Aung San Suu Kyi found guilty in Myanmar

The verdict was widely expected, but it was officially announced — after a delay on July 31 — early this afternoon, local time.

Myanmar’s imprisoned pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was pronounced guilty of violating the terms of her detention by allegedly harboring an American well-wisher, John Yettaw, who swam across a lake, uninvited, to her house in May.

Suu Kyi has already spent nearly 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest.

Today’s verdict: She will serve an additional 18 months of detention. This is, technically, a reduced term, as she was initially sentenced to three years of hard labor. (Five minutes after the verdict was announced, Myanmar’s Home Minister issued the reduced sentence.)

Critics will say that this apparent show of clemency amounts to a shrewd political move: Myanmar’s government, which has faced unwanted scrutiny since Yettaw’s strange activities in May, can now argue that they’ve treated Suu Kyi with leniency. And an additional year and a half of detention means that she will be unable to influence elections — dismissed by many as a sham designed to put a civilian face on a military dictatorship — scheduled for 2010.

Of course, activists note that the 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate should never have been arrested in the first place. And even if her initial detention were legitimate, surely the guards who were in charge of securing her house should be blamed for Yettaw’s intrusion.

Today I visited the Myanmar embassy here in Bangkok; it was quiet — business as usual. And I spoke with a Burmese activist who works with a group pushing for democracy in Burma. He said the trial verdict is a “slap in the face of the international community,” noting that many parties, over the years, have tried to engage with the government, but all efforts have failed. I also spoke with a representative of Amnesty International; his group has called the verdict “shameful,” and AI says the only resolution is the “immediate and unconditional release” of Suu Kyi.

Here are some additional news reports:

  • AP: “Myanmar’s Suu Kyi returns to house arrest”
  • Reuters: Myanmar’s Suu Kyi ordered back into house detention
  • NY Times: “Pro-Democracy Leader in Myanmar Is Convicted”
  • WSJ: “Suu Kyi Sentenced to 18 Months House Arrest” (And don’t miss their interactive timeline about Suu Kyi’s life.)

Crossfit workouts: a few of my favorite routines

Update 2 — September 22, 2011: I have recently started doing Crossfit workouts again. I switched to conventional strength training (see update below) for a while, but have now returned to Crossfit’s more intensive calisthenics workouts. I’m finding that cycling between the two is beneficial.

Update: this post is from 2009. For my more recent thoughts on fitness, see this April 2011 post.

About a year ago, my pal Danny, a trainer in New York City, introduced me to Crossfit, a fitness regimen that has changed the way I think about physical training.

What is Crossfit?

Crossfit is a fitness philosophy that incorporates calisthenics, running, jumping, and weight lifting done at high intensity, usually for short periods of time.

The Crossfit Wikipedia page has a good overview. You can find more info on the official Crossfit site, on the What is Crossfit? page.

I also like this description, also from the Crossfit site. It’s called “World-Class Fitness in 100 Words:

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.
~Greg Glassman

Why I like Crossfit

I really like Crossfit workouts. Here’s why:

  1. Simplicity — as you’ll see in the sample workouts below, a typical training session is quite straightforward. There’s a focus on calisthenics — exercises that involve moving your own body weight, like push-ups, pull-ups, sit ups, and squats.

    A word about pull-ups: Crossfit philosophy advocates kipping pull-ups, which are different than standard, dead-hang pull-ups. In a kipping pull-up, you swing your body and drive your hips upward, using your entire body to raise your chin over the bar. This can be difficult to learn, but the idea is that you can do more pull-ups in less time this way, and thus work your muscles more intensely than you can with dead-hang pull-ups. A couple of good kipping tutorials can be found on YouTube here and here.

