Faine Opines

Southeast Asia, liberation technology, drones, and pontification

Tag: southeast asia (page 1 of 4)

Some Things I Approve Of in Chiang Mai – Sausage, Khao Soi, Night Markets

khao soi accompaniments

Khao Soi

Khao soi is my favorite noodle dish in Asia, and that’s really saying quite a lot, considering the dizzying biodiversity of noodle soups in this region of the world. Thought to be of Burmese origin, the dish has been modified in Northern Thailand, and is, I think, superior to the original.

The essential deal here is a combo of spicy and richly flavored coconut milk broth flavored with a pungent curry paste, tender chicken or pork, chewy yellow noodles, and a topping of crispy deep fried noodles, sometimes substituted with fried pork skins. With a bowl of khao soi, you’re also given pickled cabbage, raw shallot, lime juice, and usually additional chili paste, which can be applied to taste.

Yes please.

Yes please.

The final result, with plenty of lime juice and supplemental chili in my case, is among the more sublime lunch specialties in the world – a perfect mix of spicy, sweet, tangy, and crunchy. I’ve found myself managing to work in two bowls of the stuff a day in khao soi country, especially as every restaurant seems to make it in a slightly different way. Chicken is usually the more common variety on offer, especially as it’s considered a Muslim-influenced dish, but I’m partial to the pork version when I can get it. Sometimes, chunks of blood are also thrown into the broth as well, especially up near Chiang Rai. You are welcome to quietly pick them out.

Hunting good khao soi is a pleasant endeavor, but I can suggest a little cafe right off the city wall with excellent khao soi. I didn’t get the name, but you’ll see it on the left if you are headed towards Arak Road Lane 5 on the main Arak Road (on the side of the city walls), right after you pass Sinharat Road Lane 2.  Here’s a Google Maps link to the approximate location.

I came upon the place after unsuccessfully hunting another khao soi joint, and was glad I gave it a whirl: deliciously flavored, thick broth, and pork chunks as well as meatballs in the soup. I believe I *maybe* paid the equivalent of $3.

chiang mai art market

Saturday Night Market

Chiang Mai is home to a number of well-known universities, and with higher education, comes hipster kids with weird aesthetics and  a burning desire for pocket money. This means that while the Saturday Night Market on Wualai Road (near the Chiang Mai Gate) does contain the usual assortment of generic Thai crapola – wooden frogs, obscene key-chains, those horrid elephant pants – there’s also a pleasing variety of interesting stuff, produced by young, local artists.

I usually come away from here with a pleasant selection of eccentric, cheap things. This time, it was a tote bag with watercolor paintings of fish on it and the word “Mackerel,” as well as a large sticker of a tiger’s head with “FUCK COMIC SANS” written on it. It’s the vastest night market I’ve ever run across in Asia, bustling along until well after 10:30 PM, and walkable for what seems like almost a mile. Tentacles of night time commerce spread off into the side streets from the main event, prompting pleasant wandering out of the heat of the day.

Soup seller at the Saturday Night Market.

Soup seller at the Saturday Night Market.

The Saturday Night Market also has a nice selection of food stalls, with authentic Thai specialties and not-so-authentic, as well as buskers and performances. The vibe of the event is perhaps its biggest selling point, with a particular, local energy that is quite fun to jump into as a visitor. Finally, there’s spectacular people-watching — well, if you like seeing backpackers clash with Thai hipsters, annoyed looking elderly food sellers, and befuddled looking middle-aged Aussies in singlets. And of course you like that, everyone with any taste likes that.

chiang mai sausages better

Died and found myself alighting in Pork Heaven.

 A Dizzying Array of Delicious Pork Products

chiang mai pork rinds

Thai pork rinds.

My family hails from the Southern United States, a part of the world with a deep, spiritual relationship with eating pigs. Northern Thailand shares this intense porcine affinity with Appalachia, and Chiang Mai’s food markets offer a delightful array of pork products, all at highly reasonable prices and with intense flavoring.

A particular standout is sai ua or Northern Thai sausage, produced with a combination of minced pork, curry paste, herbs, and Thai spices. The end result is a delightfully fresh and unexpected snack that is likely unlike anything you’ve tasted before, at least if you hail from the West. Sai ua is usually sold in long links, and is typically eaten plain, although some clever person needs to take this Thai hot dog concept to the slavering, food-truck besotted masses of Silicon Valley or Portland.

Yet another delightful Northern sausage product is fermented pork sausage (sai krok Isan), which is made with a combination of pork and rice – for you Louisiana people, it’s essentially Thai boudin with a tangy, funky additional kick from the fermentation process. It’s completely addictive and I find it very difficult to step away from stalls that sell it, usually packed into small balls that can easily be scooped up with a cabbage leaf and a fresh, incendiary green chili.

Also worth seeking out are meaty pork rinds, which are of course nothing more or less than deep-fried pork skin. Much of the world seems to find the idea of merrily consuming fried pig epidermis to be deeply disturbing, but both my noble Southern ancestors and the people of Northern Thailand consider them to be a marvelous delicacy, perfect with a beer or three. Not all pork rinds are created equal – some are fresher and meatier than others, while some feature a nice dusting of spicy chili – so it’s worth experimenting from Chiang Mai’s sundry meat-selling ladies. If I can, I like to toss them with some vinegar-based hot sauce, in the finest New Orleans style, but they’re quite delectable without.

