We’re a bit short on our usual 10 reads this month because I am, for once, reading actual honest-to-God books. The reviews of which will appear here next month!
This is really Malaysia-centric for some reason this month. Like, I’m in Malaysia right now but I don’t think that’s why. Longreads are my favoured form but also the harder ones to find. If you come across a good one, hit reply or get at me on Twitter.
And as always, to sign up for the weekly newsletter which brings together everything from the region do so here. Just $5 a month or $50 for a full year
Okay, see you next month!
Another month, another look at how Chinese development is forcing Mekong Southeast Asians off their land. This has been a long-running one in Cambodia, but the focus has largely been on the casinos of Sihanoukville. Al Jazeera looks at the decidedly less sexy but equally as important villagers booted out of their homes by the Union Development Group. Koh Kong, in southwest Cambodia, is particularly dark example of the relationship between Beijing and Phnom Penh. UDG has been granted a 99 year lease, for less than $100 per hectare annually. What the hell!? Koh Kong is taking up the good fight.
This isn’t really a longread, but it is something that has been on my mind lately and we should talk about it. I do a lot of US-centric work in my ~day job and then, obviously, obsess over the Philippines whenever I’m not on the clock. The response to Super Typhoon Mangkhut, or Ompong, which hit the north of the Philippines and the Carolinas’ Hurricane Florence was stark. I know, I know. The paradoxical fact of the Philippines’ natural disaster proneness is that the more disasters occur, the less news-y they are. Until, of course, we get a death toll like Typhoon Haiyan well into 6,000. I’m not sure exactly what I’m getting at, just that hmm I saw you, former colonial power, ignoring the imminent devastation.
‘Malaysians act like good food and freedom are both an inalienable right by birth’. That is the excellent lede into this brilliantly bizarre one from VICE, looking at political prisoners and prison feed. Mat Sabu is Malaysia’s new Minister of Defence. I really struggled to understand why the Twitterjaya response the day he was announced was so excitable and this is why. Lee Lian Kong uses food to discuss Malaysia’s very recent history of imprisoning dissidents and where some former prisoners have ended up – presumably eating well in Malaysia Bahru’s cabinet!
It’s a new day in Malaysia, where the historic loss of Barisan Nasional still shocks. But what of former PM (and soon to jailbird) Najib Razak-pushed media restrictions and fake news law? Splice Newsroom spoke to some of the country’s leading journalists to gauge what the industry wants. A big one I’m interested in seeing more of is expansion of an existing whistleblower law to protect those who leak to the media, not just to government and oversight agencies. Will they get their wish list? This isn’t Mahathir Mohamad’s first time at the rodeo, don’t get too excited they say.
Anyone who knows me knows I love a good Southeast Asian ghost. The pontianak is one of the best, I think. In fact, Indonesia named a whole city after it! The pontianak is no ordinary ‘boo!’ ghost, she is a reflection of the views of women in each community. Killed while pregnant by a male, she haunts and hunts, looking for revenge. ‘And the pontianak's vindictive nature helps to provide a mythic counterpoint to the real-life experience of being a woman in a patriarchal society. The pontianak, who has endured violence and suffering, avenges the real-life crimes women living in misogynistic societies experience on a daily basis”. Don’t you love it? Hate the headline though.
Artist Engku Iman is taking on Malaysian culture and religion. Through the destruction of an old family prayer mat, she explores the shortcomings she views within the culture, particularly after a trip to the state of Kelantan. Featuring 7/11 logos and decrepit houses her artwork muses on the warped priorities of the religious – piety over humanity. Engku is currently showing in Hong Kong and taking on religion, especially through a gendered lense exploring how her womanhood makes her ‘lesser than’ in the eyes of the religious.
I hate this story. It stresses me in my heart. By now you’ve probably read it. Aldi Novel Adilang, 19-years-old, was fished out of Guam waters after spending 49 days floating around the ocean. He works on a rompong, a teeny-tiny little hut like contraption which floats around the waters of North Sulawesi. His job there was to light lamps on the rompong each night to attract fish. Once a week, someone would arrive with more water, food and generator fuel. If this doesn’t sound crushing enough, back in July the rope which anchors the hut snapped. I just have to keep telling myself ‘they found him, they found him, they found him’ as I breathe deeply. Amazing story I am so pleased it ended the way it did and I hope Aldi recovers from his ordeal soon.
Vietnam’s president Tran Dai Quang died last week. This obituary from the New York Times is a great one, looking both at the political situation and well as his life. Born just two years after Vietnam defeated the French, Quang’s rise traces that of the Communist Party. Once thought to be in the running for the top job, he is believed to have lost out in a shadow-y, closed doors power struggle within the politburo in recent years. Under his watch as president – the third most powerful position in Vietnam – Vietnam has tightened its grip on dissidents and opposition and has courted outrage from human rights activists and governments globally.