Asian Correspondent » Griffith University Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 15:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Craze of the non-natives: From Aussie elephants to Thai pandas Sun, 28 Mar 2010 09:25:15 +0000


The recent birth of the male elephant calf at Taronga Zoo in Sydney on Wednesday, March 10 has created a series of national headlines. It’s not simply because he is the third baby elephant born in Australia but mainly because he was pronounced dead a few days earlier after almost a week of labour, based on both scientific examinations as well as the natural indicator.  

The calf was believed to be dead because of his difficult position in the birth canal of his mom “Porntip”, with all other checks showed no signs of life whatsoever. The lost of interest in Porntip by other elephants also suggested that they too thought the calf wouldn’t make it. The entire Taronga’s staff was immediately saddened by this news. Miraculously, however, the zoo keepers found him lying alive next to his mom in the morning of Wednesday. He was then rushed to intensive care and has been recovered quickly ever since.

The calf was initially nicknamed “Mr. Shuffles” based on his wobbly moves caused by his bunged legs, as a result of his birth ordeal. On last Thursday (March 25), Mr. Shuffles was officially dubbed “Pathi Harn”, which in Thai, no doubt, means “miracle”.

Having Pathi Harn as a new family member means the other Taronga’s elephant calf “Luk Chai” will now have a friend to play with. Luk Chai himself also made a national headline in July last year as the first Asian elephant born in Australia. His name means “a son” in Thai, with the connotation also means “the pillar of victory”. His mom “Thong Dee” was a lucky street elephant brought from Thailand to Australia, together with four other elephants including Porntip, as part of the Australasian Conservation Breeding Program for the endangered species. Pathi Harn is the third Asian elephant to be born in Australia, following “Mali” (meaning Jasmine in Thai) a baby female elephant born earlier this year at Melbourne Zoo.

While these little elephant stars have caused an excitement among the group of Australian animal lovers, they don’t seem to interest very much those people in their mother’s country of origin. Similar to the Aussies, Thais have been euphoric over a new member at Chiang Mai Zoo, except for that here it’s not a baby elephant – it’s a baby panda named “Lin Ping”. 

Lin Ping was born in May last year to her mother “Lin Hui”. Somewhat similar to Pathi Harn, Lin Ping’s birth was a surprise to the staff at Chiang Mai Zoo. This is because Lin Hui had shown no sign of pregnancy since she was artificially inseminated (AI) earlier in February, following the first futile attempt in 2007. The sperm used in the AI process was from Lin Hui’s partner “Chuang Chuang”, a male panda who failed to perform in the natural mating.

The panda couple was brought from China on a loan agreement in 2003, as part of a panda research program.  Since then, they have become a major attraction, drawing massive number of visitors to Chiang Mai Zoo each year. The arrival of Lin Ping last year has even fueled the country’s craze of pandas further to the ceiling. To put this in perspective, there’s a cable TV channel dedicated to Lin Ping – The Panda Channel. When I went back to Bangkok to visit my family in December last year, I had a chance to watch the channel. It basically broadcasted 24-hr (yes, all day and everyday) live actions of Lin Ping and her mom via a series of CCTVs fitted throughout the pandas’ mansion. Admittedly, there were a few occasions I found myself watching Ling Ping sleep! I was also surprised to see that even the cub falling from the tree made the front page of the newspapers in early January.

Of course, it’s not surprising that rare animals will boost the number of visitors to the zoo. In the case of Luk Chai, his arrival helped doubling the number of Taronga Zoo’s daily visitors. This number would have perhaps quadrupled with the appearance of Pathi Harn. If you visited Chiang Mai Zoo, you might need to queue up for an hour or more during peak season before being able to catch a glimpse of the adorable Ling Ping.

Although most of the Thai people love the pandas, some have raised a concern that too much attention and money are being drawn to these non-native animals. A couple of ten million bahts have already been spent on the pandas’ facilities, with more money to be thrown into the development of a permanent Chinese-Thai panda research centre. Currently, documents are being prepared for the negotiation process between the two governments. And because the current loan agreement will see the two pandas return to China after 10 years and any cub returned after two years of its birth, the negotiation will also aim at keeping the pandas in Thailand for longer, and perhaps permanently.

