Xie Chaoping was of detained for 30 days in August and September 2010 for publishing a self-funded book, “Great Migration” , that disclosed the predicament of migrants and the corruption of officials during relocations to make way for the Sanmen Gorge dam in the 1950s. [Source: Priscilla Jiao South China Morning Post, October 6, 2010]

Priscilla Jiao wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Xie was charged with conducting “illegal business” for spending 20,000 to 30,000 yuan of his own money on six trips to Weinan to interview more than 50 people, plus 104,900 yuan to print 20,000 books - more than 15,000 of which were confiscated by Weinan's cultural inspection team in June and July.”

“Detained for four nights in Chaoyang police station in Beijing , Xie was transported to Beijing West railway station with his hands handcuffed behind his back. He bounced around in the van, falling whenever it braked. Police refused to adjust or move the handcuffs over his swollen wrists. Waiting for the train to Weinan, Xie says he was pushed around from one waiting hall to another and handcuffed to a door in front of hundreds of people. “It was such a huge humiliation to him,” his wife says. Pretending to yawn, a policeman at the station deliberately knocked Xie's raw shoulder. “It was agony,” he says. “I couldn't even breathe.”

“n detention at the Linwei police station in Weinan, Shaanxi province, Xie had to get up at 6am to do hard labor until 11am, and then had interrogations most afternoons. He hurt his back and had to crouch while mopping floors. “I was in such pain that all my clothes were soaking wet and I knelt down to do my mopping. The warder still shouted “Stand up mopping!' Drug addicts and thieves were more humane than some of the officers.”

“One evening during his five consecutive days of five to seven hours of interrogation he returned to his cell after 7pm, too late for dinner. A 17-year-old suspected thief crawled over to him and said: “Uncle Xie, haven't you eaten? We were given two steamed buns for dinner and I kept one for you. “Xie took the cold bun, stood up, turned and looked at the wall. One bite and his emotions exploded. His wife, Li Qiong, says he has broken down at least 20 times since his release on bail. “I have been crying a lot over the bun and my wife,” Xie says.”

“Xie says he gave as good as he got after being detained and never cried or backed down in front of a rotating team of expert police interrogators. They tried to get him to reveal where the books had been printed, the ins and outs of the publishing process and, critically, how he expected to profit from writing and publishing Great Migration.”

“It's political persecution,” Xi said, “Those 30 days were like a competition with law enforcers as an old public prosecutor, and a fight with corrupt officials as a journalist. I am confident to say that I didn't lose any face for those two identities. There were a few nerve-breaking, long interrogations. I had to stay 100 per cent focused to defend myself, despite having done no wrong.”

Foreigner in a Chinese Jail

A foreign man who spent the seven months at Beijing No. 1 Detention Center ain jail in 2009 sent Danwei this description of his life there: “If I were a Chinese person and not a foreigner, a crime like mine would have been dealt with on the city district level, as opposed to the municipal level which is much tougher. The other people incarcerated at Beijing No. 1 Detention Center were all facing life sentences or death sentences, at least as a possibility, so it’s not a place where detainees are given a lot of slack. It’s the site of Beijing’s newly constructed hi-tech lethal injection chamber. [Source:, October 23, 2009]

It was boring as anything, and the rules were strict. Thankfully, foreigners are housed in a section where we were mixed with big-time white collar Chinese criminals, who are a better sort than the murderers and cannibals and rapists housed in other parts of the facility. Many of the Chinese people I was in close contact with were college educated, and many had been in positions of high responsibility. The CFO of Gome was in my cell; Huang Guangyu the CEO — formerly the richest man in China — was down the hall. I often saw him walking in the hallway heading downstairs for investigation.

The room, or cell if you like, was about 25 feet x 15 feet in dimension, and housed between 12 and 14 detainees. About half the room was filled with what we called the board, a raised platform stretching from wall to wall on which we sat during the day and slept at night. The bathroom in the cell consisted of a squat toilet, a faucet (no sink), and another faucet up high for showers at night. The wall between the bathroom and the room was transparent, so everybody could see everybody else all the time doing their business. You get used to it. Boiled drinking water was available twice a day in the room through a special tap.

