Martin Jacques, a British news columnist, became fascinated by the manic modernization underway in China when he visited there in 1993. He saw construction cranes working round the clock, roads streaming with trucks and carts, and peasant women balancing wares on either end of a bamboo pole. The vibrant energy and evident willpower got Jacques musing: Would the economic boom follow the Western model? Or would China pursue modernity in its own way?
Jacques went for a holiday in Malaysia. One day, while he was out for a run on the beach, his eye chanced upon a dark and attractive woman. A 26-year-old lawyer, she was not an obvious match for a pink-skinned, pointy-headed, chronically unmarried Brit who was nearing 50. But the woman, Hari Veriah, who was born in Malaysia to Indian parents, was fearless and modern-minded, and her Asian perspective was like tinder to his spark.