Category: Asia

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. […]

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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. […]

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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 […]

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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, […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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. […]

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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. […]

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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? […]

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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. […]

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Fate brought me to Gunung Mulu National Park. Bad research led me try to take a non-existent ferry from Brunei and the only option to leave on that day was the bus to Miri in Malaysia’s Sarawak state. Before I entered the bus, I made sure to book the flights to Gunung Mulu. The National Park lies deep inside the mountains and planes are the only way to get there.
Gunung Mulu is famous for its caves. […]

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Brunei is a rich Sultanate occupying a tiny spot on the island of Borneo. Malaysia has a much bigger part of the island and Indonesia’s territory is much larger still. The sultan rules as an absolute monarch over the roughly 430,000 people in Brunei, applying a mixture of English common law and sharia law. Wealth from oil and gas has transformed Brunei in the last decades. Its GDP per capita, measured at Purchasing Power Parity, ranks among the highest in the world. Brunei just doesn’t look like a rich country. […]

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Time is running short. I have to decide if I want to visit Indonesia for only a few days or not at all. Getting a short impression is better than getting no impression at all, so I go. From Singapore I take the ferry to the nearby island of Batam and from Batam a perversely cheap flight to Padang on the western side of Sumatra. I am glad that I decided to visit Indonesia: Firstly, it is a very beautiful country; secondly, Indonesian girls love to smile and thirdly, the avocado-chocolate smoothies are amazing. […]

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Singapore is an island city-state located off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It sits at the entrance of the Strait of Malacca, a vital shipping lane connecting the Pacific and the Indian Ocean. Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post of the British Empire. For the Malays its island location made it uninteresting, the city of Johor on the mainland was much more important. Colonial powers love islands though, they are easier to take control of and defend. […]

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