PEOPLE WITH CARS often end up lugging stuff around for other folk. Take, for example, my former colleague Nate Thayer, whose odder-than-usual bit of luggage was the corpse of one of history’s greatest mass murderers.
Nate, a reporter, had trekked through the jungles of Cambodia to get one of the scoops of the century: he had interviewed Pol Pot, a dictator responsible for more than a million murders.
The mass killer died shortly afterward. (Yeah, meeting journalists REALLY ups your stress level.) Nate poked him to make sure he was dead, and then was asked to help transport the body in a pickup truck. “It felt kind of weird to be driving along with a dead historical figure,” he told us when he got back to the office.
I thought about throwing into the conversation an anecdote about an impolite hitchhiker I once picked up, but I changed my mind. Sometimes you meet someone whose stories are so amazing that they make normal conversational exchanges impossible. Nate was one of those guys—and there were others in the office, too.
Those memories come from the time I worked at the Far Eastern Economic Review, also known as FEER. It's in the news today because the owner, Dow Jones, has revealed that it is going to stop printing it, abandoning a name which has appeared on newsstands for 63 years.
FEER produced lots of scoops. In 1998, Malaysian leader Mohamed Mahathir complained about the magazine’s allegation that there was a rift between him and his deputy Anwar Ibrahim. Not true at all, he said, before throwing Anwar in jail.
In 2002, FEER predicted that a killer microbe would appear in southern China, cross to Hong Kong, and then cause global panic. A few months later, the killer microbe SARS appeared in southern China, crossed the border to Hong Kong, and then caused global panic. The then editor L. Gordon Crovitz took out an ad in newspapers saying, “Sometimes we wish we got it wrong.”
My father was writing an article for FEER when I was conceived so it was inevitable that I would join the staff.
But while other reporters got mega-scoops, my job was to document the small, quirky tales that defined life in Asia-Pacific on a page called Travellers’ Tales.
I’ll never forget the Filipino woman who claimed to have given birth to a fish.
Or the couple in Tianjin, China who offered a fortune to any man who would marry their household ghost.
Or the Australian motorist who tried to escape driving penalties by claiming that his wife was driving, despite the fact that she had been dead for four years.
Or Britz, a dog picked up from a New Zealand town by a tornado and put down so far away it took him ten hours to walk home.
Or the Japanese salary-man who was so ashamed of having missed a meeting that he had himself kidnapped to provide a worthy enough excuse.
Or the thousands of funny pictures (see top of this column and below) we were sent.
From then on, the magazine’s death became inevitable.
Mass murderers hiding in the jungles are reading this and saying, “Yippee, guys. We’re safe!”