The 2018 Annual: First Edition

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MONSOON The 2018 Annual First Edition

About Monsoon The Monsoon Project is a Crawford-based student publication, where young scholars from across the world can share their ideas, opinions and stories on the most important things happening in Asia and the Pacific. This 2018 Annual (First Edition) features some of Monsoon’s best pieces taken from over a half a year’s worth of articles. Here you’ll find a fascinating array of articles, including the likes of an interview with an academic on elder Japanese in Karaoke kissas and classrooms, to an investigation into the censoring of China’s rising hip-hop scene, and then to the fighting spirit of the people of Ambae as they tackle the challenges of climate change. And there’s plenty more where that came from! So please take your time and enjoy reading this latest print edition by The Monsoon Project. If you’d like to get involved with us, or have any questions about our publication, be sure to contact us. Visit Editor-in-chief Reza Mazumder Design Editor Selena Kang Social Media Manager Han-Geol (Henry) Cho Photographer Kai Clark

Contents 2

Cultural Black-out on China’s Hip Hop Music Karen Zhang


Why Has Taiwan Not Passed Marriage Equality Yet? Kai Clark

8  How the US is Upsetting the Asia-Pacific Regional Order? Lloyd Rhodes

12  Hiroshima’s Restless Ghosts Callum Dargavel

14  Should We Boycott Myanmar? Mish Khan

16  The Rising Islands of Oceania Simon Fenske

18  Elderly Life in the Hidden World of Karaoke Kissas and Classrooms Kai Clark

20  North Korea Shots Jake Read

24  The Fantastic, Fanatic ‘Cult’-Run Japanese Idol Group Adina Darbyshire




on China’s Hip Hop Music



China’s government has banned promotion of its hip-hop culture despite growing popularity. Why the sudden crackdown? Karen Zhang writes. 5


On the 19th of January, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) officially called on all Chinese media industries to stop featuring “hip hop culture, sub-culture and dispirited culture.”

department, declared four rigid standards that Chinese media should adhere to:

But what provoked such a sudden and rigid crackdown from the Chinese government?

Absolutely do not use actors who are tasteless, vulgar and obscene.

In 2017, the Chinese talent show ‘The Rap of China’ quickly became a successful hit on television. It was an influential catalyst for the rise of hip-hop and rap in mainstream Chinese media, giving its young talent and young audience a platform for artistic expression that had never been seen in China before.

Absolutely do not use actors whose ideological level is low and have no class.

The rise of hip hop culture in China however, was quickly met with its descent. Soon after the show’s conclusion, its co-winners, PG ONE and GAI, released controversial singles in which the lyrics referenced drug use, profanities, derogatory remarks and discontent with society. In response to this controversy, Gao Changli, director of the SAPPRFT’s publicity

“Absolutely do not use actors whose heart and morality are not aligned with the party and whose morality is not noble.

Absolutely do not use actors with stains, scandals and problematic moral integrity.” The ‘ban’ does not exactly outlaw the production of such music per se – it suppresses hip-hop from above by excluding it from all mainstream media. Nevertheless, the vast impacts of this crackdown were immediate, decisive, and have perforated the Chinese music industry since then. One famous example is the removal of hip-hop artist Vava from popular Chinese reality show ‘Happy Camp’ and also the elimination of countless hip-hop artists from Chinese music-streaming sites. Some say the ban is merely an attempt to promote respect and constructive social norms. “The government is flexing its muscle to guide hip-hop in China to project positivity while filtering out the negativity,” argues Stephen Dowler director of Chinese music streaming service DianYinTai, “Filtration, not suppression, I think, is the operative term.” But one may wonder – do two controversial songs really justify a total clampdown on the diverse and growing hip-hop culture in China? Beyond the occasional profanities which may frequent some hip-hop lyrics, there lies a possible greater threat to the security of the Chinese government – and that is the inherent culture of self-expression, revolution, social justice and empowerment in hip-hop music.



