About Chris Thrall

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke:One Man's Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kongs Triad Heartland

Who Turned The Lights Out? – An excerpt from Chris Thrall’s e-mail diaries

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Date: Sat, 10 Jul 2004 10:20:03 -0700 (PDT)

From: “Chris Thrall” chris@mailingu.com

To: Mission Control

Subject: Who Turned the Lights Out?

sea_flightHola Amigos!

Here I am in sunny Florida, in week two of flight-school training for a private pilot’s licence.

Firstly, please excuse any punctuation, grammar and spelling mistakes in this e-mail. The only thing you learnt at my school was how to push a big cupboard in front of the headmaster’s office so he couldn’t get out. He was only five foot one – which made it all the more hilarious! I think our school must have produced quite some many furniture removers.

The other day I flew solo for the first time. I can’t believe these maniacs trust me with a whole aeroplane – but as they have an airport full of them, I suppose they can afford to lose one or two.

Yesterday evening I flew a Cessna 172 to a tiny airport called Okeechobee, right out in the sticks, to do some practise landings. My instructor had warned me that it got dark around 9pm, so I decided to leave at 8.30pm for the half-hour flight back to Fort Pierce where the flight school is. For a student pilot, it’s strictly against the FAA regulations to fly solo at night.

Just as I’d taken off, it started to sink in it was getting dark already. But as I climbed to cruise altitude, I realised that wasn’t such a problem – the problem was the swirling fog coming out of nowhere and reducing visibility to under a mile! No pilot is supposed to fly ‘visual’ flights (i.e. without specialised instruments and training) in less than three miles visibility unless they’re granted special landing clearance from Air Traffic Control. If I didn’t get this permission, it would mean flying back Okeechobee and then a sleep in the plane to avoid the alligators.

As it got darker, I thought it best to make myself visible – that way the trees might see me coming and get out the way. I put on the red flashing beacon light, the white strobe lights, the red and green navigation lights, the tail light and the landing spotlight. I would have put on the Christmas lights, too, if I could have found them and at one point was considering setting fire to something – perhaps a wing and anything else you have two of. I radioed through to the control tower, hoping it would be that the guy from the Airplane movie – the one who’s so completely wrecked on every substance known to man that he would clear me to land upside down and backwards if I wanted. Fortunately, it was him – either that or just a very nice man with a soft spot for lost English halfwits. Not only did he clear me for approach, he didn’t even mind when I mistakenly gave my position as east of the field instead of west!

Actually, it’s easier to fly at night in many ways. You can use the street lighting for navigation and the airports have a flashing green and white beacon (so long as your pointed in the right direction or it seems to go out). He gave me ‘number two’ in the traffic pattern behind another plane that I had to avoid crashing in to. I had no idea what it looked like, but at night that’s not such a problem – especially when he or she has more lights than you do.

Then he very kindly gave me a short cut, ‘straight-on’ approach instead of a ‘holding pattern’ landing. By this time, it was great fun, a light aircraft landing on a strip designed for DC 10s and jets. The runway is all lit up and it’s just for you! I was hoping he would call out the Fire Brigade, some ambulances and the National Guard – maybe even evacuate the local city, too – but then my instructor might get to hear of it, so maybe not.

I did probably the best and most rewarding landing I will ever do, thanked the very nice man in the control tower (who even directed me to the parking ramp!) and wondered if like the guy in Airplane, he was floating upside down while sniffing glue.

The good news is that the experienced pilots I’ve spoken to say you learn by these things. And that my lack of knowledge didn’t stop me passing the theory exam the next day with 87% – and I didn’t even cheat . . . or have to move any cupboards.

Did you know the second language in Florida is Spanish?

Vaya con Dios, Amigos!

Chris X

Chris Thrall is the author of the memoir: Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland.

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Scuba diving in Antarctica. Expedition 2013

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The journey south …

As a polar explorer it’s not easy travelling south these days. Not like it was in the early part of the 20th century for the likes of Shackelton, Scott and Amundsen, whose sole preoccupation was sailing scott-free (unless you were Scott or traveling with him) on the open ocean with nothing to occupy their time but stroking huskies and fellow expedition members or surfing Facebook. No, these days you have to battle your way to the Polar Circle through a never-ending stream of frigid bergs hovering below the waterline ready to sink your chances of making Queen, Kate Middleton and Country proud … in the form of airport security, Immigration and KLM stewardesses.

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Cheers!

After spending 40 minutes at Heathrow having my hand luggage searched to check I wasn’t carrying more than my allotted allowance of Semtex, detonators and radical-extremist literature, I ran to the departure gate gutted that I had to forgo my pre-flight pint and the chance to spend time enjoying the truly authentic British pub atmosphere that only an airport departure lounge can offer. Instead, I opted for a bottle of Jack Daniels from the tax-free shop, only to be told by the shop assistant that I couldn’t take it onwards following my connection in Amsterdam and that I would have to drink it on the hour-and-a-half plane ride. Contingency plan! “What would Scott have done in this situation?” I asked myself. So, surreptitiously, I did drink it on the plane, despite having read the in-flight magazine which clearly stated the not bringing of alcohol on-board – along with electronic cigarettes, East Europeans and badger porn.

DSC06201I got thrown off my polar plan twice during the flight to Buenos Aires (the second leg of the journey before going on to Ushuaia on the southern tip of Argentine in a couple of days to meet the expedition ship). First, by the KLM flight attendant when I asked for a beer. She looked at me, askew, and said ‘But we’re serving lunch in half an hour!’ I looked back – in only the way an English scumbag can – and said, ‘And …?’ (That threw her!) She said, ‘But you’re standing up!’ (This is an evolutionary conundrum that, personally, I blame Darwin for). I said, ‘Yes, but I’m sitting down when I’m in that seat there!’ pointing to a chair 0.7m away. She said ‘But you’re waiting for the toilet!’ I said ‘No, I’m standing by a toilet. I have no intention of entering it unless you’re offering me cocaine or inviting me to join the Mile High Club.’ She raised her eyebrows to the God of Economy Class and with great reluctance handed me a 0.2gm can of Heineken – not enough to anesthetize a gnat let alone bring down an intrepid polar adventurer.

