Monday, December 28, 2015

Do People Take Bureaucratic Rules Less Seriously Due to Bureaucrats' Attitudes?

Fact: not a single time that the author entered or left Tanzania through its main international airport was he able to go through its lines and paperwork without at least some sort of impeding actions by the immigration officials.  On the way out, it ranges anywhere from "where were you this whole time?"  "why were you here so long?"  "why do you keep coming and going?"  (OK, maybe the last one is quite reasonable, since this supposed resident has been leaving the country once a month for the last three or four months).

Sunday, December 20, 2015

the (Un)expected Quietness of an African Pre-Christmas

Before December arrived, the author heard from multiple sources of the supposed madness of a lengthy Christmas season in this piece of African outback.  There will be non-stop Christmas music blasting from every home from December to February, they said.  All the bus tickets will be much more expensive because everyone will be traveling home, they said.  And the whole country will all the sudden become a much more festive place, they said.  Exaggeration, without a doubt, but even taken with a grain of salt, such words can be credited for heightened excitements in some boredom.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Can a City Go from Nothing to Virtual, without the Physical Infrastructure?

In multiple occasions on this blog, the author mentioned how he misses the convenience store culture that is prevalent in many parts of urban East and Southeast Asia.  The ability to walk out to the streets from one's residence or office for five minutes, and find food, drinks, basic medicine, and other daily needs just seem so fitting to a city of the future where dependency on automobiles for personal transport is drastically reduced.  Naturally he thinks that dense cities with pedestrian-friendly blocks of dense street-level shops surrounded by high-rise residential buildings is fitting with that future.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Foreign Secondhand Clothing And African De-industrialization

In Tanzania, there is one thing that is often noticeable in any market area.  Next to the usual arrays of vegetable stalls are sections devoted to colorful clothes, some hanging, some in big piles on spread-out sheets on the ground.  The clothes are almost exclusively foreign in nature, easily identified with their Hangul lettering, Chinese characters, European logos, and even American flags.  Yet most show little sign of wear-and-tear, no doubt due to careful selection, cleaning, and ironing.  At equivalent of couple of USD per shirt, they make for an affordable supply for locals.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Sorrow of Asian "Emotionlessness"

When the author was growing up as a secondary school student in the US, a favorite conversation topic among his Asian-American group of friends was the perceived "weirdness" of their respective Asian families.  The concrete example of "strange" were mostly bouts of what can be termed social aloofness, with awkward gift-giving during holidays, awkward presence and absence of affection, and even more awkward get-together of friends and families.  The comparisons were always with non-Asian families, were social occasions, to the Asian kids, seems always so smoothly conducted.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Should One Believe in the Security of Barricaded Compounds Anymore?

Another week, another news of terrorism wrecking havoc.  This time the setting is a high-end hotel frequented by high-flying foreigners in Bamako, the capital of recently politically unstable Mali.  The gunmen shot past the armed guards and front barricades of the building, taking over the building and picking off more than a dozen of foreign guests before being killed in a counter-assault by Malian and French commandos.  With the world still so focused on the aftermath of the Paris attacks, comparatively less attention has been given to Bamako, but for this attack can be more significant.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Terrorism Wins When Attention is Given

There is no doubt that the terrorist attacks in Paris is unfortunate, and it is perfectly justified that traditional media are filled with news of latest developments and social networks are filled with messages of condolences.  Killing of innocents are morally and legally wrong and deserve to be condemned.  But the label "terrorism," after years of its continued threat to the Western world, should be more or less learned by now.  The very purpose is to generate attention through fear, with collateral damage to innocents as a tool.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Cinematic Resonance with the "Ordinary"

When mentioning Japanese films, those in the know often come up with a few titles of horror ("the Ring" being the most well-known to a Western audience), cheesy tales of lost love (the list of tear-jerkers in this category goes on and on), or gruesome social critiques that evokes thoughts through exaggerations ("the Suicide Club" is a highly suggested film in this genre).  In all three, the ability to use an effective script for storytelling, often with limited budgets common for Japan's relatively small domestic market, is a key for success.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

