Category Archives: Asia

World’s worst hotel is surely somewhere in Asia

Frequent travellers in Asia (i.e., this columnist and his readers) are outraged that staff at the Hans Brinker Hotel of Amsterdam are now marketing their hostelry as “the world’s worst hotel”. How dare they? Hotels in Asia are WAY worse.

Look at the facts. The Hans Brinker is running a cutesy campaign admitting that it has no pool or spa. Well, in Asia, I’ve stayed in hotels where the rooms didn’t have WALLS.

The Hans Brinker says its air-conditioning system has only two choices: “window open” and “window closed”. In some Japanese hotels, you have to pay extra for air, as the only breathable stuff is US$10 a portion at the nearby oxygen store (not a joke).

Debate triggered by the “worst hotel” marketing campaign reminded this columnist of memorable inns in Asia. I once spent a night at a hotel in Delhi where they didn’t change the sheets between guests unless you asked.

While staying in a hotel known as the Old Astor in Shanghai about 20 years ago, I read a news announcement about a new tourist attraction in China called “The Park of Giant Insects”. In the breakfast room, all inmates made the same joke: “So they’ve re-classified this hotel as a theme park now?”

Then there was the hostelry in which I stayed in Macau which had real live gangsters having a gun battle at the entrance, after which one of the real live gangsters became a real dead gangster. Or the hotel in Singapore which boasted “a karaoke set in every room”, as if that would attract visitors rather than send us away screaming.

Asia: when it comes to bad hotels, we’re number one.


Two thousand volunteers gathered in Seoul last week to soak 140 tonnes of cabbage in sour fish sauce and chilli. The smelly, pungent, eye-watering material will be fired by giant cannons into North Korea to cause widespread panic. No, wait. It’s being distributed to poor people in South Korea as a dinnertime treat. Nothing surprises me these days.


This columnist recently discovered the undulating escalator at the international airport in Bangkok. Instead of separate stairs, the moving track takes you on a wavy downward slope. I stepped on to it and marvelled at the creative design. Then my bag took off. Whoever designed the thing clearly had forgotten that suitcases these days have wheels on them.

The woman behind me laughed to see my bag making a bid for freedom, and then hers did the same. Next time you visit Bangkok, BE PREPARED. Bring a super-heavy metal suitcase with oiled wheels which will fly down the escalator scattering other passengers like bowling pins.


A thought: What did Lady Gaga wear on Halloween? Normal t-shirt and jeans?


Two of the world’s biggest publishing houses are merging. I reckon Random Penguin will release combined versions of their top-selling books:
1) The Lion, the Witch and the Da Vinci Code.
2) 50 Shades of Black Beauty.
3) The Wind in the Women’s Room.
4) Gone with the Mockingbird.
5) The Seven Habits of Harry Potter.

Can you think of any more?


One of China’s new leaders appointed last week is a man “who studied Economics at a university in North Korea”, according to the press. This does not fill me with confidence. North Korean economics appears to have only three rules. 1) Grab the money. 2) Let everyone else starve. 3) Muahahahaha.


Thought for the day: Every time God says: “How stupid can humans be?” humanity takes it as a challenge.


Humans can turn off their ears, scientists at University College London discovered. Tests led by Professor Nilli Lavie concluded that humans can opt to deflect unwanted sounds, just like they can close their eyes if they don’t want to see something.

This news was passed on to me by reader Harry Blixer, who said: “CLEARLY this professor is not married.” I had to agree. If Professor Lavie was married, she would know that ALL husbands turn their ears on and off several times a day, depending on (a) whether conversations are interrupting sport on TV; (b) whether the subject being discussed is beneficial (“Have you fixed the toilet yet?” being an example of a non-beneficial topic), or (c) whether the question is one of those unsafe-to-answer female ones, such as “Tell me honestly, am I sexier than Megan Fox frolicking on a beach with Jessica Alba?”

Once again, scientists have wasted millions discovering what the rest of us already know.


One in 25 corporate executives has the personality of a psychopath, or serial killer, researchers in the UK reported. Shocking! Only one in 25? Clearly they missed the famously vicious commodity broker Glencore off the survey. Or perhaps they left off the word “not”? One in 25 corporate executives does NOT have the personality of a serial killer. That I could believe.


