Ivan Around Town is a Filipino blogger in Manila who covers much of the tourism section in his country, with a much appreciated touch towards the backpacker approach to travel, and for this I must thank him.
The Philippines is another struggling nation trying to atract more foreign tourists and so it's strange that the completely political controlled Philippines Tourism Authority would ignore their most important source of present and future high-spending tourists: today's backpackers. They come back. They get richer. They later spend their money in a country where they once had some experiences. It would be smart to understand the importance of the backpackers. They will be back.
And why in the Philippines most budget backpackers tourist destinations and guesthouses overpriced? I've seen it, during my research trips for Moon Publications. It's a fact: the Philippiens should be priced the same as Thailand, but the Philippines for the backpacker is twice the cost the Thailand.
Monday, March 31, 2008
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Lebua Hotel seems to thrive on controversy. The hotel is now involved in a lawsuit with the general manager of The Oriental over a message Kurt sent to his managers to escort Lebua spys out of his hallowed property.
Last year, Lebua sponsored a very expensive dinner for very rich people, and they will repeat the gaudy display with a touch of humility again next month.
Not everybody is please with the Lebua for their background, nasty temperament toward their more venerable neighbors, and their insatiable appetite for publicity, no matter good or bad. And most of it is bad.
The International Herald Tribune had this to say about their upcoming feast.
Bangkok's Lebua hotel, which is organizing the dinner, is no stranger to publicity - or to Michelin-starred chefs. Last year, it put on a decadent feast billed as the meal of a lifetime for $25,000 a head. Six three-star Michelin chefs were flown in from Europe to cook the 10-course meal, each plate paired with a rare vintage wine.
On April 5, the Lebua is offering another 10-course spread, this time for free. The hotel has invited 50 of its biggest-spending customers to the dinner prepared - it hopes - by three top-ranked Michelin-starred chefs.
There is one twist. Before dinner, guests will be jetted to a poor village in northern Thailand to spend the afternoon soaking up the sights of poverty. The dinner and full-day excursion will cost the hotel $300,000.
The Electric Newspaper goes over some of the lawsuit filed by Lebua Hotel against the general manager of The Oriental.
IT'S a battle of the stars. Bangkok's five-star hotels, that is. With back-stabbing, snubbing and animosity worthy of a TV soap opera, Bangkok's famed Oriental hotel is now embroiled in a defamation suit filed by a competitor.
The lawsuit, filed on 17 Jan, highlighted the nastiness behind the scenes at some of the world's top luxury establishments. News of the spat was made public yesterday after The Oriental's general manager appeared at the Bangkok Criminal Court for a preliminary hearing.
Mr Kurt Wachtveitl, the general manager, is accused of defaming Bangkok's lebua hotel in an internal memo warning that the competitor was on the prowl for qualified hotel staff. The lawsuit is a first for Thailand's hotel industry and stands to harm the reputation of hotels across the country, the Thai Hotels Association said.
According to The Nation, Thai Hotels Association president Chanin Thonawanik was quoted as saying: 'What will the world think of Thailand when the world's best hotel is involved in a lawsuit? 'This is (a) first in Thai hotel history and will certainly damage our reputation.'
In the memo dated 30 Nov 2006, Mr Wachtveitl accused the lebua of poaching 26 employees from The Peninsula Hotel, another five-star competitor, and expressed concern that The Oriental could be targeted next. 'Effective immediately, no management members from lebua ... are allowed at The Oriental,' the memo signed by Mr Wachtveitl and sent by e-mail to department heads said, according to the court complaint. The memo added: 'Should you come across any of their management members in the hotel, please make sure they are escorted out of our premises immediately.'
The Nation reported that the lebua has filed two complaints, including a criminal case accusing The Oriental of forwarding the memo to general managers at nine other Bangkok hotels.
The International Herald Tribune also reported on the messy lawsuit by upstart Lebua against Thailand's most historic hotel.
Bangkok's famed Oriental hotel is embroiled in a defamation suit filed by a competitor, highlighting the back-stabbing and animosity that thrives behind the scenes at some of the world's top luxury establishments.
The lawsuit was filed Jan. 17 but only made public Tuesday, a day after The Oriental's general manager appeared at the Bangkok Criminal Court for a preliminary hearing. Kurt Wachtveitl, the general manager, is accused of defaming Bangkok's lebua hotel in an internal memo warning that the competitor was on the prowl for qualified hotel staff.
