Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sitting in limbo

Around this time of year, people like to examine their lives and make New Year's resolutions in an attempt to better themselves and their situation. I've long since dropped the habit of making resolutions, but I do think it's an opportune time to reassess where I am and where I want to go from here. Of course, it's a bit difficult to make decisions on where to go when the people on whom you rely for clarity are loathe to share even the tiniest shred of information.

On the way out

There's less than 20 minutes left of 2011 here in the Big Durian. To quote the immortal Sherman T. Potter: "Here's to the New Year -- may she be a damn sight better than the last one."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas Sweet

Yes, I'm riffing on a Mannheim Steamroller track. What of it?

The New Zealand photos I promised a while back have been posted on my Facebook page. For those who know how to get to those, tuck in. For those who don't ... oops. You'd have to be a friend anyway, so don't feel too bad.

Christmas was pretty low-key around here -- we already had that Saturday off of work, and we had to be back in the office on Sunday to put out the Monday paper (despite that day being a public holiday). I decided to spend Christmas Eve at the Intercontinental Hotel's dinner that evening, as I had done for the past couple years. Most everyone I asked had other plans, but the nice people pictured below agreed to accompany me.


The food, as usual, was outstanding. Seafood of all shapes and sizes, turkey, ham, steak, yams, other non-yam vegetables, salads and desserts ... man, the desserts. What you see here -- cheesecake, egg nog cheesecake, coconut cake, carrot cake, strawberry mille feuille, rasperry tart, mango mousse, apple crumble and pumpkin pie -- is only a sampling of what was on offer.


I also managed to finally knock out a story that was weighing on my brain during the whole New Zealand trip. Tom Byer, Japan's youth soccer development guru and a fellow American expat, is considering taking on the mess that is Indonesia for his next challenge. Even at 900-plus words, the article itself is a small fraction of the great stuff I got from Tom and Bob Hippy (yes, that is his real name). When Tom said during our talk that I should help him write his book, I'm pretty sure he was only half-kidding.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

All Around Aotearoa


Fish (blue cod) and chips at The Craic in Dunedin. A bit spendy (NZ$20), but a damn fine meal. It would've been silly to go to three cities on the coast and not try some of the seafood. That red orb in the top right contains red sauce, known in the civilized world as "ketchup."


A selection of the various goodies on offer at the local 24-hour convenience store in Dunedin. Yes, I'm well aware Arnott's and Bundaberg are Australian brands, but I've never seen Cheds (cheddar cheese crackers) here and for some reason the ginger beer there tastes better than it does here. L&P is Lemon & Paeroa, a native New Zealand concoction.


The Robert Burns statue in the middle of The Octagon in Dunedin. The city calls itself "The Edinburgh of the South," and it plays its Scottish heritage to the hilt.




Three of the dozens of shots I took during a trip along the Taieri Gorge railway on the South Island. It's not that Wellington and Auckland weren't photogenic, but Dunedin was such a pleasant surprise and had the best weather. It was mostly cool, overcast and breezy during my stay in New Zealand. I was assured multiple times that such weather was not typical for the summer -- a shame, because I was really enjoying it after spending years bathing in the Big Durian's tropical funk.

Scarfing down money

I'm back from New Zealand, somewhat refreshed and definitely refocused. A more detailed summary of the trip will come later, but for now I'll throw up a few photos to tide over folks. One thing I made sure to do was keep up my tradition of taking in a sporting event when I go on vacation -- this time, it was the Wellington Phoenix taking on the Perth Glory in an A-League match at Westpac Stadium in the New Zealand capital.

The Phoenix won 1-0 in a match that was long on aspiration and short on execution, but it was a decent Saturday afternoon otherwise. Ticket: 30 New Zealand dollars (US$23); Pie and a Coke: NZ$8 (US$6); Hyundai A-League (TM) Officially Licensed Wellington Phoenix Supporters Scarf: NZ$35 (US$27). I won't go so far as to say charging damn near $30 for a scarf is definitely part of what's weighing down soccer's development in Australia and New Zealand, but it sure can't help.

Here, then, is my updated scarf collection -- modest but heartfelt.


From top: Wellington Phoenix (New Zealand), Beijing Guo'an (China), Indonesia national team, Kyoto Sanga (Japan), Hiroshima Carp (Japan baseball), Seibu Lions (Japan baseball), Tokyo Verdy (Japan), Urawa Reds (Japan), Kansas City Wizards (MLS), US vs. Poland (friendly at Soldier Field, Chicago), US national team (friendly vs. Honduras at Safeco Field, Seattle). These are grouped in roughly reverse chronological order. I should note that I only buy scarves of teams I've watched in person -- it's just a point of principle for me.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Big, black holes

Awwwwwwwww yeahhhhhhhh.
Scientists have found the biggest black holes known to exist — each one 10 billion times the size of our sun.
A team led by astronomers at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered the two gigantic black holes in clusters of elliptical galaxies more than 300 million light years away. That's relatively close on the galactic scale.
"They are monstrous," Berkeley astrophysicist Chung-Pei Ma told reporters. "We did not expect to find such massive black holes because they are more massive than indicated by their galaxy properties. They're kind of extraordinary."
The previous black hole record-holder is as large as 6 billion suns.
And don't even get me started on Kepler finding a nice, wet body in the sweet spot. I think I need a cold shower.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jinx much?

Got an airline that needs killin'? Give me a call.

Something, or someone, is conspiring to keep me from getting off this rock. First there was Qantas and its sudden departure from the skies. I had booked a flight to New Zealand on the Flying Kangaroo and was pretty perturbed when it suddenly grounded all its planes. That situation was temporarily resolved as the labor courts ordered Qantas and its unions back to work, but industrial action is still only a phone call away.

I also had booked a flight home on American Airlines. That plan got changed by forces beyond my control, but I'm told I can still use the credit from the flight. That's nice, but the news that American has filed for bankruptcy doesn't lift my spirits that much.

Now the government down in Kiwiville says it's going to sell its stake in flag carrier Air New Zealand. I'm not sure what that means for the airline's fortunes, but it doesn't sound good. The next time I make a long-distance relocation, I think I'll go by boat.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

PSSI's chickens come home to roost

My unabridged commentary piece on Indonesia's World Cup qualifier with Iran and all the nonsense surrounding it. The piece itself got kicked around a bit, what with the sports front being redesigned twice tonight. Enjoy!

----------------

Indonesian Football Association officials watching Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Iran must have been proud.

After all, everything on display at Gelora Bung Karno was the culmination of their five months in charge of the country’s favorite sport.

The half-fit players, the nearly empty stands, the choppy pitch at the national stadium — all that and more is the legacy of chairman Djohar Arifin Husin and the new leadership at the association known as the PSSI. All the hand-waving and attempts to deflect blame that will inevitably follow should not obscure the fact that those in charge of Indonesian football have not put the country in position to succeed.

It should come as no surprise that the drumbeat to replace Wim Rijsbergen as coach of the senior national team is already underway. Like his predecessor Alfred Riedl, the Dutchman ruffled feathers when he made the apparent mistake of calling attention to the miasma of indiscipline, arrogance and entitlement surrounding the national team and the PSSI.

Rijsbergen has since moderated his tone, but his point remains the same. While he has not criticized his players in public, he has walked up to that line, informing the press on multiple occasions of the stories he could tell but not elaborating in the interest of “protecting the players.”

What he refuses to say speaks just as loudly, though.

“If there is no discipline outside the field, it’s impossible to be disciplined on the field.” “There must be a lot of talent in a country with 240 million people that is willing to be 100 percent professional.”

Those are not the words of a manager who feels he can rely on his players to show up — on time and sober — when called up to the national team.

To the PSSI, though, what outside observers see as legitimate gripes are just another example of a mouthy bule. Reports have emerged that Djohar will consider Rijsbergen’s position after the Southeast Asian Games, and rest assured that succession plans are already in place.