An Ultra-Cute theme park is being built in the small town of Anji, near Shanghai, devoted to Hello Kitty. The design theme throughout the US$200m park is “sweetness”. Meanwhile, an explosion of diabetes has started to radiate across China, the news media reported. Coincidence?


Mice have a powerful sense of smell and can be used in airport searches, scientists said. Great. That should put an end to the biggest problem facing humanity at the moment, the international cheese-smuggling cartels.


A mother and three kids lived in a railway station in Russia for nine years, according to a UK tabloid report shown to me by shocked reader Jaya Wickrama. Have you ever been on the railways in Russia, Jaya? They were probably just waiting for their train. Nine years wait? I can believe that.


A few days ago, the Facebook computer stopped working for literally 60 seconds and several thousand people got on to their Twitter accounts to express their disappointment and outrage. Life can be really, really hard. The people eating tree bark in North Korea know just how you feel.

(Nury Vittachi is an Asia-based frequent traveller)

US bans Pakistani minister for bounty on filmmaker’s head

Islamabad:  The United States has banned a Pakistani minister from visiting the country over his announcement of a bounty on the head of the maker of an anti-Islam movie.

Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmad Bilour announced in September that he would give a $100,000 award to anyone who killed the maker of “Innocence of Muslims” which was produced in the US, reported Xinhua, citing Pakistani media.

The Pakistani government had disowned remarks by the minister but Bilour said he would not withdraw his announcement.

He had also urged Taliban to carry out what he had called a “noble deed”.

Media in Pakistan reported Friday that the US embassy in Islamabad had cancelled visas of Bilour and his wife, and banned them from visiting the country.

“I have received a call from the embassy today, informing me about the ban and cancellation of visas,” Express TV quoted Bilour as saying.

He again defended his bounty statement and emphasised the need for an international law which would make such profane acts a punishable crime across the world.

Britain had already banned the entry of Bilour.

Bilour said he was not worried whether the US or Britain restricted his entry into their countries.

The spokesperson of the US embassy in Islamabad refused to comment on the issue.

Pakistan clears visa accord, India welcomes it

New Delhi/Islamabad:  A day after Pakistan’s cabinet approved a liberalised visa agreement with India, India Thursday said it will activate diplomatic channels with Islamabad to implement the arrangement at the earliest.

The accord, which was signed during the visit of then External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to Islamabad, eases curbs on issuing visas to traders, elderly people, tourists, pilgrims, members of civil society and children.

“We will activate diplomatic channels to implement it,” Syed Akbaruddin, the external affairs ministry’s spokesperson, told reporters in New Delhi.

Pakistan Information Minister Qamar uz Zaman Kaira told a press conference Wednesday that at a cabinet meeting presided over by Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, the members unanimously accorded approval to the relaxed visa agreement with India, which he hoped will promote people-to-people contacts.

A 38-year-old visa agreement has been replaced with the new accord, which says that a visa has to be issued in a period not exceeding 45 days from the application.

Under the new system, one can visit five places instead of three at present and those above 65 and children below 12 years of age and eminent businessmen are exempted from police reporting.

Under the category of “Visitor visa”, under the new regime a single entry visa is to be issued for six months. But the stay should not exceed three months at a time. Earlier, only single entry visa for three months was issued for meeting relatives, friends, business or other legitimate purposes.

Under the new Category II, a “Visitor visa” for a maximum five specified places may be issued for a longer period, up to two years with multiple entries to senior citizens (above 65 years old), spouses of a national of one country married to a national of the other, and children below 12 years of age accompanying parents as given earlier.

The new “Group Tourist visa” will be issued for no less than 10 people and no more than 50 people. Valid for up to 30 days, this visa will have to be applied through tour operators registered by the two governments.

The Pakistan cabinet also approved three agreements regarding customs and certification issues, which were also signed by officials of the commerce ministries of both countries in September.


Pakistan rejects Indian home minister’s remarks on infiltration

Islamabad: Pakistan Tuesday dismissed as “baseless and unfounded” remarks by Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde that Islamabad is “helping terrorists” to enter Indian territory.

Pakistan angrily rejected Shinde’s remarks Monday that India has information that Pakistan is helping terrorists to infiltrate and asked the Indian minister to share information with Pakistan, reported Xinhua citing local media reports.

“We totally reject these allegations and insinuations,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said.

“They are totally baseless and unfounded. Such unsubstantiated statements are not very helpful in creating a conducive environment necessary for improving the relationship between our two countries,” a spokesman said.

