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January 24-30, 2014

FREELANCE GENERATION


Contents January 24-30, 2014

❖ Lifestyle

❖ Weekly Briefing

❖ Politics

Freelance generation

$304k a day

Dangerous affections


Contents January 24-30, 2014

❖ Politics

❖ Politics

❖ Society

❖ Society

Rainbow politics

The political storm to come

The war veteran

By the skin of their teeth and the clothes on yourback


Contents January 24-30, 2014

❖ Culture

❖ Lifestyle

Datebook

Shangri-la no more

Hong Kong’s elixir of life

Happenings around Asia

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WEEKLY BRIEFING

January 24-30, 2014

$304k a day BANGKOK: The People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) has been spending more than 10 million baht (US$304,000) daily for the Bangkok Shutdown aimed at forcing Yingluck Shinawatra to step down from power. In order to cover the rising costs of a rally that does not look like it will end soon, some protest leaders have even had to sell their properties. According to a PDRC source, protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban

has already sold some of his land in the south. Suthep himself said he had sold a plot in Samui for 25 million baht ($760,000) when he kicked off the protest with the first rally at Samsen train station. Reports said he sold

other pieces of land in Samui later. Suthep also managed to raise a large sum of money in donations from marches in downtown Bangkok. The organisers are also earning from the sale of protest souvenirs. — Hataikarn Treesuwan/ The Nation


WEEKLY BRIEFING

January 24-30, 2014

Fattest country in Southeast Asia PETALING JAYA: Malaysians, besides being weighed down by obesity and diabetes, according to an Oxfam International report on worldwide food quality, also consumed food of poor nutritional diversity. The just released research by the UK-based poverty and disaster relief group ranked Malaysia 44th out of a list of 125 countries. (The higher a score on the index, the worse a country stands.) Titled the 'Good Enough to Eat Index', it showed that Malaysia scored 76 out of a possible 100 under the diet diversity cat-

egory, indicating that while food was ample in Malaysia, these food choices however are not nutritionally diverse. Malaysia was also found to be on the lower rung of the obesity and diabetes categories, scoring 29 and 37 respectively. According to reports, about 2.6 million Malaysians aged 18 and above were diabetics. This number is projected to hit 4.5 million by 2020. Malaysia has also been ranked the fattest country in Southeast Asia and the sixth in the Asia-Pacific Region. —Patrick Lee/The Star


WEEKLY BRIEFING

January 24-30, 2014

AFP

World's top tourists BEIJING: China had the highest number of outbound tourists and amount of overseas spending in the world last year, according to a report released on last week. Ninety-seven million Chinese travelled abroad in 2013, beating the 2012 mark by roughly 14 million, according to the China National Tourism Administration. The number is expected to surpass 100 million this year.

The report released by the Tourist Research Centre of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said China's tourists have had the world's strongest purchasing power since 2012. They overtook German and US tourists as the world's biggest-spending

travellers in 2012, spending US$102 billion overseas, a 40-per-cent increase from 2011. Most Chinese tourists travelled to Asian and European countries, the report said, accounting for 75 per cent of overseas tourists in those countries.—Yang Wanli/ China Daily


WEEKLY BRIEFING

January 24-30, 2014

PARK HAE-MOOK/THE KOREA HERALD

Roh Moo-hyun film a box office hit SEOUL: The Attorney, a film based on a national security case in which Roh Moo-hyun, who was later elected president, defends the accused, has attracted more than 10 million viewers turning it into a certified hit. It is the 10th movie to break this ticket sales milestone in South Korea. The directorial debut by webtoon artist Yang Woo-seok, The Attorney, which premiered on December 18, is also the first to feature the earli-

er days of the late president, whose abrupt suicide in 2009 left the nation in shock. Some experts cite the current political situation and Song Kang-ho’s memorable performance as major factors behind its success. —Claire Lee/ The Korea Herald

A POSTER OF 'THE ATTORNEY' IS DISPLAYED IN FRONT OF THE BOX OFFICE OF A MOVIE THEATRE IN YONGSAN, SEOUL.


January 24-30, 2014

WEEKLY BRIEFING

Anxious wait for panda cub CHIANG MAI: Fans of Chiang Mai Zoo's giant panda Lin Hui have been on a birth watch for three weeks now since the zoo announced that the animal was pregnant and due to give birth middle of this month. There were fears earlier that the pregnancy may have failed but another ultrasound conducted on Lin Hui found a 9cm x 3cm embryo in her womb. However, they have not been able to detect any vital sign or movement. As of press time, Lin Hui continues to give signs that she is about to give birth, such as a falling level of the hormone progesterone and nesting.—The Nation


January 24-30, 2014

WEEKLY BRIEFING


January 24-30, 2014

POLITICS

Dangerous affections Form e r N BA sta r D e n n i s Rodma n’s b izar re love fo r N o r t h Ko rea AFP

DENNIS RODMAN WATCHES A BASKETBALL GAME BETWEEN FORMER NBA PLAYERS AND NORTH KOREAN PLAYERS, WITH KIM JONG-UN AND HIS WIFE RI SOL-JU AT THE PYONGYANG GYMNASIUM IN PYONGYANG.


January 24-30, 2014

POLITICS

AFP

DENNIS RODMAN AND KIM JONG-UN CHATTING AT THE PYONGYANG GYMNASIUM DURING HIS VISIT TO NORTH KOREA FROM JANUARY 6 TO 10.


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

PAUL ZACH The Straits Times Cleveland, Ohio

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hen he was one of the best defensive players in the American National Basketball Association (NBA), fans cheered Dennis Rodman despite his penchant for showboating. After he left the NBA, people chuckled when the New Jersey native donned a bridal gown and said he would marry himself, and again, when on a catwalk, showed off his many tattoos in a tutu. But few Americans are laughing now about his romance with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un. Even talk-show hosts no longer sound like they are jesting. On his Comedy Central show, The Colbert Report, funnyman Stephen Colbert said: "Happy birthday to North Korea's Kim

Jong-un. Please accept our gift of Dennis Rodman. No returns!" Rodman was in the news again after his fourth visit to the reclusive communist country in a year. He showed up with a group of retired, lesser-known NBA players for a game with a North Korean team to celebrate the birthday of the leader he has called a "friend for life". "My mission is to break the ice between hostile countries. Why it has been left to me to smooth things over, I don't know," he told Sports Illustrated last year. In the kind of aside that annoys many former fans—and added to his increasingly bizarre image— he added: "But I will tell you this, if I don't finish in the top three for the next Nobel Peace Prize, something is seriously wrong." That quote underscores an explanation for the Rodman-Kim mutual admiration society made by Foreign Policy magazine assis-

tant editor Elias Groll in a column—both "know the pain of ostracisation". "Isolated from the world," he noted that Kim "is repeatedly ridiculed and denounced for barbarity", and preconceived notions of his country paint it as "utterly weird, utterly depraved, utterly fascinating". Further raising ire, the NBA legend serenaded Kim, who is believed to be 31, with an off-key “Happy Birthday”, even as American tour operator Kenneth Bae, 45, has been languishing in a North Korean prison since 2012, serving 14 years of hard labour for what Pyongyang calls "hostile acts". As Groll wrote: "North Korea threatens to fire missiles at the United States and South Korea, and detonates nuclear weapons. In return, it generally gains diplomatic concessions. Rodman uses a similar tactic of outrage to receive his pay cheques. By main-