Tracing back to its historical roots, hiphop was born from the political and social struggles of urban African-American youth in New York City during the 1970s. Hip-hop musician and journalist, Davey D says that the influence of hip-hop “always reflects what is going on politically, socially and economically.” Hip-hop music at its core is a passionate response to inequality, socio-economic conditions, political challenges and boundaries. It harnesses the power of the voice and music to break down barriers. It is possible then, that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is also trying to maximise its use of soft power to safeguard the cultural sanctity that upholds its own political security. The progression of China’s hip-hop culture into mainstream media threatens the CCP’s political standing as a musical movement motivated by the fundamental values of freedom of expression and the empowerment of social groups, particularly those who are marginalised. It is a genre that has historically invited and encouraged political criticism and social critique. The CCP has a long history of retaining tight control over media and the arts. In 2009,

Chinese poet and Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo was imprisoned for “inciting subversion of state power,” and in 2011, artist Ai Weiwei was detained for his artistic activism. In August 2015 the Chinese Ministry of Culture also banned a total of 120 songs from being published online, on grounds that they were “morally harmful.” Hip-hop songs made up a significant number of those banned. Conversely, China has also encouraged and moulded arts to its own political utility. Chengdu Revolution (CD REV) is a government sponsored hip-hop and rap group that espouses pro-Chinese sentiments on topical issues involving China. In the past, the ensemble has rapped on topics ranging from Cross-Strait relations to the South China Sea dispute. Either way, the Chinese government has shown that it is readily prepared to employ the arts to its own political advantage, aiming to control the direction of Chinese culture. Music has and always will remain a pivotal agent of expression in society. The recent ban on hip-hop is not the first instance of the Chinese government inhibiting the growth of the arts – and it certainly will not be the last. 7


Why Has Taiwan

Not Passed

Marriage Equality Yet? Kai Clark

on 19/12/2017

The government will still deny queer couples marriage equality for the next 17 months. Some cannot afford to wait.

“In the face of love, everyone is equal. I am Tsai Ing-wen, and I support marriage equality.” In a short 15-second campaign video, Tsai became a symbol of progressive change in a region tainted by repression of queer rights. She and her party, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), later won the 2016 elections, taking the presidency and a majority in the legislature. Marriage equality was imminent. But she failed. Last year, the DPP was unable to pass its marriage equality bill due to the fierce backlash from Taiwan’s Christian minority. The party looks set to repeat its mistakes this year, delaying the bill’s passage until 2018, or as some fear, 2019. Seven months ago, the Taiwanese constitutional court found Taiwanese marriage law unconstitutional. The court chose not to immediately grant marriage equality, instead 8

ordering the legislature to amend the law within two years. Failure to do so and the court will then finally abolish the law. Yet, the DPP prioritised other legislation, squandering the “6-month golden window” to amend the law. The government promised to debate the marriage equality proposal during the current legislative period. But they have not announced the details of the bill, with many doubting it will be passed on time, if at all. Debate over the bill centres on two proposals. Some legislators demand the government amend the civil code to grant all couples the same rights. Other legislators want a special law that allows for marriage equality, but does not grant equal rights. Tsai’s administration hinted that it may propose the latter bill. Writing on her Facebook page,


Tsai said: “We are obligated to design a legal framework in line with the spirit of the grand justices’ interpretation, but we are also responsible for ensuring unity in society.”

“[t]he municipal registration office will not know what to do with their certificate and their IDs; hospitals will not know how to process them. A lot of contingency plans must be put in place.”

A majority of Taiwanese support marriage equality. Yet, Taiwan’s Christian groups, who make up less than 5% of the island’s population, threatened to oust lawmakers who support the bill. Their bullying tanked the 2013 and 2016 attempts to bring marriage equality to Taiwan. The recent court ruling has not deterred them.

Meanwhile, queer for the

A Taipei lawmaker, Huang Kuochang, faces a recall campaign by Sun Chi-cheng, chairman of the Greater Taipei Stability Power Alliance, a group opposed to marriage equality. Sun detests Huang’s support for amending the civil code, stating it will destroy Taiwanese family values. Such pressure may explain Tsai’s lack of commitment to marriage equality. With local elections scheduled for late 2018, Kuomintang legislator Jason Hsu suggests that if Tsai cannot pass the bill before January, the DDP will shelve it until 2019 to focus on campaigning. Many believe Tsai will wait until May 2019, when the court’s ruling will strike down the law. While it would save her from Taiwan’s evangelical backlash, it would create logistical problems and further harm to Taiwan’s queer community. If the law is struck down, many government offices will need to process marriage claims without clear guidelines. Hsu explains that

the government will still deny couples marriage equality next 17 months. Some cannot afford to wait. The partner of Nelson Hu, a famous queer rights activist, is diagnosed with a rare form of hemangioma and could die. Hu has no legal say over his treatment. Many in the queer community now feel betrayed by Tsai and the DPP. In an interview with the News Lens, Nelson Hu criticised the DPP for “[backtracking] on their promises”. Another disappointed couple lamented that “the politicians supported gay marriage as a way to win votes, but now it feels like we have been fooled.”

