The audio book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is now available from CD Baby. Compared with the print version there are two minor changes in the ordering of the stories, ‘Headland’ the last stories in the print version is at the end of the suite of stories that are set in Australia and ‘Baby Boomers and Japan’ precedes it.

Making the audio book

Recording this audio book has been an interesting journey. My first step was to acquire a suitable microphone. After experimenting with some cheap off the shelf versions, I realised that they were quite inadequate. After a little research I found the Yeti by Blue. This is an incredibly versatile microphone. I won’t say much about it here, but I’ve posted YouTube video below that demonstrates its versatility.

Garageband proved to be suitable software so I began. Not being a professional actor but at least knowing how to project my voice and read with both a consistent metre and expression, I embarked on the journey.

Ambient noise, bad voice days and the occasional rumble of thunder or jets passing over necessitated re-recording at times.  I also made an attempt to engineer changes in my voice to reflect different characters. I think for the most part I’ve been successful. In saying this I must added that I didn’t attempt accents beyond the most minimal variation.  My years living in Indonesia and the fact that I currently reside in Singapore did not embolden me to attempt Indonesian or Singapore English, for the most part.

Here is a sample of my work my work from An Unusual Kind of Thunder which is the first of two firsthand accounts of the Bali Bombings of October 2002. The other is In the Charnel House. Reading stories like these wirth their strong emotional content and explicit descriptions of the impact of terrorist bombing is an emotional experience.  Although I’m well beyond the raw Post Traumatic Stress of the first few years after this event, the reading brought back a lot of memories. In a practical sense, this meant I had to edit a lot, when the tears started flowing.  The result is a smooth coherent unfolding of two powerful stories.

My work’s significance.

In launching my book earlier this year Dr David Reeve had this to say of it:

This is partly creative fiction though it’s based on his own life and I think of it of keeping to a tradition of writing on Asia. I remember the excitement back in 1978 when Chris Koch published The Year of Living Dangerously then in 1980 Blanche D’Alpuget published Monkeys in the Dark, 1981 Turtle Beach. Robert Drew in 1981 published A Cry in the Jungle Bar. Those authors sat down not knowing that the others had an Asia theme and started just at a particular moment to write about Australians really enmeshing themselves in Asia.

When I look at the similarity of those four novels, in each of those,  Australians go forward full of high ideals and anticipation but in fact come home defeated, physically wounded or psychologically wounded or in the case of the hero of A Cry in the Jungle Bar actually dead. So I think this is a new and more mature and more realistic mood in Russell Darnley’s book. The Australian doesn’t go out with high hopes to Asia, gets defeated and returns partially destroyed, certainly damaged. In him it’s a much more complex engagement, it has of course it fears, it’s dangers, its sicknesses but it’s much more mature, I think, in its approach to the complexities of these enmeshments.

I’d like to think that I’ve added a more optimistic and resilient dimension to Australia’s attempts at engaging with our remarkable large and complex neighbour since 15 of my stories are set in Indonesia.  This is no simple task, as former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans reminds us when he writes:

“No two neighbours anywhere in the world are as comprehensively unalike as Australia and Indonesia. We differ in language, culture, religion, history, ethnicity, population size, and in political, legal and social systems.”

Of course the book isn’t merely about Indonesia, Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific is 29 stories inspired by one family’s experience spanning three generations the stories are cradled in reality and crafted with an eye for accuracy, but frailty of memory and the natural passing of people and the need to protect others has rendered some stories fictional, even when they’re not.

This work acknowledges that interactions with people from our and culture are generally tangible and familiar but beyond our immediate culture things change, now meaning and understanding must often be negotiated. Foucault’s ideas and the Balinese belief that the reality is interaction of Sikala the seen and Niskala, the unseen, influence this work.

What comprises the Unseen realm varies. What might be understood as micro ecology in one place has spiritual explanations elsewhere. In rational secular society magic is dismissed as mythology or superstition but in parts of Asia and in the Pacific what might be seen as myths and misconceptions can possess the power of reality.

