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February 17 2014

Dancing and Rising for Justice in Southeast Asia

Filipino activists hold a 'One Billion Rising' dance protest near the Philippine presidential palace to push for greater subsidy to social services.

Filipino activists hold a ‘One Billion Rising’ dance protest near the Philippine presidential palace to push for greater subsidy to social services.

The ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign was supported by many groups and individuals in the Southeast Asian region. This year, the theme was broadened to include the call for justice aside from the particular demand to end violence against women.

In Cambodia, the violence inflicted on striking garment workers was highlighted during the preparation of the event:

…there have been crackdowns and violence on garment factory workers who demonstrated for better working conditions which resulted in many (casualties). Other female land rights activists had also been savagely beaten, arrested and detained without investigation. Reparations have never been made for the victims and until (today) the perpetrators have not been brought to justice

But the biking activity on February 14 was blocked by the police since it was seen as a threat to peace and order.

Cambodia's bike event was blocked by the police

Cambodia's bike event was blocked by the police

In Indonesia, ‘One Billion Rising’ activities were held in seven cities across the country.

The 'One Billion Rising' dance was performed in seven cities in Indonesia

The ‘One Billion Rising’ dance was performed in seven cities in Indonesia

'Rise for Justice' in Indonesia

‘Rise for Justice’ in Indonesia

Members of the Women in Hai Hau in Nam Dinh province, Vietnam led a practice session for the ‘One Billion Rising’ dance event. Below is a video of their rehearsal:

In Thailand, students of Chiang Mai University supported the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign. Below is a video of their practice session:

Another 'One Billion Rising' photo in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Image from Facebook page of Lisa Kerry

Another ‘One Billion Rising’ photo in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Image from Facebook page of Lisa Kerry

In the Philippines, the women’s group Gabriela coordinated the ‘One Billion Rising’ campaign and they were able to mobilize thousands of women in various parts of the country. Joms Salvador, secretary general of Gabriela, explained the importance of the campaign to eliminate all forms of violence against women:

Sometimes, because of the impunity of poverty, human rights violations, violence against women and children, people tend to be desensitized. We need to realize that such situations must not be the norm and that these have to change. We need to act collectively and make our call for justice stronger because things could only get worse when we keep silent and just watch idly by.

In the city Davao located in the southern part of the country, the issue of corruption was underscored in the fight for meaningful justice:

With the state of the country marred by corruption especially with the anomalous use of the public funds, then all taxpayers should be with us in dancing to call for justice

'Justice' is the theme of this year's 'One Billion Rising'

‘Justice’ is the theme of this year's ‘One Billion Rising’

'Rise, Release, Dance' activity in Davao City, located in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines

‘Rise, Release, Dance’ activity in Davao City, located in the southern island of Mindanao in the Philippines

'Justice for typhoon Haiyan victims' is one of the demands of the campaign

‘Justice for typhoon Haiyan victims’ is one of the demands of the campaign

Workers called for a wage hike as part of the campaign for social justice

Workers called for a wage hike as part of the campaign for social justice

February 14 2014

PHOTOS: Saigon in the Past 50 Years

The Saigoneer features several photos published by the French Consulate in Saigon, Vietnam that highlight the changes that took place in the city between 1955 and 2005.

February 13 2014

Activists Ask China to Ban Bear Bile Farming

Using social media and other tools, animal rights activists around the world are urging China to prohibit farmers from keeping bears in captivity and harvesting their bile, a digestive juice stored in the gall bladder that is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

The nonprofit group Animals Asia has collected more than 83,000 signatures so far on a petition asking Chinese officials to end the “barbaric practice” of bear bile farming. The foundation said more than 10,000 bears in China are kept in cages – sometimes so cramped that the animals can't turn around or stand – for their entire lives, and that the bile is extracted through painful methods.

The conditions on the farms are documented in YouTube videos.

“This is torture,” a YouTube user named “mogtrader8″ posted after watching that video. “There's no doubt about it.”

The cause has resonated on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking platforms with both individuals, including artists and athletes, and groups like Moon Bear Rescue. (The bears typically used in bile farming are Asiatic black bears, commonly known as moon bears because of the cream-colored crescent moon shape on their chest.)

An animal rights activist in Australia tweeted:

An American environmentalist known as Sprat24 called bear bile farming “despicable” and asked, “Have you seen how these bears live? How could you not help?”

Rescuing moon bears from mistreatment 

Animals Asia has been helping moon bears since it was founded in 1998. The foundation has rescued more than 400 animals from bile farms, established bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam, and urged government officials to outlaw the practice.

There are no accurate estimates on the global population of Asiatic black bears; they may number in the tens of thousands. Experts believe the moon bear population is declining. They are not considered endangered, but the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

In China, bear bile farming is legal, but only on licensed farms that have at least 50 bears and meet certain standards.

In January 2013, in what became known on Twitter as the #newyearrescue, Animals Asia and China's State Forestry agency rescued six moon bears from an illegal bear bile farm in Sichuan province. The bears, which had injuries and other evidence of mistreatment, were resettled at the foundation's shelter outside Chengdu.

Hong Kong photographer Peter Yuen recently documented the progress that the rescued bears have made:

Peter Yuen documented Animal Asia's moon bear rescue effort. Photo via Animal Asia's campaign page in Facebook.

Peter Yuen documented Animal Asia's moon bear rescue effort. Photo via Animal Asia's campaign page in Facebook.

What a difference a year makes…

One year on from her rescue, Manuka forages in her habitat without a care in the world.

But rescuing bears one at a time isn't enough, Animals Asia says.;

Petitioning China's US ambassador

In its latest campaign against bear bile farming, the group hopes to garner at least 100,000 signatures on a petition asking China to end the practice entirely. Animals Asia plans to present the petition to Cui Tiankai, China's ambassador to the United States. The petition reads:

On January 9th 2013, six lucky moon bears arrived at Animals Asia's Bear Rescue Centre in Chengdu — the only sanctuary in China built to care for bears rescued from the barbaric practice of bile farming. Battered and broken from their time on an illegal bear farm, these bears are already starting to mend under the expert care of Animals Asia's dedicated vet team.

And while the nightmare is over for these six bears, across China more than 10,000 moon bears remain in tiny cages never feeling the sun on their backs or grass under their feet. They can be kept like this for up to 30 years. This cruel practice continues despite the availability of many effective and affordable alternatives.

Animals Asia applauds the Chinese Government for rescuing these six bears and closing the illegal farm, but the suffering of 10,000 must be made a priority and a firm date set when bear farming will end!

Many of the people who signed the petition added comments. “Cruel and disgusting,” wrote a woman from California (signer No. 82,965).

A women from the Netherlands (signer No. 82,526) posted: “Never believe that animals suffer less than humans do. Pain is the same for them that it is for us.”

“Not all traditions are worth continuing!” stated a resident of British Columbia (signer No. 83,014). “This is an archaic practice that needs to stop.”

The use of bear bile is a centuries-old tradition in Southeast Asia. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine use bear bile to treat hemorrhoids, sore throats, sores, bruising, muscle ailments, sprains, epilepsy, fever and other ailments; some men tout it as aphrodisiac or hangover cure.

Bear bile is used in more than 120 Chinese medicine products, from heart medication to eye drops. Because of the demand, the bile can sell for astronomical prices – up to 24,000 US dollars a kilogram, about half the price of gold.

To obtain the bile, farmers insert a metal tube permanently into the belly of each bear; the animal wears an iron vest to hold it in place. The bile then is extracted two to four times a day.

The active ingredient in bear bile is ursodeoxycholic acid. Scientists disagree on whether it has significant health benefits.

Ursodeoxycholic acid can be obtained from many other sources, such as herbs and synthetic processes. Groups such as Animals Asia, the World League for Protection of Animals and Wildlife Worldwide have been urging practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine to shift from bear bile to alternative sources.

Celebrities support for moon bears 

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, pop singer Han Hong, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others.

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and etc. Animal Asia Poster.

Prominent personalities have spoken out against bear bile farming. They include basketball legend Yao Ming, movie stars Maggie Q, Karen Mok and others. Animals Asia Poster.

Many Chinese celebrities stepped forward to protest bear bile farming in 2011 and 2012 when the pharmaceutical firm Gui Zhentang, which extracts and sells bile, was applying to be listed as a publicly traded company on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

In the face of the public backlash, Gui Zhentang last year withdrew its application to issue an initial public offering. 

Then, last August, animal rights activists scored another victory: As part of Animals Asia's “Healing without Harm” campaign, about 150 Chinese drugstores announced that they would no longer sell bear bile products. 

That prompted an outpouring of support for the pharmacies on social media:

On petition website ForceChange, user Judy Thorpe commented:

Bears have suffered for so many years and I cannot express enough praise in your decision for refusing to stock bear bile on your store's shelves. We are now in the modern era and animal abuse will not be tolerated. You have set a positive example by taking stand against bear bile products. Thank-you so very much.

Besides China, South Korea also allows bear bile farming; nearly 1,600 bears are being raised in that country. Vietnam banned the practice in 2005, but Animals Asia says about 2,400 bears still are being illegally raised on bile farms there.

Animals Asia isn't the first group to start a petition against bear bile farming. In 2011, Wildlife World obtained 15,000 signatures on a petition calling on Hu Jintao, then president of China, to close the country's bear bile farms.

If Animals Asia's petition proves unpersuasive, the group has another tactic to get its story across: an interactive storybook for children.

The foundation teamed up with Microsoft and on January 29 launched a website in both English and Chinese to tell the story of the rescued bear Jasper and his buddies.

February 08 2014

Why Vietnam-made Game Flappy Bird is Popular

Vietnam-made game Flappy Bird is today's number one app in the iOS App Store in over 100 countries. It already has more than 50 million downloads and it even beat Facebook's Paper app. Anh-Minh Do of Tech in Asia explains the popularity of the game:

It’s so hard that it’s ridiculously frustrating, annoying, and somehow existentially hilarious. It’s so hard it’s funny. In this way, Flappy Bird is punishing. If you take a gander at the reviews on the App Store, you’ll immediately see how much people love to hate it. And this is probably the single biggest reason for its success. People love to torture themselves, and they love to share it. The difficulty of the game is engineered for virality.

February 06 2014

French Influence on Vietnamese Cooking

Writing for The Culture Trip, Melissa Pearce reviews the French impact on Vietnamese cooking:

The French brought many ingredients and flavours to Vietnam, most popular and noticeable upon entering the country is probably the baguette, which the Vietnamese adapted and today create their own style of baguette using rice flour.

January 27 2014

Teaching Art During Vietnam War

The British Library blog features several art works made during the Vietnam War era. It also quotes Nguyễn Toan Thi, a guerilla artist during the war:

Art classes were held outside in the forest until our schools were bombed: classes were then held underground. Art teachers and students shared the same trenches. We fought and sketched together, to record spontaneous and realistic images of the battlefield and our life in the forest.

January 22 2014

How the Vietnamese are Using Facebook Pages

Despite being regularly blocked by the government, Facebook continues to grow in terms of users in Vietnam. Patrick Sharbaugh of Vietmeme explains how Vietnamese are maximizing Facebook pages:

…they don’t use it only for posting personal information, but often for creating temporary civil society communities and advocating for pet causes.

A Facebook page will pop up one day decrying a low-level government official or a crazy new traffic law or calling for signatures on a petition to advocate for some person or cause. And people will post scores of remixed photos and images and manga that subtly mock the issue or ridicule the person in a way that requires razor-sharp pop-culture sensibilities to understand, and the page will collect a few thousand Likes. And then, two or three weeks later, it’ll be gone. They made their point, and nobody wants to get too carried away.

The quote is from an interview conducted by Ben Valentine of The Civic Beat Reader

December 31 2013

Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia

The Asian Forum of Parliamentarians on Population and Development has published a policy briefer that tackled the extent of human trafficking in Southeast Asia.

Many Southeast Asian countries are at the bottom of a lot of the world's supply chains, including for food, garments, and technology. Yet few countries in the region have adequate laws for addressing corporate responsibility for human trafficking, including in their supply chains.

The primer also provides country-specific recommendations on how to best address the human trafficking issue in the region

Beer Looting Ignited Internet Meme in Vietnam

One of the companies which pledged assistance to the truck driver: “Let’s join hands to help the beer looting victim and save the Vietnamese people’s honor.” Photo from Facebook page of Wegreen Vietnam.

One of the companies which pledged assistance to the truck driver: “Let’s join hands to help the beer looting victim and save the Vietnamese people’s honor.” Photo from Facebook page of Wegreen Vietnam.

The public looting of an overturned beer truck in Vietnam early this month generated an Internet meme. Many criticized the looters for stealing beer instead of helping the truck driver.

December 30 2013

2013 in Review: A Fireside Chat with EFF's Jillian York and Eva Galperin

Graphic by 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Graphic by 7iber (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Jillian York and Eva Galperin are both longtime Advox contributors that work for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a leading US organization defending human rights in the digital age. They conducted a “year in review” exercise this week, looking at the state of digital rights in 2013 and making predictions for the new year. Not surprisingly, they found themselves focusing on the threat of surveillance in a post-Arab Spring world.

Jillian York: After the Arab Spring, I wasn't really sure how subsequent years could get crazier on the Internet freedom front. And then they did.

Eva Galperin: So was this the “worst year for Internet freedom” to date?

JY: For people who thought that the Arab Spring was going to be a positive turning point, I think 2013 was a pretty tough year. We've seen plenty of evidence of how the Arab Spring influenced countries in the MENA region. What do you think its impact was in other parts of the world?

EG: It has definitely had an influence in Russia and other post-Soviet states. For example, in Turkmenistan the government has seen the Arab Spring as a sign that they should ramp up Internet surveillance. And it doesn't help that the equipment is getting cheaper and surveillance is getting easier as more people all over the world lead more of their lives online.

JY: Surveillance is getting cheaper, and yet there are only a few countries that produce the kind of equipment we're talking about, right?

EG: A lot of the equipment is made in the West, but companies in the US and Europe are facing increasing competition from Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE. As activists, we can put pressure on companies like BlueCoat or Cisco or even Teliasonera, but there isn't a lot we can do to influence the policies of Chinese companies.

JY: Right — although I wonder how much the contracts in the West for those companies might influence their choices?

EG: Actually, Huawei officially said this year they were not interested in the US market anymore. I don't want to sound too defeatist, but if the best defense Western companies can come up with for selling surveillance capabilities to authoritarian regimes is “if we don't do it, Chinese companies will,” they've pretty much ceded the moral high ground.  Since everyone is talking about state surveillance these days, do you think that we've made any progress in calling out Western companies this year?

JY: Yes and no. I think we've made a lot of progress with online service providers and social media companies – even if we don't think their statements have been strong enough, many of the leading companies came together and took a stand against the NSA's mass spying. But when it comes to surveillance equipment providers, I think there's so much more we can do. In fact, I'm making that a New Year’s resolution: Find a way to target investors.

On the slip side, there was the launch of the 13 Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance – this document, developed by a coalition (of which EFF was a leading member) and signed by over 300 organizations around the world felt like a powerful step towards a more transparent, rights-protective online environment. So there's some good news.

EG: Indeed! And this could have a lasting impact in years to come. Speaking of strong activism efforts – you watch MENA pretty closely. What great activism have you seen come out of the region this year?

JY: There have been some strong actions around the case of Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah — he is facing charges under Egypt’s new “anti-protest” law, which prohibits public demonstration without prior authorization from government officials. When he was arrested last month in Egypt, his allies created a “rolling press release” in a Google Doc that they sent to journalists and organizations — this is still being updated all the time.  It is pretty genius — a great way to keep people informed of the latest news on his case.

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa (CC BY-SA 2.5)

Alaa Abd El Fattah. Photo by Alaa (CC BY-SA 2.5)

And in Jordan, people have done great work opposing online censorship that has come out of the Press and Publications Law — over 300 sites have been blocked under new amendments to the law that introduce restrictive content and registration rules for websites. Last year, activists responded by driving a coffin around town, calling it a “funeral for the Internet.”

What about in the places that you watch? I know you keep a close eye on Vietnam, what's happening there?

EG: Vietnam is in the midst of a years-long crackdown on bloggers. This year, we saw high-profile bloggers like Le Quoc Quan (also a human rights lawyer) jailed and convicted. There were also cases where bloggers were lumped together and convicted a dozen at a time. And people like Dinh Nhat Uy were jailed for making anti-government Facebook posts.

They're pretty brazen about charging people for unrelated crimes. Charges of tax evasion, which is what got convicted, are pretty common.

This is also a common tactic in China and Russia. Blogger and opposition leader Alexey Navalny was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in jail in Russia this summer.

JY: Speaking of Russia, this summer it seemed Russia was “on top” so to speak — between Snowden and Putin's success vis-a-vis Syria — but Russia really is cracking down on activists, is it not?

EG: Not only is Russia cracking down on the political opposition, but they've come down hard on free speech on the Internet. Last year, the Duma passed an Internet censorship law that was ostensibly aimed at protecting children but has been used to silence the opposition. Protecting minors from “extremism” “homosexual propaganda” and information about the sale of drugs all have been leading excuses in Russia for censoring the Internet. I think the homophobia angle is relatively new and unusually strong there.

What trends do you expect to see continue into 2014?

JY: Heh – well, one unfortunate one that merits a mention is journalists being charged under terrorism statutes. I counted four just this year. On a more positive note, I think the growth of the digital rights “scene” is amazing. We're not alone in this fight — there are so many allies in every corner of the globe…but that also means we have to be strident in standing up for ALL of our rights, and not compromise.

EG: I have been really impressed by the sheer number of new organizations springing up all over the world.  I hope this means we'll see a continuing trend towards a more comprehensive, less US-centric Internet freedom movement.

JY: Yes, I hope for the same. Well, Eva – have a happy new year, and I'll see you on the other side.

EG: Back at you! Let’s hope it’s a good one.

PHOTOS: Humans of Southeast Asia

Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York Facebook page has inspired many photographers around the world to share photos and stories of ordinary people in the streets in their respective countries. Let us review similar initiatives in Southeast Asia.

The Humans of Brunei page was created on May 17, 2013. Below is a photo of Brunei students

Photo from Humans of Brunei Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Brunei Facebook page

Meanwhile, the Humans of Indonesia page was created on August 16, 2013. Below is a photo of Indonesians in the Harau valley waterfalls in the Bukittinggi area:

“It was a very special experience … these pristine waterfalls were turned into some kind of public bathing area. So if I would zoom out you would see kids riding inflatable ducks, souvenirs, people selling noodles & bunch of other activities …” Photo from Humans of Indonesia Facebook page

“Those young coconuts look fresh?” “Oh, please take one if you like” “Thank you so much. Why don’t you just drop them down? Seems heavy to carry like that” “Don’t you see that few kids play under these trees? I am worry these coconuts would hit them.” Photo from Humans of Indonesia Facebook page

“Those young coconuts look fresh?”
“Oh, please take one if you like”
“Thank you so much. Why don’t you just drop them down? Seems heavy to carry like that”
“Don’t you see that few kids play under these trees? I am worry these coconuts would hit them.” Photo from Humans of Indonesia Facebook page

There is also a Humans of Jakarta page. Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia

Photo from Humans of Jakarta Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Jakarta Facebook page

Check the Humans of Bali page. Bali is a popular island in Indonesia.

In Malaysia, Avinash explains the idea of creating the Humans of Malaysia page:

…firstly its because I want those people know that there are people out there who care, for their opinions, for their stories, for their time, for their attention, for their thinking, for their views on life, on every issue, on everything, and that these people make Malaysia home. Second, i like to listen. and ask questions of course. And thirdly, well because I was at a point of my life where i really just needed to talk to someone, i needed someone to not help, but to just listen, no one was there for me then. I always have this thing in my mind, thinking that i might come across someone today who really just need someone who would listen. Thats why I do this

“What scares you the most?”
“Being poor. Having no money. Everything is about money nowadays. Supporting my family, food, transport, bills. Its everywhere.” Photo from Humans of Malaysia Facebook page

There is a separate page for the Humans of Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital.

