Showing posts with label Malaysia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Malaysia. Show all posts

Friday, March 14, 2014

Malaysia's Press Conferences May be Frustrating, But They're Better Than China's

With the fate of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 and many of the details of who knew what, when they knew it, and what actions they took still unknown, I think it's largely premature to evaluate the Malaysian-led search efforts. Thomas Fuller's article in The New York Times about the scrutiny and criticism now faced by Malaysia's leaders mentions that no country may have been fully prepared to handle the situation. Fuller raises several other interesting points, but with my mind frequently focused on China I found the story he shared about a press conference in Malaysia especially remarkable:
... it was only under a barrage of intense questioning on Wednesday from a room packed with reporters who had arrived from many countries that officials acknowledged that the last recorded radar plot point showed the jet flying in the direction of the Indian Ocean — and at a cruising altitude, suggesting it could have flown much farther.

That raised the question of why the information had not been released earlier.
An important piece of information was only brought to light because of "a barrage of intense questioning". It felt like a world far away from the one revealed in a piece by Andrew Jacobs, also in The New York Times, about government press conferences in China, which are aptly described elsewhere by James Fallows as a "charade". Using a recent Chinese press conference "which caps the annual political gathering known as the National People’s Congress" as an example, Jacobs provided details:
The event is staged, with the complicity of some of the most respected brands in Western journalism ...

... unbeknownst to many people in China [BG: and many people elsewhere who would watch or learn about the press conference], all the questions had been vetted in advance, with foreign reporters and Foreign Ministry officials having negotiated over what topics were permissible, and then how the acceptable questions would be phrased.

This year CNN, Reuters, CNBC, The Associated Press and The Financial Times were among the outlets permitted to ask questions.
Nobody can say for sure, especially now, whether or not China's government would be better managing the current search effort for the missing plane if it were in Malaysia's shoes. But it's hard to believe China would have set up press conferences as open as Malaysia's. To some, that would be seen as an advantage, as at least implied by this tweet:

As Fuller points out, in addition to increasing the chance of revealing more of the truth, the recent questioning of Malaysian officials has highlighted another benefit of real press conferences:
The government is accustomed to getting its way, and the crisis surrounding the missing plane is holding officials accountable in ways unfamiliar to them, [Malaysian lawyer] Ms. Ambiga said.
More truth. More accountability. The process can be messier, but they both increase the chance for improvements beneficial to Malaysia's people.

Malaysian officials are facing challenges, both in finding a missing plane and responding to a vigorous press, rarely, if ever, faced by China's officials. Whatever mistakes may have been recently made, Malaysia should be applauded for its relative openness. A telling point will be whether Malaysia's government uses the current experience as a stepping stone for bringing about important change, including expanding the government's openness and accountability, or sees it as a sign it should follow the model of hiding behind fake press conferences.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Missing Plane in Asia

Sometimes you wake up, open an Internet browser window, stare for a few moments, and then think "Oh no ..."

Such was the case today when I learned Malaysia Airlines flight 370 carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing had gone missing. It's not a positive sign when hours after losing contact with a large plane an airline says, "At the moment we have no idea where this aircraft is right now." As currently listed by Malaysia Airlines, a majority of the passengers are from China:

154 including infant
3 including infant
New Zealand

I have flown on Malaysia Airlines several times--roundtrip from Shanghai to Chennai with a layover in Kuala Lumpur and another time from Kuala Lumpur to Phnom Penh. Reuters reports Malaysia Airlines "has one of Asia's best safety records", and, similar to James Fallows, I have a positive impression of the airline. I'd rate all of my experiences flying with them as better than average.

An international effort to find the plane is underway, and the U.S. Navy is sending the destroyer warship USS Pinckney and a P-3C aircraft. After over 12 hours since contact was lost and daylight now gone, no signs of the plane have yet been found. Assuming the plane has crashed, there are a variety of possibilities for the cause (HT James Fallows).

One week ago in Kunming, China, there was a horrendous massacre at a railway station. It seems this week in China will end on a sad note as well. My thoughts are with everyone affected in China and elsewhere by either event.

