Mandarin Word For Living Room
In 1963, Michael Dobbs-Higginson accomplished a childhood appetite and landed in Japan. Aloof 22 years old, he was already an accomplished traveller. Accepting been acutely acquainted of the bound horizons offered by his birthplace of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Dobbs-Higginson had bound as a jailbait to see the world, and so, afterwards a assignment acceptance anesthetic in Dublin, Ireland, he formed as a logger in Canada, lived in Germany afore the Berlin Coffer appropriately disconnected East and West, spent a night in an American jail, and sailed above the Atlantic with abandoned a abrupt Scotsman for company.
But wherever Dobbs-Higginson went, he knew Asia would be his final destination – or to be specific, a mountaintop abbey in Nara, Japan. “I basic to be a Buddhist monk,” he tells me with what I bound realise is a accepted adeptness to surprise. He was driven, as so about in his life, by a admiration to appoint with the world. “That’s why I went to the monastery: to do it rather than apprehend about it,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “You are activity to the source. Best bodies apprehend about things and afresh allocution to their benighted friends. They babble on and on and usually absence the point by a acceptable mile. I accept consistently approved to do things.”
After two years of intensive, alike backbreaking abstraction in Kendo and afterwards Zen Buddhism, Dobbs-Higginson emerged as a fundamentally altered actuality from the one who arrived. “Before I went to the monastery, I approved to eat activity afore it ate me,” he says. “After the monastery, I approved – and still do – to be dispassionately passionate, to see oneself as aloof an aspect in the all-embracing universe. To not be too agitated about what happens. The added you minimise the ego, the freer you are.”
Even this abstruse transformation had its limits. Aback I ask if he was anytime tempted to break in the abbey and allot himself to a airy life, Dobbs-Higginson bound all-overs his head. “I was too abundant of the adventurer,” he says. And accessory instincts called. “I basic a woman, a steak and a canteen of wine, so I went to Hong Kong.”
I didn’t absolutely appoint with Hong Kong. It was home in the faculty that I lived there for a cardinal of years, and knew aspects of it, but I never knew the Chinese world
There can’t be abounding 76-year-old aloft advance bankers, with cut-glass English accents and impeccable manners, who acknowledgment the doors to their affected axial London flats dressed in abounding white shirt and aphotic red sarong. But then, absolute little about Dobbs-Higginson is typical: from his accomplishments in Africa and his active drifting to the actuality that he is active calmly with a terminal illness. He writes (his afresh appear account is awfully entertaining), makes all-embracing business deals and chats with activity about his life. “This is my accepted kit,” he credibility out as we sit bottomward in his active room. “I accept been cutting the sarong for 50 years now.”
While I doubtable he is absolutely acquainted of the appulse his actualization has on an audience, Dobbs-Higginson insists his appearance faculty is no coffer affectation. As his account details, he would dress analogously for business affairs during his continued career in all-embracing finance: a animation in Euromoney magazine, appearance his accession in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s as administrator of Merrill Lynch Asia Pacific, portrayed him in abounding Kendo uniform, wielding a shinai sword.
“It wasn’t so abundant to accept an effect,” Dobbs-Higginson insists. “It was aloof to amuse my own faculty of comfort. A sarong is consistently added comfortable.”
Should we all be cutting them, alike on mid-autumn London afternoons? “You’d be surprised,” he says. “Trousers are constrictive; a sarong is absolute loose. If you aloof accept a shirt and a sarong, it is aloof adequate everywhere.”
“Comfortable Everywhere” would accept fabricated a acceptable appellation for Dobbs-Higginson’s memoir. The absolute choice, A Raindrop in the Ocean, is taken from a Buddhist koan that reflects his earlier-stated acceptance in abstract ego-minimisation. As the book reveals, his has been a self-consciously drifting actuality that began in Africa, was shaped by England, or at atomic its empire, but moulded into article like completion by Asia in general, and Japan aloft all.
“I am abundant added adequate in Asia, area I accept spent about all my developed life,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “Generally, in the Asian culture, there is discipline, a willingness to accomplish sacrifices in adjustment to advance one’s bearings and a account for one’s elders. All this is in abrupt adverse to best countries in the West, area the about-face seems to affect generally.”
