Arabian Peninsula, Asia, Earth, Saudi Arabia, Southwest Asia

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia

A guide to transliteration of Arabic numerals follows below:

The front of our banknote shows a serial number in Arabic on the top left and the same serial number on the descending down the far right in English.  The year 1433 of the Islamic calendar appears in the lower left of the front of our banknote.  The corresponding year 2012 of the Gregorian calendar appears in the lower left of the back of our banknote.

Asia, Laos, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia, Uncategorized

Laos – Military Might (1979 era, 20 kips)

It is 1979 in Laos; and our featured banknote is published.

The national emblem on the banknote below, circular on the left, displays the hammer and sickle in the midst of traditional Laotian scenes.  An artillery tank and a river gunboat flank a column of infantry marching towards the viewer.

750 years of monarchy ended with the Laotian civil war in 1975; and out banknote was issued just four years later.  A new regime was in power, and their ideology adhered to communism’s ideals.  Their banknote announces a readiness to defend themselves.


Laos 20 kip 1979 back

It was a bitter time in was a confusing era.  Laos had transitioned from colonialism to independence in perhaps the worst way possible; they had become a pawn in a proxy war of new Cold War superpowers.

The ancient peoples of Laos became a colony to France in the late 19th century.  French control continued into WW2 until Japanese power overran most of the Indochinese peninsula.  With Japan’s defeat imminent, Laos proclaimed independence in 1945.  But defeated France, rejuvenated through the allied victory in WW2 in 1945, moved to reassert its power and reestablish its colonial rule in Laos and the surrounding regions.  Laos resisted but it was not until nine years later, in 1954, when France abandoned all claims to Laos.

That 9 year period saw the empowering of communist Soviet Union through their detonation of an atomic bomb in 1949 and the victory of the communist party in China under Mao in 1949.

The United States thought appropriate to take a stand against communism in Laos’ neighbor, Vietnam, about this time.  US foreign policy became known as “containment”.  In 1958, North Vietnam invaded Laos to establish the Ho Chi Minh trail, the logistical supply route between North Vietnam and South Vietnam.  With the escalation of the Vietnam War, this supply route became the subject of intense military fighting, and this region of Laos became the subject of possibly the most intense bombing in history.

To much of the world, Laos was an unknown nation.  Centered in the middle of the Indochinese peninsula, Burma and Thailand on its left, Vietnam on its right, Cambodia below and China above, to much of the world, Laos remained lost in the monsoon nourished jungles, without access to the Sea, unknown to the modern world.

The other side of our banknote highlights ambitions in the textile industry.  Massive rolls of cloth are being manufactured by modern machinery in this tribute to a growing manufacturing base.


Laos 20 kip 1979 front (2)


From this industry post: Growth in the Lao textile and garment industry has been impressive from a base of only two companies in 1990 to 116 in 2006 employing 30,000 workers. Laos became a market-oriented economy in the mid-1980s, meaning it had a short learning curve to pick up the basics about the industry.

From a WTO report (approximately year 2004): The textile and garment industry is of great importance to the Lao economy. Currently, the industry comprises ninety-six factories and employs more than 25,000 workers. In 2003, garment exports, valued at US$115 million, accounted for approximately a third of total exports, second to electricity. Laos exports ready-made garments to forty-two countries.


Asia, Earth, Laos, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia

Laos – Elephants in Logging Industry (1979, 5 Kips)

Laos 5 kip (1979) back

Laos was known for centuries as Lan Xang.  Lan Xang, which translates as “The Land of One Million Elephants”, is the precursor kingdom to modern Laos.  It dominated the Indochina region from the 14th to the 18th century. The Laotian monarchy provided 750 years of continuity for the traditions of Lan Xang through the the Khun Lo Dynasty ending in 1975, the concluding year of the Civil War, in which Communists came into power.

Elephants have long been associated with power and kingship and wealth in Indochina.   In the 15th century, war broke out between Vietnam and Laos, Lan Xang, which has become known as the War of the White Elephant.

By the time of this sad 2012 article, elephants have been reduced vastly in number with an uncertain future.

Detail from Laos 5 kip (1979) back
Laos 5 kip (1979) front, including the national emblem of the newly (since 1975) communist state with hammer and sickle emblazoned above illustrations of local Laotian scenes.
Detail from Laos 5 kip (1979) front.  A shopping scene of Laotians at the local market.
Detail from Laos 5 kip (1979) front

The National Emblem adorns the front of our featured 1979 banknote, and is illustrated here. Left-center illustrates the electricity powering the nation, while right-center is the forest on the traditional paddy field; the road forward is between the two.



Laos, Coat of Arms, front of 2013 banknote

At left is the National Emblem of Laos on the front of a 2003 banknote.  Much will be seen to be the same, and some changes are self-explanatory.  The hammer and sickle, symbolizing the union of the industrial and agricultural workers, the great symbol of the Soviet Union, is, of course, absent.  The rapid demise of the Soviet Union came with stunning surprise to the leaders of Laos, as indeed it came to much of the world.  I am curious as to the alteration in the script wrapping the rice stalks on the right, as well as that below the gear at center.  The script below the gear in the center is the name of the State, which apparently has not changed since 1975.  If a reader has any insight on this, I would very much appreciate your contribution by way of comment or email.


Asia, Laos, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia

Laos – Culture (2003, 1000 kips)

Laos, Laotian Ethnic Groups Women: Lao Lum, Lao Sung and Lao Theung, Pha That Luang pagoda in Vientiane.

Traditionally there are three ethnic groups of Laotians, and they are illustrated beautifully on our banknote by these three ladies.   The Lao Soung, or Lao Sung, are the highland dwelling peoples constituting about 10% of the populace.  The Lao Theung, or Lao Thoeng, indicates the midland Lao peoples and represents about 25% of the populace.  The Lao Lum, or Lao, are the majority ethinc group, representing about 50% of the populace.

Over the left shoulder of our three ladies is the Pha That Luang pagoda.  Regarded as dating from the 3rd century, that is almost 2000 years old, this is the most significant pagoda in Laos.  It is rumored to contain the breastbone of the Buddha himself. It is said that the architecture contains numerous references to Laotian culture which has furthered its significance as an icon of Laotian nationalism.  It is said that the three levels of the pagoda each reflect a dimension of Buddhist doctrine.