The second issue came when I was handed a Customs declaration form for entry into Argentina. Question Number 6: ‘Was I carrying any “sperm” on my person?’ What?!!! I bet Scott and Amundsen never got interrogated like this! What do you say when you’re a full-on Polar-Head fuelled on testosterone and crampons? Looking at the question from the perspective of Immigration – and judging that over half of the one billion Chinese population appeared to be on the flight – I ticked the ‘No’ box and then ticked ‘$0.00′ for the ‘What is the value of the goods you are bringing in?’ question – conveniently overlooking the £3,000 of scuba equipment I had in my ever-so-light luggage.

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Anyway, the Chinese population – or any other population – don’t have to worry about entry into Argentina, because during the wait at Immigration most people either die of old age or start swimming back across the South Atlantic vowing to learn from their experience and not to be so stupid in the future. Finally, I got to show the webcam a bloodshot retina, then gave Interpol the thumbprint of America’s-Most-Wanted and entered the country in 25 degrees heat wearing my ski jacket and carrying 60kg of equipment.

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The outcome is that I’m now enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Argentinian people, who have made the journey so far so worthwhile, practicing my Española, and looking forward to flying further south tomorrow.

Hasta luego, Amigos!

 

Day 1 – Saturday 9th March 2013

Position at the pier: 54°48.6’ S, 068°18.0’ W

Weather: Northerly wind 4 knots; Cloudy; Calm Sea; +5°C.

Embarkation – Ushuaia, Argentina

‘Good morning!’ And what a special morning this is. 0600hrs and I believe I am the third person awake on the good ship Plancius – or at least the third person in the observation lounge – en route to the Antarctic Polar Circle with Oceanwide Expeditions. Clemence is already here and we have had a highly profitable chat. He is indeed a jolly fine fellow from the Netherlands and we shared our reckonings and concerns for the harsh voyage ahead. As a preventive measure against the dreaded scurvy, breakfast has been a tot or three of spiced rum with that most revered of seafaring captains, J.P. Morgan.

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Supplies for rounding the Horn

The last 48 hours have brought with them a flood of the most unbelievable feelings of excitement together with a weird sense of contentment stemming from a lifetime of goal-setting and adventure. I’m also experiencing a bizarre feeling of nostalgia in a kind of ‘think-how-far-you’ve-come’ way. I guess what I mean is, I set out to travel the seven continents, even though at times it hasn’t always gone to plan, and now that dream is coming true. Never more so than when I looked out of my hotel window yesterday in Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina – the southern-most town in the world – and saw Plancius, our icebreaking expedition ship, docked in the beautiful aquamarine waters of the harbour surrounded by snow-capped peaks. That was the ship taking me to the final frontier, and, unlike Star Trek, it suddenly got very real.

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The Good Ship Plancius – Antarctica Bound!

I’d flown from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia with the biggest grin on my face, a grin that got stupidly bigger when my thousands-of-pounds-worth of dive gear and expedition equipment arrived on the airport’s carousel and I knew at that point, bar an act of God, another Falkland’s war or tripping over my shoelaces, nothing would stop me visiting Antarctica and scuba diving in her pristine waters.

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Moreover, my life would be complete and I could look forward to relaxing up and returning to the UK to build bonfires on a Sunday and crocheting antimacassars for the girls at my Women’s Institute. I pulled the tab on a can of Quilmes and sparked a roll-up and savoured the experience of finally landing in Fin de Mundo – the End of the World – and then I hailed a cab.

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Ushuaia is a Wild West town lying on a barren windswept peninsular lapped by the greeny-blue waves of the Southern Ocean and ringed by frozen mountains.

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The View from Here!

I spent the day buying final items of expedition wear – everyone should have a bright yellow fanny pack, or at least know somebody who has got one – and gifts for friends mostly of the penguin variety, and then treated myself to a bottle of Argentine red and King Crab fresh from the tank in the window of a delightful restaurant.

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King Crab

When I saw Plancius in the morning, I couldn’t stop looking at her. I had this irrational fear that perhaps the schedule had changed and rather than sail at 4pm as planned, she would depart earlier and without me. I kept checking my mobile phone in case the captain had been trying to get hold of me. I visited a museum, which was also a historic jail, all the time unable to fully appreciate the antiquities on display for fear I was being left behind.

'Just tell them you're really sorry, yeah!'

‘Just tell them you’re really sorry, yeah!’

Finally, I took a cab to the dock and joined the long procession of explorers all shuffling like Emperor Penguins as we dragged with our heavy kitbags towards the ship.

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“Permission to come aboard, sir?” was my request to the purser and his welcoming party at the top of the gangway. “Permission granted, sir!” was the reply the whole world wanted to hear.

'Permission to come aboard, sir?'

‘Permission to come aboard, sir?’

I briefly considered asking if, by chance, a single cabin had become available, having got used to four nights of privacy en route from London Heathrow. I’m so glad I didn’t, as not only did all my kit arrive, as if by magic, before me in the room, but I entered Cabin 203 to meet a wonderful Czech guy named Mirek, a charismatic Russian, Vadim, and a bloody nice Aussie called Matt. As Mirek and Vadim were busy stowing their gear away in the tiny space available, I looked at Matt and said ‘Shall we find the bar?’ ‘Does the Pope need a shag?’ he replied, with what became our mantra for the next 12 days … along with a bar bill for $2,000 between us.