Desperate to avoid evangelical ire, Tsai may risk angering the queer community she sought to support. Hsu and commentators have urged the DPP to pass the bill by this session or to hold a special session in early 2018. The journey for many in the queer community to be treated as equal partners in society would be painfully prolonged otherwise. The term ‘marriage equality’ refers to the passing of legislation that would allow a person of any sex to marry with another person of different or the same sex. This can also be referred to as ‘same-sex marriage.’ Queer refers to individuals who are not cisgender or heterosexual. This can also be referred to as the LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTQ+, LGBTQI or LGBTQIA+. 9


How the US is


the Asia-Pacific Regional Order China’s growing assertiveness in the region is a response to fears of containment by the US, Lloyd Rhodes writes.





In July 2017 thirty thousand Australian and U.S soldiers participated in the Talisman Sabre joint military exercise, the largest exercise of its kind in the Pacific. But what impact do these actions have upon the wider Asia-Pacific region, and how does a country like China perceive these operations?

under the “rebalance” is evidence of the U.S’ attempt to upset the current regional status quo. Vietnam historically exists within China’s sphere of influence, while its relationship with the U.S has deteriorated since the U.S’s withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973.

In response to the political and economic rise of China, the United States has sought in recent years to reassure its allies of its commitment and continued presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Such reassurance has come in the form of enhanced defence, economic and political ties with its long-term regional allies and partners. This “rebalance” strategy has however damaged the existing regional political order, compounded Chinese fears of containment and unnecessarily provoked Chinese aggression. The strategy initially intended to commit the U.S to the Asia-Pacific’s future and preserve the regional order has instead undermined it.

Vietnam is now emerging as a new U.S strategic partner. In 2011, the U.S and Vietnam signed an agreement on defence cooperation, while the Obama administration in 2016 removed an arms embargo that had been in place since the Vietnam war. Such action represents a profound shift in U.S policy and an attempt by the U.S to balance against a rising China through a changing of the regional status quo.

The improved strategic dialogue between Vietnam and the U.S that has occurred

Through its deployment of new military assets and personnel, the U.S has challenged China’s emerging influence in the region and has attempted to contain its future rise. The U.S has stationed marines in Australia, updated its defence guidelines with Japan and has deployed the THAAD missile system to South Korea. Actions that unnerve China, and compound its fear of containment. This unease was reflected in the Chinese ambassador to Australia’s response to the marine deployment, which he described as “Cold War style…containment mentality” that is “not in keeping with current trends.” China has similarly protested the deployment of the THAAD system near its border, declaring that the system “will disrupt the strategic balance in the region and endanger the… interests of regional countries including China.” Washington’s deliberate attempts at courting new alliances and relations in the region have further unnerved China and compounded its fear of containment. The U.S and its allies have attempted to form what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described as “Asia’s Democratic Security Diamond,” an alliance consisting of the U.S, Australia, India and Japan. While



the idea was first proposed in 2007, it has seen a resurgence under the U.S’ “rebalance” strategy. The alliance’s emphasis on a “Democratic Peace” and its explicit reference to “Democracy” in its name however, immediately makes it a challenge to China, a non-democratic country. China has perceived such efforts as a way of containing its rise and has previously issued formal diplomatic protests. China’s territorial assertiveness in the region has been a response to these provocative actions from the U.S and its allies. As described by Robert Ross, “a strategy that was meant to check a rising China has sparked its combativeness and damaged its faith in cooperation.” The Japanese government’s decision to nationalise the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands in 2012 was an attempt to change the territorial status quo and has sparked the recent increase in tensions in the disputed zone. The decision