Tamarind leaf salad.

Tamarind leaf salad.

Isaan Food

It’s tragic, but the Isaan food typical of Northern Thailand and adjoining regions of Laos is very little known outside of Southeast Asia. True: it’s spicy and often features ingredients that can charitably be described as eccentric, but I’m very partial to its freshness and unabashedly pungent nature. Pungent, rustic-style fish sauce, chili, pickles all sorts, fresh herbs, sticky rice, and smoky flavors are all typical of Isaan food, as well as “jungle” curries more reliant on herbs than they are on rich coconut milk and large quantities of meat.

If you’ve had and enjoyed tangy, eye-bleedingly spicy papaya salad (som tum) before, you’ve had a bit of exposure to Isaan food. In the Lao and Northern style, it’s made with more fish sauce and chili than the versions you’ll find in the South. It’s been written that Isaan food is so aggressively flavored in an effort to make residents of the traditionally poor region be content with padding their meals out primarily with sticky rice. It sounds legitimate enough, especially when one takes into account the fact that sticky rice has a habit of expanding in one’s stomach.

Pleasingly, Chiang Mai is a great, central place to sample good Isaan food in all its variety, and there’s tons of restaurants to choose from. Some places may bill themselves as Lanna or Northern Thai in lieu of Isaan, but there’s considerable overlap in style between them.

Nam phrik (Thai dip or "salsa) with tomato and eggplant.

Nam phrik (Thai dip or “salsa) with tomato and eggplant.

Considering that most Isaan restaurants are fluorescent lit mom-and-pop affairs – which is fine, but sometimes you’re perversely interested in a hint of ambiance, or at least clean tables – I was particularly impressed with the contemporary design of Tong Tem Toh, a Northern Thai restaurant located close to Chiang Mai University.

Up the almost painfully hip 11 Nimman Haeminda Soi 13, it’s popular with young Thais, and has an extensive menu of dishes that are distinctly hard to find elsewhere – though in the evening, there’s plenty of charcoal grilled meats on offer for those in your group with cowardly palates. Always be sure to emphasize that you want your food spicy when dining as a Westerner in Isaan establishments,, as Thais, usually correctly, assume that foreigners can’t hang.

I’m fascinated by the array of nam phrik (Thai “dip” or “salsa”) specialties available in the North, which are a handy answer to Mexican-style salsa bars. Here, we enjoyed a bowl of nam phrik ong, which is best described as Thai bolognese: minced pork, tomato, and smoky chili, served with fresh vegetables for dipping and scooping. It was entirely addictive and I’m learning to make it. The menu also has nam phrik num, a green Thai “salsa” made with roasted green chiles that would fit in beautifully on any given enchilada.

issan bamboo shoots

Bamboo shoots in coconut milk with pork.

We also tried fresh, herbaceous tamarind leaf salad with a fish sauce dressing and a liberal topping of pork rinds, as well as bamboo shoots cooked pork and a little bit of coconut milk and chili (which could have been a little warmer). Joining these dishes was a tasty serving of egg, rice, and pork sausage (jeen som mok kai) with peanuts and fresh garlic on the side, as well as a tasty version of sai ua with lots of pungent flavor.

Best of all was the Northern style pork belly curry, with big chunks of tender, fatty pork in a complex, smoky-tasting sauce, with peanuts and tamarind juice and a bit of coconut milk. We offset everything with little balls of sticky rice from nice woven bamboo containers, and a hefty quantity of Chang beer.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Anti-Vietnam Protests in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Oct 6th

monk iphone pics better

Protests against a Vietnamese officials statement about the historical ownership of Kampuchea Krom – what is now Southern Vietnam – continued into a third day on Monday, as members of various groups allied against the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia gathered outside the Vietnamese Embassy on Monivong Boulevard.

By my estimation, around 100 people were at the Embassy by 11:00 AM, and I was told that other activists had convened at the French Embassy and at the National Assembly – I’d appreciate it if someone could verify that for me.

Monks pose with an image of Kampuchea Krom hero Son Kuy.

Monks pose with an image of Kampuchea Krom hero Son Kuy.

Many monks had turned out to support the nationalist cause, and they had brought sundry burnable items with them. First to go was a flag, set ablaze to shouts denigrating the “Youn,” a term for the Vietnamese many feel is pejorative. (One of the monks told the Phnom Penh Post that the flag burning, while effectively symbolic, was also rather expensive).

People smiled and laughed as the flag burned, snapping photos with their mobile phones and tablets. The monks added a rather showman-like element to the burnings, posing dramatically for the cameras, and shouting their complaints about the Vietnamese and their spokesman’s statements about Kampuchea Krom into a large white microphone.

Riot police seemed disinterested.

Riot police seemed disinterested.

As the day wore on – punctuated with occasionally bouts of heavy rain – the monks brought out a sheaf of conical hats, meant to represent Vietnam, and proceeded to write upon then destroy them. “This blood is black blood” read the hats, which were alternately sat upon, spat on, and crushed beneath the sandaled, sticker-adorned feet of the activists present.

A young boy shouts his anger at the Vietnamese into a loudspeaker.

