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Southeast Asia, explained

Thailand: monks on meth

Monkhood tarnished by flurry of meth scandals

If there is a substance that contradicts Buddhism's promotion of gentleness and moderation, it's probably meth.

But in Thailand, a 95 percent Buddhist nation, the press of late has been filled with accounts of monks busted for using and even selling speed tablets.

The latest case, reported in the Bangkok Post, involves two monks attempting to ditch 20 meth pills at a police checkpoint. 

That's nothing compared to the monk, profiled in the Thai-language paper Kom Chat Luk, arrested recently for dealing speed at his temple.

Both are outdone by the seven monks who, according to the Thai-language Daily News, scored 10 bottles of booze, 25 "perverse" video discs and a stash of speed and ice in preparation for a "drug party." Yet another senior monk, when caught selling speed, claimed he needed the money to refurbish his temple.

Opium use is fading and cheap meth is well established as Southeast Asia's hard drug of choice. It appears that even monks, among the most revered figures in Thai society, aren't immune from the lure of this $6 high.


In Laos, a freakishly long "daddy long legs" is discovered

From leg to leg, arachnid spans more than one foot

You may or may not have heard of Germany's Senckenberg Institute. But in the discovering-bizarre-spiders-in-Laos-caves community, they are on an undeniable roll.

Months ago, inside a pitch-black Lao cave, a scientist with the institute discovered a bizarre spider with no eyes.

Now, according to the institute, they've found a gigantic version of an arachnid best known on American porches as a "grand daddy long legs."

Most North American varities will fit in an adult human's hand. This species has a leg span of 13 inches.

That is long enough for this yet-to-be-named creature to grip both of my ears and scrape at my eyes. (Yes, I just measured my head.)

According to Peter Jäger, the researcher who found the arachnid, there are likely more species with "gigantism" dwelling in Lao caves. But ,he said, this and other gigantic cave-dwelling species can still grow but so large "either due to the lack of oxygen supply to the long appendages or because, when fleeing or catching prey, long legs can no longer be moved quickly enough."


Former King Sihanouk is dead. What's next for Cambodia's monarchy?

Defender of the palace leaves behind a struggling institution

It is impossible to succinctly sum up the life of Norodom Sihanouk, the former king of Cambodia who observed his poor, violence-scarred country transform many times since his birth in 1922.

According to the BBC and many other outlets, Sihanouk has died in a Beijing hospital. If there is one takeaway from Sihanouk's life, it is that he largely achieved his life goal: keeping the Khmer monarchy intact. Considering that the institution weathered colonialist forces, the brutal Khmer Rouge years and Vietnamese invasion, this was no simple feat.

Acheiving this goal brought on several humiliating circumstances, most notably his decision to ally with the horrific Khmer Rouge regime that brought about nearly two million deaths. The king (then a prince) did not get on well with Pol Pot, the communist faction's reclusive leader.

According to a Pol Pot biographer, Philip Short, the tyrant called Sihanouk as "an old, meek tiger, all skin and bones and no claws or fangs" He was confined to his palace, a "golden cage" where no outsiders were allowed but where Sihanouk was "amply provided for." According to Short, he "grumbled about running out of rum to make bananes flambées" all while "hundreds of thousands of his compatriots were dying of starvation."

Now that the Cambodian monarch has lost its great defender, it's future is uncertain.

Sihanouk's son, the current King Norodom Sihamoni, presides over an institution that is far less relevant or powerful than it was in his father's heyday. And his contemporary life offers parallels to his father's years spent in a golden cage. (That's him in the necktie sitting to his father's left in this photo.)


Bangkok's new, yawn-inducing slogan

The "City of Angels" adopts a tedious moniker

A city as dazzling, intoxicating and congenial as Bangkok deserves an inspiring slogan.

The Thai capital's newly unveiled motto, however, is more likely to make its residents drowsy.

A city's catchphrase should be punchy (The Big Apple) or evocative ("What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas") or perhaps elegant (Hong Kong's "The Pearl of the Orient").

Bangkok's new slogan? 

"City of Angels, built by angels, central city of governance, brilliant temples and palaces, the capital of Thailand."

That's my translation of the motto, which was just unveiled by Bangkok's governor, the Thai-language outlet Khao Sod reports. I haven't seen an official English translation as of yet.

Perhaps you're assuming that, in Thai, this phrasing is graced with deft rhyming or alliterative touches. Not really. (Note that Thai people don't call their capital "Bangkok." They call it "Krung Thep," the city of angels.)

The slogan is both repetitive ("central city of governance" and "capital") as well as overly long.

Chosen via contest, the motto will soon grace 800 signs put up around the city, according to Bangkok's governor. Khao Sod reports that the slogan is intended for Bangkok locals, Thais across the country and foreign tourists. Part of the new motto's rationale is helping reinforce Bangkok's well-deserved "World's Best City" ranking from Travel & Leisure Magazine three years in a row.

Presumably, the city will offer a translation. So here's an unsolicited suggestion to Bangkok's city hall: instead of presenting the slogan to foreigners as is, consider taking out your red marker and reducing it to a simple and classy "City of Angels."

I suspect the phrasing "central city of governance" is unlikely to beckon tourists from afar or stir much sentiment among Thais at home.


A revamped Islamic state in the Philippines

Deal with Islamic separatists could expand Sharia law

After four decades and more than 100,000 lives lost, the Philippine government and the nation's largest Islamic separatist faction, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, are set to end their conflict at last.