Monday, January 27, 2014

McDonald's Offers Prosperous Chinese New Year Burgers

[Update at end]

Just over a year ago, I saw this McDonald's advertisement in Penang, Malaysia:

advertisement on a chain linked fence for McDonald's prosperity burger in Penang, Malaysia

I had written about McDonald's customizing its menu for local markets before, but this was the first time I saw the McDonald's Prosperity Burger -- a special offering for the Chinese New Year holiday. It's back in Malaysia this year, as announced on the McDonald's Malaysia website.

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Malaysia website

Adam Minter, author of Junkyard Planet, recently expressed his excitement over the Prosperity Burger's return:

He also provided a brief review:

Minter isn't alone in his opinion of the Prosperity Burger (see here and here), and he may be thrilled to hear it's available outside of Malaysia. For example, today in Hong Kong I saw an advertisement for the incomparable burger.

sign for the McDonald's Prosperity Burger in Hong Kong

The McDonald's Hong Kong website has a similar promotion.

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Hong Kong website

McDonald's in Hong Kong not only has the beef and chicken Prosperity Burgers found in Malaysia but also a pork version. Given that Islam is the state religion in Malaysia, it's not surprising McDonald's has not introduced the pork version there.

As the McDonald's Singapore website ...

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Singapore website

and the McDonald's Indonesia website ...

page for the Prosperity Burger on McDonald's Indonesia website

... show, the Prosperity Burger is also available in Singapore and Indonesia. And it can be found in Brunei as well. McDonald's does not appear to have a website dedicated for Brunei, but in an article seeming more like an advertisement the Brunei Times noted the Prosperity Burger's "highly anticipated seasonal return":
Nothing is more mouth-watering than the anticipation of biting into the Prosperity Burger’s succulent, juicy beef patty, dripping with lip-smacking black pepper sauce, topped with silvered onions on a sesame seed bun, and many Bruneians look forward to its return every year.
Bruneians (and Adam Minter) rejoice!

Despite all of these countries offering the Prosperity Burger, most Chinese in the world will still have to seek another way to celebrate the Chinese New Year. McDonald's in mainland China does not offer the Prosperity Burger.

Perhaps people there can enjoy a McDonald's breakfast hot dog instead.

Update: Links to more recent posts here about the Prosperity Burger and other Lunar New Year burgers:

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Photos That Nearly Made Here it in 2013

When I upload a photo to Picasa it usually means I plan to use it soon in a blog post. But sometimes things don't go as planned. So to start off 2014 here, I will share a mishmash of photos from 2013 that were uploaded but for one reason or another never made their way into a published post. In addition to any descriptions, I'll share links to earlier related posts--all except two from 2013. Together they provide reminders of a tiny bit of what was covered here during the previous year and a hint of some of what else I had hoped to share and write about.

So in chronological order...

2013 for me began celebrating in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. After Kuala Lumpur, I went to Penang, where I listened to a woman describe her challenges visiting her son in the US, and later Melaka, where not far from the Melaka River I saw this shop in a mall:

stall selling a variety of items in a mall in Melaka, Malasia

Some of the flip-flops (sandals) for sale caught my attention:

flip-flops with the logos for Facebook, Yahoo, Google, and YouTube

What do all of the brands on these flip-flops have in common? They are all global online services created and based in the US. I didn't see any Baidu, WeChat, or Tencent flip-flops...

Later in Melaka, I think not to far from where I met a young woman seeking forgiveness, I looked up and saw this:

blue sky with clouds in Melaka, Malaysia

For more about why my time in China has given me a deeper appreciation of blue skies with "normal" clouds, see the 2012 post "Skies and Clouds in China" with scenes from Macau.

After Malaysia, I headed to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I documented many examples of people riding pedal-powered vehicles, motorbikes, and motorized-vehicles which were pulling or pushing something. However, there was one example, like one of a coffin being delivered on a motorbike, that I had hoped to share in its own post. I never got around to the post, so here is the photo:

young woman with many flowers riding a pedal-powered rickshaw in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Street vehicles weren't the only thing on my mind in Phnom Penh. For example, at one shop I noticed this screen for a cash register at a small convenience store:

computer screen showing calculations for price and change in US dollars and Cambodian Riel

In Cambodia, both US and Cambodian currency are regularly used, and transactions can include both. The above screen is presumably an attempt to make life easier and reduce the number of errors.