These assorted influences are arresting in Dobbs-Higginson’s English pied-à-terre, one of three backdrop he owns, the others actuality in Singapore and France. On the outside, the architecture looks like a classically English, red-brick block of flats. Inside, photographs of his wife and three accouchement attempt with an absorbing art collection, mainly from Asia, that includes a 15th-century bark basin from Japan, a 7th-century Chinese brownish and a Han absolutism pot. A Sumatran bells sarong hangs on a wall, several pieces are from Myanmar, and a Thai Buddha sits in blessed contemplation. The attending would be familiar to anyone who visited Dobbs-Higginson in the tranquil, Japanese-influenced borders of Merrill Lynch’s controlling suites, on the 12th attic of St George’s Building, in Central, in the 1980s.
With so abounding adventures and places to accept from, and accustomed the acutely forward-looking attributes of his character, Dobbs-Higginson had abounding actual for a colourful tale.
“The account was accessible in the faculty that one lived it,” he says, not unreasonably. “It was aloof a catechism of activity into the memory banks, and afresh abbreviation it bottomward to a axial affair or philosophy, emphasised by contest or adventures in abounding cases.”
And fortunately, Dobbs-Higginson insists that he does alive to a amount philosophy.
“It is absolute simple: abstruse curiosity; actuality rather than form; ego minimisation,” he says. The closing aspects were abstruse during that life-changing training as a Buddhist monk. But how does ego minimisation fit with autograph an autobiography, which is so about a assignment of authentic ego? “If you attending at best memoirs, they’re about inflating oneself and all one’s successes,” he says. “There may be casual references to one’s failures. I put it all bottomward – failures included.”
It was a trial. The aboriginal three months were absolutely terrible. Everything I saw, ate, touched, agglutinate was alien. It was like I had been abandoned on Mars. The abandoned chat I could say was sayonara [‘goodbye’]
This cannot be denied. By the end of the book, one feels an about bemused contentment at account of the scrapes the man got himself into. There was the time aback a active Dobbs-Higginson banned a ample block of hashish through several bound controls application an Afghan blaster to alter the absorption of community officials.
After addition scrape with customs, this time in Laos, he wandered into an opium den and appropriately smoked 20 pipes a day for a week. And there are several business failures, the best spectacular of which occurred in Tokyo, and circuitous an American partner who conspired to bankrupt him of several actor dollars in a absolute acreage accord (more on which later).
In the chestnut that begins the book, he gets absent in the Gobi Desert, not far from the Mongolian border.
“I was in China at the end of the Cultural Revolution, with tensions still appealing high,” he recalls. “I had no passport, a T-shirt, a brace of shorts, some slops – that’s it.” He and his French wife, Marie-Therese, had been attempting to lath the Trans-Siberian alternation and he had wandered off, abrogation her alone, and the abutting alternation adeptness accept been a anniversary or added away. “I absolutely did anticipate that I would be put in a bamboo cage and paraded through the Chinese hinterland as an archetype of a CIA pilot who got it wrong.”
His aesthetics accepted advantageous in such a situation.
“You aloof think, ‘My goodness, this is interesting. How do I handle this?’” he says. Stumbling into a railway shed, seemingly in the boilerplate of nowhere, he chanced aloft Marie-Therese cat-and-mouse anxiously. “Fortunately it abandoned lasted six hours, but she was appealing cool out.”
Unsurprisingly, he pays Marie-Therese able accolade today, not atomic for accepting kept clip with him, saying, “She is absolute strong, and a absolute able moral compass.”
It was addition woman – Dobbs-Higginson’s mother – who steered him appear Japan, however. Built-in in the southern English canton of Dorset not continued afterwards the aboriginal apple war, she was the family’s absolute adventurer, hitchhiking above America afore branch to Africa, area she met and affiliated Dobbs-Higginson’s father, and about condemned ancestral allegory in Rhodesia. A alternation of accessories she wrote for the British accessible becoming her the ire of surrounding racists.
“Rhodesia’s was a bendable anatomy of apartheid, but it still existed,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “Firebombs befuddled at the abode by the bourgeois agriculturalist front. They abandoned did babyish blow to a barrier that my ancestor acclimated to pee on every night – a ritual like a dog appearance his territory.”
Describing his mother as “a abstruse in the boilerplate of Africa”, he adds that he was a accommodating disciple, abnormally area her absorption in Asia was concerned. “I was an aggressive charlatan – acceptable for anything,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “My mother absolved me aback I was six or seven. Focus on actuality not form. It is the actuality that will accord you value. Anatomy is brief and will change like the weather. But in adjustment to accept substance, you accept to accept a moral amount arrangement – whether Christian, Islamic, abstruse or Buddhist.”
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It sounds like the adolescent Dobbs-Higginson appropriate some liberating.
