Asia - Issue 14 - Magazine | Monocle

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Pushing boundaries


China will be redrawing its borders again this year after regaining control of half of Heixiazi, a 327 sq km river island opposite Khabarovsk, from Russia.

Adding territory is an old imperial addiction. Emperors of the Middle Kingdom expanded the realm to push threats away from the heartlands. Tibet, they thought, was a vassal, if not a possession. Their communist successors made it so in 1959. A year later Beijing picked up a few villages in a deal with Rangoon. Pakistan ceded 500,000 hectares of Kashmir to China in 1963 and China negotiated the absorption of 125,000 hectares of Kyrgyzstan between 1996 and 2002.

Just before President Hu Jintao’s visit to India in November 2006, Sun Yuxi, then Chinese ambassador to India, reiterated China’s claim on the state of Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing is also arguing over islands with Japan and Southeast Asia. A wise cartographer might switch his ink to a red pencil.

Get off my land: what China wants

Senkaku Islands – tussle with Japan for a few rocks thought to sit atop gas fields.

Spratly Islands – allegedly rich in gas. China has the edge on Southeast Asia’s weaklings.

Aksai Chin – should be part of Indian Kashmir says Delhi but Beijing shows no signs of withdrawing.

Arunachal Pradesh – Beijing would also like to own this chunk of India.

Death 1: dead ringers


Bar codes are popping up in the most unusual of places in Japan – namely, on tombstones. Ishi no Koe, a morbidly innovative new company based in Yamanashi Prefecture, has launched a range of bar-coded tombstones to enable the bereaved to stay in touch with the resting spots of their loved ones by mobile phone. Relatives can use their phones to scan a barcode on the back of the tombstones for instant access to virtual tributes personalised with photographs, messages and other personal information.

Koji Sakahashi, whose company IT DeSign developed the technology for Ishi no Koe – meaning “voice of the stone” – says, “It is a Japanese tradition to comfort the spirits of our ancestors. Young people don’t visit graves, but we want them to realise this tradition. These tombstones are a new concept for visiting graves using mobile phones, which young people are addicted to.” Bar-code-ready tombstones are on sale now, costing €6,150, while bar codes can be installed on existing tombstones for between €925 and €2,500.

Death 2: track record


Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world – more than 30,000 people kill themselves every year. Train delays in Tokyo are frequently caused by people jumping on the tracks. As a result, JR East will install barriers at all 29 stations on one of the major transport routes, the JR Yamanote Line. The move follows the success of barriers installed six years ago at the city’s nine shinkansen bullet train stations. Deaths caused by jumping on the tracks have been reduced to zero.

New China town


The sun always shines in the workers’ paradise of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. So when the government responds to public grumbling, something is up. The Lao leaders are having to reassure residents of the capital, Vientiane, that anybody – and not only Chinese migrants – will be able to live in a controversial new development due to be built by a Chinese-led venture on That Luang, the city’s biggest wetland. Chinese migrants have been arriving in droves. The government handed over the 20 sq km marsh in return for a new sports complex, which Chinese developers are building in Vientiane for the Southeast Asian Games in 2009. Beijing is also financing a new international airport.

Election facts: ballot-free zone


Democracy, it seems, is not a big hit in oil-rich Brunei. In this absolute monarchy, nobody is allowed to vote. So simple.

Strait talking


You only get the vote at 21 in Singapore. If you fail to use it, you are removed from the register until you find a good excuse.

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