When the Rain Brings the Agricultural New Year

For someone that has lived for years in the tropics, the coming of the monsoon has become more of a signature for passing times than change of seasons.  And just as past years, the author getting his "start-of-rainy-season" diarrhea and fever (quite literally) as the first rains of the monsoon land in Iringa.  Even as he holds his stomach in pain on the bed for much of the day, he cannot forget the romanticism that he has come to witness every time this year as he retraces the memories of the first rains in tropical Southeast Asia.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Memories of Past Disunity as Precondition for Present Unity

Over the past few years, some international media outlets are starting to label Rwanda as "the Singapore of Africa."  On the surface, the idea is ridiculous.  The international commercial and financial depot that is Singapore is at least 60 times as wealthy as Rwanda in terms of per capita income, and the two economies share little in terms of economic structure and development history.  Rwanda's landlocked nature, and the fact that it is surrounded by neighbors with dismal infrastructure, means that strictly following the Singapore model will get Rwanda nowhere.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Pride of the Local and the Prejudice of the NGO Professional

Upon arriving at the Kigali Airport on his three-day trip in Rwanda, the author was greeted at the arrival gate of the beautifully constructed and maintained building by a young, uniformed taxi driver.  "Where would you like to go, sir?" the young man respectfully half-bowed and politely asked in fluent English.  The author, usually doubtful of airport taxi solicitors (too many bad memories of getting ripped off in Asia), was initially a bit hesitant to disclose his destination, but quickly relented when shown the car in the impressively well-organized rank of uniform and clean blue taxis.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Underlying Universal Political Forces of Later "Three Kingdoms"

For people interested in ancient Chinese history, the Three Kingdoms era (roughly the second to three century AD) is one of the most familiar portion.  The titular novel on the subject, romanticizing the heroes of the era, along with numerous movies, books, and video games based off their stories, have become hits across much of East Asia in the past decades.  However, most of the interest in the era focus on the earlier half of the era, when various warlords and generals make their historical debut from humble origins in their respective lofty goal in uniting China in an era of internal divisions.

Monday, October 12, 2015

當他人的不幸加强了民族的自卑

上周,著者曾以當事人的角度觀察了本組織的同事們是如何以一種表面上的不以爲是來打發一個令人悲傷的新聞。很可惜的是,這件以同時男友被殺害開始,以其同事的心理崩潰而突然離開組織而結束的故事并未在最近的一個星期繼續發酵,以至著者無法再以實際事例證明這件事情對所有人的持續傷害。但可以肯定的是,即便這件事情永遠不再同事間的會話中被再次提起,它對這個組織,特別是對其抱有“在非洲拯救世界”理想心態的所有外國雇員的心理打擊是持續的,所造成的心裏陰影是永遠的。

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Can a Person "Invest" in His Own Isolation?

In the downtown areas of Iringa, there is the usual array of Tanzanian eateries serving local favorites like rice and beans, chips and grilled meat, along with localized versions of Chinese, Indian, and Western favorites.  Some of the more high-end restaurants frequented by moneyed local businessmen/officials and foreign tourists on their way to nearby national parks try even harder to specialize those local favorites in a more higher-end setting.  The results, will still fitting for the local environment, create more sanitary and secluded environments for foodies, local and foreign.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

ちょっとした上辺の関係

「もし身近な場所でとんでもない悲劇が起こったら、皆さんはどう反応するんだろう?」著者は何となくこんなことを思いながら、6人の同僚と土曜日の晩御飯を食べていた。その料理はまさしくもアフリカにいる外国人らしい:パスタにサラダ、赤ワインとジュースを備え、締めはクッキーとアイスクリーム。もちろんすべてが手作り。まあ、単なる普段料理に使える食材や調味料が不足してるので、これはすでに驚くほどの豊富。7人はカジュアルな会話をしながら、食事を終わらせ、ポップコーンをつまみながら夜遅くまで映画鑑賞…

The "Frivolity" of "Forever"

In his now 27 years of existence, the author has never been to a proper wedding.  To him, the pompous ceremony is cringe-worthy in its underlying meaning beyond all the obvious pomp.  The cheesiness of exchanging vows to be side-by-side forever always have that fearful element of a permanent contract between two people, one that requires enforcement through changes in circumstances and personalities.  A wedding is, beyond ceremonial symbolism, a real symbolism of newly required maturity, one that the author is be no means ready to accept.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Sino-American Relations of Not-So-Devolved Bystanders

