Monday, June 29, 2009

Books on Myanmar

Here are four books looking at different facets of the enigmatic Myanmar:

  • Early Landscapes Of Myanmar by Elizabeth Moore. This book describes the emergence of the Buddhist landscapes of Myanmar. The authoritative text is framed by the artefacts, sites and ecology of Upper and Lower Myanmar, with coverage of the Paleolithic, Neolithic, Bronze-iron chiefdoms that preceded Hindu-Buddhist walled polities of the first millennium AD. Views and descriptions of sites, many not published in English before, include Letpanchibaw, Htaukmagon-Moegyobyin, Badigon, Tagaung, Halin, Sriksetra, Thaton and Dawei. The author's extensive fieldwork with Myanmar academics over the last decade brings an original perspective on the catalysts that structure landscape interaction, enabling expansion of agriculture, resource utilisation and international trade networks.
  • Perfect Hostage: Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma And The Generals by Justin Wintle. Since 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi has steadfastly opposed Burma's brutal military regime. But her leadership of the Burmese democracy movement and her ardent advocacy of human rights have landed her in desperate trouble. This is one of the better biography of Aung San Suu Kyi. It asks searching questions along the way. Her martyred father General Aung San led Burma to independence from the British. But is his legacy as hero really vouchsafed? And is Aung San Suu Kyi's insistence on non-violence really the best way to counter a junta incapable of acting in good faith? By including her father's story, and vitally, the story of the Burmese people at large, Justin Wintle lays bare the ambiguities which nourish a tragedy that is national as well as personal.
  • Return To The Irrawaddy by Frank Kingdon-Ward. Frank Kingdon-Ward's 1953 expedition to northern Burma would be his last. He died two years after his notes were published in 1956. Rich in description of the unique flora, fauna and tribal customs of this still little-known region, his account covers not only the magnificent rhododendrons and other tropical floral rarities that were the object of his travels, but also the customs of the various tribal groups encountered, the use of plants in local medical practice, the natural occurrence of tea varieties in the region and much more. This 2007 reissue makes available once more a last look at a spectacular and unspoiled corner of Burma, which since then has been inaccessible and largely devastated by protracted civil war.
  • The State In Myanmar by Robert Taylor. The State in Myanmar is a totally revised and expanded and updated version of The State in Burma (1987), with additional chapters covering the last 20 years of Myanmar's political history. It attempts to explain the country's current politics in the light of the historical evolution of state-society relations in Myanmar since the pre-colonial kings, through the colonial era to the current, and third, post-colonial regime in this strategically important and little studied Southeast Asian nation. The book explains the dramatic and unpredicted collapse of the previous socialist regime and the attempts by new and old political forces to wrest control of the state from a revitalised and increasingly confident military government. Myanmar's state-builders have applied varying ideas in their attempts to fashion a stable political order in an often fractious and far from unified nation and The State in Myanmar places those experiences in comparative perspective.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recommended Children's Books with Asian Themes

These are four excellent books with Asian themes that we would like to recommend for parents looking for something special:

Fatimah's Kampung by Iain Buchanan. Unusual artworks and tales and parables drawn from the realities of industrialisation, economic development and traditional kampong ways of life are all bought together in this unusual elegaic story of a contemporary Malaysian family. Yes, it is presented as a story or children but any thoughtful person will be affected by the situations presented. It has been thoughtfully reviewed by Amir Muhammad and Sharon Baker.

Hachiko Waits by Newman Leslea. Inspired by the true story of Hachi, the faithful dog in Japan that would wait at the train station for its master long after the man had died. This is a profoundly touching story about loyalty and devotion, suitable for readers aged 8 years and older.

Buddha At Bedtime by Dharmachari Nagaraja. Buddha at Bedtime is a collection of read-aloud stories that will draw children into enchanting new worlds and enable them to discover a treasury of Buddha wisdom. This compendium of twenty stories, all re-telling of classic Buddhist tales, includes the tale of The Kind and Wise Stag with its message of forgiveness and the story of The Elephant and the Dog about the importance of friends.

Horse Songs: The Naadam Of Mongolia by Ted and Betsy Lewin. Every summer, Naadam festivals are held all around Mongolia to celebrate the country's most popular sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. The Naadam brings isolated nomads together to take part in events. It is a time for Mongolians to remember centuries of tradition and heritage. Mongolian nomads rely greatly on their horses. "Never shout at your horse," people say. "It is your best friend." In the horse racing events, boys and girls race half-wild horses across the steppe for honour and glory. This book relates the story of Tamir and other young jockeys as they prepare to take part in the Nadaam. Beautiful watercolour illustrations bring this eye-opening tale to life.

