Chinese, Japanese, Korean? Test your knowledge of Asian faces here. Through a combination of wild guesses and inspired hunches I got 10/18. The best score so far among my friends has been 11/18 (by a Chinese Canadian).
The Philippines and Thailand have much in common. Both have volatile polities, entrenched militaries, dominant state religions, and persistent Muslim insurgencies in the south of the country. These similarities have been particularly obvious during the past two years, with both countries experiencing widespread street protests against their administrations (which in Thailand led to the resignation of prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra earlier this year, although he was soon reinstated).
Why then was it Thailand, the more prosperous of the two, that experienced a military coup last night?
• First off, it could have been here. There have been two halfhearted coup attempts in the Philippines in recent years (the Oakwood mutiny in July 2003 and the incident at the marine headquarters in February 2006). Had these been better planned and carried out in a more committed way, the Philippines rather than Thailand might have experienced the dubious distinction of hosting Southeast Asia’s first coup of the 21st century.
• Thailand has a trump card lacking in the Philippine deck: the king, whose role in last night’s events is as yet unclear (although it is known that he has a strong antipathy to Thaksin).
• Both countries are divided politically, yet in each there is evidence of the dominance of the rising Asian middle class. Despite his hold on the Thai masses and his substantial electoral victories, Thaksin has always been fiercely opposed by a large faction of the middle class and by almost all the intelligentsia. In the Philippines too, the middle class has been calling the shots: toppling Erap in 1998 and persisting in its lukewarm support for Gloria. My hunch is that if the Thai military did not feel that the middle class would at least acquiesce in a coup they wouldn’t have moved (though having said that, I suspect many middle class Thais will have woken up this morning wondering whether this is really what want).
• One reason that Thaksin has proved more divisive than Gloria is that he is a new type of leader, in the Silvio Berlusconi mold—brash, corporate, and business-minded. He has attempted to go beyond the tired old nexus of politicos, business elites, and the military to take Thailand in a new direction. My guess is that the military might have felt a bit cut out of this vision. Gloria on the other hand seems a quintessential politician of the old school, basing her support on alliances with local political leaders, the military, and pursuing a more traditional economic path. Because she seems a continuation of existing norms (however tainted they may be) there is less justification for the military to act. Most military coups are conservative after all—justified by a desire to return the country to the old ways, rather than to take it into dangerous new territory.
• From the word go, avoiding a military rebellion has been one of Gloria’s main political objectives. She only became president in the first place because the military withdrew support from her predecessor, and by rotating the military leadership, appointing former military men to her government, turning a blind eye to corruption in the forces, and allowing the army a free hand in suppressing leftist groups, she has been able to count on their support. After all, short of taking power themselves (which I don’t think many generals would want), who else is likely to give the military such an easy ride?
• A military coup requires the military to think and move as one. And yet it is disunity that is the hallmark of many Philippine political and social movements (see the Oakwood and marine rebellions). Gloria has benefited from this national failing in many ways.
Anyway that’s my two cents. Let’s see what happens in Thailand over the next few days.
Postscript: I just received an interesting communication on the coup from a friend. “I was just talking to friends in Thailand on the phone about this question. The generals are aligned with a guy named Prem Tinsulanonda on the privy council who sees himself as representing the King in civilian politics. Essentially Thaksin has been a long-running threat to that faction of the status quo in Bangkok, and the generals just chose their moment well to act on it. Of course it takes Thailand's democracy back a generation to the generation of Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, etc, and the generation of nationalist/opportunist generals. What's most disturbing is that the generals by being aligned with Prem give their putsch the whiff of royal support. This will make it brutally difficult for Thaksin's forces -- no matter how overwhlemingly popular they are in the countryside -- to resist this coup, which is essentially by, about, and for elitist forces in the capital. Say what you will about Thaksin -- he's certainly no friend to democracy -- but I don't see how extraconstitutional actions by people with ulterior motives are very helpful.” Thanks Erin!
No one really knows what the implication of the vast and growing gender imbalance in China will be, but it is certain that the disparities, not just in China but elsewhere in Asia, are enormous and growing everyday.
… Mother Nature’s usual preference for about 105 males to 100 females has grown to around 120 male births for every 100 female births in China. The imbalance is even higher in some locales—136 males to 100 females on the island of Hainan, an increasingly prosperous tourist resort, and 135 males to 100 females in central China’s Hubei Province. Similar patterns can be found in Taiwan, with 119 boys to 100 girls; Singapore, 118 boys to 100 girls; South Korea, 112 boys to 100 girls; and parts of India, 120 boys to 100 girls.
What will be fueled by all this excess testosterone? A recent article in Foreign Policy by Martin Walker ran over some of the socio-political implications of gender selection using ultrasound scanning machines:
The long-term implications … are largely guesswork because there is no real precedent for imbalances on such a scale. Some Chinese experts speculate, off the record, that there might be a connection between the shortage of women and the spread of open gay life since 2001, when homosexuality was deleted from the official Classification of Mental Disorders. It is possible to dream up all kinds of scenarios: Mumbai and Shanghai may soon rival San Francisco as gay capitals. A Beijing power struggle between cautious old technocrats and aggressive young nationalists may be decided by mobs of rootless young men, demanding uniforms, rifles, and a chance to liberate Taiwan. More likely, the organized crime networks that traffic in women will shift their deliveries toward Asia and build a brothel culture large enough to satisfy millions of sexually frustrated young men.