There was no torture, no rape in the shower. Just the good ol’ psychological torture of close confinement and isolation from everyone and everything I ever had known one millisecond before I was taken into custody. But I was always glad that at least there were a bunch of us in one room. Being alone would have been much worse.

Daily Life in a Chinese Jail

Daily life was a drag during the week. Here’s the schedule: 06:30 Wake up. Eat breakfast (watered-down milk powder, a piece of bread, an egg every two days). 07:00 Clean the room. I was assigned to the bathroom from Day 1, and even though I had many chances to move up to the floor or other assignments, I decided to stick with what had become familiar. Two of us were responsible for the bathroom, so I cleaned it every other day, thrice a day. I stayed on that duty for so long that I became know as the boss of the bathroom, or Toilet Control Officer. (Something for my resume and yes, I scrubbed the squat toilet with a toothbrush, but not mine.). [Source:, October 23, 2009]

07:30 Sit on the board. This is the main activity in any Chinese jail, familiar to fans of Chinese soap operas and movies. The board runs the length of the room, and we were required to sit on the edge of it for most of the day. Leaning too far forward, leaning too far back, and even crossing your legs was forbidden (especially if the officer on duty was an asshole or having a bad day). One person at a time was allowed to get up and move around to use the bathroom, fetch water, get a book, etc. So, mostly I chatted with other people or read a book. Sitting so much hurt my back at first, but then I got used to it, or stronger.

10:30 Time for lunch! For the last three months of my incarceration it was boiled potatoes every day. A single boiled vegetable was the template for most all meals, with beef chunks included once a month. Every meal also included steamed bread, which I generally avoided, and rice came with lunch every two days. After lunch we had about an hour of free time to lie around.

12:00 Siesta time, a Chinese tradition. 13:30 Wake up from naptime. Sit on the board for another three hours. Also, during the afternoon sitting period we were let out into our porch area for about 15 minutes, where we stored our extra food and clothing. This was known as going out for exercise, but in reality it was just another small room with a big hole up high for a window with no glass that is, you could see the sky and sometimes the sun, but I wouldn’t by any stretch of the imagination call it going outside. Also, the exercise was walking around in a circle with too many people in a small space, at probably about 2 or 3 mph.

16:30 Dinner time! Mmmmm. oily boiled cabbage. Or oily boiled turnips. Mondays and Fridays we got to have a kind of tomato soup with egg in it, a very popular meal, but we only got a small bowlful. I generally skipped dinner as part of my weight loss plan, and as soon as things were cleaned up I got down to my work out. After dinner we had 2 hours of free time for showering (which I also used to exercise). This generally involved about 75 pushups (not all at once), some crunches, 1000 jumping jacks, some bicep and shoulder lifting, and some squats to keep my legs from atrophying. I did this about 5 times per week. For weightlifting we used a pair of pants filled with water bottles. It was very prison-y.

Evening and Night in a Chinese Jail

19:00 Time to watch the official state news broadcast, Xinwen Lianbo, which was much worse even compared to the English-language official state news broadcast that I used to work for. Worse meaning that the top 9 stories were usually about what the top 9 leaders in the central government did that day, followed by 2 minutes of international news. As for other sources of news, we got about 3 or 4 random sheets from the China Daily newspaper (in English) every week. I found out that Michael Jackson died from an article that began, Since the death of pop icon Michael Jackson last Thursday I was like, are they talking about the real Michael Jackson? [Source:, October 23, 2009]

After the news, we were forced to sit and watch 2 more hours of the most incredibly mindless Chinese TV you could ever imagine. Usually the station was set on CCTV-3, which is mostly family variety shows, cross-talk comedians that I can’t follow at all, lip-synched Mando-pop concerts, and nationalist sing-alongs. Uggggh.

