ASEAN the organisation of 10 South-East Asian nations celebrated its 50th anniversary recently on Aug 8. Last Wednesday we had run some interesting and amazing points of note from five of the countries in ASEAN.
Here are more interesting snippets from the remaining five ASEAN nations.
CATCH THE PYAZAT, BEFORE IT DIES
Pyazat, Myanmar’s traditional drama, is on the verge of extinction due to the influence of foreign cultures. The modern form of Pyazat emerged in the late British colonial period with films. The shows that used to last three hours are now down to two and they are mostly performed in rural areas. From preaching morality, these shows now dwell on laughing away the stresses of daily life.
A BREATHTAKING CAVE IN AN AMAZING LANDSCAPE
The Saddan cave, one of the biggest in Myanmar, is dotted with several images of Buddha. It takes about 20 minutes to cross the cave, if the bats don’t deter you, and the exit opens into a lake, offering a view of a landscape that will leave you feeling enchanted.
A SPOT TO REMEMBER A ROMANTIC LEGEND
Than Daung Gyi – in Kayin state, a four to six-hour train ride from Yangon, is best known as the place of Myanmarese Christians. It is also famous for the legend of Prince Saw Thaw oh Khwa and Princess Naw Bu Baw, who were deeply in love. Though they got married, the prince’s side did not like Naw Bu Baw as they thought she was a witch. After the prince died in battle, she was imprisoned in a rock cavern and eventually died. Local people believe their spirits still wander hand-in-hand through forests in that area.
ASEAN’S TOP COLLECTION OF BUDDHIST MURAL PAINTINGS
The Lokahteikpan Temple, in Bagan, is said to have the best collection of Buddhist mural paintings in South-East Asia and these were discovered as recently as 1958. The mural paintings emphasise educating people on Theravada Buddhism. The paintings depict the eight Scenes of the Buddha, 10 major stories of Lord Buddha and 550 Jatakas.
NOT JUST A BALL GAME
Chinlone is perhaps the country’s most famous traditional sport. Players in teams of six pass the ball back and forth using their feet, knees, and their heads as they walk around a circle. A player goes into the middle alone, and creates a dance of different moves strung together. Unlike other sports, there is no scoring in Chinlone, and players are judged based on how beautifully they play the game.
ISLAND IN A LAKE ON AN ISLAND IN A LAKE
While Vulcan Point may no longer be the largest specimen of its kind, it is still a marvel of nature to experience. Vulcan Point is on an island in a lake, on an island. The lake surrounding Vulcan Point, Taal Lake, is a volcanic one formed after eruptions sealed the water body from the sea. After centuries of rainfall, it slowly desalinated and become host to a plethora of species that slowly adapted to the change in the salinity of the water. The volcano holding all of this, the Taal Volcano, is the second most active volcano in the Philippines.
LARGEST MAMMAL EYE TO BODY RATIO
The Philippine tarsier has the largest mammal eyes, in terms of ratio to the body, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The diminutive chimp is also one of the smallest primates in the world, ranging from 8.5cm to 16cm tall. Despite this small frame, the tarsier’s skull houses a pair of eyes that are 1.6cm in diameter. As a result, its eyes are unable to turn in their sockets. A special adaptation allows their necks to turn 180 degrees in either direction. Furthermore, their eyes can dilate almost completely in poor light conditions, allowing them to see late at night in the forest.
MOTHER OF ALL PEARLS
The former holder of this accolade, the Pearl of Lao Tzu, was also from the Philippines. The current title-holder, the 34kg Puerto Princesa pearl, was kept under its owner’s bed for over 10 years, where he would take it out and touch it before he went out to fish. It was only when he was to move to another part of the province that it came to light, where the man handed the pearl to his aunt – a tourism officer working in the local government. The pearl was then put on display as a tourist attraction at the local town hall.
INVENTOR OF KARAOKE
While many assume that the karaoke machine was a Japanese invention, the patent is in fact held by Filipino inventor Roberto del Rosario. He created the Karaoke Sing-Along System in 1975, which contributed to the spread of the trend. Although the karaoke was created by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue a few years prior, both men have been credited as noteworthy in the history of karaoke.
‘BOONDOCKS’ IS FILIPINO
The expression boondocks, used to refer to isolated places or the countryside, has roots in the Tagalog word “bundok”, which means mountains. It is believed it was adapted into English by American soldiers.
THINK CODING AND PROGRAMMING IS HARD?
The world’s youngest app developer, Lim Ding Wen, created his first app when he was nine in 2009. It is a drawing app named Doodle Kids. Working from an Apple IIGS computer, he wrote it in a few days before porting it for the iPhone and releasing it for free on the iTunes Store. Ding Wen is now an aspiring game developer with more than 20 apps under his belt.
