Central Asia Conference

Given how much I’m reading about Central Asia these days, it seems perverse not to write anything about it

UNDP has [released](http://neweurasia.net/?p=317) a “[Central Asia Human Development Report](http://europeandcis.undp.org/?wspc=CAHDR2005%20)” (which, typically, I’m going to link to instead of reading). Both [registan](http://www.registan.net/?p=6328#more-6328) and [New Eurasia](http://neweurasia.net/?p=317) report from the launch party. Despite a couple of references to the “new silk road” and the “new great game”, it sounds like an interesting day. One academic talked about the lack of interest in Central Asia from everyone except China. China is naturally enough after Central Asia’s oil, but I’m surprised nobody else is. He also commented:

> Trade between Central Asian countries…is not and will not be a significant engine of development

I’m not saying he’s wrong, but I’d be interested to see the basis for that reasoning. Martha Brill Olcett responded with:

> Central Asia certainly needs the great markets more than the great markets need Central Asia as a transit route

Finally, one speaker talked about the emergence of:

> a transnational democratic mobilization connected by technology

And it _is_ exciting to hear about groups like this, because we can empathise, and because it justifies the time we spend behind computers rather than mobilizing on the streets or manning soup kitchens. Again, I’d like to know the figures behind this mobilization before I jump up and down squealing.

Time to read the report now, I guess.


Let’s start with one of those proverbially obscure, remote countries: Mongolia.

Did you notice the [political crisis](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4616050.stm) there earlier this month? No, neither did I. The BBC’s narrative is: Prime Minister starts anti-corruption drive. The main party, the MPRP, pulls out of his government. There are protests in favour of the Prime Minister and his party. By the time the dust settles, we’ve all lost interest.

For general political commentary, Nathan at Registan has been [churning out Mongolia posts](http://www.registan.net/index.php?cat=15), and his [del.icio.us linklist](http://del.icio.us/nathanhamm/mongolia) points to some of the more interesting news coverage of Mongolia. [East Asia Watch](http://www.eastasiawatch.com/category/mongolia/) has some posts about Mongolia, and [Shards of Mongolia](http://shardsofmongolia.blogspot.com/) has a lot more.

At NewEurasia, a [Mongolia blog](http://mongolia.neweurasia.net/) got going in the past few days, and it’s going through the initial posting-splurge of any new blog. The author has the advantage of living in Mongolia, and he’s coming up with some interesting things.

Mongolia’s only non-government news TV station, Eagle TV, is [expanding broadcasting to 16 hours a day](http://mongolia.neweurasia.net/?p=24). The man behind Eagle TV, Tom Terry, has his own [blog](http://terrycom.net/blog/). From that site, it looks like Eagle TV has a strong Christian slant, as Terry tries to bring to Mongolia “Faith and Freedom”. In his [book](http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1597817260/qid=1133994992/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_2/104-1959482-3403105?s=books%26v=glance%26n=283155) of the same title he argues, according to one Amazon reviewer, that “(Christian) faith and human freedom are so inextricably connected that no culture can for long have one without the other”. Well, I’d rather have missionary TV than no non-government media, and at least there are rumours of a second news station starting up in competition. Multiple news stations in a country with a population [under 3 million](http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/mg.html) isn’t bad!

On more cultural topics, he talks about [attempts to reintroduce the traditional Mongolian script](http://mongolia.neweurasia.net/?p=22), and about the [preservation of Buddhist artfacts](http://mongolia.neweurasia.net/?p=20).

The [Mongolian Matters](http://www.mongolianmatters.com/) blog has a series of posts on th idolisation of Genghis Khan: a Japanese film, Ulan Bator’s airport being renamed Chinggis Khaan. [Plans are even afoot](http://www.mongolianmatters.com/2006/02/mongolias-genghis-khan-craze-1153.html) to create a 40-metre statue of Genghis Khan on horseback, with a golden whip.