Monday, June 22, 2009

History of Singapore: Unusual Perspectives

We are currently working closely with Dr. Rosaly Puthucheary to put the finishing touches to her first novel, The Tessellated Path. It is a novel that draws parallels between Singapore’s growth as a nation and the female protagonist’s life. More about this book in a future post, but working on the manuscript of The Tessellated Path led me to delve a little more into Singapore’s history, so here is a list of recent books that offer deeper and different perspectives on how Singapore is, in many ways, an “unexpected nation”.

  • Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism In Post-War Singapore. Edited by Michael Barr and Carl A. Trocki. Singapore's era of pluralism between the 1950s and 1970s is a largely overlooked part of the country's recent history. It was a time of extraordinary cultural, intellectual and political dynamism: students, labour unions, ambitious political contenders and representatives of the various ethnic communities all stepped forward to offer alternate visions of Singapore's future from across the entire political spectrum. They generated ideologies, priorities, perspectives and social visions such as mainstream "official" politics had never known before and has not seen since. Most of the papers in this volume were first presented at a conference organised by the Asian Research Institute of the National University of Singapore in 2005. The contributions weave an alternative history to the "Singapore Story". They reveal a cast of significant players who offered real alternatives to the enduring PAP model and not the false starts they have often been portrayed as, thereby illuminating paths that were eventually not taken. This book will remind older Singaporeans of pages of pages from their past and provide a younger generation with a novel perspective of Singapore's past struggles.
  • Singapore: The First Ten Years of Independence 1965 To 1975. 1965-1975 were the crucially demanding first years of Singapore's independent existence. The three sections of this resource book are: Securing the Nation; The Path to Prosperity; and Shaping the People. The historical narrative and archival photographs are complemented by details of available written and multimedia research resources. There are biographical summaries, quotations, ministerial records and notes for students.
  • Singapore: The Unexpected Nation by Edwin Lee. This book deals with Singapore's transition from a British Crown Colony to a state in the Federation of Malaysia, and expulsion from the Federation to become a separate independent nation. For the leaders of Singapore's PAP Government, Malaysia was a traumatic experience. Yet, but for it, they might never have found the resolve and the secret of building this extraordinary nation, this nation based on Singapore alone that they and an entire generation had once believed an impossibility. This story of nation-building deals with topics on national (army) service, economic development, education in schools and in universities, housing and home ownership. It deals also with issues of ethnicity and national identity in the context of challenges from within and without, in the latter case from globalisation and global Islamism.
  • The Scripting of a National History: Singapore and its Pasts by Hong Lysa and Huang Jianli. History is of course not uni-linear and no version of past events can be final. This is a critical new look at aspects of some current and largely accepted versions of Singapore's history. Among the many presentations examined are: the highlighting of 1819, 1942, 1965 and Stamford Raffles and Lee Kuan Yew as the 'only' significant features in Singapore's development; the vision and activities of Chinese speaking leaders; Nanyang University problems and influence; the Wang Gungwu Report of 1965; national heroes and the reconstruction of the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall and the Tiger Balm Gardens.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Indonesia Rising: Democracy in the World's Largest Muslim Nation

We're in the midst of putting the finishing touches to an exciting new book on Indonesia - just in time for the Indonesian presidential elections (we hope!). The book will be titled Indonesia Rising: Islam, Democracy and the Rise of Indonesia as a Major Power. It will examine Indonesia’s journey towards democracy and describes the roles its leaders, elites and Constitution have played in building and rebuilding the nation through different perceptions and interpretations of democracy.

The author is Dr Nasir Tamara, an expert on Indonesian politics and development. He was educated in University of Paris, France where he received his MA in Political Sciences and, later, his PhD in Southeast Asian History and Anthropology. He was appointed a Fellow at Harvard University’s Centre for International Affairs under the late Professor Samuel Huntington and also at Oxford University’s Queen Elizabeth House. Dr Tamara has extensive experience in the media as founder and Deputy Chief Editor of Republika Daily, Chief Editor of Warta Ekonomi and Capital, foreign correspondent for Tempo Magazine and Sinar Harapan Daily and founder and CEO of Global TV in Jakarta.

The book will be edited by Tan Danfeng, one of our directors.