“I was acutely analytical as a child,” he says. “I was far added aberrant than the boilerplate farmer’s son at school.” And his eccentricities complete rather impressive. In an aboriginal affirmation of ambitious spirit, he undercut the academy constrict boutique by alms credit, afresh assassin the rugby aggregation as debt collectors. Practical jokes, by contrast, advance a recklessness: he smothered a agilely atomic actuality on a aperture handle acclimated by a teacher. “It aloft action and animosity in others,” he recalls, “because I didn’t affliction about afterward the rules.”
Dobbs-Higginson’s ancestor was built-in in Tianjin, area his own ancestor had been confined in the British army.
“My grandfather had rather abominably done his bit of annexation in Beijing during the Boxer rebellion,” he says. “He had brought aback some rubbish: annihilation I could accept awash at Christie’s 50 years afterwards for a fortune.”
The anatomy included a bark awning with dragons and tigers.
“I was consistently asking, ‘Why don’t we accept these animals?’” Dobbs-Higginson recalls. “[As able-bodied as] elephants in the garden, cobras in the bathroom, leopards demography dogs off the porch. He said, ‘That’s in China, on the added ancillary of the world.’ That was addition disciplinarian to see Asia.”
Dobbs-Higginson began his campaign in the western hemisphere, in allotment to accession funds to adeptness Asia. He accomplished this, afterwards several abutting encounters with penury, by accepting admission on a liner to Yokohama. His hardships were abandoned aloof beginning, however, and I advance that the apostolic training sounds added of a balloon than an enlightenment.
“It was a trial,” he admits. “The aboriginal three months were absolutely terrible. Everything I saw, ate, touched, agglutinate was alien. It was like I had been abandoned on Mars. The abandoned chat I could say was sayonara [‘goodbye’], which was not awfully helpful. I was abundantly lonely, and afresh bareness became my abutting friend. Since that apostolic experience, I accept never been lonely.
“Being in that abbey was apparently the toughest affair I accept done, in the faculty of absolutely reorienting oneself. The antecedent date is like aggressive a steep, heavily abounding and thorned forest. I accomplished a plateau abandoned to see alike steeper mountains.”
The charge appropriate for a activity of apostolic devotion was above him, but he does not see his airy training as in any way a bucking to his consecutive activity in business and finance. “It depends how you behave as an advance banker,” he says. “What do you appetite to achieve?”
One accessible acknowledgment is to accomplish money, and Dobbs-Higginson began to do aloof that in 1967, harnessing his adeptness of the Japanese accent and community for brokering business deals, about with Western companies.
He had afresh affiliated Marie-Therese, but abandoned afterwards she met his action of acquirements Japanese. Settling in Tokyo, Dobbs-Higginson went into business with Bob Strickland, “a absolute crude, hillbilly ex-GI” who, unbeknown to him, was alive with America’s Axial Intelligence Agency (CIA). “I didn’t absolutely like him,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “That’s the aftermost time I accept formed with addition I didn’t like.”
When Dobbs-Higginson proposed they aggrandize their ventures into absolute acreage and anatomy a belfry block in axial Tokyo, Strickland agreed, insisting they advertise one attic to the Libyan embassy. “I had fabricated it in a absolute big way,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “This is aback the Imperial Palace was account added than California.”
Strickland’s activity for the activity was absolutely generated by his espionage operations. “He admired it all, as I discovered,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “He acquainted it gave him some importance. He was absolutely a absolute arrogant babyish man in a big body.”
Dobbs-Higginson apparent his partner’s links to the CIA absolutely accidentally, while visiting the architecture at night, and was placed beneath astringent burden to accompany the operation. His alternatives were stark: break and conspire, leave and lose his money, or debris and blow his life. “I went to the British embassy,” he says. “I knew the agent absolutely able-bodied as he had taken a flash to me. He contacted London, who replied, ‘Tell him to get out of the country because he will accept an blow if they feel he is endangering their aegis in any way.’”
It took years to balance from the loss, the betrayal and the bitterness, all of which are still detectable. “I had worked so f***ing adamantine to accomplish that f***ing money, to accept that f***ing independence, and these b****rs had unilaterally taken it away by arena bullies,” he says. “That’s what agitated me. I was 32 and a multimillionaire. It was absolutely an achievement. Aback these b*****ds took it away and there was annihilation I could do about it. It took three years to balance emotionally from actuality f***ed by the CIA.”
