For two decades, American James Cannon Boyce worked in the world of high-end advertising and marketing, with clients ranging from Vanity Fair to the San Francisco Ballet. It’s a world that is much closer to Mad Men than Myanmar.
But Mr Boyce recently left this all behind him so he could come to Southeast Asia and answer questions that had lingered for decades about his father’s death in Singapore in 1984.
That led him to follow in his father’s footsteps: to travel the region and write a book about his journey to Myanmar.
He recently launched the book – Floating – at Pansuriya restaurant in Yangon.
Could you briefly explain your book?
This book is the story of my journey to Myanmar, and trying to look into my father’s life in then-Burma as he lived here in the 1950s. And then, figuring out what happened back in 1984 when he passed away.
Why did you decide to write a book?
I was very lucky because I came to Myanmar in 2012, when the country was starting to open up. I found it such a magical experience; to be able to chase what my father had taken in his pictures. I traced my father’s footsteps through the photos. He took a picture at Inle Lake and I went there to that exact same spot. I found that most of the spots are still here. And – like my father – I got to meet Aung San Suu Kyi. When my father met her, she was just a little girl. So, it was very special for me.
How did you decide on the title Floating?
When my father was in a hospital in Singapore, my aunt told me and my mother over the phone, that “he’s floating – he’s not here or there, he’s just floating”. Two or three years later, I found lots of pictures of when my father was alive, floating on a boat. That’s why I chose the title.
How did you get started?
I met with people who talked about my father and I went to the places he visited – so I wrote down these stories as a journal, but as my trip became more interesting, I decided to write a book. I was here for almost six months.
How did you feel when you took pictures at the same spots as your father?
The old government was very bad for Myanmar in many ways, but the one interesting thing was that a lot of the same places are still here. My father spent a lot of time in Bangkok but the places he had been to are all gone, because of the development. But when I arrived at the spots where my father had been here, like Inle Lake, I felt connected to my father.
How did you feel when you first arrived here?
I felt very connected with my father. I really understood why he loved this country so much. I now know why this was his favourite place.
How long did it take you to write the book?
It took about two years and then I worked for about another year with a publisher.
What research did you do before you started your journey across Asia?
When my mother passed away, I discovered my father’s boxes which contained pictures and letters from the 1950s. I had pictures of people and places but I had no idea of where or who they were. I didn’t really understand the water festival. I didn’t know who Aung San Su Kyi was. All I knew was that she was a little girl in my father’s photo. I unearthed a lot of pictures and then I decided to find the real life places by travelling there.