How does an architect talk to an actor about something an activist does? How should a teacher exchange notes with a dancer? What if this is further complicated by them not speaking the same language?
The challenges are many for someone putting together a book, but in the case of editor Justine Vaz, who co-edited Living Landscapes, Connected Communitieswith Narumol Aphinives, she says that it is “probably the most difficult thing” she has ever done. “I’m comfortable with the subject matter, but I’ll think twice – no, many times – before I ever do something like this again,” she laughs.
Living Landscapes, Connected Communities is an ambitious regional project featuring almost 50 contributors from five countries: Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines. Published by Penang-based publisher Areca Books, the book comprises essays, personal reflections, poetry and photographs of people and the communities and environment they live in.
It examines biocultural diversity – the way different communities in different countries interact with their surroundings, drawing upon shared values and cultural heritage, as they negotiate an ever-changing world. More specifically, it explores five areas in these countries – Tasik Chini in Malaysia, Kali Code in Indonesia, Khiriwong in Thailand, Biwako in Japan and Batanes in the Philippines – in its aim to better understand local responses to contemporary social, economic and environmental challenges.
“If anything, the book is a celebration of diversity, with a focus on the communities and how they react and respond to changes around them. It is an accessible introduction to our social world in Asia,” Vaz says. “Working on the book was a tough journey, but the challenges are worth overcoming. The result is a credible and worthy volume.”
It comes under the auspices of the Asian Public Intellectual (API) Regional Project with the support of The Nippon Foundation.
“Certainly, one of the things that I was conscious about was not making it look like research tourism,” shares Vaz during a chat at the book launch in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year, adding that it is a book written with the layperson in mind. “Anyone who is curious about society, particularly new tertiary students, will find that this is an accessible book with stories that will intrigue and inspire the reader to find out more.”