Tag Archives: history

Obama in Laos: an open letter to Barry of Speakeasy Recording Studios

Barry, Wow. You asked me to write about your experiences at Souphanouvong University  on September 7, the day that Obama hosted a town hall meeting that you almost attended. Although you have read a couple of my books, I don't think you know that the first book I wrote was about Obama. I started that book well before he was even nominated for the Presidency. When I went to Jakarta to research his childhood years there, no one knew he was. I had no idea he would become President, and to cover my bets, I started out writing a "safe" book, in which I used food as the basis for a biography. With an African father, a childhood in Hawaii, years in Indonesia and Chicago, as well as an awareness of gourmet food, the book would have attracted an audience even if his political  career flopped. The book was to be called Obama Jalan Jalan--I even had a cover made.stephen-black-obama-jalan-jalan-1 But then...Everything Happened. I felt that I had a chance--and an obligation, to use text to respond to one of the biggest, if not the biggest social vents in my lifetime. The food book became: Obama Search Words.osw-cover OSW was, most likely, the first ebook made in Singapore to be uploaded on Kindle. OSW is full of graphs and photos, which were "cutting edge" at the time, as 2008 Kindles were only set up for displaying text in greyscale. I have been lowly updating OSW  myself, meaning reformatting, which is now a pleasure thanks to Reedsy. I had been thinking of adding an afterword, something to conclude the book. I ended the book with an image of his Inauguration. So, to finally get to the point, your request has given me much to think about. Can't say too much more except that I am writing a little and thinking a lot. What is the deadline? Finally, this excerpt from Obama's speech leapt out at me: This is my 11th visit to Asia as President of the United States, but it's my first visit to Laos.  And in fact, I’m the first United States President ever to come here.  And with the kindness that you’ve shown me, I’m sure I will not be the last.  Other Presidents will want to come as well.  And I promise you I will come back when I'm no longer President.  (Applause.)  And the good thing about when I come back and I'm not President I won't have so much security.  (Laughter.)  And I can sit and relax and have some food, and I won't be so busy.    Thanks for asking me to write something Barry. May end up being two pieces, one for your newsletter, one to conclude the updated book.   Onward! SB PS..I do not know why the format of this is like it is... When I preview what I have written on this blog, it looks fine. Once I hit publish, however, all formatting seems to disappear. The photo used as a header for this post is from Reuters and is used without permission for noncommercial purposes. Barry Graham was in Laos doing sound recording for a movie project. The website for his company, Speakeasy, is here. Part of  the reason Barry was in Laos was because he worked on movies like this. And this.   <iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/x08uLnSryXs" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>  

Office of the Press Secretary

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE September 6, 2016  



  In the morning, the President will tour the Cooperative Orthotic Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) Visitor Centre, where he will meet with unexploded ordnance clearance teams and survivors of UXO blasts  This tour will be pooled press.   Later in the morning, the President will deliver remarks at the COPE Visitor Centre.  These remarks will be pooled press.   Afterward, the President will depart Vientiane, Laos and travel to Luang Prabang, Laos. The departure from Wattay International Airport and the arrival at Luang Prabang International Airport will be open to pre-credentialed media.   In the afternoon, the President will tour Wat Xieng Thong Buddhist Temple.  This tour will be pooled press.   Later in the afternoon, the President will hold a Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) town hall at the Souphanouvong University Auditorium in Luang Prabang, Laos. This town hall is open to pre-credentialed media.   Afterward, the President will depart Luang Prabang, Laos and travel to Vientiane, Laos. The departure from Luang Prabang International Airport and the arrival at Wattay International Airport will be open to pre-credentialed media.   In the evening, the President will participate in an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) gala dinner hosted by Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith of Laos.  There will be a pool spray at the top of this dinner.   The President will remain overnight in Laos.   Out-of-Town Travel Pool Wires: AP, Reuters, Bloomberg Wire Photos: AP, Reuters, AFP TV Corr & Crew: NBC Print: Wall Street Journal   ICT   10:20AM        THE PRESIDENT tours the COPE Visitor Centre Vientiane, Laos Pooled Press   10:50AM        THE PRESIDENT delivers remarks COPE Visitor Centre, Vientiane, Laos Pooled Press   11:20AM        THE PRESIDENT departs Vientiane, Laos en route Luang Prabang, Laos Wattay International Airport Open to Pre-Credentialed Media   12:05PM         THE PRESIDENT arrives Luang Prabang, Laos Luang Prabang International Airport Open to Pre-Credentialed Media   12:30PM         THE PRESIDENT tours Wat Xieng Thong Buddhist Temple Luang Prabang, Laos Pooled Press   2:35PM           THE PRESIDENT holds a YSEALI town hall Souphanouvong University, Luang Prabang, Laos Open to Pre-Credentialed Media   4:25PM           THE PRESIDENT departs Luang Prabang, Laos en route Vientiane, Laos Luang Prabang International Airport Open to Pre-Credentialed Media   5:10PM           THE PRESIDENT arrives Vientiane, Laos Wattay International Airport Open to Pre-Credentialed Media   8:00PM           THE PRESIDENT participates in an ASEAN gala dinner hosted by Prime Minister Sisoulith of Laos National Convention Centre, Vientiane, Laos Pool Spray at the Top  