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

taining his media profile as a bad boy beyond repair, the reality shows keep calling." The reality, though, is that Rodman, 52, and a towering 2.01m, overcame a tough childhood to earn a place in the NBA Hall of Fame, playing for five different teams, but never seems to have grown up. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, he and his two sisters were moved to one of the poorest areas of Dallas, Texas, by their mother. When he was seven, his father, Philander, left and moved to the Philippines and, there, apparently lived up to his name. He claims to have fathered 29 children by 16 mothers, reported Breitbart. com, and now owns Rodman's Rainbow Obamaburger restaurant there. Rodman was nicknamed the "worm" as a kid because of his gangly moves, and even his

mother threw him out of the house. A Caucasian family headed by James Rich helped him get into college. Years later, when Rodman was enshrined in the NBA's Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, he thanked Rich. Rodman first showed real promise in basketball at the small Southeastern Oklahoma State University in the mid-'80s. By the time he started winning NBA titles with the vaunted Michael Jordan-led Bulls teams of the mid-'90s, however, Rodman's hard play and daunting defensive abilities earned him fame, fortune and the nickname "Rodzilla". Despite success and wealth, the scars of his childhood apparently never healed. In a 1996 autobiography, Bad As I Wanna Be, he admitted he had considered shooting himself to death in 1993. A short stint with the Dallas

Mavericks ended his NBA career in 2000. He flitted from a few film appearances, for which he received the worst new star Golden Raspberry Award, to reality TV. He entered rehab treatment for alcoholism, spent a year in jail on spousal abuse charges and ran up more than US$800,000 in unpaid child support and alimony. Though once earning an estimated $27 million, he told a court last year that he was broke. For many former fans, Rodman's flirtations with North Korea were the last straw. After his first trip last year, the Economist reported that he was kicked out of the Time Hotel bar in New York for screaming about how much he loved his "friend" Kim. "He wouldn't leave, and he wouldn't let anyone talk to him about shutting up, or what an oppressive country North Korea is," a witness told the New York Post. ÂŹ


January 24-30, 2014

POLITICS

AFP

Rainbow politics The ever-changing hues of Philippine politics RAUL DANCEL The Straits Times Manila PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT AND LIBERAL PARTY PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO III HANDING OUT YELLOW WRISTBANDS TO SUPPORTERS DONNING YELLOW CLOTHING DURING HIS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN IN MAY 2010.


January 24-30, 2014

POLITICS

AFP

PHILIPPINE FORMER FIRST LADY IMELDA MARCOS GREETS SUPPORTERS IN RED, DURING HER CAMPAIGN TRAIL IN SOLSOLAN TOWN, ILOCOS NORTE PROVINCE, NORTH OF MANILA IN MAY 2013. MARCOS RAN FOR AND WON THE RE-ELECTION THAT MONTH IN THE MID-TERM ELECTIONS AS CONGRESSWOMAN IN ILOCOS NORTE PROVINCE, HOME PROVINCE OF HER LATE HUSBAND AND EX-PRESIDENT FERDINAND MARCOS.


January 24-30, 2014

POLITICS

AFP

FILIPINO STUDENTS TAKING PART IN A DANCE EXERCISE CALLED THE HUMAN MURAL OF A YELLOW RIBBON, A SYMBOL USED BY FORMER PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT CORAZON AQUINO AND CURRENT PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO III, AT THE RIZAL HIGH SCHOOL IN MANILA.


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

P

olitics in the Philippines is a menagerie of everchanging colours that would shame a rainbow. Politicians flutter from one party to another without regard for platform, programme or persuasion. The only thing that matters is votes. That, however, has not stopped pundits—partly out of professional laziness—from painting politicians in the Philippines as either yellow or red. The dichotomy is a throwback to the decades-long feud between two of the Philippines’ most prominent families: the Aquinos and the Marcoses. Yellow is the colour of the Aquinos, whose scion Benigno Aquino III is now president, and the politics they supposedly espouse: liberal and mostly backed by the educated middle class in urban centres, most of them in the capital region of Metro Manila. Red, on the other hand, signifies the still-influential family of the late

dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Their politics is considered conservative, and their main supporters are said to be poor voters in rural areas, largely in the northern part of the main island of Luzon that benefited from Marcos’ populist public works programmes. That palette is done with very broad strokes. While the Aquinos do have a loyal base among the middle class, they have also relied on the same political dynasties and land-owning families that have kept the Marcoses and their allies afloat all these years. There used to be just one colour in Philippines politics—red, the hue of the grand old Nacionalista Party, the Philippines’ first political party, founded in 1902. When the Americans ceded sovereignty to the Philippines after the Second World War in 1946, the “liberal wing” of the Nacionalista Party spun itself into a new party, the Liberal Party, and painted its mantle in blue.

For over two decades, the presidency swung between red and blue. The Liberal Party held it from 1946 to 1953. The Nacionalista Party then ran the Philippines from 1953 to 1961, before the liberals again took the reins from 1961 to 1965. In 1965, Marcos, unable to get the Liberal Party’s endorsement, jumped ship and joined the Nacionalista Party, effortlessly turning his stripe from blue to red. He ran for president under the nationalists’ banner and won in 1965 and was handed a second term in 1969. In 1972, using a rising communist and Muslim insurgency as pretext, he declared martial law to circumvent a constitutional provision that limited his presidency to two terms and thus extend his reign indefinitely. For nine years, he bathed the Philippines in red. With most of Marcos’ enemies either in jail, exiled or dead, blue lost its prominence.


