On Asia: Points East

Travel Blog  •  Julia Ross  •  01.22.09 | 1:56 PM ET

Shibuya, Tokyo, JapanShibuya, Tokyo. iStockphoto.

If this is indeed the “Asian century,” count me as an early adopter. I’ve quit two full-time jobs to explore the world’s most diverse continent, and they were the two best decisions I’ve ever made. To an Asia hand, the lavender fields of Provence might be pleasant, but it’s the chanting of novice monks, the mystical tinkling of the gamelan, a bowl of spicy dan dan noodles that really get the blood pumping. I’m drawn back, again and again, and I don’t know if I’ll ever kick the habit.

My (unlikely) introduction to Asia began in arid, post-Soviet Uzbekistan in the late ‘90s. As soon as my conference in Tashkent wrapped up, I hopped a bus to the Silk Road city of Samarkand, where blue-tiled madrassas dazzled against an azure sky. They were like nothing I’d seen, a window into an ancient time when Tamerlane traipsed across the steppes.

Next came my dance with China, which morphed into a lifelong quest. My maiden trek on Victoria Peak was spectacular, but it was a long walk through one of Shanghai’s writhing wet markets—all bubbling vats and flashing cleavers—that hooked me for good. I had to go back, and so I did, to live and study and let myself be overwhelmed by it all.

In between, I’ve wandered in Thailand and Bali and Vietnam, and still I’ve just begun. India and Laos are virgin ground, and Burma would be fascinating, but it’s western China—Xinjiang province—that holds me in thrall at the moment. I’m thinking 2009 is the year.

For now, I’ve got a virtual outlet for my Asia obsession in Points East. As they say in Taipei, Zhen bang (really great)! I’ll be blogging here about marauding pandas and Bollywood exports and everything in between. Yep, it’s a lot to cover, and Kabul is a long way from Kyoto, but I’m ready to jump in. If Asia is the future, I want a front row seat.