Travelfish #430: Tea, monks and pooches
The last of the Marsh Arabs + Tea in Burma + Monks in Luang Prabang + Pooches in Vietnam & more
I missed last week—apologies for the service interruption!
This week I have a beautiful read from Iraq, a look at tea in Burma, more still on Cambodia’s stolen antiquities, more environmental bleakness out of Indonesia and an interesting piece on monks in Luang Prabang. Then a story on Singapore’s awful death penalty and a Malaysian who is scheduled to be executed, a story on otters taking over Singapore, tattoos in Thailand and a story for dog lovers out of Vietnam.
Thailand reopened (more or less) today and Cambodia has just announced it will be doing the same—all of a sudden changes seem to be happening—fingers crossed it doesn’t turn out to be too much, too fast, too soon.
Please feel free to share this newsletter with all and sundry, and suggestions, as always are appreciated.
The rice terraces at Krama Bura, near Dompu in Sumbawa, Indonesia. Photo: Stuart McDonald
Newsletter of the week: Secret Siam
Andrew Marshall doesn’t hold back when it comes to his coverage of Thailand’s royals, and his newsletter, Secret Siam, always makes for a fascinating read. Some are historical pieces, others look more at current events, and, well, I’m yet to read an issue that I didn’t learn a lot from.
The newsletter comes in both free and paid flavours, so if you’re not already receiving it, give it a go and see what you think.
The following chart is per capita—not total numbers. The dark green bar is the one that matters—it represents the percentage of the eligible population that are fully vaccinated. You can see a full-size and interactive version of the chart here.
Source: Our World in Data
So where is open and where is closed? This chart by Hannah Pearson at Pear Anderson summarises the state of play in the region as of Sunday, October 31, 2021. If you’re after a detailed weekly report on the region, Hannah’s report is the absolute business.
To receive Hannah’s report in your email mailbox every Sunday you can sign up here (it is free!). This is my go-to report for where things are at in the region. If you have any queries or suggestions about how the chart could be improved, please drop her a line via the Pear Anderson website here.
⭐️ The big read: The Last Of The Marsh Arabs
By Leon McCarron in Noema on October 19, 2021
A beautiful read and even more beautiful photos.
At 4.30 a.m. the following morning, in semi-darkness, we peel ourselves from the nylon and stumble into the boat Abbas has prepared. He guns the engine along a short canal and out to open water. A perfect amber orb rises over Iran and Abbas carves towards it. Soon we are on a glassy lake lit by nacreous dawn light. It’s oceanic in scale compared to anything we’ve seen so far. When Abbas cuts the motor, for the first time in many months of travel, I can’t hear a thing.
🇲🇲 Burma: Aphyaw Hsayar: Myanmar’s Mix Masters
By Dinith Adikari and Michael Dunford in Tea Circle on September 14, 2021
I’m a coffee rather than tea drinker, but it is good to see just as much—if not more—effort goes into a cup of tea.
An aphyaw hsayar’s workday begins in darkness. Although there is slight variation in the specific techniques employed in each tea shop, the general rhythm is the same: extremely strong black tea is prepared through the night over a wood or charcoal fire, usually with a little bit of added salt; this tea then steeps or simmers for up to ten hours. The tea must be ready in time for the morning rush of people looking for breakfast. The base liquid must be concentrated enough to provide a powerful caffeine kick, but not so much as to be too astringent and harsh.
🇰🇭 Cambodia: Cambodia Says the Met Museum Has Dozens of Its Looted Antiquities
By Tom Mashberg in The New York Times on October 24, 2021
When the Met opened its Arts of South and Southeast Asia galleries in 1994, The New York Times critic Holland Cotter wrote, “One is prompted to speculate on exactly how art objects are extracted from their impoverished, often strife-torn homes of origin to land in the lap of a rich American museum.”
