Archive for the Asia Category

Are You Experienced? On investing in memories

Posted in Asia, Clips, Travel on March 17, 2014 by frankbures

Cutler2013139-1-620x620It was after 17 hours – in no fewer than 10 vehicles – along a jolting, washed-out road between Thailand and Cambodia that I first appreciated some basic things about air travel. In a plane, there is no rain. There are no bags of fruit leaking unknown juices onto your backpack. There are no bruised tailbones from an entire day spent hammering over rocks and potholes. And on a plane, when you cross an international border, drinks are on the house.

I ran over this list of perks as I hung off the back of a pickup truck, watching my right foot disappear under layers of mud. My other leg was twisted underneath me, with no feeling left in it. My arms ached as I gripped a leaky plastic tarp that looked like it had been used for target practice by the Khmer Rouge. Periodically, the tarp pressed down in an inverted parachute that threatened to smother us all. Bridgit, my wife, was perched next to me, holding onto nothing but my pant leg.

Eventually we arrived in Cambodia, where our $3 room with a ceiling fan and a cold shower felt like the Ritz-Carlton on Maui. The next day, we walked around the ruins of the Angkor Kingdom.

I thought about that trip recently as Bridgit and I (now with a house in Minnesota and two daughters) sat down to look at our retirement planning. If you were an investment adviser, you would have been clicking your tongue and shaking your head. Bridgit, an accountant, clicked her tongue and shook her head.

Read the rest here.

Forgotten Ally (Review)

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips on March 13, 2014 by frankbures

Forgotten AllyWhen the popular World War II board game Axis & Allies was released in 1981, China was not on the board as either Axis or Ally. It wasn’t for another 20 years that the country would be incorporated into the game, and even then only as a separate power directed by the United States player.

This was far from the reality, as historian Rana Mitter points out in his new book, Forgotten Ally: China’s World War II, 1937-1945 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013). China, he writes, was not only a fourth Ally fighting the Japanese but key to the Allies’ victory.

History needs this correction for a variety of reasons. World War II was costly for the United States, but for China it was worse. For America, the war lasted four years. For China, it dragged on for eight. America lost almost half a million people in the fighting, while at least 14 million Chinese were killed. And while America had almost no combat on its own soil, China did, and it had nearly 80 million refugees as a result.

Read the rest here.

Bangkok Books

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips, Travel on November 3, 2011 by frankbures

Bangkok has found its way into the works of authors including Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, and James Michener, all of whom spent time in Thailand’s capital city.  Recommended reading about the city, from Four Reigns to Bombay Anna to The Beach here.

Hey Australia: Thanks for the Bedbugs!

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips, Travel on October 2, 2011 by frankbures

Long before bedbugs had become the plague du jour, my wife and I set off for New Zealand.

The year was 2000, and we arrived in April to pick apples for a couple of months before buying a barely running car to get us around. We slept in hostels, which had comment books filled with advice about where to stay – and where not to. Many of the entries mentioned bedbugs, which we assumed must be a creature native to New Zealand.

“Whatever you do, don’t stay at … (unless you want to be eaten alive by bedbugs – 122 bites to be precise),” warned one entry. By then, we had already stayed there and had each gotten a few bites, but we hadn’t thought much about it.

I didn’t know it then, but we were close to – in fact, right across the Tasman Sea from – the launching pad for an imminent worldwide explosion of bedbugs.

Read the rest here.

Congrats to Peter Hessler

Posted in Asia, Books, Travel Writers, World Hum on September 20, 2011 by frankbures

Many congratulations to Peter Hessler, who has been selected as one of the 2011 MacArthur Fellows!  It’s a much-deserved honor for someone who has been doing such great work for so long.  For me, Hessler’s books have always been a source of inspiration and admiration, and last year I got to talk to him for World Hum about his latest, Country DrivingYou can read the interview here.

In China’s Great Famine, They Even Ate Each Other

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips on November 9, 2010 by frankbures

In a small village in central China, a man was boiling meat. This was strange because it was 1961 and no one had meat. For more than two years they had all been starving, dying, in the largest famine of the 20th century, which killed at least 45 million people, according to new archives used in Frank Dikötter’s groundbreaking book, “Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962.”

The other villagers, suspicious, reported the man to local officials, who found a hair clip, ornaments and a scarf belonging to a girl who had disappeared a few days before. This incident of cannibalism was not isolated. According to Dikötter, human meat was traded on the black market, most of it taken from the plentiful dead, and sometimes mixed with dog meat to disguise it.

Read the rest here.

China’s Long Road to Today (review)

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips on July 14, 2010 by frankbures

Wang Quanyuan was 21 years old, tall, beautiful and full of party spirit when she and 86,000 other troops set out for the hinterlands of China. It was late in 1934, when Mao Zedong and other party leaders decided to retreat from Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, who had them nearly surrounded.

Surely that young woman or the 30 others who went with her did not know that they would be marching nearly 4,000 miles over some of the world’s harshest terrain, and that a year later they would have completed one of the defining events of the 20th century, now known as the “Long March.”

Read the rest here.

Finding the World At Home

Posted in Africa, America, Asia, Clips, Travel, World Hum on June 4, 2010 by frankbures

Not long after we moved back to Minneapolis, I started to notice how much the city had changed since I last lived here in the 1990′s. And so, I started to take some photos and jot things down, the culmination of which you can see on this slideshow over at World Hum.  Sometimes we don’t even notice this kind of change since it happens so gradually, but to me it seemed seismic. Recently, there was a story in our local paper saying that the most immigrants to Minnesota now come from Africa, and last winter I noticed we can get our snow removal instructions in English, Spanish, Somali, Hmong, Lao, Vietnamese or Oromo.  This weekend is Twin Cities World Refugee Day and on any given day, in the space of an hour, I can go shopping for fishballs, camel meat, Nollywood videos, plastic toy Kalashnikovs, international phone cards, pocky and then stop in for nyama choma and wash it down with a cool durian smoothie.  The world really is here now.

Interview with Peter Hessler: Country Driving

Posted in America, Asia, Clips, Travel Writers, World Hum on February 18, 2010 by frankbures

Back in 2001, Peter Hessler looked at his hands. He’d been living in China since 1996, when he began teaching English in a school in Fuling, an experience he recounted in his book, River Town. But now he wanted to go farther into the country. Since he had at least three good fingers on each hand (as well as both thumbs), he was eligible for his Chinese driver’s license, and he went in to take his test.

The test featured questions such as, “If another motorist stops you to ask directions, you should: a) not tell him; b) reply patiently and accurately; c) tell him the wrong way,” and, “If you give somebody a ride and realize that he left something in your car, you should: a) keep it for yourself;  b) return it to the person or his place of work as quickly as possible; c) call him and offer to return it for a ransom.” Of course, Hessler passed, and his license was, in some ways, a passport into a China he’d never seen—a China that is changing so fast it may never be seen again. The trips he took resulted in his new book, Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, a triptych of pieces about his travels. I emailed Hessler and spoke with him by phone at his home in Ridgway, Colorado.

Read the interview here.

On Beauty and Gulags

Posted in Asia, Books, Clips, Writers on January 5, 2010 by frankbures

Er Tai Gao’s new memoir isn’t exactly a coming-of-age romp through revolutionary China, but In Search of My Homeland is a beautiful, haunting and somehow inspiring book.  It’s mostly, though not all, about Gao’s time served in Chinese labor camps (for writing an essay, of all things) and the events took place in a strange time, when ideas had so much power, but meant so little.  Read the review here.


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