In the first of a series of articles from the Thai-Burma border, the BBC’s Kate McGeown looks at the thousands of political and economic migrants who flee Burma for Thailand every year.
If you did not know that the town of Mae Sot was in Thailand, you would probably assume it was in Burma.
Burmese script is written on almost every shop front, most of the men walk round town wearing longyis (sarongs) and traditional Burmese teashops are on every corner.
The presence of so much that is quintessentially Burmese is unsurprising, given that Burmese nationals in this border town now outnumber Thais by more than two to one.
It is the same story in the countryside nearby, which is home to an increasing number of Burmese living in UN-administered camps, as well as a large population of economic migrants.
Despite the fact they are in the minority, being a Thai in this area has distinct advantages. Most Burmese are either confined to refugee camps, or working to feed their families amidst the constant threat of deportation.
“Burmese people face many challenges here,” said Ko Phyo, the deputy head of local migrant association Yaung Chi Oo (New Dawn).
“But every year more continue to come, because the situation in Burma is getting worse and worse.”
Here’s another good IHT story, this time from Seth Mydans. It’s about the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand.
PATTANI, Thailand: Some are already calling it war, a brutal Muslim separatist insurgency in southern Thailand that has taken as many as 2,000 lives in three years, with almost- daily bombings, drive-by shootings, arson and beheadings.
It is a conflict the government admits it is losing. A harsh crackdown and martial law in recent years seem only to have fueled the insurgency, generating fear and anger and undermining moderate Muslim voices.
A new policy of conciliation pursued by Thailand’s junta since it took power in a coup five months ago has been met by increased violence, including a barrage of 28 coordinated bombings in the south that killed or injured about 60 people a week ago.
“The momentum of violence is now beyond the control of government policy,” said Srisompob Jitpiromsri, a political scientist at Prince of Songkhla University here.
“The separatists can pick and choose the time and place of the violence without any effective resistance,” he said. “They have the upper hand.”
Tom Fuller had a great story in this weekend’s IHT. It’s about Bangkok’s successful campaign to curb air pollution:
Black smoke billowing from tailpipes into the humid, tropical air was once a Bangkok trademark. But a decade and a half after Thailand began a battle for better air quality, this erstwhile icon of smog has emerged as a role model for Asia’s pollution-choked capitals, boasting considerably cleaner air than Beijing, Jakarta, New Delhi and Shanghai.
Some buses here still belch toxic vapor. And Thailand’s political future is hard to plot as the country seeks to extricate itself from the tangled legacy of the military-led coup last September. Yet the skies in Bangkok on most days are blue, thanks to the work of a small, dedicated group of bureaucrats who pressed the case for cleaner air despite a history of weak, short-lived governments.
“There’s a huge difference when you walk around the streets,” said Jitendra Shah, a coordinator at the World Bank for environment and social issues in Southeast Asia who has worked in Bangkok since the 1990s. “Breathing is definitely easier.”
Thailand’s battle against air pollution provides a virtual how-to manual of environmental cleanup, say Shah and other air quality experts in Asia. Thai officials cajoled oil companies to produce cleaner fuel, used higher taxes to phase out the once-ubiquitous two- stroke motorcycles and converted all taxis to run on clean-burning liquefied petroleum gas. They overcame lobbying campaigns from the large, mostly Japanese-owned car industry and imposed progressively stricter emissions controls based on European norms (Thailand had no emissions standards before 1992).
[NB: don’t miss the photos that accompany the story; many of them were taken in Lumphini Park, which is a few hundred meters from my house.]
French football legend Zinedine Zidane, whose career ended with an infamous head-butt in last year’s World Cup final, will play a charity match in Thailand this weekend.
Zidane will play alongside top southeast Asian players in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on Saturday, corporate sponsor Adidas Thailand said.
At least 28 bombs exploded Sunday in apparently coordinated attacks in parts of southern Thailand plagued by a Muslim insurgency, killing three people and wounding more than 50, the military said.
The bombings targeted hotels, karaoke bars, power grids and commercial sites in the country’s southernmost provinces, the only parts of predominantly Buddhist Thailand with Muslim majorities. Two public schools were torched.
Police said three Thais of Chinese descent were also gunned down in Pattani province in what was believed to be the act of insurgents. The killings occurred as the country’s Chinese community was celebrating the Lunar New Year Sunday.
Violence in the south has been escalating in recent months despite a major policy shift by the military-imposed government, which is trying to replace an earlier, iron-fisted approach in dealing with the rebels with a “hearts and minds” campaign.
More than 2,000 people have died in the provinces bordering Malaysia since the insurgency erupted in 2004, fueled by accusations of decades of misrule by the central government. The insurgents have not announced their goals, but they are believed to be fighting for a separate state imbued with radical Islamic ideology.