A young boy shouts his anger at the Vietnamese into a loudspeaker.

I chatted with a few of the activists who were present there, including 26-year-old aluminum factory worker Rakin Sok, who told me he works in South Korea and recently returned to participate in the protests.  “Cambodia is not a free country – it’s Communist like Iran or China,” he said, noting that the government prioritizes benefits for foreigners (such as the Vietnamese) over those doled out to its own people.

“If we don’t have negotiations, we will burn the Embassy,” 45-year-old retiree Pearun Nuon told me, taking a harder tack that has been stated publicly before by the activists. “All Cambodian people, they don’t like Vietnamese people, you know – they’re thieves, they stole my country, they stole my land.”

Stamping upon a conical hat, a serious insult in Khmer culture.

Stamping upon a conical hat, a serious insult in Khmer culture.

There is, perhaps, some precedent here: in 2003, the Thai Embassy in Cambodia was sacked and partially burned, after a Khmer newspaper claimed that a Thai actress said Angkor Wat historically belonged to Thailand.

Nuon told me that there are “now around 4 million Vietnamese” illegally living in Cambodia, and expressed his desire that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party take power in the next national election. “I hope some future new government will send them back to their country,” he said.

Chantou, a 29-year-old local government volunteer for the Chankarmon district, claimed that the Vietnamese largely control the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and by proxy, Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Ho Chi Minh always tried to drive away the government of Vietnam, to get Cambodia to belong to Vietnam,” he said.

Monk tending a conical hat bonfire.

Monk tending a conical hat bonfire.

While he believes that the Vietnamese enjoy special privileges, he prefers that the problem be brought to the Hague, rather than violently dealt with. A new government might help accomplish that, he said, albeit with the people’s consent. “Sam Rainsy has lots of promise, but if he doesn’t follow that promise, the people will protest, and Mr Sam Rainsy will stop his powers.”

Eighteen-year-old Em Chhuna told me he’d come to demand an apology from Vietnamese officials, claiming that the government is “under the slavery of the Vietnamese.”

Preparing to stomp on hats.

Preparing to stomp on hats.

“Last year I read a book by William Shawcross,” he said. “Even my King, Hun Sen, and others, they vote for Vietnam. Everything is prepared by Vietnam. I absolutely want Vietnam to leave Cambodia.”

Chhuna lamented that his neighborhood along the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh was being taken over by the Vietnamese, but said he would be willing to accept a small number of Vietnamese immigrants if they arrived legally.

What does he think of these protest tactics? “It could become a violent demonstration,” he told me.

“Are you OK with violence?” I asked him.

“Maybe,” he said, with a thoughtful look.

Burning paper Vietnamese flags.

Burning paper Vietnamese flags.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Flying a Drone at Olympic Stadium – Cambodia

olympic stadiums construction bw

Phnom Penh’s Olympic stadium is saddled with a bit of a misnomer. Begun in 1963, the earthworks-heavy structure was crafted by revered Khmer architect Vann Molyvann, and was originally intended to host the 1963 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games. Politics got in the way, but the stadium and its 50,000 person capacity persist to this day.

Probably the most colorful incident in its history took place in 1965, when the now deceased King Norodom Sihanouk offered up the place for the FIFA World Cup.

the pitch olympic edited

The reason? North Korea, to the shock of everyone, faced Australia in a qualifier, and few countries were diplomatically suitable to receive the DPRK delegation. Sihanouk, a long time friend of North Korea, proved to be a handy go-between. Olympic Stadium hosted the matches in November of 1965, and in incidents that should prove rather awkward for Australian national pride, the DPRK won them both.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 6.41.31 PM

Some of its history is rather more dark. Prior to the Khmer Rouge invasion and during the troubled Lon Nol period, it served as a refugee camp and field hospital (per the records I’ve dug up), providing some measure of shelter to the thousands upon thousands of refugees who streamed into Phnom Penh from the countryside during this period. Upon the Khmer Rouge take-over of the city on April 17th of 1975, numerous military officers were taken to the stadium to be publicly executed.

Nowadays, the stadium is a pleasant spot in the center of the city that is particular favored by local Cambodians in curious spandex get-ups, footballers of various nationalities, and kids playing pick-up games. I admit I’d never been there before I got my Phantom 2, driving by it constantly but never managing to carve out the time or motivation to hop off the bike and have a look. Now, I’ve got a certain new-found appreciation for one of Phnom Penh’s architectural landmarks.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 6.41.05 PM

I shot (most) of these images during Pchum Ben, when the city was pleasingly quiet and empty as a result of the extended religious holiday. If you’re keen to do the same with your own UAV, it’s responsible to shoot at a time when the stadium is relatively empty. The security guards seemed profoundly disinterested in what I was up to, but I’d keep an eye out. It was also surprisingly windy around the stadium in late September, but once I was above 20 feet or so, it slackened a bit and the UAV proved easy to control.

Screen Shot 2014-10-03 at 6.41.16 PM

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Why I Hate Backpackers: An Illustrated Guide

ALWAYS WITH THE KRAMAS

ALWAYS WITH THE KRAMAS

I am regularly asked by acquaintances and friends why I hate backpackers. They are used to seeing my anti-backpacker screeds on Twitter or when they meet me at the bar, ready with my latest story about those horrible people who wear elephant-patterned pants and talk incessantly about spirituality. They conclude the obvious: I loathe backpackers and if I do not wish harm upon them, I do at least wish acute bedbugs.