of the U.S to form an international coalition to conduct freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea, further represents an affront to the long-term regional order, by bringing international attention to the disputed zone. The actions of the U.S and its allies have provoked China to act aggressively in defence of the territorial status quo. China is now an insecure state worried about the intentions of the U.S and its allies. China’s new found assertiveness in the region has been a response to fears of containment and attempts by the U.S and its allies to create an expanded U.S led international order in the Asia-Pacific. The U.S needs to realise the repercussions of its actions in the region and make its intentions clear. It’ll have to cooperate with China as opposed to balancing against it and must engage with China over the future of the regional order instead of acting unilaterally. If the U.S continues to abide by its current strategy, the peace and stability that it has for so long protected in the Asia-Pacific, will be jeopardised. 13


Hiroshima’s Restless


Japan’s treatment of its atomic bomb survivors reflects its troubled approach to history and identity, but there is still room for hope, Callum Dargavel writes. In the second Little Boy detonated over the awakening city, two-thirds of Hiroshima and a third of its people ceased to exist. Those who survived the nightmare of the blast were condemned to a lifelong nightmare of discrimination, misinformation, and abandonment. It’s hard to know how many Hibakusha, the term used to describe the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic explosions, there originally were. Wartime records were hazy at best, and many were incinerated in the bomb blast. Government estimates reveal that 227,000 are alive today, with the original number being upwards of 650,000. The long-term impacts of radiation are now well documented. Increased rates of cancer, malignant growths and organ failures were all widespread amongst those who had been exposed to high doses of radiation. Periodic illness, pain and fatigue were suffered by those exposed to low-level radiation in the ground, water, rain, and air around the bomb sites. Unfortunately, these were sufficient reasons for employers to refuse to hire them. With their past lives destroyed, and the ability to construct new ones for themselves denied to them, many Hibakusha thought they couldreceive help and support from the government. When they turned to the government in desperation, the government turned from them. For twelve years, the government refused to even recognise that the afflictions of the Hibakusha were caused by nuclear radiation. Belated laws like the A-Bomb Victims Medical Care Law (1956) and the Law on Special Measures for Sufferers (1967) were instituted but still left many victims without financial or medical support. 14

There is much debate about why that initial delay occurred. At worst, it was due to active pressure by the US, who say payments and support as admissions of guilt on par with reparations. Less maliciously, it was because of a lack of understanding about the causes and harms of radiation sickness. The radiation that sapped the strength and life of the Hibakusha was poorly understood by the Japanese for long after the detonations. The equipment necessary for diagnosis and research was destroyed in the blasts and occupied Japan was denied access to the US research into the effects of radiation poisoning. In the place of facts, myth flourished. Thought to be contagious, radiation sickness condemned the Hibakusha to being second class citizens, unable to interact with, live near, or marry unafflicted Japanese. Also thought to be hereditary, radiation sickness condemned the children of Hibakusha to the same label and treatment. However, misinformation can only last for so long. Even decades after the bombs, Japanese society


still refused to recognise and accept the Hibakusha, all because of how history and identity had been constructed around what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Bomb is one of the most powerful historic and cultural symbols in Japan, but its meaning is by no means singular. In what Lim describes as victimhood nationalism, different groups in Japan constructed narratives of victimisation around what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to establish a collective identity in the immediate post war years. For the left, it was suffering at the hands of unchecked nationalism and militarism. For the right, it was anger towards the Americans who had committed unpunished crimes against humanity. The Hibakusha were excluded from these narratives for a simple reason. It’s hard to rewrite the history of people who are still alive. Surrounded by myths of their own, the Hibakusha were considered incompatible with national mythmaking. The solution taken

was not to abandon the politicisation of history, but to abandon those that contradicted it. However, in the same way Japan’s malleable national identity allowed for the exclusion of the Hibakusha following the war, it presented an opportunity for them to redefine their place in Japan. Hibakusha found a powerful position through storytelling that allowed them to redefine what it meant to be scarred by the blast. The poems and stories of Hibakusha, like Sadako Sasaki who folded one thousand paper cranes in the hope of curing herself, created common ground in universal grief and mourning and integrated themselves into existing national myths. Hibakusha then found a political voice as a cornerstone of modern pacifist and anti-nuclear movements, which concern themselves with the future, rather than the past. Japan’s identity and history is again changing, with fears of resurgent nationalism and a return to militarism. However, if the Hibakusha can preserve their developing place in the Japanese identity, then they will hopefully find the peace they’ve been waiting so long for.