In the book, Dr Tamara will examine the incredible transformation in Indonesia's political system over the last decade. Who could have imagined circa 1997 that less than 13 years later, there would be a US-style TV debate by the presidential candidates, and the openness and vibrancy seen throughout this presidential election campaigning. As Hillary Clinton remarked recently on her visit to Indonesia as US Secretary of State, Indonesia has shown that
"Islam, democracy and modernity" can thrive together.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Books on Cambodia's Politcal and Social History

Here are five books on cambodia that present varied perspectives of its political and social history:

  • Khmer Women On The Move: Exploring Work And Life In Urban Cambodia by Annuska Derks. This ethnographic account of Cambodian women who migrate to urban areas within the country is based on 2000-2001 case studies and substantial post-1995 experience with local social problems and development. The situations, aims, experience and problems of women as migrants to the country's industrial enterprises, as service providers and in the sex trade are explored. Very varied patterns of experience and motivating factors are shown and discussed. Some 20 case vignettes illuminate the scene and the social, labour, and dependency factors which affect so much of Cambodia's life and development.
  • At The Edge Of The Forest: Essays On Cambodia, History, And Narrative In Honor Of David Chandler. Edited by Anne Ruth Hansen and Judy Ledgerwood. These 14 essays are written by or in honour of the innovative Cambodia scholar, David Chandler (b. 1933), who since the early 1960s has been exploring aspects of Cambodia's pre-Colonial history. The papers offer alternative readings of pre-1863 events and culture. Mystical/religious/legendary perceptions are explored and discussed. The significance of these poetic/narrative elements in Cambodia's fraught past and recent history are also raised.
  • People Of Virtue: Reconfiguring Religion, Power And Moral Order In Cambodia Today. Edited by Alexandra Kent and David Chandler. These 16 separately referenced papers were given at the 2005 conference at Varberg Sweden in association with the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, amongst others. Specialists with sociological, Buddhist or other experience in present-day Cambodia focus on recent developments in the trauma-torn country and the place and potential of Buddhism within it. The papers are grouped as historical, including he Colonial backdrop; the desired ideals of different groups; aims, problems and achievements in remaking a moral world; and changing cultures with regard to Buddhist education, politics, corruption and authority.
  • Where The Stone Flowers: The People Of Angkor by Thanakvaro De Lopez. The author is a Cambodian Portuguese Eurasian trained overseas who works with the Cambodian Research Centre for Development. He presents in this unusual volume facts, photographers, legends, beliefs and perceptions of the contemporary people of Angkor. The ruminative approach and sensitive photography enable many insights into the blending of age-old ways, suffering and survival strengths which form today's Cambodian blooms from stone.
  • Dancing In Shadows: Sihanouk, The Khmer Rouge, And The United Nations In Cambodia by Benny Widyono. Benny Widyono, a career UN official from Indonesia, writes about his experiences of being caught up in the turmoil of international and domestic politics swirling around Cambodia during the tumultuous period after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. He recreates the fierce battles for power centering on King Norodom Sihanouk, the Khmer Rouge, and Prime Minister Hun Sen. A simultaneous insider and outsider, he also untangles the competing and conflicting agendas of the key international players, especially the United States, China, and Vietnam. He argues that great-power geopolitics throughout the cold war and post-cold war eras triggered and sustained a tragedy of enormous proportions in Cambodia for decades, ultimately leading to a flawed peace process.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Books on Singapore's Education System

There is a phenomenon in Singapore in the areas of public services where others have only praise and envy for our systems and policies and yet Singaporeans can only see the weaknesses. These areas include health, public transport and education. Here are some books taking a balanced and objective look at various aspects of our education system and its evolution over the years.

