Wednesday, October 29, 2008

KLIA's website requires updating

NST Letters
Outdated information: KLIA's website requires updating
By : Liz , Kuala Lumpur

IF you log on to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport website, there is a banner at the top proudly saying "KLIA, world's best airport".
But no one has bothered to update the website for years.

For instance, under buses, the site still displays the airport bus services to Hentian Duta and Jalan Chan Sow Lin in Kuala Lumpur.

Those services were stopped three years ago and have been changed to KL Sentral station.

This is misleading for tourists who expect to get accurate information of bus services.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Commercialisation takes over Halloween

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Commercialisation takes over Halloween

Halloween merchandises: Halloween has become a lucrative season in the western world that even malls in Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are jumping on the bandwagon. Picture: BT/Liz Price

Sunday, October 26, 2008

ALL over the world, there are people from all walks of life, religions and cultures who fear frightening but imagined supernatural events

Halloween is celebrated in many countries on October 31st. And that's five days from today. It has its origins from an ancient Celtic festival celebrated in Ireland to mark the end of the harvest season. In those days the Celts prepared for winter, and at the end of October. During the festivals the Celts would light bonfires, and wear costumes and masks.

The name Halloween is a shortened form of "All Hallows Even", meaning the evening before "All Hallows Day". Nowadays in America it is traditional to place a candle in a hollowed out pumpkin. These lanterns originated in Europe and were mostly carved from turnips. Holes were cut to represent a face, as the people believed the head is the most important part of the body as it contains the spirit.

These carved heads are called jack-o'-lanterns. They were commonly left on the doorstep to keep the house free from unwanted ghostly visitors.

Today people have forgotten, or even don't know about the traditions of Halloween. In the USA and other countries, the night of October 31 is an exciting one for children. They dress up in fancy costumes and go out trick-or-treating.

The practice of dressing up in costumes and begging door to door for treats goes back to the Middle Ages. Trick-or-treating resembles the late medieval practice of "souling" when poor people would go door to door on Hallowmas (November 1), receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day (November 2). Today the costumes are quite elaborate, resembling supernatural and scary beings such as witches, skeletons, vampires, ghosts and devils.

Some children dress up to look cuter, and may wear a fairy outfit, or a princess or angel costume. Others may choose a pumpkin outfit, or even a cat or clown and also there are more modern designs from Star Wars characters, and Spider Man and Power Ranger.

Trick-or-treating is when children go from house to house in costumes, asking for treats such as confectionery with the question, "trick or treat?" If the householder doesn't give a treat, then the children threaten to play a trick on the homeowner or his property.

Trick-or-treating is one of the main traditions of Halloween. It has become socially expected that if one lives in a neighbourhood with children one should purchase treats in preparation for trick-or-treaters.

This activity has become quite commercial and has spread from the US to the UK and other parts of Europe, and has even reached Asia.

Last year I saw Malaysian children going around trick-or-treating. This is partly due to the increase in American cultural influence from exposure to television, but also shops have jumped on the bandwagon in Asia, and are prominently displaying Halloween items. This commercialism is having negative effects.

Children get greedy and now expect to be treated. The trick part can be something simple such as children telling a joke or poem, or playing the mouth organ. Some throw eggs at windows.

But now there is a growing worry that the trick part could get out of hand, as kids have even spray painted cars.

In the United Kingdom residents are advised by the police to hang out a "no trick-or-treat" sign if they don't want to be disturbed.

In these modern days where safety is always a concern, some parents drop their children off by car, which is also decorated for the occasion. The parents can keep an eye on their offspring, and the kids can then put all their treats in the car if they collect too many to carry.

Also there is an increasing trend for children to do their trick-or-treating in shopping malls.

Other aspects of Halloween include bonfires, and costume parties. Traditional games played during the parties include bobbing for apples, in which apples float in a large basin of water, and the participants must use their teeth to remove an apple from the basin.

Apples are associated with Halloween as they have been harvested around that time. Toffee apples are another favourite food item for these holidays. People may carve a jack-o'-lantern from a pumpkin. Some families will read scary ghost stories to each other, or watch a horror film. In some places ghost tours are arranged, where people can visit haunted attractions, or visit a theme park.

So watch out for those wandering ghosts ... or trick-or-treating children on October 31st!

The Brunei Times

Isaan area of Thailand

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Venturing into the heart of Northeastern Thailand

Isaan country: A woman weaving silk. Picture: BT/Liz Price

Sunday, October 26, 2008

THE village street consisted of about 10 houses and yet there was a hive of activity quietly taking place. Women were going about their daily chores, some were making handicrafts. Animals lazed around. The men were conspicuous by their absence. Maybe they were working in the fields although from what we had seen earlier, it seemed to be mostly women who were planting rice and attending to the corn. The men were sitting on the tractors watching!

This area of Khon Kaen is in the heart of Isaan country. Isaan is a general term for northeastern Thailand, from the Sanskrit name for the medieval kingdom Isana, which encompassed parts of Cambodia and northeastern Thailand. The area is less developed than the rest of Thailand and has comparatively few tourists. There are many archaeological sites scattered around the 18 provinces which form this region, which is also famous for its silk and cotton.

The best silk in Thailand is said to come from the northeast. There are several silk weaving towns and the finished products are cheaper than in other parts of Thailand. Many of the rural villages have cottage industries and we stopped at one to watch the weaving process.

One lady was spinning the cotton, teasing out the knotty strands and winding them neatly onto a large spool. Although the cotton is still grown locally, and silk still harvested from the silkworm cocoons, much of the materials used nowadays are bought from the town of Loei. Other ladies were weaving the yarn on looms. The white cotton thread was wound around the large framework of the loom, and coloured yarn was woven in according to the pattern. It was a laborious process requiring much patience and concentration. I was surprised to see one lady using green string to form the pattern of her material. This looked like the normal plastic string used so commonly in Asia and I imagined this would give a rough feel to the finished product.

There are actually two methods, one is the tie-dye, and the other is ikat in which the cotton is tie-dyed before the weaving. Many of the ladies wear the traditional skirts and blouses as part of their everyday attire. It reminded me of the Indonesian ikat. Most common is the geometric, diamond-grid pattern. Some women were laying out chillies to dry in the sun; others were attending to the livestock which were relaxing under the stilted houses. It was all very peaceful. The children were obviously at school as there were none to be seen.