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

It would take a man’s death in 1983 to break red’s hegemony. That year, Marcos’ political arch-enemy, the former senator Benigno 'Ninoy' Aquino Jr, was assassinated as he stepped off a plane that took him from Boston to Manila. Before he left Boston, Aquino had asked his family in Manila to tie yellow ribbons around the branches of trees that led to his home, a token gesture from the sentimental song "Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree", one of his favourites. Upon Aquino’s death, a sea of yellow swept across the Philippines. Millions rallied across the country wearing yellow shirts, carrying yellow flags and banners, and blanketing the Philippines in yellow ribbons. That movement peaked in 1986, in the so-called Yellow Revolution—the “People Power” Revolution—that forced Marcos to yield power to Aquino’s widow, Corazon, and accept exile. Since then, it has been a tug of

war between red and yellow. The Philippines was yellow country from when Corazon Aquino began her historic term in 1986 till her successor, former Armed Forces chief Fidel Ramos, stepped down in 1998. Red made a big comeback when the actor and local town mayor Joseph Estrada, a staunch Marcos ally, became president in 1998 till he was forced to step down on charges of corruption and abuse of power in 2001 by the Aquinos’ “yellow army” in what was then billed as “People Power Revolution 2”. Gloria Arroyo, a Liberal Party standard-bearer, succeeded Estrada and, for a time, the Philippines swung back to yellow. Arroyo, however, quickly lost her yellow supporters when she went back on a promise to not seek re-election. Ironically, she had to rely on the Nacionalista Party and their red base to narrowly escape a mutiny by a group of elite soldiers in 2003 and clinch

a full six-year term in 2004. Now, under Aquino, the Philippines is yellow country once more. But the reality is that it is easier to get watercolour to stick on a fence on a rainy day. A Filipino politician will always assume the colour that will best suit his needs at a given time. His loyalty is not to his political party, but to the cult of his own personality. For instance, the man widely considered as front-runner in the 2016 presidential race and challenger to Aquino's Liberal Party used to be yellow himself. Vice-President Jejomar Binay, who built his political career as mayor of the Philippines' premiere financial district, had been a lawyer for both Aquino’s father and mother. Now, he runs his own political party and champions a colour that is essentially a mix of red and yellow. If his ascent continues unabated, the Philippines may soon turn orange in 2016. ¬


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

THE NATION

The political storm to come BUNN NAGARA The Star Petaling Jaya

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iolent upheaval in Thailand is set to grow, getting a lot worse before (and if ) things get any better. On the external front, Thailand is at peace with the world: the “land of smiles” faces no enemy, foreign threat or serious competitor. Its historical foe Burma, as the aspiring overlord next door when Thailand was still the absolute monarchy PROTEST LEADER SUTHEP THAUGSUBAN


January 24-30, 2014

POLITICS

THE NATION


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

of Siam under different kingdoms, has long ceased to be the deadly irritant that it was. Even Thailand’s ancient rival Vietnam, in vying for influence over smaller neighbours like Laos and Cambodia, poses no such anxieties today. The tempers that raged recently between Thailand and Cambodia over territory around a border temple had cooled swiftly after a decision by the International Court of Justice. As Thailand is not among claimant states in its neighbourhood competing interminably for disputed maritime territory, old conflicts are as unlikely to arise with other nations as new ones to develop. Both regionally and further afield, Thailand can afford a laid-back “mai pen rai” attitude to current affairs. Mod-

ern developments like Asean membership have helped to iron out prospective wrinkles. However, issues on the domestic front are an entirely different matter. Thailand continues to be rocked by not one but two crises of national proportions simultaneously. Waves of anti- and pro-government dissent, sometimes violent, form a rising tide of lawlessness centred in Bangkok regardless of ideology or principle. The many problems are almost certain to get worse before they get better. At the same time, sporadic violence in the southernmost provinces continues with no end in sight. While anybody in the wrong place at the wrong time can be attacked or killed, the cause of the violence remains largely unidentified. Compounding these prob-

lems is the failure of many analysts to appreciate the prospective scale of each crisis and to understand the severity of the implications. Worse, too few comprehend how both sets of issues not only occur simultaneously but also feed into each other, making for a grand conflagration. Bangkok’s woes deriving from the latest Thaksin-driven government is alarming for everyone throughout the country. The issues and the problems they generate do not discriminate as to who or what is harmed. On one level, the street protests are an unlawful way to unseat an elected government that had not been pronounced illegitimate by democratic, constitutional or juridical means. Unlike previous administrations manipulated by convicted fugitive former premier Thaksin


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

Shinawatra, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has not been found to have violated any law as to nullify its mandate. Suspicions of vote-buying in the 2011 election remain unproven allegations. The preceding prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva of the Democrat party, had even conceded defeat. Since then the street protests have grown in strength, with Abhisit joining in. The demonstrations are led by his former deputy premier Suthep Thaugsuban, who has an arrest warrant on his head. Instead of the warrant being served on Suthep, he has called for the arrest of Yingluck. That all this has been allowed to spiral speaks volumes of a failure of governance. In trying to topple the government by provoking a military coup, the protesters are

demonstrating not just their dislike of a government, but against the undisputed result of an election. Yet nobody doubts that the anti-government demonstrators are outnumbered by the pro-government ones who have yet to emerge this time. Far from the Bangkok-centred mess being an exclusively Bangkok imbroglio, it divides the pro-Thaksin north and the anti-Thaksin south and Bangkok. It is a deteriorating national divide that is set to grow deeper and wider. This crisis shows that Yingluck’s government has lost all control of events at street level. Yingluck tried to negotiate with the protest leaders, only to be spurned by them as they insisted that she quit. She then called for a meeting with the Election Commission

and the opposition, only to be shunned by both. She then planned to announce her resignation only to be told by Thaksin by phone to stay put. She has now drifted past the point of patching up her credibility, with scant hope of salvaging any dignity of office. The crisis with its epicentre in Bangkok is essentially a crisis of governance, of the lack of governance at the centre. And that is precisely the fuel that insurgents in the south have been looking for to widen their scale of operations. It has been nearly a year now since supposed peace talks facilitated by Malaysia were first held between the Thai government and the insurgents, the latter as represented by the underground rebel group, the BRN (Barisan Revolusi Nasional) Coordinate.


POLITICS

January 24-30, 2014

A few preliminary meetings were held since last February, with little follow-up until a stalemate. Neither Bangkok nor the BRN showed commitment to the talks. Now talk of the peace talks seems like such a long and forlorn time ago, as regression sets in with a return to violence. Thailand’s “southern violence” has been known to afflict the three southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat for decades. Over the past year it has been spilling over these provinces in heading north. Last December, multiple bombs went off in Padang Besar and Dan Nok in Songkhla province. They targeted police stations and commercial establishments, leaving no doubt they had been the work of militants.

