Development in South East Asia: Altruism and Business Strategies

Interesting site called NextCity

 In Phnom Penh these days, cranes outnumber temple spires. Along with new apartment and office buildings, the city is in the thralls of a public-works construction boom. Rusted ferries are being replaced with modern bridges, the narrow, pothole-plagued highways that link the capital with Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok are being revamped, the city’s drainage system is being overhauled, the water supply is being extended to the furthest corners of the mushrooming metropolis, and a new fleet of public buses have taken to the motorbike-swarmed streets

But Cambodia’s famously kleptocratic government isn’t really leading the infrastructure charge. Rather, behind many of these projects stands the government of Japan, which is quietly reshaping rapidly urbanizing cities in Cambodia and across the developing world through theJapan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), that country’s answer to USAID…


Nowhere … is the economic incentive to provide aid as evident as it is in JICA’s involvement in the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in Southeast Asian cities. Such industrial free-trade areas lie adjacent to Cambodian ports in Phnom Penh and the coastal city of Sihanoukville, while another is being constructed next to Myanmar’s Thilawa deep-sea port, some 25 kilometers south of Yangon.

The latter SEZ is turning into something of a flashpoint for JICA, with farmers being evicted from their land to make way for the 6,000-acre industrial complex.

See all

State of Emergency Declared in Thailand

Thailand’s government on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Bangkok and surrounding areas to cope with protests that have stirred up violent attacks.

Labor Minister Chalerm Yubumrung announced that the measure would take effect Wednesday and continue for 60 days.

Protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, in a speech to followers, questioned whether the declaration was justified, saying the demonstrators had peaceful.

“Is it right for them to use the emergency decree to declare a state of emergency to come and deal with us? Come and get us,” he declared to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds at a park in downtown Bangkok. Thousands more are encamped at other locations in the capital.

Thailand Police

The emergency decree greatly expands the power of security forces to issue orders and search, arrest and detain people, with limited judicial and parliamentary oversight. The areas covered had already been placed under tougher-than-normal security under the country’s Internal Security Act.


Luang Brabang, Laos Celebrates the End of Monsoon Season — in driving rain

Fire Boat Festival in Laos

Fire Boat Festival in Laos

In one of the nicest places I’ve ever visited, Luang Prabang, Laos, the October full moon marked the end of the seasonal monsoon.  The folks pour out into the streets and into the Mekong and Nam Kahn rivers to let the spirits free.

Hundreds of foreign tourists were among the thousands watching the parade of “fire boats” that followed the races in Luang Prabang. The nighttime event is a highlight of the three-day race weekend: Handcrafted bamboo boats adorned with fruit, candles and paper serpents are carried to a Buddhist temple and then floated on the nearby Mekong as a way of honoring ancestors and empowering the Naga, a serpent like deity in Buddhist and Hindu mythology.  NY Times

Individual villages and temples create large elaborate boats using bamboo, coloured paper, leaves, flowers and candles which they then light up and carry along the main street in a large candlelit procession down to Wat Xieng Thong, where they are displayed and judged before being taken down the steps of the temple to the Mekong river and released downstream. Falang Brabang

Before the festivities begin, everyone cleans their home to rid bad spirits which may have taken up residence during the rainy season. Families then walk down to the river carrying beautifully carved wax candles in the shape of temples or boats, which they light and set adrift on the mighty Mekong, a ceremony which is thought to give the person releasing the craft very good karma for the coming season. – See more

Not Too Far From Angkor Wat

Scavengers in Siem Reap garbage dump

Scavengers in Siem Reap garbage dump

Not far from Cambodia’s  Angkor Wat temples, drawing millions of tourists a year, an enormous garbage dump serves as home and harvest ground for many.

See Omar Havana’s photo essay in The Diplomat.

Cambodia Opposition Leader Returns

To those of us who have kept our eyes on Cambodia since the baleful days of the 1974-79 civil war and genocide, every small sign of growing out of its macabre past is a sign of hope. Even Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long control of the country through dynamic political manipulation and gleeful self acquisition has been better than what preceded it.  Cambodian’s, when asked about his government, give a wry shrug of the shoulders: yes, he’s not so good, but then again, he’s not killing us. [Though Amnesty International in 1997 protested the summary executions of his opponents.]

Cambodia RainsySo, the return of a major opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, from four years of French exile after fleeing a conviction of racial incitement (anti-Vietnamese), is big news indeed — and not just to onlookers.  Cambodians have been lining up in droves to see and hear the rousing words of a man who has been involved in opposition politics since 1992.

Local NGO Licadho (Cambodian League for the Promotion of Defense of Human Rights) estimated about 100,000 people turned out and had shut down the main road to the airport as Rainsy and his entourage boarded a convoy of black four-wheel-drives and began the arduous task of inching their way into the city.

