Features on Asian Art, Culture, History & Travel
Tears of the Poppy
Opium, Morphine and Heroin
Opium has been recognised as a narcotic for at least two thousand years. It is thought to have grown wild in the mountains of the eastern Mediterranean from Neolithic times, and was known to both the early Greeks and Romans. It was probably introduced to both China and India by Arab traders about a thousand years ago, and soon came to be widely valued for its medicinal properties. Although it flourished in the cool, nutrient-poor hills of south-west China, it did not become a serious problem until the 18th century when Britain, seeking a way to pay for Chinese tea shipments other than with silver, began exporting opium from India to China on a massive scale. The situation was compounded as both Britain and France established colonies in Southeast Asia during the latter half of the 19th century. In Burma the British first encouraged and then prohibited opium consumption in the Burman heartland, but permitted unrestricted usage in indirectly administered areas such as the Shan States. The French, for their part, encouraged opium cultivation in their Indochinese colonies, making opium a state monopoly. As a consequence opium production, consumption and export boomed in the ‘Golden Triangle’ region, as well as in the neighbouring Chinese province of Yunnan.
Socialist Realism In Laos
Final Frontier for Socialist Realism
Languid, land-locked Laos, "last frontier" of the cold war, innocent victim of meddlesome neighbours and predatory super-powers, is an unlikely setting for the imperial twilight of an essentially European art form. And yet, here by the banks of the mighty Mekong and there by the stone-age burial urns of the Plain of Jars, long after its demise in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the school of art known as ’Socialist Realism’ is on its last Laotian legs.
Cultural Riches Of Lampang
Northern Thailand’s Historic Second City
Lampang is the second city of the Khon Muang or Northern Thai people, being, after Chiang Mai, the largest, richest and most populous city of the north. Isolated from Lamphun and Chiang Mai to the west by the Doi Khun Tan mountains, from Phayao to the east by the massive bulk of Doi Bussaracum, and from Phrae to the south-east by the Doi Khun Kiat range, the valley of Lampang is broad and fertile. As a consequence, Lampang—valley, city and people—has developed a distinctive style and culture of its own.
Khajuraho: A Celebration Of Cosmic Union
In 1839 Captain T.S. Burt of the Royal Bengal Engineers published in the pages of the prestigious Journal of the Asiatic Society an account of his discovery of an overgrown and abandoned Hindu temple complex in central India. The good captain, writing in the restrained style of the early Victorian era, noted that:
"I found in the ruins of Khajrao seven large diwallas, or Hindoo temples, most beautifully and exquisitely carved as to workmanship, but the sculptor had at times allowed his subject to grow rather warmer than there was any absolute necessity for his doing; indeed, some of the sculptures here were extremely indecent and offensive..."
Loy Krathong In Laos
Reasserting a Tai Cultural Heritage
Every November at full moon people gather by stretches of open water throughout Thailand to celebrate Loy Krathong. Small but elaborate lotus-shaped creations bearing traditional offerings of flowers, incense, candles and a coin are floated in countless numbers on streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, and even the open sea to reverence and pay homage to Mae Khongkha, the goddess of rivers and waters. Each tiny float also carries with it the dreams and aspirations of the sender.
A Season In Mae Hong Son
Thailand’s "Valley Beyond The Clouds"
Nowadays it may be difficult to believe, but Siamese officials once dreaded being sent to work in Mae Hong Son, the Kingdom’s most distant - and until recently most inaccessible - province. On consideration, however, past fears of being sent to "Thailand’s Siberia" are easier to understand. Hidden in a long and narrow valley several mountain ranges beyond Chiang Mai, the region had few attractions and numerous afflictions - endemic malaria, banditry and a plethora of troublesome spirits, to name but a few.
Where India Meets France
For most people, images of European imperialism in South Asia are inextricably bound up with the poetry of Kipling and the pomp of the British Raj. Yet few people, by contrast, are familiar with the former French Indian Territories, administered from the sleepy colonial enclave of Pondicherry until their return to India in 1954.
Thailand’s Tempting Regional Cuisines
Central Thai Food is Justly Celebrated World-Wide - But The Kingdom’s Less Well-Known Regional Cuisines Are Equally Delicious!
Just twenty years ago Thai cuisine was relatively unknown beyond the frontiers of the Kingdom and a few small ethnic enclaves, such as the Thai district of Los Angeles. The past two decades have seen a dramatic change, with Thai restaurants springing up all over the world, from Paris to Sydney, Seoul to Johannesburg. Thai has become the ‘in’ cuisine, as much on account of its healthy, low cholesterol and low fat content as for its spicy taste and elegant presentation.