This had followed another bombing campaign in Phuket, a little further north, in early August. The target then was Phuket City Hall. Earlier in May, a bomb went off in Bangkok itself in Ramkhamhaeng Soi 43/1. Opinion was divided even within the security forces over whether this was the work of southern insurgents, until a rebel group claimed responsibility. Insurgents have no doubt that they oppose established authority, and no Thai authority is so targeted as the national government in Bangkok. Since November at least, that national authority is seen everywhere as weak and in decline. Meanwhile, all parties locked in their urban-centred

strife in Bangkok seem oblivious to the perilous potential of both crises growing until they merge into a mega-turmoil expanding exponentially. If left unattended, that longlamented Bangkok-centric attitude may prove the catastrophic undoing of the country as a whole. ¬ Thailand's caretaker government on January 21 placed Bangkok and its outskirts under emergency decree for 60 days. This will give officials more power to handle the anti-government protest, which it claims has been a cause of violence, death and injury.


January 24-30, 2014

SOCIETY AFP

The war veteran

A battle-scarred survivor of the Baloch insurgency in Pakistan lives to tell his tale of fighting in a civil war that has been ongoing for more than 60 years A POLICEMAN REMOVES BURNING TYRES ON A STREET DURING A PROTEST IN KARACHI ON APRIL 9, 2009, AGAINST THE KILLING OF THREE BALOCH NATIONALIST POLITICIANS. THE MUTILATED BODIES OF THE DISSIDENT POLITICIANS, WHO SUPPORTERS SAID WERE PICKED UP BY INTELLIGENCE AGENTS IN TURBAT ON APRIL 2, WERE FOUND DUMPED IN A REMOTE LOCATION ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF THE SOUTHWEST TOWN.


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

AFP

NAZIHA SYED ALI Dawn Karachi

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hen Mohammed Ali Talpur was caught in an explosion that went off in the Marri Hills of Balochistan 40 years ago, he was miles away from anything that resembled medical help. Nevertheless, Talpur managed to stay alive while waiting for two doctors, who were rushed to his aid via airplane from Quetta to Karachi, and then on a camel, to reach him in the mountains six days later. The Balochistan insurgency is today in its fourth iteration, having lasted more than six de-

cades, and many, like Talpur, have not lost their zeal for the cause which they call “the struggle”. The conflict in Balochistan province (located in Southwestern Pakistan and also includes the Sistan and Baluchestan province of Southeastern Iran) is an on-going dispute between Baloch nationalists and the governments of Pakistan and Iran. Over the years, clashes have taken place over a variety of issues, including abuse of human rights, greater autonomy, increased royalties from natural resources and provincial revenue, and in

ACTIVISTS OF BALOCH NATIONAL FRONT CARRY PLACARDS BEARING THE PORTRAITS OF MURDERED BALOCH NATIONALIST POLITICIANS AS THEY SHOUT ANTI-GOVERNMENT SLOGANS DURING A PROTEST IN KARACHI ON APRIL 9, 2009.


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

AFP

LOCALS GATHER BESIDE A TRAIN THAT WAS DESTROYED BY A BOMB EXPLOSION IN NASEERABAD DISTRICT, AROUND 250 KILOMETRES SOUTHEAST OF QUETTA, THE CAPITAL OF BALOCHISTAN PROVINCE ON OCT 21, 2013.

some cases full secession of power over the region. Though he may not have the same physical strength as he did when he fought in the insurrection in the 1970s, Talpur passion for the cause has not diminished. And this, he demonstrated by

joining the long march conducted by advocacy group Voice of the Baloch Missing People when they began the Karachi-Islamabad leg of their long trek from Quetta. The group called out for international bodies such as the United Nations and

Amnesty International to put an end to “enforced disappearances” in the province, where people have gone missing for no reason. Talpur had intended to accompany them through their 2,361km walk to Hala, but his old age did not permit. Rolling up his shalwar (traditional trousers), he showed his swollen ankles and calves. “Walking 20km a day is no easy feat,” he said. Nevertheless, determined to do his part even in his twilight years, Talpur opened his home in Hyderabad to the marchers. His house, built in 1920, is a magnificent work of architecture with elaborate tiles and ceilings with ancient Persian designs. Joining the march also carried a personal mean-


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

AFP

A MAN INSTALLS A BLACK FLAG ON THE TOP OF A PICTURE OF LATE TRIBAL CHIEFTAIN NAWAB AKBAR BUGTI IN QUETTA ON AUG 26, 2008, ON THE SECOND ANNIVERSARY OF HIS KILLING.


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

ing for Talpur. In 1971, his fellow resistance fighter Dilip Das was picked up by members of an “intelligence agency” while travelling from Balochistan to Sindh and never seen again. “His mother, who now lives in Karachi, is already 92 years old. Until today, every time I see her she asks me, ‘How’s my Johnnie?’ (her nickname for Dilip). Even though she has not seen him these past 43 years, she still believes that he is alive somewhere. There is no closure for those whose loved ones have disappeared without a trace in the hands of the state.” Dilip, like Talpur, was part of a group called

the “London Group”, so called because it was founded by and comprised of young non-Balochs who left their studies in London in the early ‘70s to join the Baloch resistance. Talpur at that time, was studying journalism at Karachi University when he heard about the London Group, and decided to quit school to join the resistance. He took six months off first to live with a relative who was a doctor to learn about treating illnesses, dispensing medication and assisting in minor surgeries. This skill later proved useful after being injured in the explosion, when he could no longer fight in the forefront.

In October 1971, he left Karachi to join the Baloch resistance fighting in the mountains. Life as a guerrilla fighter, Talpur recalled, especially if you grew up in a well-to-do urban family. “We lived in rough environments. There were no tents to sleep in, we slept under ledges and in small caves. The Marri communities supplied us with food, (the Marri is the largest of the Baloch tribes in Balochistan and Sindh), and Sibi city wasn’t too far away. We would go there for rations like flour,” he said, adding that their “youthful idealism” kept them going despite the harsh conditions. The fighting in the '70s subsided following the

army coup led by General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq ousting Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Zia later signed agreements with Baloch leaders which brought temporary peace to the province. Nevertheless, as the insurgency picked up again in 2004, Talpur noted an essential difference between the spirit of the resistance in the ‘70s and now: “Before, the Baloch people had reservations about their independence. But what we had done in the ‘70s, sowing the seeds of independence, is beginning to bear fruits now. Today the Baloch are as dedicated as before, if not more to the cause — for an independent Balochistan. There are no more ‘in-betweens’ now.” ¬


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

AFP

By the skin of their teeth and the clothes on your back Why Cambodia's garment workers went on strike

CAMBODIAN GARMENT WORKERS CARRY ROCKS AS THEY SHOUT SLOGANS AFTER A BRIEF CLASH WITH POLICE DURING A PROTEST TO DEMAND HIGHER WAGES IN FRONT OF A FACTORY IN PHNOM PENH ON JAN 2, 2014.