The lawsuit is a first for Thailand's hotel industry and stands to harm the reputation of hotels across the country, the Thai Hotels Association said. The Oriental consistently ranks among the best in the world in surveys. In the memo dated Nov. 30, 2006, Wachtveitl said the lebua poached 26 employees from The Peninsula Hotel, another 5-star competitor, in two months and expressed concern that The Oriental could be targeted next.
But Chris Baker, guest columnist at New Mandala really gets down to the details of what's going on, but leaves much unanswered. So who is this Rasi Bualert?
The principal owner of lebua is the family of Rasi Bualert. She always gets tagged as “arms dealer” which seems a bit unfair. Too narrow. Their real estate empire went spectacularly bankrupt after 1997, but they kept going by refusing to repay their creditors. Last June, the Supreme Court ruled that they had to repay 10 billion baht to Bangkok Bank, but I don’t know whether they complied. Their biggest debt was to Krung Thai. The Bualert acquired the building now housing lebua from the developer and architect Rangsan Torsuwan after he was charged with masterminding the attempted murder of the chief judge of the Supreme Court.
The Nation has some background on Rasi Bualert financial problems a few years ago.
Bangkok Bank has filed a bankruptcy suit against high-flying businesswoman Rasri Bualert and her associates for failing to honour debts totalling almost Bt10 billion. Nine other defendants named in the lawsuit are D Five Co, Charoen West Enterprise, Royal Charoen Krung, Kongchai Bualert, Anand Chanthrakul, Sa-nguansri Dejpornthewan, Parichart Puchatham, General Sawat Phatchuenjai and General Prathuang Wongchan.
The Bankruptcy Court has agreed to hear the case and scheduled June 22 for the first hearing. In its court filing, Bangkok Bank charged that D Five and Charoen West Enterprise had borrowed money from its branches, with the other defendants acting as guarantors. The total debt, principal plus interest, owed to the bank is Bt9.72 billion. The bank said it had asked the defendants to settle the debt but had not received any payment. It believes the defendants now have more debts than assets, making them liable to bankruptcy proceedings.
The New York Times also mentions Rasri Bualert and her financial shenanigans, along with other Thai millionaires who refuse to repay their debts and somehow stay in business to the present day.
Workers are, for example, putting the finishing touches on the 63-story Royal Charoen Krung Tower. Promoted as Southeast Asia's largest building, the tower, a 3.6-million- square-foot monolith with residential time-share and commercial space, looms over the pharmacies and jewelry shops around it.
First scheduled to open in 1996, the Royal Charoen Krung fell behind schedule in part because Rangsan Torsuwan, the flamboyant architect who designed and owned it, was forced to sell it.
The buyer was Rasri Bualert, a real estate tycoon and Thailand's only female arms dealer. Ms. Rasri helped pay for the project with a loan from the government-run Krung Thai Bank, a loan that is now among the nonperforming loans that account for at least 60 percent of the bank's overall portfolio. Last year, auditors from PricewaterhouseCoopers, reporting that the bank had weak lending standards, singled out the loan as a glaring example.
Ms. Rasri declined to be interviewed for this article. Krung Thai officials did not return phone calls.
I once trekked from Mae Hong Son into Burma on a seven-day adventure to visit the military headquarters of the Karenni people, who just happened to be celebrating their cultural week during my visit, but it doesn't really compare to a Laos trek taken a few years ago by Lao Bumpkin. If you're looking for something completely unique to do on your next visit to Southeast Asia, read the link for more ideas on a trekking agency and some background on this remote region in a still remote country.
This is real adventure.
The wildlife survey down the river by Wildside was the first known instance of outsiders entering the area. I don’t know if they were able to find any takers for their proposed 7 day raft trip. In 04 a mixed group of kayakers including Japanese and Lao nationals also paddled down the river. The rapids are rated at class IV, not too difficult for experienced kayakers, but not the kind of thing for the inexperienced. What they did do was document the variety of large mamals living in the valley.
Beginning in the dry season of 06 Tui the manager of the tourism office in Muang Long started to take trekkers over the mountains on guided walks into the valley. He first took a pair of unknown hikers, then his friend Somjit took a very fast lone Scandinavian guy. Early in the dry season of 06/07 I hiked in with one of Tui’s students, Si Phan guiding me. Later in February 07 Tui hiked in for a second time with a trio of Italians. Even though the Italians were young fit twenty some things they didn’t reach Mongla on the second day until late in the evening. Just after that I too took my second hike, my guide this time was Somjit also his second walk into the valley.
