Asian Correspondent » Jo Lane Asian Correspondent Wed, 27 May 2015 15:00:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to make your help count after Nepal’s latest disaster Wed, 13 May 2015 01:17:55 +0000 USAID rescue workers inspect the site of collapsed buildings after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

USAID rescue workers inspect the site of collapsed buildings after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

“We are safe.”

These three words from friends in Nepal jumped off the page at me when I opened Facebook this morning.

Scanning their images of cracks and more damage to buildings, it became apparent another quake had rocked the Himalayan kingdom of Nepal.

This time the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck eastern Nepal near Namche Bazar in the Everest region, just two weeks after the one that killed more than 8000 people and left so much destruction in the Kathmandu valley.

Some reports from the BBC in Kathmandu:

You could feel it really strongly. You could feel it went on for about 25 seconds – the ground was shaking, the birds started squawking, you could feel the buildings shaking.

There was another aftershock and people were all out on the street. That aftershock really added anxiety and panic. People started crying.

They are calm but you can tell they are scared.

And a message from other friends on Facebook involved in humanitarian work:

7.1 aftershock have taken few more lives and destroyed more properties. Trauma case increased.

After two weeks of reading and seeing all their posts and emails about the recovery effort, the need and destruction, this further earthquake is indeed an incredible blow.

However what has also been encouraging in the last two weeks is seeing the global response to the needs in Nepal, both in the media, social media and otherwise, with perhaps a growing global consciousness and understanding of this beautiful, remote, Himalayan kingdom.

It is also good to see how much Nepali people have stepped up to help their own people as well. Nepali churches, community groups and even children’s centres I know have hired trucks and got together supplies to take to remote villages they know have received no aid, funding it largely themselves. To me these groups are the unsung heroes because they are just getting on with what they think they need to do without the acknowledgement the big budget aid organisations and governments receive.

But the reality is that numerous problems existed in Nepal before these tragedies, and they will linger long after the international aid effort ceases. And all these issues such as health, education, town planning, traffic management, political stability and fuel supplies will contribute in some way, big or small, to tackling other disasters like this in the future.

(READ MORE: Opinion: Nepal needs help, but not the kind we think)

It’s a common knee jerk reaction to send $50 or to rush in and assist in a disaster and there’s nothing wrong with that. Aid is required in all forms at this time and much is needed. However the need for sustainable development and rebuilding will be vital in Nepal in the months and years ahead.

Sadly these twin earthquakes have perhaps highlighted those needs in a way nothing else could. For instance there has long been a need for better infrastructure planning, tighter building construction codes and other industry issues affecting architecture in Nepal.

After a decade of Maoist insurgency and political uncertainty, it is perhaps no surprise that Nepal was not ready with a tactical response to such a disaster despite the numerous warnings about the possibility of fault activity. The International Business Times went so far as to call the country a “basketcase”:

Nepal may be best known in Europe for its ancient temples and the towering peaks of Mount Everest, but the tiny landlocked country is an economic basket-case where political deadlock and rampant corruption have long stymied any sort of lasting growth.

Whatever the case is, those that have been to the country will also know how much the challenging geography, lack of communications and other infrastructure play a big role in delivering adequate – if any – resources and services to people.

While some of these issues are bigger than Ben Hur there are ways we can help, and ways that go beyond the immediate relief efforts.

The Guardian published an excellent article in the days after the first earthquake highlighting the writer’s concern that the aid response to Nepal does not mirror that of Haiti where ragtag teams rushed in, all with good intentions, but probably added to the need in the country that still exists five years later. The writer also noted that the airport and the flights coming in would currently be best utilised by urgent supplies and qualified relief workers, “essential travel”, not do-gooders or even visits from family that can wait.

Highlights of that article about our response to disasters that are worth reiterating include:

1. It’s not about you. Don’t rush in but seek to join an established organisation, offering skills to be placed where you are really needed.
2. Do not donate stuff. Sell things and donate the proceeds.
3. Give money. Rather than buy a plane ticket give money to a reputable relief organisation.
4. In the short term, handouts are necessary to ensure survival.
5. In the long term, rebuild sustainably.

If in the coming months you want to contribute to the rebuilding efforts and the longer-term development of the country, consider sustainability as a factor. There will be many programmes to repair and rebuild destroyed houses. Nepal is an earthquake-prone country, so the buildings most likely to withstand another quake are not those that are cheapest, or those made by foreign volunteer labourers for “free”.

Some of that sustainable development is actually quite specific. Experts from the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit have identified not only rebuilding efforts in earthquake torn-areas but health risks posed by overcrowded hospitals and reduced water supplies, in turn related to other problems – not things just the everyday volunteer can assist with but those with certain skills can.

Access to clean water is an ongoing issue and related to electricity supply. Nepal suffers from power outages that can last up to 10-12 hours a day to conserve electricity. As many houses in Kathmandu pump groundwater up to tanks on the roof of their houses, getting access to water at present is a problem with the lack of electricity after the quake. Nepal is obviously blessed with an abundance of natural water resources but accessing and channeling it has always been an issue and more hydroprojects are needed.

The economy has obviously been dealt a huge blow by the quakes, not just because local businesses are damaged and many have closed, but because the country relies heavily on tourism. Eight percent of Nepal’s GDP comes from tourism and obviously thousands of visitors have recently cancelled their trips to the country.

The International Business Times reported on the impacts of this fallout in tourism:

That is bad news for Nepal, where the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation estimates that one job is generated by every six tourist visits and 138,000 Nepalese are employed in the tourist industry. The country had 800,000 visitors in 2013, mostly from India and China, both of which are vying for influence in their tiny neighbour.

“Kathmandu is central to the nation’s economy and it is crippled. The extent of the impact depends both on the magnitude of the disaster [and] the resources and capacity to cope. We don’t have that,” former finance minister Madhukar SJB Rana told Bloomberg on Sunday.

What can we do as tourists? In the months and years ahead visit and spend tourist dollars in Nepal once you feel there is no longer a safety risk and infrastructure has recovered enough to cater for you – drop an email to an established hotel or travel agency first to check.

Leading trip organisers to Nepal such as Trailfinder and Intrepid Travel have cancelled all their immediate trips but said they will continue to assess logistics as to when they may be able to resume travels.

And there are certainly ways to travel responsibly in the near future. A Canadian town planner told the International Business Times he planned to use the forthcoming trip he had already paid for to volunteer where he was needed, contacting Oxfam and hotels first, and spending money in the country.

Natural disasters are a double whammy for places like that because they lose the tourism too. Part of helping is going to restaurants and hotels and spending money. They need money to keep their economy going.

And an Australian physio friend who was already in Kathmandu assisting at a local foundation for disabled children when the quake struck stayed on assisting in what way she could. With such specific skills to offer she was no doubt a fantastic asset.

For those interested in donating it is always best to give to established charities already working efficiently on the ground. Some lists compiled by news organisations are listed here: PRI and CNN.

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Australian reflections on the Indonesia executions Wed, 29 Apr 2015 01:39:29 +0000  

Australian death-row prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, right and Andrew Chan, left. Pic: AP.

Myuran Sukumaran, right and Andrew Chan, left, were executed by firing squad early Wednesday. Pic: AP.

Shock. Disbelief. Anger. Those were some of the emotions expressed by Australians today at the unconfirmed reports of the execution of convicted drug smugglers Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran in Indonesia.

Many people were still clinging to the hope of a last-minute clemency, as seems to have been awarded to Filipina mother-of-two Mary Jane Voloso (see report here).

As per my recent post on the prevalence of the death penalty around Asia, and the attitudes of many voting publics, I’m fully aware Australia’s position on executions differs to our neighbours. I’m also aware that many readers and even other correspondents of Asian Correspondent believe the death penalty is justified in this circumstance.

However in Australia the idea of rehabilitation is central to our prison systems and the concept of forgiveness permeates our society. One of the saddest facts in this case has been that Indonesia has chosen not to place merit in the achievement of its prison system to rehabilitate its inmates and the fact that these men became model prisoners within that system.

I also had an interesting conversation recently with my Chinese-Indonesian accountant in Australia who said he had changed his mind on issues such as the death penalty since coming to live in Australia.

“My feeling now is that they should be forgiven,” he told me, “but I wouldn’t have thought that a few years ago. My thinking has changed since living here.”

Dignity in death is also a central and important facet in Australia no matter what a person has done. And reports that Chan and Sukumaran’s families were jostled by a media scrum after their final meeting with their sons and brothers, is, as Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on ABC’s 7.30 Report, “ghastly”:

I’m obviously deeply disturbed at some of the aspects of how this has been handled.

I think the ghastly process that the family have been put through today just underscores how chaotic this has been.

I’m very concerned for the family. They do deserve respect and they do deserve to have dignity shown to them at this time of unspeakable grief.

But that doesn’t seem to have been extended to them at this time.

It also seems that the Indonesian government did not extend Australia an official notification about the men’s pending executions, although the Indonesian Attorney General did confirm the executions were to go ahead – but that was to reporters in Jakarta. A deliberate affront perhaps to Australia’s continued pressure on the government to stay the executions?

Chan and Sukumaran were also reportedly denied their choice of spiritual adviser leading up to the executions, although the SBS reported later that that decision was reversed.

Whatever your stance on the death penalty, it would seem the way in which the executions have been handled has hardly given the prisoners and their families the rights and dignity they deserve.

Chinthu Sukumaran said of the ordeal:

To walk out of there and say goodbye for the last time, it’s torture. No family should go through that. There has to be a moratorium on the death penalty, no family should endure it.

Should there therefore be political or other repercussions for Indonesia?

Absolutely. What that entails will be a matter for the government and withdrawing the ambassador to Indonesia may be a step they wish to take, as indicated by Julie Bishop.

But the repercussions for Indonesia should really take the form of continued, unyielding pressure to put a stop to the death penalty. That pressure on the Indonesian government shouldn’t stop with their execution, if anything it should only intensify.

Chan and Sukumaran were victims of a flawed Indonesian justice system. Their execution will achieve very little in Indonesia, either in recognising the success of Indonesian prisons to rehabilitate their inmates, in dissuading future drug smugglers or even preventing drug addiction in the country.

Chinthu Sukumaran told SBS that killing his brother wouldn’t stop drug trafficking.

If these nine people die today, tomorrow, next week, next month, it’s still not going to stop anything.

But perhaps what their death can achieve is a concerted push to eradicate the death penalty in Indonesia. Indeed that was one of the last wishes voiced by the duo as reported by their lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis:

Myuran told me, thank you for believing in us and please fight for the abolition of the death penalty.

Australians don’t and have never believed the Bali Nine should not have been punished. The form of that punishment however was the core of the issue, and perhaps also the manner in which it was carried out.

The fact that people can change and that Sukumaran and  Chan were vastly different men from the stupid boys they were a decade ago is something the Indonesian system failed to grasp. People can be rehabilitated. They can change. There is always hope and in the end that is always a far more powerful message than shooting the messenger.

In our mourning for the lives of these two young men, Australians will also mourn the huge opportunities lost this week in their execution. We may be amongst the few in the Asia-Pacific region to do so but we can also take up the Bali Nine duo’s call that this should never happen to anyone else again.

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Nepal quake devastates Kathmandu’s historic sites Mon, 27 Apr 2015 01:50:27 +0000 A Nepalese woman walks past a collapsed temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday. Pic: AP.

A Nepalese woman walks past a collapsed temple in Bhaktapur Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday. Pic: AP.

With Nepal still reeling from a 7.8 scale earthquake that struck on April 25 and rescue missions still ongoing for those that are still stuck in the debris, the true extent of the effect of the tragedy both on the population and on tourism will not be known for some time.

The earthquake that struck between Kathmandu and Pokhara killed more than 2,500 people, including some in India, Bangladesh, Tibet and on Mount Everest.

Initial reports have put most of the deaths in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley. The earthquake also set off an avalanche on Mount Everest which killed 17 climbers some of whom were foreigners.

Pic: BBC.

Pic: BBC.

The disaster comes just months after the deadly storm in October in the Annapurna region that left at least 41 trekkers dead. Last year, also in April, an avalanche also hit Everest leaving 16 sherpas dead on the slopes.

Sadly however the devastating tragedy has not only struck the heart of the city at a time when many locals were out on the streets, but the many historic monuments of Kathmandu have also suffered with cracks appearing in four of the city’s seven UNESCO world heritage listed sites (see a list of these here), with some sites reduced simply to rubble.

While much of Kathmandu’s recent concrete constructions are perhaps not the strongest of edifices, it is the loss of some truly ancient and beautiful complexes that will no doubt be the most telling in the years to come as they have both figuratively and physically been the heart and soul of the city.

These ancient sites include the Bhaktapur Durbar Square temple complex, the 3rd century Patan Durbar Square, Basantapur Durbar Square that was home to Nepal’s royal family until the 19th century and the ancient Boudhanath Stupa.

Kathmandu's Durbar Square before Saturday's devastating earthquake. Pic: AP.

Kathmandu’s Durbar Square before Saturday’s devastating earthquake. Pic: AP.

Sightseers were also trapped in the rubble of the 200 foot high Dharahara Tower that dates back to 1832. According to ‘The New York Times’ 60 bodies have already been pulled from the rubble as it was packed at the time the earthquake struck. The New York Times also has some before and after images of some of these landmarks.

The comments below detail some of the experiences of those who witnessed the earthquake:


Siobhan Heanue, a reporter with ABC News Australia, told CNN she was wandering at an ancient temple complex at the moment of the earthquake. Several temples collapsed around her, she said.

“It’s not too often you find yourself in a situation where you have to run for your life,” Heanue said, adding that she sought shelter under the table of a cafe. “It was utterly terrifying.”

New York Times:

Kanak Mani Dixit, a Nepalese political commentator, said he had been having lunch with his parents when the quake struck. The rolling was so intense and sustained that he had trouble getting to his feet, he said. He helped his father and an elderly neighbor to safety in the garden outside and then had to carry his elderly mother.

“And I had time to do all that while the quake was still going on,” Mr. Dixit said. “It was like being on a boat in heavy seas.”

NBC News:

Jelle Veyt was just getting back to base camp when suddenly the earth “shook for a couple of seconds — badly,” the Belgian climber told NBC News.

A sherpa just a few feet ahead turned and pointed behind him, Veyt recalled, saying he then turned around himself and saw a “huge cloud of snow” heading his way.

“I started running for my life….trying to be in a tent before it hit me,” he said, telling NBC News he wasn’t thinking about “much” other than running “as fast as I could to the tents” which were only about 200 feet away.

Before he could reach the tents Veyt said he felt a “huge blow.”

“It felt like a wind in the back but more powerful,” he said. Then, he said, he was “just surrounded by snow then. I couldn’t see my own hands.”


Dharmu Subedi, 36, was standing outside the (Dharahara) tower when it collapsed.

“It was difficult to breathe, but I slowly moved the debris. Someone then pulled me out. I don’t know where my friends are,” said Mr Subedi from a hospital bed.

Nepal has only recently emerged from a decade-long war with Maoist insurgents, political uncertainty and often crippling strikes. While these situations have improved of late, the city still suffers shortages of both water, fuel and electricity, problems likely to be issues as the city prepares to respond to the tragedy and provide medical and other aid.

It is likely with much on their plate already, the Nepalese government has been unable to plan for natural disasters and other problems of this scale. Indeed reports have emerged of the chaos of the recovery efforts, with many digging with their bare hands to pull people from the rubble. Bottled water, telephone charge cards and dry food are also reportedly running shorts and hospitals overwhelmed with the injured.

America, China and India are amongst the foreign governments who have pledged disaster assistance. This will become increasingly important as authorities seek to reach those nearer the quake’s epicentre

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Asia’s love affair with the rickshaw Mon, 20 Apr 2015 03:07:05 +0000 MOST countries in Asia have a local version of a rickshaw, an affordable and efficient two or three wheeled form of transport for anything from tourists to goods. The word itself comes from the Japanese word jinrikisha, meaning human powered vehicle, although today they can be hand pulled, cycles or even automatically powered by electrics, solar or fuel (natural gas, two and four stroke).

Despite the vast modernisation of many Asian cities, the rickshaw has endured since its humble beginnings in the 1800s (the exact origin is disputed but it’s possibly from Tokyo), and instead of them losing ground to other forms of transport, many have simply been upgraded and/or found niche markets. That means you may see a cycle rickshaw taking children to school or loaded with produce like bananas or shoe boxes while automatic versions transport tourists to key sites and larger, jumbo sized ones, are used as people carriers, fitting in as many as 12 people, often operating on set routes. Such is the Asian love affair with the rickshaw, that in places where they were once becoming less prevalent, such as Singapore and Japan (despite them once being ubiquitous), there has been a resurgence with the three-wheeled powered velo taxi growing in popularity in Japan for example.

