I haven’t traveled extensively in Asia, just a couple of short visits to the area around Narita airport outside Tokyo, a brief stay in Singapore, and another brief stay near Hong Kong airport. This is mainly due to my general dislike of heat and humidity, although I’m looking forward to spending more time in the region.
I did have the opportunity, however, to visit Uzbekistan and Tajikistan when they were part of the Soviet Union, and I spent some time working in Iran not long before the revolution that removed the Shah took place.
These trips were quite revealing. In the case of the Central Asian countries it was remarkable to note how the bureaucratic and very Russian-centered socialist state overlaid remarkably vibrant native cultures. It struck us (I was part of a carefully managed group of foreign tourists, among the first to gain access to these places) that for all the efforts of the USSR to “socialize” the local societies, there was a vibrancy, even an optimism, that shone through. Obviously this is a long time ago.
In Iran, the enormous gulf between the rich and poor was plain to see. As my group (I led a land use and regional economic planning effort as part of a cooperative effort between the Scottish university where I taught and the Iranian government) traveled around the country, the juxtaposition of urban wealth and incredible slums and squatter slums was striking. And in the countryside and provincial areas, the deeply traditional (and poor) rural society – overseen by would-be jet-setters in the Shah’s government, gave equally ominous feelings to me and my co-workers. Of course there, too, history was in play.
Nonetheless, the stunning physical beauty of these places, the warmth and hospitality of the people, and the ever-present reminders of days past, makes for vivid memories and a real desire to return someday.
I’ve also spent considerable time in Israel, where my late wife had several cousins. I’ll be expanding my photo collection from Israel as things progress.