TraveLAWg... Southeast Asia fascinates Ann Arbor attorney

In January, Ann Arbor attorney Jerold Lax and his wife, Judie, traveled through Southeast Asia along with 30 other University of Michigan alumni, as well as alumni from other universities.

Lax talked to The Legal News about his fascinating visits to Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China.

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Q: What made you want to take this trip?

A: We have always loved to travel, and especially to get some feeling for life in other countries. The chance to see several countries in a rapidly-developing region, along with other U-M alumni, seemed particularly interesting. Frank Beaver, one of our good friends from Ann Arbor who had served in Vietnam, planned to take the trip with his wife Gail, and we were sure his military experiences would add a valuable dimension to the trip.

Q: As a frequent traveler, do you prefer group excursions like this one, or venturing off on your own?

A: We've enjoyed traveling in many different formats. We've taken auto trips through U.S national parks with our children, have traveled by car as a couple in this country and elsewhere, and have traveled with small groups. This trip was one of the few times we traveled with so large a group, and one of the few times we have done so on a cruise ship, but it was a very convenient way to see so many places, and we were able to go to several on-shore locations in smaller groups.

Q: What was the best day?

A: It's hard to single out a particular day as best, but I would mention our first few days in Thailand as dramatically indicating what was in store throughout the trip. We landed at the island of Ko Samui and started out the first day by observing monkeys being trained to climb trees to harvest coconuts, followed by a great Thai meal at one of the several hotels being developed on the island to encourage tourism. We next sailed to Bangkok, a beautiful city of over 12 million people. All the countries we visited showed the same contrast between rural farming areas and large industrialized cities, with an apparent emphasis in all places on improving economic and educational opportunities throughout the country. The modern architecture in the larger cities, particularly Singapore and Hong Kong, was often breathtaking.

Q: What was your favorite country?

A: Just as it's difficult to identify a favorite day, it's not easy to identify a favorite country, since each country was extremely interesting and each, while sharing similarities with the other countries, had differences that were notable. We'd probably say, though, that we found Vietnam the most impressive, both because we spent the most time there and because it played such a large role in our country's recent history and in the personal lives of Americans affected in many ways by the Vietnam War (which Vietnamese refer to as the American War). We felt no animosity against Americans in Vietnam, or in any of the other countries. The country appears unified and intent on economic development. Both Ho Chi Minh City (the former Saigon) and Hanoi are large, beautiful, and vibrant. It was hard to know whether a history of recent war had impeded development or, in certain ways, had made development even more rapid. Many historic sites, including the tunnels used by the Vietcong during the war, illustrated both the hardships imposed by the war and the dedication of those fighting on all sides. We certainly came away from the experience with both a renewed realization of how difficult it is to understand fully the internal workings of another country and how difficult it therefore is to decide to intervene militarily in other parts of the world.

Q: Did you have any memorable meals?

A: The food was wonderful everywhere, both on the ship and ashore. We'd have to admit that sampling foreign foods is one of the reasons we like to travel. Bruce Baker, an Ann Arbor friend, manufactures garden implements at a factory in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), China, a city of over 12 million in a metropolitan area of over 30 million, which we visited. His local representative not only took us on a city tour but to lunch at his favorite dim sum restaurant, which was great. We ended the trip with fried rice and spring rolls at a small waterfront café in Hong Kong, which was a perfect conclusion to two weeks of overeating.

Q: Who was the most interesting character you encountered?

A: Several of us had the chance to have lunch at the home of Dr. Amnuay Viravan, the former finance minister of Thailand who had obtained degrees from the University of Michigan and who has established programs at the University to further Thai studies. Not only was the home beautiful and the meal fine, but he provided great insight into the Thai political system and into the ways he has combined academics, business, and public service.

Q: What was the best scenery?

A: If we were forced to pick a single place, it would probably be Halong Bay in Vietnam, ironically located in Tonkin Gulf, which gave rise to the resolution which intensified our involvement in the war.

Q: How many pictures did you take?

A: Around 800.

Q: Did you miss anything about Ann Arbor while you were gone?

A: We missed Saturday morning bagels at Zingerman's, but the pastries on the ship weren't bad.

Are you also a frequent traveler? Have you journeyed anywhere interesting lately?

Tell us about it! Drop an email to Jo Mathis at jmathis@legalnews. com.

Published: Thu, Apr 12, 2012

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