The spokesman also said that if the Indian home minister has any information or evidence, he is most welcomed to share it with Pakistani authorities.


Grossman holds talks with Khar, Kayani

Islamabad:  Visiting US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman has met Pakistani Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar and Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani to discuss the progress made in their joint counter-terrorism efforts.

A wide range of issues of mutual concern, including counter-terrorism, were discussed, the Pakistani official APP news agency reported.

Grossman, who met Khar at the foreign ministry Saturday, underlined the importance of cooperation between the two countries in diverse fields.

They expressed satisfaction at the progress made by the working group of the two countries on counter-terrorism. The group met in Washington recently.

The foreign ministry said that his visit was part of the ongoing engagements between the two countries.

During his talks with Kayani, Grossman discussed the situation in Afghanistan. According to a military official, they discussed Afghan peace and other matters of mutual concern.

Before his visit to Pakistan, Grossman attended a meeting of the International Contact Group (ICG) for Afghanistan in Ankara Friday.

The ICG agreed to set up the parameters of an inclusive and transparent Afghan election process and reiterated its commitment to support the Afghan reconstruction.


Bangladesh president’s son named new BCB chief

Dhaka:  Bangladeshi president’s son Nazmul Hasan Papon has been made the new chief of that South Asian country’s cricket authority.

National Sports Council (NSC) chairman Ahad Ali Sarkar made the appointment Wednesday as the incumbent president of the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal has recently been nominated as the International Cricket Council (ICC) vice-president, Xinhua reports.

Kamal recently wrote to NSC chairman Sarker, who is also state minister for Bangladesh’s youth and sports, requesting him to appoint a new president of the BCB so he could hand over his responsibilities as chief of the apex cricket authority.

Bangladesh’s Youth and Sports Ministry Secretary Mahbub Ahmed confirmed to Xinhua the appointment of Papon as the 14th president of the BCB.

He said a circular was issued about Papon’s appointment, but he could not tell immediately whether the appointment is on an interim basis or permanent.

An NSC official who preferred to be unnamed said Kamal, who was made the ICC vice president Oct 9 for the next two years, has already stepped down as the BCB president.

He said Papon, also a ruling party lawmaker, is currently in Kuwait with Bangladeshi President Zillur Rahman. He is expected to return home Thursday and take charge of the BCB.


Bounty on Taliban spokesman pointless: Daily

Islamabad:  The bounty of Rs.100 million for the capture of Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan is a pointless exercise, said a Pakistani daily, noting that it was strange that “no thought had apparently been given to locating him until the attack on Malala Yousafzai”.

“We seem to have fallen into the habit of closing the cage door long after the beast has escaped,” said an editorial in the News International which called it “a pointless exercise – perhaps intended to make a big show of things, but serving no purpose at all in real terms”.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s made the bounty offer of Rs.100 million for information leading to the capture of Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan.

The daily said that Ihsan, probably working under a pseudonym, has been active for years, giving out statements and remaining easily accessible to the media.

“It is strange that no thought had apparently been given to locating him until the attack on Malala Yousafzai,” it said, referring to the teenaged peace campaigner who was shot at by the Taliban. Malala was treated at Peshawar, taken to Rawalpindi and eventually shifted to Britain.

“We should also ask the good Mr Malik as to precisely why informants are needed to track down Ihsan. Surely in this age of technology, our intelligence apparatus should be able to track him down successfully.

“His almost perpetual presence at the end of a mobile phone should help – and if it does not, we should ask why we are funding this extensive network, whose bosses need to answer some questions related to performance and utility,” it said.

The daily questioned the focus on Ihsan.

“Yes, he is the ‘voice’ of the Taliban – the man who airs their threats and claims. But perhaps the men we should be going after with greater force are the leaders of the outfit, such as Maulana Fazalullah – the TTP head in Swat…”

“It is also questionable if head money should be put up as a means to track down wanted persons. It has not worked in the past – perhaps due to fear of the Taliban. Rather than putting local people at risk, the authorities need to use the resources of the state to act against militants and break up those networks that have for years been able to keep up their killing games,” it added.


Pakistani daily fumes at child marriage

Islamabad:  Poverty and patriarchy in Pakistan “conspire to deprive girls of their childhood”, a leading daily said Monday while dwelling on the emotional trauma of child marriage as well as the long-term physical repercussions that can be debilitating or even fatal.

