Asia

Facial recognition in the multiverse

Thursday, 16 May, 2019

Urban environments, with their never-ending interactions of individuals and groups, fascinate the Tokyo-based filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo. And he captures this restlessness perfectly in his fast-moving short films. His latest work, “multiverse”, focuses on scooter commuters in Taiwan as they travel in swarms, but Kondo never loses sight of the faces of the individuals in the mass.

“A crowd moving in one direction. People who flow in a moment.
A scene where the difference with other people disappears and looks uniform.
There are many different kinds of life there.
You can feel invisible energy when you see a large mass of individuals.”

Hiroshi Kondo


Peace: Stone meeting Water in Korea

Friday, 27 April, 2018 0 Comments

Kim Jong-un today became the first North Korean leader to set foot in South Korea by crossing the military line that has divided the peninsula since the end of the Korean War in 1953. In a moment rich with symbolism, the South Korean president Moon Jae-in and Kim shook hands at the border. Just months ago North Korean rhetoric was warlike, but now the talk is of peace and the ending of Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Who deserves the credit for this? In the Sydney Morning Herald, Daniel McCarthy argues that “Donald Trump deserves the Nobel Peace.” Snippet:

“The Nobel Committee and the community of opinion that looks on the Peace Prize as an affirmation of liberal pieties may find Trump distasteful. Nevertheless, he is set to be the man most deserving of the honour. If that seems shocking, it is a shock that ought to prompt a rethink of how international relations really work. Decades of conventional diplomacy with North Korea only led to the Kim dynasty acquiring nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them between continents. To make peace demands a new approach, and President Trump has found one.”

One of the highlights of our trip to Korea was the time spent on Jeju Island in the Korea Strait, which connects the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Its fascinating Stone Park is devoted to “the history of stone culture” and the park’s combination of stone and water suggests that opposing elements can be united.

Jeju Stone Park

Jeju Stone Park


From Kathmandu to Paris, the selfie

Thursday, 9 November, 2017 0 Comments

Sometimes, a headline is more baffling than illuminating. Example: “Oppo to launch selfie expert F5 in Nepal”. Oppo? And who is the “selfie expert” known cryptically as “F5”?

It helps if one knows that OPPO Electronics Corp. is a Chinese electronics firm based in Guangdong that’s intent on grabbing a share of the Asian smartphone market, and its new F5 model is being marketed as the device that “takes camera phones to the next generation.” Then there’s this: “It defies the paradox of marrying Artificial Intelligence technology with organic beauty to create the most natural and stunning of selfies.” How does it do that? Time to revisit our headline about Oppo, the F5 and Nepal. It’s from the Kathmandu Post and, quoting from the press release, the writer notes that “the AI will utilise information from a massive global photo database to beautify a selfie shot taken by the Oppo F5.” Is that “massive global photo database” Getty? Or is it a Chinese venture using surveillance photos for commercial purposes? There’s a story there.

Meanwhile, London-based creative Daniel McKee notes that more than six million people visit the Mona Lisa at the Louvre each year and “Many share their visit on social media.” Using images found on Instagram, he created this:


Korea: Stony seaboard, far and foreign

Friday, 11 August, 2017 0 Comments

In his poem Ireland With Emily, John Betjeman wrote of:

Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.

The same poem contains the couplet “Stony seaboard, far and foreign / Stony hills poured over space,” and those lines could be applied to Korea, North and South. One of the highlights of our trip to Jeju Island in the Korea Strait, which connects the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, was the time spent in the Stone Park and its museum devoted to “the history of stone culture.”

Jeju Stone Park

Jeju Stone Park


Ending the North Korean horror show

Monday, 17 April, 2017 0 Comments

It is, said the late Christopher Hitchens in 2010, “the world’s most hysterical and operatic leader-cult.” He was speaking about North Korea, and he was doing so after reading The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters by B.R. Myers. It matters more than ever because Pyongyang threatens regional security more than ever and a generation of world leaders that has dared not watch this ghastly horror show must now face up to the final act. Today, US Vice-President Mike Pence said that America’s “era of strategic patience” with North Korea is over. Good.

The Cleanest Race One can, of course, understand why the world has looked the other way. Who wants to pay the price of battling a death cult? B.R. Myers points out that many of the slogans displayed by the North Korean state are borrowed directly from the evil kamikaze ideology of Japanese imperialism and every North Korean child is told every day of the magnificent possibility of death in the service of the motherland and taught not to fear the idea of nuclear war.

Along with perpetual militarism, North Korean totalitarianism is particularly frightening because its racist nationalism is expressed in gigantic mausoleums and mass parades that blend pure Stalinism with perverted Confucianism. The state’s permanent mobilization is maintained by slave labour and is based on a dogma of xenophobia. There can be little doubt that the regime believes its own propaganda and this suggests that the endless peace talks and disarmament negotiations are an utter and dangerous waste of time.

Since its creation, North Korea has kept its wretched subjects in ignorance and fear and has brainwashed them in the hatred of others. The world can no longer tolerate this repudiation of civilization. The show must end.


Dhaka hustle and bustle

Saturday, 11 March, 2017 0 Comments

Between air pollution, poverty, corruption and rising sea levels, Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is one of the least liveable cities in the world. This is tough for its 17 million residents as Dhaka has the potential to be one of Eurasia’s great urban centres. Location, location, location: Dhaka is located near several rivers, including the vast Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, which benefits Bangladesh’s agricultural economy, while the country’s mountains are rich with minerals, biodiversity and forests. In other words, Dhaka has access to all the resources it needs to prosper.