ANMEF HO Rabaul, 1914

ANMEF HO Rabaul, 1914

This journey is a long and varied one. It begins in 1914 with Sid Thompson and D Company part of the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force sent to capture New Guinea from Germany. Easily defeating the enemy unseen forces took enormous toll draining the strength of healthy young men and promoting a lifetime interest in Chinese medicine for Sid.

I’ve mentioned An Unusual Kind of Thunder and In the Charnel House but there are many more tales

Red Poppies and Janur chronicles Sid’s return to Australia, his family struggle through the Great Depression, and his response to the sacrifice of those who gave up their lives in the Great War. It Segues into Camphor, Silk and Ivory,


a story of seamen’s tales and a child’s embryonic awareness of the cultures beyond.

Made in Japan is a story of hostilities that run deep it’s an account off bitterness, even hatred through memories of wartime atrocities. It’s also a story of redemptive transformation that for many Australians began with the appearance of the striking Hiroshima panels that finally allowed a true measure of the atrocity of war to emerge.

Joss sticks

Joss sticks

Joss Sticks and Cracker Night and An Encounter with White Australia often unacknowledged Asian influences in Anglo Australia of the 1950’s at a time when clear visions of the Australian region and its many cultures were still shrouded in the vial of the anti-Asian White Australia Policy.

Surviving the Sixties is a personal account of a growing sense of region the desire to know the other rendered more difficult but racism the Vietnam War and the draft. It explores the discourse of a generation confronted by the shadow of the Cold War and its monochromatic world.


In Headland many years of travel in Asia permit a resolution of the negative energies that long enveloped me when I stood on Coogee’s northern headland. This is a story that could not have been written without a sense of the interplay of the seen and the Unseen.

First Landfall is about a journey to Singapore in 1972 and an abrupt awakening the realisation of being a ketchup Backpacker a blow to romantic idealism.  Following on the Sublime to the Horrific reveals a couple confronting a primal issue conception with complications as they travel through Singapore Malaysia and Thailand.

Bhoma carving from Puri Saren Agung, Ubud, Bali

Bhoma carving from Puri Saren Agung, Ubud, Bali

Beyond Bhomas’ Powers reveals an ancient spiritual tradition pointing to a harmonious balance with nature. In Balinese tradition Bhoma is an unseen power behind this balance transforming and recycling yet unable to deal with modern and pollution.

Balikpapan Looking Backwards and Forwards employs the metaphor of the Wayang Kulit, the shadow play, revealing the past and the present shaping out the future of Borneo and its once magnificent equatorial rain forests.

Dayak people already displaced by logging: Rukun Damai and Long Ubung

Dayak people already displaced by logging: Rukun Damai and Long Ubung

The River Guide ventures further into the heart of Borneo with Alex whose mind is a precise map of values and relativities, of seen and unseen flows and eddies. A journey of many hues it affords opportunities to view the history of the river and its people confronting influences from the Ming to the present.

Siberut and the Simple Life is a story of forest people yet to develop the habit of money. It is also a story of the warmth and humour but more importantly one of exploitation and the destructive forces transforming their environment


The Pig and the Cockfight is not exactly a comedy of manners but it could be, rather it’s a story of the process of understanding Balinese culture at greater and greater depth, the pitfalls the humour and the ultimate resolution.

Kampanye – The Campaign Procession sees two Australians caught up in a huge demonstration on the eve of Indonesia’s elections challenging the paranoia of official Australian travel warnings and revealing a society of youth optimism and generosity of spirit. Following on Pemilihan Umum – The General Election continues the theme as the Australians join Indonesian friends in this transition to democracy.

An Unusual Kind of Thunder and In the Charnel House deal directly and graphically with the Bali bombings of 2002. Any assessment of these stories is best left to the reader.

Beyond this suite of Indonesian stories there is a number of others that warrant special mention.

Singapore 43 Years On is about returning to Singapore a city transformed. This is a story of disorientation and a longing for the past being transformed into a contemporary appreciation of this remarkable on entrepot and its global connections.