Laos, Cattle, Power lines, Elephant, Deity
Laos, National Emblem

The National Emblem adorns the front of our banknote and is illustrated her.  The Pha That Luang Pagoda is at center top.  Left center is the modern empowering hydroelectric dam while right center is the forest on the traditional paddy field; the road forward is between the two.  The name of the state is inscribed below the one-half gear wheel on the bottom,
Fully ripened rice stalks encircle the whole, each wrapped, and inscribed between them, with the five words of the Laotian Motto: Peace, Independence, Democracy, Unity, Prosperity”.


Asia, Earth, Laos, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia

Laos – Modern Irrigation (1988, 500 kips)

Laos is a rugged, landlocked region in the midst of the Indochina peninsula. 80% of its land is hilly to mountainous.  Land suitable for agriculture, arable land, is located primarily along its major river, the Mekong, and its tributaries.  From rainy to dry seasons the elevation of the Mekong can fluctuate 20 meters.  The Mekong remained “untamed” along its entire length, that is, not a single spanning bridge, until 1994 when the Friendship bridge was opened, connecting Laos with Vietnam.

In 1893, Laos became a French colony. During WW2 it came under dominion of the Japanese, returning to France following the war. In 1954, Laos secured independence from France. Landlocked, surrounded by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and China, for decades remained largely unknown to the rest of the world. That is changing.

Laos, modern irrigation systems
Laos, the fruit harvest
Asia, Azerbaijan, Caucasus Mountains, Earth

Azerbaijan – The Poet of Azerbaijan


Azerbaijan front

Nizam Ganjavi1, the great poet of the 12th century, is featured on our banknote.  His poems set standards for a literary tradition that has been imitated for centuries following.  He is considered the greatest epic poet of the Persians and is widely regarded among the Iranians and Kurds and Afghanis and others.

Nizam Ganjavi was born in the region we now know as Azebaijan and appears to have lived his entire life there.  His poetry exhibits vast knowledge of culture and science including astronomy and mathematics, alchemy, medicine and botany, Islamic religion and law, Persian myths and legends and much more.  His compositions synthesize this learning into a beautiful vision of life.

Azerbaijan back

In 1918 the Democratic Republic of Azerbaijan declared its independence. In 1920 it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. In August 1991, half year before the December dissolution of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijan declared its independence again.  October 18, 1991, its Supreme Court adopted a Declaration of Independence which was affirmed by the people in a nationwide referendum two months later.  October 18 is celebrated as Azerbaijan’s Independence Day.

Asia, Central Asia, Tajikistan

Tajikistan – 1994

The Coat of arms is featured on the front of this banknote of Tajikistan, and enlarged below.

Majlisi Olii, the Tajik Parliament, is featured on the back of this banknote, with the National Flag of Tajikistan.

Tajikistan 1994


Tajikistan 1994


Detail from banknote of Tajikistan 1994
Tajikistan Coat of Arms (image from Wikipedia)











Under Soviet rule, this was the Coat of Arms of Tajikistan










Asia, Nepal, Southern Asia

Nepal – King Birendra

King Birendra Bir Bikram is featured on the front of this banknote of Nepal, wearing a plumed crown.  Described from his youth as extraordinarily kind and emotional, he was a firm advocate of democracy for his people, the people of Nepal.  He was King in Nepal from 1972 until 2001, when he died.

Centered on the front of the banknote is the Bajrayogini Temple near Sankhu and Kathmandu.


Nepal banknote, 2 rupees, front
Nepal banknote, 2 rupees, back


Detail from back of Nepal banknote, 2 rupees.




Detail from back of Nepal banknote, 2 rupees.

From Wikipedia: Before 28 May 2008, the modern emblem was preceded by a coat of arms, generally consisting of a white cow, a green [pheasant] (Himalayan monal), two [Gurkha] soldiers (one carrying a [kukri] and a bow, and the other a rifle), peaks of the [Himalayas], two crossed Nepalese flags and kukris, the footprints of [Gorakhnath] (the guardian deity of the Gurkhas) and the royal headress. It also contained the same red scroll with the national motto.
The emblem of Nepal was changed during the reconciliation period following the Nepalese Civil War. On 28 May 2008, a new emblem in the style of socialist heraldry was introduced. It contains the flag of Nepal, Mount Everest, green hills symbolising the hilly regions of Nepal and yellow colour symbolising the fertile Terai region, male and female hands joining to symbolise gender equality, and a garland of Rhododendron (the national flower). Atop this is a white silhouette in the shape of Nepal.


The elements of this intriguingly dense National Coat of Arms are many, and include the following:

Coat of Arms of Nepal from 1962-2008

One Plumed Crown

Two feet

Two crossed Flags

Two crossed knives

One Mountain peak flanked by personalized moon and personalized sun

White cow and a pheasant

Six Hibiscus flowers

Two citizens, one with a rifle and one with a bow

One Inscribed scarlet banner in snaskrit, the English interpretation being: Mother and Motherland are greater than heaven.

Asia, Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan – 1993

1993 was a year of new beginnings for the great people of Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan, 1 tyiyn
Kyrgyzstan, 1 tyiyn






Kyrgyzstan, 10 tyiyn
Kyrgyzstan, 10 tyiyn






Kyrgyzstan, 50 tyiyn
Kyrgyzstan, 50 tyiyn







The banknotes here were issued May 10, 1993 by the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan.   The values are “t y i y n”, one hundred of which constitute a single “s o m”.  The som is the basic monetary unit of currency in Kyrgyzstan, divisible into 100 tiyins, just as the American dollar is divisible into 100 cents.

The word som means pure, and implies pure gold.  Apparently the meaning of tyiyn is squirrel skin which at one time was used as currency.  Coins for circulation were not introduced in Kyrgyzstan until January 2008.  Only Belarus, of the former Soviet states, delayed the introduction of coinage later.

These banknotes were issued May 10, 1993.  May 5 1993, the first post-Soviet era constitution of Kyrgyzstan was ratified.

















Asia, Northern Asia, Russia

Russia – Krasnoyarsk


Russia 10 Rubles, front, 1997. The front of the 10 Rubles banknote features a city scene from Krasnoyarsk.










Detail from front of 10 Rubles banknote of Russia, 1997. This is the bridge at Krasnoyarsk.

















Russia 10 Rubles, front, 1997





















Russia 10 Rubles, back, 1997. The back features a view of the great dam at Krasnoyarsk.