January 24-30, 2014

SOCIETY

AFP

CAMBODIAN MILITARY POLICE ARREST PROTESTERS DURING A GARMENT WORKERS PROTEST TO DEMAND HIGHER WAGES IN FRONT OF A FACTORY IN PHNOM PENH ON JAN 3, 2014. THE PROTESTS LEFT AT LEAST THREE PEOPLE DEAD WHILE THE COUNTRY’S PREMIER FACES GROWING PUBLIC DISTRUST.


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

NIRMAL GHOSH The Straits Times Phnom Penh

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er quick hands and sharp eyes have, for a year, inspected the stitching in a stream of clothes before they left a factory by a dusty potholed street in Phnom Penh to head to stores in Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Berlin, London and New York. Today Heit Ladi, 20, who eked out a living by the proverbial skin of her teeth on a monthly salary of US$80 and just wanted more, lies staring at the ceiling in Phnom Penh's Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, her upper left arm shattered by two bullets. She wonders if it will

heal well enough for her to resume work. She is among over 30 left wounded when troops opened fire on striking workers on January 3. Five were killed. The local rights organisation, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, called it "the worst state violence to hit civilians in 15 years". Seven global apparel brand names which buy from Cambodian factories, in an open letter to Cambodia's strongman Premier Hun Sen, expressed deep concern over "the widespread civil unrest and the government's use of deadly force". The strike, its politicisation and the premier's crackdown have thrown

the light on a politically troubled country, a troubled industry, and the human cost of competitiveness. The workers were demanding a doubling of their minimum wage to $160 a month this year. Unions had rejected a government offer of $100. The sector—which employs up to half a million, around 90 per cent of whom are women—earned Cambodia over $5 billion in exports last year. In recent years, the industry has boomed as factories relocated from China, where wages are several times higher. In Cambodia, workers typically live in tiny, 12sqm rooms, with toilets the size of a large

cupboard, and a ladder leading up to a wooden platform where two to three people can sleep. Often there are five to seven workers to a room, splitting the $40 monthly rent. They also pay around $12 to $15 a month for electricity and water. With whatever is left, the workers have to survive and send money to their families. "If they were spending that $80 and all the overtime and extra allowances only on themselves, it would be quite sufficient," said Jill Tucker, chief technical advi-ser to the International Labour Organisation's "Better Factories Cambodia" programme, which monitors standards in the garment sector.


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

"But workers here are not just supporting themselves," she said. "This is true in many countries but especially here—most workers are supporting maybe four to five people back in their villages." Yet as water flows to lower levels, so the garment industry has historically shifted to wherever cheaper labour is available—and that is the case in Cambodia. "We are all paying the same for our garments as we were paying 10 years ago, maybe even less," said Tucker. Said David Welsh, head of the Cambodia office of the workers' rights organisation Solidarity Centre: "This industry seeks out countries where the rule of law is weakest and people are in such dire eco-

nomic straits that they do any work." Businesses tend to seek both low labour costs and stability, said British-based P.R. Shakya, managing director of Phosphor International Cambodia, which has two garment factories in Cambodia and one in China. Cambodia is still cheap but it is becoming less stable. From January to November last year, garment workers mounted 131 strikes, up from 121 for all of 2012. And that was before the latest strike, which began on December 26. Shakya lamented China's high wages but praised its stability—because there are no real labour unions in China, a feature it shares with another communist

country, Vietnam. Cambodia, in comparison, offers low wages but labour relations have become unpredictable, he said. Bangladesh falls in the same category. The next choice may be Myanmar, he said. "My sense is, at some level, there is going to be a re-evaluation of the risks of placing orders in Cambodia," said Tucker. Heit Ladi and her co-workers saw the new year in chanting and dancing to music late into the night in the middle of Veng Sreng street area—the heart of the garment district— with many hundreds of other workers, including her 17-year-old sister. But on January 2, the army's elite 911 brigade moved in to break up a

strike and arrested more than 20 workers. When troops arrived again the next morning, angry workers pelted them with stones. The troops opened fire. Eye-witnesses claim two soldiers even climbed onto the balcony of a small house and fired down at the workers. When the riot started, Heit Ladi fled to her room, which she shared with six others. Heart thumping, she watched the mayhem on the street outside, and then two bullets tore through her upper left arm, shattering the bone. She was one of the lucky 38 who got away with bullet wounds and are lying in three hospitals in Phnom Penh. Five other garment workers were killed that day.


SOCIETY

January 24-30, 2014

The unrest over wages and the resentment at the harsh government crackdown are combining with a shift in the political wind to create a potentially explosive mix. The strike came as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was mounting a prolonged protest against Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), accusing it of having cheated its way to victory in last July's general election. For weeks on end, the CNRP had mustered several thousands on the streets of the capital, demanding a new election. It also promised the striking workers that it would set $160 as the minimum wage if it came to power.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for Cambodia's Council of Ministers, called the combined protests a "rebellion". The military in turn said it opened fire to prevent "anarchy". Even an official of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia said the shooting was justified. Garment workers have become a political battleground for the ruling CPP and the opposition CNRP. Some unions are pro-government. Some are pro-opposition and wary of collusion between the pro-government unions and the manufacturers. Not all unions called for a strike. For workers like Heit Ladi, salvation can likely come only from the very

ones who now benefit from their low wages—the global clothing companies whose logos adorn the garments they churn out. Last Wednesday's statement from the clothing companies was not strong enough, said Welsh. But in an earlier encouraging development last November, Swedish company H&M, the world's second-biggest retailer of clothes, in a statement on raising wages said: "We believe wage development in production countries, which is often driven by governments, is taking too long. H&M wants to take further action and encourage the whole industry to follow." Two weeks ago, it was Heit Ladi and others like

20-year-old So Sambath, and 21-year-old Khorn Riy, who were both shot in the abdomen, who paid the real price of branded apparel. Heit Ladi went to school until the fourth grade. She came to the city from her village home in Kandal province to become a domestic worker in Phnom Penh, making $50 a month. Then she landed the $80 job in a garment factory in Canadia Industrial Estate. The January 3 incident may alter her life forever, and one scenario is almost certain: She will stay poor. "I don't save any money," she said. "And if I can't work anymore, I will have to go back to the village." ÂŹ


January 24-30, 2014

Fire destroys Shangri-la assets YANG YANG AND HU YONGQI China Daily Yunnan

A

fire that raged through an ancient Tibetan town in Yunnan caused irreparable damage to ancient architecture and heritage items. The blaze in Dukezong, a 1,300 year-old-town in the predominantly Tibetan Shangri-la coun-

THE ANCIENT TOWN OF DUKEZONG IN YUNNAN PROVINCE LIES DEVASTATED, THREE DAYS AFTER A BLAZE ENGULFED MANY AREAS. QU MINGFEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

Lost forever

CULTURE


January 24-30, 2014

CULTURE

QU MINGFEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

RESIDENTS SEARCH THROUGH THE RUINS OF THEIR HOMES.


