Asia - Issue 20 - Magazine | Monocle

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Bamboo route


After decades of civil war, Cambodia’s neglected rail network is about to get a complete overhaul. The Asian Development Bank has put up the cash and an Australian company will renovate and run the revamped Royal Cambodian Railways. It should mean that more and faster services will be added to the only passenger journey currently possible – a once-a-week, walking-pace trundle between the capital Phnom Penh and second city Battambang.

But the renovations could spell the end of the much-loved DIY “bamboo trains” – bamboo platforms and engines on wheels, used to transport people and goods – which often take off between gaps in the warped, narrow-gauge rails. The new services might be safer, but seekers of cheap railway thrills will have to look elsewhere.

Garden city


Once the domain of rural backwaters, farming in Japan is undergoing an urban makeover. From sweet potatoes on skyscraper rooftops to rice fields in office basements, a growing number of urban farms are taking root in Tokyo.

Businesses are transforming empty spaces into green havens in a bid to reduce global warming while revitalising an ailing farming industry. Long working hours, the recession and food safety concerns following a string of scandals further boost the appeal of urban farming.

Meanwhile, Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara is encouraging companies across the capital to introduce plant and vegetable gardens on top of skyscrapers in an effort to reduce overheating in the capital city. In the financial district, Otemachi, six urban farmers toil among potatoes and pumpkins in a futuristic basement space operated by the human resources company Pasona (pictured). This urban farm – which used to be the vault of a major bank – is maintained using computer-controlled artificial light and temperature management.

“Our mission is ‘to solve society’s problems’,” says a spokeswoman. “The farming population is declining in Japan. Our goal is to create job opportunities in the agriculture section.” The company’s workers eat the produce.

Seoul food

South Korea

Kimchi, galbi and bibimbap may soon be as familiar as pizza, curry and sushi. South Korean prime minister Han Seung-soo has announced a €30m initiative to promote Korean cuisine. The plan aims to quadruple the number of Korean restaurants overseas by 2017. Korean cuisine has not yet taken off internationally, except in neighbouring Japan, but with its distinctive flavours and informality, experts believe it can be Asia’s next big culinary export.

“More and more people are interested in eating healthily, and Korean cuisine makes heavy use of vegetables,” says Kim Sung-Yoon at the Chosun Ilbo newspaper.

Korean culinary highlights
Kimchi - Fermented condiment, usually made of cabbage, chilli and garlic.
Galbi - Grilled ribs typically derived with Korean miso, red pepper paste and minced garlic and eaten in lettuce envelopes. Bibimpap - Pot of rice in which vegetables ad meet are mixed with chilli and egg. Soju and Makgeolli - Soju is a vodka-like grain spirit. Makgeolli, a milk rice wine, is served in traditional restaurants.

Wave goodbye


Before the century is out, the Maldives could be washed off the map by rising seas. President Nasheed wants to buy a slice of Australia, India or Sri Lanka to house 350,000 Maldivians in the future. They are not the only ones facing a washout – many other island and coastal nations could become engulfed by the ocean.

Disappearing nations:
01 Tuvalu – Recent tides have washed across atolls of this Pacific nation.
02 Papua New Guinea – Climate refugees from its Carteret Islands received a chilly reception in capital Bougainville.
03 Indonesia – Could lose 2,000 of its 17,000 or so islands by 2030.
04 Bangladesh – By 2030 a fifth of the country could disappear.

Coming home


Asians are the largest migrant group in the US – in the 1990s IT boom, migration from India to the US doubled. But one recent estimate says up to 40,000 Indian professionals had returned to Bangalore, the country’s technology hub, by 2006.

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