A few notes on personal technology, for all three of you out there who care about this stuff:
1. Though I’ve been a vocal proponent of Bloglines (the Web-based RSS feed reader) in the past, I switched to Google Reader a few months back. In short: Google Reader is to Bloglines as Gmail is to Yahoo Mail/Hotmail/AOL.
2. I really like the FireFox add-on called Download Statusbar.
3. CheckBook is an excellent personal finance management application. (Sorry, PC users — it’s Mac-only.) It’s not as robust as applications like Quicken, but that’s okay with me.
4. I’ve mentioned On the Job before, but let me just say it again: It’s an incredibly useful time tracking/invoicing application. (Again, this one’s only available to Mac geeks.)
5. I recently purchased an external hard drive so that I can start doing full-system backups in case my computer’s internal drive fails. (I’ve always done backups of my most critical files, but I want a full-system backup in case the unthinkable happens.)
Unfortunately, I didn’t know that SuperDuper, the (similarly Mac-only) backup program that folks in the know really like, only works with Firewire. My external hard drive only connects via USB. Nevertheless, I found Deja Vu, which seems pretty good so far.
6. Mac For Beginners offers a number of helpful, plain-English tutorials for folks who’re just getting used to OSX.
7. And finally, here’s an amusing rant for those of you who are sick of my Mac fixation. Charlie Brooker in The Guardian: “I hate Macs”:
I hate Macs. I have always hated Macs. I hate people who use Macs. I even hate people who don’t use Macs but sometimes wish they did. Macs are glorified Fisher-Price activity centres for adults; computers for scaredy cats too nervous to learn how proper computers work; computers for people who earnestly believe in feng shui.
PCs are the ramshackle computers of the people. You can build your own from scratch, then customise it into oblivion. Sometimes you have to slap it to make it work properly, just like the Tardis (Doctor Who, incidentally, would definitely use a PC). PCs have charm; Macs ooze pretension. When I sit down to use a Mac, the first thing I think is, “I hate Macs”, and then I think, “Why has this rubbish aspirational ornament only got one mouse button?” Losing that second mouse button feels like losing a limb. If the ads were really honest, Webb would be standing there with one arm, struggling to open a packet of peanuts while Mitchell effortlessly tore his apart with both hands. But then, if the ads were really honest, Webb would be dressed in unbelievably po-faced avant-garde clothing with a gigantic glowing apple on his back. And instead of conducting a proper conversation, he would be repeatedly congratulating himself for looking so cool, and banging on about how he was going to use his new laptop to write a novel, without ever getting round to doing it, like a mediocre idiot.
If there’s one indictment of Macs that resounds with me, it’s that Dr. Who would certainly be a WinTel man…
Last week I went down to Banglamphoo to eat fish and chips with Austin Bush, of RealThai fame. Check out his excellent description and pics. In the image above, I’m getting down to business with some fried snapper.
Last Sunday night A and I had the good fortune to attend the final of the biennial ASEAN football championship between Thailand and Singapore here at Bangkok’s Supachalasai Stadium. And our perspective was unique: we were in the media gallery down at pitch level, just behind the goal.
The sound of 40,000 Thai supporters cheering on their side (pictured above) was overwhelming. Sadly, Thailand lost by an aggregate score of 3-2 in a here-and-away match; the first leg, in Singapore, was marred by a refereeing controversy that caused the Thai squad to walk off the field for 15 minutes in protest. On Sunday evening, Thailand scored a goal in the first half, drawing even on aggregate, but then Singapore pulled one back late in the game to defend their crown.
Here was the vantage from the field.
The atmosphere was festive; this supporter’s costume featured a tank — a humorous reference to the September military coup.
The crowd at halftime, as seen from the pitch.
A interviewed some Singapore supporters.
And so did PJ Roberts, of the ESPN Star Sports highlights show Nokia Football Crazy.
The Singapore squad was presented with the trophy amid a burst of confetti.
Though the match was hard-fought and tempers flared on the field at times, the Thai supporters treated the small contingent of Singapore fans with respect and generally lost gracefully.
Explanation: Sometimes the sky itself is the best show in town. On January 26, people from Perth, Australia gathered on a local beach to watch a sky light up with delights near and far. Nearby, fireworks exploded as part of Australia Day celebrations. On the far right, lightning from a thunderstorm flashed in the distance. Near the image center, though, seen through clouds, was the most unusual sight of all: Comet McNaught. The photogenic comet was so bright that it even remained visible though the din of Earthly flashes. Comet McNaught continues to move out from the Sun and dim, but should remain visible in southern skies with binoculars through the end of this month. The above image is actually a three photograph panorama digitally processed to reduce red reflections from the exploding firework.
While the fireworks, comet, and lightning are all stunning, perhaps my favorite part of this image is the sense of expectancy and emotion that’s conveyed by the sight of all the folks gathered on the beach, gazing up at the sky.