“So what exactly is The New Asia?”
On a recent Friday afternoon, as we were putting the finishing touches on the issue in your hands now and just a few days before Departures was to ship to the printer, I posed this very question to Melissa Chiu, the dynamic director of the Asia Society Museum at Park Avenue and 70th Street. (She was instrumental in helping Departures put together this year’s Global Arts Initiative, a collection of 13 works of Asian art from Indonesia to South Korea that was auctioned at Sotheby’s on September 13 and included in this issue.) This was, after all, what the Asia Society, founded by John D. Rockefeller III in 1956, encountered from day one. “To some extent, the idea of Asia is a construct, just as the phrase ‘The New Asia’ is,” Chiu said. “In fact, I sometimes think New Asia is a projection of all our fears and fantasies.” Fears and fantasies. That pretty much encapsulates what confronted us here at the magazine when we came up with the idea of doing a special issue devoted to HOW TO DO THE NEW ASIA.
In October 2005, Departures published CHINA: THE LUXURY GUIDE TO BEIJING, HONG KONG, SHANGHAI & BEYOND. I remember thinking, Were we crazy to try and cover all of China in ONE issue and…would people really care? After all, that was before the country made history with the 2008 Olympics and luxury travel there was then in its very early stages. “When I began to visit artists 20 years ago in places like China, they were living very modestly, some in quite poverty-stricken circumstances,” Chiu said. “Now I can’t believe it when I see their gigantic studios and two Ferraris parked out front!”
But China isn’t alone these days. The list of destinations just keeps growing. And as Asia itself moves front and center in today’s global economy, so too does serious interest among serious travelers for where to go next. Thailand! Vietnam! Cambodia! Korea! Bali! Burma! The Maldives! Singapore! And that’s just the beginning. Admittedly, we’ve had to edit and curate, concentrating mainly on Southeast Asia and China (Japan will get its own issue one of these days) and on those places where we sense both real curiosity on your part and compelling reasons to go—and in totally new ways. Seven years ago, when I went to China for the first time, I thought it was rather bold of me to take my then-13-year-old son. Ha! This time around, our editor at large, Sophy Roberts, took her six-year-old son on a trip that not very long ago would have seemed unthinkable, unimaginable. “The Wonders of Bhutan” makes a convincing case for just how accessible the inaccessible has become. This issue is full of such discovery zones—from John Powers on the world of Singaporean cuisine to reporter Alexandra Wolfe and senior style editor Tasha Green on the new razzle-dazzle of Hong Kong. We’ve also given you our insider’s take on the best outfitters and agents to arrange your trips (absolutely essential), as well as our favorite airlines—which flights and seats to book—and even an Rx for travelers on what they need to know before visiting this part of the world.
Six years ago, Seth Faison, the former Shanghai bureau chief for The New York Times, wrote our introduction to “China Now.” For this issue we asked him to take a look once again, this time at Asia’s Golden Age of Travel. “We now live in the Asian Century,” he writes. “That’s not an economic prediction. It is an easily observable fact. The palpable energy, the unrelenting commerce, the ever-expanding limits and the tremendous optimism now surging throughout Asia can be seen, felt and tasted by even a first-time visitor.”
So whether this is your first…or your third, fourth or fifth visit, a New Asia awaits you, and Departures is there to lead the way.
Six years ago I met Norman Zhang, who was just beginning his bespoke travel business in China. Today he runs NormanTravel, which specializes in the ancient Silk Route and Tibet. For solo expeditions or family itineraries (Norman is great with kids, as my now 19-year-old son will testify), I highly recommend him. “I haven’t built a website because people usually find me through friends,” he says. “A business built on trust is the best business of all.” Norman can be reached at 86-139/0137-4984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.