Eating Smoke — a question and answer with the author, Chris Thrall – Part 2/5

October 17, 2011

Guest-Post by Tom Carter
Interview with Chris Thrall, author of Eating Smoke continued…

On October 16, 2011, nearly two years since Chris Thrall originally contacted me, his long-awaited book, “Eating Smoke”, will be released in America and Amazon.com.

Advanced sales have already brought the title to the top of the Hong Kong bestseller list (patting my own back for my prediction) while Eating Smoke has achieved a massive cult following on Facebook.  Hailed as a “Sin – Shantaram” in a review by the South China Morning Post, and being compared by fans to Alex Garland’s The Beach for its drug-adelic theme, we can now confidently predict that Eating Smoke will, too, be optioned for film rights and follow those popular books to Hollywood.

Despite his past connections with Chinese triads, and in spite of his newfound celebrity as a bestselling author, Thrall remains one of the nicest and humblest people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing…even though I have yet to actually meet the man in person.  So it wasn’t too hard to twist his arm into putting my Q&A at the top of his to-do list of media interview requests (ah, the fame!).

TOM CARTER: My first and most pressing question, Chris, is if you are at all worried that the 14K will be hitting you up for a percentage of your book royalties once word of Eating Smoke’s success trickles up the Wan Chai gangland hierarchy?

CHRIS THRALL: Ha ha! The news from Hong Kong is that “serious players” are reading my book as we speak. But I’m not worried as it’s not a tell-all on Hong Kong organized crime. It’s more the story of a former Royal Marine Commando who thought he knew a bit about life, who then moves to Asia to run what was a successful business but spirals down into psychosis from drug addiction.

In that respect, Eating Smoke is unique. I’m not aware of any other book that gives the reader the opportunity to experience what it’s actually like to descend into mental illness through the eyes of someone as they do. I just happened to work for the 14K as a nightclub doorman – moreover, their “East-West go-between” – when it happened.

CARTER: Eating Smoke is about your decent into drug psychosis in Hong Kong’s triad heartland, but it’s also about the series of unfortunate, albeit hilarious, events that prevented you from ever finding your financial footing in Hong Kong, ironically Asia’s wealthiest city; a “testament to the stark reality and ephemeral nature of the relationship between people, drugs and profit,” as you wrote in the book.

Do you have anything to say to all those coked-out rich white bankers that Hong Kong is notorious for?

THRALL: No! I have nothing to say to anyone – coked-out rich white bankers included. If people truly enjoy what they do, they should carry on doing it.

Personally, I didn’t want to see my youth slipping away in a suit as I chased dollar signs at the expense of more fulfilling experiences. So having overcome addiction, I made an inventory of what I wanted to get out of life. Then I set out across six continents through seventy-five countries to get it. Writing a book was the last thing on my bucket list.

CARTER: China is adamantly anti-drugs, and the court system does not hesitate to execute drug traffickers, even foreigners.

In fact, China even blames foreigners for being responsible for a majority of its drug trade, a grudge no doubt held over from the Opium Wars.  Even though there are arguments to be made against the death penalty, the fact remains that, due to their zero-tolerance policy, China has one of the world’s lowest crime rates, a statistic that, all things considered, I’m sure America and the UK envy.

As a former drug user, what’s your take on criminalization of drugs, and do you think the west should follow China’s example?

THRALL: I don’t have a take on it. I’m not a spokesperson on substance use or the law surrounding it. I just told my own story.

However, research would likely show that mankind has always taken drugs in various forms and continues to do so (alcohol and cigarettes often cited as the most damaging), which might suggest that education on their usage and dangers is the way forward, in addition to harm-prevention strategies.

As for crime, a sociologist once said that a zero crime rate would make society a frightening place to be. I think Orwell’s 1984 was meant to imply this. I take no stance on drugs per se or cast judgment on people who choose to buy, sell, or use them.

It was addiction that I battled and that’s a separate issue. It’s a psychological condition that could relate to gambling, sex or food. It makes you wonder how prohibition could ever fix this.

Continued on October 18, 2011  in Eating Smoke – Part 3, return to Part 1, or if you have the time and do not want to wait for the five-part series to finish posting, click View as Single Page.