I quite like the idea of the Shanghai becoming a sort of Asian Brighton, but Walker argues that some of the other potential consequences will be quite grim, are already in fact:
Many of the excess boys will be poor and rootless, a lumpenproletariat without the consolations of sexual partners and family. Prostitution, sex tourism, and homosexuality may ease their immediate urges, but Asian societies are witnessing far more dramatic solutions. Women now risk being kidnapped and forced not only into prostitution but wedlock. Chinese police statistics recorded 65,236 arrests for female trafficking in 1990–91 alone. Updated numbers are hard to come by, but it’s apparent that the problem remains severe. In September 2002, a Guangxi farmer was executed for abducting and selling more than 100 women for $120 to $360 each. Mass sexual frustration is thus adding a potent ingredient to an increasingly volatile regional cocktail of problems that include surging economic growth, urbanization, drug abuse, and environmental degradation.
One thing that interests me is how this may tie in with what William Callaghan calls a very deliberate celebration of humiliation.
… the more I looked for national humiliation discourse, the more I found. Though they do not receive much attention in Western analysis, it turns out that there are textbooks, novels, museums, songs, and parks devoted to commemorating national humiliation in China.
Some years ago, Chinese lawmakers even had difficulty selecting a “national humiliation day”, since views differed on the most severe humiliation the country had suffered in the last 150 years. Was it the forced signing of the 1909 peace treaty or the Japanese invasion? So many choices! I don’t really buy the argument that we should all fear a resurgent China, but the idea of millions of wifeless lumpen proletariat feeding off a national culture of embitterment is bit scary.
Good old Singapore – you just can’t beat it. From today’s Malaysian Star:
STUDENTS of a secondary school in Singapore, who were recently found to be wearing coloured bras to school, were forced to go braless, reported China Press.
According to the daily, the school only allowed students to wear white, beige and light grey bras.
The daily said most of the affected students were caught wearing coloured bras during a Physical Education class
They were forced to remove the bras in the bathroom, which were then confiscated.
Describing the action as “too much”, the daily quoted the students as saying they were mortified, more so as male teachers were present.
The daily said a school spokesman admitted that those who had given the order had “gone overboard.”
She said the school had decided to provide white bras for those flouting the rules.
The daily also reported that several schools in the republic were taking different approaches in dealing with the matter.
One school was already selling bras to students.
Others had informed the parents before asking the students to leave the school to change their bras.
The daily, together with Nanyang Siang Pau and Sin Chew Daily, front-paged a report that a six-year-old girl who died in a road accident recently had saved the lives of five others.
Her two corneas, kidneys and heart had been donated to five people.
On Feb 26, the girl and her father, were involved in a crash while going back to Muar from Penang.
The child, who suffered a fractured skull, died two days later.
I lived in Singapore for four years and I can tell you, the papers are full of this kind of stuff every day. I once came first and second in an international competition for ridiculous headlines with these from the Straits Times: “Doctor examined child’s ear and found it normal” and “Decorative telephone topples over easily”.
One thing I like about the story above is the bizarre mixing of the pedantic application of ridiculous rules with genuine tragedy. I used to see that all the time too. In this case the story of a little girl’s death appears under the headline "Braless order at school" – that must have made the parents feel great.
Last week’s decision in the case of the two Thais found guilty of raping and murdering a British tourist must have set some sort of record. The crime was committed on new year’s day and by 18 January the perpetrators had been detected, captured, tried, and sentenced to death. The only reason the sentence has not been carried out is that by law the convicted men are allowed a month in which to lodge an appeal, which they have done.
I know that you are all dying to read my witty and erudite insights into the
differences and similarities between India and the Philippines, but that seems too much like hard work, so I’ll distill all our shared observations from three weeks into one word: moustache.
Man, they love their ’taches over there. Of the 3 million Keralan men we saw, I think five had a clean shaven upper lip. Yet I can go for weeks in Manila without seeing a moustache (and, given the ridicule I have been subjected for my own whispy efforts in that direction I ain’t ever gonna see one in the mirror).
There you have it: India, moustache; Philippines, unmoustache. What more can you possibly need to know?
The best flower in the world is the “kimjongilia”. The “facts” have clearly proved it. As the marmot says, “you can’t make up stuff like this folks”.
The pink Kimilsungia is a species of orchid, first bred by an Indonesian botanist, and presented by Sukarno to Kim Il Sung in 1965 when the latter visited Indonesia. It was named after Kim Il Sung, a gesture which North Korea’s KCNA called “a symbol of the great love and genuine admiration the people of Indonesia have for the Great Leader.”