One villager came out with some sticky rice wrapped in leaves for us to try. I enjoy trying the rice packets in Thailand as you never know what will be inside, sometimes it is sweet, and sometimes it is savoury, so it's a pot luck affair. We wandered down to the nearby river and it was quite busy with traffic, mostly of the non-vehicular kind.

White ducks were swimming, paddling quite hard in an effort not to get swept downstream. The river was swollen from rain, and the water was brown, so I wondered how the ducks stayed white; I imagined the muddy water would stain them!

Ladies were crossing the river with empty baskets on their way to the fields. A man came to the water's edge with a small herd of cows. At first the cows looked dubious about entering the water, they obviously knew it was deeper than usual, and were unsure of their footing.

The lead one was persuaded into the swirling water and the rest followed suit. They looked quite comical swimming diagonally against the current. Next to entertain us was a tractor with a few workers aboard. The tractors in this part of Thailand consist of a wooden platform which forms the trailer body, and two to three metres long handles lead to the tractor with the engine. It reminded me of the long tailed boats so commonly seen in Thailand. We were in the heart of farming country.

By now it was time for lunch. The Isaan culture has good food, known for its pungency and choice of ingredients, the specialities being chicken and sausage. We stopped at a series of roadside stalls, which were all selling spicy chicken. The chicken pieces are flattened and stuck onto bamboo skewers and grilled by the roadside. One enterprising lady had some skewered pieces of chicken and was standing at the roadside waving her wares to entice passing motorists. It worked, because we stopped. The chicken looked no different from the chicken sold at street stalls all over Thailand, but the taste was good. We ate it with glutinous rice and chilli sauce as an accompaniment.

Later that day we tried the som-tam, a spicy salad made with grated papaya, lime juice, garlic, fish sauce and fresh chillies. As the combination of tastes hit the palate, it is a bit of a shock and makes the mouth tingle, but soon you realise how delicious it is. That afternoon we stopped at Tham Erawan, a famous cave off the Wang Saphung to Udon Thani road.

You can clearly see the cave from several kilometres away. A large seated Buddha sits in the entrance, which is high up the cliff face. Tham Erawan is one of the most famous caves in this area.

About 600 steps lead up to the cave. After much huffing and puffing I reached the entrance with the huge sitting Buddha which gazes out over the plains and across to the other limestone hills in the distance. The cave is huge, there were a few very large stalagmites, and the roof was some 40m above my head.

Luckily there was some electric lighting as I had stupidly left my torch in the car. It was worth the effort of the climb as the cave size was so impressive.

After we left the cave there was monsoon rain and we were treated to a spectacular sight of a double rainbow.

There were two rainbows, side by side. It was quite a spectacular end to our day in Isaan country.

The Brunei Times

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Papan Memories (Star)

Saturday September 22, 2007
Papan memories

A town in ruins still has many memories to cherish.

It was an ethereal experience, walking among ruined buildings on an almost moonless night, with only the flickering lights of candles to guide our steps.

Branches of invading trees clawed their way up the old stone walls, looking like the tentacles of a giant wooden octopus covering the buildings. You could almost imagine the ghosts lurking in the shadows.

Papan is one of the smallest and oldest towns in Malaysia, and part of its charm is that half of the town lies in ruins. It is almost a ghost town, yet many of the buildings are still occupied. Some have even been freshly painted.

Falling apart, but still interesting: Part of the charm of Papan, Perak, is that half of the town lies in ruins.

It was incongruous to see a row of three buildings, one a total ruin, the next one sporting a new coat of paint and the third in its original state. Facing these, across the road was a row of derelict buildings with trees almost covering the masonry, and birds swooping in and out, enjoying the wilderness.

No. 74 Main Street, Papan, must be one of the most famous addresses in Perak. It was from this building during the Japanese Occupation that Sybil Kathigasu ran a clinic with physician husband, Dr. A.C. Kathigasu. They gave medical aid to the Perak People Anti-Japanese Army (PPAJA) and Force 136 operatives, who were hiding in the hills of Papan.

(The PPAJA was later to merge and become the Malayan People Anti-Japanese Army or MPAJA).

For her troubles, Sybil was arrested and tortured by the Japanese. She eventually died from the wounds she suffered as a prisoner of war. Sybil, a Eurasian, was the only Malayan woman ever awarded the George Medal for bravery.

No. 74 still stands and is today a memorial known as “Sybil’s Clinic Papan”. It is maintained by Law Siak Hong, who has devoted much of his time in preserving and setting up the old clinic as a historical attraction. He has also organised several historical events in Papan.

Law is president of the Perak Heritage Society (PHS), and it was due to him and also the PHS, that the “Papan Memories” night took place on Aug 18 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Merdeka and the 62nd anniversary of the end of World War II.

A pleasing number of people turned up for this event, many of them expats living in Ipoh and KL. It was a good chance for people to look around No. 74 and to learn a bit about the history of Papan through the photos and exhibits on display.

Papan has always been associated with tin, but its name Papan means “plank” in Malay and probably refers to its early days in the mid 19th century when the settlement came into being as a timber town.
At the time about 200 Malays and 200 Chinese worked there in a lumber settlement.

Then immigrant Mandailings from West Sumatra came to Papan after the Klang War, and settled in late 1870s and early 1880s, after their leader, Raja Asal was awarded mining rights to the land and later the penghulu-ship.

By the 1880s Papan was an important area for tin mining, with 13 mines in operation. A dam was built by the Mandailings, possibly with the help of the Chinese, to supply hydraulic power to the mines. More Chinese arrived in Papan to work in the mines and the town grew.

Due to the abundant alluvial tin, Papan grew rich.

Streets were laid out by the 1890s and, by the turn of the 20th century, the main street had more than 100 shophouses and public buildings. Morning markets were held at the lower end of town. There was a school, post office and government dispensary. Entertainment was confined to the upper end of town, where there was a Cantonese opera theatre, brothels and opium dens.

The Papan mosque was completed in 1888, built in the character of the mosques in Mandailing. It has a large timber hall raised on piles and a double-tiered roof. The mosque still stands today, next to the Rumah Besar, which was built in 1896. The original Kwan Yin temple was built in 1874. Many of the mansions and other buildings are still in existence today.

The town grew in population during the Japanese Occupation. Thousands of war refugees fled to Papan in December 1941, after the Japanese bombed Ipoh. Papan acquired the reputation of being “a bad place” during the Occupation, for the MPAJA and Force 136 operated here. It was during this period that Sybil and her husband ran their clinic.

Examples of medical tools and medicine bottles used then are on display in the clinic. Looking around the exhibits is a moving experience when you think of the atrocities that took place.