While the names at the PSSI may have changed, the organization itself is still a political beast and it is not difficult to pick out the favorite son. After the Indonesian Super League finished in June, the Under-23 team coached by Rahmad Darmawan played 16 friendlies ahead of the Games, a youth competition in an event unknown outside this region.

The senior team, which was trying to qualify for the World Cup — the pinnacle of football — played just three times. One of those was against the U-23 team, while the other two needed PSSI and government officials to call in favors to line up friendlies against Palestine and Jordan.

Somewhere along the way, the country that once boasted of plans to host the World Cup decided trying to qualify for the tournament was just too much of a hassle.

That Rahmad is in line to succeed Rijsbergen is beyond doubt. The question is how Djohar and his cronies will justify the switch. Lack of success? Not bringing new talent into the team? Unless the Dutchman’s brief includes uniting the political factions tearing Indonesian football asunder and reviving the domestic league, those charges are unfair.

Too expensive? Making a change would leave the PSSI paying for Riedl, Rijsbergen and the new coach. Poor crowds? It was the PSSI that signed off on the hostile takeover of Persija Jakarta, whose Jakmania supporters make up the bulk of Indonesia’s crowds at Gelora Bung Karno, and spurred the boycott that has left so many seats unfilled.

Indonesia has had six managers since 2000, not including repeat appearances by Ivan Kolev and Benny Dollo. Putting another new face on the senior team’s bench will do little to address the systemic problems holding back the nation.

Most of those problems are long-term concerns, though, and the current leadership would struggle to organize a bake sale. For now, the best thing the PSSI could do is focus on restarting the domestic league. Sacking Rijsbergen and denying any culpability on its part for Indonesian football’s woes will only further entrench a rotten status quo.

Friday, November 11, 2011

So much for that

I guess I forgot where I worked. For a while there, I was under the impression that I'd be able to get out of the office and help with our coverage of the Southeast Asian Games. Of course, the unspoken second half of that sentence is "as long as we have enough people in the office." Given that I work in newspapers, you can imagine how infrequently that happens.

The SEA Games officially started on Friday, though soccer has been going for about a week and rowing was supposed to start on Thursday — supposed to, remember. It doesn't look like my byline will appear very often, though. I'm stuck in the office on Sunday and Monday covering for our international news guy, meaning I'll miss the start of men's and women's basketball, and I'll miss another day on Wednesday as well since one of our other chief copy editors has his day off. The last three days of the SEA Games — the 20th, 21st and 22nd — are out, too, because the other chief copy editor is taking a five-day break.

Of the 12 days of the SEA Games, I'm allowed out to cover events on five of them. It's really four since I'm apparently going to Indonesia's World Cup qualifier against Iran on Tuesday. It's a dead rubber, now that Indonesia is officially out after losing 4-0 in Doha, so the "win or be eliminated" angle isn't an option. Given the putrid attendance at the last few qualifiers and SEA Games matches — due in no small part to the ongoing Jakmania boycott — the atmosphere at Gelora Bung Karno might match its mausoleum-esque decor. (Yes, Gelora Bung Karno. They rearranged the SEA Games matches to free up the stadium, sparing Iran a trip to Papua.)

Honestly, I really shouldn't care that much. I've already told the higher-ups I won't renew my contract at its current terms, and as the odds of the company offering me a better salary are roughly equivalent to those of my getting married in the next week, it looks like my time here is at an end. My flights are already booked, and I'm going to start packing and paring down my things this weekend. You'd think I found some enjoyment in packing up my life and schlepping it long distances, given that I do it so often, but it really is a pain.

On a happier note, by this time tomorrow I should be in possession of my new laptop. The old one would've cost about $650 to fix, and since there happened to be an IT expo not too far away last weekend, I found a new one with more bells and whistles for about the same price. Plus, the new one has a 600 GB hard drive, so even after I get my old files transferred over (Bill Gates willing), it should take me at least three or four months to fill up all that space.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Who's sorry now?

In a rare moment of decisiveness for me, I'm taking the trip to New Zealand that I should've taken 12 months ago. When I left my gig in Beijing, I only came to Jakarta to clear my head and catch up with a few folks. While I was open to a job offer, I wasn't necessarily looking for one — the plan was to tour a couple schools in New Zealand before flying back to the US to start my transition out of newspapers.

It didn't work out that way, of course. Whether I'm soft-hearted, soft-headed or just plain soft, I said yes when the people at Globe Towers asked me to come back and help them out of a jam. I never actually signed a physical contract (details, details), but they asked me for a year and come December 6 I'll have given them a year. The next night, I'm scheduled to fly from Jakarta to Wellington (connecting in Sydney) and spend a little more than a week in the Land of Kiwi, decompressing after a year in the Big Durian and touring prospective schools.

Except it can never be that simple. My flights are all booked on Qantas, a decision that is looking pretty silly at the moment.
Qantas Airways grounded its global fleet Saturday, suddenly locking out striking workers after weeks of flight disruptions an executive said could close down the world's 10th largest airline piece by piece
The Australian government called for an emergency arbitration hearing, which was adjourned early Sunday morning after hearing evidence from the unions and airline. It will resume Sunday afternoon when the government will argue that the airline be ordered to fly in Australia's economic interests.
I went with Qantas after an Australian co-worker assured me the strike was not that serious and international flights weren't affected (in fairness, the latter was true at the time). I've not had the pleasure of Alan Joyce's company, but this maneuver and his subsequent statements smack of a heady cocktail of desperation and prickishness.

If the Gillard government does intervene, I imagine Tony Abbott and his opposition friends will wail about the government's anti-business practices, but the world of Aussie politics 'twas ever thus. I just know I'm out $1,100 if Qantas isn't up and flying again by early December — the only reason I'm able to make this trip is because I'm relatively close for the moment. I told my parents I'd be back in Nebraska before Christmas and — barring a head-turning, must-start-immediately job offer — I'm not of a mind to disappoint them.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Breaking up is hard to do

But breaking away? That's becoming de rigeur around these parts. Less than a year after the unsanctioned Indonesian Premier League decided to break away from the officially recognized Indonesian Super League and form its own competition, a handful of former ISL clubs have decided to break away from the now-official IPL and reconstitute the ISL.

In short — only because it's almost 5 a.m. and I really need to get to bed — Persipura Jayapura, Persija Jakarta, Sriwijaya FC, PSPS Pekanbaru, Pelita Jaya, Persiwa Wamena, Persela Lamongan, Deltras Sidoarjo, Persiba Balikpapan, Persisam Samarinda, Mitra Kukar and Persidafon Dafonsoro decided they didn't like the new league (or at least who was running it) and chose to walk away from the IPL. The Indonesian FA and the current league organizer insist they have 18 clubs signed up and ready to play in their league, but at least six of those clubs have come out and denied they ever re-registered. The now rebel ISL will start on Dec. 1 and — brace yourselves — will be broadcast by the Bakrie-owned ANTV, which had a 10-year deal to show the ISL before the new PSSI leadership decided it didn't like ANTV's face (or some such thing).

Persib is still on the fence if you believe the quote in the article, but given that the ISL organizer is offering more money, it's a pretty sure bet where they'll cast their lot. The IPL, meanwhile, can count Arema Indonesia, Bontang FC, Persebaya Surabaya, Persema Malang, Persiba Bantul, Persibo Bojonegoro, Persijap Jepara, Persiraja Aceh, PSM Makassar, PSMS Medan and Semen Padang among its number. The Asian Football Confederation says a league has to have a minimum of 10 clubs to operate, so technically both the ISL and IPL meet that requirement. The new ISL organizer says the league won't be a "breakaway" competition as it will operate within PSSI, AFC and FIFA statutes (he claims), but the odds of the PSSI leadership jettisoning the league they've created and giving in to the clubs' demands (and by so doing losing quite a bit of face) are remote at best.