Russia 10 Rubles, back, 1997 

Asia, Iraq, Middle East, Southwest Asia

Iraq – 50 dinars


50 dinars Central Bank of Iraq

Medjool date palms are featured on this banknote of Iraq. The date palm has been cultivated for thousands of years in Iraq and has been a staple food since ancient times.

50 dinars Central Bank of Iraq

The great city of Basra is featured on this side of our Iraqi banknote. Basra is the main port of Iraq.  The illustration on our banknote shows a cargo ship moored at port and receiving grain for export from the dock-side grain silo.

Asia, Cambodia, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia

Cambodia – Norodom Sihanouk, Father-Prince, Artist-King

Banknote of Cambodia, front, 100

Norodom Sihanouk, the artist politician, lived an extraordinary life at the center of power through much of the tumultuous 20th century.  Major events include French colonization, WW2 domination by the Japanese, reassertion of French authority following WW2, independence from France, Vietnam War, Khmer Rouge, and then, the 21st century.  He left us in 2012 at the age of 90 years old.  In Cambodia he is known as Samdech Euv, “Father Prince”

The ancient kingdom of Cambodia had become a French colony by the time Norodom Sihanouk was born, grandson to the contemporary king, in 1922.  In WW2 1941, the Japanese took control of Cambodia and, bypassing his father, installed 19 year old Norodom Sihanouk, as king, upon his grandfather’s death.  Following WW2, the French sought to reassert their colonial authority in Cambodia and much of Indochina, while Sihanouk sought independence.  Independence was achieved in 1953, and in 1955 Sihanouk abdicated the throne and formed a political party.  His father ascended to the throne.  Upon his father’s death in 1960, Norodom was appointed head of sate, which post he held until the military coup of 1970, during the Vietnam War, which ushered in the US backer Khmer republic.

The 1975 Cambodian civil war brought Pol Pot to power, Norodom back from exile, initially as a supporter. But a year later, in 1976, he resigned and was placed under house arrest until 1979.  This was the period of the infamous “killing fields”.  When the Vietnamese overthrew the Pol Pot regime in 1979, Norodom went again into exile; and, in 1981, formed a resistance party.

In 1991, peace accords were signed and in 1993 Norodom Sihanouk was reinstated as head of state and king of Cambodia, which he retained until abdication if favor of his son in 2004.

It is said that from 1966 to 2006 he produced at least 50 films, a number of which he also acted in.


Detail from front of Cambodian banknote.

The “naga”, the multi-headed serpent which is often the beneficent protagonist in Hindu Mythology; its mortal enemy being the “guardas”, the semidivine birdlike deity.

Nagas are multiheaded.  The even number headed naga is said to symbolize the female, physicality, mortality, temporality and the earth; whereas the odd number headed nagas represent the male, infinity, timelessness and immortality.








Cambodia banknote, back, 100, featuring the Wat Preah Keo in Phnom Penh



Asia, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Myanmar, Southeast Asia

Myanmar – White Elephant

Myanmar 5000 banknote.

In Myanmar, and throughout southeast Asia, the white elephant is symbol of good fortune and power, and especially political power.  Vice President Agnew presented one to the King of Cambodia during the late 20th century.  In historic Thailand, the white elephant was a symbol of royal power and any that were discovered were presented to the king.  the prestige of kings was considered according to how many white elephants he possessed.



Banknote of Myanmar.

These buildings house the Assembly of the Union.  Established in the 2008 constitution, The Assembly of the Union is the bicameral legislative body of Myanmar.


Asia, Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan – Manas, the Magnificent

At 500,000 lines, Manas is twenty times longer than Homer’s combined Iliad and Odyssey.  The longest epic poem in the world, Manas chronicles the great heritage of the Kyrgyz people.

Manas is depicted on the front of this banknote.

Statues are found throughout Kyrgyzstan.


The epic, in 3 books, recalls the heroic exploits of Manas, his son Semetei, and his grandson Seitec..


On the reverse of this banknote is the burial place of Manas.







Asia, Indonesia, Island Nations, Maritime Southeast Asia, Southeast Asia

Indonesia – Krakatau, West of Java

In a well regarded analysis, the Volcano Krakatau, featured on our Indonesian banknote, was determined to be the inspiration for the notorious Norwegian impressionist painting, “Scream”.

The blood red sky in the 1893 painting is considered to be recollected, by the Norwegian painter, from the August 27, 1883 volcanic eruption, whose sound was heard 3000 miles away, and whose pressure wave was recorded around the world.  See the fuller article in Sky and Telescope here.


Indonesia 100 Rupiah banknote, 1992, back.

Krakatau.  The volcanic explosion is one of the largest, if not the largest, in recorded history.  It was 13,000 times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb, and lifted 6 cubic miles of earth into the air.

A famous error occurred in Hollywood’s recollection of the event in the move fanfared as “Krakatoa, East of Java.”  Well, the truth is, it’s to the West.



















Detail from front of 100 Rupiah Indonesia banknote, featuring the traditional Pinisi sailboat used by Indonesia for centuries.
Indonesia 100 Rupiah banknote, 1992, front.
Asia, Central Asia, Tajikistan

Tajikistan – The Poet


1 somoni banknote of Tajikistan, featuring prominent poet Mirzo Tursunzoda

Mirzo Tursunzoda, National Poet of Tajikistan.  He won the Lennin prize for his 1956 poem, “The Voice of Asia.”

A representation of the Earth with the location of Tajikistan is illustrated in the center of this 1999 banknote.  Beneath is a silhouette of the map of Tajikistan.

Postscript:  Would you believe I wracked the internet looking for poetry by Mirzo Tursunzoda, and found nothing?  But then I found a 1st edition book of poems, which I, of course, immediately obtained.  This makes it my privilege to, perhaps,  introduce some readers to the Poet of Takjikistan!

I will reproduce excerpts below.

Tajikistan is the only Persian speaking state from the former Soviet Union.


The National Bank of Tajikistan is featured on the reverse of this banknote.




Detail of the National bank of Tajikistan







A fuller biographical sketch of the beloved poet can be found here.


Asia, Central Asia, Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan – Yanardag – World Champion

Detail from back of 50 manat banknote of Turkmenistan.

The Akhal-Teke horse of Turkmen, with its distinctive metallic sheen, is renowned for speed endurance, intelligence and courage.

It’s ancestry dates back thousands of years.  Some consider it one of the original four horse “types” to have crossed the Bearing Strait from the Americas in prehistoric times.

It is said there are, currently, less than 7,000 Akhal-Tekes in the world, mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia.


