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East Asia is a cultural and geographic region of Asia.
 Countries and regions
East Asia, also popularly known as "the Far East" (especially when compared the the other "East", the Middle East) is what used to be known in the West as The Orient, a mysterious land inhabited by a race of inscrutable tea-sipping Orientals. Behind the caricature, though, is a uniting factor in the form of Chinese influence: China, as by far the largest and, historically, the most technologically and societally advanced culture in the region, has given its writing system (Chinese characters), religion (Mahayana Buddhism) and philosophy (Confucianism) to all the countries in East Asia.
However, underneath these superficial similarities lie a vast range of differences. The geography alone covers the gamut, from the arid steppes of Mongolia to the vast deserts of northwestern China, the lush rice paddies of south central China and the beaches of the subtropical islands of Okinawa. The upheaval of the past centuries has also led the countries of the region along strikingly different paths, with the hyper-modern skyscrapers and consumerist culture of Japan having little if anything in common with the Stalinist austerity of North Korea.
East Asia's major languages are not mutually intelligible. Even different variants of the same language (most notably Chinese, and to a much lesser extent Japanese, Korean and Tibetan) may not be mutually unintelligible. Written Chinese characters can be puzzled out by Japanese and Koreans as well, although even these have wide differences from country to country - the characters 手紙, "letter" to the Japanese, would mean "toilet paper" in China, for example. The languages tend to break down into two (or three) groups: Sino-Tibetan (including the dialects of China and Taiwan), Inner-Altaic (including Korean and Mongol) and Japanese although linguists still debate whether or not to include Japanese in the Inner-Altaic language group. In all, English remains a traveller's most useful language overall, although for longer stays in any East Asian country picking up at least some of the local language is essential. When looking for English speakers, tourist areas tend to be a good bet and in general younger people or those around universities are most likely to speak at least some English. That being said, there are many areas where no English is spoken, so patience and a good phrasebook are always a safe bet.
 Get in
 By plane
The main international gateways to East Asia are Hong Kong (China) , Seoul (South Korea) and Tokyo (Japan). Transferring through mainland China, though increasingly an option in terms of flights, is painful and time-consuming (you may also require visas) and best avoided. If arriving from Europe, transiting via Bangkok or Singapore in South-East Asia may prove cheaper than a direct flight.
 By train
The Trans-Siberian Railway has connections down into Northern China.
 Get around
 By plane
Plane travel is the fastest way to travel between countries in East Asia, as well as within them. Plane travel within China tends to be cheap by Western standards, although there is some governmental price regulation to keep the prices from being too low. Most flights include meals, which can range from boxes with assorted snacks to steaming hot meals. Vegetarian meals are rare (depending on the airline and part of East Asia), but occasionally available. Delays are common in some places (like China), sometimes by several hours.
 By train
The Trans-Siberian Railway connects Russia to Mongolia and China, and it's possible to continue onward as far as Vietnam. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan all have extensive train networks, but for reasons of geography and politics none connect to the mainland.
 By bus
Many long distance bus routes connect different cities within countries.
Chopsticks are the eating utensil of East Asia. Outside of restaurants specializing in Western cuisine, forks are rarely available and knives are not to be used at the table.
Rice is an East Asian staple, although in much of northern China and Mongolia wheat predominates.
Fried rice is another popular dish, prepared in a variety of ways in different regions. Fried rice usually has some combination of eggs, vegetables, meat, and/or seafood fried with the rice. Occasionally, some places have other varieties, such as a fruit fried rice.
Tea is the quintessential East Asian drink. Generally, green (unfermented) varieties are preferred over Western-style black tea, but the varieties available cover the entire color and taste spectrum.
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