At this point, the conflict breaks down into those in the Arifin Panigoro camp who back the new PSSI leadership and the IPL vs. those in the Bakrie camp who want to bring back the ISL and play by the old rules. Who loses when two titans of industry and their respective cronies get into a public dick-measuring contest over who should run Indonesia's most popular sport? Only the players, supporters and everybody who makes all or some of their living off of soccer. You know, the little people.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Aburizal Bakrie — the man who heads the Bakrie family, its business empire and the Golkar Party — has all but been nominated to run as his party's nominee for president in the 2014 election and could certainly use a nationwide platform like the ISL as he shores up his support among the unwashed masses. I'm sure his motives are pure, though.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Backpedaling

Stop me if you've heard this one: the Indonesian Premier League is in chaos again.

Wednesday was the deadline for the 24 original IPL clubs — 14 from the Indonesian Super League, 10 promoted from the second division and three rebel clubs welcomed back into the fold — to "re-register" with league administrators. Apparently not everyone was keen on the idea. Persisam Samarinda, Persela Lamongan, Persiba Balikpapan, PSPS Pekanbaru, Pelita Jaya and Deltras Sidoarjo did not send in their re-registration forms and have been left out of the new, slimmed-down IPL. I've yet to hear any reasons why they did didn't re-register, but I have a feeling their dissatisfaction with the PSSI and league administrator has something to do with it.

If we just go by this, the IPL, whenever it starts, will consist of eight former ISL clubs — Persipura Jayapura (defending champion), Arema Indonesia (under new, PSSI-approved ownership), Persija Jakarta (see previous), Semen Padang, Sriwijaya FC, Persib Bandung, Persiwa Wamena and Persijap Jepara — the seven clubs promoted, by means fair or foul, from the Premier Division — Persidafon Dafonsoro, Mitra Kukar, Persiba Bantul, Persiraja Banda Aceh, Bontang FC, PSMS Medan and Persebaya Surabaya — and former rebels PSM Makassar, Persema Malang and Persibo Bojonegoro.

Or will it? Persidafon's manager denies re-registering for the IPL, and I'm told PSMS would rather play in the second division than the IPL. More details will emerge in the coming days, especially as former league administrator Liga Indonesia (which partly kicked off this latest kerfuffle) has a shareholders' meeting today. It's worth remembering that trimming the IPL to 18 teams was one of the demands the "Group of 14" made in exchange for staying in the new league. Reinstating PTLI, giving clubs a 99 percent stake in the administrator and forking over a Rp 2 billion annual subsidy to each club will be more difficult, I imagine.

There might not be anything more sinister behind it, but at first glance it's as though the IPL asked "which clubs could we lose and suffer the smallest hit in terms of sponsor dollars and supporter eyeballs?" Aside from Persisam (sixth place), the departing teams all finished ninth or lower in last season's IPL and don't exactly command huge crowds. The PSSI would lose no end of face if it had to kick back one of the 10 clubs coming in from outside the ISL, and given how it blatantly disregarded league rules to promote PSMS and Persebaya, getting rid of big names like Persija, Arema, Persib, Sriwijaya and Persipura was never going to happen.

League patron and power behind the throne Arifin Panigoro gets to stick it his mortal enemy, the Bakrie family (which owns Pelita Jaya), as well. Once that pesky business over the broadcasting contract with ANTV gets cleared up, the Bakrie presence in Indonesian soccer will be all but eradicated. It's good to see some traditions — like using the country's favorite sport to settle personal vendettas between the rich and powerful — never change.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

C-O-N-spiracy

When the Southeast Asian Games begin on November 11, the football competition will already be well underway. That actually starts on the 3rd with Vietnam and the Philippines. Indonesia hasn't won a gold medal at the SEA Games since hosting it in 1991, and going by the draw, that streak looks likely to continue.

Group A: Indonesia (host), Malaysia (defending champion), Thailand (11-time winner), Singapore (back-to-back bronze medals), Cambodia
Group B: Vietnam, Laos, Brunei, East Timor, Burma, the Philippines

It's worth noting in that report that the Indonesian FA (PSSI) secretary general insisted the draw was "fair and square." Why would he feel the need to say that, especially as the PSSI itself did the draw?

If you're the supremely cynical type, you might just think that the PSSI rigged Indonesia's draw to be as difficult as possible, thus freeing up the country's young stars to return to the now-on-hiatus Indonesian Premier League. The IPL played all of one match before going on break and is still a hot mess, and as I've detailed on this here blog, the PSSI is not above a bit of shenanigans.

Oh, and did I mention that the Indonesian Under-23 team's SEA Games match against Thailand (at Gelora Bung Karno in Jakarta) is on Nov. 15, the same day as the senior national team's 2014 World Cup qualifier against Iran? The Asian Football Confederation has approved only three Indonesian stadiums for its matches -- GBK (Jakarta), Jakabaring (Palembang, also being used for the SEA Games) and Mandala (Jayapura, Papua, which is on the other side of the country). The PSSI, in its infinite wisdom, has asked to use one of two non-approved stadiums -- Si Jalak Harupat (Bandung) or Manahan (Solo).

Given all the special dispensation and extra patience the PSSI is asking of the AFC, I wonder how quickly the folks in Kuala Lumpur will tire of the new Indonesian leadership and start wishing for the halcyon days under good ol' Nurdin Halid.

RIP My Laptop (?)

Some people are prone to anthropomorphizing their pets. For others, their cars. I'm not one of those people, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't sometimes grow attached to inanimate objects.

My laptop appears to be dead. (If you're wondering, I'm writing this post from work. Don't tell the boss, OK?) Two days ago, everything appeared to be fine. I shut it down like normal before going to work, and there didn't appear to be anything wrong. Once I came home the next day and tried to fire it up, though, I got nothing. Pressed the button, no response -- the screen didn't light up, the hard drive didn't start whirring, nothing. Maybe it's toast, maybe it's just an internal power problem ... it's hard to say.

If it is toast, I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised. The laptop was brand new circa July 2007, and it's been with me from Hilo to Jakarta to Beijing and back again. It's just odd having a hole in your daily existence like that all of a sudden. I can't update the podcasts on my non-fruit-based MP3 player, I don't have access to any of my film clips, songs or pictures ... I can't even pull up the Web site of the HP service center to see where I can take my laptop in the hope of getting it fixed. It's an oddly helpless feeling. Even if the laptop itself can't be salvaged, hopefully I can at least have the contents of the hard drive moved over to a new laptop. I have most of the files burned onto DVD-Rs or stored on another computer, but I know I'd lose at least one downloaded (and paid for!) album and all my bookmarks if I had to start from scratch. I spent part of last night scribbling down what files and programs I'd have to replace ... and just when I got Championship Manager working again, too!

What got me thinking was the thought that there aren't many things I have that would leave such a hole in my daily life. I like having my books and DVDs, but I can't think of one that would leave a gnawing feeling in my stomach if I lost it. The same goes for my clothes -- I'm certainly not a clotheshorse, and I have a tendency to hang onto clothes (especially T-shirts) long after their usefulness has passed.

I can probably think of two or three things that would leave me a bit misty-eyed if I lost them, and they're not what you'd think. My uncle Jim gave me an orange backpack for my 18th birthday, before I went on tour with the Troopers, and it's gone just about everywhere with me since -- all across the US on tour, Hawaii, multiple stops in Japan, Beijing, Jakarta, Bali, Malang, etc. There's also a small, battery-powered alarm clock. It's not anything particularly flashy, but I've had it for years and just feel better knowing it's there.

The last one is my hat. It's the only hat I own, and it was a Secret Santa gift back in, I think, 2004 or 2005. Like the other two, it's been with me for years and it's just a reassuring presence. I actually left my hat on the shinkansen while traveling from Okayama to Himeji to see Himeji Castle. Getting it back was fairly painless -- I reported it missing at the Himeji station (I left it in the basket on the back of the seat in front of me), and once I was done wandering around I was told I could pick it up at Osaka station, where the train terminated. The whole time I was walking around the town, though, something just felt ... wrong, I guess. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't more than a little relieved to get it back.


I imagine a large part of this peculiarity is down to making a concerted effort not to accumulate stuff. Moving long distances every other year or so makes one leery of getting too comfortable and weighed down with clothes, furniture, a house, etc. It's great when it becomes time to move, but in between it can feel a little Spartan.

