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Photo Gallery: Burmese Days: Sunrise on a New Myanmar

Temples of Bagan - Photo (c) Russell Johnson

I read George Orwell's "Burmese Days "while traveling through Burma aka Myanmar on a filming assignment in the 1990s  The country looked then as if it hadn't changed much since Orwell's 1930s. Burma was oppressed, frozen in time, isolated from the rest of the world. That has gradually changed, largely due to social media, militant monks and the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi the country's face of freedom.

Today, after a free election, the jackboots of the ruling generals (depicted on their currency as men with small heads and large hats) may have finally been lifted.

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Thirty Faces of Nepal

Two Boys, Kathmandu, NepalAll Photos (c) Russell Johnson - Two Boys, Kathmandu

I  spent quite a lot of time in Nepal in the 1990s participating in heritage conferences and for the UN Development Programme on a project to reduce poverty through sustainable tourism. I met hundreds of people. Here are some of the faces that need the world's help now more than ever.

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Glancing at the Stars: Jaipur, India

Jaipur ObservatoryObservatory, Jaipur, India - Photo: Russell Johnson

The maharajas of India didn't skimp on palaces or toys, especially if they were nerds.

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Myanmar In the Age of Facebook and Big Time Tourism (Video)

Photos and Video (c) Russell Johnson
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi told the World Economic Forum last week that she is too busy for Facebook.

But her name is on several Facebook pages managed by her supporters around the world and Facebook is quickly becoming part of the mindset in this country once called Burma.

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Oceans Apart: Las Vegas and East Las Vegas

Lisboa - Macau

I had a dream that the Grand Lisboa tower, a hotel-casino that now dominates the skyline of Macau, came alive one night, pulled itself from its mooring, marched across China's Pearl River Delta and, like Godzilla, tossed trolley cars around Hong Kong.

Ka-Ching? (a Chinese expression?)

Like Vegas in the 90s, this former Portuguese backwater colony, now called East Las Vegas, has gone over-the-top.

I think about my week in Macau last year as I walk the strip in Las Vegas, past rubble-strewn lots that look like some lizard of mass destruction had just swung through. Past construction cranes that have not moved an inch since my last visit a year ago. Past women stuffed in short tight skirts like shrimp in sushi rolls, alone or in pairs, peering at their mobiles. This is not the Las Vegas of the mid-century when Mo Dalitz and his pals ruled and in the words of a longtime restaurateur, "knew how to take care of people." This is not the Vegas of the 90s when the Steve Winns and corporate poobahs built palaces and faux New Yorks and Venices and "family values" was the motto. This is the Now Las Vegas: down and a bit dirtier, but not out.

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Fishing Nets, Ft. Cochin, India

These types of fishing nets can only be found in China and at Ft. Cochin, in the southern part of India.

Tales from the Waiting Room: San Francisco and Bangkok: Audio


Last month I visited doctors twice: in San Francisco to have a spot of sun damage checked, and in Bangkok for a physical. As Mrs. Kuchenbecker, my sixth grade teacher said, "Let us compare und contrast."

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Monkey Dance

Monkey Dance
This is a Kecak dance, better known as the Balinese Monkey Dance.  Recently, about 5 thousand people gathered, some whipping themselves into a trance, at Tanah Lot, Bali, Indonesia to pray for the return of tourism. That may sound crass and commercial but tourism is entwined in Bali's spiritual, cultural and economic life. I have spent a lot of time in Bali over the years and I miss it. The last time I was there was just after the bombings a couple of years ago. Farmers, flower growers, artists, performers, were all devastated both morally and economically by that tragedy.

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Yunnan: The Most Un-Chinese Place in China

Bai Wedding - Yunnan We are at a wedding, in China. But it doesn't look very Chinese. This is a Bai wedding on the shores of Lake Erhai in Yunnan Province. Yunnan is in the far south near Thailand. It is one of the most un-Chinese places in China. In fact, aside from Han Chinese, there are 25 tribes who live here. I got to this wedding by following a truck filled with people.banging on drums and honking on little horns. I didn't know these people and except for "Ni hao, "which means "hello," I don't know a word of Chinese. My translator talked to the groom who invited me to be a guest at his wedding.


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Xian and Guilin, China

What else can you say about Xian? You go there to see the Terra Cotta Army…period. The formation of thousands of warriors, horses and chariots that guard the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang is truly a world wonder.

Xian, itself, is a busy, industrial, polluted city. You wouldn’t want to live there but it has a fascinating street life. My traveling companions (several from India) were so tired of boring tour group food that we walked 45 minutes one night to The Indian Restaurant (that’s the name of it) run by some folks from Bangalore. The street scene along the way was almost as tasty as the food.

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Shanghai: China's Big Apple

Ten years ago I arranged to meet a friend at the Peace Hotel, -- once known as the Cathay -- a shabby old relic on Shanghai’s Bund, one of those Somerset Maughamish, Graham Greenish places where expats once got toddied up and felt jolly good. I sat down at a table and ordered a beer. The waiter went to an ancient refrigerator next to the bar, pulled out a bottle, brought it to me, slammed it down unopened and walked away. It took me another ten minutes to get an opener and a glass. When my friend arrived we went upstairs to the hotel’s funerael dining room. It had a view of the Bund behind dirty windows and faded velour drapes. We received similar treatment and a bad meal.


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Nagoya, Japan:Leonardo San(s) Sushi

by Russell Johnson
DaVinci WarriorI managed to spend a week in Japan without experiencing a single tea ceremony: only a single taiko drummer and one platter of sushi. Instead, I got a daily glimpse at the anatomically-correct rear end of horse designed by Leonardo DaVinci, a European-style symphony orchestra and the dancing Toyota cherubs.

Lord Ludovico of Milan commissioned DaVinci to build the biggest statue in the world, of General Francisco Storza. He never finished it but a Japanese scholar and a computer did. The computer figured out that it could never have been cast in bronze, because such a weight would not be supported by the steed's well-turned ankles. So, it was completed in plaster and now faces the courtyard of the Nagoya Convention Center. The view from the front of the center is of the horse's back-end.



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