Chris Thrall was born in the UK. At eighteen, he joined the Royal Marine Commandos. Following active service in the Northern Ireland Conflict and training in Arctic warfare and survival, he earned his parachutist’s ‘wings’ and went on to serve as part of a high-security detachment onboard an aircraft carrier. In 1995, Chris moved to Hong Kong to oversee the Asia-Pacific expansion of a successful network-marketing operation he’d built, part-time, while serving in the Forces. Less than a year later, he was homeless, hooked on crystal methamphetamine and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest triad crime family, as a doorman in Wanchai’s infamous red-light district. Eating Smoke, a humorous yet deeply moving first book, is his account of what happened.

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Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on Amazon.com.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Eating Smoke — a question and answer with the author, Chris Thrall – Part 1/5

October 16, 2011

Guest-Post by Tom Carter
Interview with Chris Thrall, author of Eating Smoke

Tom Carter, author of “CHINA: Portrait of a People”, catches up with Chris Thrall to discuss his new book “Eating Smoke, a memoir about Thrall’s descent into drug psychosis in Hong Kong’s triad heartland.

In the fall of 2009, whilst traveling in India to create my next photography book, I was contacted via email by a British writer who had read Down and out in Hong Kong, one of my online travel articles, which described this poor, dusty backpacker’s real-time impressions of Asia’s wealthiest city.

Chris Thrall said he connected with my article’s conclusion that, in spite of my western heritage, and due to my personal circumstances, I ultimately had more in common with the destitute third-world inhabitants of the Chungking Mansions, the infamous immigrant ghetto of Kowloon, than I did with the rich white bankers et al who comprise the other half of Hong Kong’s multinational population.

Chris went on to explain that he was writing a book about his own experiences living in Hong Kong, which was dramatically different from mine or any other expatriate I ever knew, and that he once worked for the 14K, the world’s largest Chinese crime family.

Attached to his email was the first chapter of his memoir, a gripping opening salvo that finds the narrator hiding from pursuing henchmen on a roof top—alongside two corpses, a disemboweled mother and child.

As a voracious reader, I know a bestseller when I see it.  I immediately forwarded Chris’s manuscript to my publisher in Hong Kong, Pete Spurrier, who runs the iconic Blacksmith Books, which specializes in Asian-themed literature.

Pete likewise was knocked off his feet by Chris’s incredible story; the next I heard, Chris was a fellow Blacksmith label mate with a book deal.

Chris Thrall was born in the UK. At eighteen, he joined the Royal Marine Commandos. Following active service in the Northern Ireland Conflict and training in Arctic warfare and survival, he earned his parachutist’s ‘wings’ and went on to serve as part of a high-security detachment onboard an aircraft carrier. In 1995, Chris moved to Hong Kong to oversee the Asia-Pacific expansion of a successful network-marketing operation he’d built, part-time, while serving in the Forces. Less than a year later, he was homeless, hooked on crystal methamphetamine and working for the 14K, Hong Kong’s largest triad crime family, as a doorman in Wanchai’s infamous red-light district.

Eating Smoke, a humorous yet deeply moving first book, is his account of what happened.

Continued on October 17, 2011 in Eating Smoke – Part 2, or if you have time and do not want to wait for the five-part series to finish posting daily, click View as Single Page.

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Travel photographer Tom Carter is the author of CHINA: Portrait of a People, a 600-page book of photography from the 33 provinces of China, which may be found on Amazon.com.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


White-Collar Crime

August 25, 2011

White-collar crime,” is a phrase first used by a distinguished criminologist in the late 1930s to describe activates of the rich and powerful.  Edwin Sutherland defined “while-collar” crime as a crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” Source: Connecticut Public Record Search

In addition, the FBI says, “White-collar crime … is now synonymous with the full range of frauds committed by business and government professionals.”

However, when the same sort of crime takes place in China, the Western media calls it “corruption” and the term “white-collar” is seldom if ever used.

If you read this blog regularly, you may remember that I recently wrote about this topic in The Danger of False Truths. A friend said, “the degree of corruption in China is simply breathtaking,” which was his knee-jerk reaction after reading about thousands of corrupt Chinese officials stealing more than $120 billion dollars from state-owned enterprises over a period of about 15 years.

To clarify a point, before the 1980s, the government in China owned all the factories.

Then China opened its doors to capitalism, and state-owned factories were told to either become profitable or go out of business and many did close their doors.


In China, convicted white-collar criminals go to jail for a long time or are executed. Watch this video to see what happens to most white-collar criminals in the US.

Today, the surviving state-owned factories are managed as if they are private sector businesses and the managers usually do not hold political posts in the government.  If these managers skimmed money from the profits of these government-owned businesses, that crime was no different from “white-collar” crimes in America.

Usually, when I read or hear a criticism of China, I research the country where the criticism originated, which is mostly from the US.

