I thought that heading might get your attention.
For the rest of the story of how an online dating service for married men and would-be brides is courting controversy in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, the story continues here.
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
As the above graph indicates, this time of year marks the annual beginning of the slow and inexorable increase in Indonesia’s forest fire pollution levels.
Perhaps the most eye-watering comparison (pun only slightly intended) is the comparison with US average daily emissons. That Indonesia can, by late in the year, produce two or even three times the US daily emissions from forest fires alone speaks to the scale of the environmental catastrophe.
And that isn’t even starting on the human cost.
A few days ago in the post here I stated that minimum wages were largely absent across Southeast Asia.
Well, not for the first time I was wrong, at least regarding Indonesia. As the graphic makes clear Indonesia has a minimum wage, although how thoroughly it is enforced is a different question.
I had originally intended to explore the significant disparity in minimum wages across the country, however I have realised that would take more time than I have available right now.
Suffice to say that setting minimum wage levels is a legislative action, and thus the decisions are grounded in politics. Interestingly however, the polical pressures affecting the setting of these rates vary across the country, suggesting that there are either hidden barriers to free movement of labour, Indonesia isn’t as economically unified as it may appear (which are effectively different sides to the same coin) or that these minimum wage settings are largely symbolic political gestures occuring below the market rate.
Today’s post was to have been a thoughtful and insightful piece on regional urbanisation.
Sadly however I have run out of time, so I will quickly give you some lovely graphics on rice production in Southeast Asia and return to urbanisation on another day.
There can be little doubt that rice is central to the histories and cultures of the people of Southeast Asia, but just how much does the region produce?
Well, thanks to the good folk at the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service and their publication Southeast Asia Projected To Remain Top Rice Exporter located here, the following graphic gives you some idea.
Nevertheless the graph gives little indication how significant the Southeast Asian harvests are as a compoent of the global total. Well, the USDA-ERS has an answer there too.
Super observant readers will note that I retained the tag human rights based on my suspicion that access to rice is a highly potent political concept in many Southeast Asian cultures. I will return to this interesting and important topic in a future post.
Here is a post asking you to decide.
Lets imagine that in an imaginary place (let’s call it Sumatra) people are cutting down lots of trees. At the same time and in the same place, people in that imaginary place (let’s be specific and call it Riau) are (on average) getting wealthier.
What might the extent of tree cutting in Riau look like? Well, maybe something like this…
Image courtesy of the good folk at mongabay.com here
And the growth in wealth in Riau? Maybe something like this…
Image courtesy of The Economist here
Let’s imagine again that these are facts. Done.
Now let’s try to decide if there is a link between the “cutting down trees” and the “getting wealthy”. I’m assuming you agree there is, although I’m happy to concede that this may not be the only factor influencing these measurements (otherwise known as variables).
Now to the difficult part. Is this relationship, or more specifically the consequential wealth/deforestation outcomes, good or bad? Well, that is largely up to the reader to decide themselves.
Nevertheless, how good or bad it may seem, at least intially, depends significantly on how the stuation is framed, and that depends in part on how the question is asked.
I suspect that if you asked “Is it ok to lose some trees to lift potentially millions of people out of poverty?” then all but the most enthusiastic environmentalist would answer “Yes”, although they may rightly ask what is meant by “some”.
Likewise, I suspect if you asked “Is it ok to make potentially millions of people wealthier if it condemns them and their children to a life of reduced health living in a greatly degraded environment?”. Many would say “no”, but the answer is more complex. There is not only the question of what is meant by “wealthier” and “greatly degraded”, but also a question of immediacy (with the health/economic/environmental consequences potentially not being felt for some time).
There is also the difference that the “wealth” from the first scenario offers financial benefits now and into the future, but the costs are often felt later and require defending by people who are either not present now or unaware of the full range of consequences (in other words there is an information assymetry between what we know now and may know later).
Perhaps the best option is somewhere between those two extremes, but where that place is on the spectrum is up to you, and hopefully the voters of Indonesia, to decide.
Apologies that the initial version of this post contained formatting problems that only became apparent after posting.
Few readers would be surprised to know that air quality remains an ongoing concern across Southeast Asia.