Marina Bay, part of the Singapore Straits in 1972

Marina Bay, part of the Singapore Straits in 1972

Vietnam A War Revisited is a story of the anti-war movement and the draft told respectively from Hanoi. It is a story of unveiling, in a sense. Visiting Vietnam for the first time and grateful that I wasn’t part of that group of Australians sent there in the 1960s, and a chance meeting with another Australian in Hanoi, evokes a candid reflection on the War years.

About the Yeti by Blue

Travelling through East Kalimantan in 1987 the extent of forest clearance was immediately apparent. On the road from Balikpapan to Tenggarong most of the clear-felled areas I passed were tantamount to a tinderbox waiting for a firestorm.

Fire in logged areas was a regular occurrence in East Kalimantan and ten years after this visit, the inevitable happened. The El Nino of 1997-98 exacerbated yet another outbreak that went on to burn 25% of the province.

Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997

Air pollution over Southeast Asia in October 1997

The El Nino of 2015-16

In June the Straits Times reported that peatland fires in Kalimantan and Sumatra that blanketed South-east Asia in thick haze last year released the greatest amount of climate-changing carbon since record blazes in 1997, producing emissions higher than in the whole of the European Union.

The Nature Climate Change 4 notes that El Niño events are a prominent feature of climate variability with global climatic impacts. The 1997/98 episode, often referred to as ‘the climate event of the twentieth century’1, 2, and the 1982/83 extreme El Niño3, featured a pronounced eastward extension of the west Pacific warm pool and development of atmospheric convection, and hence a huge rainfall increase, in the usually cold and dry equatorial eastern Pacific. Such a massive reorganization of atmospheric convection, which we define as an extreme El Niño, severely disrupted global weather patterns, affecting ecosystems4, 5, agriculture6, tropical cyclones, drought, bushfires, floods and other extreme weather events worldwide3, 7, 8, 9

Recent research on the 2015 fires reported in the Straits Times concluded that 884 million tonnes of carbon dioxide was emitted in the region last year, with 97 per cent originating from forest fires in Indonesia.

The results showed that regional carbon dioxide emissions from the fires were 11.3 million tonnes per day in September and October 2015, more than the 28-nation EU’s daily emissions of 8.9 million tonnes during the same period.

The researchers also said the emissions were worse than during the 1997 fires, considered the worst on record.

At that time, there was an even longer drought and widespread burning due to a stronger El Nino.

Research suggests 100,000 premature deaths

A palm oil concession in Indonesia's Riau Province

A palm oil concession in Indonesia’s Riau Province

Harvard and Columbia University researchers have used air pollution readings to calculate exposure to the toxic smoke haze that drifted across Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, last year. Their research suggests 100,000 premature deaths in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, arising from this event.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Indonesia correspondent Jewel Topsfield quotes the report from the Environmental Research Letters journal on September 19 as estimating “. . . that haze in 2015 resulted in 100,300 excess deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore,” says the report, which was published in. This was largely the result of exposure the dangerous particulate matter of 2.5 microns or smaller (PM2.5).  The report states:

A combination of El Niño and pIOD conditions in July–October 2015 led to dry conditions that exacerbated agricultural and land clearing fires in southern Sumatra and Kalimantan. The resulting dense haze persisted across much of Equatorial Asia for weeks, imposing adverse public health impacts on populations in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia. Using the adjoint of the GEOS-Chem global chemistry model together with health response functions, we estimate ~60 μg m−3 of population-weighted smoke PM2.5 exposure and 100 300 premature deaths across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore due to extreme haze in 2015. These values are more than double the 25 μg m−3 of smoke PM2.5 and 37 600 premature deaths that we estimate for a similar haze event in the region in 2006. The approximate doubling of regional smoke exposure in 2015 compared to 2006 is consistent with observations of haze from both OMI AI and MODIS AOD during the two events.

Conditions are becoming worse with the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle and Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) potentiating factors.