Long story short, I'm in the market for a new laptop. Lots of storage space, wireless card and processing power a must, but other than that I'm pretty flexible. I'm not a Windows or Mac adherent, either. I've always had Windows at home and Mac at work/school and neither have given me enough problems to put me off them. Suggestions?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

That hopey-changey thing

Being a sports journalist overseas requires an expansion of one's horizons. Sports like rugby and cricket take on as much importance (if not more) as baseball and hockey, and that thing Americans call soccer is now football. I try to slip college football and basketball into the section when I can, but the biggest news recently has been conference realignment, and even Americans find that stuff esoteric.

Soccer, of course, drives the bus here. I was into the sport long before moving overseas -- sometime just before the 1994 World Cup, if memory serves -- but it's still quite a shift to live in a country where soccer is by far the No. 1 sport. While I was back in the States, being a soccer fan -- particularly a fan of American soccer -- felt like something of an underground movement. Only the biggest occasions were broadcast over the air, and you had to spring for satellite TV plus the sports package to get anything resembling a steady diet of soccer outside of the Mexican league on Univision, Galavision and Telefutura. Soccer fans could still feel like part of their own subculture, and if you were among those supporting Major League Soccer since its inception, it felt like following REM while they were still playing bars in Georgia.

There's no such feeling here. Soccer is big business, and the country's power-brokers all want a piece of the action. Constant squabbling and power plays by officials have left the sport in a hot mess, which I will detail after the jump. In short, it's best to beware those who ride in promising change, spewing high-minded ideals while offering little in the way of substance. They could be just a different shade of ugly as those you currently revile.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Stretching my legs ... err, fingers

As the gaps between my blog posts will tell you, I'm somewhat out of the writing groove. It used to be I'd turn around a story or two a day, but since coming to Asia that has dropped precipitously. Working on the desk and being increasingly unwilling to work on my days off will do that, I guess.

My days off usually don't involve much more than relaxing, catching up on podcasts and maybe an errand or two. Today was different, though. Not only did I pay my water, power, cable and Internet bills (productive, no?), I spent the evening covering Indonesia's World Cup qualifier against Qatar. I used to cover soccer somewhat regularly when I was on the sports desk, but since being moved to "fireman" those opportunities have been scarce. Tonight's story was the first I've written for the paper in a while (now with a sidebar!). I did a piece on the Jakarta Bintangs in the special section we put together for their annual Grand Final function, but apparently it's not on the Web site. I also live-tweeted the match, which you can find in my timeline.

The traffic on the way to the game was awful, the weather wasn't much help, I was shvitzing like a poodle and kickoff was delayed about 15 minutes (pushing us right up against deadline), but it still felt good to get out and actually do something. If nothing else, I proved to myself I still have the ability to turn around a decent gamer in 20 minutes. All those years of covering high school football must have really stuck in my brain.

Good thing, too. In just about a month, Jakarta and Palembang are hosting the Southeast Asian Games -- basically a mini-Olympics for this region. The competition proper starts on November 11, but the soccer actually begins on the third. Odds are I'll be working the desk for most of the event, putting out the daily section and taking care of everything not related to the SEA Games, but I am on the list for credentials and will hopefully have a chance to get out and do some writing of my own. Even if the event is a massive clusterfuffle, as it appears on track to be, it'll still be great fun to cover (see: 2010 Commonwealth Games).

After that? My contract here expires on December 6, and it's hard to say what will happen. I've had people ask me (directly and indirectly) to stay, and there have been vague suggestions of chaos if I leave. I'm sure they'd be happy to offer another contract, but given that it's not always clear if the HR people are on the same team, I'm not about to assume as much. Plus, there's the nagging question of how long I want to stay in newspapers. How long will this continue to be a viable career? I've managed to save a bit of money, but do I still want to be topping out at $30,000 a year as I get into my 40s? There will come a day when newspapers and I part ways -- it's just a question of if I leave voluntarily or if I cling on to the bitter end, whenever that may come.

For now, though, I'll just enjoy dusting off my writing chops and proving (if only to myself) there's still some life in these fingers. Tomorrow I'll transcribe the whole post-match news conference and try to knock out an opinion piece for the paper.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Foobaw!

We live in amazing times. Even from the other side of the planet, I am rich with college football on my TV. Just this weekend, these games are on my cable package:

Mississippi State vs. Memphis
Michigan State vs. Youngstown State
Missouri vs. Miami (Ohio)
UCLA vs. Houston
Tulsa vs. Oklahoma
Boise State vs. Georgia
Middle Tennessee State vs. Purdue
Minnesota vs. USC
Texas A&M vs. SMU

Nebraska's opener against Tennessee-Chattanooga isn't on there, but that's a small annoyance, really. I'd much rather catch this one on the radio and get the rest of the non-conference slate (Fresno State, Washington, at Wyoming) on TV.

Running water? Not so much, but at least I have football to keep me company.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lone Tree?




While I was out temporarily trading The Big Durian for The Good Life, I spent part of my vacation helping my dad and stepmom move out of Grand Island, which I consider my home town, to Central City. They decided to move into the house that my grandma and grandpa had lived in since the  early 1990s (I forget the exact year) after dad's parents moved into the city.

We nicknamed said house "the tree house" as it was not only surrounded by a bunch of cottonwood trees, but standing in front of the entrance was a group of trees as tall as we'd ever seen at the time (see top photo). Nebraska sees its fair share of severe weather, of course, and I know people in the family wondered what it would take to bring down those trees, even if no one ever gave voice to those concerns.

Last week, we got that answer. Quoting from my dad's e-mail:
After Friday, nothing surprises me. We had winds clocked at 140 blow through here Friday at 6:05 a.m. and take out two of the big trees the house is built around. Both about 150' tall. Been cutting and hauling wood since 10 a.m. Still more to do today.  Should have the last of the central stand of trees out by end of today.  Wow!
The "leaning" tree that was caught by the 4 others to the south would have taken out the garage and both cars, had it landed. It's all "stuff," and can be fixed, so we move forward at what used to be the "tree house," but which may become the new "Lone Tree." :)
Lone Tree, if you're wondering, is what Central City used to be called. There wasn't a tornado or even a severe thunderstorm, just heavy rain and ridiculously strong straightline winds. Is that what they call a microburst? My days of wanting to be a meteorologist are long behind me.

Everyone is OK, thankfully. That corner room will need patching up, obviously, and the cleanup will take a while. Dad tells me they hauled away more than 10,000 pounds worth of timber that fell during the storm (which should put paid to the notion that trees don't grow in Central Nebraska). I forget the exact count of rings on those big trees that fell, but it was more than 70 on each.

It's going to be odd going back there in December. That house, and the surrounding trees, has a lot of memories attached to it. There are the usual family events (Thanksmas, 4th of July, reunions, etc.), but it's also where my dad got remarried (I was underdressed, shockingly enough) and it's one of the places I took Kim, the only girl I've introduced to my parents.

I guess time and gravity really do destroy us all, structures included.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Noms


Breakfast, Incheon-style


Lunch, Vegas-style

If nothing else, I have eaten well during this vacation.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Looking in the wrong places

I've made no secret on this blog that I'm leaning toward going back to college. As I said previously, my main targets are Japan and New Zealand. Australia is too expensive and will probably remain so for some time, and I've yet to find schools in places like South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, etc. that will take older undergrads.

It turns out I've been overlooking one low-profile but apparently high-value option: the Philippines.
Thousands of foreign university students are flocking to the Philippines, attracted by cheap yet high-quality courses conducted in English and an easy-going lifestyle outside class.
With more than 2,100 private and state-run institutions nationwide offering a wide array of courses, and an immigration policy friendly to foreign students, the former American colony is enjoying an enrolment boom.
Nearly 20,000 foreign students held special visas at the end of the school year in March, according to the immigration bureau, which said the number would rise when classes began in June.
Not exactly the first place one thinks of for a quality education, is it? I remember George Carlin using going to dental school in the Philippines in one of his jokes on "Complaints and Grievances."

