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Dean Barrett, an American mystery writer, sits in an English-style tavern that is one of his remaining old haunts in Bangkok, sipping a black Russian cocktail as he ponders the curious quirks of fate.

“My story is very simple,” says Barrett, a lanky 78-year-old with a moustache and a mischievous smile. “I love Chinese culture and history. But I’m sitting here and not at some American university as a professor.”

The reason is that, in 1965, the Connecticut native enlisted in the US Army so he could learn Chinese at a military-run language institute in California. “Having trained me as a translator for a year, the army put me on a plane to Bangkok,” he says. “All I knew was that it was in Southeast Asia.”

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