The Philippines has agreed to call the insurgency zone "Bangsamoro," a name proposed by insurgent leaders, and they've agreed to offer more local autonomy, according to the Cebu Daily News. The front has agreed to stop waging war to form a separate, Muslim state.

This is an exciting development for sure. But this peace deal will have to outperform a series of past deals that, ultimately, failed to end the conflict. The "Bangasamoro" deal will essentially revamp the clumsily titled Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindinao, a zone in which the local Muslim population is already permitted to carry out Sharia law.

How the insurgents will gradually disarm, and how their leadership will end up governing their turf, is unknown. According to the Philippine Inquirer, a government peace negotiator insists that local leaders will be allowed to expand Quran-based Sharia law in the province as long as they don't dole out sentences that constitute cruel and unusual punishment.


Indonesia: teenage rape victim expelled for sullying school's "good name"

Victimized, chastised, expelled but, finally, reinstated

Lured to a meet up via Facebook, swept into a minivan, held for a week in a safehouse and repeatedly raped by drunks.

Such was the fate of a 14-year-old Indonesian girl in West Java, according to the Jakarta Post.

Add this to her list of woes: according to the girl and her family, when she returned to school following the crime, she was publicly chastised by her principal and expelled.

The Jakarta Globe reports that she was kicked out because, according to the school's leadership, "she had embarrassed the school and sullied the good name of the school.”

Police are reinforcing the girl's story, according to the Jakarta Post, and lending even more horrifying details: her tormentors constitute an alleged "human trafficking ring" that captured other young women and threatened to sell the 14-year-old girl off to an islander.

The chairman of Indonesia's child protection commission has intervened, the Jakarta Globe reports, by reversing the expulsion and telling school officials they "should announce to the other students that this child is the victim and not the criminal, as had been announced during a flag-raising ceremony there."

For all their concern over their school's "good name," the administrators of Budi Utomo Junior High have proven they're not so good at defending it themselves.

Maybe they're trying to outdo the Jakarta school that expelled a child, via text message, for having an HIV-positive father.


Philippines: half-snout "hero" dog set for $20,000 face surgery in U.S.

Dog named "Kabang" reportedly saved two girls from speeding motorbike

Kabang has one of the more gruesome dog faces you'll ever see.

The canine, a native of Zamboanga City in the Philippines, has only half a snout. Her tongue lolls impossibly out of her skull. Watching her attempt to eat a mound of rice is heartbreaking.

But, according to Manila's GMA News, donors from around the world have pitched in enough cash ($20,000) to fly Kabang to the states for reconstructive facial surgery.


Among overseas donations, Romney rules Asia

But Obama doubles Romney's worldwide haul
Americans living overseas are a poorly researched, largely opaque segment that can hardly be bothered to vote. In the 2008 presidential election, only 7 percent of the US diaspora submitted a ballot, according to the Overseas Vote Foundation.

Philippines: click "like," go to prison

Cybercrime law threatens 12 years behind bars for "liking" or re-Tweeting libel

Online trash-talking in the Philippines just got a lot riskier.

Among a sweeping set of harsh codes in a new Philippine cyber-crime law is a clause that could conceivably help lock up Internet users for 10-plus years over a Facebook "like" or a "re-Tweet" on Twitter.

Filipinos are Facebook mad and constantly mashing out status updates on their mobile phones. According to comScore, an astounding 96 percent of Internet users in the Philippines also frequent Facebook.

Politician's attempts to regulate the Internet's topsy turvy nature are partially motivated by a rise in truly abusive activity, namely coerced cybersex performances by young Filipinas, a phenomenon profiled by the BBC.

This portion of the law, however, is going over like a lead balloon. If one person posts so-called "libel" on Facebook, anyone who helps spread the message can end up with them in jail for more than a decade. One click could ruin a person's life.

It goes without saying that criminal libel laws are notoriously abused by those in power to shut up their pesky detractors.

That's why a petition to undo the law, submitted by self-proclaimed Filipino "netizens," likens the bill to a "crude tool to bludgeon their most cherished and jealously guarded fundamental civil rights" while warning it will "shepherd the nation to the Cyber Dark Ages."


Cambodia: the secession plot that wasn't

Activist accused of inciting Cambodian village to secede gets 20 years

The Cambodian village of Prama appears to be a fairly destitute, 1,000-family hamlet in a province bordering Vietnam.

Were it to establish an independent state, it would likely become the tiniest, least defendable nations on the planet.

There is scant evidence that anyone in the village had such absurd intentions. They created no snazzy new flags, no rebel militias, no independent political wing.

That hasn't stopped Cambodia's premier, Hun Sen, from insisting that villagers harbored a plot to establish an "autonomous zone," the Phnom Penh Post reports. One of the harshest sentences has fallen upon a prominent activist and radio DJ, 71-year-old Mam Sonando, who this week received 20 years in prison for devising this nefarious plot.

It just so happen that, in May, a wave of troops and police descended on the same village firing assault rifles. Their goal, VOA reports, was clearing land for a tycoon's rubber plantation. One 14-year-old girl was killed.

Resisting a forced incursion by the state -- rather than endeavoring to establish a new state -- was the true cause of Sonando and his peers, according to Human Rights Watch. The group's Asia director, Brad Adams, contends that “no credible evidence of a secessionist movement or of Sonando’s involvement was produced at the Phnom Penh court, yet it handed down these incredibly harsh sentences anyway."