Obama Search Words extracts

Obama Search Words was in an Unglue campaign which was derailed because of Hurricane Sandy. This video was created for that campaign. Obama Search Words Obama Search Words combines original research in Jakarta, Chicago, New York and Japan with fact-based fiction and screenplays. The result is a book that is as unique as Barack Obama. excerpt from A World Champion in the Orchard

Barry would jump and run around everywhere. He was very active. I remember him pretending to be a boxer…”

The elderly gentleman seated next to me pronounces his words precisely, yet warmly and with a slight Dutch accent. His manners are dignified and friendly. His eyes sparkle. Later, when it comes time for a photo, he quickly puts his arm around his lovely wife.

He points to a rambutan tree in the back. “When Barry lived here it was all kampung and fruit trees, what we call orangbatavia, the real Jakarta.” We were all good neighbors, helping each other. Good neighbors are important.”

The man is Coenraad Satia Koesoema and his wife is Djumeati. She was a stewardess and is eleven years his junior. On this pleasant Sunday morning they are generously sharing their memories of a boy named Barry Soetoro. Barry is now the man the world knows as Barack Obama. They met Barry, his mother Ann and her husband Lolo Soetoro in late 1967, the same year that John McCain was taken prisoner in Hanoi.

Kampung’ means village and in Jakarta, the head of the kampung is called a rukun tetanagga, or an RT.

Coenraad is the RT of Menteng Dalam, the village where Barack Obama lived with his mother and his Indonesian stepfather from the end of 1967 until 1970. To be clear, this village was, and is, composed of “normal” houses made of wood and concrete. They had electricity and running water and the streets were paved. ‘Village’, in this case, means community.

The job of an RT is to maintain good communication between neighbors.” Coenraad tells me. He has been RT of the 37 houses in Menteng Dalam since 1962. He knows just about everything about the village. Because they lived nearby, Coenraad and his wife became very good friends with Barry and his mother.

Mrs. Ann”, taught English classes in their living room. Coenraad says Lolo was from the city of Yoyogykarta, an Indonesian city with a culture and history of its own. Lolo was not as open as his wife and stepson and didn’t really know many people. Coenraad doesn’t remember seeing him at the mosque: “He was busy. It was a hard time.”

Lolo was like an American worker, but with Indonesian hobbies,” Coenraad says. “I know he took care of his family, but he wasn’t like the other neighbors.” Djumeati was at the hospital when Lolo passed away. Coenraad has kept in touch with Barry’s sister Maya through the years, keeping her posted on neighborhood news.

The house where Barry lived is empty now, but I imagine it as it was then. In the backyard there are baby crocodiles in a bathtub and snakes in cages. A bird of paradise from Papua New Guinea. Turtles and a monkey named Tata. Inside the small house: souvenirs from Ann’s travels; batiks, paintings and carvings. School books and anthropology texts. The call to prayers from the nearby mosque. There are bird noises, phone calls andthe occasional sounds of vendors rolling by with their pushcarts and distinctive cries.