Lao Bumpkin Goes Trekking in Laos
Elephants in Thailand have been painting abstract images for some time, but now they've moved on to self portraits and landscapes that resemble Picasso in his blue period, or Van Gogh slightly before he lost his mind and sliced off his ear. This talented fellow comes from Chiang Mai, and is so artistically inclined that he now longer needs to work the tourists and drunks on Soi Cowboy.
YouTube Clip of the Thai Elephant as a Young Artist
North Korea is actually open for tourism, but you'll need to sign up with a group tour and then pay big bucks. Bring along your video camera, and perhaps you'll capture your tour as recently posted by the Vice Guide. Neil Woodburn at Gadling also went to North Korea and provided an outstanding series of essays and videos of the closed country.
Getting into North Korea was one of the hardest and weirdest processes VBS has ever dealt with. After we went back and forth with their representatives for months, they finally said they were going to allow 16 journalists into the country to cover the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang. Then, ten days before we were supposed to go, they said, “No, nobody can come.” Then they said, “OK, OK, you can come. But only as tourists.” We had no idea what that was supposed to mean. They already knew we were journalists, and over there if you get caught being a journalist when you’re supposed to be a tourist you go to jail. We don’t like jail. And we’re willing to bet we’d hate jail in North Korea.
But we went for it. The first leg of the trip was a flight into northern China. At the airport the North Korean consulate took our passports and all of our money, then brought us to a restaurant. We were sitting there with our tour group, and suddenly all the other diners left and these women came out and started singing North Korean nationalist songs. We were thinking, “Look, we were just on a plane for 20 hours. We’re jet-lagged. Can we just go to bed?” but this guy with our group who was from the LA Times told us, “Everyone in here besides us is secret police. If you don’t act excited then you’re not going to get your visa.” So we got drunk and jumped up onstage and sang songs with the girls. The next day we got our visas. A lot of people we had gone with didn’t get theirs. That was our first hint at just what a freaky, freaky trip we were embarking on.
VBS TV Video of North Korea
Bangkok Dangerous, starring Nicolas Cage to be released this fall, is a remake of the original Pang Brothers film from 2000. Generally, American remakes of great Asian films don't turn out very well, but with the original directors onboard, and Nicholas doing his nutcase act, this might be a winner.
Here's a short YouTube clip with all the necessary ingredients: strippers on Soi Cowboy, a transvestite review, fast motorcycles, Thai boxing, big guns,and a targeted politician who looks like a slightly older and plumper Abhisit.
YouTube Clip of the upcoming Bangkok Dangerous
Thursday, March 27, 2008
What's going on in Phuket this week? The local Phuket Gazette has an update, and it's mostly drug busts and new CCTV cameras to keep an eye on people. Something about a motorcycle thief and an ice bust. And a memorial for a murdered tourist. Any comment would be superfluous, as Trink would say.
Phuket Police Seize 10K Speed Pills
Phuket Police Nab Motorcycle Thief
Phuket Police Arrest Ice Dealer at Big C
Phuket Auto Plate Auction Nets 14M
Patong Police Expand CCTV Surveillance Cameras
Swedish Murder Victim Memorial at Mai Khao Beach Phuket Attended by 50
Pussycat Dolls took their family friendly girlie show to Malaysia, and what do they get for their efforts? Major fines. I doubt that any of the accusations are true (flashing pussies in KL?), but perhaps they'll show up on YouTube.
In the meantime girls, try burkas.
ALL-girl US pop group the Pussycat Dolls have been fined for a gig in Malaysia that displayed more than their singing talents. The group has been fined $3400 for a show in the capital Kuala Lumpur in which the group let it all hang out - literally.
During the routine Carmit Bachar flashed a breast and Ashley Roberts - wearing a very short pair of shorts - was accused of a different kind of flashing that would have done Britney Spears proud. The group was fined for performing "sexually suggestive" routines.
Under laws in the strict Muslim country, a female performer must be covered from her shoulders to her knees. Jumping, shouting or throwing of objects onstage or at the audience are all also banned. Last year Gwen Stefani's concert in Malaysia was picketed by protesters amid fears her act would corrupt the nation's youth.
Woodstock, the legendary music festival from 1968, will be revived in Korea with a participant from the original event, Neil Young.
The festival in Seoul will open in front of the DMZ, will move to Jamsil. It brings together singers from the 1960s and 1970s, including Rod Stewart, a Hall of Famer in 1994, Don McLean, Judy Collins, Janis Ian and Melanie Safka-Schekeryk. Also on stage will be Linda Ronstadt, the Alan Parsons Project, Janis Ian, the Brothers Four, Donovan and Crystal Gayle. The organizer said Elton John is another possible participant.