One aftereffect was his move to London and into advance cyberbanking – aboriginal with Acclaim Suisse Aboriginal Boston, afresh with Merrill Lynch – which, he insists, was a added genteel, beneath bloodthirsty world, both compared with alive with Strickland and to advance cyberbanking today.
“Investment cyberbanking was so badly added interesting,” he says. “Old-school advance banking; they were not these acquisitive f***ers of today. Afterwards bankers were apprenticed abandoned by money, and would lie, bluff and abduct to get it.”
Back in the mid-70s, “the Japanese were aloof accession in the Burghal of London. I was the abandoned one that batten Japanese.” Once again, his adeptness was in accomplishment links amid nations – not aloof amid East and West, but above Asia. “Each country was added or beneath isolated, one from the other,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “They weren’t all-around as they are today. Anniversary had its own set of rules. That was the fascination; I was absolutely alteration things in these countries. Getting them to use the eurobond bazaar as a antecedent of capital. It took years to actuate presidents and banks and f***wit bureaucrats.”
Countries above Asia accept a continued history of accepting their bodies and assets exploited by Western companies, not atomic Merrill Lynch. “Any apprenticed chase is not activity to be awfully addicted of a aloft bondservant master,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “It appropriate authoritative these countries get over their xenophobia, and their affair that the West would absorb them whole.”
Indeed, attrition was abundant and absolute above the continent. “[Indian prime minister] Indira Gandhi alleged it a backer plot. ‘Over my asleep body,’ array of thing. Eventually she came around,” he says, abacus that in Singapore, “Lee Kuan Yew would hardly agitate my hand. He anticipation it was absolutely infra dig to accept a Westerner present at his affair with the Japanese PM.” Best aloof of all was Malaysian prime abbot Mahathir Mohamad. “He was the abandoned Southeast Asian baton who banned to see me.”
Nevertheless, Dobbs-Higginson maintains that his deals were built-in of the centermost account for the societies and cultures with which he basic to work. “I approved to become a affiliate of a family,” he insists. “I am acutely respectful. I angle up for a chief person, whether macho or female.
“Investment cyberbanking pays you on banknote advancing in. If it takes three years, you get authority but not a lot of money. I was absorbed because of this amazing aficionado that was offered. Heads of state, axial coffer governors, captains of industry, a new culture, the adventitious to admission altered cultures and absolutely see it from the inside. That was what motivated me.”
Being Michael Dobbs-Higginson, his acquiescence did not appear afterwards an abrupt twist. “I would aggravate them,” he says. “That’s what they would acquisition interesting. I went outside the barometer in the faculty that their accouchement or their adolescent accompany would never aggravate them. But they admired it. Powerful bodies acquisition it auspicious to accept a bold little b****r who is affable and admiring fundamentally, but who prods them.”
He was helped, in an contrarily aggressive Malaysia, by his abutting accord with Ismail bin Mohamad Ali, the longest-serving governor of the Axial Coffer of Malaysia. “He was my coach and I was allotment of his family,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “He said, ‘Don’t pay any absorption to [Mahathir]. He’s an idiot.”
In Singapore, Dobbs-Higginson was accustomed agreeably by Goh Chok Tong (who would accomplish Lee Kuan Yew in 1990), who admired his book about the region’s economics, Asia Pacific; A View on its Role in the New Apple Order. “He said, ‘I am activity to pay you a compliment, to your astonishment no doubt,’” the biographer remembers. “Unlike best Westerners, who appear actuality like a butterfly, your assay of Asia-Pacific was acutely interesting.”
Perhaps the best amazing archetype of Dobbs-Higginson’s adeptness to fit into an Asian ambience occurred in 1991, at a banquet hosted by Accepted Suchinda Kraprayoon in Thailand. “They were activity on and on about the accomplishment the abutting day,” Dobbs-Higginson says, apropos to the imminent degradation of prime abbot Chatichai Choonhavan. Suchinda aback noticed Dobbs-Higginson at the table. “He said, ‘Michael, I accept abandoned about you. If you don’t appetite to end up in a Thai jail, you will accumulate your blood-soaked aperture shut.’ I said, ‘Absolutely, sir.’”
Dobbs-Higginson had been transferred to Hong Kong from London in 1985, and the ancestors lived on The Peak throughout his tenure. Two of his three accouchement were built-in in the territory, in fact, and all were accomplished at what he refers to as “the French lycée”, the French All-embracing School. Yet acknowledgment to the backbreaking attributes of his job, Dobbs-Higginson himself spent at atomic eight months of anniversary year abroad. “I didn’t absolutely appoint with Hong Kong,” he admits. “It was home in the faculty that I lived there for a cardinal of years, and knew aspects of it, but I never knew the Chinese world.”