21:30 We can finally move around again! Time to brush your teeth, get ready for bed, stretch, etc. 22:00 Time for bed. I was going to say, lights out, but then I remembered that they never, ever, ever, never shut off the lights in the detention center. Ever. Super-bright exposed fluorescent curly bulbs 24 hours a day, so I ended up sleeping with a blindfold on. I made it from a t-shirt sleeve. One of the special things about life in the detention center was that two people in each room have to be on duty during any time when people are sleeping, including during the afternoon nap. The night was divided into four shifts of 2 hours each, while the last shift was an additional 30 minutes. We rotated through the last three duties and then had a night off after three nights of duty. So, on Monday I might sleep from 10pm to 4am followed by duty until 6:30am; the next night I’d sleep from 10 to 2, do duty until 4, and then sleep till 6:30; on Wednesday I’d sleep from 10 to midnight, do duty until 2am, and then sleep until 6:30; Thursday night I would not have to do duty, but I sometimes would have to do duty during the afternoon nap. It was a very tough system to get used to at first.

Trouble for Tibetan Girl at the Chinese Border

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“The following is a story from a Tibetan student at Qinghai University about crossing the border from Laos into China: “Starting this story, I have to say that I have never talked about politics. Politics has never interested me and I don't find it interesting. I just want to tell a story of what happened to me. Remember, please, that this is not just a story but a true story. [Source: Jacqueline and Martin Winter, MCLC List]

“From Boten it is easy to go to China. I got off the bus and gave my passport to the Laos frontier guard to stamp.” There she met a Canadian man named Philip and two Swedes. They all walked together to the border station. “On arriving at Mohan, the Chinese border station, I handed my passport to the border guard. When he opened my passport he looked at me with his eyes and face showing surprise. He nervously asked, Are you are Tibetan? I said Yes. The other border guards on hearing that got hyperactive and looked scared. They told me to open my bags and said they needed to check my bags...I didn’t see them checking anyone else’s bag.

“As a Tibetan girl, I am a Buddhist and pray for Dalai Lama every day and admire him... The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He is not a king... I have always wished that I could get a chance to read his books on life and how to live one’s life peacefully. I never had a chance to buy any of his books in China but when I was in Cambodia there were many book stores selling his holiness's books. There I had bought two books. One was The Art of Happiness and the other book was, Practicing Wisdom. I had also downloaded some pictures of his holiness from the Internet and had saved some pictures friends from other countries had sent me by internet that I had saved in my Laptop.”

“The frontier soldiers start checking my bags and found my laptop computer and my digital camera. Then they found one of his holiness’ book and now they were confident that I am some kind of extremist or fanatic and they were going to give me some problems. They called to some leaders to come...The books I had bought in Cambodia were the main charge against me.

Interrogation of the Poor Tibetan Girl

“As one of the frontier guards started checking my laptop, I wrote down my email address on a piece of paper and gave it to Philip. I told him that in case I had trouble here and they arrested me to notify my friends. Another of the frontier guards saw me slip the paper to Philip and took my email address from him. That really upset me then. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But the way they were carrying on that it is illegal to have books written by His Holiness, I figured I may be in for trouble. But I was sure that I would be cleared because I have never done anything to against China or talked against China.

“Then a few minutes later a police car parked outside the office of the border police and they told us to get into the car and we would be taken some place else...But just as I was getting into the car, one border guard told me to go back inside. I wasn’t certain what they wanted but I followed him inside where he directed me to another room. Inside, was a female policewoman waiting for me. She said they needed check my body and asked me to remove all my clothing...Of course she didn't find anything and she was checking me everywhere. That was the worst and most humiliating experience I have undergone in all my life including what they did earlier.

“We got on the police car and drove about a half hour until we got to a frontier station where they told us, As long as you answer all of our questions, we will let us go very soon...While they were questioning me, they took my laptop into another room where the “computer expert” was checking it. They would ask me the same question 5 times or more. Each question took about one hour as it was repetitious. Sometimes it seemed like more than an hour. I was really doing my best to cooperate with them because they said as long as I answered all of their questions they would let me go. And I trusted them to keep their word.

“But their questions sounded more like answers. Whatever I answered I feel like they are making something out of my answers. Some questions I really didn't know how to answer because I never knew the person or had never heard about any of the places. Then they said I needed be honest with them. They always smiled when they were asking me questions. But they should know that for me that smile just like crying. I learned later that these techniques and training was like that copied from the NKVD in Russia.

“Late in the afternoon about 1900pm and it was dinner time. They asked us if we wanted some dinner, but I felt full and wasn't hungry. We asked again when we could leave and they replied, Be patient. We are still checking. Whenever we asked to go to bathroom, soldiers came with us. Were we losing our freedom already?

