Agam's Gecko
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Mekong catfish

fter an exasperating week spent trying to sort out Blogger's newfound (newly created, more accurately) coding glitch, how better to start than with a giant fish story? Monsters like this are caught from time to time in the Mekhong in northern Thailand, but this grand-daddy looks like he takes the record at 646 pounds. Generally their fate is to be eaten, although in this case local environmentalists and government officials negotiated his release. Unfortunately, the old boy died after his ordeal, and was eaten anyway. There aren't many of these giant catfish left in the Mekhong, they are near extinction due to habitat loss (dredging out shallow spots in the river for the benefit of Chinese cargo boats) and upstream dams in China.

By the way, the Mekhong is actually called Mae Nam Khong, which means Khong River. Mae Nam is literally "Mother Water" - in farang-speak, River. Just a bit of Thai trivia for you this afternoon from our opulent yet tasteful editing suites overlooking Mae Nam Chao Phraya, the River of Kings.

So apologies for the past week when it must have appeared that some gremlin had stolen the articles out of this blog, and cheers to the ones who looked down... waaay waaaaaay down ... and found them. It was caused by some extra code added by Blogger (without warning anybody) to facilitate their new photo-hosting capability (which hasn't exactly had rave reviews so far, so I'll stick with using Image Shack for the time being). Emails to support went unanswered, wading through their online help turned up nothing, and hours of Googling around led nowhere. Then Blogger posted a "fix" on their little-known Blogger Buzz, but while fixing one problem, it created three more.

Then one day, following page after page of Google results, two articles from Blogger Forum turned up, way down on the list. Usually I've found that a user forum is where you'll find the most useful information on a piece of software -- MozillaZine Forums being a great example -- so I felt that my salvation must be close at hand. And it was. Within minutes, I found people discussing this Blogger crisis, working out what was causing it, and figuring out a fix. Which they did. And it worked.

Days later, Blogger (now owned by Google, by the way) revealed that users would be able to opt out of having the offending code added to their page in the first place. The users' fix accomplished the same thing with a very short, simple entry into the template (only some templates were affected). It was all a great reminder of how useful these sorts of user forum sites are, and I'm wondering why the only pertinent and useful hits turned up on about page six of the Google results. Come to think of it, when I've run side-by-side searches on other stuff using Twingine, the Yahoo side often seemed to have more relevant hits nearer the top than the Google side did. Seems like maybe Yahoo is doing something righter.

Anyway it's a relief to have all this out of the way. I thought I'd screwed something up myself last week, when I edited an earlier post to fix a broken image link. When I finished that, the page was fricked, and I spent the weekend upcountry wondering what I could have possibly done wrong.


ust so it doesn't seem like I'm down on Google's case (too much), I really have to rave right about here for Google's new Earth viewing utility, called Google Earth. I had actually intended to rave one of these days over Google Maps, so now I'll do both at once. These two utilities are absolutely fantastic to use together, and if you're like Agam who loves maps and satellite photos of Earth, you'll start exploring and won't be able to pull yourself away.

Google Earth is the latest iteration of Keyhole 2 Earth viewing software. That's because Google bought them. Yikes, Google is buying up everything! But in this case, what they've developed is something truly wonderful. You have to download and install the viewer program first -- and unfortunately it only runs on Windows 2000 and above. So my old box running 98 is out of luck, but I installed it last night on S's new HP machine at home (running on WinXP), and it's terrific. I haven't begun to explore the features yet, it was too much fun turning the world around and zooming in on places. Looking at my old Strathcona neighbourhood in Vancouver, finding our way from Krung Thep to the homestead upcountry (yes, they even labelled Bangkok with its actual name), and before hitting the sack, zooming in on the south Aceh coast and right into Tapak Tuan Bay.

Of course, not all areas of the planet have the same availability of hi-res images. I can see cars parked on Union St, but you don't get quite so close in upcountry Thailand or Aceh. But the images used are being added and updated all the time, and they've all been taken within the last three years. In other words, the Aceh coast I was looking at last night still looked as it did pre-tsunami. Highly detailed photos are available for cities of North America, UK and most of western Europe. The software has a "fly-over" function, the ability to find addresses, plot driving routes between places, switch on or off the layering of various information (airports, hospitals, parks etc.), and some 38 US cities are fully mapped in 3D -- which means you can move around in the 3D space. I haven't had time yet to try out all this stuff, but I'll take her out for another spin when I get home tonight.

I was impressed when, a week or so ago, I stumbled on the Google Maps site by chance. The ease of navigation is very good, and used together with Google Earth, they make a very powerful team indeed.

Miss Waria

few days ago I was watching MetroTV's early evening news program called Suara Anda (Your Voice), which I try to do most evenings from 7-8pm. The program starts out with a preview of 8 news stories which viewers will be able to choose from, and call the studio to make their request and discuss the story with the two hosts. Then they will spend the first 20 minutes or so with whatever main story has been chosen by the editors (with interviews in studio, by satlink or phone with those involved or sources), and the viewers will have their menu of choices offered again at station breaks, to think about which one they might wish to request later.

So the other night, #7 was a story on "Miss Waria Indonesia 2005". And I thought to myself, "Wow, those are some brave girls... er, guys." For you see, waria in Indonesia is the same as kathoey in Thailand -- although for obvious reasons, not as generally well accepted as part of the local fauna. The word waria -- in line with the Indonesian propensity for making new words out of cryptic abbreviations for any and everything -- is a combination of wanita (woman) and pria (man). In Thailand, the transvestite cabaret shows are very popular with locals and tourists alike. Huge venues like Calypso and Alcazar are world famous for their shows, and are packed every night. For many foreign visitors, attending a "ladyboy" cabaret is a must-do when in the Kingdom. They are really quite amazing.

