Malaysia’s shame II


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Further to my earlier post here, I draw attention to the repulsive and horrific story from Malaysia here.

I have no words now.


Mt Sinabung


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Mt Sinabung in c1905

For those readers as fascinated with Indonesian volcanoes as myself, the story here carries the news that Sumatra’s Mt Sinabung has again flexed its muscles.

There is a great picture at the end of the linked article above, with other great photos here.

Mt Sinabung has a recent (in geological terms) history of eruptive misbehaviour and the pictures above inspire awe. Nevertheless, when compared with the gargantuan historic eruptions of its volcanic neighbours clustered around the Toba supervolcano, Sinabung’s pyroclastic displays are trivial indeed.

Malaysia’s shame


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For a country that could once have been said to have the world at its feet, it is hard to believe how far Malaysia has fallen.

If the MH370 debacle wasn’t enough to erase your faith in Malaysian governance standards, the world now confronts official insanity such as that described here. Then again, if attacking gays isn’t sufficiently destructive to the national reputation there is also the awesome lack of cultural awareness on show here.

Characteristic of traditional Malaysian/Indonesian rivally, when it comes to gay rights Indonesia is also doing all it can to beat Malaysia in the race to maximum intolerance.

Both nations are capable of much better than that, or is it an admission that they are not?

Vietnamese New Year (Tet)


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For those who didn’t remember* we are quickly approaching the cultural event of the year in Vietnam.

The Vietnamese New Year celebrations, known as Tet Nguyen Dan and understandably abbreviated to simply Tet, begin on the first day of the first month of the Lunar Calendar and can be expected to contine for a few days. The date shifts around somewhat from year to year due to the difference between the Gregorian and Lunar Calendar, but invariably settles down between January and February.

With charactereristic Vietnamese pragmatism this coincides with the seasonal agricultural cycle, traditionally offering a well earned rest between harvesting and planting successive rice crops.

Anyway, all the above can be quickly picked up from any half good guide book so I will just make two quick points.

One is that in preparing this post and consdering the cultural importance of Tet, I can see parallels with the themes of forgiveness, generousity and social reunification that is characteristic of the Islamic festivals of Ramadan and Idil Fitri. In the West that function is increasingly expected of Christmas (at the same time that Christmas seems less and less reliable in achieving that ambition), and both Tet and Ramadan in Southeast Asia seem much more authentic and successful.

The other is the reference I picked up in the newspaper story here that I intended to use to illustrate the associated fireworks displays. I found it curious and revealing that Vietnamese authorities were keen to emphasise that the fireworks were not funded by public money. Perhaps it is a pointer to the Vietnamese authorities’ inclination to rest the pillars of Vietnamese national unity on the more politically loaded commemorative events that follow later in the year.

Happy, as always, for readers’ thoughts on this.


* which nearly included me!

The Bangkok of my dreams


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Contrary to my earlier commitment, I want to make a single Thailand post about the City of Angels, Bangkok.

Reference the article here, never again in your life will you read a better description of how Bangkok can utterly overwhelm your senses and capture your soul.

I have lived, loved and lost in Bangkok to extremes I have nowhere else on earth, and the article above electrified those memories.

No life can be truly lived until at least a fraction has been lived in Bangkok.

Letter to a lost friend in Southeast Asia

I don’t forget you, but I give time for emotions to cool.

These things happen, and my only care is that you be ok. I am sad only because I know it must be the most awful time for you, but the best I can do now to help you is stay silent for a while.

What matters to me most is making sure you know that I always treasure you and I am always ready for you if or when change comes. My friendship and care for you runs deeper than the anger that was put to me.

This is not the end unless you want it to be. Readers of this blog often comment anonymously. All posted comments here go to moderation, are read by the author and can then be deleted without ever being displayed online.

Be strong and brave and know that I think of you and miss you always. You are precious to me forever no matter what, and our friendship will survive a few weeks or months of silence while I think through a better way.

I will think about this situation more and post here again later.

Alright, ok, take care my best, best friend.

14 February

I miss you so darn much. So much to tell you, so much to ask you…and I can’t. I never realise how much I treasured your friendship until I lost it.

Today I learnt I didn’t get that job that we talked about just before the end. I wanted to tell you and hear you say it was ok, but you are gone and the silence echoes around my soul.

With you gone exercise is harder and I don’t sleep so well. Sometimes thinking about the loss of your friendship makes even breathing difficult.

The pain and sadness feels without end:(

19 February 

Today I stopped at traffic lights. Next to me was a bike rider, and when the lights changed to green they felt the need for speed:)

Your spirit is always with me my best friend. Miss you so darn much.

22 February 

Some days I miss you more than other, and today is one of those days. I never forget you. Never.