The report notes that, “Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of death from a number of ailments including stroke and respiratory illnesses,” one of the researchers from Harvard University, Dr Shannon Koplitz, told Fairfax Media.

Indonesians were the worst affected with an estimated 91,600 excess deaths.

Last year Indonesia’s National Disaster management Agency (BNPB) acknowledged the severity of the situation reporting that hat 43 million Indonesians were affected by the smog in Sumatra and Kalimantan alone with 503,874 reported Acute Respiratory Infections (ARI).


Based on a map appearing in Kompas, Tues 26 October, 2016

Topsfield reports Sutopo Purwo Nugroho from BNPB as claiming “There is nothing like that (91,000 premature deaths),”  and going on to say, “It is not true. The data is not valid. If there were high numbers of people dead we would have stated it in our almost daily forest fire press releases last year.”

It seems Sutopo Purwo Nugroho has misunderstood the data which pointed to premature deaths, rather than deaths in the present period.

Biggest Environmental Disaster of 21st Century

Topsfield  also quotes Erik Meijaard, an Indonesian-based honorary associate professor at the University of Queensland who says that “Indonesia’s fires are probably the biggest global environmental disaster of the 21st century”.

Meijaard wrote in The Jakarta Globe referencing the Mongabay Series: Indonesian Forests which noted that:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions from peat fires in Borneo and Sumatra are currently exceeding emissions from the entire U.S. economy, putting Indonesia on track to be one of the world’s largest carbon polluters this year.
  • According to the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED) carbon emissions from Indonesia’s fires have just topped the CO2 equivalent of a billion tons.
  • The findings bring into sharp focus the importance of ending business-as-usual approaches to land management in Indonesia if the world hopes to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

While the health impacts are an obvious and continuing legacy of the rapacious forest burning there are other grave consequences.

Non-health consequence of forest clearing and burning

The impacts on endangered ecosystems and endangered animals, in particular, are well documented. Tragic as this is, particularly for animals such as the Sumatran Tiger and the Orang Utan, I’ve concentrated on less well known impacts. The WWF covers the issue of Palm Oil and Biodiversity Loss most thoroughly.

Subsidence of peatlands and their increasing vulnerability to sea level rise and flooding

Flooding in deltas and riparian lowlands is accelerated by the subsidence of peatlands.  Subsidence commonly occurs when channels are cut through peat lands as part of the clearing process. Peat dries out begins to release sequestered CO2 and shrinks. This is well documented in the Straits Times article which reminds us that unrestrained forest clearance to develop oil palm and pulpwood plantations leads to land subsidence.

The article observes that:

Millions of hectares of Indonesia’s former forest lands are slowly subsiding and could become flooded wastelands unable to grow food or timber-based products in one of the world’s most populous nations. Combined with rising sea levels, the scale of the problem becomes even more stark because much of the east coast of Sumatra is just a few metres above sea level.

It quotes Wetlands International which claims that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of Sumatra’s peatlands have been drained, largely for agriculture.

Vast stretches of peatlands along Sumatra’s east coast that is mere metres about sea level. Mr Marcel Silvius of Wetlands International tells us:

These peatlands will become unproductive so that, over time, almost the entire east coast of Sumatra will consist of unproductive land that will become frequently flooded, adding that this means the livelihoods of the local communities will be jeopardised, and industrial plantations will not be possible any more.

Remediation is unlikely to be an option so the costs associated with this aspect of the palm oil industry are huge and inter-generational.

Siltation of drainage basins, mangroves and coastal waters

Clearing any land in humid environments increases run off and reduces the percolation of water into soils.  Run-off velocity in such situations also increases and without the protective forest layer erosion increases, top soil is lost and carried into water courses, streams and rivers. This in turn reduces the efficiency of channel flow, increasing flooding and also leading to increased siltation of estuaries and coastal waters.  Such siltation can disturb coastal mangroves and associated fish breeding areas.  River transport, coastal fishing and coastal navigation all suffer.

