A short and entertaining Saturday morning read on visiting the famous Borobudur temple complex in Java is available here.
Sorry folks, I could not even make it to the end of the story here. I should warn you first that the story is horrifying and once you read it you can’t ever forget.
Nor, if you read it, can you say that you didn’t know what was happening in Myanmar.
But what to do? Sometimes the world is just too much for me.
Brunei, Buddhism, Cambodia, deep South of Thailand, demographics, environment, geography, history, Indonesia, Indonesian language, Islam, Java, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Sumatra, Thailand, Vietnam
If I had to limit the content of this blog to just one topic, I would be hard pressed to choose between Indonesia’s volcanoes and historical maps of Southeast Asia. I have written previously about Indonesia’s volcanoes here (and elsewhere from memory), so I thought I would take a moment to share my interest in just one set of the fascinating maps that are out there.
I have always believed that when I had made it professionally and was casually wealthy (the day is still quite a way ahead of me!) I would buy the book I have wanted since I first encountered it in my University Library.
Needless to say most Universities have more money than me, and given there are plenty of functioning motor cars available at a cheaper price than I have seen the book quoted online, I will simply continue to dream of buying it.
The book is the Comprehensive Atlas of the Dutch United East India Company. Volume VII: East Asia, Burma to Japan & Supplement. Volume VII is the last of the series, with the others being;
Volume 1 – Atlas Isaak de Graaf (Atlas Amsterdam)
Volume 2 – Java en Madoera (Java and Madura)
Volume 3 – Indische Archipel en Oceanië (Malay Archipelago and Oceania)
Volume 4 – Ceylon
Volume 5 – Afrika (Africa)
Volume 6 – Voor-Indië, Perzië, Arabisch Schiereiland (India, Persia, Arabian Penninsula)
(Volume 7 – Oost-Azië, Birma tot Japan (East Asia, Burma to Japan & supplement))
For reference purposes see the link here.
Of course I would love Volume II & III and ideally the whole set, but the complete set is getting into the price range that would rival the cost of some houses I have lived in. Such is life.
For those interested in the superlative atlas of Indonesian History I point you to the link here, while for those readers simply wanting to browse the maps by appearance there are commercial options such as the one here and free (to view) maps such as the set here.
Some really interesting background reading on the story of these maps is available here.
I hope you find some of the links as compelling as I do.
Disclaimer – I have no connection with or potential benefit from any of the commercial sites to which I link to here, nor do I make any recommendations on purchasing. Links are provided solely for informative reasons.
Image source: The Economist here
One influential element in Southeast Asian history has been the impact of external great powers. Some of these powers have risen to prominence more recently, such as Japan and, even more recently, the United States, but others have had a significant impact over a much longer period.
Few of these external great powers have had a greater impact than China and India. These power centres haven’t always been recognisable in their current forms, but the underlying Sino-Indic tensions and influences have been present for centuries and have significantly shaped the contemporary political and cultural landscapes.
This is evidenced in a vast range of examples, spanning the Brahmanic traditions in Thai Royalist rituals, the syncretic form Islam in Indonesia with its Hindu-Buddhist traits and the Chinese mercantile philosophy embedded in Singapore’s deep state.
Looking at contemporary societies in Southeast Asia it is tempting to consider these Sino-Indic influences as being largely historical relics, slowly being erased by global forces including capitalist consumerism and radical Islam, but I think that view is only partially correct.
The graphic above is, and can only be, a hazy snapshot of a point in time. How, for example, is starting or stopping being Chinese or Indian defined? How accurate is the visual depiction here? Despite the difficulty of answering those questions I believe two broad assertions are valid.
One is that most of the great Indian diaspora is not seeing, and has not seen for some time, a future for themselves in Southeast Asia. Whether this is by choice or compulsion is a different question, but I see the region as now being much more inclined (demographically) to a Chinese orientation.
The other is that, notwithstanding the rubbery figures presented, the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia would itself be a sizable nation state. In other words, China has already established a presence in Southeast Asia that goes beyond seizing control over some small and other inconsequential rocks in the South China Sea.
What is much more ambiguous however is the extent to which this diaspora can, and desires to, access and exert political power in support of its Chinese origins and against the interests of its host state/s.
That test of loyalty is complex and from what I have read seems to throwing up some interesting answers, but must sadly be a topic for another day.
