Celebrating New Year of the Dragon in China!


My wife Jing, son, and I spent the 2012 Chinese New Year with Jing’s family in Shanghai, China. It was a special New Year’s for us, not only because it ushered in the auspicious Year of the Dragon but also because it marked a first for our family—the first time we had been together with Jing’s family in China for the holiday. My wife had not spent New Year’s with her family in almost two decades, and it would be the first time my son and I joined them. The happy hearts and big smiles of my in-laws when we arrived January 21 foretold a joyous reunion.

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Bataan Death March, Philippines (Video)


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During my 2014 trip to the Philippines, I retraced the route of the infamous Bataan Death March on the Bataan Peninsula on Luzon Island north of Manila. It was fortuitous that I followed the route on the 72nd anniversary of the March.

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After the surrender of the U.S.-Filipino Bataan Defense Force during World War II to the Japanese on April 9, 1942, thousands of American and Filipino prisoners were force marched 102 kilometers from Mariveles and Bagac on the Bataan Peninsula to San Fernando in Pampanga. An estimated 60,000-80,000 Filipino and American prisoners of war endured the seven-day Bataan Death March. Those who made it to San Fernando on April 17, 1942, were loaded onto train cars by the hundreds and transferred by rail to the concentration camp at Camp O’Donell. Approximately 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners of war died  from execution, exhaustion, injury, thirst, malaria, and other causes along the way. Survivors were held prisoner until Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II in September 1945.

This video footage shows what the route of the Bataan Death March looks like today.

Route of the Bataan Death March, Philippines

No longer a dirt trail, much of it is now the Bataan Provincial Expressway. It begins at Zero Kilometer Death March Marker (Km 00) Memorial in Mariveles. A second route from Bagac, a district in the interior of Bataan Peninsula where thousands more prisoners were forced marched, merges with the Mariveles branch at Kilometer 23. The highway continues north to San Fernando with dozens of markers and memorials along the way.

Bataan Death March Route

The video begins at Zero Kilometer and follows the Bataan Death March route from kilometer 4 to 13. The shaky cam from an air-conditioned vehicle doesn’t convey what prisoners of war endured during the March, but it will give you a sense of the challenges they faced en route.

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Macau


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Macau is a place of contrasts. Macau, or Macao as it was better known when it was a Portuguese colony, is officially the Macau Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Like its many names, the SAR is filled with more people, culture, and history than its small size suggests. Sitting on just 29.5 square kilometers (11.39 sq. miles) of land, some of it reclaimed from the Pearl River Delta, Macau has a population of more than 600,000 with a density of more than 18,500 people per square kilometer (48,000 per square mile). Although crowded, its denseness does not seem so much from its small footprint as from its rich and colorful history. The former colony still retains much of its Portuguese and indigenous Cantonese character but has grown more Chinese since its return to China in 1999. As the country’s only destination for legalized gambling, a Portuguese legacy dating back to the 1850s, Macau has become a tourist draw with its growing array of gambling and Las Vegas-style entertainment and conference venues. Nestled amid the grand casinos are neighborhoods steeped in colonial and traditional Chinese heritage. Like its sister across the delta in Hong Kong, Macau is worth highlighting as a semi-autonomous region because of its unique character and heritage.

More About Macau

Ruin of St. Paul’s Cathedral

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Senado Square

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A Skyline View of Macau

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Taipu Village at Night

2012_04_17 Taipa Village (3)-1

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Auckland Sky Tower, New Zealand


We spent much of the afternoon on our first day in New Zealand at the Auckland Sky Tower. The tallest free-standing structure in the Southern Hemisphere rises 328-meters (1,076 feet) over the Auckland skyline. It’s a concrete and composite structure built for Harrah’s Entertainment as part of the SKYCITY casino and event center owned by New Zealand-based SKYCITY Entertainment Group. Although the tower opened in August 1997 to some concern over its potential impact as part of the city’s first (and still only) casino, it has since become a fixture in Auckland.

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Argentina


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From the Atlantic Ocean to the top of the Andes Mountains, Argentina is a bridge between the Old and New Worlds. Innately European but distinctly Latin American, the country is a melding of cultural influences brought by the Spaniards and western immigrants and a unique geographic backdrop that offers some of earth’s most stunning scenes. Renown Argentine writer Ernesto Sabato described his homeland thus: “Because of our European roots, we deeply link the nation with the enduring values of the Old World; because of our condition of Americans we link ourselves to the rest of the continent.” One cannot sit drinking a glass of Mendoza wine in the foothills of the Andes or enjoying parrilla (grill) in the shadow of the cruise ships bound for Antarctica departing from Tierra del Fuego without thinking of Europe and the Americas. Argentines are rightly proud of their country and culture that invite visitors to indulge in and savor.

More About Argentina

Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires

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Penguin and Seal Colony in the Beagle Channel, Tierra del Fuego

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Llao Llao Resort and Nahuel Huapi Lake near San Carlos de Bariloche

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Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glacieres National Park

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Auckland, New Zealand


My family and I started our journey through New Zealand in its largest city, Auckland. We wondered if we should pass it by after landing at the airport to save time for other attractions on the North and South Island until I reminded myself, “You’re not going to stop in New Zealand’s biggest city? Why in the world wouldn’t you?”

