Today is day 7 of 30 of my writing-streak, and I am going to share some thoughts on this interesting and insightful book.
I feel as if I should preface this post by stating that I don’t know a whole lot about the history of Japan, Korea, and China.
I’m not sure why I chose Three Tigers, One Mountain by Michael Booth. When I visit the library, I seldom have any idea what book I’ll choose. I tend to walk up and down the aisles, and I settle in on a category. Then I randomly pull books off the shelves, and I choose one. Since I’m a slow reader, I’ve learned to limit myself to no more than two books at one check out. Getting through this book took me even longer than usual, which is somewhat surprising because I actually enjoyed reading it.
Three Tigers is broken down into four sections. We get a glimpse of the history, a snapshot of the current culture, and some fascinating interviews from each country. The book is part history book, part tour-guide book, and my biggest takeaway was that I need to get to South Korea and Taiwan in the spring.
The first section of the book is about Japan. Booth visits Kurihama, Yokohama, Kotobuki, Ebisu, and Nara. Nara! He finally writes of a place that I have been to. He then writes about Kyoto, which I visited in September and wrote about a few days ago: https://wordpress.com/post/mondaymorningwithmona.com/2480 . He then writes about Osaka and Hiroshima, both places I have had the opportunity to visit, and he goes on to write about Fukuoka. It too is a place I’ve had an opportunity to see. He writes about the food, the culture, and the progress of Japan. That being stated, he doesn’t avoid writing about how Japan has occupied Korea and the devastation that occurred in Nanjing, China. Because I like the Japanese, and I think Booth does too, it’s hard to look at this brutal history. Every time I read of war, I’m heartbroken and amazed at how horrible humans can be to one another.
He begins his journey in Busan. He also begins the section of the book by sharing about the Americans installation of the Terminal High Altitude Defense system, which was put in place to protect against the North Korean missiles. Now things start to really get interesting. The US puts a defense system in South Korea to protect it from North Korea, which then upsets the Chinese, who then place sanctions on South Korea. Trade and tourism drastically fall, and now South Korea has another problem. They rely on Chinese tourism and trade. It is in this section of the book that I begin to feel the present-day tensions that exist in this part of the world. I’ll come back to my feelings later. Let’s stick to the book report. After Busan, he goes to Mokpo, Buan, Gwangju, and finally Seoul…a city we have all heard of. It’s when he writes about Seoul and the progress of this vibrant city, that I realize I MUST take a trip to The Republic of Korea. I am excited to see the people, eat the food, check out the magnitude of the growth (which is astonishing if you think of how FAST it’s grown.) I will visit in next April! Booth continues to head north to Boryoeng, and then finally the DMZ.
Booth writes, “I wonder what the South Koreans think when they look at the North from their vantage point of wealth and democracy. Superiority? Wistful longing? Pity? The only sign of civilization in North Korea is a distant mountaintop lookout.” I wonder these things too.
Going to North Korea doesn’t happen in the book. If you’re like me, you’ll be a little disappointed. I so badly want to see what’s on the other side of the curtain. Is it as bad as I think it is? The curtain is closed and protected; we won’t get a glimpse…not in this book and not in many others. I can’t get past how sad it must be to live in a country, where “your people” are geographically so close; yet, due to oppression and tyranny, you have no access to them, and they had might as well live a million miles away. There is no going back and forth from the north to the south.
People’s Republic of China
I can’t tell a lie. I was as disappointed with this section of the book as I was with the North Korea section of the book, or lack thereof. Booth spends over 100 pages writing about South Korea and less than 50 writing about China. I also felt like much of this section of the book goes back to talk about Korea. Essentially, he leaves me wanting to learn more about China, and I just didn’t get it. Maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is: we aren’t going to get a lot in print about current-day China because their government won’t allow it. People don’t want to talk on record. No one will say anything about the government or their way of life. It’s hard to write about a country that doesn’t give people the latitude to openly share about their country.
