Category Archives: Asia

Travel theme: Big

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Ailsa’s Where is My Backback? blog is fun to read and offers weekly photo challenges. I felt inspired by this week’s travel theme: big. So here we go…

El Jem, Tunisia
This is of the biggest Roman amphitheaters, truly an amazing sight in the Tunisian desert!

El Jem Read the rest of this entry

Bizarre foods in Beijing

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Andrew Zimmern

Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods (photo: travelchannel.com)

Yes, I’m a fan of Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods – a show that takes being adventurous with food to the new level of audacity. I haven’t watched it much lately but I know that Asia has been among his frequent culinary destinations. In a Beijing-focused episode he visited the two most famous street markets that were also my favorite food spots in the city: Wangfujing Snack Street, in the hutong just west off the posh Wangfujing Street, and Donghuamen Night Market also off Wangfujing further north. Both provide a unique opportunity to enjoy excellent street food, mix with a lively crowd of tourists and locals, and challenge yourself in ways you have not been before. Zimmern’s signature phrase is: ‘If it looks good, eat it.’ Many stalls in these Beijing street markets pose another question – what if it looks, uhm, scary? Should you still eat it? Read the rest of this entry

Best sunset ever

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IMG_8328There are many places around the world known for beautiful sunsets. Pristine beaches, remote islands, rugged mountains, skyscraper-spiked cityscapes… Everybody has their favorite spot and so do I: the incredible evening light show over Manila Bay. I’m in good company. For one, General Douglas MacArthur who rose to the rank of the Philippines’ most beloved hero after first defending the country against the Japanese invasion during WWII – unsuccessfully – and then in 1945 freeing the islands from the brutal occupation and thus fulfilling his famous “I shall return” promise. Before the war, when he was the Military Advisor to the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines from 1935-1941, he made Manila Hotel his home. The hotel sits right on the bay and offers a great vantage point to admire fiery sunsets. MacArthur’s penthouse suite is still available for rent for… ugh, USD 2,500/night. Read the rest of this entry

Hoa Lo – Hanoi’s dark side

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Hanoi HiltonI recently heard an NPR radio program that made me think back to my trip to Hanoi. For me Hanoi was an unexpected discovery, a place full of life and charm. But that was not my original association – and it’s not for most people who upon hearing “Hanoi” think solely about the dark days of Vietnam War (or American War as it is called in Vietnam). The radio story was about a former American fighter pilot, John Borling, who was one of the prisoners of war (POWs) released in 1973 after almost seven years of captivity. He spent these long years in what POWs ironically called “Hanoi Hilton” – the infamous Hoa Lo prison. Read the rest of this entry

Hong Kong by night

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Hong KongEnglish speakers aplenty, great public transportation system AND metered taxis. What else can you ask for when exploring a new city? That’s Hong Kong, which I dubbed “user-friendly Asia” because of the qualities that make it so easy to get around and enjoy. A crowded place of seven million people squeezed on slightly more than 400 square miles feels like New York in more ways than one. Busy streets, stunning sky scrapers, great restaurants on each city corner… Tsim Sha Tsui (or TST) on the southern edge of Kowloon Peninsula, and Central just across Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong Island are the two major hubs of activity, day and night. And it’s at night in particular when the city pulsates with the special rhythm of a metropolis that never sleeps. Exploring Hong Kong by night is…

“… a fine way to capture a piece of the magic of a unique city. The drama, the charm and the beauty of Hong Kong is all here ― just as is its breathless energy.”
― Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong: The City of Dreams

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Memorial Day in Manila

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Manila American Cemetery

Memorial Day is almost here. I initially wanted to write something about the Arlington National Cemetery given that this is probably number one association most people make with commemorating this day. But there is another special place I want to talk about – a place I didn’t know existed until recently – the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippines. The Cemetery is located in Taguig, Metro Manila, and occupies 152 meticulously landscaped acres on a high plateau overlooking the city. It contains the graves of over 17,200 soldiers who died in WWII fighting in the Philippines and New Guinea, which makes it the largest U.S. military burial site of that war. The horrors of the bloody 1941-42 Battle of the Philippines and the triumph of the eventual Allied recapture of the islands from the Japanese come together in this place like nowhere else. General MacArthur said “I shall return” when, defeated, he was fleeing Bataan. He kept his word but it took enormous sacrifice of American and Filipino troops to fulfill that promise.