Having learnt the history, some visitors went for a boat ride on a mining pond at the back of the town. Others went exploring and ventured into some of the ruins.

Trees are taking over and invading these houses, some of which still have old furniture in place. Amazingly, some houses looked deserted, but are still lived in.

At dusk everyone gathered for a buffet supper of local delicacies and war-time specialties. For some of the foreign visitors, it was the first time they tried tapioca. There was even a large birthday cake for Malaysia’s 50th Merdeka.

After eating, everyone went to the basketball court for a short performance by dancers from Yuk Choy High School, Ipoh. The first dance, Do Not Discard, was all about remembering our past, traditions and heritage. The second featured 1930s music to reflect Papan’s days of glory.

It was the perfect setting – the area was lit by candles and the dancers were illuminated by car headlights. The music and costumes completed the effect. After the last dance, the spectators picked up the candles and, led by Law, went for a candlelit walk around the ruins.

If there are any ghosts in Papan, they were in hiding that night. At least one house, No. 2, is reputed to be haunted. Papan is a fascinating place, and hopefully will remain standing for decades to come.

Sybil Kathigasu's grave in Ipoh

Sybil Kathigasu is best known for her connection with PAPAN. After her torture at the hands of the Japanese during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Sybil died in 1948 in Britain and was buried in Scotland, However her body was later returned to Ipoh and she was laid to rest in the Catholic cemetery at St Michaels Church (not to be confused with St Michael's Institution).

[Additional note from Law Siak Hong - The coffin with her body was exhumed and put inside another coffin and brought back to Ipoh by ship to Penang, then by train to Ipoh.]

Her husband Dr Kathigasu is buried in the Catholic cemetery at Tambun.

For more on Papan, see Papan Memories.

View Larger Map

© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Travel made easy

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Travel made easy

Picture: BT/Liz Price

Sunday, October 19, 2008

MY LOVE of travelling was instilled in me from a very early age; in fact probably even before I was born. My first overseas trip took place about three or four months before I was born, when my mother carried me up the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Needless to say I didn't see any of the view, nor do I remember it.

When I was a child, we were lucky enough to have foreign holidays each year. Back in those days booking a holiday was a different procedure from today. There were no computers then. When my parents first started going on overseas holidays some 50 years ago, it was a matter of planning, discussing, reading and waiting.

It was a time of great excitement. The family would go down to the local travel agent and browse through all the brochures. Having got an armful of literature, we would then talk to the girl in the travel agency. The next step was to go home and spend a couple of weeks or so browsing through all the holidays on offer. Although we all joined in, it was always dad who made the decisions. If it was left to us we'd probably still be deciding the following winter. Once a destination was chosen, we would make a booking. It was only some days later that we would receive the tickets, documentation etc. Then the excitement would really build.

Much has changed over the decades. Today most people have computers, and there is the choice of the Internet or telephone bookings. The brochures can be seen online, and the booking forms are there as well. There are credit cards and electronic payment systems. I can't remember when I last went to a travel agent.

Not only has the Internet made life so much easier for the traveller in the 21st century, it has increased options and lowered fares. There is such a huge selection of companies at the click of the mouse. Gone are the days of walking into one travel agency, and being restricted to what they sold.

Today, even the small tour companies advertise on the Internet. Some companies will even "tailor-make" packages to suit clients. And, of course, the choice of flights is huge. Now the world is your oyster.

From the comfort of your home or office, you can pick the cheapest flight for a day and time that suits you, book it online, pay for it online, and collect the ticket at the airport immediately before departure. And with the advent of cheap, no-frills airlines, the consumer is in his element. This has brought on a price war, which of course is all to the advantage of the traveller.

You can also book a rental car and arrange to pick it up from the airport on arrival. Alternatively you can book train or bus tickets. You would probably have already made your hotel reservations too.

Another thing that has changed over the years is money — getting hold of foreign currencies. In the good old days, we always used to buy traveller's cheques and foreign cash, and this meant paying commission to the supplier. Often we had to pay another commission to the agent cashing the cheques when abroad. If any surplus money or cheques were sold back after the holiday, this again meant commission. So the traveller lost out every time.

Today Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) have become the norm. They can be found in most countries. And the beauty of the machines is that they invariably have instructions in English as well as the home language.

Many people are reluctant to use their cards in the "hole-in-the-wall" overseas, fearing they will lose their card if the machine swallows it up. I've used my card on several continents, and, touch wood, I've never had a problem.

Admittedly I've had a couple of minor mishaps, when I've got into a muddle over the number of zeros, and mistakenly withdrew a ridiculously small amount of money. This happened once in Indonesia.

Another time was in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was well aware that the crime rate there was really high, so I was a bit wary of using the ATM. In my fumbling, I miscalculated a simple exchange rate of 10:1, and withdrew the princely sum of about US$10 ($14.797). The queue behind me grew even longer as I tried another transaction.

I know you may pay a service fee to use the card, but the convenience is well worth it. It saves carrying around wads of cash, and saves having to work out in advance how much money to take with you. And if you want to make an unexpected purchase or take an unplanned tour, you can do it with your plastic money.

With all this advanced modern technology, travelling has become easier. And hopefully everybody benefits.

Prices have come down and options have increased. With the electronic booking systems, less human manpower is required, which saves on salaries, and so these reductions can, hopefully, be passed to the consumer. Happy planning. Bon voyage!

The Brunei Times

Crime in KL

I made the news today, but not for good reasons !