Muhammad Lukman, in research towards his PhD, has identified elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in riparian and coastal sediments.   He suggests that his findings could be evidence of the effects of widespread, long-term and intense agricultural burnings along with the many forest/peat swamp fires that have frequently occurred in the past 20 years or so.

Some estimates of cost can be made in terms of the costs of flood mitigation and control measures, losses arising from flooding of agricultural land and settled areas, and the immediate impacts on navigation and fishing

Forced closure of schools and educational institutions;

On 25 September, 2015, as haze hovered above AQI 300 in Singapore, schools and kindergartens were closed and protective N95 masks distributed. Levels of smoke haze pollution were far higher in Indonesia where schools had been closed in the previous month. In Malaysia the government announced that schools would be closed in areas with an AQI over 200. On Monday 5 October, 2015, Detik online reported that in Pekanbaru, capital of Riau Province in Sumatra, schools had been closed for more than a month owing to the smoke haze. Finally the Department of National Education Pekanbaru forced students to go to school despite the smoke haze.

Such a cyclical problem will cause significant disruption to educational services and the development of human resources, particularly in Indonesia.

Closure of airports and disruption of airline schedules.

During the burning season 2015 flights were frequently cancelled at Sultan Syarif Kasim II (SSK II) airport Pekanbaru, in Riau province with visibility down to between 300 to 600 metres in the area. Elsewhere Kuching International Airport (KIA) in Sarawak, Malaysia was closed on September 10 with visibility down to some 400 metres. In Indonesia, poor visibility due to smoke disrupted flight schedules at Pinang Kampai Airport, Riau. All of these events have direct measurable impacts.

Losses sustained by the tourism industry and other business sectors

Last year Reuters quoted Irvin Seah, DBS economist in Singapore, who said, In 1997, the level of pollution was not this severe, and noting that the tourism industry’s contribution to the economy was relatively smaller back then.

The Reuters report observes that Tourism makes up 6.4 percent of Malaysia’s economy and about 5 to 6 percent of Singapore’s and quotes an ANZ research report that says, in Singapore, Shopping, restaurants, bars and outdoor entertainment will all suffer during this hazy period.

Among the events disrupted or even cancelled due to the haze were the 2015 FINA Swimming World Cup in Singapore and the Kuala Lumpur Marathon in Malaysia.

While losses in tourism and ancillary sectors can be calculated there are increased costs to businesses across the board. Developing and implementing disaster relief plans for employees is one area that is immediately obvious, then there are the issues of work days lost owing to respiratory or cardio pulmonary illnesses, disruptions to supply chains and various other schedules of usual business activity. Finally there is the matter of impacts on ventilation and air conditioning filtration systems particularly in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

Impact on global warming

This was also broached in the previous post Forest Burning and haze in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. The precise impact of any one burning event is difficult to judge, but the immense quantities of carbon stored in the peatlands of Indonesia is cause for concern. One estimate suggests that Indonesia’s 1997 fires released 810 to 2,670 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, the equivalent of 13 to 40 per cent of the fossil fuels emitted worldwide that year.

In a report entitled ‘Indonesian haze: Why it’s everyone’s problem’ on 18 September, 2015, CNN observed that, it’s a persistent, annual problem that disrupts lives, costs the governments of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia billions of dollars, and leaves millions of people at risk of respiratory and other diseases. The land that burns is extremely carbon rich, raising Indonesia’s contribution to climate change.

The CNN report also reminds us that in 2014 Indonesia was ranked the world’s sixth worst emitter of green house gasses.

I wasn’t expecting things to deteriorate quite as quickly as they have today.



Just in case readers aren’t familiar with this Air Quality Index scale, readings are based on several factors but the figure 248 refers to parts per million of particles 2.5 microns in size.  These have a capacity to enter the lungs and remain deep inside.



So, where is all this smoke haze coming from today.

First, here is yesterdays wind map showing hotspots in the ASEAN region.  There are two in Sumatra.



Here is a map showing palm oil plantations and peat domes in Sumatra.