Places to look for more: [global voices](http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/central-asia-caucasus/mongolia/) links to the blogs, (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/mongolia) collects pretty pictures. There is a [Mongolian State News Agency](http://www.montsame.mn/). Most of the [other](http://www.mongolianews.com/) [Mongolian](http://mongolianews.net/) [news websites](http://www.insidemongolia.com/) just reprint stories from the international press. [The UB Post](http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/) seems has substantially more original content.

South Korea

Next stop, South Korea. An easier one this, because there’s so much going on in the country, and in many ways they’re way ahead of us.

Famously, there is [OhmyNews](http://english.ohmynews.com/index.asp), which got the attention of the net pundits a couple of years ago and sparked the craze for ‘Citizen Journalism’.

Then there’s gaming – the world of Korean MMORPGs is so far ahead of ours that it’s embarassing. A top player like [Lee Yunyeol](http://rossignol.cream.org/?p=284) can earn $200,000 a year, and is on television daily. Gaming/Internet cafes called “[PC Bangs](http://www.driftreality.com/seoul/pcbang.html)” are gradually being replaced by playing at home over a broadband connection, and so the national addiction continues to grow.

South Korean pop culture is taking over East Asia, in a trend given the moniker ‘[Hallyu](http://www.asiamedia.ucla.edu/article.asp?parentid=37127)’, or ‘Korean Wave’. The anti-Hallyu backlash in Taiwan and Japan has made governments there consider restricting Korean-origin broadcasts on national television, and some have even demanded that Korean television broadcast programs from other countries. Currently trendy Korean exports include the film [Oldboy](http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050324/REVIEWS/50310001/1023) and the singer [Rain](http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/01/27/news/rain.php?rss) ([Ji-Hoon Jung](http://www.asiafinest.com/korean/rain-bi.htm). But I wonder if the whole ‘Korean Wave’ is a storm in a teacup; in 2004 the revenues from foreign sales of Korean TV were only [$71.5m](http://times.hankooki.com/lpage/200504/kt2005042117374410440.htm)

[Global Voices](http://www.globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/east-asia/south-korea/) doesn’t cover Korea as well as I’d expected, but it does at least point to [Asian pages](http://asiapages.typepad.com/), the diary of a foreign worker in South Korea.

Unlike with Mongolia, this has been all pop-culture and no politics. Korea is important enough that we get to hear about the bigger political stories anyway. Recently, the news has been how the [Prime minister forced to resign](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4804018.stm) because he was playing golf rather than dealing with a rail strike. He’s been replaced by [South Korea’s first female Prime Minister](http://en.ce.cn/World/Asia-Pacific/200603/24/t20060324_6483052.shtml). And we all heard about the [cloning scandal](http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/4824486.st), because that had sex and science and scandal, all rolled up together.

So, that’s enough of Korea. On to the next country…somewhere East European this time, I think.

Czech Republic

Next stop is a country I can’t help thinking of as Czechoslovakia – and yes, I understand I deserve a slap for that.

The [blogs](http://prague.tv/city-beat/?p=196) and the [wires](http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000085&sid=aFjpqJHkzB2w&refer=europe) are talking about floods, floods and more floods. No doubt if Prague floods again we’ll see it on British TV. There’s plenty about bird flu as well; again something that gets international attention wherever it happens. News I would otherwise have missed is the [legalization of same-sex marriages](http://www.ceskenoviny.cz/news/index_view.php?id=178051)

There are a few English-language Czech blogs around, [mostly](http://prague-spot.com/blog/) [personal](http://www.thediary.org/smz) [diaries](http://kolokolo.blogspot.com/) [of](http://zbarnes.blogspot.com/) [Prague residents](http://jenandderrick.blogspot.com/) – with all the holiday snaps and personal trivia that implies. [Gazing into the Abyss](http://gazingabyss.blogspot.com) at least has a useful list of East European blogs, categorised by country.