The state emblem of Turkmenistan adorns the front side of the 50 manat banknote.

At the center of the Turkmenistan Emblem of State, within the blue circle, stands Yanardag, the Akhal-Teke horse born in the year of independence from the Soviet Union, 1991.

The Turkmen name, Yanardag, translates in to “Fiery Mountain”.

Yanardag was named world champion of the breed in 1999 and has become a symbol of national pride to Turkmenis.  He subsequently was acquired by Saparmurat Niazov, the president of Turkmenistan from 1990 through 2006.


Turkmenistan 50 manat banknote, back, featuring the magnificent Akhal-Teke horse.


Turkmenistan 50 manat banknote, featuring President Saparmurat Niazov. and the Turkmen coat of arms







Front: Former President Dictator Saparmurat Niazov. Turkmen coat of arms. Back: Akhal-Teke horse.
Hippodrome. Main colour: Purple. Watermark: Portrait of the deceased Turkmenbashi.









Asia, Central Asia, Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan – The Madrassah with Lions


Detail from back of Uzbekistan 1997 200 som banknote
detail over the portal of the Sher-Dor Madrassah

The image of is the sun with a face rising over the back of a liger, a lion-tiger.  It is found in a mosaic on Sher-Dor Madrasah portal at Registan Square in Samarkand.  The mosaic is somewhat remarkable in the images of humans and animals are generally prohibited from Islamic art.

Sher-Dor Madrasah, translated, means Madrassah with Lions.

Registan Square is framed by three great Madrassahs of distinctive Islamic architecture, The Sher-Dor, featured on this banknote, the Ulugh Beg, the oldest of the three, and the Tilya Kori, the youngest of the three.

Three Madrassahs form Registan Square. The Sher Dor is on the right.
The Sher Dor Madrassah.
Uzbekistan 1997 banknote, back, 200 som.

The State Seal of Uzbekistan is featured on the front of the 200 som banknote.

The sun is rising over a valley.  Bolls of cotton on the left and sheaves of wheat on the right surround the legendary bird of happiness, spreading its wings.  The crescent moon with star are symbols of Muslim blessing.  The surrounding eight pointed star symbolizes unity.  Beneath the name Uzbekistan is on the tri-colored flag.





Uzbekistan 200 som banknote, front, 1997


Asia, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Southeast Asia, Vietnam

Vietnam – The Ghost of Ho Chi Minh

“…we request of the United States as guardians and champions of World Justice to take a decisive step in support of our independence…. our goal is full independence and full cooperation with the UNITED STATES. We will do our best to make this independence and cooperation profitable to the whole world.”  So closed Ho Chi Minh’s letter to U.S. President Harry S. Truman upon the conclusion of WWII.  It was not his first respectful correspondence with a US president.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh’s father traveled throughout the countryside as a teacher in the late 1800s when his homeland, Vietnam, was a colony of France.  He saw the poor and the very poor, and the contrasting comfortable lives of the French elite infuriated him.  He began to question the right of France to rule Vietnam and became a passionate nationalist.  By the time his son, Ho, born in 1890, was a teenager, he too was adopting his father’s view that Vietnam had a right to independently govern itself.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th century, much of the colonial world was enamored with the marvelous rise of the United States.  For much of the 19th century, the United States had been isolationist in its foreign policy and protectionist in its economic policy.  Anti-colonialists easily associated Europe with imperialism, without education in the writings of Lenin and others of the time.  As stated by Raymond Aron, French philosopher, political scientist, and journalist, the daily experience of colonies consisted of “the exploitation of raw materials without any attempt to create local industry; the destruction of native crafts and the stunted growth of industrial development that resulted from the influx of European goods; high interest rates on loans; ownership of major businesses by foreign capitalists’.  But America was different. Here was a nation that had been a colony like themselves but had gained independence.  Here was a nation that was enjoying fantastic growth among the world of nations!  Here was a nation that was anti-imperial, the opposite of the colonializing countries of Europe!  Why cannot this be the same for us?

Ho became educated and well-traveled, visiting The United States and Europe and socializing with other anti-colonials.  All the while he nurtured his desire for an independent Vietnam.


Woodrow Wilson, an academic who had served but 2 years in politics, as Governor of New York, was elected President of the United States in 1912.  World War I commenced in Europe in 1914 while he was in office, and he pursued a strict policy of neutrality while nevertheless preparing America for the possibility of war, instituting the draft, and building up the US war making machinery.  His 2nd presidential campaign in 1916, on the slogan “He kept us out of war”, was successful by a slim majority.  The first year of his second term as President, he brought the United States into the war with the slogan “to make the world safe for democracy”.

Wilson closed his address to Congress seeking the declaration of war, “Our object…is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power….We are glad…to fight…for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the right of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy….We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make.”

So reluctant was America for war, so unentangled was America in the politics of Europe and its colonizing history, so remarkable was America’s rise to prominence after its own colonial past, America became the beacon to all the world of colonies as to what could be.  Wilson increased and refined his rhetorical annunciations, towards the rights of self-determination for all peoples, during, and through the end of the war.  And by the time of the Paris Peace Conference, for which he proposed “A League of Nations”, passions were inflamed for independence worldwide.  Woodrow Wilson had become the rock star of the era, an icon to independence minded peoples worldwide.


Ho Chi Minh was in Paris at the time of the Peace accords.  Colonials everywhere were aflame with passion for liberation from the colonizers.  On behalf of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh crafted an appeal for support for independence, to president Wilson.  The story is told that he rented a new suit and prepared assiduously for an audience with recitations from the American declaration of independence.  In what has been termed by historians as a lost “Wilsonian Moment”, Ho Chi Minh was ignored, and so was his country.  His frail appearance and demeanor may have led many to mis-appreciate and underestimate him.

And so were many other petitioners ignored in that conference, which mainly addressed Europe’s problems.  A disillusioned Ho Chi Minh, as well as others, began to seek out relationships with advocates of Leninism.  It is thought by many that such overtures were less out of genuine interest in communism, than in seeking the support of other powerful nations for their own independence movements.  Ho Chi Minh fell in with the communists in France, not because of an attraction to communism, but because of a passion for patriotism. He knew he needed help for his country and he was determined to get it.


Decades later, upon the close of WWII, Ho Chi Minh wrote Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence.  It included many of the ideals in America’s own declaration, one and three-quarter’s centuries before.  Five months after that war, Ho wrote to President Truman the words at the beginning of this post, while France was scrambling to reassert their colonial domination over Vietnam.