Within the China section, Booth writes about Hong Kong. Now, this section is one that makes me realize how important time and travel are. When I moved to Okinawa in 2018, people were traveling to Hong Kong. As I write this in 2022, my friends and I no longer make plans to visit Hong Kong. Additionally, my father visited Hong Kong in the 80s and early 90s for work. He loved this fast-paced city, but after 1996, the city changed, and unfortunately, I don’t think it has changed for the better. In the book, Booth writes, “one Hong Kong local has a message for the Taiwanese: ‘Being part of China means you will gradually lose something you treasure, your rights, your ways of life. Just the basic things you take for granted in modern, open society will be lost, starting with Facebook. And those supposed economic benefits of reunification with China? They will never reach the general public, only the elites.'”
I feel like you have to know a little bit about Mao, Chiang Kai-shek, and what went down in Taiwan back in the 1940s to even begin to understand the significance of this little body of land. Booth gives you a very quick snapshot, and you start to get a feel for how important Taiwan is to this part of the world. Booth writes about the close connection between the Japanese and the Taiwanese. This is a first because I got the impression that neither the Koreans nor the Chinese really like the Japanese, so it’s good to see that someone around here does. Booth also writes that the Taiwanese are rich, are progressive, and are pro-freedom. They have legalized gay marriage, and they have the best record of gender equality. Their income equality is also good. There are so many great things about Taiwan. (If you are interested in Mao, Chiang Kai-shek and what went down in the 40’s, I would recommend Mao. It is long, but it is good.
I found these ten pages to be the most interesting of the whole book. “And just as the Russians have meddled with the democratic processes in the United States and Europe, the Chinese government is using social media to deepen the divide between those in favor of the Taiwanese independence and pro-China/unification groups,” Booth writes. It is no secret that China wants unification, and it continues to apply pressure to ensure that this unification happens. When you make a purchase online, and you see the drop downs for states, you don’t really pay much attention. You just look for your state, pick it, and move on. However, “Beijing has successfully pressurized forty-four foreign airlines, including British Airlines and Japan’s two largest carriers, ANA and JAL, to use ‘China Taiwan’ instead of just ‘Taiwan.'” It doesn’t seem like a big deal to us; it is just a drop down, but we are talking about millions of dollars in commerce based on companies using the two-names instead of one.
The one word that I kept waiting to see on paper was Okinawa. I live on Okinawa. I have friends on this island. I have had life-changing experiences on this beautiful island. I have never felt so safe in my life. I also never knew that there could be so many shades of green. Okinawa is hands-down the most beautiful place that I will ever live, so when I see it on paper, I catch my breath. What will I read next? One of the pro-Taiwanese independence campaigners says, “Taiwan is small, but we are strong. We can fight. We can defend. Japan will help, and if they don’t, they won’t only have lost Taiwan, but their credibility internationally, and their strategic power. Once China takes Taiwan, there will be no safety for Japan. Okinawa could be next – some Chinese have hinted at a claim to Japan’s southern archipelago in the past.” This is just one person being interviewed in one book. Could this really happen? Since I live on this peaceful, safe, beautiful island, anytime I read that “Okinawa could be next,” I get nervous.
The complexity of this part of the world is one that has more layers than I can comprehend. It is so far from home, and it is so far that people back home don’t give it much thought. I loved that this book talks about the cultures of this part of the world. I love that he makes people want to come visit. I love that he loves this part of the world. I love he integrates part tour-guide, part history-book in his writing. I love that he clarifies aspects of their past to help us understand why they like each other and why they don’t. Although it took me a while to get through the book, it was one that I would read again and one that I would recommend. I am also excited to go to the library tomorrow. Who knows what I will end up with.
3 thoughts on “Three Tigers, One Mountain”
You make me want to read more about these cultures and histories. 😘😘😘
I want to read more about them as well. There’s a whole other round of history on this side of the earth that I never learned growing up!