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As we cruised into the Drake Passage, pods of humpback whales appearing in abundance off both bows, the beer went down well, perhaps too well, as did the champagne welcome party and introductions to polar life given by the captain, crew and expedition leaders. The excitement, rather than rescinding, just built and built and built, and we and 100 other explorers, the most amicable and interesting folks you could meet from nations all around the world, sailed towards our dream on an ocean that grew choppier by the second and saw seasickness patches popping up behind people’s earlobes like a Huxley-esque experiment. No prophylactic measures for the intrepid adventurers in my cabin, just another beer as we sat down to dine on 5-star food courtesy of Robert and Marco, the expedition chefs.

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Day 2 – Sunday 10th March 2013

Position at 08.00: 56°39.7’S 065°04.8’ W

Weather: North easterly wind, 5 knots; overcast; moderate sea; +5°C.

At sea – En route to Antarctica

In the morning, Christophe, a French expedition guide, gave the first of a highly interesting series of lectures. This one was on Antarctic birds. However, as it was highly unlikely we would meet any in the Continent’s not-so-bustling pub and clubland districts, and that lap-dancing is only just starting to take off down there, he quickly changed the subject from the elusive Arctic Shag to Albatrosses, Terns and other distractions of the feathery variety. Jim from England then gave a highly informative presentation of Antarctic weather and how this has affected historical expeditions. Basically, as far as my limited meteorological understanding goes, the problem is wind, snow, and more snow – though, I am the first to point out I do not do this educated and entertaining gentleman justice. Andrew from Australia talked about the continents geological history with a focus on its rocks – quite an endeavour as most of them are either buried below 3km of ice or covered in penguin shit.

Later in the trip came fascinating lectures from Katja, an atmospheric scientist, on greenhouse gasses, the ozone layer and what it is like to spend a pitch-black winter on the continent. These days, I try to only spend my time with atmospheric scientists. They’re a sophisticated bunch, particularly this one who has a passion for extreme adventure, Irish whiskey and building sundials using penguins sculpted from snow. Brent Houston, USA, would also bound upon stage, with all the pizazz of a Vegas comedian. With a name like that I thought I might be on the wrong ship and that we were heading instead for the Sea of Tranquillity, reassured to find out that Brent was the ornithology expert on board, who does a mean penguin impersonation … until Day 6 when we started paying him not to.

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Lecture on bird life

That evening came the moment that the fearful … fearless few had been waiting for – our extreme polar ice diving briefing given by our dive leader, Johan, from Sweden. And, as we listened to crucial safety and technical information, asking pressing questions and presenting our qualifications, equipment and experience, a very special team formed – none more ‘special’ than me, apparently, although I’m still not sure why I received such a nomenclature as I hadn’t shown anyone my dance moves at this stage.

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Day 3 – Monday 11th March 2013

Position at 08.00: 60°57.5’S 061°05.0’W

Weather: South easterly wind, 5 knots; overcast; moderate sea; 0°C

Drake Passage – Aitcho Island

We awoke to the dulcet Scottish tones of our charismatic expedition leader, Kelvin, who kindly invited all the ladies, gentlemen and people from Plymouth to venture forth to the dining room for breakfast. Expecting porridge and haggis, or possibly pemmican and penguin blubber, I was delighted to sit down with Steve and Susan and Tom and Jenny from the USA, and Bjorn from Finland, and enjoy an out-and-out feast that would put the Ritz to shame and see Jamie Oliver flipping burgers in McDonalds. It was slightly disconcerting, however, as food, crockery, cutlery and passengers slid across the tables, up the bulkheads and across the ceiling, and projectile vomiting became officially accepted as an Olympic event, that the restaurant staff calmly informed us that this was a good day to cross the Drake Passage. In addition, as we ate, an iceberg the size of Belgium floated past us. For relaxation, my next journey will be the Poseidon Adventure.

Mirek, Matt, Vadim, Jenny, Tom, Steve, Susan, Bjorn, Chris

Mirek, Matt, Vadim, Jenny, Tom, Steve, Susan, Bjorn, Chris

After breakfast, we adjourned to the lounge where Kelvin conducted a compulsory International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) briefing. In short, this meant that, in the interest of conservation, all those day-to-day habits you naturally pick up as you go through life – eating, breathing, spraying graffiti, arson, arm-wrestling penguins, and seducing the wildlfe – had to be forgotten about as we made our first foray onto this untainted land. Fortunately, nothing was mentioned about rave parties or fracking for natural gas, so I was glad I had my record decks and drilling rig with me.

We were then given a briefing on how to get in and out of the Zodiac speedboats that would be used to ferry us ashore – although the ‘getting out’ part was pretty redundant for us extreme polar scuba divers, whose backward exit rolls would soon see us employed as stunt doubles in the next Bond film. In essence, it all came down to the ‘Seaman’s Grip’ – complete wrist-on-wrist action that would get you safely onto Antarctica or into any nightclub in Harlem without paying.

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Next, the staff brought out vacuum cleaners and rubber boots, a shear look of terror spreading across the face of every explorer on board. ‘Did we have to hoover the whole continent?’ or worse still, ‘Did we have to hoover our 4-man cabins?’ – the latter, by this time, looking a cross between a crack den and a jumble sale. ‘Phew!’ Fortunately, we only had to rid our expedition clothes, boots and equipment of any seeds we may inadvertently brought with us. So the moral of this story is: If your pants are contaminated, you should consider going to Magaluf.

As we drew closer to the South Shetland Islands, Pete from England gave a wonderful presentation on the types of whales we would see, and good to his word, Fin, Minke and Humpback popped up all around us as he spoke, seeing herds of Antarcticus Exploricus running from one side of the Observation Lounge to the other, seriously increasing the roll of the ship and the share value of Cannon.