While in Cambodia I also went to the riverside town of Kampot. In the countryside I walked to Fish Isle, ate a mysterious sea creature, surprised a little girl by answering her phone call, and explored the area to the north by bike. I didn't share many scenes from central Kampot, but here's one at a large market:

man posing next to a van with its back door open to pack in more vegetables

After Cambodia, I went to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the US. No unused uploaded photos from those places, but there's one from my next stop: Seoul, South Korea:

MLB store in Seoul, South Korea

This was one of several MLB (Major League Baseball) stores I saw in Seoul. In the window the logo for the Los Angeles Dodgers can be seen--the same team some men were watching at Seoul's Namdaemun Market.

After returning to China, I had the opportunity to revisit Cheung Chau--one of Hong Kong's outlying islands. While there, I saw this monkey:

hanging orange toy monkey in Cheung Chau

I had considered posting the photo without any comment except a title something like "Orange Ennui in Cheung Chau".

Fortunately, ennui wasn't an issue for me on Cheung Chau. Nor was it during my visits to nearby Macau where I saw beer speeding through the streets on the peninsula and these three young women in Cotai:

three young women wearing racing clothes, helmets, and goggles in Macau

Almost 2 years ago I shared my experience taking a random bus ride in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Several months ago I took another random bus ride in Zhuhai. Maybe someday I will share more of what I saw, but for now I will just say I was particularly surprised to hear, and then see, goats:

three black goats on and around a brick path in Zhuhai

Also while in Zhuhai, I shared some scenes from a late-night outdoor dining establishment. For a contrast, here's an outdoor dining scene at a pricier establishment:

outdoor dining scene at a cafe in Zhuhai

Usually I enjoy the local Chinese-style seafood in Zhuhai, but this is my favorite place for a smoked salmon sandwich.

Finally, more recently I shared a scene from a restaurant in Changsha--a city where I've seen a lot of change. This is the spicy chicken dish I ate for lunch at the restaurant:

spicy chicken dish, rich, and a pot of tea at a restaurant in Changsha, China

And that brings this unplanned set of photos to a close. Undoubtedly, more photos, experiences, and thoughts from previous years will appear here in the future--as will new ones.

Monday, February 11, 2013

One More Train Ride in Malaysia

driverless train at Kuala Lumpur International Airport

A few days ago I had the opportunity to look out the front window of another driverless train in Kuala Lumpur. This one traveled between terminals at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Not surprisingly, not long after the ride I boarded an airplane. But I have no photos like the ones from Xiamen and Hong Kong.

Although I am no longer in Malaysia, there is still more I plan to share about what I saw, experienced, and learned in a country full of diversity. But posts about my new location are also on the way...

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Choice and Fashion of a Hijab

During my time in Malaysia, it was common to see females wearing a hijab--a headscarf worn by many, but not all, Muslim women. I often marveled at the apparent quality of fabric and the variety of colors & patterns on the hijabs.

One day in Melaka, I met these four young women from Indonesia who were traveling together:

four young women from Indonesia

Two of them are Muslim. Two are Catholic. Of the two Muslims, only one wore a hijab. In a discussion, the Muslim traveler who was not wearing a hijab said that wearing one is a "choice" for Muslim women in Indonesia. She also said that some females will wear the hijab only for reasons of fashion. For them, the hijab is simply another accessory in their attire, and they are not wearing it for a religious purpose.

Her comments were particularly striking to me because on two earlier occasions Western women traveling in Malaysia commented to me about the many hijabs they were seeing. Both women thought it was oppressive for Muslim women to be expected to cover themselves more than men.

In each case I replied by asking, "Do you feel oppressed when men are able to walk around topless and you are expected to cover your breasts?" The first woman considered my question for a while. She never replied. The second woman said it is different since in both Muslim and Western cultures women are expected to cover their breasts. I asked why that had anything to do with whether it is oppressive. She had no reply.

There is so much to explore in the topics raised by these discussions. But for now, I will just add that I wish I could have introduced the two Western women to the travelers from Indonesia. I suspect with some appropriate nudges another fascinating discussion would occur.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Power of Crepe is Power of Love"

Sometimes I have so many thoughts about a particular scene I wonder if it may be best to simply share it and say nothing at all.

cafe with pink seats / heart tables and a sign on the wall saying "Power of Crepe is Power of Love"

But in case you're considering the sign at the above Crepe Signature cafe in a Melaka mall, here is some insight about its meaning from Crepe Signature:
Our slogan is: “Power of Crepe is power of Love”. Our hope that every customer can enjoy crepes with happiness, love and warmth of a family.
I'll add that, as far as I can tell, their slogan is rather unique.

