Unless you have been off the media grid, undoubtedly you have heard about the missing (for 11 days now) Malaysian Airlines flight which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. My sympathy goes out to all of the families of the passengers and crew on that flight.
A few days ago, I was in Kuala Lumpur, a coincidental convergence of being in the capital as the drama unfolded.
Top right. A traditional Malaysian home surrounded by high rise buildings in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Below left: The Petronas Twin Towers in the background, now the world’s tallest twin buildings, are nearly obscured by haze created by farmers burning their fields during the dry season. Malaysians lay the blame on farmers in Indonesia, but I find this practice of burning fields (and creating much air pollution) endemic to most, if not all, of SE Asia. Below right. Escalator leading to the mass transit system. Many people wear masks due to the pollutants. Bottom right. A typical street scene of conversation over tea/coffee.
I spoke with some Malaysians about the tragic event. One interesting comment came from a university student. She said that it was unheard of for Malaysians to see their leaders on TV having to answer pointed questions from the press. There is no freedom of the press in Malaysia. To this student, it was evident that the Malaysian leaders were squirming and unused to scrutiny.
The political party in power is the only party to hold power in Malaysia for the 50+ years since Malaysia gained its independence from the British.
This student said that the public has never seen their politicians have to face up to mistakes and face pressure about their less than forthcoming dissemination of the facts surrounding the flight. For a country that is used to controlling the release of and content of the news, this is uncharted territory. Later, it became apparent that the Malaysian government withheld crucial information for nearly a week showing that the flight path of the Malaysian Airlines flight had been altered significantly. Precious time was wasted with the search and rescue efforts focused on an area of the Gulf of Thailand, whereas their military radar observed the jet changing course and flying back over peninsula Malaysia, close to Penang.
What will be the effect of this air disaster in Malaysia? Aside from putting a major strain on their relations with China (2/3 of the passengers were Chinese), I wonder if this will galvanize the opposition movement in Malaysia. They are certainly affected as yesterday the government announced that the pilot of the missing aircraft is a member of the opposition party, and his house (as well as the co-pilot’s) was searched for evidence that might indicate his responsibility in the fate of the 50 million dollar jetliner.
Social media is active in Malaysia. Many outside the government do not trust the traditional media so information/news/comments are exchanged through social media. Could a groundswell of protest and discontent rise up—not unlike the Arab Spring—which also was nurtured by the use of social media? If the opposition parties can bring pressure to bear on the Malaysian government, perhaps we might witness a missing jet that caused a change in the government of Malaysia.
Our attention turns now to Myanmar as the final plans are now in place for our 2014 Food and Photography tour to this country long hidden from western travelers. Only in the last 3 years have the doors been opened for extensive travel in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Small Footprint Travels is pleased to lead a small group of intrepid travelers on a 13 day journey in Myanmar from October 31 to November 12, 2014.
We have added two new destinations on this year’s Myanmar tour. We will visit Taunggyi, about 1.5 hours from Inle Lake, to witness the wondrous Festival of Lights hot air balloon festival called Tazaungdaing. This colorful and exciting celebration lasts 7 days and nights. We will attend one evening to witness the large hand crafted paper balloons rising into the Myanmar skies. It makes for a wonderful spectacle as the balloons carry lit candles marking beautiful designs on the balloons. Some balloons also give a display of fireworks as well.
Another new destination on our Myanmar 2014 tour will be an overnight boat ride on the Ayerwaddy River (also spelled Irrawaddy) aboard the ship, the RV Pauken. We will board this beautiful boat in Mandalay, enjoy dinner aboard, and after a pleasant night’s sleep we will arrive at Bagan in the morning. It is the most special way to arrive in Bagan, the enchanted land of 2,000 temples—Myanmar’s own version of Angkor Wat. You do not want to miss this! Here are more details on the itinerary and pricing.
If you enjoyed this blog post and know others interested in these topics, please share/tweet this post with them and give us a Like on Facebook, too. Thanks!Candles attached to the exterior of the balloons make beautiful designs and at the Taunggyi Festival of Lights.
Photography and text © Benjamin Porter 2014