Protests in Vietnam


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I was a bit unsure of the story behind the recent protests in Vietnam, but the link here offers some clarity with a good balance between depth and brevity.


Firefighting in Manila’s slums


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No time for a long post, just a link to the great photo essay here on the danger and tragedy of fires in some of the world’s poorest and most crowded neighbourhoods.

Rinjani volcano


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Those readers who share my passion for Indonesia’s volcanoes would need no introduction to Rinjani.

For others, I will briefly point out that Rinjani volcano, on the island of Lomok, is a giant of the Indonesian volcanic landscape.

As the picture above, taken from the Rinjani summit, makes clear, this is a volcano whose head sits in the clouds. Rinjani is Indonesia’s second highest volcano, and there is compelling evidence that it was once part of an even higher formation.

Rinjani’s last major eruption was over six hundred years ago, and it was no small event. That particular eruption must have been among the most spectacular in Indonesia’s known volcanic history, which is no ordinary achievement given the competition.

Those interested can see, or read the transcript of, a wonderful television program about that eruption here.

World War II in Southeast Asia in colour


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As those with direct memories of World War II pass away our collective memory of that time is increasingly shaped by the available photos.

These photos are usually of poor quality and are almost always in black and white.

As such, it is easy to forget that the war was conducted in vivid colour.

Thanks to the great website here, some of their colour pictures bring the conflict in the Pacific Theatre (and thus the Southeast Asian region) to historical life.

There are hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of pictures, so feel free to search for better examples than the ones that follow.

I will leave you with some images of the Japanese forces in what is now Indonesia here, and two pictures from the fall of Singapore here and here.

I will gladly update this post with other relevant links that readers can offer.

Some regional fieldwork insights


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For those readers seeking some diversity from my own opinions, over the next few weeks I anticipate some posts from a guest blogger.

Nadia, the pseudonym for a Muslim student studying International Relations at a leading university, will offer some insights from her imminent Southeast Asian travels. Here are her introductory thoughts.

I will soon be in my favourite Southeast Asian country, Thailand.

On this trip I plan to visit Thailand not just to enjoy its crowded markets and delicious food, but rather to seek answers for complicated questions.

Over a month I will be meeting government officials, NGOs and engaging with the community to discuss issues such as public administration, workers rights and ethnic minorities. I am looking forward to hearing the direct testimony of the people we are going to meet, and see how they view these issues.

Different sensitivities may restrict me from sharing every story, however I will do my best to bring you with me as as much as I can”.

I look forward to her contributions over the coming days.

State v Religion in Indonesia


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The contest between state power and religious freedom is, for those unfamiliar with the expression, as old as the hills.

The struggle between those forces is enlivened significantly when it involves an emerging democracy and a major religion undergoing a crisis of identity.

Indonesia today is a case study of those pressures, and as the story here indicates the Indonesian state has just made its latest move.

The stakes are very high. The Indonesian government seeks a very narrow path between more suicide bombings like the recent Surabaya attacks here and the sort of protests that emerged here.

I wouldn’t anticipate the issue being resolved any time soon. Western democracies are still arguing about where the lines should be drawn after centuries of heated debate and often bloody conflict.

Furthermore, any “peace” achieved between the state and religion isn’t necessarily healthy. Peace in this context requires a dominance of either cold authoritarianism or theocratic privilege.

Indonesia deserves better than that, so I sincerely hope their bloodless struggle lasts indefinitely.

Indonesia and…India?


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An intriguing story here suggesting that the next move in great game is taking place in Southeast Asia.

In summary the assertion is that Indonesia and India are tentatively coming together in a strategic partnership to act as a counterweight to China’s rising power.

If true, and I have no reason to doubt the story or the logic, this shift is geopolitical history unfolding in front of us.

Fake life


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In my previous I spent a few moments reflecting on life in Southeast Asia.

In the spirit of journalistic balance I thought I should spend similar time introducing fake life.

The topic draws on the marvellous work of Agan Harahap described in greater detail here.

For those readers not inclined to click the link, Agan’s artistry centres on deliberately falsifying the historic record by doctoring news photos.

Part of me marvels at his humor and audacity, but I do wonder if his stated intention of getting people to be less accepting of fake news will actually have the opposite effect. He is, after all is said and done, simply creating more fake news and thus fake life, which is possibly the last thing Indonesia needs right now.

Anyway, I encourage you to read the linked story and make it all the way to the end, where the fake photo of Chef Gordon Ramsey being arrested for possessing MSG nearly had me rolling on the floor with laughter.