Taipei101 The Tallest Building in the World

Forget Mad Max, forget Bladerunner, forget The Matrix and all of the rest of those visions of a future of bombed out cities, leather-clad mutants and cyborgs on Harleys. I am looking at the REAL future, a tall, marble-floored tower of soft-spoken beings offering precious gifts of Gucci and Tiffany and YSL, every overpriced name brand on earth, in fact, and a grand piano that plays itself. A world sealed away from grit and random noise, stray animals and poor people.


Monkey Dance: Audio

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.

The Meaning of TIT: What Would Jitplecheep Do?

Grand Palace, Temple of Emerald Buddha, Bangkok
Grand Palace, Temple of Emerald Buddha, Bangkok (c)Russell Johnson
TIT, she said about the military coup in Thailand in an email from Bangkok.  TIT to farangs means “This is Thailand.” That is not the title of a bad travelogue but the notion that “hey, stuff happens here we may not understand but mai pen rai, no big deal.“  Another friend emailed me his fear that his neighborhood Starbucks might be closed (javas-interruptus). It wasn’t.

Sonchai Jitplecheep, the protagonist in John Burdett’s novels “Bangkok 8” and “Bangkok Tattoo,” is an honest cop in a place where being on the take is a form of art. Sonchai lives in a tub of moral and ethical Jello, awkward for westerners until they become comfortable with shrugging their shoulders, admitting they don’t understand and uttering TIT, mai pen rai.


Yunnan: The Most Un-Chinese Place in China (Audio)

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.