Category Archives: Asia


I planned to examine Russia last on my tour through Asia as presented in my novel, Chita Quest, but the events of the past couple months are simply breathtaking, almost unprecedented, and simply cannot be ignored any longer.

Okay, I’ll say it….Vladimir Putin is a Stalinist thug. There, it’s out on the table. My opinion. Perhaps it is fitting for me to post about Putin right after writing about Genghis Khan. The difference is that I admire Genghis.

So, I’ll start with the most recent atrocities committed by Russian leaders in the Crimea and Ukraine. Most of this post will be a re-hash of articles you have seen in the media. I will address the geographical, historical, and economics in later posts.

Russia is on the move, asserting itself and expanding. Surprise. An interesting tie in with my previous post is that the Rus, the forebears of today’s Russians, have been on the move expanding since the death of Genghis. His armies reached what is now Ukraine and pushed the Rus back towards their capital at Kiev. After the demise of Genghis, his empire began to shrink around the edges. In the early 1800s, the Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, compared the attitudes of the Rus expanding east and the Anglo-Americans expanding westward, both cultures creating a myth of expansion into their frontiers as they strove towards their destinies.

So now, Putin is on the move. First in Georgia, now in Ukraine. By using surrogates and “rebels,” Putin is playing a risky game and may lose control of his puppets. He will be blamed for their propensity to commit atrocities. Not to mention breaking the fragile ceasefire. Nobody knows how this will play out but Putin has certainly changed the world’s perception of Russia. How the West holds up will be a function of leadership. In my not-so-humble opinion, Germany’s Angela Merkel has shown herself to be the most courageous and outspoken of Western leaders.

Here is what’s happening on the sanctions front:

Another finger in Putin’s eye, the approval of the trade agreement of Ukraine with the EU that started this whole invasion…

And now, even some of the Russian people are starting to object to Putin’s (mis)adventures:

This in from our English friends:

NATO knows what it will do but does Putin understand?

Why is Putin doing this?

Given Putin’s actions, here is a potpurri of opinions, both pro-West and pro-Russia:

And finally, once again, the media does its best to make matters worse:


Not your run-of-the-mill country. I have long been fascinated by Mongolia and actually routed my characters in my latest thriller, Chita Quest, through Mongolia in order to justify all the research that I wanted to do. This will be only the first of several posts about Mongolia.

Why should you be even the slightest bit interested in Mongolia? Well for one, there is a high probability that nobody you know has any idea about the country—more likely, what they do “know” is wrong. Imagine how you could make major points in a trivia contest…For example, the name of the capital is a Jeopardy question (Ulaan Bataar)…

Here’s a map:

I have never been to Mongolia but it is high on my bucket list. In the meantime, I trolled the internet, interviewed (grilled, actually) the few people I could find who had been there, and read several books, the most notable is Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

A couple tidbits about the great Genghis directly from Professor Weatherford: In twenty five years, the Mongols conquered more territory than the Romans managed in four hundred; whether measured by the number of people defeated, the number of countries annexed, or the total area of land, Genghis conquered more than twice as much as any other man in history. From Mongolia and on a horse, which he apparently hardly ever dismounted, being busy conquering and all…His empire lasted over 150 years—Kublai Khan of Marco Polo fame was his grandson. His blood line was nearly obliterated by the Soviets—yes those Soviets—in the 1920s, nearly 700 years later. His contributions to today’s world are clearly laid out in Weatherford’s wonderful book, which by the way, reads like a novel. And, yes, I realize Genghis was not Mr. Congeniality. 

Mongolia is a large landlocked country between two larger countries—Russia and China. A tad smaller than Alaska, it’s located on mountains and plateaus and is one of the world’s highest countries with an average elevation of 1,580 meters (5,180 feet). Mongolia suffers temperature extremes (Ulaan Bataar is the coldest capital city in the world…the only one with an average temperature of less than 32 degrees F—another Jeopardy question), and southern Mongolia is dominated by the Gobi desert.

Apart from all the history associated with Mongolia and the Mongols, what is crucial to us today is what is going on in this undeveloped country of just less than three million people. Mongolia is the site of probably the last great mineral rush in history. It is jammed packed with oil, gas, copper, gold, silver, coal, you name it. It is estimated that Mongolia’s economy will be the second fastest growing economy in the world in 2014. Not surprising, the surge of investment money threatens the agrarian, nomadic culture and landscape with corruption and pollution, not to mention the chaos from the influx of foreigners. Nearly half the nation’s people have moved to Ulaan Bataar in order to join the rush to riches, effectively de-populating the rest of the already sparsely populated country.

As usual, the National Geographic has a wonderful site on Mongolia:

Here’s another with more pictures of Ulaan Bataar: 

I’ll get back to Mongolia in a future post, after I take a swing around the other Asian countries featured in Chita Quest.