What Soo Won’t Do in Boracay

My wife is one of those rare people who will bravely keep pace with whatever lunatic idea I concoct, unhesitatingly jumping off cliffs, plunging into water teeming with sharks or cuddling live king cobras. It’s one of the reasons I fell for Soo, and I’ve never found anything she wouldn’t do. Until now. We’re in Boracay, one of the 7,000+ islands in the Philippine archipelago. We’re here because I’m occasionally insufferable. I recently read a Travel & Leisure article rating Boracay as the “World’s Best Island.” That such a title had been bestowed on a place I’d never even heard of, much less visited, annoyed me to no ... [Read More]

Bowing in the Dark

The protocols for bowing in Asia are far more complicated and confusing than most Westerners, me included, can possibly understand. In Japan the meaning of a bow totally depends on the situation, depth, and length of time you hold your bow. Types of bow include the “Nod Bow,” which is about 5 degrees, the “Greeting Bow,” which is about 15 degrees, the “Respect Bow,” about 30 degrees and the “Highest Respect Bow,” which is an uncomfortable 45 degrees. When you’re born into a culture that’s been working out these details for a couple of thousand years, it’s all pretty clear. When you’re born in a Baptist hospital in ... [Read More]

Sarawak, Telok Paku, and other places you’ve never heard of

Yellow pants are rarely a good idea. In fact, I cannot recall a single occasion in my life at which I’ve paused and thought to myself, “Dear me, if only I had some yellow pants.” I suppose they’d come in handy were I to be possessed of a sudden urge to pee myself or if I wanted to sit on a park bench during Atlanta’s pollen season. But on all other occasions, I’ll pass on yellow pants. Residents of Sarawak, Malaysia’s easternmost state, disagree. Yellow is the royal color, and locals apparently believe the very best way to show national pride is to cloak your bum in ... [Read More]

Penniless in a Hong Kong Typhoon

I arrived in Hong Kong to notification from American Express that there had been fraud on my account (unsurprisingly as a result of my recent El Salvador trip) and they had helpfully cancelled my card. This was irritating, but in typical AMEX-efficient fashion they promised to have me a new card within days, and I could survive until then on my debit card. SunTrust cancelled the debit card the next day. Since I only travel internationally every single month, SunTrust decided my Hong Kong usage must be fraud and blocked my card. The mindless twits at SunTrust didn’t trouble themselves to notify me of this, or even to ... [Read More]

The Japanese Way is Better

American literary critic and author Lionel Trilling once noted that American culture "peculiarly honors the act of blaming, which it takes as the sign of virtue and intellect.” In the movie based on Michael Crichton’s book Rising Sun, Sean Connery’s character said that, by contrast, the Japanese confront a problem by focusing on the solution, not the blame, suggesting “their way is better.” The Japanese response to the devastating 2011 earthquake and resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima certainly support that claim. You will recall that on March 11 a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck just off the coast of Tōhoku, sending massive waves as high as 133 feet ... [Read More]

Getting to Guangzhou… barely

  There is a greater genetic difference between a dolphin and a porpoise than between a human being and a chimpanzee. This might help explain the apelike behavior of the buffoons at the Tianjin airport, seemingly determined to ensure we missed our flight to Guangzhou. My whirlwind business trip through four Chinese cities this week included what was to have been a quick 24-hour stopover in Tianjin, China’s fourth-largest city and a leading business hub. (More than half of the Fortune 500 Global companies have branch offices here.) Though a heavily industrial city, we hoped we could steal a couple of spare hours to roam around as tourists. We ... [Read More]

Careful what you eat in the land of the Nine Dragons

  You might think your biggest culinary concern in China would be your hosts serving you a still-alive animal or foul-smelling fungus. Not so much. Perhaps you think that by avoiding street vendors in favor of established restaurants you’re more likely to find foods that won’t make you sick. Uh-uh. Though China works hard to suppress news damaging to its image, do a little research and you’ll learn that the biggest health threat in Chinese eateries is “gutter oil,” which, believe it or not, is even fouler than it sounds. Cooking oil is like gold in China, where virtually every recipe requires a wok full of it, and goes for a ... [Read More]

Shark fins and chicken testicles

Many Asian cultures place great importance on visitor’s willingness to eat any local food presented to them. Knowing this, and always wanting to make a good impression, I’ve never refused anything offered, which is why on past trips I’ve downed without hesitation live bugs, snake pancreas (cut from the still-alive scaled beast at my table) and steaming yellow crab brains, among other things. Today, I broke my cardinal rule, refusing, I believe for the first time, to eat the proffered local delicacy. My refusal wasn’t based on any assumed revulsion for the taste or texture of the food in question. Quite the opposite – by all accounts the ... [Read More]

Demonstrations, Dragon Hill and dinner in a tent.

  Soo and I strolled out of our hotel last night and into the middle of what looked for all the world to be a war zone. We were surrounded by thousands of police, fully armored in their riot gear and ready for battle. We hadn’t the slightest clue what was going on. Soo, a sensible woman, was in favor of getting ourselves elsewhere – any elsewhere would do – but that seemed like so much less fun then wading into the troops deployed right in front of us. I mean, how often does somebody deposit an army on your doorstep? We wound our way around and through ... [Read More]

Occupy Pyongyang!

You think income inequality in America is bad? Come visit North Korea. Yes, we have some significant issues with the concentration of wealth in America. But the North Korean 99% would kill to have our problems. America’s poor get excited over things like McDonald’s adding the McRibb back to the menu and the iPod coming in sparkly new colors. In North Korea 33% of the population is undernourished, and few have ever seen an iPod. In America citizens can come together in massive protests, demanding change and equality, generally unmolested by the police. Those few protesters who, from time to time, are arrested, are generally released within 24 hours In ... [Read More]