During my recent trips in Asia, I was struck by how many Catholic churches and seminaries existed in places like Yangon, Myanmar, and Da Nang, Vietnam. In Hong Kong, I happened upon a standing-room-only church service, and in Guangzhou, China, the Sacred Heart Cathedral has become a tourist stop for many Chinese.

After the 1949 takeover of China, the Communist Party outlawed religious groups and continued attacks during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, which included the destruction of numerous Buddhist temples and Christian churches.

The government still controls the land for religious buildings and constrains the leadership of congregations, particularly those with foreign ties. There have been significant religious crackdowns, such as that against the Dalai Lama and the Falun Gong movement. The Dalai Lama fled China in 1959 after Tibet came under the control of the central government. The case of the Falun Gong, who faced a concerted attack in 1999 and was later banned, is a bit more complicated. See https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-07-14/why-china-fears-falun-gong

In recent years, however, the Communist Party of China has become somewhat more tolerant of Christian churches. All told, an estimated 300 million Chinese, or 25 percent of the population, including about 30 million Christians, expressed a belief in some faith.

Officially, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is an atheistic state under its Communist government. According to 2010 estimates by the Pew Research Center, Buddhists constituted about 16 percent of the population, and around 8 percent of the Vietnamese were Christians who are mostly Catholic. It was a nice treat to stop by a large roadside shrine on Highway 1 between Da Nang and Hue.

In Myanmar, which has only recently cast aside five decades of socialist/Communist rule, more than 6 percent of the population follow Christianity. The Baptists have become particularly strong, although the Catholic Church has a seminary and large cathedral in the capital.

St. Mary’s Cathedral in Yangon, Myanmar

Just around the corner from my hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand, stood a Mormon meeting house. I’ve seen Mormons all over the world, but I guess I didn’t expect a site in northern Thailand.

According to the church’s website, the first Mormon missionary to Thailand arrived in 1854. The congregation in Chiang Mai got started in 1970. In 2009, the Mormons reported that they had 16,000 members in Thailand.

A sign for a Mormon meeting house in northern Thailand

After many trips through temples devoted to Buddhism, which remains the dominant faith in Asia, I had a greater understanding of the religion’s intentions, which, although still rather foreign to me, stress good works and conscientious, ethical living.

As the Dalai Lama, who has his own significant disputes with the Chinese government, wrote recently in The Wall Street Journal:

“Today the world faces a crisis related to lack of respect for spiritual principles and ethical values. Such virtues cannot be forced on society by legislation or by science, nor can fear inspire ethical conduct. Rather, people must have conviction in the worth of ethical principles so that they want to live ethically.”

Whatever the case, the embrace of religion among many people throughout Asia—whether Buddhist or Christian–gave me hope, particularly when the West has seen the role of faith drop precipitously over the past few decades.

For the past two weeks as a trekked across China, Myanmar and Thailand, I have been repeatedly asked this question: What do you think of Trump?

Before I answer, I ask the questioners, from businessmen to government officials to tour guides, what THEY think of Trump.

Almost universally, their answer is: We can do business with Trump!

I admit that my survey is far from scientific. My data come mainly from educated people who can speak English and oftentimes are at least middle class. But it’s interesting when the local taxi drivers turn the table on me to ask me questions.

The most telling comments I heard came from Hangzhou, the Chinese city just south of Shanghai that hosted the G-20 conference last year. That was the conference when President Obama had to come down the back stairs of Air Force I in which many Americans saw as an intended slap in the face of the former leader.

The Chinese business people I met saw the gesture as a purposeful slight of a naïve and incompetent leader. They still think it rings true now.

Hillary Clinton was seen as even worse than Obama by many Chinese because she had come full circle from a positive image during her husband’s presidency to a negative one when Obama’s Asia pivot failed miserably.

These same businessmen see Trump using his negotiating tactics to meet the Chinese halfway, particularly when it comes to trade and even North Korea. “It’s like Trump points at one piece of property he wants to buy when he’s actually looking at another. It’s the kind of bargaining we can deal with,” one manager told me.

The Asian media aren’t portraying Trump as the buffoon the U.S. media like to do. Instead, the Chinese media, for example, have taken a relatively neutral stance toward Trump, including limited coverage of the missile defense system being set up in South Korea to counter any threat from the North. Moreover, the meeting between Presidents Xi and Trump received positive coverage, including stories about Trump’s granddaughter singing in Mandarin.

One of the more entertaining conversations I had was in Shanghai with a couple who had immigrated to Canada from Romania in the 1980s. They had grown so weary of the political correctness in our northern neighborhood that they were seriously considering going back home. I guess what attracts some of the leftists in the United States doesn’t sit so well with people who had seen actual dictatorships rather than the imagined notion of Trump as a dictator.

All told, it’s awfully nice to meet an international array of intellectual and political fellow travelers during the latest chapter of my Asia pivot. The view from this side of the Pacific is far rosier than that in the United States.

Society has a curious love/hate relationship with pop culture. It hurls bile and snark at some, while tongue-bathing others, all in an effort to seem disaffected and elite while simultaneously craving acceptance by the Kool Kidz. It seeks a mythical connection with the latest bands and the hottest hands, an association minus genuine attachment. Those considered unworthy are summarily dismissed, ignored save when someone uncool dies so the insults can once more be recited before being laid to rest alongside the recently departed.

Example? Sure. John Wetton and Beyoncé.

Wetton died the other day at age 69 from cancer. Nearly simultaneously, Beyoncé announced she is pregnant with twins. The media went front page ape for the latter. Wetton? Hey, let’s dust off an insulting concert review of his band Asia when it was riding high in the early ’80s!

This comes as no surprise to those possessing any awareness of pop culture. Wetton, throughout his career, pursued creativity, be it in full-blown progressive rock such as his ’70s output with King Crimson and U.K., or Asia’s more concise, melodically focused work. Beyoncé? Although not naming her directly, Joe Walsh precisely nails her “artistry:”

Beyoncé’s career will fade with her looks as she is replaced with the next generation’s pop princess. John Wetton’s genuine artistry will live on in the hearts and minds of his fans, the true believers who will hand down his work to that portion of the next generation blessed with predecessors who caught the vision.

Don’t follow sheep. Seek the vision.