There might not be much prestige in a degree from the Philippines, but I imagine this would soften the blow a bit:
A four-year degree course in the Philippines costs between $1,000 and $2,500 a year, significantly cheaper than in the United States, for example, where one could spend more than $30,000 annually, educators here say.
Hmmmmmm. I'm already inured to awful traffic, low pay and living far from home. It's certainly not my first choice, but if a degree from the Philippines can actually be competitive in the US and/or Asia, who knows?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

5-star accomodation

A few shots I came across while digging through the archives. This was my room at Hotel Tugu in Malang, a place I'm told is the only five-star hotel in the city. I don't normally choose to stay in such high-class places, but I knew people from the Asian Football Confederation (including the referees) were staying there and they were nice enough to offer airport pick-up.



Sunday, June 5, 2011

Malaysia just can't catch a break

Finally, we've pinpointed what's truly wrong with this world — uppity women.
As a new bride, 22-year-old Ummu Atirah believes she knows the secret to a blissful marriage: obey her husband and ensure he is sexually satisfied.
Ummu and some 800 other Muslim women in Malaysia are members of the "Obedient Wives Club" that is generating controversy in one of the most modern and progressive Muslim-majority nations, where many Muslim Malaysian women hold high posts in the government and corporate world.
The new club, launched Saturday, says it can cure social ills such as prostitution and divorce by teaching women to be submissive and keep their men happy in the bedroom.
"Islam compels us to be obedient to our husband. Whatever he says, I must follow. It is a sin if I don't obey and make him happy," said Ummu, who wore a yellow headscarf.
You heard her, ladies. Be quiet, be demure, be submissive. Otherwise, women like these will ruin your marriage!
Malaysian lawyers, politicians and activists lambasted the police Saturday, accusing them of abusing their power in chaining up and marking the bodies of 30 foreign women detained for alleged prostitution.
Police raided a high-end nightclub in northern Penang state late Thursday and arrested 29 women from China and one from Vietnam, along with eight Malaysian men. Local media reported police officers went undercover at the club for a week before the raid. [Emphasis mine. Shocking, no? — Ed.]
It triggered an outcry after local newspapers carried photos of the women bound up with a long chain and marked with either a tick or an X on their chest and forehead.
The policemen are blameless, of course. After all, they were just doing their job. The real villains in this piece are the women.
[Penang police chief Ayub Yaakob] also said the women had wrecked many marriages and that police had received numerous complaints from wives of men who sought their services.
Stories like these just infuriate me. It's the women who have to take the blame for men's indiscretions. It's the women who have to cover themselves from head to toe because men don't know how to control themselves. It's the women who have to be subservient because men have been told for generations that women are second-class citizens who were designed by God to defer to them and they're not about to take any lip from an inferior being.

There's no misogyny in Islam? Bullshit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Taking stock

Can't sleep. Might as well blog.

I've been doing a lot of thinking during the past few weeks, not much of which would be suitable for posting. I turned 30 on May 2, reaching the age when one wonders, "Gee, maybe I should think about growing up a bit." Thirty isn't old by any means, but I do think it's time to make a more thorough examination of my life and where I want it to go in the near future.

This is a warning to you, gentle reader. What follows beyond the jump is a torrent of inner thoughts about me, likely more so than you would ever care to read. If that is the case, or if such navel-gazing is not your particular brand of vodka, then help yourself to as much food as you like and there's no hard feelings. Otherwise, read on.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Required reading

No updates. Many apologies. Berry busy.

Take a gander at these, though. Here's the ridiculous:
Two Muslim men were removed from a Delta commuter flight operated by Atlantic Southeast Airlines Friday after the pilot refused to fly with them on board.
Masudur Rahman, an Arabic-language instructor at the University of Memphis and Mohamed Zaghloul, a religious leader in the Islamic Association of Greater Memphis told the AP they were removed from a flight leaving Memphis International Airport, heading for Charlotte, after the pilot refused to takeoff.
Rahman told the AP he "was dressed in traditional Indian clothing" and Zaghloul "was dressed in Arab garb, including traditional headgear" when they boarded the 8:40 AM flight to Charlotte.
The plane had left the gate and was headed for the runway when the pilot decided to turn back. Rahman said the pair were "ordered off by a Delta Supervisor."
And to think I kept a high opinion of Delta while savaging United all these years. Don't let me down, American Airlines.

Now to the sublime. This article was written with soccer fans in mind, but it could really apply to any group of sports fans. Read the whole thing — it will save your life.
The truth about hyperpartisanship is that it is an absolutely miserable and unpleasant way to be a sports fan. No one talks about this, because (a) people who complain about rage in sports tend to want to mourn some lost standard of politeness, which has nothing to do with anything, and (b) because hyperpartisan fans are the most outwardly invested in their clubs, so there’s a presumption that they’re the most authentic or admirable supporters, even if they’re also, everyone knows, unbearably obnoxious.
It’s the last bit, the presumption of authenticity, that’s the most concerning, because if you’re just getting into soccer, and you love your club, well, then you don’t want anyone to be more totally into your club than you are. So especially if you’re already surrounded by a lot of hyperpartisan fans in your daily life, your instinct may be to go in with blinders on and drink from the chalice of the faith.
The problem is that by doing so, you condemn yourself to a life of always being at least a little angry about a thing you supposedly love, a life of storing up slights and spinning them into bitter little stories, a life of basically hostile, suspicious, and un-fun commitment to a thing that only exists to give you joy. The sole and entire point of sports is to enjoy sports; even if you think athletic competition has a deeper purpose, that it helps with moral instruction or enforcing community ties or whatever else, it’s only able to serve that purpose because it’s fun in the first place.
If your love of soccer has brought you to a point where you’re no longer really able to see the game as something wonderful and amazing except in narrow moments of unequivocal triumph, then you are doing it wrong, no matter how many kills you rack up on the internet.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Malaysia update

Malaysia is only for straight people, jack, and don't you forget it.
Malaysian authorities have sent 66 Muslim schoolboys whom they consider effeminate to a four-day camp where they will receive counseling on masculine behavior.

The education director of a northeastern state in this Muslim-majority country says the measure is meant to help prevent the teens from potentially becoming gay or transvestites.

The boys, between 13 and 17-years-old, reported on Monday for what is officially being called a “self-development course” after their schoolteachers in Terengganu state identified them as students who displayed effeminate mannerisms, said Razali Daud, the state’s education director.

They will undergo religious and motivational classes and physical guidance, Razali said.

The camp is meant “to guide them back to the right path in life before they reach a point of no return,” Razali said. “Such effeminate behavior is unnatural and will affect their studies and their future.”
Yup, nothing like religion to help you oppress your true feelings in a vain attempt to fit in and please your elders. Much better to end up in a loveless marriage, have children you don't want and resent everyone around you for forcing you into this corner.

Malaysia, as you will recall, is one of those countries where homophobia is enshrined in law. It's all good, though, as the kids in question will now learn how to conform and not question people in positions of power.
A campaigner for sexual rights, Pang Khee Teik, described the camp as outrageous and an example of homophobia.
"All the students will learn from these camps is that they are expected to behave a certain way," said Mr Pang, co-founder of Seksualiti Merdeka. "And in order to avoid further ridicule, perhaps they will learn to pretend better. In the end, we are only teaching them how to be a hypocrite."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Malaysia — Truly Asia?

Boy, I hope not. It would be a shame if Asia — the region that's supposed to lead the world out of the doldrums and into a bright, shiny 21st century — was led by people like this.
Malaysian men have extramarital sex because of “wives who neglect their responsibilities” to their husbands, a Malaysian lawmaker told Parliament on Thursday, outraging women’s groups.

“Husbands driving home after work see things that are sexually arousing and go to their wives to ease their urges,” said independent lawmaker Ibrahim Ali, according to online portal Malaysiakini.