In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of building the research center, as long as this hasn’t been done unfairly at the expense of the provisions for the welfare of other native animals, particularly Thai elephants. Pandas are China’s national symbol. The Chinese government treasures them and treats them with great care. Remember that those pandas at Chiang Mai Zoo are on loan; the Chinese will want them back eventually as they are considered national treasure. So why don’t the Thai government start to take a very good care of their own elephants as much as they do with the pandas, and as much as the Aussies do with their elephants?



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Labour’s Agenda: To implement Chinese internet censorship policies Thu, 25 Mar 2010 16:12:40 +0000 On 21 March 2006, the Federal Labour Opposition announced in a media release that a Labor Government would require all Internet Service Providers (”ISPs”) to implement a mandatory Internet filtering/blocking system.

This proposal was retained as policy by the Rudd Labour government elected on 24th November 2007 (see Media Release by Stephen Conroy 19 November 2007 – Federal Labor To Lead On Cyber-Safety). Further information about the policy is in Labour’s Plan for Cyber-safety released prior to the election. Few concrete details have been announced since the election, but early in January 2008 Minister Conroy confirmed that the policy remained in place. EFA and other concerned groups are currently attempting to obtain additional information ( EFA: Electronics frontiers of Australia ) .

Australia stands 26th in the developed world in terms of internet speed. Internet speed in the USA is far better than in Australia. Adding filters to the internet will slow it down even further. So rather than improving the internet connectivity and adding a competitive advantage to Australia, the Rudd government is taking the hardline approach to censor the internet content like China, North korea and Iran. It is believed that the Kevin Rudd is highly influenced by Chinese policies. He was the foreign diplomat to China for many years.

…… More updates will come soon on this topic.

-Himanshu Dogra

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Thai Canal Project: Over 300 years of conceptualising and still counting Tue, 23 Mar 2010 05:06:16 +0000 Thailand is a really fortunate country. At school, I remember the students were constantly inoculcated with this idea through the phrase: “fish in the water, rice in the paddy fields – with abundant resources, it is our land”. I believe this is the way to remind us of how lucky we are and to appreciate what we have.

Moreover, compared with other countries, Thailand has rarely been under a constant threat from severe natural disasters. Literally, the country has almost no physical set-backs; with all the readily supply of resources ever needed, nothing seems to hinder its development. Alas, there have always been groups of people – usually those entrusted with the future of the nation – who have taken things for granted, abusing their powers and exploiting everything the country has to offer, merely to build their own wealth, as opposed to that of the country.

You don’t need to be an expert economist to understand that it only takes a few crooked politicians to kick the country’s economy back to the stone-age (a little exaggerating, but you get my idea). Over the past decades, the gap (in terms of economic development) between Thailand and its benchmarks, particularly Malaysia and Singapore, has significantly widened in such a way that it seems almost impossible for the country to catch up. It has even been said that the benchmarks have already shifted to the less developed countries in the region.

As a means to strengthen the backbone of the country, infrastructure projects have always been an important element of the country’s economic and social development (provided they’re not part of the corruption strategy devised by the crooked cohorts). It is also acknowledged that most infrastructure projects are notoriously susceptible to the country’s political instability. A new government could mean that existing projects may be revised – those previously scrapped may be resurrected, while those already approved may never see the light of day. Obviously, having too many changes is not healthy for the country, as revising and reviving a project consume a lot time and resources.

In general, the most important phase of any infrastructure project is conceptual development. It mainly involves the initiation of the project and conducting a study to determine whether the project is feasible (i.e. feasibility study). This very phase is predicated upon many situational and contextual factors associated with the project, and these factors can vary over time (new government, changing technologies, oil prices, etc). This phase sometimes takes as long as it takes – a few months, a few years, or even a few centuries.

