Monday, July 9, 2012
This week an outbreak of EV71--allegedly a new strain of the virus which causes Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease, was announced here in Phnom Penh. The virus apparently kills most children who catch it, within just 24hrs of being checked into local hospitals. But is this a brand new, mysterious pandemic, with no known cure, set to wipe out children across the world? Or is this merely the latest chapter in the epidemic that has gone on in neighboring Vietnam for more than a year, with relatively few fatalities compared to other more common illnesses like Dengue and Malaria? Dr. Beat Richner of Kantha Bopha hospitals thinks WHO has hyped the illness, but now that foreign journalists are flocking to Cambodia, we'll be hearing about EV71 all-day and every-day whether it is really news or not...
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Below are some photos of old city gates I took in Langzhong, Sichuan Province, China. The gates were said to be a thousand years old. Each gate was part of a series of half-a-dozen in a row, spread in several groups around the city. I presume the wall that must have accompanied such gates would have been massive--though it no longer exists today. These are just one of many ancient treasures to be found off-the-beaten-path in the Chinese countryside.
A series of gates weaving through old village homes along a cobblestone street.
One of the many gate guardians, in various states of decay.
The gates were covered in old Chinese script, carved into the stone.
View my posts (with photos) from Tiger Leaping Gorge in nearby Yunnan Province, China too!
Monday, July 2, 2012
China Beach, overlooking Monkey Mountain and the South China Sea
Every time Vietnam has a new spat with China, whether it’s ‘illegal’ Chinese miners digging up bauxite in the Central Highlands, another Vietnamese fishing boat getting bitch-slapped in the South Chinese Sea, or Hanoi-sponsored stories of tricksy little Chinese hobbitses selling poison apples and bags of false gold, the Vietnamese public (at the gleeful prodding of Hanoi), goes around trying to rid themselves of all reminders of their wicked neighbour to the north (ignoring the fact that much of their national religion, language, food, music and art derives directly from China, and that ethnic Vietnamese themselves were once one of many southern-Chinese hill tribes).
One of the most obnoxious thorns that the Vietnamese never seem to be able to rid themselves of is ‘China Beach’ in Danang.
Nobody seems to know exactly when and why the name came about. Vietnamese insist the correct name is ‘Non Nuoc.’ US servicemen once based in Danang told me that the name ‘China Beach’ was in use before their arrival. I myself have looked at dozens of old maps, and while every beach to the north or south of Danang seems to have a designation, this glorious beach in Danang is the only one who’s name does not appear on any map.
The government has tried everything to uproot the scourge of China’s name on the beach, from various threats to fines to hauling local business owners in for questioning if they dare to hang a sign labelled ‘China Beach.’
Yet, due perhaps to the popularity of the old TV show by the same name, the desire of local tourism operators to latch onto that valuable name recognition, and pesky guidebook writers, like me, who make sure to drop that little name in absolutely everything they write, the government just can’t seem to wipe ‘China’ off the map.
I can hardly blame the government for throwing its hissy fit. It was kind of nasty of China to try to sell Vietnamese territory to oil companies this week. And of course Vietnam isn’t the only one to throw a temper tantrum when other countries don’t play fair. Much like Vietnam, we in the US decided to rename ‘French Fries’ to ‘Freedom Fries’ about 10 years ago when France wasn’t very supportive of our military plans.
I was however, struck by a bit of hypocrisy from Thanh Nien Newspaper in a story today, where they proclaimed:
“Beautiful beaches in the central city of Da Nang are being officially called by a name nonsensically imposed on us by US soldiers who invaded our country.
What’s worse, the misnomer makes it seem as if this beautiful coastline isn’t even ours: China Beach.”
Particularly ironic was the fact that the photo they used wasn’t even China Beach—it looks like its actually a stretch to the north near Hai Van Pass.
A bit of a local secret, a shrine sits at the ruins of Thap Lieu Cuc (seen here only as shadows behind and to the right, in the trees), an ancient Cham temple. The temple is located not far behind the Royal Citadel in Hue, but few know of its existence. Perhaps this is because it is evidence supporting the likelihood that Hue's Citadel was built upon a Cham city.
