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Cambodia's creaky, funky bamboo trains: like riding 'a bat'


A norry being operated by Doak Khemra moves down the tracks at the village of Stung Touch. Jesse Pesta/The Wall Street Journal.

Jesse Pesta has a wonderful, colorful piece in the Wall Street Journal about a form of transportation unique to Cambodia: bamboo trains, known locally as "norry." Snip:

In Cambodia, real trains are almost as rare as bamboo trains anywhere else. The impoverished country has a network of tracks left over from French colonial days, but there are hardly any actual trains running anymore. Only one line is in service. The railway never recovered from the horrors of Khmer Rouge murder and war decades ago.

Don't miss his great photos and videos accompanying the article online A six-year-old girl photographed just before her first norry ride is told by her mom that it would be like riding "a bat."

"Creaky Trains Made of Bamboo Still Rule the Rails in Cambodia" [wsj.com]

Hotel California's global reach

Jeffrey writes, "The song 'Hotel California,' which I have just written about for the hybrid (academia-meets-journalism) periodical Boom: A Journal of California, has garnered legions of fans (and detractors) and taken on a variety of meanings as it has made its way around the globe. Well known in China and India, among other places, it even made a cameo appearance in the American spy plane incident of 2001, when Chinese guards asked members of the U.S. crew of a downed surveillance jet to tell them the words to this well known song from their country."

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Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) slams Philippines, may be most powerful typhoon to ever hit land


Typhoon Haiyan approaching the Philippines (13:00 UTC 07/11/2011). Image captured by the geostationary satellites of the Japan Meteorological Agency and EUMETSAT.

The powerful storm named Super Typhoon Haiyan (or Super Typhoon Yolanda, as it is referred to within the Philippines) hit the central islands of the Philippines on Friday, with reported wind speeds of 190 to 195 miles per hour at landfall. For comparison, a commercial airplane takes off at speeds in the range of 160mph.

Haiyan is reported to be the strongest typhoon in the world in 2013, and may be the most powerful recorded tropical cyclone to ever hit land.

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Skateboarding kids in Mongolia are building a skate park in Ulaanbaatar. Here's how you can help.


Photo courtesy Mongolian "Uukhai" Skateboarding Association

[Video Link: "The Uukhai Documentary," dir. Odmandakh Bataa]

Michelle Borok is a culture-blogger from Los Angeles who has expatriated to Mongolia, where she is raising a family. She shares word of a really cool project there that could use your help:

This new film by Uukhai, a Mongolian skateboarding association, sheds intimate, honest and unpretentious light on a growing community in Ulaanbaatar. The video features interviews with skaters involved with the organization, and tons of footage of street skating shot this summer.

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New journal of Southeast Asian science fiction: Lontar

Jason sez, "The first issue of my new literary journal, LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, was just recently released by Singapore-based publisher Math Paper Press. The issue's contributors are Paolo Bacigalupi, Kate Osias, Zen Cho, Paolo Chikiamco, Chris Mooney-Singh, Ang Si Min, Elka Ray Nguyen and Bryan Thao Worra, all of whom present speculative writing from and about the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Singapore, Laos and Vietnam. The print issue can be ordered online through the BooksActually Web Store, and an ebook version will be available in the coming months. A 25% sample can be read for free at Issuu."

Issue #1 (Thanks, Jason!)

Prince Jefri of Brunei: how to blow billions


Prince Jefri Bolkiah is the younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei, and he is believed to have blown $14.8 billion on a series of follies including grotesque mansions; enormous collections of sportscars; haremsful of exotic prostitutes kept on standby at home and abroad; fleets of jets; musesumsworth of gaudy gems; private football tutelage from NFL greats for his pampered son; private concerts by Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston (the former in a purpose-built, single-use stadium); and more (and more).

Vanity Fair had Mark Seal cover a New York court battle between Jefri and two of his advisors, whom he alleged bilked him out of a paltry few millions. As Seal explains, the case had wider significance: it was key to a narrative that the prince and the sultan have created about the prince's wastefulness, blaming it on sharp foreigners who bilked him out of his money.

The story goes into eye-glazingly weird lists of the prince's excesses. Reading it, I found myself tuning out, losing the ability to focus on the lists of spectacular waste, only to be brought back to reality by an extravagance so over-the-top that it shocked me out of my stupor. It's a kind of pornography of capitalism, a Southeast Asian version of the Beverly Hillbillies, a proof that oil fortunes demand no thought, no innovation, no sense of shared national destiny: just a hole the ground, surrounded by guns, enriching an elite of oafs and wastrels.

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Laotian all-women bomb clearance team, "most dangerous job in world," to speak in U.S.

In the photo above: "Manixia Thor (left) and a member of her all women’s bomb clearance team head into the field to clear unexploded ordnance in the Lao countryside." In April, Manixia is on a speakers' tour in the US, focused on the urgent need for funding of bomb clearance and survivor assistance efforts in Laos.

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Ai Weiwei’s “Gangnam Style” parody video

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei covers PSY's viral hit. At WaPo, Max Fisher writes more about the video here. What's with the handcuffs he pulls out about halfway through? This. (thanks, Oxblood!)

