Thursday, October 28, 2010

Java's Bantul Earthquake Revisited

I was in Bantul, Indonesia, in June 2006, few weeks after the city was struck by May 27 earthquake which happened at 5.54am.

Although the quake was felt for 57 seconds, yet more than 5,500 people were to have died of the tremor, resulting 50,000 casualties, 50,000 houses destroyed, 200,000 left homeless and almost half of them, children.  
The 6.2 magnitude shake had cracked the runway at the airport in Yogyakarta and still wasn't in use when we booked our flight, so we make do with Semarang Airport.

As we passed through roads which some had become impassable, the quake left the sight of flattened large swaths of built-up areas and roofs caved in were everywhere, many on top of sleeping inhabitants.
Electricity was already resumed when we were there.

A month after the quake, victims were still traumatised to enter their cracked houses, and many chose to stay and sleep under the makeshift blue tents.
Children were still recovering from the trauma of seeing their houses crumbled around them, amidst the tightly-knit, close bonding neighbours - the nature of village life.
For me who do not live above the world's tectonic faultlines, as  My Late Father and Forefathers  did, it is difficult to imagine and visualise what these people went through, but this is the reality for most Indonesians. Situated almost entirely on the famous 'Ring of Fire', the country, according to locals' count, has 220 active volcanoes and said to face an average of 7,000 yearly earthquakes.

Words could not express my feelings seeing the survivors gazing aimless at what the quake had left them - the horrific loss of life and stressful environment.
Their calm expressions were not without grieve, and the thoughts of those affected by the tragedy is unerasable and only prayers can sooth my disturbed emotion.
My heart goes out to those who lost their loved ones.


We went to a place where batik was made - as a matter of fact, Bantul is  famous for its batik  - 'batik cap' or 'batik tulis', the process of cultural assimilation of ancestors, the cultural values of Bantul.

Created by using wax and natural dyes from plants applied with simple tools 'tjanting' for hand drawn batik, the early recognition of batik art in Bantul helped the development of high-value national wealth and the growth of  high economic value handicraft that  becomes a great source of income.

The owner, in his 70s or early 80s, whose factory was badly affected by the earthquake, was without workers since it struck as some were dead or they were rebuilding their damaged or destroyed homes.

Not far from Bantul, Klaten experienced 95% damage, with homes constructed with mud bricks flattened.

Amidst the eerie and sombre atmosphere of post earthquake, my heart was further wrenched watching many resigned faced elderly villagers scrambling to a hilltop at sunset, to spend their nights in what they assume the safest place then - on a cemetery plot, sleeping in between the dead - among the graveyards.

The scale of every Indonesian earthquake destructions are impossible to put on Indonesians' shoulders alone. International communities are tasked too to integrate disaster preparedness and socio-economic development.

To top the trembling quake then, the city which lives in the shadow of one of the world's most active volcanoes, Mount Merapi, with summit elevation of nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 meters), thousands of people were evacuated from its slopes as Merapi had spitted clouds of hot ash and debris.
It increased its activity shortly after the quake struck.

Preparing to save lives of those affected by natural disaster was and is very, very relevant. 

*UN noted that compared to other countries in 2006, Indonesia has the most disaster-related deaths in the world.

*Then, last August 22, Bantul, and the surrounding area of Yogyakarta was again shaken by another earthquake measuring 5 Richter scale that resulted nine lives being taken away.


Today, Indonesia is grasping with great twin disaster - volcano and tsunami.

Again, tens of thousands of residents were displaced by Java Merapi's at least three times Tuesday's eruption that forced residents to flee. Many fled with only the clothes on their backs although some residents refused, holding out to watch over their crops and livestock.

More than 50,000 people had cramped in temporary shelters around the nearby city of Yogyakarta, but there were fears for the fate of thousands more who had refused to budge.
Merapi is the most active of the 69 volcanoes with histories of eruptions in Indonesia.
It last erupted in June 2006, killing two people.

The mountain slopes is now an eerie wasteland, with houses burnt and flattened, trees scorched and stripped of leaves and the stench of rotting bodies filling the air.
At least 32 bodies were recovered from a tomb of fine grey ash of the "Mountain of Fire".
Mass funeral was held for those killed when the nation's most active volcano erupted.