Cycle rickshaws in Beijing. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Cycle rickshaws waiting for passengers in Beijing. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Rickshaws often employ a lot of urban poor which means as a traveler it enables you to rub shoulders with people you may not otherwise meet. There are challenges with this as some are older, don’t speak English and are from the countryside. Scams are also not unknown amongst rickshaw drivers as well, although given the size of some foreigners, perhaps being charged a little more is appropriate given it requires extra muscle and sweat from the drivers. In any case you should always negotiate your fee first, even if there is a meter.

While there are some conflicting economic, social and environmental issues associated with their use, rickshaws are an iconic and integral part of transport in Asia and a trip in one of them is bound to be memorable. Drivers often go to some pains to personally decorate their rickshaws and you may find flowers (fake or otherwise), religious symbols or more in the cab. Many also feature garishly bright paint, no doubt to stand out, and to provide a unique, recognisable design. Here are some of the key places rickshaws are used across Asia and what you can expect.

Dhaka is often referred to as the “Rickshaw Capital of the World” and hence heads this list. Rickshaws came here in 1938 and today there are about 400,000 cycle rickshaws operating daily in the city. Most are convertible with a folding hood and ideal for narrow streets and lanes, although they are now often banned from major streets due to traffic problems.

Autos are called “baby taxis” or “CNGs” as they are now powered by compressed natural gas to reduce pollution – the traditional autos are now banned from the city. The rickshaws fit well into the narrow, crowded streets of Dhaka and other urban areas and perfect for sizable distances. They are painted green to show they are more eco friendly. Each has a meter built in. “Helicopters” are also used in Bangladesh in rural areas – these are larger and can carry six or seven passengers. The “mishuk” is another form of auto used in the city that has more space inside.

Dhaka auto rickshaws. Pic: Volunteer Marek, CC.

Dhaka auto rickshaws. Pic: Volunteer Marek, CC.

In China the popular pulled rickshaw that first appeared on the streets in 1873 has long since gone, partly as the manual labour was seen as a symbol of oppression, mostly employing the working poor. Today however both cycle and auto rickshaws are still prevalent in China, although there are issues around their use in cities as they are often blamed for traffic congestion and authorities are concerned vendors are overcharging tourists – TripAdvisor is full of tales of scams around the Forbidden City in Beijing. In Shanghai and other provinces electric auto models are used.

Trishaws transporting tourists around Beijing. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Trishaws transporting tourists around Beijing. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Like Bangladesh, India has a long association with rickshaws with both hand-pulled, cycle and automated versions still in use today. The hand-pulled rickshaws exist only in Kolkata, one of the few places in the world they are still employed. The Government of West Bengal actually proposed a ban of them, afraid their presence tarnished the image of the city, but the union appealed the case. Many of the rickshaw drivers are from neighbouring states and it’s their only form of income. Some sleep on the streets and their earnings are used to pay the rickshaw hire as well. The government is seeking to find alternate employment for them.

In India there are increasing restrictions on the use of cycle and automated rickshaws in cities, largely because they impede the flow of traffic and there are also concerns that the carriages are open to air pollution. Modern autos run on compressed natural gas and are painted green with yellow livery (old models were black and yellow). Most autos seat four people, including the driver. Vikrams are a larger form of auto that can house six people, although often more are crammed in, and these operate on set routes – they are banned in some areas though.

In India it’s very common to see cycle or auto rickshaws waiting outside schools to take their small charges home. Often the kids are all crammed in one atop the other – a cheap transport option for parents and reliable as these are good, steady earners for the drivers.

School children on a rickshawHaridwar, Uttaranchal, India by Joanne Lane

School children on a cycle rickshaw, Haridwar, India. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Cambodia’s automatic rickshaw, or tuk tuk, is a slightly different version to the three wheeler you’ll find elsewhere in Asia. In this case it can be powered by a motorcycle with the cabin attached to the rear. These forms are used to transport tourists around the Angkor temples.

In Cambodia the cycle rickshaw, or cyclo, is also different. Unlike the Indian version where you sit behind the driver, in Cambodia you are in a bucket seat in front of them, between two large wheels and under a canopy. This can feel like you’re exposed to traffic but there are protective barriers and the driver is skilled enough, with an excellent bird’s eye view over the canopy, to steer you clear of any dangers. To some degree it’s the ideal way of sightseeing in this position.

However the cyclo is under threat in Phnom Penh, particularly from motodops, tuk tuks and increasing car ownership and so numbers of them have dropped substantially in recent years. To some degree tourists are aiding their continuing existence – there is a cyclo center for tourists to utilise and a Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association has been set up to help aid local drivers to teach them new skills, provide washing facilities and medical care.

Cambodian style rickshaw, Battambang. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Cambodian style rickshaw, Battambang. Pic: Joanne Lane,

In Myanmar (Burma) the cycle rickshaw or trishaw is called a sai kaa (or saiq-ka – apparently a phonetic translation of ‘side car’ in English) and widely used throughout the major cities. Here the passenger sits alongside the driver and often the passenger seat is double sided meaning two people can be seated, back to back, in the same cart. For tourists they are an excellent means of accessing some of the narrower streets of Downtown Yangon, for example, but they are equally used by locals for getting around. Motorised tuk tuks are also available around Myanmar in regional areas. Some of these use a motorbike to pull the cart, or even a tractor.

Myanmar trishaw. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Myanmar trishaw. Pic: Joanne Lane,

In the Philippines auto and cycle rickshaws are widely used for transportation. The Filipino version of the pedi version is called either a traysikad, trisikad (sometimes just sikad) or padyak. The auto is called a tricycle and can be powered by a motorcycle or a tractor. Like the jeepneys, Filipino rickshaws have bright designs, but the configurations vary across the country although usually the passenger car is fitted beside the driver to their right. These vary with how many people they can transport. The motorised rickshaws are considered to be a major polluter in the Philippines and so some two stroke engines are being phased out.

Local Taxi Stand in Banaue Municipal Town. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Local Taxi Stand in Banaue Municipal Town, Philippines. Photo by CEphoto, Uwe Aranas / CC-BY-SA-3.0

The tuk tuk needs little introduction to those that have traveled in Asia, although not everyone will have realised the name was chosen because it sounds like the sound the engine makes. Tuk tuks are widely used across the country and popular amongst foreigners, although visibility from them isn’t always good for touring and you are susceptible to the elements and fare game during Songkran, the annual water festival, where the open sides leave you exposed. Due to concerns over pollution many new tuk tuks have LPG conversions, and old ones are being refitted.

Passengers in a passing tuk tuk get a dousing during Songkran celebrations in Bangkok. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Passengers in a passing tuk tuk get a dousing during Songkran celebrations in Bangkok. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Other Asian countries where rickshaws are used include Sri Lanka, Nepal, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Laos and Pakistan.

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Capital punishment: Where and why it’s practiced in Asia Mon, 06 Apr 2015 09:15:16 +0000 Australian death-row prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, right and Andrew Chan, left. Pic: AP.

Australian death-row prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, right and Andrew Chan in Indonesia. Pic: AP.

The planned executions of nine prisoners on death row in Indonesia has drawn focus back to the contentious political and social issues of capital punishment around the globe, but most particularly in Asia where it is still widely used. This article will look into some of the factors at play such as public opinion, religion, the types of crimes punishable and the reasons it is or isn’t being used.

While Fiji (included as part of the wider Asia-Pacific region) became the 99th country in February 2015 to abolish the death penalty and Asia has increasingly moved towards abolition, as a region it is actually the highest enforcer of the death penalty. While figures are swayed by China’s statistics – it executes more people than the rest of the world put together (actual figures are a state secret) – there has been a momentum shift in recent years back towards the death penalty as the result of terror attacks, brutal rape cases, a growth in right wing politics and the perceived threat of drug offences.

Despite a previous moratorium, Indonesia, Pakistan and Vietnam resumed executions in 2013. Indonesia has executed six people this year and is expected execute nine more in the near future, with more to follow. Pakistan has put 18 people to death so far in 2015. Of the nine countries that have continuously executed in each of the past five years, three are from Asia – Bangaldesh, China and North Korea.

For an overview of the situation see this 2014 report from Amnesty International:

The full report is available here.  A summary of executions in Asia from the report was listed as follows:


At least 37 executions were reported to have been carried out in 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region:

Afghanistan (2), Bangladesh (2), China (+), India (1), Indonesia (5), Japan (8), Malaysia (2+), North Korea(+), Taiwan (6), Viet Nam (7+). This figure does not include thousands of executions believed to have taken place in China.

At least 1,030 new death sentences were known to have been imposed in 17 countries in the region in 2013:

Afghanistan (174), Bangladesh (220+), China (+), India (72+), Indonesia (16+), Japan (5), Laos (3+), Malaysia (76+), Maldives (13), North Korea (+), Pakistan (226+), Singapore (1+), South Korea (2), Sri Lanka (13+), Taiwan (7), Thailand (50+), Viet Nam (148+)

Where it’s practiced

From Wikipedia on the “use of capital punishment by country”:

Of the 57 independent countries in the Asia-Pacific region that are UN member or observer states: (Note – Taiwan is not recognized by the UN as a country, so it is not counted in the statistics below, although it is included for information in the Asia-Pacific table)

20 (35%) have abolished it.

2 (4%) retain it for crimes committed in exceptional circumstances (such as in time of war).

12 (21%) permit its use for ordinary crimes, but have not used it for at least 10 years and are believed to have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions, or it is under a moratorium.

23 (40%) maintain the death penalty in both law and practice.

The information above is accurate as of 2015, when Fiji abolished the death penalty.

In 2013, Asia had the worlds four leading practitioners of capital punishment – China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. China continues to execute more people than the rest of the world put together. The most recent countries to abolish capital punishment in the Asia-Pacific region are; Timor-Leste (2002), Bhutan (2004), Samoa (2004), Philippines (2006), Kyrgyzstan (2007), Uzbekistan (2008), Mongolia (2012), and Fiji (2015).

Why it’s practiced

The penalty is enforced throughout Asia for crimes such as adultery, blasphemy, economic crimes, rape, aggravated robbery, treason and crimes against the state, drugs, porn, murder, corruption, and watching banned videos, among other things.

Using Indonesia as a case in point, Death Penalty Worldwide lists 17 crimes punishable by death that include:

Murder, other offenses resulting in death (aggravated robbery), terrorism related offenses resulting in death, terrorism offenses not resulting in death, robbery not resulting in death, drug trafficking not resulting in death, drug possession, economic crimes not resulting in death, treason, espionage, military offenses not resulting in death, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, other offenses not resulting in death (chemical weapons).

Wikipedia’s listing for “use of capital punishment by country” outlines the methods, penalties and history of capital punishment throughout the region. Some entries include:


Shooting; lethal injection. China carries out far more executions than all of the rest of the world combined, and is the only country in the world that routinely executes thousands of people every year. On 25 February 2011 China’s newly revised Criminal Law reduced the number of crimes punishable by death by 13, from 68 to 55. Among these are embezzlement, rape (particularly of children), fraud, bombing, people trafficking, piracy, corruption, arson, murder, poaching, endangerment of national security and terrorism. Even the higher sections of Chinese society are not exempt from the death penalty, as a billionaire was recently put to death. See also capital punishment in the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kong and  Macau, have separate legal systems and have abolished the death penalty. In Hong Kong it was abolished in 1993 by the then British colonial government, and last used in 1966 (see capital punishment in Hong Kong). In Macau it was last used in the 19th century and abolished in 1976 when Portugal abolished the death penalty on all its territories (see capital punishment in Macau).


Hanging. Death penalty for murder; instigating a minor’s or an idiot’s suicide; treason; acts of terrorism; a second conviction for drug trafficking, aircraft hijacking, aggravated robbery, treason, aggravated rape and drug smuggling under aggravated circumstances; abetting sati, mutiny and its abetting; causing explosions which can endanger life or property and a few military offences like desertion. Military offences may be punished with a firing squad.


Firing squad. Death penalty for murder; drug trafficking; terrorism.


Hanging. Treason; murder. Prosecutors push for the death penalty only in the case of multiple murders, or single murder with aggravating circumstances.[116] Judges usually impose death penalty in case of multiple homicides. Between 1946 and 2003 766 people were sentenced to death, 608 of whom were executed. For 40 months from 1989 to 1993 successive ministers of justice refused to authorise executions, which amounted to an informal moratorium.

Arguments for the death penalty

In countries like Indonesia, the government has taken a hard line stance against drug offenders based on their belief it will deter further crimes of the same nature and punishment is needed for the numbers of people whose lives it ruins. They have also drawn a distinction between their efforts to prevent its own citizens being executed overseas and people they categorise as terrorists or mass murderers. President Joko Widodo announced in December 2014 he would not grant clemency to 64 people on death row for drug crimes. Australians Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan are amongst those slated for execution in the near future. Four Indonesians, a Ghanian, Nigerian and Brazilian may also be executed with them.

Other arguments for the death penalty are for a punishment to fit the crime, that it will provide closure and vindication for victims, deterrence and prevention of reoffending, an incentive to help police, and that public opinion demands it. It is also the case that while some countries retain the death penalty, the understanding is it is to be used in extreme cases only and many have not exercised the law for some time. For example, the last execution in Papua New Guinea was in 1954, but it voted in 2013 to introduce the death penalty for rape, robbery and sorcery-related murder.

Arguments against the death penalty

Amnesty International provides a full list of reasons it opposes the death penalty. These include unfair trials within skewed justice systems, offences by juveniles or those not responsible for their acts through drug use or mental illness, discrimination, mistakes over innocence, discrimination, use as a political tool, it brutalises society, trials/executions conducted in secrecy, the inhumaneness of executions, and its denial of the right to life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Amnesty also outlines 10 myths about the death penalty and one pertinent to the Indonesian case follows:

Myth 6: The death penalty is an effective deterrent to violent crimes

FACT: There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty is an effective deterrent to crime. Many murders take place when the perpetrators are under great emotional stress, or under the influence of drugs – times when they are not considering the consequences.

Research has consistently shown that the death penalty does not deter crime more effectively than other punishments.

Public opinion

In Indonesia, there have been recent moves towards abolition and reports have emerged in newspapers criticising President Widodo’s hard-line stance. Widodo is also under pressure to retain his tough guy image and to stand up to foreign influences. Some nation states like China have also routinely listed public opinion as the reason for capital punishment.

The Death Penalty Information Centre has published a variety of polls conducted into public opinion in a range of countries. Those pertinent to Asia include:

Record 85 % of people in Japan favor death penalty The percentage of people in favor of the death penalty has reached a record high, with 85.6 % of survey respondents saying capital punishment is “unavoidable,” according to a government poll released Saturday. About 55 % of respondents described the extension of the statute of limitations for capital crimes, including murder, to 25 years from 15 years in 2005 under the revised Code of Criminal Procedure, as “too short.” Of those who said the period is too short, 49.3 % said the statute of limitations should be abolished, according to the survey. The proportion of respondents in favor of the death penalty rose by 4.2 % points from the previous survey in 2004, indicating that the number of people who hold such a view has been steadily increasing since posting 73.8 % in the 1st survey. Only 5.7 % said the death penalty should be abolished, down 0.3 point from the 2004 poll. (Japan Times, February 7, 2010)

Koreans Favor Cautious Use, Question Benefits to Victim’s Families Results from a state-conducted survey released in March show that 65% of South Koreans believe that the death penalty should remain law. However, only 49% found the practice to be effective in preventing crime, and 58% believed that the country must use caution in administering the punishment. An overwhelming 90% believed that the death penalty provided no benefit for the families of victims. (Korea Times, March 23, 2004)

The Japanese figures were disputed in “Confronting Capital Punishment in Asia: Human Rights, Politics and Public Opinion” edited by Roger Hood, Surya Deva who noted further studies on the issue that found citizens had no strong feeling one way or the other and the government needed to better inform the public about capital punishment.

In China and Japan and no doubt in India one of the most prevalent arguments is that public opinion demands the death penalty. In China and Japan this appears to be taken for granted and even when evidence is brought forward to challenge this assumption, it is largely ignored, not only by the media but also by academics and administrators. As Michelle Miao notes: ‘It is commonly asserted that the general public has a blind faith in capital punishment in China. The Chinese authorities insist that resorting to the death penalty is necessary to appease growing public anger in highly publicised cases involving murder and other grave crimes’.