January 24-30, 2014

CULTURE

QU MINGFEI / FOR CHINA DAILY

RUINS OF OLD HOUSES SCATTERED AROUND THE ANCIENT TOWN OF DUKEZONG IN YUNNA


CULTURE

January 24-30, 2014

ty and a significant tourist attraction, destroyed 343 of the 1,084 houses. The town is known for its cobbled streets and well-preserved traditional wooden houses. The Shangri-la county government said the fire started when a hotel owner accidentally set curtains alight. Although there were no reports of casualties, more than 2,600 people were evacuated from their homes. More than 2,000 firefighters, soldiers, police and volunteers were involved in the rescue operation as firefighters fought for more than 10 hours to bring the blaze under control. While the Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture Red Army Long March Museum and Diqing Museum survived, at least half of Dukezong was destroyed in the Jan 11, 2014 blaze.

Cultural loss One of the best-preserved old houses, a provincial-level key cultural heritage site and a major tourist attraction, was reduced to ashes and a number of other ancient sites were also destroyed. In addition, the blaze consumed important cultural relics, precious Tibetan thangka (painting) and other pieces of ethnic art. "The value of Dukezong lies in its architecture. The fire destroyed the pattern of the town that was laid down in ancient times. The incident has dealt a fatal blow to research in the region and to traditional culture," said Li Gang, the director of the Diqing Tibetan autonomous prefecture historical relics preservation agency. Li, born and raised in Dukezong, visited the town on January 12. The scene put tears in his eyes.


CULTURE

January 24-30, 2014

"Everything was in a pitiful state. There was nothing left except broken, blackened walls. The once-prosperous town centre is totally ruined and almost unrecognisable. Nothing remains of the magnificent buildings. The water that had been used to extinguish the flames was frozen on the ground. I could see smoke coming from collapsed houses. The town looked as though it had been the target of an air raid," he said. Residents said firefighters arrived at the scene quickly, but there was little they could do because the narrow streets prevented access for the fire engines. Li said changes made to the original infrastructure to accommodate the vast numbers of tourists the town attracts, and insufficient fire safety procedures and equipment were among the root causes of the widespread devastation. For example, the town's only water tank

has a capacity of just 800 metric tonnes, far from sufficient to tackle a fire of such intensity. From a distance, Dukezong looks like an amazing ancient town, but seen up close it's a business area with sports bars, nightclubs, hotels and small shops. Electric cables hang everywhere. Tourism has been a double-edged sword for this ancient settlement. The influx of visitors has raised the local standard of living, but the town has also seen many changes in recent years and some locals said they hardly recognise it. "Our memories of a simple, relaxed life are gone forever. In traditional Tibetan architecture, the roof isn't nailed onto the supports, so if a fire breaks out, it can be removed quickly and easily and the fire-affected section can be cut out. But the new buildings don't follow that rule. In one sense that acceler-

ated the spread of the fire," said Li. The town was designed to minimise the danger posed by fire, according to Li. The original architects ensured that there were wide spaces between the buildings and they also incorporated a firebreak that kept stockpiles of fertiliser and firewood isolated from the main buildings in the event of fire. However, recent construction work has reduced the size of the "safe area" and the crowded buildings and narrow streets have become hazardous, he said. Cao Baoming, vice-president of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society was also critical of the recent changes. "The over-exploitation of business potential isn't just a problem in Dukezong, but also in many other ancient towns and villages, such as Dali and Lijiang. Because the traditional buildings are made


CULTURE

January 24-30, 2014

of wood, this fire has rung alarm bells about the safety of ancient towns nationwide," he said. Many experts are of the opinion that having residents living and working inside the old settlements is the best way to keep towns and villages alive in the modern age, but it should be regulated, because the cultural heritage is unique and can't be replicated. Once destroyed, it is lost irretrievably, he said.

Time to rebuild

Dukezong resident Song Yunfeng was devastated to see the town reduced to rubble. "Before the fire, if the weather permitted, people came out to dance in the square every evening. I hope the town can be rebuilt soon and we can resume a normal life," she said.

Huo Yaozhong, a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts at Shanxi University who has researched conservation of ancient architecture for many years, said unsustainable profit-making waspart of the problem. He said that some local entrepreneurs have altered original structures to meet the demands of their businesses, destroying the original facades in the process. Local governments attaching great importance to the exploitation of ancient architecture and cultures, but paying scant attention to their protection is a nationwide problem, said Huo. Opening ancient towns to tourism and providing visitors with the opportunity to learn about their culture and experience their charm is a good way of protecting the heritage, but good planning is essential, he added.

Li said rebuilding Dukezong will present the local government and architectural experts with huge challenges. "Although ancient architecture should preferably be rebuilt using materials as close to the originals as possible, I would prefer to see modern fireproof materials used in Dukezong. As long as the town is a hotspot for tourists, fires and other safety concerns will always exist. Fireproof materials would be the wisest choice," he said. Cao stressed that the repair work should be carefully planned. "I don't think the rebuilding process should start immediately; on the contrary, a comprehensive plan should be formulated before any work begins. It should be based on cultural research, local history and the regional environment." ÂŹ


CULTURE

January 24-30, 2014

How Shangri-La came to be James Hilton ended his classic novel Lost Horizon with the question "Do you think he (the hero, Conway) will ever find it (Shangri-La)", but the place remained a fiction until September 1997, when the government of Yunnan province announced that Zhongdian county would change its name to Shangri-La county. According to the local government, Shangri-La means "The sun and moon in the heart" in the ancient local language. The county was a key staging post on the Yunnan-Tibet branch of the ancient Tea-Horse Road trading route that connected Pu'er in Yunnan with Lhasa in the Tibet autonomous region.

The route was formed more than 1,300 years ago as the trade in salt and tea with India and Nepal boomed in Southwest China. Zhongdian's wooden-structured houses provided shelter for the caravans and horses that carried the goods from Yunnan to Tibet, before they turned their eyes toward their neighbours in Southern Asia. The ancient town of Dukezong, also known as "Moon Town", was a key settlement on the Tea-Horse Road for more than a millennium. When the city was being built, the local people discovered a type of white clay that could be spread on the external walls

of buildings. As a result, all the houses were painted white, making the entire town appear especially enchanting in the silver moonlight. With a history of more than 1,300 years, the town was built according to the precepts of the utopian society of Shambhala, as described in Buddhist texts. For traders on the road in ancient times, Dukezong was the last stop before they entered Tibet, a relatively easy part of a round-trip that usually lasted a year. The traders and their horses relaxed in the town, luxuriating in the warm shelters and delicious food. —Yang Yang and Hu Yongqi/China Daily


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

THE STAR

The freelance generation Full-time jobs? Who needs 'em when you can freelance at home in your jammies?

