Friday, 31 July 2015

Rua Da Felicidade - Macau's "Street of Happiness"

Located in the historic centre of Macau, only a few minutes’ walk from Senado Square, there is a street whose traditional Chinese-style buildings and romantic name seem to take one back to a long-gone colonial era, in which the society of old China mingled with the cosmopolitan, busy lifestyle of the former European enclaves in the Far East. Lined with two-storey, grey brick Chinese houses with conspicuous red windows and doors, decorations and inscriptions that recount old legends, the street is a remarkable example of the mix of traditional Chinese architecture and Western patterns. Here the visitor feels as if time had stood still, and is finally able to imagine, far away from the modern casinos and shopping malls, how life might have looked like for ordinary people in old Macau.


Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Why Macau Is Much More Than Just A City Of Gambling

Last Friday I travelled again to Macau, and I have to say that I am more and more intrigued by this city. Unfortunately, the former Portuguese colony is mainly known to the outside world for its casinos. But in fact, it is a place with a surprisingly rich history and culture.

A few weeks ago I heard a German guy talking on the phone with his parents. They asked him how he liked Macau, and he said something like, "Macau is famous for its casinos. Someone told us that there are many old buildings, but we were tired of old buildings, we've already seen enough of them in China, so we just went gambling." 

A Malaysian guy I talked to last week, said something similar: "There is nothing to see in Macau, only casinos."

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Saving The Souls Of The Ancestors - 'Qianshuichezang': Taiwan's Unique Religious Festival

Every year between the 1st and the 9th day of the 6th month of the Lunar Calendar (July 16 - July 24) a traditional folk festival takes place in Kouhu Township, in Taiwan's Yunlin County, to commemorate the souls of people who died over a century and a half ago.

The festival is called 'Qianshuichezang' (牽水車藏), which literally means 'leading along water containers'. The name refers to traditional lantern-like, three-level cylinders made of bamboo sticks and paper. The ceremony is held at Wanshan Shrine (萬善祠), near Jinhu harbour, and Wanshanye Temple (萬善爺廟) in Jinhu. The three levels represent the division between water, sky and underworld. Each side of the cylinder is painted with images of humans and benign spirits.

In the temples, people offer foodstuffs and paper money to the deities. The offerings are carried from the villages to the temples by women on traditional bamboo poles. The food and money are placed on round tables in front of the statues of the gods.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Sleeping At Taiwan's Eslite Bookstore

Before I went to Taiwan for the first time, a friend of mine told me that if I ever wanted to date a classy, clever and pretty girl I should visit Eslite Bookstore in Taipei. It was not until I arrived on the island that I realised what he was talking about. 

Eslite stands out for its stylish design, wide range of English and Chinese books, and its customer-oriented service. Many people spend hours there reading books, sitting on chairs and armchairs, and even on the floor. The staff will leave you alone, no matter whether you buy something or not. Basically, Eslite is half public library half bookstore. 

Some Eslite branches are open 24-hours and have their own cafes and tea houses. They have turned into actual entertainment centres for people who like to read, need to read, or pretend to like to read. There are all kinds of customers: you see families, couples, groups of friends, people who are absorbed in a book and those who stroll around leisurely and, most importantly, there are well-dressed, fancy people who seem as much interested in observing others and socialising, as they are in reading. 

Eslite's customer-friendly atmosphere indeed makes you feel like at home. So much so that some people even treat it as their own bedroom. 

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Hong Kong - Water Floods Tanner Road After Water Pipe Bursts

On July 8 between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., a pipe burst on Tanner Road, near North Point MTR Station, causing severe flooding. Traffic was disrupted and shops were flooded.

Monday, 6 July 2015

What Greece Wants

As a European, I am just a detached observer of Asian affairs. But when it comes to the destiny of the European Union, I feel I am personally involved. Although this is a blog about Asia, I cannot ignore what is happening in Europe, and I want to write a few words about it. 

On the statement he published this morning on his own blog, Greece's former Minister of Finance, Jiannis Varoufakis, explained that what the Greek government wants is simply:

an agreement that involves debt restructuring, less austerity, redistribution in favour of the needy, and real reforms

They are not asking for their debt to be written off, as some media has argued; they just want their debt to be sustainable. As Varoufakis said in one interview (as I can speak Greek, I am following the actual debates in Greece), he thinks that the austerity policies of the troika are not viable for Greece, because they hinder growth and create a situation of instability that makes the recovery of Greece impossible. 

Without growth, employment, investments and fairer taxation (the troika has objected to taxing the rich more heavily than retirees and the middle class, as Tsipras said in an interview), Greece will never be able to get back to its feet and actually repay its debt. The policy of the EU has created a vicious circle that is damaging not only Greece, but the whole continent.

The obtuse and absurdly neoliberal attitude of some European governments and technocrats is condemning the EU to instability and poverty. It is deliberately destroying Greece to make up for the debt of European banks (chiefly German and French banks). In fact, as 'The Guardian' explained, around 90% of the money received by Greece from the bailout programmes "went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash". Less then 10% was used to finance reforms, investments or welfare services. De facto, the Greek people were squeezed in exchange for money that went to private banks. 

After 2008 Germany reacted to the crisis through more state intervention. Among the measures adopted by the government there was the so-called "Conjucture Package II", which included an eco subsidy for cars, reduction of the income tax, subsidies for companies that did not lay off workers but offered them courses to upgrade their skills and qualifications, and many other reforms. Moreover, Germany bailed out its banks and bailed out bankrupt automaker Opel. 

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

While Europe Destroys Itself, China Hopes That Greece Will Stay In The Eurozone

In a speech delivered at the University of Zurich on September 19, 1946, Winston Churchill called for the rebirth of the pan-European idea. This "noble continent”, he said, was “the home of all the great parent races of the Western world, the foundation of Christian faith and ethics, the origin of most of the culture, arts, philosophy and science both of ancient and modern times”; and yet, it was from this great continent that a series of nationalistic movements had originated, which had plunged the whole world into the most catastrophic wars. 

Europe, however glorious its past, lay now in ruins. Its economy had been devastated. Millions of displaced men and women marched homewards from battlefields, concentration and labour camps. Prisoners of war languished in captivity. Fallen soldiers left widows and orphans behind. Divided by hatred, impoverished by war, shocked by the unprecedented cruelty it had unleashed upon itself, Europe's prospects were bleak. Was it ever going to recover from the abyss into which it had sunk?

Winston Churchill believed it could, but only if all the states of the continent cast away the heritage of nationalistic feuds and trod the path of unity and co-operation. "If Europe were once united in the sharing of its common inheritance," he said, "there would be no limit to the happiness, prosperity and glory which its 300 million or 400 million people would enjoy." The only way out of the present misery was "to recreate the European fabric … and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, safety and freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe."