Category Archives: Asia

“The Quiet American” and Other Classics of Southeast Asia

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By Wailana Kalama

Bangkok overtook London last year as the world’s second most popular travel destination!

If you’re joining fellow travelers and heading to Southeast Asia, you’ll need some reading for the plane. Step into these books and understand just a little bit more about what makes this region tick.

Graham Greene, The Quiet American. Travel writer Pico Iyer has long proclaimed a long affinity with Greene: “who, almost in spite of himself, taught me and so many others how to move around the world and even how to hazard trust.” Greene’s most famous novel centers around the relationship between the cynical Brit, Fowler, and the idealist American, Pyle. This book is a fictional essay on the moral ambiguity of love and war, and the impossibility of neutrality. My Favorite Quote: “Innocence is a kind of insanity.”

Aung San Suu Kyi & Alan Clements, The Voice of Hope. An icon of peace and optimism in a corrupted society, Kyi rose to headlines when her country Myanmar opened its borders in 2010. This biography takes the reader directly into the heart of Myanmar and Kyi’s struggle, her optimism, and unfailing commitment to her beliefs. My Favorite Quote: “Saints are sinners who go on trying.”

The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.

–Aung San Suu Kyi

George Orwell, Burmese Days. I always enjoy reading Orwell, ever-sensitive to the plights of common men. Drawing from his experience as a police officer in 1920s Burma, Orwell’s novel addresses bigotry, racism, and imperialism. My Favorite Quote: “There is nothing like an earthquake for drawing people together. One more tremor, or perhaps two, and they would have asked the butler to sit down at table with them.”

Marguerite Duras, The Lover. Believe it or not, but Duras’ The Lover was the subject of my bachelor’s thesis. A non-traditional spin on a time-honored story, this short book follows an adolescent French girl and her Chinese lover. It’s all about colonialism, feminine writing, marginalized people, and–if you believe my thesis abstract–a bit of Saïd’s Orientalism thrown in there as well. A chaotic, instinctual and dreamy read. My Favorite Quote: “Very early in my life it was too late.”

Read our earlier post on WIT Agent Nancy’s favorite books to take with you on a trip to Southeast Asia.

Heading to Southeast Asia in 2017? Give us a call! We have the know-how and the connections to land you a trip of a lifetime! call us at 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com. 

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Travel News Update: Hong Kong and E-Cigs

 

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If you’re entering Hong Kong with e-cigarettes containing nicotine, you’ll need a medical prescription indicating that they’re for personal use. If the e-cigarette is nicotine-free and for personal use, no medical prescription is needed. So travelers, be aware: you should either show proof that the e-cigarette is without nicotine, or show prescription. Nicotine is considered a Part 1 poison in Hong Kong, and the possession of a nicotine e-cigarette without a prescription faces a penalty up to $100,000 fine and 2 years’ imprisonment.

This order follows recent efforts by officials, headed by Secretary for Food and Health Professor Sophia Chan, to step up on e-cigarette control and its possible carcinogens. Take note that in Hong Kong, cigarette smoking, including e-cigarettes, is banned in no smoking areas, including all indoor public areas, and some outdoor areas like school campuses and parks.

Other entry requirements remain unchanged; US citizens can visit Hong Kong for up to 6 months without a visa. If you visit mainland China via Hong Kong, you must obtain a Chinese visa before arrival at the Chinese border.

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Happy Year of the Rooster!

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Chinese populations all over the world will be celebrating lunar New Year’s Festival, from this Saturday, 28 January, and continuing for two weeks. Dozens of countries, and countless Chinese communities across the globe, come together to lion-dance, explode fireworks, and be merry. On the 15th day of the New Year—this year on February 11—is the pinnacle of festivities, the beautiful Lantern Festival. Lucky for you if you’re in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, or Vietnam during this fortnight!

According to the Chinese zodiac, it’s the Year of the Rooster—so don’t be surprised if you see images of brilliant yellow and red roosters all over.