Farhan Hussain, Sajeed Sarwar and Safat Chowdhory are Bengali Film Makers and their Dhaka is full of life: “The smiling Rickshawala, the hustle and bustle of the street, the entrepreneurship spirit, the smell of freshly cooked Biriyani, the Falgun colours!”


Ko Un can win

Wednesday, 12 October, 2016 0 Comments

The Samsung catastrophe has made this a very bad week so far for Seoul, but the Nobel Prize in Literature will be awarded tomorrow and, according to Ladbrokes, Ko Un has a 14/1 chance of winning it. The South Korean poet was born on 1 August 1933 and among his works are haiku-like reflections with epigrammatic juxtapositions:

Some say they can recall a thousand years
Some say they have already visited the next thousand years
On a windy day
I am waiting for a bus

Other works, however, are longer. Much longer. There’s his seven-volume epic of the Korean independence movement under Japanese rule, Paektu Mountain, and this is topped by the monumental 30-volume Ten Thousand Lives, which was written during the years 1983–2010 to fulfil a vow Ko Un made during his imprisonment, when he expected to be executed following the coup d’état led by Chun Doo-hwan. If he lived, he swore that every person he had ever met would be remembered with a poem. Ko Un would be a deserving winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but Japan’s running writer, Haruki Murakami, is our bet at 5/1.


Samsung up in smoke; HTC and Huawei burned

Tuesday, 11 October, 2016 0 Comments

In business schools all over the world, the Samsung Galaxy Note7 case study is guaranteed to be popular. Case studies about the fall of video-rental companies or the rise of low-cost airlines are interesting in their own way, but because so many business students have a smartphone made in Asia, this one is, like, personal.

Fire Today’s press release headline is worthy of study: “Samsung Will Ask All Global Partners to Stop Sales and Exchanges of Galaxy Note7 While Further Investigation Takes Place.” One can almost sense the trust people have in Samsung’s products going up in smoke as that was being typed, and the jokes have started: “Galaxy Note 7 — the smartphone that doubles as a lighter.”

It’s the cover-up that gets you, they say, and it seems all the initial work Samsung did to undo the Note 7 damage has been undone by its ongoing denial that the phone was still dangerous. With its aggressive, can-do culture, this world leader in electronics could not imagine making a disastrous safety mistake… Twice!

Samsung’s nightmare does not automatically mean good news for HTC, however. Google has picked the Taiwanese electronics company to assemble its new Pixel smartphone, but by becoming for Google what Foxconn is to Apple, HTC has lost status. “HTC, You Loser” wrote Bloomberg technology columnist Tim Culpan: “After spending years building its design and engineering chops, HTC has been demoted to water boy. Supplying Google with smartphones isn’t a victory — it’s an embarrassing end to HTC’s decade-long campaign to break out of that contract-manufacturing business and stand on its own two feet.”

The catastrophe at Samsung and the degrading of HTC should work in favour of Huawei Technologies, the Chinese telecommunications giant, but David Ruddock of Android Police pours cold water on that one:

“Google began talks with Huawei to produce its 2016 smartphone portfolio. Google, though, set a hard rule for the partnership: Huawei would be relegated to a manufacturing role, producing phones with Google branding. The Huawei logo and name would be featured nowhere on the devices’ exteriors or in their marketing… According to our source, word spread inside Huawei quickly that global CEO Richard Yu himself ended negotiations with Google right then and there.”

Meanwhile, Apple has brought forward its earnings report for the fourth fiscal quarter (third calendar quarter) of 2016. “Due to a scheduling conflict, Apple’s conference call to discuss fourth fiscal quarter results has been moved to Tuesday, October 25,” the company announced yesterday. It’s not clear what the conflict is, but there’s no smoke without fire. Also yesterday, Apple’s share price bounced 1.75 percent, hitting an intraday high of $116.75, the highest level since 10 December 2015.


Glossolalia: Singlish

Monday, 16 May, 2016 3 Comments

It’s the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things etymological, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language and we’re kicking off with Singlish, a hodgepodge dialect of Singapore’s official state languages — English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil — as well as bits of Bengali, Cantonese and Hokkien.

To “talk cock” is Singlish for “to talk nonsense” and the definition can be found in The Coxford Singlish Dictionary by Colin Goh and Woo Yen Yen, which was published in 2002, and has sold more than 30,000 copies since. “Bo hee hae ma ho” is the Singlish equivalent of “Beggars can’t be choosers,” and means “When there’s no fish, prawns are good too.” The latter example is courtesy of Gwee Li Sui, the Singaporean poet, novelist and literary critic. “Do You Speak Singlish?” is the question he posed yesterday to readers of the New York Times. Singlish, he said, “is one of Singapore’s few unique cultural creations” and it seems to be thriving, despite official attempts to outlaw it:

“The government’s war on Singlish was doomed from the start: Even state institutions and officials have nourished it, if inadvertently. The compulsory national service, which brings together male Singaporeans from all walks of life, has only underlined that Singlish is the natural lingua franca of the grunts.”

To an outsider’s ear, Singlish sounds like verbalized text messaging: concise, energetic, abbreviated, playful, elastic. Here, Gwee Li Sui tok the tok.


Balinese chapters

Saturday, 29 August, 2015 0 Comments

“This is their world through my eyes,” says self-described “global nomad” Brandon Li of his six “chapters” about the people of Bali. The Tooth Filing Ceremony is followed by the Rice Fields and Beyond, then we have Outlanders Libertad, Passing Storm, Quiet Night, Cremation and Exorcism.