Does religion play a part?

Islam largely accepts capital punishment and those nations that practice strict Sharia law are more highly associated with its use. In Islamic countries beheading, firing squad, hanging and stoning are common methods of execution. However an article by the BBC on religious views on capital punishment noted a growing abolitionist Islamic view on capital punishment.

There is generally considered no unified opinion under Buddhist policy on capital punishment. Burma (Myanmar) for example has a moratorium on executions at present, the last execution in 1993. Bhutan abolished capital punishment in 2004. Sri Lanka practices a retentionist policy but has not executed anyone since 1976.

South Korea, which has seen a rise in Christianity and a revival of Buddhism, has an unofficial moratorium on executions since 1998. However the death penalty is in effect for murder, rebellion, treason, and robbery-homicide. Christians have argued both for and against the death penalty throughout history, and while it was previously held largely as necessary, this has been largely reversed in the Christian world, although the USA remains one of the highest enforcers of capital punishment.

Hinduism has no official line on capital punishment but largely opposes killing, violence and revenge. India, while officially a secular, pluralistic democracy, has revivalist Hindu undercurrents. Capital punishment has been retained in India but the Supreme Court has ruled it be only used in the rarest of cases. However the recent horrific rapes in the country have revived the debate about it.

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Changing Burma: Preserving the old, embracing the new Wed, 01 Apr 2015 04:38:26 +0000 Monks in a Yangon flower market. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Monks in a Yangon flower market. Pic: Joanne Lane,

When I first came to Burma, also known as Myanmar, in 2009 it felt like a country frozen in time due to its years of isolation and stagnation. Indeed I recall penning an article for Jet Star, something along the lines of it being one of the few places left you could glimpse the Asia of old, one that existed some 50 years ago. And at that time, within the glittering modernity of much of Asia’s new sky rise cities, that was oddly appealing but also a rather simplistic perception.

Today, five years after the country’s first ‘democratic’ elections, that sense of it being a new frontier has well and truly been cemented, both for tourists and business, and as a result much is changing, particularly in Burma’s cities and well-visited tourist spots such as Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagan.

Tourists have poured in with record visitor numbers every year and surface changes have been enormous – not only is there the freedom to vote but also the freedom to drive a car, to get a SIM card or handset (cost prohibitive for some even 12 months ago), watch foreign television channels, access an ATM and speak freely.

Names like General Aung San and his daughter Aung San Suu Kyi can be uttered without having to look over one’s shoulder and their photos adorn the street side pavements, walls and other spaces without any fear of reprisal.

Road surfaces and cars have improved, supermarkets now stock Western goods like cheese, bread and Ovaltine, and there are rumours of KFC about to launch (most likely to be the first major international chain in the country).

“So what?” you may well ask. The truth is minor changes like these alone have revolutionised the country. People are connected not only with each other but the outside world, and there is a freedom for people to express themselves whether in their hair, clothes, voice, profession or hobbies.

With that have come some interesting parallel developments – locals discouraged that new-found democracy often is not bringing the changes they’d hoped for, and the challenge of how to develop commercially with the threat of development on every corner, while balancing and preserving culture and traditions, or simply a colonial building or age old pagoda.

Classic downtown colonial buildings in Yangon. Pic: Joanne Lane,

A classic old building in Downtown Yangon. Pic: Joanne Lane,

In my conversations with locals across the city last month I asked them whether they thought the country had improved since the 2010 elections.

Yangon tour guide Saw Hla Moe was dubious about the changes Burma has experienced and didn’t think the country could handle democracy. He said bus drivers never raced along and so flagrantly disobeyed traffic laws under the former military rule.

“This is democracy,” he said pointing at the chaos of traffic that gridlocked much of the city as if to illustrate the point. He also pointed out the paved over cemetery which now houses the huge shopping mall Junction Square as an example of progress not considering tradition.

Traffic has indeed escalated in Yangon due to the increase in the city population to 4.5 million and the relaxation of laws that now enable everyday people to get a driver’s license. The freedom of wealth has also enabled many to afford cheap, foreign cars. But Saw Hla Moe bemoans all the new vehicles on the road saying tradition has been lost with decades old buses that “worked fine”, thanks to constant maintenance by ingenious mechanics, now being consigned to the scrap heap.

Melody on the other hand, an English education consultant who has been in the country since 2005, says one of the positive changes in the city has been the ability to sit in a taxi and lean on the door without the fear of it suddenly flying open.

Australian Andrew Rogers, who works in Yangon in conjunction with MyKids Australia and Myanmar Vision International on developing sustainable businesses, said the increased traffic was just a sign of a prospering nation. He said many locals had become “jaded” about the changes but there was no doubt there were far more liberties available to everyone now.

He said the ability to visit people’s homes without fear of reprisal was a significant change for foreigners. He also noted the introduction of fibre optic cables, a city-wide rubbish collection system for improved sanitation, increasing commercial and residential development, and the installation of telecommunications backbones and phone towers around the city.

Typical Yangon street wiring. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Typical Yangon street wiring. Pic: Joanne Lane,

This doesn’t mean of course that sagging power lines, rubbish strewn streets or pot holes are a thing of the past in Yangon, but they are slowly being dealt with. And they are not the only areas in which significant leaps have been made. Melody said changes in the style of education with increasing adaptation of Western style curricula and teaching methods has improved the learning experience for children.

“New schools have started that are not state schools and we are seeing new styles of teaching and how that’s been effective as children are flourishing without the use of the stick. It’s exciting to see those kinds of schools being established and that kind of practice being taken on by local people,” she said.

Of course the flip side to all the development is that some things will be lost. Professions like roadside phone shops are now almost obsolete, as are the traditional mechanics, typewriter clerks and rubber stamp makers – all outpaced by cheap mobile phones, cars with microprocessors, computers and photocopiers. Much of what used to occur on Yangon’s streets and pavements is also starting to move indoors to air conditioned shopping malls and office blocks.

Melody sees some negatives in this.

“You don’t want the West to be imposed everywhere. I look at the people and think don’t lose your identity dying your hair and wearing a shorter skirt, you want people to have the freedom to do that but there is a style that they have… You think ‘don’t throw it away because you think ours is better’,” she said.

She had also noted the increased number of people driven to interface with their phones rather than each other, the sky rocketing cost of things such as hotel rooms without the quality to match, and the potential loss of old buildings and heritage with increased development.

In some ways of course development can and will help preserve culture and tradition. For example photography, which is burgeoning in Burma, is helping to record and document age old traditions before they are lost entirely. During my visit to the country this month I went to the promising Myanmar Deitta, a fantastic documentary art space in Downtown Yangon on 44th Street. In this community space local photographers are encouraged to showcase their work and there is a regular changeover of images featuring Burma’s cultural, social and other scenes or photographs from as far afield as India or Iran.

The exhibition on display at the time was by Myanmar Street Photographers capturing moments in city life from its pavements, parks and markets. Myanmar Deitta also showcased work from the group in the My Yangon My Home Art and Heritage Festival in which art galleries and even public spaces across the city displayed work from local artists from March 1-15. A photographic installation was put in place on Pansodan Bridge with images from a recent competition featuring the home. The British embassy by the iconic Strand Hotel also showcased images on their walls. This kind of public installation would have been unheard of several years ago.

Photography installation on Pansodan Bridge. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Photography installation on Pansodan Bridge. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Photography and art are not the only mediums opening up. Media has developed substantially with 20 daily newspapers and dozens of weekly journals now operating in the city, although many operate under a kind of self censorship and that’s because the risks of open criticism of the country’s institutions, such as the military or religious orders, are still high and real.

The recent arrest and imprisonment of New Zealand bar manager Phil Blackwood for insulting Buddhism is a key example of this and many fear what this says about the country’s path towards religious freedom. Ex-pats, as reported earlier on Asian Correspondent, were surprised at the harsh verdict handed down to Blackwood and two of his Burmese colleagues given the other freedoms now allowed in the country. But they also said to some degree it was a useful wake-up call to be careful of any behaviour that could be considered in the same light and that not all things have relaxed.

The speed of development and change in the country has arguably played a part in the legal decision, with monks pushing for adherence to the country’s major religion, perhaps to some degree as a reaction to recent liberalisation and loss of traditional values. The current push in Burma towards religious nationalism has however seen the removal of freedom for minorities, in particular the Muslim Rohingya population.

Monk in Downtown traffic, Yangon. Pic: Joanne Lane,

A monk walks by the crush of traffic in Downtown Yangon. Pic: Joanne Lane,

This balancing of tradition and change is a struggle Burma will continually battle in the years ahead. As with most things here, the issues are complex and a tourist’s romantic notion of the preservation of all age old practices such as street side markets or decaying colonial buildings is far too simplistic.

Melody said there was also a responsibility within the liberalisation and new freedoms to use them to better the country.

“In the road they’ve gone down towards voting and democracy, there is a responsibility to vote as some say ‘I don’t bother it’s the same old regime and it won’t count’,” she said.

“The challenge is also what do they do with that freedom. Do they address the injustices, the street kids that don’t get an education because they’re working for the family or living on the streets? How are people going to use that freedom? Will they sit back and live for themselves or do they use it to bring about greater change?

“The change is there but it’s minimal in many ways. I remember in the past being asked what it’s like sitting on an airplane. I’ve had young people tell me ‘we are jungle people’. That’s the tension; this generation has gone from living in the jungle, cooking on the fire and living under the stars to have the opportunity to go overseas and live in a city that’s developing at an extraordinary rate.”

Dr Thant Myint-U, chairman of Yangon Heritage Trust, said in an interview with the ABC: “I think we can be reasonably confident that this degree of political liberalisation will continue. We can be somewhat confident that moves towards democracy will continue as well, but I think how ordinary life will change, whether income inequality will simply get worse and whether the lives of the poorest half of the country – two thirds of the country – if that will change, I think remains a big question mark.”

You don’t have to travel very far from downtown Yangon to see that the majority of people in the city still live without regular electricity services and that despite a vast increase in foreign investment projects in recent years and an incredible increase in mobile internet users (half have come online in the past year), real change is still a long way off for some.

And for people like Andrew, Melody and Saw Hla Moe a sense of delay in some areas of city life is also welcome.

“One of the good things is that not too many regulations have come in so the place keeps that sense of madness,” said Melody. “They haven’t got it all sorted so it still holds what is quintessentially Burmese; the street sellers, the crazy pavements that demand you watch every step you take and the sense when you go around the corner that you don’t know what you’ll find. All madly brilliant things.”

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NZ man jailed in Burma: Cultural insensitivity or a religious insult? Wed, 18 Mar 2015 06:24:28 +0000 Philip Blackwood, center, manager of V Gastro bar, is escorted by Myanmar police officers on his arrival at a township court in Yangon, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Philip Blackwood, center, manager of V Gastro bar, is escorted by Myanmar police officers on his arrival at a township court in Yangon, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Recent news that New Zealand bar manager Philip Blackwood and his Burmese colleagues have each been sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison for insulting religion in Burma has been met with disbelief, at least amongst the expat community in Yangon.

Not least because the law of insulting religion has rarely been enforced, but also because the trio have received sentences more than the maximum penalty when it would seem that perhaps this is more a case of cultural insensitivity rather than an intentional plot to harm Buddhism, which is practiced by about 90 percent of people in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

The VGastro bar manager Blackwood, 32, bar owner Tun Thurein and colleague Htut Ko Ko Lwin were arrested in December when a Facebook post was used to advertise cheap drinks showing the Buddha with headphones and surrounded by psychadelic colours.

The trio will serve two years of hard labour for insulting religion and six months for disobeying an order from a public servant.

As someone who has met Phil Blackwood in Yangon, I can put a human face to the story and I know he had a six-week-old baby when he was arrested. So my obvious question this week when the news broke and we passed the jail where he is being housed was just how bad is Insein prison?

“Not somewhere you’d want to end up,” was the answer and tales then emerged of its notoriety, sort of akin to Denpasar’s jail in Bali where Australia’s Bali 9 have been kept for the past 10 years.

I’ve also met Burmese people over the years that have endured hard labour sentences which have made me ponder Phil’s fate.

English expat Melody, 39, an education consultant in Yangon, said she was shocked at the news as she had expected Blackwood would simply be expelled from the country in a kind of slap-on-the-wrist-and-don’t-come-back way.

Another expat bar manager in downtown Yangon last night told me the feeling locally was that the sentence was harsh because while it was clear Blackwood probably should have known better and been advised not to make the Facebook post, the flyer hadn’t really hurt anyone and the spirit in which it was intended should have been considered.

Indeed this was a line which lawyers used, but the judge handing down the sentence said the men had “intentionally plotted to insult religious belief”.

The bar manager I spoke to said there was some hope Blackwood would be released at the end of the year when new elections are due and sentencing may be reviewed.

It’s been an interesting case, not least because it involves a foreigner, but also because it takes place within the recent surge of religious nationalism in the country that has aimed to promote the country’s Buddhist character. However as a result minority groups have been targeted, particularly the minority Muslim community which represents just 5% of the population. In any case, there is no doubt that many will welcome news of the sentence.

In fact there were earlier reports that no one wanted to represent Blackwood in court, possibly for this very reason or acting out against the nationalistic trend.

Blackwood’s lawyer, Mya Tway, also chose his words carefully when the sentence was handed down:

“It will be difficult to say whether this verdict is fair or not because this is Burma, not like other democratic countries. That’s all I can say.”

Apart from the question of religious nationalism, there’s also the issue of freedom of speech in the new Burma and what that might look like moving forward, particularly in an election year, and how it may damage the country’s reputation within all the reforms it has instigated. While the old years of looking over one’s shoulder have long gone, and there are reforms to freedom of speech, association and media under Burma’s current semi-civilian government, it would seem there’s still a long road to travel.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson told The Guardian the men should not have been sent to prison and their sentence raised a lot of questions about where the government might head next with similar situations:

“By using the Religion Act to criminalise these three individuals, rather than accepting an apology and dealing with it in another way, the government is, sort of, setting up more witch hunts against persons that these Buddhist groups view as being insulting their religion.”

Hardline Burmese monk Wirathu. Pic: AP.

Hardline Burmese monk Wirathu. Pic: AP.

Blackwood’s case has also been compared with that of a Buddhist monk and nationalist, Wirathu, who called a UN human rights envoy a “whore”. While it was felt he may have damaged Buddhism he has not been charged and the inconsistency with how Blackwood has been treated has been noted.

While Parliament is due to debate laws and regulations that relate to this case, the outcome of it may not come soon enough for Blackwood and his colleagues who have already endured prison since December. Blackwood’s family are hoping the government may intervene and deport him. No date has yet been set for elections yet either if they are banking on that.

And so while I am here in Yangon, I think of Phil Blackwood and his colleagues every time I pass Insein Prison. While I find the city a challenge in terms of the heat, traffic, dust, congestion and other general hardships, it’s certainly better than anything they must be facing.

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Indonesia moves Bali Nine duo to execution island Wed, 04 Mar 2015 00:04:16 +0000 An Indonesian police vehicle carries Australian death row prisoners, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran during their transfer at a prison in Bali, Indonesia. Pic: AP.

An Indonesian police vehicle carries Australian death row prisoners, Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran during their transfer at a prison in Bali, Indonesia. Pic: AP.

Earlier this morning in Indonesia the Bali Nine ringleaders Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran were taken from Kerobokan jail in Bali so they can be transferred to the island where they will await execution.

It seems it will be their final journey.

The men will fly to Cilacap on the south coast of Java and taken by ferry to Nusa Kambangan prison island. The men will be given 72 hours notice before the execution is to take place and allowed to see their families, lawyers and a religious counsellor.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran leave Kerobokan jail in a heavily-armoured van this morning. Picture: Adam Taylor Source: News Corp Australia

The Bali 9 leave Kerobokan jail in a heavily-armoured van. Pic: News Corp Australia. reported the two men were calm and stoic and thanked prison guards before leaving:

The head of the correctional division at the Bali Justice and Human Rights Ministry, Nyoman Putra Surya, said that both Chan and Sukumaran shook the hands of all the guards who have looked after them over the year.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” they said to their guards as they shook hands before leaving.

“They only said thank you. Thank you to us because they have felt good service while at the prison. All of their legal avenues, we followed up. They lodged a PK, we followed up, they lodged an appeal we followed it up. We have followed up all their pleas,” Mr Surya said.

“That’s why they say thank you.”

Asked if there was any expression of fear from the two men, Mr Surya said: “No. As they get into the room, they met all officials, they were smiling, shaking hands with everyone. They were ready,” Mr Surya said.