Tek tek tek. A percussive solitary rhythm from outside the house. Tek tek tek. The couple watch my face to see if I know the sound. I do. “Ah!” I say nonchalantly, “the mie baso (meat balls) vendor”. Actually, I only know this because I had walked around the area previously and had seen the man making the noise. “Mie baso” was painted on the glass window of his cart and the ingredients for making the noodle-based dish were inside. I followed him as he rolled through the neighborhood, tapping periodically and watching for customers. Tek Tek Tek.

...the rest of the story as well as photos, graphic novel illustrations and more are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Search-Words-Stephen-Black-ebook/dp/B001U8981S

Excerpt from Coffee on I-75

Location: A truck stop on the I-75 freeway,between Detroit, Michigan and

Toledo, Ohio. The freeway, the parked semis carrying new cars and the surrounding soybean fields are all covered with snow. An SUV idles in the parking lot, JIM on the driver’s side, MARY beside him. They are a white married couple, retired. We can almost smell their hot coffee and warm cinnamon rolls.


Be careful with that. Don’t spill it. It’s hot. You need a napkin. You’ve got glaze all


JIM ignores this, looks outside, behind her.


From behind we see a man in a nice blue overcoat walking towards the SUV. His

footprints look decisive. He stops. We see he’s handsome and dark-skinned. We can see his breath. He removes his gloves, taps something inside his coat and walks forward.



What the heck is that guy doing?


(pulling a newspaper over her purse.)

Lock the doors!


too well off to be homeless. I’ll bet he’s a proselytizer.


The man in the overcoat gets closer to the

car, smiles and raises his hand.



Jim back up and let’s go! He wants in!


Maybe he needs help. Could be car trouble.


Jim! He’s tryin’ to get in! He’s gonna…

(There is a knock on the window...)


THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT smiles and cautiously

speaks through the closed window.

Hello. My name is Barack Obama.



A black bomber! See! See!

THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT reaches into his jacket.


He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun! Go, Jim go!

Reverse! GO!  I’ll call the police!

THE MAN IN THE OVERCOAT reacts calmly,points to his picture on a flyer.


He’s just running for something Mary, Quiet down.

(Jim lowers the window, reaches across the very frightened Mary.)


Why hello! (He takes the pamphlet.)

Barack Obama? Now there’s a name you don’t hear everyday...

...the rest of the story as well as photos, graphic novel illustrations and more are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Search-Words-Stephen-Black-ebook/dp/B001U8981S

The McDonalds on 600 E. 115th St.

Two or more times a week, Obama would hold or attend meetings with other organizers and activists at this fast-food emporium, according to Kellman. No signs announce that fact. Instead, a small shrine and several photos on the wall commemorate the Pullman community’s history and the work of civil rights leader A. Philip Randolph.

-From the Chicago Tribune, June 25, 2008 excerpt from THE ALOHA OF GOD Across the road, the music stops. The crowd’s cheering becomes quiet and a conversation begins to boom over the crowd. In the leafy shade beneath the freeway, the two men eat and listen, one in a wheelchair, one on a battered lawn chair, the dog between them.

Abercrombie and Akaka. Not surprised. Makes perfect political sense. Old school, hippy stylee. Power to the people.”

Power to the people right on!” They smile and tap their beers together.

Yeah. I knew Akaka’s brother. Met Martin Luther King because of his brother. Went to the mainland, went to Selma, Alabama because of his brother.”

Were you smoking crack when I was at the store?”

Jerry, I’m serious, man. We’re talking history. The Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery. March 21, 1965. Fifty-four miles. Check it at the library. Selma was a big deal, man. Bloody Sunday. Martin Luther King gets the Nobel Prize, meets the king and the President but Selma was bigger than all of that.”

Yeah right, Mr. History Time Machine Know-It-All.

I’m serious!”

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I’m listening. Pass me the bread.”