THE MAN BEHIND THE NAME: WHO IS OLD CHANG KEE
Ironically, there is no such person. The man behind the famous snack chain is Hainanese immigrant Chang Chuan Boo, who set up shop in 1956. He gained fame for his curry puffs at a coffeeshop near Rex Cinema. Locals referred to the snacks as the “Rex Curry Puff”.
This business was later bought by Han Keen Juan in 1986, who transformed a small shop along Mackenzie Road to the chain of stores that are well known today. Old Chang Kee was named one of the world’s 20 best fast-food franchises by US-based Travel & Leisure Magazine in 2012.
BLAST FROM THE PAST: SINGAPORE’S FIRST FAST FOOD OUTLET
Fast-food outlets are commonly associated with the golden arches and Colonel Sanders, but for many Singaporeans in the 70s, their first such encounter was in fact A&W (Allen & Wright).
A&W was the very first fast-food chain to open in Singapore, bringing in classics such as the Coney Dog, curly fries and the eponymous root beer from America. A&W ceased its operations in 2003 and Singaporeans have little memory of this pioneering franchise today.
THE SMELL OF COCOA IN SINGAPORE’S WEST
Singaporeans travelling to the west of the island might detect the smell of cocoa. The scent originates primarily from two chocolate factories, Cadbury and ADM Cocoa, 1km from the Boon Lay train station, and which have been in the area for the past two decades. Through roasting, the outer shell of beans open up, and can thus be ground more efficiently into cocoa powder.
SMELLY TOILETS? NO WAY!
From its humble beginnings as the Restroom Association of Singapore (RAS), the World Toilet Organisation (WTO) was formed to share information and resources between countries to raise the standards of toilets worldwide. Given the impeccable cleanliness Singapore is known for around the world, it is little surprise that the founder of the RAS and WTO is from Singapore. Despite having an unconventional claim to fame, Jack Sim has received numerous accolades and his efforts have changed the toilets (and lives) worldwide, reaching out to places as far as Samoa.
WORLD’S SMALLEST MAMMAL
Weighing just 2g and measuring 29-33mm in length, Kitti’s hog-nosed bat (Craseonycteris thonglongyai) is the world’s smallest bat species and also (arguably) the world’s smallest mammal species. First known to the world in 1974, the tiny bat species lives in a handful of limestone caves along rivers in the Kanchanaburi province of western Thailand, foraging for insects in the surrounding forests. Colonies have around 100 individuals per cave, with females producing just one offspring annually.
Sadly, the bat, aka the bumble bat, is classified at risk of extinction.
THAILAND’S NATIONLA DISH?
Phat Thai, aka pad Thai and literally meaning “fried Thai style”, is a stir-fried rice noodle dish, commonly cooked with eggs, tofu, shrimps, tamarind pulp, shallots, chili and fish sauce. For many visitors, phat Thai is their introduction to Thai food and many consider it to be the country’s national dish (although some might contend that tom yum kung takes that honour).
Yet evidence indicates that it is actually not even Thai. Bangkok-based celebrity chef McDang (Sirichalerm Svasti), in an interview for the BBC, said that noodles and stir-frying – the two main elements of phat Thai – arrived in Thailand with Chinese immigrants. He did note that the sauces and pastes used are Thai.
It turns out that the dish was popularised by military strongman Plaek Phibunsongkhram in the 1930s and 1940s in an effort to create a “national dish” as part of his programme of nationalism.
SOMBAT METANEE – WORLD’S MOST PROLIFIC ACTOR
Sombat Metanee is an 80-year-old legend of the Thai silver screen who for a time was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most prolific movie star ever, performing in an incredible 617 titles.
Introduced to the world of celluloid in 1961, Sombat gained popularity for his good looks, sculpted body and sex appeal. During his heyday in the 1960s and 70s – the golden era of Thai film industry – he often worked on several films at the same time, with almost the same hairstyle in each role. On average, he starred in some 30 films per year covering various genres – action, drama, comedy, romance, rom-com and musical.
Frequently paired with lead actress Aranya Namwong, Sombat was also well-known for his singing voice and released a number of movie soundtrack records and albums. Even today, the veteran actor continues to make an occasional appearance in Thai films and TV soaps, as well as TV commercials.
BANGKOK’S “GOURMET” FRESH MARKET
Most wet markets to be found in Bangkok (actually anywhere in Thailand) are wet, smelly, crowded places where hygiene and quality are not the top priorities. Not so with Or Tor Kor Market (pronounced Aw, Taw, Kaw), the Marketing Organisation for Farmers, in northern Bangkok right next to the world-famous Chatuchak Market.
The bright and airy market recently ranked fourth in a CNN survey of the top 10 best fresh markets in the world, named alongside the likes of La Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain; Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo,; and Union Square Farmer’s Market in New York City. According to the report, Or Tor Kor “displays exotic fruits and vegetables that are unique to Thailand as well as imported specialities from around Asia. The market is immaculate and brightly lit, allowing shoppers to easily cruise for seafood, sweets and cooked foods”.
While most of the fruit and vegetables on display look noticeably superior to those found elsewhere in Bangkok, they’re also considerably pricier. To get to the market, exit the MRT at Kamphaeng Phet station and follow the signs. The market is open daily from 6am to 8pm.
WHAT’S IN A NICKNAME?
Unlike people from other nations, almost all Thais have a nickname. Nicknames are common in Thai culture and are normally chosen by parents based on their child’s gender. Thais generally use the nicknames of family members, friends or colleagues instead of their “official” names. There are no specific rules for how parents choose nicknames for their children. Most likely, it’s just a favourite name, and as a result nicknames today are immensely varied.
Nicknames based on the names of animals are among the most popular, ranging from Nok (meaning bird), Kai (chicken), Moo (Pig), Kung (shrimp), Pla (fish), Kwang (deer), Tao (turtle), Kob (frog), Ped (duck), Mod (ant), Singhto (lion) to Norn (worm).
Some nicknames clearly indicate the gender of the person, such as Chai (male), Ying (female), Boy, Man and Num (young man), while others suggest the order of the birth in the family, for example, Ton (beginning), Neung (first or number one), Yai (eldest), Lek (youngest) and Nong (mostly youngest sister).
Auto brands like Benz and Porsche have become popular among boys.
AN ETHNIC GROUP FACING EXTINCTION
The Si La ethnic group is among the groups with fewest people in Vietnam. With a total population of fewer than 1,000, Si La people live mostly in Muong Te District in the northern province of Lai Chau and in Muong Nhe District in the northern province of Dien Bien.
The Si La group’s language belongs to the Sino-Tibetan language family but its usage is dropping and they have no written language.
Hundreds of years ago, their ancestors lived in Lhasa, the capital of today’s Tibet Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China. They then migrated to Laos before coming to Vietnam.
Men in the group used to dye their teeth red, while women dyed their teeth black, but that custom has died out. The costumes of Si La women are made with metal coins attached to the chest. Their headscarves indicate their ages and marital status. Si La people customarily marry twice. The second ceremony is held one year after the first.
The group is at risk due to inter-marriage.
WHERE ONLY MEN COULD MAKE DRESSES FOR WOMEN
Around 60km from downtown of capital Hanoi, Trach Xa village in Ung Hoa District has been known for its ao dai (Vietnam’s national dress)-making skills for centuries.
A strange feature of this fame, however, has been the fact that the iconic national dress for women was made exclusively by men.
To this day, 90 per cent per cent of the local tailors are men, owing to a long-standing rule in the region: the job was taught only to men.
Explaining the special rule, Nguyen Van Nhien, 84, who has been an ao dai maker for 65 years, said that in the old days, local inhabitants had to go far away to work as tailors to earn their living. Only men could travel as women were not believed to be strong enough to travel so far.
Locals also believed that the ao dai designed and tailored by men was more beautiful than those done by women.
Today, villagers do not have to travel to different regions to look for clients. Women also help their husbands do the job.
THE ONLY MOSQUE IN NORTHERN VIETNAM IS IN THE CENTRE OF THE CAPITAL
The only mosque in northern Vietnam, named Al-Noor Masjid (The Mosque of Light), is at 12 Hang Luoc Street in Hanoi’s Hoan Kiem District.
Over the past 100 years, the mosque has been the destination for Vietnamese and foreign Muslim worshippers. At the beginning of the 19th century, Indian businessmen came to Vietnam on business, and some settled here. In 1885 they started to build the Al-Noor mosque, which is deeply influenced by Indian architecture and culture.
The mosque was officially inaugurated in 1890.
THE ONLY PLACE TO FIND SQUID EGGS
Every coastal locality in Vietnam offers visitors many culinary gifts from the sea, but the southernmost province of Ca Mau has a monopoly on squid eggs.
The province’s fishermen fish for squid at night. The catch is put in ice to keep it fresh. Next morning, the squid eggs are taken out and the squid flesh is dried in the sun.
A popular squid egg dish involves mixing it with duck eggs, minced pork and pig’s liver. The mixture is flattened out into small patties, which are sun dried and taken home. Squid eggs are a luxury because for every 10 to 12kg of fresh squid, you can only get 1kg of eggs.
UNDERWATER SEA PATH
Located in Van Phong Bay (60km from Nha Trang City in the central province of Khanh Hoa), Diep Son Island is an increasingly attractive destination for many visitors, drawn by its beaches and especially a beautiful “underwater sea path” connecting two islets.
Depending on the time of the visit, the path is either partially submerged in the crystal waters (in the morning during high tide) or completely dry and visible (in the afternoon during low tide).
The rustic island consists of three small separated islets and is home to about 100 households who use it as a base for fishing trips. There are also many hidden coves and caves that are perfect for exploration.