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That was enough for me. We added another day to our itinerary with an overnight stop in Auckland and made due with a few hours of touring after our plane touched down at noon. The more I learned about the Northland Region from Auckland to the North Cape on New Zealand’s northwestern peninsula, the more I wanted to stay longer and explore the area. But it wasn’t meant to be. Our almost three-week driving itinerary was already crowded with daily stops from Auckland to Christchurch and everywhere in between. The Northland would have to wait for another trip, and Auckland, unfortunately, was relegated to a brief stop. The city merited more than half a day to take in the sights, but we were hard pressed to expand our schedule or steal time from another location.

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The Mennonites of Paraguay (with Photos)


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This is the full version of the original article.The third in a series on Paraguay’s Chaco region features the local Mennonite communities. The first focused on Filadelfia, the area’s largest town, and the second on the rural Chaco. The final post highlighted the local indigenous community. Enjoy photos and stories from one of Paraguay’s most intriguing places.

Paraguay’s remote western region, the Chaco, boasts a diverse mix of Mennonite, Spanish, Brazilian, and indigenous Guarani influences. The approximately 60,000 to 80,000 Mennonites in Paraguay who live in large communities, or “colonies,” dominate the local culture. Its distinctly German flavor was introduced to the country by Russian Mennonites of Germanic descent who emigrated from the former Soviet Union in the late 1920s and early 1930s to avoid persecution under Stalinism. Other Mennonite communities migrated to Paraguay between 1929 and 1932 from Canada, Germany, and the United States. The Fernheim, Menno, and Neuland colonies settled near present-day Filadelfia in 1930, and have since grown to more than 10,000 members. Most are farmers with large ranches (estancias) that produce a variety of agricultural products, including beef, dairy products, and other foodstuffs.

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (3)

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (8)

The Mennonites’ arrival in the Chaco coincided with the rise in tensions between Paraguay and its neighbor, Bolivia. Eager to solidify the country’s hold on the sparsely populated region, the Paraguayan government granted in the 1930s large parcels of Chaco land to the Mennonites on the condition that they establish a permanent presence there. The Bolivians, who coveted the Chaco for oil-producing potential that never materialized, invaded it in 1932 and fought the three-year Chaco War with Paraguay. More than 80,000 Bolivians and 50,000 Paraguayans died in the conflict that ended with Bolivia’s defeat. Although the pacifist Mennonites did not fight, the food they cultivated kept the Paraguayan troops fed.

2008_08_31 Paraguay Chaco (15)

2008_08_31 Paraguay Chaco (16)

The Mennonites struggled to survive in the 1930s and 1940s. An inhospitable, semiarid environment with little rainfall and poor soil made life difficult for the early settlers as they domesticated the land. Travel overland to Paraguay’s capital, Asunción, before the construction of the Trans-Chaco Highway in the late 1950s, was an odyssey that left the remote colonies isolated from the outside world. Indigenous groups such as the Guarani resisted encroachment by their new neighbors and fought occasional skirmishes with the settlers. The Mennonites and the indigenous learned to co-exist peacefully, and many indigenous now work for the colonies. After years of toil, the Mennonites transformed the area into one of the country’s most productive agricultural regions.

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (1)

The Mennonite’s cooperatives (cooperativas) are among Paraguay’s largest enterprises. Closely affiliated with the local Mennonite Church, they manage the colonies’ commercial interests. Their operations and logistics networks are brilliantly efficient. They provide farmers with enriched animal feed, transport raw milk from farms to dairy plants, transform milk into dairy products, process foodstuffs, and ship finished goods to market on gravel roads that they maintain. The cooperatives also operate service businesses, including hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and shopping centers that cater to the Mennonite communities. Fernheim Colony’s cooperative, the country’s best known, also runs an experimental farm that incubates and crossbreeds cash crops capable of the surviving in the Chaco. The power and influence of the cooperatives is astounding, although one would not know it at first glance. The low-profile associations are opaque operations whose sole purpose is to serve the Mennonites.

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2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (6)

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (7)

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (5)

The Mennonite culture emphasizes hard work, a simple life, and strict adherence to its religious beliefs. Unlike their Amish cousins, Mennonites embrace the use of technology when it improves their productivity, and they dress in plain, functional clothing. Most men wear short-sleeve cotton shirts and khaki pants or jeans; women usually wear dresses to church and pants on the farm. Most marry within the community, while those who marry non-Mennonites tend to leave the colony. As a result, offspring tend to look Germanic than Hispanic, indigenous, or mixed. It is common to see someone with blond hair and blue eyes walking around Filadelfia. Mennonites also prefer to speak Plattdeutsch, an old variant of Low German, to Spanish or Guaraní, Paraguay’s official languages. It’s easy for those who visit the Chaco to see the cultural divide between the Mennonites and non-Mennonites. While many indigenous and Brasiguayos, or Brazilian migrants living in Paraguay, work with the Mennonites on the estancias, they tend to live separately. Mennonites and other groups seem to frequent restaurants, stores, and services that caters to one or the other. Mennonite activities tend to focus on the church, while non-Mennonites enjoy pastimes such as soccer (fútbol) and public gatherings such as barbeques (asados). This tendency is reinforced more by tradition and preference than overt discrimination.

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (2)

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites

A visit to the Chaco is worth the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Mennonite culture set against a backdrop of the “Wild West” of South America. It’s a remarkable journey back in time to a simpler age.

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (9)

2008_08_31 Paraguay Mennonites (10)

Special thanks to Juliette Wade for hosting the original post on her blog, TalkToYoUniverse as part of the Writers’ International Cultural Share. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in this great forum where writers can share their cultural experiences and insights from around the world.