Alright. I told you my mom and dad raised orchids, right? Well my mom was always helping people and doing community stuff. She got involved when they were planning a big civil rights thing with Martin Luther King at UH. Reverend Akaka put that together. And whenever they needed somebody to do grunt work my mom volunteered me. There were some cute girls helping out, so it wasn’t all bad!

So you were a slave and you got …..”

Real funny now, aren’tya, Mr. Bush Iraq Mental Discharge Boy…Anyway, we donated leis for Martin Luther King and all the people from the mainland. We did ‘em in the kui style, the peaceful style. King and Akaka started calling ‘em the Aloha of God. So that was the first time I met Martin Luther King, first time I met a black man. I shook his hand the first day at theairport and ended up running errands for him and everyone else.

So anyway, a few months later my dad picks me up at school and says we gotta make fifty leis. Immediately. And he says I’m going to Selma, Alabama to deliver ‘em. And bringin’ a banner too.

Why you? Couldn’t they just send’em or get some there?”

Reverend Akaka pushed the whole thing. All he kept saying was “Martin’s people need the Aloha of God, Martin’s people need the Aloha of God.” I guess he said that to someone at the airlines to get me a ticket. And do you think it would’ve been easy to buy fifty leis in Alabama in 1965? Leis for a black man leading a civil rights march?

So, my first plane ride was Los Angeles and then Dallas and then to Montgomery. Two days! Some nice people picked me up and I stayed at their house. We left in the middle of the night and got to Selma at dawn. I unpacked the leis and they were all in great shape. Single strand, beautiful white vanda dendrobriums, yellow centers. Kui style. The whole place was full of blacks but there were some white people there and everyone was dressed up. Man it was cold! They gave me a flannel shirt and a coat. And then out of nowhere, Reverend Martin Luther King! He recognizes me! He’s got this real deep voice, right? Sounds like he’s almost singin’ everything.

Duane! Welcome to the mainland, to the state of Alabama and the city of Selma. We are blessed that you are here. Your presence is a gift, another blessed gift from Reverend Abraham Akaka and the Hawaiian brothers and sisters who share our struggle!’

By now everyone’s watching us. And then he holds up a lei and says to everyone,” ‘Behold brothers and sisters, here is a symbol of peace and justice… this is the Aloha of God.’

So there I am holding one, not sure if I should put it on him or not. But tradition says you offer a lei at first meeting, and this was the first meeting and there was no one to ask, so I did it! Seventeen year old kid from Honolulu putting a lei on Martin Luther King in the middle of Alabama! Then I put one on the guy closest to me and he put one on someone else. Like that. We put ‘em all on real quick and then I remembered the banner. I put it up and some people started crying.”

What’d it say?”

Hawaii knows integration works..."

The rest of the story as well as photos, graphic novel illustrations and more are available at: http://www.amazon.com/Obama-Search-Words-Stephen-Black-ebook/dp/B001U8981S

January 5, 2014 OK, so far so good with my New Year resolution to put some energy into this blog. Check the dates on the posts and you'll see about one  "nonfluffy" post a day has gone up since Jan 1. As for  OSW, I really am looking forward to explaining the reasons why I wrote this. But to phrase things properly will take time that I don't have at the moment. For now, let's just say I am not a political person, I enjoy research, Obama lived in Jakarta, he and I were in NYC at the same time in the early Eighties and the book ends with his first Inauguration.... FWIW, OSW was probably the first Kindle project assembled in Singapore...that is another side of the story...here it is on Amazon The  campaign to unglue this book was derailed because of Hurricane Sandy. This video was made. Final bit of OSW trivia...a handbound, custom printed copy was sent to Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue...no reply, not a mention that it was received. Was sent certified, so it arrived...

the bestselling book, I Ate Tiong Bahru: “Unlike anything else I’ve read…”


A national bestseller in Singapore, I Ate Tiong Bahru is a collection of short stories about the food, people and history of Tiong Bahru, an estate composed of uniquely styled Art Deco buildings.