Just another scene from Malaysia. And I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Melaka River

Previously I shared a view of the Melaka River from "my office". The view definitely proved conducive to prolonged pondering. The river also provided some rather enjoyable strolls. And one night I had the idea to sit next to it while sharing a bottle of wine with a friend. From that experience I discovered two things: 1. Finding a bottle of wine on a weekday night in Melaka's historic city center is more challenging than I would have expected. 2. Melaka's mosquitos have a strong affinity for people who drink wine next to the river during evening. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable experience.

So, in honor of one of my new favorite small rivers, below are a few photos of the Melaka River taken during some of my walks. Maybe they can inspire some more pondering.

Monday, February 4, 2013

An Attack in Melaka

Late last night while sitting on a 2nd story porch overlooking the Melaka River, I heard a woman scream something. For a brief moment, I was uncertain what to make of it. But her screams quickly increased in both frequency and volume. So I rushed to the edge of the porch. Roughly about 150 feet away on the dimly lit walkway next to the river I saw a woman crouched down and a person, apparently a male, physically harassing her. There was no quick and easy way for me to get down to the walkway, so I belted out a loud "HEY!" The man froze and then took off running to disappear down a alley. The woman quickly got up and ran into one of the nearby buildings.

A minute or so later I was able to make my way to where the woman had been. Several other people who had heard the screaming were also there. None had seen the struggle, but one person had seen the man running away. I saw what appeared to be the man's sandals and one of the woman's sandals. There were also a couple of potted plants in the area that had been knocked over. We were not able to sort out which building the woman had fled into, and we learned little more. Given some warnings I've seen posted in Melaka, I suspect what I saw was an attempted purse snatching. But I don't know. All I know is that the woman got away.

The End. Kind of...

Normally, I probably wouldn't have thought of sharing this story here. Sadly, it is not particularly remarkable for many places in the world. And while it is good to take some precautions, Melaka feels much safer to me than many cities in the U.S. But the experience touched on another topic I've discussed here before.

Prior to hearing the woman's screams, I had been speaking with a man I had just met. He is from Chongqing, China, and we had been discussing topics such as Chinese politics and censorship. After I returned to the porch, he praised me for scaring off the attacker, who he had seen as well. I explained that no praise was necessary. All it took was yelling. It is just what you should do.

But he shook his head slowly and said, "People in China would not have done what you did. They would not want to get involved." He later added, "I did not think to yell like you."

His words brought to my mind the incident in Foshan, China, where many people ignored a severely injured little girl who had been hit by a truck. None of them even yelled for someone to get help. I still have no sure and complete answer to what that tragedy says about China or about human psychology. But even in that case, one person finally did try to help the little girl. I know not everyone in China refuses to get involved when strangers need help.

And I think... I think if the man from Chongqing ever again experiences something like what he saw in Melaka there is a better chance he too will get involved, even if it is just by yelling.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Old War Movie Posters in Melaka

The other day I spent some time at Melaka's Democratic Government Museum. I haven't seen any museums dedicated to this topic in China, so it seemed like a good change of pace. While there, I noticed a series of posters for older Western-produced war movies involving Malaysia. I couldn't find any commentary, but they were placed near a display about Japan's occupation of Malaysia during World War II. Below are photos of the posters for the movies Malaya (1949), Uppdrag i Malaya (1957), Operation Malaya (1953), Outpost in Malaya (1952), and The Rape of Malaya (1956).

The posters first caught my attention because of their visual style. But it was some of their words that made the biggest impression. Maybe phrases similar to "In Malaya, you kiss a girl with your eyes wide open and a gun in your hand!" could be found on movie posters today. But there is much to consider about the choice of words in "They were women.. and they were white... at the mercy of the Japs who knew no mercy!"

Anyways, maybe I will later watch at least one of these movies. Any recommendations?