“Abang (brotherly term for a guy) Hafiz washes and arranges the fish and vegetables at one of the agricultural grocery stores in KL. It is late at night and people are still coming in.” Photo from Facebook page Humans of Kuala Lumpur

The Humans of Thailand page has not been updated regularly but the Humans of Bangkok page seems active. Bangkok is the capital of Thailand. Zon explains the project:

The page is a small urban project that I've just started about the people and their everyday lives in Bangkok, which has become a much more hybrid-society than ever. Revealing lives of the city inhabitants would make us better aware that everyone is interconnected.

“My daily challenge is riding. I have to manage to ride through the gaps between big cars. And actually it's extremely dangerous. I've been a taxi rider for a year but honestly I don't know how long I could continue with this job, or either know what I want to do next with my life.” Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

Bangkok police. Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

Bangkok police. Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

As the political crisis deepens in Thailand, Bangkok residents are calling for a ‘peaceful Sunday’

“Political conflict in Thailand now. We hope for #peacefulsunday and that no violence will take place tomorrow.” Photo from Humans of Bangkok Facebook page

Check also the Humans of Chiang Mai page. Chiang Mai is located north of Thailand.

Photo from Humans of Chiang Mai Facebook page

“No texts, no calls, nothing. Cause I'm still thinking abt my Painting!” Photo from Humans of Chiang Mai Facebook page

In Vietnam, we’d like to feature the Humans of Saigon and Humans of Hanoi:

Photo from Humans of Saigon Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Saigon Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Hanoi Facebook page

Photo from Humans of Hanoi Facebook page

In Laos, there is a Humans of Vientiane page. Vientiane is the country’s capital.

“Local law enforcement in Luang Namtha enjoying a game of petangue.” Photo from Humans of Vientiane Facebook page

Below is a photo of Stacy from Singapore relaxing at Clarke Quay. Photo from the Humans of Singapore page:

“I've been sitting here because it's quite breezy. And you can watch the boats passing by too. They've been doing a tour of the entire river all the way till Marina Bay Sands, where they tell you about the history of these places and Singapore. It's quite interesting, you hear all sorts of things which you didn't know and it's always a bit of a surprise.” Photo from Humans of Singapore Facebook page

Visit Humans of the Philippines and Humans of Manila. Manila is the capital of the Philippines.

Children of Tondo in Manila. Tondo is a working class district. Photo from Humans of Manila Facebook page

Children of Tondo in Manila. Tondo is a working class district. Photo from Humans of Manila Facebook page

The People of Yangon page created by Chris James White was also inspired by the Humans of New York idea. Yangon is major city in Myanmar.

People of Yangon Facebook page

People of Yangon Facebook page

December 06 2013

Lonely Chinese Men Are Looking to Vietnam for Love

Unlucky in love on the mainland? Why not go to Vietnam, where Chinese bachelors can find “true love”, or more specifically, where they can “search for brides who won't demand apartments or private vehicles as a precondition for marriage.” This, according to an advertisement from a famous Chinese group-buying website 55 Tuan offering a free trip to Vietnam for a number of lonely hearts in celebration of China's Bachelor's Day on November 11.

Faced with the increasingly high cost of marrying Chinese women, whose families often demand expensive gifts in exchange for their daughter's hand, and the country's imbalanced ratio of men to women, more and more bachelors in China are looking abroad for love. All together, 28,629 hopefuls participated in 55 Tuan's give away.

The lottery advertisement on November 11, 2013.

Advertisement from website 55 Tuan offering a free trip to Vietnam for a number of single men in celebration of China's Bachelor's Day on November 11.

China's competitive and expensive marriage marketplace

In the past few years, more and more men have expressed their frustration on the Chinese web with the high cost of marriage in China. It is customary that the Chinese bride’s family will make a list of very specific demands for the future groom as a pre-condition of the marriage. The ownership of an apartment and a car as well as a steady job with a high salary are the top priorities on the bride's parents’ wish list. But it is almost impossible for a bachelor of average income to buy an apartment all by himself.

In contrast, it only cost tens of thousands of yuan (approximately a few thousands US dollars) to marry a Vietnamese girl, which is affordable for most Chinese bachelors. Plus, a popular notion says that Vietnamese girls are hardworking, simple and devoted to the family.

China's imbalanced sex ratio also contributes to the shortage of brides on the Chinese marriage marketplace. According to an article [zh] on ifeng news, the current ratio of men to women in China is 119:100. In some regions, that the ratio reaches 130:100. The imbalance is rooted in feudal Chinese culture, which values boys more than girls. Coupled with the one-child policy and modern technology that allows parents to know the gender of a baby early on in the pregnancy, the preference for boys has resulted in extremely lopsized gender ratios in newborns, particularly in some remote rural areas. For example, the ratio among infants in Wuxue (武穴) Hubei province is as high as 198.3:100, according to China's fifth population census [zh].

In the case of Vietnam, it once was the opposite — women outnumbered men. But in recent years male population is slightly more than female but the problem has become more serious as more and more Vietnamese girls choose to marry foreigners in order to seek a better life. Since the end of last century, more than 294,000 Vietnamese girls from poor areas have married foreigners [zh], among which Chinese and Korean are the most popular choices.

