Friday, August 26, 2011

Guyana Jungle Adventure

Finally sorted through the 300+ pics of the trip to the Guyanese Jungle (and picked a representative sample of about 65):

(click here to see the pics)




Seoul - August 2011

So on my work trip to Korea I was able to have a day stop-over in Seoul. A couple of friends that had been were not that impressed with it (though one was - Lorenzo thought it was worth stopping), I figured what the heck why not. And I'm actually really glad I did.

Things I learned in my 24 hours in Seoul:

1) it is the largest city proper in the OECD developed world, and it's really urban sprawl gone wrong. At the cost of any sense of aesthetic or spirit (I even heard a story of the demolishing of historical buildings in order to put up high rises).

2) I cannot tell the difference between the people of China, Japan, and Korea

3) I still don't like spicy food.

4) Korea is really not a "First World Country" (yet) - someone I met said they are only really 10-15 years ahead of China. Their economy is doing well, but the "social indicators" are still missing.

5) When you tour by yourself, you inevitably ended up chatting to interesting people. (Even if Seoul is still not super tourist friendly - though, bless them they are trying.)

And the pictures:

Fish Heads, rolly-polly fish heads

How come we couldn't get a bean hot dog?

Myung Dong

Hanuk village - a tourist spot...

...but at least it's pretty

side-walk engraving

Canal



Wedding dress options?

Best brand logo EVER

Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace



Changdeok Palace


Changdeok Palace


Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace

Changdeok Palace

Peanut in Changdeok Palace

Peanut in Changdeok Palace

Peanut in the Secret Garden

Peanut in the Secret Garden

Peanut in the Secret Garden

Peanut in the Secret Garden


Thursday, July 21, 2011

Another reason people suck

Indonesian babies held hostage by unpaid midwives
Source: bbc news online, Rebecca Henschke, 17 July 2011

A young mother watches as two three-year old boys chase each other around the car park of a health clinic on the Indonesian island of Bali.

Yetriana Lopez is keeping a close eye on her identical twins, understanding all too well what it means to lose one of them.

"When I was pregnant I didn't have an ultrasound," she remembers. "So it wasn't until I gave birth that I found out I had twins."

Ms Lopez and her husband Mulyono had only saved enough to pay the clinic for one birth - but twins meant the fee was doubled.

The clinic refused to hand over the second baby until a bill for $500 (£311) was paid.

Arist Merdeka Sirait, secretary general of the national commission for child protection, acknowledges that this is not an isolated case.

"In 2010, our commission received 36 reports of baby hostage-taking by hospitals, clinics and private midwives," he says.

"Those were just the cases that were reported to our commission so it's not accurate national data. The real figure is likely to be much more than that."

Ms Lopez was separated from her newborn son for four months while she and her husband tried to cobble together enough to pay the bill.

Every day the debt increased, as the clinic charged for the baby's upkeep.

But eventually the story came to the ear of Robin Lim, a 54-year-old American midwife, who decided something had to be done.


Robin Lim decided to become a midwife after her own sister died during pregnancy "I said 'OK, let's go and find out what the midwife wants. Let's not ask questions, let's just get this baby home,'" she told the BBC.

But when she accompanied Mulyono to the clinic to offer to pay the balance of his debt, they were told the baby had been sold to someone who could take care of him.

Just a few days earlier Mulyono had visited the clinic to pay an instalment of the debt, and the sum had been accepted gladly.

"There are lots of cases where, if the mother can't pay, the baby becomes the property of the hospital," says Mr Sirait. "They then believe they have the right to sell the baby to someone else."

Ms Lim contacted the police and local journalists, to launch a search for the child.

The fact that the boys were identical made him much easier to trace, and within three weeks he was reunited with his family.

"They asked me, 'Is this your baby?' And I knew it was because there was a birthmark," says Ms Lopez. "I put him straight to the breast and he took it."

Universal healthcare for pregnant women in Indonesia is being rolled out this year under a scheme called Jampersal. But it has been beset with funding problems.

Until then, mothers will only qualify for free midwife care if they are officially deemed to be "poor" - but the means test designed to separate the poor from the rest of the population often fails to identify families in need.

To fill this gap Ms Lim set up a foundation called Bumi Sehat, in Ubud, Bali, in 2003.

It has a team of nine midwives who offer free pre-natal care, delivery services and medical aid to anyone who needs it.