“I was worn out that morning after being 20 hours on the bus. The whole day they hadn’t given me a chance to rest as I was answering their questions and by now I was exhausted. I still thought that they release us as it was completely blown out of proportion to think either Philip or I were involved in anything criminal or had any criminal intent of any kind...However, they began to ask questions the same questions that they has been asking all day...At last I said, I’m sorry I cannot continue. I am tired and I have answered your questions. Just let me alone now. So they stopped questioning me.

“About midnight I saw 3 police cars drive up and stop outside the frontier station. The policeman got out and went into the office with the leader of the frontier soldiers. About 0130 am leaders in another office, they came out and told us that we needed go with them to the State police office to check more to check my computer. They explained that they didn’t have a local computer expert and had to go to the state level to find a good expert to check my laptop.

“They asked me to sign a paper. When I refused, one of the police man told me, It's OK if you don't sign. We can still keep you and you know we can. There is no justice. If they want to keep someone as a prisoner, they have the power, especially as I am a Tibetan I have been singled out and judged to be a danger. It is unfair as I have broken no law or hurt anyone or plotted to hurt anyone...From Mengla county to Xi Shuang Ban Na is about 4 hours by car. I fell asleep in the car. I was too tired.

Heavier Interrogation of the Poor Tibetan Girl

“We arrived at Xi Shuang Ban Na in the morning and were directed to a hotel. There were three policewomen just to keep watch on me. I was too tired to care. I fell asleep immediately. It was about 09:00 in the morning when they woke me up. They said it was time for breakfast and then I had to go to the office. I couldn't really eat. Just I felt like they were treating me like a rotten piece of meat and I was beginning to smell like it too. After breakfast the police took us to their office and began asking questions. From their questions I knew that they read all of the emails I had saved in my laptop. I have some very good westerner friends who I feel are just like my family. Every email I got from them. I saved. Each of their emails was very important to me..I had also written some short articles about my travel that I describe some of my feelings. I think everyone has some special feelings when you are arrived to some different places or different country.

“From their questions. I realize that all of those emails and pictures from my friends and family are the reasons that why they keeping me. Each of friends and each of family. I need to explain one by one. There was 3 people asking questions. When they finished asking all of those questions for the first time they asked me for a signature on their record. But for the first time I didn't. Because they are encroach upon my rights. Then they said OK. Let's go for lunch. And you should think more careful what you have done. If you are cooperation with us. It will help you much later. But I knew that was rubbish.

“They started to ask their questions again. They asked me explain that from in the beginning of my trip to the end. And why I was travel. Who I met during the travel. And which hotels that I was staying. That was a long story. But they said I have to answer very detail. And asked me if I knew any about protest in Lhasa.

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Tibetan Girl Sent to Jail

“In the morning...They said because they need check me more. So they have to send me to the jail. And when checked all out clearly. They will release me. But if I wanted to get release. I have to cooperate with them. Then the government will leniently deal with me. I said you have to give a reason to me that why you send me to jail. I didn't do anything against this country...I am a Chinese. On my passport. I am a Chinese . But now you are treating me like that I am not a Chinese.

“But of course they didn't care what I said. They just do what they wanted. They never knew what real justice is. In the morning about 10:00 am .They sent me to the jail. When we arrived to the front door of the jail. I feel bit sad. But still pretended very strong looking. They didn't let me take anything in side of jail. Except my toothbrush and toothpaste. But they break off toothbrush.

“Then ask me go to the toilet one of police lady need check me. My body. I said they checked already. But they said need to check one more time. And I have to be naked. I feel like all of my face were burning and all of my body were shaking. I took off my shirt and said can I keep my bra? She was scream to me and said . No way be quick. Took off all . Then I said with very politely. You should be polite to me. There is no reason and no rights to scream to me. Because your stupid people are keeping me in the jail without any clearly reasons.

“When I took off all of my cloths. In that moment that I wish I never born . As a Tibetan. How seriously problem it is in my culture. But I have to face to it. And Also they broke my pants. Took off waist belt and all of strings and zips on my pants and shirt. And they didn't let me take my glasses. And no strings for my hairs. Open my hairs without glasses. and dressing a broken pants and shirt.