Movie poster for Malaya

Uppdrag i Malaya movie poster

Operation Malaya movie poster

Outpost in Malaya movie poster

The Rape of Malaya movie poster

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Next to the River in Melaka

I have been a bit distracted the past couple of days, but I recently found a peaceful place where I can focus on writing a few posts.

small table and chaires overlooking a river
My temporary "office" next to the Melaka River in Melaka, Malaysia

So, more soon...

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Signing for Love in Malaysia

What's the best way to seek a boyfriend's forgiveness? One young woman in Malaysia decided the answer included collecting signatures from people in various Malaysian cities and taking photographs with them while she held a sign. When I happened to meet her today in Melaka, she already had many signatures in a previously blank book. For what was she seeking forgiveness? That didn't seem to be something she wanted to discuss.

Young woman holding a sign and standing next to two other young women. Sign reads " I hope my BF will forgive me. 1 sign = 1 Support. I Nid Yr Support. Thank U."

One reason her actions caught my attention was that I could imagine a similar story playing out in China on a service such as Sina Weibo. And like the messages I saw on a bulletin board in a Changsha dormitory room, there could be important insights to gain about why she did not chose to express herself online.

Many may now be wondering if her boyfriend will respond favorably when she shares the fruits of her efforts. Without knowing more I don't think I could make a meaningful prediction. But she happily agreed to provide an update. If I hear anything, I'll pass it on.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Four Malaysian Girls and a Boy Band Book

4 girls, 3 wearing a hajib, looking at a computer screen in a bookstore

The girls in the above photo were excitedly talking to each other and giggling while using a computer at a mall bookstore in Melaka, Malaysia. They were seeking the book The One Direction Story: An Unauthorized Biography by Danny White. For readers not familiar with One Direction, according to Wikipedia:
One Direction are an English-Irish pop boy band based in London, consisting of members Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson. They signed with Simon Cowell's record label Syco Records after being formed and finishing third in the seventh series of British television singing competition The X Factor in 2010. The group subsequently signed in the United States with Columbia Records. Their two albums Up All Night (2011) and Take Me Home (2012), broke several records, topped the charts of most major markets, and generated worldwide chart-topping singles, including "What Makes You Beautiful" and "Live While We're Young".

Propelled to international success by the power of social media, One Direction are often described as sparking the resurgence in the boy band concept, and of forming part of a new "British Invasion" in the United States.
I have no deep insights to share about the popularity of boy bands. I'll just say that the above scene did not strike me as out of the ordinary for Malaysia and that minus a few hijabs it is one I could imagine commonly occurring in any U.S. city.

Friday, January 25, 2013


The woman in the above photo is tabulating my bill for the delicious lunch I enjoyed at her Nonya restaurant in Penang, Malaysia. In short, Nonya cuisine is a fusion of Chinese and Malaysian cooking styles.

If you ask her where she's from, she'll unhesitatingly say, "Malaysia"--not so surprising since she and her parents were born there. Her grandparents were born in China, though. And she marvels that they made the journey to a new country where their future was unknown. Her family's story of immigrating to another country and becoming a part of its culture reminded me of many families in the U.S.

When she asked where I was from, I mentioned that I used to live in Baltimore, Maryland. To my surprise, she was familiar with the city. She then excitedly told me about her visits there to see her son who works at a school rather familiar to me, Johns Hopkins University. More specifically, he works at its Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). She proudly showed me one of his published articles. I probably would need another degree to fully understand it, but I could see that his work is relevant to a variety of complex projects, including the MESSENGER spacecraft which is now circling the planet Mercury as part of NASA's explorations.

She mentioned she has traveled to places in the U.S. other than Baltimore. For example, she visited the World Trade Center in New York City before it was destroyed by terrorists. And she revisited the site when construction of the memorial there had just begun. It made a large impression on her, especially since she views the U.S. as the world's leading country.

She also told me about her arrival in the U.S. during a recent trip. It wasn't the same as her previous visit. This time, like other foreigners, she was fingerprinted at immigration. She saw it as a sign of the changes in America after the September 11 attacks. But I'm not sure she would have mentioned it to me except for a small problem. She has no fingerprints--something she attributes to years of working with her hands, although the condition can also be caused by a rare genetic mutation. Whatever the cause, her husband passed on through immigration while she was brought to another room.