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Thar she Blows!

Then came the moment we had all been waiting for! Stepping foot onto the continent of Antarctica! Well, actually not Antarctica, because apparently the South Shetland Islands doesn’t count … but in my deluded state – only a state one gets into having drunk beer all afternoon – it was Antarctica! The final frontier! The last of seven continents! It was truly a moment for Oscar-esque speeches, satellite phone calls to someone else’s wife and wise words via podcast to the ever-growing fan base of Blue Peter viewers – but instead I casually hopped off the Zodiac with only a T-shirt on my back and an Aussie named Matt on my arm. If I can recommend one thing and one thing only, it is to only ever hop ashore in Antarctica – or the South Shetland Islands – with an Aussie named Matt on your arm. We were made up! And as we waded through heaps of Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins, covering the beach and cliff tops all around us, we got even more made up.

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Day 4 – Tuesday 12th March 2013

Position at 08.00: 62°35.4’S, 59°54.4’W

Weather: North westerly wind, 4 knots; clear; slight sea; +2°C.

Half Moon Island – Deception Island

This was the day! This was the day that the divers would get to back roll from a Zodiac into the frigid waters of Antarctica and see a double dream come true … only, it didn’t go to plan. Matt and I, together with an American, John, had been diving for seven minutes at a comfortable ‘check’ depth of five metres when we heard the emergency sign – the frantic revving of the Zodiac’s outboard engine. Something had gone wrong. We returned to the surface to find out that one of our dive buddies, a Japanese woman, had gone missing and we later found out that she had drowned. (I will refrain from naming this person for reasons of privacy). As divers, we had enthralled each other with tales of derring-do-at-depth, we laughed together at every given opportunity, but now we bandied together as a team and with a serious and empathic set to our faces, watched as the woman’s body was recovered to the ship by the dive masters who without hesitation donned their equipment and dropped into the icy water to do what they had to do. It was an awful experience for the ship’s crew and expedition staff and passengers underway on their trip of a lifetime; for the divers, it reiterated the dangers of our sport, the extreme nature of polar diving and the importance of knowing your ability and equipment, carrying out your drills and looking after your buddy – although, I should point out, it is as yet unknown the cause of this accident. Each of us would most certainly dive the next day – it was what we came here to do – and the fact that our dive leaders were able to compartmentalise such a tragedy and remain in professional mode at the pre-dive briefing in the morning was a credit to them, Oceanwide Expeditions and the scuba diving profession.

Day 5 – Wednesday 13th March 2013

Position at 08.00: 64°40.35’S, 062°37.8’W

Weather: North north westerly wind, 4 knots; clear; slight sea; 0°C

Cuverville Island – Neko Harbour

Wow! What a day. We were seriously in the Antarctic now. I won’t bore you with statistics, facts and descriptions of the snowy, mountainous, iceberg-and-ice-packed region enveloping us – mainly because everything here looks the same … absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. Already, before breakfast, we had sightings of Humpback Whales, the Loch Ness Monster, Jaws II and ET – although, to be honest, I seriously doubted some of these claims, as Humpbacks can easily be mistaken with Minkes.

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In the morning, a few of us kayaked around magnificent icebergs, each with their own unique sculpting by both wind and water, some like giant ice creams with a golf-ball finish to them, some like giant golf balls with an ice cream finish to them, and others with a tooth-scraped ‘Whose been at the cheese in the fridge?’ effect; all the time with the ear-splitting sound of ‘carving’ ice shelves falling in tons into the frozen ocean around us and Pete’s protective shrieks of ‘Come back! You’re not supposed to kayak on top of that!’

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Dr. Jan Love … Great Friend … Great Dive Buddy … Great Kayaker!

That afternoon came the dive of all dives as we carried out our buddy checks before dropping into the sapphire-blue water of Neko Harbour. Highlight of the dive was Matt tapping me on the snorkel to point out a school of penguins shooting past … closely pursued by a pod of Killer Whales, a Blue Whale, a Polar Bear and the entire cast of Finding Nemo … although my memory is getting blurred in old age and Matt is prone to exaggeration, particularly when discussing the Ashes.

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In the evening, we danced to the tunes of Bob Marley and Michael Jackson on the afterdeck and enjoyed a veritable barbecued banquet with drinks courtesy of the ship’s crew before setting forth on a camping trip to experience sleeping in the sub-zero temperatures of Paradise Bay in just a bivvy bag. I was delighted to be joined by Matt (complete with horses head – a long story) and Nico from Taiwan and Philip, an ‘extreme’ artist from Ireland who went on to paint icebergs underwater in only 3mm surfing gloves and oils. Lying under the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, with a view across the inky-black water to see Plancius lit up in all her majesty, it was the slumber party to beat all others – particularly as I wore my supremely warm and comfortable polar-diving thermals – and it provided us with the perfect opportunity to discuss important expedition issues such as how to prevent frostbite, what to feed a Husky, and who shot JR? The next morning, as we woke up under a foot of snow from a deep sleep, there were complaints of drinking, dancing, laughing and snoring coming from our side of the cove – I dispute these claims. I never snore.

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DAY 6 – Thursday, 14th March 2013

Position at 08.00: 64°53.3’S, 062°51.9’ W

Weather: Southerly wind 1 knot; snow; calm sea; +1°C.

