The iron fist against the masses

 

“We don’t kill our people…no government in the world kills its people, unless it’s led by a crazy person.” – Bashar al-Assad, currently Syrian president (and also a long-standing dictator), during his interview with American journalist Barbara Walters. Despite his ‘innocent-sounding’ statements, the military continues to conduct brutal crackdown against the opponents, which had claimed, as of the end of January 2012 – marking more than 10 months since the armed subjugation began, exceeding 6000 lives, 300 of whom were infants and children.

Reminiscing year of the dragon

 

“Seems like on every twelve-month passed, Chinese New Year seems similarly monotonous. Paying a visit to our distant relatives’ homes once in a year, talking about skeptical predictions of this country, asking how the businesses transpire throughout the season, and having some kwatji (Hokkien words for stir-fried melon seeds) and small-shaped cakes to devour on. That’s all what we’re doing.”  My dad came out with this statement while we had just been back from going round our distant relative’s house, whom we do really visit merely once in a year. Their house, as I could say, is not too distant from ours, and even can be inferred as ‘a stone’s throw away’, if you try to reach it using vehicles.

I envy those who celebrate it to the fullest. When I was looking around social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter or Blackberry Messenger, I saw that many of my friends uploaded pictures taken, showing how they excitingly interacted with, be it their cousins, nieces, nephews, or any distant relatives from cities beyond Medan or countries beside Indonesia. Some of them even celebrated it with their classmates, paying a visit to their beloved teacher (hopefully I did it on the fourth day of Chinese New Year). A few commemorated it by holding a big feast with their grand-big families.

Looking back at everything they had done, all I could conclude, among many of the friends I’ve known before, was that we used to, and are still used to, having the most ‘un-special’ annual Chinese New Year celebration.

 

 

Seriously, I had no idea over what to do while being in someone’s hearthstone other than accepting red pockets, getting some snacks they had prepared on the living room, quothing ‘happy Chinese New Year’ to once-in-a-year distant relatives (just these sets of syllables, simply speaking), and listening to my parents’ conversation, in which they frequently did only once per annum, as well.

Let me confess further of what I actually did during the festivities celebrated by the bulk of almost 1.5 billion Chinese people worldwide. On the first day, we held it in our grandmother’s home (of paternal side, as both from the maternal had so long deceased), and it was also the day where we spent almost half a day taking care of grandmother, as my uncle and his family, who have been staying  altogether with her for so long, had to pay a visit to his wife’s siblings’ families. We had been doing this same thing over and over ever since we moved to our new house in 2000, as her husband had passed away. Moreover, she currently suffers from Parkinson’s disease, but of lighter symptoms.

Instead, to kill the boredom induced by accompanying our parents, I brought a laptop to take a look at every file I had saved from Internet, and my younger brother took school textbooks to finish all the homework. During the interval, I had chat with what I dub as ‘youngest aunty and uncle ever’; they both are children of my grandmother’s younger sister, but the duo are still in their 20s. After almost half an hour, as I conjectured, I went on ‘having a virtual trip’ over my laptop, scanning through myriad Microsoft Word documents I had long copied from many web-sites, but even never managed to ‘touch’ it.

Geez, I took a look at myself. What a nerd I am. That’s how my mind responded when I took a brief look at the mirror of my grandmother’s room. (it’s where while I awayed the time sticking my eyes against the Hewlett-Packard) My dad and my mom were out there greeting all the guests coming into our grandmother’s house, but I and Dicky, my younger brother’s name, spent time playing laptop and PSP! (note: if he’s surrounded by tedium, his big, rounded eyes may goggle at that device, no matter if he’s accomplished either his homework or his lessons’ reviews)

And our main job was only to receive red pockets, as I’ve said before, and outspoken ‘Gong xi!’ to the masses. I swear, to be honest, that sometimes I forgot how to call our seniors (you know, Chinese customs in calling the elders are complicating, because there’s differentiation to ‘second uncle’ to ‘third uncle’, ‘grandmother’ in maternal and paternal side, and so on). To simplify, I simply called all of them, either ‘uncle’ or ‘aunty’. That’s all, even if it always means a tremendous error.

 

 

Another thing that I did, while we were being guests at others’ houses, was dallying over the Blackberry’s trackballs. My ears hearkened to my dad’s conversation (most of the time, all he did was talking about politics and, a bit sensitive one, ‘how’s your business?’) with the male counterparts, be it my dad’s father’s business partner (a tax consultant), my mom’s distant relative’s husband (whose address I have mentioned earlier in the first paragraph, or my mom’s elder sister’s sons. I bet, almost half of the words related were all about our country’s situation, and spoken in skeptical manner. Ranging from labor protests demanding higher pay, a heating political temperature towards the 2014 presidential election, candidates they perceive as ‘potentially dangerous’, and in the long run, the slap-bang, obnoxious attitude of vehicle drivers along the roads and streets.

