To Lhasa and Beyond On the Road to Shangri-La

In Lhasa’s Barkhor Square, the weathered Tibetan woman softly intoning a Buddhist mantra fell to her knees, looked fervently skyward and then lunged face down on the pavement, oblivious to the commercial life surrounding her. After a few seconds of prayer, she rose stiffly, moved two steps forward and repeated the process. Shoppers flowed around her with scarcely a sideways glance because Lhasa residents are used to prostrate pilgrims

beer drinking

Vietnam: A Hot, Humid Country that Loves Cold Beer

Drinking beer is woven into the social fabric of Vietnam. At family affairs and business lunches, impromptu meetings and private karaoke parties, beer flows like water. Cartons of beer — Saigon Special and Bia Hanoi, 333 and Larue, 24 cans to a box — balance in towering store displays and on the backs of motorbikes that careen through swarming traffic en route to their final destinations. A 2022 survey reported that Vietnam’s annual per capita beer consumption is 41.6 liters (over 11 gallons), or about 125 standard-sized cans per person.

Pekin Cafe, North Park neighborhood, San Diego, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

How Chinese Food Became as American as Apple Pie

In April 1904, Chinese Prince Pu Lun, the 32-year-old heir apparent to the throne of the Manchu Empire, sailed to the United States, the first member of the Qing Dynasty ever to cross the Pacific. He was a “Kodak fiend” fascinated by everything he saw and Americans readily embraced him. En route to the St. Louis World’s Fair, where he would serve as China’s Imperial Commissioner, he attended a banquet where the host provided a dish he hoped would remind the young prince of home. Pu Lun looked at the platter curiously and asked his host what it was. “Why, that’s chop suey, Prince,” said the American. Eager to discover something new and foreign, Pu Lun smiled at this revelation, nodded his head slowly, and asked, “What is…chop suey?”

Coffee Girls

Vietnam’s Central Highlands Envision Becoming a Global Coffee Capital

Vietnamese love their coffee. Credit the French. Although Vietnamese have little love for France’s colonial history, modern Viet culture embraces Gallic style, from wardrobe and architecture to — especially — cuisine. Báhn mì sandwiches, crispy baguettes wrapped around pâté and vegetables, are a legacy of the French. So, too, is phở, the rich beef noodle soup that has become an international icon of Vietnamese taste. But coffee truly distinguishes Vietnam from its neighbors. Most coffee shops are tiny, just big enough for patrons to enjoy conversation while waiting for the grind to filter through a four-part aluminum phin, often into a pool of sweetened, condensed milk to balance the bitter essence. More often than not, the brew is consumed iced in a glass: cà phê sữa đá (literally “coffee milk ice.”) Enthusiasts can even find such unlikely adaptations as egg coffee (with beaten egg yolks, sugar and condensed milk) and cheese coffee, that has a creamy foam topping that is stirred into the drink or scooped out and eaten separately.


 Hotels in Hell. Diary of a Female War Correspondent

You won’t find these hotels in a guidebook of great getaways. Amenities are woeful. Rooms aren’t clean or relaxing. You’ll find no vacationing families or romantic couples in the bar or restaurant. But for Olivia Ward, a Toronto Star war correspondent assigned to cover authoritarian hell holes from the Balkans to Central Asia, five-star spa resorts simply were not available. She stayed in hotels of last resort. Here is her story: Arriving for a first visit in Iraq to cover Operation Desert Fox, a four-day bombing campaign in 1998, I was determined not to stay in the notorious Al Rasheed Hotel, origin of a thousand CNN soundbites beginning “as bombs fell over Baghdad … ”

“There are other hotels, ” said my driver as we sped into the city. “Nice hotel, the Sheraton. Better than Al Rasheed.” But inexplicably, his car pulled up at the Al Rasheed. And while I was still protesting, three middle-aged bellmen had a tug-of-war with my luggage, eventually trundling it to the reception desk.