In front of a downtown hotel in the dusty highway town of Mbeya on Tanzania's far western borderlands with Zambia and Malawi, "the China World" shop still overflows with imported electronic goods coming through distant ports.  Among the goods that arrived via possibly two days of rough slow ride on trucks from the far eastern coast are supposedly the latest cellphones from China.  Advertised on big colorful banners as "high-resolution videos and crystal-clear sounds," the possibly exaggerated descriptions of shockingly inexpensive devices begged first-hand demonstrations as proof.  The permanently emotionless Chinese shop-owner has no qualms about turning on some music videos on these devices for his curious Tanzanian clients.  Out came the sounds and dances of the latest American hip-hop hits, something that the middle-aged shop-owner with little English skills could care any less about.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

the Colonial Vestiges of Personal Names

The more one learns a language, the more one starts to notice the unique subtleties that are idiosyncratic, but can at the same time by conflicting.  The author's recent journey in mastering the Swahili language sees plenty of previously foreign pieces of linguistic rules being understood as things that are inherently local.  For instance, local Swahili words does not allow (just simply don't have) the ending of any consonants.  Foreign loanwords, for instance, generally end with the letter "i" to ensure consonants does not finish any word when pronounced.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Surprising Phenomenon of Linguistic Protectionism

As part of his new work at Tanzania, the author is attending weekly one-on-one classes to master the local lingua franca that is Swahili.  Despite English being the working business language as well as the main language of instruction in local schools secondary and above, to work with people with less than adequate amount of formal education (i.e. the farmers, the organization's main clientele), being able to communicate and comprehend at least some of Swahili (as well as the local tribal language of Kihehe) is almost a requirement to succeed.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Pessimism from Empty Promises

Near Iringa's dusty airstrip that sees one flight a day to Dar es Salaam, the villages of Nduli ward remains ironically isolated from the reminder of an otherwise NGO-saturated town.  Speaking to village officials, the author discovered that Nduli, despite being the gateway where practically every single NGO professional in Iringa launched their local careers, have not seen any NGO activity since a full year ago.  And even that one instance one year ago was a small-time trial that never became something significant before its abrupt end.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Attending to Omnipresent Attention

At the end of a poorly maintained tarmac road, crossing a wooden bridge that cracks a bit too loudly every time a motor vehicle drives over it, and then going up a dirt hill...a journey to a remote populated corner of the larger Iringa district brings one to, well, something a bit different.  On the top of the hill is a massive brick cathedral, reminiscent of southern Europe, surrounded by a slew of carefully crafted buildings that also would not feel out of place on the northern continent.  Still, the little area established by Italian missionaries see few visitors, perhaps increasing the level of curiosity showered upon a foreigner.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The White Elephants on Top of Red Dirt

Being the nation's young capital city, Dodoma is becoming a small city with a big political heart.  Extending beyond the obvious presence of political buildings such as grand headquarters of the national parliament and its ruling party, the power of "political money" is starting to permeate every aspect of an otherwise plain and dusty population center of 150,000 people.  Just by looking at its surprisingly orderly cityscape, travelers can comprehend the enormous efforts politicians place in sprucing up the capital so that it is fitting for what they consider East Africa's most potential-filled nation.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A "Words of Mouth" Expat Community

Alongside the smooth tarmacked main roads leading southwest of Iringa, there are countless numbers of dirt roads leading into what seem like middle of nowhere.  From faraway they are seem quite similar: a few thatched, dirt-walled houses surrounded by small-holding farms and patches of temperate forests covering the more remote parts of the region's characteristic hilly terrain.  Each generally had either no sign or small signs that are entirely unnoticeable to vehicles passing through at high speeds on the main road.  The only exception to these were shops that occasionally placed themselves at these makeshift traffic turnoffs.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Cultual Roots of "Simple Fun"

For a small town where locals do not seem to make much money, Iringa is surprisingly not devoid of nightlife spots.  Blaring into the town's dark main streets without proper street lighting on Friday nights are sounds of American hip-hop mixed in with distinctive local Tanzanian pop music.  Once one walks in, the joyfully dancing local live bands and DJs are joined on the dance floor by crowds of both locals and expats (usually of the white American or European kind), grooving to tunes that are often not found in Western clubs dominated by electronic or house music.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

A University Graduate Living on Four Dollars a Day and a Prostitute Making 100 USD an Hour