If my Blackberry’s battery was down, I opted to read comic books. That’s what I did while we were in my dad’s elder sister’s – or what we, the youngsters, should call gugu, or ‘aunty’ – home. She invited us to have a lunch (no, just call it a ‘feast’, then) there because she had specially cooked chicken’s rib curry, fried pieces of chicken, and stewed snaps to all of the big family, including my grandmother and my uncle’s. Having been slaked by the delicacies, I got myself back into my own imaginary world, relaxingly munching my thought through every single page of Karriage Kun comic books I borrowed from my cousins (my aunt’s sons, anyway), whom I widely acknowledge as a sarcastic way of viewing into the daily life of a Japanese office worker which unavoidably provokes stomach-shuffling laughter. What a nerd I am, back and again.

 

Just observe who’s the naughtiest one depicted in the picture. That’s Karriage.

 

Yet, the celebration this year was a bit more special as some of my classmates (of 2-Social-1) invited me to pay a visit to our form teacher’s house, the woman whom we have considered more as a ‘friend’ and ‘a great company to outpour all our personal feelings’ than as simply a teacher. This has never happened many years prior back in my high-school life, but I just feel simply happy enough that there’s a bit time left to interact with the teacher and my classmates, while she was preparing bowls of noodle soup by her own. This was how I closed the rejoicing, by racking in the thinly-shaped noodles, and the round-shaped fishballs, pieces by pieces. It’s the part where I really enjoyed it.

Reminiscing back into the past, the way how we cherished the Chinese New Year was persistently still as ‘unimmoderate’ as ever. I am running out of ideas of how to make such an ‘out-of-the-box’ festivity during the holidays. Guess like I need to learn meditation for some flush of inspiration.

But, anyway, my dad’s word of ‘monotonous’ was proven correct. At least he recognized it.

 

 

The world according to Adora Svitak

 

In a world that becomes increasingly complex and more intricate than ever, with population approaching the 10 billionth mark and beyond, it can be inferred that more problems will emerge, and may require solutions that have never been used before to solve problems in the past.

The question is: if we have brand-new ideas which may sound totally novel, too imaginary, or perhaps – as the adults may call it – overtly ‘childish’, are we ready to implement them in our daily lives?

Adora Svitak, now a 14-year-old child prodigy who has had authored 3 best-selling books, instead proposes a notion which sounds contradictory in the masses’ minds: be proud to be ‘childish’ (but not in terms of daily behaviors). It’s true that we can’t cling on the similar solutions as the main approach to resolve different problems, and that’s where the ‘childish’ term discovers its own omnipotence. To prove that, she has currently organized a TEDx event (find it: TEDxRedmond, to ease out your search, as there have been more than 2000 TEDx events held worldwide), which is mainly aimed for the ‘nation’s below-18 best and brightest’. To date, she has invited adventurers, entrepreneurs, artists, writers, activists, critics, scientists, musicians, and philanthropists – all of whom are aged below 18 – to give out their best ideas to help creating a better world in the youth-only conference.

Will you agree on her notion?

Listen to her TED Talk here about being ‘childish’ enough to change the world.

And read more at her latest blog to know in full depth and insight the world according to Adora Svitak.

Beauty craze in South Korea

 

It may be some sort of rarity in South Korea for either any actors or actresses to have had admitted attaining what the youth dashingly dub as ‘ul-jjang’, or ‘best face’  in Korean, through plastic surgery, which are sometimes life-threatening. But, to say the least, some have confessed having so, one example revealed by a South Korean actress, Nam Gyu-ri (pictured above).

Plastic surgery has increasingly become a must-have trend among the youth in a country, driven by its spectacular economic growth the world hailed as ‘being miraculous’, which has enabled millions of citizens there to have their faces beautified, commonly under the knife. According to surveys by various media sites, in particular BBC and CNN, it is estimated that more than 50% of the population aged 20s have had in minimum one form of plastic surgery, excluding other treatments. Within the celebrities, the actual figure may be even higher, as some put in more than 90%. What’s worse, for the first time in Korean history, statisticians have recorded more plastic surgery than healthcare clinics in terms of quantity, while the populace, currently numbered at 50 million, is gradually aging, obviously shown by its near-zero population growth.

What’s your opinion?

 

Read more at BBC NEWS (2005 version) and The New York Times.

Moving beyond BRICS

THE CENTURY OF THE EMERGERS

GOING BEYOND BRICS

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If combined, their dynamic, vibrant economic growth will prevail the main powerhouse that drives that of the whole world for in minimum one or two decades to come. The roles United States and European Union used to dominate in the past have been increasingly shifted instead to developing countries, largely thanks to the current financial malaise and the booming workpower outsourcing trends, in which major corporations in most of the advanced countries have commenced to reconsider the gigantic manpower all these countries have while their bases do not. Thousands of American companies have been vying for brummagem, cheap-jack manufacturing cornerstones either in China or any developing countries elsewhere in the world. Russian economy will still fluorish on the ground of its tremendous natural resources yet to be mined; there are dozens of mining giants currently on the list to extract away all these priceless metals and minerals required to ensure the global economic powerhouse will keep on functioning.