Jalan Jaksa in Jakarta has been the backpackers center since the early 1970s when Bill Dalton stayed in one of the hovels and worked on the first edition of his Indonesia Handbook. It's still the center of Jakarta's small backpacking universe, and where local expat bloggers sometimes like to get together for a beer, but it seems that major changes are on the horizon. Like a shopping center.
Big deal. The neighborhood will probably continue to support guesthouses and attract the limited number of international backpackers, who will then do their beer and banana pancake shopping at the new complex.
Last month I had a chat with an expat on Jalan Jaksa who told me he’d seen plans to develop the famous little street, including a huge hypermarket on its corner with Jalan Wahid Hasyim.
I should state at this point that the talk occurred during my once-a-week afternoon visit, when - contrary to wishful thinking among hostiles - I have three or four beers and head for home before nightfall. So it was a clear-headed chat, not one of those rambling discourses that ensue as the night rolls towards chucking-out time.
Has anyone else heard of this proposed development? It would change the character of Jaksa, which is one of the few places in town where non-rich bules can enjoy a beer at a reasonable price. A Carrefour-type emporium would have a knock-on effect, bring in glossy catering outlets and quite possibly squeeze the little cafes out of business. Even now, there is a quite posh hotel under construction at the far end. Doesn’t Jakarta have enough such plush institutions- let’s leave Jaksa for the back-packing kids to save their pennies at.
If you've been to the Philippines, then you probably know about the chain of fast-food restaurants called Jollibee. They are everywhere and one of the few Filipino food enterprises which has held their own, and often won, against the international chains such as McDonalds and Pizza Hut.
Now, any self-respecting Filipino will tell you that Jollibee food is crap, but I have news for you: their pork based burgers beat McDonalds any day of the week, and their outlets are clean, and the service is great. And so, I think it's good news that Jollibee will soon have a TV show with the characters pictured above.
My second favorite fast food outlet in the Philippines is KFC. Last places goes to those places that serve "native" Filipino food.
This summer school break, children can start enjoying the company of Jollibee and friends not just in their favorite fast-food stores, but on television, too. The brand that gave Filipino children the Jollibee Kids Meal, Jollibee Kiddie Party, Jollibee Kids Club and MaAga ang Pasko sa Jollibee, as well as their favorite spaghetti, fried chicken, sandwiches and desserts brings forth another innovation they will surely love— Jollitown, the new kids’ show on GMA7 featuring the fun and insightful adventures of Jollibee, Yum, Hetty, Popo and Twirlie. Each week, the five friends interact with the children who live with them in Jollitown through stories and music that those watching at home can also sing and dance to.
Lao Songtao by Stuart Towns
Oh no, another article lamenting the decline of once-untouched forgotten paradises in Southeast Asia, this time focusing on Luang Prabang in Laos, Pai in northern Thailand, and Siem Reap in Cambodia. And yes, once again blaming Lonely Planet and Joe Cummings for the increase in tourism, new hotels, and too many banana pancake cafes.
Get over it. Telling the present generation of travelers "you should have seen it when" is just irritating and self indulgent, and deprives the new arrivals seeing these places with fresh eyes. It still looks like paradise to them, so please don't spoil their show with your know-it-all comments.
Yes, Southeast Asia has changed dramatically over the last few decades, but such is the pace of tourism progress around the world. And most of the locals don't resent the arrivals of tourists or modern amenities such as schools, paved roads, hospitals, clean water, and all the other "evils" of advancing civilization.
It's the author of this article who should examine his attitude and opinions, and not the travel writers such as myself and Joe Cummings, who didn't "spoil" these untouched paradises, and don't regret that once impoverished regions are now enjoying the benefits of cash flow and tourism. Luang Prabang and Pai are still beautiful places, and Siem Reap hasn't been ruined, just changing.
Maybe the package groups and top-rung vacationists, with their high-maintenance demands, leave a bigger footprint than backpackers. But in Asia, backpackers have served as the industry's reconnaissance teams, penetrating rural hinterlands to colonize idyllic spots and pave the way for upmarket travelers. The banana pancake circuit it's called, after one of their requisite staples.
Take Pai, a village embedded in an expansive, mountain-encircled valley of northern Thailand. It used to be a great escape into an easygoing, exotic world, with tribal settlements scattered in the hills — until the global migratory tribe appeared in droves, dragging its own culture along.