FILMMAKER JOSHUA CHAY TOOK HIS FREELANCE CAREER TO THE NEXT LEVEL BY STARTING HIS OWN PRODUCTION COMPANY CALLED THE SPACEMEN.

Kevin Tan The Star Petaling Jaya

O

nce upon a time, it was only natural to seek and secure a stable job after you graduate, preferably with an established company where you can build your resume based on the reputation of the company. But now, with the culture of the modern workforce, where demands are high and speed of work is essential, we are seeing the rise of “independent workers”—aka freelancers. Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said there has been a “rapid growth” in freelancing in Malaysia, especially with work that can be done online.


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

THE STAR

FREELANCE FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER BIBO ASWAN HOPES TO WORK WITH A PHOTOGRAPHY STUDIO IN THE FUTURE TO GAIN MORE PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE AND GAIN ACCESS TO BETTER EQUIPMENT.


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

He said: “Freelancers have more freedom and flexibility. For some it is about following their passion and being their own boss, while at the same time earning some income.” According to a PC.com article earlier this year, since Malaysians started using the Freelancer. com website in 2009, over 27,000 freelance jobs have been posted, and over US$851,000 earned by freelancers. Most of the jobs originate from Klang Valley, with Malaysian employers mainly hiring freelancers from South Asia. In line with the growth of ICT industries, the most popular projects are software architecture, MySQL and software testing.

Why go freelance?

For graphic designer and videographer Zermi Ng, 25, being a freelancer had not only helped him become more productive, but

also given him more free time. “As a freelancer, I usually take about two to eight days to complete a film, and whatever time I have left is usually free for me to do what I want,” he said. Ng said he could spend just a week to deliver a production and get the same monthly salary he would with a nineto-five job with five days a week in the office. “The only problem is you might not get a job every month,” he said. Shamsuddin said: “People who don’t want to be bound by the strict 9am to 5pm working hours would usually choose the freelancing path. But not all jobs can be done by freelancers. “They usually are professions in the creative field like designers and copywriters, as well as IT or enginering professions.” He pointed that more companies are now attracted to this new form of hiring and moving away from

traditional employment. The benefits for employers, he said, is they can “save on benefits and statutory payments” while maintaining a lean workforce and meeting bursts in demand. “For example, a company who specialises in food and beverage will not need to hire a full-time web developer just to set up a website. In fact, the web developer doesn’t even need to show up to the office. “By hiring full-time staff, there is space reduction, and more budget spent on benefits. If you hire a freelancer, it’s a win-win situation. Freelancers get the freedom they want and companies don’t need to spend on office space.” According to Sam Haggar, the Malaysia country head of human resource consulting firm ManpowerGroup, freelancing


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

YOUNG PEOPLE ARE FINDING TYPICAL NINE-TO-FIVE OFFICE JOBS LESS APPEALING, WHILE COMPANIES ARE ALSO REALISING THE BENEFITS OF FREELANCERS—MORE SAVINGS ON OFFICE SPACE AND EMPLOYEE BENEFITS.

and potraiture while studying in Form Two. Before he even graduated with his diploma in photography, he already had a handful of clients to start with. Even during his internship with a photography studio, he found that he preferred a more flexible working schedule. “I could actually continue to work with the studio full-time, but I chose not to. By freelancing, I don’t actually have to work everyday.”

A price to pay is becoming a trend because more young people like the lifestyle that comes with it. “The lifestyle of being able to be anywhere at any time while working is becoming more and more of a trend. There is also no geographical boundary when it comes to delivering their work.” Fashion photographer Bibo Aswan, 24, started his freelance career in fashion photography

It is important to note that there is a difference between freelance and part-time workers. Part-timers are employees who are entitled to all company benefits and social security like EPF and Socso, but with a lower level of commitment. But of course, freelancers usually enjoy more freedom and flexibility. In the eyes of the law, however, they have very little

leverage against their employers. And on top of that, their income is rarely as stable as that of a fulltime or part-time employee. “Freelancers are paid for their work but they have almost no benefits and have no rights of employment apart from a contract between the employer and the freelancer,” said Haggar. According to Shamsuddin, there also have been cases where freelancers were scammed and cheated for their services. “There are ‘companies’ and ‘employers’ out there targeting freelancers. They ask for your services and then disappear without giving you payment.” Shamsuddin said freelancers ought to be careful in dealing with their employers as they might encounter bogus companies or scams. It is vital for a freelancer to request for a civil contract, and also to check the employer and company’s background before committing to a job.


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

Through both freelancing and working as an employee, filmmaker Joshua Chay, 27, discovered what he wanted to achieve in his career. “I didn’t see myself working for a company because I wanted to be my own person. In that way I’m able to produce the kind of work I like and I’m passionate about,” said Chay. Although Chay pursued a freelance career in filmmaking, he was working with many types of clients—including some he didn’t particularly enjoy working with. “The biggest thing about my freelance career was that it was growing, and fast. But through the jobs, I realised what kind of work I didn’t want to do. So from there, I began to pick my clients and produce the type of work I enjoy and am actually good at,” said Chay. Haggar added: “That’s one of the great advantages freelancers

have—they get to choose their clients and enjoy their work.”

The path to entrepreneurship

Eventually, freelancing became a stepping stone for Chay to venture into something bigger — starting his very own company. He realised the importance of expanding his services, as well as presenting a higher credibility to clients, which is why he founded his own company, The Spacemen, with two other friends. Ng had also taken steps to expand his services by starting his own company, Mime Studio. “Starting a company will attract more clients, and it makes it easier for us to convince them,” he said. But on the flipside, despite the liberty freelancers have, Haggar said they often lose out on the mentorship you get from having a superior, and learning from other

colleagues. “This form of working may cause young freelancers to be less business-savvy and structured, because they are without guidance.” Because of this, Bibo plans to work with a professional photography studio in the near future. “I want to do that so I can learn the business side of things. Plus, a professional studeio would also have better resources, like proper production equipment.” That’s one of the reasons why Chay spent around three years freelancing before he started his own company. He wanted to learn everything from scratch, from the top to the bottom of the production industry. “Because I started out doing everything on my own, I had to learn everything. And I realised after a while that starting a company was the right move. Multinational companies may not work with freelancers, but they might if you’re a legit company,” he said. ¬


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

LI XUEYING The Straits Times Hong Kong

L

ike a scene out of a Hong Kong triad movie, the mahjong parlour in Temple Street is filled with cigarette smoke, the incessant clickclack of tiles and the grim, hard faces of gamblers. On a prominent altar for Guan Gong, the righteous Taoist God of War, lies a giant bundle of ginger, shaped like a hand. A knife is stabbed through it—an ominous warning, it seems, for anyone contemplating cheating at the tables.

