As the heading suggests, the story here outlines the potentially disastrous effects of increased heat for Singaporeans.
A wonderful piece here on Sutopo, Indonesia’s voice on natural disasters.
As the article notes, his job sadly offers no possibility of extended inactivity, but he is indeed among the giants of Indonesian public life and will be deeply missed.
Many readers will have learnt of the recent devastating earthquakes on the Indonesian island of Lombok.
Those readers interested in understanding a bit more about the geological forces undepinning the event may be interested in the article here.
There were volcanic tremors in Indonesia with Agung volcano in Bali stirring to life as described here, while in Malaysia the political tremors keep coming with the arrest of former Prime Minister Najib Razak as announced here.
And the headline photo above? The best compromise I could find between volcanic impacts and the fading embers of a political dynasty.
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 Lombok, 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. There’s more on that story here.
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 in this topic can see, or read the transcript of, a wonderful television program about that eruption here.
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.
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I recently asked a dear friend what my next post here should focus on. The reply came to me as a single word – “life”.
Where to start in the context of Southeast Asia, and how to address a concept as vast and as nebulous as life itself?
Perhaps, in the same way that the topic is a single word, the response could also be in single words.
In that vein I remembered Thomas Fuller’s thoughts in the New York Times article here, where he presented life in Southeast Asia through the single word prism of impunity.
Looking at that article again there is still little I disagree with, although the Southeast Asian world he describes has moved on somewhat.
Is impunity still an apt in describing Southeast Asia? Absolutely…but also maybe not universally. Impunity continues to exist in the region, although recent events in Malaysia have shown how far and how quickly political certainties can shift.
Even so, for many Southeast Asians impunity is clearly limited to the earthly world. Many tens of millions of Southeast Asians believe their lives to be subject to the whims of spirits. These spirits usually exist in both this life and the next, so achieving impunity from their wrath requires great dedication. This dedication can be seen in countless mosques, temples, shrines, churches and rituals often unique to the region.
And so, like any half decent political scientist, in the contest between the concepts of legal and political impunity and extreme vulnerability to the whim of spirits I find myself drawn to the concept of power.
Life in Southeast Asia is, to my mind, often a contest of power. To paraphrase the words of Chairman Mao “power comes from the barrel of a gun”, but I wonder if life in Southeast Asia is shaped just as much by spirit power that acts with impunity.
Curiously visitors and locals experience this power differently. A visiting outsider may consider themselves as having impunity against (at least local) sprits, but are aware that they have a life changing vulnerability to other expressions of power. In contrast a local resident may experience and exercise power very differently in the life they enjoy, live or simply endure.
Most fascinating perhaps is to witness how this power relevancy in life switches as Southeast Asians become foreigners and foreigners become Southeast Asians through the magic of migration. Notably too, tourism seems impotent to offer all but an alluring taste of this possible reversal of power for a fragment of their life.
And so that is my take on life in Southeast Asia. I suggest just four words, namely impunity, vulnerability, spirits and power can capture life in the region.
Could any reader capture Southeast Asia in three words? Attempts are welcome.
UPDATE – At the top of this post I referred to a ‘dear friend”. Such is her personality that “dear” should be replaced with “brilliant, wise, funny, adorable, amazing and lovely”. I hope she can forgive me for my initial oversight 😉
…some 4,500 years ago according to the story here.
Now you know, although I cannot imagine easily that centuries of cumulative academic study can be accurately condensed into a single short news item.
Interesting conclusion though. I will post again on this topic later.
Image of Flores, Indonesia
In a number of earlier posts I have touched on some topics around Southeast Asia’s distant past.
Revisiting that theme was prompted by the thought provoking article here.
A one sentence summary of the article is that our understanding of the role and prominence of Asia in human evolutionary history is changing…again.
A couple of points I would make in response.
One point is the article’s reference to the cave art of Sulawesi being potentially the oldest in the world. I guess I will never see that art in person, but I will put a visit on my lifetime wish list. I have visited the ancient Aboriginal rock art at Mootawingee in Australia and that is something I will never forget.
Another point I would make (again) is that the article reminds us just how recent and arbitary our modern political boundaries are. These delineations are not reasonably undersood as a contest btween Asian history v Southeast Asian history or Indonesian history v Malaysia, this is our history.
And yet that concept is hard work. A sense of self built on national identity makes knowing our identity easier for us, in the same way that football team colours make it easier for us to identify us and them.
But these ancient people (or often, like Flores hobbits, maybe people) challenge us. Is their history our history or theirs alone? Is any greater understanding of this era a journey into the past as cultural insiders or outsiders?
Perhaps the answer rests on whether we can draw a sufficiently clear link from this past to our national identity.
An interpretation founded on the existence (or not) of this link would trap us in the constraints of our contemporary political realities, but sadly that may just be inescapable.
That’s the distress signal represented by trees, a description that makes more sense after reading the article here.
I find it difficult not to be moved by the awful reality confronting Sumatra’s amazing wildlife and, in particular, the island’s great apes.
Sumatra is like nowhere else on the planet. Surely we humans can do better than this?