Allow me to be honest: I don’t really HATE backpackers. Hate is a strong and meaningful word, a phrase that should properly be reserved for things that warrant it – such as, say, ISIS, neo-Nazis, and people who walk a bit too slowly on sidewalks. I would rescue a drowning backpacker. I would save a backpacker from feral dogs. I might give a backpacker marginally accurate driving directions. (I would not lend a backpacker money).

While I do not actually hate them, per-say, I do find them obnoxious, and that is really the root of all the effort I exert on mocking them, and why most expats I associate with share the same low opinion of their ilk.

For, picture this common scenario: you are over the age of 22 and a person of moderate aesthetic expectations residing in Southeast Asia. You spend time and money journeying to a supposedly bucolic island in the middle of nowhere, and on that glorious white sand, you find a pack of American frat-boys drinking Smirnoff Ice and hooting at one another. You are displeased. You thought you left this behind.

Someone proceeds to mock you for asking them to turn down the repetitive dubstep music. They are all doing shrooms and making out with each other and they are not even sharing their beer. Your displeasure turns to raw, vicious hatred.

The list of grievances – beyond this oft-repeated scenario – goes on. Backpackers show up at bars with acoustic guitars in the angelic hope of being scouted for “talent.” Backpackers will occasionally grow emotional for no particularly good reason and read you their poetry, which is inevitably heavily inspired by both Bukowski and that Kings of Leon song that really touched their hearts back in high school. Backpackers noisily demand that they be able to enjoy the trappings of home, from Family Guy reruns to chilled Snickers bars, wherever they noisily alight – cackling and domineering, like a flock of shitting starlings. Backpackers smell funny. Backpackers have better iPhones than you.

I could continue in this fashion, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. So, I thought I would explain with the assistance of some illustrations why I think backpackers blow, and maybe even offer some explanations for why I – and so many other expats – feel this way.  (Hint: it comes down to self-loathing, kind of).

jackals-finished

BACKPACKERS ARE THE WORLD’S LEAST OPPRESSED PEOPLE

Backpackers make for convenient targets because they are roughly the exact opposite of an oppressed group, the antipode of the world’s wretched, starving, and afraid. This makes them convenient: it’s true that making fun of disabled people, impoverished women, or the gravely mentally ill is cruel sport that is justifiably condemned by everyone with a conscience.

But backpackers are by definition among the planet’s most fortunate people. Unlike most everyone else, they are able to spend a good portion of the most productive and physically fit bits of their lives knocking around the world and doing inordinate quantities of shrooms.

Most are either attending a nice university or will soon head off to do so after gaining “life experience.” Most have nice families who care about them and wish they would get on Skype more often. Most will walk into decent jobs that appreciate how “worldly” they are after they finish contracting skin cancer in Sri Lanka.

All this makes them delightfully guilt-free targets — the Diet Coke and rice cakes of cruel humor. Mocking a backpacker does not harm them beyond the occasional bad feeling, but brings great pleasure to bitter expats undergoing existential crisis. Further, most backpackers are completely disinterested in the opinion of weird expats wearing business clothes in the first place.

Everyone (kind of) wins.

Sketch221235430

BACKPACKERS ARE HAVING WAY MORE FUN THAN US

Backpackers exist at an absolutely infuriating distance from real life, a division that often manages to annoy the piss out of locals and expatriates alike. Locals are often merely scraping by in their native country, subject to the whims of corrupt governments and poorly-planned economies. Expats usually are at least making a good faith effort at sustaining themselves in their new country (with varying degrees of success), and are subject to the usual concerns of paying their rent and soliciting paying work.

Into this situation, then, the backpacker saunters onto the stage with savings, a trust fund, or seriously poorly-advised credit decisions, and then proceeds to do nothing whatsoever but chill and eat marijuana-infused pizza.

At the same time, everyone else is selling fruit, closing real-estate deals, teaching English, driving tuk tuks, or analyzing political affairs — all pursuits a lot less fun than doing body shots off of mysterious but sexy Australians.

This can do nothing but breed a certain amount of resentment among people who are incapable of fucking off for two months to cover themselves in glow paint and drink buckets full of questionable liquor. Angry muttering ensures.

Backpackers, it’s true, do have their uses, as anyone who runs a business that caters to the drunk and stupid backpacker market will tell you. Purveyors of fine happy truffles or pizza, ladies who sell cans of Coca-Cola at Angkor Wat, the guy who does thousands of “tribal” tattoos each week: they acknowledge the economic usefulness of backpackers, but they’re probably not overwhelmed with love for them, either.

Expats aren’t often economically dependent on the backpacker market but will usually (under duress) cede one use for backpackers and their obnoxiously free-spirited ways: they are convenient if you find yourself lonely and questioning your existence at the dance club at two in the morning. And they don’t know any of your friends.

backpacker-money

BACKPACKERS ARE CHEAP BASTARDS

Despite their obviously blessed position in life, backpackers are cheap bastards. Young Breeze may reside in a mansion in Malibu during her summer holidays, but while vacationing in Vietnam, she turns into a merciless penny-pincher – arguing virulently with aged women attempting to mark up cans of Coca-Cola by 50 cents in front of tourist attractions. They will always take the cheapest bus, even it has been known for decades that said bus is run by a professional thievery cartel and occasionally plummets off of cliffs. Hotel rooms filled with cockroaches, festooned with poorly-concealed blood stains,  and set directly over a low-end strip club? No problem –  it cost $3 less than the other place.