There is a terrific story here on fake news in Southeast Asia, and all credit to the author for his very clever and amusing writing style.
I wanted to laugh, but underneath the superficial madness there are real consequences for real people. Ok, the sight of Hun Sen in a singlet is mildly traumatic, but the mirth fades rapidly when it comes to what is, or may be, happening to the west in Myanmar.
As the article here suggests, there are growing questions over how “Aung San Suu Kyi” and “worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize” can still fit in the same sentence. The article here gives some clues as to humanitarian disaster in Myanmar that the world is largely disinterested in. That is, of course, if she can be located to provide answers, a problem detailed in the report here.
Perhaps wisely the article hasn’t even started on Indonesia, where the idea that facts are “what you believe” and that the planet is literally at risk of exploding should gays be given equal rights, are beliefs that remain disconcertingly close to mainstream thought on local social media.
Sigh. No wonder duck noodle soup is so popular in the region.
Apologies for the typos in the initial post. Hopefully these gremlins are now gone.
Somewhat lost in my recent decision to avoid commentary on Thailand was my even earlier commitment to frequently write about the deep South of Thailand.
As a compromise, I simply point the reader to documentaries produced by Journeyman Pictures. There is one here and an earlier work here. For interested readers/viewers there are others available from searching YouTube, but I am pushing my internet data usage so I will stop at this point.
I’ll quickly introduce here a topic/post that I intended to start some time ago.
There is a famous Irish joke that begins with a stranger asking directions, only to be advised by a local resident that ideally they should start their journey from somewhere else.
That joke often comes to my mind when thinking about how to teach a deeper understanding Southeast Asia.
So where then to start that (or any) journey of understanding? Well, consistent with the best principles of education, the best starting point is through absorbing the intellectual efforts and achievements of others who have gone before us, and there is no better way of doing this than through reading.
I highlighted some of my own readings when thinking and writing about the murderous atmosphere in the deep South of Thailand here, and to expand on this approach I will start providing some reading lists relevant to Southeast Asian topics. I will continually add to this post, but let’s make a start with just two interesting topics.
For those interested in Jawi and the Manuscript Tradition the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London provides a list of recommended readings here. The same institution offers insights into The City and the Countryside in South East Asian Literatures, with a reading list (in Microsoft Word format) here.
To be continued…
I’m often attracted to attempts to define Southeast Asia. This is less because I believe that there is a perfect definition out there somewhere just waiting to be conceived and written, but rather because any attempt (by necessity) must be exclusionist and prioritise some elements over others.
One of the best definitons I’ve encountered online is found here. The author, Barbara Watson Andaya, is one of the giants of the discipline so it is unsurprising her work presents so well.
Nevertheless her definiton is not the only possible definition. Note that she begins by stating that “Southeast Asia consists of eleven countries…”, which is true enough but contentious in itself. Why is Taiwan excluded or, for that matter, Papua New Guinea? The answer rests, of course, in political understandings and agreements on borders and sovereignty, flavoured by the (or any) author’s understanding of and agreement with these arrangements.
Andaya’s definition is therefore grounded in a geographic construct with political overtones. In contrast, other definitions could have commenced…
“Southeast Asia is an area contested by muliple religious identities…”
“Southeast Asia has conceptually been formed around the axis of mainland and archipelagic identities…”
“Southeast Asia is a region characterised by a tendancy towords authoritarian rule…”
I recognise the latter may be contentious, but I supect it is no more or less accurate than a huge number of other descriptions, it is potentially sensitive because it risks offending a raft of self-interests.
There are many, many more possible prisms through which Southeast Asia may be seen and defined, but I hope my point is clear; while ‘Southeast Asia” may be understood conceptually, it isn’t at all unambiguous, and with a bit of questioning any definition is both messy and imperfect.
Note: One problem with starting to write a substantial amount in an ad-hoc way is keeping track of what you have already shared and/or linked to. Apologies if I inadvertently cover the same ground a couple of times, but I hope I at least write about the topic slighly differently when I do!
Well, this short piece here explains it more succinctly than I could.
As an aside, WordPress stats tell me that this is the blog’s 100th post. A big thank you to all my readers and followers who have joined me along the way and tolerated my inadequate editing as I try to push out content under time pressure.