Dynamic, personal and well-researched, I Ate Tiong Bahru is an inviting piece of original writing.

"Black's love letter is one of the best introductions to a country and a state that you might read."

(Art Review Asia)


Read one story for free! Deepavali at Galicier is here. (The short video below is Gallicier during Chinese New Year.)

i ate tiong bahru on Goodreads.

i ate tiong bahru audio book

"... I Ate Tiong Bahru, your exquisite 'lyrical documentary' on Tiong Bahru, which gave me many hours of pure pleasure...
I wish I'd read it before visiting the estate, and still in Singapore so I would be able to go there again.
It's in Paris that I read it, and followed all your descriptions and encounters, street by street, on my detailed map of Singapore... I loved your book."


Expat Living Review

Kitaab Review

An award, of sorts.

他不想把中巴鲁写的纸上完完美美,他把最真实的经历和故事, 用简单有趣的方式呈现给读者。
从在 Galicier 西饼店学做英式蛋糕和娘惹糕,到在巴刹的扶梯下观察路人的举动和表情,他仿佛在和中巴鲁谈恋爱。一段非比寻常的恋爱。

"I ate Tiong Bahru"
By Mr. Stephen Black.

Review by Jacob Tan Wei

"We can't turn back time; the past can only be reminisced.

Indeed, the past can only be reminisced. Today, I met my new soulmate at Tiong Bahru. This Caucasian man had not only written the sentiments towards Tiong Bahru of its people, but also the past and memories of those departed. He didn't want to write on the perfections; he used lighthearted humour to describe those raw experiences and stories. From learning how to bake English and Nonya pastries at Galicier to observing passersby from below the escalator, it was like a courtship of sorts between him and Tiong Bahru. He had triggered our memories; not only had he given all those who hold great sentiments of this place a little consolation and joy, but also the freedom of discovery for those who are curious about this place. This Caucasian man's tenderness had humbled me greatly. I ate Tiong Bahru by Mr. Stephen Black."

A blog post about the Hungry Ghost Festival

iatb was the only ebook featured in Eugene Soh's revolutionary web art project: www.gallery.sg

IATB in virtual gallery


Ebooks: Born to Click (1 of 3)