Riot police outside the jail. Pic: News Corp Australia

Riot police outside the jail. Pic: News Corp Australia

In what has been described as an incredible display of military might, Indonesia sent in riot police, armoured personnel carriers and closed all roads around the jail before the transfer, while small crowds gathered outside to light candles, hold a vigil and pray for the men.

Vigil ... A woman prays and lights candles at the jail. Picture: Adam Taylor Source: News Corp Australia

People gathered outside the jail to light candles and pray. Pic: News Corp Australia.

The Australian government has continued to press for a last minute stay in the execution orders. Prime Minister Tony Abbott spoke to ABC radio this morning:

We abhor drug crime but we also abhor the death penalty. We think it is beneath a country such as Indonesia. The Australian government will never rest in our determination to let Indonesia know that we oppose the death penalty.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said it was an “injustice” to execute the duo given their rehabilitation and that no would benefit:

That won’t bring back any people who have lost their lives to drugs.

That won’t stop people from doing the same stupid things. The execution of these two men will not act as a deterrent.

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran’s lawyers are still seeking a stay in execution orders while a legal challenge is underway. They released a statement calling on the Attorney-General to take action:

Indonesian criminal law basically guarantees the rights of convicts to defend their legal rights.

Due to the ongoing legal recourse by Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan it would therefore be appropriate if the Attorney-General’s office respects such legal recourse by refraining from carrying out the execution of sentence against Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, including transferring them from Kerobokan prison to the prison at Nusakambangan.

The Attorney General said legal appeals for the pair were now irrelevant as Indonesian President Joko Widodo had rejected their clemency appeals.

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On death row: the main players in the fate of the Bali Nine duo Wed, 25 Feb 2015 05:28:57 +0000 Australian death-row prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, right and Andrew Chan, left. Pic: AP.

Australian death-row prisoners Myuran Sukumaran, right and Andrew Chan, left. Pic: AP.

THE fate of Australian duo Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, awaiting execution orders in Indonesia, is a complicated interplay of many legal, moral, political, social and other positions. Whatever your own stance on any of these issues, this summary of the various supporters and opponents of the two Australians, provides an extraordinary glimpse into the complex issues at work in this case.

The Bali 9 duo and their legal position
In 2005 nine Australians were arrested in Denpasar, Bali trying to smuggle 8.3kg of heroin from Indonesia to Australia. Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, as the ringleaders, were sentenced to death by firing squad. The two men have exhausted a number of appeal opportunities to get their sentences changed. They are awaiting the completion of their sentence via execution, however lawyers are currently lodging an appeal with the Supreme Court to ask President Joko Widodo to give individual consideration to each application for clemency. It is believed the President made his decision to reject clemency with little more than a list of names of people on death row, without a full understanding or documentation of the men’s rehabilitation or the testimony of the former governor of Kerobokan prison.

Peter Morrissey from their legal team gave an update on their latest appeal to get these petitions individually assessed to the 7:30 Report:

It’s really to get the Indonesian Government and court system to look at these boys in the face and look what they’re like now and how they’ve changed from being junior, stupid drug traffickers doing some significant harm by their acts, into being an artist on the one hand, a pastor on the other hand who are just lovely, decent people, and once you know them, you’d want to save them.

Recent messages from inmates Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran have described their great respect for Indonesia’s people and its culture, but their fervent wish for President Joko Widodo to allow them to continue their work in Kerobokan prison, where they acknowledged prison officials and the Indonesian system have enabled them to set up useful programs for other inmates. They also acknowledged the rehabilitation process had made them better people.

The Australian public

From The Age journalist Michael Bachelard in February 2015:

Until recently, the dominant reaction in Australia to anything written about Sukumaran and his prison-mate Andrew Chan was indifference. … When people could be bothered to express an opinion, most said something along these lines: “They’re drug-dealers; they knew the risk they were taking; they deserve what they get.”

Two years later, social media, not to mention the streets of Sydney and Melbourne, are suddenly clogged with people standing for mercy. They talk about hope and justice and their feelings of sadness.

In recent months numerous events, social media campaigns, candlelight vigils and petitions have been held and signed in support of the Bali 9 duo. Music for Mercy was held in Sydney’s Martin Place on 29 January featuring high profile Australians such as singer-songwriter Megan Washington and actor David Wenham. Amnesty International organised similar vigils in Federation Square, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra, and Byron Bay. The mercy petition attracted 150,000 signatures.

However juxtaposed against this recent public support is a Roy Morgan poll-via-SMS for Triple J in January, that found 52 per cent supported the execution of Australians for breaking foreign laws. Critics blasted it but it received widespread coverage in Indonesia. The Indonesian attorney general was even reported as using it to say there was strong support in Australia for the death penalty.

A percentage of the Australian public obviously does struggle to feel sympathy given the riches the men were seeking to make and the lives the drugs would have destroyed. See this piece by the ABC’s Jonathan Green:

State murder is appalling, futile and unpardonable. But part of me is also appalled by the callous indifference of young men who would happily sacrifice the lives of others to fill their own pockets. And yes, with the leisure of this past decade, this pause for enforced reflection, they have changed; found God, learned to paint, gone off drugs, regretted their youthful indifference and greed.

They should still probably rot in jail. Tell the lover, parent or partner of a heroin overdose victim that the street smart punk who imported the drug now regrets that decision and you may not find a sympathetic ear. There’s no chance for redemptive reflection for someone turned cold and blue with the needle still stuck and bloody in their stiff and livid arm.

The jail and fellow inmates

The positive effect of programs instigated by the Bali 9 duo has been recognised by prison officials and other inmates and is evident in the vastly different atmosphere of Kerobokan jail since they arrived. There are genuine fears what will happen when the men leave.

Jewel Topsfield summed this up for the Sydney Morning Herald:

This is what most saddens and frustrates all those who have come to know Sukumaran and Chan. The waste of two lives. Men who are making a profound difference within a once notorious jail.

Australian Lawyer Julian Mcmahon said his clients are worried about what the message of their execution sends to fellow inmates:

They say they have changed and if there is no reward for that kind of change, what incentive is there for any other prisoner to try and improve themselves and try and change for the better?

Australian government
As the execution orders have neared the Australian government has become more vocal. Some wonder if it’s too little too late:

Michael Bachelard for The Age:

Dame Susan Mary tweeted on January 23, the day it was reported that Tony Abbott had met the family of Chan and Sukumaran: “Too little too late. Wouldn’t expect other behaviour @TonyAbbottMHR.”

It’s a strain of criticism that holds the government responsible for not doing enough. It’s true they have said very little in public over the years. I recall asking then foreign minister Bob Carr about it in Bali a couple of years ago and he said he would raise “the usual consular issues” but would make no public comments.

That was probably the right response. And Australian governments almost certainly were genuinely lobbying behind the scenes (though we can’t be entirely sure). Government officials from the consulate in Bali have been regular visitors to all Bali Nine members and Corby during their time inside.

There are some concerns however that Prime Minister Tony Abbott ‘s recent comments, particularly those linking the aid given for tsunami recovery to pleas for clemency, may have damaged the Bali 9 diplomacy. This is what the Prime Minister said:

We will be making our displeasure known, we will be letting Indonesia know in absolutely unambiguous terms that we will feel grievously let down.

Let’s not forget that a few years ago when Indonesia was struck by the Indian ocean tsunami, Australia sent a billion dollars worth of assistance.

We sent a significant contingent of our armed forces to help in Indonesia with humanitarian relief and Australians lost their lives in that campaign to help Indonesia.

I would say to the Indonesian people and to the Indonesian government, we in Australia are always there to help you and we hope that you might reciprocate in this way at this time.

The contradictory positions of Australian leaders has also been brought up by Indonesian officials that consider Australia to have double standards. In 2006 then Prime Minister John Howard made this statement following news of the death penalty in February 2006:

Can I just say to every young Australian, please take notice of this. I even beg them not to take the terrible risks that these young people have done – their lives destroyed in the case of two people. I feel desperately sorry for the parents of these people, I do … but the warnings have been there for decades and how on earth any young Australian can be so stupid as to take the risk is completely beyond me.

Indonesian public

Analysts largely report overwhelming support in Indonesia for the death penalty for drug offenders and support Joko Widodo’s decisive stance (more on this here). There are even reports a move to abolish the death penalty may have suffered with recent executions being viewed from a point of national pride that the West can’t enforce it’s values on Indonesia. The Jakarta Post wrote of this: “But, as the saying goes, the harder they push, the stronger Indonesia pushes back.” The Post also said Tony Abbott should prepare for disappointment. However there is also overwhelming support in Indonesia for the government releasing Indonesian citizens in similar situations abroad and critics have questioned the statistics about drug use in Indonesia often used by the government and public alike to justify the death penalty.

Like most people, Indonesians have great national pride and were grossly offended by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s recent comments linking $1 billion in tsunami aid to the mercy campaign for the duo and a campaign began urging people to collect coins to return to Australia. Social media is a big player in Indonesia and the Twitter campaign using the hashtags #KoinuntukAustralia, #coinforAustralia and #coinforAbbott have become popular.

Indonesian government

The Indonesian government lifted a moratorium on executions in January 2015 when it executed six drug smugglers. New President Joko Widodo has repeatedly said foreign nations have no right to interfere in his country’s sovereign right to exercise the death penalty law and the executions will go ahead.

The Indonesian President alone has the the right to grant clemency and courts can not overrule a president’s decision not to grant clemency. There are concerns however that Indonesia has chosen to carry out the executions while court processes are ongoing. Foreign policy analysts also said Indonesia was compromising any future efforts it might extend to uphold the rights of its own citizens abroad.

Australia has been quick to point this out. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said Indonesia had sought mercy for its own nationals on death row and its Foreign Minister had been involved in those pleas:

We’re asking Indonesia to show the same mercy as they seek to be shown to their nationals who are on death row in other countries.

Radio National’s report details some of Indonesia’s ‘double standards’ and is also useful for its explanation of those demonstrated by Australia.

International Pressure

Australia is not the only nation to recently exercise pressure on Indonesia for applying the death penalty for drug offences.

In January 2015 Indonesia executed six drug smuggling offenders from Brazil, The Netherlands, Vietnam, Malawi, Nigeria and Indonesia. Brazil and the Netherlands recalled their ambassadors in protest. Another Brazilian man is expected to be executed along with the Australians.

Jakarta has repeatedly refused to bow to pressure, the president even stating at one time it was so used to international pressure it felt “normal”:

Although there is huge pressure from abroad, I am accustomed to being pressured, so I consider it normal.

While this summary only touches on the issues at work in broad strokes, it’s important not to forget that at the heart of this issue are the lives of two young men, who exist day to day in the knowledge that any day word could come of their execution orders. Whatever your position, that alone must engender sympathy, and in the words of their legal representative, Peter Morrissey, “it’s always time to start praying”.

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Travel: Touching the ancient past in Burma Mon, 09 Feb 2015 01:07:43 +0000 Despite Burma’s (Myanmar) newly acquired status as the darling of the Asian circuit, there is still much about the nation that remains undiscovered. While renowned for its wealth of pagodas, unblemished countrysides, unspoiled coast, quaint festivities and great lakes, it’s also a country of history and has its fair share of fading ancient ruins and tumbledown structures that invoke the dynasties and grandeur of the past. Visiting these places could form part of an excellent itinerary.

Mrauk U
Located in northern Rakhine State, Mrauk U is often a favourite for those that venture this far in the country and that’s because the ruins of the once great dynasty that ruled these parts from 1430 to 1785 form part of the scenic backdrop. Unlike Bagan where the temple area is uninhabited apart from the odd flock of sheep, rice fields and busy villages all continue to operate in Mrauk U as they have for millennia. Some 700 pagodas and temples remain although it is believed that over 6000 once stood in this area. Pathways between the stone figures, temples and pagodas lead to hidden chambers and new discoveries. The great thing about Mrauk U is that it’s not as popular as Bagan so you won’t have quite the same crowds to battle.

Jmhullot - Own work View on Mrauk U right after sunrise from Shwetaung pagoda.

View on Mrauk U right after sunrise from Shwetaung pagoda. Pic: Jmhullot.

Bagan needs little introduction and is a well known and much visited archaeological site that absolutely should be on your itinerary if you’re keen to take in Burma’s ancient and most beautiful archaeological sites. More than two thousand pagodas fill the plains of Bagan and it’s fantastic cycling through by bicycle, sailing overhead by balloon or clopping around in a horse cart. The temples here were built from the 9th to the 13th centuries and while over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were built here, there are that have survived. Bagan is located in central Burma and many see it is as equivalent to the famed Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

The ancient temples of Bagan, Myanmar. Image via Shutterstock.

The ancient temples of Bagan, Burma. Image via Shutterstock.

Pindaya caves
The Pindaya caves in Shan State are a Buddhist pilgrimage attraction built within the depths of a limestone cave. Inside there are some 8000 images of Buddha, some dating back to the late 1700s although there are plenty of new ones as donors continue to bring more images. The collection is the most impressive in Burma with a range of styles, shapes and sizes apparent, giving the impression that people of all means have made their contribution to the gallery. It can be overwhelming walking through the cave with figures in every crook, crevice and wall of the cave. Monks and pilgrims are often praying here so it is best to walk through quietly.

"Pindaya Caves 2010" by Uthantofburma at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Pindaya Caves 2010″ by Uthantofburma at English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

This rather monumental stupa located on the river 11km from Mandalay was intentionally left unfinished. This was because a prophecy alleged King Bodawpaya, who started the construction in 1790 to advertise his power, would die the day the building was finished. Bodawpaya was the fourth son of King Alaungpaya, founder of the Konbaung dynasty. While incomplete, the Mingun Pahtodawgyi attracts a lot of interest today largely because at 50 metres in height — only a third of its original intended height — it’s pretty impressive. Many tourists approach by river and the stupa can be seen from the Irawaddy. In 1839 an earthquake damaged part of it and cracks appeared. There is a pagoda nearby that serves as a religious site.



This beloved pagoda in Yangon doesn’t actually appear that old with its fresh paint, well kept grounds and other modern touches, but it is thought to be the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world and first constructed 2600 years ago enshrining eight hairs of the Buddha. It obviously was repaired a number of times since then, the most recent in 1970. Today it still dominates the skyline of Yangon and a visit to the former capital is incomplete without doing the circuit around the pagoda. The annual Shwedagon Pagoda Festival is well worth attending. Shwedagon is not the only old pagoda in Yangon. The Botataung Pagoda is thought to have started more than 2000 years ago when Indian monks carried relics of the Buddha to the site where the pagoda stands today. The original structure was bombed in 1943.


Shwedagon pagoda. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Pyu city states
The Pyu city states existed from the 2nd to 11th centuries and were part of an overland trade route from China and India that brought wealth to the region. The Pyus were Tibeto-Burman and their records are the earliest recorded of any civilization in Burma. Their cities were mostly in upper Burma and five have been excavated along with some smaller towns. These include Beikthano in Minbu region, Maingmaw and Binnaka in Kyause region, Halin in the Mu valley and Sri Ksetra in Bago region. The cities were walled, often with gates and stupas. Various jewellery, pottery and other artefacts have been found during their excavation and remnants of the walls and palaces. Visits to these sites are a bit off the beaten track and not all the sites are well marked and organised so you may need to plan well and take a Burmese speaking guide.

This article first appeared on

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Travel: Top 10 temple tour of Bali Mon, 19 Jan 2015 02:20:48 +0000 Bali is famed for its beaches, coasts and surf breaks, but it’s also known for its numerous ancient temples, many of which have become iconic landmarks, thanks in part to their beautiful locations on mountain slopes, cliff tops and by the sea. Some are so well known they have become iconic landmarks and as there were at last count some 20,000 temples all over the island, they could easily form part of an interesting itinerary.

Bali is not just rice paddies and beaches. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Bali is not just rice paddies and beaches. Pic: Joanne Lane,

If you do intend to visit these sites it would be good to be properly attired – covered adequately with a waist cloth and sash. A donation is often appreciated at the sites as well.

Find hotels in Bali to suit your budget on

Tanah Lot

If you haven’t been to Tanah Lot you’ve probably seen a picture of it. The offshore temple is often featured in sunset images of Bali and it is superb to see, if you can handle visiting it with hordes of other tourists – access to the temple is only possible at low tide so it’s often full. The temple is located on an outcrop off the coast from Beraban village, 45 minutes from Kuta. Given its location near other main tourist areas it is a popular spot and nearby facilities include restaurants, shops and a cultural park with dance performances. It’s a good spot for a sundowner.