“But when they come home to their wives, they will say, ‘wait, I’m cooking,’ or ‘wait, I’m getting ready to visit relatives’,” Ibrahim said.

“In Islam, wives are supposed to stop everything to fulfill their husband’s demands.”
Let me see if I've got this straight. While unmarried, women are supposed to remain chaste and covered up, preferably from head to toe. When married, they are supposed to tend to the children and household duties but drop everything when The Man of the House is at half-mast because he saw a racy ad (or whatever passes as such in Malaysia) on the way home from work.

If I didn't know any better, I'd say Islam didn't have a high opinion of women.
His strident comments came as he asked about plans by the government’s religious development department to educate wives on their responsibilities.

Wives failing in their duties pushed men to go to “private places to satisfy their urges”, he said.
See? If it wasn't for you stupid women and your "education" and your demands for "equal rights," Malaysia would be a pure, upstanding nation with no need for those unmentionable sex workers. For shame, women!

Lest you think Ibrahim Ali is a lone crackpot, though, Malaysian MPs have previous in the Misogyny Sweepstakes.
Women drivers are “slow” at the wheel and “oblivious” on the roads, a Malaysian ruling party MP told parliament, prompting outrage among women’s groups on Tuesday.

“Some women drivers drive slowly and seem oblivious to traffic,” Bung Mokhtar Radin was quoted as saying by the Star daily, while urging the government to set up a body to monitor new motorists.

“When you honk at them, they get agitated with some even showing hand gestures to other drivers,” he added. An aide to the lawmaker confirmed the remarks but declined further comment.

It is not the first time Bung has made controversial comments about women.

In 2007 he brought up menstruation in a debate about parliament’s leaking roofs, responding to a female opposition MP by stating: “Where is the leak? (She) leaks every month too.” He later apologized.
You stay classy, Kuala Lumpur.

It would be unfair to paint all of Asia with the same brush, though. A number of countries have elected female heads of state, many of whom distinguished themselves as leaders. Look at the likes of Corazon Aquino, Roza Otunbayeva, Benazir Bhutto — why, even Indonesia's own Megawati has had the honor of leading her nation. She was appointed rather than elected, sure, but the point still stands.

Who will be the next Asian nation to elect a female leader? It's probably a safe bet she won't come from the Arab world or Iran. Japan is also unlikely, given how entrenched the old boy network is there, and I don't know enough about Korean politics to speculate. Audrey Eu would be interesting, especially with how she wiped the floor with Donald "The Big Bowtie" Tsang in a televised debate last year, but she's too feisty and opposition-y for Beijing's tastes, I'm sure.

Wherever Asia's next female leader comes from, it won't be a minute too soon.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Rising Asia — but not for everyone

First of all, a warm welcome to all the new readers of my blog. You know who you are.

If your interests extend past the tip of your nose, odds are you've heard reports about the rise of Asia, how the 21st century belongs to Asia, etc., etc. DBS Bank in particular takes this tone, with one ad in regular circulation here giving the not-so-subtle message that the time of WASPy supremacy is over.

Regardless of whether you think it's good or bad, the fact that the majority of economic growth in the foreseeable future will come from Asia is pretty undeniable. You'd think this would be a good thing for most everyone involved, especially the women. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all, and women just about everywhere could do with a lift from their current second-class status.

Unfortunately, some people see gender rights as a zero-sum game that they have no interest in losing.
One person was killed in southwest Bangladesh Sunday as police fired on hundreds of madrassa students protesting at government moves to ensure equal property rights for women, officials said.
Police said the protesters marched through the city chanting slogans against the government's move to ensure equal property rights for women in the Muslim majority country.
Small Islamic groups have been staging sporadic protests since the government announced its plan, arguing that it goes against the Koran, Islam's holy book.
Bangladesh, whose population is 90 percent Muslim, has a secular legal system but in matters related to inheritance and marriage Muslims follow sharia law.
Sharia as practised in Bangladesh's inheritance law generally stipulates that a woman would inherit half of what her brother gets. Women's groups have long protested against the disparity and demanded equal rights.
Islamic groups led by firebrand cleric Mufti Fazlul Haq Amini have called a nationwide strike on Monday to press home their demand.
Because someone wrote something in a book a long time ago and said he was inspired by The One True Divine Entity, we should be allowed to oppress women in perpetuity. Seems perfectly logical to me. I'm sure these men only have women's best interests at heart.

Of course, at least Bangladesh has women to oppress. Indians will apparently only be happy when their country is one big sausage hang.
The problem of India's "missing girls" has been put under a harsh spotlight by new census data showing the ratio of female to male children at its lowest level since independence in 1947.
According to the latest national headcount, there are now just 914 girls for every 1,000 boys under the age of six, down from a ratio of 927 for every 1,000 a decade ago.
Despite India's steady economic rise in the past 10 years, the figures show the social bias against having girls remains as strong as ever, with illegal sex-selective abortions facilitated by cheap ultrasound technology.
"The figures should make us think 100 times before we call ourselves citizens of a progressive nation," said Delhi University social scientist Gitika Vasudev.
It doesn't seem to add up, if you think about it. If everyone gets their wish and has male babies, where will all the little Indians come from? Of course, expecting logical actions from cultures whose social mores come from superstition is foolhardy, especially in a country where astrology is officially a science.
Married women in India face huge pressure to produce male heirs who are seen as breadwinners, family leaders and carers when parents age.
Girls are often viewed as a burden to the family as they require hefty dowries to be married off.
India has a long history of female infanticide -- of girls suffocated, poisoned, drowned or left to die. More common now, thanks to technological advances, is the abortion of female foetuses, or "female foeticide" -- a simple, cheap and difficult to police process with ultrasound tests costing as little as $10.
It's just a problem with the lower classes, though, right? Educated people making a decent living couldn't possibly engage in such a practice, could they?
There had been hopes that the growing affluence produced by India's rapid economic rise would help erode long-held prejudices, but some analysts say it has actually reinforced them.
"It's a misconception that English-speaking, suave, rich Indians do not use sex determination tests," said P.M. Kulkarni, a demography expert at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"Shockingly, some rich Indians believe they have a right to choose whether they want a boy or a girl," Kulkarni said. "Society has to change, mindsets have to change, attitudes need to change to save the girl child."
Oh.

I've said it before, but I'll keep saying it as long as it's relevant. Given the way things are going, that will be a while.
I am something of a moral relativist; I know that cultures differ, and what is art in one place would be a grave insult in another. That’s OK, because people are different.  
But if you take half your population and relegate it to second class, forbid them from learning, don’t let them participate fully in society, then there is no relativism in my book. You’re wrong, and you’re stupid.

Monday, March 28, 2011

You know you're an expat when....

Dear Mr. Waiter,

No, I do not need a fork and spoon. The only thing I need less is your condescending reaction upon learning I know how to handle myself with a pair of chopsticks. Having lived in Asia for three years, I'd like to think I've picked up more than a stomach bug.


Sincerely,

Not Eating At Your Restaurant Again

Friday, March 25, 2011

And if you know your history

Hating on unions, teachers and teachers' unions is all the rage in the New, Fiscally Responsible America. If not for those greedy workers, the Conventional Wisdom goes, God's Chosen Country would pull itself up by its bootstraps and hard-work itself right back to prosperity, donchaknow.

How different would things be if there were no unions? What would life be like if there were no organizations to represent workers and speak on their behalf? Such a world is largely hypothetical these days, but 100 years ago today, we received a terrifying example.
Turn back the clock on New York City’s garment district to around the year 1900.
“The average work week was 84 hours, 12 hours every day of the week,” said Ellen Rothman with the Jewish Women’s Archive in Brookline, Mass. “During the busy season, the grinding hum of sewing machines never entirely ceased day or night.”
Conditions had begun to improve by 1911, but just slightly. On March 25th of that year, fire erupted at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in lower Manhattan. It was one of the worst workplace disasters in American history: 146 people died, mostly teenage girls and women, immigrant Jews from Eastern Europe and Italians.
Workers had few rights at the time. Garment factories were crowed, noisy and hot. Bathroom breaks were monitored. Workers had their bags inspected when they left for the day. When fire broke out at the Triangle Factory, the exits were locked to prevent theft.
“In trying to escape, there was no choice: be burned alive, or jump. And most of them jumped. And everyone who jumped died,” said Rothman.
The New York Times has published a series of articles and posts on the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. If you want to know what life would be like with zero regulation, if the government kept its nose completely out of private industry, have a look. Other people may be more sanguine about letting corporations police themselves. I just wonder how much concern a business would truly have for its workforce when left to its own devices while pursuing the natural goal of any business — maximum profits.

