Thursday April 24, 2014
Michael Hitoshi / Getty Images
I've found myself in some seriously hairy situations over the years of exploring Asia's backroads.
Maybe not dangerous in the traditional sense, but having glass after glass of a hellish local spirit thrust into your hands by well-meaning hosts can indeed get dangerous.
If there's one thing that closes a cultural divide quickly, it's drinking together. Even if you don't speak a common language, choking down spirits together is a way to forge friendships, not to mention businesses.
When staying with an indigenous Iban family in a remote part of Borneo last year, I had to present the longhouse chief a bottle of brandy as a gift. And to prove my mettle, I was expected to consume half of it as everyone in the extended family wanted to toast to the guest -- me. Even the grandmothers didn't cut me any slack.
In many parts of Asia, grown men are simply expected to drink. And local spirits often fuel festivals, ceremonies, banquets, and social occasions. But unfortunately, as a guest, you're already at a disadvantage. No doubt your hosts have already had years of practice at gulping down the local moonshine. And all eyes may be on you -- that's what you get for being the guest of honor.
From the jungle to executive board rooms in Asia, knowing how to empty a cup without gagging is often an important part of interacting. At business banquets in China and Japan, you'll need to know some proper drinking etiquette so that the rules of saving face are followed.
Use these resources to help you survive your next encounter -- good luck!
Monday April 21, 2014
Photo by Joe Hastings
Discovery Channel has announced that Joby Ogwyn's much anticipated wingsuit jump from Mount Everest has been canceled.
The stunt, planned to air live tentatively on May 11, was to be the first ever wingsuit jump from the summit of Mount Everest. As if climbing the mountain wasn't difficult enough, Joby Ogwyn planned to reach the summit then jump from 29,000 feet if weather conditions permitted.
The announcement to cancel the stunt came following the deadliest avalanche in Mount Everest's history this past Friday. Joby's Sherpa team were among the at least 13 fatalities who were setting up routes for the upcoming climbing season. Most attempts on the summit are usually made in May when conditions are most favorable.
The deadly avalanche has also triggered an outcry in the Sherpa community and even a call for boycott. Sherpas risk their lives season after season, while the Nepalese government profits from climbing fees. The government has announced that the families of each climber will receive the equivalent of US $415.
The average annual salary in Nepal hovers around US $700, however, Sherpas can sometimes earn US $5,000 in a single season.
The Himalayan Trust is the official charity set up by Sir Edmund Hillary -- the first climber to summit Everest -- in order to help the Nepalese people and families of Sherpas. Sir Edmund Hillary passed away in 2008 at the age of 88.
Friday April 18, 2014
Photo by Christian Haugen
Many of the shocking facts about the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, are true. While some of the sensationalist rumors that evolved over centuries simply are simply fictitious.
Perhaps the most famous of rumors about the Taj Mahal is that the architects and artists were put to death upon completion of the project. Not much of a reward for 22 years of hard work, they were supposedly executed so that they could never create another structure as beautiful as the Taj.
While not nearly as exciting, many historians today believe that the artisans were simply required to sign a contract. The equivalent of a non-compete clause.
What is true is that India's most famous landmark was inspired by love. And upon its completion, Shah Jahan only got to enjoy it for a few short years before being put under house arrest. He then spent the last years of his life only able to look at the Taj Mahal from his window.
Monday April 14, 2014
Photo by Wyndham
Songkran in Thailand has been underway since Sunday, although some enthusiastic Thai children were probably splashing people with water for good measure a day or two in advance.
The Thai New Year is an incredibly busy, chaotic, wet, and fun experience -- particularly in Chiang Mai. Rarely do you get to see thousands of people fill the streets to splash strangers with 'blessings' of cold water for the new year. The city fills to capacity for the annual event.
Held annually from April 13 to 15, Songkran is perfectly timed to cool people down during the scorching heat in April.
While, in the traditional sense, a sprinkle of water from a bucket would do, what fun is that? Instead, many participants decide to purchase big water cannons to really spread the love. Adding ice to the water increases the reaction from the crowd. I wasn't dry for four days during my Thai Songkran experience.
And while the splashings are in good nature, Songkran can be a frustrating time for some visitors as the moat surrounding the Old City in Chiang Mai turns into one big party. Road accidents double during Songkran to an average of 52 deaths per day, as people drive intoxicated or crash after getting splashed with water.
Songkran in Singapore 2014
Singapore had planned to get into the Songkran spirit -- and tourist dollars -- this year by hosting the largest Songkran event ever held outside of Thailand. Splashing water at the event, known as Celebrate Songkran, was eventually forbidden. Singapore has long suffered from a scarcity of potable water, so encouraging people to waste water wasn't exactly in line with national campaigns to curb water usage.
The decision came after the TAT Deputy Governor in Thailand stated that Thailand should have exclusive rights to celebrate Songkran. Although festivals -- particularly Buddhist events such as Songkran -- are celebrated widely throughout Asia, the Tourism Authority of Thailand actually considered legal action against Singapore if they hosted their own water fight.
Songkran is also celebrated enthusiastically in Luang Prabang, Laos.