In Tibet, a mother of 3 burns herself alive in protest of Chinese rule

A woman identified as Rikyo, said to be 33 years old and the mother of three young children, burned herself to death today in what is believed to have been another desperate act of protest against China’s repressive policies in Tibet. According to the Tibetan pro-sovereignty website Phayul, she set herself on fire near the Jonang Zamthang Gonchen monastery in Zamthang county, in Ngaba region, the epicenter of a continuing wave of Tibetan self-immolations.

Rikyo’s body is currently being kept at the Jonang Monastery, although Chinese security personnel have reportedly demanded the body to be removed. Rikyo is survived by her husband and three children, the eldest, a 9-year old son and two daughters aged 7 and 5.

Just three days ago, two ethnic Tibetan men self-immolated in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, at what is considered to be the ancient city's most important temple. Chinese police and firefighters arrived at Jokhang, extinguished flames, and removed the men. Their whereabouts and conditions are unknown.

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Rockets fly at Thai rice festival

REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

Participants in a rocket competition cheer after their rocket was successfully launched during the rocket festival known as "Bun Bangfai" in Yasothon, northeast of Bangkok, May 13, 2012. The festival marks the start of the rainy season when farmers are about to plant rice.

Pray away the Gaga

photo: Reuters/Lee Jae-Won

Christians attend a prayer meeting being held as they pray to stop the concert of Lady Gaga, at a church in Seoul April 22, 2012. The Christians blame Lady Gaga for promoting indecency and "homosexual love." Gaga performed live in Seoul today, despite the incantations. Below, her performance during the MTV Video Music Aid Japan event in Chiba, near Tokyo, last year.

photo: Reuters/Issei Kato

Anthology of upbeat steampunk fiction from Singapore: Steampowered World

On IO9, Jess Nevins reviews The Steampowered World, a Singaporean anthology of steampunk short stories published by a "micropress" called Two Trees. The editors put out a call for upbeat stories ("No depressive ending, no preaching, no agendas, no angst-ridden misery."), noting that "depressive endings with angst‑ridden misery is prevalent here in local (Singapore) publishing. The bestsellers tend to be depressive woe is me cultural stories."

Judging by Nevins's descriptions, the result was a collection of impressive fiction that sounds well worth your while.

"Captain Bells and the Sovereign State of Discordia," by "scientist-turned-writer-turned-video-journalist" J.Y. Yang, is less traditional in a number of ways. About the pursuit and capture of the captain of a nation-state zeppelin by a pair of trackers in the employ of the Lord Overseer of the Malayan Colonies, "Captain Bells" takes several of the usual steampunk tropes and upends them: the trackers are lesbians rather than heterosexuals, steampunk's usual fetishistic obsession with imperialism is replaced with a disgust with the cruelty of imperialism, and the trackers ultimately join the revolutionary zeppelin captain and his independent country zeppelin rather than maintain the status quo. In less capable hands "Captain Bell" would have read as a programmatic paint-by-numbers story, but Yang's anti-colonialism, and the trackers' same-sex relationship, are nicely understated. For Yang, the story came first, and it shows.

Claire Cheong's "No, They Dream of Mechanical Hearts" is the story of a maker of "labori" (androids) and how one of labori achieves independence. Cheong's passion for social justice shows in her examination of how android servants might be treated, and her characterization of the protagonist is strong. "Mechanical Hearts" is not as smoothly told as the other stories in the collection, nor is the plot particularly complicated, but Cheong is 16 years old, and I think the story is impressive considering her age. She will be an author to watch in the future.

"How the Morning Glory Grows," by Mint Kang, a Singapore-based freelance writer, examines one possible way in which police work would be conducted in a steampunk Singapore. Hackers, mecha, bio-engineering morning glories, and overworked and underappreciated police populate the tale. "Morning Glory" is an entertaining combination of police procedural and steampunk which Kang treats with a light touch which enhances the story.

A Steampunk Anthology from Singapore — With No Misery Allowed

Expert showmanship in the streetside preparation of a banana pastry

This Asian street-food vendor is a great showman, juggler, and all round bad-ass banana pastry maker.

Expert Cooking - AMAZING !!! (Thanks, wetdog2!)

Video from inside a Tibetan community under lockdown, as self-immolations continue

The Guardian's Asia correspondent Jonathan Watts sneaks into Aba, a remote town on the Tibetan plateau, and captures this video report of how Chinese authorities are trying to stamp out dissent among ethnic Tibetans through military security, propaganda and forced 're-education.'

More context and links at the NYT Lede blog. A BBC News crew attempted to make the same trek, and were repeatedly harassed by Chinese forces. Video here, includes graphic shots of self-immolations.

Today, the latest in an ongoing string of Tibetan self-immolation protests against Chinese policies: a 19-year-old Tibetan monk set himself on fire in the same Sichuan province town where the Guardian video was captured.

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Baby crocodiles, hatching

Caretakers display newly hatched Philippine crocodiles at a crocodile farm in Manila July 28, 2011. The Philippine crocodile, also known as the Mindoro crocodile, is a freshwater reptile considered to be among the endangered species. (REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)