Back in town at Iringa, the town that graciously hosted the author for the previous interview trip from a month ago, there was a job advertisement on one of the lamppost on the main street leading to the bustling central market.  A renowned international organization was hiring local stuff to do market research and data analyses to help determine the best strategies to gain access to target markets.  In its brief description, the high expectations for the job is clear.  To get the job done, computer and critical thinking skills, a rarity in this mostly farming community, are obviously essential.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

令人悲哀的古跡商業化

上海安遠路玉佛禪寺。一個經歷幾個世紀風雨,度過多次毀而修、修而毀的古刹,今日已不見當年的輝煌。雖然内部佛像依舊完整、傲氣逼人,但其地址已是在一個再普通不過的住宅區内。若不是地圖的標記和路人的指點,著者也不會從一個再平常不過的一個地鐵站走多少個街區將其尋出。不過找到時的興奮還是有的。在一個一棟又一棟、參差不齊但外貌相同的住宅樓叢林中,一個古典木製寺院顯得異常突出,并給一個普通的街區帶來莫名的歷史感。

Saturday, July 25, 2015

What is "Our Country" for the Ethnic Koreans in China?

The Chinese-North Korean border is an interesting place, and not particularly because of sighting what happens across the river in the eerily quiet North Korean border towns.  Tens of thousands of both Chinese and foreign tourists come to the Tumen and Yalu Rivers that make up the border to point fingers at the few North Korean passers-by on the other side, but few bothers to observe the border towns on the Chinese side, where Han Chinese ethnic Koreans, and many refugees of North Korean nationality live side-by-side among the influx of tourists.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Gentrification and Over-Gentrification

As a society develops, it increasingly obtains the energy and the luxury to look toward its past, and begin to incorporate its remaining history into sustainable future development.  Europe, as the leader of modern economic development, has already reached a stage where tradition is combined into modernity.  The same traits of tradition's new-found role in economic progress is spreading from Europe to Asia, especially China where, despite large scale destruction over the course of ten-year-long Cultural Revolution, significant amount of traditional customs and architectural heritage remains intact.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Erotic Sounds of a Capsule Hotel

As previously mentioned, traveling in Japan is an expensive affair.  This is true not only for casual foreign passers-by but also for tens of thousands of Japanese business travelers who need to keep their company’s budgets in line but get to places promptly and rapidly.  For them, staying far away from train stations and other nodes of public transportation simply is not a viable option.  To be on-time to visit their clients and return to headquarters, they need to keep to downtown areas where they can come and go quickly.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The One Who Wants Time to Stop

The author met a former coworker from Rakuten, who he has not met in some four years since he quickly departed from the company after less than a year of work.  Interestingly enough, he had met her on the very day she was handing in her marriage registration.  The author, not someone eager in communication, obviously had no idea of the fact that she was getting married, or that she was in a serious relationship at all.  Surprising at it seems, four years is not a short time for a person to grow up.  It gives a person much time to proceed with personal plans outside the career path.

Monday, July 13, 2015

"Omotenashi" Revisited: How to Get People to Part with Their Money in the Most Pleasant Way?

By anyone's standards, traveling in Japan is not a cheap affair.  Shoe-stringing backpackers that frequent Southeast Asia should definitely not be here, considering that cheapest lodging tend to be around 30 USD per night and the cheapest lunch 6 USD.  Combine that with extremely expensive local transportation, which can average 20 USD for even short-distance train travel, and the expenses pile up in ways that does not justify the incomes of even the average person that lives and works in this country.  Most of the time, the money flies out of the wallet without even the user really noticing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Exceptions to "History is Written by the Victors"

For those who are knowledgeable about modern history of Japan, Kagoshima is very much considered a pivotal place.  Led by the open-minded Shimazu family, the former Satsuma domain remained in contact with the outside world, absorbing Western technologies and ideologies during the long self-isolation imposed by the Tokugawa Shogunate.  As the 19th century saw the forced opening of the Shogunate to Western military coercion, the leaders of Satsuma emerged to lead the reformist movement in Japan to modernize the country, ending the Shogunate and rapidly catching up with the West with Meiji Restoration.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

地方活性化のキー?