Traditionally, families get together and munch on specially prepared dumplings. They clean the house, sweeping away ill fortune and making way for incoming good luck. Relatives exchange red paper arts, light firecrackers and gift money to children. You may catch a dragon dance on the street or a martial arts performance. It’s a great time to visit China and its neighbors!
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Popular Greetings:
1. 新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo) ‘New Year goodness!’
/sshin-nyen haoww/
2. 恭喜发财 / 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐ fācái) ‘Happiness and prosperity!’
/gong-sshee faa-tseye/
3. 步步高升 / 步步高陞 (Bùbù gāoshēng)  A steady rise to high places! — “on the up and up”
/boo-boo gaoww-shnng /

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Read more from around the Web:
How to Celebrate Chinese New Year
Non-Touristy Ways to See the Great Wall of China
China’s massive Lunar New Year rush

Interested in a Vacation to China or Taiwan but not sure where to start? Give our agents a ring! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Ice Festivals around the World

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From the Desk of Wailana, Social Media Correspondent based in Stockholm

Glacial Artscapes

It’s freezing in my adoptive home of Sweden, about -10 C (that’s 14 F!), and venturing outside puts me knee-deep in snow. Coming from Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, it’s not something I’ll ever be used to!

But ice and snow has its charms. Sweden just opened its Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi for 365 days of the year (previously it was only in winter season), so that puts me in the arctic spirit! And the rest of the world seems to agree. From December to March each year, cities and towns all across the globe host beautiful Ice Sculpture Festivals and transform their streets into a glacial winter wonderland.

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World Ice Art Championships — Alaska

Since 1989, Alaska is THE destination for worldwide ice art competition. Bringing together more than 100 sculptors and upwards of 50,000 visitors each year, the Ice Art Championship is a place to see masters excel at their craft. Judges break down the competition by Single Block (one block of ice) and Multi-Block, and Abstract and Realistic artworks. These “Olympics of Ice Carving” are a fantastic way for artists to demonstrate strength, vision, and feats of engineering. Usually held between February in March, giving youth carvers a chance to challenge each other during Spring Break. The theme tends to be up to interpretation, with topics ranging from pop culture to folklore; but many artists do favor naturalistic motifs, celebrating local Alaskan fauna or indigenous culture.

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Harbin Intl Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival — China

The magnificent and luminous International Ice & Snow Sculpture Festival in Harbin, China (whew what a title!), holds the title of largest ice festival in the world. Originating way back in 1963 (albeit interrupted for some years during the Cultural Revolution), it typical runs from January to February. This is one crazy festival–featuring ice lanterns, carving competitions, a fireworks show, converts, water swimming and other ice sports. Sculptures reach their peak in 2007, when a Canadian-themed sculpture was awarded a Guinness Record for biggest snow sculpture (a whopping 820 feet long and 28 feet high!). Tourist packages often combine winter travel in China with a stop in Harbin. (Call Willamette Intl Travel for the scoop!) Come at night for the best multicolored illuminations!

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Sapporo Snow Festival — Japan

The world-renowned Sapporo Snow Festival attracts 2 million people to Hokkaido in early February. Its humble beginnings start all the way back in 1950, when a group of high school students challenged each other with a mere six snow statues in Odori Park. Since then, it’s been growing, and the festival garnered international attention during Sapporo’s Winter Olympic Games in 1972. Guests can enjoy still sculptures in Odori Park, where lights illuminate the frozen dragons, flowers, supernatural beings, musicians, (and so on!) until 10pm.

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Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival — Netherlands

The Netherlands have thrown a few Ice Sculpture Festivals (including one in Bruges!) over the years, but it’s this year (2016-2007) that one is at last coming to Amsterdam. Forty-two expert ice artists will transform the Arena Park into a magical ice-scape from December to February. The theme: Music Inspires, so expect Mozart, Elvis, and maybe even Prince to make an appearance.

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Quebec City Winter Carnival — Canada

More of a parade than an exhibition, Quebec’s City Winter Carnival is a time for the whole city to shake off winter hibernation. Masquerade balls, winter sports, snowmen pop up here and there, and the parade hosts a fair share of ice sculptures to admire and applaud. Don’t forget your glass of Caribou, a hot melange of red wine, whiskey, and maple syrup!

 

Flickr CC images: art_inthecity, RageZ, Jay Cross, Fredrik Rubensson, Thomas Wanhoff

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Christmas in Asia

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Christmas is a widespread holiday, celebrated in countries all over the world. Did you know that it’s a popular holiday even in the Far East?