Then, there's 9:42 p.m. Monday's tsunami after 10 minutes residents felt the 7.7-magnitude quake in remote Sumatra Mentawai, 150 miles from Padang, a popular destination for foreign surfers, which had claimed 311 lives.

Survivors had almost no warning that the three-metre (10-foot) wall of water, with waves went as far as 600 meters inland was bearing down on them, despite the installation of sophisticated network of alarm buoys off the Sumatran coast.
The expensive warning system had failed - It was established after at least 168,000 lives were taken away by the  2004 Asian tsunami, triggered by a 9.3-magnitude quake along the same faultline of last year's 7.6-magnitude  Padang earthquake  which claimed about 1,100 people.  
Hundreds still feared missing although bodies were found on beaches and coastal areas in the Mentawai island chain, which washed away entire villages.

Many villagers required stitches to open cuts suffered as they were tossed around in the surging sea.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago, a nation prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity due to its location - with hundreds active volcanoes to constantly need watched, spread across 17,500 islands inhibitat by 237 million people.
The country is strategically situated on a region where the meeting of continental plates cause high seismic activity, shaken by thousands of yearly earthquakes, is indeed a nation which often finds itself battling calamities, one after another.

But this time, they came overlapping, simultaneously ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fashion Statement Of A Different Kind

"Nothing too revealing" - outlaw everything from miniskirts to low-cut jeans when people walk around, is the  new dress code policy  a mayor at the seaside city in Italy wants to enforce.

In an effort to "restore urban decorum and facilitate better civil co-existence", Mayor Luigi Bobbio is planning to ban miniskirts and other revealing clothing to improve what the mayor calls standards of public decency to crack down anti-social behaviour. 
He wants to target people who are "rowdy, unruly or simply badly behaved". 

In the effort to fight crime and confront anti social behaviour, there will also be a ban on sunbathing, playing football in public places, and blasphemy. 
If the proposals are approved at a council , then it's the right decision made.
It's also a way of combating the rise in sexual harassment.

In other places they have banned sandcastles, kissing in cars, feeding stray cats, wooden clogs and the use of lawn mowers at weekends.
Offending the regulations would face fines of between €25 (US$35) and €500 (US$696).


Meet Xi Li Ge - the so-called hottest homeless guy in Ningbo, Zhejiang, China

The 35-year-old man, Cheng Guorong, originally from Ningbao, Zhejiang province, has gone from vagrant to model.
Since the first picture of this vagrant homeless guy who had been roaming the streets of Ningbo was posted in the Internet, he had been the most searched-for-figure in early March. 
He gained a following and was elevated to the celebrity status.  

He shot to fame after an amateur photographer snapped a photo of him while testing a camera in a shop and uploaded it on the Chinese Internet site.  
Mr Cheng's life changed dramatically after the posted pictures of him. 
He had a  distinctive dress style which had him noticed. With a scraggly beard and long tousled hair, he used bright scraps of fabric as a belt and wore a grubby sheepskin-lined overcoat over a faux leather jacket.

Though he looked scruffy, his hair was carefully disarrayed and he was seen in a well- coordinated overcoat on top of a leather jacket. Soon, netizens began nicknaming him XiLi Ge (or Brother Sharp).  
The homeless guy has been hailed as "the best-looking beggar ever" by adoring netizens. 
As his fan club spread worldwide, he was given more endearing nicknames such as the Handsome Beggar, Beggar Prince and Handsome Vagabond. 
Cheng, whom witness had seen him laughing to himself, at times, was seen clad in female attires, suffered from minor mental problems. 

He had lost contact with his family after he arrived in Ningbo in 1996 in search of better prospects, looking for work. 
He was initially successful and was able to send money home to his wife and two sons. 

After being robbed of his savings, he was fired from a succession of jobs until he found himself on the streets. Filled with shame at not being able to provide for his children, he did not call home for years. 
Since then, he began roaming the streets and led a wandering life. He spent his days scouring the streets  for food and rummaging through rubbish for discarded plastic bottles and cigarette butts.

Chinese tramp becomes film star

Several photographs of the 34-year-old were uploaded to the Internet and the community of netizens was intrigued by the appearance of the man, who was likened to models and good-looking actors.  

His style is one that's on fashion catwalks. Netizens have gushed over his look and compared the way he dressed to the bohemian style modeled by fashion icons and celebrities. His unfocused gaze described as "deep and penetrating". 
His prominent cheekbones and bohemian clothes quickly won him a legion of fans who called him ''China's sexiest tramp''. 

