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Drinking and driving in Phnom Penh

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traffic cops and Asahi beerI’m confused. I always thought you weren’t supposed to drink and drive.

But then what’s the message these traffic cops in Phnom Penh are sending out? Their guard house clearly displays an advertisement for beer.

It’s sponsored by Asahi breweries. The company is based in Japan and just trying to get a foot in the door in other Asian countries.

Aaccording to the company website, Asahi’s corporate philosophy is:

The Asahi Breweries Group aims to satisfy its customers with the highest levels of quality and integrity, while contributing to the promotion of healthy living and the enrichment of society worldwide.

Ah, so that’s what all this is about: not drinking and driving, but “…the promotion of healthy living“.

In that case: cheers, officer!

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Written by Thorsten

October 13, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Never on a Sunday

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The gho and the kira - traditional dress in Bhutan

The gho and the kira - traditional dress in Bhutan

When visitors first arrive in Bhutan, they are usually fascinated to see that almost everyone here wears the national dress.

The impression you get is that of an exceptional place, rich in tradition and unified through a particular kind of clothing not worn anywhere else in the world.

But there are two sides to the coin.

The Bhutanese don’t wear their national dress totally out of their own free will. If they could, most of them would also put on jeans and t-shirts.

Especially the kids would much prefer to look just like everyone else in this world.

But there are laws in Bhutan stating that the people have to wear the national dress when they are in school or in a shop, on formal occasions and when they are in any kind of government office or institution.

Some government offices will not serve natives who are not properly dressed. And policemen will reprimand or fine Bhutanese who are wearing western clothing in the streets.

The only time these rules seem to be more relaxed is in the evenings, after government offices and public institutions have closed, and on weekends.

When you walk through Bhutan’s capital Thimphu after sunset or on a Sunday, you’ll only see very few men wearing the traditional gho and very few women dressed in the kira.

Instead, the people then prefer exactly the same outfits that people in the rest of the world like to wear: jeans, t-shirts and sneakers.

This is especially true for the young Bhutanese.

I have visited Bhutan three times over the past four years and it’s my impression that the popularity of western clothing is increasing.

I can’t remember seeing this many teenagers in western clothes in the evenings and on weekends before.

I guess this is due to increased exposure to Western culture in the form of movies, tourists and TV. After all, Bhutan didn’t even have television ten years ago.

Who knows how much longer the authorities will be able to uphold the rules promoting the national dress if this is not what the (younger) people want?

Written by Thorsten

October 15, 2008 at 5:32 am

When will the officer turn green?

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Thimphu is the world’s only capital city without a single stop light.

Downtown traffic in Thimphu usually isn’t too bad. But in recent years, the number of new cars has increased. So you’re liable to see a rush-hour traffic jam even here.

Nevertheless, the 70 000 citizens of this Himalayan capital don’t want any traffic lights on their streets.

Traffic is regulated by traffic signs and by a police officer at the town’s busiest intersection.

A few years ago, the traffic police officers were given other tasks and a stop light was installed in their place.

Modern times had finally arrived in Thimphu!

But, alas, the people of Thimphu couldn’t get used to the idea of red and green lights telling them when to stop and when to go.

They missed their traffic police officer.

Even the country’s king intervened when dissatisfaction with the impersonal stop light spread.

And soon, the traffic policemen were back in their little gazebo on Thimphu’s busiest intersection.

To this day, you’ll find them here, directing traffic in moves so elegant you’d think they were solo dancers of a ballet.

No wonder the people of Thimphu considered this unique institution part of their cultural heritage worth preserving.

Written by Thorsten

October 13, 2008 at 4:54 am

Welcome to the Beijing Olympics – but not yet

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New CCTV headquarters in the smog

Smog envelops Beijing's new CCTV headquarter

The online weather forecast was for sun and blue skies in Beijing on Friday. But on the ground, things looked quite different.

It was so hazy when our plane touched down that I thought we were still high up in the clouds. I could only see the ground a few seconds before we touched down on the runway.

I wonder how they want to get rid of the air pollution here in time for the Olympics, which will begin in less than a month’s time.

Olympic sites fenced in

Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing

Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing

Right after we’d checked into our hotel in Beijing, we wanted to go out to the Olympic stadium. I’d driven by it last year and it looked fantastic even then. Much bigger than it did on pictures or on TV.

So this time, I wanted to see it up close. I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be able to go inside, but at least I thought I’d go around it once. Touch its steel beams that make it look like a bird’s nest.

The drive from downtown Beijing to the northern part of the city, where the Olympic sites are, is pretty far. The ride in the taxi wasn’t cheap for Chinese standards.

So you can imagine how disappointed we were when the taxi driver just dropped us off at a fence on the side of an eight-lane highway. The stadium was visible in the distance, but it was still pretty far off.

Unfortunately, however, that’s as close as anyone gets to the stadium and the other Olympic sports arenas at this point. The whole huge Olympic area is fenced in. And there are uniformed guards every 300 feet or so, making absolutely sure that no one dares climb the fence.

I was a little pissed off

The friend I’m travelling with rightly pointed out that anywhere in the West, the organizers would already make the construction site part of the spectacle: there’d be posters everywhere explaining what stage of the construction we’re in. People might even be invited to tour the new constructions – even if they’re not finished yet, because everyone would want to see the “work in progress”.

Here in China, however, the attitude seems to be a little different: keep the ordinary people out for now. Don’t let them see what those in charge are doing. Don’t let them interfere, don’t let them ask questions. Let them see everything when it’s finished and ready for the big party.

The Chinese seem to take this as a given. In front of the new Olympic stadium, they happily take pictures of each other in front of the metal fence. Never mind that the the Olympic arenas were merely visible as a hazy backdrop in the distance.

WordPress is blocked in China. Therefore I was only able to upload this post after having left the country.

Written by Thorsten

July 13, 2008 at 7:32 am

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