Sunday October 19, 2008

At the mercy of thieves


Sunday Star, in the course of doing a story on the rising crime rate, didn’t have far to go in search of victims. Many Star employees have had chilling encounters with snatch thieves and burglars.
AS a reporter, there have been times when it has been quite tough for me to find the right people to interview for stories. When it came to the subject of crime, however, almost everyone I approached knew someone who was a victim, if they were not one themselves.
No wonder someone once remarked that crime pays for reporters. In my office alone, at least three of my colleagues or their family members were victims of crime in the past week alone, whether it’s a house break-in or a snatch theft.
In the past few years, the latter has gained a lot of media coverage because a number of people have died as a result of snatch-thefts.
Female victims
The classic tale of snatch-theft is that of the female victim who is attacked from behind by two people on a motorcycle. This was exactly what happened to my colleague Renita whose mobile phone was snatched from her while she was talking by the side of the road.
Renita was shocked and shouted after the thieves, but the pillion rider turned back and had the cheek to call her bodoh (stupid). Fortunately, they missed her handbag, which was on the other shoulder, and she was not injured.
She made a police report and she says the police personnel were helpful although they said it would be almost impossible to recover her phone, which was only two months’ old at the time.
“I have decided never to use an expensive phone again, and nowadays I only use it in my car,” she says.
A colleague’s wife, C. S. Tan, was not as lucky to escape injuries. She had just come out of a bank in Bandar Puteri Puchong at about 1.45pm after conducting some company work and was walking towards her friend’s car. The next thing you know she was hit on her head from behind.
“When I woke up, I was in the hospital,” she says.
She lost her handbag which contained her handphone, keys, credit cards, driving licence, identity card, office keys and ATM cards.
“If they want to take money, they should go ahead and take it. Just don’t hurt others,” says Tan who had to have two stitches.
Police told her there were many cases in the area but hers was the first one carried out in daylight.
“Now, whenever I hear a motorbike, I feel jittery,” she says.
Even the elderly are not spared, as Ching, another colleague, relates the tale of her mother Madam Tan, 70, who was on her way to meet friends after a morning walk, a daily routine for many years.
“She was walking back after getting the newspaper when a car whisked past her and suddenly stopped. My mother knew the occupants were up to no good and started turning back,” relates Ching.
The car, however, was reversed quickly, knocking Madam Tan to the ground with an open back door. The assailants pulled off her gold chain and drove away.
Madam Tan, who was only carrying a small purse, sustained cuts and bled from her head. Fortunately, a group of youngsters helped her to a clinic and contacted her family.
“My mother does not dare to go out alone anymore,” says Ching.
And it seems that people would go to any lengths or use any methods to rob. About three months ago, my ex-schoolmate Razalee Yahya, 27, was on his way home on his motorbike when another motorcyclist rode by his side. The pillion rider on the other motorbike stuck his hand into the rack in front of Razalee’s bike, grabbing its content.
Fortunately, it was just an old jacket, which the thieves threw on the road.
“I did not realise what was happening until a hand sneaked in. I was shocked,” says Razalee, who almost hit the road divider but was lucky that he managed to regain control of his bike.
He didn’t make a police report because he didn’t lose anything, but he believes it would have been a waste of time anyway.
Liz Price from England, a contributor to The Star who has been living in Malaysia for 10 years under the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Programme, says she has been a victim of beak-ins three times, all in different apartments. .
She has also been a snatch theft victim twice, the first being in Miri eight years ago, where two men on a motorbike pushed her from behind.
Then, two years ago her bag was snatched outside a shopping centre. Two months later, two men tried to snatch her bag but Price was alert and managed to sidestep them.
“They followed me to my car but I managed to get away. They tried to open the (car) door but I had locked it,” she says.
Price is more careful these days.
“I don’t carry much cash or anything unnecessary,” says Price, who reckons it is a difficult task to stop these crimes but hopes that police would increase their presence.
“It is worse still if they (perpetrators) become violent and use a parang to injure their victims,” she says.
There is no shortage of stories about house break-ins either.
Another colleague, Leong Shen-Li, was robbed twice in a space of just over a month. The first break-in occurred during the day. The door and grill were broken, and drawers were all ransacked. Leong says he lost his PC, foreign currency and passport. His wife’s costume jewellery was also taken.
After that, he got five heavy-duty padlocks, which cost RM300, but they did not deter robbers who struck again. In the second incident, Leong had arrived home just before midnight to find the light upstairs on.
“I looked at the drawers and they were all open,” he relates.
Leong went to check the back of the house and found the sliding doors damaged, and he believes the robbers were still there when he arrived because his laptop was untouched.
“The autogate makes a lot of noise and I was talking on the phone in my car for almost 10 minutes before coming out. I think they ran away because nothing of value was taken,” he says.
This time, he reinforced his gates, fixed an alarm system and got a puppy, in addition to installing new locks and subscribing to the local neighbourhood watch. All these extra measures set him back almost RM5,000.
“I didn’t lose much to thieves but lost to others (such as the locksmith),” he quips.
Leong says the police came almost immediately in both cases.
“I got an impression that they were just treating it as a break-in although to their credit they did arrive quickly,” he says.
“Statistically, I was just amazed I could be a victim twice in a short time,” he adds.
Yet another colleague, Looi Lai Yee, was robbed on her doorstep after coming back from work at 2am. She drove into her compound and after the auto gate had closed, Looi thought she was “safe and sound”.
She got down from the car, plonked her handbag on a bench near the main door and was just starting to unlock the grill door when someone jumped over the fence and headed straight for her. She shouted but the intruder coolly and nonchalantly walked past her, grabbed the handbag and ran away.
Looi tried to give chase but slipped and scraped her knee. The episode was over in under 10 seconds, she says.
“I never thought I could be so vulnerable in my own home and I had totally let my guard down. Furthermore, I’m so used to coming home at that unearthly hour,” says Looi who adds that her husband stands outside with a baton these days waiting for her.
Looi lost RM800, a new handphone costing RM800 and her car keys. Replacing the latter cost up to RM2,700 and because the auto gate remote was attached to the car key, the frequency of the gate had to be reset at a cost of RM200. In addition, when the robber jumped over the fence he broke the water pipe, which cost RM80 to repair. There were also other costs and the hassle of replacing all the bank cards, identity cards and so on.
“But of all the things that I lost, none was greater than the loss of the sense of security at home,” says Looi.
The cases we hear of or read about are just the tip of the iceberg. Based on the accounts of my colleagues alone, I could go on and on but at this moment I am hoping and praying that I will not be part of that iceberg.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Rice mill in Cambodia

When I was caving in Battambang province in Cambodia I grabbed the opportunity of looking inside a rice mill.

wooden framework

packing the rice

looks like a museum piece

Vietnam machinery

outside the mill

spare parts?

bringing out the sacks

lady scavenging husks

monks outside the mill

rice drying on the road

My article was published in the Brunei Times and I've posted it on rice mill in Cambodia.
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Rice mill Cambodia (BT)

How the world's premier staple goes from padi to plate

Sunday, October 12, 2008

MANY people in Southeast Asia have seen rice growing in padi fields. As it grows it turns a most vibrant shade of green. It is such an intense colour, there is little else in nature to compare. Rice is a staple diet of many people the world over, but I wonder how many people actually know the process of what happens to the rice after it is taken from the fields until it arrives in bags in the supermarket.

When I was in Battambang province of northwest Cambodia, I saw many rice fields, although it was dry season so they were all fallow. I was told the people could get three crops of rice a year here and it is considered the rice bowl of the county.