It did not take long for his photographs went viral on the Internet, where sympathetic fans teamed together and have donated more than 100,000 yuan (S$20,000) to help him getting his life back on track.
His rising popularity soon drew the attention of the Chinese mainstream media.
The local authority was alerted and when they found Guorong on the streets, the helpless man burst into tears under the glaring spotlight of the media, who swarmed around him as soon as he was found. 

After his story was widely reported in China, he was later admitted to Ningbo Mental Hospital. 
With the help of the local media and efforts of the local authority, Cheng Guorong met his mother and younger brother Guosheng for the first time in more than 10 years at the hospital. 
The family last heard from him in 2003. 

They had been trying for years to locate Guorong and at one point, even went to Ningbo. 
Attempts to locate him failed and efforts were in vain. His family believed he was dead until they saw his picture on the Internet in January. 

He had became one of the most talked-about personalities on the Internet.

When Guorong returned to his village in Poyang, Shangrao, he was given celebrity treatment, as villagers surrounded him and even set off firecrackers to welcome him.

 He returned home in March to find that his father and his wife had been killed in a car accident last year in June. The trauma of his five years on the streets has left him withdrawn and shy.


Public offers had since poured in for him to appear in advertisements and he did a stint as a catwalk model.
This 35-year old man is recognised for his great fashion sense and has been offered a 3,000 yuan (S$600) a month job as the Fashion Show manager in Shunde near Guangzhou - a far cry from his days as a vagrant where he was seen walking aimlessly in tattered but well-coordinated clothes with a cigarette in hand. 

“I am just a normal pathetic person. It was the Internet that rescued me from the streets and I am grateful to the netizens who had lent their helping hand.
“I do not know anything about fashion and don’t understand why people said I am fashionable,” he said.

Now the story of Cheng Guoron's life will be made into a film.

''It will be a sad story, but at the end there will be the happiness of a family reunion.''


Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Shouldn't Be Breadwinner

Woman In Her 70s Deliver Water To Support Family

Gao Meiyun, who is in her 70s, has to climb the stairs carrying bottled water weighing 20 kilograms to her clients every day, even though she weighs less than 38 kilograms. Gao lives with her sick son and grandson in Shijingshan District of Beijing, and the burden falls on her sore shoulders. [Photo/Xinhua]

Gao looks at her house piled with water bottles and takes a break. The house has neither air conditioner nor a fun making people feel a little suffocated. [Photo/Xinhua]

Gao suffers a severe cough and other illnesses but has no money for medical care, as all the money gained from her water station is used to support her family. [Photo/Xinhua]

Gao considers how many bottles of water she needs to sell in a day. If she stocks more bottles than she needs in a day, she will have less money to buy food. [Photo/Xinhua]

Gao loads a 20-kilogram bottle of water for delivery. [Photo/Xinhua]

Gao takes a breath after climbing the stairs while making a delivery. [Photo/Xinhua]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Jangan Cakap Habis - What Goes Around, Comes Around

"Cili ini pedas tak?"

"Sambal mestilah pedas." I replied to my youngest brother's question at a birthday celebration in my elder sister's house last Saturday. 

"Sorry, tak boleh habiskan sambal ni. Pedas sangat." I surrendered of having to finish up the meal.
The cili was definitely too hot for me.

"Tulah, lain kali jangan cakap habis. Kita ingat lagi, Makcik Johor yang kita pergi rumahnya, banyak kali cakap - Jangan cakap habis." 
So all those while my youngest brother was listening to what the lady, my eldest brother's ex-neighbour, was saying.
When the lady was talking to my eldest sister, he was glued to the tv set.


I wasn't close to the person whom the lady was referring to, although my eldest sister used to mention the person to me.
The person, *Ros was, and is a person who sets a certain standard and perfection - and nothing else.

For her marriage then, all bridal accessories, dais, and gowns were brand new.
Totally new clothing in her wardrobe too. 
I was still in school then, so what my sister said did not make any difference to me.

Not long after I stay in JB in the 80s, I was informed that *Ros had sold her house in Singapore and was making arrangement to move to the new house in Taman in JB.
By then, I had heard more of her.

