Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label politics. Show all posts

Monday, June 25, 2018

Witnessing Inter-Korean Exchange at Vladivostok Airport

One of the little-known idiosyncrasies of the Russian Far East is the presence of a relatively large North Korean population.  The region's low population translates to a chronic shortage of laborers needed for low-paid construction and menial work Russians are reluctant to take up.  In European Russia, Central Asian migrants fill the role, out here the North Koreans play the same role.  Despite ongoing sanctions that dramatically reduced their numbers, North Korean laborers are still preferred by Russian firms for their manageability, diligence, and lack of negative cultural (read: Muslim) influence.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Soviet History as Source of Russian Pride

History says that the USSR died back in 1991.  People are supposed to be so fed up with the economic stagnation, the political inefficiency, and low standard of living compared to the West that no one really misses it.  Only strongman and revisionists like Putin would say something ridiculous like how the fall of the USSR was a great misfortune and the great Russian revival requires reinstating some parts of the USSR.  To Western observers, the USSR represented a failed system that simply proved itself to be uncompetitive over course of history. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Is Center-Periphery Conflict an Unavoidable Fact in Large Countries?

The campus of the Far Eastern Federal University is a gorgeous one.  Situated on the mostly wild Russky Island south of Vladivostok, it is a mishmash of imposing modern buildings connected to the century-old downtown area with spectacular suspension bridges.  Perhaps as a result of its extraordinary setting, it serves as the regular venue of the East Asia Summit that bring together political leaders from Russia and its East Asian neighbors.  But for the importance of the Summit for Russia's Look East economic policy, locals are a bit annoyed by the Summit serving to shut down the city for weeks at a time.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Light Reckoning of Vladivostok's Cosmopolitan Past

In one of the exhibition rooms of the main regional museums of Vladivostok, photographs and objects depict the original Chinatown of the city from the 19th century.  Nicknamed Millionka, the neighborhood inhabited by Chinese Settlers was just one of several ethnic communities in a city with only 20% ethnic Russian population.  Even among the Russian Settlers, the background was diverse, with Settlers coming in from not only the country's European heartland but also Ukraine, Belarus, and the Caucasus.  Foreigners and Russians alike mingled.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Can a City Attract New Settlers without the Right Infrastructure?

In Vladivostok, it is difficult to miss the city's two most obvious landmarks.  A pair of suspension bridges, towering above the low-rise cityscape, connects its centuries-old downtown area with southern suburbs across the Golden Horn Bay, and mostly wilderness Russky Island further south with the southern suburbs.  Already nicknamed "Russian San Francisco" for the zigzaging bays intersecting the city, Vladivostok only reminds more of the north American city with the bridges that look conspicuously like the Golden Gate. 

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Physical Effects of an Economic Crisis in Russia

For the Chinese small traders in Vladivostok, 2014 seems to have been a watershed year.  Years of boom turned to gloom as traditional wholesale markets dominated by Chinese traders emptied out.  Merchants speak of a massive exodus of compatriots, as they no longer have enough customers to justify high financial and personal social costs of importing their wares and residing in a foreign city.  Some merchants gave alarmingly high numbers of more than 2/3 of fellow traders returning to China after 2014.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Remembering the Essentially Multicultural Nature of Every Culture

The Asian Exhibition Gallery at the Tokyo National Museum features some of the most exquisite artefacts from Pacific islands to the depth of ancient Mesopotamia.  The display is often a potpourri of different things from different eras, discovered by different people and sourced in different ways.  But in all the confusing variety of the artefacts, the central message of the Gallery was never lost in each of the exhibit: that the various cultures of Asia, as represented by the artefacts present, serve as the cultural foundations of Japan as a country and people today.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Japanese Shitamachi as a Case of "Necessary Slums"

In the modern Japanese context, the concept of "shitamachi" often evokes a sense of longing, traditoon, history,and community.  Roughly translated as "lower neighborhoods," the shitamachi is often credited as the repository of Japanese urban history, where traditional crafts and businesses thrived, and a sense of "togetherness," long lost in the faceless confines of modern apartment and office blocks, can still be found.  Simply put, they represent a supposedly more wholesome Japan, where pressures of modern corporate world has yet to disturb the social fabric created by centuries of traditional communal life.

Friday, May 11, 2018

What's the Point of Negotiating When Agreements Can Just be Ripped up Later?

One summer of 2008, the author found himself on a bus from South Korea, crossing straight across the DMZ north into the North Korean city of Kaesong.  It was a different time, when hopes of reconciliation between the two Koreas was high.  Hyundai Asan, a subsidiary of the giant South Korean conglomerate ran the tour, and the bus passed through Kaesong Industrial Complex, the symbol of economic cooperation between the two sides.  While tourists are monitored per usual protocol, there were talks of a better future among the South Koreans used to living under liberal administrations.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Nationalistic Politicians Need to Heed the Intricacies of Global Supply Chains

The hot topic in international diplomacy is "trade wars."  The idea that a major economic power, by blockading access to certain economic resources to foreign firms, can somehow hurt foreign economic interests to such a degree that the foreign country in question has no choice but to make economic concessions.  The idea is rooted in a "zero-sum" mentality, whereby economic victory and resulting benefits of one country and its firms is correlated with economic defeat and economic costs of another country and their companies.