Bamboo and thatch tourist huts hug the meandering Pai River as far as the eye can see, gobbling up rice paddies and clambering up hillsides on its left bank. On the right bank, high-priced resorts have begun to mushroom.
The short downtown strip is jammed with Apple Pai and nine other Internet cafes, video and tattoo parlors, bars, yoga and cooking classes, countless trinket shops and an eatery featuring bagels and cream cheese.
There's even an English-language newspaper, published by Joe Cummings, an author of those Bibles of shoestring travel, the Lonely Planet guides, which probably did more than anything to put Pai on the circuit. In a wicked daydream, I condemn Joe to eating nothing but banana pancakes and lugging a 500-pound backpack through all eternity.
Will the Thai government go ahead and break international patents to import medicines used in the fight against AIDs and cancer? A final decision hasn't yet been made by the latest government, but it's going to be a major firestorm if they proceed with their plans to save some money, and badly piss off the world's pharmaceutical companies, who will then bring enormous pressure on the US and European nations to downgrade the trading status of Thailand.
It's one thing to rip off tourists when they visit your national parks and museums with specially inflated "tourist" prices, but something else when you do it on an international scale.
When it comes to public health, Thailand's former government leaders would like the world to think that they're a collection of 21st-century Robin Hoods. Last year, the unelected military-backed government gave Thailand's state-run pharmaceutical firm, the Government Pharmaceutical Organization (GPO), permission to manufacture generic versions of drugs that fight heart disease and AIDS, even though the medicines were still patented by Western firms.
Robbing the rich to give to the poor, right?
Not really. Sick Thai citizens have yet to see any benefits and the move has set a dangerous precedent that will stifle medical innovation and endanger the health of millions.
Thai officials broke the patents by using "compulsory licenses," a legal maneuver afforded to poor countries by the World Trade Organization (WTO) in the event of a public health crisis. If a local government can't afford a pertinent patented drug, it can issue a compulsory license to produce it before the patent has expired.
But these provisions were never intended to be used by countries that could afford the medicines but are simply choosing to pay less in order to make other purchases - like tanks for example.
Last year, for instance, Bangkok spent $9 million on pay raises for military leaders. Since 2006, the nation has increased its defense budget by over 30 percent.
The reality is that the former military government officials used compulsory licenses to pursue their own economic development. Their scheme is just protectionism by a different name - and world governments and trade bodies should see it for what it is.
Giving the GPO permission to manufacture patented drugs is part of the Thai government's plan to establish itself as a globally competitive producer of generics. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the government wanting to encourage its own industry - but not when that's done at the expense of patients and other countries who abide by both the letter and the spirit of the law.
So far, the gambit has proven quite lucrative. In 2005, Thailand's GPO reaped $35 million in profits by copying medicines. Only 2 percent of that went toward research and development.
Belleville News Democrat
Nick Cheesman (pictured above) is Awzar Thi, the pen name of a member of the Asian Human Rights Commission with over 15 years of experience as an advocate of human rights and the rule of law in Thailand and Burma. His Rule of Lords blog can be read at http://ratchasima.net.
Nick recently wrote another scathing article about the state of the Thai police, and it's a dozy, a real keeper, a great source of background about one of Thailand's most serious problems.
Next up, I hope Nick writes an equally information article about the connection between the Thai police and the Thai military, and their ongoing political connections and quest to control the underground sources of income in the country. And the upcoming second "war on drugs" and which group will come out ahead in that virtuous struggle.
In a nutshell, the Thai military is affiliated with the former military government, while the police are tied to Thaksin and Samak. There is no love lost between the military and the police, and both seek to control major sources of income in the underground economy. That means drugs, prostitution, border politics, stolen cars, etc.
According to the United Nations, the Royal Thai Police are organized criminals. That, at least, is the inference to be drawn from looking at its Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which was adopted in 2001 and which defines an organized crime group as involving at least three people acting in concert over a period of time "with the aim of committing one or more serious crimes or offences… in order to obtain… a financial or other material benefit."
Thailand's police did not become an organized crime gang by accident. The modern force was from the beginning intended both as a criminal and political agency, monopolizing the drug trade and murdering or detaining opponents, including other police. It quickly became unstoppable as, historian Thak Chaloemtiara notes, while people whispered about its crimes "investigation was impossible, for the crimes were committed by the police themselves."
Its heyday as an unsurpassed crime venture may have been in the 1950s, but until now the police force remains beyond the law and answerable unto itself. The institutional features of its criminality, including the routine use of force and self-financing of individual officers and stations, speak to how incidents of the sort described above are organized, not haphazard.