Before long, this tropical orchid became the symbol of the regime and over 250 greenhouses have since been built for the growing of this tropical hybrid all over this country of harsh winter. Despite the shortage of electricity, the greenhouses of Kimilsungia are always well taken of. During the famine and energy crisis of the late 1990s, KCNA carried reports about how patriotic citizens asked the state energy bureaus to shut down their home heating systems during winter so that there is enough electric power for the glories of Kimilsungia.
How can there be a flower for the father without one for the son? The Dear Leader’s cause was answered by a Japanese botanist in 1988. The Kimjonglia is a variety of the South American begonia. Huge and red, some critics say the Dear Leader need flowers larger than his father’s to make up for his father greater stature in history. Whatever it was, Kimjonglia took off in a big way too, with huge Kimjonglia festivals every year as well.
Immortal Kimjongilia is now appreciated by people at home and abroad as a “flower of the sun revered by all people”, “valuable flower representing the times”, “the best flower in the world”, “king of flowers”, etc. ... The facts go to clearly prove that Kimjongilia is the most beautiful flower in the world. Kimjongilia is now being rapidly propagated in at least 60 countries to be loved by hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Sixty-eight people died and 100 more are trapped, almost certain to die, in a coal mine explosion in Shaanxi province over the weekend.Their deaths are part of what seems to be a never-ending stream of carnage in China’s mines; in the first nine months of this year 4,153 people died in mining accidents (amazingly, this was 13% down from 2003 figures).In October and November at least 300 more have met miserable ends at last weekend’s explosion and another accident in Henan in October.
Yet these are not the almost inevitable statistics of a Third World mining industry.China is now a middle-income country, with more millionaires than the UK, urban skylines in Beijing and Shanghai to rival Manhattan and a government that this month announced a huge investments in South America.
China’s mines are the dark side of the China’s booming private sector.Here are a couple of examples of capitalist brutality that could be straight out of Dickens:
In May 2002, according to China's official media, 21 miners were trapped by an explosion in a mine in the north-west of the country. But instead of attempting to rescue them, the mine's owner destroyed employee records and whitewashed over scorch marks, leaving them to die.
And in June 2003 in northern China, the bodies of 36 miners who had been killed in a blast in a gold mine were found to have been hidden in an attempt to cover up the accident.
The botched acquisition of the Far Eastern Economic Review by Dow Jones should be taught in business schools.
Not long ago, there were two excellent English language weekly magazines covering Asia: Asiaweek and the Far Eastern Economic Review. Both were bought by American conglomerates – Asiaweek by Time Warner and the Far Eastern Economic Review by Dow Jones – and both were subsequently closed, leaving the region only with the feeble “Asian” edition of Time. An excellent account of the Asiaweek debacle by a friend and former senior editor of the magazine can be found here.
The mismanagement of the Far Eastern Economic Review by its corporate masters is a textbook case of how not to handle an acquisition. Under its previous editor, Derek Davies, the Review had carved a name for itself for the excellence of its economic reporting, its refusal to be cowed (the Singapore Government banned it on several occasions) and its wide-ranging book reviews.
When Dow Jones took over the Review it:
· introduced pompous “editorials”, which, while clearly reflecting an uninformed American-oriented view of the Region, invariably included the phrase “we in Asia” in a transparent attempt to appear local;
· indulged in numerous revisions to the format, each more disastrous than the last;
· brought in large numbers of American journalists and editors at the expense of well-established writers who knew the region;
· moved the focus from business and politics to “innovation” and “lifestyle”, neither of which was particularly of interest to its core readership and both of which were much better covered elsewhere; and
· dramatically reduced the scope of the book review section.
I've been a subscriber to the Review for most of the past 20 years, and an occasional contributor, but I ended my sub last year. There was really nothing left to read.
Clearly flailing, last year Dow-Jones merged the editorial operations of the Far Eastern Economic Review and the Asian Wall Street Journal in an attempt to cut costs. On Friday, it bowed to the inevitable and closed the magazine after six consecutive years of losses.
One of the reasons for the closure given by “the top Dow Jones executive for global news coverage” was last year’s SARS outbreak, almost as fatuous an excuse as that offered for the closure of Asiaweek three years previously (the 9/11 terrorist attacks).
As well as providing cautionary tales on the perils of acquiring assets in cultures about which you know nothing, the closures of the Review and Asiaweek give the lie to the claim that under globalization everyone benefits. On the contrary, it seems that everyone lost from this sorry story; journalists and other staff who have been made redundant, Dow Jones and Times Warner who have both lost a packet as a result of their mismanagement, and the magazines’ loyal readers, who after having to put up with steadily deteriorating products for over a decade now have no weekly magazine at all.
But wait. Not everyone has lost out. The New York Timesstory on the closure informs us that Karen Elliott House, the architect of the progressive degradation of the Review from well-respected mainstay of economic and political reporting in the region to flimsy lifestyle magazine, is now a Dow Jones senior vice president. Such a flagrant example of incompetence rewarded is another reason why business schools will have plenty to discuss when they come to analyse the ruination of the Far Eastern Economic Review.