🇮🇩 Indonesia: Politically connected firm seeks to profit as Indonesian government cuts down orangutan habitat
By The Gecko Project in The Gecko Project on October 14, 2021
When the first food estate regulation was enacted in October 2020, it revealed the potential scale of the changes. The new regulation handed the government the ability to use potentially millions of hectares of land previously unavailable for food plantations, including areas designated as protected forests.”
🇱🇦 Laos: In Laos, Former Monks Return to Buddhist Temples as Tour Guides
By Isobel Van Hagen in Atlas Obscura on December 2019
An interesting piece with a slightly different take on the typical Luang Prabang and monks story. A bit of traditional, a bit of religion, a bit of tourism and a bit of modernity. Set at the confluence of two rivers, Luang Prabang is the intersection point for far more.
The visitors react with disbelief. They pepper him with questions. Oulaxay just smiles and answers: “People always say, ‘Oh my God, how do you do this?’ But here in Luang Prabang, this is all just normal.” An older man in a straw fedora asks politely, “Why did you leave the monastery?” Oulaxay, who was a novice for seven years in total, laughs. He mimics typing on a keyboard and makes a ‘ch ch ch’ sound. “I want to study computer science.”
🇲🇾 Malaysia: Death by bureaucracy
By Kirsten Han in We, The Citizens on October 31, 2021
While this is, strictly speaking, a Singapore story, the victim here is a 33 year-old Malaysian man who is on death row in Singapore and scheduled for execution on November 10. A petition pleading for clemency has garnered almost 20,000 signatures. Kirsten Han’s story illustrates how one of the most horrifying aspects it “how utterly administrative it all is”.
They say that justice must be tempered with mercy. But the death penalty regime neither delivers justice, nor does it show mercy. Nagaenthran — a man with borderline IQ who was arrested with 42.72g of heroin when he was only 21, and who has already spent over a decade on death row — is the proof. What his family is going through now shows us, clear as day, how chillingly inhumane capital punishment is; an entire system of administration bent towards the goal of ending a life.
🇸🇬 Singapore: Otters are taking over Singapore
By Marina Lopes in The Washington Post on October 22, 2021
Singapore always jumps out at me as the perfect venue for a zombie-flick set in its metro system, but reading about locals worried about otters taking over the city during the pandemic had my imagination run wild.
For weeks, Chong and a team of volunteers, who call themselves otter watchers, helped Zouk Aunt and her mate cross a five-lane road into Marina Bay. The volunteers pushed pedestrian crosswalk buttons on traffic lights and waved down cars to prevent the otters from being run over during twice-daily hunting trips.
🇹🇭 Thailand: Inside the Thai Temple Where Tattoos Come to Life
By Francesco Lastrucci in The New York Times on October 25, 2021
Plenty has been written about Wat Bang Phra and the sak yant tattoos, but I really liked the pics in this piece.
Translated literally, sak yant means “to tap yantras,” a word that refers to the geometric designs used as aids in tantric meditation. Yantras are believed to bring health, wealth, protection and a number of other benefits. The practice is embraced by some Thai monks, though it is not specifically related to traditional Buddhist teachings. The practice’s origins — and its purported effects — are both spiritual and superstitious.
🇻🇳 Vietnam: Chó: The Four National Breeds of Vietnamese Doggos
By Michael Tatarski in Urbanist Hanoi on October 22, 2021
When I saw this story headline in my RSS reader, I knew who it would be by before I even clicked through. So thank you Mike for introducing me to the technical dog term “silly goober”.
Like the above breeds, the H’Mong trained them to help with hunting, controlling livestock and protecting property, and to this day they are famed for their terrific memory, which allows them to remember difficult mountain and forest routes that they traverse with their owners. As puppies, they look like tremendously silly goobers, before growing into very athletic adults weighing up to 25 kilograms that have no trouble navigating rugged northern terrain.
A Thai beach for Christmas might actually be possible! Photo: Stuart McDonald
See you next week!
So that’s the wrap. I hope you are all in good health and weathering Covid19 as well as possible.
See you next week,