Almirante Brown (Paradise Bay) – Lemaire Channel –

Booth Island (Port Charcot)

Just after breakfast the land-based explorers were invited to don their rubber gear and apply Vaseline to any exposed parts and go and visit an Argentinian research base named Almirante Brown, while us divers got the instruction to go and dig out our Zodiacs and scuba gear from under two feet of snow that had settled overnight on the upper foredeck. Buddied up with Lynn, (male) a physicist from the USA, we dived along a wall that dropped off a hundred or so more metres below us, the sub-freezing water temperature no more an issue in our first-rate equipment – Waterproof dry suit from Sweden, Fourth Element undersuit and Northern Diver dry gloves – than any dive we’ve done back home – in fact, I’m always colder in the tropics. What was an issue, however, was when reaching a depth eighteen metres, just beginning to enjoy sea anemones and an alien-like thirty-seven-legged starfish, I started to breath in the coldest water the planet has to offer. Having taken in three lungful’s and ridding myself of the possibility that I might have a spare set of gills like Kevin Costner in Waterworld, I came to the conclusion that something was seriously wrong and I was drowning. Raising a hand to my mouth I soon found out part of the problem – I had no regulator in it, only the rubber mouthpiece which for reasons beyond me at the time had separated from the main unit containing the all-important air supply. Hesitantly, I switched to my reserve, all the time wondering if it too had suffered the same fate, which for all I knew could have been anything from a cold-water implosion to a Leopard Seal’s breakfast. Fortunately, it worked, and I was able to tap Lynn on the shoulder and give the ‘let’s ascend’ thumbs-up sign followed by a two-armed wave on the surface to Johan in the Zodiac, a signal no diver ever wants to give. Johan was right on the ball and zoomed in to pick us up, and once in the boat I could see what the problem had been – the plastic tie holding the mouthpiece to the Apeks regulator had shattered in the bitterly cold water.

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Unperturbed, we set out that afternoon for Booth Island to dive around an iceberg, the dive guides taking great care to choose us one that had no chance of rolling over. To say it was the experience of a lifetime would be an understatement, although with the morning’s shenanigans in the back of my mind and the fresh water coming off the berg to mix with the salt it was more buoyancy than beauty that occupied our thoughts for the first fifteen minutes of the dive. Lynn and I bobbed up and down like two yo-yos that had had a falling out, all the time gazing down through the turquoise water into the black abyss below. At one point for a photo, I tried to grab a hold of the monster to steady myself, only to find out that ice must be the slipperiest substance known to man. But after a time we were able to relax, get some great shots, and appreciate the exquisite sculpting of this creation and the indescribable aura emanating from it.

Click for video!

Ice?

Ice?

Day 7 – Friday 15th March 2013

Position at 08.00: 66°32.6’S 69°28.9’W

Weather: East north east wind 5knots; snow; moderate sea; +1°C

Crossing the Polar Circle – Detaille Island

This was the moment we had all been waiting for – the one we had paid a significant amount more money to experience … crossing the South Polar Circle to follow in the footsteps (or should I say wake) of all those intrepid explorers that had gone before – Shackelton, Scott, Amundsen … and Ben Fogle. It had been a tentative few days, as due to the death of our fellow explorer no one knew whether we might have to cut the trip short and head back north to repatriate her body. Not one person would have complained if that had turned out to be the decision the company made, our thoughts were with her family back in Japan, but it’s a strange sort of credit to her and her loved ones that as she lay at rest she enabled us all to accomplish the dream of a lifetime. Thank you is not enough to express our gratitude – gutted, was the look on everyone’s faces as Kelvin led us into a two-minute silence later that day.

Just after breakfast, as the Bridge announced ‘66°33’44’’S’ a massive cheer went up and we raised a glass of champagne to toast our achievement, our environment, the crew and expedition staff, and, of course, the good ship Plancius.

South Polar Circle - Cheers!

South Polar Circle – Cheers!

As the Exploradores de la Tierra went ashore at Detaille Island to witness an old research base that was abandoned in a hurry – clothes still hanging up, ashtrays full and cupboards still stocked with tins of food, passing Weddell and Crabeater Seals as they did – Lynn and I back-rolled of the Zodiac into the crystal-clear water of the South Polar Circle to fulfil our lifelong goal.

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Polar Exploration – Love it or Hate it!

We met up at the front of the boat and then finned our way over to the nearby cliff face and a fifty-metre drop-off. After a few seconds to gather our thoughts and do a second ‘final’ equipment check, we gave each other the OK sign followed by a thumbs down and then slid slowly beneath the surface into the minus 2 deep below us. It was an amazing moment, the culmination of the previous days’ build-up and events, the culmination of a lifetime of aspiration, the culmination of being part of a dive group that were achieving the ultimate and doing it as a team.  I won’t bore you with we saw down there – to be honest, you don’t understand an awful lot unless you’re brushed up on marine biology and geology. My dive log just says ‘Polar Circle. Wall’. It’s all it needs to say.

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In fact, I won’t bore you with the intricate day-to-day details of the five-day journey home; I think I’ve said enough and that the photos say more than I can. Except that a huge and hospitable experience was a visit to the Ukrainian ‘Vernadsky’ research base – where the 11-month-long team of scientists treated us to a glass of moonshine, the most-southerly game of pool I will ever play and stamps in our passports and dive logs.

Chris Thrall - Bestselling Author, Polar Diver ... Mediocre Pool Player!

Chris Thrall – Bestselling Author, Polar Diver … Mediocre Pool Player!

That watching a pod of Orcas – Killer Whales – take down an Arnoux’s Beaked Whale over the course of two hours was a sight not too many people ever get to see.

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That snorkelling with a Leopard Seal as it devoured a penguin isn’t something I will forget in a hurry – especially as I got a few seconds of video.

Click here for leopard seal action!

Photo Copyright of Jerry Sutton 2013

Photo Copyright of Jerry Sutton 2013

That being attacked by a fur seal as we explored an ancient Norwegian whaling station was a real bonus.

Click here for fur seal action!

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That winning the pub quiz as ‘The Plunging Professors’ was a super end to the trip.