As the rice grows, it turns into padi and becomes light brown in colour. When sufficiently grown, the field is drained until it is completely dry, and the plant turns to the colour of hay, then the paddy harvesting can begin. The stalks are cut at ground level and then taken to the threshing site where the paddy grain is separated from the rest of the cut crop. In many parts of Cambodia the harvesting and threshing is done manually.

The rice is then air dried in the sun. As I passed through villages, there was rice everywhere. It was laid out to dry on plastic sheets and mats, occupying the open areas in front of houses and even laid out on the side of the road. The chickens and scavenging animals thought it a windfall. They were shooed away by the people who were raking the rice to turn it. When sufficiently dry, the rice is taken to the local mill.

Travelling to some of the more rural areas, I passed several rice mills. Being curious, I went in one, to see what I could discover. These rice mills transform paddy rice into white rice, and making it fit for human consumption. When rice is harvested it has a non-edible hull or husk surrounding the kernel.

Inside the dark and cavernous interior of the mill it was noisy when the machinery was going, and the air was quite dusty with rice particles. First the husk is cleaned, to remove immature grains as well as foreign objects, such as straw, stalks and stones from the padi. The padi is passed through coarse screens to remove all objects that are larger than the rice. Then the rice passes over fine screens to remove small seeds, sand and dirt, stones, and other objects smaller than the rice. Air separation systems are sometimes used in this process.

The hulling process removes excessive husks from the cleaned padi. This is done by passing the rice through two spinning rubber rollers. Once removed, brown rice is separated from the husks by a ventilation process and mechanical equipment leaving pure brown rice available for milling.

Brown Rice is simply rice with the bran layer left on. The processing involves passing the rough rice through machines which remove the hull, producing brown rice with the bran layers still intact around the kernel.

Milled rice is white rice, so it has had all or part of the bran and germ removed. The milling is a whitening process, as it removes the bran layer from brown rice. The milling machines use both abrasion and friction to gently and efficiently convert brown rice to milled white kernels. The bran layer is removed by air ventilation which sucks away the bran layer.

Once milled, the rice is then polished. Rollers smooth and brighten the surface of the rice grains. By now the rice is essentially finished, and just has to be graded. The grading separates milled rice by sieve graders of different sizes. The rice comes in a variety of sizes, as there is whole grain and broken rice.

The rice is then sorted to remove discolored rice such as immature green grains, or yellow ones. The sorting also gets rid of any foreign objects that have got through the system, such as seeds and stones.

Now the finished rice can be packed and stored in 50 or 100 kg jute bags, according to its grade, and is ready for delivery.

In more developed countries, the process of milling is done in modern machines which are quite compact. However, the mills I saw in Cambodia were lacking in modern technology, although some of the metal pieces were made in Vietnam. A giant two storey wooden framework supported huge belts that moved pieces of machinery, and large trays wobbled and shook as the rice went through the different processes. There was even a wooden staircase to the upper level. It was like something out of a working museum. There were cobwebs covered in rice dust everywhere and I imagined the place to be a real fire hazard. However the system seemed fairly automated once running and there were only one or two men there, who were engaged in bagging the prepared rice.

It was a fascinating place. I am glad I stuck my head in the door and went in to investigate. Now I know how the rice on my plate got there from the padi field.
The Brunei Times

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)
I've posted photos under an album rice mill in Cambodia.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Phuket vegetarian festival Nine Emperors

Saturday October 11, 2008

Godly acts


The Nine Emperor Gods Festival in Phuket, Thailand bears some resemblance to Thaipusam. Is there a connection?
There were yellow flags flying every few metres along the street, contrasted by red lanterns and a crowd mostly in white. With hundreds of food stalls lining the street on both sides, the atmosphere was positively carnival-like.
Sedans for the gods
This was the Phuket Vegetarian Festival.
It is an annual event held during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This is usually between late September and October in the modern calendar.
This year the celebrations were held from Sept 29 to Oct 7. In Malaysia, the same celebration is known as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or Kau Wong Yeh.
The festival celebrates the beginning of the Taoist lent when devout Chinese abstain from eating meat and meat products, as well as seafood. This nine-day observation of the vegetarian diet is believed to be good for spiritual cleansing and merit-making.
It is thought that the vegetarian festival and its accompanying rituals bestow good fortune upon those who religiously observe the rites.
Although Thailand is a predominately Buddhist country, the population of Phuket is made up of about 35% Muslims, 35% Chinese, with the rest being Buddhists, sea gypsies, etc. The Chinese are mostly from the Hokkien and Hakka groups.
The activities of the Phuket celebrations are centred around five Chinese temples in the heart of Phuket town. The Jui Tui temple on Ranong Road is the most important, followed by Bang Niaw and Sui Boon Tong temples.
The streets were a sea of white
The Jui Tui, also known as Put Jaw, is the oldest at 200 years old, and is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin. The festival is also celebrated in temples in nearby towns like Kathu, where the festival originated, as well as in other southern Thai towns such as Trang and Krabi.
I was staying in Phuket town during the festivities and was caught up with the activities at Jui Tui and Bang Niaw temples. The streets around the temples were closed to traffic in the evening and decorated with yellow flags. Hundreds of stalls selling vegetarian foods were set up even before the festival started.
It was a food paradise. All the stalls flew yellow flags with red writing to advertise that the food was vegetarian, and the restaurants did the same too. There was so much choice. Many of the dishes were made to look like meat products, but no animals are ever slaughtered for this event.
I’m not a great lover of these fake meats, which are soya and flour made to resemble beef, chicken, pork and seafood. Of course, there were also many vegetables cooked in a variety of ways. Even the milk drinks are made from soya rather than animal milk.
On the evening before the first day, the temples each erected a pole from which nine lanterns symbolising the nine deities would be hung. Offerings were also made to the Jade Emperor and the nine deities. The following days, people flocked to the shrines to worship the gods. Sedan chairs were lined up in front of the shrines, and these were said to be where the spirits of the Nine Emperor Gods rested during this time.
There was constant chanting for the first couple of days.
Everyone was expected to wear white, and there were dozens of shops and stalls cashing in on this by selling white garments. As people streamed in, the streets and temples turn into a sea of white and yellow.
Vegetarian fare
The noise of the fire crackers was almost unbearable; fortunately I remembered to bring my earplugs. I didn’t have them with me on the first day, and my ears suffered when the temple caretaker set off some deafening crackers in a special burning place where I was standing.
The kids added to the din by throwing crackers that exploded as they fell to the ground. I was quite wary of these, never knowing where they were going to detonate, as the small boys threw the miniature bombs at each other. Occasionally the safety officers would caution them.
As well as abstention from meat, the Vegetarian Festival involved various processions, temple offerings and cultural performances. Shop owners set up altars in front of their shops, offering nine tiny cups of tea, incense, fruit, candles and flowers to the Nine Emperor Gods.
Mediums entered into a trance. These entranced devotees, known as mah song, went through incredible acts of self-mortification. They pierced their cheeks with all manner of objects, like sharpened tree branches with leaves still attached, spears, garden shears, slide trombones, daggers. I even saw some hacking their tongues continuously with a saw or axe.
They were accompanied by a team to watch over them. It is believed that while they are possessed, shaking their heads back and forth, oblivious to everything around them, the mah song will not feel any pain.
As I followed the procession, these mediums stopped at shop-front altars, where they picked up the offered fruit and either added it to the objects piercing their cheeks or passed it on to bystanders as a blessing. They also drank one of the nine cups of tea and grabbed some flowers to stick in their waistbands. The shopkeepers and their family stood by with their palms together in a wai gesture, out of respect for the mediums and the deities they represented.
Towards the end of the festival, spectacular feats were performed by devotees, such as walking barefoot over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs. I found it hard not to get caught up in this atmosphere of religious frenzy, although the deafening firecrackers did get a bit unbearable.
Interestingly, there is no record of this kind of festival in China. Therefore some historians assume that the Chinese in southern Thailand were influenced by the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in neighbouring Malaysia, which features similar acts of self-mortification.
The local Chinese, however, claimed that the festival was started by a theatre troupe from China that stopped off in nearby Kathu around 150 years ago.
The story goes that the troupe was struck seriously ill because the members had failed to propitiate the Nine Emperor Gods. The nine-day penance they performed included self-piercing, meditation, and a strict vegetarian diet.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Silver Man in Kuala Lumpur