  • Many Pathways One Mission: Fifty Years Of Singapore Education. Edited by Lim Lai Cheng. This study of the 50 years of Singapore education since 1957 is in an innovative format. Detachable facsimiles of certificates, letters and other archival material, actual postage stamps and the report cards of well-known persons are included in the extensively illustrated volume. Lively, illustrated vignettes and memories of the personalities and achievement of individual teachers and others who have played essential parts in the ups and downs of Singapore education convey the realities of its history.
  • Mathematics Education: The Singapore Journey. Edited by Wong Khoon Yoong and Lee Peng Yee. This comprehensive book is a review of research and practices of mathematics education in Singapore. It traces the fascinating journey from the original development of the Singapore mathematics curriculum in the 1950s to the present day, and reports on diverse findings about the Singapore experience that are not readily available in print.
  • Examinations In Singapore: Change And Continuity (1891-2007) by Tan Yap Kwang, Chow Hong Kheng and Christine Goh. This is a groundbreaking historical account of the examination systems used in Singapore schools since 1891 when a Centre for the Cambridge Local Examinations was set up. The chapter on the 1891-1945 period includes information on exams used by the occupying Japanese and also the Cambridge Local exams which, surprisingly, took place in the Sime Road Internment Camp. The account of the changing period 1946-1970s includes discussion of the 1961 examination boycott. In the last section, the substantial policy shifts, the Goh Keng Swee Reforms, are summarised and their impact assessed.
  • For A Better Age: Musings Of A Teacher by Eugene Wijeysingha. Eugene Wijeysingha has spent 35 years in education, including an 8-year spell as Principal of Raffles Institution. To mark the occasion of the school's 185th year, he has written a memoir of his experiences as a teacher, mostly focused on his years in that venerable institution. He shares his thoughts on what education is, what lessons were learned along the way, turning Raffles Institution into an independent school, developing a suitable educational programme and safeguarding the status of teachers.
  • Shaping Singapore's Future: Thinking Schools, Learning Nation. Edited by Tan, Jason and Ng Pak Tee. The vision of Thinking Schools, Learning Nation (TSLN) was launched in 1997 by the Singapore Ministry of Education in an effort to develop a total learning environment in the country and to revolutionise teaching and learning in all schools. The various chapters in this book examine different aspect of TSLN, such as ability-driven education, innovation and enterprise, and national education. They also discuss issues concerning school-stakeholder partnerships, teacher education, and teachers' lives amid a period of rapid education reform.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Books on Security Issues in Southeast Asia

Security in Northeast Asia is coming into the spotlight again with North Korea's recent nuclear weapon tests. North Korea shall be an interesting subject for a future post. But for this post, I thought it would be better to focus on security issues closer to heart for the Southeast Asian region. Here, weapons of mass destruction are certainly a concern but they often pale in significance compared to more "mundane" security threats, including non-traditional ones. These are a few books that provide a good overview of the wide range of security concerns in this region:
  • Terrorism In South And Southeast Asia In The Coming Decade. Edited by Daljit Singh. The papers in this volume addresses threats at the international, regional and national levels. At the international level, the scholars point out that the threat from terrorism will be a protracted one; the growth of sanctuaries in the tribal areas of Pakistan that harbour Al Qaeda and other extremist groups enhance the threat globally; and that the US withdrawal from Iraq should be seen to be taking place after defeating Al Qaeda there. Contributors believe in the importance of state effectiveness and good governance that provides sound legal regimes, and efficient, credible and transparent judicial systems; effective local police forces trained for counter-terrorist operations. Ideally the police and intelligence services should lead this fight but where the use of the military is unavoidable, care should be taken not to over-militarise responses which could result in innocent civilian casualties. They also agree on the need to contest and defeat extremist ideology, best done by Muslim communities themselves, and better regional and international cooperation, particularly at the operations level.
  • Long Shadow, The: Nuclear Weapons And Security In 21st Century Asia. Edited by Muthiah Alagappa. The 18 separately referenced papers in this substantial study of nuclear weapons and security issues in Asia is the fruit of three years of cooperative research and discussion by some 60 specialists from 14 countries. The two introductory papers, which overview Asia's perspectives and strategies are followed by separate investigations of the nuclear polices of the six nuclear weapon states; the three Asian nuclear-capable states; the two aspirant nuclear weapon states; the three allies of nuclear weapon states; and a paper on "non-aligned" ASEAN. Deterrence, long-term issues and regional stability are explored in the final two papers.
  • Covering Maritime Piracy In Southeast Asia by Werner Vom Busch and Tobias Rettig. These five papers and five wide-ranging discussion reports are from the 2006 Kuala Lumpur seminar on piracy in Southeast Asia from media/journalistic perspectives. Many aspects of the urgently-perceived subject were raised, including: Indonesia and maritime security in the Malacca/Singapore Straits; causes and context of pirate arsons since the 1990s; and international cooperation in piracy prevention and media coverage of piracy.
  • Maritime Security In Southeast Asia. Edited by Kwa Chong Guan and John K Skogan. This book examines maritime security challenges in Southeast Asia and the responses that they provoke. These threats include traditional security threats as well as a range of non-traditional threats, such as piracy and international terrorism, which spill over into the maritime domain. Events such as September 11 and the designation of Southeast Asia as a 'second front' in the war against terrorism, have resulted in the growing realisation that multilateral security cooperation is required in order to manage the security of the seas. Expert contributors identify the nature of Southeast Asia's maritime security problem. They also critically evaluate the various responses by countries and organisations within and without the region.