“Those policemen told me that I didn't answer some questions that they wanted to know. I should think it more careful in the night. And they will come in the second day to ask. Then they left. And the jail worker opened door inside of the jail. In the second door. They give me an old broken sheet. And a broken red bowl. I look like a shit I am in that moment.

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Outside a prison in Tibet

Tibetan Girl Meets the Other Prisoners

“Then opened the third door. There were about more than ten female prisoners looking at me. I couldn't see them very well. Because I don't have my glasses. The wall is so high. And the door is so strong. There was nothing inside except those prisoners. And I lift up my head. There was only iron wire I can see. Everybody just staring at me. Looks like I am from another world. Looks like they never saw another human being. Each of them looks so strange for me. I was standing there didn't move maybe for one minute. And all of those prisoners looking at me as well. I was shocked with view of front. I think they was surprised that a new prisoner came inside. It's like I just arrived to another world that we never heard about in our real life. In our normal life. And I can't believe that I came to this strange world.

“Then I was slowly woke up. Said hi to everyone with very polite way. Some of them said hi to me back. But some is just looks like very angry and don't care what I said. Looks like very cold people. So strange looking. I went inside of the room. There was numbers for each of them. And 14 prisoners. I am the 15th . I found a small corner put down that old sheets and bowl. Also toothbrush and toothpaste.

“Everyone keep looking at me still. One of old lady came to me said: Hey. You can't keep your toothbrush and toothpaste here. You should keep it on the front of iron wire window. I said OK. And put on there. Then one of another lady came to me said: hey. You can't keep like that. Those Prison administrators will punish you. You have to keep like us. Each of them put those stuff in their own plastic cup. But I didn't have. So I said: I don't have a cup. No one speak to me again.

“Everyone looks like lost their soul. Looks like they are not alive. Looks like they are all psycho. And I was little bit get scared to look at them in the beginning . I feel like I am in the dream suddenly. I really thought that I was having a dream. I touched my hands. Looks real. Then I hit my one of leg. It's painful. Shit. Then it wasn't a dream? So it was real? No. I can't accept it. Just sitting on the one of corner. Waiting for some normal one come to me and talk to me.

“The old lady who talked to me first time. She came to me again. Sitting in next to me. And start ask some questions to me. I can see her face very clearly. Slim. Tiny. No energy. But I just like a boat that lost direction in the ocean...She surprised me with her her first question: are you a foreigner? No. I am a Tibetan. I answered. Looks like other prisoners getting interesting in me when I said that I am a Tibetan. Then one of young lady asked me: Wow you are a Tibetan . Sounds like she never meet a person who from Tibet. Or maybe in some other reasons. Looks very shocked. So why you come over here? Like us Drug-smuggling.

“Everyone was looking at me again like the first sight. And looks they are waiting for my answer. Well. I really didn't know how to answer her question. Because I even don't know what is my crime. So I just answered as a joke: Because I am a Tibetan. Of course they don't know what do I mean? Then I continued: I really don't know what I am being charged with. They just checked some pictures and emails from my laptop which included some books written by His holiness. These people don't know who is his holiness. When I tried to explain to them who his holiness, the Dalai Lama was, one of the ladies said: Oh. I understand why you are here. You must a Tibetan separatist.

Prison Justice in China

Tian Zhiguang, a man who was been arrested for supposedly robbing graves, told Liao Yiwu in the book “The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up” : “From the unexpected discovery of fortune to our sudden arrest, everything happened so fast,” Tian said, explaining how the discovery of antique gold coins buried beneath his house led to his arrest on a false pretense. Police dismissed his explanation with a laugh and carted him off to jail, where the inmates initially took Tian for the leader of a grave-robbing “triad,” or gang, and treated him with respect. Weeks later, when they learned he was an ordinary inmate, he was given a belated initiation, which consisted of vicious beatings while being forced to hoist a fully laden prison cell chamber pot on his head.” [Source: “The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China From the Bottom Up” by Liao Yiwu, reviewed by Howard W. French, The Nation, August 4, 2008]

“Two weeks after his initiation, Tian is offered a chance at redemption through the detention center's “Confession Leads to Leniency” campaign. Three hundred inmates from nine cells are called into the courtyard to appear before local police and Communist Party leaders, who repeat over and over that “confessions will lead to reduced sentences.” Later, the bullying overlord among the inmates urges him to recant. “Those officials out there are all liars. Under normal circumstances, they trick you into confessing, promising you the reward of a reduced sentence. Once you tell everything, they never keep their promise. You probably end up with a bullet in your head. However, this campaign is different. The media has written about it. If those officials renege on their promises, they will lose face and credibility.”