今回の日本旅行も時間でいうと明日で半分が終わるとの時点になるが、今夜でこの作者は鹿児島以外九州すべての県とほとんどの大きな都市部に携わることができた。楽天時代の終了で日本在住も約4年前の話になるが、この来たこともない九州で意外と「家に戻った」雰囲気を感じる。最初、作者はこれをただ親しみがある言語か文化にもう一度触れるちょっとした感動と思い込んでいたが、今夜偶然宿泊先で見てたテレビ番組が「地方活性化」のトピックで議論をしていたところで突然デージャーブーを感じた。

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Omotenashi" in the Red Light District

"Omotenashi" (おもてなし) is a cultural concept that the Japanese are deeply proud of.  While difficult to translate directly into other languages, it pertains to attentiveness toward small details when dealing with customers in the service industry.  Often, it is most visibly displayed in the meticulous training Japanese personnel receives on what kind of languages and gestures to use under what circumstances when speaking to clients, as well as the little things Japanese restaurants and hotels use, such as tools and signage, to make customer feel comfortable and convenient while dining.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Happiness of the Supposedly "Incompetent"

The older generation of Japanese often lament that the youth in the country are not aggressive or ambitious enough.  They are easily satisfied by the status quo and seem to be quite narrow-minded and short-sighted on how they see the changing world around them, much unlike the older generation that has experienced so much of sudden changes in their lifetimes.  The elders say want the youth to go out there to the big cities and outside Japan, so that they can become global citizens capable of changing not just their country but be a much more active force in global affairs than Japanese have ever been.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Legend in a Legendary Town

"Hey, do you know what time is it now?"  A fairly normal-looking elderly man casually asked the author as he was walking down the backstreets of Nagasaki.  Given the time, the elderly did not simply walk away.  Instead, he pointed the author to the nearest streetcar station (without the author's prompting), and motioned the author to walk with him as he was heading toward the same direction.  The author was a little hesitant at the beginning as he was eager to head to the next major scenic spot in the scenic port town, but little did he know that he was about to speak to one of the most legendary figures from a legendary time.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Charting the Unpredictability of a Distant Future

Given that this is 3 days from the author's (once again) departure from Malaysia, the author is has a very relaxing time not doing much, well, at all.  Reflecting back on the another year spent here required so inputs so the author found himself watching the new Terminator movie that just came out across the theaters here in Malaysia.  While there is little notable about the plot worthy of in-depth discussion here, this particular installation in the series put a much stronger emphasis on the ability of time travel to change events, and the idea that knowledge about events in different timelines can be simultaneously had by one person.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Cynicism of Ideals and Idealism of Cynics

Southeast Asia used to be (and in many ways still is) a playground for some of the largest developmental organizations in the world.  The fact that Asian Development Bank has its headquarters in the region, along with multiple offices of UNDP and aspiring smaller NGOs, says much about how modern developmental work has shaped Southeast Asian economies.  Indeed, the long presence of aid organizations here have contributed much to how people locally perceive themselves, seeing themselves often as the deservedly unfortunate individuals who should receive the constant developmental support they are receiving.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Asian Americans' Ambivalence toward Entrepreneurship

Back in the States, the Asians live with a widespread stereotype: they are the arch-typical white-collar professional set, with high salaries and stable careers but little creativity or adventurousness.  They are the doctors, the lawyers, and the engineers of America, acquiescing with parental pressures, displayed and strengthened at every opportunity possible, to pursue these subjects.  The results are an ethnic group that is almost homogeneously represented by meekness sprinkled with diligence, as they quietly toil day in and day out to further the ambitious goals of non-Asian leaders.

Friday, June 19, 2015

The Social Disease of “Being Satisfied with One’s Lot”

It was field meeting day at a small Tanzanian village 45 minutes down a one-lane dirt path from the nearest paved main road.  The staff of the NGO, which honorably hosted the author in his three-day visit, was waiting in the village’s main “square” for the farmers’ arrival.  The field team has been working hard all day to go door to door, getting people’s commitment to show up for a 2pm meeting that explains in detail what programs the NGO has to offer to help farmers increase their yields for the next planting season.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

A Transport Hub of (In-) Convenience

For some reason, Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is the transport hub of intra-Africa flights.  The country’s flag carrying Ethiopian Airlines host flights across the continent, bringing visitors of the continent to the city’s smallish but comfortable airport.  Aside from the usual assortment of foreigners (backpackers on their way to safaris, mid-level managers of commodity firms, sprinkled with a few diplomats), the demographic of the airport’s transit population says much about the state of the continent’s political economy.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Casualties as Tools of State Propaganda