After the tsunami of 2004, a smaller clinic was opened in Aceh to care for displaced survivors. Together the clinics have helped to deliver 5,000 babies.

Bumi Sehat is part of a global initiative to reduce maternal mortality and a member of the international coalition for maternal health, the White Ribbon Alliance.

Ms Lim points out that the Millennium Development Goals agreed by UN member states in 2000 set out to reduce infant mortality, improve maternal health and combat HIV/Aids and malaria, by 2015.

"I felt like as a midwife I could look at these really important issues," she says. "These are things that I do every day."

Friday, June 24, 2011

How a couple of cows explain a changing region: equal opportunity offender edition.

BY KARIM SADJADPOUR | JUNE 15, 2011
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/15/the_cynical_dairy_farmer_s_guide_to_the_new_middle_east?page=full

In the early years of the Cold War, in an effort to simplify -- and parody -- various political ideologies and philosophies, irreverent wits, in the spirit of George Orwell, went back to the farm. No one really knows how the two-cow joke known as "Parable of the Isms" came about, but most students of Political Science 101 have likely come across some variation of the following definitions:

Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one of them and gives it to your neighbor.

Communism: You have two cows. The government takes them both and provides you with milk.

Nazism: You have two cows. The government shoots you and takes the cows.

Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

Over the years, the parables gradually expanded, using the two-cow joke to explain everything from French unions (You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.) to the Republican Party (You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So what?). While in its original iteration the cows were a metaphor for currency, capital, and property, they later began to take on different meanings.

Today, the Middle East has replaced the Cold War as America's primary foreign-policy preoccupation. As opposed to the seemingly ideologically homogenous communist bloc, however, the 22 diverse countries that compose the modern Middle East are still confusing to most Americans. Why can't the Israeli and Palestinians stop fighting already? What's the difference between Libya and Lebanon again?

Herewith then is a satirical effort to simplify the essence of Middle Eastern governments so that, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, "the boys in Lubbock" can read it. And, rather than symbolizing property, the cows here symbolize people, which -- funny enough -- is how most Middle Eastern regimes have traditionally viewed their populations.

Saudi Arabia
You have two cows with endless reserves of milk. Gorge them with grass, prevent them from interacting with bulls, and import South Asians to milk them.

Iran
You have two cows. You interrogate them until they concede they are Zionist agents. You send their milk to southern Lebanon and Gaza, or render it into highly enriched cream. International sanctions prevent your milk from being bought on the open market.

Syria
You have five cows, one of whom is an Alawite. Feed the Alawite cow well; beat the non-Alawite cows. Use the milk to finance your wife's shopping sprees in London.

Lebanon
You have two cows. Syria claims ownership over them. You take them abroad and start successful cattle farms in Africa, Australia, and Latin America. You send the proceeds back home so your relatives can afford cosmetic surgery and Mercedes-Benzes.

Hezbollah
You have no cows. During breaks from milking on the teat of the Iranian cow you call for Israel's annihilation.

Iraq
You have three cows: one Sunni, one Shiite, and one Kurd. The first is milked by Saudi Arabia, the second by Iran, and the third smuggles its milk abroad. The United States picks up the manure.

Bahrain
You have three cows: two Shiites and one Sunni. Invite Saudi Arabia to come kill a Shiite cow and import another Sunni cow.

Yemen
You have two cows. Feed them khat instead of grass and neglect to milk them. Watch them fight each other.

Hosni Mubarak's Egypt
You have 10 cows. Neglect to tend to them, but prevent them from fighting Israel in order to get milk from America.

Post-Mubarak Egypt
You have 10 cows who think they now own the farm. There's still no milk.

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisia
You have two cows. Beat them regularly and use the milk money for your wife's shopping sprees in Paris. When the cows revolt, retire to Saudi Arabia.

Post-Ben Ali Tunisia
See post-Mubarak Egypt.

Libya
You have two cows. You wish they were camels. Feed them only your words of wisdom and kill them if they dare moo.

Turkey
You have two cows and one sheep. You claim that the sheep is really a "mountain cow."

Qatar
You have one cow that has hundreds of udders. You use the limitless milk money to set up a television channel that broadcasts the other cows in the region being milked (except Saudi Arabia's).