Nevertheless, the frequency of Vietnamese-Chinese cross-border marriage fraud has increased [zh]. More and more Vietnamese brides flee their Chinese husbands soon after they arrive in China. In some cases, the arranged marriage agents are involved in the scam. In response to the situation, the Chinese police department has claimed that [zh] they will crack down on commercial Vietnamese bride arrangement services.

‘Why not marry a foreign girl for cheaper?’

Against such a backdrop, 55 Tuan's advertisement stirred up a lot of discussion online. The website defended that the lottery event is to provide a free group tour for lucky bachelors to Vietnam. The marriages, if any, will purely base on love.

While commercial cross-border arranged marriages and mail-order brides are considered by global civil society to be a form of human trafficking and thus immoral, a substantial number of Chinese netizens on popular microblogging website Sina Weibo are against the police crack down on these “marriage services”.

Writer Shang Jianguo believed the Chinese consumers’ desire for “group buying” of Vietnamese brides only reflected the escalating problem of the imbalance gender ratio and its impact on the marriage market:

团购越南新娘折射剩男问题。第六次人口普查数据显示,80后非婚人口男女比例为136:100,70后非婚人口男女性别比例206:100。30-39岁男性中有1195.9万人处于非婚状态。同龄女性中有582万人处于非婚状态。

The phenomena of “Group buying of Vietnamese brides” indicates the social problem of leftover men. According to the sixth population census, the gender ratio of unmarried post-80s generation is 136:100, 206:100 for post-70s. 11,959,000 males between 30 and 39 years old remained single, while only 5,820,000 females are single.

@Zhazi77 has reached marriage age and has started worrying about his future:

作为一个研究森不知道能不能毕业,毕业能不能找得到超过两千五一个月工资的穷人家的小孩,我要是能在三十五岁之前结婚就真的感谢全世界了。

I am a master's student. Born into a poor family, I don't know if I can earn more than 2,500 RMB (approximately 400 US dollars) per month upon graduation. I would be thankful to the whole world if I could get married before I reach 35!

Jiu Hengxing, an IT business microblog account, wrote that marriage is a form of economy and thus it is rational to seek brides overseas:

在大城市里,没有房子、车子,相亲成功概率低,就算姑娘同意,还要过丈母娘这关!随着国内结婚成本的增高,一些中介抓住了空子,比国内结婚更省钱又能娶到国外老婆,有何不可?

It is very hard to find a bride on a blind date if you don’t have an apartment or car in a big city. Even if the girl is willing to marry you, you still have to deal with her mother. Since the cost of marriage has increased, why not marry a foreign girl for cheaper?

As the marriage economy is tied up with property development in China, “Big eye brother” mocked the police intention to crackdown “group buying” of Vietnamese bride as serving the interest of property developers:

当然要严打,都去娶越南新娘了,内地的房地产经济怎么办?

Of course the police need to take action [against the Vietnamese bride arrangement service], because if all men marry Vietnamese women, what would we do with the real estate economy in mainland China?

But Yuan Yi, a journalist, did not think that such relationships will last long:

看完纪录片对越南新娘嫁到台湾全程有了解,因为贫富悬殊很多越南美女嫁往台湾内地。异国婚姻克服文化习俗差异才能长久。

I learned about the whole process of marrying a Vietnamese girl after I watched a documentary on Vietnamese brides in Taiwan. Lots of Vietnamese beauties marry a man in mainland China or Taiwan because of the wealth gap. But cross-border marriages can only last long if the couple can overcome their cultural differences.

December 03 2013

UN Experts Condemn Detention of Vietnamese Blogger Le Quoc Quan

wpid-le_quoc_quanA UN group of human rights experts has found that the detention of Vietnamese blogger and human rights defender Le Quoc Quan stands in violation of his right to freedom of expression and a fair trial. Le Quoc Quan was arrested in December 2012 on trumped-up charges of tax evasion, which were aimed at preventing him from carrying out his legitimate human rights work. Following his arrest, he was held incommunicado and denied permission to see his lawyer for two months. He was also unable to see any of his family members until the day of his trial.

In October of this year, Quan was convicted and sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and a fine of 1.2 billion dong (approximately USD 59,000). Quan appealed this decision, but a trial date has not yet been set.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which is set up under the UN Human Rights Council, said that Quan’s detention might be “the result of his peaceful exercise of the rights and freedoms guaranteed under international human rights law” and “related to his blog articles on civil and political rights.” The Working Group statement continued:

Given Mr. Quan’s history as a human rights defender and blogger, the real purpose of the detention and prosecution might eventually be to punish him for exercising his rights under article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and to deter others from doing so.

The Working Group called for Mr Quan’s immediate release and also recommended that he be paid damages for his arbitrary detention. The group’s decision follows a petition filed in March 2013 by the Media Legal Defence Initiative and a coalition of human rights NGOs.

Mr Quan has long been persecuted by the Vietnamese government for his activities as a blogger and human rights defender. He has been detained several times, kept under state surveillance and also suffered physical attacks. The UN Working Group’s decision is clear confirmation that Le Quoc Quan’s detention for having merely exercised his rights to freedom expression, freedom of association and his rights as a human rights defender is unjustified and illegitimate. With international pressure on Vietnam mounting, calling for Quan’s release, rights advocates hope that the government of Vietnam will remedy the situation as soon as possible.