But here comes the challenge: how long will BRICS dominate the lexicon of 21st-century international relations? Or more importantly, how long will this decade-old, newly-coined neologism survive?

BRICS is not without its own heels of Achilles. Among the countries, there tends to be an overarching, outlying inequality in terms of GDP comparison. It takes the entire GDP of Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa (which if summed up would have been approximately 7 trillion US$) to counterpoise that of China. The inequality extends to the geopolitical roles China plays in global stage. Unlike the four countries, the ‘Big Brother’ has much more capability, given its cash-rich foreign exchange reserves and gigantic population, to bind contracts with myriad regimes of resource-rich countries, no matter whether they have good records in human rights or not. It does also host a titanic diaspora numbered at more than 100 million, scattered throughout the entire globe, who are economically influential in dozens of countries. It is still in a period of ‘harmonious relationship’ with the rest of BRICS members, especially in terms of economic and trading agreements, but all of these will be further tested by an increasing ambition among all the countries to hamshackle superpower status, which in the future may sparkle possible conflicts among each other.

 

Officially, Twitter ‘reborn’ in China.

 

The existence of BRICS is further examined by the unavailability of democracy in Russia and China. Russia may have had a multiparty democracy, but the country remains occupied with terrors and despondency. There is little, or to a worse extent, no, protection for critics and dissidents, whose ideas are needed to improve the quality of the nation. China presents an even more formidable scenario. With economy pacing up rapidly, hundred million civilians are right now attaining the ‘middle-class’ status. And that also means more Chinese are becoming increasingly well-educated, and are able to relish access to sophisticated technology, particularly Internet. As we know, Internet has played a major role to trigger masses to overthrow iron-handed regimes, as have been shown recently in Middle East and North Africa. This is what Beijing becomes very worried about. The Chinese people in 21st century are in general no longer the Chinese people in 20th century we used to perceive. More youth are turning up increasingly aware that ‘there is something wrong taking place with our government, and we’ve gotta change it’. It is even strengthened by the mass availability of instant social networks which enable information to  be disseminated in no time, such as Twitter and Weibo. (as of today, Chinese government does not allow Facebook to lure Chinese users) The culmination point was reached when the Chinese bullet-train incident took place in July 2011, instigating a tsunami of anger and wrath in many of China’s social networks, which in the long run were blockaded and covered up by government’s agencies (there were even reports where police confidentially arrested and jailed Weibo users who were caught up to have tonguelashed the regime by tracking down their IP addresses. Moreover, the regime has currently passed a bill to obligate every social-network user to enlist their actual names, in accordance with those on their identity cards.) A handful of labor protests, despite the infinitesimal amounts, began to unravel in many factories throughout the country, demanding better equality and better pay, albeit they often ended up in brutal crackdowns by police authorities. The dreams of ‘real democracy’ in China, as a few envision, will still remain a castle in the air for this moment, but sluggishly, the supporters are popping out throughout the whole entity, even though the time taken to embody these ideals might be excessively long, and even would not be achieved within a generation.

 

Mexico City’s GDP is approximately one-third of the country’s total, with figures amounting to almost 400 billion US$. As an additional fact, it is inhabited by as many as 20 million people, or one-sixth of the nation’s population.

 

Given all these propositions, experts are currently proposing that a few countries be added in to the list, which will automatically convert the acronym’s name. The first option is Mexico. In the recent years, it has showed off strong economic performances with a high turnover for its GDP. The economy fluorishes very well because of its strong consumption sector, its reduced dependency on extraction-related sectors, such as oil & gas and mining, and its successful efforts in diversification, as shown by the examples: its automobile production currently surpasses that of Canada and United States, the television’s surpassing South Korea’s, and the smartphone’s surpassing those of China, South Korea, and Taiwan, thanks to its abundant number of young-aged workforces. In addition, Mexico has a strong economic cornerstone, sustained by its low debt-to-GDP ratio, which approaches no more than 20%. Beyond economy, it also adopts a very free democracy, which allows ideas to be easily circulated among people. Nevertheless, it also faces a serious thorn in its own flesh: the ongoing drug war by security forces which has claimed more than 40,000 lives, since its glissade by President Felipe Calderon in 2006. Corruption rates remain high, especially in the police forces. Many states in the country are ravaged by so-called ‘jungle law’, as they are dominated by competing drug cartels, whose members consist of ex-troops and policemen who had been laid off.

 

Seoul, South Korea.