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That sinking a few more beers et al with my cabin mates – Matt, Vadim, Mirek – along with Tom and Jenny and Steve and Susan from the USA, Bjorn from Finland, an awesome dive team – Jan, Philip, Philippe, Jen, Kim, Duncan, Hiroya, Matt, Lynn, John, Jason, Yolly, Johan, Jerry (dive guide), Erin (dive guide) – and all the other expedition members, staff and ship’s crew I had the pleasure of spending time with made the journey all the more worth it.

'Let's Dive!'

‘Let’s Dive!’

However, what I will say is this: If you are reading this as a diver or non-diver, you have to visit Antarctica. Start chucking your spare change into a glass jar, because I and 100 other explorers promise you it will be worth it.

This is Antarctica. This is the South Polar Circle … and we were here.

Thank you for reading.

Chris Thrall is the bestselling author of the memoir Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland

facebook.com/christhrallauthor

twitter.com/chris_thrall

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Wish You were Here!


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Ten Interview Questions for “The Next Big Thing” – Chris Thrall

Thank you very much to Sid Kali, US film director, for inviting me to be interviewed for The Next Big Thing. Check out Sid’s work here at Slice of Americana Films Indie Entertainment.
 
I guess I better answer some questions!
 

What is the working title of your book?

 
Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – a memoir
 

Where did the idea come from for the book?

 

I left the British Marines to run a successful business in Hong Kong but less than a year alter was in psychosis from crystal meth addiction and working for the 14K, a triad crime syndicate, as a nightclub doorman in the Wan Chai red-light district.

 

What genre does your book fall under?

 

Drug memoir.

 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

 

Every one says Tom Hardy for me – although he’d have to be a good deal younger!

 

Chanel Boom Latorre to play my Filipina girlfriend.

 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

 

 

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

 

My book has been published by Blacksmith Books of Hong Kong

 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

 

Six months

 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

 

The Beach by Alex Garland, The Damage Done by Warren Fellows, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, Mr Nice by Howard Marks

 

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

 

I wanted to be a writer! In addition, I felt I had a story.

 

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

 
Not too many Royal Marines end up in crystal meth psychosis and working for the Hong Kong triads – I think that’s enough!

On next week’s Blog Hop please check out what the following Writers have to offer:

 Keith McMullen – Author of How to Please the Opposite Sex

Jane Houng – Author of Bloodswell

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How to write a memoir …

How to Write a Memoir

How to write a memoir … procrastination to print made simple

 by CHRIS THRALL

Author of the international bestseller

Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland

www.christhrall.com

 Introduction

First off, I don’t profess to be an expert. But I did put together a 230,000-word manuscript in six months with only a high school qualification in English. Then having taught myself how to improve my writing and editing I figured a way to get a publisher to approach me – rather than the other way around. So this humble advice is for those of you who, like me with Eating Smoke, have a story you want to tell but limited knowledge on how to go about telling it, let alone seeing it through to print.

On writing – an important lesson

I was encouraged to retake high school English by a colleague I served with in the Royal Marines. Having completed a correspondence course, he said, ‘It’s easy, Chris. Passing the English exam is not about how much you know but the way you put it across.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Well, it’s like this. We were asked to write an essay about someone in prison. I could have written: “The prisoner sat in his cell …”’

‘Uh-huh …’

‘But what I wrote was: “Beams of sunshine poured through the cell’s tiny, barred window, ricocheting around the room, filling the cold stone chamber with light, supplying the prisoner’s heart with hope and freedom.”’

‘Ahhh! I see! You mean you put the reader in the story!’

‘Exactly!’ said my friend, with a grin.

Not only did his impromptu English lesson make more sense than any I’d attended at school, but it earned me straight As for the first three assignments I posted off, with a note attached to the fourth feedback informing me I should take the English exam right away instead of seeing the year-long course through. I did and passed it, and that’s the only experience I had of learning English before writing Eating Smoke sixteen years later.

The aim of this free download e-book

The aim of this free download e-book is to encourage you to go from procrastination to completion of your manuscript with easy-to-understand instruction and by adopting a pragmatic approach, allowing you insight into the art of good writing as you progress. It is not intended to be a comprehensive grammar, punctuation and stylistic guide. There is an abundance of these already available in the marketplace that you will naturally wish to invest in as the writing bug takes hold.

Getting started

1. Work out the time-frame when you write your memoir or autobiography

Work out which part of your story the target audience will want to read about. This may sound obvious, but you should decide if you’re writing a memoir – a period in your life – or an autobiography – your life story. This will help you to keep focussed and save time on editing.

2. Understand the role backstory plays

Backstory is your history – everything that has taken place in your life until now. Backstory can add valuable insight into your character(s), but it can also sidetrack the reader and become boring. If you are writing a biography, it’s all going to be backstory. If you are writing a book entitled My Month in Tibet, then backstory isn’t going to play such a prominent role. Either way, backstory doesn’t need to be volumes; nor does it have to be set out in chronological order like a diary or journal. You can take snippets of appropriate backstory and slot them into the manuscript at pertinent moments.

*Example from Eating Smoke

I picked up the receiver and heard Sarah’s voice for the first time in what seemed ages. It must have been close to midnight back in the UK – maybe she’d had a drink and got a bit sentimental.

Nineteen when we met in the club in Plymouth, we went out together for three years …

3. Make a list

Spend time typing up everything you can remember that you feel is relative to your memoir. This might require some research and should include incidents, events, characters, conversations, relationships and appropriate backstory. Get it all down, in no particular order, and then arrange these key recollections into a rough timeline of events using cut and paste. Then you have to be ruthless with the delete button by applying a rule of thumb.