United Arab Emirates
You have two cows. You bring in Filipino nannies, South Asian laborers, and Russian prostitutes to make sure they're well taken care of. Sell the milk to build the world's biggest shopping mall.

Jordan
You have one cow, surrounded by wolves. Pretend that it's a magic cow that has the power to pacify wild animals, and then ask America for milk.

Palestine
You had two cows that were lost decades ago. Lament them.

Israel
You have two bulls. Pretend they are helpless calves.

How a couple of cows explain a changing region: equal opportunity offender edition.

BY KARIM SADJADPOUR | JUNE 15, 2011
http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/06/15/the_cynical_dairy_farmer_s_guide_to_the_new_middle_east?page=full

In the early years of the Cold War, in an effort to simplify -- and parody -- various political ideologies and philosophies, irreverent wits, in the spirit of George Orwell, went back to the farm. No one really knows how the two-cow joke known as "Parable of the Isms" came about, but most students of Political Science 101 have likely come across some variation of the following definitions:

Socialism: You have two cows. The government takes one of them and gives it to your neighbor.

Communism: You have two cows. The government takes them both and provides you with milk.

Nazism: You have two cows. The government shoots you and takes the cows.

Capitalism: You have two cows. You sell one and buy a bull.

Over the years, the parables gradually expanded, using the two-cow joke to explain everything from French unions (You have two cows. You go on strike because you want three cows.) to the Republican Party (You have two cows. Your neighbor has none. So what?). While in its original iteration the cows were a metaphor for currency, capital, and property, they later began to take on different meanings.

Today, the Middle East has replaced the Cold War as America's primary foreign-policy preoccupation. As opposed to the seemingly ideologically homogenous communist bloc, however, the 22 diverse countries that compose the modern Middle East are still confusing to most Americans. Why can't the Israeli and Palestinians stop fighting already? What's the difference between Libya and Lebanon again?

Herewith then is a satirical effort to simplify the essence of Middle Eastern governments so that, in the immortal words of George W. Bush, "the boys in Lubbock" can read it. And, rather than symbolizing property, the cows here symbolize people, which -- funny enough -- is how most Middle Eastern regimes have traditionally viewed their populations.

Saudi Arabia
You have two cows with endless reserves of milk. Gorge them with grass, prevent them from interacting with bulls, and import South Asians to milk them.

Iran
You have two cows. You interrogate them until they concede they are Zionist agents. You send their milk to southern Lebanon and Gaza, or render it into highly enriched cream. International sanctions prevent your milk from being bought on the open market.

Syria
You have five cows, one of whom is an Alawite. Feed the Alawite cow well; beat the non-Alawite cows. Use the milk to finance your wife's shopping sprees in London.

Lebanon
You have two cows. Syria claims ownership over them. You take them abroad and start successful cattle farms in Africa, Australia, and Latin America. You send the proceeds back home so your relatives can afford cosmetic surgery and Mercedes-Benzes.

Hezbollah
You have no cows. During breaks from milking on the teat of the Iranian cow you call for Israel's annihilation.

Iraq
You have three cows: one Sunni, one Shiite, and one Kurd. The first is milked by Saudi Arabia, the second by Iran, and the third smuggles its milk abroad. The United States picks up the manure.

Bahrain
You have three cows: two Shiites and one Sunni. Invite Saudi Arabia to come kill a Shiite cow and import another Sunni cow.

Yemen
You have two cows. Feed them khat instead of grass and neglect to milk them. Watch them fight each other.

Hosni Mubarak's Egypt
You have 10 cows. Neglect to tend to them, but prevent them from fighting Israel in order to get milk from America.

Post-Mubarak Egypt
You have 10 cows who think they now own the farm. There's still no milk.

Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisia
You have two cows. Beat them regularly and use the milk money for your wife's shopping sprees in Paris. When the cows revolt, retire to Saudi Arabia.

Post-Ben Ali Tunisia
See post-Mubarak Egypt.

Libya
You have two cows. You wish they were camels. Feed them only your words of wisdom and kill them if they dare moo.

Turkey
You have two cows and one sheep. You claim that the sheep is really a "mountain cow."

Qatar
You have one cow that has hundreds of udders. You use the limitless milk money to set up a television channel that broadcasts the other cows in the region being milked (except Saudi Arabia's).

United Arab Emirates
You have two cows. You bring in Filipino nannies, South Asian laborers, and Russian prostitutes to make sure they're well taken care of. Sell the milk to build the world's biggest shopping mall.