As time passed without any update on her situation, she worried about missing her connecting flight. After sitting for a while not sure what would happen next, she approached one of the officials and explained her predicament. She asked how they could be concerned about an unarmed woman with proper documentation who was more than 70 years old and had visited the U.S. before without incident. So they decided to try fingerprinting her again. Not surprisingly, she still had no fingerprints. And for that reason there appeared to be doubt about whether she would be allowed to enter the U.S. After much discussion between various immigrations officials, though, they decided to let her pass through. Her husband had been patiently waiting for her, and they were able to make the next flight.

The woman from Penang told me she doesn't expect to see her son in the U.S. again. When I asked why, she told me about her recent knee surgery and her concern that the long trip might not be good for her. But she spoke in what seemed to be an uncertain voice. And after seeing the bafflement in her eyes as she told me about her experience at U.S. immigration and later asked me how a country as powerful and free as the U.S. could now become worried about someone like her, it is easy to wonder whether there isn't another reason she doesn't plan to return.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Assorted Links: Tech in Southeast Asia, Car Pollution, Borders, and a Homemade Dialysis Machine

There is an ever growing list of pieces that I want to comment on here. So that they all don't get stuck in a bottomless pit due to waiting for time to write the more extensive posts they deserve, I will share a few of them together along with some brief comments.

1. As recent posts here make clear, I have spent the past several weeks in Malaysia. I won't deny that its weather, food, and scenery were a draw. But I was also curious to take a closer look at a key country in a diverse region becoming increasingly relevant for tech companies--somewhat symbolized by an airport in Thailand being the most photographed location on Instagram.

Jon Russell shared his optimism for Southeast Asia in his article "Why Southeast Asia is the world’s most exciting region for startups and tech in 2013" on The Next Web. One of the challenges he mentioned for local startups particularly caught my eye:
Society in many Southeast Asian countries values working for big companies (‘getting the lanyard’), not to mention that few startups can compete against the salary and compensation packages that multinationals and other large businesses can offer.
This reminded me of some of the advantages multinational tech companies with foreign headquarters once enjoyed over local companies in China. It is remarkable how much the landscape has changed in recent years. To keep things brief, for now I will just say that what companies offer and what people seek will continue to evolve. In both respects, a growing variety can be found in China.

2. Michael Dunne, president of Dunne & Company, a Hong Kong-based consultancy specializing in Asian car markets, wrote a post for the China Real Time Report about the growing contribution of cars to China's pollution and the challenges faced in reducing their impact. It raises several key issues, such as why electrical vehicles in China may be best considered as "coal-burning cars". He also addresses why a seemingly simple tactic--reducing pollution by improving the quality of fuel used by vehicles--is not so simple:
Fuel prices are set by the state ostensibly to protect the economy – and especially the rural areas – from affordability shocks.

State-owned oil companies China National Petroleum Corp and Sinopec have been reluctant to invest in world-class refineries that produce high quality fuel because doing so would increase costs that they cannot pass on to the consumer
As I've written before, although the pollution related to China's rapid growth is shared by many, the growth of wealth it represents has not been as equally distributed. "The wealthy" subsidizing (in one way or another) the costs of producing high quality fuel could be one way to acknowledge and partially address this problem. Not only would it help people who truly could not afford an increase in fuel prices, but it would help everyone breathe a little bit better. But like other potential solutions, despite some outside impressions of how China operates it is not a change that could be made with the flip of a switch.

3. In FT Magazine Simon Kuper shares and comments on Valerio Vincenzo's photo essays about borders. Much of the article is about the lack of barriers today at the borders between many European countries. Kuper contrasts these open borders with the past and with today's more restrictive borders elsewhere in the world.

As I read Kuper's article and paged through Vincenzo's thought-provoking photos, I considered some borders not mentioned in the article that I have mentioned before: the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and the border between Macau and Zhuhai. Both of these borders are remarkable because they restrict the travel of mainland Chinese within their own country. Anyone in Switzerland or Germany can dine at a table straddling the countries' border without needing to show a passport, but mainland Chinese cannot even enter Hong Kong or Macau with only their passport and typically need a special permit (or proof of an onward flight and entry visa to another country). And I can only wish you good luck if you wish to try having a meal which spreads across the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen.