Backpackers are regularly seen savagely chiseling people over tourist trinkets, t-shirts, and things that have very visible price tags stuck to them. Some will even attempt to bargain with the wait staff at restaurants, apparently unaware that that is not actually a thing that happens. They will occasionally attempt to whittle down the price of a $5 souvenir t-shirt while at the same time texting on their latest-model iPhone.

Backpackers are also known for walking out on hotel tabs, absconding with random items in guesthouses and restaurants, stealing the toilet paper, and attempting to “borrow” $20 from you because they just haven’t quite been able to to get their mothers to Western Union them spending money yet. (Do not lend them $20. It is a trap).

They find their cheapness to be a point of pride, and will express both awe and derision if you mention spending more than $6 on basically anything. It usually goes like this: “You spent $12 on a three-course French meal, with wine? Ugh, are you insane? I just eat canned tuna for every meal, man.”

Despite their relentless bargaining, backpackers are more than willing to spend the average annual salary of a Cambodian farmer on liquor during their adventures through Southeast Asia. Pointing out this logical inconsistency only annoys and occasionally enrages them.

You know who they are.

You know who they are.

BULLSHIT SPIRITUALISM

Backpackers are founts of bullshit spiritualism, a habit most likely directly resulted to the fact that they’re not actually worrying about making a living and thus are filled with a sense of serenity and happiness. This curious, opiate-effect of word travel is well known: many young people in Asia have informed all their friends on Facebook and thus the world that they are traveling to the Mysterious Orient to Find Themselves.

That’s fine to a point, I suppose, but the problem comes when you’re just trying to have a casual chat at the bar and someone wants to rave at you about how awesome Jack Kerouac is, or how that time they did pyschedelic drugs on the beach with roughly 15,000 students at Leeds University really saved their life man, or how they’re totally going to become a Buddhist monk next month, really.  (I also believe that the movie “Into the Wild” – the point of which everyone seems to miss – ought to be banned with extreme prejudice).

This fondness for silly manifestations of spirituality is often wildly inflicted on the locals, who are dubbed “deep” and “so beautiful” by moon-bat travelers — who seem unable to appreciate that the locals are actually just fellow human beings trying to live their lives like anyone else, instead of exotic zoo animals with funny accents.

This grows especially ridiculous in Cambodia with its attendant Khmer Rouge history, where backpackers seem to feel the need to wax lyrical about how Khmer people “smile all the time, despite all the loss they’ve suffered.”

You are expected to nod and agree with the profound depth of this statement, as you are expected to smile and nod at all statements made by a backpacker with the faintest whiff of spiritual depth.  Claiming you in fact think these observations about the solemn oneness of the universe (or whatever) are hilariously stupid will be greeted with mute incomprehension.

OH JUST A LITTLE SELF LOATHING

I freely admit that my public emissions of hatred towards backpackers are deeply rooted in self-loathing. I suspect this is not uncommon, and is part of the reason why backpackers are treated with such keen hatred by the expat community in most places.

The fact is that I often find it hard to figure out what differentiates me from them.

I mean, look: the below illustration is a typical backpacker.

awful-backpacker-not-like-me

And this is me definitely NOT being a backpacker. Somehow.

note i do not differ materially from the backpacker portrayed above

I think I’m not alone in my near-biweekly identity crisis. Most expats with functioning consciences are keenly aware of being interlopers in a foreign land, and we are also aware that in terms of both our appearance and our bank accounts, we are often rather hard to tell apart from the backpacking brethren.

Local people add to this sense of insecurity, scrutinizing us with amusement and saying “Oh, you LIVE here!” when you say something halting in the local language or express some vague knowledge of local geography.

I am often very afraid that someone in Cambodia will insist that I do NOT live here – and indeed, it has been a while since I really have. If I do not live there, where exactly do I live? Does that mean I’m just a backpacker who regularly showers and on  very rare occasions collects a paycheck?

How terrifying.

I take out this insecurity and lack of confidence in my social position on a convenient target: backpackers. Sure, I might be inept and suck at the language, but I’m not wandering around monasteries with my be-furred nipples hanging out of an Angkor Beer shirt. Nor am I haggling with an old woman over 50 cents.

I have fallen, perhaps, but they have fallen so much farther and don’t even *know* about it.

This helps me sleep at night.

This is why I hate backpackers.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Why You Should Pay Attention to Political Unrest in Thailand – UN Dispatch

protests thailand

 

Thailand Has Ousted Its Prime Minister – Here’s Why You Should Care 

It’s over: Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has finally been ousted by a Thai court after a contentious and occasionally bloody political standoff that has dragged on since last summer. In office since the summer of 2011, Shinawatra rode the Thai political tiger for as long as she could — but was eventually brought down by allegations that she transferred a bureaucrat illegally for her own political ends.