A few days ago marked the 26th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Incident, and as usual, the mainland Chinese news outlets are busy with other matters in order to cover up the event.  Interestingly enough, this year there indeed is something tragic going to distract the attention of the masses.  The rapid sinking of the ""Eastern Star," a massive tourist cruise ship on the Yangtze River, brought about the death of hundreds of elderly passengers and once again put forth the doubts of the whole world on safety (in general) of living in China.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

the Fortresses of Inequality

In North Jakarta, there is a neighborhood named Pantai Indah Kapuk (PIK) that neither show up on tour guides or in any Jakarta tourists' itineraries.  It lies beyond a highway and a mangrove forest that separate it from the main commercial areas of old town Jakarta.  Sure, the traffic on the main streets of PIK still remain, as is the case for most of the metropolis, but the hectic mass of people and shops that is the old North Jakarta is replaced with straight neighborhood roads, devoid of street-side shops and even pavement for pedestrians, but full of delicately manicured bushes and flowers.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Origin of Tiresomeness (the Mental Kind)

Perhaps it is not the specific attributes of certain individuals to feel tired out of the blue, for no reason in particular.  There was no exercise of any sort done recently, nor has there been any particular mental task that required so much thinking that it strains the body for just supplying oxygen to the brain.  A person can just sit there, surf the Internet, be completely passive for a couple of hours, and still manage to feel absolutely tired out in a short period of time.  It really makes the person think about exactly what is causing the energy drain.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

When the World Cares Too Little about Its Man-made Humanitarian Crises

A series of quakes that jolted Nepal and caused massive damages across the country has led to widespread attention to the South Asian country in the recent months.  This is backed by rapidly spread of photographs from the quake zone, showing extensive destruction and difficulties in rebuilding.  Organizations, both official and private from across the world, have been quick to provide the necessary aid to the country.  The author, who has enjoyed his travels to Nepal not that long ago, doubtlessly have his own share of sympathies for tourism-dependent country.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

A Revival of State Capitalism in the New Global Economic Order

Today, the Russians celebrate the 70th Victory Day, their edition of the World War II defeat of Nazi Germany, with a huge military parade in the Red Square at the center of Moscow, as well as central areas of all major cities that had important roles in the pivotal and brutal conflict.  Given the ongoing standoff in Ukraine, the hitherto Western allies of the Russians will neither be present not pleasantly following the parade from afar.  The presence of the Chinese and Indian leaders at the parade will further establish a view, among the mainstream media at least, of entrenched split of the Allied camp in the 21st century.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Personal Attitudes as Source of Developmental Obstacle

The guidebooks describe the traffic jams of Old Town Dhaka as "mesmerizingly hectic," a place where roads can be blocked off completely with just presence of bicycle rickshaws and nothing else.  Indeed, the narrow, winding lanes of the Old Town, euphemistically termed "roads," can hold no more than one and a half rickshaws by width.  Yet, as the rickshaws navigate the tiny lanes, dodging streetside stands, pedestrians, and other rickshaws in the process, what is noticeable is that the presence of these physical obstacles may not be the biggest obstacles slowing down traffic.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Is Betting on Gambling Still the Right Bet?

Over here in Metro Manila, the construction of new hotels with in-built casinos are not at all abating.  New areas devoted to attracting high-rollers in the names of Entertainment City and City of Dreams have now finished phase 1 of construction and continue to aggressively expand into open lands next to Manila Bay (at least part of which are reclaimed from the sea).  Despite the author's frequent travels within Manila during his time of residence, this development (and the scale and pace of construction) is certainly not previously seen and can be considered unprecedented.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

How Can One Tolerate Portraying Past Colonialism as NOT Evil?