What I learned about white-collar corruption in the United States may shock you.

Security expert Troy Williams says that as many as 30 percent of the average company’s employees do steal, and another 60 percent will steal if given a motive and opportunity. Some estimates indicate that more than $600 billion is stolen annually (in the US), or, roughly $4,500 per employee. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, about a third of all business failures each year trace back to employee theft and other employee crime.

The FBI says employee theft is “the fastest growing crime in America”, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75% of all employees steal from their workplace and that most do it on a regular basis. Furthermore, the American Society of Employers estimates that 20% of every dollar earned by a U.S. company is subsequently lost to employee theft.

However, when the theft of a $120 billion in China over a period of fifteen years elicits “the degree of corruption in China is simply breathtaking“, what describes the degree of corruption in the United States after learning that over the same period of time white-collar corruption in the US adds up to $9 trillion dollars or 75 times what was reported stolen in China?

Discover The Facts about Gambling and Drug Use in China

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, look for the “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar, click on it then follow directions


Shanghai Scams, The Man Trap – Part 3/3

January 28, 2011

Serpentza talks about how someone giving you shopping tips of where to shop gets kickbacks, which means whatever price you pay is probably double or triple what you should be paying.

However, what Serpentza doesn’t tell you is it is okay to haggle over the price except maybe in a Shanghai Wal-Mart.  Yea, they have Wal-Mart’s in China.

Anyway, Serpentza says to shop by yourself unless you know someone local.  That is good advice.

Actually, I have this hand carved wood sculpture that I wanted.  The shop owner thought my wife, who is Chinese, was my guide and he told her if she could convince me to buy this carving, he’d give her a kickback.

Needless to say, she found out how low he was willing to go, that’s the price I paid for the sculpture, and she refunded me the kick back.

Meanwhile, Serpentza says the beggars all have an angle—don’t trust them.

He then says if you are a single man out walking and a woman approaches you, be suspicious.  He then goes into detail what he has learned from a friend.

The story Serpentza tells is similar to what happened to me in 1965 when I was twenty and in the US Marines stationed in Okinawa.

The Shanghai Scams Website says to watch out for “Practice English”: two (mostly good-looking) Chinese girls approach you and ask you if you want to join them for a drink so they can practice their English. After you go to the washroom or make a phone call the girls disappear and the bill arrives for an astronomical price. If you refuse to pay, the owner would call some locals who tell you that you had better pay, otherwise…   Advice:  tell them to call police as you obviously are not drunk and never consumed that many whiskies. Call their bluff.

Of a “Lady Spa / massage”, usually a tout or a female approaches you to offer you “special services”.

That’s illegal in China and therefore you should not even think about it.

Return to Shanghai Scams Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.


Shanghai Scams, Beggars and/or Cell phone Scam – Part 2/3

January 27, 2011

Serpentza relates a story of having had a few drinks and being in a good mood. While walking down the street, a middle-aged woman told him she had come to Shanghai looking for work and was hungry. She asked him to buy her something to eat.

He decides to buy something inexpensive at a local store. Then she asks him to phone her relatives in her rural hometown to let them know she couldn’t find work.

He says if a stranger asks you to phone someone for him or her, never give away your phone. The odds are the beggar will run away with it.

I have also had incidents in China of beggars approaching me. Since I know begging is illegal in China, I ignore them.

The Shanghai Scams Website says, “Tourists are sometimes approached by beggars or see them with small children on the street. Large underground networks sometimes take kids from villages, then put them on the street to beg, and will even physically deform a child in the hope of generating more sympathy money. So don’t feed this negative cycle by giving them money.

“Beggars may also approach tourists in outdoor dining areas on Nanjing Road (for example, outdoor bars, coffee shops, cake shops etc). These children may not really be poor but are just looking for an easy way to make money. These kids will often beg by standing near a table, then get down on one knee to beg, and as a last resort, will ask for food instead of money. The quickest way to get rid of these kids is to inform the restaurant staff, or to call the police.”

In fact, while shopping in an upscale shopping area near our home in California, I’ve been approached by an entire family of US beggars.

In Berkeley, if I walk several blocks, I’ll always run into several beggars. Some have even become nasty when I wouldn’t give them money. However, in China, days may go by without sight of a beggar.

Due to my experiences in the US, I learned to ignore beggars first in the US—not China.

From what I’ve read and been told, beggars in India are much worse and there are actually beggar cartels where the beggars are crippled and maimed to elicit sympathy.

Return to Shanghai Scams Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.