A classy people as *Ros, would want to trouble herself with the chaotic Causeway?
Travelling almost 30km to school daily?
Then, in the 90s, I used to meet her at Komtar.
I had to choose my words when talking to her.

When one of those meeting day at the Komtar bus-stop she did tell me that she's no more married, I did not ask why.
I heard the news quite sometime already.

Almost everybody pointed fingers at *Ros - Not that her husband refuse to work, but he simply could not get any job since the 80s retrenchment.
A Singapore permanent resident, he brought his family back to his country of birth - Malaysia.
Not wanting to be further humiliated after more than ten years being a house-husband, he moved back to his late parents' three-acres land - staying alone all by himself.

"Siapa kahwin yang *Ros suka? 
Semua dia tak suka. Ada aje cacat cela laki orang. 
Kakak kahwin lagilah dia tak suka. 
Lagilah kakak kahwin bukan suka sama suka." 

Yes, the lady knew she was very much older than her husband and she doubt if her marriage could last very long.
But the early 20s Malaysian man insisted on marrying her.
She abide her mother's wish in not wanting to see her becoming an old spinster, already in her late 20s.
After more than thirty-years of marriage and she has five children who love the mother dearly, she knew at least she's in a safe net now, than before.

*Ros did not like the lady's husband because he was a labourer building HDB flats when marrying the lady.

*Ros did not like her sisters' husbands too who's just so-so in her eyes.

Fast forward, when all marriages intact, *Ros's marriage to the most perfect husband,  crumbled...          

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tough Time For Illegals In The Two Holy Places

Today's news reported  Indonesian overstayers  in Saudi became unruly nuisance so they would be picked up by police and deported from the country free of charge.

When I was there last month, many Indonesians stay away from public areas and only come out when night falls under their black veils to do their trade.
Even then, they were always on the lookout for 'searching eyes'.
In Mecca, they had shifted their stay right up to the hilltop, away from the authority's long arm.
The immigration went all out to nab these over-stayers and illegal immigrants.

I had always with me many SR1.00 to be given away in Madinah.
But it was only on the first day of Syawal, after a week of my stay there, did I manage to meet the first girl  asking for money.
Even then, she was beautifully dressed - Aidilfitri perhaps - or to camouflage herself from the patrolling policemen.

The same scenario happened in Mecca, only few children - with beautiful dresses and shirts, asked for money.
I ended up bringing back much of the untouched SR1.00.
For the next trip, perhaps, GOD willing.

A six-month general amnesty was given, on the second week of Syawal, to overstayers after arriving on Haj, Umrah or visit visas but they are to approach the deportation center with their passports and air tickets to get an exit visa stamped on their travel documents.
Many of these illegals I met would rather lined themselves up on the street, hoping to be caught by the authority, jailed and deported - simple - as they said.
They were confidant that their embassy would arrange for their 'free' deportation.

The Saudi immigration really mean business this year - they'll do what they say.
Starting this year, to curb illegals, all food for pilgrimmers will be catered from legal sources.
Travel agencies are not allowed to have their food self-cooked or having their own kitchen hands.

Talking to these seasonal food caterers who had been in Mecca for the past many, many years, they knew their livelihood is at stake.
Even then, none I talked to, wanted to move back to Indonesia although they knew the amnesty is only until March 23, 2011


Police Target 'Fake Pilgrims'

Police were cracking down on 'fake pilgrims' after a record number of people registered to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. - Photo: AFP

DHAKA - BANGLADESHI authorities said on Tuesday the police were cracking down on 'fake pilgrims' who may actually be migrants after a record number of people registered to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.

This year, 93,875 people from Bangladesh have registered to perform the annual pilgrimage in November, up from just 58,489 in 2009, religious affairs ministry spokesman Anwar Hossain told AFP.
'We have warned the police, the Hajj travel agencies about fake pilgrims - we are worried some of them may not return from Saudi Arabia,' Hossain said.
Performing Hajj at least once is a religious obligation for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it.
Bangladeshi police are cross-checking all Hajj applicants under 40 and any who do not appear to come from wealthy families in an attempt to weed out economic migrants trying to get to the Gulf on Hajj visas to work.
Bangladesh, the world's third largest Muslim-majority nation, relies heavily on remittances, but the global downturn affected jobs for migrant workers, particularly in the construction and manufacturing sectors in the Gulf. -- AFP