Category: 2015

I am very keen to go to Bangladesh. And I also dread going. Bangladesh is one of these unfortunate countries that is associated nearly exclusively with bad news. An extremely low-lying country threatened by climate change and rising sea levels, where millions might one day be forced to leave their homes. Where are they supposed to go? Bangladesh is already crowded. Its population density of 1,181 people per square kilometre is the highest of any country besides city states and island nations. And there is many of them, currently more than 150 million. […]

Read more

In the summer and autumn of 2015, I was able to visit all the major countries of East Asia in one trip, allowing me to understand their historical and political interconnectedness. South Korea is shaped by the troubled relationship with its North Korean brethren and its history with Japan, where the troubled past is spilling over into the present. I am a big fan of South Korea. It is a country with history, beautiful landscapes, friendly people and tasty barbecues. In contrast to the Korea further north, South Korea is accessible. But sometimes South Korea also leaves me speechless. […]

Read more

Kyushu is the southernmost of the big Japanese Islands. It is mountainous, and Japan’s most active volcano, 1,591-metre-high Mount Aso, is on Kyushu. There are many other signs of tectonic activity, including numerous areas of hot springs. The most famous of these are in Beppu, on Kyushu’s eastern shore. I arrive in Beppu after nightfall and meet a Japanese-Austrian guy and soon find myself heading with him […]

Read more

Shikoku is one of Japan’s main islands and is south of Honshu. Shikoku is considered a bit of a backwater and the most traditional of the islands. Historically, it had been rather isolated but that changed with the construction of three imposing bridges linking it to Honshu. I arrive by ferry from Hiroshima and the trip is fabulous. The ferry is near empty and I can have a seat with a perfect view as we move through the Inland Sea of Japan, most of the time close to the shore or to one of the many, many islands. […]

Read more

If you love temples, Kyoto is for you. The city was chosen as the seat of Japan’s imperial court in 794 and remained in that position for eleven centuries until 1869. The city was arranged in accordance to traditional Chinese feng shui. It escaped widespread destruction in WWII and is considered the cultural capital of Japan. In fact, its cultural heritage probably saved it from obliteration. It was removed from the five-city list of targets for a nuclear attack on the personal urging of the US Secretary of War, who had visited the city several times. […]

Read more

I stayed six weeks in Japan and left with the feeling that I never spend so much time in a country while understanding so little about it. Japan is fascinating but Japan felt very distant. Much of the fascination lies in the fact that Japan is the only country I can travel to that is of similar wealth than my own but with a totally different culture. I find it extremely interesting that Japan has often found very different solutions to very similar questions that arise in society. A few examples? […]

Read more

I fell in love with Hong Kong on my first visit in 2002. I love condensed megacities that grow into the air as ground to build on is scarce. I was taken by Hong Kong’s scenery. Hong Kong is mountainous; the peaks of Hong Kong Island reach up to 552 metres surpassing even the highest skyscrapers. And it is by no means all city, planning authorities have made sure that a clear distinction between the city and nature is upheld. […]

Read more

The airport bus is the most convenient way to get to the Beijing City Central Youth Hostel. As the bus wants to enter the highway, the road is blocked by a policeman. Everyone stops but an expensive SUV swerves right and just drives past him. I am not surprised. In the view many people hold of China the Communist Party hast total control, there is no individuality and the people take everything without questioning and without complaints. This image was destroyed during […]

Read more

There is no breakfast for me, I have to finish writing my postcards. The letters are getting bigger and the number of words is declining. The lunch box for the trains saves me. Somehow the trip is over; I am looking forward to China, the internet, contact to the world and contact to back home. We say goodbye to our guides at the train station. Leaving Pyongyang, […]

Read more

It is a ride of several hours to Wonsan. We drive through villages and small towns, see plenty of propaganda slogans and installations, including one showing a direct hit on the US capitol building in Washington, DC. A chance to just observe life. At some point our bus is going at the same speed as a train. We greet the train passengers and they […]

Read more

We leave Pyongyang behind. We head south and pass the Arch of Reunification again. I get my camera ready; I want to take a picture of the place where the people have to push their bikes through the stream. We change on the highway to the East. We take a break at a small lake, on the toilet is a sign of times long gone. A towel of the tourist region Kumgangsan. One of the projects established during the contacts under the Sunshine Policy it concerned one of the most beautiful spots on the Korean peninsula, Mount Kumgang, the […]

Read more

The Yanggakdo hotel has 47 storeys and the elevator reaches until the 43rd floor. The fifth floor is missing. There is a button for the fourth and the sixth, but not the fifth. But you clearly notice that there is a fifth floor, it takes twice the time from four to six than between other storeys. The word goes that North Korean intelligence sits on that floor. Possibly correct but who has any interest in observing me? Honestly no one. But North Korea is certainly prepared for all possibilities. North Koreans that live abroad […]

Read more

A quickly confirmed rumour is spreading. At night someone from our group tried to leave the hotel. They had taken Rowan’s words quite literally and, after a few beers, tried how far they would get. The went out of the hotel and on to the bridge leading to the city centre. On the bridge some uniformed guy signalled them to go back. They turned around but instead […]

Read more

Breakfast consists mostly of potatoes, cabbage, kimchi, toast, jam and spaghetti with some unidentifiable sauce. A small selection for a buffet. I am in awe of the disgusting-looking red and green lemonade. We had to rise early today as we are heading to Kaesong and the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), meaning the border with South Korea, a ride of about three hours. […]

Read more

The bridge was destroyed by war 65 years ago. It extends about halfway into the river where a viewing platform has been installed. There is nothing interesting to see on the other side. The city of Sinŭiju does not make much of its riverside location. There are a few nondescript buildings, a few ships, a line of trees, the water slide of a swimming pool and behind the trees a ferries wheel. All is hundreds of metres away. Still, a steady stream of people heads to the viewing platform. […]

Read more

I observe racism even before entering the country. Approaching immigration, a security guard directs people into different lines. So far so good, but the guard does not direct people with the intention that all lines have roughly equal length but separates people like me into the “short line” and people that look like labourers from South Asia into the “long line”. Whereas only a few people are in my line, there are more than 50 in the other line. Who cares if the labourers have to wait? […]

Read more

The plane is late, I have to take a taxi to get to the train station and catch one of the last trains of the day. I enter the train armed with a sushi box, let myself fall into the comfy seat and soon we head south at 300 km/h. It feels so good after months of slow and uncomfortable transport. Outside, only the lights of cities and towns are visible. My plane had landed in the north of Taiwan but two-and-a-half hours later, I am already in Tainan in the south of the country. […]

Read more