  2. Intensity — Many Crossfit workouts last 20 minutes or less. But you push yourself as hard as you can for the given amount of time. The workouts, which resemble interval training, tend to be short and punishing (with occasional long runs and rowing workouts thrown in for good measure). My sense is that this produces better fitness gains than the typical gym route: a run at a moderate pace followed by some resistance training. This recent New York Times blog post contains more info on the benefits of interval training.
  3. Everything is measurable — nearly every workout is done for time. So while workouts are highly variable, when you do repeat a given workout, you can check to see what your previous time was and try to beat it.
  4. Variety — Crossfit is cross-training to the extreme. The notion is that every workout should challenge your body in a different way. I’ve never done a boring Crossfit workout.
  5. No machines are required — Crossfit workouts require very little equipment. Many exercises are simply calisthenics. My favorite no-machine workout involves a grueling exercise called the burpee. More on that below…
  6. Crossfit is unconventional — the philosophy challenges our traditional ideas about fitness. In Western society, as Crossfit devotees point out, we tend to hold up the endurance athlete as a model of fitness. But Crossfit proponents would argue that the decathlete should be the gold standard of physical fitness.
  7. It’s fun to learn new movements. I’d never spent much time performing movements like squats and dead lifts, but I now see how helpful they can be. Here’s a list of Crossfit exercises
  8. Sense of community — Crossfit proponents all over the world check Crossfit.com every day to check the WOD (“workout of the day”), and then hundreds of people post their times to the comments. And the Crossfit discussion board has lively discussions and tips for beginners. In addition, there are Crossfit gyms in many North American cities, most of which have their own blogs. And every year seriously hard-core Crossfit enthusiasts gather for the Crossfit Games. Note: there is not, as far as I know, a Crossfit Bangkok. (Food for thought?)

A few of my favorite Crossfit workouts

So what’s a Crossfit workout look like? Here are a few of my favorite routines. You’ll see that compared to the workouts posted on the Crossfit main page, these tend to avoid olymypic-style weightlifting.

  • “Cindy”: do as many rounds of the following as you can in 20 minutes:
    5 pull-ups, 10 push ups, and 15 squats; repeat.
  • Deadlift and fast run: do 5 sets of 5 repetitions of the dead lift (5,5,5,5,5), then run 1.5 miles for time.
  • Double-unders and situps: For time, do 50/40/30/20/10 reps of: Double unders (jumping rope — the rope passes under your feet twice during one jump) and sit-ups. That is, do 50 double unders, 50 sit-ups; 40 double unders, 40 sit-ups…down to 10 and 10.
  • Fast runs and pull-ups: Maximum rounds in 20 min. of: maximum rep pull-ups (as many as you can do without coming off the bar), then run 400 meters. Repeat. (Measure your total number of pull-ups.)
  • “Fran”: 21-15-9 reps for time of: 95 pound thrusters, then pull-ups. That is, 21 thrusters, 21 pull-ups, 15 thrusters, 15 pull-ups, etc. Here’s a video demonstration Fran. (Note that my performance in this exercise is nowhere near as proficient as what you see here!)
  • Burpee madness: 100 burpees for time. What’s a burpee? It’s a pushup with a jump at the end. Here’s a video demonstration. And here’s another. Do a bunch of these for time and your cardiovascular system will be reeling.

Criticism of Crossfit

It’s worth nothing that Crossfit is not without its critics. Some people point out that some of the exercises, if done incorrectly, are dangerous. That’s true. If you’re learning new movements, like the squat, ask a trainer or someone knowledgeable to help you.

Some people also argue that the Crossfit community is unfairly dismissive of conventional gym-goers, and that some of those who undertake Crossfit training seem to…well, take themselves too seriously. I think this is also true.

Here’s an overview of Crossfit’s unique culture from the New York Times. Worth a read.

Do you Crossfit? If so, why do you like it? Leave a comment below. Not a fan? Tell me why. Good Crossfit workout suggestions? I’m all ears.

The iPod-ification of Khao San Road

I was in downtown Bangkok’s Banglamphoo district yesterday afternoon, and I figured I’d drop by Khao San Road to see how it’s looking these days. You may remember that I penned a New York Times travel story in 2007 about how Khao San Road, long a gathering spot for backpackers, has become increasingly upscale.

I hadn’t visited the area in about six months, and at first, everything seemed normal: There were vendors selling offbeat T-shirts, various travelers were drinking beer at outdoor cafes, and a young woman was sitting on a curb, getting her hair braided.