These conditions present persons interested in improving the work of the police with profound and peculiar difficulties. For some three decades there has been talk of reform, and a few attempts, including one by the interim prime minister of the recent military government. But all have failed, in the same way that attempts to turn any other organized crime group into a legitimate enterprise against the will of its members could not possibly do otherwise.
UPI Asia Online
Pakistan isn't a place where imaginative, modern architecture immediately comes to mind, but the Karachi tower pictured above has apparently been approved and construction will start this year on the 78-story building just outside the country's primary port city. Nothing really revolutionary about the design, but still surprising that a country with so many internal problems and economic woes can get it together enough to pull off such an ambitious enterprise.
Construction is soon to start on Aedas’ new landmark scheme in Mai Kolachi, Pakistan. Plans for a landmark waterside development at Mai Kolachi adjacent to the Port of Karachi in Pakistan have been received and are currently being evaluated following the implementation of Aedas’ international competition-winning design for a mixed-use scheme. Endorsed in 2007 by the Prime Minister of Pakistan, the development will command an iconic presence and provide a recognisable beacon to Pakistan’s principal city of Karachi and the country’s largest sea port.
World Architecture News
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Stress is bad, and so the Bangkok police have started a new campaign to fight the problem, including mandatory laughing sessions. But many of the cops seem less than thrilled with their exercises.
Live Link of Laughing Cops in Bangkok
What was it like in 1950 when the King of Thailand returned to his home country after living abroad in Switzerland? Time magazine had a reporter on the scene in Bangkok, as the King sailed up the Chao Phraya and took his first acts of gratitude at Wat Phra Keo. Bangkok Dan at Absolutely Bangkok found this story link, and it's well worth a long and slow read for those inclined to somehow picture Bangkok in year 1950.
Time Magazine on the Return of the Thai King in 1950
Kathmandu Smoker by Carl Parkes
Tourism seems to be returning to Nepal after almost a decade of problems with a Maoist insurgency and a wacky royal family that almost completely disappeared in a rampage by the crown prince, thanks to too much pot and his love of deadly weapons. And so tourism is slowly returning to the wonderful land of Nepal, but I was shocked and surprised to read of the actual number of foreigners who arrived in Kathmandu via air. Sure, a few intrepid backpackers come into the country by bus, but really this is it.
Thailand gets 13 million foreign visitors per year; Phillipines gets about five million. Fisherman's Wharf here in my home town of San Francisco gets almost 20 million vsitors per year. It's the second most popular tourist site in America. But what would a fascinating country like Nepal draw annually in foreign tourist visitors?
In fact, it was hardly the only reappearance to celebrate. All over Kathmandu that week, from trekking agencies to curry houses, some almost equally prized specimens were leaving tracks after years of scarcity: foreign travelers. According to the Nepal Tourism Board, December capped a banner year, with air arrivals up 27 percent over the 2006 total. Overall, 2007 welcomed some 360,000 foreign air travelers to the country, making it the most successful year for tourism since 2000.
New York Times Travel
The 1933 building constructed as a slaughterhouse in Shanghai, has been converted into a complex of shops, artists enclaves, and living spaces, as reported over the last year by Shanghaiist and updated recently by WAN. My only experience with old-world Chinese abbatoir buildings was the place west of Central in Hong Kong, where the intricasies of killing chickens could be observed at close range. I think that place was also upgraded and cleaned up.
World Architecture News
Monday, March 24, 2008
Another Filipino Catholic religious cult you might want to join. The photos are borrowed from my Sari Sari Store, but the other stuff I found on Google. This religious cult is a few hours south of Manila, on the slopes of Mt. Banahaw, which has become in Filipino folklore some kind of mystical place, like Mt. Shasta here in California where I live. I'm suspicious about people that create create religious/mystical/cosmic cults and go off to scenic places to peddle their wares, but I guess there's a market. And Filipinos, whatever else, are prone to superstition and the sway of religious fervor.
How many bloggers do you know from Xinjiang? Probably, not many, and so it's sad to report that the only famous blogger from Xinjiang has given up on his remote province and moved to Beijing for more money. Isn't that the story of the world? You find paradise and then they put up a parking lot.
Thus, it is with great sadness and a tinge of relief that I announce today my imminent departure from Xinjiang for the smog-shrouded "paradise on Earth" that is Beijing. (At least, that's what my Chinese friends tell me.) The short reason for the change of scene is that I've got a new job, but the longer explanation would have to include my sense of boredom after having spent three years in a small, clean city in the middle of nowhere. It's an interesting nowhere with wonderful people and exotic sights and smells, but still... I've had my fill for now.