AFP

Hong Kong’s elixir of life

Mahjong has found new life as therapy for the elderly, but is waning in popularity among the young The manager of Hong Kong's oldest mahjong parlour Kai Kee Mahjong laughs it off. "It's just to create sat hei, a menacing atmosphere, which brings good fortune to our business," says Devil Yau —his real name, he insists. Filled with mystique, rituals and superstitions—including the famous one about wearing red underwear for luck—playing mahjong has long been a way of life for Hong Kongers. And it has been posited that the game is a possible factor for why they are among the longest-living people in the


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

MIKE CLARKE/AFP

world. Last year, the city's men and women came in second in terms of longevity after Japan, living to ages 81 and 86.3 respectively. Various studies have documented the health benefits of mahjong, due to the need for a player to calculate points and remember the rules and tiles already thrown out, as well as for its social interactivity. Three or four players are needed to form a table for a game. In a study published this year, the Hong Kong Institute of Education found that regular mahjong playing and taiji practice among nursing home residents slow down cognitive decline even for those suffering from dementia, as compared with those engaged in handicraft activities. "Mahjong kept them mentally active through participation in a leisure

HUI CHUNG-LAI, A MAHJONG CHAMP FROM HONG KONG.

activity that is enjoyable and mood-lifting," says professor Cheng Sheung Tak, a psychology and gerontology academic who led the research. It is, thus, not surprising that the game is finding new life here in a different form: as therapy for elderly patients in hospitals and nursing homes. The Yan Chai Hospital Nursing Home in Tsuen Wan, for one, intro-

duced "mahjong therapy" in 2004. Today, 60 of its 300 residents undergo the programme. Every resident is accompanied by an aide, who tailors the help according to his or her needs. For instance, the focus for those suffering from Alzheimer's disease will be to help them regain physical agility in their arms, by rearranging and throwing


LIFESTYLE

January 24-30, 2014

out tiles. Those who are more mentally sharp will be guided to think through how they will play the game. Since then, the effects have been clear, says occupational therapist Tse Wai Ho, citing an elderly woman suffering from mild Alzheimer's disease who used to keep shouting and could not concentrate on any particular activity. "During the game, she stayed quiet, and after three months, she stopped shouting even when she was not playing mahjong." The programme has also become popular among the residents, he says. "They look forward to it and you can hear them reminding one another that today or tomorrow is Mahjong Day." But away from nursing homes and hospitals, the game's own longevity appears at stake. While the sound of swirling mahjong tiles and muttered Cantonese oaths at a weak hand continues to resonate, in homes, at the back of shops and even some wedding ban-

quets, the game purportedly invented by Confucius in 500BC appears to be falling out of favour. In particular, mahjong parlour —with a whiff of disrepute about them as dens of iniquity, with rough characters, shady transactions and brawls—report dwindling business. Today, there are just 66 licensed mahjong parlours in the city—fewer than half of the 144 established in 1956 when the colonial government started licensing what it termed "mahjong schools" to avoid appearing to condone gambling. A visit to five clustered in Kowloon's working-class districts of Yau Ma Tei and Jordan shows that most players are in their 40s to 60s. "Young people rarely come," says Yuen Wai, manager at Shui Hing Mahjong in Portland Street. "They would rather play computer games at home." But hardy establishments are finding ways to survive. They are now reaching out to people from China, where mah-

jong parlours are illegal. For instance, many of them now abide by Shenzhen-style rules, instead of the Hong Kong or Cantonese style. Instructions are also often rendered in simplified Chinese script—as used in the mainland— instead of the traditional characters customary in Hong Kong. "About 30 per cent of our customers are now from the mainland," says Gordan Lam, 68 a grandson of Lam Kwan who opened Kai Kee in 1930—initially as a provisions store, later adding mahjong tables to draw customers. The space with about 20 tables draws around HK$100,000 (US$13,000) in commissions a month, he says. For now, players like housewife Mimi Fung, 46, are keeping them afloat. She began playing mahjong at 14 —and has been hooked since. Trying to sum up its charm, she says: "Mahjong is not only a game, it is like real life. You can tell a person's personality from the way he plays mahjong." ¬


January 24-30, 2014

¬ Seoul Seoul Snow Festival This year’s festival is loaded with all sorts of winter fun for the whole family to enjoy. The snow festival is divided into zones: snow zone for mass snow fights; sled zone for snow sledding; exhibition zone for a glimpse into the life of a snow world through a colourful sculpture; and a photo zone for capturing your memorable winter experience. Other activities include snow fights with Korean celebrities every Wednesdays, and costume themed mass snow fights every Friday at 5pm.

When: Until February 9 Where: War Memorial of Korea

DATEBOOK


DATEBOOK

January 24-30, 2014

ÂŹ Suzhou, China Works of a master Suzhou Museum is presenting a large exhibition of modern Chinese master artist Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), showcasing more than 50 paintings and calligraphic works, including some top masterpieces created during the artist's prime. Wu's art is rooted in the great traditions of literati artists, such as Zhu Da, Shi Tao and Xu Wei. He has creatively integrated the influence of calligraphy and seal-carving into his painting. His ideas and style had great impact on later artists such as Qi Baishi, Li Keran and Huang Binhong. The exhibition is from the collection of the Zhejiang Museum.

When: Tuesday-Sunday, until February 18 Where: Suzhou Museum

√


January 24-30, 2014

¬ Gifu, Japan Shirakawa-go Winter Illumination The Shirakawa-go village in Gifu prefecture, a Unesco World Heritage Site, is famous for its gassho zukkuri farmhouses, a unique Japanese style of building. This place has been famous for years due to its thatched roof farmhouses, but the beauty is even more profound when the houses are lit up in the snow. Spotlights illuminate the snowcovered thatched roofs which makes this place look like a magical winter wonderland. It is truly spectacular.

When: January 25 and 26; 5:30–7:30, Where: Shirakawa-go Village, Gifu Prefecture

DATEBOOK


January 24-30, 2014

DATEBOOK


January 24-30, 2014

COVER STORY

¬ Hong Kong Hong Kong Arts Festival

The Hong Kong Arts Festival, the pinnacle of Hong Kong’s performing arts events, will showcase Asia’s top talents alongside leading artists from around the world. The festival’s broad spectrum of events pitches to a wide range of appetites, from the classical, to the avant-garde, to the electrifying.

When: February 18-March 22 Where: Various venues around Hong Kong Info: hk.artsfestival.org


January 24-30, 2014

DATEBOOK


Asianews January 24- 30,2014  

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