But then I saw this, which I must admit took me by surprise:

Yes, that’s a recently-opened iStudio shop — a Mac re-seller — on Khao San Road. I went inside, and can report that the shop sells the full range of Apple gear: routers, desktops, laptops, iPods, and even the iPhone. Here’s another pic:

I also noticed, further down the street, that in addition to pirated music CDs, which have been available on Khaosan Road for many years, there’s now at least one vendor selling bootlegged computer software.

And then there’s this:

There were at least two stalls where vendors were selling movies and music that could be downloaded directly to iPods, mobile phones, or computers. You can see, here, that the sign says “Music & Movie — Load to iPod.” (For the record, this practice may not be particularly new. And it may not be unique to Bangkok: A friend in the know tells me that this downloading service has been available in Phnom Penh for some time.)

So these new, digital offerings — the iPod-ifcation of Khaosan Road, if you will — means that if you’re a backpacker and you want to upgrade your aging iPod, let’s say, or even purchase a new iPhone, you can do so at one end of the street. Then you can wander a few hundred meters down the road and load the device up with pirated flicks and tunes. And there you go: You’re set for the rest of your journey.

Depending on your perspective, I imagine this is either scary, surprising (or not), or totally cool. Maybe it’s some combination of all of those.

Nokia E71 review: notes after five months of use

Let’s talk smartphones — mobile phones that have advanced Web browsing and multimedia capabilities.

Nokia E71

First things first: I like Apple products, but I’m holding off on the iPhone ((I’m still deciding what to make of the issue of iPhones in Thailand. The devices are available here, but they’re usually more expensive than in the US, and the 3G versions typically come tethered to contracts. More on this, perhaps, in a later post.)), at least for now. ((Another note about the iPhone in general: I’ve played with examined a few models up close, and my feeling is that the touch screen interface is simply superior to an interface that uses buttons. For more on this, see this column from tech usability expert Jacob Nielsen. Key quote: “History is now repeating itself. Just as Apple popularized the GUI on the desktop through the Mac, it’s popularizing the GUI on mobile devices through the iPhone.”))

Back in December, I purchased a Nokia E71 (sample unit pictured above) here in Bangkok.

My one sentence review: The Nokia E71 is a great all-around smartphone, but think twice if you have fat fingers. (More on the issue of pudgy digits and small keys below…)

Pros

  • Call quality: I upgraded from my candybar form factor Nokia ((I’m a loyal Nokia consumer. Their phones are typically very tough, they have good battery life, and they have a logical user interface.)) to take advantage of the E71’s bigger screen for Web browsing, as well as enhanced video and camera, among other features. So it was a pleasant surprise, then, to find out that perhaps the most notable attribute of the device is its phenomenal voice call quality.
  • The video quality is decent. Here’s a 20-second video I shot at a bar here in Bangkok while watching President Obama’s inauguration. (Note that the quality of the mp4 video is slightly better than what you see in this Youtube version.)

    And so you can get a sense of what videos in bright light look like, here’s a short video I shot on a ferry coming back to Bangkok from Koh Samet:

  • Web access: Gmail for mobile devices works very well, and Web browsing with the Opera mini browser — which you’ll need to download separately — is fantastic. Seriously, do yourself a favor and download Opera mini. It works a lot better than the built-in Nokia browser.

Cons

  • The QWERTY keyboard is simply too small for me.
  • It pains me to say this, since Nokia typically creates highly user-friendly phones. But there’s very little space between the keys, and some of the keys in the middle of the pad are cluttered and hard to read at a glance. The keys have Thai letters, the Roman alphabet, and numbers all crammed together.

    A major downnfall: The keys that are most important — the ones with numbers, as it’s a phone, after all — can be difficult to spot quickly. The slim, sleek E71 replaced the older — and comparatively chunkier —E61, but I actually prefer the larger keys on the older model. You can see the difference between the two models in the image below:

    Nokia E71 vs. E61
    The older E61 (left) and the newer E71 (right)

    Yes, the E61 looks somewhat like a calculator. But the keys are much easier to use.