I've heard rumors that Beijing is plagued by congestion, pollution, hordes of idiotic expats, and countless blog-writing competitors, yet endowed with art, music, and supermarkets full of cheese. I'm looking forward to seeing for myself and meeting all 20 million or so of my soon-to-be fellow Beijingers.
The Opposite End of China
English has been the primary means of communicating between dozens of Filipino languages and dialects ever since the Americans arrived and instituted English as the "language of instruction" in all Filipino schools in the early 1900s. And for more than 60 years, Filipinos learned English as they moved through their schools and into the universities. That tradition was stopped over a decade ago, by Manila politicians who saw English as a form of outdated colonialism and not suited to the modern vision of the Philippines.
And so, for the last decade or longer, Filipinos are not required to study in English or learn the English language, and the communication skills of many Filipinos has declined. A pity, since English, for better or for worse, is the international language, and the Filipinos had a head start on the language.
It seems that everyone is going to town over the misplaced English repartees given by Janina San Miguel in the question-and-answer portion of the [beauty] competition, but won just the same the Binibining Pilipinas-World title last Saturday, March 8. She should not be faulted. As the judges saw it, the 17 year-old beauty contestant admitted her inadequacy in expressing in the English language but courageously made a go at it.
It was not the first time the coliseum crowd and TV audience witnessed a similar futile attempt of contestants in the Binibining Pilipinas competition to get their English messages across to the judges panel.
In the 1974 pageant, a candidate who was a receptionist of a Makati advertising agency was asked by the male host what she thought of the Bagong Lipunan [New Society of Fedinand Marcos]. Adjusting herself and giving a feint smile, she stuttered:
"Well, you know ... as a matter of fact ... nevertheless ..." She never finished her answer when she noticed that the audience was already in stitches! Also in the mid-1970s, a famous body-builder and fitness instructor set up a gym somewhere in the Escolta area and called his workout place, System Tom Ortega. It was patronized by movie stars and society ladies.
A contestant was complimented by the male host of her slim figure. "What is your secret?" "Well," she answered, "I do Systomor." A pageant entry in the early 1990s was asked as to whom a debt of gratitude she owed as endorser and supporter in her joining the competition. She stammered: "I am thankful to my parents, especially my mother and my father."
Incidentally, in all Miss Universe pageants and other similar international beauty contests where the average number of hopefuls is 100, only 20 percent of them speak English.
The Tonic Rays are Not Bluegrass
Cowboy culture has long been popular in Thailand, where the ideal of being free and on the range is something quite attractive to Thai people. You'll see cowboy bars everywhere, always noted by buffalo horns mounted outside the entrance. American country and western music is popular, but Thai bands also do their own interpretations, often based on the raw and earthy rhythms of Issan.
That's Joe Cummings and his band above, and they don't do bluegrass, as far as I know.
And so it seems only logical that Thailand would finally have a bluegrass festival, up in the idyllic highlands of Pak Chong, near the turnoff to a national park. Will the wild elephants be invited?
Country Bluegrass and Cowboy Thai
Koreans may love their dog stew, but the elite restaurateurs who prepare the hallowed feast don't always follow the strict rules of high Korean cleanliness, and the government intends to get everybody in line with the new rules. Only the purest doggie stock must be used for the soup; utensils should be washed in warm water; dogs should be killed with hygienic dog killing tools. Good for the Koreans, and I'll be sure to patronize Doggie Diner next time I'm passing through Seoul.
The Seoul metropolitan government will ask the central government to include dogs in the legal definition of livestock, in a bid to ensure hygienic butchery and processing of what some Koreans regard as a delicacy. A Seoul official said there are 528 canine meat restaurants in Seoul, temporarily rising to 600 in the summer, when people traditionally eat dog stew as a health booster. Therefore, including dogs in livestock is necessary to protect public health.
Guru magazine's founder (pictured above) has finally decided that a website might extend readership beyond the opium dens of Bangkok, and he's allowed some of his slaves/employees to blog about their experiences trying to find enlightenment in the City of Angels. Unfortunately, the web designers still think Flash is God, so expect hurdles to jump and moving things to dodge. The BK link below is less pretentious.
Guru Magazine in Bangkok
Habitat for Humanity goes around the world, building new homes for people in need. Although it's been several years since the tsunami devastated the villages in Thailand north of Phuket, there's still plenty of villagers who need some help getting their lives together, and so the students at Merrimack have decided to do something. Great idea, kids, and I wish you well. Just look out for the spicy som tam.