Weekly digest -Indonesia


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In an effort to reinvigorate my rather dismal posting rate I am trialling a weekly short summary of sources from a particular country.

I’ll start with Indonesia, where there is always something happening, and try to keep moving around the region.

So what are the three most recent stories about Indonesia on the online portal of Australia’s national broadcaster, the ABC?

Well, there is the story here on Aceh’s decision to require female Muslim flight attendants to wear a hijab on incoming AND outgoing flights. Garuda Air has already tactfully described it as a “suggestion”, and I expect a lot more flexible interpretations of the demand in practice.

There is also the story here of Indonesia’s decision to open up its university sector (just a bit) to foreign universities. There is a lot of potential there, but also some even bigger problems. Indonesian government demands for a high degree of control over staffing and course content will start to chafe veey quickly, and that’s before the first big (and inevitable) clash over academic values.

Then there is the story here about the omnipresent threat of violence confronting Indonesia’s LGTBI community. I suspect there will be a day in my lifetime when Indonesia looks back on this period with shame, but for now that day seems far into the future.

Generational memories of natural disasters in Southeast Asia


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I have long been interested in how memories of significant events live and die among populations. This is important, because these memories are not neutral, and carry values, fears, hopes and expectations that are often transmitted to future generations.

I suspect few events are more significant, and traumatic, for survivors than major natural disasters. Perhaps the most significant in Southeast Asia in living memory was the December 26 2004 tsunami, but there are already adults with no memory of that event.

As result, what I term “peak memory”, the time when the biggest percentage of adults with a distinct memory of that disaster, has already passed. Taking as a starting point the age of memory for a child as being five years old, that would mean for 13 years after the event new adults would have a memory of the event, but from that time (in this case the year 2017) the total percentage with memory will diminish more adults emerge with no memory of the event and those with a memory of the event pass on.

Nevertheless it will be a long time into the future before nobody has direct experience of the event. Noting again the selection of the age of first memory at five years old, and assuming nobody who experienced that event lives beyond 100 years of age, direct memory of the December 26 2004 tsunami will collectively die in around 2099.

This timeframe may also be understood by looking at historical examples.

My grandfather, who died in 1992, was born in 1907. As a result, he undoubtedly met someone who remembered, and possibly heard, the Krakatoa explosion (see here) just 24 years before his birth. What is far less likely is that he met someone who remembered the Tambora eruption (see here) some 92 years before he was born.

That would suggest peak memory of Tambora lasted from 1815 to around 1828, and direct memory ended in about 1900, several years before his birth. If, however, a 5 year old encountered one of the last of those with direct memory of Tambora then that (then) 5 year old could have carried that shared memory through to around 1995.

In contrast, the Krakatoa eruption, which now seems an impossibly distant 135 years ago, would have existed as a peak memory until 1898, a direct memory until 1978 and will possibly endure as a shared experience until 2073.

And the December 26 2004 tsunami? Well, as mentioned above peak memory would have ended less than two weeks ago and direct memory will pass around 2099, but personal knowledge of someone who lived through that time will linger until possibly the year 2194.

Those memories can indeed experience a long life.

Best places to be in Southeast Asia on New Years’ Eve


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The post title is also the headline of the news article here.

That article’s opening paragraph concludes that “…with some careful planning, you can end up celebrating the New Year’s Eve in some of the most exciting places in Southeast Asia”. The planning required will be extraordinary indeed given that the article was published just yesterday, five days after New Year’s Eve.

Nevertheless, the purpose of this post is not to criticise in any way what I am sure are the fine folk at I highlight this post merely for its curious nomination of Korea as being within Southeast Asia.

I am mindful that the list is perhaps less definitive of “best places to be on New Years Eve” than “best places to be on New Years Eve for the sort of reader who appeals to”. And that is fair enough, you can hardly expect to cater for a different readership, but it does raise the question; is Korea portayed as being part of Southeast Asia because believes it is, or is Korea placed in Southeast Asia because thinks it’s readers consider it to be so?

I cannot of course answer that question without significant research (unless, dear reader, you just happen to have a link to a peer referenced paper on this very question), but I suspect each option is possible.

From an Indian perspective distant east Asia is quite possibly just that, East Asia. The disinction between north-East and south-East is largely a Western cultural creation, and there is no special reason why Indian online newspaper readers must embrace that particular interpretation of the international order. The concept of Korea being part of Southeast Asia may also be an echo of a distant era of state relations and understandings that predate contemporary international boundaries.

Or perhaps it is simply the perception that there are an insufficient number of worthwhile places to be in Southeast Asia on New Years’ Eve for readers, and Seoul is considered to be an equally attractive alternative.

I will leave it to you as to whether that says more about the views of some potential Indian tourists or the possible lack of tourist appeal of most of Southeast Asia.