Should We

Boycott Myanmar?

Mish Khan on 03/11/2017 To the common person in Myanmar, exposure to other norms will not come from catchy think-pieces, it will come from human interaction. n tourism brochure clichés, Myanmar is often referred to as the last jewel of Asia. After fifty years of isolation under military rule, the newly open Southeast Asian nation conjures quaint images of the last untouched frontier in a shrinking world. Although we must remind ourselves that such romanticisation can be misplaced, given the authoritarian regime was a harsh reality rather than a luxurious abstinence from modernisation, many foreigners are curiously enthusiastic about visiting the country.

Rakhine state. People do not want to be seen as financially or ethically condoning this traumatic situation—who wants to look back across history and say they supported what has already been called a genocide?

As an undergraduate focusing on Myanmar studies and the Burmese language, across my degree I have had numerous friends approach me to discuss plans to visit the country, famous for its glittering pagodas, ancient temples and rich cultural diversity. When people learn I study Myanmar, they often gush to me about their own experiences in the country. From backpackers I have chatted with in cheap hostels in Cambodia, to wealthy club-goers smoking cigarettes in Singapore, almost everyone had a positive story to share.

Tourism growth is important for Myanmar’s government. For some background, it is difficult to accurately gauge tourism statistics in Myanmar. In 2014, Myanmar claimed to receive 3 million international tourists. However, at least two-thirds of this figure were day-trippers from Thailand, China, India, Laos and Bangladesh. The number peaked in 2015 at 4.68 million. Unsurprisingly the following year, total tourist figures dropped dramatically to 2.9 million when conflict in north and north-eastern Myanmar rendered day-tripping more difficult.

However, recently the tone surrounding this conversation has changed. When hairdressers, university peers, strangers at parties or uber drivers ask me what I study, their first question is now about the Rohingya crisis, or negative feelings stemming from media coverage of the situation.

A different measurement of tourism in Myanmar has been airport arrivals—this figure rose from 593,000 in 2012 to 1.08 million in 2016. Yet only 48.2 percent of those arriving in Yangon International airport in 2014 did so on a tourist visa, and it is estimated only 50-60 percent of arrivals in 2016 were purely for leisure. Measuring the sale of tickets at Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar’s most famous tourist attraction, revealed 505,351 tickets were sold in 2014—far fromthe three million tourists statistic—and in 2016,

A lot of this discussion has focused on whether it is ethical to visit Myanmar, given recent widespread attention to the mass exodus of the Rohingya from 16

Therefore, it is worth speculating on two things: how this most recent wave of international outrage could dent Myanmar’s tourism figures, and whether foreigners should boycott the country, for fear of lining an authoritarian pocket.


600,000 tickets were sold, a contrast to the 2.9 million total tourist figures. The Myanmar Ministry of Tourism plans to accommodate 3.5 million tourists by the end of 2017, and claims to have hosted 2.27 million tourists from January to August 2017. Given the difficult in knowing if tourism is even really booming to begin with, in evaluating the impact of the Rohingya crisis on Myanmar’s nascent tourism industry by the end of 2017, we should be cautious to not make sweeping claims about how exactly figures did or did not drop, and instead carefully examine airport arrivals, ticket sales to sites like Shwedagon Pagoda and Bagan, and day-trip percentages to gauge the real impact the crisis will have on Myanmar’s 2017 tourism figures. Currently, some coverage suggests the crisis has taken a toll on hotel bookings, particularly visits to Rakhine-based attractions such as Ngapali beach and Mrauk-U, but only time will reveal the true impact. So, is it ethical to visit Myanmar? Most people asking me this question are concerned for two key reasons—they do not want to financially assist the regime’s conduct towards the Rohingya, and they do not want to be seen as morally endorsing the Rohingya crisis, or at best, being complacent to it. With regard to lining the wrong pockets, opponents of a tourism boycott argue that tourism infrastructure was mainly government-owned in the past and such a case could be made, however today hotels,

