Thursday, May 23, 2013

Train Reading - Introducing May's Culture of South East Asia


To introduce this post, this photo shows the ruins at Borobudah in Indonesia. The photo is from the wikipedia article on the site. I have visited the place once as part of an official mission led by then Science Minister Barry Jones. 

For the benefit of new readers, my irregular train reading series requires me to pick a book at random from my shelves that I have either not read before or, at least, not for some time. Better still, the book should be outside my current interest. Mind you, I don't always follow the rules, but nobody's perfect!

Yesterday, at random, I picked up Reginald Le May's The culture of South-East Asia (George Allen and Unwin, second impression 1956).It is, accurately, subtitled the heritage of India, with a dedication to PM Nehru. Written on the fly leaf is J P Belshaw, 2/65, Bangkok, so it was my father's. It really is a slice of history, with a focus on buildings and the visual arts.

May spent much of his working life in Siam, what we now call Thailand. From 1908 to 1922 he served in the British Consular Service in Siam 1908 to 1922, and then from 1922 to 1933 be was Economic Adviser to the Thai Government. In 1934 he retired and moved to a research fellow at Pembroke College at Oxford. From then until his death in 1972, he continued his research into the history and art of South East Asia with a special focus on the Indian links. The book I am reading was his magnum opus.

It's a very  English book, you can see May sitting at his boarding house while his land lady studied one of the pieces he collected. Paraphrasing, she said "I always take my orders from him, Sir", referring to one head. "He has such authority".

May is a very learned man who managed to bring alive a past world. I realised how little I knew. I don't want to write a lot about the full book, but I am looking for a few things from it that might interest you. I want examples that will show that world in ways that will seem directly modern and relevant. 


Anonymous said...


Confused here. Your title says "May's Culture ..." which is noted as being written by a fellow named Reginald Le May.

So I guess anything by Edward de Bono will now be referenced as "Bono's" - thus leading to confusion in my mind with either the lead singer of U2 or, possibly, Cher's other half.

Would you refer to the works of John le Carre as "Carre's works"? I hope not, and I shudder to think of a future post on Don Quixote in which you might rather familiarly expound upon "Don's" adventures.

This blog will shortly need a disambiguation page if you keep this up.


Anonymous said...

In fact, (cf. your post on references to 'Gillard' and 'Abbott') if you ever do write such a post, I insist you give him his full name of Donald Quixote - out of simple respect for the man.


Jim Belshaw said...

I was sitting there with a glass of wine writing a perfectly serious email when you comments came across my screen. I burst out laughing, spluttering wine in all directions. kvd, or Donald as I might refer to you from now on, you musn't do this to me!

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not the one sitting on a Sydney rattler all day with a glass of wine and v.0 of the iPad reading Reggie's thoughts on Thailand - which I note you for some inexplicable reason chose to illustrate with a picture from Central Java.

Standards, Jim. Standards.

ps have a lovely weekend :)

Jim Belshaw said...

I don't think that I am allowed, in fact I know that I am not, allowed to sit on a Sydney rattler with a glass of wine all day. Damn their eyes! Reggie's thoughts extend well beyond Thailand. He is an Indiaphile.