Posts Tagged 'Asia'

HRW Report: Crackdown

AFTER INTERVIEWING NEARLY 100 eyewitnesses in Burma, the New York-based Human Rights Watch has released its report on the violent crackdown in Burma this past fall (via BBC).

The report makes no recommendations to the Burmese junta, on the grounds that such pleas would be futile, and instead prods surrounding nations like China and India to take action. The entire report can be found here, and a haunting photo montage on the crackdown is here.

The people of Burma have sacrificed much in their effort to be free, and endured unimaginable repression. The least we can offer is our support. Please write to your local representatives – wherever in the world you may be.

‘Lost Horizon’ and Tibetan Kitsch

THE MUCH MUSED UPON Shangri-La is no more – if indeed it ever was. The Christian Science Monitor reports on how the town of Zhongdian has transformed from “heaven on earth” to “a high-altitude hell, choked by tour buses and overwhelmed by outsiders.” The community, once steeped in tradition, has now become little more than a shameless tourist trap (via China Digital Times):

“I remember it as a heavenly place,” Tibetan musical entrepreneur and local cultural icon Xuan Ke says of his birthplace. Living simply beneath the eternally snowy peaks of jagged mountains, “the people were very honest, kind-hearted, and rustic,” he says. “Now they have completely changed. The original spirit has disappeared.”

In the 1933 bestseller “Lost Horizon,” by James Hilton, Shangri-La is a secret and idyllic spot near the Himalayas. Many regions have claimed to be the inspiration for the imagined abode of the blessed, but China’s government officially endorsed the town then known as Zhongdian, in Yunnan Province, in 2001.

Ever since, the authorities in this town on the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau “have tried to build Shangri-La’s tourist brand,” explains Ren Jianhua, deputy director of the region’s tourism office. “We want to present it to the whole world.” […]

That approach has transformed a small village of wooden homes tucked along muddy lanes into a town covering 12 square miles and boasting more than 100 hotels. The so-called “old town” is not old at all: only one house has not been completely torn down and rebuilt in the past few years, residents say. [read full]

While in the rest of the world such cultural fakery is restricted to a street or tourist district, the watering-down of Tibetan culture into pseudo-spiritual kitsch is now pervasive throughout its lands.

Outsider political influence has had a hugely detrimental effect on the local religion, and to adapt the Dalai Lama has made a monumental change to a centuries-old tradition; to thwart any possibility that Beijing would prop up a pro-government successor, the 72-year-old Dalai Lama has said he will designate his successor while he is still alive (JoongAng Daily).

As travelers, are we contributing this mess by even setting foot near Lhasa? Even as we may seek an appreciation of one of the world’s oldest cultures, how do we save it from vanishing amid the crush of a shrinking world?

Shanghai’s SoHo

THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES’ Kelly Carter offers an astute and descriptive snapshot of Shanghai’s beourgeoning Suzhou Creek and M50 neighborhoods, which appear to be the churning epicenters of a new art scene [via China Digital Times]:

SHANGHAI — The black Mercedes-Benz sedan, shiny and new, begged for attention as it sat curbside in front of a dingy red, dilapidated, two-story apartment building, where laundry hung from clotheslines across weathered front doors.

Across the street Xin Fu made for a jarring juxtaposition. Smartly dressed in a snazzy vintage, black Chanel dress, fancy Wolford stockings and red suede designer handbag, as if going out for an evening on the town although it wasn’t even noon on a Saturday, she looked as out of place in Suzhou Creek as the unattended luxury car. Yet both symbolized what the area has become in recent years.”

[read full]

NG Adventure & Travel in Burma

THE IDEA OF ROAMING throughout Burma is alluring – especially after having recently read Emma Larkin’s gorgeous and haunting investigation of what life is really like within the borders of the reclusive state. Yet the current political situation is such that traveling and spending money in Myanmar – with a tourism industry controlled by the government, and movement restricted and surveiled by a web of military bureaucracy – would likely give the traveler a skin-deep impression of life in the nation while pouring dollars into the coffers of a brutal regime.

It is for this reason that I was disappointed to stumble upon National Geographic Adventure’s blip about a near $4,000 vacation package to Myanmar – a nation copywriters euphemistically described as being “Preserved in Amber.”

The package, offered by Country Walkers, is a 10-day trek through the country and costs $3,898 (not including airfare to Yangon). According to the NG article, guide Rachel Baker tries to ensure that dollars go towards local people and not the regime. Yet the company Web site describes the accomodations as ranging from “lakeside chalets to deluxe hotels designed to evoke an exotic charm,” venues that likely demand relatively high rates, from which the generals are sure to scrape off the top.

