Having Fun and Staying Safe (in Asia): January 14th-18th, 2019

Hello, Digital Travellers!

Owing to our delayed Friday 11th post (eventually published on Monday, 14th), today’s update covers the last four days of this week.

But, this entirely edible serving is no less filling.

Regarding the political/security front, Myanmar’s Rakhine State is still in turmoil with a robust insurgency; the Philippine army has rescued a hostage from the still-active terrorist group in the far south; China has sentenced a Canadian citizen to death; Thailand is getting very polluted; and, South Korea has reported a small measles outbreak in Daegu.

Yet, there’s been some positive news during this time, too: Indonesia has increased it’s disaster fund; Vietnam has a new airline (which might be a good place for a bargain soon); and Myanmar’s marginal ethnic peoples—and their festivals—are slowly increasing in their allure to a wider pool of visitors.

Not a bad haul for four days…

Disclaimer: The Digital Traveller Team endeavours to not proffer or impose our personal opinions on politically sensitive topics. If, however, you feel that we have gone beyond our usual mandate to highlight political and security developments in Asia, please email us at thedigitaltravellerteam@gmail.com so that we can correct it. Thank you.

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The Middle East

Israel: An incident in the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem has led to another state of unease. If heading to this area, be aware that the situation seems tense between Muslims and Jews. Be watchful!

Saudi Arabia: The US’s Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State, has been getting tough on the Kingdom again saying that everyone involved with the Jamal Khashoggi murder needs to be held responsible. There seems no end to the potential for serious disruption in KSA, which may have an impact more on ESL teachers there than Digital Travellers.

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China and East Asia

China: While yet more damning news about the People’s Republic's ‘re-education’ of its Muslim Uyghurs continues to emerge, it’s the draconian treatment of detained Canadian citizens that is causing outrage this week. Robert Lloyd Schellenberg has been tried of drug smuggling and sentenced to death; he’s expected to appeal the decision. The Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has advised Canadians heading to China to exercise caution given the spate of arbitrary arrests, in response, it’s widely said, to Canada’s detention of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.

Elsewhere, a gas leak from a South Korean ship on its way to China lead to initial emergency measures some 25 kilometres from Dongying Port. Ships were being warned and re-directed due to the incident (The Global New Light of Myanmar, 15.01.2019: p.12).

South Korea: For those Digital Travellers heading to SK, or indeed those expats with very young families, the United States army Garrison (USAG) Daegu issued a warning a few days ago: there has been an outbreak of measles at Fatima Hospital. Services here will be unavailable until Jan. 18th. The hospital says that if you or your children were at either the main hospital or one of its outpatient clinics during the last few weeks, to watch for these symptoms: ‘[a] cough, [a] runny nose, conjunctivitis, high fever, and tiny white spots that may appear in the mouth followed by a rash three to five days after symptoms begin.’ If heading to or living in South Korea in the near future, make sure your vaccinations are up to-date. Babies are particularly vulnerable but are unable to have the vaccine until after 12 months of age.

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Southeast Asia

Indonesia: It almost feels like the archipelago has had a good four days in the absence of natural or meteorological disasters. In fact, there’s some good news in this regard: the Jakarta government has doubled its relief budget after one of the worst years on record. Standby monies now total over a billion US dollars. While this is welcomed by locals—and surely by Digital Travellers wanting to take in the beauty of the place—some are not convinced enough is being done to prevent rather than respond to earthquakes and tsunamis. Regardless, given the last year of tragedy in Indonesia, Digital Travellers are highly advised to check local and regional reports, as well as heeding any announcements from respective embassies.

The Philippines: In a country often riddled with negative press over its President, and indeed its anti-drugs campaign, some good news has emerged: government soldiers rescued a foreign national kidnapped by the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf (Xinhua). The Indonesian had spent four months in captivity. While this is good news, it also highlights this constant danger in an already volatile place, particularly on the southern island of Mindanao.

Myanmar: While a strong insurgency from the Arakan Army continues to inflict casualties on the government defence services, force displacement, and keep the poorest State in the Union poor, the UN—and other NGOs, as well as many journalists—are calling for ‘rapid and unimpeded’ access to assess things on the ground to get a better understanding of the situation (currently denied by the Government of Myanmar). Needless to say, Rakhine State, despite its massive potential as a New Thailand owning to its pristine beaches, should remain off the tourist bucket list - for now.

More positively, the Naga New Year Festival has attracted tourists to a region often left off the Myanmar tourist trail (The Global New Light of Myanmar, 17.01.2019: p.17). The numbers are still crushingly low, however: just 49 foreigners went to have a look at this rich-cultured ethnic group, mainly from European countries. Believe it or not, 49 is significantly more than in previous years. Nagaland is shaping up to be an emerging destination and should certainly be considered by the more physically and culturally adventurous Digital Travellers amongst you.

If ethnic costumes and wrestling in Nagaland aren’t your thing, perhaps the Pain Oo Lwin Flower Festival might be, or would have been (it’s just finished). Some 600,000 visitors attended the 13th flower show that welcomed both locals and foreigners (The Global New Light of Myanmar, 15.01.2019: p.11).

And finally, for Myanmar, there is concern by a handful of investors that their hotels and services in the pristine Myeik Archipelago might be affected by the government’s decision to allow more companies to develop the islands. Local business people are worried about their projects, while others are deeply concerned by the ecological impacts (the region is important to protect the mainland’s coastline, as well as the existent coral reefs and endemic species that live on and around the islands). The possible plus side is that this might make this beautiful region more accessible to Digital Travellers at a cheaper rate. Again, this does feel like another emerging ethical/eco tourism issue in Myanmar. As ever, the choice to visit, once informed, is a personal one.

Thailand: Bangkok was unfortunately in the news this week for its pollution levels - and its somewhat extreme attempts at dealing with it: using rainmaking planes to induce precipitation (by dispersing chemicals into the clouds) in order to clear the sky (The Global New Light of Myanmar, 16.01.2019: p.13). Greenpeace said that the levels of pollution this week meant that Bangkok was rated as the 10th most polluted city in the world, rivalling some of China’s most toxic cities. Thai officials played down the seriousness of the issue; however, Greenpeace did not. Face-masks are seriously advised at the moment, Digital Travellers!

In other news, Thai authorities are on a manhunt for Theerapol Pin-amorn, who is suspected of killing his pregnant wife and five family members. Obviously, DTs, don’t approach this guy if you bump into him (click the link for his picture)!

Vietnam: A new airline, Bamboo Airways, has taken its maiden voyage this week, entering an already crowded marketplace. Bamboo hopes to cater for destinations in Vietnam that are currently under serviced by Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet, and international routes later on this year (starting with Japan, South Korea, and Singapore). The owner is a property tycoon who’s portfolio includes hotels. The owner plans to offer packages using his airline and hotels at affordable prices. This might be an airline for Digital Travellers to keep an eye on over the coming year for a bargain or two.

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That’s all from us this time. As always, if you hear of anything we’ve missed, or have a juicy tip, let us know by emailing the team at thedigitaltravellerteam@gmail.com, or through our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/thedigitaltravellerteam/?ref=bookmarks.

*This update was compiled by Thomas David Dowling

Have fun and stay safe

The Digital Traveller Team

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