Oil palm map


Without doing a precise mapping exercise to match the active hotspots with peat domes, it’s still obvious that the most likely source of Singapore’s smoke haze pollution right now is a hot spot  west south west of Palembang.  At the time of writing Palembang is at AQI 54 but this is a PM 10 reading

Indonesia’s hot spots

The Straits Times recently carried this video from Reuters

Today the Straits Times carried this article.


This festival is held during the 7th lunar month. This year it begins on 3rd August with commemorative activities running until 31st August.

Commemorating the Dead

The Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month (鬼月) has uncertain origins. Similar commemorations are found throughout Asia from India  to Japan. The tradition apparently predates Buddhism and perhaps originates from Taoism.

According to one interpretation, the gates of hell are open on the first day of the seventh lunar month, and hungry ghosts are released to find food or to take revenge people who have behaved badly.

J Y See writes: Many of them have suffered in hell where they starved for months making it necessary to feed them with offerings to ward off any evil, hungry spirits.

Believers hold ceremonies and make offerings, chanting together to free and propitiate the ghosts.

Music accompanying the Taoist Ritual of chanting and making offerings to the ghosts

Offerings of beverages, cakes, flowers and fruit

Offerings for the ghosts including wine, cooked poultry and paper ‘money’.

Some Chinese believe the gates of heaven are also open during this month, and commemorate their heavenly ancestors at this time.  Ancestors are often provided with money and consumer goods in symbolic gesture of support


Burning paper ‘money’, possible symbolic share certificates, stocks and debentures.


‘Money’ offerings burned by the wayside with cakes fruit, votive candles and incense placed and left on the footpath.

Contemporary offerings that, fabricated from paper and cardboard, that might be used in the other realm.

Since the realm of ghosts and ancestor spirits is an intangible and non-material realm it is the essence of the offerings that must be conveyed.  Ultimately all paper offerings are burned.

All that remains after the paper offerings have been burned

The sense that ancestor spirits are present has some similarities with the Balinese time of Galungan when Balinese ancestor spirits visit their corporal families. This is a time of great conviviality as ancestor spirits are believed to journey back to the corporal world assisted by the construction of penyor, bridges between the unseen world of spirit and the tangible world.

Behaviours to be Avoided During the Hungry Ghost Festival

Since the angry spirits released from hell are about in numbers, there are certain behaviors or activities that must be avoided during the month, so as not to attract or anger them. Believers would attempt to avoid the following:

  • Strolling at night;
  • Swimming. It is said that drowned evil ghosts might try to drown people in order to find victims for them to rebirth;
  • Moving house, starting new businesses or marrying as the month is considered to be inauspicious;
  • Hanging clothes outside at night;
  • Picking up coins or money found on the street and if one does, never bring any home;
  • Stepping on or kicking the offerings by the roadside. If someone were to step on any offerings by accident, he or she should apologize aloud to ameliorate the situation;
  • Wearing red because ghosts are attracted to red;
  • Singing and whistling as these may attract ghosts;
  • Approaching walls as it is believed that ghosts like sticking to walls;
  • Celebrating birthdays at night;
  • Going out at 12 midnight as the ghost may approach you for food and other offerings for them;
  • Opening umbrellas in the house as this might attract spirits;
  • Taking selfies or videos as ghost might appear in them; and,
  • Sleeping facing the mirror or something reflective as this guides the ghosts.

Believers are also advised to be cautious when sitting in empty chairs.

Banquet seats erected and decorated for the hungry ghosts and/or ancestor spirits

Banquet seats erected and decorated for the hungry ghosts and/or ancestor spirits


For more detailed information and videos on the commemoration visit AsiaOne’s treatment of the event.

Christianity and Commemoration of the Dead

In Western Christianity All Souls’ Day commemorates those departed in faith, often with a focus on one’s relatives but also  faithful departed, in particular (but not exclusively) one’s relatives. In Western Christianity the commemoration is held on 2 November and is associated with All Saints Day on 1 November and its vigil Halloween.  In recent years Halloween has been transformed into a secular commercial event.

