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TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

AUGUST 21 - AUGUST 28, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 7/8

To Our Readers: Marching Orders

S P E C I A L  S I T E
TIME Asia On The Road
Following the region's back roads, TIME traces the transitions between countries--and from today's Asia to tomorrow's




To Our

Our intrepid reporters hit the road, proving that TIME doesn't always fly

"The distances were enormous, and the landscape was so large it had to be studied in parts, like a mural seen by a child." The travel writer Paul Theroux made that observation while crossing Vietnam for his 1976 classic, The Great Railway Bazaar. He could just as well have been writing about Asia as a whole. The place is so vast and diverse that it must be studied up close, in bits, to be properly understood. Journalists sometimes forget that. We tend to go for the big picture, the macro-developments in politics and economics. But to know what's really happening, it pays to hit the road, get out into the countryside and talk to ordinary people.

That's what we did to bring you this special double issue of TIME. (It will be on sale for two weeks; the next issue will be dated Sept. 4.) This summer, a team of TIME journalists and photographers went about as far as you can go in Asia in a single journey without getting on a plane. They traveled mostly by van, sometimes by train, occasionally by ferry. They set out from the Japanese city of Sapporo and ended up 45 days later in the Indonesian city of Surabaya. Along the way, they traversed 9 countries, 3 time zones and more than 12,000 km of mountains, seas, rivers, highways and dirt tracks. They endured heat, insects, bad food, surly border guards and each other's relentless company. (The ordeal was lightened by the hospitality of Bass Hotels. Olympus supplied the digital cameras.)

They also stumbled across some wonderful individuals, who showed us how Asians live today. Indeed, our adventure uncovered a region growing more connected and more at ease with technology, but also struggling with changes that are affecting different countries in different ways. "At first, it was dizzying, all these places seen one after the other," says associate editor Nisid Hajari, who conceived the project and led our team. "But after a while we could see the transitions, the way the landscape changes from one country to another. We got a sense of how the social changes we were witnessing were really bound to the places themselves."

And what fascinating places they are. Reporter Hiroko Tashiro found a Japanese village importing brides from abroad. Reporter Sachiko Sakamaki visited a remote ufo museum. Correspondent Hannah Beech stumbled across the Korean town that time forgot. Correspondent David Liebhold uncovered a child sex scandal in Vietnam. Reporter Robert Horn sampled the raucous life on the Thai-Malaysian border—as did senior writer Anthony Spaeth, who has the barroom-fight scar to prove it. Reporter Zamira Loebis came across a mountain tomb in Indonesia where thousands of devotees come to pray—and have sex with each other.

Our travelers were surprised at how much Asia is on the move, literally. "There were so many people crossing borders with us, making money on margin trade, visiting families split by political and economic turmoil or just simply seeing who lives next door," says Beech. Explains correspondent Terry McCarthy: "That we could travel overland from China through Vietnam and Cambodia into Thailand is amazing in itself. Just over two decades ago China and Vietnam were at war, Vietnam and Cambodia were at war and the Thai border with Cambodia was completely shut by the Khmer Rouge. Free passage today hints at the greater freedoms that are slowly seeping into East Asia." Our Asian journey is, in the end, the story of people hurrying toward a brighter, freer future. So savor these very human stories, and slowly you'll notice the patterns emerging, like a mural seen by a child.

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