“Throughout his ordeal, Tian has remained scrupulous, and he responds by saying what he has told the authorities from the start: “I don't really have anything to confess.” The boss of the cellblock, sensing a chance to win points, orders his underlings to rough up Tian in order to change his mind. “The cell was like a classroom and every ‘student' was asked to write a paper,” Tian relates. “Your confession needs to be sensational,” the boss tells them. “Don't try to simplify and whitewash. The more serious your crimes are, the better it makes me look.”

China Jails Australian for 13 Years

In December 2011 Michael Wines wrote in New York Times, “An Australian businessman whose business dealings with a state-owned Chinese company soured in 2010 was sentenced by a Chinese court to 13 years in prison on bribery and fraud charges, his lawyer and Australian officials said. Two associates of the Chinese-born businessman, Matthew Ng, were also sentenced to 16 and 3.5 years in prison, Mr. Ng’s lawyer, Chen Youxi, said in a telephone interview. The sentences, which Australian news reports called unusually harsh, were also totally unexpected. Mr. Chen said he had not attended Tuesday’s hearing, in which prosecutors had been scheduled to present oral evidence in the case. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, December 6, 2011]

Mr. Chen said Mr. Ng would appeal the verdict and sentence. “My client is innocent,” he said. “The court does not have either enough evidence or legal basis for the sentence.” The lawyer was quoted in an August interview calling the bribery charge “ridiculous,” noting that the payment in question was both publicly reported and taxed, and suggesting that his client had been framed. He declined comment, directing an interviewer instead to a Chinese-language Web site that presents a defense against the charges.

Mr. Ng was detained in November 2010 amid a dispute between a travel company he founded, Et-China, and Chinese buyers led by Lingnan Group, a hotel and travel conglomerate owned by the Guangzhou municipal government. According to Et-China’s Web site and news reports, Lingnan had earlier sold Et-China a controlling stake in a subsidiary, GZL, that runs Guangzhou’s largest chain of travel agencies, for a reported $10 million.

In June 2010, a Swiss firm, Kuoni Group, agreed to buy Et-China in a deal that valued the company at about $125 million — including a multifold profit on its stake in GZL. Lingnan officials then demanded to buy the GZL shares back at their original selling price, news reports state, but Mr. Ng refused. Between September and November 2010, Guangzhou authorities detained Mr. Ng; Et-China’s chairman, Zheng Hong, and its accountant, Kitty Yang. Mr. Hong was sentenced to 16 years, and Ms. Yang to 3.5 years, at Tuesday’s hearing.

In sentencing Mr. Ng., the Guangzhou Intermediate Court ruled that he was guilty of embezzlement, bribery, corruption and falsifying records. Kuoni has since backed out of the purchase of Et-China. Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard, expressed concern about the charges in April during a meeting with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Australian diplomats had raised questions about the case with top Communist Party officials in Guangzhou, and sought without success to open the trial to news coverage and move it to a larger courtroom.

Mr. Ng’s case is one of several involving Chinese-born Australians that some critics say underscore the risks confronting foreign business executives in a legal system controlled by the same Communist Party that controls governments and many corporations.

Stern Hu, the Chinese-born Australian who negotiated iron-ore sales to Chinese steel mills for Australia’s Rio Tinto Group, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on bribery and espionage charges in 2010 after an especially bruising round of negotiations. Another Chinese-born Australian, Charlotte Chou, has been in Guangzhou jails for two years after becoming embroiled in a business dispute involving an educational institute she had founded. Australian officials also are reported to have raised that case with Chinese authorities without results.

Image Sources: Laogi Museum, Wiki Commons, Wikipedia 1) Reuters; 2) Julie Chao

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated November 2011

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