Ho’s entreaty was, once again, ignored by a US president.  France began to fight the Vietnamese in earnest to reassert their control over that little land on the other side of the globe.  The Vietnamese Army fought the French.  Mostly armed with machetes and muskets against France’s WW2 armaments, smoking out French positions with straw bundled with chili pepper, and using suicide weapons against French artillery, they waged war their for independence.

Ho Chi Minh, detail from front of 1988 banknote, Vietnam

After fighting the French for several years, Ho decided to negotiate a truce. According to journalist Bernard Fall, the meeting with French negotiators took place at a mud hut with a thatched roof.  No doubt, Ho Chi Minh conducted the meeting in perfect French.  As reported in Wikipedia here, “Inside they found a long table with chairs and were surprised to discover in one corner of the room a silver ice bucket containing ice and a bottle of good Champagne which should have indicated that Ho expected the negotiations to succeed. One demand by the French was the return to French custody of a number of Japanese military officers (who had been helping the Vietnamese armed forces by training them in the use of weapons of Japanese origin), in order for them to stand trial for war crimes committed during World War II. Ho replied that the Japanese officers were allies and friends whom he could not betray. Then he walked out, to seven more years of war.”

A few years later, the US took over the war against Vietnam.  Following the Joe McCarthy era, but still propelled by fear of communism, and supported a tidy “domino theory”, the US sent hundreds of thousands of troops into that war, losing more than fifty thousand dead, before retreating in defeat in the 1970s.


Ho Chi Minh died in 1969.  As the North Vietnamese marched south in 1975, uniting Vietnam, the spirit of Ho Chi Minh marched with them.  He was free from the shackles of this mortal body, and his people were free from the shackles of colonialism.


Front, 1988, 500 dong, Vietnam, featuring Ho Chi Minh
Back, 1988, 500 dong, featuring scenes from Port Haiphong.

This 1988 banknote features Ho Chi Minh.  Indeed all Vietnamese banknotes, through at least the 2003 issue, feature Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnamese independence.




The text of Vietnam’s Declaration of Independence can be read here, and will be seen to closely follow that by America 150 years earlier. Read September 2, 1945 in the square in Hanoi, it announced to the world Vietnam’s independence.

The February 16, 1946 letter to president Truman can be read here and the follow up urgent telegram to Harry Truman on February 28 1946 can be seen here.


For more stories from Mainland Southeast Asia, click here.

For tags from stories, see bottom of this page.


Asia, East Asia, Korea

Korea – Like Two Brothers Separated at Birth

As of January 18, 2018, North Koreans and South Koreans will be marching under one banner, together, in the 2018 Olympics.  I was asked if I was surprised.  “No”, I said.  It seemed to me to be entirely likely, for, you see, it seems to me that the Korean problem is a family problem.

Korea (1947), front, 50 chon.
Korea (1947), back, 50 chon. 1 Korean won is divisible into 100 chon.

For five hundred years preceding the 20th century, Korea was one nation, united and independent.  Amid the rampant colonialization movements of the 18th and 19th centuries, Korea moved towards a policy of isolationism.  For a time, it refused to even trade with western nations, endeavoring to preserve its inherited culture.

But the advancing industrialization of nations left Korea increasingly behind. In the late 1800s Korea shifted to a policy called “eastern ethics, western technology”, to preserve its culture while modernizing.  But this policy was resisted by many Koreans, and political unrest ensued.  The Emporer sought outside aid from both Japan and from China, which consequently increased their influence within Korea.  And then, upon Japan’s defeat of China at the close of the century, Japanese influence began to dominate Korea. In 1910, Japan annexed Korea.  By the time of the beginning of WW2, the Korean peninsula was considered a part of the Japanese empire.


Korea (1947), front, 20 chon.
Korea (1947), back, 20 chon. 1 Korean won is divisible into 100 chon.

The Japanese occupation began badly, and grew worse with time.  Japan sought to make the Korean territory into an efficient food supplier for a growing Japanese empire.  While building and modernizing Korean infrastructure, they were also destroying them as a people.

In the initial decade following the 1910 annexation, tens of thousands of Koreans were arrested for political reasons; and many were executed. Koreans call this decade “amhukki”, ‘the dark period’. In 1919, a peaceful independence protest was held.  The “March 1st Movement” as it became known, was inspired by the publication of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points following WW1. Two million people marched in fifteen hundred demonstrations. Thousands were massacred by the alarmed Japanese, and many more thousands wounded, and tens of thousands arrested. In the 1930s, the Japanese urged Koreans to adopt Japanese names. By 1938, children were prohibited from speaking Korean, and all school classes were taught in Japanese. During WW2, Korean men were drafted into the armed services, and Korean women were drafted as “comfort slaves” for Japanese soldiers. Koreans were even urged to adopt the religion of Japan, Shintosim, but without much success. The flourishing of Christianity during this period, appears to be, in part, a rebellion against Japan.

Korea, (1947), front, 15 chon.

As WW2 drew to a close, and Japan’s defeat anticipated, hopes of independence revived among Koreans.  The UN plan was for a brief trusteeship of the Korean territory, administrated by the victorious “Allies”, leading to full independence in five years or less.  Looking at a map the night before Japan’s surrender, two young army staffers proposed the 38th latitude as the arbitrary line of demarcation between a Soviet occupation and an American occupation. It was a hasty and convenient selection, although it “made no sense economically or geographically”.

Many Koreans wanted independence immediately; but others, most notably the Korean Communist Party, supported the idea of trusteeship.  The Korean Communist Party was founded in the second decade of, and in resistance to, the Japanese occupation.  Many were exiled to China, where, allying with a growing Chinese Communist Party, they performed many guerrilla operations against the Japanese during occupation.  The Soviet Union, having rapidly occupied the northern peninsula at the close of the war, began to rely extensively upon returning communist exiles, and emigres from the large Korean population in the USSR.  By the close of 1945, the North Korea Bureau of the Communist Party of Korea was established and led by Kim Il-sung.   Over the next five years, as the relationship between the major powers deteriorated, and the Cold War set in, the negotiations for unified Korean independence stalled.  In 1946, Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech, and in 1949, USSR detonated its first atomic bomb.  The Korean brothers were separated.

Korea, (1947), front, 10 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.

“The South hit first”, says the North; “The North hit first”, says the South.  Whatever the truth, in 1950 the Koreans began to fight.