"TanahLot 2014" by James Mason-Hudson - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“TanahLot 2014″ by James Mason-Hudson – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Gunung Kawi

Located near Tampaksiring in a lush green river valley, this ancient monument consists of 10 rock-cut shrines to honour the kings and queens of the 11th century. The shrines are carved into 8 metre high niches in the cliff face.

"1 gunung kawi temple" by chensiyuan - chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons -

“1 gunung kawi temple” by chensiyuan – chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons –

Tirta Empul

Located near Gunung Kawi is this other landmark monument featuring springs bubbling up into pools. These are located within the temple and the water exits through spouts into a bathing pool where Balinese Hindus go for purification. The same water gushes by the nearby Gunung Kawi. It is possible to bathe in the free public baths here but it can be crowded.

"1 tirtha empul temple" by chensiyuan - chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons -

“1 tirtha empul temple” by chensiyuan – chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons –


The “mother temple” on the slopes of Mount Agung is located at 1000m and considered Bali’s holiest and largest. You will need a whole day to visit the sprawling complex with various temples and shrines, some that date back as far as the 10th century. Mount Agung is Bali’s tallest mountain and still an active volcano – a lava flow in 1963 just missed the temple.

"Pura Besakih Sunrise 01" by Flying Pharmacist - Flying Pharmacist. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Pura Besakih Sunrise 01″ by Flying Pharmacist – Flying Pharmacist. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons –

Tirta Gangga

This isn’t a temple per se but a water palace revered by the Hindu Balinese and located near Mount Agung. It’s such a lovely setting it should be included in this list. It was built in 1948 and features a maze of pools, gardens, fountains, stone carvings and statues. Surrounding it are lush green rice paddies that add to the beauty of the area. It’s possible to bathe here for a fee.

The water palace of Tirta Gangga. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The water palace of Tirta Gangga. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Goa Gajah

This archaeological complex near Ubud is known as the “elephant cave” but don’t be fooled as there are no elephants in the cave. Rather the temple takes its name from the Elephant River nearby. The entrance to the cave is rather menacing but a key attraction – it’s carved into the rock and you enter through the open mouth. There’s a meeting hall, temple courtyard and bathing pool here.

"Pintu Masuk Goa Gajah" by Cakhairia - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Pintu Masuk Goa Gajah” by CakhairiaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


This is another of Bali’s famed temple sites. This one also boasts a seaside location but unlike Tanah Lot it is located atop a cliff 70 metres above the water and the breaks so popular with surfers. Nightly kecak performances are held here re-enacting the Ramayana. There are fabulous views from the temple and it’s also another good sunset spot.

Pic: Chensiyuan

Uluwatu. Pic: Chensiyuan, CC

Ulun Danu Beratan

This temple lies along and in Beratan Lake in the central highlands and the 11 roof pagoda that lies on an island in the lake is often pictured with clouds silhouetted in its waters. This is only one part of the temple however, the rest is on the main shore. The lakeside gardens and shrines are very picturesque. Paddleboats can be rented for riding around the lake.


Ulun Danu Beratan. Pic: Chensiyuan

Pura Luhur Lempuyang

You have to climb 1700 steps through jungle to reach this temple but it’s worth it. At the top are amazing views of Gunung Agung over paddy fields. The temple itself is one of just nine directional temples on the island that are said to protect native Balinese from evil spirits. It is located about 10km from Tirta Gangga on the slopes of Mount Lempuyang.

Pic: Audrey, Flickr.

Pura Luhur Lempuyang. Pic: Audrey, Flickr.

Pura Taman Ayun

This royal public temple was built in the 1600s by King Mengwi whose descendants still sponsor it today. Part of its attraction is its lovely setting by rice paddies. It’s also surrounded by a lovely moat and has plenty of tiered pagodas. The temple is on the drive to/from Bedugal and the Jatiluwih rice terraces and therefore popular with organised tour groups.


Pura Taman Ayun. Pic:

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The aftermath: Australian public reaction to the Sydney siege Tue, 16 Dec 2014 06:10:02 +0000 Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his wife Margie pay their respect to the victims of the siege in Martin Place in Sydney central business district, Australia, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his wife Margie pay their respect to the victims of the siege in Martin Place in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday. Pic: AP.

“It’s over. Thank God.”

These were my thoughts on waking in Brisbane this morning to news that the Sydney siege had ended at 2am last night, sadly with the death of two hostages. The gunman responsible for the 16-hour siege at the Lindt cafe in the city’s CBD was also killed.

I don’t doubt these thoughts were echoed across Australia today as we as a nation come to terms with not only the loss of life, the senselessness and horror of it all, but most importantly how we deal with this as a community moving forward.

While the actual siege might be over, the issues it has raised remain. These include the potential for hatred and backlash directed towards Australian Muslims, public perception over matters of safety and the effectiveness of the law in dealing with dangerous persons. It may not be the events themselves or how officials and police handled them that will define this tragedy, but the public’s response in the aftermath of the Martin Place siege. While it may still be too early to tell how that will play out, here are some of the immediate public responses to these and other matters associated with the events at Martin Place.

Public grief

A steady flow of people have visited Martin Place today to lay wreaths and tributes, to sing, and pay their respects, but they have reportedly been going to mosques as well. Churches and mosques have organised prayer vigils and a number of other events will take place this weekend at major centres around the country. Flags are also being flown at half mast around Australia.


Sydney’s Martin Place today. Pic: @JackBoard

Many have chosen to express their grief and condolences on social media, such as the Lindt Australia Facebook page. Lindt itself has posted regular statements, including a tribute to store manager Tori Johnson, who was one of the two victims killed in the siege. Johnson reportedly struggled with the gunman for control of his weapon, allowing people to escape the store. Katrina Dawson was the other hostage that lost her life, again reportedly while defending a pregnant friend. Tori Johnson’s family released this statement to the media today:

We are so proud of our beautiful boy Tori, gone from this Earth but forever in our memories as the most amazing life partner, son and brother we could ever wish for.

We feel heartfelt sorrow for the family of Katrina Dawson.

We’d like to thank not only our friends and loved ones for their support, but the people of Sydney, Australia, and those around the world for reaching out with their thoughts and prayers.

Our deepest gratitude to the NSW police, armed forces and paramedics for their tireless efforts.

We ask that the media respects our privacy in this difficult time.

Let us all pray for peace on Earth.


Tori Johnson, the Lindt store manager. Pic:


The Muslim community has been quick to respond to the tragic events in Sydney, paying respects at Martin Place and offering condolences to the families involved. Many Australians have acted quickly to stifle the potential for anti-Islamic sentiment, some of which has already found its way into social media, by offering to accompany Muslim people on public transport by using the #illridewithyou hashtag on Twitter.

This resolve by Australians in crisis to stick together has garnered world attention. Liberal America wrote: “This one hashtag from the Australian hostage crisis will restore your faith in humanity” while Australians either supported the campaign or outlined their travel schedules online.

However media, including social media, was also awash with other comments that raised the sticky and ongoing issue of the role of Islam in Australian society. For example Lindt Australia was commended on Facebook for not being Halal certified, a growing public issue in Australia, although whether there is a connection between the event and Lindt’s policy is unknown.

There were also some media reports that connected the perpetrator Man Haron Monis with IS even though he was not a member of any terrorist association and used only a Shahada flag, although he did request an IS flag during the siege and later associated his actions with IS. The Daily Telegraph was criticised for this front page that was labelled “irresponsibile” and “inflammatory”.


Pic: @tomsteinfort

Monis’ lawyer, Manny Conditsis, said of his former client’s actions:

This is a one-off random individual. It’s not a concerted terrorism event or act. It’s a damaged goods individual who’s done something outrageous.

Sydney writer Ruby Hamad wrote on her ABC blog that she hoped the support shown to the Muslim community would define Australia and not the anti-Islamic sentiments that have been voiced:

While it is true that this gunman put Islam front and centre by utilising that flag, let’s put the emphasis where it belongs. He may have made it about religion, but the operative word here is “he”, and not “religion.”

Like many other violent men, Man Haron Monis was charged with many crimes, including being an accessory to his wife’s murder. Also like many other violent men, he slipped through the legal cracks and went on to offend in one of the most horrific ways possible.

Perception of safety

During the event police, politicians and other officials urged Australians to go about life as usual. In a media conference yesterday Prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the nation with these sentiments:

The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves…

Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society.  Nothing should ever change that and that’s why I would urge all Australians today to go about their business as usual.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott at the press conference. Pic:

While Australians have long felt our geographic isolation somehow separates us from the concerns and dangers so prevalent in other parts of the world, an event of this nature will challenge that perception. While yesterday the Prime Minister and police were wary of terrorism associations, today Tony Abbott called the event a “brush with terrorism”.

As the siege unfolded yesterday, he sought to cloak his actions with the symbolism of the ISIL death cult.

Australians should be reassured by the way our law enforcement and security agencies responded to this brush with terrorism.

Not a comforting thought for an Australian public long fearful of how our military engagement in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan and our current involvement in fighting IS could affect us at home.

While some officials said we are no less safe than we were yesterday, it’s hard to rationalise that sentiment at this time. Bloggers, writers, journalists and members of the public have also reported the eerie feeling on Sydney streets that are normally brimming with people, traffic and school leaders in the cheerful lead up to Christmas.

From Business Insider:

One Sydney mother who works just around the corner from the site of the siege, Amanda Jones, told me: “Today does not feel like yesterday”.

Between tears, she said no longer felt as safe in this city.

“I’m a mum, I have to protect my kids,” she said. “I won’t be going to New Years Eve on the Harbour… It could’ve happened to anyone.”

“It’s a very sad day for Australia.”

Effectiveness of process of law

The gunman, Man Haron Monis, was granted political asylum in Australia in 2001. Since then he has faced charges of indecent and sexual assault against several women and was accused of being an accessory in his ex-wife’s murder. He had also been convicted for sending abusive letters to the families of dead Australian soldiers. In the aftermath of yesterday’s tragedy many have questioned how a man known to police, who had posted extremist material, could have slipped through the cracks in the legal system and even why he was allowed to stay on in this country.

Monis’ lawyer Manny Conditsis defended the court’s decision to release Monis on bail in December 2013 telling the ABC:

It’s very easy, Lexi, to have a broad brush approach to these things – look at what happened a year later, look at the tragic events that have transpired overnight and conclude that he should not have been granted bail.

It’s an easy thing to do, it’s a simple thing to do, but in my view it’s not the right thing to do.

You’ve got to go back to December 2013 when he was granted bail, you’ve got to consider the material that was placed before the court, you’ve got to consider the strength of the prosecution case at that time.

While there are yet few answers for an Australian public picking up the pieces after a day of terror and fear, perhaps the best thing to do in all circumstances of this kind, and as we have before in other tragedies and natural disasters, is to remember who we are as a nation.

After all ultimately it is we ourselves who define who we are and that choice is always ours, even in the aftermath of events such as this. Australians may not consider our Prime Minister a particularly eloquent speaker but it’s his words we can take away from this. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society. Nothing should ever change that, not terror, not fear, nor hatred or violence. They have no place here.

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G20 Summit comes to a close in Brisbane, but what was really achieved? Mon, 17 Nov 2014 07:05:24 +0000 Today Brisbane is coming to terms with the G20 blues. And that’s because it’s all over. The streets are almost back to normal, the barricades have come down and most of the leaders have left along with the glimpse of world power and stardom they afforded this city over the last few days.

Anyone observing the watching crowds waiting and cheering for leaders such as U.S. President Barack Obama or Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could be forgiven for thinking rockstars had been in the city, rather than politicians who are notoriously unpopular in Australia.


The G20 has been heralded a “once in a generation” experience for Brisbane and indeed waiting on the streets of Brisbane over the weekend and seeing the world’s top 20 leaders pass by was nothing short of surreal. And yes perhaps it will set a benchmark for how to run a safe and secure international meeting, but what was really achieved in all this? Does the G20 really have a role to play in global economics and decision making or is it just a chance to spend a lot of taxpayer money and wave at motorcades?

This brief glance through some of the Asia-Pacific nations pertinent to Asian Correspondent looks at their agenda coming into the G20 Leaders Summit and what they came away with.

There is no doubt the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Australia is groundbreaking. It’s the first visit of an Indian PM to Australia in 28 years and his rockstar reception has been dubbed “Modi-mania”.

Hundreds of members of the Australian Indian community even caught the “Modi Express”, a 12-hour chartered train journey from Melbourne to Sydney to attend his public address at Sydney’s Olympic Park which is expected to attract over 20,000 people and draw millions of viewers from India.

Modi’s popularity in India after his recent election win is still on a high; some claim he is the first leader since Mahatma Gandhi who has managed to capture the imagination of his nation and bring them a sense of hope and Australia seems to be trying to capitalise on this. He has 7.94 million followers on Twitter, second only to Barack Obama in the politician lists, and 24 million on Facebook.

Narendra Modi welcomed in Brisbane. Pic:

Narendra Modi welcomed in Brisbane. Pic:

Modi was also invited to address the Australian Parliament; a rare honour afforded to visiting dignitaries showing not only that the federal government is willing to make something of this rare visit but also to leap on the Indian bandwagon and garner investment opportunities in infrastructure and energy.

Modi was also invited to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Roma Street Parklands in Brisbane and met with cheers of “Modi Modi Modi” everywhere he went. He also attended meetings at Brisbane’s City Hall with Brisbane and Queensland politicians about matters such as uranium, education, mining investments and the Galilee Basin.

In terms of the G20 Modi voiced India’s support for new global standards on the exchange of tax information and international cooperation against black money, all in keeping with his new government’s line on transparency and corruption in India that has crippled the country’s growth and is a huge reason why he was elected. It was reported that a number of other countries such as Brazil and South Africa shared his sentiments and wanted these views listed in the final communique of the G20.


The Chinese President Xi Jinping was the other world leader to be invited to address the Australian parliament, the second Chinese leader to be invited to do so since his predecessor Hu Jintao in 2003. Xi also signed a free-trade agreement with Australia today that will see 85 percent of all Australian exports enter China tariff-free. The agreement is also expected to increase the value of trade by $18 billion and has been nine years in the making.

Like Modi, Xi has been given red carpet treatment in Australia, thanks largely to trade between the countries worth $150 billion a year. China is Australia’s number one trading partner and was widely lauded during the G20, even by Barack Obama in his address to the University of Queensland, for lifting millions of people from poverty and into the middle class.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and China's President Xi Jinping. Photo: Getty

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and China’s President Xi Jinping. Pic: Getty

Apart from all his lunches, dinners and private talks, protesters didn’t miss the opportunity to launch their protests against China’s live organs trade at the G20. Falun Dafa practitioners were also out in force protesting against the persecution of their spiritual practice. And Free Tibet protestors staged a “die-in” to highlight China’s human rights abuses.

At the G20 it was clear the United States and China, dubbed the G2, held centre stage with both offering commitments on fighting ebola and climate change. Key items on the agenda for Xi Jinping at the G20 were listed in his article in the Financial Review and included issues related to opening up the global economy, a focus on sustained global growth rather than short-term solutions, investment in infrastructure across the G20 nations and the improvement of global governance.

However the concerns are that China seems to be more focused on offering a better standard of living than accountability or transparency. The USA also used the summit to meet with Australia and Japan about security commitments in the region, designed no doubt to keep an eye on China. However Australia chose China over Japan to be the president of the G20 in 2016.


Australia’s role in the G20 was a key one as the host nation with the spotlight very much on Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Abbott and Australian leadership in the G20 was largely commended for the desire to keep core issues of trade and economics at the heart of the G20 agenda and for successfully securing an agreement based on practical pledges to boost global growth by two per cent.

Australian leadership was also praised for being flexible with last minute inclusions to the agenda such as ebola. However the last-minute inclusion of climate change only came at the persuasion of heavyweights such as the United States. Australia had argued it was not a clear economic issue and then endured American President Barack Obama’s address at the University of Queensland during the G20 in which he delivered a critique of the Abbott government’s policy on climate change and issued the call for more to be done to address it. Obama’s point about wanting the Great Barrier Reef to be there in the years to come for his daughters and their children to enjoy was noteworthy and the rousing applause from the audience was a further rebuff to the Abbott government. Certainly the heat is on for Abbott to respond to the U.S.-China-E.U. tide towards climate change targets, particularly with the 2015 Paris conference looming when world leaders will decide on new climate change targets.

