Asia 2005 Epilogue
                                   Asia Review
                                            May 29, 2005:  Thomas Jefferson is quoted as saying that travel will provide wisdom and not 
                                            necessarily happiness.  Yes, visiting other lands does provide an insight that travel narratives 
                                            could not accomplish.  To view the rigid expressions of cultures that have undergone much to just
                                            survive from day to day can shed light on why smiles can be distant.  On the other hand, seeing
                                            an aggressive generation attempt to change the future can be inspiring.  Again and again, one
                                            will see the result of applying and following the limited wisdom of a few men.
                                            One is amazed at the contrast of weather, topography, and overall style changes from province
                                            to province or even city to city.  Japan has a industrial belt that runs North and South along the 
                                            Pacific side; whereas, over a few mountains brings a tranquility of nature.  The reach of tourism
                                            is always apparent as one climbs the heights of Mt. Fuji - not for seeking wisdom, but, for seeking
                                            the glow of rows of vending machines.  Chrome and glass souvenir shops are not in keeping with
                                            natural surroundings; however, it appears natural for a commercialized society.  
                                            Language is less of a challenge then asking directions from an Irish train conductor.  It has become
                                            commonplace for schools to have mandatory English classes.  Even school children have outings to
                                            tourist areas to practice their new language skills by asking a set of questions.  On Victoria Peak in
                                            Hong Kong, one can be surrounded by eager questioners.  English is usually the only other language
                                            listed besides local script.  It has become the universal "go between" for various countries.   Translation
                                            always brings a humorous highlight to a day.  The "Need Advice?" is an ending question of several
                                            Chinese ATMs.  Either they have great stock tips or is referring to a receipt slip.  Some can be quite
                                            forward as the Shanghai city gardens list as their rules the restriction of "leaving urine or s--- in the 
                                            park."  Each country had a few letters out of place from time to time in newspapers and menus.  
                                            Still, one must applaud their efforts compared to our learning or attempting local languages.
                                            Architecture seems to run the gamut of Japan's new, yet conservative, buildings and China's seemingly
                                            endless ability to satisfy the ultimate vision of noted architects.  I.M. Pei's bamboo like horizontal lines
                                            on the Bank of China in Hong Kong has become an icon.  Add Paul Andreu's new egg shaped National
                                            Grand Theater of China next to Tiananmen square in Beijing and one can see every form or shape in Asia.   
                                            The path is still long as to China's desire to restore their main cultural sites.  Seeing the new glazed golden 
                                            roof tiles being restored on the Palace Museum, or Forbidden City, does provide a real glimpse of their history. 
                                            Guides can be a benefit or challenge.  Many times, the option for an English speaking driver with 
                                            detailed guide books may be a better option.  A local accent can add to the inability to comprehend the 
                                            the full impact of the local history.  If one can't understand a New Englander talk about Maine, no doubt
                                            similar challenges will occur elsewhere.  One very distinctive pattern of most guides or small day tours
                                            is to include a visit to a local handicraft or souvenir shop.   Some can be very insightful or some can
                                            give the impression of being at a "vacation time share" presentation.  One learns very quickly to ask up 
                                            front as to what visits are included and provide directions as to whether to stop or not.
                                            Poverty was part of many rural and urban sites in China, Thailand, and especially Cambodia.  Simple tin
                                            roofs with limited walls was commonplace.  The natural posture was to squat in order to wash clothes, cook,
                                            repair bikes and motorcycles, or just to talk in a group.  China is being aggressive as to reducing their
                                            poverty ranks by increasing per capita income by reducing taxes or providing factory employment.  The
                                            ongoing move to the cities is creating interesting social challenges by high ratio gender imbalances and 
                                            local governments not even sure of their populations.  Class distinctions are part of the culture and even
                                            part of the stars on the Chinese flag.  Amazing to see a VIP lounge at the cableway in the Huangshan 
                                            Climate included mostly warm and hot temperatures.  A packed fleece jacket was never used, even in the
                                            mountains where a sweater would suffice.  Seems Japan handled the warm temperatures while maintaining
                                            a suit based wardrobe.  Thailand viewed short sleeves and sandals as impolite and it was amazing how jackets 
                                            were worn in spite of high temperatures and high humidity.  The Thai beaches and pools were visually
                                            stunning; however, the water tend to be tepid and provided very limited refreshment.  
                                            Currency and values varied dramatically.  The exchange for the Japanese yen was easy to track by dropping
                                            the last two digits on any price tag.  However, the expensive costs provided very little value.  China Yuan was
                                            an exhange rate of 12 to 1.  Outside of major hotels, values were very much available.  Thailand's Baht had
                                            a rate to 40 to 1.  It was a nervous entry at an ATM requesting $4,000 Baht for $100 USD.  The value for
                                            the Baht went far, especially for gifts, massages, or food.  Costs for the Hong Kong dollars could be high at
                                            international hotels.  
                                            Overall, the experience was was very fulfilling and went as smooth as "Thai silk".  Concerns about independent
                                            travel were soon dismissed after a couple of days.  Most key cities are geared for large volumes of national
                                            and international tourists.  Reading ahead is key to knowing how to prepare visas, when to bring extra passport
                                            photos for certain permits, setting aside funds for departure taxes, and transport systems.  There are times when
                                            a few extra dollars on a China domestic airlines for first class provides express security lines, stocked VIP lounge,
                                            and the ability to place carry on luggage on empty seats.   Knowing the options and value can be very helpful and
                                            reduce stress.  There were times to use the local subway and train during the day or have a hotel car waiting for
                                            difficult addresses and night arrivals.  Balancing experience with efficiency is part of the overall "fun".  The final 
                                            question comes down to as to returning.  The beauty, culture, and experience is very unique and rewarding.  It 
                                            would be very interesting to see the lands in several years to see their progress.  In the interim, most travel will 
                                            be centered in a country where the Lederhosen can come out of the closet.  Ja!
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