Being repeatedly resurrected throughout the face of Thailand’s history, the Thai Canal project (formerly known as Kra Canal project) is a good example of an infrastructure project that has been at the conceptual development phase for more than three centuries. The project was conceived a long way back in 1677 under the reign of King Narai the Great, to link the Andaman Sea coast and the Gulf of Thailand coast. With the assistance of the French engineer De Lamar, it was determined that this could be achieved by excavating a canal across the narrowest part of Thailand – the Kra Isthmus, at Ranong Provice (pinned “A” in the figure). Although the minimum width of Kra Isthmus is a little more than 40 km, the canal will need to cut through a serpentine mountain ridge 75 m above sea level. In fact, there were other possible dig sites with a flatter landscape sitting less above the sea level, but would require a trade-off with a longer canal length that could be up to a few hundred kilometres. Up until the middle of the 19th century, technology constraints as a result of this geographical challenge made it impossible for the project to proceed. Toward the end of the 19th century, it soon became technically feasible to dig the canal, with several proposals made by France and Britain in the reigns of King Rama IV and V, respectively. However, the Kingdom’s security and international politics were the main reasons that shot down the project. 

The 20th Century saw the most ups and downs of the Thai Canal project. Several attempts were made to bring the project back, but came to an end every time for one of three main reasons: lack of funding, national security, and changes of government. The 1980s, for the first time, proved to be the most promising period for the project, though with several hiccups caused by political issues. During this period, a lot of progress had been made with formal feasibility studies conducted and several canal sites proposed. Teams of officials were sent to visit the Suez and Panama Canals as well as the Netherlands to study the technology necessary for the project. Moreover, as a result of the economic crisis, the late 1980s started to see the involvement of foreign investors from Japan and the U.S. At this time, the controversial technique for digging the canal using nuclear explosives was proposed to accelerate the excavation process. As the project was deemed to be feasible from both the economic and engineering standpoints, it was once again halted as a result of a change of government shortly at the beginning of the 1990s. This was followed by a blow from the Asian economic crisis, sending the project six feet under in the late 1990s.

With yet another new government, the Thai Canal project was again exhumed in 2001, primarily with the hope of using it to rebuild the country’s economy and to provide a platform for its sustainability. After many rounds of seminars, debates and a “preparatory” feasibility study, the House of Senates finally reached a consensus on the project in 2005, recommending that the “complete” feasibility study be conducted as soon as possible. Although at this time the security issue in southern Thailand was still a concern, the far-reaching benefits generated by this project had been fully realised and they were hard to resist.

Currently, the most recent feasible canal route is now far from the Kra Isthmus (hence no longer called Kra Canal project). Termed Route 9A, this canal line is reportedly the optimum alternative, cutting 120 kms through the provinces of Krabi, Phatthalung, Nakorn Si Thammarat, Songkhla and Trang.  A more advanced excavation technique that employs electrically generated pressure pulses to fragmentise the rocks instead of using explosive devices has also been considered, together with traditional methods.

If you’ve managed to read this far, I believe the stuttering momentum of the project would almost be palpable to you. There were also many changing yet repeating factors that emerged and impacted the project, with political issues appearing to play a pivotal role in the project’s rises and falls. According to The Nation’s article, more than 20 studies have been commissioned on the project since Thailand became a constitutional monarchy. Every time the project was revisited, almost every detail had to be re-examined and studied due to the changing contextual situations. We sure did spend a lot of time and resources on it. The recent estimate showed that the cost of the final project would be around 750 billion bahts, requiring 10 years to complete. This is not including the 50 million bahts for the complete feasibility study. These staggering magic numbers have of course sparked a lot of criticism as many implications remain unexplored.

Now if you start to get curious about the current status and future of the project, just look at Thailand’s current situation and you’ll probably find the answer.   

Note: More details on the Thai Canal Project can be found at: (bilingual site).

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Griffith University to host APAIE 2010 Conference and Exhibition Wed, 17 Mar 2010 09:58:10 +0000  

More than 600 delegates, representing 55 countries, will be on the Gold Coast from April 14 to 16 for the Asia Pacific Association for International Education (APAIE) 2010 Conference and Exhibition. This conference and exhibition will welcome representatives from major universities in the Asia Pacific region, to discuss the theme – ‘Educating for Extremes: Educating for global challenges in a rapidly changing world’.

APAIE 2010 will give delegates the opportunity to learn about current best practices in international education and how to educate staff and students to adapt to the challenges of extreme world events.

Griffith University Pro Vice Chancellor (International) Chris Madden is a founding and continuing member of the APAIE Board of Directors and led the University’s bid for the conference.

A full article about this conference by Sophia Brown is available with contact information HERE


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Mobile mental health clinic for Bangkokians – they could really use one now! Wed, 17 Mar 2010 03:26:42 +0000 “I’m Thai and I’m from Bangkok”.