Note. If you spend a couple of evenings making your list over a glass or two of your favourite tipple, you’ll find that embarking on a memoir is easier than you thought. Not only is this a fun way to go about it but you’ll leave the ‘I’m-thinking-of-writing-a-book’ mindset and join the ‘I’m-writing-a-book’ one.

4. A rule of thumb

 A rule of thumb is to leave out narrative that doesn’t take the story forward by adding to the understanding of your character(s), the situation you are describing or the outcome of events. This includes irrelevant anecdotes, unnecessary backstory and other off-subject matter. In short, no one needs to know your favourite colour or read about the kid who had a crush on you in high school (unless it adds to the understanding of your character(s), the situation you are describing or the outcome of events) but they might like to learn that falling out of a tree as a child gave you a fear of heights if your story is about conquering Mount Everest.

5. Write a prologue

Even if you don’t intend to have a prologue, I’d suggest writing a short one. You can always delete it later. The reason being, it’s an easy way to slip into the writing process. It will give you an idea of what your story’s focus and selling point is and you can show it to friends and start getting feedback as a ‘writer’. Tailor your prologue to suit your type of book. Short and to the point appears to be the current trend.* A bit of humour can work, too.

* If at all – hence, you can delete it later.

*Here is the prologue to Eating Smoke

In 2004, I worked in a mental health unit. People often asked, ‘How can you stand it with all those nutters?’ I’d quote from the textbook: ‘It’s a misunderstood condition affecting one in four people at some stage in their lives.’ I never told the real reason. I worried that knowledge might confuse them.

You see, in 1996, I went mad.

Now, this isn’t necessarily as bad as it sounds. The UK has plenty of systems in place to help people who throw wobblers – doctors, medicine, hospitals, not to mention Incapacity Benefit and God. Unfortunately, these comforts were in short supply when it happened to me. Therefore, I must warn you: If your mind is planning on playing an away game, taking a sabbatical or simply f##### off, don’t for Christ’s sake let it happen while working as a nightclub doorman in Hong Kong’s red-light district …

6. Consider making the first chapter the ‘hook’

If you’re not an A-list celebrity with a top-notch publicity team behind you, you might want to make your first chapter the ‘hook’ – a harrowing, pertinent or exciting moment – to engage readers, agents, publishers and yourself.

*Here are the opening lines from Eating Smoke

The Man in the Mirror …

I STARED INTO THE LARGEST SHARD of blood-splashed glass.

‘Do I know you?’

‘You’ve never known him at all…’

Sitting on the filthy concrete, I convulsed occasionally and whimpered like a sick dog. I hadn’t slept for days, the crystal meth pulsing through my veins denying all refuge from the madness enveloping me.

Now that the anger had passed, I found myself suspended in a ghostly calm, trying to focus my mind and piece together a life as fragmented as the mirror I’d smashed. I needed to make sense of what happened and put a stop to the Voice.

I leant forward, slowly, to examine the claw marks in my scalp and a haunted face I hardly recognised.

‘Is this me?’

The only thing still familiar was the eyes – although now they were bloodshot and yellow with pupils raging deep and menacing. I wondered if these black abysses could dilate further, triumphing over the turquoise rings around them, heralding the madness had claimed my soul.

Get writing!

 7. Get writing!

Pick the first event in your timeline and write about it. Ask yourself, ‘Does this anecdote take the story forward or add special interest to it?’ But most of all, WRITE! WRITE! WRITE! Go for it! Get as many words down on paper as you can every day. Before you know it, you will have a manuscript. Don’t worry about getting it perfect, as you’ll glean a lot from books, Internet sites and your own intuition as you progress. You can then employ your newfound knowledge in the editing process when it all starts to make more sense.

Continue reading

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A Review of ‘My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia’ by Leanne Waters

“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now …”

– a review of My Secret Life: A Memoir of Bulimia by Leanne Waters

I found this book to be exceptional, for so many reasons it’s hard to articulate in this short piece.

Leanne’s writing style is up there with the best, descriptive, articulate and richly metaphorical; the recall of her experience so detailed – as only the memory of someone who has been through extreme trauma can be.

Leanne takes you through the phases of bulimia, from the socio-psychological foundations of this condition – for example, the bullying at school – to the ‘fasting’, ‘binging’, ‘purging’ and ‘recovery’ that then plays out – each stage intricately narrated for the readers understanding and at the respective pace.

You find yourself so in-tune with Leanne’s story and so fond of her personality that you wonder how in our society this self-denunciation could be allowed to happen, or to go unseen – particularly brought home as Leanne details hiding her bulimia from all those around her

My favourite line is the book is “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves now” and the most touching part for me is when her friends stand fast to support her recovery.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is invented. The Girl with the Eating Disorder is real life. Take your pick … I know which book added more to my life …

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland– a bestselling true story

www.christhrall.com

www.facebook.com/eatingsmoke

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon signed copy of Eating Smoke and signed author photo

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A review of Wordjazz for Stevie by Jonathan Chamberlain

“…life worth living…”

 

Wordjazz for Stevie is Jonathan Chamberlain’s deep and moving tribute to his late eight-year-old daughter, a candid and beautifully written soliloquy born out of the pain of loss but conveying hope, love, happiness and insight.

Stevie arrives in the world when expat Jonathan and his Chinese wife are living on a quiet island off Hong Kong. Although shocked to learn Stevie has Down syndrome, Jonathan and Bern immediately accept the additional challenges this presents, challenges that increase significantly when an operation to close a hole in Stevie’s heart goes horribly wrong, starving her of oxygen and resulting in severe disability. Towards the end of Stevie’s short-but-delight-giving years, little does Jonathan know her failing health is not the only major life-changing event on the horizon.