Despite his lack of eloquence at times and his discussing domestic issues with international leaders aside, Abbott did secure a free trade agreement with China that has almost been a decade in the making. The deal also comes hard on the heels of his other agreements with Japan and South Korea, and his desire to seek more economic cooperation with India. Overall Australia’s G20 is considered a benchmark for how to host a safe and peaceful world event and notable for its inclusion of some more light hearted activities such as koala cuddling that even Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoyed.

The G20 family picture with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the centre. Pic: Reuters.

The G20 family picture with Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the centre. Pic: Reuters.


At the G20 Japan answered the call by the American government on climate change and pledged $1.5 billion to the Green Climate Fund proposed to help poor nations cope with global warming.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also attended a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and U.S. president Barack Obama focused on strengthening defence ties, regional cooperation and security; all construed  as a means to countering China’s growing role in the region. The talks also included resolves to defeat Islamic State militants, fight Ebola, oppose Russian action against Ukraine and resolve issues surrounding the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, although the odd handshake between the three leaders garnered as much news as anything they talked about.

Within the G20’s economic plan to grow economies by upwards of two percent are key country specific measures designed to promote competition, enhance international trade and boost the participation of women in the workforce. This latter issue is considered crucial to Japan, and in fact recently highlighted by Shinzo Abe’s own policies on women as highlighted in two recent posts on Asian Correspondent written by Asia Sentinel here and here.

South Korea

South Korean President Park Geun-hye was one of only a handful of women amongst the suits at the G20 Leaders Summit. She made notable headlines during the summit for breaking with protocol to greet crowds waiting for her outside her hotel in downtown Brisbane.

President Park is also the daughter of former President Chung-hee and first visited Australia as a 16-year-old on one of her father’s official trips. As The Courier Mail reported Korea’s per capita income during her 1968 visit was only $160, and Australia’s 10 times as much. Today South Korea has come of age as one of the world’s top 20 economies. It signed a free-trade agreement with Australia in February although neither Australia or South Korea have yet ratified the agreement and Park Geun-hye came to the G20 hoping the Brisbane meeting would force the issue.

South Korea is also well versed in hosting the G20, having done the honours in Seoul in 2010.


For Indonesian President Joko Widodo the G20 was a new experience as it was his first venture into global diplomacy having only just become Indonesian President. There was even talk at one stage of him sitting out the G20 to focus on domestic priorities, but economic needs are pressing in Indonesia and it was therefore critical for him to attend. Key on the Indonesian agenda at the G20 was to find ways to unlock the nation’s economic potential as it has failed to fire like other neighbours India and China. To some degree therefore Indonesia represented the voice of developing states at the G20 as it is still regarded as an emerging economy. Indonesia came to the G20 keen for new infrastructure and other trade agreements and commitments by the other G20 members to increase global growth and China’s call for sustainable growth would therefore be welcomed.

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Behind the scenes: The G20 in pictures Sun, 16 Nov 2014 03:13:54 +0000 The G20 hit Brisbane this weekend in a flash of motorcades, world leaders, enormous numbers of police, barricades, snipers on rooftops and various protesters. However despite fears of violence, traffic jams and general chaos the hardest thing for those that stayed in the city (most left when awarded a public holiday on Friday November 14), has been dealing with searing unseasonal temperatures.

Given the unknown quantity of what the G20 might mean, as detailed in this blog on Thursday, these pictures paint some of the story of how it has unfolded for the general public. So far it seems to have been mostly a delightful experience for those who stayed in Brisbane, with many surprised by some of the famous faces they’ve seen. Here’s a look at some of those experiences.


In the weeks leading up to the G20, Brisbane hosted the Colour Me Brisbane G20 Cultural Celebrations. One of the more popular performance areas were the dancers outside the casino. Aboriginal dancers were amongst those entertaining the crowd. Pic: Joanne Lane,



The Australian flag is shown displayed on one of the buildings in the CBD. This was one of a rotating number of flags of the G20 nations and part of the Colour Me Brisbane G20 Cultural Celebrations. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The river city has been looking its best in recent weeks with beautiful blue skies and clear weather, albeit rather hot days. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The Brisbane sign at Southbank looking towards the CBD has been a popular attraction. Security guards reported a steady flow of visitors every day. Pic: Joanne Lane,


A free full length performance of Coppelia by the Queensland Ballet as part of Colour Me Brisbane G20 Cultural celebrations attracted up to 6000 people on the weekend preceding the G20 Leaders Summit. The public brought blankets and picnic baskets for a night out under the stars at the Riverside Stage. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The Queensland Opera singers were a huge hit with the public with their voices ringing from the windows of the Treasury building. This event was also part of the Colour Me Brisbane G20 Cultural Celebrations. Pic: Joanne Lane,



Night performers were seen on the streets of the Brisbane in the weeks preceding the G20. Pic: Joanne Lane,


On the first day of the G20 Leaders Summit crowds waited for world leaders at hotels, buildings and on major traffic routes around the city. This group of people waited in 35 degree heat, seeking shade wherever they could, for the motorcades to leave Parliament House on Saturday, November 14. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a cheery wave and smile from his motorcade when leaving Parliament House on Saturday, November 15. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The public and security sweltered in searing temperatures with forecasts of up to 40 degrees in the city on Sunday November 16. Pic: Joanne Lane,


US President Barack Obama was easily the most popular for crowds in Brisbane over the weekend, as was “the beast”, one of two limousines flown in specially for his use and pictured here. He is seen here waving from the back seat as he leaves Parliament House on November 15 on his way to the University of Queensland where he addressed staff and students in his Brisbane address. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Police were every bit as much as excited as the public to be part of the G20 event. They came from around Australia and even New Zealand and could often be seen interacting with the public in a professional but approachable manner. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Police helping out a news crew with access routes through the city. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Police helping out a news crew with access routes through the city. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Jacob Zuma

A policeman watches the crowd as South African President Jacob Zuma drives past on his way to the Convention Centre on Saturday November 15. Pic: Joanne Lane,




An official motorcade winds its way through Brisbane. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The Victoria Bridge links the CBD to Southbank and the Convention Centre where the G20 Leaders Summit is held. While closed to traffic pedestrians can stand on the side and watch the motorcades pass. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The Victoria Bridge links the CBD to Southbank and the Convention Centre where the G20 Leaders Summit is held. While closed to traffic pedestrians can stand on the side and watch the motorcades pass. Pic: Joanne Lane,

A cafe at Southbank gets into the G20 spirit with this sign to world leaders. Pic: Joanne Lane,

A cafe at Southbank gets into the G20 spirit with this sign to world leaders. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Despite fears many businesses would be closed over the G20 Summit weekend, a number have stayed open, this one proclaiming it in the spirit of the event. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Despite fears many businesses would be closed over the G20 Summit weekend, a number have stayed open, this one proclaiming it in the spirit of the event. Pic: Joanne Lane,

More images may be added to this post as more G20 events unfold.

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The G20 in Brisbane: Be alert or very alarmed? Thu, 13 Nov 2014 05:32:34 +0000 Momentum in Brisbane, Australia is building towards the G20 this weekend when dignitaries from the world’s most powerful economies such as Russia, China, the United States and the United Kingdom will descend on the river city for trade meetings on November 15-16.

The leadup to this event has been a very pervasive force in this city of 2.1 million with conversations in the media, businesses and among friends touching on little else for weeks. And this week it has hit overdrive.

Brisbane. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Brisbane – is it ready for the G20? Pic: Joanne Lane,

It feels very much like Brisbane, like the river on which it lies, is rushing towards something, the only problem is no one seems too sure what that might be, or what it might look like. Will it be terrorist threats, violence, vandalised property, security breaches or other failures, or like Expo 88, the last major international event held here in decades, will the G20 give Brisbane credibility as a global city?

The reality is events like these can be a mixed blessing for the host city. Think of the Toronto G7 in 2010 where 1,118 people were arrested and groups wearing black clothing smashed shops and vandalised property.

While those that know Brisbane may find it hard to believe any serious voices of discontent will darken the streets, apparently banks in Brisbane’s CBD, according to morning radio presenter Steve Austin of 612 ABC Brisbane, are already measuring their windows for insurance claims and some anarchist groups have previously threatened “chaos and mayhem” in Brisbane.

Police have of  course tried to allay these fears saying their increased presence on the streets will make Brisbane “the safest place in the world”. Of course this level of security has turned a lot of people off too. The Brisbane Times ran wild with this, under a headline that read “come for the theatre, stay for the body cavity search”.

Despite the pleas by officials for Brisbane residents to stay in the city, and a huge array of cultural events to encourage them to do just that over the past few weeks, a public holiday was awarded to the city for Friday, the eve of the G20. Many therefore plan to take the opportunity to get away for the long weekend and escape a city that may largely be in lockdown and let Putin, Obama, Cameron and the other suits have the run of the place. A lot of businesses are closing, confident that revenue turnover will be minimal with so many people away.

Parliament House lit up as part of the G20 cultural celebrations in Brisbane. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The Queensland Parliament House lit up with lights as part of the G20 cultural celebrations in Brisbane. Pic: Joanne Lane,

While city and industry leaders obviously want Brisbane to shine and have worked hard to prepare it, they’re also nervous about the scale of G20 and the spotlight it brings.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman told 612 ABC Brisbane he was “apprehensive”:

People nominate the ’82 Commonwealth Games or they nominate Expo 88, but really in terms of global positioning of the city of Brisbane and state of Queensland, this is unprecedented.

Nothing like this has ever happened… to have the leaders of these world economies representing about two-thirds of world’s population is putting a spotlight on Queensland like never before.

With that comes a big responsibility to get the event run smoothly and efficiently and to have a safe secure and I hope very much a friendly event.

It is a big deal. It’s quite an undertaking to put on.

The other undertaking Brisbane has embraced besides getting ready for the G20 is the Brisbane Global Cafe. This two-day event held on November 12-13 at Brisbane’s City Hall was an initiative designed to bring together influential thinkers from around the world as a prelude to the G20 Leaders Summit.

Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk’s spoke about Brisbane’s ongoing journey at a session titled “Australia’s new world city – from ambition to reality”:

The branding of Brisbane as Australia’s new world city, is a statement of a journey we have embarked on, it’s a statement of cultural thinking in all that we do.

Each action we take as a city government we ask ourselves the question ‘is this new world?’ Is it going to add credibility to that branding? We have to approach everything we do with the energy, urgency and a real sense of youthful excitement.

We set about to use these elements to establish an infectious attitude, to invite others from outside the city to be part of the excitement and be part of the city’s future. The task of building the city is never complete, it’s always a work in progress.

Of course being a global city, as he and other speakers highlighted, is more about being dynamic, vibrant, multi-cultural, innovative and fluid than simply a conglomeration of urban living with the sprawl of a megacity.

However, with the growth projections that the Brisbane corridor is due to face in the years ahead, the challenges of being a megacity may soon touch on it too. And indeed other conversations at the Global Cafe touched on the challenges facing world cities in terms of infrastructure, quality of life and community engagement.

Global Cafe.

A Q&A session at Brisbane’s Global Cafe. Pic: Joanne Lane,

In all the momentum towards the G20, and the decision to even nominate the city in the first place, it seems no one really asked the question if Brisbane wants to be a global city that holds the attention of the world and attracts more of these types of events. If organisers pull off a successful, safe and efficient G20 will that mean more of the same in terms of security lockdowns, terrorism threats and snipers on the rooftops? Or will the benefits be so great, so far beyond the city’s wildest dreams, that like other projects like the Southbank development or the urban changes enforced for Expo 88, it will never look back.

The real test for Brisbane will come this weekend and no doubt bring some answers to these questions. What will the story of Brisbane’s G20 be? The jury is out. But one thing is sure: on the pre-eve of G20 Brisbane, there are a lot of nervous people out there waiting desperately for Monday to come around when it’s all over.

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Nepal tightening up mountain rules in wake of disaster Mon, 27 Oct 2014 04:26:03 +0000

In the aftermath of the recent hiking disaster in which at least 41 people were killed when a blizzard and avalanches swept across Nepal’s Annapurna region, the Nepal government has promised to introduce new rules to ensure the safety of trekkers.

This will include improved weather forecasts and delivery of that information to remote trekking areas, plus better monitoring of those that traipse the nation’s popular trekking routes. Trekkers will be required to register at check posts when entering and exiting the region. Foreign trekkers had previously been required to buy permits and register on entering trekking areas, but it was not a requirement to check out.

The Annapurna circuit where the recent tragedy occurred has long been the domain of backpackers, as opposed to climbers, many who complete the three week trek without a guide. This will also change now with Tourism department official Tulasi Guatam saying trekkers will be required to take a registered local guide or porter and rent a GPS tracking unit so authorities can trace them in case of emergency. This would also help control illegal operations in the business.

The issue of being or not being guided was touched upon in more detail in this post for Travel Wire Asia in June 2013, however Intrepid Travel is one tour group that has recently demonstrated the importance of having a guide. They had a group in the vicinity of the Thorung Pass on the Annapurna Circuit and when they saw the approaching hostile weather they were able to warn their guide who diverted the trekking party away from the area. All are safe as a result.

While I have sometimes trekked solo in Nepal (always with a guide on more difficult or unknown terrain), the increased monitoring of trekkers may also help to prevent tragedies such as in the remote Langtang region near the Chinese border where a series of solo female trekkers have been attacked, threatened with rape, gone missing and even found decapitated in recent years.

The recent trekking disaster comes just months after an avalanche on Mount Everest in April that killed 16 guides and forced a shutdown of the world’s highest peak. The April tragedy was the deadliest day on Mount Everest since the much written about events of 10-11 May 1996 when eight climbers died when they were caught in a blizzard.


 Reports emerged after the 1996 disaster of congestion due to the number of climbers, delays in securing ropes that caused bottlenecks at the Hillary Step delaying the ascent of many climbers, the competitive nature of teams to summit, and the presence of commercial guides who allowed unqualified climbers to attempt to summit.

The willingness of the Nepalese government to extend expensive permits to so many teams was also touched on in a book by Jamling Norgay, the son of the sherpa Tenzing Norgay who summited Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953. Jamling was climbing leader of the 1996 Everest IMAX expedition when the tragedy struck.

In his book Touching my father’s soul: A sherpa’s journey to the top of Everest Jamling also noted the disparity in salaries between the local and international guides and the expectations and risks expected of Sherpas, many who are expected to carry heavy loads and establish ropes for clients in the most dangerous sections of the mountain.

The tragedy this year brought many of these issues to a head again with the government promising to do what they could to provide compensation, education and welfare to Sherpa families. However despite concerns of the mounting rubbish on Everest, congestion and unqualified climbers the Nepalese government announced in February 2014 that there would be a cut to the cost of climbing permits from US $ 25,000 to $ 11,000 starting in 2015 to encourage more mountaineers to come to Everest.

While the issues surrounding the climbing of higher peaks are somewhat different to the average Nepal trekking route such as Annapurna, there is clear evidence that changes have to be made before more lives are lost. Let’s hope these recent changes will aid in this end.

Asia Travel Guides, Reviews, Diary, News | Travel Wire Asia

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5 coastal “campsites with a view” downunder Sat, 17 May 2014 17:14:55 +0000 If you’re hankering after prime time beach views right out your campsite door, Australia delivers these up on a sandy platter. They often come complete with a side serving of native wildlife, surfable waves, hiking opportunities and unlimited views, and are on offer in every state so it’s a case of being spoilt for choice. Here are five incredible coastal campsites to choose from.

Yuraygir National Park, New South Wales
There are numerous beach side camping options in this beautiful stretch of coast near Grafton. Illaroo, Boorkoom, Rocky Point, Shelley Head and Red Cliff are just some of the choices available and depend on how self sufficient you want to be and what you want to do. Those keen on fishing might want to try Red Cliff, wheras Shelley Head might be an option as a stopover on the coastal walk, or Illaroo for group camping and those with caravans or trailers. Opportunities to hike, bird watch, fish, see wildflowers, swim, canoe and whale watch are all here in profusion on this stretch of undeveloped coastline. The park stretches for 60 kilometres and features numerous lagoons, surf spots and walking trails. It really has something for everyone. Read more here.


Johanna Beach, Great Ocean Road, Victoria
Located on the dunes behind Johanna Beach this is an excellent stop on the Great Ocean Road northwest of Cape Otway. The Great Ocean Road and its amazing coastal landscape should need little introduction, but if they do think winding coast, incredible sea views and plenty of chance to get away from it all. There are 50 grassy camspites at Johanna Beach and they’re all free. You do need to be self sufficient as no drinking water is provided and it’s really a first come, first served basis for the best spots. Once settled in you can enjoy the beautiful beachside vistas, recover from your jaunt along the Great Ocean Walk if you’re doing that hike and enjoy encounters with nature that could include kangaroos, echidnas and birds. Read more here.