But in predominately Muslim Indonesia? Transvestites (and gays) have a much more difficult time, and special events like this are pretty much underground. I certainly wasn't expecting a public Miss Waria competition, although I've since learned that the first one was actually held last year. Well I was interested to see how it came off, and hoped someone would phone in for number 7.

And sure enough, before the end of the program, one male viewer called to request the story. They ran the piece, which included the antics of the FPI (Front Pembela Islam - Islamic Defenders' Front) toward the end of the event, and their attempt to stop the show. The FPI are famous for their gangs of thugs who go around busting up pool halls and cafes every Ramadan. I've written about them a few times on this blog. Apparently on this occasion they were unsuccessful in their efforts, and the show went on. The photo above, of Pak Haji Soleh Mahmud of FPI, was too good to resist -- with his graceful flourish, it looks like he wants to enter the contest.

After the video piece, the hosts engaged with the caller on the issue of transvestites in Indonesia. "It's a sickness," he said. "They are mentally sick, but with the help of religion, playing lots of sports and things like that, they could be cured." He didn't like it at all, and thought they should not be allowed to do such things. When the host asked him if he supported the actions of FPI to put a stop to all that immoral behaviour, he said he certainly did.

The last time I was in Aceh, I went with a few friends in Tapaktuan to a public swimming pool one day. The place was crowded and exhuberant, lots of people of all ages. I noticed a group of 3 or 4 waria come in, dressed nicely (not bathing suits) and obviously not at all shy about it. Joking around with people and each other, certainly not trying to be unnoticed. I asked my friend, and he just shrugged and said, "That's waria. Watch out, they'll flirt with you!" Nobody seemed to give them particular attention, they were just part of the scene. And this is Aceh! This seems to be a fairly common attitude in Southeast Asia, certainly that's the usual attitude you find in Laos or Thailand.

I remember in the early 90's when I was in Cambodia travelling by motorcycle in a remote area outside Siem Reap (it wasn't exactly safe, the KR were still around), and I stopped at a little fruit vendor's shop in the middle of nowhere. The young lady selling fruits and snacks was quite pretty, nicely dressed and 100% feminine in speech and manner. But she was a guy. The older lady working with her was a real one, and the whole scene was just absolutely normal, like nothing out of the ordinary. I thought how lucky she was to have a life where she was able to be herself and be accepted. Of course I only saw that one small part of her life that day.

The next night on Suara Anda, the main in-studio opening story was ... Miss Waria. It had been kind of disappointing how the program had ended the previous night with a supporter of the FPI thugs. So kudos to MetroTV for going with it as top story the next evening. And the guest in studio was Olivia from Surabaya -- Miss Waria Indonesia 2005. She was extremely articulate and well spoken, and I can see why she was chosen from the 30 contestants. She talked about what she hoped to accomplish during her coming year, including helping to educate people about dangerous drug use and HIV-AIDS. She wants to show that waria can be good, kind and responsible citizens and hoped she could improve their image.

Olivia won a grand prize of $250 dollars for being chosen Miss Waria, and she will fly to Thailand (not sure when) for the international pageant for Miss ... I don't know what they call it. Miss World Ladyboy? -- I don't think so. The CBC has a story on the pageant with a very nice picture of Olivia (and another one of Pak Haji Soleh, who came in last, heh heh). BBC also has a story with photo.

By the way, see that guy in the black leather jacket over a red shirt, standing next to Pak Haji? He's a lawyer (name slips my mind at the moment) and part time soap opera celebrity in Indonesia. He was always prominent on defence teams for those people like Emilio Gutierrez, the militia people who did so much brutal damage in East Timor for years before and during the referendum, as well as military figures accused of doing bad things to people in Aceh, Timor and elsewhere. Now he's hawking his own energy drinks in the worst advertisements on Indonesian TV. And here he is again, in like a dirty shirt -- you can see on the CBC page, it looks like he's straining just to get into the camera shot. But the gentle warias won the day, hooray!


here haven't really been any developments on the asylum case of Chen Yonglin, apart from his coming out of hiding last week and having a rather emotional press conference that made evident his fear of being returned to China. He's worried that the Australian and Chinese governments have made a deal to sell him out and send him back -- something that would surely strike fear in anyone's heart who was in that position. Epoch Times has stories from both Canadian and Australian perspectives.

But how much does China hope to influence other countries, and could it possibly be as serious as one of the Australia defectors claimed -- that China hoped to undermine the basic values of freedom and democracy in societies like Australia and Canada? By now, everyone should be well aware that the major factor hindering solid international action to stop the genocide in Sudan's Darfur, is China's presence on the UN Security Council. Their oil interests in that country dictate a Chinese policy that nothing should change in Sudan. Same goes for Burma. The only reason the dictatorship there can thumb its nose to the world, despite world leaders' recent calls for freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and democratic progress, is one single factor: China's support for the military regime. It gives China's ruling clique the time they need to finish inhaling what's left of Burma's natural resources, most especially some of the last (and the largest) remaining teak forests on the planet.

Having seen the recent brutal evictions and destruction of homes by Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, and the world's (and especially his African neighbours') apparent impotence to do anything useful, it wasn't too much of a surprise to read that China is about his best friend as well. Sokwanele, a Zimbabwean civic action group has an article entitled On becoming a Chinese Colony (wai to Publius). It may (or may not) surprise you.

Sokwanele also has a blog, which has been very interesting to read these past few weeks in particular.

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