More often than not, said an editorial in the Dawn, being born a girl in Pakistan carries with it inherent disadvantages – less access to education, healthcare, legal rights.

“However, nothing quite so devastatingly compounds these as early marriage. Aside from the emotional trauma of being cast into a relationship with adult responsibilities that a child is ill-equipped to handle, the long-term physical repercussions can be debilitating or even fatal,” it said.

Citing a UN report, the daily said it paints a disturbing picture of child marriages in the world.

According to its findings, if current trends continue, within the next decade 142 million girls will be married by the time they are 18. This translates into 14.2 million each year, or 37,000 girls married each day. Studies suggest that around 30 percent of marriages in Pakistan are those of girls below 18, it added.

The UN report points out that approximately 5,000 cases of obstetric fistula occur every year in Pakistan, with young girls disproportionately affected.

“The condition, which is one of the risks associated with early childbirth, results in urinary or faecal incontinence to varying degrees. Although in many instances it can be surgically treated, the dismal healthcare facilities in much of the country mean that most of these young sufferers bear their condition in silence and shame, and are often, in a twist of cruel irony, spurned by their husbands as well,” the editorial noted.

Though the legal age for marriage in Pakistan is 16 years, “evidence indicates that this law is repeatedly flouted especially where poverty and patriarchy conspire to deprive girls of their childhood”, it added.


Pakistani anti-polio official’s son ‘abducted’

Islamabad: A 12-year-old son of a woman official, working with the polio virus eradication programme in Pakistan, has reportedly been “abducted” after he went out to the market and never returned home.

The three-day nationwide polio vaccination campaign is set to begin Oct 15, and officials in the port city of Karachi have threatened to boycott all activities if the boy was not recovered soon, Dawn News reported.

About 2.3 million children up to five years of age will be covered across the city during the immunisation days. Under the campaign, 52 area heads were selected to oversee the field work by 277 teams.

Asifa Asad, the mother of the missing boy and who works at a government dispensary in Gulberg Town area, said her son Zainul Abideen had gone out to purchase bread Friday evening, but never returned home. Police has so far failed to track him.

The woman linked the “abduction” of her son to her association with the polio campaign.

She said that since she took over as area supervisor a couple of months back, she had been warned against such activities, “as these have ulterior motives” of some “foreign intelligence agencies”.

Asad said she had been living peacefully for the past many years, but started running into trouble after she was assigned the role of area supervisor.


First phase of Imaran’s anti-drone rally peaceful

Islamabad:  The first phase of an anti-drone rally in Pakistan organised by Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has ended peacefully.

Imran Khan, who is leading a convoy of hundreds of vehicles, has vowed to reach South Waziristan, where the rally would culminate, Xinhua reported.

Saturday’s peace rally kicked off from cities such as Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, amid Taliban threats to carry our suicide bomb attacks on the participants.

The Taliban has accused the Tehreek-e-Insaf party of being sympathizers of the Jews and the Christians.

However, the former cricketer told a large gathering in Dera Ismail Khan Saturday that the rally was only to attract the world’s attention to the drone attacks.

The convoy from Islamabad reached the main town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province late Saturday after a 12-hour journey. Imran Khan said the drone strikes are killing civilians.

A group of Americans are also participating along with dozens of foreign journalists who are covering the event.

Taliban has distributed pamphlets in South Waziristan and other places, warning of attacks on the marchers. Copies of the pamphlets have also been sent to the media.

“We request the people of Waziristan not to support the gangs of Jews and Christians otherwise their fate will be horrible. We, the Tehrik-e-Taliban, will greet them with suicide attacks,” Xinhua quoted the pamphlet as saying.

The Urdu-language pamphlet was issued by the Punjab faction of the Taliban, considered close to the Al Qaeda.

The Waziristan region, bordering Afghanistan, has been a stronghold of the Taliban and has seen violent clashes between militants and the security forces.

The US has recently intensified its drone strikes against the militants in the region, which has stoked anti-American sentiments in the country.

The government said the marchers will not be allowed to enter South Waziristan.

The authorities have blocked roads to South Waziristan at Tank, a major city at the border of the province.

Imran Khan claimed his rivals are trying to stop his rally and said the local tribesmen have announced their support and he does not need security from the government and Taliban.