His return marked the end of a near four-year exile, self-imposed after the courts sentenced him to an 11-year jail term in absentia for crimes that included the uprooting of markers defining the Vietnamese border which he said were illegally placed on Cambodian soil. He maintains the charges were politically motivated.

Rainsy was clearly overwhelmed by the reception, telling The Diplomat it was difficult for him to speak amid the deafening cheers and chants of the crowd while being mobbed by well-wishers.

Cambodians of all ages and walks of life braved the heat and paraded through the streets in what was by far the biggest day of campaigning for the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). The Diplomat

There is little doubt that Sun Hen will retain control in the imminent elections.  Among many other things, his party controls almost all public media, rescinding a ban on foreign press coverage of the elections only after vigorous protests.

Even so, for the young, seeing  more normalized campaigning, the discussion of opposing points of view, behaving more like societies they have seen around the world, will have a healing and strengthening effect.  Our two young guides, of several months ago, educated and enthusiastic, though restrained, will surely find hope in what Rainsy is stirring, almost no matter the immediate outcome.



Thailand Occupies the Eye

It’s always interesting to travel to a place which has been mostly a name and a location on the map, particularly if there are English language newspapers to sweep you into the daily concerns of those living there.

Bangkok is hot enough for us, in the low 90s, with an overcast, and its not even the hot season yet.  That comes up in April — and big problems are in the offing.


Thailand’s energy authorities are scrambling for ideas to prevent a possible power shortage in April – the hottest month every year – as Myanmar is shutting down two gas fields that have supplied one-fourth of the Kingdom’s natural gas demand.

My guess is that a unsubstantial majority of Bangkokese don’t have air conditioning in their homes but that those who do will have the megaphone to make their views known.

It’s not a matter of politics or national retribution but an engineering problem of significant proportions.

Pongsak said the rig in Yanada field experienced destabilisation and needed to be fixed at its base on the seabed before the problem got worse. Therefore, Myanmar had decided that it would shut down the gas-supply system in both Yetagun and Yadana for repairs.

And if that’s not enough to worry the authorities, how about a sewage problem?  And, interesting to me, is that this is on the second page of the paper, not buried away as a cub reporters story.

If there is no effective waste management, Bangkok will be overwhelmed with garbage in 2015 when the integration of the Asean community allows the free movement of workers within member countries.

“With a higher ratio of garbage per head than other capitals, we need to adopt a ‘think new and act new’ approach to manage the problem,” said Assoc Prof Sirinthornthep Taoprayoon, director of the Joint Graduate School of Energy and Environment (JGSEE).

The modern world needs to look at garbage from a new perspective. What was earlier considered a “problem” or that “disgusting thing that should be destroyed quickly”, it is now seen as a valuable resource provided a good management system is adopted right from the start. The number of landfill gas projects across the world, which convert methane gas emitted from decomposing garbage into electricity, rose from 399 in 2005 to 594 in 2012

 And, in a separate article, the writer informs Thais of the need to shift their energy supplies, in good part because of climate change being forced by released carbon.  He knows that garbage in can be energy out.

Biogas digestion offers a good source of renewable energy as it deals with harnessing the methane gas that is released when waste breaks down. This gas can be retrieved from garbage or sewage systems. Biogas digesters are used to process methane gas by having bacteria break down biomass in an anaerobic environment.

One of the first things we did after checking into the hotel was find the nearest park, a nice big one with water features, birds and folks setting up lunches around tables.  However, all is not well, it seems.  That afternoon the paper reported:

Bangkok has one of the lowest percentages of green areas of any major capital in Asia; it’s time residents got new parks to breathe in…

In Asia, on average, urban people enjoy 39 square metres of green space each. Bangkok has 5.7 million permanent residents (probably twice as many unofficially) on 1,569 square kilometres, meaning they have to make do with a mere three square metres each, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Asian Green City Index 2011, commissioned by Siemens. Singapore, with 5 million people squeezed into 715 square kilometres, offers 66 square metres of green space per person.

Flood Watch

Food sent to North Korea after floods; nearly 63,000 homeless

The World Food Program is dispatching emergency help to North Korea after devastating flooding that has killed scores of people and left nearly 63,000 homeless. The emergency aid will provide flood victims with 400 grams of maize per day for two weeks, the United Nations agency said.

North Korean state media reported this week that 4,000 homes were submerged from the torrential rain that hit the country in recent weeks. Televised reports showed North Koreans paddling boats to reach people stranded on roofs and streets as vast muddy rivers.

Floods devastate China’s Shaanxi province

More than 80,000 people forced from their homes after days of rainfall cause heavy flooding in northwestern region.

Typhoon Saola Dumps Rain Lifts Tides in the Philippines

Close to 180,000 people had been evacuated from 90 towns and 22 cities, many of them crowding each other in school gyms converted into temporary shelters.