You see, Vietnamese conveniently forget a little history. A certain kingdom by the name of Champa has been occupied by a certain foreign country by the name of Vietnam, which has slowly devoured it under an occupation of 500-1000 years. The Cham people, who have their own distinct language, have had to live under not just one imposed beach name, but hundreds, perhaps thousands, of place names imposed on them by their Vietnamese occupiers.
Particularly in the provinces of Dong Nai, Binh Thuan, Ninh Thuan and Khanh Hoa (the provinces of Panduranga and Kathura in the Cham language), the Cham people still actively use the original Cham names for their cities, villages, rivers, mountains and beaches.
So Vietnam, I have some sympathy for your ‘China Beach thing,’ but when you are ready to re-assign the original and correct name of ‘Indrapura’ to the very recent ‘Danang,’ maybe I’ll be more ready to listen to your self-interested fussing.
At least be glad that there isn't a 'Saigon Beach.' It would have been a shame if evil Communist invaders from the north came down and re-named that after themselves too.
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Sadly this week yet another case of a chimpanzee attacking someone has been reported in the news. This week it was Texas grad student, Andrew Oberle, working at the Jane Goodall Institute's Chimp Eden (apparently the place has its own TV show from what I've heard). I sympathize with Andrew and his family and wish him well.
I spent a couple of years working with Chimps myself, both with common chimpanzees at the Primate Foundation of Arizona (now closed) and bonobo chimpanzees at the Language Research Center (now under another name and relocated in Iowa).
From my work with chimps I learned that they (at least the common chimps) are not mean-spirited monsters bent on hurting humans. However they are mischievous, and by nature are easily swept up in powerful emotions which can lead them to do things--sometimes very violent things--that they may regret later. They are, after all, wild animals.
Thus it was common, though I had a very strong, loving bond with my nearly 80 chimpanzee wards, to have them grab and scratch me--at times rather aggressively. One coworker, on my day off, was even pinned against a cage by a couple of chimps that grabber her, and had a portion of her finger bitten off. If I'm not mistaken, my supervisor had a portion of her finger bitten off before I began working there as well. I was very fortunate to have never received any injuries.
The one thing about common chimpanzees though, is that they are bad liars. Common chimps wear their emotions on their shirtsleeves quite literally. Their mental and emotional state and their intentions can be easily read by their body language, their posturing, the way their hair bristles, their hand and eye motions and their vocalizations--one only needs the training and experience to read them. The problem comes in when we, apparently as Mr Oberle found, do not pay attention to these signs. This is particularly a danger when we ignore safety protocols designed to protect us against human error...
All this being said, I had a very different experience working with bonobo chimpanzees and the likes of Kanzi (a chimpanzee celebrity often featured in National Geographic, Time Magazine, the Discovery Channel and dozens of renowned newspapers). At the Language Research Center I worked under the infamous Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh and her star-studded gaggle of linguistically-gifted bonobos.
I found bonobos (also known as pygmy chimpanzees), unlike common chimps, to in fact be very good liars, and at times devious. These intelligent little beasts have the ability to mask their emotions--and to convey a false mental state in order to deceive--and at times severely harm--those around them.
I did not witness any attacks at LRC myself (though I was scratched and grabbed constantly). However, on my day off, Kanzi escaped his cage and attacked one of the researchers at LRC, biting his groin and shoulder badly, and severing his finger from the knuckle.
The stories I was told by staff--of things that happened before I began working at LRC--were much worse. I was told that the bonobos had a long history of escaping and not only wandering the center grounds, but also the adjacent residential neighborhood on at least one occasion. I was also told that the bonobo chimps had mauled several people, including the maid and another researcher, and causing severe, long-term injury. Again I did not witness these attacks, but it was what I was told by my manager and grad students at the center.
The moral of the story is simple. Regardless of how incredibly intelligent and special chimpanzees are, they remain very dangerous wild animals. Great caution must be used in their care, and they should never be kept as mere pets. Those that wish to work with them must be made aware of the significant risks and take necessary precautions at all times.