Yesterday (8 Oct 2008) I was in Bukit Bintang and I saw a Silver Man. I first saw a Silver Man in London's famous Covent Garden many years ago.

I watched the one in Bukit Bintang preparing his make up, then he sat in his pose. But the poor guy was finding it very hot as he was sitting directly under the sun and he had to get up and find some shade. I was watching the reactions of the Malaysian audience as most of them didn't know what was happening !

These silver men are very popluar street performers in London, New York, and many places around the world. Some, like this one in KL, just pretend to be living statues, and if someone goes right up to them, the silver man will move and scare the person! Of course you are supposed to put money into his hat.

Others do acts like juggling, mime, One in London is dressed as a Roman gladiator, and touches you with his sword if you give a donation. Another one stands as still as a statue, if you put money in his hat, he bows.

The Bukit Bintang silver man is located on the main junction, outside Maybank, where all the street 'artistes' and youth gather.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Phuket vegetarian festival in full swing (BT)

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Phuket vegetarian festival in full swing

Leaner diet: Meatless fare is offered at Phuket's Taoist nine-day vegetarian or vegan diet for spiritual cleansing and merit-making while festival activities are centred around Chinese temples. Picture: Liz Price

Sunday, October 5, 2008

THE Phuket Vegetarian Festival is an annual event held during the first nine days of the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. This normally is late September to October. In 2008 it runs from September 29 to October 7.

The festival celebrates the beginning of the Taoist "lent" when devout Chinese abstain from eating all meat and meat products. This nine-day vegetarian or vegan diet is for spiritual cleansing and merit-making. It is believed that the vegetarian festival and its accompanying sacred rituals bestow good fortune upon those who religiously observe this rite.

The population of Phuket is made up of about 35 per cent of Thai Muslims, 35 per cent Chinese and the rest are Buddhists, sea gypsies etc. The Chinese are mostly from the Hokkien region of China.

In Phuket the festival activities are centred around five Chinese temples, with the Jui Tui temple on Th Ranong the most important, followed by Bang Niaw and Sui Boon Tong temples in Phuket town.

Events are also celebrated at temples in the nearby towns such as Kathu where the festival originated, as well as in other southern Thai towns such as Trang and Krabi.

I was staying near the Jui Tui temple and so was able to get caught up with the activities.

The streets around the temple are mostly closed to traffic, and are decorated with yellow flags. Hundreds of stalls selling vegetarian foods are set up even before the festival starts. It is a food paradise. All the stalls fly yellow flags with red writing to symbolise the food is vegetarian, and restaurants do the same.

Many of the dishes are made to look like meat products, but no animals were slaughtered for this event. Even the milk drinks are made from soya rather than animal milk.

On the first day, the temples have the Lantern Pole Raising, and propitiation to the Jade Emperor and Nine Emperor Gods. On the following days people flock to the shrines to worship the gods. Sedan chairs are lined up in front of the shrines, where the spirits of the Nine Emperor Gods are believed to be seated. There is constant chanting for the first couple of days.

Everyone is expected to wear white, and there are dozens of shops and stalls cashing in by selling these white garments. The streets and temples turn into a sea of white and yellow.

Fortunately I remembered to take my earplugs, to make the noise of the fire crackers more bearable. Each temple has a special burning place where these deafening crackers are let off by a man from the temple.

But an added noise nowadays are the cheap crackers from China which are sold by the boxful to kids, who take great delight in throwing these on the ground to make them explode. I was quite wary of these, never knowing where they were going to detonate, and occasionally the safety officers would caution the kids.

As well as abstention from meat, the Vegetarian Festival involves various processions, temple offerings and cultural performances. Shop owners set up altars in front of their shops offering nine tiny cups of tea, incense, fruit, candles and flowers to the nine emperor gods invoked by the festival.

Those participating as mediums bring the nine deities to earth for the festival by entering into a trance state. These entranced devotees are known as "mah song" and go through incredible acts of self-mortification. They pierce their cheeks with all manners of objects, such as sharpened tree branches with leaves still attached, spears, garden shears, slide trombones, daggers. Some even hack their tongues continuously with saw or axe blades.

They are accompanied by a team to watch over them. It is believed that while possessed, the mah song will not feel any pain. They can also be seen shaking their heads back and forth continually, and usually seem oblivious to their surroundings.

During the street processions these medium stop at shopfront altars, where they pick up the offered fruit and either add it to the objects piercing their cheeks or pass it onto bystanders as a blessing. They also drink one of the nine cups of tea and grab some flowers to stick in their waistbands. The shopkeepers and their family stand by with their hands together in a wai gesture, out of respect for the mediums and the deities by whom they are temporarily possessed.