restaurants, guides, drivers, hawkers and vendors are privately owned and employ ordinary people. Accordingly, a tourism boycott would have little impact on the government while adversely impacting many who have built a livelihood around tourism. Others may argue that the government still owns substantive cogs in the tourism machine, such as airlines, or that it will benefit from tax revenue raised via tourism. Regardless of what you think, there is lots of literature suggesting economic sanctions in Myanmar never really had an impact in its democratic transition, so it is tough to conclude that a tourism boycott for economic purposes would now suddenly change the government’s attitude. But what about more generally visiting Myanmar— is chowing down on Shan noodles and taking a selfie outside Shwedagon Pagoda normalising the Rohingya exodus? I think there are numerous factors why this is not necessarily the case. Reverting back to avoiding the Myanmar people is one of the worst things we can do. Transitioning from a politically oppressive society with little access to information—to most of the country having Facebook within a few years—means the spread of misinformation and mistrust is particularly potent in Myanmar. Even within Myanmar, understanding of the Rakhine situation has been poor due to a history of travel limitations. In a global era of “fake news”, one of the most worthwhile tools we have is human relationships. To the common person in Myanmar, exposure to other norms will not come from catchy think-pieces, it will come from human interaction. We should also keep visiting Myanmar because even beyond the Rohingya crisis, democracy and rule of law in the country is very fragile. A recent speaker I witnessed described the environment in the country as a collective PTSD. As a young person who has been to Myanmar many times, including with several Australian friends, I think cross-cultural interactions have been very valuable in prompting all of us to be more open to reframing our thoughts, especially if thinking is embedded in historical trauma. And most of all, I have had people from Myanmar take me more seriously when they know I have bothered to get to know their country. Passionate strangers on Facebook or Twitter with contrarian political beliefs to mine considerably open up when I can blurt out some basic Burmese, reference my time in the country, and express an opinion as someone with a deep fondness for Myanmar, as opposed to looking to win a moral battle for ego points. Therefore, I hope to keep encouraging those around me to spend time in the country and with its people, now more so than ever. 17


The Rising Islands of Oceania

Simon Fenske on 28/11/2017 The people of Ambae and wider Oceania aren’t just sinking; they’re rising to the challenge of climate change in unique and innovative ways.

The volcanic island of Ambae in northern Vanuatu rose from obscurity into world news in September after ash and gases began spewing ominously from its volcanic crater. It’s 11,000 residents were promptly evacuated to neighbouring islands in anticipation of further eruptions. I’ve spent eight months on Ambae, a mere six kilometres from the brooding crater. Therefore these developments were particularly concerning to me. But what struck me more was that a place I came to appreciate for the startling beauty of its landscapes and the incredible resilience 18

of its people, was now being broadcast to theworld through a lens of vulnerability and despair. This is the same lens framing atoll nations such as Tuvalu and Kiribati, sometimes even the entire Oceania region, as the “sinking islands,” or the victims of climate change. But just as Ambae continues to rise from the depths of the Pacific Ocean, the people of Oceania are rising to the challenge of climate change with resilience and resourcefulness. Stories of disaster need to be told, but an exclusive focus on these stories robs the people of Oceania of their agency and reduces them to powerless victims of the world around them. I want to tell a different story, a story both about climate change and about Ambae. A story written not by rising sea levels or cataclysmic volcanic eruptions, but by people, adaptive agents of their own futures.


revival is very contemporary. It is an innovative response to the new challenges posed by climate change.

Climate change results in increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. On Ambae this was demonstrated by Cyclone Pam, which struck the island in March 2015. This was immediately followed by a severe eight-month El Niño drought that was widely perceived as the worst in many decades. The combined effects of these two events resulted in severe food and water shortages. When 80 year old Loren, a chief of Saranamundu village, saw the challenges that these extreme weather events posed, he responded in a way that was both intuitive and innovative. Trekking daily from his coastal village to an altitude of up to 1000 metres, he began clearing and planting gardens in the cloud forest of Ambae’s volcanic dome. Many others in Saranamundu soon followed suit. Loren was drawing on both living memory and oral tradition that recount gardens as traditionally planted at high altitude where native varieties of taro and banana thrive in moist soils and frequent cloud cover. It was only with the introduction of new coastal crops such as cassava, cacao and new varieties of taro and banana from the late 19th century that agricultural livelihoods moved closer to the coast. The current rise of high altitude food gardens also means an increased focus on native crops, particularly taro and banana. Traditional agricultural systems are once again on the rise, and the impetus for their