4. In the category of "Chinese resourcefulness" is a story first reported by Chai Huiqun in China's newspaper Southern Weekly. You can read it in Chinese here. Or you can read Xinhua's English article by Hou Qiang "Homemade dialysis machine sustains uremia sufferer for 13 years":
A sufferer of uremia for 20 years, Hu [Songwen] built his own hemodialysis machine with medical equipment, such as a blood pump and plastic tubing, that he purchased from a local market. The crude device has sustained his life since he stopped going to the hospital 13 years ago. Hu was a junior in college when he was diagnosed with uremia in 1993. After six years of medical treatment, hefty hospital bills completely depleted his family's savings.
See Caixing Online here (H/T Malcolm Moore) for photos of Hu and his machine.

The story reminds me of research conducted by former colleagues. I'll just say designers of medical technology can learn much from cases such as Hu, both in terms of the challenges some people face in China and how people sometimes overcome those challenges.

And that's all for this edition of assorted links.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Tech Shirts For Sale at the Kek Lok Temple in Malaysia

One can't-miss feature of the Kek Lok Temple in Penang, Malaysia, is the new numerous shops, whether those enclosing the steps to the temple's entrance...

shops in a covered pathway leading to Kek Lok Temple

... or those inside the temple complex.

shop in Kek Lok Si

Temple-related items were sold, but a variety of other goods could be found as well.

Penang magnets, bracelets, and other items for sale at a shop in Kek Lok Temple

cat statues for sale at a shop in Kek Lok Temple

T-shirts appeared to be one of the more popular items to sell. Some included messages that left me curious about the design process used to create them.

shirts saying "Fun Me!! If You Can" and "Boobies Make Me Smile!"

In that respect, they were similar to many I have seen in China, although they had a different flavor. However, a specific set of shirts stood out to me.

a variety of shirts including those with logos for Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo

a variety of shirts including some with logos for Google and Apple

I saw shirts with the Apple, Facebook, Google, YouTube, and Yahoo brands. Penang is an area with a great deal of Chinese influence, both historically and in its current culture. But in and around its most famous temple I didn't see a single shirt for a China-based technology brand such as Baidu, Sina Weibo, WeChat (Weixin), Xiaomi, Youku, or QQ. Especially since these shirts were sold in markets that target tourists, before commenting on what this might mean I would want to take a closer look at who purchases such shirts and whether these and similar shirts are sold elsewhere in Penang.

But at the very least these shirts are symbolic of the relative influence of American and Chinese technology brands in many regions outside of China--even where there are many Chinese people.

More on this topic later.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Fusion of Architectural Styles: The Kek Lok Temple in Penang, Malaysia

Yesterday, I visited Kek Lok Si (極樂寺) in Penang, Malaysia. According to Penang Travel Tips it: the largest and arguably the best known temple in Penang. It straddles a hillside overlooking the town of Ayer Itam and George Town beyond that. It is a temple that harmoniously blend Mahayana Buddhism with Taoist beliefs and other Chinese rituals, creating an amalgam that is uniquely its own...

The 10-acre site was purchased in 1893, and the temple was completed in 1904. An official opening ceremony was conducted on 13 January, 1905.

For the first thirty-five years of its existence, the temple was without its iconic pagoda. Nevertheless it was already assuming a position as one of the most prestigious and renowned Mahayana Buddhist religious institution in Southeast Asia. It was only in 1927 that the iconic pagoda, today one of the most recognizable landmarks of Penang, came into being.
I have seen a large number of temples, yet Kek Lok stood out in several respects such as its combination of Thai, Burmese, and Chinese architectural styles, the large number of shops inside, and the inclined lift. I will say more about the shops in a later post, but first I will share some photos of scenes from the temple that capture a bit of its spirit and its mix of architecture. And there is also one photo of the inclined lift--about U.S. 66 cents per ride.

Approaching Kek Lok Temple from the bus stop

Miniature pagoda

Full-size pagoda
Closeup of the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas

A view from the pagoda


More lanterns

several people posing for a photo
Photo opportunity

An "inclined lift" to the Kuan Yin statue

The 30 meter tall bronze Kuan Yin statue, completed in 2002


Blessings and commemorations

[For more temple scenes, see here for some I saw in Macau, China.]