The Soviet Union had been arming the North for several years. The UN was preoccupied with the security of Japan, and considered a non-communist Korea on its border to be important to that security. China, having just concluded the Chinese Communist Revolution in 1949, had border issues too; and was uncomfortable with a non-communist “allied” presence on its Korean border. It was a war which was never “declared”; out of this conflict the term “police action” entered the international lexicon; and it became known as the Korean War.

The North, with Soviet arms, rapidly overran the South, until just a small corner of the peninsula remained unoccupied. Then US backed UN forces entered the fray; and the South overran the North almost to the Chinese border. Then China sent troops across the northern border, and pushed back to south of the 38th; and then the South pushed back again.  The war front moved up and down the peninsula, Seoul changing hands four times, until it ended. The Korean War began and ended with pretty much the same boundary, the 38th parallel.  The brothers’ hope for united independence was gone; and the world had five million less people.

Korea, (1947), front, 5 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.

The next generation grew up separated, northerners from southerners, and with the memory of war.  The North, substantially sponsored by the Soviet Union, grew and prospered. The South, largely on its own in the world, languished and became impoverished. Both bore the memory of the recent war between them.  And then the subsequent generation came alone, and the brother’s fortunes began to switch, dramatically.



Korea, (1947), front, 1 won. The won became the currency of North Korea on December 6, 1947.
Korea, (1947), back, 1 won. Illustration of a farmer and a worker.

South Korea , seeing the surging economic success of what was becoming known as “Japan Inc.”, began to emulate its neighbor’s activities.  In the next decades, they too began to realize economic success and burgeoning prosperity.  For this generation, the Korean war was little more than a history lesson in school. For them, the North was distant, and a little like a crazy brother across the border that occasionally popped off bombs, but had little effect on their growing prosperity.

Coincident with the South’s rising prosperity, the North began to decline.  The North’s chief sponsor, the Soviet Union, having grown increasingly bankrupt, finally dissolved at the end of 1989. With their dissolution, the primary sponsor of North Korea was gone. The North found itself essentially alone in the world.  With renewed determination, and new leadership, the North’s new generation renewed its focus on military development, the one thing it felt it could really excel in.

The present generation knows South Korea as one of the most prosperous and modern societies in the world, and North Korea as one of the very few nations with nuclear bombs.  And now what?


It is a curious thing to me, an American, and, I am guessing here, to many others too, that South Koreans appear far less concerned about North Korea than we do.  See this recent article.

I can’t help but think that this is a family affair; a family affair looking for a family solution.  The Koreans, who wanted to be left alone in the 19th century, and were torn apart in the 20th century, have little hope of being left alone now.  But, what if they could be, just for a little while, truly alone together, to work it out?

In my mind’s eye I see myriads of people; and amid a cacophony of conversations, I zoom in on one, and then another, and then another, all similar but completely unique…  “your father is from where? Really! Then that means we’re cousins!  ….. The story I heard about our family is…. and I heard that grandfather went to….. and what happened after that….., and …. how’s your mother?”


Asia, Central Asia, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan – The Great Al-Farabi, the Second Master

1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993), featuring Al-Farabi

Al-Farabi shines in world history as one of the brightest stars in the firmament. He commands unqualified respect across religions and political cultures worldwide.

His contributions illuminate our world to this day in Music and Mathematics, Geometry and Logic, Psychology, Politics and Philosophy.

Al-Farabi. detail from front of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993)

Writing in the early 10th century, Al-Farabi found philosophy dead. He revived the Greek philosophers through extensive translation, commentaries and contributions. Considering Reason to be superior to Revelation, he solved many challenges of the day advancing Islam to a sounder polity.

A worthy summation of his career might be that given by Maimonides, perhaps the greatest of all Jewish philosophers. Writing two hundred years later, Maimonides said of Al-Farabi: “If Aristotle is the first master, the second one is undoubtedly Farabi”. As an indicator of the world-wide respect Maimonides as well as for Al-Farabi, the moniker stuck. Al-Farabi is widely known today as “The Second Master”.

Architectural detail by Al-Farabi. 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993)

His massive tome, The Book of Music, Kitâb al-musiqâ al-kabîr, is considered the single most important medieval manuscript in the Islamic world.

While classifying music under mathematics, he asserts that music must be performed and that the ear is the final judge. The hearing may usurp some fine mathematical principles. He wrote extensively on the therapeutic effects of music upon the soul.




Geometric constructions by Al-Farabi. Back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993).

Islamic architecture and craftsmanship has long been characterized by elaborate geometric patterns.

The artisans of that era had design tools consisting of little more than a straight edge and a compass. The craftsman’s task was to construct, with these simple tools, architectures and patterns and designs that surprise the mind and uplift the spirit.

mathematical formulae. detail from back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan (1993)




Geometric construct by Al-Farabi. Detail from back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan

Al-Farabi’s text book entitled, “A Book of Spiritual Crafts and Natural Secrets in the Details of Geometrical Figures” advanced the craft considerably.  In it are numerous original geometrical constructs with designs and proofs.



Geometric construct by Al-Farabi. Detail from back of 1 tenge banknote, Kazakhstan,











Asia, Middle East, Southwest Asia, Syria, Syria

Syria – The Elba Tablets

Syria, series 2010, 50 pond banknote, front, featuring the Al-Assad National Public Library in Damascus

The Syrian national library in Damascus is a treasure chest of world history.

Damascus is one of the ancient great cities of the world, and considered the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world.  A 10th century geographer, Al-Maqaddasi, said Damascus ranked among the four earthly paradise.

Mark Twain, upon his visit to the city in 1867, remarked, “To Damascus, years are only moments, decades are only flitting trifles of time. She measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.”  A burgeoning art movement had been developing in Damascus since the 1980s or so until the present civil wars era.  Artists from around the word as well as Syria exhibited regularly in the proliferating galleries throughout the city, as the arts were sponsored by, although also censored to some extent, by the state.

Ebla tablets, back side of Syria 50 pound banknote 2010 series

Known as the Elba tablets, these clay scripts include over 1500 complete tablets and 4500 fragments, written in both Sumerian and an ancient, as yet not assuredly identified, language.  They date from 2500 BC until the destruction of the city of Elba in 2250 BC.