  • This may well be my own fault, but I haven’t taken to the QWERTY keyboard. The built-in predictive text feature is decent, and it does a good job of guessing and then remembering the words you type. But I have to say I miss T9. ((Confession: I recently used my old, trusty, Nokia 3110 classic — truly a no-frills phone — while traveling, and I loved using T9 again.)) The E71 takes two hands to use; you only need one for T9-equipped devices.

On the fence

  • GPS: I’m on the fence about the built-in GPS function. One annoyance is that the built-in functionality takes a long time to load and update, so it’s not ideal for navigating by car. However, the Google Maps mobile integration is excellent. It takes what would otherwise be a cumbersome feature and makes it speedy and useful. ((Thanks to SN for the Google Maps tip!))
  • Radio: apparently the phone has a built-in radio, but I’ve yet to use it.

The bottom line: the Nokia E71 is a solid smartphone. Web browsing works well, and the call quality is exceptional. But unless you have very small fingers, you might find the QWERTY keypad hard to use.

Other Nokia E71 reviews:

A conversation about H1N1 with a Bangkok taxi driver

I got into a taxi here in Bangkok on Sunday. When I looked at the driver’s face in the rear view mirror, I noticed he was wearing a protective facial mask. I didn’t think much of it.

I told him where I was going, and then he turned around and looked at me.

“Where are you from?” he said.

“I’m from America,” I said.

“Not Mexico?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I’m from America. But I live here in Bangkok.”

“Okay,” he said. ((We spoke in Thai, in case you’re wondering, though this was a very simple conversation.))

Then he took off his mask and explained that he was afraid of catching swine flu. And that he was glad I wasn’t a Mexican. He said he’d been asking all of the foreigners who got into his taxi if they were from Mexico.

I assured him that I was not Mexican, that I had not been infected with H1N1, and — despite the fact that it has nothing to do with swine flu — that I don’t eat pork. ((I do, in fact, eat pork, but he was quite nervous, and I wanted to put him at ease.))

He smiled and seemed relieved. ((The latest news on H1N1 and Thailand, for the record: There have still been no confirmed cases. A suspected case recently turned out to be the common flu.))

(Related post: “Thailand swine flu nomenclature update.”)

My TV story on ASEAN meeting to discuss H1N1

Here’s a TV story I did yesterday for Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia. The story is about a meeting of health ministers from the ASEAN +3 nations here in Bangkok. The officials discussed strategies to prevent the H1N1 virus from spreading.

Go to the link above and click on the video below the image on the right side of the page. You can select a low-res version of the video if it’s slow to load. The story should be viewable on the site for the next few days.

Thailand Twitter guide

As I’ve mentioned before, I often post short snippets about Thailand — and other topics — on Twitter. (You can find my dispatches here, and you can see my recent Twitter activity on the right side of this page, under “Twitter Updates.”)

I’ll continue to share longer thoughts, such as my April 15th post about Thai politics, here on Newley.com.

I’m not, of course, the only Thailand-based Twitterer. Here’s a list of some other folks who you might consider following if you’re looking for local perspectives. I’ve also included a few other Twitter-related resources at the bottom.

Note: This list isn’t exhaustive, but these are some folks who’ve caught my eye:

Individual Twitter users:

  • @bangkokpundit — author of the Bangkok Pundit blog.
  • @thai101 — Rikker Dockum, “Fulbright grantee researching the ancient Thai language.”
  • @wise_kwai — “News and views on Thai film and culture.”
  • @smartbrain — “Yellowshirt psyops leader, loves Cake”
  • @luke_bkk — “Luke Hubbard: Creative hacker living in bangkok working for a new media agency.”
  • @Anasuya — “TV news correspondent.”
  • @bangkok — “If I’d wear a shirt right now, it would be rainbow-colored.”
  • @thaicam — a “BKK-based news junkie.”
  • @suthichai — “editor-in-chief of nation group.”
  • @jonrussell — Jon Russell, “Freelance writer basking in the sun in Thailand.”
  • @mscofino — Kim Cofino, “21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School Bangkok, Thailand.”
  • @travelhappy — Chris Mitchell, “British scuba journalist based in Thailand.”