For many countries that have some colonial past, the national identity is often supplemented, and in many cases, defined by struggle for freedom and throwing off colonial rule.  That of the US is a great example.  The cherished principles of freedom is evidenced by the early rebels' personal sacrifices in battlefields against the British.  And their struggles are epitomized as heroic in places like the lyrics of the national anthem.  The US is often not the exception but the norm in post-colonial countries, many of which systematically link the idea of nation with pain of colonialism.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Assessing the Presence of Chinese Firms in Africa

As comparatively new players on the African continent, Chinese companies often face uphill battles against much more entrenched European and American competitors.  With their strong advantages of extensiveness in local resource ownership, social networks with influential local leaders, and brand recognition among the common populace, Western firms use their long-established traditional presence and trust to secure large segments of the African market.  The lack of such long history has forced Chinese firms, many of which largely unknown to Africans, to undertake a brazenly risky approach in doing business on the continent to compete with the West.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Potential Restrictions of Offensive Joking in a Conservative Society

In America, people sometimes say that the funniest jokes tend to be the most offensive, and in a socially liberal Western society (at least in the parts of it not directly straddling the Bible Belt), decades of evolving freedoms in speech have guaranteed that not many things being said can still offend people immediately.  Comedians (and common people cracking jokes, for that matter), often take to greater and greater extents just to ensure their offensiveness (and thus funniness) can be taken to higher and higher levels, through more and more unique and disgusting ways.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Lee Kuan Yew and Legitimization of Pragmatism in Politics

To be universally respected as a national leader is not an easy task, especially one that has governed during the turbulent times of global rivalry.  Yet, with the conflicts interests of Soviet-American bipolarity in the past and Sino-American duality in the present, Lee Kuan Yew shrewdly managed to make the island city-state liked by both sides, but somehow managed to extract beneficial economic externalities from balancing opposing ends.  Singapore, as a global entrepot with little prejudice in its political agenda on the international stage, greatly benefited.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Asian Cuisine’s Perplexing Partiality of Vegetarianism

The author, being a skinny man that he has been for the past God-knows-how-long, has never really been too careful on the foods he eats.  The logic is that, given the lack of body fat, high intakes of fattening foods should not be too problematic as long as certain precautions are taken.  And the author has been doing some of that, mostly avoiding fried snacks like potato chips and carbonated sodas, while keeping alcohol consumption to a social minimum.  Yes, there is lack of exercise, but he never thought of himself as terribly unhealthy.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

In a World without Absolute "Truth," Attempts to Find It is Useless Effort

The author is a relativist when it comes to moral values.  The exact same act, done under different circumstances and background, he believes, can be either positive or negative.  Stealing is a prime example.  From time to time, there are news of poor, desperate people stealing out of basic need to support their families, sometimes to finance needs that can very much mean life and death for the benefactors.  While debates with regard to such news have focused on why society has not helped such people (for which the author believes is a government role), it also put forth other thoughts.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

外國幽默的引進與中國綜藝的興起

説實話,著者并不非常喜歡關注中國電視。多年來,基於對官方社會主義意識形態的顧及,國營的中國電視基本上被單一、格式化的節目充實。新聞常常充滿政府領導活動的陳述和黨國政治在國外最新手筆的宣揚。而其餘時間完全被誇大中國歷史强盛的連續劇和有關一般普通民衆不會很關心的議論節目所占領。相似在臺灣、日本、韓國等地盛行的大衆娛樂和綜藝節目不但是寥寥無幾,還會經常被官方拿來以“無聊、低俗”之名批判。當然,官方的反對并未減少大陸年輕一代對此類節目的情有獨鍾。

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Overly Simplified Politicization of Soft Power

On the massive central plaza inside the sprawling Korean-owned mall that is Lotte Shopping Avenue, there was an event involving what seems to be an exchange between Korean and Indonesian high school students.  Yet, the event was nothing fun and games.  The students were drawing massive South Korean national flags, with additional one-story high color posters hanging on the walls behind the central plaza.  The posters, with large English texts and cartoon drawings, claimed "Dokdo: islands of Korea!" "Donghae: the East Sea of Korea!" and "Celebrate the Life of An Jung-Geun!"