Jordan
You have one cow, surrounded by wolves. Pretend that it's a magic cow that has the power to pacify wild animals, and then ask America for milk.

Palestine
You had two cows that were lost decades ago. Lament them.

Israel
You have two bulls. Pretend they are helpless calves.

Monday, June 06, 2011

India health costs a crisis impoverishing millions

Source: K Daigle, Associated Press, 5 June 2011

When Nasir Khan cried out at night from the searing pain of kidney stones, the entire slum could hear him.

A magic healer promised an inexpensive cure through chanting while pinching his side where the kidney stones were lodged, but it only made it worse. His condition became life-threatening, and doctors said he would need surgery for a fourth time.

The operation cost him - and his extended family - their home.

Without insurance and unable to get a loan, they sold the broken brick shack in the industrial north Indian city of Aligarh for 250,000 rupees, or about $5,500. It had been home to the 35-year-old Khan, his four brothers, three wives and 11 children.

"There is no choice. It is my life," Khan said in gasps, writhing atop a crude wooden cot as his relatives hovered helplessly nearby.

He screamed for his mother. He screamed for Allah. He screamed for anyone to deliver him from the pain.

His story is repeated so often across India it evokes little sympathy, yet it represents one of the biggest threats to India's battle to lift its poor up from squalor.

Each year, the cost of health care pushes some 39 million people back into poverty, according to a study published in the Lancet medical journal. Patients shoulder up to 80 percent of India's medical costs. Their share averages about $66 (3,000 rupees) annually per person - a crippling sum for the 800 million or so Indians living on less than $2 a day.

A diagnosis of asthma, a broken leg or a complicated childbirth can mean having to choose between medicine or food, spending on treatment or relying on prayer.

"We are too poor," Khan's uncle Bhuere Khan said. His aunt Rafiquan Mohammed offered another justification for selling the house, as if one were needed: "He has to live. He has small children."

While India boasts an economic growth rate near 9 percent, the wealth has done little to help millions burdened by poverty and disease. The poor, aside from struggling to afford care, also face extreme shortages of doctors and medicines.

The situation is particularly dire in rural areas, where more than 70 percent of the country's 1.2 billion people live. Some desperate patients resort to seeing quacks. Others pay bribes. Many simply don't seek help until it is too late.

The World Bank and other experts have warned that failure to address the country's health care woes could take a toll on long-term growth - especially as two-thirds of the population is under 35 and would form the backbone of India's work force for decades.

Yet India's government spends comparatively little on health care: just 1.1 percent of the country's GDP, a figure that hasn't changed much since 2006 when China was spending 1.9 percent; Russia, 3.3 percent and Brazil, 3.5 percent, according to World Health Organization figures.

"The political will is simply not there yet. We have to help realign the country's priorities," said Dr. K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India and part of a government-commissioned committee recommending reforms.

Statistics that might highlight areas of need are scarce, thanks to erratic case reporting, few autopsies and a tradition of quick cremation that destroys evidence of disease. WHO reports often leave India out for lack of data. A recent study in the Lancet suggests malaria deaths could be 10 times higher than estimated.

India, which says hospital costs impoverish a quarter of all patients, has vowed to raise spending on health to 3 percent of GDP by 2015 and provide universal primary health care - but it's an unfilled promise that's been made before.

The Lancet, in a series on India in January, urged the government to double its pledge to 6 percent by 2020 or jeopardize its ability to shake off poverty.

"What is the point of economic success if there is nothing in it for the population?" Lancet editor Richard Horton said.

"In a short amount of time you can do a lot - if you have the right leadership, the right administration and the public will. India has the people and it has the funds. We'll see if they can do it."

Meanwhile, India boasts a thriving medical tourism industry with shiny private clinics luring tens of thousands of foreigners for everything from bargain tummy tucks to experimental stem-cell treatments in an industry estimated to be worth nearly 100 billion rupees ($2.3 billion).

The pharmaceutical industry is making lifesaving drugs at cut-rate costs, private hospitals are pioneering advances in open-heart surgery and medical schools are churning out physicians eager to work in the West.

For most Indians, however, this is happening in another world.

Uttar Pradesh, one of India's poorest states and home to the padlock-manufacturing city of Aligarh, is a land of barren rural landscapes pocked by crumbling mud huts, wandering cattle and roadside shacks selling potato chips and curry.