Towards the end of the festival there are displays such as walking barefooted over hot coals and ascending ladders with bladed rungs by the entranced devotees. It's hard not to get caught up in this atmosphere of religious frenzy, although the deafening firecrackers do get a bit unbearable.

There is no record of this kind of festival associated with Taoist Lent in China. Hence, some historians assume the Chinese in southern Thailand were influenced by the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in neighbouring Malaysia, which features similar acts of self-mortification. The local Chinese, however, claim that the festival was started by a theatre troupe from China that stopped off in nearby Kathu around 150 years ago. The story goes that the troupe was struck seriously ill because the members had failed to propitiate the nine emperor gods of Taoism. The nine day penance they performed included self-piercing, meditation and a strict vegetarian diet.The Brunei Times

Nightmare queues at LCCT (S)

I got caught up in some ridiculously long immigration queues at LCCT, KL airport over Hari Raya, or Eid. The terminal was totally crowded and people were overflowing onto the tarmac outside. See my album nightmare queues at LCCT.

The Star Business section also reported on this on Saturday September 27, 2008
Bursting at the seams 

Bursting at the seams

LONG queues at immigration counters and waiting for more than an hour to collect a checked-in luggage are a common angst for budget airline passengers who arrive at the low-cost carrier terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.
Barely three years old and the LCCT is already operating at its full capacity “ bursting at the seams, some may define “ as a result of the (unforeseen) tremendous growth of budget airline passengers, particularly that of AirAsia group.
Besides the AirAsia group, the LCCT also services the Philippine’s Cebu Pacific Airways and Singapore’s Tiger Airways.
For the interim comfort of budget airline passengers, Malaysia Airport Holdings Bhd (MAHB) has embarked on an extension plan for LCCT. The extension will increase the annual passenger capacity from the current 10 million to 15 million upon completion in March 2009.
According to MAHB senior general manager of operation services Datuk Azmi Murad, the proposal for a new LCCT has been submitted to the government for approval but its location has yet to be determined.
“We are still waiting for the government to give us the green light for the project, hence we are not able to confirm when the project will be implemented and completed,” Azmi says.
He, however, confirms that the proposed terminal comes with a capacity for 30 million passengers per year, with scope for expansion should the need arise.
But AirAsia X Sdn Bhd CEO Azran Osman-Rani feels that MAHB’s expansion plans are too conservative compared to the growth of AirAsia group.
“Failure to anticipate the growth of our passenger numbers will result in severe capacity shortage again in the short future,” he says.
AirAsia group expects its total passengers to exceed 15 million in 2010 and 28 million by 2014.
While the overcrowded situation in LCCT is severe, KLIA, despite its state-of-the-art facilities and award-winning status, is found to be lagging behind its regional rivals, namely Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and Singapore’s Changi Airport.
The trend is partly attributable to national carrier MAS’ capacity trimming, while other regional airlines such as the Emirates, SIA, Etihad and Cathay Pacific continue to expand their operations.
In addition, many international airlines that have left KLIA since the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis, such as British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, ANA and Air France, have not returned but have continued to fly to Suvarnabhumi Airport and Changi Airport.
According to the Airports Council International, there are currently 105 airlines that fly to Bangkok’s airport, more than 70 airlines to Singapore’s Changi and less than 50 to KLIA.
Passenger traffic recorded in 2003 at Suvarnabhumi Airport was 30.2 million, Changi Airport was 24.7 million and KLIA was 17.5 million.
In 2007, the numbers rose, with Suvarnabhumi Airport recording a passenger traffic of 41.2 million; Changi Airport 36.7 million and KLIA 26.5 million. Passenger and cargo traffic is a good gauge of an airport’s strength, which is strongly correlated to a country’s economic performance because airport is the heartbeat of a country’s trade and tourism industries.
The group founder and AirAsia CEO Datuk Tony Fernandes feels that the AirAsia group’s low-cost business model and growing flight frequencies and destinations are able to draw more passengers to KL hub, which will ultimately boost Malaysia’s economy.
“We have a dream to bring in passengers from all over the world to our Kuala Lumpur hub, and we believe we are on the right path to achieving this dream because of what we can offer our passengers.
“The unfortunate thing is, our dream is hampered because we do not have a good airport infrastructure to support our plan to make it bigger for Malaysia’s industry,” he says.
Therefore, he expresses hope for the airport management sector to be liberalised and open to competition for the benefit of the aviation industry as a whole.
In Britain, for instance, the Competition Commission recently issued a provisional report recommending the British Airport Authority (BAA) to sell three of the seven airports under its management.
The recommendation is to address competition problems that arise from the monopolistic behaviour of BAA in managing its airports, such as its lack of responsiveness to the needs of its airline customers and lack of initiative in capacity planning.
Airports in Malaysia are managed under the monopoly of MAHB, a government-linked company.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sandakan's English tea house

Published on The Brunei Times (http://www.bt.com.bn/en)

Enjoying afternoon tea with scones and croquet in Sabah

Quintessentially British: (Top to Bottom) Sandakan's English Tea House and Restaurant serves tea and scones. The Agnes Keith House is a replica of the house used by the American authoress who wrote books on Borneo in the thirties and, no doubt, played croquet like these English expats. Pictures: Liz Price

Sunday, September 28, 2008

AFTERNOON tea of scones laden with jam and cream, washed down with tea served in bone china cups is quintessentially English. Included in this repast you could have delicately cut sandwiches, or an assortment of dainty cakes. And to complete the scene, afternoon tea could be served in the garden of a fine house, watching a game of croquet.

So when I found myself doing just this in a setting which even included the croquet, I had to keep reminding myself that I was in tropical Malaysia, and not in the grand garden of some country estate deep in the heart of rural England.

I even felt like a memsahib as waiters in crisp white shirts and black jackets greeted us at the gate and escorted us to a table in a gazebo. Like all good gazebos, this one had a fine view. We were able to look down onto the town of Sandakan across the bay and the Sulu Sea.

We were in the English Tea House and Restaurant. This is a renovated colonial house situated on the grounds of the Agnes Keith Museum, in Sandakan in Sabah. A fan provided enough breeze to make it pleasant sitting out in the heat of the tropical afternoon.

Having placed our orders, I went for a wander around the grounds. Firstly I went to see the peacock which had been making a lot of noise with his loud calls. He was a handsome male with an incredibly long tail, but I was told he had recently lost his mate and was rather dejected.