I’m using the above blunt statement as an introduction to myself in this first blog (and hopefully not last) of a series focusing on Thailand. My name is Krieng, an engineering academician representing Griffith University, Queensland, Australia. So my blogs will be from a perspective of a Thai bloke working in Australia, who has been away from his hometown for quite a number of years. This also means a lot of my comments on the current affairs specific to Thailand might not be as insightful as those from someone who is doing it from within.

To be honest, I’ve never blogged before. When I got asked from the University to blog for Asian Correspondent, I hesitated. To no avail, I even attempted to find someone else to do this instead of me. So, I decided to give it a go as this might be a good chance for me at least to whinge (or whine, if you like) about something. And as my background is engineering: (1) my blogs would be predominantly about science, technology and innovation; and (2) my writing style will not be sophisticated.

At the time of blogging, nothing seems to be more interesting about Thailand, especially Bangkok, than the urban rally by the so-called “Red Shirt” group.  When my colleagues asked me why the situation has never seemed to settle in Thailand, I could only smile – frankly, I had no good answers. To some of them, it’s somewhat beyond comprehension that the people in the land of smile with the Sabai Sabai (laid-back), Mai Pen Rai (compromising) attitude have got themselves into such endless politics-driven havoc. My typical response to this: “they’re just not happy”. I knew it sounds almost monosyllabic but I just didn’t want to enter into a lengthy conversation on Thai culture, politics and so on.

Indeed, a lot of Thai people are not happy, especially those living in Bangkok. According to the Nation’s article published in 2006 (, Bangkokians were the least happy of Thais. Citing the results from a study conducted jointly by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and ABAC Poll Research Centre of residents of 20 provinces between January 14 and 22, 2006, the article further reported that only 18.5 percent of Bangkok residents were optimistic, believing that they would be happier soon. This is not surprising as Bangkokians have chronically suffered from a whole shebang of problems – political instability, traffic jams, pollution, increasing levels of selfishness, crime, corruption, you name it. Well, I am pretty sure I can confirm this – I’m one of them, remember?

Now it’s 2010 and things don’t seem to get any better. This could also mean that the unhappy are getting unhappier and the 18.5 percent optimists in 2006 may have already changed their mind. Although I don’t have any statistical evidence to establish a significant relationship between the current political demonstration and the mental health of Bangkok people, a lot of the readers would agree with me that such a debacle is one of the main critical factors that have a negative impact on Bangkokian’s current emotional states. And believe me when it comes to mental illness among Thais, psychiatrists would usually be the last that people will seek help from. It’s not that they are scientology or anything; it’s simply because seeing a shrink could be really embarrassing. You could be accused of being a lunatic (Khon Bar) if you paid for a visit to a mental clinic, even though you’re just depressed and want professional help. Although I believe that now it is not as bad as what it was decades ago, but such a mentality is still there. Having mentioned this, perhaps all the kudos should go to the Department of Mental Health as they have done an extremely good job by implementing a number of initiatives to help those suffering from mental illness and provide preventative measures to keep a close eye on those at risk.

For Bangkokians, the latest initiative from the Health Department, Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) – “Mobile Mental Health Clinic” – caught my attention. This clinical innovation  recently featured in The Manager Online ( Basically, this mobile clinic is a bus with a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses and social workers on board. To use the service, you’ll have to register and undergo a preliminary assessment (through a 20-item questionnaire). The result will then be used to determine what level of treatment you need. Generally, most of the treatments in the clinic are designed for people with mild to moderate mental health problems. These include the use of counseling sessions, relaxing music, yoga, information booklets, and, the best of all, an electric massaging chair. However, if you’re on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the clinic will advise you on how to obtain a formal treatment and might even arrange one for you

Since this mobile clinic program has been rolled out in February, the average daily number of people using it has been 40. This sometimes went up to 100 with the peak period being lunch time. The feedback from the users so far has also been very positive. Considering what is going on in Bangkok at the moment, the release of this service is timely. And if things aren’t going to settle soon, Bangkok people will probably need more of these mobile clinics!

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TEST Sun, 14 Feb 2010 17:59:44 +0000 TEST

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