 75 Mile Beach, Fraser Island, Queensland
75 mile beach runs almost the entire eastern side of World Heritage listed Fraser Island and is one of the world’s longest beaches. It’s a campsite favourite for those that don’t mind a bit of sand although you’re hard pressed to avoid sand on this island. Fraser is the world’s largest sand island so that means no roads and a 4WD. In fact you need to be pretty self sufficient although stores and fuel are available on the island, and have a knowledge of off road driving. There are a number of formalised camping areas with campsites, water and toilets, but there are plenty of informal zones located behind the dunes. You can camp where they are signposted as long as you’re 50m from a watercourse. If you want to feel all alone in the world this is the place to do it. At night fall asleep to the sound of the Pacific Ocean. Read more here.


Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park, Western Australia
You don’t have to get that remote in Western Australia to enjoy superb coastline. Located just south of Perth, this park runs for 120 kilometres between Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste (hence the name). Along that stretch are three campsites, cave formations, karri forest, surf breaks, walking trails (the Cape to Cape walk goes through here), the remains of jetties and plenty of open beach. Hamelin Bay is a fantastic option where there are islands near the shore and stingrays reportedly so friendly they’ll eat out of your hand. Read more here.


Bruny Island, Tasmania
Bruny Island off the southeast coast of Tasmania is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination thanks to its excellent walking tracks, albino kangaroo population, endemic bird species such as the short-tailed shearwater, and a colony of fairy penguins. While there’s camping at a number of private campgrounds around the island, the ultimate for beach views and crystal blue waters is in South Bruny National Park on the southern tip of the island. There are several camp sites here and some of them are free. You do need to bring your own water and firewood, and some require beach access (hence a 4WD is essential). Cloudy Bay is the ultimate in seclusion and dramatic views. Read more here.

Cloudy Bay in South Bruny National Park. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Asia Travel Guides, Reviews, Diary, News | Travel Wire Asia

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In pictures: Up close and personal with the cutest, hairiest and scariest beasts in the Asia-Pacific Mon, 24 Mar 2014 02:14:54 +0000 WHILE Asia isn’t like the wilds of Africa with wildebeests, mass migrations and vast national parks there are an array of incredible animals that are unique to this part of the world that can be found in various contexts in the wild or domesticated. From China to Mongolia, India, Nepal and Malaysia, here are some of Asia’s different animals in pictures.

Monks in the Bhumtang valley pat dogs at their monastery, Bhutan. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The Asiatic Lion exists as a single, isolated sub species in Gujurat, India. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Man’s best friend goes everywhere in China. This couple were taking their dog for a hike, up Fan Jing Shan in Guizhou – a mountain of 2572m. Most people stay overnight on the mountain then trek back down. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Workers at school in north India use Langur monkeys to keep pesky rhesus monkeys at bay, Uttarakhand, India. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Enormous termite mounds in the Northern Territory, Australia. Pic: Joanne Lane,

How long is your nose? The Probiscus monkey is also known as the long-nosed monkey and resides in Borneo, Malaysia. The nose can reach up to 10cm in length. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Asian elephants can be found all over Asia. This one in Chitwan, Nepal was being taken to browse in the forest. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Pork is an integral part of the diet in Papua New Guinea. This one received a bath in one of the stilt villages over the water in the Central Province. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The scaly back of a crocodile at the Wyndham crocodile farm, Western Australia. Pic: Joanne Lane,

There are about 500 one-horned rhino in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. The species came very close to extinction in the 1970s but conservation efforts have again increased their number. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The two humped Bactrian camel of Mongolia. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Snake charmers perform for passersby in Rajasthan, India. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Donkeys are used to cart supplies in the remote himalaya, Nepal. Pic: Joanne Lane,

A boy with sheep in the bustling animal market of Xinjiang, China.

The fleshy features of a male Orangutan in Borneo, Malaysia. Pic: Joanne Lane,



The exotic wild ass of the Little Rann of Kutch, Gujurat, an endangered sub species. Pic: Joanne Lane,

All images by Joanne Lane,

Asia Travel Guides, Reviews, Diary, News | Travel Wire Asia

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In pictures: The Buddhas, temples and monasteries of Asia Mon, 10 Feb 2014 21:14:55 +0000 From enormous Buddha statues to monasteries perched on cliff tops or located in remote valleys, Buddhism plays a huge role across Asia. And even for those with no religious affiliation, a visit to any of these sites provides not only a glimpse into Buddhist life from places as varied as Nepal and Thailand, but an insight into the art, architecture, traditions and culture of that place.

Remote and beautiful: the Lekir gompa, Ladakh, India. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The 65m long reclining Buddha at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Monks in a Bhumtang monastery with whistles, Bhutan. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The enormous reclining Buddha at Wat Po, Bangkok, Thailand. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Game time with elastic bands for monks in a monastery attached to Shwedagon pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Swayambhunath located on a hill above Kathmandu up a steep flight of stairs, Nepal. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Reclining Buddha in the Buddha Park, Vientiane, Laos. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Temple by the sea - Laem Sor Pagoda, Koh Samui, Thailand. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The inner recesses of the Perfume Pagoda, a scenic day trip from Hanoi along a river in a rowboat, Vietnam. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Takstang monastery also known as the Tiger's Nest, is located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley, in Bhutan. It is believed to be the first place Buddhism came to Bhutan. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Ngoc Son Temple / Temple of the Jade Mountain located on the beautiful Hoan Kiem lake, across a pretty bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam. Pic: Joanne Lane,

All images by Joanne Lane,

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Eating your way through Australia’s bush tucker Mon, 03 Feb 2014 05:14:54 +0000 IN Australia the consumption of native animals like kangaroo, emu and crocodile has been going on for millennia. While it’s not a fully fledged commercial industry today, and there’s still some aversion to eating cute native animals, things that hop, run and slither do find themselves onto supermarket shelves, restaurant menus and kitchen tables around the country. Not only is much of the native wildlife high in iron and low in fat, but there’s also plenty of it to go around. Here’s a list of some commonly found Aussie bush tucker. Just remember though, that many of these animals and food sources are protected. It is sometimes possible to get a permit to hunt, but at times only Aboriginal Australians or commercial industries are allowed to kill or farm them. Here’s a list of some bush tucker.


The emu is Australia’s largest bird and worldwide is second only in height to the ostrich. The birds are flightless but they sure can run with strides of close to three metres. Emus were always an important source of meat to Aboriginal Australians and they used the fat for medicine and as a lubricant. Today commercial emu farming has been quite successful with slaughter for meat, oil, leather and fat. Emu burgers are reasonably common around the country. It’s a healthy meat with little fat and three times the iron content of beef with a similar taste and texture. The emu features on the Australian Coat of Arms along with the kangaroo, which has made some people reticent about eating an emu burger, but both have made it into the kangemu burger – a mix of kangaroo and emu, once sold in the restaurant chain Grill’d.

Emus are common in parts of outback Australia. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Kangaroo meat is another food source that Aboriginal people used as a staple. Today the population of kangaroos is estimated between 35-50 million – literally a food source that is hopping around but hasn’t quite gained the commercial appeal it could have, perhaps because of the notion of “eating Skippy” or a much beloved animal puts some people off. However kangaroo meat is very high in protein and low in fat. It should be cooked very lightly as it does not have a lot of fat content or moisture and can easily dry out. Some call it a cross between venison and beef with a more gamey taste. Kangaroo tail roasted in a fire is particularly good.

Eating roasted kangaroo tail. Pic: Joanne Lane,


This is another meat that is low in fat and high in protein. While crocodiles have long been farmed for their leather hides for use in shoes, belts and handbags, their meat is also popular in Australia. It tastes something of a cross between fish and chicken, and is white in colour. Croc burgers are commonly found up in the Northern Territory where there are large populations and crocodile farming.

Crocodile in the Northern Territory. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Stinging nettles

Stinging nettles might not be something you’d choose to put down your throat, but when served up in icecream or soup it’s something different altogether. While you might not find nettle products on every shelf around the country, you can either make it yourself or find it in the odd restaurant like Tukka Restaurant in Brisbane’s West End.


The goanna, a kind of prehistoric type Australian lizard that can grow up to 2.5 metres in length, is another meat that was and is widely eaten by Aboriginal Australians, although the capture of them has always required some skill – they’re often cornered up a tree or when they come out of their holes. When frightened they can mistake people for trees and can seek to run up you – not a lot of fun. Their oil and fat were, and are, also used by Aborigines for its healing properties. The meat itself is reportedly like oily chicken. Goannas are a protected species, however Aboriginal people are allowed to hunt them and may offer you some.


There are numerous nuts in Australia that can be eaten and many are farmed and commonly sold. The most extensive available of these is the maccadamia nut that can be found plain or coated in chocolate, honey or other products and sold in supermarkets, souvenir stores, at the airport and just about anywhere else. The Bunya nut is another popular nut. While spiky and hard on the outside it can be split open and the kern boiled or put in the fire. Indigenous Australians used to celebrate the three year bumper harvests of the bunya trees in places like the Bunya Mountains, west of Brisbane with huge gatherings. People reportedly travelled from great distances to attend  gatherings where ceremonies took place, marriage rights were performed, trade exchanged, discussions had and much food consumed.

The inside of the Bunya nut. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Wild fruits

There are a number of wild fruits found in the Australian bush that can be eaten safely. The bush banana, also known as the silky pear or green vine is one. Desert limes and quandongs can be eaten, there are bush tomatoes, yams and carrots, a variety of apples, plums and cherries and a host of other things. However with all bush food, exercise caution as some is poisonous. Never consume any kind of berry, fruit or nut unless an indigenous or knowledgeable person points out the right ones, even if they look similar to something you’ve eaten before.

When in doubt about wild foods, ask someone that knows. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Lily pad roots

The spongy root of the lily pad can be eaten and is something akin to potato. They can be eaten raw but taste much better when boiled. Not only are they easy to come by all around Australia but very easy to harvest as well – simply dig into the base of the lily and pull out the root.

Lily pad roots. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Sugar bag

Sugar bag is honey made by Australia’s native stingless bees. Indigenous people have long favoured the rather rare honey – a hive may only produce 1kg per year- that is found wild in trees.  This is true bush tucker.

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In pictures: Queensland’s Bunya Mountains Sat, 25 Jan 2014 14:14:55 +0000 The Bunya Mountains in Queensland’s South Burnett region are one of the state’s most distinctive set of peaks with an array of native animals and birdlife, excellent walks, fantastic rainforest and important grasslands, and really great camp sites. It’s the perfect place to escape into nature and get grips to Aboriginal culture and heritage while you’re there. It’s also a lot cooler up here above 1000m than down on the plains around.

One of the park’s friendly rangers told me there is no word for mountain in Aboriginal language and so they call it Bunya Bunya, the reference which will now be used here. Bunya Bunya is of extraordinary significance to Aboriginal people, apparently more so than even Uluru, according to the ranger, and was a gathering ground for Indigenous people to meet, feast on Bunya nuts and other products of the forest, exchange trade, discuss matters and disputes, and perform marriage rites. People used to come from hundreds of kilometres around for these gatherings and often stayed many months. It’s easy to see the attraction for the greenery, cooler climates, plentiful food sources and peaceful environment of the Bunya Bunya has endured.

There are 35km of walking tracks in the Bunya Bunya that lead along the cliff side escarpments with views over the Darling Downs and South Burnett, through rainforest with enormous hoop pines and bunya pines reaching above you, past the nests of owls and by the noisy rosellas and parrots, by gushing waterfalls and creeks, and huge clumps of native grasslands. On the western edge the climate is much drier and it’s here that grass trees feature, their enormous spikes reaching skyward.

Animal and birdlife is prolific with wallabies grazing in or near the campsites, while bandicoots come out at night and there are birds of all kinds in the trees, or even scampering under the table, that include Superb Fairywrens, Satin Bowerbirds, Magpies, Crimson Rosellas and the Australian King Parrot.

There are three camp sites with various facilities, but all are excellent, well kept and clean. Apparently they’ve won awards here for this. Book your campsite online through the Queensland Department of National Parks. There are also cabins available for rent which are a good choice in the colder months when camping would be a challenge. There’s a corner store and cafe at Dandabah.

The amazing Bunya trees from which the mountains get their name. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The Bunya nut can be up to 10kg in size. Signs advise you don’t linger under the pines in case you are clobbered with one of these. The outer skin is very hard and quite sharp. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Wallabies are popular visitors to the campgrounds and very at home in and around tents and trailers. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The grass tree is another of the Bunya mountain’s prominent trees. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Pockets of ferns grow in the rainforest. Pic: Joanne Lane,

A wallaby and joey at the Dandabah campsite. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Superb Fairywrens can also be seen near the campsites. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Paradise Falls on the popular Barker Creek circuit. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Red necked wallabies engage in a tussle. The male and female will fight on two legs like this, similar to males, before courting. Pic: Joanne Lane,


An Australian King Parrot preening in a tree. Wild birds are fed several times daily at the Dandabah corner store. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Green everywhere you turn – the rainforest of the Barker Creek Circuit. Pic: Joanne Lane,


Guess who calls this place home? A male Satin Bower Bird of course with his collection of blue items probably stolen from campers nearby. Spot the bottle top, plastic spoon and pegs. They decorate their nests to attract females. Let’s hope it works out for him. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The view from the Bunya’s highest peak – grass trees on Mt Kiangarow at 1135m. Pic: Joanne Lane,


The ranger told us one of the grass trees at Burtons Well was over 1000 years old. From his description I think it’s this one. Even if it’s not, it’s an impressive one. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Strain your neck to look up at the top of hoop pines and bunya trees in the rainforest. Pic: Joanne Lane,

All images by Joanne Lane,

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Waterfall hopping in south east Queensland Sun, 12 Jan 2014 04:14:56 +0000 With summer in full swing in Queensland’s sultry south east corner, there’s never been a better time to hit the waterfalls and fresh rock pools of the region. From rainforest fringed falls that you can dive right into, to scenic but remote cascades that require a little hoof to bush track first, these falls give you a fantastic taste of the wonders of the south east. Take the plunge this summer and explore.

Wappa falls, Yandina

Wappa falls are located about 10km from Yandina, just off the Bruce Highway, the main arterial road heading north out of Brisbane and along the Sunshine Coast. While the falls are not always pumping out volume, the setting is spectacular with a tiny rock pool to swim in above the falls, and a wonderful open area below them that you can jump into. The water is clear and cool on a hot summers day and it’s fun to scamper about the rocks and explore. Wappa dam is within walking distance of the falls where you can have a picnic or barbecue, and there’s also the Wappa Falls Observatory, a private observatory with 16 telescopes to take in the night sky.

Wappa falls. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Kondalila Falls, Mapleton-Montville

The spectacular Kondalila Falls are located on a turnoff between Mapleton and Montville in the Sunshine Coast hinterland. They plummet some 90 metres into a gorge below and indeed the Aboriginal word Kondalila means “rushing waters”.  There’s an excellent walking circular track that gives you a view of the falls from a number of angles which takes about 90 minutes to complete. The track traipses through a combination of tall eucalypt forest and rainforest species so be prepared for leeches, birds, frogs, ferns and moss. It’s very atmospheric. The path also passes above the falls where there is a wonderful rock pool to swim in. It’s a little cool but a good respite from the heat, particularly after the walk.  If you walk direct to the rock pools it’s only about 20 minutes from the car park.

Kondalila rock pool above the falls. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Queen Mary Falls, Killarney

These falls are located 64km south-west of Booah or 11km east of Killarney, in a superb part of the Darling Downs. The surrounding area in this part of Queensland is all farm country with numerous national parks and scenic areas. It’s well worth a wander. The falls themselves are spectacular all year but particularly after rain, which can be so plentiful at times the track is closed due to dangerous conditions. The road in and out from Boonah can also be hairy after rain. The falls are a 40 minute walk and include vantage points from above and from creek level. There’s nowhere to swim near the falls but the spray alone will cool you down if it’s a hot day. There’s a spectacular circuit crossing the Condamine River in this region as well if you have a bit more time – suitable only by mountainbike, 4WD or strong legs.

Queen Mary Falls. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Natural Bridge, Springbrook National Park

This national park is located in the Gold Coast hinterland, 96km south of Brisbane. It’s a World Heritage site with Aboriginal significance and is always cool even in summer. Natural Bridge is a rather unique formation created by water tumbling through the roof of a cave. It’s also home to glow worms that are fun to view after dark. Sadly swimming in the Natural Bridge section is now prohibited, but it’s still a wonderful place to visit, and those that remember swimming here before 2008 will no doubt regale you about how wonderful it was.