This isn't just an American problem, either. Any business, regardless of location, will get away with whatever it can.
Garment jobs have been shifting to lower-cost operations in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Asia for decades, as have dangerous working conditions.
“Effectively what we have done is exported our sweatshops and exported our factory fires,” said Robert Ross at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. And it’s as if the 1911 conditions had been lifted up by an evil hand and dropped into Bangladesh.”
According to the Bangladeshi government’s Fire Service and Civil Defense Department, 414 garment workers were killed in at least 213 factory fires between the years 2006 and 2009. Last year, 191 people were killed in Bangladesh in a reported 20 incidents, according to Ross’ research. Last December, a fire killed at least 25 people in a garment factory there.
“And the pattern is disturbingly uniform,” said Ross. “The shops are often in high rise buildings, just like the Triangle. The pattern is that an electrical fire starts, and then without adequate, or any fire escapes, without sprinkler systems, the workers surge to get out. And in factory after factory, the newspapers report locked gates and locked doors. It’s a horrific duplication of what we earlier experienced.”
Something to keep in mind the next time someone tells you the country — any country — would be better off without workers' unions.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Plus ca change, plus ce la wocka wocka wocka





[Update redacted. And you thought China was fun!]


It's much the same outside of Globe Towers, too. You always hear stories about rampant corruption and people gaming the system to the benefit of themselves or their political party, but sometimes it's hard to tell how much of that is cynicism and how much is justified. In addition to the usual problem of people swindling money, now there are reports of businesses artificially creating food shortages. Rice dominated the headlines in the last few months as stockpiles got dangerously low, but that all seemed to dissipate once Indonesia's main harvest started. Now the focus is turning toward meat.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Championship material


My laptop on the official plinth of the AFC Champions League. As if people needed any more indication of how stricken I am with the disease known as sports writing, I used my day off this week to fly to Malang and cover the Champions League match between Arema Indonesia and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea. The story is up now -- it wasn't too shabby for my first sports story since leaving Beijing, if I do say so myself.

It felt great to be back in my element, even if it took about 20 minutes of phone calls and asking directions to actually find the media entrance and my credential. I can wrap my head around formations, tactics and team finances far better than capital inflows, PE ratios and effective brand positioning. The Arema people were very helpful and even gave me a lift back to my hotel (which would've been an Rp 80,000 cab ride). Kanjuruhan Stadium is more than 20 kilometers outside of Malang, so the ride to the stadium included getting stuck behind a horse-drawn cart as well as the usual scourge of motorcycles and oversized trucks.

As for Malang's airport ... let's just say it makes the Grand Island airport look ultra-modern. There were two check-in lines (Garuda and Sriwijaya Air) that extended all of eight feet before they hit the X-ray machine. The boarding lounge/holding pen seats about three dozen people in rickety metal chairs. No complaints about the flights, thankfully -- Garuda feeds you, even on a 90-minute flight.

Arema hosts Chinese Super League side Shandong Luneng next month. I'm not sure if I'll press myself into service again, but just getting out of Jakarta was a good experience. I haven't had a proper vacation since July, when I moved to Beijing, but I have a cunning plan in place to make the next vacation one to remember.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I feel sick

No, this is not an Asuka Langley Soryu tribute, though I could use a little Evangelion to clear my palate after today's news. This day — Selection Sunday — should be a day to celebrate, but I just can't.

Anyone who knows me or has taken a cursory glance through this blog knows how I feel about Japan. It has its shortcomings and its fair share of puzzling beliefs, but in spite of all that, I love the place. It's hard to put into words what it's like, but it just feels like a place I should be. Odd, I know, but consider the source.

As such, watching everything that's happened there since the massive earthquake that struck near Sendai has been heartbreaking. Being here and only able to watch the scenes of seemingly endless scenes of devastation is frustrating. I'm not a control freak, but I hate feeling so powerless. It's not as though I can ditch the job, fly to Japan, slap on a hazmat suit and lend a hand, so like so many others, all I can do is lend my financial and moral support. If you've happened across this blog, you want room 12A, just along the corridor I would strongly encourage you to do likewise.

Thankfully, despite the ongoing nuclear crisis, the news out of Japan isn't all bad. The LA Times offers up this slightly more light-hearted take on events, and this special report from Reuters pokes a hole in fears that Japan's debt-ridden economy may not recover from the disaster.
Researchers who have studied similar disasters in rich countries reach a reassuring conclusion: human resilience and resourcefulness, allied to an ability to draw down accumulated wealth, enable economies to rebound quickly from what seem at first to be unbearable inflictions - be it the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York or Friday's 8.9-magnitude earthquake, the worst in Japan's history.
Japan itself provides Exhibit No. 1 in foretelling the arc of recovery. A 6.8-magnitude temblor struck the western city of Kobe on January 17, 1995, killing 6,400 people and causing damage estimated at 10 trillion yen, or 2 percent of Japan's gross domestic product.
The importance of Kobe's container port, then the world's sixth-largest, and the city's location between Osaka and western Japan made it more significant for the economy than the more sparsely populated region where the latest quake and tsunami struck. Extensive disruption ensued, yet Japan's industrial production, after falling 2.6 percent in January 1995, rose 2.2 percent that February and another 1.0 percent in March. GDP for the whole of the first quarter of 1995 rose at an annualized rate of 3.4 percent.
It's a bit of a daunting read, but worth your time if you care about this issue. After the break, more esoteric and less pressing news that's still a bummer to me.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Coming Out

Today is International Women's Day -- the 100th edition, in fact. Not only that, it also happens to be Feminist Coming Out Day. It's a day to celebrate women, their accomplishments and their importance to society.

Doing that alone and putting a happy face on things would miss the point, though. Women's rights and the ongoing push for equality have come a long way from the Bad Old Days, but as this Guardian article reminds us, there is still so much more to do.
How, asked Michelle Bachelet, the first executive director of UN Women, would those "courageous pioneers" view the world today? "I suspect … with a mixture of pride and disappointment," she said in an address marking the anniversary.
Bachelet, the former Chilean president, chose to celebrate the day in Liberia with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first democratically elected female president in Africa. "The last century has seen an unprecedented expansion of women's legal rights and entitlements," Bachelet said. "The advancement of women's rights can lay claim to be one of the most profound social revolutions the world has seen.
"But despite this progress over the last century, the hopes of equality expressed on that first International Women's Day are a long way from being realised. Almost two out of three illiterate adults are women. Girls are still less likely to be in school than boys. Every 90 seconds of every day, a woman dies in pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications."
Some countries put more stock in the day than others, of course. Small wonder unmarried women older than 30 are considered oddities in Russia.

If you're not in the mood for grim reading, how about some videos? This one is making the rounds on the Interwebs, and it's quite arresting.
Has James Bond ever paused to consider the rates of sexual assault of young girls going to school in the developing world? That's one of a number of startling questions posed by a new short film by the artist and director Sam Taylor-Wood, released to coincide with International Women's Day and starring Bond actors Daniel Craig and Judi Dench.
"We're equals, aren't we 007?" asks Dench as M, opening the film in voiceover, as Craig walks towards the camera. "Yet it is 2011 and a man is still likely to earn more money than a woman, even one doing the same job."
It is the only explicit reference to his role as Bond, though the film hints at some of the character's womanising ways in comparing his situation to that of a woman.
"As a man you are less likely to be judged for promiscuous behaviour, which is just as well, frankly ... There would be virtually no risk to your career if you chose to become a parent ... or became one accidentally. For someone with such a fondness for women, I wonder if you have ever considered what it might be like to be one?"
Also starring is the excellent Rebecca Watson (of Skepchick and Skeptics' Guide to the Universe fame). Her video lays out some of the issues facing women today, including this hideous bit of legislation in Texas, part of the revived "War on Women" by people who ostensibly believe in small government.

