.

    Japanese and South Korean officials said Mr. Miyazawa had also offered an apology in his second round of talks today with President Roh Tae Woo.

    Mr. Miyazawa said at a joint news conference afterward that Japan would sincerely investigate the issue.

    But there was no mention in their talks of compensation for the surviving women, the officials said.

    The question of compensation for 35 years of colonial rule in Korea was settled when the countries established diplomatic relations in 1965. Compensation Suit Filed

    But last month three Korean women who say they were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers filed a compensation suit in a Japanese court, which may set a precedent for other cases.

    The issue overshadowed other topics discussed by Mr. Roh and Mr. Miyazawa, particularly South Korea’s growing trade deficit with Japan.

    The two leaders agreed to set up a committee to work out by June a plan of action for closing the trade gap and increasing the transfer of Japanese technology to South Korea.

    South Korea was $8.8 billion in the red in trade with Japan last year, accounting for nine-tenths of South Korea’s overall trade deficit.


    WASHINGTON, Jan. 17 (Reuters) — High-ranking United States officials will meet North Korean leaders in New York on Wednesday to discuss the country’s nuclear program and other American concerns, the State Department said today. The United States Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Arnold L. Kanter, will meet a delegation headed by the Secretary of the governing Workers Party, Kim Young Sun, a State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said.

    [The North Korea bit was on the same page. Not relevant to comfort women but still amusing to see it was in the news at the time.]

    Green Tea Donuts at Mr. Donut and my first steps toward life in Japan

    I’ll be moving back to Japan in April after spending nearly 4 years living in the US and Thailand. Even though I’ve spent the entire time preoccupied with events in Japan and working as a Japanese-English translator, not to mention living with Mrs. Adamu, I feel I must try and brace myself for some of the conventions that I had once been used to. Today, when I placed a call to the local branch of the Funabashi City Hall to inquire about marriage procedures, the man who dealt with me (not sure if he was in charge of marriage registrations or dealing with foreigners) spoke in that endearing Pidgin Japanese where the main vocabulary is replaced by katakana English but the grammar and verbs remain in Japanese. Some people would have been annoyed by the use of such language, especially those who have spent years trying to learn Japanese such as myself. But I’ve gotten used to it and don’t mind as long as the people are nice and give me what I want. And I’m sure that this person has dealt with many foreigners with limited/nonexistent Japanese ability. My only issue was that the man wouldn’t answer a few simple questions, launched into a tortured explanation of the process that I was already aware of, and insisted I let him talk to my ‘garufurendo’ ‘dairektuo ni’. Blech.

    Anyway, speaking of blech, Mr. Donut is offering a new limited edition maccha (green tea) flavored donut until the beginning of April. Behold:


    They have infused their ‘old fashioned’ type donut with maccha essence. I usually like maccha-flavored stuff, but this looks like they’ve gone and ruined their best donut. This development just reminds me that Mr. Donut and Krispy Kreme will be catering to a distinctly different set of customers. I look forward to trying them both when I get back (there is Mr. Donut in Thailand but it sucks).
    (Link/pic via J-Cast news)

    Globalized Donuts

    Regular readers of the blog will remember Adamu’s saliva-speckled posts on Krispy Kreme donuts. Well, I’ve just found out via Michael Turton’s blog that Dunkin Donuts recently announced plans to expand into Taiwan, and then eventually through them into China. As far as I know, this will make Taiwan the second country after the Philippines to have both a Dunkin Donuts and a Mister Donut franchise, a condition that if you know the history of both companies suggests an incongruity of much the same character as the fact that light is both a wave and a particle.

    Before coming to Japan I had never heard of Mr Donut, and was a bit incredulous when I was first told that it was originally an American company. Noticing that their advertising makes notes of the fact that it was started in San Francisco Chinatown (some locations have Chinese-y menu items like dumplings or noodles to play off of this), I assumed that it was just one of those American chains which, despite being fairly big regionally, had just never made it from one coast to the other. Except for wishing, whenever I passed a Mr Donut in Japan, that it was a Dunkin’ Donuts instead, I never thought of them again until I moved to Taiwan to study Chinese in 2004.

    I arrived in Taipei in May, apparently no more than a couple of months after the introduction of Mr Donut to Taiwan. Unlike in Japan, where it was nothing but a common vendor of sweet and sometimes sticky pastries, Mr Donuts in Taiwan was a phenomenon, with desperate young consumers waiting on lines so snakishly long that they were later to be my frame of reference when my rarely present nominal flatmate Dmitri described to me the experience of waiting in line to get into that first Pushkin Square McDonalds to open in Russia after perestroika.

