Silk—a luxury fabric, a valuable trade good, and a scientific marvel. This material, created by the bombyx mori silkworm, has captivated artisans for centuries—and it captivated science presenter and writer Aarathi Prasad, who was studying the scientific potential of silk for new treatments.
In 1987, Chris Stowers ditches his dull job in the UK and embarks on a trip throughout the Asia-Pacific, following countless other adventurers traveling with just a backpack and a minuscule budget in what he calls the “golden age of travel”.
If one thought, as I admit I did, that a book with “Silk” and “History” in its title would be (yet another) about China and the Silk Road, one will soon be disabused. Aarathi Prasad, a biologist and science writer, opens with the Lepidoptera floors at London’s Natural History museum. Silk, argues Prasad, has a much more complicated story that the conventional one of China and the Chinese silkworm Bombyx mori: “there is not just one silk, there is not just one story of silk. Not one road, one people who found it, nor who made it.” Indeed, some of the earliest silk cocoons ever found, from Xiyin Cun some two hundred kilometres west of Shuanghuaishu and dating from 3500 BCE, aren’t Bombyx mori at all.
Chris Stowers considers the 1980s to have been the golden age of travel and Bugis Nights describes two trips of his during that decade. One involves traveling in Tibet with his love interest, a German woman named Claudia. Stowers is a green 21-old to Claudia’s seasoned 30. The other, more important thread details a journey from Jampea Island in East Indonesia to Singapore on a sailing boat crewed by Bugis and French adventurers.
Half a year on from the publication of India: A History in Objects, the British Museum and Thames & Hudson have released a new volume of the same vibrant format on Southeast Asia, an endeavor at least as ambitious as that for the Subcontinent: “it is hardly possible to be comprehensive,” as Alexandra Green modestly admits in her introduction.
“Kopi Dulu” means “coffee first” in Indonesian—a common phrase from Indonesians who are happy to have coffee anywhere, anytime and with anyone. At least, that was Mark Eveleigh’s experience, as a travel writer and reporter, traveling across the country’s many islands.
Kopi Dulu: Caffeine-Fuelled Travels Through Indonesia, advertises itself as a journey through the world’s most invisible country. This could be selling Indonesia short: it’s not China or Thailand, but it does get some attention. Islands beyond Bali and Java do slip under the radar but have featured in a number of well-received books. Kopi Dulu by Mark Eveleigh is a welcome addition to the collection.