Its infant mortality rate - 96 of every 1,000 newborns die - makes it one of the worst places on Earth to be born. The average Indian rate is better at 63 but still grim compared with China's 15 deaths out of every 1,000 births.

The state's leader, Mayawati, who uses only one name, rose from India's lowest caste to power and prominence. She calls health care a top priority. Yet since taking office in 2007 she has spent just $224 million on medicines for the state's 195 million people, while spending $569 million to build memorial parks and statues of leading dalits - also known as untouchables - such as herself.

In rural India, the poor often have to walk kilometers (miles) to reach a clinic, with no guarantee of finding a doctor or the medicine they need. On any given day, at least 40 percent of government doctors are absent - often busy moonlighting for higher pay at private clinics.

Drug supplies are also erratic; last year, India was short 35 million vaccine doses for diphtheria and 30 million for tetanus, a Health Ministry report said.

Many patients simply rely on traditional holistic medicine approaches such as ayurveda, or seek help from quacks, who have become so common the government uses them as information sources on everything from environmental contamination to polio outbreaks.

They advertise in graffiti scrawled across roadside buildings in rural Uttar Pradesh, promising treatments for venereal disease, erectile dysfunction, urinary tract infections - and charging according to what patients can pay.

Cities such as Aligarh, a three-hour drive east of New Delhi over potholed roads, are somewhat better off. They have hospitals, doctors and drugs - though often in short supply.

The government says the nation needs tens of thousands of clinics and 700,000 more doctors.

At Aligarh's Mohan Lal Gautam District Women's Hospital, dozens of women line up each day for a free sterilization procedure that will spare them the risk and cost of having and raising another child.

"It is too much," said 32-year-old Pinky Devi, the frail wife of a rice farmer who said she paid about 20,000 rupees ($450) to have her second daughter in a hospital. "I want to educate my children well. I want a good life. That is why I am here."

The state hospital has only three doctors, who race each day through seeing some 500 patients giving birth, needing operations or seeking treatment for pelvic inflammatory disease and other conditions at subsidized costs.

There are 10 vacancies for doctors, but it is all but impossible to find practitioners who will work for 20,000 rupees (about $450) a month when they can make at least double at a private clinic, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Poonam Sharma said.

"We cannot give the patients good treatment," she said. "They won't get the quality time, most maybe just three minutes." More than half of Aligarh's babies are still born at home, often in unsanitary conditions, Sharma said.

The medical community, eager to increase its numbers, has debated ideas such as training ayurveda or yoga practitioners to give basic care, offering bonuses for working in remote areas and recruiting from Africa.

In the meantime, private health care is booming, with clinics and insurance schemes multiplying and driving up costs.

There are piecemeal efforts to help: a national mission launched in 2005 to improve rural care, and some states offering to cover hospital bills for the poorest.

But patients like Ibne Hasan, diagnosed with HIV two years ago, say they have seen no such benefits.

Once employed in the packaging department at Aligarh's lock factory, 35-year-old Hasan has had to sell his two slum plots and all of his belongings save a threadbare armchair, a few tin pots, a worn mattress and a tiny room he shares with his wife and two children. The money has long been spent.

They are shunned by friends and neighbors. With no electricity or stove, they survive on food Hasan's wife brings from her housekeeping work, and use her monthly 1,100 rupee ($25) wage on AIDS drugs for Hasan and asthma medication for their 5-year-old son, who is far too small for his age and may also have HIV.

"When we can, we buy medicine. I haven't gotten one rupee in treatment," Hasan said, as the listless little boy huddled in the room. Laughing children threw pebbles at the shack from outside. "They make all these promises, but they are only promises. I have seen nothing."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

My Father's European Vacation

I realised that I never posted the pics of my dad's trip to Europe. It was actually great having him to myself for a whole week and getting to show him some new places.

The pics are here:

Dad's Trip to Europe

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Playing tourist in Nepal

So on my current work trip to Nepal, I actually managed to take a bit of time and see some of the sites.

I took a day trip to Bhaktapur and Nagarkot, and even flew to Pokhara for the weekend. Something that I didn't get to do that I hope I can come back someday for is trekking in the foothills of the Himalayas - anyone want to come!? :-)

Click here to see the pics:
My Last Trip to Nepal