Yingluck is now the latest political casualty in the ongoing battle between “red shirt” supporters of the Pheu Thai party and her exiled brother, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, and the “yellow shirts,” who largely are composed of Bangkok residents and wealthier, urban Thais.

Already removed from power, her troubles don’t end there: she was indicted by Thailand’s anti-graft body over a rice subsidy scheme, and may be impeached by the Senate if found guilty.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Manila and Intramuros

manilariverboat

 

The Philippines is looked over.

The visitor to the Philippines from the US is confronted with a large archipelago full of people who are very much aware of your homeland, who you yourself remain distinctly unaware of. All Californians grew up with Filipinos at school and in the neighborhood, but somehow we still looked through the reality of their place of origin.

Filipino restaurants didn’t dot the neighborhood, the local community college was unlikely to offer Tagalog lessons, and no one (other than Filipinos) spoke of saving up their money for that dream trip to Manila. Thailand and Vietnam seemed more real: even history books restricted the Philippines to a curious footnote in the remarkable career of MacArthur, or a paragraph or two about the Marcos regime, and Imelda’s fondness for footwear.

It is the overlooked Southeast Asian nation to the north, unless you’re a scuba diver: a long-term expat friend observed to me that he suspects the bulk of visitors are Hong Kong residents desperate to escape their peninsula for a long weekend. And there, Manila is only a brief plane ride away.

abigchurchwedding

It is blighted perhaps but not all of it is blighted. In the rare event of seeing an image of Manila in the Western media, it is inevitable that a dump be portrayed. Perhaps a correspondent will be standing atop this remarkable monument to filth, looking concerned and talking about the Plight Of The Poor.

Manila’s not-so-poor warrant not a mention, and the decline of the corrupted but very interesting Marcoses has rendered even the elite unimportant. “There’s no there there,” one imagines Gertrude Stein observing of the place, circa 2013.

But Manila also possesses skyscrapers – great canyons of them, a skyline “that encircles you” as my friend observed — and universities with mowed grass, and an old Spanish center, and suburbs with single-family houses and a profusion of joggers. Also there are mallls, malls that would fit into Iowa City, with everyone nipping in for Taco Bell and the latest sale on Vons sneakers, and walking down long marbled corridors of entirely American-origin shops, with not a single hint that you are in fact in Asia.

A hefty percentage of the crowd is wearing a shirt with a NFL team logo on it, or the American flag, and even the children are outfitted in Adidas.

The entire city strikes me as some parallel American re-imagining in some ways. In some ways, it makes me feel embarrassed. We – nationally, in nationalist terms – did not do well by this country.

sebastianfort

I decided to visit Intramuros because I am fond of Spanish colonial architecture, and also because I tend to feel that a good way to begin understanding what a city is all about is backtracking to where it first started from.

Manila was Intramuros and Intramuros was Manila before the slow progression of the city across the face of southern Luzon: here was the first Spanish feint into building their Ever Loyal City, populated by religious men, traders, and the local “Negritos” (as the locals, who were presumably both small and dark, were unkindly dubbed).

cooltricycle

The sameness of the Spanish colonial experiment is remarkable to me, and it is also comforting, as someone who has spent a hefty percentage of my life residing within various bits of the former Iberian empire. The same cobblestone streets and high ceilings; the same growths of palm trees and yellow-washed walls, and courtyards with austere fountains in them, the same brown signs and road-side lanterns.

navyboys

A stroll through Intramuros was very much akin to a stroll through the French Quarter (first built by the Spanish) or Ybor City in Tampa: I was disappointed to find that no one had thought to set up a shop producing hand-rolled cigars, though tobacco is not a primary Philippine export.

The San Agustin church in Intramuros was buit in 1589 and is one of the only structures still standing after the bombardment of the old city by WWII: it is an interesting mental exercise to stand here, and note that this church predates the oldest standing structures of the Spanish colonial experiment in New Mexico. The church itself is violently Iberian: a stone Roman Catholic edifice dotted with fading tapestries, chipped wooden sculptures of Christ and the disciples, and lightly-flickering candles. I was in Southeast Asia, but I was most reminded of my 2009 visit to Spanish Toledo: it was an entirely new form of exoticism.

manilacathedral

San Agustin is also known as the wedding capital of the city, and for good reason: there was one going on the morning I was there. I spied upon the extremely long ceremony from behind a grate and from the balcony where the antique pipe organ sits:  I never did manage to see The Kiss The Bride Part, and indeed, found it difficult to determine exactly when the ceremony ended. Thus is my knowledge of Catholic weddings.

I headed for lunch at the Ristorante Delle Mitre, acros the street from San Agustin. The restaurant is themed in a fashion that can only be described as “bishop,” with an extensive Philippine – Western menu where most of the dishes are named after either saints or former bishops.

porkplantains

Nuns in red and white habits circulate the place and man the kitchen, and the entire ambience is exactly that of a Cuban cafe in Tampa or in Miami. I ordered seafood chowder and an enormous pork knuckle in tomato sauce with plantains  and was deeply satisfied. They brought me San Miguel in a frosted mug the size of my head, with lime in it. I did not try the cafe con leche: for a nation that grows excellent coffee, the coffee that is actually served in the Philippines is an exercise in disappointment.