They were discovered in 1975, in situ, on collapsed shelves, just as they were left 4000 years ago.  The palace library containing the tablets was destroyed and burned.  The fire baked the tablets in place, helping to preserve them.

detail of the Elba tablets

They provide the first known references to Lebanon and the Canaanites.  “Damaski” is noted in the tablets, which many understand to be referencing the city Damascus.  The tablets are held today in Syrian museums in Damascus, Aleppo and Idlib.






statue of Hafez Al-Assad, detail from front of 2010 series, 50 pounds, Syria banknote

Hafez Al-Assad (1930-2000), father of current president Bashar Al-Assad, was president of Syria from 1971 until his death in 2000.

























Asia, Mainland Southeast Asia - Indochina, Myanmar, Southeast Asia

Myanmar – The Not Home of the Rohingya


75 kyats, Myanmar, issued November 10, 1986, for his 75th birthday. The 50 kyat and 100 kyat banknotes were demonetized November 3rd without warning and many people lost their savings.

Ne Win, political leader of Myanmar, must have been thinking, “It’s good to have power”, when, for the fun of it, he destroyed the life savings of millions and wrecked the economy of a country.

This is where the Rohingya live.



90 kyats, Myanmar, issued November 22, 1987, because his favorite number was 9. Two and a half weeks earlier, the 75 kyat banknote and others were demonetized without warning. 75% of the nation’s currency was thus rendered worthless.
45 kyats, Myanmar, issued together with the 90 kyat banknote, because 9 was his favorite number. The nation’s economy was thrown into chaos.







As captioned beneath the photos above, Ne Win wrecked life savings and ruined the economy for his birthday, and because of his numerological fascination with the number 9. Imagine the difficulty of daily transactions at the marketplace with denominations such as these, together with banknotes for 15 kyats and 25 kyats and 35 kyats. How do you count out change? But, when you’re a dictator, it’s easy.

The Earth holds us with gravity, a power so gentle that we hardly notice, and yet a power so great that we cannot escape. The Sun holds our Earth by the same power. We ourselves are here by nature’s power of life, a power so gentle that we cannot even remember our own birth. And we cannot go back. And we cannot leave our Earth. This is our home; and who can say it is not? The Infinite Power of the Universe has placed us here.

detail from back of 90 kyat banknote. working in the fields.

“Rohingyas have lived in Arakan from time immemorial”. Arakan is the coastal region on the right hand side, the eastern shore, of the great Bay of Bengal, opposite to India. It is now known as Rakhine state in Myanmar. Islam came to the region a thousand years ago. The Rohingya are Muslims in a country with over 125 ethnicities, and a population 90% Buddhist and 4% Muslim. Their history has been traced back to the 8th century.

Families are natural and tribes are normal, and have been for thousands upon thousands of years. And then one day just a few hundred years ago, as tribes grew and fought over things, someone invented states. And states were cool. And they invented powers for the states. So then states multiplied and grew and some of them had colonies.

The Indian Empire in the days of British rule encompasses Burma and Arakan on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal.

Great Britain’s empire expanded to include India and Arakan and Burma and the surrounding regions in the 19th and 20th centuries. This region became known as “the Crown Jewel of the Empire”. Times were prosperous, and labor routinely migrated back and forth across and around the Bay of Bengal to work the rice paddies of Arakan. As the entire area was under British dominion, these movements of peoples, including the Rohingya, were administrated as internal affairs. But the migrations were viewed negatively by many of the native populations.

And some of the tribes that were colonies, and didn’t like that the states had powers and the colonies didn’t, said, We want to be a state too. Let us have states too. States are fun. States are cool. States have powers. We want to have a state too. And so they did.

detail from bank of 90 kyat banknote showing workers in the rice paddies.

Early in WWII, Aung San, then the political leader of Burma (soon to be called Myanmar), sided with the Japanese against the British, in hopes of Burmese independence. Towards the end of the war, realizing that Japan’s overlordship was worse than Britain’s, Aung San switched allegiances back to Great Britain and its allies. This movement of shifting alliances became typical for what came to be known as the non-aligned states during the subsequent cold war.

And so states multiplied, like new tiles on an old earthen floor, being laid end to end and wall to wall, until all the earth was covered with new tiles, and you couldn’t see the earth anymore.

Industry in Burma. Detail from back of Myanmar’s 45 kyat banknote.

Following the war, in 1948, Burma gained independence from Britain, rejecting Britain’s proposal of Dominion status, and its boundaries were drawn around a region very ethnically diverse with more than 135 distinct ethnic groups. Almost immediately, civil war broke out in Burma, pitting the central authorities against various ethno-religious minorities. The 1962 coup d’etat brought the military into dictatorial power. In 1982, the state created a strict new law of citizenship which left many Rohingya out.  They became a people without citizenship.

And then one day, a state said to a tribe, who are you? You do not belong here. And the tribe said, What do you mean? We are a tribe and we have been here for thousands upon thousands of years, with all of the other tribes. And the state said, We don’t recognize you, and they used their powers to make the tribe leave. And the tribe moved a little distance away, and there was another state there. And that state said to the tribe, Who are you? We don’t recognize you. You don’t belong here, and they used their powers to make the tribe move again. And the same thing happened with a third state and a fourth.

The Rohingya are in Bangladesh and India and Sri Lanka, and find themselves unwelcome there.

And the tribe cried out to the world of states, Where are we to go, for the whole earth is covered end to end and wall to wall with these new states! How can you say that we have no home? But the world of states didn’t listen because they were too busy playing with their powers.

The Rohingya have been variously described as “amongst the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities”. The conflict in Mynamar, starting shortly after the close of WWII is considered the second longest ongoing conflict in the world, after Kashmir, by just a few months.

But the earth heard, and was sad, and told the sun. And the sun heard, and sighed, and told the universe. And the universe heard, and wept.

And what do you think the universe will do?


Asia, East Asia, Island Nations, Taiwan

Taiwan – Jubilation


detail from front of Taiwan 500 yuan banknote


Glee filled youth hurling baseball cap into the air in celebration of another triumph.

Dedication hard work and teamwork bring joy to the people and pride to all of Taiwan.




Baseball team celebrating World Series victory. detail from front of Taiwan’s 500 yuan banknote.

The Little League Baseball Team was the Toast of Taiwan.

In the thirteen year period between 1969 and 1981, the team brought 10 world series championships from Williamsport Pennsylvania.



