The optimist edition

Because we all need some positivity in our newsfeed.

It has been a long start to October. American politics are getting serious, Hong Kong and Indonesian protests are persistent and the daily updates feel serious and negative. This can be draining.

One of my readers asked me, “doesn’t [running the newsletter] get depressing?” She was referring to the fact that Aseophile has to dive deep into news that often includes death, oppression and authoritarianism. The answer is, “no, not really.”

I think it is because I generally think the world is a beautiful place filled with wonderful people. For the most part, being alive in 2019 is pretty awesome.

With that in mind, I wanted to dive into every Asian country that I consider part of Aseophile coverage and highlight stories that showcase the good in this world.

Hopefully this little dose of optimism helps everyone attack their lives with positive and community-minded energy.

I think the stories from Malaysia, Myanmar, Taiwan, the Philippines, South Korea and Timor-Leste stand apart.

The Optimist Edition


Re-inventing travel within Cambodia

This programme, called Impact Explorer, aims to provide an avenue for tourists to find adventures that make a positive impact on local communities. The benefits are two-fold.

First, it gives tourists an avenue to find unique activities that may be “off the beaten path.” Second, it gives foreigners a chance to meet the locals, with the company hopes will inspire them to help the specific community.


The unsung ‘wingmen’ of China’s big parade party

During China’s 70th anniversary celebrations nearly 70,000 pigeons (called “peace doves”) were released into the sky. Reportedly, 90 percent of them managed to fly back to their owners.

The pigeons were borrowed using a public call to participate in the “Political assignment”. One interesting quirk of the story is that the pigeons were likely being raised to compete in ‘pigeon races’, which, according to the report, can be a multi-million-dollar career choice.

Hong Kong/Macau

Patua, Macau’s dying language, and the 103-year-old Macanese woman who speaks it

Unlike its southern neighbour, Macau’s colonial history lasted for centuries. For 400 years, the island was a Portugese colony, which is long enough for a distinct ethnicity to emerge. People who were born to mixed parents were called Macanese. Their language is called Patua — a romance language that is infused with Cantonese and other languages from South and Southeast Asia (brought from traders).

Today, the ethnicity only makes up one per cent of city’s demographics and the language is dying. Patua is unlikely to persist much longer because most people in Macau speak Cantonese as their mother-tongue. This story is a cool dive into a culture I had previously never heard of.


Indonesia gets star-studded cast of new lawmakers, and first female Parliament speaker

Puan Maharani will forever be mentioned in the history books as Indonesia’s first female speaker of Parliament. Indonesia is not a beacon for gender equality but any story like this is positive.

Maharani is a woman of Indonesia’s elite; she is the daughter of a former President (Megawati Sukarnoputri) and the granddaughter of the nation’s Founding President (Sukarno)

She will face a remarkably difficult beginning to her term as speaker, as Indonesia is currently experiencing its most serious political crisis in recent memory.

That being said, this is an important victory for women in Indonesia.


Joseph praises never-say-die Japan after last-gasp bonus-point win

Japan beat Scotland and are now in the final eight!

The Japanese rugby team is currently the best story in global sports. Not only is this darling team continuing to pull out victories, it is doing so on the biggest stage for the sport. Plus, Japan is hosting the World Cup so all of this is happening in front of their home fans.

I would guess they have won enough games that if they will receive a hero’s welcome no matter where they finish from here on out.


Japan to provide equipment to help Laos prepare for natural disasters.

About 15 months ago, a dam broke in Laos that causes immense damage and loss of life. The country is both poor, and particularly vulnerable to flooding. The Japanese government is giving about US$10,000 worth of equipment to help the country navigate natural disasters.

Yes, I realise that is not a lot of money, but every little gesture helps.


Malaysia cracking down on wildlife trafficking

While taken alone, it can be distressing to read stories of police raids resulting in illegal wildlife seizures. But as I searched through stories about Malaysia, I realised that the country has made three major arrests/seizures in the past two weeks.

The most recent was a massive seizure that included — as mentioned in the last issue — Pangolins. Previously, the authorities worked with South Africa to seize 800 pounds of lion bones heading to the country. Finally, Malaysia arrested six people for killing an elephant.

If three makes a trend, it seems like Malaysia is trying to give teeth to its anti-poaching efforts. It won’t solve the problem, but it is nice to see countries like Malaysia putting forth an effort.


Charges in Mongolia LGBT attack hint at changing attitudes

A far-right group in Mongolia brought a transgender sex worker into a hotel and forced her to describe her work in front of a camera before posting it online. Obviously that incident is the opposite of optimistic, but the reaction shows a culture that is fighting discrimination against LGBT people.