English-language media

  • In terms of local English-languate media, both The Nation newspaper (@nation) and the Bangkok Post (@bangkokpost) have Twitter feeds, though the Post’s tweets, unfortunately, don’t include URLs to their stories. Correction: the Bangkok Post is Twittering — with URLs — here: @bangkok_post

WeFollow

Search.Twitter.com and hashtags

  • You can also search Twitter for “Bangkok,” “Thailand,” or any other term. During the recent unrest, Twitter users employed the #redshirt hashtag to label material relating to the anti-government protests.

My World Hum Q&A on Thailand protests and traveling here

If you’re wondering about traveling in Thailand following the recent political unrest here, you might be interested in this Q&A I did with World’s Hum’s Julia Ross yesterday. Julia asked me about the current atmosphere in Bangkok, what impact the turmoil is likely to have on Thailand’s tourism industry, and what advice I have for those considering a trip to Thailand.

Thailand protests end: five observations

Anti-government red shirt protesters here in Bangkok dispersed yesterday, bringing an end to the unrest that has engulfed the Thai capital over the past few days.

Army troops secured major intersections throughout the city, and demonstrators who had gathered at the Prime Minister’s office have now left.

Throughout Bangkok, people are celebrating Songkran — the Thai new year — in earnest, splashing water and dancing to music in the streets.

Here are five observations I have after speaking with people and reporting on the situation here. I’ve been sharing some ongoing thoughts and links on Twitter, but here’s a longer dispatch:

1. While normalcy has returned to the Thai capital, the images of chaos may prove lasting. Last week, protesters invaded a hotel in Pattaya where a meeting of Asian leaders was being held, and then demonstrators clashed with police here in Bangkok. Red shirts set city buses on fire and blocked roads with taxis. It was only when army troops fired automatic weapons into the air and moved to disperse them that the demonstrators retreated. This is dramatic stuff, clearly, and while things have returned to normal now, these images are powerful, especially so for those watching from outside the country.

2. PM Abhisit was successful in putting down the uprising, but what comes next? When he came to power a few months ago, many hoped that he would mend the divide between the two factions battling here. And…

3. No progress has been made in settling the differences between pro and anti-Thaksin forces. On the one hand is the red shirts, who are commonly characterized as coming from the rural north and northeast of the country. Many of them support exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a military coup in 2006. On the other side are the yellow-shirts (the PAD), who say Thaksin and his associates are corrupt, and that their influence must be removed from politics.

4. The red shirts claim that they’ll be back. Yesterday a red shirt organizer said that they’ll now go home and rest over Songkran. And then they’ll return to Bangkok in even larger numbers. Red shirt demonstrators I spoke with indicated that they were merely suspending their demonstrations, but that the fight isn’t over. What comes next?

5. There are serious worries here about tourism and the economy. Tourism accounts for 6.7 percent of the Thai economy. And the goal was to attract some 14 million tourists this year. Some estimates say that number may now fall to less than 10 million. The industry was already suffering following the PAD’s week-long closure of Bangkok’s international airport in late November, 2008. And the global financial crisis has also taken its toll. The government has announced that it may seek to increase its recent economic stimulus pacakge. Analysts say, though, that a key component in shoring up the economy is achieving political stability. That now appears to be a long way off.

That’s it for now. I’ll be back and blogging next week.

Thailand protests: Video and images from yesterday’s demonstration

Here’s a short video and some images I snapped at Bangkok’s Government House yesterday, where tens of thousands of anti-government protesters gathered to demand the resignation of Thailand’s prime minister. (More details on my observations from yesterday are here.)

I took this 32-second video clip (embedded below) near the main stage:

And below are the pics. You can find five more images on Flickr here. Click the images for bigger versions.

Thailand protests: Red shirt demonstrators at Government House
Protesters with a banner near the main stage

Thailand protests: Red shirt demonstrators at Government House
Listening to a speech

Thailand protests: Red shirt demonstrators at Government House
Cheering

Thailand protests: Red shirt demonstrators at Government House
One of many banners