Wordjazz for Stevie is a remarkable testament to the human spirit, friendship and integrity. Penned with fondness and gratitude, it will appeal to anyone who has faced hardship or prejudice, love and loss, or can relate to bureaucracy and social/cultural difference whether at home or abroad. But putting the textbooks aside, it’s simply a touching and enlightening story that should inspire all who read it.

And if you’re wondering why I choose this title for my review, I opened the book at random and this is what I saw.

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland– a bestselling true story

 

www.christhrall.com

www.facebook.com/eatingsmoke

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon signed copy of Eating Smoke and signed author photo

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The Alphabet of Vietnam by Jonathan Chamberlain

When men come back from war they bring the war back with them …

Having read two of Jonathan Chamberlain’s memoirs – King Hui about a Hong Kong playboy and Wordjazz for Stevie, a touching tribute to Jonathan’s late daughter who was born profoundly handicapped – I was really looking forward to reading ‘The Alphabet of Vietnam’ and seeing how Jonathan turns his hand to fiction. I was more than impressed. It is an exceptional piece of writing, well researched, one that explores the light and dark in every ‘man’s’ soul in a refreshingly unapologetic manner.

The story unfolds through a series of skillfully interwoven narratives: Two psychotic – or perhaps completely sane – Vietnam veterans who bring their sick war games home with them. A brother who comes to question all he believes in an attempt to do what is right. A return to modern-day Vietnam that explores US war crimes and the country’s rich history and culture through a series of cleverly though out vignettes.

‘And then there is love – and love is complicated …’

What a great book!

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland – a bestselling true story.

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‘Serving in the Royal Marines was easy compared with being a crystal meth addict’

Chris Thrall advises people on how to quit drugs

Chris Thrall. Author of 'Eating Smoke'

By AMY JONES The Sun

WHEN handsome young Marine Chris Thrall left the Forces to move to Hong Kong, he expected to make his fortune.

 

But within months he was homeless, alone and fighting an enemy more dangerous than anything he faced serving his country — crystal meth.

Chris almost lost his sanity and his life after becoming addicted to crystal meth, also known as ice. Now he supports others how to quit drugs and has written a bestselling book, Eating Smoke, about his experience.

Click HERE to read about how Chris’s life was before he quit drugs and showed others how to quit drugs.

He says: “I loved my time in the Marines and the challenges that came with each day. But looking back, it was nothing compared to what I faced at the height of my addiction to crystal meth.”

Sadly, Chris is one of a growing number of the drug’s victims.

Meth is twice as addictive as heroin and more damaging to health than crack cocaine.

After ravaging communities across Asia, Australia and the US, it is now on Britain’s streets, sold for as little as £10 a gram — which is enough to keep a user on a permanent high for nine days.

Chris, from Plymouth, never dabbled in drugs during his time in the Royal Marine Commandos. He joined up at 18 and served seven years, including stints in Northern Ireland, before quitting to launch a marketing firm in Asia.

He said: “I loved being a Marine. I was doing something for my country and earning better money than friends who’d gone to university. But I got involved in an exciting business venture and went to Hong Kong to make my millions.”

Unfortunately, the venture failed and his company went bust.

Chris, now 42, says: “It was hard. I had racked up a lot of debt and suddenly I was jobless.”

He found a job at a Hong Kong firm marketing computer chips after answering an ad.

A few months after joining, Chris walked in on a colleague in the toilets smoking meth, which can also be snorted or injected.

He recalls: “He offered me some and I thought, ‘Why not? How harmful can it be if he’s smoking it in the middle of the day?’ I took two puffs.

“Back at my computer, I suddenly felt this rush. It was like nothing I’d ever felt. I knew I was addicted straight away. The next day I wanted more.”

At first crystal meth — scientific name methamphetamine — made Chris feel fantastic and there was no shortage of dealers.

He says: “I could pick it up on the way home from work. It was as easy as buying milk.”

But things soon got out of control.

Chris said: “I was getting nowhere in the office so I got a job as a nightclub doorman in Wan Chai — the red light district. I thought if I worked at night, I wouldn’t be able to take drugs.

“But that soon went out the window. My addiction was life consuming. I was on it constantly. It overloaded my brain and I began to lose the plot. You’re incredibly tired so you hallucinate. On top of that, psychosis starts to develop. I found myself wondering how to quit drugs.”

FOR THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUN, CLICK HERE

Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland– a bestselling true story. He now gives his advice on how to quit drugs.

Chris will shortly be writing a post on how to quit drugs

www.christhrall.com

www.facebook.com/eatingsmoke

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon signed copy of Eating Smoke and signed author photo

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To hell and back: An expat’s life on the edge in Hong Kong

A former drug user publishes his memoir of working for the 14K Hong Kong triads

Eating Smoke

 

In the 1990s, former Royal Marine Chris Thrall found himself being sucked into a downward spiral in Hong Kong, when his work as a Wanchai bouncer drew him into the world of triads and crystal meth addiction. Now 42, off drugs and pursuing a new life, Thrall reveals how he saw the end — and found a future — in his autobiography “Eating Smoke.”

 

CNNGo: Considering your addiction, how were you able to remember things so clearly?

Chris Thrall: Using crystal meth and the psychosis I experienced didn’t affect my memory. I think when you’re young and finding yourself in the world –- especially in such a memorable setting as Hong Kong -– you remember an awful lot, particularly the pertinent things like relationships you had with people and the crazy things you get up to.

“Eating Smoke” is a collection of those memories. I also experienced a great deal of highs, lows and trauma. Incidents you don’t forget in a hurry. There’s probably also a lot I don’t remember and probably just as well.

*

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Drug-induced Paranoia on the Mean Streets of Hong Kong

 

To read the original bigger article click HERE

Eating Smoke reviewed by the South China Morning Post

To read the original bigger article click HERE

To order Eating Smoke click HERE

To watch the book trailer on YouTube click HERE

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