[This blog](http://prague.tv/city-beat/) is apparently part of a Prague city-guide website. It has frequent news updates, and [this charming excursion](http://prague.tv/city-beat/?p=188) into exports of Czech children’s TV. Cartoon characters “Pat and Mat” have gained htemselves fansites in [Switzerland](http://www.schaeppi.tv/patandmat/) and [Japan](http://www.krtek.jp/)

Hmm….that country turned out a lot less interesting than Mongolia and South Korea, but nonetheless I think now is a good time to move my spodding somewhere else. Who knows, maybe I’ll return to stories from Prague some other day.

A plan

I’m reading far too much in English, and far far too much of that is the standard boingboing/slashdot/oreilly/bbc stuff. It’s interesting, but each day it’s the same few dozen pages as every other geek in the western world is poring over. That needs to change, or I’m going to end up with the same stunted, arrogant, inane perspective as everybody else on teh interweb.

So now I’m throwing my cap over the wall. I’m going to spend tomorrow cruising round the web, one country at a time. I’m going to look for the funky weird shit that would be slashdotted to hell if it was in English, and I’m going to blog about it. Who knows, I might even learn something.

Before that I intend to spend tonight dancing, drinking, and chatting entirely in English with the assorted goths of Cambridge. I may even find it in my heart to say some nice things about the Christians, who are currently being bullied by the rest of the goths in a disturbingly playground style.

Hold that thought

Wow. There was a moment just then when the world, and my place within it, made perfect sense.

I’m not even going to try and put it into words, but wow. Suddenly all the choices I’ve made over the past five years are falling into place, all my obscure passions are combining into a coherent whole.

If I can just cling onto this for a few weeks, I might end up being of some use to the rest of the world. And better still, I might have fun doing it.


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in other news…

I’ve also had another half-hearted poke at myspace. It’s so noisy, and crowded, and advert-filled and colourful in a crayon-scrawl way. And I don’t get it at all.

I think this makes me an old codger, in case we didn’t already know that.

Hair of the buddha

Notwithstanding my [occasional](http://oedipamaas49.livejournal.com/24763.html?mode=reply) [rants](http://oedipamaas49.livejournal.com/18580.html) about museums, they can sometimes be soul-expanding places to spend time in – often despite strenuous efforts by the curators.

That’s certainly true of the Indian section of the British Museum, which I recently visited for the first time in 5 years. The labels are tiny, uninformative and misleading, and try very hard to turn the whole exhibit into a tedious catalogue.

But then I look at the exhibits themselves, and given the right conditions I’ll find a state of trance-like wonder at the beautiness and craziness of it all. It helps that several of them are famous enough that I’ve seen them on slides and book covers in the past, and that such skill has gone into making them.

What really excites me, though, is the way that iconography grows out of the intellectual history of religions. So, for example, the BM had several statues of the Buddha from, iirc, the 17th century. The head of each Buddha would have a pair of massive, incomprehensible growths that looked like medieval weaponry. The museum doesn’t seem to have any pictures online, but [here](http://cache.tias.com/stores/twoezr/pictures/gy1193b.jpg) is a much less elaborate example from elsewhere.

Helpful as ever, the label describes this hair-growth as ‘jata’, and leaves it at that. What it doesn’t explain is that


originally meant matted, tangled hair, and that it was one of the signs that an ascetic had abandoned mundane life. Leave your family, go into the forest, and let your hair grow into a gruesome mess. As usual, the poets get overexcited about the nastiness of it all. In the


a sage angrily shakes his head, and:

in all ten directions he scattered splendid red light from the entangled


, which were flying outwards as the knot of his hair-tie was loosened by the shaking of his head in rage

And then, somehow, this turns into the regal costume of a dignified buddha.

[as usual when I get excited by something, it turns out very hard to explain afterwards, when you’ve forgotten all the spurious but fascinating connections between everything. Meh!]