 

Besides Mexico, analysts also put South Korea in the consideration list. It tops among all the other emerging markets in terms of GDP per capita, which has surpassed 23,000 US$ as of 2011, making it almost eligible to be included among the G7 list. Moreover, of all the 64 identified emerging markets in the planet, it is the South Koreans who perfectly excel in terms of educational quality, environmental conservation, science, technology and infrastructure. It has also witnessed high economic growth in recent years, despite the fact that it was once hit quite hard by 2008/2009 global recession. Still, two main challenges are facing the country right now: the belligerence status with North Korea, which indicates any possible open warfare might occur sometime in the future between the divided states, and the near-zero and possible negative population growth rate, which menaces a possible decrease as far as 10% in 2050.

 

As many as 15% of Jakartans (the demonym for people living in the megapolis) – numbered at 1.5 million – do earn more than 10,000 US$ per capita per annum, the highest percentage compared to the other major cities in Indonesia.

 

Lastly, there is a country considered to be one of the world’s most strategic emerging markets after evaluation by substantial number of economists: Indonesia. Together with Turkey and Egypt, they are the only triumvirate which always appear in all emerging-market indices released by behemoth, rock-star investment banks and financial institutions, as listed consecutively: Next-11/BRIC, CIVETS, FTSE, MSCI, The Economist, Standard&Poor, Dow Jones, and EAGLEs/NEST. In terms of geopolitical vocabulary, they share the similar advantage, serving as the main gate for intercontinental trade. Turkey is the main ‘bridge’ connecting Europe and Asia, Egypt linking Africa, Europe and Asia simultaneously, and Indonesia correlating Asia and Oceania. Yet, unlike the former duo, Indonesia is endowed with a plethora of diverse natural resources, either extractive (with the sole exception of oil and gas) or edible. Besides, its economic performance has improved dramatically ever since the 1997/1998 maelstrom, as seen from its resilience and resistance against the 2008 recession which sent a hard blow into the global economy, thanks to the strong consumption sector. It has also succeeded in lowering its debt-to-GDP percentage, from a record-high 150% during the peak crisis in 1997 to approximately 25% by the commencement of 2012.  Furthermore, its abound young generation (those aged between 15 and 40), the most pivotal factor in determining the long-term success of a country’s economic growth,  constitutes more than two-thirds of the total population, enabling Indonesia to go on sustaining vibrant economic development in the long term.

However, albeit democracy has been fully restored for more than 12 years, Indonesia still has piles of homework it needs to accomplish in order to maintain the success. Its Corruption Perception Index (CPI), released annually by Transparency International, has recorded only a slight improvement, from 140 in the beginning of the first decade to 120 in the second. Bureaucracy remains complicating particularly for investors, as often there are many provincial-level and regency-level regulations which in fact contradict with the statutes already passed by the legislature. Security remains quite vulnerable as there may emerge sectarian conflicts, labor protests ending up in anarchy, political dissensions among parties involved, armed robberies, societal brawls, etc. Infrastructure remains lagging behind many other emerging countries (as a comparison, China has 40,000 km of highway, Malaysia 3000, while Indonesia? A bit more than 700.) This is why there is no doubt that its infrastructural quality was ranked 90 worldwide in 2010, and remains unchanged since then. State administration remains rattletrap, as obviously seen from the wanton acts by land authorities in giving certificates of land ownership to certain parties who don’t realize that the land they purchase have been actually possessed by someone else. That is why land disputes often spark deadly conflicts between farmers and corporations involved. For the government, it will be an arduous task, especially for a country whose credit rating has elevated to the status of ‘investment grade’, the bestowal granted only for newly industrialized countries or those with low bureaucracy, corruption rates, and high legal certainty.

By the outset of May 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has recently launched a 15-year economic-development scheme entitled ‘Masterplan Percepatan dan Perluasan Pembangunan Ekonomi Indonesia’ (MP3EI), translated in English as ‘Masterplan for the Acceleration and Expansion of Economic Development of Indonesia’, scheduled to take into account from 2011 to 2025, with the aims of multiplying its GDP to 4.5 trillion US$ by the time the program has ended. Through investments by government, state-owned enterprises, national and foreign private corporations, the program is expected to have invested more than 4000 trillion rupiah (equivalent to 450 billion US$) in national infrastructure within the given period. In the first year of its implementation, as many as 100 projects worth 350 trillion rupiah (more or less 38.5 billion US$) have gained approval by authorities in Jakarta, but still, many businesspeople consider it a ‘major failure’. What makes them  to say so?

Many of them are yet to await agreement by authorities of the provinces involved, excluding the regencies and the districts. Some simply garner consent, but without much financial assistance. It all happens at the same time more economists aspire that Indonesia be admitted to BRICS (the new acronym will be BRIICS, or BRICIS) than they do to Mexico, or South Korea. What an irony.

 

 

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