In the Eastern Church practices vary somewhat in the Greek Orthodox Church the practice is to make commemorations for the departed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after their repose. Since not all Orthodox Christians might have been commemorated in this way four Saturdays are set aside for a general commemoration of souls. This year, 2016 these commemorations fell on 5, 12 and 19 March, as well as the day before Pentecost June 18.  All Saints day followed one week after Pentecost on June 26.

















Posted by: maximos62 | August 20, 2016

#Singapore: the Festival of the Hungry Ghost

This month long event in Singapore is always worth watching as it comes to an end. Catherine Williams and I shot this quick video today on iPhones, just in passing.


Back in the 1960s I worked as a television camera operator. In those days the camera’s we used were huge. Operating one was like waltzing with a robot.

Working with an Image Orthicon Camera in 1968

I remember those times fondly working in this way allowed me to attend a huge variety of lectures. Sure it was from behind the camera but it allowed me to enjoy a free education completing most of the Physics I course with substantial blocks of Psychology, Botany, Biology, Archaeology and even Anatomy, probably the most confronting of all the courses. What it left me with was a life long interest in video and photography.

Now with iPhones capturing video and then transforming it into a short program, disseminated through YouTube is so quick and simple.






Posted by: maximos62 | June 21, 2016

Indonesian Foreign Ministry on Smoke Haze

This story is from the Jakarta Post. I reproduce it with this brief comment.

I find the reluctance of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry to make meaningful comment about the problem of transboundary haze very puzzling indeed. It leads me to wonder whether there is the will and capacity, at a national level, to tackle this problem.


Jakarta. The Singaporean Foreign Ministry has released a statement denying Indonesia has protested a warrant against the director an Indonesian firm linked to illegal forest fires in last year’s haze.

Arrmanatha Nasir, spokesman for the Indonesian Foreign Ministry, said the government has issued a protest against Singapore’s National Environment Agency (NEA) through the Indonesian embassy in Singapore.

“We urge for Singapore’s regulations to not affect good trade and cooperation ties, especially between our businesses,” Arrmanatha said in a press briefing on Thursday (12/05).

In a response on Friday, Singaporean Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Arrmanatha’s remarks were “puzzling,” and the Singaporean government is yet to receive any representation from the Indonesian Embassy.

Earlier on Wednesday, NEA had obtained a court warrant against the Indonesian director, who failed to heed an interview notice served to him when he was in Singapore.

“The Transboundary Haze Pollution Act [THPA]’s purpose is to prosecute and deter entities that are responsible for transboundary haze pollution in Singapore, whether Singaporean or foreign … We are therefore puzzled as to why Indonesia does not welcome these efforts,” said the statement received by the Jakarta Globe.

Singapore has repeatedly urged the Indonesian government to share information on companies suspected of illegal burning in Indonesia.

Indonesian officials have been informed of at least six companies being served with THPA notices, although no replies have been received.

However, the summoned director and the list of companies have not been disclosed to public.

Haze coming from fires across Sumatra and Kalimantan in Sept. and Oct. last year reached Singapore and Malaysia, causing health issues and inconvenience to all three countries. Several pulp and paper companies are believed to be responsible for starting the fires.

See the original story here:





This is a Chitter Media Production, produced and edited by Adrian Metlenko, camera operators Adrian Metlenko and Evan Darnley-Pentes.

In China the Mekong River is called the Lancang River. For some years I’ve been concerned about dam construction on the upper part of the Mekong that flows through China.

International Rivers advises that Seven megadams have already been built, and over 20 more are under construction or being planned in Yunnan, Tibet and Qinghai.  See the Google Map prepared by International Rivers. .


According to International Rivers these existing dams and those under consideration  scheme will drastically change the river’s natural flood-drought cycle and block the transport of sediment, affecting ecosystems and the livelihoods of millions living downstream in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Impacts to water levels and fisheries have already been recorded along the Thai-Lao border.

