4th of July in Sonoma, CA [Video]

The 4th of July is a big deal in Sonoma, California, a tourist attraction that swells this town of ten thousand in California’s wine country to bursting. This year it celebrated the 200th birthday of Augoston Haraszthy, who founded the California wine industry here. Watch for the marching grapevines and the rockets red glare as the moon rises.

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.


Getting Out Of Vegas: The Valley of Fire

“Get out of Dodge” is a line from the 50s TV Western Gunsmoke in which Marshal Dillon admonishes ne’er-do-wells to high-tail it out of Dodge City Kansas. The Valley of Fire State Park, in Nevada is hardly Kansas, although Dorothy would be quite pleased with its yellow rock roads. The Valley of Fire is the perfect place to go to get out that outlaw town Las Vegas, as we did during the chaos of Consumer Electronics Show.

CES attracted some 150 thousand people and completely transformed Sin City. A restaurant manager friend tells us that the nerds don’t spend any money on dinners and luxuries, they get hammered on beer and attempt to engage the local professionals, and we don’t mean Real Estate Professionals.  But Las Vegas is ringed by some spectacular places, such as the Valley of Fire, a Nevada State Park, where my wife and I spent the day without connectivity, meditating upon a total absence of technology.

Changing Faces of Beijing

Bejing is like a Sichuan Face Changing ritual, a routine in Chinese Opera in which a performer waves his cape and changes brightly-colored masks instantly, as many as 20 times in a few minutes. How it is done is a secret passed on through generations and the subject of a poignant 1996 film called “The King of Masks”. To the disgust of traditionalists, however, outsiders have picked it up to the point where it now almost a lounge routine.

Its original symbolism was scaring away wild animals.

Today’s Beijing is a big time Face Change Act.


A Night In Macau

Macau is now boffo, big wicket, the wiseguys at Variety Magazine might say. When I first ferried across from Hong Kong in the 1980s, Macau was a Portuguese colonial backwater with mid-sized plans to restore its architectural heritage. It did so beautifully. But plans became more than a touch grandiose after Portugal ceded it to China and in 2010 Macau belts “Look at me now!” Money fleeing Las Vegas is placing its bets here. Macau is out Vegasing Vegas already in gambling revenues and if you look at the otherworldly palaces rising from under the construction cranes, it may outbuild it as well.

I stayed for a week last month at The Venetian, a hotel-casino that makes the one in Las Vegas look like a Motel Six, witnessed the preview of a spectacular US$250 million water show called “The House of Dancing Water,” similar to Cirque du Soliel’s “O” but more engaging, I think, went to visit the family jewels (the Ho family, who controlled gambling in Macau for decades) including a 216 carat diamond, took a stroll through the old Portuguese quarter under the glow of holiday Chinese lanterns and ended the night with a bang at the Macau International Fireworks competition.