Back in 2002, Annpo decided to make a trip of a lifetime around East Asia. But she was no ordinary backpacker, she was an anthropologist on ‘fieldwork,’ determined to discover the ways big and small borders are reconstructed by, and reshape, different peoples around the continent. She was there to break bread with the locals, and along the way, she discovered that they were not the strangers of her imagination. Border disputes across East Asia have thrown up similar anxieties to the ones she knows from back home, a country not recognised by the UN, an island in limbo after China’s bitter civil war.
And so she travelled. From Vietnam’s even heating conflict zone, to the icy cold line that separates Korea north and south at latitude 38 degrees. To Macau, where she stayed not in high rise luxury, but in the shabby wooden shacks that have survived the city’s glossy casino makeover. She took the cheapest bus from China’s border with North Korea down to Beijing, experiencing the life for the superpower’s poorest citizens. Next came visits to a Thai-Burma border town. Daring to go where most tourists don’t and determined to get deeper than the surface most tourists see, Annpo was on a journey across melancholy borders.
Paying homage to Levi-Strauss’ Tristes Tropiques, the sixteen essays that make up Tristes Frontières are not just a record of Annpo’s adventures across Asia, of the repeated collisions with borders real and imagined, but also a vivid example of what we might call a ‘sensory anthropology.’ This book is a conversation about identity and boundaries. But Annpo shows us, there is a world beyond the boundaries we create for ourselves.