I left the church and walked a block off Intramuros, the street beside the Manila House Museum, and you are back in the Phillipines: I walked down a Sunday street populated by people sitting about doing nothing in particular, as befits the Sabbath, listening to music and eating deep-fried bananas. “Hey girl!” a middle-aged man in a tank top said to me, waving from the corner.

I waved back. Waving back is a good idea here.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

War correspondents of legend and song unveil memorial in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – GlobalPost

 

oldhats

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Many of the most prominent surviving correspondents who covered Cambodia’s civil war gathered in Phnom Penh on Wednesday for the unveiling of a memorial to the “at least” 37 journalists who perished on Cambodian soil between 1970 and 1975.

Buddhist monks performed religious rites and Cambodian information minister Khieu Kanharith arrived to help inaugurate the black stone memorial, which bore the names of correspondents killed in the field.

Read more from GlobalPost: Record number of journalists killed worldwide in 2012

Chhang Song, a former information minister under the deposed 1970s Cambodian leader Lon Nol, was also on hand to speak at the ceremony, as the “old hacks,” as some of them called each other, gathered to remember their fallen.

“Thirty-seven have died, but they have not died in my heart,” Song, who is now wheelchair-bound, said of the deceased correspondents.

“I have carried the names, the faces, the words of these people who died for their profession.”

Read more from GlobalPost….

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

US activist Nguyen Quoc Quan released after 9 months of detention in Vietnam – GlobalPost

440

 

SACRAMENTOAmerican activist Dr. Nguyen Quoc Quan has been released after 9 months of detention in Ho Chi Minh City by the Vietnamese government.

Vietnamese authorities claimed the California software engineer and former teacher was engaged in terrorist activities due to his association with Viet Tan, a pro-democracy group that works “inside Vietnam and among the diaspora … to mobilize the power of the people.”

The Vietnamese government has for years had a contentious relationship with Viet Tan, of which Quan is a long-standing member.

The 58-year-old activist arrived in his home state of California on Wednesday evening to an exuberant crowd of family and friends, soon after his wife received the surprising news that the Vietnamese government would allow him to walk free.

“I received a phone call from the consulate, and [the staffer] told me ‘You better sit down,”’ Quan’s wife, Mai Huong Ngo, told GlobalPost.

Ngo dutifully sat down, but became worried: Was her husband sick, she wondered?

He wasn’t. Instead, the consular staffer told Ngo that her husband was returning to the home they shared in the Northern California city of Elk Grove.

“I kept crying, I cannot speak, I keep crying … and [the staffer] asked me, ‘You are happy, right?”’ said Ngo.

Read more over at GlobalPost…..

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Assorted thoughts on Malacca

Typical Malaccan pedicab.

I like Portuguese settlements, I suppose—not that I have visited them often, but there is something to the concept. They do not have the buttoned-down nature of British colonies, perhaps: there is a sort of wild Catholicism to them, the sort you might see in Spanish and Portuguese streets during a major religious celebration.

Malacca was once a major trading post, controlled first by the Malays, than shifting to the Portuguese,than the Dutch, than to the British—and finally, back to the Malays in the 1950s, after independence.

Trading ports attract all manner of strange people, and Malacca turned into an extremely cosmopolitan sort of place—illustrated by stiff Caucasian mannequins wearing the traditional dress of the area’s ethnic groups at the Sultan’s Palace museum. (Why only the Thai mannequin is grinning like an idiot…well, I don’t have a suitable answer for that).

The pirates and the havoc have gone, although there is a pirate-themed theme park and you will see small children waving around plastic cutlasses. Now, Malacca is a quiet, coastal town, with a rather interesting old district and big apartment and condo buildings sprouting like mushrooms on the edge of the historic area.

Old Malacca was designated a World Heritage Site a few years back, and it is worthy of the term: curving roads set off by ramshackle shophouses, some saved as museums, gutters with unidentifiable water running by them. There are little art galleries and cafes in them now, where you can sit and watch tourists from all over the world puzzle over which semi obscene t-shirt they’d like to buy.

But it is not a crass tourism, and there is not really much of it on the weekends: you can easily wander down a small path into an antiques store piled high with vintage money and carvings from Malaysia’s Hindu era, or find yourself very much alone in some back-alley bit of town.

The food is excellent here. Peranakans are Chinese Malays, and those Nyonya restaurant you see everywhere are well worth trying. (Baba refers to a male Peranakan, and Nyonya to a female, as I learned). There is also excellent Indian food, and Chinese food as well: much like the rest of Malaysia, Malacca is a melting pot. I went out the Portuguese Settlement today: that’s another blog post.

Friendly Malaysians at the tandoori shop.

I was thinking today about Malaysia’s identity. Most Malaysians could probably identify themself as having a heritage of something else – this is rather like the USA.

It is also interesting to contemplate how developed Malaysia is. The taxi drivers liked to discuss this with me, in the rather elegant English that seems to come easily to 60-something men here: two of the taxi drivers I rode with had been to Cambodia, and they hastened to described its poverty, its corruption. They also hastened to compare Malaysia with the rest of the world – and the rest of the world was generally found wanting.

“There is all this fighting in Syria, Muslim on Muslim,” one cabbie mused, as we drove in from the bus station. “I simply don’t understand it. Here in Malaysia, we have peace. We all get along with each other.”