Preface This informal essay is my way of marking the end of a certain era in ebook history. It's part snapshot, part reference materials, part journal.At the end of this post are notes about me, my experiences and my books. Thanks to Doug Rolph for his insights on economics, Eric Hellman for his input and my dad for having taken care of our family by selling books. το πνεύμα του Ιανού After I finish writing eight books, I will begin marketing. Until then, I'll probably study the ebook world less and hopefully do more writing, arting and engaging with Life. When it does comes time for me to contribute to the marketing conversation, I hope I have something to say. For now, I present the following notes, quotes and thoughts as a means of punctuating a phase in the development of ebooks as I have seen and experienced it. This is an exciting time. The ebook delivery platforms are finally stable, self-publishing has proven to have great value and a number of services have recently appeared that shorten the distances between readers and authors. It seems to me that indie ebooks and ebook marketing are about to enter a new era. This blog post makes little mention of traditional publishing. This is simply because, as much as I would like to enjoy the benefits of being a Big 5/6 author, that fruit is not now within my reach. I am however, considering joining the Author's Guild. Although I've done almost no marketing, I have studied the environments in which ebooks are created, presented, bought and sold. Some observations: 1. Except for uploading, nothing about ebooks is easy. Writing is the anti-social social media, full of long, long hours of pressure-filled solitude. Assembling an error-free book is never simple. The social part, finding an audience, is an immense challenge. I respect all of the authors mentioned in this post for they have successfully met these challenges and more.
Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work. Stephen King
Based on my experiences, the work breakdown of an 88,000 word novel looks something like this: 1000 words a day (88 days) or, more likely, 500 words a day (176 days). Call it 200 days to prepare something for a proofreader. Two months for corrections, art, and ebook conversion. So, a book takes about 300 working days to finalize. About... And then there are the thousands of actions needed to connect with readers... The title of Guy Kawasaki's excellent book says it all: APE, meaning Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur This document, by Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, is a data-based analysis of the ebook market. Highly recommended, it covers topics important for newbies and veterans. It touches upon issues like word count, pricing, marketing and more. For instance, his research shows that the average bestseller on Smashwords is 100,000 words, and the average romance is 112,195 words. (There are more links to resources at the end of this post.) Very few traditionally published authors became bestsellers; the same is true for ebook publishing. My goal is not to become a bestseller, but to connect with the largest possible community of people who enjoy the art of reading. 2. A great writer or a great marketer... ....or, the frustration of being caught between not doing enough writing and not doing enough marketing. A writer writes, a salesman sells. Self-publishing does not equal self-marketing. Spending money wisely on promotion money means income and time to write. (See the links below) Twitter, Goodreads, FB, LinkedIn and blogging? All have their advantages and disadvantages... 3. There are no independent, hugely successful ebook-only self-publishers. Note: Two days after this post went up, I became aware of this great piece by Dana Beth Weinberg on Digital Book World. Thank you Jacqueline Church! Amazon is huge, Apple is huge, Kobo and Smashwords are very big. Unless you are selling from your own website or the back of your car, you're not truly independent. OK, A bit of an attention grabber there...but the author's need for a partnership with Amazon and ebook distributors is a dependence that cannot be overlooked. These "automatic partners" will always protect their interests first. They call the shots. Amazon is a business, not an author. Amanda Hocking is a hugely successful author. At one point, the average daily sales figure of her self-published ebooks was 9000. Again: average DAILY book sales: nine thousand! Her success was based on hard work, technological first mover advantage and an indirect tie-in with Hollywood. Consider: -the successful and pioneering integration of ebook readers into tablets and mobile as well as the launch of the Kindle (2007) and the iPad(2010) -the large demographic of young women who bought readers and tablets - the fact that, having written many books, Hocking could quickly provide a new and large market with a variety of new titles - writing books about the paranormal when Hollywood is pushing the same cannot hurt. Twilight, the hugely successful series of movies about teen vampires began in 2008. Hocking's first book, My Blood Approves, began selling in 2010. E.L. James' book phenomenon began in the fan fiction chat rooms for Twilight. The characters in Fifty Shades of Grey were originally the characters from Twilight. Could Master of the Universe, as her series was originally called, have achieved its success without an existing network of thousands of Twilight fans? These two women made their mark upon society in two different ways. As shared, collective book-based experiences: WOW! However, the writing is..."not terrible" or worse
I remember SF/F authors complaining (back in 2011) that their readers hadn’t switched to e-books yet, casting jealous eyes at the outsized romance audience. But as readers did move across, we saw people like David Dalglish and BV Larson breaking out, and the rest of “genre” fiction soon followed. http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/10/22/amazon-makes-life-easier-for-authors-of-historical-literary-fiction/
There are "indie success stories" about authors who "rode into town" on the backs of traditional publishing. Funded by Big 6 money these "indies" were advertised and publicized, sent on book tours and given things like business cards. Possibly, audiobooks were made. Hundreds, if not thousands, of their books were given away, many to reviewers. As the 'first mover'possibilities of the ebook market became clear and realistic, these authors, knighted by the Big 6 and armed with credibility and connections, rode onto a battlefield with little opposition... Undoubtedly hard work was involved, but to label them as indies brings to mind the quip about George Bush: "...was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple." There certainly are "ebook only" indies connecting with many readers and enjoying sales. I just don't know of any. (FOUND SOMEONE: LINDSAY BUROKER Please tell me about others! them! Somewhat related to this, are there any "ebook only" awards? Here, authors talk about their sales experiences. 4. The ebook world evolves to reward the reader; the prepared author benefits from this. Fan fiction. Goodreads. Ebook readers on mobile phones. The mashup between big data and metadata. Entrepreneurs with vision who see ways to connect authors and readers in a new ways. It is an exciting time. Ebooks: Born to Click, Part 2 of 3 visit www.blacksteps.tv for parts 2 and 3 of this post, as well as information on art, books and ebooks