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China's Great Armada
JULY 2005
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In some cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.
Photograph by Mark Thiessen



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China's Armada






    I'm an Asia specialist and work mostly in the China Sea area, but for this story I got to travel all the way down the Arabian coast. For the first time, I photographed in places like Africa, Oman, and Yemen, where I was pleasantly surprised. In the United States, Yemen is one of those places that conjures up a dark image because of the U.S.S. Cole bombing. But when I visited Aden, the area where the bombing occurred, I found the people to be quite open and friendly toward me even though I was an American.  
    I was also fascinated by Yemen's Islamic culture and got the feeling that it hasn't changed much in the past 600 years. I felt as if I was seeing the same things Zheng He might have witnessed in his day. 
    The tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in December 2004 came as a great shock because I spent time in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka for this story. It was difficult for me to comprehend the destruction the tsunami caused in coastal areas I had just visited.     During Ramadan in Yemen, dinner is not the time to socialize. A few minutes before sunset, people rushed into restaurants and poised themselves to eat because they had been fasting all day. Then someone at the mosque would come over a loudspeaker and give the OK to eat. Immediately, everyone would start to chow down, and in about five minutes all of the food was gone.
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