For anyone who has been to the Arlington Cemetery this place looks oddly familiar. Same gleaming white headstones stretching in long, even rows. Same manicured, lush lawns. Same serenity and silence. But tropical trees and flowers break the spell, with sweet plumeria scent in the air. Read the rest of this entry

A walk though Hanoi

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Hanoi millennium

A friend has just returned from Vietnam with hundreds (literally!) amazing pictures and memories that made me think back to my own trip there in October 2010. My first stop was Hanoi and it was a very special time to be there since that month the city celebrated the millennium of its founding. That anniversary was really hard to miss given signs and banners hanging all around to proclaim Hanoi’s 1000 years – 1000 năm. From these signs I also learned the Vietnamese spelling of the city’s name: Hà Nội, which means “between rivers” i.e. in the Red River delta, and its former name Thăng Long, or “Rising Dragon.” Before this trip my image of Hanoi was rather bleak. I didn’t really know anything about it but pictured a drab, gray, repressed, somewhat sinister Stalinist-style place. Nothing could be further from the truth! In fact, the first thing that struck me was Hanoi’s intimate, human scale. Read the rest of this entry

Global marketplace of institutions

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Sarojini Nagar (Image:thebetterindia.com)

I just dug out an old essay I wrote in 2002 after a trip to India. To quote John Irving from his great book A Son of the Circus, this blog “isn’t about India. I don’t know India. I was there only once, for less than a month.” Rather, New Delhi gave me some food for thought on broader issues. Still seems pretty fresh (I hope) even a decade later. Sorry, no original images – it was before I had a digital camera. One day I’ll get around to scanning those old films…

New Delhi, India
March 14, 2002

The road ahead is so packed that I – a curious shopper – barely make my way through the kaleidoscope of rainbow fabrics stacked to the roof of every street stand, beads sparkling in henna-embellished hands of merchants, and pots constantly spouting ginger- and cardamom-spiced clouds that tantalize passers-by to stop for a snack. Once in a while, an enormous purple blossom drops heavily from a nearby tree right in the middle of this fantastic scene, quickly crushed by a rushing foot, rickshaw, or hoof into what seems like a crimson vein nourishing the place. Typical spring day at the Sarojini Nagar market… Read the rest of this entry

Manila musings

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Fort Santiago in Intramuros

A recent visit to Mardid made me think of my trip to Manila back in June. Interestingly, just like Madrid, Manila – known then as Maynila – used to be a Muslim settlement until Spanish general Miguel López de Legazpi paid a visit to local ruler Rajah Sulayman in 1571 and established a colonial city. History of the Philippines from that point on was aptly described by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Stanley Karnow as “300 years in a Catholic convent, and 50 years in Hollywood.” He brilliantly spells out the details of Spain’s three centuries long dominion over the archipelago and America’s foray into a colonial adventure there in his book In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines.

Even though I had never been to the Philippines before, Manila filled me with a strange sensation of multiple dimensions of déjà vu. First, there is the Spanish influence over architecture, especially in the historic district of Intramuros. Looking at the Manila Cathedral I had to pinch myself and kept repeating: “I’m not in Mexico, I’m not in Mexico.” Incidentally, during the Spanish colonial period that’s where the Philippines were administered from rather than by Spain proper. The Manila-Acapulco galleon trade route brought Far East riches to the Americas and flourished from 1571 until 1815, ended by the Mexican War of Independence. Read the rest of this entry