A 2:00 pm game start in Williamsport, the home of Little League Baseball world series, would be a 3:00 game time in Taiwan half a world away. Avid fans would be awake and watching.  Cheers could be heard from homes up and down the streets in those early morning hours.  Little league baseball is credited with transforming Taiwan’s breakfast habits as the celebrating fans went out hungry for breakfast.  A fun article on this phenomenon can be found here.

That amazing run of world series championships commencing in 1969 coincided in a decades long erosion of international support for Taiwan’s claim to be the rightful representative of all China.  In 1971, Taiwan lost its UN seat to mainland China, the Peoples Republic of China.  Baseball helped buoy the spirit of the people and by the 1980s Taiwan was enjoying dramatic economic growth.

Taiwan, 500 yuan, front
Taiwan 500 yuan banknote, back


detail from back of Taiwan 500 yuan banknote

The Formosan Sika deer is unique to Taiwan.

detail from back of Taiwan 500 yuan banknote






Arabian Peninsula, Asia, Southwest Asia, Yemen

Yemen – The Oldest Skyscraper City in the World


Buildings in Shibam, 50 rials, back, Yemen








Towering buildings, 500 years old, rise from the desert in this oldest example of vertical urban planning in the world.  Shibam lies deep in the desert of Yemen, and is famous for its mud brick high rise buildings, being frequently called the “Oldest Skyscraper City in the World.”


detail of Buildings in Shibam, 50 rials, back, Yemen. Some buildings are ten or eleven stories tall.

Bedouin nomads of old, traversed desert sands from oasis to oasis, carrying news and conducting trade.  The little settlement, Shibam, by the wadiis, was ripe for less than honorable Bedouin marauders.

The settlers did not wish to move, for this was home.  The life as nomads had lost its appeal.  Perhaps it was the 14th century when the idea was born; or perhaps it was the 15th or 16th century when the concept was planned; but we know by the 1600s great towers in the desert had begun to rise.

Using the materials at hand, driven by the necessity born of frequent attacks, and guided by some original ingenuity, they began to build.  Creating bricks, made from soil and hay and stone, baked in the desert sun, brick by brick they built they built their sturdy houses.


detail of Buildings in Shibam, 50 rials, back, Yemen. Some buildings are over 100 feet tall.

Story upon story they rose.  The bottom stories they made windowless and harbored their livestock and grain, safer from marauders than open corrals.  Five stories, six stories, seven stories they built with windowed living quarters above their live stock and provisions.   Eight stories, nine stories high, they built their towers providing shade from the desert sun on the narrow streets between them.  Ten stories and eleven stories tall, they built their towers, with bridges intersecting from one to another, providing easy escape when needed, and convenient corridors for socializing.

Shibam of Yemen is the earliest known example of vertical urban planning in the world.  A British explorer in the 1930s, happening upon Shibram, called it the “Manhattan of the Desert”.  The “Oldest Skyscraper City in the world”, it is frequently called today.



Sina’a, 100 rials banknote, back, Yemen






detail of buildings of Sina’a, 100 rials banknote, back, Yemen



Sana’a has been inhabited for more than two and a half centuries.  It is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.





detail of buildings of Sina’a, 100 rials banknote, back, Yemen

The beauty of the city is enhanced by the high density of buildings constructed from rammed earth and the frequent burnt brick towers.







Fortress Qal’at, 5 rial banknote, back, Yemen






detail of Fortress Qal’at al Qahit, on hill in Ta’izz, 5 rial banknote, back, Yemen






























Bedouin nomads of old, traversed desert sands from oasis to oasis, carrying news and conducting trade.  The little settlement, Shibam, by the wadiis, was ripe for less than honorable Bedouin marauders.

The settlers did not wish to move, for this was home.  The life as nomads had lost its appeal.  Perhaps it was the 14th century when the idea was born; or perhaps it was the 15th or 16th century when the concept was planned; but we know by the 1600s great towers in the desert had begun to rise.  Using the materials at hand, driven by the necessity born of frequent attacks, and guided by some original ingenuity, they began to build.  Creating bricks, made from soil and hay and stone, baked in the desert sun, brick by brick they built they built their sturdy houses.  Story upon story they rose.  The bottom stories they made windowless and harbored their livestock and grain, safer from marauders than open corrals.  Five stories, six stories, seven stories they built with windowed living quarters above their live stock and provisions.   Eight stories, nine stories high, they built their towers providing shade from the desert sun on the narrow streets between them.  Ten stories and eleven stories tall, they built their towers, with bridges intersecting from one to another, providing easy escape when needed, and convenient corridors for socializing.

Shibam of Yemen is the earliest known example of vertical urban planning in the world.  A British explorer in the 1930s, happening upon Shibram, called it the “Manhattan of the Desert”.  The “Oldest Skyscraper City in the world”, it is frequently called today.












Arabian Peninsula, Asia, Southwest Asia, Yemen

Yemen – The Great Dam of Ma’rib (10 rial banknote)


Yemen 10 rials banknote, back, featuring the great dam of Ma’rib









The Great Dam of Ma’rib was built almost three thousand years ago and is considered one of the great engineering projects of the ancient world.

Yemen 10 rials front (3)
The great Dam of Ma’rib. detail from back of 10 rial banknote. Yemen

The medieval Arab geographer Yāqūt al-Ḥamawī described the great dam of Ma’rib: “It is between three mountains, and the flood waters all flow to the one location, and because of that the water only discharges in one direction; and the ancients blocked that place with hard rocks and lead. The water from springs gathers there as well as floodwater, collecting behind the dam like a sea. Whenever they wanted to they could irrigate their crops from it, by just letting out however much water they needed from sluice gates; once they had used enough they would close the gates again as they pleased.” reference.

Ancient culvert and the Shaharah bridge. Detail from back of 100 rial banknote, Yemen

According to Arab tradition, the city Ma’rib was founded by Shem, son of Noah, a thousand years previous. With 1000 miles of coastline on the Red Sea and the Arabian Sea, it flourished as a center of trade reaching from the Mediterranean to India. Agriculture flourished in large part due to its amazing irrigation systems consisting of water tunnels in mountains, and dams. Yemen’ spices, frankincense and myrrh, were traded throughout the world. Modern scholarship says the renowned Queen of Sheba came from the kingdom of Saba, centered around the oasis of Ma’rib.



Arabian Coffee berries on a branch, detail from back of 10 rial banknote, Yemen







Yemen, 10 rial banknote, front. Qubbat Al-Bakiliyah Mosque (Al-Bakiriya, Al-Baqiliyah, al-Bakiriyya) in Sana’a.