Over in neighbouring Vuinggalato, a village of several hundred people scattered across Ambae’s most rugged valley, locals are pioneering an innovative solution to their chronic water shortages. Devoid of perennial rivers, fresh water on Ambae was traditionally collected from ganu (springs), found only in a limited number of locations across the island. While rainwater stored in cement wells and plastic tanks have generally improved water accessibility in recent decades, these reservoirs quickly dwindle in times of drought. The people of Vuinggalato responded by returning to their ganu, located in the mountains behind the village at an altitude of over the 800m. Using plastic piping and cement wells, spring water is now diverted to a set of storage tanks, from which it is distributed to a number of taps for ease of access throughout the village. Vuinggalato’s water security and resilience throughout the 2015 drought is inspiring neighbouring villages to follow their lead, with a similar system currently under construction in Loren’s village of Saranamundu. Much like a volcanic eruption, the potential impacts of climate change in Oceania are truly terrifying and cataclysmic. But the people of Ambae and wider Oceania aren’t just sinking; they’re rising to the challenge of climate change in unique and innovative ways. Stories of vulnerability and victimhood are needed to help us understand the urgency of climate change mitigation. But perhaps these other stories, of agency and adaptability, will point the way towards realistic solutions tackling climate change not just in Oceania, but across the globe. The photo is taken by Simon Fenske. 19


Elderly Life

in the Hidden World of Karaoke Kissas and Classrooms –“Academic Talks” with Benny Tong Kai Clark on 06/11/2017

“Growing old is not a problem. It is not a crisis. It is essential and unremovable part of what it means to live.”

Benny Tong is a PhD candidate at the ANU studying the lives of elderly Japanese people in karaoke bars and how they seek fulfilment and purpose in the later stages of their lives. Born and raised in Singapore, he earned his Bachelors and Masters in Japanese Studies at the National University of Singapore before coming to the ANU. As a teenager, he fell in love with J-Pop which ignited his passion for Japanese culture. “Karaoke is a huge industry worth billions of dollars,” Benny explained, describing how the many sorts of karaoke chains in Japan accommodate everyone from millennials to older wealthy businessmen. Benny’s research, however, focuses on two types of karaoke venues: karaoke kissas which are small open-mic bars that are open during the day; and karaoke classrooms, where people learn how to sing karaoke from a trained instructor. These venues, Benny says, “lean 20

towards a mature working-class demographic that are very much over sixty.” Benny explains how karaoke kissas provide a strong sense of community for many of these elderly people who don’t have a family to rely on. “The foundational concept of the karaoke kissa makes it a very inclusive place — as long as you pay the cover charge. There are a lot of regulars who all become friends, forming a tightly knit community.” Many of these regulars lament the demise of Japan’s traditional family structure, which has separated many elderly Japanese from their families. During the interview, Benny showed me some karaoke magazines containing song scores used for study in karaoke classrooms. These classrooms provide many elderly people with a continued purpose in their life. At the end of the school year, the school organises recitals


for the students, “where they can present what they’ve learned in front of an audience of peers, friends, and family. It’s a very important place for them to vindicate their continued participation in karaoke — as something to learn rather than passively enjoy.” Many of these kissas and classrooms are located in working-class suburbs, far off the beaten track. These places usually lack windows and have two thick layers of doors, making it both inconspicuous and intimidating to enter. Benny described to me, how lucky he was to find his first kissa. “The karaoke operator, or as they call them, ‘masters’, actually noticed me pacing back and forth outside, and beckoned me to come inside.” Once inside he was warmly welcomed into the community that was “happy to have a younger person among their midst to learn about their lifestyle”, he said. “One important skill for fieldwork is getting on socially with other people. For me, coming in with a very open attitude towards learning what these people are doing and not making judgements, especially since you know so little, is important.” “There’s a lot of them who very much desire to tell people about their life stories,” he said, “so they can pass on certain values or certain ideas that they’ve gained through their experience in life.” Through studying these karaoke kissas and classrooms, Benny has found a widelyneglected space where many elderly Japanese sing with each other and laugh over drinks. Some have even rekindled their passion for love, despite losing their first partners to death and divorce. For many of these elderly people, singing Shōwa classics, like enka and kayōkyoku, helps reshape their identities in the face of old age, and provides a new direction in their lives. This contrasts very much to modern representations of elderly people as a drain on state healthcare, living their last days alone or in geriatric care.