Della Russo, 18, is one of 13 students headed to southern Thailand for a month this summer to build houses with the organization Habitat for Humanity. She said she wanted the kind of experience she couldn't get being raised in Hampton, N.H., and in the familiar setting of her college.
"I hope I can relate to them," said Della Russo, who has never traveled outside of the United States. "I can teach them and they can teach me." Her older sister, Lauren, said their grandparents don't support the trip and don't understand why they would want to travel so far away to a place so different. Lauren Della Russo, 19, said those differences are why she wants to go.
"I want to be engulfed in the culture," she said. "I want to understand their struggles." The students will spend three weeks in Phang Nga, a rural town on the western coast, where they hope to build at least three houses. The last week will be a chance to see the rest of the country and, they hope, hop on an elephant for a ride.
Erica Christensen, 21, organized the trip because she said she always wanted to get involved with Habitat for Humanity, an organization that pairs families in need of housing with volunteers who can help them build their homes. Habitat for Humanity does work locally and on a national scale through Global Village. Christensen, of Acton, chose Thailand because many people are still struggling from a tsunami that devastated the region in December 2004.
Meaghan Sullivan, 21, said people seem to have forgotten the tsunami and the destruction it brought to Thailand.
You've probably seen the clips of a few winners of the recent YouTube popularity contest, and were amazed by the quirky "Chocolate Rain" song by a young black man from Chicago, but it's more fun to look at the list of nominees and decide for yourself.
YouTube Winner Nominees for 2007
The leading English language newspaper in Cambodia has recently launched their updated website, and dropped the "exclusive content" angle aka what the New York Times tried last year. That's good. The design is attractive if somewhat standard, but I spotted several spelling mistakes and the "insider" looks aren't really insider at all...just standard coverage. And, of course, the lede is something about marketing Cambodian brides to Koreans.
In 2004, the South Korean embassy in Phnom Penh issued 72 marriage visas to Cambodian women. By 2007, that figure had leapt to 1,759. A further 160 marriage visas were issued in the first month of 2008 alone, according to embassy statistics.
Monika – not her real name – is one of a several former brides of Korean men featuring in the IOM report “The Marriage Brokering System from Cambodia to Korea,” a copy of which was obtained by the Post. The issue of young Cambodian women quitting the Kingdom for the South Korean heartland is worrying even the upper echelons of Cambodia’s political leadership.
On March 13, Prime Minister Hun Sen told high-ranking police officials at the Ministry of Interior’s annual congress that “the question to address now is the emerging mail-order bride business in Cambodia.” He then ordered a crackdown on South Korean marriage agencies like Chanthin, which has now been closed down.
Chanthin was registered with the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Economy and Finance and opened in September 2006. The agency was neither legal nor illegal as the existence of marriage agencies is not covered by existing legislation.
However, official matchmaking agencies such as Chanthin – which provides language lessons and stringently adheres to what rules there are in this shadowy sector – may not be the major problem. IOM’s new report suggests that “the vast majority of [Korean-Cambodian] marriages occur through an informal and exploitative broker-arranged process.”
The report explains how Korean men looking for a Cambodian bride can contact one of many – the exact number has not been established – marriage agents operating here. The agents recruit suitable women who are invited to meet with the broker and told to bring photos of themselves for scrutiny by potential husbands. Korean men have begun to come to Cambodia on what the IOM report calls “marriage tours.” Such tours often last a mere four days, during which time the man gets married.
Phnom Penh Post
The Philippines, of course, has their scandals, and most of them are of no interest to Western visitors, but the latest tirade may be of some amusement, since it involves a gay Aussie and his Filipino lover, a bogus restaurant venture in Greenbelt, and the Aussie blog that reveals everything about the financial scam, plus notes on drugs, sex, and political connections about the high-society of Manila.
DJ Montano and I were lovers for almost a year and for five months of that, I was in Australia making and sending him money for our Portuguese restaurant called Bonza, in the new Greenbelt phase which is yet to becompleted.
The owner Antonio was kept away from me. And now I know why. Any meeting that we were to have have to discuss progress, was cancelled at the last minute due to Antonio's 'schedule'. Antonio does, not or has never known about me, or the money that is helping to open his establishment. But he will know soon enough. As will every person attached to the money that has been taken from me in the name of their business's, by DJ Montano. I have found out that DJ actually used part of my money to pay off a debt of his own making that his family was being threatened over.
The Talented Mr. Montano