Among the biggest concerns in tackling the issue is the lack of reliable data. The World Health Organisation does its best, but a quick review of its latest statistics here offers little guidance on the air quality affecting vast swathes of the region and its population centres.
I’ve removed all the cities outside Southeast Asia (other than a few I’ve retained for comparison), and reproduced their pollution levels in the table below. See the following text for some brief comments and notes.
|Country||City/Town||Annual mean, ug/m3||Year|
|Myanmar||Kyauk Pa Taung||50||2013|
|Myanmar||Pyin Oo Lwin||78||2012|
|Philippines||San Carlos City||32||2013|
|Thailand||Mae Hong Son||23||2014|
|Thailand||Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya||31||2014|
|United States of America||Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA||11||2014|
|United States of America||New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA||9||2014|
1/ Note that the pollution levels refers to ultra-fine particles of less than 2.5 microns (PM2.5s). Using the baseline of larger and less dangerous PM10s would offer a different set of rankings and measures.
2/ Singapore would probably do better on a national level if it had a bigger territory. Could the air quality in Singapore really be on a par with Manila?
3/ Indonesia’s effective absence from the statistical set is, or should be, a national embarrassment. If Myanmar can admt to their failings then it really shouldn’t be difficult for Indonesia. I will ask; is pollution in Indonesia that bad that Indonesia doesn’t want the world to know, or doesn’t want its own people to know?
ASEAN clearly has a lot of work to do on getting air pollution measurements among its member states, let alone doing something about what is being measured.
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…
Image courtesy of Minerva Singh and Shonil Bhagwat (2013). Tropical Agricultural Production, Conservation and Carbon Sequesteration Conflicts: Oil Palm Expansion in South East Asia, Biofuels – Economy, Environment and Sustainability, Prof. Zhen Fang (Ed.), InTech, DOI: 10.5772/52420. Available from: http://www.intechopen.com/books/biofuels-economy-environment-and-sustainability/tropical-agricultural-production-conservation-and-carbon-sequesteration-conflicts-oil-palm-expansion
The common perception is that huge palm oil plantations are replacing vast swathes of forest in Indonesia and Malaysia. As the graph above shows the forests are certainly being lost in staggering numbers, but the graph also shows that these forests are not being replaced by an equivalent growth in palm oil plantations.
I’m interested in why that is, and would welcome reader suggestions as I research the issue. I should also note that I recognise the data is approaching ten years old, so I’m open to the unlikely possibility that I should be speaking of the discrepancy between the figures in the past tense.
Update – One suggestion I’ve received from a clever Indonesian is that this gap is being filled by pulp and paper production. That makes intuitive sense, but if the graph below (sourced here) is accurate and captures the full product range (and significant amounts of pulp and paper are not consumed domestically) then the growth in that industry sector is (or was) still insufficient to explain the discrepancy.
Update II – This may be it. According to the group Forest Trends and their report here (and I quote) “…(over) 30 percent of wood used by Indonesia’s industrial forest sector stems from the unreported clear-cutting of natural forests and other illegal sources instead of legal tree plantations and well-managed logging concessions”.
The original question may therefore be answered in part in the graph below (from that same source), indicating the extent of industrial logging concessions in green…
…but also suggests that pulp and paper may play a bigger role than indicated in the earlier update.
Unfortunately simply looking at the graphs is insufficient here. I will need to work out the actual numbers to be sure what they are saying and identify any inconsistencies, and sadly that will have be a task for another day.
News reports a few hours ago relayed an earthquake at Pidie Jaya, some hundred kilometres from Banda Aceh, Sumatra. I’m unable to access editing tools now, but the location is on the coast of Sumatra below the end of the word “Banda”.
Initial reports spoke of very few casualties, but more recent reports (such as that here) spoke of 50 deaths and the latest at the time of posting (such as here and here) have the death toll approaching triple figures and rising.
The Southeast Asia Blog sends its thoughts to all those affected.
Update: A subsequent news report is here. For anyone doubting Indonesians’ fascination with taking pictures, especially with a focus on the macabre, gruesome and horrific, need only look at the crowd in the background of Jefri Tarigan’s picture (the second media file down the page).