policy-makers, academics, and public discourse tend to think of elderly life as a period of life where bodily functions deteriorate to the point where you need institutionalised care. I find that actually, especially with these people that I’m working with, that’s simply not the case. They are growing old quite healthy. A lot of them take pride in the fact that they still maintain a very good standard of physical health. They tell me that they are very happy that they rarely go to the hospital. And it’s the singing that allows them to have them this kind of constant exercise and socialisation that keeps them both physically and mentally healthy.”“So that’s why I think studying Japan now is going to be a very valuable lesson for the rest of the world for learning how to cope with an ageing population in a manner that will treat old people with respect and honour. Growing old is not a problem. It is not a crisis. It is essential and unremovable part of what it means to live.” Benny Tong is a PhD candidate in the School of Culture, History, and Language at the Australian National University. The interview is based on his current research paper: “Serious Leisure in Old Age: Karaoke Classrooms and Kissas as Sites of Everyday Ageing Practice in Urban Japan”. Kai Clark is a first-year undergraduate student studying a Bachelors of Asian Studies and a Bachelors of Law at the Australian National University. The photo of Benny Tong is taken by Kai Clark.

Criticising the post-war experience of modernity, Benny argues that, “Japanese 21


North Korea Shots by Jake Read,

a second year undergraduate student at the ANU, competed in the Mangyongdae Prize International Marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea. These photos were taken during his time there.



Kim Il-sung Square, central Pyeongyang. The primary location for major gatherings and parades. 23


Puhung Station, Pyeongyang Metro. Trains come every couple of minutes and cost approximately A$0.004 for one trip.

Central residential zone of Pyeongyang: Public tram with typical patriotic illustration. 24


Residential district of Pyeongyang from the top of Juche Tower. People are allocated residencies based on job description, size of family, influence, etc.

A walk down Sungri Street - a principal road cutting through central Pyeongyang. 25


The Fantastic, Fanatic

‘Cult’- Run

Japanese Idol Group Adina Darbyshire on 15/10/2017

Meet the newest Japanese idol group composed entirely of so-called cult members: anjewel. The idol group – a commercially manufactured pop group, typically of young girls – represents Happy Science. The religious organisation has temples in Japan, Brazil, Hawaii, and Australia. Founder Ryuho Okawa purports to be the incarnation of El Cantare: a supreme God manifesting the spiritual leaders of all major religions. Okawa also claims to channel the guardian spirits of famous people, gracing us with a series of ‘spiritual interviews’, those with Keira Knightley and Donald Trump being two of many examples. The idol group released its first single in July, featuring lyrics about bidding a soul-mate farewell before reincarnating onto another planet, to a deceptively upbeat instrumental track and rosy music video. To better acquaint fans with the group, Happy Science prepared several POV videos where you ‘go on a date’ with these girls. In one video, a group member takes you to a private spot in your high school, expresses her love for you, and then asks you to join her for a Happy Science lecture meeting attended by angels and aliens. Japanese idol groups amass massive popularity worldwide, from AKB48 to Nogizaka46. However, three months have passed since anjewel’s debut single, and its catchy pop beats and provocative videos have garnered little attention. Luckily for them, this is not their only gimmick. Happy Science also created its first high-budget anime in 1997, founded a political party in 2009, and established its own university in 2015. 26

There is some unease about the gradual expansion of the Happy Science in view of Japan’s recent past. In 1984, two years before the founding of Happy Science, Aum Shinrikyo emerged as a religious movement. It founded a political party in 1989, created its first anime series in 1991, and went onto orchestrate a terrorist attack in 1995 by releasing sarin gas on a crowded Tokyo subway. Aum Shinrikyo‘s successors, Aleph and Hikari no Wa, manage to operate legally as religious organizations. The 1995 atrocity and the continued existence of these groups is a reminder that we must remain vigilant of the conducts and recruitment methods of ‘new religions’. While the Happy Science has no known connections to Aum or its descendants, their expansion into countries like Australia, Hawaii, and Brazil offers few reasons to be cheerful.

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