Lan Ha and Friend Cropped

The Áo Dài’s Flowing Elegance Mirrors Vietnamese Femininity

What images come to mind when you think of Vietnam? A peasant in the conical nón lá hat, harvesting rice from the fields? Colorful lanterns dancing from the masts of river boats or the corrugated eaves of Taoist temples in ancient Hoi An? Perhaps you dream of karst peaks that erupt from the placid waters of deep-blue Ha Long Bay?
All are part of the visual culture of the country I now call home. But I believe nothing says “Vietnam” more than the áo dài. The sleek silk gown is as much a statement of Vietnamese fashion and femininity as is the kimono in Japan, the sari in India or the cheongsam in China. At once draping and clinging, accenting the Asian woman’s natural curves, the áo dài teases with restraint and decorum, promising nothing but implying everything. As worn by Vietnamese women, who learn to walk gracefully at a young age, it is at once marvelously modest yet incredibly provocative. A man who isn’t stirred is either dead or recently divorced.

Life and Death Under the Volcano for the Bali Aga

North of the market town of Ubud, Bali’s tourist resorts and handicraft markets give way to small villages like Trunyan, pop. 300, that belong to a mountain people called the Bali Aga. Unlike Balinese Hindus elsewhere, the Bali Aga do not memorialize the dead with elaborate cremations. Instead, they place their deceased kinsmen beneath a large tree and let nature reclaim the bodies. In my imagination, Trunyan seemed both dreadful and exotic at the same time.

Shanghai – Head of the Dragon

By David DeVoss When California architect Robert Steinberg opened an office in Shanghai twelve years ago, he felt as if he had arrived at the leading edge of the Chinese Century. Unlike America, where architects were being laid off and signature buildings scaled back, the biggest city in the world’s most populous country was developing…

Searching for Mumbai’s Silk Road

Silk vendor at D. Popli & Sons in Mumbai displays high quality yet reasonably priced silk By Jacqueline Swartz Mumbai, the city formerly known as Bombay, is the marketplace of India — its jewelry, textiles, handicrafts, furniture and leather goods come from all over India and around the world. This is India’s city of commerce…

Daughter of Burma discovers her past amid the Buddhist charms of Modern Myanmar

For the Burmese, the Irrawaddy River is a laundry, bath, source of food, and major transportation route. Like the Salween and the Chindwin rivers, it starts high in the mountains, meandering south through teak and mahogany forests, and around mines producing jade, sapphires and world famous ‘pigeon’s blood’ rubies. In terms of per capita income, Myanmar is the poorest country in Southeast Asia, but its population supports – and daily feeds – more than half a million Buddhist monks as well as nearly 100,000 nuns. The majority of males in the country spend some time in a Buddhist monastery, often starting as young as age six.

Getting Up Close to the Great Indian One-Horned Rhino

Driving slowly down the narrow road bordering the Kaziranga Wildlife Preserve in north eastern India, my guide promised me a rhino sighting early the following morning. Elephant, endangered Wild Buffalo and deer roam this area, 25 miles long and eight miles wide, marked by tall grasses, marshes and the mighty Brahmaputra river. But the prize sight is the rare Indian one-horned rhino, brought back from near extinction in the last century.