Monday, March 19, 2018

It Takes Political Maturity to Remember a Country's Darkest History

Undertaking a popular political movement against a government backed by military force is often not the easiest of tasks, and the task is particularly difficult if the government is a military junta with no hesitation to use force to keep itself in power.  Organizers of political movements, with no military force of its own, inevitably come up against the barrels of guns when confronting the state, often with devastating consequences that results in endless bloodshed.  The state, fearful of losing moral authority and political legitimacy as murderers of unarmed civilians, would of course like to suppress news of such confrontations.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Obstacles of Making "off the Beaten Path" Get on the "Beaten Path"

Every unplanned trip has its unforeseen circumstances, and sometimes those unforeseen circumstances can get quite costly.  And there was certainly one of those on this particular trip through the Silk Road.  On the way back from Yerevan, the Armenian capital to Tokyo, the cheapest way would have been to fly through to Russia and then to Japan.  The next cheapest, involving non-Russian transitions, would have been costlier by a margin of close to 300 usd.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What is the Best Way for a Wealthy State to Engage the World?

The movie Black Panther has been all the rage back in the US for quite some time now, particularly among the black community given its depiction of a wealthy, confident, powerful black country not suffering under the yoke of Western colonialism.  While the concept of Afro-centrism or Afro-futurism as many have termed it, is worthy of note, a bigger theme that goes beyond race comes to mind when watching the movie.  That is the question of whether and how a wealthy nation engages its poorer neighbors.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

When the Traveler Unwittingly Steps across Geopolitical Fault Lines

The immigration official at the Armenian land border with Georgia looked quite hostile.  "What were you doing in Azerbaijan?" He asked rather angrily as he flipped through the passport to find the unexpected Azerbaijani entry and exit stamps.  When he received the usual "tourism" answer, he was simply unconvinced, deciding to take a copy of the passport page with the Azerbaijani stamps before allowing the passport holder into the country.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Danger of Presidents for Life Becoming Their Own Legitimacy

Astana, the capital city of Kazakhstan, is in many ways the city of its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.  Having came up with the idea of creating a brand new city to replace Almaty, the economic hub of more than a million people, as capital of the country, he certainly did not hesitate to put his own imprints on the city itself.  The city's new airport, university, several other institutions are unabashedly named after him, while the main museums all have sections exclusively dedicated to his life and politics.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Deliberate Lack of Walkability in Soviet Designed Cities

When the Soviet Union found itself in power, it not only took over some vibrant cities in its territories, it also quickly worked to create brand new ones to suit needs of the planned economies and regional administration.  Villages are expanded into cities based on a consistent set of designs that adhere to Soviet philosophies of how cities should look like and function.  Based on the set of designs, many similar cities are created in the Soviet sphere of influence.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

A Police Surveillance State: The Case of Xinjiang

"Things are different here," the local driver nonchalantly quipped, "the rules that govern the rest of China simply does not work here in Xinjiang." As the driver took a drive in search of hotels in Urumqi, the metropolitan capital of Xinjiang, he began to remark on just how years of terrorist threat changed how locals in the city and the wider region live their daily lives.  After a few hours in China's volatile western reaches, the restrictions can easily be felt.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

How People in Western China Handles Beijing Time

In some ways, the very concept of time is a social construct.  After all, it is by sheer convention of the centuries past that humans decided that, for instance, 7am means early morning and 7pm means dinner time.  The number could have been entirely something else had those who were in charge of creating standard time notations chose otherwise.  And because humans are so used to the idea of 7am and 7pm means the same thing everywhere, there came to be the idea of time zones.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Restrictions on Who Gets to Handle Foreigners in China Hurt Small Business Owners

There is a little village in front of the famed Crescent Lake in the middle of the desert near the city of Dunhuang in Western China.  To take advantage of the convenient location to the famous tourist spot, the villagers have been busy setting up one home stay after another.  By the time the author rolled around in February of 2018, practically every house in the village operates an inn, a restaurant, a tourist-oriented supermarket, or a small tour agency. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Is Blind Faith in the Crowd Reducing People's Ability to Think for Themselves?

In front of the massive dormitory complex that the author lives in seaside Tokyo, there is a pedestrian crossing that leads to the park connecting the complex with one of the nearest metro stations.  Given that relatively few people uses the pedestrian crossing, it is not automatically activated.  Only by pressing the button on a pole next to the crossing would the streetlight turn green, allowing people to cross.  Without pressing button, the light will remain red forever.  The bright red button is quite visible, located conveniently right next to the curbside below the pedestrian light itself, with a bright yellow box with a human drawing.