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Finding Jakarta's Hidden Sex Tavern

There were two young female DJs in the middle of the nightclub.  Pumping out electronic and house music for hours at an end, she was in the clubbing mood herself, completely ignoring the gaze of the massive crowds thronging around her DJ table and perhaps even forgetting the fact that they are in a mega-club in which the clientele did not really dance.  Instead, a massive elevated performance platform, lighted from the bottom, surround the DJ table, showing female dancers at work.  The mostly male clientele looks on as the dancers display energy and surprisingly good choreography.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Persistence of "Looking at the Bigger Picture"

On the way back from a short journey to see his grandparents, the author was riding a cab from Beijing's train station to its airport on the outskirts of the city.  The city, as is the case in most Chinese New Year's, was completely deserted, even on a 10 pm on a Saturday night.  The cab driver was a bit overtly joyful of how the normally insanely crowded city can be so refreshingly devoid of human density, making the usually painful drive to the airport (even on the five-lane expressway) a complete breeze with little traffic and fantastic speed.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Survey on Race and Dating, International Edition

Another Valentine's Day of being single, the author found himself with a group (over 150 in number, to be exact) of like-minded individuals willing to spend their romantic nights meeting up with random strangers on a rooftop bar.  Predominantly short-term residential expats with loved ones far far away on other countries and continents, the group quickly went from serious topics of working in KL to discussing a more Valentine's Day-appropriate topic of multiracial, international dating, in the context of residing in a completely foreign country with foreign dating cultures.

Friday, February 6, 2015

An American Dream of Self-Understanding

In the Asian-American community, one of the biggest topic in the recent days is the premiere of "Fresh off the Boat," the first Asian-starred prime-time sitcom on American television in over two decades.  Narrated by DC-born Taiwanese celebrity chef Eddie Huang, the sitcom describes how a new Asian immigrant family come face to face with a Floridan community that has little experience dealing with Asian minorities, and how each family member came to cope with the often uncomfortable dissonance they come to have with their new home.

The Superlatives of a Chinese "Humble" Dinner

When in China, one does what the Chinese do.  And when it comes to doing, eating takes up a huge chunk of the average Chinese's time and money.  The results of the devotion is apparent in how large shopping malls, most of which filled to the brim with different eateries, are popping up across the country.   Yet, for the Chinese, that is not enough to justify their love of food in special occasions, and interestingly enough, the author had firsthand experience of the lavish extremes that his extended family, like many others, are willing to go to celebrate their love for good food.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

That Dinghy Little Maid Room at the End of the Hallway

"Since the regular room is booked out, we will move you into a two-bedroom suite for your stay," the receptionist casually mentioned upon the author's check-in.  The author, for his business trip this time in the Philippines, was placed into a gigantic service residence unit.  Wowed by the sheet size of the bedrooms, the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom...the author was just giving himself a tour of the place when he noticed a little dark alley on the side of the kitchen, away from the bedrooms and the main door.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Death of the "Iron Stomach" and the Doubts of a Casual Traveler

On the road, the biggest enjoyment a traveler can possibly have is food.  Going to new places and indulging on the delicacies that raised a whole new unknown civilization cannot be underestimated in its value in communicating with the locals.  It is like the Chinese says, "民以食為天" (people see food sky/heaven).  The centrality of gastronomy in not only the cultural expression of a place, but also the economic realities of the common people residing there provides possibly the most concentrated and succinct method to get know the good and bad of a foreign location.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Can Liberalism Also be Fundamentalist?

A couple of years ago, there was a South Park episode that made fun of the late Steve Irwin,  Australia's famed "crocodile hunter."  The episode characterized the nature of Irwin's TV documentaries as mere attempts to gain viewership by intentionally pissing off wild animals while fully knowing that the animals will be pissed off by the human intrusions.  By skirting serious physical danger in his pretty much unnecessarily violent interactions with the pissed off animals, Irwin somehow gains a status of folk hero in the process.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

One-Sided Interpretations of History and Underlying Grievances in the Shadows

Sri Lanka is scheduled for another presidential election on January 8th.  As a result, the streets are filled with campaign posters and pictures of the two main candidates, more notably that of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the incumbent.  His party's blue flag grace the man streets of the country's main cities, with campaign personnel busying themselves plastering posters with photos of him shaking hands with notable foreigners or cuddling a small child on the campaign trail.  His campaign team is on the road through main towns, drawing huge crowds with fiery speeches.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Legend of the Sri Lankan Feet

"It's only 3km away, that's only a short walk from here," many Sri Lankans met on the road often says something of this sort to the author.  No joking, no exaggeration of self-pride, but just stating what is to them a simple matter of fact.  And they certainly back up such talks with action: the author, on his bus trips, has seen too many locals, in their simple worn-out flip-flops, walking next to major highways, appearing in the middle-of-nowheres between towns that are not particularly close even by driving.