Natural Bridge. Pic: David Liu, CC.

Moran’s Falls, Lamington National Park

These falls are some of the most scenic in the wilds of Lamington National Park, a dense tropical rainforest area on the border between Queensland and National Park with ancient trees, spongy moss, extensive walking tracks and plenty of scenic wonders. The track to Moran’s Falls takes just an hour from the main road and the picnic area above the falls is where a bark hut once housed the O’Reilly brothers when they first arrived in the area. If you spend any time in this area you’ll read all about the O’Reillys who still live up here and run the Rainforest Retreat offering superb accommodation. You first get a glimpse of the falls from about 500m away but it’s well worth heading to the falls themselves for further views.

Moran’s Falls, Lamington National Park. Pic: Joanne Lane,

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Top Asia-Pacific spots to ring in the New Year Fri, 27 Dec 2013 20:14:54 +0000 If you’re looking for a good New Year’s Eve party spot you’re in the right part of the world. Asia and the Pacific know how to enjoy this time of the year and these  five locations should have you ringing it in in style from excellent firework displays to rooftop parties and traditional religious customs.

Sydney, Australia
Head to Sydney for one of the world’s best firework shows. Stake your spot early anywhere around the harbour and settle in for a day of festivities, or head somewhere like Bondi Beach where there’s always a party going on somewhere with a DJ or two. The great thing about New Year’s Eve in Sydney isn’t just the fantastic waterside location, but it’s summer time in Australia and that means you won’t freeze to death in the small hours of the morning like other big party cities, like, say, New York or London.

Pic: Nimbusania, Creative Commons.

Tokyo, Japan
While the Japanese do tend to return homes to celebrate New Year with their families, there are some really interesting things to do here. One tradition at this time of year is to join the crowds doing hatsumode – the year’s first visit to a shrine or temple. Pretty much every single shrine/temple will have Hatsumode festivities going on but the really popular one in Tokyo is Meiji Shrine – if you go be prepared to wait in line. For good nightlife action in Tokyo head to Shibuya  Crossing and eat out at Ameyokocho, a market street  near Ueno Station. Japanese also like to watch NHK’s Kohaku, a TV show with J-pop stars, so if you spend the night at someone’s home consider yourself pre warned that this may form the evening’s entertainment.


Bangkok, Thailand
The vibrant capital city of Thailand comes alive on New Year’s Eve with events, parties and galas held across the city in hotels, clubs, restaurants and along the riverfront. Central World Square is a good public gathering point that has a television screen featuring the countdown in other major centres, so you may get to celebrate new year’s eve more than once! Venues at RCA or along Khao San and Silom Roads will also be busy. If you can afford it the other option is to head to the city’s biggest rooftop party,  the Altitude New Years Eve party, at the Imperial Queen’s Park Tower. Alternatively take a cruise along the riverfront for an excellent view of the city fireworks.


New Zealand
New Zealand gets the first New Year’s celebrations in the world thanks to its geographic position. While the celebrations in Auckland are the biggest in the country, there are other options. Gisborne on the North Island is the first major city to see the new year in and there’s always something going on with a good crowd. Dunedin is also a particularly good place to head to on the soutth island with a wonderful free concert in the Octagon. There are also a number of excellent music concerts held around the country. The Rhythm and Vines festival on the east coast of the North Island is a popular place to see in the new year.

Rhythm and Vines festival. Pic:

Hong Kong
In Hong Kong New Year’s Eve is actually celebrated twice – once for the western calendar and once for the Chinese calendar. On December 31 Victoria Harbour is the best place to go for a pyrotechnical display lighting up the entire waterfront area. Like all popular places you need to go early for a prime spot. Alternatively get a skyscraper view or head out on the water itself. Views are also good in Kowloon along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront or the New Central Harbourfront on Hong Kong Island. Hong Kong also simulates the Times Square countdown with their own ball drop in the shopping mall. There’s alwasy live music and entertainment here. Luxury hotels usually put on their own parties around the city, although the price doesn’t come cheap.  The alternative is bars and restaurants in Lan Kwai Fong.



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Fantastic destinations to consider in 2014 Fri, 29 Nov 2013 02:14:57 +0000 Even if you’ve been almost everywhere in Asia, there is always more to see and hidden gems to discover. From China to India, Australia and New Zealand, this list could take you to a riverside town, a sandy beach, crumbling ruins or to meet wildlife in the Asia-Pacific region in the new year. Happy travelling.

Fenghuang, China
The small town of Fenghuang, or Phoenix in English, in the Hunan Province is a fantastic way to step back a few centuries in Chinese history. It was built in 1704 and its cluster of buildings on the river front, classic clock towers and mix of Miao and Tujia minorities makes it one of the most beautiful and interesting towns to visit in China. Lonely Planet earmarked it in their best of lists for 2014 and it’s indeed worthy of a visit. Wander through the ancient cobbled streets and lanes, or down by the river and inspect more than 200 ancient residences. The locals are friendly and interactive and there are plenty of photo opportunities in this town. Many ancient walls, town gate towers, wells bridges and temples are still in their original state. These leftovers are from the original Ming and Qing dynasty, and Fenghuang is currently on the UNESCO’s tentative list for World Heritage listing.

Fenghuang. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Leh, India
In the northern state of Ladakh, the capital Leh is almost a world away from India’s hustle and bustle, and predominantly Hindu cities. Featuring a population of ethnic Tibetans and lying at a height of 3,524 metres, Leh has all the romance of an ancient trading route, remnants of the salt, grain, wool, silk and other goods that passed through here from India to China for centuries. The old centre of Leh contains a crumbling royal palace that was built in the 17th century, the wonderful 1430 mudbrick Namgyal Tsemo Gompa, the medieval Tsemo Fort and a number of atmospheric alleyways. There’s plenty of great Tibetan food to be eaten here and it’s a good starting out point to organise treks or further ventures into the region. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, will visit Leh from July 3 to 14, 2014 for the Kalachakra teachings.

The mountains and scenery around Leh. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Newcastle, Australia
The Lonely Planet featured Newcastle in its top 10 cities of 2011, which could make its inclusion on this list seem redundant.. But it turns out Newcasle, on the New South Wales coast of Australia, is still a largely undiscovered, beautiful place, and a definite hidden gem. It boasts sun-drenched beaches and amazing scenery, yet few travellers, Australians and international, actually make it there. Only an hour or two away from great tourist attractions like Sydney, the Hunter Valley vineyards, Lake Macquarie or the whale watching in Port Stephens, Newcastle is a must-see on the island.

Glenorchy, New Zealand
At the top of the beautiful expanse of Lake Wakatipu, bordering Queenstown, the tiny town of Glenorchy is gateway to a region that has been extensively used in filming Lord of the Rings and the Narnia movies. That description alone should set the scene without describing the snow-capped vistas, the translucent lake, the alpine meadows and wonderful forests of this area. Glenorchy also offers multi day walks like the Routeburn and Rees Dart that plunge into the passes and country beyond. It is all kind of postage stamp sized in Glenorchy but it’s a brilliant base for scenic driving and exploration in an area suitably named Paradise. Many activities are available, on top of the tramping, fly fishing, horse riding and 4WDing.

View from the Glenorchy pier of Lake Wakatipu. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Chitwan, Nepal
Far from the snow mountains that attract a lot of people to Nepal, Chitwan reveals another remote and wild side of the country. Not only are the rivers and forests boasting an incredible wildlife with elephants, hippos, birds, crocodiles and tigers; there are also interesting villages and plenty of cultural activities to take part in, like traditional Tharu tribe dancing and beautiful landscapes to see, like the Terai that borders India’s plains. The animal viewing opportunities remain perennially popular and nothing beats a ride on an elephant through the forest to hunt tigers or hippos. With the Maoist insurgency now a thing of the past, tourism numbers to Chitwan are on the increase again. Get there first in 2014.

Elephants bathing at dusk, Chitwan. Pic: Joanne Lane,

The Philippines copped it badly in late 2013 with the ferocious onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan. Given the widespread and horrific destruction, many tourists think it’s completely closed for business. But while some areas did suffer horribly, only six of the country’s 7,107 islands were affected and since  much of the country relies on tourism, they are keen to get numbers back up. The Department of Tourism issued a statement in the days after the typhoon that the country remained “a safe and fun destination” and many popular locations were still open and accessible to tourists. Resorts like Boracay, Palawan, Cebu and Bohol have all been hit by 30-40 percent cancellation rates, despite sometimes receiving minor damage to resorts and infrastructure. 2014 could therefore be a year in which visitors give back to the country. If you’ve never considered visiting the Philippines before this could be the year, with historical landmarks, wonderful beaches and islands, culture and tradition, arts, crafts, shopping and more to enjoy.

Dalat, Vietnam
Escape the tourists over-satiated towns of Nha Trang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Hoi An and head to Vietnam’s highlands for something different in 2014. Alpine in climate, look and feel, Dalat lies at 1,500m above sea level on the Langbian Plateau in the Central Highlands. So not only is it a place to escape the heat, it’s also home to wonderful lakes, forests, gardens, waterfalls and hill tribes. Highlights include the Hang Nga Crazy House, the pretty railway station and Dalat Cathedral, and there’s also wonderful local markets featuring some of the fantastic produce of the region – the strawberries are particularly good.

The wonderful array of produce in Dalat. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Hsipaw, Burma/Myanmar
Most visitors to Burma take in the delights of the big four that includes Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan. But venture just a little off track and you’ll find hidden gems such as the delightful highland town of Hsipaw (pronounced Tee-bor). This laid back place is a popular base for trekking (either organised or with your guest house map) and meeting hill tribes or simply wandering around the town that features markets (go early), temples and monasteries. You could come across monks playing football, women weaving traditional bags or farmers working in the fields. While increasingly popular as an alternative to Lashio and Kalaw, Hsipaw is still off the beaten track given the distance from Mandalay.Direct buses now run straight through to Yangon.

Buffalo cart near Hsipaw, Burma. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
KK, as it is affectionately known to locals, is often used simply as the gateway to the Kota Kinabalu Marine Park, Mt Kinabalu, or places further afield. While most people are keen to get further at some point, they usually have to spend a few days here getting their permits or organising travel arrangements. While you’re doing that, take a look around. The capital of Sabah is a great place to experience Borneo town life and will win you over with its fantastic markets along the waterfront where you can enjoy anything from freshly cooked squid to a fruit shake, an excellent array of kopitiam (coffee shops) and historic elements such as the old clock tower. You can take a boat out to the national park and enjoy a day or two diving, snorkelling or beach sitting, and Mt Kinabalu is only a few hours away for those doing the climb.

KK’s vibrant waterfront market. Pic: Joanne Lane,

Vientiane, Laos
While perhaps not as beautiful as Luang Prabang or the islands in Lao’s south, Vientiane is a delightful place of noodle stalls, giant Buddhas, morning markets, great coffee and baguettes, a meandering river and friendly locals. It must be one of Asia’s most laid back capitals and while somewhat of a backwater, most travellers that have the good fortune to spend a few days here enjoy it immensely and are soon wooed by its charms. Not only are there museums, wats and monuments to keep the most active busy, but plenty of river side cafes and garden retreats for those with a more quiet bent, or needing a recharge to venture out again, plus it has all the services, hotels and good restaurants of an Asian city.

To see the recommended travel list for 2013 click here.

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Five Christmas holiday locations in Asia Sat, 09 Nov 2013 22:14:54 +0000 For an exotic holiday with plenty of good cheer this Christmas consider taking your celebrations to the Eastern hemisphere. Not only can you leave your jackets and scarves at home with gloriously warm weather across much of the region, but many Asian nations do get right into the Christmas spirit with celebrations, trees, decorations and good food on offer. Here are five different destinations to consider for a great holiday this year.

Singapore is particularly festive at Christmas with light shows, cultural events and other family friendly things happening around the city state. Key areas like Orchard Road, Marina Bay and Sentosa Island come alive with lights and celebrations. For 6-7 weeks from mid-Nov to early January Orchard Road transforms into the ultimate Christmas wonderland. The buildings along the road compete in a “best dressed” contest and liberally drape themselves in Christmas paraphernalia. There’s also the Christmas Light-Up Ceremony when thousands of candles and shopping street lights set off the street for over 5km. Colourful Christmas floats often make the rounds at night and there’s a giant 15m tall Christmas tree to enjoy as well. Orchard Road is particularly busy on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the weekends leading up to the holiday. If you’re not that keen on Christmas things or shopping, then head to the world class Singapore Zoo, Sentosa Island’s Universal Studios, explore Chinatown and eat well through the Christmas season on famous Singapore crabs.

Orchard Rd Christmas. Pic: Choo Yut Shing, Flickr

The Japanese are not adverse to celebrating Christmas and department stores across the nation usually get into the spirit if you want chocolate Santa Claus, Christmas trees and tinsel. However one of the best reasons to visit Japan over Christmas is to enjoy the fine ski season. There are more than 500 ski resorts to choose from in Japan. The Hakkaido and Nagano region are probably the most popular and well known and all the resorts have an onsen (hot spring) where you can strip down, have a scrub and warm soak after a day out on the slopes. The perfect way to spend a Christmas holiday, and it’s cheaper than skiing in North America or Europe.


The Philippines is one of only two Asian nations with a predominantly Roman Catholic population (the other being East Timor) and this means Christmas is a big deal with numerous mall sales and festivities around the country. The Philippines reportedly has the world’s longest Christmas season with carols starting in September and lasting until January 9 for the feast of the Black Nazarene. Carolers can typically be found going from door to door. In the Philippines not only are shops and churches decorated, but stars shaped lanterns known as parols are hung absolutely everywhere and there’s a giant lantern festival held in San Fernando City. Dawn masses known as Simbang Gabi begin on 16 December and run over nine nights until Christmas Eve. After this final Midnight Mass families celebrate with a feast of traditional food. It’s a good season to be hungry in the Philippines as you’ll find plenty of food carts and stands during the Christmas season. Wherever you are expect to see fabulous Christmas displays, numerous Christmas parties and plenty of Christmas zeal.

If you’re not seeking Christmas pageantry then one of the Philippines’ 7000 idyllic islands may be just the holiday spot you need. There are glorious white sand beaches at Boracay, wonderful limestone rock formations in the Coron Islands, excellent diving in Bohol province, whale sharks to see in Donsol Bay between November and June, the phenomenal rice terraces of Banaue, historic Spanish towns like Vigan and plenty of megacities where you can shop and eat.

An electric parol. Pic: bingbing, CC.

Goa, India

Another Catholic destination to consider at Christmas is the wonderful coastal state of Goa which the Portuguese once called home. Christmas brings some of the best weather to the state and along with the Portuguese styled white washed churches with their prayers and carols, it’s a particularly vibrant time to visit with homes, shops and churches decked out with Christmas decorations. If the church going scene isn’t your thing there are plenty of sun drenched beaches and coconut palms to enjoy; the beautiful historic centres of Panjim and old Goa; excellent Goan cuisine featuring fresh salads, fruit, coconut based curries and vegetables; and as it’s also peak holiday season the nightclubs and discotheques are in full swing. Thanks to its Catholic roots, Goa also is more liberal than other parts of India and beef and alcohol are also easily available.

Christmas in Goa. Pic:

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul has a relatively large Christian population for an Asian country at 30 percent and Christmas is an official public holiday, so you can expect the usual parties, gift giving, card sending and other seasonal elements. Apart from the usual traditional Christmas celebrations, December 25 is also treated as a couples day particularly by young people and K-pop groups usually make the most of this by releasing romantic ballads at this time. Cakes are reportedly very popular at Christmas and window shopping past patisseries for extravagant and decorative cakes is fun, just get in early with your own order.

It doesn’t necessarily snow much over Christmas in Seoul but temperatures can reach zero, making it the perfect opportunity to enjoy the Korean art of jjimjilbang or luxury spas. Some spas are open 24 hours meaning you can get your body scrub, massage or long hot soak at any time of the day or night. There are plenty of saunas and spas across the town. The cold weather also gives you a good excuse to eat Korean trying foods like soondubu jiggae (a Korean stew), dakjuk (chicken porridge), seolleongtang (ox tail soup), bulgogi (barbecued beef in lettuce) or bibimbap (rice with egg, meat, vegetables and sauce). Seoul also has a fantastic outdoor ice skating rink in winter and there are also sledding centres like at the Everland Park.

Christmas in Seoul. Pic: AP.

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