October 20 2013

Remembering and Reviving Vietnam's Ca Tru Singing

Đoan Trang interviews Pho Kim Duc, a famous ca tru (sung poetry) vocalist in Vietnam in the 1940s.

Kim Duc said ca tru is a very noble form of art. “It’s is not just singing but also poetry. Whoever with a taste for poetry will love ca tru to find it highly developed, elegant, and court.” She said only since the colonial administration became lavish in granting licenses, allowing a rash of new inns owned by wealthy people, did dao ruou (wine maidens) appear and tarnish the reputation of ca tru.

Ca tru is listed in UNESCO's List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.

October 12 2013

Vietnam Bids Farewell to Legendary War Hero

General Vo Nguyen Giap. Photo from 'I Love Vietnam' website.

General Vo Nguyen Giap. Photo from ‘I Love Vietnam’ website.

Vietnam is mourning the death of General Vo Nguyen Giap, the legendary military tactician and communist leader who led Vietnam’s army in defeating the military forces of France and the United States in the 20th century. Giap was 103 years old when he died last October 4.

He is the first four-star general and Commander-in-Chief of Vietnam. He is also called the ‘Eldest Brother’ of Vietnam People’s Army. He is generally recognized in the whole world as one of the greatest military leaders of all time.

Former party Secretary General Le Kha Phieu described Giap as Vietnam’s ‘unfailing source of light’:

The General is forever an unfailing source of light for the Vietnamese people, army and communists.

Giap is the second most revered leader in Vietnam after Ho Chi Minh. General Phung Quang Thanh, in an article first published by Nhan Dan Online, was reminded of Giap’s advice to maintain the integrity of ‘Uncle Ho’s soldiers’:

The General advised veterans to preserve and promote the quality of ‘Uncle Ho’s soldiers’, strengthen solidarity, and be exemplary by participating in local socio-economic development activities. He reminded the local Party committees and governments to listen to and respect people, and urged officials and Party members to take the lead so that people would place trust that the Party and the government would succeed in the nation’s new revolutionary cause.

After the end of Vietnam War in 1975, Giap served in the government but was reportedly sidelined after a few years. Đoan Trang surmised Giap’s reason as to why he didn’t press for a higher position in the government:

…it can be said that Vo Nguyen Giap must have done what a communist is expected to do: to sacrifice personal interests for general interests. What would have happened, they argued, if General Vo Nguyen Giap, with his dominance over the armed forces, had confronted his comrades in the ruling Communist Party to earn himself a higher position with greater privileges?

Jonathan London wrote about the impact of Giap’s death on the ruling party. He also described how the Vietnamese are paying their last respects to Giap:

In Hanoi, where thousands waited in the street to pay their last respects, the mood was at somber, electric, and unscripted. Parents brought their children, even as today’s parents and children learned about the General mostly in schoolbooks. Those with more years showed up in large numbers accompanied by their friends in some instances and their own children and grandchildren in others.

Saigon Shakers is too young to remember Giap but noted how many people are grieving the passing of the military leader:

I don’t know much about him. Only that he’s a war hero in every war in the last century, for just about every Vietnamese person. And that I haven’t seen my parents this sad over something since I told them that I’d dropped out of grad school.

Here are some reactions on Twitter:

Meanwhile, Calvin Godfrey doesn’t approve of the obituary written by American Senator John McCain:

…asking McCain to write the last words on one of the greatest military tacticians in history is sort of like asking the kid who repeated the ninth grade twice to give your school’s valedictorian address.

Interestingly, many Vietnamese learned about Giap's death from Facebook and other Internet websites because state media have to wait for the official announcement of the Communist Party.

October 08 2013

Southeast Asia: Dictatorships Are Gone, But Censorship Hangs On

An anti-Lese Majeste law protest in Thailand. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (12/10/2011)

An anti-Lese Majeste law protest in Thailand. Photo by Matthew Richards, Copyright @Demotix (12/10/2011)

Since the late 20th century, many Southeast Asian countries have moved from military dictatorships and unelected governments to representative governance systems. While these transitions have brought many improvements to national law and government accountability, certain old ways still remain.

Both off and online, censorship is still enforced in several countries through the use of draconian laws and strict media regulation. Media groups have consistently decried certain controversial laws and regulations as tools of media repression in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, and Myanmar.

Vietnam: Mass persecution of political bloggers

Thirty-five political bloggers are currently in prison in Vietnam. Continuing persecution suffered by bloggers and dissidents has highlighted the urgent need to reform laws that govern speech and online content in Vietnam.

Article 88 of the Criminal Code, which bans anti-state propaganda, is often used to detain individuals who oppose the government. Article 258 of the Criminal Code punishes misuse of “democratic freedoms to attack state interests and the legitimate rights and interests of collectives and individuals” and carries a sentence of seven years in prison. Last year, the nation's Prime Minister issued a directive ordering a crackdown on “reactionary” blogs. Broadly speaking, vague provisions in the law allow authorities to make arbitrary arrests with little structure for accountability.

Early this month, Decree 72 took effect, putting into force a law that many activists have described as the country's harshest legal offensive against freedom of information. The new regulation bans the sharing of news stories or so-called “compiled information”. But the government claims it is intended only to protect intellectual property.