If it were to end there there might be some consolation in containment but 133 more are either under construction or planned for the Lower Mekong River Basin.

This map from Z.K.Rubin, G.M. Kondolf and P.C.Carling’s publication Anticipated Geomorphic Impacts From Mekong Basin Dam Construction paints a grave picture.

additionalSediments and the ENSO Cycle

While my concerns have always been related to the resulting water shortages Rubin, Kondolf and Carling remind us that damming rivers also contains and reduces the transmission of sediments through water catchments. This is important because sediments, deposited along water catchments, particularly in the lower reaches where extensive flood plains develop, bring nutrients and the very substances of alluvial soils. Without  flooding and deposition of sediments agriculture must rely more on chemical fertilisers.

Most deposition is likely to occur in the Normal and La Nina phases of the ENSO Cycle but if dams prevent this unless they are constructed to allow the passage of sediments.  Even if they are, the retention of water will curb natural flows. So this broadens the picture.

There is sufficient online material for any reader to follow this up, but in the April 30 Jakarta Post I noticed some more telling details under the Heading El Niño dries up Asia as its stormy sister La Nina looms in a feed from Satish Cheney from AFP, Temerloh, Malaysia. Satish observes that “Withering drought and sizzling temperatures from El Nino have caused food and water shortages and ravaged farming across Asia”

The 2015-16 El Niño

The 2015-16 El Nino, has been identified by US meteorologists as the strongest since 1997-98. It has left the Mekong River at its lowest level in decades. Satish reports that this is causing food-related unrest in the Philippines, and smothering vast regions in a months-long heat wave often topping 40 degrees Celsius.

The current El Nino and predictions

The current El Nino and predictions

Stephen O’Brien, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinato said in Geneva last week, at a conference on responses to El Niño, Sixty million people already require our urgent assistance today, tonight, tomorrow. He recalled that the El Niño of 1997-98 killed around 21,000 people and caused damage to infrastructure worth $36 billion

El Niño has already severely affected the health and food security of so many families and communities across the world. I am deeply worried about rising acute malnutrition among children under five and the increase in water- and vector-borne diseases. People urgently need food, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene as well as health services, Mr. O’Brien added.

Regional impacts of El Niño

El Niño has already influenced  rice production in Indonesia, between September and December 2015 it fell by 4.08%.

Satish quotes Le Anh Tuan, a professor of climate change at Can Tho University affirming that in the Mekong Delta up to 50% of arable land has been affected by salt-water intrusion that harms crops and can damage farmland.  Such events might even become common outside El Niño years if dam construction continues. Associated with this problem more than 500,000 people are short of drinking water, while hotels, schools and hospitals are struggling to maintain clean-water supplies.

Satish goes on to summarise the Asian situation accordingly:

Neighboring Thailand and Cambodia also are suffering, with vast areas short of water and Thai rice output curbed.

In Malaysia, the extreme weather has shrunk reservoirs, dried up agricultural lands, forced water rationing in. some areas, and caused repeated school closures as a health precaution.

In India, about 330 million people are at risk from water shortages and crop damage, the government said recently, and blazing temperatures have been blamed for scores of heatstroke deaths and dead livestock.

Authorities in Palau warned recently the tiny Pacific island nation could completely dry up soon in a “total water outage”.

The OCHA has prepared this interesting infographic on the situation in the Philippines.



Global response

Mr. O’Brien emphasises that the World Humanitarian Summit, to be convened by the UN Secretary-General in Istanbul in a month’s time, on 23 and 24 May, provides a critical opportunity for the international community to change the way it manages climatic risks, including future El Niño and La Niña events.




Having listened to Scott Levi interview his guests on 92.4 ABC Central Coast Radio over the years, I was well aware of his acumen as a radio interviewer. So, I was delighted when he decided he would interview me on my book Seen and Unseen: a century of stories from Asia and the Pacific.


There is little point in writing more. Here is the interview. I hope you enjoy it.

Pick up a copy of the book from  IP or from Amazon

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