    Having been impressed by the utter ordinariness of Mr Donuts product in Japan, I was rather shocked by the amount of enthusiasm there was for the product here, until I noticed the promotion campaign. To see what the centerpiece of that campaign is, just visit out the Mr Donut Taiwan web site and check out the title:

    Mister Donut Japan No.1 Donut Shop

    While in Japan the brand image of Mr Donut is based around its American-ness, with a minor strain of Chinese-ness from the San Francisco heritage, Mister Donut Taiwan is being promoted entirely on the basis of its popularity in Japan. While Taiwan certainly has nothing against American products or fast food, the Japanese link has a much stronger association with the high class. For one illustrative example of how the Japanese image is helpful for marketing in Taiwan, notice how dry cleaning stores are always labeled as “Japanese style dry cleaning,” despite (to my knowledge at least) there being any particular historic link between Japan and dry cleaning. We can also see an interesting choice in the removal of any marketing or products associated with Chinatown. After all, why would the idea of third-rate Japanified Americanized Dim-sum be remotely appealing in a city where you can find the same type of thing at lower prices and higher quality in almost any direction you turn?

    If you look at the order and location in which stores were opened in Taipei, you can see a clear attempt by the planners of Mr Donut Taiwan to instill establish Mr Donut as a high class brand.
    (1) Tianmu – a high class neighborhood with many expensive stores.
    (2) Breeze Center – A department store. I don’t know if it’s Japanese owned, but it has a strongly Japanese style to it, and even contains the Taipei branch of Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya.
    (3) New York, New York – High end shopping center located at the base of Taipei 101, currently the tallest skyscraper in the world.
    (4) Taipei Station – Not actual in the station, but in the underground shopping center, right by the door connecting it with the neighboring Shin-Kong Mitsukoshi Department Store.
    After this they began branching out into somewhat less stylish areas, and now have a total of 17 stores including one in Xinzhu and three in Gaoxiong, but by associating the early stores both with high class shopping districts and Japan, the company did an excellent job of beginning to establish their brand as something more more at the level of Starbucks than McDonalds.

    By now you may be thinking, but didn’t this start with Dunkin’ Donuts, not Mr Donuts? Well, let’s look briefly of the history of these two brands.

    Mister Donut was founded by Harry Winokur in 1956 and had locations across most of North America.

    Mister Donut was the largest competitor to Dunkin’ Donuts, which was founded by Harry Winokur’s brother-in-law William Rosenberg in 1950, prior to being acquired by Dunkin’ Donuts’ parent company, Allied-Lyons, in February 1990.

    After the acquisition of Mister Donut by Allied-Lyons, all Mister Donut locations within North America were offered the chance to change their name to Dunkin’ Donuts. Now only a scattered few locations still hold the name Mister Donut.

    In 1983, Duskin Co. Ltd of Japan acquired the rights to franchise Mister Donut throughout Japan and Asia. Mister Donut is the largest donut chain operating in Japan.

    [From Wikipedia]
    For some reason there remain sixteen Mr Dont locations in the United States that have not transitioned to the Dunkin’ Donuts brand, but for all intents and purposes they are now a Japanese company, under the aegis of Duskin Co. Ltd., and the Mr Donut brand has spread to the Philippines, and now Taiwan, as an offshoot of the Japanese company. There was a Dunkin Donuts operation in Japan for a time, run as a joint venture with D&C, the holding company of the internationally famous Yoshinoya brand, but currently the only East Asian country with Dunkin Donuts is South Korea, although it is quite common in Thailand, and in the Philippines one can even find Dunkin Donuts right next door to Mr Donut. Will we ever see such a site in Taiwan? Will Dunkin’ Donuts take hold? Will we ever see Krispy Kreme opening in a vacated Mr Donuts shop next to Taipei 101?

    For a good taste of Taiwan’s Mr Donut hysteria, circa February 2005, check out this Taipei Times article. For a taste of how they may fare in the future, check out this man on the street interview from the very same article.

    “It’s the best donut you can get in Taiwan, but it’s not as good as Dunkin Donuts,” Fu told the Taipei Times. “If someone bought some for me, I’d eat it,” he said, but indicated that he would not buy the doughnut again for himself.

    Terrorist attacks in Bangkok

    This is what I’ll be returning to next week:

    A series of bombs exploded Sunday evening December 31, 2006, and Monday morning, January 1, 2007 in several locations in the Bangkok metropolitan area. The explosions killed two persons and caused numerous injuries. The US Embassy has confirmed that no American citizens were injured or killed in the explosions.

    The Department of State and the American Embassy in Bangkok urge all American citizens in Bangkok to stay indoors whenever possible, to avoid all public gatherings, and to remain extra vigilant as they travel in and around Bangkok. Please monitor local news channels or CNN for further information.

    They hit a police box near the Big C supermarket in Saphan Kwai. That’s where I shop! I think my life from now on will be a straight line from my apartment to the fried rice restaurant, at least for the time being.