Though many people don’t associate Christmas with Asia, this holiday is celebrated all the way from Japan to the Philippines. Depending on where you go, it can be a religious holiday or a secular time with family and friends.

In Japan, Christmas is widely popular as a holiday for friends or lovers. Cities decorate their streets and halls with Christmas trees and illuminations, and pipe out Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on the radio. Japanese people may eat Christmas cake, a sponge cake with whipped cream and fruit toppings. December 25 is a romantic holiday, with many Japanese preferring to spend a romantic day with their significant other.

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In Hong Kong, locals go all out with a festive Christmas. December 25 is an official holiday in Hong Kong, and the city dresses up in massive Christmas Trees, German-style Christmas markets and beautiful light shows. The ballet does a yearly Nutcracker that is a delight. You can get your photo with Santa, known in Hong Kong as Lan Khoong or Dun Che Lao Ren.

In China, the New Year usually overshadows Christmas as the most important holiday. Still, many Chinese people like to get into the holiday spirit just for fun. Children can get their photos with Santa (known as “聖誕老人 shèngdànlǎorén”) at department stores, and people give out cellophane-wrapped Christmas apples as gifts.

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In Korea, where 30% of the population is Christian, Christmas is a holiday for families and lovers. This official official holiday is a time for families to get together and eat traditional dishes like barbecued beef, kimchi and rice cake soup. Santa Haraboji is a traditionally dressed grandfather with a top hat (gat) and blue robe, who hands out gifts to children. Like Japan, it can also double as a romantic night with your significant other!

In the Philippines, thanks to Spanish influence, Christmas is a huge holiday. Filipinos decorate their homes with candles, lights and wreaths, and dress up a bamboo pole with a lighted star. Christmas Eve is a big deal—people don’t generally sleep this night, instead they hold the Feast of Noche Buena, which begins after midnight. The dinner consists of delicious oxtail stew, stuffed chicken, pudding and sticky rice. Children line up in front of an elder family member, who passes out coins as gifts.

Vietnam also gets into the secular spirit with decorations and light shows all over Ho Chi Minh City. People throw confetti and eat out in fancy restaurants.

Next Week is Christmas! Where are you spending the holidays? Let us know in the comments!

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Vietnam: A Photographer’s Paradise

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Vietnam is a gorgeous country, an absolute paradise for photographers. Several award-winning photographers are based in Vietnam these days: Ehrin Macksey, Réhahn, Quinn Ryan Mattingly, plus many more. Its landscapes and cities speak to the heart and the eye in an inviting and unflinching way.

Willamette Intl Travel is proud to have sent countless of our clients to discover Vietnam for themselves. We can arrange travel for you and your family with knowledgeable guides, on eye-opening trips to temples, rice paddies and old world streets. Plus, who can resist a cooking class for spicy spring rolls in Old Saigon? Call us to find out more: 503-224-0180. 

Feel free to flip through the photo album: 

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For more eye-candy:

A bilingual photobook, Huế – The City of Crying Stones, was published last week in Paris and features 200 bw and color photos of Huế, Vietnam’s capital in the years from 1802 to 1945.

Also, check this article out on local street photography in Hanoi.

Thinking about a Spring getaway to Vietnam? February and March are some of the best months to travel to this unique and flavorful country. In Fall, too: the mid-autumn festival Tet is one you’ll be talking about for years to come. Call us up for a chat! 503-224-0180 or email info@wittravel.com.

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Winter Illumination Wonders of Japan

Welcome to Monday!

We hope you all (in the USA at least) had a fabulous Thanksgiving weekend — we sure did!

Today, let’s step halfway across the world to welcome winter, with enchanting illuminations!

Here in Portland every year the city rolls out its annual light parade, complete with floats, installations, sculptures, performances—even lectures on Light itself at the science museum! But did you know that, across the Pacific ocean, Japan also goes all out with the wintry lights? And we’re not talking a couple of small towns, or even just Tokyo—dozens of cities all over the nation have gotten caught up with the illuminations craze. So if you’re in Japan this winter, be sure to catch the closest one near you!  Continue reading

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