Boy out with his grandmother at the fort in Malacca.

Well, I’m unsure about that -and I really am, my lack of Malaysia-specific knowledge is disturbingly vast – but there is certainly a pleasant lack of tension in the air here, at least to the casual observer. I enjoy watching the shoals of hijab-donning women in colorful costumes mixing with Chinese tourists and slightly head-addled looking Westerners: the Malaysian melting pot, united by tourist attractions and food stuffs flavored with sambal.

ONE FINAL OBSERVATION:

Malaysians are absolutely wild about John Denver. I hear Country Roads multiple times a day in various locales here. Kids play it on the street, taxi drivers play it in their cabs, restaurant owners hum it while they work…what in the name of God is going on here?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Blogfest Asia 2012: Noisy, fractious ASEAN bloggers, ignore at own peril

Bloggers are about the same everywhere, I guess. Fractious and noisy. Exuberant, opinionated, occasionally make questionable clothing choices. Might have been considered “weird” in school. Vanguards of social revolution and change—that too. You ignore them at your own peril. 

This particular motley pack of Asia bloggers convened at Build Bright University, a small college of something or another outside Siem Reap, placed in the middle of what appeared to be a loosely residential neighborhood, mixed with a small dairy-and-water-lily farm. The bloggers came from 12 Asian countries, a smattering hailing from further afield (including yours truly). Their ages ranged from 14 to in their 70s. Many were professionals, some were students, some had even achieved the holy grail of professional blogging. All fervently wanted to geek out.

Siem Reap is the small city adjacent to Angkor Wat, and is by far the most heavily touristed place in Cambodia—a fact not lost on the attendees, who gathered to watch sunsets, sunrises, and things in between at the archaeological ruins. Many of them were travel bloggers, after all. Catnip.

It is worth pointing out the disconnect between Cambodia’s ubiquitous small, naked children, lotus ponds and wooden, ramshackle homes—right outside the conference—with a cosmopolitan group of tech geeks, most sporting expensive equipment.

However: I don’t see this as some sort of fell indicator of social injustice. The fact that such a gathering is happening in Cambodia at all is, in my estimation, a remarkable indicator of social change.

Further: the Cambodian could have swiftly squashed this gathering if they so chose, but it didn’t. In fact, Cambodian Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith attended and gave out awards on Monday, the final day of the conference. Blogger and event organizer Kounila Keo told me that she ran the schedule of the event by him—including multiple named workshops on Internet freedom—and he expressed no apprehension.

Would that happen in China or Vietnam? I don’t think so.

Sadly, Cambodians seem to get very little love from the mainstream media. They have few choices: they are genocidal and backwards. They are Noble Savages who smile a lot and have not quite got the hang of industrialization, bless them. But the Cambodian bloggers I know are not content to conform to this heat-addled stereotype. They firmly believe that technology and free speech will eventually win out against the forces that are arrayed against them.

And that goes for the other Asian bloggers in attendance, many of whom reside in often-overlooked but swiftly developing nations . Did you know that Filipinos send around 2 billion text messages a day, the most in the world? Or that Indonesians are the world’s biggest users of Twitter, and have collectively created over 5 million blogs? That in only 2 years of rapid change, Myanmar is approaching three percent Internet penetration?

These are all remarkable stats. These are all somewhat little-known stats. This is why I am glad I attended Blogfest Asia 2012.

“We somehow have the perception the world only goes on in Europe and the United States, when in fact many things are happening in Southeast Asia,” observed SPIDER (Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions) board member and event speaker David Isaakson to me.

“It’s amazing that so many people are using this [social media] in countries with a situation with less freedom of expression or government control,” he added. “Social media becomes even more important when you don’t see unbiased reporting in national channels.”

Definitely. Citizen journalists, as we’ve seen in the Middle East, step up to fill the gap when the mainstream media either can’t get in, or does’t have the funding or motivation to cover stories considered to be of minimal international interest. For the first time, bloggers—even those who are operating under considerable danger—have the means to speak out against oppression in a very visible way. This scares the crap out of governments, and empowers tech-savvy people who might formally have been relatively helpless in the arena of speaking-truth-to-power. Ignore them at your own peril. 

That simple reality ended up politicizing the event to some extent, perhaps more than the planners had anticipated. Almost every nation represented had an axe to grind: that people from all these nations were then able to come together and compare notes on what they’re up against is heartening in the extreme.

Meanwhile, the Cambodians weren’t shy about expressing their trepidation over the planned, feared Internet cyber-crimes draft law. The government claims it’s to protect against terrorism, but the bloggers are much more suspicious: they think the law will serve as a convenient method of cracking down on dissidents, much in the fashion of Vietnam or Thailand.

Cambodians currently enjoy one of the freest networks in Southeast Asia, and they are fully aware of the options this accords them: although most attendees were willing to play a bit of wait-and-see, they also were quite vocal about their apprehension.

Fai Suluck from Thailand discussed the situation in her own country, where strict lese majeste laws and fear stemming from recent military unrest have kept bloggers relatively silent.

She described the law and its dampening affects on freedom of speech in Thailand to the  attentive crowd, then issued a warning: “…For countries about to have this law passed, yes: go against it.”

Note taken.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmailby feather
Older posts

© 2014 Faine Opines

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

css.php