I admittedly feel mixed about the idea of travelers foregoing Burma for political reasons – there is, after all, the possibility that some of the money spent might trickle into the hands of locals. I guess that this is less likely in the case of vacation packages such as Country Walkers’. But at the end of the day such little compensation will not pull the Burmese out of their suffering. We might do better to show solidarity with the people by not allowing the junta to have at our dollars and not indulging in the fantasy of an exotic Burma preserved in time, when the reality is much more grim.

Digital Romance Along the Cheonggyecheon

Seoul residents will soon have a new hi-tech yet decidedly impersonal way to show lovers how they feel along the city’s Cheongye Stream (via The Korea Herald):

Seoul City plans to spruce up the shores of Cheonggye Stream to attract more tourists by highlighting its history and culture […]

People can also make romantic proposals by using a digital screen to be set up on a bridge over the stream. They can run UCC images or text messages for their lovers on the so-called “wall of digital proposals” by making applications in advance.

Quirky? Perhaps. But after the first 100 couples get engaged at the “wall” it seems like popping the question there would just mean you lack imagination.

Police State

U.S. PRESSURE ON GENERAL Pervez Musharraf has been gentle. Too gentle. Perhaps at this point it’s hardly a revelation that the White House has little outside of its own interests in mind, but their reaction to this situation provides further evidence to how blind our administration has become – they wouldn’t know a dictatorship if it jumped up and bit them.

The situation in Burma has yet to be resolved, and already international pressure and attention has waned. But in Pakistan we are presented with a striking parallel – a military government, media blackouts, rampant oppression and even the house arrest of a female opposition leader (which ended today). The U.S. talks tall when it comes to human rights violations in Iran and Myanmar, but talk is cheap when nobody is listening. Now our administration has a chance to get tough with an ally in restoring human rights, but the U.S.’s demands – while admirable – have a decidedly soft edge.

It’s been this way before. Following the Korean War, America was so eager to maintain sway in South Korea that it propped up Syngman Rhee, a pro-U.S. president with an authoritarian bent, arguably paving the way for future political hardships. When it served American interests, the U.S. has even supported the likes of Sadaam Hussein. More recently the White House has claimed to have the human rights of Iranians in its best interests, yet it continues to ignore repression in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

For Pakistan, now is when it counts, and the U.S. ought to take a firm stand for human rights and demand more from its ally.

(Edited: 11.17.2007)

Yahoo, Accomplice to a Crackdown

YAHOO IS DEFENDING ITSELF as it gets lambasted by U.S. lawmakers for being complicit in the crackdown and imprisonment of a Chinese pro-democracy journalist (AP):

“While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., said angrily after hearing from the two Yahoo executives.

He angrily urged Yahoo Chief Executive Jerry Yang and General Counsel Michael Callahan to apologize to journalist Shi Tao’s mother, who was sitting directly behind them.

Shi was sentenced to 10 years in prison for politically “subversive” activities by the Chinese government after Yahoo handed over information about his online activities.

In addition to divulging information about Chinese citizens (Wang Xiaoning was similarly sentenced to 10 years in 2002 after the Internet company provided information to authorities), Yahoo has willingly tailored its search engine in China to filter responses to search terms like “democracy” or “Falun Gong”, doing their part to layer bricks in the Great Firewall of China. They have also engineered their photo-sharing site Flickr in such a way that residents in Singapore, South Korea, Germany and Hong Kong cannot access uncensored content.

And all along the way they’ve made pathetic excuses – this from a Wall Street Journal post back in 2006:

Yahoo’s Terry Semel faced tough questions from Walt Mossberg — and the audience — over the search company’s decision to comply with requests for user data from the Chinese government, which has used the information to pursue dissidents.

“I continue to be pissed off, outraged, and feel very very bad about it,” Mr. Semel said. “But you have to follow the laws of the country you’re in.”

Mr. Semel went on: “I don’t think any one company is going to change a country, and I dont think any one industry is going to change a country. ”

Grade A cop-out bullshit. Where is the sense of responsibility, of courage, of doing the right thing? Yahoo quivers at the thought of losing the Chinese market as though the rest of the world were not enough, and doesn’t hesitate to throw upstanding human beings under the rug if it means holding on to their investment. I’m glad they’re getting the verbal battering they deserve, but I question whether that’s enough.

RELATED NEWS: Chinese environmental defender loses appeal against concocted blackmail charges (TDT loses faith in humanity – see related post).

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