The police are charging to perpetrators with a hate crime and in 2017 those laws were beefed up specifically to protect the LGBT community. This law seems to have been a major shift amongst Mongolian law enforcement, who now have an infrastructure for prosecuting these kinds of cases.


Volunteer ambulance crews brave bullets to save lives

The White Helmets of Syria’s civil war came to represent bravery amongst the worst humanity has to offer. In Myanmar, Giving Hand is doing much of the same work.

They are volunteer EMTs who fill a gap that is difficult for the Myanmar government and local NGOs. The mission of the organisation is to provide care and comfort to people displaced by violence; this often includes putting themselves in harm way.

One of the important parts of the success of Giving Hand is that they do not discriminate. It doesn’t matter if it is a military officer or local separatist, the rescue operation will try to find them regardless.

This has helped dramatically because, when the ambulances are occasionally targetted by attackers, the reaction is usually a firm condemnation from both sides.

North Korea

Remains of Michigan soldier returned by North Korea coming back home

What Happened: Getting do-gooder news from within North Korea is essentially impossible, but this is a nice feel-good story related to the hermit kingdom.

Sgt. David Alexander Feriend, who was 23-years-old in 1950, was part of a 17-day siege of the Chosin Resevoir that resulted in around 15,000 casualties for the American-South Korean side. It was also the first major battle after China entered the war and marked a significant turning point in favour of the communists.

This story is nice because of the closure it provided to Feriend’s little sister, Irene Arbogast, who had given up hope in recovering the body. It was clear that burying her brother gave Arbogast a sense of peace.


How a school principal is winning the battle vs illiteracy, malnutrition in Sorsogon

I recently read a social media post from someone who was struggling with the reality that the world has so many problems and she couldn’t do anything to fix them. Well, this woman in the Philippines is doing her part to fix the problems.

Jessica Ascano moved to a province in the country that had a high rate of illiteracy and immediately set about revolutionising the system. She built a brand new infrastructure within the education system (it worked!) and now she is just on the hunt for more supplies.

One interesting quirk is that Ascano did not dramatically alter the financials of the province. For example, instead of providing families with money for financial support, she deployed her army of volunteers and advisors to make house calls if a student needed extra attention.


Ex-gang member and heroin addict now finds joy helping others as social worker

Singaporean state media loves this narrative but that doesn’t make it less impactful. As a youth, Kelvin Quak got involved in local gangs and tried heroine as a means to gain acceptance. He then spent the next 13 years in and out of jail on drug-related offences.

Now, Quak is a social worker at a Methodist organisation and has dedicated his life to helping people steer clear of drugs. An interesting tidbit is that Quak was transformed by a halfway house. The residents did a lot of manual labor that gave him a sense of accomplishment he had not had before.

South Korea

Philippine lawmakers join anti-cyberbullying campaign initiated in S. Korea

A dozen lawmakers in the Philippines signed a pledge to fight agains cyberbullying in the country. The global initiative, called the Sunfull Internet Peace Movement, was started by South Korean Min Byoung-chul, a professor.

Cyberbullying is a reality of modern life and it is particularly bad in the Philippines, which is the world’s most active nation on social media.

Since the Sunfull Movement started, it has helped 7,000 schools and 700,000 people tackle cyberbullying problems. Pretty cool initiative.


96-year-old painter saves Taiwan village


Radio Liberdade: Battling Violence against Women on Timor-Leste’s Airwaves

Timor-Leste has a problem with many strains of intimate-partner abuse (including physical/emotional abuse but also financial manipulation and neutering educational opportunities).

Teki Toke is a weekly radio programme that is trying to fix this problem, and is approaching the issue from a different angle. The idea is that by educating folks on every day issues, they can facilitate a more open dialogue that will prevent men from getting defensive and shutting down.

The article says that, anecdotally, the programme is effective. People make a big effort to attend group listening sessions that include positive dialogue.


This article is a bit much, but the Pid Thong Lang Phra Foundation is still an interesting government initiative. The main goal is to create a national focus on improving the lives of Thailand’s rural regions.

The organisation aims to help facilitate a self-sufficient economy. The goal is to build a system where communities solve community problems. The first phase was focussed on environmental sustainability and the second phase will be help people improve the development of their infrastructure.


Art Labor is a collective in Vietnam that aims to meld art and science to explore local ideas and themes. A recent project explored coffee — specifically the robusta bean. Coffee is a staple drink in Vietnam and is one of the many cultural exports from the country. The project highlighted the uncomfortable reality that coffee farmers often find themselves in debt traps and struggle financially through their life.

If any readers find themselves in Ho Chi Minh City this is definitely a place worth visiting.