Frightening stuff. So what's a guy who supports women's rights and their freedom to choose to do when it seems the very fabric of society works against women? My thoughts after the break.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Progress?

I've commented on Uganda's abhorrent "Kill the Gays" bill before, so this is pretty welcome news if true (Hat tip to Rachel Maddow).

Stephen Tashobya, the Chair of the Parliamentary and Legal Affairs Committee in Uganda’s Parliament told me yesterday that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill may not be considered during this sesssion of Parliament.
By phone, Tashobya told me that the committee still has many important bills to get through and when asked about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, said, “I am not sure if we will get to that one now.”
Haven't seen any confirmation yet, but I really do hope this is true. State-sponsored bigotry has no place in the 21st century, despite all the attempts of the Indonesian government to repress the Ahmadiyah, women and anyone who doesn't subscribe to religion. I hope Uganda comes around, but it's probably only a matter of time before the Fundie Virus flares up again.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leftovers

Oh, China Daily. If there's one thing you do well, it's being stultifyingly dull. If there are two things you do well, it's being stultifyingly dull and providing unintentional comedy.
More than 70 percent of urban Chinese singles getting nearer to their "expiry date" for marriage are in the grip of depression, according to China's first survey of their mental health.
"Many women who have reached a certain age like me need to make a lot of effort to ward off marriage pressure from our parents, as they keep bringing up the topic," said a 29-year-old woman surnamed Qi in Shanghai.
Qi, who has a good job in a foreign-invested enterprise, said she has seen an increased incidence of depression among the unmarried people around her. "I admit that I want a husband, but I won't get married only for marriage's sake," she said.
These "leftover" men and women, as they are called in Chinese, are defined by the All-China Women's Federation as single women above the age of 27 and single men older than 30.
Tip o' the hat to Tania Branigan, the Guardian's China correspondent, for the link. While I wouldn't normally suggest anyone read the China Daily, I would recommend clicking on the link, if only for the graphic. (Hi, Xan!)

What's the answer, you ask? Simple -- turn to the government!
Leftover women and men face greater risks of mental and physical problems, said Han Xiaohong, president of Beijing-based Ciming Health Checkup Management Group, which carried out the survey with the Chinese Medical Doctor Association.
According to the survey, 21.6 percent of the leftover women and men are subject to long-term sexual repression, while only 17.6 percent have regular sex partners. Visiting prostitutes and having multiple sex partners have become two main causes of sexually transmitted diseases, such as AIDS.
"The government should invest money to hold more matchmaking activities for these leftover people," said Wang Zhiguo, an expert with the marriage research center of baihe.com, one of the most popular matchmaking websites in China.
Government-sponsored matchmaking? Hey, it's worked a treat in Singapore. More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Religion ruins everything: Indonesia edition

Every so often, I call home to touch base with the folks, get updates on the family and stay in the will keep them updated on the goings-on out here. I'm pretty much an open book, but as with most conversations between children (regardless of age) and their parents, there is a fair bit of editing. While I don't have to hide nights of drinking, doing drugs or cavorting with women of flexible moral fiber — I lack the expendable income to fund the debauched lifestyle of the stereotypical expat journalist in Southeast Asia — there are some aspects of life in Indonesia that are best left unmentioned.

The founding philosophy of this country is Pancasila, or five principles. It includes all the usual stuff — justice, unity, democracy, etc. — with one glaring exception. It also enshrines monotheism as one of the inseparable, interrelated principles of the nation. Indonesians are required by the law of the land to believe in the "one and only God." It doesn't say which god, happily enough, but make no mistake: this is a religious country.

That can be a bit of a bugaboo when your beliefs don't align with the majority — or when you don't believe at all.


Welcome to your dream job?

"Just make me the ambassador to Samoa or something. I'll call in every day with surf reports." I remember that line from Jesse Ventura's autobiography, "I Ain't Got Time to Bleed." Wouldn't it be great, having minimal duties while lounging away the years on the government payroll in some South Pacific paradise?

Maybe. Then again, maybe not:
Away from the high-profile embassies, the longer, untold narrative of the Wikileaks cables is often one of triviality, inconsequence, and moments of wry, Beckettian humour. The US runs 292 diplomatic missions across 175 countries, and many of them lie within a kind of diplomatic hinterland. Cables sent from the islands of the Pacific, or the steppes of Mongolia, generally reveal not the fast-paced interaction of a global superpower, but the loneliness of the long-distance diplomat.
Some busy embassies churn out hundreds of cables a year. But since 2007, successive US ambassadors to Samoa (pop: 179,000) have compiled just nine – all of them odes to banality. The post's only two dispatches in 2007 noted little more than the embassy's inability "to provide 'meet-and-greet' service at the airport" to state department officials.
It's a year before they have anything further to report. This time, though, the stakes are at least briefly higher: horror of horrors, some protesters have delivered a petition to embassy officials. "This is the first protest against the embassy since it opened 20 years ago," reports a breathless US chargĂ© d'affaires, who must have been sorely tempted to add an exclamation mark. But we soon discover why he didn't: "Despite our lack of practice … all went well."
Still, if the government is watching (and odds are good they are), I'd happily give it a try.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Well, damn

The best-laid plans of mice and men don't amount to a hill of beans when saving face is on the line. What should have been one of the highlights of my visit to Japan is no more:
Japan's sumo association said today it had cancelled a major tournament due to be held next month as the sport battles the most serious corruption allegations in its modern history.
The decision comes days after three wrestlers admitted they had fixed bouts via mobile phone – the first time an active wrestler has confirmed the long-standing suspicion that some matches are rigged. Eleven others have been implicated in the scandal, but reportedly deny any involvement.
The association conceded that it would be impossible to go ahead with the 15-day tournament in the western city of Osaka from 13 March – the first tournament cancellation in over 50 years.

Is that enough to consider possibly not going? I don't know. I would still have the splendor of hanami and Kyoto, not to mention the start of baseball and the J-League. If anything, it would remove any need to hang around Osaka and allow more time in Kyoto and Nara. Tough to say, but whatever I do, I need to pull the trigger soon.

Oh, and just to drive home the way Japan works:
Those found to have fixed matches could be expelled, and their pension allowances withdrawn, reports said.
But it seems unlikely that police will launch a criminal investigation: match-fixing is not illegal, and so far there is no evidence that anyone placed bets on suspect bouts.
I'm sure it's all just too much for my feeble, gaijin mind to absorb, though.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

Sky Sports to Andy Gray: "Do us a favour, love."
Andy Gray, the Sky Sports presenter at the centre of a sexism storm following derogatory comments about a female official, has been sacked by the broadcaster in response to "new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour".
Sky Sports managing director Barney Francis, who yesterday disciplined both Gray and Richard Keys for their comments, said he had "no hesitation" in summarily terminating Gray's contract.
"Andy Gray's contract has been terminated for unacceptable behaviour. After issuing a warning yesterday, we have no hesitation in taking this action after becoming aware of new information today," he said.
Sky said in a statement that the new evidence related to "an off-air incident that took place in December 2010" and "came to light after Andy Gray had already been subjected to disciplinary action for his comments of 22 January 2011".
It is not clear whether the incident in question is a YouTube clip that emerged today that showed Gray making sexist comments to a co-presenter before going on air.
Here is the YouTube clip in question. Maybe a bit innocuous, but you can certainly see a pattern of behavior emerging.

No word on if Keys will face any further punishment. About the only downside to this is that apparently Sian Massey was pulled from her scheduled game tonight, Crewe vs. Bradford.