Cruising Thailand's Chao Phraya River with Admiral Zheng He in Perceptive Travel

Perceptive Travel is a new "web magazine written for independent travelers with open senses and open minds." The first issue is running my article Cruising Thailand's Chao Phraya River with Admiral Zheng He.

The Life and Loves of a Ballet Russe Spear Carrier

Originally appeared in the Bangkok Post

The Imperial Russian Ballet is coming to town in early November and Bangkok is beginning to buzz with ballet fever. What excitement. Not since the great ballet dancer Nijinsky performed at The Orient Hotel in Bangkok in 1911 has there been such enthusiasm. The company consists of 40 artists from the best ballet schools of Russia and they will dance Tchaikovsky's famous ballet The Nutcracker, the classic story about the little girl who is swept away to a magical dream world, and will include memorable music such as the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Waltz of the Flowers, the Russian Dance and the Decoration of the Christmas Tree March.

We can only imagine the drama that will take place at the Thailand Cultural Center during rehearsals before and during the two-day performances. I can see them now, warming up, practicing the pas de deux, doing their pirouettes and arabesques, the pas de chat, the port de bras and the most delightful of all dance steps to watch, and for dancers to perform, the emboitein in which the dancers jump, alternating legs moving forward.

It's wonderful, when the dancers are good, to watch them do leaps and bounds, spins and twirls. It was when I saw Maria Tallchief warming up behind stage that I fell in love with her. She was exquisite, divine, a living goddess, and she never even noticed me. It was the summer season when I danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. many years ago. Well, it wasn't the whole season, just part of it.

Return to China, Part I

More than fifty years ago, right after the war in the Pacific ended, US Marines landed in China. Among the two divisions that landed was the 29th Marines, and I was with them, an ammo carrier in Fox Company machine gun platoon. We were told we were going to China to repatriate the Japanese forces that had occupied China for the past 18 years, to send them packing for home. Four years later, the Japanese were gone but the Marines were still there. We may have been there longer still had not General Chang Kai Chek and his Nationalist Army been defeated by Mao Tse-tung and his communist Red Army that came sweeping across China.

What's Harold Stephens Working On?

To answer your questions, Harold Stephens is currently working on two books at the same time. One is a collection of short stories called "The Man Who Wanted to Buy A Wife, and Other Tales from the Pacific Rim," and is near ready for publication. The other one which he has been working on for many years is "The Asian Woman." It's a book, he considers, that won't win him many favors.

What is he up to? Stephens never stops. He just returned to Bangkok—where he lives in a great old colonial house with a garden and a jungle of plants trees—from India and Nepal where he traced the footsteps of Lord Buddha. He was contemplating building a large boat for exploring the wild rivers of Asia, but has settled for an 18 foot dory (which he just completed) that can be transported overland, say from Bangkok through Cambodia to Vietnam to the mouth of the Mekong River. The same for Burma, he can load the dory aboard a freighter and ship it to Rangoon to explore the Irrawaddi. Other rivers are the Chao Phraya River in Thailand, The Pahang in Malaysia, the Rejang in Borneo and possibly the Sepik in New Guinea. The dory is fully equipped with even bunks for sleeping. We are sure a book will come out of his.

Third Sea Found!

Schooner Third Sea, the topic of my book The Last Voyage, was the subject of an article in the Friday, January 28th, 2005 edition of The Olympian, a newspaper out of Olympia, Washington. I've included the story, written by reporter Barry Ginter, below. -- Harold Stephens

Sunken schooner may yet feel wind in its sails
Residents plan to raise Third Sea from depths of inlet

Johnny Carson Remembered

I had written a book and my publisher informed me that I would have to go on a 30-day book signing tour across America. I didn't mind, but when the publisher said I would begin the tour in New York, with my first appearance on To Tell the Truth, and the second, an appearance on Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show, I began to have second thoughts. My book Who Needs A Road was about a motor trip I made around the world, but far worse than facing desert winds and monsoon downpours, and crossing over the highest mountains passes in the world, was the thought of facing Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show. It petrified me. To Tell the Truth was easy, and I even stumped actor Eli Wallach and publisher Bennett Cerf when they asked the question "Will the real Harold Stephens stand up?" But when it came to facing "Heeeeeeere's Johnny" the open road seemed far less bumpy and formidable.

Thailand is Bouncing Back

Many friends around the world are e-mailing and asking about my safety and that of Michelle, my wife, and our boys. The tsunami did not sweep over Thailand, as many TV news reporters stated, and only touched the beach areas. I can answer the question best by providing a letter I received from a Dutch friend, Jeroen Deknatel, who lives in Phuket, that magical island in southern Thailand. Jeroen is the owner and captain of his own 100-foot dive boat, Ocean Rover, and is one of the few yachtsman who has authorization to sail the waters of Burma. Jeroen was bitter a few weeks ago when two days after the tsunami CBS chartered Ocean Rover to do a report on the destruction of the storm on the coral reefs. Jeroen took the film crew to dozens of sites, and only one had been damaged. The TV crew focused on that one only. Then they wanted to photograph one of the smaller offshore islands. They filmed once side that was untouched, beautiful and green, and the other side that had some damage. When the show was aired, the announcer said the shots were before and after the storm. A deliberate lie, Jeroen said. There were many similar false reports. Our news today is only looking for the sensational, it seems. Where do we look for the truth? -- Harold Stephens

Marlon Brando Remembered

By Harold Stephens. Originally published in the Bangkok Post.

My big break. Random House would publish my book, and offered a hefty advance. I took the train from Washington, D.C. to New York. "I'll need time to go over the manuscript," I said. "You know--name changes, cut some of the stuff about Brando."

There was silence. Finally the editor spoke up. He wanted the manuscript exactly as it was, with no changes.

That was not possible. What I had written was confidential, not intended for publication. When I received the offer from Random House, I was writing travel articles for the Washington Post, after having returned from several years in the islands. Through the years I had kept a detailed journal, with information on people I met, and our conversations. It was raw and honest. I considered the journal as a kind of training exercise. I wrote in it each day, about all the people I had met, and Marlon Brando was one. The Travel Editor of the Washington Post had read my journal, and without asking sent it to New York.

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