“press card” system frequently is used to control mainstream media. Former journalist Pham Doan Trang explains further:

No card, no access. Without a press card, reporters can't hope to meet high-ranking officials, visit contacts at public offices or cover official conferences.

The State doesn't need to kill journalists to control the media because by and large, Vietnam's press card-carrying journalists are not allowed to do work that is worth being killed for.

Thailand: Insult the king, go to jail

Thailand's most notorious media regulation is practiced through Article 112 of the country’s Criminal Code, known as the lese majeste law, which forbids anyone from insulting the king and members of the royal family.

It is described by many commentators as one of the world’s “harshest” speech laws as it carries a minimum mandatory sentence of three years imprisonment and a maximum sentence of 15 years for a single offense. The law is often invoked to censor web content and shut down websites. Aside from webmasters and editors, even ordinary citizens have been jailed for allegedly sending mobile phone text messages that insult the royal family.

Legal scholars from Thammasat University have argued that the law needs to be amended:

…the section provides no exemption for criticism, the expression of opinion or the expression of statements that are made in good faith and in order to uphold the Constitution and democratic system of government.

The Philippines: Threat of libel charges looms large

In the Philippines, the anti-cybercrime law imposes both direct and indirect threats to free expression, but the country's criminal libel law may be the government's worst threat to free expression overall.

Under the country’s 83-year-old Revised Penal Code, libel is a criminal offense that mandates a prison term of six months to six years and/or a fine of 200 to 6,000 pesos (about 5 to 140 US dollars). But the fine is often much higher for those arrested. Veteran journalist Luis Teodoro has noted that “the law against libel has primarily been used to suppress free expression rather than to address media abuse.”

As an alternative to criminalizing defamation in the country, media advocates have proposed a broad campaign for public media literacy and self-regulation to check and expose media abuses.

Singapore: Media licenses and overt censorship

Singapore's new licensing scheme for news websites was quickly denounced by netizens as a censorship measure. Under the new rule, news websites that report on Singapore and have 50,000 unique IP views per month must secure a license and post a “performance bond” of 50,000 US dollars.

The government also maintains strict control of mainstream media. After working for three years as sub-editor in a leading Singapore newspaper, Mark Fenn exposed how censorship is enforced in the country:

Control at the paper is exercised both overtly and through more subtle means. Self-censorship, meanwhile, is ubiquitous.

…it was not uncommon for reporters to alter their stories at a very late stage because the “newsmaker” or a government department wanted to alter the wording of a quote or headline.

Myanmar: Legacy of censorship lingers on

In Myanmar, several media reforms were instituted in recent years, such as the dissolution of the censorship board, but the lingering effects of censorship are still felt and indirectly enforced. Hard-hitting journalists continue to face defamation charges and other harassment suits. The government is also accused of deliberately preventing the improvement of Internet connections in the country in an effort to control the spread of critical information.

The media situation in these Southeast Asian nations proves that political and economic reforms do not necessarily translate into greater media freedoms. Lawmakers who continue to preserve and promote archaic policies that undermine free expression must be held accountable their actions.

October 04 2013

Décédé ce vendredi à l'âge de 102 ans, le général et homme politique vietnamien Vo Nguyên Giap fut…

Décédé ce vendredi à l’âge de 102 ans, le général et homme politique vietnamien Vo Nguyên Giap fut l’un des grands stratèges du XXe siècle, le seul qui parvint à défaire successivement les armées française et américaine. En 2009, Xavier Monthéard dressait son portrait.

Vo Nguyên Giap, le stratège qui défit l’Amérique, par Xavier Monthéard - « Manière de voir » n°106 (août - septembre 2009)
http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/mav/106/MONTHEARD/17654

Giap naît le 25 août 1911, en Annam, protectorat de l’Indochine française. Sa famille l’imprègne d’une fierté rétive à la domination étrangère. Au lycée de Huê, la lecture du Procès de la colonisation française, de Hô Chi Minh, le bouleverse. La cupidité des colons, leur mépris pour les indigènes, leur brutalité provoquent en 1930 un vaste soulèvement, durement réprimé. Instruit par la prison, Giap mènera dès lors une double vie.

@xm #Guérilla #Communisme #Stratégie #Colonialisme #Personnalités #Stratégie_militaire #France #Vietnam #États-Unis

September 26 2013

Vietnamese Blogger Speaks Out Against Government Repression

Nguyen Bac Truyen gave a testimony in a human rights event in Geneva about the repression suffered by bloggers and activists in Vietnam:

Since Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang came back from a visit to President Obama in the United States at the end of July, government repression has entered a new, more violent phase. Bloggers and activists are directly targeted. Secret police openly brutalize and intimidate us. They stop at nothing in order to terrorize and repress Vietnamese human rights defenders, bloggers and dissidents.

September 06 2013

100 Million Signature Campaign for Resolution of Japan's ‘Sex Slaves’ Issues

The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has launched a new campaign to gather 100 million signatures. Their online petition, in eight different languages, calls on Japanese government to offer an official apology and legal reparations to the victims and asks the international community to join their cause. Over 743 thousands have already joined online.

September 05 2013

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