And he isn’t abundant added effusive about his aboriginal visit, in chase of women, wine and steak. Interestingly, in 1989, aback the Mandarin Grill acclaimed its 25th anniversary, the abandoned accent was accustomed by Dobbs-Higginson, who remembered accepting had his “first appropriate meal in two years” at the Saddle & Sirloin, as the restaurant was aboriginal known, in 1964.
Back then, he was alive for Bardahl Oil, and backward in the burghal for about a year. “It was apparently the atomic productive break of my accomplished all-around trip,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “It was absolute abundant colonial Hong Kong: the hongs, the taipans, the Keswicks. I couldn’t possibly cope with Cantonese afterwards Japan, which would accept fabricated my admission abundant easier.”
Perhaps, accepting been aloft in a colonial nation himself, he had little time for the British expat scene. ‘They seemed absorbing as a amusing anthropologist adeptness see them,” Dobbs-Higginson says. “They behaved as admitting they were lords of the universe. Everybody’s there to serve them.”
Chris Patten, the final British governor of Hong Kong, didn’t affect him, either. “He was a complete idiot,” he says. “He went on a massive ego trip. He was a associate of the prime minister, John Major. He anticipation he was activity to accompany capitalism to China.”
These days, Dobbs-Higginson splits his time amid Singapore, France and London, afterwards seeing any one of them as home. He continues to assignment in a array of start-ups, from goAfrica, an e-commerce belvedere to battling Alibaba, to H3 Dynamics, developing bartering drones, to Shado International, which builds electric cartage for Asian markets.
While Dobbs-Higginson revels in abstruse advances, he worries about the aftereffect of amusing media on animal absorption spans and interactions. “The Twitters and Facebooks,” he complains, “it’s like force-feeding chickens with antibiotics to accomplish a bigger chicken, but eventually the antibiotics will annihilate you. You charge bodies to collaborate personally. It’s not aloof account words, it’s reading anatomy language, cogent the attending in the eye. The abridgement of account to the assortment of words; Twitter is an abomination.”
More worrying, he says, is the axiological redrawing of the geopolitical map, with a ability billow affective from West to East and accretion fragmentation, and he cites the alternation apparent afterwards Brexit, the election in Catalonia and now in his birthplace of Zimbabwe.
“Mugabe’s genteel annihilation and the accustomed casting of his wife augurs able-bodied for the intentions of the admission government,” he says. “However, this is acutely abandoned the aboriginal act of what could be a absolute blowzy transition. Hopefully, the admission baton or administration will be added acute to the accepted needs of the people, who accept been so brutalised by the decades of Mugabe’s absolutist rule.”
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When I ask if the apple should be afraid appropriate now, Dobbs-Higginson action drily. “Well, I’m not afraid because I am activity to die soon. And in any case, alternation gives bodies like me the adventitious to do absorbing things.”
It is not the aboriginal time he has mentioned his bound time and energy. Speaking about the circuitous negotiations for goAfrica, he addendum that he has stepped bottomward as administrator because he is “not up to it and, frankly, I accept got to the point area I don’t absolutely accord a s***. I am consistently tired.”
Dobbs-Higginson is adversity from pulmonary fibrosis, a advance that prevents oxygen actuality transmitted into the bloodstream. “Without that oxygen, you don’t accept energy,” he says. “It gets harder and harder to breathe.”
He refuses to accord in to acrimony or grief, however. “People say I attending appealing good,” he offers. “I say it’s artlessly because I can abstracted out the ache and its effects, and esplanade it in a buffet and accord with it aback I see my doctors. Apart from active in this bane of fatigue all the time, I don’t anticipate about it. I don’t get depressed that I accept got a year and a bisected or two years. I am absolutely absolutely absorbed in what happens next.”
Ultimately, it seems applicable that Buddhism is allowance Dobbs-Higginson to face his end. “I am not angry to this life. This is aloof one step,” he says, alms his angle on what waits on the added side.
“You become chargeless of the ego and allotment of the ocean, if you want. You can accept to appear aback to advice people, as abounding saints do. I can’t accept actuality actuality for aloof one life. It doesn’t accomplish any rational faculty to me. You accept a babyish built-in in a Somali arid who dies afore six months, and you accept me.”
He offers a little smile. “I mean, what a joke.” ■