I went to have a look round the house. The outside area is used for dining, and inside is a bar and small lounge. The furniture looked original and was how I imagine houses would have been in colonial days.

Our tea arrived so I went back to the table to enjoy the scones whilst still warm. They were served with thick cream and jam. Whether you put the cream or the jam on first is entirely up to you, there seems to be no preferential etiquette in one way over the other.

The pleasant surroundings enhanced the taste of the scones, as it was such a tranquil atmosphere. It was hard to believe that a few hundred metres down the hill was the hustle and bustle of a small town.

One group started to play croquet. Dating back to the 1800s the sport of English croquet was an extremely popular lawn game, which reached Sandakan in 1870. There was the sound of each thwack as the wooden mallet hit the ball, then the sounds of laughter if the person missed the hoop or the ball veered off course.

Just next door to the Tea House is the Agnes Keith House. This is a replica of the house used by the American authoress who lived there with her family from 1934. It is here where she wrote her famous book The Land Below the Wind. She also wrote a couple of other books on their experiences in Borneo.

The house became home to Agnes and her family. She was married to Henry (also known as Harry) George Keith, who was the Conservator of Forests, and they had a son called George.

When the Japanese invaded Sandakan in 1942 the Keiths were imprisoned on a nearby island before being sent to Kuching in Sarawak. Harry returned to Sandakan in 1946 and it was another year before he was joined by his wife and son. However the original house was destroyed during the war, so the Keiths built a new house in a style similar to the old one, and named it Newlands. It was the first government permanent timber dwelling to be built after the Second World War.

When the Keiths left Sabah in 1952, the house was occupied by subsequent forestry officers, volunteers and staff. Although the Keiths never retuned to Sabah, the house was always referred to as Agnes Keith's House.

Today the house has been restored and turned into a heritage house, providing interesting insights to life during British North Borneo. It is furnished with a reproduction of colonial furniture and antiques. A gallery on the first floor tells the story of this remarkable woman, her books and her family.

The Brunei Times

Nightmare queues at LCCT

On the eve of Eid or Hari Raya 2008 I flew back to KL from Phuket. Big mistake. I spent most of the afternoon and evening queuing. Got to Phuket airport and found really long queues for the 2 check in desks for the AirAsia flight to KL. It took 50 minutes to check in, by which time it was almost time to board the flight.

The flight was full and the last people were only being served food as the plane started to descend. Luckily I sat at the back and got served first!

Landed at LCCT at KL, and a huge shock awaited us. The immigration hall was so full and crowded that there wasn't enough room to enter, and the queue extended outside onto the tarmac. It was total chaos, as Malaysians were having to push past the foreigners to get to their immigration desks. None of the foreigners knew what was happening.

where is the end of the queue?
It was a complete and utter mess and I heard lots of bad comments from people around me, saying it's a total disgrace, especially when compared to Singapore and Thai airports. And I have to agree.

I spoke to an officer who was trying to organise the crowd, and he said a lot of Chinese tourists were coming to Malaysia for Eid. And I had been expecting people to be leaving Msia, not entering, on Eid eve!

Considering LCCT only handles AirAsia flights, the crowds were so huge which shows that AirAsia is doing very good business.

I've flown into LCCT dozens of times and this is DEFINITELY THE WORST I have ever seen it.

It was reported in The Star on Saturday 28 Sept 2008
Bursting at the seams

Even leaving LCCT for Phuket a few days before Raya, the immigration queues were long, about 60 people (mostly Indonesians going home for Eid) and not enough desks were open. I just hope no one missed their flight.
© Liz Price
No reproduction without permission

Phuket motorbike accidents

Saw this piece in the Phuket Gazette. However I know that in all the tourist areas in Thailand where it is easy and cheap to rent motorbikes, that tourists have lots of accidents. I remember reading that many of the patients in one hospital on Ko Samui are Westerners who have had bike accidents. And even if they don't have accidents, its quite common to see tourists walking around with a nasty burn on their calf, from the bike's exhaust.

The article mentions that a 1 day bike hire is the same as a 10 minute tuk-tuk ride, and this is very true. The tuk-tuk drivers in Phuket are real rip off merchants, and really overcharge tourists. And you rarely see locals using these tuk-tuks.

Bikes are easy to hire.......................................................but tourists rarely wear helmets


Friday, September 26, 2008

Unlicensed foreigners in 60% of Patong motorbike accidents

RENT-A-RISK: Foreigners who have never ridden a motorbike before can rent one for as little as 150 baht a day in Patong, where a 10-minute tuk-tuk ride also costs about 150 baht.

PATONG (TNA, Gazette): The poorly-regulated “motorbike for hire” industry in Patong has contributed to an alarming number of motorcycle accidents in Kathu district, where more than half of the 500 accidents reported to Kathu Police involved unlicensed foreign motorcyclists, the government’s Thai News Agency (TNA) has reported.
With many motorcycle rental shops in Patong, foreign tourists and expats can easily rent a motorcycle without having a license, as this is not strictly monitored by the authorities, TNA reported.
For many tourists, renting a motorbike in Patong is an attractive option as a single ride in a tuk-tuk in the resort town, which charges the most expensive tuk tuk fares in the country, will cost about the same or less as the rental of a motorbike for a 24-hour period – about 150 baht.
Kathu Police Superintendent Col Grissak Songmoonnark was quoted as saying, “About 60% of motorcycle accidents are from unlicensed foreign motorcyclists, but there are so many unlicensed foreign motorcyclists that we can’t check the exact number. We can count only when accidents occur.”
Local residents have also expressed their concern about some foreign motorcyclists whose reckless riding has tarnished the image of one of the world’s top tourist destinations. Some foreigners simply do not even know Thai traffic rules. Many like to ride fast, frightening local people and other foreign tourists seeking a peaceful holiday, the TNA report read.
“They always ride fast and crosscut other cars. I’m so scared I will crash one day,” one local resident was quoted as saying.
However, the Land Transportation Department on Phuket insists tourists and expatriates can ride motorcycles in Thailand only when they have been issued a motorcycle license by the department.
Motorbike licenses are obtained by submitting identification documents and a work permit or an address guaranteed by the Thai Immigration Office, then passing written and practical tests. The process can be done in a day.
There was no mention in the TNA report of any impending crackdown of the many outfits who rent motorcycles to foreigners without a license.
In most cases, all the renters need to do is hand over their passport as a form of surety.
Motorbike rental is also popular among some Thai criminals, who use the vehicles when carrying out crimes such as “snatch and runs” thefts.